Friday, May 11, 2007

Senor Smoke

It's getting awfully close to game time, so I do this fully aware of the possible jinx, but I'm going to point out that Joakim Soria is the centerpiece of a recent "Inside Baseball" column in Sports Illustrated.

I can't find the story online -- I haven't been able to find anything on since its redesign -- but the story is in the May 14 issue, with Grady Sizemore on the cover. (Perhaps it's a sign of a shift in policy -- however slight -- that the magazine long renowned for honoring achievement has -- for this week, anyway -- taken the ESPN The Magazine approach and decided to publicize potential. Sizemore, for the season, is batting .256 with 5 HRs, 15 RBIs, 26 runs and 12 SBs. Not bad by any measure, but, if this was five years ago, not Sports Illustrated cover material. Not by a long shot. But maybe a new era is upon us. So now, after Sizemore catches on fire in the next couple of weeks, I can almost promise you SI's going to publish a letter that uses the phrase "reverse jinx." Chalk this up to yet another effect of the worldwide leader in sports (along with Jenn Sterger, the increased number of posed cover shots, leading one photographer to call the magazine "Standing-around Illustrated," and the demise of the Scorecard section): the idea of looking ahead. As if one national sports magazine doing this isn't enough.)

Here's an excerpt of Albert Chen's story titled "That Other Rule 5 Steal":

Of the record 13 Rule 5 players on this year's Opening Day rosters, outfielder Josh Hamilton, a covering drug addict, has made the biggest splash: Picked third by the Cubs and then dealt to the Reds, he had eight home runs and a .671 slugging percentage through Sunday. But Soria, who was signed by the Dodgers in 2001 and had thrown a combined 16 2/3 innings in Class A and rookie-league ball before this season, has already emerged as a top reliever: At week's end he had five saves with a 3.07 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings. "We'd never heard of the guy," says Tigers centerfielder Curtis Granderson, "and he came out and shut us down two straight days. Guys walked back to the dugout saying, 'Where'd he come from?'"

Soria, who was in the Padres organization, was left off San Diego's 40-man roster because GM Kevin Towers -- who's generally very good at his job -- thought he could sneak him through. "[Padres director of international scouting] Randy Smith was begging me to keep him," Towers is quoted as saying. "I guess I should have listened to him." Soon after his Major League debut with the Royals, Dayton Moore e-mailed Buddy Bell and said, "We've found our Papelbon."

Here's the final paragraph, with an interesting quote:

Soria is clear about his preference. "I want to be a starter," he says. That was his dream growing up in Monclova, a steel-mill town in northern Mexico where he lived next to a large field. "My parents wanted to make the field into something for the neighborhood, but they couldn't decide if for [soccer] or baseball," says Soria, whose father is a middle-school math teacher. "When I was six, they made it a baseball field, so I played baseball. Maybe it's destiny -- just like the Rule 5."

I still love SI.

POSTSCRIPT: Here's a home-shot video of the final moments of Soria's Mexican Pacific League perfect game, which he pitched two days after the Royals drafted him. The quality is low, but it still gives you a pretty good idea of what it's like to throw a perfect game, one of the rarest feats in any sport.

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