Author Archive for Eric

P&P Conversations: Hello, Goodbye

Eric:When our friendship was but a timid internet seedling, you wrote a blog called Waiting for Berkman. While the site wasn’t necessarily about the Big Puma, it wasn’t necessarily not about the Big Puma either. Now, almost three years after you and I joined forces at Pitchers & Poets, the Lance Berkman era could be coming to an end. He appears to have torn an ACL this weekend in Los Angeles, and has already floated the idea of retiring. Thank goodness, that in the first day of Berkman’s absence, a pair of large and similarly uncouth rookies performed astoundingly well.

The Cardinals called up prospect Matt Adams, who quite visibly exceeds his listed dimensions of 6’3″, 230 pounds, to replace Berkman at first base. He went 2-4. The Dodgers, meanwhile, won the game on a 3-0, pinch hit home run by Scott Van Slyke, son of Andy. Scott is 6’5″ and weighs 250 pounds. He has a puffy face like Berkman’s and, despite his lineage, a similar bemused working class demeanor.

My question is this: What would the end of the Berkman era mean for baseball? Furthermore, is he a replaceable entity?

Ted: Only if those big rookies actually move with a grace that belies their build will they inherit the Berkman crown. It’s odd to me that such a quietly capable fielder and hitting–so smooth and confident and patient–went down simply catching a routine throw. I felt like I was watching my dad come up lame in a pick-up basketball game; it was the injury of a twilight player.

The potential retirement of the Big Puma marks a kind of turning point in baseball player media relations. Lance was and is a maestro of the old media. When sportswriters needed a sound bit or an observant and humorous sports radio interview, they could bank on Fat Elvis. Berkman didn’t tweet, he talked. He is eloquent and funny as a conversationalist, in contrast to today’s young up-and-coming social media marketeers.

That and he could hit. I’m glad he got a ring.

If this is a year of departures, it’s also a year of arrivals. Are you a Trout guy or a Harper guy? (I’m a Bryce man, myself.)

Eric: Are we already aligning ourselves into camps? I heard John Kruk talking about this on ESPN the other night, and it didn’t even occur to me that anybody was picking sides. But I guess it makes sense. The Angel-faced, fishy-named Trout does present a helluva contrast with Harper and all his stylistic excess.

If this is the Beatles vs. Stones of our baseball-viewing generation, I want to align myself with the Stones. Because a Stones man is what I am. Musically, and I think/hope/hope not aesthetically. But then I watch these guys play. Harper’s super-aggressive, sizzling, kinetic assault on the baseball experience is the more captivating; Trout’s classicist embrace of all five tools, his left-handed game from the right side of the plate, is something more archaically, innocently beautiful.

At risk of reducing this to a Simmonsian level (not that Bill Simmons would ever engage in such old-dude categorization), Bryce Harper is the Rolling Stones and Mike Trout is the Beatles. And yet, despite myself, I find myself preferring Trout. Bryce Harper is changing the way we watch baseball. Mike Trout makes me feel like I’m watching the next Joe DiMaggio. His very swing feels steeped in history. Right now, that’s easier for me to consume and appreciate.

More importantly: Who is the Beach Boys of baseball?

Ted: The Tampa Bay Rays are the Beach Boys of BaseBall. Sunny disposition, coordinated beachwear, and an elevated level of quality that will outlast the schtick….

Give me Bryce Harper. Ordained for years as the second coming, scrutinized like a British royal, called up before his 20th, and how does he respond? By playing baseball with Pete Rose-level gamesmanship mixed with the grade-A talent that he didn’t even bother with at Triple-A. Trout has his appeal, the Dimaggio-like understated disposition, and his footspeed is a totally compelling characteristic. But thus far Harper is the cultural confluence.

Do you think there’s enough going on between the two of these players to create a Nomar-A-Rod-Jeter dynamic at some point down the line?

