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Quit abiding by the emerging new rule that sports are better vicariously. I’m really tired of this shit, and we’re sending one helluva crappy message to following generations. I’m talking about how people have a new tendency to say “I’d rather watch it on TV.” I don’t care how damn fantastic your TV is. It’s stupid. This is going to sound like a Brett Lawrie-style rant, but I think it is a ridiculous sentiment. I don’t get angry about much and damn sure not about much when it comes to sports, but this is silly. I was having a conversation about young Jurickson Profar a few days ago with a gentleman who lives in Frisco. He’s a self-described “Rangers fanatic” and someone who is interested in prospects and player development. I excitedly asked if he’d been out to see Profar yet, and he told me he’d just wait until the TXA 21 broadcast on Saturday. Don’t get me wrong, given my affection for minor league baseball, the fact that the local AA squad is on television every Saturday is f-ing fantastic. I love it. But it isn’t a substitute for going out there yourself. The best tickets in most minor league stadiums are around $15. Parking, concessions, and souvenirs are, generally, noticably cheaper than an MLB experience for obvious reasons. I’m probably painting with a broader brush than I want to, but I think it’s a societal issue. Vicariously looking at pictures of the Irish coast instead of saving up, planning a trip and actually looking at the Irish coast. It’s one thing to know what minor league baseball looks like, its another to know what is smells and sounds like. I often say that no one ever gets old and says “I wish I would have taken my kids to less ball games.” It’s true. I have the attention span of a toddler, so I drift around during minor league games and even in the most oppressive Texas heat, I still see people having a great fucking time. Especially kids. So turn off your badass TV, pony up the $45 for some tickets & food and take yourself and your kids to the ballpark. Dammit.
This is a simple exercise. Beer and tacos. Which ballplayers would I want to take out for beer and tacos? I like both of these things and I obviously like talking baseball. I’ve been a restaurant dork for a long time and I know most of the great grub spots in my town. Fine dining to “find” dining, I’ve got the area covered. One of my favorite spots is a taco shop, in a gas station. Actually, there are a lot of good spots like this, but there are only a few GREAT spots like this. It’s a simple, dumb, fun column, I know, but this game sometimes needs to be thought of as a simple, dumb, and fun game. So here goes.
-First, I can’t think of a single player whom I put in the “ace” category I want to get beer and tacos with. I’m aware of Justin Verlander’s Taco Bell routine and I watched him describe it on Conan. Problem is, he was describing it with intensity and a lack of humor that befits a competitive son of a bitch I want taking the ball every 5th day, but not someone I want to spend an hour with eating tacos in my truck. Yes, I have a million questions I want to ask them, but sorry, aces are out- too intense.
-Second, no straight-edge. Duh. I’ve got no problem with it, but for this particular experiment, no beer, no taco
-Third- no one under 21. That rules out Profar, Sano, Archie Bradley, and Bryce Harper. Harper, however, may end up at the top of the list someday.
Okay, so those are the only three “rules” for my endeavor. This list is a work in progress. I’ll be updating it throughout the season and maybe for the rest of my taco eating, beer drinking career, which I expect will be a long one. Sometimes I’ll offer a brief explanation as to why I think player X would make a good taco partner, sometimes I’ll simply say their name and the understanding will be intrinsic- that guy likes beer and tacos.
-Prince Fielder- I know he’s a vegetarian*** and people think we don’t have those in Texas, but I can load him up with some fresh iceberg, some cilantro, jalapenos, tomatoes, etc. I’d want to ask him about his memories of growing up around the game, and if he’ll let me, I’ll ask him about his father. I understand those questions are forbidden, but maybe tacos and Tecate will break the ice. I’d also like to know during what point in his FA period the Tigers were really on his radar.
*****UPDATE: h/t to reader Ross, who points out that Fielder is not a vegetarian, but was for a time. Big fella’s gonna get him some CARNITAS!! Thanks Ross, you’re comin’ with us.
-Jeff Francoeur- Interesting guy who was on the cover of SI when he was like 21 and was expected to win MVP awards and carry the Braves to a couple of World Championships. It didn’t work out that way, but he kept a good attitude and he can hit. But I really want to ask him about throwing runners out, and at what point when he gets the ball and releases it does he think to himself, “I got you, motherfucker.”
-Luke Scott, Josh Leuke, Rich Harden, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez. For one reason or another, I’m not taking any of these guys for tacos.
