HOPE

HOPE

Hope is a dangerous thing.

We as fans – and as fathers – often fall victim to the curse of “hope”. We hope that our team will win the World Series; we hope that we get that raise or sign that client; we hope that our kids grow up healthy and happy.  And somewhere, in the deep recesses of our dreams – in places that we don’t talk about at cocktail parties – we hope our young son will one day play big league baseball.  Hope.  It’s a dangerous thing.

When I was 12 years old, I went over to a friend’s house to take batting practice.  You read that right, in 1984, he had a batting cage in his backyard.  And he swung a wood bat.  His dad had hope – maybe/probably too much hope.  He pushed and prodded, yelled and screamed, and made his son take batting practice with a broken wood bat to punish him for a late swing and bad mechanics at the plate.

Red told us that “hope can drive a man insane.”  So how was that father-of-the-year-candidate rewarded?  Third pick overall, a 14-year Major League career, 2 All-Star Game appearances; a Gold Glove; a 30-HR year and a season hitting .300.  Oh, and over $50M in lifetime earnings.  Dad may have been insane, but he wasn’t crazy.

You want crazy, here is crazy:

Each year, more than 2,500,000 kids play Little League baseball.  And that is just in the United States.  Add to that over 500,000 kids playing Pony Baseball.  And we simply cannot account for the tens (hundreds?) of thousands playing with rocks and sticks in far-away places and on far-away islands. In short, a lot of youngsters lace up (or, more accurately, have their dad lace up) their cleats each Spring.

In any given year, there are 1280 Major League baseball players.  If we assume that the only universe of players is from Little League and Pony baseball (which is a horrible assumption, but one we will use for illustration purposes only), that means that, on average, 4 out of every 10,000 Little League/Pony players will make it the big leagues.

“Well,” you say, “my goal is just to have my son play ‘professional’ baseball.”  Okay, let’s take a look at that: There are approximately 242 teams in the Minor Leagues, with each having 25 players on their roster.  Not accounting for movement within teams, you have approximately 6000 Minor League players.  That means that 20 out of every 10,000 Little League/Pony players might play professional baseball.

So, if your Little League, like ours, has roughly 700 players in a given season, 1-2 kids in entire league (Wee Ball through Majors) may play “professional” baseball at some point in their life.  Purely on a statistical basis, you would need to run through all 700 players, nearly 4 times, before you found a Major Leaguer in the mix.  High hopes indeed.

But then, one morning, you pick up the newspaper or you fire open your web browser – or, if you are like me, you get alerts from MLB and ESPN – and you see that a local boy just 7 years out of high school, has signed a contract worth nearly a third of a billion dollars.  That is Monty Burns money.

And you think to yourself…maybe?!

As we look ahead to yet another Little League or Pony season, as we yell at our kids from the dugout or the stands, as we lament their failings and overly praise their successes, always remember the Wisdom of Red:

Hope is a dangerous thing!

PLAY BALL (and eat turkey)!!

112

112

In early March, we headed to Arizona (and some headed to Florida) and watched PFP on side fields.  We sat on the grass and drank cold beer in the warm late-winter sun.  We harangued superstars, has-beens, and never-will-bes for autographs and baseballs.  We got our juices flowing, then they “headed north”.

For seven months we could go to bed with the dulcet tones of the Web Gems jingle lulling us to sleep and wake up to read a box a score.  Like Kenny’s wooby, we had the comfort of knowing that baseball was with us – day in, day out.  Whether your drug of choice was Baseball Tonight or Quick Pitch or, or, heaven forbid, FoxSports1, you got your drug.  Whether your dealer was Buster Olney or Derrick Goold or Keith Olbermann, or heaven forbid, Fred Roggin, they were there, on the corner (of your dial) waiting to give you wanted – what you needed – every evening.  And now, in the blink of an eye, like a Keyser Soze, it’s gone.

