Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Today we spelled redemption A-A-R-O-N. And T-R-O-Y and C-H-R-I-S and H-U-S-T-O-N, for that matter. (And, hell, M-E-L-O too, as the Nuggets escaped the first round of the NBA playoffs for the first time since Mike Harkey was a Rockie.)
When your team is 7-12 sometimes all you’ve got to hang your hat on is the hope that some of your important players are severely underperforming. Of course, it helps if that’s actually true. And Aaron Cook, Troy Tulowitzki, Chris Iannetta and Huston Street, four important cogs in Denver’s hopes for contention, have ranged from frustrating to disappointing to awful in April. Cook and Street had scuffled, and Iannetta and Tulo were below the Mendoza Line.
Not all of these things changed in one fell swoop today, but it began to look like they actually could. Sometimes a track record isn’t enough – you’ve gotta have tangible evidence that guys are going to start playing good baseball. Well, at the dish, Tulo’s got three hits the last two nights, Iannetta had two hits today, including a homer that just about took down the Tornadough stand on the concourse. And on the hill, Cook’s sinker worked to the tune of seven strong innings, and Street fanned the side in by far his best outing in black and silver.
Sometimes you just have to have faith in guys. Give them the chance to reward it. It makes a win like today’s all the more satisfying when you add the feeling of knowing the worm would turn all along.
8-12 is the record for April, and it’s not good. Earlier this month I said that any win total below 9 would be distressing. But considering the way this month closed – with a homestand that easily could have been 6-0, with the lower half of the order starting to find itself, with the ace of the staff finally looking like it – there’s more reason for optimism with an 8-12 mark than I thought there would be. More importantly, as today’s game began I knew we were going to win it, an odd feeling of confidence considering the way this April unfolded, but a feeling of calm nonetheless, one that not even Matt Belisle could shake.
If the Denver Nuggets were a baseball team, here’s the lineup I imagine they’d feature:
1. Dahntay Jones, CF – a pest, and as such the perfect leadoff man
2. Anthony Carter, 2B – the Clint Barmes of the Nuggets
3. Carmelo Anthony, SS – smooth footwork, killer instinct
4. Kenyon Martin, 1B – the Nuggets version of Todd Helton, crafty veteran leader
5. Chris Andersen, LF – because you gotta have the Birdman
6. JR Smith, RF – the streaky home-run threat, Brad Hawpe in a tanktop and shorts
7. Nene, 3B – plenty of power, but he’d kinda be a disaster defensively, huh?
8. Linas Kleiza, C – solid talent but frustrating to watch
9. Chauncey Billups, P – he’s the guy you want with the ball in his hand, a true ace
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
But one of the side effects of this particular M.O. is that when I rip a guy, you’ll know he deserves it.
With that in mind: I’m done with Manny Corpas. Done hoping the 2007 form will come back. Done envisioning him as a back-of-the-bullpen stud. Done watching his narrow ass give up an automatic run every time he takes the mound. I’m f*$#ing DONE with Manny Corpas.
He’s utterly incapable of having an easy inning. If the fate of mankind depended on a pitcher getting a strikeout, and I got to pick the pitcher, I would choose Jamie Moyer before I chose Corpas. I would choose Bob Feller before I chose Corpas, and he’s 90 years old. I would choose Smokey Joe Wood before I chose Corpas, and he’s dead. He’s got no gameplan on the mound except to fire towards the heart of the plate and pray the hitter doesn’t barrel it. He falls behind on hitters and has to give in with a nothing 92mph fastball that even David Eckstein can crush.
Closers are strikeout pitchers. The Rox don’t have a classic K guy in their bullpen, but at least Huston Street is close. Manny Corpas is the Panamanian Danny Kolb – hope those hard-hit balls find gloves, hope it happens over the course of an entire season, and profit. Corpas sure has. How shortsighted does that extension Corpas got after 2007 look now? Generally teams aren’t looking to give long-term deals to seventh-inning pitchers.
I would rather eat Rocky Mountain Oysters than watch Manny Corpas pitch the ninth inning in another close game this season. There is no hope for success with him that isn’t pinned entirely on the luck of the bounce. That’s not what great relievers are made of.
Don’t make me change the name of this blog to The Manny Corpas Experience. Please.
The Rockies Bullpen Hierarchy According to Me:
8th inning: Grilli
7th inning: Embree/Daley
Middle relief: Corpas, but for the love of God, not in a one-run ballgame.
Long relief: Rusch
Monday, April 27, 2009
There was a point in time where it looked like the night was about to go completely sour. The Nuggets had built a massive first-half lead, but there was a brief spurt in which the Hornets forced a few turnovers, made a couple of free throws, got the crowd back into the game and threatened to cut the Nuggets lead into the teens. (Considering that the Nugs had blown a 16-point first half lead and lost in Game Three, tonight’s lead didn’t feel safe.) At the same time, a seemingly innocuous third inning was turning into a disaster for Jason Hammel and the Rockies, as the Padres scored four times to take a 4-2 lead.
This whole span only lasted about two or three minutes, and yet I was legitimately worried. Worried despite the fact that there were 6 and a half innings of baseball left, and worried despite the fact that the Nuggets still led by 20 freaking points. (They would win by 58 freaking points, and I spent more of the fourth quarter watching the Rox.)
