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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"Felicidades, Iván!"

Despite having a population of over 3 million people, Puerto Rico can sometimes seem like the small island that it is.  When someone from Puerto Rico is famous, you inevitably know someone who was that person's neighbor, Little League coach, or hairdresser.  I alone can say that my mother taught a former Miss Universe, my former doctor also treated the wife of Carlos Baerga, and a relative of mine lived next door to a former member of Menudo.  It's also safe to say that every Puerto Rican has run into a famous person at one time or another - I remember seeing a local actress in the pharmacy once, a TV personality was a former client of my father's, and let's not even get into my many run-ins with Ricky Martin!  Needless to say, most Puerto Ricans are just a few degrees of separation from someone famous.

One such encounter I had back in the day (the summer of 1990, to be exact), was with Iván Rodriguez.  He was in the Minor Leagues at the time - a virtual no-name visiting the sports facility where I worked that summer as a camp counselor.  I remember impressing Iván with my baseball knowledge, and a teammate of his saying to me "Remember this guy; he will be famous someday!"  Well little Iván turned out to have a pretty good career - 14-time all-star, 13-time Gold Glove winner, 1999 MVP, and as of today, member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Today's nod comes as no surprise - despite having been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs by former teammate and obvious "juicer" José Canseco, Iván never failed a drug test and vehemently denied ever using PEDs.  His career numbers as a catcher are unparalleled, and his knowledge of the game and control of his battery mates earned him the respect of coaches, reporters, and players alike.

 But something else that sets us Puerto Ricans apart is our sense of family.  We all feel like "Pudge" is that distant cousin that despite only seeing rarely at weddings and funerals, you beam with pride at his every accomplishment and triumph.  We followed his career closely for twenty years, memorizing his statistics and talking about him like if he was Norm and you were Cliff and you had just recently shared a drink at a local bar.  When my father saw Iván walk by him a couple of years ago in Old San Juan, they greeted each other and waved like if they had gone to school together.  Wave your Puerto Rican flag or yell the word "Boricua!" in a baseball stadium, and Carlos Beltrán will give you a baseball, Alex Cora will sign it, and Sandy Alomar will wave at you (speaking from personal experience in all three situations!).  That one-starred flag can be spotted by Puerto Rican athletes and other celebrities no matter where they are, and I bet you there will be hundreds of those flags being proudly waved this coming July in Cooperstown, New York, when Iván Rodriguez is formally inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Having blogged about baseball for so many years and being such an ardent "Pudge" fan, you'd think it was pretty obvious that I would be one of those attending the Hall of Fame festivities this summer.  Unfortunately, it is not the prudent thing to do at this time, since my husband and I started our own retail business last year and just can't justify spending so much money on one weekend (especially since we would have to bring the 12-year-old - YOU try telling him that he can't come along!).  Part of me was secretly hoping that Iván would not be selected into the class of 2017, so I wouldn't feel bad about not going to enshrinement weekend.  But I'm over that, and at this point, my Puerto Rican pride has grown tenfold, and I look forward to watching Iván, Jeff Bagwell, and Tim Raines become Hall of Famers from the comfort of my own couch.  Besides, it's usually dreadfully hot on that day; you always see Willie Mays wiping his brow and Dennis Eckersley taking swigs from a water bottle.  My poor fair-skinned husband would surely get a sunburn!  And what if it rains?  I don't want to be in a Woodstock-like setting being trampled by sweaty, muddy, smelly people!  Really - why spend all that money when there are so many variables you can't control and you have to pee in a porta-potty?  No thank you!  (See how hard I'm trying to make myself feel better?)

So whether you'll have a front-row seat at Cooperstown (Iván's Little League coach might!) or you'll be like me watching from home (waving the flag that Iván signed for me a few years ago), the pride that will be displayed for "Pudge" Rodriguez will be like nothing seen before.  Cooperstown will be rocking with boisterous Puerto Ricans and other fans alike, and the Hall of Fame will have a new inductee:  A guy who caught two no-hitters, a player who got called up to the Majors on his wedding day, and a distant "cousin" who has made every Puerto Rican proud.  Felicidades, Iván!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Shut Up, Pete Rose!

