MLB Draft – Picks No. 1-8

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Nationals selected RHP Stephen Strasburg with the first overall pick in Tuesday’s draft.
We’ve known it was coming for months, so now it’s just a matter of
getting him signed. The Nationals probably won’t rush to get a deal
done, since he’s been worked hard this year and doesn’t really need to
throw any additional innings. Ideally, they’d just get him ready for
2010, when he could be in the rotation right from the start of the
year. Of course, it’d make more sense to delay his arrival to postpone
free agency, but it might save them money in negotiations if they
promise him a rotation spot right away. With his high-90s fastball and
top-notch slider, he is ready now, and he could soon be a major league
ace.

Mariners chose North Carolina first baseman-outfielder Dustin Ackley with the second pick in the draft.
Ackley, a 6-foot-1, 184-pound left-handed hitter, has been a first
baseman since undergoing Tommy John surgery, but the Mariners are
drafting him as an outfielder and will stick him in center. He has the
speed to last there, and he should be able to hit for average. He may
not develop into more than a 12- or 15-homer guy, but he could
contribute as soon as 2011.

Padres selected high school outfielder Donovan Tate with the third pick in the draft.
Tate has a scholarship waiting for him to play cornerback at North
Carolina, but the Padres should be able to get him signed. Tate is a
fantastic athlete, but he’s a raw product who figures to take a long
time to develop. The assumption is that he’ll hit for power and turn
into an excellent defensive center fielder. Still, drafting him this
early is a risky move.

Pirates drafted Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez fourth overall.
A polished product, Sanchez is a fine catch-and-throw guy with an iffy
bat. If he turns into a .250 hitter with 15-homer power, the Pirates
should be pleased. He’s advanced enough to potentially debut next year.
The Pirates would prefer not to need him then, but Ryan Doumit is so
injury prone that the quality alternative is a necessity.

Orioles selected high school RHP Matt Hobgood with the fifth overall pick in the draft.
Hobgood, a 6-foot-4, 245-pound righty, bares a little too much of a
resemblance to Sidney Ponson for comfort. He’s not as hard of a thrower
as his build suggests, as he tops out at 92 mph, but he does have an
excellent curveball. He’ll have to come up with a changeup over the
next few years.

Giants selected high school RHP Zack Wheeler with the sixth pick in the draft.
It’s no surprise to see the Giants go with another high school pitcher.
They’ve done well with that strategy recently, and Wheeler looks like
another pretty good pick. He already throws 90-93 mph, and he could add
velocity as he fills out. His curve is a quality second pitch. A future
as a No. 2 starter is a possibility.

Braves selected Vanderbilt LHP Mike Minor with the seventh pick in the draft.
The Braves usually prefer upside, but they’re going for a polished
lefty here. Minor throws 88-91 mph with a pretty good slider and
changeup. He went 6-6 with a 3.90 ERA, 109 H and 114/37 K/BB in 110 2/3
IP for Vandy this year. A future as a No. 3 starter is a possibility,
and he’s far enough along that he could begin next year in Double-A.

Reds selected Arizona State RHP Mike Leake with the eighth pick in the draft.
A bit of a surprise, but a good one. Leake doesn’t possess more than an
average fastball, but both his slider and changeup are major league
quality right now and he has a curve that he’ll use occasionally. With
his command, he should move quickly.

There is no need to lament the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie”

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Today in the New York Times Jay Caspian Kang writes about what he calls the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie.” About how there are few if any big baseball movies anymore. Movies which traffic in baseball-as-metaphor-for-America with Jimmy Stewart (or Kevin Costner)-types playing characters which seem to transcend time, elevate our emotions and rack up the dollars at the box office.

