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July, 1997

What were you doing in 1997?

Let me refresh your memory –
Titanic was the top movie of the year. But, if you were like me, you found Good Will Hunting to be more your speed.
The top song of the year, according to Billboard, was “Candle in the Wind 1997” by Elton John because it was the same year the world said goodbye to Princess Diana.
We also lost Mother Theresa, Notorious B.I.G., Gianni Versace, and Married With Children –
But we welcomed Hanson (Mmmbop), the Harry Potter series, Pokemon, America’s first female secretary of state (Madeline Albright), and Dolly the Sheep’s clone.
Bill Clinton was still president!

Back in 1997, now 20 years ago, (watch out, I’m about to admit my age here) I was a 14-year-old girl living in a small town in northeastern Ohio and had just completed the 6th grade. On July 7, I watched my first baseball game – the 1997 All Star game live from my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio!

When I started watching baseball, Bartolo Colon and I were still in Cleveland – and we both weighed a lot less.

It’s funny to think about how much baseball has changed, how much the world has changed, and how much I’ve changed in those twenty years. When I watched that All Star game, I was sitting in my living room – without air conditioning – looking at a tv that only got a handful of channels and, by today’s standards, was ridiculously small. Sandy Alomar, Jr was the MVP – and a hell of a catcher for the Indians at that time (my favorite). Now, he’s the first base coach for the Indians. The first base coach for the Detroit Tigers is his former teammate Omar Vizquel.

The Indians went to the World Series that year, and lost in game seven the (then) Florida Marlins. The heartbreak I experienced during game seven of the 2016 World Series is the only thing that has softened the blow of that loss. This week, the (now) Miami Marlins drafted Joe Dunand, Jr – the nephew of Alex’s Rodriguez (who first caught my eye about 5 minutes after I started watching baseball in 1997).

This year, on July 8 – twenty years and 1 day since I started watching baseball – I’ll be returning “home” for Andrew Miller night in Cleveland, and taking my 8-year-old nephew to his first baseball game. If I was finishing my first year of middle school in 1997, Andrew Miller was finishing elementary school; he probably wasn’t 5 feet tall yet and no one in the world could have known what kind of bullpen hero he would develop into (of that he would eventually become my Hero).

What does it mean that all of these things are now a distant memory? First, it means I’m getting older… But as I’ve mentioned multiple times before, it also means I’ve seen a lot of history. And, also like I’ve said before, I’m thankful for that history.

I’m thankful to have watched baseball in the height of, and the decline of, steroid use.
I’m thankful to have seen pitchers develop into the magicians they are today.
I’m thankful to see young players like Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, and Manny Machado (my personal favorite) show up and light baseball on fire.
I’m thankful for watching my all-time favorite, Alex Rodriguez, play for 20 years, and even for his retirement, because I can appreciate his talent, his high points – and his low points – and his man he’s become after all the chaos
I’m thankful for the Cleveland Indians because without them, baseball would be just another game to me.
And I’m even thankful for not one, but two blow game sevens – because I’ve always known how emotional baseball could be, and because I needed that “coming home” moment last fall to remind me where my journey began.

July is special to me. Each year during the All Star game, I’m thankful I started watching this game. A few years ago, I joined twitter specifically to talk about this game, and two years ago started my baseball blog. This July, exactly two decades later, I will have the opportunity to share this game with my nephew Hunter.

Will he be as mesmerized by the game as I was? Will he see a player on the field he immediately knows is his favorite? Will he love the game as much as his Aunt Jess does?

Maybe none of those things happen – but you know I’ll certainly try my best to share my love of this wonderful game.

Looking Back at 2016

It’s been awhile – nearly five months if you’re counting.

This was a long offseason; a very fitting follow up to a difficult baseball season.

Fans should be passionate about baseball, but they shouldn’t be emotional. That’s a typical “girl” reaction and considering some people don’t even consider us legitimate fans, we should hide our emotions.

Last season wasn’t an easy one for me. I had a trifecta of gut-wrenching moments: the retirement of my favorite player, the trade of another favorite, and watching my hometown team lost the World Series. Again.

