Saturday, February 04, 2006

The Corner of Michigan and Trumbull

Devin and Marty at Tiger Stadium

In 2000, Marty and I went to Detroit to see one of the final games at Tiger Stadium. It was the Mets and Brewers facing off, in a late-season match-up that really didn't mean anything in the standings, but meant everything to the fans in attendance. One of the great old ballparks was going away after seventeen more games.

To be frank, it didn't have to. Tiger Stadium, as far as I could tell, was just as viable as Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. (I prefer Tiger Stadium to Fenway, to be even more frank. Send your flaming e-mail my way.) But the owners were bound and determined to get a new ballpark, so they built Comerica Park down the road, and left Tiger Stadium to rust.

The ultimate fate of Tiger Stadium is a sore spot for Motor City residents and city council folk. There's been little activity there since the park's closure outside Billy Crystal's crew filming '61*' there in 2001, using it as a stand-in for old Yankee Stadium with CGI enhancements.

This weekend, the Super Bowl plays at Ford Field in Detroit, and Budweiser leased out the park for two nights. It's an invitation-only pair of concerts, with Snoop Dogg on Friday night and 3 Doors Down on Saturday. The only baseball being played will be by costumed production flaks tossing a ball around in the outfield.

I'm sure the parties will be a huge hit, but I would rather be one of the wonks getting to play catch on that hallowed ground.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Let The Idiot Speak

Here are a couple of quotes that I just heard from a replayed radio interview:

"I'm not the smartest guy in the world."

"I was under the bus most of the time."

The speaker? Kenny Rogers, former Texas Ranger and current Detroit Tiger. Our D/FW all sports station, the greatness that is The Ticket, somehow acquired the audio from an interview that Rogers actually participated in on a Detroit station.

In the interview, Rogers was at his best. He was very soft spoken, demure even, and came off sounding like a very harmless person. After all, he is nothing but a soft tossing forty-something pitcher. However, he is also a lefty and lefties have a reputation of being a little wacky. Much of that stereotype can be attributed to former Expo and Red Sox pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee, because he seemed to love to perpetuate the myth until it became closer to "fact", but Lee might have been on to something.

(When I saw Kenny's attack on the cameraman, I was reminded of a scene from the movie 'The Jerk'. Navin Johnson (Steve Martin) is working at a gas station as a sniper takes aim at him from across the street. But the sniper keeps missing his target, instead popping bullets into oil cans. Finally, Navin exclaims "He hates these cans!" So when Kenny went nuts, I imagined notable local media members scurrying around the field shouting "He hates these cameras!" Hey, it could have happened.)

So what happened to Kenny Rogers that made him snap? What caused him to become a big bully, transforming from quiet guy (Bruce Banner?) into the Incredible Sulk?

Radio. Talk radio, to be exact.

In the above mentioned interview, Rogers kept obliquely referring to disparaging comments he was hearing about his performance (and, presumably, contract demands). "Untruths", he called them. The Detroit interviewer dutifully tried to make the pitcher get specific. "Well, we know what you did. What did they do?"

Rogers again tip-toed around actual moments that he could put into words. Instead, he said his "biggest mistake" was listening to the radio on his way to the park in the days leading up to the incident. And, again, he never mentioned a specific phrase, station, or "untruth" that set him off.

In other words, he is just an ass.

So let this be a warning to the Detroit folk: Don't fall for it. Don't think of him as the strawberry picking teenage shortstop drafted by the Rangers in 1982. Think of him as a guy who has continually made bad business decisions over the course of his career based on an inflated sense of self-worth. Think of him as a guy who cannot handle media pressure well. (Remember his New York stint?) And think of him as a guy, because of those bullet points, with a chip on his shoulder.

And hope that you do not have a camera on yours.


Finally, here is something I would love to see happen, but it would have to be done by someone who has a very good chance of running into Kenny Rogers. If you are that person, and you don't mind schticking things up a bit, take heed because this is directed at you.

Carry a Duracell battery in your pocket at all times. Preferably a D cell, though a C would work, too.

Try to position yourself in a stable standing position as Rogers approaches. Place the battery on your shoulder. (Rolling up your shirt sleeves is optional.)

When Rogers nears, say "I dare you to knock this battery off my shoulder. I dare you."

And when you win your personal injury lawsuit? Please remember where you got the idea.

13 days...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

People will come Ray...

I have a confession to make, I am a baseball junkie. In 2 short weeks, Pitchers and Catchers report for spring training. That is when it all becomes real. I have already started shopping for a new jersey, hat, and other related baseball wear. I read every article, webpage, blog, minor league report, major league report, news story, anything I can find about the great game.

Last year, I did not get to attend one game. Mainly it was a timing issue, I was working for my company starting in May, putting in 60 hours plus per week. Prior to that, I had a commute to another company that took most of my lifeline. We also had a almost 2 year old that I did not think would react very well to sitting in the stands for 2 plus hours with nothing to do. Granted, he loves his "go-go" men.

I did not get to see the field in its 3D glory. The green grass shimmering in the Texas heat. The smell of onions and hot dogs roasting. The way that a beer, even at 5 bucks or more, is the coldest, sweetest thing in the world when your at the ballpark. I did not get a chance to hear Chuck Morgan announce the players, and the rest of the staff. I did not get to watch a Dot Race.

