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Joy in Birdland: Orioles Win AL East

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It has been seventeen years since the Baltimore Orioles won the American League East, a period in which they and their fans endured 14 strait losing seasons between 1997 and 2012.

I have always liked the Orioles. When I was a kid they were on television a lot as under Earl Weaver and a Hall of Fame roster they always seemed to be in the playoffs or the World Series. I remember when they had the California League Stockton Ports as a farm team and going to games at Stockton’s Billy Herbert Field when my dad was deployed in Vietnam.

Now my dad couldn’t stand the American League. But he did know baseball and despite his dislike for the the American League, and since they were an American League team, the Orioles, he admired baseball players who were exemplary, as such he loved Frank and Brooks Robinson as well as some of the Orioles pitching greats. I wear my Orioles hats, t-shirts and clothing almost everywhere, I have an Orioles doormat at the entrance of my office and lots of signed memorabilia around my house and office. People ask me all the time if I am from Baltimore or Maryland, I always surprise them and tell them that I was a West Coast Navy brat who fell in love with the Orioles in the 1960s and early 1970s. I guess some folks don’t get that you can be as devoted as fan as me without being from Baltimore, a city that I really enjoy which has one of the nicest and friendliest ballparks in the majors, Camden Yards.

My real passion for the Orioles was reignited in 2004 when we took a trip to Camden Yards to see the Orioles play the Yankees, and when I met the late former Orioles great Paul Blair when he visited different bases that I served. But that passion for the Orioles really took off when the Orioles became the major league affiliate of our local Triple-A minor league club the Norfolk Tides in 2006. Now mind you, al lot of those have been very lean years, but I have gotten to know a decent number of Orioles players, some who are with the team that clinched the AL East tonight including Chris Tillman, Zack Britton and Manny Machado, some who have left baseball and some who are doing well with other organizations including the Cubs Jake Arrieta and the Diamondbacks David Hernandez. Likewise I have gotten to know scouts and front office personnel who have spent time in Norfolk evaluating the Tides over the years.

In 2011 things began to turn around for the Orioles, after a miserable two thirds of a season the O’s hired Buck Showalter as manager, and then Dan Duquette, who had laid the foundations of the Boston Red Sox World Series title as their general manager. In 2012 they made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. In 2013 they didn’t get in the playoffs but had a winning season. This year very few people picked them to go far in a division that had the 201 World Series champion Red Sox, the free spending New York Yankees, the amazingly talented and gritty Tampa Bay Rays and the well stocked Toronto Blue Jays.

However, I believed from the beginning of the season that this team would go far. I think that the organization is smart, Buck Showalter is an amazing manager who gets the best out of his players and develops an amazing work ethic, selfless team spirit combined with a climate that the players are relaxed but determined. Led by Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy the team has a gritty and under rated pitching staff led by Chris Tillman and a host of players that all do their job on a daily basis, often without the fanfare of the big market teams that have tons of money to spend. The team has made smart trades and between August 6th and September 16th went had a record of 27 wins and 11 losses.

Now that they have won the division the Orioles will try to best the Los Angeles Angels for the best record in the American League and for that matter, baseball. The currently own the second best record in the majors at 91-60. My belief is that the Orioles will at the minimum advance to the American League Championship series, and quite possibly on to the World Series. I am really happy about this because I will be in Munich next week and won’t have to be continually checking my iPhone or iPad to see if the won the division.

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So anyway, I am happy. Now if my other Orange and Black team, the San Francisco Giants can get a spot in the playoffs or somehow overcome the Dodgers to take the National League West I will be truly happy. But until then I will still be truly happy because there is joy in Birdland.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A No Hitter a Wild Card Playoff and an exciting End to the 2013 MLB Regular Season

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“I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”  ~Walt Whitman

Well I do love baseball and even when my favorite teams don’t make the playoff there is something magical about the game. Baseball is an amazing game and today some six months and 162 games after opening day the drama that is baseball continued to amaze.

Yes I know that the United States is now “football nation” but that doesn’t mean that baseball is not the game that most represents the spirit of the country.

