Saturday, March 20, 2004

On a Sunday afternoon when college basketball is not on my list of exciting things to watch, I flipped through the channels and came to ESPN Classic's telecast of a 1997 game between the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays. Watching old games that already happened and Spring Training games are boring to me because they don't mean anything. Only the new season's games will mean anything at this point. But Toronto had Roger Clemens pitching against his old team which kept my interest for about ten minutes. After those ten minutes were up and much later after I had moved to the golf telecast, for some reason, I couldn't get Tilson Brito out of my head.

Okay, you probably think the Fan has lost it. Who the heck is Tilson Brito? I know, I asked the same question. Who the heck is Tilson Brito? The reason Mr. Brito stuck in my head was because I never heard of him. I'm a huge fan of the game and follow the box scores faithfully and have for thirty years. There are very few players that I've never heard of. That's why Tilson Brito stuck in my head. Because he never did before. How did I miss this guy?

I could use the excuse that he only played in MLB for two years (1996, 1997) but those were the dark years before cable and all I had to watch were the Toronto Blue Jay games on Canadian television (which comes in remarkably clear in the state of Maine). But this guy played for the Blue Jays!! How did I miss him?

I could use the excuse that he only batted 252 times in his career and ended up with a lackluster .238 batting average. I could say that it was a dark time in my life and I don't remember much of anything during that period. But I don't forget players and this guy just found a way to escape my notice completely.

Tilson Brito. I had to know more about this guy. It's sort of like when you are watching Survivor and Jeff doesn't show you the last vote because somebody already got voted out. I had to know what else was in that container. So here is what I found out about Tilson Brito.

First off, his full name is Tilson Brito Jimenez and he was born in the Dominican Republic in 1972. In 1990, the Toronto Blue Jays signed him as an undrafted free agent (when he was 18) and he rose steadily through their system until he made the big club in 1996. He only had eighty at bats that year and batted .238 but had a respectable OBP of .344. One of his few highlights of that year was when he had a bloop single off of Randy Johnson in one of Johnson's spectacular two-hitters on June 2nd.

Brito started the 1997 season with Toronto but only batted .222 although he did have one four-hit game. The Blue Jays released him on August 10. The Oakland A's picked him right up and he took Jose Canseco's spot on the A's roster when Canseco went down with an injury. Brito did well for the A's that last month of the season and batted .283 with a couple of homers.

1997 was Brito's swan song in Major League Baseball. It was his second season and his last. For his two year experience, Brito made $266,000. Heck, in 1997, Brito made $160,000, the same as Jason Giambi did that year for the A's. Of course, Giambi has added two zeroes to that number since and Brito has continued his professional career--wherever he could find a place to play.

By 1999, Tilson Brito was playing for the Charlotte Knights in the International League. He batted .318 for the Knights with eleven homers and fifty-eight RBI. He batted .330 for most of the year but tailed off at the end of the season. The season was good enough for Brito to be given a chance by the Detroit Tigers in the 2000 season.

Brito had a good Spring Training for the Tigers and was one of the last cuts the team made. In fact, he was sent to the minors two days after going two for four with four RBI in his last game for the team.

Brito played third base for the Toledo Mud Hens that season because the shortstop was a kid named Alfonso Soriano. But Brito's season didn't end with the Mud Hens. He played in the Pan American games with the Dominican Republic team and then found time to play in the Korean league where he batted .349.

Brito surfaced again in 2002 during Spring Training for the Chicago White Sox. Again, Brito had a great spring and was one of the last three cuts that season for the White Sox.

In 2003, Tilson Brito played for the Samsung Lions in the Japanese major leagues. Word is still out what the now thirty-two year old will be doing this year.

Okay, now the Fan knows a little more about Tilson Brito but why is there any story here at all? Well, the lame story that started this post was about a player that a lifelong box score junkie missed. But the story that comes through from following Brito's history is that most of us follow the stories about players we see on ESPN or at most, those players who play for our favorite team this year. But baseball is a dream that doesn't end with a two year shot at Major League Baseball.

The game of baseball is really about a men who probably don't know too much else in life besides batting, throwing and catching a baseball. Here was another kid from the dusty ballparks of the Dominican Republic. As a teenager, he followed so many others from his country and earned a shot at the big time. Since those two years, that shot has passed some six years now and time is getting short for any others.

