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Saturday, January 6, 2018

New Year, New Trades, and New Opinions

Happy New Year, baseball fans!  I took it upon myself to write a blog post today because it's a gazillion degrees below zero and I needed to think warm thoughts.  Realizing that Spring Training starts in less than 40 days instantly warmed me right up with thoughts of pitchers casually tossing to catchers, rookies seeking advice from veteran players, and Adam Wainwright in a Speedo - I mean, in a uniform.  So what has happened baseball-wise during the off-season?  It hasn't been as exciting as in years past, but it has definitely been productive.  Here's a run-down of who has been traded, who has been signed, and who is still unemployed.

The biggest news of the off-season was the signing of Japanese "phenom" Sohei Ohtani.  This kid can both hit and pitch, so he was annoyingly being called "the next Babe Ruth."  Don't do that, people - there's only ever going to be one overweight, difficult-to-get-along-with, womanizing alcoholic who was amazing on the field but an absolute mess in his personal life.  I didn't fall for the Ohtani craze, because I think the kid has a lot of "proving himself" to do; not that Japanese baseball is inferior to Major League Baseball talent-wise (their players are just as good), but just because you kick ass in one league doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be the best in another one.  The rumors of which team would sign Ohtani were all over the place - the Mariners need someone exciting, the Cardinals and Giants could use him as a pitcher who could actually hit, the Tigers could use him as a Designated Hitter... The kid ended up surprising everyone and signed with the Los Angeles Angels, so now he will team up with Mike Trout and Albert Pujols to provide some excitement to the American League fans in LA (by the way, do any of you still refer to this team as the California Angels or Anaheim Angels?  I know - I'm old!).  I'm OK with Ohtani being out west and I'm probably not going to see much of him because of it; I just hope he stays healthy, easily adjusts to life in the US, and if he really is as wonderful as they say he is, I hope it gives the sport of baseball a positive and uplifting boost.

Let's see... what else?  Oh, Derek Jeter decided to become CEO and part owner of the Miami Marlins, and he's not being well received by the Miami media, the fans, or the players themselves.  Those Marlins are going to be really really good... twenty years from now.  To say that this will be a "rebuilding year" for the Marlins is quite the understatement - they got rid of MVP Giancarlo Stanton (welcome to the Yankees, Giancarlo!), second baseman Dee Gordon is now a center fielder for the Mariners, and Marcell Ozuna was sent to the Cardinals.  Next on the trading block?  Rumors point to Christian Yelich and J.T. Realmuto, and many Marlins players (current and former) have let their disapproval of these trades be known (gotta love when athletes tweet!).  So who will make up the Marlins' roster this season?  Let's hope they have a lot of young talent coming up for Spring Training, otherwise they'll have to ask one of the hot dog vendors at Marlins Park to grab a glove and play the outfield for a game or two.  I personally think that Jeter secretly wants to come out of retirement as a Marlin and is getting rid of all his players in order to make room for himself.  I say bring back Ozzie Guillen as manager, but I think I'm the only human being who wants that.  Hey, Ozzie was a passionate guy - there's no denying that!

Then there's the soap opera of Manny Machado.  The Orioles' best third baseman since Brooks Robinson is rumored to be either a Yankee or a Red Sox - both "Public Enemy Number One" teams of the Orioles.  The Yankees claim that Machado wants to to be on a contending team, and the Red Sox just want him because the Yankees do.  Machado reportedly wants to move to shortstop, but will Orioles fans allow him to achieve greatness at the position that will always belong to Cal Ripken?  Here's another issue:  Machado will become a free agent at the end of the 2018 season.  What does that mean?  Well, if I was the Orioles' GM, I would keep Machado at third base, trade him before the July 31st deadline to a contending team (since the Orioles have no pitching to contend and their closer, Zack Britton, ruptured his Achilles tendon last month), and get a bunch of prospects for him (so that us Frederick Keys fans have some up-and-coming players to watch in the Minors).  I'm not bashing the O's season before it's even started; I'm just trying to be realistic.  And Machado can be like Yu Darvish was this past season with the Dodgers - go to a contending team for a couple of months, play in the World Series, and then use your free agency to get yourself a hefty contract with another team right after that.

