Feb 17, 2020

New Bats In Clearwater

Spring Training is here.  Phillies pitchers and catchers reported to Clearwater on Wednesday and the rest of the team starts today.  While there are some questions around the diamond that need to be answered this spring, the lineup has pretty much been determined.  However, the bench is another story.  Jay Bruce, Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Andrew Knapp will be back this spring to compete for a job with Phillies prospects and these nine new members of the organization.

Josh Harrison: The longtime Pirate was the Phillies first free agent acquisition after the end of the 2019 season.  The 32 year old has run into a bit of bad luck with injuries over the past two seasons, but he's a damn good ballplayer.  Harrison is a two-time All-Star and came within an eyelash of winning the 2014 National League batting title.  He spent most of his time at second base, but he's logged a significant number of innings at third base and the corner outfield spots, and has even filled in at shortstop at the major league level (though the latter was many years ago).  He's versatile and a good clubhouse presence, and has the potential to be a sneaky good pickup.

Matt Szczur: This was an interesting pickup.  A quad injury limited Szczur to 44 games last season (all for the Diamondbacks Triple A affiliate Reno Aces), but he had an excellent .322/.309/.577 slashline in 172 plate appearances.  Additionally, he can play all three outfield positions and has traditionally hit well against lefties in five seasons with the Cubs and Padres.  It wouldn't surprise me a bit to see an Szczur succeed in Philadelphia.  Presently, our options in center field are Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn and Scott Kingery.  Quinn is injury prone, and Kingery will be needed in the infield.  Haseley doesn't hit lefties all that well, so a platoon wouldn't be out of the question.

Mikie Mahtook: The Phillies signed Szczur and Mahtook on the same day.  In 2011, Mahtook was a first round compensation pick by the Tampa Bay Rays and was once a top 100 prospect in baseball.  Now at age 30, the OF is working his way back to the big leagues after failing to get a hit in 25 plate appearances for the Tigers last season.  He had a productive 2019 in the minors playing for the Toledo Mud Hens, but he struck out in nearly 30% of his plate appearances in Triple A.  He's a depth signing, and I don't expect to see him in Philadelphia unless something goes horribly wrong.

Ronald Torreyes: The Phillies signed Torreyes to a minor league contract on January 7th.  The non-roster utility infielder previously played for Joe Girardi on the Yankees.  When he was asked about him, Girardi responded by saying "he's a ballplayer".  I think that sums up his chances of starting the season in Philadelphia.  I expect he'll start the season in Lehigh Valley and be called up only if someone goes on the DL.

Christian Bethancourt: I'm not sure that I understand the logic of this signing.  Eight years ago, Christian was one of the top catching prospects in all of baseball, but that was a long time ago.  He spent parts of three unimpressive seasons catching in Atlanta before the Braves traded him to San Diego.  He spent the 2016 season working as a catcher and outfielder for the Padres, and was converted to be a full-time relief pitcher for the El Paso Chihuahuas in 2017.  His work as a pitcher wasn't any better than his time as a position player.  He finished the season with an 8.21 ERA at Triple A and was back to working as a position player in 2018, this time for the Brewers organization.  He had a productive 2018 for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox and was named to the Triple A All-Star Team in 2018, but he wasn't called up to play in Milwaukee.  Last season, he signed to play for the NC Dinos in Korea, which is said to have a level of competition similar to Triple A.  He spent time as the team's catcher and in the outfield, but after a half season, he was batting .246 and was released from his contract.

Bethancourt has a career .222 batting average with a -1.1 WAR at the major league level, and his defense isn't a lot better than his offensive production.  His contract in Korea was for the maximum league salary of $1 million dollars and they chose to eat the expense and release him.  That doesn't inspire a lot of reasons to be optimistic about his chances in 2020.  I suppose the Phillies could use him for depth, but unless literally every catcher in Reading, Allentown and Philadelphia gets hurt, I can't picture a scenario where he plays in Philadelphia.

