January 4, 2013

Link-O-Rama

• Here's the job posting for the St. Paul Pioneer Press' new Twins beat reporter. Apply today!

• In their most controversial decision since naming Nick Blackburn the Twins' top prospect, Baseball America named me one of the "top 50 baseball-related Twitter accounts."

• I'm not much of a soccer fan, but Mark Willis' soccer-style MLB jersey designs are fantastic.

Jeff Piascik of College Baseball Daily wrote a nice article about Twins coach Joe Vavra's son, Tanner Vavra, who plays Division I baseball at Valparaiso University despite being blind in his right eye. Remarkable story. He hit .332 with a .425 on-base percentage as a junior.

• Minnesota is close enough to Iowa that she probably should have stopped by to say hello.

• I wrote about turning 30 years old, being a weirdo, doing something for a really long time, and pondering life changes.

• I'm kind of sad that no one got me Anthony Mason for my birthday this year.

• Presumably to celebrate my birthday Netflix instant has added two of my favorite dozen or so movies in "Blue Valentine" and "Blue Chips." I own "Blue Chips" on VHS and have seen it at least 20 times, and I watched "Blue Valentine" four times in one weekend a while ago. I recommend viewing them back-to-back and then having a good cry. The order isn't important.

• Easily the sexiest dress I've ever seen.

Nick Nelson subbed for a vacationing John Bonnes on this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode and we discussed our decreasing expectations for the Twins in 2013 and which pitchers they should have signed as free agents.

• Vita.mn named "Gleeman and The Geek" one of the best podcasts of 2012.

• I saw "Django Unchained," which is nowhere close to Quentin Tarantino's best movies but right up there with his most enjoyable movies. If that makes any sense. In terms of overall quality, I'd rank them: "Pulp Fiction," "Reservoir Dogs," "Jackie Brown," "Inglourious Basterds," "Django Unchained," "Kill Bill," "Grindhouse."

• Speaking of Tarantino, this video of every pop culture reference in his movies is pretty great:

"That is Marilyn Monroe. That is Mamie Van Doren. And I don't see Jayne Mansfield, so she must have the night off or something."

Bobby Womack, whose song "Across 110th Street" is one of my all-time favorites, may be suffering from Alzheimer's at age 68.

Ryan Freel's family is donating his brain to science to find out if the former major leaguer's numerous concussions led to his suicide at age 36.

• One of my favorite podcasters/people, Julie Klausner, was profiled in the New York Times.

• Rotoworld surpassed one billion (yes, billion) page views in 2012, which makes a man feel extra good about dropping out of college for a full-time job there in 2005.

• I've soured on Adam Carolla over the years, but my fellow old school "Loveline" fans should definitely check out his new weekly podcast with Dr. Drew Pinsky.

• Former big leaguer Fernando Tatis replied to a random tweet of mine from two years ago.

Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus wrote a great article about those absurd "scouting reports" television broadcasts show for starting pitchers.

Torii Hunter used religion as an excuse for intolerance and then showed off his backpedaling skills, which we've seen before.

• My attempt to put Joe Mauer's season in context, which is something few people in Minnesota seem interested in doing.

Chipper Jones is keeping himself busy in retirement.

Andruw Jones was arrested on Christmas for allegedly abusing his wife after she "asked him to help her assemble a computer table." And then she filed for divorce.

• A few people wondered if this was me, as if I'd ever leave the house to go to St. Cloud.

• I really liked "Gosford Park" on Netflix instant, so I also watched another Robert Altman movie, "The Long Goodbye," and was amused to see former major leaguer and "Ball Four" author Jim Bouton in a sizable supporting role. Toss in Elliott Gould and his chest hair in the leading role and the whole thing really made me wish I lived in the 1970s.

• "Stop Podcasting Yourself" is my favorite podcast and Alicia Tobin is my favorite guest, so this made me happy.

Jessica St. Clair's appearance on "Who Charted?" with Howard Kremer and Kulap Vilaysack was very funny.

• This e-mail from Pandora sums me up well.

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "Marney Gellner hot"
- "Lori Loughlin twins"
- "Dave Attell twins"
- "Julie Klausner nude"
- "Mitchell Kowitz arrested"
- "Jerome Felton girlfriend"
- "16-year-olds on Chopped"
- "Lindsay Guentzel model"
- "Clarence Clemons and Robin Quivers"
- "Phil Ivey girlfriend"
- "Linda Cardellini martial arts"

• Finally, in honor of hearing this song for the first time in "Blue Chips" as an 11-year-old and immediately becoming hooked on Van Morrison this week's AG.com-approved music video is "Baby Please Don't Go":

This week's blog content is sponsored by Paul "Fantasy Camper" Bennett, who'll be blogging and tweeting about his annual experience at Twins fantasy camp in Fort Myers the week of January 6. Please support him for supporting AG.com.

