Embiid: Philly’s New Answer

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The big guy Joel Embiid

How REAL is Joel Embiid???

Before I try to make sense of this post, I have to declare a few points for the purpose of full disclosure …

With that kind of dubious basketball pedigree, the Reader can feel free to heavily discount my point-of-view when it comes to Philly basketball.  But that won’t stop me.  I feel a certain gravitational pull towards the current Sixers squad.

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Not everyone trusted Hinkie’s process

After boring the region for a few years with the Hinkie Process, it now looks like Sam Hinkie should have a statue outside the Wells Fargo Center should this collection of ballers fulfill the region’s promising expectations!  (My eldest son makes a valid point in recognizing that many fans are now fully embracing the results of The Process are hypocritical, given their disdain for Hinkie’s quest which eventually cost him his 76ers General Manager job.)

My tangential basketball interest is always piqued however by BIG talents, as the above player list illustrates.  Certainly, Joel Embiid is a BIG personality … both physically at 7’2″, 285 pounds and personality!

It’s easy to be enthralled with his stature and physical talents; quite another to watch the guy interacting on-court and off, including the way he has immersed himself in the City and the ever hungry virtual world.  He’s one of the few NBA stars I follow on Twitter!

So how REAL is this guy?!?  Very real so far … Embiid does not lack for confidence, trash talk (a Philly soft spot), and enjoying Life.  Even I found his antics against the Utah Jazz, where Embiid taunted Donovan Mitchell into a silly technical foul, very entertaining!

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Ben Simmons is already raking up triple-doubles!

But where will Embiid and his merry legion take the area’s Philly fans???  With the talent of Embiid, Ben Simmons, Robert Covington and JJ Redick it’s easy to get drawn into the promises of the Future.

As a marginal fan, I doubt we will see extended success beyond the promise of a playoff appearance this year.  (Then again, I said the same thing about the Philadelphia Eagles before the 2017 NFL season started.)  But the Future sure does look exciting.  With Ben Simmons looking like a solid NBA All-Star (so I’m told) and Markelle Fultz potentially a put-you-over-the-top talent, the Philadelphia region could be on the verge of a long franchise run.

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Embiid playing goofy Eagles fan

Regardless of my limited basketball knowledge, I am confident that I can recognize big-time talent.  More than that I can recognize the kind of player in whom Philadelphia Sports Fans are likely to fall in love.  We tend to appreciate sports figures who work their butts off; play hard; and generally don’t act like privileged prima donnas forced to walk among the Great Unwashed.

Joel Embiid seems to fit quite comfortably into the Philly sports scene, demanding as that sometimes can be.  But if successful, Philly fans will love their kind of player for decades AFTER they stop playing!  The question is will this group be able to take our fans where they desperately want to go?

The Answers – so far – appear quite promising!

Managing our Philadelphia Wentz-pectations

So … It’s been a long, long time that The View from Section 135 has seen the Light of my creative writing skills and unique perspective on sports topics. Many of which already get way more attention than they deserve in the overall scheme of the Human Condition.

But why would that stop me?!?

My thinking here is that we long-suffering Philadelphia Sports Fans, who have enjoyed few of those rare and special sports moments, often separated by pronounced periods of wandering the sports desert, MAY well be on the cusp of a Golden Age in Philadelphia sports.  With the promising – almost overnight – rebuild of the Philadelphia Eagles, the resurgence of Youth in the Philadelphia Flyers and Philadelphia 76’ers, and hope in the potential sunrise of Philadelphia baseball in those lovable Phillies, the Future indeed looks shiny and bright.

Then again … We have been down this road before.

As a 60-year-young, life-long inhabitant of the Philadelphia region (city dweller until 1997), my perspective insofar as Philadelphia sports disappointment is full, rich, and diverse.  Those sharing my 50+ year perspective likely have their own list.  I will spare us all the pain of reliving them here.

Besides the point of this post is supposed to be positive and up-lifting.  The “problem” I wish to address is how do we keep a lid on the party until we have something to actually celebrate?

