Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The LL Chronicles #13: Practices, Clinics, Scrimmages & Jalen Pitches!

As most of you know, I was recently railroaded into managing my seven eight-year-old son's Little League team this spring. Jalen will be playing in the "farm" division on the A's -- a magnificent confluence of random fluke AND our favorite Major League Baseball team! It's been three weeks since ten other children were essentially left at my doorstep. In that time, we've held three 90-minute practices and a two-hour scrimmage. Our first official game is on Valentine's Day* and these are my early experiences and observations:

* -- I've already made the "getting my wife a baseball diamond for Valentine's Day" joke 20 times over the past two days. Friends, co-workers, Mrs. Bootleg...they've all heard it. I regret nothing.

When in Oakland -- I'm taking my case to the readers of this lightly-read blog, because my wife and I can't seem to reach an agreement. Is it considered over-the-top to purchase white batting gloves with forest green trim for your baseball-loving child because that's what the
players on his favorite team wear? And, where do you stand on the purchase of a matching green batting helmet? Just for grins, let's say it was affixed with a gold A's logo decal that was separately obtained off of eBay. Y'know...as worn by the players on his favorite team. That's not "over the top", is it? Of course, it's not. Could you guys let my wife know?

The Designated Hitter -- During my introductory phone calls to the parents of my players, I contacted a father who insisted his 10-year-old son was "too good" for the farm division. His son tried out for the next higher level, but wasn't drafted by a team so he dropped down to our division. I was less than thrilled when the league asked me to invite the child to one of my practices where he'd receive a second evaluation from the upper division. When he showed up, he was the biggest kid on the field...but, he couldn't throw or catch. Our practice hadn't even ended when the league's player agent confirmed I'd be keeping this kid on my team. It wasn't until our next practice -- a week later -- that I got to see him hit. Oh, my. Left-handed...all torque...all bulk. He was obliterating the ball. Jalen compared the kid's swing to
this guy...and I couldn't disagree. Welcome, new player! I can teach him defense. Can't I?

Clinically Speaking -- Every Little League manager in our district is required to attend a 90-minute coaching clinic. As you might imagine, I
took it in stride. It began at 9:00 AM and was held outdoors on a drizzly 48-degree morning. It was a lot like traffic school as the instructors taught us obvious lessons ("Be patient with your players.") in their most condescending tone ("Don't be afraid to take a knee and talk to the kids at their level.") One of the instructors had played college baseball at San Diego State under Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. He mentioned this several times, each instance more forced than the last. Afterwards, another manager and I tried to estimate how many times a day our instructor mentions "his time in the cage, talking hitting with Coach Gwynn". We settled on 30 times/day from Sunday through Thursday and a bar/nightclub bump to 50 on Fridays and Saturdays. Don't say you weren't warned, women.

Now Pitching for the A's... -- Our team played a scrimmage against the Cardinals last Saturday. For most of the kids, it was their first chance to pitch from the mound in game conditions. Jalen was penciled in to pitch the third inning. Earlier in the week, I had a chance to discuss his impending pitching debut:

Me: "Are you excited about pitching on Saturday?"

Jalen: "Yeah. I think I'm
gonna do this if I strike someone out."

Me: "Don't do that, J."

Jalen: "Why not? Brian Wilson does it."

Me: "He does it for his father. His dad passed away and it's a tribute to him."

Jalen: [Pause] "Do I know any dead people?"

Jalen took the mound with a 6-1 lead. He was clearly nervous and rushing through his pitching routine as if the ball were a live grenade. In his one inning of work, he gave up one hit, one walk, one strikeout and no runs. Another batter reached base on a poor throw from our shortstop, which caused Jalen to turn towards our dugout and squeakily shout from the mound, "That's not a hit! That's not a hit! That's an error!" At least he didn't do the Brian Wilson thing.

Well, THIS Might be Over-the-Top -- The Oakland A's are the only Major League Baseball team that
wears white shoes. Oh, yes I did.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

2012 NFL Playoff Pickery -- Super Bowl XLVI

Last Week

Joe: 2-0 (2-0 vs. spread)
Aaron: 1-1 (2-0 vs. spread)


Joe: 7-3 (7-3 vs. spread)
Aaron: 6-4 (7-3 vs. spread)

NY Giants v. New England (-2.5)

Joe: I don't trust myself one bit when it comes to predicting this game. I really like this Giants team. I really hate this Patriots team. I think the Giants are playing their best football of the season. I feel like the Pats lucked into a monstrously weak divisional opponent and got away with one against Baltimore. I think the Giants are the better team. And yet I am petrified to pick against the upset, probably for a whole bunch of stupid reasons like karmic payback for four years ago. But does karma REALLY owe the Patriots anything? Oh, certain proprietors of ESPN fiefdoms will tell you they've been positively star-crossed for years now. They haven't even won a Super Bowl this decade!! So, okay. I'm not making this pick about karma or hot streaks or Rob Gronkowski's ankle. I'm making this about Eli Manning and Victor Cruz carving up the New England secondary at will and the Giants pass rush getting to Tom Brady just enough. God help me. Pick: NY Giants 37, New England 28

Aaron: The Patriots' season-long inability to put opponents away nearly ended their season two weeks ago against the Ravens. Admittedly, it's been easy to fling around "fluke" invectives while pointing to missed field goals and touchdown-receptions-that-weren't, but let's not forget the Giants' similar favors from the football gods in their conference championship game. QB Eli Manning spent that game drenched in terror sweat and fleeing from a frightening 49ers defense that made stop after stop. For whatever reason, the Giants' win on a special teams turnover from the 49ers hasn't been as readily dismissed. In fact, for the past two weeks, I'd argue that the most respect given to the Patriots is their opening as three-point favorites. There's been a little too much "New York KNOWS how to beat New England" analysis and referencing of the Giants' successful Super Bowl approach from four years ago. So, instead, I'll rely on my own analysis from two weeks ago: if the Patriots are involved, the final score will likely be close...and Eli Manning's drive-to-drive, play-to-play productivity schizophrenia could swing that score either way. Gulp. Pick: New England 17, NY Giants 14