What…No Centerfielder?

This past Friday, the New York Yankees played the first of their 19 games against their chief rival, the Boston Red Sox. Nothing new there except it went on forever. To be exact, the Red Sox won 6-5 in 19 innings after going scoreless in more than 4 hours and 7 minutes. The game finished a little after 2AM (EST). 628 pitches were thrown in the game, as the Yankees pitchers threw 322 pitches, while the Red Sox staff threw 296. Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts saw a game-high 47 pitches in 8 at-bats. To give you an example of how ridiculous this was, Red Barrett of the Boston Braves on August 10, 1944 against the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field won on a complete game, 2-0, and threw only 58 pitches. In short, the game lasted a very long time…6 hours and 49 minutes to be exact. Which brought up a question…are we turning baseball into cricket?

The tradition ladened sport of cricket, decided to limit some of their match play to a one day event. This has led to great crowds and in Australia this year, drew over a million viewers on television for the finals of the Australia victory over New Zealand in the World Cup final. And to be specific about what long means with this sport, the longest Test lasted for 10 days which began in October and ended in November, 1939. The Durban Test match between South Africa and England was to be played as a timeless Test match and some eleven days later it was still left drawn since England had to begin their two-day rail journey back to their ship at Cape Town. It still remains the longest ever first-class match of ten days of actual play. The match was abandoned as a draw after 43 hours 16 minutes of actual play as the game finished at tea on the 11th day because of rain. Talk about kissing your sister.

All of this has led to a discussion…watch out purest…about speeding up the game of baseball and how it can be accomplished. One thought could be, after the game enters extra innings, remove the center fielder. What?

Think about it. We are not going millennial on anyone here. We are not talking about making baseball, a team sport, like basketball or football where a player who makes a play he should make pounds his chest, raising arms to the sky, and proclaiming himself the greatest ever. But basket ball did add the shot clock years ago to supply more scoring and thus, excite the fans. Football added the two point, extra point conversion, to attempt to reduce tie games.

Baseball, a generational sport, has always melded generations by bringing discovery to the game. The DH was created to do exactly that. But now, even a league where the DH is in place, still has games lasting into the next morning. In the case of the Yankees/Red Sox game, it finished with only 11 hours to get ready to play the next game on Saturday at 1:05P.

By removing the center fielder, the entire playing area opens up. Some think that the shortstop should be removed instead of the center fielder. Why not, after nine innings if the game is tied, remove the center fielder and if the game is still tied after ten innings remove the shortstop. Yup. Play the game with seven.

OK. We can already hear Bob Costas pontificate on this one. First, he will give you chapter and verse about the essence of the game and the symmetric beauty of simplicity of how the game has been played. He probably hated the fact that the players had to take their gloves into the dugout rather than leaving them on the field as they once did after every inning. No doubt he was against the mound changes. Think about it and he probably had a debate regarding the putting up of fences rather than leaving the ball to roll as far as it could in the good old days. We already know what he thinks about the Designated Hitter.

Some argue that the greatest era in baseball was what it has done in the past, according to the generation you speak with. But if we want the sport to extend into the next Century, the game has to be played quicker. The days of 6 hour games has to come to an end.

Remove the center fielder. Then…what do you think? Just add your comment.

Play Ball!

All In Their Places…

Saturday at Maryvale. Photo by Lance G. Hanish © 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday at Maryvale. Photo by Lance G. Hanish © 2015. All Rights Reserved.

The fun has stopped. The crowds have left the sunny climes of Florida and Arizona one more time as all the practice games are over. The fields are vacant, once filled with the laughter of the guys who bring the summer dreams alive, even the grounds keepers have left as hot dog wrappers tossing ever so softly in the air on the field around the keystone sack. The aisles are empty. No more hawkers loosening their pipes for the trip back up north. The Brewers and the Indians have left Maryvale to allow the real season to begin.

So, now they are all in their places. The rosters have been set. Schafer has made the team again hoping this time he gets his chance to prove he can hit in The Show and stick this time. Scooter will try to hit left handers to see if he can become the permanent second baseman in the shadow of Gaintner’s ghostly past. Lind is a mystery at first but appears to be a good hitter. Surely he will not be able to live up to the expectations of the legend of Prince. Segura seems set to prove the horrible 2014 events are far behind him after batting .305 in the spring. The trusted veteran, Ramirez is ready for his final season at third. He is the epitome of the word ‘veteran’.

