Friday, October 23, 2009

Which Came First: the Cup or the Batting Helmet?

A little known baseball fact...
The first testicular guard (cup) was used in baseball in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1971. It took nearly 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important.

(HT: My Dad)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Dodgers Off-Season Priorities and Predictions

In the wake of tonight's loss to the Phils, it's time to forget about the past and look to the future. The following is my take on what the Dodgers need to do and what they will do.

What the Dodgers Need to Do

1. Shore up the Starting Pitching

I still don't get why everyone knocked the Dodgers' pitching this season when they had the best team ERA in baseball. It's easy to look at the NLCS and say, "Say, we were right." But that would be ignoring the NLDS and the fact that most of the problems in that series were aberrations compared to the rest of the season.

In any case, the Dodgers only have 3 starting pitchers coming back: Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, and Hiroki Kuroda. The good news there is that this is a solid group of 3. Billingsley looked like a Cy Young winner for two months, Kershaw looked like one for what followed, and Kuroda dominated in last year's NLCS (you might remember that as the NLCS in which Kuroda didn't pitch for the first time in 3 weeks...thanks for that one, Joe...).

The bad news is that that still only makes 3 starters. The best free agent pitcher available is John Lackey, and if they have the money, the Dodgers couldn't find a better place to spend it. Lackey is an excellent starter, plus he's got the physical makeup and history of a guy who, as near as anyone can predict, should stay off the DL. Perhaps they take the 17 million they will no longer be paying Jason Schmidt, put some of it into Lackey, and backload his contract since they'll be paying Manny 25 million next season (assuming that Manny picks up his option, which he unfortunately almost certainly will).

As for a 5th starter? That's a harder call, but I'd say either give someone within the organization a shot (e.g. Eric Stults, Ramon Troncosco, Charlie Haeger, Josh Lindblom, or Chris Withrow) or go for another reclamation project like they successfully did with Jose Lima, Wilson Alvarez, Jeff Weaver, Chan Ho Park, and so on. Mark Mulder is my #1 candidate for that idea.

Other guys I'd like to see them look into for either rotation spot: Ben Sheets, Rich Harden, Erik Bedard, Randy Wolf, Tim Hudson, Carl Pavano, Justin Duchscherer, Brandon Webb. Any of those guys would be useful, and some would be great.

2. Get a Second Baseman

The O-Dawg and Ronnie Baseball will both be free agents, and I'd be glad to have either one back. Hudson is a class act, a great fielder, and for 3/4 of the year, was a dang good hitter. Belliard played great for a month- you gotta figure anyone would be energized by getting traded from the last-place Nats to the playoff-bound Dodgers, as he apparently was. Of the two, I'd be much less confident in Belliard for a full season. Dude's looking pretty fat for a two-bagger, for one thing...

The second base opening is where the Jon Garland for Tony Abreu trade never made much sense to me. Did the Dodgers really need Garland that bad? No, they didn't. He wasn't especially needed when he came over, and Coletti had to realize that the Dodgers would need a second baseman, right? Abreu has had real success on the big club but just got hurt. Add that to a .353 avg. in AAA, and I would have been happy to fill that position between him and Blake DeWitt, then use the money that would save on Lackey or another starter.

But that's not an option now. DeWitt is still a semi-viable internal option, but he hit around .250 in AAA this year, so despite some major league success he doesn't seem trustworthy. Also, the Dodgers minor league player of the year was a single A shortstop named Dee Becker who hit .300 and stole a whopping 73 bases. Still, he's a SS, that was in single A, and he also got caught stealing 25 times. Sounds like he's a couple years out to me.

My favorite idea outside the organization is Chone Figgins. I know he plays 3B for the Halos, but he used to play second, and I never got the idea he cared much where he played. Just imagine the day that Manny gets hurt and the Dodgers trot out a lineup that includes Furcal, Figgins, Matt Kemp, and Juan Pierre. Can anyone think of a team that ever had so much speed? I can't see it happening, but it's fun to dream.

Other notable options include trading for Dan Uggla (apparently he's on the block), or signing Mark DeRosa or Placido Polanco. It's really hard to say who they'll end up with next year, but my gut tells me it'll be either Belliard or Hudson again. I'm fine with that.

3. Bring Back a Good Bench

One of the clearest strengths the Dodgers had this season was the bench. Guys like Mark Loretta, Brad Ausmus, Juan Pierre, Doug Mientcawiojagaowoz (does anyone know how to spell that guy's last name?), and Juan Castro go a long way for making a team good, and that was obvious this year. There are a lot of veterans out there worth looking into, and they need to do so: Ausmus, Loretta, and Mientkiewicz (there, that's it) are gone. I'd be glad to re-sign all of those guys.

