Saturday, September 30, 2006

Eat, Drink and Be Merry, For Tomorrow...

Update, 11:38 PM: The announcement is now official. The Nats won't bring back Frank. The official team press release is heinous. The best they could do was a recap of Frank's career. How about honoring what he's done for the Nationals? As you might expect, the Post's Barry Svrluga does it right. Read on...

******

Well, here it is. The last post of the 2006 regular season. If you've continued reading this long, you are to be heartily congratulated!

Tomorrow is going to be a big day. It's our last chance to see the Nats before next March, and more importantly, our last chance to tailgate at RFK before next April. Speaking of tailgating, tomorrow is my 29th birthday, and I will of course be celebrating with a Lot 8 tailgate at 11AM. If you're going to be there for MissChatter's tailgate, please stop by and say hello. We'll be gathered around a blue Volvo station wagon, probably adorned with a balloon or two. As everyone knows, a balloon on a car is the international symbol for "party over here."

Tomorrow is also going to be Frank Robinson's final game as the manager of the Washington Nationals. It's probably also going to be his final game as the manager of any club. I'm very, very hopeful that Stan Kasten and Friends can tear their attention away from Yom Kippur long enough to send Frank off right. I've been just as critical of Robinson's field generalship as anyone, and I stand by those comments. However, the Nationals have been truly blessed to have this legendary man play such a key role in stewarding the franchise out of death row and into D.C.. When Bud Selig decided to contract the Expos, he asked Frank Robinson to come out of a cushy MLB VP position in New York to manage the team in its receivership. Frank rose to the challenge, putting up with nearly unbearable situations in Montreal, San Juan and finally, D.C..

Robinson's acheivements as a player are well-known to all. He remains one of the best players of all time. He changed the game forever when he became the first African-American manager of the Cleveland Indians in 1975. And I'm glad that he was the first ever manager of the Washington Nationals thirty years later. He maintained high expectations of his players this year, even when all hope of contention was lost. In many ways, he also embodied the heart and soul of the almost-ran 2005 team with that "I'm not dead yet" attitude that he carries everywhere. I will never forget the incident in Anaheim last year where Frank proclaimed "I am the Intimidator!" Frank, you will be missed. Thank you so much for everything you've done for Washington baseball.

Now the only question is which ex-Red/former Reds manager Jim Bowden will hire as a replacement. I'm only half-kidding here. I expect Bowden to attempt to lure Lou Piniella and Davey Johnson, or even Barry Larkin. I also expect him to fail in each of these attempts.

You know who I'd pick? Joe Girardi. Girardi blew expectations out of the water with the Marlins this year, and is only being kicked out because he can't get along with Jeffrey Loria. Can anyone get along with Loria? Who knows. Girardi is exactly what a rebuilding team like the Nats needs: a young manager who can relate to today's players and is flexible enough to learn from his mistakes.

At any rate, the management opening, trades and free agent signings will all be hot stove topics all winter long. We'll be covering all of it on this blog, so don't go anywhere! We'll cover all the Nats-related action and I've got some cool regular features lined up to carry us through the offseason. As always, thanks for reading, and see you at the game tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Stadium Deal Imploding Before Our Very Eyes


Nothing can escape

The deal for the Nats' stadium is as far as I can tell, done as it was negotiated. Previous stadium coverage on Curly W:

Love Triangle, What's Missing from the Parking Plan, Get Your Hiking Boots, A Shovel Full of Dirt, Bass Ackwards

Recapping the past eleven days:

The Washington Post reported on September 16 that the garage plan was at risk, and the city had offered to buy out developer Herb Miller for $990,000 if the deal fell through. In a twist I was unaware of prior to reading this piece by Heath and Nakamura, the Lerner ownership can reject development plans on city-owned stadium land if it has 'reasonable concerns.'

Considering the Lerners have strenuously objected to the Lame Duck Tony - Herb Miller parking plan from the outset, it seems 'reasonable' to me that the Lerner's would have invested a few dollars in an attorney that could help them make clear their objections in a way that could be interpreted as 'reasonable.'

So just from reading this article, I'm smelling something rotten. Owner wants simple aboveground parking to expedite construction (and revenue generation). District gives deal to developer who has grandiose plan which the District CFO and team owner don't believe are realistic, District offers developer $1 million buyout if the plan falls through, owner has authority to kill deal. Seems like we're back at Lerner's square one, where he wanted simple parking structures, except that a friend of Lame Duck Tony just made a cool million.

Five days later on September 21, Heath and Nakamura reported the DC Sports and Graft Commission abandoned Miller's plan, but not because the Lerner ownership rejected the development, but rather because Miller was unable to come up with financing. You will recall from previous coverage that Miller's piece of this was going to be over $300 million, and that that largest investor was to be CalPERS. The article goes on to state that Miller rejected the buyout clause written about on the 16th, instead plugging away in hopes of getting financing.

Again, something is not right. Lerner could have rejected the deal, and Miller could have taken the money. Instead, the deal died because of Miller, and his inability to get financing, and the ownership remained silent.

So the condo-retail-parking towers are dead, with nothing to show for it and three months wasted.

It gets better. Three days later, on September 24, Your Reporters Heath and Nakamura wrote that the District was turning attention away from redevelopment projects in Southeast and toward a plan to ensure adequate parking at the stadium. Lerner said "I don't give a rat's ass about economic development in Southeast," (I'm paraphrasing), and insisted the District focus on parking issues. I tend to agree the parking needs to be worked out, but I also think Lerner is shortsighted if he thinks a tough parking situation for a couple of seasons is more damaging to a franchise's 'health' than a ball park in a sketchy part of town. No one can fault him for wanting to get the revenue flowing, though.

This is a crushing blow for Lame Duck Tony, who wanted the spark of urban renewal in Southeast to be his parting gift to the District. Instead, he has gifted Mayor-select Adrian Fenty with an issue where he gets to be super-dad: he voted against the public financing of the stadium in the first place, but gets to be the bigger man and work with the District, the team and the developers to get the stadium done on time, and set the stage for redevelopment of Southeast that will occur on his watch.

The icing on the cake, though, is the Post editorial yesterday, September 26, in which the Post gets to slam Lame Duck Tony for having advocated a plan that was 'headed for trouble' from the outset, while conveniently forgetting that on July 8, the same editorial board was mushy on the deal, wanting to support both CFO Ghandi and developer Miller. To the best of my recollection, Miller never met Ghandi's concerns with other than with a wink, a nod and a promise that he had financing all lined up.

