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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Happy (Belated) Samardzija Day!

As you might expect, the minor league team I'm working for this summer doesn't get too much attention from outside the immediate area, save for a handful of parent club diehards. However, last night's game was an exception. Our press box - usually home to eight regulars - included an extra photographer and a writer from the Chicago Tribune. The occasion? Jeff Samardzija's pro baseball debut.

Samardzija is Notre Dame's single-season record holder in receiving yards and touchdown receptions, and he's likely to be the highest receiver picked in next year's NFL draft. But he also wants to play pro baseball, and he was drafted by the Cubs earlier this month. The Cubs signed him to a deal that will pay out a bonus of over $7 million if he focuses on baseball alone.

Rarely does an athlete in short-season A ball get the attention that Samardzija, a college football star, does. Our team draws 3,000 a game on a good night; Notre Dame plays in front of 80,000 fans routinely. The players at this level are rarely on a national radar to the extent that Samardzija is (although Jeremy Papelbon, the brother of Red Sox closer Jon Papelbon, is Samardzija's teammate in Boise).

Anyway, among the interns, who are fairly sports-savvy, Samardzija's appearance was notably buzzworthy. One of the things we must do is hand out Carl's Jr. coupons if our team scores five runs in a game; this happened in the first two games of the series. The first time it happened, one intern reported that Samardzija did not take his coupon for a free sourdough breakfast sandwich on his way out of the park. The following night, though, he did take a coupon for a free burger.

We dubbed Tuesday "Samardzija Day," and feigned apologies for not getting each other cards to mark the occasion. Three of us in the press box randomly drew numbers from 0-5 as part of a Jeff Samardzija Strikeout Pool. I drew 2 and 4; if he fanned that many hitters in his scheduled two innings of work, I would win.

Samardzija took the mound and retired the first two batters on ground balls. Then Will Thompson, the league's leading hitter, mashed a pitch over the right field fence. Samardzija followed that up by plunking the next hitter and then allowing a single before finishing the inning on a fly out. No strikeouts. We weren't even sure if he would come out for the second inning, since he was on a 35-pitch leash. When he did come out, he started off by hitting the leadoff man. He coaxed two more groundouts, and then he drilled another batter. The next hitter stroked an RBI single, followed by an out on the basepaths.

And that was it for Samardzija. His line: 2 innings, 3 hits, 2 runs (both earned), no walks, no strikeouts (I would not have predicted that one), and three hit batsmen.

As it turned out, the real story of the game was our starting pitcher, Adam Cowart, who outdueled Samardzija and his replacements. Cowart was perfect through 5 1/3, and he and two relievers combined on a 2-hit, 10-strikeout, no earned run performance.

It's just a shame that Samardzija's appearance had to come so early in the season. I kind of got the feeling that the buzz his start created won't be matched by any other game this year.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Now I'm Glad I Was Rooting For The Oilers

I was torn between pulling for the Hurricanes (with former Flyers Rod Brind'Amour, Mark Recchi, and Justin Williams) and the Oilers (on whom I bet) in the Stanley Cup Finals. Although the 'Canes won, at least I was on the side with the better fans.
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The Carolina Hurricanes and their fans celebrated the first major pro title in the state's history Tuesday, with the 114-year-old Stanley Cup signifying that hockey has found a home in North Carolina.

'Nine years in the making. It's about time,' said Adrian Ionescu, 19, of Cary.
Yo, Adrian ... go take your nine years of waiting for a championship and f--- yourself.

Flyers - 31 years and counting...
Phillies - 25 years and counting...
Eagles - 45 years and counting...
Sixers - 23 years and counting...

(Thanks to Off Wing Opinion for pointing out this dumbass quote.)

E-ZPass Can Kiss My Ass

Back when I lived in Connecticut, I had an E-ZPass tag in my car. It made driving back and forth from Bristol to Philly/Jersey/Boston much quicker, since I didn't have to wait in line to pay tolls. However, E-ZPass is only good as far west as Illinois. Beyond that, there are very few toll roads, none of which accept E-ZPass.