Nick Martini: This 29 year old left fielder has bounced around quite a bit over the past 12 months.  He began the 2019 season on the disabled list with the Oakland Athletics after a grade 2 PCL tear in a spring training game that cost him about two months of the season.  He worked his way back and spent some time in the big leagues before A's placed him on waivers in August.  He was picked up in less than 48 hours by the Padres.  He finished the season playing for San Diego, and was placed on waivers again.  He was claimed by the Reds just before Thanksgiving, but his time in Cincinnati was over before it even began.  The Reds waived him after the new year, and the Phillies picked him up on January 14th.  To make room for him on the 40 man roster, Philadelphia designated Odubel Herrera for assignment.  I suspect that moving Odubel off of the roster and giving other teams the opportunity to claim him was the reason Martini was acquired in the first place.  He can only play left field, his bat isn't particularly valuable, and he has had trouble staying healthy, so I didn't really think he was part of the Phillies plan.  Sure enough, the Phillies traded for Kyle Garlick (more on him later), and Martini was once again placed on waivers.  So far, he's still with the organization, so he might end up playing alongside Odubel for the Iron Pigs unless he's claimed off of waivers for the fourth time in eight months.

Neil Walker: The 34 year old switch hitting journeyman began his career with the Pirates where he finished 5th in the 2010 NL Rookie Of The Year voting.  Since then, he has spent time with the Mets, Brewers, Yankees and most recently, the Miami Marlins.  The majority of his past two seasons have been at first base, but he has also played at second, third, left field and right field.  He's entering camp as one of the favorites to earn a spot on the Phillies bench.

Logan Forsythe: The Phillies signed this utility player on February 5th.  He's a veteran journeyman who has divided his 9 years in the big leagues between the Padres, Rays, Dodgers, Twins and Rangers.  His best seasons came with the Rays (2014-2016), and had the second highest WAR of any second baseman in 2015.  Like Walker, Forsythe's value is in his versatility.  He has seen regular time at 1B, 2B, SS, 3B and in the OF corners, but he hasn't been very productive at the plate since leaving Tampa Bay after the 2016 season.

Kyle Garlick: The 28 year old left fielder was acquired in a last minute trade two days ago.  He was a late pick in the 2015 draft and has worked his way through the Dodgers minor league system to make his major league debut in 2019.  Garlick went 12 for 48 with four doubles and three homers in Los Angeles, and he hit .314 with 23 home runs in Triple A playing for the Oklahoma City Dodgers.  He was added to the 40 man roster and has two options remaining, so even if he doesn't break camp with the Phillies, he'll remain with the organization and could be called up from Lehigh Valley when he's needed.

The big position player pickup this winter was shortstop Didi Gregorius.  He signed a one year contract which I think will work out for both parties.  Didi will have a chance at a full season on the field to re-establish himself following his injury, and the Phillies will have a productive veteran at shortstop while first round pick Bryson Stott continues to develop in his path to the majors.

Unless the Phillies manage to find a trade partner to move Jean Segura, I don't expect that Didi will stay with the Phillies after 2020.  A small part of me wonders if they might shop him at the trade deadline for pitching, but he's a hell of a ballplayer and he's got all of the motivation in the world this season.  I'm glad that he's on the team, and I hope he can be part of a championship team in Philadelphia.

The wild card of the 2020 season is third base prospect Alec Bohm.  His bat certainly seems like it's the real deal, and although some are questioning his ability to play third base at the major league level, I don't think it's as big of a detriment as others seem to believe.  His combined fielding percentage at 3B last season was .938.  That's not good, but it's a huge improvement from 2018 (.870).  To put it in perspective, his defensive metrics last season grade out Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and his trajectory of improvement in this area throughout his time in the minors are very similar to that of Kris Bryant.  In fact, from a defensive perspective, he's not far off from Bryant right now.  I don't expect Bohm to ever be a contender for a gold glove at the hot corner, but he's competent and if his bat is what we hope it will be, it's an acceptable tradeoff.


Now that Spring Training is about to begin, this is the team that I believe the Phillies will take up north to begin the 2020 season:

Conspicuously absent on this chart is Vince Velasquez.  There are a few reasons for this.  First, while I believe he'll be given every opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation this Spring, I don't see him outperforming Eflin or Pivetta.  I also don't believe that he was a good fit in the bullpen in the opportunities he's had to pitch in relief last season.  He hasn't been consistent in the opportunities that he's had in the bullpen.  He has two options remaining, and I feel that he could best help the team in 2020 as rotation depth, to be called up in case of injury or to see if he can live up to his potential and earn a spot in a major league rotation (with the Phillies or elsewhere).

