Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Abbreviated Baseball Life of Brad Halsey

Independent baseball has a sort of charm to it. Each league has its own different rules that shape the way a roster is formed. The Frontier League is based predominately around rookies (less than 150 ABs or 50 IPs). Each team fields roughly twenty rookies, meaning this league serves as another stepping stone for college players who have just graduated. The now defunct Northern League was a little looser with the roster. Teams could only have a maximum of four veterans (six or more years in professional baseball) with a minimum of five rookies, so the team experience could range greatly. The level of play is slightly above the Frontier League, with the players having played in affiliated baseball for a few years before their teams cut them loose or those looking to rehab from an injury. The former is the case of Brad Halsey.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Midnight for Cinderella: The Flip, the Slide, the Hold, and Crowning the Team of the Decade

When I was young, the players seemed as old as my parents. That's because, for the most part, they were. I looked up to guys like Kirby Puckett and Joe Carter, burning their World Series heroics into my brain. Those memories endure much longer than most from the early 1990's. Now, twenty years removed from the canceled World Series of 1994, a new era of heroes are carrying the game and creating timeless memories of their own. This year's series will likely be known as the Madison Bumgarner series. His performances in games one and five were masterful. As he came into the game Wednesday night, the fear that San Francisco's one run lead would hold spread throughout Kauffman Stadium. As the game neared its end, one thing was clear- the greatness of Madison Bumgarner in the 2014 World Series is the kind of otherworldly dominance we don't often see in not only baseball, but any sport.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

For Club and Country: Yordano Ventura, Another Blowout, and Setting the Stage for the Grand Finale

As the twenty-three year old Yordano Ventura took the mound for the second time in the series, he was out to prove something more than just his talent. On his cap, to the side of the interlocking 'K' and 'C,' was the following etched in three lines on the field of royal blue: R.I.P. O.T #18. A solemn tribute to his fellow countryman, Oscar Taveras, who passed away Sunday following a car accident. Ventura, a bright young star in his own right, had been at the helm for a little over five innings of Kansas City's game two victory. His performance was stellar, only giving up two runs in a game the Royals needed to win to avoid falling down 2-0 in the series. Tuesday night, his team needed a win to extend the season. With emotions surely high, Ventura stepped onto the mound, into the spotlight, and seized the opportunity to force a game seven.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Oscar Taveras, RF, St. Louis Cardinals

There is a purpose to sports that stretches well beyond stats and a final score. It is a great diversion; a chance to let go the things that we experience day to day and live vicariously through the accomplishments of a favored team or player. In truth, sports run this country to a degree. So often the nation's attention is drawn to certain events in such a manner that it is nearly considered a holiday. Sports allow us to cheer and feel wide stretches of emotion all within a moment's fickle twist. On Sunday night, as the baseball world watched Madison Bumgarner's brilliant performance in the World Series, unthinkable news came down the wire. Twenty-two year old Cardinals top prospect Oscar Taveras, along with his girlfriend, had died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. The loss of any human life is a tragedy, and in this case, the lives lost were especially tragic to the baseball community.

Monday, October 27, 2014

October's Very Own: The Artist Known As Madison Bumgarner and the Last Night in San Francisco

There was a stone cold glare in his eyes. The twenty-five year old pitcher, now a veteran to World Series pressure, showed no emotion. As was the case all night. Madison Bumgarner was an out away from a complete game shutout in the World Series. Eric Hosmer had swung hard at his first two offerings and let the next three trail outside. With a full count, Bumgarner delivered an eighty-eight miles per hour slider low and outside. This postseason has been full of surprises and upsets, but it has mostly been about the pitcher on the mound Sunday night. Bumgarner had started October with a complete dismantling of the Pirates, and aimed to finish it with the same dominance against Kansas City. Seldom is a pitcher so feared that he is given the expectation that his game is a foregone conclusion. Even more rare is the pitcher that can not only meet that level of hype, but exceed it.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Every Which Way And Loose: The Comeback Blowout and the Weird, Wild Story of Game Four

There was a moment in the bottom of the first where it looked like the Giants would scratch their way to a game four win. Then came the top of the third, when the Royals batted around, scoring four runs. The game, and the series, appeared to belong to Kansas City. By the end of the fifth, the game was tied. An inning later, the Giants had added three more. As the game entered the eighth, San Francisco had reversed their fortunes entirely, adding four more runs to make the score 11-4. The Royals would never recover. To simply leave this game as only the numbers on the scoreboard would be an injustice to the sheer absurdity of it all. In one of the weirdest World Series games I've ever witnessed, the Giants knotted the series, but that doesn't begin to tell the tale.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Razor's Edge: Old Man Hudson, the Wunderkind Royals and the Close Game We Wanted