So when I moved to L.A., I took the transponder out of my car, peeled off the velcro strips that held it on, and didn't give it much more thought. I figured I wouldn't be needing it anymore, so I just smashed the transponder with a hammer (didn't want someone finding it in the trash and selling it on eBay for someone else to use), and I assumed the few dollars left in my account balance would just be lost.

Then I kept getting letters in the mail telling me that my e-mail address wasn't working and they couldn't send me my monthly statement. I didn't care much, since what could possibly be on my monthly statement if I wasn't paying any tolls? After almost two years of this, the letters managed to follow me to Portland. Finally, I decided to check my account.

It claims that I owe E-ZPass $4.60. Apparently I've been getting charged some kind of account fee, despite the fact that my account has been inactive for two years. Now, this sucks, but it's only $4.60, so I figured I'd call them up and cancel my account.

First I visited their website to find a number to call. This proved much more difficult than it should have been - seriously, go to the site and tell me how long it takes you to find a customer service number. They don't make it easy to find (or maybe I'm an idiot). But they don't even have the number on their letters that they mailed me!

Anyway, once I found the number, I called them up and navigated through the maze of menu options before I was finally able to talk to a live human being. Here's what I was told.

In order to cancel the account, they must have the cancellation request in writing, with my signature. They cannot accept cancellations over the phone. They also require me to pay the $4.60 balance. Okay, that's understandable, if not entirely fair. Then, they want me to return the E-ZPass tag - the one I destroyed.

"Oh, you don't have the tag? You'll have to pay a $23 lost tag fee."

This is a load of crap, but I don't really have much choice - I need to cancel this account so the service fees don't keep piling up.

E-ZPass, your service sucks. Just because you have an effective monopoly on toll transponders in the Northeast doesn't mean you should be okay with screwing your customers. And as far as I'm concerned, you owe me $27.99.

I wish I'd derived more satisfaction from smashing that E-ZPass tag.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Zack Morris Would Have An Amazing Plan To Solve This Problem

You can't make stories like this up.

Dustin Diamond - Screech from Saved by the Bell - is currently living in Wisconsin, and he is facing foreclosure on his home unless he comes up with a quarter million dollars. His solution: Sell t-shirts to raise the money. It's one of the odder news stories you're going to read anytime soon.

The shirts have a picture of a bearded, 29-year-old Screech holding a cardboard "SAVE MY HOUSE" sign on the front, and the back says "I Paid $15.00 To Save Screeech's House." There's an extra "E" in the name; it's to avoid copyright issues - I guess he learned his lesson when he and Zack tried to sell "Screech's Secret Sauce" and ripped off the recipe from the Betsy Crocker cookbook (ironically, the cookbook company's name was changed, presumably for intellectual property reasons).

For an extra $5, he'll even autograph your shirt with a "f--- Giraldo" message, Giraldo being Arthur Giraldo, the land contract agent who he blames for the foreclosure. The story on Screech's website has the details.

Now, I already have far too many t-shirts, and I don't need another one. However, as a Saved by the Bell aficionado, I hate to see Screech forced out onto the streets of Wisconsin. So I encourage you to visit the site and buy a t-shirt to help save his house. And if you could pass along the message to Dustin Diamond that he should sell other merchandise than t-shirts (stickers? mugs? maybe even other shirt styles?) then maybe I'll end up buying something and supporting the cause myself.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Pat Gillick - The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

With the Phils 9.5 games behind the Mets in the NL East and eighth in the NL Wild Card standings, Pat Gillick's first squad is rapidly stumbling out of playoff contention. There's still over half a season to play - so it's too early to head to Lehigh for Eagles training camp - but with over 2/5 of the 2006 schedule in the books, it's time for an early review of Gillick's work since arriving in Philly.

The Good

The door was still swinging from Ed Wade's exit when Gillick pulled the trigger on his biggest and best move of the season - dealing Jim Thome to the White Sox for Aaron Rowand and a couple of lefty pitching prospects, Gio Gonzalez and Daniel Haigwood. While Ryan Howard wasn't involved directly in the trade, the move effectively opened the door for him to become a regular.

Although Jim Thome has captured his form from a few years ago on the South Side, few Phillies fans are missing him. Howard has kept pace with Thome's 22 HR (fourth in the majors), and has probably been the Phillies' MVP so far. Howard's production has taken away any drop-off in production from the first base position that might have been expected after losing Thome.

