I’ve been gone too long, Vol. 2

Well, another baseball season has come to kind of an end, what with the White Sox and Tigers scheduled for an afternoon tilt at 2:00 my time.

After reading a few articles and chatting with other baseball fans across the country, I came to the consensus that THIS is what Major League baseball is all about.

One game. Time stands still.

Now, the detractors of baseball will use that phrase “Time stands still” as an explanation for how every baseball game in their eyes is…slow. I disagree. Why? Because I am intelligent. That’s a joke.

It is because after 162 games, (or in this case 161)it all boils down to who does the little things the right way, the tiny intricacies of baseball just need to be performed to perfect execution, or that hope of moving on to the ultimate baseball prize goes bye-bye.

Now, the Tigers have nothing to play for this season. Theirs was a season destroyed by zero cohesiveness, injury and staggeringly poor play. After all the hype it was the Tigers who were supposed to be battling it out for playoff position, not the Sox.

And the Sox…having to look up the Red Line and see their step-brother walking into the post-season with ease. It is the Sox that have to prove their mettle once more, just to force another playoff to get inside the dance anyway.

God, I love October. Next to Opening Day, it is my favorite sports time of year. For this reason. Playoff intensity baseball.

Game on. Where is the remote?

Oh, what a season!

Upon further review of the baseball regular season that just ended, I have seen a few things that make me wonder if this has been one of the most exciting seasons in recent past.

I could easily refer to the fact the the Cubs, my team, made it to the playoffs, but that would not be anywhere near enough. Really. As thrilled as I am, I’ll always state that I am a baseball fan, regardless of how the Cubs perform. Which is why I have been able to not be blind to the many great things that have happened this year. Let’s review:

The Yankees, left for dead a mere three months ago, ran roughshod over the American League the last eight weeks of the season, nearly ran down the Red Sox and, of course, made it to the post season. That probably raises the ire of most "parity" driven fans. Me too, to some extent. With that being said, how amazing is it that this team rattled off a near .700 winning percentage over that time? Under that scrutiny? With mostly home grown talent? Say what you will, they did it the hard way and they deserve to be there.

Barry Bonds and his last hurrah. Cheater, loser, asterisk, blah, blah, blah. He stood up at the plate for almost two full decades and took his hacks. He still had to swing the bat, hit the ball and play the field every day. Label him what you will, disagree with me, I don’t care. Barry played the game for that long, under a microscope for the last half decade and still broke Hank’s record. Besides, how many pitchers actually got caught "post-cheating" at the same time? Barry didn’t? Until I see conclusive evidence, I’ll see his record for what it is…his record.

A-Rod. Holy ****. The guy carried New York. Enough said. Here’s to bringing him to the North Side next year…

The Cleveland Indians. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Tribe. I think it was either because I played Little League for the Indians or because of the movie Major League. Whatever the reason, Mark Shapiro is a genius, and hs system of management from the top proved to be a winner. Remember the fire sale they had a few years back? Yeah, me neither. I’m pulling for them in the AL playoffs.

The Brew Crew. I was happy to see the Brewers in the hunt up until game 160. Really, not kidding. If I hadn’t been such a Cubs fan, or if the Cubs had bowed out, I’d have been wearing my Brewers hat and a Ben Ogilvie jersey the entire time. Twenty-five years, Milwaukee. I feel for you, those days of Ted Simmons, Cecil Cooper, Robin Yount. Be proud of this years team. Fielder, Braun, Sheets and crew are something to behold…for many years to come.

(Short story. I saw a Brewers game a few years back at County Stadium, the last season there, I believe, and had the time of my life. Tailgating in the parking lot, beer flowing everywhere, Secret Stadium Sauce. I really felt like Milwaukee was an awesome town, they love their baseball, and I still think that way. When Jeromy Burnitz hit a long bomb to win the game in the ninth, the place went crazy. One of my fondest Big League game memories…I hope next year brings more of the same Milwaukee. I’ll even partake with you. Against someone other than the Cubs, of course.)

