What Was or What Could Have Been

You Know Better….

So Neil and I were behind the net, close to home plate, as Neil was trying to get some good photos to put on the CCO for everyone to see. We noticed Bob Brenly and Len Kasper walking in our direction, as the Cubs were taking batting practice. No doubt they were doing their homework, brushing up on topics for today’s game, getting inside the minds of the players, looking for the most relevant information to pass along to the Cubs TV viewers that afternoon….or maybe they were just trying to figure out where they were going to dinner after the game. Neil then pointed out a woman on the field, near the visitors’ dugout, and said it was Carrie Muskrat, a Cubs beat reporter. I mentioned to Neil what a great job it must be to work in the Cubs booth, or to be a reporter and get paid to be at every game, and we both agreed it would be a dream job. I think the guys in the booth actually have to work, though, and I would much rather be able to watch the game, relax, and chat with the players afterwards, and then write whatever I feel like….what a life! I am sure that most of us were asked as little kids what we want to be when we grow up, right? If I knew then what I know now, I would like to go back in time and set everyone straight: The teacher, or relative, or friend of my parents leans down and messes my hair or pinches my cheek, and then says “hey little man….what do you want to be when you grow up? A fireman….an astronaut?” I would fix my hair, tilt my head up at the adult with a slightly annoyed and exasperated expression, and say, “I want to be a beat reporter for the Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball Team, but with the pay scale of a top studio announcer.” As I walk away to finish playing catch, re-enacting the battle of the planet Hoth, or whatever the heck I was doing when they rudely interrupted me with their silly question, I would be sure to mutter under my breath in their direction, “Sheesh….you know better,”

Corey Patterson, Sergio Mitre, Joe Borowski and the meaning of Spring

So does Spring Training mean anything? Unless you are looking to make that extra infielder or middle reliever spot, it probably doesn’t. From time to time there are actual competitions at certain positions, such as 2B between Walker and Hairston (I won’t mention Neifi unless in parentheses, as I do not want to put any positive karma into the world on his behalf….let’s just assume he is not being seriously considered as a starter, and move on with our lives). Most of the time, Spring Training is really an excessively long warm-up to the regular season. Guys are just getting their timing down at the plate, pitchers are working on new pitches or getting used to a new catcher, etc….

Don’t believe me? Well, you should know better than to doubt me, so let’s take a walk around the league and see how some ostracized and discarded ex-Cubs are doing this spring:

Corey Patterson, Baltimore Orioles, .318 BA, .400 OBP, 1 HR, 4 SB in just 22 at-bats, which is the most at-bats on the whole team. How is his replacement, Juan Pierre, doing? Pierre is .313, .353 OBP, 0 HRs, 0 SBs in just 16 at-bats. According to Spring Training, Jim Hendry gave away what’s-his-face and what’s-his-name for Pierre for no reason….he should have just hung on to good ol’ Corey!

Sergio Mitre, Florida Marlins, 2 games, 5 IP, 1.80 ERA. Well….I am sure we didn’t give this guy away too soon, right? He was a possible 4th or 5th starter for the Cubs, so how are his replacements doing? Glendon Rusch, 2 games, 5 IP, 7.20 ERA. Jerome Williams, 2 games, 5 IP, 12.60 ERA. Ouch. Hendry isn’t earning that extension according to these Spring Training numbers!

Joe Borowski, Florida Marlins, 4 games, 5 IP, 1.80 ERA. Man….looks like these Marlins are going to be tough this year! Who do we have closing instead of Borowski these days? Oh yeah, Ryan Dempster, 3 games, 3 IP, 1 HBP, 3 BB, and a 3.00 ERA. Demp (as Dusty likes to call him) has a respectable ERA, but it is nothing compared to the spring that sweaty Joe is having.

What does all this mean? Absolutely nothing. It is fun to look at Spring Training statistics, but they really don’t mean anything in a lot of cases. If a pitcher is experimenting with a new changeup, can you really hold in against him if he gets lit up in a ST game? Or if a batter is working on hitting to the opposite field, or trying out a new stance, is it surprising if he strikes out a bit more? Not to mention all the guys coming off of injuries, who are taking it easy on purpose, and for good reason. So don’t sweat Spring Training CCO readers….just enjoy the anticipation of the new baseball season that is fast approaching!

Carbonated Water and Todd Wellemeyer….

I drink too much Diet Pepsi. An insane amount really. I almost always have a glass/can/bottle of soda (or “pop” if you prefer) nearby. I drink constantly, almost like a chain-smoker smokes non-stop, one after the other. Naturally my wife told me that I should know better, and stopped buying me soda to have in our fridge at home. I tried switching to juice, or to plain old water, but I always felt like I was never quenching my thirst, especially when I ate meals. One day, it finally occurred to me that it may not be the soda I was addicted to, but rather the feeling of carbonation in my drink. So my wife, forever referred to now as TOWMBO (the one who must be obeyed) went and found a carbonated flavored water drink called La Croix, which comes in a variety of flavors. The berry flavor is not bad, and it does a reasonable job of replacing the constant intake of soda, and it is basically just water, so it is much healthier for me. So am I fooling my body, or my mind, or both? Did I ever really need soda, or carbonation, in the first place, or is it just a habit that has gotten so ingrained in my brain that I have turned it into a crutch? So what does all this have to do with Todd Wellemeyer?

