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A Midsummer Night Dream: Memories of MLB All Star Games Past and Present

“I think the National League has better biorhythms in July.” – Earl Weaver (1979 All Star Game) 

Before the days of inter-league play and free-agency and the multitude of national and regional television outlets for baseball the All Star Game was the one time outside of the World Series that fans of in a National League town or American League town could watch players from the opposing league play their “boys.”

MVP Melky Cabrera homers in the 4th inning. (Getty Images)

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22979315&topic_id=34326704

My dad was typical of his generation. He was a National League fan. He grew up with the Cincinnati Reds and when he moved west with the Navy he became a San Francisco Giants fan. When the All-Star Game rolled around at was if time itself would stop as we gathered around the TV as a family to watch it.

Me with Angel’s Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970 at Anaheim Stadium

I think that is in large part why I have such a veneration for this annual event. As I mentioned back then there was no inter-league play and with free agency very limited players spent their careers in the same organization or with teams of the league that they played.

As far as what league I am for it is hard to say. My dad took me to so many California Angels games at Anaheim Stadium when we were stationed in Long Beach in 1970 and 1971 that I became much more familiar with the players of the American League than the National League. That American League attachment grew stronger when we moved to Stockton California where the local minor league team, the Single A Stockton Ports of the California League were then affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles and because of going to Oakland Athletic’s games when the team was in its first era of World Series dominance. He also took me to an occasional Dodger’s game when stationed in Long Beach and sometimes to Candlestick Park to see the Giants but most of the exposure that I had to baseball in my early years was with the American League.

My favorite teams, with the exception of the Orioles tend to be West Coast teams, the Giants and the A’s. My dad was not a fan of the American League, especially of Earl Weaver’s Orioles but between the Ports and seeing the Orioles constantly in the playoffs or World Series in the late 1960s and early 1970s I became a closet Orioles fan. I remember the greats of that team, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Paul Blair and Pitcher’s like Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson and Dave McNally the team was amazing to watch. I became fascinated with the “Oriole way” which to use Cal Ripken Sr.’s phrase “perfect practice makes perfect” really is a model for success in any field.

Despite this I also love the National League primarily because it does not use the designated hitter and there is more emphasis on pitching and because the San Francisco Giants are a National League team.

Both Leagues have had eras where they dominated the game. Between 1963 and 1982 the National League won 19 of 20 games and the American League won 12 of 13 between 1997 and 2009, the only game that they did not win was the 2002 debacle where Commissioner Bud Selig ended a tie game in the 11th when the teams ran out of substitute players, the only previous tie was in 1961 when rain stopped a tie game in the 9th inning at Fenway Park.

There are some All-Star Game moments that stand out to me more than most. The was Pete Rose plowing over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game.

Pete Rose collides with Ray Fosse in the 1970 All Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=5766041

I remember reverently casting my ballot at Anaheim Stadium that year, which was the first time that fans voted in for All-Stars since 1957 when after a ballot box stuffing scandal by Cincinnati Red’s fans caused then Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick to end the practice. I still remember taking that paper ballot and putting it in that box and those votes probably were more important than any political ballot that I have cast, at least I felt like my vote mattered.  Of course now the vote early vote often philosophy which has exploded on the internet takes away some of the reverence that I have for the All Star voting process, but at least no-one checks your ID to vote.

In 1971 I remember the massive home run hit by Reggie Jackson off Dock Ellis at Tiger Stadium, the longest home run in the history of the game, a home run that had it not hit a electrical transformer on the roof was calculated as a 532 foot home run.

Reggie Jackson’s massive home run in the 1972 All Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=15759689&topic_id=20156278

I remember the 1973 All-Star Game which was the last for Willie Mays, it was his 24th trip to the game, a record that still stands.

The 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park was one that brought tears to my eyes. It was magical as Major League Baseball announced its “All Century Team” including the great Ted Williams.  It was an exceptionally emotional experience for me as I watched many of the living legends who I had seen play as a child walk out onto the field.

