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Opening Day 2011: How Baseball Helps Padre Steve Make Sense of the World

The 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)

We are approaching Opening Day for baseball and in a couple weeks more the Norfolk Tides will play their home opener at Harbor Park against their rival the Durham Bulls. Unfortunately this year I cannot keep my season tickets in The Church of Baseball at Harbor Park and in particular my little corner of the world in Section 102, Row “B” Seats 1 and 2.  My assignment at Camp LeJeune will keep me from this place of sanctuary in a world that seems to have gone mad.

Baseball has always meant a lot to me but even more so after returning from Iraq in 2008.  Until recently Harbor Park was one of the few places that I felt safe, I have added to the “safe” zones since 2008 but Harbor Park has a special place in my heart a place of solace and community that has been a constant for me. While I will not have my season tickets this year I will still make games whenever I am in town at the same time that the Tides are at home and I will catch some games in Kinston North Carolina where the K-Tribe, the Kinston Indians will play their last season before moving to Zebulon and it’s wonderful ballpark.

Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.  ~Sharon Olds

The ball park is important to me.  When I was really suffering from depression and a major crisis in faith related to my tour in Iraq and battle with PTSD and feelings of abandonment after the tour I would go to Harbor Park just to talk with staff and sit in the concourse.  There is something about baseball people and my seats down in section 102 that help me even when there is no game being played.  There is a peace that I have when I walk around the diamond and 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 and every time I watch a game on TV 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.

“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

Me with California Angels Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970

Baseball became part of my life as a child 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 whether 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 and could talk intelligently about it.  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. Likewise she left the Baptist church of her family and became a Methodist. 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.

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 gave out 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 fish it out 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 when as any little kid would I was pretty much a spectator as almost nothing came my way.  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.

In the elementary schools of those days our teachers would put the playoff and World’s Series games on television in our classrooms as then many of the games 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 of 1978 when the Bronx burned.  Back then every Saturday there was the NBC Game of the Week hosted by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garragiola.  It was a sad day when that broadcast went off the air.

When we were stationed in Long Beach California from 1970-1971 my dad had us at Anaheim stadium watching the California Angels all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 30 to 40 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.  The move north 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 when I was in 5th Grade.  I submitted an entry about Angels First Baseman Jim Spencer and was named as a runner up.  This netted me two seats behind the plate and legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg announced 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, Andy Messersmith, and Billy Cowan and sits in a display case on my kitchen wall.

While we didn’t live as close to a major league team baseball did not cease to be a part of my life.  While we were not at the ballpark as much it got more interesting in some aspects as for the first time I attended playoff games and saw 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 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.

When I was a kid I had a large baseball card collection which I kept in a square cardboard roller-skate 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 my junk they were tossed out.  Last 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 many other venues at the Major League and Minor League levels and thrown out the first pitch in a couple of Kinston Indians games.  I am enchanted with the game. The foul lines theoretically go on to infinity, only broken by the placement of the outfield wall.  Unlike almost 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 in baseball such as the exchange of batting orders and explanation of the ground rules and the ceremonial first pitch.  Likewise there are customs that border on superstition such as 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. Even the care of the playing field is practiced with almost liturgical purity. 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 is as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them; thankfully she is most tolerant and indulges this passion of mine.

Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond has been one of my few places of solace.  For the first time last season I bought a season ticket to the Tides and in section 102, row B seats 2 and 3 was able to watch the game from the same place every day.  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.  Last year the Vietnam Vets and the Veterans beer stand were moved down the first base concourse where they were relegated to the boring beers.

Even still there is some sadness in baseball this year as there was last year and the year before.  My dad passed away last year after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  I miss talking baseball with him and wish he was alive and in good enough health to play catch.  However that will have to wait for eternity on the lush baseball field that only heaven can offer.

The season is about to begin and 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.”

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

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under Baseball, faith, norfolk tides, philosophy, PTSD

The Passing of the “Duke of Flatbush”: Duke Snider 1926-2011

Duke Snider (Getty Images)

“He was the true Dodger and represented the Dodgers to the highest degree of class, dignity and character,” Tommy Lasorda

Baseball lost a legend today. Duke Snider the “Duke of Flatbush” who was instrumental in leading the Dodgers to 6 National League Titles in 10 years and a World Series Championship in 1955 was 84 years old.

During his 18 year career of which 16 were spend with the Dodgers, one with the Mets and his final season with the San Francisco Giants he batted .295 with 407 home runs and 1333 RBIs. He still is the all time home run leader for the Dodgers with 389 as well as RBIs. He was an eight time All Star. During his most productive period between 1953 and 1956 he averaged 42 home runs, 124 RBI, 123 runs and a .320 batting average.  During the World Series Championship year of 1955 he hit .309 with 42 home runs and 136 RBIs.

While the Dodgers’ were in Brooklyn Snider was one of a trio of Center Fielders that all reached the Hall of Fame and are considered some of Baseball’s immortals. Snider along with Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays electrified the diamond of Ebbets Field, Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds and have some baseball historians still arguing just who was the greatest New York Center Fielder of the era. He was consistently for a period of 10 years in the top 10 of votes for MVP finishing second by just 5 points to teammate Roy Campanellain a controversial vote involving a mismarked ballot from a hospitalized sportswriter which had the ballot been marked correctly could have given Snider the MVP.

Snider as well as his Dodgers’ teammates Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Carl Erskine, Gil Hodges, Clem Labine, Don Newcombe, Ralph Branca, Jim Gilliam, Joe Black and Pee Wee Reese have been immortalized in Roger Kahn’s classic book The Boys of Summer. It is a book that I have read several times and is part of my usual summer reading program along with David Halberstam’s The Summer of 49, October 1964 and Teammates a Portrait of Friendship.

Snider was released by the Dodgers after the 1962 season after he and Third Base Coach Leo Durocher disagreed with Manager Walter Alston on a recommendation to have Don Drysdale go into the third and deciding game of the 1962 National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants. With a 4-2 lead Alston opted for Stan Williams in relief of Eddie Roebuck and the Giants rallied for a 6-4 win. After spending the 1963 season with the Mets and the 1964 season with the Giants he retired at the close of that season.  He would later be the play by play announcer for the Montreal Expos and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980. The one blemish on his post baseball life was a conviction for tax evasion for not claiming income earned from the sale of baseball cards and memorabilia.

Despite the conviction Snider is remembered as one of the good guys of baseball respected by his peers and his fans.  He is immortalized with his fellow Center Fielders Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle in the Terry Cashman’s classic baseball ballad (Talkin’ Baseball) Willie, Mickey and the Duke. http://video.yahoo.com/watch/456784/2533611

Hall of Fame Broadcaster Vin Scully said “He had the grace and the abilities of DiMaggio and Mays and, of course, he was a World Series hero that will forever be remembered in the borough of Brooklyn. Although it’s ironic to say it, we have lost a giant.”

