Blog the Dawgs

My family vacation to San Diego coincided with a Padres road trip, so we missed Petco Park. But no matter. We went out Saturday evening and checked out some Surf Dawgs, instead.

The San Diego Surf Dawgs are one of eight teams in the Golden Baseball League, a brand new independent league centered on the west coast. The league began play on Thursday, so the game we attended on Saturday was the third game ever for the Surf Dawgs and their opponents, the Long Beach Armada. The Surf Dawgs and their main attraction, Rickey Henderson (more about him later), play at Tony Gwynn Stadium on the campus of San Diego State University.


Home of the Surf Dawgs

The ballpark seats about 3,000 people, all on the infield. It was about half-full on Saturday evening, and from listening to the people in the crowd, it seemed like half of the people in the stands were related to somebody on the field. “The pitcher is my cousin.” “My dad’s the bullpen catcher.” “C’mon son!”


Inside Tony Gwynn Stadium

I doubt catering to the relatives of ballplayers is a sustainable business model, but if the league fails, it won’t be for a lack of marketing. In fact, I think they pulled out the table of contents in the Baseball Marketing 101 textbook and used it as a checklist.

Checklist item #1: give something away as people enter the stadium. We each got a T-shirt commemorating the inaugural weekend of Golden League play. The gift was a good way to get on our good side right away.

Checklist item #2: give some more things away after that. Just minutes after we settled down in our seats, a Surf Dawg employee came by and told us that our row had been selected for an upgrade to a luxury box. Free catered food!


Our box

In an interview with Christian Ruzich, Dave Kaval, a founder of the Golden League, explained their marketing strategy:

We’re targeting families. We’re very, very focused on the typical four-person family: wife, husband, the two kids. We’re going to cater to families with the types of promotions we do — from having the kids run the bases between innings to having a kid zone in all of our parks, with everything from speed pitch to one of those big Scooby-Doo blow up things for the kids to jump around in. Just making sure that the lowest common denominator is entertaining the children.

He wasn’t kidding about the kids. They had a kid zone with all sorts of games. They had both a Surf Dawg mascot (named Southpaw) and a clown who made beaut animals. My kids got their faces painted. And between every half-inning, there was some entertainment happening on the field, from a frisbee-catching dog to a burrito-catching contest.


Fun Zone

The marketing plan worked to perfection on my wife and kids. Everyone on the staff was friendly and approachable. They seemed to genuinely care to make sure we were having fun. My kids had a great time, and were never bored at all. My wife absolutely loved it. We have a trip planned to L.A. later this year, and as soon as we got home, she checked out the schedules online to see if we could make another Golden League game. In fact, I’d bet if there were a Golden League team in the Bay Area next year, she’d want to dump our A’s season tickets and go there instead. (Memo to the marketing departments of MLB and the Oakland A’s: we’re people, not ATMs.)

I, on the other hand, am more of a hard-core baseball fan, and I’m not going to fall for any marketing magic unless the product on the field is worth watching. The defense was not crisp, and none of the pitchers I saw had great stuff, but at least they threw a lot of strikes and made the batters put the ball in play, which made for an entertaining home team victory, if not an impressive one.

And yet, even for me, the night was magical.

When the game was over, I felt like I had stepped out of a scene in Field of Dreams. Ray Kinsella had come into my office and asked me if I could have one wish, what it would be? And I responded, “Just once, I’d like to see Rickey Henderson young again, driving the opposing team absolutely insane, working the count, taking walks, hitting homers, and running wild on the bases. That’s my wish, Ray Kinsella. That’s my wish.”


And so it was.

Continue reading

Beaut

Back?

I went with my family to San Diego this weekend to visit my brother-in-law, his wife, and their holophrastic 20-month-old daughter.

There’s a poetry to kids in that stage of language development, as they reduce the complex world they live they experience to just a single word.

Things going badly for your favorite team? We could do a complex statistical analysis of the phenomenon, or we could just say:

“Uh-oh”.

My niece had a vocabulary of about 30-50 words. My favorite was “beaut”. “Beaut” comes from “beautiful” I guess, but to her, it means “balloon”.

Such innocence doesn’t last long. Back in April, I believed the A’s would be like those beauts, floating with grace and ease, filling us with a sense of wonder and magic, capable of defying the concept of falling, helping us believe there is something pure and simple and good in the world.

