Monday, May 24, 2010

Yet Unnamed Monday Weekend Sports Re-Kap


-What would be so wrong with the sports world collectively deciding that we aren't going to mention LeBron James name until the beginning of free agency on July 1st? What is there to possibly say before then? I could really do without such "breaking news" as Obama Thinks LeBron Good Fit with Bulls or the equally fascinating Clippers Fans Launch Website to Lure LeBron. These are not stories. Besides, what's the big deal with this guy anyway? He's a 7-year veteran still lacking a ring and a consistent outside J. Give me a break. I liked LeBron a lot better the first time...when he was called Johnny Newman.

-I know it has become every Detroit sports fan's favorite cliché this summer, but when it's true, you can't help but echo the sentiment: "The Tigers will not go anywhere this season unless they start getting something from the bottom half of the order." It's been a weakness of the club for a while now, but this year, it has become especially helpless. Brandon Inge is rapidly approaching the Mendoza line with his .217 mark, and is yet to register a multi-hit game in the month of May. Gerald Laird is hitting .155 with no power, and has managed to be especially putrid on the road, registering a .106 BA with exactly zero RBIs. Adam Everett is also struggling mightily and is still looking for his first game of the year with more than one hit. You can get all the production you want from Cabrera, Maggs, and those guys, but with these mooks occupying the bottom part of the order, there is no realistic chance for this team to do anything of note this season. And sadly, it's hard to anticipate these numbers changing to any great degree in the near future.

-Caught MacGruber with my buddy BK over the weekend. Not the best flick ever, but certainly not the worst, either. If you're looking for a few smiles and to see Val Kilmer quietly tipping the scales at almost three bills, then fork over your $5 and you'll walk out a happy man.

-Absolutely brutal cut over the left eye of Israel Vazquez on Saturday night. Fighting Rafael Marquez for the 4th (and hopefully final) time, Vazquez took quite a bit of punishment in just three short rounds, and the fight was ultimately stopped due to the fact that you could basically see homeboy's brain through that hideous gash. The first three fights were epic, but there was really no reason for this last one. Vazquez had been having so much trouble with the skin over his eyes coming in to the bout that he'd been sparring with a mask over his face. Not just headgear...a mask, too. You'd think that would have maybe told Vazquez that it was time to hang it up, but boxers have never been great at putting their long-term health ahead of their short-term finances.

-Good to see the Suns making things interesting out West to at least add some intrigue to the dueling Conference Finals. Seeing as how Rashard Lewis and his crew never bothered showing up against Boston, we can only hope Steve Nash and the boys make it all square in Game 4, giving a little dose of excitement to an NBA Playoffs that has been loaded with series sweeps and 30-point blowouts. The switch to a zone on Sunday night by Alvin Gentry was a series-altering move. It frustrated the Lakers into several key turnovers (17 total) and invited them to hoist a whopping 32 threes, making just 9. Now, it still took career performances from both Amare Stoudemire and Robin Lopez to secure the W, so hoping for an eventual Suns series victory seems unlikely. But at least they delivered some drama and a couple of compelling story lines to a postseason that up until now has been depressingly vanilla.

-What in the world has gotten into Carlos Silva? The journeyman right hander improved his record to a sparkling 6-0 on Sunday, giving the Cubbies a much-needed and highly unexpected ace at the back of the rotation. Silva had basically pitched himself out of the big leagues the last couple years in Seattle, going 5 and 18 with a frighteningly high ERA that you don't talk about at parties. The Cubs acquired him over the winter, if for no other reason, than to just rid themselves of the clubhouse virus known as Milton Bradley. There were no expectations for Silva coming into the season. My, how things have changed after just a couple months. Silva has shed a few lbs from that 250-pound frame, his sinker is finally sinking again, and the 31-year-old afterthought is now one of the favorites for the NL Cy Young. If you close your eyes and let yourself go a little bit, you can almost picture the big fella straddling the mound at Wrigley in late October, throwing the first pitch in the 2010 World Series. (Ok, you might have to close your eyes really hard for that one.)

