In my previous post, I said I preferred a WBC final of Korea vs. the Dominican Republic. For that to happen, Korea must defeat Japan and the Dominican must defeat Cuba for the third time in the tournament. That will be tough. You can bet that the Japanese will be looking for double revenge, and while the Cubans are young and inconsistent, they are also resilient; they adjust well, as Puerto Rico can tell you.
Other Notes: Eric Byrnes went 1-3 in today’s 5-4 loss to KC. The single did not drive in any runs and he did not score. The good news is that he’s not running any long o’fer strings as in abymsal, aberrant 2005. The not-so-good news is that he also hasn’t had any multi-hit days…yet. The 1-3 effort brings his spring average up to .259. Jeff DaVanon, who can switch-hit and can play all three outfield positions, took over in CF for the last two AB’s. He went 1-2 and is now at .455. (A Cuban league BA). DaVanon, formerly of the geographically-challenged Angels is scheduled to be the D’Backs fourth outfielder.
One of my favorite Eric Byrnes moments, and yes, there were some good ones in abysmal, aberrant 2005, was his throwing DaVanon out at home in a late-season game in which DaVanon was trying to score the 11th run in an Angels’ pounding of the Orioles. DaVanon was sent in to pinch-run, got a good jump off second base, but Byrnesie threw a bullet home and Javy Lopez nailed Jeff at the plate.
The best Byrnes moment of the year for me was Aug. 31st, when he hit a two-run homer off Miguel Batista in Toronto. Batista, DaVanon and Byrnes are now teammates on the Diamondbacks. I know some folks root for the shirts, no matter who is wearing them. But I find, especially in this age of free agency, trading and the Internet, I prefer to follow the player, no matter what colors he’s wearing. (Now if we can only get some spring TV coverage of the D’Backs for rainy, rainy, Oakland! If you don’t hear from me in a while, it COULD be that the city has floated away!)
Will ESPN announcer Gary Thorne ever pronounce Juan Encarnacion’s name correctly? There are some foreign names that a native speaker of English will never pronounce correctly, but Spanish names are typically not among them. Encarnacion is really not that hard, Gary. Have you tried getting some help from your Spanish-speaking broadcast partner, Jose Mota? Or is driving not the only arena of activity in which a "real man" doesn’t ask for directions?
Shouldn’t the WBC use international umpires as well as Americans? (Did they in the Asian Pool?) Shouldn’t the American major league umpires be involved?
Will people ever learn to keep politics separate from baseball? WBC games are not enhanced by a plane flying over the stadium with an anti-Castro message, or people in the stands wearing anti-Castro messages or carrying anti-Castro signs. Can’t people come to terms with the fact that some players are happy living and playing baseball in Cuba and don’t want to defect? How would US players feel if Venezuelan fans came to the park with anti-Bush signs? Why is it OK to criticize Cuba, when China, that bastion of human rights, was invited to play in the WBC without incident? Might part of the reason be that China was playing half a world away and everyone knew the Chinese team wouldn’t not get out of Round 1? Or is it that the US covets Cuban players like Yulieski Gourriel and wants to emphasize why they can’t get him?
The Korean team is doing better than expected for a country that hasn’t been playing baseball all that long. They have beaten both Japan and the USA. Might they have a point about their ability to gel quickly as a team–five of their players went to the same high school–or is it as my father used to say about MLB All-Star teams, they can play together because they all know how to play fundamentals? Or is it a little of both?
Into what should the WBC evolve: A substitute for the Olympics or a true World’s Championship?
Eric Byrnes hit an RBI single and scored a run yesterday in the D’Backs’ split-squad 10-7 loss to the Rockies. (The Snakes beat the Giants 7-4 in the other game). Byrnesie left no one on base, but he struck out once and did not walk. The 1-4 left his batting average at .250. Byrnesie, it was a productive single, but when will we see a multi-hit game from you? You will end up batting 8th, not leadoff or 2nd, if you hit .250.
Of course, .250 would be lofty for Marland Williams, the guy Melvin puts in CF after he’s figured Byrnes has played enough for the day. Williams went 0-2 with 2 K’s and has yet to get a hit. Will he break his 0-for-Spring Training streak?
At last, the AZ Diamondbacks show up on MLB.TV again, (and again courtesy of the White Sox), but it is a day game after a night game, and so Snakes manager Bob Melvin is again resting the fragile, elderly (yeah, right!) Eric Byrnes. Backup outfielder Luis Terrero is getting the start in 71 degree, sunny Tucson, while I am sitting in 54 degree, rainy Oakland, wanting March to be over. Even though, as T.S. Eliot wrote, "April is the cruelest month", a cold, rainy no-Byrnes-on-TV-March is not much better. <sigh> Why me?
