Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 30- Dominican Republic World Baseball Classic

I need to apologize for the speed I’ve been getting these latest New Era Cap posts out; these long Oakland Athletics games and me being on the East Coast have done a number on my sleep schedule. But the bigger issue at work is the fact that I decided to stay an extra week to be with my girlfriend Angie Kinderman (@sconnineangie). With that, I made an egregious error and forgot to bring enough caps. Even after I ordered a few more I’m still a little short of my goal, but at least my parents are doing me a solid and mailing a few out this way so I can stay on top of if. Hooray!!!

So, with needing a new cap to write about, I ventured out to the local Lids about a mile away from Angie’s place hoping to find something I needed. When I walked in I didn’t spot anything I was in any kind of a rush to purchase, especially after the two employees on duty asked me if there was anything I had in mind. Originally I wanted to find either the Sunday-style for the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago White Sox, but I struck out on both accounts. I also thought it was going to be a quick in-and-out operation; however, we were just getting started.

Having worked in retail for well over a decade I’ve always enjoyed getting into a bit of sport-related banter with the customers, just as I also appreciate chatting it up with the employees on duty wherever I go to pick up hats or other gear. B.J., the manager on duty, and I tackled a wide variety of topics for a solid two hours. I had a lot of time to kill as Angie was in her lecture until 4:30 PM and I really didn’t have much going on throughout the day. As it turned out B.J. is an avid collector of Nike shoes. Even bigger than that, he’s a close friend to former St. Louis Rams receiver, and future Hall of Famer Isaac Bruce. I decided to keep my San Francisco 49ers allegiance to myself. As much as I love and know about Major League Baseball, believe it or not, I actually know way more about the NBA between the 1970s and early 2000s. Our discussion brought up a lot of old names and rosters of teams who have long been forgotten by this current generation. The other employee, Aurelio (@IGettFreshh), is B.J.’s nephew; quite the accomplished photographer and Nike fan as well. Needless to say, I’ll definitely be going back there for more hats and chatter in the future.

I haven’t done a very good job of picking up all the World Baseball Classic hats, and since they didn’t have any Minor or Major League hats that I needed, I figured, “why not?” Of all the New Era Caps I’ve seen shuffling through the crowds of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, this Dominican Republic cap has been the one I’ve seen more frequently. Being in southern Florida it really didn’t come as much of a surprise, especially considering how close they are to one another. The same can easily be said about the number of Puerto Rico caps I saw as well for the same reason. The DR cap is one of the few to make an appearance in all three WBCs, and is hands down one of the best looking ones in the bunch.

This last WBC is not only the first time the DR has won the event, but more importantly they became only the second team to win it as the Japanese team took the first two in 2006 and 2009. In the eight games the DR played in the WBC they didn’t lose a single one, including the championship game against Puerto Rico. Robinson Cano was named the WBC MVP after going .469/2/6 with 25 total bases. That’s pretty damn impressive considering the fact that this is the best in the world at play. When coming up with numbers for this hat I did a bit of research through all three rosters from 2006-2013, but only found two names that popped up on all three. With that, I give you my marks…

#4- It’s kind of funny to look at Miguel Tejada’s bio sheet when considering the fact that he was busted for being two years older than he actually was back when he was playing for the Houston Astros. Tejada was once a premier player for a solid ten years from 2000-2009 when he played for the A’s, Astros and Baltimore Orioles. That’s not really to say he’s not good anymore, but you can’t doubt that 10-year stretch when he finished in the Top-25 for the American League and National League MVP vote eight out of 10 times. His best year came with the A’s in 2002 when he went .308/34/131 on the season and took home his one, and only AL MVP award. Other accolades he received in his 16-year career include six All-Star Game appearances and two Silver Slugger awards. What’s most surprising to me is how he didn’t win the AL MVP award in 2004 with the Orioles. That season he hit .311 with 34 home runs and a career/league-high 150 RBI; all of which met or beat his numbers from 2002; however, he only finished in fifth place. Weird.

#7- Jose Reyes saw the bench for most of the 2006 WBC, mostly because the other shortstop they had was hitting better. That guy, Miguel Tejada. Reyes has all the makings of being a Hall of Fame shortstop; mostly from a hitting perspective. Unfortunately for him, his body feels the exact opposite as we found out a few weeks ago when sliding into second base for the Toronto Blue Jays. In the 11 years he’s been in the Majors only nine of them have been truly praiseworthy. No offense to his time in 2012 with the Miami Marlins, but he was clearly the only sign of grace in an otherwise dismal lineup. From 2003 to 2011 Reyes was the man in New York with Mets. Despite only playing in 69 games his first year he still managed to crack the Top-10 for Rookie of the Year for hitting .307 with five home runs and 32 RBI. From 2005-2008 he cracked the Top-30 in the NL MVP vote, his best year coming in seventh place going .300 with 19 home runs, 81 RBI and a league-high 64 stolen bases. From 2005-2007 Reyes would lead the NL in stolen bases and in 2011 he would win his only batting title thus far in his career. He hit .337 in 126 games. Which in my opinion is a little shady based on the amount of games, but even worse because of the fact that he took himself out of the lineup in his last game in order to preserve it. Had Ted Williams still been alive he would have taken issue with it. In 2009 and 2013 Reyes was the starting shortstop for the DR WBC team. He hit .314 with one home run and three RBI for this last WBC as he and his teammates held the trophy after their 3-0 victory of Puerto Rico.

Monday, April 29, 2013

April 29- Arizona Diamondbacks

This post is going to jump around a bit in history, but more when I get down to talking about the marks on my cap. I picked this one up off of Ebay back in October of 2011 along with a few other hats I got on the cheap from a dealer for around $20 apiece including shipping. Needless to say, I had a pretty solid haul that day.

The Arizona Diamondbacks introduced this cap at the start of the 2007 season where it has served as their home and road style cap ever since. In their 16-years history they’re one of a few teams to run through close to a half dozen caps in shut a short period of their existence. Not too bad to nearly average a new cap every other season. New Era Cap collectors like myself are incredibly appreciative of this trend, especially since it allows us to build upon our arsenal in a shorter time frame. One of the most important things to note from this addition is the change in colors. In 1998 I always thought it was kind of interesting how the Diamondbacks expanded into the Majors sharing the same color (purple) as their counterpart the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Even more interesting is how just five years prior the Colorado Rockies also had the color purple as one of their dominant colors. The most important thing to note from this trend is that prior to the Rockies not a single team had worn purple. It’s almost as if the uniform designers/creators thought that this was going to be the new thing. Well, they were wrong. The Diamondbacks adopted more of a desert motif of colors and the Devil Rays dropped the Devil and the color purple in 2001 and 2008 respectively.

The 2007 season was a great year for the Diamondbacks. I would even be as bold to say, from a depth perspective, that it was their second greatest year in franchise history. For those who are as savvy on the Diamondbacks as I am, here’s what I’m talking about. Obviously 2001 was their best year. They went 92-70 on the season and won their first World Series title in seven games against the New York Yankees. Now, there are a few different ways you can go with this. On one hand you can look at the 1999 team led by then manager Buck Showalter who went 100-62, but lost in the National League Division Series against the New York Mets in four games. Next you have the World Series-defending Diamondbacks who went 98-64 under then manager Bob Brenly, but got swept by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS. This leaves the 2007 team who played under then third year manager, and current Oakland Athletics manager, Bob Melvin. Melvin had a rough shake in his first two years; winning 77 and 76 games in 2005 and 2006 respectively. In 2007; however, Melvin and the Diamondbacks were firing on all cylinders. They won the National League Western Division with a 90-72 record and made it passed the Chicago Cubs in the NLDS in three games. Unfortunately they got smoked by the Rockies in four games in the National League Championship Series. The Diamondbacks have been to the NLDS five times in their existence, but only twice have they ever been to the NLCS, going 1-1 in the process. Therefore, even though they may not have had the season record to prove it, I put more value on their depth in the playoffs. Because after all, which means more?

