Eric…Hits The Ball Real Far

‘He’s a comic book hero with a prep school education.’ That is what Adam Karen, Eric Thames agent was told by the Korean representatives as they were in pursuit of Thames for the NC Dinos in the Korean League. A graduate from Bellarmine Prep, a private Jesuit school in San Jose, California, then majored in Integrated Marketing at Pepperdine University, Mr Thames was drafted in the 7th round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008. In 2011 and 2012 he was a platoon player while appearing in 141 games and batting .257 with 15 HRs and 48 RBI. On July 30, 2012, he was traded to the Seattle Mariners for Steve Delebar. In Seattle, he appeared in 40 games during batting .220 with 6 HRs and 15 RBI. On June 30, 2013, he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Ty Kelly and did not appear in a single game. Then on September 5, 2013, he was selected off Waivers by the Houston Astros. In the field, he only had 5 errors. Disappointed, but not discouraged, he went and played in the Venezuelan Winter Ball league in December 2013.

By this time, the Dinos understood a couple of things: Eric Thames was covered in tattoos and had a big personality while in 633 at bats in the major leagues, he had hit 21 HRs and driven in 54 RBI, had an on base percentage of .296 and a slugging percentage of .431. He was not afraid to travel to other countries to play ball. They understood what this would translate for their fans in Southeastern Korea.

According to Jerry Crasnick, ESPN Senior writer (11/29/16), ‘After signing with the Dinos, Thames bought the Rosetta Stone Korean program and dove head-first into learning the language. “When you look at this as just a paycheck, that’s when you struggle,” Thames said. “The key is to enjoy the ride. Fully embrace the experience. [The] Hangul [alphabet] is pretty easy to learn, so I was able to pick it up easily. I am not fluent by any means, but speaking like a baby is better than not knowing any at all.”

As Thames immersed himself in the Korean culture and began clearing fences with regularity, he developed an ardent following. He patiently signed autographs for long lines of fans at Masan Stadium, and he grew accustomed to having meals interrupted by fans in search of selfies. “Going anywhere with him is insane in that country,” Karon said. “It’s like going out with the Beatles. Girls are crying and people are trying to touch him and get pictures. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

In Korea he put up cartoon numbers. In 2015, Thames won the MVP award and a Gold Glove at first base, became the first KBO player to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in a season, logged a .391/.497/.790 slash line and became the first player in Korean baseball to hit for the cycle twice in the same season. In 2016, Thames regressed slightly, but he still hit 40 homers and logged an OPS of 1.101 for the Dinos, who lost to the Doosan Bears in the KBO final, known as the Korean Series.

According to Crasnick, ‘Thames showed a strong work ethic in Korea and was popular with his teammates. The natural question was how his skills would translate to the majors. Could he adjust to higher level of competition and bigger ballparks in the majors? Thames has more of a line-drive swing than loft power. Could he catch up to 94-95 mph fastballs after feasting on 89-91 mph heaters in the KBO? “He’s very aggressive at the plate and on the field, too, for that matter,” a scout said. “He’s a first-ball fastball hacker, boy. He’s trying to hit the ball hard. Sometime you see guys who are happy to make contact and put the ball in play. That’s not him. He’s gonna hurt somebody someday.”

Thames’ defense in the outfield was considered below-average in Toronto. He moved to first base in Korea and would most likely be viewed by MLB teams as a combination first baseman-corner outfield-DH candidate. A National League front office man said he wouldn’t be surprised if teams were willing to give Thames a multiyear deal to return to the States. “You have an element that’s going to be skeptical,” the executive said. “He’s already played over here, and he wasn’t a tremendous success the first time. But you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this guy a late bloomer?’ “Look at some of the money that Cuban players have gotten. What’s the difference here? I think somebody is going to bite, and he’ll get a contract for two years and $12 million, or three years and $15-18 million.”‘

So far, through Saturday, he has appeared in 23 games, hit 11 HRs, driven in 19 RBI while batting .350 with an OPS of 1.312.

