September 2010

Film review: Top of the Tenth

First of all, the story came out today that TinCaps manager Jose Flores did not have his contract renewed by the Padres. In the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

The first half of Ken Burns’ “Tenth Inning” made its premiere last night. Overall, it’s outstanding. Love it. There are some additional angles I wish he would have gone into, as well (and maybe he will tonight in the completion of the series). Disclaimer: Being 26 years old, I don’t fully remember some of the things this documentary addresses. Which could be good or bad, I’m not sure which. Let’s discuss.

  • The steroid discussion is well balanced. Believe it or not, Chris Rock might have rationalized it best. To paraphrase, if I told you you’d get paid like Steven Spielberg just by taking a pill, you’d take the pill. That simplifies the argument for sure, but still valid.
  • “Innocence is beautiful sometimes.” – Pedro Martinez, in reference to the steroid controversy. In other words, it felt better when we weren’t suspicious of ballplayers. If I told you Chris Rock and Pedro Martinez made two of the most philosophical comments of a film, would you ever believe it was any good?
  • I don’t remember a ton about the strike because I wasn’t to the point where I understood it (I was in fourth grade and only cared about on-field stuff). But the anger from fans was pretty interesting (and totally deserved). The owners and players were arguing over revenue, which ultimately comes from the fans. It seems like both sides forgot that.
  • Cal Ripken gets a lot of credit for saving baseball after the strike. He gets the hero treatment, which is fine. He signed tons of autographs, smiled for pictures, did a lot of things to reconnect baseball with its fans. But from other things I’ve read, Ripken wasn’t as aw-shucks perfect as everybody wants to remember. Burns has a limited amount of time in which to tell a story, but if you’re going to make a documentary, it’s worth telling all sides.
  • The discussion of the Braves’ big three starting pitchers (Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz) is good, but everybody only remembers Maddux as this soft-tossing pinpoint control guy who “looks like a CPA.” He absolutely had some of the best command in the game. But when he first came up with the Cubs, he was a hard thrower (93 mph is pretty good to me) and he walked FAR more batters than he did later in his career. To me, Maddux is exactly the opposite of everything that was going on around him. He figured it out: to be good, you have to have talent; to be great you have to have something extra between the ears. Know yourself, know your mechanics, know the game, keep the hitters guessing. He had zip on his fastball, but he knew location, movement and a variation in velocity were keys to long-term success. In other words, slow and steady wins the race. As opposed to so many others who took the “easy way” of performance enhancers to get rich quick. And if Burns’ series is trying to show that baseball has mirrored American society, doesn’t this fit right in with how our economy was taking its own version of artificial performance enhancers at around the same time? And aren’t both the economy and MLB still trying to regain credibility with the public, even now? Just saying. I’m hoping he makes this connection tonight. He already made the connection with our country’s obsession with medications like Viagra and Prozac.
  • Ken Burns’ musical taste is as good as ever, even if his haircut taste isn’t. “Jessica” by the Allman Brothers, “You Wreck Me” by Tom Petty, and others. Boss.
  • Wade Boggs took his talent (and phenomenal mustache) straight from the Red Sox to the Yankees? After eight straight All-Star appearances? Where was I? He was a little past his prime (35 years old) when it happened, but this is sickening to me.
  • I forgot how important Francisco Cabrera’s game-winner was in the 1992 NLCS. The Pirates have been horrible ever since and it started the Braves’ domination of the NL East.
  • The discussion of the Latin American explosion in baseball is pretty good. One line I liked was, “No one walks off the island (Dominican Republic). You have to hit your way off.” Which is more right than Burns maybe intended it to be. I’ve heard from baseball people that some of the Latin-born players have a hard time learning patience. The reason? Because you don’t get noticed by scouts by taking a bunch of walks. At least not as quickly as you do by hitting a ball 900 feet.
  • The comment that players can be signed out of the Dominican Republic more cheaply than out of college is mostly right. But tell that to everyone selected in the last 25 rounds (which constitutes 50 percent) of any MLB draft and get ready to be laughed out of the room. The fact is, most players (regardless of home country) sign for a $1,000 bonus and are like lottery tickets to teams. If they pan out, great. If not, it wasn’t a huge investment. The difference is, if an American player doesn’t make it, he sells insurance. If a Latin player gets cut, it’s anybody’s guess where he ends up.
  • Indians broadcaster Tom Hamilton had a couple of highlight calls included on the show. Loved them.
  • Bob Costas talked about the home run chase between McGwire and Sosa and he’s right on point. These statistics were completely unheard of. These guys were enormous. We knew somewhere in our minds that something strange was going on. But it was a story that took our minds off a lot of the other things that was going on in the world. McGwire and Sosa kept smiling and hugging their kids after breaking records. It was great theater. Who wouldn’t want to believe it was all legitimate? But at around the same time, a U.S. Olympic shot putter was banned for life for using the same stuff McGwire was using.
  • I think it’s interesting that Tony La Russa wanted the reporter who broke the McGwire-androstenedione story to be banned from the clubhouse for life. Many in the press tried to bury the story (after all, home runs=ratings and newspaper sales). Now, there are people who want to run McGwire out of baseball for life for using the stuff. Something to think about.
  • The profile of Barry Bonds so far has been outstanding. It’s not judging. It’s just explaining how Bonds came to become his ornery self (his dad feeling mistreated was most of it) and why (in someone’s mind) he decided to start taking performance enhancers (he got to 400 homers and 400 stolen bases in his career and got no attention because it happened at the same time as the home run chase).

