If you’ve played sports, whether recreationally or professionally, chances are you’ve come across a player like Slade Heathcott. You know, the kind of player who has all the talent in the world, but just comes off as a total, well, there’s no easy way to say it, unlikable dick. You worry if their immaturity is going to derail them (Milton Bradley), or if they’re going to harness it and figure it out (Josh Hamilton).
And one of the major knocks ever since the New York Yankees drafted Heathcott with the twenty-ninth pick in the 2009 amateur draft has always been that immaturity. In high school, he was arrested for driving under the influence, was booted from his Texarkana, Texas, high school baseball team for academic reasons, and even pulled a gun on his father (who, I’ve heard, is not a saint either).
Still, Heathcott really turned things around after the Yankees sent him to Alcoholics Anonymous as a nineteen-year-old.
His first full professional season sent him out of AA and to the low-A South Atlantic League’s Charleston RiverDogs where he posted fairly pedestrian offensive numbers (.258 average, 2 homeruns, and 30 RBI in 76 games) but showed plus speed, range, and arm strength: inklings of the player he could be. Watching him last year left me divided; one day I saw flashes of first-round talent, and then the next, someone who looked to be pressing at the plate, trying to live up to his billing. But when the season finally winded down, I was more on the skeptical side. This guy’s right behind only Montero, Romine, and Vizcaino in Baseball America‘s Yankees’ list and we get a .250 average, 2 dingers, and 15 stolen bases, along with 10 caught stealings?!
But this year, I’ve been more impressed with Heathcott across the board. He’s become more patient at the plate. He’s taking walks in places where he should take walks, instead of trying to be the hero. As a result, he’s amongst South Atlantic League leaders in on-base percentage (.394), average (.314), and total bases (68). With the patience, has come power, or at least signs of it: through 34 games, he already has more homeruns (3) than he did through 76 games last year.
His stance and swing are unique. For a power/speed guy, he’s more upright and open than one would expect, and it’s allowed him to put more of an upswing on the ball than last year. He’s not quite Craig Counsell, but he stands tall in the box and consistently puts the ball in play hard. His swing is still somewhat erratic; he has games where drives or flies the ball every time and games where he only chops, grounds, and slashes it. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working: he’s four off the pace in doubles (11) and two off the pace in triples (2), some of which will turn into homeruns as he develops.
His play in center has never been questioned. He’s got great range and is athletic enough to make difficult plays look routine. His arm, considered among the best in the entire Yankees’ system, is outstanding even after 2010 off-season shoulder surgery. Just tonight, he nabbed the Augusta Green Jackets’ Raynor Campbell, a guy with six stolen bases already on the young season, on a play at home…in the top of the 11th inning with his team already down by two. And god, do I wish I had video of it!
He’s become a force at the top of the RiverDogs’ lineup and in the outfield, and I know that my time to watch Heathcott develop and flourish is dwindling.
But for all the positive developments in Heathcott’s game, there is a huge elephant, which is somehow standing under a black cloud, in the middle of the room, and it might just keep him from a mid-season promotion: that damn immaturity.
Back on Friday, May 13, Heathcott positively imploded, exploded, went postal—whatever you want to call it—starting a bench clearing brawl, after just the first pitch of the game, which pitted his Charleston RiverDogs and the Greenville Drive against each other. He was subsequently suspended for five games.
And I could see it coming.
On May 9, I saw a glimpse of Heathcott’s renewed hotheadedness before the now-infamous brawl. In a bases loaded situation with his team down against the West Virginia Power, he was picked off by right-handed pitcher Elias Diaz for the third out. He threw his helmet down, walked over to the dugout, and waited until someone brought out his glove and hat. During his between innings throw-arounds, he was angrily whipping the ball to the leftfielder, routinely overthrowing him, and making him run all the way to the Power’s bullpen to get it. And then after making a routine putaway on a flyball, Heathcott did the same thing in a game situation and overthrew the shortstop cutoff. It was childish.
