The Arizona Diamondbacks, who were batting below .200 as a
team during the last six games-they won 2 and lost 4-went back to the
formula that led to their early success in beating Atlanta 11-1. They scored early and often, handing Doug Davis a 5-run lead
before he threw the first pitch in his comeback from thyroid cancer
surgery. Davis then cruised to victory, giving up only 1 run in a 7
inning, 5-hit, 89-pitch effort. (Max Scherzer pitched the 8th and Doug
Slaten the 9th).
The five-run barrage in the first inning started with a solo
homer by Stephen Drew, batting second. They got another homer later in
the inning-a two-run shot by Eric Byrnes, batting seventh, for the
100th of his career. If he managed not to hurt himself today, let’s
hope that this gets Byrnesie going; sometimes hitters slow up as they
approach a milestone. Next time up, he singled and eventually scored
from third on a single by Chris Young. So Byrnesie had two hits, two
RBI and he also scored two runs.
Homers were the name of this game for the D’Backs. In
addition to Drew and Byrnes, Conor Jackson, Chris Young, and Mark
Reynolds went yard. Chris Snyder had a 2-run double.
Welcome back, DD!
It’s been a long time coming. And it barely made it, hitting
the top of the wall in left field and bouncing in the good direction.
But there it was in the fifth inning, Eric Byrnes’ first grand slam.
And it came off of Tom Glavine, of all people. Only the second grand
slam the future Hall of Famer has given up in his long and illustrious
career. It changed the score from 3-2 Braves to 6-3 Diamondbacks, and
the Snakes never looked back. The final score was 9-3, giving Micah
Owings his 6th W of the year.
True Elation? More than that really. But if I call it
something else, it will ruin my numbering system. More than redemption
for the pop-up with the bases loaded in his previous at-bat and the 5
LOB on the day. Two homers in 3 days! Maybe he is coming out of his
slump. Or maybe there is something extra he reaches back for every time
people start asking again if he should be on the DL.
Eric Byrnes has been on a very steep roller coaster ride
this year. And he’s still got a long way to go to get the batting
average back into respectable territory. It will be interesting to see
what happens now with the bases loaded. He finally cleared them. Now he
should approach a sacks-full situation in a different way. It has often
looked like he was trying to be too careful, trying not to make an out,
instead of trying to get a hit. Or he was being desperate, swinging at
anything, like the junk off the plate that Glavine threw him the time
before. This time Glavine threw it in Byrnesie’s wheelhouse and
Byrnesie sent it out. And I hope that any and all anxiety and
self-doubt he’s had with the bases loaded in the past went with it. Of
course, not every time up with the bases loaded will have this glorious
result. But now, Byrnesie knows he can do it because he HAS done it.
And I look forward to him doing it again.
Four beautiful RBI. The game-winner. (And let’s not forget
two walks after the grand slam, one of which resulted in his second run
scored. He needs better plate discipline to get out of the slump, and
walks are indicative of better discipline).
Beyond True Elation. A new level of achievement for Eric Byrnes.
Many knowledgeable baseball people, including Eric Byrnes,
consider the 2001 World Series one of the best, if not THE best World
Series ever. Seven games between the storied New York Yankees, winners
of the previous three World Series, and 26 championships overall,
versus the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks, in existence for only four
years and playing in their first World Series. And Game 7 was an epic
pitchers’ duel that went down to the wire.
On April 29th, A&E Home Video (aetv.com) and MLB
Productions make a DVD set of this series available. Buy it. Unless you
win the one I have available as a giveaway on this blog. Details about
that further down.
The DVD player I have attached to my TV is not working for
some reason. So I was pleased to find that the DVDs will play on a PC
with DVD playing software. I’m running Windows XP Home Edition and NTI
DVD software on a 2 GB system with 512 MB Ram of which only 448 MB is
working properly; but the DVD’s ran perfectly despite the RAM problem.
The mouse substitutes for TV remote control and is much easier to use.
The pictures, basically the Fox broadcast of each game, are
crisp and clear. The games are edited to bring you the best shots…and
no commercial breaks! You just go from one inning to the next and
through the pitching changes with all baseball. The only non-baseball
information is in the form of the graphics that were part of the game
broadcast that day. For example, Game 7 updated the viewers on the Emmy
Awards that were presented that night. That’s a nice historical touch.
Bonus features include highlights of the NLDS and NLCS,
trophy presentations, and several on-field post-Game 7 interviews with
the winners. Each of the seven games comes on its own DVD, in its own
jewel case with a liner that provides the box score, an
inning-by-inning summary and tidbits that will satisfy any trivia buff.
The set comes in a box that easy to store; It’s 18 hours and 49 minutes
of material for only $69. Even though the set emphasizes the Arizona
Diamondbacks, it’s a great addition to the libraries of Yankees fans
and anyone else who enjoys great baseball.
For those of you who are interested in the one I’m giving
away, the way to get it is to send me an Eric Byrnes story from
anywhere starting with his college days to the present. Keep it
family-friendly as I want to post the entries here. What was it like to
meet Byrnesie? Did you go to school with him, see him as a minor
leaguer, banter with him in the stands in the majors, or meet him in
the supermarket? Did he visit your school, hospital or Little League?
My stats reports say that a lot of people visit, but only a
few people ever
comment. My usual commentators, the guys who run the AZSportshub
& MLB.com websites, members of Byrnesie’s family and current social circle,
professional journalists who have interviewed Byrnes, and anyone who
has ever been featured on The Eric Byrnes Show are not eligible to win
the DVD set but are welcome to contribute a story to enrich the
visiting experience for my readers.
I’m looking for Byrnes fans who have never commented here
before. I’m hoping a chance at this wonderful DVD set will entice some
of you into joining the discussions. Don’t be shy. You don’t have to be
a literary genius to enter, but the winner will be the story I find
most interesting, so don’t just say you were there when Byrnesie did
Send your stories to byrnesblogger1 [at] azsportshub.com by May 15th. The decision of the judge (me) is final.
