Baseball Rebirth

During the past two weeks, while most sports fans were watching college basketball’s conference tournaments, the NCAA first round of March Madness, the first night of the second round of March madness, golf from Florida, NASCAR, motorcycle racing, boxing, WWE, the Premiere League, NBA Basketball and NHL Hockey, there was something that was exceptional happening in the world of sport. Some of the best players in the world were playing baseball for their home nations or for nations someone in their family might have a hereditary line, were playing baseball behind a flag. The WBC this year is exceptional.

For those who have been watching these games, from Korea, Japan, Mexico, Miami and San Diego, the game progressed to mid-season form in a hurry.

Last night in San Diego, with everything on the line for the defending champion, Dominican Republic and the United States, baseball was reborn. In front of a packed stadium at Petco Park, the feeling was electric. Could the USA come back and beat the team who had defeated them in Miami after giving up a big lead last week? Could anyone get the tremendous players from DR out? There were 23 All-Stars on both teams for one game. And something happened.

This was big time, Major League Baseball at its very best. The crowd was in it. In fact, the crowd was one of the loudest one could imagine. But, three plays stood out to make this one of the most amazing games you could ever want to see. And perhaps that was the point. You go to a game in hopes that you see something you can talk about for a long time to come. Then it happens. Not once. Not twice. But three times.

The first was the incredible pressure the Dominican team puts on its opponents. There is one basher after another. There is not space to take a breath. And in the first inning, as the home team, they began pounding the ball. But as it again happened in the second inning and the fifth inning, somehow the USA team stopped what could have ended the game as it had in Miami a week before. Solid pitching and solid defense stopped the DR in its tracks. Danny Duffey’s great pitching and a terrific tag of Nelson Cruz at home by catcher Jonathon Lucroy with a fine throw to him by Brandon Crawford, kept DR at bay in Mission Bay.

The second was an unbelievable force of one Giancarlo Stanton. The ‘Adonis of Miami’ absolutely crushed a baseball which took off faster than one could imagine to give the USA a huge lift and the lead. An unbelievable speed of a ball being hit into the warehouse in left field went out faster than Staton could complete his swing. If in all the time you spend watching baseball, here is a memory nugget you can keep forever. Wow!

Then the third made this game an important turning point for the game. This WBC showed off big time baseball at its very best. And this is a memory nugget you will never forget. The incomparable Manuel Arturo ‘Manny’ Machada hit a blast to deep center field and as if time stood still in the marine layer, Adam Jones, the centerfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, raced to the fence and leaped way over the wall to make one of the best catches in the history of the game. Electric. Unbelievable. Fantastic. The Golden Memory Nugget. The pitcher mouthing ‘Oh My God’. But it is what happened a moment later that made this the great game and gave rebirth to the new era of baseball. Muchada while rounding first acknowledged Jones great athletic feat by his regular season teammate by doffing his cap to him as he headed back to the dugout on third base. In return, silently while a tumultuous roar of the crowd, tipped his hat in return to his teammate for saluting him.

This is when baseball was reborn in the hearts of the old who love the game, in the hearts of the fathers who take their sons and daughters to the game and to the young people who packed the stadium and watched on television what a great game can be as a fabric of their lives today and into the future.

This is baseball.

This is why it is so important.

Play Ball!

Midsummer’s Night Classic

It began with an uncharacteristic speech in the clubhouse by the star veteran who channeled the past champions to motivate his teammates.

Then the troops took over.

The 2016 Major League All-Star Game held in San Diego, CA, in the shadows of the great aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Midway (CVA-41), was one of the best in a long time. The power of the American League was evident along with solid pitching.

In the end, it was the strength of the American League or more specifically, the Kansas City Royals. In Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals was named the MVP after collecting two hits, two RBIs and hitting a home run. And his teammate, Salvador Perez crushed a two-run homer as the American League won 4-2. Mets manager Terry Collins, who was the skipper for the NL squad, had certainly seen enough. Always classy in defeat, Newsday recounted this story: “We said the same thing,” Collins said of fans having flashbacks. “I’m tired of seeing (expletive) Eric Hosmer getting a big hit. (Expletive) sick of it.”

