Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The most desired midget in baseball

Tiny Tim Collins has been traded twice this year. Listed at 5'7" (and heights are often padded) and between 180 pounds (up from 155), the diminutive Collins has been a strikeout machine since turning pro back in 2007.

Actually, he was a strikeout machine before that. Before he hit his growth spurt, Collins was a mere 5'6" in high school at Worcester (MA) Technical High. He dominated opposing hitters, though, averaging over 16 strikeouts a game his senior year (in seven inning games). He struck out 20 in one game and fanned thirteen while pitching a no-hitter in the Division 2 Central Massachusetts title game.

Despite all the K's, he drew as much attention as he allowed contact. Collins wasn't drafted by a major league team, no college programs were interested in him and if not for a fluke viewing by Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Riccardi, he would have ended up pitching for a community college in Rhode Island. Riccardi was scouting an American Legion game and Collins came into pitch. The story is that Collins fanned all twelve batters he faced. The Jays signed him as an undrafted free agent and he was sent to the Gulf Coast League where he pitched all of six relief innings.

In 2008, Collins pitched for the Lansing Lugnuts of the Midwest League. Despite being the youngest American-born pitcher in the league, the lefty Collins made pro hitters look like high schoolers. Collins went 4-2 with 14 saves and a 1.58 ERA, struck out 98 in 68.1 innings and allowed a mere 36 hits. None of this garnered him much respect. He did not make the All-Star team and was not considered a prospect by Baseball America.

The Blue Jays moved him up the ladder in 2009, sending him to Dunedin of the Florida State League. Collins led the league in strikeouts per nine innings, as he K'ed 99 in 64.2 innings. His performance led to a promotion to AA where he was the youngest pitcher in the Eastern League. The Blue Jays were using him more in a setup role than a closer but he still merited some more press. Baseball America said he had the best curveball in the Blue Jays organization.

In the offseason, Collins, a notorious hard worker, worked hard to add muscle to his frame. Here's a clip of him hurling medicine balls:

The Jays returned him to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats this season. Once again he was one of the youngest players in the league and one of the most dominant. In 43 innings, he struck out 73 and allowed just 27 hits. The Atlanta Braves acquired him on July 14th as part of the Yunel Escobar-Alex Gonzalez shortstop swap. Collins was one of two minor leaguers included in the trade and the one most overlooked in trade reports. At least the Braves wanted him.

They didn't want him as much as the Royals, apparently. Braves fans didn't get to enjoy him long. Assigned to Mississippi, Collins pitched in six games, saving two of them, striking out 14 in eight innings and surrendering just one run. For two weeks he was part of the Atlanta organization and then he was sent packing again to Kansas City as part of the package to bring Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth to the Braves.

The Royals didn't fool around, assigning Collins immediately to AAA Omaha. So far, he is the third youngest pitcher to hurl in the Pacific Coast League this year. The only two younger are former first round picks Madison Bumgarner of the Giants and Jordan Lyles of the Astros. Bumgarner was the tenth pick in the 2007 draft, the same draft that went 1,453 picks without Collins being chosen.

In twelve games, Collins has pitched well. He is 2-1 with three saves with 19 K in 18 innings and just nine hits allowed. His ERA is 1.50.

With Joakim Soria potentially under contract until 2014, the Royals could have one dandy of a bullpen.

It will be interesting to see if Collins can continue to dominate professional hitters. I've been trying to think of other minor league pitchers who have struck out as many batters as Collins has. In 220.2 professional innings, Collins has whiffed 327 batters, or 13.3 per nine innings.

Here are the minor league ratios of some guys who I thought might challenge that mark:

Stephen Strasburg 10.6
Francisco Rodriguez 11.9
Billy Wagner 10.9
Aroldis Chapman 11.8
Dwight Gooden 11.7
Tim Lincecum 14.9 (finally!)

