Stephen King and Spring Cleaning

It’s coming on ten years since I blogged about discovering Stephen King’s love of baseball in a quietly celebrated supplement to the San Francisco Panorama (McSweeney’s Issue 33).  While spring cleaning this morning, in preparation for vacating our North Jersey apartment in favor of The Shore, I came across the special section that King wrote titled “Stephen King on the Worlds Series 2009”.

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Space precludes supplying you with the entire text, but in an excerpt King writes: “It isn’t that I love the Phils, a tough and hard-nosed team in the Yankee mold who happen to be the defending World Champs, it’s just that I have this … thing about the Yankees. All lifelong Red Sox fans do.”

And from the original section still in my possession (although who knows how much longer), King’s Postgame conclusion (November 5):

“I’m a lot less mad now than when I was when I started this story; I think just getting away from the intersection of Greed and Stupid has done a lot to restore my equanimity.  Mostly, though, it’s been a matter of watching closely, really attending to the games, and seeing that the men on the field are playing the game in the old way, honoring the traditions and giving up their bodies … The team I was rooting for [the Phillies] lost, but they played hard, they respected the game, and it’s not their fault if the guys in the suits have slapped Major League Baseball on a lunchbox and sold it, sold it, sold it.

Would I change things if I could?  Yeah … I know what you’re going to say: agents … the Players’ Union … natural evolution of the game … blah blah blah … stop sounding like a crotchety old man reaming for the good old days, Steve.  You’re absolutely right … and you’re absolutely wrong.

Because I do long for the good old days, and I believe I am not entirely wrong to do so … But hey.  Not all of my malaise this morning comes from the artificial hoopla that now surrounds the game; some of it’s just the melancholy of impending winter, when most sports take place indoors and all are played against a clock.  Still, spring gaining always comes around.  If I’m lucky, I’ll still be here to see it … more rookies and phenoms … another season … another World Series.  Like the old outlaw in The Wild Bunch says, It ain’t like it used to be, but it’s still pretty good.”

For your viewing pleasure, here are the accompanying drawings from artist Eric March.  My only regret?  That McSweeney’s didn’t commission King and March to cover the 2008 World Series in which the Phils emerged as, in the immortal words of Chase Utley, World Effin Champions.  But, in King’s words, the 2009 Series was still pretty good.

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A Jersey Shore Passover Pilgrimage

Enjoyed the scene at the Jersey Shore the past few days, with the assemblage of Chasidim of all stripes populating the boardwalk for their annual Chol Hamoed Pesach tradition.  It was quite the mixed crowd!

The beautiful spring weather yesterday was particularly enticing to a special subset of holy rollers (in the fondest literal sense).

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The mid-70s temperature was even conducive to contemplation in the ocean (perhaps a variant of “tashlich”).

 

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Opening Day Photos

These photos courtesy of Steve Potter and Phillies – A Fan’s View (the corny commentary of course being mine).

McCutchen touchin’ ’em all with a leadoff home run.

Cutch Leadoff HR

Franco doing damage from the number 8 spot.

Franco Wave

Franco HR

The Phanatic calculating exit velocity of Rhys Hoskins’ big grand slam.

Phanatic Knows

The new Bash Brothers celebrating at home plate after the Rhys Slam.

Bash Brothers

Curtain call from the Phans!

Curtain Call

The Bryce is Right in right field.

Bryce's Booze in RF

Post-game high fives flying all around.

Post Game High Fives

Tim Hawk over at nj.com has some nice opening day photos as well.

And what better cherry on top that these pre-game thoughts from opening day starter Aaron Nola?

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March Mini-Sabbatical Flies By Again!

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Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay …

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Sunset on Clearwater Beach

On a rainy day like today it’s always a bonus when the sky clears sufficiently to permit a magnificent sun setting to backlight the blanket of clouds.

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The Clearwater Threshers Set

Hard to believe it’s a month since that we were gearing up for our annual pilgrimage to Clearwater Beach, and in nine days we’ll be heading back already!  I made mention of a book that is available online and in Diamond Outfitters at the Stadium, and for the bargain price of $15 Steve Potter’s compendium has been a handy guide to the minor league call- ups who don’t appear in the official program.

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Potter’s pearls are complemented and updated through his Facebook page for A Fan’s View.  Each spring, when I stop into Diamond Outfitters, I also pick up a set of Clearwater Thresher’s cards which provide a nice collection of rising stars in the system, many of whom we encounter in the Arizona Fall League during the preceding October/November.  Here is a sample from this year’s pack:

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Aaron Brown is emblematic of a player determined to do whatever it takes in order to pursue his dream of playing major league baseball.  A third round draft pick in 2014, Brown was the Western Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year in 2014 at Pepperdine where he went 13-1 with a 1.95 ERA and 57 strikeouts over 64 innings, and led the NCAA in victories.  Someone in the Phils’ organization thought he had a higher upside as an outfielder, though he struggled with the bat at Clearwater and more so in Reading. Two stints in the Fall League didn’t change anyone’s mind about his offense, so in 2017 the Phils approached him to return to pitching.  He went back to Clearwater to re-invent himself, and appeared for an unprecedented third time in the Fall League last year as a lefty out of the bullpen.  This will be a pivotal year for Brown, as he battled control issues at Reading after being promoted rom Clearwater.

