"The last thing he saw was the flashing red light…"
By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
In 1992, my sixth grade class at St. Robert Bellarmine in Euclid, Ohio, was visited by backup Cleveland Lumberjacks goalie Bruce Racine. No offense to Racine, should he happen to stumble upon this (hey, we all Google ourselves from time to time), but I had no idea who he was then and I have no idea what he’s doing now.
But Racine’s name sticks in the vast recesses of my memory, for some reason. He came to us to talk about being a pro hockey player, then he offered up two tickets to that night’s Lumberjacks game. Somehow, I got my grimy little 11-year-old hands on them, and my brother and I went to Richfield Coliseum to check out all the glory that is Minor League hockey.
Now, what I’m about to say is in no way intended to offend the thousands of genuine hockey fans in the city of Cleveland. Believe me, I know you exist, and a few of you are even friends and acquaintances of mine. But I think I speak for the general Cleveland populace — a populace that was ultimately unable to support the Lumberjacks and various incarnations of the Barons, and one that I sincerely hope will allow the Lake Erie Monsters to thrive — when I say that, for whatever reason, hockey just doesn’t have the pull on us that it has on our neighbors in Detroit or Buffalo or Pittsburgh. I’m sure there are people smarter than me who have analyzed this situation and can point to various socioeconomic reasons as to why this is the case. But I’ll let them write their own blog entries.
My entry is about that Lumberjacks game, which was a thriller. It went into overtime and then a shootout, and the ‘Jacks (that’s what we, uh, big Lumberjacks fans would call our favorite team) pulled it off. The crowd of 122 people went wild.
Up until last night, that was my only professional hockey experience, and I was content to let it remain that way, because I figured nothing beats an IHL shootout.
Now I know better. An NHL shootout is even more spectacular.
I got to witness just such an event at last night’s Phoenix Coyotes game against the Vancouver Canucks. Adrian Aucoin’s goal in the sixth round of a shootout gave the Coyotes the go-ahead (not a hockey term, I’m sure), and Mason Raymond’s attempt to answer it was rejected by Phoenix goalie Ilya “Can I Buy A Vowel?” Bryzgalov. In that thrilling moment, something stirred in the inner resources of my soul… though it might have just been indigestion.
Anyway, I’m not going to pretend last night’s game has made me a huge hockey fan. But I can say with certainty that one way professional hockey might work in Cleveland (and Phoenix, for that matter, as the Coyotes recently declared bankruptcy) is to guarantee a shootout, every single night. Because I’m 2-for-2 and loving it. And I owe it all to Bruce Racine.
EXCRUCIATING MINUTIAE OF THE DAY…
- Speaking of “overtime,” the Indians and White Sox played to a 10-inning, 5-5 draw today. “I was thinking about a shootout at the end,” Acta said. “Home Run Derby.”
- Mitch Talbot worked three innings against the Sox, allowing a run on two hits with two strikeouts and a hit batter. Five of the nine outs he recorded were on fly balls, which is a little disconcerting, especially to Talbot. “I’m not a fly-ball pitcher at all,” he said. “I usually get a lot of groundballs … This is blowing my mind.”
- Talbot said his pitches have felt good, but the hitters are telling him something else. It could be the Arizona effect that hounded virtually everybody on the Tribe staff last spring. Having come from the Astros and Rays organizations, Talbot has never trained out here, aside from his Arizona Fall League stint after the ’09 season.
- Manny Acta thought Talbot’s ability to change speeds might have contributed to the fly balls. He felt the hitters he was getting the hitters out in front with his changeup.
- Still no telling who will win the rotation battle between Talbot, Aaron Laffey and David Huff. Two spots are open. Talbot is out of options, which will certainly come into play and, unless he gets hurt or completely falls on his face, ensure him a role on this club, in some capacity.
- Michael Brantley continues to look like the sparkplug he was at the top of the Tribe lineup last September. Batting in the leadoff spot today, he went 2-for-2 with a walk and a run scored. It is, of course, too early to know what we’re looking at, but Brantley is simply fun to watch.
