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The 2009 Season at Harbor Park…the View from 102 a Season in Pictures

Well, baseball season is now been over a couple of weeks,  but the AAA season ended here on September 4th.  What began in March with an exhibition games between the Orioles and Nationals and ended with a win over the Gwinnett Braves was a memorable season.  I have done other posts analyzing the the season which ended with the Tides having a 71-71 record.  This is a photo journal of the season from my seat at the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish, the view from 102.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Opening Day, postponed one day the Tides home opener was played on a beautiful day


Tides 1st Baseman Michael Aubrey on Deck in the Dessert Camouflage Jersey

Tides vs. Rochester Red Wings

Harbor Park at Night

Michael Aubrey about to go Yard

Home Run Trot after the Hit

Manager Gary Allenson in the Dugout

Tides pitcher Jake Arrieta  delivering the pitch

Conference on the Mound

Barry the “Scorekeeper” my fellow Parishoner

Gwinnett Braves Player registering his displeasure on a called third strike

Swing and a Miss

Joey Gathright lays down a Bunt

Scouts for other teams doing their work

Harbor Park Entrance

Charlotte Knights Manager Chris Chambliss after a visit to the mound

Susan Komen Breast Cancer Night Catcher Robbie Hammock delivers a Grand Slam

Right Fielder Jeff Fiorentino the Tides Home Run and RBI Leader Blasts a s 3 Run Homer

Rain Delay

Lonely Vigil…if this was a football game he would fit right in

Tarp Covering the Field

Elliott the Usher

Victor Diaz at the Plate

Jeff Fiorentino Hits a Laser to Right

Marty the Card Dealer

Called Strike

Lead Off

Joey Gathright out at Home

Gary Allenson Arguing His Point

Bartolo Colon Delivers a Pitch for the Knights

Jeff Fiorentino Takes Bartolo Colon Yard

Andy Mitchell Sends on Across the Plate

Downtown Norfolk from Harbor Park

Tides President Ken Young and General Manager Dave Rosenfield

Ground Rules

Chip the Usher

Strike out

Moon Over Harbor Park

Kenny “Crabmeat” the Pretzel Guy

Run Scores

Jolbert Cabrera Down with a Season Ending Broken Ankle

Scout From Japanese Major League Yokohama Bay Stars

Ray and His Crew of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter who Man the Beer Stand Behind the Plate

Base Hit

Terri The Usher for Section 100

Rip Tide Helping the Grounds Crew between Games in a Double Header

Megan the Official Team Photgrapher

Braves Catcher Asking First Base Umpire to See if the Batter went Around

Mugging With Rip Tide

Post Game Fireworks

Japanese Film Crew Filming the “Samurai Umpires”

Gunning down a Runner


 

Last Home Game of 2009

 

Congratulations on a Final Home Win

Harbor Park Waiting for Next Season

“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.The game begins in the 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

All Images Property of Padre Steve c.2009





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My Life and Baseball: How Padre Steve Makes Some Sense of the World

harbor park opening dayThe Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish

“This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams

“I love baseball. You know it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just beautiful to watch.” Woody Allen in Selig (1983)

I went to Harbor Park last week just to talk with staff and sit in the concourse.  Tomorrow after work, though the weather is not predicted to be very good I plan on doing the same. There is something about baseball people and my seats down in section 102, row B, seat 2 and 3 that help me even when there is not game going on.  I walked around the diamond, the weather was gorgeous and it was so peaceful, even as the head groundskeeper aerated the field in preparation for the winter.  I feel close to God when I am around a ballpark, even without the game being played there is something almost mystical about it.  To me there is nowhere more peaceful than a ballpark.  Tonight as I sit watching game one of the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and the Phillies my mind goes back to how much baseball has been part of my life, and how in a very real way that God speaks to me through this special game.

grainger stadiumGranger Stadium Kinston NC

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” George Will

Baseball is part of my life and I think this goes back to my childhood when my dad introduced me to it in our back yard in Oak Harbor Washington.  Even before I played an organized game dad played catch with me, showed me how to grip a ball and told me about the great ballplayers.  He made me learn the fundamentals of the game and weather we were attending a game in person, watching one on television or playing catch, pepper or practicing infield or pitching dad was all about the game.  Of course he was the same way with football, hockey and basketball, but the sport that he seemed most passionate about was baseball.  As a kid he was a Cincinnati Reds fan.  His mother, my grandmother who hailed from the hollers of Putnam County West Virginia was a diehard Dodgers fan, though I am sure that God forgives her for that.  She was an independent woman of conviction and determination that has to in some way influenced her love for the game, even as a little boy if there was a game on television she would have it on.  I still wonder about to this day how she became a Dodger’s fan but it probably had something to do with her independent streak.  Granny as she chose to be called was a woman who as a widow in the late 1930s went to work, raised her two boys and bought her own house.  Unlike most of the people in West Virginia she was also a Republican, a rare breed especially in that era. As independent in her choice of baseball teams as she was in her politics Granny was a Dodgers fan in a land of Reds, Indians and Pirates fans, so even with Granny we were immersed in baseball.

