Friday, April 27, 2012

The Great Mistake...

"Braves On the Warpath..."
wait, oh never mind
Word has come out that Bryce Harper, the nineteen year old prospect of the Washington Nationals, is going to be called up to the big club tomorrow to replace Ryan Zimmerman, who was placed on the disabled list (DL) for his recurring shoulder issues.

It is a mistake for them to do so.

I speak not as the fan of a rival team (although I am), but as a baseball fan and a general observer of all things regarding that wonderful sport.  It is the wrong personnel decision to make on two levels...

1) He does not have enough seasoning. Case in point, he is hitting .250 with an OPS of .708 in twenty games at the Triple-A level.  He has played under sixty games in levels above Single-A ball.  If he struggling like that in Triple-A, Major League pitching is going to eat him alive. Likewise, it is my understanding that he is going to play left field, a position that he has very little experience playing.

2) This starts his service clock.  The whole point about having young players is about keeping them under team control for as long as possible.  Most fans don't know the intricacies of the arbitration system, but Harper being brought up now means that he could potentially be a free agent by the end of 2017, rather than 2018.  Likewise, if he does eventually perform well, this moves up the time in which the team is going to have to pay him a much larger amount of money earlier than they would have liked.

Player development is a long process; no one starts at the top.  Players with a lot more impressive résumés at the minor league level were held off for a while longer - like Ryan Braun and Ryan Howard.  They were both brought up in the summer time after they had an opportunity to work out any slumps and kinks in their games.  The Orioles have a fine young infielder, Manny Machado, who is diligently working his way up through the ranks, but that organization is doing it the right way by developing him over time (which, in my opinion, is one of the few things the Orioles have done right over the past fifteen years, but I digress).

All of this leads to two theories about why the Nats are racing Harper up to the big club.  The first is Dustin's:

1) Publicity stunt

I agree with this somewhat, considering that there is no logical reason to bring him up on April 28 when the team already is nine games above .500 and is going to piss off some veterans who have fought for playing time.  The Phillies come to town next weekend, and this could very well be a simple calculated move to make the fan base excited, or as Dustin said to me: "to stay relevant when the Caps and Skins are taking the news away."


2) Panic

The one flaw the Nats have had is their offense, and Harper has a reputation for being a Big Bat™.  Perhaps the management feels the team needs a spark, even if it is a found in a guy who is hitting just .250 against, ahem, Triple-A pitching.  But this theory doesn't really hold up, since it is...April 27!  Look at me, trying to make excuses as to why the Nationals are shooting themselves in the foot when they really don't have to.

Actually, it's looking more likely that it is a stunt of some sort, and next Friday, I may get to see him in person at Nationals Park when the Phillies are in town.  

Of course, he could come in and hit 25 homers this year and win the R.O.Y. award, but let's just say that if I were a betting man, I wouldn't even put a penny on that.  Ryan Howard hit 46 home runs in the minors in the season prior to his arrival in Philadelphia, and was still blocked until Jim Thome got hurt.  

My advice to Nats fans - don't buy the hype, and try to temper expectations.  I say this as a fellow baseball fan more than anything else.  He is going to struggle.  Don't blame him, though.  
Blame the Nationals' management.

A Little Late To The Game...

This video (which came out a week ago, hence my lateness) struck a major chord with me, especially since one of my major beefs is with the environmentalist movement, entitled "If I Wanted America To Fail"...

This needs to be watched by all people, regardless of political affiliation, because these things are already happening and they need to be stopped.  As with so many things that have happened recently, this is about who we are as a country and in what direction we wish to go. Lowering the standard of living, forcing people to buy products they don't want, and dumbing down our kids through indoctrination and 'education' that doesn't produce anything is not the direction in which I wish for us to go.

We Can Now Get On With Our Lives...

Pay Attention To Us

Seriously, why do we put so much stock into a night in which overgrown freaks of nature in tailored suits walk across a stage to put on baseball hats (ugly ones at that) and hug a creepy dictator?  

