Tag Archives: Kansas City Royals

Setting the annual Baseball Solstice

IMG_5776With the temperature flirting with 70 degrees today here in New Jersey, I’m aching for baseball even as I acknowledge we must endure weeks of winter before we hear “Play ball!” again.

So it’s high time to announce the annual Baseball Solstice, that precise point between the final out of the World Series and the first pitch of exhibition games renewing America’s Pastime for the next season.

The 2015 series ended at 12:30 a.m. EDT on Nov. 2 in New York as Wilmer Flores of the Mets struck out and the Kansas City Royals celebrated the end of a 30-year championship drought.

Those of us pulling for the Mets must wait till next year, in humiliating fashion for me as my sisters-in-law in the Kansas City area expressed their love by sending me a box full of Royals duds and swag.

It will be March 1 when we again hear the crack of the bat in the first handful of Grapefruit League games in Florida and one in the Cactus League in Arizona. (Follow Countdown to Spring Training for a daily dose of encouragement.)

That makes for an interval of 119 days, and thus we must fix the solstice on January 1, 2016, the first day of the new year on the secular calendar observed by fans of football, hockey, basketball, soccer and squash.

But we baseball fans know the day belongs to us.

So get out there that day and play some catch with someone you love or like (yes, even somebody in Dodger blue). Read some Roger Angell. Or watch a DVD showing highlights (singular, if you’re a Phillies fan) of your team’s 2015 season.

As the offseason deals continue to scramble rosters and cruelly give hope to Cubs fans, there’s no need for speculating on which team will prevail in 2016. It’s an even year, and it’s bye, bye baby: The San Francisco Giants will take it all.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ending the year with the Baseball Solstice: Dec. 31, 2014

The high priests of baseball emerged deep from inside the clubhouse today, where they’ve been holed up since the final out of the World Series to declare Dec. 31 the Baseball Solstice between the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

The solstice each year marks the midpoint between the final out of the World Series and the first exhibition game of spring training. Pablo Sandoval recorded the final putout the night of Oct. 29 as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals to win a third championship in five years. The first games between major league teams in the Cactus League and Grapefruit League seasons will be played on March 3. That means we’ll have to endure 125 days without the shouts of “Play ball!” and “Beer here!”

Why the announcement today, the last day of November — a Sunday, when most Americans are watching football? To be contrary, I suppose. And to be a bit sentimental. November touches October on the calendar, and today is the last time we’ll be able to refer to the series as having been played “last month.”

The coldest — and to baseball fans, cruelest — months lie ahead. The solstice will mark the first glimmer of hope that we’re on the downslope toward the crack of the bat. As I do every year, I recommend that baseball fans spend a bit of time on the solstice reveling in the game: A game of snowball catch in northerly climes, perhaps, or a dash around the diamond if you’re in sunnier spaces. A call to a parent or uncle or friend who introduced you to the game works well any day, but especially so on the solstice.

I ask that anyone reading this post who likes the idea please pass the solstice concept along to other baseball fans. The “next year” of “wait ’til next year” is almost here.

Editor’s Note: For the origins of the Baseball Solstice, read my first post on the subject from back in 2011.

You can’t slide home again: A trip to the diamond of my youth

The Denison Park baseball field in Cleveland Heights, or what remains of it.

The Denison Park baseball field in Cleveland Heights, or what remains of it.

Several weeks ago I was back in the neighborhood where I grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and I took a stroll down Memory Lane. More accurately, I walked up and down Bluestone Road, the major thoroughfare of my youth, connecting our home on Erieview Road to my grade school in neighboring South Euclid. In between was Denison Park, where I played hundreds upon hundreds of ball games and practices over the years.

I’ve always joked that if I succumb to Alzheimer’s and disappear, put out a Silver Alert that I’ll turn up on the left side of the infield at the Denison baseball field. Even now, I can conjure up the dirt beneath me and I use the toe of my cleats to smooth out a spot at shortstop where I’d crouch and ready myself for the next pitch. With my dad or my buddies or a coach shouting “charge it,” I raced in for countless dribblers to bare-hand and bounders that I’d try to glove at “the top of the hop.” For every grounder I stopped straight on or backhanded, I booted or bobbled another or watched it sail through my legs toward the thick green grass behind me.

In my head, I’m still brushing the dirt off my uniform after snagging a liner on a dive, or whirling and dashing madly back to run down a pop fly in shallow left field.

I can see my CYO coaches, Mr. Spada and Mr. Byrne, watching me whip the ball sidearm to first, impressed but speculating there might be something wrong because I didn’t throw overhand. (I made the team that year, 7th grade, and came back as captain in 8th grade.)

Yes, that swath of dirt at Denison was sacred ground to me, and I wanted to walk it again on my return to Cleveland over the summer. Except that the ball field is gone.