Now, I am having baseball withdrawl. I think of the way I feel when reading box scores, or watching highlights on SportsCenter. I think of how funny it is to me to be able to sit and watch a Rangers telecast, while people mock me for watching something so "boring". To me, it is as exciting as anything I know. For the most part.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Slump Buster

Several years ago Mark Grace, former Cub and Diamondback, was interviewed by Jim Rome. The topic was the slump buster. Basically, the slump buster is for players that are in a major funk. A pitcher that can't get guys out or a batter that is mired in a horrible zero for infinity.

The player will go out with fellow teammates and they will urge him to pick up the ugliest woman in the joint. Then have sex with her. Consentually, of course. This practice must work since it has been employed for many years.

One of the ultimate slump buster cases recently came to a close when ex-pitcher Denny Neagle plead guilty to patronizing a prostitute. After his arrest, his contract was terminated by the Colorado Rockies within 3 days. For the Rockies to terminate the contract of a pitcher, when no one wants to pitch there, is remarkable. It is clear where they draw the line. No paying for slump busters! Get them for free at clubs or hotel bars.

The worst part is that this occured in December. Not during the season. That must have been one hell of a slump.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Via Chicago

Last night, I got to witness the first sign that we are oh so close to the point in which we will read the sweetest four word phrase in the English language: Pitchers and catcher report.

Take this journey back in time, a mere 12 hours ago or so, with me...

While hanging out with friends last night to celebrate a birthday, we ended up at a local sports bar (well, it's actually a "nightspot" that calls itself a sports bar) for after dinner drinks and people watching. Unfortunately, there was a fight being broadcast last night, hence getting a table was completely out of the question. So our party found a spot to stand somewhat unobtrusively while waiting for a group, any group, to leave.

The funny thing is that I didn't even really notice the big screen TV we were standing next to until baseball came into the equation.

A scrawny dude, wearing a Chicago Cubs cap, suddenly took control of the DVD player connected to the TV. Apparantly he was having what was previously a friendly discussion with a White Sox fan who was much bigger than the Cubbie guy, as well as bigger than me. Cubbie evidently felt compelled to play a PC-burned DVD for the Chisox guy as his big closing argument.

I was surprised, yet pleased, to see what is part of local folklore on the big screen. An event that is larger-than-life, but also verifiable because it was captured by many cameras and played over and over on ESPN and local FW/D affiliates, as well as local affiliates nationwide.

Nolan Ryan stood on the mound, started his windup, emitted his patented grunt, and freaking nailed Robin Ventura of the White Sox. The 28 (right?) year old Ventura calmly dropped his bat, tossed the helmet, and charged the 42 (right?) year old Advil pitchman. Nolan, in his best hockey imitation, dropped his glove and strode (yup - not ambled, not walked, but "strode") forward like an Old West lawman who knew he was about to administer a lesson.

Suddenly, Ventura was in a headlock, rendered helpless by a hog tying move straight out of any cowboy movie scene except for those in 'Brokeback Mountain'. Then the punches came, straight to the White Sox noggin. After several landings from the "old" pitcher, the fight was broken up. Ventura was ejected and Nolan was allowed to stay in the game.

And the legend grew larger at that instant. Forget the no-hitters, the strike out record, the one-hitters and two-hitters, too. Nolan Ryan, the man with the ageless right arm, suddenly became more famous for his left fist. Hall Of Fame pitcher? Strike Out King? The Ryan Express? All of those accolades are cool, but I think the vast majority in these parts prefers Texas Bad Ass.

After the scene was over, Chisox (who was standing right next to me) asked Cubbie, "Yeah. So what does that prove?"

Cubbie: "Never mess with Texas!" (Good one, dude. And, by the way, if you're going to tuck your shirt in? Wear a belt.)

I decided to egg on the debate a little at this point. I told Chisox, "Hey, just remind him that your team won the World Series last year. Scoreboard, yo." Sadly, he was way too drunk to even know that I was talking to him. Meanwhile, my friend Ali is making eye contact with me and motioning for me to move away from these two guys.

At the other end of the spectrum, there was my girlfriend (first time I've ever typed that) in the background chanting "Jerry! Jerry!" but nothing happened. At least not yet.

When the Chi-dudes walked off, Nathan and I were talking about Cubbie and his little collection of PC-burned DVDs. 'The Natural', 'Bull Durham', and 'Major League' - all stacked on the TV stand. I remarked, "Sadly, that little guy is our target audience."

A few minutes later, there was a commotion at the entrance of the bar. Cubbie had decided to "attack" Chisox. I put that word in quotes because it was actually quite comical. Cubbie, who might have weighed 115, had jumped up and put his arms around the neck of 200 pound Chisox. (Apparantly he had not learned the correct hog tying technique because it looked more like a scared Johnny Carson jumping into the arms of Ed McMahon when the tiger snarled at the host.) Like the Nolan and Ventura tussle, this one was broken up quickly and the extremely drunk Chisox was shown the exit.

But I swear that I heard the two of them yelling "18 days! 18 days!"

Well, fellas, it is 17 now...