Which we now know never happened, and might never have been true.


Black hole: http://www.astro.umd.edu/~miller/poster1.html

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Get Well Soon, Nick

I was just thinking to myself this morning: "wow...it's almost the end of the year and Nick Johnson hasn't been hurt once." The main rap on Johnson has always been that he is "injury prone," but this year he seemed to be dodging the injury bug better than anyone.

Until this afternoon. Johnson collided with Austin Kearns trying to field a fly ball in shallow right and has fractured the femur in his right leg. This is nothing short of a soul-crushing event for Johnson, the Nationals and their fans. Nick Johnson was having an amazing season this year, with career highs in games, hits, doubles, homers, RBIs, walks, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. This great season was often overshadowed by the stellar performance of Alfonso Soriano, but Nick Johnson deserves a round of applause from all of us. I had hoped to participate in that applause on October 1, but sadly that won't be possible now.

Johnson faces a long road back to recovery. He's having surgery in New York tonight to repair the broken bone, and is looking at a 3-6 month recuperation time. Obviously, the latter end of that window runs into Spring Training, so it remains unclear at this time whether Nick will be able to join the team in Viera right away. Thurdl at the Nationals Institutes of Health will keep us informed of all the latest on Johnson's recovery.

Get well soon, Nick! Nats baseball wouldn't be the same without you.

DFA: Un-Freakin'-Believable Edition

  • A friend tipped me off to an incredible picture on Deadspin of two fans really enjoying themselves in the upper deck at RFK Stadium. I'm not going to post the picture here, but you really, really need to head over there and check it out. Make sure you read the comments; they will have you in tears. With a picture like that, the jokes write themselves.
  • MissChatter and DC Sports Chick were in NYC partying with Alfonso Soriano and other Nats at the 40/40 club. MissChatter has a partial accounting of their exploits over at Just a Nats Fan. Check out the picture of the lovely ladies and Soriano...a great photo opportunity! If Soriano isn't tempted to re-sign with the Nats now, I don't know what it will take.
  • The Nats take on the Mets in NYC this weekend. The Nats are out of it and the Mets have won the division. You could be watching these snooze-fests on MASN, but you'll be watching the Redskins take on the Texans as well. Come visit us at the Curly R...we've got 5 Questions with the Texans, an NFC East roundup, and a gameday open thread. What more could you ask for? Wait, don't answer that...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Round on Both Sides and High in the Middle


What's round on both sides and high in the middle?

oHIo...get it? Freakin' hilarious.

The Nationals signed a two-year player development contract with the AAA Columbus Clippers of the International League to replace the team's affiliation with the New Orleans Zephyrs of the Pacific Coast League. Columbus became available as an option for the Nationals after the New York Yankees ended their long-standing affiliation with Columbus last week. This is a good move for the Nats, who now have their top minor league club much closer to D.C.. Columbus is a large, thriving city and the Clippers are scheduled to open a new stadium in 2008.

Unfortunately, the Nats somehow let a possible affiliation with Norfolk slip through their hands, and it is believed that the Baltimore Orioles will take up residence there. In my view, this is nothing short of a tragedy. Baltimore has long tried to claim Virginia as its own territory, and the Nats have now allowed the O's to strengthen that claim by leapfrogging them in southern Virginia.

Also, it looks like the Nats will have to find another affiliate in 2009, since Columbus has every intention of pursuing a relationship with either the Cleveland Indians or the Cincinnati Reds when those clubs' current AAA contracts expire that year. I'm hopeful that Bowden and Kasten can somehow finagle a move to Richmond that year, but I doubt it.

At any rate, the Nats top farm club will have a good home for the next two crucial years, and that's what matters most. I drive through Columbus several times a year on my way to my parents' house in Cincinnati, so I will attempt to go to a Clippers game and bring you all the gameday action on this here blog.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Oriole Tears Taste the Sweetest of All

The final vestige of Baltimore's baseball colonialism will soon be smitten from our fair city. The Baltimore Sun reports that the loathsome Orioles store on Farragut Square will soon be closing its barren doors and slithering back up the B-W Parkway. The store, which has taken up prime real estate in the heart of DC for 20 years, is closing down because of a complete loss of business since the Nats came to town.

Back in May, I compared the Orioles' baseball colonization of Washington to the British colonization of the United States in the 18th century. The arrival of the Nats felt like the victory at Yorktown, but the store was the one remaining blemish of Oriole domination of D.C. Nats fan club president Colin Mills agrees with me, noting (in the article): "It's as if the British, after losing the Revolution, had kept a royal office open in downtown Boston." Indeed, it was, and now we can replace the Orioles' tyrannical store with another Starbucks...ooh, or maybe a Chipotle! (Mmm! Chipotle!)

Way to vote with your wallets, D.C. fans! We bankrupted the Orioles store! Ahahahahah! Aaaahahaha! Hey Angelos, take your crappy little store and go home!

Baltimore Sun photo of empty Orioles Store by Jeff Barker, September 17, 2006

Monday, September 18, 2006

Nats, FEMA Abandon New Orleans

The dozens of AAA fill-ins the Nats call up might have shorter commutes next season. The team's agreement with AAA affiliate New Orleans ends after this season, as do the agreements between the Mets, Yankees and Orioles. One possible outcome of this chain of events could be the Nationals securing Norfolk, VA as their new AAA affiliate. How, you ask? Follow the bouncing ball (courtesy of Brian at Nats Farm Authority):

-The Phillies have purchased Baltimore's current AAA franchise in Ottawa and will relocate the team to Allentown, PA, abandoning their current team in Scranton.
-The Yankees may end their relationship with Columbus, OH and move to Scranton.
-The Mets may leave Norfolk, VA in favor of Columbus.
-The Orioles and Nats are left to battle it out between New Orleans and Norfolk.

Obviously, the Nats would love to establish a market presence in Southern Virginia. Then again, so would Peter Angelos, who probably still considers Virginia "his" territory. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out.

