March 26, 2007

Letting Go of Baseball and My Son

I'm a baseball fan. Though I didn't play much when I was a boy, I have fond memories of watching baseball games on my Grandmother's tiny, color television with my dad and his step-father at their home in Southold, back in the early seventies. We could have been watching the Yankees, or the Mets, I don't remember. But, I do remember the three of us in Grandma's cozy living room, the aroma of a roast beef wafting in from the kitchen, and their big, golden dog named Mike plopped down next to me as I scratched behind his ears. That's where my love of the baseball developed.

Imagine my shock when my seven year old son opted to play Lacrosse this season instead of baseball. "He wants to run around." My wife said. "Baseball is too boring for him." Yikes. Did she say “too boring?” He doesn't know enough to determine if the game is boring, I thought. “Maybe I should have a talk with him?” I asked her. “I mean, all that gear costs a lot of money. If he quits, think of the money we wasted.” My wife stopped me. "Just let him do what he wants. He has to make his own decisions."

This past Saturday, as I stood on an enormous field at the local high school watching about a hundred kids in battle gear, holding netted sticks and charging around at the behest of their earnest coaches, I had to wonder, why does he want to play this game? It’s soccer played with pool skimmers, I thought. It’s also a game I know nothing about. On the other field, some older kids were playing baseball. They had the look and feel of a real baseball team with records that matter and perhaps some of them dreaming of the major leagues. Selfishly, I wished my son was one of them, working the count, stealing bases, or hitting the game winning home run. In front of where I was standing, my son was laughing and running around with his friends practicing this alien game which I never wanted to play, ever.

That's when it dawned on me that being a father meant that it isn’t about me. Nothing mattered on that other ball field with bats and balls and called third strikes. What is important was that my boy is doing something that he wants to do, and that is what is best for him. It is good that he is active, making choices, and asserting himself. He is living his young life the way he wants to, and with me as his dad, it is they way I taught him to be. And, I won't have it any other way. After lacrosse practice my son told me that he wants to try ice hockey next season. I gulped and said “Sure, whatever you want.” Whatever he wants, huh? Do you know how much hockey equipment costs?

March 22, 2007

Cashman Won't blink

Well, Brian Cashman was allowed to start acting like a real general manager two years ago; and, he's taken on the enormous task of shrinking the Yankee's payroll which is the size of a medium sized city's budget. Still, Cashman sees the whole Alex Rodriguez affair, his failures in the clutch and his distractions with Jeter, his personal life being under constant scrutiny, as well as every word which comes from his lips, as a major pain in the franchise. Fans have been yelling "he's got to go" in between boos all last season. Now that everyone (in the Yankees organization) apparently has finally had it with him, in spite of public comments to the contrary, Cashman announces that the Yankees won't entice A-Rod to stay with more money should he decide to opt out of his contract.

Maybe that's what Alex wanted when it was announced a few weeks ago that his opt-out clause existed. Perhaps he needed the Yankees to dangle a big, fat carrot in front of his face in the form of a giant sack of hard cash to make him feel wanted. But, it seems that that plan back-fired. My belief was that Alex really wanted to ditch the team and play shortstop somewhere else, again, for a super-huge barrel of money.

If Alex was testing the waters for his next contract, or if he was trying to assess how much he is really wanted in New York, or both, he went about it the wrong way. If you're going to play poker Alex, don't blink. Alex not only blinks, a lot, he also hugs himself and rocks back and forth in public.

Cashman has ice water running through his veins. Not only does he have the luxury of having an All-Star, or potential All-Star at every position on the team, he would also like to lop $15-20 million off of his payroll. Waving bye-bye to Alex would do just that. What Brian would probably do if Rodriguez opted-out early would be to hire a third baseman for a fraction of the cost and use some of the dough he saved (minus the money spent on cake and ice cream for A-Rod's Bon Voyage party) and spend it on pitching. Trust me, A-Rod does want to leave; but only if he thinks it's on his terms, and not if everyone on the Yankees and the entire fan base was shoving him out through the stadium entrance. Quote from A-Rod: "Gulp".

