Friday, April 25, 2008

The Progressive Blog

Many years ago when I lived and worked in North Dallas about once a month my group of friends would have a "progressive" dinner night. We'd start at one friend's house for appetizers and, um, adult beverages, then drive to another's for the first course - well, you get the idea -there were breaks in between each course. That is the basis for today's blog - we had our usual mid-week April storm, that means my internet service is once again offline at Hooch World Headquarters (in spite of Time Warner's assurances they were going to replace the offending piece of equipment as soon as possible). Rather than wait around for repairs - today's entry is going to appear thought by thought as I move through day - which is a euphemism for "I'm trying blog in during down times while I'm at work".

I went to a minor league baseball game Tuesday night and I actually like Ranger baseball again!

Main Course:
Monster Max and the Craig Gentry Show:
Tuesday night I “rolled up” to Frisco for a game between Frisco Rough Riders and San Antonio Missions (Padres). I had the pleasure of sitting with the lovely Erin Hindman (and her dad Michael) and equally lovely Kate Schiller (and her brother Grant and dad Michael) - pictured on the left. If you want a detailed report on the game you can go to Mike Hindman’s Rangers Farm Report – he’s writing daily updates again which is great news for minor league fans.

All I have are few first impressions: Max Ramirez can hit – flat out hit – I saw Travis Hafner as a Ranger prospect and I’d say that Max Ramirez is the closest I’ve seen to Haf in pure hitting ability. I’d like to see a few more games behind the plate before I can assess his catching skills – but after just one game I think that the notion that he’s another Piazza type catcher (barely adequate) is a little harsh. And frankly, Ranger fans are spoiled since we are used to highly skilled defensive catchers who can also hit well (sometimes) like Jim Sundberg, Pudge Rodriguez and Gerald Laird circa 2006.

Watching Chris Davis I wonder if other teams think that because of his high K rate in Bakersfield that is he is a Dave Kingman type “hacker” – he isn’t. While Chris doesn’t have the quite the same strike zone judgment of the aforementioned Hafner, Davis isn’t swinging away at everything – as evidenced by his increasing BB totals since his promotion to Frisco.

As pointed out by Mike Hindman – Craig Gentry’s first couple of weeks in AA have been an eye-opener. His box score line read 3 for 4– what it didn’t tell you was this about Gentry’s night: after hitting a single he moved and I mean moved fast - to second on passed ball. Then in the 3rd another single – and then flew to second on a passed ball – his 3rd hit was a bunt single – when the pitcher tried to beat the fleet Gentry to first – his throw went over the first baseman and Craig wound up at second, again. Gentry is fast, he’s fearless, he’s fun to watch – let’s see if he can keep it up.

Last few notes on the game: the San Antonio IF’s must idolize the Rangers IF – because their fielding was just as bad…this was the first time I’ve seen Elvis Andrus – he didn’t do much at the plate – but watching him in the field – I’d say that Michael Young needs to consider a position change or waiving his no-trade clause – this kid is the defensive SS of the future and if he keeps making progress it’ll be sooner than later…Rangers GM Jon Daniels sat with Minor League Director Scott Servais for most of the game ( that’s the night the Rangers lost 8-1 to Detroit probably a wise choice to skip the major league game).... The Missions Manager (whose name escapes me) was thrown out of the game and made the longest exit in history screaming at the umps…in April…in a AA game…. and the entertainment value was not even as good as a Lou Pinella blow up.

Seriously, if you want to enjoy a baseball game take the drive up the Tollway - the Riders have some exciting young players who are fun to watch and who knows - could be wearing a big league uniform soon (remember that German Duran was at AA Frisco this time last season).

Random Thoughts (baseball and otherwise):

Sing A Long: if you are going to the big league game on (4/25) – everybody’s favorite former usher Eddie will be singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch. In case you haven't been to the Ballpark yet this season - MLB is celebrating the 100th anniversary of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" - the Rangers have fans leading the song every night - and I believe there is a "tryout" booth located on the concourse along the 1st Base Side.

Secret Message to Jean The New Mexico Bean: Did you know "Was (Not Was)" just released their first new album in 15 years?

