Getting Traded

June 19, 2010

This is the time of year where you start hearing trade rumors. And that brings back memories…some good, and some not so good. I got traded twice in my career, once from the Rockies to the Royals and once from the Diamondbacks to the Dodgers.

Any player who’s been around for a couple minutes is very familiar with the process. Guys come and go all the time. But until you’re one of those guys, it’s hard to relate. Getting traded during the season is tough, regardless of if you’re going from a last place team to first or visa versa.

The first time it happened to me, I was playing for the Rockies. If I’m not mistaken, it was around the all- star break and we were right in the hunt. We weren’t particularly talented, but we were scrappy and played well as a team. To make a long story short, after one of the games, I got called into our manager Buddy Bell’s office.

As I walked in, Dan O’Dowd (general manager) was sitting there too. I had no clue what was up. I remember thinking they probably wanted to discuss the game or the pitching staff or something. But I could instantly feel a funky vibe and that’s when Dan just came out and told me that I’d been traded. Bam. It was like someone sucker punched me. All I remember saying was where am I going? Dan replied, Kansas City.

That’s when I started to get pissed. I had already spent 6 years in Kansas City. Not to mention that the Rockies were in first and the Royals were in the cellar. I liked the guys on my team, we played well together, what the hell did they want? And you’re sending me back to KC? And I’ve got one day to get there? Damn it!

I just walked out in a daze, spoke to the media, said goodbye to all my friends and teammates and headed home. Telling the wife was interesting too. Basically the conversation went like this…I got traded to Kansas City, I’ve got to be on a plane tomorrow at noon, I hate to do this, but you’ve got to pack the whole house up, send everything to KC and meet me there with our one year old son. She didn’t take it well.

But took it we did. And as with most things in life, as bad as it seemed at that moment, it all turned out for the best. I made a lot of new friends, reaquainted with old ones, and we actually turned out to be a pretty competitive team.

Still though, the experience was pretty traumatic. My most vivid memory of the whole event happened the day after I got traded. I came back to Coors field in the morning to clear out my locker and get my stuff together before my flight to KC. There was a scheduled night game that day, and I was there early in the morning, so the stadium was pretty much a ghost town. I cleared out my locker and was strolling across the field saying goodbye and heading towards my car which was parked outside the left field wall.

Like I said, it was a ghost town. Just me and the field. But as I crossed the infield, someone up in the press box hit the button that played the song I used to walk up to the batter’s box…Crazy Town’s “Butterfly”.

Talk about emotional. With tears in my eyes and the music blasting in the empty stadium, I gave a salute to the mystery person in the press box and just kept walking…on to the next city. Another chapter in the life of a ballplayer.

On the Strasburg Train

June 14, 2010

Alright, I’m finally on the Strasburg thing. I held out as long as I could. I listened to the hype on the radio, read it in the papers, and thought it was all a bit much…until I saw him throw yesterday. Impressive. Velocity up the ying yang, but more importantly, movement and the ability to locate. With three different pitches no less! Plus he’s not a max effort guy.

He kind of reminds me of Greg Maddux except with way better stuff. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, from the stretch, the guy is a very quick 1.1 to the plate. Oh man, this guys a catcher’s dream.

Speaking of catchers, Strasburg didn’t have the best of outings yesterday and I hate to do it, but I hold Pudge Rodriguez partially responsible. Maybe more than partially. Here’s the deal…obviously Strasburg is on a strict pitch limit diet. Once the clock strikes 100 pitches, the guy’s done. I’m pretty sure the Nationals are committed to that above anything else.

So economy of pitches is super important. Geez, it should be about the most important thing regardless of the pitcher and his pitch count diet. The point is, I think Pudge got a little too tricky with his game calling yesterday and it cost Strasburg. Three and two change ups…with that fastball? Against the Indians? Really Pudge?

