Going Green: Red’s visit

This one needs some explanation. The week before this column ran, I wrote a piece where I pretended some high school athletes had make disparaging remarks to me. I thought it was obvious that the kids had not said those things, but I was simply imagining how awful my job would be were I to be treated that way. Some parents were offended that these young people spoke to me that way, and the parents of the kids were upset people were coming to that conclusion (in, retrospect, while I did point out on two separate occasions that the comments were fictional, I could have done a better job of conveying that).

   Feeling bad that these young athletes were being blamed for something they hadn’t done (they had agreed to let me concoct the fictional scenario when I explained what I was doing), I wanted to correct that mistaken interpretation. My editors didn’t feel like I needed to, arguing the proper conclusion was obvious from my original column. I came up with this solution, which my editor-in-chief grudgingly allowed.

 

A helpful visit from a legend

Column for The Republic, Columbus 1993

 

It had all the makings of a perfect evening.

I was sitting at home with the couch to myself. To my left was a six-pack of Jolt Cola. On my right, a full box of Crunch Berries, ready to be eaten dry.

And on the tube was my favorite show, “American Gladiators.”
A knock on the door momentarily interrupted my tranquility.

Until I answered it. For standing on the other side was legendary dead sportswriter Red Smith.

“Hey Red, how are you? Glad you could drop by.”

“My pleasure, Sparky.” (Red, for some reason, always calls me Sparky.)

“Come on in. Make yourself at home.”
“Hey, ‘Gladiators,’ cool. I love Nitro,” Red exclaimed.

“Me too. Care for a Jolt?”

“No, I’m already wired. Thanks for the offer, though,” Red said, removing his new Nikes as he settled beside me on the couch.

“Red, I’m glad you came by. I have a question about sports writing you might be able to help me with.”

“I already said all there is to know about sports writing,” he said. “You know, ‘sit down at a typewriter, open a vein and bleed.’”
“I tried that. But we don’t use typewriters any more. And all that blood seeped into my computer terminal and short-circuited the system.”

“That could be a problem.”

“No, my question concerns a hypothetical situation,” I told him. “Have you ever written a story or column that you thought was a little clever, a little bit funny, but still got your point across.”

“No, I got to be legendary by just writing garbage.”

“Sorry, stupid question. What I really want to know is: When you wrote such a piece, did any subscribers ever read it differently than the way you wrote it? And by reading it differently, draw conclusions that put the story’s subjects in a questionable light?”

“Why don’t you cut out the hypothetical stuff and tell me the details,” Red said.

“Well, I recently wrote a column that I thought was clear, but was interpreted differently by a large number of readers. I attempted to use a fictional setting to illustrate the absurdity of a situation developing in the professional sports world. But some folks took the fictional comments I attributed to local athletes as genuine.”

“Ah, a fictional setting, fictional comments. Always a gamble,” he said.

“I realize that now. So how do you incorporate them into a story without running the risk of upsetting some readers?”

“As I see it,” he began. “If you plan to use a fictional setting, you must make absolutely certain that setting can’t possibly be mistaken for the truth.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. Although I can’t think of a setting that unbelievable offhand.”

“You work on it, Sparky. Well, I guess I’d better be leaving. I’m supposed to go inline skating tomorrow with Grantland Rice,” Red said, timing his exit with Mike Adamle’s closing remarks on Gladiators.

 

 

 

Going Green: Carlos Gomez

This ran in the Purdue Alumni Magazine about eight years ago. Carlos since moved on with Jerry DiPoto to Anaheim, and possibly Seattle.

When Carlos Gomez first donned the black and gold uniforms of the Purdue University baseball team, he imagined it was the next step toward his big league dream. Never did he imagine fulfilling that dream would have more to do with his industrial engineering education than his right arm.

In November 2007, Gomez was hired by the Arizona Diamondbacks to serve as one of the team’s professional scouts, culminating a strange, uncharted trip to the big leagues for the 2001 Purdue graduate. Gomez created a name for himself, literally, by carving a small niche on the Internet and riding it to increasing acclaim among baseball fans, sportswriters and ultimately, major league executives.

During his playing days, Gomez was a regular contributor to a web site, Baseball Think Factory, a gathering place for baseball fans with an interest in the statistical side of the game. Gomez, under the alias ChadBradfordWannabe (an actual major league pitcher with a throwing motion similar to Gomez’s), offered the site’s visitors the perspective and insight of a pro baseball hopeful. As a result, he was contacted by the site’s founder, Jim Furtado, about turning his impressions on the mechanics of pitching into his own section on the web site.

