May 2012

Little Big Leaguer

The Yankees made it two in a row tonight, winning a decisive 8-3 game against the Royals to take the series two games to one. The Bombers received their second straight brilliant outing from the returning Andy Pettitte, who walked one and struck out eight over seven innings of work. The crafty lefty only made two mistakes, solo homers served up to Billy Butler and Mitch Maier.

Other than those two hiccups, Pettitte twirled a gem. (Stands, applauds)

The Yanks finally saw some production out of Alex Rodriguez, who hadn’t homered since May 6. Tonight Rodriguez smacked two long home runs to help push himself out of his slump. Curtis Granderson also homered, his 14th round-tripper of the year and his first in a week.

The Yanks roughed up Kansas City starter Will Smith, who if you follow me on Twitter or the Yankee Yapping Facebook page, was the butt of every “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” obscure reference tonight. 

It’s funny how after being read the “Yankee Yapping Riot Act” the bats came alive. The trick for the Yanks will be to keep those bats alive and kicking when they begin their series on the west coast Friday night against the 22-23 Oakland Athletics.

While it’s nice to see the Yanks slowly but surely come out of their funk, something caught my attention over the weekend that I didn’t get a chance to write about, as reporting about the High School sports scene here in the New York suburbs for my newspaper is occupying a lot of my time these days.

This past weekend the Yankees played the Reds, losing their first interleague series of the year, 2-1. Cincinnati has a third baseman by the name of Todd Frazier, who played in the Little League World Series in 1998 – and won.

Frazier, a New Jersey native, was on the Toms Rivers squad that beat Japan in the ’98 LLWS, and once they mentioned that series it was almost as if a spark had gone off in my head. I actually remember that Little League World Series, all because of one memory.

1998 was the first year I played Little League, and at the end of the season each Little Leaguer in the country was issued a newsletter. In the newsletter was an article about the Toms Rivers team winning the LLWS; in fact I vividly remember the picture that came with the article of the team celebrating and the Little Leaguers walking out of South Williamsport, PA with the trophy.

There were also interviews in the newsletter with Derek Jeter and Pettitte – and they talked about their experiences in Little League, which was cool to read about. I recall reading about how Pettitte was an opponent of Little League pitchers throwing curveballs, for fear of ruining their arms at a young age.

Whenever someone mentions Little League, I get this warm, fuzzy, nostalgic feeling inside; it brings back a flood of memories. The Little League I played in was located in Beacon, NY, and I still feel to this day we had one of the best programs in our area at that time.

Our teams were named and fashioned after actual MLB teams: there were the Mets, the Red Sox, the Indians, the Giants, the Dodgers, the Pirates, the Cardinals, the Orioles (although the second year I played they became the Blue Jays), and the Athletics, among others.

As fate would have it, I wound up on the Yankees. Believe it or not, this was my uniform…

Little League was a struggle at first, but I learned as I went along that hard work pays off. Basically the entire first season I played, I only reached base if I walked. I also had to watch each one of my teammates receive the game ball after every game we won for their efforts, always having the feeling I would never be given the game ball because I struggled so mightily.

It was enough to get down on myself and get dejected. But I didn’t quit. I kept trying.

Gradually my swing got a little better; I started making contact. Eventually I recorded my first base hit and first RBI off the Indians, a sharp line drive single to center field which drove in a runner from third.

After the game my coaches awarded me the game ball; my first hit and my first RBI. It felt incredibly good to finally do something positive offensively and even better to be recognized for it. I still have the ball and I will probably hold onto it forever.

The second year I played I was given the game ball after a win over the Dodgers. I drove in what turned out to be the winning run by laying down a bunt, and reaching second base on the throw. Because of my hustle I got the ball – and yes, I kept that one, too.

My Little League years are a cherished time in my life; they were sweet and innocent. I was just a kid who loved baseball, I got to play, and even enjoyed a little bit of success. Obviously not to the degree that Frazier did, but it doesn’t matter. Only a small amount of Little Leaguers do get to enjoy success at the Major League level.

To all the Little Leaguers playing out there this season: my message is to enjoy yourselves. I hope you love taking the field day after day as much as I did when I played.