Eric Byrnes doubled to lead off the 7th inning!!! (Hmm, 7 seems to be his lucky number these days). This was off the Blue Jays southpaw starter Chacin.This is the extra-base hit I’ve been waiting for. I hereby declare that ol’ batting slump officially over!!!
AND HE SCORED! Yup. And Daryl, (of the MLBLog Daryl’s Place), I know you don’t like the idea of trading two outs for a run, but Byrnes moved to third on a sac bunt and scored on a sac fly, with the Baltimore TV announcers remarking all the way about his hustle, dedication, speed, running style and all the other things THEY said make Byrnesie easy to root for, and while someone in Oakland was getting very excited at the prospect and finally the accomplishment, of a Byrnes run scored! The Orioles were clicking on all cylinders tonight. Gibbons and Tejada homered earlier. Then Byrnes was driven in a la small ball.
AND THEN HE CAME UP IN THE 9TH AND PUT A BELT-HIGH CURVE BALL INTO THE SECOND DECK OF THE ROGERS CENTRE!!!! (A two-run jack, so here come the ribbies!!) 🙂
Byrnesie had flied to left and flied to center his first two times up. I thought there was too much twist in his body and uppercut in his follow through, as if Tiger Woods had been his hitting instructor, instead of Terry Crowley. But I could see the confidence. I could just tell when he was going to swing and he swung like he meant it. And a side view of the home run that I saw on a reply showed that there was less uppercut in the follow-through than had appeared in the earlier outs. So he can produce the fly ball with the more level swing; it just goes farther .
Pitchers who doubt me are more than welcome to conduct their own experiments on Byrnes. I especially recommend them trying out those belt-high pitches that are middle to outer part of the plate to test hypotheses on how far Byrnes’ relatively skinny arms can drive a ball if he gets fully extended. Curveball, change up, fastball, take your pick.
AND BTW, that jack in the 9th was against a RIGHTY reliever…Batista. I’m going to have to get around to writing an article about Byrnesie’s HARP. (Hits Against Right-Handed Pitchers). It’s music to my ears.
But now I have to quibble with managerial strategy. It’s 7-0. Bruce Chen has pitched lights out. You would think he was Barry Zito or something. 🙂
Why bring in Ray to close? Ray had a great 1-2-3 inning. But how about giving the bullpen a rest with a huge lead and let the starter try for a complete game shutout? If a run scores, then you pull him. But let him try. It’s a feather in his cap to do it, and overworked bullpens blow up.
But today was a great day when the Orioles played like a contender. And you know my new philosophy of life: Any time Eric Byrnes gets a hit, or makes a great defensive play, is cause to be of good cheer. He wasn’t called on for any outfield heroics today, but he went 2 for 4 with two extra-base hits, 2 RBI, 2 runs scored, and the power to keep me from crying all day about New Orleans.
Yes, sometimes things are just out of our hands and the best we can do is to do what we do the best we can. Off to teach news class with my 15 hat on my head and a big smile on my face.
Radio Internet Story Exchange
It was one of those days where everything seemed to be just a little bit off. Here I was, going to a Wednesday game, having also gone on Monday. I had to keep reminding myself it was Wednesday, not Sunday. On the way to the train stations, I stopped at a drug store to buy a single-use camera. I didn’t realize until I was on the train headed to the Coliseum that I had purchased an indoor flash camera. Oh, well, I thought to myself, it will be foggy before the game. Maybe the flash will help.
Here on the Left Coast, we call the fog Nature’s Air Conditioner. If it’s sunny early in the morning, you know it’s going to be a broiler. But that doesn’t mean it is necessarily cold because it’s foggy. By the time I bought my ticket and got on line to wait for the park to open—a record early appearance for me—I taken off my sweatshirt and tied it around my waist. That revealed my Byrnes 22 T-shirt. On Monday, someone was wearing one everywhere I looked. But today, I saw only one person wearing one: me. There were a lot of Crosbys and still some Tejadas. Later in the day, I would see someone wearing a beautiful Chad Bradford A’s jersey. Some folks might remember Mr. Chadwick Lee Bradford of Mississippi, a sidearmer shipped to Boston as soon as he had recovered from his back surgery, in exchange for Jay Payton, the new A’s left fielder, who, I acknowledge, has been doing a bang up job for his new team.
While waiting for the gates to open, I wrote a little poetry, some of which is already on this blog: "Young Girls with Gloves" and "Home." The latter dedicated to Byrnes.
It being a day game after a night game there was no practice. So you would think that the players could or would mingle with fans and sign stuff. But that was not the case. Some of the A’s were stretching and jogging by the left field bullpen where a few pitchers were warning up. But only one of the A’s, wearing his jacket over his number, so I don’t know who it was, signed a few things in front of the A’s dugout along the third base line. I waited with my clipboard just behind the visitors’ dugout hoping that Eric Byrnes would show up and sign my latest "Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Report." Next to me was a boy with an Eric Byrnes baseball card. I used to collect baseball cards as a kid, but I haven’t seen one in a long time. The photo appeared to capture Byrnesie in mid-swing, staring at the barrel of his bat with all the intensity we know he has. It was a great shot. Kudos to the photog.
But there would be no Eric Byrnes, Miguel Tejada, Sammy Sosa, or just about anyone else folks were lined up to see. Orioles reliever Jason Grimsley walked from the bullpen to the dugout and was asked to sign one thing when he reached the dugout corner nearest home plate. Starter Bruce Chen exchanged waves with us as he went to the outfield for a light game of catch with someone else wearing a jacket that covered his number. I was surprised to see Chen assume a catcher’s crouch to take some tosses from the other guy. Gee, isn’t that dangerous? What if he gets hit in the face? I thought. Fortunately, there was no need to worry about that. Chen signed a whole bunch of things when he got to the homeside corner of the dugout.
