On Monday morning, I had to take my mother to get some work done on her car. She owns a Corvette of recentish vintage that, aside from our '87 Aerostar on which the sliding door literally fell off one Halloween, has been the most troublesome vehicle anyone in our family has ever owned. I forget what the current problem is; something to do with windshield wipers I believe. The car would have to be in the shop for the day, so there I was bright and early to do the automobile shuffle I'm sure we've all done at one time or another in life. Follow to dealer, shuttle back home to pick up other car, you know the drill.
I parked over on the side, got out, and headed for the front door. On the way there I heard a noise. A scratching and a quiet clatter; an unusual noise. I looked toward the source and there was a raccoon in a trap. A wire cage trap with a one-way door, baited with a bowl of cat food.
I knew my parents had been fighting a group of raccoons recently, they (the raccoons, that is), had been digging out the garbage and just generally being pests, and here finally was one of the culprits, caught up by food lure. They had stuck all the trash cans in the garage and put out this trap with the only easily available food source. Now there was a very large (being rather better fed than the average wild animal), raccoon scratching and scrabbling against the ground, thinking to dig its way out.
As I walked past the trap, it saw me and froze. Staring. Cute in that stuffed animal sort of way raccoons always seem to have. I stopped and stared myself, just looking at this animal. And I felt miserable.
I'm not an animal nut. I laughed every time my friend Luke wore his People for the Eating of Tasty Animals shirt back in high school, and the only meats I refuse to eat on principle are veal and lobster. (Something about he very young and very old, perhaps.) I am a bit soft-hearted; I admit I have on several occasions pulled over to move a turtle off the road (the combination of determination and helplessness gets me every time), and the one and only hunting trip I ever went on proved that even at twelve I was an almost absurdly good shot, while simultaneously proving I was completely unsuited for killing Bambi. But in the big picture, I rarely freak out over the fate of an animal to any great extent.
There was something about the struggles of that raccoon, though, that bothered me. Far more than I would have expected. I think it was something about the hopelessness of its situation. Shooting a pest is one thing; watching a fruitless, losing struggle is a little different. Or maybe it was the freeze that did it. The scrabbling and attempts at digging were pathetic to watch, but the frozen fear was somehow worse. Much worse. Just blank confusion and fright, without anywhere to retreat.
It would take a better writer than I to draw a universal conclusion from this little vignette. Something about empathy for a creature trapped, forced to wait for death without ever understanding the why, driven into a cage by mute need. I think it would only seem corny and cliched and forced if I tried that. So instead I'll just tell you that for the last two days, I've thought about a raccoon, and I have felt very sad. I had a mad moment of fancy and actually considered opening the cage and letting it out, but the same sort of pragmatism that led to trapping the pest in the first place won out over my crazed sympathy; I couldn't think of any way to let a wild animal out of a cage without exposing myself to attack. So I turned away and walked to the door, letting myself in. My younger brother was shirtless in the kitchen, lighting a cigarette with a .22 tucked under his arm.
Mom and I left before he shot it, and I was grateful. I was ashamed of my gratitude.
I'm writing this (or at least beginning it), Tuesday evening, and the game has not yet taken place. Perhaps something crazy has happened, and you don't care about what I have to say. If so, please disregard and discuss the miraculous or terrible events of the near future.
Back in mid-March, I posted an article (a poorly-fact-checked article, unfortunately), that I had written for the Maple Street Annual, which sadly went kaput. The article in question was on sleeper prospects in the Cardinal system, players whose names are not on the tips of the collective tongue just yet, but who I thought might make some noise in the 2012 campaign. I chose six actual names, three each of pitchers and positioners, but added two to the list at the very start.
I thought we should update; look at the players I chose and how they've done and just how stupid I look. So here we go.
Anthony Garcia, OF -- Garcia is currently putting up a .285/.370/.489 line at Quad Cities as a 20 year old. He started off the season ice cold but has turned things around and is putting together a very solid campaign. The strikeouts are up, at 23.2%, but he's still walking at a nice clip, his ISO is .204, and his wOBA in May was .429. Garcia will have to hit to have much value, as he seems confined to left field, but there's a lot to like about his performance this season. A good call, if I do say so myself.
