Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring Developments

It looks like David Hernandez will begin the season in the rotation over Chris Tillman.

As spring training winds down this week, two developments are starting to unfold.

The biggest surprise is that it appears likely that David Hernandez will beat out Chris Tillman for a spot in the starting rotation to begin the year.

In 2009, Hernandez was 4-10 with an ERA of 5.42 and a K/9 rate of 6. Hernandez was a strikeout machine in the minors, so it was disappointing to see him struggle getting K's at the major league level. However, this spring Hernandez has increased his K totals (20 K's in 15 IP), while Tillman is still struggling with control (10 K's, 9 BB's in 16.1 IP).

Many fans will be upset to hear this news, but I won't be one of them. Sure, I wish Tillman had pitched his way into the rotation this spring, but this isn't the end of the world. Tillman struggled last year at times, and some extra time in Norfolk won't hurt. He'll have a chance to get some things worked out and should be back on the Orioles before long.

After all, Jeremy Guthrie has been hammered so far this spring (7.47 ERA in 15.2 IP). And after a disappointing 2009 season, the Guthrie era in Baltimore might soon become very similar to the Rodrigo Lopez era. Lopez, like Guthrie, was a pitcher the O's acquired off the scrap heap, eventually having success in the rotation for a couple of years before ultimately flaming out. I'm pulling for Guthrie, since he's a workhorse and a great person, but the writing could be on the wall.

The other development is Felix Pie getting more playing time in LF. Nolan Reimold has been recovering from surgery on his achilles tendon during the offseason and has struggled this spring (.176 AVG). He's still noticeably bothered by the injury, but should still be able to travel north with the team. It wouldn't be surprising to see Reimold begin the year on the DL, but either way, it looks like Pie will get some starts in LF at the beginning of the year.

Pie had a whirlwind 2009 season, opening the year as the team's starting LFer before being benched in favor of Reimold who absolutely torched AAA before gettting called up. Pie also struggled mightily at the plate with a .461 OPS in April when he was receiving everyday AB's. He also became a liability on the basepaths, getting picked off and trying unsuccessfully to stretch base hits into doubles.

But then Adam Jones went down with an injury in August and Pie received the starting CF gig. He made the most of it, posting a 1.045 OPS in August including a game where he hit for the cycle. He also played stellar defense in CF despite showing some confusion on where to throw the ball on some plays.

So far this spring, Pie is hitting like it was August '09, with a .348 AVG and a .696 SLG, so it will be interesting to see which Felix Pie shows up on opening day.

Other than that the O's roster is pretty much set and opening day is a little more than a week away.

Let's play some ball!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Seeing Red

The proposed route for Baltimore's Red Line. Click here for a bigger picture.

I like to use public transportation. I like the freedom of leaving my car at home or in a parking lot far from the hectic downtown area and taking a train or bus into a city and roaming its streets, hopping on and off the train, and soaking up everything a city has to offer. This is largely why I love traveling to Europe, where you can get around major cities with ease. Most European cities have comprehensive subway systems, street trams, and buses that are easily laid out, cheap and simple to use. And getting from city to city in Europe is also cheap and easy, compared to America where Amtrak has a monopoly and can charge expensive prices for tickets.

So it sucks for me that I live in Baltimore, where the mass transit options are limited. Even worse, there seems to be a bias against mass transit in Baltimore. People here in Maryland love their cars, which explains why Maryland is currently the fifth worst state for traffic gridlock in America according to UrbanTrekker. The light rail is commonly referred to as the "loot rail" and it seems like the local bus has been left to the bottom rung of society according to the middle class.

That said, the light rail and subway are crowded on Sundays when the Ravens are in town. If the light rail does one thing well, it ushers thousands of fans to M&T Bank Stadium with ease. But during weekdays, ridership drops to 34,000 a day. The subway has 57,000 riders a day, making the total ridership of rail-based mass transit in Baltimore approximately 91,000 for a city with 600,000 residents and a metro area of more than 2.6 million people, meaning that only 3% of the Baltimore metro population regularly uses rail-based mass transit in Baltimore.

The Maryland Mass Transit Bias (I shall dub this the MMTB) is probably the biggest reason for the low ridership, but there are other factors to consider as well. The light rail only serves suburbs north and southwest the city leaving the entire eastern side of Baltimore County without a rail-based line to get downtown. The subway serves only the upper-west side of Baltimore County (Owings Mills), and terminates at Johns Hopkins University, which is centrally located in Baltimore. If the subway continued east down the Route 40 corridor to Rosedale or Essex, it would open a much needed line to and from the east side of the city.

