Keeping score is somewhere between a rite of passage and a badge of honor for any serious baseball fan. There is a secret code involved that all scorekeepers learn. Once one progresses to the level of veteran, a scorekeeper generally expands upon this basic code with symbols and notations of their own. The act of charting the game is somewhat meditative. There is a singularity of focus, which makes one a conduit for the game for the span of each half inning.
Conjoined with the act of scorekeeping is the scorebook. The scorebook is a memory bank. It is a chart of the game’s actions, but it’s great strength is to recall the game’s stillness as well. Looking back at old games recalls the people and the time that the game lived alongside.
But almost all scorebooks are ugly as shit. First off, for something that’s supposed to be portable the things are honkin’. Some have 15 batters, some have only 9 innings. Many have a ton of unnecessary columns and rows for keeping stats like caught stealing and sacrifice flies. And they all feature a tragically hideous cover, bound by a plastic spiral. Well, all but one.
The scorebooks from Eephus League are attractive. Bethany Heck ( @EephusLeague ), their creator, did a phenomenal job. They are actually portable, as they cut out all the extra batters and moved some stats summaries out of the game section. They even managed to squeeze in a 10th and 11th inning. Plus, for the tactile aware, the paper feels terrific to write on.
They also feature a page which precedes each game, wherein the scorekeeper fills in who sang the national anthem, or denotes the weather and their seat number for the day. This adds a lot to the value of the scorebook as a document, since you are drinking in these details of your surroundings and building a memory. So later, as you flip through the old scorebook, that memory is richly and easily evoked.
Eephus League also includes both a detailed fold out and a quick reference card, for teaching the beginner how to score. As someone who has been keeping score since around age 5, I can’t tell how effective these are, but they seem extremely clear, and are certainly attractive and well organized.
It’s nice to look forward to carrying something attractive to the yard or having something of quality to keep score on at home, as I wait for the season to start. It’s even nicer to know that other people out there are deeply in love with this little corner of the game.
It goes without saying that I want the season to start. But I actually enjoy the offseason portion of baseball’s annual cycle. In past years it was a time for getting antsy to again watch for the familiar things that are the standard currency of a baseball season: a great rookie, an aging veteran delivering one final elite season, a milestone statistic on the horizon, or cooking up strategies for fantasy baseball. But as I have grown older and more thoughtful (and have quit fantasy sports) I enjoy reassessing what is left of the game (and of life) that I have not yet fully explored. This year, I hope to place a heavier focus on minor league and college baseball.
Last year I took trip to my alma mater, Cal State Fullerton and then attended games at Lake Elsinore and Inland Empire, Class-A Advanced California League affiliates of the Padres and Angels, respectively. I had been to college and minor league games before, but something had changed for me.
I like how weird minor league fans and towns are, and how easy and cheap it is to sit in the first row behind the plate. Watching elite talents like Austin Hedges in a developmental stage provides an exciting glimpse of the player a prospect might become, and it enables a richer appreciation for the quality of play in the Major Leagues. But the minors are also an experience in their own right. The towns, parks and names are smaller, but the character of each minor league yard is truly unique and usually a little bizarre.
As of today, I have decided to attempt to attend a game at every minor league park in California this year. That means 12 parks spanning nearly 500 miles.
San Jose Giants (SF/A+)
Sacramento River Cats (OAK/AAA)
Stockton Ports (OAK/A+)
Modesto Nuts (COL/A+)
Bakersfield Blaze (CIN/A+)
Visalia Rawhide (AZ/A+)
Fresno Grizzlies (SF/AAA)
High Desert Mavericks (SEA/A+) – Adelanto, CA
Inland Empire 66ers (LAA/A+) – San Bernardino, CA
Lake Elsinore Storm (SD/A+)
Lancaster Jethawks (HOU/A+)
Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAD/A+)
The reason I mention this here, besides being consumed with it at the moment, is that I hope to create profiles on each park and provide a glimpse into what it’s like to watch a game at each one. I will try to bring the flavor of each city and stadium into the mix to help give those of you who can’t make it to a game an idea of what is out here in California. And for those of you that would like to go to these parks, I will try to make it easier for you to decide where to head first.
Having been to Inland Empire, I can tell you that unlike relatively charming towns, like nearby Riverside, San Bernardino is depressing and ugly, owing mainly I imagine to the imploded housing market. The stadium is featureless except for the vaguely-Spanish-mission style facade, the 66ers have one of the ugliest mascots in the world, and I saw some people who I am almost certain have been exposed to high levels of heretofore unknown radioactive elements. Clear some room on the periodic table, Dr. Scientist.
