Monday, May 25, 2015

Profiles in Yardage: TWTW's Preview of Tigers @ Athletics on Memorial Day

The Return of the Cespedes

Danville, Kentucky – These are dark times for the Cincinnati Reds. As I write this, the Red Legs are in the midst of an eight game losing streak, ushering in the darkest days the Lexington Chili’s has ever seen. The formerly ebullient atmosphere there now feels more like a funeral parlor than a family-oriented and affordable Tex-Mex experience. Like my third marriage, I was never optimistic about this year’s Reds team, but that won’t keep me from watching the games. Baseball is a game where endurance and perseverance are rewarded, and hope remains for my Reds, and all baseball teams, as long as the teammates hold true to each other.

Yoenis Cespedes is no stranger to the arduous ups and downs of the six-month long marathon that is the baseball season. Upon returning to the Coliseum for the first time since being traded at the deadline last summer, the 5' 10" Cuban sensation will experience a range of mixed emotions; like me as I roll-back the footage of my ’72 no-hitter, as is tradition in my house-hold every Thursday night. In a stadium that is (unfairly) most well-known for its prodigious plumbing issues, Yo will fondly recall dingers and outfield assists fired through the Bay Area breeze like bullets blasted through the barrel of an intoxicated east Kentucky woodsmen’s shotgun.

Unlike Yoenis, Athletics fans will also recall the bad times; the strikeouts swinging at pitches in the dirt, the wacky routes that made those displays of arm power necessary, and perennial disappointment in the playoffs, usually at the hands of one Justin Verlander.

But memories are memories, and the ability of baseball players to turn the page and forget about yesterday is second only to my own capacity for turning over a new leaf, a person who has constantly reinvented himself after each divorce and after each ban from a casual dining restaurant. Yoenis has a new team now, one where he feels a clubhouse chemistry he never achieved in Oakland, where he always felt like something of an outsider in the midst of bearded white dudes with great OBP’s. Amongst the Detroit Tigers, Yoenis feels at home, with fellow Cuban Jose Iglesias, and Latin phenoms Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez to pass the time with in the clubhouse and on plane rides.

The road that took Yoenis to Detroit was winding, and featured an unexpected detour to the Boston Red Sox. Yoenis did enjoy his time as an Oakland Athletic, feeling confused to have been traded to an irrelevant team for a player who would take the field once every five days. Yoenis has taken no satisfaction from the struggles of the Oakland Athletics since his departure. Yoenis is not a man that dwells on the past, or numbers. He doesn’t look at box scores, and he doesn’t pay attention to division standings, where the Tigers currently sit three games behind the powerhouse Kansas City Royals. Yoenis hates drawing walks like my second-wife hated my drinking and my war-stories about the glory days of baseball at Danville High; intensely and passionately. When he’s at the plate, he’s not thinking about OBP, OPS, or WRC+. He thinks about his bat, and hitting balls hard with it, with a single-minded determination matched only by the focus I exert when eating two full-orders of Chili’s baby-back ribs in one sitting; another weekly tradition of mine that costs me about $40 a pop.

To the delight of Bay Area baseball fans, Monday afternoon’s Memorial Day showdown will feature some vintage Cespedes. He will strike out twice on breaking balls that bounce up to home plate. He will make a spectacular running catch to rob a base hit, with his gargantuan silver medallion bearing the number “52” swinging majestically across his strapping chest. He will also remind the world why he was given the name La Potencia, Spanish for “the Power,” as he spanks a screaming line drive that drops in for a double while Billy Butler looks on helplessly in astonishment. Justin Verlander will be uncharacteristically quiet in the dugout during this series, as the former MVP/Cy Young half-watches the game while his mind wanders to the simulated game he will throw while visiting the city he dominated only two Octobers ago. Yoenis is a man who lives in the present, but Verlander is a man whose past is always with him, motivating him to rage against the inevitable passage of time and once again scale the mountain of pitching excellence to carry this Tigers team to glory and immortality.

Back at the hotel, La Potencia will socialize in Cabrera’s room, ordering Tequila and a peppery grilled pork tenderloin from room service, whose smoky flavor will conjure nostalgia for a certain back-yard family barbecue.

La Potencia, with powerful emotions swelling in his chest like a sweeping crescendo played at the Danville Philharmonic Orchestra, will feel a sudden urge to embrace his teammate and leader, Miguel Cabrera. Yoenis is a man who lives in the present, but is always looking at the horizon towards what lies ahead. What the future holds remains unclear; though he has formed deep bonds of fellowship in his new environment, his impending free agency promises to sow uncertainty where once was stability and predictability.

Meanwhile, in an un-disclosed location, Billy Beane will pour himself the stiffest drink Moneyball can buy, pondering the very metrics and statistics that La Potencia mentally occludes from his psyche.

Though baseball is a game marked by gradual evolution, some things never change. Cespedes will hit dingers and chase pitches, while Beane makes spreadsheets and calculates two-dimensional marginal distributions on his trusty TI-83+. In Danville, we will eat ribs and drink Kentucky Deluxe, as the Earth spins and time inexorably advances. In spite of his lack of plate discipline and his sometimes shaky OBP, intelligent and statistically-oriented Athletics fans will watch this series and yearn for the days when Cespedes sported green and yellow. All they can do now is hope that Tigers fans appreciate and savor this exciting, rare, and unique talent while they can.