The Braun Legacy (in theatres soon)

I realize I’m several days late to the party in terms of discussing the arbitrator’s ruling in favor of Brewers’ star Ryan Braun, but it took me a while to come to grips with exactly how I feel about it. I’ve now done that and I’ve concluded one thing for certain…

I want the movie rights.

Before you scoff, remember that Hollywood made a successful movie last year about Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane. Sure, it helped that Brad Pitt starred in the movie, but if Aaron Sorkin can put a winning script together centered on the value of on-base percentage, imagine what he could do with the mystery surrounding Braun’s urine sample!

Most accounts of the Braun issue begin with that sample he provided last fall. But to set the stage, we need to go back much further. Let’s run the opening credits for our film over scenes of Congressional Hearing Chambers and various players, MLB executives and Players Union representatives being challenged by our duly elected representatives, intent on ridding baseball of performance enhancing drugs. Then we’ll kick off the first scene of our movie in a conference room where MLB’s Commissioner and The Executive Director of the Players Union ponder what can be done to get Congress off their collective backs.

The Commissioner is desperate to impose a drug enforcement program with teeth, but the Union insists that any program must include pesky safeguards to assure any tests performed are accurate and that players are afforded due process. There’s particular sensitivity to confidentiality issues, in light of the fact that the last time the Players Union agreed to “confidential” testing by baseball, MLB’s mishandling of the testing data resulted in test results being widely publicized.

In the end, the two sides come to an agreement. The testing program includes protocols assuring that samples will be secured from the time they’re given by the athlete up through and including the time tests are performed in the lab. Players will have the right to have an arbitration panel (consisting of one MLB representative, one Union representative and one “independent” arbitrator) hear appeals, and all of this will be confidential until the process is completed and any penalties enforced. The scene ends with everyone slapping one another on the back and telling one another how smart they all are.

Now, we fast forward a couple of years and introduce our Midwestern hero… a talented ballplayer with a sterling reputation who has just helped his team (and coincidentally, the very same team that the MLB Commissioner used to own) to a playoff run and has been voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player in the process. There’s only one problem… it seems Mr. Clean was so stupid that he had no idea he might be tested for PEDs during the playoffs and filled himself with so much juice that he tested positive for unprecedented testosterone levels right in the middle of that playoff run.

How do fans find out about this? Is it announced by MLB, along with the requisite 50-game suspension, once the appeal process had been completed? No… America finds out from a National Sports Network (we’ll use a “fictionalized” name to protect ourselves from being sued by the real network, but everyone will know exactly who we’re talking about), thanks to an anonymous source who leaks news of the positive test before the star player can have any appeal heard. Ah… intrigue!

Our hero subsequently (and loudly) proclaims his innocence. But then, don’t they all? The repercussions are swift and loud, especially from those appearing on the aforementioned National Sports Network that broke the story. How can we take back his MVP award? We can’t? Why not? Heisman Trophy winners have had their awards repossessed and the NFL has had a re-vote when a “cheater” won a similar postseason award. The good of the game requires correction of this travesty!

Though the appeal process moves forward, the assumption is that this is just a formality. After all, no player’s appeal has ever been successful… has it? Well, not that anyone knows of. But then again, if the confidentiality of the process is maintained, how would anyone know if prior appeals were successful? The player certainly won’t say anything and undermine his own reputation and MLB would have no interest in admitting a failure of the testing program they tout as being the best in professional sports. But those are just dry details, so we’ll leave them out… after all, the National Sports Network says no appeal has ever been successful, so it must be so!

Taking dramatic license, our appeal hearing takes place in a hall much like what we’d expect to see at the U.S. Supreme Court, rather than some bland conference room. In a scene reminiscent of something from “My Cousin Vinny,” the player’s counsel gets the part-timer that MLB entrusted to promptly FedEx the urine sample to the lab to admit that, instead, he took the sample home with him because FedEx isn’t open on Saturday. But did he not store the sample in a secure, cool place, as called for by the league’s protocol? Well, not exactly. He left it on his desk in a Tupperware container for the weekend. The camera focuses on the Commissioner, sitting at the table with the league’s lawyer, as he nods and whispers, “That seems reasonable to me.”

