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Articles from May 2010

All Eyes on Grinnell: Pioneers from across the globe reunited through Midwest Conference baseball

May 22, 2010

Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the 2010 Midwest Conference Baseball Tournament and calling the action for Midwest Conference Television all tournament long.  The whole weekend was one of the best times I’ve had since I graduated from Grinnell two years and three days ago.  And while it was great to be able to sit in the press box again after all these years while doing play-by-play for a baseball game for the first time ever, what really made the weekend special was the union of Pioneer baseball past and present.

The tournament got off to a rough start for the Pioneers.  The Ripon Redhawks, who had dominated the Midwest Conference Tournament in recent years with a 36-18 mark in tournament play, easily the best in the conference, pounded out seventeen hits in an 11-4 victory to move to the winner’s bracket.  Right fielder Nate Paul led the effort for the Redhawks, pounding out a singles, two doubles and a bomb in support of Redhawk ace Kurt Roeder, who was certainly short of dominant, but easily pitched well enough to get the victory, going the distance and giving up four runs on seven hits in the victory.  All-Midwest Conference South Division first-teamers Greg Suryn ’11, Mike Goldfein ’12 and Nate Pierce ’10 all went deep for the Pioneers, but those runs were all Grinnell could muster in Game 1, as they moved to the loser’s bracket for the fifth time in their five Midwest Conference Tournament appearances.

After the St. Norbert Green Knights defeated Illinois College, then proceeded to fall to the Redhawks, it was time for Pioneers and Blueboys in game two.  The Pioneers swept the Blueboys in the season series and were trying to do something they had never done before: finish 5-0 against one team in a season.  They tabbed ace Ben Pope ’12 as their starter in the must-win game, and while he surrendered twelve hits and six runs in easily his poorest start of the year, he kept his composure and did not give up the big inning until a four-run seventh, when the Pioneers already had a comfortable nine-run lead.  Dugan Knoll ’12 came on in relief to throw a perfect eighth and closer Chad Christoff ’10 tossed a scoreless ninth to preserve the victory and send the Pioneers to day two of the tournament for just the second time in the history of the program after an 11-6 win.  Grinnell’s considerable offense in game two was highlighted by home runs from Paden Roder ’10 and Mike Nodzenski ’12, along with Suryn’s second bomb of the tournament, equaling his regular-season total.

In game three, Coach Tim Hollibaugh made a rather unconventional move, sending Mike Bogard ’12, who had thrown just five innings the entire season, to the hill in what amounted to the most important game in the history of Grinnell College baseball.  Bogard did not disappoint, stifling a powerful St. Norbert offense for six full innings, giving up ten baserunners but only two runs before turning things over to Ryan Harris ’10, who rebounded from a difficult start against the Redhawks to slam the door on the Green Knights.  Harris recorded the final nine outs to record the save, allowing just one hit and retiring St. Norbert’s Tony Jandron, the nation’s leading hitter at .538, on a 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded and nobody out.  That turned out to be the last at-bat in Jandron’s college career, as he was on deck representing the tying run when Harris knocked down a line drive with two outs in the ninth, then recovered and threw on to first to send the Pioneers to the Championship Round for the first time in the history of the program.  Roder went deep one last time to set both the single-season(12) and career record(23) for most home runs by a Grinnellian, and Goldfein went 4-for-5 as the Pioneers jumped out to a 4-0 first-inning lead and never looked back in the 5-2 victory.

That win placed the Pioneers in a rematch with Ripon for the championship.  Pioneer starter Andrew Myers ’12 pitched capably, giving up three earned runs in four innings of work, but in the end the Pioneer bullpen could not contain a powerful Ripon offense, as the Redhawks repeated their 17-hit effort in defeating the Pioneers 13-5.  Grinnell had its chance in the sixth, when Nodzenski missed a grand slam by less than three feet, which would have put the Pioneers ahead 7-5, and instead had to settle for a sacrifice fly to make the score 5-4 Redhawks.  Things looked good for the Pioneers even then, with Ben Pope available for three innings of work, but Grinnell would get no closer as the Redhawks scored eight runs over the final three innings to put the game out of reach.  Chad Takabuki ’10 led the Pioneers offensively in his final game in a Grinnell uniform with three hits, but Ripon starter Jason Wierschke and reliever Steven Blader were able to hold the Pioneers to two earned runs on only nine hits, all singles.  Zach Bayreuther committed four errors for the Redhawks in their clinching game, but the Pioneers could not take advantage as the Redhawks claimed the eighteenth conference title in program history, while Grinnell will enter next season still looking for its first.

