Meeting Old Gator

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Gator Car.JPGAnyone who spends any time in the comments around here knows Old Gator.  He of the “Feesh,” “Macondo,” and the “horse meat and Velveeta sandwiches.”  I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but as commenters go I love him. He’s smart. He stirs up trouble. He throws bombs once in a while.  All kinds of great fun.  He also lives in Miami, so we arranged to meet up when I landed on Saturday.

Gator suggested a Cuban place near Little Havana. Good suggestion!  I had the ropa vieja and picked from a bunch of appetizers he ordered in Spanish.  I sometimes like to think that I can roughly follow people speaking Spanish, but I really can’t. At least when Cuban accents are involved and the Spanish speakers in question aren’t slowing it down for the dumb people from Ohio who aren’t exposed to it every day.  First thing Gator said to me when I sat down? “How’s it feel being in a foreign land?”  My answer: I like it, actually. At the risk of sounding all free-to-be-you-and-me about it, anyplace that doesn’t have some freakin’ diversity to it gets pretty boring pretty fast.  I don’t think I’d live in Little Havana if I moved to Miami some day, but I like that it’s there and lament just how homogeneous the Midwest can be.

After a couple hours of coffee, baseball talk, and Gator telling me three truly, truly awesome jokes that would get me fired in five seconds if I shared them here, I followed him a couple of miles east into the heart of Little Havana, where he wanted to show me something (the above pic is what it looks like to follow Old Gator through traffic).  The site where Jeffrey Loria’s monument to himself — the new Marlins’ ballpark — is being built.

Marlins ballpark construction.jpgThe overwhelming impression I got from it?  If anyone actually shows up to that ballpark, the traffic is going to be a nightmare.  It’s really right in the middle of — or at least on the edge of — a neighborhood consisting of small blocks, side streets, houses and two-story apartment buildings. Unlike other neighborhood ballparks like Yankee Stadium and Wrigley Field, there is no mass transit to speak of.  There’s a freeway that runs nearby, but it’s an elevated affair, with little, curvy offramps that are not at all prepared to deal with heavy traffic flow.  Yes, they used to play football games there — it’s on the site of the old Orange Bowl — but there’s a big difference between throwing tens of thousands of cars into the area eight or ten times a year on the weekend and doing so 81 times a year any day of the week.  If they have a plan to deal with all that traffic, god love ’em, but it’s really hard to picture it from the way things look right now.

After scoping the construction site Gator and I sat in his car for a while and shot the breeze about baseball.  While a Feesh fan now, he was a Mets guy going back to the 60s, and had season tickets in Shea Stadium for years. He saw Willie Mays there in 1973. He watched Tom Seaver pitch and watched him get shipped out of town. He watched the ball go through Bill Buckner’s legs from a couple dozen yards away.  For all of Gator’s tangents and diversions in the comments section, the man is a baseball fan through and through, and a passionate and knowledgeable one at that.

After a bit we went our separate ways, as I had to get on the freeway up to Port St. Lucie. But before I left, he gave me two cds — the Cowboy Junkies’ “Pale Sun and Crescent Moon,” and an album called “Discount Fireworks” by a group called Over the Rhine, which, while they’re from Ohio too, I’ve never heard of (Gator was going to see them live that night).  He also gave me two books: a collection of criticism he edited about both the novel and the movie “No Country for Old Men” — Gator is more or less our nation’s foremost Cormac McCarthy expert — and a book called “Liberty Street: Encounters at Ground Zero” by Peter Josyph, who happens to be a friend of Gator’s.  I look forward to reading them both.

Two lessons here. First, it’s really awesome meeting readers, so maybe we’ll have to do some HBT meet-ups at some point. Second, while the awesomeness of meeting readers doesn’t depend on them giving me gifts, I ain’t gonna sneeze at ’em either.

With that my spring training dispatches are done for the day. Aaron and the guys will be checking in with other baseball news as usual, of course, but I have to get on the road to Fort Meyers, where I’ll be catching the Twins on Tuesday and the Red Sox on Wednesday.

Later Gators. 

