Category Archives: Batlimore Orioles

The Only Church that Truly Feeds the Soul

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“The Only church that truly feeds the soul, day-in day-out, is the Church of Baseball” Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham (MGM 1989)

Tonight I am going to the last home game of the Norfolk Tides. The Tides are our local Triple-A Minor League farm team of the Baltimore Orioles who are now 7 games up on the Yankees in the American League East. I love baseball. For me it is a source of peace, comfort and meaning in the sea of so much hatred, violence, inequity and injustice, angst and despair that fills our world.

Now honestly, while things seem are not good we tend to see life at any given time through they could be worse and certainly could be better they are not nearly as apocalyptic as the bearers of bad news make them out to be. Barbara Tuchman wrote “Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts….The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five-to tenfold.”

This is especially true for those who follow that loathsome Trinity of Evil, the Politicians, Pundits and Preachers who make their living causing people to be angry, covetous, anxious and on edge.

When I read or hear some of the vile things being said by allegedly conservative Bible believing Christian leaders be they politicians, pundits or preachers, or in the case of Mike Huckabee a despicable combination of all three, I become more convinced that Annie Savoy was right… the only church that truly feeds the soul is baseball.

In fact when I hear the likes of the Partisan Political Parsons, any of the big Mega-Church Pastors or television ministry hosts, or even some Catholic bishops start spouting off I feel like I have left this country and ended up in Medieval Europe or maybe Saudi Arabia. I wonder where the love has gone. When I read the words of men like Pat Robertson, James Robison, James Dobson, Bryan Fischer, Scott Lively, Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer and so many others I understand why people are fleeing the church in droves and so many hold the Christian faith, as well as other religions in such disdain.

Jonathan Swift once mused about the religion of his time, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough for us to love one another.”   Swift’s words are a perfect description of the American Religious Right as much as they are of non-Christian groups who hate, the Moslem extremists of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Boko Haram and the Taliban; the Ultra-Orthodox Jews who think that they are the only acceptable form of Judaism and physically attack other Jews for not being Jewish enough even while persecuting Israeli citizens who are Christian or Moslem; and the Hindu fundamentalists that burn down Christian and Moslem villages in India.

Thankfully, though I am still a Christian and at that a rather miscreant Priest and Chaplain that struggles with faith and belief, I also belong to the Church of Baseball. I am so because I agree with the late Commissioner of Baseball A. Bartlett Giamatti, who said, “there is nothing bad that accrues from baseball.” 

While I am very frustrated at what I see going on in the Christian church as well as in other religions that dominate other countries or cultures, when I think about baseball I know that God still cares. Every time that I look at that beautiful green diamond that sits in the middle of the great cathedrals and parish churches of the Church of Baseball, my sense of hope and faith is renewed.

To true believers, that may seem like heresy. But God even loves heretics and unbelievers. For me baseball speaks to the soul, maybe it is because baseball is more than a game.  Conservative political commentator and long suffering Chicago Cubs fan George Will said “Baseball is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes or games are created equal.” 

If that is heresy I don’t care. But then what is heresy? I don’t actually think that Jesus would recognize a lot of what we Christians do today as even being Christian.  I could be wrong but I recall Jesus was really big into the whole “two commandment” “love God with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself” way of life; and he wasn’t really cool with pompous religious leaders that give preference to the rich and powerful, and seek their own political power so they can use the state to enforce their religious views on non-believers like we do.

That is why I find something so right about baseball. Unlike the message of the political preachers that specialize in making themselves rich by keeping their followers anxious and angry while preaching the message that “God loved the world so much that he can’t wait to come back, judge and destroy it because of fouled up humanity” especially women and homosexuals; baseball caters to our hopes and dreams while recognizing that none of us, even those who play at the Hall of Fame level are perfect.

Unlike the false religious message preached by so many members of the Trinity of Evil, baseball deals with reality and life so well because of its ebb and flow. It deals with the grind of the long season, the constant demand for excellence and quest for perfection; but there is a realization that most of the time you won’t get there, and if you do, tomorrow you won’t and that is part of life.

Personally I don’t understand why if the Gospel of Jesus and God’s grace and love is actually true that we can’t apply this to our faith. Jesus, at least in the Gospel accounts seemed to accept the imperfections and foul ups of his followers, and not only that seemed to accept the people who the really righteous, religious leaders rejected and treated as less than human.

