Monday, March 31, 2008

Classic card of the week

Danny Vranes, 1992 Wild Card

What makes Danny Wranes a Wild Card? Before we even get into that, we must check the back of the card:

One thing that makes Danny Wranes a Wild Card is that sometimes he is Danny Wranes, and sometimes he is Danny Vranes. Take your pick! He doesn’t give a shit -- he’s a Wild Card! Another thing that makes Danny Rranes a Wild Card is that it looks as though he is about to murder me in my sleep. NOT cool, Danny Qranes! (Eric, who sent this beauty in, notices a striking resemblance to MacGyver, which cannot be argued.)

You may also notice that Danny played collegiate ball at Utah, but at the time of this card, he was exhibiting his perfect shooting form for the Breeze, a popular team that was sponsored by a local New Jersey radio station, and that still to this day has a heated rivalry with the Nantucket Nectars.

As you probably know, this particular card was part of the 1st Edition (!!!) of the Wild Card Collegiate Basketball Premier Edition, or something. This brand of cards specialized in locating unknown players who played in college like, ten years ago, spelling their names in several different ways, and generally embarrassing them by showing what they’re up to today. It was kind of like a “Where are they now?” for people you never knew existed in the first place. The 2nd Edition of this series included a Wild Card of Carl Raddinger, who was a walk-on at San Jose State in 1976, and who, in 1994, was a CPA based in White Plains, NY. The picture on the front of the card shows him behind his desk, mulling over several W2 forms.

Finally, Eric beat me to the punch in checking out his Wikipedia page, and discovered that Danny Vranes was taken fifth 5th overall by the Seattle Supersonics during the 1981 NBA Draft, ahead of Tom Chambers, Danny Ainge, and Larry Nance, among others. Seattle was, coincidentally, subsequently murdered in its sleep.

Did you know?
Danny Vranes once escaped a trap on the baseline using only a paper clip, a curly mullet, and a hot dog bun.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Classic card of the week

Dean Palmer, 2001 Topps

The career of Dean Palmer can be described in the following fake conversation that I had with myself over the course of fifteen years or so:

Me, 1991: Who the hell is Dean Palmer?
Me, 1996: Hey, Dean Palmer is pretty friggin’ good!
Me, 2005: I wonder what ever happened to Dean Palmer.

Oddly enough, this very train of thought could pretty much describe any famous person who ever existed, as evidenced by this:

Me, 1725: Who the hell is Benjamin Franklin?
Me, 1763: Hey, Benjamin Franklin is pretty friggin’ proficient!
Me, 2008: I wonder what ever happened to Benjamin Franklin.

The point is that, by the time it seemed as though Dean Palmer had arrived as a ballplayer, he was gone. Despite having four seasons of over 30 home runs, and four seasons of at least 100 RBI, he never quite made the leap to superstardom, and thus, was a failure as a human being. Of course, that was a joke -- Dean Palmer was a great person. He even started the “Dean Palmer Foundation” to raise awareness of Hepatitis F in hammerhead sharks. Of course, that was also a joke. This paragraph is over.

But to really understand Dean Palmer, you have to turn to his “ANALYSKILLS” -- a complex combination of analysis, skills, the analysis of those skills, and two teaspoons of flour -- like the back of this card does:

Rarely leaves a doubt with towering home runs…

Almost all of Dean Palmer’s 275 towering career home runs were later deemed to be home runs. On the contrary, several of Mickey Mantle's 536 career home runs remain doubtful.

Adept at getting the runner home from third…

This ANALYSKILL was specific to Dean Palmer, as no other major leaguer at the time had any outwardly recognizable ability to drive in a runner from third base. Also, this ANALYSKILL seems contradictory to the fact that Palmer typically struck out about 150 times during the course of a full season, but none of those strikeouts ever came with a runner on third. (I did not look that up, may be false.)

Known for his hot starts…

Me: Hey, you know Dean Palmer?
Other guy: You mean the guy who frequently gets off to hot starts?
Me: Yeah!
Other guy: Never heard of him.

Accurate arm, with a good sense of how and when to make plays.

