Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Book Review: Calico Joe

Monday, June 11th, 2012

Since I bought an iPad at the beginning of the season, I’ve found myself reading a lot more. I really enjoy using it as a reader, however with that comes the frustration when one of the millions of books I get in the mail randomly from publishers to possibly review or mention on the site arrives in print form. I’ve gotten spoiled and tend to read e-books before I read print books now, but I decided to pick up the copy of Josh Grisham’s new novel, Calico Joe, to give it a look. I want to preface this post my mentioning that this was the first Grisham novel that I’ve ever read.

CALICO JOE: A surprising and moving novel of fathers and sons, forgiveness and redemption, set in the world of Major League Baseball…

The plot summary is a pretty simple one revolves around the life and career of two players.Warren Tracey, an aging fringe veteran starting pitcher for the Mets, and Joe Castle. a hot rookie first base prospect called up after an injury for a lowly Chicago Cubs team. The story is told by Tracey’s son, Paul, in relation to current day events. He recounts the summer of 1973 as he was growing up watching both his father, a deadbeat dad with alcohol and anger issues and Castle, his boyhood hero. Grisham shifts back and forth between the two players until finally coming together around the middle of the novel and then moves toward the present day with Warren Tracey on his deathbed from cancer.

Overall, I liked the story that Grisham paints. It’s heartfelt and light, and mixed in real life character’s so well that I found myself looking up Warren Tracey and Joe Castle on Baseball Reference just to make sure they were not real (they aren’t). However, as nice a touch as that was, I wasn’t pleased with how dominant he made Castle out to be. His character is a player that was called upon to fill in after an injury and not only Wally Pipped the guy he filled in for, but basically had the most dominant start to his career by far. I felt like the numbers he put up were too unrealistic, which turned me off a little on the character. To give you an idea what I’m talking about: “After thirty-one games, he had 62 hits in 119 at bats, with 18 home runs and 25 stolen bases. He had made one error at first and had struck out only six times.”

I was a little discouraged that I knew how the story was going to play out by about midway through, but I guess I figured that since it was a Grisham novel, it was supposed to be a suspenseful thriller. If you’re going into it with that mindset, you’re going to be dissappointed with the book. If you, instead, go into it looking for a nice baseball story then you’ll be a lot better off. In fact, I could see this one becoming a movie down the road because they story lends itself to a Hollywood format quite well.

On the whole, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to you. It’s a quick, easy read. I finished it in a weekend, so it’s the perfect novel for a weekend at the beach or something like that. I’ll give it 3 out of 5 stars.


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Review: OOTP 13 / iOOTP 2012

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

I love baseball games. From Baseball Stars on the original Nintendo Entertainment System to MLB The Show on the current consoles, I would play the heck out of them. While lacking in the graphics and the detailed batter-pitcher matchups those console games offer, the Out of the Park franchise is the most detailed baseball simulation around. It isn’t a game that’s about the graphics; it’s about putting together and managing an organization in the most realistic manner possible.

I like to play the game from the GM position and simulate month by month, season after season. The game includes everything you can imagine. The June Draft, signing the draft picks, the trade deadline, waiver trades, roster expansion, hiring and firing of coaches, managers, and scouts, arbitration, free agency, Rule 5 draft, Top Prospect lists…I’m sure I’m forgetting many features. In fact, go HERE for a list of everything you need to know.

One of the more interesting features is the “Random Debut” mode, where you can play in a season that have the rosters randomly filled from the historical database. You may come up on the draft and find a young Mickey Mantle to add to your farm system, or perhaps you go for pitching and draft Greg Maddux and put him right in your rotation behind your ace, Bob Gibson. The possibilities are endless.

All these options, though, can be daunting, and OOTP allows you to customize the game to fit your style. For instance, I tend to turn injuries way down, if not off, because there are just so many of them on the default setting it becomes disruptive to my style of play. If you want the DH in the National League, change it. You want to get rid of the Rule 5 draft? Change it. For as many options there are, there are just as many tweaks you can make.

It’s not a perfect game; I’ll always have a bone to pick with player ratings. Coco Crisp, for example, came in at 4.5/5 stars; the same as Robinson Cano and better than the likes of Starlin Castro, Andrew McCutchen, and Hanley Ramirez. But these can also be changed. The forums are a place you can download user created rosters. These are people that have way too much time on their hands and have gone through and tweaked every player to their widely accepted ratings.

Another use of the forums is for online leagues. If the game is too easy for you, join an online league, get an organization, and play against 29 other people to try and take home that World Series Championship. I haven’t done it for this game yet, but it adds a whole new dimension to playing.

