Archive for the ‘In The Show’ Category

The Great Baseball Road Trip – Extra P in your seat.

I’m not going to rehash the story Brian has already told so well. I’m just going to add in the photos I took, along with some captions, since I was only there for the Baltimore portion of the trip.

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Camden as viewed from OMDQ’s seats. The seat I actually paid for would be right in front of the railing all the way to the left. This marks the first time I’ve ever been forcibly moved to a better seat in a ballpark in my life.

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Here’s OMDQ with two friends and his brother. I thoroughly enjoyed all of their company, but if I don’t write down a name or say it fifty times in my head, I forget it almost immediately. Including my own.

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Here’s the mean old usher who made us all move. In his defense, a near-sellout at Camden these days qualifies as a PRETTY BIG DAMN DEAL. Sadly, I suspect it was more for the post-game fireworks than for the team.

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Now, don’t think I wasn’t having any fun after I moved back down to my solitary seat. The people-watching was excellent from my vantage point on the causeway. This lady was like the female Homer Simpson, with her giant orange beer fist and chef’s cap.

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I still can’t really explain this one. The game was D.C. vs. Baltimore. Why were we graced with the presence of a squadron of boozed-up Phillies fans? Do they really need to lord their championship over other long-suffering fans like this?

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What is it about the Young Men’s Christian Association that sports fans love so much? These young ladies seem to believe that it might be fun to be there.

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The guy on the left was so drunk he looked like he had suffered a stroke. (I’m going to feel really bad if he had, but he DID maintain a death-grip on a succession of bottled beers throughout the game). The lady on the right thrilled me with her neck tattoo.

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This guy’s title confused me a bit. Is he in charge of alcohol *rules* compliance? Because god help him if he is. On the other hand, if he’s just in charge of getting people to comply with alcohol, he’s got the easiest job on earth.

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Brian did come down and chat with me after my row cleared out a bit (the massive scoring binge by the O’s in the 6th took care of that). One reason he was probably glad he didn’t sit near me the whole time: he only had to endure one of these dumbass self-portrait attempts.

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It just doesn’t get any better than this. Seriously.

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This was how the evening ended. Sort of a warmup act for Independence Day. A huge portion of the crowd stayed for this, but the traffic leaving the stadium still wasn’t too bad. Which I was extremely grateful for, since I had run my gas tank almost empty trying to get there in time for the first pitch. I asked a cop where the nearest gas station was and booked it over with a few drops to spare.

Yeah, I got home late. And yeah, I felt it the next day, but I don’t care. It was worth it.

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Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell Might Be Too Good For The Minor Leagues

Times are tough for Pirates pitchers Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny.  Both are relatively young (27 and 26, respectively) and have had some major league success, but something – injury, lack of confidence, playing for the Pirates – has derailed once promising careers.

Last weekend, Gorzelanny and Snell found themselves pitching on back-to-back days for the Indianapolis Indians.  On Saturday, Gorzelanny went five innings against Toledo, striking out twelve and allowing four hits.  The next day, Snell took the hill against the Mud Hens, walked the first batter he faced, then struck out thirteen in a row.  Thirteen.  That means he struck out the side in the first, second, third, and four innings.  Mike Hessman was the first to make an out in some other way, grounding out to third with one out in the fifth.  Snell finished with 17 strikeouts in seven innings.

Barring a trade, the two will have starts coming up later this week, so it should be interesting to see what they do the next time out.

The Weekend Of Junior Felix

Down 10-1 in the bottom of the seventh tonight, the Baltimore Orioles came back with five-spots in the seventh and eighth innings to beat the Red Sox, 11-10.  Late in the game, a graphic flashed up that it was the first time Boston had led by nine runs and lost since June 4, 1989 against Toronto.  Immediately, I remembered the game, and a quick search of Baseball-Reference.com confirmed my suspicions that the game, and the entire weekend, belonged to Junior Felix.

Felix, a 21-year-old rookie outfielder who I always manage to confuse with Felix Jose, had made his major league debut the month before, homering on the first pitch he saw from Kirk McCaskill.  When the Blue Jays came to Boston on June 2, Felix was scuffling, with two homers, ten RBI, and a .255 batting average.  He had also displayed a startling propensity for striking out (21 in 94 at-bats) and below-average base-stealing ability (five steals in eight tries).