During the first inning of a 1995 game against the Indians, Kenny Lofton hit a ball to third base. Using his extraordinary baseball senses, Dean Palmer caught the ball, and then -- using his accurate arm -- threw it to first base, recording the first out of the game. Later dubbed “The Play,” Palmer was asked about it after the game. He said at the time, “It’s all about knowing how and when to make plays. The first thing I had to do was catch the ball, which is important. A lot of players forget that. Then, I didn’t want to hold on to the ball, and try and make the play later, because I sensed that Lofton was running to first pretty fast. It’s tough, because that kind of instinct isn’t really something you can teach…I’m just lucky I guess. Plus, it was the first inning, and I’m known for getting off to hot starts."

Did you know?
What you just witnessed was an analysis of ANALYSKILLS, which has just shattered my hard drive.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Despite impending conclusion, Coyotes’ season a success

Note: This column appears in the 3/27 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 3/28 issue of the Peoria Times

The Phoenix Coyotes are currently, as of this Monday, 12th in the Western Conference standings. They are six points away from that 8th spot and the playoff berth that comes with it, but also six points away from finishing in second-to-last place. They only have five games left in the season. Barring some unforeseen circumstance in which Isiah Thomas takes over the top 11 teams in the Western Conference for the last week of the season, the Coyotes are not making the playoffs.

Based on the above information, the Coyotes have pretty much played to expectations this season. But leaving it at that would dismiss a few very important things. For example, at one point during the season -- January, to be specific -- Phoenix was arguably the hottest team in the NHL, when, in that span, they won 11 games and dropped only three. If they could have simply played at that pace for the entire season, they would have been like, the best hockey team ever. So the Coyotes were only six months of good hockey away from being the greatest team ever, so there’s that. Furthermore, last week captain Shane Doan notched his 70th point of the season, a career best for him, and a momentous occasion for the franchise. But most important of all, the Phoenix Coyotes may have -- I’m not sure yet, I haven’t officially decided -- made me, like, a fan.

Now, as the four of you who read this column are already aware of, I know very little about hockey. In most cases, this would make me largely unqualified to write about hockey. However, I know very little about a lot of stuff, and I still like to write about stuff, so there. The point is that, the Coyotes have made me want to learn.

I have been to about five games this season -- which is, by the way, five more than the amount of Yankee games I have been to since I moved here -- so I am pretty much an expert on the ‘Yotes at this point. (Real fans call them the ‘Yotes…I think.) Also, I am kidding. But during every game, I find myself pulling strongly for the ‘Yotes, and for the few days or so after each of those games, I’ll find myself watching them play on TV. (One reason I haven’t fully committed to them yet is that I react the same way every four years during the World Cup, when I vow to become a serious soccer fan, only to forget about it a week later.) But they are seeping into my subconscious. Sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and randomly yell, “Go ‘Yotes!” Not sure what that means.

Non-Coyotes fan: Wtf?
Real 'Yotes fan: I'll take five of those please!

Ironically, because I have never been a hockey fan, the Coyotes have the ability to woo me. And they sort of have. Take last Thursday for example. I went to the game with my wife and in-laws, and the ‘Yotes scored with about 10 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at five and force overtime against the Kings. It was a really good game, and even though they eventually lost the shootout, the Coyotes scored at least four goals, so everybody in the arena got a free Taco Bell chalupa. I also caught a shirt from the t-shirt spewing bazooka gun, and booed the refs after the ‘Yotes received a five-minute penalty. I mean, if that’s not being a hockey fan, then I don’t know what is.

Of course, all of these feelings of impending fandom could directly relate to the fact that the Phoenix Coyotes were recently awarded the Best Member Club Marketing Campaign for this season by the NHL. That would explain the night sweats. And the chalupas. I also picked a great time to come to this realization that I might be a Coyotes fan, now that the season is pretty much over. Oh well. There’s always next season. That’s what us ‘Yotes fans like to say.

What do you mean you don't have a veggie-chalupa?!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Classic card of the week

Jose Mesa, 1996 Topps

Many people -- such as Phillies fans, or Indians fans, or baseball fans, or the rest of people on earth -- recognize Jose Mesa by his inability to properly execute a save. However, in 1995, Jose Mesa finished second in voting for the AL Cy Young Award, which included a then-record streak of 38 consecutive saves. Let’s, according to the back of this card, find out what Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove thought of this feat at the time:

I think it’s the most improbable thing anybody can imagine.