Joe Jurevicius and the 2002 NFC dagger to our hearts

The one lesson any Philadelphia sports fan over the age of 15 should have learned by now is how one tempers expectations, given that full, rich, and diverse History of Tragedy mentioned above.  The temptation to celebrate events which have not yet come to pass is ripe once any Philadelphia team demonstrates any stretch of on-field success.

My immediate concern is the lofty rhetoric and wishful dreams that will undoubtably accompany continuing good play from a very encouraging Eagles squad, as we tend to get ahead of ourselves as a Sports City.  So … how do we manage our expectations – or Wentz-pectations – as our heroes in green continue what looks like a promising campaign?

Allow me to offer a few practical guidelines for preventing your expectations from getting out of hand, regardless if it’s the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, or 76ers:

  • Live in the Moment … Enjoy the games and Success our Eagles enjoy, WHEN they enjoy them.
  • Don’t get caught looking past the game right in front of you … Hype can be a deadly thing, particularly once the local sports heads take to raving about this team or coach Doug Pederson … How brilliant they are … How enchanted the Season … How destined for Greatness … It’s a dangerous and costly trap in which to fall!  (Reference: 1994 Rich Kotite Eagles … Started the season 7-2. Finished 7-9.)
  • Never put all your Happiness Eggs on the capabilities and promises of any one player … Not Carson Wentz, not Joel Embiid, not Rhys Hoskins … Same goes for coaches (For examples see MAUCH, Gene, 1964 and REID, Andy, 2002, 2003, 2006) … Injuries are one thing.  Easy to see; and easy to understand.  Not so much other shortcomings, which every player or coach has.  In Philadelphia, they have a tendency to pop up at the worst time (See OZARK, Danny and the ’77 Phillies)
  • “PLAYOFFS?!? We’re talking about PLAYOFFS?!?” … Just don’t go there until your favorite Philly team qualifies … I shouldn’t have to go there; but think ’64 Phillies!
  • Finally, if someone you don’t know starts talking about a Philadelphia Superbowl in October or an NBA Championship in December, club them like a baby seal!  If it’s someone you know, just give them a low-grade concussion!  Repeat, if necessary …

Yes, it’s a harsh lesson to administer, but your Sports Mental Health in the City and Suburbs of Brotherly Love demands a learned Tough Love approach to Great Expectations!

(Author’s Note:  The View from Section 135 was originally a Phillies-only blog that I am resurrecting to cover all Philly sports – most of professional versions anyway – in anticipation of a potential rebirth of Philly sports glory!

Or maybe not …

Please check out my other blogs if so inclined:

  • Cranky Man’s Lawn – The Original blog devoted to everything and nothing, and specifically addressing my renown green thumbery when it comes to Residential Turf Management!
  • the unabashed Moderate – The political arm of the Cranky Man conglomerate.)

What to do when you’re “baseball blue”?

Yeah, I know, I haven’t been doing a very good job of this.  I thought this would be a really GREAT idea before the season started.  Then the season started.

My first attempts to keep up a running, daily blog of the Phillies 2012 season turned out to be a bit overwhelming. 

EXCUSE #1

When you work for a living and head to an office, it’s really difficult to write a blog post every day; especially when you’re essentially just recapping the same information that’s available to everyone in the newspaper or on-line and HOURS before you even get the chance to write about it.

I tried writing those posts every night after the Phils game was completed; but that was way more difficult than I had imagined … at 10-11-12 o’clock at night … when you ain’t getting paid to do it.  So that initial effort had zero chance of succeeding.

And as we have all seen the Phillies have made staying interested very difficult this year.

EXCUSE #2

The Phillies season has been an unmitigated flustercuck.  It’s one thing to maintain a semblance of optimism, as I have tried to do given the long, long baseball season; but it’s quite another to remain enthusiastic about the level of play and the teams extended stay in the NL East basement. 

And in my case, if I’m not enthused, writing about it is a bitch!

Truth be told though, I’m still watching every game in my usual style; which means I watch for stretches then go about doing other stuff, normally on the computer while keeping abreast of what’s going on in the field.  And of course, we still hold our partial season ticket plan … 17 games of fun and entertainment regardless of the Phightin’s run of dismal luck and poor execution.

The mantra remains the same.  It’s a long season with just under 100 games remaining.

It can only get better, right?!?

