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Sunday, August 29, 2004

Clean, Crisp Baseball - 'Ya Gotta Love It

Saturday's win over the Tigers was a thing of beauty from the New and Improved Red Sox. Baseball is a game of small things, which put together, create wins. For example:
- In the first, when Omar Infante singled to center, he was thrown out at second by Johnny Damon. One out, nobody on instead of no outs and man on second. (Thinking defense is important here?)
- Detroit 4th: One run in for the Tigers and runners on first and second with two out and Brandon Inge due up. But Marcus Thames gets picked off at first by Jason Varitek to end the inning. One run is the damage.(Thinking defense is important here, maybe?)
- Gabe Kapler sacrifice bunts Mueller to second. he scores on Bellhorn's subsequent double.
- Ramiro Mendoza closes out the ninth nicely.
That's clean, crisp baseball folks - just the way they teach it in school.
Winning baseball. Team baseball.

Friday, August 27, 2004

The Spinner Experience

Been to Lowell to take in the Spinners? No? Try to give me a good reason why not.
Or, take a look at this valentine to Single-A NY-Penn League Baseball in Lowell: http://www.metrowestdailynews.com/artsCulture/view.bg?articleid=76444 by Alexander Stevens a CNC Staff Writer.
This piece captures what the Spinner Experience is all about.
A few games left............So Go.

Zeitgeist Flashes

If it works for 'EEI, then:
- How about the job Doug Mirabelli has done this week with 'Tek on enforced holiday. Nice to know he is there, and one of the - if not THE - best backup Catcher in the AL.
- After watching Orlando Cabrera play short, are you still missing Nomah?
- Kudos to Theo: I took real balls to trade one of the most popular players in RS history for several mid-tier unknows (in this market, anyway). He did it, said why (they were not going to win much with him and the defense as it was), and so far, has shown how it will be better. Congrats Theo (Credit where Credit is Due Dept.)
- Kudos to Theo - Part II: Does anybody think that maybe, just maybe, one of the reasons this team is playing better since The Trade is because by making the Move, Theo made it explicitly clear that what this Team was about and what management wanted above all else was to win; it was not about personalities or anything else. And maybe, just maybe, the Team got that message as well?
- Francona; Also, Credit where Credit is Due Dept: Mixing up the lineup, actually bunting (now that we have Roberts), and doing a creditable job of keeping the ship afloat with a number of continuing injuries.
- Manny: Sox MVP, and team leader? Could be both, in his own unique way. If it works, I am for it.
- See how playing solid defense suddenly makes the rest of the team hang together better?
- Quiz: Can you easily name a championship caliber club that played poor defense.........I'm waiting.
- See how winning fixes (almost) everything? (Ask Bob Kraft about that too.)

Monday, August 23, 2004

Separate and Equal

Surprised by the recent (better) play of the Red Sox?
You shouldn't be. I find it interesting that baseball fans often talk about three "phases" of the game: pitching, hitting (or offense), and defense.
I don't look at it that way - there are only two, and I will tell you why - you can't intelligently separate pitching and defense; they are the left and right hand of the segment of the game in which you try to prevent your opponent from scoring runs. You prevent them from scoring runs by making it as difficult as possible for them to hit the ball, and by effectively catching it as often as possible when they inevitably do hit it.
The infield defense is much better with Mientkiewicz at first (the play stabbing last night in Chicago, for example) and a healthy Cabrera at short - compared to Millar/Ortiz and a hurt Nomar.
Why does this team look so good right now? For the same reason they looked so bad 5 or 6 weeks ago - for most teams, everything starts with stopping the other team. Players spend less time on the field. Players get less frustrated, they feel more confident. The pitching becomes more aggressive in going after hitters. You are playing the game of baseball as a whole - not just participating in a glorified batting practice by slugging doubles off the wall.
Manny has been hitting, yes, but how much of his resurgence came from the great fan reception he got at home last week after some spectacular catches he made in left? I think Manny is much more proud and satisfied (and motivated) with a great catch than by slamming another 450 ft. HR.
And so is the team, overall.
It is a better Team.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Meet "The Can," and Rosters, Explained

You have a great chance to meet one of the most colorful players in Red Sox history on Monday at McCoy Stadium, as former PawSox and Red Sox pitcher Oil Can Boyd will be signing autographs before and during the game with the Buffalo Bisons. Don't kick the Can, please!