A little Red Sox pitching was all he needed to get rolling.  In the first game of the series, he went 2-for-4 with three runs scored.  One of the hits was a ninth inning inside-the-park grand slam off Bob Stanley that turned a tight 3-2 game into a more relaxing 7-2 contest.  The next day, he went 3-for-5 with four RBI in a 10-2 Toronto win.

Sunday was the game I remembered.  The Red Sox jumped out to an early 10-0 lead behind Mike Smithson, who allowed two runs on four hits in six innings.  In the seventh and eighth innings, however, Toronto started mounting a comeback, scoring six times against Smithson and Stanley.  The barrage continued into the ninth, through pitchers Rob Murphy, Lee Smith, and Dennis Lamp, and didn’t end until the Blue Jays held an 11-10 lead.

Boston manufactured a run in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings.  It stayed 11-11 until the top of the 12th, when Tom Lawless singled and Felix followed with his second homerun of the series.  Duane Ward shut down Wade Boggs, Sam Horn, and Randy Kutcher in the ninth to close it out.  Felix finished the game 3-for-7 with a run scored and three RBI.

Felix’s totals for the weekend: 8-for-16, two homeruns, four runs scored, eleven batted in.  He had some good games here and there the rest of the season, but nothing quite like that three day stretch of excellence.

In Search of Wade Boggs

Boggs_WadeEarlier this week, my wife texted me at work to tell me that Wade Boggs was scheduled to make an appearance at the Hannaford Supermarket in Nashua on Friday evening from 5 to 7.  I was a little disappointed because I used to love Wade Boggs – he was the Red Sox best offensive player during my formative years as a fan; in 1988, the first year I remember following baseball, he hit .366 – but I work until 6:45 on Friday nights and didn’t think I could make it to the store in time.

Somewhere around five or so, I began to reconsider.  My last drop-off was in Nashua, about two exits north of Hannaford.  If I finished as close to 6:45 as possible and got to the highway immediately, I could make it there just in time to see Boggs, get an autograph (a quick search of my Saturn Ion’s console revealed the tickets from last September’s visit to the Baseball Hall of Fame – perfect!)…and maybe an interview?

That’s right, folks: thanks to an awesome mixture of the fatigue that can only come from sleeping a combined six hours in two nights and the ballsiness that can only come from actually speaking to professional athletes without sounding like a total fool, I decided that if the opportunity arose, I would tell Wade Boggs about this blog and see if he had the time to answer a couple questions.  No, I was not under the influence of drugs, although I was willing to consider the possibility that I was being a wee bit delusional.  Okay, a lot bit delusional.

The Ion rolled into the Hannaford parking lot at 6:52.  For some reason I expected some sort of outdoor setup, a table and a long line of people; when there was no immediate sign of Boggs outside the store, I texted my wife to proclaim my disappointment, then hatched a brilliant plan: I didn’t really need much at the store, but what I would do was walk inside, check it out to see if he was there, and buy a gallon of milk if he wasn’t.  Because you know, it wouldn’t look weird for a heavyset, unshaven guy to wander around a supermarket like he was searching for somebody, only to suddenly grab a single item and run for the checkout.  Flawless, this plan was.

I walked inside, phone in hand (I flip it around in my hands when I’m nervous), and was immediately confused.  Put simply, Hannaford is a bitch to navigate.  Sure, there’s aisles and stuff, but the deli (or what I think was the deli) was plopped right in the middle of the store, perpendicular to the back wall, a divisive force separating the regular part of the store and the produce.  I assessed the situation and determined that the best option was to head straight to the back of the store and cut left, where I thought the dairy might be.  If I ran into a Hall of Famer along the way, good deal.  If not, well, we could use the milk.

boggshallAs I was walking toward the dairy section, feeling confident that I wouldn’t be seeing Boggs (and realizing that even if I did, I had nothing for him to sign – in my haste, I had left the ticket, that perfect autographable item, in the car), something appeared that was out of place: yellow police-style tape surrounding the end of an aisle.  From a distance, it looked random, like they were cordoning off a spill or a broken shelf or something, but as I got closer, I realized that there was a definite structure.  The tape was arranged like the ropes at a bank, designed to funnel people to a specific destination in an orderly fashion.  And in front of the tape, seated at a table, pen in hand, was Wade Boggs.

