Summer begins in Charleston, South Carolina

stadium300.jpgThis title doesn’t quite have the same ring as poet James Wright’s “Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio,” but it’ll just have to do …

Two weekends ago I took in a Charleston RiverDogs game. Unlike the rainy, dreary Northeast circa mid-June 2009, it actually felt like summer in South Carolina. It was hot as Hades, humid as … somewhere really humid and generally just thick in all kinds of Summerness.

The home of the RiverDogs, Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park (which I just Googled because I didn’t know the name of it for the life of me — more on that later), was just about what you’d expect for the home of a Class A affiliate in the deep South. Which is not to imply it wasn’t a nice experience, but it was certainly an experience.

I went to the game with Ski, whom I was visiting, and couple other BFFs. Ski drove; we slugged back Miller Lites from transparent, neon-tinted keg cups from the back seat. Suffice it to say I was buzzing before we stepped into the park. Before we even found our seats, we stopped off for hot dogs, nachos and whatever other good-only-when-you’re-drunk ballpark food we could find.

We sat on the third-base side, that of the visiting Sand Gnats of Savannah, Ga., a Mets affiliate. Naturally, not only were we the drunken, obnoxious Yankees (and by that I mean Yankees in the Mason-Dixon sense, not the pinstripes sense), we were also rooting for the away team. Our fellow spectators cared not, however, as this game had the feeling of one taken in by awkward-first-date couples and single mothers with several children — that is to say they couldn’t care less about what was taking place in front of them on the field. The latter demographic I can attest to, as I was informed by a 10-year-old boy sitting in front of me that he was a fan of only “the RiverDogs and Cowboys.” His daddy, his mother explained, was a Cowboys fan. Indeed, I noted, baseball is relegated to a mere footnote in football country. She agreed.

For some time we sat and watched the game, getting up only to use the restroom and restock tallboys of Bud Light; we were perhaps who Wright described as “the Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville” in the aforementioned poem. It was a hot and humid evening, so much so that my barely-too-big Persol sunglasses slid down the sweaty bridge of my nose when I lurched forward to have a bite of hot dog or retrieve my sweating beer from under my seat. The condensation dribbled in long trails down the side of the aluminum can before running off and settling on my navy shorts. The guys pointed out it looked like I had an accident, but settling into comfortable numbness, I didn’t care.

On one of our trips back from the concessions stand we stopped a stadium employee to take a picture with Harvles’ camera. She was a young gal named Francesca, probably there to satisfy a college requirement for a sport management class or some such. She was happy to help, snapping a shot with the late-evening sun setting behind us.

In the sixth inning or so, Slukes and I stepped into the concourse for another beer, fresh air and to use the restroom. The Sand Gnats had put up a crooked number a couple innings earlier, and frankly, as I told the guys, these players were just too damn young to watch critically unless we were professional scouts. Indeed, these kids looked like babies.

What transpired in the restroom I’m nearly too embarrassed to share, and thankfully it had nothing to do with me. As I stood at a urinal, I noticed a police offer stroll into the restroom and knock rather forcibly on a stall door. He shouted, “What are you doing in there? Finish up and get out.”

Shortly thereafter, a gangly, redheaded tween emerged.

The buzz quickly spread through the restroom: Apparently, a janitor had somehow been alerted that the boy was … addressing his carnal urges in the stall and told the officer. The cop told the young man to wash his hands and escorted him out of the restroom. Stunned by what had happened, Slukes and I finished our business and made our way to the communal hand-washing sink, where I informed a late-arriving man what had happened.

Disbelieving, the man summed it up in his unique brand of Southern eloquence: “Nuh uh!?”

“Yuh huh,” I said. “Yuh huh.”

Wringing our hands of sink water, we witnessed the unthinkable embarrassment of being reprimanded in a men’s bathroom for inappropriate behavior slowly morph into public mortification. The cop had taken it upon himself to inform not the boy’s father or mother but his grandmother, with whom the boy had attended the game, of his transgressions. I overheard little from the conversation except for the cop saying, “The second time I see it, it starts to become a pattern …” but suffice it to say the boy’s porcelain cheeks were as red as his hair and a certain part of the Devil’s anatomy, to paraphrase the black female cop from Pineapple Express.

