Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Justin Verlander: the Once and Future Ace

Danville, Kentucky – There comes a time in a man’s life when folks count you out. When they say you should plead guilty to the loitering charge and stop selling tapes of your no-hitter in an Applebee's parking lot. When they say your best days are behind you; that your no-hit gem vs Boyle County in ’72 was great and all, but it’s time to move on from baseball and find a real job.

Folks, I never paid any mind to what some might say, and I've never moved on from my baseball obsession and I’ve never been consistently employed over the years. That determination (or stubbornness, as all my ex-wives and their attorneys call it) is what separates men like Justin Verlander and I from mere mortals.

That being said, there are lots of differences between Justin and myself. I haven’t played baseball since high school, after I broke my arm in a drunken trampoline accident as I was on the cusp of breaking into the minor leagues. Justin Verlander has thrown 2 major-league no-hitters, whereas mine was in a high school game that was called due to inclement weather. I’ve had more marriages than I care to admit, whereas Justin has yet to put a ring on his woman Kate.

Justin is where he is because he believed in himself, in spite of the nerds fretting over his xFIP+ and the pundits calling him the next Tim Lincecum. After a forgettable 2014 and an injury-riddled beginning of 2015, Verlander is now once again pitching like the Cy Young & MVP who won 24 games in 2011 and allowed 1 earned run in 3 post-season starts in 2013. He looks like the guy who could come out of the dugout on any given night and threaten to throw a no-hitter. The guy who isn’t afraid to pitch to anyone. A man ready to put the team on his back in a way that Max Scherzer or David Price never did.

Verlander isn’t out of the woods yet. He’d be the first to say his 2-6 win/loss record is unacceptable, and the first to say he “plays the game to win championships, not to rack up personal accomplishments like no-hitters.”

As he shares a glass of grape & cherry Merlot exquisitely crafted in Northern Michigan with his supermodel girlfriend later this week, he’ll repeat that quote exactly. As Verlander and Detroit’s own Yoko Ono eat an expensive meal at a private lake-side bourgeois restaurant in the white-collar part of Michigan that Mitt Romney calls home, they’ll drink to Justin’s health. Justin will stare into the distant, burning orange sunset, as the lake breeze ripples through his dark-brown locks of windswept hair. He’ll think about the arch of his life – playing ball in the backyard with his brother Ben, being a first-round draft pick and top prospect, the World Series appearance his rookie year, the years of being whispered in the same breath as Koufax and Ryan and the years of falling up short. The fate of this man or that man is less than a drop, albeit a sparkling one, in the great blue motion of the sunlit bay. With Upton by his side and his pitching talent rediscovered, he’ll laugh in spite of himself and crack a boyish smile, as he contemplates how awesome his life is. Detroit’s once and future ace has returned.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

TWTW's Royals @ Reds Preview - 8/18-8/19

Danville, Kentucky – Italian food is food of romance – of Amore. My Uncle Bert taught me to have no love for the Italians after what he saw in Sicily with the fightin’ 7th, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a soft spot for pasta and meatballs in spite of the brutality of Mussolini. It was 1998, and love was in the air. I was at an Olive Garden on what was supposed to be a special night. Preparations were made; a table was reserved, and the lovely staff at that establishment signed off on me bringing in the finest bottle of Andre Champagne that my poker winnings would buy. An even finer engagement ring was carefully placed in a bowl of Chicken & Gnocchi that Mrs. Will Hart #3 was supposed to eat. My heart skipped a beat just thinking about the look on her face when she scooped up some of the creamy broth with her spoon only to discover the golden band with a diamond stud.

There I waited for her, drinking cheap wine to pass the time. The minutes turned to hours and before you knew it, I had been through 3 or 4 of OG’s finest fried mozzarella appetizers in anticipation of the arrival of Mrs. Will Hart #3. The Chicken & Gnocchi she was meant to discover a ring in became lumpy and cold. My desperate phone calls weren’t returned. The Andre remained unpopped.