Lincecum only pitched 62.2 innings in the minors before he got the call to the show. I would not be surprised to see Collins be on the Major League team on Opening Day 2011. Hopefully he will then get some of the recognition he deserves. And for those who like underdogs, I can't think of anyone better for whom to root.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Lime Twig

This was another of the postmodern reads and as a fan of the Sport of Kings, it pains me how horse racing is portrayed in film and literature. I recently re-watched Lucky Number Sleven, where the premise of the movie is based on a similar situation as that in Lime Twig. In the movie, a guy hears about a fix on a horse and wagers a ton of money on said horse. The local mob connections don't like someone horning in on their action and they off the guy, his family, and even the horse.

In Lime Twig, a character named Hencher rents a place from a married couple and attempts to repay them for their kindness by setting up a horse race fix with a bunch of ne'er do wells he knew. Hencher gets his skull kicked in by the horse and another set of ne'er do wells decide to get in on the action by kidnapping Banks' wife and seducing Banks while killing the trainer and jockey the original crime group were planning on using. Good times. It is this sort of image that made my brother-in-law all irate when I sat my niece down a couple weeks ago to watch horse racing on TV. She rides horses and enjoyed watching the races with her uncle. But nooooooo, horse racing is for degenerates and criminals. Grrrrr.....

Getting back to the book, I didn't like it. It sort of reads like a mystery in that things are unclear but it is unclear because of the style of writing, not because pieces of the story are being hidden. The writing is confusing and I felt the plot was really thin. I never understood the motivation for any of the character's actions. They just did things.

It wasn't quite horrible. The author, John Hawkes, was friends with Flannery O'Connor, another post-modern writer who I do think is horrible, so I'm thinking that that era of postmodern writing is just not my cup of tea. What eras or authors are? Well, here's the books on the essential postmodern list I've read from favorite to least:

Everything is Illuminated
The Universal Baseball Association, Henry J. Waugh, Proprietor
House of Leaves
City of Glass
The Hundred Brothers
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
If On A Winter's Night a Traveler
The Scarlet Letter
The Lime Twig
At Swim-Two-Birds

I'm definitely a modern post-modernist. Remainder and Everything is Illuminated were published within the last few years. House of Leaves is recent, too. As a matter of fact, I have not been as excited about a book release as I am Tom McCarthy's C. Remainder was an unbelievable story and is in my top two dozen novels of all-time. C is to be released September 7 and I cannot wait.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

City of Glass

I decided to return to this list of 61 postmodern books to pick out something to read and opted to go with Paul Auster's New York Trilogy. City of Glass is the first book in it and it is a weird yet compelling book.

The book is about author Daniel Quinn, a mystery writer who writes under the name William Wilson and whose main character is named Max Work. Quinn was a poet until his wife and son died and he found he could only write again by being someone else.

One night Quinn receives a phone call asking for Paul Auster of the Paul Auster detective agency. Sorry, wrong number. The caller calls back repeatedly and Quinn finally pretends to be Auster and is asked by the caller for his help.

Quinn goes to the apartment of one Peter Stillman where Stillman lives with his voluptuous older wife. As a child, Stillman was kept in a closet by his father, never being let out. The police finally discover the living situation after over a decade and the Dad is put in jail and Stillman is placed in therapy. His wife is one of his therapists.

After thirteen years of imprisonment, the Dad is being released and Stillman and his wife fear that the Dad will return to kill Stillman. Quinn, as Auster, is hired to follow the Dad and make sure that Stillman stays safe. Quinn discovers that the father was a linguistic professor who had written a book talking about paradise on earth through the building of a new Tower of Babel. Quinn tails the Dad, who has shacked up in a cheap hotel. For two weeks Quinn follows him and takes notes on the daily activities. The Dad wanders, picking up objects here and there. He's obviously not altogether mentally. After a few days, Quinn begins to map the wanderings and finds a hidden message in the pacings.

The message completed, the Dad vanishes from the hotel. Quinn has lost sense of himself through these tailings and panics. He tries to contact the real Paul Auster for help and the Auster he finds is an author, too. Auster has a wife and a son and seems to lead the life Quinn wanted for himself. This causes Quinn to lose his mind some more.

Quinn stakes out the Stillman's apartment for months, sleeping fifteen minutes an hour and barely eating. Finally, out of money, he contacts the real Auster again, where he finds that Stillman's Dad killed himself soon after Quinn had met Auster. Quinn returns to Stillman's apartment where we find another story entirely involving Auster and a mysterious narrator.

