Tuesday, March 31, 2009

TBG's Desert Travel Diary - Part V

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV

Saturday, March 14

11:00 AM - Despite the fact that I'm on vacation AND it's Saturday, I'm gently persuaded by my management to dial in to a teleconference with the Unnamed Defense Contractor. Unfortunately, the first three months of the year are "personal review" and "merit increase determination" season, so the decision has been made for me.

11:30 AM - Still on the cell phone as we leave for the A's spring home – Phoenix Municipal Stadium. After 30 minutes, I've offered up about a dozen cogent sentences and been on mute the rest of the time. First time I've ever taken part of a conference call in the restroom, too.

12:00 PM - After 60 minutes of administrative nonsense and with NO end in sight, my Blue Tooth dies. Or, as I will tell my colleagues on Monday, "my cell phone died". I debate with Mrs. Bootleg on whether this is a lie. She says, "yes", I say, "yes, but who gives a…". Looking back, there was merit with both our positions.

12:30 PM - Phoenix Municipal Stadium is the Spring Training equivalent of the Oakland Coliseum. It's old, outdated and compared to all the new "mallpark" ballparks, it's a sack of crap. With only baseball to occupy the boy's attention, I silently wonder how long this afternoon will actually last.

12:35 PM - The answer, apparently, is "an eternity". Jalen is asking where the kids' field is, to which I respond, "they ain't got one". He then begs and pleads to go back to the Indians' spring ballpark. And, in one of those "married people moments", I gauge Mrs. Bootleg by suggesting (and, fellas, it HAS to be in a "jokey" way) that she take the boy away, lest he ruins my our whole afternoon. Step 1: plant the seed.

12:45 PM - M'man "JPinAZ" is at the game with his young daughter. As luck would have it, he's sitting just a few rows behind That Bootleg Family. Jalen and his daughter are almost the same age. I mention to Mrs. Bootleg that JP is sitting in our vicinity. She turns, establishes eye contact and waves. I then offhandedly remark on how well the kids played together when we met for dinner two nights earlier. Step 2: water the seed. (Be careful not to over-water!)

1:00 PM - OMG! OMG! OMG! Rickey Henderson is on hand to throw out the ceremonial first pitch~! And, might I add, he looks resplendent in a pair of lime green linen slacks. His throw is high and away, as Jason Giambi can't be bothered to rise out of his ceremonial first crouch. Your indifference isn't winning over THIS fan, Giambi.

1:15 PM - Jason Giambi homers to right! I never stopped loving you, G!

1:16 PM - Landon Powell homers to right! Jesus, he's fat!

1:45 PM - Step 3: HARVEST! Mrs. Bootleg spontaneously offers to take Jalen and JP's daughter over to the stadium's miserable kid's area, thereby freeing up her seat for m'man JP. I'm doubtful that JP would trust his first born with my wife. It's just that, in this day and age, parents are hyper-paranoid and convinced that no one can protect their child like they can.

1:46 PM - Mrs. Bootleg and the kids are gone, as JP settles in next to me. His paranoia is apparently in remission.

3:30 PM - Never let it be said that I don't praise the wife in these parts. She kept the kids for close to two hours, somehow keeping them entertained within the confines of a 45-year-old facility. I don't wanna tip my hand, but me thinks someone has earned a Mother's Day feast at Applebee's this year!

3:45 PM - Game's over, A's win. JP has invited me out for beers later in the evening. It's my last night in Arizona. Now, I'm not sure how white women would react in this situation, but I do know how Mrs. Bootleg would react. Here now is a helpful five-minute video to illustrate my point. NSFW!

4:30 PM - On the way back to our hotel, we stop at Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall so that I can score points with the wife the wife can go shopping.

5:15 PM - As Jalen and I finally leave The Disney Store, we run into former Major League reliever Lee Smith! Dude looks tremendous, save for a limp that might make Heather Mills wince. I wanted to say 'hey', but he was with his family and inhaling a quart of frozen yogurt.

6:30 PM - We're back in our room. It's pretty much now or never, so I subtlety float the notion to Mrs. Bootleg of a "guy's night out" while on vacation with my family. Fortunately for me, my brazen request is muted by the amount of love she has for JP, so it's a go!

6:45 PM - I'd promised Jalen that we could go swimming. I'm not crazy about the water, as my underdeveloped musculature provides for about 10 minutes of a bad Aquaman impression before my spindly little arms and legs completely shut down.

7:15 PM - 30 minutes later, rigor mortis has set in on my saturated corpse. Mrs. Bootleg is toweling down the boy, while I'm discovering the difference in temperature between a heated pool and the nighttime air in Arizona. I literally can't f'ing move.

7:30 PM - Armed with only my singular will – and a dozen or so complementary towels from the pool area – I make it back to my room. I realize that I still haven't let JP know that we're on for later in the evening. I'll call him just as soon as I dry off.

7:32 PM - Zzzzzz…

3:15 AM - Aw, crap.


"Once in a great while, we are privileged to experience [an] event so extraordinary, it becomes part of our shared heritage. 1969 – Man walks on the moon. 1971 – Man walks on the moon…again. Then, for a long time, nothing happened."

Until April 6.

Sonic is coming to San Diego County, kids! But, let's not lose our minds here. (1) Santee is close to a 30 minute drive from where I live and work. I figure I'll only be able to eat there every other day. (2) Santee has one of the more "colorful" nicknames of any city in America. (3) There's no way that the menu could live up to my own hype.

Oh, who am I kidding? AIEEEEEEE!

TBG's Desert Travel Diary - Part IV

Part IPart IIPart III

Friday, March 13

12:55 PM - Indians Hall of Fame pitcher and cantankerous curmudgeon Bob Feller is signing for free on the concourse. I wasn't interested, but later I'd hear from people sitting around us how he allegedly told two kids to turn their hats around before he'd sign and another to address him as "Mr. Feller". If we go back next year and Feller's signing again, you can bet I'm baiting him for the blog. "'Sup, Bob?"

1:05 PM - At first pitch, the announced game time temperature is 80°. For the uninitiated, 80° represented the "walking around temperature". It's what you feel when you cross the street or otherwise are out and about. What's not factored in is the "ballpark index" – or BPI. It's a complex formula of weighted averages including, but not limited to, the stadium's intimate seating; the acrid stench of 6,000 people simultaneously applying sun block; an abject lack of shade and VORP. The BPI is 180°. Easily.

1:15 PM - A's starter Dana Eveland is having a little trouble finding the strike zone. Spring Training games don't usually get this arduous until the sixth or seventh inning, but Eveland appears determined to get a look at every Indians hitter by the end of the first inning. I offer to get Mrs. Bootleg a ballpark snack and, like always, she opts for nachos.

1:25 PM - I've walked the entire concourse and not ONE stand is selling nachos. Well, there is a "Super Nachos" kiosk down the right field line that offers chips, shredded cheddar cheese, choice of meat, choice of beans, lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream and black olives – a mountain of Mexican heaven for $6.99. But, when it comes to baseball nachos, Mrs. Bootleg is a purist: chips, day-glo "cheese" goo and soggy jalapeños. Hey, she's from Utah. That's considered ethnic cuisine out there.

1:30 PM - Mrs. Bootleg settles for a hot dog, while I order something called a "Cleveland Dog".

1:35 PM - GLORIOUS~! I've just finished a quarter-pound wiener topped with honey-chipotle barbecue sauce, two strips of fatty bacon and a fistful of diced onions. If this hot dog is indeed representative of all Ohio cuisine, then I'm proud to welcome our Buckeye friends into the pantheon of states, commonwealths and provinces that I officially recognize. Current list: California, New York and British Columbia.

2:15 PM - Mrs. Bootleg places her dessert order, "Vanilla – soft serve". During my recent 10K walk back and forth along the concourse, I only noticed hand-scooped stands, but the wife swears that she saw a soft serve kiosk on our way in. Do you think she remembered where it was? Of course not.

2:25 PM - I return with a scoop of chocolate for the boy and a scoop of vanilla for the wife. Mrs. Bootleg gives me some of that patented Black woman "you KNOW I prefer soft serve" attitude, which went on for the entirety of the three licks and one great big bite it took her to finish an ice cream ball as big as my head.

3:00 PM - I'd promised Jalen that we'd return to the "kids diamond" before we left. By now, it's packed with nearly a dozen kids – pre-teen and older – who seem not to realize that (1) there's still a REAL game going on and (2) this diamond – and its plastic bats and balls – was meant for a much younger demographic. Knowing the snotty and disrespectful teenage generation of today, I explain to Jalen that he won't likely get to play.

3:30 PM - As I suspected, the older kids welcomed Jalen with open arms. No, seriously, they did. They shoehorned him into their batting order, let him chase after fly balls and taught him a convoluted high-five/fist bump celebratory gesture. Pretty sure the Jack Cust autograph just slipped into second place on the list of Jalen's favorite moments from the afternoon.

Next: A "guy's night out" while on a family vacation! Or not.

TBG Eats: Tioli's Crazee Burger

Current Weight: 168.2 lbs.


Jalen's Smokin' Hot Babysitter arrived at 6:30 PM. She and her (sad, exasperated sigh) boyfriend just celebrated six months of childless, nonbinding dating. They went wine tasting and, in her words, "Everybody there was old, like, 40". She then completed her heel turn by gently needling me about my attire for the evening: a well-worn long-sleeve SDSU T-shirt and XXL Jordan shorts.

