I haven’t posted on this blog for so long because I have been doing other writing. I do have a new blog, hosted on the Swedish HuffPo, but don’t worry it’s written in English. Enjoy!
In last year’s BOP, I sarcastically made a “bold” prediction that my favorite sports team would not lose 98 games, and they promptly went out and damn near lost more than that! If not for a miraculous performance in the last two months of 2010, they would have threatened the 1899 Cleveland Spiders’ all-time futility mark of 134 losses. So my sarcasm proved umm…unwarranted, to say the least.
So what went wrong? In short, everything. Leadoff man Brian Roberts and closer Mike Gonzalez were both injured on Opening Day (although Gonzalez foolishly tried to play through his elbow tendinitis, which resulted in four heartbreaking blown saves in Week One alone). Young pitching failed to take the next step, normally reliable hitters had down years, free agent signings didn’t come close to panning out, severe injuries struck throughout the roster, and the Orioles went through three managers in six months. It wasn’t pretty. It was one of the most painful seasons in Orioles history.
But they didn’t lose 98 games. They lost 96, thanks to an incredible resurgence and return to health over the final two months of the season. Put that together with some big offseason acquisitions, and new manager Buck Showalter has good reason for the recent spring in his step (if not his recent inflammatory remarks to Men’s Journal). Let’s take a look:
Lots of fresh faces here, as the Orioles acquired 1B Derrek Lee, SS J.J. Hardy and 3B Mark Reynolds during the offseason. In keeping with the “grow the arms/buy the bats” mantra, it would appear that the Orioles infield should be a strength, on both offense and defense. The player with my full attention is Reynolds. He’s an intriguing slugger (50 HR potential) who is also the majors’ undisputed all-time strikeout king (no one has ever had more strikeouts in three years than Reynolds from ‘08 to ‘10). Personally, I don’t mind if he strikes out 200 times as long as he also walks a lot (he always does) and hits 35+ dingers. Given the embarassing lack of production from corner infielders at Camden Yards last year, I think I can speak for the entire city when I say “we’ll take it.” Swing away, Mark!
Orioles fans know the names: Markakis, Jones, and Scott. All three are solid defenders (Markakis has maybe the best arm in the game) and all three can hit. Jones is a five-tool player whom I expect to turn the corner this year. Don’t be surprised if he ends up hitting .275 with 20 homers and 20 steals in 2011. This man is a star on the rise.
Five years ago, the Orioles were serious bidders in the Vladimir Guerrero sweepstakes but barely lost out on him when he signed with the Angels. History did not repeat itself this offseason, as the birds finally got their man. Sure, he’s 36 now, sure he’s always an injury risk, and sure they overpaid, but if he drives in 100 no one will care about any of that. Vlad had a terrific spring and looks ready to contribute to what could well be a top-10 offense in Baltimore. This future Hall of Famer is going to do some big things at Camden Yards if he stays healthy. Here’s hoping he can!
Two years ago, Matt Wieters joined the big league club amid more hype than Jesus. He has been a terrific backstop and leader, but the power he displayed in his minor league days has not surfaced in the majors as of yet. Many experts are predicting a big year for Wieters in 2011, but what else is new? We’ve been hearing this kid’s name since he was 18! Time will tell, but the worst he can be is an above average catcher with a rocket arm and perfectly acceptable offensive production. The upside? Well, the sky’s the limit, hence the hype.
Well, we’ve grown the arms and now the promising pitchers that the Orioles have been excited about on the farm for years have the fate of the franchise on their strong young shoulders. Matusz, Arrieta, Tillman, Britton, Bergeson. The O’s are banking on these five guys in their early to mid 20s fulfilling their potential all at the same time like a Chia-Rotation (just add water). They have all shown flashes of brilliance (Matusz in particular pitched to a 2.16 ERA after August 1st last year) but can these kids lead this team to the playoffs now? Or will they take another year or two to develop? If these young guns rise to the next level, these Orioles can compete with anyone. I say “why not” and fully expect the Orioles to shave nearly an entire point off their team ERA in 2011 (last year’s mark of 4.59 was the fourth worst in baseball), and join the top ten in this category with a shocking 3.68! If I am right about that, this is going to be a great year indeed.
The Orioles’ bullpen should be very solid this year, with three former closers (Gonzalez plus Koji Uehara and newly acquired Kevin Gregg) in the mix. I am not expecting too many late leads to be coughed up, and I think we had quite enough of that last year anyway.