I do not know why I am conditioned to expect the worst, particularly since in general I consider myself the optimistic sort. Perhaps this is a common Denver sports fan condition – after all, the list of the city’s painful losses is greatest than their list of triumphs. Denver’s not Cleveland or Buffalo when it comes to misery by any means, but let’s just say there’s not any expectation of great success except where the Broncos are involved, and even those expectations have been significantly lowered recently during possibly the worst offseason that any NFL team has ever had. (As a Seahawks fan, I’d like to personally thank Josh McDaniels and Brian Xanders for giving us a top-5 pick next year. Thanks for Sam Bradford, guys!)
Maybe I expect the worst because usually, with the Rockies and the Nuggets in the playoffs, that’s exactly what I get. Maybe one day I’ll feel good about a 20-point first half lead, or feel confident that a Rockies team can come back from two runs down in the third inning.
Those three minutes soon passed, though. The Nuggets took a 24 point halftime lead and the Rockies answered the Padres rally with four runs of their own in the bottom of the third. Neither team trailed again. It was a good, good night to be a Denver sports fan.
Dexter Fowler kinda looks like Omar from ‘The Wire’, doesn’t he?
Sunday, April 26, 2009
The second most frustrating thing about this start is that there’s no one simple solution for it. There’s no cure-all that will shoot the Rox like a rocket up the standings. The easiest way to start winning is to play better, all the way around – get better starting pitching, better at bats with runners in scoring position, more shutdown relief work.
It’s been hard to watch a talented Rockies team – more talented than 6-11, certainly – look unable to play better. I mean, let’s make no mistake – they deserve the record they have. But that’s a small consolation. 17 games in and the top of the rotation is a mess, the lower half of the order isn’t hitting, and there’s not one member of the relief corps that has us breathing easy when they come into the game in a tight game. If this were PlayStation, we’d have pressed the reset button on this season even before this weekend’s series against the Dodgers.
The Rox didn’t just need a win to get out of this funk. They needed a feel good win, one where everybody contributes and you can coast for the final few frames. They got that today against a Manny-less Dodger lineup that Jason Marquis, the Rockies ace through the first three weeks, stifled into the 8th. They got big blasts from the bottom (Barmes) and top (Spilly) of the order. Every Rockie got on base and scored a run.
It sure felt like a monkey off the back today. We’ll see if it can carry over into the San Francisco series starting tomorrow night – if the Rox can take 2 out of 3, well, it won’t be a total PS3-style reset, but it will restore some equilibrium and hopefully get the Rockies back to taking things one day at a time. God knows that was getting harder to do from a fan’s perspective – two four-game losing streaks this early into the season really puts you into that ‘Will we ever win another game?’ mindset something awful.
Things That Bother Me About Rockies TV Voice Drew Goodman: Part I of a multi-part series
Use of the word ‘tater’ as a verb to describe any deep fly ball to the outfield. A ‘tater’ is an accepted, if rarely used, slang term for a home run. That’s fine. But ‘to tater’, as in “Atkins taters this one to left” or “This ball is tatered to center”… this doesn’t work. Especially because sometimes, those ‘taters’ aren’t ‘taters’ but a simple ‘F7’ in the scorebook.
“Tatered to left… and caught a step shy of the warning track by Spilborghs.” That’s
not a tater, by its very definition.
Also, ‘tater’ isn’t a verb in the first freaking place.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
10. R. Kelly, “I’m A Flirt” (Troy Tulowitzki) – My theory is that Tulo couldn’t give a damn what music plays before he gets up and hits, so he tries to choose something that his teammates will get a kick out of. That would explain his choice of Britney Spears last season, and it sure would explain this selection. Anyway, Tulo belligerently singing this song in the locker room on local TV after the Rox clinched the pennant means it makes the list.
9. Staind, “For You” (Brian Fuentes) – Never mind that the lyrics of the song clearly describe a subject who hates their parents. The opening riff meant the game was over, and we’d never had a cool closer entrance before this one.
8. Gwen Stefani, “Sweet Escape” (Ryan Spilborghs) – Every time I hear Akon squealing “Whoo-hoo… WHEE-hoo!” I’m immediately transported back to 2007. That was a good year.
7. Genesis, “I Can’t Dance” (Chris Iannetta) – A fun, out-of-nowhere pick that actually sounds pretty good.
6. Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, “El Matador” (Vinny Castilla) – Best foreign language entry, edging Manny Corpas’s use of Daddy Yankee. Bonus points for including the player’s nickname in the song.
5. Kid Rock, “Bawitdaba” (Todd Helton) – Yeah, it’s a trashy, strip-club metal song, but for the best years of Helton’s career, this song was the soundtrack.
4. Foo Fighters, “My Hero” (Jeff Cirillo) – Great opening riff, but in the late innings, if Cirillo came up in a big spot, they’d play the chorus instead – “There goes my hero…” I know he wasn’t that good, but it’s a great song.
3. 8 Ball & MJD, “You Don’t Want Drama” (Preston Wilson) – Shame he was hurt all of 2004, because this was his hitting music that year, and it was awesome. The best rap selection of all time, edging the one time Jack Cust strode to the plate to “Oh Boy” by Cam’ron.
2. Ozzy Osborne, “Crazy Train” (Larry Walker) – Need I say more? The only reason it isn’t number one is because…
1. Peter Gabriel, “Sledgehammer” (Dante Bichette) - …I LOVE Peter Gabriel, and I’m such a Bichette fan that I still own and wear a #10 home jersey. This was the perfect music for Bichette in his prime.
Here’s a scary thought I’ve been battling lately: what if Troy Tulowitzki’s already as good as he’s going to be?
This wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. I’ll still take his defensive skills over any shortstop in the National League. But as a hitter, I’m wondering if that .291/.359/.479/24/99 he threw up as a rookie was his peak, rather than a sign of things to come. Tulo’s out to a good start power-wise, with three homers in the first two weeks, but he’s striking out a ton (he and everyone else) and hitting just .196. He looks lost against sliders and still isn’t laying off the high fastball.
I think Tulo’s a hard enough worker that if there are correctable flaws in his game, he’ll correct them. His reputation as a baseball rat has preceded him since he was drafted. But over the last two seasons – the injury marred 2008 and this one so far – his approach at the plate has been concerning. And I think I tend to worry about Tulo because I believe this franchise is fated to go as he goes. The minute he stepped on the scene as a rookie, he had the feel of a Jeter-esque force of nature that could lead a team and put up All Star seasons. And I’ve hitched my hopes for the future of Rockies baseball to Tulo’s wagon, praying that the wagon wasn’t so flawed as to collapse under its weight.
At the very worst, Tulo’s an .750+ OPS hitter with Gold Glove caliber defense. That’s a good, valuable player. But for the Rockies to provide us with more Rocktober memories in years to come, Tulo’s got to be great. And like Tulo needs to lay off that hard slider from time to time, maybe I too have to show some patience.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I wish I could say I went back to the game out of a strong faith in the Rox, but really I went back because I just happened to see Omar Quintanilla’s double in the sixth that set the Rockies up for what would eventually be the four-run inning that put them ahead for good. Yes, 12 games in and I’m already in ‘gotta see it to believe it’ territory with this team.
Well, I saw enough tonight to believe in. I saw Todd Helton get three hits, including a two-run BOMB off Jon Rauch that provided much-welcomed insurance in the 8th.
(When my dad and I discuss the Rockies, invariably we talk about Helton – long story short, I think he’s all set to hook up to the Juvenation Machine (TM Bill Simmons), and my dad thinks he’s toast. ‘His bat is sooo slowwww,” my dad will say. I plan on asking him how quick Todd’s stick looked on that homer – looked pretty damn quick to me. Anyway, in his last six games he’s 9-for-24 with two doubles and that homer. Spring training wasn’t a fluke. No way he doesn’t hit .300 this year.)
I saw Huston Street and Manny Corpas look like they haven’t collectively looked since the second game of this season. All Street did was move to the opposite side of the rubber, and it made him look unhittable. Corpas worked a fairly smooth ninth, with a two-out single by Mark Reynolds the lone blemish, and picked up his first save of the season.
Again – we Rockies fans KNOW this team’s talent level, or at least we like to think we do. But after stumbling out of the gates so bad, I’m back to the point where I need some proof. I did, after all, curl up into a ball when Alan Embree’s first pitch to Tony Clark went to the back stop and moved two runners into scoring position with one out in the 8th. Literally. I’m not kidding.
But Embree struck out Clark, got out of the jam without ceding any of the three-run lead. He did his job – the same job he’s done hundreds of times in his big league career, the same kind of steady work Corpas can do, that Street can do, that even Matt Belisle can do with his D-III caliber stuff.
And as soon as they re-prove to us those capabilities, we as fans will go back to wondering why they can’t do that every time out.
My Colorado Rockies Franken-pitcher (one attribute per pitcher):
1. Aaron Cook’s fastball
2. Jason Grilli’s slider
3. Ubaldo Jimenez’s changeup
4. Franklin Morales’s curve
5. Jason Marquis’ bat
6. Glendon Rusch’s disturbing lack of facial hair (some people NEED goatees. Rusch is one of them)
No TV tomorrow. This will drive me nuts.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Things I’d Rather Do Than Watch The Rockies Tomorrow Night, or Any Night When They’re In the Midst of a Streak Like This:
1. Watch any other baseball game
2. Watch the NBA Playoffs
3. Watch the NHL Playoffs
4. Watch an old Rockies game on my iTunes (I have all the playoff clinchers)
5. Play golf
6. Play pickup baseball (not that anybody ever does that anymore)
7. Play pickup hoops
8. Play PS3
9. Play Colecovision
10. Read a book
11. Write a book
13. Take a walk
14. Solve chemical equations, just for the hell of it (note: I hated Chemistry)
15. Pry my eyeballs out with a corkscrew
Things I’m Actually Going To Do Tomorrow Night:
1. Watch the Rockies game
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Chris Iannetta’s not going to hit below .100 all year. Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins won’t hit their weight all year. Huston Street won’t give up a home run every single time he takes the mound. Aaron Cook’s sinker won’t be flat in every one of his starts. Matt Belisle’s not going to be on the team all season (actually, he should be gone by tomorrow night pending the recall of Franklin Morales).
More importantly, eventually the Rockies are going to play some teams that aren’t better than they are. They’ve been dealt a horrendous 11-game hand to start the year – eight games against last year’s dvision winners. The Dodgers are a better team than the Rockies by any objective measure, and they’re red-hot, and both of those things were evident this weekend. Eventually the Rox will get a chance to take a crack at the San Francisco’s and San Diego’s of the world, get a few wins, get some confidence back, and start playing like we all think they can play.
They’re going to be OK. I have to keep telling myself this, but there’s only so long I’ll actually believe it. Because even the most optimistic Rox fan – and I might be just that – can’t pretend they didn’t play like dog crap this weekend.
