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!

Erector Arm

K stands for Caracas

K stands for Caracas

As a kid, the excitement of building something great with an Erector set was held with anticipation. Occasionally, one would build a crane which would carry products from one point to the next, just like the real things did. Then one morning, you came out to find out your brother had done something to which the dreams of building the perfect city would never come to be. The crane’s arm was hanging from a screw…limp and of no more use.

During the past month, K-Rod has come out of the bullpen, night after night, to save another win for the Brewers. The Cream City Nine has seen this before. A Canadian named Axford did it for some 40+ games before the ever present consistency was a thing of the past and all hope was lost. Now the pessimism of ‘when’ looms constantly as we see yet another tight game come down to the point where ‘K-arm’ is up in the bullpen, warming up hard to pinpoint his control on the outside corners before coming in again. It is not ‘how far can he go’. It is ‘when will it end’?

At 18-6 to begin with one of their better starts in their history, these malt and barley men are an interesting lot. A committee of veterans at first, a kid taking over for a vet at second, a miracle with a broken face at short, a heavy hitting veteran at third. A kid in left who is quietly performing within the excitement of the early season. A ball of energy and unpredictability in center…many consider the heart and soul of the ball club, with Braunschweiger in right with a bad thumb, a thing in his shoulder and the gas of millions of outraged fans in every opponents park yet still hitting and fielding like the best. Behind the plate there is the most underestimated catcher in the game with a backup who is now nicknamed ‘The Destroyer’ and a gaggle of starters who may or may not be reaching their peak all at the same time. Then K-Rod.

Francisco Rodriguez first poked his head into The Show in 2002 with the Angels, who were then proudly from Anaheim, for 5 innings and 13 strikeouts. He didn’t get his first save until the next season but on Saturday, in 14 innings so far this season in 24 games, he has 21 K’s and 11 saves. At this rate he will have 74 saves for the season and the Brewers will win 121 games.

Nope.

His arm will fall off.

But if it doesn’t, with the help of rosary beads everywhere, this is going to be a nail-biting, internal hemorrhaging season of all seasons. But there is one more obstacle ahead. It is called May.

The Milwaukee Brewers in the month of May is like Clark Kent sleeping on a bed of kryptonite. The month begins in Cincinnati then moves home for the perplexing D’Backs and for the first visit in nine years, with the kings of baseball visiting Miller Park. Then on the road with the Cubs, the carpetbaggers and Miami. Then home again with a rare visit from the Orioles and the near weekly confrontation with the Northsiders.

So, the Erector Arm and the Month of May. Hope takes a strange shape this season.

Play Ball!

Fish Wrap

A fish stinks from its head. When you catch a fish, you cut off its head, put it into a newspaper and throw it away in the garbage can, preferably far away from where you are living. The Milwaukee Brewers have a problem from the head of the on-field management. A person who inherited a fine young team when he arrived, just a few years ago, Ron Roenicke has been quickly exposed as a potential manager in disguise with limited understanding of pitching. At a time when his team can fight the good fight in a pennant race that left him out of the dust months ago, he throws in the towel before the leading team in his division.

Yesterday in Miller Park, testimony was given to his complete lack of understanding the position of his team and the way his players look to the top man for guidance. The Brewers Ace, Vonnie Gallardo, gave up only 4 hits and 2 runs through seven innings, striking out seven and walking only two. After 112 pitches, he went an inning longer than most starters of today go because the Brewers have the worst bullpen in the major leagues. He gave everything he had, even survived a smash off of his knee by a line-drive from Lance Lynn in the 5th. However, that being said, what Roenicke did is absurd.

In the eighth inning he brings in Rob Wooton, a September call-up from Nashville. Why? Had he given up on his team? He doesn’t even know Wooton and what he can do. Is this the place to put him into the game, in front of a 35,000+ home crowd, desperately wanting a victory over the rival Cardinals? This is part of the legendary ‘Beer Series’, not the ‘Bush Series’. All Wooton did was give up three consecutive singles, after a lead off out, walked Molina with the bases loaded (at what time are you going to jerk him out of the game, Ron?), then gives up a single to Freese and a double to Discalso. Now, after a five run outburst, Roenicke finally visits the mound and removes the pitcher.

