November 2009

Who says there’s no baseball in winter?

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Rogers Hornsby


No baseball in winter? Yeah, right!
Alright, maybe no actual MLB games. And trips to the ballpark for me are reserved for meals at Friday’s Front Row or sales at the Brewers Team Store. And I suppose my TV schedule is freed up quite a bit. But there is plenty of baseball in the winter.
True, I wish I didn’t have to go through this period of cold, blustery days of shoveling the driveway (although I do love wearing cute cold weather accessories), worrying about getting in car accidents (which happened for the first time last winter and now I’ve developed a slight phobia of driving in the snow) and waiting for snowman snow (it’s the only kind of snow I actually enjoy). But without those days, what would there be to look forward to except for spring and baseball?
Okay, so winter doesn’t technically start for 25 more days, but for all intents and purposes, it’s already here. And I’ve had lots of baseball to occupy myself with. For starters, shortly after the World Series wrapped, the free agency buzz began. There were a bevy of awards to be given away and the Hot Stove has only begun to cook.
I’ve kept myself busy so far wondering if the Baseball Writer’s Association got everything right. For the most part, I think they did alright. Top 10 Hottie Joe Mauer most definitely deserved the AL’s MVP with just an incredible season for the Twins. But I do have to say that the award is Most Valuable Player, not hitter. To be fair, Albert Pujols had a great year offensively. Again. But as far as all-around players go, how the H did Prince Fielder finish fourth?
Of the top 4 (Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Howard and Fielder), Prince was the only one to start all 162 games, had only 7 errors, giving him the highest fielding percentage at .995 and, if you ask me, he’s come a long way at first base as a defensive player. And that all goes along with his league leading 141 RBIs (albeit tied with Howard) and he only trailed Pujols in homeruns by one with 46, not to mention his career high .299 AVG. So what if the Brewers finished out of contention and below .500? If it weren’t for Fielder, they would’ve done considerably worse. 
Tim Lincecum of the Giants won the NL Cy Young for the second year in a row, although that’s been a sore subject for some. There were quite a few pitchers in the NL that could’ve won and with the way votes are tabulated, there was bound to be some controversy. Zack Greinke completely deserved his Cy Young and both Rookies of the Year were right on (sorry, Casey). The Marlins’ Chris Coghlan hit the ground running and led all NL rookies in batting average and runs and Oakland’s closer Andrew Bailey had an amazing first season with 26 saves in 30 opportunities, not to mention the crazy low ERA and WHIP, 1.84 and .88, respectively. 
As for managers, I couldn’t agree more. I voted for Jim Tracy in TYIB and he did a great job taking over a slumping team in the Rockies and leading them to the National League Wild Card. Mike Scioscia overcame the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart and kept the Angels’ heads up, all the way to the ALCS where they eventually lost to the Yankees in 6, but not without putting up a damn good fight. 
I’ve already touched briefly on Milwaukee’s free agent situation in an earlier post, but since the market officially opened last Friday, I’ve become a Hot Stove junkie. Well, a Brewers junkie, at least. Now, I know I can’t believe everything I read, but can I please have John Lackey, Carl Pavano, Roy Halladay, Derek Lowe and Jarrod Washburn and just start with a clean slate in 2010? Please? That would be super. Oh, wait… stupid Jeff Suppan still has another year on his contract. And I am okay with Yovani Gallardo in the Brewers rotation. And I wouldn’t be totally opposed to giving Dave Bush and Manny Parra another shot (because I do love them so). Okay, fine. I’ll settle for any one of the aforementioned free agent pitchers. Although we all know there are quite a few teams that are going to be contending for starting pitching and that can afford WAY more than Milwaukee can. I guess I’ll hold out a bit longer and see what happens. Hopefully Doug Melvin makes some smarter decisions this off-season…
So anyway, Mr. Hornsby, whoever said there’s no baseball in winter was clearly wrong. There’s a ton. But you’re right. I can’t wait for spring, either. 

The Milwaukee Brewers: A Love Affair

In a matter of a few short seasons, I’ve gone from a girl that only mildly cared about sports in general to a diehard Milwaukee Brewers fan that only mildly cares about sports other than baseball.