His first efforts were in advance of the 2006 amateur draft, when he assessed the collegiate and high school players expected to be taken in the first few rounds. Later, Gomez introduced video to his analysis, which increased his audience considerably.

Using frame-by-frame video, Gomez broke down pitchers’ motions, offering detailed explanations of what worked and what didn’t. Often, videos of the same pitcher from different years were synched side-by-side, allowing Gomez to pinpoint any differences and how those changes were impacting the pitcher’s performance.

He says his education factored into both his interest and proficiency in analyzing the throwing motion of pitchers.

“That’s the industrial engineer in me. I’m obsessed with efficiency,” he says. “I’m always thinking ‘How do you coordinate the body to make it as efficient as possible?’”

 

 

Soon after his work started appearing at Baseball Think Factory, Gomez was contacted by another site, The Hardball Times, about providing his video content there under his given name. And it was as a Hardball Times writer where his breakdowns led to his breakout. His assessment of the early-2007 struggles of Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Carlos Zambrano were not just discussed by baseball fans on the Internet, but made their way into mainstream media coverage in Chicago newspapers, and later, on Fox’s Game of the Week coverage.

“That was the one that really got me attention,” Gomez says of the Zambrano piece.

Soon, he was not only fielding calls from beat writers, but from front office people interested in his talents. The San Francisco Giants contacted him about doing some work for them for the 2007 amateur draft, though Gomez had to decline due to an impending trip to Spain. It wasn’t an easy decision.

“I thought for sure I’d be working for the Giants,” he says, noting that it was his effusive praise of the Giants’ 2006 first-round draft pick Tim Lincecum, and that pitcher’s rapid rise to stardom, that attracted San Francisco’s attention.

Other teams also inquired about his work, though Gomez realized he wasn’t pursuing a position as aggressively as necessary. “If I wanted a job, I had to go get it.”

By the end of the summer, Gomez put together a package of materials for major league teams to evaluate. He searched team web sites for the most likely front office inroad, and began cold-calling to sell his services. Many of these perspective employers were already familiar with his work, including his eventual employer.

“Carlos was a guy who stood out in the crowd,” says Jerry Dipoto, the director of player personnel for the Arizona Diamondbacks. “You receive literally thousands of resumes a year, and there was a red beacon attached to his. Here was a guy with some playing background, who had gone through and gotten a degree from Purdue, was bilingual and was already astute in how he talked about a player. Part of the battle is the ability to describe a player, Carlos already had that skill.”

 

 

After an initial interview, Dipoto gave Gomez a project during the 2007 World Series. Dipoto asked him to evaluate several pitchers on the Colorado Rockies and file a report. When the report jibed with the Diamondbacks’ existing evaluations of those ballplayers, Dipoto was ready to bring the Purdue graduate on board.

While some clubs were discussing the possibility of using Gomez as an area scout evaluating amateur talent, Dipoto offered him the opportunity to bypass that typical starting ground and start as a professional scout. As a pro scout, he’s charged with assessing existing professional players at the minor and major league level.

“I feel very fortunate,” Gomez says. “I’m not supposed to be a pro scout.”

But Dipoto felt that Gomez had already cut his teeth, even if it wasn’t in the employ of a Major League Baseball franchise.

“It was probably unique in that most guys who enter the professional baseball fray, it’s not as a pro scout. It’s at the grassroots level, and you sow your oats in the scouting world and learn how to do it,” Dipoto says. “Carlos already knew how, and it was just a matter of bringing him on and giving him the blank canvas to paint on. And I think he’s been fabulous for us.”

And despite the departure from the traditional hiring process, the Diamondbacks’ move was well received within the game “I’ve had numerous people tell me through baseball lines that this was a good hire for the Diamondbacks,” Dipoto says.

Gomez has no complaints about the job, which didn’t require relocation from Atlanta, where he lives with his wife Amy.

“It’s phenomenal. You just sit and watch games,” he says, amazed at his good fortune.

 

 

Watching games, sadly, was also a big part of Gomez’s career at Purdue. Recruited out of his native Puerto Rico by former coach Steve Green, Gomez never found the kind of success in West Lafayette he imagined.

He redshirted his freshman year, and then pitched sparingly as a sophomore.

“The first couple of years weren’t very good,” Gomez says, serving as his own scout. “And the next three were even worse.”

Gomez lost velocity, dipping below 80 miles per hour, and his control. Yet he never lost his scholarship, for which he is eternally grateful.

“Coach (Doug) Schreiber never took me off scholarship, and I didn’t really deserve it,” Gomez says. “I never got consistent innings at Purdue, but they gave me more opportunities than they probably should have.”