Me and Lefty PhillipsCalifornia Angels Manager Lefty Phillips and Young Padre Steve 1970

Dad always made sure that we got to see baseball wherever we lived. In 1967 he took us to see the Seattle Pilots which the next year went to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. The pilots were an expansion team in a town with a long history of minor league ball. They played at an old park named Sick Stadium, which if you ask me is a really bad marketing plan.  The game that we went to was the “Bat Day” giveaway.  Then they game regulation size Louisville Slugger bats.  Mine had the name of the Pilots First Baseman Mike Hegan on the barrel.  That was my first trip to a Major League stadium and I still can remember it as if it was yesterday.  Somewhere in my junk I have a button with the Pilots logo on it.  I’ll have to find it again sometime.  The next year I played my first organized baseball with the Oak Harbor Little League “Cheyenne’s.” My coach was a kind of gruff old guy who stuck me out in right field.  I don’t know why but our team uniforms did not match, half of us had white and the other half gray.   Unfortunately due to military moves I didn’t get to play organized ball again until 1972.

jim_spencer_autographMY Favorite Angel Jim Spencer as a Yankee

In the elementary schools of those days our teachers who put the playoff and World’s Series games as many were played during daylight hours.  I remember watching Bob Gibson pitch when the Cardinals played against the Red Sox in the 1967 series.  It was awesome to see that man pitch.   I remember the Amazin’ Mets upsetting the Orioles in 1969 and seeing the Orioles take down the Reds in 1970.  I never will forget the 1970 All Star Game where Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse at home plate for the winning run.  I watched in awe as the great dynasty teams of the 1970s, the Reds and the Athletics who dominated much of that decade and the resurgence of the Yankees in the summer that the Bronx burned.  Back then every Saturday there was the NBC Game of the Week hosted by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garragiola.

halicki no hitterEd Halicki No Hitter

When we were stationed in Long Beach California from 1970-1971 my dad had us at Anaheim stadium all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 30 games there and a couple at Dodger stadium that first year and a good number more before we moved to Stockton California in the middle of the 1971 season.  That was disappointing, it took forever to get adjusted to Stockton and I think that part of it was not seeing the Angels every week at the Big “A.” At those games I met a lot of the players and coaches and even some opposing players.  The Von’s grocery store chain and the Angels radio network had a “My Favorite Angel” contest.  My entry about Angels First Baseman Jim Spencer was a runner up, netting me two seats behind the plate and having Dick Enberg announce my name on the radio.  Spencer was a Gold Glove First Baseman who later played for the Yankees on their 1978 World Series team.  My first hat from a Major League team was the old blue hat with a red bill, the letters CA on the front and a halo stitched on top. I still have a hat from the 1971 team with the lower case “a” with a halo hanging off of it.  It has numerous autographs on the inside of the bill including Sandy Alomar, Jim Spencer, and Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz and Billy Cowan and sits in a display case on my kitchen wall.

Me and last last picMy Dad and Me May 2009

While we didn’t live as close to a major league team baseball did not go away, though we were not at the ballpark as much it got more interesting as I got to see playoff games and a no-hitter.  We saw the A’s dynasty teams including games one and two of the 1972 American League Championship Series between the A’s and the Tigers.  Across the Bay a few years later I got to see Ed Halicki of the Giants no-hit the Mets a Candlestick on August 24th 1975.  In those days I got to see some of the greats of the era play, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Steve Garvey, Vida Blue, Harmon Killebrew, Rollie Fingers, and so many others at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Candlestick Park.

While in Stockton I became acquainted with Minor League Baseball through the Stockton Ports, who then were the Class “A” California League farm team for the Orioles.  I remember a few years back talking to Paul Blair the Orioles great Paul Blair who played for the Ports in the early 1960s about Billy Hebert Field and how the sun would go down in the outfield blinding hitters and spectators in its glare.  I would ride my bike over in the evening to try to get foul balls that came over the grand stand when I didn’t have the money to get a ticket.

1972 Oak Park AL RamsMy Championship Season

When I was a kid I had a large baseball card collection which I kept in a square cardboard box.  I must have had hundreds of cards including cards that if I had them now would be worth a small fortune, unfortunately when I went away to college I left them in the garage and during a purge of junk they were tossed out.  This year I started collecting cards again, mostly signed cards that I obtained at the Church of Baseball at Harbor Park.  In a sense they kind of serve a purpose like Holy Cards due in the Catholic Church for me.  They are a touch point with the game and the players who signed them.