 

I’ve always liked the Brewers because my family has always liked the Brewers. I recently saw a photo of myself when I was about 3 years old. I was wearing nothing but my older brother’s Brewers shirt playing in my front yard. I remember having a teeny Brewers hat as a kid and have vivid memories of running up and down the ramps at County Stadium. My parents were always big baseball fans and I’m quite thankful that they’ve passed that on to me. In the more recent past, I’ve dug up some mementos of theirs from the 80s, the Brewers heyday. I have my dad’s beer stein commemorating the 1982 World Series, a pennant from the ALCS that year and just today I walked in to my room to find an obviously used bleacher cushion emblazoned with the image of Barrel Man. My grandmother gave me her Brewers collectible glasses, bearing the likenesses of Robin Yount, Cecil Cooper and Gorman Thomas, among others. I park my car (appropriately named Bonnie. Diehards understand why) underneath a pennant my dad tacked to the rafters in the garage. You know, just in case I forget which side my car goes on. My mom recently gave me an ornament she’d painted the first year she and my dad were married. That ornament? A porcelain Brewers hat.

 

There’s one item I found amongst the rest, however, that has convinced me it’s my destiny to always love the Milwaukee Brewers: a calendar from 1983, the year I was born. In this calendar are pictures of various players. Robin Yount, who’s always been my favorite, is pictured in July, the month I was born. And Yount wore number 19, the day I was born. It’s kismet.

 

You’d never know it, though. As a kid, my family took me to a fair amount of games. I remember tailgating in the parking lots at County Stadium and always going with huge groups of people. I remember being there in 1992 when Yount got his 3000th hit and the crowd just standing and cheering for what seemed like forever. I remember going on a class fieldtrip in 7th grade and sitting in the bleachers, yelling at Greg Vaughn that he had a nice butt. I remember thinking I was going to miss the old stadium when they broke ground on Miller Park, even though I hadn’t been to a game in years.

 

What I wish I could pinpoint, however, is when I decided I was too cool for baseball. It had to have happened sometime between 1996 and 2001. I distinctly remember yelling at Vaughn and I distinctly remember going to my first game the year Miller Park opened, but why I didn’t care all those years in between, when I care so much now, is a mystery to me. And it’s not like 5 years without baseball is a long time in the grand scheme of things, but looking back as the fan I am today, I can’t believe I could go that long without attending a single game.

 

What I can pinpoint is the day I fell madly in love with the game of baseball, Brewers baseball in particular. April 9, 2004. How can a girl not fall in love on Opening Day? You will never experience the feeling you get on Opening Day any other day of the season. Even post season baseball doesn’t have the same feel. There’s something about the brisk air of spring inviting you in to the world of excitement and thrills and emotions that is baseball. Even though it was a last-minute decision to go to that game, I felt as if I’d been waiting for years for that day to come. It felt like the first time I’d ever been to a game, like I had no idea what to expect, my stomach full of butterflies, like I was the one walking out onto that field in front of 40,000 people. Even though I’d been to many Brewers games up to that point in my life, that game in particular made me realize what it meant to be a fan and I’ve never looked back.

 

Don’t ask me to recount details of that game. I couldn’t tell you who was in the starting lineup, who pitched, who had hits and scored runs–I can recall no stats whatsoever. I was so overwhelmed with just being there, caught up in the buzz of the crowd, that I barely paid attention. I cheered when they cheered and booed when they booed. I remember walking around Miller Park that day just soaking it all in. This was a day I would never want to forget. I may not be able to recount the actual game, but I remember the sights and sounds and smells. I remember that feeling in my stomach and I still get it every season when Opening Day rolls around. Ever since that day, Miller Park has branded itself in my adult memory, much in the same way that County Stadium did when I was a kid. When the baseball season starts, I need to be at the ballpark as often as I possibly can. No matter what, I can’t quell those feelings I get when I step through those turnstiles and why would I want to? I have yet to find something that can give me as much happiness that baseball can. It sounds a little sad, but it’s absolutely true. Baseball and the Brewers are my passion, one that’s found its way to me slowly but surely over the years. It’s something that I couldn’t imagine life without. I mean, why else would I suffer through these long Wisconsin winters if there wasn’t some sort of light at the end of the tunnel?

 

 

 

 

 

Completely unrelated, I’m guessing the majority of the commenters I’ve had recently failed to read the part of that post that said “I guess being a fan means different things to different people.” Still, I don’t like ballhawks and it’s pretty clear that they don’t like me. Let’s just leave it at that, as we all have to live with each other since we’re all baseball fans.

