The Day That Separates the Contenders from the Pretenders

Today at 4 p.m. Eastern Time marks the Non-waiver Trade deadline for Major League Baseball.

This magic day is when teams that feel like they are missing one or two pieces to make a run deep into the playoffs make deals with teams that are nowhere near playoff level and want to shed expensive contracts and look towards the following season.

Often times a player is traded as a “50-game rental” since their contact expires at the end of the season and they will become a free agent. Other players are traded with several years left on their contract.

A third type of trade involves a player getting moved to a new team with the old team still paying a portion of the salary of the player that is no longer on their roster.  I have never really understood that type of trade since I think that if a player is traded the new team should be responsible for all of the related salary.

But for the contenders the trades are deemed worthy as the hope is the player will lead them to a World Series Championship. Sometimes the late season trades work and sometimes they don’t.

For the players on the trade bubble the days and weeks leading up to today can be very stressful as they wonder where they will end up finishing the season.  The pending trades of players also affects how they are used leading up to any potential trade.

With the trade deadline looming many players on the trade rumor mill were taken out of the lineup for games on trade deadline eve. After all no one wants to risk a freak injury negating a trade at the 11th hour.

After pitching on Opening Day as the ace of the staff, Bud Norris of the Houston Astros was awaiting his fate at the trade deadline. Photo R. Anderson

After pitching on Opening Day as the ace of the staff, Bud Norris of the Houston Astros was awaiting his fate at the trade deadline.
Photo R. Anderson

For the Astros this meant that Bud Norris was taken out of the rotation for his scheduled start against the Baltimore Orioles last night.  It is very likely by the time you are reading this Norris will have a new team name on the front of his jersey.

While many teams from the Atlanta Braves to the Pittsburgh Pirates have been mentioned as a potential landing spot for Norris but no one seems to know for sure who the winning team will be.

The only thing certain is that much as they have the past three years the Astros want to get rid of their highest paid players and trade them for minor league prospects and this year that honor of highest paid player to get rid of falls on Norris.

I actually hope that Norris gets traded to a contender since watching him pitch a strong game only to have the bullpen blow it in the late innings is getting very painful to watch.

While I do not consider Norris the ace of a staff I think he would make a good middle of the rotation pitcher for a team with a strong rotation.

And Norris could also potentially join the list of former Astros who were traded and became World Series Champions. Lance Berkman accomplished that with the St. Louis Cardinals and Hunter Pence got his ring with the San Francisco Giants. So it definitely seems like if a player wants to win their best bet is to be traded.

Carlos Lee was traded from the Houston Astros to the Miami Marlins at the trade deadline last year as part of an annual housecleaning and payroll dump that has become commonplace at Minute Maid Park. Photo R. Anderson

Carlos Lee was traded from the Houston Astros to the Miami Marlins at the trade deadline last year as part of an annual housecleaning and payroll dump that has become commonplace at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

While the final destination for Norris remains up in the air at the time of this writing the Astros have already been active in the trade market.  In fact, earlier in the week Astros closer Jose Veras was traded to the Detroit Tigers for some Class-A level talent that may or may not ever see a Major League game.

Of course one could certainly argue that as bad as the Astros have been this season they really didn’t need a closer anyway since the number of games that they were in a save situation was certainly a small number.

So the closer was sent away and an already porous bullpen was asked to try to pull together and not blow so many leads.

That is the risk teams take in the trade the present and hope for a brighter future philosophy.

The Pirates have used that model for over two decades before finally posting winning records. To put that in perspective there were people who were born and graduated community college without ever seeing the pirates have a winning record.

While the Astros have not had quite as many years of futility so far there is very little to give one much confidence of that changing any time soon. So the process of acting as a feeder club to the contenders while rolling the dice on unproven talent will continue for the foreseeable future.

And with far more pretenders than contenders each year the non-waiver trade game will continue year after year until a time when the playing field is more level between the haves and the have nots.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to check the wire to see what washed up prospects the Astros are targeting next.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

The Little Train Museum That Could

I suppose if we are really honest with ourselves, all of us at one time or another have been fascinated by trains.

Of course, that fascination tends to turn to cursing when one is running late to work while stuck at a railroad crossing watching a slow moving hundred plus car train lumber by at a speed slower than most people can walk. But for the most part, there is a little train engineer in all of us if we really stop to think about it.

One of the steam powered locomotives on display at the Galveston Railroad Museum. Exhibits cover all eras of train travel. Photo R. Anderson

One of the steam powered locomotives on display at the Galveston Railroad Museum. Exhibits cover all eras of train travel.
Photo R. Anderson

While some people dream of riding the rails like a hobo without a care in the world, others tend to picture themselves as a suave international super spy crisscrossing the globe by rail one shaken, not stirred vodka martini at a time.

This past weekend I took my inner train engineer to the Galveston Railroad Museum.

I had wanted to go to the museum for years but just never seemed to find the time and then a Hurricane named Ike flooded the museum with nine feet of water leading to a lengthy closure and repair process that made going to the museum impossible.

So with Ike a distant memory, and the museum reopened it was finally time to make the trip down to Galveston to see the museum and all of its railroad themed splendor.

One of the newest exhibitis at the Galveston Railroad Museum is a pair of locomotives painted in the colors of Santa Fe rail lines. Photo R. Anderson

One of the newest exhibits at the Galveston Railroad Museum is a pair of locomotives painted in the colors of Santa Fe rail lines.
Photo R. Anderson

My first experience with a train museum was the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, MD which is on the register of historic places and is considered by many to be the quintessential train museum in the country.

I have also taken several “tourist” train rides in multiple countries so I knew a thing or two about trains heading to the museum.

