Friday, April 20

Anxiety Attack

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Anxiety.



For most, it is a response to a stimuli, a tensing of muscles, a state of heightened awareness in reaction to a perceived threat. But for others it is no mere programmed response, but rather a state of being, a pervasive and unrelenting wariness of that treacherous other shoe that will, inevitably it seems, drop.

For we unfortunate souls in the second category relief is the primary driver of action, we crave nothing more than the sweet elixir of a bullet dodged, a crisis averted, or at least postponed. It’s a funny sensation, anxiety is, in that it affects people so differently. Some it drives forward, pushing them relentlessly to work, to strive, to accomplish. Keeping that mythical shoe from striking the floor through cleverness, through effort, through the determination produces wondrous accomplishments. And for others? For others it is immobilizing. Fear of failure, fear of humiliation paralyzes. Wavering and wariness become one’s primary values, as the very failure to act guarantees the act of failure. And even what successes, what great achievements may come are seen as nothing more than a harbinger of an ever more spectacular cataclysm. With each accomplishment, the height from which that shoe will drop gets a little higher, the thud with which it will land gets a little louder.

Jose is in that first category. Anxiety drives him to excel. Perhaps it does not drive him to excel in much worthwhile, but at least it pushes him to do things like write 150,000 words a year about a child’s game played by millionaires. A trivial accomplishment, a trite silly calling, but a calling nevertheless, and one Jose has embraced as if he were Joan of Arc.

Alex Rodriguez, however, is in the second category. Anxiety, rather than pushing his brilliance, robs him of all satisfaction from it. The more stunning his April, the more pathetic his inevitable October swoon. The more beautiful his wife, the more heartbreaking his eventual divorce. The more romantic the dinner, the more devastating his impotence.

Oh yes, he has been extraordinary this month, as good as anyone Jose has ever seen, but look into his eyes, look into that vacant stare, and you know what you’ll see. Fear. Lonely, isolating fear. Fear that at the first failure, despite everything he’s done, the love that now flows in the Bronx will once again descend into hate. Fear that as the stakes go up, the performance goes down. Fear that no matter what he does, he can never meet expectations.

But that fear, that anxiety is needless; it is foolish. He is Alex Rodriguez, the greatest player of his generation, perhaps the greatest of any generation. Nothing can stop him. Nothing but his fear, that is. Roosevelt had it right. “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Fear is deterministic. Anxiety is destiny. And sometime in this series, or at least in this season, when the shoe is at its maximum height, anxiety will be Alex Rodriguez’ destiny.


The other shoe drops. Strike three.

2. Bob Ryan doesn’t like the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. He said so himself. He doesn’t like it because a rivalry is only good when it’s from “the inside out, not when it’s from the outside in.” His thesis is that the fact that the fans hate the other team, whereas the players have no hate in their hearts and approach each other with wary respect makes it a fine competition, but not a true rivalry. Right. That makes sense. But allow Jose to ask a follow up question?

Was the Iron Sheik vs. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan not a rivalry because they only pretended to hate each other? Did the fact that the two got arrested driving to a show together make it any less impactful when the Sheik yelled “America, Haacchhh—Ptuutt” while sending a loogy at the very heart of our country? Did it make the blue collar guy from Glens Falls, New York any less of a hero, when he hit the Iranian Olympic medalist with a 2X4 (note to Department of Defense: Iranians are vulnerable to wood) before giving a thumbs up to the crowd and yelling “Hoooooooooooooooooooooooo.” (Note: Since it got Imus fired, why didn’t Hacksaw Duggan get in trouble for using the term “ho” pretty much all of the time? It’s not like the Iron Sheik was an actual prostitute. It’s defamatory.)

No, of course, not. It doesn’t matter if the loathing starts on the bench or in the stands as long as it starts somewhere. One of the sad and pathetic realities of human nature is that hate is infectious. And this contagiousness drives unspeakable events in human nature. However, on the upside, it also drives some pretty terrific sports rivalries. Do you think Don Zimmer hated Pedro before he charged the mound? Probably not, but much like Hacksaw Duggan he became an actor playing a roll in a Manichean drama. Do you think Jason Vartiek truly loathes A-Rod? Probably not, but it didn’t keep him from punching him in the face because the situation called for it.

For all the whining of sports personalities, eager to diminish the phenomenon that has consumed baseball, Red Sox-Yankees is not only a rivalry, but THE rivalry because, we the fans demand that it be. We hate the opposition and expect our players to do the same. And even if there is no loathing in their hearts, they scowl, they holler, they brush batters off the plate, and every once in a while they throw a punch, because they know we expect it of them, we demand it of them.

