Tagged: baseball

Don’t Forget to Pack Your Tambourine


 
Thumbnail image for WBCLogo.pngRound Two World Baseball Classic action continues…

 

Korea vs. Mexico

In Sunday’s very late (10:00 pm Central) game, Korea defeated Mexico using a surprising weapon:  the long ball.  The three solo shots were surprising both because the game took place in the pitcher-friendly spacious confines of Petco Park in San Diego and because Korea is not know for their power. 

 

Korea also used small ball, with two sacrifices and three stolen bases.  Mexico seemed unable to get their offense going against the fine Korea pitching.  Korea won 8-2.

 

In this World Baseball Classic, there are men playing for jobs.  Reportedly, Ivan Rodriguez is headed to Houston.  All are playing for pride and country.  The Koreans are playing for something more.   

 

In Korea, the government requires mandatory military service from all men that must be completed by the age of 30.  However, military exemption has sometimes been granted to Olympians.  The Korean government has not promised military exemption to the members of the 2009 Korean roster, but if Korea brings home the championship, such an exemption is likely.

 

Shin-Soo Choo, a 27-year-old prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization, has not yet completed his military service.  Without the exemption, he will be forced to go back to Korea and spend a couple years in the military, and then try to resume his baseball career.  The Cleveland Indians, with a significant investment in Choo, were probably the only major league club that said to a player, “Yes, please, go play in the WBC” in the hopes an exemption would be granted.

 

Venezuela vs. Puerto Rico

Monday night, these two Caribbean rivals met in Miami.  The crowd was large, loud and rowdy.  Forget “thundersticks”, these fans bring everything from drums and tambourines to pots and pans.  One even had a stainless steel dog bowl that she was beating on with a spoon.  While the American public seems rather blasé about the WBC, there is no doubt that other countries are taking this very seriously.

 

I so wishing I was at this game.  I have a game bag I pack with all my essentials:  camera, score sheet on a clipboard, pencils, sharpies, umbrella, tickets, cell phone, hot dog money, XM radio, and a jacket.  I love the idea of slipping in my tambourine or even my spare dog bowl into my game bag.

 

Perhaps, there is something contagious about the crowd because I was riveted to the TV, feeling the weight of importance on every single pitch.  And, pitching was the story of this game.

 

Puerto Rico’s Ian Snell was great, but a walk, a stolen base and a single got Venezuela on the board in the third inning.  Amazingly, that would be all Venezuela would need, as their pitching staff, led by Felix Hernandez, shut down the Puerto Rican offensive machine.

 

Venezuela‘s Ramon Hernandez added a solo home run in the seventh inning that was debated for about ten minutes before being ruled a home run.  That has to be the longest home run trot in history!  At first, it ruled a triple.  The umpires debated on the field, then disappeared into the tunnel to view the instant replay.  The replays on TV clearly showed it to be a home run.  Yet, we waited and waited.   Finally, the umpires appeared and declared it a home run.  As it turns out, the replay equipment was not working, so after a debate among themselves, they called it a home run.

 

Venezuela‘s win ensures them a spot in the finals, while Puerto Rico and USA will battle for the other spot.  In the rematch between the USA and Puerto Rico, we will find out what Team USA is made of.  Can they rebound from their drumming by Puerto Rico in the first round?

 

Cuba vs. Mexico

Another 10:00 pm game at Petco Park.  These are killing me.  Well, actually, this one killed Mexico, as it was an elimination game.  

 

Cuba prevailed 7-4 in this match-up.  Mexico‘s success or lack can largely be judged by how first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hits.  In his home park, Gonzalez only got on with a walk.  Not good for Mexico.  Mexico’s Cantu and Presichi both contributed solo homers, but in the end Cuba put up seven runs on eleven hits.

 

With the embargo against Cuba, you may wonder how do the Cubans get to play on American soil?  They agree to donate any winnings to charity.  These are lowest paid players in this classic, and they are only allowed to play for national pride, not prize money.  Am I the only one that thinks the foreign policy against Cuba is outdated? Can we please be the “bigger” country and kiss and make up with our neighbor? 

 

Mexico goes home.  Mexican left-handed reliever, Dennys Reyes, will head to Cardinals camp in Florida, where I hope Dave Duncan can whip him into game form.  In an elimination game on the 18th, Cuba will go on to face the loser of the St. Patrick’s Day game between Japan and Korea

 

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Oh, Say Can I Sing?

My day started out like a country song:

 

I left in dark before the sun came up,

Drivin’ to Oklahoma City in the pouring rain.