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Drafted in the 17th round in 2017 out of Dallas Baptist University, Austin Listi began baseball life with the Clearwater Threshers as a utility infielder/outfielder.  By midseason Austin earned his promotion to Reading, and hit a combined .312/.915 OPS with 18 HRs, and 84 RBIs to earn the 2018 Paul Owens Award as the minor league position player who had the best season in the organization.  He was the lone Phils’ representative to the Fall League Fall Stars game, and almost earned MVP honors after homering and driving in four runs.

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Darick Hall was a classmate of Austin Listi in college, and is a feast or famine long ball hitter who needs to make contact more often in order to have a chance to make it at first base.  His Fall League performance mirrored what he did in the minors, putting up a .238/.730 while homering four times and whiffing 23 times in 63 ABs.  While he’ll have little trouble making it to the Iron Pigs, he doesn’t project as major league material at this point as he doesn’t have the athleticism to be anywhere but 1B which Rhys Hoskins has secured.

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With a great glove and a great name, Arquimedes just didn’t hit enough to make it beyond Clearwater last year.  His speed was wasted with a .304 OBP, as he only stole 6 bases in 10 attempts.  His Fall League performance was mediocre and his spring hasn’t opened any eyes.  The system is littered with good glove no bat shortstops, so it looks like    Gamby is destined to be a career minor leaguer.

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I previously blogged about Luke Williams as the pride of Park Ridge baseball.  Nice kid, but has to figure out how to get on base other than walking and being hit by pitches if he’s going to make it as a corner infielder or outfielder, positions that hit with power.

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The Mick was a spring training non-roster invitee this year after having spent the entire season with the Threshers.  As the first overall pick of the 2016 draft, Moniak had alot of pressure on him and he has struggled considerably to live up to his billing fresh out of high school.  After a rough first half last year he improved considerably, putting up a slash line of .333/.856 over the last 32 games of 2018.  He’ll begin the 2019 season in Reading, and I expect to see him in the Fall League this year to show that he can handle tougher pitching than what he showed he was capable of during spring training.

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A first round draft pick the year after The Mick, Haselely has breezed through the system much faster than Moniak and was promoted to Reading on July 10.  A non-roster invitee to spring training as well, Haseley has performed impressively both in the outfield and at the plate.

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Although Edgar was in the Fall League in 2017, and invited to spring training in 2018, he has stalled in Clearwater.  Deivy Grullón, who was Reading’s star catcher last year and a spring training non-roster invitee this year, is ahead of Edgar on the depth chart.  Cabral will likely advance to Reading as Grullón moves on to the Iron Pigs.

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No one is going to confuse Jose Pujols with Albert Pujols anytime soon, although he did have a nice year at Clearwater in 2018 at .301/.887 with 18 HRs and 58 RBIs after struggling with .194/.552 in the same number of games at Clearwater the preceding year. His bounce back in 2018 earned him a promotion to Reading on August 3, and he seems to have turned the corner.  Steve Potter has a nice interview with Jose in A Fan’s View (p. 145), which details how much he has worked on the mental side of his game.  His manager in Clearwater, Shawn Williams, who had coached him at three different levels, never wavered in his enthusiasm for Jose’s skill set.

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In addition to being a father figure for Pujols, Shawn Williams is working his way up the managerial chain.  He managed the Lakewood Blue Claws before advancing to the Threshers.  He also had a gig as Manager of the Glendale Desert Dogs during the 2017 Arizona Fall League games.

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Rounding out the key players in last year’s card set for the Threshers is pitcher Sixto Sanchez.  Slated to pitch in last year’s Arizona Fall League, Sanchez was shut down so that he strained arm could recover.  Despite this, he became the center piece in the trade that brought J.T. Realmuto from the Marlins to the Phillies, so clearly the baseball world still considers him to have a significant upside.

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Aaron Fultz, the pitching coach for the Threshers who served in the same capacity for the Scottsdale Scorpions in last year’s Fall League, is among those who see an extraordinary talent in Sanchez.  Many young boys fantasize about having the talent to pitch competitively, among them our grandson, Carson, with his temporary henna pigment making a statement about his blazing right arm on Clearwater Beach.

IMG_1091Warming him up today, I was impressed with his accuracy as well as his speed although he was going easy on me.  I’m enjoying the vicarious moments, seeing him maturing into a coachable athlete.  Tomorrow we’ll head over to Spectrum Field and see what he measures on the radar gun.

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