Welcome to the NFL hype machine - the best friend of someone with ADD.

I have long been of the belief that football (the NFL especially) is the haven for people who don't want to make commitment, and part of the reason the NFL is so wildly popular is that it reflects the larger societal trend of less commitment - to whatever it may be.  Baseball (and basketball and hockey, for that matter) requires a long term commitment and one that happens each day, rather than just for three hours a week for sixteen weeks.  Football is a mere acquaintance that you happen to see once in a while in passing; baseball is family.  

The NFL Draft is an opiate; distracting people from the serious issues facing the league: bounties, bugging, concussions, suicides, and in general, an overreaching commissioner taking power for himself that makes most world leaders green with envy.

So congratulations to all the players selected and I hope the fans are happy.  But as we know, nothing is guaranteed.  Don't start counting rings, or even wins, just yet.  

And now, we can get back to important things...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Home Stretch...

I haven't blogged much lately, but to be honest, the past six weeks or so have been some of the busiest times I have ever encountered.  I thought preparing for the Harvest Bazaar was busy, but nothing like this.  Mostly that's because I was doing ten different things; the Bazaar at least had the advantage of being a singular event for which to prepare, even as tiring as it was.  

Retreats, Easter, our benefit dinner, Confirmation, Academic Awards Night, Knights of Columbus, Prom Season, It's Academic, you name it, and it has been done and prepped for over the past few weeks.  Thankfully, it's all coming to an end very soon, and we are entering the home stretch of the school year, in which I only have to be concerned with preparing the final exam and getting the students ready for it.  The school year ends on June 1, so we are not that far away.  I just wanted to thank God, family, and friends for helping me get through all these things.  It's very difficult to do it alone, but I wasn't alone by any stretch of the imagination.  

I also hope to get back into the swing of things otherwise - I haven't even been watching much baseball lately.  

For shame!

Apparently She Missed The Memo...

Even these need food!

Seriously, what kind of dumbass-tastic idea is that?  Living on sunlight alone?  Eschewing food and water is something that causes even the plants who do live by photosynthesis to die.  I should try to be sympathetic, but I just can't find it within myself - mostly because this was an active conscious choice made and the fact that she was influenced by some documentary makes it all the more mind-boggling.  

I also find it amazing that this kind of warmed-over paganism is appealing to people, which gives lie to the fact that a post-Christian culture is not going to be some robust system of pure reason and science, but rather a return to the backward days of creature and earth-worship.  

And people think Christianity is oppressive and backward?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

On Teaching The Book Of Revelation...

I love my job.

Teaching the Bible opens up a world that is (mostly) unseen to the teenage boys with whom I deal on a daily basis; the challenge is always how to help them understand what Scripture is trying to say, both to its original audience and to the current reader.  I learn something new every day from my own studies of the subject as well, and with a subject as vast as Scripture, it will never get boring, at least not for me.  I would say that I have been able to convey the matter fairly well, but as always, there is and will be room for improvement.  Teaching is an artform that is always in need of reproof and modification.

Then there is the Book of Revelation...

Apocalypticism is one of my 'pet' subjects.  I fell in love with it when taking an advanced class on the topic in college (with the wife, I might add).  The literature and everything that has been spawned from it has been a continuing fascination of mine.  When we had the summer seminar at school in 2009, I submitted the topic and led it for several of my colleagues.  And therein lies the problem.

Between formal studies and constant continuous reading on the subject of apocalypticism and the Book of Revelation, I have come to know most of the background and the purpose(s) of the literary form and the mindset that informs such purposes.  Most people, however, do not. And that includes my students.  No, I am not saying they are ignorant; I am saying that most of their information regarding the subject has been influenced by popular culture: music, television, and movies.  To teach the topic to a large group of fifteen and sixteen year old boys is difficult and cannot be done in the same fashion as the rest of the Bible.  It takes a whole lot of deconstruction and, dare I say it, 'deprogramming' of the mind that is conditioned to equate the 'apocalypse' with a bunch of explosions and cool special effects.

