The Perfect Storm: Could 2016 be a career year for Jay Cutler?

When people use the term ‘Career year’ they’re usually only referring to a player’s individual statistics.  Often times, one player’s statistical dominance overshadows, and serves to divert attention from, the team’s sub-par record.  One could argue that Smokin’ Jay himself had his career year in 2008 while playing for the Denver Broncos.  In his third NFL season he tossed up 25 TD’s, had just 18 picks (this is good for Cutler), averaged 282.9 yards per game (still his career best) and threw for 4,526 yards (also a career best).  Since then he hasn’t thrown for more than 3,812 yards (2014) and his season high TD’s is just 28 (2014).  During Jay’s career year in 2008, in which he finished 3rd in passing yards behind Drew Brees (5,069) and Kurt Warner (4,583) the Bronco’s posted a gloriously unsatisfying record of 8-8.

In 134 career starts Mr. Cutler has a perplexing record of 67-67, the epitome of average.  So what do I mean when I say the 2016/2017 NFL season could be a career year for Jay?

jay-cutler
Cutler needs to take control if the Bears are to be successful in 2016

 

He knows the system

Despite OC Adam Gase taking the head coaching job at Miami during the off season, this will be Cutler’s 2nd season in this system.  Head Coach John Fox has already confirmed that the system will not change much, if at all.  New OC Dowell Loggains was the QB coach in 2015 and reportedly has an open, no nonsense relationship with Cutler.  This increased familiarity should translate into more synergy and greater cohesion on offense.  Brian Hoyer has also joined the team which means that for the first time in his career, Cutler will have a QB actually capable of starting an NFL game pushing him for playing time.  Hopefully having the possibility of being benched hanging over his head will finally give Cutler the impetus to break through that glass performance ceiling that he’s been squashing his face into for the past eight seasons.

 

D  IIII! (clap-clap-clap) D  IIII! (clap-clap-clap)

In 2015 the Bears switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 under first year DC Vic Fangio.  An adjustment period is expected in situations like this as shuffling out 4-3 scheme players (Jared Allen) and acquiring 3-4 scheme players (Danny Trevathan) takes time.  The Bears 3-4 defense has had a season to settle in and should provide Cutler and his offense more time on the football.  They should also allow fewer points, thus taking some of the burden off of Cutler.  He has a reputation of being a bit of a gunslinger and can at times try to squeeze balls into tight windows when chasing the game.  Less of this can only be good for the Bears.

 

He has two big, quality targets

Alshon Jeffery is healthy again and can hopefully remain so for the entire season.  He’s also the proud recipient of the Bears’ franchise tag, meaning he is in a contract year for the second straight season.  While not a deep threat in the traditional sense, his massive wingspan and Cirque du Soleil-esq body control make him without a doubt one of the league’s best when it comes to high-pointing, and thus winning, jump balls.  He knows better than anyone that it’s in his best interest to put up #1 WR numbers if he wants to be paid like one.  Kevin White has recovered from the broken shin which kept him side-lined for the entire 2015 season.  Getting him back is as if the Bears had an extra 1st round pick in the 2016 draft.  Plus, unlike an actual rookie, he’s had all of 2015 to study the playbook, watch film and just generally acclimatize to life in the NFL.  Should hit the ground running in 2016.

 

The running backs will actually run

Despite GM Ryan Pace letting the best running back since 2008 walk during the offseason (before you get all upset and start sending angry tweets and sad emoji’s, I’m basing this on the simple fact that Forte has more yards from scrimmage than any other back since 2008), the Bears have a good, young group of backs at their disposal.  RB’s coach Stan Drayton has a reputation for developing and mentoring young runners (Ohio State 2011-2014) so shouldn’t have any problem with the task at hand.  He’s a seasoned vet at the college level and the effect he had on Ohio State’s ground game is there for all to see.  Things cooled off a little when Braxton Miller was out with a medical redshirt in 2014 but Ezekiel Elliott had a fine season under Drayton and was subsequently drafted 4th overall by the Cowboys.

RBs

While question marks surround Jeremy Langford, he has shown brief flashes of being a genuine #1 back.  His workload was obviously lighter than Forte’s but the Bears don’t seem reluctant to use him when he’s on the field.  He played 392 snaps in 2015 amassing 170 touches (getting the ball 43.3% of the time he’s on the field) while Forte had 262 touches in 597 snaps (43.9%).  Forte was traditionally more of a pass-catcher than a bruising runner, evidenced by his 102 receptions in 2014.  He had just 44 in his first year under Fox.  It’s no secret that Fox likes his running backs to actually run, combine that with the fact that Forte has lost a step since his mid-20’s, (average yards per rush dipped from 4.9 in 2011 – long of 46, to just 4.1 in 2015 – long of 27) and letting Forte walk was a no-brainer from a business standpoint.  Enter Fox’s new running back committee – Langford, Ka’Deem Carey and Jacquizz Rodgers.