This really puts things in perspective. Not only does this statement include many amazing things that had already happened in reality -- like, for example, man walking on the moon, the emergence of Flava Flav, and the invention of the computer -- which were, according to Mike Hargrove, all trumped by Jose Mesa’s consecutive saves streak. This statement also includes anything that anybody can imagine. Let’s see…I just imagined that a rainbow-colored unicorn with candy canes for legs just converted 38 straight saves for a team of astronauts that plays on Jupiter's third ring, and yet…that is still not as improbable as what Jose Mesa accomplished. This means either one of two things: a) Mike Hargrove exaggerated this sentiment, or b) this was the best back-handed compliment in recorded baseball history.

I will also now lead you to Jose Mesa’s scintillating Wikipedia page, which includes this gem: He throws and pitches right-handed. Wait -- he throws AND pitches right-handed?! Jose Mesa, you are full of surprises! Oh, and this one: Jose Mesa is known for using two different colored baseball gloves, one for home games and a different one for away games. Really? Is that what Jose Mesa is known for, Wikipedia? That’s his legacy? It’s not blowing Game Seven of the 1997 World Series? It’s not accomplishing the most improbable thing anybody can imagine? It’s the color of his mitt?


Did you know?
Mike Hargrove described Eric Gagne’s streak of 84 consecutive saves as “aiiiiight.”

Matthew, on the sanctity of marraige

We are currently in the midst of having guests. My in-laws are here, and will be until after Easter, and two of my brothers-in-law are scheduled to arrive tomorrow night. My friend Pete, his wife Yvette, and their 4-year old son (my Godson) Matthew came to visit as well, and just left us earlier this week.

It’s been great having a full house, and it was especially great having Matthew around. It’s funny – two months ago, we were in the routine of coming home to an empty house after work, but for the past week or so we’ve grown used to tripping over our new dog (Mac) and finding miniature dinosaurs in our houseplants. And Matthew is a funny, funny, little guy, with quite an imagination. On the nights he had to take a bath, we could hear him from downstairs, playing the hero in the epic underwater battle between a plastic lobster and a rubber pterodactyl.

Matthew said a lot of innocently hilarious things throughout the course of his stay. And I don’t want to come across like Bill Cosby here – these kids say the darndest things! – but one thing in particular cannot go unmentioned.

Last Saturday we all went to a spring training game, and then out to eat afterwards. At the table, Matthew was sitting next to me, coloring in his coloring book. I looked up for a minute, and I saw him staring at my left hand. I got his attention, pointed to my wedding band and said, “Hey, Matthew, do you know what this is?” Without even missing a beat, he responded as such:

“It’s a handful of garbage.”

I don’t know where this came from, but the clarity and force with which he said it was amazing coming from a kid who calls his plastic toy lobster “losper.” Nevertheless, that is Matthew’s stance on the sanctity of marriage. Don’t even get him started on our nation’s foreign policy! We miss him already.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Adventure Boot Camp marches into stadium, I limp out

Note: This column appears in the 3/20 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 3/21 issue of the Peoria Times

I received a press release last week for the Adventure Boot Camp Series that begins on March 24th at the University of Phoenix Stadium. The first thing that struck me about this press release was the following line: Attendees will have the opportunity to work on their buns of steel in the grid iron stadium that recently hosted one of the best Super Bowls ever. I was unsure how these two things were related, as if after the Super Bowl had concluded, people were saying to themselves, “Wow, what a game! Ya’ know, that stadium looks like a great place to work on my buns.” Also, if your buns are already steel, then you needn’t be concerned, correct?

I am rambling now. But luckily, I read on. Turns out, Peoria Adventure Boot Camp -- a fitness program for women -- is hosting a special four-week co-ed fitness camp that will utilize elements of the stadium to whip people into shape, which will include not only the stadium’s many flights of stairs, but also obstacle courses. (I immediately imagined Rocky appearing on American Gladiators.) The best part? In preparation for this fitness explosion, Peoria Adventure Boot Camp was hosting a FREE trial session this past Wednesday, at the convenient time of 5:30 in the morning. I decided to go.

