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Good headline, TNT April 15, 2009

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Possible police-blotter headline if things go south: Killer bat-work from Betancourt.

He does make good contact.  Selected highlights:

Yuniesky Betancourt knew what he needed to do… Kill the ball.

Yeah, Betancourt killed the ball. He killed it to perfection.

Kill the ball?… Kill it.

“That was a fantastic bunt.”

Yep, it was pretty great.  Also in the article: apparently Endy Chavez is taking the place of Miguel Cairo and Carlos Garcia as the Yuni-whisperer, which translates into ball-killing.

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More lies! April 15, 2009

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Another recent Yuniesky Betancourt wikipedia update:

Yuniesky Betancourt is generally overrated on both sides of the ball. He is also fat and lazy.

Hey, anonymous vandal from Portland, first off, you’re city has nice transit, bridges and (I’m told) doughnuts.  Second, watch this.  Yuni is apparently trying to bunt.  Sure, he took a double take, needing to make sure he actually did what Wakamatsu wanted, but he got the bunt down.  On that one play, he did not have the poorest execution of all; Scot(t) Shields did. Yuni’s off to a good start–he’ll keep his spot in the lineup (last!) for a while.

To celebrate Yuni’s positive contribution, another wiki-vandal:

When he was only 7 years old he entered a pig into the Kentucky Derby and got first place.

I like the creativity–though it feels like a tired meme–but it’s entirely misplaced.  Besides the complete geographic inaccuracy (horses can’t get to islands like Cuba, Cubans can get to places like Kentucky), it just doesn’t seem like something Yuni would even like doing.

Today’s depressing assessment… August 13, 2008

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…comes from Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times:

When an error by the shortstop costs your team three runs and a win, it gets to the point where you wonder how much longer that team can continue to play said infielder. Yes, Yuniesky Betancourt did look like Ozzie Smith on that groundout in the seventh inning. But what can I say? 

For those of you keeping track (including manager Jim Riggleman), that’s Yuni’s second game-losing error (or GaLE) this week.

This isn’t much fun anymore.

Yuni single-armedly threw away Friday’s game August 10, 2008

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Watch the grisly highlight here.

Not even the not-missed Riche Sexson could’ve caught Yuniesky Betancourt’s ridiculously high throw to first base.  The ball ended up out of play, and let two runs score.  Since Carlos Silva was on the mound, that wasn’t the end of the damage, as the Rays added another run that sealed off their 5-3 victory on Friday.

In his post-game press interviews, it sounded like Silva wanted to destroy Yuni.  From the P-I:

“Maybe Chief (Silva’s nickname) has to come and grab somebody in his neck and pin them to the wall,” Silva said to reporters. “I’m very close to doing that, so write that down.”

I’d be scared if I was Yuni.  Carlos Silva’s got approximately 6 inches and 500 pounds on Yuni (at least by the look of him.)  Plus, referring to yourself in the third person (albeit, in a nickname) is merely aggravating if you’re a designer on Project Runway, but fairly menacing if you’re a large, depressed Venezuelan man.  Yuni should watch his neck.

The second-most depressing part of Friday’s game was at its conclusion.  Down by two runs with two out in the bottom of the ninth, Yuni’s ninth spot in the line up was due up.  But who stepped up to the plate?  Willie Bloomquist.  I got out of my bleacher seat and left.  I did see Willie’s swinging strikeout, but I watched it from the first-floor concourse at Safeco Field.  That way, I had a head start on the rest of the crowd filing out after the M’s loss.

This season’s been one disaster after another, for Yuni and his team.

Yuni’s play in July? Sigh… August 7, 2008

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Here’s what I said about Yuniesky Betancourt’s play in June.

[He was] just awful.  Yuni didn’t hit, didn’t walk, and didn’t help his team at all.  He didn’t even play that much.

Aside from “didn’t walk,” those grievances apply to Yuni’s play in july, only moreso.  Here are the grisly stats:

.207/.233/.244 (slash stats-AVG/OBP/SLG), 3 2B, 5 RBI, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts, 1 SB, .213 BABIP, -1 WPA, -0.05 Clutch

Ouch.  It’s hard to even write about how bad Yuni’s been.  He was even benched in favor of Willie Bloomquist toward the end of the month.  I thought Yuni would hit close to .300 this season, but instead he can’t even keep his job.  Newspaper writers and the Mariners’ broadcast announcers have started pointing out Yuni’s terrible plate discipline and inability to hit this season.  As I point out every month, Yuni’s offense is completely driven by his batting average on balls in play.  In July, it was .213.  That’s awful.

Here are his defensive stats (which do include some of August):

17 errors, .965 fielding percentage, .823 RZR, 18 OOZ

That’s a lot of errors (9 in the past 5 weeks), yet according to The Hardball Times, Yuni’s having his best defensive season since his rookie year.  That’s something I guess.

Aside from his slight uptick in walks and apparently decent defense, the only good news from July is that Yuni wasn’t traded by the Mariners.  (The way he played, no one would give up anything for him.)  At least he’ll still have his bobblehead giveaway tomorrow night.  My apologies in advance to anyone in the left field bleachers that wants to enjoy the game peacefully.

Happy anniversary, Yuni July 28, 2008

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Tonight’s game against the Rangers marks the third anniversary of Yuniesky Betancourt’s debut with the Mariners.  On July 28th, 2005, Yuni tripled against the Indians.  Since then, Yuni’s scored 200 runs for the M’s, walked 49 times, earned three intentional walks, and provided countless exciting moments for me and other fans.  He’s also committed 62 errors, grounded into 34 double plays (a third of those are from 2008 alone), and had his range shrink like a violet  (violets, being stationary, have absolutely no range).

He’s been a bit too frustrating this year (his OPS+ is a career low), but Yuni’s still an exciting young player, that I usually enjoy watching.  I hope he lasts at least another three years with the M’s.

Go get ’em, Rikimbili!

What goes around, comes around July 19, 2008

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Top of the second inning last night, Indians shortstop Jhonny Peralta hits a ball to Mariners shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt. Here’s what happens:

Always keep the ball in front of you!

Always keep the ball in front of you!

That play didn’t work out so well for Yuni. Peralta was safe at first. Yuni quickly rebounded, and made an awesome throw to ensure Peralta and Shin Soo Choo were doubled up on Choo’s weak grounder. That double play means Yuni’s error didn’t really happen and doesn’t count.
Except in statistics.

In the bottom of the second, right after Yuni gets on base without the benefit of swinging (Aaron Laffey hit his foot), Ichiro hits a ground ball to Peralta. Here’s what happens:

Turnabout!

Turnabout!

Jhonny Peralta let that ball pass right by him, too. The Mariners went onto score 5 runs that inning, and are now PERFECT (for at least the next two hours) after the All-Star break.
If Yuni can keep making errors that inspire other shortstops to goof, I think the M’s can sustain some success.

July’s been good for the Betancourts July 3, 2008

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Two games is too small to draw a conclusion, but Yuniesky Betancourt is starting July off right.  Here are his lines:

7/1: 2-4, 2 RBI
7/2: 1-2, 1 R, 1 BB

You read that correct: Yuni got a 4-pitch walk last night.  Astounding.  That’s as unlikely as Miguel Cairo getting two doubles in a game or Willie Bloomquist getting an extra base hit.  Yuni’s last walk was on May 30, against the Tigers’ Nate Roberton (who faces the M’s on Sunday).  So Yuni’s already bested his walk total from June (0), and has one third his RBI count (6).  I’ll take it.

One Betancourt’s having a better July than Yuniesky, though.  Former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt was freed yesterday after being held hostage in the Colombian jungle for six years by the FARC revoluntionary militant group.  She promptly embraced her children:

“Nirvana, paradise — that must be very similar to what I feel at this moment,” Betancourt said, fighting back tears as her son reached over to kiss her. “It was because of them that I kept up my will to get out of that jungle.”

Ingrid’s June was probably a bit rougher than Yuni’s, and her July’s already a bit better.

Yuni’s pal Maykel Galindo June 30, 2008

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Yuniesky Betancourt is good friends with Cuban defector soccer player Maykel Galindo. This is a story that’s been widely reported, but I was completely unaware of until the Mariners’ website posted a story on the two reconnecting in Los Angeles. Here now, is a timeline of Yuni and Maykel:

January 28, 1981: Maykel Galindo is born , one year and three days before Yuni. Both are born and grow up in Villa Clara.

1991-1992: Yuni and Maykel allegedly first meet and become friends.

1994: Maykel leaves Villa Clara to train for soccer in Havana.