-I'm having a pretty tough dilemma a couple weeks into this summer's softball season. Last year, I played primarily in shorts and a t-shirt, and paid the price in the process. After a number of ill-advised hook slides into 2nd and dives across the infield, I worked up a pretty nice collection of scars and bruises on the body. So this year, I've decided to play it safe and go long pants-long shirt, protecting my skin from the treacherous Drake Park infield. The only thing is, it can get prittttay, pritttttttay hot out there at 1:00 on a Sunday afternoon. My legs are now protected, but the rest of my body feels like it's overheating like one of those motorcycles on Excitebike when you would push the engine too hard and the guy would just crumple off to the side, needing 3-4 seconds to recover and cool down while the other drivers sped past. I guess I could just wear shorts and refrain from sliding completely, but that seems unlikely. As the great Richie Kotzen said in the song Tobacco Road, "It's the only way I've ever known." Lastly, in a related story, I probably take recreational softball leagues a little too seriously, and without realizing it, have become a true "Softball Guy." I'm not proud of myself...


This article is devoted to the great Jose Lima, a Tigers mainstay from the mid-90s and early-2000s, and one of the more memorable characters in the majors over that time. His 21 victories pushed the Astros into the playoffs in 1999, but it was partnership with similarly-named Felipe Lira at the top of the apocalyptic Tiger rotation in 1995 that will always stick with me. We'll miss ya, Jose.

Drop me a line at
highsockslegend@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Too Good to be True


Originally, I thought the story had to be some kind of fable. No way it could have actually happened.

It went a little something like this.

My dad's Little League team was preparing for a significant game late in the season. He was the ace of the team's pitching staff, and would be counted on to take the hill and shut down the opposition's powerful offense.

But a bizarre occurrence happened at school that week. My dad was a gym aide for one of the classes. Everybody was outside practicing various track and field events. The teacher needed a volunteer to display proper high jumping technique, and apparently that was something my dad did well.

He sped down the track, readied himself at the last moment, leaped in the air, and cleared the bar by at least two feet. But the landing was not exactly an artistic one. He came down hard and awkwardly, fracturing the radius bone in his left wrist. All of a sudden, his availability for the monumental baseball game was in serious jeopardy. But maybe not...

"I don't really need my left hand to throw the ball," my dad thought. "After all, pitching is really a one-handed activity." Could he be serious? Was he really planning on still pitching in the game despite having a hard plaster cast attached to one of his arms? He sure was, and he had other ideas, as well.

Without a functioning left hand, my dad knew he needed to figure out a way to get the ball back from the catcher following each pitch. The umpire would most definitely not allow the catcher to trot out to the mound after every toss; the game would last six hours. Maybe the catcher could just float the ball back, and my dad would snag it with his unbroken, but bare right hand. Nah, all that would do is potentially injure the other wrist.

Finally, they had a solution.

After each pitch, the catcher would sling the ball out to the shortstop. He would then take a few steps over to my dad, and hand-deliver the ball. Then his prized right arm would fire that pill towards the trembling batter, and the process would repeat. Poetry in motion.

The story always ended the same way. With my dad going the distance, stifling the other squad's attack, and leading his boys to a life-changing victory.

I always took the whole thing with a grain of salt. I mean, come on. The high jumping exhibition?? The giant cast extending out past the elbow? The ball being dropped off to him after every pitch like a room service breakfast at a 5-star hotel? This had to be some kind of urban legend, I thought.

Then I saw the picture.

Right there, clear as day, was my dad out on the pebbled infield, his dirt-stained white and yellow jersey hanging off his paper-thin 11-year-old frame; and enveloping the entire lower portion of his left arm was a cast. It was all true.

Makes Curt Schilling's bloody sock seem like a mechiah.

To this day, it remains quite possibly the single greatest pitching performance, pro or amateur, in our game's long and storied history.

And he only needed one arm to do it.


Happy Birthday wishes go out today to Doc High Socks, the best one-handed pitching internist in the Metro Detroit area. Drop a b'day word for the Little League legend here, or shoot me an E-mail at highsockslegend@gmail.com

Monday, May 10, 2010

"Sweating Bullets": The Heroic Tale of the Original "Life of the Party"


High Socks: Welcome back to the Big Show, Little Bro. Always a pleasure to have you in the neighborhood. Pretty good weekend, eh? Celts making things interesting versus your Cavs, a perfecto by the anonymous Dallas Braden out in Oakland, and several barbecues/parties surrounding the Mother's Day weekend. But me and you both know that going to a party isn't always such a simple exercise.

