Monday, July 31, 2006

Come on Browns, MAN UP!

I told you when we started this blog that I'm not one of those happy idiots who call talk radio shows and say that every year's version of the Browns is a sure thing to go 11-5. In fact, I've never been accused of being someone who thinks the glass is half full. To the contrary, I'm one of the most dour and relentlessly negative people that I know.

But like most Cleveland Browns fans, I'm also not a quitter. The fact that the team's enjoyed high television ratings and full stadiums week in and week out over the course of seven years of some of the most consistently god-awful football in NFL history amply demonstrates the perseverence of the average Browns fan.

That's why the sight of some Browns players wallowing in the "jinx" bullshit following LeCharles Bentley's injury is so infuriating. The quotes from Lee Suggs and Gary Baxter that appeared in Pat McManamon's Beacon-Journal article on Saturday are an embarrassment. If you read Bud Shaw's column in Sunday's Plain Dealer, it corroborates the view that Bentley's injury has the team fighting to avoid falling into a "woe is me" funk.

Sorry guys. Bentley is a huge loss, but I refuse to cut the Cleveland Browns any slack. I know that I speak for thousands of my fellow season ticket holders when I say that we expect a better product on the field this year. In fact, we demand it. Seven years of unrelentingly lousy football is more than anyone should be expected to tolerate. With this kind of a setback, how do the Browns get there from here? Hey, we're just fans-- that's why you guys make the big bucks. You figure it the hell out!

A lot of people have written off this team. Screw them. I still think the 2006 Browns have the potential to surprise people, but if the Gary Baxters and Lee Suggs of the world seriously prefer to talk about jinxes instead of preparing to win football games, then get them the hell out of town.

Enough of this crap. Man up, play the hand you've been dealt, and get ready to play some football.

The Latest Trade

Belliard for Luna looks like a classic salary dump to me, and regardless of the merits (or lack thereof) of adding another utility infielder to the roster, it's too hot out for me to get worked up about this deal. Go here, here, here, here or here if you want more analysis of the trade.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Down Goes Bentley

If you read the comments on the last post, you'll see that Mike from God Hates Cleveland Sports just tipped us off to this wonderful bit of news from Berea. Go read his site. I'm too sick to say anything else.

Update: Channel 5 has a story up on its website that includes video of the play, if you've got the stomach for it. Doesn't look good.

Tour de Dope

Sad news from the Tour de France, where winner Floyd Landis (pictured left) has reportedly failed a test for performance enhancing drugs.

Oh well, at least it's nice to find a sport more screwed up than baseball.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Please Accept My Apologies

Not for me, but on behalf of my pal Vinny. All he wants to talk about is the Broussard trade, when obviously the question on everybody's mind as the Browns open camp is "hey, is there a 2007 mock draft out yet?"

Well of course there is, and the early money is on the Browns picking Penn State Offensive Tackle Levi Brown with the 14th pick in the draft.

C'mon Vinny, get your head in the game.

That's what I'm talkin' about.

The Tribe traded Ben Broussard to the Mariners for Shin-Soo Choo, a AAA outfielder, and a player to be named later. Perhaps with his ass still red from the spanking the Braves administered, Shapiro pulled a masterful trade here. Choo is a real talent. At the time of the trade, his numbers at AAA Tacoma were good: .323 avg.; 21 2B's; 3 3B's; 13 HR's; 48 rbi's; and 26 SB's Moreover, he brings a few things that are in short supply in Cleveland: the ability to control the strike zone, base stealing ability, and the potential to be an above average outfielder. Choo will be an immediate defensive upgrade in whatever corner outfield spot he plays. His range is better than average and his arm is big time. He just needs to acclimate himself to the American game and get to know the hitters' tendencies.

Broussard's five years older than Choo, and his value will never be higher than it is right now. Choo could fall flat on his face, but at least he has the skills that could make him a difference maker in the bigs.

In my mind, Shapiro's redeemed himself. I just wonder when he's going to announce that the Tribe's in rebuilding mode and how many more years it will take to compete.

Inside the Park Home Runs

Casey Blake's inside the park home run last night provided Indians fans with a brief respite from this season's misery. When Blake hit his home run, Matt Underwood was on the ball enough to remind listeners that Coco Crisp did the same thing against the Tigers last year. That led me to wonder just how rare inside the park round trippers were, so off to the Internet I went.

