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wTuesday, April 26, 2005

Make Detroit Neifi-riffic! 

I just don't know what to say about Neifi Perez.

Yesterday, Desipio posted the numbers Neifi's compiled since he joined the Cubs last year. A .965 OPS in 110 at-bats. Neifi responded last night by hitting a home run, knocking in 4 runs and scoring 2.

So in 2005, he's got a 1.022 OPS going for him. That's second-best on this Cubs team, behind only the otherworldly Derrek Lee at 1.184. It's 11th in the entire National League as of this afternoon. Or it would be, if Neifi had the 59 ABs required to qualify for the official list. He has only 53. At shortstop, Neifi trails only rookie Clint Barmes, playing in the rare Coors Field air

It makes no sense.

This is the guy who set the standard by which baseball futility is measured (subscription or "free day pass" required).

When "Cubs to acquire Neifi Perez" rumors were circulating during the 2003 pennant race, I devoted a blog entry exclusively to bemoaning the mere possibility. I went so far as to suggest that the Cubs would have been better off starting dead people, or fielding an 8-man starting lineup as opposed to a 9-man lineup that included Neifi.

Yet here I am, acknowledging that Neifi Perez is an extremely productive member of this Cub team.

And it's not just the gaudy numbers. It seems like every time the Cubs score a run at this point, Neifi is somehow involved.

Yesterday, his 3-run 8th inning homer was just the icing on the cake. He had already put the Cubs ahead for good in the 5th by knocking in Jose Macias before scoring on Lee's double.

On Sunday, he homered to score the Cubs' first run in the 4th and added an insurance RBI single in the 8th.

On Saturday, he scored one measly run. Despite going 3-for-3 with a walk.

Major League Baseball wants you to "vote early and often" for the All-Stars this year. Well I never thought I'd say this, but . . . Let's Play Two hereby endorses the selection of Neifi F. Perez as a representative of the Chicago Cubs to the National League All-Star Team. Go Neifi!

Incidentally, Neifi does not appear on the ballot - you'll have to write him in. I put him at shortstop. The campaign starts now!

posted by Derek at 12:28 PM MST [link] --

wTuesday, April 12, 2005

Sammy wishes he had that kind of range 

Tony, the youngest member of the Let's Play Two staff at nearly 13 months old, began walking yesterday. Actually it was more like a half-hour of solid running interrupted only by the occasional full-out face plant, and it was truly exhilarating for all of us.

When I squinted real hard, it looked like he was tracking down fly balls in some miniature, carpeted outfield. And I'm pretty sure that each time he fell on his face, I saw him laying out for the game-saving catch. The arm needs work, and don't even get me started on his lousy plate discipline. But there's plenty of time for all that.

posted by Derek at 10:42 AM MST [link] --

wMonday, April 11, 2005

I feel like I should be more upset 

This Cub offense reminds me of something . . . I can't quite put my finger on it.

Oh yeah, now I recognize it. It's the Cub offense of virtually every year I can remember.

Shame to spoil some nice pitching by Dempster, Wuertz, Fox and Leicester. The winning (only) Padre run scored as a result of two dropped balls. But that's what happens when you have leave so little room for error.

You can leave yourself a little more room for error in a few ways. One is by removing Neifi Perez from your starting lineup. Or, if he does end up in your lineup by some cruel twist of fate, you could bat him a little lower than freaking second in the lineup. Another thing you could do is pinch-hit someone other than Jose Macias when you've got a man in scoring position late in the game.

I feel I should be angry about this. Lord knows I would've been last year, the year before . . . hell, any year before this one. And yet the outcome of this game seemed preordained. This game had "1-0 loss" written all over it as early as the third inning. I guess with that much time to prepare, Barrett's weak pop to end the game just didn't pack the punch I would normally have expected.

A guy spends a lot of time and energy wishing things were a certain way. He wishes his team's manager wasn't so unreasonably emotionally attached to certain types of players. He wishes his team's players were capable of the flexibility necessary to recognize each situation for what it is, a unique opportunity to make something happen. But you know the expression, when all you've got is a hammer everything looks like a nail - the analogy is particularly apt for this free-swinging Cubs team.