Former catcher and now Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks passed by. He would later become accidentally involved in a play. A foul fly was hit toward the Orioles bullpen. David Newhan, playing right field, went after it at full speed. Hendricks, on the bullpen bench, stood up and tried to get out of the way, but he and Newhan collided and Newhan missed the catch. It was a very mild collision, nothing like what happened to Mets’ outfielders Cameron and Beltran a few weeks ago. Still, Newhan was lucky. Hendricks may sport gray hair, but he’s still straight-backed, broad-shouldered and solid as the brick wall at Wrigley. Crashing into him, even slightly, is cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
The sky was clearing by the time the security personnel told us folks hanging out at the dugout to go to back to our seats. By the time I reached my seat, up in the next to the last row of a third deck section between first and home, it was time for the sunscreen. I thought of the Bud Light commercial that "paid tribute" to "Mr. SPF-80 Sun-block-wearer" and his "Coconut-Scented Force Field." I was wearing only SPF-45…unscented. Others were donning similar stuff. White goo was definitely the order of the day in the third deck at the Coliseum.
Candlestick Park, where the SF Giants used to play until the 2000 season, had the reputation of being windy and cold. One season they gave out the Croix de Candlestick, a commemorative button for anyone who stuck it out until the end of an extra inning night game. Years ago, someone visiting Candlestick for the first time—I’m sorry, I don’t remember who it was—was aghast at the wind conditions. And this was during the day, before the wind really kicked up. He is reported to have said that if Willie Mays had played anywhere else, "The Say Hey Kid" would have hit 800 homers.
The Coliseum in Oakland is near enough to San Francisco Bay to receive the wind coming off the water. Opening Night 2004, which marked the first time I ever went to an Opening Night, was football weather, and the veteran fans were dressed for such, blankets and all. But game three of the Orioles series was a day game, and it was great to have the sun on my back. I had gotten chilled at the Monday night game, and I think a little fluid built up in my lungs. The Wednesday afternoon sun baked that out during the game. And the wind kept the sun from being oppressively hot. But that alternation of hot and cold is weird and may have contributed to the tiredness I felt at the end of the game. But, then too, the tiredness may have come from the energy I expended in openly rooting for the Orioles to complete their sweep of the A’s. No sense trying the scholarly dispassion bit I did in Game 1, when the nearest people to me were new parents who spent more time taking digital photos of their baby than they did watching the game. On Wednesday afternoon, there were more people around—two dollar admission will do that for a team—these folks were into the game, and a few of them were also rooting for the O’s.
Byrnes’ name was still warmly greeted when the Orioles’ lineup was announced. The strange thing today was that Daniel Cabrera was announced as the Orioles’ starting pitcher, but then suddenly it was announced that Eric DuBose would start instead. This caused a number of changes to the announced A’s line up. The PA guy announced three changes and said we’d get caught up on the rest later. It turned out that Cabrera felt back stiffness while warming up and was pulled at the last minute. (I wouldn’t find that out until I visited KPFA after the game and one of the guys in the newsroom told me). Du Bose would go on to baffle the A’s, new lineup and all.
Ever feel like you are carrying just too much to the ballpark? I have a small black shoulder bag with too many compartments that I take to park because it’s the smallest bag I own, but it allows me to carry money, ID, ATM card, train ticket, tissues, sunscreen, pencils and a pencil sharpener. Turns out that it also fits my radio and ear buds and that indoor, single use camera I now had not a single use for at the Coliseum. But I also had my now unnecessary sweatshirt, my clipboard with the scoresheets and the Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Report. And a cardboard tray containing two "dollar dogs" and a cup of soda for which there was no straw or lid. The report suffered a couple of small mustard stains early on as I tried the wolf down the "dollar dogs" before Byrnesie’s first plate appearance. I managed to get the report cleaned up in time. The mustard stains are very small and barely noticeable now.
I thought Byrnesie’s hitting slump was going to end in his first AB, when he ripped a line drive down the left field line. But instead of a double, all he had was a foul ball. As they say: "Baseball is a game of inches." Byrnes struck out.
Danny Haren, the young A’s pitcher, had a rough 2nd inning, and a rough 4th inning. Two runs on 4 hits each time. But the indicator that this was not his day came in the third, when it cost him 25 pitches to get a 1-2-3 inning. Ten of those pitches went to Eric Byrnes. Yeah, Byrnesie struck out again, but it was a good AB that contributed to the earliest exit Haren had had in quite a while.
(Danny Haren trivia: he came to the A’s from the St. Louis Cardinals in the deal that sent pitcher Mark Mulder, one of the A’s "Big Three," to the Cards. I think former A’s manager Tony La Russa, who now manages the Cardinals, keeps an eye out for any old A’s he can use. (Eckersley and McGwire finished out their careers in St. Louis). Anyway, Haren’s father was concerned about his son’s ability to adjust socially to the new team. Seems Danny’s a bit shy. So Danny’s dad asked Cardinal player John Gall to let his cousin on the A’s know that Danny’s a good kid, it just takes him time to warm up to a new situation. Gall relayed the message and Danny Haren was welcomed by, and became fast friends with, Gall’s cousin—Eric Byrnes).
Throughout the game, a small girl was sitting directly in front of me. She was maybe about four or five and quite fidgety. In the 5th inning, she turned around and stared at me, clearly wanting some acknowledgement of her existence. I usually try to be nice to such small fry, but "not now!" I thought. I was too busy nibbling on my clipboard, muttering "Ribbies, Ribbies Ribbies," and staring at home plate. Eric Byrnes was up with the bases loaded.
Justin "The Duke" Duchsherer was pitching. Byrnes took a ball. Then he took a strike. Then he hit a grounder to second for a double play.
But hey, there still was a bright side…sort of. Unlike the time in the first game when Byrnesie popped foul to the catcher with the bases loaded, this DP scored a run. No official RBI for Byrnes, but that run counted just as much as a run scored by a sac fly would have. Except that now there were two out instead of the one a sac fly would have created. But when a player is in a horrible batting slump, fans and teammates alike have to be grateful for small things.