Of course, the predictable plot twist unfolds as our hero is acquitted… I mean he wins his appeal… and the half of the courtroom donning Brewers jerseys stands and cheers, while the suits on the other half loudly voice their displeasure using multi-syllabic words nobody understands.

Now, the hero stands at the courthouse steps, smiling to the cameras as he reminds everyone, “I told you I was innocent!” His supporters, across the country, rejoice and call for apologies to be made (mostly via Twitter).

The Commissioner, however, rails at the injustice. He blames the “independent” arbitrator (apparently not having expected him to behave as though he actually were independent) and loudly declares that the evil ballplayer escaped justice on a technicality.

Of course, the media falls in line behind the revered Commissioner and echoes the “escaped on a technicality” refrain. This is especially true of virtually every celebrity talking head employed by the National Sports Network.

A significant number of ballplayers rise up in vocal support of the hero (again, mostly via Twitter), but they are roundly criticized by the media for daring to support a cheater who’s “beaten the system.” Soon, even a number of players are voicing their displeasure at the “verdict.”

Maybe I’ll make viewers leave the theatre without being told the end of the story, leaving them with as many questions as answers. None of those questions will be bigger than, “what happened to that sample?”

Or maybe I’ll take the “Oceans 11” approach and run quickly through a montage showing how the guy who collected the urine was actually a Cubs fan and how he and a steroid gulping bodybuilder friend of his substituted a testosterone-juiced sample for the player’s in the hope of seeing the rival star suspended.

Better yet, do you remember “Clue”? Maybe I could create an alternate montage that some movie-goers would see… where the hero turns out to be dirty as hell and promised the urine collector 100 grand if he found a way to make the sample unreliable.

The options are endless. I can make up any story line I want because nobody knows what really happened. Face it, this kind of thing is an Oliver Stone wet dream. I’ll make millions!

But seriously, folks…

Whatever happened, aren’t those strict protocols in place for a reason? And isn’t that reason to assure that tampering cannot happen? Given the stigma that goes with even being suspected of using PEDs, don’t we want to be absolutely positive no tampering took place before we brand any player a cheater? Isn’t that also why they’re supposed to protect the confidentiality of the player until the process is complete?

This case never should have come to public light, but once the circumstances did come out, Bud Selig should have stood up and said, “We established protocols for drug testing that are intended to assure that tests are accurate and that samples are secure from possible tampering. In this case, Ryan Braun’s urine sample was not secured appropriately and thus may or may not have been tampered with. In such a circumstance, we must assume he is not guilty of using PEDs.” If Selig felt compelled to rant, he could rant about whoever leaked the results to the media.

That would have been the right thing to do. But, of course, he didn’t do that.

Our film project may leave the audience wondering what happened, but unfortunately, I think most of us know what the future holds for Ryan Braun’s reputation.

Bud Selig didn’t do the right thing in this situation, but he isn’t the real villain. That dishonor goes to whoever leaked the test results and to those in the media who innitially ran the story on the basis of that anonymous source.

Think about that the next time you read someone from the “real” media pontificating about the lack of journalistic ethics and integrity of bloggers. I know I will… and, for me, that will be the Braun Legacy.

- JC

In Line at the Coffee Shop..

I was very tempted to take a picture with my phone and post – in fact I battled back and forth whether to do it a LOT – but I finally decided that it would be borderline unethical to post a picture of the man without his permission.. And even though I kind of felt vengeful, I resisted the urge and just decided to share the experience with you instead.

With the move still not quite complete, I haven’t dug out the coffee maker at home, nor do I have internet -won’t until we get back from Spring Training – so I made a morning trip to get the requisite caffiene & wifi. As I was standing in line, the older gentleman in front of me was chatting up the cash register attendant – an attractive older woman who was definitely in the mood to be chatted up. I don’t begrudge anyone the time or the ego boost of a little flirting for the most part so I just waited patiently & debated the pastries in the case in front of me..

