Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Putting the 'con' in concept

There used to be a web site on the Internets called “Phillies Clips” in which the author chronicled each day’s worth of stories written about the local ballclub by the local and national press. Occasionally there were some interesting posts from a few bloggers, but only the good ones… we’ll just let that hang there.

Typically, each entry on the Phillies Clips site started with an introductory essay before diving into the notes on each particular scribe and how they were motivated to compose their stories. Some of the writers are driven by money, and yet others by fame because, as most people have come to realize, there is nothing that rallies popular discourse and society at-large than a 12-inch gamer.

I think that’s how Brad Pitt got his start.

Anyway, in my attempt to figure out how to revamp this site and keep it, you know, fresh, I’m going to crib off the Phillies Clips’ site format beginning upon my return on Sept. 7. I talked to the author of the other site and he was pretty cool with it and even offered to write some of the posts and to submit “remixes” of older entries from his site.

It should be noted that the Phillies Clips guy likes to “work blue” so we will have to make adjustments for a mainstream audience without losing our so-called edge…

If that’s what one wants to call it.

So that’s how it’s going to be – a site full of inside jokes, specialized jargon, slack hipsterdom, veiled references to deviant behavior and more cuss words than a Redd Foxx record. When it’s put that way it sounds kind of quaint…

I can’t wait to get started.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

And we will call him Theodore…

Or Teddy for short. Ted, which is even shorter.

Yep, the latest addition to the brood made his much-heralded appearance on Saturday morning (Friday night to others) at 2:41 a.m. This came after we arrived at the hospital on Thursday afternoon so that Ellen (my old lady) could be induced with a veritable cocktail of drugs aimed at tenderizing her cervix like an aged piece of Kobe beef.

After more than 25 hours of the midwife administering two different drugs three times like The Candy Man or that groovy purple dude from the psychedelic ‘70s cartoons who drove a microbus and wore high-heeled shoes and a hat with a long feather hanging from the side, they finally decided to go in and break her water. In the biz they call it “breaking the bag,” and when it was ruptured it sounded like a water balloon crashing onto the sidewalk.

Nevertheless, the bag breaking seemed to speed up the proceedings quite a bit and, interestingly enough, when someone says their water has been broken, there really is water… lots of water, in fact – all over the place, too.

Someone had to go and get a mop.

So we sat there in a room up to our ankles in water and caught some of the Carlos Ruiz’s dust-up with consummate sulker Marcus Giles, a whiner of such a high proportion that even baseball players say, “Yo, that dude always has the ass…”

That’s a bit of clubhouse jargon that the scribes lot to trot out amongst themselves and other so-called insiders in order to indicate that they are in the so-called club. It’s not quite a secret handshake, but it might get one into the lobby of the headquarters building.

Anyway, old pal Matt Yallof and I once had a not-too friendly conversation with whiner Giles back when he was playing for the Braves. If I recall correctly, Whiner was upset that Mark De Rosa got a start against a tough right-hander or something. Either way, we weren’t impressed, but then again, I doubt he was either.

You should have seen it the time we tried to chat with Josh Beckett about union issues a few years ago… (insert sarcasm font) what a prince!

After a brief nap and sitting around like we were at Yellowstone waiting for Old Faithful to blow, it was time to push. Well, I didn’t push. I just grabbed a leg and did my best to stay north of the equator. Needless to say it was the fastest, most intense 50 minutes of my life.

And in the end, a big boy (8 pounds, 4 ounces and 22 inches long) with an even bigger name slid out.

Fortunately, Teddy’s big brother Michael is extremely pleased with his new role and his little friend. Teddy’s mother is doing very well considering she pushed something the size of a watermelon out of a passage the width of a crazy straw. Somehow she carried it all out with much humor, panache and grace.

August 25: On this date

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The clown show is on hiatus

Note: Beginning now this site is going on a two-week hiatus. As most regular readers know, my wife and I are expecting our second child (a boy) any day. But now that we are more than a week past the due date and since her cervix is like one of those old-fashioned steel bear traps, the natural process needs some prodding. Therefore, we go to the hospital on Thursday night with the hope of delivering the big boy on Friday.

It should be noted that Friday is also the birth day for Yasser Arafat, Vince McMahon, Cal Ripken Jr., Reggie Miller and Dave Chappelle.

Anyway, I will be checking in from time to time, but I will not return with regular posts until September 7. When we return expect something of a new look, structure and organization… maybe even a redesign, too.


Like anyone who has devoted time to baseball, I know that statistics are not worth the paper they are printed on. They lie and can be manipulated to prove bogus points. Statistics also cannot quantify health, heart, ability and whether or not someone has put hard workouts to be prepared for a long season. Plus, stats don’t go into the clubhouse and get a feel of the mood of the room or have to go face-to-face with a player it may have lied about.

Statistics are cowards. Sports are for playing, not watching – we hold these truths to be self evident.

But sometimes it is difficult to debate the statistics. For instance, in pushing the streak of not winning a series in Pittsburgh since June of 2001, the Phillies were outscored by the Pirates 15-2 from the seventh inning on last weekend at PNC Park or whatever the hell corporation owns the naming rights now.

Yeah, that’s right, 15-2… against the Pirates… the worst team in the National League.

So I’m going to cherry pick that one specific statistic to show that the Phillies might not have the pitching needed to get to the playoffs. Then again, it wasn’t like anyone needed a stat for that.

Pitching aside, the Phillies should have a really good idea of how the last month of the season will play out at the end of the next 10 days. With three games against the Dodgers and three more against both the Padres and the Mets – the two teams the Phillies are chasing in different playoff races – the playoff race is right in front of the team.

For the Phillies, 5-5 is treading water, 6-4 is reasonable; and 7-3 and better is ideal. But anything worse than .a 500 homestand could be the beginning of the beginning of the end.

According to Ryan Howard the Phillies control their own destiny... they also take them one game at a time and give 110 percent.

“This is a big series for us and the good thing is that we control our own destiny,” Howard said before Tuesday’s game against the Dodgers. “There will be a little bit of scoreboard watching going on, but most of it will be us trying to handle our own business.”

Scoreboard watching, huh?

“The scoreboard sits right there in front of us so we can’t help but not look at it,” manager Charlie Manuel said on Tuesday. “It’s about that time of the year and that can be good.”

***
Meanwhile, Chase Utley could return in a week after being cleared to take some swings with a bat for the first time after breaking his wrist at the end of July.

“(I) took some swings off the tee – started with the fungo and moved to my regular bat. I didn’t swing 100 percent but it felt pretty good,” Utley offered.

Based on his recovery from day to day, Utley hopes to add a little more volume to his workouts as he looks to his return.

***
But the injury bug has reared its head again… Cole Hamels has been scratched from tomorrow’s start with some left elbow tenderness. From the initial, knee-jerk reaction it doesn’t seem to be anything other than late-season tiredness, but pitchers’ arms are quite mysterious.

Regardless, Hamels is being diagnosed with a mild elbow strain and will have a precautionary MRI tomorrow.

“He was up front with us so I hope we got it early,” pitching coach Rich Dubee said.

***
Though one current Dodger pitcher once told me that “sometimes injuries just happen,” I respectfully disagreed. Injuries always happen for a reason – sometimes we can’t figure out what the reason is, but as our boy Floyd said, all it takes is the proper training:

“There's only one rule: The guy who trains the hardest, the most, wins. Period. Because you won't die. Even though you feel like you'll die, you don't actually die. Like when you're training, you can always do one more. Always. As tired as you might think you are, you can always, always do one more.

