Batman

And That Happened: SPECIAL BEN AFFLECK AS BATMAN EDITION

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Before the scores, some important Batman news. You may want to scroll down past this, because I’m gonna take a bit of time here.

In case you missed it last night, Ben Affleck has been cast as the Dark Knight in the upcoming Batman/Superman movie. Many people alerted me to this news last night the way you might alert a mother that her child has died. They tried to break it gently. They made sure that I was not in distress as I tried to process the news. When they saw me in a state less than tears, they assumed I was in the denial stage of the grieving process. It was quite the scene.

But while I thank my friends, real and virtual, for thinking of me and assuming that I would utterly lose it at the thought of Affleck as Batman, I’m really OK with it. Why? Because — and please brace yourself for some Real Talk — Christian Bale wasn’t anything extraordinary or irreplaceable as Batman. There, I said it.

“Batman Begins” was an incredible movie and, in it, Bale was fantastic. He played the young Bruce Wayne wonderfully and helped connect a, let’s admit it, somewhat silly character to us as viewers. It was real acting from a guy who is an incredible actor. “The Dark Knight” was an even better movie. Just perfect on almost every level. But Bale was nowhere near the best part of that movie. His growly voice as Batman may have been faithful to certain comic book interpretations and may have made sense in the “real world” version of Batman that Christopher Nolan was going for, but it was distracting. And his Bruce Wayne scenes, while fine, didn’t exactly require Oscar-level acting. You can almost see Bale getting a bit bored with the Wayne stuff at times. He’s above it.

“Dark Knight Rises” was a pretty bad movie. Let us not pretend it wasn’t. Some cool scenes and set pieces, but it was pretty weak. You may bristle at this — and, like a kid brother, I may defend it to outsiders who don’t understand that Batman is awesome overall — but among friends we need to be honest about the fact that it was a pile compared to the other two. And, I would argue, compared to the two Michael Keaton Batman movies in at least certain respects.

So: no, this isn’t like hiring Jack Lemmon to play Don Corleone in “Godfather Part II.” This isn’t like getting Robin Williams to play Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs II: Electric Boogaloo.” Affleck has dark hair and a square jaw and as we saw in “Argo” he can play it straight and act like a real adult and not be some stereotypical Boston goon like we often consider him to be. He’ll be fine.

We survived Val Kilmer and George Clooney. We can survive Ben Affleck. End of rant.

[exhales, sits back, stares emptily into middle distance]

Dodgers 6, Marlins 0: Clayton Kershaw (8 IP, 5 H, 0 ER) is like Doctor Manhattan. So superior and gifted that the mortals bore and disappoint him. He’s likely considering going to another planet to find new challenges for himself. He didn’t even have his best stuff yesterday and no one could really touch him. It’s almost unfair.

Pirates 10, Giants 5: Quite the disaster for the Giants as Matt Cain left early after taking a comebacker off his right arm. Thankfully X-Rays were negative. The bullpen, sadly, was pretty negative for the Giants too. And while ten runs and a win was nice for the Pirates, they have to be worried about Jeff Locke, who is looking increasingly gassed and ineffective as the season winds down.

Reds 2, Diamondbacks 1: Four wild pitches for Arizona, a couple which set up the Reds run in the third and another that actually scored the winning run in the eighth. The Reds took three of four from the Dbacks, effectively burying them in the wild card race, one figures.

Yankees 5, Blue Jays 3: A lot of the people who think it’s a longshot for the Yankees to get back into the race and make the playoffs think this because the starting pitching has been so poopy lately. As such, seeing Andy Pettitte allow one run over six innings has to be, at the very least, encouraging. The Yanks have won five in a row and ten of twelve. A-Rod for MVP.

Twins 7, Tigers 6:  Chris Herrmann had a couple of RBI doubles, one of which was aided by Austin Jackson misplaying the ball. The Twins take two of three from Detroit.

Nationals 5, Cubs 4: Stephen Strasburg was one out from a complete game but then he ran out of gas and had some defensive miscues behind him allowing the Cubs to rally for three runs. Four innings later Denard Span doubled and some small ball scored him for the go-ahead and, ultimately, winning run.

