Thursday, June 30, 2011

Preemptive strike

The fan voting for the 2011 MLB All-Star game starters ends tonight. Even though baseball fans are some of the smartest and savviest fans in the world, the fan voting always ends in utter ridiculous and highly biased choices. To counteract this inevitability, I am preemptively complaining about who will be chosen as the starters in the mid-summer classic. Many of the choices this year are slap-you-in-the-face obvious, yet preliminary voting results show that these same choices are not in line to get the nod.

Let's start with the American League.

Catcher - The pick here is Alex Avila without much room for argument. He has clearly been the best catcher all year long. Of course the winner will most likely be Russell Martin, a player who was carrying the Yankees the first month of the season but has tailed off quite a bit since. We are 0 for 1.

First Base - Mark Teixeira has been okay. Adam Lind and Paul Konerko have been great but not great enough. Miguel Cabrera is always in contention but Adrian Gonzalez is the most deserving player here. Luckily, he will also win the popularity contest so we're 1 for 2.

Second Base - No one stands out here between Howie Kendrick, Robinson Cano and Ben Zobrist. I would take Zobrist although Cano will most certainly win this vote. Let's call it a wash. The sad part will be if the likes of Ian Kinsler or Dustin Pedroia make the roster over those other, more deserving second basemen.

Third Base - Similarly, Adrian Beltre, Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Youkilis have all been solid if unspectacular. Take your pick. Mine would be for Beltre, but Rodriguez or Youkilis will most likely take the votes by tomorrow.

Shortstop - Really the only possible argument here is whether J.J. Hardy has come on enough to usurp Asdrubal Cabrera and be deserving of the starting nod. I would still stick with Cabrera. Of course, not to burst any bubbles but it is looking like Derek Jeter will win this unless Cabrera makes a strong, late day push. Either way, Jeter even being in this discussion is an outrage.

Designated Hitter - Real cut and dry here. The most deserving player is David Ortiz and he will win the voting.

Outfield - Almost too good to be true, the AL outfield has formed itself into three distinct and obvious candidates and no more. Jose Bautista, Curtis Granderson and Jacoby Ellsbury are the three guys who should be starting and in that order. Oddly enough, the Blue Jay is not the player needing votes to get it. Ellsbury trailed Josh Hamilton recently but not by much so there is still time for America to get this one right.

Starting Pitcher - Although the fans don't vote on the starting pitcher for the All-Star clubs, the decision can still be messed up. Justin Verlander deserves to win this but I am afraid the likes of Jered Weaver or Josh Beckett could steal it from him. It would be a crime if that happened.

Now on to the National League.

Catcher - Thankfully, this is a nice and easy start for the NL voters. Brian McCann should and will be the starting catcher for the game mid-July.

First Base - We are splitting hairs here between Joey Votto and Prince Fielder. I would give the slight edge to Votto but, oddly enough, it might not matter. Last check, Albert Pujols was still leading the voting for NL first basemen. For the first time in his career, Pujols might win something he doesn't deserve. Shout-out to Gaby Sanchez who is having a phenomenal first half and has absolutely zero chance of being voted in.

Second Base - I suppose Rickie Weeks deserves to be the starter here although I would enjoy it more if Nats rookie Danny Espinosa got the nod. This has no chance of happening so if Weeks wins, no complaints here.

Third Base - There is literally not a single deserving recipient of the starting third baseman's job. David Wright is still on the DL, where he's been for a while. Ryan Zimmerman didn't return from his DL stint long enough ago to accumulate any stats. I would vote for Chipper Jones and call it a lifetime achievement start. If Placido Polanco is voted in instead, I'll complain but simply because he stinks and not because someone else deserved it.

Shortstop - There must be some kind of mental block going around when it comes to voting for shortstops. Both leagues are about to get the most obvious votes incorrect. Calling Jose Reyes the odds on favorite to win NL MVP would not be a stretch. The fact that he trails Troy Tulowitzki in fan voting is probably a slight oversight on the level of Fox canceling Family Guy that first time. The only logical excuse to miss one of the easier votes here is that Mets fans are too depressed to submit ballots.

Outfield - Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun and Lance Berkman are the most deserving players on the NL ballot. Although it is not as crystal clear as the AL since Matt Holiday, Michael Morse or Drew Stubbs (if strikeouts don't matter) could be chosen over Berkman, there is no debate about the first two. The problem is Lance Berkman is not the outfielder on the chopping block right now, it's Kemp. Matt Kemp, the only other option to Reyes right now to win NL MVP, not being voted to start the All-Star game would be like Jose Reyes not being voted to start the All-Star game...

Starting Pitcher - Let's let the Phillies clubhouse attendants decide this one. Whoever is nicer to them, Roy Halladay or Cliff Lee, should get the nod.

So there you have it. With a few hours remaining in the voting, there are plenty of boneheaded mistakes about to come to fruition. I guess this is a game for the fans and they deserve to see whichever players they wish. It's just a good thing this game doesn't mean anything...Oh, that joke has been used too many times you say? Ehh, I don't care.

(Image courtesy of

Miscellaneous Me

Twitter Edition:

Trending nation-wide on Twitter this month were the following phrases.

#ripnickiminaj. Of course, we would all wish for hip hop singer Nicki Minaj to rest in peace. There is just one minor detail the entire country overlooked. She is, apparently, still alive.

"Idris Alba." I am sure the famed actor who played Stringer Bell on The Wire and had a guest spot on The Office for a season is very happy he was trending nation-wide, however, his name is Idris Elba. Should he take pride in the fact that he was obviously popular enough to gain such traction or should he be upset and saddened that he is clearly not yet famous enough for people to know how to spell his name?

