Sunday, October 31, 2010

Balance

It's my natural inclination to take life issues and find a baseball connection. My wife, Ashley, makes beautiful analogies that are complex and very helpful (when I understand them) in communicating her points. I, however, make ridiculous references to pitching all the time. This one might actually have some value though...

When pitching, there are certain points that you have to hit in your delivery to throw the ball where you want. There is a small step back, then balance. Bring your knee up towards your chest, then balance on one leg. Foot down towards the plate, hands break, balanced power position. Hips turn, arm swings through, weight shifted onto front leg, balance on one leg again. Release ball, back leg swings through, finish with body balanced and facing the plate. Repeat a
s necessary.

Balanced is what we have to achieve in our delivery and balanced is what we are trying to keep the hitter from being at the plate. Pitching might as well be one big tight rope act. We try to balance our way through 9 innings flailing our arms wildly in the attempt to simply make it through unscathed. Oddly enough, my life seems to share some of those same qualities.

As I've grown up there have been more and more things which I have to keep balanced in my life. When I was 8 there was baseball, basketball, playing with friends, and school. When I got into high school there was baseball, girls, friends, and school. Now that I am married there is a whole new set of objects that I have to balance in my life...and at times it can be a real struggle. One of the big things that I was unprepared for going into marriage was the new decision making process. Before, I was making decisions based on my own well being, but still taking into account my girlfriend's feelings. Now that my girlfriend is my wife, I have to make every decision for 2. There is no "well I hope she can just deal with it." Every time I choose to do or not do something there are real consequences for another person. Balancing these consequences is no easy task, no matter how much you love and care about your spouse.

As throughout my whole life, one of the things on my balancing scales is Baseball. The same question still rings true "how much am I supposed to care about this game?" For any of you out there who have been doing something you love for years and years, taking inventory of how much it means to you can be hard. To look yourself in the face and ask "why do I love this and how much is ok?" can be really difficult. It takes balance. I had to ask myself that question when I was getting ready to propose to Ashley. Did I love baseball enough to drag her through the ups, downs, and arounds that minor league baseball has to offer? Did I love Ashley so much that it wasn't worth it? These are examples of balance that creep into every aspect of life.

My comfort in the situation is wherein my balance lies. I love God and He loves me. He created a world around me that, minus our development, is the most balanced thing in the universe. He created scientific processes that are as symmetrical and balanced as life gets. He created our bodies to live in this perfectly suited environment, on this perfectly positioned planet, but why? I believe that He wanted us to see balance all around us as an encouragement that it is possible. In my life, i've seen it first hand. If my priorities push my relationship with the LORD to the background then I become imbalanced, running around frantically trying to even the scales but never quite getting it right. When I seek the LORD first, though, things begin to move by themselves into the right positions.

Tight rope walking becomes much easier and you'll be surprised at how often the ball goes where you want it to go.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bobby Cox

As per one of my friends, Jared Jones, I will attempt to answer the question of "what defines a Major League manager?"

In my job i've been staring at a computer screen for the last 2 weeks, looking at numbers, manipulating them, analyzing them, and repeating. I figured this topic would give me a reason to use my skills for awesome. Or at least interesting.

I took all 16 Big League managers in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and looked at their stats. I looked at similarities and differences in their stats and compared them in the context of their managing era. My results are pretty interesting if you care anything about Bobby Cox and his legacy in terms of the history of the game.

Of the 16 Hall of Fame managers 2 are below .500 in their winning percentage, 2 are above .600. The rest of them are between .500 and .600. Bobby Cox ended his illustrious managing career on monday in Atlanta with a record of 2504-2001, which is a winning percentage of .558. He ranks 4th all time in wins as a manager which sets him up nicely for a place in Cooperstown. The top 11 managers in terms of wins are in the HOF except 3...Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre. Nice company, huh? Cox is the only manager to win 14 consecutive division titles from 1991-2005. His pitching rotation during that stretch was the object of envy for nearly every team in the game. They ran Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz out there three out of every five days giving them a pretty good chance for success. To this day teams (i.e. the Mets) would die for 3 aces in a rotation...hell, give us just 1 healthy one to start.

Honestly though, what we all remember about Bobby is his prolific ejections record. In September of this year he passed John McGraw for the all time ejection title. Unlike McGraw, however, Cox isn't known for being a hot head (as referenced in the last blog post). Most of his 161 ejections have been in defense of his players, which has endeared him to team after team in the Braves organization. Chipper Jones has never played for another manager in his entire career, and most of us young Atlantans have never known anyone before Bobby. What will we do now that he's gone? Go Mets?

I leave you with a quote from Bobby Cox to Jeff Francoeur in response to the question of what to do after being ejected...

"I’m like, ‘What do I do?’ He said, ‘Go have a couple cold beers and get in the cold tub or something and relax. And then you’ll probably have to write a $500 check. Or you can do what I do, write a $10,000 one and tell them when it runs out, let me know'."

Friday, October 8, 2010

Why Manager? Why Not Coach?

