Thursday, October 16, 2008

The true meaning of Jamey Carroll

The following is a response to a recent column on I didn't change most of the words because I'm lazy and I'm not perfect either, but hey, I'm still standing. Or something. This will make no sense unless you read the offensive column linked above first.

Let's be clear: Shin-Soo Choo, regardless of what happens to the global economy, is the new face and future of baseball. He's everything the game needs, everything it's supposed to be about. Daisuke Matsuzaka should be angry.

Sitting 15 to 20 feet away -- and 2 inches below -- him in the dugout during a game is Choo's teammate who may be more important to the game than Choo is destined to be. But little does Jamey Carroll know that just as Choo must realize the game's future is in his possession, the same tag applies to him. As one of the central players in the Indians' unremarkable 81-81 season, Carroll has elevated himself -- with the aid of a booster seat -- as the face and future of "rural" baseball. A face that has been slowly disappearing in the game. To be considered the future of a sport is a gift and a curse no athlete really wants placed on them, especially when that athlete only weighs 170 pounds. With it comes a quasi-responsibility to "save" something that may or may not be on its way to dying. In Carroll's case, he has unknowingly become the one player that Geoff Blum and Craig Counsell have been looking to who can bring the game back to the farmlands in a way no other young white player in the game has been able to do.

He has put on display both the feel for the game and the look of the game that resonates with those Future Farmers of America who have decided that cow-milking and corn-growing provide a brighter future. His permanent 5 o'clock shadow (which almost every 12-year-old male who hits puberty early has sported, but there's something about Jamey's), his high socks, his slight build, his Leprechaun-ish features, his low slugging percentage. He's the player the kids who have lost interest in baseball -- or who never had an interest at all -- can see themselves in. The one they can see themselves dressing up as for Halloween, because Carroll is, after all, about their size.

Maybe not on the same level, but with similar reverence, Carroll might become to Caucasians in baseball what Dice-K has to Asian players or what Papi has to players in the Dominican Republic. The player who corresponds with a culture; a player who may not be mentioned by a player in next year's College World Series, but if a team from Des Moines or Topeka makes it to the Little League World Series five years from now every one of the players will claim nothing runs like a Carroll instead of a Deere. The fact that Carroll's not perfect makes him perfect. His propensity to strike out (as witnessed in September when he whiffed on three different occasions in a game against Boston), the fact that he hit .094 in games played on turf this season, his pedestrian stolen base rate, allowed question about his lack of ability to surface. All display a flaw in him that almost works to his advantage when kids and wannabe players look at him and say "I can't hit either, but look, he still has a job." And he's standing in a way and in a place that no other homegrown player of Caucasian descent has stood on this stage at this age since David Eck or J. McEw in their primes. And it's happening without Carrol saying he wanted to be the one to make it happen. The kid's simply playing ball and being true to who he is, and he's connecting in a way that could help raise the percentage of white players in the major leagues in a few years. Crack. Another infield single. Pop. Another lazy fly ball settling into the centerfielder's glove. The lateral movement he possesses at second base, the way he covers first base on a grounder to the right side, the Billy Ripken remix style he has in getting into ready position.

So rural.

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