Wednesday, November 9, 2005
by Travis Brunson
Good Morning! If you missed yesterday's posting, be sure to click here to read my Q&A with David Dorsey. David writes for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Florida. I will have a few other topics at the bottom of the article today, but for our main feature today, we are going to stay in Fort Myers (Believe me, many of us in Northern Minnesota in mid-November love the concept of Ft. Myers right about now). Our Why Baseball writer today is Travis Brunson who is able to see Spring Training and the play of the Fort Myers Miracle throughout the summer as he lives just four miles west of Hammond Stadium. He is an investment advisor and commodity futures trader who finds himself often analyzing baseball more than those things!! Believe me, I can fully understand!
So, without further ado, I present Why Baseball?, by Travis Brunson:
My name is Travis Brunson and I live in Fort Myers, Florida. I moved here from Edina with my wife and our two girls in 2001. Fort Myers is a pretty good place to be a Twins/baseball fan.
I moved here not for baseball reasons, but for business ones. Since the move, however, I have become relatively obsessed with the Twins in particular and baseball in general; much to the chagrin of my wife. She used to think me slightly eccentric when it came to this stuff. I am quite certain that now she thinks I am a wacko. Now that it's November, she also doesn't know what to do with me in the evenings since I no longer have set plans 5-6 nights a week. A cursory review of some other baseball writers, professional and otherwise, shows that this is a common dilemma.
But I digress. And it's so early in the story. Typical.
Since I think all baseball fans have a million good reasons why they are baseball fans and why the game means so much to them, I thought I'd focus on what it was that caused me to embrace the game so strongly again in recent years now that I am a grownup (sorta).
Like a lot of baseball fans, I played various backyard versions of the game as a kid, anywhere and as much as I could. When school moved along, I joined the junior high and high school teams. Again, like a lot of fans, I was barely good enough to play on a bad team in a small town in Southern Minnesota in the mid and late 80's. I went to a couple of Twins games in the old Met that I can barely remember. I watched and rooted for the Twins in high school in 1987 and again in college in 1991, but I was only a casual fan. I wanted them to win. I enjoyed it when they did win. But I didn't really CARE day in and day out.
And then throughout the entire 90's I pretty much left the game entirely. I watched some. I sort of paid attention. But I probably watched 5 games a year on TV, went to maybe one in the dome every other season.
It was football and the Vikes that I cared about.
Every Minnesota sports fan knows what happened in mid-January 1999. I was at that game. A business associate of my father's hooked us up with tickets on the 45-yard line, 15 or so rows up, and was all set to hook us up with tickets in Miami as well. In the aftermath, I was near physically ill for three weeks after that game. I didn't know it at the time, although now looking back I am pretty certain that that game was a turning point for me.
In five short years, I would live and breathe baseball ... and it would be football that I would barely watch, let alone care about.
It started in the spring of 2001, right before we moved to Florida. The Twins had a great start that year. I don't remember how great, but I remember now that they were winning and that they seemed to have a bunch of likable young guys on the team. TK was still there and he was at least a remaining successful link to the past. It was probably nostalgia because we were moving, but I started watching several games a week. I watched more games in one week in the late spring of 2001 than I'd watched in the previous five years.
I honestly don't even remember why I started watching. I even convinced the wife to watch some with me and we managed to go to a couple of games. It was good stuff while it lasted, but then we left town.
The general chaos of a cross-country move, combined with a (then) lame MLB TV package and the Twins falling out of contention, soon made me forget all about the Twins for the time being. Then 9/11 happened and anyone who cares at all about baseball couldn't help but watch that November series. Hate the Yankees and Gee-Dubya all you want, but that "first pitch" strike he threw in Yankee Stadium remains, without question, in my view, the high-water mark of the man's presidency. Let alone that it was probably the best first pitch ever thrown; that I can recall anyway. Throw in those exciting finishes, and a 7-game final result that any Yankee hater could smile about, 9/11 or not. It was good stuff.
I could barely wait for spring training in our first full year in Florida.
During a couple of previous spring vacations, the missus and I managed to hit a couple of March games in Fort Myers. I probably take them for granted a little bit now, but coming from Minnesota after four months of winter, there is little better than sitting in the 80 degree sun, drinking some Budweiser(s) & watching a mix of stars and AAA guys play some baseball for an afternoon. Tickets used to be cheap, something like $8 for the best seats. They're more than double this now, but such is life. I specifically remember seeing Cal Ripken in the Spring of 1999; the crowd went nuts like they always do for Cal, and he signed autographs for fans for nearly an hour. I can't even remember if he played in the game, probably not; that warm sun and a couple of beers will tend to make one care less about the specifics.
