Tuesday, December 10, 2013

One Fair Night in October: Harry Leroy Halladay, Christopher John Carpenter, and the Great Duel of Our Time

As it goes so often in the game of baseball, dominant pitching tends to be much like a fistful of matchsticks. New power arms present themselves as a long-lasting sources of heat, but inevitably flame out twice as fast as they came. There are exceptions, however. In the mid-nineteen-nineties, the Toronto Blue Jays drafted a pair of right-handed pitchers straight out of high school. In 1993, it was Chris Carpenter. Two years later, Roy Halladay would join the Toronto organization. While fate would draw both men from their Canadian beginnings to separate ends, the friendship that was planted as Blue Jays grew through the years. As both men announced their retirement this offseason, their remarkably impressive careers are presented as Hall of Fame applications. Though the many awards and accomplishments will come to define their careers, it was one cool night in early October 2011 that will linger on long after the bronze has tarnished.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Endless Bloom of Summer: The Canberra Cavalry, The 2013 Asia Series, and the Arrival of Australian Baseball

In one fell swoop, the mustachioed twenty-five year old catcher put the game away. While the name Jack Murphy may not be common to the tongues of those in his native United States, it is now spoken with the regard of nobility in his adopted home of Australia. In a handshake of days, Murphy hit perhaps the two most important home runs in the fledgling game of baseball down under. Late Wednesday night in Taiwan, the Canberra Cavalry completed what is perhaps one of the most impressive underdog stories in the game's history, and made a global statement for baseball in the land of Oz.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Coronation at Fenway: The Stumbling of a Prodigy and the Culmination of a Comeback

Matt Carpenter swung free at Koji Uehara's last offering. In a way, the game was already over. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, the Boston Red Sox led by five runs. Uehara had been nearly unhittable for the better part of the year. Perhaps in the back of Carpenter's mind, his at bat was merely delaying the inevitable. The eighty-one miles per hour slider was beyond his grasp. As the baseball halted within the glove of David Ross, it was all over. The St. Louis Cardinals, for all of their stellar young pitching and clutch hitting, had been felled by the better team.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Of Pins and Needles: Dueling Aces and the Last Night in St. Louis

David Ross was out at the plate. Yadier Molina had caught a near perfect throw from outfielder Shane Robinson to apply the tag in time. The out ended the top of the seventh inning. It ended the Boston rally that gave them a two run lead late in the crucial game five, and it ended the night for St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright. What the back pages will see is the three runs he allowed, Wainwright's performance Monday night was nothing short of masterful. But as he rested in the dugout, his team could not reciprocate his efforts.  Wainwright's counterpart, Red Sox stalwart Jon Lester, had been nearly his equal. Lester had given up only one run and punched only seven strikeouts, but in the end it was deemed plenty by the Red Sox offense.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Sleight of Hand: The Home Run, the Pickoff, and Another Enigmatic Ending

In an instant, game four was over. First baseman Mike Napoli showed his glove to the nearest umpire, then raised it in victory. Koji Uehara had picked-off pinch runner Kolten Wong to seal the win for Boston. At the plate, with the tying run on, was Carlos Beltran. There would be no clutch two-run home run from an October legend, only stunned silenced. For the second straight night, a World Series game ended in a way none had in history. Despite the history of the moment, the defining image from this game likely will not be Uehara's quick-thinking toss to first, but the home run that put the Red Sox up for good.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Immaculate Obstruction: A Game for the Ages and the Twelve Seconds of Infamy

When Jarrod Saltalamacchia caught the ball for the last time Saturday night, the game was tied. He applied the tag before the baserunner touched home plate. For a moment, there was confusion. Four seconds before Allen Craig was tagged out at the plate, he tripped over Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who had attempted to make a play to send the game to extra innings. Whether intentional or not, Middlebrooks was called for obstruction, as he was in the path of Craig. For the second straight game, fate turned in favor of the Cardinals on an errant throw from home to third. But while the obstruction itself will be over-analyzed for years to come, how game three even required a moment  is equally bizarre

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Simple Twise of Fate: A Fleeting Lapse in Judgment and the Sea Change of Red October