And, honestly, do you know how baseball's different rosters (25 and 40 man) work? Well, go to
http://baseball.about.com/od/frequentlyaskedquestions/a/Roster_Info.htm?once=true& and find out.

1994 Finally Reaches Japan

According to The Kansas City Star and Nikkan Sports Japanese professional baseball players voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike as part of their efforts to prevent the merger of several Pacific League (Japan) teams. The story reports that about 98 percent of the 750 members of the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association voted to authorize a potential strike.
Apparently the Orix BlueWave and the Kintetsu Buffaloes signed an agreement to merge, but the move must be approved at an owners' meeting Sept. 8. Under the agreement, the merged club would be run by a new firm jointly owned by Orix Corp. and Kintetsu Corp., the parent companies involved with the two teams.
We'll keep you abreast of the progress of this one - no Gene Orza involved though.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Stretch - Time for some Cracker Jacks

August Baseball Signposts:
- A Big CONGRATULATIONS to the Sanford Mainers, this year's NECBL Champions. The Mainers, a team that made it to the NECBL Finals last year but lost to Keene, beat the Newport RI Gulls last night in a Best 2 or 3 Championship Series. Led by mascot Broose D'Moose, the Mainers play at beautiful Goodall Park in Sanford, ME. This team's long-term existence looked shaky a few months ago but boosted attendance and community interest for a good organization - and good baseball - have secured the Mainers future. It is high-level amateur baseball at its best. If you missed the NECBL this season, make a promise to go next year.
- Red Sox: Looks like a different team lately, doesn't it? Does the pitching look better to you? It might - but I think that the pitching may look better, and is better, because the folks behind the mound are catching the ball better than they were. (How many unearned runs have we given up since Nomar left BTW?) Being home also helps. My Pick: these guys are ready to roll, right now, and lock in the Wild Card.
- Sad Sign of the season: dark little league fields after mid -August.
- Junior Griffey: Another Gayle Sayers?
- Tough As Nails Sheffield: Playing in constant pain, injured, and no relief in sight - and yet he's carried the Yankees for months and could be MVP. Contemplating retirement, and justly so; already made $90M. Though he wears the PinStripes, he is my kind of ballplayer.
- Kapler: got to play this guy more - No, not a .330 hitter, but a Dirt Dog.
- Wrigley Field: About as old as Fenway, and now visibly crumbling (http://www.sports-central.org/sports/2004/08/03/time_for_changes_at_Wrigley_field.php Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley told Cubs' officials..."Fix Wrigley or I'll shut it down."). How long before bigger chunks start to fall from the Fens? (Smaller ones have been falling for years - look at the walls next time you are there!)
- Who is a bigger disappointment this year in the NL: Phillies or Astros?

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

What Baseball Teaches Kids and Their Parents

I have kind of waxed poetic about the value playing baseball can have for kids in other posts, but this is not another paean to the sport.
The background is, my son's team lost 7 out of 8 games and played poorly in two tournaments -- way too poorly for their abilities. Basically they quickly become unfocused when things go wrong. They lost two fairly close games to a highly ranked, disciplined Massachusetts team that went to the Nationals; two to a very strong team that played better, more disciplined baseball; and two more close games to another disciplined team. They were in all of these games early on, and still have good pitching. Their hitting is inconsistent and their fielding is erratic, and their concentration is nonexistent at critical points in the game.