Joe Panik says he’s “100 percent” recovered from back injury

San Francisco Giants second baseman Joe Panik follows through on a single off Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Scott Oberg in the eighth inning of Game 1 of a baseball doubleheader Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Denver. The Giants won 10-8. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Giants second baseman Joe Panik missed nearly all of August and September last season due to a nagging back injury, but he told Alex Pavlovic of CSNBayArea.com on Friday that he’s feeling “100 percent.”

Panik, who earned his first All-Star selection last season, originally landed on the disabled list in early August due to what was described as lower back inflammation. He made his return in September, but appeared in just three games before being shut down. The good news is that he was cleared by doctors in mid-December and considers himself “back to normal.”

“It was right around the time of all the signings,” he said, smiling. “I was able to fly under the radar. I got tested and everything had healed up. I got cleared and was able to have my full offseason workouts. I’m good to go. I’m happy to be feeling good and going back out on the field to show that I’m healthy. My swing feels strong.”

Panik altered his offseason workout routine and plans to spend less time in his spikes in the early part of spring training. The hope is that these changes will prevent future issues.

After a strong showing as a rookie in 2014, the 25-year-old Panik proved to be one of the best second baseman in the majors last season by batting .312/.378/.455 with eight home runs and 37 RBI over 100 games while playing solid defense.

Baseball America names Corey Seager as baseball’s top prospect

Los Angeles Dodgers' Corey Seager follows through a single that scored Austin Barnes, in front of Colorado Rockies' Wilin Rosario during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Danny Moloshok)
AP Photo/Danny Moloshok
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Baseball America unveiled their top 100 prospect list Friday night during a special on MLB Network. It should come as no surprise that Dodgers infielder Corey Seager came in at No. 1.

This makes Seager the consensus top prospect in the game. He was also ranked first by MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus, and ESPN’s Keith Law. Twins outfielder Byron Buxton was ranked second on all four lists.

Baseball America has the most aggressive ranking of Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada from the Red Sox, who checked in at No. 3. He was followed by pitching prospects Lucas Giolito from the Nationals and Julio Urias from the Dodgers to round out the top five.

You can see Baseball America’s full top 100 list here.

Jenrry Mejia: “It is not like they say. I am sure that I did not use anything.”

New York Mets' Jenrry Mejia reacts after getting the last out against the Milwaukee Brewers during the ninth inning of a baseball game Friday, July 25, 2014, in Milwaukee. The Mets won 3-2. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps
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Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia was permanently suspended on Friday after testing positive for a third time for a performance-enhancing drug. The right-hander is maintaining his innocence, as ESPN’s Adam Rubin notes in quoting Dominican sports journalist Hector Gomez. Mejia said, “It is not like they say. I am sure that I did not use anything.”

Mejia has the opportunity to petition commissioner Rob Manfred in one year for reinstatement to Major League Baseball. However, he must sit out at least two years before becoming eligible to pitch in the majors again, which would mean Mejia would be 28 years old.

Over parts of five seasons, Mejia has a career 3.68 ERA with 162 strikeouts and 76 walks over 183 1/3 innings. He was once a top prospect in the Mets’ minor league system and a top-100 overall prospect heading into the 2010 and ’11 seasons.

Bryce Harper on potential $400 million contract: “Don’t sell me short.”

Bryce Harper
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is at least three years away from free agency, but people are already contemplating just how large a contract the phenom will be able to negotiate, especially after taking home the National League Most Valuable Player Award for his performance this past season.

When the likes of David Price and Zack Greinke are signing for over $200 million at the age of 30 or older, it stands to reason that Harper could draw more as a 26-year-old if he can maintain MVP-esque levels of production over the next several seasons. $400 million might not be enough for Harper, though, as MLB.com’s Jamal Collier reports. He said, “Don’t sell me short,” which is a fantastic response.

During the 2015 season, Harper led the majors with a .460 on-base percentage and a .649 slugging percentage while leading the National League with 42 home runs and 118 runs scored. He also knocked in 99 runs for good measure. Harper and Ted Williams are the only hitters in baseball history to put up an adjusted OPS of 195 or better (100 is average) at the age of 22 or younger.