And then tonight, that same night where he went 2-for-5 with a walk and threw out a Green Jackets’ runner at home, it popped up again. On the first pitch of an at bat late in the game, Heathcott was brushed back by the Augusta Green Jackets’ Tom Vessella. Nothing big. But then with a two-ball count, he was brushed back again, and this time the pitch was a little closer. Heathcott avoided the pitch, but threw up his hands and exchanged words with catcher Jeff Arnold. Nothing came of it, but for someone who knows his history, and knows what it could have become, it was something.
Of course I stopped recording preemptively.
Did I mention it was just his third game back from suspension?
Well, that headline’s just a little misleading because nothing’s eating Bobby Cox.
In fact, Bobby Cox is eating.
Or at least he was.
You see, my girlfriend works at Magnolias restaurant in downtown Charleston, S.C. It’s a popular place with tourists, and for some reason, celebrities seem to flock to it whenever they’re in town. Hello, Bill Murray!
Last night Katlyn asked me if I’d heard of someone named Bobby Cox: “He’s a manager of a baseball team or something. He’s coming in for lunch tomorrow.”
“YOU MEAN THE ALL-TIME LEADER IN MANAGER EJECTIONS AND ALSO THE MANAGER OF FOURTEEN CONSECUTIVE DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIP TEAMS WITH THE ATLANTA BRAVES?”
Cox was in town because he was the guest speaker at the Charleston RiverDogs’ Hot Stove Banquet on Friday. I had wanted to go to the event, but unfortunately I’m not exactly shitting out twenties right now.
So as a consequence, I had trouble sleeping last night, thinking of the life-changing things that I would say to Bobby Cox when I inevitably stalked him during his low-key lunch: “Mr. Cox, thank you for everything,” “Mr. Cox, the game won’t be the same without you.” I’m not the kind of person who gets worked up about celebrities; I’ve actually seen Murray at a Halloween costume shop in West Ashley, and I ignored him. But Bobby Cox—this was a totally different story. He’s a baseball man, someone who’s spent the last 50 years toiling in the game I love. He’s a four-time Manager of the Year, he’s the fourth winningest manager in Major League Baseball history, and he was at the helm of the team that featured the best rotation in Major League Baseball history. Outside of some old-time players, Bobby Cox is one of the few on a short list of players/managers who I’d actually like to sit down with.
“His reservation is at 12:45.”
So around 12:00 p.m., I drove from Mount Pleasant to downtown Charleston. As soon as I hit East Bay Street, I saw Bobby Cox. Or I thought I did. I wanted to see Cox so badly that I turned every single old, wobbly man on the street into the Atlanta Braves’ manager. There was an old man wearing sweat pant jeans, and I was sure it was him. I couldn’t stop to confirm it from the car though, so I kept driving to Magnolias.
I was seated by 12:45, the time he was expected to appear.
He never came.
So I decided to have a few beers.
Next thing I know, a couple hours passed (I think it was now about 2:30 p.m.) and there was still no sign of Bobby.
Just as I was about to leave, in walks Bobby Cox, about two hours late for his reservation. He was wearing slacks, a blue shirt, and a black leather jacket. It turns out you can’t think you see a celebrity; when you see one, you know. It turns out he wasn’t wearing sweat pant jeans at all, and he looked exactly like you would expect Bobby Cox to look. He was with three other people, a man who looked like his brother and a pair of older women.
The bartender told me, “There you go, stalker!” and I just sat there, frozen.
I didn’t say anything to him. I didn’t try to get a picture with him. I didn’t try to get a picture of him.
My girlfriend doesn’t understand why I don’t take pictures, or why I’ll fight tooth and nail before I take one on our anniversary, while we’re in Disney World, or while I’m lifting a two-ton car.
Truth be told, I don’t need to prove that I was sitting next to Bobby Cox, that I met Bobby Cox, or that I didn’t meet Bobby Cox. The memory is ingrained in my brain for life, and I’ll never forget it. For an hour today, I sat ten feet from one of the most accomplished and respected figures in baseball history and didn’t say a word. For some people, that would be what’s called a “wasted opportunity.”
For me, it’s a damn good day.