In fact, my paradigm of understanding the Christian faith comes from baseball. In baseball perfection is illusory and that life is full of times when things don’t go our way. It is much like real life and what is presented in Scripture. Ted Williams, the last player to hit for .400 said “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”

For some of us it seems like reaching the Mendoza Line* is the best we will ever do, and if we believe in God’s grace, that is probably okay.

Tommy Lasorda the Hall of Fame Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager put things in excellent perspective “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games.  No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games.  It’s the other third that makes the difference.”  That is true in life and faith.

While I am definitely a Christian I struggle and I admit it. I have enough of my own problems to empathize with others that struggle, but who in embracing the wacky formulas offered by greedy self-serving preachers treat Jesus and his message like some sort of magical talisman or good luck charm. But sorry, I agree with what Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) said in the movie Major League: “Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.”

Thus I have many problems with the perfidious political and prosperity preachers that seem to have forgotten the Gospel, who are basically Elmer Gantry like snake-oil salesmen more attuned to keeping their market share than tending their flock. In fact, I think are actually driving people away from Jesus, and the polls of Barna, the Pew Religious survey, Gallup and others as well as the statistics kept by various denominations say that I am right.

When I watch baseball I feel renewed. As Sharon Olds wrote back in the early 1970s “Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” That my friends is why I agree with Annie Savoy that the only church that truly feeds the soul day in and day out is baseball.

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The late great and legendary Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell said: “Baseball?  It’s just a game – as simple as a ball and a bat.  Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes.  It’s a sport, business – and sometimes even religion.”   Yes, for me, the heretic that I am it is the latter, and tonight I am happy to be going to the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

*Mario Mendoza was a Major League Shortstop who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and other organizations. He was an outstanding defensive player but was not much of a hitter. His career batting average was only .215 but a batting average of .200 is considered the minimum that a player can have to remain at the level that he plays.  I think that my career batting average in both baseball and softball barely clears the Mendoza Line. 

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The True Harbinger of Spring: Baseball Returns to Hampton Roads

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“That’s the true harbinger of spring, not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on a ball.”  Bill Veeck, 1976

After a long and hard winter here in Hampton Roads I can day that spring officially arrived on March 29th. Yes I know that spring actually according to the calendar began on the 20th but it really didn’t feel that way until today.

No I can’t say that the weather was that great, it was in the high 60s with rain showers which were heavy at times. However, like the swallows return to Capistrano baseball returned today to Hampton Roads.

Yes it was only an exhibition game between our home town Norfolk Tides and their Major League affiliate the Baltimore Orioles, but it was baseball. It was actually pretty good baseball because the Orioles and the Tides are stacked with some pretty good talent. After years of suffering it appears that we will do well in both the Major League and AAA Minor League levels.

The game was eventually rain shortened because the rain had made the field conditions too hazardous to risk injuries to players so close to Opening Day. The Orioles won 4-3, Matt Wieters hit a 3 run home run in the second inning that helped seal the win.

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For me it was also special because the ballpark is a refuge for me. After Iraq a baseball game remains one of the few places that I feel absolutely safe. The past few years I was in North Carolina and did not get to see nearly as much baseball in person as I would have liked. Before I went there in 2010 on a geographic bachelor tour at the Camp LeJeune Naval Hospital I was a season ticket holder and this year I am again. I know a lot of people in the Tides organization and have seen some of the young Orioles work their way up through the minors at Harbor Park.

So today it really didn’t matter what the score was, or who won or even that the rain shortened the game. What mattered to me was that baseball was back and that with its arrival spring is really here.

Mark Kramer said that “Baseball is a harbor, a seclusion from failure that really matters, a playful utopia in which virtuosity can be savored to the third decimal place of a batting average.” That is something that I have to agree with, it is a safe harbor.

In a couple of days the regular season will begin for the Orioles and the Tides. The 162 game major league regular season and the 142 game minor league season, the latter which begins for us in Norfolk on Thursday April 3rd. Of course I will be catching the first Major League games on television and be there for our home opener on Thursday.