I'm hopeful that the Nats can end up in Norfolk. It's nice having the A and AA teams nearby, and it would be even nicer to have the AAA club in our backyard. I'm of a mind that minor league teams, especially the higher levels, should be in "satellite" markets of the major league clubs that they support. This way a franchise can develop a more far-flung fanbase that might occasionally make a trip up to the big club's games. In this light, New Orleans' relationship with the Nats makes no sense. That city is simply too far away to have any kind of affinity toward the Washington region. In fact, after the events of the past year, it's safe to say that New Orleanians feel no affinity for the Capital whatsoever.

A few weeks ago
, I joked with Martin Gandy of Talking Chop that it would be cool to "trade" New Orleans to the Braves in exchange for Richmond. I was only half kidding. It kind of sucks to think that a city only 100 miles from DC is occupied by a rival club. I'm not sure if the Braves have any intention of leaving Richmond, but such a "trade" might actually work out for both clubs. The Braves could expand their presence in the South and the Nats could expand their presence in Virginia. Maybe someday.

But in the meantime, keep your eye on what happens with Norfolk. And cross your fingers that the O's don't end up there...

One thing that's not clear to me at this point: if the Nats leave New Orleans, do they take the franchise (i.e. players, coaches, etc.) with them to the new city or do they inherit the existing city's personnel? I suspect the former is true, but I am ignorant of such things. Anybody know the answer? Farm Authority, I'm looking to your expertise here...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Friday, September 15, 2006

5 Questions With the Brewers

The penultimate Nats homestand of 2006 begins today with the arrival of the Milwaukee Brewers. There isn't much to this three game set between two moribund teams other than a quasi-showdown between two NL Rookie of the Year Candidates, Ryan Zimmerman and Prince Fielder. So don your Nats gear, head out to RFK and drink your face off in Lot 8 before (and after) the games. Just remember: friends don't let friends drive drunk, unless they're Jim Bowden's friends. (bud-ump-CHA!)

And now, without further ado, it's time for this season's final edition of 5 Questions With... I've had a whole lot of fun with this feature and can't wait to pick it up again in 2007. Thanks again to all the bloggers who were gracious enough to participate with me. Their excellent sites are linked in the Visitor's Dugout section of the blog. I've also created a 5 Questions With... section on my blogroll with permalinks to the interviews.

This time I traded questions with Al from Al's Ramblings. Sadly, I don't have any return questions to link out to on Al's blog. Despite the name of the blog, Al didn't ramble much in his answers to these burning questions about the Brewers:

Curly W: Bud Selig is universally hated by Nationals fans for his mistreatment of our beloved franchise. How do Brewers fans feel about their former owner?

Al: A huge majority love him. Bud has done a fine job as commish. I'm not even sure what you mean by mistreatemnt, but he got a stadium done with agroup of liars in place in DC, and now you have a fine ownership group. Sure, it took a while, but billion dollar deals don't get done in 15 minutes.

Curly W: A lot of Nats fans expected Alfonso Soriano to be traded at the deadline like Carlos Lee was traded to Texas. How has his departure impacted the team and its fans?

Al: Losing Lee hurt the offense, but did gain us Frankie Cordero, one of the best relievers in the game. Cordero will be back, while Lee would not have been. The fans are used to losing pending FA's at the deadline, such is life in a small market.

Curly W: Can we have Tomo Ohka back? Please?

Al: He is a free agent after the year, so yes you can. I assume he will be overpaid by someone in both money and guaranteed years, so we will be taking the draft picks for him, probably.

Curly W: We're looking forward to our new stadium in DC in 2008. What's your favorite thing about Miller Park? Least favorite?

Al: It's as close to perfect as any ballpark I can imagine, I absolutely love it. My favorite thing is without a doubt the retractable roof, promising a game and decent climate conditions. No least favorite thing for me.

Curly W: The Brewers have sausage races. The Nationals have President races. Who would win in a Sausages vs. Presidents 400 meter relay?

Al: I have little doubt the wursts can beat the commanders-in-chiefs easily.:)

***BONUS QUESTION***

Curly W: Which is your favorite Bob Uecker performance: as George Owens in Mr. Belvedere, or as Harry Doyle in Major League?

Al: I'm the minority among Brewers' fans, but I'll take his many years on Belvedere over one good movie and a crappy one or two. His appearances on Carson were classic, and his HOF induction speech is legendary. We are incredibly lucky to have him.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen, Ryan Zimmerman


Cool in the summertime

This story is a bit behind the news, but I wanted to be sure it was posted up. Last Friday, as I sat on the VRE train from Washington to Fredericksburg, I was treated to Barry Svrluga's argument for RyZim as NL Rookie of the Year. In summary:

The transformation in Zimmerman has come on the field, in part, and his case for rookie of the year can be based in the pure numbers. Before Thursday night's game against the Colorado Rockies, he led all NL rookies in RBI (93), doubles (40), go-ahead RBI (22), extra-base hits (60) and walks (54). Fifty-three times, he has driven in a run that has put the Nationals ahead, a number topped in baseball only by the New York Mets' David Wright.
Svrluga goes on to talk about his main rivals for this honor, and it is worth the read.

I don't know a lot about Florida's Dan Uggla or Josh Johnson, said rivals, but Jose Vidro sums up RyZim's place on the Nationals: "he's been our heart." Strong words about a first-year player.

For fans, he's exciting to watch. When he comes to the plate, you think something good is going to happen. The Washington Post runs a daily stat on the Nationals page in the print edition, and it seems like I see him there all the time, always something impressive.

He has that aw-shucks quiet composure about him that reminds me of Cal Ripken. Just a guy going to work. Growing up in the 70s and being a huge baseball fan, RyZim today seems a little like a throwback. Marlins Manager Joe Girardi:
...he's not scared of the big moment...He can relax and do his thing no matter what the situation is.
Ryan Zimmerman for 2006 NL Rookie of the Year.



All photos of Ryan Zimmerman
Top image: Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP
Middle image: Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP
Bottom image: UVA Athletic Department

Monday, September 11, 2006

DFA: Business End of the Broomstick Edition

Oh, how I hate last-place baseball in September. There's just something disgusting about watching a group of really well-paid guys who are, ostensibly, among the best in the world at their craft, just slump and slither away into the offseason without giving a crap. It's painfully obvious that there's no such thing as playing for pride anymore; these guys are just going through the motions.

How do I know? Maybe it was the 0-8 season sweep at the hands of the worthless Rockies. Maybe it was that they were outscored 78-41 during the 4-game series. Maybe it was the 12 errors the team committed in Denver. Take your pick, it all adds up to the same thing.