An ESPN News Story about “The Duke of Flatbush” is here: http://sports.espn.go.com/espntv/espnShow?showIDshowID=SRDA&addata=2009_tscbr_xxx_xxx_xxx_xxxespnShowcomshowIDflv

Here is a clip of Duke Snider in his words. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nHQXQC9grAU

I shall treasure my autographed Duke Snider Baseball Card even more.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s MLB LCS Picks

The Vicar of the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish makes his LCS Predictions

Well baseball fans it is time to pick who I think will be in the 2010 World Series.  This year we have the heavyweights, the New York Yankees the defending World Series Champions and the Philadelphia Phillies who won the Series in 2008. The Yankees will be facing the upstart Texas Rangers who are fresh off their first playoff series victory in franchise history while the Phillies face the irrepressible collection of unknown underdogs the San Francisco Giants.

The NLCS

“The main idea is to win.” John McGraw

Roy Halladay no-hit the Reds has his worst record against the Giants of any team that he has faced more than 3 times

Both of these series will be fascinating to watch and should provide baseball fans with some memorable moments. The teams took different paths to get the LCS.  The Phillies as expected took the NL East in a convincing manner going 97-65 in the regular season and having one of the best trios of starting pitchers seen in the Majors for a long time.  The Phillies defeated the Cincinnati Reds sweeping the Big Red Machine in the NLDS.  Despite this the Phillies, apart from the great pitching of Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels were not impressive hitting only .212 against a rather lackluster Reds pitching staff. The Phillies scored only 13 runs on 16 hits in that series, just a fraction above 4 runs a game but only 7 of those 13 runs were earned runs, the rest came as a result of the Reds abdication of something that is known as defense. To skew the numbers even more 4 of those earned runs came in a 1.2 inning period against Reds game one starter Edinson Volquez. Remove those 4 runs and the Phillies scored just 3 earned runs in 25 innings. The Phillies had a .301 OBP and an anemic .273 SLG against the Reds. In the series the Phillies had just one home run, that coming from Chase Utley who led the team in RBIs with 4 in the series. Only one other player had more than 1 RBI and that was Shane Victorino with three. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley led the team’s position players tied with a .273 batting average. Phillies starters had a 1.17 ERA while the team staff had a collection 1.00 ERA.

Jonathan Sanchez beat the Phillies twice in 2010 in a convincing manner (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Giants are the dark horse of the playoffs in fact if you look at all of the “expert” predictions no one had the Giants finishing better than 4th in the NL West behind the Padres, Dodgers and Rockies. The team was a collection of no-names at the start of the season save their starting pitching rotation of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez.  During the regular season and at the trading deadline the Giants went and picked up a bunch of journeymen rejected by other teams leading Padres ace Matt Latos to call them a team made up of “mercenaries.” Since the Giants have gotten little respect most of the year why should they now? The Giants went 92-70 in the NL West taking the division on the last day of the season from their nemesis the San Diego Padres.  The Giants get to the NLCS after gutting it out in four one run games against the Atlanta Braves, a team so evenly matched in most departments in a series that was arguably one of the most filled with tension and exciting in recent divisional series history.  Like the Phillies the Giants hitting was weak hitting .212 and scoring 11 runs 7 of which were earned on 23 hits. Rookie Buster Posey led the team in hitting with a .375 batting average followed by Cody Ross at .286 and Aubrey Huff at .267.  The Giants had a .288 OBP and .295 SLG against the Braves. Giants starting pitchers had a .089 ERA in the series and the team staff had a collective 1.66 ERA.

In the Regular season the Phillies went 97-65 but there is a caveat 25 of those 97 wins came against the Nationals and Marlins. Remove those two teams stats out of the equation and the Phillies are 72-54 against the rest of the league.  The undoubtedly a great record but over a quarter of Phillies wins came against two bad opponents. Now I am not dissing the Phillies in any way as it would have been criminal if they even were close to having a .500 record against them. The Giants went 92-70 and like the Phillies they beat up on their division’s cellar dweller the Arizona Diamondbacks with a 13-5 record.  The only team in the league that had the Giants’ number was the Padres who the Giants edged out on the last day of the season for the Division title.

Playing against common NL opponents the Phillies went 84-54 against the Giants went 82-57 and the teams were 3 and 3 against each other in 2010.  In those 6 games the Phillies had 28 runs to the Giants 27, 45 hits compared to 60 for the Giants and 2 errors against the Giants 4.  But I think the real key is how the starting pitchers did in head to head matchups against the opposing team and I find these numbers to be interesting.

W-L             IP       H         ER      BB      SO      HR         ERA

Hamels     Phi      0-1             20        11        9        5        15         1         4.05

Sanchez    SF        2-0            13       5         2        6         8         0             1.38

Cain           SF        0-1           6        7        5        1          4         1               7.50

Blanton     Phi      1-0           6.1     8        2         2         7         2              2.95

Zito            SF        0-1          5          8        4         4         0         0             7.20

Oswalt      Phi       1-0          7           6        3          3        7        2             3.86

Lincecum   SF       0-0          8.1        3         2         2        1       11           2.22

Moyer        Phi      0-1          6          10        4         4        1        2            6.00

Wellmeyer  SF      1-0          7           3          2         2        4        0           5.27

Halladay      Phi      0-1        7           10        5         5         0        1           6.43

“The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.” Earl Weaver

In the coming series the pitching rotations tentatively have Lincecum against Hallady in game one, Sanchez against Oswalt in game 2, Cain against Hamels in game 3 and Bumgarner against Blanton in game 4. Both managers have not ruled out pitching either Halladay or Lincecum on short rest. The Giants have a stronger bullpen but Giants closer was banged around by the Phillies worse than any of his other opponents.

Padre Steve’s NLCS Pick

I think this series goes 7 games and I hate to try to pick a winner based on these numbers. All the experts are picking the Phillies in 5 or 6 games but I don’t know if they will manage that based on the statistics. My heart lies with the Giants but the Phillies do have more pop in their bats. In the starting pitching it looks like the Giants have the edge in the head to head match ups.  Also the Giants did not have a good number of new players in their first two games against the Phillies. I am going to be the odd guy out and I will probably be wrong but I am going with the Giants to upset the Phillies in seven simply because the Giants have nothing to lose in this series, none of the real experts expects them to win. I expect Lincecum and Sanchez to be the difference and for Hamels and Halladay not to do as well against the Giants as they have the Reds and their own division. If the Giants lose the series then people will say that I didn’t know what I was talking about and forget these picks by game one of the World Series. If not people will say that I am a genius or incredibly luck. Either way I’m okay with this pick.

The ALCS

“You got to get twenty-seven outs to win.” Casey Stengel

Cliff Lee Owns the Yankees (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

In the ALCS we have the Yankees (95-67) looking to secure their chance to get in the World Series and win in for the 28th time going up against the playoff novice Texas Rangers (90-72).  The Rangers walked away in a weak AL West race and the Yankees finished as the Wild Card winner just behind the Division champs, the now eliminated Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees rolled by the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS humiliating the Twinkies again proving as I said in my ALDS prediction that the Twins can’t beat the Yankees with a stick.  The Rangers defeated the Rays in a close series that went the full five games with their ace, Cliff Lee being the difference maker. The Yankees swept the Twins in a one sided series where they outscored the Twins 17-7 and outhit them 36-21 with their pitching staff having a 1.73 ERA against the Twinkies.  Phil Hughes was dominate in 7 innings work in game three while Andy Pettitte showed that he had recovered from injury and was effective in game two. C.C. Sabathia was banged around in game one but had the good fortune to have Yankees hitters come on strong. Mariano Rivera was simply lights out.