I also enjoy when old train stations are re-purposed into modern uses while maintaining a bit of the history of the railroad past. Examples of this I enjoy are Minute Maid Park which is housed in Houston’s old Union Station and still maintains a bit of train culture with the presence of a locomotive above the outfield and the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Downtown Indianapolis’ Union Station that includes Pullman train cars that were converted into guest rooms.

So I knew that the museum would have a tall order to fill in order to grab my attention when compared to my previous railway history.

I can definitely say that the Galveston Railroad Museum did not disappoint and will probably be a regular stop of mine as they continue to bring exhibits back to life following the damage done by Ike.

Several of the train cars at the Galveston Railroad Museum still have signs of being under nine feet of water during Hurricane Ike. Photo R. Anderson

Several of the train cars at the Galveston Railroad Museum still have signs of being under nine feet of water during Hurricane Ike.
Photo R. Anderson

With an admission price of $7 for adults plus an optional $4 for a short train ride along the cruise terminal area, one would be hard pressed to find a better bargain on the museum circuit.

Housed in the former Galveston Train Depot the museum features trains from steam power to diesel power and all manners of locomotion in between.

There are examples of dining cars, mail cars, sleeper cars, box cars, etc.  There is even a room with a model train set as well as a room dedicated to china and silverware from dining cars through the ages.

And while not all of the cars have been restored yet several were open for a closer hands on inspection.

A ride along Harborside Drive on a transfer caboose can make anyone feel like the railway version of the "king of the world". Photo R. Anderson

A ride along Harborside Drive on a transfer caboose can make anyone feel like the railway version of the “king of the world”.
Photo R. Anderson

Walking through some of the cars gave me a complete out of Bond experience where I felt like I was inside one of Ian Fleming’s novels.

There was also a certain Murder on the Orient Express feel as examples of the way train travel used to be propelled me back to that era in time.

Or at least what I think the era was like since I was not alive during the golden age of railroads.

But the train cars were definitely as I had pictured them to be although on a hot and humid Texas afternoon some pumped in air conditioning in the cars definitely would have been nice.

The interior of a mail car at the Galveston Railroad Museum. Photo R. Anderson

The interior of a mail car at the Galveston Railroad Museum.
Photo R. Anderson

And one cannot really speak about railroads without thinking of all of those people who toiled to build the Transcontinental Railroad and open up the country from coast to coast.

While planes soon replaced trains as the way to get from coast to coast one can’t help but feel some nostalgia for a cross country train ride.

Traveling from one end of the country to the other on a train is certainly on my to do list. Of course odds are it will be a one-way trip since I am sure I will have had my fill of the motion of the train swaying back and forth after a week on the rails.

The lobby of the old Galveston Train Depot includes several "ghosts of riders past" in various examples of the hustle and bustle that train travel once had. Photo R. Anderson

The lobby of the old Galveston Train Depot includes several “ghosts of riders past” in various examples of the hustle and bustle that train travel once had.
Photo R. Anderson

The last passenger train left Galveston in 1967 and while there are rumblings now and then about returning a Houston to Galveston rail line they seem to be far from reality at the moment.

Most of the trains that run through now are hauling freight from the ports and the refineries and not people.

And they are also the trains that like to stop along the way to load and unload their cargo while blocking many a railroad crossing in the process.

Light rail and bullet trains are the current buzz words and there is plenty of Federal funding being thrown around to connect cities by rail as a means to free up congestion on the highways.

It seems fitting to have a picture of a caboose at the end of a column about trains since they once marked the end of the train. Photo R. Anderson

It seems fitting to have a picture of a caboose at the end of a column about trains since they once marked the end of the train.
Photo R. Anderson

Unfortunately while the concept of train travel in the northeast is part of the daily vocabulary other regions seem hesitant to give up the freedom that comes from driving their own cars and clogging up those aforementioned highways.

So for now the dream of commuting by rail will remain just that until a time comes where trains become as popular as cars and other means of traveling from home to work and back again.

But for those who want to see what a commuter train system might look like they need only travel to the Galveston Railroad Museum and take a look at the trains and “ghosts of passengers past” exhibits to see what was, and what could be again.

Now if you’ll excuse me, as the late Johnny Cash would say “I hear the train a comin.”

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Two Sides of Sportsmanship on Display This Week

Earlier this week the baseball world was rocked by the news that former National League MVP Ryan Braun basically lied repeatedly regarding his use of performance enhancing drugs. Braun was suspended for the rest of the year and people started wondering whether he could ever regain the respect of the Milwaukee Brewers fans when he does return next season.

Normally this type of admission would carry through for the entire week in the media as the sports world anxiously awaits news of the next stars to fall. But a funny thing happened Wednesday night to help restore one’s faith in the fact that not all of the baseball players are selfish millionaires cheating the system for their own gain.

Of course most rationale people know that there are still many good players taking the field but sometimes it is good to be reminded of such things.

That reminder came in the form of the reaction to a gruesome injury at the New York Mets ballpark that had been the sight of the All Star Game earlier in the month.

The Atlants Braves were dealt a blow Wednesday night when pitcher Tim Hudson broke his ankle. The response after that occurred showed there are still good players left in the game during a week where much of the news centered on suspensions for cheaters. Photo R. Anderson

The Atlanta Braves were dealt a blow Wednesday night when pitcher Tim Hudson broke his ankle. The response after that occurred showed there are still good players left in the game during a week where much of the news centered on suspensions for cheaters.
Photo R. Anderson

While covering first base on a routine play that he had probably done hundreds of times in his career Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson put a little too much of his foot on first base leaving New York Mets left fielder Eric Young Jr little room to avoid contact with Hudson’s outstretched foot.

Young hit Hudson’s foot at full speed causing it to bend at an angle that feet just aren’t meant to bend. Watching the replay of the contact I knew right away that something bad had happened. While it was not necessarily a career ending injury, it was definitely a season ending injury based on what I saw on the replay.

