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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!

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 mlb.com, 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 mlb.com 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.