One of the most fun things about baseball is that once you start looking into the record book, you're almost guaranteed to get more than you bargained for. That's certainly the case with inside the park home runs. For example:

  • On August 27, 1977 Toby Harrah and Bump Willis of the Texas Rangers hit back-to-back inside the park home runs on consecutive pitches. Incredibly, this was the second time this happened, the last being June 23, 1946, when Marv Rickert and Eddie Waitkus did it for the Chicago Cubs.
  • At least one player, Tom McCreery of the Louisville Colonels, has hit three inside the park home runs in a single game (some sources also credit Guy Hecker with this feat). More than 40 players have hit two inside the park home runs in the same game, but that feat has been accomplished only twice in the last 50 years. Dick Allen did it for the White Sox in 1972, and Greg Gagne hit two for the Twins in 1986.
  • One of the 40 players to hit two in a single game is Cleveland native Ed Delahanty, who did it for the Phillies on July 13, 1896. Delahanty matched his two inside the park hits that day with two more that went over the fence. For a long time, Delahanty was credited with four inside the park home runs that day, but recent research has apparently established that only two of his home runs actually stayed in the yard. Still, he is the only member of the four home runs in a game club with any inside the park home runs included in his total.
  • Rey Sanchez hit a walk-off (or maybe run-off is a better word) inside the park home run for the Devil Rays on June 11, 2004. Sanchez joined 15 other players, including Reggie Jackson, Ken Griffey and Roberto Clemente, who have accomplished that feat over the last half century.
  • Rogers Hornsby is the only man with at least 300 home runs who also has more than 30 inside the park home runs. (You can find this and more interesting home run trivia here.) Sam Crawford holds the single season and career records with 12 and 51, respectively
This stuff is like crack. Every time you look up a record, it leads to something else equally interesting. For example, I mentioned Ed Delahanty. Well, you can't mention Ed Delahanty without mentioning that his death in 1903 remains one of baseball's great mysteries. I also wrote about Guy Hecker. You probably know he was the only pitcher ever to win a Major League batting title, way back in 1886. Or maybe he didn't. It turns out that the story is a little more complicated than that.

Okay, that's it, I'm done. I've got to get ready for work.

Sunday, July 23, 2006


That's the number of strikeouts the Twins hung on the Tribe this afternoon at the Jake. I was there, and it was no fun. Francisco Liriano struck out ten in five innings. The Indians just kept hacking.

In case you weren't there, a couple of things happened that won't show up in the scorebook but which led to the Twins scoring. First, Jake Westbrook inexplicably didn't try to make a play on a bunt that sailed over his head. That same inning, Jhonny Peralta fielded a double-play ball up the middle cleanly but hesitated with the throw, and everyone was safe.

Good teams make those plays. Bad teams don't. The Indians have become a really bad team.

The Cleveland Media Puts the "Vast" in Vast Wasteland

There have been a number of reports in the local media about Randy Lerner's decision to attempt to extricate the Browns from their contract with WOIO. Channel 19 deserves whatever it gets, but it's hardly alone in its irresponsible and downright embarrassing approach to news and sports coverage.

Exhibit A in that regard is WKYC's absurd Carl Monday, who, in the course of his prurient reporting on the sad little perv who decided to rub one out in a public library, managed to make himself a national laughingstock. I've always thought that Monday was an odd duck, but his coverage of this "story" demonstrates that he's actually a truly bizarre combination of Barney Fife and Ted Baxter. It also strikes me that there's just enough Les Nessman in the guy to make him oblivious to how ridiculous he looks, and to make him think that his masterpiece of masterbatory reporting merits the coveted "Buckeye Newshawk Award."

I suppose I could talk about the other TV stations, but if you're not from here, all you really need to know about Cleveland TV news is that nobody in this town has yet figured out that Anchorman was a parody.

How about radio? Well, there's the completely useless WTAM, whose on-air personalities seem to be having an ongoing contest to see who can agree most vehemently with any move that any Cleveland team's front office makes. They seem to break from this contest only long enough to nod their heads in agreement with everything that President Bush has ever said or done. Hey WTAM, 50,000 watts and a clear channel are terrible things to waste.

I guess you could listen to WKNR, but nobody appears to do that, and for good reason. I've tuned in enough to know that if you hear anything other than the national ESPN Radio feed or Les Levine, you need to turn the dial or else risk serious brain damage. Apparently, the situation at WKNR is about to get worse, as they plan on dropping their ESPN Radio affiliation in the fall.

