A Slight Case of Crabs, or Four Days in Florida

As widely publicized, I recently spent a long weekend along the Gulf Coast of Florida to warm my winter-battered body, to visit with some of the family, and to stalk Alex Rodriguez in a socially acceptable manner.  There were many amusing sights and sounds along my travels, and here I offer you the highlights.

Batter Up

I am normally very efficient about traveling.  I pack no more than what I absolutely need to survive.  I mentally map out my entire voyage from my front door to my destination, so as to not have to waste time consulting maps or asking for directions.  And I set my alarm unnecessary hours ahead of the absolute latest time possible for me to wake up and make my connections without breaking into a sweat.  This time, however, proved to be different.

For reasons as yet unknown—fatigue, anticipation, or intoxication—I set my alarm incorrectly the night before my flight to Ft. Myers.  Whereas I intended to rise at 5:00 AM so I could reach Newark Airport using public transportation, I instead woke (of my own volition, thank you) at 6:20.  Upon seeing the time, I may have actually propelled myself from a horizontal position in my bed to a vertical position on my floor in a single explosion of energy.  I paced the length of my apartment twice, muttering obscenities, and then stopped to formulate a plan.  I had no bags to check and it was still over an hour before my flight was to begin boarding.  All I had to do was get to the airport, print my boarding pass, and sail through security.

The ten agonizing minutes I spent waiting for my cab were the worst of my vacation; that is, until my cab driver started heading north on the New Jersey Turnpike towards the Lincoln Tunnel instead of south towards the airport, which was clearly in sight.  I never like being a backseat driver, particularly to a professional, but I decided to speak up.  He had realized the mistake, and quickly and illegally turned himself around along the twisting hydra heads of on- and off-ramps.  I was on the curb at the terminal with an hour to go before take-off, so I tipped him.  Hey, he still got me to the airport, didn’t he?

The Big Hurt

My mother and aunt met me at the airport and we drove south to Naples.  It wasn’t noon yet and the mercury had already passed 80.  There had been no precipitation of any kind for two weeks.  Though I brought my computer along, there would really be no professional reason to have to use it.  I was as happy as one of the Gulf’s many clams.

Within an hour of my arrival, and only six or so after waking up in the unpleasant manner I did, I was on a smooth sandy beach modeling my newly purchased swimwear.  The sun was starting to crisp my skin, so long hidden from the elements this winter, and we didn’t have a damn thing to do but relax.  Kicking back under our beach umbrellas, I surveyed the scenery.

If you’re planning a trip to Florida for, how shall we say, recreational purposes, be sure you choose a destination on the younger, trendier, presumably healthier east coast.  Now, I’m not one to judge.  I mean, sure, I just signed up for three more months of personal training, but I’m eating mint milanos as I write this.  Regardless, the fact of the matter is that I could not believe the number of grossly overweight people I saw on the beach that day.  Maybe they weren’t all native Floridians, but I have to believe most of them were.  This wasn’t a destination beach; it was a public park.  These heifers hadn’t strayed far from their pastures, okay?

I just don’t understand it.  And I don’t mean it to say, “You live five minutes from the beach.  How could you let yourself go like that?”   No, I mean it to say, “It’s 80 fucking degrees here and it’s only the beginning of spring.  How can you not simply sweat 15 pounds off a day?”  I got pit stains just loading beach chairs into the trunk of my uncle’s car.  Are these people mixing cement into their cookie dough?

And I’m going to take this opportunity to request that in whichever city next hosts a fashion week, the preeminent designers of the world get together and create a new way to dress the lower half of a woman’s body for swimsuit season.  Because while it might be lovely to see all the exposed flesh offered by a bikini on a Brooklyn Decker or an Elle MacPhereson, the garment does no favors for the women of southwest Florida whose individual thighs are wider than your typical swimsuit model’s waist.  Between the quivering quads and disturbingly distended stomachs, there were a few terrifying moments when I wasn’t sure if these ladies had their bottoms covered at all.  It looked like things were getting all lost up in there.  Gross.  Honestly, there has to be a better way, for all of us.

Game 1

Sunday we drove back in to Ft. Myers to see the Minnesota Twins host the New York Yankees at their spring training facility at Hammond Field.  This would be my first chance to succeed at my most challenging mission: to take a Christmas card photo with a Yankee.