How the Dodgers Will Actually Fare

1. The Bullpen Will Be Great Again

The Dodgers should have the best bullpen in baseball again next year. Broxton and Sherill at the back end is devastating (except in game 4 of the NLCS, which Broxton is never allowed to appear in again), and they have 3 legitimate other set-up men in Kuo, Troncosco, and Belisario. They even have Scott Elbert and Brent Leach as lefty specialists and an effective swingman in Jeff Weaver. The only guy they are losing is Guillermo Mota, which is completely fine despite that he was quite good for much of the year. A good bullpen is hard to find for a lot of teams, and it is the place where the Dodgers have easily the most depth.

2. Manny Will No Longer Be Manny

I guess another way to put that would be "Manny will no longer be that good." Post-steroids Manny is a guy who can't get his bat head around as quickly as he used to, which means he gets jammed a lot more. He'll still crush pitches that are over the plate, but when you can throw inside to Manny, he's just not so intimidating. No matter where they bat him in the lineup, he'll put up the number of a 6 hitter with the defense of...well...Manny. Think Giambi pre-roids and post-roids. Big difference.

This could be a big problem for this club next year, and my only hope is that he does something crazy (that's not that far-fetched is it? I mean, it's Manny!), and doesn't exercise that 25 million dollar option he has.

We could honestly see here just how much of a difference steroids make in major leaguers. Manny was one of the two most intimidating right-handed hitters in the game a few months ago. Now he's a pretty good hitter. Yikes. Baseball needs to event a steroid contract clause: if at any point in a season a player is caught taking steroids, the team he plays for can if they so choose nullify any remaining years after the one he is currently in. There is no way the Dodgers would pay Manny 25 million now that he's not the Manny they thought he was. No team should get so badly penalized because a player cheats and hides it well.

3. The Dodgers Will Win the Division Again

The Diamondbacks scared me in the beginning of this season, and they still have some weapons, but they're going to lose a lot of pieces, especially if they don't pick up Webb's option (or if he comes back and isn't healthy). A lot of things would have to go right for them to compete a Dodgers team that is mostly staying in tact. The Padres are terrible, no matter what they did the last third of their season.

The problem for the Giants is that even with such dominant starting pitching, I still cannot see them getting the bats they need to put everything together. One big hitter in the middle of the lineup would help, but they really need more than that. Sandoval is the real deal, but it's him and a bunch of guys right now, and that just isn't enough. Plus, Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito have some serious question marks. Their off-season will be interesting, but I can't see them getting back in. One last thing: an injury to Lincecum or Cain would paralyze them, and that's scary for any team.

Which leaves the Rockies. Thing about the Rockies is this: their starting pitching is getting much better, because Jimenez and De La Rosa are both really that good. Jason Hammel, Aaron Cook, and a rehabbed Jeff Francis could make a real good rotation. And apparently Jim Tracy connects with them as a manager, no matter how uninspiring he appears.

The thing is, the Rockies lineup doesn't wow me, and they need some key production to make it work. Guys like Brad Hawpe, Ian Stewart, Clint Barmes, Chris Ianetta, and Dexter Fowler have to prove that they can keep doing it, and I'm not totally convinced with that group. Plus, Helton isn't getting any younger, and Tulo has had some real rough streaks, despite his overall excellent season.

What separates the Dodgers from these teams is that they just have way fewer question marks. The young guys are getting older and better. Ethier and Kemp are real middle of the order threats, and hopefully Manny can keep something up too. Furcal finally looked healthy and back to form at the end of the season. You know what you'll get from Casey Blake every year. And so on.

The only question marks are in the starting rotation, and if past seasons have been any indication, Coletti will go out and get at least one more upper tier starter, maybe even two. This could very quickly turn from a question mark to a strength, and I for one am confident in the three guys that are locked in.

So there's no reason the Dodgers shouldn't win the NL West for the third year in a row. The one thing to remember? That they're the Dodgers, of course.

Maybe there will even be some extra magic for Vinny's last season. What better way for him to go out than with a World Series win?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I Added Labels

Scroll down, and they're on the right. I try to be careful about properly labeling posts, so if you happen to care what I've said about this or that, scroll down and take a look.

That's all.


Ephesians 4:19: "...and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness."