- A few fans have compared the Brantley outlook (he’s currently ticketed for Triple-A Columbus) to what happened with Grady Sizemore in 2005. That year, an aging Juan Gonzalez was signed to a free-agent deal, ensuring Sizemore, who had a strong first showing in the bigs at the end of ’04, would begin the year in Buffalo. But when Gonzalez went down with an injury the first day of the season, Sizemore came up, and the rest, as they say, is history. Quite a few fans seem to be rooting for a similar scenario in the wake of the signing of Russell Branyan, who is still hobbling around with a herniated disc in his lower back and has yet to appear in a Cactus game.
- The only two projected starters in today’s lineup were Luis Valbuena and Lou Marson. Acta said it’s important in these early games to get a look at the young guys who might factor into the Indians’ plans later in the year or in the years to come. Wes Hodges (2-for-3 today) and Lonnie Chisenhall (RBI triple) are making the most of the opportunity. Acta said Chisenhall is “very advanced for his age.”
- Chris Perez is profiled at the Indians.com site today. And as the story mentions, his resemblance to “Eastbound and Down” character Kenny Powers has inspired him to seek a cameo role on the HBO show.
- But the only role that matters to Perez right now is the Indians’ setup role. He’s off to a strong start this spring, having worked three scoreless outings, though Paul Konerko and Mark Kotsay both took him to the track today. “My slider’s not where I want it to be,” Perez said. “The more I get out there and pitch in ballgames, the more it will come around.”
- Perez is working on a new two-seam fastball. It looked pretty good in his bullpen sessions early in camp, but he’s thrown exactly one sinker in the games. It came today on a pitch to Kotsay, and it was outside the zone. “It was awful,” Perez said. Perez is working with different grips on the pitch, trying to get a consistent feel for it. He’s hopeful it can become part of his repertoire and help him induce more groundballs with runners on.
- Perez, as you’ll recall, had his struggles against the White Sox last year, and he also had some trouble with the Twins. He was asked about pitching in the Metrodome, and he said the Twins making the move to outdoor Target Field this season is “one of the dumbest moves in the history of baseball.” He continued, “Just look at their winning percentage at home vs. on the road. I don’t know why they did it. Let alone the weather factor. Mike Redmond said it’s sweater and jacket weather there until June. They’ll have to play 40 games in that.”
- Perez was one reliever acquired in the Mark DeRosa trade last year; Jess Todd was the other. Todd got roughed up thoroughly today by the Sox (three runs on five hits with a walk, a strikeout and a homer from C.J. Retherford in 2/3 of an inning). He got roughed up last September, too. He’s not considered a top candidate for one of the open spots in the Opening Day bullpen, and, generally speaking, he’s yet to show the big league promise that made him a Tribe trade target.
- Jeremy Sowers threw to hitters for the first time on Wednesday and will throw a simulated session Saturday. Still no word on when he’ll get into Cactus games, but he’s obviously out of the rotation race. He could factor into the bullpen race, though his stuff, from a relief standpoint, probably isn’t suited for anything more than a long relief job.
- Ben Broussard’s baseball career has come to a close. But the former Tribe first baseman is actively pursuing his music career, and he’s on the bill for tonight’s “Woodjock” charity event in Scottsdale. White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy organized the show. Omar Vizquel, Barry Zito, Bronson Arroyo and Bernie Williams are among the other scheduled participants.
- The Professional Bull Riders tour is in town here in Glendale, and “Amazing Race” participant Cord McCoy is doing some promotional work for it. McCoy and Indians third base coach Steve Smith struck up a friendship during the filming of the show, and Smith posted a sheet in the clubhouse where Tribe players could sign up if they want to attend the PBR event. Shin-Soo Choo looked particularly puzzled as he read the sheet. Someone had to explain the concept of bull riding to him. I guess they don’t have that kind of thing in South Korea.