SECTION 331

Just a goth girl and her baseball team. And sometimes Daniel Carroll.


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In Which Daniel Steals the Keys to the Blog

A new season brings renewed energy, and so I bring you some impressions I got on Game 1 of 162.

I love the pageantry of Opening Day. It’s the one day a year where fans get to recognize head trainer Rick Griffin and the other guys who make up the clubhouse staff. We get some nice video features, some player awards, and other festivities. Then they bring out a kid from Make-A-Wish to run the bases and they play the clip of Dave Niehaus saying “Welcome back, baseball,” and honestly I get choked up a little bit just writing the sentence without hearing the sounds or seeing the sights.

If you ever want to look like you know baseball, bring a friend to an Opening Day Mariners game. Felix shows up to work, and you know there’s going to be a point where he’s going to get super-efficient – he threw an 11-pitch second inning, 10-pitch third and seventh innings, and 13-pitch fifth and sixth innings – while mixing in 10 K’s. You could set your watch to that guy.

The promise of the Mariners this year is that they’re going to have a good middle of the order with Cano, Cruz, and Seager. Well, they went a combined 1-for-12 today and the M’s still won 4-1. Color me hopeful about this one. At some point, those guys are going to have to carry the team, but the more wins this club can steal without getting much help from that group the more likely we’ll be seeing baseball in Seattle after October 4.

I’m also encouraged to see Lloyd McClendon swapping Seth Smith for Justin Ruggiano in the seventh. While a few people behind me at the game were puzzled – why would you pinch hit for the guy who has gone 3-for-3 with two doubles and a triple? – I think it speaks to the commitment the M’s will have this year to keeping the platoon advantage. Ruggiano got himself ahead 2-0 against Angels’ lefty reliever Cesar Ramos before the count evened on a foul and a swing and a miss, but Ruggiano took balls three and four to get aboard.

Dustin Ackley’s fifth-inning home run just kept rising. Off the bat it looked like a pop-up to me, and it took a couple seconds of hang-time before I realized it was long gone. I don’t want to get too ahead of myself as Ackley hit the first home run of the season in Japan a couple years back, but if Ackley can continue to be a decent bat, the lower half of the M’s batting order looks pretty strong. In fact, it reminds me of the recent Oakland model of building a good lineup where you have a lot of decent bats but perhaps few world-beaters.

Oakland had 12 batters at the end of the season with a wRC+ between 90 and 130 (If you’re not familiar, 100 is a roughly average offensive player, guys around 130 include Kyle Seager, Josh Donaldson, Matt Holliday, and Justin Upton). Granted, only nine of the 12 had more than 100 PA’s, but the Mariners only had six players in that zone last season, period. While Cano beat the mark, the M’s who fell in the range included Seager, Michael Saunders, Logan Morrison, Chris Taylor, Endy Chavez, Ackley, and Brad Miller. Only Miller, Ackley, Seager, and Cano had more than 400 PA’s.

It is kind of interesting how watching Jered Weaver changed over the course of the game, too. He had a 19-pitch first inning leaving a lot of pitches up and out of the zone and I had figured that the Angels would need a lot more than one run if they wanted to come away with a victory this afternoon, then he sat down the M’s half of the second on six pitches and looked like the second incarnation of Jamie Moyer. Perhaps that was more telling of the M’s 5-6-7 hitters today (who went a collective 1-for-11 with a single, a double play, and a robbed home run) than it was of Weaver, but if the season comes down to the Angels and Mariners, Weaver could own a darn relevant storyline.


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BASEBALL IS HERE!

I should probably be sleeping right now, but I woke up for no reason, then started thinking about the day, and now here we are. I have listened to Martin Garrix’s “Animals” twice now, because nothing says “go back to sleep, you moron” like house music. Since closers and their songs are inseparable, it got me thinking about this article and what we might be seeing as far as NFL-style fines for some players due to the time taken on, around, and getting to the mound.