The plot is mysterious but unrewarding. The characters aren't particularly interesting. Nonetheless, the story is really compelling. I could not put it down once I started it. I was shocked and aghast at the number of typos in the book. At least fifteen misspelled words scattered throughout. These were legitimate typos, not the result of inane babblings from deranged characters.

This is the third Auster book I've read. I like it better than Travels in the Scriptorium but not near as much as The Book of Illusions. I'm currently reading another book on the postmodern list and then will be reading The Book Thief after which I think I will read the second book of the New York Trilogy.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


I'm involved in various capacities with a few non-profits. I had seen this book recommended but after reading it, I'm not sure why. The author, Sarah Durham, runs an organization in New York City called Big Duck that helps create brand awareness for non-profits. Perhaps non-profits in New York City could use a firm like hers and have the money to do so. The majority of non-profits, especially those in smaller communities, can't begin to utilize the services of a Big Duck or, for that matter, the copywriters, ad executives or other professional communications staff. Her suggestion that organizations need to plan long-term and budget for such expenses seems more self-serving than useful.

If you are part of a large non-profit with money to burn, but are struggling (and struggling non-profits always have money to burn, right?), then this book might be of some value. Otherwise, I think their are multitudes of books on branding, communications and marketing that are so much more useful than this.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Lyre of Orpheus

This was a bit of a slog to get through. I started it at the Coop and only finished reading it last Friday. Much like the other Davies book I read, it has a zillion characters which makes it hard to follow. Despite this, I really enjoyed it. Davies writing is very interesting. His stories are different. Many of the characters get developed in part because he takes the narration inside their heads.

In this book, the third of the Deptford Trilogy, there is an organization called the Francis Cornish Foundation. The Foundation is run by Arthur and Maria Cornish and, like good foundations, they try to fund projects. The project being funded is the completion of an opera. E.T.A. Hoffman died before he could complete his opera and an up and coming music student working on her PhD is trying to complete it. The opera is based on the story of King Arthur and not surprisingly, there are parallels between the characters in the opera and the characters in the novel.

You could probably write a good novel with just this trio of characters. The Cornish's and the music student. Davies adds friends of the Cornish duo who are on the board of directors, one who is writing a biography on Francis Cornish and who discovers that a famous painting attributed to a 16th century master was actually done by Cornish in the 20th century. This despite Cornish not being known as a painter (Cornish is a bit of a mystery which is part of the reason a biography is being done).

Add the friends and we're up to about seven or eight characters and there's a nice subplot going, too. That's fine. But the story really needs a musical supervisor, too. One that can have a same-sex relationship with a student twenty years her junior. Then the student falls for one of the Cornish friends who is a male. OK. that's just one more character and what's a novel with out relationships?

Maria gets impregnated. The problem is that Arthur is sterile. Oops. Another little subplot. That's it, though, right?

No. The spirit of E.T.A. Hoffman also gets involved at the end of each chapter to provide commentary. Apparently he is in limbo because of the unfinished work. That's it, though. Really.

No, it's not. We have the dissertation committee, a husband and wife of which the husband is also a PhD candidate who is doing his dissertation on the operations of the opera, the actors in the opera, a couple other staff members at the university where the student writing the opera is at, a pair of royalty who run a cosmetics firm that uses a logo which apparently was originally done by Francis Cornish and I'm sure I'm missing another half dozen characters and a subplot or two. It's just a lot going on over almost five hundred pages.

Even still, I like it. I like how Davies writes. I like the people in his stories. This novel was written in the 1990's but still has a feel of an older novel like Leaven of Malice. It bogs down from time to time but it is still entertaining and I'll keep reading Davies in the future.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Music, horses and baseball - updates on some favorites

If you're going to listen to one band that you probably haven't heard of today, make it Roosevelt Radio. In true almost six degrees of separation fashion, here's how I found them. I love DeVotchKa. I saw them in concert in Los Angeles where Rupa and the April Fishes was the opening act. The cellist for Rupa was Pawel Walerowski. When looking for Pawel music, I found him playing with Ben Ross. Ben Ross is the lead singer for Roosevelt Radio. Roosevelt Radio will be releasing their album in October but have made some pre-releases available. The song they are plugging is Midnight:

but I like Order in the Chaos better.