As I have grown older my appreciation for the game, despite strikes and steroids still grows.  I am in awe of the diamond.  I have played catch on the field of dreams, seen a game in the Yankee Stadium Right Field bleachers seen games in other venues and thrown out the first pitch in a couple of minor league games.  I am enchanted with the game. The foul lines theoretical go on to infinity, only broken by the placement of the outfield wall.  Likewise unlike all other sports there is no time limit, meaning that baseball can be an eschatological game going on into eternity. The Hall of Fame is like the Calendar of Saints in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches.  There are rituals, the exchange of batting orders and explanation of the ground rules, the ceremonial first pitch, players not stepping on the foul line when entering and leaving the field of play, no talking about it when a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter and the home run trot. The care of a field by an expert ground crew is a thing to behold, especially when they still use the wooden box frames to lay down the chalk on the baselines and the batter’s box.

We have travelled to many minor league parks often in tiny out of the way locations and even to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville Iowa where once again Judy indulged me and let me play catch. Likewise my long suffering wife has allowed our kitchen and much of my dining room are as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them; thankfully she is most tolerant and indulges this passion of mine.

042Elliott the Usher

Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond is one of my few places of solace.  For the first time I bought a season ticket to my local minor league team the Norfolk Tides.  Section 102, row B seat 2 and 3 and was able to watch the game from the same place game after game.  It became a place of refuge during some of my bad PTSD times, and I got to know and love the people around me; Elliot the Usher, Chip the Usher, Ray and Bill the Vietnam Veteran Beer guys behind home plate, Kenny “Crabmeat” the Pretzel Guy and Barry the Scorekeeper.

122Moon Over Harbor Park

My dad is slowly dying of Alzheimer’s Disease and a shell of his former self but the last time I visited him we had a few minutes where he was with it we talked baseball and I gave him a new Giants t-shirt and hat.  I plan on going back next month sometime to spend some time with him.  Maybe we’ll get a few minutes of lucidity and a bit of time together again, I wish he was able to get up and play catch, but that will have to wait for eternity on the lushest baseball field imaginable.

The season there is over, but God is not done speaking to me through baseball as I close my eyes and recollect the words of Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams: “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.”

044Jeff Fiorentino hits a 3 run shot at Harbor Park

In a sense this says it all to me in an age of war, economic crisis and bitter partisan political division.  In a sense it is a prayer, a prayer for a return to something that can be good again.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

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September Comes to Harbor Park: A New Month and a New Team

batter upBatter Up: September Comes to Harbor Park

Fans of Triple “A” Baseball teams in the International League and Pacific Coast League understand that the on the 1st of September the Major League Team will expand their roster.  With the roster expansion at the Major League level there is a ripple effect and sometimes even a “sucking sound” as the Triple “A” affiliates have some of their most promising players taken up to the big leagues.

On some teams this process may be a season long process, especially if the Major League team is lacking depth, talent or is suffering from injuries to key players.  However it is the roster expansion in September that changes the Triple “A” team significantly and all at once.  A couple of things happen during this time.  First and the most obvious is that key players are taken up to the Major League franchise.  For some players this may be a repeat trip having been called up for a brief amount of time earlier in the season.  For others it is their introduction to the big leagues and intended to give them Major League experience before going back down to the minors to continue working on their game the following year. For all it will be the opportunity for the Major League club to see them on the field, in the clubhouse and evaluate them to see where or if they have a place on the big club.  The move up does not always mean that the organization will even keep the player; some might be traded or given their outright release.

chris georgeChris George in His Win

Simultaneous to the Major League call up the Triple “A” roster is reinforced by players from Double “A” and occasionally even single “A” farm teams.  Again this is a similar process where players are given the chance to play at a higher level and be evaluated by the staff.  The same dynamics apply as with the Major League team, except that for some players this is their last hurrah, they are being called up to fill a roster position and will be off the team or out of baseball the following year.   In lower levels of Minor League ball the end of the season frequently sees those of marginal ability weeded out to make room for draft picks, college players and other prospects to have a place in the organization.

From my view from Section 102, Row B, Seat 2 at the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish the September 1st call-up is the culmination of a season of call-ups and trades which began early and continued right up to the end of August.   The Norfolk Tides inhabit the Parish Church with me and my friends, Elliott the Usher, Barry the Scorekeeper, Chip the Usher, Terri the Usher, Marty the Card Dealer, Kenny the Pretzel Guy aka “Crabmeat,” as well as Ray and Charlie and their crew from the Vietnam Veterans of Virginia who man the Beer stand on the concourse behind home plate and several thousand others depending on which night the services are held.  The Tides are the Triple “A” affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.

