Play Ball, 2012 Style!

Okay, the winter is official over!  This week we roll out MLB 2012 and the timing is perfect.  There are a lot great openers, but none better than the Giants and Diamondback kicking off the season in Phoenix!  It does not get any better than Tim Lincecum vs. Ian Kennedy.  College rivals at Washington and USC respectively, these two are competitors on competitive teams!  Both teams are well managed with outstanding coaching staffs, both teams have active front office experts and both teams are beloved in their own home towns!  Credit San Francisco management with going out in the off season to get some offense to go with their incredible pitching staff, but never count Mr. Kevin Towers out of working with Kirk Gibson to fortify the D-Backs roster with aggressive moves!  The fact that the season opener for the Giants and D-Backs is on Good Friday and continues through Easter weekend is the most significant reminder about keeping baseball in perspective.  With the highest priorities being God, family, community and country we are ready to enjoy the blessing of Major League Baseball 2012!

It’s Mid – August and the Snakes Will Not Go Away

Take a look!  It is mid-August and carefully note who is on top in the National League West!  Apparently, even according SF Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow, those snakes are not going away anytime soon.  The brand of baseball being played down in the desert is just plain fun to watch.  It is hardball at its finest.  The management, on and off the field, continues to set a paradigm consistent with winning baseball.  Play on the field demonstrates bulldog, hardcore toughness.  Kurt Gibson and staff continue to provoke an aggressive, intelligent style.  A descriptive moment, overlooked by many, took place during rookie Paul Goldschmidt’s first major league game.  A simple look at Goldschmidt’s first day in “the Show” demonstrates the Diamondback paradigm.  First, it was a courageous “call up” from AA ball in Mobile.  Second, in the heat of a pennant race on the road against the division team to beat, the defending World Champion San Francisco Giants, Gibson courageously place the rookie in the starting line up on his first night in a Diamondback varsity uniform.  Number 44 responds in his first AB by lining a frozen rope base hit to right field!  In his next AB Goldschmidt drove a ball to dead centerfield that was run down and caught at the base of the fence at AT&T.  Mark Grace had it right when he noted on the broadcast that the ball Goldschmidt hit would have been a triple in the minors, but major league outfielders cover a whole lot more ground!  Paul’s next AB was the most reflective of the D-Back style.  By his third AB Giant pitcher Matt Cain figured out that the young first baseman was not a good candidate to give a steady diet of fastballs.  So in AB number three Cain fed Goldschmidt off speed, slider and even a 2-0 curve until the count climbed to 3 balls and no strikes.  Amazingly, but consistent with Arizona aggressiveness, the rookie was given the ultimate managerial vote of confidence by being given the “green light” on the 3-0 pitch.  He ripped at the fastball, fouling it straight back and barely missing another line drive!  The next night in San Francisco, overlooked by absolutely no one,  was the fact that Paul Goldschmidt hit his first major league homerun off double Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum putting the D-Backs ahead 2-1 while providing the margin of victory elevating the Arizona crew into a tie for 1st place in the West.  This a reason why the D-Backs are not going away soon: they play hard, they play as a team and they play without fear.

Turning It Around

The Diamondbacks have made it official: status quo don’t go with Mr. Towers, Mr. Gibson and the best staff of truly professional baseball coaches in the game!  “Coming close” and “moral victories” were not enough.  Following a tough road trip with too many one run loses and a total fiasco of a home game on a Monday night, the D-Backs were treated to a brief lesson from Kirk Gibson on how to play the game correctly.  The result has been a string of tough, hard-fought team victories.  Kevin Towers did his job with this bull pen and they are really doing their job!  Ryan Roberts is the perfect example of gutsy, tough-minded, hard-core baseball.  If we want our sons to play the game the way it is supposed to be played, then focus on Ryan “Tatman” Roberts.  Intensity, passion and diligent work habits pay off!  As other members of the D-Backs are buying into the Gibson, Towers way of playing baseball, the Arizona pack is turning it around!

Back in the Saddle Again

A seasoned GM, several new coaches, additions to the roster and a sparkling new Spring Training facility means the time for D-Backs baseball is here! There is one single, strong message from Kevin Tower’s General Manager’s office, “The status quo is not acceptable!” Energy and enthusiasm for playing the game right in the passionate pursuit of victory is the D-Back trademark firmly rooted in the hearts of GM Towers as well as field manager Kirk Gibson. The memo is clear: Bring your “A” game everyday or do not plan on being a part of this club! As far as roster moves, Mr. Towers knows what he is doing and is certainly unafraid when it comes to pulling out all the stops until the club is right. Even the commitment to such a first class facility at Walking Stick demonstrated this organizations dedication to the task of winning as a habit. Of course there is a lot of variables in the 162 game adventure, but at this point, in the land of the Diamondbacks, there is certainly cause for great expectations.