“If you overtrained, it means that you didn't train hard enough to handle that level of training. So you weren't overtrained; you were actually undertrained to begin with. So there's the rule again: The guy who trains the hardest, the most, wins."

Learn it. Live it. Love it.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Wha' happened?

The most prolific run-scoring juggernaut in the National League posts six runs in the first two innings of a game against the team with the worst record in the league and the second-worst record in all of baseball and then they go on to lose?

Wha' happened?

Seriously, what gives? I saw the early reports from Pittsburgh and reasoned that the Phillies were on the way to a rout against the Pirates, a team that flat-out stinks. That’s pretty evident based on a quick glimpse at the standings.

So four runs in the first and two more in the second for an 11-6 loss? It sounds like it was a rough night for Jamie Moyer, which, again, appears that way based on the box score. Eight runs and nine hits in four innings aren’t getting it done.

Nice deduction, Sherlock.

Nevertheless, the Phillies remain tied with the Padres for the lead in the wild-card race. Certainly that’s a good thing, but completely meaningless at this point of the season when there are still 40 games to go. Better yet, Charlie Manuel knows that being tied for the lead in the wild-card race means nothing, as well.

“The times I've been in Philly, the times we get close and we win a game or something, and all of a sudden they'll say, ‘Oh you got to win now. Boy, if they don't win, they underachieved, and blah, blah, blah,’” Manuel said.

“We've just got to keep on winning. Whether it's 85, 86, 88, 90, 92 (wins), somebody's going to win and we've got to make sure it's us.”

Not that anyone asked, but it will probably take 90 wins for the Phillies to get in. Ninety wins is 25-15 for the final 40 games of the season. Beating Pittsburgh is a pretty good place to start.

***
Here’s one: according to a story by Alan Schwarz in The New York Times, Major League umpires are biased.

The study was conducted by a handful of professors from different universities where they discovered small, yet significant instances of bias by the umpires. However, in games monitored by QuesTec – the computerized camera system that the league uses in ballparks to scrutinize umpire performance – the bias was non-existent.

***
After a half-dozen years of it sitting on my teeming shelves, I finally picked up Evan Thomas’ biography of Robert Kennedy. I’m only a few days into it, but so far it’s better than Arthur Schlessinger’s RFK biography published in 1978.

Yeah, that’s about all I have for today.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Real Deal redux

Ain’t nothing going on here but the rent… actually, make that the mortgage. It’s just another quiet day in The Lanc where the big excitement came when an accident on a nearby road forced the police to re-route traffic onto our tiny street next to the Country Day School. It was kind of like a parade.

And speaking of parades, who would have guessed that if the Phillies have a post-season march down Broad Street that J.D. Durbin would get a spot on a float? Not me, that’s for sure. Nevertheless, Durbin started last night’s 11-8 victory in Pittsburgh in which the Phillies moved into a first-place tie with the San Diego Padres in the wild-card race.

Interestingly, Durbin seems entrenched in that fifth spot of the rotation, which is some pretty heady stuff for a guy who worked his way through four organizations by the end of April. Then again, the cast offs and under-the-radar guys seem to be making important contributions to the Phillies this season. Antonio Alfonseca has been a cog in the bullpen even though the Phillies were the only team to give him a serious offer last winter. Kyle Kendrick wasn’t even invited to spring training and had appeared in just 11 games in Double-A before his call up. J.C. Romero, the go-to lefty in the ‘pen was waived by Boston in mid June.

Who would have figured that with 40 games remaining in the season and the Phillies in a dog fight for the NL East and wild-card playoff spots that Mike Zagurski, Chris Coste, Jose Mesa, Tada Iguchi, Russ Branyan, Greg Dobbs and Jayson Werth would be counted on to make meaningful contributions?

Better yet, is this a good thing or something to be worried about over the final month of the season?

Nonetheless, Durbin allowed two earned runs in six innings to pick up his fifth win in as many decisions. Better yet, better his win last night and the one he had on Aug. 2, Durbin also picked up a save. Suffice it to say it’s been a weird year for Durbin. One minute he’s bouncing from Minnesota to Arizona, to Boston, to Ottawa and then Philly where he’s winning and saving games in the playoff race.

Anyway, I discovered this story about Durbin from spring training when he was still with the Twins. It’s funny how things have changed for him.

***
Speaking of oddities, a prisoner in the South Carolina penal system has filed suit this week against Barry Bonds, Bug Selig, Hank Aaron's corked bat, Sammy Sosa, steroids and HGH, Steak and Shake on I-70, the Liberty Bell and one can only presume, Sasquatch, for violating the inmates’ Constitutional rights. He specifically cites the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 13th, and 14th amendments and wants $42 million in damages.

Read all about it via Steroid Nation, or see the actual complaint on The Smoking Gun. It really should be read to be believed.

***
I watched the documentary Showdown, the chronicling of the 2007 cross-country championships in Boulder held last February. It was pretty good and enjoyable, and shot quite beautifully. However, the story telling is really the most important aspect to any good documentary or TV news report and perhaps Showdown could have dug a tiny bit deeper in that regard.

Either way, I’ll probably watch it again when my wife is asleep and not talking the entire way through it.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

'I think of Dean Moriarty...'

Ain’t nothing changed here but the prefix ahead of the day. We’re still settled in our constant state of alert, which, interestingly, kind of spices things up around here. We are nothing more than rank-and-file members of the leisure class that Plato wrote about so any type of adventure is welcomed.

Anyway, things are taking shape.

In that regard there will be no baseball or sports viewing around here for a minimum of two days. I’m taking a time out in order to waste my time on something else. Besides, all of the injuries ripping through the Phillies’ clubhouse kind of make me anxious since I’m fighting some aches and pains, too. Apparently I have some sort of inflammation of the Psoas major (or minor) muscle that makes me warm up extra long before runs and then zaps my speed after 90-minutes of running. It also hurts when I sneeze.

This, as they say, is no good.

No, I don’t need the disabled list and I seem to be responding to treatment, but it’s easy to understand why someone wouldn’t want to look at the walking wounding in red-and-white pinstripes if at all possible.

Speaking of the Psoas major, the hip flexor and the Iliotibial band, there was an fantastic story about our boy Floyd that will be out in this Sunday’s The New York Times. It’s longer than the one I wrote, and constructed how I wish I could put mine together as well.

Plus, the USADA called the Times back and not me? That’s so lame.

Oh well, you do what you can… when you are 50 percent of a staff there isn’t much time to go jetting off to places in order to write a better story. Besides, how interested are the folks in Philadelphia in anything not relating to the Eagles or Phillies?

Sigh.

Speaking of jetting off to places, the Times also had a few interesting stories about the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

For as much as I enjoyed On the Road when I was in my late teens and early 20s, I thought (and think) Dharma Bums was much better.

Still, 50 years for On the Road gives me an idea for a road epic… how about a bike race from Floyd’s old house in Farmersville to his new one in Murrieta, Calif.? By my estimate it is probably a little more than 2,600 miles from Lancaster County to Southern California, which is slightly longer than the Tour de France, but it would probably be just as good a race.

All we need are a few sponsors, some prize money and a couple of the best bike riders in the world and we’re set.

***
Finally, there was a story in the Inquirer today about former Phillies GM Ed Wade. It seems as if Ed got himself snagged in a tree on the way back to earth after a sky-diving excursion... or so they say.

If I didn't know any better I'd say that Wade, now an advance scout for the San Diego Padres, was pushed out of the plane or tried to pull off a D.B. Cooper type stunt.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Did you see that?

