Friday, October 31, 2008

Rain Rain Go Away

Some things get better as weather takes a turn for the extreme. Football in blizzard conditions has become romanticized as the ideal conditions for play. Soccer in a downpour has a sort of dramatic quality to it.  Golf in hurricane winds is a trademark of the British Open.  

Baseball in the rain, on the other hand, is just plain and simple NO GOOD. 

The 6th inning of  rain-suspended Game 5  provided a nice snapshot of why baseball and rain just don't mix. Talented players doing what they do best ought to be a thing of beauty. In the top of the 6th, Cole Hamels was really dealing for the Phillies. One of the games most exciting and talented young left-handed pitchers and the eventual World Series MVP in near top form. At the plate was Carlos Pena, slugging first baseman for the upstart Rays. On first base, the fleet-footed uber-phenom BJ Upton who, when running, glides like the trade winds across the Hawaiian Islands. 

With rain pouring down, Upton darted through 90 feet of brown muck to steal 2nd base.  A couple of pitches later, Pena reached down and lined a Hamels breaking ball into leftfield. Upton tip-toed his way around third and made his way home with the tying run. Somehow, he made a tight turn around third without ending up on his duff on the slippery, rain-soaked grass between third and home. The game was tied. And soon thereafter, it was suspended.

In the aftermath of the abomination that was the 6 rain-drenched innings of the initial effort at Game 5, national sportswriters have sounded off on the insanity of attempting to play in monsoon conditions. Woody Paige wrote a piece calling for the World Series to be played every year in Hawaii in order to ensure temperate weather conditions late in the month of october. Its an interesting argument. Football plays its title game every year in a domed or warm-weather neutral site. (This coming despite the fact that we all swoon (and rightfully so!) over January games played on the frozen tundra, yada yada yada) Why not the World Series?

The argument has some obvious advantages:

1-- A seven game series would end the need for off days, or at least the need for multiple off days. We could start on a wednesday and play every day until the following tuesday if needed.

2-- The weather would be ideal. Granted, During October and November, rain does fall, sometimes for long stretches of time in Hawaii. BUT, we have an almost iron-clad guarantee of 80-85 degree temperatures. 

3-- A return to day baseball. In order for the game to go on the air on the east coast at 8:00EST, the first pitch would need to be thrown at 2:00HST. That means all future World Series games would be played (if not viewed) in sunlight. 

4-- It could compensate Hawaii (and maybe even receive a warm welcome from local officials) in case the NFL ever makes good on its threats to move the annual Pro Bowl away from the Aloha State.

The cons:

1-- Hawaii is ill-equipped to house the game, at present. Aloha Stadium is falling apart and would be unfit for baseball. Unless major league baseball is willing to play the games at Les Murakami Stadium at the University of Hawaii (Capacity: 4,312), a new baseball palace would need to be built that would only be used for 7 games a year.  The State of Hawaii is not going to be overly thrilled with building and maintaining a baseball-only stadium.

2-- Baseball, unlike every other major team sport, allows for variations in the shape and size of playing fields. Each park is different in a way which does effect the outcome of games. Theres the Green Monster in Boston, the hill in centerfied in Houston, and the vast outfield in San Diego.  To take that away from the World Series would be pretty artificial.

3-- We would say a sad "aloha" to the possibility of a team winning a championship in their home town. No more fans pouring out of the park into the streets to celebrate a championship. 

I'm torn. It would make a lot of sense to take the weather factor totally out of the equation. Fans at the game sure wouldn't mind. And, if we're trying to promote the game in Asia, Honolulu is pretty much the closest thing we've got to an Asian city in the United States. But, we'd be closing the book on the way we've done things for more than 100 years in the grand old game and depriving ourselves of seeing history take place at parks with which we have a fair degree of intimacy. 

I'm not going to picket MLB offices calling for the immediate relocation of the World Series to Hawaii. But, should Comissioner Selig announce that the World Series is moving to Hawaii, i think I would be on board with the idea. In fact, I may even do my best Rodney Dangerfield and announce "hey everybody, we're all gonna get lei'd!"

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Aloha, World Series

Tomorrow evening, the World Series will get under way in Florida. As any Phillies fan or Citizen of Tampa-St. Pete can attest, the 2008 World Series is unlike any in recent memory. One team has a grand total of 1 World Series title. The other is still living its first winning season. A good number of players involved in the Series hadn't even been born in 1980 when the Phillies won their only World Championship.

This Series will be special for another reason: There will be a player born in Hawaii involved! Shane Victorino will become only the 8th person born in America's 50th state to play in the Fall Classic. He joins Mike Lum (1976 Reds), Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez (1986 Mets), Lenn Sakata (1983 Orioles), Milt Wilcox (1984 Tigers), Charlie Hough (1978 Dodgers), and Benny Agbayani (1999 Mets) as Hawaiian-born Series participants.

For a state with year-round baseball weather, its kind of shocking that more baseball players haven't come out of the Aloha State. There really haven't been many. Football is King in the Islands. But, this week, sports fans from Kona to Kauai will be cheering for "The Flyin Hawaiian." The Honolulu sports pages will be filled with stories and images of the local hero. I wouldn't be surprised to see a Victorino jersey or two around town.