Yes, Forte is undeniably one of the greatest Bears of all time but Cutler dropping back to pass him the ball is still Cutler dropping back to pass.  Rather than having to put eight in the box, teams can key on the pass and staff their defense with faster, more athletic players.  ‘Establishing the running game’ is one of the oldest clichés in football for a reason; it works.  Teams can’t simply drop back and drape players all over the receivers.  Imagine you’re a boxer who only throws punches at your opponent’s head.  If this is the case, he’ll just cover up his head while you tire yourself out punching the backs of his gloves and forearms.  Long story short, you need to sock him in the gut every once in a while.  Remember, Cutler’s arm strength and accuracy aren’t the issue here, it’s his decision making (or lack of it) and his gunslinger attitude that get him into trouble.

 

Yeah, so?

So, many people forget that statistically speaking, Jay Cutler is the greatest QB in Bears history.  Despite the fact that Jim McMahon led the Bears to a Superbowl victory in 1985, his stats were nothing to write home about.  That year McMahon posted a TD/INT ratio of 15/11, threw for 2,392 yards and had a QB rating of just 82.6.  Being backed up by arguably the greatest defense in the history of football is a difference maker to say the least.  During Cutler’s reign however, the Bears defense has been decidedly hit or miss (mostly miss):

PPG

You’ll notice they did have a good defensive unit in 2010, allowing just 17.9 points per game.  Chicago finished 1st in the NFC North (11-5).  They beat the Seahawks 35-24 in the first round to advance to the NFC Championship where they then lost 21-14 to the Packers.  A good season by anyone’s standards.

Snake bitten in 2012 the Bears somehow finished 3rd in the NFC North despite posting a 10-6 record, causing them to miss the playoffs.  Other than these two seasons Cutler and his offensive unit have pretty much shouldered the load themselves, all the while receiving unjustifiable and downright ignorant criticism.  During Peyton Manning’s record breaking 2004 season in which he tossed 49 touchdown passes, the mighty Colts averaged 32.6 points per game.  This is viewed by many, and rightfully so, as the greatest year by a QB, ever.  Jay Cutler is no Peyton Manning so when you think about it objectively, with the defense they had, the Bears had no chance in 2013, 2014 or 2015.

I feel like we’ve shown that a player putting up great individual stats doesn’t always correlate to the team being successful, and vice versa.  But, could Cutler emerging as a reliable game manger and leading the Bears to a 12+ win season (something he’s never done before) be considered a career year?  The Bears are in a good position with regard to coaching, playbook familiarity and talent.  Cutler himself wouldn’t necessarily need to put up the huge aggregate numbers we traditionally associate with upper echelon quarterbacks, just to tie all of these resources together and stay within himself.  Oh and he’ll need a little help from his defense of course.

MLB Predictions – 2016

The other day I came across an email that I had sent to my buddy Steve prior to the start of the 2016 MLB season.  In it I made a few predictions about how I thought certain players would perform and how one would be busted for using PEDs.  Without further ado…

 

Maikel Franco hits 30+ home runs

Last year Franco burst on the scene for the Phillies by socking 14 dingers in just 304 at bats (That’s one every 20 at bats for those of you counting at home).  I created an excel sheet which projects a part time player’s stats over 550 at bats; useful when trying to get a feel for guys who may have been injured or who’ve come up midway through a season.  My projections show Franco as a 25 HR, 90 RBI guy.  After 107 games he’s on pace for a 27/89 season, and if he can accumulate upwards of 600 at bats, which I was counting on from the beginning, he’s projecting to be a 30/100 guy.

Franco
“I bet he acted all aloof, like he didn’t know me.”

 

The Phillies are 52-63, 15.5 games back in the NL East so it’s safe to say that their season is effectively over.  Despite the line up not turning over as often as one might like, which could potentially reduce Franco’s at bat totals, he should still get lots of playing time as the Phillies look to continue his development.  For now we’ll call this one, ‘on track’.

 

Jason Hammel has a great, but possibly unnoticeable, year.  Wins 15+ games.