For the majority of Seinfeld fans, the most memorable story line in the episode “The Marine Biologist” revolves around George Costanza’s elaborate and continuous lying about being a marine biologist, capped by the gut-busting rescue of a beached whale with a Titleist golf ball lodged in its blowhole.
For me—and I hope I’m not the only one—it’s got nothing on the love story between Jerry Seinfeld and his beloved and beleaguered favorite shirt “Golden Boy.”
Golden Boy is a shirt that Jerry has had for six years. It’s the first shirt he wears out of the laundry; it’s the Cal Ripken Jr. of his wardrobe. But Golden Boy has problems. He’s fraying around the collar. His days are numbered.
Jerry: Elaine, see this t-shirt. Six years I’ve had this t-shirt. It’s my best one, I call him…Golden Boy.
Elaine: I’m on the phone here.
Jerry: Golden Boy is always the first shirt I wear out of the laundry. Here touch Golden Boy!
Elaine: No thanks. Yeah, Yeah I’ll hold.
Jerry: But see look at the collar, see it’s fraying. Golden Boy is slowly dying. Each wash brings him one step closer. That’s what makes the t-shirt such a tragic figure.
Elaine: Why don’t you just let Golden Boy soak in the sink with some Woolite?
Jerry: No! The reason he’s Iron Man is because he goes out there and plays every game. Wash! Spin! Rinse! Spin! You take that away from him, you break his spirit!
Everyone has a Golden Boy: that shirt or pair of pants or hat that just makes he or she feel good. Michael Scott from The Office has his jeans. The Sex and the City broads have whatever the hell they wear. Craig Sager has a whole bunch of tacky suits.
I had my Charleston Rainbows t-shirt.
I remember the moment I picked up Golden Boy and actually felt him in my hands. Mormons (Yes, that’s the second reference to Mormons in two blogs) say that when God sends them a revelation, they can’t explain the feeling—it just feels right. Well, that’s how it felt when I picked up Golden Boy. I knew that this was going to be the shirt that I would wear daily until he died, and I knew I might just die with this shirt on.
I, however, lost my Golden Boy. Where, when, and how it happened, I can’t be exactly sure. I’m fairly confident that I put Golden Boy down at a softball game in early August, but I didn’t see anyone take him away, hear him cry. He was just gone, like a child abducted unknowingly off a playground.
This is my last recorded memory of Golden Boy:
This Charleston Rainbows t-shirt was the perfect combination of two of my favorite things: comfortable clothing and classic baseball.
From 1985 through 1993, the Minor League Baseball club in Charleston was known as the Rainbows. Now an exceedingly successful single-A affiliate of the New York Yankees and known as the Charleston RiverDogs, the Charleston Rainbows club was a minor league outpost for the San Diego Padres (1985-1992) and the Texas Rangers (1993).
In addition to retro baseball, I’m a huge fans of underdog (read: bad) teams. Let’s just say that the Charleston Rainbows never really shined; starting in 1989, the Rainbows, and subsequently the RiverDogs, went eleven straight seasons without a winning record. Despite the terrible time in team history—known as the “Dark Days” according to Wikipedia—fans have fond memories of the Charleston Rainbows baseball club.
Walking through the supermarket, people would routinely stop me and ask, “Where did you get that? That’s an old shirt!” I explained that Golden Boy was actually relatively new (the RiverDogs started reproducing these shirts during the 2010 season), but that they better hurry to get one for themselves. These shirts were flying off the shelves.
You see, I wasn’t the only one who found a Golden Boy.
So today, the Charleston RiverDogs had a 25 percent off sale on all merchandise and apparel. As soon as I got out of work, I rushed over to Joe P. Riley Jr. Stadium to reunite with my best friend.
All of the Golden Boys were gone.
So like Jerry Seinfeld, whose own Golden Boy perished during a fatal spin cycle, I was forced to adopt a new Golden Boy.
Meet Baby Blue:
San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum can do whatever he wants.
If he wants to grow his hair so that it’s fourteen feet long, I’m into it—as long as he keeps winning.