Eventually, though, we come to learn that even the best of beauts go bad.

Give Me A Break

Every time I think the A’s may have hit rock bottom, they prove otherwise.

Luckily, I was busy and missed Wednesday’s thwacking by the Devil Rays. I didn’t suffer at all. Ignorance is bliss.

So let’s think about something else. Here is the phrase “catfish stew” translated into five Continental European languages:

Dutch: katvis hutspot
French: ragoût de poisson-chat
German: Welseintopfgericht
Italian: stufato del pesce gatto
Spanish: guisado del siluro

Heerlijk! I’ll be busy over the Memorial Day weekend, so I’ll be taking a few days off from les blogs du grille-pain. Let’s look at it as an experiment. If the A’s immediately go on a winning streak in my absence, then we’ve found the jinx.

Si ce blog est la malédiction, je peux ne jamais retourner. Ik betwijfel dit, nochtans zal gebeuren.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Book Revue: The Juice

I recently finished reading Will Carroll‘s book, The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball’s Drug Problems. I fully intended to write a book review about it, but when I sat down to do it, I made an unfortunate typographical error.

Instead of a book review, I accidentally made a “book revue”. I know it’s not quite the same, but stuff happens.

Book Revue: The Juice.

My deepest apologies to Will Carroll, and anyone who dares to listen to the revue. My blunders aside, “The Juice” is a good book. You should buy it.

Pure Slop

It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when you’re watching your team play against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and you suddenly realize that the Rays might have the better team. That probably wouldn’t be the case if the A’s were healthy. But here we are.

Let’s look at some rankings:
Offense, OPS: A’s 14th, Rays 7th.
Pitching, ERA: A’s 11th, Rays 14th.
Defense: DER: A’s 7th, Rays 9th.

The A’s pitch better, the Rays hit better. Not much news there.

The Defensive Efficiency Ratio says that the A’s play slightly better defense than the Rays. If I hadn’t looked it up I would never have believed it. The A’s have made a ton of errors lately (22 in the last 19 games), including a 7th-inning error on Kirk Saarloos (he missed the bag on a 3-1 putout…which is about the third time in recent weeks this has happened…why do the A’s keep having a problem stepping on the base/plate…the game is called baseball…it should be the first skill you learn…but I digress…back to the sentence…), which turned out to be the eventual winning run. Meanwhile, the Rays made numerous excellent defensive plays that killed a couple of A’s rallies.

The Rays, though lacking talent, played sharply. The A’s had more talent, but played uninspired and sloppy ball. Today Saarloos was the worst offender. In addition to his error, he also botched a rundown–choosing to throw to first on a comebacker when he had a runner on second hung out to dry. But he hasn’t been the only one making mental blunders. There seem to be several such mistakes every day. It’s a team-wide epidemic of concentration lapses.

I don’t know how you fix a team that has seemingly ceased to take its concentration pills (that’s a joke, not an accusation), other than to make somebody lose their job.

Scott Hatteberg homered tonight, his third of the year. Despite that, I still think Dan Johnson should be here and taking some of Hatteberg’s and Erubiel Durazo’s at-bats. Durazo looked horrible at the plate today. Go make him earn his plate appearances, and write his name into the lineup. Free Dan Johnson!

Meanwhile, Nick Swisher’s rehab has been going gangbusters in Sacramento (.400/.455/.550 in 20ABs). Bobby Crosby’s rehab in Stockton is a few days behind Swisher’s, but he is 2-for-6 so far. A change is a-comin’.

Alphabetic Overplacings Considered Harmful

TFD sent me this New York Times article about a controversy regarding W.H. Auden’s translation of Dag Hammarskjöld’s “Vägmärken”. We had an interesting back and forth about it, which I’ll share:

Score Bard: Anyone who wants to translate “Vägmärken” as “Waymarks” doesn’t deserve to complain about the quality of a translation. Just because a word is a direct cognate doesn’t mean it’s the right choice. I’ve never even heard of the word “waymark”. To me, that’s not even English.

“Road signs” or “Milestones” are what popped into my head.

I’ve read bits and pieces of it before in Swedish. Now I suppose I’m going to have to read the whole thing, and both versions…

TFD: The case against Auden, though, seemed pretty good–that he was putting his own “map” onto Hammarskjöld. (Not that i’d have any idea, really.)

