Monday, March 31, 2008

Saw two amazing games on ESPN the last two nights. Last night, Ryan Zimmerman christened the brand new Nationals Park in D.C. with a walk-off home run to beat the Braves. I just finished watching the Twins beat Torii Hunter's new team, the Angels, 3-2. Joe Nathan struck out Hunter for the second out in the 9th in front of 50,000 screaming Twins fans, then finished off the Angels to save the win.

It was snowing in Minnesota today, which didn't bother Metrodome-bound Twins fans. Wonder what they'll do in two years when they open their new outdoor ballpark.

Oh, Eric Gagne blew a save for the Brewers today. Surprise! He gave up a three run, game tying bomb in the bottom of the 9th to new Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome, then got the vulture win as Milwaukee scored a run in the 10th and held on to beat the Cubs. I hope the Brewers haven't made a huge mistake installing this guy as their closer.

Nationals Park looks really great, with a view of the Capitol dome from the seats. I would love to do a Camden Yards/Nationals Park trip someday, maybe adding in one of the Maryland minor league teams (the Bowie Baysox, Frederick Keys and Cal Ripken's Aberdeen IronBirds are all good possibilities).

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Unbelievable but true. Jim Ed Rice has a blog.

What are you waiting for? Go bookmark it already!

Thanks to Surviving Grady for alerting me to this important news.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The North American Major League Baseball season starts tomorrow night with the Braves and Nationals christening the new Nationals Park in Washington. I thought I'd mention a few non-Red Sox related stories I would be following this season.

Will success spoil the Rockies? Before they went on their cosmic run in September and October, Colorado was a 4th place team in the NL West. Was last year a fluke, or can they make another playoff run? Actually, the NL West should be a lot of fun to watch. The Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Padres and Rockies should all compete for the division title.

Are the Rays, Royals and Pirates finally moving in the right direction? It's been a long time since they have had really competitive teams in Kansas City and Pittsburgh, and they have never had one in Tampa. However, it appears that these teams are finally moving in the right direction by building their farm systems. They are all starting to see the fruits of those investments. I don't expect any of these teams to compete this year, but it should be fun to see them get better and maybe become legitimate threats in the next 2-3 years.

What about the Braves? Most people seem to be picking the Santana fortified Mets or the defending champion Phillies to win the NL East, but I think the Braves have a decent shot. Tim Hudson is a very good pitcher, and I think the old guys, Smoltz and Glavine, are going to have pretty good seasons. The offense looks like it could be pretty impressive as well. The Braves could be a dark horse team to watch.

Will there be 200 losses in the Bay Area? With a rebuilding A's team and an aging, Bonds-less Giants team, it could be a long summer for San Francisco Bay Area fans. I think both teams have too much pitching to be 100 game losers, but a couple of key injuries could change that in a hurry.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Well, that was a hell of a way to start the season.

Of course, I'm talking about this morning's opener in Tokyo between the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox (just can't say that too many times) and the Oakland A's.

I was only able to catch the first inning on TV, since I did have to work today, so I relied on Joe Castiglione and Dale Arnold to tell me what was going on. Things started out pretty rocky as Daisuke could not control his breaking pitches in the first two innings. Matsuzaka gave up a home run and a bunch of walks, but miraculously only surrendered two runs. I'm thinking there were some nerves involved in pitching on Opening Day in front of his home fans. Fortunately, he was able to get it together and was much more effective in his last three innings of work.

The offense finally woke up in the 6th after not doing much with the A's Joe Blanton. The big offensive stars of the day were Brandon Moss, who hit a 9th inning home run to tie the game and Manny. He had 4 RBI, including the game winners in the top of the 10th.

Moss only got into the game because JD Drew came up with a stiff back. He certainly made the most of his opportunity. Okajima got the win and Papelbon got an ugly save. He was bailed out by a baserunning gaffe by the A's Emil Brown.

Some good and bad in this game. Manny seems to be primed for a monster season as he tries to get that $20 million option picked up. Daisuke and Paps weren't at their best, but I don't think the odd schedule helps them get into a routine.

It could be a tough year to be an A's fan. The starting lineup seems to be loaded with guys who could use another year at Triple-A. Billy Beane traded away a lot of his veterans to reload the farm system, but they could be a 90-loss team for the next couple of years while these guys gain some experience.