 

The start to the new Brewers?

I’m not dwelling on JJ Hardy’s departure. Sure, the Brewers lost a true hottie, a Top 10 Hottie no less, but here’s to hoping they gain much more. Much more by way of speedy, young center fielder Carlos Gomez.

2009 had been a horrible year for Hardy offensively. His career-low .229 AVG helped earn him an extended stay at Triple-A Nashville and it’s no surprise that with the way Alcides Escobar stepped up at shortstop that Hardy was on his way out of a Brewers uniform before the 2010 season could get underway. The move came quite quickly after the end of the World Series, sending Hardy to Minnesota in exchange for Gomez. 
So what the H do I know about Gomez? Not much other than what all the articles are telling me. He’d been spotty offensively for the Twins, losing his leadoff role and receding his time in the field. Although he’ll likely be the everyday center fielder for the Crew, as the Brewers have chosen not to pursue Mike Cameron, Gomez will have to be content with another spot in the lineup. Milwaukee recently reinstated second baseman Rickie Weeks and believe that with the way he started out last season, the leadoff spot will belong to him once again. I’ve read Gomez is quite fast, both on the base paths and in the field, so hopefully he’ll be a sufficient replacement for Cameron.
I am a bit sad to see, that because of this move, Mike Cameron will no longer be a part of the team. Although he never actually won any of his Gold Gloves with the Brewers, he sure showed us all why he’s earned them. I do not mind, however, him taking his strikeouts elsewhere. When Cam hits, he hits hard, but when he doesn’t, well… We’ve all seen the strikeouts. There have been far too many. I will miss his ginormous, infectious smile and the great attitude he brought to the team, though. I wish him nothing but the best wherever he ends up.
Infielder extraordinaire Craig Counsell filed for free agency yesterday. I would like to see the Brewers make him an offer for 2010. At 39, he had arguably his best season to date (even though he does have that 2001 World Series under his belt) and was seemingly able to come through in the clutch every time his team needed him. As a Wisconsin native and resident of Whitefish Bay, I’d like to see Counsell round out his career with the Brewers. That’s not to say he’s anywhere near done, but if he continues to play the way he did last season, Milwaukee should be sure to hang on to him as long as they can. He’s just an excellent utility man.
Now, I don’t really know who Adam Heether is, but he’s been added to the 40-man roster. Heether is another all-around infielder (who’s also played a bit of left field) that batted .293 last year in Nashville with 16 HRs and 59 RBIs. We’ll see what he can do come Spring Training, I suppose.
Now on to the rest of Milwaukee’s free agents… 
Aside from Cameron and Counsell, right-handed relievers David Weathers and Claudio Vargas have officially filed, although Weathers’ filing was simply a formality, as the club has already declined his 2010 option. As far as Vargas goes, if anyone in the Brewers organization listens to what I have to say, stay away. He’s been on this team twice now and both times I feel like he’s just been mediocre. If the team wants to get back to that winning record and another shot at the playoffs, dumping sub-par pitching needs to be done.
Corey Patterson, you suck. Good luck out there. You’re now free to strikeout anywhere other than in Milwaukee.
Frankie C, I’m gonna miss laughing at your name not fitting on the scoreboard if the Brewers don’t pursue you. Although, Catalanotto did do a relatively good job filling in for Corey Hart in right field last season and also did a fair job when called upon to pinch hit. I suppose I wouldn’t mind seeing him back next year.
Felipe Lopez did great while filling the hole left by the injured Rickie Weeks. But since Weeks will be back in 2010, it’s highly unlikely the Crew will be able to find an everyday job for Lopez. Weeks is set to take over at 2B and as leadoff, thus Lopez’s services probably won’t be needed. Awe. It’s really too bad. I’ve been pretty much in love ever since his 4-4 first game in a Brewers uni. 
Jason Kendall is still one that I’m up in the air over. Kendall really likes Milwaukee and has said he would like to continue playing with the team. And I don’t necessarily disagree with keeping him here. I think he brings experience and has the ability to call a great game. On the other hand, what would losing him mean? I don’t know if Mike Rivera is an everyday catcher and I really have no idea what Angel Salome is capable of. I do really like Kendall. I think the Crew should definitely keep that door open.
So, the Brewers have a lot of decisions to make before Spring Training. (Duh.) The most daunting task will be to find quality starting pitching. But since the 15-day deadline to file for free agency has really just begun, a bevy of pitching should become available in the coming days. I dare not make any big predictions here, but Milwaukee is in desperate need of at least one starting pitcher (ahem, John Lackey??) and should definitely make that their primary focus. As if it weren’t already…

This Year in Baseball

It’s been awhile. I know. Bear with me.

