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Playoff Expansion, First Spring Training Game, Conspiracy Theories and All That Good Stuff

Spring Training is one of my favorite times of year (well, spring, but spring is synonymous with Spring Training, right?) because of all the promise and optimism it brings, but also because of the endless news buzzing it creates.  After a long and quiet winter- if you’re a Giants fan, that is, because we’re rather sleepy in the winter like that- it’s endlessly lovely to hear real, concrete news.

I’m not talking about injury news, though, Dan Runzler, Tim Lincecum, Brian Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Ryan Vogelsong et al., so don’t go getting any ideas.  I would choose a rainy, snoozy news day over a They Are Falling Like Flies day any time.

What I am talking about?  Playoff expansion, for one.  Bud Selig has gotten down to work, following his extra (baseball) life which he was granted over the offseason, and the extra wild card deal was finalized today.  I felt surprisingly ambiguous at the time of the announcement because, heck, it’s March 2nd and the Giants are playing their first Spring Training game tomorrow and the world is beautiful and the playoffs could not be farther from my mind, but as the day went on, my feelings changed.

Which, I am kind of guessing, was part of MLB’s plan.  Ready for my conspiracy theory?  Okay, here goes: MLB is doing this when everyone is out of their permanently touchy offseason modes and still basking in the glow of baseball being back, so as to soften possible backlash.  And it seems to have worked, actually.  Which, yes, could have to do with the fact that we were all expecting this by now or just that no one is genuinely outraged, but that is far of a less compelling thought.  I vote for my conspiracy theory, anyone with me?

Anywho.  The reason I’m not for those extra wild cards, I suppose, is both a pro and con of the whole thing.  I think it makes it all even more a crap shoot, to use a Billy Beane-ism.  People are saying it’s exciting because it makes the playoffs even more “everyone’s game”, which is true.  And I see the appeal of that.  I’m sure that extra wild card team will win the World Series from time to time and it will make for a fabulous story.  But with the 162 game format, I’m more of the opinion that we should shy away from that whole crapshoot thing.  Winning big in baseball is about perseverance and I like it that way.  I think this just changes the game.  For better or for worse?  Who knows.  Only time will tell.  (Other half of me:  Duh!  For worse!  But I’m trying to be all non-judgmental here, so just forget I said that.)

Onto lighter and brighter things, I am soamazinglystokedforthegametomorrow.  I will probably be missing the majority of it due to more umpire training, but I will hopefully be catching- in a purely non-Buster-Posey-ish sense- the beginning.  I’m not even sure what to say about that, except that I’m not even thinking about winning or losing or injuries just… baseball game.  Baseball game.  Say it aloud and grin to yourself.  Do it.

(Try reminding me of that whole “not about winning or losing” thing in September.  Actually, don’t.  I can be snappish, on occasion.  That sounds like an occasion.)

Diamond Girl

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Ryan Braun = Question Mark (+Organic Oreos and Stuff)

Well.  So.  Ryan Braun.  These past few months have been a bit a roller coaster, in terms of my love for Braun.  Take a look:

And the newest addition to the bunch:

Yeah.  I am officially turning into a baseball schizophrenic, I think.  When the original positive test was reported, I was as surprised as I ever am by a positive test and that means not very surprised at all.  I’m a cynic like that, I s’pose.  But his stance on it was intriguing all the same.  There is a certain element of ‘fessing up or staying quiet and he didn’t do either.  So I sat tight and ate organic Oreos and scrolled through my Twitter feed non-obsessively, 24 hours a day.  Then when it was finally overturned and he was declared innocent yesterday, I stopped mid-oreo cookie (I eat them by breaking off the top and then eating the rest whole, in case you’re wondering) and felt decidedly suspicious.  It seems to be in everyone’s best interest, in many ways, for him to be innocent I was once again rather cynical.

But then there was MLB’s nasty statement (agree or disagree, people, it was pretty nasty) and Braun’s presser this morning.  And I’m leaning decidedly on the, He is innocent side now.

He’s awfully convincing, isn’t he?  And the process seems shady enough that while he may or may not really be innocent, there isn’t enough solid info on the other side to call him guilty.  We’ll have to see where it goes from here, but for now I am leaving that question mark at the end of my sign.  Knowing the sharp-toothed media, we’ll probably discover more about this in the coming days/weeks/months, which I’m curious to see, but I hope we can all just settle down a bit and watch baseball too.

On a lighter note, the terrible hair that was Braun’s during the 2011 postseason appears to have gone bye-bye.  This is good news indeed!

