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Designed to Break Your Heart: Baseball Season Ends

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late commissioner of baseball and literary giant A. Bartlett Giamatti once wrote:

It breaks your heart.  It is designed to break your heart.  The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.” (A. Bartlett Giamatti, “The Green Fields of the Mind,” Yale Alumni Magazine, November 1977)

Last night when the Kansas City Royals came back to defeat the New York Mets in extra innings, the won their first World Series in thirty years and ended the 2015 baseball season and with it a lot of hearts broke, as they do every year at this time. It is not just that somewhere along the way our favorite team loses, but it is the how for many people, like me, that baseball is more than a game, but has an incredible spiritual component.

This year none of my teams made the playoffs, except for our local Triple-A International League affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, the Norfolk Tides. That being said the post-season was interesting and had a lot of great stories within the story of the post-season playoff series and the World Series. The Royals picked up where they did last year after they lost a heartbreaker to the San Francisco Giants and continued to win even when it looked like the opposition, whether it was the Astros, Blue Jays or the Mets was poised to win. I am not a Royals fan but as a lover of baseball I have to say that they are an amazing team.

However, the season is now over, and for me winter is now officially here, and yesterday was dreary with a lot of rain. The official beginning of winter for me starts with the end of the Fall Classic.

With the end of the season one of my places of solace from the cares of the world. Really, when I came home from Iraq, baseball was one of the few things that helped to calm my soul from the demons of PTSD, TBI, major depression, anxiety, and often-suicidal thoughts. I can agree with Sharon Olds who wrote back in the early 1970s “Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”

In a world where so many things are unsettling baseball is reassuring. In the run-up to the 2016 general election where the politicians, pundits, and preachers, the “Trinity of Evil” use every means available to raise the levels of fear and anxiety of people, it is even more so. In such a world baseball is a safe-harbor for me, as Mark Kramer wrote, “Baseball is a harbor, a seclusion from failure that really matters, a playful utopia in which virtuosity can be savored to the third decimal place of a batting average.”

Now I wait for Spring Training 2016 begins and the pitchers and catchers, including a number of friends start reporting, and with that my spring will begin.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mama Bear, Contraceptives & the Cubs

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The late, great, Chicago Cubs broadcaster, Harry Caray, made a darkly humorous comment that once again seems to have come true. Caray said, “What does a mama bear on the pill have in common with the World Series? No cubs.”

The Chicago Cubs under the direction of former Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon had a great season. They reached the playoffs as a Wild Card team, and knocked out the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division series.

I kind of hoped that they would have won the World Series this year, even though I believe that should the Cubs ever win the World Series that Jesus will return. I am a big fan of Cubs starter Jake Arietta who I know from his time in the Orioles organization and time in Norfolk, and I do have a soft spot for the Cubs. In fact about six years ago I wrote, “it all comes down to baseball, just as everything else in life. My belief is that when the Chicago Cubs win the World’s Series that we’d better start looking to the East, and pronto.” Since the “amazin’ Mets” beat the Cubs in the National League Championship Series I will have to assume that the perousia (the Greek word for the second coming) will again be delayed, at least until next year.

  
The Mets swept the Cubbies in large part due to the hitting of Daniel Murphy who hit his sixth consecutive home run, breaking a playoff record.  It looks like the Mets will now play the winner of the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays American League Championship Series, which the Royals now lead three games to two with the series going back to Kansas City on Friday.

  
So, until we know something else, here is to the Mets, who made my season by defeating the evil Los Angeles Dodgers in their National League Division Series last week. As a diehard San Francisco Giants fan I have to salute the Mets, who have been amazing this year. As for the Cubbies, there is always next year. They have nothing to be ashamed of this season; they are a young team, they made the playoffs and beat the only team to win 100 games. It is not the World Series, but it is not bad.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Exemplar of Defense the Oriole Way: Paul Blair Orioles “Motormouth” and Golden Glove Dead at 69

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Paul Blair the legendary 8 time Gold Glove Center Fielder of the Baltimore Orioles American League and World Series teams of the 1960s and 1970s died yesterday at the age of 69. He died just under a year after his Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver did, both while doing things that they loved.

Blair was bowling in a celebrity bowling tournament in Pikesville Maryland after completing a round of golf when he complained of not feeling well and slumped over unconscious. He died shortly after arrival at Mount Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.

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Blair was born in Cushing Oklahoma but grew up in Los Angeles California. He tried out for the Dodgers but was rejected because they did not believe that he was big enough. The Mets signed him to a minor league contract in 1961. After being left unprotected by the Mets he was drafted by the Orioles in 1962. He moved up through the Orioles farm system and gained his nickname “Motormouth” in 1963 by his manager Harry Dunlop while playing with the Stockton Ports of the California League, it was something that he would relate to me in 2003 when I met him in Mayport Florida and I gave him a Ports hat to autograph. The nickname was revived when he got to the majors by Frank Robinson and Curt Blefary.

