All posts by Heals

Just drinkin' some beers and talkin' some sports.

The Sterling clause

Man. Sometimes a story just has legs. Move over, never-ending Malaysian plane story because this Sterling joker is gettin’ more than his 15 minutes of fame on this one.

I won’t recap what we all know, because I haven’t posted here in a while, and if I get into writing a recap I’ll be up past my bed time.  In fact, I’m going just to run this one real quick and dirty. Pure, unadulterated, Head over Heals content.

So here we go. Donald Sterling’s punishment should be simple. And I realized I had to post it now, because people already started stealing my idea! Sort of. (note to self: always tweet all ideas right away, what could possibly go wrong?)

Anyway. It goes like this: To make up for Sterling’s gongshow racism why don’t we simply have the NBA mandate that he give every player on the roster the option of becoming a free agent.

YES. I am aware that is what the Rockets owner Leslie Alexander says we should do – I linked to it – but mine has a diabolical little twist at the end.

Buy all the contracts out first.

I’m going to get super lazy here, but if we take a rudimentary look at it here… just Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, that’s  5 years at $107 million, and 5 years at $94 million.

Those contracts were signed last year, so if we’re going to just ballpark it, that’s roughly $200 mil over 10 years. But they’ve each already played a year so call it roughly $160 million owing.

And then there’s all the other scrubs making a half million here, $6 million there.

There is no chance I am going to investigate all the Clippers’ players contracts… But you get the idea. It’d be a lot of cash to drop. Hell, even if it was at 50% it’d be a lot.

Now Sterling is rich as they come, but maybe, just maybe if he had to cover loses like that, he would have to sell the team (to Magic!) and call it a day.

Boom. Sterling out.

Yeah. I get it. That might not be in the NBA charter, or whatever… It’s just an idea, but a penalty like that is sharper than Wisconsin cheddar. And I’d be willing to bet it would make a couple of shitbag owners re-think just how racist they’re going to be in the future.

Fun with maps: US Olympic hockey team

Screen Shot 2014-02-01 at 6.05.00 PM

 

The US Olympic hockey team doesn’t exactly encompass a lot of the United States.

They have 25 players from only 6 states (5 if you exclude Paul Stastny who chose St. Louis, Missouri as a hometown after his dad played there. He was actually born in Quebec City, Canada):

– 8 from Minnesota
– 6 from New York state
– 3 from Wisconsin
– 3 from Michigan
– 2 from Connecticut
– 2 from New Jersey
– 1 from Missouri

Pretty random (and maybe uninteresting) information… but whatever!

Rise of the Shermaniacs

richard_sherman_seahawks

I loved watching the Animaniacs when I was a kid. Something about the wacky, zany adventures of three cat-type creatures running amok just spoke to me. I’m not exactly sure why, but it did. As it turned out, the show was really meant for a more mature audience, and I wasn’t fully appreciating it given my young age (I was aged 6-11 during the show’s original run, of course there were re-runs long after that).

I only really understood it on the superficial level. Oh Pinky, and the Brain, you’re such an odd couple. Haha. Episodes I saw when I got older had more nuance, more comedy to them. They were downright smart. Obviously the whole thing was before my time, and my still-infantile brain couldn’t fully comprehend something of that scope.

There’s something about the Richard Sherman interview/backlash from last Sunday that strikes me as similar to that. We’ve entered a brave new world of sports coverage where access and visibility are at their zenith. You can actually talk to most your favourite athletes on Twitter now – or at least try to. Imagine explaining that concept to someone 10-15 years ago. Gone are the days of sending in fan mail and hoping for an autographed 8×10 in return.

If 10-year-old Nick had a Twitter account poor Doug Gilmour would have been barraged with questions about what his favourite colour was, and whether he preferred Kraft Dinner or pizza. And if I’d have gotten a retweet from Killer!? Man.

The reality is this level of engagement and access is uncharted waters for us. We’ve never really experienced this kind of access, so we still need to get used to it. It wasn’t so long ago that the NFL was devoid of sideline reporters, or NHL games were broadcast without a guy between the benches. We’ve started taking it for granted, but that is some incredible in-game coverage.