Schreiber is more kind toward Gomez’s contributions to the Boilermakers. “He was a competitive kid who worked hard. He was good for your program.”

And Gomez’s ascension in the game is hardly shocking to the coach. “He had a strong passion for the game. He was always interested in learning more about the nuances and small details of the game,” Schreiber says. “It does not surprise me what he’s put together.”

One benefit of Gomez’s struggles was it rekindled his interest in mechanics, though he was never able to apply that information to his own efforts as a Boilermaker. Nonetheless, upon graduation, Gomez was not ready to abandon his dream, even if his fastball had long since abandoned him. While waiting to take a position in Syracuse, N.Y., with the Carrier Corp., he became the first subject of his video analysis.

He set up cameras and filmed himself throwing from different arm angles, trying to discover what release resulted in the best results. To his surprise, he found he could throw more effectively, and harder, as a sidearm hurler rather than with a traditional over-the-top delivery.

His confidence restored, he began attending tryout camps, setting aside his Carrier career in the process. In 2002, he signed with the Gateway Grizzlies of Belleville, Ill., an independent minor league team. He pitched professionally for two seasons, bouncing around the independent leagues while continually adjusting his delivery. Ultimately, he moved from a sidearmer to a “knuckle scraper,” nearly touching the ground with his hand during his pitching motion. “I was always tinkering, remaking myself,” he says.

 

But it was his second reinvention that got him his long-dreamed shot at the big leagues. And it wasn’t entirely an accident.

When he began doing his analysis for the baseball web sites, Gomez wasn’t just writing for his regular readers, but any potential front office executives lurking. “I had a job in my sights. I wanted to showcase what I knew, or what I thought I knew,” he says.

Gomez has previously expressed interest in moving up through the front office ranks, though for now he’s focused on mastering his new craft.

“I would like to be the guy who makes the decisions. That’s why we play fantasy baseball,” he says. “But I couldn’t handle what Jerry does. I don’t have that wealth of knowledge.

”I’m pretty fortunate to have the job I have without any real experience,” he admits.

 

 

 

Going Green: 88 Lines

As mentioned in one of my Christmas features, I’ve done a few song parodies through the years. I did a couple of Christmas-themed ones back when I was a sports columnist – my favorites Albert Belle, to the tune of Jingle Bells, and Deck The Halls (with Wanted Posters), a tribute to the lawlessness running through the Nebraska football program at the time.

But my all-time favorite parody song was done at Baseball Think Factory. It was sparked by a news story about 37 Comments about 37 Baltimore pitchers. I really had no choice but to extend that to the full 88.

I shudder to think just how much time I spent turning this one out, particularly since keeping the proper syllable count and cadence has always been paramount for me in these time-wasting endeavors. I hate the lazy parodies that disregard the rhythm of the original.

This is another installment of Going Green, where I reuse old material in this new venue.

88 Lines About 44 Pitchers

The Dykstras

Pedro was a Catholic boy,
Still unsigned at this late date
Jeremy was a different type,
Sabean quickly sealed his fate
Dontrelle is a poor boy,
All his best days in his past
Felix, on the other hand,
Like royalty is built to last.

Huston was a nameless boy
A geographic memory.
Paulie was a Jesus-freak,
He liked that kind of misery.
Trachsy had this awful way
Of not delivering the seed.
Mark of Ozzie’s pitching staff,
Races through at breakneck speed.

Mark P. was an archetype,
The master of the rehab start
David thought baseball second best
To masturbating at the park.
Rick H. was a lonely voice,
Against the sport’s past backside stab.
A.J.’s point of view was this:
Take whatever you can grab.

Ugie is a bad, bad boy
Who’s best advised to hold the soap
Frankie loves to close the door
Giving Mets fans cause for hope.
Jamie had birthday parties that
Made grown men seem boys of wee
Teammate Brett has a wife
Who ought to pull a Lorena B.

Johnny R. the last redneck
Was undone by his tongue one day.
Todd however felt no wrath
By confining comments to the gays.
The Blue Jays Roy, who did not tire,
Was never, ever satisfied.
Carl P, in quite contrast
Took the cash and must have died.

Another Roy had a house in Houston,
Through his blood nothing shall pass
Ryan F now with St. Lou,
Shot steroids into his ass.
Sidney thought his life was empty,
Filled it up with alcohol.
Thirty-Eight was much too prissy,
He didn’t do that #### at all.

Uh-uh. Not Thirty Eight.