Even though the Pioneers were unable to secure the elusive conference title, the tournament was still a great event to cap off the year.  In an unprecedented show of support that one would be hard-pressed to find at most other schools Grinnell’s size, alumni traveled from all across the country to witness the Pioneers’ run at history.

From the east coast, Mark Wilcox ’09 (Baltimore, MD) and myself, Justin Abramson ’08 (Washington, DC) made the trip, though not without incident, barely arriving in time for the first pitch after missing a connecting flight at Chicago O’Hare.  Coming to our rescue were former Pioneers Kevin Byrne ’06, James Bird ’07, Andrew Colver ’07 and Joe Reth, who drove us from their hometown Chicago to the tournament just in time for the pregame ceremonies.  The four of them make up the nucleus of the Pioneer alumni baseball team, the Chicago Pioneers, who began their 30-game season last week with a 2-1 loss.  Joining in the festivities all the way from the west coast was Ben Mendoza ’09 (Portland, OR), whose suggestion of a Dunkin’ Donuts trip on the way to Grinnell was critical to keeping spirits high throughout the journey.

Elsewhere, Mike Rosenbaum ’08 and Julia Meisler ’09 (St. Louis, MO) made the long drive, leaving their homes at 12:30 AM the day of the tournament and traveling all through the night to witness the Midwest Conference Tournament firsthand.  Rick Berdelle ’09 (Clarendon Hills, IL) also drove in to watch the Pioneers and former rotation co-anchor Harris take their shot at history.  And all of this does not even count the support from Pioneer alumni still in Iowa, including Peter Leo ’06 (West Des Moines), brothers Mike Maloney ’06 and Brett Maloney ’09 (Des Moines) and Jim Malewitz ’09 (Iowa City), who joined me in the booth and provided excellent color commentary for our viewers on MWCTV, which included among others, Daniel Dee Clark ’08 (Dallas, TX), Sam Eaton ’07 (Austin, TX) and, from across the pond, Gary Kahn ’09 (Ostrava, Czech Republic).

The weekend culminated with the end-of season baseball party, where Pioneer alumni and students gathered at The Titty Bar, home to Roder, Takabuki and J.P. Prouty ’10, among others, for one last night of drinking in honor of Grinnell College baseball.  For the alumni in the crowd, it undoubtedly provided a welcome reminder of what a wonderful place Grinnell College is and can be, especially when one is surrounded by good friends, beer and baseball.

On Sunday morning, the Pioneers of the present woke up to prepare for final exams as they wrap up Hell Week in Grinnell.  Also waking up after the final baseball event of the year were the Pioneers of seasons past, who headed back to their lives, wherever they may be.  Mendoza heads back to Portland, where he lives with longtime girlfriend Gabriela Maldonado-Bell ’09. Byrne drives home to his wife, Lauren Meredith ’06, and the next day he heads back to his job at AllState Insurance.  Wilcox, once called Max Walcott during his time as a Pioneer catcher, now goes back to being Mr. Wilcox as he returns to his high school chemistry classroom in Baltimore.  Malewitz makes the one-hour drive down to Iowa City, where he’ll be finishing up his first year in journalism school at the University of Iowa, while Colver, Reth and Bird resume their own lives and jobs as they look forward to the Chicago Pioneers’ next game and, of course, rooting on the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL playoffs. Rosenbaum and Meisler head back home to St. Louis, where they look to extend their stay atop the standings in the Denslow Cup.

And finally, I, too, return to life after Grinnell, where I work as an analyst (actually, as of yesterday, a Senior Analyst) at the Advisory Board Company in Washington, DC.  Once known as Young Towel, the voice of Pioneer athletics, I step out of the broadcasting booth for perhaps the final time and return to my life as Justin Abramson, a man who sits behind a desk in an M-Street office building looking at Excel spreadsheets for a living.