The first thing I heard when I arrived was a young guy next to him, herein referred to as his publicist, saying, “Alright folks, two more, then we have to get going.  Just two more, please, you and you.”  I hung back while he signed a couple more beyond that, posed for a picture, mentioned that he had to move on to his next stop (which I didn’t realize at the time was just down the road at the Lowell Spinners game).  When he paused to autograph two hats the publicist was holding, I made my move, moseying up in front of the table and trying to catch the eye of the younger man.

No dice – he and Boggs turned on their heels without so much as a glance in my direction and started toward the front of the store.  After a few seconds of intense internal deliberation, I followed, walking down the next aisle over.  When I got to the end and saw that they were a few feet in front of me, I figured it was over.  They headed for the door, for the car, for their next destination, while I headed for the same door, my own car, my own next destination.  It was pretty obvious that the eventuality I had prepared for in the car, that the Boggs interview was just another event that would live forever in my imagination, was about to become a reality.

Until Boggs decided he had to take a leak.

They paused near the door, then veered off toard the restrooms.  I paused too, suddenly unsure of what the future held.  As Boggs went into the bathroom, I made my decision: I was going to use this opening to talk to the publicist.  He’d probably wait outside, I’d tell him who I was and what I was looking for, and Boggs and I would talk.  It would be glorious.

Of course, they both went into the bathroom, leaving me standing around outside to contemplate my next move.  I was still contemplating (and shaking like a three-day sober alcoholic) when they came out, one after the other, and passed not more than two feet in front of me.  I tried to catch the publicist’s eye; it didn’t work.  I cleared my throat.  It was now or never.

“Excuse me?” I said tentatively.

He tried as hard as possible to ignore me.  I could see in his face that he wanted to keep walking.  Fortunately, basic human decency won out and he turned toward me.  I don’t think he spoke, so I launched into my nervous pitch.

“I write a blog about minor league baseball and I was wondering if Mr. Boggs might have time to answer a couple questions about his experiences while you guys walk to the car?”

He looked at me with roughly the same amount of respect he might have afforded a urinal cake that suddenly appeared in front of him with a request to interview his client.

“While we’re walking to the car?”

“Yeah.”

He barely broke stride, pulling out his phone to call for Boggs’s car.  “Well, he’s right there, you can ask him if you want.”

boggsleftyI turned to my right and there he was: Wade Boggs, the hero of my childhood, one of the only lefthanded hitters in the Red Sox lineup (a huge deal to a lefthanded kid who used to run through that same lineup in his backyard, switching sides depending on the hitter; I was generally either Boggs or Rich Gedman).  I asked him if it was okay to use the video function on my phone to record his answers, since I didn’t have another recorder, and almost simultaneously asked my first “question”, about his experiences as a minor league player, both good and bad.

Turning on the camera on my phone can be done in one of two ways: I can either push the Menu button, then Media Center, then Picture & Video, then Record Video and we’re good to go.  That’s four steps.  The other way is to push and hold a button on the side of the phone.  After about five seconds, it’s ready to record.  My nerves were so shot, I chose the long way and completely missed the answer to that first question, which took us from just inside the supermarket doors to the curb outside.  He did say that he liked the bus rides and getting paid for doing what he loved.

At that point, he stopped to sign two balls for a fan who had followed us out the door.  I waited patiently until he looked up, paused like a deer caught in headlights as my subconscious realized that Wade Boggs was waiting on me to ask him a question, and launched into the first thing that came to mind (he did not mention applie pie or Americana in his response):

“It took you awhile to get to the major leagues, right?”

“Yeah, five and a half years.”

“I mean, obviously you could play, so what was it that took so long, what held you up?”

