Four years ago today, I was going on about four hours of fitful sleep. The night before, I and the rest of the baseball world witnessed one of the greatest games in the history of the World Series. After that game, I was so wired, so geeked I couldn’t fall asleep at all. Finally, after pounding out a delirious blog post, I managed to nod off…only to sit bolt upright the instant my alarm went off a few hours later, feeling as awake and alive as I ever have in my life. I ran into the other room to look at the two most exciting pieces of paper I think I’ve ever held.
I’m sure I managed to be productive at work that Friday, but I couldn’t tell you how. All I wanted to do was go to Busch Stadium, even hours before the game was supposed to start. I wanted to sit in my bleacher seat with a beer and 45,000 or so of my closest friends to watch Game 7 of the World Series. Even just saying the phrase “Game 7 of the World Series” gives me chills as a baseball fan; as a Cardinals fan about to walk into Busch Stadium to watch it live I was almost unable to process the sights…the sounds…the feeling.
None of us knew it at the time, of course, but a fan favorite (certainly one of mine) from the Whiteyball Era made his final appearance before Cardinal Nation and passed less than a week later.
After the previous night’s heroics, Game 7 lacked much drama beyond the first inning. The Rangers took the lead in top half, and David Freese once again swatted them back. Allen Craig—robbed of a World Series MVP by the All-Universe campaign Freese had—hit a home run and took one away with his glove. Chris Carpenter gutted out another start that would essentially prove to be his professional swan song. Jason Motte blocked out his previous struggles in the series to mow through the ninth. And when Craig secured the fly ball near the track for the final out…
It all happened four years ago today—my greatest baseball day.
I enjoy fantasy baseball, especially daily fantasy games. I have had very little luck with fantasy leagues over the years; if a player was ever due to have a down year or go on the DL for most if not all of the season, chances are better than even I drafted him—probably in the first couple of rounds.
But daily fantasy is different, of course. Players are only drafted for that day’s contest, and managers are not committed to any player beyond that. I submitted several different lineups for a game tonight that only counted the “late” MLB games, so all players drafted could only come from the Cardinals-Diamondbacks, Cubs-Giants, and A’s-Mariners games.
I utilize a few different tools to determine who I’ll draft on any given day, but one thing I knew for certain without having to look at anything at all: the St. Louis Cardinals do not fare well against lefty pitchers. The Diamondbacks were rolling out Robbie Ray, a young southpaw who had never faced the Cards before. He’s not exactly Randy Johnson in waiting, but the kid can pitch a little. And I really thought that the already offense-challenged 2015 Cardinals would not do much facing a completely unfamiliar lefty on the road the day after scoring a bunch of runs. I mean, as a team, they were hitting .237 with a .678 OPS against left handed pitching. Aside from taking Yadier Molina and Stephen Piscotty on a whim, logic told me to stay away from Cardinals tonight. I even selected Ray as one of my pitchers.
So of course the Cards put up a four-spot in the top of the first, getting hits and walks in bunches. Of course Ray got knocked out after only three innings and three strikeouts. Of course lefties like Matt Carpenter, Jason Heyward and Kolten Wong had good nights at the plate. Of course. Logic? Pfft…
Today Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted a column about the 2015 All Star Game voting and how the Kansas City Royals’ fan base has essentially hijacked the process, putting seven (!) of the defending AL Champs in line to start the Midsummer Classic in Cincinnati next month. There does seem to be a tongue-in-cheek factor in the article; still, he frames some of the many issues with the MLB All Star Game pretty effectively.
All other absurdity around this whole sham (This time it counts!) aside, one thing Strauss mentioned both surprised and depressed me: no more paper All Star ballots at the stadium? One of my fondest ballpark memories as a kid was scouring the list of names and positions and punching holes next to, admittedly, players that probably had no logical business playing in an All Star Game. But it was a fun way to feel like a part of the game while at the game. Kind of a shame future generations won’t get to experience that without clicking around ads for car insurance.
I don’t know that I like the general idea of eliminating the fan vote, but if the winner of the All Star Game continues to determine home field advantage in the World Series, MLB needs to consider it. Of course, the most logical thing to do would be to take the HFA aspect out of it altogether so it doesn’t matter who votes for—or who gets voted to start—the All Star Game. But since even the installation of a new commissioner doesn’t appear to be changing that anytime soon, logic probably isn’t in play here at all.
In just a few moments, Jaime Garcia takes the mound for the St. Louis Cardinals in what is probably his last big chance with the organization that drafted him back in 2005. Garcia—somehow only 28 years old—has battled injury after injury since his last full season, the World Championship year of 2011. And with 2015 being his walk year, he needs a good showing this year just as much as the Cardinals do. But what exactly does that mean? What do the Cards really need from him right now?