Oh wait!  Yu Darvish is one of those free agents who hasn't been signed yet!  He joins pitchers Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb, as well as J.D. Martinez, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakis in the list of top free agents who have yet to be signed by anyone.  And for those of you who think that free agents never re-sign with the last team they played for, pitchers CC Sabathia and Brandon Kintzler signed to continue with the Yankees and Nationals, respectively.  And rumor has it that the Nationals want to keep Bryce Harper even after he's eligible for free agency at the end of the 2018 season.  So there you go - "franchise" players are still a thing!

Still unsigned and therefore unemployed are old men Jayson Werth and Ichiro Suzuki.  Now, as much as I like Werth (my son dressed as him for Halloween one year, bearded mask and all), it's time for him to go and enjoy retirement (but don't drive too fast, Jayson; remember how that landed you in jail for a couple of days several years ago!).  But Ichiro?  Really?  No one wants a 44-year-old right fielder who batted .255 with 3 home runs in 196 at-bats for the Marlins last year?  Hey, the Marlins don't have ANYONE in the outfield - they may want to take this guy into consideration!  If the Marlins don't want him, then someone should sign him just so he can retire with dignity and every team he visits can give him a proper farewell.  Come on, Seattle Mariners - show some love to the guy who brought fans to your ballpark for many years and is likely to wear your cap in Cooperstown!

So there you have it, my friends - a recap of what has happened and what is to come for the 2018 baseball season.  If Manny Machado ends up with the Yankees, make sure to check back with me because I will surely have plenty to say about that.  In the meantime, stay warm, and please continue to pray for the people of Puerto Rico, who still suffer from plenty of power outages almost 4 months after hurricane María ripped through the island.  Gracias, amigos! :-)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Not Everyone Gets a Trophy

Post-season awards were handed out by the Baseball Writers Association of America (a group I would steal a loaf of marble rye from an old lady to be a part of!), and there weren't any real surprises.  For Rookie of the Year, voters unanimously chose Aaron Judge of the Yankees and Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers.  This award was a no-brainer, because both guys had great seasons (even though Judge got a bit "cold" after the all-star break).  I would have voted for both of them; no surprise there.

For the Cy Young award, the AL winner was the Indians' Corey Kluber (who won his second Cy Young award) and the Nationals' Max Scherzer for the NL.  Yes, THAT Max Scherzer - my current baseball crush!  It's Scherzer's third Cy Young, and I'm just glad that someone other than Clayton Kershaw won it this year.  It was a tough decision, because all of these guys had spent a bit of time on the Disabled List this year, so it wasn't a runaway vote like Rookie of the Year was; but hey, my man beat out Kershaw and fellow teammate Stephen Strasburg, so I'm happy about that.

For MVP, I was a bit nervous.  There was speculation that Aaron Judge would get the award for the American League, beating out the Astros' José Altuve.  I personally think it's rude to win more than one of these awards in the same year (Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki have been the only ones who have done that), but as the player, you have no control over who these baseball writers are going to vote for (and I love Ichiro, but I would have voted for Roberto Alomar for MVP in 2001 so Ichiro could get one award and Alomar could get the other one).  Plus isn't Rookie of the Year a more special award because you can only win it once?  I was relieved when Altuve was named as MVP for the American League, because I had told my husband that if Altuve wasn't the winner, I would run around the neighborhood naked.  Luckily my neighbors were spared.  In the National League, the Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton was the MVP, and I'm OK with that.  He hit 59 home runs (I was really rooting for him to reach 60), and he's pretty bad ass.  Congratulations to all of this year's winners.

Speaking of Giancarlo Stanton, the Miami Marlins are interested in trading him during the off season.  This is a pretty big deal, because not only does it mean that the Marlins realize they're going to suck next year and Stanton is better off playing somewhere else, but it could potentially make Stanton a very very VERY rich man.  And with Derek Jeter being part owner of the Marlins, us baseball nerds have seen a lot of video of him lately talking about how, yes, trading Stanton is a definite possibility.  The main thing I've gotten out of these videos is the fact that Jeter looks way better in a baseball uniform than he does in "real people" clothes.