And so it went with Richard Sherman’s now famous post-game interview. Mere minutes after making an exceptional play to send his team to the Super Bowl, he was at once shunned by his opponent Michael Crabtree, and then had a camera shoved in front of him. Incidentally, we all caught a nice little glimpse of Sherman still very much with his “game face” on.

And the reaction was ugly. Sherman was called a ‘thug’ and a ‘monkey’, among many other hateful things. Which was especially awful considering Sherman didn’t do anything besides brag a little and say Crabtree was mediocre. Really not all that bad considering the spectrum of horrible things athletes have said and done.

Of course the irony is that this is everything we’ve ever wanted. We can’t live in the athlete’s world – the one we’ve put on a pedestal – and so we want the access we could never imagine. It’s why we watch 24/7, and created the MLB Fan Cave. The sideline interview is just another example of wanting to get close. On Sunday, we found ourselves right in the middle of Richard Sherman’s world and we couldn’t understand it.

To steal a beautiful Simpsons’ reference, we’re a bit like the mule with the spinning wheel. Damned if we know how we got it, and damned if we know how to use it.

Years without the access have created an unrealistic standard of the athlete. Imagine if Joe Namath had Twitter in his playing days? Surely that would have turned up some pretty unsavoury commentary (which would of course be due his account being ‘hacked’).

These people are never the perfect beings we project them to be in our minds. They have their flaws, and they get angry just like everyone does once in a while. That we expected Richard Sherman to come out acting like a choirboy instantly after his greatest professional moment to date was unrealistic. And that’s on us – the fans.

As we mature and move forward with this Truman Show sports world we’ve created for ourselves, perhaps we’ll come to understand more about who we, and the beings inside it, are. We are people who get upset, we are people who have a great deal of emotion, and are prone to expression. And if we can’t handle the raw emotion of a pro athlete – and rest assured, there will be more like Sherman – maybe we don’t deserve all this access. So far, it looks like we’re damned if we know how to use it.

Ubaldo vs. Ervin

607px-Ubaldo_Jiménez_on_July_1,_2012

A little report surfaced the other day saying the Jays were potential suitors for either Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez…

So how’s about a little look at both of them and what they have to offer.

I’m going to completely ignore the money aspect of this because, frankly, so should the Jays. They are all in at this point. Or at least that’s what it seems like. To me, there should be no hang-ups about adding both guys, but then, I don’t run Canada’s only Major League baseball team. Besides, money just convolutes things too much… this is pure baseball, we’re talking about here, man. Forget the money.

Anyways. Let’s see what we got here:

Ervin Santana is 31, and spent very little time in the minors before getting promoted by the Angels in 2005 at age 22, after that, he more or less stuck in the bigs, and has gone 105-90 over his nine year career, and pitched 1686.2 innings. He has a career ERA of 4.19.

Ubaldo Jimenez is a little younger. He’s turning 30 in late January of this year, and took more of a traditional path through the minors with the Rockies. Made more stops than Santana, spent more time at AAA, etc.  As a result he has little less big league mileage on the arm at 1275.2 IP. He’s gone 82-75 over that time with a 3.92 ERA – although that includes more time spent in relief.

Obviously there’s so much more to the puzzle though. For instance, Toronto is a hitter friendly ballpark, and we’ve seen our fair share of long balls there in the last couple years. (I’ll never forget Dickey’s reaction to a homer early last season… very “That went out of here!?!?”) And as anecdotal as that is, there’s truth to it, so maybe it makes sense to go with a guy who allows less long balls.

What does the tale of the tape say here?

Both of the pitchers had pretty fugly 2012 seasons, and managed to bounce back all right last season.

Santana: His career HR/FB rate is a no-so-great 11%. It’s also been generally trending upwards over his career, and included a horrific 18% rate in his terrible 2012 season. Interestingly though, his groundball rate has improved substantially in the last three years. For the first six years of his career it sat in the 35-38% range, and suddenly over the last three seasons it’s been between 43-46% – basically about the league average. So it’s a little strange to be giving up less flies, but having the ball go out just as much. But that’s where he’s at.

He’s also supposedly working on a new pitch. So that’s something.

