Monday, 27 August 2012

Baseball Peccadillos: The Yunel Escobar Edition

This is pretty typical Escobar
I always like reading the google searches that lead people to this blog. Most of them are about Yunel Escobar. People seem to have an insatiable need to know what his tattoo his all about. What does it say, and what does it mean. Most recently, someone arrived at this blog after asking,"Why does Escobar rub dirt on his pants?"

Escobar mid hand-clap while Laffey winds it up

 The answer: I have no idea why he does it. But this I do suspect: Yunel Escobar is a superstitious ball player with a routine. I have tried to learn all of Escobar's piccadillos because i'm weird like that. And I will now share them with you all.

Escobar loves him a good pre-game long toss.  Every pre-game you can find Yunel out along the third baseline with a wide assortment of partners (Davis is the most common, but also Lawrie, Johnson, McCoy and Hechavarria). By the end, they are usually about 275-300 feet apart. Escobar gets all his flash out during this toss, and you can commonly find him doing behind the back catches, under the leg catches and spins.

Escobar plays some pre-game long toss with Hechavarria

Escobar's handshakes have been well-documented by the media, and Yunel spoke about them in one of his bobblehead day videos, so I won't talk about those here. 
Yunel Escobar - Toronto Blue Jays v Kansas City Royals
Photo: Kyle Rivas/Getty Images
Before the game begins, Yunel jogs out to third base writes something in the dirt, rubs it out and then rubs the dirt on his right thigh. Last year, he did this at second. This year third. Although, he does occasionally add some additional dirt from second base.


Just as ever present to his dirt smear are his batting gloves/pocket.

When he's on the field, his gloves are hanging out of his back, right handed pocket. When he has the gloves on, the pocket is inside out.

When the game is not in play (no one at bat), Escobar will not step on the foul lines. He usually hops over them, he sometimes spins over them.

Back in Atlanta, Escobar was well-known for his on-deck jump

Photo: the Chattanoogan
I've only seen him do that jump on-deck three or four times since he has come to Toronto. However, I do occasionally see him do it at short stop before the game starts. Whenever I see him do that, I always think "maybe Escobar is going to have an awesome game today."

Yunel marks the dirt with his bat before going up to bat
Yunel spins his bat, count 'em, one, two, three
  Up at bat, the peccadillos keep on rolling. When Escobar batted lead-off he always gave the foul line in the batters circle a real good kick, but batting lower, he usually dosen't mess the chalk quite so much. He also marks the dirt with the handle of his bat. A 2007 article by the Chattanoogan ( claims that he isn't writing anything in particular, but that the first ever game that he did it got four or five hits and hasn't stopped since.

Once in the box, Yunel will spin his bat, one, two, three times. And he is a mighty fine bat spinner.

Yunel Escobar - Detroit Tigers v Toronto Blue Jays
Photo: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Yunel's home plate actions are just as quirky. If Escobar gets home, you can expect this scene.

Yunel Escobar is, without a doubt, superstitious, with a dash of quirky. While I have no idea what any of these actions mean,  I love to watch him play, peccadillos and all.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Villanelle for Villanueva

My birthday is coming up, and it got thrown out that I could select a "Shersey" (code word for the t-shirts with players names on the back) from the Jays Shop as a gift. I try whenever possible to not shop at the Jays shop, and instead shop at infinitely cheaper locales. Such as ebay, or the oddly named "Redbeard" sports supply store in my hometown. From time to time, I have won a jersey, like the brand new Jose Bautista batting practice they tried to tell me he wore (as someone radios the Jays Force girl and says "you took off the tags right? It's got to look real!" No worries Jay force. While i'm sure Jose Bautista smells wonderful, he probably dosen't smell like new t-shirt). But alas, I have gotten completely off topic. So yes, actually shopping at the Jays shop. Fun times. My Mom has an Escobar shersy, and since none of my friends have been convinced to love baseball as much as I do, I attend most games with her and didn't want to match.

So I decided not to buy anything at the Jays shop. Instead I bought a Villanueva shersey on instead. It had the added benefit of being cheaper (hello promo codes!) and being able to select anyone I wanted. I decided to buy a Villaneuva shersey for multiple reasons. I've liked him and his versatility since he was signed for Toronto. Long reliever, starter, bilingual leadership man. (not to mention witty and nice guy. Seriously have you heard him speak? Dry humour, that guy). He stepped up to the rubber last year for some excellent starts, before being sidelined with an elbow injury and he was fantastic in long relief earlier in the season (not counting that horrible game with the grand slam, but we all have our down days). And now he's got 9 starts under his belt, with a 3.31 era, six wins, three loses, 90 Ks in 87 innings pitched. He has continuously stepped up for this team in a big way and he does it well.

