Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Names to Know

Lisa Winston over at MiLB.com has created a list of 10 Blue Jays prospects to watch in 2010.  To go over them briefly with a Lugnuttian perspective:

1.  J.P. Arencibia - power-hitting catcher who skipped over Lansing on his way up the ladder, played in Triple-A last year.  In short:  Not a 2010 Lugnut.

2.  Tim Collins - lefty pitched in Lansing in 2008 and put his name squarely on the prospect radar, made it to Double-A last year.  In short:  Not a 2010 Lugnut.

3.  David Cooper - played first base for the Nuts in 2008 after being drafted in the 1st round, played 128 games in Double-A last year.  In short:  Not a 2010 Lugnut.

4.  Travis d'Arnaud - acquired from the Phillies for Roy Halladay, another slugging catcher, was in the Class-A South Atlantic League in 2009.  In short:  Not a 2010 Lugnut unless his career takes a step backward.

5.  Kyle Drabek - the big prize in that Halladay trade, on the cusp of the Major Leagues.  In short:  Not a 2010 Lugnut.

6.  Chad Jenkins - the Blue Jays' 1st round pick last year out of Kennesaw State, did not pitch professionally in 2009.  In short:  A definite 2010 Lugnut possibility.

7.  Jake Marisnick - the Blue Jays' 2009 supplemental pick, athletic 19-year-old outfielder.  In short:  Sounds like a late-2010 or perhaps a 2011 Lugnut.

8.  Carlos Perez - Gulf Coast League Jays team MVP in 2009, a very promising catcher.  In short:  Sounds like a 2010 Lugnut.

9.  Zach Stewart - picked up in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds, talented right-hander who pitched in Triple-A last season and has his eyes on a Major League debut this year.  In short:  Not a 2010 Lugnut.

10.  Brett Wallace - slugging corner infielder received in a trade with Oakland after beginning the year originally with St. Louis, began 2009 in Double-A, finished the season in Triple-A, being groomed for Jays' first base spot.  In short:  Not a 2010 Lugnut.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Signs of the Season

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, tonight is the first Passover seder, and a week from next Wednesday is the fourth annual Crosstown Showdown...

It's still a little cold around these parts, but no worries!  Baseball season is a comin' to Lansing, Michigan.

Outside currently they're getting the new stadium signage installed.  It's a heavy-duty process, you can well imagine.  Good-bye, Oldsmobile Park.  Hello, Cooley Law School Stadium.

On the field, Matt Anderson is pounding the bases into place and preparing the outfield.  In the offices, the season tickets are getting passed out, single game tickets are being sold, and the marketing department is preparing a huge push for Opening Day's Eat-a-Palooza.

Oh, and Big Lug's getting ready, too, for his own reasons.

On the baseball side:  I'm way late on getting around to reading Jays Journal, but I agree with Mat Germain that Sal Fasano will be terrific for Toronto's prospects catchers.  (I enjoy Mat's spotlight on Welinton Ramirez, too, one of my favorite Lugnuts to watch last season.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Your Morning Update

To update you on where we are:

In Dunedin, Florida, the 2010 Lugnuts are waking up early, stretching, working hard, and feeling the anticipation rise as they get closer to Opening Day.

In Lansing, Michigan, the 2010 magazine and media guide have gone to press, the tickets have been printed, the pocket schedules have arrived, and the box office opens on Saturday.  Oh, yes, the anticipation is rising here as well.

The Blue Jays lost to the Rays 5-3 yesterday.  Note the presence in the box score of Mike McDade (2008-2009 Lugnuts ) and 2009 Lugnuts Tyler Pastornicky and Kenny Wilson on the Toronto side.

2005 Lugnut Casey Janssen also pitched in relief for the Jays, working a perfect fifth inning.  He's feeling good, too.

New Mariners farmhand Johermyn Chavez (2008-2009) has also had an at-bat this spring; he struck out.  Better days are ahead for Johermyn.

Your NHL game of the week, and possibly of the month.
Your NBA game of the week, and possibly of the month.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Two Weeks Away

Are you ready?

Two weeks from today, it'll be the fourth annual Crosstown Showdown between the Lugnuts and the Michigan State Spartans, presented by Auto-Owners Insurance.  Remember last year?  It was packed in the stands -- a stadium record crowd of 12,992 -- and ugly on the field -- four Lansing errors -- as the Spartans routed the Nuts 12-2 for their first Crosstown victory.  Pretty well set the tone for Lugnuts' season, too.  Lansing finished the year with a 54-84 record, worst in franchise history.  Everyone around the ballpark and the Blue Jays expects this season to be much more fun, thankfully.