2003: Yuni defects on a speedboat (or so the story goes).

July 9, 2005: After scoring his country’s lone goal in a 3-1 CONCACAF Gold Cup loss against Costa Rica in Seattle, Galindo defects from Cuba. ESPN’s Andrew Winner tells the story best:

He found himself alone in the team hotel. The otherwise omnipresent team chaperones were nowhere in sight. Galindo looked left and right and saw space.

At that moment, Galindo made the snap decision to leave his team and try to defect.

He pressed a button for a random floor of the hotel, made his way out of the hotel through the parking garage and jumped onto a Metro bus outside the hotel.

Frantically trying to communicate in Spanish, he used the driver’s cell phone to dial the only local phone number he had — to one of the team’s Seattle-based liaisons, a high school Spanish teacher named Alex Zahajko. Zahajko picked Galindo up and, not long after, helped him contact U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Galindo then announced his intention to defect.

Wow. That’s probably a bit less daring than a speedboat, but relying on the kindness of a Metro bus driver AND a high school Spanish teacher takes a bit of guile and charm.  Zahajko just so happened to play in a rec soccer league with Adrian Hanauer, one of the owners of the Seattle Sounders, and helped get Galindo a tryout with the team.

July 28th, 2005: Yuni makes his debut with the Seattle Mariners.  Shortly thereafter, Yuni and Galindo reconnect. Here’s a quote from Yuni on that meeting:

“It was just like always, especially when you first come here, you don’t know anybody and you don’t have your family… You stick with each other, and give each other a hug, and start reminiscing about old times.”

September 9, 2005: Galindo makes his debut with the Seattle Sounders in a game against the Montreal Impact.  Two weeks later, he’d score his first goal for the Sounders, also against the Impact

October 1, 2005: In the USL Championship, Galindo scores an equalizer goal that helps send the game into penalty kicks.  The Sounders win on PKs, 4-3.  Maykel fist pounds Roger Levesque at some pointFans wave their signs.  Yuni attends the game.  Maykel says, “He attended that game, and it was very beautiful for me to have this guy [there] that I spent my childhood with.”

May 7, 2006:  The awesomely-named goalie Preston Burpo, Galindo’s once-and-future teammate, knees Galindo in the face.  Burpo get a yellow card, but Galindo gets a cheekbone fracture and can’t play again until July.

August 23, 2006: Galindo throws out the first pitch at a Mariners game.  Yuni catches it.  That had to be a nice moment.  The Mariners are then crushed by the Yankees, 9-2.  Yuni does get an RBI single, though.

September 9, 2006: Galindo finishes his injury-shortened season with 4 goals and four assists in 9 games.  That’s a lot of scoring for soccer.

February 17, 2007: Galindo moves up to Major League Soccer’s Chivas USA.  Playing in Southern California opens up new opportunities for Galindo, like living in Torrance and getting to do photo-ops with Nomar Garciaparra.

April 7, 2007: After just a few games in the MLS, The Offside declares Galindo “the fastest man in the MLS.”  I’m not sure if Yuni is the ______est anything in baseball.  Maybe the Awesomest Shortstop Nicknamed Rikimbilli.  Yuni wins that contest hands down.

July 19, 2007: Galindo’s Chivas USA gets spanked by the (lower league) Sounders 3-1 in the US Open Cup.

October 2007: Galindo leads Chivas USA with 12 goals in the regular season, and wins the team’s Golden Boot, which sounds kind of harsh, but is actually soccer-speak for MVP or best scorer.

June 11, 2008: Galindo has a second hernia surgery (his right groin’s been hurting), and is not likely to suit up again until August. (Does the MLS have disabled/inactive list?)

June 27, 2008: Galindo last logs onto his ridiculous, flash-filled MySpace page.  His current mood is “stressed.”  Hernia surgeries will do that to you.

In summation, Maykel Galindo’s been profiled on ESPN, USA Today, Sports Illustrated, and The Beautiful Game.  He’s a legit (North American) pro soccer player, and occasionally hangs out with Yuniesky Betancourt.  I wish him all the best.

