So, How About Them Mariners?

Pitchers and catchers have reported to Peoria, AZ at the Peoria Sports Complex.

With last years surprising season, coming within in one win of making the playoffs, expectations are pretty high for this team.  Some MLB pundits have the Mariners going to the World Series this year.

It’s that time of year when everyone goes to sabermetric mode, looks at every single possible statistical analysis available and points to all the trends and indicators and puts forth a prediction that Stephen Hawking would be proud of.

I hate statistics.  Yes, I will use them to find some interesting things but stats take the joy out of watching the game and takes away the real understanding of it.

I played baseball in high school and for the most part I was pretty good.  Had a decent bat, pretty good speed and prided myself at being a good defensive center fielder.  Like most kids at that age, I considered going to the major leagues until I discovered that I had and never will have, a clue on how to hit a curveball.

But there is something about putting that mitt into your face and inhaling the leather, shagging fly balls with your teammates on a clear, cloudless day and smelling the fresh cut grass that statistical information will never give you.

So here is my gut feeling on the Mariners for 2015.  They are going to be right in the thick of it and I can see them taking the American League West this year.

It appears the first 4 spots in the pitching rotations is set with Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton and J. A. Happ (acquired in a trade with Toronto for Michael Saunders).  The fifth spot is up for grabs.

In my eyes, Taijuan Walker is the front runner for the fifth spot.  He had some good outings last year and being only 22 years old, has his career in front of him.  Mariners have been very careful with Walker but sooner rather than later, they are going to have to see what he has to stay at the major league level.

I’m not sure about the feel good story of the first half last year in Roenias Elias.  He is too much in love with his curve ball.  Granted, it is one of the best in the MLB but the more hitters see it, the more they will get used to it.   He needs to work on setting hitters up with his fastball…and to be honest, if he can develop a slider, he could be the sleeper for 2015.  If the Mariners were smart, they should hook him up with Randy Johnson who had one of the best sliders in the majors.

The bullpen, the strongest component of last years team, is pretty much the same this year with Fernando Rodney coming back as the closer.  Not a big fan of Rodney but can’t deny he had great success last year with 36 saves.  Along with Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, Charlie Furbush and Tom Wilhelmsman, the Mariners have little to be worried about with leads after the 7th inning.

As for the lumber, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino and newcomer Nelson Cruz provide plenty of pop.  Cano will have his usual .300-plus, 20-25 home runs and 100 plus RBI year.  Seager could struggle a bit this year as pitchers are now aware of him.  I don’t see Zunino putting up 20 home runs this year but I do see him becoming a more dangerous hitter.  He was under .200 for batting in 2014 but I suspect he’ll be a .260 to .265 hitter this year and use the whole field.  And Nelson Cruz, who hit 33 home runs last year will solidify the middle line up.

Mariners are lacking a good lead-off man.  Austin Jackson, a very good outfielder, didn’t do very well with the Mariners after being traded from the Detroit Tigers.  Too many strikeouts and not enough walks.

For me, a leadoff batters main focus is to get on base.  Too accomplish that, the hitter needs to be patient at the plate, work the pitcher deep into counts and learn how to foul off pitches until he gets the one he likes.  Jackson, in 578 bats last year, struck out 138 times and only walked 50 times.  He has got to cut down on his K’s by at least 30% and walk in the 75 to 90 range for the year.

Dustin Ackley will have a solid, consistent year in 2015.  Everyone seems to want to write him off but I like this guy.  He has the ability to carry a team as he showed last year during an outstanding three week stretch.   He’s improving as an outfielder and has found a home in the lineup in the number eight hole.

The one spot where the Mariners have a real concern is shortstop.  Not so much from a defensive standpoint since both Brad Miller and Chris Taylor made some outstanding plays.  Miller is the more refined defensively and Taylor is probably the better hitter but not by much.  But if the Mariners concede that whoever plays shortstop will be no more than  a .220 hitter with a good glove, then they need to accept that and take whatever offense comes out is a bonus.

Manager Lloyd McClendon will keep this team on track, not allow them to get too high or too low.  He is, right now, the best temperament this team needs.  He’ll back his players 110%, won’t embarrass them to the media and won’t be afraid to sit a player down regardless of the player’s status on the team.