The two numbers I marked this cap up with have personal ties to very important times in my life. I’ve been around baseball for the better part of 27 years, but the moments I had with these two guys are unforgettable.

#14- Back in February of 2012 I was lucky enough to be one of the 30 people selected to be a part of the final audition process for the second season of the MLB Fan Cave. On our first full day there we were each given a packet with our itinerary to let us know how each of the two days were going to go, as well as show us which players we were going to interview at whichever sprint training facility we were assigned to. When I saw everyone else open up their envelopes and read off the names they had been assigned to I only had one name running through my head, which from a marketing standpoint would have made the most sense. However, none of the executives, nor any of the other potential Cave Dwellers knew that this guy is one of my favorite players. As I broke the seal and scanned by pages the only thing that popped out was Ryan Robert’s name. I didn’t show it on the outside, but on the inside I was ecstatic.

Roberts was drafted in the 18th round of the 2003 amateur draft by the Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of Texas. He worked hard through the Minor Leagues and hit with a lot of power in his first few years until finally getting his shot in the Majors on July 30, 2006. He made a few appearance that season, but his most notable moment came on August 3rd when Roberts hit a solo home run in Yankee Stadium for his first career hit and his only hit in the nine games he played in. 2007 started out almost the same, in AAA with the Syracuse Chiefs. By the time the end of April rolled around Roberts got called back up with almost identical results of 2006; eight games with only one hit. At the end of the season the Blue Jays parted ways with Roberts, making him a free agent.

During the offseason the Texas Rangers signed Roberts to a Minor League contract where he played 130 games with the Oklahoma RedHawks. He did quite well, batting .300 with 10 home runs and 66 RBI. Like the Blue Jays, the Rangers liked what they saw and brought him up and he made his Rangers debut on July 29. He made only one appearance that season, a pinch hit strikeout for Milton Bradley. He was sent back down afterward to finish the season out in Oklahoma.

In November of 2008 Roberts was signed to another Minor League contract; this time by the Diamondbacks where he ended up making the 2009 Major League roster out of spring training. For a few games throughout the season Roberts spent some time in AAA with the Reno Aces, but mostly for the sake of getting him some at-bats as he was mostly used for spot starts as a utility guy. That season he posted his best season average to date; .279, along with seven home runs and 25 RBI in 110 games. Even with the successful year he had in 2009 Roberts still found himself playing in AAA to start the season. He would play in only 36 games for the Diamondbacks and 94 for the Aces in 2010. Until this point in time I had only heard bits and pieces about Roberts, and saw him in a few games when the Diamondbacks played the San Francisco Giants. But it was during this season that I heard the story that really opened my eyes to what kind of a person he is.

The story was first reported by Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Roberts and his family had moved to Phoenix where they all thought that he was going to be a regular fixture in the Diamondbacks lineup. They got their own place, all the fixtures and were ready to start their new life. The unfortunately side of reality is that plans are sometimes halted without notice. Roberts was sent back down to Reno at the start of the 2010 season. Since he had all of his money tied in being able to provide for his family, so he did one of the most unselfish acts of his life, he voluntarily became homeless.

After every Aces home game Roberts would lay out on the couch to give off the idea that he was just going to relax for a bit before showering up and heading home. Every night, one-by-one, his coaches and teammates would exit and Roberts would shower up and hang out with the cleaning crew while they worked. After they finished he went back to the couch and slept for the night. Granted, Roberts was in a much better situation than most, but it doesn’t exactly mean it was something that the club would just look over because of his financial situation. When his family came to visit he’s spring for a room, and when the team was on the road he had hotels to crash in. But for every home game Roberts would raid the fridge for snacks, play video games on the clubhouse television and chat it up with the maintenance crew. It wouldn’t be until early September that Roberts was called back for good.

I’ve brought this point up many times before, but I’m not the most conventional sports journalist. I’ve always believed in telling the stories that go beyond the game to learn more about the people who play it, run it and watch it. Getting the opportunity to interview Roberts was my chance to show what kind of range I had as an interviewer, not to mention how to make the guest feel relaxed… or weirded out. I have the interview recorded, so you be the judge: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98rKUFAjzeg

I think it went well, but I also know it could have been better had I not had to wear that Fan Cave shirt. I’m more of a dress shirt kind of guy, believe it or not. Anyway, Roberts’ 2012 campaign with the Diamondbacks had its ups and downs. In 83 games he batted .250 with 6 home runs and 34 RBI. On July 27th he was designated for assignment. Fortunately for Roberts, the Rays were interested. He finished his season out in Tampa, 60 games in which he’d crush six more home runs and bring in 18 more runs. Roberts provided a much needed spark in the offense; however, the Rays fell short of the making the playoffs by five games.

This season Roberts has played in all but six games, getting a fair mix of time at third, first and mostly second base. Two weekends ago my girlfriend Angie Kinderman and I caught the Rays’ series against the Oakland Athletics at Tropicana. He went 4-11 with two RBI, two walks and two runs, on top of some stellar defensive plays to rob the A’s of quite a few hits. At 32-years-old he still looks great. I hope the best for him and his family for years to come. I also wish to thank him again for the time he gave me and for being a great sport with my line of questioning. And lastly, I still want to do an interview with him while we’re both getting tattooed. I had pitched that after our on-screen interview as a possible sketch in the Fan Cave, but alas, it never came to be. Someday perhaps.

#22- This guy and I have a history that goes back to the long summer days of the California League in 1999. I was in my first year as bat boy for the Bakersfield Blaze and he was in his second year win the league with the Modesto Athletics. It should be noted that he played 29 games with the Visalia Oaks in 1998, who were also an advanced-A affiliate of the Athletics at the time. He’s one of the few guys to be selected in three separate drafts; the first time coming in the 38th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1994 June amateur draft, the second time in the fourth round by the Houston Astros in the 1997 amateur draft until finally getting taken in the eighth round by the A’s in the 1998 amateur draft as he opted to attend all four years of his college days at UCLA alongside fellow MLB gamers Garrett Atkins and Troy Glaus.

During the few games when we met and interacted with one another in Bakersfield he always tried to get me in trouble. Nothing major, just minor hazing type things like convincing me to steal his teammate’s pizzas after the games, sticking gum on the top of my hat while he was on-deck and always telling me I had a black widow spider on my back after one time when I actually did. He was one of a few guys from that squad (Jacques Landry, Ryan Ludwick and Marcus Jones) who always took the time to talk to me, joke around and never treated me like some kid. Needless to say, Eric Byrnes was one of the raddest dudes I had ever encountered in my life.

Being an A’s fan I’ll never forget about how awesome he played in the green and gold. He made his debut on August 22, 2000 and only had ten at-bats in the 10 games he played, batting .300 in the process. In 2001 he made appearances in 19 games before getting his big break in 2002 when he played in 90 games with the now historic “Moneyball” team who won 20 straight games on top of their 103-59 record. Byrnes has always been a solid hitter, despite most critics considering him to be a “free swinger.” His biggest accomplishment at the plate, with the A’s, came on June 29, 2003 when he hit for the cycle against the San Francisco Giants at Pac-Bell Park. It is one of the few times that Giants fans have ever given a standing ovation for an opposing player, let alone their Bay Area Rival. The A’s won 5-2 and Byrnes went 5-5 on the day. Despite having a career .270 average, 45 home runs and 164 RBI in the six years he played in Oakland, Byrnes was a regular fixture of highlight reels making body-sacrificing diving catches in the outfield game-after-game. It was rare to see Byrnes without grass stains or dirt on his jersey and his was aptly given the nicknames “crash test dummy” and “Pigpen.”