The Future is Now: In case you didn’t get the newsflash from Jamey Newberg – 2007 first round draft pick Blake Beavan will make his professional debut with the Class A Clinton Lumberkings this weekend. And in a bit of serendipity our friend Grant Schiller has an interview with Blake on his Texas Rangers Trades blog.

If you aren’t watching the Rangers this weekend, (and I can’t blame you if you don’t want to) here are a couple of suggestions:

  • The Frisco Roughriders continue their homestand facing the prospect laden Corpus Christi Hooks (Houston) while the OKC Redhawks are at Bricktown facing Homer Simpson’s favorite team, the Albuquerque Isotopes (Florida). I will be attending the Saturday game in Frisco and making the drive up I-35 on Sunday for the Redhawks. Late Edit: The weather was not "permitting" - a cold rainy morning and forecast for more kept me from going to OKC on Sunday

  • If you really don’t want watch anything Ranger baseball related (and I’m sorry to say there are some who feel that way – and again I can’t blame them) the I suggest you rent “In The Shadow of The Moon” just released on DVD. Ron Howard's excellent documentary focuses on the Apollo astronauts with digitally remastered NASA photography - it will take you out of this world!
After Dinner Drinks:

Marla’s Managerial Etiquette Lesson #1: There is much discussion about Ron Washington and his tenure as Rangers manager. I am on the record as saying I didn’t think he was a good hire in the first place. It appears he will remain as manager – but even after a full year’s experience managing in the major leagues it seems that he is still making many “rookie” mistakes both on the field and off the field. There are many blogs, internet forums and electronic wags/whiners already pontificating on Ron’s managerial abilities – but has anyone offered to actually help him?

I think it’s time to offer some constructive suggestions: Please listen carefully Mr. Washington. There is a certain way to respond to the media – it’s a simple lesson Baseball Mom taught me: “think before you speak”.

Have you learned that the media types -- especially the beat writers -- are going to put everything you say on paper and on the web. Saying the first thing that comes to your mind is probably what you are used to doing – the first thing you really need to think of before you respond to anything – how is what I want to say going to affect my organization, my players and my boss?

It is often pointed out that there seems to be a “disconnect” between what the front office says it wants to do with the direction of the team and what you appear to be doing. Here’s a perfect example: Earlier this week when the Blue Jays released Frank Thomas your boss, Jon Daniels, was asked if the Rangers were interested he said “no”. Yet when you were asked the same question – you said you’d “love” to have Frank Thomas on your team – this is same response you gave when asked about Barry Bonds (when the GM again said “no”.) Think about it Ron: every time you make a statement like that you not only contradict your GM and rile up the fans – but you also put this question to the guys on your team’s roster “why do you want someone else - are we not good enough?”

Now here is how a seasoned manager, in fact the guy managing across the field from you tonight, Twins skipped Ron Gardenhire responded to the same question “ I already have Jason Kubel at DH”. Do you see the difference?

It’s a simple lesson, even a girl who doesn’t know anything about baseball can learn.

Progress complete - or maybe just starting -- Marla Hooch

Sunday, April 20, 2008

To Quote Former President Richard M. Nixon.....

“Let me say this about that…”

Once again my personal thanks to Time Warner/Road Runner internet. As happens every Spring, there are thunderstorms, my internet service is interrupted, I spend days offline waiting for a repairman to replace the cover on the connection box that that always falls off when it rains. And so it goes…until the next storm.

Since I tend to be whiny let’s start with the “good stuff”.

Getting in touch with my inner artist: Not writing my blog left me with plenty of time to ride the TRE into downtown Fort Worth on Saturday for the Main Street Art Festival. Mark your calendars for next year – it’s an afternoon well spent viewing art, eating excellent food and listening to good music.

Good for German: German Duran got his first big league hit Saturday night – and if you were listening to Josh and Tom then you know that he’s giving that baseball to the father of a friend of his who passed away – what a great gesture – how can you not root for this kid to succeed?