As Kansas City’s third run crossed the plate, all Tim Hudson could do was watch. He had given up a run in the first, but until the sixth inning he had pitched magnificently in his World Series debut. Hudson was now in the dugout. The look on his face spoke an undeniable sense of disappointment. In his sixteen years as a Major League pitcher, the thirty-eight year old Hudson was finally in the fall classic for the first time. The game’s active wins leader sat silently, occasionally letting out a sigh as he was forced to accept his fate. He could not win this game for his team. Tim Hudson, closer to retirement than the prime of his career, had to do the hardest thing that any man with his competitive spirit could do- he had to watch and hope.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Eye For An Eye: Resiliency, Hostility, and the Wavering Hand of Destiny

So often in life, adversity will rear its ugly head at the earliest possible moment, hoping to derail out best of intentions. Challenge, after all, is the purest manner in which we may learn and adapt to become a better version of ourselves. After Tuesday's thrashing, the Kansas City Royals had a choice to make. Would they lay down like October darlings before, or would they answer Wednesday night with a goal to prove being in this place was no accident? Having already lost their home-field advantage, the Royals woke the morning of game two to the undeniable fact that it was a must-win. To the mound in defense of their season would be the twenty-three year old rookie fire-baller Yordano Ventura. He and his team would learn quickly that destiny is a mountain, not a foothill.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Pitch That Killed: Madison Bumgarner, Eric Hosmer, and the Shifting of Fate for Cinderella

It was an eighty-six miles per hour slider. The bases were loaded with two outs in the home half the third inning. Eric Hosmer, who had come up with clutch hits time and time again this postseason, couldn't lay off. Perhaps that's the magic that Madison Bumgarner possesses. Moments earlier, the Royals had men on second and third with no outs following a Mike Moustakas double. Only down three runs, Kansas City looked prime to get back into the game. The crowd that had mellowed to mumbles and ground static was building back to a familiar roar. They could feel something special about to happen. As Hosmer stepped in, it was like fate was about to enter the rumbling walls of Kauffman Stadium. The at bat would last one pitch. As Bumgarner delivered, the game itself was in the balance.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Requiem for Summer: The Kansas City Royals, The San Francisco Giants and the Wild, Wildest World Series

When a pair of underdogs meet, who can be the favorite? Is it the team with the immediate postseason experience or is it the team that hasn't lost in over three weeks? The San Francisco Giants have five winning seasons in their last six, with 2013 as the only hiccup. their two World Series championships were both rather dominant performances, beating the Texas Rangers in five games back in 2010 then sweeping the Detroit Tigers two years later. The Kansas City Royals have been a doormat, but in the past two seasons, have seen a resurgence leading to this year's magical playoff run. Each team comes into the World Series as a surprise. It is the first World Series (not shortened by a strike or a war) in which neither team won ninety games. For a postseason full of close games and dramatic endings, these two have been authors of some of the best.

The Giants Win The Pennant: Fragile Beauty and the Summoning of History in the National League Championship Series

So often in life, everything can change in an instant. Baseball is no different. Around three hundred pitches are thrown every game, each one potentially a missile of abundant joy and ceaseless heartbreak. There is a fragile tether to the game. In one moment, everything can appear in your favor. The presence of a single mistake can ruin such momentum and pull you to place akin to those forsaken. One pitch. One swing. On Thursday night in San Francisco, two swings sealed the fates of the Cardinals and Giants. The former would shatter the hopes of a St. Louis rally. The latter would become a moment forever etched in San Francisco history.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Live That Fantasy: The Magnificent Tale of That Time the Kansas City Royals Won the American League

It would figure that in the game that came to clinch their trip to the World Series, the Royals scored their only runs in the first inning. Between the more-than-effective starting rotation, the nearly-unhittable bullpen and the otherworldly defense, Kansas City has utilized every run to their advantage. In eight games, they have only trailed for seven innings- four such frames alone came in the Wild Card game against Oakland. The Royals' run to the American League Pennant has been nothing short of shocking and strange, but the last year has been something worthy of Hollywood fiction.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Red, Red Redemption: Kolten Kaha Wong and the Beautiful, Ceaseless Tomorrow