Ultimately, the Birds won 5-3, completing the sweep.. Byrnes went 0-4 with 2 strikeouts and that double play. He had a quiet day in the field, making one put-out in the first inning. And by the time he came to bat in the 8th, the announcement of his name drew no special reaction from the crowd. At the end of the day, Eric Byrnes had become just another player on the other team.
Radio Internet Story Exchange
You would think I’d be a gregarious sort, what with the Sun, Jupiter and Mars conjunct in Leo and Gemini on the Midheaven. But really I’m not. I guess that Capricorn Moon, Virgo Ascendant, and Saturn in Scorpio squaring the Sun, Jupiter, Mars conjunction are indicators that I’m not the jolliest clown in the circus.
I was a policy wonk as a kid. While my elementary school classmates could tell you the Number One song in the Top 40, and some of them knew the whole Top 10, I could tell you the name of the US Ambassador to the UN. (I could tell you the name of the US Ambassador to the UN now, but I don’t want to waste space on him!)
I could even put my interest in baseball to serious purposes. In high school, Latin was a required course for all freshmen students; and we called them freshmen back then, even though it was an all-girls school. I just wasn’t getting those Latin declensions down. (Declension is a strange word. The verb form is "decline," which should mean, "I decline that noun. Show me what else ya got." But it doesn’t).
I suppose you could call declensions a way of conjugating nouns. And those declensions just weren’t sticking in my brain until I realized that the first declension nouns ended in "a," and so did Swoboda. I found Mets mnemonics for all the declensions. Word spread, and the school newspaper wrote, "Looks like Julius Ceasar has finally MET his match."
My workplace is in political turmoil. The larger world is wrapped in war, global warming, peak oil, and other things that may add up to a perfect storm making concerns about stats in the steriod era a tempest in teapot. (The issue of athletes taking steroids, per se, IS serious). There are only so many of these things I can put up with simultaneously and for so long, even though, as a journalist, I’m supposed to put up with all of them all the time in order to report them to my listeners. So I’ve decided to try to be a little bit more of a happy camper, at least during the baseball season. And I’ve found a method of being happier that’s way cheaper than therapy.
I’ve adopted a new philosophy of life: Any day Eric Byrnes gets a hit, or makes a great defensive play, is not a total loss. Any time Eric Byrnes get a hit, or makes a great defensive play, is an occasion to be of good cheer. Even if having to work during the game means that I see the two strikeouts and the two missed diving catches but not the base hit. (Byrnesie! Three missed diving catches in two days? What’s wrong?) Even if the computer won’t give me the replay. Even if the base hit doesn’t drive anyone home. Even if the base hit loads the bases with only one out but nobody scores–ACK! Even if the great defensive play comes in during a terrible batting slump. Even if after one class and one lab in video editing, I’m falling behind because I’m learning the basics of the MAC as well as the editing program, and reading tutorials has never been my cup of tea. Even though I am falling behind on everything, including this blog, because there’s just so much to do and not enough time in which to do it. And even because, while a alot of people complain about lack of time, I feel the time crunch because I think Neocons, Dominionists, bird flu, Peak Oil and climate change may get us all well before anyone has to vote on whether Raffy Palmeiro should get into the Hall of Fame.
ANY DAY ERIC BYRNES GETS A HIT, OR MAKES A GREAT DEFENSIVE PLAY, IS NOT A TOTAL LOSS. (I’ll remember that, too, if he plays winter ball this year). ANY TIME ERIC BYRNES GETS A HIT, OR MAKES A GREAT DEFENSIVE PLAY, IS AN OCCASION TO BE OF GOOD CHEER. (My blood pressure appreciates that, really).
He went one for three today. (And for an added bonus, and something I am sure made Byrnesie happy, the Orioles beat the geographically-challenged Angels 2-0. Meanwhile, back in the Southland, 700,000 Southern California Edison customers were experiencing rolling blackouts. In utility talk, a customer is the person or entity whose name is on the bill. So they figure one customer stands for three people affected by a blackout). Three times 700,000? You do the math, I’m having too good a time recalling the latest Eric Byrnes base hit.
The O’s play the A’s at home this weekend. Please, Byrnesie, not another 0 for Series. Hitting well is the best revenge. And it’ll make my days.
Radio Internet Story Exchange
August 22, 2005 was the 5th Anniversary of the Major League debut of Eric Byrnes. Sorry I’m a day late. But as much as I would love to watch and write about baseball all day everyday, life sometimes demands other things, and yesterday it was my first video editing class.
But Happy Anniversary, Byrnesie! Becoming a Major League Baseball player is a dream relatively few men get to realize.
Byrnes came up with the Oakland A’s and I have heard the story both ways, but either then manager Art Howe, or the GM, who I think was Sandy Alderson at the time–I don’t keep track of the front office–maybe it was both–told the regular broadcasters that they brought Byrnes up because "he plays like his hair’s on fire." And he still does. That’s why I like him. We should all play life like our hair’s on fire.
But I have been thinking the last few days that if the A’s front office had had its druthers, we might not have seen Eric Byrnes in Oakland at all. It took them two years to land Mark Kotsay, their current centerfielder, who has been with them for three years now. (A fine player, but no way would I have traded an All-Star catcher for an outfielder). Two plus three equal 5. If the A’s had gotten Kotsay when they first wanted him…well, you do the math.
Now Byrnes is a Baltimore Oriole and I’m glad. Really. The baseball gods work in mysterious ways.
Byrnes has not reached his full potential yet, though certainly not for lack of effort. I know that, and I think Baltimore does, too. Sometimes home is not where you always were, or where you hoped you’d always be.
And now I have to stop writing about baseball and take myself and my Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Report to KPFA to board op the Evening News. Byrnes has been dropped from 2nd to 8th today. No surprise given the slump. Mora’s batting second. Let’s hope that means his ankle’s better. He likes to beat out bunts, but hasn’t been able to run well lately.
Level swing, Byrnesie, level swing, and you’ll be back in the 2 hole before long. And that’s just where a guy with your speed should be.
Here’s to the next 5 years, Byrnesie! No. Make that: here’s to the next 15!
The official MLB Eric Byrnes page is now linked to this blog.