Virtually no one is returning from last year’s regime. Manager Buck Showalter is at the helm now and so far is the star of the team (last year’s late season resurgence coincided with Showalter’s joining the club, but it also coincided with about five regulars coming off of the DL, so the “Showalter Effect” is probably being overstated in the media). All of the new coaches are proven winners, from pitching coach Mark Connor to bench coach Willie Randolph. The coaching staff could be the “X-factor” the Orioles have been missing during their franchise-record 13-season losing streak.
I say the streak ends now! I believe the 2011 Baltimore Orioles have enough pieces in place to be an extremely intriguing team. I predict a winning record for the boys in orange and black, and I think there will be meaningful games in August and September this year. While I do not predict that the Orioles will make the playoffs, I wouldn’t bet the farm against it. I think this team will win 86 games, which in Baltimore will feel like Ed McMahon knocking on the door.
The real obstacle is the impossibly competitive division in which the Orioles play, the AL East. I think there will be more parity in this division this year than we have seen at any point in my life. I predict that four out of five AL East teams will all have winning records but the division champ will have fewer than 94 wins. That’s parity, stiff competition that will make for an exciting season from start to finish.
Here’s to our national pastime, and all that she brings! PLAY BALL!!!
Seems like everywhere I look, people are offering me less for more. I’m over it.
When I was a little boy grocery shopping with my mother, she would tell me to pick out a half gallon of ice cream. And guess how much ice cream was in that container. One half of one gallon! Now it is either 1.75 quarts or in extreme cases 1.50 quarts. And the price has tripled, which is great if you own shares of Breyers or have type two diabetes.
For a while there, I didn’t realize what the heck was happening. I thought I was Alice in Wonderland or something! Was this a joke? Is the world around me getting smaller? No, the only thing getting smaller is big business’s respect for the consumer.
You even see this phenomenon at Dunkin Donuts, where nowadays there is almost no difference between a donut and a Munchkin! This may be a good thing, since that stuff is bad for you, but then lower the price along with portions, no? I mean, has anyone seen a Snickers bar lately? When I was kid, that was called “Fun Size.” Love that, too. What is more fun about less candy? Maybe fun for the same guy who thinks a four-inch coffee cup is “tall.”
The logical explanation for all of this is that we are stupid. No one seems to notice or care that they are charging us more for less, so why should they stop? They shouldn’t. We’re stupid, they can keep screwing us and shrinking portions while raising prices without consequence. We’re all too busy staring at Kim Kardashian’s boobs on the latest StyleWhore magazine (which has quadrupled in price while shedding 48 pages) to notice that the box containing our Nutri-Grain bars is twice as tall as the six bars inside (there used to be eight).
I see it in poker, too. I remember when the entry fee for a $500 tournament was $40 and included dinner. Now it is $60 and in some obscene cases $70, without dinner. But I hardly ever hear players complaining about the rape, I mean rake. In what other industry could the price increase by 75% in just a few years with zero backlash!?! And all this in a market that is increasingly saturated. What ever happened to competition benefitting the consumer? At these prices, playing mid-stakes tournaments is less profitable than slots for the average player, since the house advantage on the one-armed bandit is actually more forgiving!
Well, if the consumer is willing to pay more for less, he has no one to blame but his own blind, stupid self. If we really are this stupid, they are smart to keep raising prices while shrinking their products. If we are so fooled by clever packaging that we don’t notice or care that there is nothing inside, we deserve to get screwed by The Man.
But you won’t see me playing at Foxwoods or eating Edy’s anytime soon.
As 2010 comes to a close, I realize how fortunate I am to lead the life that I do. I have a wonderful (dual) career that takes me all over the world. I have amazing friends and a loving family. And I personify the old adage “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” For all the doom and gloom in the media and the human tendency to focus on what’s not perfect, my life is great! I am so blessed and so lucky, it was good to be Clayton in 2010.
Here are some highlights from the year that was:
Enjoyed visiting friends in Los Angeles for a few days and then took off for Melbourne, Australia. Competed in several major poker tournaments at Crown Casino including the 2010 Aussie Millions Main Event. Performed at the Last Laugh Comedy Club for several sold out crowds. Fell in love with a city I never thought I’d see in a million years.
Played in the World Poker Tour (WPT) Los Angeles Poker Classic (LAPC), then headed back to frigid NYC to make a few rare appearances in The Clayton Fletcher Show before they decide to change the name! Later in the month, enjoyed performing in and around Albany, NY with my dear friend Greg Aidala. Did lots of writing and plenty of performing this month.