But, instead of our infrequent n' expensive date nights, I suggested to Mrs. Bootleg that we try something that didn't involve valet parking, making reservations or cumbersome belly restrictions like belts.

M'man Smitty recommended Tioli's. He came down from L.A. and hit up this place. The restaurant is about as big as a shoebox and it's not exactly in the best neighborhood (my old (Black) barbershop is about 100 yards away!), but I was sold on the potential blog fodder of the menu.

Here now is my conversation with Mrs. Bootleg on the drive down:

Mrs. Bootleg: "Did you look at the menu online? Do you know what you're going to get?"

Me: "Yeah. I think I'm getting three different burgers."

Mrs. Bootleg: "What? Wait, are they like mini-burgers?"

Me: "No, they're full size burgers. I wanna try more than one."

Mrs. Bootleg: "How much is this going to cost?"

Me: "It'll still be cheaper than our usual night out."

Mrs. Bootleg: "Wait…is this for your blog?"

For the record, no one – and I mean no one – can nail the subtle disdain and derisiveness required to delicately crap all over this lightly-read blog like Mrs. Bootleg.

We exit the freeway and I casually point out a hooker sashaying gracefully up the street. Mrs. Bootleg cranes her neck as if she were gawking at a three-car pileup. Me thinks she's lived in the good part of town a little too long.

After we park, we walk around the corner and enter the restaurant. The line to the counter is at least eight deep and there's not a free seat in the building.

This is not a good thing. See, I don't mind the wait and I know a seat will open up soon. It's just that the wait will give my wife time to talk herself out of a traditional cheeseburger and opt for something relatively daring.

My wife doesn't DO "daring". Once in awhile she'll deviate from her usual, like a strawberry-banana smoothie, and try the peach-mango or instead of the lasagna, she'll order the seafood linguini. This usually ends with her eating/drinking whatever I ordered, while I'm stuck with her inedible leftovers. Undeterred, she ordered the #29 (Blue Crab & Surimi Burger).

I stuck to my guns, looked the counter monkey square in the eye and ordered three quarter-pound burgers for myself: #24 (Tatonka (Buffalo)), #35 (Kangaroo) and #39 (Antelope). And, a basket of fries. Man, I hate when the french fries are a la carte. At McDonald's, sure…the fries are a well-marketed, individual menu item. But, in a real restaurant? Come on.

I'm about halfway through my pint of Stone Smoked Porter (ON TAP~!) when our food comes. Hilariously, the guy bringing our burgers does three or four laps around the dining area, looking for the party of four who ordered all this grub. Let's do this thang:

#24 – Tatonka (Buffalo): Like all of Tioli's burgers, this is topped with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and pickles on a Kaiser roll. It comes served with a smear of creamed horseradish, as well. The meat was lean and tender, remaining juicy despite the abject lack of sweet, sweet fat. The smoky aftertaste appealed to my tongue. The only real demerit was the horseradish. It was cut with so much damn cream that it killed its own kick. And, look…it's got theme music! Grade: 4 (out of 5)

#29 – Blue Crab: Mrs. Bootleg loves her some crab cakes. This "burger" was just a pair of densely textured, insanely well-seasoned crab cakes on a bun. By themselves, they would've been on the short list of best crab cakes I've ever eaten. With "all the fixins", too much of their flavor was muddled. The chili-cilantro sauce was the right accompaniment; however I can't go five stars here. Grade: 4.5

#35 – Kangaroo: For those wondering, I only ate half of my three burgers and about a quarter of Mrs. Bootleg's. Before finishing each half, I made a point of popping a piece of the meat (sans condiments) in my mouth. This one was going OK in its loaded burger form. As stated above, I wasn't digging the faux horseradish, but the rest of it was inoffensive. Then, I tried the meat by itself – WAY gamey, with an aftertaste that messed with my mouth for the rest of the night. Don't waste your time, Sylvester. Grade: 2

#35 – Antelope: Ah, the antelope…eternal animal kingdom jobber to lions everywhere. And, now I understand why. The meat was firm, but melted away like cotton candy in every bite. The smoked chili sauce provided the right compliment of spice. Now, after 800-some words, it's late and I'm tired. Jules, take us home. Grade: 4.5

Monday, March 30, 2009

Attention, Mets Haters…

I know you're out there. If you felt a bit alienated by my 30-part preview of your 2009 Oakland A's, then m'man Tom Daniels has the cure for what ails you. Find out which New York Met will be murdered, which Met Tom's got a mancrush on this week and the first "Chris Russo" reference anywhere, since Mad Dog moved to Siberia.

TBG TV: Lost - "He's Our You"

The Good:

As a rule, I'm generally disdainful towards child actors. It's my fervent belief that none of 'em actually act. Sure, they can take direction, but that's not "acting", it's "imitating". (For the adult version, see Jamie Foxx in Ray.) But, damn, did Sterling Beaumon ("Young Ben") nail that performance or what? His manipulative lilt to the "I think I can help you" line was vintage, well…"Ben".

Jesus, that whole sequence between Young Ben and his dad was intense and uncomfortable. Beaumon captured the abject terror of an abused child, while Jon Gries hit all the simmering notes of the loser who takes it all out, physically and emotionally, on his son. The writers have explored this avenue before, but I was really feeling sympathy for Boy Ben here.

As a proud Kate-hater, I was pleased to see that imbecilic walking-talking waffle bar, Hurley, break the news that Sawyer and Juliet are an item. That's for those cruel and hurtful things you said to John Locke earlier this season. Not so proud now, are you, Kate?

Zuleikha Robinson's proper introduction as "Ilana" was all kinds of James Bond-cheeseball, but her inherent hotness has earned her a pass this week. Oh, those boots…

"A 12-year-old Benjamin Linus brought me a chicken salad sandwich. How do you think I'm doing?"

The Bad:

"I'm gonna have to take this to the next level." Really, Horace? That's your threat? The writers didn't do your character any favors with your first name and now they've got you spouting one-dimensional bluster.

See? See? I told you people how unwatchable this Sawyer-Kate-Juliet nonsense would be. But, no…I was shouted down and mocked by my peers in the blogosphere. "Sawyer's going to tell Kate to pound sand when she comes back to the island", you said. "Juliet's too strongly written to be sucked into such a tired cliché", you said. Meanwhile, a pan full of delicious bacon burned because Juliet was worried that it was over between her and Sawyer. SEE?!

It was a little disappointing to have Sawyer established as a strong, respected leader all season, only to have him so hastily neutered in the face of a real crisis. Pacing and face-scrunching can only take you so far, James.

Isn't Sayid like some sort of professional killer? Pretty sure that particular skill set has been explored in an episode or two. So, why does Sayid NOT double-check that Young Ben is dead? I dunno…just seems like something you'd wanna be sure of. Really sure.

The Verdict: A strong episode chock full o' great pacing and a terrific finish. However, the character development has been all over the map, recently. Is Sawyer a leader or isn't he? And, how much longer are you Juliet fans going to be in denial about the dumbing down of her character? At least we get a Kate episode this week. Whew…haven't seen enough of her the last two weeks. Hope Jack gets a cameo!

30 A's in 30 Days – Michael Wuertz

Acquired: Traded from Chicago (NL) (February 2, 2009).
Contract: One year thru 2009. Eligible for arbitration after 2009 season.
Position: Middle inning anonymity.

Projected ERA: 3.98

Over/Under: In 262 career big league innings, Wuertz has struck out 270. His home run per nine innings rate is less than one and his career ERA is 3.57. Still, the Cubs farmed him out to Triple-A for extended periods in two of the last three seasons. Wuertz has had a brutal first spring with the A's (10 ER in 9 1/3 innings), but he's fanned 13 batters. No f'ing clue what to make of this guy. His sliderrific ways could bring back memories of Kiko Calero. His recent "better against righties" tendency could evoke the ghost of Jim Mecir. For A's fans, these aren't good things. OVER.

By the Numbers: 265 – Number of relief appearances Wuertz made with the Cubs, which was eighth most in franchise history. The short list includes names like Lee Smith and Bruce Sutter. I think I speak for all hardcore baseball fans, when I say "thank you, Tony LaRussa" for bringing bullpen micromanagement into sixth through ninth innings of every game. Without it, names like Wuertz and Paul Assenmacher wouldn't get to share relief pitching real estate with a pair of debatable Hall of Famers. (Yes, I know Sutter IS in.)

Surefire '09 Prediction: I will get NO credit for introducing the catchphrase, "Hey, it could be Wuertz" into the 2009 lexicon of A's fans. Y'see, we'll use it whenever one of our relievers struggles or blows a save. For example: Brad Ziegler gives up a 500-foot walk-off bomb to end a game. I'll turn to m'boy Smitty and say, "Hey, it could be Wuertz". I imagine we'll both laugh uproariously, thereby turning our post-game frowns upside down.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

30 A's in 30 Days – Josh Outman

Acquired: Traded from Philadelphia as part of package for Joe Blanton (July 17, 2008).
Contract: One year thru 2009. Eligible for arbitration after 2011 season.
Position: Left-handed Out Man. (You can use that…)

Projected ERA: 4.70

Over/Under: He'll almost certainly start the year in AAA-Sacramento as a shaky insurance policy for Oakland's shaky rotation. There are two schools of thought with Outman's eventual role: late inning shutdown guy or middle of the rotation starter. The Phillies had thrown in the towel on Outman as a starter, but the A's seem convinced his change-up and slider will eventually develop, so – for now – he's starting. Former Oriole Rick Krivda is his #1 comp at Baseball Prospectus and he's as good an example as any for what happens to starters without the repertoire to be a starter. OVER.