Radio Internet Story Exchange
August 20, 2005–Flash! ERIC BYRNES HIT A SINGLE!!!!
He hit it with one out and none on in the top of the 9th against Cleveland’s RIGHT-HANDED reliever David Riske. The count was 1-1, the pitch was belt-high and a little bit on the outside part of the plate, but certainly not one of those paint-the-black, finesse deals. Sorry, but I seldom know what kind of a pitch is thrown. It looked pretty straight to me, so it could have been a fastball, but then it could have been a straight change. Doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that Riske threw a strike and Byrnesie hit a sharp grounder through the hole between short and third and into left field. No infielder came near it. And the long hitless streak was over!
I didn’t get to see it live. At KPFA, I’m the news department’s technical utility player and I was subbing for someone this evening. I left after Byrnesie popped to second in the sixth on his first pitch, making him 0 for 3 on the day; the notes on "The Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Report" say "Out in the blink of an eye. High pitch."
By the time I got home, the game was over. But I checked the box score and there it was: a 1 in the H column! Nothing else happened. He was erased on a double play that ended the game. Cleveland beat Baltimore 6-1, the second straight loss after the sweep of the A’s. But Byrnes’ long hitless streak was over! And that means a lot. Enough for me to struggle with the computer to get the replay. You should have seen the grin on Byrnesie’s face at first base. I mean, you knew the hit had to come sometime, but when! There must have been moments when Eric wondered if he would ever get a hit again. I know I felt that way on occasion as I watched Byrnes’ batting average sink. He’s lost thirty points off the season high he reached about a month ago in the early days of his exile in the cellar of the NL Worst. If slumps like these were diets, one could make millions selling them.
The single was also a vindication of my attempt to figure out what went wrong after that 11-game hitting streak that began when he first joined the Orioles. Hey, I may not have the answers to dealing with Peak Oil, treating AIDS in Africa or ending Middle East conflicts, but maybe I could figure out, to my satisfaction at least, why Byrnes had gone into such a horrendous batting slump, and what could be done about it.
So before work today, I poured over my Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Reports in an effort to see if the record bore out what I had been seeing in the couple of weeks since I subscribed to MLB TV and attended two of the three games of the recently concluded Oakland series. Sure enough, the reports showed that he had popped out, fouled out, or flied out in 12 of his last 31 at-bats, not counting tonight’s game. (And in tonight’s game he flied out twice and popped out once). What I had been seeing was that Byrnes was consciously or unconsciously swinging under the ball, lofting it. His follow-through angled up in a way characteristic of a fly-ball hitter. But Byrnesie is a natural line-drive hitter.
My reports also showed that in 15 of 31 AB, including the double that was his last hit before this disaster started, he had hit to the middle of the field, i.e. to the pitcher, shortstop, second baseman or center fielder. But he’s at his best hitting to the left side of the diamond. Many of his doubles are straight down the left field line, which was one of the inspirations for the name of my blog. I thought he was going to get such a double in the first inning of Game 3 of the Oakland series. But the drive was called foul. You know what they say: baseball is a game of inches.
A tiny shift can make the difference between fair or foul, a hitting streak or a hitting slump. Who knows why we humans are so variable in our performances as we are, even at the elite level of professional sports. Athletic performance, and perhaps all performance, consists of the making and breaking of habits, good and bad. Byrnesie had slipped into the bad habit of swinging in a manner that would produce popups and fly balls and too many balls hit to the center of the diamond, instead of line drives hit to left (or the occasional opposite field hit that keeps fielders honest). Of course, having a swing that produces a lot of fly balls is not inherently bad. It’s a bad habit for Byrnes because it is untrue to who he is: a natural line drive hitter. To paraphrase Shakespeare: "To thine own swing be true, then thou can’st be false to any pitch."
Byrnes hit the single with what I called in my report notes a "beautiful level swing." I replayed it several times just to enjoy it. So don’t keep it up, Byrnesie. Keep it level. And watch your average go up as you get on base in the blink of an eye.
<enormous toothy grin>
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I suppose if I had made better, or at least more lucrative, choices in life, I would have been able to attend Game 2. Of course, if I had made more lucrative choices in life, I might not have wound up in Oakland at all.
I board op the KPFA Evening News in Berkeley on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That means I’m the tech who turns the anchors’ microphones on and off and starts playing the recorded stories when cued to do so. It’s also the board op who arranges for live phone interviews to be broadcast during the news, though that did not happen today. It’s a short gig, but one that ends a bit after 7 p.m. Since Star Trek-style transporters have not been invented yet, such a schedule is totally no good for making a 7:05 start at the Coliseum in Oakland, even with a car. And I don’t own a car. Another result of my less lucrative life choices.
I probably could have found someone to sub for me today. Last minute replacements are not unheard of; I’ve subbed for others with a few hours notice. Certainly the news directors would not have minded as long as some competent person was on the board at airtime. In fact, one of the news directors, a Cleveland Indians fan from way back, would have understood perfectly; when he first noticed that I was following Byrnesie after the exile, from my workstation via MLB Gameday, he asked me if I was going to move to Denver. (Why would I want to do that when I have the Internet? As a journalist who has been following the Peak Oil story for over three years, I can tell you that I have no desire to move anywhere that would require a lot of heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer. But that’s another story).
I reluctantly passed on attending Game 2. It isn’t just the giving up of a few bucks of pay, there’s also the whole cost of a night at the ballpark. And the entire swing was more than I wanted to handle. I have asked myself several times over the last couple of years, "Just what do I have to do to be able to afford season’s tickets?" It’s like the cry of Brooklyn Dodgers’ fans, "Wait ‘til next year!" Maybe 2006 will be my 1955.
As I walked the last block to work, a bicyclist spotted my Byrnes 22 T-shirt and shouted "Burn, Baby, Burn." As he rode by, he told me that Byrnes had come back to Oakland yesterday with the Baltimore Orioles. I shouted back, "I was there." The bicyclist said, "So was I," and rode on.
