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Baseball Returns

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YankeeStadium

Here we go again! It’s baseball season, and all I can do is grumble. You’d think I was a Mets fan, or that my team was any one of a number of basement dwellers, the way I feel. I’m a Yankee fan, I’m supposed to be on top of the world all the time—that’s what ol’ G. Steinbrenner demanded, win the World Series every year or you’re losers. Okay, that, I think, went a little too far in wrecking morale. Still, he may have been a tyrant, but what’s gone on since Georgie’s demise is a nightmare.

As the 2014 season opens, I am facing the loss of Mariano Rivera (gracefully retired), Andy Pettite (ditto), Curtis Granderson (sold to the Mets by some moron in the Yankee org) and Robinson Cano (also moronically sold). Even outside of the Yankees I face a heavy loss: Barry Zito, former Oakland A and SF Giant, one of my favorite players and human beings, seems to have vanished after the Giants failed to renew his contract (and who could blame them? But that’s another story.Zito2012

 

 

 

DerekJeter

Last but not least, as we raise the curtain on another year of baseball, the one Yankee remaining on the team that saw its last period of glory during the late ’90s and early ’00s, Derek Jeter, announced this year as his Swan Song—so don’t bother shouting “Next year!” if things hit bottom. And, indeed, the guys lost their first game yesterday against one of my most hated teams, the F.O.B. (Friends of Bush) Houston Astros.

My allegiance to the New York Yankees is, like some people’s allegiance to a particular religion, by birth and by choice. I’m a Yankee fan by birth: I was born in the Bronx. But I chose to be a Yankee fan because in this one area of life, unlike politics and a few others I’ll decline to mention here, with the Bronx Bombers I get to be a winner more often than not. Unlike the hapless Met fan, I get to experience joy more frequently than pain. At least, that was the deal for decades. Now my Yankee fandom is going the way the aging experience goes: it’s all about loss, as beloved players and managers leave. No choice have I but to butch it out and adjust, the way I do over the loss of teeth and energy.

One thing I don’t have to lose, though, is hope: the Yankees might be great this year. As the little kid in Angels in the Outfield says of the improbable all throughout the movie, “Hey, it could happen!”

rivera-patch

 

So Play Ball!

 

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The Chair of Broken Dreams

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jea 0294 twinsyankees-tuesFrom one class act to another! Teams throughout Major League Baseball have been honoring Mariano Rivera during his final round of shutting down their games with the New York Yankees. Some are giving gifts, others donating to Rivera’s foundation. The Minnesota Twins just might have outdone them all: they presented Rivera with this “Chair of Broken Dreams” made entirely of broken bats!

It’s a perfect way to honor the man who’s probably caused more broken bats with his cutter than many a pitcher with a bevy of fancy tricks.  Good for the Twins! Good for Rivera! Good for Major League Baseball!

minnesota-twins-broken-bat-rocking-chair-gift-to-rivera

Strangers On The Field

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It’s been a sad season so far, with the Yankees decimated by injury. Though a bunch of strangers took over and did well for them at first, last week the Mets sweptYankeelogothem, and this week it was the Oakland A’s. One by one the injured players re-join the team, but it doesn’t seem to be helping. Yesterday’s final in the A’s series sweep went 18 innings, ending when A’s batter Nate Freiman hit Mariano’s cutter–a rare occurrence.

Mariano Rivera throws a pitch against the Balt...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the brighter side, Mariano Rivera is making the most of his Swan Song, and apparently enjoying himself enormously. He’s designed a final season unprecedented in baseball history, and unimagined by anyone else. Rivera is going out by making the rounds of Major League Baseball full of surprises and gifts along the way. He delivered pizza to the administrative offices at the Oakland Coliseum–A’s staff was stunned to see him come walking in with their dinner, and he stayed for pictures and chat. At another park he spent almost an hour talking to a bunch of kids before a game, and he’s been visiting workers in baseball all around the country–those who, with little fanfare or ceremony, do their jobs invisibly, without whom baseball couldn’t happen at all, at least not on the scale and in the way to which we’re all accustomed. The papers call them “the little people.” Mariano calls them friends.

It does not matter if you are not a fan of the New York Yankees or myself,” Rivera tells them. “You are fans of baseball. And that’s important.” Each night at Coors Field, even in rain, he would stand on the outfield side of the Rockies’ dugout, signing autographs for nearly an hour for the fans who were stunned to see a superstar so approachable.”They are the people we play the game for,” Rivera said. “They are the reason we are here.”