Score Bard: Without reading both, I’d have no idea, either. That’s part of the problem with translating poetry, though. Do you translate the words or the artistry? It’s a delicate balance, and I suppose it’s possible Auden could have exploited his artistic license a bit too much.

TFD: You try to get to (as close as possible) the complete meaning of the originator. That includes everything (artistry)…imho, of course.

Score Bard: Sure, but some things just don’t translate directly. Sometimes you really do have to make a choice between preserving the original beauty and preserving the original semantics. If you translated one of my serious baseball poems into Swedish (not that anyone would want to, but bear with me), it would be meaningless to 99.9% of Swedes, who don’t even know what a baseball looks like. You’d have to find something else–soccer or hockey maybe, or even something outside of sports–to convey the underlying message. If you stuck too close to baseball, you wouldn’t have communicated anything at all. It’s tricky.

TFD: Hmm. Well in your example i guess it depends upon whether or not you were saying something universal that could be communicated through baseball. If not, and most Swedes didn’t know baseball, then why even translate? You can’t change it to soccer and make it even remotely the same poetry (again unless there are some larger universal things that could be drawn.) but even in that case I’d be pretty hesitant.

That would be like translating Sagan’s work into Mandarin by using meterology or Christianity as a metaphor. Yikes, bad example, but i think you get my drift.

Score Bard: Well, that’s why I was saying “serious” baseball poetry, because there’s usually some universal message involved if it’s “serious”. The key is to convey the same message.

The problem with translating poetry is that there’s so much more to translate than just pure semantics. It’s not like translating newspapers, which I used to do for a living. There’s the harshness or softness of the sounds, the smoothness or roughness of the rhythm, there’s the way one word will relate to another just by having similar sounds or meanings or connotations. All of those things are present in a great poem, and most of those things will be lost if you just do the most accurate literal translation of the meanings of each word or each metaphor.

I always found the hardest part about translating is when there was a word in one language with several equivalent words in the other, but none with quite the same connotation. “Vägmärken” is a perfect example. “Road signs”, “Milestones”, “Landmarks”–those words just don’t convey the same image. Those three translations feel to me like they all have somewhat positive connotations in English, but in Swedish, the word to me has a certain inevitable loneliness and sadness to it–you imagine traveling a small winding road through the Swedish forest, and coming across a milestone left behind centuries before you, by people long since dead.

So if you want to convey that inevitability, that loneliness, that sadness, that sense of historical context which is built into the Swedish word, you can’t just translate the word directly into English and leave it at that. You have to find some other way to convey those emotions.

TFD: I agree with you completely that you can’t just translate literal words. I was just saying you have to say within what you, the translator, deem to be the “meaning” of the original poem/writing. you have to stay as close as possible, while giving up as much as possible your own prejudices, etc. So in many ways you need to be reporter, historian, wordsmith, and world semantic expert.

I think, again based on my limited view of the article, that the claim being made was that Auden was going outside ‘generally accepted guidelines’ if such a thing existed. I’d like more verification from an Auden scholar to review the translation who is familiar with Swedish…he/she could ascertain whether or not the lens that Auden was using was too cloudy.

Score Bard: Yes, Baseball has its unwritten rules, as does poetry translation, I suppose. I have a pretty simple to-do list now:

  • Write down all those unwritten rules once and for all
  • Get out the Yellow Pages, and call one of the numerous Swedish-speaking Auden scholars listed therein.
  • Go down to my corner bookstore and buy a copy of “Vägmärken” in both English and Swedish.

I’m rather busy tonight, but I should have time to get those things done before lunch tomorrow. It’s only three things, after all.

Tears For Fears

Most preseason discussions tend to be optimistic; after all, everybody wants to rule the world. But before the season started, we had an internal Toaster discussion about our worries. Unfortunately, most of my fears have turned into tears.

I didn’t mention injuries in our discussion, because they’re not really worth mentioning unless you have some players who are particularly injury prone. Obviously, these are things I could do without. But it’s hard to turn your back on mother nature. The A’s have six players on the DL right now (Crosby, Swisher, Harden, Calero, Dotel and Bradford), seven if you count Dan Meyer, who was expected to make the team but couldn’t get his arm into shape, and one more, Justin Duchscherer, who hasn’t pitched in a week and could be joining them retroactively.

