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A Midsummer Night Dream: The MLB All Star Game, Faith and Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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That being said I find something wonderful about the All Star Game despite the fact that we now have year round inter-league play. Back when I was a kid the All Star Game and the World Series were the only times besides Spring Training that one could see players from both leagues play. I like inter-league play and unlike some do not think that it takes away anything from the mid-summer classic.

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

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Me (top left) with my brother Jeff and California Angels Coach Rocky Bridges in 1970

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

This year was the last All Star Game for the amazing Mariano Rivera, the all time leader in saves by a relief pitcher who has brought so much to this game. He is cool, collected and humble as well as a machine when it comes to closing games. With 638 career saves to date and probably at least another 20 before the end of the season. Rivera pitched the bottom of the 8th inning and was honored by fans and players alike and was chosen as the game MVP. A fitting honor for an amazing pitcher and human being.

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Tonight the American League won the game 3-0 and secured home field advantage for the American League Champion when it comes time for the World Series. Of course I hope that the Baltimore Orioles will be that team.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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O’s Fall Short in the Bronx to End Amazing Season

“They’re a special group…you’ll see them again…” Buck Showalter

The amazing season of the resurgent Baltimore Orioles came to an end tonight in the Bronx as the Birds fell to the Yankees by a score of 3-1. Yankees starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia had control of the game and though the O’s scored a run in the bottom of the 8th and had the bases loaded with one out was able to put the Orioles away in a complete game.

The Yankees got just enough offense in the final game of a series dominated by pitching  to defeat the Orioles.  In 23 games between the teams in 2012 the Yankees won 12, the Orioles 11 and the Yankees scored just four runs more in the entire regular and post season.

A Special Team…

I have come to love the Orioles over the past number of years watching their young players in Norfolk and Frederick and to see young men like Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Robert Andino, Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and Troy Patton who I have followed in through their minor league time make the big time and play their hearts out.

To watch them and others, some cast offs from other organizations blend in together to make this such a great season was awesome. They battled through injuries and by the end of the year had a completely different starting rotation than they began the year. Their bullpen was superb, anytime an O’s starter kept the game close into the 7th inning the Orioles were more than likely to pull off a victory. Showalter managed this team and its bullpen in a spectacular manner.

This is a special team. You could sense it at the beginning of the season when no one believed in them but Buck Showalter. Over the course of the season they showed the most amazing determination winning 75 straight games when the led after the 7th inning, winning 16 straight extra inning games and winning over 70% of games decided by one run. That is not luck, it is character and belief.

They did not have current superstars, though some of their young players are potential super-stars. They did not have the big names and had one of the lowest payrolls in the majors, but they were a team. Everyone contributed and they brought pride back to the Oriole Nation after years of suffering.

They play in a tough division with teams that have nearly unlimited resources, but the one thing that this group, most of who will return next year have is determination and character that comes from having to fight hard against the odds. The season in some ways began in the last two weeks of 2011 when they surged in the final two weeks of the season to put a dagger in the heart of the Boston Red Sox in the final game of the season.

Buck Showalter said it so well, they are a special group and we will see them again. They certainly have brought a lot of joy to Birdland and I look forward to seeing them take it all next year.

Thanks for a great season, it has been fun.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Game 5 Anyone? Resilient Orioles Defeat Yankees in 13 Innings 2-1

Manny Machado Scores winning run (AP Photo)

It was another long night in the Bronx but this time there was no magic from a Yankee hitter and it was yet another thrilling chapter in their 2012 season. The never say die Baltimore Orioles extended their season defeating the Yankees 2-1. Jim Johnson closed out the game in a classic pitchers duel that involved a total of 16 pitchers, 8 from each team. In the 13 innings there were only 15 hits.

Darren O’Day shuts down theYankees in Relief (Elsa Getty Images)

The Orioles struck first as Nate McLouth hit a solo home run in the 5th. The Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the 6th when Robinson Cano grounded out to second to score Derek Jeter who doubled to lead off the inning. Both teams failed to capitalize on when they had runners in scoring position, the Yankees threatened in the bottom of the 8th when they had runners on 2nd and 2rd with only one out. Darren O’Day entered the game and became the hero of Birdland as he struck out Alex Rodriguez and then got Nick Swisher to fly out to right. O’Day then went on to shut down the Yankees in the 9th, 10th innings allowing no hits.