The Worst Pitchers I Have Ever Seen In a Rockies Uniform:
1. Denny Stark (somehow went 11-4 in his rookie year. I have no idea how this happened for a pitcher with a fastball that couldn’t get a speeding ticket on I-25 and no breaking stuff that was even remotely above average)
2. Scott Elarton (shame his arm had exploded by the time he got to Denver, because he had nothing on his fastball and actually looked afraid to throw strikes)
3. Matt Belisle (I saw two dozen guys at the Division III level during my time at DePauw University who had better stuff)
4. Zach Day (had one pitch, an 86 mph sinker that only occasionally sunk)
5. Greg Harris (you have to be a special kind of crappy to post a 6.60 ERA in 203.1 innings)
6. Mark Redman (he’d be higher on the list if not for his Rocktober ties – he got the win in Game 161, and pitched well to boot)
7. Livan Hernandez (he would have been better off just placing the ball on a tee for the hitters and setting up in a defensive position)
8. Mike Munoz (just could not throw a strike. My dad and I used to joke he should have come out of the bullpen to that “I’m Gonna Be (1000 Miles) song by The Proclaimers, only with different lyrics: “I would walk 500 guys and I will walk 500 more…”)
9. Mark Knudson (a 22.24 ERA in 5.2 innings deserves some mention, doesn’t it?)
10. Scott Karl (more like Hot Karl. I am extremely sorry I made that reference)
Saturday, April 18, 2009
And that’s why this game is so damn frustrating, and why every loss hurts so bad. Because, damn it, Mark Loretta had no business blooping that Jason Grilli slider into left field that scored the winning run, and that run had no business being on base in the first place if Clint Barmes is two steps to his left to field that grounder by Manny Ramirez earlier in the inning and turns it into the routine 4-6-3 double play it looked like off the bat.
One more centimeter of good wood, and Troy Tulowitzki rips Jonathan Broxton’s first pitch of the night into the gap and the Rockies get the lead back in the 8th.
An inch higher and ball four to Orlando Hudson is strike three, and maybe Matt Belisle is breathing a little easier in that seventh inning.
We can play the blame game all night if we want. But once a decision’s made, it’s made, and whether it’s a right one or not has nothing to do with the thought process and everything to do with the execution, and you can be made or broken on the margins. Tonight, the Rox broke.
And it absolutely sucks, and the panic button gets pulled out in earnest for the first time this season after another bullpen disaster (at least Huston Street looked good in the 8th), and it feels like you have to blame somebody – the pitchers, the manager, the offense – somebody, just to put a face on the defeat. Because it hurts too much to simply blame the game, because above all else that’s what you give your unconditional love to despite overwhelming evidence that it has no interest in loving you back.
The former Cy Young Award winning Dodger reliever Mike Marshall wrote a paper while in college titled “Baseball Is An Ass.” Isn’t it, though?
Players That Look Worse Than Clint Barmes At The Plate On A Consistent Basis:
Even after all that above – the point of which, in case you’re unclear, is that sometimes you get unlucky in the game and there’s no sense in blaming those who the bum luck happens to – I still have absolutely no idea why Matt Belisle was the seventh-inning guy tonight, and I sincerely hope to never see that again.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Today, I got home from work as the Rockies were leading the Cubs 5-1 in the 8th inning. I changed out of work clothes and threw on an old purple Rox t-shirt. As I went back to sit on my couch, I watched in horror as Huston Street gave up a home run, a walk, and a single in succession. (George Frazier theorized that he may have not been loose, or worse, that he may be injured.)
And that’s how it came to pass that I watched Jason Grilli record the final three outs of the game shirtless. (No, lady readers, that’s not nearly as sexy as it sounds.)
It was a good win, Street’s difficulties notwithstanding, as the Rockies got to Rich Harden early and got a big insurance run off a pinch-hit double by Dexter Fowler (who, I must confess, I’ve developed such a man-crush on that it’s slowly approaching ‘love that dare not speak its name’ territory. I’m that big a fan. I can’t wait to watch him for the next 10 years in the center garden at Coors.) Jason Marquis stuck it up the ass of every Cub fan that booed the guy for the crime of… I don’t know, not throwing a no-hitter every time he pitched? He’s not only been the Rox best starter thus far, but he’s got three hits and three RBI. Maybe he ought to start at second base on his off days.
Five Pitchers I Don’t Know How Anyone Gets A Hit Off Of, Ever:
1. Rich Harden
2. Roy Oswalt
3. Ubaldo Jimenez
4. Matt Cain
5. Felix Hernandez
Took a call on Tuesday afternoon at the office that really brightened my day. I work for a company that owns two radio stations in Worland, Wyoming. The AM station is our news/talk/sports station. When we aren’t airing sporting events – local high school, UW Cowboys, Denver Broncos and the Rockies – we carry talk programming, most of it politically oriented. As you can imagine in a state that’s as capital-r Red as Wyoming, all of that political talk is slanted rather to the right.
So in the afternoon – 10 to 1 local time – we carry Rush Limbaugh. Now I’m not writing this blog to talk politics, but even leaving those aside I’m not sure how anybody finds Limbaugh entertaining. His parody songs and advertisements are generally unfunny and always overplayed – for God’s sake, he runs one that makes fun of Ron Artest’s rap career. What is this, 2007?
But hey, the guy’s got a following. And one of his loyal fans (by the tone of his voice I’m guessing mid-40s, owns some farmland, and probably thinks President Obama isn’t from the United States) was surprised on Tuesday to hear Jeff Kingery and Jack Corrigan as the noon hour approached instead of his beloved Rush. (Not sure where the guy’s outrage was when we cut off the last half hour of Rush last Monday and Wednesday.) So he called the radio station. I picked up.
“Yeah, hi, who am I speaking to?”
“This is Dan. How can I help you?”
“Yeah, I wanna know what happened to the Rush program?”