I feel like I’m one of the only people left who has no interest in the game of baseball being sped up. For the small amount of time I have been a fan, it seems that the issue of time taken by players on the hill and in the batter’s box has never really been discussed as much as it has recently, particularly this year with the new pitching clock and batter’s box rules. I understand why the league might be interested in such a thing; I get that three plus hours might be too long for people to sit and watch a game (and I have the suspicion that some of this might have to do with advertising dollars). But the length of the game is to me part of its charm. Baseball is casual. It just continues on its own with intermittent bursts of happiness or sadness; y’know, sort of like life. We rush around every day: to work, from work, through work, appointments, catching the bus, being at dinner by a certain time…all of this is on a clock. I love baseball because it’s not really on a clock; the game starts at a reliable time, of course, but you can be there for it or join it in progress and when you’re watching, you just…watch. You lose yourself in it for however long it lasts, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s like floating down a river.

Today marks the beginning of that river; we are at the source of it, here in Seattle, about 7 hours give or take from this posting . I have to take care of some laundry, load up my media bag with camera and maybe laptop if I’m feeling brave (though I am guessing I may immediately change my mind, given the sell out nature of the crowd today), and get dressed for what might be chilly weather. I need to head to work for a few hours to take care of some things that are specific to my job there, but I plan on being out of the office by 9AM at the latest, and will then head to the stadium. I am probably a little bleary due to not sleeping through the night, but what I lack in rest, I shall make up for in pure, unbridled excitement. More sights and maybe sounds later today, but right now I have to dry my clothes and maybe see if I can rest a bit more over the next hour or so.

It’s been a long winter. Let’s do this. GO MARINERS!


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Improvements, Cuts, And The Death of Victor Sanchez

This is going to have to be short; I am low on time this lunch break, just wanted to address a few things.

Mike Zunino is officially now my breakout guy, as of yesterday, when he went 2 for 3, hitting a double and home run. Whatever he is doing is working, at least in Spring Training. Working with Robinson Cano seems to be paying off in doubles, at least. It will be interesting to see how he does against for-real, it-counts major league pitching, but his improvement since camp started is super encouraging, and I hope he can keep up his streak this year. Likewise, Taijuan Walker beat out Roenis Elias for that coveted spot in the rotation, throwing a nice one-run seven innings yesterday against the Angels. They aren’t saying anything official yet of course, but Elias got sent down the other day, so the choice seems pretty obvious to me. Walker has had to face a combination of both major and minor league hitting, and one run in seven innings is nothing to shake a stick at. Clearly, he is very serious about making it. Having Elias hang around is a positive as well, since JA Happ got kind of rocked last Tuesday. I understand that the Mariners wanted a veteran in the lineup, that’s fine, it’s their decision. But Happ is not proven here in Seattle, and I’d be lying if I said he doesn’t make me nervous. I always have a guy who is going to need to prove himself to me. Happ is this year’s guy. Fernando Rodney was last year’s. Rodney still scares the daylights out of me, but he does get the job done. I’d be OK with Happ doing the same thing, as long as he does, in fact, get the job done. I can live with a few scares. So it’s up to you now, JA.

More cuts happened the other day. I can’t say I’m surprised by any of them, but I’m kind of bummed out about Mark Lowe. It was unrealistic to think that he was going to make it, but now maybe I have more reason to take a few games in down south at Cheney. Also, feel free to laugh at the fact that I had completely forgotten about Joe Saunders. Poor Joe Saunders.

Lastly, the death of Victor Sanchez.  For anyone reading this not familiar with the game or team (my hairdresser follows football, and thought that one of our roster guys had died), Victor Sanchez was a 20-year-old pitcher from Venezuela. He was swimming when he was run over by a boat, which caused extensive head injuries and he had been in a medically-induced coma in an effort to help him overcome skull fractures and a cranial hematoma for about a month or so. There was not much news over that time, and I had hoped that no news meant good news, but it was not to be. Mr Sanchez died in hospital on February 28th. I found out from Twitter and remember making an audible gasp, when Tom asked me what was wrong. Such a freak accident, and he was so young. A few of my friends have seen him play in Everett, and met him, saying he was a good person. I heard via Twitter that fans have created a makeshift shrine near the gates of the Ms camp in Arizona. His jersey number 48 was hung in the dugout during the training game the other day. A loss to baseball. Rest in peace, Victor.