But – if I didn’t feel so strongly about each of those three things, I wouldn’t be the fan I am today.

***

As I’ve mentioned (many times), I became a baseball fan in 1997, and an Alex Rodriguez fan approximately five minutes later. Watching him play when he was just an insanely talented young shortstop in Seattle changed who I am as a baseball fan.

We all know someone, probably many people, who don’t like baseball because it’s “boring”. They see a lack of action on the field so the entire game drags on. Fans of the game know there’s so much more than meets the eye. We can appreciate how much of the game is mental rather than physical, and we can feel excitement even when there is no action.

Watching Rodriguez play in his early seasons brought this to life for me. It wasn’t because he was a good-looking guy pictured in magazines – it was because his fielding was energetic and I could feel the excitement every time he came up to bat. Suddenly, the game was so much more than just a guy throwing a ball, and another guy who may or may not hit it and run around the bases. It was the intellect behind the game and understanding the thought that went into each pitch, each at bat, and each play on the field. Baseball was anything but boring!

***

My appreciation for pitching is still developing. Admittedly, I don’t fully understand all the physics behind it, but I am constantly fascinated and learn a little more each game I watch.

Andrew Miller was the first pitcher I really “noticed”, and watching him pitch, at least in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful things in baseball. What impresses me about Miller compared to other pitchers is that he makes it look so effortless. He takes the mound, throws a few pitches (frequently facing the minimum number of batters), then strides over to the dugout like it was nothing.

Even more impressive is he’ll do that every game for multiple innings (any innings) if the team needs him to – and you’ll never hear a complaint. He seems to be exactly the kind of guy you want on your team and in your bullpen – a leader who puts the team before themselves.

As disappointing as it was to see the Yankees trade him, I’m glad he went to Cleveland. From the moment the trade was announced, Indians fans were happy to have him – and I’m certain it was genuine because Cleveland is home for me, and I know their fans; I grew up as one of them. Miller showed all the same character and talent in Cleveland as he did in New York. He embraced the city as his new home, he pitched whenever and whenever Terry Francona needed him, and even changed his entrance song because Indians closer Cody Allen was using the same one (Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”).

***

And Cleveland – oh, Cleveland…! My hometown, known most infamously for losing sports teams and our river catching on fire, is where I became a baseball fan. For most of my life growing up, the Indians were the only baseball I could watch. Occasionally I would see a Mariners or Yankees game at my friend’s house (she had satellite TV and MLB Extra Innings – a big deal for that time), but Indians games were consistent. I was fortunate enough to see them make it to the World Series twice – and unfortunate enough to see them lose both.

Witnessing the Indians win the ALCS (with Andrew Miller’s help, no less) was one of the most exciting moments I’ve experienced as a baseball fan. The team seemingly came out of nowhere to make it to the World Series for the first time in 19 years. When the Cubs won the NLCS, I was slightly less excited. Both teams had long and disappointing histories. Regardless of what happened, the winning team deserved the win and the losing team would have to suffer a little longer. I was on the Cubs bandwagon right through the NLCS along with so many others.

Game seven was an emotional rollercoaster. I felt myself go from the extreme high after Rajai Davis hit that homerun, to the extreme low when Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo completed the final out. There I was for a third time in my life, crying over another disappointing Cleveland loss in the World Series.

But – that loss lead me to something good: it led me back to the Indians. I’ve never stopped being a fan, but I admit I haven’t always been a good fan. A lot of people don’t think it’s possible to have more than one favorite team, but I have to disagree. Cleveland is home, and the Indians are the team I loved first. If I didn’t watch their games, I would have seen Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees, or any other players/teams – and I may not be a baseball fan today.

***

What will 2017 bring? It’s the start of a new era for me as a fan. Thinking about what I’ve seen in the last twenty years makes me excited to start the next twenty years. My favorite player may be retired, I may never fully understand pitching, and my hometown my never win the World Series again – but who knows what exciting things are still to come.

Whatever happens, I just hope I’m there to witness it – and I hope I never experience such an emotional season again!

A Cleveland Love Letter

No matter what team we’ll be cheering for tonight, baseball fans everywhere can agree this is going to be a good World Series. Both teams, along with their fans, have been waiting their whole lives (or longer) for this moment.