It ain’t easy being a Phillies fan this season

I’ll be down the game tonight to see if Kyle Kendrick can stop the bleeding.  That’s not a particularly optimistic assessment.  No one should be dumping all the work on a starting pitcher who was slated to be the swing guy and long reliever in the bullpen.  But with the offensive woes the Phillies have been facing this year, especially against good opposing pitching, you almost have to be perfect on the mound to have the chance to win.

Last night, a near herculean effort by Cliff Lee went for naught, not because Lee hung an eighth inning curve ball to Elian Herrera; but because the Phlailin’s managed only 1 run on 7 hits and not a single after the 7th inning … once again. 

That has been the single most frustrating aspect of the Phillies’ season thus far … the inability to mount much of an offense, failure to come up with the Big Hit in crucial run-scoring situations, and the lack of any late-inning rallying whatsoever.  And the future situation is not looking very bright either.

It’s easy to get excited when the Phillies – or in Chase Utley’s case, THE PLAYER – announces that the established right side of the infield is FINALLY down in Florida, playing in actual games.  Only they’re not … not really.  Utley is hitting at DH, but not playing the field.  Howard is also hitting at DH, but not even allowed to run the bases, which must make for some really weird-looking baseball games!  Both players sound to be MONTHS – not weeks – away from playing baseball anywhere near MLB-level capabilities.

It is what it is.  Throw in Roy Halladay’s extended absence and those dark clouds we see – during this very weird stretch of June weather – do not hide just rain.  They seem to blot out the sunny promise of better baseball after the All-Star break.

I fear that 2012 is turning into one of those seasons.  One of those seasons where basically good teams struggle to play mediocre ball.  One of those seasons where all the health breaks go against the favored team.  One of those years where nothing seems to go right.  Yep, just one of those years …

So what does a fan do? 

Well first off, even with my gloomy assessment, don’t give up just yet!  There is a lot of ball to be played yet this summer.  And even as dark as the sky looks, the Phightin’s are still ONLY 5 GAMES OUT!! 

Even if the tea leaves seem to be foretelling a disastrous future, how much worse can it get without getting better?!?  The fact that both Utley and Howard are moving around in baseball activity has to offer some hope that they will return to play this year.  You just can’t expect that they – by themselves – will be able to fix the offensive woes the team has been mired in.  Not in the tenuous physical condition they will be in when they are given the green light for full baseball activity.

Secondly, enjoy the games and the game.  With a lot of baseball to be played, there will much to watch, enjoy, discuss, and learn.  In addition, the future of the Phillies team will be on display as we await the return of our wounded players.

Finally, appreciate just how difficult it is to remain on top of the MLB heap from year-to-year with all the vagaries and misfortune that a baseball season can throw a team’s way. 

Winning basball may never be easy.  But it is sure ought to be an enjoyable way to spend your summer days and nights!

Phillies’ best friend in 2012 is a competitive NL East.

It hasn’t been the best of times.  It hasn’t been the worst of times.  But it certainly has been the most trying of times, baseball wise. 

You can understand the lack of progress the Phillies have experienced, given the critical injuries suffered to Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.  You can deal with the uncertainty of a bullpen looking to find its mojo through the right mix of young arms and veteran guile.  And hopefully you can appreciate the long, arduous journey a baseball season represents; because if you can’t, you’ll be a hopeless Phillies wreck of a fan by the All-Star break.

Of course, all of this is much easier to dwell upon and digest without a major stomach ulcer, when you realize through all this uncertainty and adversity the Phightin’s are only 4 games out of first place in the NL East and just a game and a half out of second.

If the Phillies were in the NL West, they would be 7 games out of first place.  But when you take into consideration the newly-minted second Wild Card playoff slot, the Phils are also but a paltry 1 1/2 games out of a four-way tie (currently occupied by Miami, The Mutts and St. Louis) for BOTH Wild Card invites!

The worse development over the past week and a half was the slide (8 losses in a row, 1-9 in the last 10 games) of the Atlanta Braves.  The most beneficial scenario for the Phightin’s was the rumble atop the NL East when the Braves and upstart Washington were exchanging Division leads over the first 6 weeks of the season.