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Fifteen Days Til The Circus Comes Back to Town

This week has been busy. I have been getting up at 4 and finding myself asleep by 7.30 or 8 at night, which allows me just enough time to eat dinner and relax a bit, but not as much time as I would like to write (and forget trying to do it at work, I have been swamped). So I had missed being able to be timely on one of my favorite things the Mariners do! The commercials!

They were of course released earlier this week, and while there are only four this year as opposed to the usual five or six, on at least one, the Mariners just about outdid themselves. I haven’t loved one of their commercials as much as I love the new Fernando Rodney commercial since George Sherrill and JJ Putz debated baseball as a “thinking man’s game” back in 2007. In Where Does It Go, Rodney’s arrow puncturing a bouncy house at an Oakland A’s fan’s home even made Tom laugh genuinely, and where sports are concerned, that is pretty hard to do. Nelson Cruz’s assessment of Rodney’s arrow as “not real. It’s a air arrow!” as Logan Morrison refused to believe him cracked me up. I’m hoping we’ll see more of that A’s fan reaction from other teams this year than ever before.

Hawt Corner I found funny, but only for Kyle Seager’s reaction to Charlie Furbush and Tom Wilhelmsen’s fanboying over the band. “Please don’t do that” sums it up. But Furbush and Wilhelmsen have more to offer in the 2+ minute long Hawt Corner video, and even more still in some of the outtakes. Bat Control pokes fun at selfie sticks and car flyers (that poor flyer guy caught a ball in the groin during the filming), and is also a good one, and Intensely Intense also made Tom laugh, when Felix was pictured “yelling” in pictures with children and puppies. And mimes. I believe that the Ms have been working with the same production company for years now, and they always make winners and losers, but I love the humor of Where Does It Go. I think it hit a chord with a lot of other fans too; it seems to be winning in the voting poll they set up at the site. Now, we just have to hope that the Ms do well enough that all four commercials play on ROOT during the games for the length of the season.

The team’s lineup is starting to shape up now, with more cuts having been made the other day. None of the cuts are surprising, though I am a little bummed that Jesus Montero couldn’t get things done at the plate the past few weeks. As Lloyd McClendon states in the linked article, it was always going to be hard to make this team for pretty much everyone not signed to an extended major league contract. And with Mike Zunino improving with the bat and Jesus Sucre being the seeming choice for backup, not to mention solid starters at first base, there just doesn’t seem to be much room for Montero here right now. You’ll have to forgive me, I am still seeing Montero as a catcher, though I know I shouldn’t. Hopefully he can get a lot of work in Tacoma and be a good fill in, should we have any injuries with Logan Morrison or any of the new guys Lloyd McClendon might want to platoon there. His newfound dedication is wonderful, and I hope it pays off for him.

Taijuan Walker seems to be a lock for the rotation now as things stand. As of the 19th, the battle between Walker and Roenis Elias is still going on, and will be until the very end of Spring Training, but Walker seems to be the guy we need. If that turns out to be true, Elias gives us a long reliever or a really great replacement for injured starters. Walker has been far more solid than Elias so far, which is a good sign for everyone involved. Either way, the team wins and Elias keeps a job here, so as a fan I have no complaints. It also feels like maybe the Tacoma Rainiers are going to be really really good this year, given the players we will have to shed off the 25-man. Both pitchers have options still, so regardless of what happens, neither of them will be going very far away from the team. The two of them will get about three more starts each this year before Opening Day on April 6th, so there is still time for the team to evaluate its needs, while making fans wonder what the heck is going on.

Mark Lowe is also fighting for a spot in the bullpen. I read a bit of an article on the bus the other morning about how Lowe, at now 31 years old, is clearly not the guy he used to be when he started in the Ms organization, becoming a member of the 2009 bullpen, and my favorite pitching staff ever. But the former gladiator-helmet-toting reliever had a lot of positive things to say about the players the team has ammassed this year. Lowe’s outlook (which is stated in an article I can’t link to here because the Times is doing that thing where they give you a prompt to pay for services, but I can see it on my phone) is great; he wants to play here for Seattle or Tacoma, and wants to play until he’s 40 if he can. He is aware that he is a long shot for the bullpen due to the younger, harder-throwing guys we already have and who have been here already working for it, but he isn’t defeated. He just wants to play. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn’t been a name on any list of cuts yet, so maybe there is a chance. I hope there is. He’s been sorely missed. I hope to see him at least a few times here in Seattle, if I can’t make it to Tacoma.

