"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice


A few years ago I realized that one of the qualities I appreciate most in people, and value most in friends, is enthusiasm. I’m not talking about perkiness or a simple excess of energy–unrelenting positivity can be grating, and someone who is revved up all the time can be exhausting–but the capacity to nerd out over something specific, to get almost inappropriately jazzed about some little thing in life that brings you joy, seems to me to be a key to happiness, and when I see someone I know showing that kind of oddball affection for something, it fosters affection in me for that person.

That has a lot to do with why I absolutely love watching Francisco Cervelli. It’s not that I think he’s a coming star in the major leagues (he’ll stick around due to his defense, but he has no power at the plate and seems headed for a career as a Plan B starter or well-regarded backup). I have no real desire for him to get more playing time as long as Jorge Posada is still active and hitting and Jesus Montero is still catching. Whenever Cervelli does get into a game, however, I can’t keep my eyes off him.

It’s not just his superficial resemblance to a young Chris Penn. Cervelli has enthusiasm for miles, and he’s not your typical sour-faced, hard-nosed baseball red-ass (Cervelli hits without batting gloves and wears his socks high, but he didn’t balk at wearing a silly-looking, newfangled batting helmet per his doctor’s orders), nor is he a Nick Swisher-style flake. Cervelli just loves to play the game. When he’s on the field, every move he makes broadcasts how much fun he’s having, whether he’s celebrating a big play, making a dramatic windup to throw strike three around the horn, cracking up his pitchers during his quick, energetic mound visits, or recounting the previous half inning in rapid-fire speech between explosive smiles in the dugout. Cervelli did all that and more Tuesday night as he went 3-for-3, made an entertaining circus catch on a foul ball, and scored two of the Yankees’ four runs in their 4-1 win over the Orioles.

A.J. Burnett cruised through the first two innings of Tuesday night’s game, using his fastball almost exclusively until Garrett Atkins led off the third with a single off Alex Rodriguez’s glove. Burnett’s command briefly evaporated while pitching from the stretch, leading to a five-pitch walk of Rhyne Hughes. Ninth-place hitter Cesar Izturis followed with a bunt to the third-base side of the mound, but Burnett’s throw sailed into the basepath and tipped off Robinson Cano’s glove at first just before Izturis crossed the bag, forcing Cano to pull his glove back to avoid injury.

That error put Burnett in a serious jam with one run in, men on second and third, and no outs, but with the lineup turning over, A.J. turned to his curveball and struck out Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters in order, getting all three swinging over curveballs and going to the curve for three consecutive pitches at the end of both the Markakis and Wieters at-bats.

The man who called those pitches, our pal Cervelli, hit the first pitch Baltimore starter Brian Matusz threw in the bottom of that inning into the right-center-field gap. Center fielder Adam Jones dove for Cervelli’s sinking liner but came up several inches short, and Cervelli legged out a stand-up triple, his first three-base hit since he was with High-A Tampa in 2007 and just the third of his professional career. Four pitches later, Ramiro Peña drove him home with a groundout and the game was tied.

In the top of the fourth, with two out and Miguel Tejada on second via a leadoff ground-rule double into the right-field corner, Atkins hit a foul pop toward the Yankee dugout. Cervelli raced back toward the camera pit, adjusted slightly, then made a lunging catch over the protective screen in front of the dugout. His momentum then tipped his center of gravity a bit too far, and he began to slide, on his belly, down the railing along the stairs only to be caught by his manager and hitting coach.

In the bottom of the fifth, with the game still tied 1-1, Brett Gardner led off by battling back from 0-2 to work a seven-pitch walk. Cervelli followed by also falling behind 0-2 on a pair of called strikes, then singled into right field to put runners at first and second. Peña followed with a sacrifice bunt to the third-base side of the mound only to have an exact replay of Burnett’s error on Izturis’s bunt unfold with Matusz’s throw tailing into the basepath and beyond second baseman Ty Wigginton’s reach allowing Gardner to come around with the go-ahead run. After a pair of outs, Matusz walked Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez (the latter after a nine-pitch battle) to force in Cervelli and give the Yankees a 3-1 lead.

