PxP: In the Zone

How would you describe “being in the zone”?

And answers like anything but being named Rory on any given Sunday don’t count.

There are these moments in life where everything just seems to go right, where one has the complete and utter control over everything around him, where your knotted dirty socks leave the hand so effortlessly that you just know they will bounce softly off your wife’s make up table and swoosh their way into the very middle of the laundry basket. Or whatever athletic endeavor it is that you might be pursuing.

But as easy as it feels being in the zone, it is even harder to try to describe how and why one finds his way into such a state of mind and body, where yin and yang find the perfect balance, where one is but a hovering soul over the slow-motioned events leading inevitably towards a happy end. Luckily for you, I realize that it’s not only hard to describe but also utterly boring, so not a single word more will be wasted about such esoteric poop.

Instead we turn to that other zone, the one that existed way before Jim Boeheim perfected the 3-2 one, even way before Charles Lindbergh started the chain of events that led to the no-fly one. We’ll talk about the one and only true one – the strike zone.

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Čovjek koji nije znao odustati

Koliko puta ste nakon utakmice ili sezone čuli sportaše kako kažu: “Nije se moglo”? Rukometaši nisu mogli zbog sudaca, nogometaši zbog blatnog terena, košarkaši zbog niskih plaća, atletičari zbog jakog vjetra, jedriličari zbog preslabog. “Mi smo pokušali sve, dali apsolutno sve od sebe. Ali, jednostavno nije išlo.”

 Ne samo sportaši, svi mi. Smršavili bismo, ali susjeda je baš danas ispekla kolač. Naučili bismo strani jezik, ali nam baš to ne ide. Napredovali na poslu, ali nas šef ne voli.

Amerikanci imaju izreku – “Isprike su kao guzice. Svatko ima po jednu i sve smrde”.

Jim Abbott će to sročiti nešto uljudnije, ali bit se ne mijenja. “Najvažnije u životu je ne tražiti ispriku. Ljudi oko vas će vam to dopustiti, prihvatiti ako za neuspjeh okrivite okolnosti. Ali mislim da smo sami sebi dužni izvući maksimum iz našeg potencijala.”

Abbott zna o čemu govori. Kao bacač poveo je američku baseball reprezentaciju do zlata na Olimpijskim igrama 1988. godine. Postao je prvi igrač baseballa koji je izabran za amaterskog sportaša godine u SAD. A kasnije se kao profesionalac u dresu New York Yankeesa upisao i u povijest – odbacao je cijelu utakmicu bez da protivnicima uspije i jedan jedini udarac protiv njega. Impresivna lista uspjeha, kakvom se može pohvaliti tek vrlo mali broj sportaša u povijesti.

Ah da, još nešto. Jim Abbott je rođen bez desne šake.

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Vepar devetobojac

Za razliku od svojih vršnjaka, mali Vincent Edward nije sanjao o karijeri u NFL-u ili MLB-u. Ne, on je želio biti pilot, provodeći spora poslijepodneva svog djetinjstva pod vrućim suncem Alabame, gledajući zrakoplove kako slijeću i polijeću s obližnje zračne luke. Za razliku od svojih vršnjaka, on je postao zvijezda. I u NFL-u i u MLB-u.

Stathead’s lament – Top 10 things about baseball I can’t appreciate

Statheads live in their mother’s basements. Everybody knows that. They firmly believe that games are played exclusively on paper and while they happily discuss the stadium issues, they are a little puzzled that a “stadium” is needed in the first place. For them, the game is a new math* contest between robots. To sum it up, if one can calculate well, he most definitely doesn’t know the first thing about real baseball. Example in case? Brian Bannister.

* What is “new math”, anyway? Is it something like the New Europe thing?

Sometimes, I wish I couldn’t add or subtract. I think of all the beautiful baseball things that other mention and that I can not appreciate due to the fact that I am a nerd. If I weren’t a stathead (imagine this to a tune of “if I were a rich man”) I am sure I might enjoy so many things a normal person likes about baseball – all of them more than statistics. I might even have a list of my favorite ones that would look pretty much like this…

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Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate DHestiny

Spartacust vs. Godzilla – an ultimate showdown if there ever was one. Of course, I neither think that my analysis can be ultimate anything, nor that Cust or Matsui are the ultimate DHs. The former is simply what we used to have, and the latter what we will probably end up with. If you don’t get the title reference, though, stop whatever it is that you are doing right now and click here. Trust me, it is much better than this write-up, or any that I could ever make. Seriously, do it now.

