Friday, November 14, 2003

The Manny Within Me

Well, the dentist went better than expected, but considering that I compare going to the dentist with being sacrificed to an Aztec god, that's not saying much.

Remember the stories how when Derek Lowe during the '02 season started to develop the odd "pimple" on his nose but he chose to ignore it just because he didn't feel like going to the doctor? I'm pretty much the same way, and I expect a lot of you are as well. It's interesting, too, how in the case of Lowe even though his pimple turned out to be a cancerous, he still tempts the fates by continuing to chew tobacco.

I hate to say it, but I imagine I might do the same.

On this subject, do you ever reflect on what kind of player you'd be if you were gifted enough to make the Show? I bet you do. I do it all the time. And I don't mean so much imagining what kind of player you'd be physically or technically but rather how would your demeanor, attitude, quotes to the beat reporters etc. be perceived by the fans?

While I'm certain we all like to envision ourselves as the ultimate team player and all around good guy and fan favorite, I suspect that really wouldn't be the case for many of us and I certainly include myself in this latter grouping.

Imagine the situation that you're, say, an All Star shortstop. You've won gold gloves, you steal 30 bases a year,etc. Now imagine that you get a new GM and a new manager and maybe they're of the Beane style and they don't want you to steal bases anymore. Not at all. Worse, they're thinking maybe they'd like to try you at a different position, one you've never played before, not even in Little League.

We see these sorts of situations quite often in baseball, right? And more often than not the player involved doesn't much like the moves and comes across as peevish and not a team player and we, the fans, and the media jump all over him.

Now let's say in your own real career you're an All Star talent at a particular task. You've been in books as a case study example of how to do that task well; you've won awards; you're really at the top of your game. However, rather abruptly, the situation changes. Your employer has a new business model and they don't want you or need you to do that particular task you're an All Star at anymore.

Chances are you probably aren't that enthused about it. You want to be the proverbial "team player" but you keep thinking about how many errors you might make at the new position, let alone how you can't imagine doing anything than what you have been doing because, well, it's just what you do, what defines you. And you worry, too, about how your base stealing skills will atrophy if you no longer can practice them and it's these very skills that make you valuable to another club when it's time for free agency. Meanwhile, you should be thinking about the greater good of the company/team than or yourself, right?

Like I said, in such a situation, I'm more prone to pull a "prima donna" attitude than a "cowboy up" attitude. It's so easy to expect everyone else, especially MLB players, to always take the moral high road, but when push comes to shove in our own lives we find it's not so easy to live up to those same standards we set for players.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

The Anti-Dentite

So Schilling schez,

"I'm not going to Boston. I never said that (I was). I never mentioned Boston. I'm a right-handed fly ball pitcher. In Fenway Park, that's not a tremendous mix."

What a wussie, eh?

Speaking of wussies it's that time again: Time to go to the dentist for my ritualistic (think sacrificial blood offerings to an Aztec god) six month check up and cleaning. You know I already don't much like going. But I'm dreading it more than usual today, as I discovered last May and much to much consternation that the new dentist my plan forces me to go to has a particularly "chatty" dental hygienist.

It's enough to hear the usual doom and gloom ("Oh, sure, your teeth are fine now but you're getting older and eventually all your teeth are going to fall out and then you'll die like the insignificant piece of flawed humanity you are!" … Well, at least that's how I process it.), now I have to mix that in with incessant prattle and questions about my work and my family and my personal history along with insufferable soliloquies on her daughter's forthcoming wedding (perhaps that's come and gone which means I'll learn sure well how the cake tasted and who caught the bouquet) and her son's job ("He's an artistic genius.") …

It's funny, right, how I have no problem sharing my inner most thoughts with the entire World Wide Web here on this blog, but I can't stand to discuss personal matters with strangers face to face, especially when I'm in the god forsaken reclining chair getting my mouth yanked about and that friggin' bright light beaming down on me.

Of course, the worst part is facing my own ineptitude: I'm just too polite or timid or otherwise lame to just say, "Lady, for the love of God will you please stop talking to me?"

So there you have it, the continuing confessions of an anti-dentite and overall dental wussie.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

You've Got To Move To Work

Howard Bryant (who single handedly makes the Herald's premium online access worth the money) has an interesting take on the persona both Pedro Martinez and Red Sox management have put forth recently regarding contract negotiations:

If Martinez displayed ambivalence toward the Red Sox logo, Epstein did not exactly rush to play the traditional role of club executive considering a player with emotion first. The organization is still not convinced star power is as important as previously thought.

For both sides, the issues will be about business, about the length of a contract, at a given price, in conjunction with varied market forces.

The result is a level of honesty that in its own way is chilling. Teams have acted out of self-interest and ruthlessness for decades. Players, once given their freedom in 1975, left their clubs on a regular basis. But the naked acknowledgement from both is new and, for the fan, very dangerous (Bryant, Herald).

The fan "danger" Bryant speaks stems from the notion that "the fan expects the player to tie himself to the team with a similar passion as the person in the seat, who lives as the team does. Without this buy-in, 45 days of spring training, followed by a 162-game season at premium prices becomes a more difficult sell."

And Bryant wonders, "Thus, the question seems to be this: Can the logo survive without the superstar?"

cartoon of Red Sox players clutching various good luck charmsI for one certainly think so. But maybe I'm an odd fan in this regard? I've never really formed a greater attachment to any individual player than I have for the Red Sox gestalt.

I am the quintessence of brand loyalty in this regard. Maybe this is self-protection or denial on my part? That is, maybe I don't let myself get attached to a player because I understand too well the real world situation of teams and players acting out of "self-interest and ruthlessness"? [Aside: nice pun there at work in 'ruthlessness.']

