"Let us go forth a while, and get better air in our lungs. Let us leave our closed rooms...
The game of ball is glorious."

--Walt Whitman

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Five-Hole

Spring (Training) has sprung, and the Twins need a fifth starter. (TBL was really hoping they'd need a fourth starter as well. Oh, the cursing in Casa de TBL when they offered arbitration to Kyle "I Meant To Do That" Lohse... Suffice it to say, the air was as blue as a Twins jersey.)

Yesterday I listed all the spring training invitees. Today, let's take a closer look at that open starting spot.

The Front-Runner
Scott Baker is a righty with a level of control that borders on freakish for someone his age (24). He pitched very well for the Twins in 6 starts last season, reportedly impressing not just with his control, but also with his grace under fire. The combination of control, poise and ML experience set him far ahead of the pack in this contest.

The Contenders
Francisco Liriano is probably tired of being compared to Johan Santana, but it's impossible not to make the comparison--a lean, hard-throwing young lefty who displays both utter brilliance and intermittent wildness. His talent is unmistakable (not to mention awe-inspiring) but TBL expects the Twins to handle him much like they handled Santana: by using him out of the bullpen until his bursts of wildness become very infrequent and his brilliance has been supplemented with experience. More on him when I peruse the relief candidates.

Boof Bonser (don't you just love that name?) is a dependable righty who won more games with AAA Rochester last season than any other starter. His walk rate was rather high, however, indicating that he still has some work to do before he's ready to start at the next level. Look for Bonser to return to AAA but be high on the list to replace any injured relievers.

The Outlier
Dave Gassner had a cup of coffee with the Twins last season and showed some promise in two starts, one of which was very good and one of which...was not. His 4.95 AAA ERA is cause for concern, but a good spring training showing along with that very good start last season could keep him on the coaching staff's radar.

The fifth spot in the rotation, as things stand, is Scott Baker's to lose. However, there are five weeks of spring training, and anything can happen. Baker seems durable, so I'd be surprised to see him injured by anything other than a freak accident. If he can pitch as well as he did last year through the next few weeks, the others won't have a chance.

On deck: the bullpen.

Read More

Monday, February 27, 2006

Grapefruit Diet

Ah, Spring Training is upon us! Finally!

The full squad reported on Sunday (except for one minor leaguer who is apparently missing in Venezuela. Yikes!), and the race is on to turn a 40-man roster and a huddle of non-roster invitees into a contending team. I'll break down the battles for the open spots in future posts, but for now, let's just look at who's in the mix:

* - non-roster invitee

Scott BakerRob BowenMichael Cuddyer
Ricky Barrett *Kyle Geiger *Lew Ford
Boof BonserChris HeintzTorii Hunter
Jesse CrainJoe MauerJason Kubel
J.D. DurbinKyle Phillips *Jason Pridie
Willie EyreMike RedmondJosh Rabe *
Dave GassnerShawn Wooten *Tim Raines *
Ryan Glynn *  Alex Romero
Matt GuerrierInfieldersDenard Span *
Adam HarbenJason BartlettShannon Stewart
Justin JonesTony BatistaAndres Torres *
Francisco LirianoLuis CastilloJason Tyner *
Kyle LohseJuan Castro
Darrell May *Jason Hart *Designated Hitters
Jose MijaresGarrett JonesRondell White
Pete Munro *Luis Maza *Ruben Sierra *
Joe NathanJustin Morneau  
Pat NeshekNick Punto  
Glen Perkins *Luis Rodriguez  
Brad RadkeTerry Tiffee  
Dennys Reyes *Tommy Watkins *  
Juan RinconGlenn Williams *  
Johan Santana    
Carlos Silva    
Errol Simonitsch    
Gabe White *    

And the guys who are pretty much a lock for the final roster:

Jesse CrainJoe MauerMichael Cuddyer
Matt GuerrierMike RedmondLew Ford
Kyle Lohse  Torii Hunter
Joe NathanInfieldersShannon Stewart
Brad RadkeJason Bartlett  
Juan RinconTony BatistaDesignated Hitters
Johan SantanaLuis CastilloRondell White
Carlos SilvaJuan Castro  
  Justin Morneau  
  Nick Punto  

That's 21, right there. The rest of those guys will be fighting for spots as: a starting pitcher, a lefthanded reliever, a reliever, and a reserve outfielder/pinch hitter/bench rider.

Who's got the edge? More on that another day.