Also newsworthy so far this off season are both a death and a retirement.  At 40 years old, former Blue Jays and Phillies pitcher and Cy Young award winner, Roy Halladay, died while flying his single-engine plane that crashed off the Gulf of Mexico on November 7.  I always liked Halladay when he was with Toronto, but as soon as he joined the Phillies, I automatically disliked him.  The eulogy that his wife gave at his memorial service was heart-wrenching and emotional, especially since they were just starting their new lives after Halladay's retirement in 2013.  So sad!

And after 20 years in professional baseball, Puerto Rican Carlos Beltrán announced his retirement.  Beltrán is one of those classy old-school guys you just can't help but love - he always played hard, was constantly smiling, and was always known as an excellent leader and faithful teammate.  I have a soft spot for Carlos because he threw me a baseball during batting practice when he played for the Mets and I acted like a crazy Puerto Rican to get his attention (some would say I wasn't acting).  My husband was always bothered with Beltrán being a "mouth breather," but I like him anyway (at least Beltrán probably doesn't snore, because he breathes through his mouth, which is more than I can say about my dear husband who keeps me up at night!).  Let's see if Jayson Werth and Ichiro Suzuki follow in Beltrán's footsteps and announce their retirements too - while some of us would like to think that Ichiro could play forever, he's 44 and not as marketable as he once was.  He will definitely be missed.  And Werth?  Yeah - it's time to call it quits, old man!

What else is there to look forward to during this off-season?  Let's see... Which team will sign Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani?  Apparently this kid can pitch, hit, run, and solve complex mathematical equations while mastering all levels of Candy Crush.  He's being touted as the most perfect free agent ever (which automatically means he's over-hyped) and is being compared to Babe Ruth (!!!), but he won't require a ton of money, so he'll be easy to sign once all the bureaucratic red tape has been taken care of (apparently he's still technically under the ownership of his Japanese team, so there are some "t"s to cross and "I"s to dot before he can be signed by a Major League team.  Stay tuned.  What else?  There are other free agents out there, like Yu Darvish, Wellington Castillo, Jonathan Lucroy, and yes, CC Sabathia (he's still got it at 37 years old).

This off-season promises to be interesting, with the signing of free agents and trading of players like Stanton (and will the Nationals please trade Tanner Roark so he can actually get some playing time and some respect?).  I'll be paying attention so you don't have to (unless you really want to), and I'll keep you all updated as events warrant.  In the meantime, have a wonderful Thanksgiving, support your local businesses during your holiday shopping, and enjoy your time with family and friends.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Tall and Short of It

At the age of 45, I am 5 feet, 1 inch tall.  I'm aware of my height challenges - having to climb on top of my kitchen counter to reach for something in an upper cabinet shelf (because I'm too lazy to get a stool) is a reminder.  Having to shop in the petites section of clothing stores is a reminder.  Not being able to find a nice pair of over-the-knee boots because my legs are so darn short has been the most recent reminder (fashion blogs say that us shorties shouldn't even be wearing tall boots, because they make us look even shorter.  Thanks a lot!).  I don't need anyone pointing out the fact that I'm short - I'm well aware of it.  It's not like someone comes up to me and says "Oh my gosh, you're so short!" and I'm like "Really?  I had no idea!"

From Dolly Parton to Prince to Yasser Arafat, the world has been full of "vertically challenged" people who have made a difference in one way or another for as long as the world has been around.  No one seems to care that Lady Gaga is short, Voltaire was still a successful writer despite being short, and Beethoven wasn't too bad of a composer despite only being 5'3.  So why is the media making such a big deal of José Altuve's height?  He's short... so what?  Are all athletes supposed to be at least 6 feet tall in order to be successful?  Ask Muggsy Bogues, Diego Maradona, or Lionel Messi - they're all under 5'7.  If being tall makes you a good athlete, then Altuve is proving everyone wrong.

José Altuve, the all-star second baseman for the Houston Astros, finished this year's regular season as the Major League batting champ with a sick .346 batting average (that's right up there with Pete Rose and Ted Williams - you may have heard of them).  And his 204 hits, 24 home runs, and 32 stolen bases this past season were nothing to jest at.  Oh, and in the first game of the American League Division Series against the Red Sox, Altuve hit THREE home runs (two of them off ace Chris Sale).  Not too shabby for a short guy!  How did 6'7 Aaron Judge do on HIS first ALDS game?  He struck out at all 4 plate appearances.  In your face, tall dude!