-Derek Jeter- “Seriously, has there ever been a point where it was all just too much and you wanted to be traded to the Brewers?” What a remarkable run in one of the most high-profile positions in all of sports. Championships and numbers and respect. He’s getting steak tacos and bottled beer ’cause he’s pretty big time.
-Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman. I know I won’t be able to get a lot out of them because their family and friends are still there, but you can’t say you’re not curious about the current state of mind for people living in Cuba. I really want to ask both of them if they feel like they belong in MLB now and at what moment that occurred. Also, I know a couple of Cuban Americans and I tease them about “arguing for sport”. Imagine how many other places Cespedes and Chapman will tell me have better tacos than the ones we’re eating, even if they are actually the best tacos they’ve ever had. Fun.
-Justin Upton- He seems like a pretty affable fella. He also has a keen understanding of what it feels like to be a (THE) top prospect not only in an organization’s system, but in all of MiLB. He’s not hitting well this year yet, but he could win an MVP before his days are through. And the spotlight has never been off of him. At every level, every bus ride, every small park, to the big parks, all eyes have been on him. What’s that feel like?
-Troy Tulowitzki- “what do you do to try to make the rest of your teammates better?” Tulo is great, but the Rockies are not. How do guys like him and David Wright, 1. Get motivated to come to the park everyday knowing you don’t have a single teammate that can touch your skills, and 2. Play your ass off knowing that your team may not be good in the immediate future. This is a touchy line of questions and it may require some special brews with a higher ALC content. And really good tacos.
-Tommy Hunter and Chris Davis- got traded away from a potential perennial powerhouse to a team that isn’t expected to compete in their own division (I know they are right now, but they might not be by the time I’m finished typing this sentence). Also, is there a point where you recognize that you may not be a perennial All-Star, but that you can compete and occasionally excel in the big leagues. What were their expectations for their careers, and have they changed those expectations in the last two seasons? “You’re both rather big dudes, if properly motivated, could you kick his ass?”
-Kerry Wood- Texan, so likes tacos right? What a career. Next big thing, 20K games, starts in huge games in Wrigley, crapload of injuries, doubts about future, transition to bullpen, some success, some failure, some good teams, some terrible teams. Also doesn’t appear to age. Will probably request Shiner Bock which is what Texans actually drink.
Alright, so this is my first beer and tacos list. I’ll keep it updated from time to time. Sorry for the levity with this idea, but I needed it on a personal level and I felt like baseball needed it right now. The season and the standings and the summer are starting to take shape, so some people are getting pretty pissy out there, maybe it’s just me, but I felt the need to use baseball as my therapy tonight, so you got beer and tacos. Maybe on one of our later dates, we can have conversations with more gravitas, but I kinda doubt it ’cause, it’s just baseball…and beer…and tacos.
As always, thanks for reading,
@tepidp on Twitter
2,098 days. That is how long C.J. Wilson had been on this planet before Yu Darvish showed up. I think it was just that simple for them. By “them” I mean the Rangers’ brass. I truly believe that his personality had little to no bearing on their decision not to aggressively pursue Wilson. The calculated risk they took was the possibility of losing out during the blind bidding for Darvish. No Wilson and no Darvish would have led to a different context for judging Wilson. But chalk this up to the growing number of ridiculously fortuitous gambles the front office have wagered and won. I’m no big fan of Wilson’s antics. I forgive him, however, because at least he seems sincere. There are very little airs put on when he speaks. He truly thinks he is more interesting than you. I can only speak for myself, but he is most certainly correct. As for Friday night’s match-up, Rangers fans should probably just clap when he is introduced and smile. Smile knowing that C.J. Wilson lives in California, so the chances of him dating your sister or your daughter are slim. Smile knowing that he was really good last year when it was 137 degrees at The Ballpark. Smile knowing that he can land a plane, race a car, and watch a big ass television, all more than 1000 miles away from you. Smile knowing that you’ll never have to watch him have a subpar postseason game in a Rangers uniform again.
But most of all, Ranger fans should smile because the team is better. Yu Darvish is going to be C.J. Wilson’s replacement at the top of the rotation. And he is better. Better stuff, better in the clubhouse, better ceiling on his potential. And there’s also the issue of those 2,098 days. So clap early for what C.J. Wilson did for Texas and smile knowing that he’s nearly 6 full years older than his replacement. Who’s bitter? Who’s better?
-Dylan Bundy gave up a hit. Don’t worry though, the player who committed the egregious sin of singling off of the Tulsa Terror was unceremoniously doubled right the hell up and off the basepaths.
