March 3, 2004

Five Innings of Heaven

At noon yesterday, when most college students are in class, I had big plans. I turned on my TV, flipped the channel to ESPN, and heard Gary Thorne say the sweetest 15 words I think I've ever heard.

Believe it or not, the day has come. It is time for Major League Baseball.

To quote the great Jim Young from Boiler Room: "Look at the f---in' smile on my face. Ear to ear, baby!"

This running diary of the Mets/Dodgers spring training game on ESPN is coming to you LIVE from a broom closet/elevator shaft/dorm room on the University of Minnesota campus! I am pleased to be joined by two Einstein Brothers bagels, a half-gallon of milk and a bag of Gardetto's trail mix. Let's get right to the action...


Our announcers this afternoon are Gary Thorne and ... oy! ... Jeff Brantley. I'm sure he'll be in mid-season form.

Shawn Green is shown taking throws at first base and will apparently be making the start there today. This should be interesting because a) he has one appearance at first base in his entire career and b) he hasn't sounded very excited about the possibility of switching positions.

Thorne begins talking about the Mets and says, "That's what they're looking for this year...that defense up the middle."

I have to agree. If Kazuo Matsui is as good defensively as his reputation says he is, the Mets will have one of the best, if not the best, up-the-middle defenses in all of baseball (and no, I'm not counting catcher in that equation).

Here is the Mets' starting lineup:

RF   Roger Cedeno

2B Jose Reyes
LF Cliff Floyd
1B Jason Phillips
CF Mike Cameron
3B Ty Wigginton
C Vance Wilson
SS Joe McEwing
SP Aaron Heilman

Mike Piazza is apparently out with "a groin injury." Plus, he probably doesn't want to begin playing first base on national TV. Kaz Matsui is also out, nursing a finger injury from a few days ago.


Hideo Nomo is starting for the Dodgers. Roger Cedeno, not wanting to change what he did in 2003, grounds out weakly to second base to start the game.

Jose Reyes ropes a single up the middle on a high fastball out over the plate. WOW...he just kept running on it and turned it into a sliding double. That's some serious speed and a lot of hustle, considering that was his first SPRING TRAINING at bat. Mets fans are really going to love this guy.

I might be alone here, but I like New York's bright orange uniforms. Seriously.

Cliff Floyd drills one to center field that rolls past Dave Roberts for a double. Reyes scores. 1-0 Mets.

I don't like New York's pitching-staff much at all, but in looking at their lineup, I really think their offense can be pretty good this year. Matsui and Reyes at the top, setting the table for Piazza, Floyd, Phillips and Cameron? Not bad at all.

The Official Most Underrated Player of Aaron's Baseball Blog, Mike Cameron, steps to the plate and crushes a high fastball over the fence in left-center for a 2-run homer. 3-0 Mets.

I'll tell everyone one more time: Mike Cameron is going to have a big year.

Watching Cameron stroll around the bases, it strikes me that he must have the largest legs/torso ratio in all of baseball. Incidentally, Jeff Brantley has the highest cliche/word ratio in all of announcing.


ESPN just showed new Dodgers owner Frank McCourt throwing out the first pitch of the game and it wasn't a bad pitch. For some reason it always impresses me when some middle-aged guy in a yellow polo shirt and khaki pants can throw it in the general direction of the plate.

Here's LA's lineup:

CF   Dave Roberts

SS Cesar Izturis
3B Adrian Beltre
1B Shawn Green
C Paul Lo Duca
RF Juan Encarnacion
LF Bubba Trammell
2B Jolbert Cabrera
SP Hideo Nomo

Unlike with the Mets, I'm not optimistic about this being a good lineup, to say the least.

Aaron Heilman on the hill for the Mets. Heilman barely missed out on my "Top 50 Prospects" list last year, and then did well in Triple-A before getting destroyed in the majors. I still like him as a middle-of-the-rotation starter down the road.

According to ESPN, Heilman is battling Jeremy Griffiths, Grant Roberts, James Baldwin, Scott Erickson and Tyler Yates for the fifth-starter job. I think Heilman's chances have to be pretty good with that group.

Cesar Izturis is batting second in the lineup and Thorne says the Dodgers are considering batting him there when the season actually starts. The way he's hit in the majors, I don't see any reason why Izturis should ever bat any higher than absolutely necessary. That means #9 in the AL and #8 in the NL. Hell, if Darren Dreifort ever starts a game in 2004, I might bat Izturis 9th.

Here's how Brantley explains Adrian Beltre's struggles: "I have yet to see this guy come to the ballpark everyday and strap it on." This goes beyond cliche and into the realm of sexual innuendo, which is always nice.

Beltre straps it on and walks, and then Shawn Green grounds a single up the middle, past a diving Reyes. Reyes didn't get a great jump on the ball (they showed the "defensive view" in a replay), but he still almost made the play. I would guess he's not totally used to going that far to his right yet.