Clearly, Alex Rodriguez was the prime target, but I wouldn’t turn down someone like Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner, or even one of the organization’s most promising minor leaguers (okay, maybe that’s not true).  I wasn’t sure how I would manage to get into such close quarters with any of these fellows, nor was I sure how I would act when presented with the opportunity–especially if it happened to be Alex.  Now, I’ve met some pretty famous people in my line of work, and I’ve handled myself with aplomb.  But Alex Rodriguez?  Let me tell you, I have had two separate dreams in which I met Alex Rodriguez, and even in the dreams I couldn’t form words.  In the second of those dreams, I must have looked so literally dumbstruck that Dream Alex kind of quietly sighed and blinked his eyes the way you do when you’re about to engage someone of such obviously depleted mental faculties before extending his giant hand and saying, “You must be Tyler.”  And I couldn’t speak.  My unconscious self was rendered mute in the presence of an imagined Alex Rodriguez.  That’s what we’re dealing with, people.  A flesh and blood encounter would be DEFCON 1.

We had excellent seats in the last row of the field level, safe in the shade and just below the press boxes, right behind home plate.  During Alex’s first two at-bats, whenever he would step out of the box and scan the crowd, I waved.  A real attention-getting wave, too; arm straight up over my head, strong movement at the elbow, fingers spread wide.  He had to have seen me.  The beer and peanut vendors certainly saw me, and they were good-humored enough not to say anything when I explained that I had not, in fact, been flagging them down; I was just waving to my pal, Alex Rodriguez.

Hi Alex!

I had been watching with envy as numerous players, even the notoriously antisocial Alex, interacted with the fans seated closest to the dug-out.  In the fifth inning, I decided to try my luck.  This being spring training, I couldn’t imagine that there would be an army of ushers keeping the plebes from wandering down into the high-roller’s seats.  Alex was on deck, seated in one of four folding chairs set up outside the dugout.  I don’t mind telling you that as I got closer, I started to freak out just a tiny bit.  I’m like twenty rows of seats away from him now.  I can see the whites of his eyes, even hear his voice.  There’s no way I’m going to be able to take a picture with him, I realize, but there’s a very good chance I’m going to get an outstanding picture of him.  I decide I’ll wait for the current batter to finish before I nonchalantly stride down the steps to the third row.

Said batter strikes out.  There were two outs, so now Alex won’t be batting this inning.  To my disbelieving eyes, Alex Rodriguez hands off his batting gloves and other athletic accessories to the nearest attendant and heads into the dugout…for good!  He was done for the day, and never came back out.  I waited in vain, but when the Yanks take the field, Eric Chavez was now at third.  Eric Chavez?  Honestly?  I’m sure he’s a nice guy and a solid player, but come on!

He was there a second ago!

Defeated, I went back to my seat.  I had one more chance at getting a picture with Alex.  Perhaps when we traveled to Tampa, the home team advantage would help me out.

Rain Delay

On Monday, I awoke to the sound of rain.  And not a light, tropical misting rain.  Rolling claps of thunder rain.  I put the pillow back over my head.  Hadn’t part of the purpose of this trip been to escape the constant precipitation in the northeast?  Fortunately, the storm passed by around 10:00, which was when I finally decided to get out of bed.  My uncle was golfing, so my aunt and mother and I headed into hopping downtown Naples to enjoy the sunshine while it lasted.  And, of course, to eat.

I put on a good four or five pounds during this trip.  There is some mighty fine eating to be had in southwest Florida.  Maybe that’s how all the leviathans on the beach got their start.  The three of us decided to check out a place that had long been on their to-do list: Joe’s Crab Shack.  It was a kitschy joint with cocktails served in mason jars, rolls of paper towels for the table instead of folded napkins, and double entendres plastered floor-to-ceiling on assorted pieces of memorabilia.

The food was just as good as the ambiance.