We wake up this morning with no “today” or “tomorrow” – in the baseball sense.  We only have yesterday.  And what an amazing yesterday it was.  For seven months, we were the lucky recipients of so many brilliant yesterdays that we will have the luxury of telling the tales of Jose Abreu and Derek Jeter and Josh Beckett (someone born the day of the Dodgers previous no-hitter would have a driver’s license and be getting ready to vote), of Mike Trout and Victor Martinez (he of 32 HRs and only 42 SOs).  We will be able to bounce our grandkids on our knee and tell them that we got to watch Clayton Kershaw pitch at the height of his powers – that for one majestic 4-week period, we watched the best pitcher on the planet make something so difficult look so easy, that it had to be seen to be believed.  And that was just the regular season.

When the leaves began to change, and the weather (everywhere outside of Southern California) began to cool; when the kids were fully entrenched in school, and the pumpkin patches started popping up on otherwise desolate fields we never before noticed, baseball took on a new intensity.  October started with the Royals rallying from 4 down with 5 outs to go to start them on an enchanted journey that would end up littered with Halos and migratory birds; a yellow brick road that actually led back to Kansas (City).

The Giants set themselves up by having their best pitcher pitch their biggest game (on October 2nd), and then jumped on his back for the next four weeks.

We were then treated to a terrific 10 days of baseball.

We love to speak in hushed tones of times past; of historic World Series moments. Those moments – in our words – are basked in a sepia glow – never as bright as the moment itself, but ever more poignant. We all have our favorites:

Jackie Robinson sliding in (safely?) at home, stealing a base that only a cat burglar would have tried to swipe.

Yogi Berra jumping into Don Larsen’s arms at the end of the only no-hitter (a perfect game, no less) in World Series history.

Bill Mazeroski walking off the World Series for Western Pennsylvania and the history books (at least until 1993).

There is Pudge Fisk (we have to explain to our kids that there was an original “Pudge” before Rodriguez) waving and willing a ball fair in the 12th of inning of Game 6 of one of the greatest World Series ever played.

Who can forget Reggie Jackson’s “3 Swings”?

Or, just that single swing against rookie Bob Welch?  (BTW, it’s worth the 6 minutes.)

How about Pops Stargell literally jumping for joy in 1979?

Or when Don Denkinger became a household name.

When Bill Buckner’s life – and the lives of New Englanders up and down the Eastern Seaboard – changed forever (or for at least another 28 years).

Bill Buckner Error

“She is . . . gone!”

Kirby Puckett scaling walls.

MLB.com animated GIF

Joe Carter doing his best Bill Mazeroski impression, and then celebrating like a Little Leaguer (in a good way).

Jim Leyritz doing the unimaginable.

Luis Gonzalez breaking his bat (and the hearts of New Yorkers a month after 9/11) against a drawn-in infield.  (Not for nothing, but listen to Tim McCarver’s observation at the :30 mark of this video.)

23-year old Josh Beckett completing a 5-hit shut-out in the House that Ruth built – on 3 days’ rest.

Josh Beckett, 2003 World Series Game 6--5-hit shutout

A one-hopper to Keith Foulke that ended one of history’s longest droughts and brought the phrase “Now I can die in peace” into the vernacular.

Three of the wildest innings you will ever watch (endure?) on cold night in St. Louis in 2011.

Baseball officianados – or so we thought – (re)learning the obstruction rule in real time.

But, even considering all of above, we had the pleasure and honor these past few days of watching Mad Bum.  What did he do?  Well, quite simply, he made history.  In a world of pitch counts and specialized relief corps; in a world of $200M arms, and countless Tommy John surgeries (39 in the Majors and Minors between February and May); in a world of cautious managing, we saw something remarkable.  And, like Halley’s Comet, something we may never see again in our lifetime.  Time may dull the memory, but the statistics and records will forever stand: 21 IP, 9 H; 17 K; 0 BB; 0.43 ERA; .476 WHIP; 2 Wins; 1 five-inning Save (the longest in WS history) on 2 days’ rest.  We have run out of superlatives; he was simply astonishing.

There have been 110 official World Series.  Some are memorable, and others are easily forgotten (quick quiz: who played in the 2005 World Series?  Answer at the bottom.).  In an incredible season of baseball, we were treated to a fantastic finish.  Two Wild Card teams, neither with 90 wins, neither with great odds to get past their first game, let alone three rounds.  Blow outs and nail biters.  And it ends with a 25-year old horse doing things we may never see again, with the tying run dying 90 feet from rapture.  Does it – can it – get any better?

A quick aside so it can be put to rest forever: There is no world in which Alex Gordon should have been sent home; and had he been, we would have seen the first World Series end with an out at home plate (lest we forget the 2003 Division Series ending with JT Snow lying prone and Ivan Rodriguez clutching the ball like it was Temple of Doom.

View image on Twitter

A secondary aside: Had they sent Gordon, the World Series may have been determined based on an interpretation of Rule 7.13, which was put into effect after a season-ending injury to whom?  That’s right, Buster Posey.

A tertiary aside: Moments before that ball was hit, my son said, “I am glad I am not on that field.” And sure enough, Gregor Blanco let the moment (and the ball) get away from him, and seconds later Juan Perez did the same.  Lost in all of the hoopla, though, was Brandon Crawford’s play on Perez’s low throw.  Crawford fielded that throw from the wall on a clean short-hop, and was in a perfect position to throw Gordon out.  Had Crawford’s hands not been so Palmolive soft, Gordon could have scored with any form of bobble or drop.

A last aside: Third base coach Mike Jirschele is in his first major league season (as a player, coach, or otherwise).  After playing 13 years in the minors (topping out in Triple-A), after 11 seasons managing the Omaha Storm Chasers, after a total of 36 years on buses and in motels in the bush leagues, at age 59, Mike Jirschele “got the call”.  Do we think that guy, in that situation, was going to go to take that risk?  An aside to the aside, this is a great read if you have a moment:

http://espn.go.com/espn/feature/story/_/id/10619278/a-long-journey-spring-royals-coach-mike-jirschele-path-mlb

So here we are.  We awaken on the day before Halloween as we have three times in the last 5 years – with the San Francisco Giants as champs.  But it feels different in that we wake up today with a potential juggernaut on our hands in Missouri, and they don’t have birds on their chest.

And, regardless of the winner or the loser, we face today with a tiny glimmer of hope; a miniscule lining of silver on an otherwise cloudy day; we face today with the promise of tomorrow:

There are but 112 days until pitchers and catchers report!

http://www.springtrainingcountdown.com/

PLAY BALL! (Soon enough!)

Answer: Astros vs. White Sox

IT’S ONLY JUST A GAME

IT’S ONLY A GAME

The tragic and shocking news of Oscar Taveras’s passing on Sunday cast a pall over Game 5 of the World Series.  Buster Posey, the potential new face of baseball had this to say:  “My first thought was, ‘This game is not that important.’  I mean, we make so much about the World Series and it’s fun, it’s a fun game that we get to play, but life is much more important.  Something like that will bring you back down to earth really quickly.”

We put so much value on sports, we figuratively live and die with our teams.  Kids and adults alike shed tears when the ball doesn’t bounce “our” way.  And yet, at the end of the day, it is just a game.

Roberto Clemente, one of the greatest players of all time, died in an aviation accident at the age of 38, while en route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

Thurman Munson, the heart and soul and captain of the ‘70s Yankees, died when his Cessna crashed, at the age of 32.

Darryl Kile, a 20-game winner for the Cardinals, was found dead in his hotel room from a sudden heart attack, at the age of 33.

Nick Adenhart, the 22-year phenom for the Angels, dead at the hands of a drunk driver.

Blog_Adenhart_1  Blog_Adenhart_2

Tim Crews, veteran starting pitcher, died in a boating accident at 31. His 27-year old teammate, Steve Olin, was also killed in the accident.

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Josh Hancock, a pitcher on the 2006 World Series champion Cardinals, killed in a drunk driving accident at age 29.

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Longtime major league pitcher, Cory Lidle, was 34 and pitching for the Yankees when his plane crashed into a building in New York.

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Donnie Moore took his life in 1989.  We all thought it was because no one him taught him “it’s only just a game”, but his demons ran considerably deeper.

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/10/the-myth-of-the-home-run-that-drove-an-angels-pitcher-to-suicide/247447/

The eight names above are part of a list of 41 players who, since 1964, died while playing Major League baseball.

Contained in this list are so many life lessons.  Drunk driving; drug use; the need to take care of your body and mind; and, universally, the unpredictability of life.

What we impart to our children, on the field, in the classroom, and around the house, needs to include that last lesson.  Life is short; enjoy every moment.  I can speak with first-hand knowledge of how precious the moments are, and how you regret them when they are gone.  Play hard, play to win, but, most importantly, play.  Smile, laugh, enjoy yourself.  You never know when those moments will be no more.

As baseball fans, we talk about the hit-and-run, and the suicide squeeze, and gunning him down, and do-or-die moments, and yet none of those actually ring true.  Life is precious, games are games, and perspective is necessary.  So, no matter who you root for, come Tuesday (or Wednesday) night, when people are rioting and looting in San Francisco and/or Kansas City, try to remember, and try to teach our kids, it’s only just a game.

And with that, PLAY BALL!

THAT JUST CAN’T HAPPEN

THAT JUST CAN’T HAPPEN

 Over the past few years, I have seen my son strike out looking with runners on base in late innings situations.  And each time I have the same response: “that just can’t happen”.

I coach my son’s travel team, and I find myself saying, on a weekly basis, after one pratfall or another, “that just can’t happen”.

And yet, time and again, it happens.

I think we sometimes (read: all the time) forget that (a) we are dealing with kids and (b) the fact that they are kids is wholly and totally irrelevant.  I was reminded of this – yet again – as I watched the Dodgers lose to the Cardinals – yet again.

It seems that the Cardinals rarely have a “that can’t happen” moment, while the Dodgers had a few too many.  But it isn’t just the Dodgers.

And, when I reference “that just can’t happen” plays, I don’t mean bloopers.  I mean plays that, if your head was in the game, if you kept your focus, if you played like you were taught, and/or if you understood the magnitude of the moment, the play would never have happened.

My first memory of a “that just can’t happen” moment hails from the 1988 NLCS (although I am sure if I really search my memory banks, I could probably come up with an earlier example).  Two years ago this Sunday, Game 7 of the NLCS, Dodger Stadium, top of the 9th inning, two outs, and a 3-2 count (before you scroll down, do you remember what happened?).

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Howard Johnson strikes out looking to end the 1988 NLCS:

Two years later, a somewhat meaningless game early in the season, the Mets strike again.  David Cone decides it makes more sense to have his voice heard than concern himself with the runners on base:

I am sure the ‘90s are chalk full of examples, but I was too busy in college and law school to plop myself in front of SportsCenter every night to catalogue them.  Worry not, the most recent decade does not want for examples of “that just can’t happen” moments:

2006 NLCS, Game 7, Mets trail the Cardinals 3-1, the bases are loaded with a 3-2 count and 2 outs in the bottom fo the 9th .  Does it get any more perfect?  Oh, and at the plate is a guy who hit 41 HRs and knocked in 116 during the season.  So, naturally . . .

But wait, there’s more.  2010 NLCS, Phillies trail the Giants 3-2 with 2 on and 2 out in the bottom of the 9th inning, a guy who had 229 homeruns over the course of the past 5 seasons at the plate:

http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/0/v12902225

League Championship Series, that is chump change.  Let’s up the ante.  2012 World Series, Tigers trail the Giants three games to none, down a run in the bottom of the 10th inning, THE TRIPLE CROWN WINNER at the plate:

The following season.  A lovely Sunday afternoon at Chavez Ravine. Juan Uribe holding third after a sacrifice fly that moved all the runners up, when Evan Longoria does his best Little League or Bill Veeck impersonation, and catches the portly third baseman off guard:

Here is a really painful one.  Game 4 of the 2013 World Series, Cardinals trail the Red Sox 4-2 in the bottom of the 9th.  With one out, Allen Craig singles to right, bringing the tying run to the plate.  After an out is recorded, the Cardinals’ last hope is potential future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran – he of the career .333 post-season batting average and 16 post-season homeruns; the guy looking for redemption for his ʞ in 2006.  Before Beltran could even dig in, let alone swing his lofty bat, Wong got caught leaning:

 

This one hits a little too close to home, as I was coaching a game a few years ago that we lost when our pitcher could not execute an intentional walk with the winning run on 3rd base and two outs. However, in this case, it worked out well, as the Nationals ended up recording the out when (a) Buster Posey was late breaking to the plate (borderline “that just can’t happen”) and (b) Wilson Ramos makes a terrific recovery and throw.  To set the stage, Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS, the Giants have just taken a 3-2 in the bottom of the 7th inning (on a wild pitch, no less), and the Nationals were intentionally walking Pablo Sandoval to set up the double-play:

http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/eye-on-baseball/24742788/video-wild-pitch-on-intentional-walk-leads-to-nats-giants-controversy

And lastly, to the chagrin of Dodgers fans all over the Southland; a play that has been overlooked due to a knock, a bloop, a hanging curveball, and a legacy tainted.  But, lest there be any doubt, this play will loom large for years to come.  Game 4 of the 2014 NLDS, the Dodgers plate two runs in the top of the 6th to break a scoreless tie.  With two outs, Andre Ethier leads from 3rd and Juan Uribe scoots off 1st.  Seth Maness bounces a pitch that looks to get past Yadier Molina.  If nothing else, the Dodgers will have two runners in scoring position with A.J. Ellis (he of the .538 average in the series) at the plate.  Well, if nothing else, unless (a) Ethier strays too far from the bag, and (b) Ethier decides to keep his uniform pristine.  Get dirty, get safe.  Ethier chooses not to; Molina guns to Matt Carpenter (damn that guy!); Carpenter tags Ethier on the forearm (the forearm, really!?); rally over; inning over; a few minutes later, season over.

http://m.mlb.com/news/article/97888478/cardinals-challenge-overturns-safe-call-ends-dodgers-threat

The moral of the story: it’s not worth pulling our hair out when our kids do stupid shit on the baseball field.  All told, the stories above include players who made a combined $80M in salaries in the years those plays occurred.

It seems that money can’t buy happiness, and it sure as hell can’t always buy competence.

[SMH] “That just can’t happen!”

PLAY BALL!!

THROW BACK MONDAY

THROW BACK MONDAY

The cycle of life.  Everything that’s old is new again.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Every dog has its day.

I awoke this morning and went deep into my closet to pull out my Guess flap-pocket jeans. They were right next to the double-collared Izod shirt and white Reebok “trainers” (the ones with the Velcro straps across the top).

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Sitting on my desk, below the pennants I got at every Dodger game (when such pedestrian souvenirs were available), was my tape recorder – the one with the handle that slides in when not being used – which currently holds my Bar Mitzvah practice tape.  Man, I hated that tape.

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I walked out the door, got on the bus, and headed for 6th, 7th, or 8th grade.  I cannot remember which.  I just remember feeling a bit awkward, and not knowing – with any certainty – what my friends were thinking or which girl I liked was willing “to go” with me.  The one thing I did know, for sure, was that I had my Sony Watchman in my backpack and I was going to surreptitiously watch a playoff game between periods and at lunch.

Blog_Watchman_1

Yes, this morning we are back in the early to mid ’80s.  Why do the names Reagan, Oliver, and Fawn mean so much to me?

The Royals vs. the Orioles for the right to play in the World Series.  Where did the time go?

Quick, how many players from those teams can you recall right now? Go (don’t scroll down yet).

