Saturday, January 3, 2015

New York Yankees- Derek Jeter Side Patch (2014)

Where did the time go? As crazy as it sounds, it’s been 381 days since my last blog post, and to be honest, I feel like I’ve cheated a lot of you for it. Over the last year my life took some incredible turns, all of which were certainly for the better. For starters, I’m back where I belong in Oakland, California. The last time I had been fortunate enough to call this city (area) home was when back in 1985 at the ripe age of two-years-old. And as unbelievable as this may sound, I still remember the mornings waking up to the sound of traffic rolling by on I-580 and the cool crispness of the air wafting through the open window of my bedroom. Anytime I came back to visit my grandparents, roll through on a family vacation or even just drove down on a random weekend while I was attending the University of Oregon, a feeling of unexplainable joy always washed over me as if I had just returned home from a long journey. To those of you who I have become closer friends with over the last year, I am truly grateful. You have all made Angie and my important decision to truly start our lives together the best we could have made. And for that, this is probably the biggest reason why I needed to restart my blog. Thank you.

As candid as I was throughout the first 225 or so posts speckled throughout 2013, I feel this is as good of any time to be perfectly frank and explain why it’s taken me so long to get back to this thing that I love to do so much. I guess for starters I should point out what I actually accomplished in 2013 with my blog and the articles I compiled for eDraft Sports. First the blog. I know I’ve pointed this out in a few of my posts, but my overall mission was to form a habit of writing every single day. When I had started my posts they were roughly 2-3 pages long and they primarily comprised of just the history of the hat and the numbers I marked them up with. As time wore on I felt more and more comfortable opening up and telling a bit of my own personal history of my relationship with baseball and the caps and players I was paying tribute to. As soon as that kicked in my stories became 8-10 page biopics. Therefore, if you break down he numbers to, let’s say, seven pages per post times 225 posts you’ll get 1,575 pages. Now, let’s say that the average book is about 275-300 pages and then divide that into what I wrote and you can essentially say that I wrote the equivalent of a little over five books. Crazy, right!? But we’re not done yet. Like I said, I also write for eDraft, which came out to be 125 articles at roughly 2-3 pages in length. So, do the math again, three pages times 125 articles equals 375 pages, or another book to boot. The fact of the matter is that I burned out. I’m willing to bet that I had written more in that year than in all of my other years combined. As selfish as it was for me to take a break, I really needed it.

One thing that I should also point out is that around the time when I stopped writing a post every single day (June 13, 2013), I had a bit of an “oh shit!” moment when I realized that I didn’t have neatly enough hats to complete the year. Even though I was doing my best to increase my numbers with what little money I had, I knew there wasn’t going to be any possible way for me to hit that mark unless I elected to start blowing dudes on the streets of Portland for the cash. This was not going to be my legacy. Instead, I tried pacing and spacing my stories out a bit more until life became a bit too crazy and I need to focus more on the move and finding a stable job. Long story short (too late), I have three great jobs, two of which are with my favorite baseball team, the Oakland Athletics, the other is with one of my favorite hat retailers, Hat Club; and most importantly, I’m in the city I love with all of my friends and the woman I’m going to spend the rest of my life with. And now, you get to read more about all the crazy shit that led up to this moment and every adventure that comes next. Y’all are in for treat.

It was a bit of a struggle to figure out which hat I was going to write about, as I obviously have a pretty decent score of stories and caps to shuffle through now. However, there is one problem that arose a few months ago which my affect things a bit. The phone that I had won in the MLB Fan Cave and toured around the country with, taking every photo over the last two years, died and I can’t quite figure out how to get the photos off. So, until I can find/hire someone with the appropriate nerdery levels, we’re all a bit screwed on that one. So, I decided to roll with one of my most recent cap purchases which also carries along one of my favorite moments of the 2014 season. At this moment I don’t even know why I threw in a bit of build up, you obviously knew which cap I was going to write about based on the photo and title above. Gaaaaahhhhh!!!

Anyway, back on September 7, 2014 the New York Yankees debuted this cap during the final day of a three-game series against the eventual American League champion Kansas City Royals, a contest the team would lose 0-2 with Jeter going 1-3 with a walk. Not exactly the best of days; however, the real victory on the day was the cap itself. For those who don’t remember, September 22, 2013 was the first time a patch commemorating the career of a player had been worn on a New Era Cap, and that honor was bestowed upon Yankee closer, and future Hall of Famer, Mariano Rivera. 

Back then the Yankees wore this patch for the final four games of their home stand against the San Francisco Giants and the Tampa Bay Rays. Being the ardent oppositionist of side patches (at the time), I declined to purchase this cap, and believe me, it’s been biting me in the ass ever since. The one downside of this occasion was that the Yankees never maintained a lead for Rivera to get one final save with this on his head. Instead, the Yankees brought him out of the bullpen in the seventh inning of their final home game (September 26th) with one out and let him go 1 1/3 before Jeter and Andy Pettitte came in to take him out of the game, one the finer moments in the history of the organization. 

So presumably, not wanting to face the same issue as with Rivera, the Yankees elected to use the Jeter patch for their final home games of the season.

From a business aspect I really can’t blame the Yankees or New Era for doing this. As simple of a tribute as it is, it’s also an incredibly ingenious marketing campaign for die hard Yankees fans, cap collectors or even casual baseball fans. Hell, I broke down and bought it, and it wasn’t exactly easy. For starters, Hat Club started carrying it in the middle of September, so I of course requested one for myself and a few of my co-workers. The one thing I didn’t really expect was that so many of the customers (non-Yankees fans) would come in asking for one. Being the good guy that I am I offered the one I had on hold to anyone who came in looking for that size, something I do for any cap that I put on hold. There are two reasons that I do this: it’s good for business and it’s the right thing to do, both have the same end result in that I can easily get another one. What I wasn’t expecting when I sold it is that I would have to wait an additional two months for the store to get more in. But, here we are.

Now, there are two stories that I need to tell with this, one of which I already did back on June 16, 2014 for eDraft. As much as I feel it would be more appropriate for my blog to just hammer something out, the reality is that I am incredibly proud of what I already wrote. I rarely take pride in my own work, but this once was especially important to me to do a great job at. The second story is about the marking I put on the cap, something I will never forget for as long as I continue to follow this amazing game.

 It almost seems fitting to start with this moment as it took place 25 years and two-and-a-half weeks ago. It was May 29, 1989; a six-year-old boy from California watched one of his baseball heroes sobbingly announce his retirement from the game he loved during a press conference in San Diego. That player was Philadelphia Phillies’ Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, a player who I had grown a great affinity for through my older brother Adam who had been following and idolizing Schmidt since before I was born. I didn’t really know it or understand it at the time, but that was the first moment I can pinpoint when I witnessed one of the game’s greatest players call it quits. As the years wore on and my love for baseball grew, I saw more of my heroes (Gary Carter, Eddie Murray, Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, etc.) lose the magic they once exemplified as their time to walk away from the game came to fruition. Looking back on all of those names and dates, it almost feels like a dream as the majority of these guys had their best years long before I was old enough to comprehend what I was watching or before I was even a thought in my parents’ minds. For the time that I was lucky enough to be given, even to see most of the greats in their broken down years, I am truly grateful to say that some time somewhere, I saw them play.

1995 was an especially trying year for baseball fans. An overwhelming majority felt jilted by the players, owners, the powers that be for Major League Baseball and especially former executive director of the MLB Player’s Association Donald Fehr after the player’s strike of 1994 cancelled the remaining two months of that season as well as the playoffs which potentially could have pitted the lowly and now defunct Montreal Expos against the New York Yankees for what could have been longtime Bronx favorite Don Mattingly’s first trip to the postseason. As disheartening as it was to most fans to finally feel and see the dollar sign pressed into their faces, there were a few memorable moments to take away from the ’95 season: Cal Ripken, Jr. broke Yankee legend Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played record on September 6th, the Atlanta Braves won their only World Series title with the likes of soon-to-be Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Chipper Jones, and on May 29th, six years to the date after Schmidt gave his tearful goodbye to the game he loved, a 20-year-old kid from Kalamazoo, Michigan donned the Yankee pinstripes for his first game in the Majors.

##Derek Jeter## was born in Pequannock Township, New Jersey but was later moved to Michigan where he played his high school ball at Kalamazoo Central High School. Between his sophomore and senior years Jeter hit .524. During his senior year he clubbed four home runs, drove in 23 runs, swiped 12 bags in 12 attempts and only struck out once. The folks at the University of Michigan didn’t hesitate to offer Jeter a full ride scholarship. Nor should they have. That season (1992) Jeter went on to win the Kalamazoo Area B'nai B'rith Award for Scholar Athlete, the 1992 High School Player of the Year Award from the American Baseball Coaches Association, the 1992 Gatorade High School Player of the Year award, and USA Today's High School Player of the Year. The only thing keeping Jeter from moving on to the college ranks was the lure of making big bucks in the Majors, something two teams, the Yankees and the Houston Astros, were willing to shell out if they were able to draft and sign him.