As ESPN goes to commercial, the camera shows Peter Gammons and Mets GM Jim Duquette chatting it up in the food concourse. This is one of the keys to Gammons' greatness, of course. His ability to hang around and chat with guys like Duquette. They looked like old golfing buddies in that shot.


ESPN returns from commercial and Kyle Peterson, a former star pitcher at Stanford who was a prospect with the Brewers until a few years ago, is interviewing Jim Duquette. Duquette looks about 1,000 times less comfortable than he was with Gammons just a couple minutes ago.

Duquette sounds like a guy who is going to be making a large prospects-for-veteran trade at some point very soon. "We have the resources, both money and prospects, to make a move." Scott Kazmir for Alfonso Soriano perhaps?

With Reyes and Matsui, there is no way I would make that deal if I were New York. As an outfielder, Soriano is suddenly barely above league-average and soon to be making $10 mill a year.

Incidentally, I thought Kyle Peterson was fantastic during the College World Series last year and I'm really glad to see he's moving up in the world. I generally can't stand any sort of "sideline reporting" during any sporting event, but Peterson is one of the rare guys I enjoy hearing from.

On the other hand...Brantley: "I've always believed spring training is the best time for young kids to get close to players, to get autographs." This is one of Brantley's long-standing beliefs? He's really thinking outside the box.

I wonder if Brantley is this cliche-ridden in real life? Like when his wife asks him if he liked a movie, does he go "well, the actors obviously gave 110%, but they simply didn't strap it on as far as I could see."

Shawn Green makes a nice play at first base to rob Reyes of a hit down the line to end the inning and Gary Thorne gushes over it for like 20 seconds.


Juan Encarnacion singles to left field and then gets thrown out trying to steal second. Yay little ball! LA gets a guy on base (a rare occurrence last year) and they quickly remedy that problem.


Jose Lima replaces Nomo. Thorne talks about how Lima started out really well last year for the Royals (7-0, 2.17 ERA) and then injured his groin. He adds that when Lima returned from the injury, he wasn't very good (1-3, 10.66 ERA).

Brantley chimes in to say that he respects the fact that "Lima went out there and pitched hurt last year. It hurt his numbers, but he did it because the Royals needed it." Yes, certainly Kansas City was in need of some awful, injury-wrecked pitching down the stretch.

Thorne describes Green as "less than enthusiastic" about playing first base. Brantley goes on and on about how a player with a good attitude would have no problem changing positions, citing Robin Yount like 14 times in 30 seconds. I wonder who Brantley thinks should be playing shortstop for the Yankees.

After the third out of the inning, ESPN does not go to commercial, instead treating us to Jeff Brantley's thoughts on steroids. He says about 1,000 things, none of which make any sense or add anything to the discussion. Stuff like, "Let's get this out in the open, so it's not a problem" and "No one wants to be known as a steroid user." Jeff is apparently a big fan of simple solutions to complex problems.


Jeremy Griffiths replaces Heilman and proceeds to walk Jose Lima. That'll impress Art Howe. Griffiths apparently led the International League in ERA last year, but can't find the plate against a pitcher who is a career .119/.140/.136 hitter.

The good news is that all he needs is more of that and he can try for back-to-back ERA titles.

Kyle Peterson interviews Heilman, who definitely needs a little work on his interview giving/cliche spouting. He gave a 3-word answer to a 20-second question and Peterson did a double-take when he realized Heilman wasn't going to say anything else. He should talk to Brantley if he wants to learn how to spew forth plenty of useless babble.

Griffiths continues to have a hard time finding the strike zone, so Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson (not related to Kyle Peterson as far as I know) goes out to talk to him. Griffiths responds by throwing the next few pitches with an exaggerated follow-thru. He still can't throw anything over the plate though.

How Rick Peterson impacts the Mets' pitching-staff this year will be very interesting. I happen to think he is a great pitching coach and one of the brightest minds in all of baseball, but it's a whole lot different working with Heilman, Griffiths and Yates than Zito, Hudson and Mulder.

Bases loaded and one out, with Shawn Green up. Green slices a ground-rule double down the left field line, scoring Lima and Izturis. 3-2 Mets. LA pinch-runs for Green, who ends his day with a single, a double and a nice play at first base.

Griffiths nails Lo Duca with a fastball in the shoulder. Not a real good first outing for Jeremy. James Loney is the guy who pinch-ran for Green. Loney is one of LA's best prospects and is in serious consideration for this year's Top 50 (which will be posted sometime next week).

Encarnacion bloops another double down the right field line, scoring two more. 4-3 Dodgers. Art Howe goes to the mound to end the misery.