If you were to ask me to describe my Little League experience in one word, it would “fun.” And that’s what baseball is supposed to be.

The Riot Act

Yesterday night the Yankees snapped a three-game losing streak, beating the Kansas City Royals, 3-2. In typical fashion as of late, the Yanks didn’t make it easy on themselves, putting the tying run on third in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. Yankee Universe held its collective breath as Rafael Soriano got Alcides Escobar to ground out, just missing an infield single that would have tied the game.

Yes the Bronx Bombers won, but claimed victory in the ugliest way ever: on a wing and a prayer.

Lately the team has struggled overwhelmingly on offense, getting outscored 36-18 over the last week. The Yankees have lost seven of their last 10, good enough for fourth place in the American League East. Barely keeping their heads above water, the Bronx Broskis are 22-21, just a game above .500.

It’s not as if the other teams are necessarily winning these games. On the contrary, the Yankees are losing them; beating themselves by not cashing in on chances they create. The team seems to fail at every opportunity with runners in scoring position; in fact, in Monday night’s 6-0 loss to the Royals, they went 0-for-13 with RISP.

Plenty of players need to be held accountable for this recent string of sucktitude.

Curtis Granderson

 

It’s pretty unfortunate when arguably the best hitter on the team can be read the riot act.

On Saturday the Yankees trailed the Reds 6-3 entering the ninth inning. They fought back however, pulling to within one run with the tying run on third base and two outs. Curtis Granderson worked the count to 3-0, but made some of the worst decisions a hitter could make as the at-bat progressed.

On 3-0, he swung, fouling the ball off to the right. Still in good shape on 3-1, he check-swung at an inside breaking ball that dipped out of the strike zone, a pitch that would have undoubtedly been called ball four to keep the line moving.

Then, with a full count, Granderson beat the payoff pitch into the dirt, grounding out to first to end the game. Yankees lost 6-5, the resilient magic running out of power at the last minute.

Right after I watched them lose, one thought entered my mind: “In 2009, they would have won this game.” Not only that, but it killed me to see Granderson not take a pitch, being in a hitter’s count for basically the entire at-bat.

Granderson is batting .250 for the year, and his BA with runners in scoring position is just .219. He is still leading the team with 13 home runs for the year but hasn’t homered in a week, cementing the Yankees’ slumping status.

 

Mark Teixeira

The Yankees’ first baseman has been battling some sort of bronchial infection, and he did not start this past weekend’s interleague series vs. the Cincinnati Reds – a series the Yankees lost, two games to one.    

Teixeira has only collected 35 hits in 153 at-bats this year, with five homers and 20 RBIs.

I don’t want to say Teixeira is on the decline, because he’s hit 30 or more home runs every year he’s been in the majors since his rookie year – and even in his rookie year (2003) he hit 26. Yet, if Teixeira isn’t hitting a home run, he only seems to pound the ball into the infield shift for a groundout.

Last night he got lucky, weakly squeaking a hit through the shift for a single.

Right now Teixeira’ batting average is at a miniscule .229, his on-base percentage is just .281 and his slugging percentage is only .386. In key spots, when Teixeira is up, the Yankees have to be cringing.

It’s obvious an adjustment has to be made. Whether it’s his batting stance, his swing, his bronchial ailment, or a mental block, Teixeira has become a hitter that the Yanks can’t depend on at the moment.

 

Russell Martin

There’s an old saying about catchers: if a team has a catcher that can hit, it’s a bonus. For a long time the Yankees had that bonus in Jorge Posada, and it continued for them when they signed Russell Martin.

Lately however, Martin must have forgotten that he is a hitter because he’s on the interstate at .179, with only 19 hits in 106 at-bats. He’s smacked four homers and has driven in 10 runs.

Martin isn’t having the worst offensive season; it could be worse. But like the rest of the team, he is not coming up with hits when chances are created. His groundball percentage is 70% with runners in scoring position for the year.

What also puzzles me is that Martin is known for calling a good game behind the plate, yet when the ace of the staff pitches, he is on the bench. Chris Stewart is CC Sabathia’s personal catcher, and unlike Martin, Stewart poses virtually no offensive threat, whatsoever.