One week later, it’s life as usual for this Pioneer alum, as it is for all Pioneer baseball alumni across the country and the world.  But for one weekend, the Pioneer baseball community came together in pursuit of a dream.  And although the dream wasn’t realized this year for the Grinnell College baseball team, it was a weekend that this writer will never, ever forget.  So keep the dream alive, Pioneers.  The ghosts of Pioneer baseball past will always be with you.

Recent Trade Involvement in the Denslow Cup

May 22, 2010

Jim got engaged!  To a terrific young lady I might add.  Congratulations, buddy!  We’re really proud and excited for you.  Two more engagement shout-outs: first one for our buddy, Kevin (Kev Kong) Wilcox; second one for my dental school classmate/friend and cadaver dissecting partner, Val Sanchez.  Very fun things.

Before I get going with this post, I want to apologize for not posting anything lately.  My finals week lasted about 15 days/nights and was a truly painful experience for everyone involved.  I still am awaiting confirmation that I passed my last two exams, but I did not need to do that well on them to make it to 2nd year.  I don’t think when I began dental school or even when I was applying that I had any idea what it would actually be like.  Grinnell is a challenging undergraduate institution that consistently ranks among the most extensive in the country in terms of workload.  It did not remotely compare to what was expected of each student at Baylor.  They say the first year of professional school is the most challenging of any student’s career.  I really hope that is the case.

Moving on.  I have tried not to write much about fantasy on this blog because I am fearful of disclosing information that has helped me succeed in previous to my competitors.  The blog comes first now, though, so hopefully none of what I disclose is seen as particularly novel.

This post will center on some recent trades I have completed in my 16-team 7 x 7 (AVG, OBP, SLUG, HR, SB, R, RBI x IP, W, SV, K, ERA, WHIP, K/BB) league that I play in with my friends, many of whom write for the Sombrero.  Before I begin I should mention that I tend to give the team I drafted a month or so of a chance for two primary reasons.  First, it takes approximately 100 plate appearances or so to produce a meaningful set of results capable of evaluation.  Second, this evaluation should help determine a reevaluation of the predraft rankings implicit within are new projections and expectations.  This reevaluation should generate some inefficiencies and potential bargain deals throughout any league.  Hopefully a month into the season every one of your players are playing over-their-heads and producing at unsustainably high levels.  This will inflate their values to the point that they are capable of fetching players ranked considerably higher in the predraft rankings.  A month into the season the rankings that should be taken the most seriously remain those produced prior to the draft because they are based in the most extensive and reliable numbers.  Some players are streaky, and some streak/slump oscillations express periods of a month or longer.  For these reasons, I target May as the month in which I need to work the hardest in fantasy.  This unfortunately coincides with finals and has been hindered more than usual this year.  Nevertheless I have made a few moves that I think will really help my squad, the Heights Knights (named after my 8th grade basketball team), find their stride and hopefully begin to climb in the standings.

CLAR traded Kevin Youkilis, Bos 3B to A-holes
CLAR traded Nate McLouth, Atl OF to A-holes
CLAR traded Kevin Slowey, Min SP to A-holes
MVW traded David Wright, NYM 3B to Knights
MVW dropped David DeJesus, KC OF to Free Agency
MVW dropped Nick Hundley, SD C to Free Agency

This trade took place in early May and heavily reflects my love for David Wright and very little else.  Simply put, I lost this trade.  Youkilis plays for a better team in a better yard, makes contact more often and has better control of the strike zone, probably more power, is more consistent, and, most importantly, will be an easier guy to move later on.  This final reason is a product of the fact that as the season progresses, Wright’s strikeout totals will likely seem more astronomic by the day.  The Mets are a pathetic organization.  I blame their management and front office entirely for David’s recent and ongoing struggles with contact.  That’s a different subject for a different day, though.  Back to the trade.  Slowey’s command is second to none, and even though he lacks a put-away pitch or above average anything, his ability to locate makes him a serviceable two or exceptional three in any rotation.  In a league like ours that uses IP as a category, Slowey is a horse and will always outperform his 5×5 ranking.  McLouth has not looked like the all-star he was in 2008 because he is not making contact often enough.  He will continue to lose playing time as long as he fails to put the ball in play, but, when near his best, McLouth makes Melky Cabrera look like the minor league journeyman he should be.