So, I wish Randy Lerner all the luck in the world in finding an alternative media outlet for the Browns' preseason games. The pickings in this town are mighty slim.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Browns and Wimbley Have a Deal is reporting that the Browns have reached an agreement with first round pick Kamerion Wimbley, and that he'll sign a deal later today. If true, that means the Browns will have their first round pick in camp on time for the first time since 2000.

That's good news for the Browns and even better news for Wimbley, if he has any hope of escaping the curse that's plagued Browns first round picks for years.

Ohio v. USA Football Challenge

Many high school football fans are undoubtedly eagerly awaiting the weekend of September 15-16th, because Kirk Herbstreit has put together quite a show. Some of the top high school football teams from across the nation are coming to Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati and Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon to face some of the best teams in Ohio. Check out this site for information on the 2006 Ohio v. USA high school football challenge.

The marquee matchup features defending Ohio state champ Cincinnati St. Xavier against defending national champ Lakeland, Florida. If you're down in Cincinnati, you can also see perennial Ohio power Cincinnati Elder play the legendary DeLaSalle Spartans of Concord, California. That game's at Nippert Stadium, but if you want to stay closer to home, you can travel to Massillon to see St. Edward's take on Springdale, Arkansas, the nation's 4th ranked team in 2005.

As a high school football fan, I think these matchups are fascinating, but I'm also starting to think that this kind of stuff borders on being football kiddie porn. What's next? Do we start having high school bowl games or does the media demand that we move straight to a national playoff?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Agnostic about Shapiro

Before this season, I had been very impressed with Mark Shapiro. I'd predicted last year that he would win the Executive of the Year Award, and he did. I had faith that he, almost single-handedly, would keep the organization strong despite Dolan's very very short arms and thin wallet. I've lost the faith. He gave away Brandon Phillips. He couldn't see how bad Jason Johnson was even as Johnson got bombed game after game. He was sleeping while Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez were given away. And now, he got royally pantsed in a fire sale. Perhaps not to be outdone by the Reds, he ended up being the one giving away talent.

I'm bitterly disappointed. Shapiro gave away Wickman for Max Ramirez. Ramirez is an interesting young catching prospect, who has a chance to be a good solid catcher who can hit, but I thought we already had that in Kelly Shoppach. Moreover, the odds that a 21-year-old catcher playing single A ball will be a good catcher in the bigs are remote. That applies to any young catcher. They're the riskiest prospects in baseball---even more risky than young pitchers. If you don't believe me, check out any MLB draft list and see how few of the catchers chosen in the first round even played in the bigs. There are a lot more guys like Crash Davis than Johnny Bench. Hell, most teams would be happy if one of their young catching prospects turned out like Einar Diaz. Would you be happy with a Wickman for Einar Diaz deal? I wouldn't be either.

Listen, I didn't expect Wickman to bring a player like Kearns, but I expected that the Indians would receive an solid player or a prospect who had proven himself at least at AA or higher.
Don't listen to the horse's asses on talk radio who say stuff like, "Well, we'll have to wait at least 5 years to evaluate this trade." It's a bad trade now. It will remain a bad trade even if Max Ramirez turns out to be a good player. The bottom line is that we should have gotten more.

I'm now filled with doubt about the competence of this front office. That's too bad. I liked going to church at the Jake.

Wickman's Outta Here

Paul Hoynes is reporting that the Indians have traded Wickman to Atlanta for an unnamed minor league prospect.

Here's a list of the Braves' top prospects going in to Spring Training. I wonder if the mystery man could be catching prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia? As you can see from the link in the first sentence, he entered the season regarded as the top catching prospect in baseball and is currently playing for the AA Mississippi Braves. Unfortunately, his stock appears to have dropped like a stone this season. There's apparently a conference call at 2:45 p.m. with the media to discuss the deal.

Thanks to Todd for the head's-up.

Update: It's a catcher, but not Saltalamacchia. As Vinny's comment notes, it's Max Ramirez, a rookie catcher in the low A Sally League. Unbelievable.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution can't believe it either.

Every Girl's Crazy...

'bout a sharp dressed man!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Reasons to Get Out of Bed: EA Sports and Snakes on a Plane

Yup, they lost again. This is turning into a pretty grim summer to be a Cleveland sports fan. We're just past the All-Star break, the Tribe's dead and buried, and the Browns don't even open training camp until July 26. So, the question becomes, how do we make it until the Browns' opener without choking on our own bile?