Last night, Major League Baseball fans were treated to a semi-masterful performance by “The Freak” as he silenced the Phillie’s potent lineup for seven innings and struck out eight, including power-hitting first baseman Ryan Howard twice. For those not paying attention, Lincecum’s twenty-two strikeouts through his first two postseason starts ties a record set by the St. Louis Cardinals’ Bob Gibson way back in 1964. He’s also won seven of his last eight starts, including two postseason bids, a fitting cap to his unusually underwhelming 2010 regular season.
I couldn’t be more excited because I’ll be the first to admit it: I do not want another New York Yankees/Philadelphia Phillies matchup in the World Series.
I’ve been alive for twenty-five years and of those twenty-five years, the New York Yankees have appeared in the postseason fifteen times. Most of those appearances happened to occur during my formative years, and as someone from New Bedford, Massachusetts, I guess you could say I’m scarred. Knowing that the Yankees are an almost-lock to appear in the postseason means that there’s only three real postseason spots.
And recently, it seems, the Philadelphia Phillies have routinely occupied one of those three spots. It’s like Groundhog Day—things are predictable and boring and, as a result, I’m generally ho-hum about the postseason. Sure, a team like the Tampa Bay Rays pops in and makes its mark, but a year later, it’s the same old song and dance. It’s baseball’s version of a monopoly, and it makes for a poor experience for fans living outside of New York and Philadelphia.
So last night, I was dazzled, awed, even smitten, with Tim Lincecum’s performance. Even if he does look like a barely legal girl on the mound, I’ll latch onto anything he does, as long as it means that the Philadelphia Phillies don’t make the World Series and there’s still a chance of a Texas Rangers versus San Francisco Giants finale.
The television ratings would probably be lower than a Mormon’s blood alcohol level on a Sunday, but for me, the prospect of that matchup is exceedingly exhilarating.
Think about it: Tim Lincecum versus Cliff Lee in game one, C.J. Wilson versus Jonathan Sanchez in game two, Colby Lewis versus Matt Cain in game three, or some combination thereof. No, no pitcher tossed a postseason no-hitter, but that’s a damn good list of pitching matchups for die-hard baseball fans.
Something’s going to have to happen for this matchup to occur, however.
San Francisco’s offense is anemic. The Phillies’ big boppers haven’t gotten it going yet.
Add to that the relentless, unstoppable, just-when-you-think-you’ve-got-‘em-they-beat-you New York Yankees, and my World Series dream matchup may be just that.
Still, I’ve got my fingers crossed.
If you’re a first round pick or a budding superstar, chances are you don’t want me in the stands when it’s your turn to take the bump.
A few weeks ago, I coaxed a bad start out of the Rome Brave’s Arodys Vizcaino.
And last Wednesday, I hexed the Augusta GreenJacket’s flamethrowing righty Zack Wheeler. In just 2.2 miserable innings, Wheeler gave up six hits, six earned runs, three bases on balls, two wild pitches, and a hit by pitch.
How’s that for a line?
I wanted Wheeler to do well last night. I mean, I really did. About six months ago, I wrote this post about Wheeler. It basically put me behind the wheel (no pun intended) of the Wheeler bandwagon, before there even really was one. There’s just something about a 6’4″ righthander that touches 95 miles per hour that intrigues me like nothing else but maybe a pizza with a donut topping.
But as is the course of the last couple weeks, another big prospect left town a beaten man, leaving me wondering how much longer I can continue this bad luck streak of awful starts by good pitchers.
When the night started, it looked like Wheeler was ready to deal. His bullpen session left the family next to me confounded; they hadn’t seen anyone with the velocity of Wheeler and they weren’t afraid to repeatedly admit it, noticing my notebook and hoping I was someone who could quote them in something worthwhile.
And even the catcher, Tommy Joseph, was feeling good about their chances: “Ah, it’s just an 88 mile per hour changeup. No big deal!”
And, like clockwork, Wheeler’s first inning went well.
His fastball sat at 95-96 according to the stadium gun, a pretty big bump from the 93 he had been previously reported at. One pitch caused a buzz amidst the Charleston fans when it registered at 99 miles per hour on the big board. It was an obvious glitch in electronics, an outlier of the purest sense, but a cool glitch, nonetheless.