And as poet Alexander Pope once said “Hope springs eternal,” I look forward to sunny days listening to Mariners on the radio kicking some butt and taking names this year.

Go Mariners!

 

Roundup, GMO & Terminator Seeds, Oh My!

GMO

My wife has gone through some medical issues, the worst being that she contracted thyroid cancer four years ago. I am happy to report that she beat the crap out of it and is now cancer free.

During this journey, she took it upon herself to seek ways on how to take better care of her body by watching what she eats and looking at alternative ways to lead a healthier lifestyle. Recently, she had to go on a gluten free diet due to inflammation in her system.

She does a copious amount of research when faced with changes. She wants to know what the ramifications are of the changes being made.

For me, being a typical guy, I have not given much thought about what I eat. Quite often, when she won’t be home for dinner, I will take the easy way out and grab a McDonald’s double-quarter pounder with cheese with a large order of fries. And while it may taste so good ingesting it, I find myself not feeling so good in the next few hours and often quite sluggish the next day.

Which brings me to the reason why I am writing this piece, the true first piece under the “Thoughts From a Common Man” section. I have something to say about the shortcuts the agriculture industries are taking; in the name of profits over the health of American citizens. Our government needs to be held accountable, too.

Did you know that the standard harvesting practice for some wheat farmers in the United States is to drench their wheat fields with Roundup? That’s right, the stuff that’s in your garage you use to get rid of weeds. Using Roundup allows combines, the piece of farm equipment used for harvesting, to work through withered, dead plants more easily. It reduces maintenance costs and wear and tear on the combine.

How do you feel knowing your health is being sacrificed to ease maintenance costs or replacement costs on farm equipment?

But I need to say here, according to an article from the Huffington Post (The Truth About Toxic Wheat), the use of Roundup is not common practice. The practice is most often used with farms that pre-harvest their wheat, mainly in North Dakota, small parts of South Dakota and parts of Canada.

Other states, such as Kansas and Oklahoma and the majority of wheat producing regions, don’t have a need to pre-harvest mainly due to their dry and warm climates as well as the variety of wheat they grow.

The practice of using Roundup eliminates the need of swathing the wheat; which means farmers cut the wheat down, lay it rows and let it dry. It lies there until the moisture content of the wheat kernels reach a desired moisture content. The ideal percentage would be 13.5% but anything less than 18% is good.

So imagine a farmer swaths his wheat crop and it rains for the next week. That’s income laying on the ground that he needs to support his family. By using Roundup, farmers would not have to swath their crops as the Roundup weakens the wheat so it is easier on the equipment.

Apparently, another “benefit” from using Roundup is it allows the wheat to ripen more evenly. Again, I have to ask the question, are these practices, mainly looking at the bottom line of the farmers’ livelihood, OK to use at the sacrifice of even one person’s health?

I have the utmost respect for farmers. The service they provide by feeding this country is critical to the nation’s security. They have a very tough job and I can’t believe how tough the government made it for them when hundreds of families lost their farms. Some of those farms have been generational…some up to six or seven generations of existence!

It wouldn’t, and it isn’t, fair to call all farmers out on the use of Roundup Ready crops. They take great pride and care of the crops they produce. But the farmers who use Monsanto’s genetically modified terminator seeds, often called Roundup Ready crops, are the ones that need to take a good long look in the mirror.

What are Roundup Ready Crops? The best definition I found is from MIT (Roundup Ready Crops) In nutshell, these crops are modified to be resistant to Roundup. Monsanto altered the DNA of these seeds to be resistant to their own product. These seeds are called terminator seeds, seeds that are sterile in the second generation. The theory is that since these crops are resistant, Roundup can be used to eliminate unwanted foliage during harvest.

Since these seeds are sterile farmers, if they want to use Roundup, must purchase seeds from Monsanto since other seeds would not be resistant. Monsanto claims to be addressing the needs of the world when it comes to food supply. However, there isn’t a lot of evidence to support that Roundup Ready crops increases the yield or profit of farmers who use their seeds.

In an article from May of 2014, the Inquisitr website stated there were much higher levels found in genetically modified soy in the US food supply. (May 4, 2014 Post Regarding Roundup Levels in Soy of US Food Supply.) The research was conducted by researchers in Norway. The USDA and the EPA both say Roundup used on foods is safe but a report from the June 2014 Elsevier publication, Food Chemistry, contradicts that statement. That report can be found here Roundup Ready GM Soybeans from the ScienceDirect website.