An inning later, Cervelli came up with Marcus Thames on first via a single and one out and, after taking strike one, dropped down a perfect surprise bunt up the third-base line and beat it out for a hit. The Yankees failed to score in that inning, but when they did add an insurance run in the eighth, there was Cervelli again, bunting Gardner, who had beaten out a slow-roller up the third base line and stolen second, to third to set up a sacrifice fly from Peña.

Burnett, meanwhile, was excellent again, allowing just the one unearned run on his own throwing error while striking out eight in 7 1/3 innings against just two walks and five hits. Damaso Marte, who struck out switch-hitter Matt Wieters, and Alfredo Aceves, who needed every inch of the ballpark to retire Miguel Tejada on a fly that backed defensive replacement Greg Golson up against the Yankee bullpen, finished the eighth. Joba Chamberlain pitched around a harmless single in the ninth, striking out two (one of them on a curve) to earn his second save in as many days.

As for how the other half lives, Brian Matusz can’t catch a break. The rookie’s last two appearances were both quality starts against the defending champions, but he got a total of one unearned run of support in the two games and took the loss both times. The Yankees, meanwhile, have a backup catcher who is 12-for-31 on the season and leads the league in enthusiasm.

Categories:  Cliff Corcoran  Game Recap

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1 Cliff Corcoran   ~  May 5, 2010 12:56 am

Oh, and now I read that the bracelet Cervelli's wearing on his left wrist in the lower photo in the above post was given to him by a kid he met on a hospital visit.


2 Eddie Lee Whitson KO   ~  May 5, 2010 1:08 am

We're really quite lucky to have guys making great us eof their time - Frankie Brains, Winn, Thames, Pena - while starters are hurting. And Joba looks strong - stronger than he's looked in a while.

Sweep the leg, Johnny!

3 Cliff Corcoran   ~  May 5, 2010 1:27 am

Another Cervelli nugget, from YES's "Yankees On Deck." In a game last year, Burnett got into a bases-loaded, no-out jam via a couple of walks, so Cervelli went to the mound and said, "Hey, I like your car. If you get out of this jam, I'll wash it for you." A.J. struck out the side to strand the runners.

He must have said something similar in this game because after one quick visit Burnett dug back in then paused and let out a chuckle and shook his head.

4 thelarmis   ~  May 5, 2010 1:42 am

[3] that RULES!!!

this would be a perfect time to bring back Cervelli's quote after his 1st major league homer, last June 25th, here in Atlanta - a game Evil Empire and I attended: “Everybody is happy,” said Cervelli after the game, “everybody wants to play baseball. So things happen.”

[0] is Brains calling the pitches, or is he getting them from the dugout? i liked how his awesome catch was the 3rd out, so he just stayed in the dugout!

5 jjmerlock   ~  May 5, 2010 1:47 am

"A man becomes preeminent... he's expected have enthusiams..."

Totally agree with your sentiment on the topic. One of my favorite guys in the world wouldn't stop repeating this damn quotation at our four-peat Softball team dinner.

One of the reasons I love the guy is because he has "enthusiams."

Great stuff.

6 jjmerlock   ~  May 5, 2010 1:48 am

Aw, dangit.

He's expected TO have enthusiams.

Sleepy, with miles to go...

7 jjmerlock   ~  May 5, 2010 3:28 am

Been watching the game on mlb.tv, while I plug away - was struck with a crazy thought - the tongue out is all Cervelli, but I'll be damned if I don't see a little bit of Munson in the kid.

Just think on it. Going top speed, all the time, sort of not just a guy in a uniform, but a creature of the dirt, sprung from the dirt, itself - Munson was "ballplayer" in the way that when he played he almost seemed to have no existence separate from the seeds, grass, sand and chalk lines that for most only make up the playing surface, but in a Munson, tumult upwards in a seismic ripple near home plate, corporeal and turbulent. The field is breathing. And shouting.

Somehow, my brain must be set on De Niro, because I'm thinking that's what he nailed in Bruce Pearson.

Don't live too fast, Frankie, and live healthy. It almost scares you when you get something like this, because you worry that someone or something is waiting to take it away. Pessimistic melancholy, blame it on the hour.