Best of luck to you Shane. You've brought the most distant regions of the Nation under the spell of the National Pastime. Mahalo!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sit Back and Enjoy the Games

On Wednesday night the World Series will begin under the concrete sky of Tropicana Field in Tampa-St Pete. With the defeat of the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS, the 2008 World Series will feature two teams whom I would not mind seeing win it all. There is no "evil empire" team in this Fall Classic. No one to loathe. Just, hopefully, plenty of well-played baseball featuring likable talented teams.

Not all World Series, we know all too well, can be pleasant series between equally appealing teams. Nor should they be. After Game 5 of this year's ALCS, a buddy of mine reminded me that we really do need to have a villain team against which we can root. When such a team goes down in flames, we Lilliputians dance on Gulliver's fallen body, ignoring temporarily that we were more interested in watching the giant fall than in seeing the underdog triumph. When the bad guys win, we curse the heavens and make grand pronouncements about the promises held in store by the eternal "next season."

Since I have been old enough to care about baseball, there has almost always been a good vs evil type of World Series Matchup. Good has triumphed fairly often.

1988: Dodgers (Good) defeat Athletics (Bad)
1989: Athletics (Bad) defeat Giants (Good)
1990: Reds (Good) defeat Athletics (Bad)

1988 through 1990 brought me into contact with the first evil empire of my baseball life. It wasn't until much later (early 2005 to be exact) when I learned just how evil the Jose Canseco & Mark McGwire "Bash Brothers" teams had been. But, even in October 1988, it was clear that the Dodgers were to be cheered for over the sluggers from Oakland. Kirk Gibson's legendary pinch-hit game winning jack off of uber-closer Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 that year was a nice introduction into the limitless possibilities of a "good vs evil" World Series.

Neutral interlude: 1991: Twins defeat Braves

The greatest World Series ever played featured two likable "worst-to-first" teams. I was rooting for Atlanta, but, there were no compelling reasons to root against Minnesota. The Series provided dramatic finishes, extra-inning tension, and great performances from great players (Jack Morris threw 10 shutout innings in Game 7!). There were also the heroics of lesser mortals: little Mark Lemke, Brian Harper, and Ron Gant come to mind. The 1991 Fall Classic was baseball at its finest, played with passion by two exciting teams who were relative newcomers to postseason baseball.

1992: Blue Jays (Bad) defeat Braves (Good)
1993: Blue Jays (Bad) defeat Phillies (Good)

For many people, the Blue Jays of the early 1990s might not have been the personification of evil, but, for everyone from Baltimore, the Cito Gasten-led Toronto teams were to be reviled. They had edged out my Orioles for the AL East in 1989, an offense for which there is no forgiveness. In July 1993, Cito Gasten descended to "super vilain" status by refusing to insert Mike Mussina into the All-Star Game despite the pleas of 47,000 Baltimore fans in attendance at Camden Yards. "Cito Sucks" t-shirts sold like proverbial hotcakes around Baltimore. When October rolled around that year, and Joe Carter made his famous leaping, skipping and series-winning trip around the bases, I hung my head to mourn a second straight triumph of evil in the World Series.

1994: Baseball Economics (Bad) defeats Childhood innocence (Good)

Neutral Interlude: 1995: Braves defeat Indians

What wasn't to love about this series? An up-and-coming Cleveland team which featured a few loveable old faces (Hershiser, Dennis Martinez, Eddie Murray) and some young stars (Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, et al) squared off with a Braves team still in search of its first World Series crown since moving to the Deep South. Game Six was an all-time classic as Tom Glavine spun a one-hitter for 8 innings, David Justice launched a solo homer, and Atlanta won its first World Series Championship.

1996: Yankees (Bad) defeat Braves (Good)

The first world Championship of a revived Yankee Dynasty. The pinstriped crew from the Bronx fell behind 2-0 to the Braves before rattling off four straight wins to claim the first of what would become 4 World Championships in 5 years.

The Wrong Teams were playing: 1997: Marlins defeat Indians

As an Orioles fan, I was too angry at life (and at Armando Benetiz) to be able to enjoy this series. That was a shame because it went seven games.

1998: Yankees (Bad) defeat Padres (Good)
1999: Yankees (Bad) defeat Braves (Good)
2000: Yankees (Bad) defeat Mets (Good)
2001: Diamondbacks (Good) defeat Yankees (Bad)

The Yankee Dynasty. Every series was potentially exciting because every series was a matchup of good vs evil. 1998, 1999, and 2000 ended with more championship banners flying in the Bronx. And lets face it, once we realized that the underdogs had NO HOPE WHATSOEVER, these series lost their appeal really really quickly. In 2001, a furious Game 7 Arizona rally against Mariano Rivera brought down the invincible Yankees. At last, good had overcome.

