Orbiting Cleveland: Remembering Ubaldo Jimenez
The lanky right-hander will always have at least one fan in Erie, PA
They say it's clichéd to start a column with a cliché, but do rules really apply to writing on the Internet?
I'd garner to guess no, so here it goes.
A little part of me died on Monday when it was announced that the Baltimore Orioles signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million contract. Sure, it sounds crazy, but anyone who knows me well knows I've loved Jimenez from the moment the Indians acquired him back in July of 2011.
So there, you have it. I am less than 90 words into a column, and I've already broken three rules of sound journalistic practices.
I used a cliché, proceeded to admit my biased affection for a professional athlete, and I have also already written extensively in the first person. All of your best columnists will tell you that personal pronouns are a total copout.
While it's been over a year since I've traded in my pen and paper for a PR job, I've always maintained that there's something to be said for the principles that surround journalism, even in the case of column writing.
Yet, I've already broken three rules, so why stop now anyhow?
It is true that it seems somewhat tedious to write an entire column on a player who struggled for the majority of his tenure with the Cleveland Indians. After all, if it weren't for his 2013 second half, would anyone even care that he signed a contract with the Orioles?
Nonetheless, I feel compelled to express how Jimenez has been such an enjoyable player for me to follow during these past 2 ½ seasons.
As fans, even if we don't like to admit it, we always have our favorites. As a child, for me, that favorite was Manny Ramirez. It then evolved into Bartolo Colon and later C.C. Sabathia. I always said I cared about just two things: strikeouts and heat. Of course, you might have already drawn that conclusion.
Yet, the interesting thing with Jimenez is that he did not exactly have the Indians career of say Ramirez or Sabathia. He had his moments, but if you put him on Mount Rushmore next to Ramirez, Colon and Sabathia, he's certainly the player that sticks out the most.
I don't know why Jimenez seemed to resonate with me during his time in Cleveland, but there's no doubt that he did; I had not loved a player like that for a long time, and it's likely that that love won't be matched anytime soon.
I suppose I can trace it back to July 2009. I was vacationing with my then-girlfriend and her family, who are hail from Philadelphia.
Fresh off a Phillies' World Series victory in 2008, let's just say they were still riding high. Their enthusiasm only grew that year at the deadline when they were able to acquire reigning Cy Young winner Cliff Lee from the Indians.
I remember my future father-in-law turning to me and saying something along the lines of, "The Indians traded the reigning Cy Young winners in back-to-back years. Why Steve? Why are you a fan of this team?"
I tried to think of a quick, witty remark, but I had nothing.
I just sulked and walked into the next room to pour myself an alcoholic beverage. Could you really blame me?
I remember feeling so fed up with the entire organization. I realize how small-market teams must make difficult decisions to better the overall health of the team, but this trade brought a poignant pain with it.
"Did they really need to trade Lee?" I thought. "He still had another year on his contract. There was no rush to make a trade at this point. At the very least, they could have waited another year just to save themselves the embarrassment of being the only team to trade reigning Cy Young Award winners in back-to-back seasons."
I was just so fed up with the constant selling of assets that I could not even stomach the team anymore. Of course, we're Cleveland fans, so we know that incessant pain seems to come and go endlessly. Contrary to what I thought at that moment, I still followed the team incessantly, and I still had faith that they would be able to turn things around.
Finally, in 2011, the Indians we're contending once again (perhaps that's a tad too generous). Nonetheless, things were finally somewhat interesting, and rumors began to surface that the Indians could go after Ubaldo Jimenez at the deadline.
Jimenez was already one of my favorite pitchers in baseball. As I said, I love strikeouts and heat, and Jimenez brought plenty of both during his tenure with the Colorado Rockies.
However, while I admit I was intrigued by the idea of acquiring Jimenez, I can honestly say that I never saw it happening. It just seemed highly unlikely that the Indians would go and do a move of that magnitude.
Knowing that, you can probably imagine my elation on the night of July 30 when I heard that the Indians had actually made a deal for Jimenez. In fact, the term elation does not seem to accurately depict my excitement.
Also, take a guess where I was when I heard the news? Yep, I was once again vacationing with the future bride and her family, which of course made the news even sweeter.
It's hard to explain why this one, singular move meant so much, but I suppose I would say that I thought it represented a sea change.
Over the last few years, I had watched as the Indians dealt away a handful of the team's most talented players in Sabathia, Lee and Victor Martinez. Every one of those trades stung for one reason or another, but the acquisition of Jimenez helped to ease the pain on those earlier losses.
I didn't care that the Indians were likely overachieving.
I didn't care that Jimenez was in the midst of a down year.
I didn't care that they had to deal my favorite prospect, Drew Pomeranz, to get the trade done.
All that mattered was that the Indians once again had a pitcher with ace potential for the first time since they traded Lee two years earlier.
I almost think I was destined to cheer Jimenez moving forward regardless of circumstances.
I have never bought into the notion that prospects should not be used to make a big-time deal. To me, prospects are just that — prospects. Even the safest of prospects can fizzle out and fail at the Major League level. We've see that here in Cleveland in recent years with the likes of Andy Marte and Matt LaPorta.
The two key players that were used to acquire Jimenez, Pomeranz and Alex White, seemed to be sure things, but look how things turned out down the road. White is toiling around in the Hoston Astros' organization while Pomeranz will attempt to be a reliever with the Oakland Athletics. That's not exactly what you call "impact" Major League talent.
Hindsight will tell you that I needed to temper my enthusiasm.
After the trade, Jimenez struggled with the Indians. His control always seemed out-of-whack, and he certainly did not resemble the same pitcher who had actually been quite consistent in previous seasons with the Rockies.