The bestest part? That I didn’t have to go alone. Since my father-in-law happened to be in town visiting -- and since he typically gets up at around 2:30am anyway -- he volunteered to join me. It should also be mentioned that my father-in-law, Tony, is a workout machine, who once, rather illegally I might add, instructed a spinning class after the real (read: “certified”) spinning instructor called out sick. Nevertheless, neither of us had ever attended boot camp before, although Tony was once a member of the Italian Navy, which I imagine had obstacle courses.

There were about thirty other brave boot campers there, most of whom were women, and regulars of the Peoria Adventure Boot Camp, which is owned and run by Lisa Olona. I have to admit that I was skeptical as to the tenacity of this boot camp, especially after Lisa mentioned that this particular workout would be a light one. (Lisa also apparently thinks Guinness is light beer.)

We began with a run around the stadium, where I finally understood the meaning of the press release, as I imagined I was running a deep route, about to catch a pass from Eli Manning. (I am almost 30-years old by the way, not 12.) We did some stretches while the music blared from the PA, and then broke off into groups. This is where the fun began.

Our group had to run a course, each with different stations. Push ups, then dips, then high stepping through cones, then more push-ups, jump-rope, squats, lunges, jumping jacks, and then all over again. And then all over again after that. This was the real deal. It was one thing after the other, non-stop. At about the fifth station, my father-in-law -- who had yelled out, “This is a piece of cake!” during our warm-up run -- had the look of a man in the middle of a triathlon.

After that, we immediately ran up the stadium ramps, at which point we ran back down the stadium steps, and then up again, twice. Wait -- this is the light workout? Then more push-ups, calf-raises, and a few exercises I don’t know the names of, but which made my buns hurt. I looked over at Tony. His buns hurt. (I could tell.) We were both sweating. A lot. But having a great time as well.

We finished with ab work and some stretches. The woman stretching next to Tony later told us that she lost 40lbs in the past year as a member of Lisa’s Boot Camp, and we weren’t surprised.

So we survived boot camp. Barely. In fact, Tony loved it so much that he wanted to sign up for the real program beginning on March 24th, but I had to remind him that he’ll be back in New Jersey by then. As for me, I just worked out my buns on the same field where David Tyree made his famous catch. How many people can say that?


Ed. Note: Before any of you jerks ask, no, I did not collapse.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Classic card of the week

Jose Guillen, 1998 Topps

Jose Guillen is everybody’s favorite teammate. He doesn’t even mind white people, as evidenced by this particular photo, in which he is about to engage in a “high five” with your everyday Caucasian, something that many Latin players, back in 1998, were hesitant to do, out of fear of overstepping the bounds of the “Latin explosion” sweeping the nation at the time. And as everybody knows: White guys celebrate like this (two white men attempt a high five, miss terribly), but Latin guys celebrate like THIS (two Latin guys execute a series of complicated hand gestures set to a hip-hop beat that lasts 12 minutes, and ends in a Salsa routine with two scantily clad females).

So yes, as previously stated, Jose Guillen is everybody’s favorite teammate. Unless of course, Jose Guillen disapproves of a managerial decision, in which case he can be a very difficult teammate, and you might as well plan on playing without him until he cools down, which might not be until 8 days or so. Or never. One or the other. And if you have the audacity to no longer be Jose Guillen’s teammate, then you are dead to him. He will make public your sins against the sport of baseball. But don’t worry if you did steroids, because so did Jose Guillen, so he can’t really out you for that. Though he might anyway.

So Jose Guillen is not a good teammate, and his feelings towards white people are questionable: “Mike Scioscia, to me, is like a piece of garbage…He can go to hell.”* But what about his baseball ability? Let’s check the back of the card:

Jose’s first giant step was from A-ball -- albeit as Most Valuable Player in the Carolina League -- to being an everyday big-leaguer in 1997.

So wait, let me get this straight. Albeit from being Most Valuable Player in the Carolina League, Jose Guillen was promoted? Is that right? So despite being good, Jose Guillen was brought up to the big leagues. Makes sense. But what about his second step?

His second was to legitimate stardom in ’98, when the precocious 22-year-old became a more complete hitter and harnessed his breathtaking arm strength.