Roosevelt Radio is based on California, just like my favorite horse, Sidney's Candy (like that transition?)!

Sid had not run since the slop of the Kentucky Derby. John Sadler made the unusual decision (at least to me) of making Sid's return on turf. The reason I questioned this was twofold. One, why fix what ain't broken? Outside of the mud in Kentucky, Sidney's Candy has run extremely well, especially on California dirt. Secondly, Sid runs best by breaking early and putting distance on the field. This is a much more challenging feat on turf. You don't see many horses wire the field in turf racing, especially among higher caliber horses. It's a slower surface and requires more stamina. And you really don't want to get into a speed duel on turf with another horse. That will just kill you as you expend all your energy in the head-to-head battle. Nonetheless, Sadler entered Sidney's Candy into the La Jolla stakes, a Grade II race. Nothing like a high-end stakes for your grass debut. Sid (#2) takes off as usual and gets into a duel with Macias (#3). Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. If you want to see what typically happens to early speed, watch Macias.

Sid, however, is an incredibly remarkable horse. Debut on turf and he sets a track record. I don't know how any creature, horse or otherwise, can run that hard for that long and then find that extra gear to pull further ahead. Wow.

Speaking of running, how is my favorite basestealer, Milwaukee Brewers minor leaguer Josh Prince doing? He has had a tough season. He has not shown an ability to hit or draw a walk which makes his hopes of becoming a major leaguer slim. His baserunning and stealing are still unreal. Baseball America named him the best baserunner in the Florida State League. He is second in the league in steals despite only hitting .237 with an OBP of .291 (which is better than his SLG of .283). Yes, those are some ugly, UGLY offensive numbers. Granted, the FSL is a pitcher's league but there has not been much to suggest that Prince's bat is going to develop. The Manatees, Prince's team, has been sitting him lately to give another guy a chance to play short which has hampered Prince's chances for a second straight stolen base crown. I still have hopes but things are not looking good for Josh.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Thanks, Thorzul - Part II (Joy of a completed subset)

Thorzul had completed what he was collecting of the 2008 Upper Deck X set so I contacted him to see if he might have cards I needed that he was willing to trade. He did and with some fortuitous timing, I was able to find something to deal to him in exchange.

While I was at the Hall, the education department got rid of some of their old materials. We were told to grab anything we might want but by the time word trickled down to us librarians, the goods were pretty well picked over. Nonetheless, I found a black and white picture of Robin Yount and immediately thought of Thorzul. I asked him if he'd take it in trade for the UDX cards. He obliged and a trade was made.

One of the cards he sent was an Alfonso Soriano Exponential 4. This gave me the entire ten cards of the 4's (Albert Pujols is omitted from the scan for space).

I have to say, looking at this scan, I do not understand why people don't like this set. I think it looks awesome.

If you have 2008 UDX and would like to trade, my wantlist is here. I need gold diecuts the most. Also, if anyone can tell me with certainty that the signature cards on my list were actually produced, I would appreciate it. I have not seen signature cards offered anywhere of Ramirez, Buchholz, Lu, Longoria, Kennedy, Cueto, Hochevar or Balentien although they are on Upper Deck's checklist for the set.

And thanks again, Thorzul, for the trade.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Thanks, Thorzul - Part I

Thorzul recently ran a 5K race and held a contest on his site to predict what his time would be. I, of course, had to try and analyze the situation before making my prediction. I found the last time he ran the race, took into account that he was older and that virtually every card break he films has him consuming beer and predicted that his time would be slower.

Lo and behold, my prediction was closest even though he ran the same exact time he had previously. As the winner, Thorzul promised to send me cards of my favorite team. As you probably know, I don't root for teams (the Oneonta Outlaws of the NYCBL being the exception). But I do have a long going Expos project so I requested some Expos and Adam Dunn cards.

Thorzul obliged and sent me two serial-numbered Dunn's and a small stack of Expos. The two 1981 Fleer pictured below were the highlights for me:

Thanks, Thorzul, and nice job defying age and beer.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Jose Herrera loves baseball

Way back in 1993 I had just graduated college. I was single, no children, was working for a software company that made sport simulation games and was just being introduced to minor league baseball.

