Month: April 2014

Hello, I’m Kevin. I’m a person living with cancer.

I’m 58 years old and have been pretty fortunate. I’ve been healthy. I’ve never had a serious chronic health issue. I don’t take any medications. Though I could stand to lose some weight, I have great blood pressure, a strong steady heart rate, and no cholesterol problems.

But on Tuesday, I walked out of my urologist’s office with the words “you have prostate cancer” ringing in my ears and reddening my face.

The vast majority of men will, at some point, have prostate cancer. For most it isn’t dangerous. Keep a yearly eye on it and make sure there are no changes, and aside from the prostate’s natural inclination to grow and become a general annoyance, the majority suffer few ill effects.

Unfortunately, my cancer is Gleason 4+3, less stable, more inclined to spread and has to be dealt with. Radiate or surgically remove the prostate gland, those are my options.

I’m 99% certain I’ll opt for the surgery. It offers more safeguards than radiation. So some time in June I’ll be spending the night in Swedish Hospital after a few intimate hours with Dr. Porter, a maestro in the robot surgery customarily performed in cases like mine.

It seems simple and straightforward, right? Not so fast. Removing the prostate has some unpleasant side effects. The surgery is near the bladder and the urethra goes through the little organ. Removal of the prostate is almost always accompanied by a level of incontinence. Sometimes it is temporary and sometimes it isn’t. I’ll learn to wear some kind of pad, and hope not to embarrass myself.

A second side effect involves a pair of nerve bundles located near the prostate. If these are cancerous and must be removed, or are somehow damaged in the tight operating space it guarantees impotence. At the very least the loss of the prostate insures the use of one of the erectile dysfunction drugs. I’m hoping to discover the mystery of the Cialis bathtubs.
Couples sure seem happy in their solo receptacles.

Prostate surgery in men, especially a relatively young man, like me, is a lot like breast cancer in women. Not as lethal, but it threatens our masculinity every bit as much as a mastectomy challenges femininity or womanhood The only difference is a prostate is small, mysterious and unseen. It never competes for space on the cover Sports Illustrated with Kate Upton’s breasts.

I’m not afraid to talk about this. But, I’d be lying to say I’m not afraid. I’ve never had a chronic condition in my life-no asthma, no allergies, no diabetes or other persistent ailment. Today I’m a person living with cancer. Though in my heart I know I’ll be okay, that the surgery and recovery are just two more hoops to jump through on the road of life, it is diffIcult not to be apprehensive.

Monday I was the same focused, sunny, and relatively optimistic person I’ve been the last 58 years. By Tuesday afternoon, things were different. I was no longer Kevin Smyth husband, father and son. That I was teacher, journalism adviser, history buff, miniature war gamer and Mariners fan was lost in the understanding I was now Kevin Smyth, a person living with cancer

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Step back from the ledge.

It’s April 21st and the Mariners are 7-11, losers of six straight games.  They’re already six games behind division leading Oakland, winning at a blistering pace, and a game behind the third place Angels.  Things suck.  They suck a lot and not much is going right.

But take heart boys and girls, the M’s are at home, and assuming they can climb out of their travel stupor, they face a team that is worse, the Houston Astros.  The Houstons are dead last or nearly dead last in every offensive category, except, oddly, home runs and triples.  You’ll recall that this same Houston squad barely lost the season series to the M’s last year, and first pitch fastballs may travel a considerable distance in an opposite heading from their origin. As a team their pitching isn’t very good, but Scott Feldman and Brett Oberholtzer   performed well so far.

Offensively the Mariners are in the bottom third for pretty much everything.  They are 14th in batting average and OBP.  They’re 12th in slugging.  They’ve hit some home runs and triples, but they are 12th in runs scored.  Nobody is off to a great start, perhaps with the exception of Corey Hart whose .269/.333/.558 is a monument to the miracles of modern medecine, and at least as good as I hoped it would be.  Robinson Cano has a 98 OPS+.  Brad Miller has exactly two walks to go with his 21 strikeouts, and that’s six fewer K’s than leadoff wannabe Abraham Almonte.  Though Dustin Ackley, at this moment, seems to be righting his major league prospects, Justin Smoak despite being an Angel killer has little to suggest he’s taken a firm handle on first base.  Though he leads the team in walks, Kyle Seager is invisible at the plate.