Bottom line, the Sox won the game and it was a great way to start the 2008 season.

Monday, March 24, 2008

It's Opening Day (Morning?) tomorrow, as Daisuke goes up against Joe Blanton at the Tokyo Dome. As is the tradition here, I'm going to make my annual baseball predictions. Check back in the fall and see how I did.

AL East: Boston Red Sox (who else?)
AL Central: Detroit Tigers (with that lineup and if they get any kind of late inning bullpen work at all, they are going to be scary)
AL West: Los Angeles Angels (the best of the West)
AL Wild Card: Cleveland Indians (the Curse of A-Rod continues!)

NL East: Atlanta Braves (sorry, Johan, but Smoltz and Glavine relive their glory days one more time)
NL Central: Chicago Cubs (they just seem to have more good players than everyone else in the division)
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers (I could have picked the D-Backs, Padres or Rockies as well; this division is just too close to call but I had to pick someone. Let's see if Torre can get it done without Steinbrenner's $$$ backing him up)
NL Wild Card: New York Mets (They get some satisfaction after last year's collapse)

AL Champion: Boston
NL Champion: Chicago
World Series Champion: Boston (back to back, baby!)

AL MVP: Magglio Ordonez
AL Cy Young: Josh Beckett

NL MVP: David Wright
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana

Go Sox!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Is this trip to Japan messing up anyone else's baseball clock?

It's very strange. The Sox start Tuesday, in Japan against Oakland at 6 AM. Then they travel back to LA, play three exhibitions against the Dodgers, then play two more games against the A's in Oakland. Then we have three games against the Blue Jays before coming home on April 8th.

It's screwing me up. The season starts too early, and the first two games are too early in the morning. I'm trying to figure out how to catch the games. I think I'll watch a couple of innings before I go get on the train, then listen on my portable radio on the way in.

There's also this weird break in LA where we play games that don't count after playing games that count.

Hopefully the Sox get off to a good start and we don't have to listen to the media and fans theorizing about whether the trip caused problems. We'll see.

By the way, my Twitter page has been pretty active. I'm finding these little bite sized "what am I doing" kind of updates to be fun and easy to do. If you're not already following me, go check it out!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spike TV is going to be running all the Star Wars movies next month. Star is showcasing some of Spike's outdoor advertising for the series and this one made me laugh out loud.

Bravo, Spike.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Red Sox went on strike today.

It was a pretty short strike, delaying today's Grapefruit League game against the Blue Jays about an hour. The Sox players were protesting the fact that the team's coaches and support staff would not be getting the $40,000 stipend for the Japan trip that they were apparently promised back when the team agreed to the trip in the Fall.

I thought it was pretty cool that the Sox players were willing to take a stand for the coaches, trainers and others. While $40K may not mean a lot to Manny (he'd probably leave the check in his glove compartment), it's a significant portion of many of these guys annual salaries.

All got settled and the Sox are off to Japan tomorrow. Real games start in six days.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I got a Twitter account yesterday after getting an email from my friend The Hey yesterday. I'm not sure how often I will be updating it, since I'm sure the non-productive Web site blocking software at work won't let me in (no one has ever explained why it doesn't block, but I'm not complaining).

So check me out, if you are so inclined. I will probably pop in once or twice a day, and I can see it being useful for quick posts when I'm on the road and hit a wi-fi connection with my Touch.

On another topic, last night's Celtics win over the Spurs was probably the franchise's greatest since the comeback win over the Nets in the 2002 Eastern Conference finals. Beating San Antonio in Texas after going down by 21 points early was a testament to the character of this team. It would have been very easy to give up going down by that much to a great team on the road, especially with Ray Allen out, but the Celtics came through and won a big game.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A few things to get caught up on this Sunday:

The Sox released Doug Mirabelli this week. The man who made a career as Tim Wakefield's personal catcher was replaced by Kevin Cash, who is now the designated knuckleball receiver. The downside to this is not a great net talent loss by the Sox; Cash showed he could handle Wake just fine last season and neither player is much of a hitter at this point. The place where Douggie's loss will really be felt is in the clubhouse, where he was very popular among his teammates.