Glyphosate, the main chemical in Roundup, does not wash out from the plant. It is absorbed and translocated within the entire plant. That means when we eat genetically modified foods, we are also eating this chemical.

Soy is usually the base protein in baby formula and genetically modified organisms can be found in almost all packaged and processed foods in the United States.

Think about that for a second. Soy is in baby formula which uses GMOs. And these GMOs can be found in most packaged food in the United States.

There are currently 26 countries in the world that have a ban or partial bans on GMOs. This includes Switzerland, China, France, Greece, Mexico and Russia. Sixty other countries have significant restrictions on GMOs. (Source: The Nation Blog – Twenty Six Countries Ban GMO’s)

What processes do these countries use that does not necessitate the use of Roundup in order to ensure their citizens are eating healthy products? What do they know that the United States doesn’t? To be honest, I think the U.S. knows the same thing those countries do but is more focused on near term profit gain over the health implication later.

I am not going to claim that I have an answer for any of this. But during the creation of this article, I had to pause due to an insightful conversation with one of the smartest people I know, my wife Nancy.

She posited that perhaps our industry and government is focusing on the wrong thing. Instead of using Roundup on farm crops to make them easier for the farm equipment to harvest, why aren’t the better minds focusing on making the equipment stronger?

We went through several trains of thought around this and we came to several conclusions:

  • European countries, who have been around a lot longer than the United States, are taking a long view approach and putting the health of their citizens above profits. We both agreed that the United States is much like a teenager that wants the instant gratification now and not seeing the ramifications of what may occur later.
  • Special interest groups and big corporations, like Monsanto who make Roundup, are using their influence to positively affect their bottom line rather than the health of American citizens.
  • We are approaching this issue from the wrong direction. Instead of messing with Mother Nature by changing the plants chemically, we need to come up with a mechanical solution that would benefit the farmers and still give these companies the profits they seek. All the while, giving the American consumers a better shot at living longer and healthier for generations to come.
  • We don’t know the long term implications of what this does to the land, the water, the neighboring areas and the animals who are also affected.

There has to be a better solution to this issue. The United States has always prided itself on having some of the best and most creative minds in the world. Yet, other countries are passing us by because we, from a creative standpoint, have gotten lazy. Using this chemical solution as opposed to a mechanical solution is based on it being cheaper, not the right thing to do.

We have become a nation focused on finding ways to build things cheaper and faster. Some of you may want to add the word “better” to that phrase but you’d be wrong. Items made now have a planned obsolescence built into them because companies want you to replace rather than repair.

I think it’s time to take control of what we want to ingest. I don’t feel we should sacrifice our health to make it easier on farm equipment that harvest the crops. Above all, our industries and our government need to start asking “Is this the right thing to do?” Not to hold the notion that it’s better for a bottom line profit or to take or keep control of a government office.

Removing greed and the lust for power will never be out of an equation. But at least we can strive for these instances to be an anomaly rather than the norm.

Seattle Seahawks and “The Call”

Sad Seahawk

It has been five days since the 12th Man was stunned by the Seahawks loss to the New England Patriots.  Not sure how anyone else felt but for me, it was a blow to the stomach and I had all the air knocked out of me.

I haven’t looked at a sports page, listened to very little sports talk radio and have avoided the NFL Network and ESPN altogether.  Because I just can’t stand how the last call of the game has been diagnosed to the Nth degree.

I allowed myself some time to get through this.  This loss was more difficult to process mainly because of the suddenness of it.  We were right there at the one yard line, Russell Wilson calmly at the line and then New England rookie Malcom Butler drove the stake into the heart with an amazing play.

A lot of things have been said about “The Call.”  Some have indicated it was the worst call in Super Bowl history.  Others have wondered long and hard that why, with 26 seconds on the clock and with the freak of nature running Marshawn Lynch in the backfield, would you even consider throwing a pass.

Here is what I know:

  • I am not the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks with 80,000 screaming fans yelling, all kinds of traffic coming in on the headset, trying to make a decision in 45 seconds.
  • I am not the quarterback who has such a belief in the system he plays in, that he never considered questioning the call.
  • I am not the wide receiver who was assigned to bump the corner back.
  • I am not the receiver who was supposed to make the move to the ball.

