Wednesday, December 7, 2005
by Tracy Mitchell
Good Morning! If you missed yesterday's posting, be sure to click here to read the Word Association with Stick & Ball Guy. Again, I want to point out that I have now started using Haloscan to allow 'Comments' to be left on this page. You can find this at the bottom of today's posting. If you want to leave a Comment, please feel free to. Of course, you can always still e-mail me.
I have plenty of baseball thoughts below, but today, I will be posting another winner in the GuardDog watch Why Baseball Contest. Last week, I asked readers to send in their Why Baseball articles and three winners would be selected. Each winner has been notified. Their articles will be posted the next three Wednesdays and they will each receive a GuardDog Watch. If you are interested in participate in writing a Why Baseball for me, for later this month, please e-mail me and let me know. I'll give you a date to shoot for and that day will be yours. . If you're interested in participating in this week's contest, click here for details. If you're interested in purchasing a GuardDog Watch for Christmas, please click here.
So, without further ado, I present Why Baseball?, by Tracy Mitchell:
Dan Masteller, that’s why.Harmon, Zoilo, Sir Rodney, Bert, The Rat, yes to all, of course.And Johnny Castino, Slick Gardner, and Junior Ortiz, that goes without saying. But in a nutshell, Dan Masteller. And to be more precise, Dan Masteller on July 28, 1995. That was the day after my son, Patrick, turned 8 years old, by the way.
Memory lumps the Twins’ 1995 effort into that multi-season chasm of the vastly forgettable failed rebuilding efforts of the 90's. David Winfield was gone, Paul Molitor had not yet arrived. And although we didn’t know it at the time, Kirby Puckett was playing his last season.
1995 marked the major league arrival of Marty Cordova, LaTroy Hawkins, Matt Lawton, and Oscar Munoz, and the return of Scott Stahoviak. These guys joined David McCarty, Pat Meares, Chip Hale and Scotty Leuis as the new wave. Although Cordova won the Rookie of the Year Award, and Lawton went on to have a quality career, it was not a pretty season. Sports Encyclopedia’s Twins page summarizes the year in one sentence: “1995: Three individual career milestones from Kirby Puckett highlight an otherwise awful 56-88 last place season as he eclipses the 200 HR, 1,000RBI, 1,000 Runs marks.” Tom Kelly could have summarized the season in two words: “Oh, my....”
The pitching line that season for veteran reliever Carl Willis: 3 games, 12 batters faced, five hits, five walks, seven earned runs, two outs recorded, and an ERA of 95.45, which may have been the team’s median body temperature.
That was 1995.
So a guy turns 8 years old only once, right? Pat had never been to the dome, never been to a Twins game. Yeah, he was a baseball guy even then. More so than his big sister who got a trip to her first Twins game 4 years earlier. Just her & me at the Dome. “Dad, what are those white specks on the field?” she asked during warm ups. “Baseballs”, I said. She didn’t believe me. “Why are those players so small?” she asked. I told her that the Oakland players were actually pretty big, but again, she didn’t believe me. Two hot dogs, a cotton candy & we were out of there by the second inning. It was a great day in the big city for us even without the whole game.
I blame the youth rec guy that ordered black T-shirts for the girls summer toss ball league. And I blame the coach that dressed up my would-be Mia Hamm of the diamond in shin guards, chest protector and mask to go with her black T-shirt and put her behind the plate for five innings in 95 degree heat. Basketball, volleyball, golf, athletic talent, yes, but no, she was never a baseball guy. Not like Pat.
So on the afternoon of July 28, 1995, my newly minted 8 year old and I are driving the three hour trek to the Dome. And by July 28 the Twins were in last place, at 29 wins, 54 losses. Coming off a losing road trip they were opening a 3 game series at the Dome against the Yankees. The pitching match up was Kevin Tapani versus Black Jack McDowell. As it turned out, that was Tapani’s last game as a Twin. Three days later the Twins packaged him off to the Dodgers with Mark Guthrie for Ron Coomer, Greg Hansell, Jose Parra, and Chris Latham.
28 and 54? We weren’t distressed. Not Pat & me. Not with all these young guys getting playing time. We knew that in 1982 a similar wave of new players lost 102 games, and yet went on to the World Series. Were we going to see the embryonic stage of another great team? Who knew?