I understand that there’s a honeymoon period where Rodriguez needs to figure out exactly what Strasburg is capable of. As a catcher, you’ve got to find out if a guy can throw his off speed stuff when he’s behind in the count…or early in the count for strikes. Got it. But geez, it just seemed like Pudge got drunk with power yesterday. It looked like he was riding a horse with all these options and just got overwhelmed.

Now let’s assume that Strasburg, because he never got a chance to call his own game in college, doesn’t have an expert idea on how to attack hitters. The fact is, it doesn’t really matter anyway, because he sure a hell isn’t gonna be shaking off a Hall of Famer too much.

Pudge is in a very powerful situation and needs to be careful. He’s got the keys and his foot on the gas peddle of this super fast muscle car. So, the backseat driver in me wants Ivan to take it easy. Keep it simple. Since this horse can locate a 100 mph heater (with movement) let’s go ahead and ride that pitch a bit more. It’s the same ol story. Use the fastball till someone proves they can hit it.

Yes, Mongo Hafner got into a down and in heater and launched it down the line. Big deal. I still say pitch to contact. Even though Strasburg has the ability to strike out the side every inning, I’ll still take three ground outs on five pitches over three strike outs and fifteen pitches all day long. Let’s see the kid throw a 90 pitch complete game. The fact is, the guys gonna roll out of bed into double digit strikeouts regardless.

So that’s all I’ve got. Strasburg is for real. And Pudge, I love ya, but you know how they say “drink responsibly” ? Well, in this situation I advise (not that you should care) to “call the game responsibly.”

Smell the Wood?

June 7, 2010

Yesterday I watched this great documentary on the life of my all time favorite player Ted Williams. Towards the end of the program, they showed footage from the 1999 All Star pre-game ceremony which turned out to be Ted’s final farewell to the world. In a touching, unscripted moment, all the past and present baseball heros crowded around Ted to pay their respects.

As the camera peered in, Williams called out for Mark McGwire. McGwire made his way through the crowd and as Ted took his hand and pulled him in close, he asked him, “do you ever smell the wood burning when you hit?” “Yep” replied McGwire.

And that brought back a flood of sensory memories for me. Until I heard Williams ask that question, I just kinda took it for granted and forgot about it. When it happens, it happens so quickly – then it’s gone – that sometimes you’re unsure of whether you actually smelled it or not. It’s so ephemeral and dreamlike that you end up asking the umpire excitedly “did you get that?”

I love this photo of Ted.

I think we’ve probably all got a whiff of that smoke. At least all of us who’ve used wood bats. At least I think we have. Maybe it’s just because I was squatting back there, nose level to the impact of the bat and ball.

But the fact is, when someone just misses a pitch and maybe fouls it straight back, the wood burns. Especially when that someone swings the bat as hard as McGwire (or Williams I guess.) Or maybe it’s the ball burning. I’m not sure, but judging by the aroma, I’m pretty sure it’s the wood.

Anyway, just thought I’d share that little weird baseball insight….have you ever smelled the smoke of wood and leather colliding?

Before the 1999 All Star game, past and present stars pay respects to Ted Williams.

The Perfect Aftermath of a Near Perfecto

June 4, 2010

Right on time. In yesterday’s post I threw in my two cents about the beauty of baseball with all it’s messy imperfection. I tried to make the point that baseball, like life, is very rarely a game of perfect and it’s better that way. I went on to say that too much instant replay reviewing will destroy this delicate fabric.

And then, BAM, it happened. One of the most touching acts of sportsmanship that you’ll ever see. If you watch this clip and don’t tear up or at least get chicken skin, you’ve got a heart of stone. Basically Armando Galarraga, the pitcher of yesterday’s near perfect game brought out the lineup card to a teary eyed Jim Joyce before the game.

Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga shake hands and exchange line up cards.

It was a flat out awesome sporting moment. It was a great life moment. And none of it would’ve happened should that play have been reviewed on the spot and made “perfect”. The humanity. The messiness. This is what I’m talking about. This is interesting. This is marketable. This is something you could have never scripted. This is far from right, but as near to perfect as you could ever want. This is why baseball is the greatest sport on the planet and this is why we should leave it alone.

