Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The end of "Lost" begins a new phase

I just watched the "Lost" series finale on Hulu. The two-hour episode was beautiful, a fitting end to a groundbreaking series. I won't ruin it here; if, like me, you didn't get to watch the show on television Sunday night, you may be avoiding any news about the show to keep from spoiling it for yourself.

For me, "Lost" is one of those entertainment events I'll never forget. The six-season series kept me enthralled the whole time (even though seasons 3 and 4 were a bit boring and confusing).

But now that it's over, I can step back and take stock of my free time, of which recently there has been very little. When I do have free time, though, I'm usually planted in front of the television.

Not only does it promote a sedentary lifestyle, some say it also does little to stimulate your mind.

Now that "Lost is over, and the reruns of summer are here, I really don't have any reason to watch television any more.

I'm not saying I'll quit cold turkey. If Jamie and I are home at the same time (which is rare these days) and there's something on that she wants to watch, I'll gladly sit with her and watch it. We'll also continue to watch movies together, at home and on the big screen. And I may check sports scores and the weather from time to time, although I can get both from the newspaper and the Internet. If I hear about an interesting TV program after it's aired I can always check it out online.

But when I'm home alone, I can find other uses for my free time. I love to read, and TV only keeps me from that hobby. I should write more, both for profit and for personal growth. And, yeah, for fun. I could exercise, too, and I really should. I could fix up the house. Manage the lawn and landscaping. Play with the cats. Learn a language. The possibilities are endless.

In fact, I have two new hobbies in mind. They may sound silly, but I don't care. I want to be able to look at a tree, any tree, and know what kind of tree it is. I know many people who have this ability. I don't. And I'd like to learn. Also, I want to be able to distinguish military ranks by insignia.

Maybe those hobbies will lead to others.

And if TV calls me back, I guess that won't be the end of the world. But hopefully, after awhile, I won't care one way or the other if the TV is on.

(Although, I just read an article about a new Michael Chiklis show coming out this fall. It's about a plane crash. "Lost" meets "The Shield"? Oh. My. God...)

--Matt Kelsey

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Yunieski Betancort engagement a short one: kind of like the Little White Wedding Chapel short

Well, that's how far Yunieski Betancourt 's engagement with the game of baseball lasted.

The only person with shorter engagement is Britney Spears. And her engagement was only slightly shorter than the 55 day marriage it spawned.

-- Lofflin, just being a smart aleck...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Another Tony Pena Jr., update and a short e(e)rie story

Another update you didn't know you wanted.

OK, I'll give this a rest for a while but once I found out where Tony Pena, Jr., landed I couldn't help checking. After all, it has rained all day, my Thursday night league is rained out, and my mind is just now adjusting to life without classes to teach for the summer.

TJ pitched three-and-a-third innings this afternoon for Richmond against the Erie SeaWolves. He gave up two hits, struck out seven and came away with his third victory against no losses. His ERA dropped to 1.09.

Here's an excerpt from the game story on the Richmond Squirrels' Web site:

"Tony Pena Jr. (3-0) took over for Clark in the sixth and dominated the rest of the way. He fanned seven SeaWolves over 3 1/3 innings, allowing just two singles as he earned his third win of the season. ..."

I saw the SeaWolves play in Erie a few years ago. I was in Pennsylvania to do some reporting and as usual, wanted to sneak in a minor league game. My interview was scheduled for 7 a.m. the next morning. At maybe 6:30 the night before I went to the grocery store for oranges, bread and cheese to feast on in my room. I looked in the newspaper and discovered the SeaWolves playing at home that night then I consulted the map and calculated I could make the drive in time to catch the seventh inning.

So off I went, 250 miles between me and Erie, oranges, cheese and hunks of bread in the passenger seat of the rental car. I couldn't get the game on the radio until just outside Erie about 9:30 p.m. To my surprise the game was only in the first inning, having endured a two-hour rain delay.