I’m already excited about this conversation.
“We are carrying Rockies baseball this afternoon!” I say, as chipper as I can possibly be.
“Are you kidding me?” He says this as though I’ve taken his car away, not his favorite talk show.
“No sir, I’m not.”
“You mean to tell me more people in Worland care about some baseball game (imagine contempt dripping from his voice as though baseball were a thoroughly unworthy pursuit) than care about Rush?”
I bite my lip to keep from laughing. You see, I know this to be true. Whenever we have satellite trouble and lose the Rockies broadcast feed, we get MULTIPLE calls wondering where the game is. When we carry an early-season Broncos game in lieu of the Rockies – again, multiple calls. The only time I’ve heard of anyone calling to complain about Limbaugh being preempted was during the high school basketball regional tournament, when an afternoon Worland Warrior basketball game prompted a caller to tell us “I don’t think high school sports are as important as what Rush has to say.” (That guy is lucky I didn’t take his call. Lucky anybody in town didn’t take that call, either – Warrior athletics are a BIG deal.)
But, not wanting to sound like a total jackass, I just say, “Well, sir, you’re the only call of complaint we’ve had. We have aired Rockies baseball for quite some time on our air and we’re excited to carry all 162 games this season!” Again, really laying on the enthusiasm as thick as I can.
The caller mutters, “Unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. Well, thanks for nothing.”
“Enjoy the game!” I said as he hung up.
So, to conclude – even in Worland, a town that might be unable to field a Legion baseball team this year due to lack of interest, baseball takes precedence over punditry. Makes me proud to be an American, where at least I know the game is on the air.
Monday, April 13, 2009
Tomorrow’s an off day, and already it seems the Rox could use it – a mental health day of sorts, to get their bats back on the right track. After what happened today – and what’s happened this past week – it seems all of baseball could use a mental health day. Regardless of what your team’s done on the field, this baseball season has been blackened by off-field tragedy.
I didn’t know what to say about the tragic death of Angels pitcher Nick Adenhart when it happened. I’m always affected far more than I feel like I should be when a professional athlete dies in the midst of their career. The fact that Adenhart was coming off the best outing of his young career made it all the sadder – it only highlighted just how special a talent he was. When talent like that is struck down, it’s all of baseball’s loss.
But then I noticed his birthdate on his Baseball-Reference player page: August 24, 1986. I was born just under one month later.
Nick Adenhart and I, I’d imagine, didn’t have a great deal in common – not a hometown, certainly not a fastball. But it’s not hard to look at Adenhart – and other players of his age and mine coming through the big leagues – and see a part of myself, growing up at the same time and dreaming the same dreams, wanting nothing more than to play baseball my whole life.
Nothing confronts me with mortality more aggressively than the death of a young athlete – the ones who carry the torch for me and a thousand other dreamers, the ones who seem untouchable. If they – the chosen few, the luckiest – can see their life ended far before their times, then…
In college I would amuse my friends in the sports department at the radio station with the only two broadcaster impressions I could do. One was Howard Cosell. The other was Harry Kalas.
I mean… how could you not love Kalas, the voice of the Phillies, NFL Films, the Puppy Bowl, Chunky Soup, and many other things that were enriched by his one-of-a-kind voice? Voices like his are the ones that constantly fill me with both the self-doubt that I’ll ever be even a fraction as good and the inspiration to strive for those heights in the business.
Harry Kalas died in the broadcast booth before a game today. Shane Victorino pointed to the booth in his honor after hitting a home run in the fourth inning. Maybe it’s insensitive to say it, but that’s certainly a way I’d want to leave this Earth, and a more humbling tribute from your beloved team I could not imagine. Every broadcaster should be so lucky.
I wasn’t alive in 1976, but had I been, I have to think I would have LOVED Mark Fidrych. I certainly loved to read about him, and hear stories about how he was so beloved at Tiger Stadium that he couldn’t leave the ballpark without doing laps around the field to acknowledge the screaming masses. Every Fidrych start was a Jonas Brothers concert on a diamond, transforming Detroit baseball fans to giddy pre-teens.
There was a certain tragedy about Fidrych’s career, of course – after that supernova of a season in 1976, he battled injuries and was never the same, leaving the bigs for good after 1980. But by all accounts, ‘The Bird’ was the least affected by the premature end to his career. He took the ride as long as he could and got every last drop of joy that he could from the game. When it was over, it was over.
By all accounts, Nick Adenhart, Harry Kalas and Mark Fidrych were great men, period, not just great baseball men. Baseball needs all the people like them that they can get, and in a five day span baseball lost all three. It’s the sort of cruel injustice that trivializes things like the size of the strike zone in this afternoon’s Rockies game.
I hope by Wednesday I’m ready to get back to caring how the Rockies do. Today, I can’t say I did.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Once I got out of my car, I got a text. It was a very good friend of mine: “Color me concerned about the Rockies bullpen.”
And here’s where this very strange instinct I have as a fan kicks in. I don’t mind being upset about a loss, or angry at the players who caused it (and make no mistake, this loss is on Manny Corpas and Street for giving up the tying and losing gopher balls). But when other people are upset, I have a tendency to try and talk them down off the ledge a little bit. If baseball’s taught me anything, it’s to never get too high on a single success or too low on a single failure.
My response to my buddy’s text: “After six games?” Were the 162-game grind expressed as one single game, we’re still in the top of the first. There’s a lot of ballgame left, so to speak.
My buddy’s reply was to ask, “Does Street look like a closer to you?”
