Wednesday, June 25, 2008

3 Items or Less: Altanta Braves


1. Mark Kotsay and Gregor Blanco have made Andruw Jones a passing thought. Not only have they made us forget Andruw, they remind us of what it’s like when a Braves centerfielder comes to the plate, takes some pitches, then turns in a good at-bat. I can’t remember a time I thought that with Andruw at the plate for the Braves last season. Andruw’s at-bats consisted of him staring down the left field wall, then corkscrewing himself into the dirt trying to smash one into the Coke bottle out past the stands. It’s amazing his back and ankles are holding up to this day. … Oh wait, not only has he not panned out for the Dodgers, he’s made his way to the DL already. Not bringing A. Jones back is incredibly understated in regard to the success of this Braves’ season.

Blanco probably takes more pitches than he should, as it gets him rung up on some close calls at times, but he gets his money’s worth during each at bat. Blanco also gets credit for making this team when nothing was expected of him. Kotsay came in with some expectations (including an expected back injury during his run), and he’s not disappointed. Even though he’s getting paid decently, and his demeanor would make you think he’s not a team guy, he really seems to care about doing the things necessary for the team to win.

2. Even though Chipper Jones hitting .400 to start the season has obviously carried this team more than anything else, it’s almost overlooked. He’s expected to get two hits a game now, and even with his frustrating quads, he hardly disappoints. It’s amazing really. I’d like to give more credit to Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson making the middle of the infield solid, but Chipper’s been more valuable than anyone else, by far. I’ve often viewed his lack of expression as a player looking to just get paid, but his calming influence is actually helpful to some of these young guys. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing like watching Francouer and McCann beat each other up after one of them hits a home run.

3. Even though it’s a shadow of what the starting rotation was at the beginning of the season, the pitching has been great. Smoltz, Hudson, Glavine, Hampton, and Jurrjens were on the slate to start the season, and now they are running with Hudson, Jurrjens, Reyes, Campillo, and Morton. This group is carrying their weight like they were probably carrying those other guys’ bags in spring training. Now it’s surprising how easy it is to be lulled into believing that each of these guys have a good chance to take the team into the 6th inning without giving up more than about three runs. Bobby Cox probably sees his young pitching staff the same way I think about my kids. Once I start getting comfortable with their bedtimes, I expect that things will go well until about 9 P.M. before I need to race home an put them in bed. Next thing I know, it’s 7:30 and my two year-old is having a meltdown in the middle of a nice restaurant because she can’t do laps around our table and poke her head in the kitchen. Let’s hope Jurrjens, Reyes, Campillo, and Morton are able to stay up past their bedtime.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

THE NCAA TOURNEY: You've Got to WANT to Watch

During college, it was easy. Be sick, skip class, whatever I had to do. My brother and I were going to watch the NCAA tourney. However, since starting my “career” in the real world, the Thursday and Friday of the first weekend of March Madness has been a huge challenge. Since everyone I work with knows I’m into sports, and especially college bball, calling in sick those days doesn’t really work for me. So, I’m learning how to get myself in front of a TV during work hours on those days. It’s not been easy.

My first year out of school, working in a new town, I didn’t really have a good idea of where to go. So, I headed over to a department store, figured out how to change the channel on one of the TVs, and stood there for over an hour watching the tournament. The employees’ eyeballs can only sear your flesh for so long before you become immune to it. On days like this, it didn’t matter. After being asked if I needed any help for the third time, they determined I was probably not there to purchase a 42”, or a SD Video cable, or even a Spaceballs DVD.

Another year, my sister and I headed to a mom-and-pop cafeteria where we knew there would be a TV. Usually, no one is paying attention to it, and we figured it would be no problem to have it tuned to CBS. Well, with a little coercion, we were nodding our heads to the March Madness theme music. Just as Clark Kellogg was serenading us, the owner’s granddaughter decides it’s her time to watch cartoons, which I suppose are much more important to her. As panic set in, I tried convincing myself that the guys from Wiggles are actually semi-talented. Maybe they are, but I wasn’t going to find out. Not this day.

I dragged some of my work buddies to a well-known sandwich shop one year, knowing that the TVs were there and reachable. Well, that turned out to be a bad thing, as all my 6’4” reach was able to do is shut down the cable box. This resulted in me being asked not to “mess with the television.” What is the deal? Does no one in this town watch the best tournament known to man? Again, the familiar panic and frustration set in.

This year, I am once again trying to enjoy the NCAA’s March Madness On Demand, which is a spectacular idea from the NCAA heads. So, I’ve scouted out locations where I can get Wi-Fi access to watch the games, and I can only come up with one place. Krystal. The southern version of Harold and Kumar would be proud. So, I’m sitting here now, surprised at another year of how the tournament viewing has gone for me. I have to do it though, because the alternative is to not watch, and that’s not an alternative.