What an April. What a month.

Will it last?

#watchingattanasio⚾️

Play Ball!

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Another Scab Is Formed


It begins with an affection…perhaps from childhood, when you admire from afar that player who becomes one of your favorites on your favorite team…perhaps after one moves and establishes new ties, there is that certain player that literally allows you to slightly shift alliances and like your ‘second’ team. It is convenient. You can always fall back on your ‘second’ when or if your ‘main’ team stumbles during a season.

Then something happens. Adoration is damaged with a scratch which draws angry protest or dismay over the actions of the player or the team. It is a blood spill. The next day or the next week or month, a scab develops to cover the pain of the initial hurt. Eventually, the scabe goes away and there is just a mark left…then a feint mark then…nothing.

This week in the land near Pigsville, the team departed to the West Coast and with it the disappearance of one of Cream City’s favorite sons. He was one of us. He came up through the minor league system. He was the ‘good citizen’ of the group…a favorite among veterans of the Armed Forces for the work he did. He was one of the best defensive catchers in the Majors and in fact, a two-time All-Star. He was an accomplished hitter. And, he was not the top earning player on the team, not even close. Yet, he was one of the very best. And that made him vulnerable to the system of baseball. He was an attractive, valuable piece to be traded on the board game of baseball.

The first offer over the weekend was with Cleveland. But like a smart player, he had exercised his right not to go to Cleveland. Besides LaBron, who would go to Cleveland? Even United Airlines pulled out as a hub city. Not to say there is anything bad with Cleveland but it is Cleveland.

According to Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated, the Indians offered Lucroy absolutely nothing to approve the deal. Lucroy, a strong defensive catcher who finished fourth in the National League Most Valuable Player voting in 2014 and has hit .300/360/.484 (123 OPS+) thus far this season, projects to be worth $26.7 million next season and more than $100 million over the next five years. By way of comparison, the most expensive contract in Indians history was the four-year, $57 million extension they gave to Travis Hefner in late 2007. That was considered a bust. The Indians understandably refused that demand given the impressive quartet of prospects they had agreed to send to Milwaukee—catcher Francisco Mejia, shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang, centerfielder Greg Allen and right-hander Shawn Armstrong. Then the Indians told the Brewers it was up to them to get Lucroy to accept the trade. Given that Lucroy’s focus was on “long-term gain,” per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt, there was little the Brewers could do that would make sense for them or Lucroy and the deal collapsed.

Then the game turned into a school lesson for the new, youthful General Manager. Granted, his marching orders when he was hired was to rebuild a farm system that had been depleted as the Brewers made their charge in the past ten years which came to a complete collapse under the non-leadership of Roenicke. Boy GM was about to meet his match. He quickly found out that the learning tools of an effective general manager in major league baseball is not what he saw as an assistant in Houston. This is a game for big boys. This is a game where one plus one equals a minus one. Take the deal which created that which is a scabe today.

Meet Jon Daniels. He is the President of Baseball Operation and General Manager of the Texas Rangers. He has led the Rangers to two World Series appearances and besides the Blue Jays and the Yankees, is the only franchise to win back-to-back American League pennants in the last 22 years. When he was hired, he was the youngest GM in MLB at the time. He was only 28 years old when elevated in 2005. He is a Master of The Trade. And he is the Master of Milwaukee. Lets review: just before the 2006 trade deadline, he traded Lance Nix, Kevin Mench and Francisco Cordero to the Milwaukee Brewers for Nelson Cruz, who would become an All-Stare in 2009, and All-Star left fielder, Carlos Lee.