How it is that a team like Hofstra (24-6) gets left out, while Monmouth (18-14) and Hampton (16-15) get to play in?
Life in general:
Is it ever going to stop being windy and rainy in Oakland?
On March 2, I posted an article called "I wish I knew"… quoting writer Nick Piecoro’s February 24,2006 Arizona Republic article about Eric Byrnes. "[Byrnes is] hoping to turn in a bounce-back season by slowing himself down a little and not trying to do too much."
The point of my article was that I didn’t know what was meant by Byrnes "slowing himself down a little and not trying to do too much." Today I got an idea of what that means.
After striking out in his first two AB’s in today’s game against the Padres, and getting two strikes on him the third time up, Byrnesie, hitting in the 2 hole, hit an RBI double. But he got thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple. The next batter, the Snakes’ star slugger, Luis Gonzalez, hit a home run. At that point the homer tied the score at 3-all. But if Byrnesie had stayed at second, already scoring position, Gonzo’s homer would have put the D’Backs ahead 4-3.
The D’Backs eventually won the high-scoring seesaw exhibition game 9-8, But Byrnesie’s overexhuberance cost his team a run and his stats a run scored. This loss of a run could have been critical in a game that counted. Of course, in spring training, it’s often not a bad idea to test an outfielder’s arm and ability to throw to the cutoff man, and the cutoff man’s ability to make an accurate relay throw. But Byrnes didn’t have to be the one to administer such a test—which the Padres passed with flying colors in this case—when he was already in scoring position.
Here was definitely an instance where he needed to slow himself down a little and not try to do too much. The announcers said he never hesitated at second, so.he was thinking triple all the way. The triple is one of the hardest plays in baseball. The D’Backs will be delighted with Byrnesie staying at second on a hit like that, especially when there’s a batter like Luis Gonzalez behind him. Of course, it will probably take his manager and coaches telling him that for him to realize it. He knows he was signed in large part because of his aggressive and energetic style of play.
Like I’ve said before, and will probably say again, Eric Byrnes has speed and aggressiveness: the stuff you cannot teach. Now someone has to teach him technique, so that he can use his innate talents intelligently. Sometimes, less IS more.
In the spring, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Chicago White Sox share Tucson Electric park. Too bad the Diamondbacks and the White Sox are not in the same league during the regular season. The D’Backs pounded the Sox again in the first game of a Day/Night doubleheader in Tucson. The score was 13-2. Yawn. The highlights of that game were the opportunites to see the D’Backs first round draft pick, 18-year-old shortstop Justin Upton, and to commiserate with yet another White Sox catcher who had the unenviable task of catching knuckleballer Charlie Haeger.
But the D’Backs spring winning streak was snapped in the nightcap as the Team Mexico stomped on the Snakes 6-1 in a WBC tuneup. The highlights for Team Mexico were an excellent pitching start from Esteban Loaiza, who will pitch this year for the Oakland A’s, and a grand slam by Luis C. Garcia with two out in the 8th. This homer broke open a game that had been 2-1.
This was not a good day at the plate for D’Backs’ leadoff hitter, Eric Byrnes. He went 0-3, with a strikeout in the 1st, a pop out in the 3rd, and a chopper to short in the 5th. The last two at-bats each came with 2 out. In the 3rd, there was a Snake on second, and in the 5th the D’Backs had runners on second and first.
The strikeout was actually Byrnes’ best at-bat. He displayed the most patience here, battling back to a full count after being quickly down 0-2. One of his foul balls was deep enough to be a homer had it been fair. Strike 3 was a swing and a miss on a fastball. Loaiza would retire the next 7 batters in order before leaving the game. Byrnes’ night ended with his 5th inning AB.
Although the D’Backs lost, this was the most interesting spring game they have had so far, because the score was close until Garcia’s 8th inning Grand Slam. The Mexicans certainly seem ready for the WBC, on the field and in the stands.
The game was sold out, with many fans of Team Mexico in attendance, horns, signs and flags in tow. At least, that’s what the Arizona radio announcers said. It would have been fun to watch the packed house of rabid Mexican baseball fans rooting their hearts out, but the televised game was the afternoon tilt with the Pale Hose, courtesy of WGN, the Chicago super-station. (I’m still waiting for my first chance to watch Eric Byrnes on TV this spring!)
According to the account I read, fans of Team Venezuela put on a spirited display in Venezuela’s 1-0 defeat of the Phillies earlier today. In the United States, we call baseball the "National Pastime." In Latin America, it’s more the "National Passion."
