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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

If You Have Nothing Nice to Say...

You know the saying:  "If you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all."  So I'm going to try and write today's post with a positive tone, not pointing out how my Washington Nationals are 2-5 with shortstop Ian Desmond committing 5 errors in his first seven games.  Nope.  Not gonna say anything about the Nationals' lack of offense and Little League-quality defense; instead, I am only going to focus on the positive aspects of this year's Major League baseball season so far.

For starters, my husband and I had a great time at Nationals Park on Opening Day, with beautiful weather, a great atmosphere, and a flyover (I won't mention the $9 beer, because that's not a positive thing to point out).  I may not be the most patriotic person in this country, but flyovers are always cool, especially when there's an enormous American flag taking up the entire outfield and there are several dozen sailors in uniform making the giant flag undulate.  Pretty majestic way to kick off the baseball season (this is where I'm not going to mention the fat guy with the bad cologne who sat next to me and didn't know a thing about baseball and had to have the lady sitting on the other side of him explain everything).  It was also exciting to go into the sixth inning without Nationals' starter, Max Scherzer, giving up a hit - I got all nervous thinking I was going to witness a no-hitter in person!  While the no-hitter was broken up in the same inning, it was still fun to think that I still have many more ball games to go to in my life, and someday I might even witness a no-hitter.

As for the other teams in the league, the Kansas City Royals are starting off on a tear at 7-0, and the Detroit Tigers are kicking butt despite placing ace pitcher Justiin Verlander on the Disabled List.  The Atlanta Braves traded away their closer, Craig Kimbrell, to San Diego, but are still atop the NL East with Jason Grilli as their new closer.  And how about that Billy Hamilton, who already has 7 stolen bases for the Cincinnati Reds?  As far as home runs, the Dodgers' Adrián González is leading the Majors with 5, followed by former Oriole Nelson Cruz with 4 for the Seattle Mariners.

Hmmm... what other nice things can I say?  Well, there's the return of Mets hottie Matt Harvey, who missed the 2014 season after having Tommy John surgery.  He's back in pre-surgery form, as is the Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka.  Both of these pitchers will be closely monitored and have innings limits, as will the Marlins' José Fernández when he returns to the mound in a few weeks.  Also back after surgery is Jayson Werth, who is moving from right field to left because he's just getting too old to handle that side of the outfield.  No, that's not me being mean - just stating the obvious.

So there you have it - my analysis of the first week of the baseball season without any snarky comments or sarcasms.  I held off on saying I could drive a car through the gap in Commissioner Manfred's front teeth; I neglected predicting that Andrew McCutchen is going to suck this year because he had his dreadlocks cut off; and I certainly didn't mention how awful the new Jumbo-Tron looks in Wrigley Field.  See?  I can be nice! But I can't promise I'll stay this way - there is still a long season ahead of us, I have at least 4 more games to attend, and I haven't even mentioned Alex Rodrguez.  Stay tuned, my friends! :-)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

WHO is Pitching on Opening Day???!

Beware, Mudville Mom readers – I am in a bad mood.  I am usually a sunny disposition-type of person, but today I’m not, mainly because I got to work early for a meeting that ended up being canceled and no one told me.  But that’s neither here nor there – I was in a bad mood to begin with, since Max Scherzer was announced as the starting pitchers for the Washington Nationals on opening day this year.  I know; it's only baseball and I should not let baseball matters get me in a bad mood.  I'm trying to work on that.

So what’s the big deal – it’s only the first game out of 162 – why does it really matter who pitches on opening day?  Well first of all, I paid a pretty penny to be at Nationals Park on opening day, so in a way I’m glad they didn’t select Stephen Strasburg to pitch the first game of the season (yawn!).  However, I thought Jordan Zimmermann was a shoo-in for the position, since he’s the best pitcher in the Nationals’ rotation (in my opinion, and as you all know, I have lots of opinions!).