Yet, for some reason, my adoration for Jimenez never subsided during this time. I'm not exactly sure of why that's the case, but a story from the IBI's Jim Pete helped remind me this week.
In this week's edition of the "Corner of Carnegie and Ontario", Pete wrote:
"A quick story about Ubaldo, the human being. My family went to the Carolina Mudcats first game at Five County Stadium against the Indians two seasons ago, and Ubaldo had just finished hitting Troy Tulowitzki in a preseason game. My kids were hanging out in the right field stands getting autographs, and Ubaldo, who had been running wind sprints, walked over to my kids to sign. Immediately, they were swarmed by the fantastic 50-year-olds who were their collecting memorabilia, and my daughter was knocked over. I reached down to pick her up, with a plan to grab the old-man and throw him over the rail when I made sure she was alright, when Ubaldo stepped in. He immediately started pointing at the guy, got Travis Hafner's attention, and they both waved down a security guard. The man was escorted out of the stadium.
Ubaldo then walked right over and signed my daughter's baseball, and then my son's, thanked them for coming, then turned and started jogging again. Talk about making a little boy and girl feel special.
It's easy to bash Ubaldo for demeanor and pitch-count, and always easy to forget the human being. I am no Ubaldo Jimenez fan on the baseball field, but boy, it's hard to hate a guy that does the right thing."
I never had a personal experience with Jimenez like the one Pete notes. Yet, something about Jimenez's character seemed to resonate with me immediately.
Just think back to the 2012 season and how awful it was for Jimenez. In 31 starts, the right-hander went 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA, 5.06 FIP and 4.84 BB/9. Awful might be too delicate of a word.
Throughout that entire season, Jimenez was absolutely crucified by the media, both nationally and locally, and he had to be one of the most hated players by the fan base.
Now, let's be honest, all of that criticism was deserved. Jimenez was acquired in one of the Indians' biggest trades in recent memory, and he his performance was not even close to acceptable.
Yet, every day, regardless of whether he got lit up for seven runs in two innings or had a decent performance, Jimenez went out and was respectful to reporters and fans. In fact, this is the guy who once referred to Cleveland as heaven.
That might not seem like its worthy of praise, especially when dealing with the media is a part of a players' job, but it's amazing how many athletes seem to forget that.
From my time in the journalism business, I've interviewed several Division I college basketball and NFL players, and can tell you that most of them did not have half the guts of Jimenez. Hell, and this is from players at a small Division I college no less.
On multiple occasions, MLB.com's Jordan Bastian and The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto and Paul Hoynes have noted how Jimenez was a pleasure to work with. Most players shy away from discussing their struggles, but Jimenez would always face them head on. You could almost feel the pain that Jimenez was dealing with as a player. His words showed that.
Throughout the bad times, one of themes frequently heard was that no one was tougher on Jimenez than himself.
Perhaps I'm too gullible.
Maybe too sympathetic.
Certainly a tad irrational.
But I believed that. Jimenez's facial expressions and body language seemed to suggest it.
During his tenure with the Indians, I always said that it was too early to give up on Jimenez, but I admit that I reached a breaking point at some time during the 2012 season.
Following that season, I was excited when I heard news that new pitching coach Mickey Callaway would be traveling to the Dominican Republic to spend time with Jimenez, but let's just say I was cautiously optimistic.
Yet, with each successful start, even the short five-inning ones, I started to once again become a believer.
Knowing that, you can probably imagine the satisfaction I experienced when Jimenez literally put the Indians on his back and pitched them to the postseason in August and September of this past year.
Say what you will about Jimenez, but there's no way anyone can dispute that it has not been a memorable past 2 ½ years with the big right-hander. When I think of Jimenez, I know I have a handful of memories, both positive and negative.
I'll remember how his starts somehow became can't-miss television for me. It was always a roller coaster ride with plenty of ups and downs, but that was also part of the fun.
I'll remember a man who was always prepared to face the music. Few pitchers have struggled to the degree that Jimenez did from 2011 to 2012. Even fewer men have been so willing to own up to their struggles and talk about it.
I'll remember a man who was benched in August 2013 in favor of a young rookie and his close friend, Danny Salazar. Other men may have crumbled, yet Jimenez proceeded to post a 1.73 ERA in his final 10 starts of the season to practically will the Indians into the playoffs.
I'll remember September 29, 2013. The scenario was simple: win and you're in. The Indians needed a strong performance, and to say Jimenez delivered is an understatement. In what might have been his greatest moment as an Indian, Jimenez pitched 6 2/3 innings while allowing just one run and striking out 13. For the first time since July 30, 2011, I once again felt that utter sense of jubilation.
Obviously, not everyone shares my enthusiasm for Jimenez. His place in Indians' history is likely cementing as one of the more polarizing figures.
Yet, his place in my history is also cemented. Jimenez was directly linked to my two favorite Cleveland sports memories of the past three years, and I'll always remember him for that.
For that, Jimenez can always count on having at least one fan in Erie, PA.
Steve can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ubaldo's Tribe career was shocking (deal shocked me at least), disappointing, very disappointing to downright sad....then both shocking and flatout amazing. If it's an emotion as Tribe fans we probably felt it in regards to big U. Disappointed to see him go (never thought I'd say that) but not all that sad...
Of course it was extremely hard to see him completely fall apart in 2012. And it was just about as hard to experience the negativity from the Tribe's fans.
I was so happy to see him turn it around last year, and whether it was because he was going to be a free agent, had met his match in Mickey, or things just started to click, I really don't care, it doesn't matter. He was great for us in 2013 and the Tribe benefited greatly by making it to the playoffs. A very rare thing! For me, that's enough.