There is not much new to report from the home base here in The Lanc. All is quiet here, which is just the way we like it. Actually, it’s so quiet around here that more than a few folks appear to be worked up about the Phillies’ loss to those wily Washington Nats last night.

Never mind the fact that the Phillies have scored just five runs in two games in Washington, or the fact that the entire lineup appears to have dived into a funk at exactly the same time. No, the play or decision that rankled some folks was manager Charlie Manuel’s determination to use lefty Russ Branyan as a pinch hitter against lefty reliever Ray King with no outs and two on in the seventh inning.

Branyan, needless to say, struck out. Hey, that’s just what he does. But the consensus seems to be that Manuel should have yanked Branyan for a right-handed hitter, which would have been the standard baseball move. But Manuel doesn’t have that option with his rice paper–thin bench. Because of injuries to Chase Utley, Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino, Manuel can’t waste too many players in such a situation. Righties Chris Coste, Jayson Werth and Wes Helms were in the game instead of on the bench, where Chris Roberson was the only other option aside from Branyan.

Regardless, Branyan’s whiff, and Jimmy Rollins’ subsequent strike out, was not the main reason why the Phillies lost to the Nats last night. The fact that the Phillies only got three hits off starter Tim Redding through six innings was much more significant.

When former Phillies attack former Phillies…
Meanwhile, I was able to get my hands on a copy of the bat attack by former Phillie Jose Offerman on former Phillie Matt Beach in the Atlantic League game from earlier this week. Check it out:



Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

***
Over the past couple of days I have read a few of the remembrances of former Yankees legend Phil Rizzuto, who died this week at age 84. Suffice it to say, Rizzuto lived a charmed life that seemed to transcend mere baseballdom. If I am not mistaken, the Scooter is the only man to win the World Series, and AL MVP Award, be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and win an Grammy Award, which he got for his role in Meat Loaf’s “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.”

Growing up in Washington and Lancaster, I wasn’t privy to Rizzuto’s work with the Yankees’ broadcasts, but I was well aware of his work with Mr. Loaf and the commercials for The Money Store, which were spectacular.

Can you imagine such a place? The Money Store… who would have guessed?

Anyway, from the little bits I was able to piece together and from the stories people tell, Rizzuto was the perfect baseball announcer. Sure, he was probably lacking when it came to in-depth analysis and strategery type stuff, but really, who cares? Instead, Rizzuto entertained listeners with stories about the players, his life and the restaurants he visited. It seemed as if he was just another guy hanging out with the gang to watch the game and talk to his friends… that is the perfect announcer.

Plus, Rizzuto was funny. Who doesn’t use “Holy Cow!” as an exultation? Or, when calling a spectacular play while broadcasting a game on the radio Rizzuto would exclaim, “Did you see that?!”

Uh, no Phil… it’s radio.

The favorite, of course, was one Puerto Rico Day at Yankee Stadium when Scooter was describing the scene to his listeners, poked his head out of the press box window and exclaimed into the microphone, “… and look at all those Puuuuuuuuerto Ricans!

It would have been neat to have heard Rizzuto call games regularly, but we’ll always have “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”

***
Finally, I believe in the First Amendment. Actually, without the freedom of speech we have nothing. It’s the right that makes all others possible.

Be that as it is, there is one man whose entry to the so-called blogosphere who could push those freedoms to their ever-elastic breaking point.

Yes, Dennis Deitch has a blog.

God bless America. God bless us all.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Feast and famine

If there is one thing to be said about Russell Branyan it is that he is quite prolific. Actually, prolific might not be strong enough. Historical, perhaps, is the correct adjective.

When it comes to striking out, Russell Branyan has no peer.

Consider this: in his career, Branyan has whiffed in an epic 40 percent of his at-bats and 35 percent of his plate appearances… yeah, really.

Check this one out: according to Baseball Prospectus, since 1969 Branyan entered the 2007 season as the all-time leader in either striking out, walking or hitting a home run in an amazing 52.3 percent of his plate appearances. He’s well ahead of guys like Rob Deer, Adam Dunn and Mark McGwire.

Meanwhile, more than 28 percent of Branyan’s career hits are home runs.

In other words it truly is feast or famine for the new Phillies’ slugger.

“I have a tendency to swing and miss,” Branyan admitted.

Branyan was acquired last weekend when the Phillies sent cash to the Indians to add a bat to beef up the bench. Actually, judging from the way general manager Pat Gillick explained, it seemed as if any bat would do.

“We don't have any position players on option at Double-A or Triple-A. Consequently, we had 13 pitchers and 12 players and needed another player,” Gillick told the Inquirer. “We talked about getting somebody who might be able to run into a ball and win a game for us. Branyan was the guy we got. He's a hit-or-miss. I don't look at his average. We know he's going to strike out, but he's also going to run into some.”

And that’s just what Branyan did last night at RFK to give the Phillies a big, 3-2 victory over the Nationals. Reliever Jon Rauch gave the slugger a cookie and he made a meal out of it.

Nevertheless, don’t expect Branyan to find too many more plate appearances different than the situation he was in last night. Charlie Manuel, Branyan’s manager when he came up in the Indians’ organization, probably will only use his slugger when he needs a home run.

Or a strike out.

***
Speaking of Manuel, it’s interesting to note that there is a little bit of chatter about his candidacy as the National League’s manager of the year. Considering the injuries, the standings, the attitude in the clubhouse and the manner in which the Phillies play, Manuel should be the frontrunner.

Besides, I remember how the Phillies were when Manuel’s predecessor ran the club and some players really disliked going to work. Imagine that – a big league baseball player getting paid a lot of money and he was miserable about going to the ballpark because of one person.

Regardless, it’s the complete opposite of that with Manuel in charge.

***
Speaking of injuries, it appears as if Shane Victorino had a little setback in his rehab assignment for Double-A Reading last night. Nursing an injured calf muscle, Victorino “felt something grab” when running hard to first base and pulled himself from the game after going 1-for-3 with an RBI single.

Meanwhile, old pal Randy Wolf likely won’t make the trip to Philadelphia next week with his Dodgers teammates. That’s because it appears as if the former Phillie is out for the rest of the season with shoulder stiffness. Apparently Wolf further exasperated his shoulder problem when he tried to rush back from an initial injury he suffered in early July.

That’s not going to happen again, he said.

“I have to be realistic. I'm not going to take the ball until I feel perfect. So that's what I'm going to work for.”

***
Apropos of nothing, I have been contemplating certain elements of linguistics and our popular nomenclature and it seems to me that the guy who coined the term “mullet” is getting shortchanged. Think about it, one man came up with a perfectly trenchant piece of our lexicon that transcends all sorts of boundaries to be used by many different people and will likely live the rest of his life in obscurity.

That just doesn’t seem fair.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Is he really that slow?

For the first time since the Expos moved from Washington to become the Nationals I will miss all the games of a Phillies series at RFK. Oh, I’ve missed specific games before, but until now I’ve been to at least one game of every series the Phillies have played in The District.

I was there when Chase Utley hit the ball off the foul pole and had it called foul. I was there when the game started close to midnight because MLB had no contingency plan for weather events. I was there the final weekend in 2005 when the Phillies swept the Nats only to miss out on the playoffs by one game on the last day of the season. I was there in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when the feeling of anger was palpable in the city.

And of course I was there when Ken Mandel, dressed as Thomas Jefferson, took his failed dash down the first-base side of the field. Actually, The Mandel Run could go down as the most memorable moment in my long history of watching baseball games.

Yes, it was epic.