Add to that equation Aaron Rowand, and you have a winner of a deal. Rowand has performed in the clutch, and despite having missed a couple of weeks, has fit right in with the Phillies' productive outfield. Then, of course, there is his gritty catch where he busted his face open against the center field fence and earned himself a mention in the "How to Earn the Appreciation of Philly Fans" manual.

This doesn't even take into consideration Haigwood and Gonzalez, seemingly the Phillies' only two minor league prospects who haven't been pressed into action for the big club. Gonzalez, age 20, has a 3.35 ERA with an impressive 91 Ks in 78 innings in Reading, but he has also walked 38 and allowed 11 homers, so there's room for improvement. Haigwood's numbers aren't too different - 3.89 ERA, 73 K, 37 BB, 6 HR, 71.2 IP. He's 22, so both of them still have some more seasoning left before the Phils have to throw them in the fire.

The only downside to the trade is that the Phillies sometimes seem to get stung by Howard's propensity to strike out - he's 10th in the majors. He sometimes reminds me of Pedro Cerrano, the voodoo-worshiping slugger from Major League, who struggled to hit a curveball. I think it's time for him to tell JoBu that he no help curveball.

Also, I'll give credit to Gillick for picking up Tom Gordon to replace Billy Wagner - when the Phils hand him the ball, he's nearly automatic (18/19 in save opportunities). Gordon has been the brightest spot in the bullpen, which (with a few exceptions - see below), has been refreshingly solid. Arthur Rhodes, picked up in exchange for Jason Michaels (an expendable outfielder given our depth there), has also been a good setup man.

The Bad

Julio Santana has pitched 8.1 innings all season and got dizzy from watching runners circle the bases around him. Maybe that explains his 9 walks. He hasn't caused more damage because he's been hurt the rest of the season. I believe he is currently working as a paperweight on Pat Gillick's desk.

Gillick signed Alex Gonzalez, who posted a blistering .269 OBP before the following item appeared on the Phillies' transaction wire (on my birthday): "Announced the retirement of INF Alex Gonzalez." That transaction has been Gillick's best move of the calendar year. Happy birthday to me.

Sal Fasano - I know, how could I possibly call Sal Fasano bad? Well, I gotta be honest. I am not Sal's pal. I was vehemently anti-Sal early on, when it seemed like he was an offensive downgrade (acceptable) and a defensive downgrade (unacceptable for a backup catcher) from Mike Lieberthal. Although Fasano has really improved in the past few weeks, I swear his production seems to come when it matters least. On the other hand, he does have an OPS of 1.059 in June, which, bizarrely, puts him among this month's MLB leaders. So, you know what? I'm going to reclassify him.

The Surprisingly Good, But Highly Unlikely To Maintain His Current Level Of Production

Sal Fasano.

I'm still waiting for Mike Lieberthal's return, to be honest. I'd still rather see him at the plate than Fasano. But Sal's apparently a good guy (and he plays for the Phillies), so I'd love to see him keep raking. If those numbers stay up, well, I'll eat my words and reconsider my stance on Sal Fasano.

The Ugly

Gillick dealt away Vicente Padilla and received Ricardo Rodriguez in return. Three months later, Rodriguez was released. Getting David Dellucci from the Rangers in a later trade doesn't make up for this fleecing. Now, Padilla hasn't been lights out for Texas this year - 4.65 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 67 K, 36 BB. However, he's been durable (14 starts, 81.1 innings), which is something the Phillies' rotation hasn't been (Brett Myers and Cory Lidle are the only starters with 12+ starts or 66+ innings). Padilla would have been very welcome in red pinstripes with the way our starters have pitched, especially as the Phils scramble to find people to make starts (Scott Mathieson has potential, but he's not ready yet). Even worse, the Phillies have absolutely nothing to show in return for Padilla's departure. Padilla is 28 years old, a former all-star, and sports a career ERA under 4.00 - and Gillick can't get better value in return? Severely disappointing.

Abraham Nunez has been an unmitigated disaster, and I would rather talk someone out of retirement, scour an independent league, or teach David Dellucci to play infield than see this guy step on the field in a Phils uni again. In 73 AB, Nunez has a .400 OPS, no home runs, and no steals. His career OPS is .634, and unless the Sal Fasano Magic Hot Streak rubs off on him, I wouldn't hold out hope for him to approach that figure.

