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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Playing "Catch-Up"

The Major League Baseball season is halfway over, and my life has been so crazy busy that I haven't been able to blog very much.  But that doesn't mean that I don't have a lot to say (shocker!), so here I go trying to catch up on the latest baseball topics:

1,  Aaron Judge.  If you don't know who this kid is, you clearly haven't been paying attention.  Friends have been asking me when I'm going to write about Judge, and I've been putting it off (mainly because he's a Yankee), but there's no ignoring this amazing kid any longer.

First, in true Mudville Mom fashion, I have to give my shallow opinion on what this kid looks like.  He is 6'7, resembles "Lurch" from "The Addams Family," and has teeth that qualify him to be a member of the British royal family.  Not cute at all, but he's humble, seems friendly enough, and appears to have been raised well by good parents.  He has great poise for being subjected to the ruthless New York media, but even the harshest of critics is in love with this guy.  He is leading the Majors with 30 home runs, is third in the American League in batting average, and will likely be named the AL Rookie of the Year (as well as possibly the MVP).  Despite being a Yankee, I have no problems with this kid - he seems legitimately talented, doesn't come across as a self-absorbed ass, and hey, he won the Home Run Derby this past week. so there's something to be said for that.  And with a last name like "Judge," the puns have already started ("All rise for Judge!," Yankee Stadium is "the Judge's chambers," and "the jury is still out on Judge.")  Stay healthy, Aaron - you may actually get me to become a fan of yours!

2.  The All-Star Game.  This year's All-Star game had five Nationals players in it (Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, and Max Scherzer), so I was looking forward to it.  The game did not disappoint, especially since my guy Scherzer pitched a scoreless first inning and showed the entire world what a badass he is (there were so many microphones around that you could actually hear Max grunting with every pitch).  Bryce Harper made a very good catch in right field, so everyone in the world was able to see how good his hair looks even when his ball cap falls off his head trying to make a good play (according to the T-Mobile commercial, Bryce is always "perfectly coiffed!").  And Daniel Murphy got a base hit, so Nats-wise, I was happy to see my guys do well on the national stage.

The moment that had me all choked up and in an emotional mess was the tribute to Hispanic players in the Hall of Fame.  Legends like Orlando Cepeda, Rod Carew, Tony Perez, Pedro Martinez, Roberto Alomar, and of course Iván Rodriguez simultaneously threw out the first pitch(es) of the game, and they each threw their baseball to a current Hispanic player.  Pretty cool moment, especially when Roberto Clemente's widow and children were introduced.  Nothing makes a Hispanic person more proud than seeing your nation's flag representing greatness.  And we have no shame in saying we get teary - we don't blame it on allergies, Hillary Clinton!

3.  The current standings.  As of right now, the Dodgers and Astros look like the teams to beat.  The Dodgers were the first team to reach 60 wins this season, and the Astros weren't so far behind.  Can I tell you how sick and tired I am of the Dodgers?  I know Clayton Kershaw is a beast, but I am so tired of hearing about how great he is and how wonderful Cody Bellinger is and how Justin Turner is all that.  As hideous as the second-place Arizona Diamondbacks' uniforms are this season (think 1970s bell-bottom pants), I would much rather see them in the playoffs than the Dodgers.  But knowing the Dodgers, they will make it to the playoffs (again!) and be totally wonderful.  Whatever.

The Astros are another story.  That team is chock full of raw talent, dedicated fans, and one of the best infields in the Majors.  I want the Astros to not only make the playoffs, but make it to the World Series.  Will they be facing the Nationals in October?  Highly unlikely, since the Nats have terrible relief pitching that won't take them past the first round of the playoffs.  Astros and Dodgers in the World Series?  I guess.  :-(

4.  A-Rod.  For the All-Star game, Fox Sports thought it would be a brilliant idea to send Alex Rodriguez onto the playing field to interview the players while they were getting into their positions.  It was bad enough that A-Rod had already insulted Hall of Famer and fellow commentator Frank Thomas by saying he was getting fat and "growing sideways;" having A-Rod go onto the field just turned the whole thing into an A-Rod Fest.  He said things like "I'm here in Miami, in my hometown;" (who cares?) "I remember my first All-Star game...;" (back when you were on steroids) "This is starting to remind me of my career a little bit." (which some of us would rather forget!)  Shut up, Alex - no one cares about you anymore!  Not even JLo, since you cheated on her (granted, she should have known that a guy who cheats in baseball is likely to cheat in a relationship!).