When I started teaching back in 2004, I wanted to completely eliminate that aspect of the topic, but it was ultimately a fool's errand to try, just as it was a fool's errand to try and teach source theory of the Torah to high school sophomores.  As I have moved through the years, the goal has become to get them not to eliminate the popcorn-disaster film-explosion memes from their minds, but to get them to realize that apocalypticism is so much more than what was in the Deep Impact, Independence Day, or Armageddon.

To that end, it becomes a very fine balance of learning the nuts and bolts about the mindset that prompted apocalyptic thought and the literature while acknowledging that American culture is entirely unique in its obsession with the topic (thank the Puritans who settled in the 1600's).  The question is how to convey the background without getting extremely technical about it, because that is a very real temptation, especially for someone like me who is a wonk on the topic.

Yesterday, we talked about the Beast of Chapter 13, and it's number (six hundred and sixty-six, not just some triplicate six.  As I said to a student, we aren't playing slot machines here, it's a whole number, not 6-6-6).  One of the great mysteries has always been the identity of the Beast, since John himself only gave out the number for 'him who has wisdom' to understand. Explaining the commonly understood identity (Nero Caesar - whom many later believed had been resurrected in the form of the emperor Domitian) was a walk through a mine-field, but it had to be done, even as I could watch the mouths ajar and the non-understanding eyes from my students.  Such is the challenge of this topic, ultimately.

Likewise, explaining that 'Armageddon' is actually a place (the Mountain of Megiddo) rather than a thing or an event is fraught with difficulty, since we have a movie named as such, and most will tell you that the term is a catchall for the last day when the world ends.  But you know what?  I don't mind.  I love it and I accept the challenge.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Deepest Gratitude...

As some of you noticed, I haven't blogged in close to two weeks.  We had Easter (in which I went to visit my grandmother and then spent a lot of time with my parents), and then all the preparation for our benefit dinner that just took place on Sunday, the 15th.  It is that dinner of which I wish to speak.  Bear with me, it's sort of a stream of consciousness...

I am blown away.

Completely blown away.

It is incredible to witness the generosity of people.  Words cannot describe how I felt as that room filled up on Sunday.  I felt incredibly blessed to have so many people who care and wanted to help us.  Words cannot do justice to the thankfulness I felt when I addressed the assembled guests Sunday, although I tried my best.  This whole process has been so difficult, and there have been quite a few times when I have stared into the abyss and wondered whether all this difficulty is even worth it.

Now I know - the answer is an emphatic YES.

Why?  Because so many people are praying for and supporting us in this endeavor.  I use arduous frequently when describing these things, but this journey is not one that is being undertaken alone.  There are so many people who are accompanying us.  That makes all of this worth it.

I have so many people I want to thank.  I have been writing notes seemingly all day and yesterday, and will be writing more tomorrow. Each and every single one is worth it, and I would feel remiss in just thanking people in an impersonal way here on this blog or on Facebook; although this is yet another avenue for continued thankfulness for everything that so many have done for us - whether in time, talent, or treasure - or a combination of the three.

I want to thank my friends and my brother who were a direct assistance during the event - with admission, raffles, and traffic direction.  I want to thank my in-laws for being an immense help behind the scenes, and I want to thank my parents for giving the benefit.  My mother's cooking was outstanding.  And quite honestly, if you have never had it, you really don't know what you're missing.  

Most importantly, though, I want to thank God for reminding me over and over during all these weeks, months, and years that I have been blessed with so many people who care and want the best.  It is incredible in so many ways to behold.  I am incredibly humbled by all that has happened over the past few weeks.  I have nothing to offer to everyone except my deepest gratitude.

It is because of all of you out there praying for us and supporting us that we are getting ever closer to the one thing we've wanted more than anything else - just to be able to have a child to love and nourish.  I wish I could say more, but I can't, except to say thank you.  

Thank you to all of you for everything.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

2012 Opening Prayer to BaseBa'al...

This was originally published at The Good Phight under my handle, WanderingMoses.  Take it in the spirit that is intended here.  -- J.L.

