Bases empty, two outs, a 3-1 game, #8 hitter up. Nothing comes down to this.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Arizona Diamondbacks to Give Away 20,000 Venomous Snakes

The Tampa Bay Rays made headlines this week by announcing a special promotion for their final home game. But the Arizona Diamondbacks will not be outdone. First, a little background.

On Monday, Evan Longoria and David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays remarked on the surprisingly small crowd at their game against the Baltimore Orioles, disappointed by the lack of hometown support despite the Rays' place in the standings - after Tuesday's games, Tampa Bay held the best record in all of baseball at 94-63. The Rays organization responded by pledging to give away 20,000 tickets to Wednesday's contest, the last home game of the year for Tampa Bay.

David Price's tweet turned into a massive promotion for Wednesday's game

Perhaps inspired by Price and Longoria's success at mobilizing their organization, Arizona's Justin Upton made similar comments on Tuesday night.

"Well sir, I do say, the populace hasn't exactly been alighting in droves of late. The scuttlebutt is too many of Phoenix's finest are incarcerated in hoosegows as a result of that blasted immigration reform that's so popular with the Whigs and Free Soilers these days. If you were to beseech the view of yours truly, and by jove, you are, and I'll be on the level with you, I daresay it would be just dandy if the brain trust did something like that what they did down in Tampa Bay. Finish off the season with a real fandango."

The Diamondbacks responded shortly thereafter with a press release announcing their plans: on Sunday's season-closer, each of the first 20,000 fans to arrive at the game will receive a complimentary diamondback, the namesake of the team, also known as Crotalus Atrox, the Western Rattlesnake.

"We wanted to do something for the fans," said Diamondbacks Director of Promotions Adam Cross, "but we also wanted to do our own thing. We're not just stealing Tampa Bay's idea. In fact, we think our promotion is a lot better, and not only better but more personable. The diamondback is the name of our beloved team, after all, and many of our fans grew up loving and caring for diamondbacks in their home. For many, this will be a day of nostalgia."

The Diamondbacks and Rays have often been mentioned in the same breath as a result of their concurrent entry into the Major Leagues in MLB's most recent expansion year, 1998. And though Tampa Bay currently owns baseball's best record, Arizona believes they're winning the competition between the two teams on an overall basis.

"We have a World Series title," said Arizona's owner Ken Kendrick. "What do the Rays have? Sweatshirts and dumb glasses? Some kid with the same name as the hot chick on Desperate Housewives? An ugly indoor stadium so empty they have to give away tickets? And now we have better promotions too. They give away tickets. Ooh, how creative! Who's your marketing manager Tampa Bay, Don Draper? We give away rattlesnakes. Yeah. Take that. They couldn't compete with us if they tried. What are they gonna give away? A fucking sunbeam? Nice logo, assholes."

"Diamondback Day" won't be limited to just free snakes, though. Snockys™ (socks for snakes) will be available for sale at stadium stores in Diamondbacks home and road colours, perfect for those chilly Phoenix afternoons. Additionally, Snocky™ experts will be on hand to make custom sheaths on the spot to perfectly fit each individual snake's rattle. Said Snocky™ representative Alan Richardson, "the Snocky Sheath™ is perfect for families. It turns your diamondback's rattle from a warning of approaching danger to a fun toy for your baby."

Snockys™ will be available for Purchase on Diamondback Day
In addition to the regular hot dogs, popcorn and beer, Chase Field food vendors will be serving mice with which to feed fans' new acquisitions. In keeping with ballpark traditions, mice will be available "plain", "mesquite", "cheese-stuffed", or as a combo (with fries and a 32 oz. soda).

Adam Cross says this could be the beginning of a new era in Diamondbacks promotions. "So many teams just stagnate as far as promotions go; they're satisfied with the bobble-heads, sausage race, and ladies night. We're just at the tip of the iceberg here. So many creative ideas are flowing in our department. Bobble-snakes? Snake Race? Lady Snakes Night? And there are more. Oh, you better believe there are more."