Yes, Max Scherzer signed a gazillion-dollar contract with the Nats this off-season.  Yes, he won the Cy Young award in 2013 when he was with the Detroit Tigers. Yes, Scherzer has a lifetime record of 91-50 with a 3.58 ERA – he’s no slacker.  But Jordan Zimmermann has been the quiet voice of the Nationals’ pitching staff for the past few years, recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2009 and compiling a respectable 57-40 record with an ERA of 3.24 (slightly lower than Scherzer’s).  He pitched a no-hitter in the Nationals’ last game of the regular 2014 season, and pitched 9 2/3 innings in game 2 of the NLDS (which he should have been allowed to complete – I’m still bitter about that one!).  What better way to start what promises to be a successful season for the Nationals than by starting their workhorse on the mound?  He may not even be around to do so next year, since his contract is up at the end of this season.

Jordan Zimmermann is not flashy.  He was not a #1 draft pick like Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper.  He is not known for driving fast cars, ranting tweets, or clubhouse antics.  Zimmermann is a quiet and shy midwestern guy who works his ass off and can be counted on every fifth day for a good quality start.  He never complains (even when he gets no run support), and is the most dependable pitcher the Nationals have.  Yes, Scherzer makes for bigger hype ESPN-wise, but true Nationals fans would rather see a familiar face on the mound than some new guy who still needs to prove himself in the National League.  I’m still going to go to the opening day game (since I paid an arm and a leg for good seats), and I’m going to hope that Scherzer doesn’t disappoint, but a part of me is going to wish that I was there watching Zimmermann pitch instead of the new guy.

You know what else disappoints me about opening day?  The ceremonial first pitch will be thrown by the new Commissioner of baseball, Rob Manfred.  Nothing against the guy (even though he took a job that was clearly meant for me!), but I think the first pitch in our nation’s capital should be thrown by the President of the United States.  Regardless of your political views, you have to admit it’s pretty cool to watch the POTUS throw out a first pitch.  I was there in 2012 when Barack Obama threw a terrible first pitch, but that’s probably the closest I’ll ever be to a US President, so I thought it was cool.  It’s no secret that Obama is not a baseball fan, but just like pardoning a turkey at Thanksgiving and having to put up with John Kerry, there are certain things a President must do that he doesn’t like.  Throwing out a first pitch on opening day should be one of them, and it’s not as exhausting as putting up with the Secretary of State (I'll have to share my personal  Kerry story with you all at some other time).  Heck, I'd even take crazy Joe Biden - he would at least be entertaining!

OK, enough ranting for now.  It’s time for me to embrace this Scherzer guy, try to get an updated list of Puerto Rican players in the Majors this year,  and get my curly “W” jersey out of the bowels of my closet in preparation for opening day just 12 days away.  Let’s hope for a great baseball season – there sure has been a lot of hype to live up to, my friends!

Friday, March 6, 2015

To Watch, or Not to Watch?

We may have a fresh coat of snow on the ground here in Frederick, Maryland (9 inches, to be exact), but in Florida and Arizona, Major League Baseball's Spring Training is in full swing (pun intended!).  I sat by the warm fire in my living room fireplace in my fleece, velour, and fuzzy socks watching the Dodgers and White Sox yesterday, where the crowd was all in tank tops and shorts.  Oh to be in a warm climate enjoying ballpark hot dogs and watching the badass Clayton Kershaw pitch two shutout innings!

Actually, I should not be allowed to watch any Spring Training games at all.  They just give me anxiety and make me want the real season to start tomorrow.  I'm too damn competitive for these "pretend" games that don't count - why did Max Scherzer allow a home run in the second inning of the Nationals' game against the Mets?  That's inexcusable!  The Nationals paid seven gazillion dollars for him; he needs to be perfect!  Why didn't any of the Nationals' regulars get any hits in today's 5-4 victory?   Aren't they supposed to be the best lineup in baseball?  I don't think I can take it this month - they need to start playing for real right now (never mind the fact that there are three feet of snow in Fenway Park)!