-Last week Bundy went head-to-head with Matt Barnes of the Red Sox organization. Barnes is older than Bundy on account of him being born a few years earlier. Regardless, Barnes held his own and his dominating ways resulted in a promotion to High-A Salem. The former UConn (insert mascot name here), struck out 12 unsuspecting yucks in his High-A debut. At the end of that day, he led MiLB with 54Ks. If he keeps doing this, he may have a shot at a bullpen job for the Sox. Their pen still sucks.
-Justin Verlander completed 6 innings in both of his starts last week. The second one marked the 48th consecutive start that he has completed 6ip. Not really a lot more I can say about that.
-Endless Summer threw a no-hitter for the Lost Angelestest Angels. It really was pretty remarkable. His fastest pitch was 92.8 mph. What’s the best way to throw a no-hitter without devastating velocity? Effectively commanding 6 pitches appears to help. 52 two seam fastballs, 16 four seam fastballs, 15 change ups, 16 sliders, 14 curveballs, and 8 cutters. 6 different pitches thrown with relative wanton disregard for the count and hitters have very little chance of guessing correctly. Don’t let his SoCal, floppy haired appearance fool you, this guy is a crazy, competitive son of a bitch who uses a deceptive delivery, great command and several plus pitches to make you look bad. I consider him an ace.
-Speaking of the Angels. Albert Pujols hit a home run and all seemed right with Angel universe, then 2(!) of their key relievers came up gimpy at the end of the game. I’m not one to believe in signs, but I just don’t think this is their year. I’ve seen what it looks like when things just don’t fall into place for whatever reason. Age, acquisitions, and injuries can take an odd toll on an otherwise talented team. Even coming off a championship season that saw an amazing run capped by a transcendent superstar performance, things can go woefully wrong. Dammit I’m not talking about the Angels anymore, am I? Take some time off Big German. Take some time off.
-One time, last week, I saw Roy Halladay walk the bases loaded. It’s true. He also blew a big lead in another game. I’m serious. No really. Google it.
-Mariano Rivera tore up his knee. Baseball threw up in its collective mouth. He is pretty damn rare. A Yankee who emits sympathy for a potential career ending injury. I was struck by how the collective baseball Illuminati lined up to say “job well done”. Results AND respect. Truly a rare combination. The Texas Rangers’ “veteran” reliever Joe Nathan has 268 career saves, Rivera has 608. In the post-season when the pressure is the greatest and the opponents are at their best, so is Rivera. In 141 post-season innings, his E.R.A. is 0.70 and his WHIP is 0.759. The Texas Rangers organization has played 43 post-season games, Rivera has saved 42 post-season games. If it is the end, which he says it isn’t, his career has been amazing and I’m more than glad I saw him do his thing.
-Lots of the minor league studs are starting to get into stud form. The hitters who were expected to hit are hitting and the pitchers who were expected to pitch well are doing so. I primarily use Twitter to update stand-out performances, but I can always share little things here, like the fact that Wil Myers is going to be the reason your wife wants to sit in right field when the Royals come to town next season. You won’t mind though, ’cause you’ll get to see him play as well.
At this point most people know my favorites are guys like Taijuan Walker who may be a big league starter before he can buy a beer, Zach Lee, and Dylan Bundy. But the undisputed king of my affection had a VERY big week with regards to action on and off the field. Billy Hamilton stole a crap ton of bases, maintained good, solid contact rates, continued to play below-average shortstop and most importantly ended the week with an article in the Sunday edition of The New York Times. I still have almost no idea what he is saying in any of his tweets, but I know he’s the fastest player baseball has seen in twenty years. The Reds have a Cuban kid who throws 104 and a farmhand from a small town in Mississippi who can get down the line to first in about 3.7 seconds. Fun stuff.
I’m going to go a little more minor league heavy next week as I go looking for interesting stories in the smaller stadiums. In the meantime, keep watching baseball and checking the Bakersfield Blaze (apropos name, I know) boxscores to see how many bases Billy Hamilton steals. I’ll try to think of some more metaphors to describe his speed, but I think they’ll all fail to match Satchel Paige’s famous description of Cool Papa Bell. Paige liked to say that Bell was “so fast, you could turn off the lights and he’d be under the covers before the room gets dark.” Rest assured I got nuthin’ better than that.
I had a chance to go see a Rangers’ game, live and in-person. As though there is a difference. Anyway, this was my first time at Rangers Ballpark since the rather unceremonious ending to last season. What follows is a loose account of what I saw and everything falls into one of three categories; amused, concerned, or impressed.