Well, he sure looked like one with the A’s, and before that at the University of Texas. And he damn sure looked like one in the second game of this season, in which he picked up his first Rockies save. But that doesn’t all fit in a text window, and it’s a pretty smart-assed reply besides.
Street, and Corpas for that matter, have never fit the profile of the ideal closer. When you think great closers, you think swaggering flamethrowers with well over a strikeout per inning. The aforementioned Fuentes is about as close as the Rockies have ever been to having one of those guys at the back end of the bullpen. Street does have a career K/9 ratio of 9.1, far beyond Corpas’s 6.4. This is one of the biggest reasons I prefer Street at the back of the pen. In the ninth inning of a one-run game, you don’t want the other team to even pick up the scent of a possible rally. The best way to keep guys off the bases is to keep them from putting it in play entirely, and all things being equal, Street is going to do that more often than Corpas will, although still not often enough to provide the comfort that a Papelbon or Lidge provide in the final frame.
That doesn’t fit in a text window, either. So I replied “Neither Street or Corpas are big K guys. When they get beat, it’ll be ugly. But Street has a track record. He’ll be fine.”
This seemed to satiate my friend, as I didn’t hear back. Well, that or he thought I was full of crap.
The Rox lost two of three to a better team. It could have been the other way around with a little better relief pitching (well, that and a little offense past the early innings), but at this early juncture of the season you shake it off and go try and get the Cubbies at Wrigley. Lot of ballgame left, after all.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
When I had internet on my phone, I would check a score roughly 137 times each game, the number only varying based on how appropriate it was to use a phone at the time. But now that I don’t have that option, when in a social setting I have to do my best to fight the temptation to text “Got a Rox score?” to a friend or walk through the bar area of a restaurant to try and see the score on ESPN’s bottom line.
Tonight was one of those nights – in a strange town, at a house that wasn’t receiving the game (thanks, Bresnan Cable!), at a restaurant that wasn’t showing the game. MLB’s Gameday took me through the first four innings, but as Jorge de la Rosa imploded in the fifth inning and the Rockies bullpen made things worse drip by drip in what would become an 8-4 loss, I tried to pretend it wasn’t bothering me that the only chance I had to see a score was to squint at the TV every five minutes.
After yesterday’s home opening thumping of reigning World Series MVP Cole Hamels and the Phillies, optimism abounded, and had I had an internet connection I’d have joined the chorus of voices telling all of you readers, “Hey, the Rockies are going to be good.” And they are. Maybe not great, maybe not a playoff team, but a good team, one who will win more than they lose as long as they get passable starting pitching and execute as they have thus far with runners in scoring position.
Today’s loss shouldn’t dampen that enthusiasm for the 09 Rox in the slightest, just like yesterday’s win really shouldn’t have increased it as much as it seemed to. The Rockies could only manage four hits, although three of them were long balls, including another one from Troy Tulowitzki, who really seems bound and determined to eclipse the 24 jacks he hit in his rookie season.
But pitching doomed the Rockies on this night. Jorge de la Rosa was cruising until Garrett Atkins couldn’t make a throw on a hot smash by Jimmy Rollins with two outs in the third inning. This is where de la Rosa frustrates – faced with adversity, he has an unfortunate tendency to shrink from the occasion rather than rise to it. Three batters later, Ryan Howard was clearing the bases with a mammoth double to center. De la Rosa had similar trouble getting out of an inning in the fifth, and gave up a two-run triple that ended up providing Philly’s winning run.
Many of the stories surrounding the 09 Rockies are dealing with a renewed mental toughness. If de la Rosa ever gets that memo, he could be a very important part of the rotation.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Watching these first three games, the team just looks different. There’s more patience at the plate, better swings being taken, more productive offense with runners in scoring position, more aggressiveness on the bases, and most glaringly in the last two games, better starting pitching. Granted, much of this perception is thanks to the glossy finish that every team carries out of spring training and into the opening series. But there’s no denying that, even in defeat on Monday, the Rox looked good to start their season. If they’re truly a team on a mission to prove that 2008 and not 2007 was the fluke year, they sure looked it.
Today’s 9-2 win featured power from the stars of the future (Dexter Fowler and Ian Stewart homered) and a great outing from a forgotten prospect (lots of people seem to forget that Franklin Morales is only 23 – he went six today, fanning six and walking only one). But the best part – at least to a fan like me whose stomach starts churning by the seventh inning if the lead isn’t greater than three runs – was that for the second straight day, the Rox put the game away with late inning offense. Yorvit Torrealba and Stewart hit back to back homers in the seventh, and the Rockies got another run in the 8th and two more in the 9th. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got confidence in the back end of the pen, but I like being able to watch the final inning with a Glenn Frey-like peaceful, easy feeling.
Since I couldn’t duck out of work today to watch the first few innings on TV, I spent the first part of the game tuned in to Jeff Kingery and Jack Corrigan. I’m lucky enough to work in radio for a living, and the station I work at in Northern Wyoming happens to be a Rockies radio affiliate. So it’s no problem to dial my radio in to hear the Rockies radio team call the action. Kingery’s the one the Rockies have grown up with – he’s been there since the inception. I’ve actually had the occasion to meet him before, stories I’ll share another time.
Jeff and Jack don’t stand with greats of baseball broadcasting like Scully, Miller, Barber and Harwell, but they work very well together, are always well prepared, and are never corny or overbearing. They don’t have to be bigger than the game – they’re just part of it.
