New Year, New Home, New Prose.

January has been an absolutely crazy month. I’m punctuating it with a move this week that I’ll be able to tell you all about real soon. Let’s just say so far it has been a BEAST. Looking forward to sharing the news and talking baseball with you all in 2012. Pitchers and catchers will be here before you know it. I don’t know about you, but man, that sure does sound good to me.

Go Cubs Go!

Happy New Year, Cubs Fans!

2011 was a fun year to be a Cubs fan. And by fun, I mean interesting. And by interesting, I mean – noteworthy at the very least.

A season taken away from us in the first weeks of the season in losing our number four and five starters in the rotation.

A season that displayed exactly how important depth is on a major league baseball team and how even more important arguably it is to have in your farm system.

A year of historic significance in returning to Fenway Park, Castro’s 200 hit season, Santo’s vote tabulation for the Hall and the introduction of boy wonder, Theo Epstein along with the departure of Hendry and Quade.

I’ll remember the struggles the club had in finding suitable replacements for Wells and Cashner, the amazing season Castro put together, the once again uber-reliable innings eating calendar Dempster put together and that horrifying shot to the eye Marlon Byrd took at Fenway Park.

I’ll remember my trips to Wrigley, meeting with members of the front office staff and what they did for my son last off-season.

I’ll remember my trip to Cooperstown, my first with my wife and 10 month old son. It was amazing to revisit the Hall, look at all of the exhibits and plaques after years and years making it all new again. It was fun to introduce my son to the game by showing him the greatest to ever play the game and talk to other fans in the game in fun conversations giving them the opportunity to convince my son that he should not become a Cubs fan (good luck with that). You can see the video here:

I’ll remember singing the stretch in a couple of rain-threatened series at Wrigley, one game of which in fact was rained out, yet I made the trip back to Chicago to catch the make up game (any excuse to get to Wrigley is a good one). I’ll remember meeting with Vine Line and beginning my time writing for them along with the contributions I made to MLB.com, Baseball Digest and the other sports writing I put out there in 2011 and look forward to doing so in 2012.

Looking ahead to the new year, I can’t wait to see what Theo Epstein and his merry men can manage to pull off with our boys on the North Side. Will he end up writing a similar thank you note to Cubs fans referring back to multiple championships in his time with the club, starting with the rumors that flew around after being spotted at a Starbucks? I hope so.

I hope Garza is still a Cub and that Epstein and Company find a way to better the team without having to deal him. Our rotation needs some stability and Garza, had he received a few breaks, could have come out of 2011 with one of the most impressive records in the National League. I understand why other teams would want him and how he is a valuable piece of bait that could potentially bring back significant pieces of the future – I just hope he is still around and that the front office finds another way.

I look forward to seeing Castro put up another season of impressive numbers and make an argument for a starting spot at the All-Star Game. I remain curious regarding how we’ll manage on the corners and how DeJesus will fit in with the club come Opening Day and I remain hopeful that a few more moves this winter will be the ones that bring in a no-name player that surprises us all and perhaps one headliner that can be a cornerstone for years to come.

Regarding the future, yet in more of a short-term fashion, I hope to have an exciting announcement to bring you in the next few days – so please keep visiting Prose and Ivy this week for what will hopefully be a very big announcement I will be VERY excited to share with you!

Happy New Year to every single one of you and thank you for making 2011 a sweet fourth year for me here at Prose and Ivy. Happy New Year, have a great 2012! Go Cubs Go!

Santo is in. Great decision, horrible timing.

One of the greatest Cubs to put on the uniform earned his way into the Baseball Hall of Fame in the ’60s however it wasn’t until essentially 50 years later and one year past his dying day that the decision would be made to actually induct him as a member of the elite. An induction that is well deserved yet bittersweet in that Ron Santo will not be able to give his own induction speech next July 22nd in Cooperstown.

The Golden Era Committee voted Santo into the Hall this past weekend, yet Santo is no longer here to enjoy it. He felt his numbers held up and even though the BBWAA voters didn’t agree, his peers and those who know the game best – from the inside – knew that Santo was worthy of their vote as no one knows what makes someone worthy of the Hall as former player. Those who look from the outside – from the stands, from the press box, from the owner’s office, from the office desk and from the newspaper stands – can only gauge so much as to what a lifetime in baseball and a career spanning 15 years worth of stats actually say about a player’s worth in making the club only the best in the game get to be a part of.

