Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Life without TV


Walking through our apartment for the first time, something strange grabs you. At first it won’t be obvious. The kitchen is perfectly normal, complete with dishwasher, microwave oven and empty bottles waiting to be recycled. Upon walking into the living room, though, it unveils itself. You’ll first see a beige sofa facing a wall, and then it hits you. The sofa is facing an empty wall, without a TV.

It’s weird not having a TV in the entire house. It’s so engrained in the American lifestyle that it becomes a part of you. The mindless entertainment is almost needed, even if simply as background noise to placate the wandering mind. Recently, though, I’ve discovered that there is life beyond the TV, just as some of my teammates are still discovering that there is life beyond California.

Some things we’ve discovered as a substitute for TV as our centerpiece of entertainment:

Jigsaw puzzles:
We’re now at 29 puzzles since the start of the season (it looks like we’ll fall short of our goal of 100, unless I start doing more 24 piece Snow White puzzles). As diligent proof, we’ve displayed them on the walls, filling almost three walls in our living room completely. Perhaps soon we will be calling the National Historic Registry, as we are planning on opening the country’s first Museum of Jigsaw Art.

Watching movies:
Okay, so we’re not completely devoid of visual entertainment. We have Blockbuster Total Access, which allows us to watch as many movies as we want. In fact, roommate Geno Espineli bought a DVD projector, which explains why we have one wall un-blemished by puzzles: it’s our projector wall. Use your imagination and it’s almost like going to the theater, only without the big buckets of popcorn.

Reading and writing:
Not everyone’s favorite pastime, but I enjoy it. I know I’m a little nerdy; writing blogs and, of all things, reading (so old fashioned), but it’s rewarding for me. Hopefully all the other readers out there will continue to find it enjoyable as well.

Thinking and talking:
Without the TV, there is more silence. To fill the silent void, you either talk to others or to yourself (hopefully silently). Either way, there’s more room for your thoughts and for conversations. And with the randomness that takes place in this household, not to mention the drama of being on a team, who needs TV.

At first we simply wanted to save money by not having cable and a TV, protesting the rising cost of cable. In the end, though, I’ve come to enjoy the time without it. One doesn’t realize how deeply the attachment runs until this magical box is removed.

Despite this, I still am not completely broken from my TV habit. For instance, I wake up in the morning usually before my roommates. I grab some breakfast, maybe some cereal or some oatmeal, and I sit at the table. While I’m eating, I feel something is missing. I want to be able to reach over for a remote control and turn on a TV. But I’m glad that I can’t. I’m starting to enjoy the resonating silence.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Gone with the old clubby, in with the new

Recently our clubby bounced on us. This could be for a couple of reasons, but basically he was in over his head and didn’t realize how much work it was going to be. A lot of guys think that it’s going to be a glamorous job hanging around with athletes when in fact it’s a lot of dirty, hard work. It’s not easy at all, and the hours are hectically terrible at times.

Since he’s been gone (isn’t that a Kelly Clarkson song?), things have actually gotten better. This is surprising since the team is still in scramble mode, frenetically trying to replace him. But we actually have a couple of guys doing his job right now. One is Matt, already on the Defender’s payroll, who is a personable, hardworking guy and works well with us. The others are some of Steamer’s friends, one of which has been a big league clubby and knows the ropes. He brought with him a regiment of helpers, who have busily been scrubbing our floors until they are spotless. This comes in stark contrast to the previous state of our floors, which led to a few of us buying cheap pieces of carpet from Walmart simply to seperate our feet from the muck on the floor.

Though the diminutive amount of money will in no way be enough to maintain the employment of the entire army of workers, I’m grateful for the interim change. It’s a whole lot better walking into a clubhouse and inhaling the faint scent of bleach rather than mildew.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

