Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tonight We Drink Presidente

Tonight we drink Presidente. Tonight we open the beers, one by one, and roll them into our mouths, letting the heat try to pry them back out. Tonight we don’t talk about the man we are drinking, but we are thinking about him the whole time. We drink the beer of the Dominican Republic; we don’t have to say his name.

Somewhere Manny is on a plane.

Somewhere Manny is on a plane.

He is on his way to Los Angeles, to play for Joe Torre and to play with Nomar, to fire balls around Dodgers Stadium’s spacious outfield, to lose the ball in the sun and lope out grounders, to a place where he is singular and epic and beloved all at once.

We have let Manny go because there was no keeping him, now. It was, we were told, the last straw. We had given up guessing how many straws there were, but we figured there was at least one more. There he was, asking to be traded for Brett Favre and smiling and acting like the guy who his teammates liked at times and hated at others but never stopped loving. And then Theo Epstein did something strange: he actually traded him. He actually traded him.

Manny is gone, and he’s not coming back. Not ever. To paraphrase Rick Pitino, Manny Ramirez is not walking through that door. And we can’t even exhale, because if we exhaled we wouldn’t acknowledge that our team got painfully, painfully worse today. There’s no more Manny-n-Papi connection. Nothing lasts forever, but this lasted five years — an eternity in modern baseball.
Tomorrow, Manny will play left field, or maybe right field, where he is better suited, and he will bat fourth and probably get a base hit or two.

The Yankees will cheer. The Yankees will exult. The Yankees will do what they do, when they do it, because they are free of Manny’s curse. Manny made Yankee Stadium his own personal ballyard, mere miles from a house in which he grew up and which he most assuredly could not find.

We are left… here. We are left in a new place. Manny is gone, and David Ortiz will seem so alone now. Now we are a team of laser artists, seeing-eye dogs with high on base percentages and all the fundamentals. Eight years ago, we signed a punk, spacey guy from Cleveland for 8 years and $160 million, and for the first time people finally wanted to come to Boston again. That was Manny. Somwhere Manny is on a plane.

Tonight we drink Presidente.


A beer eight years in the making tastes great. It tastes just like you imagined it would taste: sweet, refreshing, relaxing. It does the job. I remember where I was the Red Sox signed Manny: I was in my apartment in Chicago, and when my college roommate came home with the news, I turned on the local radio station and listened to the news update every 10 minutes just to make it feel real.

Nobody ever came to Boston. Nobody. It was shitty place to play with a shitty stadium with shitty locker rooms and shitty fans who would call you a piece of shit the first moment it looked like something was going to go wrong. They blamed you for everything, and would later treat Manny like it was their birthright to tell him how to do his job. Manny was Manny, is Manny, so he didn’t care. He cared in fits. But eight years ago, he felt about Cleveland the way he feels about Boston, and floated his way here after a winter’s worth of negotiations. Eight years, $160 million, with options to push it up to $200. The numbers were so blinding that they were an achievement in themselves. We had someone who made money and deserved it. We could get players.

Manny was the first to come to Boston voluntarily, though Pedro agreed to stay here. I don’t want to think about what happened to him, and the similarities. Look: it’s like a marriage, only the problems only arise once the deal moves past six years. Then people start to get upset. They want freedom. The front office has taken them for granted. They talk. It happens. It happens with almost every long-term free agent. It’s not their fault. We should let it be.
Manny had to go at some point, and it wasn’t going to be later than after this year. But you still felt like they weren’t going to trade him. Everyone in that dugout knows how good he is. David Ortiz knows how good he is. So does Derek Jeter. So don’t everyone. Tim Lincecum’s job just got a lot harder.

Here’s how we should honor Manny: by rooting for him. It costs us nothing. To root against him would cost us everything.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My First Time

I’ve been to about 20 baseball stadiums, but the last time I went to a “new” one (for me) was two years ago, when I went a Dodgers game in the immediate jetlagged haze of a return flight to the States from New Zealand.

I just read a Baseball Prospectus writer’s column where he waxes poetic about his first time in Yankee Stadium, so here’s my first impressions of the stadiums I visited as a kid:

1. Fenway Park
During the 1986 season, we were taking a vacation in Boston during the summer when I asked my dad if we could go to a Red Sox game. We lived outside Washington, DC, but I was born in Boston, so I had declared my 8-year-old self a Red Sox fan. We saw that there was a game coming up on a Saturday, and my dad my a couple calls, and we were set (how quaint). At first, I thought Clemens was pitching, but it was Schraldi. It was an afternoon game, and all I remember is being really close to the field and that it was gray and misty — cinematically so. I remember the seminal experience of coming out of the tunnel and seeing the field, and the burly players, for the first time, and walking along the innermost walkway on Fenway’s periphery to find our seats. I also remember that the Red Sox won. Or maybe they lost. I’m not sure. I don’t even care.

2. Yankee Stadium
A couple years later — important years — my father picked us up from his home in Connecticut to take us up to New York, and I suggested we see a Yankees game. It was the middle of the summer, and I remember taking the train up to the Stadium, where my youngest brother was yelled at on the train by someone asking if he had seen a black person before. We got off the train and made what seemed to be an eternal walk to a monstrous, colossal stadium, past the city parks where people were playing their own baseball. Our tickets cost $6 each and we sat waaaaaaaaaay up in the upper deck, along the third base line, and watched the Twins beat the Yankees in 10. The Yankee Stadium of then and now, to me, seem so different it’s ridiculous, but they’re both going bye-bye next year. I miss the one from my youth.

3. Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium
The first time I went to Memorial Stadium was in 1989, to see the first game of a doubleheader against the Red Sox. This one has two standout moments — one was on the bus on the way there (it was a camp field trip) that, sadly, I can’t share — the other was that just when we walked in, Nick Esasky’s 21st home run was going over the fence. I would choose not to add that Roger Clemens pitched for the Sox, which I only know because I just found the game on (it’s easy to find doubleheaders, and Esasky was only on the team for one season), but there you go.

4. Exhibition Stadium, Toronto
Finally, one with mom! We were in Toronto for a vacation with our uncle and his family when I convinced her to take us to a Blue Jays game — again, I think against the Red Sox. (Many Red Sox-related coincidences like this one — them playing the Blue Jays when we were on vacation — seemed positively karmic to me as a youngster; actually, they still do). We sat in deep centerfield of the stadium, and I remember the people around us being really nice to us, which makes sense, because they were Canadian and my mom was a single woman with three brats. We actually still have pictures from this game, and I think at least one of us has a Blue Jays hat on. The unquestionable highlight of this trip, though, was being in the elevator with Jim Henson in our hotel, the four of us and him. My mom immediately knew who it was, and he knew that she knew, and she kind of looked at us with a ‘Pay attention to this man!’ look while trying to stifle a smile, unsuccessfully. So when he said, “Four, please” to us, who by this time were staring up at him, he said it in Kermit’s voice. I can still hear it.

5. New Comiskey
On a trip to Chicago, the White Sox were playing someone who was NOT the Red Sox in the first year at the new Comiskey Park. Even as a 13- or 14-year-old, I was unimpressed with the stadium, though I was damn proud of myself for having visited the stadium, being from Massachusetts and all, and I bragged to all my friends at home about it. Or at least I assume I did. I went with my Uncle Mike, which was the most fun part about it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


A strange thing happened on my television last night. The Sox were swept by the Rays, who scored six runs in the seventh inning off a combination of an ineffective Manny Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, David Aardsma and Javier Lopez.

The strange thing was how shook the pitchers looked in the seventh for a team coming off a World Series title. Craig Hansen looked like a deer in the headlights, if the deer was bout 6’5”, weighed 250 lbs. and couldn’t find the strike zone with a map of home plate.

The Sox wasted a cycle-plus effort from The Little Pony, who finished with two doubles, a triple and a homer. During the game ESPN showed that there have, surprisingly, been a similar number of cycles and no-hitters in the history of baseball. If it seems counterintuitive, that’s because it is: if you took the number of games like Dusty’s, which is to say, those who hit for at least a single, double, triple and homer in a game, the numbers wouldn’t be close.

As I was discussing this with my roommate over some beef with string beans — which is to say, a large carton of string beans with whatever “beef” Dragon Gate was using last evening — the Red Sox started to come back off Tampa Bay closer-replacement-extraordinaire, Dan Wheeler. Soon enough it was 7-6 and Jason Varitek was up with Mike Lowell on first with one out

For those of you in “the know” — LIKE ME (and everyone else watching ESPN) — Jason Varitek is in a terrible, terrible slump. He has problems hitting the baseball, which is a problem for someone in his profession. Anyhow, despite this, Terry Francona put on the hit and run with Varitek at the plate, and JayVay responded by actually lining a shot down the right field line, just foul. On the next pitch, the hit and run was back on, and this time, Varitek responded the way everyone thought he would — he whiffed on the pitch completely, and Lowell was thrown out by about ten kajillion steps. That was strike two, and it was summarily followed by strike three.

I actually like the hit and run call in that situation, or at least I’m able to defend it on these grounds: if Varitek is having trouble hitting the ball, Francona’s trying to force him to by putting on the hit and run. Trick the guy into simply making contact and maybe you’ll trick him into a hitting streak. Okay, maybe it’s not that easy to defend. But I gave it the old college try.

Tonight, Me and Pedro will be at Yankee Stadium. A PayPal account will be set up for you to contribute to my hot dog/beer fund. Euros preferred.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Here come the Rays. Hope you were paying attention

If you’ve watched ESPN over the last month, you can’t probably help but notice that the TAMPA BAY RAYS ARE PLAYING WELL. In case you didn’t get that the first time, THE TAMPA BAY RAYS ARE BASEBALL’S SURPRISE TEAM.

Is it surprising that Tampa Bay is in first place? Absolutely. But it’s not surprising that they are good because, as ESPN will tell you, THEY HAVE LOTS OF GREAT YOUNG PLAYERS.

So how far can BASEBALL’S SURPRISE TEAM go? Can they win the WORLD SERIES? Let’s talk about it.

You would think that after the Cardinals won the World Series with an 83-78 regular season record, and after last year’s Rockies surprise, that ESPN would shy away from predicting the unpredictable. CAN THE RAYS WIN THE WORLD SERIES? Of course they can, fucknuts! Can we just wait and see what happens?

In the meantime, instead of trying to project the future, how about some interesting Rays stories? Like, how the team was slowly and methodically assembled with great draft picks (and two big trades)? Sure, it’s been long chronicled here and here and plenty of other places, but I’ll admit not everyone saw the Rays era coming.

Or how about how, during their decade of futility, they had the best media relations department in the business, just one way to stave off the boredom of working for MLB’s worst franchise?

Sorry to give you story ideas, ESPN — it just seems that you don’t have any except trying to tell the future. FACT OR FICTION: TAMPA BAY WILL WIN IT ALL!

It’s a sad day when the average informed fan can be more informed than pretty much the entire staff of Baseball Tonight. It’s a sad day called “every day in the last five years.”