As a scout for the Houston Astros, Hal Newhouser, a Hall of Famer in 1992 and Michigan native, evaluated Jeter extensively prior to the 1992 Draft. The Astros held the first overall pick and Newhouser, convinced that Jeter would anchor a winning team, lobbied team management to select Jeter. However, the Astros feared that Jeter would insist on a salary bonus of at least $1 million to forgo his college scholarship for a professional contract. Consequently, the Astros passed on him in the draft, instead choosing Cal-State Fullerton outfielder Phil Nevin, who signed with Houston for $700,000. Newhouser felt so strongly about Jeter's potential that he quit his job with the Astros in protest after they ignored his drafting advice. The Yankees, who selected sixth, also rated Jeter highly. Yankees scout Dick Groch, assigned to scout in the Midwest, watched Jeter participate in an all-star camp held at Western Michigan University. Though Yankees officials were concerned that Jeter would attend college and forgo the opportunity to sign a professional contract, Groch convinced them to select him. Regarding the possibility that Jeter would attend Michigan, Groch said "the only place Derek Jeter's going is to Cooperstown.” The second through fifth picks were Paul Shuey, B. J. Wallace (who never played in the majors), Jeffrey Hammonds, and Chad Mottola (125 career MLB at-bats and over 5,000 at-bats at AAA); those five would combine for a grand total of 2 All-Star Game appearances (Nevin and Hammonds). The Yankees drafted Jeter, who chose to turn professional, signing for $800,000. And the rest, as they say is history. Well, there’s a little more to it than that.

When Jeter made his debut in 1995 he only played in a total of 15 games as an occasional replacement for Tony Fernandez. Despite hitting .250 (12 hits in 48 at-bats) and knocking in seven runs, the Yankees left him off of their postseason roster. The three things to note from the Yankees making the playoffs this year with their 79-65 record are these: the Yankees were the first American League team to win a Wild Card spot, this was Mattingly’s first and only trip to the playoffs and the Yankees upended by the Seattle Mariners in Game Five which is still considered one of the most memorable playoff games in MLB history. But what happened for the Yankees after the American League Division Series ended is truly what makes Jeter… well, Jeter and the Yankees the most hated team in North American sports.

In 1996 the Yankees stopped “fooling around” by firing then-manager Buck Showalter and replacing him with Joe Torre. George “The Boss” Steinbrenner and his General Manager Bob Watson began making key signings to the likes of eventual Hall of Famer Wade Boggs and Cecil Fielder, but most important they made sure Jeter stayed up at the top level. That season Jeter easily won the AL Rookie of the Year Award with a .314 average, 183 total hits, 78 RBI, 10 home runs and 104 runs scored. And then of course that was that whole winning the World Series thing, the team’s first since 1978, but that really wasn’t that big of a deal. What was a big deal was when Jeter and the Yankees went on to win the Series every year from 1998-2000, becoming the first three-peat champions since the Oakland Athletics (1972-1974). Unfortunately for Jeter and the Yankees, the new millennium wasn’t as prosperous as the previous as they would only go on to win one World Series title (2009) in the three trips they made (2001, 2003 and 2009). Regardless, a five-ringed Jeter in his 20 years of service is still pretty remarkable, and I haven’t even really scratched the surface of the individual feats he accomplished.

In 20 seasons, including his 15 games in 1995, Jeter’s lifetime average currently sits at .312, which based on the math and at-bats means that the only way he’ll finish with a sub-.300 average is if he goes hitless in his next 430 at-bats. Do you have any idea how hard that would be for a player of his caliber? Moving on; from 2004-2010 Jeter won five Gold Glove Awards. It could have been more had it not been for the likes of Omar Vizquel owning the 1990s when it came to superb infield defense. As of now Jeter has been an All-Star 13 times, but it is more than likely that he will make his 14th appearance this next month in Minnesota. As trivial as the All-Star Game may seem in regard to stats, Jeter actually has/had a distinctive mark in the record books. Even though the All-Star Game has been played since the 1933 season, the MVP Award didn’t become a thing until 1962. Even stranger, until Jeter won the MVP Award at the 2000 All-Star Game behind his three hits and two RBI, no Yankee had won the award previously. On top of that, no player had won the All-Star Game MVP and the World Series MVP in the same season until Jeter did it that season, and no player has done it since. But I think the most remarkable accolade that Jeter has not yet gotten his mitts on has to be his lack of a season MVP Award, the closest of which he came in 2006 with a career-high .343 average, 214 total hits, 118 runs scored, 14 home runs, 39 doubles and 97 RBI. Who did he lose to? Justin Morneau, by the thinnest of margins (three first place votes). Jeter also holds the Yankee record for most games played at 2,661 as of June 15, 2014, which is 260 games more than the next closest, Mickey Mantle.

You know, in all of this Jeter talk I feel like I’m forgetting something… Oh yah!.. that whole 3,000-hit thing. I saved this for last on purpose because it carries a lot more weight than most fans realize. In the history of Major League Baseball there have been only 28 players of the scores who have played the game to reach this milestone. Of the 28, only four remain out of the Hall of Fame: Jeter, Peter Rose (of course), Rafael Palmeiro (a self-inflicted tragedy) and Craig Biggio (which makes absolutely no sense). Of those 28 players only Boggs and Jeter have notched their 3,000th hit on a home run. Of the 28, I’ve been lucky enough to watch 12 of them hit number 3,000. Of the 28, Jeter is the only member of the Yankees to accomplish this feat. This stat in particular is truly the most mind-boggling especially when you look back on all of the great hitters who have donned the pinstripes since they were first added to the uniform in 1912. The next closest Yankee, and when I say this I mean they played their entire career with the Yankees, is Gehrig at 2,721. Even though ##Ichiro Suzuki## is only 219 hits away from 3,000 himself, his number would not count in the Yankee record books in the same light of what Jeter has accomplished and is still adding to.

Despite all of the awards, the accomplishments and the fruit baskets he’s dished out over the years, the one thing (maybe two) that comes to mind when one has to think of a defining moment throughout his career that future generations can get a rough understanding of his greatness came on the night of October 13, 2001 in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game Three of the ALDS. At this point I’d really like to break the fourth wall and establish something that is very important to what has been read and what will continue to be read: I’m and Athletics fans, just in case you didn’t know that already. I bring this up because up until this point I feel I’ve done a fair job of capturing and presenting an unbiased retrospect on Jeter’s career. Had a Yankee fan written this, there may be a bit more embellishment. Had a Boston Red Sox fan written this you’d probably see a lot more blathering; however, the one thing that is FOR CERTAIN is that with the exception of the Baltimore Orioles, there is not a single fan base that has a legitimate reason to hate Jeter, let alone the Yankees, as much as Athletics fans do. Red Sox fans, you have three World Series title in the last ten years, shut it. Orioles fans, your real beef should be with Jeffery Maier and the shoddy right field umpiring work of Richie Garcia. But for this moment, the moment that defines Jeter as “The Captain,” Athletics fans will always have a sour taste in their mouths. “The flip,” as it’s come to be known occurred with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning with Jeremy Giambi on first base, Terrence Long at bat and the Yankees holding on to a 1-0 lead which came via solo home run by Jorge Posada in the top of the fifth inning. The other important thing to know is that the Athletics were up 2-0 in the best of five series having beaten the Yankees in New York. Anyway, with a 2-2 count Long ripped a sure double down the right field line and Giambi did what he could to peddle around the bases. Off of a whim, then-third base coach Ron Washington decided to send Giambi home. Then-right fielder Shane Spencer tossed the ball from deep-right field into the infield, which barely made it beyond first base. At some point Jeter took quick note that the ball wasn’t going to make it home to Posada so he took action into his own hands by running over to the first base line to retrieve it and flip it to Posada. Giambi, for whatever reason, opted to keep running as opposed to sliding. In the end, Posada got the ball from Jeter, made a swipe tag and home plate umpire Kerwin Danley made the punch out call. Most Athletics fans you talk to are still convinced Posada didn’t apply the tag. Regardless, the out call was made, the Yankees won that game 1-0 and eventually came back to win the series in five games. The aftermath was then made into a book and eventual film called Moneyball, you may have heard of them. From that moment on, like a lot of my fellows Athletics fans, I hated Jeter (as a player).

As a now employee of the Athletics I am lucky enough to have access to certain facilities and section of the Oakland Coliseum. While I cannot and will not discuss what my actual job is, the one thing I can tell you is that I found myself face-to-face with Jeter before his final game in Oakland. It’s been almost 13 years since that damn play and I have long since gotten over it, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t still think about it. After he took some swings in the batting cage my co-worker and I were fortunate enough to be able to say a few words with him before he headed out into the field. The only thing that I could muster out; really, the only thing that mattered was to tell him, “thank you for a brilliant career.” In response, he looked me in the eye with those deep-blue, lady killing eyes, shook my hand and said, “I truly appreciate that.”

I can honestly say that it’s going to be a sad day when the final day comes for Jeter, much like the highly emotional goodbye that I witnessed of Schmidt’s 25 years ago. There are very few who have played the game with the determination, leadership and class that Jeter has displayed for almost a quarter century. In this age of speculation and vendettas I am truly happy to look back on the 27 years of being a baseball fan and be able to say, “I saw a legend from beginning to end.” I can only hope the next generation of fans will be so lucky to say the same thing.

Clearly there are a few stats that need to be updated: Jeter ended up playing in his 14th All-Star Game, at which he probably should have won the MVP Award for, his 3,465 career hits are not only still the most in Yankees history, but he is now sixth all-time for career hits in MLB history, just 49 away from Hall of Famer Tris Speaker. Realistically, if Jeter played one more full season he could easily surpass Speaker. Pretty wild to think about.