I gave up my most faithful traveling companion last week. I retired my 40GB iPod Photo. This iPod had been with me through hundreds of rides on the commuter rail, car rides, walks and plane trips over more than three years. It was utterly reliable, soaking up new podcasts, music and pictures, never crashing or giving me any headaches. It just worked. It had one drawback - despite the name, the iPod Photo's color screen was too small to really look at pictures. No real complaints, though, my iPod gave me many hours of entertainment.

I'm replacing my old iPod with a 32GB iPod Touch. A. and I have our 15th anniversary coming up later this month, and we decided we could splurge a bit this year, so that was what I decided on. Ever seen the PADDs on Star Trek? This was a gadget the crew carried around and relied on a touch screen interface to interact with the ship's computer and even play games. The iPod Touch is basically a PADD. I can access the Internet, send email, download music from the iTunes store, watch TV shows and movies and view photos on a much larger screen than my old iPod. The interface is beautiful, intuitive and fun to use. Web sites look like they look on my Mac.

Compare that to the BlackBerry I have for work, which has a hideous, thoroughly unintuitive user interface. Trying to surf the Web on the BlackBerry is an exercise in futility, or specially designed "BlackBerry friendly" Web pages.

The iPod Touch is maybe the best gadget I have ever owned. I put Superman Returns on it, so I'll get to see how watching a full length movie goes on the train this week.

Friday, March 14, 2008

It's been crazy busy at work this week, and I haven't had much time or energy to post. Lots to talk about, though, so I'll catch you up this weekend. I'm just catching the end of the Celtics-Jazz game. The C's just didn't have it tonight and the Jazz are just about to break Boston's 10 game winning streak. I guess everyone is entitled to a bad night every so often.

More to come!

Monday, March 10, 2008

A couple of days ago I wrote about the greed of the management of the Cincinnati Reds and the Philadelphia Phllies for forcing fans to buy ticket packages in order to get Red Sox tickets. Well, the owners topped themselves in the story I read today.

MLB provides an annual $100,000 grant to the Cape Cod League. The Cape League, in case you don't know, is the leading summer collegiate league. About 200 current major leaguers are Cape League alumni. The league was recently informed that if the teams that share nicknames with major league teams don't start using MLB approved suppliers, the grant will disappear. MLB is also demanding an 11% royalty on merchandise sales by the six affected teams. This would cut out the local vendors the Cape League currently uses.

Let's not even get into the fact that the Harwich Mariners have been around since 1930. The Seattle version didn't show up until 1977, so maybe Seattle should be paying Harwich royalties.

The Cape League is nothing but good for baseball. For MLB to be making these demands of a league that promotes the game and is an important talent source for the teams is nothing short of an embarrassment. Can Bud Selig put a stop to this, or is he too busy rumpling his suits?

By the way, if you are interested in the Cape League, check out the book The Last Best League by Jim Collins. It's a great read.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Many people think the only thing that can keep the Red Sox from challenging for another World Series championship is injuries. So, Red Sox Nation's collective heart skipped a beat when we all got the news that Josh Beckett had injured his back warming up for a Spring Training start against the Marlins yesterday.

The news out of Florida today is that Beckett is better than expected, but the Sox are considering holding him out of his season opening start against the A's in Japan.

If there's any question about Beckett's health, he should stay back in Fort Meyers and skip the trip. It's a long season. We need Beckett to make 30+ starts. I can't imagine a 15 hour plane ride is any good for a sore back, even in the chartered jet the Sox are sure to take. If missing Japan and letting Daisuke or Wake make the Opening Day start helps to assure those 30 starts, it's what the Sox should do.

I knew the preseason has been way too quiet. Hopefully, Beckett gets better quick and this is just a bump in the road by the time the Sox make it back to Fenway in April.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Have things gone too far?

We all know that tickets are very difficult to get at Fenway Park unless you are willing to pay through the nose for them. So, many members of Red Sox nation have taken to the road to see the Red Sox in nearby cities. Baltimore and Tampa are the most popular targets, as they are easily reachable by air from New England, but we see substantial numbers of Red Sox fans in every ballpark the team visits.