The collapse of the Mets. The rise of the Phillies. However you want to look at it, it’s the very reason why you play 162 games in a season, and the win on April 7th matters just as much as the one on September 30th. Don’t believe me? Ask New York.

Game 163. Tonight. Padres v. Rockies. Has there ever been a chase like this? Down to the wire amongst six teams or so? Two last until after the season officially ends? See above…every game matters. Especially those played in extra time.

I could probably go on and on. There was a ton of remarkable, memorable things that happened this season. Curtis Granderson’s 20 x 4 feat (20 stolen bases, 20 Home Runs, 20 doubles and 20 triples) and emergence as a perennial All-Star, Magglio Ordonez’ magical season at the plate, and that’s just in my home state of Michigan. There’s more…lots more.

So, now we head to perhaps my favorite time, as well as my most depressing time, of the baseball season. The playoffs. Favorite in the sense that this is always what it boils down to. Cool weather, crazy crowds, every pitch mattering. Man, I love that. Depressing in the sense that there is but one month left of baseball left. Then it’s winter.

And winter stinks.

Happy as a pig in sh**

I don’t have anything of substance to write today, really, since it is Sunday, I’m a tad hung over (and by a "tad" I mean the USC marching band is playing "Another One Bites The Dust" in my head) but I could care less today. Why, do you ask?

The Chicago Cubs are the National League Central champions! On to the playoffs, Cub fans!

Cubs_win5

Now, most of you could give a bag of poo about the Cubs. Most of you see us Cubs fan as losers, as obnoxious clowns that you’d like to make take a long walk off of a short pier. Most of you are actually saying, "Matty, I don’t give a bag of poo…now leave me alone with this drivel and get lost". And that’s OK. I don’t expect everyone to care about it and get all excited over a baseball team that hasn’t won anything since 1908.

But I am excited over this, and I am planning a trip to the world’s biggest beer garden party of the year, in Wrigleyville, on the North Side of Chicago.

I’m not kidding either, it’ll be a monster party. Being a fan of this lovable loser franchise since I was nine years old, I think I deserve to hit Chicago with a huge bang, soak in the atmosphere that is October baseball, drink enough Old Style beer to drown a buffalo and overall enjoy the living **** out of this.

Because Lord knows when I’ll see it again.

I’ll see you at the World Series.

Just a day at the park

I have to admit something.

As much as I am excited that the Cubs are mired in a pennant race, and their prospects for making the postseason are as good as anyones, when it really boils down, I don’t find that to be baseball bliss.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the pennant races and the drama. Every pitch counts. Games creep into the wee hours of the night. Forty-two thousand people screaming, teetering on the edge of their seats. It’s what baseball is all about, right?

Hold that thought.

I was watching the last part of the White Sox-Royals game on WGN-TV this afternoon. Yes, yes…I hear you laughing. The two worst teams in the American League Central division. The White Sox and the Royals. Anyway, I was just watching as intently as I would a Cubs or Tigers game.

You see, I like to pay attention to the situations, see great pitching, observe timely hitting and great defense. Afterall, this is still a Major League game, only between two teams playing out the string of a lost season.

I also noticed one other thing. The crowd wasn’t deafening at all. In fact, I could hear individual whistling, catcalls, laughing, cheering and clapping. This was certainly not Dodger Stadium with 45,000 fans roaring after Kirk Gibson launched his epic blast into the Chavez Ravine evening. No. In this case there might have been 12,000 people at the game. No surprise there.

But, I was reminded of my favorite type of game to watch in person. You see, over the years, as a true baseball student, one that first played the game for fifteen years and since is now just a father, a coach and a fan, I have learned a lot from baseball. Lessons on attitude, persistence and yes, even dealing with failure. One glaring lesson I have also learned is that baseball is a very cerebral game, one that requires a lot of focus, attention to detail and execution. It’s a game where inches decide whether a pop-up is a pop-up or a monster home run. A game where the situation changes after each and every pitch and if you aren’t on your toes every minute, you might end up looking like a total fool.