****
MASN is allegedly now available on Comcast Channel 62 in my hometown of Arlington. Despite a long wait for this day, here's why I won't be watching the Nats play the D'Backs tonight:

-The Redskins are on at 7PM on ESPN. Unlike the Nats, the Redskins' season isn't in the toilet (yet?). Check out our gameday preview at the Curly R, and join us on the blog for gameday open thread during the action.

-I really can't watch any more of this 9/11 anniversary stuff. I watched enough of it that day to last me a lifetime.

*****

I won't be doing 5 Questions for this series because we just interviewed the D'Backs bloggers a few weeks ago. Here's the link if you missed it the first time.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

DFA: Happy Hours, Sad Days Edition

I think we need to devise some kind of season-ending mercy rules for truly horrible teams. Watching the Nats, the Royals, the Cubs and all the other cellar-dwellers trot out there night after night is like watching a kid with tater tots in his pockets breakdance in front of his whole school. It's just painful, man. After a dismal defensive effort on Thursday night, the team went out and committed SIX errors on Friday. Amazingly, Barry Svrluga tells us that this merely ties a franchise record set in 2002.

Felipe Lopez was once again involved in the error-fest, and it's clear that he's become a huge defensive liability. It's funny how the Reds trade appears to have become a net loss for both clubs, at least in the short term. We may now have a middle infield of Felipe Lopez and Cristian Guzman next year. Gulp.

When I do my 5 questions features, other bloggers like to ask me what hope I have for the Nats in 2007. I always tell them: none whatsoever. Jim Bowden is not going to be able to overhaul the starting pitching AND bullpen AND bench AND defense in one offseason. It's just not going to happen. Sadly, I think 2007 looks a lot like 2006. 2008 won't be a lot better, but the three-story triple-helix waterslide and the revolving Fuddruckers at the new park will keep us blissfully unaware of the tragedy on the field. Realistically, I don't see this team contending before 2010. It's going to take that long to dig ourselves out of this grave. Anyone have a different opinion?

I went to a DC Sports Blogger happy hour on Thursday night. It was terrific! I got to meet MissChatter and DCSportsChick, among others. I really enjoyed meeting them both. It's really nice, every once in awhile, to come out from behind our computer screens and interact the old fashioned way...person to person! I challenge you to do the same...get thyself to Baseball on the Barn on September 23!

In what has to be the largest anticlimax since the July 31 trading deadline, MASN is finally making its debut on Comcast in my Arlington home on Monday, September 11th of all days. Gee, thanks Comcast, you weasel-faced arses. I may flip to the game just to see this for my own eyes, but then I'm going to come to my senses and watch the Redskins vs. the Vikings.

Speaking of the Redskins, what are you doing still reading this blog? What am I doing still writing this blog? I can't tear myself away, somehow. You really should be over at the Curly R, if for no reason other than each article doesn't read like a funeral for the local team. We've got Redskins sesason previews, 5 questions with Vikings bloggers, and live blogging/open threads on gamedays. You'll love it, I promise.

Really.

I'm serious.

Dude!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

5 Questions With the Rockies

The Nats returned to their winning ways yesterday! Jose Vidro went from goat to hero with his walk-off two run single in the bottom of the 9th. Nats win, 7-6.

What's troubling is that Chad Cordero blew his fourth save in 28 chances by giving up an upper deck homer to former National Preston Wilson. Does anyone else here hold his/her breath when Cordero comes in? The guy has a tendency to blow saves in a big way both last year and this year. Who could forget the Khalil Greene grand slam incident of last summer that ended The Impossible Dream? In fact, Cordero's save conversion stats mask the high number of narrow escapes that he creates for himself by putting runners in scoring position late in the game. I like Cordero, but he's far from the "automatic" closer that he will hopefully become in a few years.

Enough of all this Cardinals stuff! The Nats are headed to Denver to square off with the Rockies. It's time for another exciting edition of 5 Questions! This time I exchanged pleasantries with Rox Girl of Purple Row. You can read my answers to her questions about the Nats at this link.

Curly W: The Nationals, to me, seem similar to the original Rockies expansion team in that they were a new team in a die-hard football town. Were you in Colorado when the Rockies came to town? How long did it take for the Denver area to fully embrace the team?

Rox Girl: It depends on what you mean by fully embrace. Colorado sports fans were eager and waiting a long time for major league baseball, and the franchise broke many attendance records in its first years despite only making one playoff appearance. The Denver market is discrimintating in its sporting taste, however, and when the Rockies failed to continue to build on that initial success, the base drifted and attendance at the games steadily eroded until this season. The Broncos remain popular because they are regularly in the playoffs, regularly competing for a Super Bowl, and sometimes winning it all. The Avalanche have tasted similar success and regularly sell out their games and the Nuggets seem to be turning around
their fortunes as well. In that sense, I really don't think the market has fully embraced the Rockies, they typically get second sport status in the newspapers, even during the summer months when the Broncos are only in training camp.

Curly W: In your opinion, is the altitude at Coors Field really as much of an issue as the media makes it out to be? It seems like there were inflated scores and ERAs for the first few years but everyone in the league seems to have adjusted.

Rox Girl: Yes, the altitude is and always will be an issue. The fabled humidor
seems to have countered the effects for the most part, but if you look at
scores from Colorado Springs (our AAA club) you can see what would happen if
we reverted to Coors Dry.

Curly W: Many of us Nats fans are still bitter that Jim Bowden let Jamey Carroll leave for Denver. How do you feel about Jamey Carroll? Is he likely to be back with the Rockies next year?

Rox Girl: I'd be bitter too, Jamey's a player. Really, why would anybody want to get rid of him? I mean, you've seen how hard he goes. Every play it's amazing. Really. I would be listening to Carpenters albums everyday for like six months if my GM had discarded him. So callously, too, as if Jamey was just some other scrub player. I mean, if Dan O' Dowd did something like that, I would question my existence, maybe read Camus or something and join a nunnery.

As for the second part of your question, believe it or not, Carroll's primary competition for 2007 appears to be Kaz Matsui. Yes, that Kaz Matsui. Only maybe not, because this Kaz Matsui is hitting like .400 for us.