Mike thought there was a good chance the new A’s pitching staff might implode. The pitching hasn’t been great, but it hasn’t been a total nightmare either. But making up for the loss of Hudson and Mulder wasn’t my biggest fear, anyway. That’s just one headline, why believe it? Nothing ever lasts forever. Here’s what I replied to Mike:

I’m more worried about the hitting imploding than the pitching. The Coliseum is a tough place to hit .300. Oakland has only had twenty .300 seasons in 37 years. Yet Kotsay, Durazo, and Kendall (elsewhere) all hit .300 last year. What happens to the offense if they all hit .280-.290? If Byrnes falls back to earth? If Crosby and Swisher are young strikeout machines? The A’s offense should improve at C and 2B, but I can imagine a scenario where none of the other 7 positions do.

Indeed, the A’s are still walking a lot, but they’ve suffered a huge collapse in batting average, which has hurt the offense overall. I was considering .290 a disaster scenario for Kotsay, Durazo and Kendall; now it’s wishful thinking. Kotsay is hitting .289, Durazo .250, and Kendall only .226. Chavez is only hitting .211, while Crosby and Swisher have been hurt. It’s a very, very mad world.

I keep looking at the A’s PECOTA projections in disbelief. Right now, only Bobby Kielty is well above his 50% projection for OPS, and only Eric Byrnes and Mark Ellis are near it. Eight hitters are at or below their 10% projections. I find it kind of funny. I find it kind of sad.

Joe Sheehan deconstructed the A’s disappointing season yesterday in a Baseball Prospectus Premium article yesterday. There wasn’t really much to disagree with, really. Here’s the crux of it:

The A’s don’t hit for average and they don’t hit for power. I mean, they really don’t hit for power. Since offense ticked up in 1993, just one team–the ’93 expansion Marlins–have posted an isolated power mark (SLG – BA) of less than .100. The A’s are at .106 through a quarter of the season; the second-lowest figure since 1992 is .120, held by a handful of teams. We can talk about park effects and changes to the run environment all day, but if you slug .350, you can’t compete.

Who could have imagined the A’s offense would be laid so low? Man, you guys, I wish you were my enemy.

I don’t think you have to look to the skies for some kind of divine intervention. This can be fixed. You’d probably have to sacrifice some defense, but to fix an historically bad offense, I’m sure it would be worth it. I love power. I believe in love power. We need a change, before it’s all too late. I could be quite naive, and I can’t actually operate on this failure, but all I want to be is completely in command, so I’m going to shout and let it all out, and I hope we live to tell the tale. This is my four-leaf clover:

  • Replace Scutaro and Ellis with Crosby and Ginter. Ginter homered last night against the Giants; perhaps he can find the stroke that hit 19 homers last year. Crosby begins his rehab assignment today in Stockton.
     
  • Give Scott Hatteberg at-bats to Dan Johnson. Both PECOTA and ZiPS project Johnson and Hatteberg to produce similar offensive numbers this year, around a .760-.790 OPS. So why not try the guy with the power and the upside instead of the player on the decline? With one foot in the past now, just how long will it last?
     
  • Keep playing Bobby Kielty. He’s always swung well right-handed, but his left-handed swing this year is night-and-day from last year. Last year, he had an ugly, noisy and powerless stroke from the left side. This year, it’s short and smooth. Sometimes your eyes do tell the story.
     
  • Ride the hot hand between Swisher and Byrnes. Like Hatteberg and Johnson, Swisher and Byrnes are projected to produce similar numbers. The difference is that Byrnes is still in his peak years, while Hatteberg looks very close to falling off the proverbial cliff.
     
  • Free Eric Chavez! What has happened to the friend that I once knew? Has he gone away?
     

So kick out the style! Bring back the jam!

Heavyweight Championship Update

Down on my sidebar, you can see the current standings of the MLB Heavyweight Championship. This is where we assume that if you beat the champion, you become the new champion, just like in boxing.

Since the Red Sox won the World Series last year, the Heavyweight Championship has resided in the American League all season. Of the AL teams, only the White Sox, Mariners, and Tigers have not had a title bout yet. The Blue Jays have held the title the most, winning eleven title bouts out of eighteen.