Walk the halls at Cooperstown and you will only find ten third basemen representing the greatest at the position. Wade Boggs, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, George Kell, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, Freddie Lindstrom, Home Run Baker, Pie Traynor and Jimmy Collins signify what it is to be a Hall of Famer at the hot corner. Come July, Santo’s name and plaque will be added to the list and his journey home will be complete. Home is where you are accepted and feel you belong and the Hall was that for Santo. In his personal life, of course he had the love and support of his family through thick and thin, battling sickness and enjoying bright times when he was at his health’s peak. However, when it came to baseball, the Cubs and the Hall made up the home that Santo felt he belonged to. The Cubs have retired his number and added a statue of Santo outside of Wrigley Field. He is a Cub and always will be thought of as a Cub through and through. From the hot corner to the airwaves, Santo woke up a Cub, went to work a Cub and went to sleep a Cub. The Cubs embraced Santo just as fans did and the organization treated Santo with the same welcome arms that he deserved wanted and gave back to the organization.

The Hall was another story.

Santo never got closer than 43% of the BBWAA vote in his 15 years on the ballot. 75% is needed to be elected in by the writers.

Santo’s career highlights over the years:

14 of 15 major league seasons as a player were with the Cubs.

.277 BA, 342 HR, 1,331 RBI

9-time All-Star

5-time Gold Glove winner

Led the National League in assists from 1962-1968

Top 5 finisher in MVP voting in 1967 and 1969

Cubs radio broadcaster for 21 years

Raised an estimated $40million for juvenile diabetes research in his lifetime

While it is sad that Santo won’t get to address the world at the podium on the lawn in Cooperstown while receiving the much deserved applause his career and the way he handled himself during that time frame while battling disease and working with medication that worked nowhere near as well as it does nowadays and often without people even understanding that he was battling it at the time, earned him – for me, I can appreciate the fact that it is the Golden Era committe that has accepted him in and welcomed him home.

I respect baseball writers for their knowledge of the game and their right to voice their opinion on such things as who is Hall-worthy. However, even the greatest group of baseball writers who are surrounded by the game day in and day out can get it wrong at times. Santo was one of the ones the BBWAA got wrong. To be around the game and surrounded by the game every day is one thing. To be a part of that game is another story.

The Golden Era committee is made up of some of the greatest to make the game what it is today. They know what makes an average player, a good player, a great player and a Hall of Fame worthy player.

It may have come a year too late, but finally a group with a say got it right. The Golden Era committee knows best and are appropriately the ones to do the right thing and welcome Santo at home. Congratulations, Ron. Looking forward to being there for your day in July. Go Cubs Go!

My Real Time Reaction to the Yoenis Cespedes Promo Video

Click play and the Star Wars style text starts to roll. This may very well be my all time favorite baseball video.

From the Star Wars intro to the wide world of sports ABC style ‘this is where Cuba is’ graphic right on through to the unexpected tune of “Sailing” which of course eventually leads us to Jay-Z’s ‘On to the Next One’ – it’s a recruiting video with a little something for everyone. Like a baseball highlight reel set on shuffle.

Talk about hype. Or perhaps overhype. I don’t even care if the kid can deliver. The video is so odd at this point, in my opinion he comes off as interesting and not at all afraid to do what he thinks is cool. Between the Star Wars reference and the Christopher Cross hit ‘Sailing’ as the lead in tune to his baseball highlights, you have to wonder if this kid’s a genius, a total nerd and proud of it, trying to be ironic or simply needs a new iTunes gift card to replenish his music collection.

With all of that, you have to hope that if Yoenis ends up on your team that his production on the field can match the production value of the video – and then some. The thing that makes this feel slightly obnxious though? 20 minutes? Really? Slo-mo replays? Over and over again? Tons of music and none of it related to baseball? With all the borrowed tunes in this thing, you couldn’t lay down an MP3 of something from The Natural? Little Big League? Nothing? There must have been some Air Bud tune you could find to lay down. The ‘Sailing’ song made me laugh, but shouldn’t I be more in awe of this kid’s highlights and not distracted by the scene stealing slow jam playing behind it?

Finally at the sixteen minute mark you get a ‘Now Let’s Play Ball’ graphic. Sixteen minutes of graphics, odd music selections, cheesy flight lines over a spinning globe ending in a US? style graphic. FINALLY, we get to what matters. We get that he’s strong. We get that he’s cool. We get that he is a player of today with the hip-hop intro and music video featuring a shirtless running segment that would make even Terrell Owens jealous. What do fans really care about though?