Jason Anderson replaces Griffiths and immediately throws a wild pitch to the backstop. 5-3 Dodgers.

Jolbert Cabrera takes Anderson deep to left field for a 2-run homer. 7-3 Dodgers.

Anderson goes 3-0 to Lima and then walks him! Jose Lima just walked two times in the same inning. Excuse me, I need a moment to collect my thoughts.

I think I just saw Rick Peterson making a noose in the dugout. Dave Roberts doubles down the right field line, but Lima holds up at third base. Another one goes to the backstop and Lima scores. 8-3 Dodgers.

Izturis lines a sure double to deep center, but Mike Cameron chases it down and makes the catch right up against the wall. Thank god for Cammy.


Lima whiffs Ty Wigginton. The guy is like a modern-day Babe Ruth. He pitches. He hits. He does it all.

Gary Thorne says an interview with new Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta is coming up after the commercial. Perhaps they will ask him about his Clearasil and he'll speak to them in megabyte.


Peterson (a Stanford guy) is interviewing DePodesta (a Harvard guy), so they should at least sound intelligent.

Regarding going from a small-market team to a large-market team, DePodesta says, "The whole player population is now available to us." This is interesting to me, because almost the entire premise of Moneyball is based on the fact that the A's had to limit themselves to a specific, undervalued pool of players.

Asked if pitching might be used to get more offense, DePodesta says, "It might have to be." He then goes out of his way to praise LA's scouts and player development people, providing evidence of where he went to school.

Other than that, not much interesting from the interview. DePodesta didn't sounds too enthusiastic about Lima's chances of making the team. Apparently he's not looking for the next Babe Ruth. Oh, and the Dodgers scored once while he was talking and again right when the interview finished. 10-3 Dodgers.

We just learned that Jeff Brantley cannot pronounce "Paul DePodesta." He's 0-3 so far and I think he may have just given up.

Brantley on Bubba Trammell: "When you play left field, they expect you to hit 35-40 home runs and I don't think Trammell is the guy to do that."

Number of major league left fielders who hit 35+ home runs in 2003: 3

Number of 35+ home run seasons by a left fielder in Dodger history: 2

Uh oh, Thorne just brought up Moneyball...

Thorne asks Brantley about the theory that a team's best reliever should be used in the most important situations, whether that is in the 7th inning, the 8th inning or the 9th inning. Brantley pauses noticeably and then says, "Well...that would be fine and good if that's what they paid you for!"

Ah yes, very brilliant. Who would have predicted an ex-closer would say that?

Incidentally, it sounded like Thorne may have actually read Moneyball before commenting on, which separates him from a certain other ESPN announcer.


Masao Kida comes on for the Dodgers. Franklin Gutierrez (another LA prospect being considered for my Top 50) makes a great diving catch on a sinking liner in right field. The Dodgers have a whole lot of guys wearing numbers in the 70s on the field right now...

Wilkin Ruan makes another diving catch in center field to end the inning. The difference between the two catches is that Ruan got a really bad jump on the ball, which forced him to have to dive for it, while Gutierrez played it very well and the only way he could have made the play was to dive. Of course, they'd both look the same on Baseball Tonight.


John Franco comes on for the Mets. Does everyone realize Franco has the 2nd-most saves in baseball history? Not sure if that says more about Franco or the save as a stat.

Brantley does a whole speech about the "people" who are questioning why Franco is taking a roster spot from a younger guy. "Let me tell you ladies and gentlemen, Johnny is here because he has earned this spot and as long as he can get people out..."

He can't finish his thought, because Jolbert Cabrera launches a homer to deep left-center off Franco. 11-3 Dodgers. That is about as good as timing can possibly get. The next hitter, Joe Thurston hits a single over Jason Phillips and into right field.

Brantley says he can't imagine Lima pitching for the Dodgers because when he was on the Giants, the Dodgers "always put crisp uniforms on." Yes, certainly.

Jose Hernandez pinch-hits. Brantley and Thorne predictably rail about his strikeouts. Thorne says, "He really needs to learn some patience if he wants to stick around." Brantley says, "180 strikeouts from a middle infielder? My gosh, I can't have that."

I wonder how they'd feel about Hernandez if he'd have had 50 strikeouts and 130 pop-outs, instead of 180 strikeouts? By the way, Hernandez was awful last season, but he hit .288/.356/.478 with 24 homers in 2002.

James Loney comes to the plate against Franco with men on first and second. Brantley: "This may be a little different for Loney, facing a left-hander like Franco." Loney lines a run-scoring single to right field. 12-3 Dodgers. John Franco may want to ask Brantley to stop sticking up for him.

Franco strikes out Koyie Hill to end the inning.

We're an hour and 55 minutes into the game and it's 12-3. Not quite a 10-run rule situation, but I think I'm going to call it a game...

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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