After a six month tour in the Army Reserve in 1964 he returned to the Orioles where he became the starting Center Fielder. Known for his speed and skill in the outfield Blair was awarded 8 Gold Glove awards, seven consecutively between 1969-1975. The record of 8 was a record for outfielders only broken by Ken Griffey Jr.  Blair’s career fielding percentage was .987, he only had 57 errors in 4462 chances.

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In a 1997 interview with USA Today Baseball Weekly Blair said of his defensive prowess “I was taught to play defense. Back in our day it was pitching and defense. Our philosophy (the Oriole way) was don’t make the little mistakes that cost you ballgames. That is the way we won over such a long period of time.” Earl Weaver said of Blair’s speed in the outfield “I never saw Paul Blair’s first step.” Orioles All Star Don Buford who played alongside Blair for 5 years noted “When you talk about the greatest defensive center fielders, he was right in the mix.”

Blair hit for a lifetime batting average of .250 with 1513 hits and 134 home runs, an average that may have been affected by being severely injured when he was beaned by Angels pitcher Ken Tatum in May of 1970.

Blair won two World Series rings with the Orioles and another two with the Yankees and was voted to the 1969 and 1973 All Star team. He is the only player to get five hits in an ALCS game when he did so in the final game of the 1969 ALCS against the Twins. After his playing career he coached at he high school and college level and served as an outfield instructor with the Yankees and Astros.

Mets v Orioles

I met Blair twice in 2003 and 2005 when he doing goodwill tours to military bases. On both occasions we had time to talk. In Mayport Florida I was able to spend over an hour with Blair, the late Hall of Fame 1st Baseman of the Twins Harmon Killebrew, Hall of Fame Pitcher Ferguson Jenkins as well as John Tudor, Manny Sanguillen and Jimmy Wynn. I really enjoyed Blair’s stories about his time in Stockton, which I consider my home town as well as his stories about his playing days. He was a joy to be around.

I was hoping that I would get another chance to meet up with Blair. That won’t happen now so I will just say Rest in Peace.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Mark of Cain: Matt Cain Pitches 22nd Perfect Game in MLB History

Celebration by the Bay (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

I was just about to go to bed but had the MLB Channel on when I began to pay attention as Harold Reynolds began to say in the top of the 5th inning of the Giants-Astros game “to Call your friends because history is being made by Matt Cain.” On a night were Met’s pitcher R A Dickey pitched a one-hitter and in a season that had already seen 4 no-hitters including a Perfect Game by Phil Humber, this was more than amazing.

Matt Cain on firing Strikes:  (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

The first Cain was not known for his pitching skills and ended up with a mark that remained with him the rest of his life, not mark any of us would want. Tonight another Cain, Matt Cain now has a mark, but not like the biblical Cain, Matt Cain pitched the 22nd Perfect Game in MLB history and the first in the 130 years of the Giants Baseball Club.

I have been a Giants fan since I was a kid. Back on August 24th 1975 my dad took my brother and me to Candlestick where we saw Ed Halicki no hit the New York Mets. In 1976 John “the Count of” Montefusco no-hit the Braves in Atlanta. It was almost 33 years before the Giants got another when on July 10th 2009 Jonathan Sanchez no-hit the Padres facing 28 batters, one more than a perfect game due to a fielding error.  Hall of Fame pitchers for the Giants to pitch no-hitters have included Christy Matthewson, Carl Hubble, Gaylord Perry and Juan Marichal.  But no Giants pitcher had ever pitched a perfect game.

Melky Cabrera’s Leaping Catch at the Wall  (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

The perfect game is one of the most miraculous and magical moments in all of sports simply because anything, a bad pitch or an error or a bad call can end the bid, who can forget the call by Umpire Jim Joyce that kept Armando Galarraga from a perfect game in 2010. The novel The Perfect Game which became the Kevin Costner film For the Love of the Game does such a wonderful job of portraying the miracle. It seems that nights like this, the pressure, the miraculous and unbelievable catches made in the field and the ability of a pitcher to get out after out. Cain understands this, he has taken 5 no hitters into the 7th inning during his career and never got the no-hitter.

Gregor Blanco Making his Diving catch in the 7th  (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

Cain is one of the best pitchers in the game. During the 2010 World Series Cain pitched 21 1/3 innings without giving up a run. This year he is 8-2 with a 7 game winning streak and a 2.18 ERA.  The performance was one of the best ever even in a perfect game. Cain dominated with 14 strike outs tying the Major League mark set by Sandy Koufax in 1965. Cain helped his cause by getting a hit and scoring a run. The first pitcher since Dennis Martinez to get a hit in a Perfect game since Dennis Martinez in 1992.  Cain threw 125 pitches, the most in a perfect game in MLB history.