Well, I feel better now that I got all that out!  Phew!  What do we have to look forward to in the second half of the season?  Let's see... Adrián Beltre reaching 3000 hits, the upcoming trade deadline (where contending teams try to strengthen their rosters for the post-season, usually with players who will become free agents at the end of the season, so they will only be with their new teams for a few months), and the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the end of this month (I'll be watching on TV; not in person, but I whined about that in a previous blog post, so I'll be quiet about that).  There is still so much to look forward to - Wild Card races,  new young talent coming up from the Minors, and our trip to yet another ballpark this year.  Stay tuned, my friends; Mudville Mom will still have plenty to say for the next few months!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My Current Baseball Crush ("An Ode to Max")

No matter how many baseball games you have watched in your lifetime or how die-hard of a fan you are, occasionally a baseball player comes around who amazes even us extreme baseball nerds.  We know Mike Trout is awesome (especially since he's coming back earlier than expected from thumb surgery), we appreciate Yankees rookie Aaron Judge and all the home runs he's hitting, and we acknowledge that the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw is part alien because there's no way someone could be that consistently good.  We become accustomed to elite players being exceptional, and we expect perfection every time we watch a game (especially when we remind ourselves of the millions of dollars that these guys make).  But once in a while, a player comes around who takes our breath away, gives us goosebumps, and reminds us why we like the game of baseball so much.

Such is the case for me currently with Washington Nationals' rightie pitcher Max Scherzer.  Now, back in 2015, when Scherzer joined the Nats, I blogged about how the Nationals had some nerve starting Scherzer on Opening Day, especially after Jordan Zimmermann had finished the 2014 season with a no-hitter.  Who were the Nationals to think that a guy who had just joined the team deserved such a prestigious honor?  Well I went to that Opening Day game, and I remember realizing that Scherzer had a no-hitter going into the sixth inning, and my dislike for the guy went away instantly, because really, how many times do you get to witness a no-hitter? (his no-hitter ended shortly after I realized I might actually be present for one, but Scherzer has gone on to pitch two no-nos since.)

For the past two-and-a-half seasons, I have come to really love this guy.  So much so that he is now officially my baseball crush (not because he's cute, like Iván Rodriguez was, but because he's the most badass pitcher I have ever seen).  Let me share some impressive facts about Max with you so you can appreciate how cool this guy is.  A two-time Cy Young Award winner, Scherzer became just the sixth pitcher in Major League history to throw two no-hitters in a single season in 2015.  He has been to the All-Star Game, is the third-fastest pitcher to reach 2.000 strikeouts, and speaking of strikeouts, he punched out 20 batters in one game.

But it's not just Scherzer's numbers that make him fun to watch.  It's his presence on the mound - he is the most visibly competitive athlete I've ever seen, And the longer he stays in a game, the more fierce he gets.  He stomps the pitcher's mound like he's preying for his next meal; he grunts with every pitch; he stares down batters like he's going to annihilate them.  He is fierce, intimidating, and one of his eyes is blue and the other is brown (he has that condition where your irises are two different colors; didn't David Bowie have that too?).  According to Max, "strikeouts are sexy," so People magazine needs to have him on their next "Sexiest Man Alive" cover, because he's always in the top two or three for strikeouts every season (so far he's leading the National League in this category).  

Just recently, Scherzer had one of the most memorable outings for me - it was more intense than watching his two no-hitters and just as stressful.  It was not his best pitching performance at first, since he hit two batters due to lack of control of his inside pitches.  But as the game got going, Max starter getting loose and becoming more dominant.  The Mets' Yoenis Céspedes was up to bat with two outs in the eighth inning, and Scherzer was already at 107 pitches.  He was looking tired, like he had just emptied his tank and was just running on fumes.  But he was determined to get Céspedes out, and it was one of the most epic at-bats in recent memory.  After ten pitches to the Mets' slugger, each looking labored and followed by a grunt of desperation (like Scherzer was thinking that if he grunted, the ball would actually reach the plate), Céspedes struck out swinging.  My husband and I celebrated that strikeout like if it was the seventh game of the World Series, and Scherzer himself gave a fist pump of relief.