Game 2

On Tuesday, we drove the two-plus hours to Tampa to see the Yankees on their home turf.  Steinbrenner Field is quite a different environment from Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.  For one thing, it isn’t hemmed in on all sides by busy New York streets, large apartment buildings, or elevated subway tracks.  Steinbrenner Field sits across from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ much more impressive Raymond James Stadium, a six-lane highway with plenty of traffic lights being the only thing between them.  The only other things along this stretch of road were car dealerships, strip joints, and fast food establishments (all, I  imagine, of varying quality).

The Yankee facility consisted of a number of practice fields, most of which we didn’t see.  I was on a mission, after all,  so right into the stadium we went.  We were rewarded for our punctuality with a free giveaway: replicas of the Yankees’ 2000 World Series championship rings!  They were preposterously oversized, clearly designed to fit on even the doughiest of hands.  Still, it looks pretty cool, and I spent a good portion of my return trip trying to conflate a believable story to tell you all about how Derek Jeter, in his infinite kindness, saw fit to give me one of his many rings.

There isn’t a bad seat in the house at Steinbrenner Field.  The coolest views, however, can be found in the right field bleacher section.  Beyond the hot dog stand and fully stocked outdoor bar, there is an elevated walkway from which fans can look down into the bullpens.  And it was from here that I got the closest I ever have a New York Yankee.

Half an hour before the game, Nick Swisher emerged from the batting cages beneath the stadium with some lucky little Yankee fans.  No, not midgets; children.  Clearly a family unit, the mom was toting all kinds of souvenirs and camera equipment while The Swish played catch with the oldest and most coordinated of the group.  Later, when I was watching the dugout intently for any sign of You Know Who, I saw Swisher hand a number of autographed baseballs to the mom.

 

All togeter now: "Aww..."

As it was the last game of spring training, all the starters were on hand, save for those recovering from injury.  My mom and I were seated in an almost identical location to where we were for the Twins game.  My aunt and uncle, however, were seated about ten rows from the field along the third base line.  When they came up to our seats to escape the heat, I was more than happy to trade places with them.

I didn’t last much longer than an inning or so.  The heat was almost too intense to enjoy, and I didn’t really want my generous hosts to think that I was willfully ditching them for a chance to make a professional athlete feel vaguely uncomfortable.  But it was still quite a rush being that close to Alex Rodriguez while he was in the game.  He made one of his patented full body extension stops, laying out all 6’3″ of himself to stop the ball from rolling on into left field.  It was amazing to see just how fast the ball was hit off the bat, and just how fast he reacted to intercept it.  He is a big dude, but he was back on his feet in enough time to make the play at first.  And his uniform wasn’t even that dirty!

Cleanliness is next to godliness

Unfortunately, there was no way of getting close to the players once the game was over.  Most starters had been replaced by the eighth inning, anyway.  So I am sad to report that I did not bring home the Holy Grail.  Oh, well.  There’s a long season ahead, and I plan to attend a number of games.  Perhaps that fateful encounter is in the cards for sometime in the future.

Extra Innings

Since I had made my plans to fly home from Tampa, we had a quick, mediocre meal at California Pizza Kitchen (where no self-respecting New Yorker should be caught dead to begin with) before the rellies dropped me at the airport.  My flight to JFK was already listed as being an hour late, so I worked my way through $30 worth of newspapers and magazines before disappearing into the men’s room to change out of my summer clothes and into my parka and snowshoes, so that I wouldn’t freeze to death when I emerged in New York. 

The flight was uneventful, but I have to say that while waiting there in the terminal for a plane that wouldn’t come, I realized that everyone’s preconceptions about New Yorkers are by and large accurate.  My fellow passengers were loud, pissy, had entirely too many electronic possessions on their person, and seemed to take this minor flight delay as a serious personal affront.  The moment the plane taxied into the gate, they were jostling for position at the door.  People, have you ever fucking flown before?  It’s almost half an hour from the time the first fat fuck parks his rear in first class until lift-off.  The plane will not leave without you!  Trust me!