But even in the absence of that horse race, so long as everyone pings on the Nationals whenever possible, it keeps the Phillies – along with everyone else – in the Division race. 

Unfortunately, that blade cuts both ways.  A very competitive NL East theoretically makes it more difficult for the Phillies to ascend to the spot they have grown most accustomed to … 1st Place.  Yet even if the Nationals were to get hot and pull away (My money is on NOT!), the worst adjustment Phillies Nation would have to make is watching a race for a Wild Card spot in lieu of the Division crown. 

In the end, the Phils have to take care of their business.  They have to win series, not just games.  That’s how the Phillies built success in years past; and this year will require that same kind of performance.

With the return of Utley and Howard anything but certain, the collection of spare parts and bit players Ruben Amaro was able to patch together must keep The Phillies in the thick of the race.  If they do, it buys the Phils time.  Time to get Utley back on the field.  Time to get Howard healthy and producing before Crunch Time.  Time to put the NL East back in the order to which we have become accustomed.

The kids are alright.

One important ingredient for a successful baseball organization is the development of young talent through new player drafts and minor league systems.  Young talent not only allows a team to remain competitive as older players leave, but also provides value that can be traded for talent upgrades.

The Phillies, through the stewardships of Pat Gillick, Ruben Amaro, Jr. and yes, even Ed Wade, have furnished the team with value that was traded to rebuilding organizations for pitchers Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.  Young talent also provided the Phightin’s with a since departed Roy Oswalt and – last year – the acquisition of Hunter Pence. 

The best part though, is that new talent keeps rising up through the ranks.  The Phillies have been able to employ players such as Freddy Galvis (Starting to show it at the plate after proving he has the glove.), Hector Luna (.417 BA and grand slam in limited play), Joe Savery (10 IP, 3.60 ERA, 0.90 WHIP), and Raul Valdes (4.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 6 K) this year.

Last year’s crop of young talent included Michael Stutes (57 Games, 62 IP, 6 W, 3.63 ERA, 58 K, but currently on DL), Antonio Bastardo (2011: 64 Games, 58 IP, 6 W, 2.64 ERA, 70 K) and John Mayberry, Jr. (104 G, 267 AB, 15 HR, 49 RBI, .273 BA).

Now as Mayberry’s 2012 season thus far demonstrates, it’s not always smooth sailing when sophomore year comes around.  But the point is that the kids have been making decent contributions to the Major League team at times when it was really needed. 

The bigger problem is that no one expected any of them to step in and replace Ryan Howard or Chase Utley.  The season is still young, however, and if they can come close to replacing the output of former Phillies like Raul Ibanez and Ryan Madsen, then the organization has done a pretty good job growing some talent in the minor league system.

All aboard the Chooch train!

Son, Alex and I had tickets for the Phillies game last Friday against the San Diego Padres on what proved to be a gorgeous Spring evening at Citizens Bank Park.  We got to see Vance Worley bounce back from a bad start that son, Mike and I witnessed on the 5th at Nationals Park.  Worley pitched very well, although requiring 93 pitches to get through 6 innings.  He struck out 9 while walking only 2 as he get up 3 earned runs.

Carlos Ruiz was simply Chooch-like.  He went 3 for 3 with a homerun and 3 RBIs.  He also drew a walk.  Ruiz has been creeping up in the lineup and providing a big pick up for the often woeful Phillie offense.  He is one homerun (6) and a single RBI (22) off Hunter Pence (7; 23) for the team lead in those categories.  Batting .330, he has been the subject of numerous CHOOOOOOOOOOCH calls every game he plays.

Chooch has endeared himself to the fans through his generalship behind the plate, his cat-quick, canon-strong arm, and his gritty determination at the plate.  Hitting as high as 5 in the lineup this season, Chooch has been recognized by manager Charlie Manuel for his consistent plate production at a time when the offense really needs  it.

The problem though is that the nature of the catcher position in Major League Baseball almost guarantees that Ruiz will not keep up this pace.  When the temperatures start to rise; wearing heavy protective gear;  getting dinged on knees, shoulders, arms, wrists; and the occasional homeplate collision, the odds are Chooch will get worn down, if not hurt.  And any deterioration is going to affect his offensive production.