Other thoughts:

  • Jay Bruce hit a division title-clinching homer last night for the Reds. I remember seeing him tear apart the Florida State League in 2007. He acted like a little kid (in a good way) at the All-Star Game that year. Good for him.
  • The Padres are fading fast in the big leagues, losing
    back-to-back games against the bummish Cubs. They haven’t been able to score,
    which they’ve been able to overcome most of the year with great
    pitching. Sigh. The Giants’ magic number to clinch the NL West is 4.
  • Baseball America‘s league-by-league top prospect lists are trickling out now. The Padres had six in the top 20 of the Short-A Northwest League. 3B Jedd Gyorko was third, RHP Matt Lollis was sixth, OF Rymer Liriano was eighth, RHP Adys Portillo was ninth, RHP Keyvius Sampson was 12th and OF Rico Noel was 19th. We saw that Gyorko and Lollis are really good. Liriano was a disaster toward the end of his time in Fort Wayne although he was trying to skip a level at the age of 18, so I’m not writing him off (Joey Votto repeated the Midwest League, after all). Portillo looked good in the few appearances we saw of him. I’ve heard good things about Sampson. Noel definitely has speed but was still adjusting to pro ball when we saw him for a brief time this year.
  • I may or may not have gone on a vacation over the weekend. Let’s just say looking at this in person while listening to this may be the most relaxing thing of all time.
  • Next weekend is the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival. If you’re not there, you’re wrong.

And now, musical guest… Jack Johnson!

Take care!

DW

As the front office turns

Fact: The front offices of every NL West team (except maybe the Giants) have had some sort of soap opera action this season. Now it’s just getting incestuous with the Padres and Diamondbacks.

Former Padres GM Kevin Towers was hired by Arizona, the team that used to be part-owned by now-Padres owner Jeff Moorad, who let Towers go. Now the question is, who will Towers bring over from the Padres? Also, A.J. Hinch, who was recently fired as Arizona’s manager, got hired by the Padres as the VP of professional scouting.

The Dodgers are tied up in an ugly divorce. Joe Torre is quitting. James Loney called out his own team… and then they still came out and looked disinterested against the Padres last night. Yuck.

The Rockies are pulling their annual “it’s September… let’s turn it on.” Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are good. Meanwhile, the Giants are already making humidor-related excuses for why they’re going to lose in Denver this weekend. Yikes.