For me, the answer is two-fold. First, the greatest sports video game in the history of mankind hits the market this week. I'm talking about the latest edition of EA Sports' NCAA Football game. I freakin' love this game, and I become completely addicted to it for several weeks after I buy it. Unlike most video games, I really never tire of it, and continue to play it well into basketball and hockey season. It's the one release every year that I make sure to buy as soon as it comes out. Madden's great, but of the two, this one's more fun.

The other thing that's getting me through this turdburger of a summer is the fact that Snakes on a Plane premieres in a month. If you haven't heard of this film yet, then you should ask yourself why you bothered to get the Internet in the first place. Here's a short synopsis of the plot: assassin puts 400 snakes on a plane with Samuel L. Jackson. Got it? I mean, with the possible exception of Jackson wearing somebody else's brains splattered all over him and spouting made-up versions of quotes from the Bible, what more could any guy possibly want in a film?

Okay, maybe a big role for Harvey Keitel, but you can't have everything.

Samuel L. Jackson and his [expletive deleted] snakes on an [expletive deleted] plane don't hit theaters until August 18th, but the movie's been a pop culture phenomenon for over a year. Among other things, the sheer minimalist perfection of the film's title (which the studio tried to change) has already allowed it to morph into one of the most versatile non-obscene expressions in the English language. In fact, the pop culture impact of this movie--which, again, nobody's even seen yet--is so overwhelming that it's already got party-pooping pundits complaining about how it's the latest sign of the Apocalypse (like we haven't had enough of those in the last couple of weeks).

So, anyway, there you have it. Until the Browns season kicks off, my reasons for getting out of bed in the morning revolve around a video game and an absurdly post-modern action movie aimed at 18 year-olds. I try not to focus on how pathetic-- not to mention creepy -- that is for a guy in his 40s.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Local Boy Makes Good

Jimbo from The Burning River served as Deadspin's on-the-spot reporter for the sentencing phase of the Crime of the Century, and he sent a lot of hits our way doing it (thanks, Jimbo).

Friday, July 14, 2006

That sound was the alarm clock you missed.

I usually have good things to write about Mark Shapiro, but I don't today. He must be asleep. The Reds just gave away talent that would look mighty good wearing Indians' uniforms. The Reds traded away Austin Kearns (of), Felipe Lopez (ss/2B/3B) and Ryan Wagner (rp) for Gary Majewski and Bill Bray, who are a couple of pretty good relief pitchers, and some junk to fill out the deal.

I like Majewski, but he's not dominating. He's a good solid set-up man. Bray is interesting. He was Washington's first round pick. He's okay now, but he has some real potential. He may develop into something better than a middle reliever, but the odds are against him. I would have given Majewski and Bray for just Kearns.

When he was playing in the minors, most scouts predicted Austin Kearns would be a perennial all-star. He hasn't fulfilled his potential, but that's been primarily due to injuries. I like him. He has power, speed and a hell of a throwing arm. This year, his numbers are: .274 avg.; 16 HR; 5o rbi; and 7 SB. He also has 5 runners gunned down from RF. Lopez was also a hot-shot prospect. He hasn't been the world beater some scouts predicted, but it appears that he's emerged into a pretty good baseball player, and one I'd like to have. Lopez looks like this: .268 avg.; 9 HR; 30 rbi; and 23 SB. Huh. What?! 23 stolen bases. As a team, the Indians have 29. That means Kearns and Lopez have stolen more bases than all the players who've played for the Indians this year. By the way, they're both 26 years old. So they should have a lot of baseball in them.

The thing that breaks my heart is that Wickman and young bag of balls may have gotten both of them. If Shapiro knew Kearns and Lopez were available for relief pitching, shame on him.

New York Times Shocked by (Yawn) Auburn Scandal

Truly shocking revelations about Auburn's football program in yesterday's New York Times. As the Times breathlessly reported, several players allegedly received "high grades from the same professor for sociology and criminology courses that required no attendance and little work." Wow! An academic scandal at Auburn. What is the world coming to?

This story one of those unintentionally hilarious pieces that only a stuffy old institution like the Times could crank out. The Gray Lady may be the most respected name in American journalism, but when it comes to sports, the paper "throws like a girl." They've had some decent sports columnists over the years, but it's still fair to say that the two signature features of any New York Times story touching on the world of sports are earnestness and cluelessness. If you read it, you'll see that this story has plenty of both.