our all-star game is fogged out

Imagine having a homerun derby and not being able to see where the ball landed. In fact, imagine not even being able to see if it was a homerun or not. This was the case at the 2007 Eastern League All-Star game, hosted at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Connecticut, where I play on a nightly basis.
The stadium is built on a mountaintop. One wouldn’t think it would be subject to fog. On the contrary, fog rolls in as sure as a summer storm, and with the same swiftness.
Being an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, perhaps this was done with purpose. San Francisco, site of the 2007 MLB All-Star game, has its own problems with fog, but the big league game proceeded without Mother Nature’s intervention. The Eastern League All-Star game wasn’t so lucky.
With a packed house on hand to see the game, no one wanted to halt the action. According to my roommate, Geno Espineli, it was necessary. “Guys were hitting balls and you had no idea where they were landing. In the homerun derby (prior to the game), you couldn’t even see if it was a homerun or not. Even the fielders couldn’t see them,” stated Espineli, a participant in the game.
With the disappearing ball trick so prominent, the action was called during the third inning after outfielder John Bowker was almost hit with a fly ball. This came as a disappointment to Espineli. Espineli was on the mound to relieve Kevin Mulvey, but the game was called before he was able to throw his first pitch.
“It would’ve been my first All-Star game since high school,” said Espineli.
Disappointing for Espineli, and the fans, to be sure, but we all still recognize him as an all-star.

In light of the fog-out, I attempted to do a little research on fog and baseball. I came up with surprisingly little, but here are some of baseball’s foggiest moments, not all explicitly dealing with fog:

-June 6, 1957- Game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs becomes the first MLB fog-out.

-May 20, 1960- Game in Milwaukee postponed due to fog

2006- Giants’ catcher Mike Matheny spends most of the year on the DL due to a different type of fog, this being a cognitive fog resulting from a series of concussions. The injury brings awareness to the repeated impact of foul balls violently ricocheting off a catcher’s mask, and the cumulative damage they can cause. Matheny has since retired and every player in the Giant’s organization is required to take a battery of cognitive testing as a result.

2004- Bill James publishes his “Underestimating the fog” article, in which he re-thinks some of his more radical positions on things such as clutch hitting. While not stating that clutch hitting actually exist, he states that current quantitative tools may simply not allow one to accurately perceive it.

There apparently are not a lot of true foggy moments in baseball lore. If someone comes across something, feel free to send it my way. In the meantime, the Defenders will be back out at Dodd Stadium tonight, trying to play in the fog.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

minor league all-star break

Soon to be posted on

Just like in the big leagues, we minor leaguers also have an all-star break. While lacking the pomp and pageantry, not to mention the international media coverage trying to ascertain the meaning behind every word uttered by every player regardless of language, our break is no less important to us, whether we make the team or not.
This year’s break got off to a little bit of a slow start for our team. Coming home from Binghamton on Monday, we were expected to arrive home at a decent hour due to the fact that we played a day game. This was until the bus had a flat tire about thirty minutes into the trip. In addition, in an apparently unrelated incident, the bus’s air conditioning died as well. Though sabotage was suspected by many players, no proof was ever found (another yet to be filmed Unsolved Mystery).
Needless to say, the team wasn’t too happy to be sitting alongside the road, looking for snails and watching cars go bye for nearly two hours. Not the ideal way to start the all-star break, especially since the Eastern League only allows for a two day break instead of the customary three or four days afforded by most leagues. Like school off-days, perhaps we had too many snow-outs early in the year.
Finally, though, we arrived at our home destination, and the all-star festivities began, whether baseball was involved or not. Some of the favorite things that I’ve done over my all-star breaks:

2005 Trip to Yosemite- During the ample four day break the California League allowed, we made the trip from San Jose to Yosemite. Thankfully my Ford Focus rental car navigated the mountainous terrains better than expected, and I saw some of the most beautiful waterfalls and rock formations in the world, not to mention the Sequoia.

2007 Trip to Cooperstown- While not actually part of the all-star break, my parents met our team in Binghamton this year for the last few games before the all-star break. After a Sunday day game, we made the one hour and change trip to Cooperstown. Seeing all the memorabilia, I had the euphoric feeling of a kid in Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Luckily I didn’t eat anything that made me purple.

Beaches and fishing- This is what summer is all about. If I have a couple days off, I better be doing some fishing, and some laying around. Connecticut has more places to fish than the moon has craters (does the moon really have that many craters?), and beaches aren’t too far away either.

My parents have made an annual tradition of visiting me over the break, as team rules dictate that I’m not allowed to leave the general area of our home team. My two younger sisters have also made the trip, which means that I get to play the role of big brother for a few days, an authoritarian role I dearly miss.
It’s great to spend some time with family, and great to get my mind and body away from the game as well. When you play every day, a mental and physical break is necessary at times. Doing some touristy things with family, and maybe some fishing, provides a great diversion.
I would love to play in an all-star game but in its place I think I’ve filled the void. Granting me the opportunity to spend some quality time with family, an all too rare occasion for minor league players, an all-star break without the all-star game is no less enriching.

