Friday, May 18

Like Paul Bunyan on Crack

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

1. Meet Julian Tavarez, folk hero.

You may remember him from such roles as Rudy Seanez’s Siamese twin and guy who couldn’t get anyone out #2.

Who’d have thunk it? Somehow, by sheer force of his quirks and eccentricities, Tavarez has become the most strangely beloved pitcher in Boston since Rich Garces. One could sort of understand the love for Garces though. It was simply; he was fat. Who doesn’t love fat guys? Garces let every Red Sox fan know that it was talent, not physical conditioning keeping him out of the majors. Any Sox fan who saw Garces could proudly walk down the street and say “I’m not too fat to be an elite athlete.” And for that we were grateful and thus showered him with love.

So why is it that we have grown to love the lanky Tavarez, who lacks the jolly flab that made El Guapo so appealing? Jose thinks that is because just as El Guapo let all of us couch potatoes know we weren’t too fat for the majors, Tavarez lets the mentally ill among us know that we are not too crazy to play in the majors. His NWO-style pointing at first base on ground balls, his bizarre obsession with Daisuke Matsuzaka, his tendency to punch people in the face for no particular reason, the fact that he actually relates to Manny Ramirez, all mark him as a certifiable lunatic who if he wasn’t playing baseball, would be in a cabin somewhere in the woods gathering jars of urine for resale to Moises Alou as a hand toughener.

Or maybe it’s not that he’s crazy, maybe it is that he is a sort of everyman. He eats at Burger King before going to work just like us, he punches walls when he gets mad just like us and he says that if he hadn’t gone into his current line of work, he would have been an adult film star just like us.

Or maybe, just maybe, we like him because he has started to get outs. Free from the uncertainty of bullpen life. Tavarez has started to look like Derek Lowe, throwing the most leaden of sinkers for ground out after ground out, looking terrible from time to time, but also showing flashes of brilliance.

Nah… Jose likes him because he’s looney tunes.

2. Interleague play begins tonight with the Braves coming to town for a three game set. When interleague play first began it was kind of fun, as one would see the first meeting between teams in 90 years, or perhaps the first meeting ever, but as the years have worn on, the firsts have disappeared, and with them a fair amount of the excitement surrounding the games.

However, tonight the excitement returns. It would be enough that ER himself, Edgar Renteria makes his return to Boston. Heck that alone would be the biggest event since Jackie Guiterrez made his 1986 return to Boston in a Baltimore uniform, but there is much, much more. (Note: Jose cannot confirm that Guitierez ever played at Fenway in an O’s uniform, but let’s pretend.) Yes, tonight marks the return of Anthony “Buddy” Lerew to Fenway Park.

As you will recall, Lerew was a part owner of the Red Sox from 1978 to 1985. In 1983 he launched a coup to take over the team from Jean Yawkey and Haywood Sullivan. Unfortunately he forgot that the most important part of a coup is the “armed” part, thus his effort was blocked by an injunction and he lost later court challenges. Ultimately, Leroux sold his interest in the team.

What happened to him since then had been something of a mystery. He was known to have an ownership interest in the Suffolk Downs race track and to maintain involvement in a number of rehabilitation hospitals. It is the second element that is important today, as we learn that Lerew has apparently used advanced rehab technology to sculpt his body into the form of a much younger man and to rehabilitate the spelling of his last name from LeRoux to Lerew. Thus we come to this evening, when Buddy, as a starting pitcher for the hated natural rival Atlanta Braves, attempts to take an awful revenge against his former club.

3. Curt Euro’s six inning, two run, four walk, eight extra base hit performance last night was a stunning achievement. Jose can’t find records to prove it, but it may well have been the worst six inning two run pitching display in Major League history.

Jose vaguely remembers Steve Avery having an effort where he scattered 15-20 hits over six innings in 1998, but it can’t have been any worse than what we saw last night. Heck, there have only been a very small number of endeavors in all of human history that match the horrible execution AND the positive result of Curt Euro’s performance.
  • Columbus discovers America—Guy think’s he’s sailing to India, totally screws up, finds continent.
  • Discovery of penicillin— Genius leaves bread out ruining perfectly good bread, discovers antibiotics.
  • Iraq war— War under false pretenses, managed by incompetents with no occupation plan, leads to blossoming of multi-cultural democracy in heart of world’s most volatile region.