Here are some athletes who could hope to trend as "Idris Alba" did: "Jonny Peralta", "Drew Holiday", "Sean Greene", and "Ryan Lindell."

In other miscellaneous news of the month:

#ESPNbook - My takeaway from all the coverage of the new ESPN book that came out, which I have not read other than the first 10 pages or so, is that Craig Kilborn is historically underrated in TV history. He was one of the first great Sportscenter anchors, creating catchphrases and blazing a trail for how the job would be done in the future. He then went on to host The Daily Show, now one of the most popular daily cable television shows in history. Afterwards, he had his very own late night show for a while and starred in movies. Now, off everyone's radar, Craig Kilborn is vastly underrated.

#whenanimalsattack - Ostriches are freaking terrifying in person. The have a dinosaur face, creepy, beady eyes and a hacksaw-sharp beak. Anyone who doesn't believe in evolution, I'm looking at you wacky religious people, stare an ostrich in the face and tell me it's not in the dinosaur family.

#stanleycupplayoffs - Here is some ridiculousness from the Stanley Cup playoffs: the Canucks had a negative goal differential for the entire playoffs yet made it to a deciding game of the Cup finals somehow. In those finals, goalie Roberto Luongo was pulled in two different games for being inept yet also threw up shutouts in two other games. The Sedin twins, 2010 league MVP Henrik and 2011 MVP finalist Daniel, were completely silenced in the series.

#bizarre - the term "adam's apple."

#theKilling - AMC's show The Killing is yet another perfect example of why my TV-watching theory is great. Rather than pick up a show at the beginning, get hooked and watch all year just hoping, begging that it doesn't disappoint and crush my soul at the end (i.e. The Killing), I instead wait a year, sometimes more, to make sure a show is good and worth following for an entire season or series. I can start watching Breaking Bad season one soon, knowing it will be worth my time.

#fantasyinjuries - I am sure ESPN fantasy sports injury expert Stephania Bell is a nice lady. However, she must be secretly delighted when her advice comes to fruition even at the expense of someone's season. Before the baseball season began, Stephania advised everyone to stay away from Marlin's ace Josh Johnson because of injury concerns. She took a lot of flak for this, especially after he got off to such a torrid start. Now that he is out and was recently moved to the 60-day disabled list, there must be some gratification from Bell, even if she wouldn't admit it.

#E32011 - Takeaways from watching the E3 entertainment expo shows on G4 this month: the new Uncharted game looks spectacular. The new Elder Scrolls game looks like a synonym of spectacular. I hope to attend this event one year.

#douglovesmovies - Doug Benson's creation, the Leonard Maltin Game, is fantastic. I enjoy this game and listening to people play it even though I have still never correctly guessed an answer. There's no novice edition when Doug Benson is in charge.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Yanks among men

The winding and endless drive up Montage Mountain Road was just building suspense. In actuality, my expectations were not high. It was minor league baseball after all. And yet, upon arrival, I realized this was going to be something worth seeing. Tucked under a cliff wall in a valley in Moosic, Pennsylvania sits PNC Field, the home of the Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees.

The game was going to be an afterthought, a sideshow to the experience and fun that can be provided at baseball which isn't played for paychecks and television. The venue was the opening act. For anyone who thought minor league stadiums couldn't be elegant or pretty, that myth is debunked. The stadium isn't big, supplying a "good" seat no matter where you are. This includes the grille and bar area resting atop the right field bullpen or the restaurant down the first base line with picturesque windows spanning its length, looking out onto the field.

There are no seats in the outfield because none are needed. Instead, the outfield wall is backed by cliffs of rock rolling down from a hill high above. This would be the backdrop for the fireworks display put on after the game had ended, the closing act to the entire production.

Of course the game itself cannot be completely overlooked. A great seat just a few rows behind the home dugout, for a price that would barely buy a bleacher seat in the Majors. That was where we were placed to watch the players that make up Triple A baseball, the veterans who were never quite good enough, the prospects who are not good enough just yet and the players who love the game who still think they might have another chance at the big show.

One of the top five prospects in the world, Jesus Montero, was supposed to be the prime attraction. He ended with one hit, a drive through the middle. Nothing would be made from this one game. Long and lanky prospect Andrew Brackman was also on my radar. Having a terrible time of things in the season so far, he closed out the ballgame surrendering no runs yet adding to his already inflated walk total. The final man on my notes to keep an eye on was one of the Yankees' opponents that night, hitting prospect Lonnie Chisenhall. However, he got the night off nursing some injuries, awaiting his call to the Majors that may come within the next few weeks.

The game's stars ended up being some former Major League players who found themselves back in Triple A. Former Oakland A's pitcher Greg Smith was the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starter this night and although he could barely touch 80 on the radar gun, he was confounding players all night long. He left the game allowing just a single hit and no runs.

The hitting star was not the big bopping Jorge Vazquez nor was it former Yankee favorite and current Columbus Clipper Shelley Duncan. Instead, one-time Major League fourth outfielder Greg Golson got the big double, the winning run as it were, since the Clippers were not able to scratch anything through all evening.

In the end, the experience was tremendous, one that cannot be topped by seeing the "real thing" in a Major League park because the actions cannot be duplicated. In no park would little children be allowed to announce the next batters up to the plate. They would not allow a man to propose to his girlfriend on the field during a mid-inning game. Heck, we couldn't even come inside with our boxes of candy that we got from the car parked just outside, free of charge.

It is not the best players playing the game at its highest level but it certainly is a lot of fun. The night wasn't about building television ratings. It was about the fans, the children, the scene, the stadium, the fireworks win or lose and watching those athletes, some playing in the hopes of reaching that next level and others knowing they never will.

(Image courtesy of