Monday, April 23, 2007

East Lansing And Beyond

“Nobody said it was easy.”

Hope everyone out there is enjoying this beautiful weekend. Who would have thought that it would be as warm here in East Lansing, MI as it was in South Carolina? I’m up here visiting the campus of Michigan State while seeing my friend, and I have to tell you, MSU’s campus destroys USC…destroys. I am as proud as anyone that I am going to join the USC alumni (it’s taking a long time to get here though). All I’m saying is that you really don’t know about “college living” until you go to some of these places and take it all in. I think the reason behind it is that USC is located in the heart of Columbia, which happens to also double as the state’s capital. So basically, you have to build around a city, making space an issue. I’m not saying that USC isn’t great and beautiful…it is. However, when you have a school like Michigan State that is located on what seems to be a never-ending plot of land, it blew me away how grand and majestic it was. I hate to say it, but I feel the same way about Clemson. It’s like the city was built around the college, and not the other way around. Anyway, that’s about enough gushing as probably all you can stand. The point I’m making is it’s absolutely gorgeous up here, and apparently, even better in the fall when the trees have all their leaves (I guess that’s kind of obvious, but I’ve been hearing that a lot this weekend).

Obviously the Draft is basically the only thing on my mind. I mean this thing takes over my life for like the entire month of April (or as I refer to it, “NESN Withdrawal Month”). This seems to be the most uncertain the Draft has been in quite some time (I am fully aware that I keep mentioning that, but still, I can’t get over how many different possibilities could happen…exciting stuff if you get your kicks off of this, which fortunately I do). Of course, what makes everything great is who is sitting at the top of the Draft board. I mean does it get any better than Al Davis? You want to talk about unpredictable? Here’s “Exhibit A” (“Who knows what he’s going to do? He fires people like it’s a bodily function!”). As if the Draft wasn’t great enough. As far as a comparison, think of it like a pyro at an Exxon station…pretty volatile…cannot wait.

I think there’s some kind of conspiracy regarding radio stations and how many good songs they’re allowed to play every hour. Do you ever catch yourself totally “vibing out” when a station (literally any station by the way) plays like four or five songs in a row you totally dig, and then all of a sudden, like it was some unwritten law, a song comes on that is so not happening. I find this especially true with ‘80s music. I mean I’m all about tunes from then, but sometimes, I find myself being like “I know the ‘80s were wild times, but people actually liked this one?” Basically my point is why can’t a station just keep playing songs that the masses enjoy, and not try and hit every little demographic out there (totally adding radio program director to the list of “jobs I think I would be exceptionally good at, but know there’s absolutely no way I will ever be able to do it”…ugh, such a long list for my un-talented self)?

Oh by the way…how ‘bout them Red Sox?” The three game sweep of the Yanks became official last night, with none other than Paps shutting the door in the ninth in two straight games. Oh, and did I mention four homers in a row on Sunday! Yeah, that’s happened for the Sox, umm…never. It’s so cool when you are witnessing history “first hand” (hey, when watching a game in HD, it’s close enough). I think this is true regardless of the fact if it’s positive or negative. Like I remember when Chris Bosio tossed a no-hitter against the Sox way back in the day (’95?). It totally sucked watching my favorite team in the world get completely dominated like that, but at the same time, it was like “wow, this guy is going nuts on us, and he has a chance to do something that is fairly rare in this game…I’m definitely intrigued.” Anyway, Sunday was incredibly positive in that regard. I also learned a bunch of things from the three-game set:

  1. I mean I love Wily Mo, but the dude has such a case of “Cerrano” going on, it’s completely ridiculous. I mean you have to think Torre is telling Posada, or later Nieves, to be like “if you put down one finger while Pena is up, you’re so getting sent to Columbus.” I mean Wily Mo needs some serious help laying off the slow stuff. Also, he needs to try and be more of a contact hitter instead of trying to smoke everything. I can’t even count the number of times last year where he swung so hard, and ending up hitting cue shots right in front of the plate. I’m dead serious when I say he really needs to go to Pawtucket for awhile, because he doesn’t nearly get the kind of reps in Boston that he would in AAA. So…just throwing that out there, and it would actually be nice if someone listened to me for once.
  2. Dustin Pedroia is going to be amazing, but these next couple of months are going to be incredibly rough. I can’t even imagine what’s going through his head? “Ok, I’m playing second for the Sox, and we’re playing the Yankees at Fenway on national TV in front of 37,000 people…(pause for endless stream of obscenities and other expletive material). However, he showed a lot of promise, especially in the field. Now, the question will be if he can carry over the poise he shows in the field to the plate. Someone eventually is going to have to sit him down and tell him that the uppercut swing is not going to fly if you’re a 10-15 homer guy.
  3. A-Rod is the best player in the game. I’ve tried numerous times to convince myself otherwise, but in the end, the facts are there, and no one right now is even close to the level he’s at. However, in being the best player, he has also showed that, in the past, when it counts…nothing. I am almost ready to call him the Peyton Manning of baseball…he’s clearly the best at his position, and has numbers to make him a sure-fire first ballot hall of famer, but when it comes down to the big moments (of course, Peyton got over this hump), yeah, not so much. I would say that a change of scenery would do him good, but realize that, most likely, this is going to be his best shot at a title. I think there would be about two or three teams that can a.) afford him and b.) offer him the kind of protection like he’s getting right now in that order. If he opts out of the remaining three years of his pre-existing deal, people are going to start to wonder if he is just out for himself or if he actually has the desire to win a championship.
  4. If the Sox were looking for a stretch to take advantage of the Yankees and create some space between them in the standings, now is going to be the best time. Clearly, their pitching is so roughed up and completely non-Yankee like (oh yeah, really reached back for that adjective). Wang is scheduled to come back later this week, but even he can’t solve all the problems they have. Sure, their starting pitching is completely decimated at this point, but they are going to have guys come back pretty soon to cover up the holes. I think the bullpen is easily their biggest concern right now. When you have a 6-2 lead going into the eighth inning, it should be all over but the crying if you look in terms of who is at the back-end of their relievers. I mean…it’s Mo. The guy with one pitch who can locate better than almost any pitcher out there. Yet when I saw him pitch his one appearance on Friday night, I couldn’t get over how awful he looked. First of all, his velocity has gone down about 7 MPH, and for those of you who don’t know, that is an absolutely huge difference. Second, he can’t locate, which is bad news considering he only has one pitch, meaning it’s not as though he can say “well this one isn’t working tonight, better try something else.” No. It’s cut fastballs, and that’s it. This is what used to, and really still does, frustrate the hell out of me. “He’s got one pitch! How is he so good!” The key was that Rivera would set guys up big time. Against lefties, he would jam them inside, then locate on the outside corner, with the ball sweeping across the corner at the very last second. And to righties, he was able to throw the ball down the middle, then have it tail off, causing hitters to either miss entirely, or hit cue shot ground balls. I mean the guy was extremely effective, and is arguably the greatest closer to ever live (for my money…yes). But now he looks like a mere mortal out there. He seems weak, and certainly doesn’t strike the fear into batters like he once did. It’s funny because now, on the other side of the line, you have Papelbon, who, as of right now, cannot be touched. No one, and I mean no one has figured this guy out yet. Plus, it seems like he gets stronger and stronger with each out, which is tricky when you’re facing a guy who throws right at about 100 MPH with his fastball, then can drop the hook in at about 80-82 MPH. Plus, he has a great cutter. Not as good as the one Rivera used to throw, but still, it gets the job done. To me, it seems like the game is evolving to the point where you need at least three effective pitches to get people out, not like back in the day, when all a pitcher needed was his “out pitch” to get himself out of a jam. So the Yankees definitely need to be concerned with this, because up until now, they have been in cruise control as far as dealing with closers. They never really accounted for the fact that Rivera could get older and start losing some of his stuff. What they really need is similar to what they had back in the mid ‘90s, when John Wetteland was the guy in the ninth, but they had Rivera coming up, and it was a certainty that he would be “the guy” eventually once Wetteland wore down. I look to Detroit and see a similar set of circumstances. The Tigers have Todd Jones closing now, but know that it’s only a matter of time until he can’t do it anymore, and the job will belong to Joel Zumaya, but until that day comes, they will rely on Jones to keep up his end, while Zumaya is the eighth inning guy, and just waiting in the wings for his opportunity. Look for the Yanks to start looking for someone come July, this of course assuming Rivera continues to struggle like he has (almost a month through, he has no saves and has blown two).
  5. Dice-K is going to be a great pitcher, and probably will win in excess of 20 wins a season, but already, I can tell that people are a little too high on him right now. The guy has some of the best stuff I have ever seen, but his lack of experience dealing with major league hitters is going to catch up with him. I will say he has shown a tremendous amount of poise throughout everything. The negotiations dealing with his posting, the contract issue, Spring Training, and now, being at Fenway, where literally billions of people are watching and studying his every move. Nothing really seems to affect how he handles himself. However, I have seen some moments when he will get flustered with himself in a certain situation. As long as he can keep those moments to a minimum, and learn to adjust to the workload that goes along with pitching in the MLB, he will be fine. Still, I want to see how hitters adjust to him once we get into June and July, and a detailed scouting report is going to be out on him, then you are really going to know how good Dice-K can be (I’m not trying to sound pessimistic; trust me, this guy has got the goods, but I caution myself and everyone out there to not get to high up on the guy because, eventually, he will struggle, and people have got to understand that it’s an inevitability; people will have the right to get down on him, but in the same token, they have to realize that this guy is here for six years; it’s not as though this is a one year experiment; so you have to be excited about the potential this guy has)
  6. Major League Baseball is absolutely right to be scheduling these games on the weekend, and thus, getting them on national TV. Sure, it’s April, but still, you have to know that a win in April is just as important as a win in September. So, when you hit the stretch run, these games are even more significant in terms of the standings and the tie-breaker, which is division wins (ahem, thank you 2005 Red Sox for the crash course on that…had the same amount of wins at the end of the year, but because of the tie-break, ended up getting the wild card and had to go on the road to play Chicago, the inevitable champs, while New York hosted Oakland). And also, why hide what people really want to see? You know that people are going to be glued to these games because the rivalry is larger than life (although there have been subtle things that have kind of dumbed it down a little…the WS title of ’04, while amazing, slightly lessened the emphasis on the Yanks). Still, people will watch it every single time that it’s on. The same thing applies to the Cubs/Cardinals series, which is really starting to pick up steam after the Tribune sold the Cubbies and they started flashing the green to free agents (which is the reason I believe Zambrano is going to sign an extension here…the times are changing, and it seems like Chicago is much more willing to over-pay their stars, which certainly wasn’t true about the old team). Sure, MLB is basically a publicity whore by doing this, but at the same time, they are satisfying the general public and the demand that games like these call for.