Yes, stardom arose quickly for Jose Guillen. In 1998, the nation was captivated by a) the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, b) Derek Jeter and the juggernaut Yankees, and c) the breathtaking arm-harnessing of Jose Guillen. Personally, I wasn’t overtly aware of Jose Guillen until he went insane as a member of the Angels in 2004, but then again, I am an idiot. As far as the completeness of his hitting is concerned, the picture on the back of the card does an adequate job of capturing this.

Did you know?
Jose Guillen can oftentimes be a jerk, despite his past history of being a jerk.

*For the purposes of this post, Mike Scioscia is all white people.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Your spring training and fantasy baseball scouting report

Note: This column appears in the 3/13 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 3/14 issue of the Peoria Times

Last Friday evening was my annual fantasy baseball draft. Going into this particular draft, I felt that I possessed a distinct advantage, as I have been furiously scouting various major league teams during spring training. Granted, by “various major teams” I am referring to, pretty much, the Padres, who, until last Friday, I had seen play a grand total of one time in 2008. And my distinct method of scouting involves watching several players (on the Padres) play baseball for two innings during a meaningless spring training game, and making general assumptions based on this small sample size of performance.

So with the draft fast approaching, I decided it would be a good idea to get in one more cram session, bringing my grand total of scouting cram sessions to two. On draft day, Friday, the Padres were facing the Arizona Diamondbacks, which would give me some great insight into yet another major league team. I arrived with my trusty (not very trusty) fantasy baseball magazine, and planned on comparing their scouting reports to my own, which would be based solely on this game (and, okay, maybe some acquired knowledge as well). For anyone out there who plans on playing fantasy baseball this year -- and are in one of those rare leagues that only uses Padres and Diamondbacks players -- feel free to use these notes.

Doug Davis, D-Backs. Davis started on Friday for the D-Backs. My magazine says this: If you can handle the ups and downs, Davis is a decent back-of-the-rotation fantasy starter. My own analysis is this: Not really. And while I’m pretty sure I can handle the ups -- his strikeout totals are pretty decent -- the downs tend to be very, very down. Keep in mind that I wrote that last sentence before the first pitch of Friday’s game, which was a home run off of Doug Davis. Two more runs followed.

Chris Young, Padres. My magazine has Young ranked as the 10th best fantasy starting pitcher. My magazine also has an ad for a fantasy baseball trophy called “Jingle Jugs,” which is a pair of fake boobs on a plaque, so I have to take these rankings with a grain of salt. That said, Young was magnificent during Friday’s game, tossing three innings of no-hit ball, which was duly noted.

(And I later found out that Young was pitching after just having a baby, a major league first! From Sports Illustrated's website: San Diego Padres starter Chris Young pitched three hitless innings and scored all the way from first on a double, sliding in ahead of the throw. Imagine what he could have done if he wasn't worn out from spending the last three nights changing his newborn daughter's diapers. Hmmm, I am imagining that, were it not for having to change diapers, Chris Young would have pitched a perfect game and hit four inside-the-park home runs. That sounds about right. Stupid daughter!)

Eric Byrnes, D-Backs. If being a crowd favorite earned you fantasy points, I would draft him first overall. And Byrnes did hit an RBI single, steal a base, and score a run in this game. Although he’s definitely a solid player, I just personally think Byrnes has gone from underrated to overvalued, both in fantasy leagues (the magazine has him ranked ahead of Lance Berkman) and real life. There, I said it.

Dude, is Lance Berkman this chill? Didn't think so.

Mark Prior, Padres. Surprisingly, Prior is injured, and did not participate in Friday’s game. In fact, he may not be ready until May, which in Mark Prior years is 2012. My magazine has him ranked 51 spots behind Doug Davis. Yikes.

Chris Young, D-Backs. My magazine compares Young to Mike Cameron, which I’m not sure is praise or an insult. Regardless, Young made a fabulous catch in center field -- zero fantasy points -- and I really, really like him as a player. Which is why...

That night, I actually did end up drafting, among other players, both Chris Youngs -- and yes, Young the pitcher’s performance on Friday did influence my decision -- and the Diamondbacks’ Micah Owings, who did not pitch in Friday’s game, yet managed to out-perform Doug Davis. I also took Prior with my last pick, which was either influenced by alcohol, boredom, the year 2003, or a combination of all of the above.