I hesitate to use the phrase “rock bottom,” because if there’s one thing life has taught me it’s that things can always get worse. That night felt like rock bottom. Defeated, I paid the hefty tab and skulked back to my ’69 Ford with my Andre in one hand and my ring in the other. I felt a numbness I hadn’t felt since Nixon resigned after Watergate.

Later, I wandered around the mean streets of Danville to collect my thoughts, going nowhere in particular. Nothing could prepare me for what I saw next – nothing could prepare me for rock bottom.

Out of the front door of Danville’s Applebee’s – my favorite restaurant, the one place in the world I felt like I belonged before my unceremonious ban – came my would-be 3rd wife and another man. I did what I always did in those situations. Still tipsy from Olive Garden wine, I confronted the man and fought him. Horrified, the woman who betrayed me called for help while I attempted to wail on the man. He hit me back, hard, but I didn’t care. Sometimes, it’s nice to feel pain, if only to remind myself that I’m still alive.

It was a betrayal unlike anything I had ever experienced, until Walter Jocketty traded Johnny Cueto to the Kansas City Royals. I have nothing to say about this series between the Royals and Cincinnati Reds. It hurts me to even think about it. Drunk, alone and divorced at a Chili’s in Lexington watching the pitcher who was supposed to take your team to the promised land in another city’s uniform. That’s rock bottom.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Hillary Clinton Has to Go... to Jail

An image that will no doubt prove damning in Clinton's eventual trial
Danville, Kentucky - Whitewater, Benghazi, Hillarycare, Travelgate. All one word. All one great disaster. Today, one scandal Trumps them all- no pun intended because Hillary can't compare to our next President. Hillary spent time at work emailing. For this simple reason, she should receive a simple jail sentence.

Hillary pictured in Russia- upset she has to waste time away from her emails
2009 was a time of great hope. We had elected a man talking about change when we needed that more than Olive Garden needs to accept I'm not tipping when my girlfriend says no to the marriage proposal. 2009 was also the time Obama made what would become his greatest mistake: naming Hillary Clinton Secretary of State.

If you haven't heard by now, Hillary Clinton sent emails while she was Secretary of State. Folks, I shouldn't have to explain that emailing has no place at work. When I worked at the G.M. plant we didn't email, we worked to build cars. When Miguel Cabrera goes to work, he doesn't email, he works to hit the ball out of the yard. And when Ronald Reagan went to work, he didn't email, he won the Cold War.

Hillary Clinton's email scandal isn't about the private server, it's about what we know happened on any server: emailing. Clinton's job wasn't to email, it was to represent the United States on the world stage. Clinton wasted her time emailing instead of seeing the Russians were fleecing us on the "reset."

Worst of all is that we know can confirm Clinton emailed during Benghazi. Clinton should have focused on fixing the compound, not spellchecking emails.

Going forward, we must prosecute Clinton. Clinton has committed treason by spending work time emailing instead of focusing on her job duties. We can't allow Clinton to distract us by changing the question away from emailing itself to some nonsense about what was classified, public, and the missing emails. McGovernities were destroyed by Nixon in 1972 but got their revenge on bogus charges arising out of Watergate. We can't let a former McGovernite win again. For the sake of our nation and the workplace Clinton must answer one charge: Why are you not guilty of treason?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

In Defense of RBIs

Danville, Kentucky – Summer of 1971. The go-ahead run was on 3rd base with 1 out. After delivering a shutdown 1-2-3 inning moments prior, I found myself batting in an important situation. Pitching was my true forte, but I always made sure to turn in a professional at-bat. I laid off the junk pitches that would’ve fooled most other pitchers and waited for something I could hit to the right side of the field. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, I hit a swinging bunt to the no-man’s land between the 1st baseman and the pitcher. The throw to the plate wasn’t in time and I beat the subsequent throw to first with a headfirst slide, breaking a scoreless tie and dirtying my Danville High home whites in the process. Thanks to my RBI, the good guys triumphed over our rivals from Boyle County that day. It’s not quite a no-hitter, but I’m pretty proud of my accomplishment, as anybody at the Lexington Chilis with the patience to sit through my yarns about the glory days will tell you.

