Talkin’ Baseball With Jeff

13 Aug

“Let’s be clear about something at the outset: this is not the bizzaro Armando Galarraga/Jim Joyce play. This is not an egregiously bad call that should have anyone renting one’s garments nor gnashing one’s teeth.  But it is inescapable. Johan Santana caught a lucky break on a missed call in the sixth inning of last night’s no hitter that, if called correctly, would have ended it right there.”

nbcsports.com, June 2, 2012

Dear Jeff,

It was exactly one year ago today that, as I sat between Drew and Brett at Yankee Stadium during a game against the Rays, I heard your voice in my right ear as Eric Chavez walked to the plate, and you told me that Chavez was going to walk and then Jorgie was going to juice one for a grand slam homer (See “My Precious Birthday Gift From Heaven”, August 17, 2011).  I promptly relayed that information to your brothers, and we proceeded to watch Chavez walk on four pitches and Posada (“Jorgie”) blast said grand slam into the right field seats on the third pitch he saw from Brandon Gomes.  It was exhilarating, and I was deeply grateful for that contact from you with such an amazing heads up on a great Yankees moment.

I always found it interesting that, as a player, basketball was clearly your best sport, but as a fan, baseball was right up there with it as your favorite sport to watch and follow.  That is why I chose to surprise you with a trip to see three different baseball games at out of town parks for your 16th birthday.  You always thought that going to different baseball stadiums was even more fun than going to other basketball arenas. Your greatest thrill on that trip was nabbing a foul ball off the bat of Ivan Rodriguez of the Marlins when we were at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia watching their game against the Phillies.  That ball, on which you wrote “Phillies vs. Marlins, 4/17/03. ‘I-Rod'” still sits in a plastic case on your dresser.

As we make our way through another exciting baseball season, I continue to miss how you used to email me frequently with various fun facts and observations on what was going on with the Yankees and in the baseball world generally.  Thankfully, Drew and Brett are also huge fans, and we have been watching many games together.

When you first went off to Middlebury in 2005, your biggest concern didn’t include the normal ones such as whether you’d be homesick or how the adjustment would be, or whether you’d make friends, etc.  You knew that would all be ok. Instead, you were most worried about whether your initial workload would interfere with the Yankees’ playoff games that fall and prevent you from kicking back and watching them.  Remember this email you sent me on October 5th, 2005?:

“I’m so excited to watch the Yankees this week, and my workload couldn’t have declined at a better time.  I had a math test on Thursday, French test yesterday, had a history paper due yesterday, and turned in my English paper today.  Which means I only have easy work to do the rest of this week (math problems, French exercises, etc.).  So it should be fun.”

I’m sure what you considered “easy work” would have been extremely difficult for the rest of us mere academic mortals, but if it was easy for you and enabled you to watch the playoff games, that’s all that mattered.

Jeff and AB

In the fall of 2006, right after you were given your own sports column in The Middlebury Campus, which you called “J.K. Rolling”, I was not surprised that you chose to write a National League playoff preview for your first article.  You were so excited about it that, on September 11th, 2006, you sent me a draft to critique prior to your submitting it.   I loved it but pointed out a slight error in something you had written about the Padres.  Your response was great and reflected your excitement at becoming a regular columnist:

“Haha I definitely was aware of that Padres thing, and honestly I knew you were going to notice it, so I just figured I’d let you find it.  Anyway it was so much fun writing the article.  I’m going to love this job, especially seeing my articles in the paper every week.”

You were so knowledgeable about the game of baseball that I always sought out your opinions.  On September 21st, 2007 I asked if you were upset about Joe Torre leaving the Yankees.  As always, you had read up on the topic and had formed a strong opinion, which you emailed back to me:

“No, I’m not really upset about Torre.  The more columns I read, the more I’m convinced that he was just an ordinary manager, not an amazing one.  Sure, he handled the media well, but he overused young pitchers and didn’t always make the best situational decisions.  So it’s a toss-up.  I’m sure Mattingly can do just as well.”

At the time, the media was speculating that Don Mattingly, not Joe Girardi, would succeed Torre, but Girardi got the nod.

You always watched Yankee managers with a critical eye.  Even during their championship run in 2009, you kept Joe Girardi on the hot seat.  On October 20th, 2009, the morning after the Yankees lost Game 3 of the ALCS in 11 innings to the Angels, you kept me up to date on your reservations about the Yankee manager:

“There has been a ton of commentary today about Girardi’s overmanaging, not just last night, but throughout the entire season.  Here are two articles about that:

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/playoffs/2009/columns/story?columnist=caple_jim&id=4578898

 http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/yankees/2009/10/20/2009-10-20_lupica_girardi.html

Just four minutes before the email about Girardi, you sent me this gem:

I had not heard that wild claim about such an upstanding citizen, but of course you immediately sent me the article you had read.

I loved how you always found a way to stay connected with your Yankees regardless of where you were, including during your semester abroad in London in the fall of 2007.  I got such a kick out of your email from September 21st, just a week after you had arrived over there for the semester:

“Right now I’m watching the Yankee game on my newly-working MLB TV.  It was a pitcher’s duel until Wang just gave up a frustrating two runs.”