Read More

Monday, February 20, 2006

And Now, A Word From the Cat

Hi. My name is Pooie. My sister Tolie and I have a person sometimes known as Third Base Line. Today, I'd like to tell you about the past couple of weeks of my life. It all started when I went to the vet.

See, my people thought it was great that I'm all slim and I play like a kitten on speed even though I'm eleven years old (Twelve next month! Send cheese!). They've tried every trick in the book to get Tolie's weight down, but they didn't have the slightest idea that anything was wrong with me until I started having respiratory problems.

They took me to the vet and it turns out I'm hyper and thin and wheeze when I get over-excited because I have a condition called thyrotoxicosis, or feline hyperthyroid disease. I've got it pretty bad. I might even have heart and/or liver problems because of it--they can't really tell until they get the thyroid under control.

The first thing I have to do is leave my people on Wednesday and spend 2-3 weeks in a special facility while I process a radioactive iodine injection. Once my poop no longer has any value on the black market I can go home again. That doesn't sound like much fun, does it? But it's better than dying. I just hope I only need one injection. If I need two, I could be there for a month or more.

While I'm there I'll be given a full cardiac workup, so if I need heart medication I'll be put on that right away, too. Then after I come home and recuperate for a while, I'll probably have more tests on my liver and maybe my kidneys to make sure they've recovered from the stress my elevated thyroid levels have been putting on them.

The reason I'm telling you this is that I seemed perfectly healthy until my condition reached a pretty advanced state. So if you live with a middle-aged kitty who's exceptionally active, take them to the vet and ask for a thyroid test. I hope they are just frisky. I wish I was.

Read More

Friday, February 10, 2006

L-Rod to TR: "Hey! Over Here!"

Yahoo! Sports:
Luis Rodriguez is coming off a fantastic Winter League season, where he led his Venezuelan team to the Caribbean World Series title. The infielder batted .310 for his team during the tournament, and was named the third baseman on the Series All-Star team. Last season, he batted .269 in 76 games for the Twins, making his Major League debut as a defensive replacement against Milwaulkee on May 21.

Nice job, L-Rod!

I don't know about you folks, but I've been impressed by this kid pretty consistently since he first came up. He'd sit the bench for a week or more, and then come out and give us good at-bats and excellent play in the field and on the bases.

Read More

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Right Attitude

"This club missed the playoffs last year for the first time in four years. I know that they are probably burning a bit about that and I'd love to be there to help."
--LHP Darrell May, on competing for the opening in the Twins bullpen

"It's been a great weekend for me. The fans have been welcoming me with open arms and telling me how excited they are to have me over here. They seem as ready as I do to start the season."
--DH Rondell White, on his first TwinsFest

"I have a lot to prove to myself and to everyone around here. I'm capable of being the hitter that everyone expects out of me. Last year was a learning experience. It was a good year for me in that I learned a lot through playing every day in the big leagues."
--1B Justin Morneau, on his disappointing 2005 season

"Castillo can bat first and I can bat second, or the other way around. I haven't talked to Gardy about it yet, but as long as I'm in the lineup, that's all that matters to me."
--OF Shannon Stewart, on speculation that he might be shifted from the leadoff role

"I'll do whatever needs to be done to help this team. If they ask me to play the outfield occasionally, I can still do that, too. I just have to watch my defensive play, because most of my injuries have come from diving and sliding in the outfield. I guess sometimes I think I'm Superman out there."
--DH Rondell White, on becoming a DH

Read More

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Pagan Apologia

Those of you who live in Minnesota have surely already heard about Jonathan "The Impaler" Sharkey, who claims to be a vampire, founded the Vampyre, Witches and Pagans Party, and is running for governor up here in Canada's baja peninsula. No doubt you've seen him on TV, talking about drinking blood and promising to publicly impale terrorists if elected. Perhaps you even heard about how his partner, a school bus driver and practicing Wiccan, was "relieved of her duties" by the school district when her religion was revealed.

And now, just to make things interesting, he's been arrested.

41-year-old Jonathon Sharkey, who goes by the nickname 'Jonathan the Impaler' was arrested Monday night on two felony counts from Indiana.

The leader of the Vampyre, Witches and Pagans party was charged with stalking and invasion of privacy, against his former girlfriend in Indiana.

Sharkey told a Minneapolis television he did nothing wrong because he never signed the papers. 'I never signed the order of probation to begin, never agreeing to it. If the contract was not signed its null and void,' Sharkey said.

Sharkey's partner Julie Carpenter went to visit him in jail Tuesday. She says he's fighting extradition to Indiana and he's fighting to keep his campaign going.