I learned all of that as a player. Now as a fan, I find myself doing the same things. Examining the situation. Almost like I am another coach…the one sitting twenty rows up in the lower deck, third base side. And quite frankly, I find it rather annoying when some clown (or fifty) is sitting in my section spewing nonsense at 4,000 decibels. It’s worse when they know very little about the game itself.

I know, I know…those "clowns" paid their $50 for a ticket, their $20 for a warm beer and some hot dogs. Yeah, yeah. They have the right to yell and scream and generally act like tools. Take me to task.

I’m just saying that I prefer a warm, sunny spring afternoon, perhaps in Florida or Arizona, or in a Kauffman Stadium or Comerica Park on a lazy early fall afternoon, where I am one of a handful of true baseball afficionados, sitting back, hearing the sounds, soaking in the atmosphere, enjoying a game I love played the way it should be.

Is that wrong?

Splinters and Long Balls

I finished watching one heck of a great game last night between the Red Sox and Yannkees. Granted, the game took forever, I believe it was 3 hours and 10 minutes long, but the calibur of baseball was pretty darn good.

Curt Schilling was masterful for the most part, despite his only big mistake, his pitch that Derek Jeter launched into the Fenway night atop the Green Monster. He had the Yankees stifled for 7+ innings until then.

Roger Clemens, making his first start at Fenway since 2003, and his 200th Fenway start overall, helped make the matchup live up to its hype. More impressive than Schilling and Clemens performances was the amount of lumber they destroyed along the way. I counted at least five broken bats, nay, shattered bats, in this game alone. Heaters from grizzled veterans sawing off unsuspecting hitters, pure pitching magic that helped solidify an already concrete rivalry between these two clubs.

Equally impressive, the youngsters on both sides, from Joba Chamberlain on the Yankees to Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury on the Red Sox, now engrained in the fabric that is Red Sox/Yankees baseball.

This one had everything, folks. Great defense, timely hitting, excellent pitching, even drama so intense you could cut the air at Fenway Park with a Sportserv concession stand plastic knife. Who wasn’t at the edge of their seat watching Mariano Rivera’s bases loaded showdown with two outs against David Ortiz? It’s the stuff made for October, and should they meet again in the American League Championship Series in a month or so, I expect more of the same. Broken bats and all.

Red Sox v. Yankees. Anything better?

Is there anything better than the Red Sox versus the Yankees in September?

I wrote a few weeks ago about the resurgence of the New York Yankees, how their entrance into the pennant race was going to happen and that it was a good thing for the game of baseball. Now, it’s Mid-September and this weekends series, at Fenway Park, is what I as a baseball fan, absolutely fawn over.

Remember, this series was a mere laugh back on July 1st. The Red Sox were running away with the division by 10 1/2 games, the Yankees were in third place, struggling mightily. But, since that day, the Yankees are playing baseball at an almost .700 clip (45-22) and have not only made the AL East a semblance of a race, with a sweep of the BoSox this weekend, could make it a dead heat.

I don’t think it’ll happen, a Yankee sweep, but who knows? It happened last month in New York, where the Red Sox came into The Stadium with an eight game lead and left with only a five game lead. The Red Sox have righted the ship after that sweep, where past Sox teams would’ve swooned south under the Yanks again. I just think that at home, playing as they are, with a chip on their shoulder, the Red Sox will be fine. Don’t forget that should they sweep, they’ll all but bury the Yankees and replace them as division champions where the pinstripes have resided for nine straight years.

The Red Sox have a chance to eliminate the Yankees from the AL East race. Eliminating them from the playoffs is a totally different thing, where the Yankees presence in October looks more probable now than a few weeks ago.

So, on with the show, Red Sox and Yankees. I’m expecting baseball between these two to be full of fireworks, just as it should this time of year.

I’ll be sitting back and enjoying it.