I saw Wellemeyer walking into the clubhouse at the game the other day, and I commented to Neil that I didn’t think he could make the club this year, and that the Cubs should trade him. We then talked about what a great debut Todd had with the Cubs….possibly one of the best debuts by a Cubs pitcher ever….when he struck out 3 batters in a row to get the Cubs out of a real jam. It looked like the Cubs had yet another young hard-throwing pitching sensation that had arrived on the MLB scene! Since then, Todd has been largely inconsistent, and lately has just been mediocre at best. Did he forget how to pitch? Was he on steroids? Or is it simply, as I believe, a mental funk that Wellemeyer has fallen victim to? Just like I think I need a carbonated beverage with my food, I believe Wellemeyer needs a lack of expectations to thrive. We are both victims to a mental state that affects us physically. For example, when Ben Gordon of the Chicago Bulls has a guy guarding him tightly, and he is forced to shoot a shot with a high degree of difficulty, he seems to always make it. However, when he is wide open, his shooting percentage doesn’t seem as good. Gordon was the best player off the bench last year, in the whole NBA….he didn’t start the game, but he would often be relied on heavily in the 4th quarter to help the Bulls win from behind. This season, when Gordon was a starter instead of coming off the bench, he had a very difficult time of it, and shot poorly, and no one could figure it out.

I think the answer is that there are just certain guys, like Gordon and Wellemeyer, who thrive in difficult situations when the odds are stacked against them. You may be saying to yourself “wait a minute….that sounds good….that means they are clutch players, right?” Not exactly. When Wellemeyer was put in his debut situation, there were runners on base, there were no outs, and he was a rookie fresh off the farm. If he let all the runners score, no one would really have blamed him, as he was put in an almost impossible position.

So there was really no pressure….

When Ben Gordon is double-teamed or triple-teamed, and he is forced to shoot, would anyone think poorly of Gordon if he didn’t make the shot? No, because it is a very tough thing to do. Again, no real pressure.

The other day, I was eating pizza with TOWMBO, and watching ESPN on the restaurant’s big screen TV. They were showing a piece on a college player (I can’t recall the name) who had been fouled shooting a 3-pointer, I believe. His team was down by 2 points, and there was no time left on the clock, and he had 3 free throws. This is an unbelievable amount of pressure, as no one is guarding him, the whole game is in his hands, a free throw is an easy shot, and he is a young college kid. He makes the first free throw, and looks back at his coach/bench. They are down by one point. He misses the next free throw….ouch, His final free throw to tie? He missed again. The poor guy crumbled to the ground and just started sobbing while his teammates tried to comfort him. Talk about a pressure-filled situation! I guarantee that kid would have made 2 or 3 of those shots, from the same spot in the middle of a game, if someone was guarding him. He could just react, and not think. He wouldn’t let his mind defeat his body.

I think Todd Wellemeyer is a guy with a lot of talent, but he just doesn’t have the mental ability to stay focused and let his natural physical talents shine through. Once he struck out those 3 batters in a row, the expectations on Wellemeyer grew exponentially, and he wasn’t able to perform the same with the increased pressure. Flash-forward to Spring training of 2006, with his job on the line, facing mostly minor league hitters, with Hendry and MacPhail and Dusty watching, judging, and evaluating his future, I think Wellemeyer finds himself in a situation where he is expected to succeed, and he psyches himself out. I fully expect that if Wellemeyer is released or traded, he may have a year or two of success elsewhere, until the expectations on him get too high once again, and the cycle repeats itself all over. I wish him good luck….

Final Thoughts….

Think Dusty has made up his mind yet on who is playing 2B (please not Neifi….please!) yet? I would like to see Hairston be given a shot, but would Walker become a problem in the clubhouse if he is not a starter?

Will Jerome Williams get his act together? I hope so, as he is on my Fantasy team, along with Wood and Miller. I figure that at least one of those three will have a great year, if not all of them.

Is anyone worried about Cedeno’s numbers this spring? I am not, but I do want him to do better before Dusty gets worried, which would lead to (Neifi) starting!

I think Prior is just fine. I think Maddux will finish at .500 or higher for the year, and possibly with 15 or more wins again….what an amazing pitcher!

I haven’t watched the WBC yet, but I have to admit interest in seeing USA play Japan. Tons of Dominican and Venezuelan players are already in MLB, and the rosters for those teams looks like an MLB All-Star roster almost….so there is not a lot of intrigue for me there. But aside from Ichiro, there is not a large Japanese presence in MLB yet, despite Japan’s long history of playing the game (just think back to the Bad News Bears Go To Japan movie….ok, bad example). Anyway, I wish Ichiro were playing RF for the Cubs, and I want to see how that game plays out. As soon as this WBC is over, I want Lee, Barrett, and Zambrano to make it safely home, and start kicking butt when it counts, in a Cubbies uniform. Have a great week, CCO readers, and go Cubs go!