It’s Saturday morning, and I should be in bed.

Most everybody thinks I’m insane.

 

Gretta and I went on our first baseball related mini-road trip of 2009.  Wait, I do not think I have introduced Gretta before.  Her full name is Gretta V. Jetta.  She is my 2003 Volkswagen Jetta.  Yes, the “V” stands for Volkswagen.  She is a spunky cute red-head, who loves a good road trip as much as I do.  We go everywhere together.  She is frugal, dependable and with her heated seats and sunroof, she is well accessorized. 

 

Her odometer with 100,000+ miles reminds me that we will not always be together.  I have occasionally looked at other cars, but I always go back to Gretta.  So, it is “to death do us part”.  If she wants out, she is going to have to die.  I know she is looking forward to this summer’s baseball road trips, and I will get her the Cardinals license plate frame that she has been asking for.

 

So, today’s road trip took us to AT&T Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City for tryouts to sing the National Anthem at a Redhawks game this summer.  Singing the anthem at a baseball game has always been on my life “to-do” list.

 

As I am standing in line with the other singers who are discussing their American Idol auditions, I wonder if I am out of my league.   They are looking for ways to further their musical career.  I am just looking for a way to get on the baseball field.

 

I have sung at church, weddings, funerals, karaoke and there was a musical theater phase, but I was mostly just asked to sing.  Rarely, have I ever auditioned or competed, thereby opening myself up for actual criticism or, heaven forbid, rejection.  That being said, I do have some confidence in my singing voice.

 

So, in the first round, you walk into a room, where two judges sit at a table.  Kind of like “Idol” or “Dancing with the Stars”.  You are asked to sing about 10-15 seconds of the anthem.  This pretty much gets you through the first four lines from “Oh, say…” to “gleaming.”  When the group of potential singers was asked, “Who’s first?”  I stepped up to the plate to bat leadoff.  Fifteen seconds later, there was no feedback or flashed rating cards, but I was rewarded with a base hit:  a magic blue “field pass” that was my ticket to the next round. 

 

At that point, I filled out a form with my information and what dates I would be available, and headed into the stadium.  The second round normally takes place on the field, but with the rain, we sang from the lower level of seats, just under the overhang.  Even though it was forty degrees and there was no game, I was giddy to be at a ballpark.

 

My number 36 was called out to judges I could not see, I was handed a cordless microphone and asked to sing the entire anthem, in 90 seconds or less, please.  I guess, they really do not have time for any crazy dramatic improvisation that scats a perfectly good melody into something unrecognizable. 

 

That is fine by me.  My anthem is pretty straight up.  Low enough that most could sing along, because I learned a long time ago that just because you can sing high, does not mean that you always should.  In the female voice, low notes are prettier.  (Now, if you are a guy that can really sing tenor:  go for it, babe, I will listen to you all day long.) Finally, my anthem is built on the one premise that I always count on:  what I lack in vocal technique or raw talent, I can make up for by pouring my heart into it.

 

During the first verses, I can hear the flute and reeds and just a little cello sweetly caressing each note.  Then comes the “rocket’s red glare”.  That’s a trumpet, and the intensity builds until “Oh, say does that Star Spangled Banner…”.  Here the full orchestra comes in, heavy on the trombones, tuba and bass drum.   All leading to popping out the high trumpet note on “free”, followed by a cymbal crash.  A breath and exhale through, “and the home of the brave.”

 

It is a good thing I can hear all of this in my head, because basically I am standing there all by myself.  No orchestra.  No instrumental track.  No piano or guitar.  Not so much as a pitch pipe.  So, basically, I have to pull the first note out of my butt thin air.  Easy to do in the car or shower.  Not so easy to do in a stadium with a mic in your hand.

 

It was cool though.  I am usually not nervous when I sing, but my heart was thumping as my voice echoed through the stadium.  I have never heard my voice that loud.  I know this will be a “Captain Obvious” statement, but when I left the ballpark and could still hear the field auditions, only then did it occur to me that I could be heard all over downtown Oklahoma City.

 

Next, comes the worst part: the wait.  Will I get the call-up?  Or, will I be put on waivers?

A Hair off the Dog



Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for WBCLogo.pngA few days ago, I wrote about going on a baseball bender when I saw how much baseball there was to see over the weekend.  I mentioned that I might have a baseball hangover this morning.  They say that the best cure for a hangover is the “hair off the dog that bit you”, so the best thing for a baseball hangover had to be a little more baseball.