Monday, September 27, 2010

A.J. Pierzynski Becomes First Player-Broadcaster

In a surprising move Sunday night, the Chicago White Sox and WCIU-TV jointly announced that in the 2011 season, catcher A.J. Pierzynski will be signed to a contract the likes of which has never been seen before in the Major Leagues: Pierzynski will serve as player-broadcaster, simultaneously calling the game from behind the plate and over the WCIU airwaves.

While the player-broadcaster is a first, baseball has seen this type of dual-occupation before. Player-managers were common in the early stages of baseball's history: players such as Cap Anson, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker laced up their cleats while at the same time serving as their team's representative to the umpiring crew. The player-manager has been seen as recently as 1986, when Pete Rose played 72 games while managing the Cincinnati Reds.

A press release from the White Sox went into some details about this unique situation. Pierzynski will be fitted with special equipment designed to allow him to broadcast in any game situation. New catching and batting helmets will be manufactured with built-in high-quality microphones. For the pre-game show, during which time Pierzynski will be undergoing his regular pre-game routine, a tech crew will carefully follow his every move in order to allow his routine to continue uninterrupted while he participates in the pre-game broadcast, all the while doing such typical preparations as batting practice, squats, and showering.

A.J. Pierzynski will be the first player-broadcaster in history

Pierzynski will be the colour commentator to Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, play-by-play man for the White Sox since 1990. The White Sox believe this team will provide viewers with an entirely original perspective on the game, with Harrelson able to ask his partner, at any time, "what's the mood on the field right now, A.J.?" Answers to this question are expected to range from "tense" to "pressure-packed" to "basebally".

In order to audition for the job, Pierzynski called Chicago's recent series against the Los Angeles Angels. Several excerpts from Saturday's game detail the types of exchanges viewers can expect to hear over the next three years:

Bottom of the 4th, White Sox leading 2-0, Torii Hunter at bat for the Angels, one out, runner on first.
Harrelson: A.J., what can you tell me about this batter?
Pierzynski: He fucking sucks, dude. (shouting) Right Torii? You couldn't hit my big white ass mooning you from two feet away!
Muffled Voice in the Background: Shut up A.J., I'll tell you what big white ass I hit last night, your MOM's.
Harrelson: A.J., any thoughts on what (pitcher Gavin) Floyd is gonna throw here?
Pierzynski: (loudly) Well, Gavin likes to get the first-pitch fastball in there for a strike to get ahead of the hitter, so I'd be looking fastball here.
Harrelson: The pitch... a curveball in the dirt has Hunter WAY out in front, strike one.
Pierzynski: HAH, gotcha Hunter. I was callin' curve all the way man.
Muffled Voice in the Background: Fuck you, A.J.

Top of the 6th, White Sox leading 2-1, Pierzynski at the bat.
Harrelson: Okay A.J., take me through how you plan to attack this at bat.
Pierzynski: Well Hawk, (pitcher Jered) Weaver has nasty stuff, and I got no chance against him, so I plan to peek back at the catcher to see what he's gonna throw.
Harrelson: Is that something you commonly do?
Pierzynski: Oh, all the TIME dude, I couldn't hit for shit without it. He's goin' slider on the outside corner, just fyi.
Harrelson: The pitch... a slider is roped into the left-center gap by Pierzynski! Bourjos bobbles it, and A.J.'s rounding second...
Pierzynski: (puff) This is gonna be a close play Hawk (gasp) oh SHIT I'm gonna diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive
Harrelson: Pierzynski JUST beats the tag and is into third with a triple!

While WCIU will go with the Harrelson-Pierzynski duo for next year, they haven't ruled out shifting the broadcast even further into the dugout or on the playing field. "This is just the beginning," said WCIU Sports Director Don Trepanier, "we have a lot of ideas about player-player broadcast teams. Imagine a pitcher-catcher battery that could also call the game as it happened. Or a play-by-play man on the White Sox with a colour man on the opposing team for both perspectives. And of course we'd love to get Ozzie Guillen on the mic."