The Rangers won the AL West and faced the AL East champion the Tampa Bay Rays. This was the only series to go five games and the first division series to do so since 2005.  It was also a series where no home team won a game on its own field, so much for home field advantage.  In the series the 21 runs on 44 hits and committed 5 errors against the Rays 13 runs on 37 hits and 5 errors.  The Rangers pitching staff had a 2.40 ERA and was led by Cliff Lee and C. J. Wilson.  Lee was 2-0 in the series going 16 innings giving up 2 runs on 11 hits with a 1.13 ERA.

Mariano Rivera and the Yankees look to down the Rangers and try for their 28th World Series Title (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

In the regular season the Yankees went 84-60 and the Rangers went 76-68 against common AL opponents.  The teams went head to head 8 times splitting 4 games each. The Yankees swept the Rangers in mid-April and split a pair in mid August with the Rangers sweeping the Yankees at home in September. The Yankees pitching staff gave up 33 earned runs on 51 hits in those 8 games with a 4.23 ERA against the Rangers.  The Rangers pitching staff gave up 37 earned runs on 63 hits with a 4.62 ERA. The only pitcher to completely dominate the Yankees was Cliff Lee just as he did in the 2009 World Series when he was with the Phillies.

The Rangers had a regular season team ERA of 3.93 giving up 636 earned runs, 163 home runs and 551 walks.  In the hitting department the Rangers had a .276 team batting average, a .338 OBP and .491 SLG driving in 787 runs on 1556 hits of which 455 were extra base hits including 162 home runs.

The Yankees pitching staff had a team ERA of 4.06 giving up 651 earned runs and 179 home runs.  The Yankees hitters had a .267 team batting average, a .350 OBP (the best in the AL) and a .436 SLG producing 859 runs on 1485 hits including 508 extra base hits of which 201 were home runs.

Padre Steve’s ALCS pick

All things considered the teams match up well but no matter how well Cliff Lee pitches I see the Rangers losing in 6 games. However if the Series goes to 7 games and the Rangers can pitch Cliff Lee a third time I think that they will steal the AL Pennant from the Yankees, but they have to get to game 7 or they will not will the series.  My pick is the Yankees in 7 setting up an old fashioned World Series between two historic franchises the San Francisco Giants and the New York Yankees. What baseball fan besides Phillies and Rangers fans wouldn’t want to see that?  The last time the Giants and Yankees faced off in the World Series was 1951 when the Giants were still in New York which the Yankees won as well as 1936 and 1937 both of which were captured by the Yankees. One has to go back to 1921 and 1922 for the last times that the Giants defeat the Yankees in the Series, the last time that the Giants won a series was 1954 against the Indians.  A Giants and Yankees series might even bring back the ghosts of baseball past who will float into the New Yankee Stadium and AT&T Park remembering the old Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds with great fondness while those still living from the 1951 series like Willie Mays and Yogi Berra see their successors battle it our.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Pennant Races: Padre Steve Picks the Winners…Maybe

I love all things baseball as the Deity tends to speak to me through this most spiritual of games.  I can’t get around it I am mesmerized by the diamond and the nuances of the game, the sights, sounds, smells, which make up the experience as well as the games within the game.  I live for opening day and the call of Spring Training is my first indication of life returning after the cold desolation of winter and the All-Star Game triggers memories of the past greats and my interaction with the various legends of Baseball.  Tell me if I’m strange but I even get excited about trading deadlines and call-ups of Minor Leaguers in September.  Speaking of September I love the pennant races and this year there are a couple of note.  These are my predictions regarding the teams that I think that will make the playoffs.  Since I am neither the Prophet nor the Son of the Prophet I could be wrong, but I was pretty accurate last year. So here I go again, at least if I get this wrong I won’t be taken outside the city gate and crushed to death with heavy stones, unless someone is actually wagering on games based on my picks.  If that is the case I don’t even want to think about it.

Starting in the American League we have the New York Yankees and the Durham Bulls South, or as they are better known the Tampa Bay Rays.  These are such contrasting franchises; one built around veterans and several future Hall of Fame members and the other full of young raw talent and experienced young players.  They have been in a fight for the division most of the year but especially over the past month. The Yankees are a half game up on the Rays as of today.  With 13 games left for the Yankees and 14 for the Rays this is a tossup. The Yankees and Rays meet this week in a four game series at Yankee Stadium and followed by three games with the Yankees meeting their hated rival Boston Red Sox for a three game set.  The Yankees then travel to Toronto for three against the Blue Jays and finish the season at Fenway Park against the Red Sox.  This is no easy schedule and I expect all three opponents to challenge the Yankees.  The Rays have the easier schedule and this may prove to be the difference if they avoid a sweep at the “House that George Built.” I expect at least a split against the Yankees but they then go home to play three with the Mariners and three with the Orioles at the Trop. I don’t see much trouble with the Mariners but the Orioles under Buck “play to win every game” Showalter could play the spoiler if the Rays are not careful. They then travel west to Kansas City where they should do well and end the regular season.

AL East Winner

My prediction: Rays win 9 of 14 to finish at 98-64, while the Yankees will win just 7 of 13 to finish at 97-65 to give the Rays the East by a game. The Yankees will be in the playoffs but as the Wild Card. The Orioles extra innings win on Sunday in Baltimore will prove to be more significant than most would expect. The Yankees need to take 3 of 4 from the Rays to give them the edge down the final stretch, if they can do this they have a chance to tie or win the division outright. The Rays have to split in New York and not allow any of the bottom dwellers that they face to surprise them and I think that the O’s just may play spoiler.

AL Central Winner

AL West Winner

In the AL Central the Twins have the division all but won with a magic number of just 4 over the seconds place White Sox who trail them by 10 games. In the West the same is true of the Rangers who have a magic number of 6 over the second place Athletics who sit 9 games behind the Twinkies.

AL East Spoiler?

Going on the senior circuit we begin in the National League East where the Phillies and the Braves have been going at it all year.  In the Phillies lead the East by 3 games over the Braves and have a magic number of 10.  The Phillies are hot and the Braves have struggled the last few weeks. The Phillies have 12 games left of which 6 are against the Braves.  The Braves have to take 4 of those 6 games to stay in the race.  The Phillies face the Braves beginning tonight at home for a three game set and then face the rather pathetic excuse for a team called the New York Minaya’s I mean New York Mets.  However the Mets are blood rivals of the Phillies so I don’t expect them to go down easily nor do I give them much of a chance.  The Phillies then hit the road for 3 games against the rather hapless Nationals in Washington before travelling to Atlanta to face the Braves in the in final three games of the season.

NL East Winner

My prediction: I see Philly winning 8 of 12, splitting with the Braves and taking 5 of 6 from the Minaya’s and the Nats. The Braves as I said need to take at least 4 of six to stay in the race and win out against both Washington and the Florida Marlins and even then they need help in order for the Phillies to lose at least 6 of their last 12 games. I don’t see that happening. In fact if the Phillies dominate the Braves and the Braves split their games with the Nats and the Marlins then they may not even reach the Wild Card. Bobby Cox and crew have their job cut out over the next two weeks.

