A Special Outing

Thus far, all of my baseball writing at this site has been about play at the major league level. That’s not surprising. That’s the kind of baseball that has the most universal appeal.

But most of my baseball watching is not of MLB. In fact, it’s been 10 years since that was true. When I sit back to watch a ballgame, chances are my youngest son is in one of the dugouts.

Of my three children, the youngest is the only one who dove headlong into baseball (which is why, as I’ve informed the older two, he is my favorite). My oldest son Ian played a few seasons of little league a dozen or so years ago, but never with much zest for the game. Kiera, my daughter, gave softball a couple of spins when she was very young, but abandoned the sport when she rediscovered soccer in second grade.

But Cormac has been a baseball guy from the outset. He played his first season at Age 6, which also happened to be the year he started pitching. In addition to his other duties, he’s been a pitcher ever since.

That made last night pretty special. Cormac, now a sophomore at Michigan City Marquette in Northwest Indiana, was making his first start on the bump. It was coming a few days after recording his first save, though I missed that one due to my visit to South Florida (in fact, I was at the Marlins game referenced earlier in the week while he was wrapping up a 10-9 victory – defying the first two paragraphs).

Back to last night’s game. He was starting against South Central, a fellow small high school from the southern half of La Porte County. But they were no pushovers. The Satellites roster featured two Division 1 recruits, one of whom touched him for a wind-aided homer in a three-run first inning.

After that, he settled down quite nicely. He worked around his only two walks in the second (to those two D-1 bound players), then went 3-up, 3-down in both the third and fourth innings. I kept waiting for the coach to give him the hook, since he had never gone more than three innings in a high school game, but he kept getting guys out.

He allowed two more runs in the fifth (again, led by the studs, including the latter’s triple to center that neither needed nor got any aid from the elements), then opened the home half of the sixth by inducing back-to-back infield grounders, but both resulted in errors (in an otherwise solid  night from the defense). The coach finally pulled him after 82 pitches.

The final tally: 5+ innings, 4 ER, 2 walks and 3 Ks. And, his first varsity loss. But after the difficult first (where he helped mitigate the damage when he fielded a comebacker and caught the lead runner off third), he did a wonderful job keeping a good-hitting lineup off balance, changing speeds, moving the ball around the zone and even dropping his arm slot a few times to give the batters a different look. When he got ahead of guys, he continued to work, not giving them too much of the plate and forcing them to swing at pitchers’ pitches, defying a problem he’s had in the past. It was, without question, the smartest game he’s ever pitched. I couldn’t have been prouder of his effort. And his mom was even up for it, which made it even more meaningful.

Now, I’d be watching his games regardless the stats or circumstances. Quite honestly, there is nothing I find more enjoyable in life than watching the kids engage in the things they love.

But there were two other things that made this outing even more special for me. He caught an infield pop-up, and he averaged about one pitch every 12 seconds*. Take that MLB.

 

*I finally remembered to record his final frame on my phone. So I have the numbers to back me up.

 

TBtB: Miami Marlins

Before the Braves moved to the ’burbs, Marlins Park served as the go-to example of shady local political dealings to use public funds to build a new ballpark for the supremely rich. On a related note, Jeff Loria and David Samson were involved in the process.

Now the club is, at least figureheadively, run by Derek Jeter. Though his background is decidedly different from previous Miami chiefs, he kept alive the club tradition of Fish gutting this offseason. That means that among the ballpark’s fixtures, the players still aren’t.

The stadium itself is a little different, with its Lisa Frank-inspired sculpture in centerfield and fish tanks behind home plate. A source of mockery by some, I consider it a nice change of pace from the run of retro parks. The atmosphere, however, is decidedly less than inspiring.

The park has been called Marlins Park since its opening, though that may simply be a placeholder until a willing corporate sugar daddy comes along. That’s not terribly good planning, though I suppose that’s par for the course in South Florida.

 

Ballpark History

Built: 2012

Capacity: 36,742

Name: Marlins Park 2012-present.