I have not been this excited about a pitcher since Nolan Ryan in the 80s and 90s.  And Scherzer doesn't just show up every five days to do his job - in his off days, he has a rigorous workout routine that includes distance running (to improve his endurance and help him make it through the later innings of a game) and sprinting (to help him with his fielding and split-second defensive plays).  He is a workhorse, but luckily his pitching style (throwing sliders to righties and curveballs to lefties) makes him less dependent on the fastball (which hopefully means he can avoid the dreaded "Tommy John" surgery).  Nolan Ryan pitched a boatload of innings in his career and never needed elbow surgery either, so all those haters who say that Max is the next big pitcher to go under the knife can just shut up and enjoy watching him pitch.

So as we approach the halfway point of the regular season (I know; can you believe it?), check out the Nationals games on MASN or MLBTV, because every fifth day, you are sure to get a treat watching badass Max Scherzer putting on a pitching show.  And don't forget to cast your ballot for the All-Star team - if we could vote for pitchers, you know Max Scherzer would be at the top of my ballot.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Submitting My Vote... Again and Again

It's that time of the year again, when I feel obligated, as a bona fide baseball fan, to fill out my All-Star Game ballot.  I always feel conflicted, because it's not like it used to be, where you got an actual paper card and you had to punch out your selections and hand it in at your local ballpark.  Now you can go online and vote five times in a 24-hour period, and you can go back tomorrow and do it five more times.  It doesn't make it as exciting and decisive, but I do it anyway, because if I didn't, I would not have the right to complain if my chosen players did not make the All-Star team.

So here I am on, where they're nice enough to give you each player's vital statistics to help make it easier for you to decide for whom to vote.  My personal conflict every year is - do I go strictly based on statistics, or do I go with my sentimental favorites?  This year I decided to do a little bit of both.  Here are the players I chose, with my very good reasons why.

First of all, let me preface this by saying that never in my entire blogging life have I picked an entire infield belonging to the same team.  I am not one to vote along "party lines," so I don't vote for guys just because they belong to a particular team.  I study the statistics and scrutinize every number carefully before I make my picks, but this year I'm afraid I went with an all-Nationals infield for the National League.  I can justify it though; just read on and see for yourself.

FIRST BASE:  NL - Ryan Zimmerman, AL - Chris Davis.  I voted for Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals because he's leading the Majors with a .365 batting average and is just one of those guys you just want to hug when you meet him.  He's quiet, nerdy, and started the Zim Foundation to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis (a disease that his mother has), so how can you not like this guy?  He was plagued with injuries last year, but this year he's kicking ass.  He also seems to have kicked his nail-biting habit, so there's that.  So Zim all the way!  As far as the American League, I voted for Chris Davis of the Orioles because my friend Tina from high school is married to a Chris Davis, and Tina and I were both new students in seventh grade, so I always liked her.  Plus Davis is doing pretty well this year after having a so-so 2016, so heck, Davis gets my vote.

SECOND BASE:  NL - Daniel Murphy, AL - José Altuve.  I voted for the Nationals' Murphy because he's having a good year and he's one of the most decent guys out there.  He is very well spoken, never swears, and looks like the type of guy who files his taxes himself and always drives the speed limit.  Love him so much that he won my vote over Puerto Rican Javier Baez.  Lo siento, Javi!  As far as Altuve, I chose him over Jonathan Schoop of the Orioles because the Astros are having a really good year and Altuve is having a better season.  Plus he has stolen 11 bases, and I like the speedy guys.

SHORTSTOP:  NL - Trea Turner, AL -  Francisco Lindor.  The Nationals' Trea Turner got my vote because he is super-cute, doesn't look old enough to drive or buy a six-pack of beer, and has 16 stolen bases so far.  Lindor of the Cleveland Indians got my vote because he's Puerto Rican, had a good time at the World Baseball Classic, and is having a decent year.  I won't automatically vote for you if you're from Puerto Rico, but if you're doing well and you're "Boricua," you get my vote.  Liindor won over Jean Segura, who just signed a nice extension contract with the Mariners.

THIRD BASE:  NL - Anthony Rendón, AL: José Ramirez.  This was the toughest position for me, because I really wanted to pick Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado.  But the Nationals' Rendón is having a better season, and Machado is just not as consistent as Ramirez has been this season for the Indians.  One Dominican trumps the other; sorry, Manny.