Speaking of Aaron Judge, the media was all aflutter during the All-Star Game this past summer when Altuve and Judge were standing next to each other, filling social media outlets and newspapers with pictures of the two side by side.  Don't you think Altuve was well aware of the height disparity?  He didn't need to be turned into a circus act just because he's a whole foot shorter than the tallest guy currently in baseball.  Just like Judge doesn't want to be known primarily for being so tall, I'm sure Altuve would rather be known as dedicated, consistent, and badass than being called "little man" or "unlikely hero" or "diminutive."  This native of Venezuela is the top contender for the American League MVP award, and if he doesn't get it, I will wear white after Labor Day, which for someone as fashionable as me, will be quite a travesty.

Is José Altuve going to be a big factor in the upcoming World Series against the Dodgers?  You betcha!  So WHAT if Clayton Kershaw is six-foot-four?  Who cares that Yu Darvish is six-foot-five (the tallest Japanese person I've ever heard of)?  I predict that Altuve is not going to let these "big guys" intimidate him.  I apologize to my uncle Junior, my cousins, and my pal Tim who are all die-hard Dodgers fans, but I'm picking the Astros to win the World Series.  I rarely side with an American League team, but with Altuve, Puerto Rican phenom Carlos Correa, and pitchers like Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel (nasty-looking beard and all), I'm thinking the Astros can take the Series in seven games.  My only issue with that is that they would end up clinching the pennant in LA, and I always hate when teams win when they're not at home, but I'm rooting for the Astros all the way.  It's time for the rest of America to notice José Altuve and realize that big things do come in small packages, and us short people can kick ass just as much as the tall "giants" of the game.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

To Kneel, or not to Kneel?

The "Star-Spangled Banner" is as much a part of sports in America as tailgating, "Fenway Franks," and overpriced ballpark beer.  It has consistently been played or sung before sporting events since the days of Babe Ruth and World War I.  When sung correctly (Whitney Houston), it can bring people to tears of joy and national pride.  When sung in mockery (Roseanne), everyone is horrified and Francis Scott Key rolls in his grave (which is just a few blocks from where I'm typing this).  Sports sociologists (yes - that's a thing!) defend this practice by saying that our National Anthem is a battle song (there's that line about rockets glaring and bombs bursting and what-not), and it should motivate athletes to perform their best while in "battle."  It's supposed to get them pumped up and basically ready to kick some ass, and since sports are a microcosm of society and all we want to do in life is kick ass, then it's OK.  But not everyone agrees.

From Colin Kaepernick and Jeremy Lane in the NFL to several members of the Virginia Tech women's volleyball team and even some football players from nearby Watkins Mill High School, many athletes at all levels have decided to "take a knee," give their backs to the American flag, or not stand up at all while the National Anthem is being played.  The first Major League Baseball player to express public opposition to the National Anthem was Oakland A's Bruce Maxwell, who this past weekend decided to kneel while holding his ball cap to his chest while the song was being sung.  As a result of this, Maxwell's team posted the following statement on their scoreboard immediately after, which I thought was appropriate and diplomatic and very cool and California-ish: "The Oakland A's pride ourselves in being inclusive.  We respect and support all of our players' constitutional rights and freedom of expression."  Why are athletes protesting the National Anthem?  Some of them feel like not all their liberties are being protected in this country, while others protest as a way to promote positive changes for the betterment of the country.  Whatever their reason is, they have the constitutional right to express their beliefs, and I'm totally ok with that (especially since I myself always stand for the Anthem but choose not to put my hand over my heart.  I personally think that's silly but I stand up out of respect, kind of like "when in Rome...").