More gigs upstate with Greg Aidala, including a really fun one at Sage College. Taught some corporate comedy seminars in the tri-state area. Continued headlining The Clayton Fletcher Show at New York Comedy Club and working more at Stand Up New York, Broadway Comedy Club, and Carolines. Spent a good deal of time writing and talking comedy with my beautiful and hilarious friend Jamie Lee.
Qualified for the North American Poker Tour (NAPT) Mohegan Sun Main Event. Made my first ever Day Two, surviving a brutal table that included poker greats Hoyt Corkins, Eric Liu, and John D’Agostino. Busted out early on Day Two by losing a coinflip to Shawn Buchanan. Also made two final tables in major events on Cake Poker and took first place in a small event at the Borgata Spring Open. A great month of poker but I am eager to get back to the jokes I am working on.
Hit the stand-up scene really hard with gigs from Asheville, NC to Sag Harbor, NY as well as my twice-weekly headlining gig in The Clayton Fletcher Show at New York Comedy Club. Performed at an “after-prom” party near Canada, which led to a really fun new joke. Served as keynote speaker for the Public Relations Society of America Counselor’s Academy, a big retreat in North Carolina. Taught PR execs how to use comedy to enhance their business models and I felt very well received. Did shows in NYC at Broadway Comedy Club, Stand Up New York, and Carolines. Enjoyed playing softball in Central Park with my team, Dive Bar Collective.
Participated in the 41st Annual World Series of Poker and qualified for the Main Event. This event featured 7,300 of the world’s best poker players. I did not cash but I played against new millionaire Matt Jarvis for twelve hours. Matt finished seventh in this event. While in Vegas I also performed in The Las Vegas Comedy Show with my good friend Joe Lowers.
Auditioned for Saturday Night Live. It was a great experience and quite an honor to be considered for such an iconic TV show. Big shout to my agent for pulling that string and getting me that opportunity! Headlined in New Orleans and opened for one of my all-time heroes, David Alan Grier, in the Hamptons. Taped a segment of “Who’s Laughing Now” for Comcast Television. Even made it to New York Comedy Club a few times to headline The Clayton Fletcher Show!
Hit the comedy business hard this month, doing over 55 shows! Headlined in Saratoga and performed all over New York City. I love summer because it’s great to get up all around town and travel to gigs on my beloved motorcycle. Had a really good month in the cash games on Carbon Poker and Cake Poker late nights after the gigs.
Participated in the Borgata Poker Open (WPT) but didn’t cash. Made the semi-finals of the First Annual World Series of Comedy in Las Vegas. Had a blast being funny and hanging with the gang out there. Congrats to Andrew Norelli, who won the damn thing
Made my European debut with my first trip to Sweden! Enjoyed Stockholm and Uppsala tremendously. Always great to be with my dear friend Zinat Pirzadeh.
Performed all over New York and New Jersey, met a comic named Hamburger, participated in the Venetian Deep Stack Extravaganza in Las Vegas and got to cheer my good friend Dylan Drazen on to his first major final table in the DSE Main Event! Performed with my old pal Bobby Collins at Bananas Comedy Club in New Jersey. Hosted my biggest gig of the year, my brother’s wedding in Baltimore.
Enjoyed a great trip to Playa del Carmen, participated in the World Series of Poker Circuit Event at Harrahs Atlantic City, headlined at NYCC Boca-Nutz in South Florida and enjoyed a great trip with my buddies Al Martin and Dylan Drazen (aka The Bubble Thugs). Enjoyed a great NFL game between Miami and Buffalo and tremendous cash game action at Isle of Capri Pompano. Then a great Christmas with friends and family followed by a great New Year’s Eve Party at New York Comedy Club.
Surely 2010 was a great year, but what will the new year bring? Time will tell, but here’s hoping for even bigger and better things ahead!
I recently took a trip to Stockholm, Sweden to perform with my comedian family there (www.bokastandup.se). My dear friend Zinat Pirzadeh had been trying for years to convince me that Stockholm was the perfect place to make my European debut. Reflecting on an amazing trip, I have to say Zinat was right!
Prior to my trip, I knew very little about Sweden apart from Ikea, H&M, and The Chef. I expected beautiful blonde people who had no idea who I was and wouldn’t understand American humor. I was right about the beautiful part. I expected funky glasses, European attitude, and a general distaste for anyone hailing from the U.S.A. I was right about the glasses. But still I was really worried about them not getting my jokes.