9/25/14: This was a pretty easy decision. Despite all the accomplishments Jeter racked up throughout his career, his final game at Yankee Stadium was too amazing of a night to pass up and not say anything about. To be honest, I really didn’t have any intention of watching the game and I really can’t think of what I was flipping back-and-forth to in between Jeter’s at-bats, but what I really remember started when he took the field in the first inning.

In some way Jeter had always come off as a bit robotic to me, in that his mind was always in the game. Whether he made an amazing catch, turned a great double play or even biffed a ball off of his glove, Jeter went immediately back into the zone, awaiting the next play. At the moment when all the fans started chanting his name over and over and over, the reality clearly set in upon Jeter’s face. You could clearly tell that he was fighting back some serious emotions, and of course, like with a lot of you, a tear or two welled up in my eyes. But Jeter, tough as nails, fought through it and put on a display that truly defined his character.

Every at-bat the man saw was spectacular, knocking in Brett Gardner is his first plate appearance of the game to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead over the Orioles, and even the seventh inning bases loaded two-run error he forced. However, it was his final curtain call in the bottom of the ninth inning with the game now tied up at five each thanks to David Robertson’s blown save at the top of the inning which made the baseball world explode. Hell, my words can’t even do it justice, just watch it.

As I mentioned in my eDraft article, it’s kind of weird to think that this generation and those that follow may never experience a player of Jeter’s caliber accumulate a Hall of Fame career having played for the same team who drafted them. Only time and money will tell, I suppose.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

August 15- San Francisco Giants

This post pertains to the specific date posted above. Enjoy.

My parents had separated for only a few months when my other decided to take my brothers Matt and Adam and myself to Livermore, California to visit our grandmother for a weekend in August in 1989. We had left on Friday the 11th, but we returned to our home in Bakersfield on Wednesday the 16th after missing a few too many days of school. It wasn’t like my mom to have us miss class, but I think she needed some extra time to spend with our grandmother to really grasp everything that had come to her and my father splitting up. From what I can recall the eventual divorce hit my oldest brother Matt the hardest as he was about to turn 11 in November, and at that age the sense of “I did something to cause this” was starting to settle into his mind. My brother Adam, who would be turning 10 the same month, took a protector role as I was too young to really understand what was going on. As the years pressed on these roles shifted slightly; Matt hated my mother for almost two decades as he eventually blamed her for their split, and Adam flip-flopped a bit on things as he became way more rebellious and sometimes took his frustration out on me. I merely sat back and observed, occasionally taking the role of the leader as I became way more methodical about the situation as I got older. As I loom back on the way things have panned out, it almost feels like a dream. No child should ever be put in that situation. I fully understand that marriage isn’t a for sure thing, even in a Mormon household that I grew up in. Everyone will be changed in some way, but it’s how we react to that adversity is what truly defines our character. I did my best to rise above the pain and frustration, as did my brothers, mother and father, but that’s not to say we didn’t slip from time to time. Today we’re all a bit happier. My mother and father don’t speak to one another, but my brothers and I don’t hold the grudges against either of them, nor do we bicker and fight like we used to anymore. I’m not entirely sure how my brothers got over it, but for me, I was always sought sports for my comfort.

1989 was an especially weird year, and the divorce made things especially odd when the World Series came around that October. Adam and my father had both grown up huge San Francisco Giants fans while Matt and I favored the Oakland Athletics. Obviously we all know how that series panned out. Matt and I were more than jubilant while Adam and my dad had the bitter taste of defeat in their mouth. My mother was indifferent due to her Boston Red Sox loyalty, but from what I recall, it was the last time I remember us all being collectively involved and happy in the wake of the madness that would slowly tear us all apart for the majority of 20 years.

There’s a reason I brought all of this to the table and most of it has to do with that weekend in August. While I remember small bits and pieces of my brothers and me running around the neighborhood of my grandmother’s house on Drake Way, I only partially remember my mother crying and her mother trying to console as I looked on in confusion. As the days passed I did my best to entertain myself by watching movies and baseball to kind of tune everything out since no one was making an effort to fill me in on everything that was happening. That weekend the Athletics had taken two out of three from the California Angels and beat the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday by the final score of 5-2. As for the Giants, they had lost two of three from their longtime rival the Los Angeles Dodgers and had begun a three game series on Tuesday in Montreal against the Expos. The Athletics game wasn’t on, but the Giants game was being broadcast on KTVU, so my brothers and I ended up watching it that evening. There’s a reason why I remember all these little bits and details even though most adults shouldn’t more than 24 years later. This was the night that I, and every Giants and Expos fan who happened to be watching that game, saw Dave Dravecky pitch for the last time.

8/15/89: It would be a few years before I fully understood what I was watching. I had heard the name Dravecky a few times in the three years that I had been following baseball, but it didn’t really stick until he took the mound against the Expos. He had started the game for the Giants, only his second appearance/start of the season after he underwent surgery in October of 1988, in which doctors removed half of the deltoid muscle in his pitching arm and froze the humerus bone in an effort to eliminate all of the cancerous cells that had been spreading throughout his left arm; his pitching arm. He had returned to the mound after an extensive rehab run in the minors on August 10th against the Cincinnati Reds, a game in which he would thrown eight innings while only allowing three earned runs on four hits and a walk on the road to the win. 

Against the Expos Dravecky had started out on fire, throwing a no-hitter through three innings before giving up a single to Andres Galarraga with one out in the top of the fourth. Dravecky went on to retire the next two batters. The Giants tacked on a run in the top of the fifth inning to give them a 1-0 lead. Dravecky had a some trouble in the bottom half of the inning, but managed to get through it after allowing back-to-back singles by Tim Wallach and Mike Fitzgerald before retiring the next three batters. Dravecky recalled a tingling sensation in his arm throughout the inning, but persevered. In the top of the sixth Will Clark led off with a single before Matt Williams cranked a two-run blast off of Bryn Smith to give the Giants a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the inning. With a lead in tact and the minimum amount of innings to get a decision in the books, Dravecky took to the mound to face second baseman Damaso Garcia. Dravecky’s first pitch was a ball, but his second pitch was right down Garcia’s wheelhouse as he blasted it to deep left field (3-1 Giants). The next batter was Galarraga. Dravecky started off a little shaky as his arm was started to bother him more intently. He got Galarraga up to a 2-2 count but eventually beaned him on the sixth pitch. A few Expos fans booed, but it’s pretty obvious that Dravecky didn’t mean to retaliate over the home run, especially after getting the next batter to a 2-2 count. With Galarraga on first base, up to the plate came the ever-dangerous Tim Raines who had gone 0-1 with a walk in his previous two plate appearance. After a brief cool down Dravecky got into his wind-up and fired a shot that went high and to the left into the net behind home plate. Before anyone could grasp what had happened, Dravecky dropped to the ground in writhing pain. The shoulder on his pitching arm, in the same area where the surgeons had removed the cancerous tumors, had snapped. It’s not often that one sees a grown man in such pain on live TV, but the gravity of the situation never leaves your mind. There are a few videos on the web that show what happened, but I’m not in favor of posting it. Fictional violence in film is one thing, but showing something horrific happen to another human being is where I draw the line. The news broke later that night of what had actually happened, but I didn’t find out until the next day. After a few more surgeries and staph infection broke out in Dravecky’s arm, he made the decision to have it amputated.

I’ve brought this up in a few of my other blog posts, in that I really didn’t come into my writing skills until I was 13-years-old. The moment it all became apparent was in Mr. Fowler’s American History class at Fruitvale Jr. High School in Bakersfield when we were given a major presentation assignment under the topic of “Triumph and Tragedy” or “Tragedy and Triumph.” There really was no wrong way of doing it just as long as the essence of perseverance was conveyed through our report. I chose Dravecky’s story through his book Comeback. One of the other reference items I had to aid me in my report was one of my favorite videos that I miraculously came across on Ebay back in 2008 on VHS called “Champions by the Bay,” an essential collectors piece for any Giants or Athletics fan. Due to the fact that the internet was really just getting dropped on the world at the time, all of my research came from these two resources and a scatter of magazine and newspaper clippings that I could come across. At the time, I didn’t know a whole lot about Dravecky other than his years with the Giants, what I later came to realize is that he was way more of a polarizing in baseball than most remember.

Born in Youngstown, Ohio Dravecky attended his hometown college, Youngstown State, where he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 21st round of the 1978 amateur draft. He spent his first three years in the minors with the Class-A Charleston Pirates (1978) before getting promoted to the AA Buffalo Bisons, where he spent two seasons (1979-1980) going 6-7 in his first year and 13-7 with a 3.35 ERA in his second. When 1981 came around he was traded to the San Diego Padres where he went 15-5 with a 2.67 ERA and 141 strikeouts with the AA Amarillo Gold Sox. It was in this season that he became a devout Christian. 1982 with the AAA Hawaii Islanders started off just as prosperous, 4-1 with a 2.48 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 16 appearances (15 in relief), when he was called up to the Majors and made his debut on June 15th of that year. From then until the middle of 1987 Dravecky made 199 appearances (119 starts) and finished with a 53-50 record, a 3.12 ERA, 456 strikeouts, one All-Star Game appearance in 1982 and one appearance in the World Series in 1984 against the Detroit Tigers, which they lost in five games. Dravecky pitched 10 2/3 innings in the playoff that season and didn’t allow a single run while striking out 10 batters. 