Accordingly I have prepared a (horrible) limerick for Carlos Villanueva.

It's hard to be morose
while watching Carlos.
The team may not be batting
But Villaneva is combating
Evidenced by the era he posts

For the record, I don't even fancy myself a poet and hadn't written a poem since grade school until I started this blog (evidenced by the fact that I just wrote a limerick).

 Back to Villaneuva. I'm loving the season he is putting up. In an injury prone season, I would not be out to lunch in saying that Villaneuva is currently the team's best starting pitcher. Yes, really. With Morrow injured, Romero and his ballooning ERA and penchant for walking and hitting batters, Laffey and his long balls and Alvarez's plagued inconsistencies, Villaneuva has been a bright spot. He's fairly consistent, he battles, he strikes batters out, and is a class act on and off the mound. If the Blue Jays were at game seven of the world series tomorrow. He is the one i'd want on the mound.

A few days ago, a slew of articles hit the web and Villaneuva wants a contract and he wants to stay in Toronto. Sign him up Alex. Regardless of his role, I hope to see him in Toronto for a few more years. In the meantime, I'll continue to cheer him on, shersey and all, as the Blue Jays finish up what will likely be a losing season.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Farm Report part I- the Lansing Lugnuts

Since I was a little kid, my family has made an annual trip to Frankenmuth, Michigan. Also known as "Little Bavaria" it is famous for the world's largest Christmas Store and World famous chicken dinners. My Grandparents love it, my Mom loves it, and i'll admit i'm kind of partial to it myself. This year, I plotted to catch a few of the Blue Jays farm teams along the way. I saw the Lansing Lugnuts (Class A for the Blue Jays) take on the East Michigan White Caps (Class A for the Detroit Tigers) at Cooley Law School Stadium in Lansing, Michigan. I also two games at Jerry Ute Park in Erie, PA where the Erie SeaWolves (Double A for the Detroit Tigers) took on the New Hampshire Fisher Cats (Double A for the Blue Jays).

I'll start off with the Lansing Lugnuts. Anyone who has been keeping up the prospects may have heard about the oft-spoken about "Lansing 3" -Nicolino, Sanchez and Syndergaard. Three amazing starting pitchers who are tearing up Class A. They have scouts and other teams drooling. I imagine there are a fair amount of Jays fans out there dreaming too. I planned my trip carefully to make sure I would see one of the 3. I decided to see Sanchez and bought my tickets. Two days later, Sanchez was put on the DL and I saw Blake McFarland instead. He brought about no drooling. He went 4.0 innings, gave up eight hits, four runs with five ks. He allowed a homerun on the second pitch of the game, as well as three doubles.

At the A-level there are a lot of guys who will never make it to the major leagues. Even the Lansing 3 may never make it to the show. And its obvious in the guys walking around. A lot of the guys are really short, or really stocky. Its amazing how different these guys look when you're used to looking at big league bodies.

I kept score for the game and made some notes next to some of the players names to remind me what I like about them. I wrote:
 Michael Crouse (CF) (Nice HR),

Michael Crouse warms up

Gustavo Pierre (3B) (Easy speed, good arm at third, loves the game). Of all the Lugnuts, Pierre was my favorite. He was quick at third, threw lightning bolts to first. He bolted around the bases and has the body of a big leaguer. He cheered on his teamates at the dugout fence, and from my seat on the other side of the field I could hear him clapping. If you've read this blog you know that I really like players who just love the game and Pierre loves the game.
Gustavo Pierre at third.

Andy Fermin (2B) (Good baserunner)

Fermin at bat

Chris Hawkins (RF) (Excellent eye, good hitter).

Michael Crouse went 1-4 with a HR and BB. Hawkins went 2-4 with two singles, one sac bunt and a walk. Pierre went 2-5 with a single and a double, as well as a controversial caught looking strikeout which caused manager John Tamargo to be ejected after a riotous argument with the home plate umpire.
Tamargo gets riotous. Fermin looks on.

Fermin went 2-3 with a double, a triple and two walks (he ripped around those bases, he was a really natural and fast baserunner). I also saw closer Ajay Meyer who broke the Franchise record for saves with 30. At 6'6 and 185lbs, Meyer was a verifiable bean pole on the mound.

Ajay Meyer. Closer and beanpole.

