kelly's westport inn

Dispatches from Kansas City: “You have to see batting practice”

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HardballTalk’s Drew Silva is filing regular reports from this year’s MLB All-Star festivities in Kansas City, Missouri. Part OnePart Two. Part Three

Kelly’s Westport Inn is a wooden-floored Irish-style pub occupying the oldest standing structure in KC. Completed in 1850 — when the population of the United States was less than 25 million — the building has served as a trading post, a hardware store, a drug store, a hotel and a hiding place along the Underground Railroad (well, that part’s just a rumor). Last night, it housed an impromptu get-together for a pack of thirsty baseball media types.

I drank Boulevard Single-Wide IPAs and shots of Jim Beam and I stood with jaw agape when ESPN anchor Steve Berthiaume not only recognized my name but said he “really enjoyed” my writing. I chatted about minor leaguers and music with Jason Parks and Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. I met Matt Meyers, the editor of the MLB page on ESPN.com. I was explained lifelong frustration by local Royals podcasters.

The experience might have been overwhelming, but I’d been slugging bourbon and last call arrived quickly.

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“Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long.” I couldn’t get that lyric out of my head as I watched baseball’s best prospects crush souvenirs into the seats before today’s Futures Game.

source:  “You have to see batting practice,” Meyers had told me over beers the night before at Kelly’s. The kids aren’t jaded yet by the major-league environment and they’re not used to warming up for a game surrounded by so much media, so they try to put on a show in the half-cage and then offer long, thoughtful answers afterward in on-field interviews.

Cardinals outfield prospect Oscar Taveras — referred to by a scout recently as the best offensive talent in the minors — spoke to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a couple of minutes as I stood by, watching two pros at work. Taveras, 20, is batting .322 with a .968 OPS, 17 homers, 25 doubles and 63 RBI in 79 games this season at Double-A Springfield. Goold is the best beat writer in the country.

I introduced myself to ESPN’s Keith Law, who called HardballTalk a “great, great blog” and referred to our editor playfully as “Grumpy Craig.” He spoke with enthusiasm about the starting pitchers on Team USA and indulged my followup questions. We talked about the legendary sauce at Gates — which I basically bathed in last night at dinner — and about the inconvenient hours at a barbecue shack named LC’s, which is the best place to get burnt ends if all the Kansas City natives I’ve spoken to on this trip are to be believed.

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source:

The Futures Game was a slugfest, paced by the American bats. Tigers prospect Nick Castellanos went 3-for-4 with a homer and three runs scored. Fleet-footed infielder Billy Hamilton — property of the Reds — zoomed around the bases in the third inning for an RBI triple. Astros youngster Jonathan Singleton, who is built like an outside linebacker, finished the day 3-for-4. The Royals’ own Wil Myers collected three RBI with a run-scoring groundout, a sacrifice fly and a seventh-inning single. Everything he did drew a loud ovation from the hopeful sellout crowd at Kauffman Stadium. He’ll be back here for good by mid-September.

I took it all in from the press box while cracking salted peanuts and getting to know industry veterans.

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Next up is the Legends & Celebrity Softball Game, featuring “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel, nearly-undefeated UFC figther Jon “Bones” Jones and former major league players like George Brett, Bo Jackson, Ozzie Smith and Joe Carter. I’ll stay for a few innings to scout Don Draper’s swing before heading back downtown to check on the city’s supply of Boulevard Wheat.

Today is the anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s Iron Man streak ending

ADVANCE FOR USE MONDAY, MARCH 31 AND THEREAFTER - FILE - In this Oct. 5, 1938 file photo, New York Yankees' Lou Gehrig scores the first run of the 1938 World Series against the Chicago Cubs as he crosses home plate in the second inning of Game 1 at Wrigley Field in Chicago. A dozen years before Babe Ruth’s famed ‘Called Shot,’ teammate Lou Gehrig hit an equally dramatic homer. Gehrig was 17 when his high school team traveled to Chicago to take on a Chicago team. In the bottom of the ninth, with two outs and his team down 8-6, Gehrig hit a ball over wall and onto Sheffield Avenue to win the game. The historic ballpark will celebrate it's 100th anniversary on April 23, 2014. (AP Photo/File)
Associated Press
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Today is a significant baseball anniversary. On this day in 1939 Lou Gehrig asked out of the lineup as the Yankees played the Tigers in Detroit. It both ended his Iron Man Streak at 2,130, but also marked the beginning of Gehrig’s very public acknowledgement of ALS, the disease which would come to bear his name. Gehrig would never play again.