Jimenez: Career HR/FB rate is better, at 8.7%. His too though has trended upwards a bit and the total average was brought down by his fantastic 2010 season (in which it was a sterling 5.1%). Jimenez’s groundball rate has started trending the wrong way a little bit too over the years. But it’s still been pretty respectable, and even at it’s lowest depths hasn’t really been worse than Santana’s overall. Also, his K-rate (save for 2012) has been on the upward climb too. Even with his terrible start to 2013, he hit a high water mark last year with 9.56 K/9.

The last thing to consider here (or at least that I will consider here) is Jimenez’s funky delivery. I don’t claim to have any particularly insightful knowledge of pitching mechanics… or any type of mechanics for that matter. Fortunately, there are people smarter than me who do. Follow that link and you’ll see something going awry with his delivery that causes a 5 mph drop in fastball velocity. Yikes.

For an interesting comparison of the two pitchers, take a look at these graphs from Brooks Baseball, representing their horizontal movement on their release point over their careers.

Santana:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)

Jimenez:

Brooksbaseball-Chart

While Santana’s has changed over the years, his release point for all his pitches tends to be consistent. Jimenez, not so much. Particulalry that ugly 2012, and the early half of 2013, which was equally awful. (Jimenez had five starts in April 2013, with ERAs of 1.5, 6.97, 11.25, 10.06, and 7.12.)

So basically what we’ve got here is an interesting situation. Two pitchers, presenting two very different cases.

Santana looks like the safer bet. He is consistent, and durable and while he won’t put up game-changing numbers he will eat some innings and deliver enough quality starts to keep us all happy. His HR/FB rate might not play so well in the Dome, especially as balls have been flying out of there as of late. But for what it’s worth, he’s given up 6 in 52.0 innings at the Rogers Centre in his career, which is a small sample, but more or less in line with his career 1.22 HR/9.

Jimenez represents a very contrasting picture. He’s a bit more risky, but also more rewarding if he plays to his potential. If the Jays got Jimenez and he was able to replicate his second half of 2013, or his 2010 season, their rotation would become dramatically more competitive. Especially if slotting in a guy like Marcus Stroman works out. And even Jimenez’s down years have proven to be more valuable in terms of fWAR than Santana’s have. He also did this with a baseball.

So since I’m a gambling man, I’ll take Jimenez. I like the high risk/high reward model Anthopoulous tends to employ. Hell, maybe even R.A. Dickey can help coach Jimenez into improving his release point. In a perfect world, the team gets both… and Tanaka to boot. But we don’t always get what we want… so, Ubaldo, you get my vote.

And I know said it wasn’t about the money, but Jimenez likely comes much cheaper than Santana, so there’s that too. 

Sometimes there’s just not much there to hate

Phaneuf signing pic Screen Shot 2014-01-03 at 5.36.16 PM

So Dion Phaneuf signed a new contract, and there’s been a pretty exceptional amount of mouth frothing on account of it.

I get that people don’t really like Phaneuf all that much, but is seven years at $7 million per season really that bad when you think about it?

Of course, I’m predicating all of this on the idea that the salary cap is going to start going up, and up. And maybe up some more.

With Rogers dumping $5.2 billion into the NHL economy over the next 10 years that might become a pretty pedestrian salary by the end of it… hell, maybe even by year two.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie recently speculated that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews could possibly be earning $11-12 million per season on their next contracts (which expire just as the money will start rolling in).

So with the realization that $7 million might be pretty mid-range for a contract in the next seven years, maybe we should temper our concern.

Pundits and the peanut gallery have brayed non-stop over the last month about just how awful 29-year-old defenseman is. And let’s be certain, there’s some stuff not love about Phaneuf’s play, or his deal. But hate? Hate is so strong, and in this case, so unnecessary.

Is he going to be a quality player at the end of the deal? Hard to say. He’ll only be 36 once it’s done, which is plenty young for lots of quality defenseman.

But Bruce Arthur of the National Post put it well when he said, “this is what the Leafs have, so this is what the Leafs have to hold on to.”

Maybe it was the act of signing the deal that played into what people didn’t like about it? It went on a little publicly, then was oh so perfectly timed to happen right before the Winter Classic… and then there was that silly collage photo of the signing on the Leafs Twitter account.