And if you play a role for long enough, if you act a part for years, it begins to seep into you, and those faked emotions, those acted characteristics begin, just a little bit, to feel real. Ask Kelsey Grammar, ask Susan Lucci, ask Aldrich Ames, ask any woman who’s faked orgasms repeatedly for 18 years if they can still tell what is true and what is show. They can’t. Fooling others rapidly becomes fooling oneself. And thank God, because if A-Rod and Varitek get arrested driving to tonight’s game together with a dime bag in the glover compartment, Jose is going to be bullsh*t.

3. In honor of the late, great Red Auerbach, the Red Sox will be wearing green uniforms this evening. Jose thinks this is a nice tribute to one of the great legends of sports. And certainly it is far preferable to other Celtics themed tributes that were under consideration such as:
  • Curt Euro warms up to “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”
  • Rick Pitino night: Every fan leaves with a loss and $20 million.
  • John W. Henry converts to Judaism.
  • Turning control of organization over to Danny Ainge who promptly trades Manny for Darren Daulton, the only Major Leaguer past or present with knees as bad as Raef LaFrentz’s.
  • Empty seat night at Fenway Park.
  • Retiring Marty Barrett’s number.
  • Starting 18 game losing streak.
  • Eating contest between Rich Garces and Thomas “Big Ham” Hamilton.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

Thursday, April 19

Wait... It's a Day Game?

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Did you know that today’s Red Sox-Blue Jays game has a scheduled start time of 12:37 PM? Yeah, neither did Jose, which is why today’s KEYS will, much like David Eckstein, be short, and of inferior quality! But at least they will be a spark plug.

Let’s only hope that the Red Sox didn’t forget the early time too, or in the case of today’s starter Julienned Tavarez, that he did forget.




Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons plots
strategy for the Ortiz shift.

3. John Lester has been promoted to AAA Pawtucket after absolutely tearing up Greenville as he continues his return from cancer. While one should be wary about drawing too much from his domination of single A hitters, one can extrapolate something from the fact that Lester was throwing strikes. As you recall, last year, Lester struggled with walks at the major league level, despite having had pretty good control in the minors. This leads to a rather obvious question. Can cancer increase the number balls? Jose’s friend Jamie, speculated, rather shrewdly, that perhaps the silent toll the cancer was taking on Lester’s body was preventing him from recuperating fully between starts and therefore hurting his control.

It’s an interesting theory, but it is counterintuitive, thus Jose remains skeptical. After all, we know for a fact that caner can decrease the number of balls thanks to Mike Lowell. (Note: Cue angry emails.)

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

Wednesday, April 18

Not Down on Cocomo

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Cocomo, the dubious centerfield combination of Rococo Crisp and Wily Mo Pena finally got in gear last night with two hits each (note: though Pena was technically playing right), including a monstrous 450 foot blast to center field by Pena. In light of this achievement, Jose though they deserved a musical tribute in the style of The Beach Boys.

‘Gainst Texas, Toronto, get some base hits pronto,
The Angels, Seattle, let’s put up battle,
The night time, the day, baby why don’t we play
Center field?

In between left and right,
There’s some guys called Cocomo,
If they can’t hit, we’re gonna blow,
and will not play in the fall.

Sliders slide away,
For a fastball having to pray,
Because you can’t hit the curve.
Another sad hitting display,
Down goes Kokomo.

‘Gainst Texas, Toronto, get some base hits pronto,
The Angels, Seattle, let’s put up battle,
The night time, the day, baby why don’t we play?

Ooo and in the field that Cocomo,
One guy is fast,
While the other’s slow,
But the fast one cannot throw.
Down goes Cocomo.

Hamate. Finger. Injuries that linger.

Diving for the ball,
Playing caroms off the wall,
Cannot track off the crack of the bat, the defense tends to appall.

Hitting seven or eight,OBP that’s not too great,
That dreamy look while pitches go by,
Is gonna make us cry.
Down goes Cocomo.

‘Gainst Texas, Toronto, get some base hits pronto,
The Angels, Seattle, let’s put up battle,
The night time, the day, baby why don’t we play?

Ooo and in the field that Cocomo,
One guy is fast,
While the other’s slow,
But the fast one cannot throw.
Down goes Cocomo.

Jacoby Ellsbury, get here in a hurry.

Every pitcher knows,
Don’t throw heat to Cocomo,
Breaking stuff is the way to go,
If you must face either one.
Down goes Cocomo.

‘Gainst Texas, Toronto, get some base hits pronto,
The Angels, Seattle, let’s put up battle,
The night time, the day, baby why don’t we play?