And it was in the eighth inning, at 2 a.m., when it dawned on me I had a three-hour drive ahead and I had left just enough time to change clothes and, blood-shot eyes and all -- make it to the interview. If memory serves, I slept like a baby on the plane home that night.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fredi Gonzales benches Henley Ramirez for love of the game; Trey Hillman and Kansas City fans -- take note...

Fredi Gonzales did what Trey Hillman could not.

Gonzales, Florida Marlins manager, stood up to lackadaisical play. He stood up to a player disrespecting the game of baseball. He asked (wish I could read lips...) is this the best you can do? Apparently he didn't like the answer.

So, he sat his shortstop on the bench. This, Trey Hillman could not do and Trey Hillman paid the price.

Trey Hillman patted his player on the back and assessed a fine. Kind of what your father might do if it was your first offense.

Admittedly, it took a lot more courage to sit an all-star shortstop like Mr. Ramirez than a weak hitting, barely engaged, shortstop like Mr. Betancort. The irony is this: It took Trey Hillman's firing to get Mr. Betancort's attention. How long this improved play will last is not hard to guess. All you have to do is look at the numbers that mark Mr. Betancort's recent history.

We're just four games into the hard charging Yuniesky Betancort. We'll see if he's still engaged this time next week.

Meanwhile, Mr. Ramierez did not take his benching as a way to re-engage with the game so maybe he needs to have his manager fired, as well. He didn't like being punished, he said. He was hurt. He had been struck on the shin. (Recall Bob Gibson finishing an inning with a broken leg... ) His manager had never played in the Big Leagues, he didn't understand.

Understand what? That good enough is good enough?

-- Lofflin, thinking if I write about modern baseball players long enough I'll learn to spell "lackadaisical" without the spell checker...

Photo/ Associated Press
PPS: Many, if not most, Big League managers were catchers in the Big Leagues. Henley, are you sure they would understand why you only give the game 25% playing hurt? My goodness, they played hurt every day. And played hard. Anybody want to make a list of former Big League players who might not be more understanding than Fredi Gonzales? Brett? Gibson? Boggs? Shilling? Mantle? Bob Cerv, who hit 38 homeruns, many with his jaw wired shut...?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Where is Tony Pena Jr.? With Rocky and Bullwinkel firing sidearm heaters, of course...

Here's the update you didn't know you wanted.

Where, you ask, is Tony Pena, Jr.?

Pena is a relief pitcher for the Richmond Va., Flying Squirrels, a Double A team in the San Francisco Giants organization. The Flying Squirrels have just begun their initial season in the Eastern League, opening a new ballpark called "The Diamond" and, with an off day today, they are seven games over .500 in second place.

Last night against Altoona he closed out the game in a losing cause, going an inning and a third, giving up one hit and no runs while striking out two. He contributed a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth.

Tony Pena Sr.'s son has a 1.27 ERA at Richmond, having appeared in 11 games in relief. His ERA last year in Double A was 2.67.

Kind of warms the heart, doesn't it?


Photo/ USA Today

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hiller's firing no suprise to seasoned Kansas City fans; you learn a lot of things watching teams like the Royals and the A's...

When you grow up
with baseball teams in Kansas City you get good at predicting when managers will get fired. You just sense it. Enough games have been lost. The frustration pot is boiling and the lid is bouncing. Then comes some stupid play, a dropped pop up or not catching a runner who fails to tag up on a fly ball. The players seem to be running the team.

The breakdown grows, the frustration boils and eventually the steam blows the lid off the pot.

I predicted the firing of the Royals' skipper within three days in a post on the Kansas City Star's Web site. My softball skipper, Charlie Hiller, predicted it the night before in a postscript to his e-mail message to our motley crew of ancient mariners. He pushed the send button at about the same time the GM hung up the phone with the new manager, Ned Yost, who was in Springfield, Mo., watching the Royals' double A team.

He's watched Kansas City baseball as long as I have. It was easy.

You learn certain things following teams like the Kansas City A's or the Kansas City Royals.