By the Numbers: 3 – Number of human beings known to believe in "The Outman Methodology". Outman's father has passed down an unorthodox pitching delivery to his two sons, which is described in this piece as "… awkward in its appearance, [it] begins with the pitcher raising his arm vertically with the ball, then bending it behind his head — seemingly touching his opposite shoulder. The pitcher then pivots his front foot, beginning his follow-through with a 'walking step' forward. There is no leg kick as with conventional mechanics." Uh, yeah…it's safe to say it didn't take.

Surefire '09 Prediction: Outman's surname will become the laziest last name punch line in baseball since 2004, but will NEVER touch the uninhibited awesome of Johnny Dickshot.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

TBG Eats: The NEW Kentucky Bourbon Burger from Carl's Jr.

Current Weight: 169.0 lbs.

I remember the day I fell in love.

It was April 2003 and I was in Washington DC on business. After returning to my hotel late one evening, I met a pair of my colleagues in the bar. To that point, I'd been nothing but a beer drinker, but the old broad with the smoky voice and decomposing liver was giving oral to a port wine, while our obnoxious pricing analyst nursed a vodka tonic.

Not sure why I went with Jack & Coke – save for the fact that it sounded cool around my fellow functioning alcoholics – but, by the end of the night, I'd racked up a $55 tab by myself and made a new friend in the bartender who helped fudge my expense report by turning my five libations into "appetizer, entrée, dessert" on the receipt.

I held steady with good ol' Jack & Coke. Universally known and hard to F up. I remember being in Rockville, Maryland a year or so after Jack and I started dating. At the Bugaboo Creek Steakhouse, I sent a Jack & (way too much) Coke back with just a dismissive wave of my hand towards the server. I had arrived at hard liquor. And, I liked it.

Later, the Mysterious Mr. S turned me on to Maker's Mark. Luxuriously smooth and with a hint of vanilla, I would never think about violating God's nectar by mixing it with the soft drink of the plebeians.

So, it goes without saying that Carl's Jr. won me over with their restaurant's in-window advertisements. From 50 yards away, at 35 mph, all I could see was "something, something BOURBON something". Sold!

The Kentucky Bourbon Burger is topped with pepper jack cheese, two strips of bacon, fried garlic-pepper onions, lettuce, tomato and a "Kentucky Bourbon glaze". In the past week, I've taken it to my colon twice. Last Friday, I ordered the Six Dollar Burger version (known as "Thickburgers" in the Hardee's chain). The meat was chalk-dry, the size of the sandwich was a LOT smaller than I remembered and, most egregious, the sweet, sweet sauce was applied with a thimble.

Towards a disbelieving Mrs. Bootleg, I swore that there were the makings of a great hamburger in there. And, for the first time in TBG's short-lived and lightly-read history, I held off on a food review until I could give it a second chance.

This past Thursday, I jumped in again. I beat the dinner crowd to the drive-thru which meant more time and attention from the chain's minimum wage slaves towards my meal. Then, I downsized from the Six Dollar version to "just" the double patty treatment. The end result was moist, messy…magnificent.

This time, CJ's came through with a quart of glaze that – artificial flavoring, notwithstanding – actually had hints of cheap bourbon in there. The sauce's sticky sweetness meshed well with the pepper jack cheese and spicy fried onions while the beef was "fast food" chewy, but yielding. The bacon just sealed the deal, as everyone knows cured pork cures all.

Everyone deserves a second chance.

Grade: 4.5 (out of 5)

30 A's in 30 Days – Jerry Blevins

Acquired: Traded from Chicago (NL) for Jason Kendall's grit, gumption and girly levels of production (July 16, 2007).
Contract: One year thru 2009. Eligible for arbitration after 2011 season.
Position: Facing Josh Hamilton, Jim Thome and David Ortiz in the 7th inning.

Projected ERA: 3.82

Over/Under: Blevins barely has 100 days of Major League service time, but his (brief) career numbers versus lefties (.212/.264/.258) portend well for a Tony Fossas/Jesse Orosco kind of longevity. The A's haven't exactly affixed the LOOGY label to Blevins, either. He pitched more than one inning in nine of his 36 appearances last year, surrendering runs in just two of those games. On the other hand, between Triple-A and the Majors, Blevins threw 70 innings and in his final 23 games with Oakland his ERA was 4.50 (vs. 0.66 in his first 13). OVER.

By the Numbers: 1.33, 6.14 – Blevins' career home ERA vs. career road ERA. In an almost equal split of innings pitched, his OPS allowed in Oakland is .488 and .831 everywhere else. Seeing as how the A's finished 13th in the American League in attendance, one can reasonably assume that Jerry Blevins suffers from enochlophobia. So, keep it down, rest of the AL. And, to you tinier-than-Oakland crowds in Kansas City, I say "thank you".

Surefire '09 Prediction: I'm planning on attending several A's games in Southern California this season. Consequently, I'm all but assured one long drive back to San Diego in which I'm cursing Jerry Blevins name the whole way.

Friday, March 27, 2009

30 A's in 30 Days – Santiago Casilla

Acquired: Signed as non-drafted free agent (January 31, 2000).
Contract: One year thru 2009. Eligible for arbitration after 2009.
Position: Gasoline on a brush fire.

Projected ERA: 3.66

Over/Under: From the start of 2008 until mid-May, Casilla was all but unhittable (19 1/3 innings; 22 Ks; 0.93 ERA). Then, he landed on the disabled list after appearing in half of the A's first 42 games. He returned on June 20, gave up three hits and two runs without recording an out…the end. Casilla pitched in 30 games after his DL stint and hitters unloaded at a .353/.426/.529(!!!) clip. When he's throwing his fastball around 92-94, he's effective. When he overthrows it around 96-98, it's either straight n' hittable or halfway up the backstop. When idiots like me can identify your flaws and you still can't be bothered to correct them, I have to take the OVER.

By the Numbers: 3 – Number of years Casilla "aged" between the 2005 and 2006 seasons. From 2000-05, Casilla was known as "Jairo Garcia" in the A's system. At the time the truth came out, Casilla was thought to be a raw 22-year-old flamethrower with upside. Instead, he was a 25-year-old with spotty command, a low ceiling and a 4.47 ERA in Triple-A. Along with the amount of foul territory in Oakland and GM Billy Beane's constant turnover of personnel, the Garcia/Casilla thing is mentioned at least once per series by the broadcasters of opposing teams.

Surefire '09 Prediction: Historically, the A's haven't had much patience with "hard-throwing/don't know where it's going" guys like Casilla. Oakland's bullpen has been a burial ground for the Chad Harvilles and Luis Vizcainos in years past. No way Casilla survives the season. The A's will flip him for some rotation fodder well before the trade deadline.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

TBG's Desert Travel Diary - Part III

Part I -- Part II

Friday, March 13

5:30 AM - I've slept six straight hours and while I've awoken early, it's the first time in weeks that I wasn't up between 1:00-3:00 AM, wheezing, while an imaginary elephant sat on my chest. Surprisingly, I don't miss watching MLB Network in the middle of the goddam night.

6:30 AM - Mrs. Bootleg is out of bed. It's the earliest I've EVER seen her up on any day she doesn't have to go to work. Put it this way: our nearly 19-year-old arthritic, decrepit cat – that we only see at feedings – has been known to exclaim, "Damn, she sleeps a lot!" (OK, OK…but, now imagine it in that Eddie Murphy "Donkey" voice from Shrek. See? Funny!)

7:15 AM - Our son, Jalen, is still asleep. His body's clock must think it's a school day, as I usually have to crowbar his Black ass out of bed Monday thru Friday. On weekends, he beats the sunrise. I quietly get dressed for a Dunkin' Donuts run, making every attempt to not wake him up and complicate my morning with fatherho…

7:16 AM - Jalen's awake.

7:30 AM - In the rental car, attempting to navigate Scottsdale's nonsensical traffic infrastructure. Dunkin Donuts is on a street called Bell. In theory, Bell runs east and west. I'm driving south on a street called Hayden. I approach Bell and the only option is to turn left (east). A right turn goes straight into a gated community, but my directions clearly state turn right. Bah, I'll just rely on the same street smarts that helped me survive Los Angeles and San Diego roads since I was 16.

8:00 AM - Hopelessly lost. I've come crawling back to the directions I'd discarded 30 minutes earlier. 5.6 miles from the hotel and I've been driving for half an hour. I've passed a half-dozen Starbucks (or maybe just the same one, six times) but, I want my cup o' Dunkin.

8:15 AM - So, finally, I figure out that East Bell actually "stops" when it runs into Hayden. If you drive south on Hayden for another ½ mile or so, Bell – running west – picks up again, except it's called "Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard". Make a right, drive two or three miles and it turns back into Bell.

(On an unrelated note, didya know that Arizona is 43rd in the United States in the percentage of its high school graduates who go to college? And, that fewer than half of Arizona public high school graduates qualify to enroll in our public universities? And, that Arizona ranks 49th in state and local per capita spending on K-12 education? Who could I possibly ask for directions?!)

