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Saying “Goodbye” to my hero: a letter to Chone Figgins

Dear Chone,

I know you will never read this. However, this is something I need to do to cope with the news that came yesterday.  24 hours ago, you announced that you will be retiring after signing a one-day contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the team that you spent the majority of your incredible career with.  As a lifelong fan, this is news I was expecting for a few years.  Alas, that does not begin to dull the pain.

The first time I saw you play was in April of 1999 when you were the starting shortstop for my hometown Salem Avalanche.  As a 4-year-old, there were 2 primary reasons why you were my favorite player, 1) Chone Figgins is a fun name to say, and 2) I loved your walk-up song (I used to do this thing I called the “booty dance” every time it came on.  Thank goodness camera phones weren’t a thing then.)  From there, my fandom only grew.  Every now and then my parents would take me down to the dugout and wait for you to go out and stretch so I could get an autograph or two.  You always obliged.

As a young kid, I didn’t quite understand how the minor league system worked and, in 2001, I was absolutely devastated to learn that you had been called up to AA.  My dad reassured me that it was a great thing and that it meant I had a better chance of seeing you play for many years to come.  Thankfully, that was the case.

I have many fond memories of your playing career.  You leading the Majors with 62 stolen bases in 2005 and hitting for the cycle in 2006 were special.  I only got to see you play in the Majors once, against the Nationals in 2008.  You had a bunt base hit that day.  I’ll never forget that.  Another special moment was watching you come up to bat for the Dodgers for the first time in 2014.  I was devastated when the Marlins let you go at the beginning of the previous season and I was terrified that was it.  Watching you come up to bat again was an incredible feeling.

However, my favorite moment in sports history is when you made the AL All-Star team in 2009.  Every now and then, I think back on hearing your name being called in the introductions and it brings a tear to my eye.  You loved the game and it was on full display.  I have the card of that moment on my desk right next to me as I type this.  Last semester I even wrote a paper about it.  We were asked, “What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from sports?”  The lesson I learned from you is to love what you do.  Whenever you stepped foot on a diamond you had a smile on your face, even when times were tough in Seattle.  That is what I will always remember about you.

I remember the moment I became an Angels fan.  I was at an Avalanche game in 2003 and went to the team store to buy a pack of baseball cards.  I chose the 2003 Donruss pack with Sammy Sosa on the cover.  My brother suggested I get another pack that had more cards in it, but I told him no, “I want the Sammy Sosa pack.”  I opened it up and flipped through the cards.  The very last one was your Rated Rookie card and that’s when I learned you had been traded to Anaheim.  I was so excited to get the card that I sprinted back to our seats to show my grandpa.  He always loved how you played the game and I wanted to share that moment with him.

My grandpa died from dementia in 2012.  Tragically, it got to a point where he really couldn’t remember much.  Outside of his room at the nursing home was a shadow box.  In it were a lot of items that meant something to him and were there to try and help him remember things.  In the box was that card.  One day I was helping him walk around and he stopped at his shadow box.  He pointed and said, “Chone Figgins.  He was great.  Remember him?”  I looked at him, smiled, and said, “Yeah, Pop.  I remember him.”  You were my hero growing up and your career has always meant the world to me.  But now knowing what you meant to my Poppy, that makes your career even more special.

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Seeing your passion for the game made me develop a passion for it too.  I was never any good but I’ve always loved the game.  In fact, I’m devoting my life to it.  Today is my first day as a Ticket & Sales Intern for the Washington Nationals.  Without you and your love for the sport I would not be in this position.

Today you retire after signing a one-day contract with the Angels.  I guess it’s somewhat fitting that the day your baseball career ends, mine begins.

However, I hope this is not the end.  Whether it be as a little league coach or a Major League scout, I hope you stay in baseball.  It doesn’t matter in what capacity, the game is just better with you in it.

Looking back on your career and what it meant to me and my Poppy, I, unashamed, write this with tears in my eyes and a smile on my face.

It was a good ride, Chone, and I thank you for it.

Signed,

A fan.

