Crash Bag, Vol. 108: Cape Cod League

@Ut26: “What current Phillie would make the best road trip partner?”

It depends on what you want out of a road trip partner. Really, it depends on what you want out of a road trip. Because if this is your cross-country vacation, you want something different than if you’re just getting from point A to point B. If I’m just in a two-man Cannonball Run, all I want is someone who likes driving more than I do. I hate driving. Ideally, I’d like to control the radio at least up to a point and be left alone to sleep when I’m not driving, but those are negotiable. KTLSW, for instance, is content to carry more than half of the driving load when we go on road trips, which means I can live with her controlling the radio and her refusal to allow me to play Springsteen under any circumstances. Marriage is about compromises.

But if we’re stopping to see the sights and take in the local flavor, it’s more about who you’d want to hang out with than anything else, more so than normal, because if you’re spending all day in a car and going to places where you don’t know anyone except your travel buddy, you’re going to get tired of each other real quick. It’s why I wouldn’t take Ben Revere, whom I love. I remember watching a game in 2009–Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are leaning on the dugout rail and Jamie Moyer and Pedro Martinez–who had just joined the team days before–are sitting on the bench behind them. I’m pretty sure Victorino had just hit a home run or something, and he and Rollins are chattering back and forth like they’ve each had five cups of coffee, and Pedro turns to Moyer and gives him this look, like “Do those two ever shut up?” It’s probably my favorite moment of that season.

Anyway, if memory serves, Justin De Fratus has okay taste in music, and I could probably get along with Cole Hamels, because Cole Hamels gets along with everyone. But every time someone’s asked me “Which Phillies player would you most like to [engage in a real-life social situation with]?” I’ve said Ryan Howard, and this is no different.

@jlwoj: “my Q: is the official spoonerization of the Crash Bag ‘Brash Cag’ or ‘Bash Crag’?”

Given the choice between the two, I’d take Bash Crag, though in my mind, I’ve always gone for Crab Shag. Granted, that’s not a true spoonerism. It’s more of a pidgin spoonerism or an internal spoonerism. But it’s a funny image and I’ll stick by it.

@fisherofmung: “What’s the Cape Cod League all about? Might take the kids but I know nothing about it. Any particular teams/players of note?”

Because the college baseball season only goes to June–May for most teams–you might wonder what all those college ballplayers do all summer, apart from chase girls and work at the Piggly Wiggly. Once the college season ends, players who want to keep playing scatter, like the seeds of a dandelion in the wind, to various summer leagues across the United States, where they play against other top college competition with wood bats. There are dozens of such leagues across the country, including the Northwoods League in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota and the Coastal Plains League in Virginia and the Carolinas, both of which I’ve attended in person.

The consensus top wood bat league in the country is the Cape Cod League, which attracts such an assortment of talent that it’s at least on par in terms of quality of play with the SEC, which would make it the best amateur baseball league in the country. Last summer, the Madison Mallards had two players whose names I knew: UNC pitcher Reilly Hovis and Missouri State outfielder Tate Matheny. And it’s not like they were huge prospects. Matheny is the son of Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. Hovis was, like, the No. 4 starter for UNC, and I only knew who he was because the Tar Heels had not only played South Carolina in the NCAA Tournament, but had been unable to get a starting pitcher out of the third inning all weekend.

Now, on the Cape, there are 10 teams and I’ve seen at least one player on each team, sometimes as many as six or seven, play before. So not only are you getting top-notch established talent, every year there’s at least one guy from a small school who’d never faced power conference competition before and hits .450 or posts a sub-1 ERA and winds up going into the next season as a potential top-10 pick. Last year it was Special Agent Max Pentecost, the year before that it was Sean Manaea.

If you’re looking for the greatest concentration of talent, I’m not positive where to look, because while I know more about college baseball than most MLB writers, I’m something of a dilettante. So you might be better served asking a full-time college or prospect writer, someone like Kendall Rogers, who knows everything about such things.