The hitting is not good, but I also don’t believe it’s going to last forever.  These guys are going to be better.  How much better?  That’s the real question. It’s difficult to believe that guys with a track record like Cano and Seager won’t heat up.  The others are pretty much a crap shoot, and we had only hope going into the season, not proven performance.

The M’s pitching situation is tragic.  The rotation is devastated by injury.  Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton, three fifths of the projected starters are broken.  Erasmo Ramirez was ineffective his last three starts, not able to go more than five innings in any of them. Now injuries are cropping up in the replacement pitchers as Blake Beavan made his way to the DL.  It’s a mess. According to Shannon Drayer’s blog, Iwakuma is likely to make it back first, maybe by the end of April.  James Paxton isn’t throwing yet.  Taijuan Walker’s comeback was halted by shoulder complaints while warming up for his Tacoma start last week.  He was shut down for two weeks. Help is not necessarily on the way.

The rotation problems, producing few innings, taxes a flawed bullpen.  It’s a relief corps that strikes out a lot of batters, but they walk a lot of guys too. Virtually all the firemen allow too many baserunners, mostly walks, and with Yoervis Medina those come with homers.

It is unquestionable that this team has problems.  It may struggle with pitching issues for some time.  It’s likely the hitting will turn around some.  It’s unlikely the M’s will compete for the division championship or even a wild card, but I didn’t expect that this year.  I expected improvement.  Do we have that?  Not yet, but I never evaluate a team until they’ve played at least 40 games or a quarter of the season.  It may take even longer for this team with all its injuries.

So back away from the ledge, grab your bag of peanuts and watch.  The M’s have had more than their share of bad luck lately, and they’re due for a break.  Maybe the Astros will be just the tonic they need.

An evening with the Padres

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I’m in San Diego this weekend, attending the national student journalism conference. It’s located at the Hilton Bayfront, just across the street from Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres. They’re in town, hosting a rare appearance by the Detroit Tigers.

The straight up report is Justin Verlander beat Ian Kennedy 6-2. The Padres played a gutty game, using speed on the base paths and good defense to stay in the contest. But, they couldn’t keep up with the Tigers’ hitting. Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler and Austin Jackson all doubled in key at bats to start rallies or drive in runs. Jackson’s smash, a ground-rule double, came in the top of the ninth inning with the bases loaded and effectively put the game out of reach.

This story, however, isn’t about the game recap. It’s about being a stranger in a strange land and taking advantage of circumstances to catch a ball game. I’m not one of those who “collects ballparks,” meaning I don’t try to get to every city to experience the game in each MLB venue. But on the occasions when I am in San Diego or Baltimore or wherever and the home team is in town, catching a game is at the top of my to do list.

Petco is a newish, classy downtown park built in the Gaslamp section of San Diego. It’s easily accessible by light rail, which makes getting there pretty easy, but leaving can be a bit of a wait. The park is surrounded by friendly watering holes where fans can eat and liquidly prepare for games much cheaper than at the ballpark. Inside the park seems a lot like Safeco Field except the amazing use of the Western Metal Supply Building in the left field corner. This gives the ballpark a very retro feel.

We attended a 5:40 start, and I had a feeling there might be a big crowd. But we wandered down without tickets hoping to get in. We plunked down our $24 a seat for third deck seats down the right field line and caught the escalator up to catch the view. These seats were very reminiscent of Safeco’s “view level” seating with vistas of the city’s hotel district and harbor front. The Petco staff were attentive and helpful getting us to our seats.

The game was announced a sell-out despite many empty seats. It was Little League night and the park thronged with youngsters in colorful caps and t-shirts. It was also full of Tigers fans. Those who sported blue caps with Olde English D’s seemed to match numbers with those wearing the home SD. And they were vocal. But safe, this isn’t Fenway Park or Wrigley Field. I wore my Mariners garb without comment or dirty looks. confession: I long for a Mariners Padres World Series. They share spring training facilities, why not a memorable post-season.

