The Color Purple

Dear Elizabeth:

The admission committee has concluded its evaluation of Early Decision
applicants to Northwestern University. I am sorry we are unable to
offer you a place in the freshman class.

They say that everything happens for a reason. People say that college admissions are a crapshoot: if you get in, you got lucky; if you don’t get in, you were unlucky. You will end up where you are meant to be.

Once I read my rejection letter, none of that made any difference. None of that made me feel better. I was rejected from one of the best journalism schools in the country. It was quite discouraging, which is why I have not written anything in a while. My whole application centered upon my blog and my love for writing about baseball, and why I love to do it. Northwestern rejecting me was like them telling me that my blog was not good enough; that my passion was not good enough. And really, there is not much worse than getting told that your passion is not good enough.

Getting rejected from college is like having a really good career and not getting into the Hall of Fame. I’m Luis Tiant, and Northwestern is the Hall of Fame. He’s a perfectly qualified candidate, who is overlooked.  

Granted, the rejection letter did not explain why I was not accepted. In retrospect, if I had to guess, I would say that it was my test scores were not good enough. And if that is the case, then I do not want to go to Northwestern.

If I have learned anything in the past two plus years since I have started this blog, it is that journalism is based on passion. In journalism, passion is paramount to grades, to test scores, and even to writing skills. If you are truly passionate about something, then it will be expressed in your writing. You can be the best writer in the world, but if you’re not passionate about what you’re writing about, then it’s not worth writing about.

I am not asking Northwestern to understand my passion; not many people do. Perhaps they simply do not understand it because my blog is completely independent of my school work. If Northwestern truly was one of the best journalism schools in the country, their mantra would be passion. But if they judge passion solely on grades and test scores, then I was wrong for applying there in the first place.

In my conversations with players, I have realized that baseball goes so far beyond its statistics, and I hope that I have been able to convey this to those of you that are kind enough to stop by and read my blog. Baseball is an art. If we solely look at the numbers, then we do not even crack the surface of what this game truly can mean to us. Similarly, I go beyond my statistics (and so does everyone who applies to college).

Perhaps everything does happen for a reason. The last thing I want to do is go to a school that will neither understand nor foster passion. If Northwestern wants to have a homogeneous class of kids with straight A’s and perfect scores, then more power to them. But that is not what journalism is about.

If you presented me with two scenarios right now–the first being that I have perfect grades and scores and I have a ticket to the institution of my choice. The second being my current situation: good grades, not-so-great-scores, but something that I am truly passionate about–I would choose the latter every time. I have something worth writing about. 

A lot of you are probably familiar with the “Beyond Baseball” commercial about Dustin Pedroia:

“Too Short.
Too Weak.
Too Slow. 
 Growing up, Dustin Pedroia was often overlooked, but he used that as motivation to never give up, never give in, and never listen to what they say you can’t do.
This is beyond perseverance; this is beyond baseball.”

In a way, Northwestern has said something similar to me. But like Dustin Pedroia, I’m going to use this as motivation to never give up, never give in, and never listen to what they say I can’t do. Even after college, I know that things like this will happen. The writers I shadowed over the summer said this themselves. There is no one path to where I want to go. There are plenty of other universities with equally renowned journalism programs and reputations. I know that going to a school with a good reputation and connections will only help me. But in the end, it will be my passion that gets me to where I want to go.

*************************************************************************************************************

In the past few weeks, Theo Epstein has acquired some great players that will play a  huge role in the 2011 season and beyond.

The last thing I blogged about was the blockbuster Adrian Gonzalez trade that sent perhaps the best three minor league prospects in the organization (pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and outfielder Reymond Fuentes) as well as Eric Patterson (who was the player to be named later) to San Diego. While this locks up the 2011 season, the Adrian Gonzalez’s future in the Red Sox organization is in jeopardy until a contract extension is finalized.

Epstein had never given a player more than a five-year deal in his regime as Red Sox general manager until Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 million deal. I have always thought that Epstein has been really smart in doing this because there is really no way to tell how good a player will be in five years.

However, in the past few years, teams have been signing players to lucrative, long-term contracts typically between 6-8 years. The way I see it, Epstein has been forced to adjust to the market in order to lock up the top-tier players. You would think that a player would settle for less years and more money, but long-term security has been a deal breaker lately.

Locking up Gonzalez long term (I would say five to six years, but with the recent Crawford deal, anything could happen) is absolutely essential. After the 2011 season, teams will be swooping in like vultures for Gonzalez’s services. It will be a huge blow to the organization if the Red Sox lose Gonzalez plus the talented crop of minor league players.

It is quite possible that a deal has been agreed upon in principle with Gonzalez, and the Red Sox are merely waiting until after Opening Day to announce it–exactly what they did with Josh Beckett’s 4-year contract extension last year. This would allow the organization to evade an even heavier luxury tax.

Giving up the prospects was certainly hard to do. I thought that Casey Kelly in particular was untouchable. The minor league system, however, has the potential to be restocked in this year’s draft. In addition to the top-fifty pick that the Red Sox already have, they will have four picks in the compensatory round due to the loss of Victor Martinez (4-years, $50 million with Tigers) and the impending loss of Adrian Beltre. Because they are both Type A free agents, the Red Sox will receive two, compensatory picks. It is also likely that they will non-tender Felipe Lopez–a Type B free agent–so that gives them another compensatory pick. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s six of the first fifty picks. Consider the farm system re-stocked.

