Monday, September 8, 2008

Johan Santana: Regalo de Dios

Johan Santana.

What comes immediately to mind when one hears that name? Ace pitcher? Two-time Cy Young Award winner by unanimous vote? The guy who, in the final estimation, the Yankees actually could have used more than Kennedy, Hughes, and Melky this year? These are common things to think when one hears mention of Johan Santana. And, yet, none of them are the thoughts that come immediately to my mind.

The thought that comes immediately to my mind is that it’s really bizarre to be named Johan when you come from Venezuela.

I went to the trouble of looking up the name Johan. Just to make sure that I was not somehow laboring under a misapprehension as to its origins. Maybe it was Johann Bach, and not Johan Santana, who had been incongruously named. It turns out that this was not the case. My instinct was correct. As it happens, the name Johan has nothing to do with anything Venezuelan, or even Latin American for that matter. Johan is Finnish, German, and Swedish for John. It is also Hebrew for “gift from God.” It is not Spanish for anything. The Spanish for John is Juan. The Spanish for “gift from God” is “regalo de Dios.” This last bit of information, for the record, is information that came from my brain and not the website from which I gathered my information.

But it should not go without saying that the website that I used for reference——was an invaluable resource, a veritable well of knowledge. Among the other information that I was able to gather from my visit, it provided me with a list of names that sound like Johan. Names such as Mohan, Rohan, Monohan, and Bohan. The last name, which is supposedly unisex, is not a name I believe to truly exist based on my experience in the world. But according to the site, it is Biblical for “in them.” Ah, yes, one wonders why we don’t hear that one more often.

Now you might think that it’s just silly that this site should offer us information about names that happen to sound like names that interest us. What, you ask, does Mohan have to do with Johan? As it happens, for our friend Johan Santana of the weirdly mismatched first and last names, the answer to that question is everything. Johan is married to a woman named Yasmile, who he has known since he was nine. Adorable. Johan and Yasmile have two daughters. And since you’ll never guess their names, I’m just going to tell you. Jasmily and Jasmine. Get it? Like Yasmile. But not.

Now I can only speak personally, but if I married a guy named—oh, I don’t—let’s say Johan, I would probably shy away from naming our children Rohan and Monohan. In fact, I am going to go so far as to say that I think that for me to do that would even be a little bit weird. The compulsion to name your child after yourself—that’s one thing. It’s not something I would do—Jews tend not to—but it’s something that makes sense to me. But to give children names that sort of approximate the name of one of their parents—enough to where it is obvious but not enough to just have it be the same name—I don’t quite get the thinking. It seems illogical.

This brings us back my original question. Why is Johan Santana named Johan in the first place? I am going to posit that, perhaps it is his confusion about his own name that we see being reflected in his choices about the names for his children.

And, yet, I am open to the possibility that maybe I am just wrong. Because if Johan is a weird name for someone from Latin America—someone with the last name Santana—how come there are two of them? That’s right. I’m talking about Angels pitcher Ervin Santana from the Dominican Republic, whose actual name is Johan. In 2003, when Ervin was still in the minors and Johan was making a name for himself with the Twins, Ervin decided that the big leagues weren’t quite big enough for two pitchers with the same name. Especially when one of those pitchers happened to be a superstar. So, he took it upon himself to change his. To Ervin—just in case you hadn’t really registered that.

Now I have to admit. I sort of think the guy has a point. This is a measured practical reason for which to change your name. A reason that seems unrelated to a need for attention. A reason I can get behind. However, I think that having made this decision, the only logical thing for Ervin to have done would have been to take his middle name—Ramon. Because it’s just weird to make up a new name for no reason. And, yet, this is what Ervin decided to do. OK. Fine. A strange choice. And, yet, he still could have taken advantage of this opportunity and figured out a way to make his name make sense. Like, by picking the name Juan. Or Regalo de Dios. But, Ervin? Really? Santana commented, “I just came up with Ervin. Ervin Santana, that sounds good.”

No, not true. It doesn’t. In fact, I will posit that Ervin Santana actually sounds about as good as Pepe Edelstein.

But this is just my initial line of thinking when I hear the name Johan Santana. Then I usually move on to the stuff that other people think about. And, this brings us to last night’s game against the Phillies. A game which the Mets were able to win in large part because of the contribution of the Hebraic gift of God, otherwise known as Johan Santana.

Last night’s was an extremely important victory in one of the most critical series the Mets will play all month. They did not fare quite as well as they would have liked against the Phils this weekend, but last night’s outing staved off the sweep at the very least. It is a sweep that the Mets could ill have afforded. Not only because, at this point in the season, every game matters. But also because both the players and the fans are still recovering psychologically from last year’s cataclysmic September. A sweep by the Phillies would have been the kind of demoralizing blow that would have been pretty tough to take at this juncture.

Santana pitched 7 and 1/3 innings, allowing only five hits and two runs. All told, Santana has done well by the Mets this year. Better than his win-loss record might reflect, with only 13 in the “W” column and 7 losses. Like Joan Jett, he’s what you’d call a victim of circumstance. And in his case, circumstance boils down to a craptastic bullpen and little run support. The reality of his victimhood is reflected as much through his 2.70 ERA as it is through the fact that everyone on the Mets continues to have undying confidence in him. And while Johan Santana has never pointed the finger at his teammates for their failure to support him, they have all been more than willing to take on the blame. And rightfully so.

But on a night like last night, when all the pieces come together, the Mets get to reap the rewards of their investment in Santana. And Jerry Manuel had this to say of his performance, "Anytime his turn comes around, we feel confident that he can keep us going, or stop us from going the other way."

However, one great pitcher does not a winning team make. And, as established, the Mets have found a way to lose in spite of great outings by Santana. Time and time again. So, if this September is going to be different from the last one, everyone has to contribute. It has to be a team effort. And so far, not everyone seems to be rising to the occasion. True, Beltran is on a seven game hitting streak. True, also, that Delgado is an unstoppable force of run batting in awesomeness that it is hard to imagine anyone ever having booed. However, it is also true that Jose Reyes went 0-13 in the series against the Phils. And that Dee Dubs is batting .167 with a .192 OBP in his last 24 at bats.

Then, of course, we have Wagner. The latest on Wags is that he is going to be out for the remainder of the season. At the very least. I know that this is supposed to fall into the deficit category, but I think that one’s up for debate.

All I know is this; with the Yanks all but out of it, I would like to see at least one New York team representing this October. I am pretty sure I have already made clear to everyone exactly why and how much I hate Halloween. So, I need October baseball.

Speaking of hitting streaks, guess who else is on a bit of a tear these days. Your friend and mine. Covelli Loyce Crisp. He hit big ten tonight in the opener against Tampa Bay. And I bet he just thinks that with this bender of his he will rob me of one of my remaining few joys in life. Fat friggin’ chance, buddy. Post a hit in every game from now until the end of September if you want. See if I care. You want to know why? Because You Suck Coco Crisp.