Must-Click Link: Pastor Dean, minister to professional umpires

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He eats 48-ounce steaks by himself. He weighs more than three bills, but will put on a Speedo for a laugh. He has a “problem” with porn. He once put a live donkey in someone’s kitchen, where it crapped everywhere, and even the “victim” had a laugh about it. Sounds like a live wire, eh? Did I mention that he’s a Christian minister?

He’s Dean Esskew — Pastor Dean — and he’s the leader of the Calling for Christ ministry which ministers to one specific group of people: umpires. Major league and minor league umpires. That’s it. He travels the country visiting them on the job and off and holds weekly teleconference services with them from wherever he and they may be.

ESPN’s John Mooallem has his story, and it’s a great read:

Every Friday he runs a prayer call for major league umpires, every Saturday for minor leaguers. They’re like regular church services, except the congregation dials in from locker rooms and hotels across the country. If Esskew notices a particular ump has missed a call-in or two, he’ll hop a flight and pay the man a visit. He has appeared unexpectedly a few rows behind the dugout of the Triple-A Isotopes in Albuquerque. He has materialized at the graveside service for an umpire’s father in the middle of Kansas. In the offseason, he runs a Calling for Christ retreat in Texas (annual attendance: about 60 umpires) and performs a lot of umpire weddings. He has baptized 66 umpires so far, calling them safe in the only way that matters.

It’s something I’ve never heard about. But now that I think about it, we don’t hear most things about umpires and their personal lives. It’s a stressful job, obviously, and that’s before you even figure in the fact that they’re traveling twice as much as ballplayers do and have no fan base to provide some psychic support. Granted, when your job is to make judgment calls it’s always going to be hard and prone to criticism, but that expectation probably doesn’t do much to make you feel better when you’re away from your family and are subject to constant criticism.

Enter Pastor Dean. What a fascinating read. Take some time for it today if you can.

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.