NL Central Winner

In the National League Central the “who are those guys?” Cincinnati Reds hold a 6 game lead over the perennial NL Central leader St Louis Cardinals and have a magic number of 8 to clinch the Division.  The Cardinals have been unable to buy wins of late and their August collapse totally surprised me as it has everyone else. The Reds have 6 games against the Brewers, 3 against the Astros and 3 against the floundering Padres.  The Cardinals actually have the easier schedule with 6 against the perpetual owners of the MLB Marianas Trench, the Pittsburg Pirates and 3 games against their rival the Chicago “we ain’t ever going to win the World Series” Cubs and 3 against the red hot Colorado Rockies.  They did not help matters losing a make-up game to the Marlins today. This made the Reds magic number 7 and that much harder for the Cardinals to get back in the race.

NL West Winner

We go now to the NL West where the San Francisco Giants lead their rivals the San Diego Padres by a half a game and the red hot Colorado Rockies by a game and a half.  The Giants have a magic number of 13 but in a race this close that will change day to day. The Rockies schedule provides them opportunity should they stay hot and their opponents cooperate.  They play the Arizona Diamondbacks in Arizona for a three game set and go home to play three against San Francisco followed by three against the Evil Dodgers before finishing the season in St. Louis against the Cardinals. My guess is that the should take two of three or sweep the Diamondbacks, split their series against the Giants and probably sweep the Evil Dodgers even though right now I would prefer that the Dodgers sweep them. I guess I am like Winston Churchill in saying that he would become an ally of the Devil if the Devil was against Hitler. The final three games against the Cardinals could spoil the hopes of the Rockies because I think that the Cardinals have far too much organizational pride to go down easy. As a result I think that the Rockies go 7 of 12 to end the season.  The Padres have struggled of late and I think this will continue.  The Friars play the Evil Dodgers and I think that this series is a tossup with the Dodgers possibly taking 2 of 3 games. They then go home to face the Reds and I think that the Big Red Machine will take 2 of 3 at Petco Park. The Padres then play against the Cubs who just might take 1 of 3 from the Padres. The Padres finish their season against the Giants in PacBell Park and I think that the Giants take 2 of 3 at home.  As a result I think that the Padres go 5 of 12 to end the season.  The Giants face the Cubs for a three game set which they should sweep or take 2 of 3. They then go against the Rockies where I think they will go 1 and 2. The then face the Diamondbacks and I believe that they go 2 of 3 against them before ending the season in San Francisco against the Padres where they take 2 of 3. T believe that the Giants go 7 of 12 and take the West by 1 and a half games above the Rockies with the Padres fading to third two and a half games back.

My prediction is that the Giants take the west by a game and a half over the Rockies with the Padres fading back to third.  Despite this the division could go to any of the three teams as none have any margin for error and it is likely that the team that remains hot will win the division. My prediction which is primarily based on how the teams are doing right now coupled with their schedule is that the Giants will win, but I could be wrong on this as a grounder with eyes, a bloop single or a booted ground ball could be the difference in a critical game that could decide the race. Id the Braves falter I believe that whatever team finished second in the NL West will be the Wild Card in the NL. I do not think this will happen based on the schedules but stranger things have happened.

Now here are my predictions:

AL Wild Card

American League: AL West- Rangers, AL Central- Twins, AL East Rays, Wild Card- Yankees.

NL Wild Card

National League: NL West Giants, NL Central- Reds, NL East- Phillies, Wild Card- Braves

We’ll see if I am as good as I was last year, but wait I didn’t start making predictions until the playoffs last year. Even if I’m wrong about these I can redeem myself by doing what I did last year in the playoffs and World Series.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Remembering Jose Lima 1972-2010

Jose Lima died today of what appeared to be a massive heart attack at the age of 37. He was an all-star pitcher for the Astros in 1999 and had a zest and love for life. I met him when he was with the AAA Norfolk Tides in 2006 where he won 7 and lost 8 and had a 3.92 ERA.  He was a man that you could tell loved life. In fact Lima who was had signed with the Mets organization was one of those players that made people feel good.  He was not a whiner or complainer but even at the tail end of his Major League career still gave 100% and kept an upbeat attitude on how baseball and life were treating him.  I remember opening day for the Tides that year, the weather was actually nice for April in Hampton Roads and Jose sang God Bless America that opening day at the 7th inning stretch after starting the game but getting knocked out. It was moving, a man from the Dominican Republic who loved this country enough to sing that song with a great amount of reverence, respect and dare I say emotion.  I was touched by that and since I had remembered Lima from the 1999 All-Star game and various Major League appearances, of course all on television hoped that he would make it back to the show to stay.  The Mets did call him up for a few appearances that year but each time he returned to the Tides and finished his season with us.  I spoke with him on the concourse a couple of times and he was always gracious. I never asked for an autograph although I read that he never refused to give one and from what I read about him, especially his work with children, especially those from disadvantaged families in his new baseball academy I know what made him click.  It was not an individualistic love for life but it was life lived in community with his teammates, family friends and later with the Los Angeles Dodgers alumni association.  In the days before his untimely death he was attending the Angels and Dodgers interleague series with his son.  He performed with his band and was involved in his community.  While he did not have a record that will get him to the Hall of Fame he is one of those personalities that made an enjoyable game even more enjoyable because his love for baseball and his love for life.

I am not going to take the time to repeat all the details of his career as them are already published but today wanted to remember Jose Lima from the point of view of a minor league fan. A lot of people will miss Jose Lima a lot, especially his young son. Keep his family in your prayers as well as those who knew and loved him

I do pray that he will rest in peace and that God will grant his family and friends the comfort of the Holy Spirit over the coming days and weeks as they grieve his loss.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Tides Fall to Knights in Final Game of Set 9-7 despite Bell’s Dingers


Tides 3rd Baseman Josh Bell shown at Harbor Park hit 3 home runs in two games against Charlotte

In front of an early rising crowd of 4996 on a beautiful sunny Carolina morning with temperatures in the high 60s the Norfolk Tides met the Charlotte Knights at Knight’s Stadium in Rock Hill South Carolina Monday in the final game of a four game set.  The Tides had dominated the first three games on outstanding pitching performances by Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergeson as well as an 18 run attack that featured 8 home runs.  However, on Monday the Tides were outslugged by the Knights who used the long ball effectively to prevent the Tides from completing a series sweep.

Troy Patton got hit hard on Monday against the Knights

Tides starter Troy Patton (1-3 8.00) was hit hard giving up 7 runs on 10 hits including three home runs in 6.1 innings worked. Dayan Viciedo was a nemesis to Troy hitting two home runs and driving in two runs. Patton also gave up 2 doubles in the game before exciting in the top of the 7th inning. Troy was relieved by newly acquired Pedro Viola (0-0 10.80) who surrendered 2 runs on 2 hits and two walks pitching two-thirds of an inning. Tyler Flowers drove in the runs with a triple.  Jim Miller (1-0 5.59) back in a closing role got the Knights out in the 8th surrendering a walk but no runs.   Patton got the loss and Matt Zaleski (3-0 4.13) the win giving up 4 runs on 5 hits including two homers by Josh Bell.  Former Tide Greg Aquino got the save for the Knights, his second of the year taking the Tides down in order in the top of the 9th to secure the win for the Knights.

