Mock, yeah, ing, yeah, yeah, yeah

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

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

But we take it no less serious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How I learned to fear Friday the 13th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hirschbeck breathes sigh of relief

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

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

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

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

Lie to me*

roth.jpgAfter viewing an excerpt of ESPN’s exclusive A-Rod confessional with Peter Gammons on my iPhone in class today, I rushed home to sign on for work and watch the talk in its entirety.

As I sat on my sofa chair, I wondered how Pulp Fiction’s Pumpkin (aka actor Tim Roth) — now the star of FOX’s Lie to me* — might inspect A-Rod’s tell-all. What of his averted eyes and seemingly blank stare? How about the way he thumbed at his nose, clearing away boogers that really weren’t there? And what about the indignation with which he accused Selena Roberts of stalking him?

I don’t commend A-Rod for coming clean (pun recognized, not intended). Let’s not forget, he bold-faced lied to Katie Couric and baseball fans everywhere just a couple years ago when asked about his use of performance-enhancing drugs. Now, presented with indisputable evidence, he comes forth with a definite admission peppered with circumstantial ambiguities, chalking his use to naivity and stupidity, and cushioning it with the proclaimation that he was ignorant as to exactly what substance was putting in his body, as well as the outrageous claim that he was not aware of the prevelance of PEDs in baseball during his days in Seattle.

OK, so A-Rod at least had the decency to admit he used the good (or is it bad?) stuff, unlike, say, Gary Sheffield and Roger Clemens, both of whom have vehmently denied it despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Time will tell whether his other assertions were true, but if history’s any indication, we should brace ourselves for another bombshell before this guy’s career is out.

Other curiosities and observations from the interview:

– Call me juvenile and perverse, but I thought it strange when A-Rod said of his ribbing with teammates: “I like taking it,” and “I’m a good receiver.”

– Was it just my TV, or was there something funky going on with the footage? The brights were really bright.

– A-Rod drank a lot of water — the expensive stuff, of course — Fiji.

– Nothing personal against ESPN or Peter Gammons, but this interview would have been a nice score for the MLB Network and Bob Costas.

– In Gammons’ first question, he prompts A-Rod for the “truth” regarding SI.com’s report. A-Rod then responds with his long-winded explanation, which ran for about one minute, 30 seconds.

– As the interview wears on, A-Rod curiously grows more
comfortable in commending himself for coming forward with his story —
as if he were doing it by his own volition and hadn’t been humiliated
by a gang of investigative journalists (one of whom he accused of
stalking him).

– Often chided for his stilted demeanor, A-Rod didn’t do much to shake his automaton image by saying “100 percent” six times.

– GNC can officially invest its advertising dollars elsewhere for 2009. A-Rod references the health store three times.

Cell (phone) therapy

aroid.jpgMy dad sent me the A-Rod news via text this morning at about 11 a.m. I then relayed to Nelson, my best baseball friend and a devout Yankee follower.

The following conversation ensued via text message:

Me: CNN reports arod tested positive for roids in 2k3.

Me: Look, this is solid investigative journalism in my opinion.

Nelson: Ugh.

Nelson: There goes the hof.

Me: I mean is this bad for baseball at this point? I think so. Even still, I don’t mind seeing this fraud raked over the coals a bit.

Me: Tomorrow’s Post hed: “A-roid”

Nelson: Lol

Nelson: I think this is bad for baseball period. It really makes me angry.

Nelson: All the arod apologists including myself have to seriously reconsider our allegiances here.

Nelson: Hypothetically, if this were dwright, how would you react? Sincere question. I feel like I don’t want to watch baseball anymore.

Me: No I understand. I’d be crushed if dwright tested positive.

Nelson: I feel betrayed on a deep level right now … don’t even have a logical reaction.

Nelson: Fwiw he wasn’t a yank in 03.

Nelson: The whole game is a sham, bud has to out every single player today, this can’t continue. I refuse to be a fan if I’m going to get sandbagged with old evidence six years after the fact. I blame mlb for covering this up.

Me: Yep. I agree

Nelson: I’m sincerely done with it. That’s the end for me. I feel betrayed by the game.

Whether Nelson’s sentiment is shared by the majority of baseball fans, I cannot say. I wish things were different, of course. I wish this were not an issue, that every player had already been cited and we’d moved on.

But, regardless of the resolution, I’m already offering baseball my clemency. I’m not a despondent lover about this. I need baseball in my life; it provides me an income, sure, but it also gives me something to do on humid July evenings.

It’s supplied me countless memories over the years, like going to Shea in 1992 for the celebration of Tom Terrific’s election to the Hall of Fame, and witnessing the now-infamous “Matt Franco” Interleague game between the Mets and Yanks in 1999 when the eponymous pinch-hitter extraordinaire ended the riveting back-and-forth battle with a clutch base hit off none other than the immortal Mariano Rivera.