I found Hammel while trying to round out my fantasy team following this year’s draft.  My draft didn’t go exactly as planned (does it ever?) and I needed to add another starter.  There was just one problem; all the half decent starters had just been auctioned off to the highest bidder.  I opened my trusty excel spreadsheet and removed every unavailable starting pitcher.  I then began the arduous process of whittling down the list of potential signings.  Traditionally speaking, none of them had great stats.  Remember, these were the guys who no one wanted.  They all had mediocre numbers as far as wins and strike outs went so those were essentially useless to me.  Choosing a guy who’s 11-10 over a guy who’s 10-11 is nothing more than a crapshoot, at best.  Using obscure stats like ground ball percentage, pitches per inning pitched and adjusted strike outs (my own creation, click here for more info), I began sifting through the remaining names on my spreadsheet,  like someone combing through a sandbox trying to find an earring.  Sure you start off calmly enough but after 15 minutes of searching panic sets in.  There didn’t seem to be any continuity.  One guy had a great GO/AO ratio but that was only when he could actually find the strike zone.  His 1.78 WHIP definitely wasn’t what I was looking for.  After a while I noticed that Hammel’s name kept popping up near the top of these categories.  He wasn’t first in anything but seemed to hover around the top five in everything.  I decided to dig a little deeper.  He put up some solid numbers in Chicago in 2014 and stumbled a little when he moved to Oakland (he still posted a 1.29 WHIP which is nothing to sneeze at).  In the time he spent in Chicago during the 2014 season he went 8-5 with a 2.98 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP in 17 starts.  In 108 2/3 innings he allowed 88 hits and 23 walks while fanning 104.  The Hammer of Glamour put up more solid numbers in 2015 going 10-7 with a 3.74 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 31 starts.  He allowed just 158 hits in 170 2/3 innings and struck out 172.  I pulled the trigger and he was mine!

Arietta and Hammel
It’s not just their stats that look alike… Seriously though, what’s the story fellas?

 

Through 21 starts in 2016 Hamm-dawg is 11-5 with a 3.07 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP.  During his 120 1/3 innings of work he’s allowed 95 hits and just 37 walks while punching out an even 100.  He’s collecting the win in 52% of his starts which means that a 15+ win season isn’t out of the question.  The one potential problem here is that for some reason, Hammel is the #5 starter for the Cubs.  As progressive and forward thinking as Joe Maddon is, you can bet that whenever possible he will skip over Hammel in order to get the ball back into you-know-who’s hands, every time.  Most back end guys get 30-31 starts so again, as long as Hammel continues to get the ball (almost) every 5th day, we’ll call this one ‘on track’.

 

Giancarlo Stanton hits 60+ home runs.

The projection methods I used when looking at Franco were also used to evaluate Stanton, who had just 279 at bats in 2015.  He mashed 27 home runs though, which equates to one every 10.3 at bats.  Ruth hit one home run every 9 at bats in 1927 and Maris hit one every 9.6 in 1961.  It’s no cake walk however.  We’ve all heard the stories of a chain-smoking Roger Maris losing his hair from the stress of it all, but Stanton has definitely shown that, if he can remain consistent, he could do it one day.  Currently he has 24 bombs in 371 at bats, which equates to one jimmy jack every 15.5 at bats.  I think it’s safe to say this one looks ‘unlikely’.

Maris
Kiss my asterisk.

 

 

And Finally…

Jose Bautista will be busted for using performance enhancing drugs.

No I haven’t been living under a rock for the past few years.  I know these types of accusations have come up before and so far nothing has been proven.  To be honest I kinda just threw up a Hail Mary with this one.  Bautista is in a contract year and wants a big raise.  His teammate Chris Colabello had just been caught using a banned substance.  He’s also 35 which is generally when power hitters start to decline.  I guess I just had a feeling that he might try to ensure that he had a great season in order to create interest from other teams and either; A) Force Toronto to give him the mega-deal he wants, or B) Trick the [insert name of struggling team desperate to appease their irate fan base here] into giving him an abbreviated version of the Pujols deal.  Let’s call this one ‘who knows’ for now.

BautistaJeans
The Canadian Tuxedo: If this is wrong, why would anyone wanna be right, eh?

For Love of the Game?

 

I do want to be remembered as someone who was madly in love with the game of baseball, someone who loves it at every level,”

– Alex Rodriguez

 

Alex Rodriguez is facing yet another test of character, perhaps his biggest yet.  It was announced Sunday that his days as a player for the New York Yankees would be coming to an end in the very near future.  Anyone reading this already knows that A-Rod has been underperforming at the plate this year, and those same people know that the Yankees’ front office has been trying to unload A-Rod’s albatross of a contract to no avail.  New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman confirmed that no other teams are interested in acquiring Rodriguez.  The situation is as follows:

  • The Yankees want to get rid of A-Rod.  If they can’t trade him they are still required to pay him the remainder of his contract ($27 million approx.)
  • A-Rod wants to play baseball, not sit on the bench
  • A-Rod currently has 696 career home runs and desperately wants to reach 700 before he retires, something only three players can lay claim to (Bonds, Aaron, Ruth)
  • A-Rod also wants to collect the $27 million remaining on his contract

So in an attempt to unload A-Rod’s monster contract Cashman devised an ingenious plan.  He basically tells A-Rod that his skills are diminishing and he should retire.  A-Rod refuses.  Cashman lays his cards on the table – retire now, or you’ll never see the field again anyway.  A-Rod stands firm, he wants to collect the 27 million owed to him (who wouldn’t?).  This is where Cashman makes his most brilliant move.  He knows that A-Rod is too proud to sit on the bench for the rest of this year and all of 2017, so he offers him an out; become a “special advisor”.  Now A-Rod can avoid the humiliation of riding the pine and still collect the money owed to him, unless…

ESPN reports that, “Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, however, acknowledged that Rodriguez has a right to change his mind and pursue any potential opportunity. And for his part, Rodriguez never used the word “retire.”