8:30 AM - Oh, but that cross-state excursion was so worth it. My Dunkin' coffee is still scalding hot, smooth and more flavorful than the Starbucks brand. I opted for an apple-filled donut that had a taste and texture not unlike the fruit-filled, cinnamon-dusted cloud that St. Peter sits on in Heaven.

11:00 AM - That Bootleg Family is going to Goodyear! The A's are playing the Indians at the Tribe's shiny new Spring Training facility which requires a…what, the… a 45 minute drive?! I ask Mrs. Bootleg to break out her new Blackberry Storm and verify the directions. This trip is slightly more important than coffee n' pastry.

11:05 AM - Mrs. Bootleg is still fiddling with her phone's internet settings.

11:10 AM - Still fiddling…

11:15 AM - Nothing yet…

11:20 AM - According to my directions, we're about halfway there when my wife finally offers up something of substance, "Wait, which freeway are we on?"

11:50 AM - The Indians ballpark is pretty damn nice, which is both a blessing and a curse for the father of a 5-year-old. Jalen is immediately drawn to the "kid's diamond" just past the right field fence. A handful of kids are hitting wiffle balls and running around miniaturized basepaths. Over/under on the length of Jalen's tantrum when we try to pry him from this place and into our seats: 10 minutes.

11:55 AM - I fall for one of the other dad's "Hey, do you wanna pitch to your son?" lines. In the blink of an eye, I'm throwing batting practice to every kid out there. Meanwhile, the fraternity of fathers bark hitting instructions to their children and gently criticize the location of every pitch I toss.

12:25 PM - And, I'm spent. It's just me and the boy remaining, so there appears to be no better time to say, "Jalen, it's time to go." Jalen retorts, "Noooooooooo…!"

12:26 PM - 12:30 PM - "Nooooooooooo…!"

12:35 PM - We reach our seats and Jalen seems somewhat encouraged by how close the players are and how many of them are signing. "Where's Matt Holliday? Where's number five?" Jalen asked. "Uh, I don't think he's playing today", I respond. "Oh, but five is my favorite number!", said Jalen. Hey, only three more hours of this!

12:45 PM - A's behemoth Jack Cust is signing just past the visitor's dugout. Dude is enormous. If you lined up three of me, shoulder to shoulder, we still wouldn't be as wide as him. He's also one of the nicest guys on the team. I lifted Jalen above the fray, so he could hand Cust a ball. Cust signed it, made a bit of small talk and seemed genuinely bemused with J's squeaky "thank you".

You're good people, Jack Cust. I'll root for you until the A's can no longer afford to pay your salary. And, since you're eligible for arbitration after this season…

Next: MORE baseball blogging! Lord knows I haven't done enough of that this month.

30 A's in 30 Days – Russ Springer

Acquired: Signed as free agent (January 29, 2009).
Contract: One year ($3.3M) thru 2009.
Position: Obligatory Ancient Reliever.

Projected ERA: 3.89

Over/Under: Springer spent the last two seasons in St. Louis where he posted a 2.24 ERA in 116 1/3 innings. However, our friends at Baseball Prospectus note "…roughly two-thirds of his appearances came when the Cards were either trailing or ahead by four or more runs". By my count, in Springer's 70 appearances last year, he faced five or more hitters in only eight of those games. His fastball/cutter repertoire should play well enough in the AL as a 7th or 8th inning guy who ideally enters the game with nobody on base. UNDER.

By the Numbers: 20-22 – The W-L record over two seasons (1993-94) of Jim Abbott, who the New York Yankees acquired from the California Angels for Springer and J.T. Snow. Honestly, I cannot understate how (figuratively) big Abbott was 20 years ago, kids. We were still a year or two away from the ESPN-ification of sports coverage, so "hype" was still mostly organic. EVERYone was rooting for the guy. And, when the Angels flipped him for a package of kids, the fans nearly rioted. (Fortunately, Southern California was all rioted out by the end of 1992.) In hindsight, it's hard to believe any of us thought the quiet, sensitive Abbott could've survived Buck Showalter and a still-lucid George Steinbrenner.

Surefire '09 Prediction: T.J. Matthews, Jim Mecir, Kiko Calero. Over the past 10 years, the A's have done a bang-up job of employing unspectacular, occasionally awful right-handed relievers. Springer won't be as effective as he was in St. Louis, which means m'man Smitty – a fellow A's fan – will have a new target for his late inning ire this year. I think the honeymoon will end before Memorial Day.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

TBG's Desert Travel Diary - Part II

Part I

Thursday, March 12

12:45 PM: I hate flying. Always have. As a young That Bootleg Lad growing up in the '80s, it seemed that every other week another commercial flight had been hijacked. And, that doesn't include the DAILY imagery of Starscream, Thundercracker and Skywarp being routinely shot down by Autobot fire. As we take off to Phoenix from San Diego, the plane's structure croaks and groans like the bones of those 30-year-old unemployed ex-NFL players often profiled on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

12:55 PM: Usually, after a few minutes, the airplane's cabin stops shaking. The announcement bell softly rings – God's universal signal for me to stop praying – and the captain announces our cruising altitude before directing passengers to page 178 of the in-flight magazine for a list of beverages soon to be served. Except…the cabin is still shaking.

1:05 PM: Of the 100-some passengers on board, I'm clearly the first one to realize we're all going to die. The captain announces that "due to the bumpy road in front of us" the crew has decided to suspend drink service for the entirety of our 50 minute flight. At this point, I'm not sure if the "bumpy road" wisecrack is just a terrible analogy or a sign that our pilot doesn't realize he's flying a plane and not driving a Prius 10 mph through a mall's parking garage.

1:15 PM: Jalen has to go to the bathroom, again. Mrs. Bootleg agrees to take one for the team, as I'm too petrified to be amused at the hilarious level of terror the airplane's toilet creates within the boy. (Yeah, yeah…I know.) Seriously, though, I should sell tickets. Jalen can jump, butt-naked, from sitting on the stainless steel can to clinging from my neck in the blink of an eye. All because I once made the mistake of flushing while Jalen was still pooping. Those things are loud. Not sure he'll ever recover.

1:30 PM: The captain announces that we've begun our "final descent" into Phoenix. I ask Mrs. Bootleg if they always say "final". She assures me that they do, but I remain wary. Then, in a moment of betrayal that I'll never forget, my only son says to no one in particular, "I'm gonna lean back and make the plane crash!" Mrs. Bootleg gently, but sternly schools the boy on proper airplane etiquette. Meanwhile, my heart beats gently, but sternly out of my f*****g chest.

1:45 PM: And, we're on the ground. Pfft…piece of cake. By the by, within the grand pantheon of jackasses, I propose that the people who applaud at the end of a flight are worse than those that applaud at the end of movie in the theater. Discuss.

2:30 PM: Hey, it's our old friend: "pushy rental car clerk"! This one's especially annoyed at our refusal to accept insurance and even gives us the exasperated "OK, if that's what you want" response. Of course, NOW I'm worried that the ol' battle-axe has put some sort of door-ding, fender-bender juju on us.

3:30 PM: We arrive at the Sheraton Desert Oasis in pretentious Scottsdale, Arizona. The hotel is actually a series of stand-alone three-story buildings. The rooms are numbered rather randomly and I'm certain that I'm going to get insanely lost on these grounds before the weekend is over.

3:45 PM: I head down to the car to bring the rest of our bags and manage to get insanely lost on my way back. Hey, 15 minutes…a new record! I call Mrs. Bootleg and – as usual – she doesn't pick up her phone. Those of you who know my cell number know that I'm embarrassingly terrible about picking up MY phone. In my defense, it's always on vibrate and – really – I can never feel the damn thing. Mrs. Bootleg's is on vibrate, too, except I can feel hers from across the room when it goes off.

3:50 PM: I plop myself down on a bench with our assorted bags all around me. Current mood: a cross between "pack mule" and "pissed off martyr". Do I share some of the blame here? No. I'm a city boy who's used to street signs, directional arrows and liquor store landmarks. I've navigated the dodecahedron architecture of Las Vegas hotels that were easier to read than this place.

4:00 PM: Mrs. Bootleg has talked me back to our room. I'm in a bit of a mood, but my anger is alleviated when I discover that Arizona is the only state in the union that still airs The Wayans Bros. in syndication. And, The Steve Harvey Show starts at 5:00 PM?! OK, Arizona…you're officially overcompensating for that whole Martin Luther King Day controversy from 20 years ago. Still, I approve.

5:30 PM: We meet up with one of my oldest friends, "JPinAZ", for dinner. Between us, we have two wives and three children. An evening out with Jalen means an extra level of vigilance. He's previously darted off into restaurant kitchens, women's restrooms (giggedy) and under other booths. The trick is anticipating potential tomfoolery before it appears. So far, he's been a good little boy. I determine it's now safe to turn off my patriarch radar.

6:15 PM: Jalen's pizza arrives…without pepperoni. My defenses were down. Didn't we order it with pepperoni? We always order pepperoni for the boy. Mrs. Bootleg and I have an established drill for moments like these, but everything's just happening too fast. Plates of food are being passed around and my son's emotional meltdown is eminent. Can my son get some goddam pepperoni…!

6:15 PM and 10 seconds: Mrs. JP offers to switch her daughter's pepperoni pie with my son's naked abomination. Whew. Just…whew.