Beer sales were cut off at about the seventh inning, and Slukes and I were dejected by this development. We stood in the concourse, chewing the fat, until a bored local approached us. He asked whether we had a light, and we informed him neither of us smoke. Travis, as he later told us his name, pegged us as Yankees right away but was cordial about it. We shared regional stereotypes (like his unfounded belief that New Yorkers actually do that weird Italian blowoff signal in which they flick outward with the back of their hands on their chins) and chuckled about it. Travis wore a University of South Carolina visor, so I asked whether he went there or was merely a fan. He did not attend USC or any college, for that matter, but he attended their football games.

“How long does it take you to get to Columbia?” I asked.

“About four beers.”

We all lost it, of course. This man measured time and distance in beer.

“Maybe only two when I go with my uncle, who’s a little more straight-laced than me.”

Travis went on to explain that we ought to go to Folly Beach during our visit to Charleston and described the multitude of beautiful women in the city in ways I can’t possibly describe here for fear of offending even those with the most liberal sense of common decency.

Floored by our encounter with Travis, we returned to our seats for the game’s final innings. Upon last pitch we shuffled down the concourses, stopping for a last restroom break. There we bumped into none other than Travis for a final awkward rendezvous. During this chance run-in, he was kind enough to bestow on us the distinction of being his “favorite Yankees.” Travis said he knew Brian to be a Yankee right away by his dark hair and pale skin, and proceeded to awkwardly hold his arm against Brian’s leg while he was still using a urinal to show the contrast in their skin tones. If you’re thinking the horrific scene from Along Came Polly with Alec Baldwin and Ben Stiller, you’re not far off.

On our way out of the stadium, I spotted Francesca milling about, saying farewell to the spectators. I asked her to snap a shot of Brian and me on my iPhone, a request she was kind enough to indulge.

Photo credit: Francesca/Charleston RiverDogs (on my iPhone). If you’re wondering about the curious position and background lighting, you’re not alone: “You should have taken this picture so that the camera was facing a huge
spotlight, blinding the image of you and Brian . . . oh wait, you did.” — Bob, via Facebook.

Try in vain to take away the pain of being a hopeless unbeliever

krod250.jpgWith a better understanding of baseball’s machinations has come a steady decrease in my fanaticism. Which, of course, is not to say I enjoy the game any less, but rather that I’m more rational in the way I approach it.

A firmer understanding of OPS, BABIP and VORP has rendered me less inclined to flip an ottoman when Luis Castillo can’t corral a game-ending popup, as Dad nearly did on Friday night. In fact, well aware of Castillo’s rapidly decreasing range in recent seasons, I barely batted an eyelash. Although, in fairness, his dropping a seemingly routine popup had less to do with his range and more to do with the circuitous-at-best route he took.

I was a baseball zealot since about age 8, when the Braves and Twins went from worst to first and met in the 1991 World Series. It was a great Fall Classic. Rooting for the now-hated Braves came easy, as they then played in the since-realigned NL West. But I was an ignorant zealot (I know, who’d have thought the two go hand in hand). I thought good teams were made of clutch players and performances, and they won with small ball and attention to detail. It was common baseball knowledge; I learned it through newspapers and announcers and Little League the way we learn arithmetic and cursive in school.

Turns out, good teams are made of good players, who produce better than their opponents. They score more runs and allow fewer. It has little, if anything, to do with grit and determination and the “timeliness” of hits (Yes, a run counts just as much in the first inning as one does in the ninth).

And, in some ways, this pill is a bitter one for someone who wants to watch the game and pull for a team with little or no objectivity. After all, fan is short for fanatic. I want to be a fanatic. But that entails little logic or reason. But, ultimately, I am happy with this new knowledge; I hate to be ignorant of any greater truth. I don’t mind saying that I’m almost always accepting of correction and instruction for this reason.

But, knowing what I do now, I watch games with the proverbial jaundiced eye. The Mets, for example, are not a very good team, especially with two of their better players out due to injury. Reason tells me Jose Reyes’ VORP is off the charts and Alex Cora’s is embarrassingly low.

I really want Omir Santos to be as good as Brian McCann or Joe Mauer. It would make for a great movie (the screenwriters are tripping over themselves to get to their laptops): The 28-year-old career Minor Leaguer gets a shot in the bigs due to an injury to a starter and grabs the opportunity by the throat, never letting go. The underdog exceeds all expectations and gets the girl in the end. But, I know there’s a pretty good reason Santos was a career Minor Leaguer prior to this season.