Eric: Even though I just finished reducing them to stale classic rock archetypes, I’ll now say I don’t even want to go there. For one, I’m not even sure I can explain the Nomar-A-Rod-Jeter dynamic. I was so young, and they were so big. Now I’m old enough that if I was an MLB player I’d be entering my prime soon, and Harper and Trout actually sort of seem like kids. To burden them with that sort of expectation would be unfair. I just hope they are both great, exciting ballplayers for a long time. I hope whatever energy that exists between the two of them only serves to enhance the way each is appreciated. I hope they can be as comfortable in the media landscape as tomorrow as Lance Berkman was in yesterday’s.

Jose Canseco III

The year was 1991. Jose Canseco had gone several weeks without hitting a home run and was becoming alarmed. No matter that this was December, 1991, and the baseball season was still months away from starting. His biceps felt deflated. The rhythm of his heartbeat was far too steady. “I feel empty,” Jose Canseco said to the fish inside his massive, brilliant fish tank, “as if my broad shoulders have been robbed of their broadness.” To clear his mind, Jose Canseco took his pet lion Mark McGwire on a sunset walk through his Miami neighborhood. They encountered an old woman sitting on a lawn chair. She saw Mark McGwire’s dejected face. Then Jose Canseco’s dejected face. “Take this,” she told Jose Canseco, ripping a gold tooth from the back of her mouth. “Swallow it. Next year, you will be traded to the Texas Rangers for Ruben Sierra.”

A Baseball Hall of Fame for the Soul

Baseball equipment from Homerun Monkey

If I have one cause as a baseball blogger, it’s to advance a kind of fandom defined by idiosyncratic love as opposed to institutionalized expectations. That being: More Roger Maris Museum in a strip mall in  North Dakota Dakota, and less apocalyptic columnist types freaking out about how buff Jeff Bagwell was or wasn’t in 1999.

Because simply railing from the sidelines about various bullshit is not sufficient for me, I have also recently become a member of The Baseball Reliquary, an L.A.-based organization dedicated to fostering the notion of baseball as culture. The main draw of the Reliquary, for me, was the Shrine of the Eternals — a sort of punk rock alternative to the Hall of Fame. I’ve been reading Jon Weisman discuss the Shrine for years (Jon calls it a “Baseball Hall of Fame for the soul”), and finally joined after a friend sent the most imploring group email I’ve ever received. Here’s a bit of the official description:

Similar to Cooperstown’s National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Shrine of the Eternals differs philosophically in that statistical accomplishment is not the principal criterion for election. It is believed that the election of individuals on merits other than statistics and playing ability will offer the opportunity for a deeper understanding and appreciation of baseball than has heretofore been provided by “Halls of Fame” in the more traditional and conservative institutions.

Right on. This morning I stuck my completed ballot in the mail — and did so joyously. The rules allowed me to vote for up to nine nominees, and as somebody who has argued only semi-facetiously that Jeff Blauser should be inducted in Cooperstown, I obviously used up all nine votes. Just reading about the candidates in the totally fascinating, well-researched pamphlet that accompanied my ballot, was  worth the price of admission. Among those nominated? Curtis Pride, David Wells, J.R. Richard, and Charlie Brown. How can you not love a Hall of Fame that elects fictional characters?

Below is a photo I snapped of my ballot:

For those of you confounded by my handwriting, those names are: Bert Campaneris, Steve Blass, Hideo Nomo, Manny Mota, Lisa Fernandez, Dr. Frank Jobe, Annabelle Lee, Dan Quisenberry, and Luis Tiant.

Predictably, I leaned toward Dodger-associated figures and pitchers who ooze weird style. I also thought it was important to take advantage of this more democratic induction process to get women their rightful respect and appreciation in the baseball world. (Cooperstown’s version of induction pretty much automatically disqualified women from anything but second-class recognition.)

The results should be announced on Friday.

P.S.: I couldn’t find it written anywhere that these ballots were supposed to be secret. If I have breached any kind of Stonecutters-esque ethical code, I apologize.