“Well, I had Butch Hobson in front of me, and they felt that they needed a third basemen to hit for power and I was hitting for average in the minor leagues, and you know, I was hitting .300 every year and it just wasn’t good enough.”

At the time, I was just trying not to crap my pants, but looking back, this statement says everything about the way the minor league system is set up and the fact that even the best players are subject to the approval or disapproval of the front office.  Butch Hobson is a great guy and a nice power threat at the back of the Red Sox lineup for a couple of years, but he was an average player at best.  (Glenn Hoffman and Carney Lansford also served as roadblocks from 1980-82.)  The idea of him blocking a Hall of Fame hitter like Boggs is laughable, but strangely believable given what we know about the way the system operates.

For some reason, I’m fascinated by the idea of when ballplayers decide it’s time to leave the game behind.  Of course, he gave the exact answer I would have expected from a guy who eventually made the Hall of Fame:

boggs_wade990804“Was there ever a time when you were like, ‘The heck with it, I can’t do it anymore?'”

“Absolutely not.  I was getting paid for doing something I’ve always loved, that was the greatest part about it.”

“You were sticking it out no matter how long it took?”

“Yeah, I was.  If I had to be a career minor leaguer, so be it.”

I know some of that was BS, but some of it has to be true.  You play the game because you love it, no matter what level you’re at, and there are obviously guys out there who spend long, long careers playing for whichever minor league team is willing to give them the next chance to get on the field.  Was Boggs one of those guys?  It’s impossible to say.  He seems to think he would’ve hung on for a good long while, though.

And that was the end of it.  His car had arrived, so I snapped my phone closed (without thinking to save the video; fortunately, it saves automatically when the phone shuts) and thanked him for his time.  He shook my hand.  And as he was leaving, I managed to throw out the one thing I thought was most important, the one thing that Wade Boggs should know about me, where I’m coming from:

“You were one of my heroes growing up.”

gal_milkHe thanked me and climbed into his car, ready to head down the road to that Lowell Spinners game.  I walked down the sidewalk in front of Hannaford’s, fumbling with my phone, trying to figure out how the hell to view a video on the stupid thing, and wondering if I had really just had the balls to request an impromptu interview with Wade Boggs.

And later, a long time later, after I had had some time to process the situation, to realize that yes, I was awake the whole time and it was a pretty cool experience, something else dawned on me:

I never did pick up that gallon of milk.

The First Overall Pick in the MLB Draft: Pitchers vs. Position Players

Two years ago, I wrote the following introduction to a post on pitchers who were selected with the first overall pick in the draft:

If you are a major league general manager with the first overall pick in the draft and you’re thinking about selecting a starting pitcher to serve as the ace of your staff for the next ten years, let me give you some advice: don’t do it. History is not on your side.

Let the record show that exactly 24 months and three days have passed since those words were typed on my keyboard, yet if I were advising the Washington Nationals, I would wholeheartedly recommend that they take Stephen Strasburg with the first overall selection.  Funny how a little excess hype can get in the way of good old fashioned evidence.

Thirteen pitchers were taken with the first overall pick between 1973 (David Clyde) and 2007 (David Price), nine of whom played at least five seasons in the major leagues (Brien Taylor injured his shoulder in an off-field incident in the minors and was never the same pitcher; Bryan Bullington has appeared in 13 games spread over four seasons; and it hasn’t even been five years since Hochevar and Price were drafted). Four of those nine played more than ten seasons and won more than 100 games, including Mike Moore (161), Andy Benes (155), Tim Belcher (146), and Floyd Bannister (134); Moore (176) and Bannister (143) each had losing records.

So what are you getting if you take a pitcher in the top spot?  If this was the 1970s or 1980s, there would be a good chance you’d have some value coming your way, but the last guy to last more than nine years in the majors was Andy Benes, valedictorian of the Draft Class of 1988.  At least four of the last eight have experienced major arm trouble (and I’m not sure about McDonald), with Luke Hochevar and David Price hoping to stop the trend.