Without getting political (Barack Obama referred to Kaepernick as “exercising his constitutional right to make a statement" while Donald Trump said "maybe [Kaepernick] should find a country that works better for him," but no - I'm not going to get political here!), I'm wondering if the solution to this controversy is to get rid of the National Anthem at sporting events altogether.  I personally don't think it's necessary to play the National Anthem before EVERY sporting event in America.  Do I have to wait for the National Anthem to play in order to run a local 5K race?  Can a Little League baseball game begin without a pitchy ten-year-old singing the Anthem while unable to hit the high notes?  Before you start saying that I'm not patriotic and that I need to go back to my country (which is actually a territory of the US), just hear me out.  Singing the "Star-Spangled Banner" at Yankee Stadium on September 17, 2001 on the first baseball game being played since the 9/11 attacks, with President Bush throwing out the first pitch?  Totally appropriate.  Playing the National Anthem when an Olympic athlete is receiving his/her gold medal?  Super cool and emotional.  Having the "Star-Spangled Banner" played or sung 162 times during the baseball season?  Completely unnecessary.  Why not save this song for special occasions, like a presidential inauguration, a championship game between the US and another country, or some sort of important military thing (whatever those may be)?  Don't complain that baseball games take too long when you're spending five minutes having the colors presented, having giant flags being unfurled, and listening to an "American Idol" reject trying to belt out a song that was meant to be an ode to Fort McHenry.

So if the athletes want to keep protesting, I say let them (because they have the constitutional right to do so).  But they should do it nicely and respectfully (removing your cap and "taking a knee" is way more appropriate, in my opinion, than not standing up at all), and they should be prepared to get some flack for it (especially if they sound like ignorant illiterates when they Tweet their reasons for their protest; that's another thing - athletes who Tweet!  A blog topic for another day!).  Keep "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch - it's a nicer and more positive song anyway.  And we can appreciate "the land of the free and the home of the brave" without having to sing about it every day before the start of a baseball game, marathon, or local baton-twirling competition.  Those of us who live here truly appreciate our rights and freedoms - we don't need a tedious and outdated song to remind us of it.

That, my friends, is just my opinion. :-)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mother and Son at the Ballpark (My Husband was There Too!)

My seventeen-year-old daughter has just begun her Senior year in high school, so for the past three years, our lives have been consumed by countless track meets (and corresponding pasta parties), college visits all over the Mid-Atlantic, and numerous meetings, appointments, and activities related to my daughter's academics, athletics, or extracurricular activities.  All along the way, my thirteen-year-old son has tagged along (many times begrudgingly) and served as photographer, stopwatch operator, bag carrier, or whatever "other tasks as assigned" have been thrown at him.  But he's been a pretty good sport (especially since each college visit came with either dinner at Panera, a visit to the college ice cream shop, or a stay in a hotel with a pool).  Constantly in his sister's shadow, he still manages to maintain a sense of humor while my husband and I try to accommodate his concert band schedule around everything else going on in our busy lives.  

One thing that has helped our bond is baseball.  He has been watching baseball with his mother since he was in utero, and despite "retiring" from Little League over a year ago, he still enjoys watching and following the sport with his overenthusiastic and highly competitive mother.  He went trick or treating dressed as Jayson Werth one year (complete with full bearded mask), has a respectable baseball card collection, and owns a wide assortment of Washington Nationals apparel.  He doesn't just watch baseball because it's what's on TV; he actually sits down, asks questions, and follows certain players' statistics (and admittedly, he's learning how to heckle.  Who could be teaching him that?).

One recent Sunday, my son, husband, and I traveled to Washington, DC to catch a game at Nationals Park.  The Nats were playing the Mets, the weather was perfect for an evening game, and we scored great seats for a decent price (just a few rows behind the Nats' dugout).  It was game two of a day/night doubleheader - a make-up of a previously rained-out game from July.  Tanner Roark was on the mound, and despite many of their big players being on the Disabled List (Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Trea Turner...), it was refreshing to see a lot of the younger guys playing so well.  The Nationals won the game 5-4, but that's not why we had such an unforgettable time.

There was the walk from the parking lot to the park.  The area around Nationals Park has really undergone a tremendous development, and there were new outdoor dining venues, numerous street vendors, and many sights that were not there since my husband and I were last there a year ago.  My son was all over the fact that you could buy a bag of peanuts right outside the park for less than half of what they charge you inside (yes - we bought one to share).  He has always enjoyed people-watching, so standing in line waiting for the gates to open was entertaining for him (he's not one of those teenagers who is constantly on his phone - he actually keeps himself occupied looking at his surroundings and making good observations and occasional snarky comments.  He is my son, after all).