Not only is Rivera showing his gratitude towards those who keep baseball going–rival teams are presenting him with all kinds of farewell gifts and honors. In Cleveland, the Indians and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame combined to present Rivera with a framed gold record of Metallica’sEnter Sandman,” his entry song at Yankee Stadium for nearly two decades. The A’s donated $10,000 to the Mariano Rivera Foundation, which primarily funds projects for youth, many of these in Panama, his homeland. Most recently the Foundation furnished computers for underprivileged schoolchildren

In the past Rivera’s given generously to his family and his home town in Panama, La Chorrea. He says he never forgets where he came from.

Last year, when Rivera tore his right knee, he swore he’d come back to play again, that he wouldn’t go out in such an undignified way. And he did, he came back in 2013 to orchestrate a farewell tour as elegant as any Last Waltz. I’m going to miss Rivera–an understatement.

Too bad his last waltz is being danced by Strangers On the Field (song in progress) and Kevin YouKillUs, as I call him.

To the tune of “You Send Me”–take it away:

Kevin, You Kill Us
Boston sent you to kill us.
I know you will kill us.
You already did, already did, already did,
wo wo oh no!

And the Yankees soldier on.

He’s a Giant! He’s a Catcher! He’s Busta!

Buster Posey was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player on Thursday. This season Posey had returned after being out more than half of last season after a collision at home plate that left him with a devastating leg injury. Not only did he fully recover, but in 2012 Posey set career highs with a .336 average, 24 homers and 103 RBIs. He helped the San Francisco Giants get to the World Series and win it in four games, becoming the World Champions for the second time in 3 years. Posey is the first catcher in four decades to win the award, determined by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Posey’s 2011 collision

My admiration for catchers is immense. In my opinion, they do the hardest job in the game, squatting for 9 or more innings, up and down, up and down–the physical wear and tear alone is enormous. Then there’s the psychological aspect of managing pitchers, who, as I’ve pointed out before, are frequently psychotic.  

Catchers are underpaid and underrated. Jorge Posadawas my favorite player partly because of his position. I used to call him “Jorge-He-Does-It-All” whenever he hit a clutch home run or a Grand Slam. He was a catcher who hit well.

Jorge Posada

Not superlatively, but well; some catchers can barely connect bat to ball. They’re also notorious for not running very fast on those wobbly “catcher’s legs” that are always going up and down, up and down…okay, no need to belabor the point. It’s a tough job.

That’s why, when a Buster Posey comes along, give credit where credit is due. He’s only 25 and just starting his career–with a bang. It’s going to be fun watching him mature and get even better. Go Buster!

Slideshow: Baseball’s Greatest Catchers

 

Barry Zito’s Chatter: The Loneliness of the Ace Pitcher

Barry the Beautiful

I had to laugh when I checked my stats today and saw Dirty Laundry got its second highest number of views of all time yesterday. Under “Search Terms” were several variations of “Barry Zito Talks To Himself.” The phrase linked readers to the many posts I’ve written over the years about Zito, who I’m obviously mad about (if only he wasn’t so much younger than me…).

Anyhow, it’s true: Barry talks to himself on the mound with no shame or embarrassment. I don’t know if he’s conscious he’s doing it, but he must be, since he’s such a conscious human being–he meditates and does yoga regularly. I’d love to be a fly on the mound so I could hear what he’s saying. His chatter must help him in some way with pitching. Besides, pitchers are known to be the quirkiest players in baseball; some are nearly psychotic. I wrote a post about this once–but I left Zito off the roster of loco pitchers, since he’s so sane compared to the others. I mean, what’s a little muttering on the mound? It’s not like breaking a player’s hand (Hernandez to A-Rod) or throwing broken bats at them (Clemens to Piazza) or knocking down old men (Pedro Martinez to 70-something Don Zimmer).

When I was a kid I had a friend who talked to herself. She was an only child, and she told me she did it because she was alone all the time with nobody else to talk to. I’ve been talking to myself more and more as I get older, even in public; I’ve tried to control it, but cannot seem to stop. Part of the reason I do  it is because, like my old friend, I’m alone a lot these days.

Maybe that’s also Barry’s reason: up on that mound, he’s so very alone. Maybe his self-conversing is an antidote for The Loneliness of the Ace Pitcher. Whatever the reason, if it helps him do what he’s doing these days, he can do as much of it as he wants.

Go Barry Baby!

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