"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Monthly Archives: February 2006

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Signs of Spring

Ahhh, the comfort of pre-spring training puff pieces sure are a sight for sore eyes. The Daily News has a few of ’em today, including a bit featuring the latest from Joe Torre, and another detailing Octavio Dotel’s rapid recovery from Tommy John surgery. According to Anthony McCarron:

“I don’t want to say I’m 100% now, but I’m feeling really good,” Dotel said.

He hopes he can be ready by April, but he says he won’t rush, either. “The Yankees are the people who decide,” he said. “As far as I feel, I could be there in April, but I’ll let them decide when I’ll be in New York with the team.”

Following up on Bob Klapisch’s piece for ESPN last week, Christian Red has an article on Jason Giambi, who says that he expects to play first more than DH this year. I liked this bit:

“I was always the guy, in the beginning, that took over for Tino,” Giambi said. “Even though I had great years (in Oakland), we hadn’t won that World Series.

“I think every New Yorker, they love to see somebody face adversity and still stand tall. And not fall by the wayside. They like to see you man up, take your beating. You just keep going and clicking and keep working hard.

“They love those stories. It’s a tough town out here. It really is. I don’t know how many people I get that pull me aside and just, ‘We appreciate the way you handled it and the way you went about it.'”

Meanwhile, over at SI.com, Tom Verducci believes that Chien-Ming Wang could have a breakout season in ’06:

The cool right-hander is a strike- and groundball-throwing machine, getting through his average inning as an AL rookie with only 13.7 pitches. Pitching for a team loaded with offense, Wang is a near lock to win 15 games — but only if he stays healthy, which is still a concern among the New York executives.

No earth-shattering news, but hey, it’s a start. Dig in.

Cheap Shot Tuesday

Okay, since there isn’t much news a-shakin’, how about taking pot shots at Murray Chass’ examination of Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball.” Chass, the highly respected columnist for the New York Times has been a frequent target of criticism on this blog over the past several seasons. This one should be fun for practically everyone.

Eastward Ha!

Whatta ho-hum game last night, huh? Seattle sure picked a cruddy time to have a less than stellar performance; the refs only added insult to injury for ’em. The Stones did little to improve my mood at half-time. I thought they were all about to keel over as they plodded through “Start Me Up.” (You make a dead man, what?) They did get better though, and “Satisfaction” was a more convincing production. Anyhow, good deal for the Bus and company, and now back to the business at hand…

I got an e-mail from Bronx Banter regular, Mike Plugh, a guy who grew up in and around New York and is now teaching high school in Japan. Dig:

I enjoyed the piece about your day in Inwood and it got me thinking. I see that kind of thing everyday here in Japan and it amazes me. Baseball has been played as an organized game since the late 1800s in Japan, and I can’t imagine a greater love for the sport anywhere other than the Carribbean and some pockets of the US. To paint a picture in as few words as possible, I see junior high school kids riding their bicycles in the dead of winter to go to practice. I live in the Siberian snow country of Japan and I swear these kids are dedicated to the sport beyond sane proportion.

In Japan, you choose one sport and you play it year round. When I tell my high school students that I played soccer, basketball, and baseball in my salad days they nearly fall over. They spend 2 hours after school every day practicing in the fieldhouse during the winter. They practice on the weekends for more hours. They run the hallways of the school building to get their calisthenics in…..and we’re a top academic school…not a sports powerhouse.

Not too far from us are the Prefectural champions who will be representing us in the Koshien National High School Baseball Invitational held in Spring and then again in Summer for the more famous 2nd round. People stop working to watch the game. I’m telling you…..if you go into a doctor’s office the doctors, nurses, and patients will all be sitting around watching a little 1980s looking TV. Same in the bank, or at the restaurant…..

This country is baseball crazy and it’s one of the reasons I knew early on that I had a kind of soulmate relationship with the culture. Parts of daily life here are baffling and hard to digest, but when it comes to baseball it’s all love.