I was happy with my draft, and I couldn’t have done it without Friday’s scouting session. Well, I probably could have, but still. Nevertheless, while the Padres and D-Backs continue their preparation for the 2008 season, I spent the remainder of the weekend clearing room on my living room wall for a certain pair of Jingle Jugs.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Classic card of the week

Mel Hall, 1990 Topps

Ignorance is indeed bliss, and as a young child, I enjoyed rooting for Mel Hall.

Like every Yankee fan, Don Mattingly was nothing short of an icon, and while he remained unquestionably my favorite athlete, Mel Hall served as a refreshing contrast to the business-like, non-sexually-assaulting, consistent approach of Donnie Baseball. Hall had a swagger to him, and he exhibited and inspired confidence at the plate. He was fun, and different, and I liked him.

Little did I know at the time that Mel Hall was a clubhouse cancer, trying his darndest to derail the young career of a future Yankee stalwart, Bernie Williams. From the blog bronxbanter, a snippet from Joel Sherman’s book, Birth of a Dynasty:

Hall taped "Mr. Zero" to the top of Williams's locker to signify that he meant nothing to the team. One day Hall nearly brought Williams to tears by saying, "Zero, shut up," every time Williams tried to speak. The more Williams tried, the louder Hall interrupted with repetitive chants of "Zero."

Solid guy. And I also was unaware that the future would bring several sexual assault charges against him. But hey, I’m not here to judge Mel Hall. So he gave a young player a hard time…so what? I mean, geez -- maybe Bernie can grow a pair, ya’ know? (If a young Bernie Williams thought "Zero" was bad, he should come to our annual fantasy baseball draft.) In fact, maybe Mel Hall gets a bad rap. For more, let’s check the back of the card:

Mel has become interested in the art of barbering and has given haircuts to teammates before games.

Hmmm, strange that this little known fact was curiously absent from Sherman’s book. Also strange that Hall would find an interest in the “art of barbering,” himself boasting a legendary jheri curl. However, it was Mel Hall who convinced Mattingly to shave his sideburns, and it was Hall who once gave manager Stump Merrill a bomb-ass fade. During his stint playing in Japan, Mel Hall hit a then-record 7,050 home runs, and also revolutionized the bowl cut.

Did you know?
Bernie Williams cried through the first half hour of Sweeny Todd, as it gave him flashbacks of the time Mel Hall promised to make him look like Big Daddy Kane.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Padres, Royals attempt to start anew at spring training, fall down

Note: This column appears in the 3/6 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 3/7 issue of the Peoria Times

During the Cactus League Breakfast last Tuesday morning, Padres’ general manager Kevin Towers acknowledged the excruciating fashion in which the 2007 season ended for his team (see: above), saying it was the most difficult situation he could recall as GM. On that same dais, Kansas City Royals’ assistant general manager Dean Taylor talked about his team, although I wasn’t paying much attention, because I was distracted by the deliciousness of my corn muffin, and because he was talking about the Royals.

A few days later on Friday, the Padres and Royals officially kicked off spring training at the Peoria Sports Complex (the Padres and Mariners had played a charity game the previous day). While it may be a cliché to view spring training as a form of renewed hope for franchises and their fans, in this case, San Diego was embarking on its quest the shed the devastation of last season’s conclusion. The Royals began spring, once again, with the hopes that this season could provide the first step towards one day experiencing the devastations that can only occur when your team is playing for something come fall.

Not only did this game serve as a new beginning for two major league teams -- it was also the first spring training game I have ever attended. And it was just how I always imagined it, with Shawn Estes pitching to Alberto Callaspo! (Speaking of Estes, I found it interesting that a man best known for trying to beam Roger Clemens -- and missing -- made his spring training start around the same time that Clemens was trying to dodge the heat from Congress. I imagine the federal government will be more successful at nailing Clemens than Estes was. Okay, that tangent is over.)

Also speaking of Estes -- who is battling for the fifth spot in the rotation -- he, ummm, wasn’t very good. He lasted 2/3 of an inning, gave up six runs, including a two-run shot by Ross Gload, and also managed to drop a routine throwback from the catcher. The good news is that the guy sitting in the row next to me was living and dying with every Estes’ pitch as if it were the seventh game of the World Series (rationally labeling Estes’ outing as “a disaster”), and after the first inning, was ready to throw in the towel for the remainder of the San Diego Padres’ season. So that guy had a good grasp on what spring training is all about, which was nice to see.