034Robby Hammock Doubles against Charlotte

The past few years the Orioles have been engaged in a rebuilding process which for many has been long and painful and is not yet complete.  They began in the lower “A” level and progressively worked their way up so that their minor league organization is one of the best in baseball at least as far as talent and prospects are concerned.  Some of that talent had filtered up to Baltimore by the beginning of the year but the Orioles were still a very weak team as they entered the season.  By May the team was calling up members of the Tides, Outfielder Nolan Reimold and Catcher Matt Wieters were among the first to go along with pitchers Brad Bergeson, Lance Berken.  Others would follow throughout the year so that even before the call up at least a dozen former members of this year’s Tides team including pitchers David Hernandez, Chris Tillman and Kam Mickalio were up with Baltimore, or who like Oscar Salazar made the Orioles and were traded and are still in the big leagues.  There were others who were traded at the very end of August including Joey Gathright who went to the Red Sox and Freddy Guzman who went to the Yankees.  There were a number of players who had season ending injuries that might have been called up including Justin Christian, Scott Moore and Jolbert Cabrera.  Cabrera’s injury may be a career ender as he turns 37 in December.

scoreSafe!

The players called up on September 1st were pitchers Dennis Safrate, Matt Albers and Alberto Castillo. Outfielder Jeff Fiorentino who is arguably the MVP for the Tides this year was also called up. Unfortunately for Fiorentino the Orioles have a stocked outfield of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Nolan Reimold so it unlikely that he will stay up beyond the regular season.  It is expected that the O’s will call up several more players on September 8th following the end of the International League season. There is talk of a couple of pitchers, perhaps Chris Waters and Jim Miller as well a catcher and Second Baseman Justin Turner.

For us in the Church of baseball it meant that we had a season that was very good and really bad. The Tides were probably the best team in Triple “A” at the beginning of the season. By early June they had a large division lead and had close to .700 winning percentage.  With hitting which included power and speed the Tides have had one of the top batting averages in the league all year, even at the end of the season.  Currently they are batting .274 as a team only .001 behind Columbus which is at .275.  The pitching staff was solid but after call ups and injuries mid-season became less effective about the same time the Tides lost most of their power hitters.  This resulted in a All-Star break the team began slump in which the Tides ended up dropping back to 3rd place and a winning percentage of just above .500.

The Tides have 5 games to finish out the season.  The new players are beginning to show some life and the Orioles and Tides management will beginning planning for the 2010 campaign.  Of particular interest to me are catcher Guillermo Rodriguez an excellent defensive catcher with a better bat than we have seen at that position sin a long time with the exception of Matt Wieters and outfielder Jonathan Tucker just up from AA Bowie where he was on the Eastern League All-Star team this year.  He is much like Joey Gathright, a speedy contact hitter with excellent range in the outfield and I expect that Jonathan will be patrolling the outfield for the Tides in 2010.  Recently acquired Rhyne Hughes has added punch to the lineup at First Base hitting home runs in his last two games and I would not be surprised to see the Orioles keep him around.

moon over harbor parkMoon over Harbor Park

September has started better for the Tides and for the first time since August 6th. The win streak has improved the Tides record to 70-68 moving them back to a .507 winning percentage, currently in 3rd place in the IL South. In the three games the Tides have outscored their opponents 21-3 defeating Charlotte 10-0, Gwinnett 8-1 and 3-2.  Andy Mitchell, Chris George and Chris Lambert got the wins in strong performances.  Tides relievers were excellent allowing no runs.  Jim Miller rang up his 17th save tonight having reclaimed his rightful place as the Tides closer.  The two wins over Gwinnett have dropped that former rival from Richmond to 2 games back of Durham for the I South Title with 4 games left to play.

Friday night the Tides will play their last home game of the season at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park parish at 7:15 against these same Braves hoping to put another nail in the Braves Title hopes.

Peace,

Steve+

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A Tale of Two Organizations: How Major League Performance Impacts Minor League Systems

“We’re so bad right now that for us back-to-back home runs means one today and another one tomorrow.”  Earl Weaver

165Russ Ortiz Bearing Down on a Tides Batter

This is a hard blog to write and while things are not as nearly as bad for the Norfolk Tides as they were for Earl Weaver’s Orioles things are not going well at the present time.  The Tides are not nearly the quality of team that they were in the first half of the season.   On the positive side they are still doing better than any time in the past 4 years and still have a shot at making the International League playoffs as either the Southern Division champion or wild card. At the same time they have fallen off their torrid pace of winning in April May and early June where they were almost playing .700 ball and up anywhere from 6-10 games over their competitors.