Once inside the ballpark, we perused the gift shop, where of course my son wanted one of everything (actually, so did I!) but was horrified at the prices.  Now he knows that we're not willing to pay $113 for a jersey; time to revise your Christmas list, kid!  We walked around a bit, showing him things he had never noticed before (his last two visits to Nationals Park earlier this summer were with "boring people," according to him) and then found our seats.  My son was AMAZED at how good our seats were - his other visits came with outfield seats located in a section where you couldn't see the big scoreboard.  So he marveled at the wealth of information shown on the big screen - lineups, statistics, highlight videos...

When the game began, he put on his "focused" face.  This kid can get so focused sometimes that I swear he could perform microsurgery on a human brain while wearing headsets so he could direct "Sully" Sullenberger to safely land his airplane on the Hudson River.  He intently watched every pitch, every swing, every catch, only getting up once to get some ice cream.  We laughed at the drunk people behind us, at the frat boys in front of us who kept buying beer after beer (despite my son insisting that they did not look twenty-one), and at the Racing Presidents in the middle of the fourth inning.  One drunk guy had us laughing so hard, I don't think I had ever heard my son laugh so non-stop.

When I asked him on our way home what his favorite part of the evening was, he said he liked feeling like a real fan; not just a spectator.  Aw! I don't know if he'll remember this moment as fondly as me, but spending those few hours on a beautiful Sunday evening with my not-so-little-anymore boy taking in a game of baseball was a definite highlight for his mother.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Bucket List Moment in the City of Brotherly "Eh"

On a recent Monday (my only day off from work), my husband and I drove to Philadelphia to visit Citizens Bank Park - our eighth ball park in our quest to visit all 30 Major League baseball parks.  It was a picture-perfect day for a game between the Phillies and the visiting Atlanta Braves, and because the Phillies have sucked for the past couple of years, we were able to get excellent seats (in the second row behind the Phillies' dugout).  Because I wasn't going to be rooting for neither the Phillies nor the Braves, I decided to use this particular day to check an item off my "Bucket List:" scoring a live baseball game for all nine innings.

Now, many of you might be surprised to know that I, as a downright and legitimate baseball nerd, have never scored a game in my life.  One reason is because when I'm watching a baseball game on TV from the comfort of my sofa (I've been told not to call it a couch), I'm usually multitasking (working on a Sudoku, browsing catalogs for inventory orders for my shop, or checking Facebook).  When I have attended games in the past, I have been too focused on the game itself to take the time to stare at a piece of paper and write things down (how can I check out the players' butts if my head is down the whole time?).  Plus, being legally blind, it's enough of a challenge for me to watch a game let alone try to keep score on an actual paper grid.  But on this day, since I wasn't rooting for either team, I decided to keep myself entertained by keeping score.

First of all, if you're looking for my in-depth review of Citizens Bank Park itself, you're not going to get it, because I honestly have nothing to say.  It was about as unremarkable as Miller Park in Milwaukee, which we visited last year and I didn't blog about because it was the most plain and vanilla-looking park ever.  Or so I thought until I got to Philly.  Citizens Bank Park, like Miller Park, was built in the outskirts of a bustling city, with ample parking and acres of nothingness surrounding it.  Now, I know I've been critical of "shoe-horned" parks in the past (like Camden Yards in Baltimore and Progressive Field in Cleveland) because they make me feel claustrophobic, but at least they provide a better ambiance in and around the ballpark.  You can spot several street vendors, many outdoor dining venues full of fans, and experience an overall exciting and fan-friendly experience before you even set foot inside the park.  Not in Philly.  You drive there, the nice parking attendant takes your money and tells you to park in one of the thousands of available spots in the blazing sun (the only nice person we met the entire time we were there), and you go into the ballpark because other than checking out the Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt statues, there's not much to do outside the park.  Yawn!