Apparently, some of the the out-of-town teams are taking advantage of this. Go to the Phillies and Reds Web sites and click on one of the "T" icons for a Red Sox game like you were going to buy a ticket. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Did you see what happened? You can't buy a single game ticket to see the Red Sox in either of these cities. You have to buy a multi-game pack. So if you are only interested in seeing the Sox, you end up with five (Phillies) or three (Reds) tickets you don't really want. If you are from New England and want to see the Sox in Philly or Cincinnati, you either have to go to Stubhub, Ebay or some other aspect of the "secondary market" or try to sell off the tickets to the games you don't need.

It seems to me that this is just greed gone wild. The Reds and Phillies are taking advantage of the Red Sox popularity to pad their own pockets. It also seems somewhat short-sighted. New England fans traveling to these cities spend money in restaurants, stay in hotel rooms and patronize local businesses. Wouldn't making it difficult for potential tourists to get tickets to these games hurt the local economy?

Of course, it might be simpler than that. Maybe the Reds and Phillies are concerned that Red Sox fans might outnumber the home team fans in their own ballparks.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

I'm starting to think about who my National League team is going to be this year.

Last year, as you may remember, I rooted for the Brewers. Milwaukee had an exciting young team, with players like Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, J.J. Hardy, Ben Sheets and Francisco Cordero. They ended up competing for the Central division title for the first time in years, falling just short and finishing two games behind the Cubs. I also liked the fact that thousands of Brewers fans vowed to pee in their pants if the team made the playoffs.

The Brew Crew was never intended to be a permanent thing with me, however, so I need to pick a new NL team for 2008. There are 15 other teams to choose from, so lets see if I can narrow it down a bit.

In the East, the Mets are definitely out. It's just that whole New York thing. Although I'm a fan of Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard, I can't see myself getting attached to the Phillies either. The Braves are a possibility, and I like the fact that they brought back Glavine to go with Smoltz and Tim Hudson to create a nice front end of the rotation. The Marlins are out, since I don't feel like watching games from a 75% empty stadium night after night. And the Nationals don't have enough appealing players to hold my interest.

The Cubs are always a possibility in the Central, since they have that whole pre-2004 Red Sox curse thing going. Rooting for the Cubbies in the 100th anniversary of their last World Series title might be fun. The Cardinals make the cut just on the strength of having Albert Pujols on the team. The Reds have a lot of interesting young players, old favorite Bronson Arroyo, Junior and one of my favorite ballpark names going for them, but I'm not much of a Dusty Baker fan. Cincinnati is on the bubble. The Astros don't hold a lot of interest for me, and the pitching is a crapshoot after Roy Oswalt. It's a shame the Pirates don't have a better team to put in their amazing ballpark.

Finally, the West. Rooting for the NL Champions makes me feel like too much of a front-runner, so that eliminates the Rockies. Arizona has a good team, very good pitching and a ballpark with a pool, so they are a possibility. I have always had a lot of respect for Joe Torre, and the prospect of actually rooting for the guy after so many years is intriguing, so that makes the Dodgers a contender. San Diego could be fun to watch, too. I'm a big Jake Peavy fan and J. and I took a liking to their third baseman, Kevin Kouzmanoff last year. Forget the Giants; it would be a huge upset for them to finish out of the cellar in '08, and Barry's not even around to make things interesting.

So that narrows it down to Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Arizona, Los Angeles and San Diego. I'll make a pick from one of those six by Opening Day.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

More proof that some people have too much time on their hands. But it is cool, in a geeky kind of way.

I was watching a some of the Baseball Tonight special from Disney Hollywood Studio (i.e., the theme park formerly known as Disney-MGM Studios). It's ESPN: The Weekend at Disney World and they were interviewing a number of players from teams who hold spring training in the area.

The Braves train at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex, so naturally some Atlanta players showed up. Future Hall of Famers John Smoltz and Tom Glavine were interviewed and talked about the Braves chances in the upcoming season. The thing that really got me interested was when they started talking about the possibility of Smoltz, Glavine and Greg Maddux all retiring at the same time so they would go into the Hall of Fame together.

I hope the three of them can work this out. The greatest tribute I can imagine to the Braves great run of 14 consecutive division titles would be to have the three centerpiece players of that era go into Cooperstown together.

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