Saturday, February 24, 2007

Things I've Learned in the Last Ten Days...

It’s never a good idea to forsake assigned seating in 1st grade and allow them to choose their own seats.

1st graders have no qualms about poking an adult in the stomach with their finger and saying, “Your stomach is really squishy.”

California is the greatest place on earth.

There are few better ways to spend a weekend than sitting in 75 degree weather watching four college baseball games in four days.

There are few harder ways to spend a weekend than watching your preferred college baseball team lose four games in four days.

A trip home isn’t complete until you’ve been to In-N-Out.

Sleepwalking is even worse when you’re in a hotel room with family members.

Salmonella laced peanut butter will make you feel uncomfortable.

Apparently, you’re never too old to roll off the bed in the middle of the night. Seriously. Even 28 isn’t too old. Apparently.

Never, and I really mean ever, post a blog poll if there’s the slightest chance that you might lose convincingly to your spouse.

Going Around the Horn...

Part two of a five-part preview of the upcoming Yankees season. Today, we take a look at the infield.

On paper, this infield is legit. A perennial MVP candidate at the Hot Corner, Mr. Clutch at shortstop, a future batting champ at second base and a platoon at first. That’s the paper version. But things don’t always go paper.

In real life, the Yankee infield is an interesting mix of outrageous talent and fragile mindset. Apparently, A-Rod is deeply concerned that everybody love him. Not a bad desire in and of itself, but does someone who averages 41 jacks and 110 RBI in the most numbers conscious game there is still need outside validation? Every time A-Rod feels the need to play Dr. Phil and try to break down his own emotional state and the state of the team, it just doesn’t come out quite right. His recent flare-up dragged Captain in, too. On top of all that, the potential contract opt-out could easily become a distraction this season. All that said, I love A-Rod and don’t understand the widespread dissatisfaction with him. Few people in the game have better numbers. He returns daily to a media circus intent on shredding and analyzing his every move. In such conditions, few of us would perform as well. The postseason criticism is unfairly myopic. The team failures of the last three Octobers have been exactly that; team failures. A-Rod will be fine, let’s allow the man some room to breathe.

Just to A-Rod’s left, Jeter has been able to find all his validation in his on field accomplishments. That’s why he plays the secure older brother role to A-Rod’s adolescent routine. Obviously it’s easier to do that when you have World Series titles under you belt and aren’t saddled with the most excessive contract in human history. Yet, there’s more to Jeet than just being the Anti-Alex. On the field, he’s as productive as ever, demonstrating that any alpha dog situation that may develop on the left side will be quickly resolved. His hitting in key spots is as clutch as ever. His defense is Gold Glove caliber. His leadership of the clubhouse is unquestioned. Yes, it’s still Jeet’s world and we’re just livin’ in it.

At second, Cano is not only a future batting champ but flashes nice leather as well. It didn’t take him long to cement his place in the Yankee hierarchy. In fact, when he missed time with a hamstring injury last year, the Yanks felt it just as much as the absence of Matsui or Sheffield. He has tremendous work ethic and a desire to improve his game that leads to multiple daily infield sessions as well as additional batting practice. The Yanks’ second base job is set for years to come.

I’m not a big fan of platoons, especially in baseball, where the symptoms of a slump or signs of breaking out of one are rarely clear. Baseball takes feel. Feel takes at bats. Any time at bats get limited for reasons other than injury, the delicate psychology of the baseball player is in jeopardy. The proposed platoon at first base worries me. True, I like Mientkiewicz’s glove, and anyone with the chutzpah to try to steal the Red Sox ball and go home gets high marks. Yet, I think that the wise move, long-term, is to give the job to Andy Phillips or Josh Phelps. Let one of the youngsters play, every day or close to it. Sure, their defense may not be near Mientkiewicz’s, but their bats can be significantly better, if they are allowed to swing it. With Giambi’s spot at DH confirmed, why create another platoon when it isn’t necessary? Give the job to one of the kids and let him play.

Posada is certainly still up to the task of holding things down behind the plate. The Yanks would be wise to have a solid backup plan, though. Perhaps not surprisingly, I’d prefer that the backup catcher job go to the young Wil Nieves instead of the 40-year-old Todd Pratt. Granted, lack of experience can hurt even more behind the dish than anywhere else on the diamond, but we’re talking about the backup job. Likely 10 to 15 starts this year. If Posada gets injured, of course, we’ve got a totally different situation on our hands. As it is, though, the Yanks are better off thinking of the long-term payoff of having a catcher ready to take Posada’s spot in a year. Which betrays my prejudice of what to do in response to Posada’s impending free agency. I love Jorge. He has done a great job and played hard for over a decade. But the shelf-life on catchers, like running backs, is not great. They all seem to reach a certain age where their productivity quickly declines and they are better suited for a different position on the field (see Piazza, Mike). Nobody wants to see Jorge become the guy at the party that didn’t know it was time to leave. Even worse, I don’t want the Yanks to become the party hosts afraid to kick the last guy out. But, those are next winter’s concerns.