 

 

Fortunately, Korea and Japan were already playing in the Pool A finals of the World Baseball Classic when my alarm went off this morning.  So, I turned on the TV and took my medicine. 

 

Korea vs. Japan

Japan humiliated Korea in their first match up.  Korea had their revenge today.  Korea plated one run in the fourth, and it was all they needed.  Both Korea and Japan will advance to the next round, where they will face the top teams from Pool B (Cuba, Mexico, South Africa and Australia).

 

Just a couple of aesthetic notes:  I love the way the Japanese fans sing to their batter.  Also, Japan‘s black batting helmets with the matte finish look tough.  Nice change from the shiny ones we usually see.

 

Canada vs. Italy

This game was going on at the same time as the game between Puerto Rico and Netherlands.  I had one of the TV and one on my computer.  Very hard to keep track of both, and I admit a bias toward watching the Puerto Rican game.

 

I do know this:  Canada had lots of runners that they could not bring home.  Eleven runners left on base.  There have been other upsets:  Netherlands over the Dominicans and Australia over Mexico.  But, this might be the biggest because it eliminates Canada.  The Italians will advance to face the Venezuelans once again.

 

Puerto Rico vs. Netherlands

For an awfully long time in the game, it appeared that the Netherlands would continue their role as spoiler and upset the Puerto Ricans.  In their home country.  In a 1-0 game.  The humiliation would have been unbearable.

 

The Netherlands eked in a run and pitched seven shut-out innings.  Pudge Rodriguez, who had a huge 4-4 game on Saturday, served as DH, and except for a single, the Netherlands pitching had him looking very uncomfortable at the plate.

 

I will admit I was very frustrated during this game.  OK, fine.  I became that angry, shouting fan that I so dislike.  They sent Bernie Williams from second on a single.  I have nothing against being aggressive, but bless his heart, he was dead before he rounded third.  Then, there was the wild pitch, and Aviles at 3rd did not go.  He could have been in the dugout drinking Gatorade before the catcher tracked down the ball.  Instead, he joined the long list of runners stranded.  Perhaps, Puerto Rican Manager and St. Louis Cardinals Third Base Coach, Jose Oquendo should have been coaching third, rather like a minor league manager.

 

I have no problem with small ball and bunting the runners over, but when Oquendo asked Yadier Molina to bunt with a runner at 2nd, I disagreed with the decision.  Even though, I could see the point, I loudly disagreed.  The bunt was botched.  Enough said.

 

I disagreed even louder when he asked Pudge Rodriquez to bunt.  How often do you think Pudge has been asked to bunt?  Not a lot, since he is a good hitter.  Let him swing away and play to his strengths instead of having him waste two strikes trying to get a bunt down

 

I should have been more grateful for these debacles, because they set up one of the most beautiful things I have seen in this tournament.

 

Many of the highlights of this Classic have come from the catchers.  Catching runners stealing, pick-offs, blocking wild pitches, clutch hitting, power hitting and even base stealing.  This game was no exception.  Enter:  Gold Glove Catcher, St. Louis Cardinal, proud Puerto Rican, clutch hitter and my personal favorite, Yadier Molina.

 

First, (because defense comes first with catchers) Molina had a beautiful strike ’em out, throw ’em out double-play to end the seventh inning.  The throw was perfection!

 

Next, in the eighth inning, the Netherlands pitching finally started to crack, walking the bases loaded.  With one out, Molina comes to the plate, and drives the second pitch down the 3rd base line for a double, scoring two.  This not only puts the Puerto Ricans on the board, but it puts them ahead.

 

I shouted so loud, my dogs left the room.  Not the angry shouting of earlier, but joyous shouting. A giant “YES!”  I watched all weekend as various catchers had great games, and I enjoyed every single one, but I wanted MY catcher to have a great game, and he did!  Yadi “Clutch” Molina strikes again.

 

 


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Jesus Feliciano drove in one insurance run, and the Puerto Ricans held on to the 3-1 lead in the ninth to win it.  The Netherlands will face the Dominican Republic once again.  Puerto Rico will wait to play the winner of that game.

 

Mexico vs. South Africa

After being blown away by the Australians, Mexico needed to have a win.  Not just to stay alive, but to salvage their pride.  They got one.

 

To the credit of the South Africans they managed to stay with in striking distance for much of the game.  South African 2B, Gift Ngoepe hit back-to-back triples in his first two at-bats.  On his third at bat, he was asked to bunt.  What is the deal with asking the hot slugger to bunt?  This was the third bunt attempt of the day that I questioned.  And, the third one that failed.