As the ball jostled in Jarrod Saltalamacchia's glove, he withdrew his attempt at picking off the runner stealing second base. It was a double steal. Jon Jay took second and Pete Kozma took third. In an instant, the double-play chance was gone. Kozma darted home following a Matt Carpenter sacrifice fly to left. Johnny Gomes made the catch and threw a dart toward home plate. Saltalamacchia lunged for the ball, with hope he could swing around and tag the sliding Kozma. The ball dribbled away. Pitcher Craig Breslow fielded the ball and whipped it to third as Jay was sliding. The throw was out of shortstop Stephen Drew's reach and sailed into the crowd. With two out in the seventh inning, Jay took home on Breslow's error. The St. Louis Cardinals now had a lead to which they would not relent, and wiped away the drubbing of game one.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Margin of Error: The St. Louis Amateur Hour and the Gift of Another Day

As the ball rested lifeless near their feet, pitcher Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina rested their hands on their knees in anguish. It was the easiest of outs, but mis-communication allowed the ball to plop dead between the battery. The Boston lead would grow in that inning from an unpleasant three runs to a daunting five. Before the night was through, the Cardinals would trail by as many as eight runs. The fall classic had begun in the form of a landslide for the home team. But while the Cardinals may have been beaten in an overwhelming fashion in game one, they still possess baseball's greatest gift- tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Rites of Autumn: The Boston Red Sox, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the 2013 World Series

The proverbial dust has settled. Baseball was never meant to be a sprint, but an agonizing marathon of struggle and resiliency. As the daylight wanes, so goes the relevancy of baseball teams. What remains is two. Boston and St. Louis, the champions of the American and National Leagues, will now play deep into the frigid cavern of late October. Alone in the gradually impatient nightfall of Autumn, only the best remain in a way that is almost unprecedented in recent years. For the first time since 1999, the top regular-season teams in each league have made the game's greatest stage. While it may be seen as the prevailing of the status quo, the 2013 World Series can also be viewed as a throwback to a time long before this writer was alive. In a game so hellbent on respecting the history of generations past, the current versions of the Red Sox and Cardinals represent their respective histories in a remarkably serendipitous fashion.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Ten Years in Purgatory: Blame, Heartache and the Consequence of Presumption

If you ask a Cubs fan to recall October 14, 2003, the immediate reaction is always a look away, a head shake, and a deep sigh. I was two months away from seventeen years of age that night. Now as I near twenty-seven, the wounds are long past the point of divine healing. Five outs from glory, five outs from breaking the "curse," the Cubs fell apart in a way that could not be replicated if anyone was sick enough to try.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Take This To Your Grave: Max Scherzer, David Ortiz, and the Death of the Foregone Conclusion

Whenever the baseball rolls kind to one, it rolls cruel to another. In a moment, everything can change. As Detroit steamrolled toward a dominant victory and two game lead in the American League Championship Series, fate intervened. Despite allowing only one hit in the first fourteen innings of the series, a splinter in the Tigers' armor was found and exploited. In an instant, the tide moved in a sea change as a Boston legend perhaps sealed his legacy more than he ever had before tonight.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fate is Just a Red Herring: The Best Divisional Round Ever and Finding Beauty in the Inevitability of the Status Quo

The underdog is a fickle beast. Though strides from irrelevance to infamy will create hallowed legends for a franchise, seldom is the winner of this sort. Conventional reasoning will say that through proper management, those quirky exceptions will someday become standards of success, but for now they are relegated to the mire of thanking fans for their support that year. Detroit, Boston, St. Louis, and Los Angeles were supposed to be here. Be it via high payroll, player development, a winning culture, or all of the above, the finest teams now sit atop the baseball mountain. While many will find fault in the lack of an underdog legend team to cheer for, what awaits those close to the heart of the game is baseball at its highest level.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

For One Night Only, pt. 2: The End of Ohio and the Art of Hesitation

Sunday afternoon, the Tampa Bay Rays played a must-win game in Toronto. Monday night, they played another must-win in Arlington. Wednesday, the Rays played yet one more in Cleveland. Even for a team accustomed to late-season pressure, the idea of winning three straight road games against increasingly tougher opponents seemed a bit daunting. Yet by the end of the night, they had won all three, and booked a date with the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series on Friday night.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

For One Night Only, pt. 1: The Steel City Blackout and the Forsaking of the Cincinnati Reds