Casey Kelly was certainly a big deal: he received a lot of hype during Spring Training. Keep your eyes out for Anthony Ranaudo this year. He was drafted in the first round (39th overall) over the 2010 draft out of LSU.

Carl Crawford’s 7-year, $142 million deal is certainly a lot of money, but there is no doubt that he is the type of player that you make exceptions for. He is a five-tool player, and considered by many to be the best athlete in baseball. He will play left field (with Ellsbury moving to center, and Drew staying in right), and I expect him to hit either first or second in the lineup. Cameron will be the fourth outfielder, and this gives Ryan Kalish some time to develop in the minors. I would like to see him get some time in right field and improve his arm to potentially be the starting right fielder in 2012 after Drew’s contract expires.

Speaking of expiring contracts, this has to have b
een a factor in splurging for Crawford. The Red Sox are coming off of a lot of contracts after the 2011 season including David Ortiz, JD Drew, Marco Scutaro, and Mike Cameron. Matsuzaka’s contract is up after the 2012 season.

The Red Sox also signed three relievers expected to strengthen the bullpen. RHP Bobby Jenks was signed to a two year deal worth $12 million. The Red Sox non-tendered the inconsistent Hideki Okajima, so I expect Jenks to serve as a setup man for Papelbon. He had arguably his worst season last year posting a 4.44 ERA, but he has been very reliable in the past. The only thing I do not like is his beard.

The Red Sox also signed RHP Dan Wheeler to a one year deal worth $3 million with a club option for 2012. He has had a consistently good ERA over the past three seasons averaging about 3.25.

The signing that I was not all too crazy about was the one year deal with RHP Matt Albers. He has never had an ERA under 4.00. I am pretty sure that it is a major league contract, but I suspect that he will battle for a bullpen spot during Spring Training.

The only left that the Red Sox have in the bullpen is Felix Doubront, and I am sure that Francona will use him as the lefty specialist (which, as I have mentioned, I do not buy). He is currently the only lefty in the bullpen, so I suspect Epstein will sign a few guys to minor league contracts that will compete for roster spots in 2011.

The Four Seasons: Hot Stove Analysis

Most places experience four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Each season is distinctly associated with different weather patterns and different activities. When people ask me what my favorite season is, I say, “Baseball season.” I think that I need to be more specific, though. A lot of people think that there is just baseball season and the off season, but like the weather, baseball has four seasons as well: the preseason, the regular season, the postseason, and the hot stove season. Just because there is no baseball, that does not mean that there is an “off” season.

If you asked me which of the baseball seasons were my favorite, I would have a hard time responding. If you asked me my least favorite, though, I would not have to think twice about answering, “The hot stove season.” For a baseball fan, there is nothing worse than having your favorite player be a free agent. You hope that deep down, money and years are subordinate to the loyalty he has for his team. But in the end, we all have to face the harsh reality that for players, love for a team is quantified.

The off season can be even harder if, like me, you are a huge fan of minor league baseball. The top rated prospects are always the ones who are most vulnerable to blockbuster trades. This brings me to, you guessed it, Adrian Gonzalez.

As I write this, it has essentially been made official that the Red Sox and the Padres have completed a blockbuster trade. The Red Sox have been interested in Adrian Gonzalez for over a year now, and Theo Epstein has finally made it happen. The Red Sox lose perhaps the three best prospects in the organization in Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Reymond Fuentes.

I wonder how it is to hear your name in trade talks as these three so often did. In this case, though, I think this trade is a compliment to their abilities. The Red Sox are not trading to get rid of them. Adrian Gonzalez is one of the most talented players in baseball, and the San Diego Padres see enough talent in these three prospects to trade away their face of the franchise. That is a huge compliment.

This trade has some personal repercussions for me. Anyone who has read this blog once or twice knows how much faith and respect I had for these guys. I expected to see Casey Kelly in the Red Sox’s starting rotation in 2013. I expected Anthony Rizzo to be the Red Sox’s starting first baseman in either 2012 or 2013. I expected Reymond Fuentes to be the Red Sox’s starting center fielder in 2014.

It’s not just that I closely followed their minor league development. I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing each of them. I feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to get to know them a bit. Obviously, all three of them are fantastic players, but when it comes down to it, they’re good guys too.
Thumbnail image for IMG_3365.JPG
I remember the first time I talked to Casey Kelly. He, Kris Johnson, Kyle Weiland, and Ryan Kalish were sitting at a table signing at an event in Fort Myers. I gave them all my card, and we had an interesting conversation about the spelling of analysis. I saw Kelly about 20 minutes later, and I talked to him a bit more about the spelling of analysis, and also about his transition from shortstop to pitcher. When I saw him in Portland, he was happy to re-establish the fact that I, apparently, am a poor speller.
Thumbnail image for IMG_3987.JPG
I met Anthony Rizzo on the last day of Spring Training. I told him and his mother, Lori, that he was one of my projects. When I saw him in Portland over the summer, I talked to him a lot, and I even had the chance to formally interview him, the transcript of which you can read here.

I formally interviewed Reymond Fuentes at the Fall Instructional League in Fort Myers. You can read the transcript of that here.. (It’s actually more of a summary of what I remembered, because I accidentally deleted it). I don’t have a picture with him, but I am thankful that I had the chance to talk to him before he was traded.