As the fans go home to await another season, and the player see exactly what their manager is all about, we all say, “Thank you Roenicke”. Thank you for given 2.5+ million fans who were tortured throughout this season a reason for holding onto our old newspapers.

Play Ball!

Big Daddy Wurst

We are in the August few of us predicted. After all, the Cubs are not in the basement and the Pirates have not collapsed yet. The Yankees aren’t in first place and the Angels are anything but. The Nats ain’t…nor are the D’Backs. And what has happened to the San Francisco Giants?

In Milwaukee, this weekend 100,000+ faithful continued to go to Miller Park, or as many call it The Schnitzelhaus.  It is a family affair. When in doubt, when things get tough, family comes together to support each other. All of the Brewer fans are part of a unique family. They literally suffer collectively when the team loses and nothing has created more of a suffering than the letdown of their champion…Ryan Braun.

The way the Brewer fans react to trouble is to eat.  They have lost two in a row this weekend. And Big Daddy Wurst, owner Mark  Attanasio, has helped overcome the troubles by announcing that this August, all fans  attending any or all of the Brewer games would be given $10 in a coupon for food and drink. I have dubbed this Braunschweiger. Predictions are that the Brewers will pack the park. Food is FREE. The one word Milwaukeeans love more than food is FREE.

It dates back to the 1940s. In Juneau Park, in August, 135,132 Milwaukee sports fans were in attendance to watch a boxing match between Tony Zale and Billy Pryor, with none other than Jack Dempsey referreeing.

Admission was FREE. To this date it is the largest crowd ever to see a boxing match…anywhere.

Big Daddy Wurst knows this.  In a letter to Brewer fans, “Starting this week, we will be introducing a series of initiatives to reaffirm our commitment to you and all our fans throughout Wisconsin.” He is going to feed the masses. In a near Christ-like move, there probable won’t be fishes in the mix but there will be sausages that will meet the needs of those gathered. Of course the moment all will await is the Sausage Race during each game. Pick Italian. Word is that dude has been working out all July.

Point of all this is that we have a guy named Caleb in left, GoGo in center, Nori in right, Jean and Rickie in the middle with Jonathan behind the plate with Juan and Yuni at the corners.

What am I missing?

Just Play Ball!

A Pall Falls On The City

The Cream City has experienced this all before. On the day the announcement was made by the carpetbagger Bartholomay to remove the beloved Braves, a devastated population of loyal fans had jaws agape. It simply could not be true. How could someone remove a team from a city that supported it from day one with Major League record attendance, year after year? Was there no one in town who could offer greed more than the hope of Dixie?

The pain was real. It was deep. It cut through the boyhood memories, dragging them ruthlessly away, well ahead of its time. We had felt disappointment before. There were the continual battles with the Cardinals for the pennant where the sound of fingers on rosary beads were louder than the silent scream of hope that this would be our year. There was the release of Spahn, Buhl, Burdette, Bruton and others. But the hope of the future was there with Aaron, Carty and Torre. And Eddie was still there, the real deal, the heart of the team beloved by so many. Surely Henry and Mathews would refuse to move to the South and force the owners to reconsider.

The ballpark was vacant. ‘No Game Today’ signs hung on the box office windows as if penance from confession was not enough. No one was coming to ‘Will Call’. George Webb made no predictions. They had left town never to return.

No more battles with the Cubs and our next door neighbor who was a religious Cubbie fan. No more “Take Me Out” during the 7th inning stretch. No more excitement about the anticipation of who would see the stadium first when driving in from out-of-town. Hot dogs never tasted the same after that in our winter of complete and total discontent.

The citizens, with hidden tears being wisped away with a rub of a  shoulder to the eyes when no one was looking, were the same but now with a pall over the City. Joy had been ripped out of our hearts.