  • You learn when managers are about to be fired.
  • You learn when a .260 hitter is about to end the hot streak that has his average up to .360.
  • You learn to notice when a young pitcher with an early no-hitter has downed too many bottles of champagne. Especially with a name like "Bo."
  • You learn to hate the Yankees.
  • You learn to hate the Yankees for all the ways they can beat you in the bottom of the ninth.
  • You learn to bring a good book to the ballpark in late August.
  • You learn to always wish they would bring some kid up from the minor leagues who will light up the field for a month or two until he learns how to play the game Kansas City style.
  • You learn to pick out a good team in another city to follow so you'll have a horse in the race come October.
  • You learn to separate who you are from the team you watch. You don't often hear baseball fans use "we" when referring to the home team, at least not in cities like Kansas City. Football fans can't seem to avoid identifying with the team, living through it, gaining their sense of value from it. Baseball fans in places like this learn as children not to think of themselves and the home team in the same breath. My college buddy says he became an atheist for two reasons: 1) his best friend in high school gave him up for lent and 2) he always prayed for the A's to win when he sat in church on Sunday morning.

-- Lofflin

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Yuniesky Betancourt should join Alex Gordon in Omaha hotdoggin' pop ups to their hearts' content

I'm In the middle of grading hell,
so this post will be short and not so sweet.

Fining Yuniesky Betancourt for lazily dropping a pop up several days ago is perhaps the dumbest thing the Royals have done -- at least this week.

When Betancourt dropped that ball he committed more than an error. This lackadaisical play was not just the turning point in an early season game. It was the turning point for a season. It demonstrated to the fans, the league, and -- most importantly -- to the rest of the players on the Kansas City Royals' bench what the home team's attitude toward winning would be from here to September.

For the brain trust to write this off as an issue of technique defies logic. Be honest for once. It was lazy. It was careless. It was a clear example of a player who was not engaged in the contest. It demonstrated zero respect for the game of baseball. And it should not have been excused as poor technique.

To levy a fine on a millionaire, is just plain silly. But it also sends a seriously flawed message. 1) It says you can buy your way (cheaply) out of trouble; and 2) Your performance on the field has nothing to do with playing time.

Playing time is the only thing that matters to ballplayers, if anything matters. Yuniesky Betancourt needs to be renamed "Splinters Betancourt" for the time he spends riding the bench. Or, the brain trust needs to admit their mistake and ship him off to Omaha where he and Alex Gordon can drop pop ups off their shoulders until the cows come home.

That's the message they should be sending.


PPS: It's Sunday, by the way, and Splinters Betancourt is in lineup again. And he just struck out swinging with a runner on second to end the second inning.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gordon to Omaha, Aviles to the bench? Amateur Hour in the boardroom or the lockerroom drives the bus right into the mud...


Sam Mellinger of the Star has it right on the Royals' recent move sending Alex Gordon down and bringing Mike Aviles back to the big club. As Mellinger says, this move could be good if they don't let Alives "rot" on the bench. He adds that's a big if. Mellinger's most persuasive argument is this:

"When asked Monday, neither Moore or manager Trey Hillman could cite much difference between Aviles and Chris Getz at second base other than Getz having more experience.

"Club officials think Aviles has better range than Betancourt at shortstop but may not make as many plays in part because of his recovering arm.

"Aviles doesn’t have the big-league track record to demand instant status as the regular shortstop, but neither does Betancourt. Of the two, Aviles has been far more successful as a big-leaguer.

"Too much of the value on Betancourt has been what scouts thought he might become, and too much of the knock on Aviles has been what folks assumed he couldn’t do. The focus should be on production.

"Getz is now hitting .171 over his 41 at-bats, and if Betancourt is worn down, the Royals are out of excuses about not finding Aviles regular time.

"He can play third base, second base or shortstop. He hit .325 and won the club’s player-of-the-year award last time he was healthy. Even if he’s just 90 percent of that, that’s significant improvement on what the Royals currently have."