Although I’m truly going to miss these guys, this was a fantastic trade. I think both sides will benefit equally. Gonzalez’s impact will obviously be more immediate, but like I said, I fully expect Kelly, Rizzo, and Fuentes to be starting in the near future after they finish their development. The Red Sox are currently working out a long term deal with Gonzalez because he is in the last year of his contract. Every baseball team learned from the Atlanta Braves’ mistake a couple of years ago when they traded top prospects (Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz, to name a few) to the Texas Rangers for Mark Teixeira, and failed to sign him long term.

Adrian Gonzalez  will obviously play first base, and Kevin Youkilis will move to third: a position that he is very comfortable at considering he was developed as a third baseman. Adrian Beltre will not be in a Red Sox uniform next season. He is a fantastic player, and his bat will have a huge impact on whichever team he signs with.

I want to briefly analyze the other moves that the Red Sox have made this season, and then address the remaining needs.

1. They signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek to one year
deals. Varitek is always a good guy to have around considering he knows
how to handle the pitching staff, and he can help Saltalamacchia learn.
Saltalamacchia was formerly a huge catching prospect in the Rangers
organization, but he never really panned out as expected. He even
struggled with getting the ball back to the pitcher. However, I would not be surprised if he turned out to be a valuable asset. At the same time, though, neither his or Varitek’s bat will fill Victor Martinez’s (who signed a four year contract worth $50 million with the Tigers) hole. The Red Sox obviously value Salty and Varitek for their defense, not their bats. The rest of the Red Sox lineup will compensate. 

2. They traded Dustin Richardson for former first round pick (sixth overall), Andrew Miller, whom they have just non-tendered. They also non-tendered Hideki Okajima. As many of you know–or even just judging from my picture–this trade also had personal repercussions for me. Richardson was perhaps my favorite pitcher in the minor league system. He did not have a full year to develop in Triple-A, which explains why he struggled a bit with walks at the major league level. As a left handed pitcher, I think he could have been a valuable asset to the Red Sox’s bullpen, but I have no doubt that he will do well in Florida. I look forward to following his career down here.
Thumbnail image for IMG_4752.JPG
I remember the first time I talked to Richardson. It was at a spring training workout, and I was able to tell him how much I enjoyed watching him last September, and that I thought really highly of him. It surprised me that he remembered me nearly a month later, and that he had taken the time to read my site. When I talked to him more extensively, what really impressed me about him was that he was really honest with himself. Instead of saying, “Yeah, I should be in Boston,” he wanted to work stuff out in Pawtucket. I was even more surprised that he recognized me immediately in San Francisco, and I was so glad that I had the chance to congratulate him on his first major league strikeout. He gave me two baseballs. 

What confused me, though, is that the Red Sox non-tendered Andrew Miller. If the Red Sox were not planning on keeping him, then they essentially gave up Richardson for free. It was suggested to me on Twitter, by @justjohnsonya, that perhaps the Red Sox were clearing a roster spot for the Rule 5 Draft, and hoping to sign Miller after that.

The Red Sox have proven arms in Scott Atchison, Daniel Bard, Tim Wakefiled, and Jonathan Papelbon, and I expect to see great things from Felix Doubront and Michael Bowden. However, the bullpen is another asset that the Red Sox need to improve upon.

The rest of the Red Sox’s Hot Stove moves have been relatively anticlimactic, picking up a guy off waivers here and there. There are two big names on the market that the Red Sox will pursue: Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth. The Red Sox already have a right-fielder in Drew (who is in the last year of his contract), and a left fielder in Ellsbury, but Ellsbury can easily move to center field. I could see the Red Sox signing Crawford, moving Ellsbury to center, keeping Drew in right, and having Mike Cameron as the fourth outfielder (he is still under contract). If this happens, I would think that the Red Sox would want to develop Kalish as a right fielder, because I fully expect him to be in the starting lineup in 2012. Between Crawford and Werth, Crawford is the most logical move. 

Even though it’s hard for me to say goodbye, I know that all of these guys are going to have great careers. After all, they are my projects. In fact, I would be willing to be that one day, these are the guys that teams are going to be trading their big minor league prospects for. I wish them nothing but the best in their careers, which I will still monitor closely. As for Adrian Gonzalez, I look forward to seeing him rake in a Red Sox uniform.

Snowflakes & Fingerprints

The mouse lingered over the “submit” button; my thumb hovered over the mouse, waiting to click it. I had spent the last two months filling out tedious applications and agonizing over essays. I had spent this entire year looking at my statistics and comparing them with others. I SAT’d once and ACT’d three times. I was ready. Tim Lincecum was ready too. He walked out of the Giants dugout ready to throw the first pitch of the 2010 World Series. I was nervous. He was probably nervous. Tim Lincecum went into his windup. Submit. Strike.

And now we wait.

Applications may have prevented me from blogging, but they certainly did not prevent me from watching at least part of every single postseason game. I wrote nearly all of my essays on my passion for baseball, so to stop watching baseball would have been counter-intuitive.

Despite the Red Sox falling short, I still had a lot of fun watching baseball during the regular season. Little did I know that the postseason was going to be even better. Considering that the Red Sox were not in the playoffs, I decided to temporarily adopt both an American League team and a National League team. Little did I know that the teams I picked would end up facing each other in the World Series.