RBIs are the name of the game. You win baseball games by scoring runs. Nerds like to criticize RBIs by saying they’re not representative of individual performance; that they’re too dependent on team-factors. I’d say that’s precisely the point. Baseball is a team sport. It’s a game about being clutch with runners in scoring position. It’s about picking up teammates; it’s about getting the ball in the air to execute a sacrifice fly, or scoring a runner from 3rd with less than two outs. If you can’t do those things, you’re not much of a ball-player and certainly not an MVP.

In that magical summer, my teammates and I got in a contest to see who could plate the most runs. I’d get mad at myself for not coming through with runners in scoring position. I’d get even madder at myself for getting a single with the bases empty. I’d rather strike out than not plate a run or reach base without being in scoring position. This logic probably sounds foreign to folks like Jesse Spector who have never got dirt under their fingernails, but its how the game is played. That’s why the Albert Pujolses of the world will always be more valuable than the Trouts.

Recently, the RBI has come under fire again, after Buster Olney implied Josh Donaldson and his 85 RBIs might give nerd wonder-boy Mike Trout serious competition for the MVP award. Because Buster tweeted what everyone was thinking and refused to bore his followers to death with arcane trivia like WAR, team spreadsheet is up in arms.

Truthfully, these nerds are still upset that the MVP voters had the audacity to reward Miguel Cabrera’s historic offensive seasons in 2012-2013. They’re still convinced Mike Trout’s higher BsR and outfield assists should’ve netted him the MVP nod in those years. They’re still operating under the delusion that Trout deserved the MVP award in 2014, despite the fact that he couldn't even bat .300, sold out for power and was content to steal awards from more deserving players like Victor Martinez and Nelson Cruz instead of stealing bases. What’s even sadder is that clutch, professional RBI-machines like Kendrys Morales might get snubbed in favor of Mike Trout and his UZR during the next round of MVP voting.

Sadder yet is the fact that the anti-RBI crowd doesn’t understand how little everyone else cares about their advanced metrics.
When Buster had the nerve to point this out, Jesse Spector insisted that “casual fans have at least heard of [WAR].” That’s a bold claim repeatedly made in these debates, with very little evidence. Does an old lady from Silver Lake, Kansas who faithfully wears her Billy Butler shirsey to Royals games know or care about WAR? How about a sheet-metal factory worker from Hamtramck, Michigan who likes having a few too many at the ballpark on weekends? A young boy from Cleveland who brings a glove to the park in hopes of catching an elusive Carlos Santana home run? When I go to games at the Great American Ballpark, I see families. I see kids with their face painted. I see dads passing on their love for the game to the next generation. I see hard-working folks trying to pass the time and break-up the monotony of working-class existence. I don't see anybody who gives a damn about WAR. I don’t know what Jesse Spector sees from behind his spreadsheet in the comfort of his nerd-cave, but it’s clear that he’s more out of touch with the on-the-ground realties than 538’s Trump coverage.

I’d invite Jesse to actually attend a game and get the people’s pulse so he can see just how wrong he is. I suspect Jesse would be quite disappointed to learn America is still a country that cares about runs, not comparing players to some nebulous and poorly-defined “replacement-level player.” If Spector actually went to a game and asked 50 genuine baseball fans what they think about WAR, most of them would say they haven’t served but that their grandfather is still scarred by what he saw in Korea. Folks don’t come to the game to see WRC+. They come to see runs. Because of this, RBIs will always be the number-of-choice for real fans, not WAR or other such nonsense. On behalf of the true fans, thank you Buster Olney, for tweeting about the stats that matter.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Pitchers from the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Squirrel

Danville, Kentucky -- Sylvilagus floridanus: Wikipedia tells me this is the scientific term for the eastern cottontail rabbit, a common critter in my native land, Kentucky. Most people love rabbits. As a child, I used to get excited when I’d see one hopping around my father’s acres. As an adult, bunnies are a grim reminder of one of the worst episodes of my life. Worse than any divorce, worse than my son’s defeat in the baseball state championship, worse than my ban from Applebee’s, and maybe even worse than my failed proposal at Olive Garden a few weeks ago.

