Reading (and listening): Sports Illustrated

For the past two years, Sports Illustrated has been my favorite magazine. I started my subscription for the photography. I keep it for the writing.

The way I use my iPhone has evolved over time. There was a time, if I were to listen to anything, I would listen to music. I still listen to music, but at the gym or doing chores, I’m much more likely to listen to podcasts or audiobooks. I’ll also do this in the car, though gas-powered transportation tends toward music.

Many of the audiobooks I’ve completed have been about basketball or baseball, with one on football, and a couple of Sports Illustrated collections, including, right now, Fifty Years of Great Sports Writing.

Back-to-back, I’ve listened to a couple of great pieces:

Snakes Alive!

Rattlesnakes are cold-blooded but not murderous, and they prefer the stealthy escape to the lethal confrontation–unless they’re peckish and you’re a hamster. Stand real still when you meet one and it’ll slither off, thinking you’re just a rock or at least a thing too large to eat. Of course, if you surprise one by stepping on it, sitting on it (heard this several times; still not over it) or putting your hands where they don’t belong (i.e., under rocks, into holes…), you’re likely to end up snakebit and off to the hospital, there to experience the complex multisymptomatic wonders of a venom that works at once as a neurotoxin, cytotoxin, hemorrhagic agent and digestive acid. Meaning you’ll most likely suffer some pain, swelling, pain, pain, discoloration, pain, bleeding, pain, blistering, nausea, pain, light-headedness, pain and further, persistent acute pain. Statistically speaking, you probably won’t die–you’ll just want to.

Mirror of My Mood (Google Books link and I can’t copy and paste from it).

Tracking the progress of Vance Albitz

I first told you about Vance Albitz in the fall of 2011. As if to prove my point that he’s a scrappy player who will do what it takes to win, he’s worked his way up to Memphis in the Cardinals system. Not bad for a guy who went undrafted and only got a contract in a major league system because a low minor league team ran out of players late in the season.

He’s not putting up big numbers at the plate, but judging from this video (link sent to me by his father), he deserves a shot at the show on defensive play alone.

He’s also started in nice charity called Gloves for Troops.

Why I’m rooting for Vance Albitz

Vance Albitz

Vance Albitz, Batavia Muckdogs shortstop, moves toward a ground ball in the ninth inning of a game against the Auburn Doubledays, Sept. 4, 2011

Going back at least as far as the Tim Flannery era of the San Diego Padres I’ve been a fan of the kind of player who isn’t the vaunted five-tool prospect but the guy who just finds a way to get the job done.

This is the guy who owes his career not so much to exceptional talent (though to make it to pro ball at any level, you must have some special gifts), but to his willingness to work hard, make things happen and play within the game. These are the guys that give full effort and attention on every pitch with one single goal: help their team win.

Flannery, for example, was an artist when it came to getting hit by a pitch. If a pitcher was going to try to get one past Flannery low and inside, the pitch was going to hit Flan’s thigh — each and every time. Flannery often led the league in getting hit by pitches, a title usually reserved for four-spot hitters.

In that spirit, let me introduce you to Vance Albitz.

Albitz played only 12 games for the Batavia Muckdogs this season. His contract was purchased from the Lincoln Saltdogs (an independent team) late in the season after injuries depleted the St. Louis Cardinals farm system of low-level shortstops.

Albitz was hitting .315 at Lincoln and impressing the hell out of the fans there with his defensive play.

Originally from Torrence, Calif., Albitz was a star in high school, but not highly recruited by college scouts. He wound up at UC San Diego, a university better known for its science and technology prowess than its sports programs. Albitz helped lead Tritons to a birth in College World Series play and was twice named that nation’s top defensive shortstop.

Undrafted in June 2010, the 5-8, 160 lbs Albitz signed with the Lincoln team and placed on a roster of mostly last-chance minor leaguers who were fighting just to stay in the game rather than just win games. Each new player was a threat to take your job away. For good.

It wasn’t until his third week on the team that he got a chance to start. As luck would have it, he caught some bug the same day.

619Spots tells the story:

“I was shivering, then sweating, then shivering again. I was having problems in the bathroom, couldn’t eat.”

“Here it is, my first chance to start, and I’m sick as heck!”

Albitz wasn’t about to beg out of his first professional starting opportunity. He suffered through a miserable night and morning in the hotel, barely able to put anything in his stomach. Come game time, Vance took medicine to mask the symptoms and ran out to third base.