I didn’t really get the jacket, though. Why so many pockets and buttons?  Less is more, Ryan.  Less is more.

Diamond Girl

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My Letter to Bud Selig On the Eve of Spring Training

Dear Bud Selig,

Hi!  Have you missed me and my letters of bullyin- I mean, recommendation- to you?  Wait.  Don’t answer that one.

Anyway!  I feel like I’ve touched on this before, but I feel the need to say it clearly and detailed-ly now, on the eve of Catchers and Pitchers Reporting Day.  For the Giants, A’s, Reds, Cubs, Pirates, Phillies and Orioles.

Which is, actually, just my point.

Wouldn’t it be a thousand times more climactic to be able to just say, “the eve of Catchers and Pitchers Reporting Day,” without all the team names at the end?  AKA, shouldn’t they all report on the same day?  Now, look.  I understand all the stuff about free will vs. predestination and letting teams do their own thing and that this is not a mandatory report date anyway, but that is all completely beside the point.  Imagine if it was like this at the beginning of the regular season, with Opening Day spread out over a whole bunch of days?  How terrible would that be?  (It would, obviously, be absolutely terrible.)

Also, on the practical side, this bad scheduling makes my brain have to work a lot harder than it likes to.  Since my iPod has a deep and unfounded hatred of me and refuses to accept it when I schedule appointments or events on the calendar app, I have to store all this info in my head.  Which means that every day, in between watching Dior fashion shows over and over, I have to do my sleuthing and find out who might possibly be reporting to Arizona today.  Waste of time with a capital “W”.

Besides which, the Giants were tweeting photos of Nate Schierholtz working out in the batting cages today.  I mean, I’m not going to go out there and say they shouldn’t let Nate take BP.  But tweeting about it?  That’s like tweeting a link to the wedding scene from Breaking Dawn, Part I the day before the movie comes out.  You can’t leak the most important details right before it happens, people!

So here’s what I propose:  something a little more, well, dramatic.  I’m talking, you sucker all the players into getting buzzy new haircuts and stuff and then they all make their grand debuts before the cameras on one, predetermined, day.

If only for the sake of my overscheduled brain.

Thanks, Bud.  You’re the best.  And while you’re at it, please scrap all the expanded playoffs weirdness.  That’s just… weird.  For lack of a better word.

Thanks again!

Diamond Girl

p.s.  If you’re feeling annoyed after finishing this letter, just imagine if I’d written you a version of Goodnight Moon, adapted to Goodnight Offseason, like I was initially planning.  And feel blessed I went with this idea instead.

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Part Two: Henry Schulman on Predictions, Anti-Predictions and Pro Tips for Fan Fest

You can read part one of this interview here.  Yesterday, we discussed the tempers of General Managers, Henry’s career, social media in journalism and Michael Lewis’s potential Stockholm Syndrome.

I’m not much for predictions, so let’s do some reverse predictions here if you don’t mind.  Who do you think will finish in last place in the National League West next season? 

I think the Padres will finish in last place.  I think that structurally, with their revenues they just can’t compete.  I think everyone’s gotten a little better- I mean, the Dodgers didn’t do very much to improve, but their pitching is so much better- that I think they’ll end up in last.

And which team do you think will be the first to be eliminated from the playoffs?

Well, remember this year there will probably be a one game playoff between two wildcard teams, so it’s really going to depend upon who’s pitching for those teams.

It’s such a crapshoot, with a one game playoff.

It is.  But it’s a funny question so I’ll say… Atlanta again, I think.

Always!  So, with the offseason coming to a close, which team or teams would you call the winners in the game of the offseason?  Which would you call the losers?

I think you’d probably have to say the Marlins in the National League and the Angels in the American League.  I mean simply, for the Angels, from the fact that they got Pujols.  They still don’t have a great great lineup but Pujols can be such a difference-maker and I can’t say Detroit, because they picked up Fielder, but they lose V-Mart.  And Miami just had a lot of money to spend and they weren’t an awful team to begin with.  They went out and got Reyes, for starters and spent some other money, picked up some other folks.  I think probably the Marlins did more to help themselves than any other team.

So what do you think of the CJ Wilson deal with the Angels?  Do you think it will pay off or do you think CJ will fade?

What was it, a four year deal?

I think it was longer.  Five, maybe?  [Editor’s note: Five, indeed.]

Yeah, I’m not a big fan of long term deals for pitchers, but if you’re going to give a deal to somebody, somebody like Wilson would be a good guy to give it to.  I don’t think he’s had much history of arm trouble, if I’m not mistaken.