Sweden is a country rich in culture and education. These people all speak multiple languages and they know all about America. A quick view of Swedish television reveals David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, and Sarah Palin. They know what’s so funny about us!
The shows were incredible! Large venues packed with people who wanted to hear my jokes. They are smart and polite; applause breaks are common and heckling is rare. People even bought my CD, even though they haven’t had a CD player for ten years! I felt so much love from the audience and I just wanted to give it back to them. There is an energy when you perform in a place where comedy is still relatively new, and I found myself feeding off that energy and giving it back to the crowd. What a rush! We did shows all over, in places from Stockholm to Uppsala, and even Tierp. I had a blast.
Performing in Sweden is exactly like performing in America, except the audience is way hotter than you are.
My trip was made even better with help from everyone at bokastandup.se, especially Janne, Sara, and particularly Zerina (my navigator/friend/mama). Without the kindness and generosity of these three, I would be homeless in Karlaplan (which wouldn’t be the worst fate either, by the way).
If you want to visit a clean, healthy, beautiful, high-tech city where people think as well as they drink, I recommend Stockholm. I can’t wait to go back in the spring!
I am making some final preparations for my third World Series of Poker. The excitement of knowing I am about to participate in the world’s largest sporting event is intense! For those who think poker is not a sport, I agree with you unless you think golf is. For those about to rock, we salute you!
I am about to rock too. I am playing better than ever, my bankroll and confidence are at an all-time high, and my World Series of Poker starts now! Let’s do this!
I will be updating all my progress on my Twitter page, which is www.twitter.com/claytoncomic
Good luck to all my opponents. It’s on…
My mother is a superhero breast cancer survivor for five years and counting. Her heroic battle against the deadly disease woke me up to the fact that I need to get involved in helping to fight it. I recently began working with Young Survival Coalition, an organization dedicated to the critical issues unique to young women and breast cancer. YSC works with survivors, caregivers and the medical, research, advocacy and legislative communities to increase the quality and quantity of life for young women diagnosed with breast cancer and their families.
I know more about comedy than I know about fighting breast cancer, and this Friday I am performing at New York Comedy Club in what should be an amazing show to benefit YSC with
and more!!!!!!!!!!! Tickets are $15 and all profits will benefit this amazing organization. Please make your reservation now by calling 212-696-5233 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Hope to see you there this Friday, May 14th, at 8PM.
It is obvious to me that Spring rules. Shh, this is not open to debate. You know I am right and I know I am right, so let’s not have this fight. May is no time to be contrary. Spring rules!!!
Here are the top seven reasons why Spring is awesome:
7. Baseball Begins. There are those who say that baseball is boring, that it is too slow. Some people complain that the game has been long since ruined by things like steroids, free agency, and fish tacos. Those people did not grow up in Baltimore. When I was a boy, three things mattered: eating, breathing, and The Baltimore Orioles. As any girl I have ever dated can attest, I have yet to grow up. Go O’s!!!
6. Motorcycle Season Begins. Every April when I uncover my Suzuki SV650 and start her up for the first time, I get a tingly feeling. And not just the tingly feeling between my legs from revving the engine. I am talking about the excitement of looking forward to a new year on the open road. Plus the other one. That’s good too. Mmmm, Suzi!
5. People in New York Are Less Miserable. Buoyant! Cheerful! Perky! These are words that never apply to New Yorkers! Not even in Spring! But the fact that another brutal winter is over makes the smirk on the average Manhattanite’s face just a smidgen less sarcastic than usual. And that’s good enough for me, he said with a slightly sarcastic smirk.
4. Aids Walk New York. It’s the largest AIDS fundraiser in the world. The eighties may be over, but this disease still affects millions of people. This year the event is on May 16th. It is always a great time and of course it is a great cause! Get involved at www.gmhc.org.
3. Comedy Clubs Contain People. The first few months of the year are challenging in the comedy business. The truth is many New Yorkers spend the coldest months in hibernation. Those people are ready to go out and have fun once the weather finally breaks. And Fun is my middle name (I had it legally changed from Myron).
2. Central Park Is My Backyard. Okay, I actually do not live that close to CP but I love her so much that I make it a point of visiting at least twice a week during the warm months. A 25-minute walk or a five-minute motorcycle ride and I’m in heaven. Sheep Meadow and Heckscher Field are good places to look for me this month. Unless I owe you money, in which case I hate hot chicks and softball. Try the DMV. I’m probably there. Yeah.
