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.

 

Another season

It has been a long, long time since I posted here. Since I didn’t have anything to say, I didn’t force it – even though that is contrary to most of the bloggers in the universe.

The AirHogs are in the next phase of “let’s destroy the team” – the owners have decided to co-locate the team between Grand Prairie and Amarillo. So, now they are the Texas AirHogs.

This is quite possibly the stupidest move in the history of organized sports, other than just giving up and having a traveling (no-home) team. A team with two home fields that are 354 miles apart. WTF?

Reminder to the owners and league: Texas is not New Jersey. You can’t just drive across it in an hour. If Southwest flies between the cities, only crazy people are going to drive it. 

We gave up our season tickets last year, because we just didn’t have the time any longer. I was back in the office across town, and by the time I got home, I just couldn’t face another half-hour on the highways to get to the game.

Now, I’m back home-officed, and half the time they’re playing away games, and half of the home games are in Amarillo. I thought driving to Grand Prairie was bad. I wonder if this year’s season tickets package includes a hotel room in the other city. Maybe you can just ride on the team bus.

Why not just kill the team and get it over with?

To fill the gap in home games, the Great Southwest Collegiate League was invented. It’s a wooden-bat, college-level league for college players around the State. Their games are played in whatever stadium the AirHogs are not in that day.

I may go to a couple of their games. They seem to have two games per day, since they don’t have access to the stadium for a full season.

The AirHogs have done almost everything they can to kill fan support. I guess having someone show up in Grand Prairie with a sign “Tonight’s Home Game is in Amarillo” is the final step in the plan.

Reverse Auction

Maybe ticket prices should be based on a sliding scale, based on the number of pitches thrown. If you have a good pitcher on a good night, you pay less, since you spend less time at the ballpark. If he gets shelled, it costs you more. Attendance would eventually be based on the starting pitcher, and there would be more incentive to have a quality pitching staff.

Lead-Off Hitters

Looking at Retrosheet data for the 2000s, the lead-off hitter on the visitor’s team was the center fielder 32% of the time. For the home team, the center fielder led off 31.9% of the time.  Yes, I will check my numbers and data, but that seemed very interesting to me. (Second place for lead-off was the short-stop.) 

For the statistics-minded, I looked at the position field for the first batter of the visitor’s team and the home team, and took the mode. I think that’s how it’s done, but I haven’t done real statistics since I had a slide rule. 

Moral Victories

Moral victories don’t count in the statistics, which is unfortunate, but they are a beautiful moment in time when they happen. 

Last night, the AirHogs lost to the Larado Lemurs 12-11 in twelve innings. However, they were left for dead by the end of the seventh – mainly due to the constantly moving strike zone of an incompetent home plate umpire. (Both managers complained – ours got ejected, which means his complaints were better.) 

So, in the bottom of the ninth, with an eight-run lead, Laredo sent their third baseman to the mound to pitch. 

Yes, the third baseman.

Now, this may seem like cockiness, but I don’t think so. You have two teams that had played a double-header the night before, they had used three pitchers already, there was another game the next day and the home plate umpire wouldn’t know a strike or a ball, so you’re going to have to rely on your defense. You’ve got an eight-run lead, what could possibly go wrong? 

You might come up against a team that finally decided it was time to play baseball. 

Ryan Pineda hits a single on a 2-1 pitch. Let’s not get excited, but at least somebody is on base. 

Angel Flores hits a 1-2 pitch and gets on. Men at first and second. 

Fraizer Hall walks on four straight pitches. Bases loaded. At this point, I began wondering how many runs Laredo would give up before a real pitcher came in. My guess was five. 

Kenny Held hits a sac-fly to score Pineda. One run in, long way to go. One out. The “play defense” strategy may be working. One grounder and it’s probably over. 

Keanon Simon singles on an 0-1 pitch. Flores scores. Two runs. One out. Hmm. 

Brandon Pickney doubles on an 0-2 pitch. So much for the pitcher getting ahead in the count. Another run scores. Interesting. 

Brian Myrow walks on six pitches. Bases loaded. Why look! Laredo has found a pitcher just sitting around. So, my five-run estimate was low, although there are four runs potentially on base. 

Andres Rodriguez gets hit by a pitch. Ouch. Another run crosses the plate. Not a good start for a reliever. Still, we need four to tie, five to win and there is one away.

Juan Richardson strikes out on seven pitches. Damn. Double damn. Two outs. 

Ryan Pineda (Hey! Didn’t we see him earlier in the inning?) looks at ball one and puts the next pitch over the left-field wall. Grand Freakin’ Slam. Tie Freakin’ game. This was the first curse of joy of the evening. This one hit may be why Laredo doesn’t have the manager of the year. 

Flores struck out to end the inning, but a message had been sent. We can beat you, in spite of the umpires. We can torch your pitchers, given a chance.

So, we lost the game in the twelfth, 12-11. We lost the game, but I think we won the battle. If you can get eight runs in the bottom of the ninth on the team leading your division, you can beat them. A message has been sent. I don’t think we’ll see any more fielders pitching unless the bullpen is dry. 

Tonight should be interesting. 

 

 

Baseball for Baseball’s Sake

I’m becoming an old fart. Some will say I’m already there. Specifically, I’m an old fart baseball fan. They’re the worst kind, actually.

You would think the most annoying part of a baseball game to an old fart baseball fan would be the umpires. You would be incorrect. The most annoying aspect is other fans.

Why? Because they are not fans. They are barely spectators.

I do not understand why people pay good money to purchase a ticket to something they don’t care to watch. If you don’t care about baseball, why do you go? You can find beer in other places that don’t have an eight-dollar cover charge.

Because people don’t want to watch the game, the team does all sorts of things to entertain the crowd. This includes having a blob mascot run up and down the top of the dugout to get the crowd into the game. My seats are just behind the dugout. So, I can’t see the game since the blob is right in front of me. So, I’m being punished because other people won’t watch.

Do the fans a favor. If you don’t care about the game, DON’T GO. You’re loud, you’re distracting and you’re wasting your money. Don’t take your kids to teach the teamwork. You’re teaching them ignoring the game is fine.

Baseball is the only major sport that has predictable pacing. Other than the teams changing sides at the middle or end of innings, an injury or a pitching change, the game goes on. It is easy to follow. You know where the pitcher is going to pitch. If you’re fanatical, you can keep score. You can keep yourself immersed in the game. You just have to pay attention.

This is especially true in the minors, where games aren’t usually televised. There are no TV time-outs. The game just plays.

So, I don’t think true fans need mascots. Or t-shirt guns. Or beer barrel races. They need the game to unfold in front of them, so they can enjoy it.

If you don’t understand baseball, watching the game will help you learn. Watching the mascot will not.

Can’t we go back to a time when fans watched the game? Maybe “in the old days”, people paid attention because they had to skip work to go to a game.

I miss those days, and I wasn’t even there. (That is the definition of an old fart, by the way.)

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.