Franklin no longer kingpin
The Mariners throw strikes for charity, Jim Edmonds' permanent tribute to Darryl Kile, and other notes.
- Nomar Garciaparra isn't the only All-Star with a celebrity bowling event and a million-dollar knack for raising money for charity. Jamie Moyer held his fifth annual bowl-o-rama last weekend, and Ryan Franklin was dethroned as team champion. It wasn't only because Franklin bowled with his offhand after pitching that afternoon. Franklin still put up a score of 148 left-handed. His title was doomed the day the Mariners signed Scott Spiezio, who rolled up an impressive 207. Moyer bowled right-handed since he was pitching the next night, and didn't crack triple digits, but did help raise more than $250,000 for his children's cancer charities. In July 2003, Moyer's wife Karen delivered their fifth child, McCabe, the day after the event.. Moyer No. 6 is due in August. The event allowed Bret Boone to unwind from his most difficult season. Saturday afternoon he homered, and that night he rolled a 140, a relief from not only his and his teammates' struggles at the plate, but his concerns about 80 year--old grandfather Ray Boone, who's still struggling to recover from a stroke in a San Diego hospital. Brett's wife, Suzi, is due to deliver twins in August, but has already been hospitalized once to prevent a pre-mature labor, and will undoubtedly double the size of their family at least a month before her due date. Brett's just hoping he doesn't get the call next weekend when he's across the country in Pittsburgh.
- Mariners rookie Clint Nageotte made a memorable major-league debut Monday against the Astros, and not just because he tossed six shutout innings. It was the first time in 217 starts, dating back to Sept. 29, 2002 that someone other than Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, Joel Pineiro, Ryan Franklin or Gil Meche had taken a turn in the Mariners rotation. It was the longest stretch of consistency since the 1966 Dodgers of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Claude Osteen and Don Sutton. Yes, back then it took only four pitchers to start 162-games, three of them ending up in the Hall of Fame. Meche has ended up in Tacoma, to break an unprecedented modern streak, and open the opportunity of Nageotte, an Ohioan with French blood whose last name is pronounced "nay-jhot." If Clint could have had his way, his debut would actually have been the next night, when Roger Clemens returned to Seattle. In Nageotte's eyes, you might as well compete against the best, but the Mariners didn't score again in the rest of the series.
- While Meche tries to find himself in Triple-A, no team's had a deeper frustration trying to find a fifth starter than the White Sox. Chicago's already tried no fewer than four pitchers in the five-hole since Dan Wright failed to hold the job. The White Sox have finally conceded they'll need to go outside the organization to round out the rotation, but with favorable scheduling, they'll only need a fifth starter twice more in June. Chicago is also looking for a new man to holdup the backend of the bullpen with Billy Koch having blown an extended opportunity to keep his job. As noted here earlier, Koch's possible successor, "Mr. Zero," Shingo Takatsu has no recollection of ever being referred to by that nickname in his record-setting days in Japan. Shingo also admits to difficulty remembering much English. Recently when his interpreter, Hiro Abei, was back in Japan, Abei left a list of six essential phrases for pitching coach Don Cooper and the Sox staff to be able to communicate with their pitcher. One through five were normal baseball phrases, but the sixth may have been the most essential. Seems Shingo has a habit of walking around with his shoes untied, and has even forgotten to tie them coming out of the bullpen, so the phrase for "start warming up" included "tie your shoes", so Takatsu would completely comprehend exactly what time it was, and the urgency of his task.
- Ozzie Guillen is facing the most difficult decision of his infant managerial career in replacing Koch, but he almost didn't have the job. When he was invited by his old teammate, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams, to interview for the manager's position, Ozzie was still battling the effects of a bit too much celebrating of the Marlins' World Series championship. Added to that, Williams looked across his desk at the playful and often outrageous Ozzie and told him, "You're REALLY gonna have to sell me on this!" Guillen promptly replied, "I don't need this job. I'm rich, I've got a great job coaching third (base) for the champions in Florida, I'll leave right now. You need me!" When Williams saw that Ozzie wouldn't compromise his beliefs for ANY opportunity, the job was his. Williams knew the White Sox desperately needed an infusion of energy, enthusiasm and humor into a moribund clubhouse. What Guillen also gives the franchise is a man who feels passionately attached to the team's tradition, and often takes personally the disproportionate attention given the Cubs across town. Eroding into that imbalance may be Guillen's toughest task of all.
- Major-league mounds are supposed to be uniform from park to park, but many pitching staffs consult with their groundskeepers to make sure the dirt has the right feel for their particular needs. Although mounds are routinely measured after games to make sure they conform in height, there aren't restrictions on the width, and for years, Oakland's mound has been a big wide table rising up in the middle of the infield. It's been like that since before "The Big Three", but having Hudson, Mulder and Zito, more foul ground than any park in the majors and a wide raised mound surface that makes it look to the batter like pitcher is delivering from a mountain, makes the A's staff all the more intimidating.
- Wrigley Field's grass is considered by most to be the longest in the majors, but one manager told me it doesn't come close to the crop in Cincinnati. He said a ball lost in the infield grass at The Great American Ballpark should be ruled a single, and if you can't find one in the rough that passes for an outfield, that should be a ground-rule double.
