The Future Could Be Now In New York

by Ken Napzok

No one should take joy in the injury of a player, so there is no suggestion here that these young Yankee arms are. However, the sad tale of Luis Severino’s struggle to get back to top pitching form took a turn for the worse this week when it was discovered that he needed Tommy John surgery and would miss all of 2020. 

The surgery was successful. (Thankfully) And now Severino can begin his road back.

Yet the reality remains — the Yankees need a new starting pitcher. 

While trades and signings will always be a possibility a lot of the early focus this week was on the young guys scrapping for a sweet, sweet taste of that big league action. 

Michael King, Clarke Schmidt, Johathan Loaisiga, and Deivi Garcia are all names you probably know, but now they all have a chance to become more than a whisper of the lips of those trying to predict the future. They’ll have a chance to make the jump and, if they deliver during the season, become a New York folk hero. 

Aaron Boone has been subtly salivating at the possibilities for these guys (and more) to make an impact, but now he can just openly drool.

Loaisiga took the mound on February 27th and struck out four of the six batters he faced.

 Then the next day Deivi Garcia started against the Braves and the 20-year-old looked like one of those players you create on MLB The Show to coast into the World Series on franchise mode. 

Yes, it is JUST the first week of spring training and no one is going to count those chickens before they hatch, but while Luis Severino is out, the Yankees just might have moved the future up to now. 

Gaga

Lady Gaga just scored some Marlins tickets!

This week the megastar singer, actor, and activist received an invite that seemed odd at first glance. Lady Gaga was invited down to Miami to visit the Marlins if she so chooses. The invite didn’t come from the club, Derek Jeter, or some young Marlin stud with a schoolboy crush. It came from manager Don Mattingly himself. 

Donnie Baseball is a Gaga fan? 

Damn straight. 

Last November, Mattingly and his wife Lori attending Lady Gaga’s Jazz & Piano show in Las Vegas. At first, Mattingly might have been going to keep his wife happy as he claimed she jokingly said that either they went or it was divorce time. 

So to Gaga’s show they went…

Born Stefani Germanotta in New York City, Lady Gaga is a bonafide Yankee fan to the core and was thrilled to have Number 23 and his wife in the crowd. (I’d absolutely flip my lid if Donnie Baseball showed up to one of my stand-up shows. What a pro to be able to keep signing.) She called out to them between songs, took photos, and just, well, basked in the glory of meeting one of her Yankee heroes. 

But turns out, Mattingly is a big fan too… and not just of her music. He told reporters this week that he respects everything she stands for and does, especially with her Born This Way Foundation. The documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two also helped him draw a comparison to Gaga’s battle with fibromyalgia with an athlete fighting to stay healthy. No small praise considering the back problems that ended his career in 1995. 

So, Don Mattingly, Yankee great and Marlin manager made it official, “I’m inviting her now. That would be great.” 

Congratulations, Gaga. Box seats. Hopefully, the Yankees can swing through town. 

Real Fantasy Tips

Charts.

You need to make charts. 

Lots and lots of player names, stats, rankings, projected costs… all of it. Put it there. No information is too much. You’re clearly going to need it all come draft day. 

Over the years, the technological advancements in the field of chart making have improved dramatically. When the wonderful game of Fantasy Baseball began nothing was going to beat some lined paper and maybe a black wide ruled composition notebook. I imagine David Okrent would crack open an empty notebook, fix an obtuse angeled eye toward it, and start charting the best players available.

“Andre Dawson. Dave Winfield, Mike Schmidt… and my sleeper pick… Toby Harrah.” 

From there the rise of the personal computer led to rolls and rolls of dot matrix printer paper charts. Imagine being able to just simply print out your charts for the first time! And it only a few hours! 

Microsoft Excel then arrived before cloud-based programs like Google Docs became the basis for great Fantasy Baseball charts everywhere. 

So, see, there is no excuse for not making a good chart or ten. 

There just isn’t. 