Reading Mike’s letter made me appreciate why a guy like Bobby Valentine is thriving in Japan. It’s not simply a detour from his MLB career–though I believe he’ll return one day–but a end onto itself. I’d love to visit one day, wouldn’t you?

Xtra Large

Super Bowl Sunday. I plan on spending as much of the pre-game portion of the day as possible watching the half-hour Super Bowl highlight shows on ESPN2. I actually have the first XXXVII or so of them on tape in my basement, but I just moved into a new house and they remain packed. Football is my second favorite sport after baseball, but it’s a pretty distant second, really. Nonetheless, those excellent NFL Films highlight shows, with their dramatic slow motion shots, trumpeting fanfares, and poetic John Facenda voice-overs, do it for me every year. I especially enjoy the first XXII, which include all of the shows Facenda narrated before his death in 1984 (plus a few more), and take us from Lombardi’s Packers through the Giants’ glorious Super Bowl XXI victory over that punk kid Elway and Elway’s historic humiliation at the hands of the equally historic Doug Williams the following year.

As for this year’s game, I’ll be rooting for Big Ben and the Steelers, in part due to my everlasting distaste for expansion teams and gaudy uniforms and my corresponding fondness for past dynasties and sartorial consistency. That said, the Futility Infielder’s Jay Jaffe has an enjoyable write-up of his thirty-years of rooting (albeit frequently half-heartedly) for those expansion Seahawks. Most of all, I’ll be rooting for an exciting game. Nothing’s worse than devoting a day to a dud match-up that ends in a blowout.

With that in mind, allow me to reprint a list I posted on the BRB in the wake of Super Bowl XXXVIII of what I believe to be the ten greatest Super Bowl finishes in the game’s history:

10) VII: Dolphins 14, Redskins 7 – The Redskins trail the undefeated Dolphins 14-0 with just over two minutes left and are looking a 17-0 deficit in the face when the Dolphins’ field goal attempt goes haywire. A botched snap is picked up by Dolphins’ kicker Garo Yepremian, who attempts to pass only to have the ball fall behind him, where it is scooped up by Washington’s Mike Bass, who takes it 49 yards to bring the Redskins within a touchdown with 2:07 left.

9) XIII: Steelers 35, Cowboys 31 – Trailing 35-17 with 6:51 remaining, the Cowboys, led by Roger Staubach, score a touchdown to bring it to 35-24 with 2:23 remaining. They then recover an on-sides kick and drive for another touchdown to come within four points of the lead with 22 seconds on the clock. A second on-sides kick is snagged by the Steelers with 17 seconds left to kill the Cowboy comeback.

8) X: Steelers 21, Cowboys 17 – Leading by the final score, the Steelers turn the ball over on downs at the Cowboy’s 39 with 1:22 left to play. Roger Staubach moves the chains twice in the final minute of play but his final pass is intercepted in the end zone by Pittsburgh’s Glen Edwards as time expires.

7) XXXII: Broncos 31, Packers 24 – With the game knotted at a 24-24 tie, the Comeback Kid, John Elway, then 0-3 career in the Super Bowl, gets the ball on the Packers’ 49 with 3:27 left. Helped by a 15-yard facemask penalty, Elway brings the ball to the Packer’s one-yard-line with 1:47 left. Packers’ coach Mike Holmgren tells his defense to allow the Broncos to score rather than allow them to take more time off the clock and win the game on a chip-shot field goal. Thus, Brett Farve, no slouch in the comeback department himself, gets the ball on his own 30 with less than 1:45 remaining. After two quick passes for 35 total yards the Packers are on the Broncos 35 with 1:05 left, but manage only four more yards before turning the ball over on downs with 32 seconds remaining.

6) V: Colts 16, Cowboys 13 – A messy, lackluster game–the first played on turf–is tied at 13 (appropriately) when Colts kicker Jim O’Brien connects on a 32-yard field goal to give the Colts the win in the final seconds.