People are wondering what has happened and the answer is all too obvious.  While the Orioles have remarkably improved every level of their farm system they have no real depth at the Major League level.  They have some potentially great players, but a lot are still relatively young and inexperienced.  The Orioles began the year as a marginal Major League franchise with a great farm system. Unfortunately the big team was so bad early that the Orioles elected to raid their minor league system of their best players, both pitchers and hitters.  The Tides lost pitchers Jim Johnson, David Hernandez, Chris Tillman, Matt Albers, Brad Bergeson and Jason Berken.  Unfortunately I think some were called up before their time, however this is certainly not the case with starters David Hernandez, Brad Bergeson who need just a bit more seasoning and relievers Jim Johnson and Matt Albers. As for hitting the Tides lost the center of their order to the big club, Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Oscar Salazar.  Salazar was traded to the Padres while hitting well over .400 of the bench and providing solid hitting and fielding percentages.  The Orioles also brought pitcher Brain Matusz up from AA Bowie without bringing him up to the AAA team.

170Another Strike for Ortiz

Do not get me wrong, all of these players are good, but they are all still very young.  While they will get better and are getting valuable Major League experience it is not contributing to the current success of the Orioles nor helping the minor league system. An example of what happens when a Major League team raids its farm system is the 2005 Atlanta Braves, the year of the “Baby Braves” where Atlanta almost made it to the World Series based on incredible performances by their rookies.  Unfortunately the call up of all of these players decimated the minor league system and it has only been in the last couple of years that the Braves minor league system, which is consistently one of the best in baseball to restock and rebuild.  Now the Orioles are fortunate to have a deep farm system, however the risk in doing what they have done is to potentially sacrifice the future for the present.

As I said the Tides are not the same team they were a month or two ago.  They seem to  have lost the edge, the swagger and self confidence is gone, frustration shows on many players faces. They do not look relaxed or like they are having fun anymore.  Tonight they dropped their second game in a row to the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees, who won the International League last year and who they New York Yankees have built into a formidable AAA franchise.  The Yankees, despite all the criticism they have received for “being the best team money can buy” with huge contracts for free agents and a massive payroll nonetheless invest a considerable amount in their farm system.  They are deep both in prospects as well as talented former Major Leaguers such as Shelly Duncan and recently acquired Russ Ortiz.  The Yankees have also used their minor league system to raise their own middle relievers Phil Hughes, Phil Coke, David Robertson and a reliever converted to a starter Joba Chamberlain.  Say what you will that is home grown quality.

Last night the Tides lost 6-1 and were thoroughly out classed by the Yankees.  Tonight was even worse as Russ Ortiz pitched 7 innings of 1 hit ball in 90 degree weather making the Tides, even their .300 plus hitters Justin Turner, Joey Gathright and Jeff Fiorentino look bad.  The Tides lost the game 9-0 getting their second hit with 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th.  If I wasn’t a big fan of Russ Ortiz tonight would have absolutely no redeeming value except to have worshiped in the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.  In two starts for the Yankees Ortiz is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA.  Ortiz has a career Major League Record of 113 wins and 88 losses.

188Joey Gathright is Victimized by Ortiz in the 6th in which he struck out the side

I was talking with Elliott the Usher as well as Barry the Scorekeeper about what was happening and we all agreed.  The difference between the teams is that the Major League Yankees have held together with only minor bumps in the road due to injury.  Their pitching staff aided by the home grown middle relievers has done a masterful job in shutting down opponents as their hitters have been on fire.  By doing this they have allowed their minor league clubs to become very good, in particular the Scranton Wilkes-Barre team.  They have talent and depth and players at the minor league level who are proven major leaguers.  The Tides on the other hand have been hampered by the Orioles descent and the resultant decimation of the minor league rosters to fill the gaping holes on the Major League team.  What would have been a very even match up a month and a half ago now was not even close.  The Tides were out-classed and out played by the Yankees. Ortiz in particular made the Tides hitters look bad putting on a major league performance that hopefully will help get him up to the Yankees as they make their pennant run.  I still think that Dusty Baker blew the 2002 World Series by taking Russ out with 1 out in the 7th and a 5-0 lead against the Angels.  If Ortiz gets back up and the Yankees win the World Series I will be happy for him.

On a positive note the Orioles led by former Tides pitcher David Hernandez beat the Oakland A’s 3-2, their first win against the A’s since 2008.  Hernandez improved his record to 4-4 with a 3.96 ERA.

So tomorrow is another day.  The Tides are only 3 ½ behind the Gwinnett Braves and 2 ½ behind the Durham Bulls in the International League South.  They still have a lot of talent and have a shot at getting in the playoffs, but need to come up big tomorrow to reverse this slide and keep in the playoff race.  I will be back in section 102 row B seat 2 tomorrow come what may.  Hopefully the Deity Herself will help us get through this stretch.