In the course of the conversation, a HORRIBLE truth came to light. She commented on his rather nice Twins hat.. “Are you a Twins fan?” Such a nice, innocent & easy question that I was unprepared for the horrible answer he gave…

“No, my friend gave me this hat. I’m actually a Yankees fan… “

I almost choked.

And seriously… I was a bit offended. And then I yelled at myself for even caring.. and then I realized it didn’t matter that I shouldn’t care, I did, and it bugged me.

Dude.. if you are a fan of ANOTHER team, DON’T wear MY team’s gear?!?!

But it was a gift from a friend.. who has infinitely better taste and is obviously working on the friend – or at least trying to keep him from getting killed here in MN. Shouldn’t that count for something? Yeah, it means I think I like his friend…

 

 

 

Sunday Morning Comic Relief

Moved MOST of the stuff into the new house yesterday so I’m not even sure that it’s morning much less Sunday but there you go.. back to the townhouse for final clean up and painting – AFTER a nice leisurely breakfast at Caribou so we can both catch up on the internet since we don’t have that installed at the new house yet..  But now I’m counting down to Spring Training!!!!! (which is a great distraction from the need for copious pain & allergy meds.. ) 

Now that we have moved, I can really start thinking about BASEBALL!!!

 

Reasons for Hope

I’m not an idiot (most of the time). I know the Detroit Tigers are consensus favorites to win the AL Central Division title again… probably by double digit games again. I know the Twins are not widely viewed as the most likely team to challenge the Tigers if such a challenger does emerge.

But as I mentioned a few days ago, Spring Training is my Mardi Gras! I’ll deal with reality on Opening Day. For now, I’m going to enjoy the simple fact that baseball is being played a few miles south of where I live (OK, a few hundred miles, but who’s counting?). I’m not going to get dragged in to the negativism that others seem hell-bent on maintaining. I’m not judging them… I’ll even appear on their podcasts occasionally… it’s just not what I want to be feeling this time of year.

I want to find reasons for hope and if some so-called “serious fans” think that’s a bad thing, for whatever reason, I can live with that.

With that in mind, I went looking for reasons for hope this week and I found a few. No, they aren’t reasons to be confident (if you find some of those, send them my way please!), but I don’t need confidence right now… a little hope, however realistic or unrealistic it may be, is all I need.

I found some hope, too. In fact, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated (si.com, to be precise) gave me a handful of things to grasp on to. Some of them even reinforced opinions I already held, which is always convenient. Here are a few things Verducci brought up (click here for the link) that a Twins fan can grasp on to if she/he feels so inclined:

  • In 16 of the past 17 seasons (and for 6 straight seasons running), at least one team has made the postseason after having a losing record the year before. In fact, both the D’Backs and Brewers did so last season, making for 33 teams in those 17 years that have accomplished the “losers to postseason” turnaround.
  • Having an All-Star rotation is not what gets you to the playoffs. Having a HEALTHY rotation is what gets you to the playoffs. Forget about whether Mauer, Morneau and Span are healthy (good luck ignoring that), it’s all about having at least four of the Twins starters (Pavano, Liriano, Baker, Marquis and Blackburn) getting 30 starts. In the past four years, 11 teams have had four starters get 30 starts and 10 of those teams made the playoffs. Six of them ended up in the World Series. I’ve believed for a long time that the rotation is as important as (if not more important than) pretty much any other factor in getting things turned around. I just didn’t know how right I was.
  • Here’s a big one to remember… especially for those of us who are disappointed in the roster, as built by Terry Ryan during the offseason… contenders CAN be built during the season. The guys making up the 25 man roster at the beginning of the season matter less than the guys who END the season on the roster. Of the 24 players who saw action for the Cardinals in the World Series last year, five of them were not members of their organization on Opening Day.

See? Verducci came through for me! I’m not sure I really need more, but I have more anyway.