On the whole, the Yankee infield has the potential to send three starters to San Francisco. As with any team, avoiding injuries will be critical. But, the outlook is good. With Jeet, A-Rod, Cano, Jorge, and a youngster at first base, the Yanks infield is as good as any in the division. Let’s just hope that they can all have one big group hug in October.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Speaking of my sweet wife...

The story on her blog at the moment, is, shall we say, slanted?

Here’s what really happened:

I got up to use the restroom in the middle of the night like the old man that I am. As I was crawling back in bed, she said something I couldn’t understand. So, I said, “What?” Again, she mumbled. I kind of laughed and then said, “What honey?” One more time, she responded with unintelligible mumbles. I smiled and went to sleep, knowing that I’d been waiting six years for the following morning.

The next morning, I said, “Hey, guess what? You were talking in your sleep last night.” She said, “Whatever! You were totally sleepwalking.” “I was not,” I answered. “I just went to the bathroom and then you mumbled at me.” She didn’t believe me then, and she still doesn’t. But really, what DTS student would lie? On the internet? For everyone to see?

So, then, really? Who do you believe? Let us know in the poll to the right.

P.S. Greta wrote me an incredible poem for Valentine’s Day. She’s so great to me. Every day—sometimes in little ways, sometimes in huge ways—she reminds me of her love. It’s always humbling, always reassuring. She is home to me. I am blessed by her. Even when she publishes fictional propaganda about me on her blog.

All eyes on the Yankee outfield...

Part one of a five-part preview of the upcoming Yankees season. Today, we take a look at the outfield.

A sober mood has hung over the Bruneel home this week. Earlier in the week, the Yankees announced that they were only going to offer a minor-league contract and spring training invitation to Bernie Williams instead of a major-league deal with a guaranteed roster spot. The Yanks were forced to make the move because of roster-size limits, a platoon at first base that eliminates DH flexibility, and a pitching staff of 12. Williams reportedly responded by rejecting the offer, saying that he prefers to stay home, stay in shape and wait to see if the big club changes its mind about the roster spot.

This news has caused no shortage of consternation for my sweet wife, who really should be free from such worries around Valentine’s Day. Bernie Williams is Greta’s favorite player. Hands down. Not even close. Understandably, she’s a little upset about seeing her favorite player walk away from her favorite team. Yet, I have a suggestion.

Bernie needs to come to spring training. Granted, the outfield appears set with Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Bobby Abreu, and Melky Cabrera as the fourth. It will be good to have Matsui back for a whole season after he missed so much time last year with a broken wrist. Undoubtedly, Cabrera represents the future in the outfield and he acquitted himself quite nicely in extended fill-in duty last season. Damon’s presence in center and at the top of the order is wonderful. Abreu’s ability to work deep into counts and get on base makes him a fixture. So, then, it would seem as though there is little room left for Bernie. Ah, but did it not look that way last spring?

Last spring, the Yanks rolled into spring training with Matsui poised to put up MVP numbers, the freshly-inked Damon poised to rejuvenate the top of the line-up, and Gary Sheffield poised to mash 40+ home runs. Poised. The reality was that Matsui broke his wrist in May and didn’t return until September, Sheffield messed up his wrist and knee in April and was never quite right again after he returned in September—as evidenced by his painful attempt to play first base and his 1 for 12 performance at the plate during the playoffs—and, next thing you know, Bernie and Melky are getting significant time. In fact, until the trade for Abreu at the deadline, the outfield was a MASH unit and there was room for all comers.

How can anyone expect Damon to play 162 games this summer? He routinely crashes into walls—a style of play that endears him to fans but scares the junk out of management. Then there’s Godzilla. Although his track record of durability is unquestioned, management has to wonder if his surgically-repaired wrist will really allow him to be available every day. The point is this: things change quickly during the course of the season, sometimes during the course of spring training (see, Griffey Jr, Ken). Bernie needs to come to spring training. Play the exhibition season. Stay in shape. Stay in contact with the Yankees brass. Allow them to see that he can still swing it, even at age 37. When the inevitable injury—or, God forbid, two—happens, he’ll be more ready and likely to fill in immediately.

What Bernie shouldn’t do is hang it up. Not yet. He showed last year that he can still play the pastime and that he doesn’t really want to retire. Although I love his music and, once he does retire, his second career will undoubtedly flourish, now’s not that time.

