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Midsummer Dreaming: The MLB All-Star Game

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“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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Those that have followed my writing on this site for any length of time know that perhaps more than any other thing on earth that the game of Baseball is an important part of my life and spirituality.

Baseball, unlike most sports is very much a game with a calendar that is almost liturgical in its makeup. It is also a game where those who “have gone before” are as much a part of the present as a part of history. It is a game that people like me ascribe an almost mystical or religious significance.

I have grown up with baseball. My dad ingrained it in me, my mom came to my little league games when my dad was in Vietnam and even my paternal grandmother had a baseball game on whenever one was on.

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The author with California Angels” Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970

I like to say that God speaks to me through Baseball, and I do think that I am right about this, much more so than Scripture which I never know if I am interpreting correctly, especially because so many learned people tell me that I’m a heretic. So I guess I have to let God speak to me in other ways, like Baseball.

The All Star Game is part of my “Church Calendar.” it is a moment in the summer where the game and I pause. I pause to reflect on life and remember so many things about the specific All Star Games, my dad and life.

All Star games in any sport are problematic. Most have no meaning. The NFL Pro-Bowl is such bad football that it has almost no relationship to the game as it is played every Sunday. The NBA and NHL games are better, but again because of the nature of those games little resemble their regular season or playoff games. Added to this as that none of those games have any bearing on what happens in the sport where the Baseball All Star Game matters, it determines home field advantage in the World Series.

I fell in love with the All Star Game in 1970, the game that Pete Rose ended in extra innings when he ran over Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse to win the game for the National League. Likewise I remember the 1999 All Star Game at Fenway Park when Ted Williams was honored and the All-Century Team was named. I found it interesting that Pete Rose, arguably the best hitter in the history of the game who was banned from baseball for life by A Bartlett Giamatti for betting on the game was included on that team. I agreed with the selection then and in light of the fact that so many other men of sometimes questionable morals and character are in the Hall of Fame think that the ban on Rose should be lifted and that he be voted into the Hall of Fame.

The All Star Game is a celebration of the game, its history and players, not just the ones playing in the current year. I am interested in this game in some ways because I have seen quite a few players at some level of their minor league careers in the South Atlantic, Carolina, Southern, Eastern, International or Pacific Coast Leagues. For me it is really cool to see men that I watched when they were in the minors now playing in the All Star Game. For those that don’t follow the minor leagues it provides a certain amount of perspective because most players in the minors never make the majors and even many of those who do don’t stay there. It is a hard life and for most the money is not that great, thus I do not begrudge the salaries that they make when they get to the majors. It takes a tremendous amount of talent, hard work, determination and sometimes luck to make it in the majors, to stay there and to become an All Star. Those that do it consistently year after year are amazing.

I appreciate their work, because in my calling and career as a Priest, Chaplain and military officer I am a journeyman. I’ve been around a long time, in a sense been up and down in the majors and minors in a number of different positions. I have had some good seasons so to speak, but I have also had plenty of bad ones and spent a lot of time in the military and church versions of the minor leagues. I think it gives me a manner of perspective when appreciating the hard work and excellence needed to be an All Star. If I was ever to be honored in such a way I would have to say something like John Kruk said back in 1993 when he was elected to the All Star Team “It’s amazing that fans want to see me play. What is our society coming to?”

Tonight’s game will be played at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, the home of the Cincinnati Reds. The game will mark the return of the Baseball’s all-time hit leader, Pete Rose to such festivities. Rose’s on the field accomplishments are clouded by the fact that he bet on baseball as a manager, and new allegations that he may have did so as a player as well.

In spite of that nothing can take away from Rose’s on field accomplishments and as with all of history baseball has myths and legends that need to be scrutinized but at the end of the day have to be acknowledged. This is true for Pete Rose as much as it is for any historical figure, including Abner Doubleday who was unappreciated as a general but became linked forever to the game known as America’s national pastime and to Cooperstown New York, the home of Baseball’s Hall of Fame. As such Doubleday is probably better known to most Americans, particularly baseball fans than any Union general who fought at Gettysburg.

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Abner Doubleday

Like the Civil War, Baseball too is filled with myths which connect it to our culture, and one “is the myth that Abner Doubleday invented the sport one fine day in 1839 at the farmer Phinney’s pasture at Cooperstown.”  It was early American baseball star Albert G. Spaulding who linked the creation of baseball to the Civil War and in particular to Abner Doubleday by way of an apocryphal story of one of Doubleday’s childhood friends, years after Doubleday’s death.