The Roy Hobbs Effect

It is now painfully obvious that the problem with the Arizona Diamondbacks was not manager A.J. Hinch. The team is still scuffing badly since A.J.’s dismissal. The biggest surprise of the 2010 National League West continues to be who’s in first (the Padres) and who’s in dead last (the D-Backs). It does not add up. The Padres are pitching and playing great, but the Diamondbacks are talented and playing terrible. It is not a matter of the manager (or coaching staff), it is a matter of the heart! Only as an outside observation, the Arizona boys are talented, but do not play like they are hungry. The new manager, Kirk Gibson, certainly wrote the book on playing aggressive, all out baseball. Everyone hopes he will passionate fire to the D-Backs, but the desire necessary to win championships in MLB can only come from the heart. The D-Backs need the Roy Hobbs factor. Remember the classic film The Natural? The New York Knights were miserable until Roy Hobbs broke into the lineup. In an attempt to end the losing, management brought in a psychologist holding boring team sessions highlighted by his professional observation, “Losing is a disease.” Roy Hobbs, the ancient rookie side tracked by some poor personal choices when he was a young, highly touted prospect, leaves the meeting in disgust. Talking about losing is a waste of time. Recently departed Coach John Wooden never even mentioned either winning or losing! The greatest coach of all time, he only spoke of each player doing his absolute best and putting the team above all else. View image The Roy Hobbs effect in The Natural took off when Hobbs, a passionate and desperately hungry player excels with his new opportunity loads the team on his back by example and carried the Knights to the championship. This is what the D-Backs need. It won’t be the manager. It will be a player, not highly touted nor highly paid, but passionate about the opportunity to play major league baseball. Who will it be? The “Roy Hobbs” will be an unexpected surprise. It needs to be a player no one expected to show up, make the roster and excel. It will most likely be a long time minor leaguer who has survived through determination, passion for the game and a major league dream. The “Roy Hobbs” type player teaches the more talented by example. Some of the highly touted will get it, but many may not. Large amounts of cash can easliy extinguish passion and consistent performance. If Roy Hobbs does not show up soon, the Arizona Diamondbacks are doomed … and it won’t matter who the manager is.

A Sad Farewell to Mr. Eric Byrnes

This time of the year the trades and releases are finalized so that the new rosters are trimmed and ready to roll out at Spring Training.  Sometimes it is expected, sometimes it is a little shocking and there are times when a particular cut is sad.  

This winter there were a lot of expected roster moves.  No one really expected Randy Johnson to return again with the Giants or anyone else.  Mr. Johnson’s career is so distinguished and his body so worn that there is no reason to  continue.  His numbers are staggering.  Just do the simple math to figure out what it takes in terms of major league seasons and durability to win 300 games!  We saw Randy’s departure coming.  
Other free agent moves, from a mere fan point of view, drive us crazy.  John Lackey, the long time Angel, is now headed to the mound for the Red Sox?  It is too weird. Remember his rookie start in the 7th game of the World Series?  Always a bulldog.  Always a professional.  

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Always prepared and always a team player.  If those of us who are not even die hard Angel fans find it difficult to conceive of John Lackey in a Rex Sox uniform, what are the hard core Angel faithful going through?  Certainly along those very same lines, in the “are you kidding me?” category is the signing of Chone Figgins, the Angel with the biggest heart, to the division rival Seattle Mariners! 

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 Figgins is a throw back to the good old days where it was plainly obvious that players love the game … and played like it!  Chone, too, came up through the Angel system playing so hard and so many positions that he had to become an everyday player!  His enthusiasm, broad smile, constant hustle and competitive fire will be missed by those of us in the Southern California region who love to see the game played right!
And then the saddest cut of all.  The news of the D-Backs release of Eric Byrnes is sad.  It certainly can be justified by a “baseball is business” necessity, but it still is hard to see him go.  Decidedly No – Cal, Eric’s free spirit, sense of humor and enthusiasm will be missed. He, too, plays the game full throttle with passion and competitive fire.  Vince Scully, who has seen a few games and several thousand major leaguers play, said that Eric Byrnes was “fun to 

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watch play baseball!”  I can only imgine what it would feel like to have the most honorable Mr. Vince Scully make that comment about me!  Forget the Hall of Fame, the endorsement of baseball’s greatest analyst speaks volumes.  Our hope is that Eric’s injuries are behind him and a few good years are still ahead.  Eric Byrnes will be missed as a human being and a true professional.