In a nutshell, not only is he almost as useful as a screen door in a submarine at the plate, he can’t catch when the Yankees’ number one pitcher is on the mound.

 

Alex Rodriguez

On Monday night Alex Rodriguez struck out in the ninth inning, getting blasted by a deafening chorus of boos and jeers as he walked back to the dugout. After the game the press questioned him about getting booed at home. Like a true professional however, he owed up to it, saying he deserved it for his lack of production.

What’s scary about A-Rod’s slump is that he has stated his physical condition is fine. Usually when he struggles offensively there is more to it; a lingering injury or some soreness.

But it’s not the case.

He was recently quoted as saying that he’s fine physically, capable of hitting for power. Obviously that statement has not exactly gone well-founded, considering he hasn’t hit a home run since May 6. With RISP, A-Rod is scuffling just as the rest of the team is, with a groundball percentage of roughly 61 and a .154 average.

Not so good for a player who claims to be in perfect health.

 

Hiroki Kuroda

The 37-year-old starter certainly hasn’t been what the Yankees had anticipated, as he currently leads the majors in losses with six. His latest defeat came on Monday when he surrendered three earned runs on seven hits to the Royals, striking out four and walking three in 5.1 innings pitched.

Although the stat column for his last start doesn’t sound incredibly poor, Kuroda was absolutely shelled on May 16 in Toronto. The Blue Jays lit him up for seven earned runs on eight hits in just five innings. Kuroda served up three home runs in the loss, and is now 1-3 over his last four starts.

What I can’t understand is his position in the rotation. Clearly he isn’t pitching up to his potential, and it’s costing the Yankees. Maybe a move from the number two slot in the starting five could help him; perhaps Joe Girardi should push him down to the fourth hole and see how it goes.

 Either way, something needs to be done.

 

Phil Hughes

In 2010 Phil Hughes won 18 games, pitching extraordinarily well throughout the first half of the season. After the All-star break he seemed to just fall off the face of the earth; he hasn’t been the same, consistent pitcher since the first half of ’10.

Lately Hughes has been making a case to change that, winning three of his last five games – but those three wins on his ledger are deceptive.

Hughes beat the Seattle Mariners on May 12, a team that has been no-hit this year. He then followed it by beating the Royals, a team eight games below .500, twice. In between he was beaten by the Blue Jays and also lost to the Orioles – two of the three teams in front of the Yankees in the East.

Last night Hughes gave up a home run to Jeff Francoeur and is now the first pitcher since Runelvys Hernandez (2006) to give up at least one homer in each of his first nine starts of the season.

Possibly Hughes’s biggest Achilles Heel has been his pitch count. I lost track last night of how many hitters fouled off his pitches, but I do know that he was up over 70 in the fifth inning. It’s pretty much the story of his every start: the opposing hitters just put good swings on his flat, straight fastball and his pitch count steadily climbs.

Now that Hughes is on a bit of a good streak, I think this is the perfect opportunity for the Yankees to see what they might be able to get for him on the trade block. For awhile now, I’ve heard a lot of chatter about how his value is down and nobody would want him.

But since he’s pitching well at the moment – and he isn’t even signed for next year – I say the Yankees should cut their losses and say goodbye to him. As nicely as Hughes is pitching now, I don’t expect it to continue late in the season against teams like the Rangers, Tigers, and Rays.

Odds are his arm will tire, as it has these past two years, and he will crack down the stretch.

…………………………………………………………………..

There are so many other players that deserve to be called out.

Dewayne Wise has only collected three hits in 23 at-bats, and yet is in the starting lineup.

Nick Swisher is batting .239 right now.

Robinson Cano had 31 RBIs on May 23 last year. He has 17 on May 23 this year (barring any RBIs in tonight’s game).

CC Sabathia has lost his last two starts.

Ivan Nova’s ERA is 5.69.

The bullpen is about as makeshift as ever without Mariano Rivera and backup closer David Robertson, not to mention third string closer Rafael Soriano came dangerously close to blowing the save last night.

The whole team is contributing to this mess.

