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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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Baseball Season Winds Down…or Up For Some

Baseball Season Winds Down…or Up For Those Who Only Watch Post-Season Games

TGIO! Thank God It’s October!BaseballFan

I never thought I’d utter such heresy, but for the New York Yankees the 2013 season was the worst in recent memory, and stats will no doubt prove it. Talk about injuries! The dugout in the Bronx was like the Emergency Room at Bellevue.  Every time a supposedly healed player returned, another one went down—and sometimes, as in the case of Captain Jeter and his stubborn ankle, the same guy came and went the same day. These guys probably had more emotional pain than physical. I sure did.

When the Mets swept the Yanks in a four-game series, they had the grace and humility to recognize they hadn’t actually swept the Yankees, but, as I came to call them, a bunch of Strangers on the Field. In fact, the thrown-together, ragtag, rotating players did pretty well considering their experience and team cohesion, or lack of both. They fought bravely to the last, nearly making it to the playoffs as a wild card—but didn’t.

And now the Playoffs. As noted up above, some people don’t even watch baseball until things heat up for the post-season. Players pull out all the stops come October, and the games are their most exciting. Each year, it seems, more and more teams compete to get into the World Series, as MLB comes up with more new ideas to make it happen, crowding the field with more wild cards than a poker game among six-year-olds.

Big PapiNow we’re down to just four teams, two from each league, both in the midst of the semi-final battle. In the National League it’s the LA Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals, while in the American League it’s the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers. I care more about the American League, given who’s playing, but I don’t care so much who wins as I do  who should not win. Which is obvious: as a Yankee fan I’m fervently hoping the Sox go down soon with as much humiliation as possible (with the exception of Big Papi–one of my favorite players, he’s allowed to do well as long as he doesn’t win it for them). This year in particular, after what the Yankees and their fans have been through, it will be devastating if the Sox take the WS title. Besides, the only bright spot in the whole of a bankrupt, dying Detroit is their baseball team. So go Tigers! Whip their butts! Whip ’em good!

As for the National League, I’m not fond of the Dodgers and their violent fans, one or more (the perpetrator still hasn’t been caught) of whom severely beat up a Giants fan on opening day two years ago, compromising the workings of his brain. Before an LA fan jumps in here to deliver the news that a Dodger fan was recently murdered on a San Francisco street—I know this. So? It doesn’t lessen the vileness of the first incident or make it right. Let’s hope these crazy morons call it even, and the guy didn’t die entirely for nothing.

Chair of Broken Dreams

The other 2013 story, in the Bronx if not in all of MLB—no, it isn’t A-Rod and his steroids and lawsuit–it’s Mariano Rivera’s season-long farewell. It was such a heartwarming event, or series of events, it almost made us forget what else was going on. Rivera is probably the only player in all of baseball who’s respected and even loved universally. The gifts, the accolades, the notes, the speeches, the donations to Rivera’s charity—every time the Yanks showed up in another city, we got another wonderful story, like the Chair of Broken Dreams or Mariano as Pizza Man delivering to stadium staff. What a trip! What a guy! This is one player who is irreplaceable, and will be greatly missed. So will Andy Pettite, who only announced his retirement a few days before the season closed. Maybe he didn’t want to steal Mariano’s thunder…but Pettite’s also well regarded throughout baseball. Remember the Core Four?  Jeter, Posada, Pettite and Rivera—they played together for something like 18 years. And now there is one. I sure hope his ankle heals by next season!

As my son, a diehard Mets fan says every October, Wait until next year! This is the first time I’ve been forced to say it. Come on, all you broken-hearted Yankee fans. Take a deep breath. Repeat after me:

WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR!

 

 

People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  
I’ll tell you what I do. 
I stare out the window and wait for spring. 
 ~Rogers Hornsby

Baseball Midseason / Rivera’s Long Goodbye

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English: Baseball with clock to represent a &q...

Baseball with clock represents a current sports or baseball event. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Baseball fans of my blog might have noticed that posts on that topic have been more sparse than usual this season. I’ve been kind of disinterested this year thanks to the dismal state of Team Yankee—if I’ve written anything on baseball, it’s been about that. A 3-game run against the Boston Red Sox begins Friday, starring the ragtag group I call Strangers on the Field–and here comes the cherry on top of this mess: no Robinson Cano in the series: he was hit by pitch at the All-Star Game (which is why, incidentally, some players don’t attend the ASG). Some might see the situation as pure happenstance, nobody’s fault—but there are a few moves management made that contributed to the situation, like getting rid of Raul Ibanez and Nick Swisher. I know, I know: a lot of fans were in favor of the moves, in particular of dumping Swish. Not me. I’m not big on lateral trades and team re-organization. I need look no further than my own backyard for evidence: the Oakland As are in an eternal state of flux, always doing yet another re-org.