5) XXXVIII: Patriots 32, Panthers 29 – Trailing 29-22 in another see-saw affair, the Panthers’ Jake Delhomme hits Ricky Proehl for a game-tying touchdown with 1:08 remaining in the game. On the ensuing kickoff, Carolina kicker John Kasay kicks the ball out of bounds, giving the Patriots the ball at their own 40. Tom Brady moves his team 37 yards to the Panthers’ 23 in six plays setting up a game-winning kick by Adam Vinatieri (who missed both of his previous field goal attempts in this game). Vinatieri’s 41-yarder splits the uprights and gives the Patriots a victory eerily similar to their first in Super Bowl XXXVI.

4) XXIII: 49ers 20, Bengals 16 – Trailing 16-14, Joe Montana and the 49ers get the ball on their own 8 with 3:20 left on the clock. Montana then seals his reputation with a 11-play, 92-yard drive that devours all but 34 seconds from the game clock, concluding with a 10-yard pass to John Taylor.

3) XXXVI: Patriots 20, Rams 17 – Trailing 17-10 with 1:51 remaining, Kurt Warner takes the Rams 55 yards on just three passing plays for a game-tying touchdown to Ricky Proehl (yes, Ricky Proehl). With the game tied, 1:30 remaining, and no time-outs, rookie Tom Brady uses almost a full minute to get his team to it’s own 41 before an incompletion stops the clock at 33 seconds. He then completes two passes for a total of 39 yards to reach the Rams’ 30 yard line and spikes the ball to stop the clock with seven seconds left. Adam Vinatieri then connects on a 48-yard field goal to win the game on it’s final play.

2) XXV: Giants 20, Buffalo 19 – The closest final score in Super Bowl history. A see-saw game reaches its conclusion as Bills kicker Scott Norwood’s 47-yard field goal attempt with seconds remaining sails wide right.

1) XXXIV: Rams 23, Titans 16 – Down by seven, Titan’s QB Steve McNair executes a rousing drive in the closing seconds. On the game’s final play, he wriggles away from a would-be sacker and hits Kevin Dyson at the three yard line. Dyson turns toward the end zone and sees no one between him and the goal line, but as he lunges forward, the Rams’ Mike Jones wraps him up and drops him on the one as Dyson’s outstretched arm hovers just inches short of the goal line and time expires.

Good or Great?

The Yankees new mouthpiece Johnny Damon (dubbed in the comments section the other day as “Johnny Talk Show”) met with George Steinbrenner yesterday in Tampa to say “hi.” Bob Klapisch has a piece on Damon’s good pal, Jason Giambi over at ESPN. Otherwise, all is quiet. However, thanks to Baseball Think Factory, I came across an interesting article by Mike Green at Batter’s Box, making a strong case for Mike Mussina (class of ’68) being a Hall of Famer. Check it out and let’s discuss.

The Future is Now

You know it doesn’t much matter if the groundhog sees his shadow this morning or not, according to what I read in the paper this morning, there’s only 14 more days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training. Hey, New York native John Perricone would be happy to know that in his home town, sometimes if feels as if only baseball really does matter. Yesterday, a friend of mine showed me a poll on WFAN’s website that had more New Yorkers amped about spring training than the Super Bowl or the Final Four. Granted, hockey has a limited audience, the Knicks are awful, and there aren’t any local teams playing in the big game this Sunday, but still…

Yo, I forgot to tell you guys the sight for sore eyes I caught last Saturday up in Inwood. It was another unseasonably warm day and I went to visit my brother. On the way over, I was walking up 207th street and saw an older guy standing in the sun, filling out a lotto card outside of a Bodega. He was earing a Red Sox hat, not an uncommon site uptown. I thought to myself, I wonder if there have ever been as many Sox fans in New York as we see these days? Not only do you have a lot of transplanted New Englanders living here, proudly showing their colors, but the Latin communities uptown–especially the Dominicans–have been rockin’ Boston caps ever since Manny signed with the Sox, and they got Pedro. Formerly, you’d see a lot of Indians hats, but even with Pedro gone, Manny is a hometown hero in these parts. Add in Ortiz, and the fact that the Sox are just a good team, you see that Boston has become almost like a third team in New York, next to the Yankees and Mets.