There are many things to take into account heading into the situation: what to wear, what not to wear, what to bring, when to get there. All of these factors must be considered with your full attention. But let's take a moment and focus on a frequent party guest that I know we both hold close to our hearts: "The Guy that Shows Up 100% Willing to Walk Out of the Festivities Three Hours Later Sopping Wet in his Own Sweat." I respect the hell out of this guy...and I know you do, too.

Low Socks
: Mind if I skip the introductions? It's late, I've watched a lot of television that I'd like to forget (Men's College Volleyball Finals), and those barbecues you speak of haven't treated me so kindly...if you get my drift. The guy that shows up to a party totally willing to schvitz is a guy I look up to; straight up to.

If it was up to "this guy," he would have you write down the athletic activities on the invitation after the "save the date" so he could prepare a change of clothes. But he understands that it's not appropriate to reveal beforehand that the upcoming wedding will be held one floor above a room with a fully-equipped ping pong table. It's true, my man will avoid the oppo-sex after the competition starts. How can you blame 'em? After a 21-18 war, I wouldn't want to be dragged to the dance floor for a round of "Snowballs," either.

High Socks
: Couldn't agree more. There are really two kinds of guys in this world.

One is the fella who shows up to a party or get-together simply to do just that...get together. He wants to engage in polite conversation, enjoy a leisurely meal with a couple mature beverages, and generally conduct himself in a perfectly acceptable adult manner. He is ever so careful not to walk too briskly at any point for fear of unleashing the slightest ounce of perspiration on his spotless well-tailored outfit. This guy wouldn't know a driveway game of pickup 3s if hit smacked him upside the head.

But then there's the other guy...our guy. This dude comes prepared for anything. Sure, he's decked out in appropriate party attire. And sure, he behaves respectably towards the other guests throughout the evening. But just say the word, and this guy's putting down the tea and crumpets for a Halex Three-Star and a double-elimination pong tourney in the scorching hot unfinished basement. Yeah, he knows there are no females down there. It doesn't concern him. He knows when a game or tournament comes calling at a party, you go. No questions asked. You may come back to the masses 45 minutes later looking like Ethan Hawke at the end of Training Day, but that's the breaks of the game. Survival of the Fittest means just that...even if you have to sweat through your grey Old Navy polo in the process.

Low Socks
: For me personally, it's all a matter of picking the right battles. Say I walk into a party and haven't introduced myself or been seen by everybody yet. I still look like a normal human, so I'll make my rounds working the room and shake a few more hands. I think I have an internal game clock in my head where a buzzer will sound when I think the party has reached its halfway mark.

At this point, I tell myself: "You've been polite...Now make things right." I walk over to the punch bowl, fill up, and find the nearest unfriendly competition: ping pong, 3-on-3, or mini-stick hockey. No looking back now: I'm sweaty and unsightly. You either show me a back way outta this place, or I'm pulling the fire alarm.

High Socks: Not sure if you could classify mini-stick hockey as a sweat-inducing activity, but I've seen you in action and I'm gonna take your word for it. This whole discussion brings to mind the old "Gym period early in the day" conundrum back in middle school. There was always the ongoing battle between the angel and devil on your shoulders as to how to handle that upcoming 75-minute block of time.

The Angel would whisper in your ear, "Relax, High Socks. It's early in the day. You showered no less than two hours ago, and you still have five more classes to go after this one. Change into the gym clothes, lollygag your way through a couple go patterns in Air Force Football, and peacefully move on with the rest of your day still resembling a civilized 13-year-old boy. It's the sensible thing to do."

