Baseball: where it’s always summer

Snow Day
Snow, lots of snow — not Florida
Feb. 21, 2013

With a giant winter storm settling in over the Plains and Midwest, heading to eastward and dropping not inches but feet of snow on this country, is there anyone who still wonders why Spring Training is held in places like Arizona and Florida?

Arizona’s weather around the training camps will see highs in the 60’s and 70’s going into the weekend, and Florida is sitting in the 80’s for the next few days. And a good portion of the country looks like this picture.

I guess that’s what makes Spring Training attractive for baseball fans. It means that while outside, your yard may look like Santa’s Workshop, the great summer game of baseball is being played on green grass with open skies on clear sunny, warm days. Players may even work up a sweat sprinting in the 70-something degree weather down the first base line. Summer has, in a sense, already started when Spring Training begins.

I’ll never understand why football, an outdoor sport, is played over the winter. People are already talking about back-up plans for next year’s Superbowl, scheduled to be held at the Giants/Jets’ open-air stadium in New Jersey… in February. For some reason, when I was growing up, I thought they always scheduled the Superbowl in places that never or rarely snowed (like Florida, Texas, or California). I look back now on how many games were played in the snow and near-blizzards, and it just proves how much of a baseball fan I am.

Basketball makes sense to be a winter sport; all professional NBA teams play inside. Hockey, a winter sport, is played inside. Soccer is summer sport, so they play outside. Golf is summer sport, thus outside; and it’s also often equated with retirees, who live (stereotypically) in Florida and Arizona and can play all year round.

Which brings us full circle back to the sunny states where the Spring Training camps are currently underway. My mom always said summer was her favorite season when she was growing up (probably because she has a summer birthday and that there was no school). I always liked Spring and Fall (the changing of the seasons, the colors of the trees). So I guess if you put both of those together, you get baseball season. You know, my two favorite parts of baseball season are the early games where everyone is finding their groove (Spring) and the later games where the race for postseason is heated and tense and every game matters (Fall).

But if baseball is a summer sport that starts in spring and ends in fall, that means that because of baseball we fans have an extended summer. This forces my title today: “Baseball: where it’s always summer.” That should be great marketing for kids and grown-ups alike. I expect residuals, MLB.

So while the most of the country is blanketed by feet of snow today, our Yankees will be doing their workouts and preparations, slaving under the hot sun, working their way into a team that can attempt #28 this October.

Go Yankees!

What we know so far…

Some things we’ve learned from Spring Training so far:

Kevin Youkilis found out just how crazy the New York media circus can be. Word of advice: Think first so you don’t have to clarify later.

Derek Jeter didn’t want to see his ankle flipped around the other way at the ALCS. But now it’s basically bolted onto his body, so that even if the rest of his body fails him, the ankle will keep on going. (This should further bolster the image of the $64-or rather $17-Million Dollar Man, so to speak.) Oh, and he was supposed to say something controversial to get Youkilis off the sports pages (nice try, Pettitte), so he simply welcomed him to New York. (Trial by fire for the new guys, is it?)

The front office has indicated they’ve already reached out to Robinson Cano to start talking contract extensions, but Cano isn’t thinking about next year… yet. That’s his agent’s job. And with Scott Boras as your agent, the job will get done, and it will make a difference somehow.

Mariano Rivera has made his decision about 2014, but he’s teasing everyone about it until closer to Opening Day. Methinks #42 will be retired by Opening Day 2014, but with Mo, you never know.

Even the young guys who worked out all off-season are sore after their first few days of team workouts (according to the Captain), but they’ll find their pace. They have 33 Spring Training games, 2 Exhibition games, and 162 regular games to find their stride as a team and as individual athletes.

At first, it was just an unusually sore upper back, but now Phil Hughes is on a “2-week time-out”, according to Girardi, due to a bulging back disc. We wish him well and full health and back to the mound soon!