In 1907, Spaulding worked with Abraham G. Mills the fourth President of the National League, the same man who had served in Doubleday’s funeral honor guard to conclude that “that the first scheme for playing it, according to the best evidence obtained to date, was devised at Cooperstown New York, in 1839.” 2625 But this is simply myth and the underappreciated hero of the first day of battle at Gettysburg is much better known for something that he did not do.

The ironies of history and myth are fascinating. Interestingly enough Abraham Mills paid homage to Doubleday noting, “in the years to come, in the view of hundreds of thousands of people who are devoted to baseball, Abner Doubleday’s fame will rest evenly, if not quite so much that he was its inventor…as upon his brilliant and distinguished career as an officer in the Federal Army.”

History, myth, scoundrels and baseball. What else can be said about this wonderful game which is so much a part of American lore?

Have a great night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Giants Sweep Red’s in the River City: On to NLCS

Buster Posey hits a Grand Slam in the 5th Inning (AP Photo- David Kohl) 

Bruce Botchy’s San Francisco Giants appeared to be done. Their bats were lifeless and the Dusty Baker’s Cincinnati Reds looked like they would easily defeat the NL West Champion Giants as they went back to Cincinnati following their 9-0 drubbing of the Giants in San Francisco. But as the Giants have showed all season, the the going gets tough, the Giants get going and did so in a never been done before way.

Scott Rolen’s critical error in Game 3 (Jonathan Daniel Getty Images)

The Giants were the first team in the history of baseball in a 5 game series to lose the first two games at home and then win the remaining three games on the road. It was a remarkable feat made even more impressive by the dominance of the Reds pitching and slugging at the Great American Ballpark in the regular season.

Tim Lincecum in Relief (Andrew Weber US Presswire) 

In game three the Giants faced Homer Bailey who had thrown a no hitter in the final week of the season. Bailey was still hot. He went 7 innings and struck out ten Giants and allowing just one hit. However the Giants eeked out a run in the top of the third inning when Angel Pagan hit a sacrifice fly to score Gregor Blanco who had gotten on board after being hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. The score remained tied at one into the top of the 10th inning. Giants catcher Buster Posey led off with a single and advanced to second base on a single by Hunter Pence. Then reliever Jonathan Broxton struck out Brandon Belt and Xavier Nady. Joaquin Arias then hit a grounder to Gold Glove third baseman Scott Rolen, Rolen bobbled the ball and Arias beat the throw to first as Posey running on the pitch scored the go ahead run. Giants’ closer Sergio Romo downed the Reds in order in the bottom half of the inning to secure the win.

Reds Starter Matt Latos after being pulled following Buster Posey’s Grand Slam in Game 5 (AP Photo Michael Keating) 

On Wednesday the Giants got out to an early 3-1 lead but starter Barry Zito began to have control problems and gave up a lead off home run to Ryan Ludwig and with two outs in the bottom of the third inning Botchy pulled Zito for George Kontos. Kontos stayed in the game until the 4th inning when he gave up a one out single to Zach Cozart. Botchy brought in Jose Mijares to face Reds slugger Joey Votto who he struck out. This gave Botchy the chance to double switch bringing Joaquin Arias to shortstop and bring in former starter and two time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum into the game. Lincecum pitched 4.1 innings giving up a run on one hit while striking out six Reds. While Lincecum shut down the Reds the Giants bats erupted for 2 runs in the top of the 5th inning and 3 more in the top of the 7th. Santiago Casilla came on in the 9th to finish the game and pull the Giants even in the series and send the series into the deciding game 5.

Today the Giants starter Matt Cain and Reds starter Matt Latos had a pitcher’s duel going through the first 4 innings, then things fell apart for Latos and the Reds. Gregor Blanco singled and scored when Brandon Crawford tripled. Crawford scored when Zack Cozart committed an error on a ground ball hit by Joaquin Arias. Latos then walked Marco Scutero and gave up a single to Pablo Sandoval. With the bases loaded Buster Posey homered to deep left center to make the score 6-0. That would be enough. The Reds scored 2 runs in the bottom of the 5th and a run in the bottom of the 6th to make the score 6-3. Botchy used 5 relievers in the final three innings and the Reds threatened but were not able to score again.

The Giants had done what no one thought was possible. They had won three on the road against the Reds, and their offense which had been dormant in San Francisco plated 14 runs in the final two games of the series. In games one and two the Reds had done everything right but after the error by Rolen in game three nothing seemed to go right and the Big Red Machine broke down.