Ted Williams at the 1999 All Star Game where the All Century Team was Inducted

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=5570299

But I think one of the most memorable for me was watching Cal Ripken Jr. in his final All-Star Game when Alex Rodriguez insisted that Ripken start the game at Shortstop where he had played most of his career and when Ripken went yard in his final All-Star Game plate appearance.

Alex Rodriguez pushes Cal Ripken Jr. to Short in the 2001 All Star Game

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unF087sArpg

Tonight’s game was played in Kansas City, a town with a remarkable Baseball history especially with the Negro League Kansas City Monarch’s. The Negro Leagues were founded in Kansas City in 1920 and it is the home of the Negro League Hall of Fame. The Athletics played there between their time in Philadelphia and Oakland, and the Royals began as an expansion team in 1969 and opened Kaufman Stadium in 1973. I saw the Royals play for the first time in Anaheim against the Angels.  The Stadium was unique in its era because it was the last non dual-purpose stadium built until Oriole Park and Camden Yards opened in 1991. As such it was and is a beautiful yard and with the renovation completed in 2007 is still among the most beautiful parks in the Major Leagues and there is a seat designated in honor of the late Monarch’s player and manager Buck O’Neil and the home of such greats as Satchel Page.

Buck O’Neil

Tonight  like most All-Star Games I was torn my feelings. Unlike my dad I am not an exclusivist regarding the American or National League. I have favorite teams and players in both leagues. Tonight my Giants have a number of starters on the field including the Starting Pitcher Matt Cain, Catcher Buster Posey, 3rd Baseman Pablo “The Panda” Sandoval and Outfielder Melky Cabrera.  The Giants contingent aided by the ballot stuffing San Francisco Fans dominated the game.

On the other hand the American League had three Orioles on it for the first time in a long time, Closer Jim Johnson, Catcher Matt Wieters and Outfielder Adam Jones. There are future Hall of Famers on the field including Atlanta Braves 3rd Baseman Chipper Jones who is played in his final All-Star Game and got a soft single in the top of the 6th inning.

Chipper Jones 

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22978231&source=MLB

Justin Verlander was hit hard giving up 5 earned runs in the top of the 1st and Pablo Sandoval had a bases clearing triple. Joe Nathan of the Rangers pitched the 2nd inning and David Price of the Rays pitched the third while Matt Cain pitched 2 shut out innings and was relieved by Gio Gonzalez of the Cardinals. I hope that the game produces a great moment that will be replayed forever.

Managing the game for the National League is Tony LaRussa the now retired former Manager of the 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The American League Manager is Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers.

Pablo Sandoval hits a bases clearing Triple off Justin Verlander in the 1st Inning (Photo Getty Images)

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22978523&topic_id=34326704

Well the National League won 8-0 led by a home run by Melky Cabrera in the top of the 4th inning. Five of the 8 National League runs were produced by members of the San Francisco Giants.  Cabrera was the Most Valuable Player and Matt Cain got the win.  It was a long night for the American League  especially with the pitchers due to pitch including National’s Stephen Strasburg, Met’s Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Dodger’s ace Clayton Kershaw, and three closers, Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies, Ardolis Chapman of the Reds and Craig Kimbrel of the Braves.  As Earl Weaver said “The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.”

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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A Tangled Mass of Emotions: Dad, the Boss, an ICU Death and the All-Star Game

The Big “A” that I knew

I am a mess the past day or so. Not that anything is bad or going wrong it is just that emotionally I am a mess.  As I try to get back into normal life I find emotions brought up by my dad’s death three weeks ago going all over the place.  Today was so strange; it actually began a couple of days ago when I finished the third chapter of my series on “Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11” entitled “A Death, a Rain Delay and a Visit from Saint Pete.” Since my dad’s death due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease I have experienced number of things that sent my emotions into overload because they somehow connected with dad and his death.  Over the past couple of days these intense emotional surges, I cannot call them swings because they are not swings, I am not going between depression and elation but rather experiencing strong emotional impulses as things remind me of my dad or of childhood.  I know that I am okay because grief and the emotions that follow the loss of a parent particularly your father if you are the oldest son are guaranteed to mess with you. They are normal, I am a highly trained pastoral caregiver but since I am not a Vulcan but a Romulan with probably a bit of Klingon mixed in the emotional surges that well up from under my normally cold and logical exterior are a real bitch, no wonder the Romulans wage war with such ferocity and the Klingons appear to be in a perpetually foul mood.  But I digress…