But Brito played on and he played anywhere he could get paid to play. Tilson Brito is a baseball player and that's what he'll do until there is nobody else will pay him to do so. There is a bittersweet tale in that telling. So who is Tilson Brito? we know.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

The Fan is back from his self-imposed vacation. I wrote nearly every day for a year and needed the break. But that doesn't mean my lips haven't been getting licked with the season approaching. Pretty soon, we will be following box scores and poring over the stats. Pretty soon, this seasons surprises will show us why we love this game. Pretty soon the new team of destiny will begin its run. Pretty soon, the umpire will say play ball and the season will start and we'll have something to talk about besides steroids. I can't wait. Are you ready?

There are a couple of things to talk about tonight before making the yearly predictions. First, I will repeat that this Fan doesn't care about steroids. If the players and owners want to find a way to test to get it out of the game, fine. But it doesn't mean anything to me. You still have to hit the ball. You still have that split second to make a decision. No drugs can aid that. It just doesn't matter. Let's play ball and work something out in the background. Okay?

This Fan does not like this trend of playing MLB games outside of the continental United States (okay, I'll tolerate Toronto). Starting the season in Japan is not only silly, but it's also dangerous for the players and it puts the participating teams at a disadvantage from all that travel. Babe Ruth and players like that "barnstormed" in Japan and other places AFTER the season.

And the continuing saga of the Expos is shameful. It's great for baseball fans in Puerto Rico and Mexico to see MLB, but find them a home for crying out loud. We are turning them into the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. Fix it, Baseball!

Some of the most interesting stories of the season will be (in no particular order):

- Clemens and Pettitte in Houston. These two guys will drive that team into another way of approaching the game. They are proven winners and even if their stats don't show it, they will lead this team to a new place.

- All reports are that Pat Burrell has abandoned his pull-everything-power-swing and has returned to the stroke that got him to the big leagues. It is unfair to say that last year was something that has never happened before with a player. I remember Mike Schmidt batting .198 and the Philly Faithful were ready to run him out of town. Mark McGwire hit .201 in 1991 and went back to having a pretty fair career. You have to root for Burrell to come back big this year.

- Kazuo Matsui will play shortstop for the New York Mets. Of course, it's crazy to move Jose Reyes, but what are you going to do? Matsui is the latest Japanese superstar to try to make the leap to American baseball and it will be interesting to see what he does...and exciting.

- Can Ken Griffey Jr. make it back this year after a string of injury plagued years? I really hope so. The next question is where he will be playing as it is obvious that the Reds do not want him.

- Just how good will the Red Sox be with Curt Schilling on board? They could be spectacular but that's why they play the games.

- Will San Diego and others rise off the mat with some great new talent and older talent coming back from injuries? The Dodgers and Diamondbacks don't look solid and it could be an excellent opportunity for a new team to come along and take the division. Speaking of the Diamondbacks:

- Randy Johnson appears to be his old self again and has dominated Spring Training. Is he really back? Will he hold up? It would be great to have Johnson have a great career type year to put an exclamation mark on what has been an amazing career.

- Will the Braves really lose their division? The time never seemed so right for the Phillies or someone else to break the strangle hold the Braves have enjoyed on the division for the last dozen years. And you wonder why I'm licking my lips?

- How close will Barry Bonds get to Aaron this year? How much will all this steroid talk distract him? How much does he have left?

- How good will Josh Beckett be? Can he capture what he did in the World Series for an entire season? Will Dontrelle Willis be Vida Blue and have a productive career or will he be another Mark Fidrych? He sure did seem to lose steam at the end of last season.

- Will the Tigers, Devil Rays, Reds, Pirates, Rangers and Brewers be any better this year? The Tigers can't be any worse. The Devil Rays and Rangers should be better. The Pirates are even money and the Reds and Brewers have no chance. But that's what they said about Kansas City last year.

- Will the Orioles and Blue Jays make a big leap this year? They certainly seem to have improved themselves.

- What kind of year will Garciaparra have this year? And the same for A-Rod? How much will the distractions of this past off-season affect them? Will Garciaparra get off swinging at the first pitch and grounding to the shortstop?

- Will Buck Showalter be as patient with Alfonso Soriano as Joe Torre was? Will Showalter put up with those periods where Soriano can't stop swinging at any pitch that doesn't fly into the seats?

- How much will Mike Piazza hurt the Mets at first base? This underrated position could be a big factor in what kind of year the Mets have.

There is so much to talk about. I'm glad to be back and I'm ready to go. I hope you come along with me for a great season.