We can all sit back, with the help of instant replay, stop action and slow motion in high-definition media, tear apart the play frame by frame.  We can drag a play that took all of four seconds to execute, into a full 10 minute dissertation on every single thing that supposedly went wrong.

When the play occurred, there wasn’t a Seahawk fan that didn’t think the Seahawks weren’t going to score and be the first repeat champions since the New England Patriots.

But it wasn’t just that play that got us.  The spectacular interception by Jeremy Lane in the first quarter and in instant later, after being tackled, he is out of the game with a severe broken wrist.

Earl Thomas, who stated that if the Super Bowl had been played the previous week, he would not have been able to play with that injured shoulder.

Richard Sherman was not near 100% with a rotator cuff injury he sustained while playing in the NFC Championship.

Kam Chancellor wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to play due to a knee injury sustained at the Friday before Super Bowl practice.  Through what Pete Carroll calls a superhuman effort, Chancellor strapped on a speed brace and gutted it out.

Cliff Avril, so key all year long on the defensive line, went out in the third quarter with a concussion.

And even with all the injuries, the Seahawks were right there, poised to win the game with yet another spectacular comeback.

But we just didn’t quite make it…and we are all trying to find a place to place the blame.  You know what?  There is no one to blame.  The play was called, the players actually executed the play fairly well and Malcom Butler just made a great play.

There is one last thing I can say about this:  It’s over, it happened and we still have one helluva football team to cheer for.

The Seahawks will learn from this…they will use it to come back stronger and hungrier than before and be one of the rare teams to make a Super Bowl appearance three years straight.

It’s just gonna seem like one helluva long wait!

Go Seahawks!

 

New England Wins Super Bowl 28-24: Should Thank Seahawks

Kinda makes you just a little bit sick, right?
Kinda makes you just a little bit sick, right?

This was not the picture I wanted to see.  I wanted Tom Brady to be sullen and morose because the Seahawks took away his bid to win four Super Bowls.

Instead, the Seahawks did something that just defies any kind of logic known to man.  With 20 seconds left, poised to go into the end zone for the win, with a timeout still in the bank, they elected to pass.

It was a gimme interception that Patriots rookie cornerback Malcolm Butler will remember for the rest of his life.

Pete Carroll fell on the sword for the Seahawks saying the decision to throw was his.  Darrell Bevel indicated that he made the call and said that Butler made a great play on the ball.  Russell Wilson said it was on him for not making the play.

The thing is, when you have a 5’11” 215 pound freak of nature named Marshawn Lynch, why in the hell would you even think about throwing?

Thing of it is, that one mistake wiped out all the good things that occurred in that game.

Anyone going to be talking about Chris Matthews with his 4 incredible catches for 109 yards with a touchdown?  We going to be talking about how well Lynch ran going for 102 yards and a score?  Will Jermaine Kearse improbable laying on the back catch be mentioned?

Not too much because of what many people are calling the “worst coaching decision” in the history of the game.  I think this even beats Marty Mornhinweg’s coin toss debacle and rationalized it as “we wanted the wind” when he was head coach of the Detroit Lions.

This one hurt.  But the Seahawks and the 12th Nation will be OK.  I am 90% sure when the Hawks come home, there will be a welcoming committee for them with chants of “We’ll get em next year!” and I don’t think they will be off the mark.

Seattle is still going to be the team to beat in the NFC next year.  And I would think they need just a few tweaks to maintain their level of excellence.  Love to see them get a big-bodied and fast wide-receiver to give them yet an even better passing game.  Perhaps Chris Matthews will fill that role if his performance in Super Bowl 49 wasn’t a fluke.

Some additional help on the offensive line should be a priority as well.  Need to cut down the number of sacks that Russell Wilson takes.  Keep him clean and he will be even better.

While this Super Bowl loss hurt, because of the way the Seahawks are built, they will use this game as a huge motivator for the 2015 season.  This will be a huge chip on their collective shoulders and I actually feel just a little bit sorry for the teams they face next season…well, almost.

And despite the fact that the Patriots should thank the Seahawks for their Super Bowl win, they played a hell of a game as well…just too bad that it had to end the way that it did.

Congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks for an outstanding season!

Seahawk Shining