Another inconvenience: the light rail makes frequent stops as it travels through the downtown area of Baltimore. And although traffic lights are programmed to turn red for the train as it gets close, riders can still wait at traffic lights on the light rail as if they were sitting in their car. After Ravens games, I've seen traffic police holding up trains while cars and pedestrians cross over Howard Street. This is unacceptable. The common rule of thumb is for mass transit to have right of way over everything -- especially cars. This is just another reminder of where mass transit is in the Baltimore pecking order.

And while the subway doesn't have to deal with the city traffic, it does suffer from long waits between trains on weekends. On weekdays it looks like both the light rail and the subway run on 10-15 minute schedules, which is common for a city the size of Baltimore. It would be nice to see the city recognize the increased demand for trains after major sporting events, however. Waits for subway and light rail trains can take longer than 20 minutes.

All of this brings me to the meaning of this article (sorry for taking so long to get to it) -- the Red Line. The Red Line is a proposed east-west light rail track that starts at Security Square Mall on the west side of the city and runs through the city on the Route 40 corridor, including the center median on the infamous "Road to Nowhere" -- a section of Route 70 that was built before the extension of Route 70 to I-95 near Caton Avenue was halted back in the early 1980's. The Red Line would then travel underground through downtown Baltimore and return to street level as it traveled through Fells Point and Canton where it would either terminate in Canton or continue east to Dundalk.

In short, the Red Line would bring Baltimore mass transit options up to where it should be for a city this size. It would give residents who live west of the city in Howard and Carroll Counties a way to get downtown via a station at the Route 70 park and ride and open that much needed line to the east side of Baltimore County.

Right now, I use the light rail for Ravens and Oriole games. If the Red Line were built, I would be able to drive down from New Market on Route 70, park at the lot at the end of the highway (where the current park and ride lot is located) and hop onto a train for easy access to the downtown area. I'd never have to get off Route 70. And neither would many other people who come down the Route 70 corridor for Ravens games or work, which would go a long way in alleviating traffic on the congested 695 Beltway.

The problem is this: people don't want the Red Line built, namely people in Edmonson Village and Canton, who don't want a train running through their neighborhoods. These people are referred to as NIMBY's (Not In My Back Yard), and they are the biggest obstacle in getting most mass transit lines built, whether in Baltimore or Budapest. As with most mass transit opposition, crime, noise and inconvenience are the biggest concerns.

According to the Red Line's Facebook page, the Red Line would bring 10,000 jobs to Baltimore. There is also a link to a short video about Seattle's most recent light rail line, and how it's been a major part of helping the redevelopment of some of the city's isolated neighborhoods. This is commonly referred to as "Smart Growth", connecting isolated communities to the downtown area and building new communities around mass transit stations. Common examples of Smart Growth are only a short ride from Baltimore, in Bethesda, MD and Rosslyn, VA. Yet in Baltimore, Smart Growth is mocked and shunned while mass transit is commonly linked to crime and the decline of neighborhoods.

The link between crime and mass transit is commonly used by detractors of mass transit, but never officially proven. And in the cases of Edmonson Village and Canton, neighborhoods where crime is the number one reason against the Red Line, mass transit already exists -- it's called the local bus.

So ironically, the Red Line has gotten caught up in red tape. With the economic downturn, the Red Line has been put on the back burner for the time being, along with other civic improvement plans, such as a new arena. It's disappointing, really, to see a city fail to take advantage of options and strategies that could transform it into something better. It costs money, sure, but the long-term payoff is always worth it.

In the meantime, I'll cross my fingers and hope that some real progress on the Red Line takes place. Until then, this fan of public transit is seeing red.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Christian Bale -- Good Actor?

I am ripped, yes, but I am not that good of an actor.

Do you consider Christian Bale a good actor? I don't.

Sure, he's in good movies, but think about some of the recent movies he's been in...and how poor his performance has been in them.

I watched Public Enemies last night, and I really enjoyed it. Johnny Depp was good as John Dillenger, and Tommy from Snatch was a great Baby Face Nelson. But Bale as Depp's foil was just "meh". His 1930's era Chicago accent was bad. Come to think of it, Bale has several problems with his voice in movies.

In Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, his grumbly Batman voice was horrible...even fans who loved those movies were critical of Bale's voice. In Terminator Salvation, again he went for a gruff voice which came off as monotone, and ultimately lead to many people criticizing his flat performance. And in Enemies, his voice sounded like Fred Armisen impersonating Barack Obama on Saturday Night Live.

