Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Jersey Boy Takes On the Yankees

Throughout high school, our baseball team was not known for being successful. Sure, there were a bunch of talented players on the team, but that never translated into much.

Seton Hall Prep was the team we dreaded playing. Might as well start them off with a ten run lead because they scored runs quick and held down their opponents. When they played us, it was almost always a give me game.

The school produced good baseball players, which is why I wasn't surprised two years ago when Seton Hall had two players being heavily scouted by professional teams.

The stand out was Rick Porcello, a right-handed pitcher who at 18 was blowing hitters away with his fastball and killer change-up.

Porcello was drafted number 27 in the first round of the 2007 draft by the Tigers. He spent the 2008 season in the minors, and in 2009 made the rotation out of spring training.

Tomorrow night, Porcello will be squaring off against Joba Chamberlain and the Yankees. For most 20-year-olds that in itself would be a daunting task, but Rick Porcello is from New Jersey.

It is likely (although I'm not completely sure), that he grew up a Yankee fan, so facing not only his hometown team, but possibly the team he rooted for growing up could cause all kinds of nerves.

The scouting reports on Porcello are very good. In high school, his fastball sometimes would reach 96-97, but for right now he is keeping it between 90-94 m.p.h. What sets Porcello off from a lot of other young pitchers is that he doesn't rely on his fastball to get hitters out.

His best pitch in high school was his curveball, but if for some reason that pitch isn't working for him, his change-up tends to be his out pitch. What makes it such an effective pitch is that it ranges from 76-79 m.p.h. He gets a lot of swings and misses when he goes to that pitch, especially if he throws his fastball to set up the change.

Scouts have also noted that Porcello has great command for his age. He hasn't let all the hype of pitching in the majors affect him or at least affect his pitching.

Right now, he's at the back end of the Tigers' rotation, but he is a projected number one starter. If he keeps pitching the way he has thus far, he is likely to one day become the number one starter.

It will be interesting to see the match-up between Porcello and Chamberlain. Both pitchers throw hard and have several pitches in their arsenal. Chamberlain has more major league experience and has been pitching under the bright New York spot light for nearly two years so he is likely not to be nervous when he takes the hill tomorrow night.

Porcello, on the other hand might be feeling all kinds of butterflies when he faces his hometown team. A lot of eyes from New Jersey, Yankee fans or not, will be tuned in when the Yankees and Tigers play tomorrow night.

Part of me will be rooting for my fellow New Jerseyan, but my allegiance lies with one team only. We'll see how Porcello fairs when the spot light is really turned up on him.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Joe Torre's Book Wasn't As Bad As Everyone Made It Out To Be

When the news broke that Joe Torre was releasing a book he wrote about his time as the Yankees' manager, a lot of people around baseball thought this was a bad thing.

In sports there is the unspoken code that what goes on in house stays in house.

To some degree I think that's fair, but if a person is simply relaying their personal experiences, I don't find anything wrong with that.

When the book came out, there were a lot of Yankee fans that said they wouldn't consider reading Torre's book because they felt he might somehow portray the Yankees in a bad light.

Not even close.

Personally, I couldn't wait to read it. Never for one minute did I think that Joe Torre, one of the classiest guys around would write a book bad mouthing the Yankees.

The book, co-written with Sports Illustrated writer, Tom Verducci, detailed Torre's road in baseball until he was hired by George Steinbrenner in the off season in 1995, and all the various things he went through in his twelve years in the Bronx.

In fact, Torre did detail his relationship with the Boss, the comings and goings of various players, the great Yankee championship teams, the change in how the Yankee teams were constructed, the break down of his relationship with Brian Cashman, and yes, he mentioned Alex Rodriguez too.

From my perspective, his chapter on A-Rod was enlightening. Rodriguez is one of the most puzzling celebrity out there. For as talented a player as he is, he often stands out like a sore thumb because of the things he says and does that do not draw positive attention to himself. He is needy, and trying to get him out of his own head is almost impossible.

Torre explained how by the time the Yankees signed Rodriguez there was a big shift in the types of players the team was signing. Gone were the players like O'Neill, Brosius, Bernie, and Tino who understood the team was the most important thing. All that remained of that kind of mentality was Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera. They were outnumbered by those that didn't grow up under the same roof, and the results demonstrated that.