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Right To Play

This is not a story about Oakland Athletics. It is not even a story about baseball. This is a story of three people you have probably never heard about, whose lives are interlaced in a most improbable manner and who, each one in his own way, give hope. It’s an opportunity to say thank you to those who inspire, both by selflessly giving and by giving the reason to selflessly give.

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PxP: The B-Word

Dickey Pearce was, by all accounts, a man of short stature and strong will. He was also possibly baseball’s first professional player.

He played his first game with Brooklyn Atlantics on September 18th, 1856 and he died exactly 52 years later in Wareham, Massachusetts, spending the most of the time in between these dates playing baseball or being around it. Baseball-Reference holds the stats for only his last few years and judging by those, he was not a very good baseball player. So why would a career of a replacement level player who played a century and a half ago be of any interest today?

Judging from the articles from that era, he was a much better player in his early days. St. Louis Times wrote following about Mr. Pearce on June 30th, 1868:

Pearce has been noted as a superior shortstop for ten years and to-day has no equal in the base ball field. He bats with great judgment and safety…

Indeed, everybody seems to agree that Dickey Pearce was not only an excellent fielder and the best shortstop of his time, but that he was actually the first shortstop to play the game like shortstops have been playing ever since. A game report from May 19th, 1873 shows that he used anything he could to find an edge:

At the Union Grounds in Brooklyn‚ 2‚000 fans are on hand as the Atlantics beat the Quakers‚ 13-11. In the first inning‚ there are two Quakers on base when Malone hits a pop up to Dickey Pearce. Pearce lets the ball hit the ground‚ then throw to 3B for a force and the rely to 2B Jack Burdock completes a DP.

Yes, he forced us to introduce the infield-fly rule, albeit only 22 years later. Dickey Pearce was truly ahead of his time, a baseball pioneer, a man whose defensive prowess and intelligence were groundbreaking. Yet, it was not with the glove, but with the bat that he left the strongest mark, triggering heated discussions centuries later. Dickey Pearce gave baseball the tricky hit. He gave us the bunt.

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PxP: This Time It’s Count

It was June, and things weren’t looking good for the Diamondbacks. Already 15 games behind the surprise Padres, they just dropped an inter-divisional series at home. Against their natural geographical nemesis – the Yankees. And they had only one day to regroup as they took their 28-45 record on the road to face yet another regional foe – the Tampa Bay Rays. “I’ll take ‘The states that host spring training games’ for $200, Alex”.

Their hitters weren’t hitting and their pitchers were getting hit. Haren, the staff ace, had an ERA of 4.67, which was on the right side of five compared to the one sported by Edwin Jackson, who would get the ball on that Friday to take on the suddenly mighty Rays and their more than 2,000 very rabid fans.

So, of course, Edwin Jackson went out and hurled a complete game shutout, in what was possibly the most non-dominant dominating performance in baseball. He faced 36 batters and ran the count to three balls on more than the third of them. He walked eight. Yet, both Jackson and his manager kept stubbornly moving along until the last one of the Rays found his way to the bench and the scoreboard was still showing 0 hits for the home team. In a meaningless game for his team, Edwin Jackson wrote history and became only a second Diamondback to throw a no-hitter. He also threw 149 pitches that night.
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PxP: 9th Inning, When Managers Rise To Shine

Being a baseball manager is rather exciting compared to what most other 70-year olds get to spend their afternoons doing, but it’s still rather boring. There just isn’t that much to do.

In basketball you can call a timeout and scream at the bunch of seven-footers. You have your own little Etch-A-Sketch pad. You can substitute all you want. All you want. Imagine LaRussa under such circumstances.

In football you get to pick one of 200 plays that you drew up, minute after minute, all while simultaneously communicating with NASA satellites and avoiding streams of 350 lb bodies rushing to and away from the field. People really shouldn’t weigh 350 pounds.

And I am certain that there are various forms of entertainment that hockey coaches can engage in, and I would gladly mention them if I cared about the sport enough to know anything about it.

But as a baseball manager, you are left out of all the fun. First, you are called a manager and not a coach for a reason. You can not outsmart the other guy by secretly preparing a new play. You can’t teach a killer 3-2 zone. You don’t really teach or coach anything at all. And worst of all, even when the games start, well, there still isn’t much to do. And if you look at the following data, you’ll see that they have to wait for hours for what limited fun they might have.

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