I was torn when it comes to Ranger Suarez.  While I think he's good enough to make the team, I have him slotted to begin the season in Lehigh Valley because he has one option remaining.  It's very likely that he earns the spot ahead of Tommy Hunter or Jose Alvarez, but I think they have a little more rope if only because they're able to stash Suarez without the risk of losing him to another team.

As for the position players, the elephant in the room is Roman Quinn and his health.  I'm rooting for the guy.  However, I expect that 2020 will be his last chance in Philadelphia.  If he remains healthy and productive, there's a chance he could be our starting center fielder, or he could be shopped in a mid-season trade (Kris Bryant?).  If he can't stay on the field, I believe that a Haseley / Szczur platoon in CF might be an interesting proposition.

I think it's likely that Kyle Garlick finds his way to the majors before the All-Star Break.  I only hope that he's brought up to replace Jay Bruce as the 5th outfielder and not as a replacement for an injured McCutchen or, god forbid, Harper.

Barring health concerns, I expect Alec Bohm to be starting at third base before the end of July.  In all likelihood, that would mean shifting Segura to 2B and moving Kingery back to his role as the team's super utility player.  I would prefer it if they could find a trade partner for Segura and keep Kingery as second base full time, but it doesn't seem likely.

Finally, like Bohm, I expect Spencer Howard to be playing a prominent role in Philadelphia.  They're going to limit his work at the start of the season to keep him fresh, so I think his call up would likely be held off as late in the year as possible.  I don't think they'll go down this road, but I think it's worth exploring a six man rotation when rosters expand in September.

Feb 16, 2020

Rea & Derick

Rea & Derick
Stroudsburg, PA (1970's)
My grandmother worked at a Rea & Derick drug store in Hazleton when I was a kid which looked very similar to this location in Stroudsburg.  It was located at 578 Main Street and closed sometime in the 1990's.  In more recent years, this building was home to Rock 'N Willy's Tea and Hookah Lounge and a tattoo parlor on the second floor.  These businesses closed after a fire damaged the property in the summer of 2018 (source: John Bender and The Pocono Record).

Feb 15, 2020

Take It To The Bank

The Pines Eatery and Spirits
Hayden Tower - Hazleton, PA
This restaurant opened late in 2014 by the DeAngelo family.  It's in the first and second floors of Hayden Tower at the old Markle Banking and Trust.  The ceiling is original from when the building was constructed in 1910, and the bar is built in front of the old bank vault, which the restaurant uses as its wine cellar.

We went for dinner, but I'm definitely going to come back to try some other things from the lunch menu.  They have a collection of specialty hamburgers which are named after historical Hazleton businesses and buildings.  They also purchased the Knotty Pine barbecue and rice pudding recipes.  I had the latter for dessert today.  For dinner, I had a caprese martini, which included a mozzarella ball, basil and a tomato, and broiled scallops with a baked potato.  Everything was delicious.

Feb 14, 2020

Power Pellets Are Aphrodisiacs

Pac-Man Valentine
Bally Midway (1982)
Naked except for shoes, gloves and headgear, and surrounded by fruit.  That's the way Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man roll on Valentine's Day.

Feb 13, 2020

Super McMario Toys

Super Mario Bros. 3 Happy Meal
McDonald's (1990)
This is the tray liner used by McDonald's in 1990 to promote the Super Mario Bros. 3 Happy Meal.  If you go to any flea market in the United States, odds are that you'll find one of these four toys on sale for a quarter in a cardboard box.  It'll probably be Raccoon Tail Mario with a broken spring.  If you take home the flipping Goomba and find out that you can't make him flip, don't be too disappointed.  It didn't work most of the time back in 1990 either.

Feb 12, 2020

Three Turns Thirty

Super Mario Bros 3
Nintendo (1990)
One of the most iconic video games of all time was released in North America 30 years ago today.

I saw this game for the first time when I went to see The Wizard at a theater in Wilkes-Barre back in January 1990.  The game was revealed to American audiences for the first time in the Video Armageddon contest at the end of the film.  The adults who brought us to the movie laughed about it and called it a two hour commercial for Nintendo.  They weren't wrong.  I walked out of that theater wanting a Power Glove and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3 more than anything else in the world.

