Monthly Archives: August 2010

On the (in)fluency of professional umpires

Es muy fácil: The Boston Red Sox lost their best hitter and fielder last night because some fill-in umpire named Dan Bellino don’t speak Spanish no good.

Bellino’s ignorance likely did not cost Boston a win. After all, the Sox were facing Felix Hernandez, who would be a frontrunner for the AL Cy Young if the season ended today (assuming the Boston media’s unhealthy obsession with Clay Buchholz’s win total and ERA has not spread into some kind of national pandemic).

On the other hand, Bellino did succeed in embarrassing the integrity of Major League Baseball—coincidentally, much like his crew chief (Joe West) has done so many times before.

In theory, the notion of a “human element” in baseball is a good thing. Unfortunately, kind of like the whole “bullpen-by-committee” idea, it is a concept that can too often be sabotaged if the right personnel are not in place. Bellino is just the latest example of too many umpires’ inherent desire to become part of the story. (There are some journalists in this town who often suffer a similar affliction.)

Bellino’s ignorance of what was actually transpiring on the field (two former teammates engaging in some fairly innocent trash-talk) injected a “human element” that has no business anywhere in America, particularly on a baseball diamond: cultural insensitivity.

The fact that Bellino wasn’t smart enough to realize Adrian Beltre wasn’t speaking to him as he took grounders at third base is bad. That Bellino did not or could not accept that he wasn’t part of the story, that Beltre and King Felix were merely engaging in some friendly jawing, is worse. And, on top of it all, that a 31-year-old, over-his-head, just-called-up, mercenary of a home plate umpire was not man enough to take the opportunity to correct his mistake is a downright embarrassment. (Beltre, for his part, hadn’t been ejected from a game since he was a Dodger six years ago.)

The precedent is set. (Bellino ought to understand this, as he actually holds a law degree.) An umpire may stand behind the veil of lingual ignorance if he feels the need to make a statement. Worse, unwritten code dictates that fellow members of the crew (Angel Hernandez) should stand by ejections, no matter how indefensible they may be. Both Bellino and Hernandez must have realized the error of Beltre’s ejection, as neither would provide Terry Francona with an explanation, whether spoken in English, Spanish or Pig Latin.

Given the demographics throughout professional baseball, both major league and minor league umpires should be required to speak Spanish beyond just recognizing cuss words when they are tossed around on the field. After all, their primary job is to communicate various decisions with the players and coaches on the field.

On occasions when someone a bit less…”cultured” must umpire home plate in a pinch, perhaps they could at least be reminded of their rightful place within the game.

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The Youker Files: A trip to the farmer’s market

Written exclusively for Fenway Pastoral by Red Sox first baseman/third baseman Kevin Youkilis.

Somebody once told me that my thick, scraggly beard makes me look like I could be one of those trail-mix-eating, Dharma-bum environmentalists. After a Good Samaritan kindly peeled my tightly wrapped fingers, one by one, off of this person’s neck, I realized maybe the guy wasn’t totally wrong.

Thanks to my stupid thumb (and my recent return to bachelorhood), I’ve got plenty of extra time this summer. I could have sat at home feeling sorry for myself these last few weeks, but watching the guys toiling away for a playoff spot from the sidelines is frustrating enough as it is. And fighting off the temptation to swing a bat (doctor’s orders) is a daily challenge.

Luckily, farmer’s markets offer both an earth-friendly alternative to the wastefulness of supermarkets and also a great way to kill off lazy summer days leading up to night games. On top of that, people always say that mass-produced hummus is filled with so many poisonous toxins and preservatives that you’d be better off letting Julio Lugo cook you a post-game dinner without his washing his hands first.

Keeping all that in mind, I figured it was probably time for me to see what all the hype was about. Earlier this week, the depression of both an empty cupboard and an empty bed became too much to bear any longer. I grabbed the keys to my sports utility vehicle and headed toward the sticks.

I was surprised by the massive amount of people already jockeying for positioning in the parking lot when I arrived shortly after 10:30 a.m. (I could have gotten there a lot earlier, but I got caught up watching The Today Show while ironing some newly washed dress shirts. In the summertime, I have to change shirts a few times each day—otherwise I wind up smelling like a freshly diced Bermuda onion.)