As we move into the first weekend of interleague play, the Minnesota Twins are the current champs. The Milwaukee Brewers will be the first NL team this year with a shot at the title. Also, if the Brewers win on Sunday, they can keep crown over in the National League for a few weeks until the next round of interleague play. I wouldn’t bet on it, though; they’ll be facing Johan Santana. Good luck.

My Notes Wait There

In San Francisco, across the greenish-brown and windy bay:

  • The A’s concluded the hellish portion of their schedule on Wednesday with a 13-6 win over Boston. Of the nine different teams the A’s have played so far, only Seattle and Tampa Bay are currently under .500. Their next four series, however, will all be against teams who currently have losing records. Now would be the ideal time to get hot, get healthy, and turn things around.
     
  • The Giants might actually be a team where the A’s “run-up-the-starter’s-pitch-count-so-you-can-feast-on-middle-relief” offensive strategy might actually work. I’ve seen a lot of Giants games this year, and their middle relief sucks. Well, except maybe for Scott Eyre and Jason Christiansen, they’re not too bad. Oops, I forgot, the A’s lineup consists mostly of left-handed batters, so Eyre and Christensen are probably the only middle relief they’ll see. Never mind…
     
  • In addition, the Giants are starting three left-handed pitchers against the A’s this weekend: Rueter, Fassero, and Lowry. Sure hope Bobby Kielty will be ready to play; the A’s will need all the right-handed bats they can muster.
     
  • Speaking of which, when I wrote…

    I’ve seen enough of Eric Byrnes. His swing is so screwed up now that his biggest strength offensively is the HBP.

    …back on May 9, Eric Byrnes was batting .208/.282/.351. Since then, he’s gone 12-for-27 with five doubles and a homer. He is now second on the team with a .785 OPS. Keep it up, Eric, and maybe someone will give us something in a trade for you after all.
     

  • Billy Beane was on KNBR radio this afternoon. He’s not going to attend the A’s-Giants series; instead he’ll be at Stanford with Paul DePodesta, scouting the Cardinal as they host Arizona.
     
  • Beane also said that Octavio Dotel’s elbow injury was not one that would require surgery. Worst case scenario: he rests the elbow for 15 days or so on the DL.
     

Making Whoopee

I just finished watching Eric Byrnes and Barry Zito on ESPN’s version of The Newlywed Game, Teammates.

Teammates is just horribly painful to watch. The Newlywed Game wasn’t so great, either, but at least it had the whole sexual innuendo thing going for it. You weren’t allowed to come out and say what you mean, if you know what I mean, and that was half the fun.

Now that I think of it, maybe Teammates really is a great show, too, but I forgot to watch it with my my gaydar turned on. Perhaps I need to give it a second glance, if you know what I mean.

Otherwise, the most interesting part was when Zito guessed correctly that Byrnes would say his favorite to thing to watch on TV other than SportsCenter was Fox News. Did Byrnes know that he just excommunicated himself from not only Athletics Nation, but the entire Kososphere? Blasphemy!

Memo To All ESPN Networks

You are hereby banned from making any jokes, any sarcastic, cynical or snide remarks, or any other form of wise-guy commentary regarding the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim”.

Reason: “Baseball Tonight By L’Oreal Men’s Expert.”

Perhaps we should start looking for a sponsor for Baseball Toaster. We’d need something that would be as big a mouthful as possible. Maybe something like “Baseball Toaster Presented by Fuji Tsuushinki Seizou Kabushikigaisha”.

Dallas, Texas Leaguer

It was a pretty bleak evening in Oakland last night. The A’s were playing severely short-handed: Yabu pitched a couple innings the night before, Bobby Kielty and Justin Duchscherer were unavailable with minor injuries, and Octavio Dotel was on his way to see Dr. Yocum about his elbow (yuck). All of which contributed to the A’s eighth-inning collapse, where Juan Cruz ran out of gas, and Eric Byrnes made another costly outfield blunder. It’s unlikely either would have been in there if the A’s were playing with a full roster.

So the loss was annoying, but understandable. I was mad at Byrnes and Hatteberg for their errors, but I figure those guys are lame ducks at this point, so my anger didn’t really linger very long. I’m still feeling oddly optimistic.