Unfortunately for the Padres, Estes wasn’t the only one having trouble. Newly acquired Jim Edmonds tripped and fell in center field trying to track a fly ball, and compounded his error by staring at the field afterwards, thus making the crowd acutely aware that it was the field’s fault. Tony Clark misplayed the first live ball of the game and later failed to convert a double-play, San Diego pitching walked eight batters, and in the fifth inning the Padres were victimized by a 2nd and home double-steal that is normally only successfully executed in Little League. (The PA announcer showed restraint by not playing Benny Hill’s theme music.) The Padres lost 13-9.

After the game, at the behest of the man sitting one row away from me, the Padres seriously considered canceling the remainder of the season, and firing GM Kevin Towers. But then they luckily remembered that it was only spring training, and decided to stick with it, even winning an 11-10 thriller the following afternoon over the Mariners. Let the healing begin.

As far as the Royals are concerned, the man sitting one row away from me has them penciled in as the clear favorites to take the AL Central this season. Of course, I am kidding. They did look good, though…I think. I wasn’t really paying attention.

Monday, March 03, 2008

On naming your fantasy baseball team

This Friday is our annual fantasy baseball draft. One of the most important things about a fantasy baseball team is choosing a team name, something I take very seriously. My usual custom is this: 1) get the email that the league is set up, register, 2) think about a name for approximately eight hours while staring at my team page, 3) eventually settle on something I don’t really love, 4) change it the next day to something worse, and then 5) finally change it to what I’m comfortable with.

This year was no different. My original team name was Mrs. Mattingly, a nod to the now ex-wife of my all-time favorite player and her recent legal troubles. (I even changed my avatar to her mug shot.) Then I couldn’t sleep at night, tossing and turning, haunted by the idea that I was disrespecting Don Mattingly himself. Coincidentally, the next day I read this article, and changed my team name to Provocative Doodles, because I thought that was funny. But that ended up being funny for like, three seconds, and I eventually settled on Kind Old Uncle Remus after watching the episode of “The Office” where Stanley threatens to leave Scranton, and Michael insists that he can’t, describing him as such. (That episode also includes my all-time favorite Office quote: Wanted: Black man with sass…big butt, bigger heart.)

So I put a lot of thought into my team name, by thinking of funny quotes that people other than myself have created, and by making moderately obscure pop culture references that make me feel smarter than everybody else: Oh, you didn't see that episode? Pffttt. My fantasy counterparts sometimes have different ideas when it comes to their team names. In fact, let’s take a deeper look at my league as it stands right now, shall we?

Mark, my cousin: Papelbon Appetit. Mark succeeded from the family years ago by astonishingly announcing his love for the Red Sox, which is a separate issue altogether that I will not get into at this time. As far as the team name is concerned, Mark believes in the philosophy of incorporating a player on his team into his team name. Oftentimes -- and by oftentimes I mean every time -- this is done before he even has a team, as we have yet to draft. So Mark is either banking on drafting Papelbon, or doesn’t really care either way. (This has also led to cases in which the owner who actually has the player whose Mark's team is named after takes exception, and many insults are traded back and forth, which is a positive.) Nevertheless, for someone who consistently delivers clever message board posts, his team name is excruciatingly awful. The idea of incorporating a player’s name into your team’s name usually ends up in a brutal pun like this. Not recommended.

Joe, my brother-in-law: Quintessential DU. The DU stands for Ducks Unlimited, and yes, there is a story behind it. Several years ago, while at my in-laws’ house, Joe walked down the stairs inexplicably wearing a shirt with two ducks flying over a pond. Keep in mind that he was NOT wearing this shirt in any kind of ironic sense -- he saw a t-shirt in his drawer, and put it on. This particular shirt happened to have ducks on it. That is how he rolls. Anyhoo, after the laughter subsided, we noticed the brand of the shirt was Ducks Unlimited, obviously, and this year’s baseball team is the fifth installment of the DU franchise. I always like seeing Joe’s team name, because it reminds me of seeing him walk down the stairs wearing a t-shirt with two ducks flying over a pond.