Curly W: We're looking forward to our new stadium in DC in 2008. What's your favorite thing about Coors Field? Least favorite?

Rox Girl: My favorite thing about Coors Field... well, besides watching the Rockies win, which is the obvious answer, I love the lifestyle. What? Yeah, going to Coors has to be a whole evening. You've got to go to the game and then you get to party afterwards in LoDo around the brickyard. The stadium seems to fit right in with the very happening nightlife down there. It's really quite marvellously designed, the seats flow seamlessly into the concourses which flow seamlessly into the exterior and the surrounding neighborhood.

My least favorite thing is that because Denver went so long with a baseball team of its own, several other prominent teams have very large fanbases that come in and make the place look like Busch or Wrigley West. Long lines for the bathrooms are also a drawback, but I heard boys have it easier and the lines aren't nearly as bad as they are in Invesco.

Curly W: Are Rocky Mountain Oysters on the menu at Coors Field? If not, do you wish they were?

Rox Girl: I grew up in the Northwest part of the state and there were a lot of sheep ranchers that were friends of mine, yet despite all of that, I only knew one person who actually ate that particular part. Or parts, however you like to think of uhm.. them. Anyway, turns out he was a nationally ranked cowboy on my high school rodeo team. Yes. You heard that part right, too.
Rox Girl is such a hayseed. Anyway, as far as Coors Field and that particular delicacy, I thought I heard once that you could, but I don't know for sure if that's true. I have gotten a good review of the version served by local Denver restaurant, The Fort, for any of you thinking of making avisit.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Save MSNBC on XM Radio!


Call them!

Cross-posted at The Curly R.

I just discovered XM Radio, which I expect some of you have for the baseball, has pulled MSNBC from its lineup. Gone. This is a huge blow to choice on satellite radio, and if it even registers with you, get over and sign a petition to get it back on the air.

I found XM Radio contacts at the Save MSNBC on XM Satellite Radio blog. I called and emailed Kevin Straley, XM vice president for talk programming and he called me back personally within 30 minutes! He indicated it was a business decision, that the MSNBC-XM contract was up, and XM was running out of transmission bandwidth, so they hacked it. He also indicated they listen to their subscribers, and if there were a groundswell, they would work to bring it back. Here is his contact info:

Kevin Straley, VP of talk programming
202-380-4378 phone
202-380-4633 fax
kevin.straley@xmradio.com

The central listener feedback line is 202-380-4094, and here are some others to include in your email:

Hugh Panero, Chief Executive Officer - hugh.panero@xmradio.com
Nate Davis, President and Chief Operating Officer - nate.davis@xmradio.com
Gary Parsons, Chairman of the Board - gary.parsons@xmradio.com
Eric Logan, Executive Vice President, Programming - eric.logan@xmradio.com

Be polite and let them know MSNBC is an important part of your listening rotation.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled baseball rant. Yeah, I know it's not a baseball post, but what's blogging if not speaking your mind?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

If Ifs and Buts Were Candy and Nuts...

I really, really wish I'd made it out to the ballpark today. Ramon Ortiz took a no-hitter into the ninth and hit his first major league dinger. The Nats won their fifth straight. It must have been a blast at the ballyard.

Instead I took my dog hiking at Great Falls and it rained. Meh. Otis and I had a good time anyway.

Awhile back I wrote an informal survival guide to being a fan of a last place team. In that post, I wrote:

In a baseball season like this, you have to learn to cherish the individual moments of greatness over the net result of the season. The Nats are bad, and they're probably going to get a lot worse later this summer after Bowden and Kasten close down the RFK version of Filene's Basement.
Well, Bowden's Bargain Basement is still open, but the Nats have gotten much worse since that post. Still, Ortiz's performance today was one of those great individual moments that fans can savor even in a lost year. I mean, you just gotta be happy for the guy, right?

Check out this picture...Bowden is so happy that he's pouring some of that precious bottled lightning all over Ortiz's head!

I know he's been up and down, but I've slowly become an Ortiz fan this season. He hasn't been dominant (except for today) but he's been fairly reliable and is usually able to make his way deep into games. That's something this team desperately needs in the absence of Livan Hernandez.

Speaking of Hernandez, I'm hoping the Nats use some of the money they're saving on him to bring Ortiz back for another one-year deal. A 2007 starting rotation of Patterson, Lawrence, Ortiz, O'Connor and Winter Free Agent Acquiree wouldn't be so bad, would it? Bolster that with this year's offense and a better bullpen and you're looking at a team that can respectably tread water until our alleged 2008 breakout year. We'll see.

Photo of Bowden and Ortiz: AP

Monday, September 04, 2006

5 Questions With the Cardinals

Update, 12:45 PM Monday: I've added another set of answers from Scott at CardNilly to the answers from Viva El Birdos and Matthew Leach. I've also got a link up to my answers to Leach's questions at Obviously, You're Not a Golfer. Matthew, what's the story behind that unusual blog name?

***

The Nats completed a three game sweep of the Diamondbacks to win their fourth in a row! I'm back from a week-long business trip to Minnesota (I know you missed me)! Football season starts this week! w00t! Seriously, it's great to see the team playing well. If nothing else, the Nats need to end this season on some high notes.

Also, it seems that PT Bowden was mighty active in my absence, shipping Marlon Anderson and Daryle Ward off for some pitching and acquiring CF Nook Logan from the Tigers. I remember Logan's name from last winter, when rumors were circling of acquiring him the first time around. I guess he's toolsy. Anyway, congratulations to Bowden for making some decent moves. I liked Ward a lot, but he's eminently replaceable, as is Marlon Anderson. However, the departures of these two open up another big need for the offseason: bench guys. Jamey Carroll redux, anyone?

Now, without further ado, it's time for a triple dip of 5 Questions With... This time we interviewed three Cards bloggers, Erik Manning of Viva El Birdos, Cardinals.com beat writer Matthew Leach and Scott from CardNilly. I'm super lazy, so I asked them both the same set of questions. I've posted their answers below. You can see my answers to Matthew Leach's questions at his oddly titled blog Obviously, You're Not a Golfer, here.

Curly W: The Cards are steaming right along while the Reds are foundering. Do you see any chance of the Reds catching up or do the Cards have the NL Central crown in the bag?