This assessment of the severity of the injury was not based on extensive study in medical school, although I did take a few seminars in sports medicine, but was based on years of covering games where I had seen countless athletes get hurt.

That firsthand knowledge has allowed me to guess with pretty accurate results the type of injuries and even the sound that is made when the injury occurs. One never forgets the sound broken bones and torn tendons make once you have heard them. They are the type of sounds that are truly haunting.

So, right now you are wondering when I will get to the part about the good news and the sportsmanship element of Wednesday night instead of all of the gory details of what did in fact turn out to be a broken ankle that will require season ending surgery.

The element of sportsmanship comes in the reaction of Young after he realized that Hudson was on the ground in pain.

Young, who was ruled out on the play, went right to Hudson’s side and started consoling him. Even after the team trainers and paramedics arrived, a visibly shaken Young stayed by the side of the fallen Hudson.

Young, a professed Christian, could even be seen rubbing the cross on his chain and saying a prayer for Hudson while the medical staff attended to him.

Once Hudson was placed on the golf chart to make the trip around the warning track that no athlete wants to make Young came up to Hudson and shook his hand and said a few words to him before turning to head into the Mets dugout. On the way to the dugout Young could be seen wiping tears from his eyes.

Now, there was nothing dirty about the play and all of the people saying that Young should have done something to avoid contact with Hudson are deeply diluted. Had Young tried to change course it is quite possible that he would have been the one with an ankle injury instead of Hudson. It was just a freak accident that while rare does happen from time to time.

So instead of blaming Young for the injury people should focus more on his reaction.  After realizing that a fellow competitor was down Young went to his side. That shows the close knit fraternity of baseball that regardless what team name is on the front of the jersey the good players still help each other out.

There is certainly a time to be competitive with one another but as Young showed there is also a time to be compassionate towards one another.

So while I feel bad that it took an injury of this nature to bring it out, and I certainly join others in wishing Tim Hudson a speedy recovery from his injury, it was nice to see the compassion shown by Eric Young Jr. to help restore my faith in the belief that not all of the players on the diamond are self-centered cheaters like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez have shown themselves to be.

I still want to believe, like the younger version of me did, that ballplayers  are by and large good people who can be admired for playing the game the right way but it seems the older I get the harder it is to tell which players are worthy of admiration and which ones should be pitied.

Eric Young Jr. showed he is a player to be admired and hopefully more players took notice and will respond in kind if they are ever placed in the same position.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a trip to the beach to prepare for.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Braun First Player to Face New Era of MLB Punishment

The other day it was announced that Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers agreed to a suspension that will last until the start of spring training next year.

By most accounts the suspension will be for 65 games since it is unlikely that the Brewers will make the postseason this year. Since he is suspended without pay it will cost him around $3.5 million in salary.

The suspension comes as a result of Braun being linked to the use of banned performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs and other suspension for several other players implicated in the probe  of a South Florida clinic are expected to follow.

Braun was first facing a suspension of 50 games in 2011 when he failed a random drug test. He was able to get the suspension overturned on a technicality by blaming the way the sample was handled after it left his body so to speak and before it reached the testing center.

A few stern denials and a rooftop proclamation of his innocence and the former National League MVP was welcomed back with open arms and the man responsible for delivering the sample to the testing facility was considered public enemy number one in Milwaukee and even received death threats.

The fans embraced Braun again following his successful appeal of the suspension and none other than Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers staked a year’s salary on the fact that Braun was innocent of the charges against him.

Now it appears that Braun was guilty in 2011 and 2013 and the world waits to see if Aaron Rogers will give up a year’s salary to the fan on twitter that he made the wager with.

While the fate of Ryan Braun has been settled, at least for the remainder of this season, the jury is still out on what the rest of the implicated players will face. There are even rumblings that perhaps Alex Rodriguez who has been found guilty of steroid use time and time again will actually face a lifetime ban of some sort as a result of this latest breaking of the rules.

The recent round of suspensions, while much more wide in its scope, is also interesting in that many of the players being implicated do not have the “steroid” physique of some of the previous tainted players Like Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. In each of the previous cases it was fairly easy to look at the player and assume that they were on something since they were so much larger than the rest of the team and their offensive numbers were through the roof.

In the more recent cases the implicated players do not look that much different than the rest of the team making it less obvious that they were using banned substances. This could be the result of players using less of a substance or could also be the chemist merely staying one step ahead of detection and getting production gains without massive muscle gain.

When the Brewers and Astros were both members of the National League Central Division I had many opportunities to see Ryan Braun play. In all of those games never once did I think he was a steroid user.

With Braun having so many games each year against the Astros and the Pirates, with neither one really knocking the cover off of the ball, it was easy to think that Braun’s numbers were simply based on talent and the fact that a quarter of his opponents had losing records.

Of course now with his apology and veiled admission of guilt it has become obvious that Braun’s numbers, while still aided by a weak schedule, were also helped by PEDs.

Players are always looking for an edge that makes them better than their opponents. Most players stay within the rules and merely work harder at their craft to be the best they can be.

Unfortunately there is a small set of players that abuse the system and can also make clean players look dirty by association since the current assumptions seem to be that any player having more success than the rest must be using something illegal to gain that mush of an advantage.

Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles is on pace to hit over 60 home runs this season. And despite never showing up on any lists of steroid users there is a small set of people convinced that the pop in his bat has to be the result of some sort of PED.  Davis denies the allegations of PED use and I tend to believe him.

Of course there were those who believed Ryan Braun as well so I guess one never really knows which players are dirty or clean but I don’t get the PED abuser feel from Davis and think that there are times when a player is simply in the zone and hits more home runs than anyone else. And from his days in the Rangers farm system Davis was always projected to be a power hitter so the recent production is not that odd when that is taken into account.