Lake Elsinore is a different story. Yes it’s a rectangular, manmade lake. But there is a place where you can get a sandwich and killer pasta salad at the top of a mountain with a panoramic view of the valley and lake below. There is a solid, friendly craft brewery in town and the stadium includes a view of a range of hills so rolling it looks like the background of a cartoon.
And the difference between those two places and experiences is the same as the difference between any two minor league destinations. This tempts me to wager that there is more in the way of surprise and variety among minor league towns than you might experience in your travels to different big league parks.
And I think that points toward something in our culture. I think we tend to look at strange things, little experiences and wonky places and think less of them, in favor of an aesthetically coherent and consistent “normal.” It’s a facet of mall-centrism maybe. I am not necessarily concerned with finding out if it’s better to be the way we are or some other way, at least not for the purposes of this blog. But I am interested in finding out what the other way is like and I want to see Carlos Correa in the process.
You may remember I attempted a Podcast here a while back. It had a great name (National West Dispatch) and was really fun to record, but it wasn’t fun to edit and, while I think it turned out fine, it missed the mark. Simply put, I am not a professional talker and I wasn’t able to recreate the natural quality of conversation I normally enjoy outside the context of the podcast with my then co-host, Jeff.
The following post is copied and pasted from a conversation he and I had on google chat. It’s been formatted to look good, But it’s largely unchanged, and it’s what I wished the podcast could have been, maybe it still could be.
It features Dodger Stadium policies, the worst food decisions of 2013, colorful language and some surprisingly professional discourse regarding MLB’s new expanded replay. It begins with Jeff sending me a link to an article about how some jackass little league coach is suing a kid for $500,000. The kid chucked his helmet off celebrating as he scored the game winning run and the helmet severed the jackass coach’s achilles. He’s also so suing the league for another $500K.
Jeff: Every couple of years you get a great heartwarming story like this.
RA: “Fuck all humans” is the first thought that comes to mind, the second one is “that’s a bit extreme.” But the third one is “well, maybe not that extreme, though.”
J: That kid must’ve tossed the shit outta that helmet!
RA: Or that guy is made of hay. I wonder if anyone had a radar gun pointed at it.
J: Did John tell you about my Dodger Stadium research? About bringing in coolers and radios and stuff?
J: Oh, I was sitting around the other night thinking “I’ll never eat another Dodger Dog,” so I started trying to game plan around that. I’m actually considering bringing a cooler into every baseball game I go to this year, loaded with delicious sammies and bottled waters. It’s not earth shattering stuff, but it’s a pretty clear indication of where I’m at in my life.
RA: Let me just say, it sounds like you’re in a good place. Those are healthy thoughts. But what’s the research part?
J: First, stadium policies. Second, mini binoculars. I want to go to at least 10 dodgers games this year, like $8 tickets. I probably went to about that many last year so maybe I’m shooting low.
RA: It’s surprising that you’re allowed to bring in coolers.
J: Yeah, coolers. No ice. 16x16x8, so nothing big.
J: I thought “no way they’re letting you bring in a meal!”
RA: Same. This is making me realize that I am really at odds with stadium food. In fact, it’s the one part of the game experience I don’t like that much. Either you pay out the ass for something that is barely acceptable or you eat total shit.
J: I have a history of making rash food decisions at stadiums.
RA: I have seen it happen several times. Exhibit A: Spring Training nachos. Exhibit B: Jumbo picante dog.
J: Those nachos were a top 10 worst meal of 2013 contender. Followed by that weird office tamale thing. What was that??
RA: Haha. It was a tamale… sort of. It was called a tamale, but I would contend it was not one.
J: What was it covered in though? My memory is telling me it was a tamale on a hamburger or something.
RA: Haha, gross ass chili… well, chili slime.
J: Chili slime is right. That was the number one worst thing I ate in 2013. It had that microwave burrito soggy bottom covered in chili slime.
RA: Ugh fuck.
J: I can’t wait to see how poorly prepared MLB is to execute its new replay policy this year.
1. 50% of the coaches/managers will be reading about it for the first time this spring.
2. There are a maximum of 3 play-by-play announcers that will have even close to a clue about what’s happening by June. It’s going to be utter chaos.
RA: Haha, possibly true. I don’t know actually, I went to some AFL games and they had it going so they could diagnose some of the issues. So the league is at least in front of the curve to that extent.
J: Haha, that doesn’t fix the fact that it’s the league employees that don’t give half a shit. You can’t fix that in the AFL.