Every baseball fan, especially those living in the North, owes it to themselves and the family to go to a Spring Training baseball game.
I went to a fair handful of games in the spring of 2002. But once the season would start, I'd pay attention from afar. I watched the 2002 postseason, was pleasantly surprised at the Twins making the ALCS; and then was semi-bummed as I watched the Angels suck the life force out of the Twins.
Similar story in '03. A bunch of spring training games; a regular season viewed from the way outside; another postseason watching a
different opponent (The Yankees this time) again suck the life out of the Twins. And then, through some luck (or fate), of all things, the
Florida Marlins, after a disastrous start and a mid-May coaching change, managed to make the NL wildcard and defeat the reigning NL champs, the Giants.
Correctly figuring that seeing an NLCS game would rarely be so cheap (I think the ticket was only around $35) or easy (2 hour drive) again, a buddy and I managed to see Game 5 between the Cubs and the Marlins. Down 3 games to 1, things were looking pretty grim for the hometown team. But the Fish, who play in the slightly cavernous Dolphins (then ProPlayer) Stadium, had two major things going for them. First, they were lucky enough to be playing the Cubs. And for anyone who's been paying attention to either the Cubs or that series, playing the Cubs was almost enough. But the other major thing was that they had this young hillbilly-looking guy on the mound that day.
And the hillbilly was hot. And at the end of the 2003 season, the hillbilly was "throwing aspirin tablets," as they say. And I got to see the hillbilly (or, as everyone knows, Josh Beckett) throw nine innings of shutout baseball and send the series back to Chicago. Where, as we all know, the Cubs acted like the Cubs. Which, again luck and the fates would have it, conspired to send me to my first ever World Series games.
I managed to see games 3 and 5. The Marlins went on to win game 5 to go up 3-2, and then the hillbilly sealed the deal back at Yankee stadium on three days rest for game 6. In one of the great all time managerial moves, the septuagenarian skipper Jack McKeon lit a big stogie at the postgame press conference. One of the first things out of his mouth, after taking a big puff, was whether any of the geniuses in the media crowd now had any questions about his decision to start the kid on three days rest. Classic.
Well, in 2004 I lost my baseball mind. I went to even more spring training games. Soaked in more March baseball sun; with the fortunate side effect of drinking more Budweiser & avoiding productive things, like work. That spring we started hosting friends from Minnesota for a couple of long weekends and we'd go to the games (amongst other Florida fun). There were again high hopes for the Twins who had, again, brought back most of their core guys for another run.
And in May of 2004, I went and did something that my wife now must certainly regret. I saw Michael Lewis' "Moneyball" at the bookstore. I bought it. I brought it home. And I finished it in about two days. My life has not been the same since.
Leaving aside the giant leaps, broad conclusions, and other liberties that Mr. Lewis takes in the book (that are apparent now, they weren't so much so then), it is a pretty good book. Lewis writes in a very readable fashion. He makes some convincing arguments. And the subtle humor is top-drawer. Ever since I read his "Liar's Poker" in the early 90's and shook the bed from laughing at 2 in the morning, I've been a fan of Lewis.
What was so great about "Moneyball" for me was not so much its point about the Oakland A's, Billy Beane, or on-base percentage, but that there was entire other world of knowledge and arguments to be had about baseball. I guess I had always somewhat subscribed to the idea that what these guys did on the field was akin to voo-doo, or something that mortals could not figure out, let alone accomplish (although this is, I think, still true). I had no idea that there was this vast a universe of baseball fans, whether called stat-geeks, sabermetricians, or whatever, and that individual parts of the game of baseball could be so easily broken down and analyzed in an attempt to figure out each individual's contribution to the end result. I knew that baseball kept a lot of stats, but I never knew that they could tell a story in and of themselves. Or how they'd explain with hard proof and facts, over time, certain things about ballplayers that your own eyes would fail to discern. Or how important seemingly minor differences between the stats could mean to a team trying to win ballgames.
I discovered Bill James because of "Moneyball." And this alone made it worthwhile reading, regardless of whether or not one agreed with its premise. I discovered all these good statistical websites and blogging sites because of this further inquiry. I now watched tons of baseball games, live and on TV, now with an eye towards picking apart all these small pieces. I'd come to realize watching and reading all this stuff how superficial and thin the mainstream media's coverage of this great game is. I realize that by knowing more, I come to understand how little I do know.