It’s been replaced by the picnic pavilion shown above, which covers a big chunk of the old infield. The area I used to patrol at short is roughly where a group of barbecue grills stand behind the pavilion. The plaque honoring the park founder has been swiped from the boulder that used to sit behind the backstop.

Disappointing, yes, that that old ball field is gone. Even more disappointing: there is no baseball diamond at the park, although the tennis and basketball courts remain and there’s an immaculate new soccer field with artificial turf dominating the center of the park.

IMG_4282My nostalgic mood didn’t improve when I decided to visit the house my maternal grandparents rented in the 1960s on E. 98th Street at Elwell Avenue in Cleveland. The house, the first one on the left as you turn onto the dead-end block, is gone. A grass lot with no trace of a foundation is all that’s there, and the old landlord’s home beside it facing Elwell is heavily boarded and probably is vacant. And on a telephone pole  between the two houses is a sign saying “No ball playing allowed.”

I’ve been stewing on that day of soured nostalgia for a number of weeks, and it’s pointing me to the inevitable decision to stop writing this blog. From the start, I wanted the blog to be something that would express something fresh and interesting on the sport I love, initially using the caps I’ve collected as a peg for posts. I pushed the blog hard for a couple of years, and I enjoyed getting involved in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, especially for making a number of friends among my fellow bloggers.

This season, my posts have been sparse, and I’ve neglected my alliance duties almost entirely, and maybe that’s for best. In my last post trying to stay current, I picked the Texas Rangers to win the World Series.

I don’t want this blog to devolve into a series of old-man memories of how much better baseball was “back in the day.” I believe firmly the game is still as vibrant and entertaining and special as ever. Look no further than the terrific World Series between my San Francisco Giants and those upstart Kansas City Royals.

It’s a great game, but it’s time for me to head to the blogging showers. I plan one more, likely final post, once the World Series ends. That’s to fix the date for the next Baseball Solstice, marking the mid-point between the last game of the series and the first exhibition game of spring training. If anything lasts from this blog, I’d like it to be that the solstice — my little brainstorm from a couple of long winters ago — gains broad acceptance among baseball fans. That and the notion that baseball is the thread that ties so many families and friends together through the generations.

Marking the Baseball Solstice with a list of Top 10 moments

To mark the Baseball Solstice, I’ve been contemplating the greatest moments in baseball history. A number of these came to mind instantly, a few of them took a bit more prodding of the memory banks.

This list is strictly my own reckoning on this date. Ask me in a few weeks or a few months, and some of the items may change — although the top three to five would likely stick.

10. The Amazin’ Mets win the 1969 World Series. The expansion Mets were a miserable franchise in the 1960s (no comment on subsequent decades) and their defeat of the Orioles was as exhilirating as it was surprising. I should note that I was rooting for the Orioles, yet even as a kid I thought the Mets were quite the story.

9. Cal RIpken breaks Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played. Gehrig’s once unassailable record fell when Cal took the field that night, an event that connected the glory days of the past to what was then the present day.

8. Billy Buckner boots the grounder at first base. The Red Sox were oh so close to breaking the curse of the Bambino, and then Buckner let the ball go between his legs. It would be several more years before the Red Sox would finally win their first World Series  since the first decade of the century.

7. The George Brett pine tar bat incident. Never have I seen anything so uproariously funny during a baseball game. Brett charged from the dugout like a demon, screaming bloody murder. Later it came out that Billy Martin had waited for the ultimate moment to call the pine tar violation, which makes the incident even funnier.

6. Who’s On First? OK, so this isn’t a real baseball moment. But Abbot and Costello’s classic routine underscores baseball’s relevance in American culture better than anything.

5. Babe Ruth calls his shot. We know that “Who’s on First” was made up, but the Ruth legend is somewhere in between fact and fiction. That the famous gesture to center field was issued in a Yankees’ defeat of the Cubs in the World Series tells me without a doubt it really happened.

4. Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man” farewell address. This sad yet sweet moment under the echoing arches of Yankee Stadium is undeniably one of the great ones. It’s a reminder of the nobility of man, and that baseball can break your heart.

3. Roger Maris hits his 61st home run. Through all the relentless pressure he faced, Maris still managed to launch home run No. 61 off Tracy Stallard in 1961. He broke Babe Ruth’s single-season record that day. And he did it witout any hint of performance-enhancing drugs.

2. Willie Mays catch at the Polo Grounds. In Game One of the 1954 World Series, Vic Wertz ripped a monster drive into cavernous center field. Mays raced straight back and brought the ball to earth and, his cap flying off, hurls the ball back toward the plate. The Indians, the winningest regular-season team ever, were toast and lost to the Giants in four straight.