Earlier this week, the Miami Marlins' Ichiro Suzuki raised his career hits total to 4,257, passing Pete Rose's record Major League Baseball total.  The issue here is that 1,278 of those hits came while Ichiro was playing professional baseball in Japan; therefore, "only" 2,979 of those hits were while playing Major League Baseball here in the US.  No one really seems to care where his hits came from, because we all love Ichiro and we know that professional baseball in Japan is serious business with top-caliber talent - except for Pete Rose.

For those of you unfamiliar with Pete Rose, he was a very very very good baseball player.  He was known for his hustle, his competitiveness, and for betting on baseball.  Now, I actually read Pete Rose's autobiography, where he admits to betting on his team while he managed the Cincinnati Reds (and he also went into great detail over his time spent in prison, including how his wife snuck in a Whopper for him during a visitation), so I consider myself an unofficial authority on Pete Rose and his betting habits (which allegedly still continue, mainly with horse betting).  It was because of this betting on baseball that Rose has been banned from being inducted into the Hall of Fame, even though his name is there several times due to his impressive hitting career (and deservedly so, statistics-wise).  Rose is also kind of an ass, lacking basic decorum and always sounding like a brash redneck (though his comments are sometimes quite humorous).  So it came as no surprise to me when I read an Associated Press article in which Rose was quoted as saying "I'm not trying to take anything away from Ichiro, he's had a Hall of Fame career, but the next thing you know, they'll be counting his high-school hits."  Just shut up, Pete!

So what would have been a better thing for Rose to say?  Gee, let's see, how about something gracious like "I'm not sure if I would count the hits that Ichiro got while playing in Japan, but hey, he's a great baseball player and I'm so glad that he has had such a long and illustrious career," or "Good for Ichiro - I've never met the guy because I was banned from baseball for so long, and I envy the fact that he will someday be in the Hall of Fame, but it's a great accomplishment that I am happy to share with him."  Rose could have even declined to comment on the matter and that still wouldn't have sounded as whiny and sore-loser-ish as what he said.   Let's face it - Pete Rose is an idiot.  

So what's so great about Ichiro that makes him such a likable guy?  The Washington Nationals' first baseman, Ryan Zimmerman, has said that Ichiro has been his favorite player to meet at first base, because he's always friendly and chatty and has nice things to say.  At All-Star games, Ichiro is the player whom other all-stars flock to and want to meet.  For Ichiro, it's always been about his teammates and about his fans.  He is known throughout the world as a model athlete who has transcended demographics and race.  And he's a damn good baseball player.  So don't listen to Pete Rose complaining about Ichiro's Japanese hits counting towards his professional career total.  Personally, instead of worrying about what a washed-out has-been who uses way too much Grecian Formula thinks, I'm going to focus on Ichiro's next 21 hits - the amount he needs in order to tie Roberto Clemente in the all-time Major League Baseball hits list with 3,000.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

It's Opening Day - Time to Multitask!

Hello, my friends! It might be 40 degrees outside here in Maryland,  but it's time to play some baseball!   Opening Day "light" is today (only three games are on today's schedule), and as always, I am thrilled.

It was a long winter for us, having dug ourselves out of three feet of snow after a record-breaking blizzard. But Easter has passed, the snow has melted,  and the Boys of Summer are ready to play.

In our house,  this is an extremely busy time of year. My daughter has outdoor track, my son has baseball, and my husband and I are taking classes in addition to our busy work schedules. So here I am typing this on my tablet while watching the Cardinals-Pirates game, running downstairs to the computer in between innings to finish my class assignment, and periodically checking on the laundry. It's definitely time to multitask even more now that baseball is starting.

So what do we have to look forward to this season?  Well as far as my Washington Nationals, they had a very good spring training and are all starting the season healthy. They have a decision to make as far as having Michael Taylor or Ben Revere in center field (I would go for Taylor), but that's a good problem to have.  Personally, I just need to get used to manager Dusty Baker always having that darn toothpick in his mouth and I'll be fine. I think Dusty is a good addition to the Nationals - the mostly-white organization was definitely in need of some diversity.