RA: No not the AFL employees, they had guys in from MLB to test it in live situations, with zero at stake.
J: They should make the coaches challenge calls in the spring so they get the hang of it.
RA: That’s actually what they were doing in the AFL. They were encouraging the managers to challenge any close plays just so they could run through the process as often as possible. I think the league is very freaked out about how this will go down, which means they are actually preparing in a somewhat effective manner.
J: There’s still a bunch of coaches that won’t know what the fuck is happening.
RA: Kirk Gibson, we’re looking at you! Actually the manager’s role is relatively simple, they just challenge or don’t and they either run out of challenges or they have more left over. Anything they don’t understand can be explained in the moment. Plus, the action of the challenge stems naturally from the flow of the game. They just replace going out to argue with going out to challenge. I’m more worried about how bad announcers will affect public opinion against it because they just aren’t clear enough on the play/procedure/etc.
RA: This is a good conversation. It has good stuff about being at the ballpark, MLB replay, funny food. You mind if I post it as an article? I’ll send you a transcript so you can omit anything you think is unsavory, etc.
J: Haha. Screw it, post away.
RA: You don’t want to take out all the stuff you said about how black guys make bad managers? And how you hate it when people have a gay looking face?
– RA Rowe with Jeff Walters
The one redeeming quality of the Cubs used to be that Wrigley was pure. The fanciest thing about it was Old Style, which if you’ve ever had Old Style you know is as far from fancy as craft singles are from Iberico.
Is there anything more meaningless than a mascot? If you’re going to add distractions invented in the eighties and injure something as pure as Wrigley Field, shouldn’t you get something out of it?
The Cubs claim to have based this decision on many survey answers they received to the tune of people wanting more family friendly entertainment. But just because people say they want something doesn’t mean they will actually pay for it. And aren’t there larger impediments to family atmosphere at the stadium. Does a short sweaty guy in a bear suit 30 sections over turn the drunk Chicagoans sitting next to you into puppets that sing about the alphabet?
There are also some really interesting aspects of the renovations the Cubs got approved in 2013. Let’s revisit what they plan to do. Let me just flip through these here.
Oh cool backwards plates in the batting cages, weird, but at least fans don’t see that. Also, those guys are really crowding the plate and that water cooler is on the ground. Does Anthony Rizzo have to hoist it up every time Starlin Castro wants a drink. Hot tip: if you are doing an artist’s rendering with the purpose of getting baseball fans excited, put someone in the room that gives a shit about baseball. It’s obvious to baseball fans when that doesn’t happen and it telegraphs the fact that this has nothing to do with baseball. Woooooopsies!
Moving on. So let’s say you can do whatever you want for new restaurants and you have Wrigley Field as a potential backdrop. Does it make the most sense to build an Appelbee’s with windows facing away from the interior of the park? Hmm, table for zero please!
Oh and how about a Buffalo Wild Wings dungeon?
Alright let’s head into the stands, and- wait, what? I know I’m at Wrigley Field you morons, you don’t need to build enormous signs to remind me all game and blind the catcher on throws from the right field corner. It says the name of the stadium on the outside of the stadium. What does this add?
And hey now, a video board. Boy I’m glad you got one, now we can block some of those rooftop seats and I can stare into screen glow instead of engaging with my surroundings or loved ones. Mental sedation uber alles.
I don’t think I need to offer any further explanation when I say the Cubs are out of touch and that Wrigley Field has been fully slain for no baseball reasons. Before you leave during the seventh inning stretch, could you please do the wave and the YMCA while they fire the organist. Oh and don’t forget your bobblehead!
Right now the Astros are losing a lot of games. But they’re doing everything else right. In fact, they’re even running their business well, earning record profits last season. There is a plan in place. The Astros are rebuilding. But what does that really mean? First, lets move beyond some bad habits organizations have that relate to “rebuilding,” which have caused it to become regarded as a dirty word.
Theoretically, rebuilding just means sacrificing present mediocrity for future strength. That’s a trade that it seems even the casual fan would be willing to make. The problem is that the term gets used in so many different situations where an organization is either not committed to rebuilding, is just using the term loosely as a PR mechanism, or is simply incompetent.
When the Marlins run a tight budget as they skim revenue sharing money into their pockets behind the mask of “rebuilding,” or when the Royals execute bad plan after bad plan in a cycle of perpetual misery, it’s easy to see why rebuilding has become equated with flat out sucking.