I was on the ground at JFK at 11:30.  Seeing as how I had to be at work the next morning, I was debating whether to get home via the air train, subway and/or Long Island Railroad, and PATH trains, or simply pony up whatever cash I had left and see how far and fast a cab would take me.  To my great surprise, neither the dispatcher nor the driver blinked and eye when I said I had to get to Jersey City.  We were crossing through the boroughs with ease, until we got to the Holland Tunnel.  Had we been two measly car lengths ahead, we would have sailed right through; but apparently midnight is when the traffic cops intervene and temporarily close the tunnel so that there is only one lane running in either direction.  I cursed my luck with cabs these past four days.  Here I was stranded in Tribeca on a Wednesday night, an automotive Cinderella.  The tunnel was eventually reopened, but we had to drive behind a construction vehicle that acted like some kind of pace car.  I never realized how long the Holland Tunnel was until I was driving through it at 15 miles per hour.  All I could think was, “Robbie Cano lives in north Jersey, and I bet he doesn’t have to deal with shit like this!”

Out of gratitude, I more or less emptied my wallet into my valiant cabbie’s hands.  I trudged up the stairs to my place and quickly got into my pj’s (Yankee boxers, natch).  I set my alarm–correctly–and looked at what I now had on my nightstand.  There was my phone (almost out of battery), my wallet (almost out of money), my camera (almost out of memory), and my keys (almost out of…damn it).  And added to that pile, in a tiny protective pouch, was my World Series ring.  Yeah, it’s fake, but it’s still pretty cool.

~ T

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Blogging Baseball with Tripp – 2011 Season Preview, Part 3

In our final installment of this pre-season series, Tripp and I move from discussing what’s wrong and what’s Wright with certain line-ups to discussing the legacies of some of the game’s legends of the moment.  Tripp also peers into his crystal ball and makes some bold play-off predictions.  Read on…

Give me your thoughts on the Albert Pujols situation.

Albert Pujols is a tremendous talent who is also a capitalist.  It’s easy to deride him for being greedy.  How much money does one person really need, anyway?  But market conditions, as they are, suggest that Pujols will be paid somewhere around the $30 million a year mark, as absurd as that sounds.  Do I think he should stay in St. Louis?  Yes.  Should he give the Cardinals a “discount” and accept a lower salary than he may be able to command from, say, the Yankees?  I think he should, and I think he will.  At least, I hope he will.  I like to think Albert recognizes that money is not the be-all end-all, and that he will assign appropriate value to how much St. Louis adores him, and how well his career has blossomed there, while deciding where to play in the coming years.  I think it’s too bad that his contract negotiation wasn’t resolved before the year began, but it is what it is.  I don’t question for a minute that he will continue to play hard for the Cardinals through 2011.

Let me see if I can stretch a little of that optimism all the way back to New York.  Andy Pettitte’s hung up his spikes and glove.  Do you think he’s Hall of Fame material?

Andy Pettitte’s postseason record makes him a potential Hall of Famer.  He has the most postseason wins in baseball history, had 240 career wins, had the most wins in the first decade of this third millennium (148, from 2000-2009) and never had a losing season in the 16 he played.  I never really thought of him as a SPECTACULAR pitcher, but always felt he was clutch when the playoffs rolled around.  I don’t really have too strong of an opinion on his candidacy, but I suppose I would vote for him to have a place among the greats in Cooperstown.

 

This was my dad's greatest nomination for Unnatural Brothers

Any thoughts on Joe Torre now working within Major League Baseball’s administration as the league’s chief disciplinarian?

 

I respect Joe Torre, and feel he respects the game of baseball.  The game is in good hands as long as people like Joe Torre are managing it.  Need I say more?

You sound like you’re biting your tongue a little.

No, not at all.  I have a lot of respect for Mr. Torre.  I consider him a legend and an asset to the game.

All right, I’ve gotten you to compliment two former Yankee heavyweights, so I’ll wrap this up rather than continuing to press my luck.  As you might know, I’m leaving quite soon to attend Spring Training in Florida myself.  Do you have any advice for how I can get the most out of the experience?

Make sure you get to the park as soon as you can.  Pre-game preparation was always one of my favorite parts of  game day, with so much excitement in the air.  Batting practice is a lot of fun, and though the regular execution of a pre-game infield pretty much ends at the collegiate level (which is unfortunate;  a crisp pre-game infield can be veritably artful), watching the players get prepared for the game will give you an appreciation for the craft of baseball.

Also, don’t forget your sunscreen.  And don’t be afraid to lose yourself in the game.  Suspend time, turn off your phone, unplug, and marvel at the beauty of baseball.