I was living with my maternal grandparents when the game came out on February 12th.  Normally, I wouldn't get a new Nintendo game unless it was my birthday or Christmas, but Mom Mom was a Nintendo fan so we went out to buy it as soon as it was released.  Unfortunately, it wasn't that easy.  This was a decade before video games could be ordered online, and the demand for the game combined with Nintendo's infamous "chip shortage" made it impossible to find for months after it was released.  I got to play it on the PlayChoice 10 machine at the Aladdin's Castle arcade in the Laurel Mall, but it took a few months before we found it for sale.  We brought it home and played it almost every day through that spring and summer.

Nintendo Power: Issue 10 (January 1990)
Whether you're like me and you grew up with this classic or if you've never played it before, today is the perfect opportunity to log onto Switch Online and play one of the best video games ever made.

Feb 11, 2020

What Me Wookie?

Mad Spoofs Star Wars
Mad Magazine (2020)
This is a great collection of Mad's Star Wars comics through the years, including several that were published from the 70's through the 90's.

Feb 10, 2020

Wood Paneled Deli

Acme Supermarket 
American Stores Company (1978)
This photo of the deli was taken from the American Stores Company annual report from 1978 (via Acme Style Blog).  It shows the colonial decor with the wall lamps and maroon colors with dark wood paneling that was used throughout the 80's in the Acme on Broad Street in Hazleton.

Feb 9, 2020

A Cruise Through The 80's

NEPA Big 80's
Wilkes-Barre, PA (1988)
This home video was shared by mmm671 on YouTube and it's a true walk down memory lane for anyone who grew up in or around Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in the 80's.  Even if you aren't from this area, it's a genuine glimpse of life in the 80's that's sure to take you back in time.

A few friends took their camcorder out when they hung out with their friends back in 1988.  They start out going to the K-Mart on Blackman Street.  That location closed their doors for the last time earlier this month.  After K-Mart, they drive up Mundy Street to the Wyoming Valley Mall in the years before Sam's Club, Wegmans and Mohegan Sun Arena.  Highland Park Blvd hadn't even been built yet.  The footage in the mall moves pretty fast (try to remember the size of a video camcorder back in the 80's), but it's remarkably clear considering how old it is.  You can see Walden, Pomeroy's, Wall To Wall Listening Booth, Gallery Of Sound and The Orange Bowl pizza parlor.  The camera makes a brief stop at Denny's on the way to Public Square.  They stop for a soda at Orloski's and then head over the Market Street Bridge.

Keep your eyes peeled for the 80's hair and fashion, pay phones, Camel cigarette ads, glass soda bottles (including VeryFine Juice and Grape Crush) and guest cameos from Quiet Riot and Robin Williams (star of Good Morning Vietnam) while Simple Minds play in the background.

Feb 7, 2020

Greetings With Great Taste

Alpine White Birthday Card
American Greetings (1991)
In the early 90's, Nestle partnered with American Greetings to release a line of candy themed greeting cards.  Each card included a full value coupon for a free candy bar.  This card featured one of my favorite candy bars of all time, the Alpine White.  It was discontinued sometime in the mid 90's.

Having worked for Nestle, I can confirm that there were no plans or interest in bringing this product back to store shelves.  However, the Nestle USA confections division has since been sold to the Ferrara Candy Company.  I'm not sure if the deal included the American rights to the Alpine White, but if so, perhaps there's a chance that it makes a return someday.  Until then, have a look at the rest of the card.

Feb 6, 2020

Tender Memories

Chicken Tenders
Burger King (1985)
I really miss these.  Burger King originally came out with their Chicken Tenders in 1985, and they were absolutely delicious - much better than Chicken McNuggets, and a million times better than the chicken that Burger King sells today.  They had a peppered breading, and they were served in neat little flip top boxes that had a caddy that held your dipping sauce.

They were sold for a few years and were eventually discontinued sometime in the mid 90's.  I'm not sure exactly when they stopped selling them, but they were already gone by the time I started working at Burger King in the fall of 1996.

In the years that followed, Burger King came out with other bite-sized chicken products, including crown shaped nuggets, larger chicken tenders and Chicken Fries, but none of them could compare to the original.  With the ban on trans fats, I don't expect that the original Burger King Chicken Tenders recipe will ever come back, so they'll remain a fond fast food memory.