White Sox 4, Royals 3: Chicago fought back from a three-run deficit to force extras and then Conor Gillaspie socked a homer in the 12th. Pretty sure that’s the first time I ever used the phrase “socked a homer” in my life. Weird.

Phillies 5, Rockies 4: Philly scored four of their five runs in the last two innings, capped with Domonic Brown’s walkoff single. Oh, remember yesterday when I suggested that a walkoff sac fly was the least exciting walkoff event? I’m now thinking a walkoff balk qualifies. By definition it requires the absolute bare minimum of movement to happen. Like, a simple flinch could make it happen. Would love to see a World Series end on a walkoff balk. Joe Buck would probably capture that moment for the ages.

Cardinals 6, Braves 2: Joe Kelly wasn’t sharp but he was effective. Jordan Schafer was 0 for 5 with two strikeouts leading off for Atlanta. The Braves are gonna miss Jason Heyward something fierce.

Free agent reliever Eric O’Flaherty weighing interest from four teams

New York Mets pitcher Eric O'Flaherty throws against the Miami Marlins during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Miami, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. The Mets defeated the Miami Marlins 8-6. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
AP Photo/Joe Skipper
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Veteran reliever Eric O'Flaherty is coming off the worst season of his career, but there’s still plenty of interest in a bounceback, as ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that he’s deciding between four teams and “should sign a deal by the weekend.”

You really can’t sugarcoat O’Flaherty’s 2015. The 31-year-old was flat-out bad, posting an 8.41 ERA and 21/18 K/BB ratio over 30 innings of work between the Athletics and Mets. Opposing batters hit .343/.427/.482 against him. I keep going back to check if that’s a misprint, but nope, it’s real. He also missed some time with shoulder inflammation. On the bright side, Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reported last month that O’Flaherty feels healthy and believes that he has fixed his mechanics.

O’Flaherty’s career has veered off track since Tommy John surgery in 2013, but he has enjoyed plenty of success in the past and throws from the left side. He’s the kind of guy who will continue to get chances.

Mets sign outfielder Roger Bernadina

Cincinnati Reds v Arizona Diamondbacks
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Veteran outfielder Roger Bernadina has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Mets that includes an invitation to spring training.

Bernadina was a semi-regular for the Nationals from 2010-2012, but never developed as much as hoped offensively and didn’t play in the majors at all last season.

At age 32 he’s a career .236 hitter with a .661 OPS in 548 games as a big leaguer and given the Mets’ outfield depth–they already have Alejandro De Aza and Juan Lagares in bench/part-time roles–Bernadina seems likely to begin the season in the minors.

J.R. Graham is in The Best Shape of his Life

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher J.R. Graham celebrates after the final out as the Twins beat the Chicago White Sox 12-2 in  a baseball game, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 12-2. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
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Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that Twins reliever J.R. Graham has lost “roughly 30-40 pounds this offseason.” It’s not a result of workouts, though. Just a change in diet. Bollinger says that Graham cut out sugar, alcohol and foods heavy in carbs and focused on a high-protein diet with lots of salads, meats and vegetables.

That’s an awful lot of weight to lose in four months, but the dude is only 26 and guys in their 20s lose weight just by thinking about it. Which is so very annoying to those of us who aren’t guys in their 20s.

The real test, of course, will come when he is working out far more strenuously once spring training starts and gets into the season. Normal schmos like me can keep up that kind of diet without much of a hitch as long as we have the willpower. An athlete’s energy requirements are far greater and far more specialized, so he’ll need more fuel than he’s probably been getting this offseason. Word is, however, that professional sports teams have people on staff that, you know, have made monitoring that kind of thing their life’s work.

In the meantime:

“I can just feel the change,” Graham said. “The energy. Everything. I feel great. I’m excited to see how it’ll translate into spring. I know I shouldn’t have any problems because I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m faster. All that. So it’s really exciting.”

It’s very exciting indeed. Because, with that, Graham becomes the latest baseball player to be . . . In The Best Shape of His Life.

The time my family invited itself to Gaylord Perry’s house for lunch

Gaylord Perry
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I mentioned my Gaylord Perry story in the last post. I feel like I’ve written this up before, but I couldn’t find it in our archives. Couldn’t find it anywhere. Maybe I’ve just told it to friends and radio hosts and people so many times that it feels like I’ve written it before. Oh well, I’ll tell it again because I like telling this story.