It’s so cold that the Tibetan lady who runs a restaurant on University Avenue in Berkeley kept her jacket sleeves drawn well over her hands while someone else unlocked the premises door for her.
I normally don’t have to be in Berkeley on Fridays, but today was an exception. The bank clock in downtown Oakland where I catch the train read 47 degrees at 2:35 pm. And it was windy, which meant it felt colder than that! And we’ve had intermittent rain from a Gulf of Alaska storm. BRRRR!!!! And another storm is coming late tomorrow! Double BRRR!
Yeah, I know folks in places like Boston, New York and Chicago would have no sympathy for 47 when they are below freezing. I grew up in NYC and remember when it was 8 degrees. I also lived in Indianapolis for a short while, and, as much as I love Indiana, that night it was minus 22 got me to thinking that perhaps I wanted to skedaddle back to the San Francisco Bay Area. I could make low wages there as well as I could in Indy, but the weather would be more hospitable.
We, in the inner Bay Area, are used to moderate climes. When I first got here, I laughed at people who wore scarves and gloves when it was fifty. Now I’m one of them. I dress in multiple layers on a day that would seem balmy in Boston, and I am pleased to say that my D’Backs road cap keeps my head warm.
But I digress…
The cold, windy, rainy yuck was made worse by the lack of coverage of today’s White Sox – Diamondbacks game in warm, sunny Tucson. No video, no audio, not even a Gameday screen. And this after you got my baseball juices flowing with yesterday’s audio coverage of the D’Backs’ Cactus League opener, MLB! Shame on you! All I could get was the scoreboard and a very sketchy highlights recap that told me nothing of Eric Byrnes’ contribution to the Snakes’ 13-6 washing of the Sox.
Thank you, Yahoo!, for telling me that Byrnesie went 1-3 with 2 RBI and a run scored. The one hit was a homer off Cliff Politte. It was described as a solo shot, and so I don’t know how he batted in the other run. Sac Fly? BB with the bases loaded? Suicide Squeeze?
Yes, I know, it is still early in spring training. But this homer adds to yesterday’s good beginning. Byrnesie has pop in his bat; he hit 20 homers in 2004. I think he can do even better than that. Now, what we’d all like to see from Byrnes, who batted leadoff again today, are some multi-hit days.
I would like to see them, literally.
One month from today, the Diamondbacks open their 2006 regular season against the Rockies at Coors Field.
‘Tis a warm thought for a cold night.
Eric Byrnes got off to a good start as the Diamondbacks opened their Cactus League season with a 9-2 victory over a White Sox split-squad.
Admittedly, it was not an immediate good start. With the Snakes playing the vistors’ role–these two teams share Tucson Electric Park–and Eric leading off, he was literally the start of the Diamondbacks’ spring season, and he struck out. <cringe>.
But in the third inning, he hit a two-out single to right–that’s opposite field for him–stole second and scored what was then the tying run on a Chad Tracy hit. (That’s practicing clutchness, guys!)
In the fifth, Byrnesie walked on four pitches. I liked this, too, as he needs to walk more. Although he got picked off first and caught in a rundown, it took a bunch of throws to get him. Owner Matt Williams was still pleased with what he saw. "That’s the New Mr. Excitement!" he told the broadcasters. Williams is really pleased to see that Byrnes and today’s No 2 hitter, Orlando Hudson, bring speed to the top of the lineup, and he noted that even though Byrnes got picked off that second time, he was able to mess with the defense. With his speed and aggressiveness, Byrnesie can truly get into a pitcher’s (and catcher’s) head. Byrnes spent years with an organization (the Moneyball Oakland A’s) that does not value this type of play. The Diamondbacks seem to be a team that appreciates his speed and is willing to play hit-and-run and let him steal. So one thing they need to do is teach him the finer points of base thievery. (Rickey Henderson, where are you?) Eric Byrnes loves to learn how to be a better player. I look forward to Byrnesie swiping upwards of thirty bags this season.
Eric also had a good day in the field, including a second inning play in which he held what could have ended up a double or triple to a single, by attacking the ball and throwing to the cut off man. The announcers also said that Diamondback’s left fielder, Luis Gonzalez, has said he has learned that he has to stop in left center because Byrnes will go after balls hit there. The centerfielder has the right-of-way to get every ball he can and Byrnesie exercises that right to the max!
Everyone was waxing lyrical about Byrnes’ energy and attitude. Of course, he can’t bear the burden of keeping the team spirits high all by himself. Not even he and Orlando Hudson, the other big bundle of energy the D’Backs got this off-season, can do it by themselves. They can set examples by being themselves. But desire to play hard every day, enjoyment of the game, and belief in self and in the team has to exist across the board in order for a team to take its next step forward.
