Sunday, September 03, 2006

Scouting The Dodgers

This past Friday evening, I had the pleasure of attending the Dodgers-Rockies game, as a guest of my friend Neal, and our seats were amazing- approximately 12 rows behind home plate! Of course, any game in Los Angeles is rife with celebrity sightings, and Friday was no exception as we sat a few rows behind CNN talkshow host, Larry King, his wife Shaunee, and their kids, as well as a few, "lesser" (LOL) celebs, like Annette Benning & Warren Beatty (she's even more beautiful in person!). We also sat alongside various MLB scouts, whose teams included the Mariners and Angels (I know, neither team is in contention, but they're West Coast scouts, looking for info on a player that their GM might need in the off-season). It was fun to see the difference in mph on various pitchers posted on the scoreboard versus what the guns read that the scouts were using - often up to 2 miles per hour different.

It was a really good game, and it was fun to root for the Dodgers, since I'd love nothing more then to see us face them in the Division finals. However, the big story of the night belonged to one Don Newcombe, the very first Cy Young award winner in 1956. Newcombe's accomplishments (he was both MVP & Cy Young Award Winner) were remembered via proclamation from the LA City Council, and he threw out the first pitch, followed by a video recapping highlights from that season (in Brooklyn, of course). Newcombe looks fantastic for someone who just turned 80, resplendent in a new, tan suit and classic panama hat. How, you ask, did I know that? Well, it just so happens that, in the 2nd inning, Mr. Newcombe passed right by our seats, and I had a chance to shake his hand and he autographed my Brooklyn Dodgers hat and Neal's ball! His hands are huge, almost as big as his smile, and I bet he can still get something on a ball, even at his age! A look at the Dodgers official press release can be found here.

[Historical Note: The "Cy Young Award" should have been entitled the "Christy Matthewson Award." Matty was the first true baseball star of the 20th century, and was the face of the game until Babe Ruth debuted with the Red Sox some years later. Young won most of his games before the turn of the century and Matty led the Giants to a number of World Series victories, including 3 championships in a row under manager John McGraw, after the turn of the century. He was also the first truly merchandised player in baseball, and would have been a great ambassador for the game had he not died far too soon from TB. Helping to put baseball on the map, so to speak, is worth the difference in victories between Young and Matty, but since baseball is a game that loves to stand on its historical decisions, regardless of accuracy (Mr. Doubleday, we're talking about you) and as a rule is slow to rectify or change rules/procedures, this is one battle that won't amount to anything. In our book, however, Newcombe was the first winner of the "Christy Matthewson Award"...]

Derek Lowe was the starter for the Dodgers on Friday, and also in attendance was his new love, Carolyn Hughes, sitting a few rows in front of us (that's her in the picture). She certainly was animated in her support of her man, and she was wonderful to watch, if from a distance!

The Dodgers are a most interesting team. As of today, they have passed the Cards to post the second best record in the NL. A dubious distinction, true, but one not to be underestimated when you consider their recent 11-game losing streak and the fact that, not too long ago, they were struggling to get to, and stay at, .500.

Breaking It Down...
1.) Pitching: Their team is made up of a rotation that features a 15-game hothead, Brad Penny, a former Red Sox hero (the afore-mentioned Lowe), an up-and-coming rookie in Chad Billinglsey, a future hall-of-famer, closer to AARP then to his rookie season, one Greg Maddux, and a group of interchangeable starters including Tomko, Sele, Hendrickson, et al. Their bullpen was devistated early on in the season, due to the loss of former great, Eric Gagne, as well as his set-up man, Yhanzy Brezelbon. Additionally, in the offseason, they had traded reliever Duaner Sanchez to us, for Jae Seo, who bombed for them and was later shipped to Kazmir-land in exchange for Hendrickson. 2 rookies, Jonathan Broxton and Japanese import Takashi Saito, have stabilized their bullpen and performed extremely well under the pressures of a pennant-race. Their pitching staff is definitely one of their 3 main strengths.

2.) Young Talent: In the past, teams have been wary of entering into a pennant race with a roster filled with young talent. The thought is that younger players will wilt under the pressure of so many important games, one after another, as well as playing a season that is considerably longer then what they have become used to in high school, college or the minors. Last year, the Braves won the East with a plethora of young players, 2 of whom (McCann & Francoeur) have become top-drawer talents. This Dodger team is very reminiscent of those Braves, except that their hitters seem to be more long-haul prospects. Included in their mix is, seemingly, the best of the bunch, one Andre Ethier, 24, their left-fielder, hitting .335 with 11 dingers and 53 RBI's, in only 343 at-bats. He was, seemingly, a throw-in from the A's in the deal that sent disgruntled OFer Milton Bradley to Oakland. Ethier is joined by Ofer Matt Kemp, 1B James Loney, Starter Billingsley, 3b Wilson Betemit (former Brave) and, the new heart of their team, catcher Russell Martin, following in the mold of Piazza and Lo Duca (will he be the Mets' eventual catching replacement for PLD? If history is any indication, there's always a chance- LOL). Their team is loaded with vets, from Kent and Nomar to Furcal, Lofton and JD Drew, but it is the young players who have energized this team.

3.) Management: Take away his handling of Pedro, and Little was an excellent manager with the Red Sox (in our opinion). Little's patience has paid off in keeping the younger players focused while wading through major injuries to both Kent and Nomar (of course). He has handled the pitching staff well, and the players have responded to his game management, outside of a hot-head Penny blow-up. GM Ned Coletti has done a very good job of assembling this roster, based around the youth he inherited from previous GM Depodesta as well as Dan Evans, 2 GMs ago. Coletti recently acquired ex-Met pinch-hitting great, Marlon Anderson, from the Nats, and he, of course, got a pinch-hit in his first at-bat Friday. This follows his busy July, wherein he acquired both Betemit and Maddux. Both Coletti and Little deserve praise for their hard work this season, and I would rate Coletti a strong third in Exec of the Year, behind Omar and the Reds' Wayne Krivisky. I would rate little third, behind Willie and Girardi. Overall,m an excellent job! In Sum: The Dodgers are a lot of fun to watch, filled with ups and downs. You never know who is going to be their star, from game to game, and the site of Maddux throwing a mere 68 pitches a few weeks back harkened back to their teams of the early to mid 1960's, featuring Koufax, Drysdale, and a bunch of Punch-and-Judy hitters. They have the talent to win the division, and to contend for a number of years, especially considering the fact that they have a lot more talent in the minors yet to be brought up. This, however, is the year of the Mets, and there will not be a repeat of 1988- not this year at least!

I was able to get a few good shots, pictured below, including one of former Met, Jeff Kent, as well as one of (more recent) former Met, Kaz Matsui. The first photo is of Derek Lowe getting warmed up, and the one below it is of NO-MAH getting around on one. Enjoy the photos!

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