Spring Game 3: NYY vs. BAL — No Regrets

Today’s MVP is undoubtedly Brett Gardner, who went 3-for-3 beginning with a head-first slide into first to beat out what should have been an easy 3-1 (First Baseman to Pitcher) out. Anyone else on the team would not have made that safe. His speed is much to praise and a key to the Yankees’ winning strategy this year. Statistics put him at potentially stealing approximately 50 bases during the regular season, similar to his 2010-11 numbers (47 & 49, respectively).

But the highlights of the day were few and far between for the Yankees. Sure, there were a couple of blown umpire calls on both sides, but nothing was going to really save this game for the Yankees. Going into the 9th inning, they were behind 5-0. With 2 outs, the Orioles closer walked Corban Joseph, who proceeded to steal 2nd base, and on a single from Walter Ibarra scored the only Yankees run in the game. Those two events seemed to bookend today’s loss.

It was interesting to see the comparison in lineups, however. The Orioles played their stars — Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, JJ Hardy, Manny Machado, and starting rotation possibility Brian Matusz. The Yankees played Brett Gardner and Francisco Cervelli (though you could count Jayson Nix, who played a good portion of 2012 as back-up infielder with the Yankees). It was clear from the start the Yankees were outmatched in this game, but maybe that was Girardi’s point — play the potentials and see who rises to meet the challenge they’re bound to face in the Majors. Intimidating, yes, but it must be a great way to see who is ready for the Show and who needs more time in Scranton, Trenton, or Tampa this year.

I suppose then that today’s game is a good example of why they do Spring Training. Sure, the regular starters get to ease back into everyday play, but it’s really more to see what’s coming down the line for the teams. One broadcast I was listening to mentioned how many scouts were at the game (I think he said the number was 35 or 40). I know I’m not the only one interested in what future stars might just one day don the pinstripes.

It’s funny how you can already tell which players have something special. I’m personally watching a handful of talent currently at Camp. Most of them aren’t ready to face the pitching and fielding of the Majors just yet (easily proved when facing them during Spring Training, for example), but there’s something there. Something you just can’t put a finger on. Something you begin to see after you’ve watched the game for a few decades and get to know patterns and potential.

I remember reading something a while ago about Michael Jordan’s brief retirement from basketball to play minor league baseball. Everyone thought he was crazy because he still seemed to have so many great years left, but Jordan needed to see for himself if a sport he loved was possible, even at his age. After a year, he went back to the Bulls for 3 more years and was as stellar as ever. Now the only person that ultimately mattered on opinion and decisions was Jordan himself. And if he hadn’t played baseball, he would have always wondered if he could.

That’s what I think of when I see the non-roster invitees at Camp. A good portion of them may never play in Yankee Stadium or any professional baseball stadium, but they should definitely make every effort to try while they can. Every professional athlete knows they are one serious injury away from permanent retirement, so pursue your dream while you can. Even if it means a loss to the Orioles or Blue Jays (who, by the way, are two of the better teams in all of baseball).

No regrets, young pinstriped ones!

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 2: TOR vs. NYY — The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Well, there’s good news, bad news, and worse news for today.

The good news is it looks like Derek Jeter is on track to begin his Spring Training games on Sunday, March 10 (they’ll be playing the Blue Jays in Dunedin that day). According to GM Brian Cashman, Jeter’s been cleared for all baseball activity, but they want to ease into full activity to give his body and healed ankle time to adjust to the athletics of a real game again. I have a feeling his return will be greeted similarly to how Jorge Posada was greeted at Steinbrenner Field today before the game.

The bad news is the loss to the Blue Jays at their home opener today, making the Yankees 1-1 so far. We still have 5 weeks left of Spring and a lot of game to play before we can count them out. The Yankee pitching was actually quite stellar today, matching what the Jays brought to the table. And we could even get guys on base, but it’s the same old story of leaving them out there that leaves us once again scoreless. It looks like some offense needs to build some consistency, not that the Jays were that much better. It was actually more of an even match today. And while it may be a bit early, this could make for an interesting division race this year.

