Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Start Now

Good evening and welcome Red Sox fans, to your somewhat disappointing Opening Day of baseball! As of 2 pm on April 1st, Trot Nixon is out until May, Nomar will miss about as much, Kim won't pitch until late April, and Pedro can't throw above 90. But we shouldn't worry, it's only Spring Training -- the land where miles per hour are makebelieve! Were this the situation at any other time in the season, there would be anarchy. Looting, house fires, good Jim Carrey movies, etc. Two of our best hitters are down, one starter's hurt, and another looks like Wes Gardner without the gas. Imagine that scenario in late July with a West Coast trip looming? The Ninth holds its nose. But right now, things are different. Now is the beginning of a new season, and our spirits are made of bulletproof. We have gluttonous Sundays to plan, and if Nomar and Trot can't be a part of it, that's their loss. Because of their exciting offseason (scheduling occurred during the ARod-to-Boston-is-a-lock era), the Red Sox were granted the prestigious ESPN Sunday Night opener slot. Sox fans have all day to get ready for the season -- oh boy. Here's how it's looking:

  • 7:05 AM, Sunday Morning: Open wildly exhausted eyes as body feels all days should begin like work days. This is a real hootenany, hu? Monday through Friday, your greatest wish is five more minutes, and then when you have infinite more minutes, your body breaks out the ha ha internal alarm clock. The thought crosses your mind that you could get a real headstart on the day if you got up now, but it keeps crossing it, trips over a wastebasket and falls out the window. You put on vaguely effeminate eye shield things, and go back to sleep.

  • 9:46 AM: Awake again as the portly child in the backyard thinks now is the perfect time to work on his jumpshot. You open the window, eye shield in place, and remind the boy that his Mother is more flirtatious than she rightfully ought to be. You have gone too far, but you don't care. It's opening day.

  • 10:55 AM: You begrudgingly open your eyes and accept that the sleeping is over. This does not mean however that you must get out of bed. You lie under the covers and consider potential lineups for this evening's game. Might Daubach hit Ponson better than Burks? Who will be the first reliever out of the shoot? Why is that fat kid still playing basketball? You open up your laptop, fire off a quick email to the State Police, and see what the Boston papers have to say. Dan Shaughnessey has submitted his annual Pedro no hitter prediction, complete with stamp in upper-right corner, and the rest of the "news" is somewhat uninspired. A bit about Francona, a piece on Pokey starting at short, maybe something on the Orioles offseason moves. You click over to the Herald and realize that they have the identical stories written by different humans. Alas. The daily (ahem) check of The Top of the Ninth reveals no new article. Again. Oy.

  • 11:21 AM: Up and out of bed, the proverbial spring is in the step. Into the bathroom, you complete a thorough cleanliness regiment. Immediately, thoughts turn to breakfast. There's no more enjoyable way to celebrate a relaxing Sunday at home than with a hearty eggs and meat morning meal. But you also have to keep the rest of the day in mind. A breakfast like that will fill you up considerably, and take up valuable beer/chips/hot dog pizza room for later in the day. You play it safe and opt for cereal, congratulating yourself for a mature, responsible decision. Mom was wrong about you.

  • 12:30 PM: The first Baseball Tonight of the day is on. Harold Reynolds is oddly smug for a guy who never broke .301. Karl Ravech promises the viewer "Peter Gammons' special breakdown of tonight's O's/Sox Game" for three commercial breaks, then all you get is 4 seconds on the game and 20 on how good the ball is coming out of Kent Merker's hand. Even though they have nothing to actually report (Japan doesn't count), it's still fun to hear the music and look at the graphics again. You get giddy thinking about tuning in at 11 pm on weeknights to see highlights of a game you already watched. Life just feels better in baseball season. Jeff Brantley celebrates by looking like a convict.