It was opening day of the fall hunting season in ’88. My brother Phil and I headed up to Otter Creek, as was our tradition. 

We were mainly in the business of hunting deer and occasionally wild turkeys. I’ll admit – I was bit mentally preoccupied with the Cincinnati Bengals during that mandatory safety training class I took before Kentucky would grant me a hunting license. I’ll also admit that part of my brother and I’s tradition was to mingle with another kind of Wild Turkey prior to hunting, if you follow my drift. After doing a bit of fishing in the creek and knocking back a few frosty ones in the process, we grabbed our rifles and departed into the canopy of trees in search of our game.

Everything that happened after this is a haze. My brother and I bumbled around those North Kentucky woods with clumsiness reminiscent of Prince Fielder’s lumbering baserunning. After wandering aimlessly in search of an animal to maul, I encountered a cottontail rabbit in a small clearing in the forest. Pale autumn sunlight filtered down through the foliage onto the little guy. Phil stood beside me, egging me on. Instincts took over. I reached for my gun. I put the bunny in my sights. I pulled the trigger, as my inebriated brother Phil tripped in front of me and got caught in the crossfire.

The rabbit was startled by this loud racket. What happened to that rabbit, I’ll never know. My brother’s thigh was grazed by my bullet. It was a bloody mess, but he was alright. Bleeding profusely and reeking of Keystone Light, I helped my brother limp to safety. We both lost our hunting licenses. I haven’t seen my brother since; after this incident that burglary rap in Oakland finally caught up with him and Phil Hart has been doing hard time ever since.

My point? Sometimes, a small rodent can change the course of history.

Sciurus carolinensis: Wikipedia tells me this is the scientific name for the eastern gray squirrel, which paradoxically includes a black sub-species which is common in the Northeastern United States and Canada. After talking to my Uncle Bert from Flint, he says these buggers can be found in the Northern wilderness of the state, but are strangely common in Detroit as well. This past week, a black squirrel irreversibly altered the trajectory of baseball history.

By scampering onto the field, and announcing its presence to the crowd of 30,000+ baseball fans, the squirrel impacted the events of the game. The Detroit Tigers took its presence as a good omen, eventually launching a rally that culminated in a walkoff win against the normally immaculate Kansas City Royals bullpen. The squirrel served as the ultimate diversion, and undermined the Royals mentally. A black squirrel is like a pink elephant – once the idea is planted in your head, it’s impossible to remove. This momentary lapse in concentration resulted in a 2-0 meatball from Ryan Madson to Ian Kinsler that left the park quicker than John Kerry left Vietnam to engage in seditious activity. Would Ben Zobrist have caught Kinsler's bomb if the thought of this black squirrel weren't fresh on his mind? We may never know. To Tigers fans, this critter is a rally squirrel. To Royals fans, it is an accursed creature.

The Caribbean Connection

Whatever one’s perspective on superstitions, the season series between these rival clubs now sits at an even 5-5 split. That won’t be the case after this upcoming 3 game series in the beautiful Kauffman Stadium, which will inevitably tip the season series in one direction or another. If anybody had doubts about the willingness of the post-fire sale Detroit Tigers to grind out W’s, they should’ve been put to rest by their statement-making series W over the Royals last week. Tigers-Royals games are special. Everyone remembers the pennant race from last fall. Even though the Royals are running away with the AL Central now, the intensity remains. It’s a heated rivalry, but also a respectful one. You won’t see Detroit Tigers walking off the field, snubbing the Royals like the Bad Boys Pistons did to Jordan’s East-Coast Chicago Bulls as that torch was passed. There’s too much mutual admiration on both sides.
Even the young and occasionally brazen Ventura, often characterized as a thuggish hothead by the liberal-sports-media-industrial-complex, can’t help but goof around when in the presence of jovial guys like Miguel Cabrera.