The past couple of weeks have been weird because I never know when something is going to trigger emotions that remind me of my dad.  Much of this of course revolves around baseball as it was my dad that taught me to love the game and through the connection between baseball and dad there has been, even when he was no longer himself due to the ravages of Alzheimer’s something that brought a sense of stability and peace to life, even when I was a post-Iraq PTSD mess.

Now I am a mess again as things that I see, hear and experience things that bring me back to dad.  At this moment my excrement is together but I have no idea what or when the next emotional surge will hit and I will be blubbering like I girl, not that there is anything wrong with that.

The past few days are a case in point. I went to Harbor Park on both Saturday and Sunday and had a great time, at the same time I felt like my dad was there. He never came to Norfolk during my time here because of his physical and deteriorating mental state but now since his death it almost feels like he is there with me.  I went to work Monday and had the on-call overnight duty at the Medical Center and was doing pretty well but in the late afternoon I was called for a cardiac arrest of an 81 year old man and off and on throughout the evening was called back as he continued to get worse to take care of his family, a wife of 63 years and a son a couple of years old than me.  I really wanted this man to live but it became apparent as the night wore on that he would not survive the night and his wife asked me to perform the Sacrament of Healing or what some used to refer to as “Last Rights” which I did with she and her son present using the rite form the Book of Common Prayer.  With his condition somewhat stable I went to our call room where I attempted to get a little rest on the bed from hell.   Of course getting to sleep on said bed is difficult at best and since when I am on duty the hyper vigilance factor is real and present it takes a while to get to sleep.  About 0215 my fitful sleep was interrupted by the pager going off and with it the message to come back to the ICU as the patient was dying.  I went back and was with the family when he died and until they left the building about 0315.

The next morning or rather later in the morning, but not much later I was back up and preparing for a meeting across the bay at the VA Medical Center. While I prepared I found out that George Steinbrenner had died.  When I felt the emotions well up in me, especially while I was watching ESPN’s Sports Center and various players, managers and other sports figures were interviewed about the Boss the emotions started coming in waves, funny how that happens.  As I reflect on this I guess it is because in many ways my dad and Steinbrenner were similar, passionate, outspoken, driven but also caring and good fathers who often showed compassion to others but in a private manner. Now my dad was not a fan of Steinbrenner or the Yankees, but the Boss engendered such emotions in people, positive and negative I am not surprised my dad had little regard for the American League after all he was a National League man.  When I heard Derek Jeter, Joe Morgan, Paul O’Neil and so many others talk of their relationship with Steinbrenner I laughed, cried and reflected on dad.  Strange connection but a connection anyway.

Photo Day 1970 with Angels Manager “Lefty” Phillips

Later in the evening I went to Gordon Biersch for a salad, beer and to watch some of the Major League Baseball All-Star game which was being played at the home of the Los Angeles Angels, at one time th California Angels, Anaheim Stadium, the place where more than any my dad taught me a love and respect of the game of Baseball.  As I looked at this cathedral of baseball, now expanded and Disneyfied since I was a child shagging foul balls and collecting autographs I was taken back in time.  I remember the very first game that dad took us to at Anaheim Stadium as it was then known as the “Big A” like it was yesterday, July 4th 1970 the day after Clyde Wright pitched a no-hitter. On this day the Angels did not win, the A’s won 7-4.  I saw the first major league home runs that I can remember seeing in person that night as we sat in the lower level of the right field corner near the foul pole. At that time the bullpen was adjacent to the grandstand and there were no mountains, valleys, palm trees or whatever else is out there, a log ride perhaps, but I digress. Back then there was a warning track and a fence as well as an amazing scoreboard in the shape of a big block “A” with a halo near the top.

