The Yankees Are In Town.

Photo by Lance Hanish © 2014 all right reserved

Photo by Lance Hanish © 2014 all right reserved

It felt like post season play. The small market Cream City Nine was taking on the mighty New York Yankees…the Bronx Bombers…the Gotham Nine…the biggest of the big major league baseball teams in the world. Arguably one of the best know sports brands on the planet, the Yanks stride into a city, heads held high, looking smart and comfortable within their skins as the legends they represent on today’s playing fields are. No team has won more World Series Championships than the men in pinstripes. They are so great they may have invented pinstripes.

When they come out before the game, there are no pinstripes on the grey traveling uniforms and no names on their jerseys. ‘You can’t tell a player without a program was not invented by the Yanks because everyone knows who the players are. There are way more people than normal in the stands, showing up for BP. These are not the Pittsburgh Pirates. These are the real deal, honest to God, Yankees. They don’t even need a city locater in front of their name on their website (www.yankees.com). Everywhere you look there is a story: Mark Teixeira, 34-year-old big first baseman and former All-Star who is back after missing most of last season. He’s bigger than you think. Out jogs Ichiro. At 40 years old, he doesn’t need a last name as he is one of the greatest baseball players of this generation who was in every All Star game for a decade. Batting .373 this season and fewer than 300 hits away from 3,000,  strangely he is relegated to pinch running roles which give a whole new meaning to steal a base when he is on, or an occasional Sunday start. There’s Jacoby Ellsbury, the 29-year-old former Boston center fielder and All-Star, jogging in the outfield. Isn’t that Alfonso Soriano, a former seven-time All-Star, taking ground balls? CC Sabathia, 33-year-old former hero of Milwaukee and a six-time All-Star, is taking BP. Welcome back to the Senior Circuit, CC. Brian McCann, 30-year-old former Braves’ All-Star, walking out, swinging a bat ready to go into the cage. Walking back to the dugout is Carlos Beltran, 37-year-old, 8 time All-Star, now playing right field for his fourth team. Then, last out of the dugout comes The Captain…Derek Jeter. In his farewell trip, and always a crowd favorite, he comes out just as he always has with his head held up high, jogging out to short to take a few grounders. He is the man. Even coming into the dugout to grab his bat, there is a regal kind of presence.

Then, out in the bullpen, there is the Master of Hyogo, Masahiro Tanaka, who was 24-0 in his homeland, and is still perfect in the Bigs too, throwing bullets. There is a reason he hasn’t lost sometime since 2012. His control is perfect. His demeanor is perfect. His presence is perfect. Imagining him anywhere else in major league baseball is imaginable. He is a Yankee.

It is that kind of night. The Yankees are in The Keg.

When Jeter comes to the plate, as will happen when CC Sabathia comes to the pate the next day, these Midwestern folks who know their baseball and understand the moment like few others in the game, rise and give him a standing ovation. A STANDING OVATION for an opposing player. In all of baseball, that is unheard of. But there is a reason. Derek Jeter is one of the great baseball players that has ever lived. And, he has represented his sport like few other professionals in the history of the game.  Here is a guy who even warns some guy who runs out to short during the game to ask for a hug and Derek Jeter just says to the fan near his idol, “You’re going to get in trouble. “And then he repeated that the fan wanted a hug, and Jeter said, ‘Look out.’, just before security guards grabbed the guy and took him out of the ballpark. What kind of a guy is Derek Jeter?

He is the Lou Gehrig of our day.

He is the Captain of the Yankees.

Play Ball!

Watching Attanasio

Baseball is never ending. There is a rhythm and flow that predates rock and roll. It is part of past, present and future. It is there for us, on demand, as regular as running water. We know it is there and when we want it, it comes out. It is, after all, our heritage. It is an American legacy.

The temples where the game is played of green grass has a look all its own. There, the gods of the sport, now and before, play the game. Their ghosts are everywhere. Aaron and Banks. Williams and Mantle. Spahn and Mathews, Musial and Koufax. Jackie and Robin. Through the turnstiles, past the concession stands, into the venue itself, the opening is there and passing through, there it is…it is the place where magic will happen today.

Hope for the season ahead is ever present. This is the season when the heavens will open up and victory in the form of a World Series pennant will be ours.