If you’re looking for a simulation style baseball game, nothing beats the Out of the Park Franchise.

While I’m a huge fan of the Out of the Park series, my time has grown limited. I no longer have the time to pour hours of time into running my own franchise…at least not without getting paid for it. That’s what I was so intrigued by iOOTP. It allows me to play whenever I have a spare minute without having to carry my laptop with me. Want to play a quick game on the toilet? You can do it with iOOTP. Had not I received both games for free, which is a nice added perk when you’re called on to review a product, I would have been looking to find out if iOOTP is worth the money in the iTunes store. The answer to that is a resounding YES.

Like its big brother, iOOTP comes pre-loaded with 2012 MLB rosters, the one difference being that the player pool in iOOTP doesn’t go as deep. It’s pre-loaded with 20 minor league players from the system. Basically it gives you guys like Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson and saves you from having to deal with less known players. As a result, there are no minor league “teams”, but rather a minor league roster of names. That’s was a bit of a downside in my initial opinion because of how much I enjoy watching players develop. At first it frustrated me immensely, but as I played through the first half of the 2012 season I found that I really didn’t miss it because of what I wanted from the game. I didn’t want it for a full blown franchise management tool. That was what I have OOTP 13 for. The game delivers on what it was created for, which is a fun sim baseball game with a lot of realistic results, including a dreadful Cubs record after the month of June.

If you’ve read this site awhile, you know my thoughts on OOTP. It’s, hands down, the best baseball simulation game on the market. iOOTP continues that tradition. I’d highly recommend picking up the game in the App Store. You won’t be disappointed.

Interested in picking up either or both of the games, head over to Out of the Park Developments website.

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My Fantasyland: The Beginning

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

There are two things that I love more than anything, aside from the Cubs, Bills and my wife (although not in that order of course). Those two things are fantasy sports and yard sale Saturdays. In a twist of fate, those two came together one crisp autumn morning.

I wake up Saturday mornings with a sense of refreshment, but also excitement about the adventures that await me on my neighborhood tours. While the coffee pot boots up, I turn on my computer and map out my destination(s) coordinates carefully to ensure no gas is wasted. Occasionally my wife wakes up and shares the experience with me. Although on this lucky day, my traveling circus was a solo mission.

The morning started out great with the purchase of a new Callaway golf bag, which was likely someone’s unopened gift from the previous Christmas. There was still  bit of wrapping paper attached to the bottom rim of the bag and did smell a bit like a balsam fir.

The next house was loaded with books and magazines for all ages. You would have thought that these people had been running an illegal black market library in the tool shed behind their house for years. (Author’s note – I’m not entirely sure if running a library out of your shed is illegal or not, so you might need to check that) I’ve had good experiences with yard sale books before so I looked through them the most efficient way I know how, pulling each one out of it’s stacked lineup.

There were books about jungles and computers. Scuba diving and teaching. Children’s books and “Adult” books. Until finally I came across exactly what I was looking for: Fantasyland by Sam Walker.

Walker’s book recounts his quest to become the champion of the “Tout Wars” rotisserie baseball league, a league which is reserved for some of the best baseball brains in the world. Jason Grey, Ron Shandler, Bill James and Matthew Berry are just a handful of names of guys that participate in this league. Big bucks and pride is involved in this league that started in the early 80’s during the birth of fantasy sports.

Fantasyland gives America's obsession of fantasy sports an accurate memoir and is a must read if you are into a quirky take on sports statistics.

Fantasyland gives America’s obsession of fantasy sports  an accurate memoir and is a must read if you are into a quirky take on sports statistics. It is also the book that sparked my interest in both fantasy sports and writing about them.

I have to admit that fantasy baseball isn’t my strength in the world of imaginary sports, but I do enjoy the strategy behind it. Roto leagues or salary cap leagues create an even tougher experience for fans who want to go beyond their standard “set lineups once-a-week” league.

Over the next few months I’m going to tell my own story of my own “Fantasyland.” Musings of my own  rules and thoughts about drafting, managing multiple teams and fantasy smack talk no-no’s. Feel free to tune me out during the season if news of the imaginary doesn’t tickle your fancy, but my thoughts will still be here if you want to come back when no one is looking.

In an effort to build some rapport with our lovely VFTB readers, I’d like to leave you with my number one rule when building a fantasy team. Most of you that participate will be drafting in the coming two weeks, so some expert advice could do you well.

Josh’s Fantasy Rule #1  Don’t draft players from your favorite team.