And that’s about it. So we saw some history made last night. Jose can hardly wait for the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

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

Thursday, May 17

A Little Light Blasphemy

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

1. With the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jose has been contemplating God and religion quite a bit lately and thinking about what we can do to make this a more godly country. Rev. Falwell focused his efforts at making America more Christ-like through traditional methods, such as rallying a political constituency for Christianity, identifying particular groups as sinners hateful to God, fighting integration, going on television, and suing Larry Flint, you know the sorts of things Christ himself might have done had be a self-righteous, egomaniacal bigot, rather than the Prince of Peace.

But Jose thinks Falwell’s approach was ineffective. Just look at our society. Conservative Christians are politically ascendant and yet decadence and sin remains. One cannot change the hearts of people simply by claiming political power. The culture itself must change first, and where better to start than with our national pastime—pornography. Wait… sorry… baseball. Baseball is the national pastime. Jose has come up with a few ideas to make the game godlier.

  • Starters should work on one day of rest. If God had taken four days of rest before every one day of work, He never would have found time to fake dinosaur bones and bury them all over the place to amuse scientists.
  • In the Protestant tradition, players shouldn’t have to rely on umpires, baseball’s priest class to tell them what the rulebook means. Players should be able to interpret baseball’s sacred texts themselves.
  • No one should play rounders, the game from which baseball emerged, ever. When baseball emerged, it superseded rounders, making it, and all of its rules and traditions irrelevant.
  • What part of the eighth commandment does Julio Lugo not understand? “Thou shall not steal.”
  • Since abortions are morally wrong, the Kansas City Royals, must be ended.
  • Baseball cards are graven images. Cards should just list the name of a player, his statistics and his favorite Bible verse.
  • Why stop at playing God Bless America in the seventh inning stretch? We should have a hymn for each inning? Who wouldn’t want to hear “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” rather than “YMCA?”
  • Be frank about the fact that the wave is a ritual designed to commemorate the parting of the Red Sea.
  • Make Carl Everett commissioner.

2. In the first game of this afternoon’s double header, Julienned Tavarez goes up against Zach Miner. As the Red Sox try to solve the sophomore pitcher, Jose has some important scouting data that he needs to share with the team.

Based on Jose’s careful analysis, miner is an “8”, which mean’s he is vulnerable to any player whose number is 7 or lower. These include Sergeants, Lieutenants, Captains, Majors, Colonels, Generals and Marshalls. (Note: What’s Mike Marshall up to these days? Could we sign him for one game?) However, Miner absolutely destroys scouts, who number 9, which is why there is so little good data on him.

Another important note for the Red Sox is to focus on hitting, singles, doubles and triples tonight, because while Miner has many vulnerabilities, he is the only pitcher on the Detroit staff who automatically defuses bombs.

(Note: This KEY sponsored by the Stratego Society of America.)

3. Jose would like to apologize to anyone who had planned to attend last night’s cancelled game and is unable to attend today’s afternoon makeup. Jose did not get around to writing KEYS yesterday due to a combination of busyness, crankiness, and a general unwillingness to spent the day trying to come up with snarky yet safe jokes about the impact a finger injury will have on St. Josh a Beckett’s sex life.

What he forgot is that they can’t start a weekday game without KEYS any more than one can start a car without KEYS. Sure, Jose’s supposes they could have hot wired the game, to get it started, but then the steering column ends up being an unsightly mess of holes, and live wires, not unlikely the New York Yankees.

As a result, Jose is forcing himself to write KEYS today, even though he has nothing better to go on today than comparisons of baseball to popular board games and mild blasphemy. Well tough, if you want a game, this is what you’re stuck with.

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

Tuesday, May 15

Jose’s Orgy of Self-Reflection Continues

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

1. Jose isn’t sure why it never occurred to him before, but he has a lot in common with Manny Ramirez. Jose supposes that he never saw it because at the surface level the differences are so stark. Manny is a tower of lean muscle, Jose is a tub of jiggling goo. Manny is a millionaire, the only time Jose could call himself a millionaire was when he was carrying around Turkish Lira. Manny is one of the best, if not the best right handed hitters on the planet, Jose got cut from Little League and uninvited from his softball team. Manny is actually Latino, Jose pretends to be Latino. See, big visible differences.

And yet the overarching similarity has been there for a long time. For years, both of us have been trying desperately, futilely, to get out of Boston.

The Manny saga is well-known. It starts pretty much the day he arrived here in 2001 and has recurred annually ever since. You know the story, Manny says he’s sad and wants to leave, the team tries to release/trade him, they can’t get equal value, he stays and says he never wanted to leave.