So while all these reasons attempt to answer the query "why baseball?" for me, there also remains the simple fact that baseball is at its core a great game. Even if someone could care less about statistics, or even has a team to root for, baseball is great because a baseball field is a beautiful place (well most of them anyway) to spend a few hours. It is a great game because almost everyone can enjoy sitting outside in the sun (for those of us lucky enough to do so from time to time) watching regular guys do amazing things. It is great game for stat geeks because the myriad ways of analyzing the game and its players can lead to an infinite amount of great arguments (like this unanswerable gem, for example; is Torii Hunter is a great ballplayer or just a pretty good one? If so, how great? Is he overpaid? And by how much? And this is but one slice of one tiny argument about one player at one place in time on one team.)
It's great because in no other sporting event is the phrase "Nothing is Over" (see Bluto from "Animal House") more true than baseball. If your football team is down by three touchdowns, a minute left, no timeouts and the other team has the ball on first down ... head for the car. But if your home team in baseball down by three runs, bottom of the ninth, two outs, 0-2 count, nobody on ... hey, anything is possible. There may be one more pitch in the game, or one hundred.
It is great because anytime during an entire spring and summer, for $5 a head, I can take my family to a nice ballpark for a minor-league game and the occasional fireworks show. And while there, we get to watch some pretty good baseball. I get to watch some Twins of the future; the boss and I get to watch our future run around in the bleachers and eat cotton candy with their friends. And the missus and I get to hang out; and of course, enjoy a couple of Budweisers.
And I can't think of too many things that can top that.
Heck, that's easy. I want to know why Florida doesn't have a fall league.
But for now, I'm guessing plus or minus 100 days until pitchers and catchers report.
So, there you have it. Another wonderful Why Baseball article! Thank you Travis for taking the time to write up this essay. I think it was excellent! Let me know what you think. If you would like to ask me or Travis any questions, please feel free to e-mail me.
TWINS (and other baseball) THOUGHTS
Yesterday, the American League Cy Young Award went, to no one's surprise, to the incorrect hands of Bartolo Colon of the Angels. The Twins' Johan Santana came in third place, also expected. You know my opinion on this topic, I have stated it over and over. Maybe I just don't understand the given criteria for the Cy Young Award. Is it supposed to go to the pitcher with the most wins? Or, should it go to the league's best pitcher? If it goes to the pitcher with the most Wins, well, then why even vote on it? If it goes to the league's best pitcher, well, then the award should absolutely go to Johan Santana. Of course, some may argue that the 2nd place finisher, Mariano Rivera, should have won. I would say that he got about 220 hitters out this year while Santana and Colon each got more than 660 hitters out. Enough said. Honestly, I could go on and on about how ridiculous this is. I could discuss how the old-school just doesn't get it. I could talk about how Colon got over 6 runs of run support per game and did not have to deal with the blown saves and lack of run support that Santana did. That unless the pitcher throws a complete game shutout, he can not completely control whether or not he gets the Win. It is so incredibly frustrating that these writers just don't understand. Obviously I don't claim to know everything, or to always be right, but as you can tell, this concept just completely frustrates me. Of course I don't think that Colon is a bad pitcher, and no one is saying that. He just wasn't as good as Santana in 2005. Not even close. Any thoughts? E-mail me.
Others had similar thoughts:
- Santana himself doesn't begrudge Colon winning, but he also knows that he did better and simply put, the rest of Colon's team was better than the Twins throughout the season ,and that is what cost him.
- Stick and Ball Guy is quite uncomplimentary toward Colon and his physique.
- And, you had to know that Aaron Gleeman would have some thoughts on the Official Pitcher of his site!
- Twins Killings used VORP to show just how much better Santana was than Colon.
- Jayson Stark at ESPN.com gets it. He really does. He shows very well why Santana was more deserving!
- Over at Baseball Musings, there are a couple of great quotes on the topic, "Once again, the win total carries the day over the actual ability to keep runs off the board, the real job of a pitcher" and "It seems to me that the AL voters are in the John Kruk school of what stats are important in evaluating pitchers."