I’ve decided to forego talking about the World Series because I’ve been reading The Yankee Years and my disdain for that team is doing nothing but growing. Needless to say, I was disappointed in the outcome.

I’ve also decided to save my thoughts on the JJ Hardy-Carlos Gomez trade for another entry, as I’m getting kind of sick of people asking me about it and have far too much to say. Let’s leave it at this for now: excellent move for the Brewers. Mike Cameron, I’ll miss you.

Instead of all that, I’ve decided to let you all in on my votes for the This Year in Baseball Awards. I’ve literally been on that website for at least the last hour mulling over the choices. And instead of just voting for all the Brewers nominees and whomever else I liked the most throughtout the season, as I have in the past, I think I’ve actually made some very well thought out decisions this year.

 

Hitter

My team did have 2 nominees this year in Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. Looking at everyone’s numbers, Braun probably could’ve been bumped off the list, but needless to say, I was happy to see his name.

Naturally, I voted for Fielder. True, his average was kept just shy of .300, but he had held it quite near that mark the majority of the season. Ending at .299 was probably a bit of a disappointment, but his other numbers made up for it. Fielder led the league for RBIs, tied at 141 with Ryan Howard, went 2nd to Albert Pujols with 46 HRs, led in OPS with 1.014 and capped out with 103 runs.

If it weren’t for Prince, I was leaning towards Minnesota’s Joe Mauer and his league-leading .365 AVG and 28 HRs or the Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez’s .342 AVG coupled with 106 RBIs and 27 stolen bases.

 

Starter

Of course, with the Brewers’ abysmal starting rotation, there were none of my own boys to choose from, so I went with Zach Greinke of the Kansas City Royals. I’m sure he’ll walk away with this honor given his 16-8 record and 2.16 ERA, which led all other pitchers in the category. Not to mention he struck out 242 batters.

I picked Greinke over St. Louis starter Adam Wainwright, whom I do think is a strong contender for Cy Young this year with his 19-8 record (the Brewers spoiled his 20th win. Ha!) and 212 Ks. I also was considering Detroit’s Justin Verlander because of his 19-win season and 269 Ks, leading in that category.

 

Rookie of the Year

Picking a single winner is going to be tough. As far as batting goes, it’s a tough call. But so is pitching.

You must know that I voted for Casey McGehee, not only because of his strong offensive numbers, but because I was able to watch him on the field all season, too. Sure he led the rooks in RBIs with 66 and was 2nd in just about every other major batting category (.301 AVG, .859 OPS, 58 R and 16 HRs), but he battled his way to an everyday spot starting for the Brewers at third base and did a pretty damn good job at it, too.

If it weren’t for Casey’s name on the list, I more than likely would’ve voted for Chris Coghlan of the Florida Marlins. Coghlan led with a .321 AVG and 84 R, while knocking in 47 runs, stealing 8 bases and hitting 9 out of ballparks across the country.

As far as pitching, I just find it really hard to compare to everyday players at any other position. Tommy Hanson of the Braves went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA, struck out 116 batters and had a WHIP of 1.18. Oakland’s Andrew Bailey went 26/30 in save opportunities while striking out 91 batters, keeping his ERA well under 2.0 and had a mere .88 WHIP. (But I still finding batting stats way more impressive. Sorry.)

 

Manager

Although the winner will most likely be the Yankees’ Joe Girardi, who led his team to the best record in the MLB at 103-59, my vote goes to Jim Tracy. Tracy took over the sagging Colorado Rockies partway through the season and led them to a NL Wildcard victory with a 92-70 record.

 

Closer

Milwaukee’s own Trevor Hoffman was 37/41 with a 1.83 ERA, 48 Ks and a WHIP of .91.  Not the greatest, but he gets my vote because, well, he’s Trevor Hoffman. Jonathan Broxton of the LA Dodgers had a crazy-high 114 Ks and the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera did only blow 2 saves. He also had the lowest ERA with 1.76. But, as I’ve previously stated, I don’t like the Yankees. Therefore, I vote for NO YANKEES!