Some serious changes need to be made if the Yankees want to pull this sinking ship from the depths of the ocean that is the AL East. Because the way they’ve been playing, it’s crazy to even put the words “World Series” and “Yankees” in the same sentence.

After one of the recent losses, Derek Jeter made a declaration:

“I don’t see anybody popping champagne in May.”

While the Captain is right, he should heed that currently there are a lot of teams better than his at this point in the season. If the Yankees, for whatever reason, don’t make the playoffs, it will be the second time in Jeter’s career (2008) he won’t be popping champagne.  

And for the first time in his career the Captain will be eating crow.

Covering the Bases

Andy Pettitte made his long-awaited return to the Yankees yesterday, doing relatively well for a pitcher who hasn’t been in a live MLB game since Oct. 18, 2010. The veteran lefty tossed 6.2 innings and let up four earned runs on seven hits. He walked three and struck out two in a 6-2 series finale loss to the Seattle Mariners.

Pettitte really only made two mistakes – a pair of pitches he left out over the plate that Justin Smoak and Casper Wells were able to get around on, each clubbing two-run home runs. Other than showing that little bit of rust, he was his normal self.

But I’m not ready to pass any judgment on his performance. In fact, the subject of this entry has absolutely nothing to do with Pettitte.

Roughly two weeks ago I was on Twitter (might as well call me the “Titan of Twitter” these days) and one of my dear friends, Micheal Robinson, tweeted this:

Right after I read his tweet, I realized how fortunate I am to cover the game of baseball as a member of an exclusive club – the press. Last year the editor at the previous newspaper I worked for covered most of our local High School baseball teams, as I took on the task of basically becoming the girls’ lacrosse beat writer. (I did however cover a small amount of baseball last season).

This year my new editor has given me more baseball games to cover and only a select amount of lacrosse games. It’s easy to say this spring season has been a lot of fun for me.

The only thing I ever wanted to be was a baseball player. I had the opportunity to play at the High School level, but not beyond that. For awhile it bothered me, but lately it’s dawned on me that, albeit right now it’s only at the level I played at, it’s the next best thing.

I might not get to actually play the game organized, but I get to be around it as much as possible.

And as a reporter who’s covered the game at the High School level, I figured I would share some experiences and things a cub reporter can expect covering baseball; the sights, the sounds, and what you pick up on as a journalist.

So for Micheal, and everyone else aspiring to be a baseball writer, this is for you.

Baseball’s National Anthems

Of the dozen or so baseball games I’ve covered this spring, in between innings two songs are usually always blaring through the speakers: Centerfield by John Fogerty and Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen. Both of these tunes represent the spirit of the game, and fittingly, I am usually expecting to hear them at every game I go to cover.

 

“Balls in, Comin’ Down!!!”

The average baseball fan knows that before each inning begins, the defense is allowed to warm up. The pitcher tosses to the catcher to get his arm loose, the infielders take grounders, and the outfielders play catch to stay limber.

What the average fan may not know is the terminology used at the end of each warm-up routine. The catcher will yell out the phrase, “Balls in, comin’ down!”

The infielders and outfielders must then throw their warm-up baseballs back to the dugout, and the catcher (on the last warm-up pitch) throws the game ball down to the second baseman – as a practice throw for when a runner tries to steal second base.

If you were to attend a Yankee game, you wouldn’t be able to hear the catcher yell it out, sitting in the stands. But attending or covering a High School game, you hear it all the time, easily.

I remember first hearing the phrase in Little League, and since then, every time I go to a Yankee game I quietly utter it to myself. It’s nice hearing it again whenever I cover a baseball game; it gets me very nostalgic.

The Question

As a reporter, you need materials to cover a game. It should come as no shock that generally a pen and a notepad are required, and a good reporter usually has a recorder, perfect for postgame interviews.

A journalist must keep a good eye on the game and write down everything they see. While covering two games this season, I have been asked the same question; once by a student spectator and once by a parent:

“Are you a scout?”

Both times I just chuckled and replied, “No, I’m just a reporter, here to cover the game.”

I was later told I must have the look of a scout. But I was surprised I was asked the question, especially on more than occasion. After all, I didn’t have a radar gun, an essential tool all scouts bring to baseball games – and reporters don’t.