What’s the difference between the Tigers and the teams the Royals earned a bad rep for getting into brawls with? I think it has to be the Latin connection. Key players from both teams hail from Venezuela (Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Anibal Sanchez, Bruce Rondon, Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, Omar Infante), Cuba (Jose Iglesias, Kendrys Morales), and the Dominican Republic (Yordano Ventura, Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez, Kelvin Herrera, Al Albuquerque, Alfredo Simon, Neftali Feliz). I had the privilege of making a roadtrip up from Danville to Detroit (the hometown of my Uncle Bert) to watch these two teams last week, and witnessed V-Mart and Mr. Escobar shooting the breeze before the game. Apologies for the photo quality, I was already several Limearitas deep.
Pre-Game Chat Between Fellow Venezuelans Victor Martinez & Alcides Escobar
By contrast, the teams the Royals fight are full of long-haired, nasty-looking ex-Oakland Athletics with great OBPs but little in the way of a sense of humour or agreeability. The type of white dudes who are saltier than the rim of the Chili’s margarita I’m sipping on right now.

This series will feature 4 starting pitchers with a Latin connection – Cueto, Ventura, Volquez and Sanchez. The Royals and their devil magic will meet its most formidable enemy yet: the Curse of the Black Squirrel.

Pitchers from the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Squirrel
Before the modern left accuses me of being essentialist and lumping diverse Latin American nationalities under the umbrella term “Caribbean,” Wikipedia proves that the term Caribbean Basin includes the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

The swashbuckling Johnny Cueto, still hungry for his first W as a Royal, will once again face off against the rookie Matt Boyd, whose Chris Young-esque arsenal had the Royals producing outs all night long in their last meeting. Yordano Ventura’s youthful and fiery demeanor will again be tested by the still-powerful (albeit Miguel Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes-less) Detroit offense.

Game 3 – Daniel Norris v. Edinson Volquez

the Dominican Amigos of the Kansas City Royals.
It’s the final matchup of this set that is particularly intriguing.

If fire is the element that best represents Yordano Ventura, Volquez is best represented by electricity. His high-voltage arsenal has movement that zips and zaps. His magnetic personality energizes the Kansas City clubhouse. He’s willing to speak his mind, and is unafraid to make shocking, highly-charged comments about crybabies like Josh Donaldson. The Tigers will need to come ready to insulate themselves from Volquez's electric currents.

Daniel Norris is more enigmatic. Shipped to Detroit in the David Price trade, he has spent his first few weeks in a Tigers uniform under the wing of Justin Verlander, the Detroit pitching staff’s once and future ace. Daniel has already won the heart of the Tigers fanbase with his first-class hustle diving plays and lumbersexual appeal. He's the new little-brother of the pitching staff, and the butt of some dugout hijinks, which were likely orchestrated by known prankster, big brother Justin.

Daniel with gum on his hat.
But Daniel has come to realize he is not like Justin. Craig Calcaterra has written that if Verlander were a superhero, “he’d be a suave, carefree and charming hero who actually has a lot of fun while defeating all of the bad guys,” kind of like Iron Man. By contrast, Daniel Norris is quieter and angst-ier, a weighed down by a sense of responsibility like Tobey McGuire’s Spider-Man, Christopher Reeve’s Superman, or Michael Keaton’s superb Batman. Justin drives flashy sports cars and dates even flashier supermodels. Daniel drives a ’78 Volkswagen van, his fortress of solitude.

Verlander's hot wheels and the Van Man
Justin embraces being a celebrity, while Daniel seeks to remain humble in spite of his success. Justin likes eating expensive steaks cooked rare; Daniel eats fried eggs prepared on a portable stove in his van. Justin’s walk-up music is the swaggering Till I Collapse by Detroit’s own Eminem; Daniel prefers some indie track you probably haven’t heard of. Despite these differences, the presence of Justin in the clubhouse serves to remind Daniel of the heights he may yet scale if he achieves his potential and masters the art of pitching. The idea of a 1-2 Verlander/Norris punch in the years to come keeps the fire in Daniel’s heart burning brightly, hungry for glory. I'll admit, Norris and his nomadic van-driving ways remind me a little of some grass-smoking draft dodgers I knew back in High School, but there's a lot to like about this young man and his desire.