Other ballparks used by club in its current city:  Just the one, from its expansion season in 1993 through its relocation in 2012. However, that park had seven different names during the Marlins’ stay there (Joe Robbie Stadium, 1993-95; Pro Player Park 1996; Pro Player Stadium, 1996-2005; Dolphins Stadium 2005-06; Dolphin Stadium 2006-09; Land Shark Stadium 2009-10; Sun Life Stadium 2010-2011).

Distinctive Features: Architecturally, a whole lot of celebrating of Miami. The Marlinator, the multicolored home run sculpture beyond the centerfield wall that may not survive the current ownership group; two aquariums inside the backstop wall; bar/nightclub with pool as a nod to South Beach; bobblehead museum.

Ballpark Highlights:

Muhammad Ali tossed out the first pitch before the park’s maiden game in 2012. The Fish lost to the defending World Series champion Cardinals 4-1.

Deep in the bowels of the stadium, Jeff Loria constructed a special “revenue stealing” box to place all his ill-gotten payments through Bolshevik Bud’s dirty scheme to cripple the game’s angelic New York franchise. (dammit YR, did you hack my account again?)

Wandy Rodriguez tossed six shutout innings to lead the Dominican Republic to a 2-0 victory over Puerto Rico to earn the top seed from Pool 2 in the 2012 World Baseball Classic.

Giancarlo Stanton hit two homers in a 7-1 victory over Atlanta, his 58th and 59th of the season in his MVP-winning campaign. He was quickly traded after the season to New York.

And now, for a TBtB first, photos. I was down in South Florida last week, and I ventured down to the park to take in the Mets-Fish game. Jarlin the Marlin threw six no-hit innings in a spot start for the hosts, but the Mets scored four in the eighth against the Miami bullpen to continue their hot start to 2018.

LEFTClockwise from left: DJ Vertigo spins the tunes; Wil Myers as a Ghostbuster in the Bobblehead Museum; the glorious home run scultpure in center; the many empty seats.

Look, there it is.

It finally happened. Well, I’m sure it’s happened before, but it’s the first tangible proof I have of one of the absolutely most ridiculous practices in baseball costing a team a ballgame.

In the 10th inning of last night’s Astros game against San Diego, Alex Bregman was at the plate with two outs and Derek Fisher at second base. Bregman skied a pop-up in the infield, a play that should have sent the game into the 11th inning still scoreless.

As soon as the ball was hit, Padres pitcher Phil Maton did what he’s been instructed to do since at least entering professional ball, and perhaps even earlier. He pointed up. Look, there’s the ball, he helpfully pointed out to infielders nowhere it.

First baseman Eric Hosmer, playing back given the game situation, charged in at full steam to try to make the play. But, not terribly surprising, he overran the ball and it dropped untouched a few feet behind him. As the ball was finding purchase on the Houston turf, Fisher was skittering across the plate with the winning run.

It’s all so damn ridiculous. There was one player perfectly positioned to make this play, who located the ball from the moment it left the bat, but MLB protocol prohibited him from doing so. Why, because Phil Maton’s a pitcher, and pitchers can’t catch pop-ups.

It’s an asinine tradition, and it finally cost a team a ballgame.

Look, I’m all for establishing an infield hierarchy that places the pitcher well down the list of pop-up handlers. If the first baseman or third baseman or even the middle infielders can make a routine play, they should call the pitcher off every time. It’s no different than the outfielders having the freedom to call off the infielders on pop-ups hit between them.

But on a play like this, where the ball is hit just a few feet in front of the plate, then the pitcher ought to be the one catching it. The corner infielders aren’t necessarily close enough, and the catcher should be the last resort, given his starting spot often makes the ball difficult to pick up off the bat, his uniform is bulkier which limits his mobility, and his mitt isn’t optimally designed for catching fly balls.

We expect the pitcher to field grounders; to cover first on grounders to the first sacker; to take their place in the run-down conga line; to make pickoff throws (Jon Lester excluded). Why we can’t expect them to also catch a simple pop-up when they’re the only one in position to do so is truly mindboggling.

Yes, this is the protocol. But there’s another, more apt protocol that covers virtually every other play on the diamond. If it’s hit to you, catch it.