Nate McClouth makes key catch in against the wall off of Jayson Nix, he doubled up Russell Martin. (Elsa Getty Images)

Pedro Strop came into the game in the 11th and pitched two scoreless innings and in the top of the 13th, with the clock already past midnight 20 year old rookie Manny Machado doubled to right and scored on veteran Shortstop J.J. Hardy’s double to left, both off of David Phelps. The Orioles brought in Jim Johnson who put the Yankees down in order in the bottom of the 13th.

Yankees Manager Joe Girardi has managed the series since learning of the death of his father on Sunday (AP Photo Alex Brandon)

It was a tense game as both teams pitchers made the pitches that they needed and hitters struggled. The Yankees and Orioles led the majors in home runs but those big bats for the most part have been remarkably silent. The Orioles can in large part be chalked up to playoff inexperience and hitters swinging at bad pitches, or base running mistakes. The Yankees with the exception of a 5 run 9th inning in game one have been cold and without Ibanez’s home runs in game 3 this series could well be over.

So it comes down to game five. The Orioles and Yankees who were even in the regular season against each other are even again and for one of the teams the 2012 season will be over later tonight, yes it is already Friday.

Meanwhile the magical season on the Oakland A’s came to an end against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers. The Orioles or the Yankees will now play Detroit in the ALCS while San Francisco will await the winner of the Cardinals and Nationals game tonight with that series also tied at two apiece.

What a division championship series in both leagues, every series will go the full five games, all competitive and all exciting. This is playoff baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Buckle Up: Buck Showalter’s Traveling Road Show O’s Put an End to Rangers’ Misery 5-1 in Arlington

Wild Ones: O’s Win in Arlington (AP Photo-Tony Gutierrez)

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

I had no doubts about tonight. The Rangers were not looking good and the plucky Orioles had nothing to lose. Buck Showalter’s stingy Orioles pitching and clutch hitting ending the defending two time American League Champion Texas Rangers season in the first American League Wild Card game.

The Rangers stumbled into the playoffs being swept by the amazing A’s and the Orioles played hard against the Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays and Red Sox in the final weeks of the season. The Orioles exuded a confidence that came from winning one run and extra inning games and not losing a game when leading after the 7th inning. Their bullpen was lights out and their starters, a collection that most people could not name and were not around at the beginning of the season were good enough to get them to the playoffs. They are 75-0 when leading after the 7th inning.

Joe Saunders (Reuters- Tim Sharp)

Buck Showalter started Joe Saunders who the O’s picked up in late August from the Diamondbacks. Saunders had a 0-6 record against the Rangers in Arlington before tonight but since coming to the Orioles has been reliable in important games. Saunders was not phased by history. He went in and aided by excellent defense shut down the potent Rangers offense.

Buck (Getty Images- j. Meric) 

The Orioles gave up just one run in the first inning and after that played great defense shutting down several potential Texas rallies with three double plays. The Rangers also had good pitching by starter Yu Darvish but the Orioles were able to make their hits count with Robert Andino, Manny Machado and Nate McClouth applying the coup de grace in the top of the 9th.

Former Ranger Darren O’Day pitched two innings of scoreless relief while former starter and now late season reliever Brian Matusz struck out Josh Hamilton on three pitches.

The Rangers loaded the bases against Orioles closer Jim Johnson in the 9th but Johnson and the O’s as always held giving up nothing.

Now the O’s will go back to Camden Yards to play the Yankees in the ALDS. They finished a close second to the Yankees in the AL East and were 9-9 against the Bronx Bombers during the regular season. They won 4 of the last 6 games they played against the Yankees in September.

I have known for a long time that this Orioles team is a special team. I felt it at the end of 2011 when they helped end the Red Sox season in  walk off fashion. I have also seen many of these players in the minors for the past few years playing on either the AAA Norfolk Tides or High Single A Frederick Keys. I have seen them develop and have watched the culture of the organization change after the hiring of Buck Showalter at the end of 2010 and GM Dan Duquette in the off season.

These guys are winners. I think that they have a good chance of taking the Yankees in a 5 game series. It certainly should be fun.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Improbable, Unexpected but not Impossible: Four Games remaining and Orioles now Tied with Yankees in AL East

Manny Machado singles in a run on Saturday night as the Orioles Defeat the Red Sox to gain a share of First Place in the AL East (Patrick Semansky / AP)

“No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games.  No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games.  It’s the other third that makes the difference.” Tommy Lasorda

Four games are left in the regular season and the Baltimore Orioles are tied with the perennial AL East favorite New York Yankees for the division. Last year at this time the Orioles were in last place but ruining the chances of the Red Sox but now they are tied for first with the Yankees.