8 jjmerlock   ~  May 5, 2010 3:39 am

Would you believe what was in the first clip I went to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1hr2IUQhf0

Maybe stop right before the end, but the baseball scene - I must have been tapped into something.

9 RIYank   ~  May 5, 2010 6:27 am

[4] Yes!
That actually brings tears to my eyes.
"Everybody is happy, everybody wants to play baseball. So things happen.”
What else is there to say?

10 Jon DeRosa   ~  May 5, 2010 6:45 am

Great stuff on Frankie Cliff!

Did anybody notice when he came out to talk to Aceves? He kind of had that "you want to throw WHAT/" look on his face. I bet that was a funny meeting.

11 RIYank   ~  May 5, 2010 7:23 am

More Cervelli quotes (from the interview posted at LoHud):

My mom always say, "Have fun, because you don't know what's gonna happen tomorrow."

The triple's fun I think. Yeah. You know, you gotta run a lot.

On nearly getting drilled by A-Rod's foul balls:

The ball follow me. I asked the third base coach, "Where I have to go?" he say, "I don't know, just go behind me, something like that."

On his pop foul:

I had no control of the ball, I got a jump a little bit, and I saw a lot of people there, they took care of me. That's good.

12 ms october   ~  May 5, 2010 7:30 am

really nice write-up cliff.

frankie b really does manage to be a really enthusiastic ,positive person who is not annoying. that is quite rare and hard to pull off - it has to be genuine, which seems to be the case with him. it's a really admirable trait. there is something very endearing about him - it's really hard to take your eyes off him while he is catching.

[2] definitely - it is really nice to see guys step up and make the most of their opportunity. it's going to be crucial because of the handful of injuries.

13 OldYanksFan   ~  May 5, 2010 8:13 am

[3] It's possible that no fan will ever know the real value of the Catchers intangibles in terms of calling a game, working with the pitchers, 'cool' mound visits (... I wash your car...) and such.

After all, out of 100 pitches thrown, it may just be 1 or 2 pitches that are the difference between a Win and a Loss.

We know Posada will out OPS Brains by 150+/- pts.
We know Brains is better in all Defensive aspects.
And he can run the bases.
But's that's not quite worth 150 pts.
But what about the 'Other Stuff'?

Is there (does it exist) other stuff' comparing Posada to Cervelli?
Is it possible That Catcher A with LOTS of other stuff can have a real impact compared to Catcher B who has little other stuff?

To me, the game is a bit different when Frankie is out there. I prepare for the dreaded bottom of the lineup, but I also feel the team stands a little straighter... with a bit more backbone.

Are Catchers impacting the game with 'other stuff'... and we don't even know it?

14 Sliced Bread   ~  May 5, 2010 8:22 am

Great piece, Cliff. I let my boys stay up a little later than usual on a school night, and they saw Cerv's helmet flipping triple, and his fence flipping catch.

They were very impressed, noted that he was smiling, and went to bed thinking he's a Yankee hero like Jeter or ARod. They're wrong, of course, but they're also right.

Frankie's a keeper.

15 Shaun P.   ~  May 5, 2010 8:46 am

Frankie Brains, Yankee hero. Now we just need a "Brains!" t-shirt and we're in business. The enthusiasm, the pure joy, is wonderful to see. I hope it lasts a long time.

Of course, I remember writing similar things about Melky once upon a time . . .

[13] OYF, even if we could measure the "other stuff", my guess is that its found more in guys who have just arrived in the big leagues, and so its advantage is possibly counter-balanced by the also nebulous "lack of experience". Its a neat idea, though.

16 rbj   ~  May 5, 2010 8:54 am

Call me a zombie, 'cause I like Braaaaaiiiiiins.