Feb 5, 2020

Seattle's Mystery Soda Machine

The Mystery Coke Machine
Capitol Hill - Seattle, WA
It's not common for a soda machine to be featured by USA Today or to have its own Wikipedia page, but this one is worth the attention.  This Coke machine from the 1970's has sat outside Broadway Locksmith on the corner of John Street and 10th Avenue East in Seattle for at least 30 years.  Eric Hayes, who owns the Broadway Locksmith, said that the machine was there when he bought the building and opened his business in 1986.

In all of the years that the Mystery Coke Machine has been here, no one has ever reported seeing it being filled with new soda or emptied of money, but it was always full and in perfect working order.  However, that's only the beginning of the mystery.

This machine used to have five traditional soda buttons and one Mystery Button, but over the years, all of the buttons have been converted.  Buying a soda really is a mystery because there seemed to be no pattern to it other than the fact that what comes out is always a Coke or Pepsi product.  For example, Hilary from HilaryStyle.me (from whom I "borrowed" some of these photos) reported that she and her family got two Cokes, a Peach Fresca, a Mountain Dew, a Seagrams Ginger Ale, a Cherry Dr. Pepper, a Tab cola and a Strawberry soda.

People have reported getting a few oddities from the machine, including foreign sodas, discontinued flavors (including Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum Soda and Pepsi AM), and can designs from the 80's and 90's.  Others have said that their can of soda had three quarters taped to the bottom of the can, giving them an instant refund for their purchase  There's no word on if this happened with the soda that had allegedly been decades old.

Sadly, Seattle's Mystery Soda Machine disappeared in the summer of 2018, but it will live for many years to come on YouTube and in countless blogs, all of whom have beat me to the punch as of the time of this writing.

Feb 4, 2020

Hats Off To Hoskins

Rhys Hoskins cap
New Era
Well now, that's quite a hat for our first baseman.  Macy's sells this line of Big Boys caps on their website.  I especially love the cheesesteak mouth and Rodney Dangerfield expression (hat tip to Dan Weiner for that observation; pun fully intended).

But if you think Hoskins gets no respect, have a look at Jacob deGrom, who looks like the son of the history teacher, Mr. DeMartino, from Daria.

Feb 3, 2020

Don't Drive Angry

2020 Jeep Rubicon Commercial
This brilliant commercial, starring Bill Murray reprising his role as Phil Connors from Groundhog Day, aired during Super Bowl LIV.

Feb 2, 2020

Phil Connors vs The Pittsburgh Pirates

Groundhog Deja Vu
Mad Magazine #321 (September 1993)
After losing their three best players to free agency, the National League spent the 1993 season beating up on the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Mad Magazine writer Stan Hart took his turn by starting off the Groundhog Day parody by taking a shot at Punxsutawney's local team.  Click here to read the whole comic on MadMagazine.com.

Feb 1, 2020

Try To Picture The People Who Buy This

This is an actual magazine that's being sold in my grocery store.  I don't even think it's supposed to be a joke.  In an age when real newspapers and magazines are going out of business, there is a group of people somewhere in this world that paid money to print and distribute this ridiculous waste of paper which is geared toward consumers who are digging a dirt hole in their back yard in an attempt to survive a global pandemic and nuclear war.

Jan 31, 2020

The 2020 Arms Race

Pitchers and catchers report in less than two weeks, and the Phillies have half dozen new faces in the organization.  Unlike last year, the Phillies held off on spending top dollar on the bullpen, which is a decision I strongly support.  With a few notable exceptions, relief pitchers are unpredictable from year to year (see Brad Lidge 2008 to 2009).  If there's one part of a team where the front office should hold off on big contracts and look for low cost lottery tickets, it's the bullpen.  That's what the Phillies did this winter, and they've put together an interesting group.

Robert Stock: This 30 year old righty was acquired off of waivers from the San Diego Padres on October 30th.  He was the Cardinals second round draft pick in 2009 and spent some time with the Pirates and Reds farm teams before landing with the Padres in 2018.  He had a bicep injury in 2019 that caused him to miss the last three months of the season, but he'll be ready to go this Spring. He throws a fastball that regularly tops 100 mph and has been clocked as high as 102, as well as a pretty wicked slider, and he may find himself in the Phillies bullpen.

