Category: Baseball (Page 2 of 6)

Review: Chad Harbach – The Art of Fielding

chad-harbach-the-art-of-fielding-e1333182174963This book ended up being nothing like I thought it would, but it had me hooked from the first page. I had expected a book that was heavily baseball oriented, but baseball was (in the main) just an undercurrent throughout the book to support the other issues. The book is centred around a few characters whose lives become completely intertwined. The main character is Henry, a naturally talented shortstop who is spotted by Schwartz and persuaded to attend Westish College. As he’s a late addition to the school, he ends up sharing a room with Owen. Owen starts an affair with the school’s president Guert Affenlight, whose daughter Pella turns up at the school having run away from her husband. Pella ends up in a relationship with Schwartz, and you can see how everyone’s lives wind up hopelessly tangled.

The book is a fantastic book about growing up and dealing with the transition from college to the real world. After being trained by Schwartz, Henry is so gifted that baseball scouts start turning up to his games, and there is talk of him being drafted in the early rounds. All this until an errant throw from Henry accidentally hits Owen in the head and puts him in hospital. Henry suddenly quits playing baseball and begins a downward spiral into depression and anorexia, shutting out his friends and almost throwing away every opportunity that had been given to him.

The book deals with some hard issues very gracefully, and the conclusion of each character’s storyline at the end was brilliant. I actually don’t have anything bad to say about the book, apart from the fact that I was glad to finish it so that I don’t have to carry it in my bag any more, the hardback weighs a ton!

This was a great debut novel from Harbach, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

5-5

Back to Baseball: Off-Season recap

Philip Humber, Simon Castro, Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, John Danks, Nestor MolinaIt’s that time of year again, and although I’ve been a bit quiet about baseball during Spring Training, there’s less than a week left until the first game of the season so there’ll be more baseball blogs coming. The regular season actually kicked off earlier this week with the series in Japan between the A’s and the Mariners. This actually gave me the opposite problem to usual as the games were on too early for me to watch, starting at 11am British time, about 13 hours earlier than usual!

At the end of last season, I wrote a blog post about my hopes for the off season, so I’m going to use this post to catch up on those and see if I managed to predict anything right! Here goes…

1. Re-sign Mark Buehrle
This was my biggest hope for the off-season, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. We traded Buehrle to the Marlins quite early on, and while I was disappointed to start with, I actually think that it’s a good move now. We have a strong rotation with Chris Sale’s transition to a starter, along with Danks, Floyd, Peavy and Humber. Of course Buehrle is a great pitcher, but I don’t think we are that much weaker without him. And at least he’s switched leagues so we don’t have to face him too often!

2. Bring Back Omar Vizquel
colorado-rockies-starting-pitcher-jamie-moyer-off-to-average-start-mlb-news-1388730 for 2 now as this didn’t happen either.  He’s now playing for the Blue Jays, and at 45, I wish him all the best. He’s a great player, and he deserves to end his career on a high note. But even at 45, he’s not the oldest player in the MLB, as today we’ve just got the news that Jamie Moyer has made a place in the starting rotation for the Rockies. At 49, he’s coming to the end of a long career (in fact, he’s been playing baseball longer than the Rockies have even been a team)! He’s coming back from Tommy John surgery which is not easy at any age, but at 49 I look forward to seeing how his season goes.

3. Farewell to Juan Pierre
Finally, one that I got right.  Pierre is now playing for the Phillies, and we have ample replacements for him in the outfield department. We’ve had a good look at DeAza and Viciedo in spring training, and we also signed Kosuke Fukudome this off season too. Apart from his speed (which will be hard to replace), I think we’ll be better off without him this season.

4. Welcome Robin Ventura
628x4712Robin really seems to have settled in well during Spring Training, and although our record has not been brilliant, he seems to be making good decisions and the players all seem to love him. It’s very nice not to have all the controversy like there used to be with Ozzie, and it’s definitely nice to be able to read the comments on the MLB site without scrolling through pages of ‘Fire Ozzie’ comments.

5. Get Jake Peavy Healthy
This seems to be going well, although we’ll only really know when the season gets underway. We really need him to be able to pitch late into games to save the bullpen, and he needs to last to the end of the year, especially as Chris Sale is likely to be on an innings limit in his first year as a starter.

chris-saleI have to say, my predictions were really not that good, but I’m feeling very confident about the team this year. We’ve set our 25 man roster today, including a couple of surprises in Jones and Escobar, the only real mystery now is how the bullpen is going to shape up. Reed and Santiago have been pitching very well, but I think Thornton should get the closing nod, at least to start with. He didn’t do very well at it last year, but I think he’s more ready for it now. And if not, we’ve always got a couple of other candidates ready to take his place!

There’ll be more baseball related posts coming up this week with the season so close, but if you made any predictions for the offseason, let me know if you were more successful than me!

Review: Dirk Hayhurst – Out of My League

dirk-hayhurst-out-of-my-league-e1330855312503It’s been a while since I posted a review, not been feeling great the last few days so had a break from the laptop. But this book was awesome! I kind of knew what to expect from the book after reading Hayhurst’s first book (The Bullpen Gospels), and I most definitely wasn’t disappointed.