January 3, 2013

Thirty

Today is my 30th birthday. It seems unreal to me, but it's true. I double-checked and everything.

I began writing on the internet as a 19-year-old in 2002 and back then a big part of my identity, for better or worse, was being extremely young. Hell, this blog was started in large part out of boredom while home from school for the summer and the first post was written on August 1, 2002 while I was literally sitting in my bedroom at my mom's house. Not quite the old "blogging from his parents' basement" cliche, but pretty damn close.

In the months that followed I wrote about moving back into my dorm room and getting rejected by the college newspaper and attempting to make small talk with attractive girls on the bus and various other things that made it very clear I was just a kid. Even two years later, while attending my first Society for American Baseball Research convention in Cincinnati, my age was a frequent topic and many people there were amused that I was barely old enough to drink alcohol legally.

I never quite advanced past that "you're just a kid" mindset and now more than a decade later I'm still doing basically the same thing, writing about baseball and myself on the internet, but there's no 30-year-old "kid" unless you start hanging out with your grandparents. Sticking with something for that long can certainly be a source of pride and I'm also proud of the work I've done here and elsewhere, but having spent your twenties doing one thing is jarring to think about.

And turning 30 will also get you thinking, about good things and bad things and important things and silly things. By age 10 or so I knew I wanted to be a writer and I've been gainfully employed as one since dropping out of college to take a job with Rotoworld in 2005. I've got a house with a mortgage and a car and a retirement account and most of the stuff that always signified adulthood to me. And yet I still think of myself as anything but an adult. I'll have to get over that.

Mostly what I've been thinking about lately is what comes next. What happens when you can no longer cling to any semblance of childhood? What happens when your dropping out of college doesn't really seem to matter any more? What happens when you're nearly the same age your parents were when they had you? What happens when you've spent an entire decade of your life with the thing you dreamed about doing serving as both your job and your hobby? What then?

I'm as happy and comfortable and content as I've ever been since starting this blog in 2002, but within the context of turning 30 that mostly just has me pondering what happiness and comfort and contentedness really mean. I'm very certain that 20-year-old me would look at 30-year-old me and say don't change a thing you lucky bastard, but suddenly that doesn't seem as important as what 40-year-old me would say. And that's an impossible question to answer.

I've always struggled with two primary issues. One is food, against which I've made major strides by losing 150 pounds in one year and keeping that weight off for a second year. The other is social anxiety, but while I've made some strides there as well--going out far more often now than I did a few years ago and expanding my list of friends (or at least acquaintances)--fixing my lack of drive to interact with friends and strangers alike has proven much more difficult than losing weight.

And so I think about what is fixable and what isn't, which life changes should and shouldn't be made, and perhaps most significantly whether I even want to fix those things and make those changes. I'm very much a creature of routine in every aspect of my life and I'm lucky enough to have carved out a pretty nice routine for someone who prefers to be by himself, in his house, the vast majority of the time. But is that "happiness" or is that just "comfortable"?

My age-29 season was a productive one. This blog maintained an audience that motivates me to keep chugging along for another decade, getting paid to write about baseball for NBCSports.com every day remained a dream come true, the growth of "Gleeman and The Geek" surpassed my wildest podcasting expectations with 10,000 listeners per episode, and getting more opportunities than ever to appear on radio was a thrill for someone who grew up obsessed with the medium.

I've luckily never ceased enjoying writing about the Twins on AG.com and about MLB in general at HardballTalk, but I have wondered if I might also enjoy writing more about movies and television and music and comedy and more personal topics here. As someone who spends much of his time thinking about that stuff and loved creative writing once upon a time that sounds appealing. As someone with a baseball-fueled audience and a nice, comfortable routine that sounds scary.

Throughout my decade of baseball writing I've been fond of using the phrase "on the wrong side of 30" to describe a player who's no longer within the typical prime age of an MLB career, with the implication being that his value is more likely to decline than improve or even remain the same. That phrase "on the wrong side of 30" has been stuck in my head for the past few weeks and it's never before seemed so blunt and forceful. Or maybe just truthful.