 

The beauty of baseball

 

Tripp’s Play-Off Predictions

AL East: Red Sox
AL Central: Twins
AL West: Rangers
AL Wild Card: Yankees

NL East: Phillies
NL Central: Cardinals
NL West: Giants
NL Wild Card: Cubs

ALCS: Twins over Red Sox
NLCS: Phillies over Cubs
World Series: Twins over Phillies

Why not?

Tripp Williams is entirely too kind to indulge the editor of this website with the frequency and sincerity that he does.

Oh, and he allegedly once streaked across a heavily populated portion of campus.  Allegedly.

~ T

Blogging Baseball with Tripp – 2011 Season Preview, Part 2

Hey, baseball fans.  Coming at you now with Part 2 of my discussion of the impending baseball season with your friend and mine, Tripp.  Last time, we talked about Timmy and trades.  This time, we cover promising youngsters, injured veterans, and a secret caveat to my Yankee fandom.  Let’s get started…

You correctly predicted at this time last year that Joey Votto was a new face to watch.  Any such predictions yet for 2011’s most impressive rookies?

Carlos Gonzalez of the Rockies, though not a rookie, is someone to keep an eye on.  He won the batting title last year; but because he plays with Colorado, he continues to fly under the national radar.  Mike Stanton of the Marlins is another guy who, though not a rookie, seems poised to do big things.  From what I have read, he is a monster of a human being.  Domonic Brown, with the Phillies, is another player with a lot of buzz.  He is having a rough spring (1 for 16 at the plate), but with the departure of Jayson Werth, Brown is talked of as the heir apparent to the Phillies’ right field spot.

 

Carlos Gonzalez needs hugs

As a Mariner fan, I’ve been hearing a lot about two guys: Dustin Ackley, an infielder, and Michael Pineda, a right-handed pitcher who throws the ball very fast.  We’ll see if either of those guys makes the club coming out of spring training. 

And, last but not least, I would be remiss to omit catcher (supposedly now outfielder) Bryce Harper from this list.

You mentioned Harper briefly in the first part of our discussion.  Care to educate me further?

 

I refuse to believe this is a high school junior. Honestly, at the risk of sounding like a Tea Party person, can I see a birth certificate?

Touted as the LeBron James of baseball, Harper chose to forego the final two years of his high school career to earn his GED and enroll at a junior college in what would have been his junior year.  What was he able to do there, swinging a wood bat at the collegiate level at the age of 17?  He hit a meager .443, with 31 home runs and 98 RBI… in 66 GAMES.  It wouldn’t be fair to place too much expectation on Harper’s shoulders, but it will be exciting to see what he is able to do in the years to come.  (Note: Harper hit .389 this spring for the Nationals.  Last week, he was assigned to the Nationals’ Class A minor league team.  Harper’s rumored last words to Nationals’ manager Jim Riggleman before leaving for the minor league squad: “I’ll see you in July.”) 

A few players are notably struggling to get back in the game after significant injuries; guys like Justin Morneau and Carlos Beltran.  Do you think these guys, or any others in their situation, are going to make or break their teams this season?

I know the Mets are a sensitive subject with you, considering your soft spot for Mr. Wright.

Yes, it’s true.  Forgive me for interrupting, but I have to clarify that statement for my readers, especially if that small group just so happens to include a certain New York Yankee: David Wright is my second favorite third baseman.  I mean, look at that All-American punim.  How could you not love him?

I’m sorry.  Continue.

I don’t think Carlos Beltran’s struggle to return will make or break the Mets’ chances this year.  Similarly, the absence of Johan Santana at the beginning of the year will hurt the Mets; but it’s not as if a healthy Santana would put the Mets atop the NL East.

So you’re saying…

In other words, I don’t think there will be anything to make or break in Queens.

To prove that I’m not a New York hater, I’ll say the same about the Mariners, my hometown team.  Year Two of the Milton Bradley experiment, and the renewed return campaign of the very talented left-handed pitcher Erik Bedard, won’t matter because the Mariners’ disorder has rendered them irrelevant before the season has even started.

The Mariners have a disorder?

Officially diagnosed as Haven’tbeentotheplayoffssince2001itis.

So is there anyone who will be making an impact by being absent?