The local Greensboro Hornets were a South Atlantic League team and part of the New York Yankees farm system. The Hornets ended up winning their division due to a potent offense that scored almost five and a half runs a game. One of my all-time favorite players, first baseman Nick Delvecchio, hit 21 home runs and had an OBP just shy of .400. He also was an amazing defensive first baseman, posting 113 assists (second in the league was 79).

Two-thirds of the starting outfield would go on to the major leagues. Matt Luke was in leftfield and Shane Spencer was in right. Luke hit for the cycle during one game, the only time I have witnessed a player doing so live. He also led the league in total bases. Error-prone shortstop Derek Jeter committed 56 errors during the season but hit .295 and has had a fairly decent professional career since.

The team had speed, too, as second baseman Robert Hinds stole 50 bases and centerfielder Kraig Hawkins swiped 67 to lead the league.

Catcher Tom Wilson also reached the major leagues and led the league with 91 walks in just 120 games. Even the third baseman, Scott Romano, was a steady performer.

One of the teams that could match Greensboro offensively, though, was the Hagerstown Suns. Another favorite player of mine, D.J. Boston, was their first baseman and was maybe the best athlete I have ever seen. Boston was voted the league MVP at the end of the season and at 6'7" and 230 pounds, he looked like he should be a monster slugger. He only hit 13 home runs, though, showing a sweet swing for average. He hit .315, fourth in the league, and belted 35 doubles, which was third in the league. Amazingly, he showed tremendous grace at first and stole 31 bases during the season. He played like a guy half his size, something I am sure hurt him in his quest to reach the majors.

The other big threat for the Suns, and the guy who caused me to recall all this seventeen years after the fact, was outfielder Jose Herrera. Herrera finished second in the league in hitting and made the end of season All-Star team. Before the season ended, he was traded to the Oakland Athletics with Steve Karsay for Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson. Two years later the A's would bring Herrera up to the majors. He played two seasons for them but was done as a big leaguer at the age of 23.

What got me thinking about Herrera? Last night my youngest son sang the National Anthem with a local choir at a Lancaster Barnstormers game. The Barnstormers took on the York Revolution and their cleanup hitter for the evening was none other than Jose Herrera. He was York's DH and is currently seventh in the league in batting average, hitting .319. This is his sixth season in the Atlantic League and I wouldn't be surprised to see him continue to keep playing.

It's guys like Herrera who I really admire in the baseball world. He will be turning 38 in two weeks but is still playing the game he loves. There's no money in the Atlantic League. Some players occasionally get back to the majors after playing in the Atlantic League but not after six seasons and not at age 38. And unlike a lot of other players who will hang on and try to find a way to make it out to the ballpark for their job instead of an office even though their skills are gone, Herrera is still contributing to his team. He's also bringing back a lot of fond baseball memories for me which is great. Congratulations, Jose, on your successful baseball career. I wish you many more, hopefully with the Atlantic League.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Free the Hawaiians!!!

The life of the unappreciated minor league player has to be frustrating. Two native Hawaiian outfielders have been toiling away in the minors this season with nary a notice by big league clubs. Even with the trade deadline having passed, no one could or would pry one of these two players loose.

Kila Ka-aihue got a call up earlier in the year by the Kansas City Royals where he got four at bats before being returned to Omaha. His .319 average is sixth in the Pacific Coast League (yes, Omaha, Nebraska is in the Pacific Coast League), his .463 OBP leads the league and his .598 slugging is third in the league. He is third in the league in homers with 24 and has a 88/69 walk to strikeout ratio. But why would a team needing a left-handed bat look at a guy like this? Maybe MLB has something against the family. Kila's Dad spent eleven years in the minor leagues and never got a taste of The Show. Kila's little brother, Kala, is in his sixth year of the minors and Kila is in his ninth. 26 years of minor league baseball in the family and a grand total of 28 plate appearances at the major league level.

