Well, not five minutes after I wrote my last post, I read Jason Beck's blog, and lo and behold, my prediction about Sheffield has already come true. Not that it was too difficult to foresee, but, I'll still take credit for the prophesy.
Too bad the $14 million we owe him isn't also loosed. Oh well, it's a freeing move for the Tigers notwithstanding the monetary loss. We're freed up to retain Marucs Thams, and to DH Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordóñez more often. We're also liberated to bring Jeff Larish up with the club.
Now, I admit I'm protective of my own guys, so I was more than a little rankled when a local sports radio personality said today that Magglio Ordóñez was probably the worst right fielder in baseball. Excuse me, Bobby Abreau played right field in the WBC and Magglio played left--making Abreu the lesser fielder. There--at least one who's worse! I admit he's a liability, but when Josh Anderson and Curtis Granderson play with Magglio, the center-fielder will be freed up to drift right, savvy?
Well, Sheff's tenure with any club is bound to be colorful, so it'll be interesting to see where he lands, and with whom he hits the big 500. New grudges are sure to be birthed in moments of self-aggrandizing drama. I'm sure we'll soon be hearing how the Tigers held him hostage at DH when he had all the desire and ability to play the field.
I always loved Sheff's bat through the years, and coveted it for the Tigers. Old clichés ring true--be careful what you wish for...
Well, the starting rotation picture continues to shift and confound. Jeremy Bonderman showed us today that he is indeed not ready. At times, he looked good, but he lacks arm strength and control. I'm not really worried about him, he just needs more time. It's disappointing that he won't be ready for the beginning of the season, because we need all we can get. We don't want a repeat of last year now do we?
Zach Miner, on the other hand, wants to show everybody that he does belong in the rotation after all. He looked pretty stinking good, except for that one solo shot. He worked all his pitches at a good pace, changing eye levels, and speeds.
Due to my botched DVR job, I didn't see Rapada's or Bonine's work.
Perhaps the latest twist in the Dontrelle Willis saga may lead us to have hope for his situation. In a bizarre turn, WIllis has been placed on the DL with an anxiety disorder. I had no idea they could be diagnosed with a blood test now, but I think this may be good news for Willis and the Tigers. He may be able to come out of the tailspin he's been in.
Sadly, we endured yet another injury in today's game, as Santiago left the game after legging out an infield single, and then tripping over the first baseman's foot as he got to the bag. It didn't look too terribly serious, but geez.
On a final note, Opening Day, Opening Day, Opening Day's only 8 days away!
This is really embarrassing, but for some strange reason I feel obligated to admit to it. Every year, as Opening Day draws near, I start singing a little made up ditty. It's so short it doesn't really qualify as a song, and drives my family totally crazy. My son literally begs me not to sing it. I can't help it though. I sing it every day until Opening Day arrives. OK, I think I'm certifiable now. Hope that didn't scare everyone away. I think that in general, I'm a relatively "normal" person, but am admittedly a little gonzo over the Tigers. BTW, don't ask me to post audio of the "song." I really do want to retain a reader or two.
Now that Opening Day is in our sights, I've got some questions for you.
Do you have a tradition of attending Opening Day? How many years running have you gone?
What's your most memorable Opening Day experience?
Have you ever attended the Tigers first game of the year when it was on the road?
For me personally, I don't feel compelled to attend Opening Day itself. I have only gone twice, with mixed results. Once in 1997, it was very frigid, near freezing, and although I was bundled as if I were in the Iditarod, it did not help one bit. I remember sending my husband out to get some hot chocolate in hopes of warming my insides and my hands on it--and when he got back it was stone cold. My feet were like chunks of frozen ice blocks, they felt heavy and stiff. The weather dampened the fun a bit that day.
I shied away for a few years after that, waiting for fair weather.
Then, one year, right after work, I ran into a guy at the gas station. The weather that day was absolutely incredible for April. He had his Tigers gear on--a short sleeve t-shirt, and was all sun-kissed and beaming. I knew right away he was coming from the game. I asked him just to confirm, and he was so clearly on a baseball high that I vowed to go to Opening Day the next year, despite the capricious nature of April weather in Michigan.
My mom and dad happened to be coming into town around Opening Day, so I invited them to join me. Their excitement, although not quite matching mine, added to the anticipation. We couldn't have asked for a better day, the sun was out, the weather was in the low 50s, and our seats were pretty good--third row behind the visitors bullpen. We watched Freddy Garcia warm up, and some fan heckled him mercilessly about his frosted highlights. The little boy sitting next to us adopted my dad as grandpa for the day, sitting in his lap, stretching out--I think he almost fell asleep in my dad's arms at one point. Funny how ballgames foster instant friendships. We lost to the evil Chisox that day, but it was a near-perfect, memorable day nonetheless.