Justin Morneau.  The Twins need all the offensive production Morneau can provide, especially since their move to the cavernous, open-air Target Field.  Chase Utley’s nagging injury will impact the Phillies’ start, but the strength of Philadelphia’s lineup will likely insulate them from any significant drop-off.

Another offensive producer who has been sidelined is Grady Sizemore.  What do you suppose was, or will be, more of a hindrance to him: his injury, or the publication of artfully posed near-nude photographs he sent to a female admirer?

Oh goodness.  I hadn’t even heard of this until you mentioned it.  I will say this: he’s from Washington, so he has to be a decent guy.  I’ll give him a pass.

Tripp Williams is a regional apologist who, at press time, was still mourning the loss of his favored Washington Huskies in the NCAA tournament.  He does not hate New York.  Really.

~ T

Blogging Baseball with Tripp – 2011 Season Preview, Part 1

Greetings, readers!  The Honestly Blog has been woefully quiet.  Not even a journey to Virginia or Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day could provide adequate fodder for a proper posting.  Am I getting lamer in my advancing age?  Doubtful.  I place all blame on winter, which sucks all the energy and verve from my life, and which is thankfully almost at an end.

You’ll see a lot more activity here on The Honestly Blog as spring approaches, and we’re going to start with a series of exchanges between Yours Truly and trusted baseball correspondent, Tripp.  My questions are in the bold font, and I have edited the conversation for time, content, and cohesion.  So without further ado, I give you the first part of The Honestly Blog’s 2011 MLB Season Preview…

Happy Spring Training to you, my friend.  Is this the best time of year or what?

This is very plausibly the best time of year: the NCAA tourney is about to begin, the NBA season is getting interesting, spring is literally days away, daylight savings time returns in about a hundred hours and, yes, BASEBALL IS BACK!  The game has a natural advantage in the national psyche with its impeccable timing, with hope springing eternal as spring springs…again.  All told, the end of the month, and the beginning of the 162-game marathon, will arrive in no time at all.

You’re a real poet.  Before we start talking about this season, let’s talk about last season.  I think you and I were the only people not living in San Francisco who were excited about the outcome of the World Series.  How do you think Timmy and the boys on the bay are going to do this year?

There is an adage that carries across most team sports: good defense will always trump good offense.  Specifically in baseball, they say good pitching always beats good hitting.  For example, the Yankees’ struggles from 2000 to 2009 (i.e. not winning a championship) were consistently traced not to a paucity of offensive production, but to an underwhelming and inconsistent pitching staff.

Wow, honestly, Tripp?  We’re not even 300 words into this and you’re already slamming the Yankees.  Honestly?

Now, TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION, the Giants’ success last year can be directly linked to the strength of their pitching staff.  With Lincecum, Cain, Bumgarner, and Sanchez anchoring the rotation through the playoffs, and Brian Wilson (weird as he may be) coming in to close, the Giants were usually able to stay in games long enough for their offense to produce.  The emergence of Buster Posey as a budding star, and the overlapping quality play of Cody Ross, Freddy Sanchez, Juan Uribe, and Edgar Renteria combined with the Giants’ steady pitching to win it all in 2010.  Can San Fran replicate their success in 2011?  The Giants will always have a chance as long as their pitching staff remains a quality one.

And one of the hairiest pitching rotations in baseball, as well.

I was surprised that the Giants traded away players, including World Series MVP Edgar Renteria.

The loss of Uribe and Renteria will not likely be too significant, for while each player’s contribution was essential to winning the championship, neither player really factored in the team’s success until the end of the year.

Yeah, but that’s when factoring in really matters.  To borrow some political terminology, do you think the Giants—or any team, for that matter—can win it all without an October surprise?

That’s a fair point.  However, you need to get to October in order to be poised for that October surprise. I don’t know if Renteria and/or Uribe could really be expected to do much to get you there.  History suggests that older players are more injury prone, and there’s no guarantee their bodies will last until October to deliver those late game heroics again.  But, you know, I have been wrong before.  This would be the second time.

Were there any other deals in the off-season that pinged on your radar?

The Giants’ acquisition of Miguel Tejada (which I literally JUST learned of) could be a boost for the offense, though it is tough to expect too much from someone near the end of his career.

