Friday, December 30, 2005

In Which Rose Has A Thing About Numbers

I have this thing about numbers.

Oh, wait. Hi. I'm Rose. I'm that other writer. Leem, in his infinite wisdom, has entrusted me with the look and feel of this site, so it's my fault it still looks pretty bare. Sorry. Downtime's been pretty scarce, but that's a story best told on that blog without my name on it. (Don't have the address for that one? Email me.)

Anyway. I have this thing about numbers. Math I can take or leave, but numbers fascinate me. Which is fortunate, because I can't shake the little buggers. My mother loves to talk about how I can rattle off the number of every hotel room we ever stayed in on vacations. The good thing is that this is impossible to disprove; I mean, if we didn't actually stay in room 102 at that place in Salem, Oregon that summer I was three -- you know, the place with all the bees by the pool -- who's going to know?

I grew up not too far from Dodger Stadium. My preschool used to arrange occasional outings, and I remember playing in the bleachers while the adults... well, we all survived, so the adults were presumably keeping at least one eye on us. I maintained a passing, hey-those-are-my-neighbors interest in the team into the strike of '81, through the World Series, and on to the heart of fourth grade.

Here's where the numbers come in. My math teacher figured that the best way to teach us about decimals was to teach us about baseball.

It was like leading a junkie duck to crack.

During baseball season, I pored over the stats page every morning while I was eating breakfast. Well, I'd try to glance at the comics first. (And the front page. Clearly, I was not your normal nine-year-old.) But mostly, I was about those numbers. At that point, I was just looking to see how individual Dodgers were doing in comparison to other players, but I started to discern the broader picture.

Mom thought it was great that Dad could discuss baseball with one of his kids. For his part, even though he hasn't followed the Yankees for years, I think my Bronx-bred father still hasn't gotten over raising a Dodger fan.

Dodger fandom is a tricky thing. I don't think anyone really sets out to follow them. People tend to retain allegiance to their hometown team, and, L.A. being the kind of place it is, there are a lot of different hometown teams represented. Hell, even the Dodgers are from out of town. They moved out from Brooklyn around the same time as my mother's family did, not so long after her father's friend Les Rodney had used his sports column in the Daily Worker to bring a young man named Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers' attention.

But even without the tenuous family connection -- even without the proximity -- even without my numbers thing -- I probably would have ended up following the Dodgers anyway. For one thing, Dodger Stadium general admission tickets are still a mere six bucks. For another Dodger Stadium is freakin' beautiful. And I can certainly sympathize with any person or team that looks one way on paper and quite another in reality.

We're still recovering from the early days of Fox ownership, when the brass brought in GM Kevin Malone. After three years of bad acquisitions and terrible trades, he mercifully forced himself to resign by challenging a Padres fan to a fight. The job eventually went to Dan Evans, who didn't suck. When the McCourts purchased the team, they replaced Evans with Paul DiPodesta.

Poor Paul DiPodesta. It's been a little heartbreaking, watching him watch his belief system crumble around him. Apparently, he'd never learned what I figured out early on: You can't always go by the numbers. OPS is a great place to start, but intangibles trump statistics. You can't trade popular guys like Paul Lo Duca and Guillermo Mota and expect the team to stay the same. The Dodgers made it into the playoffs in 2004 on the sheer force of Jose Lima's will.

No one expected DiPodesta to bring Lima back in 2005, and he didn't. But he didn't make any moves to keep Adrien Beltre, and he made some odd choices for the pitching staff. (Scott Erickson? Really?) Still, things looked good at the beginning of the season. Jeff Kent was settling in. Milton Bradley, of all people, was stepping up as a clubhouse leader. Now, if everyone could just stay healthy...


Yeah. See, thing is, a team can look great on paper, but if your star players keep going on the DL for months at a time, the relief pitchers you bring up from the minors can't seem to find the strike zone and the front office doesn't support the manager, you end up with a terrible record and a skipper who's only too happy to have the opportunity to take that job in Pittsburgh.