- Fans and players alike love to come to Wrigley, but not Jim Edmonds even though he broke out of a two-week power slump with a two-homer game on Wednesday. Following two brilliant defensive plays Monday night in Chicago, the Gold Glover had a ball skip past him the next night for extra bases. Corey Patterson fell victim to a similar hop the next afternoon. Edmonds played his first game at first base since 2001 Wednesday afternoon, and said the best part of it was getting away from that outfield, which he says has the absolute worst surface and consistency in either league. Edmonds says the Wrigley infield surface is only marginally better.
- It was two years ago this month that Edmonds and his Cardinals teammates learned that Darryl Kile had died, as they were getting ready to play the Cubs that day in Wrigley. St. Louis no longer stays in the Westin where Kile was found in his room, and shortly after his friend's death, Edmonds took to wearing a bracelet with DK57, Kile's uniform number, inscribed on it. At the end of last season, Edmonds decided he no longer wanted to wear the bracelet and decided he'd join many of his younger baseball brethren and get a tattoo. Former teammate Mike James is covered in body art on his back, but at the neckline where a shirt label would go, James has a simple DK57. Edmonds liked it so much, he had a tattoo artist trace it exactly, and copy it onto his right inside wrist. Instead of having it done in his native California, Edmonds went with James to a parlor in St. Louis to add sentiment to his permanent tribute to his late friend. The bracelet is now on his nightstand.
- Cards catcher Mike Matheny rarely misses an inning, let alone a game, so the Cards ironman catcher plays through a lot of pain. This week he had his first encounter with the stiletto needle of a cortisone shot -- twice -- in his painful right oblique muscle. Matheny has been troubled with strains on his non-throwing side in the past, but never enough to put him on the DL. This one came on a swing and miss and a subsequent unsuccessful attempt to throw out a basestealer. As Mike said, he's working now at never swinging and missing again to prevent the injury from ever recurring.
- Matheny's malady has accelerated the progress of the third catching Molina brother to the big leagues, Yadier. Both Gold Glover Bengie, and his Angels' teammate Jose Molina will tell you Yadier is by far the best athlete in the family, and of course he's benefited from expert advise from two major-league brothers, not to mention their father, who's in the Puerto Rican baseball Hall of Fame. Matheny has fallen in love with the youngest Molina's work habits, as Yadier implores Mike to sit down with him and watch tape of opposing hitters, and constantly picks his brain, not only on opposing batters, but also on what each of the Cardinals pitchers want and need from him. Unfortunately, Matheny says it's rare to have young players so eager to learn and solicit advise from the veterans, but it's the part of Yadier's makeup that will one day make him an All-Star like Benji, Matheny says.
- Funniest sight of the week, Cards third-base coach Jose Oquendo literally in left field whenever Kyle Farnsworth would start warming up down the line in the Cubs bullpen. He was that nervous a 100-mph warmup pitch might get loose.
- There have been rumblings most of the season in Chicago that free-agent acquisition LaTroy Hawkins should replace struggling Joe Borowski as the club's closer. Now Borowski's health concerns have temporarily handed the role to his friend, Hawkins, who so adamantly refuses to get caught up in any controversy about how he'll do in Borowski's place, he called a news conference to announce he wasn't talking to the media. Later that day, I caught up with LaTroy going through volumes of mail at his locker, and he explained he just doesn't want to be disturbed around his locker with a lot of probing questions. He just wants to do his job and have the media talk to the other nine guys who played the majority of the nine innings. Like many players, LaTroy considers his locker his sanctuary, his respite to get ready before a game and prepare in whatever ways he finds necessary. One letter he was thrilled to share was from a soldier stationed in Iraq. Hawkins and Eddie Guardado had met a group from last year's graduating class at West Point during a trip to Yankee Stadium with the Twins last season. Two of the cadets told Hawkins and Guardado they were making a trip to see as many baseball parks as they could last summer, and caught up with them again at Miller Park in Milwaukee and exchanged contact information. Mike Loconsolo is now a lieutenant in the first armored division, was wounded earlier this year in Iraq, sent to Germany for treatment of a shrapnel injury, and is now back in Baghdad. He wrote Hawkins to see if he could send some Cubs gear and signed balls to his unit to help morale, and LaTroy was honored with the request and can't wait to write him back. I asked Hawkins if he knows if Guardado got any correspondence since he talks to his old teammate, now a Mariner, almost every week. LaTroy said he's forgotten three times to ask Eddie since he got the letter. "I've got a terrible short-term memory," Hawkins said. We agreed, that's otherwise a great quality for a reliever.
- Among the latest to grace Wrigley Field with a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" was Isiah Thomas, in chorus with fellow-Chicagoan Mark Aguirre last Monday. Even though Isiah grew up a huge Cubs fan on the west side of town, and is one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, it was his baptism for the honor. The Knicks president, who won two titles as a player and coached in an NBA Finals with the Pacers, said it gave him goose bumps to stand on the mound and throw out the first pitch. Although Thomas and his friends figured out a way to jam the door and sneak in through the famous gate 2-1/2 at the old Chicago Stadium, he never figured out a way to get into Wrigley without paying. The youngest of nine children in an impoverished neighborhood, Thomas couldn't afford to pay to get in to see the Cubs. He didn't leave Clark and Addison empty handed though. Young Isiah would wait outside before and after the game to shine shoes to earn some spending money.
Gary Miller is a reporter and play-by-play announcer for ESPN's major league baseball coverage.
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