But the biggest concern for anyone who is evaluating a contract in a salary cap system should always be pretty simple: How much of my pool of (financial) resources is being taken up by this asset, and is that amount proportionate to the player’s value?

And in this case, it’s not an extravagant amount for what you get, or at least it’s not going to be.

I get that some of the advanced metrics, like Corsi and Fenwick paint an ugly picture of him, but in all fairness to hockey’s advanced stats (and I dig that hockey is getting into them), I think there’s still some issues with them – notably, measuring shot quality versus quantity.

At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur from the Don Cherry School of Hockey, Phaneuf really does eat big minutes against top lines. He may not be the best defenseman in the league, but he’s still doing an admirable job against other teams top lines.

Be angrier about the David Clarkson deal. Pretty sure most beer-leaguers could get paid an AAV (average annual value) of $5.25 to rake in suspensions and be invisible on the ice. At present, he is the one wasting cap space.

You may not like Phaneuf, and he may not be the best player on the ice any given night, but he is a good player, and a consistent one nonetheless. His deal seems like a lot right now, especially when you compare it to other top flight defensemen. But if that cap goes up, this deal is going to look just fine in the long run.

Besides, not that long ago this was a team that signed Jeff Finger to a 4-year deal at $3.5 per year! Surely they’re getting better at this whole “signing defensemen” thing! Hooray for progress. 

Unfinished thoughts: All for one, or one for… everyone?

Just a few small thoughts ahead of the Red Wings-Leafs Winter Classic this year.

I really like the New Year’s Day outdoor game a lot. But, clearly the NHL has never heard of the “too much of a good thing” concept.

If the league isn’t careful, 2014 could mark the start of a great idea being ruined.

On tap for this year: 1 Winter Classic, 4 Stadium Series games, and 1 Heritage Classic, for 6 total outdoor games.

The Classic is in Detroit, The Stadium Series will hit Chicago, New York and Los Angeles!?, then the Heritage game takes place in Vancouver in March.

Is this not all getting a little excessive? I could get onboard with two games. New Year’s in the U.S., and a Heritage game in Canada (maybe on CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada… or whatever will become of it on account of the new Rogers deal).

The big issues with it, in my mind anyway, are that you run the risk of having the appeal wear off the more it happens, and the other is the lack of equity across the league. With a random selection of teams being put into weird conditions, you’re automatically putting them at a disadvantage in terms of the environment.

In the run up to the New Year’s game, we’re already hearing lots about the amount it is snowing. It’s coming down hard, apparently:

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.43.57 PM
Photo via: @reporterchris

TSN’s Mike Johnson made a good point about how the snow could force players to shoot more (hey, maybe the Leafs won’t get outshot?), and obviously this would alter their game plan to keep things about as simple as possible.

Fraser McLaren has already talked about the wind at practice, and how it was like “skating with a parachute on” and left him gassed.

Jonathon Bernier has mentioned the sun, and how it the glare was throwing him off a bit.

Someone (I can’t remember who) mentioned Alfredsson’s back spasms, and how the colder than usual temperatures could possibly impact him.

These are all weird disadvantages you’re forcing a select group of teams to deal with – and in the case of the Rangers, you’re doing it twice. Yes, both teams are facing the same conditions on the day, but in the long term view of the season, even though it’s just one game, it seems pretty unfair.

And who even knows what’ll happen in L.A. with the game at Dodger Stadium. Temperatures in January average between 8-20 degrees (Celsius). Weird conditions for hockey.

So shouldn’t we consider limiting these factors for the sake of equality across the league?

Or, at the very least, subject every team to an outdoor game once a year… but then you’re really killing the unique, exciting nature of the event, and that’s obviously not the point. I mean, I love a little McDonald’s breakfast every once in a while, but you’re not going to find me eating it every day.

I get that the games are cash cow, and great exposure for the league, but lets treat it like an Egg McMuffin and not ruin a good thing by overindulging.

Feature image via: @NHL twitter account

*note: please excuse spelling and grammar errors till I can clean it up. This was hastily posted on account of game time. 

Dreamin’ on Stroman

The Blue Jays’ 2014 season is going to be defined by its starting pitching.