But offensive production from Carlos Ruiz is all gravy.  The meat and potatos of Chooch’s value to the Phillies is the way he manages a star-studded, kid bullpen team of mound hurlers.  His value is managing the pitching approach to the opposing lineup and running the field defense.  And when he unloads his canon arm on would-be base stealers, the value of his defensive contributions make up for any stilted offensive performance.

So enjoy Chooch’s early-season run offensive run; but remember the toll catching takes on him, and realize that the dings and bangs will eventually take their toll at the plate.  

But offense isn’t even anywhere near half of Choooooooooooooooooooooooch’s value to the Phillies or to the fans!

Big picture provides some comfort

In every dark cloud there is a silver lining. 

 … or so goes the saying goes.

It hasn’t been a good Spring for the Philadelphia Phillies (14-18), who are 4 games under .500 for the first time since 2007.  At first it was offensive woes and key injuries, now when the phone rings in the bullpen, the picture people conjure up is not at all comforting.

Oh, the humanity!

 Lately, you have the unshakeable feeling of a disaster just waiting for the right moment to blow up whatever lead the Phillies anemic bats may have been able to scrape together.  Sometimes the wait is not very long at all,

Kyle Kendrick

such as when Kyle Kendrick came in on Wednesday night to relieve Cliff Lee, who had done a very effective job of holding the Mets down to 2 runs off of 5 hits in 6 innings.  In one inning of “work”, Kendrick gave up 5 runs on 4 hits and 2 walks! 

It’s enough to make you long for the 1960s when starting pitchers were expected to pitch entire games without specialty relief help.  The only specialty the Phillies bullpen has been serving up lately is batting practice.

When you see Rich Dubee on the dugout phone, you hope he’s just ordering a pizza.  Then you see stirrings in the Phils bullpen and you cringe, grab the nearest pillow, and prepare for disaster.

I keep repeating the mantra, “It’s only April/May!” over and over again.  It’s a long season; and we have covered only 32 of 162 games, or 19.7% of the season.  A good number of eventual playoff teams have started the season of as bad or worse than the Phillies current record.  The Phils are missing key players from recent seasons both from the mound and the plate.  Good things can still happen.

The best news one can offer is that they are still only 5 1/2 games out of first place!  And no one in the NL East, including the upstart Washington Nationals, scare anyone.  So peace and calm introspection are needed now.

But of course, something has to change soon.  And change they will tonight, if demoted Michael Schwimer’s tweets are any indication.  Besides being sent down himself, Schwimer claimed that Hector Luna (inf) and left-handed relief pitchers Jake Diekman and Raul Valdes were also being called up.

Diekman almost made the club out of spring training with Dubee gushing that he wished he was Diekman’s agent.  Diekman is currently 1-0 with 5 saves and a 0.59 ERA at Triple A Lehigh Valley.  He has struck out 22 batters in just 15.3 innings.  That comes out to 13 Ks per 9 innings for all you stat junkies.

At least Phillies GM Ruben Amaro is not hesitating to mix things up, if for no other reason than light the survival spark under any complacent Phillies! 

I will be heading down to the game tonight on our GREEN ticket plan in Section 135.  I’ll be the one peeking through my eye-covering fingers should Dubee make that call to the bullpen!

An open letter to Cole Hamels

Dear Cole Hamels,

Old school baseball is an admirable inspiration for a young pitcher such as yourself who is looking to establish himself as a tough southpaw, determined to lay claim to the inside part of the plate.  Many a Pitching Legend made their living by being nasty and contentious towards batters intent on crowding the corners. 

Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Nolan Ryan, Early Wynn and Walter Johnson all fashioned Hall of Fame careers by claiming the inside corners – along with the rest of the plate – as their personal property.  Batters crowded and leaned over the dish at their own peril, often receiving a well-placed 90-plus MPH baseball in the ribs or back.  They either learned their lesson or faced the prospect of infamous Chin Music.

But what you rarely heard was any of these mound warriors openly stating that they did so purposefully with forethought.  It simply wasn’t done!  They would deny any intention, sometimes all the while barely concealing a malicious grin.