That night I saw home runs by Reggie Jackson, Bert Campaneris and Sal Bando for the A’s and Jim Spencer for the Angels.  Jim “Catfish” Hunter got the win and Jim “Mudcat” Grant got the save. Rudy May took the loss for the Angels.  The fact that I saw two future Hall of Fame players in this game was amazing, the winning pitcher, Hunter and Reggie Jackson.  Later in the year I entered a contest and wrote why Jim Spencer was my favorite Angel.  I had met Spencer at an autograph signing event at the local Von’s grocery store and when the contest winners were announced I was a runner up. I got tickets behind home plate and my name announced by legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg on the radio and my name in the Long Beach newspaper that sponsored the contest.  Dad took us probably to 30 or more games that year and I fell in love with the game.

Back in those days teams still had photo days where players would be available on the field for pictures and autographs and on autograph day in 1970 my dad took my brother and I onto a major league ball field for the first time and I was in awe.  The warning track was a red clay and the field was lush green as I looked back in toward home plate I wondered what it would be like to play in such a place.  From that season on the game had a hold on me. Dad and I did not have much in common, my brother I think is actually more like him than me but Dad taught me about the game at the stadium and in our back yard and gave me a gift that connected him to me more than anything else, something that I didn;t realize until much later in life.  I looked at that stadium on television and I saw the field, the main part of the stadium is still so much like it was when dad took us there and as I looked at it and remembered him I was in tears, I had a hard time keeping my emotions in, kind of embarrassing to be in tears at a bar during a baseball game but I was doing my best to hold it in.  Judy told me that I probably needed to talk to Elmer the Shrink about this but he is out of town until next week.  So I’ll wait, everyone deserves time off.

While we were still there and I was working on my second Kölsch style sömmerbrau a friend came up to me. He was a bit lit up having consumed his fair share and maybe more for the night but God used him and in his own way to bring comfort to me in what appeared rather earthy and even ludicrous manner but when he was said and done I felt better.  I think that he will need to serve as a model for some character in the Meeting Jesus and the Team series, I have no idea which figure from the Bible or Church history just yet but I will look around because what he said even though a tad under the influence of decidedly good beer was profound.  God does use people in strange and mysterious ways.

So I will continue I am sure to have emotional surges whenever something reminds me of my dad and I guess in the long run that is a good thing as my friend said it would make me better at what I do, I have now experienced the loss of my dad and am that much closer to the time that I will pass away, a generation has been removed between me and the end of my earthly life. This is something that so many people that I know already deal with.  It allows me to be connected to them in a way that just a few weeks back that I could not be.  It makes me a bit more human and more connected.

Dad, the Boss and the All-Star game at Anaheim Stadium, it is amazing what this concoction of images, memories and feelings can turn me into, a blubbering girl, not that there is anything wrong with that.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Baseball is Back….Thank God!

Norfolk’s Harbor Park

Night baseball isn’t an aberration. What’s an aberration is a team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908. They tend to think of themselves as a little Williamsburg, a cute little replica of a major league franchise. Give me the Oakland A’s, thank you very much. People who do it right.” George Will on the Chicago Cubs

Baseball is back and I am very happy as spring returns and winter fades away as I can again watch baseball again live or tape delay.  Sure it is pre-season and the teams are still sorting out rosters but Spring Training is something that I look forward to every year.  I was actually hoping to get to Florida this year to take in a bit of the Orioles camp in Sarasota but thanks to a nasty Kidney stone I was pretty much knocked out of it.  Work will be too busy and Holy Week is coming so I will have to wait until opening day at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.

Joey Gathright bunts for a hit against Atlanta’s Gwinnett Braves in 2009

There is something about Spring Training as you watch the teams, study the roster reports and look at potential line ups pitching rotations and relief pitching staffs.  It is also the time that we begin to see how the personnel changes, signings, departures and prospects look up close.  It is a time when teams and players get to know each other again. I follow the Giants, Orioles and A’s very closely as well as looking most of the other teams as I look trough team sites, ESPN, Yahoo Baseball and sports blogs.