Last year’s rotation came off the rails worse than anyone could have imagined. Brandon Morrow got hurt (again), R.A. Dickey laboured through back trouble and got routinely blown up. And everyone else, save for Mark Buerhle, was just kinda useless.

If we want to look more at just how bad the starters were, here’s some unsettling stats:

– Jays starters managed a measly 899.1 innings pitched, putting them at 28th in the league, right behind the Astros.
– As a group, they managed about 6.9 WAR, good for 26th in the league. For reference, middle of the pack was around 12, and Detroit’s group (unsurprisingly) lead the league with 25.3.

It’s not exactly a lack of run support hurting the Blue Jays either. Their offence ranked ninth in the league in runs scored with 712, while the starting rotation was second worst in the league with a 4.81 ERA. That’s a fairly simplistic look at it, but if the Jays are going to have a better year, it stands to reason the pitching will have to pull it’s weight this time around.

So far there hasn’t been much noise from the free agent hot stove, so if the Jays don’t wind up with a Masahiro Tanaka, or a Matt Garza, or one of the other free agent class, then they’ll need to bank on the farm.

This isn’t ideal. Surely a team with deep pockets could make a run at some of the formidable free agents left on the market. But fans shouldn’t dismay too much at the other option, which is that an organizational prospect could come in and save the day.

Enter Marcus Stroman.

The diminutive righty represents one of the Jays’ best chances at having a young guy come in and make an impact. There are some other candidates, but Stroman looks most likely to have an impact in 2014.

So who is Stroman, and what can he bring?

Well, the Duke alumnus started the year finishing off a 50 game suspension for using a stimulant (he claims the positive test came from accidentally taking a supplement he shouldn’t have).

He throws a four-seam (sits around 95mph!), a cutter, a slider (86), and a change-up (85).

Most scouts seem to expect him to end up in the bullpen as a fastball-slider guy, but a lot of this is because people are worried about his height – or lack thereof – and how he’s unable to generate the same downward plane as taller starters.

There’s some merit to this, and generally speaking, shorter guys don’t pan out as starters.

But, the thing about it is he’s been posting most of his numbers as a starter, and looked pretty good doing it.

In 2013, with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Stroman went 9-5 over 20 starts with a 3.30 ERA.

He had some other pretty sexy looking peripheral numbers to go with that too. During that same stretch in double-A he had a K% of 28.1% and a BB% of 5.9%. Granted this is double-A, but those are good looking numbers.

The good news is that all those numbers came as a starter. And as per Harry Pavlidis, maybe that’s the way the Jays see him:

The relief label is probably going to follow the guy for a while though… After all, he was basically lights-out in the Arizona Fall League this year, and those of course were all one or two inning appearances. With the Salt River Rafters in the AFL he posted a fantastic 10.03 K/9 including 5 strikeouts against 6 batters in his second last game. His FIP was also just 1.74.

He only really had one ugly day in the AFL (out of 9 appearances) where he went 1.2 innings and allowed 3 runs. So obviously the future looks pretty bright as a reliever as well. I have confidence in him as a starter though. If you scroll through the game log from his double-A starts, he is posting solid numbers day in and day out. The odd rough outing happens, but on the whole, his solid numbers speak volumes about his potential. Scout-types believe in him as a starter too:

 

I hope this all means the Jays will just let him do his thing as a starter until he can’t anymore. And if that’s the case, the bullpen will be right there for him.

This blog post may not win a Pulitzer, but in a roundabout way I think it kind of says:

The rotation was trash, so adding arms is important. If free agency is a bust, be confident with Stroman as an option… until of course he isn’t, and then becomes a weapon in the bullpen. See you in 2014, Marcus.

*And pray to whatever you believe in that his elbow/shoulder/arm is good and healthy, ‘cause if not then the Jays are up shit creek, sans paddle.

So this is what they’re “Goins” with, eh?

Goins loved life with the Fisher Cats... will the MLB be a different story? (Dave Schofield/NH Fisher Cats)
Goins killed it with the Fisher Cats… will the MLB be a different story? (Dave Schofield/NH Fisher Cats)

Oh the ‘Goins’ puns. So easy, plentiful, and hard to resist.

The fan in me wants Ryan Goins to succeed. Everyone loves the idea of a homegrown player coming working their way up through the system and making it in the bigs.

