The Arizona Diamondbacks’ new center fielder is 30 today. He was born in Redwood City, CA, a suburb of San Francisco.
Byrnesie, may age 30 and the 2006 baseball season be everything you want them to be, PLUS a few pleasant surprises. (Life would be dull if everything were predictable, right?)
Someone asked me that question at the KPFA Arts and Crafts Fair on December 10th. (I was wearing my Byrnesblog jersey, so that’s how the subject came up). My first reaction was "Why NOT Eric Byrnes?" which made the questioner laugh and back down. As "My Friend, the Yankees Fan" has said, the choice of a favorite player is a very personal one. (Actually, I think that was her polite way of saying "There’s no accounting for taste" when she found out that my blog is partially dedicated to a player who is neither at the top of the statistical heap nor "drop-dead gorgeous").
When I started this blog, I subtitled it "because in a team sport, it’s not just the superstars that count." The ace doesn‘t pitch every game; the slugger isn’t up every time the team needs a hit. To wit: the 14th inning of Game 3 of the 2005 World Series. Geoff Blum, who had the least playing time of all the White Sox, made the difference. We also know that sometimes superstars go bust in the clutch. A-Rod and Vlad Guerrero are the most recent examples, but baseball history is as full of those stories as it is of tales of unheralded guys who rose to the occasion, or the regulars who did something special but unexpected. I mean Bill Mazeroski was a fine player, but did anyone really think of him as a homer threat when he went up to bat in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series?
Still, that doesn’t per se answer the question "Why Eric Byrnes?" And neither does the Audrey Hepburn quote I used in my November 15th article "Why Does Eric Byrnes Matter?" That article was one of several I wrote in an attempt to come to terms with Byrnesie’s abysmal and aberrant 2005 season. My use of the Heburn quote
more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and
redeemed; never throw out anyone…"
was a cri de coeur born of my sense of what might happen, and actually did happen about 5 weeks later: the Orioles’ non-tender. But it really didn’t answer the question "Why Eric Byrnes?"
While I offered a more precise answer to the guy at the Crafts Fair, it has always struck me as odd that I could not really articulate well why I chose Byrnesie as my favorite player. It’s not that I didn’t know why, but I wasn’t as eloquent as I expected to be, words being my bread and butter. Then I read the answer to the question as stated by Tina Harris on her fan site EricByrnes.com and I knew immediately that she had succeeded where I had failed. She’s been watching him since his minor league days and has had the site for several years. You should visit. She’s also got great pictures of him. Tina said "It’s hard to put into words what a great guy and great ball player Eric is" but she was quite detailed in her fine explanation. I will only quote her summing paragraph here:
I made an Eric Byrnes web site because he’s a great ballplayer, exciting to watch, hard-working, has a positive attitude about pretty much everything, and is a great all-around guy. You’ve just got to respect a guy who plays all out, all the time and looks like he’s having a great time doing it. I also love the high socks.
I love the high socks, too. Reading what Tina wrote, with which I agree entirely, I was finally able to articulate what was so special to me about Eric Byrnes. In one sentence, it’s this: I trust Eric completely. I’m a journalist and that work, plus life experience in general, has made me very cynical. Trustworthiness is no small thing in a world full of politicians on the take, businesses that exploit workers and shaft consumers, athletes who use performance-enhancing drugs, and students who cheat on exams. I know when I watch Eric Byrnes that he’s always giving his best. One of my favorite Eric Byrnes moments is a game against the Cleveland Indians in 2005 when Indians starter C.C. Sabathia was throwing 97 mph aspirins. He pitched a three-hit shut out against the Baltimore Orioles that day. One of the three hits was an infield single by Eric Byrnes. It should have been a simple 6-3 ground out. But Jhonny Peralta non-chalanted the play and Eric, who never non-chalants anything, was safe at first. Byrnes doesn’t give up and he doesn’t give in…ever.
The passion and the joy with which Byrnesie plays baseball, on which Tina also elaborated, are the other major reasons "Why Eric Byrnes" for me. It would be a better world if we all could feel about our jobs the way he feels about his. How many of us are doing something we just fell into because we needed the money? How many of us are bored with what we are doing? How many of us are frustrated because what we are doing isn’t making the difference we want it to make, whether in our workplace, in our locality, or in the world at large? How many of us do give our best and get ridicule instead of respect? I’ve experienced all of those things. Perhaps you have as well.
