Eight Is Great. Nine Is Fine.

Carlos Gomez
When a team puts together a winning streak, good things happen. Everyone is smiling. And hitting is easy. Great fielding plays are the norm. Clutch performance both on offense and defense are routine. The Milwaukee Brewers have just laid down an eight game winning streak, sweeping the World Champion, Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies on the road. And now the National League Playoff team, the Pittsburgh Pirates have lost the last two games in Miller Park.

This does not mean that the Milwaukee Nine have played perfect ball. Whenever you have the jolly third base coach on the team whom everyone loves because he is always jovial, chances are there will be lost chances to score runs. It happened again on Saturday night as the third base coach clearly put up the stop sign to the runner tagging up at third on a fly ball to left. Khris Davis didn’t stand a chance on scoring. And because of the start…stop…start again, he didn’t even try.

But great plays on defense were norm at Miller Park. Jonathan Lucroy caught a foul ball by last year’s National League MVP, Andrew McCutchen, then in a surprise move, he saw the runner at first breaking for second, and threw a strike to the shortstop, Jean Segura, who immediately threw the ball to home where big Jim Henderson, the pitcher, put a perfect tag on a sliding Starling Marte coming in from third. Double play ending the threat.

Then Reynolds made a tremendous stretch for a ball thrown wide of first by second baseman, Scooter Gennett. Reynolds kept his toe on the bag and made a remarkable completion of another double play.

K-Rod came in for his fourth save in the young season which made the Brewers 9-2, riding an eight game winning streak.

Before everyone asks, how long is the longest winning streak in baseball, the New York Giants back in 1916 were undefeated in 26 games, but that streak included a tie. Thus, the longest streak with no ties belongs to the 1935 Chicago Cubs at 21 games. If you’re thinking ahead and being very, very optimistic, the Brewers could beat the Cubs streak on Sunday, April 27th, at Miller Park, against the Chicago Cubs. It’s Blue Bunny Ice Cream Sunday where the first 2,000 fans 12 and under get the promotion. But the real thrill is that all fans entering on that day will receive the Carlos Gomez Gold Glove Bobblehead.

Only 14 more games to go.

Play Ball!

The Coming Of ‘Him’.

'Him'

‘Him’

The stands were full as the anticipation of ‘him’ coming to the plate was a long-awaited event, second only to the unveiling of the Bud Selig statue the previous year. But this anticipation was for someone who could actually do something ON a baseball field, not conspire against the players by collusion with the owner down on the South Side of Chicago.

Many had their first brat of the season, fully dressed with kraut and Secret Stadium Sauce from the middle stand on the third base side of the main entry. That’s where you get the good ones. It is dipped and smothered with the magic sauce. It went down smoothly with that cold Miller Lite as all eyes were on the first base dugout.

As he appeared to go onto the on-deck circle, picking up the rosin bag and tapping it on the handle of his black bat, there was a heightened murmur rolling throughout the stands as he was grasping it with both hands and pulling it over his head, waggling it back and forth over the back of his head to loosen up the kinks of a long winter wondering if he could play without assistance. The fans watched in near quiet as Gomez, last year’s Gold Glove winner in centerfield, led off the game for the home team against the team that left the Cream City so many years ago, breaking hearts of a generation of fans in the hinterland where beer and sausages go together like peanut butter and jelly, not chicken and grits.

The practice swings he made took on new meaning as last year’s All-Star, Jean Segura, batted second. Then, taking the bat upside down, grabbing the barrel of the stick, popped the bat to the ground, releasing the bat ring which weighted the bat for practice swings, he stepped out of the on-deck circle and riding a wave of applause and fans standing in ovation of their fallen star, Braunschweiger stepped across the batters box, across home plate and took his practice swing facing third base before he stepped into the box where right-handed hitters stood, politely acknowledging the crowd’s moving welcome with a slight upward motion by his right hand, bat resting and tapping home plate, before he took his stance.

Why?

Why this acknowledgment of by those who are, all that is, right and good, to a fallen hero who not only took PEDs but lied about it to everyone he had ever met…family, friends, workers, fellow players from his team and opposing teams, partners in business…everyone?

The understanding here, Milwaukee is an extremely parochial town. It is, from the very beginning, built upon hard-working, blue-collar folks who went to school to be educated  and to church on Sundays and were taught the Golden Rules of life. The town is Catholic, not unlike Boston or Chicago or Baltimore. Yet this is a community filled with deep conviction that you do have a second chance to redeem yourself and people are entitled to redemption.