Despite being a key fixture in the lineup, let alone a fan favorite, Byrnes was traded to the Colorado Rockies after 59 games during the 2005 season. It should be noted that he was hitting .266 with seven home runs and 24 RBI in the six or seven hole. At that time Byrnes was arguably one of the best hitters on the team. To this day I’m still pissed about that move, especially considering the A’s got Joe Kennedy and Joe Witasick in return. What!?!? As if things couldn’t get any weirder, Byrnes lasted 15 games for the Rockies before being traded again to the Baltimore Orioles for Larry Bigbie. Once again, what!?!? The rest of Byrnes’ season was shaky. He hit three more home runs on the season and never got above .192 with the Rockies or Orioles. At the end of the season Byrnes became a free agent.

On December 30, 2005 Byrnes was offered a one-year $2.25 million deal from the Diamondbacks with the promise that he would be a regular fixture in centerfield. Byrnes happily accepted the terms. An optimistic Byrnes continued to make the highlight reel for his stellar defense, but more important, he got his swing back, batting .267 along with a career-high and team-leading 26 home runs and 79 RBI. He also swiped 25 bags and only got caught three times that season. The Diamondbacks were so impressed by his performance that year they signed him on for another year… which eventually led to a three-year $30 million extension in the middle of the 2007 season. What prompted this you might ask? Well… as I mentioned above the 2007 season, in my opinion, is the second best season the Diamondbacks ever had; most of which should be credited to Byrnes.

Throughout his 11-year career Byrnes never received any major awards, nor did he make a single All-Star Game roster; however, in 2007 he was certainly playing in a higher class. He finished in 11th place in voting for the NL MVP that season, batting .286 with eight triples, 21 home runs, a career-high and team-high 83 RBI and 50 stolen bases. Un-be-lie-vable. Unfortunately for Byrnes his last three years in the league would be marred by injury. He only played in 136 games from 2008-2009; his last two years with the Diamondbacks and played in only 15 games with the Seattle Mariners in 2010 before they cut him loose. Shorty after, Byrnes retired from the game.

During the 2006 postseason Byrnes made a few appearances with Fox, ESPN’s Baseball Tonight and The Best Damn Sports Show Period, doing analyst work during the World Series and both League Championship Series. In 2007 Byrnes started doing on-scene work for KNBR in San Francisco which has transitioned into a nightly show as of 2011. Byrnes is also a regular fixture on MLB Network, once again working as an analyst on MLB Tonight. It’s because of these gigs that the two of us were reunited in Arizona for the Fan Cave.

On the first day one of the things I had quickly glanced over on our agenda sheet was a MLB trivia competition that would take place after our elevator pitches at Chase Field, the home of the Diamondbacks. The elevator pitch was basically us going into the post-game media room one-by-one to pitch why we would be a great fit for the Fan Cave. We only had 60 seconds and if we went longer there would literally be someone waiting to crack a gong too let us know. My speech was…

Whether the sun shines brightly or the Oregon rain pours upon my head, it’s baseball season. Baseball season is not the box score I read at breakfast and it’s not about the massive wall of hats I have looking down upon me when I wake every morning, ready to brave the elements as I share my stories and dedication with anyone I meet. Baseball is about the eccentricities, the nuances and the superstitions. It’s about the outlandish uniforms of the 1970s, the mustache gang, the fear the beards, but most of all it’s about the fans who come out in droves to support their local ball club, year-after-year. It’s about pain, sacrifice and doing what you love to succeed.

For the last few weeks I’ve done what I can to spread the word and show how much this game means to me. I worked tirelessly, always wanting to find that next baseball fan who shares my same enthusiasm. For the last two years I’ve dedicated my mind and body to the game that I love. For the last 16 years I’ve dedicated my time and resources to build my education to become the voice for the next generation of baseball fans. And for the past 26 years I’ve given my heart, year-after-year to the game that has given me the happiest and lowest moments of my life.

I don’t deserve a spot in the MLB Fan Cave, I earned it. Thank you.

Granted, that was merely a paraphrase. Either way, it was pretty damn inspiring even hearing it come out of my mouth. And yet, looking back on it, I guarantee that it was the best damn speech they’ve ever heard throughout this competition. I didn’t practice a word of it. It all came from the heart when I walked into that dark room. I didn’t stumble, and I still left two seconds on the clock. Everyone in the room clapped, and from what I could tell, they all had smiles on their faces. I should also point out that I flicked the gong with my finger before I walked out. It was really bothering me.

After everyone finished up we broke for lunch up the executive suite area of the park. Since I didn’t have a smart phone at the time I whipped out my computer and looked for a Wi-Fi signal so I could hit to Twitter and update my Facebook status. Roughly two minutes into firing up my computer the spread was served. Ball park food, of course. I decided to wait a minute so I could take care of business. Almost immediately after I was logged in to all of my accounts Baseball IQ host Matt Vasgersian and Byrnes came walking into the main hallway. I was frozen. I looked around and no one seemed to have noticed. I immediately put my computer away, walked out and greeted both of them. I shook Vasegersian’s hand, but the look on his face read, “who the hell is this clown?” as he looked upon me. With Byrnes, I brought up 1999.

Believe it or not, the blonde kid with the “Make 7-UP Yours" shirt is me, and this is what I pretty much looked like in 1999 and 2000. I don’t blame Byrnes for not recognizing me. Hell, I barely do when I look at this photo, but once I brought up some old stories and players it all started coming back a little bit more. I didn’t press it too much; just wanted to make conversation. But at the same time, I’ll totally admit that I was psyched to see him; he’s always been one of my Top-five favorite A’s players I’ve ever witnessed play.

As we soon found out from him and Vasgersian, the trivia format was going to be team-based and all of our answers would be written down to be revealed to make it fair. I had no beef with this. Our teams were all ready selected, but not told to us until right before the competition started. Somehow everyone either knew or assumed that I was some sort of a trivia master, so naturally everyone wanted me on their team. I’m not exaggerating this either. Everyone asked me to be a member of their team. I just said yes to everyone and moved on; mostly because I was told in advance that the teams were all ready predetermined. I ended up with Toronto Blue Jays representative Dave Barclay (@DaveBarc) and Minnesota Twins fan Lindsay Guentzel (@LindsayGuentzel). Every other team but ours and one other had four members. No matter, we made short work of them.

I don’t normally brag about anything; however, I take a lot of pride in knowledge when it comes to trivia. I’d say about 75% of the answers we got right I knew without help. On a few I needed Barclay’s help, I’ll admit, but not so much with Guentzel. In between rounds I was called upon to see if I knew the answers for any of the question in which our team wasn’t playing, one of which was to name every team that Byrnes played for. With the exception of Byrnes, I was the only one in the room who knew, including a guy who had actually been Baseball IQ; one of two questions where I impressed Byrnes. The second question to do so was to name the player who has one the most home run derbies. I’ll never forget Byrnes saying, “Well, we’re talking about a player who’s not even in their generation.” The team we were playing showed Vladimir Guerrero. I showed Ken Griffey, Jr., the right answer. Like I said, we made short work of the competition. Well, Dave and I did at least.