Peace, Steve+

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Trust in God and Keep a Strong Bullpen

“A fellow has to have faith in God above and Rollie Fingers in the bullpen.” Alvin Dark

043Tides Reliever Alberto Castillo against Charlotte

Organizations often face time when due to either talent, injuries or staffing shortages that they must make adjustments in mid-stride in order to continue to function.  Nowhere is this more apparent than on a baseball team, especially in relationship to the pitching staff.  The bullpen must be good in order for a team to weather the ups and downs of a season as well as the ups and downs of the starting rotation. When the starters are doing well and being supported by good hitting a good bullpen is what ensures the win.  When a starter slips up and has a bad outing a good bullpen steps up and gets the game back under control to give their offense a chance to win.  Conversely if a starting rotation is not doing well, either due to injuries, lack of talent or lack of experience the bullpen has to take up the slack.  In such cases even a good bullpen staffed with experienced relievers can get worn down by being forced to pitch too many innings too many times.  This became apparent to me last night as I watched the Yankees beat the Red Sox.  The Red Sox starter, in fact the last three starters had pitched well, unfortunately due to a number of times during the past few weeks the starters had been beaten up force the relief staff to do a lot more work than they are programmed to do.  Thus when the game got into the deep innings, particularly on when the teams went over 14 scoreless innings, the Red Sox bullpen was ground down.  In the end they ended up losing games to the Yankees despite good performances from the starters but lousy hitting, Yankees pitching blanking the Red Sox for 31 innings before the Red Sox Victor Martinez managed a two run home run in top of the 8th in Sunday night’s game. It was then that the Red Sox bullpen fell apart with Daniel Bard and Hideki Okijima combining to give up 4 runs on 5 hits including 2 home runs, all with two outs and no one on base.

To have an effective bullpen you have to have a staff that knows their roles and are comfortable coming on in relief. By way of analogy my military career has been marked where I have had to go into a situation in relief of someone who had been fired, transferred early or was hurt, I experienced this as a Company Commander and a good number of times as a chaplain.  All of these came with little or no notice, much the way a relief pitcher is called upon to do.  If you have worked in some institutional setting such as the military, this is a common occurrence.   The key to such situations, just like baseball, is that the person coming in relief needs to know what their role is.  Is this a short relief outing, to get a specific task done, like a pitcher might be put in to face one batter and no one else?  Or is it to recover a situation and stay in the game for an extended period of time, or even to come on in the final inning to close out the game?  No matter what it is the reliever must know his role, just as someone being brought in a institutional setting to take over in a difficult situation needs to know what he or she is expected to accomplish and how much time they are expected to be in.  Thus the onus is on the organization, in particular the leadership to know what the abilities of their “relievers” are and be forthright in telling them what they need to accomplish.

In building an organization you need people on your staff that are suited to change gears in the middle of something and go into a relief situation.  It is true in baseball as well as life.  As a season ticket holder for the Norfolk Tides Baseball Club, the AAA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles I watch a lot of baseball from my seat in section 102, row B seat 2.  The Tides started out the year with a great starting pitching rotation most of who have been called to the majors as well as relief staff.  The still have decent pitching but it is not up to the level that it was at the beginning of the season. Whereas earlier in the season up until the All-Star break the starters we getting good starts and relievers were able to come in later in the game in roles that they were ready to fulfill.  Now with our losses and the addition of pitchers called up from AA or A ball we are struggling in this department.  With starters not getting quality starts or not going deep into the game the relief staff has been worn down. Pitchers who were solid earlier in the year are not as dependable, and this comes often from having to come in too early, too often in situations where the games are already out of hand.  Yet even so tonight I saw relievers Kam Mikolio and Alberto Castillo regain control of the game in the 8th and 9th inning, but too late to do any good because the damage had been done earlier against Andy Mitchell the statrer and Jim Miller who came on in middle relief.

In the majors a staff needs a couple of guys who can come in to do long or middle relief, a couple of set up pitchers and a good closer.  Ever since the Oakland A’s used Rollie Fingers in this role the relief pitchers have become an vital part of any pitching staff and good managers know when the right time to pull a pitcher and put in the right reliever is.  Good managers also know to let the relief know what is expected.  In places that I have done well in relief I knew what my mission was, how long it was going to be and set myself to accomplish that mission.  When the relief appearance was ill defined and I did not have much experience I would do well for a while and then get in trouble because I had to use the baseball term gone beyond my pitch count or overmatched.