This book was just as funny as the first book, it had me laughing out loud quite a few times! Lines like this were just what I expected:

Hitters are stupid, if they weren’t, they’d be pitchers.

The book is refreshingly honest, and gives you a great insight into what life is like for a baseball player, and a better understanding of just how big a difference there is between the lifestyle of the minor leagues and major leagues.

I felt like this book was a lot more personal than the first one, and contained a lot more about his relationship with his girlfriend/fiancee/wife Bonnie. He lets you in on a lot of events in their relationship – the proposal, the wedding, and even a huge argument they had shortly before the wedding after he had pitched a bad game. I liked that this was included, he wasn’t afraid to include the bad parts of himself as well as the good.

The book ends just as he has been claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays, setting up very nicely for book number 3. I have a feeling it’s going to be longer than I would like before it comes out though!

I’d recommend this book to any baseball fan, and also anyone who just wants a good laugh. If you’ve read this book and enjoyed it, you should definitely check out The Bullpen Gospels too. You should also follow him on twitter – @thegarfoose, he’s just about to start playing in the Italian baseball league which should make for some interesting tweets.

5-5

Now Reading: Dirk Hayhurst – Out of My League

dirk-hayhurst-out-of-my-league-e1330855312503I’ve been waiting for this book since I pre-ordered it in October, so I’m very glad that it finally arrived, especially when I started seeing a lot of tweets about people in America reading the book when I still had 2 weeks left until it would be dispatched.

It will be the second book I have read by Dirk Hayhurst, although you may also know him as @thegarfoose on Twitter. His first (The Bullpen Gospels) was fantastic, I remember laughing a LOT when I read it, so I hope this one will be just as good. If it’s anything like the first one, I’ll probably be finished with it by tonight, I just couldn’t put it down.

Review: Jim Bouton & Eliot Asinof – Strike Zone

strike-zone-jim-bouton-and-eliot-asinof-e1329777352178This book is the first baseball fiction book that I’ve read, and it was great! It’s been a long time since the end of the baseball season, so it was nice to feel the excitement of a baseball game again.

The story revolves around two main characters. The first is an aging rookie pitcher called Sam Ward, pitching for the Cubs in the last game of the season, a game that will decide whether the Cubs make it to the post-season or not.

The other main character is an umpire called Ernie Kolacka, umpiring his last game before his forced retirement at age 60. He has been persuaded to throw the game in favour of the Phillies, by his friend who is in big trouble after he got over his head with gambling.

The book goes back and forth between Ward and Kolacka every half inning, and I was gripped all the way through. I also loved the way that as well as going back and forward between the gameplay action, we also got completely involved in the personal lives of both players, so much so that you really didn’t know who to root for. There’s also quite a lot of insight (whether it’s true or not, who knows) into the hard slog of making it to the major leagues for both characters, and the thought processes that occur during a big game.

Right up until the end, I couldn’t tell how it was going to end, I kept swaying back and forth between a win for Ward or a ‘victory’ for Kolacka. I won’t spoil the end of the book for you, but let’s just say that it made me smile. There’s also a bit of a bombshell thrown in at the end, which shocked me and put a slightly different spin on the story.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone that likes baseball, it will definitely keep you gripped all the way to the very last page.

5/5

Now Reading: Alastair Reynolds – Century Rain

alistair-reynolds-century-rain1This book is a sci-fi book (borrowed from Mike), which will be another change for me, I’ve not read much sci-fi before. It looks quite interesting though, I always used to be quite interested in sci-fi tv programs, but somehow fell out of watching them. The description on the back of the book says:

“Century Rain is not just a time-travel story, nor a tale of alternate history. Part hard SF thriller, part interstellar adventure, part noir romance, Century Rain is something altogether stranger.”

I hope to finish this book this weekend. The weather is pretty cold and miserable out, so I will probably just be sitting around the house with Vicky, who is home from uni for a few days. I need to catch up a little bit on my 100 books challenge, I think the last few books have put me back a bit, but there’s still over 10 months left yet, so plenty of time!

On a totally unrelated note, only 12 days until the start of Spring Training! I can’t wait for baseball to start up again, it seems a long time since the end of last season. If anyone has any good baseball books to recommend, leave me a comment! I’ve already pre-ordered Dirk Hayhurst’s new book Out of My League, which is out at the end of this month. If it’s half as good as his first book The Bullpen Gospels, it’s gonna be awesome!

Some people just don’t know when to quit…

Not much off-season news yet as far as the White Sox go. I’m hoping for something to happen at the Winter Meetings, as long as it doesn’t involve Buehrle moving elsewhere.