CATCHER:  NL - Buster Posey, AL - Salvador Perez.  This one was also a bit difficult, because I could either go for the nostalgic favorite (Yadier Molina) or the player who is actually having a better season.  Posey is just the cutest thing, and he prefers to not get involved in bench-clearing brawls.  And Perez is having the best season of all American League catchers, so why not pick him?  You all know how much I love catchers - this decision was not made lightly!

OUTFIELD:  NL - Charlie Blackmon, Bryce Harper, Ender Inciarte, AL - Adam Jones, Aaron Judge, Carlos Beltrán.  Luckily we're allowed to pick three outfielders, because this was a tough one.  I picked the Nationals' Harper because he has hustle, plays hard, has great hair, and is having a better season than last year (and I like his T-Mobile commercial).  Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies is a quirky guy with an ugly beard, but he's a darn good baseball player.  And Inciarte plays for the Braves, who are a far cry from the Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz era, but he's still a good player and deserves to be in the All-Star team.  Amercan League-wise, I chose Adam Jones because he's super-cool and I want to be like him when I grow up; Aaron Judge because he's hitting more home runs than Babe Ruth and dealing with the pressures of being a Yankee quite nicely (despite having really bad teeth), and Carlos Beltrán, well, because he's Carlos Beltrán.  The "experts" thought he was washed out years ago, but he keeps on ticking.  So Carlos, who happens to be Puerto Rican, gets my vote.

Then we had to vote for a Designated Hitter, but for the American League only.  This year's All-Star Game is in Miami (a National League ballpark), so I'm not sure why a DH is necessary (you all know how much I disagree with the whole DH thing!).  Nevertheless, I chose the Mariners' Nelson Cruz because he's badass and is a former Oriole.  That was an easy one.

So once my ballot was complete, I was faced with one of those "captcha" verification thingies where you have to type in the warped-looking numbers on the screen to make sure you're not a robot.  Once I typed them in (it took me a couple of tries, because visually-impaired people don't handle those things very well), my vote was cast and another "captcha" showed up.  I typed that one in, and my second vote was cast.  I initially only wanted to vote once, but since they made it so easy to vote multiple times, I cast my five allotted ballots and called it a day.  I apparently can do this five more times tomorrow, but I won't, because I'm old-fashioned and I don't believe in stuffing ballot boxes.  But at least now I officially have the right to complain if some of my guys don't make the All-Star team.  Gone are the days of hanging chads and illegible ballots; casting your vote on is pretty much a piece of cake.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Millionaire Babies, or Regular Guys?

One thing I pride myself in is being able to be such a huge baseball nerd while still making an attempt at being a feminine woman who wears dresses and matching jewelry.  But being female seems to put me at a disadvantage when it comes to trying to figure out a male baseball player's psyche and how his childish mind works.  Case in point is when a player charges the pitcher's mound after being hit by a pitch.  Is such violence necessary?  According to most men, yes - it is.

Bench-clearing brawls have been a regular part of baseball for as long as the game has been played, and despite not being as popular as they were in the PED-days of the 1990s, they are still part of "America's Pastime."  Several intense ones come to mind - Orioles reliever Armando Benitez hitting Yankee Tino Martinez in 1998; Manny Ramirez trying to go after Roger Clemens in 2003 (Clemens was a punk during his career and was involved in many brawls); and of course, who can forget Robin Ventura and Nolan Ryan going at it in 1993?  That's personally my most memorable one, because I used to think Ryan was a god who could do no wrong, and then I learned that he was one to intentionally hit batters all the time.  Who DOES that?

So I guess there are two separate issues here.  First is the intentional hitting of a batter by a pitcher who seems to have a particular issue with a certain batter or just his team in general.  Then there's the issue of whether said hit batter should charge the mound to go after the pitcher who hit him or not.  According to my husband, who is the nicest, sweetest, and most non-violent person in the universe, intentionally hitting a batter is ok if you have a good reason to do so.  Cole Hamels hitting Bryce Harper on purpose as a "welcome to the big leagues, kid!" in 2012 is not cool (Harper ended up stealing home plate after that).  But if a batter is successful against you and seems to have an attitude about it, it's perfectly OK to plunk that batter whenever he comes up to bat.  But in my husband's defense, he says he would never do that - pitchers do it because they're jerks.  OK then!