Bale does have a knack for picking solid scripts and working with established directors. Chances are, when Bale is in a movie, it's going to be good, which is why many fans hopes were raised when he joined Terminator Salvation. But Bale's participation in Salvation was an ego-trip. He signed on to play John Connor, who originally had a three-minute role at the end of the film. So Bale demanded the role be fleshed out, and it was, ultimately rendering the Connor part of the film irrelevant compared to the role of Marcus (Sam Worthington), which was the driving narrative force behind Salvation.

Bale is often shown up by other actors in the same movie, too. In The Dark Knight it was Heath Ledger. In 3:10 to Yuma it was Russell Crowe (although Ben Foster upstaged them both). In Terminator Salvation it was Sam Worthington and Anton Yelchin. And in Public Enemies it was Johnny Depp and Tommy from Snatch. This happens so often because Bale is a one-note actor and can't breathe any depth into his roles.

To be fair, Bale has done some good work as an actor. His performance in American Psycho was both dark and humorous. Bale's flatness actually worked in that role. And in Rescue Dawn, Bale did a wonderful job portraying a POW who escapes captivity and makes a run for it in the harsh jungles of Vietnam, all while on the verge of suffering a mental breakdown. It's probably Bale's best performance in a career of mediocrity. Bale is also known for taking on physically demanding roles. In The Machinist he lost 80 pounds and shed lots of weight for Rescue Dawn. He's also put on weight and gotten ripped for other roles.

So what is it about Christian Bale that gets people excited? Surely it's not his acting ability. It's his good decisions. When Bale is in a movie, chances are, it's going to be good. Also, being a good looking guy with rigid features doesn't hurt.

So I, as well as millions of other moviegoers, will still continue to see Christian Bale on the big screen. And despite his obvious lack of acting ability, I still consider him a good actor because he chooses good scripts and occasionally turns in a good performance.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

So far, not so good

Nolan Reimold has yet to get a hit in spring training and is still nursing his repaired achilles.

The Orioles are 5-9 in spring training games so far, and while a team's record in spring training is not indicative of the quality of said team, the individual results of the players are much more substantial.

And going off of some of the players' statistics this spring, it's not pretty.

Nolan Reimold - 0 hits in 13 at bats.
Matt Wieters - 1 hit in 13 at bats.
Caesar Izturis - 1 hit in 17 at bats.
Miguel Tejada - 3 hits in 17 at bats.

And now for the pitchers....

Kevin Millwood
- 29.70 ERA
Brad Bergesen - 9.00 ERA
Jim Johnson - 7.36 ERA
Jeremy Guthrie - 5.87 ERA

The pitchers have an excuse. Most of them are working on new pitches and remastering older ones after the offseason.

But the hitters, what is their excuse? Sure it takes some time for the batter's eye to pick up on live pitching, and get comfortable at the plate, but besides that, hitters hit.

And when you have 1 hit between both Reimold and Wieters in almost 30 at bats, you have to wonder what is going on. These 2 guys are supposed to be the two power hitters in this line-up and so far this spring, they've looked like A-ball fodder.

To be fair, Reimold is still nursing a sore achilles, which was operated on during the offseason. I don't know what's wrong with Wieters.

But for the Orioles' sake, I hope they break out of this funk -- and fast!

Someone on Orioles Hangout did some research and found out that Millwood's ERA is always atrocious during the spring, so there is no need to worry about him. As a veteran who's logged thousands of innings in the majors, Millwood knows what it takes to be ready on opening day and uses spring training to work on different things.

Bergesen, who was injured last season and then tweaked his shoulder while filming a commercial, is probably also trying to get back into the flow of live pitching. As a matter of fact, all pitchers with an ERA north of 5 could use a different excuse for their struggles and get away with it.

So I am not too worried about the starting pitching. And the bullpen thus far has been lights out. Cla Meredith, Koji Uehara and Will Ohman are bullpen shoe-ins who haven't allowed a run. So no worries there.

But the hitting...or lack thereof. What's going on there?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ravens bring back Mason

The Ravens re-signed Derrick Mason, who has lead the Ravens in receiving the last 4 of 5 seasons.

The Ravens signed Derrick Mason this week, bringing back the 36-year-old veteran WR who caught 73 passes for 1,028 yards in 2009. Mason was Joe Flacco's favorite target during the last 2 years, so it's a good thing that Flacco will have a familiar face to throw to with newcomers Anquan Boldin and Donte Stallworth joining the receiving corps.

Mason had garnered interest from the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. The Patriots were after Mason when he originally signed with the Ravens in 2005.

With Boldin, Mason, Stallworth and Clayton likely to round out the WR position, the Ravens are poised to have their best season in the passing game since 1996, the year Vinny Testaverde passed for over 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns.