So the first game of spring training went well both for Byrnes and the D’Backs. And while it was only the first game of spring training, a good spring start is important to a player who had a bum prior season. In such a case, spring training is not just about achieving physical readiness to play a long season of baseball, but of rebuilding confidence.
And as I wrote on August 25, 2005, about my own attitude, "ANY TIME ERIC BYRNES GETS A HIT, OR MAKES A GREAT DEFENSIVE PLAY, IS AN OCCASION TO BE OF GOOD CHEER."
In other news, MLB.com’s Diamondbacks’ beat reporter Steve Gilbert was nice enough to answer an email I sent to him yesterday about his article saying Byrnes’ days off would come against left-handers. He wrote:
Typo on my part. I meant right-handers for Byrnes as DaVanon is a better hitter from the left side. Thanks for keeping me honest. Steve Steve Gilbert Reporter MLB.com
Typos, goodness knows we all make them. But I am going to pick on this note also. The way it’s written, it can be read as implying that Byrnesie is a switch-hitter. He’s not; he’s strictly a righty, which is one of the reasons the D’Backs wanted him. They’ve got a lot of lefties in their lineup. Of course, I still take issue with the "Byrnes’s days off," and I hope he does so well this year that manager Bob Melvin will pencil him in everyday.
Also, the purple hair dye came out too dark to be as rad as I wanted it to be, so I will have to try again at a later date. I will have it figured out by the time I take cover shots for the poetry book I will publish before All-Star break. In the meantime, I am going off to teach that apprentice newswriting class decked out in my authentic D’Backs fitted road cap, and my new Byrnesblog jersey with the Arizona colors, the latter of which I am wearing for the first time today, to celebrate the start of Cactus League. This way the apprentices will know that the journalist is also a baseball blogger. It’s a very sick world out there, full of war, disease, climate change, poverty, etc. We need to have other things to think about and write about. In my case, baseball keeps me sane, and Eric Byrnes doing well keeps me happy.
and not about the fact that I am to begin teaching a short series of newswriting classes to some KPFA apprentices tonight, (which also marks my 7th anniversary at the station). I did it once before and although the apprentices said they got something from it, I am new at teaching classes and I want to do better this time.
and I am not nervous about the fact that, if I can find the time today, I will change my dyed hair from bright red, (one of those loud colors popular in Berkeley) to purple, by mixing red and blue dyes. (I had a salon artist give me fire engine red hair about 6 years ago. But I am still new at the Do-It-Yourself loud hair dye stuff).
I am nervous about the fact that today, the Arizona Diamondbacks begin their Cactus League schedule, and, being new to following the Snakes for a season–I rooted for them in the 2001 World Series–I don’t know what to make of beat reporter Steve Gilbert’s article "Lineup options wide open for Melvin".
Here are the Byrnes-relevant portions:
The Diamondbacks skipper has plenty of combinations to work with thanks to a roster deep with versatile players.
"The possibilities are endless," he said.
Provided he’s healthy, Craig Counsell figures to be the primary leadoff guy with center fielder Eric Byrnes getting his share of at-bats there, especially against left-handed pitching.
"Couns is probably the guy here," Melvin said. "But we’ll look at Byrnes here, too, certainly against left-handers."
The second spot in the order is the one with the most possibilities. If Counsell hits leadoff, Byrnes is a leading candidate to hit second along with second baseman Orlando Hudson….
When Alex Cintron or Andy Green is in the lineup they could also see time [in the 2 hole] as could Jeff DaVanon when he plays center in place of Byrnes.
…Melvin is leaning toward Estrada in the No. 7 hole with the eighth spot being either Byrnes or Hudson, whichever doesn’t hit second.
Byrnesie’s been leadoff, 2 and 8. In fact, in MLB, he’s been everywhere but 3 (at least I know of no instances of his being 3) at some point. And with Craig Counsell out for at least 10 days with a small labrum tear, Byrnesie should begin the Cactus League season at the top of the lineup. Yet I have to ask: At what point do endless possibilities for the manager become confusion for the hitters?
But for me, the real nerve-wracking part of the Gilbert article is this: While Byrnes figures to get the majority of the playing time in center, DaVanon will also see plenty of action….Jeff DaVanon [could fill the 2 hole] when he plays center in place of Byrnes.
There won’t be strict platoons, but Byrnes’ days off will likely come against left-handers….