Eunuch (MVW) beat me on this trade, but I have David, my favorite player, and I am much happier moving forward now as a result.

TOWL traded Nick Markakis, Bal OF to Knights
CLAR traded Yovani Gallardo, Mil SP to Corporate Towls

This trade was mostly a reflection of our cap on starts.  Essentially three starters should be able to reach the cap (100), and I had five at the time.  Gallardo was my highest ranked according to ESPN, but in our league should have been dropped extensively due to his notoriously high pitch counts and less-than-ace-caliber walk totals.  In standard formats, these are virtually meaningless, but in our league make Yo a 4-category contributor in a 14-category format.

Markakis has been one of my targets since 2006.  His ability to both differentiate balls and strikes as well as center the baseball make him lethal in formats such as ours that utilize both average and OBP categories despite having just 15 to 20-bomb power.  Because OBP is not included in the standard format, Markakis is far more valuable in the Cup than he is according to ESPN.

Budz dropped Kris Medlen, Atl RP to Free Agency
Budz dropped J.J. Putz, CWS RP to Free Agency
Budz traded Billy Butler, KC 1B to Knights
CLAR traded Todd Helton, Col 1B to ChronicL’s
CLAR traded Josh Willingham, Was OF to ChronicL’s
CLAR traded Matt Lindstrom, Hou RP to ChronicL’s

Ty9 traded Carlos Lee, Hou OF to Knights
CLAR traded Billy Butler, KC 1B to POO

These trades happened within hours of each other, so I will treat them as one mega deal in which I move Helton, Willingham, and Lindstrom for Carlos Lee.  A trade like this is only possible if you really know the other managers in the league.  My first trading partner in this deal was Griff.  Griff is after a first-place finish this year, and I know it.  He has produced increasingly higher finishes each year and made it into the top-5 last season for the first time.  In a 16-team league, saves are a big deal.  Not only are there only 30 closers at any time but also a 0 in any category means a lot more when one team is getting 16 and the average team is snagging 8 or 9 from that category.  I find it very hard to envision a first place team getting last or even close to last in the saves category.  A single stable closer (30 saves) for the entire season is probably enough to avoid a catastrophically low saves total, and closers are hoarded in our league as a result.  The effects of this hoarding are an enhanced demand and a reduced supply of saves.  Griff recognized that the longer he waited, the less the return and the higher the cost.  By a stroke of luck, Alfredo Simon, the new Orioles closer was available as well as Manny Corpas making Lindstrom somewhat expendable.

Willingham is another guy who is worth more in our league than in a standard league because of his skill at reaching base, but what some folks have been slow to accept is the quality of the heart of the Nationals order.  Hitting behind Adam Dunn should provide Hammer with a shot at 100 RBI’s.  He has a chance this season to be an all-star and is especially valuable in a platoon.

Todd Helton again is more valuable in our league due to his combination of average and on-base skills.  Jason Giambi is a ridiculous distraction and almost comical nowadays, but he should be eliminated shortly I suspect due to the imminent season-ending injury that surely accompanies 39-year old, fat, steroid abusers.  Griff actually got Helton at a time when his value may be somewhat deflated due to his slow start, and in general this trade is looking as though I came away the loser.

However, I knew if I could just snag Butler that Ty9, a lifelong and diehard Royals fan, would probably give me Carlos Lee in exchange.  Lee has been getting a lot of bad publicity recently because of his slow start, but the guy can take every square inch of the zone 450 ft.  I saw his slow start as an obvious opportunity to buy low on a guy that has a 3-year mean OPS over .880 and a 5-year average of 31 dongs/season.

Everyone other Tyrone won this one.

Bob dropped Mike Adams, SD RP to Free Agency
CLAR traded David Ortiz, Bos DH to of Shelley
CLAR traded Chris Coghlan, Fla OF to of Shelley
Bob traded Carlos Pena, TB 1B to Knights

As noted earlier, I have a tendency to fall in love with certain players.  Carlos is one of those guys for me.  I have never had him on my team.  He is clearly underperforming right now, but has shown the ability to stay inside and above the ball with good lower body action in the last week or so against good arms.  The ball Gardner took away was an excellent swing, and the next night Carlos went deep twice.  I love him and rolled out the red carpet this morning for him.