Terry Ryan…stone squeezer

Well, it looks as if Terry Ryan, General Manager for the Minnesota Twins, is stepping down from his post this afternoon.   Twins

The Twins have called a 2:00 pm CT press conference to announce "an announcement regarding the reorganization of the club’s baseball department".

Speculation is that Ryan will be stepping down from his GM gig by that point.

I’m not really a Twins fan, but, as a baseball fan, how can one not admire what Terry Ryan and the Twins have done over the past six years? In case you don’t know the story, the Twins, the team that used to be called "baseball’s cheapskate", managed to win four of the last six Central Division titles with perhaps one of baseball’s lowest payrolls. They developed a consistent, talent laden farm system and replenished their Major League roster with home grown talent (Joe Mauer and Torii Hunter ring a bell, anyone?) when their high priced talent left for greener pastures. They play the game the right way under the leadership of first Tom Kelly and now Ron Gardenhire. And all things considered, they are a first class operation on the field and off.

And they did it with half of the resources of a big market club like the ones from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

That, my friends, is called "squeezing blood from stone".

And it was Terry Ryan doing the squeezing.

Now, I certainly hope that the Twins have their reasons, if they are telling him to step down. He is staying on with the club as a Senior Adviser, but in all reality, he won’t be very active at all. 

I really hope to know that Terry Ryan is just burned out after 12 years at the helm. That the wear and tear of the long season finishing before us, as well as the 11 previous, have just made him hit a wall and he has just decided to hang them up. I really hope that is the case. This "baseball man" has been affiliated with the Twins since they drafted him in 1972. To fire him for poor performance (third place, playing .500 baseball in perhaps the leagues toughest division, not necessarily "poor") would be a travesty and an insult to a General Manager that helped defy the odds, give hope to other small market clubs and perhaps change the game of baseball in this money grubbing and loyalty free player environment for the better.

A true baseball person can understand this, and a true baseball person has to respect Terry Ryan for what he has accomplished in Minnesota.

I’ve been gone too long

The landscape has changed over Major League baseball over the past few weeks since I last wrote something.

Well, that’s a lie. Nothing has really changed.

But, being a life long Cubs fan, their play of late has me a bit flustered. When given the opportunity to put some distance between them and the Brewers, they failed to do so. Add the Cardinals in the mix there, with their experience and leadership, I have to admit I was worried.

The Cards have faded a bit since, but are by no means out of the race.

Why am I flustered then, you ask?

I’m beginning to wonder which of these teams wants to win the division more. I’ve always said that good teams find a way to win, especially in September. Quite frankly, neither team (Brewers, Cubs and Cardinals) is finding a way to win. Against inferior opponents, no less. Each team lost two of three to the Pirates? The Astros? At this rate, I would say I might be pulling for the Reds to go on a tear and make it a flat out four team race, much like the sausage races in Milwaukee.

So, I’ll be back for good now. The other items I was screwing around with no longer warrant my attention. The race is on over the next two weeks. I can only hope the Cubs decide to answer the bell.

If not, I’ll take Brett Wurst the bratwurst to win a close one over Cinco the chorizo and Stosh the polish sausage.

Baseball Playoff Fever…Catch It!

I’m More Impressed with This

I’ve been away for a little while and apparently that is not a good thing since a few milestones have come and gone and one record has been toppled. Maybe I need to stop being so lazy and just get on with it.

Barry_bonds_1

OK. Barry Bonds just broke hammerin’ Hanks Home Run record. I’ve already written about my feelings on that, you’ve probably read it, maybe not. Regardless, I am not a Barry fan, but what he did was impressive. Juiced or not, to hit a baseball like that takes some real talent. Nice work, Big Barr.

Tom_glavine Tom Glavine won the 300th game of his illustrious career, becoming only the 23rd player in baseball history to accomplish that feat. Tom Glavine is one of the great guys in the game of baseball, a southpaw wizard that never threw the hardest or anything, but he can flat out pitch. And for those of you that don’t know the difference, a pitcher who just throws is the norm.  A pitcher can screw with batters heads repeatedly with a hodgepodge of different stuff so much so that it doesn’t matter if you throw hard, as a batter, you just keep guessing. The latter is Tom Glavine. And even if he did beat the Cubs for his 300th, I’ll forgive him.