When it came to food, I’d have to say I was disappointed. At least where we sat the offerings were pedestrian. In all fairness I was not very early arriving at the park and didn’t get to wander much, so I didn’t see any of the specialty food stands if there are any. I did see that many local micro brews were available in separate stands, a nice touch. At the pretty mainstream food stand I got to the most interesting offerings were the nachos and the foot long Sonora Dog. Both included tasty beans and local add-ons that made them interesting. The problem was they’d run out of the beans and tasty add-ons by the third inning and so my bacon-wrapped Sonora Dog wasn’t as interesting as it could have been and the nachos, smothered in Parmesan cheese were barely edible.

San Diego is a beautiful city on the water, and that brings a certain amount o f peril with it. Some 1,300 miles south of Seattle I expected it would be warm if not hot. It wasn’t. Maybe it is a spring weather pattern, but each evening the clouds rolled in and the breeze kicked up, so watching an April evening game at Petco is only ten or so degrees warmer than watching a game at Safeco. Bring a jacket or sweatshirt.

Visiting Petco Park was an enjoyable experience, a classy, modern park. I rate superior to Safeco for location, equal for cleanliness and staff attentiveness, slightly inferior for ballpark ambiance and needs work for food.

Pictures that follow by Jim Meyerhoff

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An opener worth remembering

As a grumpy, cynical Mariners fan, I was excited for last night’s home opener, but worried that last weeks drubbing of the Angels was merely a mirage.  It didn’t help much when the World Champion Seahawks were on the field flaunting their hardware, or that starting pitcher James Paxton barfed up three runs to the Halos in the first inning. All I could tell myself was that rookie pitchers will have rookie pitcher days, ones that don’t look so good.

Even as I thought it, Paxton settled down and retired the next 13 batters, striking out four. As good as Paxton began to look, there was still the matter of the three-run hole the team found itself in.  When Brad Miller reached on a strikeout/wild pitch in the third inning, and Robinson Cano walked, I saw it as a sign.  The Justin Smoak, who looked so good in Anaheim, but was 0 for Oakland, singled home Miller.

The big news of the game, however came in the form of the man who followed Smoak, Cory Hart.  I confess I’ve been really down on Hart.  Power right handers simply don’t do that well in Safeco Field. He’s seemed so busted up with the knee and arm problems he’s had.  So when he planted Hector Santiago’s 0-2 pitch over the bullpen and into the left-field seats with a towering mortar shot, I was impressed.  When he followed it in the seventh with a line drive over the center-field wall I was doubly impressed.  Seattle hasn’t had a great right handed power hitter since the first couple years of Richie Sexson’s bloated contract. Maybe Hart can be that guy.   Sexson was a big guy at 6’6″ 205 lbs., but Hart is even bigger at the same height and 25 lbs. heavier.  It takes a big man to blast homers out to left with regularity.  Just one game, but it was encouraging to see.

Equally impressive was the performance of the bullpen.  Though Medina and Farquhar each walked one batter, there was no flirtation with disaster until Ferndando Rodney came in for the ninth inning. When he walked Pujols and Freese to start the ninth, Rodney seemed to kick it in to another gear, staying consistently in the strike zone to dispatch Stewart, Kendrick, and Ibanez.

Of course the bad news is the injury to James Paxton.  Given the severity of Steven Pryor’s lat issues, they will doubtless be conservative and give him time to mend–assuming this isn’t a tear.  With two big holes already in the rotation with Walker and Iwakuma out, it will be interesting to see what measures they have to take.  Chris Young will doubtless fill one of the starts, and it’s possible Walker will return in time to take the next.  Or we could see that Beaven guy again. Gulp.

 

My day with the Dimemond League

The Dimemond Baseball League met for their 30th draft day on April 5th.

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Gasps of incredulity filled the room as the bidding for Orioles outfielder Adam Jones reached $4.00. That was only fifty cents less than two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera. Justin Verlander went for what seemed an equally outrageous $4.10. With a budget of $26 for 24 players, a player better be pretty special to gobble up almost a sixth of a team’s budget.