I want to start at the beginning, though. The first day of the playoffs happened to coincide with the first day of my whirlwind college tour. I was in the air when Roy Halladay threw his no-hitter. I remember I actually got on the plane around the fourth inning, and a small part of me hoped that he would wait until his next start to throw one so that I could actually watch. I’m a very selfish baseball fan. A much bigger part of me was happy when I checked the score during my layover flight in Charlotte, NC: Roy Halladay had thrown a no-hitter in his postseason debut.

Nobody could have written it better. Halladay was not fazed by the pressures that come with the postseason, nor was he fazed by the daunting Cincinnati Reds lineup, considered by many to be the best in baseball. Halladay threw the first no-hitter in baseball since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series in 1956. It amazes me that there was that long of a drought between postseason no-hitters, but it makes the feat all the more remarkable.

I would certainly watch the games in the hotel room at night, after the tours. And let me tell you, nothing complements a good baseball game like an authentic Chicago pizza. However, I think I actually had more fun watching the games while lingering outside a bar in various airports. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: baseball’s most unique quality is its ability to unite.

This may have been a completely empty threat, but I would not have watched the World Series had it been a Phillies vs Yankees matchup again. So you can imagine how happy I was when both Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard struck out looking to send the Rangers and the Giants to face each other in the World Series.

That matchup caused me some agony because I had had fun rooting for my adopted teams. I just didn’t plan far enough ahead to decide whom I would be rooting for in the World Series. I had adopted the claws and antlers: I clawed with every extra base hit, and I would do antlers with every bag the Rangers swiped. While rooting for the Giants, I did my best to come up with creative hashtags or at least make them trend on Twitter. When they faced each other in the World Series, it was very difficult for me to decide who to root for.

Who expected a Rangers vs Giants World Series at the beginning of the season? Although helped by the long ball, these teams did not rely exclusively on it. The Giants won because of their pitching. Tim Lincecum is a once-in-a-lifetime pitcher. Both his postseason debut and his performance in game five of the World Series will go down as some of the most remarkable pitching performances in baseball’s history. Matt Cain did not allow a run for the entire postseason. Madison Bumgarner is a 22 year old rookie pitching like a postseason veteran. Even though Jonathan Sanchez underperformed, I could not help noticing how perfect his eyebrows are. 

What I really liked about the Rangers was their defense. They have perhaps the best, yet previously underrated infield in baseball: Mitch Moreland (1B), Ian Kinsler (2B), Elvis Andrus (SS), and Michael Young (3B). I am fairly certain that Ian Kinsler defied the laws of physics with some of the plays he made. Michael Young has a gun for an arm. Even when a guy like Cliff Lee is pitching, I enjoy watching the defense make plays as much as I enjoy watching 76 mph curveballs fool batters.

W.P. Kinsella said, “Baseball games are like snowflakes and fingerprints. No two are ever alike.” I think the prime examples of this came in games one and two. Many expected game one to be the pitcher’s duel of the century because of the matchup: Cliff Lee vs Tim Lincecum. However, it ended up being more about the offense. The next game between Matt Cain and CJ Wilson provided the pitcher’s duel that everyone was waiting for. This is what made this World Series so great. It was so different from World Series’ of the past. I think that the fact that the World Series was between the Rangers and the Giants indicates that baseball is shifting from its focus on offense to a focus on pitching and defense. I am hoping for the era of the pitcher. As the San Francisco Giants announcers might say, these games were “torture.” But who knew torture could be so fun?

If you are interested in where I applied early, feel free to e-mail me or tweet me

Baseball Without Rules: Instrux 2010

Clearly, I’m not cut out for using any kind of technology besides a computer. I bought a new toy last weekend from Best Buy: an audio recorder. This past weekend at the Red Sox’s Fall Instructional League I was able to get two interviews, and I’ve already managed to delete one of them. You see, I had done a test recording of nothing to make sure I knew which buttons to press. So, at the end of the day I had three files on my small, silver toy: a “post-game interview” with starter Jacob Dahlstrand, the most useless file in the world, and an interview with the next top outfield prospect in the Red Sox organization, Reymond Fuentes. Guess which one I deleted? The last one. I’ll do my best to paraphrase what he said, but I won’t put words in his mouth.

Don’t get me wrong, I had really great conversations with both Dahlstrand and Fuentes because they were both very open and friendly, but I do feel like a recorder takes something away from the conversation. I think what I’ve learned this year is that there is a fine line between an interview and a conversation. I always say that I like to interview players, but really, I enjoy having conversations with them because it’s so much easier for me to hear the human element of baseball, which is really the angle I’m going for in my career (?) at this point. I know that I’m going to have to use recorders when I start writing professionally, but instead of interviews, I want to have conversations. The recorder is small enough that I could stick it inconspicuously in my back pocket, but that’s probably unethical and perhaps even illegal.

Once again, I had no idea what I was in for this past weekend. I’ve never heard of a baseball game being played earlier than 12:05 pm, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. This game started at 10 a.m. If I wanted to be there on time, that meant I needed to leave my house by at least 7:30. Of course, I wanted to be there before the game started, so that I could get situated, so I left my house at 7 am, which is earlier than I typically wake up for class.

I had never been to the Twins complex before, but it was hard to miss, and very well organized: it includes the Minnesota Twins major league spring training facility (Hammond Field) as well as five or so fields for the minor league teams. There is only one problem I could possibly see with this kind of facility. I would have to pay some ridiculous sum for parking even if I was not going to the major league game. I didn’t have to this time, though. I arrived about 15 minutes before game time, and I followed a group of scouts into the complex. I was the only female there for a while.

