Baseball 2010

4 April 2010

Memo From the Sports Desk: Spring Training, Do Not Try This at Home

By Raoul Duke Jr.

(Ed. Note: we received this over the MoJo Wire along with several hotel and bar bills. Apparently, Duke thinks he has an expense account, which he does not. In addition, we have asked Duke many times to please send his reports via email in a word document, he refuses and says that the IBM Selectric II works just fine. Lastly, he has threatened to cut me open like a breakfast melon if the staff of Pure Gibberish has any other problems with is “craft.”)

Campers, Spring Training is aptly named, we are in training, not for the impending baseball season, no sir, for the upcoming debauchery that is the baseball season. Many eons ago, I spent two years on tour with Wishbone Ash. That was good enough training for baseball. A different city every night, a different lie to tell to the under-aged girl at the bar. The one who would probably have to go to a sex clinic just to describe all the weird things that were done to her all the in the name of science. The Kinsey Report is still 15 years away from naming most of them. The all–night drinking, driving and pillaging sessions. Rock and Roll and baseball are the same sides of two coins.

As mid-February rolls around, I have to call in my baseball partner, the 6’3”, 235 lb., half-blind black Puerto Rican. No one dares to fuck with me when he is around. Controlling him is like controlling a bear while your arms are greased with honey.

I met Freddy Romeo (Ed. Note, no one at Pure Gibberish is aware of anyone by that name, however, judging by one of the accounts on the police report, such a creature does exist.) back in 1983. He just came over from Puerto Rico and was a fan of baseball, broads and booze. Seizing him up I did the most logical thing; gave him a handful of acid, a Coors Light and told him to have at it. He has been with me ever since. Somehow he manages to fund his baseball living though a job as a banker at one of the places the government bailed out. One look at him and they were sacred shitless into giving C_____ all the money they wanted. Romeo immediately gave himself a huge bonus and then told Tim Geithner to try and get the money back.  They haven’t and Romeo lives high…on the hog.

The phone rang on February 10 at 4am. “You vicious bastard, get the drop-top gassed and pick me up. Baseball is here.”

His voice was remarkable. A heavy PR accent but perfect English. He speaks better than me. And we would need it to because ½ the players don’t speak English.

“Look you demented son of a bitch.” I barked back at him. “Don’t make me get the police after you again; the weapons charge is still fresh in their memory.”

It seemed to settle him.

“Who cares, I have enough drugs and booze to kill a rhino. Get your fucking per diem money and let’s go. There are many miles to drive, many teams to see and too many groupies to freak out.”

He was right. Spring Training is a six-week gig; pre-paid too. Us reporter types need to be comfortable when writing about future stars like #85 and #79 and who can forget the good-looking prospect #60?

“Be ready on 45 minutes. Bring your own tin can because we ain’t stopping until we hit Port St. Lucie.” I rushed to say as I hung up the phone.

Mets Camp – March 1-12

The purpose of the assignment is to get a handle on three teams; I chose the Cubs, Braves and Mets. Actually, the editor chose them for me due to readership to his little blog.

We pull into a dive hotel in Ft. Pierce, FL. It appears that all the Mets fans have bought out the hotels near the park. Just as well, the kind of damage we intend to inflict on the hotel and the citizens of central Florida can only be achieved in a place near the coast for an emergency evac via the water.