I trekked north with friends to spend the day with the Dimemond League, a roto league that celebrated its 30th anniversary draft. Twelve “owners” of teams with colorful names like the Arti-chokes, Cracker Jacks, Son-Rays, and the G-men gathered in the lush conference room of attorneys offices on the 39th floor of a Seattle skyscraper with a magnificent view of the the city and Lake Washington.

Though I’ve participated in lots of stats-based baseball fun, including many draft leagues for board games, I’ve never done Rotisserie, and when the opportunity came for me to observe, I snapped it up. A Rotisserie league is a stats-based baseball league in which teams acquire players who will accumulate statistics in twelve offensive and pitching categories that are measured and calculated at the end of the season. These are “traditional” statistics as opposed to sabrmetric measures. Batting average, home runs, wins, ERA and appearances are the stock in trade of the Dimemond League, and with most Rotisserie leagues. Winning the league is simple, the team accumulating the most points by their placement in the twelve categories wins.

But building a team is not simple. Players are selected through a draft. Drafting players are selected and then auctioned off to the highest bidder, and viewing this process was amazing. Everyone needs to fill out a roster with players at every position and a complete pitching staff. Owners are knowledgeable baseball fans, students of the game, prepared and organized with draft boards not unlike football GM’s on draft day. They know the players they want with a plan A, B, and C to fill needs, and generally they want the same successful players their competitors want. When the easy guys, the Cabreras, Shin Soo-Choo’s and the Dustin Pedroia’s were gone, the real creativity kicked in.

Auctions are tense, with each owner knowing what they have to spend and what they’re willing to pay. Most of the auctions started out at a dime or twenty cents, some leaping upward rapidly. Some such as Cabrera opened at a much higher rate, $3.00, and trended rapidly upward to his $4.50 sale. Others were more drawn out. Closers went for a lot of money because they count statistically for the K/BB, ERA and net saves categories. Some players went much cheaper than expected, such as the oft-injured Brett Lawrie, and the pesky Eric Aybar, often to cheers, “good one.” Some players went for more than expected, because they were a personal favorite. One owner reminded the others that he wants to win, “but it has to be fun, too.” The most fun part of the player selection was in the last few rounds when owners were down to $1.10 to buy six players. Picking up the ten centers to fill open roster spots became quite a challenge.
With an hour break for lunch the draft ran from about 10:00 to 3:30. Despite the competition for productive players and intensity of some of the bidding, there was no acrimony or snappishness (at least not as I understand acrimony and snappishness.) When the draft was over, all the owners I spoke to were confident they’d had a successful draft.

I’ve avoided fantasy sports.  I’ve been intrigued, but considered myself above such things, and after my experience today I regret it.  The twelve men (and one woman) who attended the draft knew their stuff, knew more ballplayers more deeply than I did. They love the game and this is their way of connecting to it.  In this day of evolving baseball statistics, their objectives are incredibly difficult.  Within the context of the victory conditions, their job is to assess the value of each of their players and determine how they can contribute to building a winning team, even if that team isn’t actually playing the games.  When I asked what an average player was worth from the budget the response was that there was no average price per player, it was more about what they’re worth to a team.  So if in the real world  one win (WAR) is worth about $6.5 million, well, things aren’t quite so easy to measure in the Dimemond League. No BABIP, xFIP, or dWAR will help you know for sure a player will have a great year, the same as last year and get the Son-Rays over the top.  In many respects, the league owners have some of the same difficulties with prediction all the other seamheads have, and they’ll just have to watch the games to see how it all plays out. And then there’s that budget thing.  No Yankees or Dodgers to bust the bank here.  A couple of Miguel Cabreras means the rest of your team will look like Ronnie Cedeno.  The budgeting is very much a game inside a game.