Birdos: I don’t see the Reds catching up, thankfully the Cardinals have got hot at the right time as the Reds have had the wheels come off. The Reds are a very strange team. They picked up about any DFA’d relief pitcher on the market and have gotten career years out of the likes of Scott Hatteberg, David Ross and Brandon Phillips. I continue to hear how much credit Wayne Krivsky deserves for putting together this team, but color me unimpressed. He’s basically picked up a bunch of unwanted players (while you can say Jocketty has some of the same thing) and he traded away 2 very good hitters in Lopez and Kearns to your team for a couple of middle relievers and Royce Clayton. I don’t care what radio talk show host or ESPN talking head says, in the long run, that’s a horrendous move.

Leach: Two separate questions, I think. Do I see any chance of the Reds catching up? Nope. They're done; they have no head-to-head matchups left, they're fading and the Cards appear to have stumbled across a rejuvenated Anthony Reyes.

But as for whether they have the NL Central salted away, I'm less sure of that. Houston is now within one game of Cincinnati, and they have two series left coming up against the Cards. I still think STL is a heavy favorite, given the lead and the amount of time left. But if anybody's going to overtake them, it's likely to be Houston.

CardNilly: Well, it’s sort of one of those things where we’ve been spoiled by the last two years, quite honestly. In 2004 and 2005 we had the thing wrapped up by double digits at this point in the year. This year we’re not as good, and these types of hot streaks have tended to be followed by ice-cold eight game losing streaks. The conventional wisdom out here in the Cardblogosphere is that the Cards are better than the Reds, but not that much better. Just a little while ago we were tied for the division lead. So it’s more of a situation where you hope the Reds keep scuffling just so things will be easy – there’s not as much confidence that the current version of the Cards team could actually pull through if it came down to a nip and tuck race. But hey – winning the division by default is still winning the division, right?

Curly W: We in Washington are looking forward to a new stadium in 2008 to replace what will be the last of the old saucer-shaped parks of the 60's/70's. In light of your experience with new Busch Stadium, what do we have to look forward to the most in a new park?

Birdos: I have not been to the new stadium, so I can’t tell you definitively. From what I’ve seen of the new ballpark is the view is very open, and you can see the city much better. It just highlights the beauty of the downtown area. From what I’ve heard about the Nat’s new plans for a stadium, it should do the same. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

Leach: Hrm. Cardinals folks are not the best to ask about this, because new Busch is nice but not overwhelming. I'm also in a different position, since my exposure is strictly in the press box rather than the seats. Still, even in the worst of the new parks (and I won't say which one I think that is, but it's not new Busch), there's that new ballpark smell. It's just a neat, exciting experience to walk into a new place. In the meantime, folks in DC/NoVa/MD should take the trip up to Philly to see a really high-quality new park. Obviously Camden is great too, but I think Citizens Bank Park is somewhat underappreciated. Neat facility.

CardNilly: Higher prices, worse sightlines, and a long period where they are “just working out the kinks…” if New Busch is any sort of indication. The architects of New Busch screwed everyone over who wasn’t a luxury box owner – the decks are pitched too shallowly, so that your view is almost always blocked by someone of petite size sitting in front of you. Or, in my case for my season tickets, by a series of railings and safety bars that effectively prevent me from seeing anything on the field (http://cardnilly.com/?p=322).

I don’t know what kind of community there is at RFK right now, what with the team being so new (relatively speaking), but at Old Busch there was a sense of camaraderie in the stands, particularly in areas where season ticket holders had been sitting next to each other for years on end – decades sometimes. Some sections had Christmas parties and mailing lists and the like. All that was ripped apart in the move: people were scattered about, and you might see a couple people you knew from the old park, but that was it. I’m sure that over time the sense of community will come back, but I miss it right now.

Bottom line: if your sixth question had been “New Busch or Old Busch?” I’d have answered Old Busch in a heartbeat. I hope that the new stadium y’all are getting doesn’t provoke that kind of a reaction for you. You guys deserve a great new stadium, and I hope you get it. I hope we get it with Busch IV in twenty-five years, too.

Curly W: One of the Nats bloggers has an obsession with former Nats and current Cards backup catcher Gary Bennett. Does he get this level of esteem in the Cards' blogosphere?

Birdos: No, Bennett did not get the same esteem, until last weekend when he hit a couple of game winners, including the walk off grand slam against the hated Cubs. That of course will endear you to the fans. I’m a big stat guy normally, but some of the "intangible" things about Bennett is the way he calls a game and handles a pitching staff. Last I checked, the Cardinals were leading the league in hit bats men, and as you can imagine some players have got steamed at time with our pitchers. But I’ve noticed on thing Bennett always does is get the heat off the pitcher and protect his pitcher, stepping in front of the hitter. This actually made him an unpopular signing, as there was an incident a few seasons ago like that between him and Albert Pujols. But, yeah, I’ve come to like the guy.

Leach: Not that I know of. He is very well-regarded by his teammates and beat writers, however. And probably less so by Dusty Baker.

CardNilly: Eh. The guy he’s backing up, Yady Molina, is particularly loved in Cardinal Nation – he’s sort of unintentionally cute and cuddly – so the ladies love him – and he’s got a cannon of an arm and a knack for clutch hitting, even if he doesn’t ever hit any time else. So the guys are cool with him, too. Bennett was the backup catcher we got so we didn’t have to deal with Einar Diaz any more, and with TLR there’s the expectation that the catcher won’t hit and is pretty good behind the plate.

For most of the year, Bennett was an even worse hitter than Yady (which is saying something pretty spectacular), and wasn’t all that great defensively behind the plate. But he tried and he hustled, so while people weren’t happy with his level of suckitude, it’s hard to get all fired up about a backup catcher when Mark Mulder and Jason Isringhausen are consistently throwing games away, you know?

Then he had an incredibly hot week, where he outhit Albert and more or less singlehandedly won two games in the Cubs series. So that spurred a huge wave of positive sentiment, even if it was heavily tinged with disbelief. Then he hurt himself, which was more or less met with a collective shrug. When he leaves as a free agent after this year, I’ll probably sum it up like this:

Gary Bennett: We Don’t Have Anything Against Him Anymore.

Curly W: The Cards have been dominant for several seasons now while the Cubs have been in the tank. Has this affected the intensity of the rivalry between the two teams?

