Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pitchers Like That Are the Only Pitchers Here

I don't have a good "pitcher" of Jeff Francis, but I do have this view of a cemetery in Oklahoma, the state where we saw him dominate the El Paso Diablos in 2004. I'm fairly sure that this is not where all former Tulsa pitchers wind up.
News reached Byways HQ yesterday that nine years and one week to the day that we saw Jeff Francis terrorize the El Paso Diablos in one of his Double-A starts, the man has been let go in favor of what is almost certainly the Last Coming of Roy Oswalt.

To which I have to say, as a tear wells up in my.... wait, ROY OSWALT? Give me a goddamn break.

Yeah, I'm looking at you, Roger Clemens. I blame you for this appalling trend whereby "elite" pitchers decide that they can pick and choose when and where they pitch—a half season for one competitor here, a half season for another one there, all because rings are apparently more addictive than crack cut with bacon. I'm all for the free market of labor and whatnot, but at the same time there's something to be said for playing a full season for your team—you know, earning the ring you'd sell your stupidly named children for.

What makes this so ire inducing is that annoying habit history has of repeating itself as farce. See, it's one thing for Roger Clemens to sit out for a while while he's still got something in the tank. But now we have the silly spectacle of Roy Oswalt, who last resembled a good pitcher three years ago, sitting around the house holding out until he can suddenly announce, "I've decided to take my talents to Mile High Stadium!" At which he was informed that (a) he should stop being so LeBronist; (b) they don't play baseball at that stadium any more (sorry, Zephyrs); and (c) this is somewhat anticlimactic. See, the whole point of Clemens-esque bargaining is to wind up in a good place for a short time and reap the postseason rewards. Oswalt's move fails on all counts here: it's the reductio ad absurdum of hitters' parks, it's too early in the season, and the Rockies will not be in the postseason. One might think the guy was just another desperate fringe pitcher, not a fringe Hall of Famer who don't know when to quit. Let the horrorshow commence.

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, Jeff Francis and a tear welling up in my eye. The fact is that even if this is a not-too-great idea for the Rockies and politically inept for Oswalt, it doesn't mean that Jeff Francis's career should have been extended one day longer. And that, for the Byways team, is a little sobering

Francis was the first truly hot prospect we latched onto on our second major trip. He had been dominating the Texas League in 2004, eventually totaling 147 strikeouts over 113 2/3 innings, with a record of 13-1 and a WHIP of 0.84. And from what we can recall, he was nothing but dominant that night, as the Drillers won 3–0.

Our memories are a little hazy because we had skipped dinner in a rush to make it to the game, and once there we indulged in a number of malt-based beverages of the sort I can't drink anymore. With the passage of time, I left our seats in the front row of the upper deck to indulge in a common biological process, while Rob sat facing the field in a state of complete paralysis—to the point that when a foul pop soared up into the heavens and then crashed back directly on my seat, he didn't blink, sources say.

Speculation began to run rampant over the precise nature of Rob's incapacitation. Some thought he might have been victim of too much youthful experimentation with certain Hudson River Valley vegetations and elixirs. Others thought he was transfixed by his memories of that afternoon's visit to the Catoosa Blue Whale. He claims he just didn't want the ball, and that were I to reflect on the question, I wouldn't want it either.

I now realize that Rob was almost certainly suffering from a momentary bout of time travel, as he was suddenly able to see into the future and know that nine years and a week later, the phenom Francis's career would be crashing earthward even more precipitously than that foul ball was. He then further must have realized that he and I and everyone else there would be nine years and a week older (or no longer concerned with the question) and not at all necessarily wiser. Certainly, only one of use present in Tulsa that day would be going on to compile 813 strikeouts and a 69-78 career won-loss record.

Jeff Francis, you are the lodestar of our mortality.

View from inside the Catoosa Blue Whale. Or is it purgatory itself?

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