To the wise and merciful Lord, BaseBa’al, Defender of the Game,

We implore thee to reserve thy ultimate judgment and reprisal from the Philadelphia Phillies Baseball Franchise and the members thereof.

We ask of thee to leadeth their grounders into safety, to increaseth the luck of the BABIP with their line drives, and for their fly balls to saileth into the Promised Land of the Garden of Eden in Center Field and Ashburn Alley. May their swings be productive and their balls be plentiful and may your many followers in the bleachers surrounding the outfield acquireth multiple souvenirs during this long continued Run of Plenty.

We humbly entreat thee to allow the hurlers of our Beloved Franchise to continue missing the bats of their enemies while never missing the hands of their catchers who are in the finest tradition of the Tribes of Bob Boone. May their BABIP be continuously lowered along with all flyballs and grounders finding their way into the dependable hands of thy faithful servants in the luscious green grass and curated dirt.

We beseech of thee to prevent injury and to permit a rapid revivification of those who have momentarily left us, especially the one called The Big Piece and the one called YATM. We once again pleadeth with thee to lift the Curse of Second Base away from this Team forevermore.

We ask thee to protect and guide both the decisions of Charles F. Manuel and Ruben Amaro, Junior. Leadeth Charlie away from the folly of multiple Juan Pierre appearances and Ruben to maketh the correct call on the one called Hollywood and on any potential acquisition he may maketh in the middle of the Battle of 2012.

Finally, we deferentially propose the following petitions for thy compassionate deliberation:

For Many Victories
For the Scoring of Many Runs
For Above Replacement Production in the First Two Months
For Plentiful Pinch Hits
For the Ease of Jonathan Papelbon Saves
For the Perpetuation of the Open Window
For Another 100 Wins
For the Smiting of Our Enemies
For Another Division Title and Pennant
For Another World F*cking Championship

We ask all of these things in thy just and forgiving name, O wise BaseBa’al.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Spring Training Preview - Ten Questions About The 2012 Phillies

It's that time of the year again!  The start of the baseball season is upon us and here at Lattanzi Land, we are previewing the 2012 season, with an emphasis on the Phillies.  Tomorrow and Wednesday will have looks at the offense and pitching respectively, and Thursday will contain the predictions for the season.

1) Will the Phillies win their sixth straight division title?

According to my brother’s thought on the “progression” of the Phillies over the past few years, the answer is no; they will win a wild card. I, on the other hand, still believe they have the moxie (and the pitching) to win the division. No, they won’t win 102 games this season, but they will do just enough to win the National League East for an unprecedented sixth straight year (of course, winning it four and five years in a row was also unprecedented, but I digress). I won’t lie and think it will be easy; it will be a slog and there will be ugly stretches, but when October hits, the Phillies will be planting the division flag atop the hill once again. Then it will all fall apart in 2013!

2) Whither the Health?

Even a cursory following of Spring Training this past month has revealed lots of fun stuff about injuries – Polanco’s finger, Utley’s knee, Howard’s Achilles’ setback, Galvis’ foot, and all sorts of other tidbits. It seems that almost every regular is between the ages of 30-35, which could spell doom for the team in regard to its health. The only “youngsters” are Hunter Pence and (possibly) John Mayberry. With health, though, the skeleton key is the rotation. If they stay healthy, then anything is possible as it can carry a sluggish offense.

3) What about the Rotation?

The top three (Halladay/Lee/Hamels) is just about the best #1-3 of any rotation in baseball, with very few challenges. In days past, the Phillies (and their fans) had to close their eyes and pray that the rotation wouldn’t blow it after the offense staked them out to a lead in the early innings. Now, it seems to be the other way around. These last 2-3 seasons have been an absolute treat to watch with the pitchers on the top of their game, but there will be more tightrope walking in 2012 than even last season. I don’t worry too much, save for their health, and having Vance “The Nite Owl” Worley and Joe “Cookies” Blanton as the numbers four and five give me confidence that at least from innings one through seven, the Phillies will be just fine.