Today Henderson Alvarez of the Miami Marlins, who lost 100 games this year pitched a no-hitter against the American League Central champion Detroit Tigers. Alvarez pitched nine no-hit, no-run innings but was saved from going out to pitch a tenth inning when Tiger’s reliever Luke Putkonen served up a wild pitch with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. The wild pitch by Putkonen to pinch hitter Gregg Dobbs scored Giancarlo Stanton giving the Marlins a walk-off win on the final day of the season. It was the first walk-off no-hitter on a wild pitch and only the fourth no-hitter on the final day of the season.

Elsewhere after a long hard fought season all play off-berths except one, the American League 2nd berth were decided. That remains the case tonight as the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays meet tomorrow in a one game sudden-death playoff the winner will move on to take on the Boston Red Sox.

Among the interesting features on the 2013 MLB Playoffs is that the reigning World Series Champion, the San Francisco Giants are not in them, nor are the New York Yankees nor the Anaheim Angels. However the Pittsburgh Pirates returned to the playoffs as a Wild Card team, their first post-season appearance in over 20 years as did the Red Sox, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians. Surprising to some but not to me was the success of the Oakland Athletics, who for the second straight year won the American League West. Though they didn’t make the playoffs the Baltimore Orioles had a very respectable showing in the American League East, arguably the toughest division in baseball.

There were a lot of great moments this season, three no-hitters as well as some amazing performances by young and up and coming players like Chris Davis of the Orioles who led he majors with 53 home runs and 138 RBI.

Baseball remains alive and well and i expect that the 2013 playoffs could be ones for the ages.

After all, with all the foolishness in Washington we need something to “repair these losses and be a blessing to us.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A “Soul Vike” Reunion a Ball Game and a Blow Up

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I have been on the road this week for my High School Class 35th anniversary reunion. It was a special time with old friends and quite enjoyable. I am going to keep this a rather short post tonight because I have an ungodly early flight in the morning heading back to the East Coast. 408699_2575280304915_863482896_n

It is really cool because our class, the Edison High School Class of 1978 was amazing. I have written about that experience and how special our class was in a number of articles on this site, mostly ones dealing with civil rights and how we were way ahead of our time. I compare notes with other people a lot and I do not know anyone from any other school or graduating class whose fellow classmates have the long term camaraderie, love and respect that we have for each other that we do. Back then and even today we are the Edison High School Vikings, or more affectionately and appropriately known as the Soul Vikes.

We represent every ethnic, racial, religious, political , economic, cultural background and even sexual orientation of our very diverse home town of Stockton California. The cool thing is that no matter how different we are in some ways we are very much bonded together by our shared experiences at Edison. We were the first graduating class of that school to go through bussing, something that many predicted would lead to race riots. But our class not only made it work we set an example and it is always amazing to me when I see so many communities struggling with racial tensions and prejudice to look back so fondly at what the group of 10th graders who came together in the Fall of 1975 and graduated in the summer of 1978 did then and do today. Many of us stay in contact on social media and those still in the local area of Stockton California stay in touch, but every 5 years we get together. I have made all but one of our reunions.

It is cool because when I get together with these friends and classmates we share the stories, the good times and the bad, the funny and the sad, the touching and the less than touching bringing laughs and sometimes tears as we remember friends who have passed away. It is funny because when you get to be over 50 and you realize that by the time the next reunion rolls around everyone will have their AARP cards that what really matters in life is the people that we care about and the relationships. Ultimately it is not about what we have done or accomplished, how rich or successful we are but what we leave behind.

Sometimes what we leave behind is good and sometimes not so good. In a way I guess it is all because we are human and sometimes we do things right and sometimes we don’t. But in the end hopefully the good outweighs the bad, or should that be the other way around? Do we really want to weigh that much? Never mind I digress…

Like I said the reunion was great and a lot of fun. I hope that we are able to track down some more of our classmates and bring back some of our guys who have done the “D-Day” or Daniel Simpson O’Day routine out of Animal House and drove off never to be seen again. Again I digress…

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We had a couple of great nights of fun and fellowship and I hope that we do it again sooner rather than later.

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We took some time to remember and honor or friends who have passed away, all far too young. Some to natural causes like cancer and others in tragic accidents, victims of crime or those for whom the struggles of life and its demons were too much. As I looked at the pictures and read the names felt tears. Some I knew the stories of what had happened while others came as a complete surprise.