Granderson breaks forearm off errant pitch
via NYTimes.com

And now for the worse news: Curtis Granderson took an inside fastball to his right forearm. He is now out for 10 weeks with a fracture. That means that not only will he miss spring, but also the first month. According to my calendar, that puts his first game back on May 5 (at home against Oakland). Just when everyone was discussing the possibility of switching Granderson and Brett Gardner around the outfield, now we have to wait to see how that works for another couple of months.

So much like last year, it’s going to take other guys on the team, stepping up and making it happen. For now, we can only hope for the best and pray for a swift, clean recovery for Granderson.

Go Yankees!

Spring Game 1: NYY vs. ATL — Spring into a win

I’m going to skip any Disney clichés here. But based on cheering, I’d say the visitors to the Braves Spring Training park at Disney were a good portion of Yankees fans. And they had much to cheer about. Zolio Almonte’s first at-bat was a 2-run home run. Robinson Cano blasted a 5th inning solo home run. Prospect Slade Heathcott, who entered the game in the 6th, seemed to find every fly ball near center field. Six pitchers helped David Phelps get the first win of the season.

And the battle begins today for the starting catcher position and the two players today had each excelled at two different aspects of the plate. Francisco Cervelli’s throw to 2nd to throw out a runner trying to steal was spot on, while Austin Romine batted a 2 RBI single to widen the Yankees lead.

The disadvantage of Spring Training is that they have to rotate everyone around so much that it’s hard to get a real grasp on consistency, at least from a viewer’s standpoint. These guys have to try their hardest to prove their worth in just a few short innings (pitchers often get only one) per day. At the same time, they are learning to work as a team, which (like I’ve said a million times) is the key to a winning team.

Now, the Braves’ defense was arguably not as tight as one would expect, 3 fielding errors by the 3rd inning, which seem to have attributed to an easier victory for the Yankees’ first game this year. But one cannot argue with the Yankees fan base — the cheering, the laughter, the celebrations were a pleasure to hear in what should have been Braves territory.

Great start to the season then. First home game tomorrow against Toronto, behind Adam Warren. With all the talk this year about the Blue Jays, this should be a glance into how the teams will do to battle for the AL East title this year.

Go Yankees!

2013: Hope for the best

The first game begins tomorrow against the Atlanta Braves. David Phelps is set to start, joined on the field by Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Eduardo Nunez, Melky Mesa, Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine, and others. Spring Training officially begins for the Yankees in Kissimmee against the team boasting the Upton brothers, Jason Heyward, and Dan Uggla. (By the way, the Braves are retiring #10 in honor of recently retired, long-time Brave, and now Cooperstown-bound Chipper Jones.)

I read an article today placing odds on each club and what their chances were to get in the 2013 World Series based solely on the Spring Training observations and statistics. They ranked the Yankees at #10 on the list. But what do the statisticians know this year over their predictions last year?

Early on last year, the Washington Nationals were seen as unstoppable, the Oakland A’s and Baltimore Orioles were completely discounted for any chance once again, and the Miami Marlins were supposed to be the underdog/come-from-behind team to probably earn the Wild Card. There was so much hope for the Marlins, they even had a cable reality show following the team around, highlighting their new stadium. And the Yankees? Well, they were supposed to land somewhere in the middle of the AL East, missing the Wild Card spot and the off-season. And by the way, no one saw anything from San Francisco.

Sure, you can chalk it up to all the injuries or the long season or the human factor. In 2012, Rivera tears his ACL, Gardner has an early injury that keeps him out all season, Pettitte comes back only to shatter his ankle, Jeter has a near-record season, Ibanez goes yard in the clutch, Rodriguez has a roller coaster year, and Granderson’s 43 home runs were nearly overshadowed by his record 195 strikeouts. And they still ended up with 95 wins and the AL East title. So really, you just don’t know what’s going to happen in the next 8 months. Will the Yankees take the AL East this year? Maybe. But as the cliché goes, “It’s a long season.”

While I would love to say at this point that the Yankees will win #28 this year, I couldn’t. I really don’t know. No one does. Some Yankees fans aren’t so hopeful for this year. But isn’t that part of the fun of a long baseball season — the unknown result, the hope of a win?