And who knows, maybe Bud will step in and act like a commissioner and overturn the call. He could do it. It’s possible. Geez, isn’t this why we have a commish? Go ahead Bud, stick your neck out for once, do the right thing by Mr. Joyce, Mr. Galarraga, and complete this circle.

Either way, this has been a really fascinating event.

Almost Perfect

June 3, 2010

Well I was all ready to write a nice blog about the great time my son and I had at the 14 inning Dodger game yesterday, but Jim Joyce had to go and screw it all up.  Now I’ve got to weigh in on Armando Galarraga’s perfect, I mean, complete game.

Where do I even start? First off, I want to say that Jim Joyce is one of the best umpires in the game. Definitely one of my favorite guys to work in front of. I say this because he’s technically good (gets the right call most of the time) and because he’s actually a human being. What I mean by that is, Jim, unlike many umps, had no problem communicating. He’d admit when he messed up (just like he admirably did yesterday) and you could discuss things with him without any ego weirdness. The guy is good and a benefit to the game.

Unfortunately Jim’s human and he missed the call. For me, that’s life. And for me, that’s baseball. Things are rarely perfect in either one. Things are messy, people make mistakes, it’s unfair, it’s fair, it’s line outs and fans reaching over the fence to rob you of a homer. It’s the wind blowing just at the right moment to help your ball stay fair. It’s unpredictable and I like it like that.

Maybe I’m getting old and falling behind. Maybe progress in the game means instant replay. Maybe it’s because I live in Southern California and if I see another thing get sterilized, gentrified,”perfected”, Disneylandized, Irvinized, I’m gonna puke. Give me some funk. Give me mistakes. More 1970’s New York, less Irvine. I say let’s just accept baseball as one thing in life that isn’t perfect and get on with it.

Realistically, how are you gonna do it? Where do we draw the line? Do we let the official scorers have access to instant replay? After all, they’re just as responsible as anyone in a no-hitter or perfecto. Do we instant replay pitches? After all, one ball called a strike or visa versa can easily decide a game.

I think it’s obvious that it’s literally impossible to make every call from every person involved “right.” Impossible. No matter what route we go, the games still gonna be messy. It’s gonna be imperfect and that’s reality.

The call.

That being said, maybe there can be a compromise. Maybe instant replay on the things that Selig has OK’d…fair or foul homers, did the ball actually clear the fence, and fan interference. Plus, maybe throw in an option for the manager to review one play during the game. I think I could live with that. But please no more.

The talented (but human) Jim Joyce.

I may be contradicting myself, but here’s another concession I’ll make to the perfect people out there. I’m alright with a little grey area now and then. And this circumstance (Galarraga’s almost perfecto) is definitely grey. For this situation, since it was the last out of the game, since the career of Jim Joyce hangs on it, since there’s only been 19 (20?) of these things in the history of baseball, let’s go ahead and make it right. What I’m saying is, if I was Bud Selig, I’d step in and overturn the call.

I bet if Joe West was the commish, he would’ve already done it…not to make things right, but just to get his mug in the paper. Sure, by reversing the call you’re gonna ruffle the feathers of some purists (like me). But I don’t think you’ll hear Jim complain, or Armando, or the fans of Detroit. Go ahead, do it.

That’s all I’ve got on that subject. Now for a quick recap of our father son day at Dodger stadium. Great seats (club level, cushy seats, super clean, nobody standing in front of you, shady, great view). My son ate 2 dodger dogs, me nachos. Ed Jackson throwing 97 mph in the 9th. Diamondbacks offensively anemic . 14 innings. Sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”….twice. Everybody in the stadium ended up getting a foul ball at some point during the marathon. All in all a fantastic time at the ballpark and excellent bonding opportunity.

My son at the top of Dodger stadium.