Jose Fernandez was everything that baseball should be

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Jose Fernandez was everything that baseball should be. He was the definition of role model. He was intense. He was serious. He was passionate. He was fun-as-hell. He was a kid.

Everyone says there is a “right way” to play baseball. Jose is one of the few who actually did. The game has become too serious. Somewhere along the line rules were instituted that you had to take the game seriously at all times. That you couldn’t have fun. Jose broke all of those rules. He would watch his home runs leave the park and laugh after he struck you out on 3 pitches. And now he’s gone. One of the best pitchers the game of baseball has ever seen, and he’s gone.

All 30 Major League teams will honor Jose the rest of the season in ways they see fit. The best way to honor him? Be a kid. Have fun. Play the game the way it was meant to be played. Smile. Cherish every second of life, just like Jose did.

Goodbye, Jose. Thanks for all of the memories.

*Picture used without permission from the Miami Marlins.

Let’s remember some guys

Have you ever been reminded of a former player and wonder “Man, what happened to him?” We do. Let’s remember some guys together.

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Marcus Giles – Giles is my “Remember him?” poster-boy. The younger brother of Pirates legend Brian Giles, Marcus burst onto the scene at age-25 with Atlanta when he hit .316 with 21 homers and made the All-Star team. He only played 4 more seasons, hitting .273 with a .348 on-base percentage and 38 home runs. He signed contracts with Colorado and Philadelphia but was released before either season started. He plead guilty in 2010 to a misdemeanor battery charge.

Freddy Sanchez – Sanchez won the 2006 batting title with a killer .344 batting average and led the league with 53 doubles. Always a great contact hitter, Sanchez made 3 All-Star teams and last appeared in the Majors in 2011 with the San Francisco Giants when he hit a respectable .289 in a platoon. He officially retired in 2015.

Wily Mo Pena – Beloved by baseball fans around the world, Wily Mo Pena is one of the most fun players to ever play the game. A true believer in swinging for the fences, Pena looked like he was going to be a star after hitting 26 home runs for the Reds at age-22. However, his power numbers and playing time dropped every season due to an enormous strikeout rate and he soon found himself playing in Japan. Pena made his return to Major League Baseball in 2011. Fans lobbied for him to participate in the Home Run Derby that season when he hit 7 home runs in only 39 games with Arizona and Seattle. He returned to Japan where he hit 32 home runs in 2014.

Domonic Brown – Brown was once “the next great thing”. He rapidly ascended through the Phillies’ organization, only to struggle at the plate for his first 3 years. In 2013, Brown made the NL All-Star team and set career highs in every meaningful offensive statistic. 2014 saw Brown’s numbers drop back pedestrian levels and he soon lost his starting job. He’s now serving as OF depth for the Blue Jays’ AAA team.

Brandon Wood – Tony Reagins promised me that Brandon Wood was the savior. Tony Reagins lied to me. Wood hit a whopping 43 dingers in 2005 for the Angels’ A+ team and found himself atop many top prospect boards. All of his numbers dropped steadily as he progressed through the Angels’ farm system and he proved for 3 years that he couldn’t handle Major League pitching. However, Reagins somehow thought Wood was the Angels’ best option at 3rd and he let fan-favorite and (my personal hero) Chone Figgins walk in free agency. Brandon only played 173 career games with the Angels and hit an embarrassing .168.

Brad Hawpe – Brad Hawpe is one of baseball’s great mysteries. From 2006 to 2009, Hawpe hit .288 with a great .384 OBP and launched 99 home runs. He was a 2009 All-Star and received MVP votes in 2 seasons. 2010 saw Hawpe hit a pedestrian .245 with 9 home runs and was even released by the Rockies mid-season. Keep in mind this was only 1 year after hitting 23 homers and driving in 86 guys. He last played for the Angels in 2013.

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Garrett Atkins – Atkins is a lot like Hawpe. Another Colorado star, Atkins hit 29 homers with 120 RBI in 2006, 25 with 111 in ’07, and 21 and 99 in ’08. His average dropped about 20 points each of those seasons. He hit only 9 home runs in 2009 and sported a .226 batting average. Atkins last appeared with the Orioles in 2010.