Next: Dunkin' Donuts, Jack Cust and guess who gets lost AGAIN!

30 A's in 30 Days – Joey Devine

Acquired: Traded from Atlanta for Mark Kotsay (January 14, 2008).
Contract: One year thru 2009. Eligible for arbitration after 2010.
Position: Better damn well be "full time closer".

Projected ERA: 3.18

Over/Under: It ain't even April and Devine's already missed time this spring with a tender elbow. He's only topped 50 innings once in his five professional seasons and is just a few years removed from being better known as "that guy who gave up grand slams in his first two Major League appearances" or "Chris Burke's b*tch". I still like the UNDER for this grown man known as "Joey". Last year, after returning from a two-month stint on the DL, he didn't yield an earned run the rest of the season (24 games), posting a .097/.195/.097 opposing hitters' line.

By the Numbers: 14 – The number of Major League seasons for former big league reliever Gregg Olson – Devine's #2 comp according to Baseball Prospectus. Both were first round draft picks who were called up to the show a few weeks after finishing their college careers. If history were to further repeat itself, I will somehow end up with dozens of off-center Joey Devine rookie cards and then, 20 years later, I'd be stunned to learn Devine pitched for more than a dozen years. I mean, seriously, Gregg Olson was pitching this decade?

Surefire '09 Prediction: Meet your lone Oakland A's representative to the 2009 All-Star Game. He'll join Jay Howell (1985) and Justin Duchscherer (2005) as past Athletics relievers to be selected in years when no other teammates got the call.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

30 A's in 30 Days – Brad Ziegler

Acquired: Signed as free agent (June 18, 2004).
Contract: One year thru 2009. Eligible for arbitration after 2011.
Position: Set-up reliever, occasional closer.

Projected ERA: 3.70

Over/Under: Even if A's games don't start until 10:05 PM where you live, you've probably heard of Ziegler. He set a modern Major League record for scoreless innings (39.0) to start a career and finished the year with a 1.06 ERA in 59.2 innings. That said, I'm going OVER on that projection. Ziegler's streak was impressive enough. In his first 29 games, he held hitters to a .179/.252/.179(!) line. However, after he yielded his first run, that line leapt to .317/.394/.537(!!!) in his remaining 18 games. Small sample size or no, things will even out for Ziegler in 2009.

By the Numbers: .198, .280 – Batting average against Ziegler by righties and lefties, respectively. Ziegler is being talked up as a possible option for closer on days (weeks?) when Joey Devine is unavailable. If the A's have any hope of contending in '09, this won't happen. Let Ziegler face tough RH hitters with runners on in the 7th or 8th innings and rack up the double plays a la the effective version of Chad Bradford circa the 19th century. Don't let him face Ichiro Suzuki or Josh Hamilton in the 9th inning of a one-run game.

Surefire '09 Prediction: Ziegler's aw-shucks personality, combined with his overt friendliness towards the fans and media will ensure season-long protection from criticism. There's simply NO way he can repeat his run prevention from the year before. Instead of blame, Ziegler will be defended with excuses that reference his mechanics or his release point or a hidden injury.

Monday, March 23, 2009

TBG's Desert Travel Diary - Part I

Thursday, March 12

12:00 AM – 2:15 AM: Zzzzzz…

2:15 AM: …zzz. Awake! Stupid benign illness already covered in a previous post.

4:45 AM: I'd been up for a few hours trying to name hockey teams against the clock and such, when I realized that I'd need a little more sleep if I had any hope of making it thru what was sure to be a long day. I plopped on the couch.

5:00 AM: I'm nodding off…I'm nodding off…I'm nodd… Zzzzzz.

5:14 AM: "Daddy, is today the day we go to Arizona?!"


9:15 AM: Actual conversation with my wife, right before we left the house to begin our stress-free long weekend in Arizona:

Mrs. Bootleg: "Do you think we still have time to get breakfast?"

Me: "Dude, we've got plenty of time. Our flight's still at 12:45 PM, right?"

Mrs. Bootleg: "No, it's at 12:40. Not 12:45, it's 12:40."

Me: "…"


9:30 AM: I'm feeling like Zombiefied Bootleg Guy as we pull into The Pancake House. (In fact, one of my all-time favorite openings to my old music column was actually a review of the place. Embrace the dated references! Limit 10 per reader.)

The food's still overrated, but Mrs. Bootleg and the boy – hell, ALL of San Diego save for me – love the place. Last time we were there, Jalen finished five pancakes and then scraped his mom and dad's plates before finishing with a two-sausage chaser.

9:40 AM: We weren't there long before I'd spilled my orange juice on my shirt. Clinically asleep, I reached for what I thought was my half-finished glass of water. I tipped the (unexpectedly full) glass back – assuming I had a second or two before the liquid refreshment was gliding down my gullet – and it was all over me.

10:45 AM: This vacation is brought to you by the good people at U.S. Airways. That Bootleg Family has brought with us two medium-sized rolling suitcases, two smaller carry-on bags, Mrs. Bootleg's camera bag and Jalen's car seat. (I know what you're thinking: "For a FOUR day weekend, Cam?" My five-word retort: "Black woman's hair care products.")

We check two of the bags and the car seat, discovering that the listed baggage fees on US Airways' own website are apparently obsolete. For those scoring at home, over a week later, their listed prices are still wrong. Also, "gratuities not accepted"? These skycaps took our tip without dispute. (I always tip $10/bag. With inflation, I assume that episode of Seinfeld is still the industry standard.)

11:30 AM: Halfway through a cup of Starbucks' superlative Pike's Place Roast – which was totally worth the 275% airport mark-up, BTW – m'man Mr. Brooks calls from the office. He's watching my desk and has discovered that I'd inadvertently delivered some of our internal documentation to the Government prior to the submittal of a small proposal. I might've compromised our entire negotiating position. This could be serious.

11:31 AM: "Daddy, I have to go potty!" This is more serious. And, for those following from my last travel diary, the boy is now pooping at an eighth-grade level.

11:40 AM: I return to the gate with Jalen. "Could you PLEASE do something with him so I can get some work done?!" Hmm…in hindsight, it does sound like I was a little snippy with Mrs. Bootleg there. But, did she acknowledge my use of the word "please"? No. I propose we share the blame.

12:15 PM: With the work crisis averted, we board our flight to Phoenix. At barely an hour in the air, this should be the kind of smooth, uneventful travel that makes these travel diaries of mine a dull read. Right? Right?


30 A's in 30 Days – Michael Ynoa

Acquired: Signed as undrafted amateur free agent (July 2, 2008).
Contract: $4.25M signing bonus. No Major League experience.
Position: Pitcher. Also, my tipping point into middle age. Dude was born three months after I graduated from high school.

Projected ERA: N/A

Over/Under: Kevin Goldstein – Baseball Prospectus' amateur and minor league expert – listed Ynoa as the #1 prospect in the A's crazy deep system, calling him a "once in a generation" talent. Baseball America believes that he's the best Dominican pitching prospect in at least a decade (pfft…you call THAT hyperbole, BA?). Video from Ynoa's first workout in A's camp has been watched over 4,700 times! Christ, the A's can't even draw to YouTube? Anyways, as someone who lived through these guys (see "By the Numbers"), you'll forgive me if I don't get all gushy at the latest "Rated Rookie". Based solely on the hype, how can anyone not take the UNDER?

By the Numbers: 43 – Combined Major League wins for Oakland's so-called "Four Aces" class of the 1990 draft. Todd Van Poppel went 40-54 with a 5.58 ERA during a career that ended in 2004, while Kirk Dressendorfer notched the other three collective wins in 1991. Don Peters and Dave Zancanaro were just…I mean, yikes. As a wise publication once said, TINSTAAPP.

Surefire '09 Prediction: Even by the standards of bullpen specialists and pitch counts, Ynoa will be handled with kid gloves. He almost certainly won't leave the state of Arizona any time soon, first with extended spring training, then a possible debut in rookie ball this summer. The hype will continue unabated until 2010, at the earliest.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

TBG Takes: Zyrtec, Flonase, Allegra, Astelin, Formula 409, the Neti Pot & Prednisone

With Messiah Obama attempting to solve all of America's problems by Memorial Day, I thought I'd give him a first-person account of what he's up against with health care. Quick background: I've had a nagging, annoying cough since February…of 2008. It came and went for the first few months, but then it invited its friends, cousins and co-workers to come live in my upper respiratory tract.

September 2008: I visit my primary care physician. My $25 co-pay gets me 10 minutes of doctor's valuable time. He explains the same common causes of a chronic cough that I found the night before on this website. I receive a prescription for the treatment of acid reflux (which I've never had in my life) and a recommendation to try an over-the-counter allergy medication. My doctor specifically mentions Zyrtec due to its "non-drowsy" characteristics.

A month's worth of Zyrtec set me back another $27.99. And, if anyone out there wants to re-live their college days – or, more specifically, the un-caffeinated feeling from those 8:00 AM freshman Philosophy classes – you should pop one of these lil' white pills. Turns out they DO induce drowsiness (says so right on the back of the bottle). Lord knows I need to feel sleepier after 10 hours of reading the agate type of defense contracts.

October 2008: I follow-up with my PCP. Neither medication is really working, although I did notice a negative difference when I missed a day of the Zyrtec. The doctor wants me to stay on both, but only the Zyrtec seems to serve a purpose. He schedules chest x-rays and a spirometry exam, which both come back clean.

