Hall Worthy: You Decide

Blog_Vizquel

My father has his own blog. In it, he writes his thoughts, feelings, and opinions, and concludes with “that is my take – you decide.” I have always thought this a clever writing tool, as you make the reader an active participant. So, as with apples and trees, I want to let you decide.

In 2012, said father, my son, and I were lucky enough to be invited on the field at Fenway Park for batting practice. Alas, it was the visiting team’s BP, but a blast nonetheless. As we stood behind the ropes and my son begged for balls, and my father reveled in his surroundings, taking a trip down memory lane to when he was younger than my son, sitting in the cheap seats at “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark,” I found myself mesmerized by the goings-on at shortstop.

If you have ever been at the yard early enough to catch batting practice, you are treated to a coordinated symphony of activity. Hitters, obviously, are hitting. But for a few moments every afternoon, they are Little Leaguers, subject to the clarion call of: “balls up.” Some pitchers dot the outfield and shag flyballs in the merriment of times gone by; while other pitchers use the dwindling light to get in sprints along the warning track. Fringe players and stars alike take a moment to check in with reporters, front office personnel, and the occasional fan. And stationed on either side of the batting cage is a coach hitting fungoes to players at second base and shortstop, respectively. Yes, even the big leaguers have to take infield practice.

On this late afternoon in July, Toronto was in town. This Blue Jays team was somewhat non-descript, hovering around .500 at that point, eventually finishing the season in fourth place, twenty-two games behind the Yankees. Yunel Escobar started 145 games at shortstop for the Jays that year, hitting .253 with a swarthy .644 OPS. But it was not Escobar who caught and held my eye. No, it was – at that time – the 45-year old backup shortstop, with nearly 3,000 games under his belt.

Watching Omar Vizquel during batting practice was, in a word, sublime. I gladly would have forfeited the game, and paid for my ticket just to watch Vizquel field grounders for three hours. He grabbed balls between his legs, he took throws behind his back, he made catches over his shoulder, he stood at short facing left field and still made plays. On a few occasions – and this is not hyperbole – he threw his glove in the air, knocking down line drives headed for the outfield. Try that some time. It was a wonder to watch, so watch I did. When my son wanted to fetch an autograph, I let him roam free. When my father wanted to look around, I did not join him. This was a once-in-a-lifetime (it turns out Omar participated in BP approximately 2,968 times in his career) opportunity to watch genius in action. Sure, it was batting practice and not a live game, but no matter. Sure, there were no stakes so he could be free to try any stunt he wanted, but who cares. It is why, in 2015, the Golden State Warriors opened the arena hours early so fans could watch Stephen Curry get ready to play. The pregame is often more enjoyable than the real thing.

For me, an unapologetic baseball fan, who loves Web Gems more than “chicks dig the long ball,” this was watching Picasso paint, Brando emote, MLK preach, Jordan dunk. This was more than worth the price of admission.

In a few days the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame class will be unveiled. This is Vizquel’s first year of eligibility. Spoiler alert: he will not be enshrined this year. But the larger question is whether he ever will be? The interwebs are filled with articles citing the pros and cons of his qualifications, and I am truly on the fence. If there was a Hall of Fame for pregame mastery, Omar is a first-ballot inductee. Unfortunately, the BBWAA limits its vote to in-game results.

Unlike my father, I have not proffered an opinion, just an appreciation of the player. You decide!

PLAY BALL!!

Happy Wife: Free Agency is a Family Matter

Blog_Arrieta_Family

I have always been intrigued by the athlete’s wife. Before anyone paints me a misogynist, as of this morning, there are no women playing any of the four major sports, and also as of this morning, there are no openly gay players on any of those teams (we can be certain there are some closeted gay players, but I digress), so this discourse is reserved for the wives.

You always hear about players, in the off-season, going to a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, or a “boys trip” to Las Vegas, or a booze cruise off South Beach. And every time I wonder: “What do their wives think?” If my job required that I be gone – corporeally and/or mentally – for six months of the year, and then no sooner than I got home I told my wife I was leaving for the weekend with my teammates or buddies, I am pretty sure she would have an abreaction. Suffice it to say, it wouldn’t go over so well.

But such, I guess, is the life of the athlete’s wife. Which leads me to latest curiosity: where are we going to live; where are the kids going to school; where are we spending our spring?

As of this writing, there are at least nine high-priced free agents still awaiting new contracts. I won’t get into the lower-tier players, as for some/most of them, they do not have a Chinese menu of team options. But for the likes of Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, and Yu Darvish, there are options aplenty. And, as some point, they will need to make a decision.

Many of these players, like Jake Arrieta, have wives and kids. The Arrietas have made Chicago their home since 2013. Jake rejected the Cubs’ qualifying offer, so, ostensibly, they will be moving. But where?

The rumor is that Arrieta is looking for a long-term deal valued at somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million.  The conventional wisdom holds that the deal will be somewhere around $150-$175 million. At some level, the difference between $175 and $200 million may be less important to Jake than a happy wife and a stable life. For reference, Jake has made nearly $32 million in his career, and he will make an additional nine figures whenever and wherever he signs. And while it is easy for me to be blasé about $25 or so million, it is really easy for him to be as well. Any way you shake it, he will make generational, legacy, eff you money. The same is true for J.D. Martinez, Yu Darvish, and the others.

So the question then becomes where do Jake and his family want to spend that money? Where do they want to make a home? Which city has the best schools, the best golf courses, the best night life? Where do their friends live? Their extended families? In a life centered around the husband – his career, his training, his travel, his schedule – it seems to me (again, maybe it is just me) that the “where” question is one the wife gets to answer (or at least have a vociferous voice in deciding).

If Brittany Arietta were my wife, I am pretty sure she would be asking me, on a daily basis, what the hell is happening. Which means I, in turn, would be asking Scott Boras, on a daily basis, what the hell is happening. And I am pretty certain my wife would want more than five weeks’ notice to know if we are heading east or west for the spring, and east or west for the summer and the next five, six, or seven years.

But, again, this draws me back to my fascination with the athlete’s wife. This topic is ripe for – due for – a book, one that I am not qualified to write. My short analysis is that this is what they signed up for. With the trappings come the shortcomings; travel (and moving on short notice) is just part of the package. But what I would give to be a fly on the wall in the Arrieta’s kitchen – I want to know how his other half lives.

78 days until we hear:

PLAY BALL!!