The biggest source of A’s optimism last night didn’t come out of Oakland. Dallas Braden made his AA debut last night for Midland, and was quite successful:

IP  H  R ER BB  K
6.2  7  0  0  2  5

Braden had brilliant numbers at Single A Stockton (2.68 ERA, 64K, 11BB in 43 2/3IP), but you have to view it with some skepticism because he’s a soft-tosser. Sometimes the slow stuff will work at lower levels, but gets clobbered further up the ladder. So tossing a shutout in his first AA game is a very good sign.

Imagine That

Sound drums and trumpets! farewell sour annoy!
For here, I hope, begins our lasting joy.

King Henry VI, Part III, Act V, Scene VII

Get denied something you want too many times, you will eventually come to feel that getting what you want is impossible.

After eight losses in a row, I had reached that point with the A’s. I had lost my ability to even imagine the A’s winning.

But hallelujah, the A’s won this evening! Suddenly, my imagination, locked away in some dark corner of my mind by the recent downturn, burst forth with a barrage of optimistic ifs.

  • If Matt Watson can keep hitting in Oakland like he did in Sacramento, the offense may finally have found the sparkplug it needs to turn itself around. His two hits tonight keyed both the A’s run-scoring innings.
     
  • Bobby Crosby took batting and fielding practice this afternoon. Ken Macha said on the pregame show that he may begin a rehab assignment this weekend. If he can return and play well, we may have the right-handed power the lineup has been so sorely lacking.
     
  • Eric Chavez had three hits tonight, all singles to left field. His left-field stroke has been MIA so far. If he’s found it, we may have the Eric Chavez we expected to see all along.
     
  • Murphy had every opportunity to shove his cruel Law back in our face again, just like he had done all season long, but for once, failed to do so. The Red Sox, not the A’s, twice failed to score after getting two runners in scoring position with no outs. Then Octavio Dotel, with an opportunity to get the final out of the game, missed the bag when covering first base, bringing the winning run to the plate. But Dotel got out of the jam. If Murphy has moved on to torture someone else for a change, maybe it’s not too late to salvage this season after all.
     

They’re So Bad…

I had some fun browsing BP’s stats today, looking at how badly the A’s suck.

  • The A’s playoff odds have dropped to 6.78%. In their simulations, they now average 68.5 wins.
     
  • The Orioles lead MLB in adjusted equivalent runs with 210. The Marlins are next-to-last at 144. The A’s? 127.
     
  • Barry Zito is the second-worst pitcher in MLB at getting batters to hit into double plays: just once in 39 opportunities.
     
  • Eric Chavez is in seventh place overall amongst the players in the Hacking Mass contest, where you try to build the worst possible team that gets the most playing time.
     
  • In fact, if you used the projected A’s starting lineup to build your Hacking Mass team at the beginning of the year (using Zito and Dotel as your pitchers), you wouldn’t have a single player with a negative score. Your Hacking Mass team would be in 173rd place out of 1859, better (or is it worse?) than every single member of the Baseball Prospectus staff.
     

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2005 Oakland Hacking Massletics:

Player Score
Jason Kendall 31
Scott Hatteberg 17
Mark Ellis 17
Eric Chavez 43
Bobby Crosby 0
Eric Byrnes 9
Mark Kotsay 14
Nick Swisher 13
Barry Zito 26
Octavio Dotel 0
Total 170

Pastaphobia

There’s a discussion over on BTF about Rob Bell’s panic attacks. Since I have some experience on this subject, I added my two cents, which I’ll reprint here:

Panic attacks, panic disorder and anxiety disorders are all slightly different things. I’ll talk about panic attacks and panic disorder, because I’ve dealt with them myself.

Panic attacks are when your body’s sympathetic nervous system (a/k/a your fight-or-flight system) kicks into gear at inappropriate times. It can happen for no reason. In my case, my first panic attack happened as I was loading the dishwasher after a dinner of fettucine alfredo.

Now it’s a good thing to feel anxious and afraid, to have your heart start racing and your breathing to get faster and shallower, when a lion is chasing you. That’s why we have this fight-or-flight system. But it’s not much help when you’re trying to load a dishwasher.

Panic disorder can happen as a result of a panic attack. Here’s how it works: our brain stores memories much more quickly and effectively when the memory is associated with an emotional event. Strong emotions are a shortcut to memory building.

A panic attack is a strong, emotional event. What your brain does (automatically, not consciously) is to take a snapshot of the environment during the event. Your brain isn’t sure which of the elements of the environment is the cause of the emotional event, so it makes an association with everything it can.