We can also look forward to the retirement of Alex Rodriguez (good riddance! ).  While he's not 100 percent sure if this is indeed his final season, we can be certain that his retirement won't have the season-long fanfare that Derek Jeter's had last year.

Then there's 42-year-old Ichiro Suzuki. If you don't love Ichiro, you're an idiot.  Ichiro has 2,935 hits (5 million if you count the hits he got playing pro ball in Japan).  With 65 more hits, Ichiro will join the elite 3000 hit club. We know you can get it done, dude!

Before I go (gotta move clothes from the washer to the dryer and finish that darn assignment for tomorrow night's class), I wanted to advise that you keep an eye on Francisco Liriano and the Pirates. You all know I don't like to make predictions, but Pirates fans may want to keep their calendars clear in October. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

It's Almost Time! It's Almost Time!!!

Oh my goodness - are you all as tired of the cold weather as I am?  Well Spring Training for Major League Baseball is just around the corner (pitchers and catchers report to camp starting February 17!), so warmer temperatures should soon follow (I hope!).  What do we have to look forward to in the 2016 baseball season?  Plenty!

  • For starters, David Wright only needs 18 more home runs to pass Darryl Strawberry as the New York Mets' all-time home run leader.  I followed the Mets back in Strawberry's day, but I'm OK with Wright passing him - Wright is a quiet yet consistent player - let's just hope none of those home runs come against the Nationals.
  • Also worthy of note this season is Ichiro Suzuki, who is only 65 hits away from reaching 3000 MLB hits (he already reached that milestone if you count the hits he got while playing professionally in Japan).  Everyone loves Ichiro (including me), so hey - go for it.
  • Speaking of old guys, Albert Pujols and David Ortiz are very close to reaching the 500 home run/600 doubles club (joining Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron).  Pujols needs 17 more doubles (doable), and poor "Papi" needs 16 (not so doable).  But it's Ortiz's last season, so he'll enjoy all the attention and gifts he'll receive when he visits each city one last time even if he's too slow to steal any bases.
  • And as much as I don't like Alex Rodriguez, I have to mention that he only needs 13 more home runs to reach 700.  Whatever.  On a brighter note, my man Miguel Cabrera only needs 8 doubles to reach 500.  There's that.
  • And what about the switch hitters?  Well Carlos Beltrán (392) and Mike Teixeira (394) are looking to become only the fourth and fifth switch hitters to reach 400 home runs.  Any idea who the other 3 are?  Some guy named Mickey Mantle, a former Oriole by the name of Eddie Murray, and cutie-patootie Chipper Jones - not too shabby of a list, huh?
  • What is WRONG with me - I still haven't mentioned any catchers!  Well Yadier Molina (if he can stay healthy) will break the record for most games caught by a Cardinal.  But "Yadi" is still recovering from thumb surgery, so we'll have to see how many times he can get behind the plate.  Getting old, Yadi!
  • And of course there's this year's Hall of Fame inductees - Mike Piazza and Ken Griffey, Jr - who will have their jersey numbers retired by the Mets and Mariners respectively.  I was never a big Piazza fan, but you just couldn't help but love Griffey - his smile, his dedication, his commitment to the fans and the game.  Cooperstown will be lucky to have him.
  • As far as the young guys, last year's AL Rookie of the Year, Carlos Correa, needs 36 more home runs to pass A-Rod as the hitter with the most home runs at short stop at the age of 21 or younger.  Yes, it's an obscure statistic, but since Correa is Puerto Rican, I had to mention it.
  • Finally, it's important to note that the Dodgers' veteran broadcaster Vin Scully will be retiring for real at the end of this season.  Scully has significantly cut back on the games that he does (home games only), but he is truly a broadcasting legend who will be deeply missed by Dodger fans (I'm not going to miss him, because I don't get Dodger home games in my neck of the woods).
Then there are the questions surrounding the upcoming season:
  • Will the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton have his first 40-home run season ever?  (I hope not!)
  • Will the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw have his third career sub-2.00 ERA season?  The last pitcher to do that was Sandy Koufax, and that was a LONG time ago!
  • Will Nolan Arenado win his fourth Gold Glove award?  If so, he would be the first player since Ichiro to do so in his first 4 years in the Majors.
  • Will the Chicago Cubs have their first 100-win season since 1935?  I hope so!
  • Will the National's Bryce Harper (last season's NL MVP) win the Triple Crown?  I highly doubt it, because RBIs have been hard to come by for the Nationals, but it will be fun to watch him try.  Let's hope he stays healthy and continues to grow up (he matured nicely this past season, so hopefully the tantrum days are long past).
  • Will my husband and I visit more ballparks this season?  Well we're at least going to Philadelphia, so there's that.  My quest to visit all 30 ballparks is taking way longer than expected!
So there you have it - plenty to look forward to this baseball season, which means I'll have a lot to blog about throughout the upcoming months.  Stay tuned, and for the love of Pete, get rid of all this snow!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Stop Being so Darn Sensitive!