In my current job as a voice of high school sports and Legion baseball in a small Wyoming town, I’m a long, long way from the majors. But since I was seven years old and knew that this was what I wanted to do for a living, I’ve listened to the Rockies on the radio and pictured myself sitting behind the microphone, doing what I have always imagined to be the best job in the world. I still think that. I still dream that.
Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Rockies 3, Diamondbacks 0. We can all sit down.
There are more to come, of course, but the first one is always the hardest, and the most nerve-wracking one to wait for. This one threatened to be especially tense, as Troy Tulowitzki’s fifth-inning homer was the lone run through seven exceptionally well-pitched innings from Ubaldo Jimenez and Dan Haren. But Ian Stewart and Todd Helton knocked in runs in the 8th, my heart rate slowed, and Manny Corpas and Huston Street looked exactly like we dream they’ll look all year in the final two frames.
But the story of tonight was Jimenez. There are two current Rockies pitchers who I made a point to go see make their AAA home debuts in Colorado Springs when they were coming up through the minors. One was Jeff Francis – that was back in 2004. The other was Jimenez, in 2006. The same night Josh Fogg shut-out the Mariners on two hits, I watched Jimenez struggle in his first AAA start against Portland. Jack Cust in particular had a big night. Jimenez couldn’t really command his off speed stuff, and didn’t throw much more than a fastball, curve, and change. But the way he lit up the radar gun made it clear that, once he got to the bigs, he would be unlike any other young hurler the Rockies had ever developed – a true power pitcher with an elite, blow-away fastball.
We saw glimpses in 2007 and 2008, but for the Rockies to really make noise in 2009, Jimenez, now the number two starter, has to make the biggest step forward, from ‘young pitcher finding his way’ to ‘reliable front-end starter.’
Tonight, he was more than that – he looked like he’d quantum-leapt to ‘Cy Young contender’, baffling the D-Backs for seven frames. I was uneasy when the FSN Rocky Mountain cameras showed an empty Rockies bullpen before the seventh inning, but Ubaldo came out strong, blew through the bottom third of the Arizona order to finish with eight strikeouts, and departed after 107 pitches with a clear message sent.
The first one is in the books. My Facebook status reads “U-BALLIN’!” I’ve seen nothing to discourage my idea that this Rockies team can be pretty good. The adrenaline of the first win has yet to wear off. There will be a skip in my step tomorrow that hasn’t been there since last September.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Aside from the stinkbomb from Aaron Cook and one bad pitch thrown by Jason Grilli, though, today was pretty much everything a Rockies fan could ask for. Can Troy Tulowitzki get out to a hot start? He crushed a first-pitch bomb off Brandon Webb in the fourth. Is Chris Iannetta worthy of all the hype we’re giving him? His 440-foot shot off Webb immediately following Tulo’s jack could serve to answer that question. Can Seth Smith hit in the bigs? He tied the game with a homer – off a lefty, no less – in the seventh.
There were plenty of thrills at the plate, and as many cringe-worthy moments on the mound. These are the Rockies I remember.
We’ve all got pretty high expectations for our Rox this year, mostly as a response to everyone else expecting so little. The consensus seems to be a fourth place finish and something in the neighborhood of 72 wins. This sounds preposterous to all but the most pessimistic Rockies fans. The 74 wins last season were a result of injury and underperformance, not a representation of that team’s talent level. And yes, losing Matt Holliday hurts, but if you look at all the other spots on the roster where the Rockies figured to make gains on last year’s performance, it really doesn’t seem unreasonable to figure that the team can get better.
This Rockies roster, as presently constructed, doesn’t necessarily feel like a playoff team to me. The Dodgers are probably better, and the Diamondbacks and Giants almost certainly have better starting pitching. But with a few breaks – and I’m not asking for anything more outlandish than passable performance from the rotation’s back end, a comeback season for Todd Helton, and improved outfield defense – this could be a really fun summer.
There was a lot to like today. There was also a lot not to like – first and foremost, apparently I’m blacked out of watching the Rockies in HD here in Wyoming (if any Dish Network people can explain this to me, please leave me a comment, because when I called customer support, ‘Summer’ and ‘James’ from Mumbai sure couldn’t). Also, Jeff Huson couldn’t stop gushing about how awesome it was to be broadcasting the game from down at dugout level – dude, you played in the bigs, act like you’ve been in a dugout before! (This is not the last time I’ll gripe about the Rockies TV broadcast team, believe me.) Also, I hate losing to the damn Diamondbacks and will probably wake up in a cold sweat tonight imagining Chad Tracy waiting on a hanging slider from a faceless hurler wearing purple pinstripes.
But I remember last year, winning the opener in St. Louis but looking like crap in the process, and then promptly losing the next five. So I’m not overreacting tonight, not gnashing my teeth over Tracy’s deciding homer off Grilli. Nope, I’m ready to see what Ubaldo Jimenez takes to the bump tomorrow and hoping to see more of Ian Stewart at second base.
Thanks for reading. I’ll find a groove with this thing as we go along.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Maybe this is the year that my favorite team, the Colorado Rockies, provide that singular moment of validation. More likely, it’s not. Either way, this blog is my experiment – like Hornby, my search for a deeper understanding of my fandom. I’ll chronicle every day of this 2009 baseball season, and while this is a Rockies blog at its heart, it’s moreso about one fan’s experience with the team. It’s about staying up past midnight on a weeknight to watch extra innings on the West Coast. It’s about throwing something at the TV when the team loses on a walk-off balk (which actually happened last year).
This is a blog about the Rockies, but it’s about being a Rockies fan first and foremost. Maybe you’ll find you have something in common with me. Perhaps that will frighten you, or perhaps it will comfort you to know that you aren’t the only one that feels a certain way about Clint Barmes popping up to short with runners in scoring position.
