I had the pleasure/pain of attending all three games of the Florida Marlins-Seattle Mariners series at Safeco last weekend. It was a pleasure because it was my first chance to see the Fish on the field for the first time since the 2008 season. After seeing dozens of games every year since 1993, it was pure bliss to reconnect. On the other hand, it was painful to see the offense struggle so mightily – Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton in particular – wasting decent pitching performances in the two losses. And most painful was losing Sunday on Steve Cishek’s wild pitch on an attempted intentional walk. I think there needs to be a new term for such an extreme wild pitch – maybe call it a WTF pitch?
All in all, it was a great weekend of watching baseball and tweeting (follow me at @CelebratetheF) with my tweeps back in SoFla and my new Mariners fans followers. After seeing the Fish live and up close (Section 144, Row 1 was perfect) for three games, I have a few comments, assessments and an apology I need to deliver. Let’s start with the apology.
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Hanley Ramirez. I’ve been badgering you. Hard. All season. I now have a new opinion based on watching you stretch, hit BP and play. Let’s get right to the point: You seem to be the only guy having fun out there. While other Marlins starters were walking around with heads down and sour pusses, you were smiling and laughing throughout the “home stand.” You even went so far as to engage with the polite Mariners fans both before and during the games. (An aside: I’ve been to 20 MLB parks, and the fans in Seattle are by far the most polite and family-oriented I’ve ever seen. A far cry from South Florida, that’s for sure!) Back to Hanley. Bottom line: You are having fun. Exactly what Grandpa McKeon wants everyone in the clubhouse doing. Despite your woeful season, you are out there having fun. All Marlins starters need to follow in your footsteps. Man, I can’t believe I just said that; but it’s true … for now.
Ramirez is laying an egg so far this season, yet he’s confident his skills will emerge eventually and elevate his game. His comments over the past week have me believing that McKeon’s confidence in him as the team leader is starting to fuel Hanley’s fire. During BP and all three games, Hanley was attacking the ball vs. reacting to it. Even his outs were crisp. Mark it down: Hanley’s slump is over and he’s going to help lift the Fish to a respectable finish.
I was starting to argue with myself over the merits of trading/not trading Hanley for a brief moment before ultimately coming back to my senses and realizing how valuable he is to the Marlins. Sucky season aside, Ramirez is one of the most talented players in the league. He’s also one of the long-term Marlins veterans among the everyday position players. Until LoMo, Stanton or Gaby Sanchez ease into roles as team leaders with some consistency, Hanley remains the cornerstone of the everyday players.
Hanley stays. And I’m totally comfortable with that now (although I reserve the right to bitch about him every now and then).
Logan Morrison. Where should I start? To borrow a line from The Joker: Why so serious? You went from being Mr. Jocularity to Mr. Frowney Face ever since hitting coach John Mallee was cast aside by owner Jeffrey Loria in an effort to stimulate the slumbering offense. Given the amount of time you spent looking down over the weekend, you either loved the grass and dirt at Safeco a whole bunch or you’ve got a serious case of the I’m-pissed-off-because-I’m-not-hitting-the-bleeping-baseball blues. I’m thinking it’s the big-time blues.
Add to that the wrist slap he got from management for criticizing Loria after Mallee’s firing and Trader Jack’s comment on less Twitter more hitter, and the Marlins most likable player has taken a PR beating lately. Hopefully, Morrison’s recent two-game benching will help him return to the success he experienced during the first two months of the season. Facing the talented A’s staff for the next three days won’t make slump-busting very easy, though.
Mike Stanton. While surrounded by Mariners fans for three days, I hyped you up as a phenom who was sure to titillate Seattle fans with your ball-crushing, jaw-dropping power. The Golden Sombrero you adorned Friday after four consecutive Ks had Mariners fans around me wondering if I was on crack. It’s not that you struck out four times; it’s how bad you looked doing it. Knee-buckling, flailing waves at pitches diving away from you reminded me of the kid at the end of the bench in my Little League days who begged his dad not to pinch-hit him late in games because he knew he looked foolish swinging the bat. It was that bad, Mikey.
I wanted nothing more than to witness one of Stanton’s Bunyonesque blasts. Just one. Alas, Stanton’s 2-for-11, 5 K series was a downer for me. Mariners fans were more impressed with Omar Infante than Stanton. Ouch. What was worse was watching Stanton react to his Ks by outwardly displaying his frustrations. Settle down, Mikey. You and LoMo need to whole-heartedly adhere to Grandpa Jack’s have-fun mantra (see Hanley) and the hits will come.
Jack McKeon. I love McKeon, and not because he guided the Marlins to an improbable comeback and World Series win in 2003. I love him because he’s old school. He’s not afraid to speak his mind about anything – he often does with humorous consequences – and he doesn’t give a rat’s ass what his players (or anyone else for that matter) think about him. He doesn’t need them, they need him. Players need to first respect what Grandpa Jack has to say simply because of his 60 years of experience.
When McKeon makes comments about players never questioning management because that wasn’t their role or benches players because they aren’t performing, that’s a flashback to old-school baseball. Today, many players are just as concerned about their personal brand as they are about their play on the field. They care more about the name on the back of the jersey than the one on the front.
LoMo is one of my favorite players in the majors because he’s so accessible and he’s genuine. But Gramps has a point when he says maybe the social media stuff is a distraction. LoMo’s response is that he was doing it when he was scorching the ball, so it really doesn’t affect him either way. Well, Jack’s point is about focus. When things are going great, players are viewed with wide angle lenses. When the bottom falls out, it’s microscopes. The criticism from every possible angle is intense the larger the paycheck gets. McKeon’s point is simple: Do what you need to get out from under the microscope. That makes perfect sense to me. LoMo, how about you?
One final comment: I’ve never been to a major league game where the fans cheered so loud and then laughed even louder than after Cishek’s WTF pitch. It was embarrassing for me. I can only imagine how he felt.