Photo by Lance G. Hanish © 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Photo by Lance G. Hanish © 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Lucroy is ready for another season to see if he can be discovered as the real #1 catcher in the game. Gomez appears to be THE center fielder of the National League as he has groomed his game flawlessly this spring hitting .316. Davis has the breath of Parra on the back of his neck as he battles to prove he deserves the left field spot. And then there is Braun. Once the face of baseball, now he only gains respect in the corners of Cream City. The boys in Pigsville are taking bets on the thumb as they toss down another boilermaker which passes for breakfast. What he did…he did. That will live in his past and be kept in our minds by the writers who will always bring it up like a permanent footnote to his name. But this spring, he has looked like he did before all this happened batting .395 and an OPS of 1.252. Lohse will do what Lohse does…win 14 games. And that won’t do. Of course it is all about pitching. #watchingattanasio

Which brings us to the inevitable…who will win the divisions this season.

In the American League West it will be a fight between the team with the longest name in the history of sports, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Orange County So Cal and the Oakland A’s. And this year, with the best player in the game residing in center field, the Angels will take the crown. He is that good. If you haven’t seen Mike Trout play, he is worth the price of admission. In the Central Division, the Chicago White Sox will be the only winner in Chicago. In the Eastern Division, the Boston Red Sox will again top the standing.

In the National League West, the Los Angeles Dodgers will finally prove that money can buy everything, including a divisional crown. In the Central Division, the St. Louis Cardinals will again be the team to beat. And in the East, the Washington Nationals will demolish the division. Hail to the Nationals.

That is all on paper. Now they take it to the field.

Tonight at Wrigley Field, the game begins for real.

It’s time to … let the games begin.

Play Ball!

Hopes And Dreams

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Todays spring training games look like regular season games. The players are ready. The managers are scratching their heads figuring out the final spot or two on the roster. The execution is becoming mid-season sharp. Double plays are looking sharp. Sliders are breaking at the last moment. Hitters are squaring up with nails. Nearly everyone is ready…especially these guys.

While the business of baseball will not make it possible to make it on the opening day roster, Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs set the attention-meter to 100 over in Mesa. He is the phenom of the spring. But because of loop holes in Major League Baseball’s Player Agreement, he won’t make his first Show appearance in a Cubbies uni until April 20th in Pittsburgh. If he can hit in the lights of the Bigs, his spring flourish won’t go to waste. Flash in the pan or destined for greatness? That’s the beauty of spring.

The Chicago White Sox are comers. They have the horses to take them to the Central Division top rung. And Jose Abreau is the main man to take them there. He is a star. The only problem he has is that he will be showing his wares on the South Side. This is not flash. It is the real deal. The Cubs may have all the talk back up in Chicago but the White Sox are a legitimate Central Division American League power. This could be a big year for ‘Bill Veeck’s Dream’.

Moving north, Michael Blazek has looked as sharp as a pitcher can look this spring for the Milwaukee Brewers. A team loaded with offensive power, their achillies heel has been their pitching. While Lohse and Peralta set up one of the best one-three punches in the game to stop prolonged losing streaks, Garza is Garza and the combo of Fiers and Nelson still have to prove themselves to complete the rotation. A-Rod is simply one of the best coming out of the pen. But Blazek is the surprise of the spring. In his last start against the D’Backs, he allowed only 1 hit and proved he could move up and replace Fiers and Nelson if needed, and perhaps even Garza.

The Oakland A’s really do prove that you can’t tell their players without a program. Only Billy Bean can manage to use a mix-master in putting a team together each and every year. Some call it ‘Moneyball’. Perhaps it is ‘Crazyball’. But this year add Billy Burns to the surprise package. Hitting .381 this spring, this is a center fielder to watch. With an OPS of .950, this is another key on Bean’s chess board of winning magic.

Across the Bay, this is an off year…in other words it is a year when they may not win the whole thing again. Besides Bumgarner and their all-world catcher, Buster, they finally have a star back at first base in Brandon Belt. He is making Scottsdale Stadium look like a tinker-toy park. Not since McCovey (sorry Will the Thrill) have the Giants had the big man day in and day out at first. Look for a big year from Belt.

The wealthy kids on the block, the Los Angeles Dodgers, are the team you love to hate. For any kid who wasn’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth, the Bums are the antithesis. They simply have more money than….everyone except the New York Yankees. But the one guy you have to love is Clayton Kershaw. This spring he looks just like he did last year….fantastic. He is ready to go and deliver. Problem is…can the rest of these overpaid prima’s do the same? And can the guy who married the Dallas Cheerleader actually smile? Or is that another snear as they finish second again?