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My list:

Royals: Willie Wilson, Willie Aikens, Frank White, George Brett, Jamie Quirk, John Wathan, Onix Concepcion, Steve Balboni, Buddy Biancalana, Dane (not Garth) Iorg, Lonnie Smith (after his Cardinals years), Hal McRae

Orioles: Al Bumbry, Ken Singleton, Jim Palmer, Storm Davis, Rick Dempsey, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken, Lenn Sakata, “Disco” Danny Ford (pre-Angels), John Lowenstein, Gary (not Ron) Roenicke

Check your own memory:

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/teamstats/roster.php?y=1983&t=BAL

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/teamstats/roster.php?y=1985&t=KCA

How weird is it that our kids are going through, and dealing with, the same things that we were the last time these two teams were relevant.  We all love to live in the world of nostalgia, but this TRULY brings it home.

How many of you can remember, with perfect clarity, when Don Denkinger became persona non grata in St. Louis and a hero in Kansas City?

http://m.mlb.com/video/v13062921/85-ws-gm-6-stlkc-denkinger-misses-the-call

Do you remember when we all thought Cal Ripken would be playing in Octobers for years to come?

Growing up, Rick Dempsey lived down the street, and he would always drive around in that tan Chevy Camaro, license plate: 83WSMVP.  Yeah, those early ’80s baseball teams were my childhood.

So, last night, watching the hometown Angels lose out to the upstart Royals, I was not nearly as pained as my son.  I took heart in being young again.

When, earlier in the day, the Orioles powered their way through Motown, I was hit with a double-dose.  Although the Tigers have won and been relevant recently, to me it will always be 1984, with Kirk Gibson hitting a ball into the upper deck of “Old” Tiger Stadium off Goose Gossage.

It has been many years.  We’ve learned a little and lived a lot, but, boy-oh-boy, sometimes I truly wish I was still 12 years old.

This weekend, if even for just a few brief moments, I was a kid again!

 

Blog_Orioles_3  Blog_Royals_2

PLAY BALL!!

 

 

October Madness Begins (in September)

Yesterday was the tipping point.  Actually, Tuesday night got me to the edge, and Wednesday my colleagues pushed me over the edge.  I had to start writing.

Bill Simmons started his “Boston Sports Guy” blog in the 90s to give a “regular fan’s perspective” on sports.  He has never avoided his biases nor held his tongue (or his fingers), and as recently as last week, that got him in a load of trouble.  But now Bill Simmons (love him or hate him) is the most the successful sportswriter in America.  He is friends with many of the people he writes about; he has multiple forums to express his opinions within the ESPN empire; he is no longer just a “regular fan”.

When it comes to baseball, I don’t think I am a regular fan either.  I am a little obsessed.  Not 24/7, studying the Sabermetrics, memorizing FIP and BABIP.  But definitely one who enjoys the sport maybe a little too much.  What I have found over the past few years, however, is there are many people just like me.  People who played baseball growing up; who maybe coach it now; they may play some occasional softball; who watch Sunday Night Baseball and Baseball Tonight; people tuned into the MLB Network and read Buster Olney, and to whom the names Keith Law and Tim Kurkjian and Greg Amsinger are not foreign.  People who want nothing more than to visit Studio 42.  Guys who like to sit around and just discuss baseball.  And it doesn’t have to be MLB; it can be college; or the minors; or, probably more often than not, Little League baseball.  There is a whole universe of people like me out there who simply cannot get enough.

The non-baseball lovers don’t understand it.  “The game is too boring”, they say; they would rather watch football or basketball.  To them I say, “you are right”, baseball is boring.  But when you love something as much as we do, we can overlook its shortcomings.  We can find ways to fill those long pauses such that time doesn’t just stand still.

I have a friend who used to be a non-believer (he may be converted by now), who used to say that the most exciting thing in baseball is the home run, and that, in and of itself, is not that exciting.  I would strenuously disagree with him – the home run is not the most exciting thing in baseball.  The most exciting thing in baseball is the game-saving catch; the dive to preserve the no-hitter;

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the play at the plate (with or without the enforcement of Rule 7.13) (and, by the way, if that reference doesn’t make sense to you, this blog may not be for you); the 3-2 change-up; the 10-pitch at bat with the game on the line; “a slow roller up along first . . .” (again, if you don’t get that reference, this blog may not be for you).  The home run is all fine and dandy – and chicks love the long ball – but that is not what the purists, the true lovers of the game, find to be the most exciting.

A good friend of mine – a non-Time Warner subscriber – recently told me the story of being able to watch the last few Dodger games of the season.  His wife remarked to him that it was such a pleasure to have the voice of Vin Scully back in the house.

That is a baseball fan.  That is to whom this blog is directed.  Someone – like me – who felt nothing but sheer joy hearing Vin Scully interviewed by local radio hacks on my drive home, just so I could hear his voice regaling us with stories of “time everlasting” and “seasons gone by” and “Sandy” and “Mr. Rickey” and on and on.  I am not embarrassed to admit that I will often queue up the DVD of “For Love of the Game” just to hear Vin Scully talk about Billy Chapel “pushing that sun back into the sky to give us one more day or summer.  (Note: I got chills writing those words.).  If you don’t get that reference, and don’t know that line, this blog may not be for you.

Tuesday night could have been a throw-away game.  With due respect to my dear friend and die-hard Royals fan, what was essentially a play-in game between the Royals (they of the light hitting and small ball) and the hapless A’s (who were just lucky the season didn’t have 163 or 164 games, or else they surely would have played themselves out of the post-season) on a Tuesday night – in, of all places, Kansas City.

​But as these things are wont to do, magic happened.  We may all live another 50 years and not see more than a couple of games (baseball or otherwise) with as much tension and excitement as the Wild Card game of September 30, 2014.  There is no need to rehash what happened, as, if you are reading this and have read this far, you watched the game (or at least seen the highlights 10 times).  But what makes it so fascinating, what makes us want to discuss it ad nauseum, were all the small things.  In no particular order:

Two years ago the Royals traded away their best prospect, a power-hitting outfielder who would go on to win the Rookie of the Year, for a big-game pitcher: Big Game James Shields.  And there he was, on the mound for the biggest game of the year, with the lead.​  In the fifth inning, the Royals intrepid manager – no in-game Kasparov – decided to pull Shields with 2 runners on and having only thrown 88 pitches.  One has to ask the question: Why?  Why take out a guy you brought to your organization to pitch this game.  Sure Ned Yost has a bullpen full of flame-throwers, but none with the “Big Game” moniker, none with the experience of Shields, and none with the feel of the game.  And, sure as day follows night, three pitches later Brandon Moss launched a 98MPH fastball out to dead center. Goodbye baseball; goodbye lead; goodbye Ned Yost (or so we thought).

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Shields_1

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More interesting and curious items from an incredible – if not beautiful – game.  In the same way that the Royals brought Shields in to pitch the big one, before the July 31st trade deadline, the A’s traded away their best power hitter (an almost unheard of move) to bring in Jon Lester from Boston.  Why?  Because Billy Beane felt he needed a proven, Big Game pitcher.  That was all well and good until the 8th, with the A’s comfortably ahead 7-3.  Query: Why keep Lester out there that long when you have a bullpen full of arms who can get the last 6 outs and get the A’s to Anaheim?  But, you guessed it, nothing like that happened.  Bob Melvin stuck with Lester – even after all the obvious signs of the wheels coming off were apparent: a walk and an error by the sure-handed short stop. The baseball gods had spoken. Bing, bang, boom, the score was 7-6, 1 out, runners in scoring position.

