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


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.

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...