What will happen when Volquez’s electric arsenal collides with Norris’ raw untapped potential? A game with Colonial Barn-Burner of the Night potential, that's what. Don't miss it.


Only time will tell if the Royals can overcome the Curse of the Black Squirrel, or if the frightened bushy-tailed little guy that wandered into Comerica Park that day is fated to be remembered alongside Billy Goats, the Bambino and Lil B. Baseball is a game that works in mysterious ways. Even a team of destiny can be thwarted when the Baseball Gods are feeling vengeful and vindictive. You’d best start believing in squirrel stories, Kansas City. You’re in one.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Legalize Banning Colorado Marijuana Rockies

Danville, Kentucky- The future is what keeps a man going. It gives him hope through a divorce and provides strength when dealing with a looming court date. It's the one guarantee of hope in the bitterest winter of the present.

Yet, the state of Colorado has dealt a blow to hope unlike any since Applebee's changed their chicken tenders. In 2012, Colorado legalized marijuana. What a blow to the morality of a once proud state. Suddenly, the laws of this country had been trampled by a few hundred thousand liberals in the Rockies.

Colorado wasn't always this way. Once, it changed the game with a cold activated can. In the 1980's, I often became too drunk and lost my sense of touch. As the spins were out of control, I had little beyond an ability to recognize bright colors. With this daunting scenario, I had no idea when a beer was warm or cold. Thanks to the cold activated can I finally had cold beer. Now, my final few beers before passing out were cold. Sure, I had no memory of those beers, but it was wonderful to see in the affidavit from the Court that I had consumed cold activated cans. I had a taste as cold as the Rockies.

Today, Colorado has a taste of defeat. A taste of marijuana. Worse than Colorado's legalization of Jimmy Carter's leaf, Denver even allows companies- or whatever stupid name these folks came up with in the Yoga studio- to sell marijuana to its citizens.

(We rightfully came to our sense and said no to you, Mr. Carter)

Marijuana ruins lives. I'm not going to go through the case against marijuana because anyone that requires that case can't be reasoned with.

When kids watch the Rockies they are rooting for more than just a team, they are rooting for a city. Some say they don't root for a city, they root for a player. That kind of talk tells me the marijuana has already taken a hold of them. For the rest of us that understand we root for a city, we have to do something while there is still time.

Commissioner Robert Manfred needs to go farther than Roger Goodell's and start policing morality in the MLB. The MLB bans the useful drugs- steroids- and needs to start banning the awful drugs- marijuana. Goodell has shown some gumption by suspending Josh Gordon for one season. Despite this, he's gone lenient on Brady. I'm calling on Robert Manfred to make it clear: the Colorado Rockies are banned from Major League Baseball until Colorado bans marijuana.

Some say this is unfair to those that had nothing to do with marijuana. I agree. But in crisis some good men have to pay for the evil of evil. As a result of the Rockies complicity in marijuana legalization, all fans of the Rockies should be free to find new teams- with the obvious exception of the Cardinals.

Mr. Manfred, this is not a tough situation. Your league has banned Pete Rose. Yet, you won't ban a team that stood on the sidelines as the drug that cost Richard Nixon the 1960 election was legalized. Mr. Manfred, it's time to do the right thing. It's time to legalize banning the Colorado Rockies.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

TWTW's Royals @ Tigers Series Preview - 8/4 -- 8/6

Danville, Kentucky – It’s funny how repetition of an intense sensory experience can transport you across time and space. Recently, I was at a Reds game with my nephew. Against my recommendation, the little squirt ordered a root beer. I told him root beer was a drink of youthful innocence squandered; a pseudo-beer that young boys drink to emulate broken old men like me, rather than cherishing their adolescence in all its ephemeral and transient splendor. I advised him to order a lemonade or a fruit punch. My nephew wasn’t in a negotiating mood that day, and ordered a root beer anyway. After another heartbreaking Reds loss, my nephew and I headed for the exits when I noticed he left behind his reusable plastic souvenir cup. I grabbed the cup, and noticed it was still full of frothy goodness. Not being the type of man to waste food and drink (I’ve never once needed a to-go box from Chili’s) I did my nephew the service of finishing his sugary drink.