MLB released the following statement last night:

“Free-agent Manny Ramirez has applied to the Commissioner to be reinstated from the voluntary retired list. As a condition of his reinstatement, Ramirez will be required to resolve his outstanding violation of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, which was announced on April 8, 2011.”

mannyramirezApparently, when (if) Ramirez comes back, he will only be required to sit out a 50 game suspension. I really don’t get this. He retired last year instead of facing discipline for a second violation of the MLB drug policy. This would have meant a mandatory 100 game suspension. So how is it possible that he can ‘voluntarily retire’ for a season and then come back to only half of the punishment? If you know the reason, let me know in the comments, because I’m really interested to know what happened to the other 50 games.

Regardless, what team is going to pick him up knowing that he is going to miss the first 50 games of the season? That’s almost a third of the season, and I guess that Ramirez is not going to be asking for small money. He’s going to be 40 next year, so personally I think he should have stayed retired and hope that people would eventually forget about the 2 failed drug tests and remember him as a good player, but I guess he just wants to try and prove himself again.

My only consolation is that at least the White Sox are fairly safe from him following the failed experiment of 2010.

Moneyball…Finally!

moneyball-posterFinally, about 2 months after it came out in America, and after I’ve read countless reviews, I went to see Moneyball yesterday. It came out on Friday, and the Saturday showing only had 6 people in (including me and my Dad). I did think that might be the case though, as the film was purely about baseball, and not many English people are that interested. I’m guessing Brad Pitt is the main reason the film is even showing in the UK.

It was really cool seeing baseball on the big screen, and I loved the film. Having read the book, I sort of knew what to expect, but I think the film was really well made. Brad Pitt played a great Billy Beane and Jonah Hill was great! I loved the way that they interspersed real clips of baseball with the film, to give it that authenticity, but then reproduced some great shots from different angles (like David Justice chasing the ball into the corner, the camera angle on that was so unusual from normal baseball viewing).
moneyball-brad-pitt2
One thing that I found quite interesting (if that’s how it really happens), is how General Managers call each other up to discuss trades. I don’t know if it’s at all like the movie, but I like the idea of Billy Beane calling Mark Shapiro and saying ‘ I need a outfielder, what have you got…’

It’s hard to pick a favourite part from the film, but I loved the end where Billy puts in the CD with the song his daughter (played by Kerris Dorsey) recorded for him. The 20th consecutive win was also pretty great. Not being a baseball fan in 2002, I never saw that, but I found myself genuinely caught up in the excitement, especially when Scott Hatteberg hit the walk off home run – great moment! My favourite quote from the film had to be this exchange at Hatteberg’s house:
moneyball-brad-pitt-and-chris-pratt
Billy Beane: You don’t know how to play first base?
Scott Hatteberg: That’s right.
Billy Beane: It’s not that hard, Scott. Tell him, Wash.
Ron Washington: It’s incredibly hard.
Billy Beane: Hey, anything worth doing is. And we’re gonna teach you.

According to Ron Washington, that conversation did actually happen, just not at Hatteberg’s house.

moneyball-brad-pitt-jonah-hillNow the film was great, the experience at Cineworld, not so much. I usually go to the Vue, but the film wasn’t showing at the right time, won’t be making that decision again. When we got there, they let us in to the film 20 minutes late because they took too long cleaning up from the film before, but they had already turned off all the lights and started playing the trailers. Not great for my disabled Dad to walk up the stairs in the dark. Then about 5 minutes before the end, they dragged in all the cleaning trolleys and stood in the entrance talking on walkie-talkies. Obviously in a rush to get us out of there, and didn’t really care about the 6 of us who were actually interested in the film and how it ended.

I’ll leave you with this clip of Kerris Dorsey singing The Show with some clips from the film, great voice!

Ups and Downs of an Off-Season Monday

First, the up.

Justin VerlanderCongratulations to Justin Verlander on being crowned AL MVP 2011. If you’ve read my blog in the past, you’ll know that I have written a couple of posts about how I wanted him to win, so it’s an understatement to say I’m glad. He deserved it after the phenomenal season he had, and I’m glad that the voters put aside the fact that he is a pitcher, although it was nowhere near as much of a clean sweep as the Cy Young last week. He becomes the first pitcher since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and the first starting pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1986 to win the MVP.

And for now, I promise to stop writing blog posts about Justin Verlander (until next season at least).

Then the down.
greg-halmanMLB is reporting the terrible news that Seattle Mariners outfielder Greg Halman was stabbed to death at home in the Netherlands earlier this morning, and his brother has allegedly been arrested as a suspect. He was only 24, and had just finished playing 35 games for the Mariners as a rookie this season. It’s always sad to hear the death of someone so young, but even worse that it may have been caused by his brother. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends as they try to deal with this tragic news.

Cy Young this week, MVP next?

justin-verlander-1

Justin Verlander – 2011 AL Cy Young Award Winner

Congratulations to Justin Verlander, who was unanimously awarded the AL Cy Young Award after winning the three triple crown categories this season with 24 wins, a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts. The MVP award is announced next Tuesday. There is a lot of discussion over whether a pitcher should be awarded the MVP, and if so, if Verlander is deserving of the honour. I for one believe that he should get it, but we’ll have to wait and see.

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