Friday, August 14, 2009

Bits and Bytes: My junior high orientation was never quite like this...

This is related to baseball in only the thinnest of ways, but here goes: The Red Sox just sent along what may be the most entertaining press release in the history of the written word. It touts the Red Sox Foundation hosting a city-wide middle school orientation Fenway Park Sunday, and if that’s not enough to make you wish you were 11 or 12 again, well, then you have no soul.

Not saying I’m jealous or anything, but I’m pretty sure my junior high orientation in 1985 occurred not at Fenway Park (of course, given I grew up two hours away from Boston, hosting orientation there would have been rather expensive and senseless) but during the spring of my sixth-grade year. That’s right, I’m so old that back in my day, junior high began in seventh grade. And we liked it!

A guidance counselor from the junior high came in to tell us how it was time to grow up because we’d have a lot more homework, would have to read stuff more challenging than Judy Blume and would no longer have recess. I can still remember the sinking feeling I got upon realizing I would no longer be among the last kids picked for kickball, softball and any other sort of athletic activity that required, you know, athleticism. (Of course we never picked teams for running laps around the playground. That, as the son of a marathon runner, was one thing I could do reasonably well) Childhood came to a screeching halt that day. Thanks a lot, random guidance counselor!

That these kids get to hang out with Wally at the lyrical bandbox isn’t what jumped out at me, though. I hate online acronyms, but this part of the release had me ROTFLMAO:

“The middle school years can be challenging for children and their parents, given the many changes that take place for children, both in terms of new schools and increased academic demands, as well as the social, emotional and physical changes that occur at this age.”

That’s a pretty long way of saying when it’s time to CHANGE, you’ve got to reARRANGE!

Here’s a couple other news items completely unrelated to puberty:

—While reading about middle school orientation at Fenway Park made me feel old, I’m not nearly old enough so that my declarations that Player X is the best I’ve ever seen at something should carry a whole lot of weight. So take this for what it’s worth: Alex Gonzalez, whom the Sox re-acquired today from the Reds, played the best shortstop I have ever seen during his previous stint with the Sox in 2006. The Sox posted the best fielding percentage in major league history that season, anchored in no small part by Gonzalez, whose .985 fielding percentage led AL shortstops and was the best in Sox history by a shortstop.

I covered the Mets during the Rey Ordonez years, including 1999, when he was part of what Sports Illustrated called the greatest infield defense ever. And while Ordonez was magnificent, he also had a knack for turning the routine into an adventure. Gonzalez made every play and never went into mail-it-in mode.

“[Mike] Lowell told me in spring training: ‘You’re going to see this guy do something about once a week that you’ve never seen before,’” Terry Francona said at the end of the 2006 season. “And that was not an exaggeration…he did some things that were unbelievable. He did some things that didn’t even look that acrobatic. Because he’s so good, after the play, [you say] ‘how the hell did he do that?’”

Unfortunately for Gonzalez, his defensive brilliance kind of got lost in the debris of a wrecked season. The Sox finished third, rendering their historic performance on defense somewhat meaningless. Gonzalez didn’t hit a whole lot, as is his career norm, and finished the year by hitting .182 in his final 82 at-bats and missing a considerable amount of time due to an oblique injury and a family emergency.

A spate of injuries—Gonzalez missed all of last season with a fractured left knee and has battled hamstring, oblique and elbow ailments this year—has reduced his effectiveness in the field to the point where it’s uncertain if the Gonzalez of ’09 is even an upgrade over utilityman Nick Green. Gonzalez will need to rediscover his defensive form of three years ago in order to really improve the Sox, since his offense has declined to rock bottom levels: He’s hitting .210 with a .258 on-base percentage and 15 extra-base hits in 243 at-bats.

Still, with the Reds actually paying some of Gonzalez’ remaining salary and the Sox only having to give up minor league infielder Kris Negron—who has yet to advance beyond Single-A after almost four years in the chain—it was well worth it for the Sox to take the gamble that Gonzalez has some magic left in his glove. I’d tune in this weekend, just in case.

—From the “egads, man, what are they thinking” department comes this: The Orioles expect to go to a six-man rotation in September in order to limit the innings of their young starters. Don’t they know the bad juju generated by such plans? I do wonder, though, if there’s some Orioles blogger salivating at the possibility of the six-man rotation and firing off thousands of words on the possibilities.

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