On a much more important note, I called my mom the other night after work. She was totally disgusted by Dancing With the Stars. Apparently “some guy from that New Jersey show” showed his abs “because that’s his thing,” then his dance partner (the mom from “The Brady Bunch”) did the same thing. Gross. Meanwhile, David Hasselhoff was the first person voted off. Which takes a ton of credibility away from the show.

On the reading front, I just got my library card in the mail. My first check-out was a book about writing HTML code. So get ready for some sweet improvements on the TinCaps’ website.

Finally, Bill Simmons has been on PTI over the last two days. It’s been outstanding.

And now, musical guest… For the second straight post, OK Go!

I’m heading out of town for the weekend, so have a good one!

Take care,

DW

The Madden ratings of life

I haven’t touched a video game controller in a while, but it wasn’t long ago that I could beat up on people in all sorts of displays of button-pushing prowess. Although Tecmo Super Bowl will always be the gold standard for football video games, Madden has become the new favorite, even spurring TV shows where unathletic goofs meet world-class athletes for awkward exchanges and smack-talking. And chances to win money for being good at video games.

The other day when I saw a commercial for the Madden video games, I thought about the ratings system for players. They can be anywhere from 1-100. The higher the number, the better the rating. For example, the Colts have a 91 rating while my Browns have a 70 overall. Players are rated individually for their speed, agility, catching ability, throwing accuracy, kick power, everything. This made me think: What if regular schmoes like you and me had Madden ratings? Oh boy.

Top Bun, Wendy’s Build-A-Burger Contest
Jumping ability: 95
. Closest NFL comparison: Randy Moss. If you’ve been to Parkview Field for a game, you’ve seen this contest. Bottom bun lays down, comically large burger toppings are placed in a row, top bun retrieves the toppings and builds the burger. At the end, the top bun comes running with the final topping. If it’s not a close race (and sometimes even when it is), the top bun makes it a belly-flop finish. I don’t know how our promo people always find world-class high jumpers, but it’s impressive.

Catchers, Subway Foot-Long Fling
Catching ability: 42
. Closest NFL comparison: Braylon Edwards – you know, the guy who leads the league in drops every year. The premise is simple: Three fake sandwiches are blasted out of an air cannon toward a couple of people standing about 200 feet away, each holding one end of a towel. Catch the subs in the towel, you win. Miss them, you lose. It’s pretty tough to catch anything from 200 feet away, but especially when you basically combine it with what amounts to a three-legged race as you try to run with somebody else. It makes for good entertainment, though. If somebody does actually catch one, the crowd goes bananas.

Everyone else at the grocery store
Awareness: 23. Speed: 42
. Closest NFL comparison: Bad Brett Favre, with the speed of Refrigerator Perry. I went grocery shopping last weekend between the hours of 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. This was a terrible mistake. I don’t enjoy shopping in general, but I absolutely don’t enjoy the awkward waiting game that happens anytime someone is standing, cart stopped, scouring the nutritional facts on Cheez-Its while all I want is the economy-sized box of multigrain Wheat Thins. But alas, it’s behind their cart. Sigh. I was so put out by the whole thing that a lady said “Go Bucks!” to me (I was wearing Ohio State gear at the time) and I was so out of it that I didn’t know how to respond. If that lady is reading this (the odds are hilariously bad, but still)… “O-H!”

Ohio University Mascot
Tackling: 16
Make whatever excuses you want. You couldn’t take out Brutus Buckeye (break tackle rating: 98) when what seemed like a “hey, let’s have some mascot fun” moment turned into a “hey, I’m seriously going to try to take down another mascot, then try to hit him below the belt when he doesn’t play along” embarrassment. Ohio University is a nice school with a beautiful campus and a really good marching band, but this was bad.