Year Player Team Yrs W-L SO ERA
2007 David Price Tampa Bay 2 1-0 32 2.20
2006 Luke Hochevar* Kansas City 3 7-15 83 5.51
2002 Bryan Bullington* Pittsburgh 1 0-5 25 5.08
1997 Matt Anderson Detroit 7 15-7 224 5.19
1996 Kris Benson* Pittsburgh 7 69-74 798 4.41
1994 Paul Wilson New York (N) 7 40-58 619 4.86
1991 Brien Taylor New York (A) DNP
1989 Ben McDonald Baltimore 9 78-70 894 3.91
1988 Andy Benes San Diego 14 155-139 2000 3.97
1983 Tim Belcher Minnesota 14 146-140 1519 4.16
1981 Mike Moore Seattle 14 161-176 1667 4.39
1976 Floyd Bannister Houston 15 134-143 1723 4.06
1973 David Clyde Texas 5 18-33 228 4.63

Given a chance to do it all over again, I’m not sure any team would take any of these pitchers with the first overall pick in the draft. Taylor and his unrealized potential might be an option (just keep him out of bar fights – or teach him to swing with his right hand), but who else stands out? Benes? Hochevar? Moore (terrible numbers early in his career with Seattle, averaged 16-17 wins a year in four seasons with good Oakland teams)?  Maybe Price, depending on how the next couple years go.  Most of the time, though, you’re better off taking a position player first and picking up pitching later.

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Contrary to the performances turned in by the pitchers, position players drafted in the top spot are often solid and occasionally spectacular. A full 17 out of 31 played in the major leagues for more than ten seasons (plus several more who were chosen within the past ten years), including future Hall of Famers Ken Griffey, Jr., Chipper Jones and Alex Rodriguez (three out of the four position players selected between 1987 and 1993; the other was Phil Nevin).

Not everyone had a career as great as the three mentioned above, but many had at least one moment of fame during their playing days:

  • Rick Monday (1965), in addition to being the first ever draft pick, was best known for stopping two young men from burning the American flag on the field in 1975.
  • Steve Chilcott (1966) was the only position player selected first overall who never reached the major leagues (2004’s Matthew Bush became a pitcher – and thus slips through on a technicality – and 2008’s Tim Beckham doesn’t count just yet)
  • Ron Blomberg (1967) was the first designated hitter.
  • Jeff Burroughs (1969) won an MVP award and fathered Little League World Series hero Sean Burroughs.
  • Danny Goodwin (1971, 1975) is the only player taken first overall in two different drafts.
  • Dave Roberts (1972) and Bob Horner (1978) went directly from the draft to the major leagues. Horner later became one of the few men to hit four homeruns in one game.
  • Josh Hamilton (1999) was out of baseball before overcoming drug addiction, returning to the game and making his big league debut in 2007, and leading the American League in RBIs in 2008.
  • Delmon Young (2003) and Justin Upton (2005) are both the younger brother of a top five pick. Dmitri Young was taken fourth overall in 1991, while B.J. Upton went second in 2002.  Tim Beckham’s (2008) older brother Jeremy was drafted by the Rays in the 17th round of the same draft.
    Year Player Team Yrs HR RBI OPS
    2008 Tim Beckham Tampa Bay DNP
    2005 Justin Upton* Arizona 3 28 87 .831
    2004 Matthew Bush* San Diego DNP
    2003 Delmon Young * Tampa Bay 4 27 186 .723
    2001 Joe Mauer* Minnesota 6 56 336 .881
    2000 Adrian Gonzalez* Florida 6 119 368 .862
    1999 Josh Hamilton * Tampa Bay 3 57 201 .889
    1998 Pat Burrell * Philadelphia 10 252 844 .848
    1995 Darin Erstad* California 14 122 691 .743
    1993 Alex Rodriguez* Seattle 16 561 1629 .967
    1992 Phil Nevin Houston 12 208 743 .815
    1990 Chipper Jones* Atlanta 16 415 1402 .956
    1987 Ken Griffey, Jr.* Seattle 21 617 1788 .916
    1986 Jeff King Pittsburgh 11 154 709 .749
    1985 B.J. Surhoff Milwaukee 19 188 1153 .745
    1984 Shawn Abner New York (N) 6 11 71 .592
    1982 Shawon Dunston Chicago (N) 18 150 668 .712
    1980 Darryl Strawberry New York (N) 17 335 1000 .862
    1979 Al Chambers Seattle 3 2 11 .618
    1978 Bob Horner Atlanta 10 218 685 .839
    1977 Harold Baines Chicago (A) 22 384 1628 .821
    1975 Danny Goodwin California 7 13 81 .674
    1974 Bill Almon San Diego 15 36 296 .648
    1972 Dave Roberts San Diego 10 7 208 .643
    1971 Danny Goodwin Chicago (A) 7 13 81 .674
    1970 Mike Ivie San Diego 11 81 411 .745
    1969 Jeff Burroughs Washington 16 240 882 .794
    1968 Tim Foli New York (N) 16 25 501 .592
    1967 Ron Blomberg New York (A) 8 52 224 .833
    1966 Steve Chilcott New York (N) DNP
    1965 Rick Monday Kansas City A 19 241 775 .804