Jose Canseco II

When Jose Canseco was just a little infant, he supported himself and his twin brother Ozzie Canseco by driving Canadian tourists around Havana in a red and white 1952 DeSoto. This was the early 1980s, when body-building was just coming into fashion. Even as a toddler, Jose Canseco had vision. When he arrived at his destinations, say the Hotel Nacional, Jose Canseco would crawl underneath the DeSoto and bench press it five times, with his passengers still inside. Thusly, he collected a small fortune in tips — not just from his passengers but from awed passers by. After all, who wouldn’t spare a few pesos for a toddler who could bench-press a 1952 DeSoto with such marvelous ease?

It’s 3 a.m. I Must be Baseball a.ka. Scattered Reflections from Opening Day

I woke up at 2 a.m. and trekked to my friend Kenneth’s house to watch the Mariner’s and A’s kick off the season in Tokyo. Here are some things I noticed and wrote down.

The Tokyo Dome gives the impression that you are playing in the 1970s. The deep, blueish green of the astroturf, and its general expansiveness (no dirt infield) create a quaint throwbacky feel.

Dave Sims and Mike Blowers calling the game from back in Bellevue. I imagine that without a ballpark to stimulate their interest, these two will put one another to sleep by the fourth inning.

This astroturf is SO astroturfy.

It still feels like a spring training game. I think part of that is the relatively subdued atmosphere in the stadium and the general lack of pomp and circumstance surrounding the game. In other words, the only bunting is the kind that Bob Melvin demands from his players for no reason.

Yeonis Cespedes is amazing. His body language is fearsome. He is the best even though he might not actually be the best. At every moment, he looks ready to tackle a mountain lion and then possibly eat it raw. He is going to hit some gorgeous home runs.

Michael Saunders singles in his first at-bat! My favorite spring training moment is a radio interview I heard with Saunders where he talked about zen and his approach to the plate in an extremely Canadian accent. I really hope he puts it all together.

Mariners promo/highlight video showing Alex Rios getting thrown out at second trying to steal. Baseball.

Sideline reporter Jenn Muller on concessions at the Tokyo Dome. They have Bento Boxes. Stacks of them.

Josh Reddick’s angular face and high/tight mullet make me wonder what his deal is.  I feel like he probably listens to P.O.D. Between Reddick, Yeonis, Coco Crisp, Eric Sogard’s 12-year-old nerd deal, the A’s might be the most stylistically diverse team in baseball.

Exchange rate graphic!

Miguel Olive is a grandpa? Kenneth informs me. He is surprisingly bald.

It’s 4:18 a.m. I just opened a box of cracker jacks.

Is that a baby on that wall-ad in the RF corner? Yes. Yes it is. There is also a nearby advertisement with a box with a diagonal exclamation point in it.

Dustin Ackley hits like a left fielder. He stands tall and he’s so relaxed at the plate. Him and Ichiro are a great stylistic contrast. Him and Figgins are a great productivity contrast.

More ad discussion: There is a massive yellow poster with Ichiro’s face above the seats in left field. He is holding something up and there is lots of clutter around him. I wonder what the product is? He hasn’t played in Japan in a dozen years.  It’s easy to forget how famous he still is there.

Further ad discussion: Bunny rabbit with stars next to it. Possibly playing baseball possibly throwing a star in the air.

Kenneth where’s Mark Ellis? Eric: He’s the Dodgers starting second baseman and number two hitter. Magic Johnson can’t fix everything.

Mariners commercials are the best. Even when they don’t work, they work because they are Mariners commercials.

Wikipedia excerpt on the Tokyo Dome: “Tokyo Dome’s original nickname was “The Big Egg”, with some calling it the “Tokyo Big Egg”. Its dome-shaped roof is an air-supported structure, a flexible membrane held up by slightly pressurizing the inside of the stadium.”

Product alert: Pocari Sweat. Google tells me that this is a sugary Japanese sports drink meant for Ion-replacement. It has a mild grapefruit aftertaste.

Yeonis Cespedes is awesome . It’s refreshing to again see a physically dominating player on the A’s.

Useful information courtesy of Root Sports broadcast: Largest cities in the world.

Bob Melvin has Brandon Allen bunt. Brandon Allen pops up.

Eric Sogard is Chris Sabo’s puny little brother.