If A-Rod does decide to make a run at 700 he can opt out of his contract with the Yankees (best case scenario for Cashman) and sign with any team he chooses.  But which teams might be interested?  Certainly it would have to be a team with issues.  No contender is going to sign an aging slugger, especially one who no longer slugs.  Even if a contender did want him we know A-Rod doesn’t want to be a role player so pinch hitting is out of the question.  He wants to play every day and the only teams who are likely to let him do that are teams whose current hitters are even more woeful than A-Rod.  Surely there must be at least one out there, right?  There are 30 teams in Major League Baseball, each with eight or nine starting hitters.  That’s 135 AL hitters and 120 NL hitters for a total of 255 hitters.  So, is A-Rod in the top 255 hitters in Major League Baseball?  Currently his OPS ranks him as the 154th best hitter in baseball (although currently he does not “qualify” as far as at bats go).

A-Rod’s stats are underwhelming to say the least.  His current slash line is .204/.252/.356.  He hits a home run every 24 at bats and strikes out once every 3.32 at bats.  Of course his at bats have been sporadic at best and it’s possible that he could get into a rhythm once he’s getting regular plate appearances.  His potential salary could also be appealing to a team attempting to boost ticket sales until the end of the season.  The minimum salary of $507,500.00, pro-rated over the remaining 50 games of the season, would work out to approximately $156,000.00.

 

Tampa Bay Rays – Located in A-Rod’s home state.  Last in AL East (45-65).  Average attendance 16,503 (last in MLB).  A-Rod can chase his 700 home runs and the Rays can cash in on a boost in ticket sales without jeopardizing their yearly goal of finishing dead last.

Comparable players:

  • Kevin Kiermaier    .206/.311/.376    AB/HR – 31.50    AB/SO – 4.73
  • Desmond Jennings    .200/.281/.350    AB/HR – 28.57    AB/SO – 3.45
  • Alex Rodriguez    .204/.252/.356    AB/HR – 24.00    AB/SO – 3.32

 

Miami Marlins – Located in A-Rod’s home town.  2nd in NL East.  Average attendance 21,837 (27th in MLB).  Like the Rays option A-Rod can go after his milestone and the Marlins can collect some extra bank.  This one is trickier however as despite the Fish being eight games behind the Nationals in the NL East (and unlikely to catch them), they’re only three games behind the Dodgers for the NL Wild Card spot (a much more reasonable target).  So can the Marlins give A-Rod the at bats he needs to hit four home runs without risking a shot at the playoffs?

Comparable players:

  • Miguel Rojas    .261/.297/.326    AB/HR – 0 HR’s    AB/SO – 6.90
  • Chris Johnson    .231/.282/.338    AB/HR – 48.75    AB/SO – 3.15
  • Alex Rodriguez    .204/.252/.356    AB/HR – 24.00    AB/SO – 3.32

 

So now Rodriguez has a choice to make, become a special advisor and collect another $27 million, or sacrifice the money and go for 700 home runs, presumably while earning the league minimum.  Baseball Reference shows his career earnings to date as $393,285,104.00, so we know he doesn’t need the money.  But what about reaching 700 home runs?  He’s only four short of his goal.  It would kill some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it. God, they’d consider it a tragedy.  Imagine this, it’s 2066.  Alex Rodriguez is 91 years old and lying on his deathbed.  At that moment, looking back on his life, his legacy, would he trade the $27 million ($14 million after taxes) he made as a special advisor for four more, just four more, home runs?

We’re about to find out just what Alex Rodriguez truly loves the most.

 

 

Mike

Eat Your Heart Out Ray Kinsella

Every year for the past 20 or so years my men’s baseball league has hosted a tournament during the May long weekend. Our league enters the prospective All-Star team, which gives the players a chance to play a few games together and the coaches a chance to evaluate guys whom they may have reservations about.  Local rivals from the neighbouring city of Nanaimo often enter a team and a handful of teams come up from Washington and Oregon.  Although I was never selected to the “pre” All-Star team I was usually able to pick up a few games with some of the visiting American teams as they would often show up with anywhere between 8 and 11 players.  I’d usually be at the park anyway, watching games, scorekeeping etc. so I’d just throw my gear in the back of my truck and wait for the call.  Inevitably a team would put the word out that someone got called into work, missed their flight, or just plain bailed out at the last minute, and they needed an extra guy.