Minor matters: Scanning the “Top Ten” lists for the minor leagues (as of 4/20) finds a few Ranger prospects prospering (couldn’t come up with a third “p” word for additional annoying alliteration). In the Midwest League – Clinton’s Ian Gac has the second highest BA in the league at .426 – while teammate Crisitan Santana (playing multiple positions) is tied for 11th with a .340 BA (missing the 10th spot by .001) – pitching wise righty Evan Reed is #10 on the ERA list with 1.50 ERA (and a very solid spot start in AA Frisco to boot).

The Bakersfield Blaze fans must be ecstatic with this year’s squad after enduring last year’s miserable showing – IF Jose Vallejo is 7th in the batting race with a .333 BA – while RHP John Bannister (recently promoted to Frisco) just missed the top 10 coming in at 11th with a 2.40 ERA followed by LHP Zach Phillips at #12 with a 2.57 ERA.

Up in Frisco, IF Adam Fox has the second best BA in the Texas League at .380 and 1B Chris Davis in spite of missing a few games with a sore wrist is 10th at .352 Lefthander Mark Ballard is 8th in ERA at 2.00 and I’m mentioning the improving RHP Michael Schlact at 14 th with 2.50 ERA (and nice note on the daily BA summary saying that he’s appears to be on the right track)

No Redhawks in the Top 10 offensive or pitching categories – although Nelson Cruz – you read that right Nelson Cruz - is 13th with a .348 BA and a .516 OBP – 16 BBs only 6 Ks. Another favorite – RHP Doug Mathis is 1st in IP with 26 –(and a decent 3.12 ERA).

Clinton Lumberkings: I want to point out the link in the photo gallery to Lacey’s pictures of the Clinton Lumberkings – thanks for sending them. And has anyone noticed the new Lumberking’s logo – pictured on the left – Louie the Lumberking. Did they use Jason Botts as a model for those arms?

So where have you been Marla? It’s true – two weeks into the season and I haven’t been to a minor league game yet – I am suitably ashamed and going to fix that situation this week: going to at least 2 Frisco games – with Mrs. Schmenge accompanying me for Saturday’s game – and a quick trip to OKC for a Sunday afternoon game. Pictures and game reports next week….weather permitting.

My Glory Park soapbox: When I mentioned the financing problems for Greed…er…Glory Park in a previous entry it elicited a couple of responses. Here are my objections to the development and most of the changes going on around the Ballpark.

As noted, Rangers ownership had the options to develop the land around the Ballpark from the time the bond issues passed in the early 1990’s – the previous ownership group (W, Tom Schieffer, Rusty Rose et. al) chose not to do anything. When Mr. Hicks bought the team in 1998 he didn’t exactly do much of anything – except sell off part of the general parking area - making it more difficult for non-season ticket holders to find nearby parking. Again as noted Mr. Hicks waited until the football stadium was approved to begin his development plans.

Let me point out a few things:

1st When the football team moves its games to Arlington its going to be 9 regular season games per year – and maybe a couple of playoff games – that is a possibility maybe 10 calendar days during the 365 day year that the football crowds will come out to Arlington. So Mr. Hicks was more willing to invest in 10 days a year – rather than the 81 days his team is in Arlington? What does that say about what Mr. Hicks thinks of his team’s fans and what they are willing to spend? Not much in my opinion.

2nd – Addressing specifically the closing of the 2 restaurants on Copeland Rd. I think it’s interesting that the owners of Joe’s Crab Shack, Red, Hot & Blue and Pappadeaux’s – who are affected the same way by the street closures – didn’t pack up and leave. That speaks more to the kind of businesses that Mr. Hicks and his development partners are recruiting – maybe they don’t have the same kind of financial stability - how much “slow business” will these other business establishments be able to withstand during the football and baseball off days/off seasons if established brands like the Mexican Inn and Shady Oaks can’t handle it?

3rd - What Mr. Hicks and Glory Park planners are trying to emulate – (the area around the AAC) won’t work in Arlington. They are trying to create an urban setting in a suburban environment - -- I’ll say it right now: it will fail.