Now, ten years later, he led a lamb to slaughter. He suggested to the young general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers that he would be interested in acquiring the All-Star catcher, Jonathan Lucroy. The rookies GM in Cream City said he would have to have a couple of players which would have to include one of the most sought after young slugging third basemen in the minors, Joey Gallo. Gallo is a legend and has all of the ability to become a great player in The Show. The crafty GM of the Rangers said, he would have to have a pitcher along with Lucroy for that trade to become a reality. The rookie stumbled going back to his chair to think about the implications. Lucroy was a jewel in his trade crown. How the other guy wants a pitcher, a relief pitcher. The young GM couldn’t offer the 8th inning specialist, Will Smith because he had already committed to trade him to the Giants for a great prospect and a journeyman catcher. How about the closer, Daniels suggested. Jeffress was the closer for the Brewers with 27 saves in a horrible season for the team. He was the real deal who had been brought up through the farm system only to be traded away in the Greinke deal from KC and then returned last season. Mulling this over, the young GM obviously felt comfortable because he was going to trade Lucroy and he needed a catcher to back up Maldonado, so he brought up Pena from Colorado Springs, the center of pitching hell in the minors. Then told Lucroy not to travel with the team. If a trade could not be worked out, he would fly him out to San Diego to rejoin the team in time for Monday nights game.

That was check-mate time at the Miller Park B-Bar-B.

Daniels either pulled Gallo from the deal or simply did not include him in any further discussion and now left the rookie GM with a bag of nothing except an quietly concerned owner and a reputation that was clearly becoming backboneless. He balked and probably demanded Gallo be put back in. If he didn’t, that would be crazy. Daniels knew that he didn’t have to do anything because the kid didn’t have any cards. All the aces had been played and Daniels held all the kings.

As time slipped by, and no deal in sight, the deal was concluded when Daniels offered a solution. He would give the rookie not one but two minor leaguers…a AA outfielder, Lewis Brinson, a right handed AA pitcher, Luis Ortiz plus the most famous words in baseball, a player to be named later.

With no other team to rescue him, one young Mr. Strearns accepted. He was just sent to school…baseball school.

Jon Daniels stated, ‘We feel we definitely improved the club and we feel like we kept a number of the young players we liked.’

Thus the cut was made and now the scab formed…another mark on our body of baseball life.

Now we have no Jonathan. We have no Jeffress. We have no Smith. We have no Hill. But one thing we do have is a boat load of minor leaguers.

Rush to the ticket office, Brewer fans. See what-his-name playing over there. After all, its still baseball.

Want a beer?

Play Ball!

#watchingattanasio

It’s A New Year.

‘There are only two seasons…Winter and Baseball.’ Bill Veeck

It is a time when every fan has hopes of having a brilliant, unbelievable season. It is a time when no one has lost. Every star will have a great, Hall-Of-Fame year. The ground crew has prepared the fields from the long winter’s rest. Chalk has been laid down from Home to First and Home to Third as well as the batter’s box.

Now, who will win in 2016?

In the American League East, Toronto Blue Jays will win the division. They are a national team with a huge fan base that leads all teams in daily television viewership with an average over 500,000 fans tuning in day after day, night after night. Plus they have Joey Batts.

In the American League Central, in what is the most competitive division in baseball, virtually every team has an opportunity to win the title and it promises to be a heart breaker for many. You have the past World Champions as the Kansas City Royals know how to win. The Minnesota Twins have tremendous rookie presence. The Detroit Tigers have an aging lineup that has been left as a bridesmaid before. There is a fantastic pitching staff in Cleveland with a great manager. But in the end, the Chicago White Sox will take the crown.

In The American League West, it will come down to Texas. Last year’s division champions, the Houston Astros were the miracle team. But the power this coming season will rest in Arlington as the Texas Rangers will win the title. It’s all about the ‘Power of Yu’.

In the National League East, the New York Mets have the pitching staff. No question about that. But the Washington Nationals, who have knocked at the door, finally have a manager who can take them to the Division title and they will win the National League East this season.

In the National League Central, the title has been given to the the boys on the North Side of the Windy City. They have the great young players. They have the prize veteran who signed over the winter. They have a tough pitching staff. They have the second best manager in baseball. But they have two other teams who will treat the Cubs like the hated brother. St. Louis is riddled with injuries already. But they are the Cardinals and that alone makes them a threat. And they open today with the first game of the 2016 season against their rival, the Pittsburgh Pirates. And the Bucs will win the Central Division title this season. They simply cannot be the Buffalo Bills of baseball. This is the year at PNC.