17 bags   ~  May 5, 2010 8:57 am

Ostensibly off topic, but since we are sort of talking about the beauty of life and baseball, very very on topic:

It is a sad day for those of us who grew up in and around Detroit. Ernie Harwell passed away last night. Mitch Albom (who was a helluva sportswriter when I was a kid, before he became a guy who writes books for Oprah) has a nice appreciation below:


18 ms october   ~  May 5, 2010 8:58 am

[13] [15] there is also a good deal of confirmation bias going on.
it is undeniable, especially at this stage of their respective careers, that frankie is a far superior defensive catcher - he obviously blocks balls better, gets to foul balls quicker, etc.
but at this point most people are looking for every little thing po does wrong and noticing every little thing frankie does right. i am very fond of the kid, but now he is getting credit for telling car wash stories. maybe po telling someone to man the fuck up is important. i am not trying to rain on the frankie b parade and say that his enthusiasm is not helpful in some way - but we wouldn't be near as enthralled with his energy if he didn't go 3 for 3, block aj's curveball effectively, and catch that pop-up .

19 Cliff Corcoran   ~  May 5, 2010 9:18 am

[18] well said

20 Yankster   ~  May 5, 2010 9:44 am

[0] Cliff, what a great observation on how valuable a real, focussed enthusiasm is in the people around you. I'll add that you won't show it if you are too self-conscious, and you can't have it unless you accept fallibility (both one's own and in others). Both seem like great attributes in a catcher, where one's battery mate is so very rarely perfect.

It's sad to write, and I wince as I type, but the best thing that could happen to Cervelli and maybe to the Yanks is that he keeps up the hot bat and gets traded for something valuable to a team that can keep a solid, fast, no-slugging but adequately hitting on-base catcher. I have to imagine that he can be a league average offensive catcher (and above average defensive catcher) if you correct for the slugging bias of OPS+ ? Obviously, that's not going to do it to start for the Yankees, but I bet there are other teams that would value that.

21 The Hawk   ~  May 5, 2010 9:50 am

I sure hope the Yankees don't get rid of him. Therefore, they will.

22 kenboyer made me cry   ~  May 5, 2010 10:03 am

[18] With you all the way.

The famous quote, "A salesman minus enthusiasm is just a clerk", can be adjusted to "a backup catcher minus enthusiasm is just a _____".

There is so much to love about Brains, beginning with his Italian filtered through Latin America background,his defensive skills not yet hobbled by the the day to day grind of the position, his achievements far surpassing expectations, and the sincere joy he exudes from the opportunity to play ball with the NY Yankees. He must be pinching himself everyday.

But with all that, we cannot let the shiny and new diminish what Posada means to this team, both visibly and behind the scenes. Would the perception of Jeter as the quiet leader be the same without Po? Or would Mariano have had the same body of work without him? Did Po stand up to Girardi his first managerial year to temper his regiment? There is so much we don't know, but the last 15+ successful years of Yankee history has been shaped by Posada, and he remains a feared hitter today. What the future holds for Po should be up to him.

23 The Hawk   ~  May 5, 2010 10:06 am

I guess people watch sports for different reasons, or in different ways.

To me, what this piece amounts to re: Cervelli is “I love watching him but I don’t want to watch him unless absolutely necessary.” Which is not how I feel, obviously!

24 Yankster   ~  May 5, 2010 10:15 am

[23] I'd love to watch Cervelli more often, but I also want to watch a team that has a good chance at winning - the tension between those objectives is part of the thrill of being a fan. On the other hand, I still wish Matsui was on the team because I just liked to watch him come up in a big spot.

25 a.O   ~  May 5, 2010 10:39 am

Glad to see Brains is finally getting the attention he deserves.

26 Diane Firstman   ~  May 5, 2010 11:28 am

More on Cervelli's night


Next to the computer picture in Cervelli’s locker was a hand-drawn picture and a note of thanks from a girl who gave it to him on Tuesday after he visited a hospital with Pena, who started at shortstop on Tuesday.

The girl also gave Cervelli a bracelet, and he said she asked him to hit a home run for her.

“I said, ‘I don’t know if I can do it, but I’m going to try,’ ” Cervelli said. “This night is for all those kids. They break my heart. I’ll pray for them.”

27 a.O   ~  May 5, 2010 11:51 am

[26] Diane, From your link/the NYT story is a telling quote from Joba on Brains: “He’s a natural-born leader.” There is no stat for that.

28 Diane Firstman   ~  May 5, 2010 12:39 pm

Yes ... I almost quoted that bit ...

then again, I would hope catchers would have some leadership qualities ...

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