Amazing Feats

Just because the players I report on are in High School doesn’t mean they aren’t incredible athletes and humble kids. Last year I witnessed something at a High School baseball game that I’ll probably never forget.

On May 7, 2011 I covered an event called the Sorrentino Cup – a game played between Yorktown High School and Lakeland High School here in New York.

A senior pitcher by the name of Jonathan de Marte of Lakeland absolutely shined; he struck out 14 batters, didn’t issue a walk and took a perfect game into the last inning.

He retired the first batter and got himself into a 3-2 count on the second-to-last batter, a player named Jake Matranga.  De Marte left his fastball up in the zone and Matranga blasted it, connecting for a solo home run to break up the perfect game bid.

When the ball flew over the centerfield wall, I couldn’t imagine at that moment what he was thinking; I know I was left in sheer disbelief. He was literally staring the perfecto right in the eye, and with one pitch it was over.

Afterward I interviewed him, expecting him to be down on his luck, even though his team won the game 4-1 to capture the Sorrentino Cup. I had no choice but to anticipate the worst, thinking he would be in a foul mood; losing his perfect game when he was so close to it.

Totally the opposite. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow.

De Marte had preserved his perfect game the inning before when one of the Yorktown hitters hit a weak ground ball in front of him. He pounced of the mound and made a spectacular play, almost hiking the ball through his legs like a football center to get the out.

“I’d rather lose the perfect game on a home run than on a weak ground ball like that,” de Marte said of the situation. “I’m not too upset about it, I’m just glad we won.”

Words I never thought I’d hear from him. A High School pitcher, yet as professional as Derek Jeter.

De Marte went on to win New York State’s Gatorade Player of the Year – becoming the only player in history to win the award twice. Lakeland was eliminated in the playoffs, falling short of a sectional title. I wrote a story about him winning the Gatorade award, and again, he was just as humble as he was the day he lost the perfect game.

“It’s exciting to be the first player in New York to win it twice in a row, back to back,” he said. “It’s proof that hard work pays off, but I’d trade it in to still be playing.”

In that same interview he told me Tommy John went to one of his games to see him pitch, and even went to his house after the game to give him advice on what to do should he get drafted.

I hope it happens for him.

This year de Marte is pitching at Richmond University in Virginia. Sometime down the line I look forward to hearing about which team he gets drafted to. What he showed me that day – everything from the athleticism and dominant pitching to the dignity and class after the game – he has the makings of a big leaguer.

Broken Records

Some of baseball’s most unbreakable records include Ted Williams batting .406 for an entire season, Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, and Barry Bonds’ 762 home runs.

Believe it or not, High Schools keep records, too. And on May 4, at a game I was covering, a pitcher broke one.

At Byram Hills High School in Armonk, N.Y. (the same school I met Bernie Williams at) senior pitcher Scott Rose broke the school’s all-time strikeout record by fanning the last batter of the game – his 89th career strikeout to claim the record. He pitched his team to a 7-4 win over visiting Horace Greeley High School.

Funny thing was, he wasn’t even thinking about the record until the last batter.

“I didn’t have it in mind because I wasn’t getting a lot of strikeouts until that inning,” he said. “But once I got that first one in the seventh, it was definitely on my mind for the second. It was cool, but more important that we got the win.”

If Rose goes on to bigger and better things, I’ll be able to say, “He broke his High School’s strikeout record…and I covered the game.”

Family Ties

There is so much more that meets the eye in baseball, more so than any other sport. In 1990, Ken Griffey, Sr. and his son, Ken Griffey, Jr., became the first father and son duo to play on the same team, the Seattle Mariners. That same season, on Sept. 14, they became the first father and son tandem to hit back-to-back home runs.

Crazy to think about.

On April 28, I covered Valhalla High School’s game at Croton-Harmon, two local teams with strong baseball programs. A senior pitcher named Matt Cassinelli started for Valhalla, while his brother, Justin, started at second base.

In the top of the fourth Justin legged out an RBI triple, lacing the ball to deep left-centerfield. The 3-bagger gave Valhalla a 4-0 lead, and they wound up winning the game 4-3.