So baseball will look to make a statement with the latest suspensions and hope to restore some credibility back to the game while the chemists of the world will continue to work on making undetectable drugs that boost performance for their clients.

It is a cat and mouse game and the stakes are too high for both sides to stop now. Sometimes the Commissioner’s office wins in detecting the abuse, and sometimes the players win in keeping the abuse a secret.  The only constant loser in all of this is the fans who lose a little trust in the sanctity of the game with use passing admission of guilt.

Of course there are those who say that there were always performance enhancers of one kind or another in the game. And if you think about it Gatorade, Energy drinks and caffeine can be considered performance enhancers as well when used to excess.

So there will probably never be a way to totally clean up the game but I applaud Major League Baseball for trying and showing that no player is above the law not even a former League MVP.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think it is time for me to enhance my performance with some more Dr. Pepper.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Pudge Takes His Place Among Texas Ranger Greats

This past Saturday in Arlington, Texas, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriquez became the 16th person to be inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame.

The induction ceremony occurred prior to the Rangers and the Orioles taking the field. And while the game itself clearly belonged to the Orioles, the pregame ceremony was about honoring Pudge for his time as a Ranger.

During a 21-year career that started in 1991 when he was only 19-years-old, Pudge was voted to the All-Star game 14 times. He was named the 1999 American League MVP and earned seven Silver Slugger Awards with six of those coming during his 13-year tenure with the Rangers.

Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez became the 16th person inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame Saturday before the Rangers versus Orioles game. Photo R. Anderson

Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez became the 16th person inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame Saturday before the Rangers versus Orioles game.
Photo R. Anderson

While the bulk of Pudge’s career was spent in a Rangers’ uniform he played for the Marlins, Tigers, Yankees, Astros and Nationals before retiring at the start of the 2012 season.

While Saturday night was all about honoring his years with the Rangers, I tend to remember Pudge more as a member of the 2003 World Champion Florida Marlins squad as well as a member of the Astros in 2009.

It was during his brief time with the Astros that Pudge broke the record for most games caught. Fittingly enough Rodriguez surpassed Carlton Fisk’s record of 2,226 games caught during a game against the Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington allowing the Rangers’ fans to take part in Pudge’s record setting evening.

Shortly after breaking the record the Astros traded  Pudge to the Rangers for the remainder of the 2009 season. The 2010 and 2011 seasons were spent with the Washington Nationals and Pudge ended his career with a major league record of 2,427 games behind the plate. It is doubtful that his record will ever be broken.

I have little doubt that Pudge could have kept playing. The fact that a team did not add him to their roster in 2012 is definitely a travesty in my mind. But baseball is a business and even the best players do not get a farewell tour. Of course the season long tributes that Chipper Jones and Mariano Rivera received are certainly the exception more than the rule.

While Pudge was known for having a rocket launcher of an arm and an ability to pick runners off at ease, he was also no slouch at the plate as a hitter.

Pudge was known as much for his play at the plate as behind it and leads the Rangers in many offensive and defensive categories. Photo R. Anderson

Pudge was known as much for his play at the plate as behind it and leads the Rangers in many offensive and defensive categories.
Photo R. Anderson

In 1,507 career games with the Rangers, Rodriguez hit .304 with 217 home runs with 842 RBIs.

He is second in club history in hits (1,747), doubles (352) and multi-hit games (490).  Rodriquez also leads several categories across all of baseball for a catcher.

I was fortunate enough to see Pudge play on several occasions late in his career. I was definitely one of the people who thought that the Astros should have kept him around a little longer to help mold their pitching staff.

When none other than Hall of Famer, and Texas legend, Nolan Ryan calls Pudge the best catcher ever, one would think that people would listen. And Nolan would know a little bit about catchers and Pudge in particular.

During Pudge’s second game as a Major League ballplayer in 1991 he caught Nolan Ryan. Now 22 years later, Pudge works as a special assistant to Ryan to assist the Rangers in several areas, including international scouting, player instruction on the major and minor league levels and talent evaluation. He also represents the team in community and marketing endeavors.

Pudge spent part of the 2009 season with the Houston Astros but was traded back to the Rangers prior to his Bobblehead giveaway game. Photo R. Anderson

Pudge spent part of the 2009 season with the Houston Astros but was traded back to the Rangers prior to his Bobblehead giveaway game.
Photo R. Anderson

I last saw Pudge play in 2009 after he was traded back to the Rangers.

Ironically enough while Pudge was suiting up for the Rangers in a game against Tampa Bay, about four hours to the south the Astros were celebrating Pudge bobblehead day. I guess once you order the bobbleheads you still need to hand them out even if the player has moved on.

I went to some Spring Training games for the Washington Nationals in 2010 and 2011 but sadly Pudge did not play in any of those games.

Three years from now Pudge will become eligible for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and his career numbers should make him a shoo-in for induction on his first year of eligibility.

From everything I can tell Pudge played the game the way it should be played. Hopefully that will earn him a trip to Cooperstown to take his rightful place among the other Hall of Famers.

There is little doubt that when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame he will go in as a Ranger and that should certainly make his former battery mate and current boss, Nolan Ryan, very happy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some baseball games to watch.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

We Knew They’d Be Bad, But This Bad?

With the Major League Baseball All-Star Game behind us, and about two and a half months of season ahead of us, this is the time that most prognosticators roll out their list of surprises and predictions for the rest of the season.

This allows them to pat themselves on the back on the things they got right, and remind us how fluid the game is and make new predictions for the ones that they got wrong.

Over the past few days I have read many such articles of predictions gone well and predictions that didn’t quite pan out at the midpoint of the season. While I made predictions at the start of the season I do not believe in a mid course correction. Instead we will see how they hold up at the end of the year.