Instead of wearing Mariners or Athletics uniforms, the ballboy and ballgirl are wearing what appear to be corporate uniforms that include white batting helmets. They are sort of creepy, sitting side by side near the dugout with the white helmets. In a Clockwork Orange sort of way.

Kenneth, at 5:19 a.m., emphatically, “I KNOW WHAT KEVIN MILLWOOD LOOKS LIKE”

How come this game has been going on for less than 3 hours but it already feels like a lifetime?

Can I reiterate how 1970s this whole thing feels?

Brandon League.

Jose Canseco

I once got Jose Canseco’s autograph on a baseball at Tropicana Field. He was playing catch with Bubba Trammell when I called out ‘Mr. Canseco, Mr. Canseco’ and he turned and grinned. The year was 1999. Although his role that season was technically ‘designated hitter,’ Jose Canseco caught the baseball I threw to him. He walked toward me. He signed the baseball with so much force that his signature became engraved in the sweet spot. I said thank you. The felt tip of my sharpie was pushed inward and rendered useless. Jose Canseco hit seven home runs that night — he would go on to hit 34 that season. The next day, Wade Boggs crushed my baseball with his teeth and washed it down with Budweiser.

On Snake Oil, Gem Mint Rookie Cards, and Dmitri Young

Jesse Gloyd is approaching regular contributor status at P&P. He’s written about fishing in the LA River, and about Satchel Paige on the site. Check out his podcast Buckshot Boogaloo.

Talk of coming back is always inspiring, but it rarely produces much more than the fleeting spark of its initiation. Baseball players seem to endure more than most. Jose Canseco is perpetually coming back. Jose Canseco exists in a constant state of comebackdom—his is a purgatorial existence. He inhabits a metaphorical space where mildly desperate men barnstorm in the shadow of Waffle Houses and Satchel Paige. Dmitri Young seems to be on the precipice of this space. Anecdotal evidence points to the fact that he might, indeed, still be able to play baseball, but it will be a hard sell. The comeback is the snake oil of the modern age. Dmitri Young’s agent has stated that Dmitri Young has put in the work, that he is in shape. His age, thirty-eight, is the great common denominator, but we are told he physically acts and looks like a baseball player again. His ability to look like a baseball player is the shine of the bottle, the twisting graphic of the snake in the desert.

Many years ago my dad and I drove out to Rio Mesa High School to watch Dmitri Young play baseball. He was the best amateur I was ever told I needed to watch. He was the only amateur living in the area I made a point to check out. I remember the gravel of the parking lot and I remember watching him through a chain link backstop. I have this blurry image of Dmitri Young swinging. I don’t remember much, but his career was a career I followed, his was a career with which I connected. He was always engaging. When he initially came up and had success, I felt my investment had paid off. His success was a validation. I found some mild sense of worth in his existence as an entertainer, as an athlete, as a person who could direct a baseball with precision.

Two months ago Dmitri Young walked into the winter meetings with the air of a salesman. His product was his person. He had lost weight. He had become a thing of the past again. He claimed that he would again be beneficial to whoever took a chance on him, but like all beneficial things with expiration dates, people wondered whether his had expired. They still doubt. They doubt for good reason. Dmitri Young is trying to play baseball again. Baseball players have expiration dates. Dmitri Young is thirty-eight. He is very much past his prime. He had a trade and he applied his trade as well as could have been expected. He hit and he entertained. He was an artist. He perfected his craft. Even with everything he went through, everything that got in the way—the mess with the drinking and all the reciprocal fall out; he managed to exist as an artist, as a craftsman with a valuable skill.

You can still buy snake oil. It still exists and people use and it might still have some enlightened properties. Snake oil, like Dmitri Young and the comeback, has been marred by years of a perceived lack of usefulness. In the 1980s neurophysiology researcher Richard Kunin found that Chinese water-snake oil contained eicosapentaenoic acid. Eicosapentaenoic acid is a vital omega-3 fatty acid. The Chinese knew what they were doing. The past performance of snake oil was the thing that made it an agent of future success, even if it never was truly utilized properly. The problem with snake oil, the problem that that shaped our collective perception of its existence as something useless, is the fact that it was often impossible for grifters and frontier doctors to procure Chinese water-snakes. Because of this deficiency, grifters and frontier doctors began using rattlesnake oil as an alternative.

