Tag Archives: Philadelphia Phillies

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Phillies fans are a passionate lot

As I put my purchase onto the checkout counter at the sporting goods store, the clerk looked me in the eye and said bluntly, “Why did you take Hunter Pence from us?”Image

In a split second, I realized that this young man was a Phillies fan and had noticed my San Francisco Giants cap.

“I wasn’t involved,” I replied. “But what I can’t understand is why the Phillies let him go.”

Such exchanges with strangers aren’t unique here in the greater Philadelphia area, where fans are gonzo for their teams. And I like that.

Today’s episode — in the middle of the off-season, mind you — was at the Dick’s store in Princeton, N.J., nearly an hour’s drive to Citizens Bank Park. The exchange was similar to one I had with an Acme grocery store clerk shortly after I moved into our new home two summers back. I was wearing a Tim Lincecum T-shirt. The clerk at the register eyed it and said, “Why aren’t you a Phillies fan?”

“Hey, I just moved here from California,” I said. “I’m a Giants fan but I like the Phillies.”

The clerk’s reply?

“Lincecum sucks.”

A visit to Shibe Park (sort of)

I live not far from Philadelphia, and yesterday I finally decided to seek out the site of old Shibe Park, a.k.a. Connie Mack Stadium, where the Phillies and Athletics played for the better part of the 20th century.

I drove through north Philadelphia and expected to walk around the site a bit, anticipating that I’d be able at least to snap a photo of the site and maybe find a historic marker or two.

Not to be.

The block where the stadium stood is consumed by a fortress-like brick church, erected sometime after the Phillies played their last game there in 1970. The park was demolished in 1976 — when our nation was celebrating its bicentennial.

If there is a marker on the site, I didn’t bother to look for it. I made a half-hearted attempt to get a picture of the church but the late-afternoon sun cast too much of a shadow and I drove on, past a few abandoned factories before turning down Broad Street — also a shadow of its former self — toward City Hall. I passed the intersection with Oxford Street and decided not to follow it to Columbia Park, where the Athletics played before Shibe Park opened.

I’ll visit that site and the site of the old Baker Bowl location some other time, perhaps in the spring, a more optimistic time of year.

Cirque du Phillies: An entertaining evening at Citizens Bank Park

Panorama of Citizens Bank Park.

Panorama of Citizens Bank Park.

Last night I attended my first Phillies home game at Citizens Bank Park, and it was a delight. My younger son and I donned San Francisco caps to cheer on the visiting Giants, who crushed the Fightin’ Phils 9-2 with some unexpected and welcome power from AAA call-ups Brett Pill and Roger Kieschnick.

We had excellent seats, 13 rows up from the field and behind third base, where we got a good look at Phillies call-up Cody Asche and the Gigantes’ Pablo Sandoval, who hobbled off the field after bruising a heel during a mid-game at bat.

The crowd was full of families and was well-behaved, although there were sporadic smatterings of boos as well as sarcastic applause whenever the Phillies did anything right in the game, which was infequently. The most unintentionally hilarious moment came in the top of the seventh inning when Brandon Crawford became the second Giant to homer off Phils’ reliever J.C. Ramirez. “You suck, Martinez,” a young adult Phillies rooter yelled out from the row behind us. “It’s Ramirez,” a nearby fan said, correcting him. “Ramirez … whatever,” the frustrated fan continued.

This night was also my first in-person look at the Phillie Phanatic, and he (she? it?) was side-splitting funny. Just before the start of the game, the Phanatic did a routine with a stone-faced usher, removing the usher’s cap, polishing his bald head and eventually planting a fuzzy-muzzled kiss on the guy. The Phanatic also did an Elvis impersonation and cantered about the Phillies’ dugout roof, trying to hex Giants’ starter Chad Gaudin, who was “unphazed.”

All in all, it was a great night at the park. I’ll be going back eagerly.

 

Just a flesh wound: Some thoughts on baseball at mid-season

Wow, have I been a baseball blogging phantom this season. I cringe at the mere thought of checking the date on my last post, which itself was weeks and weeks after the previous post.

My lack of posting doesn’t mean I haven’t been a fully engaged baseball fan. In fact, I’ve watched plenty of games this season with a wider variety of teams than I have for a long, long time. So the headlines:

– What the devil is ailing my San Francisco Giants? I knew their pitching staff couldn’t sustain the level of excellence they’ve shown in recent years. The streak of good-arm years was bound to end sooner or later, but I’m befuddled that all have seemingly broken down at once. Tim Lincecum has been slipping the past two seasons; Barry Zito somehow beat the odds last year but has reverted to monster-contract form; Ryan Vogelsong is out injured. The shocker to me is that Matt Cain has faltered.  Only Madison Bumgarner has been consistently strong. Not a pretty picture, and I’m not even going to get into the bullpen.

– Perhaps even more shocking with the Giants is their crumbling defense. Please, give me back the light hitting, good fielding Brandon Crawford at shortstop of recent vintage, not this year’s porous model.

– Amid the cellar-scraping doom, one of the all-time highlights for the franchise was Lincecum’s no-hitter. I was blissfully asleep on my Eastern time zone mattress while Timmy was dominating the Padres. I woke up to the news on the MLB app on my iPhone and when I saw the video replay of the last pitch, I cried. Yes, tears at 6 a.m. Three-Finger Brown could record the times I’ve cried over baseball: Timmy’s no-no, the Indians advancing to the World Series in 1995, and when the Tribe traded away Rocky Colavito when I was a little kid in Cleveland.

– (I’m putting this item well down into the post, so as not to shock too many people.) I’ve kind of got a thing for the New York Mets. Matt Harvey is winning me over, I’m digging the underdog schtick and I’ve come to enjoy the broadcast teams on radio and TV. I’m not abandoning the Giants, but the Mets are moving up on my preference list.

– They try gamely, but I don’t consider the 2013 edition a real New York Yankees team. Mariano’s victory lap not withstanding, there are too many so-so players on the injury-plagued team. It’s the Dooley Womack era all over again.

– I try to get behind the Phillies, I really do. But their fans seem to have written them off and I can’t stand that. I have a Monty Python Black Knight approach to backing my ball club. The Phillies fans (and I’m over-generalizing here; I know there are plenty of Fightin’ faithfuls) are more like Sir Robin, running away.

– And how about those Cleveland Indians?! They’re hanging with the Tigers and playing solid, entertaining baseball. I was lucky enough to catch them in Cleveland back in June, the only big-league game I’ve seen in person this year. I’m hoping for good things ahead.

– Final word: If the Giants can’t make it back to the series, my wish is for an Indians-Pirates tilt. That would be special (that underdog schtick again), save maybe for network executives. All the more reason.

 

A season without a seat in the stands

I’m looking back on the 2012 season and realizing that this is one of those rare years in which I didn’t see a major league baseball game in person.

Having switched jobs and coasts in May, I left California before having a chance to see the Giants or Athletics play at home. My two cross-country drives to get our cars out east were too hurried to route by way of a big-league stadium. And once I got east for good, I never found the time to run down to Philadelphia or head up to New York to catch the Phillies, Yankees or Mets.

I managed to catch plenty of games on TV, radio and especially on the MLB app on my iPhone. I did get to see one minor league game on each coast, the Nuts in Modesto and the Thunder in Trenton. Thank goodness for that.

Also on the plus side, we finally got ourselves high-definition TV this summer, and it’s been great to see those major league parks come alive on the screen in our family room.

But as for seeing a game live and in person, I’ll have to invoke the eternal cry of Cubs fans: Wait ’til next year!

[Note: This post was composed during the baseball playoffs but I never posted it until now.]