As part of this yearly ritual of assessing the season at the halfway point the subject of which teams will be trading away players and which teams will be getting players also comes up.

Lance Berkman was traded to the Yankees in the first phase of the Astros epic rebuilding process. He has been on winning teams ever since. The Astros have yet to post a winning record since the trade. Photo R. Anderson

Lance Berkman was traded to the Yankees right at the trading deadline four years ago in the first phase of the Astros epic rebuilding process. He has been on winning teams ever since. The Astros have yet to post a winning record since the trade.
Photo R. Anderson

July 31, is considered the main trade deadline and a flurry of activity usually occurs with teams far from contending dumping players and payroll to teams that still have a chance at playoff glory but may be missing a piece or two in that winning formula.

For the past few years the question of how many games over 100 will the Astros lose and how many players will they trade en route to that inevitably gets discussed in the local Houston media and with a third straight year of futility in progress the national media has been weighing in on the matter as well.

So everyone agrees that the Houston Astros and their lowest in baseball by a long shot payroll are not going to the playoffs in any way, shape, or form. In fact, by most estimates, it will be several years before the Astros can even think about such lofty goals.

But the baseball season is a long season and the Astros want to put fans in their ballpark since fans equal money and money keeps the lights on.  But fans have been staying away in large numbers this season since most people enjoy spending their hard earned money on entertainment where the outcome is not assumed ahead of time. And with very few exceptions it is assumed that when the Astros take the field it will result in a loss.

I will give the Astros credit though over the past month their losses have become more creative and usually involve at least one instance where an error of tee ball magnitude occurs.

The Astros should embrace these errors and perhaps by making such huge errors the other ballplayers will have to leave the game from laughing so hard and pulling some rib cartilage.

I know there have been games that I have watched at home that have left me sore from a combination of cringing and laughing at the ineptitude on display.

So with it understood that the Astros are bad, really bad, the only question is who is in their same league of badness?

For that we can look to Miami where the Marlins are giving the Astros a run for their money in the battle for who can win less. And I think this battle for the worst record in baseball should be embraced by both teams and a World Series of Futility should be created for them.

But Ryan you say isn’t it wrong to root for a team to be so bad that they are dead last? To that I say no, because the team was set up as way to replenish the farm system. And everyone knows the best way to replenish the farm system is through the hit and miss way of drafting prospects who may or may not ever make it to the Major Leagues.

Personally if I were running a team I would want a roster comprised of proven players with a few prospects sprinkled in but I am not running a team and no one asked my opinion.

So the Astros are looking at things from a strictly pasta throwing kind of way.  When cooking pasta one can hurl it at the wall and if it sticks then the pasta is cooked. If the pasta falls to the floor than it is not cooked.

Jimmy Paredes is one pasta, err player, that just has not stuck no matter how many times the Astros throw him at the wall. Photo R. Anderson

Jimmy Paredes is one pasta, err player, that just has not stuck no matter how many times the Astros throw him at the wall.
Photo R. Anderson

So think of the Astros as a big pot of pasta.  Every so often upper management will take one of the players from their Triple-A club and throw them out on the field and hope that they stick, or at least slide slowly enough down the wall that they can buy some time until the pasta in Double-A gets cooked.

To date, most of the players brought up have not stuck to the wall. This can be caused by them not being seasoned enough in the Minor Leagues or it could be that they just aren’t Major League quality regardless of how long they stay in the pot.

So the Astros need more pasta, err players, in order to field a competitive team. So a battle for last place gives them something to shoot for. And in a season that was declared lost at the start I think the majority of the fans may enjoy seeing a little competition with the Marlins for that coveted first pick.

Plus, if the Astros do end up with the first overall pick next year it would be the third year in a row that they did that. And that boys and girls is called a winning streak which is certainly in short supply when it comes to the Astros.

While waiting for the Astros to be competitive again fans at Minute Maid Park can enjoy plenty of elbow room and of course an obstructed view of downtown. Photo R. Anderson

While waiting for the Astros to be competitive again fans at Minute Maid Park can enjoy plenty of elbow room and of course an obstructed view of downtown.
Photo R. Anderson

So embrace the rebuilding and the futility that comes from it. Watch some players make the kind of errors that just should not be seen at the Major League level and attend a game or two if you are in town. Just don’t expect to see a consistent winner for a few more years.

Of course hopefully by then those annoying billboards in center field will be gone restoring the view of downtown. Because when the action on the field is too unbearable to watch it is certainly nice to be able to watch a nice sunset or watch the cars go by.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to get ready to watch some baseball and hope that I don’t end up hurting myself.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Adding Insult to Injury with a Dose of Minivan Thrown In

As mentioned the other day the Triple B Family Truckster has been ill over the past week or so with a faulty sensor that has all kinds of lights on the dash illuminated and prevents the use of cruise control among other creature comforts.

This is a bad thing since it is the main mode of transportation to get to the various sights and sounds that make it onto the pages of Triple B.

Knowing that the car was in need of repair I made an appointment to have it fixed. I learned of the need for appointments last week and following the Dealership’s guidelines I called and got my place in the queue.

When the time for my appointment came I went to the dealership with plenty of snacks and my laptop since I wanted to be productive while waiting for my car to get fixed. I also figured that they were more likely to put a rush on the repair if they knew that I was sitting there as opposed to dropping off the car and returning later to pick it up.

I should have known that the day would not go to plan upon my arrival at the service department counter when they could not find any record of my appointment in their system.  I assured the technician that I did in fact have an appointment and they agreed to fit me in.