This was the case this past Memorial Day, when the Nationals' Bryce Harper went after the Giants' Hunter Strickland after Harper got hit on the buttocks by a 98mph fastball.  Now, if you read my previous blog post, you saw how I said nice things about Harper and how he's all grown up now and has a better temper.  Yeah.  Harper didn't just charge the mound and push Strickland around; he took a few legitimate swings with a right hook akin to the kind Billy Blanks used to teach in Tae Bo classes.  Now, there's history between these two players - in the 2014 NLDS, Harper hit two home runs against Strickland, and after the second one, he glared at Strickland like "In your FACE, dude!"  Now, that was the childish and immature Harper of 2014; I would have assumed that almost three years later, he would have been over it.  But apparently Strickland wasn't over it either, which is what most of Harper's teammates seem to have issue with.  Daniel Murphy, who seems almost as nice and sweet an non-violent as my husband (rumor is he doesn't ever swear, which cannot be said about my former-sailor husband!) and Jayson Werth were both surprised that Strickland had not gotten over what happened almost three years ago, and most Giants players (including manager Bruce Bochy) said that Strickland did what he had to do.  This is where I shake my head in confusion.

What I can't understand is how grown men who make millions of dollars can act like such babies.  My husband agrees that Harper was right in charging the mound - if someone intentionally hits you, what are you supposed to do?  However, he thinks the pitcher was a jerk and should have gotten over what happened almost three years ago.  Hubby also brings up the point that as a teammate, you HAVE to join the melee and at least pretend to shove somebody from the other team, otherwise you're not a team player and you're unofficially black-balled.  I don't get this either - the benches clear, the bullpens empty, and everyone is pushing and shoving.  Oh my gosh, grow up, guys!  And to make it worse, my 13-year-old son thinks this is the coolest thing ever!  Oy!  Violence has consequences, son; wait until Major League Baseball issues fines and suspensions - it won't be cool then!

So yeah - according to my wonderful husband, I just don't get it.  And apparently I never will.  But as long as there's baseball, there will be pitchers intentionally hitting batters and hitters charging at the pitcher without any rhyme or reason.  And since when do Mormons act violently?  As a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Harper should have just shown up at Strickland's house and given him a copy of the Book of Mormon while wearing a white shirt and skinny black tie.  I'm sure things will get interesting in August when the Giants visit DC for a series against the Nationals; in the meantime, let's hope everyone can play nicely in the sandbox and no one runs with scissors.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Bryce Harper, Money, and Loving Your Mom

It's been about a month since my last blog post, and there have been a lot of things to write about during that time.  I started a post about Manny Machado sliding into Dustin Pedroia (not on purpose, if you ask me!), but I wasn't able to finish it because I had to go to my daughter's track meet (those kids always get in the way of my writing, I tell ya!).  Then I was going to write about Adam Jones having racial slurs yelled at him by Red Sox fans at Fenway Park, but I have such strong feelings about racism and ignorant people saying ignorant things that I wasn't able to put together a good post in true Mudville Mom style (and I would have mentioned the standing ovation that Jones got from Red Sox fans the day after that incident happened).  Then yesterday, the Washington Nationals announced that they avoided arbitration with Bryce Harper by offering him a $21.6-million contract for 2018 (with a bonus if he is chosen as the MVP that year).  When I heard the news, I knew I couldn't keep my mouth shut.

I have been pretty tough on Bryce over the years - he started out as a nineteen-year-old man-child with a bad temper and no regard for the toll his body would take if he ran full-speed into outfield walls or slid into a base hands-first.  He played hard, but was a bit reckless.  He reminded me of the "Bam Bam" character from "The Flintstones" - a muscular kid who knew nothing but how to hit a baseball really hard. 