January 2009: My cough's getting worse. I feel completely fine, save for the fact that I sound like I invented emphysema. I call my PCP's office and ask for a referral to an ENT specialist. The doctor's office instead recommends that I see a pulmonary expert. I've had ridiculous sinus issues since the ninth grade. I can feel the crud running from my sinuses down the back of my throat. My independent – and, admittedly, incomplete – research points towards an ENT, but I'm essentially overruled. Oh, and, it'll be five weeks before the pulmonary people can see me.

February 2009: I meet with the pulmonary specialist. She immediately wants to pursue the allergy avenue ("Oh, you have a cat? You'd be surprised how many people are allergic to cats and don't even realize it!"). Eleven years of my non-reaction to "Whiskers" has obviously been some sort of biological lie. She writes me up for Flonase and Allegra. This is awesome. I know it's not going to work, but then again…it might. It MIGHT!

Neither one works and by the middle of the month, I'm waking up in the middle of the night with shortness of breath, wheezing and an imaginary elephant atop my chest cavity.

I call the doctor on Monday, February 23rd and am told that she'll call me back later in the day. Her nurse calls me around 4:45 PM to tell me that the doctor never made it into the office today. I'm told the doctor will be in on Tuesday and she'll call me as soon as she can.

On Wednesday, the doctor finally calls back – apologizing for being out of the office on Monday AND Tuesday. She prescribes something called Astelin to replace the Flonase. It didn't work either, but on the plus side it felt like spraying Formula 409 up my nose. Singes the nostrils. For the next few weeks, I self-medicate with a topical cocktail of Vicks Vapo-Rub and, yes, this thing. Mrs. Bootleg's idea. Ah, desperation.

March 2009: So, this past Monday, I met with the pulmonary doctor again. I tell her that none of the meds have worked and my symptoms have only gotten worse. Her eyes widened, an ear-to-ear grin creasing her face. You'd have thought she had unexpectedly found, oh, say, $25 in an old coat pocket. "I'm prescribing prednisone and montelukast", she explained. "I'm certain this will be the mix that works for you."

OK, so…this one WILL work? What the hell was your diagnosis last month…practice?!

And, dig these side-effects for prednisone: trouble sleeping (!); weight gain (!!); mood changes (!!!). It's a steroid! The "good" kind!

I've been on this stuff for nearly a week. I'm sleeping a little better, but I'm still coughing. And, in six days, I've gone from 167 lbs. to 172 lbs., despite a loss of appetite and a diet that's mostly been chicken, fish, fruit and fruit juice. I did try'n slip in a Kilt Lifter earlier in the week with dinner, though. Spectacularly bad idea, alcohol with these two new drugs. Sorry for the unexpected Boston Marathon, heart, lungs and sweat glands.

Hopefully, next month's random doctor guess will go better with beer.

30 A's in 30 Days – Trevor Cahill

Acquired: Drafted in 2nd round, 2006.
Contract: One year thru 2009. No Major League experience.
Position: Future (2009?) member of A's rotation.

Projected ERA: 4.82

Over/Under: Stuff-wise, the experts have him neck-and-neck with fellow A's phenom Brett Anderson. Cahill was named the A's organizational pitcher of the year for the second straight season (11-5, 2.61 ERA between A-Stockton and AA-Midland) and, for me, he's a local boy who somehow escaped the Samoan gangs of Oceanside, CA to become one of the best prospects in the game. I am, of course, assuming that the Deep Valley Bloods have been looking to racially diversify with white guys named Trevor. Huh? Oh, right...UNDER.

By the Numbers: -2.58, 1.43, -1.58 – Respectively, Cahill's decrease in strikeouts per nine innings; increase in walks per nine innings and decrease in K/BB ratio after he was promoted and pitched 37 innings at double-A. Baseball America has him listed as the game's #11 prospect, but he's really not ready yet. All bets are off, however, if he blows through the middle-aged men and fading veterans who comprise triple-A line-ups these days.

Surefire '09 Prediction: If Cahill is promoted to Oakland early in the season, keep your eye on the June 18-20 weekend series between the A's and San Diego Padres at PETCO Park. If Cahill is scheduled to pitch, it'll be the first time in nearly 20 years that a road ballpark will be filled with more A's fans (OK, OK...Cahill fans) than those rooting for the home team. I miss 1989-1992.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

30 A's in 30 Days – Brett Anderson

Acquired: Traded from Arizona as part of package for Dan Haren (December 14, 2007).
Contract: One year thru 2009. No Major League experience.
Position: Future (2009?) member of A's rotation.

Projected ERA: 4.71

Over/Under: The worst kept secret in A's camp is that Anderson has a better than 50/50 chance of opening the season in Oakland's rotation. Every scouting report I've read on him uses words like "advanced", "polished" and "son of a pitching coach". In 225 minor league innings, he's fanned 243 and walked only 48. Yeah, yeah…only 31 of those innings were above single-A. My retort? UNDER, b*tches.

By the Numbers: 7, 2, 12 – Anderson ranked seventh on Baseball America's 2009 Top 100 prospects list. For the sake of reference, Baseball Prospectus lists his #2 comp as former Mets phenom, Bill Pulsipher – who was the #12 prospect in the game according to Baseball America's 1995 Top 100 list. I know that should temper my expectations, but let's not forget that Pulsipher was part of the greatest nicknamed baseball stable in recent memory: Generation K. That's gotta be worth something.

Surefire '09 Prediction: Singer-songwriter Brett Anderson's reign atop Google search results for "Brett Anderson" will come to an end. Eat it, England!

Friday, March 20, 2009

TBG TV: Lost - "Namaste"

The Good:

The return of Jeff Fahey's "Frank Lapidus" character has been one of the more underrated highlights of the season. He doesn't get many lines, yet his laid back/go-with-the-flow vibe is completely convincing. I loved how the crash survivors immediately dismissed Lapidus' "sit and wait" plan. I'd have no faith in his hippie-cum-pilot ersatz authority, either.

While I'm STILL not sold on Sun's "bad ass persona with a side of supple pout", it was satisfying to see someone - anyone - not trust Ben and act accordingly. She even played Ben with his own "get the information I need, then whack the informant" gimmick.

I would've preferred a slower burn, but the mini-confrontation between Jack and Sawyer over the mantle of leadership was perfectly passable. Sawyer using the number of castaways who died on Jack's watch was a total d*ck thing to say, but it fit with Sawyer's underlying hostility towards the good doctor.

"Workman Jack"!

The Bad:

It was nice to see such an obvious nod to one of the show's endless loose ends. Although, the "runway" scene, while linking back to season three's second episode, has me worried. There are dozens more "what was the point" questions that I could come up with from the first four years. Somehow, I doubt we're going to get proper closure on everything.

Wait, just so we're clear: This newly-cynical Sun doesn't trust Ben, but she DOES take the word of a ghost she's never seen before, who says her husband's alive in 1977. Makes sense to me.

I think I touched on this two weeks ago, but "boo" on the writers for dumbing down the Juliet character. She's been at least a half-step ahead of every other original Oceanic castaway, yet she needs Sawyer to spell out that Jack, Kate and Hurley are back on the island? How else should she have read Sawyer's frenetic body language?

And, come on…Juliet and Kate are neighbors now? Is this leading up to a 25th anniversary homage to ABC-TV's Alexis Colby and Krystle Carrington cat fighting apex? What, y'all don't remember Dynasty? It starred John Forsythe and his real-life mother Linda Evans. John Forsythe! Come on…he was the Charlie's Angels guy. Charlie's Angels! Bah, I'm through with you people.

Verdict: I dunno. This ep's getting a lot of love online, but it felt like 44 minutes of place holding to me. The writers have re-re-established the Jack-Sawyer-Juliet-Kate love rectangle. We got the inevitable appearance of young 1977 Ben. And, the seeds are being sown to establish a NEW group of castaways. Hopefully, next week's Sayid-centric episode gets things going forward, again.

30 A's in 30 Days – Gio Gonzalez

Acquired: Traded from Chicago (AL) as part of package for Nick Swisher (January 3, 2008).
Contract: One year thru 2009. Eligible for arbitration after 2011.
Position: Could be starter, could be reliever

Projected ERA: 4.59

Over/Under: If Gonzalez can find a way to gain consistent command of his stuff, he could get that ERA under 4.00. Kid's got a nice low-90s fastball and a bludgeoning curveball, but even Gonzalez doesn't know where they're going to land from start-to-start. I watched him get rattled by road crowds, runners on base and defensive miscues in the 10 games he appeared. It seems crazy unlikely that he'll figure it all out between the ears over one offseason, but his pure stuff could result in a poor man's 1990-92 Randy Johnson. OVER.

By the Numbers: 141 – The A's rookie record for strikeouts in a season held by Rick Langford (1977). Gonzalez is a lock to clear that hurdle with room to spare, assuming he gets enough starts in '09. Unfortunately, it'll be another 32 years before anyone tops Langford's mustachioed swagga.

Surefire '09 Prediction: With Gonzalez's rookie status still in tact, he'll likely be forced to participate in another round of freshman hazing. Can he top last year's "Swiss Miss" ensemble? I'm guessing – no, I'm certain he can.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

TBG Drinks: Kilt Lifter

Brewed By: Four Peaks Brewing Company
Brewed In: Tempe, Arizona
Type: Scottish Ale
ABV: 6.0%

What They Say: "Kilt Lifter is brewed in the long tradition of smooth, full bodied Scottish ales. It is marked by a warm balance of hop and malt, with the slightest hint of peat-smoked barley. A traditional touch for a fine ale whose merits are many."