Buster Posey celebrates with Matt Cain  (Photo: Jason O Watson/Getty Images)

Several great defensive plays helped bring on the magic. Melky Cabrera made a leaping catch at the left field wall in the 6th inning and Gregor Blanco who came out of nowhere to make a diving catch going toward the wall on the warning track on a hit that looked as if it would be the first hit and go for extra bases.

The Giants also set a record by scoring 10 runs in a Perfect Game.

Matt Cain left his mark on Baseball tonight and hopefully he will continue to give those that love the game more of these memories.

Now I need to try to calm down enough to get some sleep.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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8020 Games and Finally….a Miracle for the Mets: Johan Santana Pitches First No-No in Mets History

Johan Santana celebrates after striking out David Freese (Photo Ray Stubblebine/Reuters)

“A pitcher’s got to be good and he’s got to be lucky to get a no hit game.” Cy Young 

The New York Mets ended a 50 year drought as Johan Santana no-hit the St. Louis Cardinals tonight in New York. It was the longest that a team had gone in MLB history without a no-hitter and leaves the San Diego Padres as the only team in the Majors with 43 years without a no-hitter.

Santana threw 134 pitches as the Mets shut-out the Cardinals by a score of 8-0. After going down 3 balls and no strikes to David Freese Santana came back to strike out the Cardinal’s slugger to cinch to no-hitter.  Santana joined Phillip Humber of the White Sox and Jared Weaver of the Angels to pitch the 3rd no-hitter of this still young season. For Santana and the Mets it was a cause for celebration.  The Mets are not strangers to having good pitchers on their staff but despite this and having won two World Series titles but had never had one of their own pitchers whose ranks include David Cone, Greg Maddux and Tom Seaver ever pitch a no-hitter as a Met.

Santana a three time All-Star and two time AL Cy Young Award Winner has 136 career wins since entering the Majors with the Minnesota Twins in 2000.  Santana had missed the entire 2011 season after having surgery to repair a tear of the anterior capsule in his pitching shoulder. No pitcher had ever returned from that type of surgery and Santana entered the season just hoping to return to his pre-surgery form. After the game Santana said “Coming into this season, I was just hoping to come back and stay healthy and help this team….” Manager Terry Collins had planned on limiting Santana to 110 pitches but in the 8th inning Santana let his manager know that he “felt good.” Collins left his starter who had thrown a shut-out in his last outing against the Padres in the game. Santana recounted the conversation:

“He came right next to me and he just told me that I was his hero. At that point, I told him, ‘Listen, I’m just going to try to go out there and do my job and try to go as deep as I could in the game.’ And tonight, he was not going to take me out of the game — no chance.”

As in any no-hitter it seemed that the God of Baseball was with the pitcher. Sandy Koufax once said “You’ve got to be lucky, but if you have good stuff, it’s easier to be lucky” and such was the case with Santana this first day of June.  In the 7th inning Santana’s effort was saved when Mike Baxter made a dramatic catch of a Yadier Molina fly ball on the warning track in which he was injured and had to leave the game. He was also aided by a foul call of a ball hit by Carlos Beltran down the 3rd Base line which 3rd Base Umpire Adrian Johnson ruled foul but which the replay appeared to show as a fair ball when it crossed over the bag.

The no-hitter equals the number pitched in 2011.  It is possible that there could be a record number of no-hitters as pitching has again become dominant in the Major Leagues.  We will have to see how that works out but as a fan of great pitching and baseball drama I wouldn’t mind seeing a couple of more this season.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Portrait of America: Baseball and Budget Battles

“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

Baseball is a game of tough decisions, compromises and suspense that at times seems to go on forever. In it there are times where we see courage and fear, good luck and bad, the necessity of patience about fate and the importance of sober self-esteem. It is very much like the system of government in American life at times.  It is somewhat slow to watch at times and during the middle of the season to casual observers it seems that nothing is really happening but as the pennant race begins the trading deadline approaches and the tough decisions are made to each team to try to win the pennant.

In the budget fight we saw Nancy Pelosi not even submit a budget last year, something that was almost like watching the Mets implode on and off the field, and then a new team entered the race totally upsetting the established order, the Tea Party.  After that we saw a debate that seemed to go on forever at a fever pitch. Finally the opposing sides agreed to a deal like a major trade with many parts and ramifications that needed to be worked out in order to get the deal done. They managed to get it done before the trading deadline.

The cuts were deep compared to what were offered in the beginning. Now like baseball more details need to be worked out and the teams have to figure out the long term fixes for the greater problem.

I’m not going to say much more tonight as I spent the night watching the Braves defeat the Phillies and coverage of the other games and baseball headlines on the MLB Network.

The budget stalemate kept me in town to cover duty this weekend but at least I know that my people will get paid and that I will not have to furlough my civilian workers that care for our brave Marines and Sailors.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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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