I was actually even at his major league debut at a road game in Houston. He went 2-4, his family was there, he doubled – it was all gumdrops and rainbows.

So, believe me when I say I really want to like the idea of Ryan Goins. A great, glove-first guy at the two bag, and he’s had some pretty serviceable numbers at stops in the minors.

But if the Toronto Blue Jays are going to start Goins at second base in the 2014 season, then there better be a contingency plan in place, because right now, the signs don’t really point to him being a major league-caliber starter.

I’m pretty patient when it comes to prospects. I am more than happy for the Jays to make a start with Goins, the reality though is that’s a little reckless.

Let’s take a look at some key stats on the kid from Round Rock:

With the Jays – 34G, 121PA, with a .252/.264/.345 line. (AVG/OBP/SLG)

Where things really got fugly though was with the walk and K rate. Walk rate was a horrific 1.7% and K rate and equally frightening 23.1%. I mean, that is approaching Arencibia territory (3.6%/29.8%). *shudders*

The masses have preached “small sample size”, and they are, by all means, correct. The concerning part is that for some numbers he did put up, particularly the K and walk rates, is where Fangraphs claim those start to normalize. But for things like average, and OBP, etc, we’ll really need to see an extended look.

The good stuff:

His numbers from AA were actually not so bad.

136G, 618PA, and a .289/.342/.403 line… Honestly, if Goins can replicate that at the MLB level, I can get down on that. The slugging is a bit shit, but a .342 OBP (or.336 wOBA) is fine by me.

Lump that in with a 7.6% walk rate, and 12.6% K rate when he was with the Fisher Cats? Granted those are basically the best numbers he posted in those fields in his pro career – and it’s double A – but that’s actually pretty alright. Or at least it’s mostly average. But mix in the sexy defense and you’re looking a useful major leaguer.

Speaking of defense:

In his brief look at the MLB level, his UZR was a fantastic 6.2, and UZR/150 was 33.1 – for perspective, the uber-talented Manny Machado had a UZR/150 of 31.2. The best second baseman? Darwin Barney at 15.5. Of course, they played all year, not just as a September call-up like Goins.

My guess is that number would go down, but hey, who knows? I mean Gibby likes what he sees, so why shouldn’t we?

Where can he improve?

Base running. This seems like the best, and most obvious thing Goins can improve on. Brooks Baseball gives a pretty unfavourable take on his track record as a hitter, so when he does get on base, he better be smart about it.

Goins seems like a pretty good athlete, and can obviously run somewhat if you consider his range. (I picture him as the anti-Troy Glaus) So why he hasn’t done better in this regard is beyond me. His BsR (Base Runs Above Average) was -2.1 in his stint with the Jays. Not great. In the minors he had 30 stolen bases, and 29 caught stealing. So… what gives?

My thinking is if he can work on his timing, try and figure out some of the pitchers, and get smarter about base running, then he’ll be able to at least work his way back up to average levels, and improve his overall value.

Long story short. He kinda looks like the second coming of Johnny Mac, just at a less important position, where it will be even harder for his weak bat to play. Maybe that’s nothing you didn’t already know, but now it’s all laid out here.

Maybe Goins is one of those guys who figures out how to hit at the major league level… but if not, I hope Anthopoulous has a plan B.

Good luck, Goins. I’ll be pulling for you.

Where the wild Puigs are

Yasiel Puig NLCS Los Angeles Times Dodgers

“This is America, so I can show you my nipples if I want!”

The drifter lifted his shirt and started walking towards me with a doped-up look in his eyes. It was hard to see him under the dim yellow lights and the empty gray concrete of the boardwalk, but those were definitely nipples.

By this point in the night Venice had been completely turned over to the homeless and the crazies, and there was no telling what kind of trouble you might find on a fairly short walk.

The man had a point though. He could show me his nipples if he wanted. But what if that wasn’t what I wanted? I’d finally found parking and was beginning the march back to my beachside apartment, so I was in no mood to be hassled in my fatigued state. All I wanted was a nice bed to crash in after a long day.

“Very nice,” I replied, and walked past him. I didn’t feel like engaging this vagabond in an argument about the true meaning of liberty. Besides, his goldfish attention span would no doubt carry him on to his next thought before I could say anything meaningful.