Guillen, the White Sox' manager, it turns out, was WCIU's first choice to be Hawk Harrelson's colour man in 2011, but MLB vetoed this idea based on Guillen's past controversial statements and stint in sensitivity training.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Marlins Announce Jeffrey Loria Day

Jeffrey Loria is getting the George Steinbrenner treatment. And more.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Florida Marlins announced that 2011's slate of promotions will include a game dedicated to their beloved owner Jeffrey Loria. It will be held on Wednesday, April 6, fittingly against Loria's former franchise, the Washington Nationals (Loria owned the team when they were the Montreal Expos. Their subsequent move to Washington and Loria's ownership are not believed to be related.)

The game will begin with a video tribute similar to the one delivered in honour of George Steinbrenner earlier this year. Steinbrenner died on July 13 at the age of 80 after owning the New York Yankees for 37 years. But as Marlins Director of Promotions Everett Wells says, Loria's tribute won't simply be a copy of the former Yankee's owner's.

"Steinbrenner's ceremony certainly informed our thought process going into this", said Wells, "but Jeff's legacy is different. George was a controversial figure who was disliked by a lot of people, so when I watched that montage it made me a little squeamish. I mean, it made him out to be this heroic community builder, so I was just thinking, why are we celebrating the life of this guy who was really a jerk?"

None of those uncomfortable discrepancies apply to Loria, said Matthew Chapman, an area scout for the Marlins who has worked with Loria for over a decade. "Jeff is an outstanding man. During his ownership of the Expos and now the Marlins, he's shown nothing but an extraordinary commitment to the team, the fans, and the community. He wants to build a great baseball team, and he puts his money where his mouth is."

So Loria's tribute, according to Wells, won't carry those same unpalatable overtones that Steinbrenner's did. Wells also stressed the importance of holding a tribute while Loria still owns the team. "We want to celebrate his life while he's still here to see it (the tribute), so he knows that people care and appreciate everything he's done."

The video montage won't be the only part of the festivities though. Any fans attending the game will receive a Jeffrey Loria bobblehead, the first in the Marlins' 2011 series which will also include such luminaries as reliever Rob Dibble, Cubs fan Steve Bartman, and actor Mel Gibson.

A mock-up of the Jeffrey Loria bobble-head
that fans will receive on the special day

In the third inning, the traditional "sausage race" - popular in such MLB cities as Milwaukee and Washington (where it's a "president's race") - will be held, with the sausages replaced by Jeffreys Loria, as a nod to Loria's well-known sense of humour. Each of the four caricature-like costumes will depict a different aspect of Loria's personality: the Baseball Fan, the Philanthropist, the Dedicated Father, and the Role Model.

The seventh-inning stretch on the big day will not feature the traditional "Take Me Out to the Ballgame", but instead a special composition commissioned especially for the game and dedicated to Loria, written and conducted by "Star Wars" composer John Williams and performed live in the infield by the Ljubljana Philharmonic of Slovenia accompanied by the St. Paul's Cathedral Choir.

Throughout the game, fans will be given the opportunity to send a text message to the Marlins expressing their gratitude and appreciation towards Mr. Loria. The best and most heartfelt will be chosen to be displayed on the scoreboard.

Finally, the nightly raffle - which is usually a 50/50 draw that rewards the winner with a cash prize - will feature a Jeffrey Loria-centric prize package. The winner will receive a hand-carved bronze bust of Loria, a set of fine bathroom linens embroidered with Mr. Loria's visage, and a special dinner with the man himself, Jeffrey Loria's butler, Mr. Nigel Murdoch.

Everett Wells says he can't believe the idea has never occurred to him until now. "I mean, when you think about sports owners who go above and beyond the call of duty, the list has to start with Jeffrey Loria. This special day is long overdue."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

White Sox Pull Off Rare Quadruple Play

On Tuesday night, the Chicago White Sox pulled off a play that hasn't been seen in the major leagues in over 50 years.