From what I can tell, the Fall Instructional League does not have to follow typical baseball rules. The Red Sox had 10 people in their batting lineup: two designated hitters. They could also bat out of order without any penalties whatsoever. If someone grounded out, they could get another shot if they needed to. This made score keeping nearly impossible, so I gave up after a while because I was so confused as to why Ryan Dent was batting again when I could have sworn that he had just gotten to first on an error from the shortstop. I don’t even know what the final score was. 

In other words, these games are designed merely for players to get their work in. They don’t want to see Ryan Dent get on base because of an error because that’s going to happen less and less as he advances from level to level. They want to see him get on base because he gets a hit through the gap.

Around the second inning, I transferred to the bleachers behind home plate to see a different angle of the movement on Dahlstrand’s pitches. It was here that I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with Jason Garcia, who was drafted in the 17th round (533rd overall) of the 2010 draft. He had pitched the game before, so he was on charting duty from what I could tell. He said he was happy with his outing, and that his fastball was working for him. He hopes to be in Lowell next year. I enjoyed his often facetious commentary on the game.

I went back to my original spot because I had trouble seeing over the pitchers sitting in front of me with the radar guns. Here is some of the stuff that I noted from the game.

-Jacob Dahlstrand really used the outside corner well, but he needs to incorporate other parts of the plate as well.
 
-John Killen was topping out around 90 according the the various radar guns around me. He did have some command issues, but I think those could be easily fixed if he slowed it down a little bit because it seemed like he was rushing his pitches. He definitely has good movement on his pitches, so once he refines his command a bit, and finalizes his arsenal, his offspeed stuff will be nasty. I think I might have seen a splitter and a curveball, but I’m horrible at judging what kind of pitch it is. One thing I think he needs to focus on is not getting frustrated.

-Sean Coyle has a really nice swing, and a fairly good eye from what I could tell. It looks like he struggles a little bit with the offspeed stuff, but that’s completely normal at this stage. His infield mechanics are nearly flawless, quite possibly the best I saw that day.

-Christian Vazquez had a solid pickoff throw.

-Tyler Wilson had a quick delivery and an impressive fastball that was fooling guys all over the place.

-Felix Sanchez was fouling a lot of pitches off, which I think is indicative of a good eye and solid plate discipline with some minor issues in timing.

Jose Iglesias (soon heading off to the Arizona Fall League), Bryce Brentz, and Miles Head each connected for a double. Brentz actually had a multi-hit game. Others probably did as well, but as I said, I stopped keeping score.

One of the reasons I stopped keeping score was because I kept getting distracted by conversations/interviews. I interviewed Jacob Dahlstrand right behind the dugout. He had a big ice pack on his shoulder. Here are some of the highlights.

Dahlstrand was born in Houston, roots for the Rays, and his favorite player is Josh Beckett. His repertoire includes a fastball, a curveball, and a changeup, which he is pretty happy with right now.  He wants to work on his fastball command because that has been his biggest challenge so far. Pitching from the stretch is starting to get easier for him. The reason that it is so hard for pitchers is because they don’t have to worry about pitching from the stretch in high school since they never put anybody on base.

He was drafted out of high school, and had he not signed, he would have gone to the University of Houston and probably majored in business. He only played two games in the Gulf Coast League this year because he stressed something in his back.

Reymond Fuentes had played the day before, so he had the day off today. He agreed to an interview after the game, and he certainly held his word. He is originally from Puerto Rico, and his favorite player is his cousin, Carlos Beltran. He looks up to him a lot, and he works out with him in the off-season. Fuentes skipped Lowell (short season-A) and went straight from the Gulf Coast League (rookie league) to the Greenville Drive (Single-A). He said he was really happy about that. His biggest challenge so far has been the long season. He played 40 games with GCL, and in his very next year he played significantly more. His goal for this year is to stay healthy. He attributes his greatest strength to his legs because he has a lot of speed, and he would like to stay in center field for his career.

I don’t think Fuentes is on a lot of people’s radars quite yet, but he is certainly someone to keep your eye on. I think that he has a lot of potential, and I would not be surprised to see him in the Red Sox outfield in 3-4 years.

Unfortunately, that was my last time at Instrux. I had heard that it was going to go until late October, but it
turns out to be only a three week program. This is coming weekend is the last, and I will be touring Syracuse, Northwestern, Marquette, and University of Wisconsin-Madison. The deadline for early applications is quickly approaching, and I have a big decision to make as to where I want to apply Early Decision, if at all. I had a really fun time at Instrux, and I can’t wait to see these guys during Spring Training, or maybe before if they’re there earlier.  

Red Sox Instrux 2010

I swear, every time I go to a baseball game, I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing. I go to baseball games with the sole purpose of interacting with at least one player, but it’s not like I have some strategic plan that I follow each time I go to a baseball game. To be honest, going to baseball games has become kind of a stressful experience (in the absolute best of ways) for me because I never know what to expect going in. The outcome is certainly worth the uncertainty.

The Fall Instructional League is essentially a rookie league populated by guys from the Dominican Summer League, the Gulf Coast League, and the Lowell Spinners (short season Signle-A ball). In other words, there are a lot of draft picks. This is absolutely raw, unrefined baseball talent, and this league serves to refine essential baseball fundamentals. Many of the draft picks signed late, so they have little to no experience in professional baseball–maybe nine games in the Gulf Coast League (a rookie league).