I had a fleeting concern he would try and rob me, but I had almost nothing of any real value anyway. My pockets were lined with a few dollar bills and some maxed out credit cards. But the Dodgers tickets – he could turn those for a quick profit if he had the brains to realize it.

Venice sign at night

The threat quickly subsided as his friend shouted he had “nicer nipples” and the two began to bicker as I scurried into the building.

I tapped the breast pocket of my blazer to feel for the tickets. They were safe.

After all, this was my L.A. highlight. Sure the city had sun, beach, nightlife, and entertainment. But L.A.-St. Louis, NLCS, game three, under the lights at Dodger Stadium? Baseball games like that don’t come along too often.

I’d gambled – hard – on buying the tickets in the first place. With one night in L.A. to make the game, and neither the Dodgers or Cardinals having advanced, buying the tickets was reckless, but with great risk comes great reward.

I took the rickety old elevator up to my floor and started down the light blue hallway. The apartment complex had a very beachy vibe, even in the dead of night. At the end of the hall another tenant stood on the fire escape, smoking a joint while the palm fronds swayed in the background. He shot me a hesitant glance, but I looked back at him and smiled, as if to say, “Relax pal. I know I’m in a suit, but I’m no NARC.” I wasn’t about to rain on his parade. It’s hard to enough to find peace in the chaos of this city. If this man found his paradise, why not leave him be?

I got back up to the trendy, exposed brick room and took my dress shoes off. The light hummed to life in the kitchen, and I grabbed a beer out of the fridge. Yelling and rattling went on three floors below, the drifters finding new ways to amuse themselves in my absence.

As I’d been informed earlier, this was America. The wild west. This is where dreams came to flourish or die. I was in the middle of mine, but the dark, chaotic souls of the Venice boardwalk had rattled me. The sudden, random exposure to a man’s nipples jarred me, but also set my mind straight. Maybe this drifter knew something I didn’t? Caution is no antidote for entropy. We’re all susceptible to the chaos, so we might as well keep living on the edge. Maybe flashing our nipples at strangers in the dead of night will become the new normal? I guess we’ll just have to deal with it.

I sipped my beer and leafed through the sports section of the Los Angeles Times to ease my mind. This was it. Do or die for the Dodgers. Go down 3-0, or stay in this thing. Making maters worse for L.A., it was Staff Ace versus Portly Korean. Something special would have to happen, or tomorrow would be a very sad night in L.A.

***

It was a warm afternoon and the sun beat down on the powder blue stadium. Fans milled about the parking lot and the entrances as the towering palm trees lining the stadium loomed overhead. The sun lit up the San Gabriel mountains in the distance and Los Angeles was buzzing for baseball. The fans moved in throngs through gift shops and up the ramps to their seats. There was no sense of fear, or uneasiness, about the dire circumstances of today’s game.

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My blonde-haired companion bounded through the gate ahead of me in her new Dodger blue T-shirt. These were the times when even the most tepid baseball fans catch the fever.

The concourses were like a time warp. That beautiful powder blue colour – it was everywhere – lined the walls, and the hand-painted murals showed up every so often to remind you of the great history ever since this Brooklyn transplant found it’s new home. The scent of Dodger Dogs wafted through the air, and the jovial fans wandered about looking for condiments and beer.

The game started in the late afternoon with all the pomp and circumstance we’ve come to expect from playoff baseball. Military honours, drawn out anthems, and unnecessary explosions of Cardinal-red fireworks (an odd choice?).

The first few innings moved smoothly, with that pace usually reserved for pitcher’s duels. Each team with a baserunner in the first, but promptly going three-up, three-down over the next two innings.

Night began to fall over Chavez Ravine, the powder blue shifted a shade and the mountains began disappearing into the darkness.

St. Louis started the fourth the same way, but L.A. would not follow suit. Adrian Gonzalez doubled home a run, then moved over to third on a groundout. Anything past the infield would bring him home. Then with two outs in the fourth, Adrian on third, and in steps Yasiel Puig.

The Cuban sensation had dazzled ever since his mid-season call-up. He played a wild and exuberant brand of baseball that meshed nicely with the wild and exuberant town he played in – a style my drifter friend would be proud of.