Monday, July 9, 2007

battling lady luck

7/07/07 was supposed to be a lucky day. It wasn’t for me.
I pitched on the day of lucky sevens. People were being married in record numbers on this day, and even scheduling caesarian sections for the birth of their children. Everyone was trying to cash in on this lucky day. This was perhaps the problem. Not only was it supposed to be a lucky day for me, but it was supposed to be a lucky day for everyone, including my opponents. I guess it cancelled my luck.
It actually wasn’t completely bad. I gave up five runs in five innings and garnered a no decision. But it could’ve been better, as all five runs were scored in one inning. This inning involved a couple of unlucky plays for me which if the coin had flipped the other way, would’ve limited the team to perhaps 1 or even no runs during the inning. Some seemingly innocuous balls found holes, which inevitably happens throughout a game. They just aren't all supposed to come in one inning.
For this reason, lady luck and I have not been on good terms for the past few days. As a baseball player, I'm compelled to attempt pacification of this mythical figure, but after my less than rewarding outing, I wasn't too happy with her. Despite this, my luck would soon change.
Upon conclusion of our road trip today, I rode with my parents, who had come for their only visit of the season, back to Connecticut. Normally this isn’t allowed, but since it was the beginning of the all-star break and my parents would only be out a few more days, my manager gave me a pass.
About two hours into our trip, my roommate, Ryan Sadowski calls me. The bus has blown a tire, and the air conditioning has broken, in apparently unrelated events. All of my teammates are sitting on the side of the road, watching cars go bye. Either waiting for another bus or for repairs to our usual bus, the situation could persist for hours.
I’m now passing into the state of Connecticut, nearing our destination. My teammates are still sitting on the side of the road like a discarded apple core, trying to thumb a ride. I guess lady luck and I are now even.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Benefits for life

Michael McCann had a great post from today:
"Earlier today, the Boston Red Sox purchased the contract of first baseman Jeff Bailey, a 28-year-old who, until now, had been a career minor leaguer. He began his professional baseball career in 1997, after being selected in the second round of the 1997 baseball draft by the Florida Marlins. He's bounced around since then, producing relatively modest statistics until last season, when he hit 22 home runs and drove in 75 RBIs for the Triple A Pawtucket Red Sox.Bailey will start at first base tonight when the Red Sox take on the Detroit Tigers. I know what you might be thinking: "Why am I reading about this seemingly obscure player, who is involved in a seemingly uninteresting chain of events?"Here's why: by virtue of being on a big league roster for a mere one day, Bailey will enjoy complete medical benefits for the rest of his life, pursuant to Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement. Call it the Moonlight Graham provision, if you will. Even better, if Bailey can stay on the active roster for 43 days, he'll also get a pension. Bailey can thank Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr for fighting for guys like him--the 25th man on the roster, "cup of coffee" types--as opposed to simply focusing on the interests of the game's stars or established players.So aside from the thrill of making it to "The Show" and earning a big league pay check, veteran minor leaguers like Jeff Bailey have a pretty strong incentive to keep playing if they believe they have a chance at cracking a big league roster. A lifetime of guaranteed health care is quite a pay off indeed. "
-- Posted by Michael McCann @ 7/06/2007 04:06:00 PM -- Comments (1) -- Post a Comment

Pitching and charting


Being a starting pitcher, I only actually perform my true job once every 5 days. But during these other games, I’m not sitting around languidly working on my juggling. I’m still put to work--I have to earn my paycheck somehow. With a chart in my hand, I’m forced to leave the dugout, my baseball homeland, and flee to the menacing land of hecklers and munchkins: the stands.

Usually I’m confused for a scout. This really should come as no surprise. If you saw me in the stands, you’d probably think I was a scout also. After all, if he looks like a scout, talks like a scout and acts like a scout, he must be a scout. We may be a little younger than most scouts, but we’re wielding the same radar guns, packing the same heat.

This isn’t a big deal, and it shouldn’t really bother me. I have a tremendous amount of respect for scouts and the work that they do. But once in a while, perhaps when my wicked friend Narcissus comes around, I tire of people asking me if I’m a scout. This is only rarely, though, as other times I actually prefer to be incognito.