1. New York Women Are Not Modest! For an Orioles fan, by this point in the season the only true spectator sport of interest is girl-watching. The most beautiful women in the world live in New York, and fortunately for all of us they are not shy. Spring brings with it a certain promise of skin that could incite riots to make Stravinsky proud. Panama City Beach can have their tawdry Spring Break antics; Rio de Janeiro can have their half-naked Carnivale. For real girl-watching infused with style and attitude, you just can’t beat the streets of New York, where the world’s hottest women pretend not to care that no one can take their eyes off of them. Truly the greatest sport of all!
This time last year, I predicted that the Orioles would not suck forever. They sucked last year, but that’s not forever.
And they did not suck for all of last year, either. After finishing the first half only six games under .500, the 2009 Orioles began to suck hard after trading away their closer, best hitter, and several other pieces of an already incomplete puzzle. The second half of 2009 was really about calling exciting young prospects up to the big leagues to see what they could do. The growing pains were obvious and Baltimore finished 2009 with 98 losses.
I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the Orioles will not lose 98 games in 2010! This team is young, hungry, and talented. Every area in which the Orioles disappointed last year has been improved for 2010. I believe they have done enough to finally break the 12-year losing streak and turn the corner into respectability.
After enduring 12 consecutive losing seasons (The O’s have not made the playoffs since going wire-to-wire in the AL East in 1997), fans have the right to be skeptical. But I feel there is much cause for optimism. Hey, it’s February! My prediction? 87 wins! Same total as the “Why not?” season of 1989. Hey, as we said back then between bites of Jack’s corned beef on Lombard Street, “Why not, hon?”
The Oriole starting pitching staff is greatly improved from last year. Kevin Millwood is a proven horse. Jeremy Guthrie is coming off a down year, but he put up good numbers in 2007 and 2008 and is looking to rebound. Brad Bergeson was looking like a Rookie of the Year candidate last year before a line drive to the shin ended his season in July. Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz have been on every scout’s list of hot prospects for several years, and both gained big league experience in 2009. This young, intriguing staff could surprise the world right out of the gate!
The Orioles ranked fifth in the AL in batting average and doubles in 2009 but were below average in most other statistical offensive categories. This year, the improved offense could be a lot of fun to watch!
The Orioles’ outfielders can match up with any team in the majors. Nick Markakis and Adam Jones are budding superstars, five tool players the likes of which the Orioles have not had in my lifetime (with apologies to Ken Singleton and Al Bumbry).
At catcher, Baltimore boasts last year’s most talked about, and perhaps history’s most overhyped, rookie in Matt Wieters. Wieters is a true stud at the position, with a great arm and sky’s-the-limit offensive potential. He batted .362 with 14 RBI in September, and if he looks anything like that this Spring, you will see a lot of smiles in Sarasota.
Two more players to watch are new corner infielders Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada. Atkins returns to his natural position after yielding the post to Todd Helton in Colorado, while former Oriole (and former MVP) Tejada will make the transition to third base that so many other great shortstops (including Cal Ripken) have done around his age (36).
Up the middle, the Orioles have one of the best double-play combinations in baseball with Brian Roberts and Cesar Izturis. Both are terrific infielders who may not always make the Sportscenter highlights but who almost always make the play.
The bullpen is also improved, with new closer Mike Gonzalez. Gonzalez is one of the top lefty relievers in the game, and his addition allows setup man Jim Johnson to return to his proper role after inheriting closer duties from George Sherrill after he was traded to the Dodgers for Josh Bell. And do not forget Koji Uehara, the Japanese import who in 2009 was forced into a starting role and subsequently shut down due to injury. Uehara should thrive in the bullpen, as he is not built for the endurance required of MLB starters.
“Well, if the Orioles look so great, let’s just bet the farm they win the World Series, Clayton!” Not so fast, hypothetical respondent! While the Orioles are greatly improved, they still have many question marks. A team this young may struggle with endurance, focus, personality, variance, emotion, and health. Additionally, the Oriole offense lacks a true cleanup hitter and is wanting for power throughout the lineup. Two corner infielders not playing the same position as last year raises a red flag as well.
And then there’s that little detail of playing in the toughest division in sports, the AL East! I am convinced the Orioles could win the AL Central, but guess what? That’s not where they play. If the Orioles do not improve their record within the division it is very hard to imagine them finishing over .500 in 2010.
I for one am truly excited about the product Peter Angelos and Company are putting onto the field this year. Much remains to be seen, but that is the fun of having a fresh, young, up and coming team like the 2010 Baltimore Orioles. I say let’s party like it’s 1989.