March 2012

Translations.

When Yu Darvish signed with Texas, the joke was that there would be 130 Japanese reporters making the trip to Surprise, that six or eight or a couple dozen of them would travel with the team during the regular season, that they’d be expected to file stories on Darvish every day in spite of his once-every-five-days work schedule, and that none of the above was a joke.

How crazy is it to expect five stories in five days all year from the Japanese beats?

“How do you feel you will pitch tomorrow?”

“Now that you’ve slept on it, how else do you feel you pitched yesterday?”

“How did your side work go?”

“Remember that 2006 Japan Series?  That was awesome.”

“How would you guess Yoshi’s side work will go?”

“Peyton Manning: Discuss.”

Seems we now have a glimpse at how the media may stretch out a story to get from one Darvish start to the next.

On Wednesday, moments before Darvish’s second-inning defensive gem, when he snared a James Darnell chopper and cut Will Venable down trying to score from third, Venable hit a Darvish fastball on the screws, indenting the center field wall in Peoria 410 feet away and nearly 30 feet up, and loped into second for an easy double that in most parks would have been a majestic home run.

Darvish apparently said after the game, as translated: “The wind helped that one.  I don’t think he really squared it up.”

Hey there, Will.  Thoughts?  “I squared it up pretty good – he was lucky it didn’t go out. . . . Maybe his perception of reality [in the big leagues] isn’t right yet.  But otherwise, I’ve got no comment.”

How about now, Will, away from the clubhouse and now that you’re doing a one-on-one on the radio?  “I don’t know, maybe something was lost in the translation.  But I would like to hear a little more humility out of the guy.  To each his own, I guess.  He’s a confident guy.  And, of course, I didn’t square up the ball because he’s Yu Darvish.”

Late last night, based on a conversation with Darvish’s agent Don Nomura, Ken Rosenthal (Fox Sports) reported that Darvish apparently meant to say: “I didn’t think he hit it that far, but he sure has lots of power.”

Bilingual American journalist Brad Lefton interpreted an explanatory tweet from Darvish to say: “I didn’t think he got good wood on it, but it carried further than I thought it would.  He’s a strong guy.”

And I had a couple Newberg Report readers take a look at something Nomura passed along in Japanese, regarding what Darvish said.

Rusty Lerner translated it this way: “I want to tell you that the comments made about the player Venable who yesterday hit a direct line drive to the fence, saying that ‘He did not have the ball,’ those words in America take on a different significance.  I meant something more like, ‘I thought I did not have the ball, but in fact it took off more than I thought it would.  The swing had real power.’ . . . I am happy that someone passed on the message.”

Kazuto Yamazaki’s take: “My comment yesterday on Venable was taken wrong in U.S.  I meant, ‘I didn’t think he hit it that far but he has lots of power.’  Can someone please tell him?”

There are 130 reporters in Surprise who just might head to Tempe today or Goodyear tomorrow to track Venable down and do exactly that.

Might be good for a story in Japan, pushing back for another day Darvish’s thoughts on the Jairo Beras imbroglio or what video package should be shown in the Ballpark when Robin Ventura’s White Sox visit to open the season or why the Mavs have so much trouble freeing Dirk up for a final shot.

Darvish Day.

It was televised live on four networks in Japan.  At 5 a.m.

His first inning was shown on ESPN News, his first and second both were shown on MLB.com and aired on ESPN 103.3 FM, the play-by-play of the entire game was webcast.

There weren’t many people in the Peoria stands for Yu Darvish’s debut, a weekday afternoon affair at 59 degrees and gusty winds, in sharp contrast to what was surely a crazy head count in the press box and the camera wells.  But a world was watching, and however you quantify the Darvish buzz going in, it got drowned out by what actually happened.

FACTS:

  • Two scoreless innings, three strikeouts, no walks, two doubles.
  • 36 pitches, 26 for strikes.
  • 10 of the strikes were swung at and missed, which Grantland.com’s Jonah Keri pointed out amounted to a 27.8 percent swinging strike rate, “preposterous” given that Michael Pineda led the big leagues last year at 11.8 percent.
  • Darvish threw seven different offerings: a four-seam fastball that topped out at 95 mph, a two-seam sinking fastball, a cutter, a split, a straight change, a hard curve with enough tilt that some are calling it a slider, and a loopy curve that crawled in at 67 mph.
  • Padres catcher John Baker saw five of them in his second-inning at-bat, which ended in a swinging strikeout to complete Darvish’s day: a two-seamer, a cutter, a hard curve, a four-seamer, and a splitter.  “You don’t usually see that right off the bat for your first at-bat of Spring Training,” said the veteran catcher.
  • Eight batters.  Seven started out down in the count 0-1, including the first six straight.
  • He worked entirely from the stretch, just because he felt he needed the work.
  • He made a couple solid plays defensively, including a one-hopper back to the box that he needed all of his six feet and five inches to stretch out and grab, cutting down a runner from third who broke for the plate.