The thought is that Mandel should put that big, oversized Jefferson head back on, station himself back at the top of the ramp beyond the right-field fence, and keep running until he completes the course. If he falls again he should get back up start all over.

In the meantime Ken will probably be watching Julie Moss in the 1982 Ironman Triathlon for motivation because every criminal always returns to the scene of the crime. Ken will run, dammit! He has to.

Anyway, I’m sticking close to the house for the foreseeable future because my wife – God bless her – could go into labor at any moment. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if she is in labor right now as I type this… just checked and we’re OK.

In other words, when the word comes I’m gone. In the meantime, get cozy with Lauber and The Zo Zone! It’s spelled with an exclamation point, right? Isn’t that what the Inquirer does?

Anyway, because of her state, my wife – God bless her – has been watching baseball on the teevee lately. An inquisitive sort, my wife – God bless her – keeps a running dialogue with whomever is around when she’s parked in front of the tube. If she’s alone she has her laptop nearby to give the rundown via instant messenger to keep the conversation going, and if my son or I am in the room, the banter, inevitably, turns to an inquisition.

This happens with movies, too, which usually leads to me responding with, “You’d know what’s going on if you stopped talking and paid attention,” a little too loudly.

Seriously, how complicated was Syriana? Really? Then again, I have watched that one at least four times so I guess I have figured it out by now.

Anyway, last Sunday night the old girl was lounging on the couch and taking in the Phillies-Braves matchup when the incessant chatter on Pat Burrell started up. Burrell, it seems, is an interesting and enigmatic character to casual fans, hardcore fans as well as the scribes the regularly write about the ballclub. Certainly there are other adjectives that could be used to describe Burrell, but enigmatic seems to cover them all like the giant parachute that we used to like to play with in gym class back when we were kids.

So as we were discussing the enigma that is Pat Burrell and his incumbency as the so-called "midnight mayor of Philadelphia," Jayson Werth lined a two-out, bases-loaded single to right field. Running on the pitch because Werth faced a full count and there were two outs, Burrell got a good steam of momentum off second base as the pitch was delivered and wasn’t just going to stop running when he got to third base. The problem, though, was that the ball his struck quite hard and right fielder Jeff Francoeur, known for his very strong arm, fielded the ball cleanly and was in perfect position to make a solid throw to the plate.

As a result Francoeur’s throw to the plate beat Burrell by about five yards. However, despite this the result of the play was still in doubt. Burrell is a big dude and had a full head of steam gathered by the time he reached the plate. Catcher Brian McCann could drop the ball if jarred even though he caught it, turned and was waiting as Burrell approached.

But Burrell avoided the contact with the catcher. Instead of taking the force of his 225-plus pounds into the plate, he launched into a floaty-kind of slide about three yards away from the plate as if he was a running back diving over the top on a goal-line stand.

Needless to say he had no chance.

But that was just the beginning. The commentary shifted to such intense questioning that I now know what it’s like to be sitting at a small wooden table on a hard-back chair with a couple of investigators playing good-cop/bad-cop. The only thing missing – besides the table, chair and detectives – was the naked light bulb beating on my skin and making my face sweat like a fountain. By the end of it I was the innocent man ready to sign the confession just so the questions would stop like Daniel Day-Lewis as the would-be IRA flunky in In The Name of the Father.

“He was running before the pitcher threw the pitch and he was still out?” she asked, incredulously.

“Yes.”

“How can that be? Is he slow?”

“Yes”

“How can he be that slow?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is he the slowest guy on the team?”

“He’s up there.”

“You mean there are guys slower than him?”

“Yes.”

“Who?”

“Johnny Estrada is really slow. Wes Helms is slow, too.”

“But are they slower than Burrell? He’s really slow.”

“I don’t know.”

“How can he be that slow? Is he hurt?”

“He has had some foot trouble. Last year he showed me the orthotic he wears in his spikes and it looked like a boot. It had ties and clamps on it and everything.”

“You mean it wasn’t like the normal type of orthotic that runners wear?”

“No.”

“It’s not like that little orthotic that you got when your Achilles was hurting and that guy stole when you were at that race?”

“No.”

“How can he be that slow? Don’t they know he is slow?”

“Yeah, I think it’s pretty clear that he’s really slow.”

“But that slow… come on.”

“What do you want me to say? He’s slow.”

“Does the guy in the outfield have a good arm?”

“Yes, he has a really good arm.”

“How good?”

“Really good… one of the best.”

“So why did they send him home if they know he’s slow and the guy has a good arm?”

“That’s a good question.”

“And what was with that slide? That was pretty wimpy.”

“Yeah, I agree.”

Then came the really good question.

“Why didn’t he knock over the catcher? They’re allowed to do that, right?”

“That’s a really good question. I was wondering the same thing.”

“They are allowed to do that, right?”

“It used to happen all the time.”

“When?”

“When there was a play at the plate.”

“No, I mean when did it happen all the time?”

“I’m not sure. Some players would have run over the catcher.”

“Like who?”

“Chase Utley.”

“Yeah, I can see that. So why didn’t Burrell run over the catcher?”

“Good question.”

“Is he a wimp?

Pause

***
POST SCRIPT: My wife pointed out that she was also not-so fleet afoot. In fact, she pointed out, she was often the slowest player on her sporting teams.

"I once hit a ball to deep center and was thrown out at first base," she admitted.

Sadly, she's not making that up.

***
The Nationals are one of those teams that always seems to give the Phillies fits no matter where they are in the standings. But noting where the Phillies are in the standings and the fact that the Nats have won nine of their last 13 games, it should be an interesting three games at good ol’ RFK this week.

Perhaps more questions about the Phillies will be answered... or asked.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Sweet fancy Moses!

The Phillies pulled off a pretty nice victory last night against the Braves to finish the homestand with a 4-2 record. I suppose that should be satisfactory to more than a few folks who like to parse every single word from every single member of the club…

Yeah, you know who I’m talking about.

Anyway, in going 4-2 the gritty Phillies have a slight advantage over the classy Braves for second place in the NL East. Better yet, at 62-55 the Phillies are three games behind the Mets in the East and one behind the Padres for the wild card. At their current pace the Phillies are heading for 86 wins, which they would do by going 24-21the rest of the way. With two consecutive series against a pair of last-place teams, the Phillies should be looking at another 4-2 week.

But let’s get to the bottom line: according to software specialist Ken Roberts’ calculations, the Phillies have a 34.9 percent chance at making the playoffs this season. However, if they continue playing at their current pace, the Phillies have a better than 50-50 chance to sneak into the playoffs. According to the math, 90 wins gets the Phillies in.

That’s 28-17 the rest of the way with games against the Dodgers, Padres and Mets looming.

This could get interesting.

Needless to say, I’m often asked if I think the Phillies can buck tradition and actually make it to the playoffs for a change. It’s a good question, so I’m going to go out on a limb and offer a prediction right here…

Ready? Here it is:

I don’t know. Logically the answer is no because the Phillies just don’t have the pitching. However, even though Adam Eaton has the worst ERA amongst the starters in all of baseball and has an ERA just shy of 10 in his last 10 starts, the Phillies are somehow 4-6 in those games. It’s hard to imagine, but things could be much, much worse.

Instead, the debate is whether the Phillies should replace Eaton in the rotation with J.D. Durbin.

Really? Who saw the coming?

So can the Phillies make the playoffs?

Sure... why not.