Fast-forward five years, and little Bryce has grown up.  He can now formulate full and coherent sentences when interviewed, he has gotten married, and he has realized that injuries suck and it's better to take care of your body than play way too hard ALL the time (but he still hustles to first base faster than Pete Rose, and I appreciate that).  Bryce has made a pretty good name for himself, and here are just a few of his accomplishments so far in his short career:

Four-time National League All-Star

2012 Rookie of the Year
2015 NL Most Valuable Player
2015 ESPN MLB Player of the Year

So is Bryce Harper worth $21-million for one year?  Absolutely not - nobody is.  I don't care if Roberto Clemente is reincarnated or Nolan Ryan suddenly drops 20 years (and 20 pounds) and comes back to pitch seven more no-hitters - no one is worth that kind of money.  How much IS $21-million, anyway?  I know it's a 21 with six zeroes after it, but I, being a reasonably intelligent person, have no concept of how much money that actually is.  I can't even tell you how many pairs of shoes I could buy with that much money!  And what's this extra million for being named as the Most Valuable Player?  If I could vote for that award, I purposefully would not vote for Bryce just so he wouldn't make even more money!  But Bryce thinks he's deserving of that much - so much so that right after he signed the deal, he hit a walk-off home run to lead the Nationals to a come-from-behind victory against the Phillies.  The kid makes it hard for me to resent him.  And have you seen his T-Mobile commercial?  He looks so cute (and "perfectly coiffed!")!  And he always flashes the universal "I love you" sign to his mother when he crosses the plate after hitting a home run, so how can you hate this guy?  Yes, he has a terrible beard, but he truly loves baseball, really appreciates his fans, and genuinely plays hard and wants to win every day.

Still need some convincing that Bryce Harper is a decent guy?  Check out this video where he's reading a letter he wrote to his mom (you may have to cut and paste into your browser):

Isn't that the cutest thing?  He even threw in a few big fancy words to prove that he's all grown up!  So on this Mother's Day, let me wish a happy Mother's Day to Bryce Harper's mom, and to my mother as well, who proudly shares my blog with all her Facebook friends, emails me the list of Puerto Rican players in the Majors every spring, and mailed me my own Puerto Rican flag when I was going to meet Iván Rodriguez so he could sign it for me.  Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there who drove their kids to Little League practice, cheered for them at track meets or dance recitals, and drove their kids to countless medical appointments, sleepovers, and dances.  And thanks to my kids for making me love being a mom - without them, I would just be "Mudville," and since it's the name of a fictitious town, that would just be boring.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"See. You. Tater!"

There are certain moments that really resonate in a baseball fan’s life – those “Someday I’m going to tell my grandchildren about this” type of moments.  We don’t just remember being there or seeing it on TV; we remember these moments so vividly that they felt like they were a part of our own lives.

One of the things that makes these moments so vivid in our minds is the call that was made by the broadcaster at the time.  The play-by-play, the color commentary, and the analysis of broadcasters and former players alike.  Ask any die-hard baseball fan who won the 1951 World Series, and we won’t just say it was the Giants – we will yell “The Giants win the pennant!  The Giants win the pennant!”  We are quoting Russ Hodges, who called Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ‘round the world.”  More than seventy years later, Hodges' call is still one of the most memorable moments in baseball history and certainly one of the most recognizable moments in sports broadcast history.

Whether it was Bobby Thomson’s home run, Roberto Clemente’s 3000th hit, or Cal Ripken’s 2131st consecutive game record in 1995, baseball fans have the video and audio of the event ingrained in our minds forever.  So many historic moments – Hank Aaron passing Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list in 1974; Kirk Gibson’s improbable “limp-off” home run; Kirby Puckett’s World Series homer – these are all moments made unforgettable by the people who called the games and gave us our own front-row seat to the action.  Phil Rizzuto (“Holy cow!”), Vin Scully (“Losing feels worse than winning feels good”), Harry Caray (“It could be, it might be… it is!  A home run!”), and Al Michaels (“I tell you what – we’re having an earthquake!”) – their voices are as familiar to us as those of close friends and relatives.

Locally, I couldn’t ask for better radio and TV commentators.  Dave Jageler and Charlie Slowes, who do the Nationals’ games on the radio, are very entertaining.  They love giving us the spelling of uncommon last names, and every time they spell one, someone in the broadcast booth dings a bell.  Corny, but entertaining (plus how else will you know how to spell Adeiny Hechavarría?).  On TV, Bob Carpernter and his man-child sidekick, F.P. Santangelo, love to comment not only on the game, but on which fan at the ballpark is eating what, which fan is having trouble putting on a rain poncho, and who made a major-league catch for a foul ball in the stands.  Bob’s “See…you…LATER!” home run call and F.P.’s “There goes the no-hitter!” calls are daily occurrences that Nationals fans are used to and expect.  In fact, the most recent concession stand to open at Nationals Park, a tater tot and chicken wing bar, is called “See. You. Tater!” inspired by Carpenter’s home run call and Santangelo always referring to home runs as “taters.”   