What can you say about the Mets that Obama’s health care program hasn’t? The Metropolitans limped into the off-season and finished a mere 23 games back of the Phillies. For 2010 they brought in Jason Bay and five new team physicians. I don’t know who will be more valuable. That may not be enough. It’s not even Opening Day and they already have an All-Star DL (Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Kelvin Escobar, Francisco Rodriguez and Daniel Murphy). There is no doubt that Bay can hit; four 30-HR & 100 RBI seasons out of the last five but he can’t lead off, play short and close games. Their starting pitching is a huge question. Mets fans think John Maine’s one 15-win season was the rule and the others where he hasn’t won more than 10 are the anomaly. What can you say, Mets Fans are delusional. They also think their new ballpark, named after a huge corporate crook, is a nice place to see a game. If it’s so great why do they have a doctor on standby for every gate? I’m telling you, something happens to healthy people the second they walk into that place. Jose Reyes, a durable SS played exactly 36 games last year. He showed up here in the middle of Spring Training and proclaimed himself healthy. The New York media ran up to him and proclaimed it a miracle rivaling 1969. My large PR banker and I proceeded to take a wait and see attitude. The final piece of the puzzle was picking up putative steroid abuser Gary Mathews Jr. Watch his production decrease now that he is off the juice.

“Look, they are going to give Reyes a reach around,” he said. “All he does is show up, throw a ball around and they are ready to proclaim him as the second coming. How fucking gullible are New Yorkers?”

He had a point. Sure he looked in great shape, much better than most ball players who show up 30 pounds overweight and play themselves into shape.

“Relax, he will be on the training table soon enough.” I told him.

“Nah, homey’s got a thyroid problem; no training table can fix that.”

“Okay Prophet, whaddya you see for this team in 2010?”

“This year they will be eliminated by the Marlins like ’07 & ’08. Except it’ll be the June 7-9 series at Shitty Field.”

“Should you be making fun of that ballpa…?”

“Shut your mouth!” he interrupted. “My deal says nothing about criticizing them. Those idiots in the Fed didn’t read my contract when they handed me the bailout money. Fuck ‘em.”

“Okay, what about their pitching?”

“Looks about as empty as that tequila bottle from an hour ago. Johan Santana will be all right but the rest of the pitching looks like a scrap heap. I forgot Oliver Perez was still in baseball. I thought he was in a Mexican prison for impersonating a pitcher.”

“Agreed, this team is not going anywhere. Let’s just settle the tab and leave with as little fanfare as possible. The bar manager has been asking for us to pay the $300 tab from last night and your bull shit check bounced.”

“Fuckin’ government issued checks; they ain’t worth shit these days. As your banker I advise you to get the car started and I will meet you out front.”

Skipping out is nothing new for us. We have been doing it so often that I think some places expect it. There’s a bar in Phoenix that even has one of our old bills laminated and our mugs in a place of prominence in case we ever try to go back there.

Braves Camp – March 13-18

I guess I should cover the hometown team, even though the only story here in Disney World is Bobby Cox’s impending retirement. Sportswriters around the country have a pool on when Bobby’s last ejection will be. He has 151 and I think he is good for at least 6 this season. He’s gotta go out with a bang. I have September 12 at Turner Field against the Cards. It is the penultimate Friday night game and sure to have less than a full house.

As for the team, they will be hyped to do well as usual and then fall off in June, as usual. Last year they finished a respectable 86-76 in a tough division. Off season they signed closer Billy Wagner and Troy Glaus to one-year deals and completed a blockbuster trade for Melky Cabrera while giving up Javier Vazquez. Chipper Jones is still at third for 125 games due to a lower extremity injury to be named later. His numbers have been all over the place the past few years. He is two years removed from the batting title and he turned in the wrong direction last year hitting .264and only 18 homers. He is closer to Cooperstown than another World Series. The pitching looks adequate, though not up to the standards of the 1990’s with Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux. Derek Lowe is what he is. He eats up innings and will give them 12-15 wins but last year his ERA jumped 1.3 runs. Second-year man Tommy Hanson impressed last year in a half season but will he hit a sophomore slump? Jair Jurrjens who needs to have a break out year in order for me to think he is for real. He has a decent ERA but only 14 wins last season. With his stuff he should be a 17-20 game winner. Lastly, there is the rookie that everyone is on love with – Jason Heyward. I thought he was the lead singer of the Moody Blues. Will he be the next big star that the Brave faithful have been waiting for? Probably, for now. A few years ago it was Jeff “Frenchy” Francoeur, who now toils in Shitty Field. Bobby may have to play small ball this year as he doesn’t have a solid RBI/power hitter in the starting line-up. Glaus is returning from a chronic back injury and Cabrera is not an offensive threat; the runs are going to have to come from somewhere and catcher Brian McCann can only do so much.