OPINIONS:

  • Aaron Boone (ESPN): “Came away impressed with Darvish today.  He acts like a pitcher that knows he’s good and is getting ready for season.”
  • Jason Parks (Baseball Prospectus & Texas Farm Review): “Another small sample, but easy to see that Darvish is a special pitcher, one capable of missing a lot of major league quality bats right out of the chute.  He showed two types of fastballs (four-seamer, two-seamer, two types of curveballs (66 mph and 78-80 mph), a slider, a cutter, a straight-changeup, and a splitter.  He showed the ability to miss barrels with all of them, even when his overall command was good but not great.  His delivery is very clean and repeatable, so the command is going to be there.  The stuff is electric and explosive, and with his preternatural ability to manipulate the baseball, can show multiple varieties of each pitch, changing the speed and shape at will.  It’s really an incredible experience to see the ball come out of his hand and move around as it nears the zone.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  This is going to be fun.”
  • Keri: “Carlos Quentin has played 616 regular-season games in the big leagues.  He’s struck out 387 times.  It’s possible that no pitcher has ever made him look worse than Yu Darvish did today.”
  • Keith Law (ESPN): “Seven pitches is a lot for a starter in MLB – I understand it’s more common in Japan – but with the fastball, slider, cutter and splitter, he’d have one of the 10 best arsenals in the league, and should have the control and aggressiveness to get the most out of it.”
  • Orlando Hudson (Padres second baseman): “I think he’ll do a hell of a job.  He’s got seven pitches to embarrass you with.  He’s like Nintendo up there. . . . They’re going back to the postseason.  That’s a no-brainer.”
  • Jerry Crasnick (ESPN): “Two spring training innings into his big league tenure, Darvish is already the closest thing out there to ‘appointment baseball.’”
  • Me: Heyday David Cone, at about half a foot taller.

TWEETS:

  • Can’t remember the last time I hoped our offense was retired quickly in the first.
  • Many observations re Yu’s 1st inning of work, the least relevant of which is that Carlos Quentin is looking very Gerald Laird suddenly.
  • Eleven pages of the 100-page e-Book cover the multi-year process of scouting and acquiring Darvish.  #11.
  • Oh my, Mr. Splitty.

AWESOMENESS:

  • From Matt Mosley (Fox Sports Southwest): The Rangers rookie pitcher is supremely confident, as evidenced by a story Jon Daniels told on 103.3 KESN-FM radio show Wednesday.  Rangers top prospect Martin Perez recently asked Darvish how he fared in his first intra-squad scrimmage.  Darvish told him he pitched “OK” and asked how Perez had done in his first outing.  Perez smiled and said it only took him 12 pitches to complete his inning.

          Darvish then instructed his translator to ask Perez how old he was.

          Informed that Perez was 20, Darvish responded, “Tell him I already had a Cy Young by then.”

Darvish changed speeds, changed planes, and unbelievably changed the hype, somehow moving it even further off the charts.  For a guy making his first appearance that sorta counted in a stateside uniform, there wasn’t a hint of nerves or panic.  Instead, there was tons of presence, of swagger and stuff in heavy supply, as heavy as could ever be expected in such a microscopic sample, staged in what amounted to a formalized practice.

When Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz arrived, the anticipation was high, but we felt like we knew something about what we were going to see if things worked out the way they were supposed to, especially those of us who had seen them face AA hitters a little bit north in Dr Pepper Ballpark.  The same will be true with Martin Perez.

When Cliff Lee arrived, the unknown was dependent only on how he’d feel about pitching for a team that he and his wife didn’t expect to land with.

Darvish is different, of course.  We have a handful of highlights of him pitching against inferior competition in a part of the world where they use different baseballs and use their pitchers on different schedules and where others before him have dominated before coming here to different results.

The only recent equivalent I can think of is Stephen Strasburg’s 3.1 Phoenix Desert Dog innings against Buster Posey and the Scottsdale Scorpions on October 16, 2009.  Still, Strasburg’s AFL competition that day wasn’t a big league lineup, and even if MLB Network aired it (can’t remember), the buzz and the scrutiny weren’t close to this.  And neither was the unknown, even to the millions who tuned into one of those four networks at 5 a.m. on the other side of the world.

LeBron’s first pre-season game was probably a bigger deal, but maybe not.  I guess that’s the comp.

None of what happened yesterday counted, and yet the attention those two innings generated probably exceeded what Opening Day will draw in some markets around the league a month from now.  It didn’t really matter, but yeah, it sorta did.