It ended as it had begun- loud. The more than forty-thousand in attendance at PNC Park would not relent their cries from first pitch to the final out. It had been twenty-one years since the Pittsburgh Pirates won a playoff game. On the arm of a journeyman with a seemingly-possessed slider, the packed house on the Allegheny River, nearly all clad in black, set the stage for a moment more than two decades in the making. The drama never climaxed past the fourth inning, but in the end the game had presented itself as another brilliantly crafted page of prose in an already classic tale of redemption.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Like Death and Taxes: Fan Appreciation and the Closing Day* for the American Association

It is often said of baseball that there is always a tomorrow. No matter how awful you or your team perform, tomorrow is a new day with new possibilities for success. The game's forgiving nature only lasts so long, however. As the daylight hours steadily shrink in number and crisp air rushes in from the Northwest, baseball's promise of tomorrow is broken. The season must end. For some, life goes on in the postseason. For most, it is merely a final chance to step into the box before spring. On Labor Day, September 2nd, the Gary Southshore Railcats and El Paso Diablos played the final game of their respective regular seasons. El Paso would win, but Gary would live to play on at least one more week. For those who filled the seats on the ceremonial last day of summer, the day would be won ultimately by the calling card of independent baseball- unparalleled fan experience.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

1992 to Forever: The Pittsburgh Pirates and Solving the Moses Complex

As the story goes, Moses never set foot in the promised land, he merely witnessed his long-sought paradise from a mountain. A generation lost in the wilderness was too long. There have been many fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates who perished before this season. Wandering in the unholy mire of losing season after losing season, the identity of the team became synonymous with crippling failure. Today marks the beginning of the end. To the season, and to the more than two decades of tribulation. As I write, Pittsburgh sits tied atop the National League Central division. Much like that mountain Moses stood upon, the Pirates can see the promised land in the distance, but unlike the ancient prophet, this land of milk and honey is within reach.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On To Milwaukee (or) The First Low Outside Curve Ballpark Road Trip

I've often heard that the two things America will be remembered for, hundreds of years from now, will be the Constitution and jazz music. Both represent a cultural shift that grew to affect the world. Americans did not invent democracy or social reason, nor were they the first to apply rhythm and melody, but they pushed each form forward. I would venture to believe that baseball and the road trip are in near equal standing in the canon of American lore. Once more, Americans neither invented sports or travel, but there is something so uniquely American about each. Baseball has often been a catalyst for social change, be it worker unions or integration. The dream of the open road, exploring the unknown in a car with some friends, is at the heart of what it means to be from this nation. Last Sunday, I took a trip to Milwaukee with three of my best friends to see a baseball game. The score will someday soon be forgotten, but it is the experience that will hold through time.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Biogenesis

The dark cloud of the Biogenesis investigations that had been looming over Major League Baseball for the past month, tainting the reputations of beloved players throughout the league, finally burst open and rained down lengthy suspensions for thirteen players on August 5, 2013. Nelson Cruz, Everth Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, and Alex Rodriguez all fell victim to the Biogenesis scandal. Also, let’s not forget Biogenesis’ first victim, Ryan Braun.
            
Ryan Braun was first accused for testing positively for performance enhancing drugs in late 2011, and would have had to serve a fifty game suspension at the beginning of the 2012 season. An outraged Braun questioned the way his sample was handled and the time frame in which it was tested, took a second test that came up normal, appealed his suspension and won on a 2-1 vote. Now, Ryan Braun isn’t exactly built like the kind of guy you would typically see being accused of using PED’s i.e. Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Roger Clemens. Combine that with how emphatically he fought to clear his name, and honestly, he had me convinced at the time that he was clean. Did he get off on a technicality? Yes, but he was cleared by two out of three members of the arbitration panel, so at least two other people believed him as well. Fast forward to July 22, 2013, the day that made me and at least two other MLB representatives feel like idiots. On July 22, 2013, Ryan Braun was suspended for sixty-five regular season games and all of the post season because of his ties to the Biogenesis clinic and other actions during and after his appeal in 2011/2012. An incredibly humbled Ryan Braun stated “I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.” Ryan Braun’s suspension did not make much of an impact on the Brewers as far as their chances for making it to the post season are concerned. They were nineteen games back the day he got suspended and remain nineteen and a half games back. However, the trust and respect of his teammates, the city of Milwaukee, and baseball fans is going to be hard for him to earn back when he returns next season. 