Going off of Flacco's stats in the first 6 games of the 2009 season -- before he was injured in Minnesota -- Flacco was on pace to pass for over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. When healthy, and with the additions of Boldin, Stallworth and the return of Mason, I'd actually be surprised of Flacco doesn't eclipse those numbers in 201o.

Following the re-signing of Mason, the Ravens are still able to sign one more big-money free agent under the rules in place for the uncapped 2010 season. But I think the Ravens are more inclined to use the draft to fill positions of need following the departure of DL Justin Bannan for Denver and the potential losses of coveted OL Jared Gaither and DL Dwan Edwards.

So with the signing of Boldin and Mason, the offseason has been very positive thus far for the Ravens. Hopefully it will keep getting better.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What are they saying about the O's?

The national media expects improvement from the Orioles in 2010, like many O's fans.

As spring training is under way, a lot of national media figures are chiming in with their takes on teams across the MLB.

Normally, the national media is not a good place to get opinions of the Orioles, as most of them are obsessed with the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry and with the Orioles in the middle of a 12-year losing streak, there isn't a reason for any national writer to treat the Orioles as anything more than a pesky house fly.

But as the Orioles are getting younger and looking to improve on a 2009 that will hopefully be remembered as rock bottom, the national media is starting to take notice of the strides the Orioles have been making during the last few seasons and how it should impact the team's record in 2010.

Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe recently wrote this article for Sports Illustrated. After waxing nostalgic of the Orioles glory days from 1966-1983, Shaughnessy summed up the Orioles 2010 season by saying:

No one thinks the Orioles have enough to contend this year, especially in the American League East. But maybe they can finish ahead of the Blue Jays. Maybe they can win 80 games.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Boldin and the Beautiful

The Ravens reeled in Anquan Boldin for a 3rd round pick in 2010 and a 6th round pick in 2011. The Ravens also got a 5th round pick from the Cardinals in the trade.

The Ravens finally did it.

They finally went out and got themselves the bonafide #1 WR they've needed since the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1996.

The Ravens have had some decent WR's in the past: Michael Jackson, Derrick Alexander, Qadry Ismael, Derrick Mason...but none of those WR's had the game changing potential that Anquan Boldin possesses.

The Ravens landed Boldin from Arizona for a 3rd rounder in 2010 and a 6th rounder in 2011. They Ravens also got a 5th round pick from Arizona. I'd call that a steal.

They then locked up Boldin to a 4 year, $28 million dollar contract extension, meaning that he's signed through 2013.

There isn't much downside to landing Boldin. Of course there are the injury problems, which can't be overlooked. In his 7 year career, Boldin has played 16 games only once. So getting onto the field is definitely Boldin's biggest issue.

But when he's on the field, look out.

Boldin has a 79.2 yards per game average during his career. In 2005 he had a whopping 100 YPG receiving for the year. Granted that was 5 years ago, but Boldin is still 29. He's got some mileage left on him, the question is just how much is left?

The only people smiles bigger than mine right now have to be Cam Cameron and Joe Flacco. Boldin gives Cameron a weapon that should immensely change the way the Ravens run their offense. He isn't primarily known as a deep threat, but he is known for yards after catch (YAC). Boldin gives Flacco a weapon and a safety valve. Previously, it was Mason, who was an excellent route runner. But Mason at 35 was too old to have that responsibility on his shoulders. With Boldin, Flacco has a younger and more explosive security blanket at his disposal. And on top of that, Boldin makes every other WR on the field that much more dangerous too. Boldin should see a lot of double coverage, which will allow Donte Stallworth, Mark Clayton and possibly Derrick Mason (if re-signed) to make plays in single coverage. Gone are the days when Ravens WR disappear for games at a time.

Am I setting my sights too high? Maybe. But there's no denying it. Boldin is the real deal.

My hats off to Ozzie Newsome for going out and doing what the fans wanted since the final seconds ticked off the clock in Indianapolis. It was the right move and the price wasn't that steep.

Welcome to Baltimore, Q!

The biggest rivalry going today...

Yankees & Red Sox?


Duke & UNC?


Ravens & Steelers?

Think again.

Republicans & Democrats?


I love it when people criticize sports fans. They say "you're cheering for spoiled athletes who make millions". And when you think about it, being a devoted sports fan is kind of funny. You're basing your happiness or despair on the accomplishments of others. People you've never met. People who wouldn't give you the time of day if you met them on the street.

But for some reason, political fans get a pass. And if you ask me, political fans are a million times worse than any sports fan. Well, most of them.

Here's why.