Website: The overall web design leaves something to be desired. Everything is nudged to the left resulting in an odd amount of empty space that takes up 40% of the screen. The intra-site links lead to the usual array of newsletter sign-ups, an infrequently updated blog, men/women's apparel and a way-too-short synopsis of their beers.

Why I Picked It: During That Bootleg Family's visit to Arizona, we spent an evening with the Mysterious Mr. & Mrs. S, who recently relocated to Glendale from San Diego. Always the gracious hosts, they offered us two different homemade appetizers followed by an entrée of bacon n' blue cheese sliders. A bottle of Kilt Lifter hit my hand the moment I walked through the door.


Presentation (5): The logo is deliciously risqué without ever crossing over to ribald. The "Kilt Lifter" name isn't all that original – as I've since discovered – but, considering this is one of Four Peaks' signature lines, the branding is clever enough to attract young drinkers and familiar enough to keep 'em coming back. 5

Originality (5): It's a Scottish Ale with a Scottish-tinged logo and the word "Scottish" in its name. If my random Google search for "Scottish ale" is any indication, then these are traits the beer industry requires of ALL Scottish ales released in America. 1

Body (10): It pours a slightly cloudy amber with a thin head not unlike the color of a comfortable pair of khaki pants. Decent, but unspectacular, lacing. Very similar to the mass-produced amber ales out there, which isn't a bad thing. In fact, I'd put this slightly ahead of the mean. 6

Taste (10): Toasty with a level of sweetness that might be too strong for some, but was pure liquid Goodness to me. The caramel and toffee gradually give way to a malty, creamy, smoky mouthfeel that finishes with light citrus kick. I know the words "crisp" and "clean" are usually synonymous with commercialized light beers, but when the adjectives fit… 10

Efficiency (10): I finished three bottles over two dinner courses. Truly one of the more drinkable beers I've had in that the higher-than-average ABV isn't the least bit noticeable until you're well into a six pack. Its smoothness and minimal aftertaste only help its case. 10

Versatility (10): Simple enough to be enjoyed by the pitcher at happy hour, with just enough complexity to be appreciated by more tolerant beer snobs. It's fitting that Kilt Lifter is only available in Arizona, as I can't imagine a better beer for the state's eight months of 212° weather. 9

Grade: 41 (out of 50) – Great beer

The above format has been lifted with permission from That Beer Snob Guy.

30 A's in 30 Days – Sean Gallagher

Acquired: Traded from Chicago (NL) as part of package for Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin (July 8, 2008).
Contract: One year thru 2009. Eligible for arbitration after 2010.
Position: #3 or #4 starting pitcher

Projected ERA: 4.43

Over/Under: At the time the A's acquired Gallagher, I was…less than enthusiastic. His work in the green and gold didn't impress me, either, as he won just two of his 11 starts in Oakland. Gallagher's minor league numbers (38-17 W-L record in 88 starts; 482 Ks in 481 innings and a 2.77 ERA) are positively eye-popping, though, and he'll only be 23 years old entering this season. I'd love to be wrong, but I'm just not convinced he's ready to turn the corner in the big leagues yet. OVER.

By the Numbers: 1, 3 – Baseball Prospectus lists Jeff Russell and Jim Gott as Gallagher's first and third-strongest comps. Both broke into the bigs while in their early 20s, both had several uneven seasons as starting pitchers and both enjoyed long careers when eventually moved to the bullpen. With a bushel of fresh young arms in their farm system, 2009 might be Gallagher's last chance to establish himself as a starter in Oakland.

Surefire '09 Prediction: Gallagher will remind longtime A's fans of a young Jose Rijo, who mixed the occasionally dominant start with maddening stretches of ineffectiveness from 1985-1987. Speaking of which, whatever happened to Jose Rijo? I never heard from him again after Oakland traded him to Cincinnati. And, I certainly didn't hear from him in the 1990 World Series. Not a peep.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

30 A's in 30 Days – Justin Duchscherer

Acquired: Traded from Texas for Luis Vizcaino (suckers!) (March 18, 2002).
Contract: One year thru 2009. Eligible for free agency after 2009.
Position: Formerly the #1 starter

Projected ERA: 4.05

Over/Under: Fangraphs posted a piece on Duchscherer last November that questioned how many of his 2008 numbers (2.54 ERA, .240 BABIP) could be repeated. The author – as reflected separately in Duke's above projection – was not optimistic. Making matters worse, Duke has been shut down this spring due to persistent pain in his right elbow. The current (unpublicized) plan is to put him on the DL to start the season and have him pitch out of the bullpen when healthy, in advance of joining the rotation. I don't see a lot of innings in '09, but he'll come in UNDER that projected ERA, me thinks.

By the Numbers: 1 – The number of writers who suggested the A's would be wise to trade Duchscherer before last year's July 31 deadline – even referencing how his value would never be higher than it was last summer. Who was that handsome Afrocentric scribe?

Surefire '09 Prediction: Duchscherer is pitching for his first free agent payday after the season and, as a result, has publicly resisted a permanent relocation back to the bullpen. Greed n' ego get best of him here, as Duke will finish with just one or two more wins than months lost to the disabled list.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

30 A's in 30 Days – Dana Eveland

Acquired: Traded from Arizona (along with the entire D'Backs' minor league system) for Dan Haren (December 14, 2007).
Contract: One year thru 2009. Eligible for arbitration after 2010.
Position: #1 or #2 starting pitcher

Projected ERA: 4.13

Over/Under: The 2009 edition of Baseball Prospectus says: "[Eveland's] an average, usable starter, which is all that the A's are expecting from him at the back end of their rotation this year". Ummm, yeah, except the A's have all but anointed him their "ace" with Justin Duchscherer likely to open the year on the DL. Eveland walks too damn many, doesn't strike out nearly enough and last year's 4.34 ERA is almost certainly his ceiling. OVER.

By the Numbers: 89.9 – It didn't get much play outside of Oakland (lousy east coast bias) but on May 16, 2008, Eveland established what's believed to be a new Major League record in getting thrown out at home plate by nearly 90 feet. Atlanta RF Jeff Francoeur threw a laser to nail our corpulent pitcher whose awkward "slide" into home was akin to cow tipping.

Surefire '09 Prediction: Dana Eveland will go down as the second-least memorable Opening Day starting pitcher in team history. Your gold medal remains safe 1996 Carlos Reyes!

Monday, March 16, 2009

30 A's in 30 Days – Dallas Braden

Acquired: Drafted in 24th round, 2004.
Contract: One year thru 2009. Eligible for arbitration after 2010.
Position: #2 or #3 Starting Pitcher

Projected ERA: 4.15

Over/Under: OK. It's only Spring Training. No one should put a lick of stock into anything they see in Spring Training. But, on Saturday, m'man "JPinAZ" and I watched Braden toss four innings of one-run ball in which the Giants took one bad, off-balance swing after another. And, if I'm going to sacrilege against one of the prime stats-based beliefs, I might as well go all in: Braden finally LOOKS like he belongs in bigs. Dude's always carried himself with a false swagger, but now said swagger appears sincere. I'm going UNDER (an ERA lower than his projection) and, potentially, a huge fantasy sleeper if he gets decent run support.

By the Numbers: 209 – The area code for Braden's hometown of Stockton, California. The Spring Training program I purchased at the A's game on Saturday included a picture of Braden wearing an oversized "209" jersey while volunteering at a food bank over the holidays. Nate Dogg started the Area Code craze in 2001. I'm pretty sure Ruben Studdard asphyxiated it in '03.

Surefire '09 Prediction: At some point in the season – maybe at the start, maybe in the summer – the planets will align and Braden will reel off something like six wins in a row. The rest of you will be subjected to at least one soft-focus feature on ESPN or the MLB Network that focuses on his difficult upbringing, random tattoos and/or his awful hair.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

30 A's in 30 Days – Daric Barton

Acquired: Traded from St. Louis (with SP Dan Haren, RP Kiko Calero) for SP Mark Mulder (December 18, 2004).
Contract: One year thru 2009. Eligible for arbitration after 2010.
Position: Odd man out, it would seem.

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.255/.358/.390)

Over/Under: Barton's projection represents a 30 point leap from his 2008 OBP and more than 40 points on last year's SLG. There's optimism and then there's crazy, wild-eyed Obama-mism, kids. Barton's season line last year was .226/.327/.348 – although if we throw out his respectable April, it drops to .215/.311/.337. Then, again, Barton IS only 23 years old…and he DID post a .943 OPS in his final 31 games. So torn. Wait, what's that? Offseason hip surgery? No room for him on the A's to start the season? I'll still take the OVER. Sometimes, hope is a strategy.

