Cubs Win!

Everyone needs an MLB team, even if you only sporadically follow them. You need a team because you are occasionally asked who it is – like being asked your religion – and you can be judged by your answer. I chose the Cubs years ago, but much like a Catholic who only goes to Mass on Christmas and Easter, I tend to only closely follow them during the playoffs.

I’ve tried to get into the Texas Rangers for years, since they’re my actual local team. It’s just they’re not really locals, if I can remember them moving from Washington (“First in war, First in peace and Last in the American League.”) I’ve (fitfully) cheered on the Yankees, because they’re my wife’s home team – and my in-laws’ home team, as well. However, if I was ever asked who my favorite team was, I would say, ‘The Cubs!”

Now, part of this was because I was born on the north side of Chicago, so they are my birth team, even if I did move to Texas when I was two. Part was that they are one of the teams that everyone knows and has an opinion about, like the Yankees or the Red Sox, but they’re from the Midwest.

Also, with the debut of the web, you can have your local team be anywhere – you just have to follow them online. (I follow Australian baseball because I know one of the players.) With cable and satellite TV, you can watch them just as if they were local, too. It’s not like the olden times, when you had to find box scores in the back of the sports section.

So, I am a Cubs fan.

There was a part of me drawn to the Sisyphus story, struggling to get the rock to the verge of the mountaintop, and then having it roll back down. Again and again and again.

There was a part of me drawn to the tradition – not just the “lovable losers”, but the observation that the fans and most of the organization respected and remembered that the team’s last championship was before the NFL even started. They had retired players who were recognized wherever they went. They had Harry Caray, even if he did start with the White Sox. The current team didn’t think the team started with them – they knew the team started in 1876 and they were a part of a long chain.

Then, there was a part of me that just likes being in pain. For many, I’m pretty sure that was the joy of being a Cubs fan – you knew that something was going to go horribly wrong at the worst possible moment, and it would be an even more original catastrophe than the last time. It would be more catastrophic than whatever happened at the office that day, so you would feel better about your job once in a while.

Seriously, what other team has blamed a goat attending a game (and being ejected) for a championship drought? What other team had a fan that brought a goat to a game?

I have attended one game at Wrigley – which is half of the Cubs games I have seen in person.

I saw one Cubs game in Miami that was technically a Marlins game, but I was with a guy from Chicago and two Brits who were just contrarians, so we cheered the Cubs. Loudly. The Cubs won, so we had the stands pretty much to ourselves by the end of the game. Technically, since it was a Marlins game, we had the stands pretty much to ourselves for most of the game. The two Brits were complaining that baseball games weren’t long enough to build a good buzz like a three-day cricket match. On the taxi ride home, one of the Brits asked the cab driver how the game ended “since we had left early.” The cab driver then bitched about the crappy Marlins all the way to our hotel. It was pretty funny, actually.

When I saw the game at Wrigley, I was in Chicago to teach a technical workshop, and my wife had gone along. We were looking for something to do, and then we realized it was baseball season – and by some miracle, the Cubs were in town.

We were having dinner at Harry Caray’s steakhouse the night before we went to the game and everyone was talking about Sammy Sosa’s corked bat (“It was for batting practice. Really.”) We even got interviewed about it. We had tickets for the game the next night, and it was everything I assumed it would be – and the Cubs lost.

The day before, the day the bat was found, the Cubs had won. So, I remember mentioning in the workshop the next morning that we were going to see the Cubs that night and that I was excited to finally see a game at Wrigley.

One of my students just sighed. I asked him what was wrong (I assumed he was a White Sox fan.) I said that the Cubs had won the night before, they were in first place in the division, everything seemed great – with the small exception of the corked bat, which I assumed would blow over. (Sosa got an eight-game suspension, I think.)

My student said he was a Cubs fan, as well. This confused me. Then, he said, “Don’t get too excited about the Cubs. They will break your heart. They always break your heart.”

I thought that was a bit harsh. I didn’t realize it was a mantra.

The Cubs won their division by one game that year. They lost in the NLCS. Broken heart.