For just the third time in my lifetime, the Cleveland Indians are going to the World Series, and I couldn’t be happier.

I’ve been told several times, by a variety of people, that you can’t have more than one favorite team. To be honest, I don’t really care what any of those people think. There are four teams in Major League Baseball I would be incredibly happy to see in the World Series because they’re my favorites. And there are a lot of other teams, the Chicago Cubs included, whose bandwagons I would jump on…if only they weren’t playing one of my favorite teams.

It has been 68 years since the Cleveland Indians won the World Series. Yes, it’s been longer for the Cubs – the whole world knows that – but 68 years is still a long time, especially in a city like Cleveland.

For my fellow Yankee fans who miss seeing their team in the playoffs, think of it this way: it’s only been nine years since the Yankees won it all (and it was great!). Imagine living those same nine years another nine (almost ten) times. That’s how long it’s been for Indians fans.

Until the Cavs won their championship earlier this year, Cleveland wasn’t considered a winning city. (Maybe it still isn’t?) The Indians came close a few times since 1948, but they never sealed the deal. The Cavs were pretty good, but then LeBron bailed (but eventually came back). And the Browns may not win a single game this season – there’s very little hope they ever see a Super Bowl in my lifetime.

Cleveland is “The Mistake by the Lake” is the butt of many jokes, sports included. I first realized this when I was a young child watching an episode of Saved by the Bell. When Kelly Kapowski said the Cleveland Indians were one of the biggest jokes in history, I asked my dad why she was being so mean to our team. “Because,” he said “the Indians were really bad for a very long time.”

I’m fortunate enough to have been too young to remember the really bad years. I do, however, remember exactly where I was when the Indians lost the 1995 and 1997 World Series. I could walk into my childhood homes (we moved in early 1997), stand in the exact same spot, and feel like the moment just happened. To be so close to winning it all and it slipping through their fingers…well, Cleveland never wins at anything anyway.

Cleveland is my home, and regardless of what people say, it’s a pretty damn great city! We’ve had our very public struggles (did your river ever catch on fire?), but we’re pulled through. The Cleveland I still visit today is very different from the Cleveland of years and decades past, and it’s getting better every day.

For most of my life, the Indians were the only baseball I had in my life, so I will absolutely be cheering for them tonight and for the rest of this season. I’ll be cheering with my 91-year-old Gramma who will be watching it at home (hopefully with a cold beer). I’ll be cheering with John Adams, the “annoying drum guy” who has sat out in left field for every game since 1972, including the bad ones. And I’ll be cheering for my Grampa, and many others who are no longer here to watch their team play ball.

It’s been a good year for Cleveland, and there will never be more excitement downtown than there is tonight. Let’s use that energy and #RallyTogether for our city.

 

I only wish I had a Great Lakes beer to drink with the game.

downtownskylinefinal1

 

 

 

 

 

Jose Fernandez

Last night, Orioles rookie Trey Mancini became the third player in MLB history to hit a homerun in each of his first three games in the Majors. My husband and I were sitting in section 43 at Camden Yards last night, and when the historical stat was displayed on the scoreboard, I said to my husband –

“You never know what you might see at a game. That’s why I like writing about every game I go to – although I’ve been very bad about it this year… And sometimes, you don’t realize the significance of what you see until much later.”

I didn’t expect that statement to be so true, so soon.

 *

At my hotel room in Baltimore this morning, I turned on ESPN, who was reporting breaking news. “Great,” I thought, “something is happening in football and I just want to see baseball highlights.” But then Jose Fernandez’s face appeared on the screen.

I don’t remember who reported the news, or what they said. I just remember gasping, and immediately crying when my brain comprehended the news. He wasn’t hurt, he hadn’t gotten into some kind of trouble – he was dead. At 24 years old. Gone from baseball, and the world, forever.

*

I saw Jose Fernandez pitch just once – one year and one week ago in DC – and it was by total luck. Early in the season, I had the chance for free tickets to a regular season Nationals game during the 2015 season. I chose a late season game, September 18, against the Marlins. I was hoping to see Giancarlo Stanton hit a monster homerun, but in June he broke his hand and was still on the disabled list when my game came around.