I am currently waiting to hear back from a friend on this evening’s activities, which will directly affect tomorrow’s activities, but if that falls through, I plan on attending the Lookout Landing viewing party down at Gastropod in SODO. It’s a potluck situation, and the owner, Cody Morris, will be making up some hot wings for the group. I am not quite sure what I will be making/bringing if I go, but if I don’t make it, everyone have fun. The Mariners just lost to the Chicago Cubs by two runs (was listening online), but tomorrow they go up against the Rangers. Game starts at 1pm.


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Safeco And Taijuan Walker, Getting Ready For Opening Day

This is my last day in Portland and after a not-great night of sleep (and “looking forward” to 3-4 hours’ worth of driving in what appears to be some pretty bad rain all up the I5 corridor). I feel like I need to make up for the other day’s distracted, tired, awkward post during the Brewers game, so here we are. I am waiting for coffee to be brewed, and will be making a pit stop at Voodoo Doughnuts to bring up north to friends before we leave the city.

The Mariners, meanwhile, are making all sorts of preparations for Opening Day. Sprucing up the place with some new dugout paint and chairs for the Diamond Club (maybe some day, I keep saying to myself), new interior decor for the Hit It Here Cafe (along with a revamped menu, which I am hoping they will post soon), and some new seatbacks for the bleachers (thanks, guys! My back will appreciate it!). They have also put new rubberized floors in both dugouts. I don’t even want to know what kind of hellish sunflower-and-gum-covered nightmare that might have been to remove and re-install, but good for them. At the very least, it will reduce the impact on guys’ spines from jumping around. The Ms have also given us some new signage out over the left field bleachers:

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 9.17.54 AMI may have to wear more gear to games this year. Last year it was mostly black, stuff I wear to work and every day in general. I will probably need to do a bit of shopping on Opening Day to find a shirt I can wear for 2015. I have never had a lucky shirt. I need a lucky shirt.

Bad news from camp over the last 24 hours; Chris Taylor just gave Brad Miller the starting shortstop job by breaking his wrist. Taylor got hit by a ball (unsure whether a pitch or errant throw or what at the moment) and broke a small wrist bone that will not require surgery, but will have him wearing a brace for the next 4-6 weeks or so pretty much around the clock. This also puts more pressure on Miller to succeed at the plate. He also needs to bring his OPS up, and while several projections have him doing just that (and his batting average following suit), I am still nervous. I keep forgetting how young he is, and the fact that his time in the majors has been much shorter than it sometimes feels. I am also keenly interested in everyone on this team having an .800 OPS or higher, which is terribly unrealistic of course, but a dream is a dream. I’d like to see Miller’s average come up to at least .250. That’s not too much to ask, right?

Taijuan Walker is making a very strong case for himself and a spot in the rotation. It sounds like he may be gaining the mental toughness needed for the job, and is no longer panicking when things get rough. He sounds confident in and analytical of himself, and to me that is a good sign. Even nearly getting badly injured wasn’t enough to shake him, he just picked up the ball and got the out and that was that. His direct competitor, Roenis Elias, goes on the hill today, but sadly I will be driving through this ridiculous rain trying to get home. I had originally planned to watch the game at my favorite pub near home, but this trip was kind of last minute family deal, which was why I tried to get the game in on Friday; otherwise I have to wait until this upcoming weekend to see more, and frankly, I just couldn’t. Summer cannot be here soon enough, and it starts when baseball does, not when the calendar says so! If they broadcast it on 710, I might be able to listen to some of it in the car. We’ll see.

I was going to address some of the new rule changes today, but I think I need to do a bit more reading on them to have a more rounded opinion on the changes. Particularly, the pitch clock. Maybe over the course of this week I’ll get some time to write something during lunch.