The statement of George Will the political columnist and avid Cubs fan speaks a lot of truth. The Cubs for years have either been penny pinchers or spent money like a drunken sailor with little to show for it. Since Jesus will come when they win the World’s Series next I think it likely that they will continue to be just what Will said they are “a cute little replica of a major league franchise.  Some teams spend their money be it large amounts or small wisely and know how to win.  Others spend money with no return throwing good money after bad on horrible deals every season and reaming losers.

What really interests me in baseball is not just the Major League teams but their Minor League affiliates.  Of course I have a close up view of the Orioles AAA International League affiliate the Norfolk Tides from my pew in Section 102, Row B Seat 1 and 2 a Harbor Park.  One of the things that I follow closely are the prospects as well as former Major League players as they move between the Majors and Minors as well as how they figure in trades.

A lot of people simply follow the big name players on contending teams and I admit that there is nothing wrong with that.  However, my view is that you have to take a look at a team’s farm system in relationship to the Major League team that it supports and feeds.  The depth and talent found in a teams’ Minor League system is vitally important to a team’s success or failure. Let me follow this with a few examples.

Mariano Rivera- Raised in the Yankee System

Let’s begin with the New York Yankees.  They are often portrayed as a team filled with “hired gun” type free agents who the pay an ungodly amount of money to obtain. Yes the Yankees are committed to winning and they will pay top dollar to get the best in baseball. Teams that want to win make the commitment to doing it.  Those that are content to be in the middle of the pack or lower don’t.  It is that simple. Like him or not George Steinbrenner knew what he was doing. However this is only part of their formula for success.  They also have also chosen to invest a lot in an excellent farm system.  Many of their top players came out of that system including Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada.  Their current middle relief staff, which had for many years been a weakness, is now stocked with solid pitchers who came out of the Yankee system.  The depth of their system also allows them to use it to sweeten up trade deals with other teams.  If you want to win consistently you have to have the depth in the Minor League system in case you need it.

David Wright: One of the Few Bright Spots for the Mets

So now we go to the other end of the spectrum.  The New York Mets also spent a huge amount of money on big name free agents.  However, because the Mets invest almost nothing in their Minor League system it has been consistently the worst in baseball for years.  Likewise the mid to end of season implosions show just how bad the Mets system is.  For example the Mets treated their farms teams so badly since the arrival of Omar Minaya that their flagship affiliate, the Norfolk Tides ended their relationship with the Mets at the end of the 2006 season to become part of the Baltimore Orioles system.  The Mets system has few prospects and at the upper levels is stocked with older Minor Leaguers and worn out Major leaguers looking for one last year in the sun.  The Mets initially had to move the team to New Orleans for two years and then were able to market themselves to Buffalo when Cleveland moved their AAA affiliate to Columbus Ohio.  The team was the worst in the International League last year and Buffalo fans that for years enjoyed high caliber ball players and young prospects became angry.  Little good is being said about the Mets in Buffalo even now and since the Mets have depleted what they can spend, and few Minor League prospects they have little bargaining power to reach out and deal for the top tier free agents.

Brian McCann, one of the  18 “Baby Braves” who took the Braves to the 2005 NLCS

We move to another team that does things right with regard to this is the Atlanta Braves.  The Braves have been consistently good for many years winning 14 Division titles and a World Series. In that amazing run where they won more than 90 and sometimes over 100 games a season almost every year they often dominated to National League.  The team is stocked with home grown talent.  I have seen the Braves minor league teams at the AAA and AA level and am well acquainted with their system.  They too are usually really good, very good. That minor league system has produced great players including Chipper Jones.  Do not forget 2005 when the Braves beset by injuries called up a large number of Minor league players from Richmond and Mississippi including All Star catcher Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur, Ande Marte, Kelly Johnson and 14 other rookies and the “Baby Braves” as they were known helped take the Braves to the playoffs.  The system had to recover from that and it has now because the Braves invest in it and those players are beginning to make an impact in the Majors.