  • 1:43 PM: After watching an episode and a half of TiVo'd Newlyweds (maybe that's just me), you take to the phones. Everyone has their stable of Sox call potentials, people you phone to complain, excite, and talk strategy. There's the Dad, the high school buddies, the random Bostonians - and on opening day you call them all. It's usually pretty standard: the first five minutes are chit chat, finding out the general details of the person's non-baseball existence. You both know why you're really calling, and you can hear the anticipation in their voice, but you go through the gentleman's five anyway. For dignity's sake. Then, when the jobs and girlfriends and families have been covered, there is a brief pause, you clear your throats, and one of you utters..."so, opening night tonight, hu?". And that's all it takes. What's Pedro's status? Has he really been saving his arm or is he going to get shelled? Is Nomar's absence going to have a big effect? If Grady were managing would the Sox have already lost? This can go on for a solid 45 minutes, complete with an inspired "I can't wait" or a "Finally!" every 10 or so. Towards the end you toss in a few Patriot or Celtic notes, but today is opening day. You sign off with "talk to you after the game", call the next person on your list, and have the identical conversation again. Ah, baseball.

  • 3:45 PM: Undisclosed personal time.

  • 3:47 PM: There is a game tonight and you have no snacks. Not good. For some reason, in your mind, opening day is similar to an impending blizzard. You could get to the store too late and all the valuable stuff will be gone. Except in this case batteries = salsa, and bottled water = mini oreo's. You head down to the deli, prepared to fight an old lady for cheez whiz. Turns out, you won't have to -- there are plenty of snacks to go around. Guess everyone isn't as crazy as you. You fill your basket with a careful ratio of sweet to salty, grab a couple sixers of Michelob Ultra, because hey, you don't want to make a pig of yourself, and hit the check out.

  • 5:00 PM: Three hours to game time, and let's be frank, you don't have much to do. This is the first of 162 games, not the definitive moment of the season, and you're starting to feel a little silly. You could watch some tube, but you already pushed it a bit with the Newlyweds things and you feel opening day deserves something bigger. You browse through the DVD's and find the answer smiling up at you, the Patriots 2003 Super Bowl. Still in its original wrizapper. Sweetskies. You pop that boy in, crack open a low-carb alcoholic beverage, and watch the magic all over again. You can't help but think, as you doze off for a nap...

  • 8:00 PM: What if this is the year?

  • |

    Wednesday, March 24, 2004

    Fantastic Jokes

    If you hear these things, your Fantasy Baseball draft is probably in trouble....

    Dude, you can't draft Dante Bichette twice, and he doesn't play anymore.

    I like to build a team that only Jimy Williams could manage.

    How many cards do you need for a flush?

    If my team were a Queer makeover specialist, it would be Jai on Culture.

    Man do I have a lot of Mets.

    Somebody ashed on my pizza.

    I'm a little worried about the chemistry in my locker room.

    It's cool if I use a dial-up modem, right?

    Hey dude, I got all the best middle relievers.

    I hate the Yankees. I refuse to draft any Yankees.

    Hey, let's give each other nicknames! I call Ace!

    I'm banking on Benitez having a comeback year.

    So what's the policy on inter-team dating? Vanessa, why don't you field this one.

    Did you guys get a chance to read my blog? Feedback?

    They don't call him Steve "First Round" Trachsel for nothing.

    Who's your favorite Care Bear? I think mine might be Cozy Heart Penguin, even though he's not technically a bear.

    I carry this picture of Cam Bonifay around in my wallet.

    No, you can't use your 50-50.

    Don't worry, I left Auto-Draft on, I'm sure it'll pick a perfectly goo.... oh great, Aaron Boone.

    Uh, Mr. Selig, it's your pick.

    You're like the Simon of the league, cause you're sort of mean, but funny sometimes....and you, you're totally Paula, because when you laugh your hair does this li....wait, guys, I can't breathe. Please, you're, strggllll.......

    Alright, I guess I'll go with Shea Hillenbrand.

    Does anybody know who the Pirates closer is going to be?

    No, I'll bring my laptop to Vegas, it shouldn't be a big deal.

    I'm picking based on most common facial expression.

    I really miss Tim McCarver.

    and finally....

    There's no way Ken Griffey/Cliff Floyd/Matt Mantei/Jermaine Dye/Larry Walker/Geoff Jenkins is getting hurt again.