We’re still no closer to determining two key spots on the Yankees roster — starting catcher (Cervelli, Stewart, or Romine) and the #5 spot on the starting rotation (Nova or Phelps). Hey, the Yankees needed something splashy for the Sidewalk Crew to write about this Spring.

Joe Girardi installed gymnastics rings in the clubhouse for workout purposes. So if they don’t make the play-offs this year, the guys can start working for the Men’s Olympic Team in 2016. Go for the Gold!

Guest instructor Jorge Posada still has yet to make his appearance at Camp. Skipping workouts and showing up later just to hang with the guys? That’s sounds like a retired Floridian to me.

And finally, to take Nick Swisher’s boisterous place as “Class Clown” and all-around fun guy on the team (a role he is gladly filling at the Indians’ Spring Camp in Arizona), Joba Chamberlain is stepping up admirably and effectively to the task. My personal favorite story was the day he chose to get into a laundry cart and begged Boone Logan to push him around the clubhouse. Where are the pictures for that one?

Well, I’m looking forward to many soundbites, tidbits, and antics from Spring Training and this coming season. Are you ready for it?

Go Yankees!

Keeping Score

1932 Scorecard
Scorecard from 1932 World Series
Yankees vs. Cubs
(with legends batting for the Yankees)

Yesterday’s post reminded me of watching my brother playing Little League. But I had a special place watching those games. I got to watch it from the press box as the team’s official scorekeeper (and sometimes announcer).

When I was really young, I remember watching some minor league games with my dad, and he always kept track of the game on this page that had all these boxes and diamonds. Organization always fascinated me, so I saw the system and learned how to score a game early on in my childhood. So by the time my brother was stepping into the batter’s box and pinging balls off his aluminum bat, I was asked to be the team’s scorekeeper (I was 12). This meant I had to be at every game, which, let’s be honest, was fine by me.

While the basics of score keeping is generally standard across the board, every scorekeeper develops their own system. As I was searching for just the right image to go with my article, I had the pleasure of reading scorecards from many games, each with their author’s own style and signature, but each still saying exactly how the winning team managed their victory.

Once baseball season gets underway (starting this Saturday in Dunedin for Yankees fans), scorekeepers across the country will break out their cards and begin recording this season, much like Henry Chadwick began his detailed notes in the 1870’s. Sure the league’s standard score keeping now has developed into something accessible to even the common man (in other words, it reads more like a sheet of music than hieroglyphics). Every on-field player has a number — 1 Pitcher, 2 Catcher, 3 First Base, 4 Second Base, 5 Third Base, 6 Short Stop, 7 Left Field, 8 Center Field, and 9 Right Field. The one hitch I didn’t like growing up was the infield guys weren’t in order; I thought they should switch the numbers for Shortstop and Third Base, but understanding the history of baseball now actually makes the standard system more reasonable.

You use the provided space on the left to fill in the players’ information as dictated by the roster and follow the game as it goes on. I preferred to record every ball-strike combination as it occurred, including foul balls, but some people prefer to just record the final tally as the batter either gets out or on base. You use the provided diamond (one for each at-bat in each inning) to indicate how far a batter gets along the bases before the innings over; a run scored is usually a filled-in diamond. A giant K indicates he struck out at bat (some people like to use a backwards K for struck out looking, something they use on the ballparks’ big screens often). Errors are recorded as E-6 (or whatever number corresponds to the player who made the error). And there’s all sorts of things that happen in the middle, which is really up to the scorekeeper how they want to record the game — including caught stealing, outs (fly vs. ground), bunting, balking, intentional walks, the infield fly rule, double plays (you usually hear about these in at 6-4-3 combination), and home runs.

I haven’t actually kept score for a game on paper in probably a decade, but I guess I’m always doing it in my head. When I talk about plays being made, I usually have to translate it from say the “6-4-3” to a double play. It’s like speaking a second language. I know people who think in Spanish first and have to think of how to say a phrase in English before they speak. So I guess, for this instance, my first language must be “baseball”, something I don’t think would surprise any of my friends.

