Thursday, March 31, 2005

TATB Notebook 03.31.05

Touching all the bases (recovering from Florida edition) while wondering which obscure utility infielder will become Bud Selig's steroid scapegoat . . .

In case you can't tell, that's Kevin Millar in the top photo, and Manny Ramirez in the bottom. Yeah, I know, my photos stink and suck and stink, which is why I didn't post any while I was in Florida last weekend. Well, that and the fact that it's hard to take pictures while carrying a Bud Light in one hand, a Bud Light in your other hand, and a plastic vat of nachos tucked under your armpit. So there you go. Millar and Manny. I anxiously await my Pulitzer.

The official reason for my expedition was a buddy's bachelor party, but I pitched it to my dear wife as my last, best chance to fulfill a dream and go to Sox spring training. Which was true - it's something I've wanted to do since I was 8 years old, and what better time to do it than the spring after the greatest autumn in franchise history? And wouldn't you know, in between our intellectual pursuits, such as visiting museums, ancient burial grounds, and more modern curiosities with titles such as Coyote Ugly and Thee DollHouse (yes, Thee), we did manage to stumble our way to a couple of ballgames: the Sox-Pirates in Ft. Myers on Sunday, and the Sox-Phillies in Clearwater the next day.

Here are a few random notes I scribbled down in between double-fisting the Buds . . .

During my brief time in Ft. Myers, not one native told me I have a purdy mouth, and I didn't see single banjo-toting cross-eyed albino kid. Both of which come as a major upset, from what I hear from my media buddies who spend their spring stranded in the strip-mall of a town. I don't know how they survive, frankly. However, now I do understand why Jimmy Buffett never lacks for material. Florida is not for me. When I'm 93 years old, drive 12 mph on the interstate, and demand my dinner at 3:30, maybe then I'll consider migrating south. But not until then.

I always thought it a delicious piece of serendipity that Georgie Porgie and his Yankees have a general manager named Cashman. But it gets even better. According to Sunday's Tampa Tribune, one of the minions in Steinbrenner's inner circle is named Steven Swindal. Swindal. Swindle. Same name to me. Now, if only Steinbrenner could fly into a fit of rage after Bill Mueller cranks a game-winning tater off Mariano Rivera Saturday night and order Joe Torre to change his name, for the sake of logic, cruelty and corporate symmetry, to Joe Yesman. And I, for one, am not betting against it - you really think Cashman and Swindal are their real names? Rumor has it one of them used to be named Costanza.

City of Palms park in Ft. Myers is clean, modern and attractive in an art deco sort of way - in fact, I'd rank it above McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, Hadlock Field in Portland, and on par with LeLacheur Park in Lowell. But the Phillies park in Clearwater blows it away. The concourse is modern and wide-open, and there is a hill behind the outfield fence where fans can sit on blankets or lawn chairs and wait for Jim Thome to hit one their way. It has a certain College World Series feel to it, but with more sunshine and babes in bikinis. (Omaha is severely lacking in all three areas - sunshine, babes and bikinis.) All in all, it might be the best small ballpark I have been to. A picture would probably come in handy here, huh?

Just when I think Johnny Damon has gone all Johnny Hollywood on us, I see the Sox centerfielder stroll down next to the box seats during the Pirates game (he was showered and dressed in his best Queer Eye-approved outfit, his day's work done) with the sole purpose of sharing some quality time with a group of disabled children and their parents. He hugged each last kid, shook every hand, signed countless autographs, and generally acted as if he had stumbled upon a group of long-lost friends. Even for a smart-ass cynic such as, oh, me, it was a heartwarming scene. It's nice to know that beneath the rock-star exterior and character-defaming literary revelations, Damon remains a sweetheart of a guy.

I'm pretty sure that new movie "Locusts" is based on spring-training autograph seekers. Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell stopped to sign for a couple of kids standing along the railing during Monday's game. Next thing you know, the basement-dwelling eBay and memorabilia junkies, carrying their cards in plastic sheets and glossy 8x10 phots, were on him like Kirstie Alley on a pack of Ho-Hos. It's a wonder any of these guys ever sign a thing for free anymore.