***
Want to know how little people cared about the Barry Bonds home run chase? According to Neil Best’s blog, the numbers indicate that only 1.1 percent of the homes that have ESPN2 tuned into the game in which Bonds hit No. 756. Conversely, 22.3 percent of all U.S. households tuned into NBC to watch when Hank Aaron hit No. 715 in 1974

According to Best, 995,000 households tuned in to see Bonds last week, while about 14.9 million watched Aaron pass Babe Ruth in ‘74. That rating would translate to about 25 million homes today, he writes.

Of course there was no proliferation of cable TV or ESPN in 1974. Plus, Bonds played a game that started too late for most east coast households to watch. Nevertheless, 1.1 percent underlies the shift in the media. According to the stats, local TV news saw a ratings drop of approximately 30 percent across the board in the last year, while newspapers have more readers now than in recent years despite a drop in hard copy sales.

The reason?

The Internets!

Or maybe it’s Joe Morgan and Jon Miller of the ESPN announcing crew… apparently they are not too popular.

***
Everyone seemed to enjoy Antonio Alfonseca’s little leg kick after his strikeout to end the seventh inning last night… Sweet fancy Moses!

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Everybody's working for the weekend

Last night was an easy for those looking for the story at the ballpark. Despite the Phillies’ comeback to bring them within two runs in the 7-5 defeat to the Atlanta Braves, Adam Eaton and his latest poor outing was all the talk after the game.

And it made all the papers.

The reason why, frankly, is the numbers which are quite telling. Eaton’s his league-worst ERA jumped from 6.09 to 6.36; he has allowed 17 hits and 12 runs in his last 7 1/3 innings. Worse, he has given up 46 earned runs and 76 hits in his last 10 starts, covering just 52 innings. That’s a 7.96 ERA in a little more than five innings per outing for a team in the middle of a pennant race.

“If I pitch the way I’m capable of we would be in first place,” Eaton said in delivering the money quote.

That, of course, is the big issue. If Eaton could have given the Phillies anything over the past 10 starts the Phillies and Mets could be neck and neck in the East. Instead it could shape up to be another one of those woulda, coulda, shoulda seasons for the Phillies.

Afterwards, manager Charlie Manuel remained non-committal in offering classic non-denial denials regarding Eaton’s future in the Phillies’ rotation. However, while waiting in the clubhouse for Eaton to finish his post-game meal and chat with the scribes, general manager Pat Gillick scurried into the manager’s office and closed the door. It remained that way for at least 20 minutes.

Could they have been talking about Eaton?

***
Saturday was a fairly eventful day for those who follow both Floyd Landis and Ted Leo. Unfortunately/fortunately, those folks were able to get updates on one of those subjects, that being another legendary Landis ride in a pretty tough bike race.

On very little training and no racing since last summer, Landis rode for second place in the very challenging Leadville 100 mountain bike race in Leadville, Colo. It’s a challenging race not only because of the rugged terrain and monster climbs, but also because the race starts at approximately 10,000-feet of altitude. In fact, I recall asking Floyd about doing the race eerier this summer with a raised-eyebrows, “Dude, are you really going to do that race on no training” tone.

Here’s what he said in June when I asked him if he was going to do Leadville:

"Yeah, it seemed like a good idea back when I was training more… that’s going to be painful. I’ve been riding a little more since the hearing ending – I’ve been trying to get some more miles in. If I can just get a few decent weeks of training in I’ll be alright. I don’t particularly like to race at altitude and this one is at 10,000-feet, but I’ll be fine.

"I don’t like altitude at all. I hate it. I did that thing a few weeks ago in Vail (Colorado) at the Teva Mountain Games for a fund raiser and that was a problem. The problem there was that I sat in that hearing for 10 days and I didn’t do [anything]. I didn’t even move. It wasn’t like I even exercised, I just sat there. Then I got on my bike a week later and tried to race and it was painful. Hopefully I can get some time up at altitude somewhere."


But Floyd, as described by his wife Amber in a famous interview, is “one tough bitch.”

Around the 25-mile mark of the 100-mile race, Floyd took a nasty spill where he bloodied his left his hip, knee and elbow, shredded his shorts and bled all gnarly-like on the rest of the ride. Nevertheless, it seems that a crash on that hip would be a good way to test it out to see how it's holding up after last autumn's surgery... right?

Despite that, Floyd battled mountain-bike Hall of Famer, Dave Wiens to the course record. According to reports – as always TBV out-performed itself – Floyd was fighting Wiens for the victory until he got a flat tire.

Still, he nearly caught Wiens, finishing 103 seconds behind.

According to The Associated Press: “I chased too hard after the flat,” Landis said, bandages on three fingertips and blood-soaked gauze from just above the knee to his ankle. “He probably was going to win anyway, even without the flat. He's in great shape.”

Wiens said, according to Bicycling Magazine: “That was the hardest and the best mountain bike race of my life,” said Wiens at the finish. “Mentally, physically, it was brutal. And having Floyd Landis behind you sucks.”

He is, after all, a tough bitch.

Meanwhile, I found nothing in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post or from the DC-area scenesters regarding Ted Leo and The Pharmacists’ show in Towson, Md. last night.

What the hell?

Anyway, Ted and the gang play a free show in Brooklyn this afternoon before taking a much-needed and well-deserved month off.

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Good show

If there is one thing the Phillies do well (and often) is pre-game ceremonies and alumni events. When it comes to remembering their past, the Phillies are very good. The interesting thing is that the Phillies don’t have too many good times to remember… one World Series title in 124 seasons? What would anyone want to remember about that?

But the Phillies forge on and put together very tasteful and not-too sappy programs despite, as one player asked me when I told him there was a ceremony before a game, “What, is this the 12th anniversary of the 10th anniversary?”

We all had a good laugh at that one.

Nevertheless, the Phillies put together a nice program for the late, great John Vukovich last night in which the true spirit of the “Phillies Way” was inducted into the team’s Wall of Fame. All of the team’s greats were there – Carlton, Schmidt, Boone, Allen and on down the line – and judging from the looks on the faces and the ardor of emotion it was easy to tell that the night meant a lot to them.

Quite simply, John Vukovich was the Phillies and if anyone deserves a ceremony or a remembrance before a ballgame, it’s Vuk.

But then again, every time there is a baseball game played by the Phillies it is a wonderful reminder of the man’s legacy. Nine innings on the diamond in South Philadelphia is a good ceremony, too.

***
Meanwhile, I have a dilemma. Adam Eaton and the Phillies face the Braves tonight in the middle game of yet another important series. It’s a game in which Eaton really needs to pitch well in not just for the Phillies, but for his survival in the team’s rotation. With a 6.09 ERA, Eaton has the worst ERA in the league.

But in Towson, Md. (a much more pleasant drive from my home than on the Schuylkill to the ballpark), Ted Leo along with his Pharmacists, will be playing.

What to do?

Well, what to do and wanting to do are always competing.

***
I “discovered” Neil Best’s Media Watchdog blog recently (kind of the way Columbus “discovered” America) and it’s an entertaining read.

***
Tonight’s Powerball drawing is up to $161 million.

Yep, this could be my last day of work.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Oh-wee-oh-wee-oh!

Because of the always inane and much ballyhooed discussion over Brett Myers and his entrance music I decided that it’s probably a good idea to have my own entrance music. Therefore, from now on whenever I enter a room, convention hall or do a perp walk, I want Morris Day & The Time’s, “Jungle Love” blasted from whatever speakers are available.

The choice was given the thumbs up from my three year boy who made me play it three times in a row so he could show me some new dance steps… not that I didn’t know them all already.