Scott Moore shown here at Harbor Park doubled twice in the loss

The Knights had pulled out to a 9-4 lead at the top of the 7th but the Tides did not go quietly scoring three runs in the top of the eighth in a rally that unfortunately fell short.  The Tides offense continued where it had left off Sunday afternoon.  Josh Bell led the attack with 2 home runs with 3 RBIs in his biggest game of the season.  Justin Turner, Scott Moore and Michael Aubrey all had doubles for the Tides with Moore getting two of the two baggers driving in a run.

The big story for the Tides was 3rd Baseman Josh Bell who in the last two games has hit 3 home runs and driven in 5 runs.  Bell who came to the Tides after a year split between the Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern League and Orioles AA Eastern League affiliate Bowie Baysox where he hit .295 with 20 home runs, 35 doubles and 5 triples.  After a slow start Josh appears to be coming around under the tutelage of Tides Hitting Couch Richie Hebner and is now “Bell ringing” as you may  using his bat to make some offensive music and by offensive I mean offensive if you are the Tides opponents.

Overall the Tides hit and run production in coming up. In the four games against the Knights the Tides scored 25 runs on 31 hits including 10 home runs and 7 doubles which means sport fans that if you are mathematically challenged that the Tides hit for extra bases 55% of the time in Charlotte.  The Tides team batting average is still low at .232 but coming up and the slugging percentage has improved to .391.  The Tides 18 home runs for the season have them tied for second in the International League in this category.  Jeff Salazar leads the Tides in the hitting department with a .291 average with 4 home runs 3 doubles and 11 RBIs. On the mound the team ERA has improved to 4.31 and though the Tides still are among the lead leaders in runs and hits allowed many of these runs came in only a few games where the Tides gave up double digits in losses.  Jake Arrieta leads the league in pitching at 2-0 with a 0.36 ERA allowing just one earned run in 25 innings pitched.   The fact is that this means despite the loss and the Tides falling into a three way tie with Charlotte and Gwinnett for second in the International League South that things are beginning to look up for Tides in 2010.

Tonight the Tides are in suburban Atlanta to face the Gwinnett Braves.  The Tides will start Brandon Erbe (0-3 7.98) who is still seeking his first win at the AAA level against Tim Gustafson (0-1 8.64) who gave up 3 runs on 5 hits in 6.1 innings work against the Tides on the 22nd of April.  The weather could be problematic with temperatures in the high 50s, 15 mile an hour winds and a 50% chance of rain.

Alberto Simon was called up to Baltimore

On the personnel side of the house the Orioles optioned relief pitcher Kam Mickolio back to Norfolk and purchased the contract of pitcher Alfredo Simon who has done yeoman’s work for the Tides as a starter and reliever over the first two weeks of the season.  Up in Baltimore the Orioles go for their first home win of the season against the World Champion New York Yankees who are fresh off of their visit to the White House yesterday.  The O’s will pitch Kevin Millwood against the Yankee’s Phil Hughes, more tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Yes Friends, God Really Does Speak to Me Through Baseball

“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

Padresteve, Jeff and Angels 3rd Base Coach Rocky Bridges in 1970

Well we are deep into football season, while hockey, basketball that World Cup qualifiers move along.  Don’t get me wrong.  I know these sports well but for me they are not the same as baseball.  I have played all of them in school, the biggest mistake that I made as a kid was forsaking organized baseball first for hockey and then for football.  I gave up playing my first love for short term flings with other sports.

The Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish

I was down walking the concourse at Harbor Park the other day to relax following about 32 hours spanning two nights at the hospital.  I like going to the ballpark even when it is the off season because it is one of the few places where I can be fully relaxed and at peace.  Tuesday was beautiful, the temperature was in the mid 50s with sunshine and a light breeze, the field was a brilliant great and the ever present grounds crew was at work.  In the front office I talked with a number of the office staff about players who would and would not be coming back for the 2010 season as well as highlights of the past season.  The Tides have a wonderful front office staff.  To walk the concourse from behind home plate, out to the right field corner and then back across to the left field picnic area and then to go down to my seat in Section 102, Row B seats 1 and 2 at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish is a highlight of the week when I have the chance to do it.  I feel closeness to God at the ballpark that after Iraq is hard for me to find in many other places.  For me there is a mystery and magic about a ballpark that just isn’t there for the other sports, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

For me the other sports can grab my momentary attention but because of their nature cause them to be merely ordinary and occasionally interesting.  Baseball is another matter, it is more than a game, it is a metaphor for life, a spiritual experience and a game that mirrors life and faith in many ways. For me this goes back to childhood.

As a kid my dad made me learn the fundamentals of the game and whether we were attending a game in person, watching one on television or playing catch, pepper or practicing infield or pitching in the back yard or in a park, 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 West Virginia was a die hard Dodgers fan.  That I still wonder about to this day, but she was the same 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 state she was also a Republican, long before West Virginia ever voted for a Republican either President or statewide office. True to form Granny was a Dodgers fan in a land of Reds, Indians and Pirates fans, fierce and independent.  However, as a Giants fan I mourn how she had been taken in by the power of the dark side.  Despite having fallen under the spell of the Dark Lords Granny was a real baseball fan. Any time you went to Granny’s house and there was a game on, the television was tuned in to it.  We were immersed in baseball thanks to my dad and his mother.

Dad always made sure that we got to see baseball wherever we lived. In 1967 he took us to see the Seattle Pilots during their first and only season in that fair city before they went to Milwaukee and became the Brewers.  In the elementary schools of those days many our teachers would put the playoff and World’s Series games on the TV as many of those games 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 Amazing Mets upsetting the Orioles in 1969 and the Orioles take down the Reds in 1970. I will never forget the 1970 All Star Game where Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse at home plate for the winning run and the great dynasty teams of the 1970s, especially the Reds and the Athletics who dominated much of that decade and the resurgence of the Yankees in the summer that the Bronx burned.

Me with Angel’s Manager Lefty Phillips 1970

When we were stationed in Long Beach California dad had us at Anaheim stadium all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 20 games there in 1970 and another 25-30 in 1971 as well as a couple at Dodger stadium that year.  We met a lot of the Angel players at community events and before the games. I entered the “My Favorite Angel” contest and my entry was picked as a runner up. This netted me two seats behind the plate and having Dick Enberg announced my name on the radio.  I wrote about Jim Spencer a Gold Glove First Baseball who later played for the Yankees.  I still have a hat from that team with numerous autographs on the inside of the bill including Sandy Alomar, Jim Spencer, Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz, and Billy Cowan. It was a magical time for a 10 year old boy.

When we moved to Stockton California dad took us to see the A’s dynasty teams including a number of playoff games.  But he also took us across San Francisco Bay to watch the Giants.  I got to see Ed Halicki of the Giants no-hit the Mets a Candlestick on August 24th 1975.  I got to see some of the greats of the era play in those stadiums, Catfish, Reggie, McCovey, Garvey, Vida Blue, Harmon Killebrew and so many others.  I also became acquainted with Minor League Baseball at this time through the Stockton Ports. At the time the Ports 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.  Today I have a renewed interest in the Orioles because of their affiliation with the Norfolk Tides.