I just may have to take up score keeping this year. You never know, it might be worth the memories.

Go Yankees!

83 Men In

83 pinstriped-legged men took the field in the Yankees’ minor league complex in Tampa this morning. Batting practice, fielding exercises, stretching, more throwing off the mound, greeting old faces, meeting new ones, and the hordes of media and rabid fans trying to get the attention of the big names on the team. Ladies and gentlemen, Spring Training has officially begun.

Before heading off to Steinbrenner Field this morning, Curtis Granderson summed it up:

He seems to reiterate what I cannot seem to emphasize it enough lately — that the Yankees are a team first and once a Yankee, always a Yankee. As my Twitter feed filled up with pictures and updates from the field (Hafner’s BP home run, Jeter being harassed by fans, Cano’s stretching, Girardi’s crossed arms and eagle eye, etc.), it just reminded me of so many other BP before games I’ve seen. They’re finding their grooves, hanging with the guys, and playing the game they’ve loved longer than some of the newer guys on the field have been alive.

Actually, pre-game BP is one of my favorite parts of going to a game. You can watch the team just play and be guys, all without the pressure of winning or out-strategizing their opponents. It’s like what I remember from watching my brother play little league over 15 years ago, and I suppose where you can really see if they’re a true team or not. I’ve watched pre-game BP from other teams, and sometimes they have that cohesion of teamwork and camaraderie  But more often, they’re just trying to hit monster home runs in BP and throw long shots during fielding practice to show how cool and important they are. But they have forgotten what Tom Selleck’s character so accurately stated in Mr. Baseball, “Baseball is grown men getting paid to play a game. When you were a kid, I bet you didn’t pick up a bat and ball because you were dying to work. A player’s career is short enough. Let them enjoy it.”

Andy-Mo-Phil-Hiroki
(l to r) Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera,
Phil Hughes, & Hiroki Kuroda
via Yankees

And that’s what BP and these work-out days are all about — working on their craft and having fun in the process. There’s a ton of pictures coming out of Tampa with smiles and laughs from the players, and that to me is encouraging. They are ready to enjoy this year, so bring it on.

Go Yankees!

Once a Yankee, always a Yankee

Full squad reporting for duty today. The first official warm-up starts tomorrow with all 83 men, roster players and invitees. Team Captain Derek Jeter did his first official press conference for the season, talking a good portion of the time about his recovery and expected return (Opening Day is just around the corner!). At the end of the it, Jeter was asked about Kevin Youkilis’ recent comments about whether Youk still considers himself a Red Sock, which he has since clarified and explained that he is glad to be donning the pinstripes this year and looks forward to beating them on April 1st in the Bronx. Jeter’s response, with an amused smirk, was simply, “Welcome to New York.”

This got me thinking about that old saying (something Youkilis actually referred to in his clarification interview): “once a Yankee, always a Yankee.” I know you cannot erase your history; in fact, you should embrace it as it helped make you into the person you are today (for better or worse). In that case, once a player’s been a Yankee, it’s not something they can deny any more than they can their other teams or heritage or family life or whatever. It’s part of your make-up, your identity, and you can either accept it or deny a part of who you are.

For example, there were a few years where Andy Pettitte played for another team, closer to his hometown, or even a brief retirement in 2011. But when he came back to New York, it wasn’t a denial or shameful betrayal, but rather a point of fact. Once a Yankee, always a Yankee. No one really even pictured Pettitte as anything but a Yankee who was temporarily reassigned to Houston or his home.

Even Babe Ruth played for another team his final year of baseball (Boston Braves in 1935), but he is enshrined at Cooperstown as a Yankee, even though his career with the Red Sox for the first 5 years were stellar. (Side note: many people thought he would never amount to anything in New York and wrote him off as a lost cause, thinking Boston was the only place where he could be a superstar.)