Sure, he can hit the long ball and catch a fly ball behind his back. BUT, can he play? If all he’s good for is a little flash a couple dozen home runs, we have already had that in Soriano. Two shutout trips to the playoffs later and we are looking for a little more out of our young talent. You want to rebuild with youngsters, fine but they better fit the mold you are shaping in Castro – a young kid that appears to be a high-potential work in progress who knows how to get on base and play to his strengths however not afraid to admit and work on his weaknesses. I don’t recall seeing any recruitment videos like this for Starlin. There is something to be said about being humble. A video of this proportions is great to get a team’s attention and get fans like me talking about you sure. Does it at least feature some baseball highlights as opposed to a ego rap video project that is for nothing but fun (see Jose Reyes)? Sure. Of course, Reyes has years and years in with the league and some earned leeway to have some fun. The Cespedes video effort needs to attract teams and build interest in his talent. He SHOULD be trying to get the people’s attention. If you want to go sailing away from Cuba and end up playing for the Chicago Cubs or some other storied franchise you better do something that stands out – I get that. However, he also better be able to back up the hype he is creating for himself.

It’s one thing for people to create a hype that builds up an expectation that you can’t live up to but never asked for. It’s another to promote yourself with a video like this (and honestly, what videos nowadays don’t end up in the public eye with YouTube, etc) and then sign a big deal without the ability to show that you are one.

At the 18:00 mark we finally come around to the credits. Finally, the baseball movie reference comes along and appropriately enough it’s one that shows Cespedes is practically Yoenis Rowengartner. He credits his agent and business folks, the production team and then they spot a tribute to his mother, a Cuban National Softball Ace Pitcher from 1988-2003. With that one tribute, you start to appreciate a little bit more when Yoenis coming from. Sure, it’s fun to think that the name ‘Mary’ is written on the inside of Yoenis’ glove like Henry’s, however if in fact the real life player’s glove has anything to do with the fictional player’s, the name would be ‘Estela’, not Mary. It’s a fun tribute to his mother who accomplished a great deal in the game. It makes me feel like this isn’t as obnoxious as I thought it was 20 minutes ago.

Ok, I could do without the shirtless chubby man dancing at the end – however, thing is, after watching all of this (including the topless family member dancing in the end credits), I now wish we had videos like this for all of the young talent the Cubs are considering. Stats can only tell you so much about a player. With a video as personal as this, you learn a lot about Yoenis and who he is as a person. As we’ve learned as of late with some of the people the Cubs have brought in over the last decade, stats tell only one part of the story. Unfortunately when you bring in new talent, you aren’t just bringing the ability, but also the personality.

Anyway, somewhere during the final seven minutes of the video, I came around. I wasn’t sure that I liked him very much at first although I did find him entertaining and maybe because I have produced many television projects, the cheese factor was annoying me a little. All of that aside, taking into consideration simply what he is trying to accomplish, what it must have taken to get something like this made, the creativity that went into it and the fact that this kid isn’t afraid to put himself out there, there’s a lot to like about it. Yoenis comes off as a cool, talented kid who would likely be fun to root for. I don’t know what it will take for the Cubs to sign him and I know he’s only down on their radar as a tryout. However, if the team decides that there may be  a place in the outfield for Yoenis one day, after viewing his promo video I’d have to say I’m intrigued and would be willing to see how this kid would do in a uniform that reads Cubs, instead of Cuba.

What did you think of the Yoenis Cespedes video? Go Cubs Go!

The-o Balll-gaaaame! Let’s get some rings.

In less than two hours from now, the face of the Chicago Cubs franchise changes.

If the Cubs’ front office were on a reality makeover show, the appointment of Theo Epstein as President of Baseball Operations would nail every single desired goal. The face of the franchise will appear younger, more successful and more appealing.

Why debate what to do with Wrigley Field when you can simply hire someone of Epstein’s class and achievement, giving the home team a much needed facelift that way instead? It makes so much sense it is almost scary the Cubs thought to do it.

After resurrecting Boston from the 86 year deep grave the Red Sox had dug themselves with a world championship in 2004 and then again popping the champagne bottles for good measure in 2007, Epstein leaves his hometown team a hero. In this day and age when it comes to the Cubs and the Red Sox, it is always about heroes and goats – sometimes of one type, sometimes another. Chicago has had its share of literal and metaphorical goats. It is time the Cubs have their share of the G.O.A.T. If Epstein can manage to bring a title in the Cubs after defeating baseball’s other most well-known curse, he would arguably be considered just that – the greatest of all-time on a long list of baseball executives with impressive career resumes.