That won’t happen in Philly or Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or Los Angeles. It’s not that they are bad. It is simply that they are not this parochial. It absolutely will not happen in Phoenix where they still believe that it is better to shoot someone than allow them to explain what they did and why they did it. After all, the Zona is only a bit over 100 years old. It is also the home of the Sherriff who puts his prisoners in pink and has them stay outside all year-long in Tent City.

What will be interesting is to see how he is greeted in one of the most respected baseball towns in the country, St. Louis. The bitter rival of the Milwaukee nines throughout most of the later half of the Twentieth Century, St. Louis has a reputation not unlike Milwaukee. It has seen some of its own disgraced and ashamed. How will they welcome the latest Black Sheep from the other beer city up North?

On Monday, April 28th, we will find out. That will be the fourth game of the year between the Brewers and the Cardinals and the first visit of the Cerveceros to the Land of Busch to play the Cardenales.

Then we will see. Then we will learn the depth of the disgrace. Let’s hope his thumb gets better before then.

Play Ball!

 

Bogie Said It Best

Let The Games Begin.

Let The Games Begin.

The first part of Spring is over. The fields are vacant all over Arizona and Florida where the Show put on its previews-before-Broadway best for the past month and a half before opening tonight. Kinks were worked out. Arms got stronger. Hitting got in sync with mid-season form. The routine of the marathon called a season began. Umpires appeared to be under special scrutiny as the new rules of challenging calls came into play. Pitchers pitched. Hitters hit and Aramis Ramirez hit doubles and didn’t slide once. And if he does, fire the idiot third base coach. Now its time. As Humphrey Bogart said, “A hot dog at the ballgame beats roast beef at the Ritz.”

Tonight the season begins but without one of the best pitchers in baseball. Clayton Kershaw was placed on the DL on Saturday. He looked so very sharp during Spring Training. Hyun-jin Ryu is starting tonight in his place. Mike Trout of the Angels just signed one of the biggest contracts for easily the best young player in the game. Miggy signed a huge contract with the Tigers because he is Miggy and has back-to-back MVPs under his belt. But, without Prince, will he be pitched around? But enough about hitting.

The Western Division of the National League will be different this year. The challenger, Arizona, will be working without its opening day starting pitcher, Patrick Corbin and its top reliever, David Hernandez. Both will be out for the entire year with Tommy John surgery, which Corbin had perfumed a few days ago. Pitching wins pennants. The D’Backs won’t be that fortunate this season. They will begin the season with Brandon McCarthy taking the mound on Opening Day. Then on Tuesday, Wade Miley starts. Trevor Cahill will start on Wednesday. Then there are the Giants. They win the World Series every two years. Last year they didn’t. Starting on Monday, left hander Madison Bumgarner takes the Opening Day mound against the D’Backs in Phoenix. Matt Cain, the big right hander will start on Tuesday. Tim Hudson will begin game #3 on Wednesday and the incomparable, right hander Tim Lincecum will start on Thursday. Guess who is in the driver’s seat now? As for the Padres, Andrew Cashner will be the starting pitcher tonight against the Dodgers, his first Opening Day starting assignment. On Tuesday, Ian Kennedy, the former D’Backs ace who was traded to San Diego last year at the deadline, love Petco Park. He is 7-2 in it and a great 2.41 ERA. Then on Wednesday, Tyson Ross is on the mound for the Padres. He has a terrific slider. All right-handed, they play in a pitcher friendly big park. As for the Dodgers, now its Hyun-jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and Dan Haren. On Monday night in Miami, the Colorado Rockies open the season with Jorge De La Rosa on the mound. On Tuesday, a second left hander, Brett Anderson, will take the mound. On Wednesday, a right hander, Tyler Chatwood, starts. Then on Thursday, another right hander, Juan Nicasio will start for the Rockies.

Why highlight the Western Division? You know, the California teams plus two? This is where the battle will be the greatest. With the biggest payroll in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers are EXPECTED to win everything this year. Arizona is expected to be challenging all the way. San Francisco is always tough. The San Diego nine is up and coming. And the Colorado Rockies play a mile high. It is a tough place to play especially for visiting pitchers who try to throw breaking balls.

So, the guess for this season’s team out of the West will be the San Francisco Giants. Pitching wins and they have the pitching.

Play Ball!

Booker T’s Finest

A member of the All-Century Team...Mr. Cub.

A member of the All-Century Team…Mr. Cub.

The other day, in Mesa, Arizona, there were more than 15,000 packing in the new Cubs park. It really didn’t matter who they were playing. Cub fans descended upon it in hoards. And for the same reason they gather on nearly every game no matter where the Cubs play…it’s an event. Family and friends gather for one common cause: misery and comaraderie.