Torre said that he and several other members of the coaching staff as well as teammates tried to make Alex Rodriguez feel as comfortable as possible. However, Torre noted that his focus always drifted to himself.

In the middle of the 2004 season, Rodriguez was walking by Torre in the dugout and Torre told him, "You know, you'll be fine. It just takes a little time to adjust to playing here."

Said Rodriguez, "Well my numbers are about the same as this time last year." A-Rod couldn't wrap his head around what Torre was trying to say to him. For Alex, everything was about the numbers and that's something that changed the dynamic of the Yankees as a team.

However, Torre didn't fail to praise Rodriguez either. He said repeatedly in the A-Rod chapter that for a player of his caliber, he never stops working. There isn't anyone that works harder than him, and he'll do whatever is asked of him in order to improve. He doesn't feel that there is anything too trivial for him when it comes to playing better.

In that entire chapter, I really didn't find any part where Torre bad mouthed Rodriguez. He said what most of us know to be true already. Rodriguez attracts a lot of attention to himself whether he wants to or not. He more than not seems like he's trying too hard when it comes to the media, and he really doesn't know how to be one of the guys because he always wants to be a level above where everyone else is.

As far as the breakdown in the Torre/Cashman relationship, I found that part probably the most sad in the entire book. Torre and Cashman worked together for twelve years, and as Cashman got more power from George Steinbrenner, the worse things got for Torre.

Cashman appointed a lot of his people to higher positions. Torre described walking into the Yankee clubhouse or the coaches' office and finding people that had never been there before. Cashman was a numbers guy, and as far as he was concerned the stat sheets and video on players was the best Intel there was.

It was those stat sheets and intel that brought Carl Pavano, Randy Johnson, Jared Wright, and many others to the Yankees--we all know how well those guys worked out.

Cashman had eyes and ears everywhere. Torre talked about the spring that Ron Guidry was hired to be the Yankees' pitching coach. This was a guy that had been a Yankee his entire career, won two World Championships, and was one of the greatest pitchers of his time. He also understood what it was to play in New York, and could impart that wisdom on the young and new pitchers coming to the Yankees.

Cashman felt that Guidry had no experience, and wouldn't benefit the Yankees, while Torre felt that Guidry's experience not only as a player, but as a former Yankee would be nothing but an asset.

At the end of Torre's time with the Yankees, he ultimately felt like he was left out in the cold. Cashman had separated himself from Torre completely by then, and the deterioration of George Steinbrenner greatly affected the way the Yankees did business.

When I finished reading the book, I felt like I had a better understanding of a lot of things. Of course, there are two sides to every story, and I'm sure Brian Cashman and others mentioned in the book saw things differently than Torre.

The book is very well written, it moves quickly, and brings back lots of good memories for Yankee fans. More than that, the book really showed just how well Joe Torre handled one of the toughest jobs out there for one of the toughest bosses imaginable, with some of the most demanding fans in the history of sports.

Any Yankee fan that is hesitant about reading the book should definitely pick it up. For anyone who thinks Joe Torre betrayed the Yankees and their fans by putting the pen to the paper, they couldn't be more wrong.

Torre shined a light on all that is great about the Yankees, while reminding us that if we stray too far from what got us all that success for those twelve years, this nine year drought of no ticker tape parade will feel like nothing compared to what we could be facing.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Never A Dull Moment In Yankees/Red Sox Series

This weekend was the first series for the season between the Yankees and the Red Sox. The match-up took place at Fenway Park. As usual, there was a ton of hype over the series with many familiar faces set to square off, as well as some new faces to enter into the mix. Things started off with David Ortiz initiating a warning to Friday's starting pitcher Joba Chamberlain to not even try to throw at any of them.

Chamberlain has a little history of buzzing Kevin Youkalis up and in, but considering that Pedro Martinez sent Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter to the HOSPITAL in the SAME game during one Yankees/Red Sox match-up, a little chin music is small beans.