The fact is that Arlington isn’t really a suburb at all – it’s a small city that is 25 miles from downtown Dallas/Fort Worth which is at least a 45 to 55 minute drive from North Dallas (on a good day with no traffic hassles). There is no public transportation available.

Think about it – if you live off Arapaho Rd. are you going to say – "hey let’s drive 45 minutes to Arlington for dinner at a chain restaurant and a movie" on an off day – when that same chain has a place 10 minutes from your house right off the Tollway at Stonebriar Mall and a movie theatre too? Especially with gas prices heading towards $4.00 per gallon? Right now – weeknight games coming in from Dallas or Ft Worth it is still a push to get there by 7:00 between leaving work, picking up family and friends, parking almost to I-30 and walking to the stadium – do you really think those folks (many of whom don’t even stay beyond the 8th inning on weeknights) are going to hang around after the game when that means getting home long after midnight when they have to get up the next morning for work?

4th – The development plans I’ve seen, including the video board is just trashy and ugly in my opinion. The first tenant I’ve read about (in the Star Telegram) is a bowling alley with a movie screen – classy.

And hanging a video board on outside of the Ballpark, is utterly useless. As mentioned before – folks coming in for Ranger games have a long drive – they barely get there in time for the game most nights – they aren’t going to hang around before or after the game just watch a video board. And again – this is not an urban setting in the middle of downtown – no-one is going to pay $12.00 for parking just hang around in 90 degree weather on a Tuesday night just watch a video board. Mr. Hicks would be better off putting that video board inside the stadium for the hard working non-corporate folks who buy tickets in the home run porch.

Yes, I’ve heard there are plans for building townhouses and condo’s around the Ballpark – and how is the real estate market doing these days? Let me also point out the same exact thing was was promised (townhouses and condos) for the area around the Frisco Roughriders Ballpark in 2003 and so far – not one unit has been built.

Speaking of trashy – the Six Shooter Girls are an embarrassment. You can’t understand a word of the interviews they do on the jumbotron, the “game rules” they read are so stiff and forced it makes me cringe everytime it’s shown – and my gosh – if you’re going to spend that much money on them and put them on the dugout to dance then hire a freakin’ choreographer. At least the dancing ushers (who I really miss!) had a routine planned out and looked like they were having fun. These girls stand around and when they do move they are uncoordinated and have no idea what they are doing. Like I said – embarrassing.

Last word on “development”: What do I think Mr. Hicks should do with his money instead of Glory Park?

1. How about putting a roof on the Ballpark – yeah that’s right – blasphemy right here. You want to put more fans in seats – make it comfortable – give them a reason to drive out on hot July night and stay for the whole game – and maybe they’ll want to come out again because they won’t dread the misery of sitting in the heat. A side benefit: maybe your players won’t wear down as fast and maybe a few free agents will be more interested in coming to Arlington.

2. Use whatever influence you have to get some public transportation to the Ballpark. Back in the 1980’s you could take a DART bus from Dallas to old Arlington Stadium from a couple of the Park n Ride Lots. Get with DART and the T in Fort Worth and make it happen. Get something worked out with TRE to get a bus running to and from the DFW station on game days.

3. Spend some of that money on your front office – Jon Daniels needs better scouting and advisors so he won’t listen to folks urging him to make “Justin Thompson” (e.g. Adam Eaton, Brandon McCarthy) type deals – and he won’t pass up on premium pitching draftees (like Rick Porcello – have you seen his numbers?) just because of money.

For your consideration: Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane changes managers almost as often as he changes his underwear. He doesn’t look for “big” names or rising stars – it’s interesting that in all his managerial searches he never even considered or interviewed Ron Washington who was in their organization for a long time – now I think we Ranger fans know why.

Finally : My favorite feature on Postcards from Elysian Fields is the Friday Happy Hour (sorry Toby you are a close second) – let me point out this paragraph from last Friday:

“* Former Rangers manager Billy Martin: "Another club can be beating you for six innings, but for some reason the good ball clubs get tough and win in the last three."

Need I say more about the Boston series?

"I don't know a lot about politics, but I do know a lot about baseball." (Richard Nixon) – Marla Hooch