In a word: efficiency.
The Cardinals have good pitchers in their rotation, but they’re far from efficient. It was fairly exciting to see Lance Lynn, John Lackey, and Michael Wacha get through seven innings this week, because in recent outings the rotation has pitched more like Carlos Martinez yesterday: get to 100 pitches, but not make it through seven (or even six) innings. Among qualifiers, the Cardinals only have two pitchers—Lackey and Wacha—who are in the top 50 in MLB in pitches per inning pitched. If that continues, the effect on the bullpen could become disastrous real quick. As a team, the Cardinals’ staff has great numbers. But the starters have to find a way to get deeper into games. In a year without Adam Wainwright, the team desperately needs an innings-eater.
Sure it would be great if the 2010-2011 version of Garcia showed up this season, when he was arguably the second or third best pitcher in the rotation depending on whether Wainwright or Chris Carpenter happened to be hurt. But those days are likely gone; expecting Jaime to come out throwing complete games this season seems foolish at best. Obviously what the team really doesn’t need is for Garcia to get shelled over and over again or get re-injured, although the Marco Gonzales honks would probably see that as a win. But if Garcia can just be OK-to-good, take the ball every fifth day, and go deep into the games he does pitch, the team should consider that a windfall. And since Garcia isn’t likely to be able to fire 100+ pitches per outing every day, he’s going to have to get the Mets and every other team he faces to make soft contact. In short, Jaime Garcia needs to revive the Dave Duncan/Tony La Russa days of pitching to contact.
Getting five good innings out of Garcia today might be acceptable, but it’s not going to be sustainable. The team needs more from him. And if that means lining up the best possible defense behind him regardless of the offense that lineup might provide, so be it. This is likely the beginning to Jaime Garcia’s final chapter as a Cardinal. Let’s all hope it’s readable.
I thought I would have better perspective on the sudden and tragic death of Oscar Taveras, 22, after a good night’s sleep. Maybe I’ll get one of those tonight.
His life and the life of his girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, 18, were cut painfully short when Taveras wrecked his red Camaro on Sunday in the Dominican Republic. Early reports indicate there had been a lot of rain in the area, and that the car ran off the road and hit a tree. It’s the kind of gut-punch you only expect to get upon hearing something absurd like “Baseball has been cancelled forever.” Because the reality certainly couldn’t be true, even though it too often is: a young man and his girlfriend driving along, maybe laughing at a joke or holding hands or singing along to a song on the radio, then something happens and it’s all gone. Just like that. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it sucks, even from afar as nothing more than a fan of the team the kid played for. Potential unrealized takes a backseat to life unlived. How could this happen?
What’s worse, how could this happen again? News of Taveras’ untimely, shocking, and tragic death immediately reopened Cardinals fans’ old wounds from the 2002 death of Darryl Kile and the 2007 death of Josh Hancock. For Major League Baseball as a whole, the news rang eerily similar to the 2009 death of LA Angels’ young star-in-the-making Nick Adenhart. He also died in a car wreck. He was also 22. Those three tragedies—which, even more unfortunately, are of course but a fraction of the list of young lives ended too soon—happened in-season. As difficult as the events were, the teammates could lean on each other for support. They could grieve together in the dugout, in the clubhouse, and on the team charter. And they still had to take the field every day, using game day responsibilities to honor their fallen brother or maybe just not dwell on the tragedy for a couple hours. But this Cardinals team doesn’t get that luxury; all they have to do is sit around and think. Sure, some are playing Winter Ball, and all have offseason programs to follow to keep in shape until Spring Training. I’d guess the majority of these guys would tell you it’s not the same. That is, if they can get the words out at all.
I don’t really know what else to say. I’ve seen the tweets and the tributes and the video interviews and the footage of the story breaking and I still can’t believe it’s real. But a lot of people are hurting today. My heart goes out to the Taveras family, the Arvelo family, and the St. Louis Cardinals family.
(PHOTOS CLIPPED FROM INTERNET SOURCES; THESE PICTURES ARE NOT MINE.)
One of the greatest spectacles in U.S. sports is The Kentucky Derby. While I have been to Churchill Downs on a number of occasions, I have yet to make it to that iconic palace for its greatest annual event. So instead, every year in the week leading up to this event, I give a reread to the great Hunter S. Thompson feature “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” to satisfy a nagging itch that could probably only be scratched by a bender I’m no longer willing to undertake.