Spring Training is a time for previously-injured players to get back into the swing of things (there's that pun again!), like the Orioles' Manny Machado and Matt Weiters, and for veterans like Ryan Zimmerman to get used to playing new positions (he's making the move from third base to first).  But they also have regular nine-inning games, so how can they expect us to not get excited when we've spent the last four months wondering if Peyton Manning is going to retire and trying to figure out if that dress on the Internet is blue and black or white and gold?  We are ready for some real excitement!

Instead we need to stop, take a step back, and chill just a little,  hard as it may be. We need to let the baseball players get into their routines,  practice their batting stances, and get their uniforms dirty. We've waited this long, so we can wait a few more weeks for the regular season to start, right?  I guess.  Players still need to be cut, umpires need to brush up on their skills, and groundskeepers have to get the ballparks ready for opening day a month away.  And some of us have big decisions to make:  Do we get tickets to "Jayson Werth Chia Pet Night," or "Anthony Rendón Garden Gnome Night?"  So let me try to practice what I preach and not take Spring Training so seriously - something very hard for a competitive Puerto Rican like me to do!  This is when I take a deep cleansing breath, go outside to shovel some snow, and bake some cookies... while taking a peek at MLB Network coverage of Spring Training.  Sorry; I just can't resist!

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Groundhog Days of Winter

In just a few days, Major League pitchers and catchers will be starting to report to their team's spring training camps in Arizona and Florida, despite the minus-zero wind chills here in Maryland and the seven feet of snow in New England.  The first spring training game is just two weeks away, which is beyond exciting for baseball nerds like myself.  I did keep my baseball feet wet during the off-season though, going with my husband and son to NatsFest in December and attending the annual meeting of our local SABR chapter just 2 weeks ago.

NatsFest, which was held in the DC convention center, was full of Nationals players available for photo ops.  We met manager Matt Williams and relief pitcher Drew Storen, as well as TV and radio personalities.  The rich people were able to get autographs from several players while the rest of us watched a Q&A with some of the players.  It was a nice event, though I would have liked more free stuff (don't give us a big plastic bag when we get there and not give us free stuff to put in it!  Haven't you ever been to a fitness expo where the Bic pens and the lanyards are free for the taking?).

The SABR conference was a completely different experience.  Members of the Society for American Baseball Research are (believe it or not!) nerdier than I am.  These people can rattle off statistics that the normal person would never consider to be a statistic.  Did you know that Tony LaRussa managed a total of 647 players?  No, I didn't either.  How about the fact that on two occasions, a team scored 13 runs with all RBIs coming from home runs (the Yankees and the Reds)?  Nope, I didn't know that either.  Also interesting to note was that at a game in April of last year, every Orioles starter scored a run.  Yep, that's what these people do all day - try to out-do each other with interesting but unusual statistics.  If these people used their nerdiness for good, we would have a cure for cancer, vision loss in humans could be restored, and colonoscopy preparation wouldn't be such a nightmare.  But hey, I got Jayson Werth and Manny Machado bobble heads in one of their drawings, and a very good lunch was included with the price of our registration. 

So now what?  Now we wait for the players to start trickling in and for the predictors to do their predicting for the upcoming season.  As I read all the projections, the one thing that makes me happy is that neither the Yankees nor the Braves appear on any of the "Top 10 teams" lists.  Most experts put the Nationals on top, with the Dodgers and Cardinals close behind.  I would actually like to see the Seattle Mariners do well this season.  They have Robinson Canó and Nelson Cruz offensively, and one of the best arms in Felix Hernandez.  And the Royals did so well last year that it would be nice to see them do well this season too, especially with their good run production. 

As far as my Nationals are concerned, they have six good arms in their starting rotation.  That's right - most teams have five starters and the Nationals have six since they signed Max Scherzer.  Rumor has it that Tanner Roark will be moved to the bullpen, :-( and some are even saying that Stephen Strasburg could be traded (!).  All I know is that Bryce Harper needs to grow up and step up, Jayson Werth served his 5 days in jail for driving too fast (though he probably won't start the season because he is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery), and Ryan Zimmerman is being moved from third base to first base.  And by gosh, Wilson Ramos, can you stay healthy for one full season?  So let's wait and see if the predictors and experts and SABR analysts are right about the Nationals - only six weeks left until Opening Day!