Another member of a Hawaiian baseball family also has not received a chance this year despite a similar performance. Bronson Sardinha, after spending last year out of baseball, signed with the Detroit Tigers this winter. He started the year in extended spring training and then was sent to Double-A Tulsa. Despite only playing 57 games, he is eighth in the league in walks and doubles. He has not played enough to qualify for the percentage titles but his line of .324/.451/.577 you would think would merit a move to at least Triple-A.

His brother Dane got a brief callup to the Phillies earlier in the season but the Sardinhas also have been largely career minor leaguers. This is Bronson's ninth minor league season and he got 12 plate appearances for the Yankees in 2007. Dane has been called up several times but has played in just 44 major league games. He is in his tenth minor league season. The third Sardinha brother, Duke, put in seven years of minor league ball before his career ended in 2008.

Why a team wouldn't give either of these guys a shot is beyond me. It's not like they're ancient. Bronson is 27, Kila 26. They're cheap, they've shown excellent strike zone judgment and power. I don't get it. Keep trading washed up veterans making millions and hoping you luck into a return to their glory days.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Oneonta eats - Thanks, Roy

I'm in my last week here at Cooperstown/Oneonta and there was only one other place I have eaten that merits mentioning. Based on the recommendation by Roy of Plain Gray Swatch, I had my first Oneonta pizza at Cosmos Pizza. Great pizza, easily the best I've had up here and one that would that be delicious anywhere.

The place is a bit hard to find from Main Street. There is a doorway that sends you down a flight of dingy stairs where you expect to find a 1920's speakeasy. Not surprisingly, there is a bar at the bottom of the stairs but Cosmos is also there. And unlike many pizza joints where you have actual Italians working, the two fellow working there that evening were bespectacled younger guys, definitely Anglo-Saxon in heritage. They make good pizza, though.

Thanks, Roy, for the recommendation and folks, if you're up this way to visit the Hall of Fame or some other reason, I don't think there is any reason to eat in Cooperstown. Use your money a little more wisely and make the twenty minute ride into Oneonta.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Robert Downey, Jr. Ouevre #10 - Sherlock Holmes

It took five months but I finally watched another Robert Downey, Jr. movie. Sherlock Holmes was the movie that sort of inspired me to want and do this whole project. When it came out in theatres last winter, it held appeal to me. I started to have some doubts as I heard reviews that there was little resemblance between the movie and the short stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that I have enjoyed so greatly (and yes, I appreciate the hypocrisy of me liking Sherlock Holmes stories but bashing formulaic novelists. I counter with three things. One, a short story takes far less time to read than a 450 page "novel". Two, there are not a lot of decent short story writers around nowadays. At least not like in days of yore. Three, Doyle was writing for syndication. His stories were published in magazines and were designed to be short and formulaic. I don't know the reason for cranking out novel after novel of the same thing outside of making a buck), I began to be a bit concerned.

One of the things we tried to do this summer for the internship was to have a baseball movie night every Tuesday. It had mixed success and near the end (I write this during week 9 of 10), few people were attending. We were to watch Bull Durham but for some reason, the movie was a no-show. The guy coordinating the movies had some non-baseball flicks and since I was the only one who had shown up, I got to pick and I went with Sherlock Holmes.

In theory, I should have enjoyed this movie. Robert Downey, Sherlock Holmes, Guy Ritchie directing and Hans Zimmer doing the soundtrack. Somehow the sum of the parts equaled something far less. The movie really had little to do with Sherlock Holmes. If you called it Myron Stoltzfus, it wouldn't change the story at all. Downey was solidly average. He could have done so much more with the part but it wasn't there. There were obvious Guy Ritchie traits to the flick. The bare-knuckled fighting with the whooshes and the zooms. The weaving of the different storylines. It all felt hamohocked and poorly done, though. And the Zimmer soundtrack, good googly moogly. If this isn't the worst soundtrack he's done, I don't know what is. The instrumentation had nothing to do with the tone of the movie, the style of the flick, or the era in which it took place. I could almost hear Christopher Walken yelling "More banjo!". Just awful.

The story was largely illogical. There were a bunch of things that weren't explained and some of the things that Holmes "figures out" are pretty darn outlandish.

I've certainly seen worse Robert Downey, Jr. movies but I've certainly seen better.