Daily Archives: October 27, 2010

Thoughts on Baseball and the World Series in a Time of National Turmoil

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” – James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams

“Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.”  ~Saul Steinberg

“Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” ~Sharon Olds, This Sporting Life, 1987

I’m sitting down watching game one of the World Series and as usual the Giants until the bottom of the 5th inning were playing it close in their unique “tortureball” way that drives Giants fans as well as their opponents absolutely nuts.  Now at the end of the 5th they lead 8-2 after beating up the vaunted Cliff Lee for 7 runs in 4.2 innings pitched.  But that is not the point of this article; it is an article about hope in a time of turmoil.  I could write about the Lord being a hope in time of trouble and that is certainly true but unfortunately so many people are using God as a bludgeon against their political opponents I’m not even going to go there. I figure that the Deity is pretty sick of how he or she gets used by people for their own agendas and although I believe with all of my heart that God is a refuge and help in time of trouble.

As anyone that reads this site on a regular basis knows that I am a member of the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish and that baseball is much more than a game to me. Yes I love the details, statistics and nuances of this beautiful game played upon that lovely and lush diamond but the game is much more than that it is the heart and soul of America.  I know that Football is now the most popular sport in the country but it is different, it is a sport of combat, speed and violence a sport which while there are lessons that can be learned from it its’ appeal is to our violent and warlike side.

As John Leonard in the New York Times said back in 1975 “Baseball happens to be a game of cumulative tension but football, basketball and hockey are played with hand grenades and machine guns.Roger Kahn one of the nation’s most gifted sports writers said “Basketball, hockey and track meets are action heaped upon action, climax upon climax, until the onlooker’s responses become deadened.  Baseball is for the leisurely afternoons of summer and for the unchanging dreams.”

I think that this year’s World Series is symbolic of the Spirit of this country where we see two great teams that embody all that is good about this country.  There are the stories of excellence in Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum, the stories of second chances and redemption in men like Josh Hamilton and Texas Manger Ron Washington recovering from addictions to drugs and alcohol, the stories of players cast off by other teams like Cody Ross, Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff and the stories of young men like Neftali Feliz, Buster Posey, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Elvis Andrus, stories of the eccentric epitomized by Giants closer Brian Wilson, natural born Americans and immigrants and so many other stories. These are stories about us, stories that hearken back to the times when Americans actually believed in a good future and were willing to work with each other despite political differences to make it happen.

The teams were not considered among baseball’s elite at the beginning of the season and neither was picked to win their divisions.  Their payrolls pale in comparison to the Yankees, Phillies and even the Cubs and the Rangers were just rescued from bankruptcy by baseball legend Nolan Ryan.  In a time of recession and uncertainty such teams relate to everyday Americans because they seem to be real, made up of flawed people, people that needed second chances and have triumphed.

Both the Rangers and Giants have special fan bases, the Rangers fans epitomize middle America and the Giants fans, well they are as diverse as the city that their Giants represent.

I agree with Bill “Spaceman Lee” who said “I would change policy, bring back natural grass and nickel beer. Baseball is the belly-button of our society. Straighten out baseball, and you straighten out the rest of the world.” Baseball is the bell weather of America and a place that we can all go to if we want.  Thankfully it seems that baseball after the gratuitous excess of the steroids era has recovered itself, maybe we will never get back to nickel beer but we can recover our soul as a nation.

In baseball you have opponents, not enemies and while you play them hard you never dehumanize them.  I think that in the poisonous political and social environment of 2010 where political or ideological opponents are no longer fellow Americans that we may differ with but enemies to be defeated destroyed and trampled under violently if necessary.  In baseball there is a decorum that is seldom breeched but in our society such decorum is sadly lacking and there is blame on all sides of the body politic.

Maybe we can learn something as a nation from this World Series which happens to share the national stage with one of the vilest election seasons that I have ever seen where Republicans and Democrats alike share the blame for the mess that we are in.  Maybe we can learn from the game that was with us during our Civil War, through the Great Depression and World Wars, through the social upheaval of the 1960s and the current wars and worldwide economic crisis that has so severely impacted the people of our country.

For me baseball has been there in good times and bad and in the worst and most desolate time in my life, the two years after I returned from Iraq damaged in mind, body and spirit that diamond was the one place that I could find peace.

Here’s to the Rangers and the Giants, the men and their stories and their fans.  I hope that we all learn something from them this year.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Padre Steve’s World Series Prediction: Tortureball Continues Giants in Seven

We Baseball fans it is that time, time to pick the winner of the World Series.  This series is very interesting because no-one saw this series coming. Perhaps it is the bias of many sports writers to the East Coast that had most predicting a Yankees-Phillies matchup.  Regardless the Rangers and the Giants are in the series and both teams are looking to break long term World Series droughts the Giants going back to 1954 when they were still in New York at the Polo Grounds and the rangers to their establishment in 1961 as the expansion Washington Senators.