 

 


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Spring Training – Not Just For Seattle Anymore

Firing up the computer at the bottom of the 4th inning while I’m hanging out in Blitz Sports Bar’s Ladd’s Addition branch after lunch with my brother and Tom. It’s virtually empty here on a Friday afternoon, but the food is good, the beer selection is great, it is very open and inviting, and the staff was super cool and have now five of the 32 or so TV screens tuned into ROOT so I can watch today’s game against the Brewers at like three different angles. I am a pint and bits of a bloody mary into my lunch time at the moment, with two hours left on my laptop battery. Let’s see where this goes. I am so terribly overjoyed to be able to see some Seattle baseball, I don’t even care that I am being aurally assaulted by classic rock!

As I start this paragraph, the score is currently 5-0 in the Mariners’ favor. Mike Zunino stepped to the plate 0-1, and hit a single that scored both Seth Smith and Kyle Seager, a nice grounder that went right under the Brewers’ shortstop’s dive. It was just a single for Zunino, but it was a 2-RBI single, and a hit; if that is what Zunino is going to do this year, I will take it. It’s an encouraging thing to see from him, for sure. I haven’t heard yet how he is changing his approach at the plate, so I have nothing to go on, but a hit is a hit is a hit, and given the fact that I would probably refer to Zunino as a “pick to click” in 2015, that was fun to see.

Danny Farquhar entered the top of the 6th with a 7-run advantage, and was taken yard by Juan Centeno. Outside of that, Farquhar had a really good 6th inning, with many of his pitches either called strikes or swinging strikes. The bottom of the 6th was pretty painful for the Brewers’ who were plagued by terrible pitching and throwing errors. DJ Peterson provided a sacrifice fly that scored a run to end the 6th at 10-1. Peterson is doing well this spring so far. I don’t know if that means a slot at the Tacoma level for him or not this year, but it is certainly encouraging. I have only seen him play live once, up in Everett, so I don’t have much personal experience with him, but his name is certainly on people’s minds.

I got to see a little bit of Mayckol Guaipe’s pitching in the bottom of the 7th. I know Guaipe is not remotely close to making a major league team this year, but if I had to base an opinion on today’s performance I would have serious doubts. I’m sure there must be room for improvement. If I hadn’t eaten and drank right away and was not interspersing discussion with my brother and husband, I might be more inclined to rediscover GameDay as I sit here, but since none of those conditions exist, I referenced this article by Ryan Divish, written about two weeks ago, about Guaipe’s supposed indispensibility on our extended roster. I am hoping that this is just a bad outing and that he has more of a future, but today was not a good day for Guaipe. The inning started off well enough, with a few 90+ MPH pitches and an out on Parker Berberet, but went downhill with walks and hits and runs and someone needs to make it stop. Poor guy. I’m not judging him by this, certainly, but my first impression of Myckol Guaipe was not a good one. As always, hoping that changes. I haven’t read any in-depth analysis on Guaipe (which is likely apparent to anyone reading this), so I’ll just call it a bad day with two runs in one inning and leave it.

I probably need to take off from here now, given my family obligations and other things that are afoot as I am down in my hometown, and this may be the worst post I have ever written due to distractions of lunch and being in a bar without TV sound, but I am thankful, nonetheless, to have been able to watch most of this game. I have to leave to meet my mother and get ready for a dinner out with friends, and seeing Forrest Snow pitching and still in the Ms organization is awesome. The Mariners will win this game, and while it doesn’t really matter, it does kind of matter. A little bit.

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Shortstop Battle, A Struggling Catcher, and Taijuan Walker

I work during the day time and don’t have TV anyway (we got rid of the cable box for a few months to try and save money), so if ESPN isn’t broadcasting Spring Training games streaming, I simply can’t listen to them. I have been trying to keep up via the Seattle Times with the goings-on of the team, but there seems to be more news than ever coming out of camp, and it’s been difficult to keep up with everything.