A micro microcosm of the A’s season – had a lead, couldn’t hold it. But wait, the Royals could not convert – 7 sliders and 6 horrible swings later – and the A’s were out of it. The entire East Bay sighed in relief; and 40,000+ fans collectively screamed “FUCK” (just not loud enough for the kids to hear).  Query: I know it is easy for me to say sitting 1600 miles away on my couch, but how do professional hitters continue to chase the same shitty slider low and away.  Miss one, okay; two, maybe; a third, come on.  But if that happens, how does the next guy – ostensibly watching from the on-deck circle (doing his homework, as it is said) – do the exact same thing?  And I thought being a Little League manager was frustrating!

So, rather than cursing them, the baseball gods gave the A’s a reprieve.  But three small outs to go.  And then but two outs to go.  And here is when the classic begins.  The Royals did what they do – a dink single, followed by a perfect sacrifice.  Jarrod Dyson, the speedster was taking his lead from 2nd.  Did anyone else notice – the camera angle was perfect – that Dyson did not get deep on his lead off 2nd?  We teach our kids to get deep so that they have a better angle around third.  But Dyson went straight off the base. I noticed, but apparently the A’s did not.  With the brass of a gunslinger, Dyson took off for 3rd with a left-handed runner up.

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Ballsy move.  Sac fly.  Free baseball.

Down 8-7 in the 12th, the A’s were again two outs away.  NEVER count down outs.  Eric Hosmer crushed a ball to deep left center. For those of you who didn’t watch the game but only saw the highlights, the first of two very interesting pieces of information to address here:

  1. Coco Crisp started the game in center, with Sam Fuld in left.  Crisp left the game with a hamstring injury, forcing Melvin to move Fuld to center and bring Johnny Gomes in to play left.  Was it a lack of communication between two players not accustomed to being in the outfield together?  Was it possible for Coco Crisp – who made the amazing catch in the triangle to end the 2007 ALCS for the Red Sox – to make a leaping catch and save the game?  Did it not matter one way or the other as Hosmer’s ball was simply uncatchable?  We will never know.

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In any event, Hosmer ends up on third, the tying run just 90 feet away, with one down.  All the Royals needed was a little flyball, but that was too much to ask.  Rather, they got a high bouncer.  Hosmer read it perfectly (you cannot teach that – it has to be instinct) and dove home safely to tie the game.  But now the winning run was on first.  The second interesting antidote:

2.  It is well known that Jon Lester has a hard time holding runners on.  In fact, among 498 pitchers with at least 15 innings pitched this year, Jon Lester was the only one who didn’t attempt any pickoff throws.  To combat this, the A’s started Geovany Soto behind the plate – as he is better at throwing out base stealers.  So what do you know, with runners on 1st and 3rd with two out in the first inning, Lester attempts a pick-off throw (his first of the year).  Billy Butler got caught in a run-down, but when Steven Vogt threw home to get the runner breaking from third, Soto’s thumb got jammed. The A’s got the final out of the inning, but lost their good-throwing catcher.

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Derek Norris moved behind the plate in the second inning, and the Royals promptly stole 6 bases over the next 11 innings.  None more important than Christian Colon’s steal in the 12th.  After knocking in Hosmer with the infield single, the A’s knew Colon would be looking to go.  They read it perfectly and called a pitch-out.  But Derek Norris, nobody’s Johnny Bench, fumbled the pitch, and now the winning run was in scoring position.

So up comes Salvador Perez.  He of the 0-5 and the very ugly strike out with the tying run on third in the 8th.  Five of the last six pitches Perez saw were strikes – and they were all sliders low and away.  So why not go there again?  They do, but somehow Perez gets decent wood on it, shoots it up the third baseline, Donaldson reaches with every ounce of his being, and the rest is history.

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We can – and probably will – talk about this game for years to come. But the great news is that we have 4 series about to start.  We have an entire month of October to create new memories and countless talking points.  Wainwright and Kershaw haven’t even toed the rubber; Trout and Cabrera haven’t even dug in.  Verlander, Scherzer, Yadi, Adam Jones, the possibilities are endless.

There is so much more to come. I could not be more excited.

And if you have read this far, I am pretty sure you are too.

PLAY BALL!

p.s.       Future versions of this blog may not (or may) be this long!