The Cautionary Tale of Jeff Niemann

Everyone knows about David Price and (rightfully) wants Price in the rotation as soon as possible, yet Niemann is probably going to start the season as the Rays fifth starter. Generally speaking, it's never good to be the guy blocking the next big thing because nature always finds a way to screw you over. Ask Wally Pipp and Willy Aybar how their health improved with a hot shot sitting behind them. Niemann better watch his back, and in doing so will have to turn completely around.

That's because Jeff Niemann is an extremely tall person. Most publications have him standing at 6'9". The New York Knicks David Lee is 6'9", and he's one of the league's leaders in rebounds. Of course, it takes more than height to be a successful basketball player, and Niemann should know. He was one-upped (or rather one-inched) by current NBA player Emeka Okafor in high school, costing Niemann a spot on the team. Why a high school coach couldn't find room for two giants is beyond me, but back to the point at hand: for Niemann, his back will cast more opportunity for shenanigans than your normal major leaguer.

On those summer days when the sun is around 60 degrees altitude, Niemann will cast a shadow that extends four feet from the mid-point of his footsteps. Right now, we're in the vernal equinox, meaning the sun has an altitude around 50 degrees. That has Niemann casting a shadow of 5'8", around the average height of an American male.

This presents a dangerous threat to Niemann that few others have to encounter. If some fan wants to see David Price inhale angels and glow on the mound, he can easily sneak behind Niemann and use the very shadow of his frame as protection. You see, Jeff Niemann was born with a rare condition that prohibits him from rotating his neck as a normal human would, leaving him a blind spot. If Jeff Niemann were a deer there's a very good chance he would be dead.

Niemann is well aware of his shortcomings, and has even enlisted advice of fellow tall folks - or as they call themselves, the anti-dwarves.  "It's something that you just have to deal with. I talked to [Gary Glover] and [Jason Hammel] about it, and you know...they got Gary...they got him good, too."

Glover suffered a slight twinge in both his shoulder and leg last season, leading to his eventual release. When contacted he refused to comment, citing fear for his wellbeing.

Hammel on the other hand, was willing to speak quite confidently about his chances of survival: "I have friends who are jockeys. Chad Harville recently got into. That guy loves horses."

There's a real possibility that Jeff Niemann is the world's tallest lame duck, but teammates are taking means to prevent an incident.

"Oh yeah, I walk behind him. He provides me shade, I provide him health, it's a nice trade." Says teammate and fellow rotation member Scott Kazmir.

But it was teammate J.P. Howell who said it best:  "Dude...Hamel? We got Cole Hamels? Sweet. Oh man, look at that butterfly. Why do they call them butterflies anyways? When I was younger I tasted one and man, no butter, just sour."

Sour indeed.

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