This is a good thing for me, as baseball is a calming influence in my life. I totally agree with Walt Whitman who wrote:

“I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

And with that I wish you blessings on this night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Exemplar of Defense the Oriole Way: Paul Blair Orioles “Motormouth” and Golden Glove Dead at 69

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Paul Blair the legendary 8 time Gold Glove Center Fielder of the Baltimore Orioles American League and World Series teams of the 1960s and 1970s died yesterday at the age of 69. He died just under a year after his Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver did, both while doing things that they loved.

Blair was bowling in a celebrity bowling tournament in Pikesville Maryland after completing a round of golf when he complained of not feeling well and slumped over unconscious. He died shortly after arrival at Mount Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

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Blair was born in Cushing Oklahoma but grew up in Los Angeles California. He tried out for the Dodgers but was rejected because they did not believe that he was big enough. The Mets signed him to a minor league contract in 1961. After being left unprotected by the Mets he was drafted by the Orioles in 1962. He moved up through the Orioles farm system and gained his nickname “Motormouth” in 1963 by his manager Harry Dunlop while playing with the Stockton Ports of the California League, it was something that he would relate to me in 2003 when I met him in Mayport Florida and I gave him a Ports hat to autograph. The nickname was revived when he got to the majors by Frank Robinson and Curt Blefary.

After a six month tour in the Army Reserve in 1964 he returned to the Orioles where he became the starting Center Fielder. Known for his speed and skill in the outfield Blair was awarded 8 Gold Glove awards, seven consecutively between 1969-1975. The record of 8 was a record for outfielders only broken by Ken Griffey Jr.  Blair’s career fielding percentage was .987, he only had 57 errors in 4462 chances.

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In a 1997 interview with USA Today Baseball Weekly Blair said of his defensive prowess “I was taught to play defense. Back in our day it was pitching and defense. Our philosophy (the Oriole way) was don’t make the little mistakes that cost you ballgames. That is the way we won over such a long period of time.” Earl Weaver said of Blair’s speed in the outfield “I never saw Paul Blair’s first step.” Orioles All Star Don Buford who played alongside Blair for 5 years noted “When you talk about the greatest defensive center fielders, he was right in the mix.”

Blair hit for a lifetime batting average of .250 with 1513 hits and 134 home runs, an average that may have been affected by being severely injured when he was beaned by Angels pitcher Ken Tatum in May of 1970.

Blair won two World Series rings with the Orioles and another two with the Yankees and was voted to the 1969 and 1973 All Star team. He is the only player to get five hits in an ALCS game when he did so in the final game of the 1969 ALCS against the Twins. After his playing career he coached at he high school and college level and served as an outfield instructor with the Yankees and Astros.

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I met Blair twice in 2003 and 2005 when he doing goodwill tours to military bases. On both occasions we had time to talk. In Mayport Florida I was able to spend over an hour with Blair, the late Hall of Fame 1st Baseman of the Twins Harmon Killebrew, Hall of Fame Pitcher Ferguson Jenkins as well as John Tudor, Manny Sanguillen and Jimmy Wynn. I really enjoyed Blair’s stories about his time in Stockton, which I consider my home town as well as his stories about his playing days. He was a joy to be around.

I was hoping that I would get another chance to meet up with Blair. That won’t happen now so I will just say Rest in Peace.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Sad Day for Baseball: Baseball Legends Earl Weaver and Stan Musial Pass Away

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“On my tombstone just write, ‘The sorest loser that ever lived.'” Earl Weaver

It isn’t every day that two baseball legends pass away. However today was one day that the baseball world mourns the losses of two legends Earl Weaver and Stan Musial.

In the morning I heard about the passing of Earl Weaver, the manager of the Baltimore Orioles who during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and help to establish what is now known as “the Oriole Way.” He was not much of a player, never getting out of the minor leagues, but it was his skills coaching and managing that like many other greats set him apart.

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He battled umpires on a regular basis and his rivalry with Ron Luciano was particularly sharp and his battle with Bill Haller, caught on tape and film as Haller was wearing a microphone for a documentary.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=uLUuxVX4Z10

Weaver was thrown out of at least 91 games and received four multiple game suspensions. He said “The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager, because it won’t hurt the team if he gets thrown out of the game.”

He was also a master of statistics and in a way was a pioneer of working to the best possible match up of pitchers versus hitters and used the platoon system to ensure the right match ups. He managed his teams to five 100 game plus seasons (1969, 1970, 1971, 1979 and 1980) four AL Pennants and one World Series title (1970).  He was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1996. After his managing career he spent much time active in the Orioles community hosting a radio program called Managers Corner. He and his wife were on an Orioles cruise when he died today at the age of 82.