Then as if the skies opened up, with a huge check from Robert A. Uihlein, Jr., the owner of Schlitz Brewing Company after being persuaded by Ben Barkin, his and the world’s best PR man, the car leasing dealer’s son was bringing the game back to the City. There was hope. There was joy.

Baseball, throughout all of its years, after all is a game of hope. Players change. Manager’s change. Venues sometimes change. From County Stadium to Miller Park, the spirit of the Braves of old whistled through the stadium on opening day of the transplanted Seattle Pilots who went bankrupt in Seattle.

From that point, a new alliance was born between desperate fans yearning to erase the pain of old and replace it with new hope. A bond was created between fans who loved the game and a team that was saved from extinction. Yes. We were now in a new league but that league had the Yankees. We would now be able to see the greatest team in baseball a number of times a year play in the stadium where our home team once won and lost to them in a World Series.

No more Cubs, but we got the White Sox. Close enough.

We also got that new team up in the Twin Cities as a new rival. Life was getting better and now hope was rampant as a new surge of energy spread throughout the land of cheese and butter, beer and ‘B-O-L-O-G-N-A’. The bubblers and goulashes were back in fashion. Baseball was back in the City, the county, the State.

Through the years we latched onto heroes of the game our home team spawned. ‘Boomer’, ‘Vuch’, ‘The Kid’, ‘Molly’, ‘Bambi’s Bombers’, ‘Harvey’s Wallbangers’, Cecil, Sixto, Money, ‘Augie Doggie’, ‘Kenny The Sandman’, Prince, Rickie, Cory, Aoki, Lucroy, ‘Vonnie’, the new kid at short, ‘St. Jean’ and the guy in left.

Most of the pain that we experienced before came flooding back in a flash flood of sorrow. Sure some of the Crew had taken drugs before but none were ever banished with such suddenness, such deliberate heart wrenching disgust and suspension. And in a time when there was no more Prince to defend us, no more Cory to hit us out of our deep depression, the guy in left had us hanging by a thread…without much hope.

Hope drives the game. Hope instills a loyalty that suspends belief. Hope is the lifeblood of youth in all of us no matter what the age. Without hope we are adrift on an endless, joyless whim of no direction.

The pall is over the City once again.

We need a prince to bring life back to the fans of the True Blue Brew Crew.

Perhaps we should just abide and softly in typical Milwaukee fashion, quietly close with …

Play Ball!

Jean Carlos Star

Jean Carlos Enrique Segura is a rising star. He began shinning in 1990 in San Juan, Dominican Republic. But this year, he has become a full-blown star of major proportion. In his first full season as the starting shortstop of the Milwaukee Brewers, he has played in nearly every game and leads the National League in hits (124) with an All-Star batting average of .326. In the last ten games, he is hitting .378.

There are plenty of players who have put up great ‘can’t miss’ minor league stats and never made it big in The Show. Segura is not one of them. Since he hit organized ball, he has proven to be one of the most valuable players. Drafted by the Angels, he was selected an All-Star in 2010 at Cedar Rapids of the Midwest League. The following year he was named Arizona Fall League Rising Star for the Scottsdale nine. Last year, he was  a Texas League All-Star in AA at Arkansas. Also last year he was a Futures Game Selection. This year he was an All-Star at Citi Field for the National League.

This is his first full season.

In batting, he reminds one of a young Henry Aaron at the plate. Lightening quick hands with unexpected power. Segura has hit 11 home runs in his first full season so far. In Henry’s first 1954 season, he hit 13 while batting .280. His All-Star streak began the following year when he batted .314 with 27 home runs. In fielding, Segura has committed 10 errors at shortstop while Henry had 7 errors playing left field (6) and right field (1).