Since 1975, the year of my birth, the Cubs have made the playoffs in 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007 and 2008. Of the past thirty six years, the team has played in the postseason six times. On average, we are looking at once every six years and at an even greater clip than that as of late. Many fans would kill to have that type of experience. Despite the heartbreak that comes with it – and Cubs heartbreak takes is to another level- the playoffs are the goal. Get in and anything can happen. Hope springs eternal once a division is claimed or a wild card berth is born. Hendry gave fans a taste in his time as the Cubs’ GM on three separate occasions. An impressive accomplishment considering the black cats and goats and interfering fans that linger around Wrigley to be sure. The bar that Hendry has set is hardly the bar Cubs fans will be looking at though when it comes to Epstein. With Epstein, it will be the bar he set for himself while in Boston that everyone will be keeping an eye on.

Hendry made the baseball moves that will effect the franchise for another few years to come. It is a role that comes with an incredible amount of responsibility and opportunity. Epstein’s position with the team is all that and more. Not only will he be making baseball moves, he will be making them from a perch above that of GM. He will be making deals as well as naming the GM, not just being one like he was in Boston. He will be under greater scrutiny than Hendry because of his own accomplishments, his own strategic choices and the people he chooses to surround himself with.

Epstein thinks these guys are the guys we should have around? Jed Hoyer? Jason McLeod? Ok, fine. The fans will go along with Theo’s judgment calls and he will have some time to let those calls play out. However, Hoyer and McLeod and possibly a new manager will be lumped into one collective group taking responsibility for wins and losses, success or failure. No one will have greater responsibility than Epstein of course, however his group in the front office will eventually be broken down and analyzed like any Soriano contract or Zambrano meltdown.

Before Epstein gets to do any re-signing he had to do his own resigning. Leaving the Red Sox was hard for him to do once as he tried before in the last decade, simply to return months later. This time, there is basically no going back. Epstein has committed himself to bringing the type of baseball euphoria he brought to Red Sox fans, to the long suffering, desperately hungry fans in Chicago. If successful, one day there may very well be a statue of Epstein outside of Wrigley. I wouldn’t be surprised. If he fails, he will likely be remembered as a guy with great baseball smarts, able to strike lightning in a bottle two times, however simply not a third.

Three strikes are generally bad in baseball, at least if you are the hitter. With Epstein being the voice of reason in trade and free-agent signing pitch meetings, a third strike would be a hit with Cubs fans everywhere. Today at 11am CT, Theo Epstein will be introduced as the Cubs’ new president of baseball operations. Strange enough, his first deal in the coming days will be for himself. Epstein will have to decide how much he is worth while balancing with the thoughts of what he would like to be left with.

If successful in Chicago, he’ll be left with an arguably unmatchable legacy as a baseball executive. That is what Cubs fans everywhere are hoping for as the Epstein Era begins. Considering the luck the team has had in the past century, there hasn’t been a whole lot for fans to be thankful for. As a result, they have infinite ‘no…thank YOU’s held in reserve. Just give them a reason to use them, Theo. There is no thank you note a Cubs fan could receive that would be more of a welcome sight than the type you wrote to Sox fans.

Come Opening Day 2012, it will be time to take ourselves out to ‘…The-ooo ball-game’. Let’s get some rings. Go Cubs Go!

 

World Series: Holland’s tunnel vision wins Texas game four

Last night’s game four of the World Series between the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals featured a pitching performance few fans saw coming.

After the Rangers gave up sixteen runs to the mighty Albert Pujols and friends the game before, it was the 25-year-old kid from Newark, Ohio with an extremely bright future who shut down the Cardinals offense and lifted the darkness of potential Cardinal momentum and domination in what would have been a 3-1 lead in the Series for St. Louis.

Derek Holland delivered a lights out performance Sunday night giving up only two hits in 8 1/3 innings. The stage and what was at risk gave greater weight to an already stellar achievement leaving many to question whether it was the best pitching performance in the history of the franchise.

Talk about saying a lot. You are talking about a franchise that has featured great pitchers as recent as Cliff Lee and as long ago as Nolan Ryan. Clutch victories, no-hitters – in Ryan’s case, multiple no-hitters. Sunday night was as much about the past though as it was about the future. Two organizations battling it out, like heavyweights exchanging body blow after body blow. One organization who has never won the title and another who has proudly displayed ten since last winning in 2006.

The outcome of game four would deliver short term and long term implications. If the Rangers were to lose, they would find themselves in the deepest hole one can find themselves in, in a best of seven Series. Down three games to one, with only three left to play. The likelihood of the Cardinals claiming number eleven? Let’s just say if they had won game four, someone with an St. L on the office door name plate would have had the local shelvesman on speed dial. If the Rangers were to win, the Series would be even. They would have met the mighty offensive attack from the National League that won 90 games this season blow for blow in a toe-to-toe first four games of a winner take all best of seven.