Billy Beane the GM of the Oakland Athletics

Another team that knows how to use a farm system is the Oakland Athletics. The A’s after being very competitive using very little money for years fell on hard times last year, but one of the keys to their success was their reliance on top prospects in their Minor League System.  Over the years that system has produced some great players and more than likely will do so again.  The A’s system is built on the principle of Saber metrics which looks at numbers crunched by statistics geeks and has for the most part served them well.  The A’s General Manager Billy Beane has revolutionized the game for small market teams that want quality on a limited budget. Many former A’s cut loose when they would become too expensive now star on other Major League teams. The system is discussed in the book Moneyball.

The new “Baby Birds” Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold along with Luke Scott great Oscar Salazar after a Home Run

A few years back the Orioles realizing that they could not compete dollar for dollar against ht Red Sox and Yankees began at the single A level to build a premier farm system.  Each year the best have moved up into the system to AA and AAA levels.  Last year the Norfolk Tides started out on fire and when the Orioles ran into major injury problems they called up a lot of minor league players including Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Brad Bergeson and Chris Tillman.   The Orioles have built their system in stages and that building process went through the 2009 season.  Many of those called up were not quite ready for the majors but many are looked upon as future All Stars, especially their deep well of pitching talent that most teams could only dream about having.

Phillies Slugger Ryan Howard who I have seen play as a Reading Philly and Scranton-Wilkes Barre Red Barons before he went to the Majors

When I look at teams I always look at their minor league system and their prospects because that system and those prospects are the future of the team.  Teams that are consistently bad typically have bad minor league systems.  I have been watching minor league ball in person regularly for almost ten years.  As such I have seen many of today’s biggest stars including players like Ryan Howard, Felix Hernandez, Jason Verlander, Heath Bell, Grady Sizmore, Victor Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jhonny Peralta, Brian McCann, David Wright, Evan Longoria, Jonathan Papelbon, many of the current Baltimore Orioles as well as countless others.

The relationship of the Major League team to its farm system is of paramount importance. If a team does not invest in their minor league affiliates and make good draft choices and trades they will seldom do well even if they have a decent team at the beginning of the season. Without quality prospects in the minor league system they will not have personnel readily available for call up on short notice in case of injury, not will they have depth to trade for quality players if the need them.

This is one of the things that make the game of baseball so different than other sports with the possible exception of NHL Hockey and its farm system.  The relationship and the development of players at the minor league level have a direct impact on the Major League club.  This is part of why I am so passionate about this game.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Trip to the Home World, Tithing on the Speed Limit, a Tooth Joins the Ranks of the Undead and a Giant No Hitter

Yesterday we made a trip back to my family’s home world, also known as Huntington West Virginia. As far as home worlds go it is probably on no one’s top ten lists, probably ranking about as high as Qo’noS, the Klingon home world in terms of places that you would go to on holiday.  However it is my family’s ancestral home for the past 200 plus years since coming from Scotland, Ireland and France.  Now I was not born in West Virginia, though my parents were born there as were three of my four grandparents.  I was actually the first of my generation born outside of the state as my dad was still in the beginning stages of his Navy career and was stationed at Naval Air Station Alameda California and I was born at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in California.  Even so Huntington was a place that served as a touchstone for our lives as my dad was transferred from one place to another on the west coast.  We would return almost every summer, usually travelling by train in the days before Amtrack.  Back then three of four grandparents as well as one set of great grandparents we still alive along with a butt-load of aunts, uncles and cousins.  In 4th grade we lived there while my dad found us suitable housing in Long Beach California after being transferred from Washington State. That was the year of three schools and four teachers for me, but I digress.

