Scenes from Spring Training: What the heck is a feetlong hot dog?

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I met a cool guy today. That’s him. His name is Kwang Min Park, a baseball journalist from South Korea.  His nickname, however, is Agassi.  Yes, because he likes Andre Agassi. As you might expect, Agassi was here today to cover Shin-Soo Choo.  I saw him interviewing Choo in the clubhouse, and he sat next to me in the press box.

The pic to the right was taken during the bottom of the seventh after Agassi bought the giant chili dog he’s holding.  He set it down and took a picture of it and then considered it for a moment. Then he asked me what I’d call it.

Me: A footlong hot dog.

Agassi: A … foot?

Me: Yes. Like the English system of measurement. It’s 12 inches, and 12 inches is a foot.

Agassi then did something with his phone. I think he was using a visual measuring app of some sort. After looking at it he seemed a little confused.

Agassi: Why is it not a “feetlong” hot dog?

Me: Huh?

He then showed me his phone, which revealed the true measurement to be around 13 inches.  It thus gave him a read out of 1.08 “feet.” With some difficulty — using my actual feet as an example — I explained to him the difference between the singular and the plural of “footlong hotdog.”  He shook his head and said “I feel like I’m in kindergarten.”

I tried to tell him that the real problem was our failure to adopt the metric system, but I don’t know that I salvaged his self esteem on the point.  Matt LaWell, a freelancer who had been hanging out with us, suggested that he call it a “third meter dog,” but Agassi was clearly of the “when in Rome” school.

Agassi dutifully typed in his impressions of his feetlong chili dog to his computer.  He then cut the dog into sections. I declined a taste.  Matt accepted.  At which point Agassi asked him if it was any good compared to other feetlong chilidogs Matt had consumed.  Matt writes about food as well as baseball, so he was prepared to give a full review: the dog and chili were acceptable, but the bun was a tad crunchy as opposed to spongy, thereby harming one’s first impression of the dog. On a scale of one to ten, Matt gave it a six.

At that point the conversation spun into a debate about the merits of Cincinnati chili vs. Texas chili and poor Agassi’s head was close to exploding.  Matt and I explained that, no matter what he took from today’s events, he must be clear on the point that people in this country will kill one another over their love of a particular regional style of chili, and he best not forget it.

Agassi nodded. I could be wrong, but I think he then changed his plane reservations to get himself out of this insane country and back to South Korea as fast as he could. I mean, sure, people may start killing one another on the Korean peninsula any minute now and that’s awful, but at least there are better reasons for it than one’s taste in chili.

Just another day at the ballpark.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

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A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.