Trivia question:  What has never been hit in a Crosstown Showdown, either by a Spartan or by a Lugnut?  The answer is hidden in the first letter of each sentence in the above paragraph.

Spring Training with the Jays

Being from the Washington, DC, area, I'm slightly concerned about this story.

Moving on...

Former, current, and maybe future (!) Lugnuts playing in Blue Jays spring training with the Major League club:


PLAYER              AVG   G  AB   R   H  TB 2B 3B HR
------              ---   -  --   -   -  -- -- -- -- 
Mike McDade       1.000   1   2   1   2   3  1  0  0   2
Ryan Schimpf       .500   1   2   1   1   1  0  0  0   0
Moises Sierra      .500   1   2   0   1   1  0  0  0   0
Sean Ochinko       .400   2   5   0   2   3  1  0  0   0
Travis Snider      .306  14  36   6  11  22  2  0  3   6
David Cooper       .300   6  10   1   3   4  1  0  0   0
Brian Dopirak      .250  12  28   3   7  10  0  0  1   4
Tyler Pastornicky  .167   3   6   1   1   1  0  0  0   0
Matt Liuzza        .000   1   1   0   0   0  0  0  0   0
Ryan Goins         .000   5   6   0   0   0  0  0  0   1
John Tolisano      .000   3   5   0   0   0  0  0  0   0
PLAYER            W  L  S  ERA   G GS CG SHO    IP   H   R  ER
------            -  -  -  ---   - -- -- ---    --   -   -  --
Casey Janssen     0  0  0  0.00  4  0  0   0   4.0   1   0   0
Danny Farquhar    0  0  0  0.00  1  0  0   0   1.0   1   0   0
Brad Mills        0  0  0  4.50  1  0  0   0   2.0   3   1   1
Chad Jenkins      0  0  0  4.50  1  0  0   0   2.0   1   1   1
Marc Rzepczynski  0  0  0  4.91  3  3  0   0  11.0  13   7   6
Rei Gonzalez      0  0  1  9.00  2  0  0   0   3.0   6   4   3

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Lugnuts and the Big Leagues

In my research for the magazine cover story, I came across Mark Walker's letter to the Lansing State Journal, published on September 14, 1995.

"The description of Lugnut baseball in the Lansing State Journal's Welcome 95 supplement as '...players will have as much chance of making the major leagues as winning the lottery...' is inaccurate on two levels.

"First, about one of every 10 athletes who sign a professional contract make it to the major leagues.  Since not all players even advance to Class A, a realistic projection is that three or four players from each club will make it.

"More importantly, for those who do reach the big leagues, it will be the result of dedication, desire, determination and hard work.  Equating success through effort with 'winning the lottery' should be discouraged.  We should be so lucky."

Mark's mostly right.  Dedication, desire, determination, and hard work have so much to do with it, but a player needs luck on his side, too.  The slightest health issue, for instance, might derail a promising career.  A player also needs the opportunity to open up above him.  If no opportunity opens, he's stuck hoping he'll get traded.

I'd add, too, that baseball history is littered with lazy major leaguers burning paychecks and hardworking minor leaguers who will never get their shot.  The game isn't always cut and dried.  It most definitely isn't always fair.

As far as the Lugnuts' rosters have gone with regard to Major Leaguers, here are the totals so far.

1996 - 7 Major Leaguers
1997 - 8
1998 - 10
1999 - 6
2000 - 7
2001 - 9
2002 - 11
2003 - 11
2004 - 11
2005 - 5
2006 - 0
2007 - 1 (Travis Snider)
2008 - 2 (Marc Rzepczynski, Brad Mills)
2009 - 0

Mark's realistic projection of three or four players?  The Lugnuts regularly doubled and tripled that expectation while a Royals (1996-1998) and Cubs (1999-2004) affiliate.  We'll see what happens with the Blue Jays prospects in the years to come.

Thursdays with Torii

Today's key tasks involve finishing off the magazine cover story and writing an article on the inaugural Lansing Lugnuts Hall of Fame class, inductees to be announced in a pregame on-field ceremony on Opening Day.

The Phillies doubled up the Blue Jays, 4-2, in spring action yesterday.  Not much production from the former Lugnuts, though Travis Snider did provide a single in three at-bats.  The bigger story was Philadelphia's Cody Ransom, who homered in two different cities on the same day.  Joel Youngblood, eat your heart out.