Have you noticed that Terry Francona is . . . well, as Phil Hartman would say . . .sassy!? He seems a lot more comfortable this spring than he did last. I imagine that whole ending-an-86-year-drought-while-managing-circles-around-Scioscia-Torre-and-La Russa thing has gone a long way toward emboldening him. But who know he was so quick with a quip? He has dropped the two funniest lines of camp. When asked on a recent ESPN broadcast if anything has changed with Pedro Martinez gone, Francona cracked, "Yeah, no one's been late." Then, on NESN's Sox pregame show tonight, he was asked by Tom Caron if he worried that the Sox would suffer a hangover from last season. "This team is pretty good at playing with a hangover," said Tito. I was a Francona guy all year last season. I like him even better now that he's a wiseass.

I love the reacquisition of Mike Myers, in part because his slow-slower-slowest slop drives the likes of Garret Anderson and Hideki Matsui to the brink of madness. Sentimentally, I also like the move simply because he was One Of The 25, as the loonies at Sons of Sam Horn like to refer to each member of The Champs. I just wish he'd stop wearing the damn freaky mask on the mound . . .

(Hey, it was either that obvious joke, or an of the even more obvious Austin Powers reference. I think I went with the less lame of the two, don't you? Nah, you're right. They both rot.)

As tempting as it is to send him off with a retaliatory single-finger salute, we should harbor no ill will toward Byung-Hyun Kim. Maybe the kid didn't take to Boston (and to be fair, Boston didn't take to him, despite his season-saving performance in '03), and his teammates had grown frustrated with his aloofness and refusal to drink from the team cup, so to speak. But the bottom line is this: the kid had it once, and then he lost it, plain and simple. He used to throw 95 mph gas that dipped and darted like a paper airplane - he was an unhittable as any pitcher in the major leagues when he was on. Then, without significant injury or any other logical explanation, he lost 10 mph and all movement off his stuff. BHK's decline remains as much a mystery as the man himself.

David Wells might be a Krispy Kreme under 270, but I'll be damned if he's not a remarkably graceful 270. We've known for years that he throws the ball as effortlessly as any pitcher in recent memory - the man's left arm is blessed. But get this: he actually runs pretty well, too. He dropped down a bunt in the Pirates game and I was stunned to see how quickly he chugged down the line. And the bunt was perfectly executed. Wells may be a load, but make no mistake, the load is an ath-a-lete.

Okay, fantasy baseball gurus, I need your help. I have the fourth pick in the Globe's fantasy baseball league, one that is weighted heavily toward power and run production for the hitters, and victories and saves for the pitchers. Steals mean about as much to us as they do to the Moneyball A's. I'm assuming the top three will be Pujols, A-Fraud, and Vlad Guerrero. So whom should I take? Beltran? He's not as valuable because the steals count for squat. Randy Johnson? It's against my religion to pick a Yankee. Johan Santana? Can he dominate again, or was he a mere flash? I'm actually leaning toward Santana, but I'm really tempted by Manny, mainly because I think he's one of the few sluggers who stats weren't swollen by a needle. Drop me a note with your suggestions. The Dirty Dozen's wisdom is much appreciated.

Anna Kournikova's designated leg shaver has the best job in the world - that's unquestioned . . .

(Curse you, Enrique, and your tone-deaf charms!)

. . . but two of the dudes I was hanging with can stake a claim to the second-best gig: they write the text that appears on the back of Upper Deck baseball and basketball cards. And to think, they probably got some more material this week after running into a few notable Tampa Bay Devil Rays at a certain night spot. The six-year veteran enjoys hunting, fishing, and dropping $20s by the fistful at strip clubs . . .

And speaking of baseball cards, it's time to introduce a new feature here in the TATB Notebook: The Completely Random Sports Card. Seems I've received quite a bit of feedback from readers who dig that I often use them instead of photos for art. (You freaks have a thing for Chet Lemon. Who knew?) To be honest, I use them mostly because it's easier to dump them into my photobucket account than to scrounge for a photo. But damned if they don't look pretty cool, too. If you've got any requests - Bombo Rivera, Pete LaCock, John Trautwein, you name it - I'll do my best to fill them. The more obscure, the better. As for today, here's a Cleveland Indians megasuperduperstar from the '70s for your enjoyment . . .

Larvell "Firing" Blanks. The Ricky Gutierrez of his time.