2002: Neutral Interlude: Angels defeat Giants

At the time, we didn't know that we hated Barry Bonds. We knew he wasn't the world's friendliest fellow, but all of the unfortunate details about his workout and nutritional habits would come to light much later. In 2002, it was the upstart Angels against the Single Season Homerun King and his San Francisco teammates. Great Series that went the full seven games.

2003: Marlins (Good) defeat Yankees (Bad)

In the last World Series appearance of the Joe Torre-led Yankee Dynasty, the New Yorkers ran into the buzzsaw of Josh Beckett and the Florida Marlins. Perhaps as proof that no one stays on the side of good forever, Josh Beckett would become an active contributer to great evil in 2007.

2004: Red Sox (Good) defeat Cardinals (less good)

Remember how much fun this was? Remember how close to giddy we all became when the Red Sox rallied from an 0-3 hole against the Yankees in the ALCS? Remember the joy in seeing the headlines proclaiming that the Curse of the Bambino was officially broken? Remember when Red Sox fans weren't boasting and loud? In 2004, they really weren't the Evil "Nation" yet. Really. The day after the World Series ended, I began regretting having rooted for the Sox all October. How quickly they turned to the Dark Side.

2005: White Sox defeat Astros
2006: Cardinals defeat Tigers

The outcome of these Series didn't bother me. I would have preferred that the Tigers had won in 2006, but, what wasn't to like about any of the teams during these two series. Sadly, neither Series was particularly entertaining, but, for my money, 2005 was the most hotly contested 4-game sweep in World Series history.

2007: Red Sox (Bad) defeat Rockies (Good)

Josh Beckett's Darth Vadar moment. It was official as soon as the Series was underway: The Red Sox were the new Evil Empire. For the three seasons since their 2004 triumph, their fans became increasingly insufferable, the players became way too full of themselves, and other teams picked up the mantel of "Embodiment of Good." The Sox will have to wait 86 years in order to reclaim their crown of "America's underdog."

There is no villain this year. All I ask from the Phillies and Rays is that they 1) entertain me for a week and 2) Don't go over to the Dark Side immediately after winning. In other words: Provide us with a good series and then don't make us immediately regret having enjoyed it!

Play Ball!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Lamentable Loss

At some point in the 7th inning of tonight's Tampa Bay meltdown at Fenway Park I realized why i've been in such agony for the last few ALCS games. I've been really pleased with the outcome of most of the games, but, each night, until the final Red Sox out is recorded, I have had a sick feeling in my stomach. Tonight I realized why.

The Red Sox have broken my spirit.

I want them to lose so badly, and, in recent years, they just haven't been cooperating. I'm forced to confront this situation at least 3 times a week on TV thanks to ESPN's current love affair with "Red Sox Nation." Sportscenter covers them with great regularity.

I am annoyed by their fans who, after the team won a World Series in 2004, magically discovered that they want to swarm to Camden Yards every summer when the Red Sox come to Baltimore. I kick myself for not yet having given a Red Sox IQ test to the blue and red (and green!) wearing masses who take over my home park several times a season. Until I do so, I will refrain from commenting on the baseball knowledge of their fanbase.

I can't stand that Jason Varitek wears a "C" on his jersey. No other team captains do that in professional baseball. Why should he?

I find all of Kevin Youkilis' mannerisms, his temperment, and his appearance offensive.

Dustin Pedroia reminds me of Gerry McNamara. And Gerry McNamara is the anti-christ.

Curt Schilling is a bigoted idiot who would do well to leave his political views far far away from the playing field. He talks too much.

JD Drew is everything that is wrong about modern baseball economics.

Thanks to ESPN, I have heard more about Josh Beckett's arm during the past few months than I have heard about progress in the War in Afghanistan.

Mike Timlin may have been the worst in a long line of failed Orioles closers. (And thats saying something!)

Jonathon Papelbon is obnoxious. Save the celebratory gyrations and shouting for your offseason saturday night bowling league.

I think that its obscene that sports announcers use the nickname "Big Papi" or just "Papi" to refer to David Ortiz. Cal Ripken was never simply referred to as "Ironman" during play-by-play.

Also, anyone well versed in Domincan slang want to take a crack at street usage of the term "Papi"??

I have horrible memories of a walk-off game-winning homerun by David Ortiz off of BJ Ryan in 2005. I remember all too well when the Orioles blew a 5 run 9th inning lead on Mothers' Day 2007 at Fenway Park. I saw Chris Ray give up a game-winning grandslam to Wily Mo Pena (yes, he did hit a homer for the Red Sox in 2007) before a packed house at Camden Yards.

I thought that the Indians had them beat last October. Up 3 games to 1. Then the Red Sox rattled of 3 straight and swept a flat Colorado team for the World Series Title.

In short, the thought of the Red Sox season ending before the World Series begins is a thought that is too fantastic, too utopian, too wonderful for my brain to comprehend. Nights like tonight only worsen my Red Sox complex. All I can see in my head right now is another emphatic Papelbon celebration after they've won the World Series. I don't want to see that in my head. I want to see Tampa jumping up and down near the pitcher's mound on Saturday night. If I keep trying hard enough, maybe, just maybe, It could happen.