I wouldn’t see Byrnes again until May when he hit me up one night and asked if he could stop by the Fan Cave to check things out. The answer “no” never crossed my mind. When Byrnes rolled in he brought a bottle of wine and we all kicked it, watching and talking about baseball. It was hands down one of the coolest nights I ever experienced in the Fan Cave, let alone the baseball world. I kept trying to take photos for the Fan Cave Web site but everyone kept popping “The Shark” in the background. As many of you know, this is my little photo call sign, but at that time it was something that I had been photobombing everyone else in the Fan Cave with. So, everyone did it to me. And then eventually we started teaching it to players and so one. I gave Byrnes the scoop and the story behind it and decided to play along.

After he bounced he sent me a tweet to watch MLB Tonight around 7 the next night as he had a surprise for me. The next day was interesting because we were hosting a book release/signing party for one of my favorite writers, Joel Stein. But I’ll get to that part of the story in another post. But, when 7 PM came around we made sure to have MLB Network on a few of the Cave Monster screens. About five minutes in, with all of the editors of Time magazine and most of the executives from Major League Baseball in the house, this happened…

By far one of the most thoughtful things that anyone has ever done for me.

I’ll always hold Byrnes in high regards, and the same goes for Roberts. Both of those guys showed me that what I’ve been trying to accomplish for my entire life is the right path. They pursued their dreams of playing ball, just like I’ve pursued my dreams of being a journalist. I will never forget their kindness and encouragement. Thank you guys.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

April 28- Philadelphia Phillies

I’ve never been that big of a fan of wearing red, so for this post I opted to swallow my pride and suck it up. I should start off first by talking about the shirt I’m wearing. My good friend and former boss at Just Sports (@JustSportsPDX) Jason Cobb (@MrCobbyCobb) was the mastermind behind this gem. As some of you may remember from my Pittsburgh Pirates post from January 2 I was sporting a sweet “Portland” shirt which featured the same typeface as the Pirates. With this shirt Jason did the same thing but with the Philadelphia Phillies typeface from the 1997-2007 season. I’ve run across a lot of sweet baseball shirts in my days, but these two definitely take the “Awesome Shirt of the Day” award. Now, I realize that I totally made that award up back in February; however, as many of you should know by now, I have yet to steer any of you wrong in this category.

As I mentioned above this hat was used from 1997-2007, but it was only used for interleague games which started during the ’97 season. I have never really been that much of a Phillies fan, but I do give them praise from time-to-time, mostly for the sake of Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, Chase Utley and the cast of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Outside of those folk I’ve been an ardent smack-talker of the Phillies. Granted I really have no reason to show any angst against them, especially when considering the fact that I’m a die-hard Oakland Athletics fan; however, there have been some moves on the business end of things which have swayed my attitude in this direction. Almost all of it stems from this 11-year time frame.

At the end of the 1996 season the Phillies finished with an atrocious 67-95 record under then managerial journeyman Jim Fregosi. Fregosi’s best season as a manager came in 1993 when the Phillies won 97 and faced off against the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series, a post I went into great detail on February 11. Hoping to the right the ship, they hired rookie manager Terry Francona. Francona had been a manager in the Minor Leagues for the Chicago White Sox. His biggest bit of notoriety came in 1993 when he led the AA Birmingham Barons to Southern League championship. Very few recall that Francona had won the Southern League Manager of the Year award, not to mention that the team had won the championship, as the biggest story to come from that season was the addition of then-retired Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan playing for the team. Francona also managed in the Dominican Winter Leagues from 1995-1996, winning the league championship and the Serie del Caribe that season with the likes of future MLB stars Manny Ramirez, Miguel Tejada and Tony Batista on the squad. The Phillies liked what they saw out of Francona and brought him aboard.

From 1997-2000 Francona never had a season above 77 wins. His 285-363 record was one of the worst in franchise history. Francona obviously carried on bravely after his four-year stint, winning two World Series rings as the skipper for the Boston Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, but it’s really hard to look past his humble beginnings. In 2001 the Phillies looked internally for their next skipper, former 1980 World Series champion and shortstop Larry Bowa. Bowa, from my perspective at least, was the catalyst the team needed. From 2001-2003 Bowa went 252-234, finishing second or third in the National League Eastern Division. In 2004 Bowa was fired with two games left in the season, despite the fact that the team finished in second place again with an 85-75 record. Interim manager Gary Varsho went 1-1. Only in Philly can a manager maintain a winning record and get canned. While the move did prove to be successful after hiring Charlie Manuel in 2005, I still don’t particularly agree with it. With the talent coming up through the ranks that Manuel was served Bowa could have easily led the team to their 2008 World Series season as well, if not more.

Now, since this hat was only used for interleague games I decided to keep with the theme. It wasn’t easy, but I was able to pull some numbers which focused primarily through this 11 year range. After combing through the stats for every season, there was one guy who stood out among the pack. And no, it is not Gregg Jefferies, unfortunately.

.318/22/89- Originally a free agent signing by the Houston Astros back in 1990 out of Venezuela, Bobby Abreu was once the toast of Philadelphia or at least from what I saw. From 1998 through the middle of the 2006 season Abreu donned #53 for the Phillies and was one of the most potent pieces to the team’s lineup. In the nine years he played for the Phillies he finished in the Top-27 for the NL MVP five times, the highest of which came in his final full year when he finished 14th after going .286/24/102, which oddly turned out to be one of the worst years of his career from a batting average perspective. As most people fail to remember Abreu hit .303 while he was in Philly, not to mention the 21 home runs and 90 RBI he averaged per season during those years as well.

What’s even more remarkable was what he was able to accomplish during the 13-18 interleague games per season. It certainly took me a while, but I was remarkably able to pull all of his stats from each of these games and find a career interleague stat total. In only three of the nine years he was with the Phillies Abreu hit below .300, barely. His career interleague average (with the Phillies) is an astonishing .318. On top of that he was able to club 22 of his 195 Phillies home runs during this frame along with 89 of his 814 RBI. Abreu also swiped 32 bags, only getting caught four times. He also walked 113 times and compiled an OPS of .948 during this stretch. Now, the regular season is 162 games long. Abreu played in 148 interleague games during his time with the Phillies. Basically what he was able to accomplish over a handful of games over a nine-year period is the equivalent of what everyone in MLB, let alone in the National Baseball Hall of Fame strive to even come close to hitting for one season of their career. What’s even more frightening is that he’s not even in the Top-10 for best interleague average. The top spot for that goes to Baltimore Oriole Nick Markakis with a .353 average. Abreu only cracked the Top-10 in one interleague category; hits with 275, which is only the fifth best of all-time.

Any way you look it, whether he hit the top spots or not, Abreu came to play every single day. He only won one Silver Slugger award in 2004, made only one All-Star Game appearance the same year and only won one Gold Glove award in 2005, his final full season with the Phillies. He was steadily pushing a possible Hall of Fame bid through 2010, but found himself seeing less time in the field which translated to fewer at-bats. He has 2437 hits for his career in only 17 years of playing. At 39-years-old he probably could have pushed an extra three years out if someone wanted him, but for now he remains a free agent.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

April 27- Cleveland Indians

Whether you’d like to admit it or not, the Cleveland Indians were once a pretty stellar baseball team. In 2007 then manager Eric Wedge, who now manages the Seattle Mariners, led the Indians to an impressive 96-66 record in his fifth year at the helm. The season unfortunately ended a game way from the World Series despite the fact that the Indians had taken down the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series three games to one, as well as jumping out the same lead against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. I’ve never been too much of an Indians supporter, but I was certainly on the bandwagon during their series against the Red Sox, much to the chagrin of my mother. But alas, the Sox came back and won the series in seven games. For the first time since the mid-to-late 1990s the Indians’ fortune seemed to be on the right track. Outfielder Grady Sizemore fueled the Indians offense and took home a Gold Glove at centerfield while CC Sabathia won the AL Cy Young award becoming the second pitcher in franchise history to do so. Needless to say, spirits in Cleveland were running high as the 2008 season approached.