Nelson Cruz, Everth Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta were all members of the 2013 all-star teams. A few other things they have in common; biogenesis and fifty-game suspensions. The Biogenesis suspensions had the potential to make the MLB trade deadline incredibly interesting this season. Each team affected by suspensions was aware they were going to come down around the time of the deadline. The Rangers had only traded with the Cubs to pick up Matt Garza before the trade deadline because they were unsure whether or not Nelson Cruz was going to appeal his suspension. Once they found out Cruz wasn’t going to appeal, the Rangers struck a deal with the White Sox to acquire Alex Rios. The Padres made no attempt to combat the possible loss of Everth Cabrera, nor did they need to because of the dominating force of the Dodgers in the NL West. The Tigers were the only ones to be proactive and pick up a player to replace Jhonny Peralta before the trade deadline. The Tigers have been in first place in the AL Central for most of the season and weren’t going to compromise their chances for a post-season surge. They were part of the three-team trade that sent Avisail Garcia to the White Sox, Jake Peavy to the Red Sox, and Jose Iglesias to Detroit. Like Cruz, neither Cabrera nor Peralta chose to appeal their suspensions. 

While I don’t want to make light of any of the disciplinary action being taken against these players, by far the biggest story in all of this is Alex Rodriguez. He was sentenced to a 211 game suspension for his ties to Biogenesis as well as for violations of the collective bargaining agreement. He was also the only one of the thirteen players to appeal his suspension, allowing him to play out the remainder of the season. And what a roller coaster ride of a season this has been for A-Rod. An aging A-Rod underwent surgery on his hip for the second time in his career, placing him on the 60-day disabled list at the start of the 2013 season. On July 2nd, Rodriguez started his rehab stint in the minors, but was set back once again when he sustained a Grade 1 quad strain. Fed up with the way the Yankees were handling his rehab, Rodriguez sought a second opinion on his injury on July 24th and was told there were no signs of a quad strain. Rodriguez then claimed the Yankees were keeping him in the minor leagues on purpose. It was not a completely farfetched accusation because the Yankees were well aware that Rodriguez was the center of the Biogenesis investigations and a suspension would mean the Yankees would not have to pay him for the length of his suspension. Rodriguez played his first game of the 2013 season on August 5, the same day the MLB sentenced him with his suspension pending an appeal. In his first at-bat, he was booed by a crowd of 27, 948 at U.S. Cellular Field, deservedly so.

What does this ordeal say for Major League Baseball? How do the players who haven’t taken PED’s feel about the way this was handled? Many of the younger players in the league agree that this is a step in the right direction, but they want harsher punishments for being caught using PED’s. They want steroids out of the game. Mike Trout was not afraid to openly speak his mind saying that anyone caught cheating should be banned for life. Chris Johnson and Josh Hamilton agreed with Trout. The decision to cheat does not only affect these players’ own careers, but the careers of everyone else in the league. They’re unfairly beating players who are playing the game the right way, affecting their statistics, wins, and losses.

The bottom line is professional athletes need to be held to a higher standard. Every one of the guys I named was the hero of some little kid. What kind of example is being set for them? They are not being taught to work hard and practice to become a great player, they’re being taught that it’s okay to cheat. I have to say that I agree with Mike Trout, guys that are caught using PEDs should be banned for life. Right now the precedent is set at fifty games for being caught cheating. What are fifty games out of a 162 game season? It’s a slap on the wrist. The only way to truly start putting an end to steroid use is to make an example out of the cheaters. I don’t care if you are Alex Rodriguez. By not doing so you’re taking away from the integrity of the game. You’re taking the spotlight off guys who are naturally talented. You’re taking the competition away. The game that I and so many other people love is being compromised by players who don’t care about what’s fair and what’s not. It’s hard to say exactly what Major League Baseball will do in the future to continue to combat the plague that is steroid use, but hopefully the clean players will continue to speak out and help figure out a way to bring back the purity of America’s favorite past time.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Last Son of Babylon: Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez and the Life of aManufactured Villain

