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Dallas Braden; Perfect Games and Memories of Home in Stockton California

Dallas Braden celebrating with teammates (Getty Images)

On Sunday Dallas Braden of the Oakland A’s did what only eighteen men had done in the history of Major League Baseball, he pitched a perfect game.  However there is more to this story than meets the eye and some that touches me personally.

The setting of Braden’s feat was the venerable Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, the “other” ballpark in the Bay Area.  Sitting in an area just off of the Nimitz Freeway the coliseum and its surrounding parking lots are in one of the most un-picturesque venues in the Bay area.  While one can see the Oakland Hills to the East the Park is just far enough away from San Francisco Bay to lack the ambiance of the San Francisco Giant’s home across the bay AT&T Park which sits on the bay with views of the Bay Bridge and the Skyline of the City of San Francisco.  While the ballpark has been the home of multiple World Series Champion A’s teams, numerous League Championship teams and had its share of Hall of Fame players tread upon its natural grass it has never been considered a great ballpark for either pitchers or hitters.   The fact that it is a multi-use stadium and the home of the Oakland Raiders football team contributes to un- remarkableness as a baseball venue.  All of this said it is a place where magic has occurred before when in 1968, in fact almost 42 years to the day of Braden’s magical win, May 8th 1968 Jim “Catfish” Hunter threw a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins.  Like Hunter’s win in 1968 the A’s won the game by a score of 4-0 however Hunter’s win came before the American League adopted the Designated Hitter meaning that Hunter had to hit for himself in the game.  That being said he did hit and I mean that he really did hit.  Hunter went 3-4 including a double and knocked in 3 of the A’s 4 runs.  That was no fluke as Hunter had a .226 lifetime batting average with 6 career home runs and 51 RBIs.

Dallas Braden with Grandmother (Getty Images)

With that little bit of trivia said Braden who is not your typical power pitcher that usually pitches perfect games pitched a solid game which was far different than one year ago when he was hit in his pitching hand with a 109 mile an hour line drive off of the bat of Vernon Wells which left the imprint of the seams on his hand.  Braden as I said is not a power pitcher.  He has one of the 10 slowest fastballs in the game topping out at a mere 87 miles an hour.  Normally an 87 mile and hour fastball is a dish served at a perfect temperature for most good hitters and they eat the pitchers that throw them for lunch.  However Braden has a remarkable equalizer, it is not his curve or slider but his change up.  I drive faster than his change up on a typical commute to and from work.  Braden’s change up comes in at a leisurely 72.9 miles and hour.  This pitch is the slowest change up in the league and it baffles batters by making his fast ball seem faster than it is. Batters at the Major League level are not used to this type of ultra-slow deception for a pitcher and it served Braden well but even so coming into the game he had a lifetime record of 18 wins and 23 losses and a 4.49 ERA.  He is not the pitcher that one would put money on to throw a perfect game and I’m sure that Jimmy the Greek, Larry the Latvian, Johnny the Walker and even Pete Rose would have wagered against him pulling this off. Yet he did it against the hottest team in baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Braden’s biggest notice came earlier in the year where he and Alex Rodriguez had an exchange of rather terse barbs following an incident where Rodriguez ran across the pitcher’s mound during the game.

Braden pitched for 5 or parts of 5 years in the minors for 7 different clubs in the A’s organization, the Kane County Cougars of the Midwest League, the Vancouver Canadians of the Northwest League, the Arizona Athletics of the Arizona League, the Stockton Ports of the California League, The Midland Rock Hounds of the Texas League and the Sacramento River cats of the Pacific Coast League.  This year he has stayed in the majors and now after the win has a record of 4-2 with a 3.33 ERA in 7 starts.

Braden’s story is that of a young man who lost his mother Jodie Atwood in his senior year at Stagg High School in May of 2001.  His parents had separated when he was young and his father was estranged from the family.  His grandmother Peggy Lindsey took over and helped him through that last year of school providing the stability, love and care that he needed to survive his mother’s loss and not fall into the mire of Stockton’s often violent and crime ridden streets.  The story of this young man and the women who raised him is the story of how mother’s day ought to be.  Braden had the love and support of his late mother and grandmother during the turbulent times of his youth and as a result still remains closely connected to his grandmother and his home town.  In fact he commutes the 67 mile trip daily from Stockton to Oakland which means unlike many professionals, athletes, businesspersons, those in other professional fields to include the military that leave their home town and only make occasion visits home is able to keep himself ground in reality.  He does not live in a glamorous town; he plays for a very blue collar city on a very “Green Collar” team.  I think that is one of the stories that some people will miss, not all, Jeff Passan mentioned Braden’s connection to home in his column on Yahoo Baseball.

Downtown Stockton

You see there is something about this story of relationship and connectedness that I think may be uniquely Stocktonian.  You see for the past number of years Stockton has been ranked number one or at least in the top 5 of the nation’s “Misery index.”  This year it dropped to second as it was edged out by Cleveland Ohio, I guess Cleveland does rock. It is routinely in the highest percentage of crime, violent crime and murders in the nation.  In the economic downturn and the real estate crash it was hit particularly hard and for a fair amount of time led the nation in foreclosures, or may still I just haven’t checked.  It is a town that in many ways has experienced for many years and reflects the reality that many other locations in the country are just beginning to know in today’s economy.

Foreclosure capitol (Getty Images)

All this said there is still something that native Stocktonians appreciate about our city, even those of us that have moved away.  We tend to remain in contact with our friends who still remain in town or have moved away.  I currently am in contact with over 100 friends on Facebook alone. My Edison High School Class of 1978 still has well attended reunions and is very well connected to each other and the classes that came before and after us. I look at the Stockton Record website every day. I used to read the obituaries until the Record started charging for them.  When I go home there is a certain familiarity with the city and though it has grown to a rather sizable city it still has a small town feel to me. I can still go to Arroyo’s Café when I go home and see the same people. The same is true with Donut King, Chucks , Manny’s burgers, the Fox Theater and a bunch of other places.  While other cities built huge super-malls Stockton still has Weberstown and Sherwood Mall.  Yes they have changed some over the years but they are still much the same. Yes much has changed but much is still the same in Stockton and I think that it one of the things that makes Dallas Braden’s story so remarkable to me he has not forgotten where he came from.  He still loves and cares for Stockton.  In an age where the really “successful” people move to New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco Braden didn’t cut himself off from his roots.  Are there others who have done such as this one that comes to mind is Joe Mauer in Minnesota but why leave if they will pay you more money than God gets in a season?

Another interesting thing that stuck me about Dallas Braden was his mother.  She was close to my age and I remember her, I thought it was in Junior High School but I couldn’t find t  find her in the yearbooks, it could have been the church youth group when I was in High School but regardless I am sure that I knew her.  I mentioned this to my mother today and she remembered the name.  Interesting how closely peoples’ lives are linked together.

My Oak Park Little League team back in 1972

I guess what strikes me the most about this game even more than the game itself which I must say that I am in awe of is the story of a man, Dallas Braden  who despite pitching in the Major Leagues still remembers home and family and stays connected to them.  This is becoming rare in our society and maybe given the state of the nation and how deeply divided we are it is time to return home, maybe not physically but returning to relationships with the people that we grew up with, schools, workplaces, churches and other activities.  Maybe Dallas Braden points us to something that matters more to many of us than the achievements of athletes or entertainers but to where we really need to be connected to one another as Americans, friends and families.  Yes it is wonderful to succeed and all should strive to be the best at what they feel called to be or do, but if that success destroys and alienates people from family, friends and home is ti really success? Maybe it is the pastoral environment of the baseball field that makes this happen for some of us.  Maybe like Terrance Mann played by James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams we can understand that

“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.”

Thank you Dallas Braden for helping to remind us what is important as you play this game of baseball.  I do hope that you do well in your career and that this perfect game is a foretaste of a great career for you.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Bring Out the Brooms: Dodgers, Angels, Yankees and Phillies Advance to League Championship Series

So far the MLB playoffs have not disappointed unless you are a Cardinals, Twins, Red Sox or Rockies fan.  There was a lot of drama, great play, and miraculous comebacks and for the shear sake of humanity some bad calls by some of the umpires.  But that’s why baseball is so much better than football; it is human and not clouded by the artificial attempt to impose “fairness” by reviewing up to 12 plays a game at the request of coaches and more for “mandatory” reviews.   These four series plus the one game

The human drama of baseball was played out before our eyes. The stories were amazing and every game had stories within the story of players and teams doing amazing.  As my readers know I made predictions about the divisional series over at https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/10/05/padre-steve%E2%80%99s-mlb-divisional-playoff-picks/ So far with the exception of the Cardinals being swept by the Evil Dodgers, the divisional series went pretty much as I expected as to the winners though I did not expect all of the sweeps.  I gave the Twins one game and thought the Angels and Red Sox would go five with the Angels winning.  The Phillies and Rockies series went very much as I expected and the Rockies almost brought in back to Philly.

In this Divisional series six games were decided by one run.   Five games were decided in the 9th inning or extra innings. Six games were comeback wins where the winning team gained the lead in the 7th inning or later. With a few exceptions the games were close even late in the game.  There were a number of plays that the umpires blew the call on, sometimes badly, oh well, humanity strikes again.  That is no reason to implement the insanity of the NFL’s replay policies or anything like them.