“Yo, bro.” My banker is reading my notes. “I know we live there and we are a bit jaded by all the coverage but this team will go nowhere against the Philies and the Marlins.” Why you painting a rosy picture of them?”

“Rosy? Listen you large Puerto Rican freak! One call from me to INS and you are back in a bar in Old San Juan before your liver knows you are gone. I have been less than complementary of this bunch.”

“You are in love with this team like the Kool-Aid drinkers over at 680 The Fan.”

“Bullshit! Bobby and Chipper deserve praise. How much faith can Frank Wren have in his signings if he only gave them one year? No sir, back to your bottle and let me finish.”

That shut him up. Or maybe it was another ditch attempt that was being planned. The Disney folks are in for a surprise when they see that the room now resembles a scene out of HBO’s “Pacific” rather than a suite.

This escape is going to be problematic because we have to get out of the hotel, the Disney compound and then the state. They could roadblock us at two highways and cut us off. Even though we have plane tickets, heading to the Orlando airport at this stage would be suicide run and the charges are piling up after last night. Roads are always safer; except when we are on them. I figure 64 southwest to 17 north, then through Lakeland until we get back to I-4. Who would really be on the lookout for a deranged sportswriter in an Acapulco shirt and his black Puerto Rican sidekick driving a Chrysler convertible with more liquor, drugs and weapons than most South American Countries?

Cubs Camp – March 25 – March 31

The 2200-mile drive to Cubs camp in Meza was just what we needed. Away from the uptight morals and the old people that is Florida; we traded it in for the loose morals and old people of Mesa, AZ. At least we would blend in here. The booze and pills started to run out but a detour to Juarez took care of that. You’d be surprised how many people Freddy knows in Mexico. You’d also be surprised how many hits of blotter acid you can buy at a fruit stand.

It’s nice being around your own kind in Spring Training – Cubs Fans. No greater people on the face of the earth. We can all commiserate together on the number of times they broke our hearts. Last year, Freddy and I promised not to get too involved until after the All-Star Game. That lasted till the second game when we both had a sinking feeling that the luck that manager Lou Pinella brought with him had finally run out. They were in first place on August 3rd; it was a great feeling that lasted shorter than a haircut at Super-Cuts.

The Cubs were poisoned last year by Milton Bradley. His lazy, complaining ass was shipped to Seattle for Carlos Silva, who showed he was serious about re-starting his career by showing up to camp 40-lbs overweight.

“Dude, if that were the criteria I could pitch,” remarked my banker friend.

He had calmed down a little. I think the fresh air and no humidity had taken something out of him, one night in Mesa should bring him back to his usual self, I just hope the police have a sense of humor and a big enough set of handcuffs.

As we settled in to watch some warm-ups and some games, baseball became a non-issue. The other cities in the Cactus League are up in arms that the State is going to start a $1.00 surcharge on all tickets to Spring Training in order to fund the Cubs new facility and to ensure they don’t move to Florida. Had Glenn Beck been around he would have been spouting some bullshit about it being Socialism. One problem, the Cubs are the highest drawing team at home and the road in the Valley of the Sun. If they leave; the whole tent folds too. You would think the businesses that profit from the Cubs existence would do everything in their power to keep them here.

On the field the Cubs added aforementioned Silva, CF Marlon Byrd and two-time Tommy John surgery recipient Xavier Nady. Silva won the number four slot in the rotation even though he started the year by giving up a boat load to the woeful Padres. Nady saw limited action, mostly as a DH and he failed to impress with his hitting.