Racism is a terrible thing.  Saying racist comments or doing certain actions that denote racism are signs of ignorance and intolerance (along with domestic abuse and kicking pigeons).  Unfortunately, despite the efforts of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, there are still many Americans who do not welcome the diversity and cultural differences that make this melting pot of a country a very nice place to grow up in and raise a family.  However, the problem of race issues is aggravated by the over-sensitivity of some, especially when the media takes someone's statement and immediately makes a racial issue of it.

Yes, this is a baseball blog, so naturally I'm referring to a specific baseball-related issue here (because you REALLY don't want to get me started on Donald Trump!).  It's not about Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, or Roberto Clemente (though they are pioneers in their own right).  This latest issue involves the Washington Nationals' new manager, the veteran-of-the-game Rusty Baker.  Rusty is one of those old-school guys who has been around a long time and is well-respected in baseball.  He is going to give the Nationals that spark and competitive fire that they've been lacking lately, and I'm perfectly OK with him taking over as manager (I was actually surprised when he was hired, because I have always thought that the Nationals' General Manager, Mike Rizzo, was a bit racist).  So yeay for Rusty and the Nats!

Well during this year's Winter Meetings (where players are dealt, traded, and signed), Baker made two statements that immediately got the media in a tizzy.  First, he said that the Nationals need more speed, so he wants more African-American and Hispanic players on the roster.  How is this racist?  Really, people - chill out!  Baker finished by saying "I'm not being racist, that's just how it is."  Who has the record for the most stolen bases?  Rickey Henderson, who is black.  Whose record did he break?  Lou Brock's, and he's black.  Who is the fastest baserunner currently (in my opinion)?  Lorenzo Cain, who is black.  Dee Gordon, who stole 68 bases in 2015?  Black.  Who is the fastest man in the world?  Usain Bolt, who is Jamaican (and black).  It's no secret that blacks are pretty fast, whether on the base pads, the football field, or the track (Oscar Pistorius was pretty darn fast, but with aerodynamic blades as legs, I would be fast too.  And don't accuse me of being insensitive to the disabled - not only am I legally blind, but I know many people who agree with me about Pistorius).  Anyway, back to Baker's comment, I have been saying for years that the Nationals need more minorities on their staff and on their roster, and I don't see anything wrong with his statement.

Baker's second faux-pas was regarding Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman.  Baker said Chapman "is a heck of a guy.  I'll go on record and say I wouldn't mind having Chapman."  Well you see, Chapman was accused of choking his girlfriend and shooting a gun during an incident in October.  Not cool.  But Baker, who managed Chapman for three seasons after Chapman defected, was purely speaking of Chapman as a player.  Yes, he's a heck of a pitcher; I will second that.  Is he an idiot?  Probably.  Should he suffer a consequence for choking his girlfriend?  Yes.  Should he be banned from baseball for being a jerk?  No.  Unless his actions directly affect his performance or the outcome of a game (Pete Rose!), Chapman (who had 33 saves and a 1.63 ERA this past season) should be allowed to play (once he has served whatever consequence he deserves for being a woman-beater (not cool AT ALL!).  Baker said he does not know the details of Chapman's offense and has not seen the police report corresponding to the matter, so he was speaking of Chapman purely as a baseball player.  Nothing wrong with that.