1. The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.  Bobby Thompson smacked a home run off Brooklyn’s Ralph Branca to give the Giants a victory in the final of a three-game playoff series to determine the National League champion. It was the ultimate “walk-off” moment, immortalized by Russ Hodges’ radio call: “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

Red Sox Nation shows its pride on Massachusetts license plates

Red Sox fans are crazy for their team, and as I traveled New England while on vacation last week I was struck by the number of BoSox specialty Massachusetts license plates I saw. They were a common site on Cape Cod, on Boston area highways, and I even spotted them in New Hampshire and Vermont.

If you live in Massachusetts, the Red Sox plates are a pretty good deal: for $40 you get to display your team pride on your car and contribute to the Red Sox Foundation and the Jimmy Fund.

I’ve seen plenty of college plates around the country, but I was hard pressed to recall any other plates for Major League Baseball teams. I have seen New York Yankees plates vehicles registered in New Jersey, which also lets fans buy New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies plates, although I can’t recall seeing them.

I’m in Philadelphia a fair amount these days, and I’ve never seen a Phillies plate on a Pennsylvania-registered vehicle. If this list from the PA DMV is correct, there are none to be had — and none for the Pittsburgh Pirates, either.

Same story in California: no plates for the local nines in San Diego, Anaheim, Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco.

How about in my home state of Ohio? Yes, you can get a Cleveland Indians plate along with plates for the Cincinnati Reds and professional teams of lesser sports like football, hockey and basketball.

Florida enables you to buy plates for the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins, and in Illinois you can get them for the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox. There was talk last season about Illinois adding St. Louis Cardinals plates, although I can’t find definitive word whether that happened.

You can get a Cards plate in Missouri, although a quick search this morning didn’t show me a Kansas City Royals option.

I could spend all day researching which teams are available where, but I don’t have the time. I’ll close by saying I think these fan plates are a great idea, especially when they raise money to support great causes like the Jimmy Fund.

If you’re a fan of a team not mentioned above and know if you can buy a specialty plate in your state, I’d appreciate it if you’d note it in a comment below.

And the most valuable player in major league baseball, 2011, is ….

The Baseball Bloggers Alliance, of which I am a proud member, bestows its annual Stan Musial Award on the best player in baseball by a vote of the group’s members. This is my first year casting a ballot for what is the equivalent of the Major League Baseball most valuable player awards, and it’s a tall order.

How on earth does anyone decide who’s the best player in the game? I’m giving it a go here with equal parts direct observation at the ballpark, heavy doses of TV and radio broadcasts, reading, statistics, coin flips and gut-level calls.

1. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers –  The leader of the Brew Crew, high average, monster slugging percentage,  33 home runs and 33 stolen bases. One heck of a year, edging out:

2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers – Best average in baseball, formidable power, 108 walks and the driving offensive force for the AL Central champs, edging out:

3. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers – This guy led the National League in homers and RBIs on a Dodger team with an otherwise anemic offense. Amazing.

4. Jose Reyes, New York Mets – Even in an injury-shortened season, this guy did his job getting on base, stealing and generally pestering the heck out of pitchers.

5. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays – Led the game in homers. Again.

6. Robinson Cano, New York Yankees – Best overall performance in pinstripes, just nudging out:

7. Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees – A fine all-around year.

8. Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox – Powerful season squandered by the team’s stretch drive collapse.

9. Michael Young, Texas Rangers – Great year at the plate.

10. Hunter Pence, Houston Astros/Philadelphia Phillies  – He made a big difference with the Phillies in the second half of the season.

Let the kvetching and bickering begin. I’m leaving off Albert Pujols, for goodness sake, all pitchers, Joey Votto and Alex Gordon and on and on.

 

Who was the best rookie in Major League Baseball in 2011? Freddie Freeman

In the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, this is my rookie year for voting in the group’s end-of-season awards. In the BBA, the Willie Mays Award goes to the top rookie, and here’s my ballot influenced heavily by the great MLB.com statistical rundown on rookies:

1. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta – Braves: Playing virtually every game at 1st base, Freeman posted great numbers with 161 hits, 21 homers, 76 RBI and a .282 average. Those are impressive numbers for a veteran and all the more so for a rookie.

2. Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles Angels – A close second in my book, he hit even more homers (29) than Freeman.

3. Jemile Weeks, Oakland Ahtletics – A mid-season call-up, this dude put some energy into the A’s. He hit .303 with 22 stolen bases (although he was caught 11 times.

Honorable mention: Dustin Ackley, Seattle Mariners (edged out by a step at the bag by Weeks); Danny Espinoza, Washington Nationals; Darwin Barney, Chicago Cubs; Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals.

That’s one heck of a rookie crop, and there are others showing lots of promise I’m omitting.

Note: The only players of the above I saw play in person were Weeks and Hosmer.