After the game, it started all over again, but even worse. The shivers, the night sweats.

For seven days, from Wichita to Sioux City, Albitz suffered and played silently. He batted .270 during the stretch and made only one error in the field, but his body was in full rebellion. Vance lost weight, couldn’t keep any food down, couldn’t do anything but be sick, then take medicine and play baseball, then be sick some more.

“It wasn’t like we were at home, where I could have just walked in to see the team doctor. We were in hotels. Plus, I was finally playing.

He got a hit in five of the seven games on the road trip. In his final game in Sioux City, Vance knocked in his first (and only) run of the season. Then there was nothing left.

“Finally I came in and told coach I’m too sick to play today, I’ve got to go to the hospital.”

“Turns out, I had played the entire week with pneumonia.”

That tells you something about the kind of heart Albitz has, a love for the game that is a throw back to the baggy plus fours and loose fitting double knits Albitz favors on the field.

The statistical record is incomplete, but it doesn’t look like Vance is a Moneyball player. His OPS with Batavia was only .744 and in 2010 at Lincoln it was .610, though at UCSD in 2009, it was a more impressive .956.

It’s a small thing, but I’m impressed that Vance has a complete LinkedIn profile. That’s a bit of professionalism I’ve not seen in a low-level minor league player before (I’m sure other players are using LinkedIn, too, but in dozens of searches for players over the past few seasons, this is the first one I’ve found — lots of Facebook pages, but LinkedIn, not so much). Vance is a financial services consultant in the off season and, showing a fine sense of self-awareness, Albitz runs a baseball school in Torrence called “Scrappy Baseball.”

It’s a long, long way from short season Class A ball to the majors, and a position player wearing number 56 is never considered a prospect, but here’s to hoping the St. Louis Cardinals give Albitz every chance to see how far he can go, maybe even a return to Batavia in 2012.

End of the season

I’m still not over yesterday’s loss. The Chargers have nobody to blame but themselves. Too many turnovers, too many dropped passes, too many stupid penalties, too seldom executing at critical times. You can’t give Tom Brady a chance to win the game, and that’s what the Chargers did. There’s times you get beat, and times you lose. This time, the Chargers lost more than the Pat’s won. Too bad New England showed so little class in victory.

I guess I’ll have to find something else to do with my time Feb. 4.

UPDATE: I’m not the only one saying it.

Clearly, the better team lost. And, all things considered, it deserved to.

Dropped passes. A dropped interception. An interception that was later dropped.

What could be laid at the coaching staff’s feet were two decisions – one, to forgo a field-goal try in the first quarter and two, to play a prevent defense at the end of the second quarter that prevented nothing (as it often does).

But the players knew they blew it. A team that didn’t make big or multiple mistakes in closing out the season with 10 straight victories made them yesterday. In abundance.

“It was uncharacteristic,â€? center Nick Hardwick said. “ … Our forte is not beating ourselves. And we ended up doing it.â€?

Candy Ass gets his save

My wife calls Trevor Hoffman “Candy Ass.” She’s never fully understood why one guy on the team only pitches once in a while and then for only one inning at a time. He rarely pitches in tie games, and almost never when the Padres are way ahead or way behind. She’s not really a baseball fan and the the deeper importance of a “save” is apparently lost on her.

Minutes ago, she said, “Now I feel bad for calling him a candy ass all these years.”

Mr. Hoffman is now the all-time saves leader and we just watched it live thanks to Directv and MLB Extra Innings.

The Pittsburgh broadcasters were exceptionally professional, giving Hoffman all due credit. They didn’t even break to commercial prior to the bottom of the 9th inning. We got to see the whole spectacle of “Hell’s Bells,” with one of the broadcasters remarking on how Hoffman’s entry into a game in San Diego never fails to give him goosebumps.

They also stuck with the post game celebration for several minutes.

Thank you, FSN.

Sutcliffe drunk on air

I’ve never liked Rick Sutcliffe. For one thing, he’s an ex-Dodger, but more importantly, during his first year as a Padres broadcaster (I never understood why he was hired), he dissed one of my favorite Padres, and a friend, the late Eric Show. Sutcliffe made a couple of insulting comments about Show (remember, this wasn’t long after Show died), and that really bugged me at the time.

Bakersfield blogger Dusty, a Padres fan, has the tape: Sutcliffe making a drunken fool of himself while visiting the Padres booth recently. At least this time, Sutcliffe apologized.