It was so nice out, that we took Ben’s little boy Lucas (all of a year-and-a-half) out to Inwood park to tool around. The park is right across the street from their apartment. There are basketball courts, tennis courts and a huge green field with at least five baseball diamonds. Inwood is still a predominately Dominican neighborhood, so it didnt’ come as a major surprise that there, in the middle of winter, were kids playing baseball. A warm day? Quick, let’s get out and play. Now, this may not seem like a big deal for those of you who live in California or Florida, but in up here in the Northeast, where we’re always bemoaning the fact that kids don’t care about baseball anymore, it sure is a warming scene.

We passed the first diamond where seven kids–must of been 8th or 9th graders–were playing: two dudes on the left side of the infield, a guy in center, another in left, a pitcher, a batter, and a lone kid on the right side of the infield. They were using muddied old baseballs, were dressed like scrubs in sweats, and playing some kind of game of round robin. As we walked by, the kid at bat swung and missed at a pitch, and then popped one up to second base. The fat kid who was stuck on that side of the field because he was probably the worst of the lot made a futile stab for the ball, which landed with a thud about five feet away from him. Immediately, the rest of the guys started laughing, busting on him, including the batter. A wave of anger shot through me and I remembered being that age, taking pick-up games like this so seriously that I lost any sense of humor I may have had at the time. I wanted to defend the poor kid who wasn’t much good and who was laughing at himself along with the other guys. I imagined that I was him, humiliated, directing my anger at the hitter. I wanted to yell, “Yo dog, what the hell are you laughing about, why don’t you try hitting something besides a cheap-ass pop-up, you fuggin toy?”

My brother carried his son on his shoulders. We were approaching the playground. But before we got there we passed a second diamond that was occupied by a girl’s softball team. The girls were roughly the same age as the boys, but this was an official, or semi-official workout. They too were dressed in scrubs, but they had helmets, and looked altogether more organized than the boys. A middle age man stood on the mound, and a thick, middle aged woman, yelled out instructions from behind third base. It didn’t look as if there were enough girls for two teams, but it appeared as if a game was in progress. There was an intensity in the air that was almost palpable. I stopped and watched as the batter swung and missed at a pitch and then fouled the next one into the backstop. The coach was not just lobbing the ball in there. There was a runner on third, and the batter grounded the next pitch to short. The runner came home but the batter didn’t move out of the box. The third base coach came out onto the field, pointed around, gave some specific intstructions, clapped her hands and returned to her position. Soon, it became evident that they weren’t playing a game, but running through game situations.

I was almost besides myself. I mean, how cool is this, I thought. It’s January, and these girls are out here working on game situations, at full tilt. They cut right to the chase: bottom of the ninth, tying run on third, here’s what we’re going to do. The girls were focused, attentive, fierce.

After cooling our at playground for a while we made our way back. It was getting late and sky was grey. Three of the boys had taken a seat and only four kids were left on the first diamond. I’m sure at least one of them was a competitive red ass like I had been at that age, wanting to win whatever competition they were having, pissed at the fat asses sitting out. One thing was sure, though, a couple of them were going to keep playing until it got too dark to see anymore. Yup, in some parts of the country, even our city, it’s true: only baseball matters.

I Don’t Want Him, You Can Have Him, He’s too Fat for Me

Okay, that’s a diss, and I don’t really mean it like that. But it’s a Honeymooner’s quote, and yo, I’m happy that ol’ Rubes got a chance to stick around some more. Hey, better in Minnie than in the BX, right?

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver