Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Game 46: T for Texas

Give me a T for Texas, give me a T for Tennessee
Give me a T for Texas, give me a T for Tennessee
Give me a T for Thelma, woman made a fool out of me.

One of the unique things about Lynyrd Skynyrd was their three guitar line-up. Initially it was Allen Collins, Gary Rossington, and Ed King. When King departed in 1975, one of the band's back-up singers, Cassie Gaines, recommended her younger brother as a replacement. Steve Gaines first played with Skynyrd on May 11, 1976. The 26 year-old was brought into the band, and just three months later they gave the above performance of Jimmie Rodgers' Blue Yodel No. 1, or T for Texas as they called it, in front of 120,000 people at Knebworth Fair. Gaines is the tall bearded fella standing to Ronnie Van Zant's left, playing a black Les Paul.

Steve Gaines was a revelation and a revitalization for Skynyrd. Despite his relative youth, Gaines was at ease amongst the road-weathered band, routinely outplaying Collins and Rossington. He began co-writing with Van Zant for material to be on the Street Survivors album and Van Zant even let him take lead vocals on one of the tracks. To my ears, the Gaines material on Street Survivors represents the finest work on the album, if not Skynyrd's whole catalog. He was a prodigy, and Van Zant predicted a very bright future for the young guitarist.

Then came the plane crash. And just like that, at 28 years old, Gaines was dead, as was his sister, Van Zant, and Skynyrd's assistant tour manager. There's no telling what the artist could have gone on to had he been lucky enough to survive.

Talent and potential are funny things like that. As a fan of music or sports, you can see certain people that just seem to have "it", and it's one of the true pleasures of being a fan to watch that talent displayed and to see that potential fulfilled. On the flip side, as A Bronx Tale taught us, there's perhaps nothing more disappointing or saddening than seeing potential go unfulfilled, to see talent wasted or snuffed out.

Just as Skynyrd featured three guitarists, the Yankees have featured three young starting pitchers in recent years, all of whom have sufficient talent and potential to excite the fan base. One, Ian Kennedy, had a disappointing 2008 and it now appears that his 2009 is lost thanks to an aneurysm. A second, Phil Hughes, spun a gem yesterday, and a third, Joba Chamberlain takes to the hill tonight.

This is the Yankees only trip to Texas this year, and I'm sure they're happy about that. Chien-Ming Wang suffered his lis franc injury in Houston last year and has not yet displayed anything close to his pre-injury form. Meanwhile, up in Arlington the Yankees have seen the two crown jewels of their young arms suffer injuries in each of the last two years. In 2007 it was a pulled hamstring for Phil Hughes, derailing his no hit bid. Last year, it was a shoulder injury to Joba Chamberlain, suffered in the same game that may have begun the demise of Damaso Marte as well.

It was an unfortunate injury for Chamberlain. That game would mark the 12th and final start of 2008 for him. Despite a relatively poor performance that night, his numbers as a starter for the year were outstanding: 3-1, 2.76 ERA over 65.1 IP, 1.30 WHIP, 10.2 K/9, and 2.96 K/BB while opposing batters hit only .245/.319/.322 against him. That my friends, is scary good for anyone, let alone a 22 year-old rookie. If you want to talk about wasted talent, just kick up the old "Joba to the bullpen" argument.

Hughes exacted some measure of redemption yesterday in his return to Texas, turning in his second impressive start in row with eight innings of shutout ball, allowing just four base runners while fanning six. Chamberlain looks to follow suit tonight in his first Texas appearance since his injury last year and his first start since taking a liner off the shin last Thursday.

I for one look forward to watching these two young pitching prodigies fulfill their potential and display their talent in the Yankee rotation for several years to come.

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