Dusty Baker disappointed again (Getty Images)

The loss of the series was another disappointment for Reds manager Dusty Baker who having suffered through a mini-stroke in the final week of the season and had come back to manage following several days in hospital. Baker who was the manager of the Giants in 2002 lost in the World Series when his team was leading the series against the Angels and in 2003 now managing the Chicago Cubs got to the NLCS against the Florida Marlins. The Cubs led the series 3 games to 2 and had a 3-0 lead going into the top of the 8th inning. That inning was a nightmare. With a runner on second and one out  Luis Castillo hit a foul ball to left field. The ball drifted into the first row of the stands and into the outstretched hand of Cub fan Steve Bartman. The Cubs plead for a call of fan interference but that was denied. The rest is history, a critical error and some clutch hitting by the Marlins gave them an 8-3 lead and the win. The Cubs lost game seven and Baker was stung by much criticism for the Cubs loss.

Giants Celebrate (AP Photo Michael Keating)

The Giants who had battled injuries, a suspension of their leading hitter for the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs and pitching that was not what it has been the past couple of years proved to be the gritty and tough team that won the NL West. They will move on the face the winner of the NLDS series between the Cardinals and Nationals which the Nationals forced into game five when Jason Werth hit a walk off home run in the bottom of the 9th inning at National’s Field this afternoon.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Ooops…Who Hit the Self-Destruct Switch? Four Errors and 3 Hit Batsmen Doom Reds, Phillies Win 7-4

Jay Bruce misses a fly ball in the 7th inning (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Cincinnati Reds looked like that they had cracked the code on how to beat the Phillies after having been no-hit by Roy Halladay on Wednesday.  Tonight they went up against Roy Oswalt and drove the Phillies veteran out of the game after 5 innings.  Combining solo home runs by Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce as well as some “small ball” took a 4-0 lead and looked like they were going to cruise to victory in game two of their NLDS series against the Phillies. Then someone somewhere flipped the self-destruct switch.

Once that happened in the 5th inning the Phillies got on the board with 2 runs.  In that inning the with 2 outs and Bronson Arroyo in control the Phillies were aided by back to back errors on Brandon Phillips and Scott Rolen to load the bases giving Chase Utley the chance to drive in 2 runs with a two out single.

The pain continued for the Reds in the 6th inning when Jayson Werth walked to lead off the inning and after Jimmy Rollins popped out Arroyo left being relieved by Arthur Rhodes who struck out Raul Ibanez for the second out. Werth stole second then Rhodes hit Carlos Ruiz in the knee to put runners at first and second.  Ben Francisco came in as a pinch hitter and Logan Ondrusek relieved Rhodes. Ondrusek then hit Francisco in the bill of his batting helmet just about an inch from his head in what could have been a tragic play. Instead it loaded the bases to bring up Shane Victorino. Ondrusek then walked Victorino to make the score 4-3.

Jayson Werth Scores (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Things got worse for the Reds in the 7th inning. They brought out rookie fireball pitcher Aroldis Chapman to face Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. Chapman hit Utley in the forearm with a 101 mile an hour fastball to put the lead runner aboard. Chapman sent Howard down on strikes.  This brought Jayson Werth to the plate; he hit a ground ball that Utley beat out at second to put two aboard. Jimmy Rollins came to the plate and hit a line drive to right field that Jay Bruce who committed an error simply missing the ball to score Utley while Werth scored when Brandon Phillips dropped the relay with Rollins taking . Raul Ibanez singled Rollins to third and Carlos Ruiz hit into a fielder’s choice to score Rollins. Chapman then gave up a single to Mike Sweeney before being relieved by Nick Masset who got Shane Victorino to ground out leaving the Reds behind by a 6-4 score.

The Phillies got an insurance run in the bottom of the 8th when with 1 out Chase Utley singled and stole second. Masset intentionally walked Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth singled to score Utley before Masset retired the side.

The Phillies brought in closer Brad Lidge and after walking the leadoff batter sent the next three batters down in order to secure the victory and get the save. Phillies reliever Jose Contreras got the win while rookie Aroldis Chapman got the loss.

The Reds meltdown which included 4 errors which led to 5 unearned runs and 3 hit batters who all scored.

The Phillies now go to the Great American Ballpark where on Sunday Cole Hamels (12-11 3.06 ERA) will try to get the sweep against Johnny Cueto (12-7 3.64 ERA).  The last time Hamels faced the Reds he won the game giving up 6 hits and allowing no runs in 7.2 innings work. Things do not look promising for the Big Red Machine.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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