 

I am sure there is some baseball bible that lists the Ten Commandments for when a bunt is called for, based on outs, score and runners on base.  I do not know these “rules”.  And, if tonight was any indication, I do not think knowing them helps.

 

In the seventh, Mexico took advantage of a walked in run and a throwing error that scored two.  Adrian Gonzalez drove a nail into South Africa‘s coffin with a three-run homer in the eighth.  Mexico got the decisive victory they needed, winning 14-3, eliminated South Africa from the tournament.  Mexico will go on to face the loser of the game between Cuba and Australia.

 

MLB 2K9

My copy of the video game, MLB 2K9, arrived yesterday.  I only played for a short time, but as with most PS2 games, I was pretty horrible.  Adam Wainwright and I were starting to get the hang of pitching, and my fielders were starting to get to the ball although they have to stop and think which button they need to hit to throw.  Oh wait, that’s me.  

 

However, I can not figure out how to get the batters to swing the bat.  It has something to do with the joysticks because every once in a while I could get one to swing, then I would try the same thing on the next pitch and my batter would just stand there.  I know, I am a retard.  Anyone know how to hit the ball?

 

There is a two page list of commands, but no where does it tell you how to swing.  It does tell you how to bunt, but we all know how I feel about that.

 

Photo Credits:  Getty Images/Al Bello

“The Pride of the Yankees”


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This is the story of a hero of the peaceful paths of everyday life.

It is the story of a gentle young man who, in the full flower of his great fame, was a lesson in simplicity and modesty to the youth of America.

He faced death with that same valor and fortitude that has been displayed by thousands of young Americans on the far-flung fields of battle. He left behind him a memory of courage and devotion that will ever be an inspiration to all men.

This is the story of Lou Gehrig.

— Damon Runyon
Prologue to PRIDE OF THE YANKEES

 

 

 

We can’t always have baseball when we want it, but we can have baseball movies, which seem to be my off-season crutch.  When I wrote about “It Happens Every Spring”, Jane at Confessions of a She-Fan, reminded me of another classic that I’d always meant to see, “The Pride of the Yankees.”  So, last night I watched this amazing story of Lou Gehrig.

 

For all that I love technology and special effects, I am a sucker for a well-done black and white picture, and this is a good one.  I think the key may be the lighting and the shadows.  I’m not a cinematographer, so I don’t know.  I just know it’s beautiful.

 

It’s about a baseball player, but it’s not really a movie about baseball, although baseball serves as colorful backdrop.  Several former teammates of Gehrig play themselves:  Bill Dickey, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig, and of course, Babe Ruth.  These guys plus the scenes at the ballparks capture the essence of baseball in the 20s and 30s.  Can you imagine going to watch a ballgame in a suit and tie?  Or, ladies, in a dress, hat and gloves?

 

Yes, it’s about a Yankee, but Red Sox fans should not be put off.  Your guy, Curt Schilling, is a big supporter of the fight against ALS, often called “Lou Gehrig” disease.  He appeared in the special features on my DVD.  Actually, the movie is probably hardest on Cardinal fans.  I sadly watched as the Yankees beat up on the Cardinals in what must have been the 1928 World Series at old Sportsman Park.  But, I did have the pleasure of seeing the old school “birds on the bat”.

 

 

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Baseball nostalgia aside, the movie is really about the guy that wore this jersey:

 

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 Lou Gehrig, the Iron Horse, played 2,130 consecutive games over the course of 14 years.  Then suddenly, he was struck by a disease that forced him to retire in 1939 and killed him in 1941 at the age of 37. 

 

Yet, the day he retired from baseball, knowing what he faced, he did not focus on what had been taken from him, but what he had:  family, friends, teammates and fans.  In his words, “…you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

 

Oh, for that to be the dying sentiment for all of us!  To know true love and friendship, and to use that as a measure of our fortune.  That is the mark of a great human being.  Not records, nor money, nor trophies.  It’s not having what we want, but wanting all that we have.

 

And, yes, even though another favorite movie of mine insists that “There is no crying in baseball”, I did shed a tear for this great man.

 

I Hate the Offseason

I had to take a little break from baseball this week because I suddenly realized that I hate the offseason.  This was not a shock or anything.  The offseason takes place in winter, and I already knew that I hated winter.

 

I know there are people that live for the hotstove and winter seasons.  You, my crazy little friends, might as well quit reading now…go outside…shovel some snow…knit a scarf…chop some wood…freeze your little tushies off…whatever.