Elsewhere in the league, the Red Sox’s loss of third baseman Adrian Beltre and catcher Victor Martinez will be significant, though their trade for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, and the signing of outfielder Carl Crawford, will be a helpful salve.  Logic would suggest that Boston has improved their chances in the race for the AL East crown.

Staying in that division, it will be interesting to see how Tampa Bay’s signing of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon works out.  The experiment will be closely watched by everyone around baseball.  The Rays have a couple of holes to fill, including the one left by the departure of first baseman Carlos Pena to the Cubs.

Together again

Lastly, while the Yankees’ signing of Rafael Soriano read as a desperate and inflated attempt to distract from losing the Cliff Lee sweepstakes (to me at least), Soriano will be a very, very, very helpful addition to a Yankees pitching staff that always manages to be described as “horrible” by mid to late August.

And there you go again.  That’s twice now.

Texas, with the addition of Adrian Beltre, will be poised for another strong campaign in 2011.  The turmoil stemming from the displacement of Michael Young, however, will be interesting to track throughout the year.

The Nationals’ signing of outfielder Jayson Werth is an exciting development for fans in Washington.  It would be nice if Werth’s tenure lasts long enough for last year’s number one draft pick (and supposed Second Coming) Bryce Harper to progress through the minors.  Also, the sooner the Nationals get injured pitcher Stephen Strasburg back, the better.

What curse?

The Phillies had an awesome pitching staff last year, and they have an even awesomer staff this year thanks to the signing of Cliff Lee.  The Phils are the clear favorite in the NL East as of now.

“Even awesomer”?  You know, you’re lucky that I like you as much as I do.  I would have corrected that in anyone else’s contribution to The Honestly Blog.

Creative license.

Tripp Williams is a budding pianist who enjoys using capital letters to convey emotion.  He claims that he has worked as a delivery man for UPS,  but has yet to fulfill the repeated requests of certain self-published websites for the necessary photographic evidence.  He once grew a mustache in honor of his parents’ wedding anniversary.

~ T

They Might Be Giants

I’m not sure you heard, but guess what?  The San Francisco Giants won the World Series!!!

While the rest of the sporting world seems to have scoffed at this series, I (and all other true fans of baseball) watched with rapt attention.  From the wild excesses of Game 1 to the stoic duel of Game 5, there was plenty to get excited about.  Here were two teams who were not expected to make it this far.  Both teams were hungering for their first* title.  And both teams were motley crews, made up of veteran players who had been cast off from other teams earlier this season and untried rookies who had only been called up recently from the minors.  (* – The Giants won in 1954, back when they played in New York)

Pablo Sandoval's supporters play their bamboo flutes in a show of solidarity

It was that unusual concoction that carried the Giants to their title.  Experienced players like Aubrey Huff and eventual World Series MVP Edgar Renteria led offensive charges with as much fire as rookies like the remarkable Buster Posey.  Ultimately, it was the Giants’ unflappable command from the mound that secured their victory.  Shut-outs from Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, expert finishing touches from bearded Brian Wilson, and–of course–exceptional starts from the one and only Tim Lincecum kept the Rangers down.  Not even Cliff Lee could get a W.

Renteria connects

As a fan and follower of young Timmy’s, I was particularly excited that he pitched the winning game.  Count me also among the new legion of fans of Buster Posey.  Watching him barely hold back tears of happiness while being interviewed post-game was perhaps the most adorable thing I’ve seen in weeks.

Buster. What it is right now.

Of course, this victory is bittersweet.  Baseball season is over.  Between that, the increasing darkness, and the sudden drop of temperature, it’s officially winter for Yours Truly.  Once the clocks go back on Sunday, I officially retreat into a state of moderate hibernation, throughout which I patiently count the days until spring training.  This off-season, I’ll have an extra mission to tide me over: planning a visit to San Francisco with The Honestly Blog’s official baseball correspondent, Tripp, to see the defending champs in action.  And maybe to have some beers with Timmy.

Best. Photo. Ever.