    Thank you, and good night.

    Thursday, March 18, 2004

    Loose Change

  • Irish bartenders love nothing more than an order of Miller Lite on St. Patty's day. Not my fault they didn't have Michelob Ultra.

  • The Comboy Up retrospective comes so close to showing the hot dog woman getting slammed by Kapler's home run, it's almost erotic. You see the ball heading her way...clearing the wall...making contact, but then they cut away. And worst of all, the voice over guy makes no mention of it -- as if fans are regularly given an unexpected howdy do by a home run ball. They rob us of that great moment when she gets hit in the neck and her expression changes from passionate celebration to struggle and shock as she chokes up the, shall we say, ambitious bite of dog. And then the belly-revealing cheer that tells the fans around her:1) Don't worry, I'm ok...and 2) I'm sort of a freak show. That's what Cowboy Up is all about.

  • We all love the RemDog, but Bob Tewksbury did a great job filling in the other day.

  • You know you're in Atlantic City when you get hurried into the side of a nickel slot machine so a woman in a stretcher can get to her ambulance.

  • Everyone seems to be supportive of Manny in the three slot and Nomar cleaning up, but no one is saying why. Yes, it will get Ramirez more AB's, and ok, they have both faired better in those positions earlier in their career -- but that's sort of an empty stat. The real improvement will come from pitch selection. Using Manny to protect Nomar, as Grady did last year, is pointless. Garciaparra rarely waits around long enough to benefit from get-me-over pitches late in the count, and that's what a dangerous following hitter provides. You don't want to just give Manny a runner on base, so you try to get Nomie out, even if it means getting a bit too much of the plate. But when he hacks at the first crummy slider he sees, things can't swing in his favor. Manny, on the other hand, got nibbled all last year, and without an established threat backing him up, he saw a ton of balls just off the outside edge. Even Manny can't do a ton with that. The flip-flop should give him more to hit, without it really hurting Nomar. Good thinking The...oh, I mean Terry.

  • Nobody loves Jimmy Fallon quite like Jimmy Fallon.

  • There's something fun about the John Carroll era with the Celtics. Even if they won the Championship he wouldn't be asked back, and nobody knows that better than Johnny C. His substitution patterns are erratic, his post-game comments are a little one flew over the nest, and his players are getting into fights during practice. Who cares? Ainge wants more PT for Banks and Hunter? Too bad. Daddy wants to coach in the playoffs, and he won't be getting another shot at that so.... Chucky, you're in!

  • I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bronson Arroyo is going to have a lot of trouble with lefties.

  • Does anyone have any doubt that Bud Selig will do absolutely nothing to fix this steroid issue? Yeah, he'd like to use the "Best Interest of the Game" thing, but is there anything in his past to suggest he would take such a bold and necessary stand? Nope. If it wasn't for his league realignment and wild card development, Selig's entire Commish career would be a failure. The odd thing is, his heart is really in the right place. Whatever. Go Brewers!

  • Speaking of failure, imagine what it's like to be Omarosa's husband.

  • Some fantasy suggestions: Derek Lowe up, Barry Zito down. Matt Morris up, Hideo Nomo down. Eric Hinske up, Miguel Tejada down. And no, I am not above giving fake predictions to confuse players in my league.

  • Word is now that Trot Nixon has a "slightly" herniated disk, and will be out six weeks. That means he can begin baseball activity sometime in late April. Which also means Sox fans will be seeing a lot more of Ellis Burks and Gape Kapler. The Ninth has discussed Trot before, but he's an interesting case for a corner outfielder. His defense is distinctly overrated, but his offense - especially last year - is not given its due. In '03, Nixon had a better OPS than Jim Thome, Jason Giambi, Magglio Ordonez and Jeff Bagwell. He drove in 87 runs in only 441 AB's, that's about 1 in every 5. So, in very general terms, every time Trot started and finished a game, he drove in a run. Nixon is turning 30 in a couple weeks, so it's very possible that '03 was the best season he will ever have - but his bat will be sorely missed. Back problems for a power hitter aren't a good thing, and it's optimistic to imagine seeing much of Nixon before mid May. Burks will need to carry much of the load, as Kapler can't hit anything on the outer-half of the plate with authority. You can't get away with holes like that in the regular season. Oh, and Nomar is wearing a cast. Yippee. Anyone have Mike Lansing's number?