In other news, a full 50% of the Lugnuts' Marketing Department flew down to Dunedin yesterday to get head shots of the new coaching staff.  It was an idea first conceived by Double-A New Hampshire... and who are we to ignore opportunity knocking?

The Torii Hunter story is a potential minefield, but I'm going in anyway.  My guess is that Hunter heard from some folks who had heard that baseball is losing young African Americans and wondered how this could be -- after all, isn't Vladimir Guerrero black?  To which Hunter responded, Vlad's Dominican, not African American.

Fine.  Everyone's right.  The number of African American players is decreasing, the number of Latino players is going up, to an ignorant fan going entirely by skin tone it would seem that there's no difference, and a Latino player and an African American player have different cultural heritages and backgrounds.  End the sentence right there.  But, darn it, Torii, you can't go calling black Latin American players "impostors."  You can't.

Now then, it would seem to me that:
1.  The context has been lost from which Hunter's comments were taken, a superb conversation between people from all over the baseball landscape (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).
2.  Torii has apologized.

Let's move on.

There's something off to me about adding an ex-player into sports media who hated talking to reporters during his playing days.  Key quote:  "'The media part,' says Mr. Shaughnessy, 'was like he was getting a flu shot all the time.'"

An Ozzie Guillen spotlight always contains interesting moments, but Ozzie's going to need many more seasons, many more wins, and at least a couple more World Series rings to merit his Cooperstown dream.  Seems a little early in his career to write such a story.  Then again, certain media-friendly guys get spotlight stories every year.  Expect a slew of Rick Neuheisel and Lane Kiffin profiles come college football season, for instance.

Enjoy your Thursday!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Morning Linkage

The Blue Jays were off yesterday, resuming spring play today.

In this video, Andrew Marchand of ESPN 1050 predicts Toronto will have the worst record in the Majors.  We'll see.  Seems to me that the Nationals, Pirates, Orioles, and Royals all look to be better (worse?) candidates than the Jays, and there's always that one unexpected team that falls flat on its face.  The Rangers, maybe?  The Dodgers?

A quick list of Lugnuts who've played for the Blue Jays this spring training:  Marc Rzepczynski, Casey Janssen, Rei Gonzalez, Danny Farquhar, Moises Sierra, David Cooper, Brian Dopirak, Matt Liuzza, John Tolisano, Travis Snider... and, hey! There's 2009 shortstop Ryan Goins!

This is belated, but here's an ESPN interview with new Toronto General Manager Alex Anthopoulos.  Many more "Meet Alex" links to come, from the looks of things.  He's good-humored, he's knowledgeable, he's a newlywed, and everyone wants an interview with him.

Scott Miller of CBS Sportsline takes a tour of Dunedin and notes "Five Things to Know" about the Blue Jays.  There's no mention of Travis Snider or Adam Lind anywhere to be seen, interestingly.  It's all about Vernon Wells, starting pitching, and the affable Alex Anthopoulos.

Other notes of interests:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Spring Links

Hey, no need to cast aspersions, Josh "Control" Towers has a ring!

There's nothing like a spring debut from a hot rookie pitcher, whether he's a lefty from Cuba or a righty from California.

I'm working on the cover story for the magazine at the moment. "Where are they now?" notes that might not make it into the story:
  • In 2005, the Lugnuts' first general manager, Gillian Zucker, became the first female president of a track that hosts a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.  She currently presides over Auto Club Speedway, located between Los Angeles and Palm Springs.
  • Brian Poldberg, the Lugnuts' first manager, is still in the Kansas City Royals system, skippering the Northwest Arkansas Naturals the past two seasons.
  • Mike Vander Wood, the Lugnuts' first radio broadcaster, is now the voice of the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

The Transition - Plus the Lugnuts Song Lyrics

This entire winter, this blog has served as an outlet for sporting opinions across the spectrum.  There's been a slight change:  it's now also the official Lugnuts broadcasters blog.

Therefore.... hit it!

You got inhibitions, lose 'em!
You got vocal cords, use 'em!
You got the rhythm
You got the beat
You gotta clap your hands
You gotta stomp your feet

You gotta go nuts, go nuts, go nuts, go nuts!
Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!
Go nuts, Lugnuts!

This is our town, this is our team
If you're up against us, you're gonna get creamed
Just stick around, see what we mean
Get ready to yell, get ready to scream
(Ready to scream, ready to scream, ready to scream
See what we mean)

You gotta go nuts, go nuts, go nuts, go nuts!
Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!
Go nuts, Lugnuts!