Since then, I've been content to attend one of the games of the first series. I like it because it's a little less circus-like, a little more about the game. This year, my first game isn't until the second series, although I may cave and buy tickets to the second game of the season on Saturday.
Please share your Opening Day stories to tide us over until Opening Day 2009 arrives.
Politics and baseball are not exactly frequent bedfellows here in the US. (Except for the whole Mitchell Report thing.) We don't often see our players talking about politics, doing ads for politicians, or even speaking out much about their personal political views. We want our sports to entertain, not polarize. So when we see our own Magglio Ordóñez booed relentlessly by his countrymen, it rather strikes home.
Now, I understand the position of those who jeered Ordóñez. I'm not well versed in Venezuelan politics, but I'd be pretty upset if the sitting president were trying to erase term limits and generally enlarging his own power as much as possible, while reducing freedoms for ordinary citizens.
I must say, however, that it pained me to see Magglio enduring the ire of so many. His performance during the series was not good, and the commentators hinted that the booing may have gotten under his skin. His Team Venezuela comrades (no pun intended) were supportive, even attempting to quell the crowd at one point. I'm sure some of them hold differing views, but chose to put them aside on the diamond.
When the season begins, and I find myself in my usual right-field seat, I admit I'll be cheering Magglio despite our possible differences off the field--and I suspect he'll get a heartier than usual greeting from Tigers fans, who may want to show him that we know how to compartmentalize our feelings and ignore such pesky things as conscience in the name of baseball.
Tonight I attended the athletic awards ceremony for the high school at which my husband coaches the boys and girls basketball teams. It's a very, very small school--Class D here in Michigan, and under 70 students total. I listened as my husband spoke at length about the teams. Most striking was not stories detailing victories during the season, or an individual's performance, but rather him speaking from the heart about "the brotherhood." He said that it was a sense of brotherhood that he prized most in coaching, not Xs and Os, not championships, not triple-doubles, not scoring titles. I watched him choke with genuine emotion as he told of bonding with players, hoping they would come back and mentor younger players after they've graduated--which countless numbers of them have done year after year.
It made me think of the professional leagues, and whether there is such a thing as brotherhood at that level. I'd like to think there is, despite the mandate to win, despite the pecuniary interests of owners, broadcast entities and players. There are many times when it seems that's all there is to pro sports--the $. Owners raising tickets prices during tough economic times. A merry-go-round of players who do not stay with one team, but follow money like a heat-seeking missile. General managers trading away a fan favorite for the flavor of the month.
But then there are moments like after the Tigers won the 2006 ALDS, when players emerged from the clubhouse to share the victory with the fans, spraying them liberally with champagne, running around the the ballpark high-fiving eager revelers, sharing the unadulterated joy. There's the player who takes a few extra moments to sign an autograph and encourage a young child, who stands awestruck in the presence of his or her hero. There are players who give the home-town discount to stay with a club they've come to feel as home, with fans who give the keys to the city to these loyal sons.
I think there is a brotherhood. If there wasn't, I think professional sports would dry up and stadiums would stand empty. I know that teammates, coaches and staff share in a brotherhood to which we fans are not privy. But I sure appreciate when they crack the door and give us a glimpse.
I failed to make clear the title of my last post, and think it sounds stupid, so what I meant was that I consider Zach Miner and Dontrelle Willis to be the men down (out of the running for a rotation spot).
My heart is just cracking into shards for Dontrelle. He's a likable guy who jumped in feet first to a couple charity engagements moments after hitting the tarmac when he arrived. How can a pitcher just lose all grip on his game? It's got my mind very boggled. I would love to hear some instances (other than Ankiel) of this happening to other guys from some of you historians.
Maybe the D-train could, if he accepted a minor league assignment, go back to his high leg kick, work on that for some time, and do something again someday. I really hope that's so. With the modified delivery, his stuff has nothing on it, and he'll just continue to get rocked to oblivion. I cannot even stand to watch--I caught one inning of his work the other night, and was alternately holding my breath, cringing, and looking away for sobbing out loud. Plus, he's still so not able to locate the vicinity of the plate, why not go back to what he's done for years? It's beyond late for them to be shuffling so much with mechanics, so it'll be the minor leagues or bye bye for Dontrelle, I would think.