Once inside, we got some lunch (we were told to actually stay away from the Philly cheese steak sandwiches in the park because they were mediocre, so we settled for mediocre quesadillas instead).  After finding our really good seats, I filled out my lineup sheet.  I had printed out a blank score-keeping grid ahead of time, so I was ready.  I didn't know what I was doing, but I was ready!  Luckily, I was sitting next to the most patient and wonderful human being ever (my husband, Tom), who happened to know how to score a game from his days playing Little League.  Yes, that was a long time ago, but slashes, backwards Ks, and numbers haven't changed throughout the decades.  So armed with my scoresheet, a good pen, and a trusty companion, I was ready.

The only thing I knew about scoring a game was that there was a difference between a regular K and a backwards K.  I wasn't sure what that difference was - one was a strikeout swinging and the other was a strikeout looking - but I didn't know which was which. A quick Google search helped me realize that a regular K is when a batter strikes out swinging.  OK; got that.  I then had to label all the positions - Pitcher- 1, Catcher- 2, First Base- 3, Second base- 4, Third base- 5, Shortstop- 6, Left field- 7, Center field- 8, Right field- 9.  OK; got that too.  And because I'm a true nerd, I had to write down the weather, temperature, and umpires.  Now it's time to play ball!

The first batter was Ender Inciarte, the Braves' center fielder.  He hit a fly ball to center field, so I just had to write an "8" on my scorecard.  Piece of cake.

The second batter, second baseman Brandon Phillips, hit to the pitcher, who threw to first base for the out.  That was a 1-3 on my sheet.  No problem.

The third batter, First baseman Freddie Freeman (who was playing third base that day), hit a grounder to second base, so that was a 4-3.  I got this.

In the bottom of the first inning, it got a bit tricky.  When Aaron Altherr, the Phillies' right fielder and third player to bat, got on base because of a base hit, I had to shade in a section of my diamond grid.  Then Tommy Joseph got a base hit, so I had to shade in his section plus add to Altherr's grid.  Not a problem though; hubby was right there, telling me what to do.

In the top of the second inning, I got to do all sorts of shading of the grids, because the Braves' Matt Adams, Nick Markakis, and Danny Santana all got base hits.  The problem was that I shaded the first-inning grids instead of the second-inning ones.  I should have bought a pencil instead of a pen!  But I corrected my errors and kept going.  I was determined to see this through to the end of the game (Note to self:  Bring a highlighter next time to better keep track of what inning we're in ).

This game turned out to be the best game for a first-time scorer.  There were walks, strikeouts (both regular K and backwards K), an error by Freddie Freeman that was later removed (again - should have brought a pencil!) but an error by Ian Krol that was legit, home runs by Suzuki, Herrera, and Franco, and even a hit-by-pitch (two of them, in fact).  It made the time go by pretty fast, and it forced hubby and me to pay attention and keep track of what was going on.

So what did I learn from this experience?  Well, first of all, you have to appreciate your spouse and the expertise they can bring to a certain situation.  I can tell hubby that there are 26 bones in each foot and recite the entire lineup of the 2008 Phillies (and the 1989 Mets), but he can tell me how to score an Infield Fly Rule on a scorecard.  Without my husband there to help me along, I would have given up after the first inning.

I was also reminded of the importance of writing things down.  As an Athletic Trainer in college, I was taught that "If you didn't write it down, it didn't happen." (Thanks, Charlie and Wayne!) So yeah - if I didn't keep score, I would not have remembered a few weeks later that Pivetta got the win for the Phillies that day and Foltynewicz got the loss (the Phillies won 7-6).

I also realized that you can't take cool ballparks (like Fenway and PNC Park) for granted, because of the 30 Major League ballparks, only a handful of them are going to remain fresh in your mind because they're cool or nostalgic or have pretty outfield views.  As long as you have good company, eat decent food (and get a cheap-enough beer, in hubby's case), don't get too lost on your way home from the ballpark, and know the difference between a strikeout swinging versus a strikeout looking, you can have an unforgettable day enjoying America's pastime.  Here's to baseball, husbands, and those who keep score day in and day out. :-)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"It's Just Emotion That's Taken Me Over"

One of the benefits of being a female baseball fan is that because of the estrogen that our ovaries produce, it's OK to get emotional over just about anything.  Bryce Harper hits a walk-off home run in the ninth inning and we start crying?  That's OK.  Buster Posey throws out a runner trying to steal second base and we do a happy dance?  Totally fine.  Eric Hosmer does ANYTHING and our hearts skip a beat?  Completely acceptable.  But man, last Sunday was an emotional high for me, and now that you've started reading this, you're committed to reading until the end, so sit back and follow along as I re-live my reasons for my many emotions on a beautiful and picture-perfect day.