It’s tough being a Met.

It was the fourth straight victory for the Junior Circuit and sixteenth out of the last twenty. The record now stands at 43-42-2 with the National League leading. The latest tie of course was held in Milwaukee during the 2002 game when teams ran out of eligible players in extra innings.

It’s tough being a Brewer fan.

Next year, the 88th All-Star Game will be held in Miami. And if you have never attended this event, it is a ‘Must See’ on your bucket list.

Play Ball!

Spring Training Is Over For The Umps

One of the great characters of the game, Leo Durocher, set the standard in umpire description when he said, “I never questioned the integrity of an umpire. Their eyesight, yes.”

We move at a faster pace now that it is May. The spectacular plays of April will become more commonplace in May. So hopefully will the calls by the umpires. Safe or out will always be contested calls by the men in blue or now in black. Endless finger-pointing and screaming ‘Get the bum outta there’ will run its course throughout the season. The question that burns most of us is the pitch calling behind the plate. And that is a matter of concern.

Red Barber said, “Whenever you have a tight situation and there’s a close pitch, the umpire gets a squawk no matter how he calls it.” That is not what we are talking about in this column. What we want to understand is the lack of consistency in the calling of balls and strikes.

Mike Winters was behind the plate during Tuesday night’s game in San Diego as the Padres met the Brewers. Petco Park has never been a friendly hitters park and at the end of the game, there were only 8 hits, 5 by San Diego and 3 by Milwaukee. The game was tight with a former Brewer, Mark Kotsay banging a double off of star relief pitcher, Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) and driving in the winning runs. With heavy air and a bite of chill on it at 65 degrees, San Diego is a different place to hit at night. Low total run games are part of the fabric of playing in San Diego.

Yet what caught nearly no attention was the inconsistent strike zone Winters set throughout the game. To be a really good umpire, consistency is the key. If a ball seems to be a bit inside in the first inning and it is called a strike, a good umpire calls that same pitch a strike in all of the other innings. Pitchers respect the consistency in setting the zone. Hitters appreciate the consistency in the zone being established. So when a pitch is called for a strike on a fastball that was a bit inside, both the hitter and the pitcher understand the limit the umpire is establishing for the game. The inside of the zone has been established.

Thus, when the ump calls a pitch a strike on the black over the outside of the plate, the far reaches of the zone is established. Now only the top and the bottom of the strike zone needs to have limits set.

The consistency that an umpire establishes are the unwritten rules of the game for that day or night as long as he is behind the plate.

Padre pitchers threw 130 pitches during the game in question, 82 of which were strikes. Brewer hurlers threw 120 pitches, 76 were strikes. This was on the surface, a well pitched game. In fact the starting pitcher for the Padres, Edinson Volquez had the same percentage of strikes (63 strikes out of 99 pitches) that Jered Weaver had in throwing a no-hitter for the Angels last night in Anaheim against the Toronto Blue Jays, 63.6%. Weaver threw 77 strikes out of 121 pitches in 63 degree weather in Southern California.

This is where the game becomes very interesting. It isn’t about the percentage of strikes. Weaver was incredibly right on Wednesday evening. But on Tuesday evening, Volquez was getting called strikes all over the place. As the game progressed, balls that were thrown outside of the ‘established’ strike zone were being called strikes. Balls above the letters were being called strikes. Balls further inside the ‘established’ strike zone earlier in the game were being called strikes. Then all of a sudden, a ball in the same place would be called a ball. Go figure.

The problem most fans have in looking at a game on television is the problem with the centerfield camera not being exactly behind the pitcher to get a 100% perfect view of the strike zone. It is off-center to give a clear view of the plate and to be out of the batter’s eye. Understood. That is why the establishing of a strike zone is so important.

On Tuesday evening, although the stats say no, the eye said differently. The umpires have to be consistent. Then the game is fair.

Jaun Marichal, the great Giant pitcher of the past said, “You had to pitch in and out. The zone didn’t belong to the hitters; it belonged to the pitchers. Today, if you pitch too far inside, the umpire would stop you right there. I don’t think it’s fair.” Problem is, what would Jaun think about the zone moving all over the place throughout the game?

Play ball.