Then there are the times when you don’t realize how good your local broadcast crew is until you’re watching or listening to another game and that team’s crew is terrible.  My least favorite broadcast crew has to be the Gary Thorne/Jim Palmer combination (sorry, Orioles fans!).  Thorne’s voice makes me want to vomit – it always sounds like he has something stuck in his throat and it just won’t come out or go down.  And Palmer, despite being an excellent pitcher (so good that he’s in the Hall of Fame), is just boring and way too anecdotal.  Jim, we know you pitched in the 1966 World Series; you don’t have to bring it up during every game.  He’s one of those classic “Back when I was pitching…” kind of guys.  Super-nice, but should not be behind a microphone.  Just because you looked good in underwear back in the day doesn’t mean you can do good color commentary. 

So whether it’s Jack Buck (not his son Joe – I don’t like him), Chris Berman (“Backbackbackbackback!”) or “Mister Baseball” himself, Bob Uecker (wait – I don’t like him either!), it is the men and women behind the microphones (ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza is pretty cool and really knows her baseball, though I secretly hate her because she has a job I would love) who bring us memorable moments that become indelible and unforgettable in our baseball-loving minds.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

"The Perfect Ballplayer"

I started this blog six years ago out of impulse.  Major League Baseball was seeking volunteers who wanted to spend the entire 2011 baseball season living in a "fan cave" in New York City watching baseball games and blogging about them.  The occasional baseball player would stop by and hang out at "the cave" with the residents and you and your "cave-mates" would be on TV and the Internet talking baseball.  What red-blooded die-hard baseball fan wouldn't love that opportunity?  All you had to do was apply online and submit a writing sample.  Knowing full well that I could not conceivably (and in good conscience) leave my husband, kids, and job for six months, I applied anyway.  But a writing sample?  I hadn't written anything since my graduate thesis on the history of baseball litigation, and even I thought that was too much of a snoozer to submit.  So I created this blog so I would have some baseball stuff to submit, and of course I wasn't chosen (surely not because of the caliber of my writing - probably because it wouldn't look cool for a forty-something-year-old female to live with some twenty-something-year-old men). 

I started out writing almost daily, reporting scores from the previous day's games and piping in my opinions on certain occurrences here and there.  Then life got busy, my job got more demanding, and I blogged less frequently, focusing on baseball in general - the rules, the players, and of course, my opinions on just about anything baseball-related.  Now that I own my own business (a kitchen store in Frederick, Maryland called "The Kitchenette" - stop by and say hello if you're in the area!), I barely have time to cook a decent meal, let alone write a well-thought-out blog post.  But just because I write less frequently doesn't mean my passion for baseball has faded - I still scour the sports pages daily, check the MLB app on my phone constantly, and count the days until the start of the regular season (just seven more to go!).  But if something majorly important, super-exciting, or rather controversial is happening in the Majors, I will certainly find some time to write about it and give you my take.

The most recent blog-worthy event in baseball was the World Baseball Classic, which ended last week with Team USA beating Puerto Rico 8-0 in the final of what was an exciting and much-talked-about series that started out with 12 teams from all over the world - a true "World Series."  Unfortunately, long nights spent watching WBC games and busy days tending to my business and family did not allow me the opportunity to share my excitement with you (good thing, because I was downright obnoxious rooting for "Team PR"), and many news outlets have already reported on the WBC's playoff-like atmosphere, the national pride, and the fact that blond hair color was sold out all over Puerto Rico because all the PR players (and most of the residents of the island) chose to color their hair blond as a sign of team and island unity).  Even The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck, whom I have criticized here in the past, wrote a nice piece about how the WBC games brought so much enthusiasm to fans and players from all over the world.  In media standards, the WBC is old news - why keep talking about it when Gonzaga is going to the NCAA Final Four and the Washington Wizards and Capitals will both be in their respective playoffs?