Pat sat next to me in the front seat, wearing his Kirby Puckett T-shirt and batting helmet, glove in hand. He told me with all of the certainty that comes with being 8 years old that he was going to get a baseball at the Dome. Hoping to cushion a let-down, I explained with some patience and tact that I had been going to Twins games since 1961 and hadn’t got a ball. Bless his heart, his immediate response was, “that’s OK Dad, you can hold mine.” Yeah, well. Traffic was light, we got to the Dome early. Parking was no problem – that’s the upside of 28-54 in July.
That day fell into the window that had Luis Polonia in a Yankee uniform, and he was shagging flies in left field during Yankee batting practice. You may know that the left field corner at the Dome is the hot spot for kids to get a ball during batting practice. My only worry was that Pat would get trampled by the hoard of much larger kids with gloves perched at the railing for the same purpose. He looked so small, the Puckett T-shirt hanging to mid-thigh, the batting helmet a size too big. Balls bouncing and ricocheting around, kids running, climbing, jostling. Wow.
Then it happened. A two hopper to Polonia which he fielded waist-high, then pivoted toward the stands and started jogging the 40 feet or so to the railing. I knew in an instant. Without pause and with 30-some kids leaning over and yelling, Polonia went directly to Pat, the smallest kid in sight, put the ball in his glove, smiled, spun, and jogged back to his position. Wow.
After that we made our way to our seats. It was pog night at the Dome. Remember pogs? All the older people seated around us gave their pog sheets to Pat and had him re-tell the story of how he got the ball. Half kidding, but remembering big sister’s first game, I asked him if he wanted to stay for the game. Clutching his ball, he said “Sure, Dad, if you do.” Yeah, he was a baseball guy even then.
So how does Dan Masteller fit into all of this? He was the starting first baseman that night. Dan’s only season in the bigs, that was one of his 71 games, and 4 of his 198 big league at bats. He had drifted up the minor league ladder as a decent average, no power, first baseman. He was about the same player I remember Tom Kelly being, twenty years earlier. This was is cup of coffee.
The lineup that night included Knoblauch, then still a favorite, as well as Kirby Puckett. With Tapani & McDowell tangling, we thought maybe a pitcher’s duel. But Tap gave up 2 runs in the second and another in the third. On Masteller’s bat the Twins tied it in the fourth inning.
Despite serious encouragement from our section, Luis Polonia went 0-5 as the Yankee’s lead-off hitter. That’s the only time in my life that I have ever cheered for a Yankee to do anything positive. Well, now, isn’t life interesting?
And although Kirby went an unremarkable 1 for 4 batting, he threw out a runner at the plate from right field to keep the score tied. That catch and throw was worth the price of admission by itself. Both pitchers then hung zeroes on the scoreboard until the bottom of the ninth.
OK, you guessed it. Dan Masteller hit a walk-off homerun to win it in the bottom of the ninth -- a high arching, lob-shot inside the right field foul pole. I’ve never talked with Dan, but you gotta believe that a walk-off homerun to beat the Yankees has to be his career highlight and the high point of at least his life as an athlete. Its what Pat and I acted out with the wiffle ball in the driveway. Its what my brother and I acted out with a wiffle ball in the pasture 45 years ago. The moment was July 28, 1995, at the Dome, at 9:35 p.m.
We were there.
On the trip home, Pat fell asleep next to me before we even got to St. Cloud. Head tilted to the side, batting helmet still on, glove on the left hand, ball in the glove, and his right hand over the ball, just the way my Dad taught me to catch.
Driving though the dark I thought about the game. Complete games by Tapani and McDowell -- both horses ... like Blyleven, Kaat, Zaun, Pascual. And Kirby’s throw to the plate... an arm like Allison, like Bruno. And the simple, gentlemanly act of Luis Polonia. I recalled once as a kid marveling at Killebrew’s power and my Dad saying that Killebrew was a real gentleman. Over the years I have come to appreciate that more about Killebrew, and about my Dad.
I think Carew was like that in his own way. And oh the talent. One scorching day at the old Met in 1977 with my girl friend, I got my legs sunburned, bad, while Carew put on a show with the bat. He looked like a senior playing with the freshmen. He laced a frozen rope hopper just left of the right fielder for a triple. Next time up we saw the right fielder take two steps to his left, and Carew laced the ball just to the fielder’s right – like he was playing pinball with the outfielders. I think he raised his average to .408 that day. The girlfriend? – am I glad that one didn’t work out.