Bryce Harper's debut showing in the Home Run Derby Monday night was to be the focus of today's column. Unfortunately in the words of John Lennon, "Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans." Photo R. Anderson

Bryce Harper’s debut showing in the Home Run Derby Monday night was to be the focus of today’s column. Unfortunately in the words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”
Photo R. Anderson

As I was settling into the waiting area for what I figured would be several hours I pondered what to write about for today’s column.

I thought about how an article about the father/son dynamic of Bryce Harper and his dad finishing second in the Home Run Derby would be both timely and entertaining.  I have seen many Spring Training games that Bryce has played in and he is always fun to watch.

I even thought about writing about the epic spread of food that I was going to have for the All-Star Game. Picturing Nathan’s Hot Dogs on pumpernickel bread with all kinds of condiments as I watched the American and National League squads battle each other would have been a stroke of culinary genius.

And then as I settled on a topic and my fingers started hitting the keys bringing the words to life, fate stepped in to show me that this would not be a day for a column about baseball, instead it would be a column about a man, a Jeep and a minivan.

It turned out that the service technicians were pushing back on the crazy promise that the service manager made me that they could finish my car yesterday. So they sent the red shirted ensign to the customer lounge to tell me the news that they were too scared to tell me themselves.

So as I looked up and saw him approaching at first I thought that perhaps they needed another signature or had a question for me. Instead I was informed that the repair would not be completed and that they were getting me a loaner car at no expense for my trouble.

While I was disappointed that I was not getting my car repaired and would have to make yet another trip to the dealership I was excited at the thought of what new vehicle in the Dodge/Jeep family I would get to play with while my car was repaired.

A Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo would have been a lovely choice for a loaner car while my jeep was in the shop. Unfortunately it was not to be. Photo R. Anderson

A Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo would have been a lovely choice for a loaner car while my Jeep was in the shop. Unfortunately it was not to be.
Photo R. Anderson

My initial thought was that a Grand Cherokee Laredo might be offered if they needed to keep it in the Jeep family.  My next thought was that perhaps it would be a Dodge Charger since I know that they are often included as part of rental car fleets.

So, as I waited to see what car would arrive I got a few essentials out of my car and my excitement level grew at the chance to have a new driving experience.

As the big white minivan approached I thought surely that is not for me. Sadly I was wrong and indeed it was.

Now, let me start by saying I have nothing against minivans, as long as someone else is driving them.  I know that they serve a great purpose for people with large families and dogs or other animals that like going for rides. As an aside, I was told that I was not allowed to haul any dogs in the loaner minivan during the time that I had it.

Instead of a Grand Cherokee I was presented with a Grand Caravan. Photo R. Anderson

Instead of a Grand Cherokee I was presented with a Grand Caravan.
Photo R. Anderson

This would have been bad news if I was actually an owner of a dog.

So while the service advisor was telling me about all of the features of the minivan and trying to compare it to my Jeep all I could keep repeating was when will my car be ready? The service advisor did not have an answer to that question but assured me that I could keep the minivan for up to seven days while my car is in the shop.

I am sure that somehow the fact that I have a minivan as a rental car is payback for making fun of other minivan drivers in the past.  I am also sure that there has to be some other lesson or reason why instead of getting another Jeep to drive or a lovely Charger I am instead driving a vehicle that comfortably seats 8 with a fold flat third row.

That much passenger capacity is completely wasted on me and makes me wonder what vibe I gave off that said; let’s give this guy a minivan that is big enough for his car to fit comfortably in.

If I ever find myself needing to move a whole orchestra on short notive I think I have the van for the job. until then, this really is too much storage space for one guy to fill. Photo R. Anderson

If I ever find myself needing to move a whole orchestra on short notice I think I have the van for the job. until then, this really is too much storage space for one guy to fill.
Photo R. Anderson

It is my hope that by the time many of you read this I am already back in my Jeep where I belong and not cruising the streets of Houston in a Grand Caravan of fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that the repair is under warranty and that I have a vehicle to drive and that there is no out of pocket expense for me, which is rarely said when it comes to car repair. I just wish that the vehicle was not large enough to hold an entire youth soccer team and their gear, and the gear of all of their friends.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my minivan driving self has a feeling like I am supposed to be heading to a soccer game for some reason. I really want my car back.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Baseball on the Silver Screen Offers Something for Everyone

Tomorrow, marks the DVD release of the movie 42 about Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier and all of the issues that he faced as a result of that.

I have previously written about the movie and Jackie Robinson and will be adding the movie to my collection of baseball movies sometime this week.

The pending addition of another movie into my growing collection of films about baseball got me thinking about just how many films there are about baseball.

My baseball film collection is modest by most standards I would think but I am also highly particular about which movies get added to it. I am the same way about my collection of books about baseball believing firmly in the quality of quantity approach.

While I doubt that any one person could collect every single movie about baseball, nor do I think they should try, there are definitely movies that capture each element of the game and should be part of any collection of baseball movies.

Hundreds if not thousands of movies have been made about the game of baseball through the years. Photo R. Anderson

Hundreds if not thousands of movies have been made about the game of baseball through the years.
Photo R. Anderson

Just taking into account the Kevin Costner Baseball trilogy one is exposed to the humor that comes from Bull Durham, the emotional Field of Dreams, and the tale of a pitcher holding on for one more perfect moment in For Love of the Game.

Personally I would love to see Kevin Costner take on another baseball role as a manager or some other area where a former player struggles with life once the fans stop cheering their name. But it appears that wish will need to wait as Costner seems content with playing the earthly dad to Superman.

So moving away from the Kevin Costner movies about baseball there are the films with a certain fantasy element to them. For these movies one can usually look at the Walt Disney vault for films like Angels in the Outfield.

Of course making a movie about a team that they owned was sheer marketing genius by the Mouse House. But, then again you don’t get to become as big as the Walt Disney Company without being good at business.

