Sunday was my first opportunity to get to the ballpark in 2012, so I grabbed a friend, put on some summery clothes and headed to Sox Park for Jackie Robinson Day!
I’ve seen some great baseball on Jackie Robinson Days past, all of which were pitchers duels (my drug of choice), but with a Rick Porcello v. Chris Sale matchup looming, I wasn’t expecting much. The pair would end up surprising me, but that wasn’t all:
- This was the FIRST April baseball game in Chicago I have ever attended where a hat, gloves and scarf were not needed. No joke. I was in a t-shirt. Sweating at times.
- Miggy can play D. I hung two stars on my scorecard for him, including a barehanded grab-and-throw that nailed a speedy Alexei Ramirez at first.
- I understand the importance of Jackie Robinson Day and all, but is it necessary that EVERY player and EVERY coach wears the same number 42? It is a scorecard junkie’s worst nightmare! Every time I looked up I had no idea who was doing what.
- And those ugly throwback ’72 Sunday home game red-pinstriped White Sox unis didn’t last past the 70s for a reason. They are HIDEOUS. Throw them out! Along with Alex Rios!
- It was a day game. Sure it was a bit overcast, but there was sunlight. Plenty of it. But that didn’t stop the White Sox personnel from turning ALL the stadium lights on like it was a night game! There was WAAAAY too much light. WASTED light! I know ‘Merica is a nation of excess, but good grief.
- Despite the new uniform, Prince Fielder is still fat.
Hate me ‘cuz I take tedious notes, just don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right!
RSBS Special Correspondent and Wikipiebenga Creator, Mark “Pie” Piebenga reports:
As soon as Victor Martinez went down, I thought, “well, season’s over.”  But then the Tigers won the Fielder sweepstakes (at a cost that boggles the mind: apparently Little Caesar’s is a pretty lucrative organization. Everybody reading this please buy a five dollar Hot N Ready so they can pay the Prince. And here is my obligatory admission that the back end of that contract is going to be a total nightmare). A season that looked suddenly suspect just as suddenly became the most exciting spring I can remember.
If they can keep healthy, and get production anywhere close to last year from Delmon Young, Alex Avila, and Brennan Boesch’s first half, and get consistent quality from Messrs. Verlander, Fister, Scherzer, and Porcello (not to mention the newly Dotel-ified bullpen), it augers Another Very Interesting Year To Be A Tigers Fan.
There are still some big question marks. It’s looking like a platoon of Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago at second, which doesn’t do us a ton of favors at the plate. With the diminished defensive range and crInge worthy batting of the once-exceptional Brandon Inge, the Miguel Cabrera return-to-third experiment will be interesting and hopefully not embarrassing. Danny Worth and Don Kelly will probably spot start there as well. Finally, can Austin Jackson achieve leadoff effectiveness even approaching two years ago?
For the last seven years or so I’ve approached the start of the season with same kind of a nervous ambivalence. The most positive outlook I’ve had could be described as ‘cautious optimism,’ which I feel now. It’s a very strange feeling to see the Tigers as the projected favorite to win the A.L. Central (hell, until last year, we hadn’t done it since 1987. Didn’t even do it in ’84.) The Tigers have been good lately, but as a typically suspicious and superstitious fan, I’m always nervous. In ’06 they got in the playoffs as a wildcard. When they forced the 163rd game with the Twinkies in ’09, I never had the feeling that we were a legit contending team. Last year they didn’t really seem to have any implicit dominance until rifling off that twelve game winning streak in September. (My father and I credit ourselves for that, having seen live their last loss before the streak started at a blinding hot day game Sept 1st, when the Royals came to Detroit.)
Speaking of which, I am very nervous about the Kansas City Royals. They were rated the 11th best team in the league in the ESPN prospects power rankings (I don’t know if this is a remotely useful metric, but Buster Olney seems like a smart guy). At the game with my dad September First we were sitting along the third base line, and during a lull in the game Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas was shooting the bull with the umpire and throwing the ball around. He was basically standing in the coache’s box, well behind third and in foul territory, and dude scooped up lazy grounder that came his way. Barely breaking eye-contact with the ump, he made a throw off his back foot that looked casual as hell, but judging by the angry snap of the leather Eric Hosmer’s glove at first, it could’ve been shot from a rifle. The lineup is getting spooky over there.
It’s foolish to make predictions about what’s going to happen, and we’re still forty four days till opening. Naturally when things don’t go your way for a couple of decades, you begin to doubt that anything good is going to happen. But the Tigs lately have provided all one can demand of any team, and that’s meaningful baseball in August and September. It will be really interesting to see what this team does in the face of injuries, statistical regression, and the rigors of the season.