Sometimes even excellent relievers get beat up. Everyone has a bad day and even guys like Mariano Rivera, Francisco Rodriguez and Jonathan Papelbon occasionally get roughed up.  However, most of the time these pitchers have enjoyed success because they were part of a pitching staff that was strong in both starters and relievers.  A good reliever on a bad team often gets worn down.  Likewise when organizations suffer significant losses the people left, experienced and inexperienced, strong and weak are put into situation after situation where they have to do more on less rest.

russ ortizRuss Ortiz

Tonight I met pitcher Russ Ortiz who has played a good number of years in the majors.  He was recently picked up by the New York Yankees after being released by the Astros.  He was assigned to the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees and is making a start tomorrow night.  This evening he was charting the game for the Yankees in section 100.  Now Russ was with the Giants in 2002 when they went to the World Series against the Angels.  With one out in the bottom of the 7th leading 5-0 Ortiz gave up two hits and was replaced by Manager Dusty Baker with set-up man Felix Rodriguez.  Rodriguez gave up a 3 run home run to Scott Spiezio.  The Angles picked up three more off Rodriguez and closer Rob Nen to go ahead and win the game.  I told Ortiz that I still curse the day that Baker pulled him and told him how much I thought that he deserved the win.  Ortiz is a gentleman and nice guy.  Standing back with Elliott the Usher I meet a decent number of players and Ortiz is a class act.  I asked Russ if he would do me a favor and sign a baseball card for me, he said gladly.  So Marty the Card Dealer sold me a card with Ortiz in his Giants uniform and in the top of the 9th Russ signed it for me on the concourse.  It goes into my kitchen baseball shrine where so many of my other signed cards, balls and memorabilia are on display.

Without going into a sermon it is important to remember that many businesses and organizations are going through difficult times with many trying to do more with less.  In the military we are seeing our numbers go up a bit but with mission increases that stress our system.  These are like teams where there are gaps in the starting rotation and where guys and gals have to come in to relieve folks more often that should be the case.

Yes we do trust God, and patently the Deity Herself tells me that such is necessary especially for a miscreant Priest like me.  At the same time we need to have a strong bullpen in order to weather difficult situations. May we all have our Rivera’s, Papelbon’s, and guys like Rollie Fingers and Dennis Eckersly on our team with some good set up guys as well as some long and middle relievers.

Peace, Steve+

On a side note I was charged with an error by Barry the Scorekeeper when I lost track of my beer and kicked it over when it was still 2/3 full.  Since to waste good beer is a sin, I’m sure that Martin Luther believed this to be the case, I had to buy another and trust that the Deity would forgive me.

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Flooding! Flooding! Flooding! When Water pours from the Ceiling and Padre Steve Gets to Write a Sports Blog

steve on top of the rockPadre Steve: Soon to Be Sports Blogger…Could it lead to the Big Leagues?

This has been an interesting few days.  I got a chance to get some rest over the weekend, saw some baseball games, spent time talking to Chicago Cubs and a Philadelphia Phillies scouts on different nights, spent some time talking with Tides Pitchers David Pauley and Radhames Liz in between innings.  Both are interesting folks, Pauley and his wife just had a baby and Liz is one of the few pitchers in the Major League 100 mph club.  Both are nice guys and I hope that both do well.  I think that Radhames has a good chance; he seems to have his control back and can throw a ball of fire.  Last night I went to the game and had almost my full cast of characters in place.  Elliott the Usher and I had our usual running commentary during the game, Barry the Scorekeeper was back after visiting his family and going to a wedding over the weekend out of town.  Chip the Usher was in his appointed place, Marty the Card Dealer, Mandy the Tides Store Manager who by the way is leaving us for another job, congrats but you’ll be missed kid.  Ray and John my Vietnam Veteran of America friends who pour the beer behind home place had just returned from the organization’s national conference.  The only person missing was Kenny the Pretzel Guy.  Heck I even had my buddy Elmer the Shrink as a guest.  It was a great night even though the Tides lost.  Today I was able to see the score in between patients and the Tides won 8-7 to split the series with the Chiefs.

I came in to work this and got my usual large 24 ounce coup of Southern Pecan coffee with 4 French Vanilla creamers and four packs of Splenda from Pat down at the Dancing Goat.  I got changed, did my duty turnover and got busy, but not nearly as busy as last week.  It has been a good day, some good ministry, a lot of hard work doing some writing for our residency program and some nice times on the wards with some great people, staff and patients alike.  However, in between rounds of my ICU a coworker ask to talk to me about helping with a project that she is working on.  I went to my office and when I opened the door I saw water spreading out across my lowest bidder carpet.   I look up and the words “oh crap” or something synonymous passed through my lips.   My ceiling tile near the sprinkler system was sagging down, water coming at a steady drip from it as the tile itself was cracking under the weight of the water that it had soaked up.  Now this is not the first time this has happened, last time it happened after hours and was a soggy mess, the rotten tile looked like really bad oatmeal gone really bad.   I was not impressed so immediately I put in a call to facilities saying “I need you guy’s STAT, my ceiling is leaking and looks like it about to crash.”  It took a while for the guys to get here and when they did they looked up and said, “Sir move all your stuff, this could get ugly.”  I already had moved almost everything to the high ground and rapidly moved the last box.  He brought down the tile and oh what a mess.  Fortunately after they looked they knew where to go to fix the problem, now I only have some residual drips from the insulation around some ductwork.  Thankfully that is done and hopefully by tomorrow my ceiling is fixed and I can arrange to have my carpet cleaned by our housekeeping folks.  Praise God for Grace the lady who cleans my office and waters the plants that would die if not for her great work.   She found a second garbage can to put in the middle of the room to contain the residual drips from the ceiling and vacuumed the crap from my floor.  It appears that the Deity Herself ensured that things broke my way in what could have been a nasty mess.