Here is a brief look at the 2010 Red Sox Draft:
First Round:
-Kolbrin Vitek (20th overall)
Compensatory Picks
-Bryce Brentz (36th overall)
-Anthony Ranaudo (39th overall)
Round 2
-Brandon Workman (57th overall)
Round 3
-Sean Coyle (110th overall)
Round 4
-Garin Cecchini (143rd overall)
-Round 5
-Henry Ramos (173rd overall)
Round 6
-Kendrick Perkins (203rd overall)
Round 7
-Chris Hernandez (233rd overall)
…Round 10
-Jacob Dahlstrand (323rd overall)
Round 11
-Lucas LeBlanc (353rd overall)

The only guys who weren’t at the Fall Instructional League on Sunday when I was there were Anthony Ranaudo and Brandon Workman. Workman was to arrive the next day for a slightly different strength conditioning program.

There was very little information regarding the Fall Instructional League. There were some rumors regarding who would be there. Casey Kelly, Ryan Dent, and Ryan Westmoreland all confirmed via their Twitter accounts. An actual roster was posted a few days before the league began by Sox Prospects. This helped me out because I was able to do some basic research, and perhaps more importantly, figure out where these practices (and games) were taking place. The only thing it didn’t tell me was what time everything was taking place. I basically had to blindly assume that the practices would start some time between nine and ten. All I could hope was that I was not embarking on a five hour round trip for nothing.

As I drove into the Red Sox Minor League Complex–a place I had not been to for five months–I noticed a sea of red uniforms a couple of fields over. The grueling two-and-a-half hour drive over boring alligator alley suddenly became a small price to pay.
IMG_5539.JPG
I was absolutely enthralled from the moment I set foot upon the complex. The majority of the players were gathered on one field, focused on an intricate drill that focused on what I would call situational fundamentals. The coaches would yell out a situation. “One and two with two outs,” for example. The pitcher would pretend to throw home, and then the coach would hit the ball somewhere. It was up to the players to adjust accordingly, and make the call as to what should happen.

The coaches would get angry if the players weren’t communicating with each other. The players would switch out nearly every play, and then would wait in line until next time. This was far from fundamentally sound. In fact, first base was overthrown more than once, and the cutoff man was occasionally missed. This observation is not meant to criticize–far from it. This observation made me realize the point of this league: to refine the fundamentals. As I said before, a lot of these guys have little to no experience with even the lowest level of professional baseball. This league is to prepare them for it.

On the other fields, the pitchers were working on pick-off drills. This was perhaps my favorite drill of the day because I had never seen anything like it. Even though I have heard from more than one pitcher that pitching from the stretch is something that is far from natural, I had no idea that this was how they learned. I assumed that it just came from in-game practice, but these guys were working on both how they turned and their pick off throws. It was absolutely fascinating.

I was very patient when it came to talking with players. I did not want to be rude and interrupt their practice, so I waited until they were at least en route to another field. I was familiar with names, but unfortunately I was not as familiar with faces. I decided not to risk embarrassing myself by addressing somebody by a name that was not his own, so I ended up asking for everyone’s name. I hope that they weren’t offended that I didn’t know exactly who they were or what they had done up to this point. Most of them were extremely friendly. I suppose the chocolate peanut butter cupcakes didn’t hurt.

The first guy I talked to was Garin Cecchini. I did not get a chance to talk to him for a long time because he was en route to another drill. He said he was really happy to be there, and I could tell that he was absolutely thrilled. He had only played about nine games in the Gulf Coast League, so he was clearly there to get more experience under his belt. He was wearing a brace around his knee, and I noticed that he was experiencing some pain during the infield drills. He said that he had had surgery recently, but he felt fine. I’ll ask him more next weekend.

Then I talked to Lucas LeBlanc. He hasn’t played in any GCL games because he signed so late, but he had played in a summer league. He was committed to LSU following the draft, but chose to play professionally. He said that he still had some angry voice messages and text messages saved on his phone. He had no regrets, and he said that he was really happy with his decision so far.

I had the longest conversation with Sean Coyle, and we spoke for about five minutes. He is a utility infielder, but projects to play second base in the organization. He likes to hit first or second in the batting order, and is confident with his speed on the base paths. He is projected to go to Greenville next year, and played very briefly in the GCL. I asked him the biggest thing he has learned so far and he said to just stay relaxed. He said that he anxious a lot this year (understandably so) and that he just needs to relax and take it easier. He also mentioned that he had played in summer leagues for the past four or five years with wooden bats, so the transition hasn’t been too hard. His brother is currently at UNC-Chapel Hill, which is one of the schools I’m applying to.
Thumbnail image for IMG_5543.JPG
I missed a couple of the players going in after batting practice, but some stayed behind to kill a snake and tie it to a bat. Miles Head was kind enough to pose for a picture with his prize.

The last guy I talked to was Bryce Brentz. He is a pretty funny guy. Since he was drafted out of college, I also brought up the difference between aluminum and metal bats. He said something to the effect of that the outfielders are able to position themselves better when it comes to hits off wooden bats. That’s something I had not heard before.