For one thing, by confessing so openly after the game you challenge the honor of those teams who then may be motivated to repay the favor, even if they had already addressed the issue as Jordan Zimmerman did to you on Sunday night.  It also opens to the possibility that your teammates – especially those players deemed to be on the same level as Harper – to additional retaliation.  Finally, it presents both the National League and Major League Baseball with a publicly pronounced violation that hangs there like a poorly thrown slider for all to see, thereby forcing the MLB to address the improper behavior.

And now this will cost your team your services at a time when all hands are needed to bail out a sluggish start to the 2012 season.

Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE a pitcher that will boldly announce that the inside corner of the plate is his to do with as he wishes.  I like the bravado, the assertiveness.  I would just prefer that you stick to expressing it with baseball in hand while toeing the rubber.

I can also appreciate the need to establish the pecking order in baseball.  But it might have been a better idea to let Bryce Harper actually do something that violated the Unwritten Rules.  You know it will happen.  It’s as inevitable as a Barry Bonds steroids treatment!

There is a time for Blunt Honesty, but that time is not following a game when your purposefully set out to send a message to The New Guy on the other team.  What would have been more appropriate – and even a bit more entertaining – was an “aw shucks” grin and a wink of the eye as you claim that the ball slipped out of your hand because you had a spot of mayonnaise on your hand from the pre-game meal.  Or that you just had a mani-pedi and they cut your nails too short.  Or perhaps that your release point was influenced by Harper’s quite obvious Gerber Baby hairdo.    

Anything would have been better than giving the Nationals’ Mike Rizzo a reason to cry to Major League Baseball as if you had just taken a hockey stick to Harper’s fully inflated head!

Yours truly,

Hatboro Mike

P.S.  Mike Rizzo is such an obvious blowhard who never appreciated the professional game, which is not surprising given his inability to rise above Single A ball as player!

“Welcome to Citizens Bank Park South”

Today’s post title is provided in recognition of the idiot in the first row of Section 104, Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.  (Think Fidel Castro, only shorter and with a lot less going for him.) who couldn’t take the signage proclaiming this message as held aloft by the Phillies fans in the back of Section 103.  Fidel trotted all the way from his front row seat then bypassed the two closest, formidable males to reach in and grab part of the sign held by a female.  Then he tossed it down a few rows, hitting a female Nationals fan in the head.  After his “brave stand”, he hurried back to his front row seat and grabbed his baby daughter and put her in his lap.  Classy …

Ah … What fun these rivalries can be!

It’s interesting that despite having beaten the Phillies now six times in a row, Nationals fans still seem to be carrying an awfully big Inferiority Chip on their shoulder.  They have a great starting rotation, but not enough of the other things needed for them to compete for 162 games … Yet.  They will fade this season in the dog days of summer.

The question is, will the Phillies be there?

Very good question.  Wish I had the answer.

This was my first trip to Nationals Park.  Not sure I’d go back.  I’m too set in my ways anymore to put up with three hour drives (I wasn’t about to put out roughly $300 for two roundtrip train fares, including local connections on the R3 and the D.C. Metro.) and parking nightmares to visit a nondescript ballpark.

Don’t get me wrong, the Nationals park is very nice.  A bit quirky, as one would expect for a ballpark shoe-horned into an urban environment.  But it lacks the intimacy and fan-friendliness of Citizens Bank Park (North).  It is a large, gleaming structure that comes off as sterile-feeling … as though visiting a hospital.  The Red Hat structure in center field is a nice touch; but there is not nearly as much offered in the outfield pavilion as you will find in CBP-North.

Parking is a real issue.  But if you go, try the Pay ‘n Park street parking kiosks.  After struggling to find easy-access parking a full hour before the game started, we happened on the street parking spots on Half Street (Avenue?).  Initially we were fearful of a towing, because when we selected to max out our parking purchase choice, we were only charged $6 (!!) and the receipt said that was only good for three hours.  (Remember, this is an hour before game time.)  But after some street research, we found that at most you might get a ticket – not towed, and we didn’t even get that.

If you haven’t yet been to Citizens Bank Park South, go.  You’ll have an enjoyable time.

This is shaping up to be a great rivalry, even if the Nats aren’t “there” yet.  And even if a very few of their fans have a bit to learn about how winners are supposed to act when Champions visit!