When Matt Duffy slid over home plate with two outs in the ninth, the Cardinals could feel it slipping away. They had already lost game one. Heading to San Francisco carrying the threat of being swept was a very real possibility. A wild pitch had scored the pinch-runner Duffy from second base. Yadier Molina, St. Louis's hall-of-fame catcher, had left the game with an oblique injury. Trevor Rosenthal skipped a ninety-nine miles per hour fastball in front of home plate. Perhaps Molina stops it and the pitch only loads the bases. Backup catcher Tony Cruz had difficulty locating the errant pitch. By the time he was able to locate the ball, Duffy was approaching home. The game was tied. Kolten Wong was to lead off the home half of the ninth inning. To this point, Wong's short career had been defined by being picked-off at first base to end game four of last year's World Series. On Sunday night, two days removed from his twenty-fourth birthday, Wong stepped into the box and re-wrote his own story.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Deja Vu All Over Again: The St. Louis Cardinals, The San Francisco Giants, and the Slow-Burning Will of the Old Guard

To date, the 2010's have been defined by two teams in the National League- the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants. Since the Giants won it all in 2010, the two teams have alternated winning the senior circuit's crown, with the Cardinals taking the odd-numbered years. For the fifth straight year, either St. Louis or San Francisco will make the World Series. In the American League, the matchup is a pair of teams stretching far beyond their expectation. Quite the contrary in the NLCS. Despite the Giants qualifying as the National League's second wild card team, and the Cardinals finishing with the worst record of the division winners, these teams are built for postseason success. There is not a soul who can say they are truly surprised by the matchup we are given, but the manner in which they got here cannot be overlooked.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Escaping the Void: The Baltimore Orioles, The Kansas City Royals, and the Everlasting Grace of Fate

Sunday night, the damn-near impossible happened. Baseball is full of altercations with fate, but long-suffering seems to be the essence of all tribulation lately. In this young century, we have been treated to a series of drought-endings and milestones that can stand up against any fifteen year period in the game's history. Half of the league's thirty teams have made the World Series. The Red Sox and White Sox ended near century-old streaks of failing to win a title. Colorado, Tampa Bay, Arizona and Florida, despite having only joined the league in the 1990's, all at least made the World Series, with the latter two winning. Pittsburgh ended a two-decade long streak without a winning season. This year, we've encountered yet another pair of surprises. The Kansas City Royals, long the punching bag of the American League Central Division, made the postseason for the first time since they won the World Series in 1985. Baltimore, the perennial odd-man-out in the American League East Division, caught fire in the right year, winning their first division championship since 1997. On Friday, October 10th, these two will begin the American League Championship Series and, at long last, find the promised land.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

For One Night Only, pt 2: The Blooming Legend of Madison Bumgarner and the Silencing of Thunder

It was as if they hadn't been there at all. In the top half of the fourth inning, the Pittsburgh Pirates had been soundly defeated. There would be no late-inning heroics like those delivered by Kansas City the night before. The San Francisco Giants, led by ace pitcher Madison Bumgarner came to PNC Park as the lowest ranked team left in the National League. By the time the 27th out was recorded, they looked ready, willing, and more than able to make their biannual deep playoff run.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

For One Night Only, pt. 1: The Great Gambler's Game (or) The Royal Resiliency of Kansas City

As the ball escaped the outstretched glove of a diving Josh Donaldson, it was over. Salvador Perez had sent Kansas City to the Division Series. The Royals had vanquished the mighty Athletics and won their first postseason game in nearly thirty years. But to merely summarize a game on its final play would be like explaining a film with its climax. The 2014 American League Wild Card game will surely be considered one of the wildest games in postseason history, silencing the critics of the one-game playoff and setting a precedent for drama that will be very difficult to match.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

One Night in September: The Pitcher, The Batter, The Steal and The Beltway

The baseball season can feel like an eternity. If your team is nearing one hundred losses, it cannot end soon enough. If your team is playing for October, you live and die with every pitch and minor injury that a long season can provide. For Washington and Baltimore, September 16th was a formality. With a win, each would win their respective division. In Kansas City, St, Louis, Anaheim, Oakland, Arizona and Minnesota, postseason implications hung overhead like a pendulum. In Chicago and Houston, two downtrodden clubs had a reason to smile in the midst of another losing season. It was a night bursting at the seams with drama and fulfillment, flourishing the autumnal sentiment that only baseball can deliver.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Protest the Zero: The Sullen Giants, the Sudden Rain, and the Serendipitous Tarp of Wrigley Field