4) Bullpen issues?

I can’t say that I loved the signing of Jonathan Papelbon, but in hindsight looking at what happened with Ryan Madson (Tommy John surgery), the only complaint I have is that Ruben Amaro overpaid to get him. I don’t worry too much about Papelbon. Yes, he will blow a couple of saves, but I do worry about more of the middle and setup relief. They have been running ragged through the spring, and this is where I am hoping the rotation can pick up some of the slack. Guys like Bastardo, Stutes, Herndon, and Contreras (who is on the DL at present) are going to need their rest as often as they can get it. So if there is anything to watch and be concerned about, it would be the seventh and eighth innings.

5) Should we be worried about the offense?

Yes, and no. There is no doubt that this season’s incarnation of the Phillies will not resemble in any way the offenses of 2005-2009. There will be the typical groaning that comes about due to swinging at the first pitch, and not being able to move runners along and such. Drawing walks will be at a premium (except when Jim Thome is in the lineup), and yet the power numbers will not quite be there either. That being said, the name of the game is having more runs than the other team at the end of nine innings. Therefore, however that gets done will be good enough, especially with a pitching staff that will be making runs at a premium for the other team quite often as well.

6) How will the bench produce?

They are the wild-card of this team right now, since they are being pressed into service as full-timers for the start of the season. Ty Wigginton, Freddy Galvis, Jim Thome, Laynce Nix, and Juan Pierre will all be expected to contribute in a fairly large manner. If they can hold the fort, then the team will be fine as they get the big boppers back one at a time. As bench players, they will be invaluable, but I do have my hesitations about them playing every day.

7) Domonic Brown?

I do wonder what the organization is doing with Brown. Is this some kind of game of chicken? I had hoped that he would be up with the big club and playing left field every day, but the brilliant Ruben Amaro has other plans for him – which includes Lehigh Valley. My thought was that 2012 was going to be a put up or shut up year all the way around for Brown. If he played well, he would earn his keep as a future stalwart for the Phillies; if not, he would get a fresh start on someone else’s club. What do I know? This is why Amaro runs the franchise and I am just a silly fan-blogger!

8) Has the rest of the division finally caught up?

Much like the answer to number five, it’s yes…and no. On the one hand, teams such as the Marlins and Nationals have most definitely improved without a doubt. They will make some noise. They might even lead the division for a couple of days here and there. The team that still will be the thorn in the Phillies’ side is Atlanta. They have the best pitching (and bullpen) among the competition. On the other hand, the Phillies have won five straight division titles, and as such, should be the favorites until someone knocks them down. The other teams haven’t won anything yet, so speaking of this being ‘the year’ is a tad premature at this stage. Could one of them knock off the Phillies? Absolutely, but this is why the games are played.

9) Will *this* be Charlie Manuel’s last season?

I had said in last year’s version of this post that had the Phillies won it all in 2011, he would have retired. They didn’t, so here he is for another attempt. He is not a young man, and the Phillies do appear to have a successor waiting in the wings – Ryne Sandberg, who is managing the Triple A team at Lehigh Valley. I just have to wonder how much longer Charlie will stick around, especially since a 162 game season is an absolute grind. Who knows, though.

10) Will the decline begin?

This is the elephant in the room that most Phillies fans wish to avoid if possible. It has been my stated belief that the real decline begins in 2013, but people like Ryan say that will the Phillies signing a television deal with Comcast that could rival the Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, and Angels, the ability to buy players will never end. I hope he is right, although this whole run has been fueled by developed players plus timely acquisitions. Other things to note – a couple of contracts expire after this season, namely one Colbert M. Hamels. It would be a disaster to lose him and hopefully they get something done with him even before the season ends. Shane Victorino’s contract is also up, and so we’ll see what happens there too. In other words, the end of 2012 brings a lot of unknowns; not quite staring into the abyss, but there could be rocky times.

But let’s put that aside and look to this season as the Phillies defend the division once again!

Play ball!