The only disappointment, one that separates this from LeBron, is that we have to wait almost a week to see starting pitchers do their thing again.

Just tremendous.

Everything in Its Right Place.

I actually have friends who don’t appreciate Josh Hamilton’s transcendence.  Others who don’t care.

So I get it that you have no interest in me writing about Radiohead.  And that three of you (you know who you are), in a few minutes, will waste 20 seconds emailing me to make that point.

I’m going to resist doing what I’d like to do, which would be to spill a couple hundred scattered words about that band and that show and how the things I was most blown away by last night were not the ones I thought they’d be, and how my crazy expectations were met.

If you’ve read the Newberg Report for any length of time, you know I have a fascination with the phenomenon of colliding paths.  It’s one of the themes of the JD e-Book, and of any number of entries I’ve written over these 14 years.

You can watch Hamilton run and throw and launch a thousand times on TV, but when you’re in the building to experience it, when you’re fortunate enough to have your path intersect with his, even if just for a few hours, it’s different.

I try not to take for granted that the paths that brought Thom and Jonny and Colin and Ed and Phil together – and, man, Clive too – brought them eventually to Dallas on March 5, 2012, and coincided with me being able to steer my own path to the same place at the same time.  Every few minutes some new technology for listening to great music rolls out, but nothing can ever replace being in the room.

Sort of like in baseball.

Not everyone gets that.  That’s cool.  Not everyone needs to.

This is the time of the year when I generally sit down and write “32 things,” my annual punch list of big leaguers and prospects and other things I’m looking forward to seeing in Surprise.  But something occurred to me as I drove away from the concert late last night.

You can ask me to make a case for (almost) any member of Radiohead being the separator in that band, and I’d accept the challenge.  But seeing them live for the first time last night, I realized that isolating any of them is crazy.  I guess I’d be mildly curious about any solo projects they might experiment with between the band’s work in the studio and on tour, but the expectations wouldn’t be great.  The cliché about the value of the whole exceeding the sum of its parts fits really well when the subject is a great rock band.  The synthesis is what ultimately makes it transcendent.

And for that reason (and not a bout of laziness), I’m not going to list 32 things this year.  We’re fortunate enough, you and me and our circles of people who care about the Rangers like we do, that our paths are converging with this moment of time in the life of a franchise that for so many years was irrelevant far more often than it wasn’t but that now sits as one of the game’s elite.

Of course I look forward to seeing Yu and Jurickson and Nef and Ronald when I get to Arizona, but unlike most of the years that I’ve been heading to Port Charlotte and Surprise for a few days to reacquaint myself with the team and reimmerse myself in the game, it’s now the team I’m going to see.  There were plenty of times in the past when the attraction might have been a handful of guys who just might compete for a home run title and a knuckleball pitcher who didn’t age.  Or the most extraordinary catcher the game had seen in a generation, or a trio of minor league pitchers whose catchy acronym captivated a fan base.

Not any more.  There aren’t 32 things I’m hoping to see.  There’s just one.

One thing, at the surest time in our lives as Rangers fans that the whole makes up more of a bad-ass force than the rattling off of any 32 or 3200 parts.

Game (on).

It was the most different birthday I’ve had yet, one that started with me rolling out of bed earlier than I can remember and getting on the road close to an hour before the sun snuck up.  Two baseball games followed, and a soccer game, and a hugely successful day of Destination Imagination.  The day belonged 100 percent to our kids, all except for that stolen sofa nap that lasted maybe 25 (glorious) minutes, but that’s cool.

By way of an occasional check of Twitter, I saw that there were apparent setbacks on Saturday for Matt West and (according sources who spoke to Baseball America’s Ben Badler) on the Jairo Beras front, but in neither case do we know how bad the news will be.  So we wait.

But one wait that’s nearly over is the countdown until some level of Rangers baseball against a squad other than themselves.  Texas takes on Kansas City at 1:05 Central today, with Colby Lewis, Scott Feldman, Michael Kirkman, Robbie Ross, Sean Green, and Miguel De Los Santos expected to get the ball.  The Royals will go first with former Ranger Luis Mendoza, in spite of whose right-handedness Craig Gentry will start in center field.  Eric Nadel and Steve Busby will bring the action to us on 103.3 FM and on MLB.com Gameday Audio.  In a few hours, all will be more right with the world.

There are two more tournament Little League games between now and then for me, but it’s all good.  And the best gift I’ll get this weekend may just be catching another one of those couch-siestas, to the sounds of Eric and Buzz, before it’s time for soccer practice and a little preparation for a week ahead that will be heavy at the law office, with a spring training box score to devour and overreact to every day, plus a Radiohead visit at the start of the week and a Surprise visit at the end of it.

It’s all good.

Veritas.