In the meantime, you should know that Gary Sheffield played in 51 different ballparks.  Yep!  Now you can go back to shoveling snow...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Are They Baseball Players, or Cows?

When I finished graduate school, I was determined to go on to law school with hopes of becoming a sports agent.  Jerry Maguire was going to have nothin’ on me – I was going to represent high-profile athletes and I was going to negotiate contracts that were worth millions of dollars, including the contract of my millionaire baseball player husband.  Well, things didn’t quite go that way – I was burned out from so much studying, and at the age of 24 I was in a hurry to be a grown-up, so instead of going to law school I bought a house.

I don’t believe in regrets, so I am perfectly happy with my engineer husband, two great kids, a crazy dog, and a little house in the heart of a great city.  When I stop to think about what my life would have been like as a big-time high-powered sports agent, I conclude that I would have been miserable.  Rich, but miserable.  It is the sports agents (and the team owners and General Managers) who make the business of professional baseball such a turn-off for so many fans like me.  When you ask a baseball fan why they like the game, they might mention the excitement of visiting a ballpark to catch a game between two rival teams; following a young player’s career from the minors through retirement; the thrill of a well-executed double play or a nasty fastball.  No one says “I like baseball because I enjoy watching overpaid athletes being traded around like cattle at an auction” or “I just love when my favorite player is traded to another team and I can no longer watch him day in and day out on local broadcasts.”  And surely no one says “I love baseball because the players give it their all despite being underpaid.”  Baseball is a business, and its rich players are the chess pieces that get wheeled and dealt no matter what the price or the team loyalty (or lack thereof).

One of the toughest things for me as a fan has been trying to explain the business of baseball to my ten-year-old son, who fervently follows the Washington Nationals and feels like he knows the players like if they were close relatives.  When I told him last week that reliever Tyler Clippard was traded to the Oakland A’s for Yunel Escobar, he was heartbroken.  “The Nationals don’t need another shortstop!” he said (Escobar is being moved to second base, which he hasn’t regularly played).  And when the Nationals signed free agent pitcher Max Scherzer for a gazillion dollars earlier this week, he said “That makes six starting pitchers!”  I had to explain to him that both Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmermann would become free agents at the end of the 2015 season, and if they were going to sign with other teams after this season anyway, they might as well get traded so the Nationals could get some players in return.  He was not happy.  Why would they get rid of last year’s best starter – the guy who pitched a no-hitter on the last game of the season (Zimmermann)?  No idea.  Why would they get rid of such an excellent-fielding and consistent pitcher (Fister)?  I wish I knew.  But now my son thinks that the Nationals’ General Manager, Mike Rizzo, is a heartless Grinch who doesn’t care about the fans.  Well, that’s what the business of baseball is all about, son; no one said it was pretty and happy and full of Koom Bah Yah.

I, the practical one, always think about the effects of a trade on a player’s family.  Do they pack up and move to a new city, or do they stay put in their off-season home?  And it’s not just the wife and kids who are impacted – when the Nationals announced the Clippard trade on Facebook, Tyler’s grandmother posted her appreciation to the Washington fans and said “I guess I’ll have to get used to green and gold!”  I Facebook-stalked her (that’s what she gets for not making her profile private!) and her wall is filled with pictures of different family members decked out in red, white, and blue Nationals garb at different games throughout the past few years.  They all looked so happy watching and supporting Tyler – now they have to send their patriotic-colored fan wear to Goodwill and buy all new jerseys and foam fingers.  That’s a pain.  And unless you live in San Francisco, Oakland is not exactly close to anything, so I don’t know how often Grandma Clippard will be able to watch her grandson pitch.