While it was clear that Gehrig’s body was betraying him and his baseball skills were abandoning him in the first few games of the 1939 season, some say the ultimate impetus for Gehrig asking out of the lineup happened earlier that day. The story goes that Gehrig collapsed on the grand staircase of the Book-Cadillac hotel where the Yankees were staying and that later, as he sat in the hotel bar, he told manager Joe McCarthy that he couldn’t play anymore.

The Book-Cadillac is still there. It deteriorated over the years and then was renovated. It’s a Westin now — the Westin Book-Cadillac. It’s a wonderful hotel and the bar area still has much of its old charm, but the grand staircase is gone, replaced with a couple of escalators. I stay there whenever I’m in Detroit. I’m friends with one of the Book-Cadillac’s bartenders and I try to see him whenever I’m there. When I sit in that bar I often wonder if Gehrig sat near where I was, telling McCarthy that he just couldn’t do it anymore. There are a lot of ghosts in Detroit. Gehrig’s is mostly in New York, but there’s a little bit of him in Detroit too.

Cal Ripken would later break Gehrig’s record. I doubt anyone breaks Cal’s. But in some cases the record holders are less interesting than those who were surpassed.

More talk of a juiced ball

VIERA, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  Washington Nationals practice balls  during spring training workouts on February 18, 2014 in Viera, Fl.  (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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At the end of March we linked a story from Rob Arthur and Ben Lindbergh at FiveThirtyEight which sought to figure out why home run rates have spiked. Their theory was that it was either randomness or a juiced ball. They tested baseballs and found no evidence of a different ball, so that seems to have ended that.

Except it didn’t end it because, as so often is the case in the early part of a season, we are seeing some statistical, well, let’s just call it “interestingness” and people don’t like to let such interestingness go. To that end Yahoo’s Jeff Passan — acknowledging the Lindbergh/Arthur study — asks once again if the balls are funky.

It’s all based on exit velocity of baseballs, which Passan notes has spiked. He doesn’t come to any conclusions — just not enough data — but the very act of asking the question in a column and Passan’s acknowledgment that he sounds like a conspiracy theorist tell you that that’s his hunch. And it could be the case. I still think the ball got juiced in 1987 and again, on a more permanent basis, in 1993, but there’s no evidence to really support that. Just one of those “can’t think of anything better” sort of situations.

For now, though, it’s May 2. And I suspect that for as long as there have been May 2nds in a baseball season, people have looked at the stats and suspected something weird was afoot. Maybe something weird is afoot. We just can’t really know.

A-Rod knows how to keep his bat dry

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez watches his RBI single during the first inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday, April 19, 2016, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
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Alex Rodriguez had a big night in a losing effort last night. He homered and drove in four. In the past week or so he’s raised his average over 50 points and may be finally shaking off the offseason rust. When you’re over 40 it takes you longer to do everything.

But even if it takes his reflexes some time to get up to speed, you can never take away the knowledge and experience of a savvy veteran with a high baseball I.Q. For example, whether he’s hitting or not, the man knows that it’s important to keep your bat dry on a rainy night:

Sean Burnett opts out of his Dodgers deal, to sign with the Braves

Washington Nationals relief pitcher Sean Burnett walks off the mound after being pulled during the eighth inning in Game 2 of baseball's National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Monday, Oct. 8, 2012, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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In early April the Dodgers agreed to a minor league contract with pitcher Sean Burnett after he didn’t make the Washington Nationals’ roster out of spring training. He was assigned to Triple-A Oklahoma City. As is usually the case, veterans like him have an opt-out if they don’t make the big club after a certain amount of time, and Burnett has opt-ed out, realizing that he’s likely not in the Dodgers’ plans.

But he could be in the Braves’ plans. They stink on ice. Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that he’s signing with them and will report to Triple-A Gwinnett tomorrow.

Burnett, 33, hasn’t appeared in the majors since he pitched three games for the Angels in 2014 and hasn’t pitched regularly in the bigs since 2012. Tommy John surgery will do that to a guy. He did toss eight and two-thirds scoreless innings for the Nationals during spring training and has allowed only two earned runs in seven and two-thirds innings of relief work for Oklahoma City. There may still be something there. Innings will need to be eaten in Atlanta this year. Burnett may be able to eat them.