Justin wound up giving his brother Matt just enough offense to pick up the win.

I asked Matt after the game what he thought about his brother driving in the deciding run, and his response left me in hysterics.

“I think I’ll be cooking a big dinner for him tonight.”

Only in baseball would I have gotten an answer like that.

Solid Sluggers

Right now, the hottest hitter in the majors is undoubtedly Josh Hamilton. Currently the Texas Rangers’ outfielder is batting .402 with 41 RBIs, and is leading the bigs in basically every offensive category.

Hamilton has 18 home runs in this young season, four of which came on the same day. On May 8 he smacked four home runs in one night, dismantling the Baltimore Orioles’ pitching.

Although none of the baseball players I’ve covered have hit four homers in a game, one player crushed two in one day.

The first game I covered this season was a game played between Horace Greeley High School and John Jay-Cross River. John Jay has a strong, well-rounded fundamental squad whereas Greeley possesses a good amount of talent, but really only one power hitter: a senior catcher named Andres Larramendi.

Larramendi will be catching for Princeton University next year, and I quickly found out why he is going to such a great college. On Opening Day he showcased his power, blasting two home runs in his first two at-bats; bombs deep over the left field wall.

I asked him about Princeton after the game, and he told me he couldn’t be more excited to go to a school with such a strong baseball program. As for his multi-home run game:

“I saw two fastballs,” he said. “I was just able to get around on them and put a good swing on them.”

Who knows. I may have covered the next Josh Hamilton that day.

Fantastic Firsts

Typically when a player records their first base hit, the baseball is sent back to the dugout. The team will take it, polish it off, and present it to the player as a memento. As a matter of fact, I remember in my first year playing Little League, I recorded my first hit and my first RBI in one of the last games of the season.

After we won the game, the coaches presented me with the ball, which I still have.

When I got back to the dugout my teammates were so happy for me; they practically jumped on me, whacking my helmet and patting me on the back. Such was the case on April 5 when I covered Briarcliff High School’s Diamond Classic, a tournament they host at the outset of each season.

Briarcliff’s left fielder Spencer Kulman blasted his first varsity level home run, a shot that carried deep over the left field wall. His team retrieved the baseball from behind the fence and gave it to him, but not before they came out of the dugout and congratulated him after he crossed the plate.

He was moved by their gesture.

“It was really nice for them to come out for me like that,” he said. “I’ve hit a couple home runs in practice but never in an actual game. It’s a great feeling.”  

……………………………………………………………..

The only thing I ever wanted to do was play baseball. I am fortunate enough that, even though at a small level, I was able to.

But now, although I’m not playing anymore, I have the next best thing: being around it and involved in it as much as humanely possible. I hope that everyone who loves the game as much as I do can be as lucky as I am, covering such a wonderful sport.

For the Heck of It? Spit Happens

The Yankees have begun somewhat of a winning streak, beating the Royals 10-4 on Sunday and following it up with a 5-3 win last night over the Rays. David Robertson nailed down his first save of the season, giving the Yanks their first taste of life without Mariano Rivera.

Although he didn’t make it easy on himself – and he never does – Robertson slammed the door.

Andy Pettitte is set to make his return to the Bronx on Sunday, as he will start against the Seattle Mariners. Pettitte hasn’t exactly been dazzling in his minor league warm-up starts. Nonetheless, he will look to aid the inconsistent and banged up rotation.

Tonight David Phelps will take the hill vs. Tampa Bay, hoping to roll the Yankee win streak over to three games – that is, barring a rainout.

Yes, it’s been a soggy day here in New York.

While things are OK in Yankee land, something happened on Sunday that was all over baseball; something dirty. Something that I just had to write about and express my opinion on.

The Washington Nationals hosted the Philadelphia Phillies, and lost 9-3. In the first inning, Philadelphia starter Cole Hamels beaned 19-year-old rookie outfielder Bryce Harper with a 93 mph fastball, right on the back between the “3” and “4” on his jersey.

Harper recovered and eventually made Hamels pay for it, stealing home plate straight up later in the inning. The Nationals also received retribution by retaliating, plunking Hamels in his first turn at bat in the third inning.