Here they were, gathered again, smiling, laughing, Vienna in one hand and a drink in another. It was Cub time. It was ‘hope’ time. Will this be the year?

Back in the day, there really was hope. A young all around athlete from Booker T Washington High School in Dallas was entering his first full season. He starred in track, basketball, football as well as baseball. In his brief appearance in the previous season he had only appeared in 10 games with 35 at bats. But he took measure of greatness as he banged out 2 home runs, a double and a triple, along with 7 other hits to bat .314. He really was the hope the Cubs had been looking for since Gabby retired. For the next 18 years he would be ‘The Cub’….’Mr Cub’.

I first met Ernie Banks at a game in Milwaukee. He was there, walking through the stands, greeting everyone, shaking hands and given a warm welcome even in the dreaded enemy city of the Cream City. But this was Ernest Banks, always smiling and instantly recognizable and personable. Shaking his hand he simply said, ‘Great day to play two’, sort of giggling and smiling every second and looking directly into you eyes.

What I remember most about that day was not just meeting him but the respect the fans in Milwaukee had for him, applauding him everywhere he went in the stadium while he was waving and smiling all the way to his seat, next to Cub fans who were simply in delirium as their hero was amongst them.

And it is a funny thing about this Hall of Fame hero. He never disappointed. Here was a man who had hit 47 home runs in one season. Here was a man who drove in 147 RBI in a single season. He was an All-Star in 13 games in 11 years (remember, they used to have two All-Star games in certain seasons). He was MVP twice in back-to-back years, 1958-1959.

On this day in Mesa, everyone was talking about how they got to the park that day and one said he had just flown down from Chicago where it had been snowing when he left. Now it was 80 degrees and he ask, ‘Where’s Ernie?’.

That’s what Cub fans have been asking for decades. That’s what bring hope to these fans who follow their beloved Cubbies everywhere. Now it’s time to …

Play Ball!

The Sights Of Spring

'Get your ice cold, fresh squeezed lemonade now. You know you love it.'

‘Get your ice cold, fresh squeezed lemonade now. You know you love it.’

One of the wonders of a ballpark in Spring is the things you see. The  guy in the section behind the screen giving a little boy a ball he caught. Or the girl at the end of the aisle waiting to buy an ice-cold Lemonade from the hawking vendor. There is the guy with a bullhorn for a voice screaming at the top of his lungs, the name of the player coming to bat. Always a pleasure to be near this guy at Maryvale.

It is also the thrill of seeing a great play from a player this early in the season. One of those is the White Sox third baseman, Conor Gillaspie, who tied a record held by thousands when he assisted on all three outs in an inning. But it was how he did that which was amazing. On one play in particular, he made a fantastic back-handed stab at a hard hit ball, grabbed it with his glove, whirled around and threw a strike to the first baseman (on this day it was Adam Dunn) to record the out.

The agony is seeing yet another poor outing by Matt Garza, the pitcher the Brewers rescued from the Rangers via the Cubs by beating out the Angels to sign him. Every pitch he throws looks like a grapefruit. One should remind him it is the Cactus League.

The occasional player running on the outfield track is always a pleasure to see and for those who have not been to Spring Training, they often talk aloud in wonder that the game is not as sacrosanct as during the regular season. It really is the visual essence of Spring Training.

Skip Schumaker in a Cincinnati uniform just looks strange. But he does have his familiar #55 on his back this season and is hitting .478 this Spring in that Red uniform.  Of course,  Lyle Overbay looks strange at first for the Brewers. Wasn’t he here before? Doesn’t he hold the Brewer record for doubles? Just imagine, you could have a different Brewer first baseman every inning. Beside Overbay there is Mark Reynolds, Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado (both catchers combined for 24 games at first base last season) and then there is Hunter Morris, Sean Halton and Jason Rogers, all who have been up and down from Nashville in the past few years. In addition, there is the one who started most of the games last year, Juan Francisco. An entire team of first basemen on one team. Only in Spring Training. And, only with the Brewers.

Speaking of former Brewer first basemen, Prince Fielder in a uniform, baggy as usual, with the number 84 on it is so discomforting. One can only suppose that the number stands for the $84 million he is earning each year for the next 100 years.

A Sight Of Spring Prince Fielder of the Texas Rangers and Avisail Garcia of the Chicago White Sox at first base.

A Sight Of Spring
Prince Fielder of the Texas Rangers and Avisail Garcia of the Chicago White Sox at first base.