Cristopher Sanchez: The Tampa Bay Rays have one of the most prospect rich farms in all of baseball.  They reached the point where they had to add Sanchez to the 40 man roster, but they didn't have room.  Rather than lose him in the Rule 5 draft, they traded him to the Phillies on November 20th for a low level minor league 2B who doesn't yet have to be added to the roster.  Like Stock, Sanchez also throws a triple digit fastball, but unlike Stock, he's a 6'6" lefty who just turned 23 in December.  The expectation is that he will begin 2020 as a starter in Reading.

Trevor Kelley: On December 2nd, the Phillies picked Kelley up off of waivers from the Boston Red Sox.  He's a 26 year old sidearm pitcher who had a 1.79 ERA for the Pawtucket Red Sox and was named to the Triple A All-Star Team, but he wasn't able to replicate that success when he was called up to Boston.  He still has minor league options, so if he doesn't make the Phillies out of Spring Training, he could provide depth in the Iron Pigs bullpen.

Bud Norris: The 34 year old veteran was signed to a minor league contract on January 21st.  He was brought up as a starter in 2009 by the Houston Astros.  His departure from the Astros was a memorable one.  He was traded from the Astros to the Baltimore Orioles at the July 31st deadline in 2013, but the Astros were in the middle of a series in Baltimore at the time.  Norris began the series in an Astros uniform, and by the second game of the series, he switched dugouts as a member of the Orioles.  He got the last laugh on the third and decisive game of the series when he started for Baltimore and was the winning pitcher against the teammates that he came to town with.  He moved to the bullpen in 2016 and pitched in the Padres, Braves, Dodgers, Angels, and Cardinals.  He signed with the Blue Jays last year, but didn't make the team.  He's a longshot to bounce back in 2020, but stranger things have happened.

Drew Storen: The former Washington Nationals setup man/closer was the 10th pick overall in the 2009 Draft.  He lost his role as the Nats closer in 2015 when they acquired Jonathan Papelbon from the Phillies in the trade that brought Nick Pivetta to Philadelphia.  That trade seemed to effect him, as his numbers took a nose dive for the rest of 2015, culminating in an early end to the season after he punched a locker in frustration and broke his thumb.  He pitched for the Blue Jays, Mariners and Reds with varying degrees of success until his injury in the fall of 2017.  He had Tommy John surgery that winter, missed all of 2018 and signed a minor league contract with the Royals last year.  Time will tell if there's anything left in the tank, but like Norris, he is a low cost lottery ticket.

Francisco Liriano: The latest signing on this list the one I find the most interesting for the immediate future.  The 36 year old lefty is the only player ever to win the MLB Comeback Player Of The Year Award twice in his career, in 2010 and 2013.  He was an All-Star in 2006 and in 2011, he pitched a no-hitter as a member of the Minnesota Twins, with whom he spent the majority of his career.  Liriano also pitched for the White Sox, Pirates, Blue Jays and Tigers, and he was a member of the controversial World Series Champion Houston Astros in 2017.  The fact that he's left handed, can pitch in spot starts and had a decent 2019 in Pittsburgh make me believe that he's the most likely name on this list to earn a spot with the 2020 Philadelphia Phillies.  There's even an outside chance that he could win the 5th spot in the rotation.

Of course, the most prominent new pitcher who will be reporting today is our #2 starter.  The Phillies smartly signed Zack Wheeler before the other big name pitchers were locked up over the winter.  They got him for $118 million over five years, which may end up being a bargain, especially considering the asinine contract the Yankees gave to Gerrit Cole.

Many experts believe that Wheeler's best days are ahead of him.  If Wheeler proves these projections to be correct, there's reason to believe that the Phillies could have a strong rotation in 2020.  Aaron Nola has proven in 2018 that he has the talent to be a true ace.  Jake Arrieta will be returning from injury and in the final year of his contract, with all of the motivation in the world to see if there's any of the 2015 Cy Young Award left in his arm.  The back end of the rotation will likely be a competition between Zach Eflin, Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Francisco Liriano.

Then, there's this man...

Spencer Howard is the Phillies top pitching prospect and is ranked at #34 in the top 100 prospects in all of baseball.  He's the wild card of the Phillies 2020 season.  Howard has been invited to Spring Training, but I can't imagine a scenario in which he starts the season anywhere but Lehigh Valley regardless of his performance.  Not only will the Phillies not want to start his service clock a year early, but they're going to want him to get some experience throwing the redesigned baseball - the one that the commissioner's office have been lying through their teeth about (seriously, Rob Manfred's tinkering has been the worst thing to happen to baseball since steroids).