Despite our disguises while in the stands, people inevitably recognize us. Probably about once a game, an autograph-seeker will approach us and ask us to sign a card or a ball. We’re happy to oblige, and it comes as a surprise to the casual baseball fan sitting next to us who had no clue that he was sitting next to a player. Now he’s wondering what in the heck a player would be doing sitting next to him. Shouldn’t he be on the field where he belongs? Confused, the fan maybe even starts looking around, trying to find other players secretly embedded in his surroundings as if it’s a Where’s Waldo type of promotion.

We meet some interesting people while in the stands. In our home park in Norwich, the head of all minor league baseball often comes. A retiree named Harold—affectionately nicknamed the Goose by teammate Nick Pereira—comes to almost every game, and he claims that not a single move is made in baseball without first consulting him. When the Goose is around, there’s never a dull moment. Too bad our charting usually suffers.

Some may be wondering why we have to do charts. A reader recently asked me exactly this via e-mail. As he said, “Why not let the starting pitchers just go home after they do their throwing? Unless things have changed from back in the day, non-pitcher managers still think that most starting pitchers are doofuses anyway so they aren't going to put them in as pinch runners or as pinch hitters and they certainly aren't going to ask pitchers for in-game strategy advice.”

I don’t really like to think of myself as a doofus, but this may in fact be the way that my manager views me (I’ll have to ask him). Part of the answer to this question is that we’d probably be goofing around too much during the games (see exhibit A: our relief pitcher cousins, who act as infantile gorillas at times during games) and forget that a game is even going on if we didn’t have anything to do. By doing a chart, we’re forced to pay more attention to the game, and can in this way get a read on hitters and their tendencies. Also, the team needs stats, and in the minor leagues, stat keepers aren’t hired; the starting pitchers become the stat keepers. We don’t like doing it, but it’s a necessary part of our job.

We are therefore asked to do a variety of charts, which differ from team to team. Our team, for example, requires us to do a chart which counts the number of pitches our hitters see, a radar gun chart, a pitcher’s game chart, and a hitter’s chart. Four charts for the four days in between starts, rotating among pitchers on each day. Two of the days are spent in the stands; two of the days are spent in the dugout. This rotation is pretty standard.

Next time you come to a minor league ballgame and see scouts in the stands, look closely. If there are younger guys amongst them, they’re probably players. And if your team is playing the Connecticut Defenders, I might be sitting nearby. If so, feel free to say hi.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Why do I hate fireworks?

There was a time when I loved fireworks. This time has passed.

Fourth of July, our nation's day of independence, is synonymous with fireworks. As a kid, I remember gathering at my grandmother's house, eating a lot of food, and then shooting off some fireworks. I loved the sparklers, the smoke bombs and the screaming bottle rockets--anything that made noise I loved.

Minor league baseball, though, has made me hate fireworks. Like a lot of things, this wasn't a sudden but a gradual change, culminating in the events of last night.

One of my first days in pro. ball in Spokane, Wa. there were fireworks after the game, and I remembered thinking that, "Wow, this is kind of cool." Later I realized that I would be hearing fireworks (or fuegos artificiales for the latinos) almost every week. They'll shoot off fireworks for any reason possible in the minor leagues--the mayor's nephew's bar mitzvah, the town's semi-birthday party, or the birth of a new cow. The "this is kind of cool" feeling was replaced by the "this is really annoying" feeling.

For the past two years, the only special thing about fireworks is that we get more fans attending our games. This in itself is kind of annoying because it signifies that people would rather come to see fireworks than actually see us play. It also means that there's more post-game traffic, which means I have to inhale my food, sprint out the door, and battle the superfans before the fireworks end.

Last night, though, was the tipping point. After an already incredibly long day consisting of a six hour bus ride and two hours of rain delays, fireworks started going off in the middle of the game. About five feet behind us.

Sadowski is starting an inning for us, and it sounds like we're caught in the middle of a Civil War re-enactment. I thought perhaps that there was rain at nearby Gettysburg, and so they moved the battlefield to Harrisburg. Then I remembered that it was the 4th of July and the entire city of Harrisburg had gathered on the other side of the river in order to see the fireworks being shot on the famous City Island, which just so happens to be the site of the Senator's stadium.

My seat was shaking with each explosion. I could barely write with my pen so forceful and deafening was each detonation. And Ryan was supposed to pitch through this?

This went on for more than twenty minutes in the middle of the game. For this reason, fireworks are no longer just an inconvenient annoyance. I now hate fireworks.