It was during that year that my great grandfather died and my grandfather was diagnosed with a golf ball sized yet benign brain tumor.  It was also the adjustment form the kinder and gentler west coast schools to a much stricter standard in Huntington.  I was also as we had come in from Long Beach I was nicknamed “City Slicker” and had to fight for my life.  A couple of school yard brawls later which I cannot say that I won but in which I gave good account of myself I was accepted so far as a “City Slicker” could be.  The thing was though that I had lived in a town of only about 8,000 inhabitants for 4 years prior to moving to Long beach for just over a month.  The kids in Huntington were far more “City Slicker” than little old me.  I had poor penmanship because in Kindergarten my teacher took the pencil out of my left hand and stuck it in my right hand.  This was of no comfort when my teacher whacked my hand with a steel ruler since my penmanship was so bad.  What good this did I have no idea except to maybe set me back two more years.  I don’t think I ever left the dining room table due to the amount of homework that she assigned.  During my time in Huntington we lived across from the old Fairfield Stadium where the Marshall University football team played.  I saw the team work out in the spring practices of 1970, the same team killed in the plane crash on 14 November of that year.  We returned to Long Beach that summer where when I started 5th grade I was known as “Kentucky Fried.”  Despite that I was happy to get back out west.  After my Clinical Pastoral Care Education Residency in Dallas I got my first full time hospital chaplain job at Cabell-Huntington Hospital which I held as a full time contractor until I was mobilized for the Bosnia mission in 1996.  During this time and while I was deployed Judy got to know my relatives better than me.  I went into the Navy in West Virginia and due to this we remain West Virginia residents for Tax and Voting purposes.  We came back to get our driver’s licenses renewed and see our dear friend Patty.

The visit this time has been pretty miserable for me as last night the tooth which was recently excavated for the second time as discovered to be cracked beyond repair decided to come back from the dead.  I didn’t get to sleep until about 0230 and woke up again at 0415 before getting back to sleep at 0600. The alarm rank at 0700 and after getting Judy up, we talked and I went back to bed where I slept until 1230.  It took 2 Ultram, 1 800 mg Motrin and a couple of beers with lunch to get the pain under control.  Tonight I will probably do the same and go to bed early.  In the morning I will have to call the Dental Department at the hospital to see what they want me to do.  We don’t travel back until Wednesday and I don’t know if I can take much more of this.  It seems to me that my tooth has taken a page from Dracula and joined the ranks of the undead.  This really sucks like a Hoover.

The trip here was long, we had the usual snarl on I-64  from Newport News until past Williamsburg, and thankfully the HRBT was not congested.  We picked up more slow traffic between Staunton and Lexington.  Now I am bothered by people who drive slower than the posted speed limit in the fast lane.  I trained on the Los Angeles Freeways and the German Autobahn.  My view is that the speed limit is a suggestion for the less skilled drivers and those who have trained on high speed roads should be exempt from it.  Now I am not a total scofflaw. I do not drive unsafely, weave in and out of traffic or fail to signal.  Likewise I know about how fast I can go without drawing the attention of the State Police.  Since radar detectors are illegal in Virginia one has to become very adept at this cat and mouse game and I am amazed at the number of people who get pulled over because they don’t understand the simple art of nuance.  In most states you can safely drive about 10 percent over the speed limit on the Interstate without getting ticketed.  This is a little different on the major travel holidays in Virginia where there is about a 5 mph tolerance.  I do this routinely and refer to it as “tithing” on the speed limit.  Of course there are times that I need to give more than my tithe and go a bit faster.  Our GPS “Lilith” has a conscious about such things and would alarm when I did this forcing me to silence her.

There was also cause for rejoicing as the first half of the baseball season came to an end.  The Norfolk Tides are tied for fist in the International League South, the San Francisco Giants have surprised everyone by playing great ball with solid pitching and now are in second place in the National League West and currently have the 3rd best record in the league behind the Evil Dodgers and one percentage point behind the East leading Phillies.  To really make things great Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres.  It was almost a perfect game save for a booted ground ball and error by Giants Third Baseman Juan Uribe with 1 out in the bottom of the 8th and Center Fielder Aaron Rowland saved the no-hitter with a leaping catch at the wall for the second out in the top of the ninth.  Both of these show that even when a pitcher pitches a no-hitter it is a team effort.  I had seen the next to last Giant no-hitter in person with my dad and brother back on August 24th 1975 when Ed Halicki shut down the New York Mets at Candlestick.  Not a bad way for the Giants to go into the All-Star break.

Anyway it is time to self medicate for the night and try to get some sleep.  Pray for me a sinner.

Peace, Steve

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Filed under Baseball, healthcare, Loose thoughts and musings, star trek, travel