If everyone stays healthy and Howard's dominance continues, he may be called up before the All-Star Break.  That would give the 2020 Phillies a rotation fronted by Nola, Wheeler and Howard, which has the potential to be one of the most effective rotations in the National League.  His promotion would also have a trickle down effect on the bullpen, making three of Eflin, Pivetta, Veladquez or Liriano pitching in relief.

There's reason to be hopeful in 2020.


UPDATE: Earlier today, the Phillies placed Trevor Kelly on waivers to make room on the 40 man roster for Reggie McClain, who was claimed off of waivers from the Seattle Mariners.  I've never seen this man pitch, but I already love him for his "you look like you've just seen a ghost" expression during his delivery.  Like Kelly, he was dominant in the minors, but got lit up at the major league level in 2019.  However, there may be more to the story.  He gave up 14 runs in 21 innings out of the Mariners bullpen, but 11 of those runs were against the sign-stealing Houston Astros.  McClain may wind up being a diamond in the rough, and he has three minor league options remaining.  Smart move!

Jan 30, 2020


McDonald's (1991)
It's funny how something can go from being an inescapable part of the landscape to a rarity in just a few years.  When I was growing up in the 80's and 90's, almost every McDonald's restaurant that I saw looked something like this.  The restaurants have been remodeled many times since then, and I honestly can't remember when I last saw one that looked the way that they do in this picture.

Jan 29, 2020

I'll Believe It When I See It

Photo Credit: AtariHotels.com (via The New York Times)
Atari Hotels
Earlier this week, it was announced that the GSD Group will be building eight Atari gaming hotels around the country, the first of which will begin construction in Phoenix this Fall.  These are expected to be destination hotels which will host esports events and offer VR gaming experiences to their guests.

As someone who grew up loving Atari, I'm a hopeful skeptic about this project.  With the exception of articles about the Atari Hotel project, I could find no information about the GSD Group or any of their previous projects.  Also, the majority of products and/or services that have been marketed under the Atari name over the past 30 years have been disappointing (Atari Jaguar), ridiculous (Atari Speakerhat) or, in my opinion, outright fraud (Atari Gameband).  The latter was a video game watch that was announced in July 2016.  It had a Kickstarter goal of $75,000.  The company rocketed past that target and raised $500,000, but the project was cancelled less than two years later.  Atari did not deliver a product or a refund to its backers.  In recent years, Atari alleged that they were developing a new console called the Atari VCS which was scheduled for release in the second quarter of 2019.  They have collected a lot of money from preorders, but the machine has not yet been released.  In fact, they've only recently released a photo of an alleged prototype board which seems to offer more questions than answers.

It's also important to remember that the organization that calls itself Atari in 2020 has almost nothing whatsoever to do with the Atari that existed in the late 70's and early 80's.  The current Atari exploits the happy memories that gamers (myself included) have for the Atari of our childhood.  They piggybacked off of nostalgia, and they've gotten a lot of media attention for various projects in the process, but few of these projects come close to delivering on the big promises made in the press release, if they happen at all.

I hope to be proven wrong.  I hope to find a beautiful and successful Atari Hotel a few years from now that gamers from around the world can visit.  However, I've been down this road enough times in recent years to withhold the benefit of the doubt.  When it comes to an Atari product, I'll believe it when I see it.

Jan 28, 2020

Pizza Pinball

Domino's Spectacular Pinball Adventure
Spooky Pinball, LLC (2016)
The Nintendork shared photos of this awesome pinball machine on Twitter.  It seems to be geared toward people who work for the company with score goals that allow the player to work their way up through the ranks of driver, manager, franchisee and gold franny, which is an award that the corporate office gives to their most successful restaurant owners.

This table was designed by Adam Gacek and includes pizza slicer inlanes and The Noid operating the old pizza crusher from the 80's ad campaign.  Scott Gullicks did the artwork for the backglass and the playfield.  It's very colorful and is loaded with Domino's Pizza cartoons, including an employee holding pizza boxes above the flippers.  Maybe it's just me, but he appears to have a bigger set of boobs than I'm accustomed to seeing from the average pizza guy, and that smile is truly scary.