It was already a fairly hot and humid day even for late morning, so I left the engine of my sports utility vehicle running in its parking spot with the air conditioning on full blast. (Again, the heat…) I locked the car using the remote button on the keychain and it felt like everyone at the farmer’s market was staring at me like I had just swung at a pitch in the dirt on a 3-and-0 count.

Flustered by the grisly stares, I accidentally threw away my keys along with the Styrofoam coffee cup and crumpled paper wrappers that had encased my Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast sandwich. I practically had to stick my entire arm into the parking lot dumpster to retrieve my keys out of the garbage, which smelled like a dead elephant had been stuffed with rotten vegetables and fed to Godzilla for his final meal before he evacuated all his bowels in the same trash container on the first day of one of those seven-day lemon cleanses. I recoiled and had to hold back several dry heaves.

For some reason, all this reminded me that I was all out of maple syrup, which I like to pour liberally on my challah French Toast. Now, everything would have been fine if they had capped the bottle using a normal twist-off top. But for some reason, the syrup people plugged the top with a flimsy cork-shaped contraption that wound up loosening and allowing most of the syrup to seep out and into my reusable tote bag, which I had originally gotten as part of a free gift package at some Museum of Science exhibit years ago while on a date with my ex-girlfriend.

The bag, which obviously held sentimental value to me, was ruined. Worse yet, when the syrup began dripping down my leg and onto my brand new Nike sneakers, the people at the stand gave me a look like I deserved all that was coming to me.

I could feel a burst of anger rising from deep within. I wanted to pick up a ball of fresh mozzarella and throw it as hard as I could at the large sign advertising farm-raised salmon. The soft, drippy cheese would have made a satisfyingly awesome mess. But, as always, I kept my emotions in check and moved on.

To replace my now ruined Museum of Science tote bag, I purchased a handmade sack that I could tell was at least 75% burlap even though the lady who made it claimed it was only 35%. I wasn’t in the mood to argue by this point, so I paid the lady $25 and moved on.

I had piled no more than 15 organic tomatoes into my new tote when the bottom stitching gave out. I couldn’t believe it. Dirtied and befouled from rolling on the grass, the tomatoes were inedible and I left them on the ground fertilizer to the barren, sun-scorched earth. For good measure, I ripped the remaining burlap stitching apart a la the Incredible Hulk, took a Sharpie out of my pocket, signed my autograph on each of the pieces and handed them to some frightened-looking children. (I think they may have gotten lost looking for the sugar-free candy booth.)

I was quite fed up by this point and it was clearly time for me to leave the farmer’s market. I decided to get some homemade gelato on my way back to my sport utility vehicle. Knowing my luck, I made sure to take a hefty supply of napkins (maybe 25 or 30, tops) with me in case the gelato began to melt down my whole-grain waffle cone. I ate the gelato as quickly as I could as the humidity seemed to instantly turn my cone into a dripping, liquid mess. Luckily, my napkins contained most of the mess and I only got a couple of drips on my white shirt. (Unfortunately, I have since learned that dried raspberry gelato is very difficult to wash out of synthetic cotton.)

I’d rate my overall experience at the farmer’s market as no higher than a C or C-plus. Oh well, I guess all-natural sweeteners, home-made berry jams, hand-churned dairy products and gluten-free pasta aren’t for everybody. I’ll try anything once, but on my way home from the farmer’s market, I bought enough Celeste frozen pizzas to last me until the end of the Mayan calendar. I have a feeling the zesty four cheeses of Mama Celeste will do just fine in providing me all the nutrients I need to come back strong and healthy in 2011.

The Jacoby Ellsbury Monologues

Whether they liked it or not, Boston sports talk radio listeners certainly got their fill of Jacoby Ellsbury conjecture over the past couple of months. Grumblings that the Red Sox outfielder is “soft” and took his sweet time returning from fractured ribs suffered in early April grew so frequent by July that it seemingly became accepted as the majority opinion.

But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The reality is that stations such as WEEI and the Sports Hub don’t always have time to air all the callers waiting in the hold queue during the course of a day. As a service to its readers, Fenway Pastoral recently paid an undisclosed sum to WEEI, which in turn forwarded some listener calls our way. Some uncut highlights of caller rants have been transcribed below.

