Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Pirates

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Hits and misses: The new MLB batting practice caps

The fabulous Uni Watch blog has a great rundown on the new batting practice caps that major league teams will be wearing this year. The design comments by Paul Lukas are excellent, and I give him a tip of the cap for noting the unbalanced use of serifs in the “P” on the Pirates’ cap.

You’d think a guy running the Ball Caps Blog would be an enthusiast for these alternate caps, but I’m not. I see most of the designs as second-rate and cheap, designed primarily to extract even more dollars out of the fans’ pockets.

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.

Justing Verlander comes oh-so-close to a no-hitter

The Pittsburgh Pirates have just broken up a no-hitter bid by Justin Verlander, who held the Buccos hitless for 8 and 1/3 innings tonight. A solid hit up the middle by Josh Harrison broke the spell. Verlander was able to wrap up the game and finish a one-hitter as the Detroit Tigers won easily, 6-0.

I’m sure Verlander is disappointed, but a one-hitter is still a great accomplishment.

 

Manny Ramirez signs with the Athletics, and mlb.com takes no notice

This is telling. I just logged on to MLB.com to see what news they might have of Manny Ramirez signing a minor-league contract with the Oakland Atheltics.

While the blog entry about Ramirez is the top link on ESPN.com’s story stack, there’s not a word on Ramirez out front on the Major League Baseball site. MLB contents itself with the hard-hitting feature on A.J. Burnett relishing his move to the Pirates and a “maybe I’ll retire” piece on Mariano Rivera.

No homepage love for Manny. Maybe that 50-game suspension he still must serve sticks just a bit in the corporate craw at 245 Park Avenue.

Manny is past his prime and a longshot to give any decent lift to the A’s. I figure the Athletics’ main purpose in bringing him aboard is to mentor Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. But from my desk here 75 miles from the Oakland Coliseum, all I can offer is speculation about that.

There is an MLB story about Manny that moved some hours ago, but I still think it’s curious that he’s not in the main carousel of the top stories of the day.

Come June, if  Manny still has that sweet swing to propel him to the major league level, Oakland baseball could be extra entertaining. Maybe he’ll even make the MLB homepage.

Fixing the date for the Baseball Solstice

Now is the winter of our discontent, baseball fans. The World Series ended on Oct. 28, and nearly two months later I’m really starting to miss the game.

Musing on this long dormant period for the national pastime, I’ve concluded that like our pagan ancestors, we must mark the passage of the seasons. And that means fixing what I’ll call the “baseball solstice,” the mid-point between the end of one season and the beginning of another.

The end of the World Series seems an overwhelmingly logical point to mark the end of a season.

But what constitutes the beginning of a new season? “Opening Day” used to mean the oldest continuously operating professional franchise, the Reds, taking the field in Cincinnati. But Major League Baseball has trampled tradition with early openers in Japan and kooky staggered schedules.

The reporting date in Arizona and Florida for pitchers and catchers is inadequate — there are no inning-by-inning broadcasts on the radio to record what happens, no box scores to enter anything into history.

That leads to one conclusion: The new season commences with the first games of Spring Training, when the teams take the field and the umpire cries “Play ball!” Every rookie has the potential to make the team, every veteran a chance to perform even better than the year before.

In 2012, the first games will be on March 2.

Between the last out of the 2011 World Series and those first Cactus and Grapefruit league ballgames, 134 125 days — better than one-third of a calendar year — will have passed since the Rangers’ David Murphy flied out to Allen Craig of the Cardinals.

So the mid-point, the baseball solstice, will be 67 62.5 days later, Dec. 30, 2011.

It’s a fitting date. In much of the United States, that’s the dead of winter with snow blanketing many a ballfield.

I’ll do something to mark the occasion. I could bay at the moon like some ancient Druid at Stonehenge and try to conjure a power hitter for the San Francisco Giants. Or maybe I’ll just look toward Progressive Field in Cleveland, beseeching the baseball gods to make 2012 the year the Indians win it all.

Centuries from now, our descendants may chance upon the ruins of Wrigley and contemplate the meaning and magic that dwelt there in ages past. With curiosity they may look upon the remains of home plate at Fenway Park or ponder what’s left of the fountains at Kauffman Stadium.

We owe it to our descendants to mark the Baseball Solstice in ceremonies of our own devising. So join me Jan. 4 Dec. 30 at sunrise. I will be in Pittsburgh, summoning my father’s spirit to bring the Pirates some luck.

Addendum: My headline on “Fixing” the date of the Baseball Solstice turned out to be a bit of irony. I miscounted the days and got the mid-point wrong. As Paul notes below, the correct date is Dec. 30, not Jan. 4. It’s still a day to celebrate.