He was a manager that I always loved watching and reading about later in life and his comment that “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts” is a theme for my life.

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Stan Musial was a player’s player and one of the best hitters ever to grace the diamond.  An All Star 24 times, National League MVP 3 times, seven time NL Batting Champ and part of three World Series winning St Louis Cardinal Teams, Musial was a consummate professional known for his modesty and hard work.

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After his playing career of 24 years ended in 1963 he went on to be the club’s General Manager helping the team to another World Series title.  Musial was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 on the first ballot and was named to the All Century Team in 1999. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barak Obama on February 15th 2011.

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Musial was a hitter that analyzed every aspect of the craft of hitting. His comment about how he sized up pitchers sums up how detailed he was in how he played the game: “I consciously memorized the speed at which every pitcher in the league threw his fastball, curve, and slider; then, I’d pick up the speed of the ball in the first thirty feet of its flight and knew how it would move once it had crossed the plate.”

I saw Weaver manage in person a number of times and saw Musial play in an Old Timers game as a kid. Carl Yastrzemski said of Musial: “They can talk about Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby and Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio and Stan Musial and all the rest, but I’m sure not one of them could hold cards and spades to (Ted) Williams in his sheer knowledge of hitting. He studied hitting the way a broker studies the stock market, and could spot at a glance mistakes that others couldn’t see in a week.”

There were few greater players than Stan Musial and Earl Weaver ranks high among the most colorful and successful managers of all time.

Baseball has lost two gems today.

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Rest in Peace on that great Field of Dreams,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Baseball Season is Over and Only 5 days until the 2016 Presidential Campaign Begins

It breaks your heart.  It is designed to break your heart.  The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”  A. Bartlett Giamatti, “The Green Fields of the Mind,” Yale Alumni Magazine, November 1977

“This country has gotten where it is in spite of politics, not by the aid of it. That we have carried as much political bunk as we have and still survived shows we are a super nation.” Will Rogers

Well my friends it is with heavy heart that I have to admit that the 2012 baseball season is over. Not that I was disappointed at all with the results. My three favorite teams all made the playoffs, the San Francisco Giants, the Baltimore Orioles and the Oakland Athletics. Likewise the fact that the Giants won the World Series added a special touch to the season. However, the 2012 baseball season as it must passed into history and the off season began with player awards as well as trades and other transactions as is the custom.

Back in the spring I shared that baseball would help get me through the 2012 elections and it has. Though the season ended last Sunday night which left nine days before the 2012 Presidential and Congressional General elections I have so far survived. I am not as sure about the country but I have survived and no matter who wins the coming election I know two things that are a certainty:

That the 2013 Baseball season will begin on March 31st with a Sunday Night game and that “Opening Day” will take place on April 1st, with a very non-traditional twist as the Cincinnati Reds play an inter-league game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim California or whatever they call themselves this year. Likewise the 2016 Presidential Campaign will begin 0n November 7th regardless of which candidate wins the 2012 election when Newt Gingrich declares himself as a candidate against a to be announced Democrat or primary opponent to Mitt Romney who if he wins the Presidency, Gingrich will abandon for not fulfilling his campaign promises before the last vote is counted.  That won’t be hard because Romney has campaigned on all sides of every issue at one time or another and to say that he has failed to live up to any particular promise will not be hard for Gingrich, Rick Santorum or any other Presidential wannabe to do.

So rest assured my friends be you fans of the American League or National League, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians or Independents that on November 7th life will go on. Even for Cubs fans. Of course the one election not being talked about is the Baseball Hall of Fame election scheduled for December with the results to be announced in January 2013. That is an election  that I am waiting to hear the results.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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O’s Fall Short in the Bronx to End Amazing Season

“They’re a special group…you’ll see them again…” Buck Showalter

The amazing season of the resurgent Baltimore Orioles came to an end tonight in the Bronx as the Birds fell to the Yankees by a score of 3-1. Yankees starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia had control of the game and though the O’s scored a run in the bottom of the 8th and had the bases loaded with one out was able to put the Orioles away in a complete game.