As for earnestness, quoting Gordon Gee with a straight face is a sure sign that you're taking yourself way too seriously. How anyone can take any remotely sports-related comments from that guy seriously after his infamous "a tie is one of our greatest wins ever" remark following the 1992 Ohio State v. Michigan game is beyond me.

As for cluelessness, anybody who really believes that an academic scandal at Auburn -- or any SEC school for that matter--is newsworthy enough to merit 3,000 words in the nation's newspaper of record must have just fallen off a turnip truck. I mean, c'mon--we're talking about Auburn! This is the school that prompted Steve Spurrier's famous comment that the real tragedy about a supposed fire that burned 20 books at Auburn's football dorm was that "15 of them hadn't been colored yet."

Still, what really makes this story a true classic is the paper's willful suspension of disbelief. After all, the story's implicit assumption is that any "directed study" course offering from any university's sociology department might represent something other than one of the biggest guts in the curriculum. Ha, Ha--that's a good one!

So congratulations to The New York Times. There's no way that The Onion will ever top this one.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

LeBron James is One Sharp Guy

The more I learn about LeBron's deal with the Cavs, the smarter I think the guy is. Sure, his agent and/or other advisors had a big role in it, but you know what they say, "the sharp employ the sharp."

Think about it. He's shown Cleveland some love by agreeing to re-sign, but he's kept his options open. He's figured out a way to keep the pressure on Gilbert and Ferry to build a winner on his timetable, not theirs. If they screw up, he'll head out for greener pastures at the ripe old age of 26. If they build a winner and he's happy as a clam here, well, then he's preserved his ability to grab more dough from the Cavs after the league's CBA expires and the salary cap increases.

In short, LeBron has cemented his position as the real power behind this franchise, and probably the most powerful player in the NBA. In fact, some other big name players have decided to follow his lead on their own contracts. I'll bet there are some agents who are having a lot of fun trying to explain to their clients why they didn't think of this move before LeBron and his people came up with it.

What's James risking? Back end money if he gets hurt. Yes, that could add up to a lot of dough, but James is already well beyond the point where financial security is an issue. I mean, come on, the guy doesn't just have FU money-- his FU money has FU money. When you get to that point, you take some risks in exchange for upside potential.

I think it's fair to say that LeBron James understands that idea, and that it's also fair to say that he's just shown everybody that basketball isn't the only game that he plays very well.

Update: The Disappointment Zone makes the point that we shouldn't give too much credit to LeBron, because after all, Tim Duncan did it first.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Monday, July 10, 2006


Notice received. Thanks.

Just before the All-Star break, the Tribe officially served notice that this team is a joke. They pissed away another game yesterday in genuine Keystone Kops fashion. The only consistency the Tribe has shown over the last month-and-a-half has been their maddening inconsistency.

Sure, they've got a few great players but a lot less than we all thought in March. Grady's the only real all around player on the big league roster. Pronk and Martinez are both big league DH's. Sabathia, Lee and Westbrook are very good but not great pitchers. The rest of the guys are role players, potential in waiting or just plain bums. Belliard and Blake are worth having around but they're not going to take a team to a championship. Peralta's year has been a disaster. Last year he hit the hell out of the ball. This year he hasn't. His true future projections lie between this year and last. But, none of that obscures that he's a third baseman playing shortstop. That's pretty funny considering that the Tribe gave away one of its better players to get a minor league...third baseman. Jhonny's going to be the subject of a big off-season question: What can the Tribe do with him?

I hate to pile on, but Boone's been a disaster. The Indians have wasted $3 Million a year on him.

The rest go something like this: Broussard---role player; Michaels---role player; Hollandsworth---older role player; Neidermeyer---dead.... Well, you get the picture. I don't see much changing in the near future absent a major free agent haul.

Although I'm loath to disagree with my pal, the Hornless Rhino, the minor league affiliates are not going to help out much. There's just not much game-breaking ability down on the farm. Trevor Crowe may be the only real ballplayer among the hitters. Garko will be a pretty good hitter, who shouldn't even sit next to a glove on the bench let alone wear one in the field. Stephen Head looks like he has big time power, but he can only DH or play 1B. He's also got a very long swing at times that, unless corrected, could lead to colossal strikeout totals in the bigs. There are other very good, and even great, minor leaguers in the Indians' system, but the problem is they all exhibit flaws. A flaw either gets corrected or it gets magnified at each higher level.