After the game the media questioned Hamels about the HBP. His response:

“I was trying to hit him,” he said. “I’m not going to deny it. That’s something I grew up watching, that’s kind of what happened. So I’m just trying to continue the old baseball because I think some people are kind of getting away from it.”

Basically the message Hamels sent was, “Welcome to the big leagues, kid.”

I’m sorry, but that’s just not a good enough reason to intentionally hit someone. It’s a classless act of shameless unsportsmanlike conduct. The way it appeared, Hamels almost seemed proud of himself after the game; happy he got a piece of the new kid everyone is talking about because of his ability and talent.

Unlike Hamels, Harper showed some class afterward. He called Hamels a good pitcher and in a lot of ways brushed the bean ball off his back, not making much of the situation. Harper proved he has a lot of, I’ll say, Jeterian qualities.

Now in certain circumstances, intentional HBPs are…I don’t want to say “acceptable,” but understanding. A hitter can be plunked but for a good reason, such as last year in David Ortiz’s case. He flipped his bat, showed up the Yankees, and as a result CC Sabathia hit him with a pitch later in the Yankees’ series vs. Boston.

It’s just business. And even I have been guilty of such actions, when it was called for.

In fifth grade I played CYO basketball. I was on a travel team and we had a long season; not a lot of my teammates had ever played organized ball before and we took our lumps pretty hard. As a matter of fact we didn’t win a single game that entire season.

One game we were getting absolutely pounded, losing by a significant margin. Late in the fourth quarter, the other team didn’t bench its best player; he was still in the game, knocking down 3-point field goals like it was nothing.

I contested one of his last shots from outside the arc, trying my best to throw him off-balance so that he would miss the basket. It didn’t faze him, though. He put the ball up through my arms and into the net for another 3-pointer, following it by pumping his fist in celebration.

His team and its supporters went bananas for him, cheering and hollering as loud as they could.

As any player with pride and an ego would, I didn’t take kindly to it at all. There was absolutely no reason he still needed to be on the floor with his team winning by that much. Not to mention he came off about as conceited and cocky as any player I had ever faced.

When the final buzzer sounded and the beatdown was over, our teams lined up to slap hands, as all teams do following a game in honor of sportsmanship. I made sure to be the last player in line – he was lined up first on his side.

I figured that would be the best way to execute my little retaliation scheme.

When no one was looking, I hocked the biggest loogie of my life, and then spat it into my right hand.  I smeared the matter all over my palm, making sure it was saturated with my slime.

He looked at me with a huge, egotistical ear-to-ear smile on his face as I approached him.

“Good game!” he said to me, with enthusiasm.

As he received a handful of my snot and saliva, I grinned back at him.

“Yeah. Good game.”

Right away he became angry, as any player would after being spat on. He tried to confront me, but my teammates separated us before any other kind of altercation ensued.

He may have shown me up on the court, but I got the last laugh.

It wasn’t long after that I quit playing organized hoops and started playing baseball. The next season I began my Little League career and played baseball through my second year in High School – and never again did I spit on my hand and slap an opposing player with it after a game.

Yet at the same time, I never again faced an athlete as full of himself as that one basketball player.

Was it the nicest way to get retribution? Absolutely not. It was disgusting, actually.

Did it need to be done? In my mind, yes. He had to dish what he served.

As a competitor, you can’t let someone get away with being a show-off. The same way the Yankees couldn’t let Ortiz get away with the arrogant bat flip, I couldn’t let that kid get away with making me and my team look like a bunch of losers.

A message had to be sent – and I made sure to send it.

But going back to the topic at hand, and to bottom line it, Harper didn’t deserve to be hit by Hamels. He didn’t show-off; didn’t show-up the Phillies. In no way did the situation call for a bean ball, and for Hamels to openly admit he hit Harper simply as a so-called “welcoming” to the majors is absurd and nonsensical.

Had Harper crushed a 450’ homer off Hamels, and then danced his way to home plate – the way that kid remained in the basketball game and hit a 3-pointer when his team was already up big, and then reacted as if he had just won the NBA Finals – I would understand it; the situation would call for it.

