Weekly Pepper - Week 1

by Gregory Pratt, BaseballEvolution.com
April 7, 2008

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Gregory Pratt has volunteered to begin a weekly column, running every Monday, with his thoughts on the last week in baseball. At once prattle and substance, it is love for, and insight to, the American pastime. Mr. Pratt is a career .308 hitter. He sprays line-drives to all fields, lets those off the plate slide and plays aggressive defense in centerfield. Sometimes he is asked to pitch, and his mound-work has been described as that of "a power pitcher without the power." His personal philosophy is that the inside part of the plate belongs to the man standing sixty feet six inches from it, even if he only throws sixty miles six centimeters per hour.

Opening Night -- Life has been hectic in the Pratt household lately, as I am a college student and have a variety of assignments to take care of. This Wednesday, I have a major exam in the only class in which I have any significant difficulties, and I have been preparing for it like a madman. This weekend, I am flying out to Los Angeles; a week after, I have to turn in a paper for a conference at which I'm presenting about five days later; a day after the conference, I am filming, directing, acting, and producing two films; and I have numerous personal writing projects and interpersonal relationships to cultivate. So I didn't feel as focused on the major league pitch coming my way last Sunday but I just about came out of my cleats to swing at it that morning. I frantically called several of my baseball fan friends to have them over, invited even more than attended, and had good eats as we watched Tim Hudson turn in a fine start and Ryan Zimmerman end the first game at the new Nationals ballpark with a walkoff homerun. I can't imagine how many children became baseball fans that night. And kudos to ESPN for showing off the DiMaggio quote on the walls in that stadium: “There is always some kid who may be seeing me play for the first or last time. I owe him my best.” Everyone should have that attitude.

The time for talk has passed. Now is the time for action! -- Frustrated by the fact that Juan Pierre would get any playing time over Matt Kemp, Travis Hafner has not yet reverted to Pronk form, Miguel Tejada is one of my least favorite players and Chris Young strikes out an almost unacceptable amount, I dropped them all from my fantasy team for Josh Hamilton, Alex Gordon, Rafael Furcal, and Jim Thome, whom I dropped a day later to retrieve Chris Young. When I made this decision to restructure my offense, I thought to myself, I love Hamilton and have for several years, both while he had problems and once he recovered. Gordon is a great young player whom I believe in. Furcal is a risk, but I don't doubt that his health is back. And Chris Young is another man I believe in, even if I hate his strikeout numbers in my lineup. But should I stick with the other guys for safety's sake? Soul-searching ensued, and then I said to myself, if a man can not be counted on to stand up for his favorite baseball players, who can he be counted on to stand up for? I do not abandon my friends in real life, and I will never do it in baseball or politics, either.

Brad Lidge is dead -- How about Trevor Hoffman? Blows two saves in the first week of this season after arguably costing the San Diego Padres their season last year. When Brad Lidge struggled as much as he did in 2006, after his entire image was destroyed by the terrific trio of Albert Pujols, Scott Podsednik, and Jermaine Dye, I pronounced Brad Lidge dead on a public forum and he has not come back. Is Trevor Hoffman next? I hope not, because I am fond of Mr. Hell's Bells, and there is reason for hope: while the situation's aren't the same, Mariano Rivera struggled last season and came back, so Hoffman can, too. But with Heath Bell a superior pitcher just beneath him on the depth chart, and Hoffman's struggles continuing, the bell might be tolling for Old T. And for the record, I don't care what anyone says: Hoffman is a Hall of Famer. A related question: is Dontrelle Willis done, too? You usually don't want to jump to conclusions without a significant amount of time, but Willis has been bad for about a year now, and he shows no signs of getting better. You've got to wonder where he is going. (PS: this article on Hoffman's crushing defeat at the hands of Tony Gwynn's son is one of the million little dramas I love about baseball, and this story, chronicling 100 different storylines in the major leagues this season, is a good read, too.)

Three more little things I love about baseball -- When Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt hooked up on Monday evening, it was a battle between two good friends, and Peavy knocked his buddy around the yard, only narrowly missing a homerun. Oswalt should plunk him in the tuckus next time! All in good fun. On Thursday night, Bobby Cox proved that it isn't only young hotshots who look to innovate when he took a risk by moving Braves pitcher Chris Resop from the mound into the outfield depending on matchups, so as to keep his staff from getting burnt. The Braves lost the game, but not for a lack of trying. And then there's the amazing Met, Nelson Figuroa (filling in for the not-so-amazing Pedro Martinez), whose resume is stocked. As Jayson Stark put it, "[j]ust in the last year, Figueroa has been A) the winning pitcher in the Mexican League all-star game last summer, B) the MVP of the Taiwan Series last fall, C) the MVP of the Dominican Series this winter and D) the MVP of the Caribbean Series in January. We guarantee no pitcher in history has ever done all that in fewer than 12 months." Might as well start getting the Hall of Fame plaque ready.

Everybody here comes from somewhere -- Am I the only one whose batting gloves and fielder's glove beckon to him when Supernatural Superserious plays on ESPN during baseball telecasts? I love this game.

Not Ichiro, but... -- In the World Series last year, Royce Clayton shouted "He['s] Ichiro!" after Daisuke Matsuzaka got a basehit against the Colorado Rockies. Commentators are falling all over themselves to note that Kosuke Fukudome is having a great first week at the plate, but he isn't Ichiro. They're right, he isn't, but who cares? They're not exactly Vin Scully. Welcome to America, Fukudome, and enjoy your stay.

Big heart -- Frank Thomas is the best pure hitter of his generation. Shame he couldn't play defense or run the bases, but no one can take what he has done over his career from beginning to near-end (now) away from him, and he has been awesome so far this year. Know what's "greater" than his bat? His heart. You didn't know that before, and neither did I -- I grew up disliking him, especially in comparison to Robin Ventura -- but this Jeff Pearlman article (still my favorite sportswriter, and a former guest on my college radio show on Thursdays from 4-5, which you can listen to here) shows us that Thomas and Todd Helton have great hearts, and it reminds us of the tragic passing of Joe Kennedy.

Kitty at my foot and I want to touch it -- I ended the week with my primary viewing being the games between the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox. The Tigers' pitching staff is a travesty, and I can not imagine that they will be able to sustain success without significant additions to that roster. Bet they're missing Jair Jurrjens right now! And how about John Smoltz beating Johan Santana Sunday, since we're talking about studs the Tigers traded away. Great pitcher's duel. Bonus points go to Dave Dombrowski for being a good sport in the announcer's booth for ESPN, but even if we added them onto the final score of Sunday night's lopsided 13-2 loss to the White Sox, the team would have still been blown out. Raspberries for Joe Morgan who seriously predicted that Carlos Guillen was going to win a Gold Glove award. You know who I think will win a Gold Glove Award? Ichiro. Not Guillen, who couldn't out-field Ozzie Guillen at this point in their lives. (But I do love Carlos, too. He just has no glove.)

History of the week -- Just because I have the keyboard and you don't, allow me to share something nifty and significant in baseball history to close this column.  My fantasy team is The Gashouse Gang, and I recommend you read the Wikipedia article on that 1934 Cardinals team, then supplement it with Dizzy Dean's. And don't be ashamed to call yourself a Gashouser until we step into the box again.

Walkoff -- If I could act out this ending, it'd be a walkoff, safe push bunt in extra innings: a model of love and dedication.

See you next week. Don't forget to play ball!

Gregory Pratt is a political science student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His political commentary can be found at the Office of the Independent Blogger, and he can be reached at Gregory@baseballevolution.com.