     For the better part of his life, Alex Rodriguez has been the bad guy. From his high school days in Palmetto Bay to the signing of his ten-year, nearly three-hundred-million dollar contract with the Yankees, he has worn the expectation to become the greatest baseball player of all-time. 13,889 days had passed in Rodriguez's life before Monday. Almost divinely over that time, he had become baseball's quintessential villain. On August 5, 2013, Alex Rodriguez stepped onto a Major League field for the first time this season just hours after being handed the heaviest non-gambling-related penalty in nearly a century. Where did it all go wrong for Alex? Perhaps it was by his own design or by the weight of unprecedented hype. No matter the cause, the role of the game's greatest heel became his destiny.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Children's Game: Wide Eyes, Rain Delays, and the Gary Southshore Railcats

Summer is for the young. As I have grown up and into a day job, the significance of August has faded from my yearly routine. When I was a kid, August meant the end of summer vacation and the ever-dreaded start to the school year. Yet there was always this urgency to make the last few weeks into something special. I would adventure a little further than I had before and stay up as late as possible in attempt to relish every last moment. Attending a baseball game was always the high-water mark of any summer vacation. Walking through the gates and seeing the finely manicured field felt like the first time, every time. As I traveled back to Gary, Indiana's U.S. SteelYard, I found a similar sentiment in the school-age children in attendance.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What Was Twice Is Forever, Then: Timothy Leroy Lincecum and the Cruelty of Understanding

It is said that no good deed goes unpunished. So quickly are the fortunes of a man flipped. No matter the greatness of any defeat, baseball grants a tomorrow in which favor may fall in hand to the defeated. The same can be said about victory. There is rarely a moment so eternally bright that no cloud can dim. The no-hitter, though a surprisingly common feat relative to perfect and four-home-run games, is such a singular event to be praised that it forever hangs on the legacy of he who pitched. So quickly baseball forgives transgressions of the downtrodden. Equally yoked to the present, baseball forgets the proudest of men's accomplishments. Nine days ago, Tim Lincecum was a hero. But last night, the game and the Cincinnati Reds could not care less.

Monday, July 22, 2013

What Was Once Is Now Again: Tim Lincecum and the Well of Persistent Memory

Nine days ago, most of the world outside of San Francisco had forgotten about Tim Lincecum. The twice-anointed best pitcher in the National League had fallen on hard times of late. In the last year and change, the power-pitching Lincecum had gone the way of a champion racehorse. He had been sent out to pasture young, with more lively years ahead than behind. Maybe that was our mistake. He had aged faster than anyone saw possible. Often times when pitchers are forced to change their ways, the alterations either bring more problems into focus or they evolve and become assets. Before July thirteenth, the consensus would be to lump Tim Lincecum into the first column. On that night, a man once lovingly referred to as "the Freak" would summon a few innings from his younger days, and do something he hadn't done before.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Before We Begin Again: Season One at the Break

The beauty of baseball is the inevitability of witnessing something you've never seen before. A timeless moment can occur on any night, in any city. Sometimes the event is the culmination of a career or a season, or it maybe a single-game act of brilliance. In the first few months of the season, we've seen perfect games blown, a full cycle from a phenom, and the greatest hitter alive get better. A crop of remarkable young stars have ushered in a new wave of household names. Rosters will shift by July's end and contenders will separate from those who merely hang on for pride. Chris Davis has thirty-seven home runs. The Pittsburgh Pirates have fifty-six wins. Baseball is a game of patience and expectation. Now we turn the page and begin to unveil our story's climax.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Prodigal Sun: Alfonso Soriano and the Semicolon Legacy

I've lived in the Midwest my entire life, and I've never witnessed the sun set over the horizon beyond California. What I have seen is about ten thousand nightfalls that all end in a relatively similar way. Just as the sun meets a distant western demise, there remains a moment of ghosting light. Seemingly useless because of the inevitable darkness, the faint glow is simply an aesthetic presentation, a waste to those who cannot appreciate such things. Likewise reads the tale of Alfonso Soriano.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Omega and the Alpha: Homer Bailey and the Legend in the Peripheral View

I joked briefly with a co-worker today that the weather felt like September. The air was cool and damp with heavy cloud cover bracing the would-be brutal July sun. It was less of a rain, more of a weighted mist. Something like early autumn. A state's length away in Southern Ohio, Homer Bailey felt like September as well. He had thrown a no-hitter on the twenty eighth day of that month last year. No pitcher had completed the feat since. Tonight, Bailey was in that autumnal form against the defending champion San Francisco Giants.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Eulogy for a Supernova: Carlos Marmol and the Ghost of Resiliency

