Monday, October 11, 2010

Sorry, Brooks. You're a Better Man than I am

When it comes to Brooks Conrad, I did it, too, just like many Atlanta Braves fans. I asked, rhetorically, why the heck is he named 'Brooks', because he plays like Foster Brooks? I don't think I went as far as the person who commented on one of the Braves' fan pages - something akin to "F*** that mother f****** piece of ****, ********ing **************." But I was close, as in suggesting his name should join the list of words and phrases banned from my household, like racial epithets, Hannah Montana and "I'd like my steak well-done." A few hours later, I realized that Mr. Conrad is much more of a man than I am.

If you aren't following baseball's playoffs, Brooks Conrad committed all three Atlanta errors last night, including one that allowed the winning run to be scored with two-out in the top of the ninth, in the San Francisco Giants 3-2 win. Their best-of-five series isn't over, but Atlanta is in a two-games-to-one hole. Mr. Conrad has committed eight errors in his last seven games, some at third base, some - like last night- at second. Why is Mr. Conrad still playing virtually every day, you ask? Because the Braves' roster has fewer healthy people than a tuberculosis ward. Chipper Jones had his usual "I've broken everything but my schwanzstucker" season and has long been gone, and all-star second baseman Martin Prado was lost for the year in late September with a hip pointer - the very painful injury, not the activity of politicians reaching for your hip because they assume your wallet is there.

Mr. Conrad was also in the game because until the last two weeks, his was the - in the parlance of happy movie voiceover guy Mark Elliot - "the Summer story of a lifetime, featuring all your favorite Disney characters." He labored for six years in the Houston Astros minor league system and was released, never getting the chance to play for the big club in the city that's uglier than a bowling shoe. In 2008, Conrad did get a chance to play for a major league club in a city only slightly less ugly, Oakland, before being signed into the Braves' system in 2009. After a handful of appearances in Atlanta last year, Conrad made the 2010 Braves' roster as a 30-year-old rookie during Spring Training. He would mostly sit on the bench, not a glamorous role, but certainly not a bad way to make a $400,000 salary, and most of us schmucks who today are invoking Conrad's name while making familial sexual references would give a testicle to ride the major league pine.

Mr. Conrad made the most of his opportunity. Of his eight home runs during the season, three were as a pinch hitter, and two of those pinch-homers were grand slams. He is the only rookie to hit two pinch-grand slams in one season...the only one ever, in 134 years of official Major League Baseball and the five or so tobacco-stained mustachioed years of big-league ball prior to the National League's birth in 1876. Mr. Conrad surpassed everyone's expectations, so while there was some trepidation when he was pressed into everyday duty upon the decline of Mr. Prado's ability to mambo, there wasn't overwhelming worry among most Braves fans. That's when Mr. Conrad began throwing baseballs as if he were trying to break 18 windows in the home of a non-subscriber in the greatest video game of the 1980's, Paperboy.

As evidenced by the venom spewing forth from our fangs, that still didn't prepare Braves' fans for what happened last night. Still, shame on the historically fair-weather Atlanta fans for booing Brooks every time his face was shown. Shoot, they were booing the guy before the game started because of his errors prior to last night. They even booed the pre-game highlight video showing his pinch-hit grand slams. Classy stuff, especially since the guy they should have been booing is their soon-to-be-retired Hall of Fame manager, who made the same mistake that Red Sox manager John McNamara made in the Bill Buckner 1986 World Series.

Since Mr. Conrad had made two errors already, one of which led to the Giants first run, why didn't Bobby Cox insert a defensive replacement in the ninth inning? Even with the Project Runway supermodel-thin bench, there were options available. Now, many have argued that this is typical Bobby Cox, the man who supposedly doesn't know how to manage even though only three other managers in history have won more games. But every manager, Hall of Famers included, make just as many mistakes and have their own reasons for what, in the hindsight of us Einsteins, appear to be ridiculous decisions. Still, Mr. Cox flubbed this one and should have admitted as such after the game. Mr. Conrad, meanwhile, took his medicine like a man. "I wish I could just dig a hole and sleep in it," is how he succinctly put it. If only all of us who were, and are, trashing Mr. Conrad so manly.

Tonight, when the pre-game highlight video of his pinch-grand slam is played, the slam that capped an incredible seven-run ninth-inning rally to beat the Reds on May 20, Brooks Conrad will be booed. If he plays in Game 4 of the series, which is doubtful at this point, he will be booed more loudly. Bobby Cox will not be booed for his blunder, nor will the Braves hitters, who are batting a robust .165 in the series. Fair or unfair, Brooks Conrad stands to be goat for the rest of his life. He should be hero, not just for making the majors after nine years of minor league toil, but for setting an example of taking blame for your mistakes, even when they aren't entirely your fault. Sorry, Brooks. I should have known that from the get go instead of acting like all the other jerks.

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