But is it too early to judge a rookie? Not necessarily so. Honus Wagner in his rookie season, and probably ranked as the greatest shortstop of all time, in his first full season in 1898 for St. Louis had 10 home runs and batted .299. Strangely, he never played shortstop in his first year as most of the time he was at first base (75 games), at third base (65) and second base (10). Then there is Alex Rodriguez. During his first full season in 1996 for Seattle he set the standard with a league leading batting average of .358 while smacking 36 home runs. He committed 15 errors. He too became an All-Star in his inaugural full season. He comes back into the Yankee lineup this week in Texas. Then there is Derek Jeter, today’s Captain of the Yankees. His first full season was also in 1996 when he hit 10 home runs while batting .314. He committed 22 errors in his first full season.

Cal Ripken Jr. hammered 28 home runs in his first full season in 1982 for Baltimore while hitting .264. He had only 13 errors all that season playing shortstop. Luke Appling of the Chicago White Sox in his first full season in 1932 (judging a season with over 100 games played) he batted .274 and hit 3 home runs in cavernous Comiskey Park located at 35th and Shields. He had 49 errors, with 37 coming at shortstop, 6 at second base and 6 at third base.

Yet in Milwaukee, every player who ever plays the shortstop position is judged from a point of reference called Robin Yount. In his first full season (1974) he hit .250 with 3 home runs. He matched his uniform number in the field, committing 19 errors.

The beauty of baseball is that comparison are inevitable.  It is part of the game.

This season, all are experiencing the excitement of a rising star. Look for him at shortstop at Miller Park. He is a remarkable young ballplayer.

Play Ball!

From The Navy Yard To Pigsville And Beyond

In case you are living under a rock, baseball fever is at an all-time high due to the expanded playoff spots now up for grabs. It is pandemonium in the parks. All you have to do is watch the Fightin’s and the BrewCrew to see what’s happening. Both teams, picked to finish near or at the top of their divisions before the season began, struggled to find their bearings throughout the summer. But now when the window is closing fast, both Philadelphia and Milwaukee are putting together winning streaks that are defying the odds.

As of this morning, both teams are closing in. The Phillies are only one game behind in the loss column and the Brewers two games behind because the Dodgers pulled off another great 9th inning rally to beat St. Louis and tie the Cardinals for the wild card spot. That leads us all to the next question: if you tie for the Wild Card at the end of the season, do you have a one game playoff? And, where would that game be played? How is it determined? Let’s not forget the D’Backs. There are only 4 games out in the loss column.

Wild Card fever is not only limited to the National League. In the American League, there is an insane rush  for the playoffs going on as well. The Amazing A’s not only are in the driver’s seat for the Wild Card spot, they are only 2 1/2 games behind the mighty Texas Rangers for the top spot in the AL West. Baltimore, behind their Manager of the Year candidate, Buck Showalter, are three games ahead of the payroll laden Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the unbelievable Tampa Bay Rays and the powerful Detroit Tigers. For everyone who wants a final half month of the season to be up for grabs, you’ve got it this year.

The Angels are another interesting story in all of this. With a payroll that is bigger than most, along with an amazing AL Rookie of the Year candidate in Mike Trout, they continue to stumble when they need it the most. The latest Scioscia Slip occurred last night in Kansas City where former Royal’s Cy Young Award winner, Zach Greinke, the former Brewer earlier in the season, took the mound and was Greinkesque. He masterfully shut out his former team for 8 innings. Then Scioscia, as only he can do, decided to let him go  back out to the mound for he 9th. With the pitch count running into the low 100s, Greinke had not finished  a complete game in years. But if Big Mike wills it, it will happen.

Or not.

Greinke got the first two out before he gave up a single into left. Now Mike the Merciless jumped out of the dugout and immediately called for a reliever who promptly gave up a game tying home run and then the winning home run, back-to-back. If you could have seen Greinke’s face in the dugout when Billy Butler slammed the game tying home run, you would have been whisked back to an earlier few days in the season when he had the same experiences while a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. Deja Vu all over again.

How quickly we come full circle back to Pigsville’s favorite ball park. Last night the Crew unloaded against the Mets only to see Scoscia’s disciple, Ron Roenicke bring in Axford in the ninth inning with a big lead. Axford promptly made the game interesting as he gave up his usual runs in the 9th. But unlike what happened in KC or in Dodger Stadium, the game at Miller Park ended with no more runs scoring.