With the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the third inning, Kansas City Royals shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt barely got a piece of a pitch from Mark Buehrle. Off the bat, the ball bounced just a couple feet in front of catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who quickly snatched it up, stepped on home plate for the force out and immediately fired a throw down to third baseman Brent Morel, who snagged the throw ahead of a diving Wilson Betemit.

Morel then made the bold decision to go for the out at second base, a play that would normally be impossible given the sequence of events leading up to it. However, the runner on first, Kila Ka'aihue, had dived back towards the bag upon contact and was nowhere near second. Ka'aihue explained his mistake after the game.

"Buehrle is just so deceptive, man. He's crafty. Wiley, even. You never know what he's gonna do. I saw the pitch going towards the plate and I just got this sense that it was gonna turn around and come straight to first base. I didn't want to be caught leaning." Attempts to dispute this possibility based on basic physics were quickly dismissed. "Nah man, you just don't get how crafty Buehrle is. He's tricky. Cunning. Knavish, if you will."

The upshot was that the Royals' DH was out of position and easily thrown out at second base to complete the triple play. But it didn't end there. Sox second baseman Omar Vizquel made the double (or, in this case, double double) play turn and fired to first baseman Paul Konerko. When asked why, Vizquel claimed innocence in his pleasantly mild Spanish accent.

"It wasn't me. Something took over my body and made that throw for me. It was like some, eh, renegade spirit trespassed into my soul and became my essence, and the only way for it to atone for its sins that was keeping it in this world and ascend to the glorious afterlife and be reunited with its loved ones and avoid an eternity of wandering, floating through this world, utterly alone, in a state of constant torment, always regretting not taking advantage of that one chance it had been given by the ultimate power from on high, way up in that magical place to which we all strive, was to catch that ball, turn around and throw it over to Paulo."

Omar Vizquel had an out-of-body experience while turning "The Play"

The throw easily beat Betancourt to the bag, as the runner had watched the play unfold and understandably headed back towards the dugout, believing his run down to first base to now be superfluous. However, first base umpire Peter Gzowski called him out emphatically, getting down on one knee and throwing a fierce uppercut at an invisible (and presumably very short) boxing opponent while screaming "JYERIIIAAOUUUTT" in a grunge-rock falsetto.

"It was awesome", said Gzowski. "The most awesome thing I've ever seen. Just so freaking awesome. I had to call him out, because of the awesomeness of it. Man. Awesome."

After a brief conference, the umpires decided that Kansas City would start the fourth with one out. "Initially, I thought that idea was ridiculous", said crew chief Lloyd Robertson, "but Gzowski convinced us. He was right: it was friggin' awesome. I mean, who's ever seen a quadruple play? Awesome. An Awesomely Awesome play of Awesome Awesomeness."

Despite its nonsensicalness, the quadruple play has happened before. On June 8, 1953, with the bases loaded, New York Giants shortstop Alvin Dark hit a ball into the right-center gap that was bobbled by the right fielder upon retrieval. Sensing an inside-the-park home run, Dark sped around the bases following his teammates. Unfortunately, the lead runner, catcher Wes Westrum, suffered an horrific injury on the play. He tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) while running, and careened into foul territory, writhing in pain. Not noticing what had happened, perhaps believing the squirming figure on the ground to be the third base coach for some reason, the three other runners passed him, and were called out for their transgression. Westrum himself was called out for leaving the base-paths. The umpires hadn't noticed that four outs had been called at the time, but after coming to the realization penalized the Giants with an extra out in the next inning.

Rumours of a quintuple play in the Negro Leagues in the 1920s have circulated, but as with many alleged events in baseball's early history, the details are hazy and unconfirmed. Speculation has arisen about how such a play could occur: some have hypothesized that certain runners could have been called out more than once for multiple transgressions, that fielders could have been given "bonus outs" for particularly spectacular plays, or that the umpires were corrupt jerks.