  • What's the point of working out if you're going to do so at a pace that allows cell phone discussion? If you can carry on a full conversation, you're probably not burning a whole lot of calories. When the Ninth works out it is such a frenzied mess of sweat, limbs, and water bottles that I think my cell phone would drowned. And boy would the person on the other end have a good time. "Are you having a seizure? I think I gotta go...."

  • |

    Tuesday, March 16, 2004

    Power to Push

    Pedro is telling the world that his arm is back. He’s fully recuperated, an extra 10 pounds of muscle feels comfortable, and he’s ready to throw 98 again. Great. Fantastic. Oh – and as soon as a radar gun shows any actual evidence of this, the Ninth would love an email. Or a call (nothing after 9, Mom gets upset). Because honestly, I’m dubious. It’s not that Pedro is lying, but we’ve heard this all before. He’s felt surprisingly good every spring -- and what has that gotten us? A very good but not great starter. I’ll take it, but I won’t throw a party. And what exactly is he recuperating from anyway? Not the pulled muscle from last May. So -- are we talking about the shoulder injury that was two full years ago? We couldn’t possibly still be talking about… oh wait, we are, aren’t we? Oy. Having seen Pedro’s second start yesterday, he looked an awful lot like a guy rounding into shape to be the same pitcher he was last year. The accuracy wasn’t there, but Martinez threw mostly in the high 80’s with good off speed stuff. The curves and changes should be just fine when the time comes, but the heat looked like the same old dog. Not much energy, too little zip. It’s good enough, and I’ll take Pedro over almost any pitcher in the game, but there was a time without the almost. And in that time, he threw 98. The Ninth believes he could again, but he probably won’t. Until Pedro pitches without restraint or reluctance on a consistent basis, there is no reason to believe that the ghost of injury past is gone. No matter how good he says the shoulder feels, if we don’t see him trust it, how can we?

    Curt Schilling on the other hand, watch out. In his last televised start he had control, velocity, touch, and plenty of aggression. And he’s just getting started. Seeing Schilling and Pedro back to back made something. These two great pitchers, on the same team, in the same place – are really quite different. And I’m not talking about stuff. The best I can put it is this: Pedro pitches like he knows he’s great and everyone agrees; Schilling throws like he still needs to be convinced. Explanation: With Pedro, you get the feeling that he’s essentially content with his performance. He still wants to dominate, but overall, he’s happy with where he’s gotten. And truly, Martinez has risen to the top of his profession and pitched two of the greatest seasons in the history of the sport, so why shouldn’t attention be paid? Dominance of his ’99 and ‘00 caliber won’t be seen again for a long time, why complain about pitch counts and late arrivals? Is there something Pedro hasn’t done that we can ask for? If he needs to ease off the fastball a little bit in non-critical situations, we really shouldn’t critique. But here’s the thing: if Pedro pitched three more seasons of very good, All-Star ball, but never returned to those glory days, would he really mind? If he had to retire early for injury, and never made it back to the apex, would he have any regrets? We know he’d miss the game - but would it eat at his soul? That’s what I want to know – and if I had to guess, I’d say no. For those two years, Pedro knew what could’ve been…because it was. He was the best. He did everything he possibly could as a player, ruled over his time like arguably no one has before. So when it comes down to it, what is there for Pedro to regret? And that’s the essential “problem”: he has nothing to push for. Why force a tender shoulder into the 100th percentile when it’s been there already? 99th is just fine for now. Pedro won’t be crying in has hammock or staring at his glove. He knows that already. He’s done the things. He has, amazingly, the ability at 32 years of age to be able say, for his life: Mission Accomplished. Strange thing. But not Curt. How do you think he’d do with a career ending injury (God forbid) tomorrow afternoon? Think he could drop into a recliner, prop up his pups for a nice rest and whisper “ah well, it was a good run”? No way. Not in a century. Schill’s got a ring, he’s shared an award, but he’s never been the best. And he knows he can be. He looks at his career and sees a few lousy years and a bit of wasted effort. He sees a man who learned how to be great a little too late and doesn’t have time to spare. He needs these next three seasons in Boston to make his career complete. Curt needs not only to stay good, but to get better, and he needs his teammates to do it with him. He needs a run with the Red Sox that’ll make him feel complete. Something that will let him know he did the most he could with what God gave him. And you see it every time he throws a ball. No mph’s are coming off to guard his arm. Not now. Not when he has a chance to go from very good to great. Curt welcomes Pedro’s presence because he knows it will propel him further. Help him to get to where his pride needs to go. What’s Pedro reaction? “I don’t need to be pushed.”