We’re in for a great final few weeks in September. As Jim Murray said, “The charm of baseball is that as  dull as it may be on the field, it is endlessly fascinating as a rehash.”

Play Ball!

Romo-Them’s In The Land of Lombardi

It was to be a great series, the Philadelphia Phillies against the Milwaukee Brewers. At least that’s what most thought would happen in the City of Brotherly Love at the beginning of the season. Here were two teams loaded with pitching talent, ready to take on the world as a preliminary face-off of the National League Championships in October. That was not to be the case. The Brewers limped into Philadelphia fresh from a three game losing sweep by Cincinnati and trailed the Reds by 10 games in the loss column at the time. They were only moments away from unloading a bunch of talent because they couldn’t or wouldn’t keep them to make a run for the pennant.

There are some fundamental flaws in the team structure this year. The first baseman, Cory Hart, a right fielder who is just learning to play the position because the regular first baseman is on the DL for the season. The second baseman, Week’s, is not fielding nor hitting, two vital flaws in anyone’s game. The current shortstop-of-the-moment is playing because the starting shortstop is on the DL for the season. The third baseman, Aramis Ramirez is a doubles machine. He has 35 doubles this season and is one of the bright spots on the team. The left fielder (we call him Mr. Braun in the land of beer and sausage and, yes John…cheese curds), after a very difficult off-season, is playing better than he did last year when he won the league MVP. The center fielder (whoever plays that position) is missing in action. The right fielder, Aoki, is a huge surprise and playing above what anyone expected. The catcher, Maldonado, is also a wonderful surprise but he had to move over for the starting catcher (Lucroy) who came back Thursday from the DL (he had broken his hand when his wife dropped a suitcase on it during the Dodger series way back in June). And that leaves the pitching.

Want a migraine? Strangely, starting pitching has been fairly good of late for the Brewers (forgetting last night’s Wolf-mare). Now that may all change. So you want relief pitching? So do the Brew Crew. The relief pitching has been a disaster. They have lost at least 19 blown saves in games that were in the bag. Only Philadelphia in the National League have a worst blown save percentage (comparing this year to last year) than the Brewers. While the Phillies are -23.0 vs last year, Milwaukee is -18.3 in save percentage in 2011/save percentage in 2012 difference. Both Philadelphia and Milwaukee were playoff teams last year. The Phillies have a save percentage of 62.5% this season. Milwaukee has a miserable 52.9%. The major league average save percentage is 69% this season. You get the picture.

Then there is the hitting, or lack thereof. Only Braun is hitting above .300 (with a .313 batting average, a league leading 28 home runs and the second best RBI total with 70 and an OPS of 1.002. Aoki, who could win the Rookie of the Year honors, is hitting .280. The starting catcher, Maldonado, who came up from AAA Nashville after Lucroy went on the DL is hitting a respectable .272 while Ramirez is hitting .286 and an OPS of .845. That’s it. They are the only batters above .270. Hart is hitting a disappointing .260; Gomez who alternates in center field is hitting .244 while Morgan the other center fielder is at .228; the shortstop Izturis is at .220 while Rickie Weeks, former All-Star second baseman last season is struggling at .209. When your middle can’t hit, you will loose.

As for the ‘Fightn’s’, they were 15 games in the loss column behind the Eastern Division leading Washington Nationals. In order to get to the playoffs, they have to jump over four teams in their division. Only the Cubs, Padres, Rockies and Astros have lost more games this season. And these are the fearsome Philadelphia Phillies. These guys won the entire thing just a couple of seasons ago. So what happened? Milwaukee was swept again.

The twisting in the wind began after that last loss in Philly and before you could spell Greinke, he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for three minor leaguers quicker than you could spell Greinke’s wife’s former profession, that of a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader.

Of all that is holy, that just isn’t right. No, not that the Brewers got nothing in return for a front line pitcher but because his wife was one of Romo-them’s in the land of Lombardi. That would make any cheese head spit out a perfectly good bratwurst.