In 1984 I was on vacation with my family in the big RV, driving through North Carolina. As we always did on those long family road trips, my brother and I spent all of our highway time sorting through boxes of baseball cards we brought along with us. As we passed through a little podunk town, my dad suddenly pulled over and stopped to make a call at a pay phone. He got back into the RV and said “we’re stopping for lunch.” As we pulled away from the phone booth, I saw a sign that said “Welcome to Williamston, North Carolina, Home of Gaylord and Jim Perry.” Maybe Jim got first billing since he’s older. I don’t remember. But that was the upshot.

Five minutes later we are pulling up to a house next to a large farm. A woman came out of the house and said, “You’re the fella who just called? Come on in!” She welcomed us inside. “Gaylord will be here in a minute,” she said. My brother and I freaked out as we looked around the living room. There were photos of Gaylord Perry in action. Trophies and awards. Jerseys in frames. All kinds of other stuff. The thing I remember most was a giant leather chair shaped like a baseball glove that, to this day, I wish I had (maybe the 1984 version of this?). Five minutes later Gaylord freaking Perry walked in. He was wearing dirty jeans, work boots, a dirty white t-shirt and a Kansas City Royals cap. It was his first summer not playing baseball since he was a kid and he was spending it farming. Still had the cap on, though.

Gaylord and his wife, Blanche, were warm and welcoming. They said that not too many baseball fans just up and stopped by, but that they were happy someone did. Blanche made us sandwiches. Gaylord signed autographs (we had a few Perry cards in the RV stash). Even at that age I knew Perry’s reputation as a ball-doctorer. He told us a bunch of spitball jokes and stories which he had no doubt honed on the banquet circuit over the years, but they were mostly new to me. My parents, who were not baseball fans and didn’t know much about Perry apart from the fact that he was a famous baseball player, were delighted when Perry asked me to explain to them what I thought a spitball was. You could tell Perry thought that it was absolutely adorable that I thought the best way to doctor a ball was to, you know, spit on it. He talked about Vaseline and all sorts of other stuff, adding “or so I’m told” or “some people say” every now and again with a wink.

After lunch, Gaylord took us back to his office, in a separate building. He opened a file cabinet containing autographed baseballs from his former teammates and his friends in the game. I got a George Brett ball, which Perry said he gave me because Brett was the best player whose autograph he had sitting around handy. My brother said he was a Tigers fan so Perry gave him a Lance Parrish ball Perry had gotten somewhere along the way. He had a bunch of others too, but we weren’t greedy. He gave my mom a T-shirt he had which commemorated the Pine Tar Incident, in which he played no small part. He autographed the shirt for her, apologized for it being so big and said that maybe she could use it as a night shirt. My dad took Polaroids of my brother and me with Perry which I still have around here someplace. Then off we went, with Gaylord and Blanche Perry waving from the porch.

I was saddened to hear a couple years later that Perry’s life took an unfortunate turn not long after we met him. Two years later he lost his farm to bankruptcy. A year later Blanche died in an automobile accident. Perry went on to coach college baseball for a while. I remember seeing an interview with him around that time and he seemed like a much sadder guy than the smiling fellow we met that day in 1984. It makes sense given all that had happened.

In 2012, while in Scottsdale to cover spring training, I walked into the Giants clubhouse one morning and sitting at a table were Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Gaylord Perry. They were there for some sort of pregame ceremony and were just shooting the breeze and telling old baseball stories. Perry was laughing and animated and at times was practically breathless due to all of the cackling. He had Mays in stitches too. It was fantastic to see him smiling.

When the conversation ended Perry got up and walked from the table. I thought about saying something to him about the time in 1984 when my dad impulsively took his kids to Gaylord Perry’s house and to thank him for the kindness he and his wife showed my family that day. I didn’t, though. He was soon in another conversation and, on some level, it seemed awkward for me to have brought that up there, in the clubhouse, wearing a press credential when people were working and preparing and things. In hindsight I wish I had.

I’m going back to Scottsdale to cover spring training again in March. I hope he’s there again. If so, this time I will.