First and foremost, my long-time baseball crush, Iván "Pudge" Rodriguez was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  You all know how I have endlessly written about Iván and how I threw myself a pity party because I wasn't able to attend the ceremonies in Cooperstown, New York.  But watching him from the comfort of my living room, sitting way up close to the TV and clinging to his every word, I could not have been more proud (and yes - I cried!).  I was very impatient at first, because Jeff Bagwell, one of the other inductees, took FOREVER with his speech.  It was touching, but extremely anecdotal and took way too long.  It seems like he thanked everyone from his Little League coaches to the Astros custodians.  Bud Selig's speech wasn't much shorter - yes, Bud, we all know how much you did for baseball as Commissioner, but you didn't have to go through year by year re-living everything like a "State of the Union" speech.  Milwaukee baseball... labor disputes... the development of the Wild Card...blah blah blah - we could have gotten all this information ourselves from Wikipedia.  Plus I never liked you anyway!  Finally, over two hours later, it was Ivan's turn.

"Pudge" began his speech by thanking the Lord Jesus Christ for his many blessings.  Classy.  (That elicited an "Aw!" from me.) Then he thanked a few people, made a joke, and then addressed the crowd in Spanish.  He thanked all the fans who were present for their loyalty and support, and asked everyone to raise their Puerto Rican flags way high.  Yes, I cried.  Reverting back to English, he thanked more teammates, coaches, and managers, throwing in little anecdotes along the way (For example, Nolan Ryan didn't care that Ivan's English wasn't very good at first; as long as he "put down the right fingers," they could communicate just fine).  Then, in both English and Spanish, he told young people watching to never let anyone tell them they can't fulfill their dreams.  He said to work hard, be dedicated, and always do your best.  It was touching.  But what got me the most emotional was when Iván thanked his parents.  Speaking to them in Spanish so they would understand, he thanked his father for endless hours of batting practice and for convincing him to switch from pitching to catching.  He thanked his mother for always emphasizing hard work and making her sons focus on academics as much as on athletics.  He called both his parents "hall of famers," and that's when I lost it.

In addition to Ivan's Hall of Fame induction, there was Adrián Beltré reaching an important baseball milestone on the same day.  You say you've never heard of Adrián Beltré?  Well it's probably because he's not white (he's Dominican), he plays for a team that doesn't wear pinstripes (the Texas Rangers), and he hasn't been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs or beating up his wife.  Beltré is a workhorse with a career batting average of .286, has appeared in 4 All-Star Games, and led the National League with 48 home runs in 2004 when he played for the Dodgers.  Why is reaching 3000 hits such a big deal in baseball?  Because only 30 other players in history are on the list, and if Beltré's name doesn't ring a bell, how about some of the other guys on the list:  Pete Rose, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Cal Ripken Jr., and Roberto Clemente?  The only other current player on that list is Ichiro Suzuki, who is 22nd on the list with 3,060.  For Puerto Ricans, anyone who reaches this important milestone is a special person, because he joins our beloved Clemente.  So yes - I cried when Beltré hit number 3,000 - a double against the Orioles in his home park with his wife and kids running onto the field when he reached second base.  Who wouldn't get teared up after a moment like that? Now I need for either him or Ichiro to pass the 19th guy on the list, who retired with 3,115 hits.  He shall remain nameless, but you all know who it is I can't stand... it's time for a drug-free guy to pass him on the list!

So the season is more than halfway over, the Nationals are 45 games away from clinching the NL East, and Clayton Kershaw is on the Disabled List.  But Kershaw will be back (since he's bionic), the Dodgers just acquired Yu Darvish from the Rangers, and October could potentially feature the Nationals and Dodgers in the NLCS.  This means a lot of cheering, a lot of late nights staying up to watch games, and yes - a lot of tearing up and crying.  Hopefully they will be happy tears!