Don’t fall into the trap of using some high priced program from a sports site. Oh, sure, it’ll save some time and you’re less likely to miss a player or key stat, but you need to have an organic connection to your charts. You need to really be one with them.

You: I need stolen bases!

Your brain: Chart 3, cheap speed options.

Boom. Suddenly you’ve drafted Oscar Mercado.

That’s why you need good charts PRINTED out in front of you. 

I’m all for saving the planet, but bring a few glass straws to the draft to compensate for the fact that you need these charts in front of you. At arm’s reach at a moment’s notice. You can’t be futzing around your laptop looking for the right tab or window on your browser. Spread those charts out like you’re a tax accountant on April 14th. (And look at them with the same amount of love and passion.) 

As Obi-Wan Kenobi once said to Anakin Skywalker, “These charts are your life.”

The night before the chart print out these charts, double-check for any last-minute adjustments, and then — this is the most important part — roll around the charts like your a movie villain swimming on a pile of cash you earned through your criminal enterprise. 

You’ve done well. The charts are made.  And you’re definitely ready for the 2020 Fantasy Baseball draft. 

This week in baseball history…

… Kirk Gibson won the 1988 National League’s Most Valuable Player award during the first week of spring training. 

It was March 3rd, 1998 and the Dodgers — once a mainstay at the top of the standings and a regular on the World Series scene from 1977 to 1981, had fallen into that dreaded category no franchise wants to be in —  Hapless. 

After finishing first in the NL West during the 1985 season with a 95-67 record, the Boys in Dodger Blue had promptly gone 73-89 in BOTH 1986 and 1987. It was even getting hard for the game’s greatest cheerleader Tommy Lasorda to motivate his club.

During the offseason, the Dodgers brought in fiery Kirk Gibson via a collusion-fueled free agency market and the former World Champion with the Tigers wasted no time in setting the tone. 

Fellow Dodger newcomer — and non-prankster — Jesse Orosco had put black shoe polish on the inside of Gibson’s hat an hour prior to their first spring game. That might have worked for the wild and crazy ‘86 Mets, but it wasn’t going to work here. Gibson was famously furious and actually left the field, the game, AND the Dodgers — storming out of spring training altogether. 

Right then those hapless Dodgers were given an explosive lesson in winning culture according to Gibson. Here’s part of Kirk’s quotes to the Los Angeles times that week:

“Basically, I don’t want to be a part of their fun and comedy act,” said Gibson, who reportedly was fined for leaving Thursday’s game. “I’m not a radical guy. I go by the rules. This other bull is foreign to me. I like to have a good time, but a good time to me is winning.”

Point taken. 

But looking back at this incident now, it can’t be overlooked that time has changed the view of it just a tad. Gibson was not immediately praised by his club. Manager Tommy Lasorda straight-ups says Gibson “wasn’t right” for leaving the club. A lot of the talk centered around Gibson not having a sense of humor and lacking the ability to take a joke just as much as having the ability to take a pitcher deep. By all appearances, this incident – The Great Prank Gone Wrong — was viewed as a blow up from a new guy not getting along with his new teammates. 

But the team and Gibson met, hashed it out, and he returned to the club two days later. 

Yet you cannot write this off as history being rewritten. Gibson’s actions clearly had an effect because everything seemed to change in Chavez Ravine. Those hapless Dodgers, a team full of talent both on the mound and at the plate, became a unit focused on winning and did so — even when it appeared that the sum of their club was greater than some of the parts that ended up making it. (Other than Gibson and Orel Hershiser – the roster didn’t produce a superstar that season.) Any baseball fan knows what eventually happened to those 1988 Dodgers. In a year that was so improbable, the impossible happened. 

The voting for the MVP award was finished by the time a hobbled Gibson launched that famous home run into the night sky illuminated by the tail lights of countless fans who missed history. His regular-season stats seem so modest for an MVP — 25 homers, 76 RBI, and a career-high 106 runs scored — but that season wasn’t about the stats. Gibson won the award an hour before the first spring training game. He took a talented team that couldn’t quite commit to getting over the final hump to winning and made it clear that they could follow him down his path, or keep losing on theirs. 

