By Eric Neel
Page 2

Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

If you love baseball, the last thing you want to do right now is talk about the kid.

You know the one I mean. The one tearing up the pea patch like a young stallion on the loose. No, not Podsednik. The other one.

Don't make me say it out loud. I'll jinx it.

I'm talking about the kid who plays by the river, the one whose bat is on fire, the one whose smile seems to drive in runs on its own right now. No, not Rolen. The other one.

C'mon, you know who I mean.

I'm talking about (or I should say, I'm NOT talking about) the center fielder giving Midwestern hearts reason to feel bright, the one with the sweet swing for power. No, not Beltran. The other one.

That's right, the one Joe Morgan has a certain affinity for, the one whose Papa was right as Red once upon a time.

You got it now?

Don't say it.

Talk could kill what the kid's got going these days. So shut your pie hole. Invoke the no-hitter rule. Smile and nod. Act like nothing's happening.

I know, normally when a guy's going off the way he is, you'd talk about it every chance you get. We all would. We'd be water-coolering something fierce, talking about, "Did you see what he did last night?" and "He did it again!" and "I'm telling you, he's back, baby, all the way back."

And after the way he's been down, we don't just want to talk; we want to shout hallelujah in the streets. He's wandered in the Ohio desert for so long. We want to welcome him home. It seemed he'd gone forever silent; and now that he's making noise, we want to strike up the band.

But I'm telling you, we have to resist. For the kid's sake. For the sake of the game.

This thing, all 17 homers and 48 RBI of it, it's a fragile thing. Like Jackpot Jay's stack of chips at Binion's, it could be gone in a heartbeat. Mention it over lunch with colleagues one too many times and it could crumple in a heap of pulled hammy. Tell your kids about its highlight-reel roots in a certain northwestern city and the meniscus could tear right out from under it. Chat up folks at the bus stop about the coming milestone or the, um, Hall pass, that comes with it, and you might as well be taking the Gillooly stick to the poor kid's leg. Say his name and you're playing Tony S. to his Tony B. -- You love him, but you just offed him.

No, mum's the word on the kid. It's the best story of the year. It's the sort of thing you figured was impossible, the sort of thing that gives you hope for Stevie Wonder, and makes you ponder the possibility that Woody Allen's next movie won't actually be an inflated, self-important waste of eight hard-earned bones.

And you can't say Boo about it.

You've got to let knowing and loving it be enough. You've got to be the guy on the Viagra ads, the one who struts his way through the office because he's back from the brink and feeling as good as, feeling better than, ever. Wear a satisfied smile on your face. Let your joy show in the way you live your life and do your job and romance your love. Be emboldened by the kid, be an extension of what he's doing. People will know. They'll feel the same way. You'll make eye contact with them in ballparks and airports. You'll share knowing glances at soccer games and swim meets.

And you won't need words.

And you won't muck up this big, beautiful comeback he's got going.

And maybe, just maybe, it'll never stop.

NOTES FROM ERIC'S SCORECARD
MEMO
To: The voters of America
From: Michael Young's Momma

Stop the All-Star voting madness! Derek and Nomar one-two in the AL shortstop race? I don't want to sound rude, but shouldn't a man have to, I don't know, put some space between himself and Mario Mendoza before we send him to Houston? Shouldn't he maybe, gee, actually suit up a few times before we give him the fancy patches and nifty gift bags? Yeah, Jeter's been hot of late, and yeah, we're all pleased to see Nomar coming back, but are these guys All-Stars right now?

I'm just saying, there are some other guys out there, folks, guys who are posting some numbers you don't have to read with a magnifying glass.

Take a look at Carlos Guillen (.324/.398/.551) in Detroit. Everybody's been all excited about Pudge, and he's been great, but Carlos has done almost as much to put a burnished shine on the Willie Horton statue out in front of Comerica. Stuff a little Carlos into the ballot box why don't you? Or maybe some Miggie (.312/.373/.482). He's not quite in the Jeter and Garciaparra mode, it's true. He's actually been producing all season, but still, you should maybe cut him some slack and throw a vote his way. And what about my boy, Michael (.328/.363/.504)? A key part of a resurgent Rangers ballclub, a kid who's whipping the ball all over the yard, and making the hometown crowd forget a certain other Yankee in the process? Get out the vote for my little Mikey. He's a good boy.

MY GUYS
After a stellar, near-perfect outing in Anaheim on Tuesday night (he went nine, gave up one hit and no runs, walked nobody, and struck out five), Ben Sheets is looking less and less like a pitcher and more and more like a hero worthy of his own line of comic books, or sports stories for kids, or maybe a Saturday morning cartoon. Can't you see it? "Tune in next week, when Big Ben rescues a little girl from a burning building, stops Dr. Evil from taking over the world, teaches an important lesson about sharing, and sends Angel hitters crying to their mothers like the overmatched babies they are!"

Meanwhile, for those of you who don't get the CBC as part of your cable package, Nick Johnson continued to toil nobly in obscurity this past week. What am I talking about? He was huge. He went 7-for-19, with three doubles, a home run, three RBI, and three walks. When you're making those summer vacation plans, consider a trip to fair Montreal, a very clean city, with a patient, ball-crushing first baseman. Plenty of good seats still available.

DICK TRACY, COME IN, DICK TRACY
Nibbles Glavine is on the loose. In a landslide, "Nibbles" wins out as Tom Glavine's new handle. There's something a little soft about it; but, as Evander Holyfield would tell you, it's not entirely without a certain intimidating edge.

This week, we not-so-spontaneously assign Scott Podsednik a name we can actually wrap our tongues around. Vote in the poll at the top of this page to the right.

And for next time, add a little spice to the name Jim Thome's mom and dad gave him.

  • Send your suggestions here.
  • FACE-PAINT UPDATE
    What do you do when you hit .444 and slug .833 one week? You dial it up, of course, and hit .462 and slug 1.000.

    Right about now the only thing I'm thinking about putting on my face is a nice, thick, shaving cream; something with aloe moisturizing agents maybe, and then maybe some warm towels afterwards.

    OVER/UNDER
    On Roger's win total for 2004: 18

    On his Cy Young count after 2004: 7

    On the number of 40-something men across America who will hurt themselves trying to do too much and explain, between cries of pain, that Clemens is their God: 117,432

    BRIAN GILES ALL-STAR
    A spot reserved for unheralded greatness

    Jorge Posada, C, New York Yankees

    Can you be a Yankee and still be unheralded? Of course not. But just in case you've lost track of the season Jorge's putting together coming off last year's personal best, take heed of these numbers: .287/.426/.567, with 17 doubles and 9 HRs.


    Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2. His "On Baseball" column will appear weekly during the baseball season.




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