-Impressed- by the look of the park, post renovations. It’s nice, ya’ll. I have no idea if all of the people I saw sitting in the center field pavilion area had seats somewhere in the stadium, but they all looked to be damn comfortable “reclining” in the metal-framed patio style furniture out there. The food looked great, but since I tailgate like an M-Fer, I was too full to sample. Next time, though, smokehouse BBQ place, next time me and you is gonna get ‘quainted.
-Concerned- by the fact that all of those folks were locked in to a HUGE television that was showing a broadcast of an event that they’d have been able to see live by walking about 30 feet to the left or right. Either way people, left or right. The game is actually being played just on the other side of the TV. I promise.
-Amused- by the new sports bar named after the liquor company named after the guy who used to take people’s booty. I spent about 4 minutes in there before I began looking for my boarding pass. This thing is so generic, it could be in Terminal D. Not sure what they were going for, but if “homogenous” was the desired design aesthetic, huge success. Avoid.
-Impressed- ‘cause I feel like I saw a true (very soon) Ace. I capitalized it on purpose. I think there’s about 8-10 of ‘em. I’m not alone in this estimate. People who know way more about baseball than myself have surmised a similar number. Unfortunately, he wasn’t wearing a Rangers jersey. Working the whole zone, tremendous off-speed pitches, great sequencing, evident competitiveness. Only a year older than his opposing pitcher tonight, but in my opinion, on a different level.
-Concerned- by the crazy number of “Boomstick” hot dogs I saw. I was under the impression that this was a bit of a marketing gag. A “look at this man-vs-food/stupid thing we created and sell for $26” style of marketing gag. If attention was the intention, it worked. Lots of local and even some national media turned their focus to this monstrosity during the first homestand. But it never occurred to me, or frankly (see what I did there?) anyone I know, that this many people would be ordering and attempting to eat the damn thing. Holy shit this hot dog is ridiculous and you look pretty ridiculous holding, buying, and eating it. Two regular jumbo dogs, add mustard for me please. No carry case other than the ones at the end of my arms needed.
-Impressed- by 80 grade arm strength in right field AND concerned by the fact that Tampa’s third base coach didn’t know it was out there…looming…lurking…waiting to do that thing it does. Arm cannons are awesome.
-Amused- by the growing and vocal faction of anti-wave fans. A guy in our section literally stood up and instructed everyone NOT to do the wave ‘cause it was distracting to the players. While he had his back to the field, telling us how distracting the wave was, the Rangers turned a triple play. Not really, but he wouldn’t have seen it if they had and he probably would have been mega-pissed if he’d missed that! (side note, he was wearing the only Cliff Lee t-shirt I saw all night)
-Impressed- by the fight in the Rangers. I don’t know why this surprises me, oh, wait yes I do, its called 1972-2009 Rangers Baseball. Seriously though, Fernando Rodney has guzzled from the fountain of youth and he is back to bringing some nasty filth to the bump, to, which the Rangers said, “piss off, get us out three more times and we’ll let you leave”.
-Amused- by the in-game production and entertainment elements that have changed over the last few years. The place sounds great, the scoreboards are conveniently placed and easy to navigate, the ribbon boards are only mildly annoying, and all the gimmicks are fun. I even like the “Texas Legends” race. I know the race is derivative, and it’s going on in every park now, but outside of a Nationals game who else has characters that can lay claim to being 100% tougher than you’ll ever be?
-Concerned- by the fact that when Big #32 went out, the Rangers lack of a right handed, bench bat meant that David Murphy was going to come in and spend three at bats reminding everyone why lefty-lefty matchups favor the pitcher and they especially favor a really good pitcher.
I watch a lot of Rangers baseball, so I didn’t really see a lot tonight a Rangers’ fan doesn’t see on most nights. I tweeted this week that these are the halcyon days for this organization and I truly mean that. I don’t know if this team is going to reach the ultimate prize, but I know what good, daily baseball looks like and it looks like the 2012 Texas Rangers. They lost tonight, to an Ace on what I feel is currently the second best team in the AL, but they show more in losses these days than you were likely to see in the wins of the past. They have a freakishly good third baseman, they have a great #2 lefty starter, they are patient yet explosive, they run well, and field even better. They play in a beautiful park filled with energetic, engaged fans decked out head-to-toe in team gear. The organization doesn’t always hit home runs. They sell an obnoxious hot dog and built a huge sports bar that would be more at home in the friendly, cozy confines of Chicago O’Hare. But make no doubt about it, from the product on the field, to the products around the field, the group that has been steering this ship for a few years now is good. Damn good. This is good baseball.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your baseball.