Saturday, April 18, 2009

Random Saturday Thoughts

Gary Sheffield got his first hit in a Mets uniform last night, but that hit also happened to be the 500th home run of his long career. Sheff did it in classic fashion, cleaning out a Mitch Stetter mistake left up an in with what, at 40, might still be the quickest wrists in the game. It's been a tough spring for Sheffield, who Jim Leyland didn't think was part of his best 25 to carry into April. The Mets took a shot, and they'll use Sheffield this year as a veteran righty power bat off the bench. That's exactly how he was used last night, and his homer tied a game New York would go on to win in the 9th.

Sheff's 500th home run cements his place in Cooperstown, so long as voters are willing to overlook some rather thin steroid allegations. He spent the better part of 15 years as one of the most dangerous right-handed hitters in the game. Sheffield joins Barry Bonds, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez as the only players to ever amass 500 homers and 250 steals. He's had seasons of 25 homers for six different clubs, and nine All-Star appearances for five different teams. He never led his league in homers, but he did win the batting title (.330) in his only full season in San Diego.

But more than anything, what's set Sheffield apart are the things he brings to the field everyday. The most fierce competitor out there, he could never be accused of dogging it or not doing whatever it takes to win. Despite having hitters like A-Rod, Jeter, Giambi and Matsui, when Sheffield played for the Yankees he was always the guy I didn't want to see come up with men on base late in a game. He's in the top 30 all-time for RBI, with good reason. If you make a mistake up in the zone against him, like Stetter did last night, he'll make you pay seemingly everytime without fail.

There's no question Sheff is a testy guy. He quickly wore out his welcome as young hotshot in Milwaukee, forced his way out of places like San Diego, L.A. and New York, and has never really been afraid to voice his opinions. There aren't a lot of guys like Sheffield left. I'll miss him when he decided to hang them up, which could happen after this year. But if there was any question about his HOF credentials before, it's gone now. He's in.

Some other thoughts on this the first day in three weeks that I haven't had to spend at least 90 minutes in a car:

No matter what the Yankees and their fans might be saying, losing Xavier Nady to TJ surgery for the year is not good. Given the fragility or inconsistency of their outfield corps, Nady was one guy I believe the Yankees were counting on to contribute something close to the .305-27-97-76 line he posted between Pittsburgh and New York in '08. They'll plug in Nick Swisher for now, but they need additional depth. Names like Jason Repko and Austin Kearns have been suggested as possible trade candidates, but they won't be as important going forward as Nady would have been.

In other news, Cody Ransom sucks.

Speaking of the Yankees, they opened the new ballpark this week. I gotta say, I'm impressed, especially with views like this. That familiar frieze surrounding the park harkens back to what the old park looked like prior to the 1970s renovation. I look forward to going there sometime soon, although I might have to get a second job just to afford a ticket.

Harry Kalas died this week, taking from us one of the best voices in all of sports. My favorite memory of Kalas came during my first trip to Citizens Bank Park in May of 2006. In between innings, they played a video on the scoreboard during which Phillies players described their personal favorite foods. After going through most of their roster, right at the end of the video, Kalas' face showed up on the screen. In that low monotone voice, Kalas said the following: "I'd have to say my favorite food is cottage cheese." I couldn't stop laughing for a solid three minutes. Not only was it one of the most random possible favorite food choices, but the way he said it in his famous voice just killed me. He was one of the greats. RIP, Harry.

And, speaking of announcers, there's a lengthy Globe Magazine piece about Jerry Remy that is absolutely fascinating. You might be shocked to learn some of the information about the RemDawg, which is exactly what good feature writing should do. I look at something like this and say, "This is what I want to do."

I'm going to try and keep this updated as often as I can, but to be honest, I hope my sports focus for the next few weeks will be on the Stanley Cup quest for our Boston Bruins, especially now that the Celtics have lost both KG and Game 1 of their series with Chicago. We'll see how things go.

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