In my life to this point, I have witnessed several acts of protest. It's part of our backbone as Americans, and frankly, as humans. Often times, however, this act of free speech is in vain. Still, it is our right to stand against a decision we believe is wrong. As I write on Wednesday night, protesters in suburban St. Louis are again clashing with police. While I believe the events happening there are the most relevant and important thing happening in our country right now, this is a baseball blog. It just so happens that in the midst of that unrest, an MLB game protest was upheld. The San Francisco Giants challenged the ruling of a rain-shortened loss to the Chicago Cubs and won. Thursday afternoon, the game will resume. For the first time in my lifetime, a win and a loss will be wiped from the table, and justice will be served.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Apple Among Oranges: The Fort Wayne TinCaps and the Authentic Minor League Experience

Baseball has always intrigued me. I don't really know why. Something has always drawn me to the sport. It has to be one of the largest, most popular professional sports in the nation. This has nothing to with the gigantic television contracts that these teams are apparently getting, or the richest sport contracts in our great nation. No, it's because no matter where you live in the nation, there's probably at least one professional/semi-professional baseball team within a half hour from your house. Check it out.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Soul of the Game Part III: On to Where It All Began

My week-long baseball journey ended how it started, with a called strike. It is only appropriate that it also ended where it all began, in Cincinnati. One hundred forty-five years before Alex, Ben, Kevin, and I attended a day game in late July, professional baseball was in its absolute infancy. Now, the professional game is a multi-billion dollar industry with teams across the globe. Still, no matter how large the game of baseball grows or how astronomical the salaries climb, there is still a special ambiance to a game in the city along the Ohio River.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Soul of the Game Part II: A Minor League Kind of Towm

For a city like Indianapolis, Minor League Baseball has become a parallel line bonded closely to the path of the city itself. This year marks one hundred twenty-eight consecutive seasons of baseball played in Indiana's capital. The namesake Indians ballclub was founded in 1902 and has served as a AAA-class team for Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Montreal, Chicago White Sox, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Boston Braves, and currently for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Throughout all of the changes in players, managers, affiliations and so on, the one constant is the city's support for its team. I traveled to Indianapolis to take in a ballgame with my best friend of over 15 years. We've each seen our share of baseball games, but on a perfect night in late-July, we found out what makes the Minor League game special.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Soul of the Game Part I: God Bless Indie Baseball

What purpose does baseball serve? Sport is often viewed as the great diversion of the modern man. That phrase can have differing definitions. One sees sport as a distraction; a fleeing of responsibilities in place of entertainment. The other holds athletics as a bonding experience that pulls us from the mundane to a place of momentary euphoria. Either way, the feeling comes and goes. But understanding the importance of sport, and namely baseball, is the reason I began this blog in the first place. Over this and the subsequent two posts, I will embark on a journey, with some wonderful people at my side, to discover the soul of the game. Across seven days, I will visit the independent league Gary Southshore Railcats, the minor league Indianapolis Indians, and the major league Cincinnati Reds. There is no pre-meditated story line. No angle for agenda. No character structure. Merely observation and translation. There will be beer. There will be ballpark food. There will be conversation and wandering. There will most certainly be baseball. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

In Pursuit of Johnny: Clayton Edward Kershaw and Baseball's Unbreakable Record

Since 1875, there have been nearly three hundred no-hitters in Major League Baseball. Only once has a man followed up a no-hit performance by achieving the feat again. In mid-June 1938, Johnny Vander Meer held the Boston Bees and Brooklyn Dodgers hitless within a five day span. No-hitters are common, especially in recent years, which is why I love the next start so much. Vander Meer's name gets dropped before every broadcast, and once the opposition hits safely, the record is confirmed. Last year, I wrote a dual-story on Tim Lincecum's no-hitter and the game that followed. On June 18, 2014, Clayton Kershaw pitched a no-hitter for the ages. The first such feat to include fifteen strikeouts and no walks. The debate will rage on as to whether that or Kerry Wood's 1998 legendary twenty-strikeout game was better, but I'll leave that for another day. The real story, for me at least, is the game that took place on Tuesday night in Kansas City, when Kershaw became the most recent man to challenge Vander Meer's immortal record.

