Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Restless Royals Ramble That Ends Up In Surprise

As Royals fans, we have very little to talk about right now.

Hell, most of us checked out sometime in June when it had become more than clear that the fast start was a mirage and that the air of respectability we thought was going to accompany the Royals resurgence had been knocked from our lungs.

Regardless, I would imagine that the bulk of Royals fans can only bring themselves to stop by this post-season in random passing glances. There isn't much joy that can be derived from watching a turncoat left fielder who used to wear Royal blue* try one more time to get a ring in New York. Was the 75-year-old Matt Stairs a Royal long enough to for us to root for him?

*And, yes, I can't remember him ever actually wearing a uniform that was Royal blue, but you know what I mean.

No. Right now, we can only be envious of fans who - let's be honest - aren't exactly starving for a successful baseball season.

Well, that and rooting against the Evil Empire.

Since free agency is still a ways down the road, and no trades or re-signings can be announced until after the World Series is completed, we bloggers have little of worth to write about. Well, unless you want to include fabricated trades that are all but completed involving Cy Young winners-to-be for 28-year-old has-beens and a bunch of never-will-bes*.

*I agree with what Sam Mellinger said about not wanting to tear into this writer too hard because he's not getting paid to do this and it is a labor of love (or "Labour of Love" for all you UB40 fans reading this blog), but I have to say that as a writer whose blog also appears on Bleacher Report I feel like this blogger has given the rest of us a bad name. I would like to think that my column never veers toward this reckless type of rumor-mongering, but part of me feels like my involvement with the same site somehow makes me slightly guilty by association.

Luckily, I have another blog that is not dependent upon my fandom of a horrible baseball team to turn my attention to. One only dependent on my consumption of pop culture. Needless to say, the subjects for entries there present themselves much more readily.

Here, I am left to write about what? Well, Clark Fosler has found his niche for October columns, and his work has been great thus far (who'd have thunk that the Royals third basemen collectively out-produced all other third basemen in the Central?).

So, I guess I can reflect about the limited Royals-relevant baseball action that is going on right now. Over at Kings of Kauffman, Wally Fish is doing a bang-up job of staying on top of any developments with the Surprise Rafters.

Aside from the slightly discouraging displacement of David Lough (one of the only offensive bright spots in the Royals minor league system this year) on the roster due to some hamstring issues, there is a little good news. After a year marked with significant struggles at the plate in an admittedly hostile hitting environment, Mike Moustakas has begun to alleviate some of my concerns.

Moustakas scuffled his way to a .250/.297/.421 split with 16 home runs and 10 steals in Wilmington. While those numbers are not encouraging, the 20-year-old (he just turned 21 in September) worked a worrying 32 walks in 530 plate appearances. In 30 plate appearances in the Arizona Fall League, Moustakas is hitting .276/.313/.483 with a 1:3 BB:K, one home run, one steal, three doubles, six runs, and nine runs batted in.

I am well aware of the fact that this is an absurdly small sample size, but we don't have a lot to talk about right now, do we?

The average is clearly up here, and it was looking a lot nicer before a one-for-eight stretch in his last two games. Four extra-base hits in 29 at-bats is also encouraging. Now, another pair of games like his on Thursday and Friday, and the picture is a little less hopeful. He'd be hitting .216 were that to happen, and then the reactionaries among us are crying that the sky is falling again.

Right now, we can only hope that this season in High-A was an aberration, that he does know the difference between a ball and a strike, and that (as a 21-year-old this coming season, presumably most of which will be spent as a Natural), he begins to live up to the hype that goes along with being a high first-round draft pick. But if he wants to do me a solid, he'll work his way on base three times via the base-on-balls in his next game, and I'll run with that small sample size screaming into the hills announcing to all the flora and fauna that Mike Moustakas has arrived.

Until then, I get to bite my nails to the quick, hoping that he isn't the next wasted number two pick of the draft, further setting back a franchise that cannot afford to be so wasteful.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Machine by Joe Posnanski

I feel like I should set this entry up just a little by stating that before I go anywhere else on the internet I check my RSS tab on my browser to see if Joe Posnanski has written anything new. More often than not, he has. If there isn't a new entry in the feeder, I go to the blog anyway to make sure the RSS is up to speed. If the first step fails to turn up a fresh entry, the second step almost always does.

This is somewhat remarkable in that he is so prolific in his writing that one would think the quality would suffer under the burden of his hyperproductivity. I can categorically state that it does not.

Seemingly each day, Joe* gives his loyal followers a blog entry like this, or this, or this, or this. And those are just a few that go back to the U.S. Open (tennis, not golf). To think that he does this while juggling being a husband and father of two, writing for Sports Illustrated (and before that he was a two-time AP Sportswriter of the Year as a columnist at the Kansas City Star), and writing his second book is mind-blowing to me.

*And I read his blog so voraciously that I really do feel like I am on a first-name basis with him despite the fact that there is no way he has more than a fleeting idea as to who I am--although it was my question about The Catcher in the Rye that led to a poll question a couple of weeks ago... Hell, it's even where I took this use of the asterisk (Pozterisk) to off-set tangential trains of thought.
So with that rather lengthy and not entirely relevant introduction reeking of self-indulgence perhaps only paralleled by a Harry Knowles review, I finally get to the reason behind this blog entry:

Joe Posnanski's newest book is available in bookstores (and presumably at your public library). His first book was the deeply affective The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neill's America, which you can find a review of here. You certainly wouldn't need to start there, but if you haven't read it yet, do so immediately.

As for that newest book I mentioned, it might just be as good as TSOB. Briefly titled The Machine: A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series: The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, Posnanski recounts with colorful detail (and language) the storied season of one of the greatest teams to ever take the field.

Now, I am not a Reds fan. I have no feelings about them one way or the other. My level of interest in the subject matter going into the book was limited to being vaguely intrigued by the figure of Pete Rose and hoping that Joe Morgan came off as at least a bit of a jerk (thus further validating the disdain I feel towards Joe Morgan, the Color Commentator).

The returns I got from this book exceeded my expectations one-hundred-fold. Posnanski shapes the on- and off-the-field goings-on into an immensely entertaining and compelling narrative. Where some baseball books come of as a bit dry and over-burdened with clichés and purple prose, The Machine achieves an seemingly effortless engagement of the reader's attention. With only vague notions as to who these men were, I found myself often deciding that I would read five more pages and then do whatever task I needed to do only to grant the commencement of that chore another reprieve when I felt like I needed to know what happened next for Don Gullett or Ken Griffey.

The preseason stage-setting pitting the Los Angeles Dodgers against Sparky Anderson's Reds is perhaps the most surprisingly compelling section. Without any games being played, Posnanski sets the stage for the season at hand masterfully, pitting their failures up to that season against the continual expectation that the supremely talented Reds should be winning it all.

Posnanski also captures the fascinating duality of a successful clubhouse, with its friction and its camaraderie. Imbuing the book with a healthy dose of blue language (these are ballplayers we're talking about here) to insert the book comfortably into the appropriate time and place, he gives the reader the sense of actually being a fly on the wall in the '75 Reds clubhouse.

In all, this book is about as far from a chore as possible and makes for an enveloping journey from the beginning to the end of a baseball season culminating in a hard-earned and long-awaited World Series win filled with drama and suspense.

For the doubters, all you need to do is read the Prologue in which Pete Rose storms up and down the length of the dugout in Game Seven with his Reds on the ropes, feverishly cussing his teammates out. If that passage does not grab you, you have got a serious character flaw.

Regardless, the book is a fantastic read, one that should appeal to even the most casual of baseball fans.