As I have grown older my appreciation for the game only deepens despite strikes and steroids and other problems that plague the game at the major league level.  I am in awe of the game and the diamond on which it is played.  I have played catch on the field of dreams, seen a game in the Yankee Stadium Right Field bleachers, seen a no-hitter, playoff games and met players. I’ve watched the game in Japan, seen historic moments when deployed to combat zones in and have 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 batters box.

My kitchen and much of my dining room are as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them.

Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond is one of my few places of solace.  For the first time last year I bought season tickets to my local minor league team the Norfolk Tides.  Section 102, row B seats 1 and 2 from which I will, the Deity Herself willing take in the 2010 season at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.  The home opener is April the 8th against the Durham Bulls, barely 4 months away.  From there I will sit back and imagine the words of 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.”

In a sense this says it all to me in an age of war, economic crisis and division.  In a sense it is a prayer. Peace and blessings, Steve+

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Padre Steve’s World Series Prediction and Book and Bible Burning Update

“The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers.” Earl Weaver

*Mar 06 - 00:05*C C Sabathia

Well Baseball Fans here we are, the day before the beginning of the World Series of Baseball to be played between the current World Champion Philadelphia Phillies and the resurgent New York Yankees. The series arguably should be one of the best in years.  There is no doubt that these teams are the best in baseball and no controversy that one or the other does not deserve to be in the series and if you can sum up who will win this series it is just like Earl Weaver said: “The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers.”  The two teams are well matched with each having great seasons and dominating their playoff opponents.

cliff-lee-philliesCliff Lee

Charlie Manuel took his Phillies from last year’s series title to the very hard to achieve return to the series in the following year.  Manuel is a great manager who survived some rocky times where the ever loving Philadelphia fans and sports writers were calling for his public execution outside Independence Hall. In doing this he managed the Phillies to a 93-69 record in the regular season, a 4 game win over the red hot Colorado Rockies in the Division Series and a 4-1 thumping of the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.  Phillies hitting and the pitching of late season acquisition Cliff Lee from the Indians have been the secret to the Phillies success.  Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth provide the power for the Phillies who hit 244 home runs in the regular season and scored 820 runs with a team batting average of .258.  Their pitching staff had an ERA of 4.16. Since the Phillies are in the National League their pitchers hit which has to drive down the team average. The Phillies pitching which was at times problematic held up in the playoffs with only one meltdown by the bullpen in game 2 against Colorado and one shelling of a starter, Cole Hammels in game 2 of the NLCS in Los Angeles.  Brad Lidge who went from the best reliever in the league to being relieved of his closer duties toward the end of the season came back and has not allowed a run in the playoffs.  Speaking of the playoffs the Phillies were 7-2 and hit 14 home runs, batted .261 with their pitchers having a .304 ERA.

charlie-manuelCharlie Manuel

The Yankees make their first return to the series since 2003 when they lost to the Marlins and the collapse in the 2004 ALCS which spelled beginning of the end of the Joe Torre dynasty in the Bronx.  Under new skipper Joe Girardi the Yankees failed to make the playoffs in 2008 for the first time since 1994.  The job of managing a team like the Yankees requires a certain finesse, to quote Earl Weaver “A manager’s job is simple. For one hundred sixty-two games you try not to screw up all that smart stuff your organization did last December.”  In the off season the Yankees added C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett to their arsenal, improved their bullpen as their “home grown” relief staff matured into a formidable force, and overcame off season controversy and injury with Alex Rodriguez and Girardi was able to make the adjustments and the Yankees came together as a team, not just a high priced bunch of individuals who happen to play together.  During the regular season the Yankees went 103-59 with the best record in the Majors.  They hit 244 home runs with a team average of .283 and the team ERA of 4.26.  In the playoff they went 7-2 with 14 Home Runs, a team batting average of .262 and ERA of 2.04.

ryan-howard1Ryan Howard

During the regular season the teams met for one three game series at Yankee Stadium where the Phillies took 2 out of 3.  Game one the Phillies won 7-3 with Jimmy Rollins hitting the first pitch out against A.J. Burnett in a game that netted 7 home runs.  The Yankees won the second game 5-4 coming from behind as Alex Rodriguez hit a tying home run of Brad Lidge and Melky Cabrera singled in the winning run giving Lidge the loss.  The rubber game was won by the Phillies 4-3 in 11 after Lidge blew a second save attempt in the 9th.

Mariners Yankees BaseballAlex Rodriguez

Looking ahead at match ups we know that both teams can hit, so the key will be pitching, as Earl Weaver said: “The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.” Game one will see C.C. Sabathia against Cliff Lee.  The two former Indians team-mates have performed magnificently in the playoffs with both dominating their opponents Lee pitching 24.1 innings with a 0.74 ERA and Sabathia 22.2 innings with a 1.19 ERA.  This one should be close and it will likely be decided on a big hit or a mistake, if the game gets to the bullpen and is close the Yankees should win.  In his career Lee has faced the Yankees 9 times and is 4-4 with a 5.02 ERA and a .297 team ERA when facing him in 52 innings work.  Sabathia has a career record of 1-1 against Philadelphia and a 4.36 ERA with Phillies hitters having a .265 average against him in 20.2 innings pitched.  All things equal I have to go on past performance and give the Yankees game one.

mariano-riveraMariano Rivera

Game two pits Pedro Martinez against A.J. Burnett.  Both men are capable of big game performances and both are no stranger to the other team.  Martinez has faced the Yankees 32 times with a career record of 11-11 against the Bronx Bombers including big games in the 2004 ALCS when pitching for the Red Sox.  He has a career 3.20 ERA against the Yankees as well as holding them to a .211 team batting average.  Martinez has had a long recovery period and is not the same as he was a few years back but he owned the Dodgers.  Since returning his is 5-1 in the regular season with a 3.63 ERA.  He gave up 7 home runs in 44.2 innings.  Burnett has a career record of 5-8 against the Phillies with a 4.75 ERA and with the Phillies and an opponent team batting average of .263.  In his one appearance this year against Philadelphia he gave up 5 runs on 8 hits including 3 home runs in 6 inning work.  This game is hard to call but I think that the Phillies take this one unless Pedro has a very bad outing.  If the game is close and Burnett can get the game to the bullpen the advantage shifts to the Yankees with Mariano Rivera in waiting in the bullpen.  He is the Yankees silver bullet should the game be close.

The series should go back to Philadelphia knotted at one.  In game 3 the Phillies will pitch Cole Hammels against Andy Pettitte.  Hammels was MVP of last year’s World Series.  Hammels is a career 0-1 against the Yankees in 2 starts in which he has pitched 13 innings with a 2.77 ERA and a .286 opposing team batting average.  This year he got knocked around a bit in Yankee Stadium.  This year Hammels has went 10-11 in 32 appearances with a 4.32 ERA and his opponents hitting .277 against him.  In the playoff he has suffered in 3 games and 14.2 innings work he has a 1-1 record but has given up 20 hits including 6 home runs, 12 walks with a 6.75 ERA.  Making him the game 3 starter is a good move by Charlie Manuel giving him the start in Philadelphia rather than New York but I do not think that this will save him.  I expect that the Yankees will hit him hard.  Andy Pettitte gets the start for the Yankees.  In 7 career starts against the Phillies he is 1-1 with a 3.67 ERA and a .273 opposing batting average.  He was knocked around by the Phillies in his appearance against them this year though the game was a no-decision for him.   During the regular season Pettitte went 14-8 with a 4.16 ERA and an opposing batting average of .271.  During the playoffs he is 2-0 in 3 starts with a 2.37 ERA and .246.  I give the advantage to the Yankees as I do not see Hammels pulling this one off.