However, even given my limited understanding, I can pinpoint a couple. The Chatham Anglers have Louisville righthander Kyle Funkhouser, who could go in the first round next year, though last I heard, Funkhouser was pitching with Team USA, so I’m not sure if he’s there right now. Phil Bickford, whom you might remember as the kid who spurned the Blue Jays for Cal State Fullerton after Toronto picked him in the first round, is with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. The Orleans Firebirds have the most names I recognize: Sam Moore of UC-Irvine, who pitched well in the College World Series, and Tyler Ferguson of Vanderbilt, who pitched badly in the College World Series. The aforementioned Reilly Hovis and his UNC teammate Trent Thornton, as well as two pitchers who played in the national championship game: Virginia’s Josh Sborz, a righthanded starter who could play in the big leagues, and Vanderbilt’s Hayden Stone, who has just a preposterous slider. Their original roster also had UVA’s Nathan Kirby, another potential first-rounder, and Vanderbilt’s Dansby Swanson, the CWS MOP, but neither Kirby nor Swanson is listed now.

In short, both the Northwoods and Coastal Plains leagues were magnificent entertainment for relatively cheap. The atmosphere’s great, the baseball is good, and particularly on the Cape, I wouldn’t worry about picking a particular team–you’re going to see someone notable no matter what game you catch.

@loctastic: “what are your three best solutions to the Philadelphia school district budget crisis”

  1. Nationalize and standardize the educational system and outlaw secular private schools. I went to a magnificent public high school with a half-million dollar artificial turf football field, 30 minutes from a public high school that looked like something out of The Wire. If the people who paid the taxes that supported my education knew their kids’ lot was thrown in with the lot of the kids from Camden who were lucky to come home from school hungry instead of beaten, we’d solve our budget crisis pretty damn quick. The way it stands, schools fail because the rich can opt out of funding them.
  2. Raise taxes/stop corporate welfare. We don’t have to do this by way of violent proletarian revolution, but we could if we wanted to.
  3. Bake sales? I dunno, I don’t really have a third good idea. Apart from, I dunno, are you pissed that kids are entitled nowadays? Maybe let’s defund social security instead. The more I think about it, the more I’d like to live in the Logan’s Run biodome. I’ll say that it’s probably not a good idea to privatize anything, or close schools, fire teachers or cut more sports, art and AP-type classes that make kids want to escape the dystopian ghetto that we’re creating for them.

@elkensky: “how overrated was Snowpiercer? Please analogize to a once or present Phillies prospect.”

Speaking of dystopian ghettos…

How dare you say Snowpiercer was overrated. How dare you. I haven’t been that amped up to see a movie in theaters that far in advance since Rush at least. Rush was good, but it disappointed me a little because I was hoping for it to be one of those great, pitch-perfect, sprawling epics, but about sports. Like Apollo 13 meets Chariots of Fire. And it wasn’t that good. Snowpiercer, however, was magnificent. The writing was great, the set design was great, the use of color was phenomenal. The acting was preposterously good–Tilda Swinton was excellent, Octavia Spencer was excellent, Chris Evans was on another level. He’s no longer the pretty airhead who gets thrown into a pool in the first scene of Skin, no sir. Now he’s, well, Captain America, a metamorphosis that started with his role in one of my favorite movies, Sunshine. He was magnificent in this film.

What I loved most about how it was set up is how completely and immediately the world and the stakes are established, and how little there is in the way of warmup or exposition. Because it’s about people fighting their way from the back of a train to the front, the story moves along with the action. It’s such a kinetic movie, which leads to my one complaint. The goal of Chris Evans and his entourage is to fight their way to the front of the train and take the engine, and without trying to spoil anything, there’s about 20 minutes at the end of the movie where they’re not advancing anymore, and without that motion, the energy of the movie peters out, like the story runs out of room to move as well. I wasn’t crazy about the ending, but I also can’t think of how I’d have written a better one, so I can’t complain.

Anyway, movie owns. And if I had to comp it to a Phillies prospect–high expectations, which were met, but had a slightly disappointing ending–I’d say Bobby Abreu, if he counts as a Phillies prospect. If not, Ryan Madson, maybe? Brett Myers? Certainly there’s enough violence in Snowpiercer to warrant that comp.

@kylemallory: “Yes, can you do a post (or the Alley) on best Philadelphia beat/MLB reporters.”