Meanwhile, my wife has been assigned Rick James’ “Super Freak,” which we believe is rather apropos and just barely edged out Sly & The Family Stone’s, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” Sly, of course, has been referred to as the “J.D. Salinger of funk,” which I think is a bit redundant, but whatever…

The matter of the entrance music blathered on by the team’s closer has a bit of a professional wrestling element to it. Has baseball become just like wrestling? Is it just a matter of time until a pitcher like Myers grabs an overhead microphone and calls out all his opponents, with the proper entrance and exit music wailing away in the background? Then again, baseball already has a sloppy drug-testing program like wrestling – perhaps there will be a wrestling-themed baseball offshoot in the making like that DOA XFL they tried to dump on hard-working television watchers a few years ago.

Better yet, maybe the WWF (WWE?) and MLB will just merge like any other self-respecting corporations?

I’m ready and I have my song picked out.

***
After last night’s loss to the Marlins in which Myers allowed a pair of runs in the ninth, the closer rightly noted that it was one of those “outhouse to the penthouse” nights. He also stated that the no-outs walk to No. 8 hole hitter Jeremy Hermida that was the key to the ill-fated inning.

“The whole key was walking Hermida,” Myers said. “If I don’t do that we get a double play and we get out of that inning.”

Then again, Myers threw a first-pitch fastball straight down the pipe to Mike Jacobs to start the frame. It was the same Mike Jacobs who went into the at-bat nursing a team-record 0-for-33 skid that was exasperated by a ground out and fly out in last night’s game.

“Oh, I was the guy to break it?” Myers asked. “Sweet.”


Maybe giving up a hit to a guy riding a 0-for-33 slide was a foreshadowing of things to come? It seemed that way after Myers allowed the two runs and was lucky not to give up more.

“I don't have any excuses, if that's what you're looking for,” Myers said. “I didn't make good pitches.”

Yeah, there’s that. But also Myers pitched in back-to-back games for the first time since returning from the disabled list on July 27. Though Myers had an easy time against the Marlins on Wednesday night and he argued that the consecutive appearances were of no consequence, it’s not out of line to suggest that Myers is still working his way back to form.

Plus, Myers is still learning how to be a reliever.

“The role he's in right now will be outstanding for him,” manager Charlie Manuel said after last night’s game. “That's still new to him. He's getting used to it.”

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Get down tonight

The chatter around the ballpark today has been for closer Brett Myers to settle on appropriate enterance music before the ninth inning. Apparently, Myers was upset that KC & the Sunshine Band’s “Shake Your Booty” was played as he came into last night’s game. Frankly, as I have written in earlier posts, this is pure silliness. Firstly, if Myers had an inch of ironic humor in his ever-expanding body he’s leave the KC & the Sunshine song.

Better yet, instead of some pretend phony toughness delivered through the majesty of song, maybe it would be more of a mind scramble if Myers entered the game to Lesley Gore's "Sunshine and Lollipops?"

In the same vein, I have always believed that if a player was going to take the time to select a song in which to choreograph his appearance in a baseball game, that player should also perform an interpretive dance or performance art piece using the song on their way to the batters’ box or mound.

If the song is “Shake Your Booty,” by all means, shake your booty.

Regardless of any of this, Myers should just worry about getting outs. If he continues to do that people will be writing songs about him.

***
The Phillies announced that they had traded for veteran slugger Russell Branyan this afternoon.

Nope, I didn’t get it either.

Either way, skipper Charlie Manuel said that the team has long had an interest in Branyan, a power-hitting lefty with a bad batting average and a lot of strikeouts. Nevertheless, Manuel wanted an extra slugger for the bench and that’s exactly what Branyan is.

“We just felt that at the moment we have 13 pitchers and only 12 position players so we’d like to have another bat,” general manager Pat Gillick said. “Consequently, Russell is a guy with tremendous power and gives Charlie another alternative is we have a pinch hitting situation.”

The Phillies had hoped that Branyan would be in the park for tonight’s game against the Marlins, but (surprise!) he flight was delayed heading to Philadelphia. When Branyan makes it to Philly, the team will have to adjust its 25-man and 40-man rosters and the early speculation is on option-ready reliever Geoff Geary heading to Triple-A Ottawa.

***
Rugby and triathlon legend Bill Boben was seen in the crowd for tonight’s game.

***
Thirty-three years ago today (“…effective at noon…”) Richard Nixon resigned as president of the United States.

***
Tadahito Iguchi has a hit in 11 of the 12 games he’s played in since joining the Phillies. In fact, Iguchi has filled in quite nicely for All-Star second baseman Chase Utley. But when Utley is healthy and returns to action, don’t expect Iguchi to move over to third base in order to remain in the lineup.

According to Gillick, the budding Iguchi situation is something for Manuel to figure out.

“Right now, Iguchi is either going to play second base primarily or his secondary position is shortstop so we’ll see how that goes,” Gillick explained. “When Chase comes back, that’s a problem Charlie is going to have to work out. Right now, when Chase gets backs he’ll be in the lineup.”

Yeah, but what about third base?

“I would say it’s a very remote, remote possibility. It’s a different position third base in that you have longer to read the ball at shortstop and second base as opposed to third base which is a reaction position,” Gillick said. “A lot of times people that can play the middle of the diamond have a tough time moving to the corners.”

So before it could even begin, the Iguchi to third base experiment has been scrapped.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Next stop: Cooperstown or indictment?

I always looked at events like Hank Aaron’s 715th home run as “where were you” moments. In that regard I can recall where I was when the ball rolled through Buckner’s legs, when Tug threw the final pitch to Willie Wilson and recently when the Red Sox finally won the World Series.

No, sports moments don’t hold the same cache as truly historical events, but it’s fun to remember the mood, time and place of certain significant sporting moments. Why not? If one is going to invest time in this stuff they might as well do it the correctly by chronicling it.

So when Hank Aaron blasted No. 715 off Al Downing in April of 1974 I was younger than my son is now. Chances are that I was fast asleep or crying or whatever it is that 2-year olds do when Babe Ruth is pushed aside for Hammering Hank.

Thirty-three years and four months after Hank beat Babe, Barry Bonds and his Body by Balco, hit home run No. 756. He did it in the one city that appeared to actually give a damn (or at least they force ticketholders to suspend all logic and rational thought before admitting them into whatever corporation holds the naming rights for that stadium now) while the rest of the sporting public yawned.

Or slept.

When Bonds hit the homer off the Nationals’ Mike Bacsik last night to become the all-time home run leader and officially render all baseball statistics totally and utterly worthless, I had totally forgotten that there was even a game going on in San Francisco. In fact, I was driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on the way home and listening to the audio book of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s, All the President’s Men. I hadn’t read the book in at least a decade and figured it was time for a refresher seeing that I fancy myself a bit of a Watergate buff.

What? You thought I’d be listening to local sports talk radio?

Anyway, I suppose there is some irony in listening to the book about the ultimate downfall of Richard Nixon while one of the most beguiled men in America was desecrating the record held by a man who is his polar opposite in nearly every way imaginable.

Other ironies? Bonds passed Hank on the fifth year anniversary of the MLBPA agreeing to (limited) drug testing in the collective bargaining agreement. Meanwhile, commissioner Bud Selig was meeting with former Senator George Mitchell regarding his investigation into baseball’s drug issue.

By the time I finally got home and flipped on the television to see if a Congressional sub-committee had held an emergency hearing to force Major League Baseball to dissolve itself, I couldn’t help but wondering one thing:

Which comes first: Bonds’ 800th home run or his indictment?