When we get to game 4 the starters are not announced by assuming that the Yankees will pitch Sabathia and that they will win.  I expect that the Phillies will take game 5 with Cliff Lee back on the mound and force the series back to New York where Andy Pettitte will get the win.  If by some chance the Phillies win game 6 the Yankees will take it in game 7 with C.C. Sabathia going strong and Rivera closing the game out.  Two other factors could play a part in this series, the first is the weather and while the weather is not expected to be too bad you never know what happens this time of year.  The second factor that will likely hurt the Yankees is the lack of the designated hitter in the games in Philadelphia.

My prediction is the Yankees in 6 with an outside chance that the series will go seven games.  I expect that there will be much drama as the two teams are stacked with talent and personality. Jimmy Rollins has predicted a 5 game Phillies win which if you ask me is a pretty ballsy statement. The Phillies certainly are confident as the reigning champs and will not go down easily.  This has the makings of a classic World Series that no matter who wins should be amazing to watch.

And now a Book and Bible Burning Update:  The Grand Master Pastor Marc has announced “game on” and that he is going ahead with the Halloween Book burning at Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton North Carolina.  It begins at &PM until all the books are done… well done.  Anyway, don’t bother to bring the marshmallows or beer as Grand Master Pasto Marc has put this announcement on his website:

“This event is not open to the public. Only our members and those by special invitation from the pastor only. All others are tresspassing.” (Marc’s misspelling and grammar errors not mine.) Of course the Beloved Grand Master Pastor Marc is a “true scholar” as opposed to the rest of us apostates by his reasoning that a “A true scholar is one who believes the Bible (KJV) whether he understands it or not.” And a ‘scholar’ (most) today is someone who does not believe the Bible (KJV) is the Word of God, but questions it.”

He advertises “Great preaching and singing” but since he will likely be the preacher, and maybe his daddy too it seems a little like chest pounding to me.  The fact that this great preaching and singing will be simply entertaining the faithful versus reaching the lost seems a little disingenuous when he talks about wanting to save souls while not attracting media attention.  Anyone who posts to the web knows that it will be seen and if controversial picked up by the media.  Likewise his stated goal of only wanting “to make a statement to our community not to the world” rings hollow as he put it on the web, attempted to advertise in the newspaper and gave a TV interview.  He claims that it has been twisted and lied about by “commentators, reporters, and announcers” about but they are his words on TV as well as the website.  It’s hard to twist someone as straight forward as the Grand Master Pastor Marc.   He loves his community and the media, especially the media of whom he makes the following comparison. Our Media 2000 Years Ago-Same As Today.

Acts 17:5″But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason (this is not your typical brother that would be “Blown away”), and sought to bring them out to the people.” As far as I know the media in Canton and Ashville is not heavily Jewish, nor have I heard about anyone assaulting his house, unless assaulting is meant being asked for media interviews.  The problem for the Grand Master Pastor Marc is that he wants to control and spin the message, and the one time he got on TV he looked stupid simply because he answered their questions.  Oh well if you want to get an invitation I do suggest calling him at 828-648-0213 or e-mail jonmarcgrizzard@aol.com

The website is here:  http://amazinggracebaptistchurchkjv.com/Download99.html

The church if you want to do a tail-gaiter off campus the address of the church and location of the book burning is 6841 Cruso Road Canton , N.C. 28716.  Look for the Sheriff and Fire Marshal who will be parked out front waiting to cite him for burning without a permit.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Worst Call Ever Made: I Hate to Say it but We Need Replay Now and LCS Updates

“The best umpired game is the game in which the fans cannot recall the umpires who worked it.” Bill Klemm

blown callAngels Catcher Mike Natoli Puts Both Posada and Cano Out…Well Not According to Umpire Tim MacClelland

Monday was such a great night for baseball, two excellent games both decided by walk off hits which left the Angels back in their series with the Yankees and the Phillies within a game of going back to the World Series when they came back in the 9th inning with 2 outs and Jimmy Rollins at the plate with two strikes on him.  It was awesome to behold and it looked like all was well again in the 2009 MLB League Championship Series.

Then fallen humanity struck…

And 3rd Base Umpire Tim McClelland has now discovered what it means to be remembered for all the wrong reasons, two badly blown calls and a lame excuse for blowing them.

See the calls:

http://sports.yahoo.com/video/player/mlb;_ylt=Ahzw4dvilocLtjFLCKQAyusRvLYF#mlb/16204489

As I sat watching the Yankees destroy the Angels last night I was amazed at the bad calls.  Now this playoff season there have been a number of really grotesque calls on the part of umpires. This year I have found some of the calls so unbelievably bad that even I, a traditionalist in the Church of Baseball who detests replay reviews in the NFL think that the time has come to consider some form of replay.

My view that that baseball is the most human of sports, perfection is seldom reached and never maintained.  People who hit .300 make it to All-Star teams as well as the Hall of Fame.  Rain delays, bad calls and close calls that could go either way are all part of the fabric of baseball.  In principle I don’t like replay.  I believe that umpires, like everyone else are human and that the imperfection of the umpires is as much as part of the game as a fielding error, wild pitch or bad at bat.  However some of the calls this post-season have been particularly egregious and the crew chief on the field should have overruled to call, especially when Angels Catcher Mike Napoli clearly tagged out Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada who were both well of the base. McClellan’s excuse about how he missed the call was lame and he compounded the issue by calling Nick Swisher out for supposedly leaving third base early on a sacrifice fly, which the replay showed that he had not done so and should have scored.  Once again though there were two extra umpires no one caught the play.

My recommendation is for an “eye in the sky” umpire who can review the call in real time and overrule the call on the field if the call is clearly wrong, this would not apply to called balls and strikes, but only on balls that are put in play.  To overturn the call the “eye in the sky” umpire would have to determine that the play was clearly blown and not simply a call that could have gone either way.  He would have to account for the umpires position and visibility in relationship to the play and if it could be reasonably expected that any umpire would make the same call.  If the replay clearly shows that the umpire on the field missed the call the “eye in the sky” umpire could then overturn the call.  Such a mechanism would maintain the flow of the game as the umpire on the field would not have to go to a replay booth, taking valuable time and would provide some measure of accountability when a play is as badly called as McClellan’s.  It would not take out the human factor of calls that can go either way or where bad positioning or visibility could have affected the call.  It would however ensure that calls like last night’s by McClellan are quickly rectified with minimal delay to the game, calls that could easily decide the fate of a series in a close game.  Thankfully because of the blowout of neither Angels nor the Yankees could claim that the calls affected the game’s outcome.