Let’s go back to my picks. I picked the Cardinals in four over the Dodgers.  The Cardinals, who were not even picked for the playoffs dominated the NL Central but Tony La Russa, one of the outstanding managers in the game has a way of making things work.  My expectation was that Chris Carpenter and Jonathan Wainwright would shut the Dodgers down at Chavez Ravine and then go back to St Louis where their hitters had been awesome throughout the season.  Their major weakness was their bullpen. A lot broadcasters and experts predicted a Cardinals sweep.  Having seen the Dodgers perform miracles in past playoff series, including in 1981 and 1987 I did have a sense of unease in picking the Cardinals, but I went with logic and this time it failed.  The Cardinals pitching was shaky and their hitting died. The turning point was in game two where with two outs that the Cardinals up 2-1 Matt Halliday lost a fly ball in the lights allowing a runner and the Dodgers then finished them off.  I think that it was a finish that could only happen with the Dodgers in the playoffs. I owe my Dodger fan nephew Joe a beer the next time I get to San Diego as I promised in my prediction of the Cardinals lost.  What is more interesting now for the Cardinals is what happens in the off season as Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan’s contracts expire at the end of the month.  If I had my choice Billy Beane would bring him back to Oakland a move which would be good for him as La Russa has many connections and business interests in the bay area.

The Angels and Red Sox were a tough call.  I picked the Angels in five because the Red Sox have not been the same team as they were the past few seasons. Some of their key players are showing the signs of age and losing a step or two. Additionally their starting pitching staff was inconsistent during the season and had some key injuries.  I also picked the Angels because they are a better team than they have been the past few years and there was the “X” factor of Angels’ pitcher Nick Adenhart killed after his first start in the second game of the season. The amount of unity on the team was something that I have not seen in a long time.  In their sweep of the Red Sox the Angels pitchers shut the Red Sox down until game three when Boston made a got out to an early lead which they reinforced in the bottom of the 8th.   What was surprising was the manner in which the Red Sox lost.  Jonathan Papelbon gave up not only his first ever run in the playoffs but blew the save and got the loss.  Previous to this he had pitched 27 innings of shutout playoff baseball.  The Red Sox have some decisions to make during the off season to see if they can get their edge back.

The Twins and Yankees series was the classic “David versus Goliath” story.  The Twins came from nowhere to overtake a Tigers team that faltered at the end winning the one game playoff at the Metro Dome.  The Yankees played all year with a chip on their shoulder and won 103 games, the best in the Majors.  They had an attitude and played all year as a team, they had very few injuries and every part of the team was strong.  The Yankees have played all year like they wanted to win the whole thing. I didn’t think that the Twins had a chance; they had lost all seven games to the Yankees including three in a row at Yankee Stadium on walk off hits.  The Yankees clubbed the Twins in game one and C.C. Sabathia got his first playoff win and like Rodriguez shook off the demons of playoffs past. In game two the Yankees had to come back to beat them as usually reliable closer Joe Nathan blew the save when Alex Rodriguez hit a two run homer in the bottom of the 9th.  Mark Teixeira hit a walk off shot in the bottom of the 11th.  I thought that the Twins might win one in the twisted hell of the Metro Dome, but the Yankees came back to win there with Alex Rodriguez Jorge Posada teamed up in the 7th with single homers off former Yankee Carl Pavano and Mariano Rivera closed out the game.  Throughout the series Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and a host of other Yankees played solid baseball getting the key hits and making the key plays to win the series. The Twins had a remarkable season but were simply outmatched by the power, pitching and speed of the Yankees.  Even so the final two games were dramatic as the Twins led by Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer played a great series.

The defending World Series Champion Phillies and amazing Rockies series was great.  I expect the teams to go to five games with the Phillies winning at home in game five.  The Phillies won game one in a walk, but the Rockies showed great character and surprised the Phillies in game two.  Game three had one of those only in Denver moments when it was postponed due to winter weather and snow.  Why the heck the Rockies wouldn’t have built Coors Light Field with a retractable dome like Milwaukee beats the hell out of me. The game was made up Saturday and the Phillies won a nail biter in which the lead changed often and the Phillies winning on a Ryan Howard sacrifice fly.  Game four tonight looked like the Rockies had the Phillies reeling when in the bottom of the 8th they scored three runs to go up 4-2.  The Phillies came back as Ryan Howard had a 2 RBI double with 2 outs in the top of the 9th and was driven in by Jaysen Werth for the winning run.  Beleaguered Phillies closer Brad Lidge saved both game 3 and 4, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley and big Ryan Howard were all clutch hitters for the Phillies.  The acquisition of Cliff Lee by the Phillies

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