***
Speaking of much ado about nothing, Jimmy Rollins expanded on his quote about the Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez, which from the beginning sounded like Dontrelle Willis was having a little fun with his teammate. My guess is that it became a big deal to the scribes following around the Marlins because they have nothing else to write about.

After all, how often can Scott Olsen get arrested?

***
There was an interesting item out there regarding Citizens Bank Park. Apparently our little ballpark in South Philly rates tops amongst PETA’s survey of top 10 vegetarian-friendly ballparks.

Really?

PETA, of course, is the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which could mean they have an interest in vegetarianism. Frankly, I have always looked at PETA and its message as more than a little pedantic, but if it works for them, yay!

But what really interests me about this declaration is that as someone who is labeled as a vegetarian, finding something to eat amongst the waddling masses is always difficult. As a result, it was quite interesting to learn that Rick’s Steaks on Ashburn Alley offered something called a “veggie steak.” After all, it seems as if the addition of the so-called veggie steak is what lifted Citizens Bank Park from an also-ran into the top slot on PETA’s poll.

The veggie dog and flame-grilled Gardenburger were enough to earn Citizens Bank Park a place on the roster of last year's survey. But this year's addition of the Philly mock-steak sandwich--and the rave reviews it has received from vegetarians and nonvegetarians alike who pile on the grilled onions, mushrooms, peppers, and hot sauce--put the Phillies over the top. The stadium also offers vegetarian subs and wraps, tomato pizza (no cheese, please), fruit cups, salads, and, for the kids, PB&J.

"Citizens Bank Park's great vegetarian selection benefits both animals and the health of Phillies fans, who will be less likely to keel over from a meat-induced heart attack as they cheer Ryan Howard's next longball," says PETA Assistant Director Dan Shannon.


Look, I suppose vegetarians have to take their victories where they can find them and the “mainstreaming” of such things as veggie dogs, burgers and steaks, I suppose, is a good thing.

But truth be told, there is nothing appealing to me about “veggiefied” versions of steaks, hot dogs and burgers. In fact, I find it all a little insulting and poorly thought marketing. As someone who has made a conscious choice to be a vegetarian, I do not want to eat meat. Hard to believe, huh? That means the idea of burgers, hot dogs and steaks is not something I miss and a trumped up faux version of those things are equally undesirable.

Come on, do they really think that a veggie burger is going to make a vegetarian feel more assimilated and less of a misfit in the American culture? If so, that’s just dumb. Perhaps what the marketing wizards who came up with those ideas don’t understand is that – lean in closer here – VEGETARIANS DO NOT WANT TO EAT MEAT.

There, I said it. And if you want a list of reasons why this vegetarian chooses to be the way he is, you will have to wait or ask nicely. I’m not going to explain my choices for the same way the dude who chooses to gobble up steroid/cholesterol/fat/chemical/feces/carcass-laden dead animals doesn’t find it necessary to explain himself.

Anyway, I have tried the veggie steak and was not really impressed. Mostly that had to do with the fact that the “steak” was made of textured vegetable protein. Unlike tofu, TVP does not take the flavor of what surrounds it. Instead, it tastes like TVP no matter if it’s supposed to be chicken, steak, or duck.

But just like a cheesesteak, the veggie steak has the onions, cheese, roll and grease, which isn’t exactly a drawing card, either. Frankly, a person would be better off just getting a jumbo grilled cheese… that is if they are not vegan.

Sadly, what has been missed in the novelty of the veggie steak is that Planet Hoagie, also on Ashburn Alley, offers a veggie hoagie, which – get this – consists of vegetables.

Imagine that! Vegetarians might want to eat vegetables!

Without the TVP, the veggie hoagie has eggplant as the base and other sandwich-type vegetables that make it quite hearty. It is a little oily, but at least it’s Omega-3 type oil instead of basic cheese-type grease. Baring that, rumor is there is cheese-less pizza around the park, or better yet, drive up to Tony Luke’s on Oregon and Front and get the Uncle Mike – it’s served vegan or non-vegan style.

I wonder if the folks from PETA have ever been to Tony Luke’s?

***
Bob Barker's vegan enchilada bake (per Esquire)

• 12 oz frozen vegan burger-style crumbles (Morningstar Farms' work well)
• 1 packet taco seasoning
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1/2 cup finely chopped scallions
• 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 1 cup low-sodium vegetable stock
• 2 cans black or pinto beans, rinsed
• 2 cans enchilada sauce
• 1 bag corn or flour tortillas
• 3 cups vegan cheddar cheese, shredded
• One 4-ounce can green chiles
• 1 small bag of Fritos, crushed

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees; spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with Pam.
2. In a bowl, coat crumbles with seasoning.
3. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat; add scallions; cook 3 minutes. Stir in flour; cook 1 minute.
4. Add stock; stir 1 minute.
5. Stir in beans; set aside.
6. Cover bottom of pan with enchilada sauce.
7. Place one tortilla layer over sauce; pour bean mixture on top.
8. Follow with a third of the cheese and half the chiles.
9. Add more enchilada sauce and another tortilla layer.
10. Add burger crumbles, more cheese, the remaining chiles, and enchilada sauce.
11. End with the remaining tortillas, enchilada sauce, and cheese.
12. Cover with foil; bake 30 minutes.
13. Remove foil; sprinkle Fritos on top.
14. Pop back in the oven for 15 minutes.

Serve with vegan sour cream. Reheats in the toaster oven really well. My wife made this for me on Monday without the fritos. It was pretty damn good.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What did you say about my shortstop?

It’s always something whenever the Phillies and Marlins get together. In what is heating up as one of the biggest rivalries in baseball amongst teams not fighting for the division leadership and not battling for the wild-card berth, the Phillies and Fish simply do not like each other.

So they say, anyway.

At least that was the sentiment of Marlins’ left-handed starter Scott Olsen, who told the press during the stretch run of the 2006 season that he really didn’t like the Phillies. Of course it should also be noted that there were also reports that Olsen’s teammates didn’t much care for him, either, and that came before his recent arrest for driving under the influence, resisting an officer with violence and fleeing and eluding a police officer. He’s the same guy who was given a black eye last season from former teammate Randy Messenger during a confrontation. Olsen also got into dugout dust-ups with teammate Miguel Cabrera and former manager Joe Girardi.

In other words, consider the source.

But the word around the sweaty and sultry ballpark on a Tuesday afternoon where the air was so hot and thick that it felt as if it were closing in like the walls of a trash compactor, was that the shortstops had a bit of a beef going.

Not that media types pay attention to that sort of thing.

Nevertheless, the apparent flap began when Marlins’ pitcher Dontrelle Willis cut out a story in Tuesday’s edition of the Philadelphia Daily News containing a quote from Jimmy Rollins said Marlins’ shortstop Hanley Ramirez cannot be ranked amongst the best shortstops in the league because, well, he plays for Florida.

“Hanley (Ramirez), in Florida, is just Hanley in Florida,” Rollins told the Daily News. “I can throw him out of the books. Jose (Reyes) in New York - he's the man. He's in New York.”

Everyone seemed to laugh it off as nothing more than good-natured ribbing, except, of course, Ramirez. So when Ramirez pasted the first pitch of the game from Jamie Moyer over the left-field fence, a few of the folks sitting in the press box claimed that Ramirez gave Rollins an old-fashioned stare down on his way around the bases.

Because nothing says, “if I played in this band box I’d have many more homers than you,” like a good evil eye.

Needless to say, we probably haven’t heard the last of this one. Judging from the way the marlins react to everything, something is sure to get them bent out of shape for one reason or another.