Friday night the Yankees had an early 2-0 against Jon Lester, and then went up 4-2. They had the lead into the 9th inning. Now, the catch in this whole thing is that Brian Bruney normally pitches the 8th inning...but for some reason he didn't come out, he wasn't even in the bullpen. Mariano Rivera ended up having to get four outs for the first time this season.

He had two outs in the ninth with a runner on first, and gave up a game tying home run to Jason Bay. It's always shocking when Mo blows a save considering every year despite his age he seems to just get better and better.

The Yankees had their opportunities in the extra innings, but couldn't push the run across. In the bottom of the 11th, Damaso Marte with his bloated ERA gave up the game winning home run to Kevin Youkalis. Talk about leaving a bad taste in your mouth.

Next came what was supposed to be the best pitching match-up of the weekend. A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett. Two former Marlins and two amazing pitchers were going to face off against each other.

Beckett was all over the place from the start. His usual pin point control wasn't there and the Yankees got an early lead. By the fourth inning it was 6-0. Burnett seemed to be cruising... and then all hell broke loose.

Burnett got into a bases loaded jam, and Jason Varitek hit a grand slam. All of a sudden the game was close at 6-5. And then it got really out of control.

I was actually out having dinner and I couldn't believe what was going on. The Red Sox managed to tie the game at 6, and then went ahead 7-6. The following inning the Yankees came back and scored two runs to make it 8-7. The Red Sox tied it again at 8 and then went up 9-8. The Yankees fought back and took the lead 11-9. The Red Sox weren't finished yet. By the eigth inning, they scored seven more runs and won the game 16-11.

I find it interesting that a game that was supposed to feature two of the team's best pitchers and result in a low scoring game, resulted in a high scoring game and neither team's bullpen could keep the lead safe for long.

It just goes to show you that anything can happen in a Yankees/Red Sox game. Currently, Andy Pettitte is facing off against the young Justin Masterson. It's Sunday Night Baseball so I'm anticipating some fireworks. Hopefully not extra innings...work tomorrow and I'm tired.

Let's go Yankees!!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

For the Love of the Game: What Makes Baseball So Great

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of going to watch a high school baseball game. My good friend, Joe is one of the coaches for the varsity team where we went to high school, and on such a gorgeous spring day I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get outside.

The field had changed a lot in the six years since I'd left. It was complete with real dugouts, new bleachers, and a more fenced in area. It definitely had a more professional look to it.

However, there was no big screen video monitor in center field, no media, no pricey concessions to purchase, and no high paid stars to see.

The home team had a very good day. They were scoring runs quick and easy right from the start, as well as making slick plays in the field.

I was most impressed by their pitcher. I know nothing about him other than the fact that he's a lefty pitcher with a killer breaking ball. Not to mention, behind home plate all you could hear was the pop the catcher's glove was making each time the ball hit the leather.

All I could think of was that this kid could have a lot of great things ahead of him.

His control was phenomenal, and in five innings he didn't surrender a run. He gave up one hit, didn't walk anyone, and struck out ten.

On the other side, was a team that didn't have it together at all. Routine ground balls were bouncing off of their shins or through their legs, and they looked more like the Bad News Bears than a competitive high school team.

It didn't help matters that they were down 7-0 in the second inning, and after an extremely long third inning, were in the hole 17-0. The game was called after the top of the fifth inning with a final score of 19-0.

Part of what impressed me the most was that the home team never let up. They never got lazy, and they played hard despite the fact that they were walking away with the game.

For a little while yesterday, I got to see a group of kids remind me just why I love baseball so much. There was a bunch of guys who were enjoying playing the game they love with each other. No one was trying to improve their own stats or get on an All-Star ballot, they were out there for the love of the game.

If only the professionals could remember that every once in a while.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Bronx Will Have To Wait...

Today was supposed to be my first visit to the new Yankee Stadium. However, the weather had other ideas.

For a change, the weathermen actually got it right when they called for rain for most of the day, and getting heavier as the day went on.

By 3:30, the Yankees had decided to postpone the game, as well as my debut at the new Yankee Stadium.

Part of me felt relieved because I really didn't want to experience my first game at the new park, in cold, soggy, conditions. However, I was more than prepared to put on the layers of clothes and rain gear to go watch my team.