 I can be a little dramatic.
 Verlander’s remarkable season was well documented. While he was hardly under the radar, I think a brief digression on Alex Avila is in order here. He had a .389 OBP (10th highest in baseball), an .895 OPS (8th in the AL), and hit .295. All while catching 133 games, and ranking top five among AL catchers in most defensive categories (e.g., tied for 1st with 40 runners caught stealing). And one of my least/most favorite things was the sheer number of times he got hit by deflections. I know catchers get hit all the time, but honestly I can’t remember seeing anything like his 2011 season behind the plate. (for example, check out sparks flying off his mask, and him getting hit in the neck.)
Continuing with the end-of-year holiday tradition here at RSBS, it’s time to separate myself from my imaginary girlfriend (NSFW) and ask the interns to lock my office door so I can get down to the meaty reflection of what was the RSBS year 2011. Additionally, I must begin the sad, fiery purge of Albert Pujols memorabilia. For those of you who went to public schools, you know that maintaining a fire within a small, confined room may cause ill-fated side effects, so before I start to look like Bert the chimney sweep, let me get to it…
First of all, no year would be a good year without you, the dear RSBS reader. THANK YOU, for your readership. THANK YOU for your emails, your tweets, your comments, Facebook shares and FingerTagging! And THANK YOU for continuing to make writing about the baseball-politico world a treat for us every single day.
Like my riveting and oft rousing colleague, Mr. Krause, I too have been very impressed with our special correspondents. For me, nothing says sweet Miggy-I-Love-You quite like Mark Piebenga’s His Game Is Like Waves. It presented Miguel Cabrera in a new light — that of teacher, and, considering how much Mark has taught me about what life should be about, I continue to find its lesson fitting (and helpful!).
And though I often refer to Mr. Johanna Mahmud as “the man who introduced me to the glories of the Deftones” and “the guy who schooled me on the NBA and proved why I should be madly in love with Derek Rose”, I still have room to refer to him as “the guy who writes Setting the Mahmud“! Dude puts the “tit” in titillating with every piece. The last article he wrote was inspiring, if only because he found a way to get a naked Yu Darvish, an ugly sweater wearing
Johnny Matt Damon and a crying Paula Deen all in one place; but, like Al, I have to admit that there’s real brilliance in his Theo-fied Arthurisms. Still, I’m a sucker for equating dead people to the performances of Adam Dunn and Miguel Tejada. Good work, good sir.
Meanwhile, no year-end applause would be complete without a nod to my longtime friend and confidant, Mr. Allen Krause. Known for his cynical twists on the political establishment and undying love of all things Detroit Tigers, it has been a pleasure to write on his wing. Sometimes he’s so “on” that he finds literary genius in imagery. Indeed, that endearing Krausian wit is often highlighted by rational thought. Sometimes it points out the un-fact-checked obvious, other times it gets serious, with a real call for responsibility. And, just in case you think Mr. Krause’s Libertarian-bashing makes him a soulless, automated Obamatron, this reflective piece will convince you otherwise.
But when it comes to knockin’ ’em outta the interwebs park, I have to kowtow to the RSBS Presents series. The brainchild of Mr. Krause, RSBS Presents has enlightened us on the finer points of fandom and how to stay classy while reminding us that, ultimately, positivity has upside during times of turmoil. But the best of them all was learning how to score a Republican. And here I thought it involved finding Jesus and quoting Alex P. Keaton.
Happy Christmas, Merry Hanukkah and long live King Kwanzaa!
Every December we like to take a look back at what happened during the year in RSBS. And with Christmas upon us and the annual RSBS holiday break about to take place, it’s that time of year again. Granted, there’s no way we could do this without all the hard work put in by the interns so I want to take this opportunity to personally thank them and ask them to keep up all the good work next year.
Now, before I get to the part you’re all waiting for, I want to take a moment to recognize a couple other people without whom this blog would be a much sadder place. The regulars probably know him best from his appearances on the podcast but for me, his occasional pieces really put into words what I wish I could express. In particular, this year I appreciated Mark Piebanga’s midseason post about Don Kelly. For me, it crystallized who the Tigers were at that point in the season.
Similarly, the brilliant ranting and raving of Johanna Mahmud always bring a mid-week smile to my face. Whether he’s once again lamenting the shortcomings of the Cubs via musical theatre allusions or cautiously hoping for change with the arrival of Theo Epstein, Jo hits the nail on the head as often as not in a way only he can. However, the edition of Setting the Mahmud that really did it for me was his takedown of the Red Sox in the key of Arthur. Nothing says b*tchslap quite like setting your role model loose on the AL underperformer of the year.