Oh Lord, save us from callousness toward sin.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Best Thing Anyone Has Written/Said to Me In Quite Some Time

"By age four, I was about as much a dinosaur expert as a four-year-old can be. When I was 10, I dressed up as famed paleontologist Robert Bakker for Halloween....(Oh, man, you know what would have been awesome? If God had sent DINOSAURS to smite Sodom and Gomorrah!)."

-Rachael Warecki

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Funeral of a Faithful UPS Driver (or What I Hope They'll Say About Me When I Die)

Erik Thoennes told me some time ago that he loves going to funerals for godly people. That was a couple days before I went to see Britt in Illinois for the first time because my first evening there would include a funeral for a woman named Joanie who had made a point of praying for her throughout Britt's high school years. That was the kind of funeral Thoennes liked going to, and I understand why.

I never knew Joanie, and I only knew Aubrey Lee Culp (better known to those of us who knew him as a UPS driver as "Al") from my job at the Sunglasses Giant, where he would drop off boxes of sunglasses shipped by UPS every afternoon. When he died of a heart attack last week, Al had been working for UPS for 31 years. Talk about high energy, Al was the a short, stringy fellow who talked and walked and carried boxes a million miles an hour all the time. He was always joyful and often full of Scripture citations and general encouragement to "keep the faith".

So when he passed, Gregg Angier (my co-worker at "the Giant") and I were only too happy to attend his funeral. Strange how much you can like a guy who you only talk to for a couple minutes a day, but Al was that kind of guy.

I could not be gladder to have gone.

For one thing, the funeral was remarkably well-attended for a guy in a line of work you don't normally think of as "high impact" where people's lives are concerned. As mentioned, we only saw Al for a few minutes at a time, and we were 1 of 120 stops he would make each day (by the way, his replacement told Gregg that it will probably take two drivers to take over Al's route, because he was so good at what he did and so hard-working that he is literally irreplaceable by a single driver). Yet I always felt like we were the only stop Al made- or at least that he liked us more than the others. For that reason, UPS drivers, FedEx drivers, and presumably other retail employees packed out Living Waters Church in Chino, CA, along with his relatives and church family.

So it is not terribly surprising that every person who spoke could commend nothing higher than his daily faithfulness to Christ. Al exuded faithfulness. His daughters said that standards for husbands (both are now married, as of the day before the funeral) were through the roof because of the example of their father. Every day this man would work as hard as he could, yet he'd always be home in time for dinner. Dinner would be followed by some alone time for prayer. Every day.

One of his co-workers said that while he had known Al for 18 or so years, it was only over the last five months that they became better friends when they started carpooling. The guy said that it was only during that time that church attendance was definitely weekly in his life. In their daily drives Al would tell him, "You need to learn some verses" and taught him to memorize Scripture. No sense in wasting opportunities for Al.

Indeed, over and over the adjective that came up in the funeral was "faithful". Al was committed to Scripture, to worship, to prayer, and to loving his family. He made himself available to those most important to him, and he shared Christ with the people around him.

I suspect that despite being related to at least three pastors, Al Culp never preached a sermon in his life. That's not part of the job description at UPS. And yet hundreds sat in a church to commemorate his life. Apparently it isn't just the front-and-center type stuff that moves people.

It's folks like Al who make me wonder if all of our emphasis on doing great things for God misleads us to forget that what He wants most is daily dependance on Him. Al's life was an example of what that looked like, and I wonder if it's time more of us started praying to develop the kind of daily discipline required to live such a godly life.

Yes, I hope to become a good preacher. I love to play worship music that is creative, and I'd like to write a good worship song or two in my life. I want to lead non-Christian to know the overwhelming grace of God. And if I could write a book or essay or something that would help people know and see Jesus more, I would be thrilled.

But when my funeral comes, I am not so concerned that people stand up and say that I was a great preacher or guitarist or singer or songwriter or evangelist or author. These would all be lovely accolades, but because of their publicness, I find them easy to pursue. I also find that many of things can be performed with normal human skill even if there is no devotional life to back them up. Just ask the many great preachers who have blown up their lives with "big" sins.

What I find more difficult is the daily prayer, the daily self-sacrifical love for my wife (as easy to love as she is), and the daily witness of a faithful life. This is the stuff that I hope characterizes me, and that I hope people speak about when I die.