All day long I had been picturing what it would be like to stand in the Great Hall, and see the field with my own eyes, not the camera views. I thought about seeing Monument Park's new location, and the perks of the modern ballpark.

The game is likely to be rescheduled for when the A's come back into town in July, but I'm hoping to get to the stadium before then.

I'm hoping that as the saying goes, "Good things come to those who wait."

Rainy Days & Mondays...

Friday, while I was enjoying the last day of my vacation in Florida, I got a text from my mom asking if I wanted to go to the Yankee game on Monday night.

Obviously, she already knew the answer.

I almost never go out on Monday nights from January-May because the great Jack Bauer occupies my night from 9-10pm, but the only reason I'll settle for tivoing Jack is if there's a Yankee game to go to.

I'm always excited to see the Yankees play, but the chance to go see the new stadium when I didn't think I'd get there until May or June was even more exciting.

Until I got the weather report... Rain is supposed to start Monday morning and increase in heaviness by the 7:05 game time.

GREAT. Not to mention after days of warm spring temperatures in NJ, it has reverted back to mid-40's and is going to barely reach 50. Did I mention it's supposed to be windy too?

Definitely not the ideal conditions to go see a baseball game. In some way, I'm kind of hoping they rain out the game rather early in the afternoon, so that I don't have to drive to the Bronx just to be told no baseball will be played tonight. And hopefully, they schedule the make up for Thursday when both teams have off because I am not quite sure that Oakland comes back for the rest of the year.

Needless to say this is not how I envisioned my first visit to the new ballpark. Maybe the weather gods will side with me and hold off on all that rain, but the Doppler radar would suggest otherwise, and if that's the case, let's call it early and save it for a better day.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What Are the Yankees To Do With Chien-Ming Wang?

The Yankees, their fans, and, it's safe to say, Chien-Ming Wang are all in disbelief.

A few weeks ago, no one could have imagined that Chien-Ming Wang would start off his season 0-3 with an ERA of 34.50.

Yesterday, Wang made his first start at Yankee Stadium, and despite having a 2-0 lead going into the second inning, Wang could only record one out in the second, and gave up eight runs.

Yet again, the bullpen was called on to provide relief, and couldn't stabilize the hole Wang had dug, as the Yankees got pulverized by the Indians 22-4.

The Yankees keep on insisting that Wang is fine physically, but it's clear that something is very wrong. How do you keep sending out a pitcher that is putting the rest of the team in such a bad position so early on in the game? Then again, how do you not send out someone who has been so productive for you the past three seasons?

To make things more complicated, Wang is out of minor league options so the Yankees can't ship him down to Triple A to get straightened out. If they decided to do that, he would need to clear waivers, which is something the Yankees don't want to deal with.

So, what can the Yankees do to fix Chien-Ming Wang?

First of all, the Yankees could place Wang on the DL, and that would give him 15 days to work through his issues with minor league starts. There is a lot less pressure pitching in the minors, and some success down there might give Wang the bit of confidence he is lacking.

Or the Yankees could go the complete opposite way and keep running Wang out there to make him work through his issues. However, for the past three starts the Yankees have been saying that Wang would work through his issues, and has yet to do so. How long do you keep putting someone out there that is hurting the rest of the team by starting?

What makes Wang's situation even more difficult is that he's not a rookie, yet he's not a seasoned veteran either. You can't simply blame his lack of production on inexperience, because he was pitching better as a rookie than he is now.

At the same time, he's not a seasoned veteran that has had so much success that you can just trust he will get it figured out.

The Yankees went through a similar situation with Mike Mussina, although he was at the end of his career when he ran into a wall.

Mussina was a liability almost every time he stepped out on the mound. It looked like after 17 years of pitching in the majors, Mussina had forgotten how to pitch. Physically, he was fine, and they couldn't send him down to the minors. Instead, he got taken out of the rotation as a way of trying to get himself together.

The Yankees' rotation was in complete disarray in 2007, and it wasn't easy to take out an established pitcher like Mussina, but it had to be done for the well-being of the team.

If the Yankees don't want to dig themselves into an early hole, and play catch up for the rest of the year, they are going to have to seriously consider what to do with Chien-Ming Wang.