By the Numbers: 6 – The listed height – in feet – for Daric Barton. It's also the number of staples inserted into his head during the '08 All-Star Break after Barton dove into a swimming pool that was decidedly shallower than six feet. And, when a member of the otherwise anonymous Oakland A's makes Deadspin

Surefire '09 Prediction: This year's A's are relying on an awful lot of aging and/or injury-prone players. Barton will get enough of an opportunity to win over the naysayers with a solid sophomore campaign, before turning them all off again once they realize that Barton's offensive ceiling is Hal Morris/Sean Casey.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Jack Cust is a Mountain of a Man

30 A's in 30 Days – Landon Powell

Acquired: Drafted in 1st round, 2004.
Contract: One year thru 2009. No prior Major League service time.
Position: Back-up catcher for the one or two games per month that Kurt Suzuki sits out.

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.217/.310/.373)

Over/Under: Though Powell has fought back from major surgery on both knees and a maddening inability to control his weight (published reports have had him anywhere from 30 to 300 pounds overweight in recent years – typos, notwithstanding) he's pretty much hit the ceiling of his talent. He'll be 27 next week and he's never played a Major League game. Powell will do just fine at catching the ceremonial first pitch. He'll be dandy at warming up the pitcher at the start of the following inning after Suzuki grounds out to end the previous inning and needs time to put his gear on. He'll also fall UNDER that projection.

By the Numbers: 15 – Percentage of innings in 2008 caught by A's back-up catcher Rob Bowen. He also racked up less than 100 plate appearances. Hard to understand how a gelatinous blob like Powell can avoid one of those extended 0-for-something stretches by retarding his own momentum with one start every 10 days.

Surefire '09 Prediction: All of those sumptuous post-game spreads at the Major League level? The increase in per diem from what he got at Triple-A Sacramento? That delicious basket of popcorn chicken and fries served behind Section 116 at the Oakland Coliseum? This won't end well.

Friday, March 13, 2009

30 A's in 30 Days – Rajai Davis

Acquired: Selected off waivers from San Francisco Giants (April 23, 2008).
Contract: One year thru 2009. Eligible for arbitration after 2010.
Position: Pinch-runner, defensive replacement, fifth ("fif!") OF

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.254/.309/.350)

Over/Under: Our friends at Baseball Prospectus have two of Davis' top three comps as Jacob Brumfield and Gary Thurman! I actually like Davis as a potential role player in Oakland, though. His career .706 OPS vs. LHP isn't great (and it's only in about 200 plate appearances), but if the A's can spell CF Ryan Sweeney with Rajai twice a week AND if he's not given too many ABs against right-handers, the OVER is actually reachable. Not by much, but still…

By the Numbers: 25 – Stolen bases by Davis in Oakland last year. It's the most steals in a season by an Athletic since Johnny Damon's 27 in 2001. I'd also like to point out that in 1982; Rickey Henderson stole 22, 27, 24, 26 and 24 bases in each MONTH from April through August, respectively. Remember: there are no such things as tornadoes. Rickey Henderson just happens to hate trailer parks.

Surefire '09 Prediction: Davis will steal a base or get on with a drag bunt or leg out a triple in the blink of an eye at some point during the season. Afterwards, every game recap will – for the millionth time – misinterpret/malign the "Moneyball" philosophy and declare Davis as "refreshing" or some such nonsense.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It's 3:00 AM and Aaron Can't Sleep

Name all 30 NHL teams!

Aaron's Score: 27 out of 30 – I totally blame the insomnia, kids. And, that's not a cop-out as I spaced on the New Jersey Devils (unforgiveable), the Ottawa Senators (less so) and the Washington Capitals (what's worse than "unforgiveable"?). I must've entered "Stars" a dozen times, wondering why it wouldn't take when, after my five minutes were up, I realized…it took.

Name all 30 MLB managers!

Aaron's Score: 26 out of 30 – I threw in the towel with a little less than five minutes to go. I'll take comfort in the fact that I know the new Seattle Mariners' manager AND how to spell "Piniella". And, I take no shame in blanking on the last name of the Royals' skipper or forgetting the forgettable men who helm the Orioles, Pirates and Marlins.

Name the teams that have never played in a Super Bowl!

Aaron's Score: 4 out of 5 – Only had a minute for this one and I omitted the team that (according to the page's stats) more people missed than any other. So, there.

Name the characters from Challenge of the Superfriends!

Aaron's Score: 23 out of 24 – No excuse. Just…no excuse. Again, according to the stats, it was the least recognizable name on there, but still.

Name the ringers from Homer at the Bat!

Aaron's Score: 9 out of 9 – 19 seconds. Pfft…challenge me.

30 A's in 30 Days – Jack Hannahan

Acquired: Traded from Detroit Tigers (August 14, 2007).
Contract: One year thru 2009. Eligible for arbitration after 2010.
Position: Ersatz Eric Chavez

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.237/.333/.367)

Over/Under: A case could be made that Hannahan (.647 OPS) was the worst everyday hitter in baseball last year. And, how great is it for A's fans that the only other rational candidates (Bobby Crosby (.645) and Daric Barton (.675)) were with Oakland in '08 as well? Hannahan raised expectations among some of our more simple-minded fans with a fluky-fluke-fluke 144 at bats at the end of '07 (.793 OPS) and a "quadruple-A breakout" for the then 27-year-old at AAA-Toledo. Swing is not unlike a more upright Phil Plantier. Take the way UNDER. Dude's a terrible hitter.

By the Numbers: 87 – The overall selection in the 2001 MLB amateur draft. For those scoring at home, Hannahan went 231 picks ahead of 2008 ROY Geovany Soto and 251 picks before Dan Uggla. If Sparky Anderson were still managing the Tigers he could've given Hannahan the full-on Torey Lovullo treatment

Surefire '09 Prediction: Jack will have ample time to hone his dizzy bat race and cow milking skills as he makes another circuitous run through America's finest minor leagues cities.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Upcoming Travel Diary – Arizona

You will often hear or read Scottsdale [Arizona] referred to as "Snotsdale" or "Snobsdale", and Scottsdalians labeled snotty, snooty and/or stuck up. This isn't new--it's been this way for many, many years. -- About.com

When: March 12 – 15…we're leaving on Thursday, coming home Sunday. My friends can't believe we're flying to Phoenix, which is about 350 miles from San Diego. See, here's the thing: I don't DO road trips, kids. Once I started earning a bit of disposable income, there were two things I immediately gave up – (1) long car rides and (2) more than two friends in a single hotel room. If we can't get there in 90 minutes, it's American Airlines.

Where: Phoenix, AZ…although, our hotel is in Scottsdale. Thankfully, I married the original Negro Elitist – a woman who grew up poor, but put herself through college – achieving a bachelor's degree and an M.B.A. Soon, thereafter, she would turn her back on her roots and start looking down her nose to everybody. Besides, we'd rather stay someplace where we don't have to guess where the "good" side of town is:

I dislike the generalization that the west side of the metro Phoenix area is inferior to the east side. -- same article

Primary Purpose: Spring Training! On March 13, your Oakland A's will be playing the Indians at the Tribe's new facility in Goodyear. The following afternoon, the A's host the Giants in Phoenix. We'll be at both games! The relaxed atmosphere! Big numbers on the back of jerseys! Regular season prices on food, souvenirs and parking!

Secondary Purpose: Booze mule! I'll be bootlegging (woo!) a half-dozen 22 oz. bottles of Sawyer's Triple over the border for some thirsty friends in the desert. Since passengers can no longer carry-on bottles of liquid larger than three ounces, I'll be entrusting the safety of this unofficial six-pack with the calloused hands and sticky fingers of America's baggage handlers.

Tertiary Purpose: The unique local cuisine! Don't be fooled by my emaciated frame. When I'm not purging, I'm binging! This is always the best part of a trip for me…it's just that I have NO idea what to indulge first. I'm told 'Zona has several mom n' pop coffee-and-pastry shops – the kind we don't have in Cali-Starbucks. The state also has a few old-timey drive-in eateries that have yet to be homogenized and commercialized.

In THIS economy, I'm all about supporting the "little guy", y'know?

30 A's in 30 Days – Bobby Crosby

Acquired: Drafted in 1st round, 2001.
Contract: Five years ($12.75M, total) thru 2009.
Position: "Naa…Naga…Not gonna work here anymore – ahahahaha!"

Projected BA/OBP/SLG: (.239/.303/.357)

Over/Under: Crosby was in the news earlier this year for a handful of offseason workouts held under the watchful eye of erstwhile slugger Mark McGwire. For five years, the Bay Area media has coddled Crosby with the "If he could only stay healthy" caveat and ignored that when Crosby's been healthy, he's one of the worst hitters in baseball (career: .239/.306/.380). Predictably, the McGwire story was PROOF that Crosby had turned the corner. He even homered in his first spring at-bat! After the last three execrable seasons, he cares – he finally cares! He…selfishly torpedoed his own trade value by demanding a trade after the A's signed Orlando Cabrera. I'm going with the UNDER. And, I'm ecstatic that it won't be in Oakland.

By the Numbers: 27 – Number of first-place votes Crosby received en route to winning the 2004 AL Rookie of the Year award. Quite the fertile freshman crop, including second place finisher Shingo Takatsu (35-year-old reliever whose big league career spanned two seasons) and perennial mediocrity Daniel Cabrera who finished third.

Surefire '09 Prediction: For all of the accolades Oakland's front office accrues, the one thing they don't get enough credit for is how deliciously vindictive they can be to a player who pisses on 'em in public. Even with the unfortunate – albeit totally expected – Eric Chavez injury news, Crosby's an expensive redundancy in a back-up role. The A's will wait until every other team's roster is set, before releasing Crosby at the end of Spring Training.