Jason Beck wrote in his blog today that Zach Miner is out of the running for the 5th starter spot in the rotation.
Hmmmmmm--interesting, seeing that Dontrelle Willis finds the strike zone to be an anathema, and Jeremy Bonderman, though on schedule to sort of be ready by the first week of the regular season has thrown all of 28 pitches in total this spring, and Nate Robertson, although performing well his last two outings, is, you know, Nate Robertson, and um, are we going to be handing him the job? That brings us to Rick Porcello, and does this mean he may be closer than ever to coming up with the big club? And would that be a good thing, since as Kurt over at Mack Avenue Tigers points out, Bonderman will only be able to last about five innings at first, and Porcello would also be on a strict pitch count? Let's overtax our bullpen right out of the gate! Needless to say, this spring's adventures in pitching have induced a whole lot of Maalox chugging for the Tiger faithful. I just returned from Costco, where I saved loads of cash buying it in bulk--maybe enough to score Opening weekend tickets off Stubhub.
This is really mushy, so watch out. I have a confession of sorts to make. I relish a good blog post about the Tigers. So much, in fact, that I go straight to my computer every morning, (in addition to the myriad other times daily). A good post is like a present, anticipation as to its contents, and utter enjoyment in its reading. Likewise, a comment on one of my posts is prized. I really get a kick out of them, you know? So, ante up, sign up for a Blogger/Google account (I know, it's troublesome), and stop lurking about here. Leave some salty commentary, argue with me, anything--I lap it all up.
In taking in the recap of yesterday's Spring Training game in the Free Press, I read with wonder that Don Kelly was playing first base for the Tigers in the fifth inning, and made a diving stop to rob an Astros player of a hit. I must admit that I was like um, Don Kelly was playing first base for the Tigers? Who in Blarney's name is Don Kelly? Is he playing for the Tigers today because it's St. Patrick's day? (He may well not be Irish, I really don't know.) I apologize for my ignorance of this bloke.
Let's remedy that now. Kelly was drafted by the Tigers in the 8th round of the 2001 draft (Baseball Reference). He's only played a handful of games in the bigs, in 2007 with the Pirates. He was signed as a free agent in 2008 by the Diamondbacks, but is now a non-roster invitee with the Tigers.
To says he's a light hitter might be a bit of an understatement. He hit .148 with the Pirates in 2007 in 25 games and 27 ABs. He did hit .275 in the Diamondbacks' minor league system last year over 436 ABs in 124 games.
He's got some speed, swiping 23 bases for Toledo and Erie in 2006, but only stole 2 bases last year.
Anyway, halloo Don Kelly, and may the luck '0 the Irish be with you.
OK. I know I very recently raved about the WBC. In truth, I've really enjoyed watching the Classic, and have not lost my enthusiasm for the event. However, I'm now a little concerned about the effects participation in the WBC may have on some of our own.
Curtis Granderson is not seeing many ABs in the Classic. Centerfield has belonged almost exclusively to Shane Victorino. Now, I was all into Victorino last year during the World Series, but now he's blocking Grandy from getting playing time, which has not been nearly enough, in just about everyone's opinion. We all know what not having Curtis did to the beginning of our season last year. Ouch.
Armando Gallaraga is now approximately two outings behind the other Tigers pitchers. He's not seeing enough action either.
Carlos Guillen is mostly DHing for Venezuela, not getting reps in his new left-field slot. It just keeps getting better.
So, although the WBC has my attention and admiration, it also has me squirming a bit.
I was listening to parts of the Tigers exhibition game yesterday vs. the Blue Jays on the radio. A very interesting bit of trivia was discussed between Dan and Jim. They were talking about maple bats at first--the issue of them shattering explosively and dangerously. Apparently the trademark has been rotated on the bats, supposedly making them less likely to shatter in such a way that puts people in peril. Not quite sure I understood how that's supposed to work. Anyway, they then moved on to players' bat selection.
Not sure who said it, but apparently Carlos Guillen tests every bat in each shipment by sounding and feeling them out with a bang against his hand. He keeps only about THREE OF EVERY TWELVE BATS. That amazed me. Only 25% of bats make the cut? I wonder what happens to the remaining 75%. Do they go to the minor leagues? Or does the company take them back and shred them? Or is there an island of misfit bats somewhere, with despairing bats waiting to be selected for use in a real game? Poor little bats.