In the National League West, it is an even year and that means that the San Francisco Giants, with the best manager in baseball, will win the crown. The pitching staff is the best in the division. The Dodgers have lost one of their best pitchers. The Diamondbacks have two big time players but nothing else. The Padres and Rockies will battle for the basement. Give it up to the boys who play at AT&T Park.

Play Ball!

New Kind Of Tradition?


For many fans of the remaining 26 teams no longer playing the game that began when the pitchers and catchers reported back in February, this is the worst of bad times. All of the hopes of Spring have evaporated into listlessness of Fall. Those teams we almost hate are parading around on our television sets as if they belong in the Fall Classic. They are all pretenders.

There are teams in blue, not Dodger Blue, but some kind of blue based in the Midwest or in Canada. There are teams who rarely if ever appear in post season events, outside of baseball card shows, who are not front and center night after night. Much of the land has no team to cheer for, only against. There is no team left west of the Kansas/Missouri border or two miles south of I-70.

There are moose antlers, for goodness sake. Someone hit an apple with a home run. There are vines in an outfield, never seen before in many, many decades. And there are fans who throw Molson bottles and cans onto a field as if it were octopus after a hat trick. Everything about this year is backwards. Opposite of groundhog day, this is the nightmare of ’15, something we have never seen before.

There is a team participating where the second baseman decided to stop running for a pop fly and it proverbially, opened the gates to defeat. There is another team that hasn’t been this high since a guy named Bartman decided to become infamous.

In other words, this is one messed up season of the year as the marathon comes near its end while all of the favorites, except one, are participating in something which has become a traditional classic. There is nothing traditional about this year’s happenings.

All you have to do is look at the stands to see why this is a different type of post season. There are a lot of young people in the parks. Look at Wrigley. They have never witnessed anything like this. There are a lot of guys in the New York ballpark. Women don’t like baseball in that part of New York? Seinfeld in post season? You’ve got to be kidding? They don’t even drink regular beer in one of the parks. After all, its been 20+ years since real fall baseball appeared in Canada. Then there is the guy in Kansas City who insists on wearing an orange Marlins jersey behind home plate behind the batter’s head.

Yup. This is some kind of post season, kind of like being invited to a Thanksgiving dinner from that aunt you’ve never been invited to Thanksgiving since you were a kid and that was because it was your parents who received it and dragged you along, probably for protection rather than enjoyment.

Now all you look forward to is your aunt standing up after tapping that water-glass and saying, ‘What a lovely tradition’.

Egads.

OK. Play ball.

M*A*S*H In The Show


At this time during the season, some teams are just a M*A*S*H unit. You need to go no further than the Milwaukee Brewers. On Saturday, after throwing another game due to an inadequate bullpen, the hot hitting Khris Davis, the left fielder, twisted his ankle rounding second base. His replacement, Shane Peterson, ran into Ellian Herrera (3B) on a pop up in short left field, left the game with a bruised knee. As for Herrera, he had to be carried off the field and taken to the hospital which showed a deep thigh bruise which may keep him out for the rest of the season. Ryan Braun, the regular right fielder, could not play due to a continuing back injury.

Earlier this week, starting pitcher, Dave Nelson was hit by a line drive sending him to the hospital. He was back in the dugout to see Herrera take his place at Froedtert Hospital. Nelson’s battery mate, Jonathan Lucroy, has been in and out of hospitals from Pittsburgh to Milwaukee to figure out his concussion syndrome after taking one in the mask in Miami a little over a week ago.

But Milwaukee isn’t the only team to have injuries this season. And in no way should it be used as an excuse for one of the great flops of any season by a team that failed to improve itself over the off-season.