Dmitri Young is buying and selling memories of promise.Rattlesnakes and rattlesnake wranglers, the men who tamed the serpents, became the main attraction at the medicine show. Rattlesnakes moved units. The rattlesnake and the rattlesnake wrangler’s ability to tame became the exciting products in themselves. The excitement surrounding the rattlesnake wrangler’s dance with death mesmerized. The excitement helped make rattlesnake oil a valuable commodity. Over time though, the true nature of the oil was revealed. Though abundant, extracting the oil from an actual rattlesnake was a messy bit of business. Grifters and frontier doctors began abandoning the actual oil altogether—pushing bottles of ineffective liquid, often oil and water spiked with red pepper and wintergreen. The masses grew skeptical. Articles were written and investigations were launched. Eventually, the bottles were confiscated and the manufacturers rendered obsolete. Snake oil became snake oil even if in its true state snake oil wasn’t necessarily snake oil.

When he is not making comebacks, when he is not marketing himself as a shadow of a thing he used to be, Dmitri Young can be found selling his near perfect baseball card collection on the world wide web and at card shows across the country. His baseball card collection is comprised of a myriad of Gem Mint 10 graded rookie cards. I went to the auction site where his cards will be on sale in the coming months and poked around a bit. Dmitri Young’s baseball card collection is a good collection. It’s a staggering, enviable collection. The collection looks as if it was an investment, an indulgence. The collection is a tip of the cap to a time and a place. It is a tip of the cap to the beginning of things.

Snake oil too, in all of its forms, is a tip of the cap to the beginning of things. We accept snake oil in all of its different forms because it reminds us of the promise of youth, the promise of rebirth. The problem at the heart of the Dmitri Young’s obsession with perfect rookie card is that it points, whether conscious or not, to the inherent fear that seems to live in the soul of the athlete. The athlete is an artist whose art is rooted in physique and time. Dmitri Young is buying and selling memories of promise. His card collection is a reflection of an unattainable desire. The collection is a cardboard homage to birth, to rebirth. The cards and their quantifiable perfection exude innocence. The cards reflect the nature of youth in all of its simple, beautiful glory. There is an element of memory rooted in their existence. The youthfulness is analogous to the stereotype of the young band that hears their song for the first time on the radio in the car. They are all the same: Brian Wilson with the top down, unable to grow a beard, Ron Cey sans mustache framed next to Mike Schmidt sans mustache.

Dmitri Young worked out for the Pittsburgh Pirates last week. He looked good. He was able to play and create something from nothing. Clint Hurdle said good things. Dmitri was optimistic. His road has been hard, but his journey isn’t new. It seems quite obvious he believes his peace is found on the field. He was never perfect, he was never the best, but he was real. His craft never had to be propped up with red pepper and wintergreen. It was a thing of beauty, championed by many because it was real and beneficial, perfect and good, like the corner of a Gem Mint 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson and the healing oil of a Chinese water snake.

P&P Conversation: Location, Dislocation, and A.J. Burnett

Ted: Well, Eric, we are in the dregs of the offseason, after all of the big free agents have signed with their new teams, but before Spring Training begins in earnest. It’s the time of year when, for example, we learn that A.J. Burnett’s no-trade list of teams does include the Los Angeles Angels but does not include the Pittsburgh Pirates. That explains his “Winners are for Losers” tattoo, but does it tell us anything about anything else?

Eric: Has a single top free agent landed at his expected destination this year? Jose Reyes maybe? Nobody saw Pujols to Anaheim or Fielder to Detroit. Yu Darvish had no choice in the matter of which team bid up for his services. What I’m getting at is that for all of our projecting, we have no idea what a given player is thinking at a given time. Maybe A.J. Burnett is a really big fan of the Steelers. Or maybe he’s saying “I’ve had enough with all these high-pressure pennant races and playoff starts and I just want to play baseball.” This brings me to a broader question: If a player is effective — not to say that Burnett is effective — can we begrudge him for choosing to pass up winning and instead being content to swaddle himself in pleasant, low-pressure mediocrity? Baseball players can have different motivations; to reduce them to mercenaries out for fat Borasian paychecks and late-career World Series rings seems silly.