Mine’s not much of a mathematically inclined mind (I’m more concerned with musings in the guise of metaphors, as you may or may not know — that is, the sinewy strips of meat between life’s ribs), but I can’t help but to consider corrections and sample sizes and outliers these days.

Photo credit: Frank Franklin II/AP

In the heart of the Citi

DSC01264.JPG

Before I proceed with the obligatory Citi Field post, allow me to first share a collective R.I.P. for Nick Adenhart, Harry Kalas and Mark Fidrych. It’s apparently too true what they say about deaths coming in threes.

Now, on to the task at hand: I’ll spare the flowery, poetic stuff for another post. Let’s get down to the quick hitters, because there’s plenty to cover here.

  • The drive in from eastern Long Island was relatively uneventful until the final 20 minutes or so, when Dad and I hit some normal day-of-game traffic, at which point Dad let loose a slew of curse words that could make a trucker blush. I think it’s therapeutic for him, or something.
  • I had previously seen the ballpark from a distance (in the car or on the subway), but I was truly in awe when I first laid eyes on it Monday in its finished state, abuzz with eager fans. I generally had few qualms with Shea, but I now realize what an eyesore it was in comparison to what is a charming and beautiful structure.
  • Parking cost $18.00, but we knew that before we arrived. Frankly, taking the train would have been just as expensive, with the added inconvenience of being chained to a schedule.
  • A sizable pile of rubble remains from Shea in the parking lot. It ain’t pretty and I’m sure it’s killing the Mets to lose what would be a handful of parking spots, so hopefully it will be gone before long.
  • SNY (the regional Mets network) had a set outside the Jackie Robinson Rotunda and was shooting a pregame show, with panelists Bob Raissman and Frank Isola (both of the Daily News) and radio personality Joe Benigno (of WFAN). Dad and I quipped that Benigno has a radio face.
  • There’s certainly a bit of a bottleneck effect for foot traffic at the JRR. Between people stopping to read the personalized walkway bricks outside the stadium and the limited number of turnstiles (plus customary security checks), it was a bit frustrating. The JRR itself is a nice touch, although I’ll admit I think it’s a bit overrated. MLB is not shy in championing the American icon (nor should it be), but again, the sheer volume of people in there made it a bit overwhelming.
  • We took the long way toward our seats on the third-base line by circumnavigating the field-level concourse, starting on the first-base side. This was something of a pleasant revelation for us, seeing as Shea was merely a semicircle. I took a slew of photos out there, including one of the old home run apple, which is nestled safely behind the concourse in right-center.
  • After finding our seats and settling in, we got down to business: Hot dogs and soda. On the way to the toppings stand, we bumped into coworker DC, who was with his mom. I thought it only right that we were both paying it forward by bringing our parents. Dad later wondered whether there would be hot dog vendors on foot, which I assumed there would be, though he wasn’t sure. We later found out they do, in fact, troll the stands of Citi Field.
  • Lineups were announced over the instrumental for Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida.” Normally, I wouldn’t think of it as much of a match, but it was surprisingly seamless. Ex-Met Cliff Floyd was given a strong ovation by fans during introductions, and rightfully so. He was one of our few solid players during the regrettable Art Howe era. Heath Bell was booed, which was expected but unnecessary. His disparaging remarks for the organization regarding his misuse were warranted in light of our bullpen collapses the past two seasons. Duaner Sanchez received a mixed reaction. The most cheered Met was David Wright. Bud Selig was booed. Now, I understand he’s a polarizing figure, and, indirectly, my employer, so I don’t want to stir the pot too much here. I will say, in his defense, part of his legacy as commissioner will be the cropping up of new ballparks all over the nation, including Citi Field. A little critical thinking wouldn’t hurt sometimes, Mets fans.
  • Jody Gerut, welcome to Mets trivia immortality. When Adrian Gonzalez hit the meaningless second home run in Citi Field history, I quipped at least he was beefing up my fantasy team’s stats.
  • Mike Pelfrey tripped and fell during his windup in the second inning. Well worth a laugh once we realized he was OK.
  • Jose Reyes got gunned down at second base on a questionable call, trying to stretch a single into a double. It was still an incredibly exciting play.
  • The bathrooms are plentiful in number and spacious in size. The urinals are futuristic — far cooler than the troughs at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, the home of my ECU Pirates (yes, troughs). As if I don’t feel like enough of an animal partying with college kids at 10 a.m. for football games.
  • Professor Reyes’ Spanish classes have made the jump over to Citi Field, and they’re just as painful to watch now as they were at Shea.
  • A fan in the left-field porch held a sign, dubbing it Murf’s (sic) Turf. It has a ring to it … Now, if only he could field the position. He was given a hearty Bronx cheer upon putting away a lazy pop fly mid-game.
  • An orange tabby cat was let loose on the field. It scurried around the wall behind homeplate before jumping into a camera well and disappearing from sight. Dad wondered who the heck would bring a cat to a baseball game just to let it run on the field. Baseball lore, I thought, occurs on its own. Whoever contrived such a trick needs a reality check.
  • When Wright stroked his three-run, game-tying homer — the first Mets homer in Citi Field history — the place erupted. Seriously, why did it take until the fifth for us to hammer Walter Silva? We had some crummy at-bats the first couple times through the lineup.
  • Pedro Feliciano seemed to have wriggled out of a serious jam before balking home the winning run in the sixth inning, while I was on line, getting coffee. I watched on a monitor above the concession stand, of all places. Talk about anticlimactic — not to mention the fact that I asked for two small, regular coffees and was given two black cups of joe with sugar packets. If you want something exactly the way you order it, Dad said, you have to watch and make sure they prepare it that way. Lesson learned.
  • As DC duly noted in a Facebook update, Mets fans wisely booed when “Sweet Caroline” was played on the stadium speakers. Need we affect every baseball cliche? Ugh.
  • J.J. Putz did not enter to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” a huge disappointment. No, I’m not really much of an AC/DC fan, but I think it’s apropos for Putz.
  • Bell earned the save, set up by Sanchez. I have to say, the Mets’ loss was at least a gain for my roto squad in the saves column. Cheers, Heath.
  • There’s plenty more to discuss here, but it’s been a long day and I’m pretty shot. More to come.