It was a very fun day.  I enjoyed meeting everyone, chatting with them and they were all quite kind to me. Though all the owners spent the day around the table trying to figure out a way to beat the guy sitting next to him, maybe the most fun part came at the end.  Some of us with smartphones and iPads had followed the Mariners-A’s game after lunch on Gameday.  Quiet updates through the last rounds of the draft alerted everyone to Felix Hernandez’s ninth inning troubles.  Nobody left the table until Fernando Rodney struck out Josh Reddick for his first save.  Then it was time for pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

Perfect season gone

On Wednesday, the Mariners left the Angels pitching staff dead on the field and motored up the coast to visit the defending division champion, Oakland Athletics.  They learned, to their chagrin that things won’t be quite so easy as they had it in Anaheim. The Athletics, nursing along their own pitching injuries, showed the depth of their staff in defeating the M’s 3-2 in twelve innings.

The Mariners started rookie left-hander Roenis Elias, and despite some first inning nerves in which he threw 26 painful-to-watch pitches, he hung in there through  five innings.  He watched his teammates scratch out two runs.

In the first inning Abraham Almonte reached on an error by first baseman Alberto Callaspo.  In a move right out of the movies, he goaded second baseman Nick Punto into making an ill-advised throw, Almonte advancing to second. The center fielder took third on Brad Miller’s sacrifice fly, and scored on Robinson Cano’s ground out.  Mariners lead 1-0.

The M’s scored their second run in the fifth inning when Logan Morrison singled to lead off.  He was followed by with a Dustin Ackley single, pushing Morrison around to third. Mike Zunino flied up, bringing up Almonte who also singled.  This scored Morrison, chased Ackley to third, and Almonte took second on the throw. In one of the weirder plays of the game and the season so far, Brad Miller grounded a ball to Punto, who threw out Miller, but an unforced Almonte was running on the play.  With two guys on third, Ackley was forced to break for home and was easily tagged out to end the inning.  Mariners lead 2-0 and a lost opportunity

That would be it for the M’s as first starter Jesse Chavez and later the A’s bullpen would hold them in check the rest of the way.

The A’s got on the board in their half of the fifth.  With two outs Punto singled and stole second.  With Sam Fuld batting, Elias had a two strike count and seemed to have him struck out on an awesome breaking pitch.  But umpire Sean Barber said no. Visibly upset, Elias tried again.  Instead Fuld hit a line drive in the gap Almonte seemed to break in on rather than cut off.  His diving try missed and the ball rolled to the wall.  Morrison retrieved it and fired it to Cano the cut off man.  Cano fired a strike home to nail Fuld at the plate.  Mariners lead 2-1.

With the Elias distracted by Barber’s uncertain strike zone, and wait to rule on the play at the plate on Fuld, the manager Lloyd McClendon elected to give Elias the hook.  His five innings included three walks, two in the first inning, and three strikeouts.  The A’s managed only two hits against the the young Cuban, and those didn’t come until things fell apart in the fifth.

After the fifth it was the Mariners bullpen holding the fort.  But it was not a good night for them.  It could be Barber’s forever changing strike zone, but the A’s  pitchers didn’t seem to have a problem with it.  The A’s scored in the bottom of the eighth to tie, and both teams held firm to send the game into extra innings. In the twelfth the M’s sent in Hector Noesi to pitch to Coco Crisp and on the first pitch Crisp homered to send the fans home happy.

  • Much has been made of Barber’s pitch calling.  It was bad, but he umpired for both teams.  He’s not the reason this game was lost.
  • Mariners pitchers walked ten batters.  The relievers walked seven.  Compares pretty similarly with the Angels relievers.  Don’t walk guys.  By comparison, the A’s walked three, their relievers only one, Barber or no Barber.
  • Last night there was an Almonte problem.  I  believe in playing aggressively  and it’s clear Abe is all about that.  But you have to play smart too.  Running up Ackley’s back in the fifth may have cost the Mariners more scores.  His play on Fuld’s ball was poor judgment.  He’s young and will make mistakes, but in a tight game those can be costly.
  • The Mariners hitters just learned what a good pitching staff looks like.  It will be interesting to see how the rest of this series goes.  Last year the M’s showed they could really trash bad pitching.  They also smacked the A’s around in the season series 11-8. But the M’s managed only one hit and a walk against the A’s bullpen last night.  Let’s see if it’s just one night or if the A’s pitching is so good the M’s can do absolutely nothing with it for the next three games.