DiMaggio Sign
The sign, autographed by Yankees players from
the 1977 World Series Championship team
via Yankees.com

There is a well-known sign to remind the players as they approach the dugout from the locker room is Joe DiMaggio’s famous 1941 quote: “I thank the good Lord every day for making me a Yankee.” And what a reminder!

I think DiMaggio’s saying serves to remind the players that being a Yankee is a privilege, not an obligation. You can play on any of the other 29 professional teams and still be a million dollar athletic celebrity. But only a select few can call themselves “Yankees”. Much like anything in the world, the moment something becomes an obligation is the moment we lose passion and open the doors to burn out or sell out. This obligation to fulfill a contract or push for a certain statistic robs players of the joy and the privilege of being first a ball player and second proud to wear their team’s colors (especially the pinstripes).

There is an award the Yankees give out every year just before their season opener to a former Yankee who emulates everything it means to be with the team both on and off the field. They call it the “Pride of the Yankees”, after the Lou Gehrig-inspired 1942 film (former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada won the 2012 award). Giving this award prior to the season is a reminder for all current players as to what a privilege it is to wear the pinstripes and the level of leadership and responsibility that is required of the men who do, whether it be for one season or twenty with the club.

And I, for one, am proud to be a Yankees fan.

Go Yankees!

Surgeries, Stories, & Sluggers — the 2012-3 Off-season

We left yesterday off with Jeter’s fractured ankle and Game 1 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers, which the Tigers won in extra innings following the Captain’s injury. Three games later, the Tigers swept through the deflated Yankees before they themselves got swept by the waiting San Francisco Giants, led by Buster Posey, Pablo “Panda” Sandoval, and a slew of remarkable pitchers. (About 3 months later, another San Francisco team tried to win another championship, but it was Baltimore who took home the Superbowl rings that night. There must be something in the water there…)

Derek Jeter’s fractured ankle and subsequent surgery to repair it the following week was the first of several colorful off-season stories. Shortly after the season ended for the Yankees, pitching ace CC Sabathia underwent surgery on his elbow to repair a bone spur. A doctor finally put a cause to Alex Rodriguez’s decline (much to the chagrin of the haters) and scheduled a January surgery on his left hip, similar to a 2009 procedure on his right hip. While Sabathia will be ready for Opening Day, Alex will be out until at least the 2013 All-Star Break (July 16 is exactly 6 months from his surgery, so a solid recovery and rehabilitation should get him back on the field by August at the latest).

Yes, there is an ongoing investigation into some links with the now-infamous South Florida clinic regarding the possibility of PED usage or consultations. But until the MLB completes their investigation, I don’t want to opine or stipulate or assume. PEDs are evil on their own merit, so until there are conclusive statements from officials, I won’t give it another thought or comment on this blog.

The Yankees picked up their options (predictably) on Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, re-signed several key players (Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Ichiro Suzuki), and saw many other good free agents get snapped up by waiting teams — Eric Chavez (Arizona), Freddy Garcia (San Diego), Raul Ibanez (Seattle), Andruw Jones (Japan), Russell Martin (Pittsburgh), Nick Swisher (Cleveland), and Rafael Soriano (Washington).

The two biggest pick-ups for the team were Kevin Youkilis (long-time former Red Sox) to fill in for Alex Rodriguez at 3rd base while he recovers and DH Travis Hafner (long-time former Indian) to fill in the role left vacant by Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones. Already Youkilis is finding the media around the Yankees is much different from what he’s used to with Boston, but I’m willing to bet that with a little encouragement from the veterans, Youk can learn the art of the cliché and vague comments we’ve come to love from the Bronx. Hafner has yet to make an official appearance at Spring Training, so we’ll find out soon enough how these two veterans in their own right settle into their Pinstripes.