So as we start this six-month whirlwind that is the 2009 Major League Baseball season, I hope you’ll join me every now and again. Let’s immerse ourselves in purple and silver, swear after bases loaded walks, gripe about pitching changes, and enjoy being a Rockies fan. There’s no other team in baseball I’d rather root for. Consider this blog a 162-game example as to why.
April 5, 2009 – “Opening Day Eve”
I figure it’s appropriate to start this blog with a story about how I became a Rockies fan. The short answer to that question surrounds attending games at the old Mile High Stadium when I was six years old back in 1993. I had all the Rockies stuff. I was in the kids fan club. I did my level best to keep score in some sort of hieroglyphic handwriting that made perfect sense then but means nothing to me as I look at the old scorecards now. My favorite player was Dante Bichette. We used to sit up in the third deck along the first base side, which meant we were usually the “ROCKIES!” part of the stadium-wide “GO! ROCKIES!” chant.
But it’s not a straight line from point A to point B. Around 1996, my dad stopped including himself in a shared season ticket package. We went to fewer and fewer games. After the thrill of 1995, the Rockies settled into mediocrity, and, as kids are wont to do, I took interest in other players and teams. The Oakland A’s, in particular, grabbed my attention, as I was a huge fan of their young pitchers and took them as my ‘October’ team in the early part of this decade. My favorite player wasn’t a Rockie, but Barry Zito, Oakland’s young, eccentric lefty with a dynamite curveball (being a left-handed (former) pitcher myself, I always had a special preference for lefty soft-tossers who have to live on the corners to survive – which is why Jeff Francis is my favorite current Rockie. May he get well soon).
Then came 2003. 2003 is not a particularly special season in Rockies memory – they won 74 games, Chris Stynes was the everyday third baseman, and other than Shawn Chacon’s All-Star selection, there’s nothing particularly memorable about that team. We had Opening Day tickets that year, so we cut out of school early Friday and went down to the yard. It was a great game – Chacon took a no-no into the sixth (Chad Moeller broke it up), Stynes homered, and though Jose Jimenez made it interesting in the 9th, the Rox hung on for the 2-1 win. That day, the giveaway at the gates was a 12-month calendar with a schedule printed inside. I hung that calendar up in my room, and for some reason, wrote down the result and score of the season’s four games to that point.
The next day, we went back to the ballpark – I had won tickets at some ‘pitch a ball through a small hole’ booth, so me, my dad and my brother went. Preston Wilson won the game with a double in the 10th. The Rox were 3-2 after that win. Again, I wrote the score down on my calendar.
I’m not sure what possessed me to do that, but I did it all season, even as the Rockies cooled after a 15-12 April. For the first time ever I kept close, almost religious, tabs on the Rockies. I have vivid memories of guys like Darren Oliver and Jay Payton having excellent seasons. I remember the debuts of Chin-Hui Tsao, Clint Barmes, and Garrett Atkins. Then, in 2004, I went to more games then I’d been to in years, since I was now permitted to drive downtown myself. It was a building year, of course, but it was exciting to be on the ground floor of that effort, to see guys like Atkins, Barmes, Jeff Francis and others begin what we all hoped would be fruitful careers.
When I left for college that fall I embraced the Rockies even further as part of my identity. There weren’t too many Coloradans at DePauw University in Indiana, but I made sure people knew damn sure I was one of them when I first set foot on campus wearing a road grey Helton jersey and purple CR cap. I was proud of where I was from, proud that it made me unique in a place where I didn’t know anyone and had a hard time getting to know people. I was mostly shy, but “You’re a Rockies fan? Seriously?” was a great icebreaker.
The experience of following the Rockies kept me feeling close to the home I’d left behind. I read the Denver papers (how sad that this is no longer plural) every day, watched games on Gameday (and later, once I’d ponied up the dough, MLB.tv), played as the Rox in dormroom battles of MVP Baseball 05, and told anybody who would ask about a team that nobody had previously had any reason to know about. In a weird way, I was the Rockies ambassador to the group of baseball fans I’d gotten to know, and I embraced that. I threw myself into the team even further in 2005, running laps around my dorm when Barmes opened the season with a game-winning home run. It’s only gotten deeper from there, I’m happy (if a bit sheepish) to say.
The Rockies weren’t just my team, they were me – my gateway to conversation and eventual friendship, my connection to my hometown and home state, and regardless of record, I was proud to be a fan. I still am.
Now if I’m guilty of anything, it’s that I’ve always been a bit of a Pollyanna. I’m one of about seven remaining defenders of Clint Hurdle and Dan O’Dowd. I pick the Rox to win the NL West every year. I’ve predicted superstardom for Rockies prospects from Troy Tulowitzki to JD Closser. The way I figure it is, what’s the fun in being cynical? If you can’t believe in your team – believe in the guys you spend all summer with, the guys that have become a part of the fabric of my life – then what is there to believe in?
So it is with great optimism that I look toward the 2009 season. I think we will be pretty good, actually; certainly better than most think. I think our lineup is underrated and should produce even without Matt Holliday. I think Todd Helton is the Comeback Player of the Year frontrunner, and that Dexter Fowler could swipe the Rookie of the Year trophy. I think Franklin Morales will grow up before our eyes this season. I think Huston Street will lock down the 9th for one of the best bullpens in the National League.
I think these things. I believe in them. They have sustained me from the last out last year to today. Tomorrow, we start to separate hope from reality. Let’s play ball.