So the perfect season came to an end.  Definitely a tough game the Mariners need to be a little better at.  The bullpen especially needs to get better at locking down the game. The great thing is they don’t have to wait a week to try it again.  Same time, same place tonight.

Interesting news out of Marinerland today.  Hector Noesi was DFA’d and Dominic Leone was called up to the big club from Tacoma.

M’s mangle Angels in finale. What does it mean?

Last night the Mariners kicked sand in the face of a helpless Angels team and boarded the plane for Oakland.

The M’s won the game that wasn’t as close as the 8-2 final score. James Paxton turned in a dominating pitching performance, allowing two hits and striking out nine in his seven innings of work. Lefty Joe Beimel looked good working a perfect eighth in his first outing of the season.  Hector Noesi reminded us that he’s still on the team in giving up a pair of runs in the ninth.

Paxton was in trouble only in the first when he gave up a lead off double to right-fielder Kole Calhoun, and followed with a walk to Mike Trout.  But Albert Pujols followed with a double-play grounder to third baseman Willie Bloomquist to end the threat, and that was as close as the Halos got to scoring before the ninth.

Mariners hitters were again on fire in this game pounding out 13 hits against starter Hector Santiago and four relievers.  They scored single runs in the 3rd and 5th innings, but as with the two previous games, blew the contest wide open with a big inning in the sixth, rolling out a four spot to take a 6-0 lead.  Robinson Cano singled after Brad Miller doubled in the third to give the $240 million man his first RBI as a Mariner. In the fifth, a Bloomquist walk combined with a Miller single and Josh Hamilton throwing error led to a second run.  But the piece de resistance was in the sixth inning when eight Mariners came to bat. First baseman Justin Smoak and DH Corey Hart led off with singles.  Right fielder Stefen Romero hit his first career double, driving in Smoak for his first career RBI.  After a Dustin Ackley ground out, catcher Mike Zunino hit a long fly over the left field fence for a three run dinger.  Mariners lead 6-0

The scoring was capped in the ninth when Smoak, batting left handed for the first time of the night pounded a home run into the right field bleachers.  He was followed by Corey Hart’s first home run of the season, his first in over a year, to left field.  Both came off Angels closer Ernesto Frieri, in the game to get some work.  Both home runs seemed like messages to remind the Angels they’d just had sand kicked in their faces by the former 90 pound weakling up the beach.

The M’s finished their first 3-0 series since 1995.  So what does it all mean?  It means they still have 159 games to play.  There will be plenty of losses and probably some stinky baseball among them.  But here are a few things to stoke your enthusiasm and get you to think:

  • The young guys this team needs to play well to win are off to a hot start–Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller–even guys who aren’t going to play every day like Stefen Romero and Mike Zunino have played key roles in the first three games.
  • Robinson Cano has been quietly effective, with five hits, four walks and a couple of runs scored.  He hasn’t owned the show, and the team isn’t winning because he is winning for them.  I’m not quite sure what this means, but at some point pitchers will stop pitching around him so that Justin Smoak can double off the wall or pump it over the wall.
  • The three starting pitchers-Felix Hernandez, Erasmo Ramirez, and James Paxton were all excellent in their starts.
  • The bullpen has been better than passable. Caveat: Tom Wilhelmsen visibly stumbled with his command on Tuesday and Hector Noesi was his own abominable self last night.
  • According to Baseballreference.com, the M’s are leading the league in most offensive statistics. The are also second in the league for strikeouts.  Of course it’s offset a bit because the pitchers lead the league for most strikeouts.

Tonight Roenis Elias will open the four game series with the A’s.  It will be interesting to see how Elias and Chris Young will pitch.  It will be interesting to see how the team will play against what should be better pitching.  Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see if the opening sweep was about the Mariners in their first game, or if this is about how terrible the Angels may be.

Be excited about the sweep.  Keep your fingers crossed.  Wish the boys well.  I like to measure a team after 40 games to judge a team’s progress.  The last few years 40 games have told the tale of crappy baseball, and a long, boring summer.  Maybe this year will be different.