In practice, therapists (I am told) often tell their patients to make their needs known. In Rodriguez's case, he should have kept his big, fat trap shut about his opt-out clause. Now he's telling everyone (for the umpteenth time) that he really, really, wants to stay in New York. Are you sure? Not even for a boat load of money to play shortstop somewhere like, Texas?

Suck it up, Alex. You might be miserable in New York, and money can't buy happiness. But, in your case, it makes one hell of a down payment.

Gotham Baseball Magazine

Mr. Grudge is in Gotham Baseball Magazine!. Baseball fans should visit this website, subscribe to the magazine, and become active members of "Gotham Nation" by posting on the message boards. Gotham Baseball Magazine is a fast growing journal devoted to the past, present, and future of baseball. Don't miss out! Special thanks to the Editor in Chief of Gotham Baseball for his continued interest in my work.

March 21, 2007

Talk About Entrepreneurs...

The great "Manny Ramirez Barbecue Auction" is barely over, and already e-Bay has sellers auctioning tee shirts memorializing, and parodying Manny's sale. None of them are particularly clever, and they seem hastily designed. But, this is America, and anything can sell for a buck or two. Just ask the folks who bring you fake vomit and plastic dog poo.

Hey, if you're as amused by Manny's barbecue as I was where I actually wrote about it, that's one thing. Also, if you're savvy enough to slap a phrase on a tee shirt to cash in on Manny's "fire sale", then God bless you. BUT, if you're stupid enough to buy a tee shirt about Manny Ramirez selling a barbecue grill, that's almost pathetic. I say almost because I'm thinking of selling boxes of Band Aids with Carl Pavano's picture on them. Order now.

Manny On The Grill

A fun little story which popped up is the one about Manny Ramirez selling a barbecue grill on e-Bay. How about that? A millionaire needing a few extra bucks? So, this grill he purchased for a measly four thousand dollars and change is now being auctioned off to ordinary folks such as me and you for whatever you have the nerve to bid, plus shipping and handling.

At first thought, I thought that Manny Ramirez would never dream of cooking for himself, let alone choke on barbecue smoke. This is a guy who once sneaked behind the scoreboard at Fenway Park to urinate between pitching changes during a game, and is also a notorious space cadet. Could you imagine him using fire?

The E-bay ad is actually quite normal in every respect, except that is being posted by a star Major League Baseball player.

Here is the actual text from the ad: "As most of you have seen: Ebay Item #120099426399 Hi, I`m Manny Ramirez. I bought this AMAZING grill for about $4,000 and I used it once... But I never have the time to use it because I am always on the road. I would love to sell it and you will get an autographed ball signed by me =] Enjoy it, Manny Ramirez This is an auction to tribute Manny Ramirez and his grill! The winner of this auction will receive the two photos shown here. Both will be personally autographed!"

You know, I'm not a huge Manny Ramirez fan, but I love the idea that he considers himself a regular guy, appreciates the value of an item he could pick up for mere pocket change (relative to his bank account) and he is willing to toss in some memorabilia to sweeten the deal. As of this writing, the current bid id up to $4,950. I'd bid myself, but I just bid $3.95 on an old 8-Track player from Jay Witasik.

A Gesture In Mourning: Honoring One Of Their Own

With all of the noise made at the start of Spring Training regarding the new hats Major League Baseball is making all of the teams wear, there is one uniform accessory which is getting little notice in the press. This is due in part because the regular season hasn't started yet. When it does, everyone will notice the black arm bands worn by all members of the New York Yankees in honor of the late Cory Lidle.

These arm bands, to be worn for the duration of the season are important because they illustrate the humanity that ultimately is the game. We all focus on the steroids, the payrolls, contracts, statistics, merchandising, records, rule changes, and assorted other subjects which smear the lens through which we view this beloved sport. At the end of the day, the men playing baseball are human beings. Cory Lidle died tragically, and he left behind a family. reports that negotiations are underway between the Yankees and Lidle's widow where she would throw the ceremonial first pitch on opening day. That’s a classy move on the Yankee's part. Lidle's number won't be retired, and he only played with the team for a few months, but his memory will be treated with respect and humanity by the team.