While I never really bought into the fantasy elements of Angels in the Outfield, there was one Disney baseball movie deemed worthy to join my collection and that movie was the Rookie.  For those who may not be aware of that particular film it follows the real-life story of a Texas high school baseball coach turned relief pitcher for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

The real life story of a Texas teacher turned Major League pitcher portrayed in the Rookie is one of the feel good movies about baseball.  Photo R. Anderson

The real life story of a Texas teacher turned Major League pitcher portrayed in the Rookie is one of the feel good movies about baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

As a fan of the Devil Rays turned just plain Rays, I try to soak up as much of the team’s history as possible. Granted there are only about 15 years of history so far but I have lived each one of those years with the team and can remember covering the announcement of their birth into the league so I guess you could say they hold an extra special place in my heart.

For those looking for more on the real life stories of baseball one can really do no wrong by curling up on the coach and watching Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball and his followup Baseball: The 10th Inning which covered changes made in the time since the first documentary was released.

Burns is arguably one of the leading documentations of this era and his take on the history of baseball is definitely one for the ages.

Jackie Robinson is not the only player to get the big screen biography treatment. Baseball fans can catch movies with Tommy Lee Jones as Ty Cobb and John Goodman as Babe Ruth among others.

Of course not everything about baseball movies should be about dry stats and real life achievements and player biographies.

For a pure historical telling of baseball, warts and all, one should not miss the Ken Burns take on the subject. Photo R. Anderson

For a pure historical telling of baseball, warts and all, one should not miss the Ken Burns take on the subject.
Photo R. Anderson

Sometimes a baseball movie should just be about pure unadulterated humor. For the strict humor baseball movies I tend to go towards the Major League films. Add to the equation that Charlie “Tiger Blood” Sheen did all of his own pitching in the film and you have the makings of a cinematic classic.

For more Sheen on the diamond one can catch Eight Men Out, a very well done look at the Chicago Black Sox scandal.

Of course there is also the whole sub genre of baseball films turned into romantic comedies. While I tend to steer clear of most “chick flicks” there have been times when the baseball elements of a romcom have caused me to go to the theater and see the movies. Fever Pitch was one such movie as was Summer Catch. But as a rule I prefer that the only sap in my baseball movies comes from the pine tar on the bats.

So there is a look at baseball through the cinematic lens. There are bound to be films that I have left out and I am sure each individual looks for something different in terms of what makes a good baseball film to them. So that is likely one of the reasons there are so many films about baseball to begin with.

Of course nothing quite captures baseball like an actual seat at the ballpark whether it be at the Little League level or all the way up to the major Leagues. Baseball is simply better live. But during those 5-6 months of the year when there isn’t any live baseball to go see movies about baseball can certainly help scratch the itch between the crowning of the World Series champion and the time players report to Spring Training.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to make some room on my shelf for another baseball movie.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Car Karma Finally Works in My Favor, Sort Of

It has been well documented that we here at Triple B enjoy taking road trips to various ballparks, beaches and places beyond.

With few exceptions the preferred mode of transportation to get to each of those places is by car. So when my trusty car started acting up this week it was certainly cause for alarm. After all, a car is usually required in order to hit the open road.

The problems started when a series of lights illuminated on my dash indicating an issue with the traction control and brake system.

It is never a good thing when the dash warning lights stay on. Photo R. Anderson

It is never a good thing when the dash warning lights stay on.
Photo R. Anderson

Doing what any wise driver would do I consulted my owner’s manual to see what the lights meant. Apparently I did not get the fully informative owner’s manual when I bought my car since the only advice it gave for the lights in question was to take it to the local repair shop for diagnostics.

Thankfully there is a Firestone Auto Service Center within walking distance of the Triple B Gigaplex. So I dropped the car off and feared for the worst while hoping for the best.

This fear was heightened by the fact that I was going to be charged $60 just to have the car hooked up to the computer to diagnosis the problem. This did not count whatever the cost of repair would be.

Thankfully, after a few hours of worry I was greeted with some good news as it turned out that the sensor at the bottom of all of the issues was still under warranty for 1500 miles.

Now, Firestone could have easily just charged me to replace the sensor and not mentioned that it was a covered part.  The fact that they told me to take it to the dealership for a free repair helps me know that all of those other times I think they are charging me an arm and a leg they probably aren’t.

So I paid my $60 and headed off to the local Jeep dealership to get my under warranty repair done before hitting that midnight hour where the car is no longer covered by the manufacturer’s protection.

As an aside I have actually never had anything break while a vehicle of mine was still under warranty so the prospect of having a repair done that did not lead me digging deep in my wallet was definitely a good thing.

Unfortunately my visions of a quick fix were dashed upon arrival at the dealership. I walked into the service office and told the person behind the counter what the issue was and what needed replaced and she asked if I had an appointment.

Of course I did not have an appointment and the earliest they can get me in is the start of next week. So much for having a quick and easy repair.

While I am certainly unlikely to drive 1500 miles between now and next week leading to a currently covered repair turning into an out of pocket repair I will admit that I have been doing a bit of odometer watching to ensure that I still have enough miles to go by the time I do pull into the dealership for my appointment.

34,000 thousand miles or so ago when the future was wide open and it seemed like it would take forever for the wrranty to expire. Two years later there are 1500 miles or so to go of warranty. Photo R. Anderson

34,000 thousand miles or so ago when the future was wide open and it seemed like it would take forever for the warranty to expire. Two years later there are 1500 miles or so to go of warranty.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course the sensor failing this close to the end of the warranty has me concerned in other ways wondering what is going to break when the car hits 36,001 miles and no longer has the protection of Mopar.

Such is the nature of warranties with the manufacturer betting that its parts won’t break during the covered period and the consumer betting that they will. Sometimes the dealer wins and sometimes the customer does. Such is the dance that has gone on for generations.