The All-Star Game was played at CitiField this week, with the American League the winner. The big event this year was a farewell to Mariano Rivera. Manager Jim Leyland sent him to the mound in the 8th inning, in case they didn’t play a  9th, to ensure he’d be out there for a planned tribute. When The Sandman reached the mound he was surprised to be the only player out there. The rest of them were in front of the dugouts leading a standing ovation. Rivera later said it was a highlight of his 19-year career, second only to his World Series wins. (More on Rivera’s farewell tour later).

Red Carpet Parade

Red Carpet Parade

Playing host to Major League Baseball, New York pulled out all the stops, beginning with carpets on Times Square for the Red Carpet Parade in which players rode through the Canyon of Heroes.

NPR’s sportscaster (sorry, I never got his name) delivered a mid-season recap starting with the Pittsburgh Pirates, which he defined as the season’s Big Story.  Having paid less attention (i.e., none) to the Pirates than to the Yankees, I hadn’t noticed. It’s true that after 20 losing seasons, they seem to be turning things around. More  Pirates—5 of them–played in the All-Star game than at any time since 1972, and their pitching staff leads the majors in shutouts. Still, his report was somewhat skewed.

AllStar Game logo

For instance, he paid special attention to California, saying our teams aren’t up to snuff, particularly last year’s champions, the SF Giants. We’ve also had poor performances from the Anaheim…excuse me, Los Angeles Angels and the Brooklyn…excuse me, Los Angeles Dodgers. Well? Does anyone else notice a glaring omission? Not one mention of the Oakland A’s, who IMO are as Big a Story as the Pirates: any time a team as poor as the A’s lands on top of their division for most of the season, it’s a Big Story.

Finally, he ignored the Yankees, except to say he “usually talks too much about them” (to me there’s no such thing). And he also ignored the Mets, which is indefensible considering they hosted the ASG, which he was in New York to cover. Arggh! Commentators! 

Rivera’s Long Goodbye

English: Photo courtesy of Keith Allison on Fl...

Photo courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr. Mariano Rivera  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most fans are no doubt aware of Mariano Rivera’s impending retirement and the way he’s saying his goodbyes. Rivera’s been thinking it over for some time, and with the Yankees’ director of communications, Jason Zillo, came up with a plan to visit the people who work for each team—administrative staff, chefs, janitors, refreshment vendors—doing something different before the games. He delivered a pizza to the offices of the Oakland A’s, sat around in a suite talking baseball in Minnesota with invited guests that included, among others, the team chef , and hung around outside some parks holding baseball rap sessions with local  kids. Reported The New York Times: “With all their money and success, the Yankees may be the most widely disliked team in baseball. A rival executive once branded them the Evil Empire, and few people came to their defense. But in stadium conference rooms and offices, Rivera thanks rival fans, charms them, regales them, awes them. And he turns many Yankees haters into admirers.”

The teams, even arch rivals, (I can hardly wait to see what the Red Sox offer!) are showing enormous respect for the best closer of all time by giving him farewell gifts and donating to the Mariano Rivera Foundation, which focuses on the needs of children in his home country of Panama. As I reported a few days ago, the Twins outdid them all with The Chair of Broken Dreams.

For the past decade my favorite players were Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera—who together were the Yankees’ closing battery, a team within a team. Posada was pushed out two years ago and I’ve missed him like crazy. Now goes Rivera. (Going soon: Derek Jeter.) I’m not sure how I’m going to withstand the loss.

What Mariano Rivera is doing with his final season is unprecedented—then again, his whole career has been unprecedented. No pitcher in history, as far as I know, ever built a remarkable record with one—count it, one!—kind of pitch. Rivera says God gave him his cutter. As a non-believer, all I can say is what Shakespeare said in Hamlet:

“There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Mariano Rivera

(sung to the tune of “Maria”)

Mariano—

I just saw a pitcher named Mariano

And suddenly I see how wonderful a pitch

Can be.

Mariano—

I just saw a closer named

Mariano

And suddenly the game

will never ever be the same to me.

Mariano

Pitch it fast

And they just can’t hit it

Pitch it slow

And the catcher will catch it.

Mariano

I’ll never stop loving

Mariano………

{sing operatically}

Ninth inning–

Mariano!

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.