Baseball is a lot of things: a game, a business, a profession, and a part of history. When baseball loses one of it's own, gestures like the ones offered for Cory Lidle by the Yankees validates the goodness and innocence of this game which grows it's fan base from childhood, from when the first time a little kid puts on a hat and a glove and says "Play ball."

Key Performance for Kei

This is only Spring Training, I know, but look at my previous predictions and note that I already believe in Kei Igawa. Putting up five shut-out innings against the Phillies in last night's exhibition game, he looked a bit shaky (he looks to be still trying to figure out the strike zone), but Kei was confident.

Why shouldn't he be? With Ron Guidry patrolling the dugout, looking at his mechanics, his control, and his delivery, Kei has one of the best pitching coaches to take the young, successful pitcher from Japan, and mold him into a suitable number five starter for the most popular and successful sports franchise in history. Not too tall of an order, don't ya think?

At this point is Spring Training, the regular players are all but ready. The clubs are assessing their own minor league talent, making cuts and filling roster spots. But pitchers need more time than position players to prepare for the regular season. Igawa is using him time wisely, heeding the advice given him by Guidry through his interpreter, and making adjustments. Even between innings he can be seen with the Gator, nodding and listening, and going back to the mound to record outs.

The strike zone may be tricky for him, but it is not elusive. On the radar screen for young Igawa is an inaugural season with the Yankees which may begin with a couple of nervous starts, but ultimately will become a wise investment for the team, and the beginning a fine career for Igawa.

March 7, 2007

Who's We?

A professional baseball writer I know made a point during a conversation I had with him recently concerning how fans relate with their favorite teams. His point resonated with this writer as it is something which irritated me for quite some time. What am I talking about? I’m referring to fans that use the word "we" when talking about their team’s performance, or trades, etc. That's what annoys me, and that's the point raised by my writer/acquaintance who complained about the same thing.

Here's an example. A few years ago during the off-season, a neighbor of mine (a rabid Mets fan) saw me driving up the block toward his house. This guy whom I'll refer to as "Ed" for this article (his real name is Ron), came sprinting across his lawn, his ample gut bouncing as he huffed along in a desperate attempt to grab my attention, yelling for me to stop.
"Did you hear who we got?" he gasped, as he trotted along side me. Curious as to what it was to rile my neighbor into such a frenzy, I slowed the car to a crawl (I could have stopped, but it was fun to watch him jog and wheeze at the same time). "We got Roberto Alomar."

I guess I was supposed to be intimidated. Anyone who's ever read any of my previous articles on the subject knows that I detest this sort of juvenile, fan boasting. It's the "My team can beat up your team" mentality that thrives in places like Boston (oops, cheap shot). Anyway, I stopped the car staring at Ron, I mean Ed, panting, sweating, and with a look of smug, self-satisfaction on his face. I asked: "Who's we? Do you have a mouse in your front pocket?"

Dazed, Ed didn't have an answer. He honestly believed that being a devoted fan gave him more than just an emotional stock in his favorite sports franchise. That by wearing team Jerseys, caps, tee shirts, and going to games, and calling WFAN every fifteen minutes to rant made him a member of the team organization. What he didn't, or couldn't, fathom was that he was merely a consumer. That's it.

Yes, sports bring people bring people together. Walk into any local tavern and you'll see like minded people cheering in front of a big screen television, rooting their sports franchise to victory. But, and this is a HUGE but, none of them are battling it out on the field with their athlete/heroes, none of them invested money into the ball club, not one of them scouted for the team, made a decision as to who plays what position or who gets traded. They are fans, customers, buying the idea that they belong to something. However, they don't.

Ed still does not get it. It's great to be a fan of a team, a sport, or any other organized activity. But, if you're not a player, manager, coach, or owner, you're still just a fan. Just as there is no "I" in TEAM, there is no "WE" in FRANCHISE."