On the bright side, Spring Training is less than a month away.  I know; hard to believe, right?  Plus we still have the Super Bowl to look forward to as well as March Madness (this year I will be filling out my brackets based solely on school mascots).  And my husband and I are going to this year’s annual meeting of our local SABR chapter (Society for American Baseball Research) in Alexandria, Virginia, so that should be interesting.   Hang in there with me, friends; opening day will be here before we know it!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Four Class Acts

Happy New Year, my friends!  So much has happened since I last blogged - the San Francisco Giants won the World Series (even though I was rooting for the Royals), the Washington Nationals' Denard Span did not win a Gold Glove in center field even though he deserved it way more than the Mets' Juan Lagares, I was not chosen as baseball's next Commissioner (I know; I was shocked as well), and the National Baseball Hall of Fame chose its inductees for the class of 2015.  Whoever said the off-season was uneventful clearly doesn't know that Nick Markakis is no longer an Oriole, Jimmy Rollins is no longer a Philly, and Jayson Werth has to spend 5 days in jail for driving way too fast (110mph on a 65mph highway).  So yeah, there's no baseball being played, but there has certainly been a lot going on.

With regards to the Hall of Fame, I must say I'm happy with this year's selections.  I can't kick and scream and say that my guy was unfairly left out, because frankly, I was never a big Mike Piazza fan.  This is the first time in the "modern voting era" when four players were selected; last year they had three with Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas.  This year's class includes pitchers Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz, as well as the Astros' Craig Biggio, who started his career as a catcher and moved to second base after playing some in the outfield.

This year's Hall of Fame class makes me happy because these are the guys I grew up watching.  I remember buying a Craig Biggio rookie card back in the 80s because I thought he was cute.  I followed his career closely (because he was cute) and was ecstatic when he reached the 3,000-hit milestone (because he was cute, and because he joined Roberto Clemente on the hits list).  He still looks like he's in his twenties, and yes, he's still cute.

Randy Johnson, also known as "The Big Unit" was the most intimidating pitcher a batter could face (other than Oakland's Dave Stewart, who looked way meaner than Johnson ever could).  At 6'10, Randy towered over everyone and let his arm speak for him.  He and Diamondbacks teammate Curt Schilling (yes, the "bloody sock" guy - I will reference him again later) were such dominating pitchers that you just had to root for the Diamondbacks during the 2001 World Series.  I almost didn't even mind when Randy went to the Yankees - which turned out to not be such a good fit for him or for the team.

Pedro Ramirez was one of those pitchers you loved to hate.  I couldn't help but love him during the 2004 World Series, when the Red Sox took the nation by storm and all of us clung to every pitch, whether it was thrown by the long-haired, confident/cocky Martinez or by the guy with the bloody sock (yes, Curt Schilling can now say that he was teammates with two members of the 2015 Hall of Fame class).  Pedro Martinez joins Juan Marichal as the only Dominican pitchers in the Hall, and I hope there will be a big and loud representation of Hispanics at the induction ceremonies in July.

As far as John Smoltz goes, they should have made an exception to the five-year retirement rule and inducted him in the Hall with his two teammates last year.  It would have been so sickeningly picture-perfect!  Along with Glavine and Maddux, Smoltz was part of the powerhouse that made the Braves such a dominant force in the 1990s.  Whether as a starter, a closer, or anywhere in between, Smoltz was a class act.

So mow what?  Well, we have 44 days until spring training begins, but the Baltimore Ravens are still alive in the NFL playoffs, and the Washington Wizards are playing some really good basketball (and "How to get Away With Murder" returns to Thursday nights later this month).  So don't fret, baseball fans - until we smell the grass and hear the crack of the bat, we still have plenty to keep us busy.  Think warm thoughts, sign your kid up for another season of Little League (I just did that yesterday), and reconnect with your friends and relatives who are ignored during the baseball season.  Stay warm, my friends, and stay tuned! :-)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Orange With Envy

As you probably know by now, the Washington Nationals were eliminated in the first round of this year's baseball playoffs.  Yes, just like in 2012, the team that led the National League in wins was defeated by the Wild Card team, in this case the San Francisco Giants.  All the talk of a "Beltway World Series" between the Nationals and Orioles quickly faded away and is now a distant memory.