I went back and forth about writing this post and then about actually publishing it, because I know people come here for the Twins talk and links. And also because I'm not even sure what my point is, although the more I think about it the more I'm convinced not being sure what my point is may be the point. Plus, after a decade of revealing way too much about yourself to strangers on the internet why stop now, right? That's me, at 30 every bit as much as it was at 19.

Mostly, though, I wanted to thank the readers of this blog because just about everything good in my life, professionally and personally, can be traced back to having a loyal audience here. And as I imagine what my thirties have in store I can't forget how in my twenties this blog and its readers enabled me to cross so many goals and dreams off my list. From the 19-year-old me with so much in front of him and the 30-year-old me with so much behind him, thank you.

This week's blog content is sponsored by Paul "Fantasy Camper" Bennett, who'll be blogging and tweeting about his annual experience at Twins fantasy camp in Fort Myers the week of January 6. Please support him for supporting AG.com.

January 2, 2013

Offseason outlook: Ryan Doumit

Ryan Doumit missed half of 2011 with a broken ankle suffered on a collision at the plate and became a free agent when the Pirates declined his $7.25 million option. He'd spent seven seasons as Pittsburgh's primary catcher, consistently ranking among MLB's best hitters at the position, but poor defense and multiple significant injuries suppressed his market and made him available to the Twins on a modest one-year, $3 million deal.

Just as Josh Willingham essentially replaced Michael Cuddyer as a right-handed bat in the middle of the Twins' lineup, the switch-hitting Doumit replaced Jason Kubel's left-handed bat. Doumit's career numbers were very similar to Kubel's numbers with the Twins, with the added bonus that he could split time behind the plate with Joe Mauer whenever necessary and keep manager Ron Gardenhire from relying so heavily on Drew Butera.

And that's exactly how things worked out. Doumit hit .275/.320/.461 to basically duplicate both his career .271/.331/.442 mark with the Pirates and Kubel's career .271/.335/.459 mark with the Twins. Gardenhire almost immediately soured on the idea of Doumit as a regular outfielder, but he ended up starting 22 games in an outfield corner along with 56 games at catcher and 48 games at designated hitter. And without having to catch five times a week Doumit stayed healthy too.

What made Doumit a nice fit for the Twins is that his bat is good enough to be useful at DH and his glove is good enough to be useful at catcher, and he was such a nice fit that they signed him to a two-year, $7 million contract extension in late June. He's locked in as a regular for 2013 and 2014, but his position will depend largely on how often Mauer is catching and could also be tied to what happens with Justin Morneau and Willingham.

Doumit wasn't perfect, of course. His defense behind the plate wasn't as awful as his reputation suggested, but it certainly wasn't pretty. He also looked bad in the outfield, including a brutal three-error inning in left field. And while Doumit's overall production offensively was strong, he hit just .247/.287/.403 against left-handers to continue a career-long pattern of extreme platoon splits that takes some of the value out of his being a switch-hitter and everyday player.

As a soon-to-be 32-year-old with a lengthy injury history and more than 4,000 career innings logged behind the plate Doumit is also an obvious candidate to decline, but going from everyday catcher to part-time catcher helped him remain nearly injury free while setting career-highs in games (134) and plate appearances (538). Doumit's dual role defensively helped him as much as it helped the Twins.

One potential red flag within his otherwise solid production is Doumit's plate discipline and strike zone control. He whiffed 98 times compared to just 24 non-intentional walks overall, including an ugly 46-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the second half. No one noticed because he was hitting .264 with a .468 slugging percentage during that time, but an approach at the plate that results in eight walks over 263 plate appearances is something that eventually catches up to a hitter.

Doumit was worth more than $7 million in 2012 alone and also topped that value in 2007, 2008, and 2011, so $7 million for two years should be a bargain. Ideally he'd catch a little less and be on the bench versus left-handed pitching a little more, but either way having his .750-.800 OPS bat around to plug in wherever it's needed is one of the reasons why the Twins' lineup looks to be in good shape for 2013. And if the losses start piling up again Doumit could have trade value.

Other "offseason outlook" write-ups: Justin Morneau, Josh Willingham, Trevor Plouffe, Joe Mauer

This week's blog content is sponsored by Paul "Fantasy Camper" Bennett, who'll be blogging and tweeting about his annual experience at Twins fantasy camp in Fort Myers the week of January 6. Please support him for supporting AG.com.

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