Birdos: The Cubs have played us very tough the past 2 seasons, so while they’ve not been a contender they’ve been very pesky at playing the role of spoiler. They’re still rivals, but they are more of a nuisance then anything else.

Leach: A little bit. Back in 02 and 03, especially 03, those games were bloodsport. The famous "Three Nights in August" series was exciting, but I've never seen more compelling regular-season baseball than the series at Wrigley that soon followed. Cubs took four out of five in knock-down, drag-out ball that was amazing stuff. And it seemed to take a ton out of the Cards.

The thing to know, though, is that to the players, the organization, etc., Houston is nearly as big a deal, if not bigger. Houston-St. Louis games are ALWAYS competitive, always entertaining. I look forward to them more than Cubs games. Plus now you have two playoff series' worth of recent history on top of it all.

CardNilly: Yes and no. Historically, the Cards and Cubs are never good at the same time, so the rivalry’s gotten used to that dynamic. It’s not a Yanks/BoSox thing where we’re always scrapping for the division lead. That changed in 2003 during a pivotal five game series in Chicago where the Cards essentially lost the division to the Cubs. 2004 was the most intense I’ve ever seen the rivalry, since the Cubs had all the bandwagon fans who needed to prove the genuine nature of their fandom with their actions during the rivalry series. In 2005 all those bandwagon Cubs fans had gotten bored with the team, but there were a whole slew of bandwagon Cards fans who were doing the same thing in reverse.

This year it’s been okay from that point of view, but the Cards managed to get swept their first three series up in Chicago. Considering how bad this current Cubs team is, that’s plenty sufficient to keep the rivalry up and alive. There’s no Cardinal fan out there that isn’t secretly freaked out about the potential for a healthy rotation of Zambrano, Prior and Wood. So thank goodness for Dusty Baker, huh? Four more years!

Curly W: The Cards should have no trouble reaching the NL Championship Series, but do you think they have what it takes to beat the Mets for the pennant?

Birdos: Well, I’m not sure they won’t have trouble getting past the NLDS. Outside of Carpenter, the pitching has been extremely inconsistent this year. Their #2 starter in the playoffs would likely be Jeff Suppan, not exactly a Brad Penny or Chris Young that other contenders have. I think if the pitching can stabilize, they have as good of a shot as anyone else. But they will be without Mark Mulder, and they might be without Jim Edmonds and David Eckstein. I think if they would give Anthony Reyes a chance in the playoffs, that would help, but given Tony LaRussa’s predilection for veteran pitchers, I’m afraid we Cardinal fans could endure watching the likes of Jason Marquis getting knocked around in October. And after seeing them get swept by the Mets a week ago, I’m not completely sure they have what it takes to make it to the World Series. But it’s baseball, so "youneverknow".

Leach: Depends, depends, depends. A healthy Mets team is clearly the class of the NL. But how healthy is their rotation? If it's held together by chewing gum, they're as beatable as anybody.

The other half of that is that STL is no lock to make it through the first round. They're very up-and-down. They're a tremendous team every time Chris Carpenter takes the mound, and with Jeff Suppan's hot streak and the seeming new-old Reyes, they're starting to look like they have a playoff rotation. But nothing would shock me with this team -- not a first-round exit, not a trip to the World Series. OK, winning the WS would be pretty surprising, but I wouldn't put any postseason outcome past them.

CardNilly: Nope. I’m not even sure they have what it takes to reach the NLCS. Or even the playoffs themselves, for that matter (though I think they will). Realistically, I think we win the NLDS in three or four games (TLR’s got a fantastic record in division series play, and we always come out like a house afire), and lose the NLCS in five games. Optimistically, I hope that the injuries to Pedro and Glavine are quite serious for the rest of the year (Nothing against those two, since I really like both of them. But I’d prefer we not have to face them), and that one of the Carloses comes down with mono or something right as the series starts. We’ve found out the hard way over the last two years that being the best team in baseball in the regular season doesn’t get you squat in the playoffs – hopefully we’re due some kind of positive karmic payback for that. Just gotta get hot at the right time for eleven wins, right?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

5 Questions with the Diamondbacks

Puny leetle rainouts are no match for 5 Questions With...


Two-headed Snake Edition!


The Nationals were supposed to begin a three-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks tonight at RFK, but the whole tropical storm thing was kind of a hassle. It didn't stop Curly W from exchanging questions with Jim at AZ Snake Pit and Matt at Diamondhacks. I asked them different questions and posted them all up below. You can see our responses to AZ Snake Pit here and Diamondhacks here. Don't be afraid to go over there and drop a comment on their Nationals post (AZ Snake Pit requires registration).

My questions for Jim:

Curly W: the NL West is incredibly tight, with last place Colorado only 9-1/2 games back. Did you expect the NL West to be so competitive? The Dbacks are 64-69, 7 games back with 29 games to go. Do they have any hope of catching the Dodgers?

AZ Snake Pit: Realistically, no. We'd need to go 17-12 the rest of the way, even to reach .500: if the Dodgers play .500 ball down the stretch, we would need to go 22-7 to catch up with them. That would take a serious winning streak, and we haven't had more than two victories in a row since July 22nd. We still have a slim chance at the wild card, but there are so many teams involved there, that we'd need some serious help. I did expect the NL West to be a tight race, but I didn't think it would be quite so close, this late.

Curly W: what's your take on GM Josh Byrnes and Manager Bob Melvin? How about the ownership?

AZ Snake Pit: I like Byrnes - for the first time in a long while, I've felt there's been a long-term plan in place for the team. He's done a good job of putting a competitive team out there, while not trading away the core of the future: by 2008, I expect the Diamondbacks to be serious contenders, not just for the division, but deep into the playoffs too. Melvin, I've been less impressed with: he seems to lack strength in certain areas, particularly dealing with veterans like Luis Gonzalez, who simply does not deserve to be playing every day. His in-game management and lineup construction skills also leave a bit to be desired too, so I was surprised Melvin was given a contract extension in the middle of this year. But I don't think it will make that much difference

The arrival of Byrnes has, I think, completed the transition from the old guard to the new - we've got rid of Shawn Green and the disaster which was Russ Ortiz, who were the last long-term contracts of the previous management. The new owners have, I think learned their lesson, and will not be leaping into any more questionable deals like those, without due consideration and advise from the appropriate quarters. We will certainly not see the "Spend! Spend! Spend!" approach of the Colangelo era - we are *still* paying off a large chunk of deferred salaries, to people who aren't even with the club any more. While that did get us a World Series, it was absolutely no recipe for long-term survival, and the new owners seem to appreciate that totally


Curly W: is this the last season for Eric Byrnes in Arizona? I've also heard Luis Gonzales has a $10 million team option for next season. What do these guys mean to the franchoise and are they gone? What / who's on your offseason wishlist?