(A little piece of Eric Byrnes trivia: In Oakland, he used to stride up to the plate to the strains of Disco Inferno, a song that includes the lyrics "Burn, Baby, Burn." Disco Inferno was a Number One song in 1976, the year Eric was born. I recently discovered that the phrase has been applied to New York Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams, but on the Left Coast, "Burn, Baby, Burn" will always signify Eric Byrnes).
Armed with my portable radio and my clipboard bearing the latest handwritten copy of "The Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Report" –I’ve got print out some neat blanks one of these days–I headed home. Brian Roberts was walking to the plate as I was walking out of KPFA. The radio station is halfway up its block. I had just rounded the corner when Roberts was out. I hadn’t made it to the next intersection when Byrnesie flied out on one pitch. Well, at least he got the ball out of the infield. His last AB in last night’s game had also been a fly ball, so he was starting to get his timing back, I thought. The side was retired before I got to Downtown Berkeley BART, (Bay Area Rapid Transit, what New Yorkers would call the Subway). By the time I resurfaced at 19th Street Oakland, Roberts was up again, in the process of striking out to end the 2nd inning with the bases loaded.
Depending on how fast I walk and whether or not I stop at the convenience store along the way, the walk from the 19th Street BART station to my apartment takes anywhere from 22 to 30 minutes. That can be a lot of innings in a pitcher’s duel. Beating feet faster than usual, I got to a Kaiser Center bus stop bench in record time and got my clipboard out of my bag just as Byrnesie popped out to second on three pitches to lead off the third. I recorded the AB, and when the light turned green, I walked to the Lake Merritt side of the street. A man walking the lake path in the opposite direction called out "Byrnesie!" as he passed me. We really still do love Eric in the East Bay.
With Byrnes now 1 for 18 since the end of his hitting streak, I approached the convenience store with no sympathy for the 1 for 19 A’s outfielder Bobby Kielty. When he struck out, I was quite pleased. Call it schadenfreude, the German term for having joy in the misfortune of others. Or just call it being a sports fan if you can’t pronounce schadenfreude. If Byrnesie wasn’t going to snap out of his slump this game, it was fine with me if baseball’s newest "Grand Orange" didn’t either. I passed up the convenience store, figuring I could shop later. It was bottom of the 4th when I got home.
That’s when the A’s loaded the bases while I was booting up my computer. It’s a slow computer. Then Byrnes made a fine catch of a Jay Payton foul in the A’s bullpen. (Little Miss Scadenfreude especially loved the idea of Byrnesie putting out the A’s new left fielder). But Byrnes airmailed the throw home. Fortunately, pitcher Bruce Chen was backing up the play and Kotsay held at third. The broadcasters said that sometimes Byrnes puts in too much effort. I wondered if his frustrations at the plate were starting to affect his generally sterling defense.
Going to the ballpark is great, but it does have its drawbacks. Being away from my computer for several hours means junk mail piles up in the ol’ inbox. The dishes don’t get done when I go to the ballpark. Neither do the neighborhood errands. But if I listen at home, I can take a radio to the convenience store. Cell phones are very popular in the Adams Point neighborhood of Oakland. And many people in the neighborhood use those attachments that let them keep their phones in their pockets so that they don’t fry their brains while they talk. This means one can’t always distinguish the cell phone users from the crazy people who are just talking to themselves. So I probably didn’t come off as crazy to a passerby when I muttered **********!" and "Rats!" after a 5th inning Tejada double play stranded Byrnes on third after he had walked and moved to third on a Mora single. I remembered that during the first game, the broadcasters had said that someone brought a sign reading, "Miggy, take care of my Byrnesie." I muttered, "That’s not taking care of Byrnesie, Miggy." But hey, things were looking up after a fashion. Byrnes had gotten on base. It wasn’t an official at-bat, but it was progress of a sort, even if he hadn’t been able to score.
And to my delight, his next throw home would be on the mark, holding the potential tying run at third in the bottom of the 9th, I punched the air and said "yeah, yeah!" No one was around to wonder if I was using a cell phone or just talking to myself.
Orioles 4 – A’s 3.
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(For Eric Byrnes — Baltimore Orioles No. 15)
Home is where
fits the game plan.
Home is where
what you have to learn,
what you have to teach.
Home is where
and the individual
coexist, building stats and stories
for each other.
Home is where
they celebrate your streaks,
commiserate your slumps,
and love you just the same
Home is where
you are welcomed
at the end of adventure,
you are wished good luck
when you set out again.
home is not where
you always were,
you hoped you’d always be.
"First key to success:
Access to the stadium."
Kellia’s Corollary —
Second key to success:
Access to the lineup.
Third key to success:
Knowing where home is.
Success: getting there.
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I had been dreading this day for a while now. I wasn’t even sure I was going to the game until I got up this morning. Funny how I never dreaded the prospect of seeing Eric Byrnes playing as a Rockie in San Francisco. I suppose maybe it’s because this old Mets fan never warmed up to the Giants.
But I’ve considered myself an A’s fan for years. It’s not like I suddenly hate the A’s just because they traded Byrnesie. At first, I grieved the loss and the way I thought the front office and the local sportswriters were dissing Byrnes and his fans. However, I soon saw what a plus it is for the growth of his own career, that Byrnesie’s out of Oakland; he’s been playing just about every day, which is what he wants. And, Goddess bless the Internet, I’ve been able follow along, without having to endure the oppressive heat of summers in Denver and Baltimore.
Besides, the A’s are doing their typical second half thing, getting into contention just when you figured they were dead. Plus, Barry Zito was pitching.
Still, I don’t have a budget that allows for season tickets. So I had to choose between watching the A’s against the O’s now, or going last week, when the A’s were playing their division archrivals, the Los Angeles/Anaheim/who cares so long as we’re in first place/Angels. I chose to wait for the return of Eric Byrnes.
