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Why Bryce Harper Deserves Our Undivided Attention

I am pretty sure I could write pages and pages about why I love The Natural—its solemn nostalgia and ability to reawaken every part of me that loves every part of baseball—but I will try to contain myself to the subject outlined so subtly in the title.

Perhaps you are wondering what this man has to do with our title figure, Mr. Harper. Patience, I ask only for patience.

Roy Hobbs is not necessarily a fallen hero; he did no wrong but circumstances outside his control doomed him to fall short of the potential recognized by himself and others. We can never know if he would have fulfilled his Williamsesque prophesy, to walk down the street and hear people say: “there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was,” but I am confident he would have. In sports, I see largely ordinary men do extraordinary things. I know they are ordinary because they get hurt like us (Tony Canigliaro); they aren’t ready like us (Billy Beane); they fall from grace and from the public eye, never to reveal just how deep their talent runs (Josh Hamilton).

Both the Rays and Hamilton seemed destined for greatness following the 1999 draft.

The film came out in 1984, when Josh Hamilton was three years old. He quickly became as close to a real-life Roy Hobbs as we will ever experience. Blessed with physical gifts as both a pitcher and hitter, there was not speculation about Hamilton’s potential: it was simply known that he would become one of the best players in the world, never mind that he was just 17 when drafted in 1999. The most “sure thing” prospect since another teen draftee, Ken Griffey Jr., Hamilton was believed to be able to make it in the majors as a pitcher or hitter (very Hobbsish), and would likely do so soon after the start of the new millennium. He was Bryce Harper before Bryce Harper picked up a bat, godly in his talent and titanic in his potential. Then he showed the world how human he was.

Imagine how much THIS would be worth if he was real.

Hamilton fell victim to injuries and drug addiction. Instead of bursting onto the scene with precocious teen talent, Hamilton struggled to find his way to the majors, finally making his debut in 2007. He was supposed to be the best in the league on his way to “the best there ever was” by then, well on his way to cementing his place among baseball’s immortals.

Hamilton has shown his talent over the last six years, even taking home an MVP in 2010, but one night stands out to me, a night that only young boys and Hollywood could have imagined. In 2008, the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium (in New York—the Hobbs comparisons become eerie) allowed the baseball world to feast its eyes on talent unlike most ever witnessed. Hamilton swung 38 times in the first round. He hit 28 home runs, including 13 in a row at one point.

Hamilton put on a type of show unseen since Barry Levinson’s magical 1984 film.

People can’t even do that in wiffleball or video games. Hamilton—or Hobbs—is the player you create in a virtual world because you will never see him in ours, the slugger you pretend to be in your daydreams and fantasies. I didn’t just want to be a major leaguer; I wanted to be THE guy, the player with unlimited talent and even more potential—Nomar in 1997 or Pujols in 2001 or Ted Williams back in 1939.

Whoops. Not this Nomar.

Hobbs makes me smile, but Hamilton breaks my heart. Hobbs ensures that he will be remembered forever, rising from the depths as he lifts a team and city from comparable doldrums, as he carries the Knights to the pennant in dramatic fashion. People may not say “the best there ever was,” but they would certainly say “there goes Roy Hobbs.” I do not know for certain if Josh Hamilton will reach that point, and that kills me. That magical night at Yankee Stadium in the summer of 2008 reminded every person witnessing of the deep well that contains Hamilton’s ability, a place that will perhaps never run dry but has certainly been greatly depleted. Hamilton is a hero to many, not only a great baseball player but also a human being who got his life back together having faced a crippling addiction. But I don’t think he will ever be a hero to himself, because he knows how good he could have been. One must hope he has an Iris Gaines of his own, reminding him of the present and future, lest he forever mire in the missed opportunities of the past.

Hamilton does a lot of looking off into space, as if forging in his mind what could have been. Must be a pretty picture.

I realize now that I failed in my attempt to focus on how Redford shapes the film, but I think this says a lot about his performances and about me as a viewer. He embodies Sundance and Johnny Hooker and Hobbs and all of his characters with seductive magnetism, reminding us of the lives we dreamed of as kids and still remember dreaming of as we age but fail to grow up. Redford’s appeal transcends gender or sexuality or time, I believe. In The Natural, who wouldn’t root for a country boy with a homegrown swing and self-made bat? Who can help but root for the Knights, decked out in the regalia of a time when greedy owners and their corporate ambitions could be overcome by the divine prowess of a single man?

We often place superheroes’ expectations upon the shoulders of our superstars, calling upon them to bring in fans or sponsors or to save fading leagues. Rarely are we granted the privilege of experiencing a Roy Hobbs, but even rarer is the chance to witness someone with that talent who does not lose his years to gunshots or drug addictions.

Watch – witness – Bryce Harper as often as you can while you can. Naturals are in limited supply.

Let’s hope whatever that picture is he’s seeing becomes a reality.

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Filed under Baseball, batter v. pitcher, NBA, Random Thoughts

Fantasy Mustache: Shortstop

Loyalty, Above All Else: Sean Rodriguez

I cannot tell you exactly why there are so many articles and mentions of Sean Rodriguez on this silly little site.  I think some time after he broke into the league my buddy Dave and I decided he was primed to break out, given our expert opinions.  He plays multiple positions, a favorite fantasy attribute of mine, and fit the ‘Swiss Army’ profile both Dave and I enjoy so thoroughly it inspired a series of posts.  Rodriguez did not break out.  What he did was become a useful glue player, playing solid defense at 2B, SS and 3B capable of hitting an occasional XBH and stealing a few bases.  He does nothing. spectacular, despite the wishes of many here at DotP.