I watched the Bartman game on TV because it was a playoff game. Five outs from the World Series. This was the year! Then, some random fan grabs a foul ball, and the team collapses. I remember feeling the doom envelop the stadium – you could feel the air whoosh out of there – and I was watching on TV. It was a new and horrible way to fail.

Broken heart.

I knew they were doing pretty well this year. I knew they had Theo. The next thing I knew, they were in the playoffs. It was time to start paying attention.

So, this year, we watched the playoffs and the World Series with anticipation and a bit of trepidation. My wife had decided she was cheering for the Cubs, as well, which added another layer of stress for me – she is much worse at recovering from a sports broken heart than I am. I’m used to it – I have the Cubs for baseball and Jerry Jones owns the Cowboys. (I’ve pretty much given up football at this point.)

So, while I had a feeling after game 6 that 2016 was finally the year, I was a bit concerned that this could be the most elaborate way to break the fans’ hearts ever conceived. I really wanted to believe after game 5, but I just couldn’t bring myself to that point yet.

I watched game 7 with excitement. No matter what happened, I stayed positive. I’m not quite sure how, because as Cleveland came charging back, I began to hear my student’s voice in my head – “They’ll always break your heart.” I had to tune him out because I was also really concerned my wife was going to start having chest pains, and we would need to call 911. So, I was spending more time tuning her out.

When the rain delay was over, I felt a sudden calm. I’m not sure why – I supposed my psychic self knew there had been a team meeting, and that’s when the team decided to win.

Blown saves. Extra innings. Rain delay. Two runs in the tenth. Give up one run in the bottom of the tenth. The pitcher with the blown save gets the win. Wow.

The final out was sweet – a basic play, executed perfectly. 8-7 Cubs. Final. Cubs win the Series, 4-3. All the way back from death’s doorstep just a few days ago. A team that had to win three in a row, and did.

The Cubs will always break your heart. Until the night they don’t. That’s a very special night.

 

First Game

The AirHogs dropped the first game of the season to Winnipeg last night. It was a close game, with good pitching and decent offense – the AirHogs need to put some hits together. The best part of baseball is that they can try again tonight.

Plus, El Paso has already lost two games, so we’re not even in the cellar.

Superstition

I found a book on baseball superstitions at Half-Price this afternoon. Various players and managers each have a page dedicated to their rituals and beliefs. Some of them are really strange. Of course, if the AirHogs win this year, I will have to buy a baseball book at Half-Price a month before the season every year.

Yu almost made it

Wasn’t there an unwritten rule that you don’t talk about a possible no-hitter in progress? Did nobody tell the press? ESPN had a no-hitter watch on their crawl. Sheesh.

8 2/3rds of a perfect game. Unfortunately, it’s like winning 4/5ths of the lottery. You have to close it out. You have to get them all. Still…

111 pitches and only one Yu Darvish probably wants back. I guess that’s why a pitcher that plays good defense is such a find. Has anybody found one?

Still, an amazing outing and a win. Wins count, no matter how many hits you give up.

Next time, for sure.

Random (Again)

With the heat wave we’re under, the stream of consciousness is almost dry, but here’s some thoughts from the past week.

First, thank you to whomever first said “The heat hasn’t been this bad in Dallas since the NBA playoffs.” It’s not baseball, but it will annoy a few people I know from Miami.

Random fact – The starting pitcher chooses his team’s uniform for the game. We were actually told this about a month ago when my wife was sewing names on jerseys and asked which color jerseys needed to be done first. She was told, “We don’t know.” Apparently, the team doesn’t know until just before game time every day. I had just been alternating caps (red and black) at the beginning of the season, but it evidently was pure chance that I was usually wearing the same as the team. In fact, I was told most of the players don’t like the red hat. Who knew?

I asked one of the pitchers I know this week and he verified it. Since he’s not an AirHog this season (yet), it’s not just a Grand Prairie tradition. I always assumed there were home and away jerseys, but apparently, there are uniforms and the pitcher picks one (except on special jersey nights.)

The reason I brought this up is that Dallas has now had 33 days of 100+ temperatures this summer. The first pitcher who declares “shorts and t-shirts” as the uniform will be a hero for his team.

This also means Amarillo must only have one uniform because I can’t believe every one of their pitchers would choose that god-awful yellow jersey with the road-stripe pants every freakin’ night.

Random thought – I will never talk about someone’s hitting again, since it might affect the team’s won-lost record immediately after I publish it. I assumed it would have no effect, since about three people read this, and one of them is me, but I should have known. My apologies.

Random thought – I still haven’t decided when you can start talking about a magic number. I think once it’s 10 or below you can start talking about it. Of course, to know if you can talk about it, you have to calculate it, so if you figure it out [for the American Association, it’s 101 – (first place team’s wins) – (second place team’s losses)], and it’s more than ten, just keep it to yourself.

Random Thought – We had an old fart (I can say that – I’m one) umpire the other night and everyone seemed to agree with his calls at the plate, at least a much higher percentage than normal. The differences between him and other umps? He was older. He seemed more experienced. Most importantly, he made the call. You’re out. It’s a strike. Sit down. Shut up. If all the umpires had the same confidence level when making a call, there would be less hated umpires in the league. Maybe.

Random Thought – It’s 112 degrees in my back yard and almost time to head to QTP. I wonder how the players would feel about naked spectators?

Statistically Significant

Earlier this week, I mentioned the AirHogs’ second baseman, David Espinosa, had dyed his hair and beard and created a FauxHawk just to change things up. Apparently, it’s working, even if the FauxHawk has recently collapsed.

Prior to his video-documented Just for Men treatment, David had hit 2 HRs in 259 at-bats. (He is leading the league in walks, so he tends to get on base without bothering to connect – he draws a walk every fourth plate appearance.) This week, he dyed his beard and hit 3 HRs in his next thirteen at-bats, including two in one game last night. How do we determine if the beard caused the home runs?

Prior to the beard and FauxHawk, David would hit a home run on average once every 130 plate appearances, if you simply divide his at-bats by home runs. After the beard, it is every 54 at-bats. This is the AB/HR rating in Sabermetrics, so I’m not the first one to consider this statistic important enough to calculate.

Sabermetrically, his AB/HR rating was 129.5 before Black Beard, and his new rating is 54.4. (The best current AB/HR rating on the team is 28, the lowest is 227.) While he only passed one person in the team rankings, he is much closer to some of the power hitters (a rather arbitrary term) on the team, at least by this ranking.

Ironically, my degree is in computer science and applied statistics, so I should be able to compute exactly how much of a change this is and how statistically significant this should be considered. Unfortunately, my degree is from 1982, so I don’t remember squat about statistics.

Still, from one home run every 130 plate appearances to one every 54 begs the question – what else is there to dye?

Hairy Moments

Sometimes, a team has a slump. It’s usually a number of unfortunate occurrences simultaneously. Luckily, there is a time-proven method to busting a slump.

All you do is change things up. The beauty of that statement is that “things” can be almost anything. However, it usually is follicle-related for some reason.

Last year, our (former) manager Pete Incaviglia had a rather impressive mustache and the promotions staff decided to hold Mustache Monday in its honor. Have a mustache, get a half-price ticket (I think – I have season tickets, so it didn’t really apply, although it was a good excuse to stop shaving for a month.) The AirHogs were in a slump coming up on the fated day, so Pete shaved his mustache off the day before Mustache Monday. I remember my wife asking “Why would he do that?” I said “Gotta change things up.” I was never really sure what that meant, but I had heard it at the ballpark a lot. Just before the Mustache Monday game started, my wife asked Pete, “Why did you shave?” He said “Gotta change things up.”

This year, it’s not shaving. The team is dying. Well, one of the team, anyway. We will soon have a second baseman with a jet black Fauxhawk. I know this because there is a series of videos documenting the preparation on Facebook. Ah, technology. (RIP Flip cameras.) You know what the posting before the videos says? “Gotta change things up.”

Maybe I should put the mustache back on. Gotta change things up.

 

[Update: Black Beard is 1-0. Apparently, a FauxHawk can hit a home run.]