The real star in the greater Los Angeles area is Mike Trout of the Los Angeles of Anaheim in Orange County California Angels. The ‘LAAOCCA’ are fun to watch but most of all because of their great Center Fielder and the new face of the game, one Mr. Trout. There is simply nothing he cannot do. Yesterday, in a meaningless spring training game against the cross-So Cal Dodgers, he made a spectacular catch robbing the Dodgers of a home run. IN SPRING TRAINING. If you haven’t seen Mike Trout play the game, do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Get to the ballpark and see a future Hall of Famer in action.

The San Diego Padres spent like a drunken sailor on shore leave after pay-day. Now the question is…are they in the clink? Not if a team has James Shields. The other day he fired a 5 inning no-hitter. When is the last time a Padre’s starter was that dominant? There is a lot of talk about this team being the favorite in the National League West. But, can they take on the World Champion Giants and the Dodgers for 38 games and still come out on top? Can they win on the road? Don’t know yet but they do have James Shields.

Tony LaRussa is in the stands, scratching stuff on paper, making moves in his mind which are analytical mixed with moxie to produce winners. He has begun to assemble people he can trust around him. This is a hint of better things to come in the dry air of the Cactus League. But they still have the same owner. The Arizona Diamondbacks need a lot of help but they do have one legitimate star and he is Paul Goldschmidt. There is no better player in defeating the over-shifting defense in baseball today than Goldschmidt. He is worth the price of admission any day in the week. And he IS the All-Star National League First Baseman.

Rocky Mountain High may be a song to be sung but the Colorado Rockies might have a chance if they play all of their games in Coors Field this coming season. At sea level, they become just another team. But they do have Nolan Arenado who is their best hitter. This spring, he is looking absolutely solid and may well be the best third baseman in the West. With 4 dingers this spring, and batting .313, he is a reason to watch the Rockies and is one of the most underrated players in baseball.

Up in the greater Northwest, there is a team with a lot of hope. The Nintendos have Cano, The King and now a Cruz. Nelson Ramon Cruz is a blaster of the ball. Out of the legendary Milwaukee Brewer farm system which produced Weeks, Fielder, Hart and Braun, then onto the Rangers and the Orioles, he is now ensconced in Seattle and looks like a rejuvenated power this spring. He is bringing people to the realization that he banged 40 home runs last year in crab-cake land. Will he be enough to win the American League West? Hitting is for show. Pitching is for all of the dough.

Speaking of Seattle, Mr Russell Wilson entered the building in Surprise. But the Texas Rangers are a mystery of a team. Prince is back at first but is he back to his former Milwaukee Brewer form? Yu Darvish is not. And that is a major problem. But the surprise of the season is Ryan Rua, a left fielder who is hitting the cover off the ball. This Amherst, Ohio, native has won the left field spot once held by Mr Hamilton, by banging .306 and driving in 8 RBI. He has been the most pleasant surprise in Surprise this spring.

Last year they finished a couple of innings short of being the World Champions. The Kansas City Royals look like a totally different team this season. No more is there Aoki leading off and getting on base. No longer is there the top of their pitching staff featuring James Shields. Billy Butler…has left the building. But they still have Ned Yost. Ouch! Prediction is that he will be gone in 1 & 1/2 years. But they do have one of the great center fielders in the game, Lorenzo Cain. Another of those great Milwaukee Brewer farm system developed players, Cain along with Trout of the Angels, the two best center fielders in the league, are worth every bit of money they receive. Cain is amazing.

Zach McAllister is the real deal in Cleveland. This is a masterful right-handed pitcher who heads up a terrific pitching staff that will give the Chicago White Sox a run for its money in the AL Central Division this season. And McAllister is the reason. This spring he is as sharp as sharp can be. One of the best pitchers in baseball. You will pay to go to the ballpark and see this guy play. That’s called a star.

Over in Cincinnati, there is a player that this spring has sprung who needs a close look. Christopher Negron in 18 games in Goodyear, AZ, is hitting over .400. That’s Ted Williams territory. And his OPS is 1.098! This is what spring is all about. Sometimes someone just gets totally on fire. And this spring there is a fire called Negron. But the Reds have the Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates and the Cubs to deal with in one week.

So, what do we have to look forward to this coming season? Plenty. As the Cactus League winds down and baseball and its fans prepare for another great season, it is time. They are all in their places with smiles on their faces. Time to get real.

Play Ball!