Fausto Carmona – R.I.P. to one of the greatest names the game has ever seen. Fausto became a household name in 2007 when he won 19 games and finished 4th in AL Cy Young voting. He never produced another season of that caliber, however, he did make the All-Star team in 2010. The last you’ve probably heard of him was in 2011 when it was revealed that his name is actually Roberto Hernandez and was suspended by Major League Baseball for identity fraud. He’s now serving as pitching depth at AAA for the Blue Jays.

Nate McLouth – An All-Star in 2008, McClouth was a 20-20 guy who led the league with 46 doubles and brought some much needed life to the city of Pittsburgh. He was traded to the Braves the next season and failed to produce another All-Star quality season. He bounced around the Mid-Atlantic until his career ended in 2014.

Thanks for remembering some guys with us. Who are some guys you remember? Let us know!

Overrated: End of Story

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Let me preface this by saying Trevor Story is a very good shortstop. I thought trading All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki last year was a great move on Colorado’s part because Story was Major League ready. However, they took in washed up shortstop Jose Reyes and his almost expired contract and gave him the starting position for the remainder of the 2015 season. However, Story won the starting job this year in part to two things, 1) his strong spring 2) Reyes was indefinitely suspended before Opening Day for throwing his wife into a glass door.

Earlier this year I named Story one of the future stars in baseball and it’s looking like he’ll hold up on that promise. But a lot of people are proclaiming him the best shortstop in baseball and those people really need to cool their jets.

Story made Major League history earlier this season by hitting a record 7 home runs in the first 6 games of the season and his 10 total home runs surpassed Albert Pujols‘ National League record for most home runs in April by a rookie (was 9) and tied Jose Abreu‘s Major League record for the same stat. Impressive. Most impressive. But when you really dive in you find that it’s just a fluke.

Since his torrid start, Story has cooled off drastically. In his last 70 at-bats he has only 15 hits, good for a .214 average, 3 home runs, and lowered his on-base percentage to a poor .308. He has displayed terrible plate discipline, walking 9 times while striking out in 21 of 23 games, 39 times total, which is good for the league lead.

Expect to see more play like this the rest of the season. In 537 minor league games, Story found a way to strikeout 630 times while drawing only 242 walks. He hit 20 home runs in the minors last year, 10 in AA and 10 in AAA, and he should hit close to that number due to his torrid start and Colorado’s hitter-friendly park. If it weren’t for his 7 home runs in 6 games, Trevor would likely only hit 10-12 dingers in a full-season and I fully expect to see a sharp drop in homers next season. Expect his batting average to finish around .245 and his on-base to fall to .290, well below league average.

Despite the drop in production, his historic month will likely make him the starting shortstop for the NL All-Star team and will effectively end Jose Reyes’ brief stay in Colorado. The Rockies have a future star on their team in Trevor Story, it’s just going to take a few years until he becomes the player people seem to think he is.

Charlie Hustle Receives Small Break From Lifetime Ban

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Commissioner Rob Manfred recently granted permission for Pete Rose to appear at a AAA game this season. The all-time hit king will be appearing at a Rochester Red Wings game on July 21. In typical Pete Rose fashion, he will be signing autographs for $50 and doing meet-and-greets for $125.

In January, Rose was also granted permission by Manfred to appear at his Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame induction this upcoming June where his number will be retired. If you’re a Reds fan, go. This is the only time you’ll see Rose be inducted into a Hall of Fame anytime soon (however, he should be in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Stay tuned for that article).

Chris Cola-Hell-No: Blue Jay Suspended 80 Games

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Toronto Blue Jays first basemen Chris Colabello was suspended 80 games without pay on Friday after testing positive for *deep breath* dehydrochlormethyltestosterone. The drug might sound familiar as it was the popular choice of East German Olympians from the 60s to the 90s.

Colabello is the 2nd player suspended for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone this season. Phillies’ pitcher Daniel Stumpf received an 80-game ban on April 14th for using the drug.