Since 2003 the Indians have been slowly phasing out the classic smiling Chief Wahoo, first by shrinking its size on the front of their caps and then by bringing back a classic emblem from their early days (1915-1920). Originally brought in as an alternate logo, the navy blue hat with a red “C” took over as the team’s official road cap in 2011, much in the same way the all-red cap with navy blue “C” logo became the team’s official home cap in the same season, but that post will come in the future. While I realize that Native American tribes in the surrounding Cleveland area have protested the Wahoo logo for decades, it’s still a bit weird to not see its presence within the game anymore. But then again, it’s rhetoric like that which reminds me of an old episode of “South Park” when Stan Marsh’s uncle Jimbo protested the changing of the town’s flag, a black man being lynched by white people, on the grounds that one cannot change a logo because it’s a part of history. If I recall correctly, Jimbo used the Indians as an example. Now, I’m all for change, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult to not see Chief Wahoo anymore. I suppose it’s a good thing I have it tattooed to my torso as a constant reminder.

I’ve gotten a little off topic, so let’s bring it back. The 2008 Indians were heavy favorites to repeat as the AL Central champs. Sabathia, Paul Byrd and Roberto Hernandez all won at least 15 games in 2007 and the tam batting average was pushing .272. However, like the Toronto Blue Jays after winning back-to-back World Series, the Indians made a change to their uniform at a poor time. Much like gambling, never change your bet on a hot streak. The Indians finished in their place in the Central and have yet to make the postseason again since 2007. On top of that, the three top pitching performers in 2007 (Byrd, Hernandez and Sabathia) all failed to win more than eight games each. The Indians finished the season with an 81-81 record, seven-and-a-half games behind the Chicago White Sox. What very few realized at the time is that the dark years were upon the Indians.

I don’t want to dabble too much on what happened in the years following the 2008 season; I have plenty of time throughout the season to touch on it with additional posts and hats. So with that, I’ve decided to pay tribute to the brighter side of the 2008 season, which in turn also shows where everything started to go wrong. Sorry. My marks are ones that I feel Indians fans will completely agree with.

#24- It’s really hard to see how far Grady Sizemore has fallen. With the steady grocery list of injuries he’s sustained over the last few years, it’s hard to believe that 2008 was the last year in which he was a staple of the lineup, taking the field in a team-high 157 games that season. Sizemore was a product of the now “defunct in name” Montreal Expos as a 2000 third round draft pick out of Cascade High School in Everett, Washington. Sizemore was originally going to go to college; however, the Expos lured him away with a $2 million signing bonus. Sizemore never saw a second of playing time with the Expos in the Majors as he was traded away… along with Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens to the Indians of June 27, 2002 in exchange for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew; hands down one of the most lopsided trades in MLB history. It didn’t take Sizemore very long to move through the ranks of the Minor Leagues. The kid personified the term five-tool player and he made his MLB debut on September 22, 2004.

In 2004 Sizemore exceeded the amount of at-bats to qualify him as a rookie in 2005, but that really didn’t matter as he went .289/22/81 which gave him the 23rd-most voted for the AL MVP. Over the next three years Sizemore didn’t disappoint. He made the All-Star team every year, not to mention the fact that he finished 12th or better for the AL MVP vote in all three years. He also took home back-to-back Gold Gloves in 2007 and 2008. In 2008 he hit a career-high 33 home runs and career-high 90 RBI, which are made even more impressive with the fact that he was the team’s leadoff hitter that season. Minus the stolen bases, he had the makings of being the next Rickey Henderson from an at-bat perspective; a solid-hitting outfielder in the Majors, but knee injury after knee injury and then back surgery have kept him from taking the field since after the All-Star break in 2009. In 2010 and 2011 he played in a combined 104 games. His batting averaged suffered tremendously, and despite signing a $5 million extension in 2012, he never saw a second of playing time thanks to his back surgery and microfracture surgery on his right knee. As of now he remains a free agent, vowing not to sign with a team until he is back in full-game shape. Who knows when this will be? It’s truly a damn shame.

#31- Cliff Lee went through a series of jersey numbers from 2002-2004 (65, 34) before landing on #31 for the 2005-2009 seasons. As I mentioned above, he was originally a draft pick of the Expos. In fact, he was taken in the same draft as Sizemore, but in the fourth round. Like Sizemore, he never saw a second of playing time with the Expos; however, he did make the jump to the Majors in the same year the trade went down, 2002. A September call-up, he made two starts for the Indians that year going 0-1 with a 1.74 ERA and six strikeouts. 2003 didn’t fair too well for him, but 2004 and 2005 did. He went 14-8 with a 5.43 ERA and 161 strikeouts in ’04, giving him a fourth place finish for the AL Cy Young that season; however, even though he pitched better in ’05, he didn’t receive the same accolades. In fact, with his 18-5 record, 3.79 ERA and 143 strikeouts, he didn’t receive a single vote for the award. I’m still trying to figure that one out. Things kept at a pretty average rate for Lee, until he posted less-than-average marks in 2007 while everyone else in the rotation was dominating. Something needed to change. And it certainly did in 2008.

As I mentioned above, none of the “big three” were able to win more than eight games; however, Lee was able to score a league-high 22 wins along with 170 strikeouts and a league-best 2.54 ERA. He won the AL Cy Young that season without question, and even got his first All-Star Game nod as well. Even when you take his performance with the Philadelphia Phillies the following year, which led to a World Series ring, his performance in 2008 stands as his best achievement, especially considering that he only had three losses on the year to give him a win percentage of 88%, the best for a pitcher since Randy Johnson (Mariners) and Greg Maddux (Atlanta Braves) both posted 90% in 1995.

I realize there’s nothing substantial to prove that a change in uniform can make a difference in the outcome of a team’s future, but then again, there isn’t exactly anything to disprove my theory either. Baseball is a game of superstition, and outside of Turk Wendell, you won’t find my guys more superstitious than me. As much as I like the “C” logo caps, I hate what they’ve done to the franchise. Long live Jobu!

Friday, April 26, 2013

April 26- Chicago Cubs

It had been a little over a year since I last saw Edwin Jackson; April 10, 2012 to be exact. We had met during his visit to the MLB Fan Cave along with Ross Detwiler and Gio Gonzalez as a member of the Washington Nationals. For a full recap on that day’s events I highly suggest reading my posts from April 17 and March 13. From first introduction I learned quickly that Edwin and I are a lot alike; big kids in grown-up bodies. I had the privilege of giving the three a grand tour of the Fan Cave as I was all decked out in Nationals gear. The first stop we made was the RC-car track which Gio and Edwin tore up for a solid five minutes. We then moved on to the skee-ball machine and pool table before ending the tour in front of the stage which had guitars and a drum set affixed. I could see in Edwin’s eyes that he wanted to jump up on stage and knock some beats out as the production guys tried to go over the script with him and Gio. After the two shot their introduction scenes Edwin broke loose and jumped up on stage with sticks in hand.

He crushed it. Honestly, I never wanted anything more in that moment than to know how to play the guitar so I could jam on stage with him; however, Ricardo Marquez did know how. I walked over to him and casually asked him if he was going to play. He told me he wanted to, but was too afraid to. At which I then told him, “If I could play, I would. Now get your fucking ass up on the stage.” This was a common occurrence between the two of us in that I had to motivate him to do certain things from time-to-time. What can I say? I know when people have potential and don’t like to see them piss it away due to fear. Fear gets you nowhere in life. Anyway, Ricardo finally got up on stage, picked up a guitar and rocked out with Edwin. There was another little thing that Ricardo had set up for fellow Cave Dweller, and Atlanta Braves fan, Shaun Kippins (@Skippins) in which anytime anyone said “Skips on the dance floor” he would have to do the robot dance like the random character did on “The Chappelle Show.” This: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7oXgjQnPfec

So, sure enough, Skips got involved as well and I just sat back and took photos. It was random, off the cuff stuff like this that I felt made the Fan Cave an enjoyable place, but not everyone shared my vision.