I guess that it is why it is important to stay in contact. Because it ultimately is about us and our relationships.

That being said the trip was also nice because I was able to see my family and despite the obligatory blow up that happened between me and my mother, who I do love despite our differences. This time, maybe unknowingly she got me and I went nuclear in a restaurant and left. Not good form on my part but ever since Iraq I have a lot shorter fuze than I used to on some things. Since I write about those subjects a decent amout I won’t go into them here. Not an excuse but the truth. We are a lot like George Costanza and his mom from Seinfeld. SERENITY NOW!

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I was able to see my brother a number of times and see his wife and their kids who have all grown so much since the last time I saw them in 2010. I do want to make sure that we see each other more often. Thankfully I won’t be doing the geographic bachelor thing anymore and may be able to go with Judy out to California more often as life settles down. Maybe we’ll take her Mustang rather than flying and see some other friends across this land and other sites as well.

I ended the trip with a visit to see the Oakland Athletics play the Tampa Bay Rays at the Oakland Coliseum. It was really nice. The stadium itself is pretty crummy, but the people are great, very friendly and it is a nice atmosphere to see a game, not to mention a lot more affordable than many other Major League ballparks. After the game I went to my hotel where my nephew Joe met me for dinner. It was good to see just how well that he is doing.

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I fly out early tomorrow and since I have to get up way early i’m going to say goodnight.

Peace and blessings

Padre Steve+

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Swept: Detroit Pitchers Dominate as Tigers Send Yankees Home

Tigers Celebrate (Photo Tim Fuller- USA Today Sports)

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

Murderers Row went down with a whimper in the American League Championship Series. The mighty New York Yankees who dominated with their bats during the regular season struggled during the entire post season, hitting just .200 in 9 games against the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers. If it was not for some last inning heroics by Raul Ibanez in Game Three of the ALDS against Baltimore the Yankees might have watched the ALCS from home. However they squeaked by the Orioles in a very tight series but then ran up against the fearsome starting pitching of the Detroit Tigers.

Detroit’s starting rotation of Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer allowed just 2 on runs in 27.1 innings of work while striking out 25 Yankee batters. Overall the Tigers outscored the Yankees 19-6 in the series and the Yankees never led in any game. Overall the Tigers held the Yankee offense to just 6 runs on 22 hits in the series. Tigers pitchers struck out 39 Yankees and limited the Yankees to a .152 team batting average and 3 home runs, 2 of which came in the 9th inning of game one against closer Jose Valverde.

At best the Yankees offense could charitably be described as pathetic and nothing like their regular season performance. Of their regulars only Ichiro Suzuki had a decent series. He hit .353 with a home run but the rest of the line up which struggled against the Orioles completely fell apart against the Tigers. Nick Swisher hit just .250, Mark Teixeira .200, Russell Martin, .143, Alex Rodriguez .111, Robinson Cano .052 and Curtiss Granderson .000. Derek Jeter, the Captain of the Yankees went down with a broken ankle in 12th inning of game 1 hitting 1-5 for a .200 average.

The Tigers will now go on to face the winner of the NLCS either the St Louis Cardinals or if they can come back from a 3-1 deficit the San Francisco Giants. The Yankees will go home with a lot more questions than answers. They are showing their age and in light of the poor playoff performance of their hitters I expect big changes will be coming. I expect that a lot of the Yankees problem was their age. Unlike past seasons where they have been able to rest players during the last couple of weeks of the year they were in a dogfight with the Orioles and did not clinch the division until the last day of the season. The long 162 game schedule takes a toll on older players, especially if there is no chance to rest them.

Big questions will have to be answered. How will Derek Jeter recover from his surgery? How effective will closer Mariano Rivera be after a year off after being injured in warmups early in the year? What will the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez do with the remaining years of his 10 year contract with its no trade clause? What will become of players like Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez and Curtiss Granderson?

Robinson Cano leaves the Dugout after Game 4 (AP Photo-Paul Sancya)

In addition to hitting the Yankees pitching staff is also showing age and had to be bailed out many times in the regular season by great hitting.