New Yankee Songs

Before I get too far into this post, I’m going to indulge in a bit of meta-writing, i.e., writing about writing, specifically about baseball. Some readers may have noticed that my output in this category has, over the years, steadily declined, down now to barely a trickle. I doubt any of you care: according to my stats, baseball is my least-read category.

After a year or so of writing about baseball I discovered that I mostly dislike doing it. Sportswriting is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult and tedious genres I’ve ever attempted, what with all the history, statistics, and the shadows of long-gone players (not to mention the ones still around!) looming over my shoulder, ready to pounce on the least little error. I’ve always been bored reading sportswriting; I’d estimate that only maybe 20% of it is any good. In fact, most of it is so bad that readers remember the names of the very few who do it well: Red Smith, Jimmy Breslin, Howard Cosell. After a few years plugging away at it, I finally decided life’s too short to waste it on researching hundred-year-old stats.

Once in awhile, though, when a personal drama or team dynamic emerges as the fascinating human saga they sometimes are, I’m drawn in. Not only do I want the details for personal consumption, I also want to spout my opinion on whatever’s going down. So here I am, at the end of the 2012 baseball season, with a few words to throw down.

Actually,  it hardly seems like season’s end, what with a whole bunch of games still to be played, and nobody sure of what’s going on. A second wild card team was added to the endgame this year, generating even more confusion than usual. October is always confusing anyhow; nobody knows when who and where games will be played until the winners win and the losers lose. Maybe its just me, and I’m saying this to make myself feel better—but it seems to be universal. Announcers, for instance, aren’t calling  “Magic Numbers” at the start of games this year; I think it’s because they’re clueless.


Even before this month it was a weird season for me. First there was the devastating absence of Jorge Posada, my favorite player—but at least I was prepared; I knew last season that Posada was leaving, being pushed out, so I had time to grieve. However: I never expected—and neither did anyone else—that Mariano Rivera (my Number Two Guy) would be injured and have to sit out the whole season. In fact, I figured Rivera’s accident was the result of some sort of voodoo retribution to avenge Jorge. (Guess I’ve been reading too many Haitian mysteries!) Everyone feared a major meltdown for the Yanks after Rivera’s collapse, but it turns out to be true that Necessity is the Mother of Invention: Rafael Soriano stepped up to the mound and became a terrific closer. That was definitely something to cheer about.

And, as in all of Major League Baseball, the Yankees had an extraordinary number of injuries this year: Andy Pettite, back on the mound after a year of retirement, broke his left fibula (that’s the leg bone) and was out of commission almost the entire season. More infuriating, because, I suspect, it was intentional, was A-Rod’s hand, broken after being slammed by “King”  Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners.  Why intentional, you ask? I’ll tell you why: this “accident” occurred during Ichiro Suzuki’s first game as a Yankee, the team he’d just left the Mariners to join; and during this game Hernandez also hit the above mentioned A-Rod, the above-mentioned Ichiro, and  Captain Derek Jeter. Hello? It doesn’t take paranoia to put those pieces together. I cannot understand why these attacks weren’t at least investigated. Rather, Hernandez was named MVP. (Don’t worry, karma will get them: Mariners ended the season, not for the first time, with a losing record.)

My New Favorite Yankee (With apologies to Jorge)

I fell in love with one of our newbies: Raoul Ibanez.

That’s Raoul “he’s so cool” Ibanez. Raoul Ibanez, who in 2012 hit 19 homers (so far). Ten of these tied the game or gave the Yankees the leadRaoul Ibanez, who seems to give the Yanks precisely what they need at the exact moment they need it!

Cool Raoul (sung to the tune of “Cool” from West Side Story)

Raoul Raoul, Cool Raoul
He’s such a cool boy
Breeze it, buzz it
Easy does it
Keep cool Raoul boy!

Don’t get hot
’cause man you got
some great games ahead.
Keep it slow
and you know
you can play with Yankees til you’re dead.

Raoul, cool Raoul
Stay cool boy
Got a rocket
in your pocket
Just keep it cool boy.
You’re so hot
You know you got
Some great games ahead
Take it slow
and you know
you can stay a Yankee til you’re dead.

Another Yankee earned a song this year (42 Saves!)

Rafael Soriano (Sung to the tune of Poinciana, a 1936 Cuban song)

Soriano

He stepped in for Mariano
When a disaster took our closer
and we all thought “OY vey, it’s over!”

–but–

Soriano
stepped right up for Mariano
I never thought someoe could do that
but Rafael, oh yes he did that.

Soriano
He filled the shoes of Mariano
and he saved our team, the Yankees
so all we can say now is
Thank Ye!

Ichiro Suzuki

Onward and upward to the playoffs and the World Series!