So I will certainly savor this small victory of a covered repair and will certainly be more attuned to the sounds the car makes over the next 1500 miles trying to find any indication of something about to go bad that can get repaired before it is too late.

Of course, as this is the first issues I have had with the car in the two years that I have owned it I very well could go another couple of years before experiencing another failure with this merely being a fluke.

Of course this could also be the tip of the iceberg with many more issues lurking beneath the surface.

Either way I know that with averaging around 17,000 miles of driving a year I definitely depend on my car to get me to all of the places I want to see. Of course it takes me to the non-fun things as well. But the key is focusing more on the open road wind in my hair trips as opposed to the every day trips to Walmart to get supplies.

Of course stopping at Walmart for supplies in another state while on a road trip is an entirely different thing altogether.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to plan where to go to celebrate my car’s new sensor being installed next week.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Knowing When to Call it a Career Doesn’t Always Come with a Singing Fat Lady For Guidance

History is full of stories of athletes riding off into the sunset at the top of their game and as Champions.

Football has given us the image of Ray Lewis, Michael Strahan and John Elway hoisting the Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl Champions before calling it a career and head into life after football.

In baseball Tony LaRussa managed the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series title in his final game as a full-time manager.

In opera it was always known that the end of the performance was coming when the “fat lady” would come out and sing. This of course led to the expression, “It ain’t over til the fat lady sings.” Unfortunately sports careers do not always come with the benefit of a singing fat lady.

For every moment of ending on a great note there are many more of players who just don’t know when to call it a career and continue to play well past their primes.

Some of these instances are motivated by a fear of what to do in post playing days while others are driven by the urge to continue to make the kind of money that pro ballplayers make.

Two recent stories regarding players hanging on too long recently grabbed the attention of us at Triple B. So, let us study the cases of Roy Oswalt and Manny Ramirez.

Once upon a time Roy Oswalt was a dominating pitcher. Recent events have shown that time is likely passed. Photo R. Anderson

Once upon a time Roy Oswalt was a dominating pitcher. Recent events have shown that time has likely passed.
Photo R. Anderson

Roy Oswalt was once among the most dominating pitchers in baseball, and paired with Roger Clemens, he helped lead the Houston Astros to the 2005 World Series.  The years since that first World Series appearance in Astros’ franchise history have not been kind to either the Astros or Oswalt.

Oswalt was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and managed a couple of successful years before spending part of last year with the Texas Rangers.

Oswalt’s time with the Rangers could be called traumatic at best with the “Wizard of Os” getting demoted to the bullpen at one point based on his record of 4-3 with a 5.80 ERA in 17 games.

That brings us to this year. With starting pitching at some a premium and with teams competing to find the best arms available there are often risks taken by teams on former star pitchers to see if there is anything left in the tank.

This year the Colorado Rockies were the team willing to pay for Oswalt’s services. Much like the start of his Rangers tenure last year Oswalt spent a few games in the Minor Leagues after signing his contract. He dazzled in the Minors and was given a chance to get promoted to the Rockies and joined the starting rotation.

It has been déjà vu all over again though as the results have just not been there at the Major League level. Oswalt is 0-4 with a 7.64 ERA in four starts with the Rockies since signing a $2.3 million, one-year contract on May 2.

The news got even worse yesterday when it was announced that the Rockies placed him on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring.

Time will tell if Oswalt will bounce back from this injury and return to form as a quality starting pitcher or if this latest injury is the fat lady quietly singing him into retirement.

It is not like he has not been one before as he was a three-time All-Star with the Astros and the 2005 NL championship series MVP. Oswalt was also a 20-game winner in 2004 and 2005.

But at age 35 it is very clear that his best days are behind him. Baseball is a young man’s game and there are plenty of young arms gunning for Oswalt’s roster spot if he can’t get the job done for the Rockies.

The road back to Major League Baseball has run through the Round Rock Express for both Roy Oswalt and Manny Ramirezz as each have hoped a stop at the Rangers' Triple-A affliate will lead them back to greatness. Photo R. Anderson

The road back to Major League Baseball has run through the Round Rock Express for both Roy Oswalt and Manny Ramirez as each have hoped a stop at the Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate will lead them back to greatness.
Photo R. Anderson

The other player vying for a comeback is Manny Ramirez, 41-year-old slugger attempting a comeback with the Texas Rangers after a two-year absence from the Majors.

The Rangers signed Ramirez to a Minor League deal July 3 and he is currently on their Triple-A Round Rock Express roster.

Ramirez hasn’t played in the Majors since 2011 with Tampa Bay. After going 1-for-17 for the Rays, Ramirez announced his retirement in lieu of serving a 100-game suspension for failing a drug test.

The suspension was reduced to 50 games last season and Manny spent some time in the Oakland A’s Minor League system.

After leaving Oakland’s Sacramento affiliate, Ramirez tried his hand with the EDA Rhinos of the Chinese Professional Baseball League hitting .352 (64-for-182) with eight homers and 43 RBIs in 49 games.

Ranked No. 14 all-time with 555 career homers the Rangers are betting that there is a little left in Manny’s tank and he can be a productive hitter for them down the stretch.

While it is probably easier for older hitters to keep playing, and the designated hitter position has been filled by sluggers still going strong in their 40’s before there are certainly no guarantees that past success will lead to future success.

So Roy Oswalt and Manny Ramirez will try to go to the well as long as there is still water in it. But at some point the well will run dry and people will be left with more memories of them as broken down players as opposed to players who went out on top.

The very drive and determination that makes the elite athletes excel can also be the Achilles heel that doesn’t let them walk away when everyone except for them can clearly see that the time to heed the growing volume of the music has come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to feed my tank some dinner.

 Copyright 2013 R. Anderson