The Yankees got just enough offense in the final game of a series dominated by pitching  to defeat the Orioles.  In 23 games between the teams in 2012 the Yankees won 12, the Orioles 11 and the Yankees scored just four runs more in the entire regular and post season.

A Special Team…

I have come to love the Orioles over the past number of years watching their young players in Norfolk and Frederick and to see young men like Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Robert Andino, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and Troy Patton who I have followed in through their minor league time make the big time and play their hearts out.

To watch them and others, some cast offs from other organizations blend in together to make this such a great season was awesome. They battled through injuries and by the end of the year had a completely different starting rotation than they began the year. Their bullpen was superb, anytime an O’s starter kept the game close into the 7th inning the Orioles were more than likely to pull off a victory. Showalter managed this team and its bullpen in a spectacular manner.

This is a special team. You could sense it at the beginning of the season when no one believed in them but Buck Showalter. Over the course of the season they showed the most amazing determination winning 75 straight games when the led after the 7th inning, winning 16 straight extra inning games and winning over 70% of games decided by one run. That is not luck, it is character and belief.

They did not have current superstars, though some of their young players are potential super-stars. They did not have the big names and had one of the lowest payrolls in the majors, but they were a team. Everyone contributed and they brought pride back to the Oriole Nation after years of suffering.

They play in a tough division with teams that have nearly unlimited resources, but the one thing that this group, most of who will return next year have is determination and character that comes from having to fight hard against the odds. The season in some ways began in the last two weeks of 2011 when they surged in the final two weeks of the season to put a dagger in the heart of the Boston Red Sox in the final game of the season.

Buck Showalter said it so well, they are a special group and we will see them again. They certainly have brought a lot of joy to Birdland and I look forward to seeing them take it all next year.

Thanks for a great season, it has been fun.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Game 5 Anyone? Resilient Orioles Defeat Yankees in 13 Innings 2-1

Manny Machado Scores winning run (AP Photo)

It was another long night in the Bronx but this time there was no magic from a Yankee hitter and it was yet another thrilling chapter in their 2012 season. The never say die Baltimore Orioles extended their season defeating the Yankees 2-1. Jim Johnson closed out the game in a classic pitchers duel that involved a total of 16 pitchers, 8 from each team. In the 13 innings there were only 15 hits.

Darren O’Day shuts down theYankees in Relief (Elsa Getty Images)

The Orioles struck first as Nate McLouth hit a solo home run in the 5th. The Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the 6th when Robinson Cano grounded out to second to score Derek Jeter who doubled to lead off the inning. Both teams failed to capitalize on when they had runners in scoring position, the Yankees threatened in the bottom of the 8th when they had runners on 2nd and 2rd with only one out. Darren O’Day entered the game and became the hero of Birdland as he struck out Alex Rodriguez and then got Nick Swisher to fly out to right. O’Day then went on to shut down the Yankees in the 9th, 10th innings allowing no hits.

Nate McClouth makes key catch in against the wall off of Jayson Nix, he doubled up Russell Martin. (Elsa Getty Images)

Pedro Strop came into the game in the 11th and pitched two scoreless innings and in the top of the 13th, with the clock already past midnight 20 year old rookie Manny Machado doubled to right and scored on veteran Shortstop J.J. Hardy’s double to left, both off of David Phelps. The Orioles brought in Jim Johnson who put the Yankees down in order in the bottom of the 13th.

Yankees Manager Joe Girardi has managed the series since learning of the death of his father on Sunday (AP Photo Alex Brandon)

It was a tense game as both teams pitchers made the pitches that they needed and hitters struggled. The Yankees and Orioles led the majors in home runs but those big bats for the most part have been remarkably silent. The Orioles can in large part be chalked up to playoff inexperience and hitters swinging at bad pitches, or base running mistakes. The Yankees with the exception of a 5 run 9th inning in game one have been cold and without Ibanez’s home runs in game 3 this series could well be over.

So it comes down to game five. The Orioles and Yankees who were even in the regular season against each other are even again and for one of the teams the 2012 season will be over later tonight, yes it is already Friday.

Meanwhile the magical season on the Oakland A’s came to an end against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers. The Orioles or the Yankees will now play Detroit in the ALCS while San Francisco will await the winner of the Cardinals and Nationals game tonight with that series also tied at two apiece.

What a division championship series in both leagues, every series will go the full five games, all competitive and all exciting. This is playoff baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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