But I knew that meant I would end up rooting for the Orioles. I’ve discovered it’s not possible to root for one player on a team without caring about the fate of the group, at least, it’s not possible for me. I actually found myself rooting for the Rockies when Byrnesie was briefly exiled to the cellar of the NL Worst. And now that he’s with Baltimore, I wish their pitchers would get their act together. I think to myself, "Why should the AL East always be about New York and Boston?" and with Miggy Tejada and Sal Fasano there, the O could stand for Oakland, couldn’t it?
Well, not quite.
Still, it seemed inappropriate for a long-term Oaklander to go the Coliseum and root against the A’s. But was it really rooting against the A’s if I could root for Byrnes to do well but otherwise watch the game with scholarly dispassion? Or could I want Byrnes to do well and root for the A’s to win anyway? Or could I figure it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the A’s lost these three but still win the Wild Card and get to play the White Sox in the first round, or…
See what I mean about dreading this day?
Ultimately, I decided I had to be there, to join many others who wanted to show that a change of uniform does not necessarily mean a change of heart. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Eric Byrnes is still one of us. In fact, he’s more entitled to the designation "one of us" than I am. I’ve lived in the East Bay for nearly a quarter century. But I’m an ex-New Yorker who came here by way of Indiana. Byrnesie was born and raised here. And I think he’s likely to keep his off-season home here, too. After all, he has family and friends in the San Francisco Bay Area. Besides, it snows in the Chesapeake Bay Area.…It snows in Baltimore. A’s pitcher Rich Harden says Byrnesie owns a Corvette. He wouldn’t drive such a cool car in a place where they actually put salt on the road. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we put our snow in the mountains and say, "Don’t call us. We’ll call you."
So then came the issue of what to wear. I hate to put it that way; it sounds so stereotypically traditional female. "She can’t go to the party because she doesn’t have a thing to wear." YUCK. It’s not like that at all. The basic question was whether or not to wear the Athletics/Byrnes # 22 T-shirt I bought at the Coliseum shop last September. I got the last one off the rack. It may have been the last one ever.
I knew some people would wear their Byrnes 22 today. Some fans still wear Tejada’s Oakland No. 4, more than a year after his departure. But I kept hearing in my mind some guy trying to demean my intelligence by saying something like, "Hey, Byrnes isn’t with Oakland anymore." And there’s the fact that I think Byrnes is very happy to be a Baltimore Oriole, weather in Baltimore notwithstanding. He’s their regular No. 2 hitter. He’s their every day left fielder. He’s back in the American League where he belongs. I thought I might be dissing Eric’s present and future, by wearing something that was now part of his past. I did not want to do that. (For those wondering why I don’t just get an Orioles/Byrnes #15 t-shirt, believe me, I tried the minute I knew the new uniform number. But the Orioles apparently are not selling those, via the Internet at least. And I simply cannot afford the jersey).
So, after attending to a Monday-morning task at KPFA, I went up the street to the Goodwill store and bought a black baseball cap. I blacked out its logo with what turned out to be a rather smelly magic marker, and then painted an orange 15 on it with fabric paint I had purchased at an art supply shop also near the radio station.
But I still felt improperly attired when I got to the stadium. No sooner did I get off the BART (train) ramp than I saw 3 people wearing their Byrnes 22. More people were wearing it today than I had ever seen before. It was a tribute, really, from people who would not be caught dead at the Coliseum in anything but A’s gear. So I’ve made this decision: Since I can’t go to Tuesday night’s game because of work, I’ll board op the Tuesday Evening News in my 22 shirt and my 15 hat. And I will wear them both to the Wednesday game. This way I can honor both the past and the present. And isn’t that baseball at its best?
There are a few people who have wondered why Eric Byrnes is my favorite player. The details of that are best left for the hot stove league season. Suffice to say at the moment. that I have never picked a favorite player based on looks; and Byrnes is not my type, anyway. I’m not related to him. I didn’t go to school with him—heck, I’m old enough to be his mom. I’ve never met him. I’d never even been within 20 feet of him… until today.
I have been able, on rare occasion, to get to the park early enough to watch practice. But I’ve always watched it from my third-deck seat. Today, however, I went down to the railing near the left field corner to join the others who were hoping for balls, autographs, and a chance to wish Byrnesie well. It’s a totally different world down there. Fly balls sail overhead. You can hear them crashing against the metal scoreboard or thudding against the padded outfield wall. You wonder if the guy barbequeing in the left field corner with his back to the plate is going to get plunked. And, of course, there are the shouts of the fans, gloves at the ready, calling out to the players to toss them a baseball.
But all I had at the ready was a clipboard from an old radio conference. Attached to it were two scoresheets I’d printed out from the Internet, and a pencil-drawn template of something I call, "The Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Report," which I started after watching him ground into a rally-killing, inning-ending double play on a first pitch against the Giants earlier this year. I don’t own a baseball glove anymore. I last wore a glove and swung a bat in 1977, in a softball game in Bloomington, Indiana, the weekend before law school started. Much to my surprise, I woke up sore the next day. I was only 22. But that was the beginning of old age. I never played softball again. I’ve never been to a batting cage. And when I’m at the ballpark, I don’t normally sit in places where foul balls, or home runs, are wont to go. By the railing, I felt naked without a glove. Baseball gloves, like crayons, are something adults should never let slip out of their lives. But it happens, especially when the people most likely to play catch with you live 3,000 miles away.
Byrnes limbered up his arm by playing catch in right field. But eventually, as we down the left field line knew, he jogged over to his regular position for fielding practice. We waved and called out to him. He waved back. That sequence would repeat itself several minutes later, as he squatted in the outfield, taking a break from fielding grounders and throwing them back to second base.
The humorous moment came when Byrnes decided to toss a ball to the fans and picked our sideline instead of the guys over the left field wall. He tossed the ball to a glove, whose owner I could not see. But, given the way the ball was handled, I assume it was a youngster with a glove too big and too stiff to take the easy toss. Byrnes tried two more times, and each time, the catch was missed. Then Byrnes tried again, and this time he failed to get the ball to the fan. Then he deliberately threw it short several times, bouncing it against the wall while saying something to the fan. Eventually, he tossed the ball into the glove, the catch was made, and we all cheered.