Thing is, when someone dies it is easy to stand up and wax eloquent about their character. Too often, that is more because they are dead than because it is true. For Aubrey Lee Culp, it seems that the accolades were spoken only for the latter reason. And so it was the funeral of a godly man that felt more like one last witness of faithfulness for those of us who need to be reminded.

So what of me and you? What will they say at our funerals? Will they wax eloquent, or will they speak truth? I pray it is the latter, and I pray that our Lord will send more men like Al to remind me of what is important.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Swindoll's Ten Leadership Lessons (with Some Personal Reflections)

JT posted these ten leadership lessons from Chuck Swindoll yesterday, and Swindoll is the real deal. It's normally more of a CiC type thing, but because I know my young friends who are already church leaders read this and because I thought this might be a better place for personal reflection, I figured I'd link it here instead.

These are issues that have been on my mind quite a bit recently, probably because God is trying to teach me something. Occasionally when He does that sort of thing, I attempt to listen, and in so doing I find that part of my listening involves discussing it with y'all (see how I'm being relevant to you, Trey and Erin and Tree?).

Here are the ones that stood out:
2. It’s dangerous to succeed. I’m most concerned for those who aren’t even 30 and are very gifted and successful. Sometimes God uses someone right out of youth, but usually he uses leaders who have been crushed.
Obviously, given his concern for "those who aren't even 30" (not that I'm necessarily as gifted or successful, but still...), this seems to apply. I go back to something I heard from Yoda (i.e. Dave Knaup) recently: Christian leaders' personal crap/sin issues will come to the fore at some point or another. The question is, are you going to confess your struggles to those who will lead you to repentance without blowing up your whole life, or are you going to let it take over your life until one day everyone finds out how sinful you are because you do something really stupid. I've seen recent examples of both, and I pray that more of us, myself included, would do the former. I wonder if this is part of the "crushing" that Swindoll has in mind.
3. It’s hardest at home. No one ever told me this in Seminary.
8. Integrity eclipses image. Today we highlight image. But it’s what you’re doing behind the scenes.
I suspect these do in fact go together, even if he didn't organize it that way. I am more and more convinced that what God wants most from us is daily, unspectacular faithfulness. He doesn't need us for the big stuff. He'll work that out however He wants, and it is our privelege to be a part of it. So I have to figure that what He wants from us most is simple dependance on Him and daily obedience. That is what will lead to us doing the big stuff, and that is what validates our ministry even more than the big stuff.
6. Brokenness and failure are necessary.
The troubling thing about this truth is that they suck so bad. 'Nuf said.

Lord, teach us to depend on you daily. Teach us to remember that when we were lost and rebellious and dead, you brought us home and resurrected us with new hearts. Remind us that apart from you we can do nothing. Show us how to do the daily things, like loving our wives like you love the church, praying without ceasing, abiding in your words, and becoming truly humble. To your glory alone, through the grace of Jesus alone, by the power of the Spirit alone. Amen.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Now That is a Pumpkin

From a series of fall pictures on a photo blog from the Boston Globe called "The Big Picture":

It's from a farmers' Giant Pumpkin Context in Massachusetts. Dude in the middle won with his pumpkin weighing in at 1471.6 pounds. I think you could actually make a carriage out of that...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Five Guys: The "In-N-Out of the East"?

Anyone who knows me knows that I love In-N-Out more than...well, more than most things. If you don't think In-N-Out is that good, you are obviously unreasonable and unable to contribute meaningfully to anything in life. And that's no overstatement.

So I was quite interested when my friend told me that a place called "Five Guys" was near the Guitar Center we were at, and that we should go there for dinner since it is regarded as the "In-N-Out of the East" (I'm assuming that he meant the east coast of the U.S., not the Orient, but I could be wrong). Apparently, it is now trying to become the In-N-Out of Cerritos...

I am always skeptical of wild claims about another company being on par with In-N-Out, but I have to say, I was pretty impressed. My burger came with a toasted bun and was tender and juicy to where my teeth sank right through it. I could get it with A1 Sauce (always good on burgers if you've never tried it) and the fries are, I hate to say it, better than In-N-Out's. Now, for a regular order of fries, a double cheeseburger, and a root beer, I had to pay 10 bucks, which immediately means that as good as it is, Five Guys is certainly not the In-N-Out of anywhere: Britt and I can both eat at In-N-Out for that much.

Still, despite my initial skepticism, I heartily recommend that if you're ever in Cerritos you head down South Street right between Pioneer and Studebaker, and go get a burger. I'll still take In-N-Out first, but I understand the rave reviews of Five Guys.