Last night in the Twins/Yankees ALDS game I saw something pretty normal, but with new eyes. Ron Gardenhire was sitting back in the dugout, calm and collected as usual. Man on first 2 outs. The count was 1-2 to Lance Berkman and Pavano was on the hill. He was 1 strike away from pitching seven innings of 2 run ball and leaving the game tied. Having set Berkman up perfectly, Pavano and Mauer called for an inside fastball. The pitch was thrown on the black at the knees with some sinking action that caused it to catch the plate. Catcher, pitcher, and second baseman start walking to the dugout...BALL! Fans begin to boo as Pavano cocks his head to the side and stares at the home plate umpire wondering what else he could do to get that pitch. As happens so often, next pitch double. Scores the man from first and breaks the game back open. This is where it gets interesting.

Instead of the pitching coach going out to the mound to settle the pitcher down, Gardenhire himself gathers the infielders at the mound and talks. Talks some more. Talks as much as he needs to until the homeplate umpire has no choice but to break it up. The meeting adjourns and players scamper back to their positions, but not Gardenhire. He follows the ump back to home plate jawing in his ear the entire time. Everybody in the park knows what's about to happen. "You're outta here!!" Gardenhire loses it. He gets toe to toe with the homeplate ump and lets him have it. All the rage and frustration of the whole team flows out of him like a river and leaves the umpire in no doubt of his opinion. Almost triumphantly Gardenhire walks back to the dugout and into the clubhouse hoping that his little act would inspire the troops to victory.

Then and there it dawned on me how managers aren't coaches. If this was the pitching coach and he got tossed, the pitchers would be at the mercy of another less specialized coach for the remainder of the game. Same goes for the hitters. But a manager isn't firstly a coach. His first duty is to manage the egos, emotions, and expectations of his 25 players and handful of assistant coaches. For Gardenhire it wasn't a matter of whether the team would be able to go on without him in the dugout, it was what do the players need to "feel" like they can win. If it means not being able to put on a hit-and-run in the 8th inning, most big league managers will choose motivating their team over strategy. They are managers first and foremost. Just like in the corporate world, Big League managers do what is best for the team as a whole over what is best for an individual. Perhaps it wasn't the best for him to get thrown out of a one run game in the late innings down by a run, but if it means the team as a whole gains any confidence at all it will have been worth it.

Bobby Cox, Jim Leyland, Joe Torre, Mike Soscia, Ron Gardenhire, etc. All of these guys are relatively docile in the dugout until they know their team needs a defender, a champion. They manage the game, the team, the players, the coaches, the ups and downs, the good and bad. They're a calming effect until they need to be a lightning rod. It didn't work last night for the Twins, but I finally saw the merit in trying.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

a YEAR older, a YEAR wiser

It's been a crazy week, or three. My wife and I celebrated our 1 year anniversary over the weekend in beautiful Seattle, WA. I've started (restarted actually) my offseason job which is taking about 40 hours a week to do effectively. We've been getting things unpacked from storage boxes, breaking down the boxes, and unsuccessfully trying to find places to hide the boxes in our apartment. On top of all of that, we hosted a babyshower (pictures soon to be up at Ashley's blog buzzy craftery) for my brother and sister-in-law. In between breaths we have been driving all over Atlanta trying to see all the friends we missed during the season. So all in all it's been tiring...fun, but tiring.

Let's start with Seattle. The Pacific Northwest in October might not seem like an ideal anniversary destination, but let me assure you that IT IS! Neither Ashley nor I had been to Seattle in our travels, so we decided we're young and adventurous...why not. The flight is not the best. 4 hr. 30+ min. but the cookies and ginger ale made it bearable. BTW can you buy those cookies anywhere else? so good. Anyway, we landed and checked into The Hyatt at Olive8 in downtown Seattle. Great view of the Paramount Theatre from our window and a cozy bed to boot.

We spent the next 3 days eating ourselves into and out
of multiple food comas and walking around the whole city to make room for more delicious food. My highlight was Elliot's Oyster House where we ate complementary crab cakes and creme brulée as bookends to our delectable salmon. The best part about Seattle, though, is the people. They get my vote for nicest people in America. From the vendors at Pike Place Farmer's Market to our cab driver everyone we ran across was so inviting and friendly. If you have any urge to visit Seattle, do yourself a favor and just do it (channeling NIKE).

All of this was to celebrate our first year of marriage, which is the real treat. Being married is great. I can see how people could grow to dislike it if they get easily weary of conflict or if they would rather just be single. For me though, being married to Ashley is better than any alternative reality I could want. She's loving, talented, hard when she needs to be, but sweet almost always. We teach each other continually about life from our own perspective, and because of that we are becoming more well rounded people. Also, she's my best friend and the only person I would want to spend every second around...so that helps.

My offseason job is pushing me to the limit almost every day. This is not a bad thing. After a baseball season where you go along everyday doing the same thing, I relish the opportunity to come here and be thrown into the heat of issues that need solving. I spend most of my day putting out fires, but there's such a rewarding feeling when you find a way to put it out before it consumes whichever project your in charge of. I feel needed, and that's always nice.

We moved to Midtown West (close to Howell Mill Rd. and Collier Rd.). Apparently there are a bunch of cool new bars, restaurants, and shops being built down there, so we are looking forward to being trendy again. Time to break out the cardigans and V necks. I think I hear my Converse calling. A possible roadblock to this is Dave Ramsey. The Financial freedom guy (nerdy bald guy with glasses) has inspired Ashley and I to start using a cash system. I see this going less than perfect, but we'll see.

If we have not hung out with you and you feel spurned by us, fear not. We wanna see all of you and soon! Drop me a line (or another phrase than means contact me) and let's hang out.