The teams go into the series with similar regular season records the Rangers finishing the regular season 90-72 and defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 in the NLDS and the New York Yankees 4-2 in the ALCS to get to the World Series.  The Rangers have some outstanding players the most notable being Cliff Lee (12-9 3.18 ERA) and slugger Josh Hamilton.  They are backed by some other outstanding players such as starting pitcher Tommy Hunter (13-4 3.78 ERA), Shortstop Elvis Andrus and Outfielder Nelson Cruz as well as their young closer Neftali Feliz (4-3 2.37 ERA 40 Saves).   The Rangers had a team batting average of .276 a .338 OBP a .419 SLG and .757 OPS.  The Rangers hit 162 home runs and scored 787 runs in the regular season led by Josh Hamilton who hit .359 with 32 home runs and 100 RBIs.  Lead by Cliff Lee the Rangers’ pitching staff had a 3.93 team ERA allowing 636 Earned Runs and 162 Home Runs while giving up 551 Walks, 24 Intentional Walks and striking out 1181.    The Rangers’ pitchers allowed an average 8.4 hits, 1.0 Home Runs, 3.4 Walks and 7.3 Strikeouts per 9 innings. Cliff Lee who dominates other clubs has done so with the Giants in the past but has not faced them this year.  Lee is 3-0 with 1.13 ERA in three career starts against San Francisco while holding Giants to a .159 batting average.  The last time Lee faced the Giants was with the Phillies in 2009 and Cody Ross has had success against Lee. The Rangers committed 105 errors and a .982 fielding percentage.

The Giants finished the season 92-70 and defeated the Atlanta Braves 3-1 in the NLDS and the Philadelphia Phillies 4-2 in the NLCS.  The key to the Giants success has been their pitching which was led by great young starters including two time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum (16-10 3.43 ERA 231 Ks) as well as the excellent Matt Cain (31-11 3.14 ERA 177 Ks) and Jonathan Sanchez (13-9 3.07 ERA 205Ks) and Rookie Madison Bumgarner (7-6 3.00 87 Ks).  The Giants also have a topflight bullpen which is anchored by closer Brian Wilson (3-3 1.81 ERA and 48 Saves). Their offense has not been their strong suit but on occasion they have had good run production and have managed to get timely hits all through the season to allow them to win many low scoring games which were dominated by Giants pitching. The Giants hit 162 Home Runs, had 687 RBIs and had a team .257 batting average, a .321 OBP, .408 SLG and .729 OPS. Their leading hitter was Aubrey Huff who hit .290 with 26 Home Runs and 86 RBIs and rookie Catcher Buster Posey who was called up from Triple-A Fresno on May 31st and hit .305 with 18 Home Runs and 67 RBIs.  Their pitching staff had a 3.36 team ERA and allowed 546 Earned Runs, 134 Home Runs, 578 walks, 58 Intentional Walks while striking out 1331 batters.  They gave up an average 7.9 hits, 0.8 Home Runs, 3.6 walks and averaged 8.2 strikeouts per 9 innings. In addition the Giants led the National League in fielding allowing only 73 errors for a .988 fielding percentage.

One possibly overlooked statistic is their records against common opponents. They played the Red Sox, Orioles, Cubs Marlins, Astros, Brewers, Athletics, Pirates and Blue Jays. The Rangers went 37 and 30 and a .552 winning percentage. The Giants went 33 and 18 against the same opponents for a .647 winning percentage. The Giants also have the home field advantage, a ballpark that is not a hitter’s park where they had a 49-32 record in 2010. The Giants lead the all-time series against Texas 15-7 and have won last seven meetings (2001-09). The Rangers have lost 11 in a row in San Francisco, where they are 2-12.

I expect this to be a close series and for Giants pitching to do better in shutting down the Rangers than the anemic Yankees’ pitching staff of the Rays especially in San Francisco. I expect Cliff Lee to pitch well but I don’t think that he will be the same factor that he was against the Yankees in the 2009 World Series or the 2010 ALCS. I expect that the Giants will continue to get the key hits and defensive plays coupled with solid pitching in tight games and because of how they have played all year. Add to this the habit of Giants’ Manager Bruce Bochy to make the right moves at the right time as he has seemingly done since the beginning of September. The Rangers have not had to face the caliber of pitching that the Giants can throw at them and I believe like Earl Weaver said “The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.”

Both teams have had amazing seasons with tremendous stories of comebacks as well as stories of personal redemption. There is also the story of a band of cast offs, and a pack of eccentric pitchers that do amazing things. Giants win in seven games of Giants’ Baseball, better known as “torture-ball” for their first World Series title since 1954.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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