“The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” is a significant benchmark for a number of reasons. Thompson was still finding his way in the “New Journalism” movement of the time, and after it was published it became the first of his pieces referred to as Gonzo–a moniker that was and will be forever synonymous with his revolutionary work. It also marked the beginning of a lifelong creative partnership between Thompson and artist Ralph Steadman. But it also provided a bit of social commentary about what it meant to interact with the “whisky gentry” of the South nearly half a century ago, and you can’t help but notice how little has changed since.
Personally, I’m connected to this piece in two ways. At this year’s South By Southwest festival in Austin, I caught the documentary “For No Good Reason,” a film about Steadman’s art and relationship with Thompson (Johnny Depp features prominently as well). It’s a great picture for Thompson/Gonzo fans, and the beginning of the Steadman-Thompson partnership at the time of the 1970 Kentucky Derby is featured prominently. The other personal connection is to Michael MacCambridge, contributor to the Grantland website who annotated “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” for the site–and taught me sports journalism at Washington University in St. Louis. Maybe he wouldn’t want me bragging about that, but it happened all the same.
Enough about me. The Kentucky Derby happens later this afternoon. Before then, do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read the Director’s Cut version of “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” over at Grantland (language warning). And resist the urge to Mace everyone you see today.
After St. Louis won Game 5 of the NLDS, the Cardinal Nation Twittersphere was obviously jubilant and busy. I happened upon a tweet by fellow Cardinal blogger Dennis Lawson that talked about the hug Adam Wainwright got from Yadier Molina at the conclusion of Wednesday night’s clincher and compared it to the hug Jason Motte got from Molina at the securing of the last out of the 2011 World Series. After a quick exchange, Dennis remarked “Seriously, I want to celebrate the end of a work day with a Yadi hug.”
It’s a funny mental picture, depending on your job. And it got me thinking: that would actually make a great “This is SportsCenter” commercial.
You’ve seen these spots advertising ESPN’s flagship news and highlights show; athletes or mascots or pop culture luminaries interact with SportsCenter anchors in the offices or on the set of the network’s headquarters and awkward hilarity ensues. Albert Pujols as “The Machine,” somewhat vanilla football commentator John Clayton as a metal head, and this misunderstanding in the lunch line are a few of my favorites. Proposing ideas for these commercials is certainly nothing new, but I’m going to give it a whirl. I’m emulating the “This is SportsCenter” model so of course the settings and cast will follow suit.
SportsCenter anchor John Anderson gets out of his car to head into work at the start of the day. He is met by Yadier Molina in full uniform and gear (but carrying his mask), who walks Anderson into the building like he would walk from the bullpen to the dugout with that day’s starting pitcher. While they’re walking Molina says “OK John, you have a tough day today: full NFL schedule, MLB playoffs, hockey highlights. Here (hands Anderson a sheet of paper) is your list of catch phrases; stick to the game plan and we should get through OK.” Anderson agrees with everything Molina says.
Cut to the lunchroom, and anchor Scott Van Pelt is looking in the fridge. He says “Hmm, I wonder what John brought me for lunch today…” Suddenly the door is slammed shut, almost smashing his hand. Van Pelt straightens and turns; Molina is standing there (full uniform and gear, but again no mask) slowly shaking his head and says, firmly, “NO STEALING.” Van Pelt mumbles an apology and sulks out of the room while Molina looks at him disapprovingly.
Cut to the SportsCenter studio, showing Anderson in the middle of anchoring but from over his shoulder so the ESPN cameras and teleprompters are visible too. Among the cameras is Molina in his crouch (full gear with mask). As Anderson is setting up a highlight, Molina puts down a two fingers sign; Anderson pauses for an instant to glance at the catch phrase sheet Molina gave him earlier and smoothly delivers catch phrase #2.
Anderson, obviously tired and a little disheveled after a long day, punches out at a time clock and, turning, raises his hands in relief and joy. The camera then pans back to show Molina doing the same thing and running toward Anderson; they hug and jump and yell as if they just won the World Series while “This is SportsCenter” appears on the screen.
I’m not sure if all of that could be squeezed into 30 seconds; maybe the lunchroom scene would have to be a short follow-up commercial. But I think it works. Because let’s face it…we’d all be a little happier at our jobs if we knew even the toughest day might end with a hug from Yadi.
Last week, Danny Knobler of CBSsports.com wrote a great article about the St. Louis Cardinals and their decision process for letting Albert Pujols sign elsewhere while eventually re-signing Yadier Molina and how that was the right move for the future of the franchise. I have no dispute with any part of the article, so there’s no need to go through it here—but I highly recommend reading it if you’re a fan of the Cardinals, interested in how to build and maintain a culture of winning, or just love the business of baseball in general.
But on a personal note, the piece struck a chord with me and somewhat related decision I had to make a few years back.