I have always had a problem with GM Jim Hendry bringing in guys who aren’t needed especially when we have guys in the minor leagues to fill the role. Case in point is Nady. Apparently, Hendry forgot about Tyler Colvin. All he did in ST was hit .468, and 18 RBI’s to lead the team on both categories. Nady on the other hand hit a robust .176. More proof this is a bad deal? Nady is wearing #22, same number as Mark Prior, who is still feeling arm-soreness. Way to waste $6.5 million of the new owner’s money.

They still have no back-up for 3B Aramis Ramirez. But hey, what are the odds of him getting injured for a fourth straight season?

The bullpen is made up of guys who played in AAA or AA last year. That will come back to hurt them in tight games.

“Look man, they have to win in our lifetime right?” says Freddy.

I couldn’t tell whether he was talking to me or new owner Tom Ricketts who is being very hands on, unlike the previous owners, the Tribune Company, who showed time and again, owning a baseball team, was not in the corporate budget.

“I have been waiting long enough; make it happen cap’n.” he said to Ricketts, or perhaps it was me.

“How many times do we have to go over this? They are cursed, cursed like nothing I have ever seen. There is no other way to explain it.” I told him. “This team or organization or fans, whatever, has a Haitian Voodoo spell on it that Marie Laveau herself couldn’t lift.”

“Don’t torture yourself by reminding me. Don’t forget I was with you for most of the recent ones, including FuckWad.” he said.

(That is our pet name for Steve Bartman, may he burn in hell for all eternity!)

“Do we even waste our time on them this year?” I said.

He replied, “Don’t we always? It’s our nature.”

Predictions

(Ed Note, this portion came over today and was hand written. For some reason Duke waited until past the deadline to submit this).

As a working sportswriter it is my duty to prognosticate the eventual winners in October. I don’t even have my derby picks until I arrive at the track. I don’t understand why my brethren insist on doing this exercise in mental masturbation or why readers insist on us doing it. Look, you have a better chance of being right than I do. So it goes.

NL East – The odds of the Phillies winning the division three years in a row are slim. Not even my usual bookie will give them to me. I don’t think the Braves or Mets have a chance and the Marlins aren’t there yet, plus they could always trade their best player in mid-season, like they do just about every year. Phillies should win the division

NL Central – The division rests solely on a big back – Albert Pujols. If his back is okay, then the Cardinals are sure to repeat. If not, it could be the Cubs year. The Brewers and Reds are too young and shallow to make a real challenge.

NL West – Every writer I know is jumping all over themselves to anoint the Rockies. This is a good division with the Dodgers always in the mix. The Giants picked up LF Mark DeRosa and P Todd Wellemeyer to anchor the rotation that includes Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito. The Rockies rotation doesn’t look good and Jeff Francis is starting on the DL. This division is really a toss-up. I think the Giants will win if Zito can turn it around.

NL Wildcard – It will come from the West, LA Dodgers.

AL East – As much as the Boston fans bellyache there is no stopping the Yankees, again.

AL Central – When was the last time the Twins were not in contention? Probably this year. Losing closer Joe Nathan was huge. Detroit will be pretenders for a while but in the end the White Sox will take full advantage of the Twins injuries and win the division. (That really hurts to write. I think I need an acid bath.)

AL West – What the fuck is going on out West? In both divisions the West is like the Wild West (why did I resort to hackneyed journalism?) The Mariners picked up Milton Bradley, no matter how good the team is, he will kill it. The Rangers are due, the Angles are loaded, again and the A’s aren’t bad. In the end it’s the Angles experience winning out.

AL Wildcard – The Red Sox Nation will have to be happy with the consolation prize, again.

NLDS – Phillies over Dodgers; Giants over Cardinals

NLCS – Giants over Phillies

ALDS – Yankees over White Sox; Angels over Red Sox

ALCS – Angels over Yankees

WS – Giants over Angels in 6

If I am wrong, so what, my bookie is fairly forgiving or I can say I am a Met player, like they would notice another busted up has been.

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