I see this as a central example of the central problem with the Royals. This team is run by amateurs. Hey, everybody has to start somewhere, right? Why not Kansas City? You certainly don't get your big break in New York or LA. How many managers have been given their start here then gone on to be ... long time hitting coaches (Hal McRae) and bench coaches (Tony Pena Sr.) elsewhere. It will always be amateur hour in Kansas City -- probably until (and this is increasingly unlikely) a professional baseball man decides to buy the club.

When amateurs run a ball club -- or the department in which you work -- they tend to go by the book ... literally, the last soft-core management book they've read. Or they do things the way the last boss they loved to hate did them. Or they pick out a couple of overarching principles and ride them relentlessly into the sunset no matter what.

What they don't do, what they are afraid to do, is improvise. They get locked in and they are terrified of the consequences of straying from The Book. They can't make exceptions. They don't seize opportunities because they are too busy looking in the rear view mirror of fear. They like this job -- well, they usually love to hate this job -- and they want to keep it.

What that means on the ball field or in your cubicle is that all innovation stops.

It also means they are not capable of listening to what they do. I always tell writers to listen to their stories. If the writing is going slowly, like walking in lava, listen to that, stop, look for a problem. If some part of their story has a lot of energy and they feel great writing it, listen to that energy and for goodness sakes move the energry up to the top. Listen. React.

And that's where the Royals have been for years. The bosses --my guess is from the scouts to the third base coaches -- are intellectually deaf. They're stuck. They're spinning the wheels of the bus in the mud and they can't understand why The Book won't get them traction.

And, because Mike Aviles was not SUPPOSED to be a major league shortstop, they will let him rot on the bench.

Unless they are finally desperate enough now to try anything. That, really, is the only hope for Kansas City. Until management is so desperate it begins to "listen" to what is happening on the field, to throw out the book, to realize this is not and never will be a textbook franchise anyway, to squirm and wiggle and innovate, and to stop worrying about what the pros in their field will think of them elsewhere, every hour of Kansas City baseball will be amateur hour.

God I wish I had seen the Monarchs play.


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Royals' stealth trade leaves you shaking your head... and shaking your head at the Star, too -- At least Aviles is back, if only to sit the bench

Can't find anything in the Star about it, but apparently the Royals and Diamondbacks exchanged minor leaguers yesterday, according to the Associated Press.

On the surface this is another head scratching what-in-the-world-could-they-be-thinking moment. They traded a reliever some folks have ranked fairly high among prospects to the Snakes for ... a shortstop. Apparently the shortstop is playing for Crash Davis' last team in A-ball, is supposed to be a defensive specialist but has been prone to errors -- 29 in 118 starts last year -- and had just four home runs in better than 270 minor league games, not at bats. Worse, one Snakes' blogger -- aka kishi --thinks he will probably be eligible for minor league free agency before he can manage to climb to the major league level.

"It's a little surprising that the Royals would opt to trade (Rosa, the AAA reliever), since they are in almost as much need of bullpen help as we are here in Arizona. They had the worst relief ERA of any team in the American League in April, at 5.77 - almost a full run worse than the next-highest figure. I'd have said that Rosa would have deserved a shot in the major-league pen: while admittedly, shortstop is universally regarded as the weakest position in their farm system, the more pressing need appears to be for immediate relief help, and Rosa was decent in two (admittedly brief) stints in the majors, with a 3.21 ERA in 14 innings."

You have to wonder why the hapless Royals would turn loose of a bullpen prospect for a very light hitting shortstop. After all, the Royals already have one of those.

Plus, the Royals don't have a legitimate relief prospect in the bullpen. I mean in the major league bullpen. To say nothing of the minor league system.

On second thought, this is another head scratching what-in-the-world-could-the-brain-trust-be-thinking moment. Let's see, kind of like pinch hitting Ankiel in the bottom of the ninth when he really should be on the DL. Or... well, let's not go down that road. The list might be pretty long.

Sorry, Zack.


PS: Read the Star's tardy account late today of this trade for a prime example of a half-full, half-empty mug of beer.