For the main event, though, I thought long and hard about the season my co-author had. I watched with amusement his two-part Libertarian “coming out” as he confessed his love for the still-feisty Ron Paul. I also applauded along with everyone else as Jeff completed his first marathon, and this from a guy who, two years ago, was out of breath after running a block.
But the real marathon was the baseball season and if you don’t believe me, just go back through the record. It started in April with Franklin’s blown saves and four months later, Jeff had all but given up on the Cards (and totally given up on the Rays). Just a few short weeks later, though, his dreams came true while attending his first World Series game and a few days later, that dream reached its apex as the Cardinals won the World Series. But as happy as he may have been in that moment, and all joking aside, I don’t think any of us could possibly understand how hard the Albert Pujols news hit him. Baseball, just like that marathon, has its extreme highs and lows. In 2011 we watched Jeff live them both.
Don’t forget our awesome Oakley Blender sunglasses give-away, made possible by our friends at Crown Royal! If you would like to win these sweet shades, all you gotta do is send us a picture showing why you are RSBS’ biggest fan. Email it to us at RSBSblog@gmail.com. The winner will be announced this Saturday, December 24th.
And so in this Podcast brought to you by Lifestyles…
Jeff tries his darnedest to be as polite as possible during his unfettered gloating of World Championship status (Go Cards!) while Second City’s Mark Piebenga adds some level-headed awesomeness to Johanna’s outlandishness and Allen’s seasoned straight man routine. Among the topics of discussion are “the greatest game ever”, the woes of rebranding an already twice championed franchise (talkin’ to you, Marlins), Theo Fever in the Chi, b!tch t!ts and much, much more!
Now grab some Crown Royal and enjoy yo’ self!
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Recorded Saturday, November 12, 2011
RSBS Podcast regular and Second City performer, Mark “Pie” Piebenga shares with us his thoughts:
Brennan Boesch made his major league debut last season at the Ballpark at Arlington on April 23, 2010. On my sketchy MLB.TV feed I heard Rod Allen’s sing-song voiceover on a shot of him sticking his head out of the visitor dugout, for the first time examining an empty big league park in all it’s vastness, no doubt dumbstruck by the thought, “I’m going to be playing in this joint tonight.” That night Boesch went 2 for 4 with a double (albeit in a Tigers loss), a prescient harbinger for his strong season and 5th place in rookie of the year voting (which honestly I remembered as better than his .256/.320/.416, 14 HR, 67 RBI line). Early days though it may be, he’s putting up even better numbers offensively (.300/.359/.485, 10 HR, 38 RBI) and similarly adequate defensive ones (RF 1.91 in ’10, 2.00) this year.
This improvement was epitomized in his return to Arlington with the Tigers on June 6 this year, a game in which he went 5-5 with 2 HR and 5 RBI. Clearly the 97° degree weather made for a lively ball, belied by the 13-7 Tiger win. You can’t expect that kind of an outing every time from the young man, but there’s something so exciting about production out of young players.
Last Tuesday afternoon (6/21) Tiger Don Kelly knocked in his second home run of the year, off Matt Guerrier, at Chavez Ravine against the Dodgers. (Until this week Guerrier owned a sub-3.00 lifetime ERA against the Tigers, owing to seven years tendered with the Twinkies.) At 31, Kelly is five years older than Boesch, and lacks his pedigree (not to his body type – Kelly has a thin-necked way about him. And at what point can any of us say that the name “Don” has inspired much in the way of terror in the hearts of men? “Save us! The heathen hordes are approach the city gates, at the helm of their curs-ed onslaught is the much-feared chief and leader, Don! AHHHH! Flee for the caves!”).
Kelly’s season home run total is now two, a bit behind last year’s mark of nine (incidentally the number Ty Cobb hit in 1909). Don Kelly is my age, and it pains me to think that he has passed the years by which baseball players tend to have proved themselves. Can I equate any meaningful life lessons based on Don Kelly’s baseball career? It’s a lifetime, to this point, where four of the last five years have seen him make it to baseball’s biggest stage. Among minor league players he would be considered a flying success. He’s earned the major league minimum wage in four of the last five seasons. That’s many hundreds of thousands of dollars more than his minor league contemporaries will ever make.
But when you put him in the context of a rookie like Brennan Boesch, whose success this year and last year, while perhaps not wildly unbelievable, dwarfs kelly’s achievements. His thin neck and his name of Don combine to make me feel an amiability towards him, a sadness, and a certain feeling of doom.