We’ve already discussed Jim Leyland’s intention to hand other AL Central managers a gift by having Miguel Cabrera play 3B regularly, but now he also likes the idea of Brandon Inge playing 2B. Despite feeling like Inge has destroyed the Twins all by himself at times over the years, I like that idea, too. Though I suspect I like it for much different reasons than Leyland.

There were a few people who lamented the fact that the Indians were able to sign Jon Garland for next to nothing, supposedly further entrenching themselves as the second-favorite AL Central team among the “experts.” Well, forget that. Garland’s deal was canceled this week when he admitted he was not healthy enough to pitch. I’m still waiting to read all the stories about how it turned out to be OK that Terry Ryan didn’t go out and sign Garland. I suspect the wait will be a long one.

But enough about other teams. Here’s something tangible for a Twins fan like me to grasp on to concerning the Twins themselves: As position players begin their workouts, the entire “injury list” consists of Luke Hughes and his strained shoulder and Brian Dozier with a cut on his finger. Yes, I know we’ll all hold our breath a bit until Justin Morneau demonstrates all is well with his head (and all those other body parts he had rebuilt over the past several months). But Gardy had so many guys sitting out practices and games all through Spring Training last year that I felt inclined to take my glove with me to the Ft. Myers complex while I was down there… you know, just in case the Twins manager needed an extra body.

The point is… as much as people like to say Spring Training isn’t really important for most players, it really is. Players ideally show up in much better shape than they did in the old days, but there’s “in shape” and then there’s “in game shape.” They are not necessarily the same thing. And from all appearances, the Twins are reporting much better prepared to get down to the serious business of preparing for the season this spring.

I still have to endure over four more weeks of Iowa winter before I get to head to Ft. Myers, but I’m determined to just enjoy following Spring Training through the eyes and ears of the writers and bloggers who are down there in the mean time. If that’s not the kind of thing you’re wanting to read about, I’m sorry for disappointing you… but not very. :)

- JC

 

Lindsay’s Headed to Arizona!

Congratulations to Lindsay Guentzel!!!

Thanks to all you fans for doing your part and voting her in! Of course, I’m sure she’d rather be going to Spring Training in Ft. Myers but still.. it’s baseball in the spring and baseball fans are baseball fans. I think it’s a good bet that she’ll have a fantastic time.

Here’s the announcement from MLB:

The voting period for MLB Fan Cave 2012 has closed. After closely monitoring the campaign efforts of all 50 finalists that have garnered more than one million votes, we have narrowed down the field to 30. You can watch the video submissions of the remaining finalists below. These 30 fans will travel to Spring Training in Arizona next week (Feb. 28-March 1) for the final step in their quest to be a 2012 MLB Fan Cave contestant. 

I have NO idea what they will have to do next as they continue to narrow the field… Here’s to hoping that Lindsay is able to hold her ground but I have full faith in her.

LAST DAY for MLB FanCave Voting!

Two weeks ago, I told you that we needed your help to get a Twins fan, Lindsay Guentzel, into the MLB FanCave!

Well this is it folks. Today is the last day to vote. So let’s get busy and get the votes in!

1st: Go to MLB FanCave Voting and pick Lindsay’s video and vote! Do it as many times as it will let you! LOL

2nd: if you’re on twitter, go to @LindsayGuentzel & give her a follow

If you haven’t voted yet, this is your chance. if you have been voting already, thanks for your efforts!

Baseball’s Mardi Gras Season

Happy Mardi Gras!

Is that something you even say? I’m not much of a Mardi Gras-er, so I don’t really know the lingo. Here’s pretty much all I know about Mardi Gras:

  • I know what it is… kind of. (Fat Tuesday is the night before Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, but people pretty much celebrate for several weeks leading up to that date).
  • I know that, while New Orleans is known for Mardi Gras, it’s actually celebrated in a lot of other cities, too. (I still haven’t figured out what the difference is between Mardi Gras and Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, but then I really don’t care, either.)
  • There’s something about “king cake” with a tiny plastic baby baked in to it, though I never cared enough about that to ask what it’s all about. (I do like cake, but I’m not real big on choking to death on tiny plastic toys hidden in my cake.)