Last weekend, they lost four games and got spanked in two of them in a tournament after dropping a one-run decision in a time-limit game on day one in which they got ahead, fell behind, came back, and then saw the game called after 6 due to the 2-hour limit. After that game, things went downhill fast.
Okay, not being very subtle here. The team is undisciplined and, at times, not mature. They lose confidence quickly after a couple of errors and often take those errors, as a team and personally, to the plate and cannot seem to recover, no matter how their pitchers try to keep focused. Their coaches seem unaware that they can -- must -- help them re-focus, must remind them of situations, and keep them attentive and confident.

Weeks of this kind of playing -- one mistake or two (usually, two becomes three or four) and the team loses its focus -- has pretty much pissed off most (actually just about all) of the parents. They see this lack of direction, lack of focus, lack of discipline, and lack of timely instruction and positive encouragement, and blame the coaches. It all kind of blew up when they were in a close tournament game, made errors, and then were not in the game anymore. There were lots of previously unexpressed feelings and opinions that volcanoed after that game and, while I was not there, I'll simply say there were strong words spoken and strong words returned between parents and coaches.
We are heading into the last few weeks of the season. We have games and tournaments and will be there for all of them; how they play and how they are managed/coached, and how the parents react remain unknowns and unpredictable.
So what is the lesson here for kids and for parents? Who's wrong here? More to the point: What went wrong here? No communications -- same as always. Coaches talked, I guess, to one another and parents talked (I know) to one another, but neither talked to each other until the boiling point for the parents. Both the coaches and parents are decent, caring people, which makes this a bit harder to talk about.
The intensity of competition is great -- there is nothing like the emotion of winning, or even losing, to make you feel alive, in my opinion. In fact, I know I spend more time on a high from a good game than on a low from a bad game. But there is still the issue of playing the game right -- right attitude, focused mindset, situational awareness, confidence all go into making that happen. It seems we as parents and our kids have a ways to go on this, but also that we all -- parents and coaches -- need to remember that these kids are 15 and need direction and instruction about how to play it right, no matter what the circumstances. It is not enough to expect them to know -- you have to confirm that they know -- what to do, how to approach the game and its endless series of situations, and for that, coaches are responsible, in my opinion. Baseball is a stream of new situations based on every pitch; there is no time when you cannot pay attention, cannot concentrate, do not know what to do next. The "decision tree" for each player must jibe with those of all the other players. This is a hard, complex game that takes mental not just physical tools. Just like everything in life.

Postscript: We have decided to sponsor and run our own team for next season. I guess that means we are going to be our own managers, coaches -- and critics. We'll see how that works out. I expect we will learn a lot more about ourselves then.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Where's BY? Saving Himself for Charity

Who is tougher to find this season?
1. Waldo
2. D. B. Cooper
3. B. Y. Kim (or Kim Byung-hyun as he is known in Korea)

But see you B.Y. in December says the Korean Times and The Korea Professional Baseball Player Association (KPBPA).
The paper said Tuesday Kim has agreed to play in "Future Ball 2004" event - a charity fundraiser with other Korean MLB players including: Park Chan-ho (Texas Rangers), Choi Hee-seop (Los Angeles Dodgers), Seo Jae-weong (New York Mets), Bong Jung-keun (Cincinnati Reds) as well as Japan-based players Lee Seung-yeop (Lotte Marines) and Ku Dae-sung (Orix Bluewave). And B. Y., of course, is on the list of players.

The paper says the KPBPA has confirmed the participation of this list through Na Jin-kyun, secretary general of the KPBPA. According to the KPBPA, Future Ball 2004 will be held Dec. 2-4 either in Pusan or on Cheju Island. The charity game will be played on Dec. 4 with a home run competition scheduled in the middle of the game.
If B. Y. participates in the home run competition, I hope we get to see a tape of that on NESN or BBTN, don't you?

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Baseball GM Alert: No-Mah For Sale!