He clashed severely with baseball’s old guard. His cockiness, and reckless play drew the ire of just about everyone, but it also won baseball games, so it was tough to argue with the results.

The Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainright, now with a run charged to him tried to refocus. Two fastballs, and a curve, left the count two balls to one. Puig dug in and Wainright came back with another fastball.

With a violent swing, the ball cracked and the 93 mile an hour sinker was suddenly headed hard and fast towards the darkness behind right field. Puig’s arms went up immediately – the bat flipping wildly into the background – and he strutted out of the box like royalty.

In this moment he was the king of L.A., and he would put an exclamation point on a pivotal run if he wanted to.

“The code” would not approve, but King Puig lives by no code but his own. His game is raw and wild. A code is just dated rules for a culture of scared and stoic baseball players, and Puig was scared of nothing that balmy night in Los Angeles.

The ball died as it neared the fence, and a home run would not materialize, so Puig sprang to life. Raw power exploded from the sinew in his muscular legs. The slow, cocky trot around first, turned into an aggressive burst around second, and an arrival at third, standing up, arms raised, and blowing a kiss to the sky.

Shrugging off a lifetime repression, this was Puig’s time, and he would play his way – like it was the last game on Earth.

It was an odd sight. The young, enigmatic, mohawked Cuban showing the Americans how to play the game with the wild and free energy it deserves to be played with.

It was sure to ruffle feathers and consternate the baseball community, but in reality it was just a sheer expression of joy, and joy is not vilified in L.A.

At the night’s end, a Dodgers win complete, Puig had a simple response to his play:

“We’re in the playoffs. Playoffs, playoffs.”

A simple “fuck you” to baseball’s old guard. Puig will play how Puig plays. He will throw his arms up. He will flip bats.

He will do this, because this is the playoffs, and this is America – and this is how you win the west.

If only he’d flashed his nipples.

 

Editor’s note: The Dodgers would go on to lose the NLCS.

A misuse of anger

The reaction came fast and furious. Fans of the Ottawa Senators – and formerly fans of Daniel Alfredsson – began violently gnashing their teeth in the instant following their Captain’s decision to bolt.

Threats of an egged house, burned jerseys, etc., etc., were plastered across Twitter in the wake of the news. And while it’s hard to completely blame fans for said reaction, we can certainly hold them to account for it.

The reaction was (sort of) understandable. Over the Senators brief history, there has really been only a (small) handful of players the franchise can really call its own – Alfie, Phillips, Neil, Spezza, Redden, Fisher… and Daigle maybe? (albeit for all the wrong reasons).

After that the well starts to run pretty dry. Hell, even Fisher might be more of a Predator by the time he’s done with the game.

So with this in mind, why, as a fan base, would you nail to the cross one of the only players who’s ever embraced Canada’s cold, staid capital?

There’s no good reason really. So in this case we’ll just have to chalk it up to anger.

And make no mistake – anger is easily one of the more complicated human emotions.

Often we use anger as a means to create an emotional distance – a barrier to the pain we’re caught in.

So in this case the hatred just feels like an effort to mask the pain of losing the only thing such a young organization has ever had the chance to be proud of.

Was the situation embarrassing? Certainly. And having Alfie basically call the team a non-contender on the way out of town hurts all the more.

But, the #SensArmy’s (or whatever the hell they are) irrational, unexpected, and vitriolic reaction is sure to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

Think it out, Ottawa. We’ve see this kinda thing before. In 15 years will anyone ever call Sundin a Canuck, or Iginla a Penguin? No. And Alfie will be a Senator… you’ve just made a little more awkward because of some anger issues.

To any Sens fan, I would offer this advice: Try focusing your anger towards something more productive – like how Leafs fans come into your barn and boo your team on their home ice. That’s more embarrassing than a Captain leaving town.

You have a Jack Adams coach, a young, Norris-winning blueliner, and you just got that Bobby Ryan guy. The future is perfectly bright, it’s just captain-less… for now.

 

Ed. note: This was written shortly after the Elliotte Friedman article that’s hyperlinked in the above text. It just wasn’t posted till now…  I’m busy, okay?