On my way home, I f
ound it kind of odd that I had bought an audio recorder the day before, yet I didn’t use it once that day. I didn’t even ask for a picture with any of these guys. I guess it just did not feel right at the time, and I’m glad that I didn’t. Sunday was a day for me to put myself out there, and merely introduce myself to the players. It would have been awfully awkward to whip out a recorder and tape these informal interviews. I’ve decided that I only want to use the recorder during a formal interview or a press conference. Otherwise, I feel like the presence of a recorder would take something away from the conversation.

Overall, I was impressed–not with their fundamentals, but with their attitudes. From what I could tell, they were all very driven and ambitious. I could tell that it was absolutely surreal for the guys who didn’t have professional experience yet. I’m sure this feeling wares off after a while, but it was just a pleasant ambiance to be a part of.

They have a game against the Twins (at the Twins) next Saturday, and I will be going back. I plan on scoring the game, and I will sit next to somebody with a radar gun and track pitches. I would also like to conduct a formal interview with one of them (or all of them), if they oblige. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to look into the strength conditioning program as well. 

I am also hoping to get a chance to say hello to Ryan Westmoreland, who is also rehabbing. I didn’t see him on Sunday because I think he had gone in relatively early. I think it is absolutely remarkable that he is there, but I have to say, I’m not surprised. The second he got out of surgery, he pretty much had himself convinced that he was going to be back on a baseball field, and he has worked hard to make it happen. Judging from his tweets, he seems absolutely thrilled to be there, and that’s all that matters.

The Triple Crown

It is often said that baseball’s most prestigious feat is the elusive perfect game. After all, only 20 have been pitched in all of baseball’s history–18 in the modern era. To retire 27 batters consecutively is certainly majestic, and it guarantees baseball immortality. Many perfect games have been thrown by notoriously dominant pitchers–Monte Ward, Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay, and Catfish Hunter, to name a few. Their reputation almost demanded one. However, for some pitchers, their perfect games are the only redeeming factor in an otherwise disappointing or mediocre career–perhaps Kenny Rogers or Dallas Braden.

I would like to argue that there is an even more illustrious feat in baseball; one that has not been accomplished since 1967: 43 years. The largest gap between baseball’s perfect games was 34 years. The feat that I speak of is baseball’s triple crown, in which a hitter must lead his league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs. It has only been done 16 times in baseball’s history, 13 in the modern era. The last man to win the triple crown was Carl Yastrzemski.

No one has ever pitched a perfect game twice. It is probably nearly statistically impossible. Two men have received the triple crown twice. The Cardinals’ Roger Hornsby in 1922 and 1925, and the Red Sox’s Ted Williams in 1942 and 1947. This is precisely what makes the triple crown even more impressive.

A perfect game does not guarantee a Cy Young Award. It is nearly unheard of for a player not to win the MVP if he has also won the triple crown. After all, MVP considerations are heavily affected by those same three statistics. To every rule and theory, there is always an exception, and Ted Williams is the exception to mine: In 1942 and 1947, he came in second place for MVP votes, losing to Joe Gordon and Joe Dimaggio, respectively.

A perfect game is one game; there are 161 others. To win a triple crown, the hitter has to be consistently superior in three outstandingly difficult categories. Every player who has won the triple crown in the modern era is currently immortalized in Cooperstown. Pitchers who throw a perfect game are perfect for 27 outs. Those who win the triple crown are spectacular 4,374 outs.

With a couple of legitimate Triple Crown contenders this season in Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera, I wanted to try and figure out why there has been such a disparity in Triple Crown winners since Yastrzemski last did it. I decided to look at and compare various eras within baseball’s modern era (since 1900) and I think I have come to a reasonable conclusion.

It surprises me that there were any triple crown players in the dead ball era (1901-1919), which was defined by small ball. Pitchers were allowed to use altered balls and trick pitches, and starting pitchers completed their games more than half the time. Then again, it doesn’t surprise me that the two men to hit for it were Nap Lajoie and Ty Cobb.

The Lively Ball Era (1920-1941) followed in which a rubber-core ball was universally used, and trick pitches were prohibited. Pitcher’s completed their game less than half the time, and the average amount of runs scored per game was nearly ten. Also, in 1930, the National League’s batting average as a whole was over .300. Five men hit for the triple crown in this era: Roger Hornsby (twice), Chuck Klein, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, and Joe Medwick.

Then came the Integration Era (1942-1960), catalyzed by Jackie Robinson. Many players were involved in World War II, which some argued diluted the level of play. Two players hit for the triple crown: Ted Williams (twice) and Mickey Mantle. The changes in this era went beyond the game itself, but I’m assuming the pitching was able to adjust to the new rules established in the Lively Ball Era.

The Expansion Era (1961-1976) followed, which came with an enlarged strikezone, and predictably, a reduction in offensive output. Only Frank Robinson and Carl Yastrzemski hit for the triple crown in this era, and no one has done it since. Perhaps the defining characteristics of the eras that follow offer some explanation.

The Free Agency Era (1977-1993) was characterized mainly by outrageous contracts. About one-third of teams used artificial turf which took emphasis off of the home run ball and resulted in more extra base hits.

The era that I have lived through–the Long Ball Era (1994-2005)–has been characterized by a remarkable increase in home runs. This is attributable to not only steroids, and parks more conducive to home runs.

I’m not sure what era baseball has transitioned into since 2005. Some say the steroids era (though testing was implemented in 2004, so that isn’t really valid). With no-hitters, and even perfect games, becoming more of a commodity, I’d like to call it the era of the pitcher, but this might just be a unique year.