It had become a foregone conclusion. If Carlos Marmol came in to a game with any kind of lead, it was surely gone. The man had become so beleaguered by the North Side faithful that upon his designation for assignment this afternoon, seldom an empathetic soul could be found. What may be thrown by the wayside is how truly dominant Marmol was. At his peak, he averaged nearly two strikeouts per inning. In 2007, he received a few most valuable player votes. He was a late-inning linchpin to a Cubs pitching staff that won two consecutive division titles. Carlos Marmol's legacy is made with ninth inning collapses, but in the end, his epitaph still reads ALL-STAR.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The First Generation: Bryce Harper and the New Power Rising from the Wake of Deception

When the 1990's came to a close, the home run was king. Baseball was in a period of unprecedented power. I was preparing to enter the formative years of my mid-teens. As a child in the time of McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, and Griffey, I was awestruck by the ease to which these apparent superheroes could hit the ball. The otherworldly rate of home runs got me into the game, and I still look at the summer of 1998 as the one that saved baseball after the canceled season of 1994. So imagine my disappointment when the news came down that most of the players I worshiped back then had used steroids to increase their ability to heal and grow muscle. I was devastated. The Mitchell Report, the damning document that tore through the lineup of my childhood heroes, was released on December 13th, 2007- my 21st birthday.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Homer and the Gloamin': Wrigley Field and the Literal Fog of Uncertainty

Summer is a tardy soul. While it will waste no time in departure come October, there are years where it is as if the warmer months have ceded their dominion to an eternal spring. While the vernal equinox is often considered a time of rebirth, this lingering air of wavering atmosphere can bring about meteorological phenomena that present a different symbolism. On June 10th, 2013, a dense fog covered the full breadth of Chicago, Illinois. A product of the stillness and late blooming warmth, the city on the lake fell prey to nature. With all of mankind's capability, he is still rendered a victim to the power of the unpredictable. Like many nights before and yet to come, the Chicago Cubs lost. Coincidentally, the very fog that nearly halted play became a clear representation of their quest back to contention.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Built For Cuban Links: Yasiel Puig Valdés and the Grand Hype Machine

Summer brings many things- more sunshine, less clothing, and without fail, the summer blockbusters. Big movie studios tread out their big-budget titans midsummer to lure the disposable-income led youth. Year after year, it pays off. Baseball has its yearly tradition as well. The early summer call ups of hyped prospects with nearly insurmountable weight on their shoulders. Sometimes the summer gives us Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. But it's this hype that lessens the impact of non-superstars, simply because the mainstream has come to expect the next blockbuster prospect to be unveiled once June rolls around.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Perennial Plight of the Pittsburgh Pirates (or) You Seriously Can't Lose Them All, Right?

Baseball has many streaks and superstitions. In a sport where a hitter may get three or more chances at the plate per game, in 162 games, streaks are inevitable. But when the individual becomes a part of the whole, those streaks can manifest into a period of futility rarely seen in professional sports.

Friday, May 17, 2013

And On Into the Night: Opening Day for the Gary Southshore Railcats

Along the Southernmost reach of grand Lake Michigan, lies a city long in the tooth of industry. Gary, Indiana. A place well framed in a legacy of both pride and plight. Generations have earned their livelihoods in her steel mills. The grit of no-collar profession is embedded in the seams and cracks of a once flourishing Chicago suburb. Gary is of its own prerogative, never bowing to the stagnant woes of an ill reputation. Nestled between fourth and fifth avenues, a ballpark seems politely out of place among the burgeoning ghost town in its company. Yet just inside U.S. Steel Yard, the home of the Gary Southshore Railcats, an oasis is laid out in serenity between two foul poles.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Children's Game: Walking Off and Coming Home