In the middle of the 1987 season the Padres traded Dravecky along with Craig Lefferts and Kevin Mitchell to the Giants in exchange for Chris Brown, Keith Comstock (who will appear in a future post), Mark Davis and Mark Grant. If you know anything about 1980s baseball, you know that the Giants totally owned the Padres on this deal. For the rest of the 1987 season Dravecky went 7-5 in 18 starts with a 3.20 ERA and 78 strikeouts as well as an appearance in the National League Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, which they lost in seven games. Dravecky made two starts and went 1-1 despite pitching 15 innings while only allowing one run seven hits and four walks while striking out 14 batters. Seriously, he was lights out, but the Giants couldn’t give him any run support after Cardinals’ right fielder Jose Oquendo lobbed a sacrifice fly in the second inning of Game Six.

In 1988 Dravecky started off the season well, but was shut down after his start on May 28th when the cancerous desmoid tumor was discovered. 

He had pitched in seven games, going 2-2 with a 3.16 ERA and 19 strikeouts. When he made his return at Candlestick Park on August 10th he was met by a standing ovation from the sold out crowd of 34,810 fans. 

As I mentioned above, he pitched beautifully. His comeback merited the Hutch Award at the end of the season which is given to the player who "best exemplifies the fighting spirit and competitive desire" of Fred Hutchinson, by persevering through adversity. The award was created in 1965 in honor of Hutchinson, the former MLB pitcher and manager, who died of lung cancer the previous year. When Dravecky’s pitching career ended on that unfortunate day on August 15th, one detail from that game ended up being an intriguing moment down the road. Garcia, the player who had hit the home run off of Dravecky in the top of the sixth inning, saw his playing career come to an end less than month later in September 12th. The home run he hit would turn out to be the last in his 11-year career. Even eerier, a year after he retired, Garcia started to have double vision and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. In 1991, Garcia had the tumor removed, and was told that he only has six months to live. The effects of the tumor left him with limited speech and certain movement. He recovered enough to throw out the first pitch of a Toronto Blue Jays playoff game in 1992, the team he had been with for the majority of his career (1980-1986). His oldest son suffers from hemophilia which prompted Garcia to run a baseball camp for hemophiliac children in the Dominican Republic. As for Dravecky, he found himself at an unusual crossroad after the additional surgeries, the staph infection and the eventual amputation of June 18, 1991. After his recovery Dravecky looked at his life and analyzed his relationship with God and realized that baseball was merely a stepping stone to reach the next step. He began touring as a motivational speaker he wrote two books about his battles with cancer and his comeback attempt: Comeback, published in 1990 and written with Tim Stafford, and When You Can't Come Back, co-authored with wife Jan and Ken Gire and published in 1992. He has also written a Christian motivational book titled Called Up which was published in 2004.

I don’t speak much of religion in my posts unless it is pertinent to the topic at hand. As I mentioned above, and in a few other instances, I was raised Mormon. Most of what I have done in life may not reflect that of the typical Latter-Day Saint lifestyle (alcohol consumption, tattoos, smoking, etc.), but the one thing that has stayed within my life from those days is my faith in God. I’m a firm believer in the philosophy of “everything happens for a reason,” but that part that I differ on from most religions is that I don’t feel that God is necessarily controlling those moments. To me, God is merely watching over us, working more as a conscience when it comes to moments of right or wrong and taking the next step. It’s really more of a comfort, kind of like the way our parents are always by our sides, reminding us that they gave us the tools to succeed and now it’s up to us to choose the right path as they look on. Nothing about what I believe is meant to persuade anyone. You are all free to believe what you want and do what you want, but this is merely look into how I became the man I am today as I reflect upon the moments from my childhood that somehow became involved with the day that Dravecky took the mound for the last time. Much like Dravecky, an injury while I was playing baseball is inevitably what ended my possible opportunity to play professional baseball. Obviously mine wasn’t as horrendous, but the end result was the same: Baseball is merely a platform for us to see what our greater purpose is. For Dravecky, it’s sharing his story and sharing his testimony and relationship with God. For me, it’s sharing stories through my writing and baseball in the attempt to become a better person and help others along the way. While my drive isn’t a religiously charged as Dravecky’s, the mission is still the same.

Originally I was going to save this post until I could track down a Giants 1989 World Series cap since he was a part of the team that year, but I have something else planned for that. Instead, I chose this cap that the team used as their game cap from 1983 until the end of the 1993 season. Even though there were a lot of stories to tell during that time frame, nothing really embodied the good spirit of those teams quite like Dravecky in the two-and-a-half-years he was on the field. When I laid out my design plan for my mascot and logos tattoos I did it with the intention that every single piece had a greater story behind it. For the Giants, I got rather subtly creative.

Originally I was going to add the old Crazy Crab that everyone used to hate, and I may still add that down the road, but ultimately I chose Lou Seal. More specifically, I found a picture of Lou Seal from a kids MLB coloring book which featured a picture of him giving the thumbs up. Now, being an Athletics fan I of course had to put my tweak on it by giving it a thumbs down on top of the old school green underbrim on the cap; however, there is one aspect that I was very specific about that very few ever notice. If you look above you’ll notice that Lou Seal isn’t exactly all in frame. Yes, his legs are being boxed out by Chief Noc-a-Homa below, but the left arm was purposely covered up/removed as my tribute to Dravecky. Also, and this will blow your mind even more, if you look at the full tattoo below you’ll see that the two team mascots to his left (the Reds and Expos) are the last two teams he faced, and the last two teams he notched wins against as the Giants still won the game on August 15th as they preserved a 3-2 lead to end the game. 

I may not see eye-to-eye with Giants fans most of the time, but I do respect their history and quite a few of their players. Until the day comes when I am dispatched from this life, I am happy to have Dravecky always be a part of it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

August 14- Baltimore Orioles

I don’t know how to start this post, so I’m just going to get into it. I’m very lucky and very happy to be alive and I'm sorry for the families who were affected by the shooting at the Clackamas Town Center Mall. I know the heading date doesn't correspond, but the real time does. Please forgive that error.

Each of my 350 New Era Caps tells a specific story, but only a small handful of them have become synonymous with specific life-changing moments. Prior to today I had only worn this cap once on December 12, 2012, even though I bought it from the Lids in Eugene, Oregon about eight or nine months prior. I really don’t have a specific reason as the why I never wore it. To be honest, when you have as many caps as I do, you tend to forget about wearing a lot of them. This cap in particular carries the story of one of the most intense, depressing days of my life, and I couldn’t be happier to still be able to tell the tale. As I look back on the way my day started, I have to attribute this accessory decision to Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones.

I was living at my parents’ house in Portland, Oregon at the time since my final term at the University of Oregon didn’t start until the first week of January. Rather than be bored and jobless after the baseball season had ended, I went back to work at Just Sports (@JustSportsPDX) at the Clackamas Town Center Mall in southeastern Portland to help out my friend/boss Jason Cobb (@JasonMCobb) and to put some extra cash into my pocket. This day in particular I was set to work the closing shift of the higher-volume store downstairs as Jason used it as one of his days off and I always preferred to close rather than open since I’m usually livelier in the evening. This day in particular was especially gloomy and cold, but thankfully not raining. My dog Tuaca, a Rottweiler, woke me up around 9:30 AM by jumping on the bed to lick my face, just like she did every morning before the last. My parents had already left for work, but what I remember most is that my mother didn’t come into my room to wake me up as she likes to do around 7 AM, well before I have any desire to see the light of day. With dog slobber running down my face I made my way to the bathroom to wash up before I headed into the kitchen to destroy a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It was tasty.

I still had plenty of time to get ready as the drive to the mall was only about 40 minutes away (holiday traffic) so I did my usual Twittering. At this time I was still posting photos from my time in the MLB Fan Cave and my tour across the country to my Instagram account and for some reason I had decided to chat about when Jones and then-Oriole Robert Andino had dropped in to shoot the “Put Some Birds on it” sketch. Andino didn’t say much, but Jones was certainly the life of the party, all smiles and willing to do whatever. Due to the fact that nobody in the Fan Cave was an Orioles fan I opted to rock the home style cap along with a Nike shirt that my friend Samuel had designed for the occasion. Besides my apparel, Jones had taken a shine to me because of my MLB tattoos, most notably the Billy Ripken homage and my “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” piece. When the time came for Jones, Andino and the production crew to hit the streets to continue filming, Jones told me to come along too.

I didn’t say or do much while we were out and about except snap pictures and occasionally swap jokes, but just being there and being wanted to be there was really all the prize unto itself. Jones and Andino made me feel appreciated, even if I wasn’t an Orioles fan. I think deep down they both knew that I didn’t take all of the glitz and glamour serious, and that I just wanted to have fun. So, when I posted the photos of before…

and after…

 And tagged him in them, we had a bit to talk about seven months removed from that day. To give clarification, the top photo was from the two of them walking the streets with the big Orioles logo and the bottom one was a photo I personally wanted to send to my friend Scott Landis (@ScottCLandis), an actual Orioles fan, for his birthday that was a month away at the time. Not too long after I posted them Jones hit me up, started following on Twitter and we gabbed for a bit about Andino going to Seattle to play for the Mariners. After we wrapped things up I hit the shower, got dressed and picked out my cap.

Despite the number of Orioles caps I own I had yet to dedicate any of my markings from the current caps to anyone except Andino, which I’ll get into in a later post. With the 2012 to present road cap still available I marked it up with the two guys who I knew would be superstars in Baltimore when their careers came to an end..