AZ Snake Pit: Gonzalez's team option won't be picked up. He *may* come back at a lower price: he does want to finish his career here, but the sticking point is, he still wants to be an everyday player. The departure of Shawn Green does help his cause, in that we could use a veteran in the outfield (CF and RF being manned for 2007 by rookies Chris Young and Carlos Quentin), but Byrnes could fill the spot in LF, possibly better than Gonzalez. Luis is still the face of the franchise, and no-one gets louder applause at home games, but I hope management has the courage to bite the bullet and say, "We'd love to have you, but only on our terms."

As for off-season wants, we'd like some starting pitching, starting pitching - and then maybe some starting pitching. Brandon Webb has stepped up and shown himself to be a legitimate #1 this year, but behind him, we have a bunch of questionmarks. We can fill out the back end without too much problem [Juan Cruz will likely return to the rotation in 2007, and Livan Hernandez too], but we need at least one, ideally two, top-tier pitchers. Those will probably need to be acquired through trades, since we don't have the money to compete with more affluent franchises. Which brings me nicely to...


Curly W: Washington is brand new again to baseball, and will be trying to find its way in the league over the next few years by way of ticket sales and ownership spending. Arizona is not a 'major market team' by conventional assessment. Has the size of the Dbacks market hurt the team's ability to attract and pay for talent? Do you favor salary caps, luxury taxes and other financial controls on teams' spending, or does the market take care of itself?

AZ Snake Pit: It does impose constraints, but no insurmountable ones. It's really a question of spending wisely, and if you do that, then it is still possible to compete. If you can't afford to indulge in free agency, then you have to devote the resources to your farm system, and develop the players from within. We've been fortunate in that aspect, and it's quite likely that seven of our Opening Day nine next year will have made their major-league debuts with Arizona. [Hudson at 2B, and whoever plays in LF, being the exceptions]


That also helps, because a deep farm system gives you prospects who can be used in trades. As noted, we can't compete with the Yankees or Red Sox when it comes to buying free agents, but if a team is looking to trade for prospects, we are in a great position to do so. I think that's what will happen with regard to getting a #2 pitcher: expect us to do a deal for a starter under contract, but probably get him to sign a contract extension for us at the same time.

On the whole, I think the current system seems to work okay. I like the luxury tax, as it imposes penalties for extreme spending - hello, George Steinbrenner! But there is more than one way to win: it's amazing to me that the Marlins are still in the wild-card hunt, with a $15m payroll, and only two players earning more than one million.The Padres, Twins and A's are all also teams in the bottom-half, payroll wise, but are in with a legitimate shot at post-season baseball, which is good to see.

Curly W: how's that Livan Hernandez thing working out for you guys?

AZ Snake Pit: Hernandez v2.0 [as we call him, since we had his brother, Orlando, here earlier in the year!] has been okay. He's only 1-3 with a 4.88 ERA, but he has given us almost seven innings per start, and that's really why he was acquired. Outside of him and Webb, we've been getting an average of only 5 1/2 innings per game from our starters, which has put a lot of pressure on the bullpen.

Opponents have been hitting .327 off Livan in his four starts so far, and that's too high, especially playing half your games in Chase Field, which has been a serious hitter's park this year. If he can get that down, he could be a solid #3 for next year, providing a much-needed dependable arm in the rotation


=====================

And now my questions for Matt:

Curly W: the Dbacks just went 5-11 in a brutal stretch against division rivals. Are they wheezing out the season, or is there still hope they could dig out a playoff spot?

Diamondhacks: Interest and hope have dried up here in the desert. Arizona sports fans are looking ahead to college, and uncharacteristically, Cardinal, football. The chance of a Bob Melvin team winning anything but friends is as likely as David Schwimmer taking home a Best Actor Oscar.

Curly W: I still think the whole retractable-roof thing is weird, but I guess you kind of should stay out of the Arizona summer sum. Now that the stadium is nearing ten years old, what's your take on it? What do you like and dislike?

Diamondhacks: Everyone under the moving roof for the first time thinks it's very cool, but since the novelty has worn off, it's more of a necessary evil, giving the park a dark, airplane hangar feel from late May thru September. Inside, it's clean and comfortable (A/C, lots of concessions, mellow fans) but less than charming. Too much signage, terrible sound system. It's not as poorly designed as Petco, but lacks the charm of most other modern ballparks. Night games in April and May, with the roof and wall panels open, are quite lovely actually.

Curly W: the Expos / Nationals farm system was depleted from neglect while MLB stewarded the team, and it will take some time for it to be restocked. What's your take on the Dback's farm system?

Diamondhacks: We keep hearing it's MLB's absolute best, Dodgers second. From what I've seen, Drew, Young and Quentin ooze potential, perhaps Young the most, given his age. Catcher Montero's supposed to be solid, which is good because Estrada apparently doesnt care for Arizona. The pitchers throw hard, which shows someboy's paying attention down there, but none to date have consistently impressed.

Curly W: what's your Dback's offseason wishlist? What/who would you like to see added? Discarded?

Diamondhacks:
A) New manager - someone more concerned with driving results than with managing appearances and expectations.
B) Quality starter - or two ;-)
C) Power hitting first baseman - some teams can afford to start a spray hitting first baseman. The Dbacks are not one of them - even less so next year.
Discard Gonzalez, Counsell. Byrnes is a tough call. A starting outfield of Byrnes, Young and Quentin will generate plenty of excitement, but they might not collectively generate enough runs. This team needs a home run hitter pretty bad, and as fun as Byrnes is to watch, he may not be that guy.

Curly W: how's that Livan Hernandez thing working out for you guys?

Diamondhacks: It isn't. The justification for giving up two prospects was Livan helping Arizona make the playoffs, so in that sense, the move failed. We could've finished below .500 without him. That's not fair to Livan, who hasnt pitched terribly, but that's why the deal was made.

Thanks to Matt and Jim for answering our questions!