 

Set-Up

Who to choose? The Giants’ Jeremy Affeldt had the lowest ERA (1.73) and tied Matt Guerrier of the Minnesota Twins with 33 holds. Oakland’s Michael Wuertz led in strikeouts with 102 and with .95, had the lowest WHIP.

Even though there was a Brewer on this list, I just can’t vote for Todd Coffey with guys like Wuertz and Affeldt sharing the nomination. My vote foes to Jeremy Affeldt.

 

Defense

I can’t quite get a grip on what’s better: putouts or assists? Fielding percentage is one thing, but what should I be more impressed with–the number of outs you make, or the number of outs you help make? My vote is for the Angels’ Torii Hunter. He only made 1 error, giving him a fielding percentage of .997, while also having 286 putouts. Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies was also pretty impressive with .986 fielding percetage and 433 assists. But I based my decision solely on fielding percentage and went with Hunter.

 

Performance

Yovani Gallardo offered a stellar game vs. Pittsburgh in late April, taking the win entirely into his own hands. Gallardo went 8 innings, struck out 11 with no ERs and smacked a solo homerun, accounting for the only run the Brewers would need to secure a victory. But I didn’t vote for Yo.

White Sox starter Mark Buhrle gets a lot of praise for his perfect game against the Rays, but with only 6 strikeouts, I think a lot of the credit should really go to his teammates. So I didn’t vote for him, either.

Troy Tulowitzki impressed me the most hitting for the cycle, going 5-5 with 7 RBIs and scoring 2 runs. Why was this feat more impressive than the rest? Welllllllll, it was against the Cubs!

 

Play

I watched evey play, waiting for the best reaction. I needed to be impressed. Making a leaping catch at the wall to rob someone of a homerun? Big deal.

The winner? The flip from Angels’ Maicer Izturis to Erick Aybar. Izturis flipped the ball from his glove directly to the waiting bare hand of the human projectile that was Aybar in time to throw Kurt Suzuki out at first. I watched that clip twice just to be sure I was actually impressed. I was.

 

Moment

Hands down, the Angels’ tribute to fallen pitcher Nick Adenhart after winning the AL West. No other moment put a bigger smile on my face.

 

Oddity

This is the one that I vote on purely because of what makes me laugh the hardest.

I still get a kick out of Milton Bradley’s stupidity, but the absolute take-down of Racing President Teddy Roosevelt had tears in my eyes. That Peirogi was brutal!

 

Executive

Tag-teaming with my vote for Jim Tracy, I picked Rockies’ GM Dan O’Dowd for being the man with the plan. Who knows where Colorado would’ve finished in ’09 if O’Dowd hadn’t had a hand in firing Clint Hurdle, but kudos for making the move. It certainly paid off.

 

Unsung Star

With numbers all over the place, it was hard to decide on this one. I went with Jayson Werth of the Phillies. His .268 AVG, 36 HRs and 99 RBIs helped get his team to the post season yet again. But with names like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, then adding Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez, a name like Werth gets lost in the mix. (Although, after this post season, it probably won’t be lost for long.) Ben Zobrist of Tampa Bay was a very, very, very close second.

 

Post Season Moment

After Dexter Fowler leapfrogged Chase Utley in the 8th inning of Game 4 of the NLDS between the Rockies and Phillies, Colorado stirred up an eventual 4-2 lead going into the 9th. But, Ryan Howard smacked a 2-run double off of Rockies closer Huston Street to tie the game, giving the Phils enough momentum to eventually take the series. Since I’m a bit of a sucker for the Phillies (only after the Brewers, of course!), I chose that moment of Game 4 over Fowler’s gymnastics.

 

So there you have it. My picks. It’ll be interesting to see how many of my choices are actually winners. I’m guessing probably not many, but that’s alright. I have my reasons for voting the way I do and I’m quite impressed with myself for not just outright voting for the Brewers and Phillies like I’ve done in years past.

So that’s all I have in me after not posting for I don’t even know how long. But I promise I’ll keep it up a bit more, especially with all the free angents that will be floating around soon. And with the Brewers mounting need to pick up some key players. There will be much to write about soon enough.

 

 

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