Yes the Yankees have a lot of money to throw at problems but it has been a long time since they have had to deal with the possibility of wholesale changes to their line up. This should make the American League East a very interesting race in 2013 since the Red Sox will also be rebuilding after a disastrous season. The issues that the Yankees and Red Sox are facing are large and 2013 AL East could come down to a race between the Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Tigers who were the overwhelming favorites to win the AL Central before the season struggled but came on strong in the last month of the season to overtake the surprising Chicago White Sox. Their surge was very timely, it allowed the to defeat the Oakland Athletics in 5 games and then send the Yankees home in a most convincing manner.

Congratulations to the American League Champion Detroit Tigers.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Real Life Major League? We Have a Pennant Race in the American League East and the Orioles are in It

Who would have thought that with 157 games played that the the New York Yankees would not be battling the Boston Red Sox or Tampa Bay Rays for the AL East championship. Instead they are battling Buck Showalter’s Baltimore Orioles.

I think that this season began on the final day of the 2011 season when the Orioles knocked off the Red Sox on a walk-off at Camden Yards to end the Red Sox season. That was their 69th win of the season, but it was like a World Series win, a celebration that Baltimore had not seen at the end of a season in years.The plucky Orioles are a game behind the Yankees with 5 games left in the regular season and have a magic number of three to at the least be one of the two American League Wild Card teams. The O’s are 8-2 in their last ten games and are now 90-67 for the season. Since they failed to win 70 games last year and most experts predicted that they would have yet another losing season in 2012, this is pretty big news.

 

Tonight Chris Tillman again showed his metal pitching a one hit game through 8 innings allowing only one unearned run. Tillman is now 9-2 after being called back up from from AAA Norfolk in July.

The Orioles bats came alive early as they took a 6-1 lead in the first inning after Ryan Flaherty hit a 2 out Grand Slam home run in the bottom of the first inning. The Orioles are not a typical playoff contender, they have few big name stars, their starting pitching staff has been makeshift for most of the year and they have used 50 players so far this year.

That being said the Orioles know how to win. They win consistently in extra innings and one run games, especially when they are leading after the 7th inning. Their bullpen has been stellar and they get the game winning hits when they need them.

There is something special about this team. It is possible that they could very well be the real life Cleveland Indians of the movie Major League.

This could be really fun. Let’s go O’s!

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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Orioles Tie Yankees for First in the AL East: There is a Political Convention Going On?

Zach Britton pitches against the Blue Jays  (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Aaron Vincent Elkaim)

“With those who don’t give a damn about baseball, I can only sympathize.  I do not resent them.  I am even willing to concede that many of them are physically clean, good to their mothers and in favor of world peace.  But while the game is on, I can’t think of anything to say to them.” Art Hill

Thank God for baseball, especially the Baltimore Orioles because I have pretty had my fill of the 2012 Presidential campaign.  But then since the campaign started the day after Barak Obama defeated John McCain in 2008 I guess I have good reason to feel this way. You see I like politics and I follow politics, sometimes if for no other reason than I find it interesting. Because of this I have been paying attention to the antics of both the Republicans and the Democrats and I think I am finally worn out by it.

So tonight with the Democratic National Convention going on in Charlotte I am tuned in to the Major League Baseball channel. I did the same last week with the Republican Convention and even though I agree more with the Democrats on many issues now than I do the Republicans I just cannot stomach night after night of partisan politics even if I agree more with some of these partisans the the partisans of the other side.

The really big important thing that happened tonight was the not the DNC. The big story was that Baltimore Orioles are are now tied for first place with the New York Yankees in the American League East. The Orioles have been coming on strong and are making believers out of baseball experts. Tonight they crushed the Toronto Blue Jays 12-0 with Zach Britton, who I know from his time at Norfolk won his fourth straight start, pitching 7 innings allowing no runs on 4 hits. Mark Reynolds went 3-4 with four RBI. The Orioles, who have one of the worst run differentials in the league pounded out 18 hits, a season high. Meanwhile in Tampa the Yankees lost again to Tampa after the Orioles took two of three in the Bronx. I find this much more  interesting and probably more important than anything that any political candidate or surrogate can say this week because it symbolizes the America that I believe in. That is the America were the scrappy journeymen can give the big guys a run for their money. I believe in the America of Field of Dreams, where deep inside, the good in baseball inspires people to better things.

“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.”

I guess that is why tonight on the opening night of the DNC I am watching baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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