Bill James is so un-enthused with Rodriguez’s mediocrity that he has chopped the guy’s plate appearances to a mere 256 in 2013:

14 2B / 1 3B / 8 HR / 37 R / 32 RBI / 6 SB / .246 AVG / .328 OBP / .730 OPS

According to James, Sean Rodriguez is on a hill, and he will continue to tumble down.  These projections are one big MEH-fest.  I refuse to hear that.  Not our guy.  Not Sean Rodriguez.  The Rays are a likable team and Rodriguez is a likable guy.  And that’s the problem, clearly.  Studies have shown that nice guys, in fact, finish last (Dr. B. Armstrong et al).  Or at the very least don’t bring home that World Series Trophy.  To save his career, Rodriguez must top being nice and start getting…. evil.  Or real, I guess.  Point being, the man’s getting a villain-esque makeover

evilseanrodriguez

Evil Sean Rodriguez: Part Terminator, part Captain Hook, ALL hitting machine.  This is no mere mustache awakening, this is a hostile position takeover.  Note the glare.  The sinister eyebrows.  The dastardly twirl of his facial hairs.  This is a man fed up with being told by Bill James he will be below average.  This is a man who is going to make sure Elliot Johnson doesn’t take another ground ball at SS.  Evil Sean Rodriguez will seize the position.  He will bat 568 times.  He will prove his doubters wrong.  Haters will perish under his lazereyed gaze.  Observe the Mustache-bot 2000’s calculations:

37 2B / 9 3B / 19 HR / 73 R / 81 RBI / 33 SB / .301 AVG / .398 OBP / .963 OPS

We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to create a new Sean Rodriguez.  Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.  MANIACAL LAUGH…. MANIACAL LAUGH… MANIACAL LAUGH!

But seriously, Sean Rodriguez.  Grow a mustache.  Play better.  Or I’m going to have to stop writing about you.

Stay groomed,

-V

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Filed under Baseball, Fantasy Baseball, MLB, shortstop, Sleepers

Offseason Changes: Tampa Bay (DON’T call them ‘Devil’) Rays

 

The Rays face some interesting decisions this offseason (and not just what to do with these awful sportscoats), and most of them will alter the fantasy landscape.  So here I am to help you.  And by that I mean share my opinions on some of the changes I am interested in.   I do what I want.  So here are some thoughts on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays:

 

Carl Crawford

Where is he going?  Now that the Rays are out, he’s got a lot to think about.  The Angels of the greater California Area are said to be major players for the speedster, and that could make for a very interesting lineup for the Angels and for fantasy owners.  With Morales coming back and the tools that lineup already has (Abreu, Torii Hunter, some interesting young power), Crawford could put up more great numbers atop that lineup or batting 3rd behind Abreu and whatever contact guy they decide to leadoff with.  This is the option I hope for, as the Red Sox don’t really need an outfielder…

 

…but there is the very real chance that Crawford could get swooped up by the monster Yankees if they don’t win this year (or hell, even if they DO win!).  Imagine freakin’ Crawford hitting in front of that lineup.  Imagine Crawford anywhere in that lineup!  Good.  Lord.  But fantasy-wise, that would be the craziest thing to happen to an already top ten fantasy player in years.

 

This situation, suffice to say, is one to watch.  And either way, it means Desmond Jennings gets the call.  So watch Crawford, but be EXTREMELY wary of the rookie’s progress as well…

 

Carlos Pena

If Pena leaves, does that create a power vacuum in Tampa?  Yes.  Anywhere he goes(Red Sox, Mets, heck the Mariners?)  gets what they get- a 30-40 homer guy who will not ever hit .300.  Ever.  Not even if there’s a fire.  Pena is the type of hitter whose value will remain consistent wherever he goes- he hits bombs- but how prolific his numbers are could be interesting.  If he goes to a protecting lineup, he could see a rise in value.  If he goes to the Mets, he could get herpes all over his body or something horrible.  But either way he’ll hit bombs.  Except if he goes to the Mets.   I just dislike the Mets. He’s not going there. His leaving also creates an interesting situation in Tampa.  What do they do?  Who do they sign?  Are they going to play Ben Zobrist at first base?  Allowing Brignac to play more?  Or lil Beckham hanging around in the minors?  These are questions to ponder and be on the lookout for this offseason, as they will obviously affect more than just the signing itself and the team Pena signs with and both Pena’s and others (Zobrist) could be significantly (fantasy) altered.

BJ Upton

Is this his last chance?  When does a team finally say put up or shut up?  His talent is undeniable, so what the hell is he doing hitting .240!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!  If it was me, I’d have Bossman on a short leash.  My advice for fantasy is to keep an eye on him and draft cautiously, or be burned once more.

Wade Davis/ Jeremy Hellickson

Watch how these two young arms mature in the new season.  If Davis controls his walks and Hellickson matures, this could put the Rays in an interesting situation.  One to the bullpen?  Either one could be a viable fantasy option.  I like Davis, as he showed some Cajones down the stretch and I’d like to see where he goes.  Hellickson might need a bit more seasoning and could benefit from a stint as a setup man, developing his pitches while the Rays figure out what to do with him.  He could be a useful pickup either way in deeper leagues (Davis is a sleeper for next year in my book).

 

Well, those are some thoughts on the Rays offseason and how they affect your offseason.  Here’s a nice piece in the Boston Globe about the uncertainty the Rays face. In, you know, an almost unbiased opinion…

 

 

GO RANGERS

 

-w

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Filed under Cajones, Fantasy Baseball, MLB, Opinion, Posted