Allan Wertheimer
Speed under normal circumstances: 37
Speed when free food is involved: 139
I know the ratings only go up to 100, but Allan puts in some sort of cheat codes when he even hears rumors of food that he doesn’t have to pay for. He’s skit-skatting and be-bopping all over the place. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Dave Hutte
Swagger: 99
I wish I was making this up, but apparently video game designers think it’s important to numerically rate a player’s “swagger,” since that decides how good of a football player they are. Apparently they’ve been watching too many games with Dan Fouts doing color commentary. Anyway, this is new for Madden 2011, and I’ve never met anybody with more swagger than old pal Dave Hutte. Maybe it was the 18 years in the Green Bay Boys’ Choir. Maybe it’s his ability to make the ladies swoon. Maybe it’s the fact that he plays Madden more than anybody who ever lived. Know this, though: the only person who eclipses Dave Hutte in swagger is Ric Flair. They may also share the same agility rating, but swagger makes up for a lot of deficiencies.

Random thoughts:

  • The players’ union HAS to do something about maple bats this off-season. Tyler Colvin (2007 Daytona Cubs and a good dude) got speared in the chest by the business end of a maple bat the other day and will miss the rest of the season. Another foot higher and it might have hit him in the neck. If somebody don’t do something about this now, it’s going to take a career-ending or life-threatening injury to get something done. And that’s ridiculous.
  • Is it completely depressing that I’m excited to watch the Tenth Inning of Ken Burns’ BASEBALL documentary series? You can do so at Parkview Field soon.
  • The Giants are hitting below .220 this month and are still in first place in the NL West. Are you serious?
  • I’m embarrassed to say this, but last week I ran on the Rivergreenway for the first time. It was delightful. If you live in Fort Wayne and have never tried it out, try it, and do it soon. You’re downtown, yet you feel like you’re secluded, you can run, walk, sit and read a book… I’m not being sarcastic when I say it’s one of my favorite places in town.
  • I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about minor-league baseball over the last week or so, but next time I post I might have some season-in-review thoughts. Also, Lake County won the MWL title this year. If it wasn’t going to be the TinCaps, it might as well be an Indians’ affiliate.

And now, musical guest… OK Go and a bunch of dogs!

Hat tip to Michael Limmer for
showing me the video… Maybe my favorite music video ever. It’s creative, it includes dogs, it’s wonderful.

Take care!

DW

Chadd Hartman, internet sensation

Found this this morning on ESPN.com and did a double-take.

You probably don’t remember him, but a guy named Chadd Hartman played all of two games for the TinCaps last year, right after the All-Star break when half the team was promoted to Lake Elsinore. Seemed like a nice enough guy, very soft-spoken. Probably better-known to the ladies for his stunning blue eyes and the extra “D” on the end of his name than to scouts for his inside-out swing, but there’s more to life than being able to serve a single to the opposite field, am I right?

Well, he was released by the Padres and didn’t play for anybody this year. Usually that’s the end of the story, but not here.

Hartman also played two games with Triple-A Portland (when that team had an outbreak of the swine flu, allegedly) and wore jersey number 37. Apparently ESPN’s Rob Neyer has some odd fixation with the number 37 and bought the jersey at an auction. Neyer wrote about the experience here, even offering to give the jersey back to him. Hartman caught wind of it and wrote to Neyer. Apparently, Hartman took him up on the offer because we have this.

And that’s the story of how Chadd Hartman, now selling cars in Florida, ended up with his Portland Beavers jersey.

You can now feel free to move on with your life.

The magic numbers of life

The TinCaps’ season is over. Bummer.

On a positive note, RHP Matt Lollis was promoted to Advanced-A Lake Elsinore after the TinCaps were eliminated and made a good start (5.1IP 6H 2R 1ER 1BB 7K) in a no-decision against Rancho Cucamonga. Predition: He begins 2010 at Lake Elsinore.

On an even more-positive note, near the end of the regular season, the TinCaps visited the Bowling Green Hot Rods. Which is generally my least-favorite trip in the Eastern Division. It’s a long drive, it’s hotter than blazes, it’s in the Central time zone which throws me off, we lose an hour driving back… It’s just not that much fun. However, I looked past all that when I heard the Hot Rods had just received a player from Short-A Hudson Valley. His name? Burt Reynolds. I’m not making this up. He didn’t start the first game, but he did pinch hit. Then he started every game of the series after that. The Buford T. Justice and Loni Anderson jokes were everywhere. Then, Burt drilled a grand slam, which led to maybe my proudest moment in four years of pro baseball play-by-play. I was having so much fun, I thought for a minute I’d like to have a Burt Reynolds on the TinCaps, but then quickly realized it would suck all the fun out of it. Let me give you an example of why: In college, I had a CD player for an alarm clock. I set The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” as the song I woke up to. After a while, a tired, 19-year-old me grew to despise hearing that song at 7:30 in the morning. Eventually I changed my alarm to be a normal beeping alarm and life went back to normal. The point is, if you use something you enjoy too much, you stop enjoying it so much. It took years, but I’m just now able to fully appreciate Pete Townsend’s windmill guitar move again. Same goes for Burt Reynolds: If I made Smokey and the Bandit jokes 140 nights out of the year, we’d all be tired of it by about Game 7. And nobody wants that.

On a less-positive note, some good people don’t work for the Padres anymore. Former TinCaps pitching coach Tom Bradley is among them. It seemed like this was coming by default, just with the sale of the Padres and the new people in charge. That’s how it works, in baseball and in any other business. People want to bring in “their people” and they have every right to do so.

Two months ago when I wrote my last entry, I promised a look at “magic numbers,” as in the ones we have in sports. It’s the way we figure out how close a team is to clinching a playoff spot, a division title, etc. Mathematically, you figure out the number of games the team has remaining on the schedule, then subtract the number of games ahead in the loss column (compared to the team you’re trying to eliminate). Any combination of your team’s wins or the other team’s losses equaling or surpassing the magic number means you’re in the playoffs. The point is, the lower the magic number, the better.

My first encounter with the magic number was in kindergarten, when we cut up strips of construction paper and made a chain to count down the number of days until Christmas break. Every day we ripped a link off the chain, which whipped everyone into a frenzy when it came time for the teacher to pick somebody to be the chain-ripper.

Note: I re-created this excitement the year I worked in Daytona, except I counted down the days until I moved away. And when I started counting down, the chain (constructed with sheets of pocket schedules) stretched almost all the way around my room. It was miserably hot and humid, it rained every day, I was doing nearly as much work as I do now for zero base pay and racking up more debt by the day. Don’t judge.

This got me thinking: What if there were numerical (or at least more definitive) indicators of other things in life? What if there were magic numbers for everything?

Example: You’ve been dating a girl for a while. It’s going well. You’re not sure when to pop the question. Wouldn’t it be easier if there was a number of dates that you had to go on, and once you got there you knew it was time? Would you even want to bother with a girl whose magic number was below 50? Wouldn’t you want a little longer to figure out if you want to spend the rest of your life with this girl without her driving you up a wall? Answer: Yes. Unless you’re my buddy Dave Hutte. In that case, I’m pretty sure your magic number starts at 1 as soon as you meet a female.

Side note: One overrated movie tried a variation of this theme, but it was more than a bit lame.

Think of all the uses for magic numbers: Potty training dogs/children (how many times do you have to explain it to them before they figure it out?). Weather (how many more days will we have without seeing the sun? 150? Sigh.). The possibilities are endless. Then again, if we know a sunny day is coming, maybe we wouldn’t appreciate it as much. Who knows?

Other ramblings:

  • I liked this about the idiotic tradition of throwing back home-run balls. People risk life and limb for a seven-dollar baseball, then throw it back onto the field. If you’re going to act like you just found the Golden Ticket to chocolate factories and million-dollar memorabilia sales, how does it make sense to throw it right back where it came from?
  • I also liked this story about elbow injuries compared to shoulder injuries.
  • Interesting piece about how to revamp the playoffs in baseball.
  • Saw Aroldis Chapman throw on live TV last night for the first time. Free and easy throwing 98-100 with the fastball. Is that good?
  • Going home at (approximately) 5:00 p.m. and getting weekends to, you know, have a normal life is a nice change.

And now, musical guest… George Strait!

That’s it for now. Next time: The Madden ratings of life.

Take care!

DW

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