    Is this statistics? No. Is this objective, without-argument, hard-and-true analysis? Not at all. These questions are a matter of feeling, of instinct. There’s nothing wrong with Pedro’s place, and who’s to say what’s going on in Schilling head. When you hear him talk though, you feel like he believes there’s more to be done. The best is ahead. At the end of the day, the career Pedro has already had will put him in the Hall and make his memory last, but Schilling has more to do. And it may be that that causes one player to surge and another to recede. Or maybe Martinez’s competitive fire trumps the power of the pain of regret. Who knows? But for now, when I watch Pedro, I see a man that says look what I’ve done, Schilling says look what I will do.

    Friday, March 05, 2004

    Trust Me, You'll Wanna Read This

    Not that it has anything to do with sports, but this link does contain the sentence:

    Harry Griffin, 92, was standing at the salad bar and cut his head when he was knocked to the ground.

    Thursday, March 04, 2004

    Tryin' Real Hard to Be the Shepherd

    When the Celtics opened the season against Miami, their starting lineup featured:

    G Mike James
    G Paul Pierce
    F Kedrick Brown
    F Vin Baker
    C Mark Blount

    That squad, with big minutes from Tony Battie and Eric Willaims, clobbered the Heat. It did contain however: a back-up shooting guard playing the point, a borderline NBA-talent at the three, and an overpaid power forward who drank too much. Battie and Williams helped, but both were tweeners and Eric was going to be gone at the end of the season anyway. On Monday, Boston took Orlando apart using the following starters:

    G Chucky Atkins
    G Paul Pierce
    F Jiri Welsch
    F Brandon Hunter
    C Mark Blount

    This time the major bench players were Ricky Davis and Walter McShootsTooMuch -- nothing to brag about -- but at least the first five have improved. That's right, I said improved. Look, right now Danny Ainge is about as popular as Tiger Woods at a Klan rally (heyooo), and has made more questionable decisions than George Bush filling out a multiplication table (heyooo heyooo), but things aren't all bad. Sure he overvalues draft picks, and yeah, he probably should've gotten more for Antoine, but this team has become watchable. There were a couple of months in there (including the end of the Jim O'Brien era) where it physically hurt to look at them. The offense was its typical OB atrocity, and the defense was just good enough to make it the team motto, but not ever able to actually take a game over. They were bad, and they had no hope of getting better.

    This has not, in reality, changed much. These Celtics are pretty lousy, but there are a few good signs. They now have the youngest roster in basketball (not easy to do when you're untold millions over the cap). Brandon Hunter is going to have trouble scoring on anything other than offensive rebounds, but he can really board. The Charles Barkley comparison is inappropriate, but anyone think he won't frequently threaten a double-double? Jiri Welsch has a lot of exciting ability, and is the sort of kitchen-sink guy that championship teams seem to have around. Chucky Atkins is overpaid, but he plays the point. He is a legitimate, surefire, bona fide #1, something the Celtics haven't seen since Sherman Douglas (shocking but true). Is he great? No. Is he good? Ask again later. But he knows the position. He can push and he can slow it up, he passes when he ought to and he shoots when he should -- and frankly, at this point, I'll take it. They weren't going to be able to use the Chris Mills cap room anyway, so shouldn't Celtic fans applaud Ainge for putting it into a player? Maybe Chucky's not the ideal one, but at the very least, he can help Banks learn the position. Every time a major market team says they're going to rebuild, fans start out behind it. They insist they'll be patient and understanding, and then they freak out. "Wait, I didn't know the team was going to totally stink!" Well guess what Sully, they totally stink. And if Ainge were a bit more up front about his mystical "3 year plan", this might go a little easier. But I look at the starting five and I see players with upside and skill sets that the Celtics haven't had in a while. My brain tells me this isn't going as well as it could, but my heart saw Paul Pierce come off a double screen on Monday and started to swoon. Maybe with a coach that cares about offense and a little luck in the draft, Boston could make things fun again? I don't know the answer to that question, but at least I'm starting to ask it. Two months ago, I wouldn't have even bothered.