There are five teams left in the National League for the race to win the World Series. There are seven teams left in the American League in the race to do the same. All have experienced some sort of injuries during their marathon season.

So as the final two weeks of the season begin, the favored St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers, along with the surprise of the year, the New York Mets are winners of their divisions. The equally surprising Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates finished the playoff group in the Senior Circuit.

Over in the Junior Circuit, Kansas City is the only sure winner of their Division. The West Division of the American League is a battle with the red-hot Texas Rangers leading and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim along with the absolutely surprising Houston Astros all battling for the crown, all of whom are all contending against the phenom called the Minnesota Molitors (Twins) along with the New York Yankees fighting for the playoff spots. The solid Toronto Blue Jays are three games ahead of the Yankees going into Sunday’s games as are the Rangers in the West. It’s all in the loss column: The Yankees have 66 losses; Astros have 71; Angels have 72 losses and Twins have 73 losses. With a five game lead, the Bronx Bombers appear to have a spot in the playoffs. Now the other three fight for the final spot. All eyes will be on the West.

It could all come down to injuries. The Cardinals have been hurt this year and that is probably why Matheny has a full complement of roster players in the dugout and bullpen for the final two weeks. Pittsburgh lost their big, young Korean infielder, Jung Ho Kang, this week and has already had his operation in the hospital on what was described as a major injury which will leave him out 6-8 months. Toronto has Troy Tulowitzki hurting as he is making progress in his return from a cracked scapula. But will he make it? For Kansas City, Alcides Escobar and Omar Infante left Friday’s game with injuries. Houston has had it problems with the injury prone Carlos Gomez who missed the entire Rangers series this past week. For the Yankees, Mark Teixeira has been on the DL with a right shine bone bruise.

So, doctors everywhere? Begin what you call Medical Practice. The walking wounded are struggling to make it though the remainder of the season.

Play Ball!

Plus/Minus

Plus:Minus
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The dwindling days of the trade deadline brought Aramis Ramirez back to the Pirates where he began his career. And to be honest, during his last season before he retired, he looked ever bit the player over the hill who stay one season too long to satisfy an itch that historically has driven ballplayers beyond their useful years. His movement around the hot corner had slowed while his deadly accurate throws to first lost a bit of the zip it once had. And to add injury, he actually did not make a pick up of a ball with his bare hand and throw it to first which had been his trademark of a great third baseman in his past. To get anything for him is a plus, in this case a minor league player. Thus, the Brewers have removed a major salary off of their payroll and replaced it with a waiver list pickup replacement. This position is wide open for a young player to take in 2016.

Carlos Gomez, as was stated here in the beginning of Spring Training has lost a step. He has also become increasingly inaccurate with his arm. During Thursday’s game in Arizona, he made two terrible throws to third, one of which allowed a run to score. On Saturday, on a routine play he threw a ball back to the second baseman which was remarkable in that Gannett was about to make the stop on a ball that was thrown out of frustration rather than accuracy. He kept the man at first, but it showed something is not right with GoGo. The man simply is not the same. Yes. He is exciting. Yes. He creates an active clubhouse. Yes. He was last year at the top of his game. This is the time to trade him for a really good player.

The tension of being on the rumor trading block is affecting Gerardo Parra’s play in the field. On Thursday he misplayed a ball, which at best would have been a double but was graciously not given an error by his local hometown official scorer after doffing his cap during a tribute to him a few minutes prior. He is hitting very well, better than he ever has in his career. He would be a terrific bargaining tool for a trade but, if you can trade Gomez for a good player, Parra should stay and move to center and stay there for a long, long time. No. He is not a fast as GoGo. No. He is not as flashy as GoGo. But, he is so much better than Khris Davis that there is no one who can replace him. Besides, in an interview with Bob Bremley over the weekend, Craig Counsell admitted Parra is his favorite ballplayer, or at least that is what Bremley said as he was pushing Taco Bell.