For many of us, it is a way of life, passed down to us from our grandparents, parents or relatives. It is our legacy. When remembering the past, it is the time we spent with our grandfather and grandmother, Mom and Dad at the ballpark. For those who grew up in Wisconsin, the home team, our home team is the Milwaukee Brewers. So much had been seen there; the great players like Roger … ‘The Rocket’, perhaps the greatest pitcher the game has ever seen, or Reggie and Yaz, Cal and Randy Johnson, as well as Griffey, Jr. and Ichiro, the greatest hitter the game has seen in our lifetime. ‘The Brewers Win The Pennant’ with Simba, Robin, Pauly, Gimby, Stormin, Rollie, Vuch, Coop, Benji and the Harvey were all witnessed with family and friends, Moms and Dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. CC and Sheets, Prince and Braun, Greinke, Weeks and Nyjer, K-Rod and AxMan, brought the feeling back but fell ever so short.

This was a team that was brought to Wisconsin after the first great heartbreak of our sporting life, on a loan from the Schlitz Brewing Co. family to a car dealer’s son who would become the Commissioner of Baseball (after he was involved and found guilty in the collusion between the owners to keep players from earning their fair share through free agency) to fill the void left by the carpetbagger who moved the beloved Braves to that city down south.

We live in a world of globalization. We live in a world where the game is played by athletes everywhere. Milwaukee is a community that has diversified over the past half century as well. Today 39% of Milwaukee County is made up of Black Americans, 13% Latinos, 5% Asian Americans. It became a majority minority dominated city in 2000.

Today’s baseball team in the Cream City no longer reflects that diversity. Of the 40 man roster, there are only two Black Americans, one an aging Weeks nearing the end of his career and Davis, a young man just beginning his career. The Latino contingent is well represented, with some sixteen team members. There is one Asian, a Taiwanese pitcher who is yet to make it to the Bigs.

We no longer live in a Jim Crow era. Yet the team that is in Milwaukee has just two Black Americans. When they made a run for the pennant, the starting first baseman, second baseman and center fielder were black. Prince was beloved since he came up through the minors and would, fans thought, forever be an All-Star Brewer. Rickie was the college educated, All-Star second baseman. Nyjer was the center of joy. And he did get THE HIT. Together with Braun, Hart, Lucroy, Grienke, Vonnie, K-Rod and Axford they made their run which would be only the first of many to come. Today there is no Prince, no Nyjer, no Grienke, no K-Rod nor Axford. And there is no Hart. Rickie is waning, Vonnie is struggling and Braun is coming back from the unknown.

The team has no minority manager or coaches with the single exception of John Shelby who begins his third season on the coaching staff after joining the organization as outfield coach/eye in the sky, whatever that is; no upper management who are minority. Yet this is the governing body of the team that represents a majority minority city in the great Midwest. ‘A team is a reflection of the community it represents.’

The owner is from Los Angeles. There is little that is the same on Wilshire Boulevard or Pacific Palisades as compared to Pigsville or Lincoln at Kinnikinnick. In the City of Angels, Brats (with Secret Stadium Sauce) and beer are as foreign as sushi and wine are in Bayview. Brookfield is not Beverly Hills and Racine has kringle. Try finding that at Gilsons. This is a town where there are bubblers and kids wear rubbers on their feet when it rains. There is a separation here. It is not just distance, but a cultural misunderstanding that Milwaukee is the same as it was or the same as everywhere else. It is not. The Packers and Brewers, Badgers,  Bucks and Marquette belong to Wisconsinites, not Californians. Curley, Uecker, Crazylegs and Chones are our guys. Spencer Tracy, Fred MacMurray and Gene Wilder are our guys. They all, uncommon individuals and brilliant in their craft, who have all played at one time or another in California, are Wisconsinites through and through. The Brewers, every last one of them who ever played in the Cream City, belong to us.

If there is one thing a person from Los Angeles knows, it is star-power. They know that if you have a star for your program or movie or team, people will come and fans will pay in record numbers to see them. It is as eternal as Cary Grant, Bob Hope or Babe Ruth. They don’t call Yankee Stadium ‘The House That Ruth Built’ for nothing. Mark Attanasio lives and works in Los Angeles. He occasionally shows up in Milwaukee as the owner. He should know more than most what a star does to propel a team and make money. The present team looks like a fragment of their former self. Yes, the payroll is manageable and the team will make money…a lot of money. What is our VORP? Who gives a crap. Enough with Keith Wollner. We want a PENNANT. We want to be competitive. We want it NOW.