Thanks to Derek Holland’s focus, skill and baseball history bookmark-worthy performance, the Rangers walked away with the latter. Holland gave up only two hits in 8 1/3 innings and walked off to a rousing ovation from the home crowd.

For those who love a high scoring game, Holland wasn’t out there to oblige Sunday evening. For fans who enjoy watching the unexpected players in the Series steal headlines away from those we all thought were likely to command the audience’s attention, Holland was perfect casting. Rangers fans may be familiar with work of ‘The Dutch Oven’ as they so affectionately refer to him, however for MLB fans who follow another team, merely watching a Rangers game because it happens to be game four of the World Series, for those fans this was a breakthrough performance for Holland.

He threw two-hit ball with only two walks and seven strike outs over eight and a third, including keeping Mr. Five-hit-three-homers-six-RBI hitless the day after he looked like he may win the Series by himself for the Cardinals (Pujols). The first two thirds of this amazing drama (Holland’s 16-5 regular season and then the first eight innings of game four) played the crowd into its hands and had fans on the edge of their seats waiting to see how it was to end. Once Texas’ manager, Ron Washington, sent Holland out to finish what he started, they would not have it any other way.

The way Rangers Ballpark sounded as Holland jogged out to the mound to start the top of ninth, it seemed as if each and every one of those fans, had they been Washington, would have done the exact same thing. This was Holland’s show now. Not Cruz, Freese, Pujols, Berkman, Young or Hamilton. Holland was the hero of this drama and the audience wanted to see him pull through. A tribal yell of ‘Adrienne!’ would have felt appropriate at this point. Everyone loves an underdog and Holland was set to play the role to the end. Center of the field. Center stage. All of the attention of millions watching centered on him.

After successfully getting the first of three outs he needed to close it out for himself, Holland gave up just his second walk of the game. Knowing the dramatic difference between going home and sleeping well on a 2-2 Series as opposed to possible pulling a Grady Little and leaving Holland in too long resulting in a blown opportunity and a 3-1 hole, Washington headed to the mound.

This may have been the most nerve-wracking, edge of your seat visit to the mound since Little-Grady in 2003.

While I was watching, I was again blown away by the power of baseball and its drama. I am not a Rangers fan. I am not a Cardinals fan. However, I could not believe how giddy I was about what was taking place. I had nothing on the line yet I knew how much Holland did. While Holland pleaded his case behind his glove, the infield surrounded the mound. They, like us, anxiously anticipating what Washington would decide to do.

The conversation went on for so long, I just kept saying to myself, “He’s going to leave him in. He’s going to leave him in!” Had Washington allowed Holland to finish what he started and go after that second out of the inning, of his game – the noise from Rangers Ballpark, not the television, would have possibly awaken my one-year old son. Considering it was his birthday yesterday, it would have been an amazing baseball situation to wake up to. The crowd would have gone ballistic. I was feeling more excited about a Rangers pitching performance than I ever had before (which would not have taken much considering I’m a Cubs fan). Watching this drama unfold, the night’s climax was starting to feel like when I saw Rocky IV at the theater and the audience around me started going crazy cheering for Rocky against Drago as he fought his way back against his overbearing, overpowering opponent. I am almost embarassed how how excited the crowd in the theater that night was for a fictional charater’s victory. In Texas, they were rooting for Holland, a real life baseball player, with the fate of a franchise in his hands. Imagine what that must have felt like in person.

The meeting on the mound seem to take forever. Then, Washington made a move. He started to turn to his right and I would have bet that he was about to jog back to the dugout. It would have been the jog heard around the world.

The cheers came, however not because Holland was allowed to continue the fight. The cheers came because he Washington had punched his time card and Holland put in a day of work like no one else on the field. Rangers Ballpark erupted with appreciation for what the young pitcher had done for their hopes of obtaining a World Series title. No one man could possibly say you’re welcome as loudly as those tenths of thousands of people were saying thank you. Holland tipped his cap to the Rangers’ faithful, received congratulations from his teammates in the dugout and took his place along the fence to watch Neftali Feliz finish what Holland had started.

In doing so, Holland also took his place along side the greatest Rangers’ pitching performances of all-time. Considering what was at stake and the stage he was on, quitely possibly the absolute greatest of all-time.

Rangers fan? No. Cardinals fan? No. However, as a baseball fan, this was a must-see performance. As the day of ‘Game 162′ at the end of the regular season brought a thrilling day of baseball to millions of MLB fans who didn’t even have a team in the mix, so did last night’s performance by Holland.

An amazing outing to be sure. One that Rangers fans and baseball fans alike may look back at as the 8 1/3 innings that sparked the Rangers to claim their very first World Series championship. Baseball. What’s not to love?