The first thing I noticed about Wheeler was his delivery. It features an odd hesitation with his lead foot; instead of using the weight of his right leg to propel his arm and body weight forward, he basically takes it out of the mix, dangling it over the forward part of the mound until his snake-like right arm reaches its pinnacle and begins its downward movement. Only then does he finally drop the foot. The hesitation, once spotted, seems very out of place for a power pitcher. In person, it’s much more pronounced than in any of the video I’d previously seen.
You can clearly see that he is not consistently repeating the movement in this video. On the first pitch, the hesitation is apparent, but by the third pitch, there’s almost no delay.
That being said, Wheeler generates tremendously easy velocity from his tall, broad, and lanky frame.
His changeup had good running movement, coming in at 87-89 miles per hour. He didn’t throw many curveballs, which was a major disappointment since I’ve heard it’s a good looking pitch. When he did throw it, it spun in almost exclusively at 78 miles per hour. It has a tight rotation and looks like it could be a true power curve. My only notes are: “78, 78, 78, small break.”
In the first, Wheeler gave up just a run on a bloop single to left field.
But that’s just about all the positives I have to report. Check out this recap of Wheeler’s second inning:
- Deangelo Mack grounds out, second baseman Ryan Cavan to first baseman Luke Anders.
- Garrison Lassiter strikes out swinging.
- Kelvin Castro singles on a fly ball to right fielder Ryan Lollis.
- With Raymond Kruml batting, passed ball by Thomas Joseph, Kelvin Castro to 2nd.
- Raymond Kruml singles on a ground ball to center fielder Evan Crawford. Kelvin Castro scores.
- Jimmy Paredes doubles (5) on a fly ball to center fielder Evan Crawford. Raymond Kruml scores.
- Justin Milo singles on a ground ball to left fielder Dan Cook. Jimmy Paredes scores.
- Luke Murton walks. Justin Milo to 2nd.
- With Robert Lyerly batting, wild pitch by Zack Wheeler, Justin Milo scores. Luke Murton to 3rd.
- With Robert Lyerly batting, wild pitch by Zack Wheeler, Luke Murton scores.
- Robert Lyerly grounds out, second baseman Ryan Cavan to first baseman Luke Anders.
It was ugly. When Joseph allowed the passed ball, it looked like there was a breakdown in communication between the battery mates. However, that wasn’t my biggest concern.
In the second inning, Wheeler’s velocity dropped almost four miles per hour. Instead of the 94-96 he was tossing in the first, his first five pitches in the second were 90, 91, 90, 92, and 90. And it remained there for much of the inning. He got back up to 94 during the Luke Murton at-bat, but the results were just not there.
Was he pitching with adrenaline in the first? Did he over-exert himself? Or had he just lost control?
I don’t know. But I do know that to the semi-trained eye, each time an abbreviated velocity reading popped on the board during the second, I put a mini red flag up. And when he lost all control during the second half of the second inning, I was reminded of something I saw during the bullpen session.
While working in the bullpen, Wheeler would start his windup, then look down to see where that lagging lead foot was, and then continue on.
I do not know if the pause I saw was present when he pitched in high school. But to me, it certainly looked more pronounced and intentional. It did not look like he was quite comfortable with it yet and it looked like something he was thinking about. And when you pitch, you don’t want to think.
Strangely enough, Augusta’s manager sent him back out there for the third. His velocity returned, but after a hit-by-pitch and a nasty walk, Wheeler’s night was over.
So, there it is. I wish I could send San Francisco fans revelatory information about the ace potential of Zack Wheeler, but I simply can’t. I’m still confused by what I saw.
For one inning, Zack Wheeler looked every bit the $3.3 million San Francisco thinks he is worth. But for the next 1.2 innings, he looked every bit Jason Grilli, the last pitcher the Giants picked up in the first round.
We’ll just have to wait.
Note: That obnoxious high-pitched voice isn’t me. That little rat ruined made my night a living hell.
It’s more difficult to spell than the longest name in baseball, Saltalamacchia. And its pronunciation is even more mind boggling than Duchscherer.
