Tag Archives: Cactus League

Baseball: The Winter Game

Yes, baseball is the summer game. But that is precisely why it resonates so warmly in the dead of winter for those of us in cold climes.

As I write this post on a Sunday morning from my home in  New Jersey, a good deal of snow still dominates the view through the picture window of our family room. A leonine storm is headed our way today on this second day of March, threatening to dump several inches of snow and probably a bit of ice on us once more. The forecast low temperature for Monday is 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Yet this afternoon I can turn on the transistor radio or, more accurately, fire up the MLB app on my iPhone or iPad and listen to a spring training game from Florida or Arizona. Yesterday, I tuned in to disappointment: the Indians and Giants were both rained out, and the Phillies had wrapped up. I thought I’d try the Brewers-Dodgers, but the only options were LA broadcasts (no thank you). So I managed to catch a couple innings of the Pirates and Rays before errands chased me off the couch and into the cold.

It’s been a long winter across much of the United States, and I’ve had little inspiration to post the last couple of months. But the sound of bat meeting ball coming through a tinny speaker from a distant Snowbird stadium does wonders for one’s mood. It is hope, springing eternal.

 

 

 

This year’s spring training caps are hideous

Let me repeat that headline: This year’s spring training baseball caps are hideous.

As my long blogging layoff will attest, I’ve paid little heed to the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues these past few weeks. So what I saw on a television set in a neighborhood shop a short while ago hit me harder than it might have otherwise. On the tube was a Tigers-Mets game. When I saw the Mets’ caps, I blanched.

From a distance, they look like something for a beer league softball team. On closer inspection, there’s Mr. Met running the bases — in the wrong direction. (Yeah, it’s the Mets, so why should I be surprised?)

I was vaguely aware of the unveiling of these new cap models when they were announced a couple of months back but I didn’t pay attention. After doing a Google search for images of the new caps, I wish I’d skipped the spring altogether.

The white-billed Yankees’ caps may be the worst of the lot. Or maybe it’s the egg-splatter Tampa Bay Rays model. All in all, these caps look like they belong on sale by street vendors in the seedier sections of any number of Rust Belt cities.

I started this blog based on my love of baseball caps, but I have standards. Most of these spring training caps are devoid of artistic merit and devalue the brands of the teams they represent. The teams see this merchandising as a profit center, which is why there’s a continuous stream of new models.

Sorry, MLB. I ain’t buying.

 

 

Not to blaspheme against spring training, but I’m still waiting for the real baseball season

The sun was shining and baseball was on the radio again this weekend, and that’s marvelous. But it’s not the real thing.

I listened to bits of a couple of games, and I enjoyed hearing the sounds of the ballpark again: the crack of the bat (yes, the Giants got some hits!), the banter of the announcers, the vendors calling “cold beer here!” in the Arizona desert.

Split squads with 17 pitchers taking the mound have some charm, and outfielders with uniform numbers more suitable to defensive linemen in the NFL make for some interesting moments.

Like an aging pitcher getting his arm primed for the regular season, I’m doing a little here, a little there, getting my baseball muscles ready for April. But I’m not going to overdo it.

 

Ready for the season with the MLB At Bat app

With the first exhibition games about to start this afternoon, I downloaded the MLB At Bat app last night onto to my smartphone.

I had Sirius satellite radio for a couple of seasons, which enabled me to listen to the home broadcasts of all the major league games. But I only had access in my car.

Last year I got the MLB app about midway through spring training on the recommendation of a friend and fell in love with it. With all the broadcasts from the home and visiting networks for each game, the app is a fabulous way to enjoy baseball. You can even listen in Spanish – “Adios, pelota!” – for some teams.

I’m not really tempted by the all-access TV package. As much as I love baseball, I don’t have enough time in my life to plop in front of a screen and watch a gozillion games.

I listen to the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics on the radio in my car, and I catch them and a range of other teams on the smartphone while I’m grilling dinner or doing yard work and other chores around the house.

Baseball is the soundtrack for my leisure time.

Tim Lincecum start rained out in Arizona

Rain washed out a lot of Cactus League games in Arizona today, including a Giants game in which Tim Lincecum was scheduled to start. The young San Francisco ace brings consecutive National League Cy Young awards into the 2010 season. He and Matt Cain make a fearsome duo to lead the pitching staff, and when I heard the word “rain” today I got to thinking about “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain.”

I knew that famous aphorism went back to the days of the Milwaukee Braves, but I didn’t realize it actually goes back to the Boston Braves. There’s a nifty Wikipeedia entry about Spahn that attributes the phrase’s origin to the Boston Post. A writer composed a poem about the two pitchers inspired by their back-to-back wins followed by a couple of days of rain during the 1948 pennant race.

Lincecum and Cain will need to put a few more years on the mound before they fully deserve comparison to Spahn and Sain, and they’re both righties while Spahn (southpaw) and Sain (righty) were not. There have been other terrific duos on pitching staffs over the years, and in my lifetime it’s hard to top the left-right combo of Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

If anyone has any suggestions on other such dominant pairs, I’d appreciate it if you’d weigh in with a comment.

Baseball and the folly of retaliation

The Cactus League season has just gotten under way, and controversy has already come out of the San Francisco Giants’ camp. In a game yesterday, Barry Zito plunked Prince (not Cecil, as I first had) Fielder with a fastball to the back. Although no one has definitively said so, it appears to have been a calculated act of retaliation for the Milwaukee Brewers’ showy celebration last fall when Fielder cracked a homer to defeat the Giants in extra innings. As Fielder jumped on the plate, his teammates fell to the ground as if they were bowling pins. The MLB Web site has a good video summary here.

The Brewers’ celebration had clearly been orchestrated in advance, and I have to say it was bush league showboating. But I also think the Giants’ retaliation was just as stupid and silly.

The whole concept of retaliation in baseball strikes me as a bit juvenile. Maybe that’s because I vividly recall my one rather comical attempt at retaliation when I was playing in a summer league when I was in high school.

I played shortstop, and in the middle of the game our second baseman, Eddie, got spiked when trying to turn a double-play. I figured the big-league thing to do would be to get back at the opposing team if I got the chance, all for the chivalrous defense of my center-of-the-diamond partner.

Somehow I ended up on base an inning or two later and found myself running toward home plate. The catcher was doing his job blocking the plate as he waited for the throw from the field. I plowed into the catcher and fell to the ground. I can’t remember if I was safe or out, but I do remember jumping up and pushing the catcher with both hands as hard as I could.

Trouble was, the catcher, who happened to play football on my high school’s team, was a lot bigger than I was. He was even more intimidating with his chest protector and shin guards on. He probably had about 50 pounds and a good two or three inches in height on me at a time when I had the physique (and batting average) of Mark Belanger of the Baltimore Orioles.

The catcher didn’t even flinch, and I had an “uh-oh” moment before several of my teammates grabbed me and pulled me back to our bench, which luckily was along the third-base line.

Call me if a wussy if you will, but that was the first and last time I ever tried to get back at someone violently on the field. I’d have done better by ripping a double down the line or spearing a liner to rob someone of a hit.

That’s the way the game should be played, by kids and by pros who should know better.