For instance, maybe Albert Pujols didn’t leave St. Louis because of a lack of perceived “respect.” Maybe he left because he was tired of all the obligations and stresses that went along with being ALBERT PUJOLS CIVIC ICON AND HEIR TO STAN MUSIAL. Maybe he just wanted to live in a nice subdivision with his family and have nothing more expected of him than dingers.

Ted: FYI, I have reported your last question to the House of Unamerican Activities, so please ignore the funny buzzing in your smartphone every time you answer a call from one of your commie friends. You see, Eric, professional baseball is about winning. The money, the swag, the buzz; it’s all about winning. I won’t accept any arguments that winning and losing are really just feeble constructs derived to delineate other statistically insignificant entities from one another for the sake of gambling or self-congratulation. I’ll leave that to This American Life.

Really, though, the insanity of this offseason proves that players’ decisions are driven by unseen forces like everything else in this Gladwellian world. A lot of it is about money, but there are subtle changes afoot. For example, Jered Weaver took a pay cut to play in Anaheim, and players now go on the DL for psychological issues. Those are but small fissures in the monolith of money and winning.

That said, isn’t every baseball player an itinerant worker spending half his days in hotels no matter where he signs? Does geography even matter?

Eric: Let’s never use the term Gladwellian ever again. (Talk about Tipping Points, if ya know what I mean). Despite the fact that players spend half of their time in-season on the road, and the fact that they often live elsewhere during the winter months, I do think geography matters. Geography is part of brand. The charm of the Cardinals is not just the pretty birds on the uniform or the history of winning or the echoes of Jack Buck, but the fact that once upon a time they were this frontier team whose radio broadcasts reached entire swaths of America that no other team was reaching. The very location of St. Louis matters. The same goes for the Dodgers moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and the Giants moving from Harlem to San Francisco.

I think players are aware of brand and what it means to be a member of a certain franchise. A.J. Burnett might not have okayed the Pirates specifically because he likes rivers or wants to play in the city of Roberto Clemente, but Hiroki Kuroda certainly chose to sign with the Yankees because they are the Yankees. And the Yankees are the Yankees in part because they play in New York City. We’ve talked before about Pujols’ suburban nature and how well that fits in with the Angels brand and the Angels locale. Here in Seattle, you can’t go a week in the offseason without some story breaking about how Free Agent X doesn’t want to play in the Pacific Northwest.

Location matters. But so does dislocation. Maybe geography in baseball is best understood as negative space. The map remains still while the baseball professional (player, coach, scout, journalist) moves from his offseason home to his Spring Training home to his in-season home, and then criscrosses the country on a jet for six months only to return again to his offseason home.

Besides being hell on relationships, all that moving around has to have some kind of grand effect on the collective baseball psyche right?

Ted: A baseball fan today can travel at the speed of light to any point on baseball map, via MLB TV. For that and other Gladwellian reasons, geography is less important to the fan than ever. It’s not to say that cities and stadia are unimportant, but there’s not doubt that a dislocated fan has far fewer barriers to his or her community. If St. Louis was a clearinghouse for all points West, today no single place can command its citizens. Note, for example, the number of baseball bloggers who are able to follow their team as well as some journalists…from across the country.

As for the players, there’s little doubt that city and state matters, though I’m sure it’s personal and there are just as many mercenaries that could care less where they play. Seattle may well be the most difficult city in the nation to attract players to with it’s brisk stadium and atropical meteorology.

Is there a difference, then, between the fan who lives near its team, and those who track from far off lands?

Eric: The fan experience is different if you’re in diaspora. People around me in Seattle aren’t talking about the Dodgers. The games aren’t on in the background at bars. I can’t casually flip to them on television. For me to be a Dodger fan I have to go out of my way; I have to be conscientious about it. In diaspora, it’s hard to maintain passive fandom.