It's early, and I may be wrong. These guys might still be warming up, still shaking of the lethargy of winter. But I don't think so.

posted by Derek at 3:24 PM MST [link] --

wFriday, April 08, 2005

"Cubs Squander a Leadoff Double" 

These are the saddest of possible words:
"No runs, one hit, one left."
A single bear cub, standing on third,
Of situational hitting bereft.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Predictably wasting a leadoff double--
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
"No runs, one hit, one left."

posted by Derek at 1:09 PM MST [link] --

wWednesday, April 06, 2005

Spring Traning Report 

OK, this is a little late since it was actually two three weekends ago that I made the trip. Short on time a little lately and my my attention has been more on the boys from Champaign than our boys in blue. Still, the trip was great and I've been meaning to bore you with my tale, so here goes.

First, some background. My friend Bryan and I attended our first Spring Training in 2002, had a great time and swore to do it again every year for the rest of our lives.

In 2003, the baseball gods intervened.

In 2004, the stork intervened.

But this year, we were determined to make the trip. And we weren't going to grab all the fun for ourselves, hell no! We were each taking our family too. We were going to have so much freaking fun we'd be whistling Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah out of our . . . well, let's get back to the trip. I would be accompanied by Katrin and our recently-turned-one year old Tony, while Bryan would bring Kirsten and 11-month old Gavin. We'd all be staying at Kirsten's sister's house in Phoenix. Bryan and I would attend games all three days, but our families would join us at HoHoKam for the Saturday Cubs game.

Well, enough of my yakkin' - let's boogie!

3/17/05, Day 1 - Flight to the Phoenix

The trip got off to a bit of a rough start on Thursday when I left my cell phone in the car in the airport satellite parking lot. This after reminding myself every five minutes, "Don't leave your cell phone in the car." I considered calling my phone several times over the weekend just to leave voicemail reminding myself what a dumbass I am. On the other hand, that's one of the few things of which I seem to be constantly made aware.

Here's a travel tip: If your baby takes a monster dump in his diaper with about 30 minutes remaining before your plane lands, the correct strategy is not to let him stew in his own filth so you can change the diaper in the airport.

Otherwise, the day was fairly uneventful. We rented a minivan, which I drove, and I'm of two minds about them. They are genuine people movers, unlike the vast majority of ego-stroking SUV's out there. On the other hand, the urge to veer off the road when in the vicinity of youth soccer fields was quite powerful and somewhat disconcerting. Bryan called it the "'Get Shorty' van" all weekend. I haven't seen the movie and was therefore unsure how to feel about that.

Kirsten's sister has two cats and two dogs. I'm allergic to all of those things, so Katrin and I slept in a tent in the backyard with a baby monitor while Tony slept inside. At least once each night, Tony would wake up screaming and Katrin would go through a comedic ritual which involved walking across gravel and being attacked by dogs as she entered the house. Pretty high degree of difficulty if you ask me, even without a screaming baby breaking your concentration. I'd have helped if I wasn't so damn busy pretending to be asleep. Alas.

3/18/05, Day 2 - A Rockie Start

Bryan and I left town Friday morning for Hi-Corbett Field in Tucson, Spring Training Home of the Rockies. It was a pretty nice day in Tucson, the scoreboard temperature read 74 degrees and the PA announcer seemed quite pleased to announce that the temperature in Denver was about 30 degrees lower than that.

If you decide to go to Spring Training some day, I recommend weekday games. We did Friday-Sunday on both of our trips and the Friday game has always been the most pleasant. My theory is that on the weekdays you get the true baseball fans while on the weekends you get a lot more families and locals and stuff. Not that families and locals are bad, but the Friday game always feels more like a ballgame and less like an amusement park.

The game was entertaining, and the Rockies pulled out a 5-2 victory over the Diamondbacks.