Not really, because I don’t want to piss people off unduly. I will say that in general, I think the Phillies have a particularly good set of beat writers, and that while I don’t read all of their stuff every day, I’d say that Matt Gelb is my favorite of the bunch, even though I get the impression he doesn’t like me very much. Other good beat writers, off the top of my head: Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic is widely acclaimed, and while I haven’t made it down to Great American Ballpark yet, when I do, I’m going to find the Cincinnati Enquirer’s C. Trent Rosecrans and kiss him on his big beardy face I love him so much.

One day I’ll do a full accounting of my favorite sports/baseball writers, but not today.

@PhilaBCoulter: “In honor of Fat Yankee fan suing ESPN, who would you sue in sports? Sidenote: No matter how frivolous, you wouldn’t owe a cent.”

I was going to say the NCAA, but they’re pretty well set as far as lawsuits go. Maybe MLB for artificially depressing salaries for un-unionized amateur signees and minor league players. This Crash Bag has taken something of a Marxist turn.

Though I embed that video, it seems, like once every six weeks.

@seventeendaysof: “I’m moving to a place where everyone follows EPL, no baseball to be watched. How do I pick a team? Nothing wankerish like ManU.”

Do you mean England? Because that sounds like England. I think this is a question you’re going to have to solve for yourself. But here’s what I’d take into consideration:

  • I got into soccer the way I am now during the 2006 World Cup. I fell desperately in love with Thierry Henry, who played for Arsenal at the time, so I decided I’d follow the team he plays for. Plus they’ve got a cool name. And the more I got to know them, the more I became aware that they’re exactly like the Eagles under Andy Reid, so I felt right at home.
  • If you root for Manchester City, you’re an asshole. The same used to be true of Chelsea and Manchester United, but Chelsea’s got Jose Mourinho, who is the best parts of Steve Spurrier, Bill Belichick and…who’s a really good-looking coach? Kliff Kingsbury? Anyway, Mourinho is the coolest and they’re phasing out the douchey old guard of John Terry, Ashley Cole and so on in favor of cool players like Ramires, Romelu Lukaku and Thibault Courtois. Also, if you root for Barcelona or any Italian team, you’re an asshole.
  • Don’t just pick the team that has the most Americans. Back in 2007 or so, Fulham had about 35 Americans, and now all of them are either back in MLS or retired and Fulham was less fun to watch this year than the Phillies.
  • I’m not sure they actually call people wankers.
  • Everton’s a really trendy team, because they’re good, but not so good people are going to accuse you of being a frontrunner, and they’ve got Tim Howard. Tottenham and Liverpool are good “cool” teams as well.
  • If you’re going to pick anyone outside of the Manchester clubs, Chelsea, and maybe Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham, you’ve got to make your peace with the possibility that your club will never ever win a championship. There’s even less parity than in the NBA. In fact, if you pick a team like Sunderland–which for some reason seems bizarrely popular among people whose EPL affiliation I’m aware of–because you don’t want to look like a bandwagoner, be aware that you’re potentially in for a tremendous amount of suffering.

@CoronitaKing: “Does Alexis Sanchez actually count as Arsene Wenger finally signing a striker?”

I don’t know. I guess he’s technically a forward, but he’s one of those smaller winger/attacking midfielder/striker hybrids like Theo Walcott or Lukas Podolski, not a target man like Olivier Giroud. I actually think Giroud, who’s slow and not really that great a finisher, is the perfect striker for this team, which has about a billion good attacking midfielders, because he’s a tremendous passer. Usually the No. 10 sets up the striker, but Giroud setting up, I dunno, Aaron Ramsey, works well enough that it doesn’t matter that it’s backwards. What matters more to me is that Sanchez becomes the scoring option wherever he plays, because with Giroud, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla and Mikel Arteta in the lineup at the same time, you could play with two balls and they’d still try to walk it into the net.

The real worry is that the transfer window goes by and they don’t get a credible backup for Giroud, who had a great season, but is only one man and occasionally requires a rest. My preference would have been to go out last summer and get either Gonzalo Higuain or Robert Lewandowski for all of Alisher Usmanov’s mining money, but Sanchez is a great player and I’d rather have him than not.

@JeffBaumann: “Does Derek Jeter still get voted in as the starting shortstop for the AL in next year’s All-Star game?”

I can’t name another AL shortstop, so I don’t see why not. I think that would represent such an absurd overstatement of the national Jeter hagiography that I kind of want it to happen.