I’m a Coghlan believer.  I think his mechanics at the plate allow him to handle almost all pitches even though they probably are good for no more than fifteen jacks/season.  As everyone has always known about Coghlan, his skills play better at 2B than at a COF spot.  Not going to happen with Uggla on 40-jack pace.  Still, Coghlan should be around a .300 hitter the rest of the way while walking at a respectable clip.

Papi is so tough to evaluate right now.  Sometimes he looks as good as ever, and sometimes he looks like he could go 0-for a beer league game.  This suggests that Papi is guessing and cheating his hands at the plate to compensate for either reduced pitch deciphering abilities, reduced bat speed, injury, or a combination of the three.  I suspect that I may have moved him at the perfect time, and while I have normally been a fan of Papi, the failed PED test was a big turnoff for me.  Considering I plucked him off of waivers a week before this deal, it was easy to pull the trigger.

I am very satisfied with these trades and the way my team is looking.  This has been one of my more successful Mays, and, with the addition of luck, health, and a few more quality moves, it should put me in position to challenge for my first title.

The current Knights:

C Carlos Ruiz
1B Carlos Pena
2B Dustin Pedroia
3B David Wright
SS Hanley Ramirez
OF Michael Bourn
OF Nick Markakis
OF Carlos Lee
UTIL Adam Dunn
Bench Jim Thome
P Cole Hamels
P Alfredo Simon
P Manuel Corpas
P Aaron Heilman
P J.J. Putz
P Carlos Villanueva
Bench Scott Baker
Bench Jeff Niemann
Bench Ted Lilly
Bench Ervin Santana
DL Mike GonzalezDL15

Audio from my appearance on B-Squared Show

May 19, 2010

Thanks to Jordan and and Brian of the B-Squared Show on for having me on the air today.  They do a great job every single day and I had a blast talking baseball with them!

Here is the audio segment from my appearance on today’s show:

Mike Rosenbaum on the B-Squared Show

The Golden Sombrero on the radio

May 19, 2010

I’m excited to announce that I will be a guest on the B-Squared Show, today at 11:05am CST.  The B-Squared Show is an internet radio show on the network that covers all-things Chicago Cubs and is hosted by a friend and former high school teammate, Jordan Bernfield.  As a fellow baseball fanatic, he loves the uniqueness of the blog and everything it represents- a true compliment.  He contacted me late last week to see if I had any interest in coming on the air to promote the blog and discuss baseball and needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity.

The B-Squared Show airs on weekdays from 10am-Noon and highly that you tune in as often as possible.  The audio from the segment should be available later in the week.

The Book of Ely

May 18, 2010

When Vicente Padilla landed on the DL, the Dodgers decided to call up John Ely from AAA.  For those who have not heard of him, Ely was one of the players that the White Sox surrendered in the Juan Pierre trade.  No, I’m not bringing this up because I wish he were doing this for the White Sox.  Actually, I played against the Homewood-Flossmoor High School alum in various showcases during both my junior and senior high school seasons.  As I reflect on Ely’s immediate success with the Dodgers, I cannot help but recall my memories of him as a 16/17 year old flame thrower.

My first encounter with the major league winner was during the Jack Kaiser Memorial All-Star game which placed some of the best Illinois, prep prospects against each other.  I’m going to go ahead and boast here for a second because, well, I can.  At the beginning of the summer, I was selected to play in the Northwest Suburban Junior All-Star Game, which was essentially the premiere, prep scouting combine in the state; I’m talking radar guns, stop watches, sun glasses and collared shirts everywhere, literally lining the fences.  Every conference within state was represented by a 25-man squad whose constituents were selected by the coaches association.  I played pretty well that weekend and followed with a ridiculous summer that ultimately lead to my selection for the Jack Kaiser Memorial All-Star Game.  Essentially, it was an all-star game of the all-star game.

I had heard Ely’s name off and on for the previous two years and was therefore psyched to learn that he was the starting pitcher for the other team.  As I stood at the top of the dugout with a few teammates, watching him warm up in the opposing bullpen, I found myself marveling at his every pitch.  It was, without a doubt, the fastest I had ever seen.  Back then he was not the 6’2″, 200lbs. pitcher that he is now.  There was no way that he could have been anything more than 6’0″, 170lbs. at that time.  But how could this skinny bastard throw so hard?  Well, he had a unique, wiry frame that allowed him to generate an absurd amount of tilt and arm speed.