I've got to be honest with you, I recognized almost no one on either team. The Rockies are busy promoting what they call "Generation R." The "R" stands for "Rockies" which I think refers to the fact that most of their players have been brought up through their system, playing AAA ball in high-altitude Colorado Springs to prepare them for baseball in Denver. Bryan pointed out that generally people assume "R" stands for Rookie, which maybe isn't the best thing. They should probably change their slogan to something like, "We're Rebuilding - Again! Let's Party!" I guess anything's better than the "We Overpay For Gutless Free-Agent Pitchers!" strategy they were employing right up until Denny Neagle's arrest.

Bryan was an intern in the Rockies' stadium operations department last season, so he knew the players better than I did. Plus he always has some good stories. Like many teams, each Rockies player has their own "music" which is played each time they come to bat or enters the game as a relief pitcher. You know, like when Trevor Hoffman walks to the mound to "Hell's Bells". Anyway, the Rockies' "closer" (and I use that term loosely, here) last year was Shawn Chacon. Apparently one day the PA guys at Coors Field screwed up and started playing some Journey song ("Wheels in the Sky" I think) as Chacon exited the bullpen, and he was pretty mad about it. Really, I think a closer with a 7.11 ERA should be happy he gets to enter a game at all, but that's another story.

Then we started wondering: what would be the absolute worst music for a closer? We bandied about some ideas and settled on these three, in no particular order:

- "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" by the Smiths;
- "There She Goes" by the La's; and
- "Like a Virgin" by Madonna.

Honorable Mention goes to "I Touch Myself" by the Divinyls. Incidentally, feel free to comment if you have suggestions of your own.

Hi-Corbett is a decent if unspectacular park. One of my favorite features is the $4.50 16 ounce beer - I paid $6.00 for the same item at the Cubs game the next day. My least favorite feature is definitely the 2 hour drive back to Phoenix.

3/19/05, Day 3 - Yo HoHoKam and a $6 beer

The weather was not great; cloudy all day, a little breezy and cool and sprinkling rain at times. Katrin and I argued about whether it was weather-appropriate for us to put Tony in his cool pinstripe Cubs outfit since it has short pants. You mean, the outfit I bought 3 months ago, specifically so that he could wear it on this very day? Anyway, as you can see from the new Staff Photo at upper left, cooler heads prevailed and Tony was truly stylin' in Mesa.

We had planned to haul everybody to this game, including Kirsten's sister's family, bringing our total to 6 parents and three kids (9, 11 and 12 months). I had with much foresight purchased outfield seating for this game. As you probably know, "outfield" at HoHoKam means lawn seating beyond the outfield fence. (It also means "cheap" but that's neither here nor there, is it?) The lawn extends along the fence on each side of the big green batter's eye. We sat in the right field area which is more spacious than is the left field area. We got there about an hour before game time so there was plenty of room, and we laid out our blankets just a few feet behind the chain link fence. We got some pictures and video of Official Let's Play Two Favorite Cub (TM) Carlos Zambrano warming up on the field and then in the bullpen. Autograph seekers were bunched up behind the Cubs dugout, but the longest line ran twenty yards or so along the main concourse, up the stairs and right up to the radio booth where Ron Santo was patiently chatting and signing autographs. A stirring sight.

As game time approached, the outfield crowd grew and things became more interesting. Much of the outfield turned into a frat party of sorts, with beer-swilling backwards-cap-wearing types making lots of noise and having a good time. Katrin bought Tony a little Cubs hat (you can see it in the staff photo) and he became quite the center of attention for the party people, and the young women in attendance had a particularly grand time fawning over him. I can't say that Tony seemed even the least bit bothered by all the attention. (Note to self: Tony=chick magnet.)

Pregame festivities were marred only by our National Anthem, "sung" by a woman who by the sound of it may be the love child of Carl Lewis and Enrico Pallazzo. Off-key, unable to hit the high notes, messed-up lyrics, she had it all. You've been there: standing, hat over your heart, trying to keep a straight face as called for by this humbling moment, then sneaking a peek at the guy next to you and he's doing the same thing. I only hope the experience didn't scar Tony for life. We'll see how he handles his next ballgame.