The calm after the storm

chu.jpgI consider myself a patient person. There are many things I’m waiting
and hoping for in my life — not the least of which is money — but I
usually end up deferring to that old axiom, “I’ve waited this long; I
can wait a little longer.”

Baseball, though, is different. Its season spans half a year (more like
eight months, counting Spring Training and the postseason). It’s the
backdrop to our lives, there everyday. I envision its daily
omnipresence like communications theorists do the radio for Joe Blow
Cubicle. He awakes in the morning to his radio alarm, listens to his favorite talk show in the car on the way to work, throws on the rock station at his desk during the day and so on.

For all the anticipation leading to Opening Day (deservedly so), many teams — including my Mets this year — have an off-day after their respective openers.

After waiting six months for Mets baseball and enjoying a tidy 2-1 win over the Reds on Monday, I’m ready for Game 2 on Tuesday. But, I will wait — begrudgingly — because I have no choice, because the Scheduling Gods, exploiting my patient disposition, have seen to it that the Mets will not play on consecutive days.

Sure, there is fantasy baseball to tide me over. Between my three(!)
teams, I’ll have more than enough to keep me busy on that front.
Tuesday is also Nenny’s birthday, so we have dinner plans before my
late shift (8 p.m. – 4 a.m. ET, yuck).

Don’t get me wrong: I understand the necessity for an off-day one or two days after the opener. Teams are traveling, getting acclimated to chillier climes. Pitchers’ arms must be preserved. This makes plenty sense. But I don’t have to like it.

Indecent proposal

choo.jpgIn fantasy baseball and real life alike, everyone wants to “win” trades. The logic isn’t difficult. Everyone wants to get as much in return while giving up as little as possible. I’m sure there’s some obscure economic theory that sums this up far better and more succinctly than I can. The Mets stole Keith Hernandez from the Cardinals many moons ago and pulled off one of the worst swaps in recent memory in deal Scott Kazmir to the Rays for the one and only Victor Zambrano (last seen pitching for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic).

In my rookie year of fantasy ball in 2K7, I gave a competitor Miguel Cabrera for Tim Lincecum, Chris Young of the D-backs and Adam LaRoche. Three contributing players are better than one stud, right? Let’s just say I learned that to not be the case the hard way. I atoned for it last year, however, giving up Zack Greinke and — symmetrically — Gordon for Mark Teixeira.

The fact is, If you partake in fantasy baseball, you are bound to come across bad trade offers, for a variety of reasons. If your team is struggling, some shrewd contender will come along, looking to fleece you of your few desirable players. Others might look to fatten up their rosters on account of you’re being an idiot — an especially insulting assumption.