    Tuesday, March 02, 2004

    Fun at the MVP Awards

    Loyal readers of The Ninth, you have been shameless. You have begged, pleaded, and cried out for the story. You have yelled from every hill, mountain, and hamlet: "Tell us of the MVP awards!." "You who hold great tales, please bestow upon us your grand fables!". But The Ninth held strong. The timing had to be right, the perfect moment had to be waited for. I needed free time at work. But fear not, sweet children. That day is finally here. Here is the story of the MVP awards. (Disinterested silence from reader.....)

    At first, it looked like The Ninth itself would be at baseball's MVP awards in New York City, but that died a quick "not shelling out for a tuxedo" death. So instead, there was my buddy Mike. Mike is a stand-up comic, and was hired to provide some "entertainment" at the gala. They wanted a speech that bordered on a roast, but wasn't actually insulting. Of course, that is logically impossible - but they asked for it anyway. Everyone wants to see Don Rickles, they just don't want to be made fun of themselves. So Mike had a difficult job, be biting - but only in a general, "hate you, but boy do I really love you" sort of way. Not easy, especially when baseball humor isn't really a cornerstone of your act. But Mike is a fan, and thought it would be fun to tell jokes to famous ballplayers, so he took the gig.

    Mike's expectation was, as seems reasonable, that he would sit somewhere in back, make a speech, get some laughs, maybe ask for an autograph or two, and head home. Imagine his surprise then when he was informed that he would, in fact, be sitting on the dais. With the honorees. Whicked famous ones. Mike steps up to his chair and, in order, it's Alex Rodriguez, Josh Beckett, Roger Clemens, Dennis Eckersley, Mike, and Dontrelle Willis. It's like one of those Friar's Roast tapes where you have Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr. laughing it up by the podium and next to them is some dude you've never seen before -- that's my buddy Mike. Wondering where the water guy is and if it's weird to asks for more rolls. And Mike recognizes the absurdity of his placement, but at the same time, knows these players, and plans to enjoy it. Being a Red Sox fan, he immediately hits it off with Eck, chatting about Boston, golf, and the presidential election (believe it or not). Occasionally he throws Dontrelle a bone and asks about being new to this stuff and congratulating him for the great season. Let's be honest, there's only so much you can say about a quirky wind up. By all reports, Eckersley is a fantastic guy, very down-to-earth, and just as relaxed as he seems on NESN. The real prize here however is Roger. Any kid who grew up in Boston in the 80's has a potent feeling for Clemens. It might be love, it might be hate - but he was the face of the Red Sox for our childhood. You notice when you're sitting two seats away from him. So Mike wants to tread carefully, but at the same time, would love to talk a bit. All that "traitor who really was in the twilight of his mother-f'n..." stuff dies away when you're face to face with someone, and you kind of just want to make an impression. So Mike wades in slowly, but gets a very pleasant surprise. Turns out they randomly know someone in common (show biz, man). Very fortuitous. Anyone can handle a chat about a common acquaintance, even if it is with Turncoat Rog. Nothing earth-shattering, no "man, that Wade Boggs really was a jerk" stuff, but Mike has a nice, solid convo. With Roger Clemens. A nice thing to have done in your life. So far, this is a pretty good time. For a guy who expects to be sitting in the crowd somewhere, things have taken a very pleasant turn. And he hasn't even made his speech yet.