I saved Ryan Franklin for last so I could gloat (sort of). When Franklin was signed, I predicted that he would surrender at least 41 HR. Specifically, I wrote, "Assuming Franklin stays healthy for the whole season and keeps his starting job, he will have one of the ten worst seasons, in terms of homers allowed, in baseball history."

Well, fortunately, Franklin never got to start. However, he's still given up 8 dingers (which projects to 19 for a full season). Had he been starting, how would he have fared? Well, we can estimate this way: Given his 33.2 IP, were he to maintain his gopher ball pace over 190 innings (a full season for a starter), he'd be serving up 45 homers - which would rank fifth all-time. If I saw this coming - and I wasn't the only one - why didn't Pat Gillick?

It's easy to criticize - I'm not the one who has to perform the GM's duties. At the same time, I don't think there has been much second-guessing among Phillies Phans. With two exceptions (Fasano & Gordon), I'd say the moves of which Phans approved have turned out well, while the moves that weren't well-received didn't work out. That being the case, I'm convinced more than ever that the Phillies organization needs a major overhaul in the way it approaches the construction of the team. The fans should be wondering how the GM knew Player X was due to break out right before he was acquired, not nodding quietly as Player X works out precisely as expected.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Yo Ho Ho And...

The Trinidad & Tobago soccer team, which already exceeded expectations in the World Cup by playing Sweden to a draw, has been promised a barrel of rum for each player plus the coach by a Trinidadian liquor maker if it defeats England tomorrow.

A barrel is 247 liters, or 64 gallons. Because that's still hard to fathom, think of it as 5,462 shots - or about five shots a day for three years.

Coincidentally, that kind of liquor consumption would have been necessary to correctly predict the exacta of T-N-T's draw against the Swedes and a win over England.


In something mildly related, I took a big step toward achieving one of my minor personal life goals today - becoming a regular at a bar. I've always wanted to go to a bar where I can sit down, nod, and have my beer brought to me without my saying a word.

And it happened today at Tom's Pizza and Sports Pub, a local joint that I wish were replicated within walking distance of each of my future residences.

I sat down, and the waitress brought over my first beer with my menu. Now, I don't think I've achieved full regular status, since I don't know the bartender or the waitresses' names, and they don't know mine. Yet. But they do recognize me as the guy in the UCLA jacket who asks to have the Phillies games put on one of the screens.

I also must give Tom's credit for having plenty of screens and always - always - being willing to spare one or even two for my hockey and regular season baseball interests, even during an NBA playoff game. Also, credit for cheap beer. Can't argue with that, unless it's a free barrel of rum. Go T-N-T!

When You Get My Text Message Telling You That You're An Idiot, You'll Hear It

By now, you may have heard the story bouncing around blogs and the news about the ring tone that is so high-pitched, adults can't hear it. Believe it or not, the damn thing works - I was able to hear it, but in my mid-twenties, I might only have a few years left to pick up that pitch; I played it for a teacher in his 30s and he had no idea that anything was playing. You can try to listen to it here. (Warning: If you do hear the tone, it isn't exactly Mozart.)

Apparently, kids are using this ringtone in class so that their teachers don't know that their phones are ringing. Does anyone else think this is really stupid?

First of all, almost all phones already have a setting where your phone rings without anyone hearing it. It's called vibrate.

Secondly, just because your teacher can't hear you getting your text messages doesn't mean that every other kid in your class can't. If I were in class and I had to hear someone's phone going off with that sound every other minute, I would have to resist the urge to get up from my desk, snatch the phone from the offender's hand, and clock him across the mouth with it (the phone, not the desk).

Also, if your phone is ringing, you can't exactly answer it in the middle of class without anyone noticing.

And finally, and most importantly, what could possibly be so important that you have to have your phone on during class anyway? Wait 45 minutes and check your messages then. God forbid you don't find out right this instant that "omg ashley told kayla that u r going 2 prom w/ tyler but i thought u r going w/ dylan wtf?"

Seriously. And people wonder why our great nation ranks below other countries in education.