By Eric Neel
Page 2

Dear Tess,

You come from a long line of zealots. The family tree is full of itinerant preachers, alcoholics, chain-smokers and mad scribblers.

Big Bird
Marc Bryan-Brown/WireImage
"Take me out to the ballgame . . ."

I mention this because this morning, when we were having our Cheerios and watching "Sesame Street," I was actually thinking about Oliver Perez. I took a chance on him in my fantasy draft this week, hoping for a bounce-back after last season's plus-5 ERA nightmare. I figure he has matured into some better control, you know, of his fastball and his emotions. And it was a 17th-round pick; a little trolling for late-round value, right? And sure, it was a risk, and yeah, maybe Erik Bedard was the safer call, but what if Perez is right, what if I'm right about him and the strikeouts and W's come down like rain? Wouldn't that be sweet?

So, anyway, that's what I was thinking about when you were telling me D, for Daddy, was the letter of the day.

And it wasn't the first time.

When we were at swim lessons Saturday, and you'd been doing that starfish float thing so well, and I was giving you the thumbs-up? That was actually me reflecting on my draft position in the keeper league Andy has going this year. I'm in the 12 spot, see, which is cool because you don't have to sweat the will-Vlad-stay-healthy thing at three or four, and you get two quality guys on the double-up at 12th and 17th. If things go well, I'm maybe looking at Cabrera and Utley, or Ichiro and Abreu, anchoring my everyday lineup. That's a big thumbs-up, T.

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I'm not proud. I'm not proud I got up at 5 a.m. Friday to grade second basemen so your mother wouldn't know what I was up to. I'm not proud of the dreams I'm dreaming of somehow sneaking Daniel Cabrera away from Terri's club.

The fact is I never figured it would go this way for me. I don't drink. I don't smoke. Never been to a tent revival in my life. I thought I could outrun the family legacy. I thought the mania gene wasn't in me. I used to pity our people, saddled as they were with uncontrollable urges, always victim to some sort of frenzy. They were part of the family's dysfunctional past, and you and me, we were the start of its well-adjusted future.

I still have hope for you.

For me, it's all about whether Curtis Granderson is for real now. PECOTA has him down for maybe 19 home runs, a dozen steals and .470 slugging, but I think there's reason to hope for more, especially in the steals department. Steals are intoxicating, don't you think? If he gets some good jumps early in the year, and gets into it, he might just become addicted, might not be able to stop himself. He might feel that feeling in his belly, that itch, that jones. He might not be able to stand still, or to concentrate on anything but the delicious prospect of reaching out and touching the bag. And he might know, even as he touched it, every time he touched it, even as he heard the ump say "safe," every time he heard him, and even as he reveled in having vanquished his opponent, every time he reveled, that it wouldn't be enough for him, that he'd have to do it again, and again, and soon and sooner, and sooner than that.

Curtis Granderson
Tom Pidgeon/Getty
Lately, Granderson has been on Eric's mind a lot.

I'm scaring you a little, right? That's OK. That's probably a good thing. You'd be smart to keep your distance, at least until October. You don't want to see me on the corner looking for reception, working the cell phone, hungry for updates. You'd be better off not knowing what I know about Joey Devine's spring ERA, J.J. Hardy's new, slightly-more-open stance and Yhency Brazoban's groundball-flyball ratio.

I used to think we'd go to games together, T. I pictured us in the pavilions at Dodger Stadium or behind first base in Pete's seats at the Big A. We'd play catch in the parking lot; we'd buy hats and dogs; I'd tell you stories about Davey Lopes and Bobby Grich; and we'd keep a record in our scorebook.

You think they have wi-fi in the stands in Anaheim now? We should look into that. Just in case you want to track Prince Fielder's ABs or something.

That was out loud, right? My bad. Forget I said it. Maybe you and mom should go to the park without me.

Listen, I wish I could tell you I was building somewhere with all of this. I wish I could say I thought it was a phase or a fling, something I'd pass out of with a proper perspective and a renewed sense of what's really important in this life.

But I got nothing.

Nothing but an uncontrollable urge to make trade offers, nothing but a pathological desire to see a category-clinching Joey Gathright steal the show up in my stat-tracker.

Disgusting, I know. But even so, I feel pretty good about it. The winning's a steep rush, the losing's a deep, dark plunge, and the swings between them, that's life, that's the juice, that's why I get up in the morning.

You should put this down now. You should be running from me. You should turn off the TV whenever a game's on, the way you do when you get scared at that first part of "Finding Nemo," and you should stay as far away from my laptop spreadsheets as you possibly can.

Because I'm not going to lie to you: I'm coming for you, T. I'm going to give you your first tastes. I'm going to let the 5x5 thrill demons loose upon you. I'm going to tell you, "Forget the ballpark, let's you and me join an NL-only keeper league and play all through your school years, and into college, and until we can rope your kids into it someday."

And when you're deep in it, staring blankly at Big Bird, and wondering how Ryan Howard made out in the homer-friendly confines of Great American Ballpark last night, the only consolation I'll be able to offer you is this:

It's a family thing.


Eric Neel is a columnist for Page 2.