 #10- Adam Jones

#13- Manny Machado

In retrospect I realize how amusing it is for me of all people to give Machado this accolade, especially after all the guff I got from Orioles fans all season after I said Josh Donaldson was better, but none of that means that I don’t think Machado is going to be a star. He most definitely is.

This majority of this  portion I wrote around 2:00 AM on December 13, 2012. I have added a few pieces since.

I arrived about 15 minutes early and checked my online activity on my phone at the Starbucks at the southwestern side of the mall, as that was the best spot for me to get internet access. Before I left my house I had posted (above) my 4-step New Era photo of me taking off the stickers, creasing the bill and marking the hat with jersey numbers for one of my newer Orioles hats. I had gotten a few likes, which I was satisfied with and headed in a little early to see if any new freight had come in. There had, but only about 4 new boxes, nothing terrible. I clocked in and dove in to try and get caught up on the previous freight. We had gotten in a load of NFL, Oregon Ducks and NBA jersey restock as well as a lot of popular sweatshirts. My co-assistant manager Clayton and I stuck to the freight whilst the other employees: Adam, Connor, Justin and Kevin helped the customers. Every now-and-then I popped out onto the floor to help someone, but for the most part I stuck to getting the product out. I had quickly knocked out one of the boxes. Since a lot of the product required sensor tags, I first put out all of the stuff that didn’t need them: Portland Timbers gear. We had about 5 adult and youth jersey to throw on our 50% off rounder so I finessed them in, along with about 7 hooded sweatshirts. I walked back to grab the last two shirts when I heard a loud bang.

I have heard in moments like this that time stands still. A few of the customers around me and I exchanged glances and all had puzzled looks. Somewhere in a matter of a fraction of a second we all came to the conclusion, mentally at least, that the sound was probably a large box that had fallen to the ground and made the commotion. As I turn to hang up the last two shirts it started… BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG!!! Having fired off an array of hand guns, assault rifles and sniper ripples with my stepfather, I knew what I was hearing. Everyone in the store, roughly 12 people including myself, had stopped in their tracks. I on the other hand sprinted to the door to close and lock them. I remember yelling, “Get out!” to everyone as I ran, but still no one moved. I saw dozens of people running eastward as I got to the door and told and grabbed as many people as I could into the store before no one else was within my grasp. I closed the doors, hit the deck and locked the massive glass doors as quickly as I could. One kid in particular was standing next to me doing nothing. I yelled, “Get the fuck to the back of the store!” He froze. I then pushed and yelled at everyone else to go out the back door. Clayton and the rest of my co-workers to notice and began rushing everyone out. I had never been in a situation like this before, by a sense of leadership overcame me. As soon as I saw everyone clear out the back I quickly closed the door completely and ducked behind the sales counter, waiting to see if anyone would walk by. After a few moments I walked toward the front to see if there was anyone else out there. Sure enough there were patrons casually walking through the mall on their cell phones. I unlocked one of the doors and called for them to come in. Once they cleared the threshold I locked it again, explained what had happened and got them out. I then moved back to the counter area and got on twitter to post that there had been a shooting. I’m still not sure why, but I momentarily went back about my business as the phone rang from other stores in our company looking for product. I told them all that there had been a shooting and their attitude quickly changed, making sure I was OK. I said yes, asked what they were looking for and gave them an answer. In between calls I continued to tweet what I was seeing.

Clayton and Adam had started texting me, asking if I was still inside. I told them yes and that I was waiting. At this time they informed that the police had arrived and surrounded the building. When I read that I knew I couldn’t just walk out into safety. Looking the way I do, with my beard and all, I would be greeted by local law enforcement with all guns on me, ready to be taken into custody to be questioned. Obviously I had no involvement, but they don’t know that. I continued to stay behind the counter and kept tweeting. For some reason I took to trying to be a bit more humorous for a few. I remembered reading about Brett Lawrie being in a mall when a shooting had broken out and so I sent out a tweet to the tune of, “I feel a lot like Brett Lawrie right now.” After that I sent, “I'm glad I have shoes on. Last thing I need is broken glass and bare feet like John MacLaine,” an obvious Die Hard reference. Almost immediately after that tweet SWAT had taken siege. I saw three teams of three stroll by the front of the store, all armed with AR-15 rifles and full body gear. After they passed I hit the floor and crept my way across to the front to snap some photos. 

 I finally saw a sheriff’s deputy across the way and signaled to him that I was trapped inside. He motioned for me to get back, so I did. Ben Lacy, a producer at KGW in Portland, and fellow Oregon alum, hit me up on Twitter and asked if they could do a live interview. I sent him a DM with my number and said yes. Five minutes later I was live on the air, taking the reporter step by step as to what had happened. A few minutes in, the police had arrived at the door and motioned for me. The glass isn’t soundproof, so they told me to unlock the door and be ready to stay low and move out. I had forgotten my Galaxy Note and jacket, but didn’t care. I wanted to get out. As soon as I got the green light, I cleared out. I looked back and noticed that there were six totally officers, all armed to the teeth with .45s, shotguns and rifles. I booked a sharp right and headed out.

Now, at the time when I made my exit I thought I had an officer tailing behind me as an escort. I didn’t. As soon as I cleared the threshold of the door I was “greeted” by five officers with shotguns and assault rifles all pointed at me.

“Get your hands up!” I heard someone yell.

I complied.

“Get on your knees and drop the phone!” I heard.

I did

“Slowly lay down and cross your legs!”

As soon as I did I felt my Orioles hat slip down over my face, but I remained motionless. The last thing I wanted was a bullet entering any part of my body. All I could think about was the first two seasons of the TV show “The Wire” that I had been going through whenever I had free time. More than likely you can chalk that up to the fact that the show takes place in Baltimore and I happened to be wearing an Orioles cap. One of the deputies came around and slapped handcuffs on me, pulled me up and walked me to the left for questioning. I stood up straight and answered everything he asked: Name, business at the mall, etc. He then got on his intercom and asked for a description of the suspect, which luckily I didn’t fit. As I stood there shivering in khaki and pants and a polo shirt in the cold more people began exiting… all of which glared at me as they passed as if I was the shooter. I didn’t let it bother me. I turned my head to the left to get a look at the deputy and listen in on the responses he was getting. He was almost a foot shorter than me with short grey hair and an amazing salt and pepper mustache and glasses. He then slipped his business card into my pocket and told me to call if I had any information to give as he unlocked the steel bracelets. He pointed me toward the left of the parking lot and told me to get out that way. I did what he asked and walked away… for a bit. Around this time I was getting texts and calls from a lot of people making sure I was safe. Since my Note was still inside the store I couldn’t get on Twitter to let everyone know I had made it out. I texted everyone I knew who had Twitter to let them know and to let others know I was fine. Unfortunately, most of the people that I knew who had large followings on Twitter are all on the East Coast. Not until the end of the night did it dawn on me that they had no idea what was going on. Therefore, I got a lot of confused texts back. My friend Kat in Boston, who works for NECN, called me up; made sure I was doing fine and asked if I would do an interview.

Kat and I went to the University of Oregon together and I crashed at her place in Boston during my second trip there over the summer during my MLB stadium tour. She is also one of the few reporters to be on the scene as the bomb went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I said I’d be more than happy to. As we chatted on the phone I noticed more people leaving the mall… I then hatched a plan. I really wanted my Note back so I could get back on Twitter to give updates so I asked the deputy at the door if he could escort me back to the store so I could lock it up, which is actually true. He said yes and took me back. About halfway there he asked another deputy, the one who handcuffed and questioned me, to take me the rest of the way. He jokingly said yes and followed me in. I quickly ran in and grabbed my jacket, cigarettes, Note and locked the door on my way out. It was during this time that I noticed tables, chairs and product from stores strewn about the walkway of the mall.

It was a rather eerie feeling, but for some reason I was still calm. I half sprinted back to the original doorway I had exited the mall and passed by a girl crying hysterically and talking to two officers as she had witnessed the shooting. I didn’t gather much as I wanted to get back outside. Once again, as I cleared the door way the same officer was about to yell at me to get down, but realized I was the same guy as before. A slight moment passed and he told me to be on my way. I called Kat back and did the interview with one of their reports and walked across the road where I knew there was a Starbucks with Wi-Fi. I sat down and typed away. Giving updates on Facebook and Twitter what I knew, and what I had overheard. It also gave me time to call my parents and assure everyone that I was safe.

Over the next hour or so I did interviews with KATU in Portland, NECN live in air, the Jeff Sammut Show (@JeffSammut590) in Toronto and even Good Morning America. I posted photos and got hit up by FOX and CNN for permission to run the photos and do more interviews. It was a weird feeling. Despite going to the U of O for journalism, I had always wanted to do sports. This was way more important and I gave my clearance on everything as it is my responsibility to relay the information.