Mad Dog thought pitching was simple,
Just throw strikes upon the black
Ex-Mate Tom was a little different,
Toss ‘em a few inches past.
Ryan D. was the old-time hurler,
Always let his stockings fly.
Black Jack called himself a rocker,
Won an undeserved Cy

Dice-K was exasperating,
100 pitches through 4-plus.
Miguel wrote bad poetry
That still was better than his stuff
Crazy Turk he liked to pitch
While wearing teeth around his neck.
Smoltzie’s strange progression
Was as a better kind of Eck.

Johan was an artist hurler,
Deeper counts don’t shake him up.
That C-C bastard left the Brewers,
Took his money and his truck.
Roger C. had some problems,
Telling Congress the whole truth
Nuxhy fifteen threw for Cincy,
Then joined Marty in the booth.
Rick A. lost control one day,
Turned into a guy who slugs.
Bronson who played guitar,
Sang songs only Gammo loves.
Scott O. didn’t give a damn,
He was just a piece of ####.
Banny was much more my style,
Probably visits sites like this.
Carlos he went forty days
Drinking nothing all the day.
Barry drove his Giants team
Into the San Francisco Bay.
Aaron came from Ohio,
He’s a rebound candidate
Knuckler Timmy here’s a nod,
To end these lines of 88.

88 Lines About 44 Pitchers

A Friend Passes on Without Fanfare

Now that it’s the offseason, I thought I’d sprinkle the blog with some recycled content. You know, for the planet.

This ran in 1993. Its origins trace to a conversation I had with my editor and fellow baseball fan John Harmon, when we were old man lamenting the absence of kids playing outdoors, primarily baseball. I started writing this column in my head shortly after that conversation, planning it for my week off in June.

Then, about two weeks before my column was about to run, John wrote his own column based on that discussion. Initially I panicked, but I soon decided I could work his effort into mine. This was the result.

=

It’s hard to believe a man of such stature could pass away in obscurity.

The Republic has learned of the death of an American legend, Sandlot Baseball.

In ill health for the past 20 years, Sandlot, 155, was pronounced dead Saturday in a park outside Ogden, Utah.

Officials investigating the death said he was supposed to meet 12 boys, but they suddenly abandoned him when a 13th arrived to announce he had acquired the new video game, “Desensitizing Violence.”

Foul play has not been ruled out.

The exact whereabouts of Sandlot’s birth is unclear, but one commonly accepted theory says he was born June 12, 1839 in Cooperstown, N.Y. Still, Sandlot was never confined to one address, moving frequently and gracefully from large city to small burg.

Like Johnny Appleseed, Sandlot traveled the country by foot, entrenching the roots of the national pastime.

The seeds of the game took hold in more than a few local residents. Among those he befriended were the city’s hardball skippers, Columbus North’s Joe Preda and Columbus East’s Lou Giovanini.

“It seemed like everybody knew him,” Preda said. “But I can’t remember the last time I saw him.”

Giovanini also had difficulty pinpointing his most recent encounter with the legend. But the veteran manager had a theory on the demise of Sandlot and two of his buddies.
“(Sandlot) Baseball, (Backyard) Football and (Pickup) Basketball were all we knew. Maybe today there are too many others,” the coach said, pointing to younger kids Tele Vision and Play Station as prime suspects.

Both coaches said Sandlot’s ill health in recent years left its mark on the diamond, where today’s ballplayers aren’t as knowledgeable of the game’s nuances as they once were.”

From Sandlot, “you learned the game a little better,” Giovanini said.

Sandlot taught kids the strategy of the game, Preda said. “We knew where to hit the ball and when to squeeze bunt.”

The impact of Sandlot’s death is not just felt by those who made a career on the diamond. The Republic Editor John Harmon, who recently embarked on a fruitless mid-afternoon search for Sandlot, was also dismayed to learn of his passing.

“Sandlot Baseball played a large part in my life and other kids in the neighborhood. I hope we can at least keep his memory alive for future generations,” Harmon said.
“But you know, you’ll never really know him unless you were lucky enough to meet him.”
Sandlot is survived by one brother, Stick Ball, in critical condition at his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., and one half-brother, Little League, living comfortably at his estate in Williamsburg, Pa.

In lieu of flowers or memorials, Sandlot’s last will and testament requested one gesture.

The deceased has asked for 10-12 boys and girls to gather on a nondescript piece of property, with a ball (preferably in shoddy condition), a bat (most definitely wooden) and shareable gloves in tow. The will states that no uniforms be worn, no rule books carried and, most importantly, no adults present.

Sandlot was a firm believer in reincarnation.