The Texas Rangers Avisail Garcia is a massive fellow. At 6’4”, 240 lb., he reminds one of all those old pictures in the era of Babe Ruth who was clearly so much bigger than most of the other players in the Bigs at that time. The other day, after hitting a single, he was standing just off the first base bag, clearly a head taller and much bigger than Prince Fielder (see picture above). Not much love here. All you have to know is that they hate each other after both were Tigers together and that’s not all.

The player of the year in the American League could very well be the Cuban All-Star for the Chicago White Sox, Jose Abreu, #79 in the program and #1 in your hearts. A big (6’3”, 255 lb) first baseman, he is superb. Powerful and an RBI machine, Abreu is the real deal. The Southsiders are going to have fun with this fellow on the first bag this season.

The hope of Spring would not be complete unless you saw the flawless swing of Logan Schafer. It is one of those picturesque left hand hitter swings that mesmorizes. And as usual, he is hitting well above most (.345 this Spring) and will make the team with all of the hope of past years but while sitting on the bench in Milwaukee, he will cool down and barely hit his weight during the regular season. He looks heavier this season but the speed is still there.

Vonnie Gallardo is still throwing 200 pitches a game with more 3-2 counts than he can nibble away the corners with. If he just did less of the nibbling, he would get through a game in about 55 minutes. The starting rotation of the Brewers look like, #1 Vonnie; #2 Kyle Lohse; #3 Wily Peralta; #4 Eric Estrada #5 Matt Garza.

The Men In Blue

The Men In Blue


At Camelback Ranch the other day, the four umpires marched down the third base line, in unison abreast of one another, to the music of ‘Hill Street Blues’, a hilarious moment few would ever see in a real game in The Show.

The ongoing conversation between the umpire and the third base coach of the Milwaukee Brewers throughout one of the games this week had one wondering, ‘Are they talking about going to Don & Charlies or the value of the baseball memorabilia collection there’? Guess that’s the reason why he continues to coach even if he personally is responsible, and leading the league, for about five lost games a year.

The Angels keep believing that Albert Pujols will come back from old age and make a difference this year. But the real wonder plays centerfield. Mike Trout is magnificent. He also has 11 RBI this Spring already.

The sun is warm, the drinks are cold. The hamburgers, hot dogs and brats are giving a wonderful aroma throughout the stadiums. People are smiling. No one is being annoyed by that unruly fan or the stumbling drunk. Hey. It’s Spring Training. Everybody is out of shape during this time of the year.

The Dodgers? Their wallets are so heavy, there are just a lot of smiles over at Camelback Ranch. But they do have one of the greatest pitchers in The Show, Clayton Kershaw, even if he has lost all three decision this Spring and has a 9.20 ERA.

Martin Prada is flashing his glove for the D’backs and makes it look easy playing third base. Plus he’s hitting .500. Yikes.

The Cubs?

Then there is Jonathon Lucroy. He is one of the most underrated players in the major leagues. Although his arm has never been one to compare with others, he is a sure handed backstop and a bat like Yogi. He can flat-out hit. And for a catcher, that is fantastic. They are going to have to really keep him fresh and move him to first base if the squad of many over there don’t pan out.

Then there are the managers for many of the teams who sit next to their dugouts on folding chairs as if to see the action even closer. You can just imagine that they are saying, ‘Did you see him dip his shoulder on that one?’, as if they couldn’t see that a few feet from where they are sitting, back in the dugout. It’s a sun thing. They want to get their share of Spring Training sun to take back to those freezing fans in Milwaukee, Chicago and all places other than Florida or Arizona.

Cleveland is showing signs of being very interesting. It is largely a cast of players the manager really loves. And they are leading the Cactus League. Is that a good thing?

Scooter Gennett has outplayed Rickie Weeks in the Spring. And Aramis is ready. His hitting never needs a refresher. And Braunschweiger? He is hitting the cover off of the ball. And strangely, the other day in a visiting ballpark, there were no adverse jeers. Amazing what .500+ hitting will do.

The pitchers are rounding into shape. Chris Sale is the real deal. He looks overwhelming this spring. For a left-handed batter, it must seem like the ball is coming out of the back of their right ear.

Then there is Hank the dog.

The Racing Sausages

The Racing Sausages


The sausages are running in the Seventh at Maryvale and pose with the kids for what seems like hours after their race. The line at the merchandise shop is back up outside the door. Can’t tell the players unless you are wearing his name on your back. The grills are being cleaned for the next day and as you walk out of the stadium, people are smiling and happy. Why not? It’s 80 degrees and you’ve just taken in a game, some with kids, grand children and friends. Walking past the vacant practice fields, you know that you are one of the luckiest people in the world.

This is a ritual everyone should enjoy at least once in their lifetime.

Play Ball!