That’s it, really.

Oh wait a minute…

  • Beads… I know about beads and how they are acquired. (Men have to buy them, women don’t, yet somehow by the end of the night, women are wearing almost all of them.)

One thing I’ve really never quite figured out about Mardi Gras is… well… WHY? Best I can tell, Mardi Gras is about partying without conscience right up to Ash Wednesday, when I guess you’re supposed to sober up and face the reality of your actions.

No, I really don’t “get” Mardi Gras.

Then again, I have a lot of friends who can’t quite grasp why I get all excited about Spring Training, either. They don’t understand why I would devote so much time following what really is nothing more than “baseball practice,” much less why I would use up a week’s worth of vacation from work and a fair amount of money every year to travel almost 1,000 miles to WATCH that practice and a few games that don’t count.

I try to explain…

  • It’s a stretch of several weeks when we get to watch baseball and talk about baseball without guilt or anxiety. Yes, there are games being played (a full month’s worth, actually), but we really don’t care who wins them. After all, a loss in a Spring Training game has absolutely no effect on a team’s place in the standings.
  • We’ve spent months dealing with snow and cold and Spring Training is held someplace very warm. Face it, if you told your family you wanted to go to Florida for a week in March for any reason other than Spring Training, they’d probably tell you that you’re too old for “spring break.”
  • But the best thing about Spring Training is that it allows us to celebrate the arrival of the baseball season and think about all of the “what ifs” that might allow our favorite team to be contenders. We can spend several weeks speculating about whether this veteran still can play or that young player will have a breakout season, without being proven right or wrong immediately.

But most people don’t get it. Only other “baseball people” understand… and not even all of them seem to grasp the concept.

By this time of year, I am tired. I’m tired of arguing about moves that were made and moves that weren’t. I don’t want to debate whether finishing .500 is a reasonable expectation for the Twins or whether there’s any chance they could compete for the AL Central Division if they stay healthy and I certainly don’t want to think about the possibility that they could be as bad as (or even worse than) last season. There will be time enough for that when the euphoria of spring ends and we have to face the reality of the wins and losses that count.

Right now, I just want to celebrate the arrival of Spring Training. I want to talk about what could be. I want to get drunk on stories about bullpen sessions and batting practice and fielding drills and how the Twins are going to play much better defense this season.

I’ll just keep overindulging on the possibilities, right up through the last Spring Training game of the year. Then, and only then, I’ll return to reality when the Twins take the field at Camden Yards on April 6.

Yes, Spring Training will be my Mardi Gras. Now… who wants beads?

- JC

Sunday Morning Comic Relief

 

SPRING TRAINING!! BASEBALL’S HERE!! My thanks to JC for carrying the load so well while I’ve been house-obsessed. But if there is one thing that can get my brain out of packing/moving/cleaning/painting world is the start of another baseball season. I can’t wait to get down there!

I’ve hardly been able to tear myself away from my twitter feed because our ever dutiful beat guys are down there sharing pics, videos and general hilarity from the pitchers & catchers who are going through the beginning of daily exercises! I totally encourage you to follow them – you’ll feel warmer just reading!

Phil Mackey – @PMac21

LaVelle E. Neal – @LaVelleNeal

Rhett Bollinger – @RhettBollinger

John Shipley – @shipleykid

And So It Begins

It’s finally here… the day Twins pitchers and catchers report!

It feels like I should write something monumental to mark the occasion, but as is almost always the case, I find that there are other Twins bloggers who can speak to the occasion much more eloquently than I. So, if you haven’t done so already, go check out the blogs of the following terrific writers:

K-bro welcomes our favorite players back in to our lives with poetry and optimism with her “The Start of Something Great” post.

TwinsGeek adds his own twist to Franklin Pierce Adams’ famous poem, with his “Baseball’s Happy Lexicon – 2012.”

Seth Stohs isn’t as poetic as the Geek and K-bro, but his prose is no less enthusiastic in his joy at the uttering of “Four Words that Make Me Smile: Pitchers and Catchers Report!”

They said it right.