It does not really make sense that no one has won the triple crown since 1967 if offensive production has sky-rocketed. I think that the use of steroids have had an obvious effect on the statistics. It’s no longer one person dominating the league for a year. Many players are capable of hitting copious amounts of home runs and RBIs and hitting for a high average. It seems like guys are continually beating each other out. At the end of the season, Carlos Gonzalez might be leading in batting average, Pujols in home runs, and Votto in RBIs–and the disparity might only be one or two points.

I would like to see one of these guys hit for the triple crown, especially now that baseball has transitioned out of the steroids era. It would not have felt right had someone hit for the triple crown in the steroid era because nearly nothing was pure. I see Pujols, Votto, Gonzalez, and Cabrera (the main AL contender) as pure baseball players that embody what baseball is supposed to be about. 2010 has been an amazing year for baseball. We have seen no-hitters, perfect games, a perfect game that should have been, and a triple crown would be the icing on perhaps the most exciting baseball season I have ever had the pleasure of watching.

September: The Hunt for Red (Sox?) October

I think that I speak on behalf of many baseball fans when I say that my favorite day of the year is Opening Day. Because, well, there’s something about opening day. I have a second favorite day of the year, though: September 1. In fact, September might just be my favorite month of the season.

Towards the end of August, it becomes quite clear which teams are in the hunt for October. The month of September is all about the final push. I see it as the most crucial month of the season. However, that doesn’t mean that the games in September are any more important then they were in, say, May, for example. I think what I’m trying to say is that each team is in a certain position at the beginning of September. What each team has done until that point has affected their respective playoff berth chances. Some teams have an almost definite chance at making it, some teams are on the line, some teams’ hopes are slowly, painfully dwindling away, and some teams simply won’t make it. From that point at the beginning of September, the outcome of each game will affect where you are in October: on the field, or watching from the couch.

I won’t beat around the bush here: the Red Sox have a very slim chance of making it into October. I know that there is nearly an entire month of baseball left, but statistically speaking, it is highly improbable. Not only would the Red Sox have to win nearly every game from here on out, but also, the Yankees and Rays would have to cooperate and lose some games, which they simply don’t do.

Regardless of whether or not the Red Sox make the playoffs, I will not consider this a wasted season, or even a disappointing season. Rather, I would consider it frustrating. The Red Sox are in no way, shape, or form a bad team. They are a very unlucky team. Everyone I have spoken with this season is absolutely flabbergasted by the copious amount of injuries. I’m usually not one to make excuses; in fact, I’ll be the first to admit if the Red Sox play bad baseball, which they sometimes do. However, when Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Kevin Youkilis, and Dustin Pedroia–4/9ths of the opening day lineup–are out for the rest of the season, that certainly hurts. When Josh Beckett–the man considered by many to be the staff’s ace–is out for 10+ weeks, it doesn’t help.

I won’t blame everything on injuries though. I’m happy to speak of instances where the Red Sox haven’t played smart baseball. I’m not here for harsh criticism, I’m here for constructive criticism. When you have runners on first and second with no outs, there is no excuse for not bunting. Small ball wins games. You sacrifice an out to get two runners into scoring position. Also, the Red Sox have been absolutely sparse on the base paths. As soon as Ellsbury comes out of the lineup, we stop stealing! There have also been some mental slips on Francona’s part as well. One of the most obvious instances, in my opinion, was when he brought Clay Buchholz out for the eighth inning when he was over 100 pitches. Next thing that happens? A home run to tie the game. He has done that on many an occasion this year.

Francona also is obsessed with lefty-lefty match-ups. I have discussed this with @TheRealMBB many a time. We don’t hire Francona to read a book full of statistics. I can do that. We hire him to trust his gut. Baseball goes beyond statistics. You go with the guy who is throwing the ball the best, and that is final.

A playoff berth is improbable. But in baseball, things that are improbable tend to become probable more than often. Take yesterday (Sunday), for example. The Red Sox took a 5-3 lead into the top of the ninth. In fact, they had a two run lead in the top of the ninth with two outs, and their storied closer, Jonathan Papelbon, was on the mound. Be honest with yourself. When you were watching that game, you thought the Red Sox were going to win. There was no way the White Sox were going to come back and tie that game–let alone score four runs.

I always say that I like baseball because anything can happen. Literally. Anything. That came back to bite me in the **** yesterday. The Red Sox are 10 games back from first place. They are 7.5 games out of the wild card. Statistically speaking, it’s improbable. But as I said earlier, baseball goes beyond statistics. There is so much in this game that goes beyond baseball. Anything can happen.

There is another thing that I really like about September, though. Perhaps even more than the hunt for October: expanded rosters. This is where my projects come in and make a difference, just like I predicted all the way back in Spring Training. This is when I feel like a proud mother every time I get a tweet saying that somebody is en route to Boston.
Thumbnail image for IMG_3345.JPG
It’s surreal for me to see Dustin Richardson, Felix Doubront, Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Josh Reddick, Lars Anderson, and Michael Bowden (soon, anyway) on the roster at the same time. It’s even more surreal to realize that I’ve had a conversation with each and every one of them. I had the chance to tell them, in person, that I was impressed with what they had done in the minors, and that I knew that they were going to be good, and that I had faith that they would be up in Boston soon. I feel like a proud mother. There is nothing in this world that could top that for me.