Anyway, I thought it was a fun fact worth sharing.
MLB Network ran a documentary about Dmitri and Delmon Young titled "We Are Young." Two full hours of footage, interviews and insight into the brothers' ascent into professional baseball. I was struck by their father's dedication to becoming their baseball coach--because this was a man who knew NOTHING about baseball when Dmitri first took an interest in it. He immersed himself in baseball, and ultimately became an astute coach and motivator.
It was an interesting look at their years in youth baseball on up through the ranks, along with extensive interviews with mom, dad, and the boys themselves. Two hours offers ample time to dig in to the story and develop it fully.
Of course, the show had to look at some of the troubles Dmitri and Delmon faced--Delmon's 50 game minor league suspension for throwing a bat, which hit an umpire. Dmitri's battles with substance abuse, and domestic violence.
I admit that when Dmitri was released in 2006, it was a shocker. The situation was very strange. Jim Leyland, who generally tells it like it is, stayed stubbornly with the lie that the release was performance-based. I was left with a very bad taste in my mouth over the whole thing. Yes, Dmitri had major issues, had some very self-created problems, and if they wanted to release him over personal problems, that's fine. Just come out and say that. Don't cling to the outlandish claim that it was strictly based on performance on the field.
Dmitri was the one bright spot in several of those horrible, loss-infested seasons. I'll always appreciate his contributions to the team. I was happy to see him come back as the NL "Come Back Player of the Year" in 2007 with the Nats.
Seems his demons are not completely exorcised, however. Dmitri came to camp very overweight in 2008, and the Nats were not pleased--understandably so. Being that he's got diabetes, he really needs to keep his weight down. Appearing in only 50 games, garnering 150 ABs, Dmitri hit .280 with a .394 OBP and .400 SLG. He's currently a non-roster invitee for the Nats.
I'm sure MLB Network will run and rerun the documentary ad nauseum, ad infinitum, so check it out.
In his regular piece "K Korner" for ESPN the Magazine, Tim Kurkjian reports that after the first exhibition game this pre-season, Ron Gardenhire found a note on his desk from Justin Morneau. It read "Gardy, I forgot to run sprints after the workout yesterday. I'm fining myself." With the note was a $100 bill.
Wowee. Justin Morneau, are you for real? Of course, his game earns mad respect. Now he's Mr. Integrity, too?
You may have thought the ride was over now that Spring Training is in full swing, but no...the rumor mill has not ceased operation. Listen to what I heard today, and see if it doesn't get you feeling a bit woozy.
I was listening to Karsch & Anderson this noon, who were broadcasting from Lakeland. One of them says that he's heard that perhaps the Tigers will dump Sheffield and his $14 million dollar contract to ensure that Jeff Larish has a spot on the roster.
To be honest, I don't put a whole lot of stock in this news, thunderous as it may be. My jaw did drop, true, at its hearing, but actually believing it is a whole other thing. Their current proximity to the Tigers does not really serve to enhance the veracity of the tale.
Also, as if to prove it wrong, Sheff busts out with two homers in today's game against the Yanks.
In the concrete news realm, Verlander walks four in two innings, and allows 4 runs (2 earned) with two strikeouts. Oh Justin, is efficiency out of reach? Are Tiger starters (other than Porcello) incurably addicted to the base on balls?
As if Tigers fans needed more news to prompt ledge-seeking, Marcus Thames has an abdominal strain. Both Curtis Granderson and our team Venezuela representatives made it through to round two of the WBC, so we are a little short on player personnel here, you know?
Let's look at it this way, maybe we're getting out all the bad stuff here in the pre-season, and we'll be injury and walk free during the regular season. Wishful thinking, I know, but my workplace doesn't have any ledges, so I've got to keep positive somehow.
Isn't it fun seeing teammates pitted against each other? I'm enjoying it to no end. Last night, Carlos Guillen hit a home run off Jason Grilli (who's playing for team Italy). Tonight, Curtis Granderson had to step into the batter's box against Armando Gallaraga--Gallaraga won that battle. Magglio Ordóñez later flied out to deep center--into the glove of Curtis Granderson. Before the WBC started, I saw an exhibition game between team USA and the Yankees, and Derek Jeter had an RBI off his teammates--I admit that was pretty weird, but very fun, to see the likes of Derek Jeter celebrating at the expense of the Yankees! I'd like to hear some of the trash talk between teammates who are temporarily on opposing sides.