So one year, as I’m getting ready to head up to the yard, I get a call from my dad. He tells me that a bunch of his old buddies have decided to enter a team and they wanted to know if I would like to join.  They played first thing Saturday morning and originally they had about 35 players.  As can happen with 50 year olds, the injuries were quickly starting to mount up and they realized that they would need some new blood in order to complete their remaining games.  I was probably 25 or 26 at the time which means my dad was 53 or 54.

I get up to the park and immediately spot my old man, sitting in the beer garden with a bunch of other old guys. The term “rogues gallery” doesn’t come close to describing these guys.  The newest pair of baseball spikes must have been 20+ years old.  Some guys had soccer boots.  One guy just had running shoes.  One guy finds a huge, dead spider in his glove which in all likelihood, he dug out of the attic/shed/garage/basement only a few hours earlier.  There are more ankle and knee braces than I can count.  One of our outfielders has metal, NFL O-lineman style knee braces on both legs.  He was also sporting a huge bobandy which I estimate was made up of at least 15,000 beers.  But the crown jewel of this group was a former major leaguer named Frank Williams. Frank had pitched for the Giants, Reds and Tigers between 1984 and 1989.  Through the 4712/3 innings he pitched in the show he’s compiled a 24-14 record, had an ERA of 3.00, a WHIP of 1.367 and a K/9 of 6.0.

Amongst this rag-tag group of soon-to-be pensioners were a few other guys who, like myself, were still young (I.E.: under the age of 40).  There was Charlie Stratford and his cousins Jason, Trevor and Mike.  Charlie was an amazing player who played college and independent league ball.  If he wasn’t the size of Dustin Pedroia he’d surely be playing in the minor leagues somewhere.  He could play pretty much any position on the field better than pretty much anyone else.  His cousin Jason, who was about 35 at the time, was a seasoned veteran and up until recently, was a key component of the league’s aforementioned All-Star team.  There were also the Engen boys, Dale Sr., Dale Jr. and Danny.  Despite both of Dale’s sons having chosen soccer over baseball in their late teens, they were extremely athletic and knew what they were doing.

After a few introductions I ask when our next game is. A brief debate ensues.  Finally it is decided that our next game is about an hour away.  “Shouldn’t we start warming up?” I ask.  “What do you think we’re doing?!” shouts some old guy as he raises his plastic cup of beer.  Everybody within earshot cheers and laughs.  One guy makes the proclamation that us rookies need to ‘learn a thing or two about baseball’.  Sweet.  Eventually a line up is written by consensus.  Players are selected as follows: Young guys (again, this is anyone under 40), old guys who aren’t injured, followed by old guys who ‘aren’t hurting that bad’.  Some groan and protest but they’re quickly swayed when the de-facto coach announces that there will be ‘lotsa subs’.

I’m a first baseman by trade but that went out the window as soon as they found out that I had two knees that actually worked. I get ready for a day in the outfield until someone notices that the starting first baseman Jeff (I forget his name so we’ll call him Jeff) is missing.  Apparently he went home after the first game to get something and hasn’t returned.  He would turn up Sunday and announce that he’d fallen asleep in the bath.  So wrecked was he from the first game that he’d gone home and taken a load of pain killers.  He then got into an Epsom salt bath and promptly passed out.  In baseball, first base is often a place where a poor fielder can be stashed, as all he really needs to do is catch a ball thrown directly at him.  I would find out later that in the first game, some of these old guys’ throws were a little wild and a younger, quicker first baseman is now required.  The coach sees me playing catch with a trapper and I am drafted in to fill the void.  Unlike traditional first basemen, I have almost no power and hit more like a leadoff man than a corner infielder.  But what I do have is a knack for making outs out of horrible throws.  Scooping short-hops, coming off the bag and making a tag, ‘accidentally’ impeding the runner when there’s an overthrow… those are my specialties.  The game starts.

I don’t remember much about the game itself. Only two specific events stand out in my memory.  The first one was my first at bat.  There were two outs and a man on first.  I got into a no ball, two-strike count early.  I could hear the guys encouraging me from the dugout.  My dad was one of them, which was pretty cool.  He and I had never played in the same game before, which is probably why this stands out.  I go into two-strike mode.  I foul off pitch after pitch, take the occasional ball and eventually work the count full.  At this point it’s gotta be a 10 or 12 pitch at bat.  I keep hearing tons of encouragement from the dugout.  Guys I’ve never met (or met when I was a kid and haven’t seen since) are cheering me on, as if we’ve been teammates for years.  It’s a great feeling.  I step in for what feels like the 15th pitch of this at bat.  The pitcher has either grown tired of our game or just straight up makes a mistake and leaves a batting practice fastball belly high over the middle of the plate.  I’ve never claimed to be a great hitter (because I’m not) but I can certainly handle straight, 75mph fastballs tossed right down the chute.  I pull a line drive over the second baseman’s head for a base hit.  The dugout cheers.  This feels awesome.