On that day, Ely only made it through the first inning.  While I don’t exactly recall his line, my guess is that it was something like 1 IP, 6 ER, 3 H, 5 BB, 3K, 2 wild pitches.  With every pitch, Ely let out a grunt that indicated that he was either giving birth, or just trying to light up the radar gun for some scouts(I believe both).  There was no denying that he threw hard, but his control and overall makeup were suspect.  Due to the fact that I was part of the second wave of players that entered the game in the 5th inning, I never got to face Ely that day.

The next fall arrived and I was still unsure as to where I might be playing the following year.  I had it narrowed down to what I believed to be my four best options, but was nowhere close to making a final decision.  One of these schools, Miami University(OH), had invited me to their final showcase before handing out scholarships; I had performed well at their summer camp and was looking to make one final, lasting impression.  You can only imagine how I felt when I learned that I would be facing Ely, who apparently was already a scholarship lock.  I guess no major programs wanted to risk a scholarship on him- probably due to his mechanics, attitude or height.  I was skeptical of him as well.  After all, I did witness his disastrous first inning only a few months before.

That day, Ely put on one of the most impressive pitching displays I have ever seen.  His previous composure and control problems were gone and a new pitcher had been born.  Topping out at 91 mph, he struck out 7 of the 9 batters he faced- one of which was me.  My at-bat went some like this.  1st pitch: absolute gas on the outside corner, called strike.  2nd pitch: took a late hack at a letter-high fastball, strike two.  3rd pitch:  fouled off a devastating slider. How? No clue, especially considering that I always struggled with good sliders.  4th pitch: an even more devastating slider that I really struggled with.  I was one of three batters who managed to make contact while only one of those was put in play- a weak groundball to second base.  The next year, our first season of collegiate baseball, Ely was a Freshman All-American at Miami(Ohio).  Need I say more?

After watching each of Ely’s 4 starts this season, I am beyond impressed with what I have seen.  He is no longer the skinny, smoke thrower that he was when I faced him then.  In fact, quite the contrary.  Ely’s fastball consistently sits in the high 80s and is complemented by a sharp curve and change-up that drops off the table.  He also features a 2-seam fastball in the low to mid 80s that generates tremendous, late movement that reminds me of Jake Peavy’s.  He is a strike throwing machine who is making a name for himself as a control expert.  Here are what his first four starts looked like:

April 28th at Mets:  6 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 4 K, 3 BB – 116 pitches    Loss (0-1)

May 6th vs. Brewers:  6.2 IP, 4 H, ER, 7 K, 0 BB – 108 pitches   ND (0-1)

May 11th at Diamondbacks:  6 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 6 K, 0 BB – 105 pitches   W (1-1)

May 17th vs. Astros:  7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 8 K, 0 BB – 97 pitches   W (2-1)

2010 Overall:  2-1, 25.2 IP, 21 H, 10 ER, 25 K, 3 BB  –  3.51 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, .219 BAA

No you are not misreading those stats.  Ely has not walked a batter in his last three starts which spans 19.2 IP and 84 batters – the longest active streak among pitchers.  While I doubt that he will continue at his current, absurd pace, I honestly believe that Ely will continue to succeed and warrant the opportunity to throw every 5th day for the Dodgers.  It is already clear that Ely is a pitcher who just knows how to get guys out and stay within himself while doing so.  Still, there is no way that he will continue his freakish control; there will come a day when his pin-point accuracy is slightly off and he gets knocked around.  It happens.  However, the moxie that Ely has displayed leads me to believe that he will have no problem bouncing back when this happens.  In this era, an era where all of the top pitching prospects are smoke-throwing phenoms, Ely’s success is a refreshing deviation from the norm.  It has reminded me that young, intelligent pitchers still exist in baseball but are just buried beneath all of the hype and mayhem that surrounds the game’s well-known prospects.

Plus, I get to tell people that I have faced a guy who out-dueled Dan Haren in a game where Haren struck out 9 in his first 3 innings.  I’m just saying….