What a night to do it as the Orioles honored Hall of Fame 3rd Baseman and Orioles legend Brooks Robinson before the game.

No expert would have predicted this but this but the plucky and determined Baltimore Orioles are threatening the Yankees in a very real way after 158 games. Today the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Yankees and the Orioles defeated the Red Sox. With identical records of 91-67 the Birds and the Bombers are tied atop the American League East in a manner that no-one expected.

The Orioles are now within a game of clinching a spot in the Wild Card Playoff and are even money to take the East against the Yankees. If the Orioles win tomorrow regardless of what happens with the Yankees they will clinch a spot as a Wild Card team.

Who would have expected it? Name the players that have really came on to get the Orioles where they are? Most people can’t. Manny Machado? Last year I was watching him lead the Frederick Keys to the Advanced Single A Carolina League title in Kinston against the Indians. Chris Tillman? Last year not called up in September despite being on the 40 man roster. Nate McLouth, in Pittsburgh. Jim Thome? In Cleveland in order to get his 600th home run where so much of his career was made. Chris Davis? In AAA Norfolk. The list goes on and on. They are a real life version of the movie Major League Cleveland Indians.

There is a great line in that movie uttered by the Indians Manager Lou Brown played by James Gammon: “Every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish last. The local press seems to think we’d save everyone a lot of time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I’m for wasting sports writers’ time. So, I’d like to hang around and see if we can give ’em all a nice big shitburger to eat.” 

Personally I would love to see everyone that predicted the Orioles to finish last again eat a shitburger and for the Orioles to win it all.

The Orioles are 72-0 when leading after 7 innings. They are 28-9 in one run games and have won 16 straight extra inning games. That is something that makes the Orioles something special, a tam that will defy the odds to win. Yes anything can happen but I think that this season is one that people will remember for a long time to come. The Orioles have not have a playoff appearance or winning season since 1997 and were predicted by most experts to finish last or next to last in  the AL East this year. I have never bought that line. I thought back in April and May that this was a special team. It is a team on a mission, a team fixed on the next 9 innings.

I think that is a sure fire way to win this thing. God this is fun.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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81: First Place Orioles Ensured of First Non-Losing Season Since 1997

The Baltimore Orioles Celebrate Sweeping the Tampa Bay Rays on rookie Manny Machado’s walk off single in the 14th inning. (Rob Carr, Getty Images / September 13, 2012)

There is something magical and enduring about baseball that makes it such an important part of the American experience. Saul Steinberg said that “Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.”

Today the Baltimore Orioles reminded us of that fact. The plucky O’s under Manager Buck Showalter using a roster that  has now included 50 players during the season have defied all predictions. They are determined contenders. They have won 13 consecutive extra inning games and are 27-7 in one run games. Their bullpen is stellar. They are 64-0 when leading after the 7th inning. They may not have the raw talent and the certain Hall of Fame players that the Yankees have but they can win the close games.

The Baltimore Orioles are perched atop the American League East duking it out with the New York Yankees. The Orioles completed a sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays today in a 14 inning 3-2 walk off win after splitting a four game series with the Yankees at Camden Yards.

The win ensures that they will not have a losing season for the first time since 1997 when they won 98 games and were the AL East Champions. There is a real possibility that the Orioles will win 90 or more games this year. No one predicted that, although I predicted that they would break .500 this year and be a factor in the American League East at the beginning of the season.

The Orioles will now embark on a six game West Coast road trip where the will play the equally surprising Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners.

The interesting thing about the weekend series between the O’s and the A’s is that it is a pivotal series. It actually matters and could be a series that determines where they and their competitors end up in the post season. It is as if the gods of baseball scheduling looked out over the season and said “no one thinks that the O’s and A’s are any good so let’s screw with the experts.” The A’s are just three games behind the Texas Rangers and lead the AL Wild Card race.

Things like this are what make baseball such a magical game. I guess what makes me love baseball so much is that small market teams like the O’s and the A’s can contend even without the big name players and obscene payrolls of the big market teams.  It is funny because the NFL season is just a week old and games are being sold as “do or die” or “must win.” When I hear that kind of talk I realize that football despite its popularity lacks the real human drama of the 162 game Major League Baseball season. If a team’s season is determined by the second game then it is not all that exciting if you ask me. Yes there is some drama in football and it is a good game, but it is not baseball, it is just a game.

My dream at the end of the season is to hear the phrases American League East Champion Baltimore Orioles and American League West Champion Oakland Athletics. I get chills thinking about the possibility.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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