The second event that stands out to me was near the end of the game, when our team was in the field. Whether it was by design or by accident, we ended up having three families on the field at one time.  There were four Stratford’s (Charlie at short, Jason catching, and Trevor and Mike in the outfield), the Engen’s (Dale Sr. pitching, Dale Jr. at second base and Danny in left field) and my dad and I (third base and first base respectively).  I can’t remember if someone pointed it out or if we all just kinda noticed but it was pretty surreal.  Dale Sr., a crafty left hander of the Jamie Moyer variety, was dealing an array of slow, frustrating junk, designed to induce huge hacks and slow grounders.  He wastes no time in getting the first batter of the inning out (although I can’t remember how) and proceeds to start working on the next guy.  I keep checking on my dad at third base, I mean, the guy hasn’t played baseball in over 20 years.  He’s wearing huge Rance Mullininks-esq glasses which would surely explode into thousands of shards of glass were a ball to take a bad hop and hit him in the eye.  I know he knows what he’s doing but let’s be honest, he’s in his early 50’s and refers to his knees as his bad knee and his worse knee.

Dale Sr., pitching out of the stretch, comes set. He delivers a big, overhand curve which the hitter tries to crush.  Instead, he dutifully hammers it into the ground, down the third base line.  My old man crosses over to his right, back-hands the ball and throws it to me at first.  The release is quick and I can already see that it’s dead accurate but because of his bad knees he can’t really push off his legs to put much velocity behind his throw.  I stretch forward to attack the spot where the ball is going to bounce, essentially nullifying the short-hop.  The throw beats the runner by a step and I pick it easily.  I point my glove at my dad as if to say “nice play” and throw it around the horn.

donaldsondrs
It wasn’t quite as awesome as this, but it was close.

 

The scorekeeper will record it as a routine 5-3 putout but it was much more than that.  That routine 5-3 was bookended by a nice play from both a father and his son, playing in the same game, on the same team for the first, and last, time ever.  When we got back to the dugout after the inning ended, we fist bumped.  He said “Nice scoop, thanks for saving me”, “Good throw, way to get it out quick.  That guy was fast.” I replied.  For any first baseman it was a routine short-hop, something that we’ve all done thousands of times.  While it wasn’t the best play I’ve ever made it was certainly the most memorable.

 

Mike

 

Man vs. Owl

Many years ago I worked in a produce warehouse.  Basic stuff really, restaurants and smaller, independent grocery stores would order wholesale produce and we would ship it out to them.  I was 18 and it was the first job that I’d ever gotten through a connection that I myself had made.  My boss was a guy named Rich who looked like what you’d get if you took Bruce Willis and Michael Chiklis and mashed them together.  He was in his mid-30’s and we played in the same senior men’s baseball league.  He was funny and relaxed but rode me enough to teach me how to actually work.  After a few months I was able to get my buddy Klinger a job at the warehouse.  Despite making minimum wage, it was actually an enjoyable job.  I was working with one of my best friends and for a boss who was really easy to get along with.  The only downside was that we started work at 5am and didn’t really have an established quitting time.  We would just kinda work until all the work was done.  Sure the night crew would come in around 1pm but us morning guys would then switch from loading trucks to sorting through rotting tomatoes or bell peppers, picking out the bad ones and re-boxing the good ones.

So one day Klinger calls me up and says that he’s had his licence suspended for drunk driving.  He proceeds to tell me the following story:

He lived way out of town, down some country roads.  It was a heavily wooded area with few street lights.  So he was driving home down these back roads one night and he comes across a guy who has somehow gotten his Ford Explorer stuck in a ditch.  Being a good Samaritan, he pulls over and offers to help.  The guy in the Explorer says he has a tow-rope and asks if Klinger will pull him out of the ditch.  Klinger’s dad was a car guy and had taught his son a fair bit about cars and how they’re built.  Kling (yes, we gave him a nickname for his nickname because his nickname was too long apparently) immediately knows that his ’84 Monte Carlo cannot pull this Explorer out.  He doesn’t have a trailer hitch and doesn’t feel like ripping his rear bumper off in the middle of the woods at 2am.  All of a sudden another dude in an SUV pulls up.  He asks what’s going on and they bring him up to speed.

“Pffft.  You don’t need a trailer hitch.  Just tie your tow-rope around my bumper.  I done it before.”