Around 5:45 PM PST, over two hours since the shooting had started; I finally got in my car and headed home. Mentally I was burnt out and just wanted to get back into the familiar. Traffic was pretty ridiculous and I called ahead to my mom to let her know. With nothing but the steering in my hands and my thoughts, my brain drifted back to when I was 14-years-old, living in Bakersfield, California. (This part of the story I have never told anyone)

I can’t really remember the date, but I do remember it was spring. I was with a few of my friends at his parents’ house, a few blocks from Centennial High School where we all attended. We had been sitting around, watching TV and gabbing about usual high schooler things. Around 4:30 his older brother walked into the house and sat down with us. As he sat down he pulled out a bad of marijuana and his .45 from the waistband of the back of his pants. What I didn’t know and everyone else did was that he was a drug dealer. At that time I really didn’t like guns too much so I sat away from everyone else as they talked about it and wanted to see it. After about five minutes of that nonsense I had to pee so I got up and went down the hall and around a left turn corner to go. I finished, washed my hands and walked out. As I was about to bank right back into their living room the gun fired. I didn’t realize it at first until I turned my head to the right and noticed the gun pointing at my face. I then turned me head quickly left and noticed a bullet hole in the wall. The bullet had whizzed about 7 inches from my face and by the grace of God had missed. Everyone in the living room froze, except for my friend’s brother who quickly snatched the gun out of the hand of the kid who had fired it. Despite the clip being out of the gun, my friend’s brother forgot to take the one in the chamber out before he handed it off to let the younglings play with it. The last thing I remember was yelling at everyone, crying and running home. I didn’t tell my parents and I stopped talking to the kid who had pulled the trigger for years. That, realistically, is the closest I had ever come to dying as a result of gun-related means.

Throughout my day I had been calm and collective. The shooting at the mall took place about 200 yards away from me, yet I still went into protective mode over everyone else. Perhaps the trauma from my youth made me less scared? I’ll never really know. After seeing my parents, having dinner with them and watching “North by Northwest” with them, the gravity of today’s events didn’t hit me until they went to bed.

What happened when I was a kid was in isolated incident, but what happened today took place on a much larger scale. Three people are dead, including the shooter. Thousands of people will be affected by this for the rest of their lives. As terrible as things got, I am forever grateful that I was there to have a clear head and to help people get to safety. Hero is a word I’ve heard a few times since. Thrown around casually as we do with our sports icons, but I certainly don’t feel like one. I just did what needed to be done. I can only hope that others do the same in a similar situation.

Back to today

Over the last year I have spoken to a few people about it, but for the most part I don’t really bring it up unless somebody else does. In the time shortly after that night our country was dealt with another vicious blow as 26 kids and a teacher were gunned down in a similar fashion at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Dealing with the death of adults via shooting has been something I’ve been able to deal with; however, the death of kids, in any fashion, is an unfortunate blight that is truly hard to shake. The one thing from that day that I haven’t been able to shake is the information that came to light when my co-worker/friend Adam Weaver and I went back to work to clean up the store right before the mall re-opened their doors, we had in fact met the shooter a few days prior.

Adam was the one who had helped and rung him up for a Pittsburgh Pirates Cooperstown Collection New Era Cap, but the three us, along with his friend he had with him, all chatted it out for a bit afterward. Nothing from that moment would have indicated that he would come back and do the horrible thing that he did. But then again, what really are the warning signs for these kinds of things? I’m not going to spin this into a philosophical piece, but I do want to conclude by saying that every person I’ve met in my life, even for just five seconds, has some bearing on my shaping of who I am today. The same can really be said for all of us. Over the last year I had my ups and downs, but the most significant of downs came as my time in the Fan Cave came to an end and the way my relationships with those I worked with crumbled in the months to follow. Lindsay Guentzel, Ricky Mast and Shaun Kippins were the only three from my time to contact me after the shooting and Mike O’Hara and Ryan Wagner from the first season were on top of things with me as the information unfolded. As for the rest, nothing.

A lot of my turmoil between the rest of the group I had covered back on my July 16th post about the National League All-Star cap and how things went sour during the 2012 All-Star Game. One thing I may have left out in that was how, even in my later apologies, I had tried to get a hold of Ricardo Marquez as soon as I got home that night, but didn’t receive a reply. I’m not trying to make him look like a jerk, nor anybody else, but in the weeks that followed the shooting I really felt wrongfully neglected by the group even though I was doing my damndest to patch things up. To each their own, I suppose.

What I want to leave you all with is some insight. It’s very unhealthy to bottle things up. This is something I’ve learned and continue to learn when I write these blog posts. Not everyone will be your friend, but it’s almost important to put forth a good effort and let others know that you’ll be there for them. Who knows what kind of tragedies can be prevented down the road, but even if they can’t be prevented, at least you’ll have a clear conscience on knowing that you did everything you could. This could go for anyone really. It doesn’t matter how big or small or close the person is to you, resolving your issues, helping out others and showing someone that you care goes a lot farther than anyone can think. Not a day goes by that I wish I didn’t do more or could take back all the harsh things that happened between the people I care about and myself. For the rest of my life I’ll be living with these things, and for the rest of my life this hat will be a symbol to remind me of how to make it better.

Friday, December 13, 2013

August 13- Canada World Baseball Classic

I’ve been to Canada three times in my life. The first time was when I was 19-years-old. My girlfriend at the time and I traveled north to Vancouver, B.C. for a weekend of boozery and gambling. What ended up happening is that I became violently ill after the first night, but still partied through the pain. When we got back to Vancouver, Washington I dropped by the doctors office to see what was wrong with me after my fever of 104 degrees wouldn’t go away and because I was actually pissing orange. At first my doctor thought I had contracted hepatitis, but I lucked out and only had a wicked case of mononucleosis.

The second time I ventured up was in during late August of 2009 when my then-girlfriend took a job teaching German at an immersion school in Anchorage, Alaska. She didn’t have a lot of stuff to move, but we managed to get it all into her Ford Focus and drive all the way from Eugene, Oregon to her new place. It took us four days and close to 3,000 miles to make it through some of the mostly uninhabited, yet strangely beautiful country that I never in my life imagined that I would have ever visited. It took me four-and-a-half hours to fly back to Portland and she promptly broke up with me less than three weeks later. Needless to say, my experiences with Canada were not exactly the most riveting.

My last trip came in late July of 2012 when I flew into Toronto to meet up with my friend, and fellow MLB Fan Cave hopeful Dave Barclay (@DaveBarc). I stayed with him and his wife Krista for about six days and took in four Toronto Blue Jays games, two against my Oakland Athletics and two against my friend, and another Fan Cave hopeful Jay Tuohey’s (@TheRoar_24) Detroit Tigers before I headed east to Montreal to visit my good friend Dave Kaufman (@TheKaufmanShow) for a week. In short, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.

My time in Toronto felt like it flew by way faster than it did. The first leg of my journey started at the airport when I was almost not allowed into the country. Due to the fact that I was staying for such a long period of time, leaving the country by car with Dave and looking the way I do made a few people in customs a bit suspicious of my trip. It wasn’t until I fibbed a little bit and said that I worked for Major League Baseball that they started to come around and understand what I was doing. Due to the fact that the Expos no longer play in Montreal it caused a bit of red flag. I had to explain to them that I was writing a book on Olympic Stadium and the culture of baseball in Eastern Canada before they finally understood my purpose for being their. After an hour-and-a-half delay I received my stamp and approval and I made my way to baggage claim and then on out to Dave’s car as we had to then haul ass to the Rogers Centre for that night’s game against the Athletics. Thank God we made it too, as that was the game when Josh Reddick pulled off the Spiderman catch to rob Travis Snyder of a home run and the Blue Jays suffered their biggest home loss (0-16) in franchise history. I was left grinning…

Dave had a bit of sad face.

The next game I went to solo, but met up with a fellow Athletics fan from Canada named Brad Baker (@Beleaf33).

We both managed to score tickets right behind the visiting (Athletics) dugout, but our seats were a ways apart. Oddly enough, a few of the Blue Jays fans in the surrounding seats pointed out that there were two empty seats together and invited us to sit together, because Canadians are too damn nice! I met up with Jonny Gomes before the game started and a few of the other players were shocked to not only see me outside of Oakland, but in another country. 

I explained to them that I had it planned out in advance all around catching the last two games of the series which helped their morale quite a bit. As everyone took their place on the field I headed back to my seat where I was stopped by two of the ushers asking me if I was the guy from the Fan Cave. I smiled and said yes and we chatted for a bit about it. To be honest, most of my time in Toronto at Rogers Centre was met with people stopping to take photos with me and to ask about my experience. I don’t say any of this to brag, I honestly am humbled by all of it and was very appreciative of everyone who paid attention to what I had done and all the support they had and still give me. When I got back to my seat it was time for the National Anthems. Because we were in Canada they started with the Star-Spangled Banner, which the singer flew through because, well… it’s Canada. I sang along with it as I usually do and gave a sporting cheer afterward. Then, it was time for Oh Canada. I know this sounds weird coming from someone from the United States, but I actually really enjoy Canada’s anthem. I love it even more because everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, sings along with it. There’s no shame in not singing your anthem, but it’s kind of telling how a culture is based on how many people are involved with something that seems insignificant. And to be honest, I sang along too. I’ve sung for all of my life, believe it or not, and Oh Canada is one of those songs that has a wonderful harmony and movement that is almost irresistible to resist singing to. More important, it’s truly inspiring. Don’t believe me, check out this video from Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011. Chilling.

One point from this game that I’ll never forget is when I was standing in line for a beer and I met up with one of my now friends Seth Ehrenberg (@SethE19) for the first time. Seth is a marketing rep for New Era and one of the biggest reasons why I’ve developed such a close bond with the company, let alone had the chance to visit their headquarters in Buffalo, New York twice. After our chance meeting I ran into another friend, Jeff Sammut (@JeffSammut590), who is one of the regular sports talk guys on 590 Sportsnet in Toronto who has had me on his show numerous times as a baseball correspondent over the last year. Unfortunately, the Athletics were only able to take two out of the three games in that series, and after the loss in the final game I took to the streets of Toronto with a few random fans I met at the game and got absolutely plastered. Luckily I was able to sober up to meet up with Dave and his friend Matt to help make one of his Fan Cave correspondent videos he had been working on before and after his run. Here it is if you want to check it out. It’s pretty funny, except for me.