I knew Edwin had a Twitter account and have been following him since that day, but I hardly ever saw him on. I wouldn’t be until the end of December that we would talk to one another again, and I have Gio Gonzalez’s Instagram account to thank for that. Gio had started his Instagram account somewhere between October and November and so I figured why not follow him. What I wasn’t expecting was a follow immediately back. I posted a few photos that I took of him from my time on the road and one of him and Edwin playing with the RC-car track. Not too long after that Edwin’s user name popped up and he started following me as well. The only just thing to do after that was follow him back and post the photo I had of him on the drums. Our dialogue rekindled from that moment.

It was the offseason , and the last thing I wanted to talk about was baseball. We caught up as best we could, mostly through the photos we were taking and posting. When Edwin got signed to a multi-year contract with the Chicago Cubs over the winter I congratulated him, but nothing really more than that. Most compliments I prefer to give in person so they mean more, but sometimes you have to make due with what you have in front of you.

My girlfriend, Angie Kinderman (@sconnieangie) and I had been for me to get back see her in Florida since February, the time when she came to visit me in Eugene, Oregon. One of the things we wanted to do together was catch as many baseball games as possible. We all ready had our trip to Tampa set up to watch my Oakland Athletics play, but we didn’t have anything in Miami ready to go. I checked out the schedules and saw that the Nationals were playing the final game of their series with the Miami Marlins on the day that I was flying in. After looking a bit closer I then noticed that the Cubs were playing two games against the Marlins on the nights leading up to my original departure date back to Oregon. At the time I didn’t know who would be pitching, but I figured that if we got to any of the games early enough we could catch Edwin during batting practice. What I wasn’t expecting was that Edwin was slated to start on the night that Angie and I had tickets for the Florida Panthers final home game of the NHL season against my favorite team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. I had never been to a NHL game in my life so we opted for that. Edwin went on to have a decent outing in which the Cubs won 4-3. I felt a little bad for not being there, but at the same time I have seen Edwin pitch in the past. Angie and I, along with 10 of her friends, had tickets to last night’s game, so the two of us went to Marlins Park early to try and spot Edwin during BP as originally planned. It too a little while for him to come out, but I spotted him going out to left field during the last 15 minutes of their session. Angie suggested that we go over to the section of the park to try and see him, so we did. I made sure to wait until everything was done, but within five minutes I broke two cardinal sins in my own personal ballpark etiquette.

1. I never yell at players.

I’ve touched on this issue a few times in past posts, but I’m one of those few people that goes to games to watch the game. I’ll take a few pictures of the action and my friends, but I rarely ever engage with the players unless they initiate it. A few days prior I had hit Edwin up and let him know I was going to be there, but I still felt incredibly weird when I shouted his name as things were wrapping up. But sure enough, he spotted me and came jogging over for a handshake and a hug. Not to be a complete jerk I made sure to introduce him to Angie before we caught up. We mostly talked about beard growth and how the last year has treated us, but he was all smiles, as was I.

2. I never ask players for photos.

What’s most interesting about meeting in the Fan Cave is that we never took a group shot when the Nationals came to visit. I always thought this was weird and asked him if he wouldn’t mind a photo. As the words left my mouth I was cursing myself on the inside for breaking this rule; even more so when I popped “The Shark,” with the wrong hand and failed to turn my cap around so that you can clearly see that I’m wearing a Cubs hat. I suppose I’m being too hard on myself, and he would tell me to not worry about it. I think that is one of the biggest things I respect about the guy; he gets it. When we met in the Fan Cave, he had fun. When we saw each other on the field, he had fun. And anytime we’ve chatted he genuinely means what he says; something I truly respect, as do a lot of other fans and players throughout the league.

I bought this hat a few days before I left Oregon for Florida and had it delivered to Angie’s house so I would have it for the game. It’s one that I’ve been holding off on buying for the last year or so as it is one of the few Cubs hats I didn’t all ready won. In fact, very few people outside of the Cubs fan base know it exists. The Cubbies only wore it for one season in 1957. There isn’t much of a difference between it and the classic Cubs hat the team has worn for decades, except of course for the white piping going up-and-down the panel seams. The fact that the team only used it for the one season kept things a bit limited as far as what I could write about, but I’m pretty sure you’ll all agree with where I went with it.

#14-’57: Ernie “Mr. Cub” Banks signed with Chicago as a free agent back in 1953 and made his Major League debut that same season on September 10 for the last 10 games of the regular season. For 19 years Banks donned the Cubbie pinstripes and went down in history as one of the greatest-hitting shortstops in MLB history hitting .274.512/1636 for his career. What very few people remember is that he only played shortstop from 1953-1961 and played first base predominantly throughout the rest of his career which ended at the end of the 1971 season. 1954 was his first full season which saw the budding prospect finishing the season number two on the National League Rookie of the Year campaign after going .275/19/79 on the year. St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Wally Moon took home the award that season; a season which also found Hank Aaron finishing in fourth place on the list. In ’54 Banks also finished in 16th place for the NL MVP award, the first four consecutive years in which he would be a nominee: third in 1955, 28th in 1956 and sixth in 1957. It’s kind of funny when you look at Banks’ numbers in comparison to his finish for the NL MVP as he more-than-likely should have won in 1955 after hitting 44 home runs and 114 RBI on the year; however, Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Famers Roy Campanella and Duke Snyder felt the exact opposite as they finished one-two respectively.

1957 was an especially bad year for the Cubs as the team went 62-92 on the year under then skipper Bob Scheffing, a reign of losing seasons the team would see under the manager from 1956-1959. The only other notable player on the team that season was first baseman Dale Long, whose only claim to fame was during his years with the Pittsburgh Pirates when he became the first player in MLB history to hit a home run in eight consecutive games in 1956. For Banks, even though he had four solid full seasons under his belt, including ’57, this would be his final season finishing as a runner-up.

In 1958 and 1959 Banks became the first ever shortstop to win the NL MVP in back-to-back seasons, let alone the fifth person in MLB history (first in the NL), to pull of the feat. In ’58 he went .313/47/129 and in ’59 he went .304/45/143; he led the league in games played and RBI those two seasons. In 1960 Banks would win his one, and only Gold Glove award for his career and be named to 11 All-Star games throughout his career. Like any player who got played with the Cubs after 1908, he never won a World Series ring, as he stayed loyal to Chicago was never moved, nor did he sign with anyone else. He was elected to the National Baseball in 1977 and is one of six players to have their jersey retired by the Cubs.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

April 25- Texas Rangers

If there’s one person I haven’t given enough praise to for the 2012 Major League Baseball season, and especially for my time in the MLB Fan Cave, it’s my friend Taylor Smith (@Tayloraksmith). Taylor was born in Louisiana, but spent the vast majority of his life in Portland, Oregon. For as long as I’ve known him he’s been one of the few Texas Rangers fans who can dish a great deal of banter. We first met at Max’s Tavern, the bar that another mutual friend of ours, Matthew Alpert, and I both worked at. I had just gotten off of my shift, 4 PM- 9 PM, and was standing on the patio watching the day’s baseball highlights while smoking a cigarette and enjoying a tall, cold glass of Pabst Blue Ribbon to unwind. Matt and Taylor both walked in through the back entrance and Matt introduced the two of us. What I didn’t now at the time is that all three of us were enrolled in the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, so we always had plenty to talk about outside of jokes, music and baseball. Off-and-on we’d spot each other in the hallways; however, all three of us had a different of focus of journalism: Matt was in video production, Taylor in advertising and I was enrolled in news/editorial and magazine writing. With our powers combined we would have made for a pretty badass team.