Such was the case in one of my leagues recently, when I happened upon an e-mail containing a trade proposal from a fellow GM. Curious, I thought, that an owner was already looking to wheel and deal just days after our draft, with Opening Day still nearly a week off.

It’s always exciting when you find a trade offer nestled safely in your inbox. What might it contain? Who is the owner — a chief competitor?

My excitement, however, soon gave way to incredulity.

The owner of You Are Killing Me, Smalls was dangling the prized “package” of Edgar Renteria, Mike Cameron and Travis Hafner — what essentially amounted to a heaping pile of waiver-wire fodder — for a pair of my starters, Mark DeRosa and Shin-Soo Choo.

Now, I would never argue DeRosa and Choo amount to much more than complementary fantasy players. Coming off a career year at age 34, DeRosa is now considered a prime regression candidate in a tougher league, and Choo, who had fallen from prized prospect to mere afterthought before breaking out in the second half of ’08 with the Tribe, is hardly a shoo-in to put up big numbers.

But Renteria, Cameron and Pronk? In 2005, sure, I’d be all over this one.

Now, I’m not naive. Many degenerates people live by the mantra that it’s immoral to let a sucker keep his money. Can the same be said of inept fantasy owners? It’s immoral to let a hack keep his best players? That’s why trades must be approved by commissioners or league vote, I suppose. You can’t fault a shrewd owner for trying … or can you?

Instant Classic

classic.jpgMaybe it was the crummy weather, the depressing state of the world
economy, the slew of late withdrawals or the increased workload for
those us in editorial, but as the World Baseball Classic drew nigh, I
grew increasingly disinterested as a fan. Though I’ll sound a
pessimistic malcontent to any higher-ups who may mistakenly stumbled
across this blog (how else would they arrive here other than by
mistake?) by enumerating my skeptical knocks against the Classic, I
assure them there is a measure of redemption here, one rife with all
the right things for a young man interested in his long-term career.

The Classic, to my constantly frigid, post-economic-apocalypse self was too flawed. Pitch counts, potential injuries, player ambivalence, A-Rod. Ugh, A-Rod. First he was to play for the Dominican Republic after taking the field for Team USA in 2006, then he brought his kids to workouts (the only player to do so), then he pulls out of the Classic altogether due a hip injury that curiously went unaddressed over the offseason and conveniently allows him to dodge steroids questions.

Then, on Saturday, during my production of a lovely 17-7 Royals beat down of the Tribe in Cactus League action, I threw on Team USA’s first game, against Team Canada. Maybe it was the unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon weather in early March (mid 60s) melting the remnants of the foot of snow dumped upon us a week ago, but I was ready for this game. Dare I say, I needed it. And, as baseball has been so apt to do in my relatively young life, the game had me transfixed, as I bemoaned Jake Peavy’s squeezing by the home-plate umpire, fretted over the Yanks’ (these are the only Yankees I’ll ever root for!) early inability to mount much against journeyman hurler Mike Johnson, and wondered whether David Wright would no longer be saddled with the dreaded “unclutch” stigma if  he were to collect a go-ahead hit at some point in the Classic — all of this, of course, while relaying to Royals fans that the top of their team’s order (Coco Crisp, Willie Bloomquist and David DeJesus) had combined to go 7-for-7 with a gang of runs and RBIs. That may have been the longest sentence I’ve ever written. Don’t get me wrong, by the way: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting back to producing games. But sometimes, these spring exhibitions get ug-lee.

However, I digress. My point is this: No, Team USA vs. Canada obviously wasn’t on par with Opening Day at Citi Field, or even an inconsequential regular-season game on a chilly night in early May, but it was baseball, with a fair measure of competitive spirit, and that sure as heck beats following an Indians non-roster invitee get his second at-bat in the top of the 8th of a Cactus League game on MLB.com’s live box score. When new Mets setup man J.J. Putz entered in the ninth for Team USA with a two-run lead and allowed it to shrivel down to a mere digit, I was envisioning midsummer, bullpen-induced agita — it’s part and parcel of living and dying with the Mets for as long as I have. But Putz induced a lazy fly ball from the dangerous Jason Bay, and may I add I’ve never been so relieved to see a can of corn fall safely into Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino’s glove.

The Canadian fans were certainly into it, and Team Canada’s roster boasted a lot more recognizable names than I would have thought, and by all means, it gave Team USA more than it wanted and then some, and easily could have won the game.