Eric Byrnes is a lucky soul; he makes great money doing what he loves. But you can make great money, work in a creative field, be respected, be famous even, do something you think you were meant to do, rather than just something you fell into because of the way things were at the time, and still not be a happy camper. Look at the Hot Stove League season just concluded. While some guys, some way richer and more famous than Byrnes, were playing ego games, some of which backfired on them, Byrnesie was looking for the best place to play baseball. "More than anything coming into this season I just needed to find the best situation for me as far as playing baseball is concerned," he said, in an article by Steve Gilbert that appeared on MLB.com on December 30th, the day Byrnes signed with the Diamondbacks. "That’s what ultimately was the deciding factor more than money, more than location, more than anything else."
Byrnes has his head on straight, knows what his priorities are, and he’s not just a lucky soul, he’s a joyful one. I’m quite the serious type, all too serious at times. I’ve a seriousness that typically leads to burn-out rather than the seriousness of purpose that leads to even more work being created. I don’t enjoy enough of what I’ve accomplished. Byrnes appreciates where he is and what he’s done. I watch Byrnesie, turning 30 today and still struggling to be an everyday player; the guy who was standing on third as the potential tying run in the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 2003 ALDS—I was there—unable to score as two teammates took called third strikes; the guy struggling through abysmal and aberrant (and bewildering) 2005, and I know that even in the dark times, there’s this joy about him, this sense that he’s comfortable in his own skin, that makes watching him fun. So he’s a big life lesson to me.
And yes, there are the on-field tools. Let’s not forget those. At least five teams were interested in signing him this December, and not just because of the joyful attitude, the great work ethic, the willingness to try to improve, and the high-energy, although those qualities all factored in. Byrnes has performed well in the past and can do so again. As the Diamondbacks GM stated when Byrnes was signed: "I think he’s a player that can impact the game defensively and with the bat in his hand." I look forward to 2006 being the season no one asks me "Why Eric Byrnes?" because "Why" will be self-evident to all.
I don’t get very many comments to this blog. But most of the ones I get tell me a wonderful bit of news I already know, but never tire of hearing: Eric Byrnes has fans all over the country. Ppeople who root for teams other than the one on which Byrnes is playing, even people who would name someone else as their favorite player, are won over by Eric’s sunny personality and his all-out style of play.
It’s delightful to hear from these folks, so I have decided to aggregate the comments on one post so as to most conveniently share them with you. I will also include pro-Byrnes comments I find on other MLBlogs. May it be that by the end of the 2006 season, I will have as many pro-Byrnes comments as The Baseball Collector has baseballs, despite his huge head start. (My collection will be easier to store!) I’ll get started here and then update this entry from time to time. I have also gotten a few pro-Byrnes comments via email, but I consider the use of email rather than the blog to be a request for privacy. So I won’t repeat those comments here. But know that I’ve gotten them.
02.16.06 Here are a couple of updates to the original post:
01.09.06 In response to the post "Eric Byrnes: What once was good and could be again" Christel, author of the blog "It’s all in the Cards," wrote:
Byrnes: Glad we have him in the NL. I look for good things from him this year.
01.11.06 And in response to the same post, Dave, author of the blog "365 Days of Baseball," wrote:
I, too, am a fan of Mr. Eric Byrnes (thought for a few minutes there he was comin’ to Boston to replace Johnny D) and I’ll tell you why: he plays hard, gets the uni dirty, has no regard for the safety of outfield walls, and is scrappy hitter/baserunner.
Here’s what I’ve aggregated so far, starting with the most recent, which celebrate his signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Some will be edited for brevity:
01.01.06 In response to the post, "Happy New Year!", chadlebeauaz wrote:
Im a HUGE fan of Arizona and I think that they have made a great deal of improvement in signing "Byrnesie".
Eric Byrnes rocks!
On his own blog, on December 31, 2005, Evans wrote an article called "Snake Charmer", about the dealings of Arizona’s new GM Josh Byrnes (no relation to Eric). In that article, Evans said of Eric Byrnes:
Just today, word became official that Eric Byrnes (no relation) was signed to a one-year contract. This Byrnes is appropriately named—he is due for a few burns, and scrapes and bruises, as he plays all out in center field for the D-Backs this year. He hustles like no one since Pete Rose—and if you’ll pardon the pun, you can bet that you will see him diving into several Sportscenter highlight reels.