In 2009, Busch Stadium hosted the All Star Game. It was the first time the Midsummer Classic was held in St. Louis in 40+ years, and anticipation was high. The once-in-a-lifetime aspect of the festivities was the catalyst for us to get partial season tickets, knowing that was our best shot at securing tickets for the All Star festivities as well. We were correct; as soon as they were available, we purchased tickets to the game, the Home Run Derby, the Fan Fest, all of it. As All Star Weekend drew near, I was surprised with one more All Star-centric proposition: as an early birthday present, I could select an All Star batting practice jersey for my gift. The jerseys were red, of course, with the great All Star logo featuring the Gateway Arch, and just a hint of the powder blue beloved by so many Cards fans—including myself. Though they weren’t the only players selected from that ‘09 team to represent the Cardinals on the National League squad, for me there were really only two choices: Pujols or Molina.
I have written about this kind of decision before; in fact, it was earlier in 2009. But that was just off-the-cuff thinking out loud, before I was faced with actually making the decision. And it was one I had a LOT of trouble making. At that time, Pujols was still peaking as the best hitter in the game. His importance to the Cardinals’ lineup was never higher, especially since former fellow “MV3” members Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen were now with other teams. Based on that and the words from his own mouth, it seemed unfathomable that Pujols would ever wear a different uniform. On the flipside, Molina was quickly coming into his own as an elite player. His defense was never in question, but his light offensive numbers and clunky base running usually relegated him to the bottom of the order. Then, in 2008, he topped a .300 batting average and 50 RBI for the first time. He was getting on base much more often and striking out very little. His importance to the franchise was high before, but if his offense kept coming around he too would be harder and harder for the Cardinals to let walk. It was a decision I put off until the very last second; even as we pulled up to the Cardinals Team Store I was still mentally flipping the coin. On the one hand, the 2009 All Star Game would be an event that could never be taken away from either player regardless of whether they left for free agency someday. On the other, I couldn’t imagine wearing any jersey or shirt of a former Cardinal while he was playing for a different team. You know…root for the name on the front, not the one on the back…
And then I made the decision.
To this day, the jersey I chose still hangs in my closet—which is probably where it will stay, at least until Pujols’ contract with the Angels expires. The Cardinals have much better foresight than I do.
Moving to a new house is always a big deal. When that new house is more than 800 miles away from the only area you’ve ever inhabited in your 35 years, it can be a little jarring—to say the least. I could probably go on for a couple thousand words about the things that are different between Central Texas and the St. Louis area, how much I miss friends and family, etc. Austin/Round Rock is great, but it will never be home because home can only be Belleville/St. Louis. But for now, let’s focus on baseball.
As a Cardinal fan, baseball is VERY different now.
I was a partial season ticket holder in the Left Field Bleachers at Busch Stadium for five seasons; now, the closest Major League team is at least three hours away. I know, I know…”First World Problems.” But you really do come to expect going to ballgames being a significant part of your life each summer. It impacts your budget, your availability, your perspective of the game…and when it’s gone, you lose something.
It would probably be different if I still lived in the St. Louis area. I could watch or listen to the games like everyone else does, and while I’d miss going to 20 or 40 games each year, I’d still get more than my fill of daily baseball. But even though I’m able to pick up KMOX in my car most evenings, I have to resort to MLB.TV to see or hear the play-by-play. It’s a great technology to have available, and I’m grateful for it—except for one thing.
Yes, there is a pretty significant delay for both the radio and TV broadcast streams to get to whatever device I happen to be using to catch the game that is in progress. That probably would not be an issue if I was just interested in game action. But no, I also have to be addicted to Twitter during the game. I love the social media aspect of watching the Cards and seeing what everyone—writers, broadcasters, bloggers, fans—have to say about what’s happening. It’s like a game within the game. I also love participating in that aspect of the experience. But now, I’m sometimes minutes behind everyone else. Maybe it isn’t all that important being first, but seeing game updates before the feed gets to my Blu-Ray or phone or computer is…well, it’s just unnerving. I don’t even care that much about being surprised as I watch. It just sucks to know everything that happens before it happens (on my screen, anyway). I’m always a batter behind…sometimes two. Yikes.
Again, I know…total “First World Problem.” Twenty years ago, this move would have me wrapping foil around a boombox antenna in the hopes of picking up the signal from St. Louis at best, and waiting for game updates the next day on SportsCenter or, if I was really lucky, the Austin American-Statesman at worst. In that context, I’m not complaining one bit. And down here I do have access to different baseball than I’ve ever had before—namely the Triple A Round Rock Express and the University of Texas Longhorns. I’ll still catch Cards’ games any way I can, and I’ll still be a weirdo on Twitter as much as possible. It’s just not the same as it was. And I miss that.