Arod A-Rod and his 500th dinger. Congrats, Alex. My link to A-Rod was when he and I were in the same issue of Baseball America as seniors in High School. He was headed to the Big Leagues for sure, anointed the best player ever at that time. I ended up a lowly schmo writer. Eh. Good job, Alex. Barry’ll keep that Home Run record warm enough for you to pass him in about a decade, maybe sooner.

One final accomplishment for the week that I am more impressed with than any Home Run record or career milestone.

Gary Sheffield of the Detroit Tigers managed to not offend anyone at all.

Nobody. Not a soul.

Outrageous.

Gary_sheffield

Keep it up Gary. And get back on the field so the Tigers can move ahead, please?

Until next time, friends…

Here We Go Again

"It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon" – a few thousand athletes

I can’t stand using cliches. I’ve heard a million of them, they’re all trite and yet, I admit they are true in a lot of cases.

In baseball, the aforementioned one rings true every season.

April might be the most useless month of the baseball season. Everything is new, it’s cold in most cities, pitching dominates all of the games and, I’m sorry, but the games, while they do count in the standings, really don’t mean diddly-poo. Does anybody really believe otherwise?

Now that it is August, the pennant races are heating up and the non-waiver trade deadline has come and gone, the games are starting to matter. So, I found it a perfect time to take a step back and look at the landscape, if only to see where everybody stood.

In the National League, the Mets, Brewers and D’backs lead the divisions. The wild card race is tighter than a frogs butt is water tight.

In the American League, the Red Sox, Tigers and Angels sit atop their respective divisions. Cleveland, Minnesota and Seattle are chomping at the heels of everybody, along with the…Yankees?

Newyorkyankees_1

Wait.

Are these the same New York Yankees that detractors left for dead several times already this season? The same Yankees that in April and May they were calling for Joe Torre’s head? Even when they re-signed Roger Clemens, it was "too little, too late"? Didn’t I see an ESPN poll that asked people at the All-Star Break if the Yankees were too far out of it to make the playoffs, and it was an overwhelming, "yes"? Those Yankees?

Yep.

Don’t look back now, but the Yankees are on fire. En Fuego. They are beating the **** out of everybody now. Winning games by the scores of, like, 21-3, 16-3, 14-2, etc, etc, oy vey! I know football season is near, but a two touchdown victory over the Devil Rays? A Field goal and TD over the White Sox? A-Rod is about to hit number 500, everybody is hitting the ball out of the park, the pitching has been phenomenal. Those **** Yankees.

And it is certainly no surprise to me that they are making a run now. And there is really only one reason why, in my mind. And this is it:

They always do.

I get a big kick out of everyone that buries the Yanks every year and come August and September, there they are, either in first place or **** close. C’mon people, it’s been a decade plus of this stuff. Did any of you think otherwise?

Now, I am not a Yankee fan. I am one of the people that like to see change. I am a big fan of parity in baseball. I like the fact that the Brewers are still very much in the thick of it all. Same goes for the Mariners, Indians, Padres, Phillies and Cubs. It makes things more exciting, root for the underdog, because who the **** knows when they’ll get back?

So, it is easy for me to root against the likes of the Red Sox, Braves and of course, the Yankees, because they are always there in the end. And I am beginning to believe it has less to do with money and more to do with pure heart and experience. Naw, that’d be a lie. Money talks. But, still.

You don’t have success at the Major League level as a franchise without saavy, smarts, money, talent and experience. Some teams are trying to get there, like the Dodgers, Tigers and Mets. Some don’t have much at all. And then there are those that major in it, like the Yankees.

Love ’em or hate ’em, the Yankees are here for the rest of the summer.

Love it or hate it, baseball is better because of it.