~ T

Blogging Baseball with Tripp – Post-Season Predictions

Hello, baseball fans!  It’s October, and that means play-offs.  Had there been more time available to both of us, I would have asked The Honestly Blog’s resident baseball expert, Tripp, to draft a detailed post-season prospectus.  However, our mutually busy schedules prevented that.  Instead, I thought it would be fun to go back and see how Tripp’s initial predictions from back in April have held up.  The answer: surprisingly well.

Tripp’s AL Picks
East: Yankees
West: Mariners
Central: Twins
Wild Card: Boston

AL Final Standings
East: Rays
West: Rangers
Central: Twins
Wild Card: Yankees

Well, Tripp had one thing right: the Twins dominated the AL Central.  He was also right in thinking the East would be the strongest division, though that didn’t work out quite as he predicted.  As for the AL West, I can forgive him his blind hometown loyalties, even if the Mariners had the worst record in the entire American League.  You’re at .500 so far, slugger.

Tripp’s NL Picks
East: Phillies
West: Giants
Central: Cardinals
Wild Card: Brewers

NL Final Standings
East: Phillies
West: Giants
Central: Reds
Wild Card: Braves

He’s two for four again, and this time he’s much more precise!  Tripp correctly foresaw that the Phillies and Giants would win their divisions.  You can’t blame him for picking the Cardinals in the AL Central.  I mean, really, the Cincinnati Reds?  Who saw that coming?  But his wild card pick was truly a wild one.  The Brewers?  They were a distant third in a crowded field.  I wish I had known the reasoning behind that pick many months ago.

All right, so Tripp’s predictions have a 50% accuracy rate.  That’s not bad, considering how long the season is and how tight the standings can be.  I hope this verifies his status as resident expert for all you readers out there.

Tripp had also offered his predictions for the division series themselves.  When peering into his crystal baseball, he saw the Yankees defeating the Twins, and the Phillies and Giants advancing past their respective opponents.  We’ll see if Tripp can keep up his high percentages over these next few days.

What do I think will happen this post-season, you ask?  I think every one of the divisional play-offs will go four or even five games.  I’m rooting against the Rays and for the Reds.  I’m praying that Timmy is in top form so the Giants can beat the Braves.  And I think keeping A.J. Burnett off the mound this week is the first crucial step in what is going to be a long and difficult battle for the Yankees.  I’m not giving up hope of having Timmy pitch to Alex in the World Series, but I’m trying to be realistic about it, too.

On your left, a recipe for success. On your right, a recipe for disaster.

The fun starts tonight.  Enjoy it, sports fans!

~ T

600!

Not long after 1:00 today, in his first appearance at the plate in today’s game against the scrappy Toronto Blue Jays, Alex Rodriguez launched the ball straight out over the center field fence to record his 600th career home run.  The ball was found resting at the foot of the temple of official Yankee fandom, Monument Park, which I find almost distressingly poetic.

Equally serendipitous is the fact that A-Rod clocked in his 600th home run three years to the day that he knocked his 500th out of the park–an occasion I happened to have been on hand to witness.  Since August 4, 2007, I’ve changed computers and cameras, so I’m having no luck in unearthing my video of that outrageous moment at press time, but let me assure you that it was something I’ll never forget.  It was likely the most excited I have ever been watching baseball.  The moment it was clear that the ball was fair and gone, the cheers in Yankee Stadium crescendoed to deafening levels.  The video I have of it is shaky from my jumping up and down, and my repeated “Oh my God”s from behind the camera drown out anything else.  Somehow I kept Alex in frame as he trotted around the bases.  It was one of the most indelible moments of my young adult life.

My custom commemorative collage of that day: program cover, back page of the paper the next day, the ticket stub, and a sweet pic of A-Rod's follow-through that my friend Stef took.

I know he’s a polarizing player–and I’ll be the first to admit that, having seen and read many an interview, he certainly has a somewhat warped mindset–but in the end, he’s there to entertain his fans, to give them a few thrills.  And in the end, that’s what he does well.  Win or lose, if A-Rod makes a great stop and throw to first or sends one out into the bleachers, his fans in New York and across the country are going to celebrate.  I’m not saying he’s bigger than the team, but he’s assuredly a big part of it.

So, congratulations, you peculiar and handsome man.  Your A-bomb certainly seemed to rejuvenate the team today.  Let’s see if the momentum can carry through until we’re safely ahead in first place again.

~ T