After the holiday, Hendry better get busy with the non-tendered list, Eric Byrnes in particular.
12.07.05 In response to the post, "An Eric Byrnes Quote About Steroids," Ben of Wooster, Ohio wrote:
Hey! Just thought I’d tell you that I got Eric’s autograph at an Orioles/Indians game at the Jake last year. That’s pretty cool!
11.19.05 In response to the post, "Stats – The Ups and Downs of Eric Byrnes", 10danielg of Maine wrote:
eric byrnes is a really cool guy! id like to see him in boston, personally.
11.17.05 In response to the post "Eric Byrnes – Making Sense of 2005", patromerocal wrote:
Kéllia, thank you for taking the time to address this topic. I too am a fan of Byrnes. He brought me back to the game of baseball after many, many years of being away from it with his joyful manner of playing the game. I hate to see the game give up on him before he has the chance to show that he can make the adjustments needed to continue playing sucessfully for many more years to come.
10.27.05 In response to the post "Chicago White Sox –You are the World’s Champions!" Rorie, a big White Sox fan, wrote:
I too, will cheer on Eric Byrnes next year wherever he is playing.
10.08.05 In response to the post "Congrats to the White Sox," Rorie wrote:
As for Eric Byrnes…I really admire how hard he plays. The game that really comes to mind this season was when he was traded to Baltimore and played in his first game there. He plays so hard – the way the game should be played. I remember thinking…"The Baltimore fans must be pretty happy with this trade." I hope to see him play for many more seasons.
10.04.05 In response to the post, "To Eric Byrnes", Susan of Sacramento, CA wrote:
I just read your letter to Eric Byrnes and my gosh! It was amazing. The letter brought tears to my eyes. As a diehard Eric Byrnes fan, I was so mad when the A’s shipped him out. Luckily, here in Sacramento he makes a weekly appearance on a local sports talk show. Also, it helps to have Extra Innings so I was still able to see my Byrnesy. I hope he finds a home somewhere where his spirit and talent are appreciated. [I]f a GM out there is smart they will take Eric.
Photo of Eric Byrnes by Cyn "Red Sox Chick" Donnelly, taken at Fenway Park in September 2005.
Go Byrnesie! (And Byrnes fans, please keep the comments coming my way!)
Though 2005 was Eric’s abysmal, aberrant year, it was not without its good moments. So since MLBlogs has mentioned that Pinstripe Pride has listed the 5 best moments for a Yankee fan in 2005, and suggests that other writers follow P. Pride’s example, I will give you my 5 favorite Eric Byrnes moments of 2005. (And as abysmal and aberrant as 2005 was, he had more than 5 great moments, I’m just adhering to the precedent set by Pinstripe Pride).
#5 June 25 – The A’s v. the Giants at the Coliseum. This was a very strange game for Byrnes, but one that showed why he’s a great guy to root for. It was a defensive gem for him. He had two great catches: a dive in left center and a crash into the wall down the left field line. For that second catch, Byrnesie ran as hard as he could and made a backhanded grab near the corner about two steps away from the wall. Given how fast he was running and how close he was to the wall when he made the catch, there was no way he could do anything but crash. Along the way, he lost his hat, but held on to the ball. Center fielder Mark Kotsay went over to check on him. After the game, Kotsay told reporters that Byrnes had iced down, something he normally doesn’t do.
Things did not go as well for Byrnes offensively that day. In fact, this was the game that inspired me to start "The Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Report" because he hit the first pitch he saw in the 6th into a rally-killing, inning-ending double play with the bases loaded. (He had also flied out his first time up on the first pitch). Byrnesie left 6 guys on base that day, three of them in scoring position…OUCH!