The rest of my time was filled with swapping stories with Dave and his wife, checking out a modernized Shakespeare in the Park production of “A Midsummer Night’s Tale” along with Jay before we all headed out to the Tigers/Blue Jays game the next day. I had also happened to catch the first game of the series with a few friends I had made while I was in New York, Kenneth Tan (@ktan09) and Eric Hartman (@EricHartman). 

Eric, Kenneth, Me

I also ran into a few others I met through Twitter, Steven P (@stevenact4) and another dude whose name escapes me at the moment. 

A few things I do remember from my time with Kenneth and Eric is that we got thoroughly hammered, saw Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder hit back-to-back home runs for only the second time that season, Eric won a gift card to Boston Pizza during the game and was shown on the Jumbotron

and I lost my only source of spending (my debit card) at said Boston Pizza after the game. Luckily I found it two days later. As for the game with Dave, Jay and Jay’s dad, shenanigans definitely ensued. 

On my final day in the big city before catching the train to Montreal, Dave invited Jay over so that he and I could be guests on his MLB podcast that he does with his friend Paul Frank (@pwgfrank) called Sunday Afternoon Baseball with Paul & Dave (@SABwithPaulDave). 

 Paul, Me, Dave

Bias aside, it’s one of the best, funniest baseball podcasts available which takes place during every Sunday Blue Jays game and features scores of guests all impersonated perfectly by Paul. I highly recommend it. As soon as we wrapped things up we all said our goodbyes and Jay and I caught the bus to the train station so he could bid me a fond farewell… and also because his hotel was right across the street from the station. Our adventure would continue in a month when I headed to Detroit, but I’ll save those stories for later posts. For now, I was on my way to Montreal.

 The train took about four hours to get there, but I was beyond stoked to finally land in a city that I had been wanting to visit since I was kid. Granted, I wanted to see the Expos play, but with that no longer and option I was equally satisfied with being able to spend time with my friend Dave Kaufman on his home turf. And Dave, being the gracious host that he is, kicked things off by taking me to a local pub called Grumpy’s for a few rounds and some pub trivia hosted by his good friend Amy Luft (@amyluft). Normally I’m really good at bar trivia; however, I felt an immediate bias due to the fact that at least two of the rounds focused heavily on landmarks and history around Montreal. I call those rounds my “Ryan Leaf moment.” Other than that, I held my own as Buck Rodgers judged me from above. 

Dave took me all over the city and introduced me to a culinary staple of Quebec culture known as poutine at one of the more famous spots called La Banquise. If you don’t know, it’s basically french fries with brown gravy and cheese curds. You can also add various meats like bacon to it like we both did, but I could only woof down about half of mine before the richness of it. One thing that I will never forget about La Banquise in the three trips that we made there (twice whilst intoxicated) is that I was absolutely infatuated with one of the waitresses working there. I don’t speak French, so I was pretty much dead in the water from the start, but she easily could have been a model for Suicide Girls. I am much happier in my current relationship, but this story would have less accurate if I left this detail out. As far as other culinary delights are concerned, the best part of the trip came when Dave took me to Schwartz’s for a smoked meat sandwich which can only be perfectly paired with a black cherry soda. Needless to say, I still have wet dreams about this sandwich.

Dave and I had become acquainted back in February of 2012 when he first had me as a guest on his weekly radio show The Kaufman Show on TSN 990 in Montreal. During my time in the Fan Cave I became his weekly correspondent after we finally met in person when he had paid a visit to New York to catch Bruce Springsteen in concert, a detail that will be brought up again in a not-too-distant post. Our mutual love and sadness for the Expos is what brought us together in the first place and it is definitely what motivated me to go up and visit him. 

It took a few days, but we finally made it out to the Big O sometime around midnight on a week night. I wasn’t in any kind of rush, it’s not like it was going anywhere…

Sort of. I found this chunk lying on the ground and definitely held onto it. I had never felt compelled to ever want a piece of a stadium, but I knew this one would carry a lot of significance based on the fact that I never had a chance to see the Expos play inside. Most of our experience that night I wrote about on February 16th for my Gary Carter tribute piece, but what I may have left out is that in that moment, as an Expos fan, I was happiest. I had never grown up or had other friends who were Expos fans, nor could they have ever understood the loss of that team quite like Dave had. Being with someone who had gone through it all could have only been rivaled by the final Expos game played in the Big O on September 29, 2004 which ironically occurred against the Florida Marlins. Just listening to Dave’s stories about the 1994 season, Vladimir Guerrero’s bid for 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases and the moments he shared with his friends and family, good or bad, was all I needed.

One thing that Dave surprised me with (twice) was entrance and media passes to OSHEAGA, a three-day music festival that took place in Montreal. Dave had mentioned it in passing well before I got there, but I didn’t really understand how big of a deal it was until I saw the lineup: Snoop Dogg (his second appearance as Snoop Lion), The Black Keys, the Arkells, Garbage, Fun., Bloc Party, Justice, The Shins and a hell of a lot more. Like I said, three days. 

Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of going to live shows, mostly for he sake of price gouging and so many people “all up in your business;” however, since this was an outdoor event it made things way more tolerable, plus with backstage passes food and drinks are like half the price. I got thoroughly bombed on Day 2. 

One of the other really cool aspects of being up in Canada during this time period was because the Olympics had just kicked off. Having been in the US for every Olympics it was interesting to get a different take on the summer games in a different country. And yes, even in Canada things are vastly different. See, during the winter games the Canadians obviously own the US when it comes to medals, but during the summer it’s the other way around. So when the Canadians win anything (mostly bronze) it’s a huge deal. I found it to be way more fulfilling than all the years of watching in the US and how it’s almost a failure if we don’t win gold in a particular event. Not to mention, having the pleasure of Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole as the lead anchors is hands down better than anything that the States could have put together. You can blame Dick Ebersol on the one.

Toward the end of our time together Dave and I took a leisure day and drove south down to the States to take in something that I had never had a chance to experience: the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in Cooperstown, New York. 

We combed every inch of the three story building and even met up with one of the museum’s historians to set up a possible second so that we could go through the archives to check out all the Expos stuff that wasn’t on display. That meeting altogether was interesting because it ended with him saying that I should submit photos of my tattoos to get added to the collection. It’s been a year-and-a-half and I still haven’t done it. Not because I don’t want to, but because it’s not finished. After our tour we took to the street to do some shopping. I of course bought a few hats at one of my favorite shops I routinely purchase from online, Mickey’s Place.

All in all, we had a great time. There are very few people in my life who I could have shared that experience with on the same level, and Dave is certainly one of those people. 

The last days I was able to enjoy in Montreal ended on the best note possible. I made my last in studio appearance on The Kaufman Show along with Nick Dika (@NickDika), the bass player for The Arkells and Brad Ferguson (@LeftOffBase), a tour manager and sound engineer who I befriended through Dave and Nick. Brad I wrote about in my Buffalo Bisons post on June 24th as we happened to be at the same game while I was on my New Era trip. 

Me, Dave, Brad, Nick

The reason why the four of us were together that night was because we were heading the US the next day to catch the Texas Rangers play the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, which turned out to be Nick’s and my first Fenway experience. So, like the responsible people that we are, we hit a bar and got thoroughly toasty on my final night in Canada.

As luck would have it my friend Tarn MacArthur, a graduate student at the University of Oregon from Montreal, happened to be visiting home on the same night.

Seriously, I couldn’t have had a better experience.

We packed up Dave’s car the next morning and drove over to his mother’s place to borrow her SUV for the trip. Dave and Nick were the only two driving back into Canada as Brad was catching a flight out of Boston and I was meeting up with my good friend Neil Beschle at Fenway to which I would be crashing with him in Worchester, Massachusetts for the next week. When we got to Dave’s mom’s place I helped load all of our belongings into the back while Dave talked to his mom and gave her his car keys for the duration. Before we left his mom made mention to one of us forgetting a sleeping bag; however, none of us actually had a sleeping bag so we dismissed it. Little did I know, this moment would come to bite me in the ass hard. But… that story will wait for another post.

Based on my previous two trips to Canada, this particular trip was obviously a million times better. But on a grand scale of life accomplishments, this trip ranks in the top-10. I’ve always done what I could to get out and explore the world and all the people that I met along the way to make it possible are the sole reason why my time up north was so praiseworthy. Canada has produced some fine people, and Dave and Dave are certainly two of the best I have the honor of calling my friends.

On an additional note, as long as I can make it, Dave Kaufman scored me a ticket to the second game of the Blue Jays versus the New York Mets exhibition games at Olympic Stadium. I can finally now make that dream of seeing big league baseball at the Big O a reality. Thank you so much Dave.

And now, the hat…

This cap has been a fixture of the Canadian World Baseball Classic Team since the first tournament in 2006. I had been meaning to pick it up for a number of years, but kept letting it slide until my trip to Buffalo. Derick Chartrand (@lekid26), is one of the #CrewEra13 members who was invited to Buffalo as part of the New Era Fan Appreciation event. Derick is from Montreal and had never left the country, let alone flown on an airplane until that trip. A fellow die-hard Expos fan, we became friends very fast, much like the rest of the group with one another, but with Derick we had a little bit tighter of a bond because of the Expos fanship. 