Second baseman Brian Roberts spent a lot of time with Byrnes in left field; he even got a sip from the water bottle Byrnes had been carrying in his back pocket. One of the nice things about watching practice down by the railing is that you can get a sense of the camaraderie teammates have for each other. It’s good for us Byrnes fans in Oakland to know that our guy is fitting in with his new team.
The Birds have been having a horrible time lately. They were first in the AL East for two months, and the wheels came off the wagon. They went into the worst slump in team history. It’s going to take a comeback bigger than even the 2002 A’s with their 20-game winning streak, or the ’69 Miracle Mets ever managed, to get Orioles back into contention. Those A’s and Mets teams had the pitching to make the comeback. The O’s good fortune in pitching lately has run to not being able to trade Sidney Ponson by July 31st. Ponson has not done well, but, in him, the Orioles at least have had a warm body to put on the mound. (Uh, well, they HAD a warm body. Ponson strained a calf muscle, ended up on the DL and now isn’t expected to be ready when he’s eligible to come off the list on Aug. 23). They’ve had it almost as bad as the Yankees in the pitching department. Plus, the players went through the firing of a manager, never an easy thing, even if it’s necessary. Sammy Sosa is more strikeout king than homer king these days. And, of course, there’s the PR and on-field fallout of the Palmeiro drug suspension. May Eric Byrnes be the infusion of new energy the Orioles were hoping for when they rescued him from exile in Colorado.
But I digress…
While Roberts was in the outfield, a guy behind me asked the crowd in general who No. 1 was. A kid next to me, wearing an A’s home Kotsay 21 jersey–customized with his own name on the back, said that was Roberts. The guy then asked what Roberts’ first name was and I said "Brian, he’s their All-Star second baseman." The same guy then thought Palmeiro was taking batting practice when he wasn’t. The kid told him that No. 26, who was actually hitting, was Sal Fasano. I added that Palmeiro is No. 25 and a left-hander. (Fasano bats right). So the guy asked me, "Are you a big Baltimore Orioles fan?" I said, "No, I’m a big Eric Byrnes fan. So I learn whatever team he’s playing on this week. " My joking reference to the two trades in two weeks made a nearby No. 22-wearing young woman laugh. It’s pretty easy going down along the railing.
With Brian Roberts getting the early part of the game off, Byrnes was the lead-off man. This was a pleasant surprise to folks like me who had never seen him in the spot made famous in Oakland by the likes of Rickey Henderson and Johnny Damon. Byrnes’ name was warmly applauded when it was announced in the lineup.
For the first time ever, I brought my radio to the ballpark to help me keep score. I inevitably muff a play or two. Turns out the radio doesn’t help. The more complex the play, the louder the crowd gets, drowning out the radio. But by having it along, I garnered a few interesting factoids during the game…like the announcers saying that someone had brought a sign reading "Miggy, take care of my Byrnesie." Yes, one of the brighter aspects of the trade to Baltimore was the knowledge that team leader, All-Star, and once and future teammate Miguel Tejada would be there to welcome Byrnes and help him get settled in. Like the bear at Paddington Station, Byrnes had been orphaned in Colorado. Miggy’s presence in Baltimore erased my feeling that Eric had been abandoned. Miggy, take care of OUR Byrnesie.
You could tell that the Orioles wanted Byrnes to do well on this first trip back home as much for himself as for the team. Before third base coach Rick Dempsey headed to the box at the start of the game, he gave Byrnes a clap on the shoulder and the batting helmet. I’d never seen anything like that before. I could imagine Dempsey telling Byrnes to relax and have a good time.
But offensively, it was as terrible a day as Byrnes has ever had. It wasn’t just that he counted for two of Zito’s 6 strikeouts. Zito was lights out for 6 innings, giving up no runs and just two hits. And it was a high pitch count and some hard luck defense that chased Zito in the 7th. The O’s could not hit him hard.
It wasn’t even that Byrnes went 0-5, terrible as that always is for any hitter. The problem was just how out of sync Byrnes looked all day at the plate. He’s had days when he’s made outs but put good wood on the ball. The broadcasters said that when you get traded, you can tell what your old team thinks of you as a hitter by the kinds of pitches you get, and that Byrnes was getting all breaking and slow stuff. He’s been showing a pretty good batting eye of late, laying off a lot of that junk. But today, it took him until his 5th at-bat to get the ball out of the infield. His timing was all off until he skied a Yabu pitch to center in the top of the 9th. Luis Matos, who had just doubled in Brian Roberts, tagged at second and started to run. But the 3rd base coach held him up, deeming the fly too shallow. So no sac fly for Byrnesie, even though the O’s might have taken the chance with a four-run lead. When the Orioles took the field again, Matos waited in the infield for Byrnes and said something to him. Byrnes replied, clapped Matos on the lower back with his glove and the outfielders parted company. I imagine that Matos told Byrnes that he had been willing to try for third, but had been held up by the coach. And I imagine Byrnes telling Matos not to worry about it, they were about to win the game. Byrnesie shrugs off adversity well.
Despite Byrnes’ earlier claim to the media that he would not press just because he was back in Oakland, I think somehow he did. He looked nothing like the guy who’s been batting .320 for the Orioles and who recently had an 11-game hitting streak. The worst of it came during the 5-run, 7th inning rally that would allow the Birds to take a lead they would not relinquish on the way to a 6-2 victory. Byrnes came up with one out, the bases loaded, and the opportunity to totally break the game wide open. Instead, he hit a high pop foul to the catcher on the third pitch. He left <cringe> 5 runners in scoring position today.
We Byrnes fans did have one brief, shining moment, when Mark Kotsay became the latest victim of one of Byrnesie’s signature diving catches. That ended the A’s 5th, with the score 1-0 Oakland, and Marco Scutaro stranded at first.
So here’s hoping that Game 2 is a better day at the plate for Eric Byrnes. As Scarlett O’Hara said at the end of Gone With the Wind, "Tomorrow is another day. "
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