    But this is part of the problem. Mike is an excellent comedian, and he has some great jokes sitting in his pocket, but this is a room of 1,000 people. And many of them are ballplayers he has admired or writers he has read. Plus, they've asked for roasty, but not too roasty. Hard to do -- especially when some of the people he's going to make fun of are sitting right next to him. So Mike is a little nervous. But it's his job and he's good at it, so with a pat on the back from Eckersley, Mike heads up to the podium....."I'm very happy to be here at the MVP awards," he begins "looking out and seeing fans, writers, and players. Baseball writers are funny," Mike winds up, "because most of them don't know how to play baseball, and some of them don't know how to write." He comes out swinging, and gets a good laugh from the crowd. (Editorial Note: The Ninth apologizes for destroying the wording of these jokes.) Mike's starting to feel the flow a little, so he turns to the dais and goes for some retirement humor. "Nice to see Roger Clemens here tonight. At first Roger said he definitely wasn't going to come, and then said maybe he would but he'd have to think about it, and then, at the very last second, Roger showed up." Clemens is displeased. "It's amazing being up here, because I grew up a Red Sox fan. I remember paying Roger eight dollars for an autograph at a card show when I was kid. And things have really changed, because just now he asked me for twenty five." A quality zinger, and the last moment Mike would be chatting with Roger Clemens for the rest of his life. "And here's Alex Rodriguez. Being from Boston, I'm either a really big fan of Alex's, or I don't care about him, or I kind of hate him. I'm not sure yet." Little did he realize. A timely joke that the audience was all over, and Mike was doing well. Pretty exciting to be lighting up the house at the MVP awards. So he's feeling confident, and he tells a few more baseball barbs and then goes into his regular material. Mike uses some of his staples, and they do well, as they should. As he's getting ready to finish, Mike feels like maybe he's losing the crowd a bit, so ends on topic. "Well that's pretty much my time," Mike says, "but I don't really have a closer. That's ok though, cause neither do the Mets." Big laugh, big applause, Mike heads to his seat. When in doubt, make fun of the Mets. Works at parties and funerals. The crowd is very pleased, and Mike can relax. It was a tough gig, but he nailed it, and now he can enjoy the rest of the night. So what if Roger refuses to make eye contact, he has done his job. All that was left was a speech by some old baseball writer. Nothing to worry about there.

    Only thing was, this wasn't just some baseball writer. This was Murray Chass, the grandfather of baseball at the New York Times. Easily one of the highest regarded men in the business. Chass was receiving some kind of lifetime achievement award, and from the looks of him, he earned it. Ancient and beaten-down, he made his way to the microphone. A respectful silence overtook the room as he cleared his throat. Murray launched in to some classics; old harrowing tales of his early days in journalism, working his way up from nothing etc. The whole speech had sort of a Moses on the mountain feel to it. The crowd wasn't necessarily riveted, but the reverence was palpable. Sure the guy is old, but you listen to what he has to say. He spoke for about ten minutes, and by the end, everyone was pretty much in awe. Then, as he rambled toward his conclusion, Mike's ears perked up. "Let me just say in closing," Chass mumbled, "that while some baseball writers do not know how to write, some comedians do not know how to tell jokes." Uh oh. Not good. Clearly Mike had insulted the important old guy. Never smart. And now the entire room was staring at him. And Chass hadn't offered a funny little roast jab, it was more of a "I'm not taking any crap from some standing vaudevillian" punch. In about ten seconds Mike had gone from fun-loving comedy hero to obnoxious kid who pissed off grandad. Chass shuffled off the stage leaving Mike alone in the room's gaze. There's nothing really you can do here. If you laugh you look disrespectful, if you get angry you look like a jerk. Mike was on his own, and he was screwed. He considered standing up, heading to bathroom, hugging Dontrelle. Anything to cut the tension. Then, right as he was weighing the value of ducking under the table, he was saved by an expert. Dennis Eckersley, having been quietly seated next to him the whole time, leaned over and whispered "you know what, Fuck 'em."

    That's right Eck, fuck 'em all.