Bernie also shouldn’t sign with another team. That would be wrong. Signing with another team, after 16 years with the Yankees, would be similar to seeing Namath play for the 49ers. Besides, who wants to get used to a new routine, new clubhouse, new city, new franchise after 16 years? No, Bernie needs to be in Yankee pinstripes.

So, consider this an open letter. A plea to Bernie Williams. Accept the spring training invite. Come to Legends Field. Put on the pinstripes. Bide your time. For Yankee fans across the world. For my wife. After all, that’s all that she really wants for Valentine’s Day.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hello, again...

Both my writing mentor and an international phone call have now chastised me for not updating this blog. In response, I have characteristically buckled under peer pressure and dusted off my typing fingers. (Ironically, I had lots of trouble typing the previous sentence.)

For your sake, o loyal reader (if any such people still exist), I will fight the urge to update everything that has happened since I last posted. After all, 4 months have lapsed since then and you likely have access to and, therefore, all the news you need about the last four months.

Instead, I’ll reveal why this blog has lain undisturbed for so long. Frankly, I feel like I’ve run out of words. I know that those of you that know me quite well cannot believe that could possibly ever happen, but allow me to explain.

Late last semester, I re-learned a lesson that I learned in high school. Procrastination = bad.

I had signed up for a four-unit independent study at school. At the time of registration, I had every intention of spacing out the 80 hours of reading and 10,000 words of writing over the course of the fifteen week semester. Instead, I waited. What for is not exactly clear, but I waited anyway. I suppose I thought that late work would not present a real problem. About eight days before the end of the semester, that train of thought jumped the track.

That day my friend, Tim, called. He, like me, also enrolled in this independent study. He, unlike me, had actually gone to speak to our supervising professor about due dates. Our phone call went something like this:

Me: “Yo.”
Him: “Hey. Have you talked to Dr. Kreider about the independent study?”
Me: “No. Why?”
Him: “Well, we’re screwed.”

Turns out, late work actually would present a real problem. As a result, I now knew that I had to submit this project to my professor in eight days. At the end of the semester. When work always comes due. Like it says in the student handbook. Yes, I freely admit that I am an idiot sometimes.

I filled those eight days with the reading of five books and the writing of 9,991 words on the emergent church and far too little interaction with the outside world. (Especially with my sainted wife who endured the whole thing with grace, love, and patience. And, she still acts like she likes being married to me.)

After that exercise in drinking from a fire hose, I then took two winter term classes. Funny thing about that procrastination lesson…

The first week of winter term, I took Christian Camping. A great class that gave an excellent overview of planning and implementing effective church camps, retreats, and events. As a bonus, it didn’t give much homework. I considered the ability to go home each night and not have anything to do as a gift from God for the hard work I had put in at the end of the previous semester. Instead, I would later see it in its true light: as a test from God to see how well I had learned the hard lesson from the end of the previous semester.

Although no homework each night of Christian Camping gave me a nice break, Eschatology lurked just beyond the horizon. Eschatology had a similar reading and writing load to that of Christian Camping except for the part where the syllabus talked about lots and lots to do. Loads of reading, plenty of writing. No problem for the diligent student who planned ahead and used his free evenings the week of Christian Camping to get some reading done ahead of time. If only I were such a student.

During the week of Eschatology—and the two weeks that followed during which students could submit work—I, yet again, reaped the rewards of my incredible foresight. I already faced the daunting task of figuring out how to complete all this Eschatology work while starting the spring semester. Imagine my great pleasure to hear two of my spring professors say, “I put most of your reading for the semester in the next couple of weeks in order to lay a foundation.”

On top of that, the entire first draft of my thesis (Jan 30) and the first leg of a major Hebrew project (Feb 6) both came due. Life went from, “Ah, crap. I’m an idiot,” to “Somebody please shoot the idiot.” So, I read. And I wrote. Next, I read. Then I wrote some more. After that, I read. I finished it all up with a little writing. My eyes and my fingers constantly battled for the coveted “most exhausted part of Benji’s body” award. Somehow, it all got done. Most of it on time.

As a result, I feel like I’ve done nothing but read and write since forever ago. Therefore, I have given my blog no attention, because I’m out of words (as you can undoubtedly tell).

But, through it all, I learned two critical things. First, marry well. I did so almost six years ago and I never have regretted it. Marriage to a beautiful, kind, patient, gracious, servant-hearted woman makes every mistake I make tolerable and gets me through the toughest seasons of my own stupidity. Second, I learned a valuable lesson about procrastination that I will tell you some other time.