Meanwhile, the Padres are a small market team that has recently stagnated around the middle of the pack, only good enough to continue fooling themselves into thinking they are just shy of a postseason birth. This means they never really invest in the players needed to complete the process of turning their “rebuild” into a “win now.” But it also prevents them from blowing the damn thing up and starting over. The additional Wild Card slot in each league has expanded the group of teams susceptible to this trap, while the uncertainty of the play-in game has made it more dangerous. This indecision characterizes the later phases of what was supposed to be a rebuild, and the plan ends up failing because it isn’t adhered to.
The Astros however, have a well developed strategy and the franchise seems to understand that they must commit their entire organization toward their renaissance. This is what has the potential to make Houston’s rebuild like no other we have seen before. Let’s take a look at what a rebuild is supposed to be, while charting Houston’s progress.
Phase 1 – The Dump
You start by backing up the wrecking ball. Most clubs rebuild because they suffer from some combination of the following: “we stink,” “we’re broke,” “we’re old.” Certain steps preceding the dump are more passive, such as letting good role players walk, and significantly cutting back on free agent signings. But when this phase shifts into high gear, it’s about trading for prospects, which means that the dump necessarily coincides with the second phase of the rebuild; “Stockpiling.”
But first, here are some key events from the Houston’s “dump” phase.
2006 – Jeff Bagwell retires, Roger Clemens & Andy Pettite file for free agency.
2007 – Craig Biggio retires.
2010 – Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman traded.
2011 – Michael Bourn, Hunter Pence traded
2012 – Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers traded. Club sold to Jim Crane. Moved to the American League West.
2013 – Jed Lowrie, Bud Norris traded.
Phase 2 – Stockpiling
Sometimes teams chicken out after the dump, largely because fans can be shortsighted and start howling because they don’t understand the reasons behind the moves the club is making. But if teams fear alienating their fan base by losing in the near term, they aren’t thinking critically enough. A franchise that communicates their plan and then executes it will maintain a degree of support the whole way. I think the Astros are an example of this openness.
This aversion to proper communication means that teams have generally followed through on the “get cheap young talent” portion of the plan. But few teams have committed so fully to the “lose a bunch of games” part like the Astros have. And to better illustrate what all that losing has the potential to earn an organization, let’s examine a couple of recent trends and some changes within the economic structure of Major League Baseball that the Astros have leveraged in order to thrive while stockpiling.
First, with PEDs largely out of the picture, players are once again declining drastically in the second halves of their careers. This makes it harder to grab talent off the open market. Second, with the influx of TV money into the game, teams are resigning young players with greater ease, thereby depleting the supply of age attractive free agents with peak years ahead of them. Anybody with a cursory understanding of economics, will have noted we’ve swiftly covered both the supply and demand sides of the value equation. The increased value of controllable talent has made premium prospects much harder to trade for, especially if you plan on using aging veterans (which have decreased in value) as trade chips. Thus, rebuilding clubs must increasingly rely on the draft, and signing Caribbean teenagers in order to build large caches of young talent.
But rules governing how much teams can spend in the draft and abroad have also made things easier for losing teams. The worse you play, the higher you pick in the draft, and the larger your pool of bonus cash becomes. With what amounts to a slotting system in place, the Astros are able to get number one talent for an affordable price. In 2012 Houston used their larger pool of draft money to get a bargain at number one with Carlos Correa, and parlay the extra cash into Lance McCullers in the compensation round. The limitations of the pool also prevented the Pirates from spending enough to sign Mark Appel in 2012. The next year the Astros snapped him up for a fair price, paying about a million dollars under slot for the Stanford righty.
Here is a list of players the Astros have stockpiled via trade, draft and international signings.
2010 – Jonathan Villar, Brett Wallace
2011 – Brett Oberholtzer, Jon Singleton (AAA), Jarred Cosart, Domingo Santana (AA)
2012 – Robbie Grossman, Matt Dominguez
2013 – Chris Carter, Brad Peacock, Max Stassi, L. J. Hoes, Josh Hader (A), Dexter Fowler
2008 – Jason Castro (10th overall)
2010 – Delino DeShields (8th), Mike Foltynewicz (19th)
2011 – George Springer (11th)
2012 – Carlos Correa (1st), Lance McCullers (41st)
2013 – Mark Appel (1st)
Phase 3 – Afterburners, Engage!
Houston is now well positioned in terms of talent. All that will be left to do once they cultivate that talent into a young core will be to then push the club over the top by spending some intelligent money. But a lot of teams blow it here.
GM’s have all the freedom in the world to do smart stuff that doesn’t cost their club much money. But the reason some organizations get into rebuild mode in the first place is because of an unwillingness to spend at any time, including when it counts. These clubs continually run up against the wall on the home stretch because they never had the intention of completing the cycle.