75 Percent Less Fat: No. 43

There is, and always has been, something about the first album. In most cases, that’s seen as a band’s introduction to the world, the debut record. In a lot of cases, it’s hard to ever match that special something from the first effort. REM’s Murmur, Elvis Costello’s My Aim is True, the Ramones’ self-titled debut, or, already on this list, Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp, are these types of records. It’s not that you never deliver something as artistically great; just that you can never duplicate the feat of delivering a sound never heard before.

 

But there’s another way that this concept is in place, at least for the listener. The first time you hear a band you go onto love. Many of the highest-ranking albums on this list will fit that description for me, including No. 43, Guided by Voices’ Isolation Drills.

 

I had heard of GBV before the band’s 12th album and had undoubtedly heard more than a few tracks on 97x during my years of listening to the station whenever I could. But the first time I put a sound to the name was on this disc. Thus, it remains a place in my firmament that it almost certainly doesn’t* with other Guided by Voices fans.

 

Isolation Drills strays a little from the typical GBV brew as only three of the 16 songs clock in at under 2:30, definitely on the low side for frontman Bob Pollard. And two of the best, the back-to-back tracks Glad Girls and Run Wild, nearly hit four minutes. And the song titles aren’t as random as the kind found on most of the band’s discs. All of this might actually be a good thing, as it’s also got fewer wink leaks and unfinished ideas that are a hallmark of Pollard, rock’s foremost believer in never discarding any song idea.

 

Highlights here are first single Chasing Heather Crazy, Twilight Campfighter, the stoner ditty Glad Girls and the best track, the slow burner Run Wild.

 

*Interestingly, while researching this, I saw that Isolation Drills actually has the highest Metacritic score of any GBV album, at 83/100. I didn’t realize my view was shared by so many others.

 

Important Information:

Name: Guided by Voices, Isolation Drills

Released: 2001

Record Company: TVT Records

Running Time: 47:12

Track Listing:

  1. Fair Touching
  2. Skills Like This
  3. Chasing Heather Crazy
  4. Frostma
  5. Twilight Campfighter
  6. Sister, I Need Wine
  7. Want One
  8. The Enemy
  9. Unspirited
  10. Glad Girls
  11. Run Wild
  12. Pivotal Film
  13. How’s My Drinki
  14. The Brides Have Hit Glass
  15. Fine to See You
  16. Privately

 

 

 

 

Rick Camp Weeps

In the spring of 2012, my youngest son Cormac and I took advantage of a rare opportunity to see the NCAA baseball tournament in our own backyard. Purdue University, not a college baseball powerhouse, was given a No. 1 seed in the event, but the Boilers’ home field was not suitable to host the four-team regional. So they opted to play the regional in Gary, at the home of the Railcats.

We arrived sometime in the evening to watch the Boilers play against the nearby Valparaiso Crusaders, as did several other hundred Boilermaker fans from The Region. But that’s not what we saw.

When we got there, the day’s first game, a matchup between No. 2 seed Kentucky and third-seeded Kent State was just entering the 10th inning, the game knotted at 5. It stayed that way for seven more innings, until the Golden Flashes plated a run in the top of the 18th. UK responded in the bottom half, when a double drove in the tying run, though the potential game-winner was gunned down at the plate.

Two more scoreless frames passed until Alex Miklos hit an RBI-triple in the top of the 21st to win it for Kent, a victory the team would use as a springboard to an unexpected trip to Omaha for the College World Series.

The 5 p.m. start for Purdue-Valpo became a 10 p.m. contest. Cormac vowed to stick around for the entirety of the nightcap that we’d gone there to watch, but he ran out of gas after about five innings, and we weren’t around to see the Boilers close out the win one minute before 2 a.m.

Even though the preliminary game was between two teams that I had no rooting interest in, it was, without question, the greatest day of baseball viewing in my life. Twelve innings of bonus baseball, the potential for a game-changing play hanging on every pitch. What more could a baseball fan want?

Well, Rob Manfred could want something different. Baseball’s baseball-hating commissioner has delivered another new rule that tears a little bit more at the fabric of the sport, and make wonderful games like that a thing of the past. From now on, extra innings in affiliated minor league games will begin with a runner on second base, the better to goose scoring in a thoroughly artificial way.