But the Devil had other ideas. "Look, kid. I know you think it's a risk going full throttle in a gym class this early in the day. You're going to get overheated. You're going to start sweating profusely. And in all honesty, you will be dreadfully uncomfortable for the remainder of the day. And you can forget about putting that hooded sweatshirt back on after this is all over. It's going in your locker until the final bell; strictly "T-shirt or Bust" from this point forward. But it is the world we live in. Nothing good can come without a little suffering along the way. You're gonna go out to that football field and play each down like it's your last. You're gonna count to Five Apples in 2.3 seconds. You're gonna dive head first across the dew-soaked grass for a potentially game-winning bomb even if it means getting up after the play with a scrape job on the knee and a mouthful of sod. You're gonna win the game, trudge into that locker room, and change back into your school clothes that now look much different on you than they did at the beginning of the day. At that moment, you might question your previous hour of activity; the sweat, the tears, the blatantly illegal cut-block you threw to spring a big gain on the final drive. But take a look in the mirror. That's your bloodied face in the reflection; covered in a mound of perspiration, and an even bigger mountain of self respect.

Low Socks
: Here we go again...I sit down to have a peaceful conversation with you and it immediately takes an ugly turn. Angels? Devils? When did this talk become a forum for the "Good vs. Evil" debate? However, I do like your point and it is my belief that the age-old middle school controversy can be broken down into a simple word: experience. Like I said before, you have to know when to dial it up and when to ease off.

Before lunch, it's my opinion that there is way too much school left to be at any peak heart rate.

After lunch, but before band class, I can see where one might try and push their luck. I certainly could get away with it as I stood near the back, banging the drums.

My advice to those that are unable to make it past lunch without getting sickly in gym: don't bother showing up to class. Neither you or the teacher wants any part of all that. You may think the "cooling down" period will only take 15-20 minutos; but before you know it, you'll be caught in a small group round-table discussion about photosynthesis.

And Lord knows it ain't the plants absorbing the energy. It's you...


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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Secretariat Who?


"It's always more fun to root for the underdog."

The day was May 5th, 1973, and Secretariat was preparing to begin his assault on horse racing's famed Triple Crown. A record crowd of 134,476 stuffed their way into the Churchill Downs infield to get a glimpse of the mammoth chestnut colt.

One horse racing aficionado described Secretariat at the time as "A Rolls-Royce in a field of Volkswagens."

Everybody knew it was Secretariat's day. Well, almost everybody.

My mom was also in attendance at the Derby that afternoon. She has two distinct memories from that trip.

One is that she claims to have never seen a horse. It's surely an odd sentiment coming from a person that was actually at the Kentucky Derby, but an understandable one considering the circumstances. She and her friends were amidst the throng of people; elbow-to-elbow on the infield, which was not exactly "prime viewing" in terms of actually observing the action. It would be like watching a Cubs game from the rooftop of an apartment building a half mile from Wrigley. You're there, but you're not really there. Secretariat could have been a blue horse with a bushy orange tail, and my mom would have had no idea. She never saw a horse.

The second recollection from that day involves her wagering strategy and the results that followed. As post time approached, Secretariat was still holding steady as a significant favorite (3-2 in most spots). Everybody was plunking down money on Big Red. It was a sure thing. But my mom had her own ideas.

She liked Warbucks. As she told me this past Saturday when we watched the Derby together, "I like the long shots." And old Warbucks definitely was that. It is near impossible to find exactly what odds Warbucks was getting that day (trust me, I've looked), but it is also just as impossible to find any account of anyone heading into the race that thought Warbucks had a chance. Didn't matter to my mom.

The race started and a couple rabbit horses bolted, leaving Secretariat and a host of others biding their time in the back. But as most of the horses began tiring and slowing their pace as the distance increased, Secretariat only got better. He ran each quarter mile of the race just a little bit faster than the one before it. He blazed the final leg in a blistering 23 seconds, on his way to a record-setting Derby time (a record that still stands today). It was a breathtaking performance by a horse that would eventually come to be regarded as the best in the sport's history.

But what about Warbucks?? What happened to that cute, little longshot that was supposed to pay my mom bundles of dollars?? Turns out, Warbucks was a longshot for a reason.

There were 13 horses entered in the Kentucky Derby that day. And Warbucks finished 13th. Dead last.

I recently came across a fairly long-winded recap of that race. Several sentences are devoted to each participant and interesting anecdotes are sprinkled throughout.

Our guy got three measly words. The final sentence read, "Warbucks was dull." That's it. No in-depth analysis or explanation for his performance. He was just dull.

But truth be told, how Warbucks actually performed that day really meant nothing.