In the 8th inning, the Giants committed their 5th error of the game when right fielder Alex Sanchez let a Byrnes fly ball glance off his glove. I was sitting in the stands behind Sanchez and saw the play clearly. The ball did not go far from Sanchez’ feet, but the speedy Byrnes, who does NOT take any apparently routine play for granted, was almost at second when the ball came back into the infield. Unfortunately, the more cautious Eric Chavez was on second when Byrnes came to the plate, and he made no attempt to run on Sanchez’ error. Chavvy was still near second as Byrnes approached, so Byrnes, having no place to go, was tagged out about ten feet from second. Instead of having runners at second and third with one out, the A’s had a runner on second with two outs. The play made Byrnes look bad, but it was really Chavez who made the baserunning error; the fly had been hit deep enough to right that he should have been ready to tag and go to third if it had been caught. Had he headed to third as soon as Sanchez missed the catch, Byrnesie would have been safe at second.
Unhappily as this particular play ended for Byrnes, it showed his speed and his heart. Several times last year, I saw descriptions of Byrnes as playing the game "with reckless abandon." I don’t see "reckless abandon"; I see fearlessness and drive. And that’s why I’m wearing an Arizona Diamondbacks cap around Oakland and Berkeley these days.
#4 July 8 – In Chicago, in one of his last appearances with the A’s, Eric got two hits off two right-handers. And not just any two righties: He doubled off All-Star Jon Garland, and then singled off Cliff Politte, one of last year’s top relievers. (In 2005, Politte went 7-1 with an ERA of 2.00). This game was great not only because of Eric’s getting two hits off two tough righties in an away game, but because the day before, he had been pinch-hit for in Toronto when the Blue Jays brought in a righty, even though he had homered earlier in the game. Granted the homer was against a southpaw, but there is such a thing as momentum. On July 9, the A’s announcers said that Byrnes was ecstatic after the two hits the night before. So was I.
#3 August 26 – At Camden Yards, against his former team, the Oakland A’s, Eric bunted for a single, which set up his scoring the Orioles’ only run in a 4-1 loss. This was special because the A’s aren’t into bunting; Byrnes added this skill when he went to Baltimore. The Baltimore radio announcers said that Byrnes had told them before the game that he had been working on his bunting and would bunt if he caught Chavez playing back at third. In the 7th inning, with Chavez playing back, Byrnes attempted a bunt, but missed. Chavvy stayed back. Byrnes bunted the next pitch toward Chavez and was safe at first. Oh, to have been a fly on Chavvy’s shoulder when Byrnesie slid into third a few minutes later. <Heh-Heh-Heh!>
#2 July 31 – Against the eventual World Champion White Sox again, Eric went 3-5 with a homer, all off right-handed pitchers, on my 50th birthday. I don’t have much money, and I’m not a party animal anyway, so I planned a simple day: play some online dominoes with "My Friend, the Yankees Fan," watch the Orioles v. the White Sox on my computer via MLB.TV, and collect my free birthday rental from my local video place. Byrnesie made my day. Thank you, Eric.
#1 August 31 – Eric went 2-4 with a homer at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The homer, a towering fly into the second deck in left, was off a curve ball, thrown by a righty, in an away game. Byrnes’ detractors will tell you he can’t hit righties and he can’t hit breaking stuff. Admittedly, his stats for away games in 2005 were abysmal. But not that day, not that at-bat, against now-Diamondbacks teammate, Miguel Batista. But what was really special for me about this day was the certainty Byrnes had. I knew every time he was going to swing. Even the outs, a fly out and a line out his first two times up, were well hit. If he could carry this level of certainty throughout a season, he would bat .320 easily. August 31, 2005 was "what once was good and could be again" in 2006.
Go Byrnesie! Go Snakes!
Photo of Byrnesie by Cyn "Red Sox Chick" Donnelly, September 2005, Fenway Park.
The new year is getting off on the right foot for me. I start 2006 knowing my favorite player has signed his contract for the season. Eric Byrnes will be the center fielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks. After he was non-tendered by the Orioles, his third team in abysmal, aberrant 2005, I feared that he would end up in Japan, or with one of those minor league contracts with a non-roster invitation to spring training, or worse. Never have I been soooo happy to be soooo wrong! Eric Byrnes had choices. Teams still wanted him. Word out yesterday was that Byrnes chose Arizona in part because they were going to give him the oppportunity to play center field again. (No, I am not changing the name of the blog. It’s still relevant. Byrnes is a right-handed hitter who pulls a lot of his doubles down the left the field line). He came up with the A’s as a center fielder–he can and has played all three outfield positions–and it’s easy to see he has both the speed and the mental aggressiveness one expects at that position.