After watching Team USA trample Venezuela on Sunday night (I produced this uncharacteristically tidy spring affair earlier in the day), I’m ready to ride for the Yanks. Bring on Round Two at Dolphin Stadium.

I don’t mind telling you that I posted the following on a friend’s wall on Facebook:

In addition to the usual red, I am also bleeding white and blue for the duration of this tournament.

Matt Wieters’ rapid ascent leaves five-hour drive even less satisfying

DSC00530.JPGLast year was a tough one for me at times. Having broken up with the former mrs. of a few years, I was out of sorts for a while — check that, I was hurting. During one particularly rough patch in June, I needed to do something — anything — to keep my mind off her, off my pain.

Deluded by my misguided, romanticized notion of solitude in heartbreak, I thought it might be a good idea to take in a game by myself. But I needed baseball with a new twist. I wasn’t ready to go back to Shea Stadium, where we’d gone to so many games together. In fact, the last game I ever went to at Shea was April 11, 2008 — Dog Day — a half-baked attempt at a reconciliation by bringing her to a game.

My need for something new led me to a Class A Potomac Nationals game in Woodbridge, Va., where the lil’ Nats would be playing host to the Frederick Keys, the Baltimore Orioles’ Class A affiliate. The Keys’ star catcher in the first half of 2008 was none other than Matt Wieters, the fifth overall selection of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.

My quest to see Wieters was not unlike that of a hipster bound and determined to see an indie band du jour when their self-produced material has only been released on their Myspace page — you know, before they actually get a record deal. But most of all, it was something to do. It was an attempt — however circuitous in rationale — to reclaim something I’d previously enjoyed with the former mrs. as something of my own again.

As it turns out, Woodbridge is no hop, skip and jump from Long Island. The drive was one I’d done a million times prior since I went to school in North Carolina, but even still, my calculations — with traffic and some inclement weather — were off a bit. Long story short, by the time I arrived at cozy (to put it nicely) G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, golfball-sized hail was pounding my poor truck into oblivion. Once the lightening started flashing in the distance, I knew the game would be off.

Better still, they had actually already played five innings, enough for it to be considered an official contest. Better still, Wieters didn’t even play in the dang game. So, I drove about five hours to miss a five-inning game in which the player I wanted to see didn’t even play. Clearly, I was batting 1.000, as they say.

After tearing up the Carolina League, Wieters was promoted to Double-A Bowie just a few days after my misadventure, where he was actually closer to my grasp since he’d be playing teams within a shorter driving distance from my home like Trenton, N.J., and Binghamton, N.Y. But, I guess life got in the way (after all, life outside the diamond is a wrench). I never saw Wieters play.

Now, Wieters is on everyone’s radar. He’s going ahead of a handful of proven veterans in fantasy drafts (justifiably so; he has the potential to easily be the best-hitting catcher in baseball in no time). Baseball snobs and jilted lovers alike will have to move on to a new next-big-thing player, perhaps the Rays’ Tim Beckham or the Orioles’ Brian Matusz. Maybe I can go see Wieters the right way in 2008 — at Camden Yards, a stadium I’m long overdue to visit.

Mock, yeah, ing, yeah, yeah, yeah

The past few days, my best baseball friend Nelson and I have been indulging in that old fantasy pastime: mock drafts. Yes, for-pretend draft, where delusional fantasy gamers believe they can sharpen their wares in preparation for the real thing in a few weeks or so.

The pressure is less, stakes lower. All mistakes are forgiven. Curtis Granderson in the seventh round is wiped from the slate as if it never happened; a crime committed in a bad dream.

But we take it no less serious.

We agonize over positional scarcity vs. overall production, the merits of forsaking common thought to select pitchers in the early rounds, whether Ryan Howard’s stock has truly dropped him to the “lowly” status of a third- or fourth-round pick.

While the rest of the baseball world rejoices over the first official congregating of full squads, we gauge how long we can wait before finally snagging hotshot rookie catcher Matt Wieters.

Don’t get me wrong — the ensuing month of inconsequential exhibitions, reports of weight fluctuations and the unfortunate injury are all necessary evils leading us to those fateful nights in March, when the whether is slowly turning toward the bearable and our rosters take shape.

Are there more productive ways to spend my ever-shrinking free time (which I’ve been complaining about more and more)? Yes. But somehow, calculus homework just doesn’t have the seem appeal as nabbing Han-Ram with No. 1 overall pick.