I know there was a lot of flack regarding the relatively quiet off-season, but I have to agree with some of the remarks made by the front office recently. First, the Yankees weren’t in a position to grab a high-priced free agent because they are trying to cut their expenses and not pay that luxury tax again (how did this not get resolved 20 years ago during the strike I’ll never know, but that’s for another day’s entry). And second, there were only a handful of really quality free agents this year (which they weren’t going to spend the money on anyway), and if the Yankees are known for anything, it’s going after the quality acquisitions, perhaps with some minor missteps along the way, but quality still overall. 2014 does have quite a few free agents ready to ask for the moon come the off-season — including Cano and Granderson.

With the high possibility of several big retirements coming at the end of this year or even in 2015, this could be the last full year of this team as is, steeped in the history-makers of the last 20 years of the game. 2014 may have a completely different clubhouse, which could cause much disturbance among the “message board managers”.

But right now, we’re still looking at the core team we love for this year. The first week of Spring Training is nearly over and its stories are minor in comparison, predictable even. But isn’t that what we’ve come to expect from the team? Predictability, stability, and hard-work? That sounds exactly like what’s happening in Tampa to me.

Go Yankees!

2012 Postseason Recap, part 3

Yesterday, we remembered the ALDS, in which Raul Ibanez was minted “The King of New York”. Triumphant and on a roll, the Yankees were looking to keep the momentum up going into the ALCS.

The American League Championship Series pitted the fledgling rivals Detroit Tigers (led by ace Justin Verlander, 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, and power-hitter Prince Fielder) against the New York Yankees. It’s still hard for me to remember that first game without reliving the roller coaster of emotions from the game.

Going into the bottom of the 9th inning, the Tigers were up 4-0 as Ichiro Suzuki steps up to the plate and slams a 2-run home run into the right field fans. Yankees fans suddenly have hope with 2 outs and Teixeira on 1st with a walk, the “King” steps up and does it again to tie the game and take it into extra innings. Ladies and gentlemen, lightning struck three times in the Bronx this October.

In the 12th, a Tiger double scores a run, putting the Tigers on top 5-4. The next batter steps up to the plate and finds his pitch on the 6th pitch, a 91 mph four-seam fastball, looks to find a gap between Robinson Cano at 2nd base and Derek Jeter at Shortstop. But the ever-agile (though still quite wounded from the September bone bruise incident) Derek Jeter goes diving for it, tumbling to the ground, screaming in pain and tossing it to a waiting Cano, who instead calls over Joe Girardi and head trainer Steve Donahue.

Jeter ankle
Joe Girardi (L) and Steve Donahue
carrying injured Jeter (2) off the field
via RiverAveBlues.com

The world fell silent for those minutes, as the unflappable Derek Jeter wasn’t getting up. He fouls a 90+ mph ball off his foot and walks it off like a little fly bit him. This was different, this was threatening, this wasn’t good.

Half carried off by Girardi and Donahue, Jeter was rushed into the training room to be x-rayed by the team doctor. This wasn’t something he could play through. He was done for the season. The good news? It wasn’t over for his career.

Yes, the Yankees lost 6-4 in the opener, but like much of the rest of the world, no one (but the Tigers) seemed to care about finishing the game when the fate of their Captain, their friend was still unknown. That loss is going to be the footnote in most stories from that day and for the rest of this season. This was the first time since October 1995 that the Yankees played the postseason without their Captain.

Some people have said this gives a taste of what the Yankees will be like when he one day retires from the game, but I’d have to disagree. When he retires, the team will have a whole Spring Training and regular season to become accustomed to the plays, daily life, clubhouse dynamics, and personality of the team without him before they reach October.

Knowing the end of the story now and seeing the success of Jeter’s progress during these last few months leading into Spring Training, it almost seems like we can relive those moments of shock with some relief. Our heroes, our Yankees may not be invincible, but they sure do like to overcome all odds with flare and triumph. If this is any indication of how they’re going to perform in 2013, we could see something amazing this year.

Go Yankees!