Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com
Write Phil at phil.bencomo @ gmail.com
A Little Gift
by Derek Smart
I was flipping around various channels last night on the lookout for something of interest, a search which quickly devolved into a willingness to stare at anything that didn't instantly cause my eyes to melt, when I happened upon the strangest of things: a baseball game.
Of course, it wasn't live - it hadn't even been played during this calendar year - but my goodness, it was baseball. Not only that, it was Cub baseball, a rebroadcast by Comcast SportsNet of the May 28th game against Colorado - otherwise known as the Day After The Shot Heard 'Round Mark Prior's Elbow.
It was fun to find, not just for the simple fact that it was baseball in February (baseball in February!), but it happened to be a game where I was unable to witness the decisive sixth inning, having been relegated to listening on a rental car radio (I'd recently hit a building with my own auto - don't ask) in the parking lot of the Lincoln Park Zoo (again - don't ask).
In fact, I was so lucky that I found the game about two pitches before Todd Walker led off the sixth inning of the tied game with his only hit of the day - a triple off the base of the wall in right center, that was only a triple because Preston Wilson and Dustin Mohr had backed so far off the ivy in anticipation of a monster carom, that Walker was a good third of the way around second by the time one of them was able to release a throw back to the infield. It was a good recognition play by Walker, which is about the only way a guy with his speed is going to get a three-bag in that ballpark without a ball getting kicked around for an hour.
Next up was The Magnificent Lee, and his at bat was a clear reminder of what made last year different from all the rest. After fouling off the first pitch from Byung-Hyun Kim with a cut for the ages, he nearly sent pitch number two through the tall screen in left for his second homer of the day.
What made that result so indicative of his season was the offering he drilled - a sinker fairly low and nearly off the plate inside. It was a pitch many other players would either do nothing with, or miss entirely, and it's precisely the type of ball that Lee had issues with during the previous eight years of his career. Fixing that hole made all the difference - not just fixing it, but making it into a powerful weapon - and it'll be fun to see how well Derrek adjusts to the league's awareness that it's no longer an automatic out zone.
The next batter was Jeromy Burnitz, and even now I cringed. Not because he was a horror show last year - he wasn't - but rather because of the lineup construction. I don't care about the perceived value of having an alternating lefty/righty pattern in your lineup, splitting up your two best hitters - Lee and Ramirez - to gain an isolated tactical edge is foolishness. I only hope such abject silliness doesn't carry over to 2006.
Back to the at bat, it was awfully familiar. Like I said, Burnitz wasn't dreadful, but all too often in 2005 one would see the exact pattern on display in this contest:
Lee rounds bases, goes into dugout.
Shots of him receiving congratulatory high fives.
Smiles for the camera.
Gets some water.
Cut back to center field camera, where we see Burnitz swinging at a ball up and outside while realizing mid-cut that it's actually down and in.
Burnitz eventually singled to center, and after that Aramis Ramirez missed the first pitch, let the second one go for a ball, then hit a towering shot to left to make the Cub lead 5-1. If Burnitz got on base enough, that could have been a pattern all year long, but unfortunately it wasn't to be.
That ended the scoring. The rest of the game was non-descript, other than a moment in the eighth where, after Corey Patterson had led off with a single, then stolen second and advanced to third on Todd Greene's throwing error, Jason DuBois (remember him?) struck out, and Michael Barrett then popped out on the first offering he saw. Couldn't get the run home from third, even the second time around.
It wasn't a lot of baseball, and it wasn't a classic game, but there's nothing to warm the heart of a near-frozen baseball fan like a glimpse of that thing he's so anxious to see. Soon, my friends, the day is nigh, and we shall all rejoice in Spring.