We’ll call this player Kid.  Baseball America wrote something about his controversial, multi-million-dollar signing out of the Dominican Republic.

 

“We liked him,” [one] AL international scouting director said.  “We saw him as a corner outfielder, big, long-limbed, real bat potential.  He’s definitely a guy a lot of people liked.”

One National League international scouting director compared [Kid’s] body to that of a young Juan Gonzalez.  “He might end up being in center field because he’s a plus runner.  It’s all going to come down to how big he gets and if he slows down,” the scout said.  “He’s going to put on some weight, so whether he retains that speed will tell if he ends up at a corner.”

*      *      *

 [Another] American League international scouting director said that he had [Kid] in for a workout as recently as last month.

“I think it caught everybody by surprise,” he said. “Even his agents were promoting him as a July 2 guy.  He really doesn’t follow the July 2 cutoff for this year.  I guess . . . we all figured he was eligible this year instead of last year.”

 

Kid is a Cincinnati prospect named Juan Duran.  He signed with the Reds for $2 million in February 2008.

Like Duran, teenager Jairo Beras tantalizes scouts with his power and hit tools.

Like Duran, Beras has been compared by some scouts to a young Juan Gonzalez, according to Baseball America.

Like Duran, the athletic Beras is expected to end up on an outfield corner as he fills out.

But it’s a final similarity that caught my eye as I went back and read the Duran story this morning.

When the Reds dug hard and determined that Duran was, in their interpretation of the rules, eligible to sign earlier than the conventional July 2, 2008 date that many assumed, it fired off some backlash among teams who were sitting on the sidelines in February of that year, waiting for July.

But other clubs knew Duran, by the book, was eligible to sign when he did, and at least one of those other clubs “had Duran in for a workout as recently as” a few weeks before his deal with the Reds.

The Duran loophole had to do with him turning 17 before the end of the regular season of the minor league club to which he was assigned.  Beras’s eligibility turns on whether he was born in December 1994 (which would make him eligible to sign now) or December 1995 (which would make him part of the July 2, 2012 class, which will be the first subject to the spending caps imposed by the new CBA).  There is evidently conflicting documentation out there as to which birthdate is accurate.

The facts are different in the Beras case (for more details see Ben Badler of BA, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, and Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports), and so is the money (reports exploded yesterday, starting with one from Dionisio Soldevila of ESPN Deportes, that Texas had agreed to sign Beras for $4.5 million), but there’s a parallel between the Duran and Beras situations brought to the fore in one note Passan tweeted on Wednesday:

Source who has spoken with Rangers people says team thinks MLB will OK the signing because other teams knew Beras’ revised age.

Other teams knew that Duran could sign when he did.  Other teams knew before yesterday, according to Passan, that Beras apparently turned 17 in December.

If this were the Yankees or Red Sox, would the coverage and controversy differ from a situation in which the Pirates or Royals agreed to terms with the player?

It’s going to get more press than Cincinnati’s Duran signing did – it arguably already has – because the Rangers now matter more to the media centers and presumably to other clubs than they used to and than the Reds did four years ago.  As a baseball franchise, Texas is now a lot closer to New York and Boston than it is to Pittsburgh and Kansas City.

Maybe if Duran hadn’t already basically washed out as a prospect, his story wouldn’t have retreated into vague memory by now.

But that’s not the point.  The fact that the CBA changes make this more than a simple question of when Beras’s career can begin makes this a focus story, and again, “there are multiple sources indicating there is official documentation indicating a date of birth of December 25, 1994, [which] would make the contract [with Texas] valid.”

That note was written last night by Goldstein, who also suggests that “if the Rangers found out he was 17, the onus is not on them to share that information, either with other teams or with Major League Baseball.”

And, if Passan is correct, even if the Rangers dug hard and determined that Beras was, in fact, eligible to sign sooner than July 2, they weren’t the only club that knew he was 17.

Whether MLB is swayed by the fact that other teams besides Texas did enough homework to conclude Beras was immediately signable (if that’s true), I have no idea.  A number of writers who have spoken to officials from clubs other than Texas believe MLB will kill the deal.  But perhaps the cloud won’t hover for long, based on a pair of tweets this morning from Tim Brown (Yahoo! Sports):

MLB’s Kim Ng on the Rangers-Beras situation: “We are investigating this issue and hope to have it resolved soon.”  No real timetable.  MLB investigators routinely consult with hospitals, schools and neighbors to determine ages of DR prospects.  This is No. 1 on their list now.

Some number of the 29 clubs who didn’t agree to terms with Beras, of course, are going to push MLB to void the signing.  Whether that’s where this is headed, I don’t know, but I know one thing.

I’m glad the team whose aggressiveness is being challenged is the Texas Rangers.

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