If Eric Byrnes can possibly get to the ball, he will. That is one of the joys of watching him: his all-out style creates trust that if there’s an opportunity to get the other guy out, he’ll take it. He doesn’t non-chalant; he doesn’t play it safe. He’ll sacrifice his body if he has to. Fortunately, he knows how to do that in a way that avoids the DL.
I am slightly nervous about Byrnes moving back to center full-time because the stats say that he hits better as a left fielder. I don’t know why that is. I keep telling myself that this stat is a mere correlation and that there really should be no cause-and-effect here. Bottom line is that he wanted to go back to center and found a team that also thought this was a good idea. This means he got what he wanted, and that makes me a happy Byrnes fan. Now I just hope that Arizona will have some hitting instructor who can help him get over what was ailing him at the plate in abysmal, aberrant 2005. They must think they do or they would not have signed him.
For me, yesterday was an exhausting day of hourly headlines on flood conditions in the S. F. Bay Area. It be’s that way sometimes for a journalist. Unfortunately, a lot of people around here are starting 2006 with ruined homes and/or businesses. But the good news is that there was little injury and, so far as I have heard, no loss of life. We got one call saying that the headlines were a good service. The rule of thumb is that one call or email about something stands for 99 other people who feel the same way but couldn’t or wouldn’t tell us that. So if 100 people benefited from me doing hourly headlines on flood conditions, it was worth the trouble. And I say trouble only because I’m out of my league doing local and hourly reporting. I’m into the long reports on more universal themes that are done when I say they are done. But I was the one available, like the last pinch hitter in the dugout. So it fell to me to get the job done, even though I don’t usually see much action in the "short and immediate " news game. When it was finally over, I rewarded myself by ordering my Arizona Diamondbacks authentic road cap. I’ll be rooting for them as long as they keep Eric Byrnes.
What some people call New Year’s resolutions, I call goals. Having more money (and the ability to feel comfortable spending it on fun things) is part of the list of goals I made when I got home from the radio station last night. The D’Backs will be in the Bay Area for a dozen games in 2006: 3 against the A’s and 9 against the Giants. (That’s a dozen days during the season Byrnesie can spend at home. That’s a big and good change from the second half of last year! :+) ) One of my goals is to attend all of those games. Attending a dozen games in a season would be an all-time record for me. And that doesn’t even count the possibility that I might want to see any of Barry Zito’s outings or the Giants vs the Mets.
May there be more baseball in 2006 for you as well. Now that it is 2006, spring training will be here before we know it!
Go Byrnesie! Go Snakes!
A healthy and prosperous New Year to us all! Especially to people who take wonderful pix of Byrnesie, like the one on this post that I got from the mlb.com site. It looks the the beginning of the diving catch he made at the Oakland Coliseum on Aug. 15, 2005. I was there. It was wonderful.
GREAT NEWS ITEM: Eric Byrnes has signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks!!!!
"Eric brings a lot of energy to the field and the clubhouse every day and I know our fans are going to enjoy the enthusiasm with which he plays the game," said senior vice president and general manager Josh Byrnes. "With the additions of Byrnes, [Orlando] Hudson and [Johnny] Estrada, we feel that we have strengthened ourselves in the middle of the field."
I am at least twice as ecstatic—how do you really measure these things?– as I was devastated when the O’s non-tendered him. This signing is special because Eric had choices; an earlier MLB.com article quoted his agent, Michael Sasson, as saying that Byrnes had gotten at least 5 offers. Before that was published, I had heard privately from another fan that a lot of teams were interested. Eric was able to choose the situation he thought was best for him. Choices and chances: they are the things we need to make a success of this life.
Another thing we sometimes need are folks to express confidence in us when it looks like the chips are down. Byrnesie got those expressions of confidence in the form of the multiple offers. The D’Backs, who tried to get him after 2004, maintained their interest despite abysmal, aberrant 2005. Thank you, Arizona!!!
I would love to get into this wonderful news more, but today is not the day because of work obligations. (Yeah, even at night!) I’ll just say for the moment that 2006 is now looking up BIG TIME, Peak Oil, nuclear weapons, and possble flooding in the North Bay–it’s been raining cats, dogs, and fish in the S.F. Bay Area lately–notwithstanding.
More about the great news of the Byrnes signing later!!!
Kéllia “wearing purple and teal today” Ramares