Fred from Norwell (on the car phone): I pay good money for season tickets in the center field bleachers so I can get a closer look at Jacoby Ellsbury. If I’m lucky, sometimes Jacoby Ellsbury will get close enough to the outfield wall that I can look down and see if he’s shaved or not that day. I was going to sell my tickets for September on StubHub, but now that Jacoby Ellsbury is back playing every day, I’m ready for the stretch run. The presence of Jacoby Ellsbury is a definite dealbreaker.

Alicia from Salem: I don’t know where all these people get off saying Jacoby Ellsbury stinks. People were so obsessed with Jacoby Ellsbury’s rib injury, as though his absence was literally the only reason the team went on a skid in July. A sore Jacoby Ellsbury isn’t going to be much help to anybody. Literally.

Robert from Walpole (on the car phone): I touched Jacoby Ellsbury once. It was so amazing! It was during the victory parade after the Red Sox won the 2007 World Series. Jacoby Ellsbury was just kind of hanging himself out of a Duck Boat and I reached up from the crowd and gave him a congratulatory tap. It was a pretty special moment…It’s not every day that you get a chance to touch Jacoby Ellsbury. I didn’t wash my hands for a week afterward because they had that faint smell of Jacoby Ellsbury on them.

Jennifer from Concord: I don’t know why the naysayers can’t just let us enjoy Jacoby Ellsbury while he’s young and exciting. The way Jacoby Ellsbury contorts himself to make those catches in the outfield is amazing to watch. I added a DVR option to my cable plan so I can pause the TV and just stare at Jacoby Ellsbury in mid-air, doing his thing.

Ed from Barnstable: I still can’t eat a taco without thinking about Jacoby Ellsbury. I guess winning everyone in New England free Taco Bell doesn’t buy you as much understanding as I would have expected.

Pathetic Red Sox Brawl with Indians, Attempt to Avoid Irrelevance

Yawn. Does this team really think instigating a benches-clearing, bullpen-emptying brawl will bring the fans back? Against the Indians?

Really, this is one of the most transparent attempts at salvaging relevance that a local sports team has constructed in a long, long time. It took Cleveland pitchers something like eight pitches over the course of seven innings before a Boston hitter even conjured up the nerve to pretend to be angry.

Adrian Beltre wasn’t even that upset when he took several steps toward the mound still wielding his bat. It’s a contract year, though, so of course he wants to look like a “team guy.” Total phony.

Facts are facts. Youk and Pedroia are on the DL. Ratings are down. Ambivalence is up. Casual fans (and NESN employees!) think Bill Hall is Mike Cameron and vice versa.

It’s over, everybody. The Red Sox are so passé. Worse yet, they’re 5.5 games behind the Yankees in the Wild Card race. Fan interest has made its inglorious return to the pre-Pedro days (officially dubbed by historians as the Days When You Could Get $20 Bleacher Seats An Hour Before the Game Without Having to Give A Scalper A Handjob).

A Tuesday night brawl against the Cleveland Indians ain’t gonna change that. Boston has roughly a 27% chance to make the playoffs after last night’s win. A 127% chance would sound a lot better.

What? Nobody else noticed that Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t even throw a punch? Reminds us of Nomar in Yankee Stadium that one time.

John Lackey made sure he challenged his big goofy white dude doppelganger, Shelley Duncan. Was that a toothpick in his mouth? C’mon…

It was vexing enough watching this team string together several late-inning comebacks over the past few days. Who wants to watch the team win if it’s going to take three and a half hours? The economy might be in the dumper, but we still have things to do. Either jump out to a quick lead or don’t bother winning at all.

Mike Lowell’s home run is a nice story. But if he keeps swinging at the first pitch, he’s not going to be much help down the stretch. Work the count full next time, Mike. Let the drama build a little for crying out loud. Reminds us of Nomar in Yankee Stadium that one time.

Everybody keeps talking about this guy Ryan Kalish. He is certainly no Jason Bay. (He hasn’t even hit a dinger yet.) The Trot Nixon comparisons are equally as ridiculous. Moles inside the organization have already confirmed that he has, indeed, had his uniform washed multiple times since his call up only four days ago.

Boy is it depressing to see the Devil Rays in first place in August.

Reminds us of Nomar in Yankee Stadium that one time.