Monday, June 23, 2014

An Average Game for the Ages: The Chicago White Sox, the Detroit Tigers, and the Night I Took My Father to a Baseball Game

Baseball is romanticized as a pastoral game spanning generations, handed down in a manner rivaling any convention in our nation's fabric. With that, comes the clear development of the father and son relationship with baseball. While surely I would be mistaken to disregard my mother's love for baseball as well, this instance revolves around Father's Day 2014. On a night when a Cy Young Award winner would do something he had never done, the most unforgettable part of June 12 would center around my time with a sixty-one year old man with whom I share a name.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Dumb Buzzard's Luck: The "Chicago Federals," "Kansas City Packers," and the Unlucky Bounce of 100 Years

Waiting for the train that would take me back to Indiana, I stood in silence. A man, whom I would guess was around twice my age, let out a sigh. "That was rough," I said, in vain attempt to join him in anguish. "And when that ball hit second base..." he cut me off. The man turned and looked me in the eye. "That was the Cubs." He looked back, straight ahead toward the train, before the sentence had fully escaped his lips. It was as if the decades of disappointment had unfurled before him in a moment of dumb buzzard's luck. Of all the days, in all the years, an ending such as this was destined to come on the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field's first game. The Cubs began the ninth inning up 5-2. What transpired from then-on beautifully and tragically embodied what it means to be a fan of the "lovable losers."

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Through the Fire and the Flames: Resiliency, Dedication, and Opening Day for the West Michigan Whitecaps

What is mankind without its challenges? While there are opportunities where we may strive to do things once thought impossible, the most difficult tasks are those thrust upon us without warning. On January 3rd, 2014, a fire broke out in the administrative building of Fifth Third Ballpark, the home of the Detroit Tigers' single-A affiliate West Michigan Whitecaps. The blaze engulfed the entire first base side of the building. Almost immediately, Chief Financial Officer Denny Baxter declared the team would play baseball in their home park on opening day, April 8th. A short schedule and brutal winter stood in the way of keeping that promise, but as I witnessed Tuesday night, the challenge was no match for the team and its devoted community.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Requiem for Winter: Opening Day and the Art of Anticipation

Baseball makes you wait. There are no continual end to end sprints present in basketball and hockey. There is not a play clock like that which drives the game of football. The audience is held captive by the lingering stillness before a pitch. Every seat is empty, as everyone present is on their feet creating a roar that can only grow louder as the moment progresses. Tension builds and overwhelming pressure lands on the shoulders of the loneliest man in sports- the pitcher. He pauses and winds his body away from the plate. He hurls a leather-bound bullet less than sixty feet in under a second. Strike two. Heart rates increase. The crowd has reached a deafening volume. The inning, the game, the season can turn on what happens next, and everyone present knows just that. It may be but a few seconds, but the wait seems endless. The pitcher accepts the catcher's sign and sets. The resolution is about to come.

Should Opening Day Be a National Holiday?

Opening Day, National Holiday. Let those words sink in.

How goofy does that sound?

Now, Opening Day is one of the most exciting days in the entire year for me. The White Sox are first place. All thirty teams have a chance to not only win their division, but take the entire league. There will be roughly 20 days of gameplay by each team over the course of the season, but what makes this specific day so much better than the others?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The First Great Thaw: A New Era for Purdue Calumet Peregrines Baseball

I'm going to write a bit on a team of which most who read this blog are unfamiliar. In the many years I have loved and watched the game of baseball, I have cheered for many teams, swayed allegiances to various Minor League clubs, and settled in a place of constant suffering with the Cubs. Yet in this abundance of passionate cries of heartbreak and victory, I could never really call a team 'mine.' While I am hopelessly devoted to the redundant anguish of the old Chicago club, the feeling of pride I get from a win is merely a vicarious temperament. There is a new pride, however, in the fledgling baseball program at my alma mater, Purdue University Calumet.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

God, Family, and the Detroit Tigers: Margaret Lissie-Belle Grace and the Beautiful Innings of Life

A little more than two months ago, the baseball season was winding down. The coolness of October mixed with the full breath of autumn coming soon. It was a Saturday night, and I was in Eastern Michigan enjoying a baseball game. The night before, I received a call from my father. The tone in his voice said more than words ever could. My grandmother did not have much time left. The following day, he, my stepmother, and I were on our way across the state line to be with her one last time before the inevitable. Margaret Lissie-Belle Grace, my grandmother, was the very definition of a fanatic. Her team was the Detroit Tigers. That night I had the honor of watching one last game with her. It would be her last Tigers game. By the end of the night, they were eliminated from the playoffs, but it was a moment I'll treasure as long as I live.

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...