So I guess, here’s to a long season, full of surprises of all shapes and sizes and full of so much hope for a safe championship year for our team.

Go Yankees!

Baseball: where it’s always summer

Snow Day
Snow, lots of snow — not Florida
Feb. 21, 2013

With a giant winter storm settling in over the Plains and Midwest, heading to eastward and dropping not inches but feet of snow on this country, is there anyone who still wonders why Spring Training is held in places like Arizona and Florida?

Arizona’s weather around the training camps will see highs in the 60’s and 70’s going into the weekend, and Florida is sitting in the 80’s for the next few days. And a good portion of the country looks like this picture.

I guess that’s what makes Spring Training attractive for baseball fans. It means that while outside, your yard may look like Santa’s Workshop, the great summer game of baseball is being played on green grass with open skies on clear sunny, warm days. Players may even work up a sweat sprinting in the 70-something degree weather down the first base line. Summer has, in a sense, already started when Spring Training begins.

I’ll never understand why football, an outdoor sport, is played over the winter. People are already talking about back-up plans for next year’s Superbowl, scheduled to be held at the Giants/Jets’ open-air stadium in New Jersey… in February. For some reason, when I was growing up, I thought they always scheduled the Superbowl in places that never or rarely snowed (like Florida, Texas, or California). I look back now on how many games were played in the snow and near-blizzards, and it just proves how much of a baseball fan I am.

Basketball makes sense to be a winter sport; all professional NBA teams play inside. Hockey, a winter sport, is played inside. Soccer is summer sport, so they play outside. Golf is summer sport, thus outside; and it’s also often equated with retirees, who live (stereotypically) in Florida and Arizona and can play all year round.

Which brings us full circle back to the sunny states where the Spring Training camps are currently underway. My mom always said summer was her favorite season when she was growing up (probably because she has a summer birthday and that there was no school). I always liked Spring and Fall (the changing of the seasons, the colors of the trees). So I guess if you put both of those together, you get baseball season. You know, my two favorite parts of baseball season are the early games where everyone is finding their groove (Spring) and the later games where the race for postseason is heated and tense and every game matters (Fall).

But if baseball is a summer sport that starts in spring and ends in fall, that means that because of baseball we fans have an extended summer. This forces my title today: “Baseball: where it’s always summer.” That should be great marketing for kids and grown-ups alike. I expect residuals, MLB.

So while the most of the country is blanketed by feet of snow today, our Yankees will be doing their workouts and preparations, slaving under the hot sun, working their way into a team that can attempt #28 this October.

Go Yankees!

What we know so far…

Some things we’ve learned from Spring Training so far:

Kevin Youkilis found out just how crazy the New York media circus can be. Word of advice: Think first so you don’t have to clarify later.

Derek Jeter didn’t want to see his ankle flipped around the other way at the ALCS. But now it’s basically bolted onto his body, so that even if the rest of his body fails him, the ankle will keep on going. (This should further bolster the image of the $64-or rather $17-Million Dollar Man, so to speak.) Oh, and he was supposed to say something controversial to get Youkilis off the sports pages (nice try, Pettitte), so he simply welcomed him to New York. (Trial by fire for the new guys, is it?)

The front office has indicated they’ve already reached out to Robinson Cano to start talking contract extensions, but Cano isn’t thinking about next year… yet. That’s his agent’s job. And with Scott Boras as your agent, the job will get done, and it will make a difference somehow.

Mariano Rivera has made his decision about 2014, but he’s teasing everyone about it until closer to Opening Day. Methinks #42 will be retired by Opening Day 2014, but with Mo, you never know.

Even the young guys who worked out all off-season are sore after their first few days of team workouts (according to the Captain), but they’ll find their pace. They have 33 Spring Training games, 2 Exhibition games, and 162 regular games to find their stride as a team and as individual athletes.

At first, it was just an unusually sore upper back, but now Phil Hughes is on a “2-week time-out”, according to Girardi, due to a bulging back disc. We wish him well and full health and back to the mound soon!