For only one day in the three years that we’ve known each other can I recall Taylor not wearing a Rangers cap. That day, our graduation day in 2011…

Taylor is in the sunglasses and Matt is the shorter cat with some decent beard growth. At the time I had finished up two of my degrees, one in English and the other in journalism, but my life got a little sidetracked in 2012 when I moved to New York City to be in the Fan Cave and had to put degree number three on hold for a bit.

Most of his Rangers loyalty came to fruition during the 2010 World Series against the San Francisco Giants. He was able to score tickets to Game 2 at AT&T Park, but regretted every second of it when I saw him in Eugene the next day after the Rangers suffered a 9-0 loss at the hands of the Giants. Based on my Oakland Athletics loyalty, it was a hard one to swallow for the both of us.

After graduation Taylor had gotten on with an advertising firm on the East Coast. Despite seeing photos on a regular basis on Facebook, I had totally forgotten that Taylor was living in New York, literally at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge on the Manhattan side. When I got the call to move to New York for the Fan Cave this important little detail didn’t creep back into my head until a few weeks into our experience. In fact, it was Taylor that reached out to me. During one of the few days in which we had after noon games one of the security guards, Robert, yelled at me from across the room to let me know I had a visitor. I remember just looking back at him, lifting my arms up and saying, “Me?” I didn’t know anyone in New York, let alone get a tip from anyone that they would be coming to town. As I got up out of the couch I lurched about three steps and say the bright red Rangers hat I had been so accustomed to seeing at Max’s Tavern staring right back at me. With a wide grin on my face I opened the door, gave him a hug and invited him inside to give him the grand tour and introduce him to everybody.

As it turned out, Taylor and I only lived about a mile away from one another, so we did our best to meet up two to three times a week for a beer or even for him to just stop by the Fan Cave in the evening to catch a few games with us. It was great to have a familiar face from home around when he could, but since he was busy himself his visits became less frequent as the weeks rolled by. What I later found out toward the end of May was that Taylor’s contract with the advertising firm had expired and he was in a bit of a haste to look for a new gig otherwise he’d have to move back home to Oregon. This bit of news he told me over drinks one night at a regular bar we visited, but he did his best to keep a smile on his face.

Finally, on May 29, 2012 everything came to an end. I was given the axe by the Fan Cave and he had booked his plane ticket home. Neither of us, at the time, knew about each other’s news. It would be five days before we were able to see each other again, and the circumstances behind it were accidental. A few days after I had my last day in the Fan Cave I took in a game at Yankee Stadium as the New York Yankees were hosting the Tampa Bay Rays. This was during the period of time when I had also been kicked out of the apartment and moved to a hotel about a half-mile away, so he and everyone else still associated with the Fan Cave had no idea where I was staying. The game that night was a gift from David Price who had hooked me up with tickets on account of the bad news I had received, a pretty sweet gesture if you ask me. Price wasn’t pitching that night and the Yankees won 7-0 to tie the Rays for the lead in the American League Eastern Division. After the game I took the subway back to around the Fan Cave so I could walk by to see if anyone was still there. They weren’t. Instead, I was greeted by another one of the security guards and we chatted for a good hour about everything that had gone down. After we said our goodbyes I headed back toward the Blue Haven, the bar we frequented, for a night cap before heading back to the hotel. As I walked in I was greeted by Ricardo Marquez, Ashley Chavez and Taylor. Most people would normally be happy to see their friends; however, in this case I was confused to see my friend with the people that I worked with. As I came to found out Taylor had stopped by the Fan Cave to see me, they let him in and for a solid 15 minutes no one told him where I was. I don’t remember who he said finally cracked, but dear lord! 15 minutes? I wasn’t upset with Taylor in the slightest. After all, how could he know? As for everyone else, that was the first day I realized that I didn’t have any friends in the Fan Cave, merely acquaintances.

Taylor and I only got to see each other one more time after that which came on my second to last night in New York. The timeframe on my hotel had expired and I was left with not having anywhere to go. I ran through a few numbers at first, but no one had the room or the availability to let me crash. All of my stuff was at one of the apartments until my final day, so I was good on that. Without anyone else to turn to, I hit up Taylor and he happily took me in. It was late and all of his roommates had gone to bed. Always being the good host he let me sleep in his bed while he took the couch despite all of pleading I did to just let me take the couch. Before we went to bed we went up on his roof with a couple of beers and swapped stories on what exactly happened to us as he and I were slated to head back to Oregon on the same day. I t was one of the few perfect night I had in New York. Both of us knew what was going to happen next, but neither of us cared in that moment. We drank our beers, smoked a few cigarettes, talk and just stared into the night sky as the lights of the Brooklyn Bridge shone down upon us.

Taylor and I continued to text back and forth to one another, but we weren’t able to see each other again until July. I had busied myself with my baseball road trip and he found a temporary gig with a firm in San Francisco. On Wednesday, July 18th he had a short day at the office, which worked out swimmingly considering that was the day I was throwing out first pitch for the A’s. I had hit him up a few days prior to let him know and he told me he would do his best to get there. I made sure to leave a ticket for him at Will Call and all I could do was hope that he would show up. The events went off without a hitch, with the exception of my pitch going a little bit outside. As Josh Reddick, the other participant and I walked back toward the dugout I heard someone yelling my name from a distance. As I looked up, I saw a familiar face. This guy.

Both of my parents, as well as my best friend Laurin Mitchel had come to town, as well as my friends Tim and Stephanie from San Francisco, so I made sure to introduce him to everyone. For the majority of the game he hung out with my mom, Laurin and me and we swapped stories from our time hanging out in New York. The game itself was close throughout. Taylor’s Rangers had built themselves a lead against the A’s, but the A’s chipped away it and tied it up going into the ninth inning. With no runners on manager Bib Melvin elected to pinch hit Brandon Hicks in the leadoff spot. What no one expected, including Hicks, is that one pinch hit would lead to his first career home run as well as yet another walk-off win for the A’s. I was pumped. Taylor, not so much.

After the game we all met up in the parking lot for photos and to say our goodbyes. We’ve talked a few times since that day, but we haven’t seen each other since. Taylor got himself a new job in New York not too long afterward, so it’s been a bit tough. He’s doing pretty well. I can only hope to visit him again in the near future.

My timing was a bit off in regard to the Rangers hats I’ve chosen to rite about thus far. My piece I did on Alex Rodriguez is fine, it’s this one and the one I did on January 6 that are causing problems right now. This cap, the all blue with a white “T” and red outline was first introduced as the Rangers’ road cap during the 2000 season. From 2001-2010 it served as the home cap. Since 2011 it has taken over as the team’s game style, while the red cap from January 6 has served as the alternate cap. The reason this causes issue is because I kind of blew it when I decided to mark up the red cap. If you go back and look, I wrote all about Michael Young’s career stats; however, Young hardly ever played under that cap. One guy in particular that I was left to mark up this cap with did, for many years as that. All three of the numbers I threw on this cap serve a particular meaning to the 2012 season. One of the other funny things about this post is that I really should have used it to write about the team’s all-red game cap as that was the one Taylor primarily wore throughout the time we’ve known one another. So, without further ado, watch me try to bail myself out of this little mess I put myself in.