Instead, I was able to witness something much better – Jose Fernandez (back from TJS sooner than expected) vs. Max Scherzer (my favorite Nationals player) – and I wasn’t disappointed. Both pitchers had solid games, although both were no decision starts.

Fernandez was very good – until he wasn’t. He allowed one homerun and only two earned runs (same as Scherzer) over 5.2 innings, although he threw 95 pitches to do so. At the end of his outing, he looked fatigued – but still impressed me for someone making just his ninth start after recovering from TJS.

*

Jose Fernandez was easily one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball – and he had only three years of service time since his debut April 7, 2013. He will be remembered as much for his performance on field as well as his character.

We know his story of coming to the United States and becoming a professional baseball player. We’ve seen the devotion he has to his mom, and to his abuela. Recently we learned he was about to become a father.

Every baseball player loves the game, but few (if any) have ever expressed it the way Jose Fernandez did. So often we forget that baseball is a game and meant to be enjoyed, but Fernandez’s smile was a beautiful reminder that baseball is meant to be fun.

There are multiple stories of Fernandez connecting with teammates, opposing players, and the community. He formed bonds with children and with charitable organizations.

This is the kind of player you want representing baseball – or any sport.

Imagine if he had the chance to play a full career and we had twenty years of Jose Fernandez…

*

 Appreciate every moment life gives you. Love someone or something as much as Jose Fernandez loved life and baseball.

And remember every baseball game you go to. You never know what history – and greatness – you might witness.

 https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CtNEMiHXYAAPInP.jpg

 

Those Clever Indians!

Here’s a change in blog posts – I’m going to tell you a story, rather than give my opinion.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I grew up an Indians fan outside of Cleveland. I still consider myself an Indians fan, although not always a very good one…

My favorite team, of course, are the New York Yankees. One of my favorite Yankees of all time, possibly one of my favorite baseball players of all time, is Andrew Miller. When he was traded to Cleveland, I was devastated. Of all the teams in the league, it had to be my hometown team! But at the same time, I trusted the Indians and their fans to welcome him and appreciate him as much as I did while he was in New York. So far, they’ve done exactly that, and it makes my heart happy…even if I miss him terribly.

Now I live in Maryland – approximately halfway between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals. Several of my friends work in DC, where it’s not uncommon for people to be very secretive about their jobs for various reasons. When you’re so close to the federal government, you learn not to ask too many questions because sometimes your friends simply can’t tell you any more about what their job involves.

One of my secretive job friends recently met some of the Indians front office staff while the team was in town to play the Nationals. My friend confirmed they were who they claimed to be, and then started to talk baseball with them…

Friend started with mentioning the Indians impressive season and the addition of Andrew Miller to the roster. The Indians people were clearly excited to talk about their newest acquisition. Friend got very bold then, and mentioned how I – a Yankee fan originally from Cleveland – was really sad to see Miller go, because he was my favorite.

The Indians front office guy grinned and said “Tell her ‘Go Tribe’ and ‘Welcome home!’”

 

You can’t make this stuff up!

 

Final note my heart still belongs to the Yankees, even if this year has been especially tough for me seeing my favorites leave. I have, however, committed to buying an Andrew Miller 24 Indians shirsey to support the hometown team.

I have a shirt for several MLB teams, but nothing for the Indians – it’s only fair!

 

Infield Dilemma

The Yankees need to chose a backup infielder who can play third base. That’s a very reasonable request, because even if Chase Headley somehow could return to his 2012 Gold Glove self, he will need an occasional day off. He, along with the rest of us, isn’t getting any younger.

At first, the backup at third was going to be Starlin Castro, but the Yankees decided it was best to keep him at second base, since even that’s a fairly new position for him (a decision I have to agree with). That left three players – Pete Kozma, Ronald Torreyes, and Rob Refsnyder as possible choices.