So here's where we stand at the end of 2005: DiPodesta's out; Colletti's in. He made up for his short window of opportunity and his past with the Giants by... bringing in a bunch of Giants. I'm trying not to be suspicious about this. The biggest non-former-Giant acquisition so far has been Nomar Garciaparra. It's a gamble, but worth a shot.

Earlier this year, I was offered tickets to the annual Hollywood Stars charity softball game at Dodger Stadium, which fans can watch from the field. Now, I've been on stages in front of thousands of people. I've hung out with some pretty famous names. I've visited some heavy inner sanctums. But I don't think I've ever giggled in glee like when I got to take off my shoes and walk through the Dodgers' outfield grass.

A few more notes before I go:

No matter what they tell you, it's not the "Los Angeles Angels" -- it's the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim," and no one around here is fooled. Yes, I'm friendly with a certain guitar-playing Cy Young winner who plays for a team to the north of me; his sister is a good friend of mine, and he gamely submits to the occasional karaoke outing with his sister's crew. Yes, I know lots of random stuff. No, I will not do your homework. And, yes, Vin Scully is the greatest storyteller in the English language. But I'm sure that will be covered in a future post.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

line drives and shiney cars

The sun was still full in the Texas sky. Arlington Stadium was at the time, my favorite place in the world. I remember stepping from the dugout onto the grass that lined the field. I touched the "No Pepper" sign, because I had seen it on TV, and it was suddenly real. I toed the dirt near first base, smiling, because this was where Pete O'Brien caught pop ups. I walked across the grass smiling, knowing on TV it looked like a green carpet, and from where I was walking, it looked even cooler.

I was 8. My dad's company had been invited to the game by the Rangers, because one of the salesguys won a drawing, and was going to hit for a new car. If memory serves correctly, he got 5 pitches, and if he connected and drove it out of the park, he won the car. Probably not a big challenge for Biff the weightlifter, who may or may not knowingly ingested steroids, but for Mack the salesguy, it was going to be tough.

Here I was, walking across the outfield grass, not because I was special. Not because I was the best damn outfielder on my little league team, but because I was one of the only kids involved with the company to have a glove with me. So my task was to shag flyballs, if any should have come my way. There were 3 guys hitting that day, so I was ready for anything.

It was so fast, I can honestly say those 15 pitches were a blur. I do know that I caught 2 flys in my area.

Walking back, grinning from ear to ear, was my Coca-Cola moment. Pete Incaviglia, outfielder and minor star of YOUR Texas Rangers, offers me a hand. I slap as if I were coming back from a quick 3 up 3 down. He says to me, "Kid, that was a nice catch, way to hustle."

My Name is Joni, and I am a Baseball Fan

When one lives in a city where our major league baseball team has won their division for the last 14 or so years, and even made it to the Series a time or two, you would think you would be surrounded by baseball fans. But in my office, I'm like the only baseball fan. Sure, the girl from Chicago suddenly became a big fan about mid-October, and the other guy that grew up in Boston did crawl from the woodwork around the same time in 2004, but normally when I mention baseball, its crickets.

Mention the Falcons (a team that has never had two consecutive winning seasons) and they are all abuzz about the latest happenings. People who barely finished high school, let alone went to college, will argue the merits of Georgia vs. Georgia Tech. We've even got one nut case that spends $8,000 on a set of season tickets for the Atlanta Flames/Knights/Thrashers/Whatevers Hockey team. But mention baseball in say, the month of May, and you get a big bunch of nothing.


So, I gladly join this group of baseball misfits, half-wits and girls with big.... well, whatever.

Stay tuned.

Meet The New Boss

The Rangers' signing of Kevin Millwood excites me greatly. Not just because it means that the Arlington lads have finally made good on their yearly promises to "get some pitching in here," but that it shows that Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels is no pansy.

Lemme 'splain.

In years past, Winter Meeting participants could count on the Rangers' total desperation to make a big move. This allowed other teams, as well as free agent representatives, to get the Rangers brass to give up the farm (both figuratively and literally).