(In an absolutely unbelievable turn of events from two years ago, we made an impromptu family trip to the Empire State Building after eating in the city one night. In the lobby there’s a board that lists all of the companies that work in the building. One of those companies? Ducks Unlimited. The only experience in my life that has come close to seeing that name on the board was watching David Tyree’s catch, and my reaction to both events was similar.)

John, my cousin. For the umpteenth consecutive year, I cannot mention John’s team name in a public forum, which is sad, because this year’s version is quite spectacular. John’s philosophy is to find the most offensive name he can think of, and just throw it out there. I have to admit that I always appreciate the fact that computers have no sense of humor, and will list a matchup of Skid Marks versus Hairy Tits in the same way they would list Team A versus Team B. This is where John’s team comes in especially handy.

Steve, my cousin-in-law: The Smoking Glove. Here is another case of a pun gone wrong. I mean, I understand this name is in reference to the term “the smoking gun,” but what does the smoking glove refer to? This doesn’t make any sense. It has no alternate meaning. (It could refer to steroids, but that is quite a stretch.) It doesn’t even rhyme with the original term. I don’t know where this came from.

UPDATE: I have been informed that The Smoking Glove has nothing to do with "the smoking gun," but is a reference to the art of wearing a glove while smoking so the smell does not stay on your hand, thus preventing you from getting caught. This is a completely hypothetical scenario, and something that Steve, who quit smoking, would never, ever do. Ever.

Cara, my cousin: Princess Peanut. This is actually a name I was strongly considering myself, until I remembered that I have a penis. And actually, I think Cara chose this name to add an additional dose of embarrassment to each of her weekly wins. I lost this week. To Princess Peanut. Kill me. Kudos, Cara. Kudos.

McClain: TROUBLE WITH WAVIERS. McClain’s original team name was HERE COMES TROUBLE (always in CAPS) -- a somewhat accurate foreshadowing -- and he has remained with the “trouble” theme. In this case, the name refers to his own acknowledgement of his penchant for abusing the waiver wire by picking up 80 different pitchers a week (we have yet to charge for these transactions). And yes, waivers is purposely spelled incorrectly. Because he has trouble with it. Get it?

Tony: Kitchens w/ Steve. I’m going to assume that this name arose because Tony and Steve worked on kitchens together. Quite brilliant. Nothing better than an inside joke between you and one other member of the league, which is not really a joke at all, but more like an acknowledgment of an event that happened. Hilarious!!! Of course, I could be completely wrong here, and Tony learned many valuable life lessons while working on kitchens with Steve, and honored his friend with a "Tuesdays with Maurie"-type alias. Though I find it hard to imagine what life-altering advice can be given from someone who once accidentally pooped in the shower.

Walt, Steve’s cousin: ObamaYoMama. Please don’t ask me what this means. Is this is a political statement? Knowing Walt, I say no. My gut feeling is that Walt suddenly realized that Obama rhymes with Mama, and an awful team name was subsequently born. If I am wrong, and this is a political statement, it remains uncertain which side Walt is on. Is it like, “You don’t like Obama??! Yo mama!” or “ Obama? Pffttt. Yo mama!” Both arguments are equally well-constructed, and thus, the debate continues.

That is an excellent point with regards to health care reform. But I would counter that by saying, 'Yo mama.'

Jack, the commissioner: ROADKILL REAPERS. The worst. I have no idea what this is, but it is in CAPS, and it implies death, so it must be important. Every league has the meathead owner whose name signifies how they’re going to dominate the league -- MY BASEBALL BI-ATCHES!!!! or SERIAL KILLA DECAPITATORRRZZZZZ!!! -- and Jack does catch a break for managing to exclude exclamation points. Amazingly though, Jack is not a traditional meathead, and is in fact an overly nice person who takes a lot of heat for not being an asshole like the rest of us, which, of course, makes his team name all the more strange. Either way, I can speak for the rest of the league when I say that none of us are overly concerned about being ROADKILL for the guy who came in eighth place last year.

You're not going to beleive this, but...

So on Friday I went to a spring training game to watch the Padres and Royals. And to my surprise, who was coaching first base for the Royals?

That's right.

This guy.