Klinger is sceptical and removes himself from the situation.  He stands clear and watches the two guys hook up the cars.  The 2nd guy then jumps in his SUV and starts trying to pull the 1st SUV driver out of the ditch.  While all this is happening another car drives by, slows down to look at what’s going on, and drives off.  The guys spend the next few minutes trying to ease the SUV out of the ditch.  To use one of Klinger’s favourite sayings, things were going “nowhere slowly” so the guy doing the pulling decides to step up his game.  All of a sudden he shoots forward then quickly screeches to a halt.  There’s a loud crash as his freshly torn off bumper lands on the road.  He gets out to assess the damage.  It was right around then that a cop, which the passer-by had called a few minutes earlier, shows up.  Questions are asked and tickets are written.  Everyone is told to blow, Klinger blows over.  End of story.

So not only do I start work at 5am but I now have to get up at 4am so I can drive out to Klinger’s house in the middle of nowhere, pick him up and get us both to work on time.  At the time I actually lived about 5 minutes from the warehouse and used to get up at 4:50am.  I just lost almost an hour of sleep which sucks but hey, you gotta take care of your boys.  A man who doesn’t take care of his friends, well there aint much to say for him.  So I’m driving out to get him one morning in my 1974 Dodge Dart custom.  Before you ask… Yes, it looked as awesome as it sounds.

Dodge-Dart-sedan-2
Still takin my time to perfect the beat…

 

So I’m driving down these windy, un-lit back roads and I’m half asleep.  I come around a blind corner and there’s an owl standing in the middle of my lane.  At first he’s looking the other way.  He slowly does that 360 degree owl-head-turn move and looks me straight in the eye.  He doesn’t even flinch.  Instinctively I slam on the brakes.  The car starts skidding right.  I crank the wheel back to the left.  TOO MUCH!  I crank the wheel back to the right.  Now I’m heading straight for a tree!  I crank it back to the left but the car just keeps going straight!  BANG!!!  Straight into a massive tree.

owl
The eyes of a killer

I do a quick self diagnostic, like the Terminator did when he had that steel pole shoved through him by that other Terminator.  I didn’t hit my head, no broken bones, nothing.  The car didn’t even stall.  I look around for the steely-nerved owl who just kicked my ass in a game of chicken but he’s long gone.  I reverse back on to the road.  Hitting the massive tree actually turned out to be a good thing.  If I hadn’t hit it the car would have gone over a steep, 30 foot, 30 degree embankment.  I drive to Klinger’s house and tell him the story as we drive to a gas station to get coffee.  He can’t believe it.  Neither can I, to be honest.  Under the lights of the gas station we inspect the damage.  The right side of the bumper is completely pressed in.  Not bent, but pressed in so that it now sits at an angle across the front of the car.  The right, front quarter panel is all bowed out over the wheel well.  Klinger kicks it back to straight, sort of.  A proclamation was made that my car was “In-dart-structible”.  We then proceeded to drive to work like it was any other day.

 

Mike

Trust Yourself

A few weeks ago my wife and I were grocery shopping.  As we walked through the cleaning aisle she remembers that we need trash bags and picks one, seemingly at random.  “Those look pretty flimsy” I say.  She assures me that they’re fine.  Since we’ve now been shopping for over 10 minutes, I’m ready to leave.  Deep inside my innermost soul, I know that these bags are garbage (see what I did there?), but because I want to leave, I don’t pursue the matter any further.

Fast forward to today.  I’m trying to get this bag out of the garbage can in our kitchen.  It’s one of those aluminium ones with the foot pedal and the flip-top lid.  So the weak, flimsy bag has gotten caught on the mechanics inside the can which operate the lid.  This has happened before and I have found that the best way to deal with this is by using brute force.  This time, however, I am either too strong or the bag is too weak (definitely the former) and the bag begins to tear apart like wet papier-mâché.  Because I’m so smart, I try pulling harder on the bag.  The bag tears even more.  Awesome.  Fortunately there is another roll of garbage bags under the sink, heavy duty ones.  I grab one and open it up.  The first thing I throw in is the remaining “light duty” bags which are still rolled up.  I then put the empty bag over the top of the can and tip the contents of the can into said empty bag.

It would be easy to blame my wife for this incident, but let’s recap: I knew these flimsy bags wouldn’t do the job, but I didn’t do anything about it when I had the chance.  I got lucky in that there was another roll of garbage bags (heavy duty ones, thankfully) available when this happened (which she must have bought).  And I should have known better.  Garbage is my department so I should have insisted on quality garbage bags.  Sure we probably saved 40 cents by buying the flimsy bags but we all saw how well that worked out.  Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that you should always trust your instincts.  I’m smart enough to know I’m dumb but I should also be smart enough to know I’m smart.