When the time came for us to go on a shopping spree in the Flagship Store I found myself a little befuddled on what caps to get with so many options to choose from. Naturally, Derick suggested the Canadian WBC cap. I didn’t have a good reason not to get it, so… I locked it up, and have very happy with the decision since. All that was left to do was come up with some numbers.

4- Pete Orr was born in Richmond Hill, Ontario, attended high school Newmarket and has the distinction of being the only player to appear on the roster for all three times Canada has played in the WBC. Orr attended Galveston Community College in Galveston, Texas and was a 39th round draft pick of the Rangers in 1998 (1187th overall), spending one year there before signing with the Atlanta Braves on July 3, 1999.

Orr spent his first professional season with Short-Season Jamestown Jammers of the New York-Penn League in 2000, hitting .242 with two homers, 15 RBIs and 40 runs scored in 69 games. He hit .233 with four homers, 23 RBIs and 38 runs scored in 92 games with the Advanced-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans of the Carolina League in 2001. In 2002 he spent most of the season with the Double-A Greenville Braves of the Southern League, hitting .249 with two homers, 36 RBIs and 36 runs scored in 89 games. He also hit .392 with eight RBIs in 17 games with Myrtle Beach. Orr spent the 2003 season with AA Greenville, batting .226 with two homers and 31 RBIs in 98 games. He was named a Southern League Baseball America AA All-Star. He established career highs in average, .320, hits, 147, doubles, 16, triples, 10, stolen bases, 24 and runs scored 69. His .320 batting average and 24 stolen bases led the AAA Richmond Braves in 2004. He was selected to play in the International League All-Star game. He was named International League April Player of the Month, posting a .381 batting average with four doubles, one triple and five RBIs. He ranked fifth in the IL and fourth among Braves Minor Leaguers in average, tied second in the IL and led Braves Minor Leaguers in triples, tied for sixth in the IL and led Braves Minor Leaguers in hits and tied for seventh among Braves Minor Leaguers in stolen bases. Orr won the Bill Lucas Award as the player who best represents the Braves organization on and off the field by the 400 Club. He was also part of Team Canada who finished in fourth place at the 2004 Summer Olympics.

Orr made his Major League debut for the Braves on April 5, 2005. He proved to be a versatile player, playing second base, third base, and various outfield positions during the 2005 season. Orr was optioned to AAA Richmond on July 5, 2007, when the Braves called up Jo-Jo Reyes from Triple-A Richmond to make his Major League debut. He was brought up again on August 27. He was designated for assignment by the Braves on November 20, 2007, and was released on November 28, 2007.

In December 2007, Orr signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals and on June 21, 2008, his contract was selected by the Nationals along with right-handed pitcher Steven Shell. On October 30, 2008, Orr rejected his assignment to AAA and became a free agent. However, he returned to the team two weeks later, signing a minor league deal, playing with the Syracuse Chiefs in the International League, with a chance to earn a spot on the team in the spring.

On November 11, 2010, Orr signed with the Philadelphia Phillies. During spring training play, he led the major leagues in triples, with 5, subsequently becoming a member of the team's Opening Day roster. After spending the 2011 season with both the Phillies and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, their AAA affiliate, he became a free agent on October 18. On November 3, Orr re-signed a minor league contract with the Phillies, receiving an invite to spring training. He was again included on the team's Opening Day roster at the onset of the 2012 season.
11- Arguably one of the greatest names in baseball history, Stubby Clapp is a hitting coach with the Advanced-A Dunedin Blue Jays and is a former player who was a member of the 2006 and 2009 WBC teams and the 2004 Olympic team. He played for 11 years, most notably within the St. Louis Cardinals organization, including a brief stint in the Majors with the Cardinals. In his native Canada, he is best remembered for his performance at the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, where he slapped a bases-loaded single in the 11th inning to beat a more experienced U.S. team and put Canada in the semifinals. Canada eventually won bronze medal. Clapp graduated from Texas Tech University, where he played for the Red Raiders baseball team. He still holds (or shares) the Red Raiders' records for triples in a season (eight), runs in game (five, three times), strikeouts in a game (four) and walks in a season (66), both set during the 1996 season. He was drafted by the Cardinals in the 36th round (1,058th overall) of 1996 amateur entry draft. In 1998, when playing for the AA Arkansas Travelers he led the league with 86 walks and 139 games played. He remains popular among Travelers fans to this day.

In 2000, he led the AAA Memphis Redbirds with 138 hits, 89 runs, 80 walks, eight triples, and six sacrifice hits. He became a popular figure in the City of Memphis during his four-year stint (1999-2002). He was often referred to as the "Mayor of Memphis." During the 2002 season, the 5-foot-8 Clapp was featured on a growth chart for kids, sponsored by a Memphis-area medical group. In 2009, he was named one of the Memphis "Athletes of the Decade." In 2010, the club had "Ode to Clapping Night," which included giving away Clapp bobbleheads. In 911 minor league games, Clapp had a .270 batting average, 48 home runs, 50 triples, 196 doubles, 365 RBI, and 83 steals. Clapp also pitched in three games. In 2.1 innings, Clapp has given up two hits and no earned runs.

His Major League career only lasted 23 games for the Cardinals in 2001 in which he hit right at the Mendoza line (.200) with five hits total, two of which were doubles and he only batted in one run. On April 21, 2007, Clapp's jersey #10 was the first number ever retired by the Redbirds. This is commemorated by a painted "10" on the wall above the Redbirds' bullpen at AutoZone Park. He is second all-time for the Memphis Redbirds for games played (425) and hits (418).

Clapp began his coaching career as a hitting coach for the Lexington Legends, the Houston Astros Class-A team in the South Atlantic League. He came out of retirement to represent Canada at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In November 2010, Clapp became the hitting coach for the Corpus Christi Hooks, Houston's AA affiliate and then managed the Tri-City ValleyCats, another Class-A affiliate of the Astros, during the 2011 and 2012 seasons before taking his current position in Dunedin in January of 2013.

12- If I had to make an assertion on who the greatest Canadian baseball player of all-time is, you better believe that 10 times out of 10 I’m rolling with Matt Stairs.

Growing up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Stairs showed athletic ability at an early age, playing Beaver League baseball a year before his age eligibility and excelling in hockey. After playing Bantam & Midget baseball, at age 16 and 17, he played for the local Marysville Royals of the New Brunswick Senior Baseball League and was voted "Rookie of The Year" in 1984 and the league's Most Valuable Player in 1985. He was also named Nova Scotia Senior Baseball League MVP in 1987 and '88 while playing for the Fredericton Schooners. He attended the National Baseball Institute (NBI) in Vancouver, British Columbia for one year and played for Canada at the 1987 World Amateur Championships in Italy where he was named to the "World All-Star" team. In 1988, he joined the Canadian Junior National team after graduating from Fredericton High School. From there he went on to play for the Canadian Olympic Team at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. On January 17, 1989, Stairs was signed as an international free agent by the Expos.

Stairs, in all fairness, was a bit of a journeyman. In fact, he holds the record for most teams played for as a position player at 12, but technically 13 as he played for the Expos and the Nationals at different stages of his career. Octavio Dotel holds the record for pitchers at 13 as well. For 19 seasons Stairs “turned many cloaks” with the Expos (1992-1993), Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese League (1994), Red Sox (1995), Athletics (1996-2000), Chicago Cubs (2001), Milwaukee Brewers (2002), Pittsburgh Pirates (2003), Kansas City Royals (2004-2006), Rangers (2006), Tigers (2006), Blue Jays (2007-2008), Phillies (2008-2009), San Diego Padres (2010) and the Nationals (2011). 

I’ll be honest, I don’t remember too much from his time with the Expos as I was nine and 10-years-old, but I’ll never forget him crushing dingers with the Athletics. His longest stint with any team happened to come in Oakland when he played in 632 games in five seasons. He hit .268 with 122 home runs and 385 RBI. Tow of those seasons (1998 and 1999) featured him hitting 26 home runs and 106 RBI and 38 home runs with 102 RBI respectively. Both the top home runs and RBI totals are career highs. Stairs finished 17th overall for the American League MVP in 1999. In his July 5, 1996 debut with Oakland, Stairs tied a major league record with six runs batted in during one inning. That first inning performance included a grand slam and a two-run single. This was subsequently broken by Fernando Tatis on April 23, 1999. The only reason why Stairs never stayed with the Athletics is due to cost-cutting. I know, nothing about that is surprising. What is fortunate for Stairs is that he eventually bounced around to a team at the most ideal time, the Phillies in 2008 when they won the World Series. It would be the only time that Stairs would get a ring let alone be on a team in the World Series.

When he retired in 2011 he had a .263 average, 265 home runs and 897 RBI and a World Series and the record for most pinch hit home runs (23) to his name. He was also a member of the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic team, one of only a small handful of guys to be on multiple teams on top of having played in the Olympics in 1988. Noted baseball analysts Bill James and Joe Posnanski have theorized that Stairs is probably a far more talented hitter than his career stats suggest. Stairs didn't have 500 plate appearances until age 29, at which point he recorded 100 RBI seasons and an adjusted OPS of over 130 two years in a row- and never saw 500 at-bats again. James contends, "You put him in the right park, right position early in his career ... he's going to hit a LOT of bombs." Possibly, Posnanski contends, enough to be have been worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.