Where do your WBC loyalties lie? I had to laugh at Tommy Lasorda's over-the-top nationalistic comments about team USA. I don't think that many people share his unmitigated loyalty. I mean, most MLB teams have players scattered all over various WBC teams. I'm sure many fans are rooting for favorite players to do well, regardless of the WBC team for which they happen to be playing. How can I not pull for Venezuela, when four prominent Tigers are represented there? Of course, it's also compelling to see a bunch of MLB all-stars playing together on Team USA's roster. Granderson's batting 9th tonight for goodness' sake!
Say what you will about the WBC, I'm having a ball.
Well Justin Verlander is up to his old tricks, requiring 50 pitches to get through 2.1 innings against a Yankees lineup that was without Jeter, A-Rod and other regulars. You'd think he'd be attacking the strike zone relentlessly this spring in an effort to reverse last year's inefficiency. Yesterday's outing had 29 of 50 pitches going for strikes. Not exactly confidence-inspiring, but again, not cause for ledge-walking. I will be keeping a weather eye on Justin, however.
At least we got some good news on the Bondo/Zumaya injury-watch fronts. Geez, if they'd both had bad reports, it would be difficult to find a ledge not crowded with despairing Tigers fans.
On to our young prospects, who are defying conventional time-tables and threatening to make a run at the big club. I like Kurt's take on Porcello over at Mack Avenue Tigers. Porcello's situation fills me with a scary mixture of excitement and caution. I don't want to see him rushed, but some folks are just flat out ready. Also, Ryan Perry has impressed. See Sean's piece on Perry. Could we have a crowd of would-be closers at the end of Spring Training? I'll take that problem any day of the week.
One last non-pitching related note. I wish I could have seen yesterday's game in which Sheff was HBP twice (not by the same pitcher). Was he threatening revenge on Yankee-dom? Will he have his hands full this season lurking in dark corners, waiting for an opportunity to get his hands on his countless enemies? Why watch the soaps? It doesn't get much better than Sheffield and his self-created drama. And, imagine that, there will be some on-field drama as well as we follow the chase for 500.
You absolutely must read the latest from the comedic baseball genius mind of Samara over at Roar of the Tigers. How did she read my mind and then express my exact sentiments regarding the World Baseball Classic? Well, except for that waking at 4 am stuff. My lazy tail will still be abed at that hour, I'm afraid. Do I lose my "unhealthy obsession with baseball" (Samara's words--like I said, read her post) card over that?
I'm sorry, but why was the Tigers/Venezuela exhibition not broadcast in some way, shape or form? Let's see, Armando Gallaraga was pitching for Venezuela, and Carlos Guillen, Miguel Cabrera, and Magglio Ordóñez were in the lineup facing the rest of our Tigers squad. Is that not compelling fare for Tigers fans? I must know then, why the Tigers failed to broadcast this game at least on radio. I know MLB network had to go with the "premier" Team USA/Yankees matchup, but why not air the Tigers/Venezuela game later on instead of endless repeats of other programming? After reading the Freep's and Detroit News' coverage of the affair, it would've been a lot of fun to watch, not only for the matchup, but also because of the fiesta created by some Team Venezuela fans. I feel like we missed out in a big way on that game. Boo.
In an MLB fantasy preview, ESPN the Magazine's Christopher Harris doesn't bank on Armando Gallaraga replicating last year's impressive performance. His reasons are fairly compelling. He points out that Gallaraga's BABIP was .247 last year, well below the usual pitcher's career average of around .300. Since Gallaraga's not a strikeout pitcher, Harris argues that this year, his strand rate for baserunners may go down considerably from a healthy 75.6%.
Unfortunately, it's hard to argue against all this logic, and for that I apologize. I'd like to come out with an airtight rebuttal, but I just can't do it. So this is more gut-wrenching news for our already wobbly pitching foundation. I didn't hear the game, but Zach Miner got tagged for 7 hits and 5 earned runs over two innings today against the Pirates. Maybe those folks out on the ledge were right. No, they were not--the baseball season's a marathon that hasn't even begun yet, so pace your worries people. Although things have been rocky so far this spring, it's not time to hit the panic button yet.
All I can say is it's no wonder these guys were a bundle of nerves for their first spring outings. The scrutiny must be a bit overwhelming. I'm not criticizing, because I'm one of the people clamoring for coverage, just empathizing.
Baseball. A tonic for all that ails. The perfect accompaniment to almost every activity. A day at the ballpark. It's not asking for much. I vow to get locked in for the night one day.
"You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball."