Showing posts with label Baseball. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baseball. Show all posts

Friday, May 10, 2019

Maybe There is Hope


Why?  Because baseball continues to reflect and give voice to the American Dream.  Work hard, have talent, succeed, in spite of ethnicity or humble beginnings.  It stands as a bulwark against the tide of dystopian xenophobia promoted by no less than the President of the United States.  It is rule based and while it has succumbed to instant replay challenges, pitch clocks, and exotic statistical metrics, it has essentially changed to remain the same.

There used to be a similar familiarity about the checks and balances of our three branches of government, comforting as a citizen, but we now have a disrupter in the White House, someone who has no sense of history, a disdain for culture, and who measures everything in clicks, sound bites, and winning and losing.  And now he is set to ignore an equal branch of government, Congress, and apparently Republicans there are willing to be accomplices, their sacred vow “to affirm support for the Constitution” relegated to mere hollow words.  If baseball was played this way, players might as well refuse to return to the dugout after strike three is called, saying the people want to see hitting, so let’s make it 4 or 5 strikes before one is called out.  Just tweet it and it shall be.

The recent political developments would normally envelop my blog with multiple entries, as well as more on gun control because of the recent tragic Colorado school shooting, However,with the publication of my book, Waiting for Someone to Explain It, I vowed it would serve as a cathartic statement on such topics, thus allowing my writing life to return to some kind of new normalcy as well.

“As American as apple pie” frequently gets conflated with baseball.  The baseball of my youth was mostly all white players with Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in the National League in 1947 and Larry Doby the American League a few months later.  As an adult I once sat next to Roy Campanella  (who came up to the Dodgers the year after Robinson) at a luncheon; it was sometime in the 1980s.  He was in a wheel chair because of the automobile accident that ended his playing years.  We briefly talked about the old days, not about race, but about baseball.  He was interested in my childhood dreams of pitching but of course I tried to turn the discussion to him, but he was reticent in that regard, I think there was an inherent sadness about missing his buddies, and his last years in baseball. After Jackie Robinson he was the second black player inducted into the Hall of Fame.  I remember his humanity and putting up with me and my questions.

I think of him from time to time especially as the landscape of American baseball changes to reflect our immigrant heritage.  It is truly an international sport and it is no more apparent than here in the United States.  One wonders, if baseball could change and still be the great sport of yesteryear, why not America?  Isn’t that what it means to “make America great?”

And it is nowhere more apparent than in the Miami Marlins’ farm system.  As the Marlins’ CEO (and one of my favorite Yankees of my adult life) Derek Jeter said: "We want Miami to be the destination for top international talent.  This organization should reflect the diversity of the South Florida community."  And indeed it does.

Although we’ve already seen a few Jupiter Hammerheads’ games this season, the Marlins’ Class A+ team in Jupiter, this was the first opportunity to write about one and although Wednesday night’s game involved dropping a 5-1 decision to the St. Lucie Mets, it was notable in other ways.

The first thing that caught my eye after the singing of the National Anthem was the image of the American flag in the background with the Hammerhead’s pitcher, Edward Cabrera, standing in the foreground waiting for the sign.  

He joins the ranks of players from the Dominican Republic, boasting probably more professional baseball players per capita than any place on earth.  We’ve truly, rightfully assimilated the best of the best on the field.  We just need to do so as a nation of citizens.

I was looking forward to seeing him pitch; a highly touted, skinny 6’4” ballplayer who can routinely throw in the high 90s.  His young, 21 year-old body still has time to fill out and will make him even more formidable.   During his last start he had struck out 13 and now has more than 20 scoreless innings to go along with his 1.50 ERA.  While he pitched well for 2 innings (scoreless, and 2 K’s), apparently he had a fingernail problem and had to leave the game.  But one sees how he gets his speed from his whip like delivery.  Edward Cabrera is a player to watch for MLB action, or at least moving up a notch in the minors this year.

He was replaced by Daniel Castano, a lefty who caught my fancy, my being a lefty with baseball dreams which never went beyond my teenage years.  When the Miami Marlins traded away Marcell Ozuna, they got three highly ranked minor leaguers and sort of as an afterthought the left-handed pitcher Castano was thrown in.  He’s labored in the minors but has good control.  His low base on ball to strike out ratio is an attribute of a more mature pitcher.