We’ll find out next year. That’s all for this week. Good night and good luck.

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  1. JonCheddar

    July 16, 2014 10:38 AM

    1. Giroud is absolutely terrible.

    2. The third element of fixing the schools is adopting the Finnish model of no standardized testing, well-paid teachers, and freedom for teachers to set the curriculum.

    • Michael Baumann

      July 16, 2014 11:12 AM

      Generally, my opinion on anything domestic policy-related is “Let’s do what the Finns are doing.”

    • WayneKerrins

      July 16, 2014 06:30 PM

      We tried giving schools the freedom to set the curriculum. We’ve just had to put a load in special measures as extreme Islamists infiltrated the school boards to indoctrinate the kids in jihad.

      Having lived in PA and England your political axis is markedly to the right of ours and Contintental Europe. Whilst certain things are, in my view, worse in the US – particularly the extreme inequality- trust me, moving your axis to the Left isn’t a panacea. You do a lot of things right there: more than you’d believe.

    • Greg

      July 16, 2014 09:34 PM

      Giroud is awful. No real touch or feel. If he has the ball for more than 2 seconds, bad things happen. What I wouldn’t give for a decent striker.

  2. Kyle

    July 16, 2014 12:28 PM

    Here’s how I picked an EPL team: I looked for the team most like a Philadelphia team. I wanted a team that had been around a while in the top tiers, but without a long history of success. I wanted a long-suffering blue-collar fanbase with a repudiation for bad behavior. The answer was simple: West Ham United.

    • WayneKerrins

      July 16, 2014 06:17 PM

      West Ham was your answer 20 years ago but their fan base now is largely like a team playing in Harlem whose fans come from the a north jersey shore: fake tans/highlighted hair and essentially plastic parodies of their old 1960s 1980s support.
      Of current PL clubs the nearest to the Phillies is probably Everton, Newcastle maybe and of the London clubs Chelsea who had little success until recently.
      Baumann you are spot on re Fulham-as a season ticket holder of 30 years plus this year was like watching infinite Galvis at bats , JC Romero (late period)/ BJ Rosenberg ‘reliefs’..and Youngs’ (LF and 3B) defense.

      By the way we have a US 19 year old centre mid Hynmann who has been getting game time in pre season.

      • hk

        July 17, 2014 06:44 AM

        I had read about Hyndman a year or so ago and then forgot about him until your mention above. How has he been faring in the pre-season? Does he look like he’ll get some run when the real games start?

  3. WayneKerrins

    July 16, 2014 06:04 PM

    Why are non secular private schools ok in your vision for a reformed US school system? If you’re god fearing you can splash the cash with impunity? But richer atheists have to tough it out with masses…?

  4. Greg

    July 16, 2014 09:31 PM

    I dunno, I might go on a road trip with Cole or Chase. If you stop at any bar, the runoff from either would just be fantastic.

  5. Carmine

    July 17, 2014 09:05 AM

    If you’re looking for an EPL team, try Tottenham Hotspur. Besides the cool Shakspearean name, they are like the current Phillies — some great periods in their history but today’s team has talent that just can’t quite make it. Their North London neighborhood is pretty gritty.
    If you want another blue-collar pick, try Newcastle, or, if you are resigned to never rooting for a winner, Wigan, even though they astonishingly won the FA Cup two seasons ago. If you want to be part of the fashionable set, go with Arsenal or Chelsea, even though they retain some thuggish fans from the old days.

  6. NickFromGermantown

    July 17, 2014 10:00 AM

    You can’t “opt out” of funding public schools unless you move out of the school district or choose to not pay property taxes (at risk of your house going to sheriff sale). Not sure why you’d ban secular private schools either. It’s not like they impact the funding of public schools.

    One big problem is the impact of charters on public school funding and the public school districts not proactively reacting to charters’ effects. Public schools should have started to reduce capacity as more students went to charters. This was delayed for too long and recently became a crisis as we saw.

    • NickFromGermantown

      July 17, 2014 10:06 AM

      Just to be clear, while you can opt out of one public school district, but you can’t opt out of paying for public schools in general.

      And don’t come back saying renters opt out of paying into school districts because they implicitly pay property taxes through their landlord.

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