This is the result of Dolan's unwillingness to spend money, and therefore, Shapiro's inability to grab top talent in the draft. This may have already spelled the doom of the Tribe for the next five years. While the Indians have been diddling around and saving money, the White Sox won a World Series and whetted their fans' appetites for championships. They're going to keep spending to keep winning. Cleveland's convenient excuse that it's a small market team is irrelevant. Two of the other small market teams in the AL Central, the Tigers and the Twins, are primed for future success. Both have assembled the makings of phenomenal pitching staffs.
Detroit has Bonderman and Verlander at the top of its rotation and a young guy named Zumaya, who's going to be a stud. Minnesota has Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano. Their learning curves have been miniscule compared to Sabathia's.

What's worse is that Minnesota, in particular, has assembled some very good hitters too: Joe Mauer; Justin Morneau; Luis Castillo; and Torii Hunter. One free agent hitter could make that team a world champion as soon as next year. Detroit's got a nice combination of relative youth
and some veterans. Guys like Curtis Granderson and Chris Shelton can help that team out. More importantly, Detroit's owner has shown a willingness to get big name free agents like Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez.

On the other hand, we've got Aaron Boone.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Vittoria Dolce!

Italy beat France for the World Cup. The match was decided 5-3 by penalty kicks. The funny thing is that the Italian team has been known for its cantenaccio defense rather than its scoring ability. While I know most of the USA could care less, I'm thrilled. Although I'm not usually a superstitious guy, I've purposely refrained from two things for the last week: blogging and sex. Now with the Cup where it belongs, my absence from the blog and my celibacy can end.

I didn't want to try to post anything about the World Cup because I was fearful that it would come back to haunt me. I mean, you just never know.

The same was true about having sex. I guess that comes from following Cleveland sports. I thought that, if I somehow enjoyed myself, I'd be punished by the sports gods. It may all be a bunch of malarkey, but with the paucity of championships around here, I didn't want to chance it.

You may laugh, but the Cup is on its way to Roma, and hopefully, I'm in for a vicious bouncing tonight.

Viva Italia.

John Adams Bobble Arm Day

I'm heading down to the Jake this afternoon to watch the Tribe attempt to take two out of three from the Orioles. Of course, the game is secondary to the festivities surrounding John Adams and his "bobble arm" that will be given out to kids 14 and under.

You know, since they're using this guy to put asses in the seats, it might be a nice gesture for the Indians to see to it that he doesn't have to pay for his season tickets anymore. Adams has been banging his drum without interruption for more than 30 years, often for teams that nobody should have had to watch, and frequently in front of crowds that could have fit in your garage. That kind of loyalty should be rewarded, especially if the team's marketing department is attempting to capitalize on it.

Update: Two wild pitches and a passed ball? Seriously guys, WTF? Then, as I'm walking out of the park, some lady buys a bobble arm from one of my kids for $20, which royally pisses off the other kid and complicates my ride home worse than the construction on the I-480 ramp. Thanks for nothin' Tribe. Hope it rains on your golf games all through the break.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Let the Church Bells Ring Throughout the Land


I know that my Redeemer lives!!!

Farm Livin' is the Life for Me

Although last night's win over the Orioles was a welcome change of pace, I think every Tribe fan has a sour stomach heading into the All-Star break. Sure, there were question marks going into 2006, but I don't think anybody expected the season to degenerate into a nightmare of shaky starting pitching, catastrophic relief pitching, and defense and baserunning so consistently awful that it's hard to tell whether the problem is incompetence or indifference.

In short, it's been more than enough to make you downright surly. If, like me, you were surly to start with, well... you're probably a sociopath by now.

Fortunately, I found something that has helped take some of the sting of the Indians' performance away--I've spent some time on the farm. Over the past several weeks, I've attended Akron Aeros, Lake County Captains and Mahoning Valley Scrappers games, and I'll head to Buffalo to watch the Bisons at the end of the month.

Aside from the Indians putting together a 15 game win streak, I think watching a minor league game is absolutely the best treatment for what ails Tribe fans. It has a lot going for it. First of all, you realize that people aren't kidding about some of the talent that's in the Indians' system. For example, even though the Aeros got beat 3-2 last night, I saw Eastern League All-Star Sean Smith give up only one run over six innings, and watched Trevor Crowe run down a sharply hit ball hit over his head in center field. The kid has wheels.