Had enough about the No-mah situation? This is a subject most Sox fans can't seem to get enough of yet. Other voices on this point:

- Reports tonight say Nomar is looking for a measly $50 million over 4 years as a free agent, $10 million less than the $60 million J. Henry and Theo offered. What was that about him wanting to stay in Boston? I think Nomah is doing some free-agent damage control here;
* All those GM's who would want a lying, Achilles tendon sore, defensively-challenged, loner and sulking personality, past-his-prime shortstop for $12.5 million a year step forward? Pleeeeze?
- Bill Simmons, ESPN.com: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/040802, makes an excellent and telling point about The Trade:
"Not a single [red Sox] teammate [has] stepped up to A.) defend him, or B.) bash the trade as he was headed out the door."
- If dealing with the press and fans was so "difficult" for Nomah here in Boston, he should be playing somewhere else, like maybe Kansas City.

Time to move on folks. Why?
In the end, it turns out, gnashing over it any more isn't worth it because Nomah wasn't worth, and can't handle, our attention and interest. Now, it's Mia's problem.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

A Thinking Man's Game?

Despite Youkilis' error in the seventh tonight which, in my opinion, effectively cost the red Sox the game, I still like this No-Mah-Less team better than I did a week ago. The loss to Tampa Bay tonight showed the new face of this team, and in doing so, exposed other, underlying weaknesses:
- Arroyo continues to pitch well, very well, and should not have been out there past one or two batters in the seventh (Hello Tito?). To that point he had surrendered only 4 hits and one ER. He didn't deserve the loss.
- That said, Youkilis' error in the seventh on a good DP ball changed what should have been a two outs and one man on situation into a bases loaded, nobody out mess. Yes, another unearned Sox run, now an AL leading 75. And yes, they lost by one run.
- 3B Coaching? Hello, sending Pinch Runner Dave Roberts in the top of the 9th on a single to center, with No Outs, only to be thrown out at home, is unforgivable. Again, instead of first and third (the tying run, and the fastest runner at third, and the go-ahead run) and nobody out, we had one baserunner and one out.

They lost this one and shouldn't - but that has been the story for these '04 Red Sox. What we learned tonight is that the team's pitching and defense - which played very well for most of the game, was up to the task of keeping a close one close. That is until, until they reverted back to their old ways - errors, mental and physical. Like the mid-1990's Cleveland Indians, the '04 Sox can win if they pummel you to death with 3 run HRs. In a close one however, they more often than not will find a way to give the other team an opening, and lose. Like the mid 90's Indians, this team may be fun to watch, until thinking is required. Then, they are painful.
Unfortunately for Terry Francona and his coaching staff, somebody should remind them that baseball is a thinking man's game.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Theo Fesses Up....and Shores Up the "D"

He said that the defense was "unacceptable," Remy called it "terrible," others have called it "atrocious" - we all knew what they were talking about: the Red Sox Defense so far this season. To his credit, Theo fessed up today, finally calling a turd a turd, and taking action to fix it.
Bye Nomar - you were an eight week temp assignment anyway; was there anybody with an IQ of more than 50 who thought Theo had a shot at re-signing Nomar? Pleeeezeee! It was time for him to move on - and he may well end up as an All-Star in Chicago, or wherever, but that's OK. Just like Clemens, he wasn't going to play like that here - he needed a move. If someone else wants to pay Nomar $60M for 4 years, good luck to 'em. Now, let's hope we have a better chance to sign Varitek, the guy we really can't afford to lose.

So the Red Sox did not get a Rent-An-Arm this year, but boosted the Pitching staff considerably anyway by installing some solid defense, and changed the offense by adding some speed on the bases. It will be interesting to see who drops out the end of the bucket with three new faces on the roster.

Theo - 'ya done good. There are those who will say we didn't get enough. Bull. Nomar was going to walk for nothing and the team has been playing .500 ball for three months. Time for a shake up - consider yourself shaken and stirred.

I like this team better now, even if they stay at .500 the rest of the way. Watching them maul easy plays that are made at the AA level ruined any serious enjoyment of the game.