Jose’s story is less well known. It begins in 1993, when a young Jose Melendez vowed to go away to college, such that he could experience a place other than Boston. But then along came BU with their “being the best school Jose got into” and their “offering Jose a lot of money” and here he stayed. That put the escape on hold for a few years, but once Jose graduated, he renewed his efforts, as he began the annual rite of applying for fellowships, grad school, State Department positions etc. that would get him out of town. And one by one, year after year, Jose would fall just short. If Manny has stayed in Boston because no one was willing to offer more than Aubrey Huff and Mike Cameron for him, Jose has stayed in Boston because not even a Huff-Cameron fellowship has come his way.

But Jose’s similarity with Manny is deeper, more spiritual than simply wanting, for far too long, to flee the hub. The dirty little secret is that we both actually like it here, that we have thrived here. Manny has won a World Series and solidified his Hall-of-Fame credentials, Jose has done great things for the Commonwealth, built a great network of friends (note: a real network, not myspace) and made it to no fewer than 10 Sox games per year. Sure, we both rage and fume about the injustice of being stuck here, about the futility of our efforts to leave, but each time a deadline passes and he remains firmly inside 128, Jose is secretly a little relieved. And he suspects Manny is too.

Some day this will change. Some day, perhaps soon, Manny will leave these Red Sox and leave this city, and Jose will wander off to a new adventure, but from wherever in the world Jose lands, and regardless of whether Manny goes off to the Dominican, returns to Cleveland or visits China, we will both look back at the hub with a pining sadness, a genuine fondness for the city that made us the men we are.

2. In today’s Herald, Detroit designated hitter “Mr. Yankee” Gary Sheffield, offered Rob Bradford a new perspective on the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry from his spot in the Motor City, insights that revealed that while Sheffield’s bat may have slowed a bit, his brain is as sharp as ever.

For instance, when asked about the Yankees eight and one-half game deficit to the Red Sox, Sheffield displayed some of his famous mathematical prowess saying “When you’re eight games out, you have to make up 16 games.” Non-Euclidian geometry at its best right there or possibly algebraic topology. Who but Gary Sheffield could grasp that eight and 16 are the same? Maybe God, but that’s about it.

Sheffield also revealed his mastery of anatomy when he stated “Everybody has holes.” (Note: Sheffield may have learned this by studying tapes of his wife with rapper R. Kelly.)

The big slugger also appears to have picked up some automotive expertise in his time in Detroit, pointing out that for a motor to operate properly “It was just a matter of clicking on all cylinders.”

Unfortunately, while Sheffield did demonstrate formidable command of most areas of human knowledge, he proved himself to a have a very limited understanding of statecraft when the best idea he could offer on how to win in Iraq, was “You have to hope something drastic happens to get that to turn around.”

3. Tonight Tim Wakefield goes to the hill for the Red Sox, bringing with him his league leading 1.79 ERA and his floating, fluttering, batters stuttering metaphor for Jose’s life. He goes up against Detroit’s sophomore phenom Justin Verlander who brings an also impressive 2.83 ERA to the mound.

The question this matchup raises is: If Wakefield’s knuckleball is a metaphor for Jose’s life, for the life of whom is Veralnder’s signature pitch, his 100 mph fastball, a metaphor?

Let’s think about the qualities of Verlander’s fastball. It is absolutely filthy, no one likes to see it coming, it leaves people feeling angry and frustrated, it has real potential to injure and it gets hit hard in Boston.

Hmmm…. Jose’s got it. Justin Verlander’s fastball is a metaphor for the life of Bill Lambieer.

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

Monday, May 14

Life is like a...

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

1. With the stunning success of Friday’s “Life is a Knuckleball” KEY 1, easily the most popular KEY of the year, it has become clear to Jose that if he wants to keep the people engaged, he needs to ease up on the quippy one liners and rededicate himself to melodramatic schmaltz. After three years, Jose can at last see, that it is not the sinewy flesh of analysis that Red Sox fans crave, but the savory fat of emotion. Thus, rather than releasing another KESY book this year, Jose will instead focus his attention on a book of Mitch Alborn style life lessons (note: but not made up) entitled “Everything Jose Needed to Know, He Learned at Fenway.”

The book will be chock full o’ folksy stories illustrating valuable baseball-based life lessons such as “Never pull a pitcher who is dealing after 91 pitches with a shut out and a five run lead, just because some goober dropped a pop up with one out in the ninth.” If you apply that lesson to raising your kids, you know they’ll come out on the straight and narrow.