Carew’s mastery reminded me of Blyleven near the end of his career. My friend Dave and I saw him pitch against Boston at the Dome. Marty Barrett, before his injuries, was giving Bert of tough time. His third time up, Blyleven put a fastball in his ribcage. Then picked him off first base. Then retired the next 14 or so Red Sox. Dave and I still talk about that when we see each other, which isn’t too often these days.
And then there was the O’Connor masterpiece the weekend of the 4th of July the year the Twins lost 102. My new wife, her brother and his wife & I, last minute, great parking, great seats. That’s the upside of a 102 loss season. Johnny Castino’s 8th inning RBI gave us a 2-1 lead, and Jack had to come out in the 9th inning and set them down. He did, for the complete game victory. Now we’ve got a pitcher! I crowed. My wife smiled.
And do you recall the way that Johnny Castino put the leather to the third base job? Brooks Robinson redux, and I still say he was underrated. I recall being <upset> when the team announced that he was being moved to second base to make room for some new kid named Gaetti. Let him earn the spot I said. But five years later in the ALCS against the Tigers, G-Man homered in his first two at-bats to set the tone for the Twins playoff run. What a man. And the big shame of 1987 is that Castino didn’t get a World Series ring.
The day big sister was born, July 30, 1984, Pete Filson picked up the 9-5 win on Gaetti’s home run. Four years later with Pat on the way, we listened at the hospital as Sweet Music Frankie lost a 4-1 game to Toronto, dropping his record to 16-3 on the season.
During an awful stretch for the Billy Gardner Twins, he was asked about a team meeting, something that Gardner never did. Said Slick: “Yeah, I had a team meeting, but I didn’t use no college words.” Catcher Junior Ortiz on his number zero, “That’s not zero, that’s “O”, for Ortiz.
So those were some of my thoughts on the drive home, there were more. Watching with my Dad as Pascual took on the Yankees of Mantle, Berra and Whitey Ford. The outfield of Willie Norwood, Hoskin Powell, and Bombo Rivera. To quote Tom Kelly, “oh, my....”
It's seamless. The teams, the players, the games, the memories. With my Dad, with Dave, with my wife -- her smile. Big sister’s day in the big city, watching with Pat. Yeah, Carew. And Zoilo going deep in the hole. Mudcat’s homer. Yes, definitely Hunter at the wall, looking up, and Guzman rounding second. Knoblauch’s deke, and Hrbek’s “lift”, and Bobby’s sliding catch in game #2. That’ll be with me forever. And the dirt, always, on Gladden’s uniform.
And oh, yeah - the big lessons. Do your best each day. Think only of the pitch that’s on its way. Take care of the people around you. Smile back. Be a gentleman. And pick your team. World Series champs or 102 losses, they’re your team. In sickness and in health.
Why Baseball? All of this and more, sure, but really, and precisely, Dan Masteller. That’s why. For that one moment in the driveway, that one moment in the pasture, that one moment in an indoor stadium on a late July night with your team in last place -- for that once in a lifetime walk-off home run against the New York Yankees.
So, there you have it. Another wonderful Why Baseball article! Thank you very much Tracy for taking the time to write up this essay. I think it was excellent and brought back memories of a lot of names! So many people think that a team is defined by its stars, but to the real big fans, the "other" players mean so much too. Let me know what you think. If you would like to ask me or Tracy any questions, please feel free to e-mail me, or, of course, you can now enter Comments!
We knew it is what he would get, but five years and $55 million for AJ Burnett is ridiculous! Sure, he throws 98 with decent off-speed stuff. Sure, he is still relatively young. But there are so many things against him. He is 49-50 for his career. In his no hitter, he walked nine hitters! He then had Tommy John surgery a few years ago, but he does seem to be back. Of course, he will be going to Toronto where his pitching coach will be Brad Arnsberg, his Marlins pitching coach who was involved in his over-use. Secondly, and maybe just as importantly, we are talking about a guy who bad-mouthed his manager and organization late in the season, enough so that the team told him not to come back for the last few weeks of the season. Is that the kind of guy that you commit this kind of money to? I realize that the Blue Jays need to overpay, as they showed with their BJ Ryan signing last week, but this is ridiculous and a real sign of how ridiculous the current pitching market is. Imagine if there were actually a quality starting pitcher on the free agent market! (By the way, add in the 0.50 increase in ERA moving from the NL to the AL, and he becomes... Kyle Lohse)
I love the Winter Meetings, and I love XM Radio's Home Plate network. Last night as I was typing this up, I listened to Ronnie "Night Train" Lane and Joe Castellano. Throughout the night story after story broke, and rumors were discussed. And people called in from all over the country asking about this rumor or what that player could do for their team. What a fun time!