Brad Miller and Chris Taylor are fighting an important duel at shortstop, where they platooned last year. I have not heard how either of them are doing thus far, but I figure either way the team comes out a winner. I didn’t have any issue with how that position was handled last year, and while I realize that there are offensive and defensive issues depending on who you point the finger at, between the two of these guys, we’re not doing too badly. I know they want someone who is The Guy, and it will be interesting to see who that turns out to be, but things still feel strong, because regardless of who The Guy is, we have another Guy ready to back him up if need be. I’m kind of attached to Brad Miller, and if he picks up where he left off at the end of last year, so much the better. But really, I have no horse in this race. Whomever is the best is who I’m hoping they’ll choose.

The other cause for concern is catcher Mike Zunino. Zunino was terrible offensively last year, which is saddening, since we finally have a guy – a young guy who might stick around a while – who is not Jeff Clement, Rob Johnson, Miguel Olivo, or anyone else to whom the words “passed” and/or “ball” might be attached. For as little as I have been writing lately, I remain steadfast in my love for and confidence in Zunino. I want him to show his bat who is boss and really take charge at the plate; but if we have a solid number 9 hitter at .200 who is all business defensively, I’ll take that too. In the time I have been a Mariners fan, we have not really had a catcher like Zunino. Even Kenji Johjima – while pretty solid in that position – was extremely reserved in comparison. Zunino is everywhere back there. He runs for pop-ups that the third or first basemen could easily get. He throws himself over dugout bars, and into the crowd if he has to; usually without results because the ball is too far into the stands to catch, but he does it anyway, like a boss. He blocks the plate aggressively and with absolutely no fear. And this from a guy who only a few years ago was virtually unknown to most Mariners fans. I also drafted him at the season ticket holder draft event a while back, because everyone else at my table had already chosen, and I couldn’t decide. Zunino seemed too obvious at the time, but pressure from a friend made me write him down. When he was picked, I felt like I had won something personally (which of course I had, in the form of free hot dogs and decreased pricing on beer that day), and I think it remains so to this day (credit to my friends, of course, but still). If Zunino can figure out his at bats, he’ll have everything; the adoration of the fans (moreso than now!), the faith of Felix Hernandez…really, what more does a catcher need? Zunino is apparently trying to change his approach, which, according to this article by Ryan Divish, seems more of a mental than a physical issue for him. This is good, though, because it’s far easier to change the way you think about the game than it is to make your body do something it either can’t or won’t do. Wishing Zunino the best of luck; if he manages to transform himself into a better hitter, it will be a great story this year.

Taijuan Walker came into Spring Training like a lion this March, throwing two scoreless innings and giving up only one hit while nabbing two strikeouts. I think that the team favors him over Roenis Elias, and I think I do too. Nothing against Elias at all, but clearly the organization wanted to see what Walker’s first dive into the pool was going to look like, and I have to think they loved what they saw. I, sadly, missed his start due to a work meeting, but was able to join the game online around the 4th inning or so. I hope he leaves March like a lion, too. I would love to see him as a steady in the rotation finally. I have heard a lot of praise  of his throwing via Twitter and radio, and am looking forward to seeing more of it for myself.

I am in Portland for a bit now, staying with my brother, who has TV. I have not yet been brave enough to check his cable set up to see if he gets ROOT, but hopefully I can watch a game tomorrow between the Ms and the Brewers. And if I can’t watch it here, I might actually see if there is a pub somewhere around for lunch and TV. I won’t be back in time for the game on Sunday unfortunately, so I want to try and get at least one in this week if at all possible. In the course of figuring out my work schedule for Opening Day, it came to my abrupt attention that it is now only 24 days away. TWENTY FOUR DAYS. I put the remainder of my payment for my tickets down tomorrow, my tickets for the home opener are already secured and ready to go. This is finally happening, and the next few weeks are going to be very exciting, I can almost not wait. But since I have to, I will. I will have to go into work for a few hours that Monday morning, since I have no backup for a part of my job that is specifically mine, but after that, it’s off to the stadium, where I will hopefully be able to live-Tweet and run into some friends for the early day game. I don’t have any creative way to end this post, so I’ll end it by stating the obvious, because I almost can’t believe it myself; Baseball is nearly back!

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