Spring training journal – day seven – March 30, 2004 – final entry…

Today was a near completely uneventful day owing mostly to the fact that there were no elongated bus rides to and from some remote ballpark. Today I saw my last Spring Training game of 2004 at the A’s park at Papago Park. Since relocating to the Motel 6 on Saturday I was just a few blocks walk from the ballpark, thus no midday bus adventures today and far fewer things to muse about.

Muse, now there’s a pretentious word for babble. Babble is, to be fair, what I do most of the time, but today I’ve got nothing to babble about but baseball.

I think Hester may actually be right that the A’s just draw a better class of people out to see them than most other teams do. At the very least they’re friendlier.

Today I sat in my splurge seats of the trip, directly behind home plate, about five rows back. Seated next to me was a very nice guy named Mike who’d come out to Phoenix to visit an older retired friend named Marcus who was seated to his left. Mike, it turns out, find a way to take time off work each spring and comes down to catch a few A’s games. He’s a Bay Area resident who buys season tix every year. Since I’d spent the previous day in Maryvale watching the Brewers I had info Mike needed, namely who the heck was playing for the Brewers this season and facing the A’s today. Mike was astonished to find out that the D’Backs had traded nearly their entire starting infield, Craig Counsel, Junior Spivey, Lyle Overbay and Chad Moeller, and a couple of pitchers, Chris Capuano and one other guy, for Richie Sexson in the offseason.

Today’s game featured my second encounter with Rich Harden’s starting pitching in one week. I can’t say his performance today filled me with confidence. I will say, however, that today’s start was much better than last Thursday’s. That is really not saying much though. On Thursday Harden flat out sucked. Today he was solid for two innings and very shaky for one. Shaky enough to give up the lead Eric Chavez had given him with a monster home run to straight-away center. Harden is so frustrating because he’s got great stuff and when it’s working he’s very commanding. It’s just that he doesn’t really seem to have any command over whether or not his stuff will be working or not.

More frustrating still was seeing Justin Duchscherer come in to bail his ass out and watch Duchscherer just make fools out of the Brewers’ best hitters. Duke’s curve ball made monkeys out of Overbay, Spivey, Grieve and Counsel. Granted, none of those guys is Barry Bonds, but neither are most of the hitters A’s pitchers are going to face this year. The Brewers’ line-up today was about as good as most of the teams the A’s will have to beat this season. Duke mastered them. Harden didn’t. If I was making the call it would be Harden who’d go back to Sacramento. Of course I’m not making that call, and my instincts tell me that Beane is hoping some other team with a 2nd baseman to spare is going to see something in Duke this week that they like and offer up someone worthy to fill the hole int he A’s infield defenses and at the plate that Mark Ellis’s injury leaves them with for the season.

At the plate today the A’s were less than intimidating. Dye and Durazo both look mediocre, although Ruby did hit a couple of key base hits. As my neighbor, Mike, said, “Dye and Durazo need to step up and perform this year or the A’s will be watching Anaheim’s tail-lights recede into the distance by mid-season.”

IN the end the A’s bats pulled them far enough forward for Rincon to manage not to completely blow it. He only semi-blew it. Why he even has a job in the league is beyond me. Rincon must have incriminating photos of Beane that involve farm animals or something. This may also explain why Frank Menechino has a contract as well.

I can just see it. Rincon and Frankie came down to the stadium early one day last season and discovered Billy Beane in a compromising position with a sheep. Rincon had just bought an 8mm video camera and happened to be rolling tape as they stumbled upon Billy and his lamb in the weight room. Thus two wildly mediocre players were guaranteed contracts for the foreseeable future.

In all seriousness, Rincon couldn’t do any better than manage to only give up three runs to put the Brewers within one run of tying the game. Does someone who gives up three runs in one inning to a bunch of back benchers in the late innings of a Spring Training game deserve a roster spot? Not in my baseball universe.

Fortunately the A’s did win to send me off with at least one positive outcome out of three games I attended at their park. Making the afternoon seem sweeter, when I came back to my hotel room I managed to catch ESPN’s rebroadcast of the Devil Rays beating the Yankees 8 – 3 at the Tokyo Dome. The air team for the rebroadcast left much to be desired. It was the nameless talking head who hosts Baseball Tonight teamed up with Peter Gammons and Harold Reynolds. After Giambi crushed one into the outfield and stretched his hit into a double the inevitable jawing about steroids commenced.

Is it obvious that something has changed dramatically about Jason’s physique? Indeed it is. And more than likely he stopped ingesting something, whether it was steroids, THG or just Big Macs we’ll probably never know. What I most certainly do know is that Peter Gammons is a jackass and Harold Reynolds is a little psychophantic apologist for his buddies who are still playing. Reynolds just insists that no change in the drug testing policy will happen and that it’s not necessary anyway because an insignificant number of players are using performance enhancing drugs anyway. Obviously Harold managed to miss the bowls of greenies in the locker rooms back when he was a player. Why would it be unusual for a sport where, as everyone knows, players were (and still are by most accounts) gobbling handfuls of amphetamines to have just as much acceptance of drug use that’s far more likely to substantially improve performance? All greenies do is make you more alert and quicker to react. THG and steroids can make a home run hitter out of anyone with a decent eye by making his contact with the ball more powerful.

Gammons, not to be outdone, had to weigh in on the likelihood of a baseball world cup. In his curmudgeonly world the league and players will never make the sacrifices necessary to make a world cup a possibility. Never mind the sheer excitement of watching a battle that’s likely to be a U.S., Canadian, Mexican, Dominican, Cuban, Venezuelan, Japanese and Korean contest. I honestly think this is the only way to grow professional baseball. Instead of playing an All-Star game, every four years the regular season breaks and we have one month of World Cup Baseball. With a different host nation every four years it could be quite an event. But nooooooo, says Mr. Gammons. Teams will complain of the risk of injuries to players and Harold chimes in that the players’ union will never assent to Olympic-style drug testing that would be required for such a contest to go forward.

It’s so amazing to me to actually hear two men be bigger negative vibe merchants than me. I, for one, would love to see a baseball world cup come to pass. I’d go see some games, that’s for sure.

So, what have I accomplished by taking this vacation? I didn’t get sunburned. Although, I did develop the worst case of heat rash I’ve ever had. It only just dawned on me tonight that this probably due to the anti-depressants I’m taking. One of the warnings they carry with them is about increased sensitivity to sunlight. I thought it would just make me more prone to burn, like some anti-biotics do. Instead it caused an allergic reaction to the sun. How’s that for freaky?

On a completely unrelated to absolutely anything note – Why hasn’t the music of Hall & Oates been purged from our culture? On three different occasions this week I’ve heard the odious sound of Darryl Hall’s voice along with the massively overproduced backing tracks that only Hugh Padgham could create. Perhaps we need to set up camps for people who actually like Hall & Oates.

I wonder why so many jokes were made at the expense of Andrew Ridgley of Wham! for having no purpose in that group other than as George Michael’s boyfriend, while John Oates, who I’m quite sure shared the same role, never got picked on? Maybe it’s because Wham! were English, and it was therefore permissible for us yanks to question their sexual orientation while Hall and Oates, being Americans, automatically got a free pass. Well for my money at least George Michael knew that there’s more to writing a pop song than coming up with one catchy refrain and repeating it endlessly as the song fades out.

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So, there you have my Spring Training Journal for 2004. Not too bad. On the whole I think it probably would have been a better read if I could have managed to post the entries in succession without interrupting them for other articles. Oh well. Better luck next time I suppose.

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