Show, don’t tell

To hell with you, snow. The boys of summer are just around the corner.

Pitchers and catchers report in just two days, and the Twins’ home opener at glorious Target Field is less than two months away. Save your jokes about the potential for snow on opening day; if you think a little dusting is going to ruin this, you’re not fit to be Minnesotan.

And in that spirit, I’ll share this great piece of sports journalism with anyone who cares. Yes, its centered on one of my lost true loves, former Twins ace and future Hall of Famer Johan Santana. Yes, that he’s no longer kicking off the Twins’ starting rotation depresses and angers me. And yes (batten down the hatches!), I’m pretty sure I’d trade Mauer for Santana — straight up. But that’s probably an emotional trade, not a logical one.

On to the journalism.

A reporter for the New York Daily News spent a day with Johan, playing catcher for the ace in a simulated mow-down of the heart of the Philadelphia Phillies lineup.

“I like to visualize because I always want to picture something,” he said. “It’s never just throwing.”

With that in mind, Chris Correnti, the Mets’ conditioning coach working with Santana, places a wooden silhouette of a hitter in the righthanded batter’s box and says, “Victorino up first.”

And with that I’m suddenly thinking about trying to get Shane Victorino out, putting down fingers, calling for a fastball away, a changeup, a backdoor slider and an absolutely killer changeup for strike three.

Easy enough. Same for Rollins. Santana hits his spots, always on or just off the corner, in or out. Of the 40 or so pitches he threw, in fact, only one pitch leaked into the middle of the plate, and that brought a grunt of disgust from the lefty.

Rollins goes down on a 1-2 fastball on the inside corner, and Correnti moves the silhouette to the left side to simulate Chase Utley. This time Santana just misses the corners enough to walk Utley, to another grunt of disgust, and so now I’m envisioning Ryan Howard’s hulking frame in the lefty box.

Santana throws a fastball on the outside corner, a changeup down, and then, as promised, bounces a slider just off the outside corner that caroms off my arm, 15 feet away to my left.

I scramble to retrieve the ball, happy that I got a piece of it, not realizing until I turn to throw that Santana is staring me down.

“Utley’s at second,” he says. “What’d you think, I was going to throw (Howard) a cookie there? Now I’m in a tough spot.”

I know he’s kidding. Isn’t he? No smile this time. Santana is in work mode. He takes these simulated games seriously because he takes a thinking man’s approach with each hitter, watching the swings they take, trying to decide when they might be sitting on his changeup.

You get more than a sense for how great the pitcher is or how much his fastball stings. You see his jovial side. You see his ferocity. You see his utter joy at returning to his delivery of old, now that those pesky bone chips have been banished from his elbow.

A good writing teacher will always remind the student, “Show, don’t tell.” John Harper doesn’t tell us Johan is one of the most dominant pitchers the game has seen in years. He doesn’t need to.

[photo via NY Daily News]

12 thoughts on “Show, don’t tell

  1. Dennis Lang says:

    Your a good man MJK. Great stuff! And a reminder of when sportswriting was an art that took us inside the game and the heads of the participants.

    PS: But no way you can justify a trade of Mauer for anyone who plays once every five. (And remember Mark Prior?)

    1. PM says:

      I don’t know about that. A dominating pitcher, pretty much guaranteed to get you those 5 or 7 wins that you wouldn’t otherwise get, that will get you into the playoffs?

      that said, a hitting catcher who is proven both defensively and at handling a pitching corps is pretty important, pretty rare (2 of those 3 is usually enough to guarantee a spot on a roster).

      (one of the things I love about baseball is the potential for the debates…)

      1. Dennis Lang says:

        While were on the subject (a fine diversion as winter plunges on) I’m trying to think of trades involving a Cy Young winner and an MVP and how they worked out. An elbow or a shoulder and your twenty mil a year goes out the window. That said the invincible stopper is exactly what’s needed in the play-offs–plus the closer whose sixty appearances and forty-five saves got you there.

      2. Sure, Cy Young winners are fragile, but so’s a $20 million-a-year catcher. How long are those knees, that back, going to actually earn that (anticipated) $20 million?

  2. Dennis Lang says:

    Good one that raises a question and possible answer. It appears one ot the hottest prospects in the organization is a young fellow named Ramos, poised at Double A. Now Ramos just happens to be a catcher. So, either a different fielder’s glove is ultimately found for Ramos, or somewhere down the line Mauer, like Berra and Bench and many other formerly all-star catchers, ends up in a less arduous on the knees position.
    PS: I think potential arm injuries to pitchers are potentially far more career threatening than injuries in general to everyday players. Makes those long-term deals especially risky. Pavanno, a case in point. The Yankees forked over millions for about fifteen innings over three seasons. Interesting to see how Sabathia holds up.
    PPS: Sorry, talking baseball as the ice dam on my roof builds ineluctably toward an interior waterfall, lots of fun.

  3. PM says:

    And there is the one other intangible–which one puts more butts in seats? We all know that wins and competing are important, but that is not all. There is an intangible, that which creates a “team” that connects with the fans. Mauer has that, partially because he is a local, but also because he seems to sense the he is a part of a “team” (his connection to the fans is more than just a $20MM paycheck). This is why Pujols, for instance, is worth more than his salary. If the Twins ever want to get to a point where they can reliably pull in 2 million fans/season, even when they are not in a pennant race, they need to create that feeling of being a “team”. And the time to do that is now, with a new field, several years of competition, a manager who seems to get it, and the main competition (the Vikings) threatening to leave. This is the Twins chance to really become Minnesota’s team, and Mauer will do more to create than than Santana ever would.

    (my 2 cents worth)

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      Timely article by Joe C–obviously prompted by this discussion at the Crowd. As PM asserts–and we all realize–Mauer in this instance is more than just an all-star already achieving historic accomplishments. While logic may dictate against long-term contracts for a catcher, and noting Mauer may have just completed the best season he will ever have, he can’t be allowed to leave.

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        Letting Mauer go would be like a letting a mega-bank fail. The homegrown mega-star essentially constitutes a “too big to fail” situation. Just as the economic aftershocks of mega-bank failures were too much to accept, the PR aftershocks of Twins fans seeing Mauer wearing pinstripes in the World Series the next ten years is too much to accept. Like the bank bailout, we’re throwing more money at signing Mauer than we should, but the cost of letting the market work (i.e. let the small handful of large market teams that actually can afford Mauer’s market price have him) is too high of a PR cost.

  4. Dennis Lang says:

    I knew Loveland would soon draw the connection to issues much larger currently impacting a way of life and civilization!

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