It’s Spring

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There is something magical about Spring Training. It is not like the games you see in the season. Everyone in the stands are full of laughter and hope. Families bring their kids who can crawl on the grass and not even know that the player a few feet away is Ryan Braun. Because that is not what is important.

For the players, it is another day when smiles are on their faces as well. It is time to get into the rhythm of the game. Catch up with the fastball. Fire the ball right where you want it. Get a feel for the ball. Work on catching up with the slider. Get that winning feeling back.

It is a time when you get to see the stars of the game in a relaxed mood. The pitchers are just warming up as they throw to their 48 pitch count which will now be expanded to get ready for Opening Day. For some, the form already appears to be there. Sergio Romo, was on fire as his slider this week was amazing, especially as he completely fooled Kris Davis with the winning runners on base retiring the side and taking the win for San Francisco, with slider, after slider.

Kris Davis, for those who have not seen him at the ballpark this season, is doffing a Mohawk. Which brings us to the question: how does that ‘Do’ fit into that hat?

The fans are here to enjoy. The ‘where are you from’ is inevitable. The guy to the right of us on Friday was form a town in Wisconsin that I had never heard of. He informed us all that it was near Richland Center. When asked if there was anyone left in town now that he and his three friends had made the journey down, he informed us that his wife was still there and that she would have loved the weather. The fellow on my left was from nearby but was a Dodger fan. He is still confused about letting Kemp go. A woman in front of us showed off her amble assets and gave us all an opportunity to see the Diamondbacks logo in a whole new light…repeatedly. Which brought out a stern warning for a guy behind us as his wife (not from near Richland Center) said, ‘Stop looking’! To which he responded ‘I’m at a ball game. What am I supposed to do?’. She then knocked him over his head with a bag of Krackle Korn. Yup…there were smiles all around. ‘Go Diamond…..backs. Go.’ Or at least we think that was what was printed on her sort of cut-off jersey. You just have to love Spring Training Cactus League games.

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As the game progressed, the regulars walked from the dugout to the clubhouse after the fifth inning. They’ve had their at-bats. They smile and wave to the fans who are applauding them all the way down the line to the dugout. Lucroy is looking sharp as he appears over his hamstring issue. Garza, Lohse and Fiers walk down with the other Brothers of the Mound at about the same time calling it a day and heading for the links as Nelson pitched a good Spring outing. Peralta must have been resting as he was not to be seen. Aarmis did the unbelievable as he gave one of his game bats to you young boy in the front row which drew a standing ovation. Been to a lot of baseball games in my life but I have never seen a player give one of his gamers away like that.

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Over in the other dugout, there are two legit players who looked as good as ever. First is The Babe of Chase, Paul Goldschmidt, who looked in mid-season form. If only his team could win, he might be the MVP of the League. And, Mark Trumbo, is also in top form, driving in Goldy for the tieing run.

In the end, on a day when the old ballpark was nearly filled, and thousands on the grass around the outfield in front of the long line at the Leinenkugel Beer House in left center, along with the fans in the stands, sun-filled and still with smiles on their faces, enjoyed the 5-3 score in the home team’s favor. For them the point was to make sure their hope is still intact. For them, it was a day with family and friends, one that goes in the scrapbook of life, more for the parents and grandparents than their kids. But then again, on a beautiful spring day, one is reminded that her favorite thing about the ballpark in spring, in a text wishing she was here stated, eating funnel cake. Perhaps next year. Perhaps next year.

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But on this beautiful spring day, as the crowd wandered out following the path of the Racing Sausages, the questions in the mind could be heard, ‘Is this the year?’

It’s Spring.

Play Ball!

#watchingattanasio

The air is filled with the perfume of jasmine in Arizona during this time of the year. Flowers blooming everywhere give new hope to life for the coming year. The sound of the bat hitting the ball and the scattered talk of the players indicates that this is spring and hope really is in the air. That cannot be said for the Milwaukee Brewers. This is a time of expected expectations. This is due to the leader of the Cream City Nine, one Ron Roenicke.

Since taking over for the disaster that was led by Ken Macha, in his four years in the Brewer dugout, Roenicke has been noted for being a nice guy and a very honest man. It does not speak to his ability to manage a baseball team except for Aarmis Ramirez who says Roenicke is the best manager he has ever had. But remember, the great veteran third baseman played for the Cubs before coming to Milwaukee.

What has Roenicke done? He has won 22 more games than he has lost. He had his team blow a huge lead last year after leading the Central Division for over 4 months last year and dropping completely out of the playoff picture beginning on Labor Day. It may have been the biggest disappointment in Brewer history. And, oh yes….he was not fired by the owner. Nor was his third base coach released. But that’s another story. And during the entire first week of Spring Training, his team continued the slide until this week.