Jean Segura is the perfect pawn in the maddening Brewers ‘two in the bush is better than one in the hand’ philosophy of baseball deal making. Historically, it has always been the allure of the potential of someone else rather than the stability of what you have that has haunted the Cream City Nine. Thus, Segura is doomed to leave, and hopefully he will bring a very good player in trade.

Jonathan Lucroy is being bandied about like an unwelcome domino. For some reason, he is out of favor with current management. Last season, arguably his very best, provided his downfall. Somewhere along the line, he was convinced or convinced his agent to ask for an extension of his contract. But the Brewers didn’t bite. Then his injury this season and a horrible season at the plate so far. His value in the front office is sliding yet he still remains the third best backstop in the National League. This is the time to move him. Why? He is no longer the doubles machine of the past. He is at his peak. He is a valuable player for trading to get another valuable player.

Mike Fiers is an interesting piece in the middle of the power trio (Peralta, Nelson and Jungmann) as he is also well under contract and makes only $513,000. But he is 30 years old. And there is a feeling that he can bring two additional pieces in play. With a covey of arms ready and able to plug the Fiers hole, it might be time to send him to that Canadian team north of Buffalo.

So as the end of the trading deadline appears ever closer, it is time to build for the next championship season. This has been one season to never remember again.

Play Ball!

He Did What?

As we are now in the last 40 days and 40 nights of the regular season in baseball, its time to clear out our mental wastebasket.

Let’s Hear It For The Tough Guys. Cleveland pitcher, Ray Caldwell on this date in 1919, was flattened by a bolt of lightning in his debut with the team. However, he recovered to get the final out of the game and defeated the Philadelphia A’s, 2-1. So you think you were tough!

In the first game of a double-header that was getting completely out of hand, on this date in 1940, Ted Williams came in from Left Field to pitch the last two innings against the Detroit Tigers in a 12-1 loss. For the record, ‘The Thumper’ allowed three hits and one run but struck out Tiger slugger, Rudy York and finished the game with a 4.50 ERA. By the way, Joe Glenn, who caught Babe Ruth’s last pitching appearance in 1933 was William’s catcher. In another rare occurrence in this game, Williams went 0 for 4 with a strike out batting fourth in the lineup behind Jimmy Foxx.. And that rarely happened in his entire career. He was batting .342 at the time.

Fans have a long history of second guessing managerial and umpire decisions. As for the latter, just look at Friday’s Milwaukee Brewer game in the 8th inning as it ended with an out called as Aramis Ramirez as he slid into third base and the Pittsburgh third baseman missed tagging the base. But how would you have liked to have been a coach or manager (Zack Taylor) for the St. Louis Browns on this date in 1951? In a season that produced just 51 wins and 102 losses, In another of Bill Veeck’s zany PR stunts, ‘Fans Manager’s Night’, a thousand fans behind the Browns dugout were given ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ placards to vote on decisions by the Browns coaches. The fans coach the Browns to a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia A’s.

Today in 1983, you would not want to be a Toronto Blue Jay. After six Major League seasons playing infield positions, Baltimore Oriole Lenn Sakata moved behind the plate to catch relief pitcher Tim Stoddard who had also just entered the game. The Blue Jays looked to take advantage of this situation but Stoddard was ready for them. He picked off, in order, Barry Bonnell, Dave Collins and Upshaw to record all three inning outs. It had to have been a record.

Probably would not have wanted to be Manager Paul Owens on this date in 1983. Pete Rose did not play in Philadelphia’s 5-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants which ended Rose’s consecutive games played street at 745. Owens had planned to use Rose as a pinch-hitter in the 10th inning, but Joel Youngblood ended the game with a two-run home run off Steve Carlton in the bottom of the ninth for the victory.

And, just for the record, what if there were a brief gust of wind on this date in 1894 in Washington, DC. Why you asked? Chicago catcher Pop Schriver became the first player to catch a ball dropped from the top of the Washington Monument.

And you thought you knew everything there was about baseball. Now you do know some of the crazier things about August 24th.

Play Ball!

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