In five innings he allowed five hits and four runs, although two were unearned, and he struck out five. His ERA is still around 4.00, but his mechanics were powerful, mustering up speed and good breaking stuff.  He was at the low end of the draft (picked in the 19th round) and he is one of the “old guys” on the team at the age of 25.  He’s listed at 6’4” but seems smaller as at 230 lbs he is stocky.  Somehow I think this guy has some chance of making the majors.  Here he is in action:

But that is not the end of the multicultural story.  The shortstop Jose Devers, only 19 years old, is another Dominican.  Disappointingly, my New York Yankees traded him to the Marlins.  He is now one of the high ranking shortstops in the minors, hitting around .370.  If the name sounds familiar, he’s the cousin of Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers.  How cool would that have been if the NYY held on to him for the Sox / NYY rivalry?  During Wednesday night’s game he went 2 for 4. 

Also on the team is the highly touted 22 year old Cuban Victor Victor Mesa who the Marlins signed for about $5 million, along with his 17-year-old brother, Victor Mesa, Jr. for $1 million. To my knowledge, the latter is yet to play minor league ball, but his older brother looks like he has the right stuff.  They’re sons of the famous Cuban baseball player – you guessed the name, Victor Mesa.  Here’s Victor Victor at bat:

Finally that game was the first rehab assignment for one of the Marlin’s regulars, Garrett Cooper, who unfortunately made a bush league error playing left field and seemed to have difficulty getting back into the grove, but the last I looked he was batting over .500 so I can only assume he’ll be joining the parent club soon.


It was one of those special Florida nights, a cool breeze and on the field the kind of multiculturalism which is to be embraced, not feared.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Heaney Delivers


Happy to hear that my 2013 pick for a pitcher destined for the major leagues, Andrew Heaney, threw a 1 hit gem for the LAA last night.  Wow.

When I saw him in pitch for the Marlin’s Class A+ minor league team in June 2013 I said he is a quality lefty and already has great control. His fast ball was clocking at 93 maximum, usually in the low 90s, but he was working the ball mostly at the knees.  His off-speed pitch, either a cutter or a curveball was in the low 80s.   I went on to say he follows another famous lefty Jupiter Hammerhead alumnus, Cliff Lee, who pitched here in 2001. He too relies on control -- and is about the same size as Andrew Heaney, who's listed at 6-2 and 190. But he looks much thinner than that and needs to work on building himself to his advertised weight for stamina and to further develop his off speed pitches.  I'll go out on a limb and predict he will make the majors in 1-2 years.

Well the stamina is there as he threw 116 pitches yesterday, and the pinpoint control as well, 81 of those for strikes.  His fastball was at 95mph, even in the 9th inning, mixing with the same curve I saw back then and with an effective change up.  He’s now the complete package.

Added bonus last night, it was his first complete game as a professional, recording all 27 outs on his 27th birthday!

Attaway to go Andrew. And I’ll be a professional scout yet!



Monday, April 23, 2018

All is Right With the World – Another Season of Baseball


Roger Dean Stadium, home to the Jupiter Hammerheads, the Marlins affiliate, and the Palm Beach Cardinals, the St. Louis Cardinals affiliate, recently commenced its Advanced Class A season.  Last week we saw the Hammerheads take on the Lakeland Tigers, winning the game 6-2.  Here’s the exciting part, as of this date the Hammerheads have jumped off to a 14-3 record.  The Marlins have some real talent in their minor league system.

That night Dan Straily pitched for the Hammerheads.  He’s on a rehab assignment with a right forearm strain from the Marlins and he did a credible job allowing only 1 run in 5 innings with 5 strikeouts.  He’s pitching another rehab game in AA and probably with rejoin the Marlins if that goes well.
































A good sign for the Marlins’ future: the five pitchers with the most innings pitched on the Hammerheads are averaging a not too shabby 1.15 WHIP.

Their hitting is strong with three players in the middle infield hitting more than .300 to date,

                                                        John Silviano (.333, 3HR)


                                                         Joe Dunand (.328, 2HR)


                                                      Riley Mahan (.304, 2HR)

So, all is right with the world right now with baseball underway both in the majors and the minors.  I’ve always said that I enjoy our minor league games even more, sitting right behind 3rd base each Weds. night as “Silver Sluggers,” the cost of a ticket, FOR THE ENTIRE SEASON of Weds. night games, 30 bucks which includes a hot dog and a soda!  Try to beat that at any ballpark.  Maybe that would cover a couple of beers at Yankee stadium.

Only sad part of the night was former First Lady, Barbara Bush, had just passed away with the Flag at half mast and a tender rendition of the National Anthem played on a wind instrument.

Looking forward to the rest of the season, and following the Hammerheads and the Cards!








Sunday, March 4, 2018

Spring Training and the Boys of Summer



Spring. Renewal.  It seems that with every passing year, replenishment of the spirit becomes a higher priority: this year, perhaps even more so, given the chaotic destruction of government, and the deterioration of civility.