Not this year.

When the 2005 Winter Meetings concluded, there were grumblings from unnamed GMs that Daniels was being totally unreasonable with his expectations. Players like Kevin Mench, John Danks, Alfonso Soriano and Gerald Laird were valued too highly, and the Rangers were simply asking for far too much to do a deal.

The consensus around the Hot Stove campfire was that Daniels was playing it too close to the vest. The Rangers came away with no marquee deals, and it looked like the team from the host city of the Winter Meetings were the big chumps.

Fast-forward four weeks, and Jon Daniels has installed a pitching rotation for the Rangers that should have skeptical fans salivating, or at least pricking up their ears. He's also addressed one of the big non-pitching concerns of the off-season -- center field -- with the Soriano-for-Wilkerson deal.

Daniels did this without gutting the farm system, or breaking the bank. The promise-laden troika of Thomas Diamond, Edison Volquez and John Danks is still in our system. Shrek is still a Ranger, as is Laird and Hank Blalock. Not bad for a GM that most pundits derided for being a John Hart puppet, or a "still-wet-behind-the-ears" executive.

League GMs should sit up and take notice. They're probably just shocked that the Rangers aren't patsies for the rest of the league, and with Daniels at the helm, they had better get used to it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Does He Ever Get The Girl?

(Let me get this out of the way: I have a habit of titling all my entries after songs. Today's contribution bends that rule a bit, for the title comes from a refrain in a Dashboard Confessional song. But it was so apt that I had to use it.)

Baseball and love have a lot in common, and I'm not just talking about the "bases" being used as reference points for how far a relationship has progressed. Sacrifices in baseball, whether a bunt or a fly ball, are vastly underrated. And the bunt in particular is in danger of becoming a lost art. Sacrifices for the sake of love are also becoming more scarce. And in this era of free agency, wooing a player has become much like courting a potential mate.

A team puts on its best face, wines and dines the free agent, and only talks about the good things they have to offer while keeping the negatives hidden in the closet. It really is a lot like dating, looking for that "special one" to settle down with long-term. So my Texas Rangers are a lot like, well, me.

I meet a new person, put my best foot forward, and she might be really intrigued.

The Rangers focus on a player, try to get them to visit, and pitch the fact that the D/FW area is a great place to live whether you are single or raising a family.

Now let's combine both examples.

A player's agent returns Texas' phone call. (I start a conversation with a woman.) Pretty soon, the player's desires are made known - length of contract, dollar amounts, etc. (This imaginary woman and I agree to meet. Maybe for drinks. Maybe just lunch.) The player might even visit the team to get a feel for the area and the facilities. (The woman starts to get more curious about the "real" me. Are you close to your family? Do you want kids? What are your friends like?) Both player and agent say nice things about the Rangers, and then Texas does the same regarding the free agent. (Common phrases: We seem to have a lot in common. It was great to see you. I had a nice time. I'm glad I got to talk to you. You are so sweet!)

And there it is - the death knell. The last step in this four-part courtship signals one thing, and one thing only. The dreaded Friend Zone.

I know it all too well, and so do the Rangers. They are a good club to use as leverage with other teams in order to get a better offer. And I am just smart, witty, and (barely) attractive enough to make women wonder if they can find someone even slightly better.

(Truth be told, I am probably most like the Florida Marlins. They have twice won the World Series. I have been married twice. Both times, after winning, the team dismantled with startling rapidity. I have been divorced twice. But using the Marlins as an example in this stretch of a metaphor would not be nearly as fun, so hang with me. It's almost over.)

Reports started filtering in yesterday afternoon that the Rangers and Kevin Millwood had agreed to contract terms and a formal announcement would be made after the requisite physical. I first heard about it in an email update from the incomparable Jamey Newberg. Suddenly, my spirits were lifted.

My team got who they wanted. Kudos to Jon Daniels. Things are looking up around here.

Maybe I'll be next...