Cuba, revisited June 19, 2008

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I’ve written about Yuniesky Betancourt’s defection from Cuba before, and was left with a dim view and lots of unanswered questions surrounding Gus Dominguez, who orchestrated Yuni’s flight, and Jaime Torres, Yuni’s agent once he was legal to play in the States.  Torres was in the news earlier this month for representing a shiny new Cuban defector, Dayan Viciendo.  Coincidentally, Viciendo played for Yuni’s old Cuban team, Villa Clara and has a funny name (go on, say it out loud). But Dominguez has gotten some better press.

Michael Lewis, the greatest sportswriter out there, wrote a story for the July issue of Vanity Fair profiling Dominguez’ relationship with Cuban baseball.  Where I was only left to wonder, Lewis interviewed guys like Dominguez, Rene Arocha and Henry Blanco, and traveled to Cuba (through Canada).  He spent a lot of time around the Villa Clara team, especially their manager, Victor Mesa.  That’s where Yuni’s name first pops up:

Mesa’s Villa Clara team vies for the lead in an important stat: player defections. Live through a season with Víctor Mesa and a few days on a raft surrounded by sharks doesn’t seem so terrifying. Mesa’s shortstop and catcher were banned from baseball for speaking on the phone with Cuban defectors. His shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt hopped a boat to Florida one night in 2003. Established as Seattle’s starting shortstop two seasons ago, Betancourt was asked if he had problems adjusting to big-league managers. “We have a manager in Cuba, and that manager is worse than anything you have in the major leagues,” Betancourt replied. “His name is Víctor Mesa.”

An invisible line runs from Víctor Mesa, yelling from his dugout, to Gus Dominguez, in his cell inside a California prison. For the one thing that the U.S. attorney general and the jailed sports agent agree upon is that all the trouble began when Yuniesky Betancourt fled Víctor Mesa’s ball club.

That’s a intriguing set up.  Lewis quickly jumps to Dominguez’s trial, when the government relied on the word of drug dealer Ysbel Medina-Santos to convict Dominguez:

Medina-Santos told Dominguez that Betancourt had promised to pay his smugglers 5 percent of his first major-league contract. They heard he had a deal with the Mariners, and they wanted their money. Now. The contract was unenforceable, but the smugglers were prepared to collect on their own. If Dominguez didn’t pay them, Medina-Santos threatened, they’d break Betancourt’s legs and end his career. What point would there be in that? Dominguez asked. Break his legs and you’ll never get your money.

Sheesh.  I’m glad Yuni’s legs are fine.  Maybe people should stop pressuring him to leg out more stolen bases.

As I hypothesized before, Yuni may have not been an angel in these dealings.  At the very least, he lied unnecessarily, and he probably didn’t do right by Dominguez, who, as you just read, helped saved Yuni’s legs from massive breakage.  Lewis, who like the court in Dominguez’ case, didn’t hear directly from Yuni, says the same, more plainly:

Betancourt then stiffed the agent who had fed and housed him for six months. He signed the contract with the Mariners that Dominguez had negotiated on his behalf, but paid whatever commission he paid to someone else…. The Dominguez side never called him as a witness, mainly because they had no idea what he might say. He’d already told three different stories, two of them to immigration agents, about how and when he’d come to the United States. He declined to return phone calls, and slammed the door in the face of the private eye they’d hired to track him down.

Yuni blowing off reporters and being silent about his trip from Cuba is one thing, but staying mute when the guy who helped him earn boatloads of cash (and protected his legs) is facing hard time?  That’s rude, Yuni.

Yuni doesn’t come off as completely heartless.  During one of Lewis’ conversations with Mesa (who’s general craziness adds another funny layer to The Onion story), he shows some affection for Yuni:

Even now in Cuba, ballplayers who defect are officially forgotten. Their stats are stricken from the record books, and their names aren’t meant to be spoken. And yet here stands Víctor Mesa with his arm draped over the shoulders of the kid who is now the Seattle Mariners’ shortstop. “He was like my son,” says Mesa. “My very, very difficult son.”

So even that’s a bit of a dig.  Side note: the whole “he who shall not be named” thing in Cuba may partly explain why people call Yuni “Rikimbilli.”

I’ve excerpted almost every substantial reference to Yuni (you should go read the whole thing, though; it’s awesome), and Yuni comes off as the most misguided guy in the story; even the drug dealer doesn’t seem so bad.  Clearly, Yuni’s first few months in the U.S. weren’t his finest moments.  I hope he can find a way to atone for any mistakes he’s made.

(hat tip: I Want to be a Sports Agent)