I missed the game tonight because of being involved with critical situations here at the Medical Center, but the Evil Dodgers were crushed by the Phillies tonight 10-4 ending their season.  I picked the Phillies in 7 because I thought that the Dodgers bullpen would make a difference but the Dodgers bullpen was about as effective as a pocketknife in a gunfight and the Phillies bullpen, derided by many stepped up, especially closer Brad Lidge who had such a miserable and ineffective season after a great 2008 where he was just about perfect.  The Phillies hitters owned the Dodgers pitching staff driving in 45 runs in the 5 games of the series.  Anytime a team averages nine runs a game it will win the series.

Tonight the Yankees and Angels square off in Anaheim for what could be the deciding game of their series. The question is can the Angels mount a comeback and will the “X” factor of Nick Adenhart inspire them enough to win the game and get the series back to New York?  I had picked the Angels in six figuring that the Yankees could not keep up the pace, but the Yankees are locked on, they have an edge and every member of the team is playing hard, Alex Rodriguez is in the process of establishing himself as a clutch Mr.October the likes which have not been seen since Reggie Jackson.  Derek Jeter has helped lead the team and hit well while the pitching staff led by C.C. Sabathia has been amazing and Mariano Rivera as usual has been a hero.  Joe Girardi has managed the team exceptionally well and is getting performance and teamwork out of the Yankees far more effectively than Joe Torre who was ushered out of the playoffs with the Dodgers in much the same way that he was ushered out with the Yankees from 2003 to the end of 2007.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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MLB League Championship Series so Far, I will wear Short Pants until the World Series is Over and Learning that I am a “Wounded Healer”

So far things appear to be working out the way that I thought that they would in the MLC League Championship Series between the Phillies and Dodgers. I predicted that the teams would split at Chavez Ravine and go back to Philly knotted.  The Phillies took game one and looked like they had game two in the bag with Pedro Martinez shutting the Dodgers out through seven giving up only two hits.  Then the Phillies problematic bullpen took over in the eighth and it went down from there with the Dodgers coming back to win.

The ALCS has been played at the new Yankee Stadium amid the din of a Nor’easter.  The Yankees took game one 4-1 as the Angels quite literally “froze” in the cold and damp weather.  Game two played in even worse conditions has been influenced by the weather and was a superb pitcher’s duel.  The game went into extra innings tied at two and though the Angels went ahead in the top of the 11th as the rain started coming down harder only to have Alex Rodriguez come up big again for the Yankees in the bottom of the 11th with a home run to tie the game.  The game went to the bottom of the 13th when with one out the Yankees scored on a throwing error to win the game 4-3.  It was an amazing game that I could not pull myself away from but will write more about later.

On another note, the weather here in Hampton Roads has been miserable as we also have had some of the residue of the Nor’easter with cold rain, fog and drizzle that has not let up.  Amid this positively crappy weather I am maintaining my vow to wear short pants as long as I can with the exceptions being my uniform and going to church.  This means that I am bundling up from the belt up while keeping my legs bare.  I have never done this before which means either I’m nuts or I’m nuts, but nonetheless I am in this until the World Series is over at the minimum.  Since with the exception of church, work and one social event where shorts were unacceptable I have not worn long pants since sometime in April.  Tonight I had a Norfolk Tides jacket and sweatshirt on.  We’ll see how this goes…

I have the duty this weekend and have been in and out of the hospital a number of times.  One of the visits called to mind just how much I am like the people I serve and what it means to have to ask the same questions about God, faith and what it is to be human and a Christian. What got me tonight was a gentleman struggling with his faith, much as I have after returning from Iraq and battling PTSD and other nagging injuries.  Having him ask the same questions that I have wrestled with and having him ask me directly what I thought.  I have learned that I don’t have to “fake it” and try to give the man some textbook answer of how he needed to believe more, read his Bible more, go to church more, pray more or harder.  Instead I was able to be honest that I have wrestled with the same question but somehow the words of the 23rd Psalm speak to me.  “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.”  The Psalm is very reassuring for me as it is so honest.  Reality is that we do walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  In fact it is a difficult and pain filled world.  That I will fear no evil means that evil is in fact very real but in the middle of this there is an understanding that God is still with us.  It is an understanding that even when life is more like Good Friday than Easter, that God as far away as he may seem is still there.  Maybe that is actually the miracle that most people need, the miracle to know that no matter how bad things suck, and I do use the word “suck” because that is how it is sometimes, especially when there is no “miracle” to be had otherwise.  When I told the man that I had spent the past 18 months wrestling with those questions he opened up and we had a wonderful discussion and prayer.   I am totally okay with this somehow God uses me in my weakness more than when I had all the answers.

Tonight I discovered that  Bishop John Holloway, the medically retired former Ordinary of the Charismatic Episcopal Church Diocese of the Mid-South and one of the early leaders of the Church, his wife Elaine and two youngest children have to leave their home in Thomaston Georgia.  They moved there as a missionary bishop giving up pension and medical from the Methodist Church to follow God’s call into the CEC.  The home is being foreclosed on after the church, which has no pension or insurance plan in most dioceses for clergy and had provided a great deal of money to help pay off debts in the past has had to reduce the money they were providing by half and now according it the Holloways’ son Jared to nothing.  Their home is being foreclosed on and they have to be out by December 1st and if you want to read more go to his blog: http://jzholloway.wordpress.com/  If there is a question as to how the CEC currently handles finaces go to www.cechome.com where the budgets and expenses of every diocese are posted.  There had been great problems in the past in the finacial management of the CEC largely done by people no longer associated with the church, including some former bishops.  I think this is getting better under Archbishop Bates unfotunately the residue and distaste of that era is still out there.

I really don’t know what to think about that except that I did talk to a CEC Bishop about it and hear that there are other parts to the story.  That aside, when the CEC was formed and one of the things that drew me to it was that the CEC was to would be more personal and relational than churches where the bishops did not really know their clergy. I think that is still the ideal in the Church but what Jared is reporting and what I hear from Elaine on Facebook gives me some cause for concern because it deals with a bishop who can no longer function and is completely disabled. Additionally Elaine is a cancer survivor who has exeeded her life expectancy with the disease.  Obiviously things are not good for them and I have to trust that the situation will be resolved in a spirit of love and reconcilliation and that ultimately the Holloways will be taken care of by the church and God’s people.  I cannot say anything else because I do not know anything else, but to say how this grieves me as Bishop Holloway was and I’m sure, even in his greatly de-habilitated and totally dependent state is a gracious and giving man.  I always felt comfortable and safe around him.  He ordained my friend Father Stu King back in 2001.  Stu has left the CEC having been accepted into Seminary and in now working to become a Roman Catholic Priest.  I’m sure that Bishop John would approve and give his blessing.  Please keep the Holloways in your prayers. I have no idea if there is anything that can be done to help them, if there is Jared may know or one could contact the Mid South Diocese of the CEC.

I also found that a friend, the sister of our dear friend Dr Helen Linkey who taught at Marshall University who battled breast cancer for two years before succumbing to it in 2005 has found a lump in her breast. She is going in for a biopsy which is expected to find cancer. Maryellen occasionally comments on my website and her news was included in her comment to my post from last night at https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/10/16/war-remembrance-and-healing-a-chaplain-officer-and-historian-makes-his-way-home/

Please keep Maryellen in your prayers also. Anyway, it is time for me to try to get to sleep.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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