So yes, the Nationals need more speed.  They also need reliable left-handed pitching and they need to stay healthy.  Whether that "speed" comes from Michael Taylor (who is black) or from a player acquired during the off-season will be interesting to see.  And if there's a white guy out there who can fly, then by all means sign him and give him the red light.  But regardless of how fast a guy is or what race he is, he needs a good first-base coach who is aggressive and a manager who encourages base stealing.  Or do like the Chicago White Sox, who have their own baserunning instructor (Vince Coleman).  So as you can see, it's not just a matter of black vs. white - there are many factors that make a team "fast."  So let's stop bringing race into it and stop being so sensitive.  Good luck to Rusty Baker and the Nationals in 2016 - may they get their pitching needs met (by signing Johnny Cueto or Chapman himself?) and may they get some fast guys who can steal some bases (be they Black, White, Hispanic, or from Mars).

Saturday, October 24, 2015

I'll Have a Blue World Series Without You

Major League Baseball’s 111th World Series is set to start soon, with the blue-and-orange New York Mets taking on the blue-and-white Kansas City Royals.  It’s the Royals’ second consecutive trip to the World Series (which they lost to the San Francisco Giants), so naturally I have to root for them because it was so sad to see them lose last year.  I think it’s my first time picking an American League team since the Minnesota Twins went to the “big dance” in 1991 (and won it by beating the Atlanta Braves).  I was a huge Kirby Puckett fan, and seeing him do so well in the World Series was one of the highlights of my baseball fan-hood.  This year I’m a big fan of… let’s see… no one really; but I have to root for the Royals because I just can’t get myself to cheer for the other team.

What’s wrong with the Mets?  Don’t they have a Gold Glove-winning outfielder in Juan Lagares (who stole the award from the Nationals’ Denard Span in 2014)?  How about that guy Yoenis Céspedes (who killed the Nationals in the last regular-season series they played against each other)?  And don’t they have that good relief pitcher, Tyler Clippard (former National)?  Yeah – I’m a little bitter about the Mets making it this far while the Nationals didn’t even clinch a Wild Card spot in the playoffs.  Still licking my wounds a little bit.

The funny thing is that I used to be a die-hard Mets fan in the late 80s.  I can still recite their regular lineup (Dykstra, Teufel, Hernandez/Magadan, Strawberry, McReynolds, HoJo, Carter, and Elster – and I swear I didn’t get Google’s help!), and I remember their starting pitchers in 1989 being Ron Darling, Dwight Gooden, Sid Fernandez, David Cone, and Bob Ojeda (I believe Frank Viola came in halfway through the season).  I had the shirts, pennants, yearbooks, and even got a media guide from them after having sent them some sort of fan mail.  Darling and Elster were the cute ones, and the Mets still have the biggest section in my baseball card collection.

But alas, the Washington Nationals came to town in 2005, and I had to jump on the bandwagon.  I had not been able to embrace the Baltimore Orioles in the few years I had lived in Maryland, mainly because they were an American League team and because my first husband was not supportive of my baseball habit (lesson learned:  Don’t marry someone who doesn’t share your hobbies!).   After our separation in 2005, I decided to embrace the new team in town and have not looked back as a Nationals fan since.

Part of being a loyal fan is sticking by your team regardless of how well or how sucky they play (spell check says “sucky” isn’t a word, but I’m using it!).  And believe me – those first few seasons as a Nationals fan were pretty brutal.  Before the days of Strasburg and Harper, the team played in a crappy stadium, struggled to build their fan base, and went through several managers and staff changes.  And while they’ve come a long way in just ten years, some people think they haven’t lived up to the hype and the high payroll.  Yes, it would have been nice if the Nationals had made it this far (the red and white would have complimented the Royals’ colors nicely) – but I have not had a problem going to bed at my usual 10:00 time during a playoff game’s 6th or 7th inning.  If the Nationals had made the playoffs, I would have been sleep-deprived, stressed out, and impossible to live with (and that’s not my husband or kids talking – I think I know myself pretty well!).