To be completely honest, I like Rob Refsnyder, and I’ve often praised him for doing everything the Yankees have ever asked of him. After being drafted as an outfielder, he learned to play second base at the team’s request (a transition many would say he’s still settling into), but was never quite good enough in the Yankees’ opinion to make the major league roster and play full time. This spring, they decided to try Refsnyder at third base, even though he had no profession experience at the position. In his first few experiences at third, he actually played much better than most people had expected.

But let’s look at the facts here – Rob Refsnyder is a 25 year old who has yet to prove himself (that’s debatable) as a dependable everyday player. Some might argue that if it hasn’t happened yet, it will never happen – even though a quick Google search will show the average age of a rookie player in MLB is 25.8 years old (Refsnyder turned 25 just this week). Not every rookie coming up is Manny Machado or Brycer Harper; most take a little while to really establish themselves.

Even still, the experiment of Refsnyder at third base can still look like a failure. According to MLB.com, Refsnyder has played third base in just ten games (seven starts and 51.1 innings total) this spring training. Ten games. Keeping in mind that is an incredibly small sample size and the only ten games he’s ever played at this position (with little to no time to prepare for his audition), he’s made four errors and has a FPCT of .818. Whether I like him or not, that looks bad. Even after the disappointing season and career high errors Headley had last year, he still finished with a .946 FPCT.

Another interesting point about Refsnyder’s fielding: in seven games (three starts, 27 innings total) at second base, he has not committed a single error and has a perfect FPCT.

Still, to be fair, that .818 at third is pretty bad. To that point, I can understand sending him back to SWB to work on his defense at third.

But that still leaves Chase Headley without an official backup, and so the Yankees are looking at Ronald Torreyes and Pete Kozma to fill that position. Those are interesting choices in my opinion.

Torreyes was acquired from the Dodgers in a rather unexciting trade this past January. Since he signed as an amateur free agent in 2010, he’s been with five different clubs and has less than a year of major league service time. He has experience at third base – he has appeared in 62 games and totaled almost 500 innings at third – in the minor leagues (with a .925 FPCT). At the major league level, he has just three games (five innings) of experience at third, all last year with the Dodgers (he also played in four games, 12 innings at second). This spring, the Yankees have given him quite a look as he’s played 81.0 innings over 20 games at either second, shortstop, or third. (Refsnyder had 78.1 innings played between second and third). However, while Torreyes FPCT has so far been perfect at every position, he has only spent 19 of those innings (in six games) playing third base.

Kozma is an even more interesting candidate. He is a veteran player who originally signed in 2007 but did not make his MLB debut until 2011. In his five years of MLB experience since, he has shown his ability to play multiple positions – all infield positions and left field. When he signed a minor league deal with the Yankees this off season, it was seen as an insignificant move to provide depth at AAA. Kozma has spent the most of his major league time at shortstop (he was the regular shortstop for the Cardinals in 2013) and has played just 14 MLB games (three starts and 135.0 innings) at third base.

Here are some of the offensive numbers for the three:

MLB G

MLB BA

MLB OBP

MLB Slg%

MiLB G

MiLB BA

MiLB OBP

MiLB Slg%

Kozma

275

.222

.288

.293

788

.238

.311

.348

Refsnyder

16

.302

.348

.512

430

.290

.380

.432

Torreyes

8

.333

.429

.500

612

.298

.353

.409

Admittedly, I am not an expert on sabermetrics. I’m not sure if there is a stat that can measure insanely difficult plays at third base, or take into consideration any abnormal trajectories of a batted ball. I am well aware that third base is not an easy position to play, and there is good reason it’s called the hot corner. That being said, I can’t help but feel like it’s insanely bad luck and some ridiculously difficult plays that would cause a player to be hit in the face not once, but twice – and on consecutive days – as Refsnyder was this spring. He isn’t new to baseball, and he isn’t new to playing the infield.

There is also no measure of how well a player can handle the pressure of playing in New York. I can’t say for sure what kind of pressure Torreyes might have had playing in another large market (LA), but I do know about the pressure Refsnyder faced after his MLB debut last year. Refsnyder made his debut at Fenway Park, in front of rival Red Sox fans, and faced a tough fan base in the Bronx. I’m not sure how other fans felt about it, but he did not seem to be phased in any of those games, including the AL Wild Card game.