Have you see the Barack Obama picture where he's painted as the Joker? The word "Socialism" is printed beneath the picture.

What is the point of that picture? What does it accomplish?


It's no different than the bumper sticker of Calvin pissing on a Ford logo. Or a Steelers logo. It does nothing but incite hatred and ignorance. It's an avatar for a group of fanatics who feel they must align with one side of the political spectrum. God forbid they try to stay centered, or think for themselves. Nope. If you believe in one ideal, you have to believe in all the others that go along with it. It's like ordering cable. You just want HBO? Too bad. You have to get two dozen other channels you don't care about and you have to pay for them too.

Heading into work today I saw a bumper sticker that read, "Independence Day: 1/20/2013".

It's the day that a Republican president would take office if they won the 2012 election. Maybe you remember the countless stickers saying the same thing about George W. Bush's last day in office. Both sides of the spectrum are guilty of the same hate-mongering. It's just the Republicans turn to spew their venom right now.

And unlike sports, where most athletes and fans can shake hands after a game before going their separate ways, in politics, there is no meeting in the middle. If you believe in something different than one group you're instantly labeled a communist, socialist, right-wing nutjob -- or my favorite -- un-American.

WTF is "un-American" anyway? What is "American" in the first place?

Listen to the talk shows. The hosts don't just preach to the choir -- they scream and yell at the choir. More flame-fanning. More hate-spewing. Where will it end? Nazi Germany? I don't think we're too far off to be honest.

Back to sports metaphor: The biggest problem with baseball today is that the Red Sox and Yankees are the two most popular teams, and the media has no problem whipping up the frenzied masses who follow these 2 teams. It's as if the media is telling sports fans to pick a side. Are you going to be a Red Sox fan or a Yankees fan? Because if you are a fan of another team, you're just wasting your time.

And it's the same thing with politics, except there are no other teams. You have to choose a side. Don't even think about staying in the middle.

That's why I try to stay out of it.

I'd much rather root for the "spoiled millionaires who cheat on their wives" than throw my support behind a spoiled millionaire who cheats on his wife while telling you not to cheat on your wife.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Muse @ Baltimore Arena

Am I a Muse fan? Kind of. I prefer the less theatrical Radiohead, of which Muse is endlessly compared. I think of Muse as a Radiohead-meets-Queen stadium band that is mostly good from a distance. Too much of the band at once wears me out. Singer Matt Bellamy's overtly political lyrics can grow tedious at times, and their operatic sound can get cumbersome. However in 2003, I was in love with the band's third album, Absolution, which satisfied my taste for computer space rock before I discovered the more subtle joys of Radiohead.

So when I saw that Muse would be coming to Baltimore's 1st Mariner Arena along with Silversun Pickups on March 3rd, I decided to see them in person. Their style of loud-guitar driven rock would surely sound great live, and Silversun Pickups aren't a shabby opening act either. Plus I wanted to drag my friend Tim to a live show, since his live music experiences usually come from cover bands. It was time to show him what the real thing sounds like.

Silversun Pickups did a breeze forty minute opening set, featuring their better known hits like "Substitution" and "Lazy Eye". They played the fluffer role for the crowd nicely.

But everyone was here to see Muse. And they didn't disappoint.

They kicked off with the song "Uprising" from their newest album, The Resistance, and then segued right into the title track from the album. The band then cherry-picked songs from their last 4 albums, ranging from "Plug-in Baby" from 2001's Origin of Symmetry, "Hysteria" and "Stockholm Syndrome" from 2003's Absolution and "Starlight", "Supermassive Black Hole" and "Knights of Cydonia" from 2006's Black Holes and Revelations.

The stage design was impressive, featuring three "skyscraper" screens that featured video and images throughout the show. There were three small stages in the middle of each skyscraper where a member of the band stood, and they were able to be raised and lowered throughout the show. The laser show was worth the price of admission alone. Best. Lasers. Ever. And another cool stylistic wrinkle were huge eyeball beach balls that were dropped into the crowd. When popped, confetti exploded from them.

The band sounded great, and the sound at the 1st Mariner Arena still compares nicely to other large venues in the area. It's nice to see Baltimore getting some better shows that would usually go to Washington, DC or Philadelphia instead.

I caught the light rail at Nursery Road instead of driving into the city at rush hour and paying $20 for parking in a garage that is notorious for long back-ups after shows let out. Like the arena, the light rail is routinely criticized for not serving the city to its potential, but last night I was very pleased with the entire experience.

Muse rocked the house, and I went home to watch the Maryland/Duke basketball game that I had recorded. Maryland won.

All in all it was the perfect evening.