- JC

It’s “Pitchers & Catchers Report” Holiday Weekend!

There’s a rumor going around that Monday is a holiday of some kind. I’ve always felt that Opening Day should be a holiday, but since someone apparently decided instead to make the Monday after “pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training” a holiday, I’m not going to complain about it. Those of us with Monday off really should try to come up with something appropriately baseball-related to help us celebrate.

Pitchers and catchers report this weekend!

The Twins’ pitchers and catchers officially report to Spring Training Saturday, with first official workouts, I believe, scheduled for Sunday. When that happens, it’s officially “baseball season.” I guess we’ll have to come up with some kind of new “countdown” widget to put up over on the right side of the page. Maybe a countdown to Opening Day? Ah, a blogger’s work is never done.

Speaking of which, with the season quasi-officially underway, our work here is about to get more serious, too. Sure, it’s been fun ranting about Bud Selig and the Twins’ moves (or lack thereof) and how things are shaping up for other teams, but if we’re being perfectly honest, most of us ran out of really interesting topics to talk about a long time ago. But with baseball players actually getting on the field this weekend, that’s about to change.

We’ve already been getting a few reports from Ft. Myers from both paid professional media like the Strib’s LaVelle E. Neal III (who’s been getting his blog warmed up with occasional reports) as well as bloggers fortunate enough to be on the scene like John Swol of TwinsTrivia.com (who’s posted about several pre-camp visits he’s made to the complex, along with links to a whole bunch of pictures).

Pretty soon (though not soon enough), it will be our turn. I’ll be making my way down to Ft. Myers toward the end of Spring Training for my annual trip and I will be posting pretty much daily while I’m there.

Babs: Now you've seen Ft Myers Beach... so you can just go watch baseball

But this season, I won’t be the only Knuckleball reporting from the Lee County Sports Complex. CapitalBabs will be embarking on her first-ever Spring Training adventure early in March. She has promised to post her impressions and we can pretty much count on seeing a whole bunch of pictures, though she did mention that she and her hubby also have plans to spend time on non-baseball related activities while they are in Ft. Myers. She mentioned something about golf and beaches. Heck, I didn’t even know there was anything going on in Florida besides baseball that time of year.

Anyway, I really enjoy seeing and hearing about the Spring Training experience through different eyes and especially from the perspective of fans who haven’t been down there before, so I’m looking forward to reading Babs’ reports.

Of course, we won’t be the only bloggers to make the journey. I haven’t heard or read about everyone who’s announced plans to make the trip but I did read that Thrylos, from Tenth Inning Stretch, is planning on reporting from Ft. Myers at some point. If you know of other bloggers going down there, do us a favor and mention something about it in the comments section. Likewise, if any of our readers are going to be down there, let us know that, too. We’d love to hear from you and maybe even share your favorite pictures from your trip, if you’re willing.

If you feel inclined, you can also click hereand hereand here… to go back and read the Spring Training Guide tips I posted about this time a year ago. Or just wing it and discover things on your own!

Podcast Appearance

I also want to mention that I participated in “The Phil Naessens Show” podcast Thursday night. You can give it a listen over at The Baseball Page site (www.thebaseballpage.com). If you haven’t added The Baseball Page to your regular list of sites to check out, you should. The folks there cover a wide variety of MLB issues. Phil is interviewing bloggers representing all of the Major League teams. I encourage you to overlook his questionable judgement in choosing me to be his Minnesota Twins blogger representative and check it out anyway.

Condolences

Finally, we send our condolences out to the family, friends and fans of Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, who passed away Thursday, less than a year after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Carter was never one of my favorite players, probably because he never played for a team I felt any particular affinity toward, but I do remember the enthusiasm he brought to the game. I remember watching him and thinking, “that guy really enjoys playing baseball.” He obviously also played the game very well. Carter was just 57 years old at his passing and I have to admit that hits just a bit too close to home for me. Rest in Peace, Gary.

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Once again, if any of you have Spring Training plans, by all means leave a comment or at least email us and let us know about your plans!

- JC