Home. It can be a physical place. It can be a state of mind. The word 'home' conveys a sense of comfort. A feeling that wherever you go, no matter how far from it you may stray, home is there, waiting patiently for your return. As a child, playing outside late into the twilight of an endless summer, home was a reluctant retirement to the day's activities. Still, there was the notion in the back of my mind that this is where I belonged. It is the emotional comfort of a home, whether it is as much as a town or as little as a long ago memory, that calls us back time and time again to unwind and rid ourselves of any worry. Home is where you start. It's where your life begins. It's where you make your first mistakes, and where you achieve your earliest goals. Failures are the building blocks to success. In baseball, it is often said that even the best hitters in the game will fail seventy percent of the time. Yet through the tribulations a batter will face, sometimes he will find himself coming home in the grandest fashion.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Los Angeles Aggrivation: A Lesson in Economics, Brought to You by the Letters W and L

Whappens when a baseball player is given an absurd amount of money to play a children's game? What are the expectations of a pitcher with a seven year, $200 million contract? What about a first basemen set to make nearly $100 million more than that over ten years? Whatever the answers to those questions are, the Dodgers and Angels are not getting it. At the time of writing this, the Los Angeles Dodgers are in last place. Yes, it is barely May, but the signs so far are less than comforting. They have given up thirty-six more runs than they have scored. Their American League counterparts, the Angels, aren’t much better. There is plenty of time for their respective teams to get back on track, but if the slow starts turn into struggling summers, heads may roll in the city of angels.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Avoiding the Inevitable: James Anthony Happ and the Inherent Risk

Sixty feet, six inches separate the pitching rubber from home plate. Subtract a yard or so for pitcher follow-through. Now add a tightly-wound, fist-sized missile. There is not much time to react. Yet since the game's humble beginnings, pitchers have managed to escape a fatal blow to the head. Tuesday night, Toronto pitcher J.A. Happ took a Desmond Jennings comebacker off the left side of his skull. The ball trickled toward the outfield. Happ collapsed to the ground. With all of the pitches, in all of the games, in all of the seasons in Major League Baseball's history, Happ's brush with fate may be the one to finally initiate the conversation of pitcher safety.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Sun Will Rise: Matt Harvey and the Renewable Resource of Talent

For nearly two decades, I have followed a number of sports with heartbreaking loyalty. Be it baseball, basketball, football, hockey, golf, or tennis, I can be found lurking a stat sheet or highlight reel any given night. I've seen some of the greatest to play their respective sports. Athletes who are so transcendent of their game, they are instantly recognizable by one name. Jordan. Manning. Bonds.Woods. Sampras. Before they were legends, there was Bird. Montana. Rose. Nicklaus. McEnroe. Historic talent replenishes itself. This has always been one of my favorite aspects of professional sports.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Let's Play One: The Oakland A's, The Los Angeles Angels, and the Marathon While You Slept

I was asleep. Most of America was asleep. As Oakland and Los Angeles crept into the sixth hour of their slobberknocker, a majority of baseball fans had no idea what has happening. In a game without a clock, time stood still. In the wee hours of the Oakland midnight, it seemed as if the Athletics and Angels might play forever. The likely most maddening part of it all, is that going into the bottom of the eighth inning, Los Angeles was up by five runs. Apparently the Halos failed to remember that the A's hate to lose.

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Tightening of the Laces: Donald Lutz and the Emerging European Game

Baseball is America's pastime. While that implies a sense of ownership of the game, recent memory will prove quite the contrary. We have the World Baseball Classic as an example. Detractors will spout cliches of how the United States players do not want to participate, but in the end the world still makes a case. Japan, with an organized and respected baseball league of nearly a century, won the first to Classic titles. This year, it was the Dominican Republic atop the baseball world. Both countries are established goldmines of talent. But what about the 'lesser' countries? Those nations just planting their respective flag in the baseball landscape; Spain, Brazil, and Germany. Traditional soccer powerhouses are growing into baseball upstarts.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Ides of April: Philip Humber and the Unsinkable Truth

December 21, 2012. I was at a bar in Chicago, aptly named The Elbo Room. I had been asked by a friend to play a couple songs to open his set. My girlfriend came up from Indiana to see me play. Some people thought the world would end that night. I felt like I was on top of it, even if I only played to a handful of friends and a half-dozen barflies. It was nearly the end of a year that had brought a lot of change into my life. I had moved to Chicago with some friends that summer. That night, somewhere across the vast expanse between our borders, Philip Humber turned thirty. It was a big year for the Texas native as well. He was, and still is, a rather mediocre pitcher. But from time to time, we are reminded that with a little luck, average can become legendary.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Anger in the Hearts of Men: The Penance of Carlos Quentin