Grady Little was named the new manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Finally Rafael Furcal knows who he and his three year, $39 million contract will be playing for! I think it is a great signing. I still think that Little was the scapegoat for the 2003 season. To take Pedro out or leave him in? Leaving him in cost him his job. In his two years with the Red Sox, he won over 90 games both times. Great signing for Ned Colletti. I don't like managers getting chance after chance after chance to manage, but I think that Little deserves this second chance.
Rickey Henderson officially retired. Can we all say... FINALLY! But just because he hung on for too long should not detract from the amazing career he had! We're talking about a leadoff hitter who got on 40% of the time for his career. He also hit most of his 297 career homers from the leadoff spot. He was an All-Star ten times between 1980 and 1991.Three times he was top five in the MVP vote including winning the AL MVP in 1990. Again, his leadoff qualities are evidenced by being in the Top 5 in On-Base Percentage 13 times. He is #2 all-time in walks behind only Barry Bonds. He of course is best known as being #1 overall in stolen bases. Imagine being a pitcher with him up. If you walk him, he steals second and third. If you throw him a strike, he could hit a homer. Either way, he would score runs, as evidenced by his being the all-time runs scored leader. I would champion a theory that Rickey Henderson was the greatest leadoff hitter of all-time.
Former Twins starter/reliever/closer LaTroy Hawkins was traded from the Giants to the Orioles for lefty Steve Kline.
I know that The Baseball Savant will be thrilled to hear that 1B Sean Casey to the Pittsburgh Pirates for LHP Dave Williams. The Reds can now move Adam Dunn to 1B and have an OF of Austin Kearns, Ken Griffey and Wily Mo Pena. But you would think that, even with Casey's salary, they could get more for a guy with a career .305 batting average! He has also averaged 34 doubles and 16 homers over his last seven years. Really, he's only had one bad season. He is very consistent and professional. Great trade for the Pirates.
Sounds like the Padres will finally trade Adam Eaton to the Rangers in exchange for Gerald Laird. Eaton was finally putting together a strong season last year. He started the year 8-1, but then he was injured. When he came back, he just didn't have much left. I know this because he was on one of my fantasy teams! Laird, you remember, was the other catcher with Joe Mauer for the Team USA pre-Olympic team in 2003. Remember that Laird started in the qualifying game in place of Mauer and it was highly criticized. However, Laird is a very good catcher and will do very well with the Padres.
It looks like Trevor Hoffman is very close to signing a 3 year, $21 million deal with the Cleveland Indians. Hoffman is, in my opinion, right up there with the greatest closers of all time. And he had an excellent 2005. It will be a good sign for the Indians assuming it goes through. I really thought that he would accept a little less to stay in San Diego, but it doesn't look like that will happen and the Padres want to move forward without him.
There are rumors saying that Alfonso Soriano is about to be traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for hard-throwing Jonathon Broxton. Broxton is a very good pitching prospect, something that the Dodgers have a plethora of. I don't think that he comes near the level of prospect that Francisco Liriano is as he spent a lot of time this year as a closer in the Dodgers farm system.
Kris Benson to the Royals? There are rumors that the righty will be trade from the Mets for relievers Jeremy Affeldt and Mike MacDougal. Not sure if Anna Benson had a lot to do with the Mets desire to trade Benson, but sadly, it is possible.
In a trade of two players who have never met their expectations, RHP Dewon Brazelton and 3B Sean Burroughs will be trade places. I think it would be a good fit for each. Burroughs does not have to be counted on for power with the Rays, although getting out of Petco Park could help those numbers. Brazelton may have a better chance pitching in Petco assuming he can throw some strikes.
And of course the last three bullet-points are still in the rumor stage although he have been backed by some quality sources. But that is part of what is fun about the Winter Meetings. I expect there to be a number of trades today and still tomorrow.
And on those notes, I am going to call it a day. I certainly hope that you have found the "Why Baseball" article by Tracy worth reading. I will be back tomorrow with another very interesting guest column, another position analysis by "Roger". If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me, or of course now you can just enter some Comments for all the world to see.
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