Ooo and in the field that Cocomo,
One guy is fast,
While the other’s slow,
But the fast one cannot throw.
Down goes Cocomo.

2. Jose is not sure what to make of last night’s incredibly weird start by Mr. Matsu. The righty absolutely cruised for three innings and then completely fell apart in the fourth after missing a borderline strike three call, a borderline play at first and a borderline error by Julio Lugo. It’s not just that he stopped being able to get people out, it’s that suddenly he turned into Rick Ankiel, skipping balls in like a cricket bowler and sailing pitches high above the catcher.

This alone would be weird, but certainly not unprecedented. Sometimes pitchers are going along fine and then they completely lose it. It happens. What is exceedingly odd, however, is that Mr. Matsu recovered completely in the fifth and sixth setting down all six batters he faced and striking out most of them. Who the hell falls apart and comes back together so quickly?

Jose knew he had heard about something exactly like this before, so he did some research. Was it Tom Seaver? Nope. Fernando Valenzuela? Uh-uh. Perhaps Senator Jim Bunning? Not him either. And then he found it. It’s Captain Marvel. Duh. Jose heard the editors of Gone and Forgotten, one of the links featured on this very page talking about it on This American Life some time ago. Captain Marvel (note: not to be confused with Captain Marvel) was an alien robot sent from his dying planet to preserve peace on Earth who had the power to fall apart by yelling “split”—literally, head legs and feet flopping everywhere-- and then to come back together by yelling “Xam!” Apparently, he draws this power from something called Element X. And here’s the funny thing. Right before he struck out Royce Clayton in the fourth, the first indication that he had gotten himself back together, Jose could swear he heard Mr. Matsu yell “Xam.” Or maybe it was “Bam” and he was doing a tribute to Emeril or the late wrestling great Bam Bam Bigelow. (Note: Does Element X count as a performance enhancing drug?)

So, the way Jose sees it, it appears that Daisuke Matsuzaka, rather than being Japanese at all is, like Captain Marvel, an alien robot from a far away world sent here to protect humanity. That’s the simplest explanation for what happened last night. This means that the Japanese press can all go home, and Fenway can start making accommodations for the alien press. You know, replacing the sushi in the press buffet with entire cows, replacing the grounds crew with alien crop circle machines, that sort of thing.

Matsuzaka in the fourth last night.

3. Over the weekend, Jose had a conversation with his friend Jamie and Jamie’s brother, legendary SoSHer RomeroRomine about the unique place Manny Ramirez holds in American sports. A couple beers in, RomeroRomine posed a fascinating question: Will this be the year that Manny finally starts to fall off? Wait… that’s not fascinating. It’s terrifying. Sorry.

The fascinating questions was: Has there ever been a hall-of-fame caliber baseball player who was so spacey, so prone to inexplicable lapses of concentration and yet was so universally beloved?

After much thought, the only one we could come up with was Yogi Berra. (Note: Though the more Jose thinks about it, the more it seems Babe Ruth might fit. Couldn’t you see Manny being caught stealing to end a World Series?) Of course, Yogi went on to manage an actual major league team… well, he went on to manage the Yankees anyway, and Jose has a very hard time imagining Manny managing even a little league team.

If even a smart guy like Gabe Kapler can, as reported by the Globe, inadvertently render a pitcher ineligible to play by failing to change his lineup card after a rain out, can you imagine what Skipper Manny might do?

Jose imagines you would see him calling for shifts to right against left handed hitters, ordering pitchouts to leadoff hitters, and of course positioning the left fielder inside the left field wall or possibly at a car show in Atlantic City.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.

Tuesday, April 17

Making It To the Show

It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.

1. Jose has arrived.

At long last, in his fourth season of toil in the seedier districts of Red Sox blogdom, Jose has at last emerged into the mainstream alternative press. The first hint came prior to opening day, when Jose’s blog email received a press release from NPR informing him that they would be airing an interview with slugger Gary Sheffield on the subject of the steroid scandal. Needless to say, Jose dismissed it as spam, assuming that NPR stood for the Nigerian Petroleum Resource, and that Gary Sheffield, his career nearing a close, was figuring to raise some money by offering large finders fees to anyone who would send him checks. It appears now, though it remains unconfirmed, that NPR may have stood for National Public Radio, and the story may have been legit. Whoops.

What has changed Jose’s mind is an email he received on Sunday morning from The New Yorker, the esteemed intellectual magazine that is best known for it’s cerebral black and white cartoons, which, as a saying of undermined origin has it, could all be better captioned “Go f*ck yourself.” It seems that in the years since Tina Brown fled the smoldering ruins of the magazine, it had abandoned its policy of writing exclusively on Spike Lee and Woody Allen, and had rededicated itself to its previous, long-standing editorial policy of publishing non-fiction articles on subjects about which Jose gives a sh*t. In this, case Manny Ramirez.