And now about those Mookie Betts comments to his new Dodger teammates… 

The Tale of Tim Tebow

It was quite a week for Tim Tebow. The New York Mets most talked about minor leaguer once again showed up to spring training as a non-roster invitee and for the fifth year in a row this has ruined everyone’s life. 

People hate Tim Tebow. 

This is nothing new and heaven shattering, and I offer no real insight into why other than I guess he likes Jesus too much and always seems to be nice to everyone??? * shrugs * I don’t know. I’m open to additional information. Perhaps a few frozen dead bodies are locked away in his garage icebox or he didn’t tip twenty percent at an Applebee’s once. The reasons never really emerged. Even during his days as a top college quarterback with Bible verses written across his face, he was the target of everyone’s scorn. Same in the NFL. And so shall it be in baseball I suppose.

Sure. He’s not good. That’s very much understood. He took a roster spot and spring training invite from someone with baseball skills worthy of their LinkedIn profile and that’s an unforgivable sin. I trust you all had the same rage for Michael Jordan when he batted .202 for the Double-A Birmingham Barons in 1994. 

But I don’t fully understand the desire to rip someone to shreds for simply trying. He is a good athlete. Perfect? World Class? Maybe not — but I don’t think you succeed at a high level in college football and win some games in the NFL (whether be dumb luck or a miracle from God) without having some of the skills folks like me lack. I went for a power walk this morning and now I can’t get off the couch to get another package of chocolate donuts. I, for one, am not going to toss barbs at a guy who believes he can, wants to learn, and, most importantly, was given the opportunity. (Perhaps the Mets should be the target of the scorn.) 

If Tim Tebow wants to try and play professional baseball, let him prove he either can or can’t. 

I understand the desire to go to the dark side. I really do. I started my broadcasting career in 1995 as a radio DJ. I’ve got twenty-five years of entertainment and broadcasting experience. The amount of radio and hosting jobs that keep finding their ways to ex-athletes or non-broadcasters is immeasurable. I can either accept this, encourage those I know doing it to pursue their new goals, or I can let it burn me to the very core of my soul. Some days I choose the light side path — the next time I choose the dark side like some sort of Sith Lord. Some days that choices shifts by the hour. But at the end of the day, these jobs are still going to be given to those people and they have the right to these offered jobs. It’s up to them to keep the spot. 

And the best way for Tim Tebow to silence his doubters is to perform. His .163 average in 239 Triple A at-bats last season did not help, but this week he did something he has never done against Major League pitching in a spring game — he went yard. 

This is not to suggest that he’s earned his spot on the Mets’ Opening Day roster, but, you know, good for him. 

Tigers pitcher Alex Wilson gave up the shot and did call it the “most famous home run for a guy who’s not very good at baseball, but I’ve given up home runs to people way worse than Tim Tebow.” Whoa. That quote was an emotional journey on par with Harrison Ford lost in the wilderness with a CGI dog. But the fact remains that Tebow, who has hit 18 homers in the minors, connected and touched them all. 

It was treated as a feel-good moment by many. A guy shows up, puts his head down, and keeps trying to build the second chapter of his professional life. What’s not to at least — like — about that. You don’t have to love it, but what’s the harm in giving the guy one little tip of the cap. He’ll be back in Triple A (or even lower) and the chances of him logging an at-bat in the Major League are slim, so you can go back to slapping him around online and in your text chains with your friends. 

I, for one, will remain on the path of the light side. Good job, Tim. I hope you enjoyed that and will continue to show everyone that you might be picking this complicated sport up. 

Oh no. 

Oh, Timmy. 

I’m sorry, bud. 

We’ll see you next Spring Training.

Walk Off Quote

“If you do the work, you get rewarded. There are no short cuts in life.” – Michael Jordan, retired baseball player.

***

Ken Napzok wants one more at-bat in Little League he knows he’ll never get, but he is the author of Why We Love Star Wars and host of The Napzok Files podcast feed. 

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