The Brewers did little to improve his chances of improving because, according to the owner, ‘it is a good team’ and he expects them to win. Let’s look at this team that is so good few changes were made.

At catching, no need to improve here as Martin Maldonado is one of the best back-ups in the game. Jonathan Lucroy is a terrific hitter but much has been said of his hamstring problem. He finally played in his first single Spring Training game on Saturday.

First base is always a problem. Adam Lind was brought in and he has been virtually a no-show as he has only played in two games. Nobody backs him up because both of the players that rotated in this position have left.

Second base has Scooter Gannett who is now full-time at the keystone sack. But he has not proven that he can hit left handers.

Shortstop has a gem. Jean Segura is the real deal. He went through a lot of problems last season but he has looked terrific in Spring Training both on the field and at bat.

Third base is Aarmis Ramirez who is as good as any in the league in the Hot Corner. But it is his last season. There is no replacement sight.

Left field is a mystery. Kris Davis has never looked good since being named Braun’s heir apparent two seasons ago. Gerardo Parra is terrific but he may be needed to fill the hole at first. And there is always Logan Schafer who has looked brilliant in the field during Spring Training. He has made a personal highlight reel this spring with his fielding. But can he hit?

Center is home to one of the most underrated outfielders in baseball. Carlos Gomez IS the face of the Brewers. There is none better.

Right belongs to the former face of the team. Ryan Braun looks strong but still has no home runs in the spring. In fact, he has no hits so far this spring. With all the talk that his thumb is OK, don’t forget that is not all one has to worry about with this form All-Star. There is still the head problem that no one is talking about. Can he play under the cloud he created as the face of baseball to the shadow of a ballplayer he is today?

Pitching is the key to making it into the playoffs and winning the World Series. The Brewers traded their #1 pitcher to Houston for nobody. They do have a solid performer in Kyle Lohse and the real-deal, Wily Peralta. But after that is a wing and a prayer. Can Jimmy Nelson become the major league performer everyone thinks he will become? Can Fiers paint more corners than Gallardo and actually not bore all of us to death? And, can we unload the weight around this team’s neck, Matt Garza, and get someone in return?

As for relief pitching, we have what could be a pretty good bullpen. A-Rod, Henderson and the Hulk from Cincinnati. It could be a potent 7th, 8th and 9th inning trio. But can they perform in 162 games?

The team continues to play poorly in the field. Mental mistakes in handling the ball, which are fundamental for most clubs, is a lost art in Maryvale. This is what extends losing streaks. There was a feeling among fans at the ballpark this spring that Roenicke could be fired before the season began. Then the team went on a three game winning streak before being clobbered by Seattle on Friday and totally outplayed by a split-squad Cub team on Saturday. In an interview watching Jimmy Nelson pitch, Roenicke argued that while Nelson had worked on a curve ball in the off-season for a third pitch in his arsenal, the skipper felt that he should be reverting back to the good slider he had last season. What? Who monitors these guys? Is there no communication between the pitching staff and their players during the off-season? Why do we have to wait until his second outing to discover that the manager and pitcher are not on the same wave length? Lets see…the pitcher thinks he needs a curve ball. The manager thinks he should have a slider. Yikes!

We are all #watchingattanasio and hope that someone, namely the General Manger, gives up on this Macha re-do and bring us someone who can finally turn this franchise around. But the problem with that thinking is that since the GM came aboard, the Brewers have continued their losing streak with 956 wins and 987 losses under Doug Melvin’s leadership. In their history, the Milwaukee Brewers have won 3,419 games and lost 3,739 games. Nearly 26.4% of all losses have come under his leadership. That is not a legacy to be proud of. #watchingattanasio

So it is another spring when the air of hope is eternal. There is no bright hopeful in the wings…no Prince…no Braun…no Hart who can give us all the lift our spirit needs. The farm system is bare. The proud days of 1982 are still visions in every Brewer fan’s head. Pauly is now that old-looking manager of the Minnesota Twins and Robin is that old-looking guy in the Crew’s dugout who is getting bigger ovations at the ballpark than most of the players for just for showing up. Rollie, Simba, Gantner, Coop and Oglivie don’t bother to show up any more. Harvey is watching from above.

Will we ever see the hope…the dream of being the World Champion realized?

It’s all up to one guy who lives in Los Angeles.

Play Ball!