But the way Harper has conducted himself so far – as a gentleman – it was totally unnecessary. I can only hope the next time he faces Hamels, he does take him deep.

Hamels deserves it. The same way that player deserved a handful of my slobber.

Superman without His Cape…or…Thor without His Hammer

The Yankees scored a total of six runs the last four games, the offense looking about as alive as a rotten cadaver. Tonight, the Bronx Bombers looked like their usual selves though, scoring six runs (yes, in a single game) to beat the Kansas City Royals 6-2 to snap a three-game losing skid.

CC Sabathia played the role of stopper, capturing his fourth win of 2012. Derek Jeter remained hot, blasting a two-run homer in the seventh, his fifth of the year, helping his cause to upkeep his .404 batting average.

While that is all nice to hear, the Yanks’ worst nightmare manifested itself before yesterday’s game.

Mariano Rivera, shagging fly balls in the outfield during batting practice, was tripped up between the grass and the warning track. He landed awkwardly; his right leg torqued, and the all-time saves leader fell to the ground in agonizing pain.

Manager Joe Girardi raced to Rivera, as did his teammates and the trainer, as he clasped his right knee – a scene that left Alex Rodriguez in disbelief. The 42-year-old Yankee closer was taken off the field on a cart and brought to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a torn ACL.

Superman lost his cape.

Or, in maybe a more fitting comparison for this evening, Thor lost his hammer.

According to the Yankee beat writers via Twitter, the clubhouse had a morgue-like ambience; it felt as though the Yankees lost a postseason series. At the very least, Rivera will be sidelined for the rest of the season.

After yesterday’s 4-3 loss to the Royals, Rivera – overwrought with emotion – stood in front of reporters, teary-eyed. They asked him whether or not he would ever pitch again, to which he replied, “I don’t know.” It seemed as though an unfamiliar uneasiness swept over the Yankee team.

They’ve never been in this position before.

For the first time in 18 years the man they call “Mo” won’t be there at the end of the game to slam the proverbial door in the collective faces of the Yankees’ opponents. During that span the Yanks have never been without Rivera for an extended period of time; a few short DL stints here and there, but never for an entire season.

This opened up the floodgates for a barrage of questions.

Rivera cannot be replaced, but who fills the void at closer?

Rafael Soriano? David Robertson?

What do the Yankees do as far as another bullpen arm?

Pull the struggling Phil Hughes from the rotation and put him in the ‘pen?

Can the Yankees win without Rivera?

Most of these questions remain unanswered, but tonight, they did win without him, albeit in a non-save situation. Robertson was brought in and sealed the deal in Kansas City. He is looking like the logical choice to supplant Rivera, at least at the moment.

Today Rivera vowed to come back from his torn ACL, saying, “I’m coming back. Write it down in big letters. I’m not going out like this.”

I hope he is right. His Hall of Fame-worthy career just can’t end that benignly.

It’s not as if players haven’t come back from torn ACL injuries in the past. In fact in May 2008, starting pitcher Yovani Gallarado of the Milwaukee Brewers tore his ACL and returned before the playoffs began. However, Gallardo was 22 years old when he suffered the tear.

I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on TV, but I’d venture to guess it is a little easier bouncing back from a torn ACL at 22 than it is at 42. Age catches up with everyone, and I don’t know of many athletes who have come back from such a devastating injury at that age.

When it happened, the first thought that crossed my mind was the scene in Friday Night Lights when the Permian Panthers lost their star running back James “Boobie” Miles at the start of the football season to a bone-crunching knee injury.

It’s almost the same situation – the Yankees lost a key player, and the rest of the team is left having to find ways to win without him, a la tonight.

Right now, I’d like to heed Rivera’s words that he will indeed come back. Always an honest person, I have no doubt in my mind Rivera meant what he said and he will do anything and everything in his power to get back to the top.

It won’t be easy; in fact there may even have to be some divine intervention. But I believe in Rivera’s ability to rehab his knee, work hard, recover, and ultimately end his career on the mound at Yankee Stadium, rather than the warning track at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

Thor will get his hammer back.

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