One general note on the draft: Tampa Bay selected first overall four times – Josh Hamilton, Delmon Young, David Price, and Tim Beckham. Only one of those players, Price, actually had anything to do with the team that went to the World Series last year (although Young was traded for Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza).

Now Batting For The Pittsburgh Pirates…

Andrew McCutchen was called up to the major leagues yesterday by the Pirates to replace the freshly traded Nate McLouth, in a case of a team trading its best player and replacing him with its best prospect.

McLouth’s debut in Atlanta isn’t underway yet, but McCutchen got his first start for the Bucs today, leading off and playing centerfield.  In his first at-bat, he singled and scored the first run of the game.  His third time up, he walked and later scored.  His fifth time up, he drove in a run with a single, stole second, and scored on Nyjer Morgan’s triple.

To recap, a 22-year-old rookie making his debut managed to gather his first major league hit, run scored, walk, RBI, and stolen base.  The RBI, for what it’s worth, was of the two-out variety, and he managed a multi-hit, multi-run game.  Verrrrry impressive.

It wasn’t long ago that I talked about all the injuries the Mets are suffering and lamented the fact that they probably wouldn’t be at full strength when I go down there.  Well, the trip is three weeks away, and it gets more exciting by the day.  Wieters and Reimold in Baltimore, McCutchen in Pittsburgh.  Three reasons to be very excited (not that I wasn’t already).

Now Pitching For The Atlanta Braves…

There’s a scene in The Matrix where Joe Pantoliano starts unplugging all the good guys while they’re still inside the matrix, killing them instantly.  Just after they figure out what’s happening but just before they figure out how to stop it, one of the soon-to-be-axed characters looks at Carrie-Anne Moss and says, “Not like this.  Not like this,” and dies.

That same sort of thing happened in Atlanta yesterday, only it was general manager Frank Wren who walked into the clubhouse and calmly pulled the plug on Tom Glavine while Chipper Jones looked on in horror.

Glavine had appeared in several games at the minor league level and appeared ready to rejoin the Braves.   Not so fast, Tom.

General manager Frank Wren said the decision had nothing to do with a $1 million bonus that Glavine would have received for being placed on the major league roster. Instead, the team felt it had a better chance to win with a younger pitcher in the rotation.

“This was not a business decision,” Wren said. “This was a performance decision.”

Taking his presumed place in the rotation will be the Next Tommy, Tommy Hanson, who ranked fourth on Baseball America’s preseason Top 100.  The 22-year-old Hanson was cutting a swatch of destruction through the International League, notching a 1.49 ERA and 90 strikeouts in 66.1 innings over eleven starts.  In my fantasy baseball league, he has been owned by over 70% of teams since just after the season began, more than any other prospect I remember seeing.

Hanson will be called up this weekend and make his major league debut Saturdayagainst the Milwaukee Brewers.

In another move (it was a very busy Wednesday for the Braves; a third move impacting a top minor league prospect will be mentioned in a separate post), Jordan Schafer was sent back down to the minors after hitting .204 with two homeruns and eight runs batted in.  Given the way things were going, I expected Jason Heyward to get the call, but it was actually Gregor Blanco who went to Atlanta.