The Lugnuts came from behind, to win the game on a catcher error, which allowed the winning run to score. I really enjoyed the game, even if I didn't get to see the famous three, and it rained most of the game. Minor league games are fun. I enjoyed the plays for both teams equally and it was great seeing players in their early days, trudging away the the grind of minor league baseball.
KC Hobson mirrors the umpire

 For anyone who wants a little road trip, or who is heading through Michigan, you should stop and see a game! It's a beautiful ballpark with a circling concourse and outfield grass seating. The whole neighbourhood has really been built up around the stadium. Also, the lugnuts have their own song. It's pretty special.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Trade Deadline via a Twilight Metaphor

The trade dealine has come and gone and the Blue Jays saw a few trades. Perhaps the most poignant was Travis Snider being pulled from a sinking game in Seattle in the seventh inning. Yan Gomes went into left field, so we all knew this wasn't a routine play. And sure enough, not two minutes later he was in the dugout shaking hands and hugging. But then the question remained, where was he going? And who were the Jays getting? I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that  was praying to the baseball gods for Garza or Upton, but I should have known better. This is AA afterall. If you've heard the rumour than it's not true. And nobody heard a rumour about Travis Snider and Brad Lincoln.

Not an hour later, Eric Thames was dealt to the Seattle Mariners for Steve Delabar.

And in one night, both of the players that most fans imagined as the left fielder of the future were gone.

In Spring Training, everybody picked sides. It was like Twilight. Team Snider or Team Thames. Team Thames was the equivalent of being on Team Jacob. Most of the die hard community was on the side of Team Snider, and confessing your love for Team Thames often resulted in being ostracized. Because Bella (the Blue Jays) never really loved Jacob (Thames), he was just a good friend when she needed him. Edward (Snider) was her true love.

So therefore, in a lot of fans minds trading away Snider was like staking Edward in the heart before he could live happily ever after with Bella. They were not happy. Despondent really. My twitter exploded.

Now, now. Don't pretend you don't understand my metaphor. We've all read it.

But i've been swimming against the tide on this one since day one. And I will say, I think this is the best thing that could ever happen to Snider and I wish him all the best in Pittsburgh. If Snider does break out and become the hitter and fielder we all hoped he would become, i'm sure there will be Blue Jays fans cursing the ground AA walks on. But here is my belief. Travis Snider was never going to reach his potential in Toronto. He needed a change of scenery. He needed a new gm,  new coaches, managers and even fans. He has a blank slate in Pittsburgh. He is no longer JP Riccardi's pick. Nobody in Pittsburgh remembers his flashes of brilliance and failure in 2010, 2011, 2012. And hell, the kid has the chance to play in October. Even the mouth breathers threatening AA's life should be happy for him. Who wouldn't want a chance to play with Andrew McCutchen?

So going back to my metaphor. Bella is now all alone in left field without Edward or Jacob to love her, comfort her and spew her bullshit. A new round of suitors have arrived.

Moises Sierra
Anthony Gose
Rajai Davis

I don't think anyone in April would believe the outfielder crew the Blue Jays are currently rocking. I think Moises Sierra has a lot of potential. He was a consistent hitter in AAA (since numbers mean nothing down there, consistency is certainly a good thing), he's a good runner and according to AA he is Nelson Cruz incarnate and has one hell of an arm. I'm not quite buying into the whole Nelson Cruz thing quite yet (although that would be amazing- remember last October??) I'm willing to give this kid a chance, and i'm excited from his one game sample size (running through the stop sign and all). I love the speed of Anthony Gose, but he's 21 and I don't think he's here to stay. His batting thus far has left a lot to be desired. Legging out infield hits is great, but sometimes that ball needs to get into the outfield.

As for Brad Lincoln and Steve Delabar. I'm holding out hope. They are exactly what AA wanted. Controllable power arms. The bullpen has been in shambles since day one, and frankly they are dropping like flies out there. I'm ready for some consistency and I really hope Lincoln, Delabar and Lyon can bring a little bit of that in the later innings.

While we all wait to see whether Villeneuva can pull yet another winning rabbit out of his hat and avoid the sweep in Seattle, i'll leave you with a few pictures. Because I take a lot.

Confession: not too long ago I was driving down front street with my Mom when I saw Escobar walking. I recognized him and promptly gawked. My Mom questioned how I recognized Escobar from the back. I present Exhibit A.

Lind, pre-back woes runs out of the box.

A new pitcher is warming up for Kansas City. Murphy, Brett and Jose collectively say, "Oh shit."

Arencebia takes a power swing.

From my running out of the box series. Rajai is too quick.

That time Ricky wore the high socks in an attempt to get his groove back. Still missing: Ricky's groove.

From my Jays from the back series. Classic Brett Lawrie.