I’ve tried to be optimistic and to a certain point, I do understand sending Refsnyder down to the minors to work on his defense at third. However, the Yankees gave him very little notice he would even be learning another new position, then gave him a sink-or-swim opportunity to prove himself, and finally made a decision in less than a dozen games.

While Kozma is a veteran player with more MLB experience than either Refsnyder or Torreyes, he’s signed to a minor league deal and not even on the 40 man roster. Him making the team seems like a bit of a long shot at this point.

That leaves Torreyes, who I believe will be the Yankees choice for backup infielder. On paper, he does seem to be the better player offensively and defensively, which the Yankees will likely argue, but his stats are only slightly better than Refsnyder’s, and with less MLB experience.

As a baseball fan, it’s sometimes difficult to separate personal feelings for a player from the bigger picture for the organization as a whole. Truthfully, I cannot imagine Torreyes, or even Kozma, being a disaster as a backup infielder. In fact, either of them could prove to be very successful in that capacity.

Even as an emotionally invested fan, I could understand the logic of choosing either Torreyes or Kozma – but are they really that much better than Refsnyder? Does Kozma, signed to a minor league deal as a veteran player, have more potential than a young player ready to make his mark? Is Torreyes, with less MLB experience but slightly better stats, a more dependable choice than Refsnyder, who the Yankees already know?

I could fully understand choosing someone other than Refsnyder if they were undoubtedly better, but neither of these players are. It’s simply another example of the Yankees changing course on Refsnyder’s development, and setting unrealistic expectations for him along the way. If the Yankees aren’t going to let him play, they need to let him go. He’s shown he can do it, and continually holding him back isn’t helping anyone.

Let’s all hope whoever wins the job proves beyond any doubt that they were the right choice.

No Tanaka on Opening Day…?

Spring training hasn’t even officially started, and there is already panic about Masahiro Tanaka’s arm.

Earlier today, news broke that Tanaka said he wasn’t sure whether or not he would be ready to pitch on Opening Day. As soon as I read the headline, I knew there would be panic from Yankee fans, and doubts about his status as an ace from everyone around baseball.

When asked about his first regular season start today, Tanaka said:

“Can’t really say. We’ll take it day by day. I feel that I can’t really talk about that at this point. I just want to see myself go into the bullpen, get the innings in and see how I feel.”

It is his first day in Tampa – his first workout since the offseason. What is so wrong with that?

Yes, the Yankees made a huge investment in Tanaka (7 years $155 million, plus a $20 million posting fee) and yes, they expect him to be an ace. We already know about his partial UCL tear, trips to the disabled list in 2014 and again in 2015, and he underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his throwing arm this offseason. I understand fans concern about Tanaka. I understand fans frustration about what we’ve seen from Tanaka during his first two seasons in MLB.

I, too, would love for Tanaka to put the injuries behind him and be the ace the Yankees expected him to be when they signed him. But for right now, it’s entirely too early to judge his upcoming season. Likewise, it’s entirely too early to panic about his arm.

Regardless of whether or not he had surgery in the offseason, this is Tanaka’s first workout after the offseason. No pitcher is going to feel 100% ready to go on Opening Day after one workout. Spring training doesn’t even officially start until Thursday for pitchers and catchers. There are a lot of workouts and a lot of throwing for Tanaka (and all the pitchers) between now and Opening Day.

There are many factors that will go into deciding when Tanaka is ready to make his first regular season start. There are doctors, trainers, management, and even Tanaka himself who will all have a say in when he’s ready to pitch. For the amount of money the Yankees have invested in one arm, I don’t blame them for being cautious – and they’ve shown they’re not afraid to rest him when needed. Being overly optimistic about his Opening Day status right now is of no benefit to anyone.

Had Tanaka said this a week before the regular season, this would be an entirely different situation. We are just under a week until spring training starts. As much as we all want baseball back right now, there are still several weeks to go.

Before fans lose faith in Tanaka or raise your blood pressure worrying, ask yourself this: Would you rather Tanaka rehab properly and pitch well this year (Opening Day or not), or rush his rehab just to pitch Opening Day and suffer a worse injury later?

The answer is simple to me.