If he can't get out of his own head and let his pitching take over, he's going to do more damage than good in the rotation.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Invaluable Jorge Posada: Yankee Catcher Is Healthy, Back In Action

Last April, Jorge Posada injured his right shoulder while warming up on Opening Day. No one knew about it, however, until several days later. At the time, it didn't appear to be too serious, but no one could've imagined how it would've impacted the Yankees' season.

I was in Florida for the first week of the season last April, and Yankee games were not being aired. Luckily, the Internet connection on my phone allowed me to get scores and updates on my team.

I remember I was out to dinner, and I was trying to check the score when I saw a headline stating that Jorge Posada was scratched from the lineup with a sore shoulder.

The first thing I did was text my friend back home who was always up on all the happenings in sports to find out what the deal was.

Mat quickly informed me that Posada was said to have some soreness in his throwing shoulder after an awkward throw on Opening Day. He didn't know how bad it was, but said the Yankees would be in serious trouble if Posada was out for a long stretch of time.

As it turned out, Posada had tendinitis in his shoulder and was out for almost eight weeks. The Yankees were definitely suffering without his leadership behind the plate, and his bat as well.

Even though Posada was said to be OK, he didn't look like his usual self. He wasn't nearly as aggressive at throwing out base runners, and his swing looked some what off.

It wasn't until July, that the word got around that there might be something more than tendinitis wrong with Posada's shoulder. He was being sent to several orthopedic specialists to get the best opinions possible.

By the All-Star break, the Yankees were barely staying afloat. They had been hit with some pretty bad injuries, and the only real bright spot was Mike Mussina and the stellar season he was having.

A couple weeks later, while on my summer vacation, I again went to my phone to check the score of the game. Needless to say, I was shocked to see that Posada was done for the year, and was having season ending shoulder surgery.

All of the specialists had confirmed that he had a tear in his labrum, and if he wanted to be ready for Opening Day 2009, surgery was his best option.

I knew right then and there, that the Yankees were in serious trouble. They had been playing catch-up all year, and without Posada, things weren't looking much brighter. Like Mat had said months earlier, you lose a guy like Posada for a long stretch of time, and your team is not in good shape.

Don't get me wrong, Jose Molina is the best backup catcher the Yankees have had in years, but the lack of Posada's presence on the field and in the clubhouse had a huge effect on the rest of the team.

What Jorge brings to the table is more than just calling pitches and coming up with hits. He is the one that mans the pitching staff. It is so important for him to develop a relationship with the entire pitching staff, and keep everyone on track. He is the guy that is vocal in the clubhouse when individuals or the entire team need to be reminded what is expected of them. He is a gritty, grind it out type player, which is an invaluable quality.

The Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, and a big reason for that was the injuries, Posada's in particular. If the Yankees were hoping to improve their team for the following season, they were going to need to first, get some serious pitching, and hope that Posada would be able to catch come Opening Day.

At the start of the 2009 season, no one knew how Posada's surgically repaired shoulder would respond. The Yankees were determined not to rush his rehab, but Posada was progressing well and on schedule to be behind the plate for the first game of the season.

In the first six games, Posada has shown that his shoulder is more than healed. He has not been hesitant about throwing out base runners, and already has one home run under his belt. He's been driving the ball to all fields, and picking up some RBI in the process.

The reality is that sooner rather than later, the Yankees are going to have to replace Posada. I don't know if you can really replace someone like Jorge Posada. You put someone else in at his position, but it is impossible to replace what he does for the Yankees.

Hopefully Posada is able to stay healthy and provide the Yankees with his leadership as well as his baseball abilities. The healthier he is, the better position the Yankees are in, and if they want to go all the way, he's one of the key pieces to the puzzle.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My First Post

Hey Everyone...
This is my first post on here so I figured I'd just say hello to start off. I'm always looking for more venues to get my writing out in the world, so I decided to blog on here as well. I currently have blogs on BleacherReport.com, FoxSports.com, and SportingNews.com. Sports will be the primary topic of this blog, but they'll definitely be some other stuff thrown in there too. If you're a sports junkie like me, keep tuning into my blog to get a unique perspective on all the happenings in the sports world.