No, that’s right about him.

The other thing is that, like the Giants, the pitching staff is so strong that Wilson can come in and he doesn’t have to be number one, because they already have Weaver, so it’s a lot less pressure when you can come in and you don’t have to come in and be number one.  You can just come in and do your thing.

Of all the baseball players and executives you’ve interviewed over the years, who was the most fun or easiest to interview and why?

I get that question a lot.  I loved dealing with Rod Beck, he was a heck of a lot of fun and Omar Vizquel, too.  I know a lot of your blog readers will be happy to know that he was really a sweetheart to work with.

There really aren’t a lot of executives.  It’s not that they’re not nice, they’re just wary and they really don’t want to be friendly with reporters too much.  Same with managers.  You have a respectful relationship with them, but you don’t go out and hang with them.

On the current team, I like dealing with Matt Cain.  He’s dry, you’re not going to get an inflammatory quotes off him, but he’s a really good guy to deal with.  In fact, he and I have this running thing going, because he has such a dry sense of humor and such a good way of doing a straight face.  He gives me grief all the time and I keep telling him to this day, “I never know when you’re being serious or when you’re joking.”  And then he just smiles and walks away, like, “I gotcha.”  So Matt is good, that way.  I liked dealing with Andres Torres also, he was great.  He would always end each interview by thanking us and we would say, “No, we should be thanking you.”

Just to name a few!

Honestly… do you think we will ever see another commissioner of Major League Baseball who is not named Bud Selig?

The reason he keeps getting rehired is that he’s making the owners a lot of money with the TV deals.  Really, everything Bud has done helped the owners, who are reaping bajillions of dollars, so they love him.  But in answer to your question, I think there’s going to come a time when Bud really wants to spend his last years not dealing with all of these thirty owners every single day and all of the headaches.  I’m shocked that he signed this extension- they must have had to talk him into it, I would think, because he doesn’t need the money.  There’s no real issue hanging fire, aside from how they’re going to redo the playoffs and they certainly could have continued that, they’re already on that path.  So I would think this is going to be the last extension.  He’s not a young guy.

So how do you feel about playoff expansion- an extra wildcard, one game playoff, all of that?

I don’t think there’s a problem with the ten teams getting in, because it’s still ten out of thirty, which is still the fewest teams in major sports and I have no problem with creating more excitement.  I just don’t like a one game playoff.  I mean, I don’t even like a one game playoff that has been in place in case two teams tie for the division in a 162 game season.  What I would rather see them do is shorten the regular season to 154 games, which is what it was like before expansion and have the first wild card round be a best of three and then make the other three rounds the best of seven.  It’s like what we were talking about earlier, when you asked me who was going to be the first team eliminated.  Let’s say you’re the Giants and you need Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum to win the last two games of the season, just so you can get to that one game wildcard playoff.  Now, all of a sudden, you have to have your third starter.  I realize that in the case of the Giants that is Madison or Vogelsong, so it’s not chopped liver, but after six months and 162 games, I would want my best pitcher at least involved in the process of the playoffs.

Or at least for the team to have a chance at more than one game.

Exactly.  But they’ll never go back to an 154 game schedule, because of TV.

Who do you think us Giants fans should be watching closely in Spring Training, in particular?

I think it’s the same guy as last year and that is Brandon Belt.  He’s such a wildcard on this team right now and he could be anything from the Opening Day first baseman in San Francisco to the Opening Day first baseman in Fresno.  He supposedly fixed some hitches in his swing in the Dominican and he had a good Dominican League season, so I think he’s going to be a guy who will constantly have eyes on him.

You didn’t ask for two, but the other guy would be Wilson, because he has really spent the last six months with a bad elbow and trying to get that back into shape, so until we actually see him throw and throw consistently, we aren’t going to know who the closer is.

I read your blog with tips to Fan Fest (you can read that here, if you missed it), so I am wondered if you have any other tips you would add to that, for Giants fans who are going on Saturday?

Well, I know I sound like one of those radio traffic reporters, but I think the key thing is to take public transit.  Don’t try to drive.  You’re either going to be in a long car line or you’re going to pay an arm and a leg for parking in a private lot, somewhere.

I would also say, although it might not be high on most people’s list, but take a tour of the press box and the broadcast booths and the clubhouse as well.  Those are kind of behind the scenes things.

And like I said on the blog, stay away from the autographs.  It’s not worth your time.  Unless you happen to be one of the lucky few to get a Lincecum or a Wilson when they happen to be at the station you happened to be standing in line at for two hours.