So what happened?  Well the games weren't really that exciting.  In game 1, which my husband and 10-year-old son attended, Bryce Harper and Asdrubal Cabrera hit home runs, but they were the only runs scored by the Nationals in the 3-2 loss.  Don't get me wrong - we had a great time at the game.  My main purpose in going was to create some unforgettable memories for my baseball-loving son, and I'm pretty sure we achieved that.  He got his curly "W" pretzel, we bought a post-season program, and we were given free rally towels, which we can bring to future games (those rally towels, I might add, are very hard to spin.  I mean, I can do the "Macarena," I can jump a mean double-dutch jump rope, but for the life of me I could not spin that thing without wrapping it around my hand or swatting my husband with it across his face).  My son enjoyed the pre-game military fly-over and was able to experience one of the hardest-hit home runs at Nationals Park.  For us, it was a good day.

The second game was a disappointing one.  The Nationals were leading 1-0 in the top of the ninth inning with two outs, and Jordan Zimmermann (who had pitched the entire game) was removed after walking his first batter.  That is the move - not the wild pitch in game 4 - that cost the Nationals the game, the series, and a lot of sleep (you see, that game ended up going 18 innings, ending in a 2-1 loss).

Game 3 was a little better, since the Nationals won it 4-1 in San Francisco.  But they lost the next game (and the series) again by a score of 3-2.  So in four games, the Nats were only able to muster 11 runs.  The pitching was fine - all four starters pitched respectably - but no one was hitting.  I shouldn't say no one - Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendón's bats were somewhat hot - but leadoff hitter Denard Span, who ended the regular season with a team-record 184 hits, failed to get on base much during the playoffs.  Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth, the heart of the Nationals' batting order, went 2 for 35.  2 for 35!  I don't have an explanation for their lack of offense - they just plain did not hit.

So what does it feel like when your team is eliminated so early after showing so much promise during the regular season and after being picked by many to win the World Series?  Well it just sucks - plain and simple.  You spend six months following these guys - 162 games day in and day out.  You memorize their statistics and batting stances.  You start calling them by their first names or nicknames as if they're your buddies or neighbors (in my case, my younger brothers).  You get totally consumed in all things Nationals, wearing your red "W" lanyard at work and helping your son pick between his Werth jersey or his Harper one.  And then all of a sudden the last out of the last game is made, and it's all over.  Just like that.  Change out your lanyard, put the jerseys away, and forget about bidding for a Jayson Werth garden gnome on eBay.

What makes it more frustrating is that baseball is not over.  There are still plenty of games to be played this postseason, with 4 teams still vying to make it to the World Series.  The Orioles and Royals are playing in the ALCS, and the Giants and Cardinals (again!) are at it in the NLCS.  But the Nationals - their players, managers, massage therapists and athletic trainers - are all back home licking their wounds.  They were not the underdogs, like the Royals - they were the top contenders and they lost.  This fan, at least, is disappointed and feels let down. :-(  I did watch game 1 of the ALCS (and will continue to watch until the last out of the last game of the World Series), but it just wasn't the same.  I was watching as a casual fan, rooting for the hometown Orioles but not disappointed when the Royals (whose players are cuter) scored some runs of their own.  Oriole Park at Camden Yards, only an hour away, was packed with fans - some of whom I knew - in their orange sweatshirts waving their orange rally towels, smiling and cheering and rooting for their birds while I sat on my couch wanting to get excited but just not able to.

But hey, wait a minute!  This is actually way less stressful!  I have nothing invested in any of these teams; I don't own any jerseys or t-shirts for any of these clubs and I don't have to wait for a commercial to go use the bathroom!  I can go to bed at a decent time before a game is over if I want to!  I can root for Yadier Molina and Buster Posey at the same time!  I can make fun of the color commentators instead of getting upset at how little they actually know about the Nationals!  I can like both Markakis and Moustakas and any other player with a Greek last name who happens to come along!  I can side with the umpires during a play challenge and laugh at the fans who get upset when a call in their team's favor is overturned!  Hey, I can enjoy these last 2 weeks of baseball - and guess what?  I WILL!