It’s been that kind of week. That kind of year. Only 62 regular season games left, boys and girls. Fourteen and one-half games out, ten under .500. Only six teams have lost more games in the National League this season.

There is a hint of a breeze beginning to blow from the North this year across Pigsville and Miller Valley, earlier than anticipated. Green is replacing Blue in the jerseys. What a horrible thought. And it isn’t even August yet.

If baseball is a game built upon hope and prayers, it is time to hit the kneelers, bring out the beads and say after me, “Hail Mary full of grace”.

Play Ball!

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No Pepper

The other day, before a game while the team was taking batting practice, a couple of the players started to play ‘flipping’, a spur of the moment game where different players keep a ball alive by flipping it to another player who usually doesn’t catch the ball but flips it with the back of their gloves to another player without dropping it. Flipping is contagious. More and more players drift into and out of the game for a few minutes until the attention span ends and the players go about their real duties during BP.

Flipping does have a method behind its madness. This season, watching ‘Play of the Day’ you often see players using the ‘flipping’ tactic to make that spectacular play. This week, Rickie Weeks of the Brewers flipped a ball to the shortstop to force out a runner coming into second. A center fielder of the Toronto Blue Jays dropped a ball which then hit the wall of Miller Park and bounced back to him, but he could not control it before it hit the ground (btw…as soon as the ball hit the wall, the ball was considered ‘in play’ regardless of what the fielder did with it after that point). The hitter ended up with a double. Bad flipping.

This gets to the heart of the game during the dog days of summer.  Players have a lot of time on their hands. There are just so many things you can work on, during the time on the field during the batting and fielding practice sessions. Which gets is to a pastime which has vanished long ago. Pepper.

When I first went to a ballpark, there were always players gathering behind the plate or  near the dugouts playing a strange game between four and five players, one with a bat in his hand and the others grouped in a line about five yards away. One of the players without a bat would throw the ball to the batter who, usually with a fungo bat, would hit it back to another player in the group who would in turn with one motion, throw the ball back to the batter and on and on it went, faster and faster until someone either dropped the ball or missed the throw with the bat. It was a game of quick reaction. During the summer, it went faster and faster as the season progressed. Occasionally, a ball would make it’s way into the stands, either by an errant throw, tipped ball, or a foul. Thus the dreaded signs began to appear behind the plate or between the back screen and the dugout: NO PEPPER.

Most ballparks have banned Pepper today because they claim there is the danger of balls landing in the stands and injuring spectators or because its concentrated play damages the grass on the field. Yekes! Damage the grass? Balls in the stands? Haven’t they heard of foul balls and bats flying into the stands?

Pepper goes back to the very origins of the game. To me, it gave a close up view of big leaguers in a casual setting before the pressure of a game began. They were just like the neighbors next door….real people…laughing, joking around but with numerals on the back of their major league jerseys. “Hey Joe? How about an autograph?” “Later, kid. I’m in trouble here.” as his playing pals began laughing as Adcock dropped the ball. We all began to laugh. All we wanted was the chance to be part of the group, part of the gang. And that’s what Pepper allowed us (yes even kids in the stands) to do.

“Alright you kids. Back to the bleachers. These seats are for big timers.”, the grumpy usher  rumbled as he swooshed us up and out of the Box Seats. Reality had set in. Bleachers were reality.

Today, when you look as some of those ballgames on TV as the interleague games end for this season, see if you can find any No Pepper signs. If you do, let me know and we will go to that stadium and catch a game and get there when the gates open.

Chances are, youth will be revisited and there will be a bunch of guys playing pepper somewhere on that field.

Play Ball.

Get Up. You Can’t Be That Tired!