Mike

 

Sanctuary

 

sanctuary

[sangk-choo-er-ee]
noun, plural; sanctuaries
  1. a sacred or holy place
  2. a facility where animals are brought to live and be protected and maintained

 

We all have to deal with the stresses of modern day life.  Work, bills, partners, tragedies etc. are all just part and parcel with life these days.  But while we ensure to service our cars and maintain our homes on a regular basis, we often forget the fact that we too need to be serviced and maintained.  I do this by lifting weights.  I was inspired to write this when I realized that whenever I seem to be in a bad mood, it’s almost always a day that I haven’t been to the gym.  So I got to thinking; am I addicted to the gym?  Is that even possible?

Addiction is described as: The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, such as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.

That sounds an awful lot like what I have.  I definitely get a ‘high’ when I’m at the gym which I carry with me throughout the day and while cessation of regular workouts doesn’t cause me severe trauma (not physically anyway) I’m definitely a lot easier to piss off.  A typical day begins at 0600.  I get up, I take my vitamins and drink a protein shake.  Too early for solid food.  I then brush my teeth and put on my gym gear, which I’ve laid out the night before.  It’s now 0620.  I grab my backpack which contains my work clothes, dress shoes, towel and shower kit.  Again, everything has been ironed, folded and packed the night before.  I fire up my iPod and head for the bus stop.  It’s a six minute walk.  The bus arrives between 0635 and 0640 and gets me to my gym between 0710 and 0720.  You may be wondering why I have all of this timed to the minute.  I have this timed to the minute because I need to be at work by 0900.  To do this I need to leave the gym by 0850.  To accomplish this I need to finish my workout and hit the showers by 0830 at the latest.  So when my bus gets in at 0720 instead of 0710, I’ve just lost 10 minutes of workout time.  Most sets take approximately one minute.  I take a one minute rest between sets.  I can do three sets of two different exercises in 11 minutes.  That’s six minutes of working out, with one minute between each set.  I don’t need a final, 12th minute because at this point I’m done and walking to the locker room.  So that 10 minutes that the bus driver was late just cost me two separate exercises.  It may not seem like much but add it up over a year and it’s a lot missed exercises.

Initially I was pretty quiet (which is very uncharacteristic for me) and aside from the occasional ‘hey man’ or head nod, I kept to myself.  On very rare occasions I’d fire out a ‘sup bro?’ but that shit is only for special occasions.  None of this is because I’m anti-social, it’s because I feel like I’m there to work, not chit chat.  Once my work is done I’m happy to talk to guys and this usually happens in the locker room.  This lasted until one day when this big dude asked me to spot him while he went for a PR bench press.  No problem buddy.  I jump in and spot the guy.  His name is Dan and he’s from Tullamore.  Because I can barely remember my own name some days I decide to call him Tullamore Dan in my head.  This syllable-laden monstrosity is quickly shortened to Tully D.  Now when we see each other we give the obligatory ‘sup bro’ with an occasional ‘you’re looking big today’ peppered in there.  While spotting him I make sure to say super supportive shit like ‘Aw you got this, no problem’ or ‘C’mon baby!’  I realize that this may sound ridiculous to an outsider but that’s what makes it so appealing to me.  It’s our own little world with it’s own little rituals.  Our goals are all different but the process remains the same; work, rest, repeat.  It’s painful and it’s sweaty and it’s awesome all at the same time.  No matter how crappy you may feel, you can always head to the gym, load up a bar and show yourself just how much you can accomplish. Weights don’t lie and they don’t listen to bullshit stories about how much you can lift or how many reps you can do. Either you can lift it, or you can’t. Lifting weights provides a refreshing and welcome distraction from all the clowns on social media constantly acting like they’ve been victimized or offended, reality TV nonsense and society’s un-ending desire for instant gratification.  All the people here understand that and everyone supports each other in their own individual goals.  It’s a powerful dynamic that we don’t see very often in society today; people who barely know each other, helping, encouraging and supporting for no other reason than the fact that we’re all on the same journey.  We all understand what each other is going through and realize that everyone needs a bit of a lift every now and then.

For me, I think the journey itself is what appeals to me most.  When I first went back to the gym in January after a long layoff, I set myself the goal of bench pressing 200 pounds.  Slowly I worked my way up, 2.5 kg at a time.  I know it sounds strange; I think in pounds but all the weights in the gym are in kilograms.  Nevertheless, I kept working away and I’m happy to say I achieved my goal yesterday… sort of.  I bench pressed two 45 kg dumbbells for three reps.  90 kg works out to 198 pounds.  The next increment, 47.5 kg, would equal 209 pounds.  This is as close to 200 as I can get at the moment.  I may see if I can find some ankle weights to wrap around the 45 kg dumbbells just so I can officially say I hit 200 pounds, but either way, I’m satisfied with myself… for now.  This sense of accomplishment won’t last long.  There is always another goal to be set, worked for and eventually hit.  That’s what I love.  That’s what I’m addicted to.

 

Cheers,

Mike