One remaining constant is baseball, spring training, and the boys of summer gathering once again: the crack of the bat and the pounding of gloves in the bullpen.

The game has changed from the days of my own boyhood.  Pitchers then generally went nine innings, maybe more.  There were no designated hitters, few bullpen stoppers, salary arbitration, automatic walks, game clocks, ML baseball drafts, protective helmets (inside pitches were integral to the game), anti-spitball rules, instant replay challenges, and preposterous salaries (and ticket prices).  “Hey, get your hot dog and cold beer, $10 each!”

Perhaps some of these adjustments are for the better.  But, essentially, the game changed to remain the same and with spring, the clock is wound once again.

Our friends Cathy and John are Boston Red Sox fans, the archenemy of us New York Yankee devotees. When they asked whether I wanted to join them to see the Sox play the St. Louis Cardinals at our nearby Roger Dean Jupiter stadium, I said, sure, why not, an opportunity to scout the opposition and engage in some good-natured ribbing.

And scouting it was, as the Sox were traveling from FL’s west coast and only brought a handful of regulars.  So, it was an opportunity to see some of their players of the future.  It’s the same reason we have regular tickets to Class A+ minor league ball after spring training – to see the future.

The day before Cathy and John saw the Red Sox lose to the Houston Astros 10-5 at the neighboring Ball Park of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach.  I jokingly predicted that the Red Sox might win against the Cards by the same score, and was almost right, winning 9-6.  Well, at least I guessed the total number of runs correctly.

It was a sell-out, standing room only crowd.  John and Cathy had obtained tickets several weeks before. When the Sox or the Yankees visit FL’s east coast from their west coast spring training facilities, which is rare, tickets are scarce.  We had seats with a good view between third base and left field in the second tier.  Best of all, these seats were in the shade. 

It was strange to watch the two teams go through their warm up and batting practice exercises as both teams had red jerseys on.  When play finally started it was hard to tell who was fielding behind a base or who was on base.  I had to keep looking at the scoreboard to tell which team was at bat.

Two pitchers from their normal rotation started, Bud Norris of the St. Louis Cards and Drew Pomeranz of the Red Sox.  Both left the games with injuries before they completed their allotted two or three innings, Norris because of a hamstring injury and Pomeranz because of a forearm tightness issue.

The righty Norris in action:












 



















The lefty Pomeranz in action:














 

















Norris got into trouble in the first inning giving up a well hit home run to one of the few Boston regulars who played, Andrew Benintendi.  I managed to get a shot of Benintendi’s follow through swing as he hit that ball: 


An inning later, Norris left the game after this conference on the mound:
 

So there were lots of hits, runs, errors in the game, making it interesting, even though it was only practice, but to see the boys of summer in the spring means some order and stability in the world.  Doesn’t it?

As it is that time of year, and having loved The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Ann bought me another “baseball novel” to read, selecting Bucky F*cking Dent by the very well known screen actor, David Duchovny.  I first hesitated reading it, an actor writing a novel, perhaps just capitalizing on his fame.  But, no, Duchovny is a good writer as well and I’ll give him credit for what I would describe as a “late coming of age” novel, a son confronting his father after years of estrangement. 

Who knew, the dad and son are really very much alike.  Problem is the dad is dying and as he’s an ardent Bosox fan, the son (ironically subsisting as the ace Peanut thrower vendor at Yankee stadium) moves in with his father and conspires (with his father’s friends) to keep him away from the fact that the Sox are slipping in the standings as the 1978 season comes to an end.  They censor current newspapers and run VCR tapes of previous Red Sox wins over NY, Ted knowing his father, Marty, wouldn’t remember them. In the end there is the end, Bucky f*cking Dent winning the AL pennant for the NYY with his home run over the green wall in the final game of the season.  By then, father and son have become reconciled.

It’s light reading, poignant and funny at times and a page turner, not that there is a lot of baseball therein, but I was very curious about how the novel would resolve and Duchovny writes good dialogue, almost like a screenplay, which, I recall, this novel started out as such.  As a baseball novel and as a noteworthy piece of literature, it pales next to Harbach’s The Art of Fielding.  Duchovny’s work is baseball “lite.”

But still, it’s my era and I’ll never forget that moment in Paris -- Ann and I happened to be there when the Sox and the Yankees faced off each other at Fenway on Oct 2, 1978.  Back then, no Internet, and needless to say no coverage of American baseball anywhere and so we had to await the next day’s edition of the International Herald Tribune to learn the glorious news of the Dent’s unexpected heroism, and at Fenway no less.  I remember Ann and I dancing in the streets of Paris, a strange sight, but Parisians take those things in stride: “ces Américains fous.”