Don Kelly hit .244 last year. That’s not great. This year he’s up to .260, which is sure as hell a lot better than Ryan Raburn (or Brandon Inge, who he recently covered for at 3B). Why am I so transfixed by this guy? Is it because he is achieving his dream, and yet is markedly below the figures who capture our imaginations, even in the fairly low-stratosphere Detroit Tigers?
My fascination with the poor bastard seems to come from the fact that I identify with him. I believe I could achieve nominally in a given field, and even surpass a number of my contemporaries. But deep down I feel that I hold a limited ceiling on my potential, that I am, within myself, capable of only so much achievement – good, but not great. Don Kelly is the mediocre but by all accounts successful prototype which I fear myself to be. And it is only human to know that sometimes you are going to have people surpass your accomplishment if you hang around long enough to get shown up. Kurt Vonnegut offers us this advice in Timequake: “If you do something long enough, even if you’re really good at it, eventually you’re going to come across someone who is going to cut you a new a**hole. What I tell young people is: stay home, stay home stay home.”
Eventually you’re going to find someone who’s going to be so much better at what you do, you’re going to “feel like something the cat dragged in,” to borrow another quip Vonnegut loves. Does this mean that we should perhaps not try at all? Of course not. Don Kelly has done nothing but try. He’s displayed a level of commitment that I in my personal life would very much aspire to, and to which I honestly must conclude I have come up short.
I dated a girl once whose parents never told her that she could be anything she wanted to be when she grew up. But she’s the only person who I’ve ever met like that. Everyone else I know had parents who said, “you can be anything you put your mind to.” I was raised in a best-of-all-possible-worlds-Candide-type home. Unfortunately, much like Candide, I have grown up to find that it’s not entirely true. I can be pretty good, but I don’t think I can be anything.
So here we are, back at Don Kelly. As I said, I feel an ambivalence for him, animosity at watching him flair in failure at so many pitches, and affection when he cranks a triple like he did the other week, or a long fly like he did the other day. Perhaps I can’t achieve even to the level he has. But I take some solace in that even if I can’t be the best, maybe I can still be pretty good. Hell, somebody’s got to back up Brandon Inge* when he’s got mono.
On an unrelated note, Jose Valverde’s homepage, un-updated from his days as an Astro, is a must-see. I mean, the URL is www.josevalverde47.com for chrissakes. Courtesy to my roommate Thomas on that one.
*My old roommate Ben insists that from a distance (ie., in most shots on TV), Inge’s forearm tattoos look like they say “Coca-Cola” (rather than the names of his sons, which is the truth). I would have to say I agree with him.
RSBS Podcast regular and Second City performer, Mark “Pie” Piebenga shares with us his thoughts:
“His game is like waves,” Miguel Cabrera said. “Right now, he’s worried because he’s not hitting too much, he’s not hitting for average. I said, ‘Don’t worry. It’s going to be your time. Get your timing, be ready. It’s a long season. We’re going to need you.’ And you see what happened today. He got a big home run for us today.”
This quote is, of course, apropos of Ryan Raburn. Of course why? Because he hit a grand slam off the White Sox Jake Peavy on Sunday who during the same inning worsened a “tweaked groin into a full strain.”
I do think there are some valuable moments in that quote. A lot is at work here. 1.) Cabrera’s hubris. 2.) profound truth for life, and for success in baseball. 3.) Cabrera looking out for a much less-well-paid teammate.
Vis-à-vis 1.) Cabrera cranked his second home run in 24 hours Sunday. Bringing his total up to that point to 13. Which is a lot.
Vis-à-vis 2.) Your own conclusions are most important here, but I’m quite taken with the part about “his game is like waves… get your timing. It’s a long season. We need you.” Isn’t that what we all want to hear as human beings? And isn’t it encouraging? To be needed due to your merit is to have significance. That is something we all want.
Vis-à-vis 3.) Cabrera is making $20 million this season to Raburn’s $1.3. Neither is hurting here, and it’s not like Raburn is a newborn rookie pulling down $425,000. Which is still quite a sum. Also, is it strange that I feel a little dirty clicking on the Tigers roster on ESPN.com knowing that I’ll find their wages on there? It seems like that should be listed in a separate place from their other personal information.
Finally, I would posit that the Grand Slam is the most artfully-named maneuver in all of sport. It describes its own magnitude with alacrity. It is lightly pompous, but so then is the feat, which lends credibility to the title. It is borrowed by professional tennis, the sincerest form of flattery. It is flip, apt, and proud.
In short, it’s a perfect moniker.