Keith Butler, RHP -- Closing out games for Double A Springfield, Butler has barely missed a beat in making the most difficult jump in the minors. His strikeout rate is down from better than 35% in Palm Beach last year to just over 22% this season, the result of facing more mature hitters I'm sure, but that 1.59 ERA is still pretty nifty. I'm hoping the strikeouts come back up as he adjusts to the level, but he's still holding his own very nicely.
Tyler Lyons, LHP -- Lyons has been solid so far, posting close to a 3:1 K:BB ratio while rolling up huge groundball numbers in the Texas League. He's been bitten by the home run somewhat, which is pretty much par for the course in Hammons Field, but is doing exactly what he needs to do to be successful. I'm pleased with this pick.
Ryan Copeland, LHP -- Copeland has yet to pitch this season, and there's a pretty good chance he will not. He was diagnosed in spring training with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which causes blood clots in his lungs and chest. It's scary stuff, and is the same issue Kip Wells dealt with at one point in his career.
Kevin Jacob, RHP -- The hard-throwing righty started off the season in Quad Cities and was not good, walking nine hitters in thirteen innings. He was sent back to extended spring training in mid-May. A definite miss on my part, at least so far.
Tyler Rahmatulla, 2B/3B -- Now this is more like it: Rahmatulla has a .963 OPS, 7 homers, and 25 total extra-base hits in just 196 plate appearances in Quad Cities. Unfortunately, it also looks as though he's being groomed for utility work, shuttling between second and third base this season. He isn't the prospect Kolten Wong is, which is why he's seeing so much time at the hot corner, I would imagine, but he's proving himself one hell of a hitter in his own right.
Christopher Edmondson, OF -- Ugh. I would prefer not to even talk about this one, but I have to all the same. This is why I said earlier my article was poorly researched; in trying to finish up the original piece for a deadline, I screwed up when looking at Edmondson, thinking he was at Palm Beach in 2011. He was not. He was at Quad Cities, the Cards' Low A affiliate, instead of High A. How I managed to make that mistake I don't know; unfortunately I didn't really check the article after the MSP Annual was scrapped. Thus, I put out completely erroneous information on Edmondson for public consumption. It was extremely embarrassing, and I apologise to all of you for doing such a shoddy job.
Anyway, as for Edmondson himself, he's actually playing at Palm Beach this year, and has been okay. He's walking at the same clip he did last year and has actually cut his strikeout rate, which is good, but the Florida State League has just killed his power numbers, leaving him with an OPS of .739. He was abjectly awful in May but has looked much better so far in June, so hopefully things are at least pointed in the right direction. He's worth another look later in the season I think.
Lance Jeffries, OF -- Jeffries has yet to appear in any actual games yet this year; he'll likely be assigned to a short-season club once they open.
Of the players I included as extra names to watch, only Kyle Hald, a left-handed pitcher, has played in full-season ball this year, and he's been really good. A 2.55 FIP at Quad Cities, thanks to an outstanding walk rate of just 4.4% and an ability to keep the ball in the park, has put him squarely on the map in a system still largely devoid of sinister pitching. Long term I think he's a reliever, and I think he could be a very good one. At the very least, he looks like a strike thrower, and that can take you a long way.
So, let's see, I think I hit on Garcia, Butler, Lyons, and Rahmatulla, missed on Jacob and Edmondson, and have to take an incomplete on Copeland and Jeffries. This is all subject to change the rest of the season, of course, but so far I'm pretty happy with my picks here. I'm hoping Jeffries makes some noise once short-season ball opens up too, helping me out with looking smart. (Let's face it, I need all the help I can get.)
Anyway, that's all from me. I'm finishing this up in real time, and that game last night sucked. On the upside, I can't imagine any of you really want to talk about it, so I don't feel bad for once that my column was ruined by something big happening.
I'll see you all next Wednesday. Have a nice week everyone.