Baseball must be an easy sport to play. Most of the time the players are just casually milling about on the field waiting for the next pitch. You play catch before the inning starts. Nothing too strenuous. There is an eight-in-nine chance that you will not be involved in the next play. You get to sit down when it is your team’s time to bat. The game lasts only a couple of hours a day, far less than playing a round of golf on even the busiest courses. Sure, you have to grab a bat and walk up to the on deck circle after coming from your comfy position in the dugout. You take a couple of swings. And when it is your turn to hit, you walk up to the batter’s box, take your position with a couple of practice swings and zero in on the pitcher…particularly the throwing hand of the pitcher. From that moment the game either speeds up enormously or slows down incredibly depending upon your comfort zone at that time as the stars line up with the movement of the earth and your familiarity with the pitcher. As Yogi said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”

Every player on the field is an exceptional athlete. They are one of only 800 people on the planet to be able to play in ‘The Show’ at one time. For the record, that is one of eight hundred out of 7.013 billion people on the planet.

The mind races faster. On Friday night for five hours and four minutes, the struggling Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs (both entered the game with identical 13 wins and 18 losses) held one of their ‘big rival’ marathons. The Brewers used 22 players out of 25 men on their roster. They even used one of their starting pitcher to pinch hit, Zack Greinke. Only Vonnie Gallardo, Shaun Marcum (who starts on Saturday) and Marco Estrada (who pitched the game before) were not used. If further pinch hitters had to be used, there is no doubt that Gallardo and Marcum could have been used as both are also good hitting pitchers.

There were a lot of Brewers in the ballpark on this night as the Cubs manager, Dale Sveum, along with former Brewer pitcher and now Cubs pitching coach, Chris Bosio, former Brewer rookie of the year, Cubs third base coach Pat Listach and former Brewer infielder and now Cubs bench coach, Jamie Quirk. Add to this, former Brewer manager, Del Crandall at 81 years of age was there as he was honored in the stadium as he was inducted as a member of the The Milwaukee Braves Hall of Fame earlier in day.

The Cubs used 21 of their players including all of the position players.The two clubs had only pitchers that were not used. This game, more than most, gave new meaning to Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first, What’s on second. I don’t know’s on third. Why’s in left. Because is in center. Certainly is the catcher. I don’t give a darn is at short. Tomorrow is the pitcher.”

Cory Hart for the Brewers had 7 at bats, the last gave every one of the 40,097 a chance to go home as it was a single in the bottom of the 13th inning which gave the home team a victory with the bases loaded. Mark Concannon, the Brewers television field announcer interviewed the winning team’s hero for the night, Hart, with “Good morning.” It was after midnight.

Saturday’s game was scheduled to start at 12:05P (CST) to accommodate the FOX Game of the Week schedule.

The game was over. Players rushed through the clubhouse, showered and left to travel home and grab some sleep. Milwaukee’s not tough to get around at 1A in the morning. They were all capable of being home at 1:30A. Say it took a little while to get to sleep at about 2A. Many get to the ballpark four hours before game time. That means they had to get up at 7A and in the clubhouse at 8A. Routine time is at hand followed by batting practice for the home team. Gates open two hours before the game so it is time to go back to the clubhouse and begin the preparation for tendencies of the opposing pitcher and hitters. Interviews for local radio and FOX television along with welcome back home hugs and hand shakes for Darren Sutton, the former Brewer television announcer and now the television voice of the Arizona Diamondbacks, will be covering the national telecast. Visit to the training room is scheduled. Stretching comes next. The pains and bruises from the night before are nagging, especially for Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun, both of whom were hit by pitcher Lendy Castillo in the bottom of the 13th. Week’s had x-rays earlier in the morning on his wrist which proved negative. There were no broken bones. That could have added him to the sideline along with two others in the infield. Only Ramirez stands alone as the only infielder not to be on the DL for the season for the heroes of the Cream City nine.

There is a chance of rain for Saturday with a high of 60 degrees. The roof is open and the crowd has gathered. The heroes have been on the field warming up. It’s time for that leisurely athletic endeavor for another day. Jogging onto the field to take their positions, Marcum takes the rubber and the game begins all over again, 0-0. A clean slate. All is right with the world. Batter comes to the plate. And the umpire yells,

“Play Ball”.