March 6, 2007

Look For Kei To Be Key

There's still plenty of time left for predictions for the 2007 regular season. My latest one is a pretty safe bet: Kei Igawa will be a dependable starter for the Yankees, maybe even a post season hero. Wow, am I going out on a limb, or what? The official MLB website for the Yankees chronicles Igawa's "shaky" spring training debut. Not a big deal. No one really knows what kind of pitcher Igawa will be; but, then again, we don't know what kind of season anyone on the roster will have. There are always injuries to be concerned about, personal issues which creep up now and again (see Rodriguez, Alex and Jeter, Derek) to get in the way of baseball. Since Kei Igawa has a big question mark on his jersey, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that his signing could be a bust.

Blame it on nerves, a desire to do too much, inexperience against major leaguers, or anything you want. But, at the end of the day, young Kei Igawa can pitch. That's all the Yankees really expected. With a man like Ron Guidry coaching him, he stands to become a solid number four or five starter in no time. Remember, this kid was no slouch in Japan. We all know that Japanese baseball has produced stars in their own country who come here to play Major League Baseball and flourish. There will be less pressure on Kei Igawa to perform that Daisuke Matsuzaka for the Red Sox. My point? Igawa can slip in under the radar, make a few mistakes, and gain the experience and become a reliable arm in the Yankee's rotation. Poor "Dice-K" is liable to be dissected by the fans and media before he's given the chance to learn and grow.

Forget the rocky start, call it growing pains, and remember that spring training means nothing in the regular season. Kei will be a key member of the pitching staff for the Yankees in 2007. As for post season hero? I just threw that in for good luck.

We're Pulling For You Bobby

Three cheers for Bobby Murcer! A story today on the Yankees official MLB website quotes Bobby Murcer as saying: "I plan on being back with the [YES] Network for sure, doing the Yankees games," Murcer said. "That's what I love to do and nothing's going to stop me from doing that. ... I can't tell you when that's going to be, but the way I feel, it feels like it's going to be pretty soon."

Good for him. Keep fighting, keep battling. His story transcends baseball, team rivalries, and everything else that seems small by comparison. His spirit is inspirational. When the "real" games come on soon, and Bobby's voice chimes in with his honest and detailed analysis, I'll listen more intently. Get well soon, Bobby, we're rootin' for ya.

March 5, 2007

Wrong Move, Dave

Sports Illustrated online reports in its "Truth & Rumors" section that David Wright has graciously offered to move to the outfield in case Alex Rodriguez opts out of his contract with the Yankees and somehow winds up playing for the Mets. The move by Wright would free up third base for A-Rod, should he decide that the Yankees cross-town rivals are the team for him. This writer would say that Wright's offer to play the outfield is a "rookie maneuver"; but Wright is no longer a rookie. What he is, probably, is a bit naive.

Just about every Yankees fan knows that A-Rod is licking his lips over the prospect of ejecting himself from the Yankees as his tenure in the Bronx has been nothing but a soap opera and a post-season failure. What Wright should realize is that Alex doesn't want to play third (he's a short stop at heart) and he definitely can't make it in New York. If the Mets manage to kidnap Lou Piniella from the cubs and make him their manager, fire Willie Randolph, and promise Alex that he can play shortstop, then, and only then, would Wright's offer look promising. Anything less than that, Wright shouldn't bother. By the way Dave, that was a classy and charitable suggestion.

Pavano Pleased He Doesn't Get Hurt...Again

If you were outside yesterday afternoon after the conclusion of the Yankees 10-5 win over the Phillies in a spring training game and felt a gust of wind coming from the south, it was a collective sigh of relief coming emitted from the mouths all of the fans who witnessed Carl Pavano's pitching. The good news, the Yankees won a meaningless exhibition game. The better news was the Pavano didn't get hurt or experience any discomfort. He wasn't a pitching genius in his two inning outing in which he gave up one run and issued two walks. But, he didn't fall apart either mentally or physically. This Yankee fan remains encouraged that Pavano will have a decent year in pinstripes, one in which he might win about twelve games and he won't have to have his Porsche towed away from the scene of an accident.