And bring water, too.  It’ll be a warm day.

In a similar vein, for fans who are going to Spring Training this year, any pro tips?

First of all, if you don’t have accommodations or tickets now for the two busiest weekends which are the weekends of the 9th and the 17th, then it’s probably too late.  People always tend to come around those two weeks because the Giants have their investors down there one weekend a year and because of that they schedule nothing but home games for the whole weekend, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday so a lot of fans pick that time because all the games are in Scottsdale and everything is a zoo.

So if you have the time and you’re available, I would actually recommend coming for the first weekend of games because not only will it be less crowded, but you’ll get to see a lot more of the kids coming up.  You might actually get to see Andrew Susac catching an inning or Gary Brown playing four or five innings in center field, which you might not get to see later on.

Another tip which I don’t know if I’ve ever written is that if there’s any restaurant that you’ve heard of or think you might want to go to, make your reservation now.  Like if you want to go to Don and Charlie’s, the steak and rib place that a lot of baseball people go to, don’t wait to make a reservation.

Another tip is that I know everyone wants to hang out in Scottsdale, but it can be a lot easier to get tickets and autographs if you go on the road, with the Giants.  If you happen to be in town when they’re playing the Reds in Goodyear, because Goodyear is so far out and you don’t have a lot of people from Cincinnati living in the Phoenix area, it’s fairly easy to get tickets and then the team shows up an hour or 45 minutes before the game starts and they’ve got nothing to do and no clubhouse to go into, so they’ll stand out there and sign autographs.

I don’t know how closely you’ve looked at the schedule yet, but what is one matchup in the coming season for the Giants you think we should looking out for?

The first one that jumped off the page for me was that we’re in Florida, right off the bat, in late May or so and it’s the one year anniversary of when Cousins ran into Posey, so that’s the one that jumped out at me.

Opening Day is also going to be intriguing for me because we’re opening in Arizona and the Giants always tend to start with the Dodgers, more years than not, and it always seems to be Lincecum and Kershaw (or for a while it was Zito and Kershaw) and Lincecum doesn’t do very well against Kershaw so, it’ll be interesting to see what it’s like on Opening Day, Lincecum against Kennedy.

What is one thing nobody asks you that you wish they did?

I think one thing is how long I want to stay at the Chronicle.  I’d be honored to stay there as long as I’m still kicking.  I’ve been the Giants beat writer at the Chronicle longer than anybody else except Bob Stevens who was the first Giants beat writer there and Bob was kind of a saintly guy to me, so if I could actually catch him, which would probably take another six or seven years, I’d be thrilled.

Lastly, what do you think is the rewarding part of your job and what is the most difficult part?

I always answer the second part of the question first, so I would say the most difficult part is the travel, there’s no question about that.  It’s just very wearing, the constant being on airplanes and in hotels.  It sounds glamorous, but when you’re in Cincinnati for the 34th time… you can see everything in Cincinnati the first time, no offense to them.  But that’s really the hardest part.  I’m not married now, but when I was married it was difficult, always being away.

And the most rewarding part is that I really do not only give people information they want but I entertain them as well.  The feedback I get from readers like yourself is great.  Sometimes when I write a 30 paragraph story and I say something in the 30th paragraph that’s controversial and then I get an email from someone saying, “What the heck are you talking about?!” I realize that person read the whole story.  Really, a whole generation of Giants fans at various papers kind of grew up with me as their main conduit between the players and the readers and that’s the most rewarding part, no question.

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Curious About How Weird Trends Like Cinnamon Roasted Walnuts and the Despicable Me Balloon Scene Started? Look No Further.

The mini-vacay is over!  All I ever dream about now is Jack Bauer threatening to shoot me and Alec Baldwin being my evil boss (which is to say, I spent the vacay watching old episodes of 24 and 30 Rock) and I’ve also spent an unreasonable amount of time meditating on the 2011 baseball season.

I am refreshed and ready to write.  (Sort of.)

I figured I’ll deal with the New Year Resolutions tomorrow- procrastination?  Heck yes.- and today go over some of the big baseball moments from the past year.  That is, big baseball moments from this blog right here.  Best Diamond Girl moments might be a more appropriate title.  Ready?  Okay, here we go.

Phew.  Okay.  The year, in a nutshell.  Say what you will about my list, I will bet it was better than some of those Yahoo stories they’re spamming my with right now.

So what was your favorite baseball moment from 2011?  Or, better still, favorite Diamond Girl moment?

Diamond Girl Herself

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