Then there are the ballparks. Canal Park in Akron is just beautiful. Like most minor league parks, there's not a bad seat in the house (although some have complained about not being able to see the left field corner from seats along the third base line). The Aeros' Friday night fireworks also shame any fireworks display I've ever seen at the Jake. Still, as nice as it is, Canal Park gets a run for its money from the home parks of other Tribe affiliates. Buffalo's Dunn Tire Park is one of the largest parks in minor league baseball and lays claim to being the very first of the modern throwback ballparks. Over in Eastlake, the Captains play in as nice a ballpark as you'll find at the Single A level.

The Scrappers, who are the Tribe's short-season A league affiliate in the New York-Penn league, play at Eastwood Field in Niles. I'd tell you all about it, but I haven't been there yet. I actually saw the Scrappers play for the first time in Auburn, NY last Monday. They beat the Auburn Doubledays by a score of 6-1 that day, but the real highlight was Falcon Park, the Doubledays' home field. In addition to being a really neat little (capacity 2,500) park, there are amenities like free parking right across the street and a 16 oz Labatt's draft for $2.50 that let you know right away that you aren't in the majors.

One of the great things about being an Indians fan is that there are three minor league affiliates within 90 minutes of Cleveland, and a fourth only three hours away. If you're having a hard time remembering why you bother with this team right about now, pay them a visit.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Be True to Your Travel Team

Here's an interesting article about Renardo Sydney, one of the top 15 prep basketball players in the country. What makes him kind of unique is that he's managed to get this ranking without playing high school basketball. Yup, Sydney plays all his hoops for AAU teams.

While Sydney's an extreme case, he's another example of how these independent teams have supplanted high school programs as a breeding ground for college players. Increasingly, high school baseball, basketball and soccer teams are playing second fiddle to AAU or other "travel teams," as parents desperately try to position their kids for college athletic scholarships.

This starts very early. In my own experience, I've seen most of the talented kids abandon Little League or other local programs for travel teams by the time they're 10 years old. In his comments on my post about CYO's new minimum playing time requirements, Mike noted that a big part of the debate over those rules was the extent to which coaches perceived CYO teams as feeders to high school programs. Again, my own experience suggests that aside from sports like football (where the travel team culture hasn't taken hold), CYO teams are not a major source of players even for Catholic high schools. They may have been when we were growing up, but today, it's the travel squads that provide the talent for most high school teams.

High school coaches have encouraged and cultivated these teams. I know, for example, that most of the area's elite high school girls soccer programs pull their players almost entirely from the Premier League travel clubs, and that high school coaches often establish close ties with one or more of those clubs.

It used to be that wearing a high school varsity uniform was the dream of almost every kid who played sports--but getting there wasn't a full time job. You played football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball in the winter. You dreamed of playing for your high school, but you played because each sport was fun and competing was fun. Today, in order to play on a high school teams, players find themselves tracked into an often joyless travel team ghetto filled with year-round drudgery and slavish devotion to a single sport. Where's the fun in that?

So, I guess it's a little ironic that the monster that high school coaches helped to create is now coming back to bite them. Renardo Sydney's example suggests that the travel teams are now starting to say to their players, "hey, what's your high school team going to do for you?" I'd have a good laugh over the high schools' plight, but I think it's really a shame for the players. After all, despite the title of this post, The Beach Boys never sang a song about anybody's travel team.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy Birthday to Canada

Today is Canada Day, which is sort of Canada's Independence Day. Technically, it commemorates the adoption of the British North America Act, through which Canada became a Dominion of Great Britain. See how many hoops you have to jump through if you want to be a free country and still put somebody else's Queen on your money?

As you already know if you're a regular reader, I've got a soft spot for Canada. I went to college right across from the border and have spent a lot of time in The Great White North, and I think that it's a pretty neat country. Among its other merits, our neighbor to the north has the world's best beer store, the world's best candy bar, and the world's most entertaining sports personality.

Canada is held in pretty high regard by the rest of the world, and has been called "North America's designated driver." I have a sneaking suspicion that Canadians' intentions toward us aren't really that benevolent, but as neighbors go, I think we can stipulate that they beat the hell out of somebody like North Korea.

Plus, they've got the Mounties, who somehow manage to be totally cool and vaguely ridiculous at the same time.

Reds 9, Indians 8

Remember this scene from A Clockwork Orange, where they forced Alex to keep his eyes open and"viddie some films" that made him violently ill? If you watched the 8th and 9th innings of last night's Indians game, I think you know exactly how he felt.

When does football start?