The heart of a man is like a minefield. There may be a thousand steps taken, but the one that is remembered most is that which triggered the mine. Sometimes our emotions are an easy stroll. In some instances, we may force all of our weight down upon that detonator. Off it goes, casting a lawless mob of shrapnel into the peaceful sky. One week ago, Carlos Quentin completed a swan dive from the top plank onto an explosive, set and armed by Zack Greinke.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Nothing Quite Like It: A Day in the Baseball Life

On a hot summer day at the ballpark, it’s the bottom of the ninth. The home team is down by a run. They have a runner on third with two outs. The next batter steps in to the box; takes first pitch strike and the entire park lets out a collective sound of distress. The next two pitches are called balls, sparking hope once again into the hearts of the spectators. The batter gets set, staring down the opposing pitcher, silently challenging him. As the next pitch comes in, the batter goes back and forth in his mind; swing or take? He decides to swing, and with the crack of the bat, there’s a brief moment of silence as all eyes are on the ball heading toward center field. That moment of silence is followed quickly by an uproar of cheers as the crowd watches the ball sail out of the park and into the hands of a lucky fan; the game-winning home run ball.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

21st Century Man: Torii Hunter and the Full Circle

Can you remember where you were thirteen years ago? For some it may be a brief fraction of their existence to this point. For others, its half a life ago. Pencil me in on the list of the latter. In the summer of the year 2000, I was thirteen years of age, addicted to Mountain Dew and Playstation. I had a bleach blonde buzzcut, as was sadly kind of popular back then. Or at least that is what I tell myself. I had never been to Wrigley Field, and had never done so much as kiss a girl. The hair probably helped perpetuate the latter. But while I was looking forward to the twilight of my middle school years, Torii Hunter was coming back from a short stint in Minnesota's minor league system. I remember those awkward early teen years vividly. In equal right, I remember Torii climbing the center field wall of the Metrodome like it was yesterday.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Going Once, Gone Twice: The Brothers Upton and the Odium of Carlos Marmol

It was like they were back home. Back in Norfolk, Virginia. Back before the million dollar deals, the magazine covers, and the glamour of the Major Leagues. Melvin "Bossman Junior" Upton and his younger brother Justin were children again, knocking baseballs around the backyard. It was a simple game then, and last night proved that not much has changed.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Voices in the Cathedral: Clear Skies, Growing Shadows, and the Efficacy of Wit

If you can't explain something in a few words, try fewer.

Brevity is mankind's purest and most underused art. Sometimes we can be so engrossed in conversation that it circles until, like a dog chasing his tail, it collapses from redundancy. In contrast, perhaps more than ever before, personal disconnect in society has limited acquaintanceship to a simple "Hi, how are you?" "Good thanks, yourself?" "I'm good," followed by a suited hollow sendoff. Seldom is either ever considered healthy conversation. The former is often heard on talk radio and over a fourth, fifth, or seventh beer.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Last Temptation of Sefat Farid Yu Darvish (or) Why Perfection Isn't Always Perfect

The most perfect thing about humans are their imperfections.

Throughout our lives we often strive for things we will ultimately fail to reach. Perhaps as simple as learning to speak a foreign language or as complex as climbing Mount Everest. Yet for some reason we set strange, lofty goals on ourselves for some inexplicable reason. Is it that we desire to "live life to the fullest?" Or maybe it's a sense of timelessness that comes with achieving something worth more than a short anecdote shared over a few beers on a Tuesday night after work. Whatever the reason, and regardless of goal achievement, we will hopefully all find the pursuit of perfection is in fact a red herring. When the greatness in effort is realized, that is when we achieve perfection.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Absolution and Youthfulness: The Rites of Opening Day

There are simple human themes that weave their way in and out of our everyday. Familiar themes, entangling us as individuals to our societies, the world around us, and the core emotional reservoir that makes up the human experience. These can be, but never limited to: love and loss, joy and pain, pride and hopelessness, and surely every notch in between.

Carpe Noctem: The Geoff Blum Story

A baseball season can seem so long that a single plate appearance can seem largely insignificant. As summer's long days turn cold and th...