The New Yorker, validated Jose’s existence, by sending him an advanced copy of the Manny story by Ben McGrath, scheduled to run in the April 23 issue (note: the one with the clever drawing on the cover) and a press release offering Jose the invitation interview McGrath. Okay, technically, it was an invitation to anyone getting the release, but Jose will pretend it was just him, because that makes him feel loved.

The excellent and lively profile, enriched by an unprecedented nine minutes of interview time with Manny (note: nice job Ben!) offers a number of fascinating revelations, including:

  • When then Sox GM Dan Duquette asked Manny why he sometimes stepped into the batters box after ball four, Manny responded “I don’t keep track of the balls. I don’t keep track of the strikes, either, until I got two. Duke, I’m up there looking for a pitch I can hit. If I don’t get it, I wait for the umpire to tell me to go to first. Isn’t that what you’re paying me to do?”
  • David Ortiz’s comment for the story? “Manny Ramirez is a crazy motherf*cker.

Sadly absent, was any comment on the rumor that Ramirez is from Mars and simply groks hitting.

Of course, now as Jose rereads the press release, he notices that the issue is currently on the stands, so much for having the inside track. Guess Jose isn’t so big time after all.

(Note: That said, Jose is going to try to send some questions about the article off to author Ben McGrath. Post your questions in the comments section of KEYS and Jose will send them along. Unless they’re stupid. Then he promises nothing.)

Stranger in a Strange Land

2. Jose went to the Patriot’s Day game yesterday with a nervous Sam Melendez, Jose’s brother, who was wracked with anxiety about whether delays to the start of the game would force him to leave early to see his marathon running girlfriend romp through Kenmore Square. As we passed the time waiting for the rain delay to be lifted and the game to begin, Sam taunted Jose with what he assured him would be some “great KEYS material.”

“Fantastic,” responded Jose. “Jose loves things that write themselves.”

Sam dangled the material coyly, allowing anticipation to build until the third inning when he finally saw fit to reveal his insight. His suggestion, his comic vision, was that when it came time to sing Sweet Caroline in the eighth inning stretch, Red Sox fans should belt out “loving me, loving Drew” instead of “loving me, loving you.”

Umm… okay.

Sam explained that this would honor right fielder DJ Dru and was totally funny when he was at a game once sitting next to some guy named Drew.

Jose remained underwhelemed.

“Jose supposes he could use that,” he responded slowly. “Maybe in a KEY about how you gave him this really unfunny idea. Really, that idea is like a Wily Mo Pena at bat this year. Lots of anticipation, even more disappointment.” (Note: Okay, Jose didn’t actually use the Wily Mo metaphor, but at least he’s going to come clean now, lest Seth Mnookin write one of his holier than thou, “hey, this guy is totally making things up” articles about Jose. Jose needs to fend those off, lest anyone learn the awful truth that he is not actually a Puerto Rican former big league reliever.)

But Sam Melendez was not to be denied. He thought for a moment and then fired back.

“Even though ‘loving me, loving Drew’ is funny, how about this. Since we’re platooning Coco Crisp and Wily Mo Pena in the outfield and neither of them can hit these days, can’t we just call them Kokomo for short?”

Yes. Yes, we can. Song lyrics to follow.

3. An open letter to the two women outside that bar who told Jose that game time had been postponed until 1:05.

Dear Two Women,

Thanks a lot. As you know, Jose hates entering the ballgame before it starts on a rainy day, lest he get stuck sitting in the rain swilling $7 beers for three hours before game time. So it was incredibly thoughtful of you, as you saw Jose and his brother walking by about to leave the marathon to go to the park for the 12:15 start, to ring your cowbells loudly and announce that first pitch had been delayed until 1:05.

Even though first pitch had not been delayed until 1:05, Jose really appreciates it, because had he gotten there on time, he might have seen the first seven runs of the nine scored that day, and why would he want that? Jose goes to games to see pitching and defense, not run scoring. What a shame that Jose’s brother snuck into the bar to urinate and saw that the game had started, or we might have missed two or three inning, and kept the game to two hours. Oh well. What’s done is done.

Anyway, thanks again, and please let Jose know if he can ever return the favor. If you need him to tell you what time a plane departs, whether you’re supposed to cross the street on red or green, or how often to take your heart medication, he’ll be happy to help.

Your pal,

Jose Melendez B.A.

I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.