We’re still no closer to determining two key spots on the Yankees roster — starting catcher (Cervelli, Stewart, or Romine) and the #5 spot on the starting rotation (Nova or Phelps). Hey, the Yankees needed something splashy for the Sidewalk Crew to write about this Spring.

Joe Girardi installed gymnastics rings in the clubhouse for workout purposes. So if they don’t make the play-offs this year, the guys can start working for the Men’s Olympic Team in 2016. Go for the Gold!

Guest instructor Jorge Posada still has yet to make his appearance at Camp. Skipping workouts and showing up later just to hang with the guys? That’s sounds like a retired Floridian to me.

And finally, to take Nick Swisher’s boisterous place as “Class Clown” and all-around fun guy on the team (a role he is gladly filling at the Indians’ Spring Camp in Arizona), Joba Chamberlain is stepping up admirably and effectively to the task. My personal favorite story was the day he chose to get into a laundry cart and begged Boone Logan to push him around the clubhouse. Where are the pictures for that one?

Well, I’m looking forward to many soundbites, tidbits, and antics from Spring Training and this coming season. Are you ready for it?

Go Yankees!

Keeping Score

1932 Scorecard
Scorecard from 1932 World Series
Yankees vs. Cubs
(with legends batting for the Yankees)

Yesterday’s post reminded me of watching my brother playing Little League. But I had a special place watching those games. I got to watch it from the press box as the team’s official scorekeeper (and sometimes announcer).

When I was really young, I remember watching some minor league games with my dad, and he always kept track of the game on this page that had all these boxes and diamonds. Organization always fascinated me, so I saw the system and learned how to score a game early on in my childhood. So by the time my brother was stepping into the batter’s box and pinging balls off his aluminum bat, I was asked to be the team’s scorekeeper (I was 12). This meant I had to be at every game, which, let’s be honest, was fine by me.

While the basics of score keeping is generally standard across the board, every scorekeeper develops their own system. As I was searching for just the right image to go with my article, I had the pleasure of reading scorecards from many games, each with their author’s own style and signature, but each still saying exactly how the winning team managed their victory.

Once baseball season gets underway (starting this Saturday in Dunedin for Yankees fans), scorekeepers across the country will break out their cards and begin recording this season, much like Henry Chadwick began his detailed notes in the 1870’s. Sure the league’s standard score keeping now has developed into something accessible to even the common man (in other words, it reads more like a sheet of music than hieroglyphics). Every on-field player has a number — 1 Pitcher, 2 Catcher, 3 First Base, 4 Second Base, 5 Third Base, 6 Short Stop, 7 Left Field, 8 Center Field, and 9 Right Field. The one hitch I didn’t like growing up was the infield guys weren’t in order; I thought they should switch the numbers for Shortstop and Third Base, but understanding the history of baseball now actually makes the standard system more reasonable.

You use the provided space on the left to fill in the players’ information as dictated by the roster and follow the game as it goes on. I preferred to record every ball-strike combination as it occurred, including foul balls, but some people prefer to just record the final tally as the batter either gets out or on base. You use the provided diamond (one for each at-bat in each inning) to indicate how far a batter gets along the bases before the innings over; a run scored is usually a filled-in diamond. A giant K indicates he struck out at bat (some people like to use a backwards K for struck out looking, something they use on the ballparks’ big screens often). Errors are recorded as E-6 (or whatever number corresponds to the player who made the error). And there’s all sorts of things that happen in the middle, which is really up to the scorekeeper how they want to record the game — including caught stealing, outs (fly vs. ground), bunting, balking, intentional walks, the infield fly rule, double plays (you usually hear about these in at 6-4-3 combination), and home runs.

I haven’t actually kept score for a game on paper in probably a decade, but I guess I’m always doing it in my head. When I talk about plays being made, I usually have to translate it from say the “6-4-3” to a double play. It’s like speaking a second language. I know people who think in Spanish first and have to think of how to say a phrase in English before they speak. So I guess, for this instance, my first language must be “baseball”, something I don’t think would surprise any of my friends.

I just may have to take up score keeping this year. You never know, it might be worth the memories.

Go Yankees!