You gotta go nuts, go nuts, go nuts, go nuts!
Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!  Lugnuts!
Go nuts, go nuts, go nuts
Lugnuts
Go nuts, Lugnuts!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

No, You're Right, a 2-HR, 6-RBI Game Isn't Newsworthy

You ever read spring training game recaps?

Maybe it's just me...  I love that baseball is back, and I love seeing what sort of wackiness goes on in the spring.  The weather is beautiful, the rookies are promising, and the veterans are all having fun.

But the game recaps are ridiculous.

Take the Phillies/Rays game today.
J.A. Happ and Phillippe Aumont combined for five scoreless innings in the Philadelphia Phillies' 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.  Happ allowed two hits, walked two and struck out two in 2 1/3 innings. Aumont replaced him in the third and gave up two hits in 2 2/3 innings, bouncing back from a rough outing in an exhibition game against Florida State on Wednesday night.

Yes, those are your first two paragraphs in the story of a Tampa Bay victory, featuring extra innings and 27 combined hits.  Apparently we don't care too much about the Rays perspective though, even though they started All-Star James Shields, who had 2 2/3 scoreless innings.  Since when do J.A. Happ and Phillippe Aumont receive top billing in any circumstance?

Meanwhile, the Twins' 11-0 victory over the Yankees was written entirely from the Twins' perspective.  Fine.

Scott Baker was one of the highlights in a mixed day for the Minnesota Twins' pitching staff.  Baker threw two effective innings, Jason Kubel homered and a Twins split-squad beat the New York Yankees 11-0 on Sunday.

You then have to read 15 more paragraphs -- in fact, all the way to the very last sentence of the article to discover exactly why the Twins were able to trample the Yanks so easily:

Juan Portes hit a grand slam and a two-run homer, and Brock Peterson also went deep for the Twins.

Good Point, John Buccigross

In this mailbag, ESPN's John Buccigross writes the following to a question on Peter Bondra:

As I've said before, Peter Bondra was scoring goals when no one was scoring goals in the late '90s. Bondra had 52 of the Capitals' 219 goals during the 1997-98 season. That's almost 25 percent of the team's goals. If Wayne Gretzky had scored 25 percent of the Oilers' goals in 1981-82, he would have finished with 104. That's what kind of season Bondra had. The second full season after the 1994-95 partial lockout is when the NHL got very defensive.
The NHL's golden era for offense was 1970-96. If you played a bulk of your career during this era, and especially with Bobby Orr, Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, your numbers were skewed. Good news for offensive players, bad news for some goalies. If Frank Brimsek played in that era instead of 1938-50, he would have been "Mr. 3.45" instead of "Mr. Zero." And he would have been Don Beaupre.

It's true and no one disputes it.

In 1996, the Devils' trapping system caught hold and the game of hockey bogged down until the rule changes following the lockout.

Baseball is working to blast through its generational divides, to show that a 3.00 ERA in 1938 is a far cry from a 3.00 ERA in 1968, and that 40 homers in 1980 are greatly different from 40 homers in 2000.

The next step is for other sports to realize this.  Hockey, with its emphasis on goals, assists, and total points, should be foremost among them in understanding that not all 100-point seasons are created equal.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Greatness, Specifics Unnecessary

Let's talk Greivis Vasquez, star of the Maryland Terrapins men's basketball team.

He commits a plethora of turnovers and takes poor shots on a consistent basis.  He's not a pure shooter.  He's not a pinpoint passer.  He's not a shutdown defender.  He's not lightning fast.  He's not a supreme dribbler.  He's not noted for an exceptional vertical leap or dunking ability.  But he's indisputably a college basketball standout, one of the most dynamic players in the country.

Imagine an artist.  Are his brushstrokes great?  No.  Is his use of color great?  No.  Are his ideas great?  No.  How in the world could he be a good artist, let alone the best in his region?

Greivis Vasquez is the best player in the Atlantic Coast Conference, bar none.

How does one explain this?

Here's how:

"He's a terrific offensive player," said broadcaster Jay Bilas during the Duke/Maryland game on Wednesday.

Basketball is always broken down, at its core, to offense and defense.  Hockey is offense, defense, and goaltending.  Football is offense, defense, and special teams.  Baseball is hitting, fielding, pitching, and baserunning.