#5- Ian Kinsler was drafted in the 17th round of the 2003 amateur draft by the Texas Rangers out of Arizona State University (Go Ducks!!!). On April 3, 2006 he made his Major League debut as the Opening Day starting second baseman where he continues to hold reign to this day. That season he only played in 120 games and finished a respectable seventh place in the Rookie of the Year vote after going .286/14/55 on the year. If you don’t remember, Justin Verlander won it that year with little-to-no problem. In 2008, 2010 and 2012 Kinsler has been named to the AL All-Star team and in 2008, 2009 and 2011 he finished in the Top-26 in the AL MVP vote each of those three years. A perennial power-hitting second baseman, Kinsler has a .272 career average, 148 home runs, 480 RBI and surpassed 1000 hits for his career a few games into the 2013 season. My connection with him takes place in Boston on Tuesday, August 7th.

I had been staying with my friend Dave Kaufman (@TheKaufmanShow) up in Montreal, Quebec, Canada for a few weeks. Along with two members of the Canadian rock group, The Arkells, we packed up Dave’s car and made the long journey down to Boston for that night’s Boston Red Sox game against the Texas Rangers. Another friend of mine, Neil Beschle, met up with us outside of Fenway Park, as he would be who I was staying with for the next week of my trip. I’ll get to a much more detailed version of the game in October, but all that matters now is that the Rangers won 6-3. Dave and company were crashing the night in Boston, but Neil and I were going to head back to his place in Worchester (pronounced Woostah) that night. Not wanting to leave it on a weird note we all elected to go out for one more beer before moving on. One beer of course meant two pitchers between the five of us, as none of us really wanted to hit the road quite yet. Dave had been to a great bar near Fenway a few years prior and elected that we go there. None of us took issue with that. Apparently the place Dave had been thinking of originally only fit about 150 inside; however, the place expanded into three stories, but we still got our drinks there. The A’s were playing the Los Angeles Angels that night and as long as I had a television on I was in good shape. About 20 minutes into our time there a group of Rangers fans walked into the bar, and quite amused at that. I wasn’t in a bickering mood so I kept to the game I was watching, only moving my head whenever I noticed a large rat scuttle across the floor. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Dave motioning to me so I got off of my chair and walked over to listen to what he had to say. “Isn’t that Ian Kinsler?” he said. I slowly turned my head and made sure to look past the area he motioned to. “Yup,” he retorted. From this point forward I decided to stand, mostly because I was curious to see how this was going to pan out. Kinsler was drinking out of a water bottle and conversing with the group of Rangers fans. I had gone back to watching the A’s game when I overheard a few of them talking about my beard. Nothing bad about it, just talking about it. With that, I knew I had my in. I could tell by his body language that he was ready to bounce, so as soon as one of the members of the group moved out of the picture, I swooped in.

“Hey,” I said. “Do you mind if I snap a photo with you?” This whole exchange was made better by the outfit I was wearing, all Red Sox gear. “Only because you have an awesome beard I’ll say yes,” said Kinsler. With everything in motion I handed my phone off to Neil, lifted up my shirt a little bit and took the photo. Now, the reason I lifted my shirt was to show off the Rangers tattoo I have. Nothing else weird. Upon doing so; however, Kinsler looked down after the photo was taken and said, “Wait a minute, I remember you from Oakland!” He had spotted me showing off my tattoos prior to throwing out first pitch and we ended up chatting for a bit longer while all of his friends got photos of me. Really sweet guy.

#7- This is the guy where I totally blew it and should have reserved the all-red cap for him. Ivan Rodriguez was signed as a free agent out of Lind Padron Rivera High School in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico in 1988. On June 20, 1991 Rodriguez got called up to the Majors where he made him MLB debut and played almost everyday from then until the end of the 2002 season. As for the hat; Rodriguez did wear this cap for three seasons; however, the Rangers wore the all-red cap from 1994-2000 which just so happened to be his best years with the club. That’s my dilemma. Moving on… In 1991 Rodriguez finished in fourth place for the ALL Rookie of the Year award, losing to Chuck Knoblauch. Until 2002, that would be the only year in which he wouldn’t win a single piece of hardware.

Rodriguez made the All-Star team every season from 1992-2001, not to mention every Gold Glove during that time frame too. In 1997 he finished in 16th place for the AL MVP, in 1996 and 1998 he finished in 10th place; however, 1999 would be the one year in which he would take home the prestigious award after batting .332 with 35 home runs and 113 RBI. The other thing to take into account is that he led the league in caught stealing percentage (as in him throwing out batters) every year from 1996-2001. After 21 seasons he finally called it quits officially in 2012; however, his final game was on September 28, 2011.

My connection to him came on the day in which he made his announcement to retire, April 21. I was asked to write a Top-five list on the greatest catchers of all-time, something I found to be quite arbitrary considering that and opinionated piece like that was only going to lead to trouble and argument. I’ve always preferred to analyze my articles more deeply, to educate thus negating any mean for argument. For something like this, people were going to argue no matter what. I, as anyone writing the same list should have, put Rodriguez on the list at number 3. Besides being a great backstop, Rodriguez has the most hits all-time for a catcher (2844), not to mention 311 home runs, 1332 RBI and a .296 average. In a nutshell, with one MVP and one World Series ring to boot, he’ll be a first ballot Hall of Famer. You could also contest that he is the greatest catcher of all-time, but I think Yogi Berra will have something to say about that.

#17- Nelson Cruz was originally signed to the New York Mets as a free agent in 1998, but didn’t make his MLB debut until September 17, 2005 with the Milwaukee Brewers. Now, it sounds weird, but it’s not. The Mets kept Cruz playing in the Dominican Republic for three years until trading him to the A’s in 2000. Cruz played in the Minor League system for the A’s until 2004 when they traded him to the Brewers for Justin Lehr and Keith Ginter. In 2006 the Rangers traded Laynce Nix, Kevin Mench, Francisco Cordero and Julian Cordero for Cruz and Carlos Lee.

Throughout his career Cruz has only made one All-Star game appearance (2009), but he has been to two World Series. The most iconic of which was the 2011 Series against the St. Louis Cardinals in which Cruz misplayed a shot from David Freeze, which could have ended the game, but turned into a two-run triple. The Cards were then able to win the game with a Freese home run in extra innings, forcing a decisive Game seven which they won. Blah! Not being one to just let things go away, I did one of the “jerkiest” things I’ve ever done; made a hashtag out of it.

My connection to Cruz came on the first game of the 2012 season for the Rangers when Cruz once again misplayed a ball which allowed for extra bases by the batter. As a result of the Game six of the World Series, and now this moment, I came up with #NellyCruzed while I was in the Fan Cave. It has started as a subtle jab, but I then let it loose up other suspecting players who were guilty of the same defensive misread on the ball. The importance of this hashtag is that it gave a name to something that should have been marked as an error but is actually called a base hit despite it being a defensive mistake. It caught on so much that other Twitter users started using it, and then commentators started using it, and then MLB Network analysts started using it until the point where an actual stat was created (defensive misread), but not actually used… yet. Who could have ever imagined that something so stupid could spiral into something so big? Actually… I could, as it was merely one of many things I created which are still being used well into the 2013 season. All things which I don’t collect a single cent for at that.

I feel a little bad for Cruz, mostly because he's such a pleasant person. He’s a solid hitter, I’ll give him that, but he’s a pretty fragile dude for as big as he is. He’s off to a stellar 2013 thus far, hitting .300 with five home runs and 17 RBI. He’s the kind of guy who can easily hit 30 home runs and knock in 100 or more runs, even though he’s only done the first half once in his career (33 home runs in 2009). Without Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton around to steal his thunder, I don’t see why he can’t do it. Personally, I hope the best for him. He's great for baseball, great for the Rangers and a whole lotta fun to bust his chops when he comes to Oakland and mixes it up with the right field bleacher crew.