I memorized the stats from the back of my favorite players’ cards as a
kid, and emulated their swings as a Little Leaguer. I played the game
with my friends on dusty lots, dreaming of being something when I grew
up the odds said was nearly impossible. Tough losses have ruined many a
day, but I’ve come back the next day, in need of the distraction and
entertainment and otherworldliness of the game.

I trekked from school in North Carolina to Washington, D.C., in September 2005 with The Former Mrs. to watch a couple of meaningless games between the Mets and Nationals. We saw David Wright hit a grand slam in the first one, and Mike Piazza slugged the final longball I saw him hit as a Met in the second. We also went to a pitcher’s duel that spring that was the inspiration for a short story I wrote in one of my fiction writing classes. The following season, we witnessed Piazza’s return to Shea — as a Padre.

I need baseball, imperfections and all.

Medieval Times supplants football, baseball as America’s favorite competition

fight.jpgRather than the obligatory post-Super Bowl update in which I clamor for the start of Spring Training (trust me, Spring Training is a different ball of wax for a producer than an average fan), I’ll instead relay a pre-Super Bowl experience.

Nenny and I had been dying to do something — anything — outside the box recently. What better to do on Super Bowl Saturday than trek out to Lyndhurst, N.J., to take in Medieval Times? Look, we wanted to go snowboarding, but time and financial constraints made it darn near impossible. So how did we go from snowboarding to a half-baked renaissance fair? I’m not sure, exactly. But it was certainly outside the box, at least.
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But may I say, for something I hadn’t necessarily regarded as high-brow entertainment, Medieval Times puts on a heck of a show. Dancing horses, flying falcons, jousting knights and much more were all part of the performance. Forget about the entertainment: The chance to slurp soup from goblets and eat chicken and ribs from the bone with your barehands was worth the price of admission alone. That’s saying a lot for me, considering my aversion to getting grease on my hands — major OCD. OK, I could have done without plunking down $7.50 for a Sam Adams Winter Lager, but the dull buzz at last sip made the incredulity of the experience merely an ironic pang.

speak.jpgNenny and I sat in the green section, where we cheered for the knight of the corresponding color in the arena. The Green Knight, as chance would have it, was the dissenting voice of the knights — the bad *** with long, greasy hair, a sparse goatee, and an attitude which pitted him as an enemy to the throne. The Green Knight — picture Orlando Bloom — was one of the better equestrians,and he even survived a couple of duels at show’s end before being done in by the formidable duo of the prince and the black and white knight. He suffered a cruel fate, but fought the valiant fight.

When we got back to town, Cousin Sam and her guy friend came over. Nenny and I told them of the experience, and, sure enough, they were roundly impressed by our spontaneity.
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Last Super Bowl, I spent the day trudging through the local arboretum, snapping pictures of dead foliage while I lamented the dissolution of my long-running relationship. This year, I went to Medieval Times with a nice girl and had a good time. Here’s to progress and the sheer genius of Medieval Times’ phone number: 1-888-WE-JOUST.

Ken Burns’ hair: A congressional hearing baseball fans would care about

burns.jpgA lull in the Hot Stove season has allowed some of us in the editorial department (particularly those who work the later shifts, like me) to enjoy the <obligatory company man shtick> immensely popular MLB Network </obligatory company man shtick> as more than just a backdrop while we slave away. If reliving the 2002 postseason doesn’t keep you warm on a chilly night in New York City, I don’t know will. But, I digress.

Between producing a couple of stories from SoxFest 2009 on Friday night, I happened to notice Ken Burns, who was featured often in a couple different segments, sporting an otherworldly coif. The question was raised by yours truly: Is this simply a terrible haircut and even worse dye job, or does Burns sport a rug? The three of us in the office (DR, Jiggy and me) couldn’t come to a consensus. With all the mudslinging going on in the game these days, shouldn’t we be more concerned about the authenticity of its foremost historian’s locks? Performance-enhancing drugs and the memoirs of jilted lovers pale in comparison to what’s at stake here.

anton.jpgOf course, it’s easier for me to say, considering my mane is as thick and vital as Sampson’s. To paraphrase Of Montreal’s Kevin Barnes, we all must suffer for fashion sometimes. For instance, I donned a ridiculous piece as part of my Anton Chigurh costume this past Halloween. Disgraced Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich is perhaps better known these days for his bizarre ‘do than his transgressions in office. Marv Albert’s biting episode is a mere afterthought in light of his unfortunate toupee. And the only thing rivaling the sheer comedy of Bill Belichick’s patented hoody-and-sweats look are his weekly red-tinted dye jobs.

If Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire can be roasted by grandstanding politicians, then so too can Burns. Forget the sancity of our treasured record books, let’s get to the root of this man’s follicles. After all, history is at the mercy of the person writing it. If Burns’ hair is in question, am I really to believe his take on our pastime?