In that moment, I was overtaken by my senses. My head was swirling like the creamy, foamy goodness of that drink, pouring into my mouth like a waterfall. The indescribably blissful taste of the dark brown beverage (was that sassafras bark that I detected?) was like a gut punch of carbonated delight.

I lost track of where and when I was. Suddenly, I was whisked way to a Saturday afternoon in Danville in Spring of 1966. A long-forgotten childhood friend and I sat in the treehouse my father crafted for me, listening to the Cincinnati Reds on the radio. Jimmy Maloney was pitching another complete game shut-out, one of five that he twirled on the season. As my friend and I listened to Jimmy mowing down the Phillies that day, we sipped root beer from frosty glass bottles, feeling in harmony with the world around us. It was a magical summer, spent listening to the Reds, playing in Herrington Lake and listening to The Feel of Neil Diamond on my LP player.

Suddenly, I was back in the unpleasant reality of 2015. My nephew was tugging at my Pete Rose shirsey and asking if we could stop at Arby’s on the way back. Feeling startled and confused, I wiped a lone tear from my eye. Had I really not drunken root beer since the 60’s? Somewhere along the line, I outgrew root beer and moved on to Kentucky Deluxe, like all members of the Hart family have for generations. But the sensory experience was powerful all the same.

In spite of everything that has changed between 1966 and 2015 – the advent of sabermetrics, President Johnson’s alarmingly totalitarian Gun Control Act of ‘68 and the soul-crushing reality of America under NAFTA – one thing has remained constant: my love of baseball. And it’s because I love baseball that I’m writing here today. Folks, it’s my pleasure to continue the hard work I started back in April when I wrote an in-depth preview of the first Royals-Tigers showdown. Although the baseball landscape has changed since these two teams were jockeying for control of the AL Central earlier this Spring, I still think you’d be hard-pressed to find a more compelling baseball series to watch this week.

Two teams – both beloved by their excellent fanbases, and both on opposite trajectories. Not long ago, it would’ve been the Detroit Tigers making blockbuster deadline acquisitions for premier talents like Johnny Cueto, but this year it’s the Tigers who have sold out for the future while the Kansas City Royals have pushed all their chips to the center of the table like me on a self-destructive gambling binge. If I were Mike Ilitch I would’ve thought hard about going all-in with the 2015 Tigers, but then again, he’s the wildly successful pizza baron and I’m the man who blew his 401K at a slot machine.

The good people of Kansas City will be disappointed if they anticipate that this new look Tigers team (bereft of Miguel Cabrera, David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Joakim Soria) will simply roll over. In spite of the futility of their situation, the Tigers will claw and claw until they can’t anymore. Gritty men like Ian Kinsler and Andrew Romine are too proud and persistent to stop fighting. Why? Because they have hope. A faint and fading hope that one day baseball in Detroit will flower and be renewed. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. This hope is embodied by the young Daniel Norris, a soft-eyed and pleasant looking bearded man who will eagerly study Justin Verlander, the once-and-future ace of Detroit, as he toes the rubber versus the crafty lefty Danny Duffy in game 1 of a 3 game set.

Daniel Norris: Dreamier than Chocolate Peanut Butter Molten Cake at Chili's
The problem for Detroit is that hope will only get you so far against a team of destiny like the powerhouse Kansas City Royals.

GAME 1 – Danny Duffy v. Justin Verlander

Justin and Danny have had their doubters. The polemicists who call into sports talk radio shows have not been kind to them. Both of them have battled injuries while struggling to shoulder the weighty expectations of their respective fanbases. Dan Duffy will pitch in his characteristically effective but inefficient manner. The lefty will leave in the sixth inning, having thrown 100+ pitches and surrendered several runs, but with his team still in striking distance.