Everything, that is, except the results on the scoreboard.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Tell us how you really feel

Bud Selig arose out of his seat only when it seemed conspicuous not to do so. Still, he gathered himself slowly like a petulant teenager who was told by his parents to go take out the garbage or worse, give his over-perfumed and plump aunt Tilly a big hug a kiss right on her peach-fuzzed jowls.

But then Selig did something really amazing that can only be described as an act of defiance that could fairly be measured as a modern-day version of Tommie Smith and John Carlos giving the gloved fisted Black Power salute at the Mexico City Olympic Games in 1968.

Selig jammed his hands in his pockets.

The only thing he could have done to top his non-acknowledgement acknowledgement would have been to stretch his arms as far as he could into the soft, night-time air in San Diego’s Petco Park and give an obnoxious yawn. But really there was no need for a yawn. The rest of us did that for the commissioner.

A reluctant stand from his seat at the ballpark followed by shoving his hands into the pockets of his trousers was how Bud Selig, the man at the helm of baseball’s so-called Steroid Era, reacted when witnessing home run No. 755 by Barry Bonds on Saturday night. Around him the fans appeared to react similarly as the commissioner in that they weren’t really sure how they should react. Some cheered, perhaps not for the man who hit home run No. 755, but because they got to see something that people would talk about or talk about how no one cares – an odd little irony that seems to follow Selig’s game (and all sports) like a lost puppy.

Others, of course, booed. But even that seemed as if it was out of some sort of duty rather than true disdain for the guy who hit the homer to tie Hank Aaron’s record. Really, what do the fans in San Diego care about the assault on Aaron’s record? It’s not as if Padres fans are like the baseball zealots in the Northeast where the game was created and the numbers accumulated during a routine baseball game are viewed as sacrosanct. Yankees fans care. So do Red Sox and Phillies fans.

Padres’ fans? Yeah, it’s a nice night out and maybe they’ll even play “Hells Bells” when Trevor Hoffman comes in for the ninth. Padres’ fans? They taunt Mr. 755 with signs depicting neatly stenciled asterisks. That’s clever and makes a point, but it’s hardly defiant.

But that’s the thing, no one really seems angry that Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record is about to be surpassed by an admitted steroid user (and yes, grand jury testimony in which one says that he used the cream and the clear is an admitted steroid user). Nor does anyone think it’s kind of funny that the guy who served up No. 755, Clay Hensley, was suspended as a minor leaguer for testing positive for steroids.

No one really knows what to think about the whole home run mess. Apathy and outrage seem equally trite, but perspective about what home run No. 756 and beyond really mean escapes us. ESPN, the network that carried the game late Saturday night, didn’t have its top team calling the action. Instead of the inscrutable and annoying ramblings of Chris Berman, Jon Miller or Joe Morgan, former pitcher Orel Hershiser and play-by-play man Dave O’Brien spent most of the middle innings dumping all over the milestone, baseball during the steroid era while detailing why it was hard to be excited about No. 755. However, the duo attempted to do right by ESPN, the corporate partner of Major League Baseball, by reminding everyone about due process and the fact that there has never been a positive drug test on one man’s climb up the charts.

Grand jury testimony or no grand jury testimony.

Clearly, Aaron’s new co-home run leader had no realistic perspective on No. 755.

“It just feels weird,” he said. “Alex is going through it right now. Each time gets tougher. I don't know what to think right now. I just don't. It's just a weird thing right now.”

Actually, Alex, as in Alex Rodriguez who became the youngest to 500 home runs just a few hours prior to No. 755, isn’t going through it right now. Alex, after all, doesn’t have the threat of indictment hanging over his head.

Yet through it all the commissioner of baseball stood there with his hands in his pockets. The only man to witness the only two 755th home runs in the history of baseball looked as if he would have preferred to be anywhere else.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

As the Phillies turn

There are so many underlying themes and subplots with these Phillies that it makes a day with the team seem as if one were watching a mini-series. Swing a dead cat and hurl it through the Phillies’ clubhouse and chances are it will bean a would-be story in the melon.

But the main premise with the Phillies remains unchanged. It’s all about injuries and pitching, folks.

In Thursday’s series finale in Chicago the injury bugged showed that it wasn’t just monopolized by the initiated. No, it appears as if all one has to do is pull on a Phillies uniform and something crazy will happen. Kyle Lohse, the new starting the pitcher the Phillies picked up in a trade from the Reds on Monday had his Phillies’ suit on for just 29 pitches and one inning before he got all nicked up by a line drive off his forearm.

How long he’ll be out is anyone’s guess.

“Just the way it welted up right away, I knew they weren't going to let me go out there and chance it,” Lohse told reporters after the 10-6 victory over the Cubs. “We'll see how it goes. I don't think it's serious enough for the DL, but it was pretty bad.”

Lohse is hardly the biggest problem for manager Charlie Manuel and general manager Pat Gillick. Far from it, in fact. The Phillies stayed in the playoffs chase without Lohse, chances are they will stay close to the first-place Mets with him doing his best Danny Tartabull impression.

Nevertheless, it’s a fun little exercise to imagine how much better the Phillies could be had the injuries not plagued the team so thoroughly – and by fun we mean in the same manner as pouring a can of paint thinner on top of a bon fire. You know, Beavis & Butthead stuff.

Think about what would have happened this week if Chase Utley had not been beaned by that pitch at the Bank last week. Certainly Gillick would have never gone out and traded for Tadahito Iguchi even though he didn’t really have to give up much to get him. More importantly there’s a strong possibility that Ryan Howard would not be in such a swoon if Utley were still hitting ahead of him in the lineup.

“Teams probably are not going to give me anything to hit even more now,” Howard forecasted soon after Utley’s injury. “It's definitely going to be hard with him not being here, the way he works pitchers and has such good ABs.”

With Utley on the shelf, Howard is 5-for-26 (.192) with three RBIs, no homers and 15 strikeouts. Clearly Howard is trying to carry the load with Utley out, though he dismissed the idea when the subject was broached by a few of the li’l newshounds travelling around with the team. However, Manuel believes it just could be the case just as he admitted it was the case in the beginning of the season when Howard got off to a slow start before landing on the disabled list in May.

Meanwhile, one of those underlying themes that could become a major focus if the Phillies are still in the hunt a month from now remains the right arm of reliever Tom Gordon. The veteran right-hander pitched on Thursday afternoon and was able to hand over a lead to closer Brett Myers despite giving up a run, two hits and a walk in the eighth inning, but that wasn’t the case the night before.

Gordon complained of shoulder tightness before the game and informed Manuel that he wasn’t available, which didn’t really work out too well. As a result, Myers came in to pitch in the ninth inning of a tied game (on the road), and had he been able to get out of the inning J.D. Durbin was set to come in and pitch until ol’ Mother Leary’s cows came home to Chicago.

The coincidental part of that is Durbin was brought in to be the long man today when Lohse was knocked out after just one inning.

So maybe it all worked out?

Maybe. Maybe not. Myers likely would have escaped the inning last night had the injured Michael Bourn been available to play left field instead of Jayson Werth when Matt Murton’s sinking liner dropped in for a double.

Anyway, there’s a lot of that woulda, coulda, shoulda stuff going on with the Phillies these days. You know, kind of like Beavis & Butthead.

Fire! Fire! Fire!

***
Tomorrow (or maybe later) we finally get to Barry Bonds and David Walsh’s book.

We should also mention that Pat Burrell is hitting hell out of the ball these days... if we rip him when he's bad, it's only fair to point out when he's playing well.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

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