- I have to agree with 'benjah' who Commented at Baseball Musings when he wrote, "cy young, gold gloves, whatever......the voters suck, end of story" With all of these awards, the voters just must not take enough time really looking at them. The Gold Gloves are a joke, primarily based on reputation. The Cy Young is based on a statistic that the pitcher can not control. I used to love hearing the winners of such awards, but now realize that they really don't mean much at all. The problem is that now Colon will forever be called the 2005 AL Cy Young Winner, and in 50 years, people will assume that he was the league's best pitcher.
My other favorite topic related to the Minnesota Twins is the stadium issue stuff. OK, I hope you could feel my sarcasm. I despise the whole stadium situation. A couple of weeks ago, the Twins again sued the Metrodome board to get out of their lease. Yesterday, the Metrodome board responded by saying that the Twins will be back in 2006 but want a "Get-out-of-Minnesota-free card for use in future years." My response... Do you blame them? Most other cities have been providing stadiums to their major league teams in baseball and other sports. The Twins have proposed some very fair plans to the legislature and have either been turned down, or have not been given so much as a special session or the time of day in the courts. So honestly, as much as I hate writing about it and would hate if the Twins left town, I would completely understand their decision to do so. And I would completely blame the Minnesota legislature for not playing ball in the system that is out there.
The Baseball Analysts have a very interesting couple of articles on the top free agents this year. Jacque Jones is in the Top 20. Is he in the Top 10, or is he in the 11-20 range? And how much do they predict he will be signed for?
A couple of sources are saying that the Twins will now keep Torii Hunter in centerfield since the Yankees have decided that they will not trade Robinson Cano in exchange. So, is Torii really off of the trading block, or are Terry Ryan's statements in the Strib just a cover up for other trade possibilities. Personally, I prefer the Twins get Howie Kendrick for Hunter instead of Cano.
I am intrigued by this steroid story that ESPN The Magazine will have coming out. It's not that I care if anyone has and it won't affect my thinking. I still think that Wally Joyner is a good guy and was a great player. It will just be interesting to hear the names. I also want the story to stop being made into such a big deal, particularly by Congress! They need to stay out of this!
What a guy Ugueth Urbina is, huh? The man is being held in Venezuela with attempted murder charges. It is alleged that he and others attacked five workers in his ranch, with machetes. Then they poured gasoline all over them in an attempt to burn them. Yes, quite the humanitarian! Urbina is claiming that he was sleeping at the time!
Check out the primarily Twins site, Simply-Baseball-Notebook with some interesting articles on Kirby Puckett, Justin Morneau, Scott Baker, Chris Heintz and more.
Quick update on the Twins prospects in the Arizona Fall League:
Glen Perkins is still 0-0, but he has a very impressive 3.00 ERA in 27 innings pitched. He has given up 27 hits, but has a very impressive 6 walks and 30 strikeouts.
Travis Bowyer gave up two runs on six hits yesterday. It actually dropped his ERA to 9.39. In 15.1 innings, he is 0-2. He has given up a non-impressive 28 hits, including four homers. However, he has walked just two and struck out 19. Again, he is down there to develop secondary pitches.
Ricky Barrett is now 0-3 with an ERA of 10.13. In nine games, he has thrown 10.2 innings. He has given up 16 hits and 11 walks, while striking out just six. His ERA is bad, but of the 20 runs he has allowed, just 12 have been earned. I am sure that there are plenty of errors behind him with all those walks!
Denard Span has settled down now. He is hitting .287/.330/.351 with four doubles and a triple. His six walks aren't great, but I don't mind his 8 strikeouts in 104 plate appearances. He is 6-11 in stolen base attempts.
Garrett Jones knocked his sixth homer of the Fall League yesterday. He is hitting .282/.337/.612 with eight doubles and six homers. In 92 plate appearances, he has seven walks but 24 strikeouts.
Matt Moses went 2-4 yesterday. He is hitting .246/.258/.311 with a double and a homer. In 62 plate appearances, he has just one walk and has struck out 15 times!
Down in Venezuela:
The other day, Matt Guerrier made another impressive start. He went seven innings and gave up just two runs (one earned). He has three wins and a 1.73 ERA.
Alex Romero continues to hit. He is hitting .319 in 14 games and the writers of On-Deck Baseball say he could become a Coco Crisp type of player.
Former Twin Michael Restovich is really playing lights-out down there. He is hitting .382 with five homers and a league-leading 23 RBI.
And on those notes, I am going to call it a day. I certainly hope that you have found the "Why Baseball" article by Travis worth reading, and I hope that many of you will be interested in participating. I will be back tomorrow with another very interesting guest column by "Roger". If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me.
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