 

I love spring and spring training. 

I love summer and the regular season.

I love fall and the postseason.

I LOATHE winter and the off-season.

 

I know that the humid 100+ days we have here in Oklahoma are about as pleasant as watching your team go down 5 runs in the first.  No season is perfect.  However, you might see me sweat (in the heat) or wince (at the game), but because I believe you shouldn’t be allowed to whine about everything, I adhere to a personal complaint containment policy.  Winter and the off-season are specifically exempt from complaint restrictions.

 

My reason for hating winter is simple:  It’s cold.  My reasons for hating the off-season are two-fold.

 

Reason 1:  My Cardinals are not playing games.  I like games.  The games are why I like the game.  Thank God for MLB.TV.  I’ve been able to re-watch some games from last year.  Watching a baseball game in the off-season is like a sunny 65 degree day in the winter.  It helps me make it through.

 

Reason 2:  I hate the “business” of baseball.  I hate the negotiations, trades, arbitration, free agency, losing players I like, getting players I don’t know and listening to the complaints of all fans everywhere (including my own) on what their club is doing or not doing in the offseason.

 

In most circles it is considered impolite to ask how much someone makes.  So, does it seem odd to anyone else that we know how much money baseball players make?  I think we might all be happier not knowing how much players make.

 

I say this from experience.  I’ve processed payroll in a former life.  I’ve known what everyone around me makes, and it is not a good thing.  There are always those who are overpaid or underpaid for their contribution.  We would all like to believe that compensation is commensurate with a person’s value to an organization, but really there’s very little correlation.

 

Take a bank for example.  The tellers, the “face” of the bank, that interact with every customer are paid the least.  While someone in the back, who the customer could not pick out of a lineup, gets the fat check.

 

Baseball is no different.  Often players make their greatest contributions as the come up and their paychecks are the smallest.  And, we’ve all watched as highly paid players struggle with injuries and slumps.

 

How the business of baseball differs from the world, is that most of us start coming into our earning potential in our mid 30’s.  However, baseball is quite the opposite.  Most 35+ players are not as good as they were at 30.  There are a number of older free agent veterans out there who still think they should command the big bucks.  The fact that they are still unsigned tells me that management sees it differently.  What are these guys asking to be paid for:  what the will do or what they’ve done?

 

Conversely, I hate to see the “face” of a franchise go elsewhere to play.  Shouldn’t he have the most value to his hometown team?  Why then, can he find better money elsewhere?  That is the crux of what makes me hate the offseason.

 

It brings to mind what Sally says in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”.  She is dictating her Santa letter to Charlie Brown.  To make things simple, she tells Santa that if her list is too long and complicated, then cash will be fine…tens and twenties (with inflation that translates to fifties and hundred).  When Charlie Brown seems appalled and stops writing, Sally innocently states the premise we all use to justify our greed:  “All I want is what I have coming.  All I want is my fair share.”

 

So, in this cold, dark winter off-season wedged in between the glory of the World Series and the hope of spring training, where there are no games to watch, only the business of baseball, and everywhere people are saying, “Show me the money”, I feel that Charlie Brown would shout:

 

“Can anyone tell me what baseball is really all about?”

 

Is it about owners making money?  Is it about men being paid amounts of money that we cannot fathom to play a game that many of us would pay to play?  Is it all simply a business that begins and ends relationships that are “just business” and “nothing personal”?  Or, is it as the Grinch would say, “Maybe baseball doesn’t come from a store.  Maybe, just maybe, baseball means a little bit more.”?

 

Sorry for all the Christmas references, but there’s really nothing for me from Dec 25th until February 14th when pitchers and catchers report.  And, maybe Christmas and baseball are not unrelated because it is the ‘business’ of both that causes disillusionment to many.

 

So, what’s a baseball fan to do in the dead of winter?  First, I’m going to monitor the hot stove less.  Next, I’m going to dream and plan the road trips of my 2009 baseball lovin’ life.   

 

Finally, right at this moment, I’m going to pour myself a Margarita, wrap myself in a warm fleece blanket and tune into a radio broadcast of the Serie Final of the Liga de Beisbol Professional de Puerto Rico between the Leones de Ponce (lions) and the Lobos de Arecibo (wolves).  Yes, in Puerto Rico it is 80 degrees and they are playing baseball.  The broadcast is in Spanish and mostly lost on me, but it is baseball in January, and I’ll take it.