Let’s take the last point first. In 2004, the season Byrnes, the Diamondbacks, and people like me figure represents the real Eric Byrnes, "his career high batting average was aided by a .344 (54 for 157) mark against left handed pitching, the third best mark against southpaws in the American League…" (quote from his official MLB page). And, according to this article, Melvin is looking at batting Byrnes leadoff against southpaws. So this notion of Byrnes’ days off coming against left handers makes no sense.
Secondly, what’s this talk about "Byrnes’ days off" anyway? The thing Byrnes wants most is to be an everyday player. Despite all the diving catches and crashes into the walls, he’s never been seriously injured. He’s not played as much as other guys with five years in the majors, so he’s not worn out, and turning 30 in February did not make him suddenly decrepit. Byrnes is a high-energy player fit for daily duty and he really wants it.
Is somebody starting the season with doubts about Byrnes? If so, who is it? Melvin or Gilbert? I don’t mind that DaVanon is on the roster, (though at the moment he is still healing from an injury sustained last year when he was in Anaheim, Los Angeles or wherever down there in Southern California). Every team needs a 4th outfielder. Double switches, late inning defensive replacements, injury/illness substitutions, the occasional need to rest a regular, and a particular utility outfielder offensively "owning" a particular pitcher all make a 4th outfielder de rigeur, and even a 5th desireable, if your roster has the room. But Gilbert is already talking about "Byrnes’ days off." Where is this coming from? With both Byrnes and DaVanon capable of playing all three outfield positions, we might even see some days when both are in the field.
This sort of talk makes me nervous. Any notion that Byrnesie will start the year platooning, even if they don’t call it that, reeks of the start of the abysmal, aberrant 2005. Gilbert’s article is not talking of DaVanon generally as the 4th outfielder who can play all three positions, but specifically as Byrnes’ substitute. WHY?
My take on Byrnes is that he blossoms best under certain conditions: 1) he needs the confidence of his management and 2) he needs daily play. He played 143 games in 2004 and responded with his career best. In other words, he needs stability, something he did not have in abysmal, aberrant 2005. It’s really not alot to ask. I am sure he signed with Arizona figuring he would get that, if only for a year. I hope he does.
The D’Backs start their Cactus League season in Less than an hour.
Time to whip up a batch of purple hair dye. The KPFA apprentices should love it.
Body in Oakland, Soul in Tucson
Go Byrnesie! Go Snakes!
what this meant, exactly.
"[Byrnes is] hoping to turn in a bounce-back season by slowing himself down a little and not trying to do too much.That could be a challenge." –Nick Piecoro, Energy no problem for Byrnes, The Arizona Republic 2/24/06. (A cool article all of you should read).
Surely this doesn’t mean slowing himself down on the basepaths or in the outfield, both places in which Byrnes’ speed is highly valued. I do hope it means he will hit the cutoff man a little more. He is certainly capable of throwing out a runner at home on his own, as new teammate and former geographically-challenged Angel Jeff DaVanon can tell you. Last year, late in a game between the Angels and the Orioles, DaVanon was sent to second base as a pinch runner. And though he got a jump before the ball was hit, Byrnes threw him out at home. That cut down the potential 11th run in an Angels shellacking of the Birds, but, as I have said before, Byrnesie doesn’t give up and he doesn’t give in…ever.
On the other hand, when the Orioles were at the Oakland Coliseum on August 16th, 2005, the middle game of a three game series against the A’s, Byrnesie airmailed a throw to the plate. A run was saved only because the pitcher was backing up the play. The A’s announcers said that sometimes Byrnes puts in too much effort. I have also seen him leave his feet to make throws, he is so desperate to put all of himself into it. However, that is probably not the best way to do it. (Ever see a quarterback leave his feet for a long pass?) There is no shame in having a cutoff man add some extra "oomph" to a throw in from the outfield.
I also hope that an attempt to slow himself down means that Byrnes will show a bit more patience at the plate, by both taking pitches and deliberately fouling off strikes he doesn’t like. He needs to reverse his strikeout to walk ratio, which currently stands at about 2 K’s for every BB. You can’t steal second until you get to first. Sometimes slower is really faster.
P.S. I am renumbering my categories for Byrnes articles. I have found that when you have a category, the blog displays 10 articles. That is why I originally created several numbered Byrnes categories. In my new system, all the Byrnes articles will be under Eric Byrnes 06.n. The 06 stands for the current year, after the tenth article, n will change to n +1. (i.e. Eric Byrnes 06.1, 06.2, 06.3 etc). Maybe I will redo the old category numbers someday, but that is very low on the priority list. In the meantime, now you know more than you needed to about why I didn’t create category Eric Byrnes 5.