But you’re back in Houston now, back with your Astros. If there’s a difference you’ll be the person to discover it in the coming moths.

A True Nightmare by Ross Allen

Ross Allen is a Cubs fan and former second-rate Division I tennis player.

I awoke several weeks ago from the most searing nightmare. It brought me back to my teenage years when I would awake from horrible dreams involving Craig Biggio, Shane Reynolds, and an antiquated dump known as the Houston Astrodome.

However, this dream was more horrifying than any before because it involved my favorite player, Chicago Cubs slugger Carlos Zambrano, instead of my most hated. Zambrano has been my favorite ballplayer for a decade. I saw his first major league start, the second game of a double header in August, 2001, and have been transfixed by his passion and energy ever since. A man who could develop tendinitis in his elbow from furious online communication with his family is a man I must believe in.

The nightmare began in a half-empty Marlins stadium. At first I thought this was any other regular season game, due tothe general apathy and limited number of spectators. It was the bottom of the 8th inning and the Cubs were leading by three runs. This game, I quickly realized, had much greater significance. The normal post-season banners were out and the chalkboard voice of Tim McCarver* came on. It was just like I was listening to a portable radio at the park. As I continued to curse McCarver and everything he stood for to the random guy sitting next to me, the jumpotron showed infuriating replays of the 2003 National League Championship Series. Eventually the play-by-play man informed me that this was game 7 of the National League Championship Series and the Cubs were nearing their first pennant since 1945.**

The bottom of the 8th rolled by without any incidents. The first out was an easy ground ball to short and the second was a routine foul pop to left field. After the third hitter walked, Cubs skipper Dale Sveum came out to settle Kerry Wood down, and he struck out the final batter on a great curveball away. The top of the ninth went by similarly without incident, my confusion and stress only increasing. As the TV cameras kept moving to Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen, who had the weirdest and cruelest grin on his face, I figured something horrible had to go wrong.

The bottom of the ninth started like any other Carlos Marmol save opportunity. He hit the first batter and walked the second. Every count went to 3-2. Marmol’s slider was unhittable, but it also couldn’t hit the plate. A strikeout, a walk, and a strikeout later I was shaking in my seat. The Chicago Cubs were now one out away from heading to the World Series.

What strode to the plate next was something so disgusting and repulsive that I can barely stand to describe it. It was Carlos Zambrano. My Carlos Zambrano walking to the plate in a garrish Miami Marlins uniform. He was the starting pitcher. It was his turn in the batting order. I was conflicted. I had never before been in a situation where I was rooting for him to do anything but hit it straight out of the ballpark. This is the man with most home runs by a pitcher in the DH era. This is the man who could break Wes Ferrel’s all-time mark someday. What is more exciting in baseball than seeing a pitcher help his own cause? What is more exciting than seeing a pitcher win a game with both his arm and his bat?

The at-bat was like any other Carlos Zambrano at-bat ever. It was not long or climactic. There is a reason his slugging percentage is a career .395 and his on-base percentage is .251. The run was never going to be walked in and it wasn’t. The 1-0 fastball, right in the middle of the plate, left his bat so much faster than it left Marmol’s arm. As the ball traveled through the blue Miami air, my dream popped, punctured by the ball I never saw land.

*Imagine for a second how horrifying it is to hear Tim McCarver’s voice in a dream. I haven’t recovered.

**The play-by-play man must have been someone other than Joe Buck, because Joe Buck would not have provided me with such useful information without a million clichés that forced me to rip off my headphones and throw them at the redneck Marlins fan in front of me, who still was asking his friend to explain to him who those six individuals in black were on the field.

Pitchers & Poets Podcast 35: The Mat Latos Game

In episode 35 of the podcast we feel our way through the offseason’s latest transactions, consider on the antics of one J. Burnitz, and suffer with poor Yorvit Torrealba — he of the suspended from Venezuelan baseball for hitting an umpire in the face. We weave baskets with Derek Jeter and take an absurdly difficult quiz about Matt Latos. Plus, everybody wears masks, especially R.A. Dickey.


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