The past week was also interesting as I have two opportunities to do some blogging as a Sports blogger.  Maybe it will be a step to being on ESPN’s Around the Horn, sitting next to Woody Page. Who can tell right? Evidently my stuff is getting seen and at least some folks like it.  I have been invited by the Virginia Pilot, our local Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Chesapeake newspaper to have a blog dealing with Baseball, general sports and life.  I was approached last week by the Most Valuable Network an independent sports network located at www.MVN.com to do something similar for them.   I received approval from my boss and legal to go ahead.  These blogs will be up by the end of the week or maybe the weekend.  I will post the links to the stories on these sites to this site.   The blogs will primarily focus on baseball and life and will likely on MVN be entitled The View from 102, The Church of Baseball. The Virginia Pilot will likely be Padre Steve’s View From 102Baseball Life and Faith. Once they are set up I will post the links here.  The articles will all be sports and life related and will occasionally delve into the heretical sports of football and basketball and will not be located on this site which will remain fully up and running as it does now.

Peace, Steve+

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Breaking Slumps and Losing Streaks

Fiorentino HR against ColonJeff Fiorentino, seen here Hitting a Home Run off Bartolo Colon has Come up Big for the Norfolk Tides in 2009

The Norfolk Tides came home Tuesday after their worst road trip of the season in which they fell behind both the Durham Bulls and Gwinett Braves.  When things are not going well for a team, organization or individual it seems that events almost conspire against them.  It was that way for the Tides, errors and bad decisions at the plate, on the base paths and the field plagued them over the road trip.  The problems continued on Tuesday where the Tides lost their 9th of the last 10 games.  Now it was not that the team was bad, they made some great comebacks but fell short each time sometimes in heartbreaking ways.

Tonight after getting out to an early lead the Tides were behind 5-2 in the bottom of the 7th.  Elliott the Usher and I as well as Barry the Scorekeeper wondered what was happening.  It seemed that there was no energy on the team.  Unfortunately when a team, organization, military unit or individual gets on a losing streak it is hard to get motivated, especially when you come close but come up short. I remember being told in my Pastoral Care Residency that I had to stop believing that things were going to be difficult or that I would always come up short.  My supervisor told me that I had the power to actually envision a positive future and make things happen to see it come into being.  Now I have always been a fighter and even a survivor, but being a survivor doesn’t necessarily make you a winner.

The Tides picked up 2 in the 7th as Robby Hammock led off with a hit and Tides hitters Blake Davis, Joey Gathright and Jeff Fiorentino brought the runs across with key hits.  Brandon Snyder singled to drive in Victor Diaz and tie the game the game in the 8th.  Tides reliever Alberto Castillo came in at the top of the 9th and shut down the Indians after getting into a jam after giving up a hit and an error by 3rd Baseman Brandon Snyder.

Sometimes the key to breaking a losing streak is in how one player can raise help lift the team.  Following the promotion of Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold and Oscar Salazar to the Orioles and the loss of Scott Moore, Jolbert Cabrerra to season ending injuries and temporary absences to injury of Justin Turner and Joey Gathright, it was Jeff Fiorentino that stepped up.  He now stands near the top of the International League in hitting with a .315 batting average and has been a clutch player offensively and defensively.  Tonight Jeff went four for four with a walk, drove in a run in the 7th.  Hecame to bat with one out in the 9th to single to drive Justin Turner in for the winning run.   It broke the losing streak and hopefully will begin a rebound for the Tides.  Since the Tides have played well the bulk of the season even allowing for significant numbers of call ups and injuries it is well possible that they will turn things around.  It was significant that other Tides were involved in the comeback and that instead of giving in to going through the motions they came together to win.  The team still has a lot of heart and character and still can only continue to get better.

May we all do the same, with a little help from the Deity Herself.

On a side note, Tides pitcher Chris Tillman had his first Major League start in Baltimore against Kansas City.  He had a no decision but the Orioles won the game 7-3.  Former Tides relievers Matt Albers came in in the 5th to hold the Royals and Jim Johnson got the save.  Baltimore continues to get great performance out of the pitchers called up from Norfolk this year.

Peace, Steve+

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