To no one’s surprise, Colabello released a statement claiming he doesn’t know how the drugs got in his system.

After a breakout 2015 campaign in which he hit .321/.367/.520 with 15 home runs in a part-time role, Colabello has had a very disappointing 2016. Before the suspension, Colablello had just 2 hits in 29 at-bats, good for a .069 average.

Earlier this year, we named Colabello as the key hitter to watch for Toronto this season. If the Jays make the postseason, Colabello will be ineligible. His appeal has already been heard.

Our 2016 NL Award Predictions

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MVPPaul Goldschmidt

I have long thought Paul Goldschmidt is the best player in baseball. The 3-time All-Star has won 2 Silver Sluggers (would have 3 but injuries shortened his 2014 campaign) is a threat to hit 40 home runs while stealing 20+ bags out of the first base slot, is an on-base machine and plays exceptional defense, winning 2 Gold Gloves. Remember Joey Votto‘s MVP season when he actually swung the bat? That’s Paul Goldschmidt. This one is a lock.

Runner-up: Nolan Arenado

Cy Young –  Clayton Kershaw

This really shouldn’t surprise anyone. The 28-year-old left has already won 3 Cy Young Awards (’11, ’13, ’14), led the Majors in ERA and WHIP 4 times and strikeouts 3 times. The former MVP is the best pitcher in baseball and rivals Greg Maddux as the best since the legend Sandy Koufax. Enjoy watching him while you can (and enjoy listening to Vin Scully. The greatest sports announcer of all-time is retiring at season’s end).

Runner-up: Noah Syndergaard

Rookie of the YearCorey Seager

Seager got a taste of the Majors last September as he appeared in 27 games for the Dodgers, driving in 17 runs and boasting an impressive .337/.425/.561 slash line. He offers a lot of pop out of the shortstop position and is leading a new band of top-prospect shortstops to the MLB (including Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, J.P. Crawford and Orlando Arcia). We give him the edge over Tyler Glasnow because Glasnow is likely to start the season in the minors. If he were up all year we would give Tyler the edge.

Runner-up: Tyler Glasnow

What do you think of our selections? Sound off in the comments.

Our 2016 AL Award Predictions

Evidently this and our NL predictions never got posted. Oops…

Enjoy anyway! *Note: This was written about a week before the season started.

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MVPJose Altuve

Standing at only 5’6″ (supposedly), Altuve is one of the premiere players in baseball. He can do it all. In 4 full Major League seasons, Jose is a 3-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger, Gold Glove winner, has led the AL in steals twice, led the Majors in hits in 2014 (225) and the AL in ’15 (200) and, the most impressive stat, has struck out only 308 times in 668 games. Altuve also added power to his game last year, hitting a career best 15 long balls. Given the strong lineup around him, Altuve could hit 20 home runs this year while potentially swiping 60+ bags and lead the Majors in hits yet again. If my prediction holds up, Altuve will tie Phil Rizzuto and Bobby Shantz as the shortest MVP in Major League history.

Runner-up: Mike Trout, again.

Cy YoungChris Sale

The lanky lefty has pitched 4 seasons out of the White Sox rotation and has made the All-Star team all 4 years. The strikeout machine saw his ERA jump over a run last season (3.41 – 2.17 in 2014); however, that should not be of concern because his FIP sat at an AL best 2.73. Expect his ERA to drop back to that number as Sale will lead baseball in strikeouts and garner his first 20 win season. Sale has finished in the top-5 in Cy Young voting the past 3 seasons.

Runner-up: Sonny Gray, wait, didn’t Springsteen write a song about him?

Rookie of the Year – Blake Snell

This 6’4″ lefty posted an astonishing 1.41 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in the minors last year. He dominated hitters at all 3 levels and appears ready to pitch in the Majors. Expect him to come up in late June and help solidify Tampa Bay’s young and potentially great rotation for years to come. I give Snell the edge over A.J. Reed because I don’t see a clear path to the Majors for Reed as Houston seems content with Tyler White and Evan Gattis manning 1B/DH.

Runner-up: A.J. Reed

What do you think of our selections? Sound off in the comments.