The league’s nitwits in chief are claiming it’s being done to prevent injury at the minor league level, and to reduce costs as extra-inning games tend to drain the budgets of minor league operations (most concession stand sales dry up and beer sales are already over, but much of the staff is still on the clock). And, if they have to take a dump on 100-plus years of baseball to do it, well you can’t stand in the way of progress.

Long extra innings games are rare enough that this is not likely to move the needle on either injuries or costs. And, make no mistake, this very well could serve as a trial run before it’s introduced at the major league level. Manfred would no doubt consider it.

But it’s not baseball. And not baseball sucks.

 

 

 

TBtB: Detroit Tigers

 

Comerica Park is named after a bank. I guessed it was an insurance company. Not much difference, I suppose. Tiger Stadium was once called Briggs. That was named after a former owner of the club. Before that it was Navin Field, named after the protagonist in The Jerk (that may not be 100 percent accurate, but I don’t want to find out I’m wrong).

While it’s not the much-beloved stadium it replaced, Comerica is a nice little ballpark in the heart of the city. I went to a game there with the youngest Unacceptable boy a few years back. He didn’t ride the ferris wheel, but he did come home with an ugly Miggy T-shirt.

It originally played as a significant pitcher’s park, but the Tigers caved and pulled in the left field fence. That was a questionable move strategically and an unquestionably crappy one aesthetically.

 

Ballpark History

Built: 2000

Capacity: 41,299

Name: Comerica Park 2000-present.

Other ballparks used by club in its current city: Tiger Stadium (aka Briggs Stadium, Navin Field) 1912-1999; Burns Park (Sunday games only) 1901-02; Bennett Park 1901-11).

Distinctive Features: The throwback strip of dirt leading from home to the pitcher’s mound; tremendous skyline views beyond the outfield walls; centerfield fountain; grandstand ferris wheel and carousel, undoubtedly earning Sugar Bear’s eternal ire; lotsa Tigers.

Ballpark Highlights:

Brian Moehler earned a 5-2 victory in the first game at Comerica, which served as a bookend to his winning decision in the final game at Tigers Stadium six months earlier. That’s kind of cool.

In Game 161 of the 2003 season, the Minnesota Twins handed the Tigers a 9-8 defeat, the Tigers’ AL record 119th loss of the season.

In Game 2 of the 2006 World Series, the first played in Detroit in 22 years, Kenny Rogers tossed eight shutout innings in a 3-1 victory, running his 2006 postseason scoreless streak to 23 innings.

Justin Verlander became the first Tigers pitcher in 55 years to throw a no-hitter at home when he beat the visiting Milwaukee Brewers 4-0.

In 2009, hometown embarrassment Kid Rock was the headliner in a bill that included the previously dead Lynyrd Skynyrd and one-time Simpsons guests, Cypress Hill.

 

75 Percent Less Fat: No. 44

There will be no more Catholic album than No. 44, the Hold Steady’s sophomore disc, Separation Sunday.

The band is fronted by Twin Cities native Craig Finn, previously of the band Liftr Pullr. Finn’s sing-speak method of delivering his vocals is unmistakable. Just as his habit of telling stories that run through not just entire albums, but leap from disc to disc.

On this one, story focuses on Holly, short for Hallelujah. Like many of his characters, she’s a troubled young adult living on the fringes, turning tricks and taking drugs. Along the way we meet an equally sordid cast of characters. Her story culminates with a visit to Mass, where she crashes into the congregation on the album’s strongest track.

Highlights: Your Little Hoodrat Friend, Charlemagne in Sweatpants, a story of a pimp that references Springsteen, Jane’s Addiction and, of course, Lionel Richie; Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night; and How a Resurrection Really Feels, on my shortlist of best album closers, along with The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, White Trash Heroes and Vapor Trails.

 

Important Information:

Name: The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday

Released: 2005

Record Company: Frenchkills Records

Running Time: 42:11

Track Listing:

  1. Hornets! Hornets!
  2. Cattle and Creeping Things
  3. Your Little Hoodrat Friend
  4. Banging Camp
  5. Charlemagne in Sweatpants
  6. Steve Nix
  7. Multitude of Casualties
  8. Don’t Let Me Explode
  9. Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night
  10. Crucifixion Cruise
  11. How a Resurrection Really Feels