Perhaps. I think it's more a case of my own experience with work and a belief that baseball always has and always will mirror the culture at large. What I'm saying is that to make it in American culture quite often means you have to be willing to move, to follow the job. In previous generations it was normal that you'd grow up, work, marry, raise a family all within a pretty tight radius around your hometown.

For me personally and for many you as well I suspect, we haven't been able to live that way. I left my hometown to find work in the Boston area because there were more opportunities. I left New England when it no longer offered me the career ops I was looking for. I went to Texas for 7 years because I found good gig down there. Left Texas to come to Virginia because of a better offer and more opportunity. I'll most certainly leave VA at some point because of a better deal somewhere with another "club."

That's life. Yet I've been very fond of each place I've lived and have given the proverbial 110% to every employer I've had. That's what being a professional is all about. So it's completely normal in my mind if Nomar or Pedro go and play for another team.

An Honor and a Privilege

I'm not ashamed to admit I took great pleasure in seeing Bambino's Curse listed on the "Periodic Table of Bloggers." And if that isn't enough, I'm positioned just above Lileks (my fave web columnist) and just to the left of the wildly popular Instapundit. Sweet.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

I Like It (I'm Not Gonna Crack)
I Miss You (I'm Not Coming Back)

After reading the translation at DirtDogs of the public letter B.K. Kim published on his personal website, I can't help but really feel deep sympathy for him.

The Boston fans are enthusiastically in love with baseball and the Boston Red Sox team. I was surprised the first time there, but after staying in a few months, I had the feeling that the fans and Boston media both try to catch something overexerted. The Boston players seemed to feel too much stress. The fans wishing to win a World Series by breaking Bambino's curse, and the media trying to make troubles, and reporting the troubles were strange to me.

Think about it. Even players or managers who grew up in New England and know first hand the intensity of the Red Sox fan and media experience have difficulty adapting to the unique pressures of Boston. Players from other regions who come to play for the Red Sox are more often than not overwhelmed by it all. Now take a guy who isn't just from a foreign place like Mexico or the Dominican Republic that is culturally similar, relatively speaking, to the US but who is from the truly world's away culture of Korea and move him from the comparatively relaxed atmosphere of Arizona and put him in Boston? Oh and add to it that he's seen as the ultimate savior to rescue the at the time worst bullpen in all of baseball in the middle of a pennant race.


When you think about it, we should be amazed Kim didn't really snap to the point where the guys in the white jackets came to take him away to a padded room for further observation.

Here's to hoping his next year in Boston goes better for him as he now at least knows what to expect and can mentally prepare for it. Hell, maybe he can be "unfazed" with it all like Manny Ramirez allegedly is.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Pruning the Vine

Yesterday I spent a good portion of the day cleaning out my closet (and I mean the literally rather than figuratively). This was a task long overdue and now, having completed it, I'm disappointed in myself for putting if off as long as I did because the simple act of cleaning and organizing a closet has put me, no kidding, into one of those "all is right with the world" moods.

I aspire to a zen like state of simplicity, but my natural inclination is that of the pack rat. While I hear the voice of reason in my head didactically saying, "If you haven't worn it [i.e., some article of clothing] in six months, toss it out or give it away but just get rid of it," such doesn't come easy for me. I guess it's an overriding sense of nostalgia that has me hanging on to things far longer than I should. Get this: I culled seven paper grocery bags (packed to bursting) worth of discarded clothes yesterday.

And like I said, now I feel great.

So what does this have to do with baseball?

It's GM meeting time, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and our man in Arizona is ready:

Epstein… gave indications he is willing to consider offers for any player on the current Sox roster, including Pedro Martinez and Nomar Garciaparra, players who are entering the last year of their contracts (Edes, Globe).

It very well may be time to clean out the Red Sox closet. I know for many of you the notion of a Red Sox team without Nomar or Pedro or even Manny (though less so) is difficult to bear. As fans we have both nostalgia and attachment to particular players. It's natural. But we can't let that get in the way of the greater good.

And that greater good is defined by Theo Epstein as follows:

"For the Red Sox, we look at the winter as an opportunity to get better. We're going to explore every single possibility to get better and put a winning team on the field in 2004, improve on last year's team if possible, and set ourselves up as a consistent perennial contending team [emphasis is mine] (Edes).

A better metaphor than the cleaning out of the closet (which doesn't necessarily imply improvement) is that of the vine grower (Theo) and vine (Red Sox roster).

If you'll excuse my heavy borrowing from the Anabaptists for a secular purpose (well, they do our faith as Red Sox fans borders on religion!), consider this:

In choosing to prune a branch rather than discard it, the vine grower is both recognizing its past fruitfulness and expressing faith in its future fruitfulness. And when the vine grower comes with a pruning knife, what gets cut away?  Weeds?  Thorns?  Disease?  No, the vine grower cuts away the healthy wood of the branch.  Not because it's bad, not because there's anything wrong with it, but because in the coming season the long branch would sap energy needed to grow fruit.

 In the life of the vine, it seems a brutal reward for a branch that has yielded luscious grapes to cut off six, eight, even 10 feet of its luxuriant growth, leaving only a stub of a few inches.  What vine grower would be so merciless?  The answer is, any vine grower who wants to make the branch as fruitful as possible (Kropf and Hall).

So don't pine over those players, those energy sappers, Theo Epstein decides to prune from the Red Sox vine, but instead imagine the future fruit, the wine of victory.