Somewhere along the line, specific skills started getting broken away from the group and evaluated by themselves.  Forget being an excellent offensive hockey player, for instance  --  Are you a great skater?  Are you physical?  How's your wristshot?  Can you backcheck?  Can you penalty kill?  How's your ice vision?

And this is all well and good, except for the fact that a player who grades out as excellent in one category and mediocre in the others receives a lot more credit, prestige, and press than the player who can do everything splendidly but nothing top-notch.

As far as I can remember, Bill James broke this down first, describing why Darrell Evans was one of the most unappreciated players in baseball history.  Evans did everything.  He played defense, he hit homers, he got on base, he helped his team win... and he's now fading from memory.

Greivis Vasquez is a better player than a lot of Maryland Terrapins of years gone by, but he doesn't shoot well enough, pass well enough, dribble well enough, and play defense well enough to be considered in the conversation with any of the specialists.  For example, Vasquez or Juan Dixon?  That's ridiculous, right?  Dixon could shoot better than Vasquez with his eyes closed.  End of story.  Vasquez or Steve Blake?  Also ridiculous, right?  Vasquez is nowhere near the passer that Blake was.

Well, yes, but in a way it's like saying that Cal Ripken was no good because he didn't hit homers like Cecil Fielder or hit for average like John Olerud or steal bases like Tony Womack.

Vasquez deserves his due.  It remains to be seen whether he'll be accorded it.

You know, winning some games this March could help his cause.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Let Them Hear You

Want to keep the magic of the Olympics alive in the NHL?

Do what the Pittsburgh Penguins fans did.  When the Sabres come to town, cheer Ryan Miller.

Don't stop there.

Cheer Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner of the Devils.  Cheer Jack Johnson and Dustin Brown of the Kings.  Cheer Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan of the Rangers.  Cheer Ryan Kesler of the Canucks, and Paul Stastny of the Avalanche, and Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks, and Joe Pavelski of the Sharks.  Cheer head coach Ron Wilson of the Maple Leafs.  Cheer everyone who was a part of the team.

They may have brought back the silver, but their effort was golden.

Look...

It's a bad college basketball season.

I'm just saying.

The ACC only has one and a half good teams, Duke and sometimes Maryland.  Duke really isn't that good, though, regardless of record.  They're the Los Angeles Dodgers of the men's basketball world.

The Pac-10 has nobody.

The Big 12 has Kansas and a bunch of Sweet 16-worthy squads.

The Big East has Syracuse and championship pretenders.

The Big Ten's best team just lost its best player for the year.  Maybe Michigan State can get hot again?

So it's been a bad season.  Seems to me in a sports landscape where teams haven't distinguished nor separated themselves, it bodes well for a wild March.

Count me in.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Searching for Meaning

Yesterday's men's hockey game between the United States and Canada was almost certainly one of the biggest hockey games of all time.

It came on a grand stage:  the Olympics.
It came for the utmost prize:  a gold medal.
It was played in front of a rabid partisan crowd and an enormous television audience.
It featured a stirring comeback, a dramatic game-tying goal, and sudden death overtime.

But we don't know -- we can't know-- yet how meaningful the game will be.  We don't know its impact yet.

The 1958 NFL Championship and Super Bowl III were meaningful, putting professional football on the map in this country.

The Immaculate Reception was perhaps the greatest play in the NFL's history but it was not meaningful.  The Pittsburgh Steelers never made it to the Super Bowl that year.  Same with the greatest play in baseball's history, Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard Round the World."  The Giants lost the World Series while the Dodgers, undaunted, won the National League pennant in four of the next five years.

Cassius Clay's knockout of Sonny Liston was meaningful, launching heavyweight boxing to new heights of popularity.  But not one of boxing's many touted fights in the last decade has proven to be the least bit of meaningful.

Michael Phelps capturing eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics:  meaningful.

Apolo Ohno breaking the career medals record at the 2010 Winter Olympics:  not meaningful.

Brandi Chastain's shootout goal to end the super-dramatic 1999 Women's World Cup was not meaningful.  Women's soccer is not any more popular now than it was in the 1990s.  Men's soccer and MLS were barely impacted for the long run by David Beckham's American excursion.

Cal Ripken, Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak:  meaningful for the right reasons.

Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Barry Bonds breaking home run records:  meaningful for the wrong reasons.

It's tough to gauge meaning and impact, especially so close to the event, but I guarantee that people all over the continent are already trying to predict the impact on hockey's future... or already trying to pooh-pooh the significance of the game.

In time the impact will be revealed.

But it really was a great game, wasn't it?