So, having exhausted the subject of how life is like a knuckleball, Jose will move on to a tale of how life is like the infield fly rule.

Jose has never really understood the infield fly rule. Well, that’s not exactly right. Sure, he understands it technically: If there is an infield pop up when there is a force at third, the batter is automatically out, with the purpose being to prevent easy double or triple plays. But Jose doesn’t understand it on an existential level. Would Sartre understand the infield fly rule? Would Camus?

There are lots of times in the game when a batter fails, grounding into a double play, for instance, and there is nothing protecting him from doing severe damage to his team there. There’s no infield grounder rule. Why is it that one kind of failure, a pop up, should have an offensive safety net strung tight beneath it, and another kind of failure, an easy grounder, should offer nothing but the hard ground three stories below?

Jose supposes that the infield fly rule is kind of like life. There are lots of errors one can make, lots of chances to fail, but the consequences of different kinds of failure aren’t necessarily the same. Why is it, for instance, that if one get fired for gross incompetence, there is not unemployment to cushion the blow, whereas if one gets fired because he is not longer of use, he gets government checks? In both cases there is a failure isn’t there? Unemployment fly rule, Jose supposes.

Or why is it, that if one cries going in for the first day of kindergarten his parents are caring and sympathetic, but if he starts bawling when he gets dropped off for his first day of college, he is a crybaby, to be scorned? Educational fly rule, it seems.

The simple fact is that as a society and as individuals, we are just like the Major Leagues. We place different values on different kinds of failure. For some we say, “tough break, let’s limit the damage” and for other’s we say, “that’s your own damn fault, now live with the consequences.”

And is that fair? Is it right? Is there good failure and bad failure? Deserving losers and undeserving losers? All Jose knows is that when he comes up to bat in the game of life, a base runner named work on first and a baserunner named family on second, and less than two of the life chances blown we call outs on the scoreboard, Jose will put a little uppercut in his swing. Because if he’s going to fail, he’s sure not going to ground into the double play of professional disappointment and personal immorality. He’ll risk popping it up, secure in the knowledge that the infield fly rule of life will limit the damage.

Tomorrow: How the slide step is like getting over the loss of a pet.

2. Long before the Red Sox made their dramatic six run, ninth inning comeback yesterday, starter St. Josh a Beckett left the game after four innings with what the Red Sox termed an “avulsion.” The popular theory in the press and the fan base is that by calling the pitcher’s injury an avulsion, the Red Sox were trying to make clear that this was not a recurrence of the blister problems that had sent him to the DL in year’s past. But has it occurred to anyone that the Red Sox might have used this strange medical term, not to accurately convey a lack of seriousness, but to hide a far graver injury?

Jose actually looked up avulsion on and do you know what it means? According to the American Heritage Dictionary entry it is “The forcible tearing away of a body part by trauma or surgery.” Very reassuring isn’t it? But Jose knows what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Wait, Jose just chose the direst, scariest possible definition for comic effect, and that’s not what it means in this case.”

Fair enough. Do you want the other definition? It’s “the sudden movement of soil from one property to another as a result of a flood or a shift in the course of a boundary stream.” Does that make you feel better? Do you like the idea that our star pitcher is literally being eroded by a shift in the course of a body of water?

No, the use of “avulsion” this strange new technical nomenclature in a world where other technical vocabulary like, ACL, labrum and contusion are used freely, signifies something far more sinister than a blister. Jose is convinced, convinced that either Beckett lost an entire finger out there yesterday, or that he is made out of sand. Either way, it’s bad news.

3. But enough looking backwards. The Detroit Tigers come to town tonight for the first of a four game set that will pit the two best teams in the American League against each other. The red hot Tigers come to the series winners of eight of their last ten. However, they will have to struggle through this series without relief ace Joel Zumaya who is out with an injury presumable sustained playing Dance Dance Revolution or one of those Nintendo Wii games. (Note: Jose knows Zumaya got hurt playing Guitar Hero II, but when are we going to start getting the rotator cuff injuries from the Wii, that’s what Jose really wants to see.)

The Tigers team that comes to Fenway tonight is, save for the addition of Mr. Yankee Gary Sheffield, the same team that bowed to the Cardinals in five games in the 2006 World Series. And that’s why, despite their formidable record and fearsome rotation, Jose has no fear. This is a team that lost a post season game where their opposition started Jeff Suppan without even having noted Suppan’s-bitch Roger Clemens as their starter. You can’t fear that, you just can’t.

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