I can’t get into UFC or Pride or any of that kind of stuff. Here’s my logic behind that: I don’t really like that much violence. Sure, I definitely appreciate boxing and wrestling (fake and real), but when I’m watching this stuff, it’s like…wow. I mean these guys are really going at each other. And then, when they’re down, they still beat the crap out of the guy. Unbelievable! Even in real fighting when a guy goes down, generally, you allow him to get up (generally, unless this is like “Rose Down Valley Stream” and that kind of stuff…fictional movie gangs are tremendous). However, this thing is really getting popular. The fights are bringing in a ton of money, and TV shows are starting to pop up more and more. Maybe it’s just me, but is this kind of a reflection on society right now? I just think people are a little too pissed off at the moment. Again, this is just my philosophy, and if you can’t understand…groovy, but allow me to explain. Look at fake wrestling and boxing from back in the day. It was all about gamesmanship. It wasn’t about trying to incapacitate someone. It was about the spirit of competition (which UFC definitely has). I mean guys can get really, really messed up in these fights. Sure, in boxing, you will have your fair share of injuries, and once in a while, something really bad, but the rate of serious injuries has got to be way higher in “the Octagon” than it would be in “the squared circle.” The reason I’m bringing this up is that I was watching a promo for a fight coming up on Spike (which by the way, is totally genius that they have Pay-Per-View-like fights on basic cable; if nothing else, I give the heads of these companies credit for thinking outside the box in the attempt to become relevant), and was really taken back by it. I mean, it was the promo! This is the stuff that they advertise with on ESPN, meaning that there is probably way worse than that going on (and there is). I don’t know, call me “soft” or what not, but I’m just not sure this is the kind of thing we as a country need right now. Not sure putting emphasis on violence is the best statement to be making.

ESPN The Magazine is about five years away from catching Sports Illustrated as far as popularity and its overall contribution to the world of sports. They took what was basically the formula for Sporting News and improved on it. When I get my magazine in the mail, I know that I have reading material for a long, long time. Not saying that SI isn’t good. It absolutely is. I think what I mean to say is that ESPN just seems to be much more relevant and kind of “with it” than SI. It’s like SI is kind of the “antique” magazine, while ESPN is pushing the envelope a little more. SI will continue to be a great read, and extremely popular, but for my money, ESPN is about ten times better. The reason is because, first, you have ESPN personalities contributing, which is the kind of exposure that allowed “The Mag” to really get off the ground running. We all know who these guys are. Dan Patrick, Stuart Scott, Mike and Mike, etc. These guys are on TV and radio all the time. So, if they already have a bit of a “following,” then it would seem as though their fans would make a fairly smooth transition over to reading ESPN. I also like that ESPN is willing to try new things to make their magazine better. For example, the recent “baseball preview” felt like an almanac. I mean the thing was huge. SI will come out with “double issues,” but they don’t cover nearly the depth that ESPN does. I figured I would point that out because over the weekend, I happened to be reading both at around the same time, and found myself saying “man, ESPN is just so much better than SI.” Also, ESPN’s contributors seem to be a lot more witty and able to poke fun at things a lot more easily than SI. I compare it kind of to the New York Times and the New York Post. The Times is where you go to get the serious information and ground-breaking exposés. Whereas you get a similar flow of information in the Post, but there’s a lot more freedom and less of a set structure. Again, this is probably just me, but then again, I do have opinions…you did see the disclaimer at the top right?

Anyway, that’s all for now. The next post is most likely going to be the final “Mock Draft,” which I’m planning on getting to as close to the actual thing as possible. In addition, I am going to attempt to do a running diary of the Draft itself, but I have never done one of these (I e-mailed Bill to get any tips…nothing back yet). However, my attention span and alcohol consumption could hinder that, so stay tuned. Have a good rest of the week. Peace.


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