A former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers in the old American Association, Bill Veeck, said, “Baseball must be a great game because the owners haven’t been able to kill it.” The fans will fill the stands. And records will be broken. But we need a Prince or a Price, a Tanaka or, hell, a first baseman who can play first base. It is time for change. It is time for an owner to get in touch with the city his team represents and a management who represents a constant path to victory. We are watching Attanasio.

We will be heading to Maryvale in February and again the gates will open and warm, brilliant sunshine will illuminate the field. The lines will be chalked and fans will press for autographs. The smell of brats and beer will fill the air and the boys from the team representing Milwaukee will take the field. Will this team have a chance to win the pennant or will this owner be like so many before him, make money on a fan base who will support them regardless of the outcome. He will earn it on the millions who will go through Miller Park. He will earn it from broadcast and telecast, mobile and digital rights. He will earn it from the advertising in the stands and on merchandise that is sold. He will make it from those over the limit teams who will spend monies to try to win the pennant and pay the  tax. He will earn it by paying for mediocrity on the field, in the dugout and in upper management. Can you spell Masahiro? David? Or, even Prince?

It is time to …

Play Ball!

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Rangers In Position

Yesterday, one of the key free agent outfielders in the Major Leagues, Shin-Soo Choo agreed to a seven-year, $130 million contract with the Texas Rangers. Choo is just the latest in a series of moves that have positioned the Dallas franchise to make a run for the pennant once again.

The line-up looks like this: Leading off: left handed, right handed hitting, Leonys Martin (CF); Batting second: right handed hitting, Elvis Andrus (SS); Hitting third: right handed hitting Adrian Beltre (3B); In the clean up position: left handed hitting Prince Fielder (1B); In the 5th spot, left handed hitting Shin-Soo Choo (LF/RF); Batting 6th: right handed hitter, Alex Rios (LF/RF); In 7th: left handed hitting Mitch Moreland (DH) In 8th: right handed hitting Geovany Soto (C) and in the 9th spot: switch hitting Jurickson Profar (2B). The flexibility and the power is exceptional. The team will definitely improve their #8 position for runs last season; their 7th place in slugging percentage; and their 10th place in on base percentage. This is a batting order that will wear opposing pitchers out and the bullpens of the opponents will be exposed.

This is a lineup which will be extremely tough on right handed pitchers, and should wear out opposing pitchers as Fielder, Choo and Soto run up pitch counts all day long. But what pitcher would want to face Beltre, Fielder and Choo? This is an extremely dangerous group of hitters, not unlike Braun, Fielder and Hart three and four years back.

Meanwhile, GM Jon Daniels have brought The Rangers closer to a championship and will have the incomparable Yu Darvish at the top of the pitching rotation. A 200 inning starter with a 14-7 record last season, Darvish is due for a big season as he enters his third year in the Majors. With a 3.11 ERA, this is a dominating stopper. Derek Holland, another 200 inning starter with a 12-8 record, should have a great year after coming off of a 3.74 ERA season. They represent a great one-two pitching staff with a lot of power to give them a run or two in most of their starts. Jason Frasor will be the closer this season. He had 60 innings last season and an excellent 3.20 ERA with 61 Ks and only  26 bases on balls.

While defending Oakland A’s will again be strong in their division, the question is will they be able to continue their upward run with the addition of left handed pitcher, Scott Kasmir? The question in Dallas is: did they do enough in the off-season to overcome the A’s in the AL West? Has their pitching situation improved enough to carry this team into and through  the World Series? IF Masahiro Tanaka is eventually posted by his club in Japan and IF the Rangers can sign him, Dallas will be the odds on favorite to win it all in 2014.

This is what the off season is all about, building for the future now. Daniels and the other executives of the Rangers deserve all the credit in making the Hot Stove League extremely warm. There is little question that their hitting will be on par with any team in the majors. On February 27th at Surprise Stadium in Arizona, the excitement will begin as they take on the Kansas City Royals in their first game in the Cactus League.

Play Ball!

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