For some reason, you always had it out for Wang.  Not long after the 2009 season started, on April 14th, you sent me this rando fun fact:

He probably had a couple of bad starts to open the season, and you were already on the poor guy’s case.  But you obviously sensed that this was a harbinger of things to come, and you were right.  He finished an injury-shortened season with a 1-6 record and an ERA of 9.64 (better than the 29 you referenced but still pretty awful).

Then again, you never had much tolerance for Yankee pitchers who were showered with big money to come play in New York and then never lived up to their billing.  Kyle Farnsworth was one such guy.  The flame throwing right hander seemingly had all the tools, but for whatever reason, he was a complete bust for the Yanks.  With every poor performance, your patience wore thinner. So you were overjoyed when he was finally traded in July of 2008.  The funniest thing, though, was how you stayed on his case even into the next season, when he wasn’t even in New York!  Remember the email you sent me on April 20th, 2009?

“Kyle Farnsworth has already been awful for his new team, accounting for 3 of the Royals’ 5 losses on the season (including two walk-off homers).”

Hilarious, Jeff.  George Steinbrenner would have loved having a tough General Manager like you.

I also remember how much you loved All-Star games in any sport and how we always talked about going to one someday.  Even though we never quite made it to one, (although you knew I had bought tickets for us for the 2011 NBA All-Star game two months before you died), you never missed watching one.  During the summer of 2008, when you were living and working in Boston, you sent me this email on July 14th, 2008 about the homerun derby:

“Wow, I can’t believe Justin Morneau stole the spotlight and won after Hamilton’s heroics!  Also, I don’t know how closely you were watching the HR derby, but I garnered pieces of information from the ESPN message boards and wondered if you saw…

1) A policeman choke a kid (who presumably ran on the field) during the derby that got caught on live TV?  Bloggers were screaming that it was yet another instance of police brutality.

2) Announcer Rick Reilly make a racist comment about the all-white participants?”

I loved how you once connected one of our baseball conversations to one of your NBA conspiracy theories.  Do you remember your response to me on May 7th, 2009 after I emailed you the news that Manny Ramirez was suspended for 50 games for steroid use?  You wrote:

“I know, I saw that this morning and was shocked—not so much because I didn’t think he would ever use PED’s, but because the league actually took unfavorable action on one of its star players.  I feel like if it was the NBA and Kobe or LeBron got caught using a banned substance, the league would sweep it under the rug.”

More than anything, Jeff, I miss the raw passion of your beliefs and how you expressed them.  The best baseball example occurred not long before you inexplicably decided to leave us.  On June 2nd, 2010, umpire Jim Joyce made one of the worst calls in baseball history when he called Indians’ batter Jason Donald safe at first with two outs in the ninth in a game against the Tigers. Replays showed that he was out by a mile. Had the correct “out” call been made, Tigers’ pitcher Armando Galaragga would have pitched a perfect no-hit game and achieved baseball immortality.

You were enraged, though interestingly, not at the umpire.  Instead, the next day you took to your Talkin’ Sports blog (www.jeffkleinsports.blogspot.com) and banged out a post, entitled “Bud Selig Strikes Out…Again”, in which you railed at Commissioner Bud Selig’s decision to NOT officially reverse the blown call and award Galaragga the perfect game, as scores of fans and reporters had demanded.  You wrote:

“One of the worst calls in the history of sports has been cemented by possibly the worst decision in the history of sports.” You ended the post by writing, “He had the ball in his court—a clear opportunity to right the wrong, to extricate the league from this quagmire.  But instead, Selig struck out…again.  What a coward.”

Also that day, you went out and bought the New York Post, whose back page headline screamed, “Perfect Crime.”  You cut out that entire back page and tacked it to the wall in your room, where it remains today and will always stay as long as we live here. 

How ironic it is that almost exactly two years later, on June 1st of this year, Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in Mets franchise history, but only because of a blown call in his favor.  Carlos Beltran scorched a line drive over third base that was ruled a foul ball.  It was clearly a fair ball.  He then grounded out.  I could almost hear you teasing Elon about how fitting it was that even when a New York Mets pitcher finally throws a no-hitter for the first time in the team’s 50 year history, it only happened due to a bad call.  I even visited your Talkin’ Sports blog, fantasizing that somehow you would find a way to post on this story from Heaven.  You didn’t.

And so here we are, Jeff, with the Yankees in first place again and potentially on their way to big things this postseason.  I am thankful that you were here to enjoy the 2009 championship and the wild parade that followed, but I so miss your emails and texts that used to keep me up to date on every aspect of the baseball world.  I’d give anything to know what you think of this season’s new playoff system, especially the one game wildcard round.  And what about the Washington Nationals’ rise to the top of the NL East?  The incredible story of the Mets’ R.A. Dickey? The comeback of Andy Pettitte?  Santana’s faux “no-hitter”?  The Yankees’ trade for Ichiro?

Although I’ll never know for certain what your views are on these things, speculating about them keeps me thinking about you in a productive way and keeps my mind away from the dark nature of what you did.  It’s the only way for me to march forward, and so I’ll sign off now and look forward to watching the Yankees open a four game set tonight against the Rangers.  And when Josh Hamilton steps to the plate for Texas, I’ll think back to that happier time in the summer of 2008 when you sent me the email about Hamilton’s homerun derby heroics.  Then the tears will inevitably come, and I’ll resume my daily battle to stay strong.

Enjoy tonight’s game from up there, son, and I send all my love,

Dad

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