My mom drove from Ann Arbor to Louisville, pushed and pulled her way through over one-hundred thousand sweaty fans, and spent an entire day at Churchill Downs without ever seeing a horse. After all that, there was no way in the world she was simply going to fall in line with all of the other sheep. She liked Warbucks.

Anybody could have sidled up to the betting counter that day and threw a fiver on Secretariat. It was the safe play. He was going to win. But, as Tom Hanks so eloquently stated in Big, "What's fun about that?"

Go up to any random sports fan at the bar and ask 'em who won the '73 Derby and you're likely to get an immediate response. Everybody knows that was Secretariat's year.

But nobody knows who came in last. Except my mom.

And she's got the losing ticket to prove it.


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Monday, May 3, 2010

A Troika of Thoughts on the Big Winter Swap


1. The baseball season is officially about a month old. Most teams have played about 25 games. And Tigers' rookie center fielder Austin Jackson still has more hits than anybody in the big leagues. The freshman phenom rapped Angels pitching around the yard all weekend, collecting nine safeties in leading the Tigers to a statement-making three-game sweep.

Jackson's fearlessness as a first-year player has brought life to the top of the order. Coupled with the old warhorse, Johnny Damon (.326 BA), they present what is quite possibly the most dangerous 1-2 combination in all of baseball.

The only troubling stat with young Mr. Jackson is his climbing strikeout total. His 34 punchouts top the American League, and trail only Justin Upton of Arizona for the MLB lead. It is impossible to imagine his production continuing at this level unless he finds a way to start putting the ball in play more often. A player like Jackson, with limited power (1 HR) and tremendous speed, should never be in fear of whiffing 100 times in a season. At this rate, he'll be lucky to stay under two hundred.

But all told, it has been a truly memorable first month for Jackson, and one that could prove crucial later in the season when the Tigers are duking it out with the Twinkies and Chisox for a place in the postseason.

2. While Jackson leads the bigs in hits right now, whether or not he stays there will likely depend on one player: Ichiro. The fleet-footed Mariner has led all of baseball in that category in each of the last four seasons, and he is off to his typically strong start in 2010 (33 hits, .317 BA).

But unlike the free-swinging Jackson, Ichiro forces you to make a play in order to record an out. In virtually the same number of ABs, he has fanned just eight times, less than a fourth of Jackson's staggering 'K' number.

3. People have been buzzing about the stellar play of Austin Jackson for the Bengals, the immense struggles of Curtis Granderson for the Bombers, and the brilliance of Dave Dombrowski in pulling off such a mid-winter heist. But take a moment to look at the second tier of players involved in the deal, and you realize this trade might actually be even better than the previous sentence would lead you to believe.

Edwin Jackson, who fell off miserably down the stretch in 2009, has picked up right where that season left off. He was absolutely torched by the Cubs at Wrigley yesterday afternoon, allowing eight runs in just four innings, including a 400-foot bomb off the bat of Alfonso Soriano. Amazingly, it was an improvement from his last time out when he surrendered 10 runs in just 2.1 innings of work against the Rockies. The Diamondbacks are now 1 and 5 in his starts, with his ERA soaring to a Nate Robertson-esque 8.07.

The most disturbing trend of all, perhaps, has been Jackson's diminishing strikeout figures. He picked up just two in the start at Coors, and then failed to strike out a single Cub hitter on Sunday. 22 batters faced, 12 outs recorded, and a big, fat goose-egg in the K department. Not once did Jackson suffer that fate last year in any of his 33 starts. When you lose the ability to miss bats as a major league pitcher, unless your name is Jamie Moyer, you are going to be in some serious trouble. And before you say, "Hey HSL, take it easy...the season is only a month old!", remember that Jackson is now sporting a near-six ERA (5.85) since his perfect inning of work at last year's All-Star game.

In the words of Jerry Seinfeld, "Good luck with allll that."


Oh, and don't forget Phil Coke. The lefty-tossing Soft Drink has vultured a trio of wins (3-0) and has yet to serve up a long ball in his 14 carbonated innings out of the pen. A couple more weeks of Austin's heroics, Granderson's aches and pains, Edwin's meatball sandwiches, and Coke Zero's southpaw reliability, we might have to declare this the "Greatest Trade in Baseball History."

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