It’s a bit of meandering column, with just as much time spent on Kang’s seeming dissatisfaction with modern baseball and baseball telecasts as his dissatisfaction with baseball cinema, but he winds it up with this, which sums his argument up well enough:

Baseball’s cinematic vision of Middle America no longer means what it once did. The failing family enterprise and the old, forbearing white — or Negro Leagues — ballplayer now remind us of an extinct vision of the country and the growing distance between Middle America and the coasts. The attempts to update the archival, sun-kissed, Midwestern vision — whether on last year’s “Pitch,” the Fox TV show about a woman pitching in the majors, or “Million Dollar Arm,” the 2014 Disney movie in which Jon Hamm goes to India to convert cricket bowlers into pitchers — are canceled or bomb at the box office.

You won’t be surprised that I take a great deal of issue with all of this.

Mostly because it only talks about one specific kind of baseball movie being AWOL from cinemas: the broad works which appeal to the masses and which speak to both the past, present and future, often with a hazy nostalgia in which love of baseball and love of America are portrayed as one and the same.

It’s worth noting, though, that such films are extraordinarily rare. There was a brief time when such things existed and did well at the box office — the 1980s had “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” in a relatively short period of time — but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Baseball movies are almost always niche flicks. Biopics made of recently deceased stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Weird slices of life like “The Bad News Bears” or “The Sandlot.” Quirky comedies that are baseball offshoots of larger cinematic trends like “Little Big League,” which was just the latest in a series of “kids doing adult things” movies popular at the time. Or “Rookie of the Year” which is essentially baseball’s version of one of those body-switch movies that come and go. Or “Mr. Baseball” which was just a fish-out-of-water comedy like any other.

We still get those kinds of smaller baseball movies fairly often. They’re still pretty decent and still do pretty decently at the box office, even if they’re no one’s idea of a blockbuster.

“Moneyball” was done well and did well, not as a mass appeal movie, but as one of many business/Silicon Valley flicks that have popped over the past few years. “Sugar” was a great movie, but a small movie, exploring a culture about which most people aren’t aware and basically serving as a character study. “42” is just an updated (and much better) version of those old biopics of baseball stars. “Everybody Wants Some” may be the quintessential niche baseball movie in that it’s a story about characters which just happen to have a lot of baseball in their lives. “Bull Durham” was like that too, but it just came along at the right time to become a massive hit. As many have noted, baseball was more background than plot in that movie, even if the background was amazingly well done. I’d argue that most good baseball movies use baseball like that rather than put it squarely in the foreground.

There will likely always be baseball movies, but they will almost always be smaller ones, not large blockbusters or Oscar bait with an epic sweep. Most baseball movies are like baseball itself in that they lack a grand consensus. Baseball is not The National Pastime anymore — it’s just one of many forms of sports and entertainment available to the masses — so it follows that the movies which deal with it will likewise not have that massive cross-market appeal.

I think that’s a good thing. Smaller baseball movies more accurately reflect the sport’s place in the culture. To portray baseball as something larger than what it actually is opens the door to a lot of artistic and cultural dishonesty and runs the risk of creating some really bad art.

I mean, have you seen “Field of Dreams?” Bleech.

The Yankees set up “The Judge’s Chambers” cheering section for Aaron Judge

New York Yankees
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The Yankees aren’t well-known for going all-in on goofy, fan-friendly fun. While some organizations are happy to jump on new and even silly or ephemeral trends for the yuks of it, the Yankees have tended to keep things rather businesslike when it comes to promotions and things. They’ve always played the long game, assuming — not always unreasonably — that their brand is best defined by the club’s history and greatness and quiet dignity and stuff.

Aaron Judge and his breakout rookie season is changing things. His fast start has caused fans to dress up in judge’s robes and stuff, so the team is having fun with it. They’ve set up a special section called “The Judge’s Chambers,” complete with a jury box vibe:

 

Fans will be selected to sit in the special section, which is in section 104 in right field, right behind where Judge plays, and will be handed foam gavels with “All Rise” written on them. To be selected at the moment it’d help if you wear one of those judicial robes with Judge’s number 99 on the back or his jersey or an English judge-style powdered wig. Going forward, the Yankees will also use the section for groups and charity events and stuff.

Judge is on a 58-homer pace right now. It’s unlikely he’ll keep that up, but he certainly looks like the real deal. And, for the Yankees and their fans, he’s giving them the chance for some real fun.