The other starting pitcher’s performance is harder to predict. Justin Verlander is an enigma of late, a player more two-faced than Whittaker Chambers. Which Verlander will appear: the Verlander that allowed 1 run over 8 innings in three of his four last starts, including a 10-strikeout gem vs. the Tampa Bay Rays last week? Or the Verlander who was unceremoniously firebombed in his other starts? Justin will try to rediscover the presence of mind that allowed him to guide his team to victory twice against the Royals in the waning days of the 2014 season. Verlander knows he can’t return to the days when he would clinch games by blasting 100 mph heat past Alex Gordon in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Yet, in spite of his inability to match his peak performances from yesteryear, Justin will approach game 1 of this series with a new-found confidence. With Max Scherzer and David Price finally out of the picture, he now feels ready to assume his rightful role as the ace of the Tigers rotation. Whether he is ready to don such a mantle will determine the outcome of this tone-setting game 1.

GAME 2 – Johnny Cueto v. Buck Farmer

If I were a Tigers fan, I’d consider renting a movie from blockbuster or going bowling during this game. Johnny Cueto is the crowned jewel of Kansas City’s rotation, and eager for his first W wearing Royal blue. Buck Farmer is a minor leaguer who desperately needs more seasoning, like the so-called “chicken” served at Subway.

Stick with KFC for your poultry needs, folks.
As Buck leaves the mound after a shelling, it will be clear that the Tigers chances of winning the game have been taken out to pasture. Moose will run wild on the cropland of Farmer’s dreams, leaving destruction and chaos in his wake. Some say Salvador Perez is a man in decline, particularly nerds like Andy McCullough who think that things like OPS+ matter. The only thing declining will be the cans of corn Perez has hit lately -- those will turn into dingers in this series. Perez will be back, and the fools that led Billy Beane into another failed season will continue writing for Fangraphs.

GAME 3 – Yordano Ventura v. Anibal Sanchez

Since the arrival of Johnny Cueto, Ventura seems to have turned a corner. Without James Shields, the young Yordano was adrift. Thanks to the stabilizing presence of fellow Dominicans and veterans Edinson Volquez and Cueto, Ventura’s temper has been contained, allowing the young flame thrower to remain mentally focused on winning. The young man’s near-designation to Omaha additionally gave him perspective about how to conduct himself in the majors. He’s still prone to youthful indiscretions – his twitter feud with Jose Bautista, for example – but it’s undeniable that Yordano is a changed man since the emergence of these role models. Look for him to turn in an appropriately professional outing this Thursday.

Meanwhile, Anibal Sanchez is having an identity crisis. How did a man stingier than Margaret Thatcher’s wildly successful austerity programs suddenly become more prone to bombings than London during the Blitzkrieg? It’s a question I don’t have the answer to. This game will be a clash of opposing forces: the youthful energy and fire of Ventura, fighting for a ring – and the suave stylings of Sanchez, seeking to rediscover himself along the road of introspection. In a moment like this expect to see a man familiar with Detroit and Kansas City step up. Expect to see a robbed all-star come up big, as he does in ways WAR can never measure. Omar Infante, former teammate of Anibal’s with both the Marlins and Tigers, is comin’, and will play a decisive role in game 3.


Baseball is a game that transcends the slow passage of time. Each crack of the bat, which rings loudly through the summer air as balls fly into the seats – be it off the bat of Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, J.D. Martinez or any other player – echoes perpetually in the minds of fans who actually watch the games. Other games may have higher fangraphs NERD scores, and other series like Tampa Bay Rays v. Chicago White Sox may boast pitchers with better FIPs in Tuesday road games. But for those of us who care about narratives and rivalries, you won’t find better baseball than Kansas City v. Detroit. This weekend, I’ll break with my usual tradition and pour myself a glass of root beer as I watch these games – in order to re-experience the youthful vigor I once had, that Yordano Ventura has, and which Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez are trying to recover. Youth, like a cold root beer, tastes beautiful but is gone far too quickly.