So for all you fans of the other 28 teams that did not make it to the World Series:  Enjoy some good baseball, have fun checking out the cute players (Eric Hosmer for the Royals and Matt Harvey for the Mets), and feel free to go to bed before a game is over (unless it’s game seven or any other deciding game).  I predict that the Royals will win in six games (so they can win at home, which is always nice), but if the Mets end up winning, I will just shrug and wait for Bryce Harper to be announced as the NL MVP in November without having lost much sleep.  See how easy and laid-back it is when you don’t have anything vested in either of the two teams?  Let’s hope for some good clean baseball and let’s go Royals (I guess)!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Long and Winding Season

One of the things that frustrates me about Major League Baseball (or any professional sport, for that matter) is the media hype.  Before this year's baseball season had even started, "experts" had already made their predictions, picked their favorites, and crowned the next World Series champion.  The problem with that is that there are 162 games that have to be played between Opening Day and the playoffs, and a LOT can happen during that time.  If your team is predicted to be the next best since gel nail polish or precooked bacon and doesn't end up making the playoffs, it's a big disappointment.

That's what the Washington Nationals are currently facing - a disappointing end to an up-and-down season plagued by injuries, inconsistency, and bad managerial decisions.  The players are dejected, tempers have flared in the dugout, and fans have been left with a bad taste in their mouths.  How do I feel about my beloved Nats not making the playoffs this season?  I'm actually OK with it (no, really, I am TOTALLY OK with it!), and here's why:

First of all, the Nationals had a terrible time out west in August, losing to the Dodgers, Giants, and Rockies.  That awful road trip put the Nats further behind the NL East-leading Mets, who just could not lose a game in August or September.  It was pretty clear halfway through August that the Mets would be the team to beat.  So if you tell yourself at that point that your team sucks, it won't be such a big let-down when they don't make the playoffs.

Another thing that affects a team's success (or lack thereof) is injuries to key players.  The Nationals had their share of injuries throughout the season - the players in their top-notch lineup that was the talk of baseball during Spring Training only played one or two games together during the whole season, with long stints on the Disabled List by Denard Span and Ryan Zimmerman and shorter stays by Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendón.  There was so much inconsistency in the lineup because of injuries that you didn't know who was going to play from one day to the next.

Then there's pitching. Yes, Max Scherzer pitched an almost-perfect no-hitter, and yes, Stephen Strasburg is healthy and pitching incredibly well (too little too late, since he didn't get good until late August).  But the bullpen was pretty dismal throughout the entire season.  Drew Storen was the closer in the beginning, but despite doing a decent job, was replaced in his role by hot-head Jonathan Papelbon, who came over from the Phillies with the condition that he become the closer.  So Storen moved to the setup position, where he absolutely sucked.  He blew some pretty important games in which the Nationals had been leading when he took the mound, and in early September he was so frustrated that he ended up punching a locker and tearing a ligament in his thumb (and subsequently being out for the rest of the season).  Doug Fister lost his starting role and was moved to the bullpen, Gio Gonzalez was not as reliable as in years past, and poor Tanner Roark was jerked around, being moved from starter to the bullpen to the minors and back to starter.  Jordan Zimmermann remained consistently awesome, but we all know he's not returning to the Nationals next year (and neither is Ian Desmond, the other big-name free agent in the team).

So yeah - I'm OK with my Nationals not being in the playoffs because honestly, they don't deserve to be there.  If they had made it, it would have been too stressful, knowing they were inconsistent and probably wouldn't be making it past the first round.  That doesn't mean I won't be watching the playoffs - there's a LOT of baseball still to be played (and watched), and for Pete's sake, the Chicago Cubs are in the playoffs!  I have decided to root for the Pirates and Blue Jays, but since I'm not a die-hard fan of either team, if they end up losing, it won't bother me too much.  So I'm going to enjoy my October of post-season baseball, and I'm going to eagerly await the announcement of this year's National League MVP, which should be given to Bryce Harper, the bright spot in the Nationals this year.  I've been a Bryce-basher in the past, but he matured a LOT as a player this season and deserves the award (since he's leading the National League in home runs and batting average).  Go Bryce, go Pirates and Blue Jays, and for the love of God, go away Cardinals - I'm tired of seeing you in October!