Here are some random observations after about five mock drafts the past few days:

- The shortstop market is impossibly thin. Get Hanley or Jose Reyes in the first round, if you can.

- Despite Chase Utley’s looming injury, the second-base market is deeper than you might think. Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Phillips, Brian Roberts and Dan Uggla are all suitable options.

- There are a handful of interesting pitchers going in the late rounds due to obscurity or injury from 2008. Erik Bedard, Brandon Morrow, David Price and Chien-Ming Wang can all be had in the late-teens or later.

- The flaky users in the mock drafts have been incredibly annoying. People are joining the draft, then disappearing before the first pick is even made, meaning the tracker keeps the user active for a full two-minute pick before recognizing him/her as inactive and doing an instant autopick. Seriously: Why join a draft if you’re not going to participate?

- There was a bizarre incident today in which one user (with a recognizable Jewish name) was attacked by another with anti-semitic remarks. Not cool.

How I learned to fear Friday the 13th

mask.jpgMany people, like co-worker Jiggy, are superstitious and adherent to all laws ghoulish. I assure you, this man has a Friday the 13th poster prominently displayed on his desk. Aside from my affinity for Silence of the Lambs, I’m not one of them. Rather, I wasn’t one of them until I came down with the stomach bug from hell on Friday — yes, Friday the 13th.

It was supposed to be a great day. Mets pitchers and catchers reported to camp, meaning we’d get to feast on about a month’s worth of all those tasty Spring Training cliches before fantasy drafts get under way. Since I had to work on Saturday, Nenny and I were to celebrate Valentine’s Day on Friday. I had a lovely evening planned: a nice dinner and the most recent reboot of — you guessed it — Friday the 13th (she’s more into slasher flicks than I am, strangely). Romantic? Perhaps not, but when you’re dating a girl who prefers horror and sci-fi to chick flicks, you gladly take it.

I even did the responsible thing for once in my life, actually making dinner reservations ahead of time (gasp!) and bought the movie tickets in advance so as to avoid being turned away when the theatre was overrun by middle schoolers for the 9:20 p.m. show.

But it was all for naught; within the first few minutes of reaching the restaurant, I had to inform Nenny that I wasn’t for long. Since I had picked her up, I couldn’t go straight home, and I knew I wouldn’t have enough time to drop her off and drive home before I had to answer to the porcelain gods. Getting a refund for the movie tickets was impossible since I couldn’t muster the strength nor gastrointestinal stability to crawl out of bed and drive to the theatre. All in all, Nenny, who’s long bemoaned her Valentine’s Day history as unfortunate, at best, got to spend her Valentine’s Day taking care of me while I made her bed my final resting place.

Luckily, the bug ran its course in about 24 hours. I worked Saturday night from 6:00 p.m. to 2 a.m., sheepishly asking Jiggy to take it as easy on me as possible with assignments since I was still enduring some fever, chills, and aches and pains. He said it was not a problem.

Aware of his superstitions, I asked Jiggy if he took any preventative measures to ensure his safety on Friday the 13th — you know, staying in bed, reciting pagan prayers, sacrificing farm animals. He replied simply that he wore his skull pendant and got through the day without incident. I think I’ll look into that.

For the record, we did eventually see Friday the 13th (that’s about $50.00 on a third-gen slasher rehash, for those of you counting at home) Sunday night at an IMAX, but you tend to appreciate the small things in life like holding down Raisinets and Sprite when you’ve stared death in the face.

Hirschbeck breathes sigh of relief

alomar.jpgI don’t mean to make light of a potentially serious situation like HIV and AIDS, but if we can’t laugh in these troublesome times for our nation, economy, and our beloved pastime, what else can we do?

Roberto Alomar, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, by my estimation, who tainted his legacy a bit by spitting in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996, is now accused of knowingly exposing an unwitting partner to HIV.

Yikes, it’s been a rough few days in baseball land. But like I said in my original A-Rod reaction post, baseball is merely a distraction from everyday life for me. Sure, I’ve invested untold time and emotion in the game throughout my life, but there is more to both life and the game itself than the sanctity of home run records or the unsavory actions of a select few outside the lines.

Baseball recovered from the Black Sox scandal, Pete Rose, cocaine, the strike of 1994, and countless other controversies. It will recover from steroids, A-Rod, and anything else committed by those who do its name a disservice.

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