Other teams just don’t know when or how to spend. Maybe Seattle is a good example. Before they dropped $240MM on a great player in Robinson Cano, they really only managed to promote a few pieces of their big league core. They also didn’t acquire quite as many impact position players as they needed to during stockpiling, which means they lack the depth of minor league talent to justify pulling the trigger.
But the Astros are smarter. They hire great baseball minds like former Baseball Prospectus writer Kevin Goldstein (Director of Pro Scouting) regardless of what cobwebbed convention dictates. This decision was so progressive it was even lightly mocked by the usually forward thinking internet set, as Grant Brisbee quipped that the new market inefficiency might be “wordsmithing.”
It’s funny, when people talk about the “new” market inefficiency, what they are really talking about usually amounts to just doing things correctly. But the reason they don’t talk about it in that context is that what constitutes correct changes based on the circumstances the game is in at any given time. It also changes based on what state an organization happens to be in. What makes the Astros special is that they understand themselves in relation to the landscape of baseball and are smart enough to turn that into action. Come to think of it, that’s why the Cardinals are where they are today. I also think this is why the success the Astros are having in rebuilding is not being talked about that much outside of prospect circles. Because just doing things correctly simply doesn’t seem that revolutionary to us, but as we’ve seen in examining the spotty track record of rebuilding efforts over the years, it actually is.
Juan Francisco, according to Fangraphs, was over 16 runs below average at first base and third base last season. Two positions is okay, but a lot of guys can do that. Like almost all the guys, in my estimation.
But upon navigating to ESPN3.com in a baseball deprived act of ultimate desperation phase 4, I began watching a replay of a game between Aguilas Cibaenas and Tigres del Licey from December 12th and discovered that Juan Francisco has traveled to the Dominican Republic to play winter ball.
More importantly, I discovered that the reason Juan Francisco has spent close to all his frequent flyer miles to get to “the D.R.” is to learn the other seven baseball positions.
He has been so successful in his Oquendian pursuit that Tigres manager Mike Guerrero started him at every position in the game I so hungrily slurped from the trashcan bottom of the baseball internet.
Behold, I submit the following electronic slab of evidence for your amazement.
Padres broadcaster, Frick award winner, Marine Corps Colonel, World Series Champion, and class act human being Jerry Coleman has passed away at the age of 89.
No official cause of death has been announced as of Monday January 6 at 12pm EST. The Associated Press mention a “breif illness,” citing a statement from the Padres, but details beyond that are not currently available.
His death has unleashed a torrent of feelings and farewells from all over the web. Among the tributes is a very hearfelt goodbye and reaction from Ted Leitner, who worked alongside Jerry for decades and is the most public facing person that knew Jerry well.
The euphoria of a #AztecMBB win in Kansas then I’m told Jerry Coleman has died. I have no words. My heart is broken. My partner. My friend.
— Ted Leitner (@TedLeitner) January 6, 2014
One should expect the tributes to culminate in a very somber ceremony at Petco Park, perhaps on Opening Day. I am personally of the mind that this season’s jersey should include a patch in remembrance of Coleman, who was not only an exemplary human being but is part of a generation of greater, tougher and braver men than are rising to prominence today.
I suggest the insignia of the Marine Corps rank of Colonel.
Please make a correct uniform decision for once, Padres. A legend such as Col. Coleman deserves your best judgement. May they hang a star with the retired numbers as well.
Goodbye, Jerry. You gave us nothing but good to remember you by.
Bud Selig is having trouble hearing you. And he want’s to help you out, friend. But he can’t quite make it out, whatever it is you’re saying.
You’re not even facing Bud Selig. Don’t walk away while you’re saying that to Bud Selig.
Wait a minute. The water is running. Turn off the water and then come in here and tell Bud Selig whatever it is you’re trying to tell him.
We’re in an open air situation and Bud Selig is doing the best he can.
The guy behind Bud Selig is talking louder than you. He is trying to block him out now. Please repeat what you were saying to Bud Selig.
Hold- hold on… A motorcycle is passing. A mo- I said a motorcycle is passing! Okay it’s far enough away now. Please repeat your question to Bud Selig.
Turn down the radio! Who even listens to the fucking radio anymore?
Just let Bud Selig come a little closer so he can hear you. That’s it just whisper in ol’ Bud Selig’s ear there…
These are valid possibilities, in my mind, as to why Bud Selig might be straining to hear the words that you offer to him across the air. My wife prefers another explanation, an explanation which I will present to you below as it was presented to me.