For baseball writers everywhere, there’s a new brain aneurysm causing name on the scene.
Wojciechowski. First name Asher.
Prounounced Woah-jeh-how-ski, I have the name copied so I can simply press Apple+V whenever it comes up. When I started this blog, I didn’t know I’d have to become proficient in the study of Polish linguistics.
But, it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to avoid the name for any duration. Currently ranked 23rd in Baseball America‘s April Draft Preview, Wojciechowski has established himself as a first-round talent while pitching for the hometown Citadel Bulldogs.
I’ve had the opportunity to see Wojciechowski pitch on numerous occasions. Early in the season, it was easy to temper expectations for him. He was raw, his aggression unbridled, and maybe he was trying a little too hard to replicate his success from 2009. His fastball command was inconsistent, so hitters sat on his curveball and routinely laced it for hits. During more than one early season outing, Wojciechowski yelled “FUCK!” into his glove as hitters fed on his secondary pitches.
Wojciechowski has progressed steadily since then and has, by a large margin, become the Southern Conference’s best pitcher. As of April 30, Wojciechowski lead the league in earned run average (2.47), strikeouts (98 through 73 innings), batters struck out looking (68) and wins (8).
A 6’4″, 230 pound, righthander out of Beaufort, South Carolina, Wojciechowski is one of the more advanced pitchers I’ve seen at the college level, both physically and stuff-wise.
His tall, but stout body is perfect for his leg-driven motion. His frame is surprisingly compact and moves quickly when he drives off the rubber with his large quads, meaning he gets all of his weight behind every pitch.
As a result, Wojciechowski is a power pitcher in the purest sense. His fastball resides in the low-to-mid nineties. During the Citadel’s game against Appalachian State on March 26, he sat at 91-93 with the pitch. As the season has progressed, however, he’s actually sustained that velocity and his fastball now sits closer to 93-94, even late into games.
Wojciechowski also possesses a good slider. The action on the pitch looks more like a power curveball, but I’m assuming he’s told scouts that it’s a slider because on nearly every outside scouting report, they call it a slider. Still, I’m sticking with my guns and calling it a power curve. Whatever it really is, the pitch sits at 89-91 miles per hour and has also shown positive development as the year has worn on.
Even though it’s not his best pitch, Wojciechowski shows absolutely no hesitation throwing his breaking ball, no matter the count. In several outings, I’ve actually felt he was throwing it to a fault, like he refused to accept that it’s not an out-pitch. Now, however, the pitch isn’t a pitch you can really sit on. It’s got good, sharp lateral movement and when he can command it, he uses it to expand the plate well.
His changeup, like so many young pitchers, is almost non-existent. He’s only thrown it a handful of times in the three games I’ve seen. It needs work.
Wojciechowski has a lot working for him, though. His success in the Southern Conference has made him an imposing figure. When he toes the rubber, opposing batters feel like they can’t win, like they can’t hit, like they can’t do anything.
Wojciechowski begins his motion upright and holds his glove over his face so the batter can only see his glaring eyes. Looking in my notes, on more than one occasion, I’ve recorded something along the lines of: “Looks like he’ll rip your face off when he’s on the mound.” When he goes from the stretch, he begins by expanding his whole body, just showing the opposing team how physically dominant he is.
And when he’s at his best, he doesn’t let up and pounds the strikezone, over and over, with his boring fastball. With that coming at you at 95 miles per hour and a sharp breaking pitch, he’s been nearly unstoppable in the Southern Conference.
Some scouts say he’s a bonafide number two or number three starter at the major league level. Others say he’s a flamethrowing reliever.
Like that offspeed pitch, there’s some thrash over what Wojciechowski is, what he will be, or where he’ll end up.
Either way, his dominant 2010 has been a fun ride. And no matter what the future holds, I’ll be watching.
There’s so many reasons to love minor league baseball. The beer is a cheap, you can move through the stands freely, and finding parking doesn’t make you want to stab yourself in the throat. And where else can you see a mascot named Roger Clamens eat the home team’s batboy?