The reason for this is although fantasy sports are fun, you should never want to cross your Cubs winning mojo with your fantasy winning mojo. Those two mojos just don’t mix. I used to break this rule often and would find myself pulling my hair out on Sundays as Soriano accomplished a Golden Sombrero. The only Cubs player that I put on my draft list this year is Starlin, but for fear of ruining his season, I passed on the 21-year-old when the time came to draft him.

When the choice between Matt Garza and Mat Latos is staring you the face, choose the later. For only bad things can come of drafting your favorite players.

With the VFTB Brackets in full swing (I absent mindedly missed that sign up otherwise I’d give an update) I’d also like to put the feelers out there for a baseball league. Feel free to contact me at my email or social media outlets so I can gauge interest.

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Video Book Review: “Moneyball”

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

A VFTB reader and commenter requested a video book review of “Moneyball” the other day. The CubbieDude was more’n happy to oblige

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Cubs Win! Cubs Win!…Or Do They?

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

The complete title of this book is “The Curse: Cubs Win! Cubs Win! … Or Do They?” It was published in 2010, and was written by Andy Van Slyke with Rob Rains.

I have had this book in my possession for over a year, and I didn’t get around to looking at it until now. I’d like to explain why. It’s because of the words “The Curse” in the title. I’m tired of hearing about “The Curse”, and that’s why I didn’t pick up this book until now.

I am, however, glad that I did pick it up. I enjoyed reading Mr. Van Slyke’s book.

First, a word about the authors. When I first picked up this book, I thought I might have heard the name Andy Van Slyke, but I really couldn’t place it. So I did some research. Andy Van Slyke was born (in 1960) and raised in New York State (Utica and New Hartford, respectively).

Andy Van Slyke was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1979. He played for the Cardinals from 1983 to 1986. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1987 and played for them from 1987 to 1994. In 1995 he played for the Baltimore Orioles and the Philadelphia Phillies.

During his playing years Mr. Van Slyke won five Gold Gloves and was a three-time All-Star selection.

He coached for the Detroit Tigers from 2006 to 2009, and co-authored “Tigers Confidential, The Untold Inside Story of the 2008 Season”.

Co-author Bob Rains is the sports editor of St.Louis, an online daily newspaper.

So, it is clear to me that neither author has any direct ties to Chicago or to the Chicago Cubs.

It has been said that Andy Van Slyke was as well known for his wit as for his baseball ability. With that in mind, here are a few quotes from and about Andy Van Slyke:

– “Every season has its peaks and valleys. What you have to try to do is eliminate the Grand Canyon.”

– “I have an Alka Seltzer bat. You know, plop plop fizz fizz. When the pitcher sees me walking up there they say, ‘Oh what a relief it is’.”

– “My biggest problem in the big leagues is that I can’t figure out how to spend forty-three dollars in meal money.”

– “They wanted me to play third like Brooks (Robinson) so I did play like Brooks – Mel Brooks.”

Without giving too much away, I could describe this book: “The Curse – Cubs Win! Cubs Win! … Or Do They?” as existing within the category of “sports fiction”, and as being about the Cubs finally breaking their 100+ year drought and playing in the World Series.

This might be a good book for the Ricketts family, Crane Kenney, The new GM, et al, to look at.

I do think it’s worth asking: Why would two guys with strong ties to St. Louis and no ties to Chicago, write a book about the Curse of the Chicago Cubs?

One thing I couldn’t help but notice as I was reading: All of the fictional bad guys in this book have Italian surnames. And none of the fictional good guys have Italian surnames.

Also, the authors attempt to establish a familiarity with Chicago by dropping the location names “Wrigleyville” and “Rush Street” repeatedly. As a fourth generation Chicagoan, my feeling is that this only establishes their “UNfamiliarity” with my home town.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

– “He grinned when he thought about the former owner of the Cincinnati Reds, Marge Schott, who wanted to know one time how come she was paying people – scouts – when all they did was watch baseball games.”

– “The players came and went, but the fans remained.”

– “It’s easy to cheer for a winning team. Try coming to games and finding a reason to cheer when the team is 30 games out in August. Let’s see who has the best fans then.”

– “I figured if they were younger than 25 and already in the majors, chances are they will be protected. If they are older than 32, chances are we don’t want them, or we will be able to look at them separately.”

I enjoyed reading “The Curse….”, even with the aforementioned reservations. And as I also mentioned previously, this might be a good one for the Ricketts family and Chicago Cubs organization to look at.

I thank Joe Aiello and Ascend Books for providing me with a copy of “The Curse…” to read and to review.

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