Sharkey announced he was running for Governor of Minnesota a couple of weeks ago. His campaign includes positions on education and taxes, but he drew attention by suggesting that criminals be impaled and by describing himself as a blood-drinking vampire.

Sharkey told reporters, 'Just because I bite somebody it doesn't make them a vampire. It doesn't make them evil, and they're not gonna be, hhhheeeeecccchhhh, all over the place. I mean let's be real here.'

Sharkey is being held on $100,000 bond for escape charges. No bail has been set for the stalking and invasion charges.

Well, we already knew this guy was weird. Now it seems he may also be dangerous. It certainly wouldn't be the first time someone who wasn't playing with a full deck of cards ran for public office.

The thing that bugs me here is this guy is giving pagans a bad name. There are already a lot of people out there who think we're all a bit cracked--witness Ms. Carpenter's recent reassignment, keeping in mind that she didn't do anything wrong. If everyone dating a weirdo were to be removed from their jobs, the unemployment rate in this country would skyrocket. She was punished for admitting to being a pagan. In many people's minds, "pagan" = "dangerous".

So, in the spirit of Imbolc, the pagan festival of light and renewal which just happens to be today, I'd like to shed a little light on who we really are.

I'm not going to try to sell you some b.s. that Jonathan Sharkey isn't a pagan. He is...in much the same way that Fred Phelps is a Christian. (And if you don't know who Fred Phelps is, take some Pepcid and Google him. I'm not going to stain my blog with further discussion of that wretched excuse for a human being.)

We're a really inclusive bunch. Heck, we dont' even require baptism or an equivalent initiation ritual. If you say you're a pagan, that's pretty much good enough. (Some organized pagan groups have their own requirements, of course.) We don't all believe the same things--no religion can honestly make that claim.

Here's a fact that may shock some of you--if you live in the Twin Cities metro, there's a really good chance you already know a pagan. The Twin Cities are positively teeming with us. Minnesota pagans are quiet, discreet, and startlingly numerous. The problem with discretion, of course, is that non-pagans often only hear about the less discreet among us. But let me say this--for every New-Age devotee loudly proclaiming that crystal power has transformed their life, there are a dozen monotheists who believe that prayer alone will cure their cancer. Faith is a funny thing, and no faith is immune to over-enthusiasm.

But the vast majority of us--those startling numbers I told you about--live like everyone else. Most of the pagans I know have jobs in administration or technology. We are professionals in positions of responsibility. We pay our rent/mortgage and our taxes, we vote, we agonize over our spreading waistlines, we do yard work on the weekends, we watch CSI. And we live our faith, or fail to, like any other fallible human beings.

Doubtless the thought of pagans raising children strikes fear into many a heart. And doubtless some of those people wouldn't believe me when I say that the pagan parents I know are raising healthy, beautiful children and teaching them to greet the world with love and wonder. I've never understood why anyone would consider gentle, intelligent, gainfully employed people to be unfit parents simply because of their religion and/or sexual orientation, and I expect I never shall.

We are not all liberals. Most of us are, it's true, for the same reason the majority of homosexuals are politically progressive: the left of the political spectrum is the side that is not in favor of denying us homes, jobs and civil rights. We're talking about self-preservation here, folks. But there are conservative pagans, as there are Log Cabin Republicans. I don't pretend to understand, but that's beside the point.

We are not all or even mostly vegetarians, though I'm sure the percentage of vegetarians versus meat eaters is much higher than in the general population. My friends tend to be quite carnivorous, especially during grilling season. Pagans with live coals and tongs--watch out, America!

Let's see, what other myths can I lay to rest? Oh, yes--we don't all worship in the nude. It's much less common than you'd think, actually. Enough said.

Satanists and pagans are not the same thing. Many pagans don't consider Satanists to be pagans at all--it's just too monotheistic. Most of us don't even believe in Satan.

Pagans do not sacrifice living beings. Anyone claiming to be pagan who does so has entirely missed the point. Our one big rule is "Harm None". Think about that. The trick, of course, is figuring out for yourself exactly what that means. We wrestle with that thorny question every day, like many people wrestle with the true meaning of "love thy neighbor as thyself".

Speaking of loving thy neighbor: we don't hate Christians. Well, most of us don't. Many of us think Jesus was a pretty cool dude, actually. He had some great stuff to say, like the bit about judging not. That's a tough one, too, isn't it?

Blessed be, everybody.

Read More