But today's blog post is not about the WBC - I want to talk a bit about baseball history (please don't yawn!) and what makes "the perfect ballplayer."  When you ask a non-baseball fan to name a famous baseball player from the past, they may come up with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, or Joe DiMaggio (around these parts, people may mention Cal Ripken, Frank Robinson, or Earl Weaver).  Ask someone who follows the game and they might name Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson, Roger Clemens, or Derek Jeter.  Then of course there's Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier and is deservedly one of the most respected athletes of all time.  Ask any Puerto Rican, whether or not they currently live on the island, and he/she will inevitably mention Roberto Clemente.

Now, I've mentioned Roberto Clemente many a time in my blog - in seventeen different posts, to be exact.  But like current Houston Astros outfielder Carlos Beltrán mentioned in a 2016 article he wrote for "The Players Tribune," Roberto Clemente's legacy is something that is taught as part of the history curriculum in all schools in Puerto Rico.  Unfortunately, as baseball continues to evolve and the years pass, more and more people (including baseball players) go through their entire lives without knowing the impact that Clemente had both on and off the baseball field.  As more players reach the 3,000 career hits milestone, Clemente gets pushed lower and lower down the list of all-time hiters, now sitting at 30th with Adrián Beltre surely pushing Clemente to 31st sometime this season.

So why is a guy who has 29 other guys ahead of him on the all-time hits list considered to be "the perfect ballplayer?"  This is not a quote from a regular Puerto Rican person - it was actually said by a former player, an African-American Hall-of-Famer by the name of Willie Mays.  I know Willie is super-old and may not currently have all his faculties, but he said this a while ago, and the fact that he picked Clemente instead of his godson (Barry Bonds) says something.  Sportscaster Bob Costas likes Clemente too, but I don't like Bob Costas, so he's not worth mentioning further.  And if you ever visit Pittsburgh, those fans know their baseball history, and they know the former Pirate like he was one of their own.

Need some numbers to convince yourself that Roberto Clemente was the best baseball player ever?  Here are a few numbers to note: 1966 Most Valuable Player for the National League, NL batting champ (1961, 1964, 1965, 1967), World Series MVP in 1971, eleven-time Gold Glove winner, 12-time All Star, and National League leader in triples in 1969.  Oh, and he has an award named for him - the Roberto Clemente Award, which is given every year to a player with outstanding baseball playing skills who is personally involved in community work.

Oh, this Clemente guy did stuff for charity?  Don't many baseball players do that?  Yes, they do (and they should).  But Clemente went above and beyond to help those in need throughout his career, providing sports equipment to the needy, offering free batting clinics in his native Puerto Rico, and taking relief supplies to Nicaragua after a devastating earthquake on New Year's Eve, 1972.  Well, actually, he and the supplies never made it to Nicaragua, because the plane carrying Clemente was overloaded with too many supplies, had an incompetent flight crew, and crashed into the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Puerto Rico.  So yeah, poor Clemente died without finishing his baseball career - had he played for another year or two, he would probably be between Tony Gwynn and Alex Rodriguez at 19th of all time. 

So was this guy better than Ruth, Rose, or Rodriguez (Iván, not Alex - you all know I truly dislike A-Rod!)?  Yes.  Not only did Clemente have impressive career numbers and was a great humanitarian, but he demanded respect, let his bat and glove do the talking, and made a permanent impact on the game and how to play with intensity, discipline, and dedication.  He's the type of guy who, when mentioned to baseball experts, elicits an instant sigh of admiration not given to current stars.  They use words like "hero," "legend," and "class act" to describe him.  They don't argue that he was the best right fielder ever.  And his legacy needs to be explained to all current baseball players - this is how you play, this is how you behave, this is how you help others (except for the plane crash part). 

Alright, friends; thank you for letting me rant about "the perfect ballplayer."  Some people think I'm too "rah rah Puerto Rico," but this is my blog and I can write about whatever I choose.  But seriously, the 2017 season is getting ready to start, and I'm looking forward to writing about great baseball players - whatever country they're from and whatever team they represent.  Watch out for the Houston Astros, the Boston Red Sox, and yes, the Chicago Cubs (again!).  This promises to be a season of milestones, magic, and lots of home runs (Trout, Stanton, Machado...).  So keep checking in - I will do my best to keep you updated on all things 2017 - including Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in July (gee, did I mention who is being inducted?), Adrián Beltre's chase for 3000 hits, and maybe the coming of a new "Perfect Ballplayer."