Anytime thereafter that you encounter one of those elements, your brain is put on alert for that event to happen again.

So in my case, my brain associated the panic attack with dishwashers and pasta. For the next couple of weeks every time I had to do the dishes, or eat pasta, I felt nervous and on edge.

Panic disorder happens when you confront this environment again, and it triggers another panic attack. This in turn strengthens the association in the brain with that environment, and it becomes a vicious circle.

If Rob Bell had a panic attack on the baseball field, his brain may have made similar associations with his environment, and he could have fallen into a similar vicious circle. He could be perfectly fine off the field, and only panic when he gets onto the field.

There are basically two methods to cure/prevent panic disorder. One is to go back to that environment repeatedly, and retrain your brain that this environment is not dangerous. The other is with medication to suppress the flight-or-fight response. Or both.

Fortunately for me, I was able to avoid the vicious circle without medication. But I can sympathize with those who need it. Who would want to live their lives afraid of baseball or pasta?

Dirty Rotten Shame

I recall the good old days
But thankfully, they’ve gone
Now the ponies all are broken nags
That stumble as they groan
And throw the jockeys from their throne
When there are pitches left to dodge
And lions left to tame
But it’s nothing but a dirty rotten shame

–Elvis Costello

This is a transition year, and I was hoping that even as such, Fortune might favor the A’s, and we would still witness a competitive season. Alas, Fortune has ignored the A’s, and Murphy and his Law have stepped in to fill the vacuum.

The A’s are seven games under .500 with five more games this week against the reigning monsters of the AL East. And now Rich Harden is probably out for several weeks with a pulled oblique muscle. I’d ask what else could possibly go wrong, but I’m afraid Murphy might decide to answer that question.

Billy Beane is walking around repeating his Hitchhiker’s Guide mantra (“Don’t Panic”), but that’s a far cry from a mantra like “This Is Our Year”. It’s someone else’s year, and the best the A’s can hope for is to be a nice, minor decoration in the larger artwork, like a solid-colored gonfalon hanging from a jewel-studded cross.

Don’t Panic aside, I fully expect some kind of move to be made soon. Beane and Macha have had two closed-door meetings in the last week. With the draft coming up in early June, Beane would probably prefer to make whatever move they’re going to make now, so that he can focus on the draft for the next few weeks. (Wouldn’t this time of year be really fascinating if draft picks were tradeable?)

I wouldn’t expect a trade, since he’d probably be selling low with most of his chips slumping. He’s better off letting them play and seeing if they can increase their trade value for July. But for a spark, I’d probably just call up Dan Johnson, rotate him into the mix with Hatteberg and Durazo, and see what happens.

Update: Oh yes, I forgot to add: and make Zachary happy, too. Matt Watson is getting called up. I haven’t heard about anyone getting sent down, so I’m assuming Harden goes immediately to the DL, Watson takes his roster spot, and the A’s go with 11 pitchers.

But with Watson here, that makes Jermaine Clark less necessary. I’d send Clark down and bring up Johnson.

Giambi Returns

I’m very much looking forward to the Mike Mussina-Rich Harden pitching matchup tonight, but I suppose the big story is that Jason Giambi is returning to Oakland for the first time since his BALCO testimony was leaked.

Giambi may not even play, as he is struggling at the plate. Perhaps, as some suggest, he is failing because he stopped taking steroids in 2003. Giambi says he has been battling some minor injuries: a forearm cramp and a recent beaning.

Giambi may be right. Even when he was in Oakland, he was never the type of player who could hit with minor injuries. In Oakland, when he was nursing an injury, he would DH. Look at his career numbers as a 1B (mostly healthy) vs. as a DH (less healthy):

 

Position BA OBP SLG
1B .312 .429 .569
DH .254 .389 .481

Just like in his recent struggles, his ability to walk didn’t suffer as a DH, but his batting average dropped a ton. The difference now is that his slugging percentage is down, too. That may just be a matter of sample size, though.

I doubt Giambi will ever be a great player again, because it’s unlikely he’ll ever be consistently healthy again. Mike’s recent study shows that players with similar stats to Giambi’s often ended up retiring soon thereafter. But I still think it’s possible he could put together another stretch of good fortune with his health, and have a John Jaha-like last hurrah before his body fails him at last.