On to the game! Carlos pitched brilliantly for 4 innings, striking out 7 (2 each in the first 3) without allowing a single baserunner. He appeared to tire in the 5th but gutted it out through 6 shoutout innings. The Cub offense put 4 runs on the board in the bottom of the first. Jerry Hairston led off with a triple. This was followed by a Don Baylor special - Jose Macias laying down a bunt for no particular reason, neither reaching first safely nor allowing Hairston to score.

I wonder why I approach this season with bated breath?

In any case, Nomar followed the Macias follies with a homer to right center, Derrek Lee and Hollandsworth both reached base and then David Kelton doubled them home. The rout was on! Of course, the Cubs never scored again, the rest of the game was entirely uneventful and the Cubs pulled out a 4-2 yawner.

It was as the game ended that Katrin decided she really wanted to get an autograph. I tried to explain to her that the good players had left the game hours ago and were probably out on the golf course already, and that really the best time to do that sort of thing is before the game. But she had bought Tony a soft little Cubs baseball and she was determined to get an autograph from somebody on that ball. So I stayed behind packing up our stuff and she grabbed Tony and set off at a dead sprint for the seats next to Cubs dugout. A few minutes later she returned with a huge smile on her face, holding the ball triumphantly in the air. "I got one! I got one!"

"Who was it?" I asked.

"I don't know. Can't you read it?" Well, it looked an awful lot like somebody named Jdfslf Gkjdxrd may have signed it, but I couldn't find that name anywhere in the Cubs program.

"No. I can't read it. What number was he?"

"I don't know, I forgot to check. But he was sort of a good-looking, younger black man." Yeah, that didn't really narrow it down much. But the important thing is we got Tony his first autograph, something I'm sure he will treasure right up until Mr. Gkjdxrd makes the Hall of Fame and the little fun ball is worth a million bucks or so.

3/20/05, Day 4 - Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

Bryan's a Royals fan, so Sunday morning we made the roughly hour-long trek northwest of Phoenix to the golf course strip mall retirement community town of Surprise, home of Surprise Stadium, Spring Training home of the Royals and Rangers. The drive up US route 60 is a sight to behold, a wasteland of broken concrete and strip clubs. Which are not open at 10 AM, not that I have any way of knowing this.

Surprise is such a bizarre name for a municipality that the word itself became an ongoing joke throughout the day. "Surprise! This beer tastes like urine!" or "Surprise! The bathrooms are really nice here!" Actually, Surprise Stadium is only a couple years old and it's really very nice. Excellent food selection, nice seats, lush green lawn seating and excellent amenities.

Generation R was in town to play the Royals and we saw all sorts of bad pitching in a 6-3 Rockies victory (or Royals loss, depending on your perspective.) The weather was fantastic, the best of the weekend, and it was nice to be able to sit and relax with a beer or two (or three), knowing it was our last day of sunshine and baseball before returning home. Otherwise the day was fairly uneventful and I suppose that's a good thing.

3/21/05, Day 5 - Happy Birthday to Me.

Tony mercifully fell asleep on my lap just before takeoff. Frontier Airlines offers seatback DirectTV on all of its flights for what they call "the nominal fee of only $5.00." My birthday present to myself was ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic and ESPNews all flight long with a little Cub fan sleeping my arms. With that little smile on his face, I'm fairly certain he was dreaming of the next time Daddy would drag his little ass down to Spring Training.

posted by Derek at 11:14 AM MST [link] --

wReigning NL Central Division Choke Artists

Eamus Catuli

wOfficial Let's Play Two
Favorite Cub (TM)

Carlos Zambrano

3-3, 3.22, 68 K
5/31: ND,8 IP,0 ER,1 H,9 K
Next start: 6/05 @ SD

wOfficial Let's Play Two
Gladiator Tracker (TM)

$ CHN12M5M+
$ BAL5M0

wK-chip Setting (TM)

Nomar Garciaparra

Last 10 games:
.125, 0 HR, 1 RBI,
torn groin