Archive for category Baseball
This column runs in the Fall 2020 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
Summer 2020 continued to be a crazy period for sports while each entity tried to put together safe plans to resume play despite outbreaks in COVID-19. Gone were the TV reruns of every Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Championship and College Championship. Even the most avid fan was tired of the same endings, but willing to watch anything for the fix.
NBA Basketball proved to be the most creative and successful as twenty-two teams were invited to the “Bubble” – a closed to the public, hotel complex in Orlando where each team was sequestered at a hotel and only allowed to go back and forth to the arena to play. Families of the players were not allowed from Mid-July until the end of August during the second round of the playoffs.
Professional Hockey followed a bubble concept also except they had two bubbles, both in Canada. Twenty-four teams, the best twelve out of each conference, reported to Edmonton or Toronto for a one-week quarantine before resuming play August 1st.
Major League Baseball plotted a 60-day regular season beginning July 23rd. Instead of the bubble concept, they tried playing by geographical regions so travel would be limited. This idea forced teams into an interleague schedule with the leagues playing each other on a regular basis. The designated hitter, which for years was rejected by the National League Teams unless in interleague play at an American League stadium, became a mainstay. Arguments with umpires were accomplished with proper social distancing, masked and no spitting. No worries, the guys still got the bench clearing brawls in at least once a week! Some teams at the beginning struggled with players who tested positive for COVID and series would be postponed or re-matched with open teams. There were lots of doubleheaders at a reduced seven innings each to keep everyone on schedule for a planned regulation season ending September 27th. No one was complaining – America’s past time was back!
Sports had one thing in common — no fans in attendance. Players quickly learned the heart and soul of the game were the fans and the cheering or jeering. The sounds were solved with last year’s game noises piped in. Within a few weeks, sound engineers had it down to a science with the pop of the bat, groan of a misplayed ball and of course, the roar of a crowd when a homerun was launched. As for fans, support staff and the bullpen pitchers, all socially distanced and masked, were scattered throughout the lower deck. It still wasn’t the same and the TV audience yearned for more. Enter cardboard cutouts! Teams got fans involved offering their picture on the cutout for a donation to the team’s local charity. And, it didn’t stop with the fan. Bark in the Park had been a mainstay since launching several years ago. Well, canine cutouts had it even better! Instead of the normal outfield seats of previous years, the dog cutouts had seats behind the dugout and even Home Plate!
As I write this, some college football teams and the NFL have started with a few states allowing fans in the stands at twenty-five percent capacity. It’s baby steps, but maybe, just maybe, sports will be back to normal soon.
This column runs in the Summer 2020 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
No one saw it coming. Wednesday, March 11th, 2020. Fans at Chesapeake Arena were excitedly waiting for their Oklahoma City Thunder to tipoff against the Utah Jazz. It was an important game with playoffs just weeks away; especially for the Thunder who were on a three-game winning streak, nipping at the heels of fourth place Utah. Twenty-thousand fans in the stands watched the warmups, then the gathering of the head coaches with the referees as the pump-the-team-up music blared throughout the arena. Thunder fans had a reason to be excited. The Jazz’s weapon, center Rudy Gobert was not in the line-up due to illness. Suddenly it became evident that the nationally televised matchup was on delay. Coaches were still conferring with the referees while the players shrugged at each other and TV broadcasters tried figure out what the holdup was. Finally, the head coaches returned to their benches and herded the players off the court and back to the locker room. Fans started to boo as the head referee donned headphones at the scoring table. The announcer leaned over the microphone. “Due to unforeseen circumstances, the game tonight has been postponed” followed by “You are all safe” twice.
Within minutes, breaking news came over TVs across the nation – Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19!! The NBA had already decided to start games minus fans the following night because of this strange virus which had recently surfaced in Washington state in a nursing home and was showing up in other states. But now an NBA player had tested positive and it just happened to be Gobert who just two days before had joked around with reporters touching every microphone and recorder in sight! By the end of the next day, every sport began shutting down!
Major League Baseball advised players to leave spring training facilities and return to their homes. The National Hockey League “paused” their season which was just a few weeks from the playoffs. Major League Soccer and the World Cup qualifying cancelled. The Players Championship golf tournament in Florida was stopped at the end of the first round. While college basketball’s “March Madness” was days away from their conference tournaments to be followed by the selection process, some conferences considered playing to an empty house; others cancelled theirs. The conference tourneys and selection process never happened. The Summer Olympics was postponed until 2021. Even NASCAR shut down when it was evident that support teams would be too close to each other while servicing the cars. Sports went on hiatus for sixty-six days!! Never had sports experienced such a disruption since World War II.
On Sunday May 17th, NASCAR paved the way for other sports to resume. They ran nine races in sixteen days at just two tracks in two states. Masked support crew numbers were cut in half, drivers wore masks when not in their cars, practices cancelled and the stands were empty of fans. Other sports began processing plans acceptable to states and health experts while fans crossed fingers and toes that all sports would be back soon!
The Tampa Bay Rays shocked the baseball experts as well as a sold out Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and beat the As 5 – 1.
It should have been of no surprise to the As. They are snake-bit in the playoffs with an 0 – 6 record in winner-take-all playoff games at home since 2000!
Lord have mercy! They had their chances!! Rays starter Charlie Morton loaded the bases in the first inning!
35 years/11 months old Morton remained collected and got out of the jam. Charlie was on my fantasy baseball roster this season — he is what got me to the finals this year — last night was so-not-Charlie! He allowed eight runners to reach base in five innings (actually nine if you count the one reaching by an erratic throw from third to first)! He may be considered an oldster to the youthful bats, but this isn’t his first rodeo either. It’s his fourth time to the post-season – 2013 with the Pirates and the Astros in 2017 and 2018.
A franchise-record 257 homers launched from Oakland bats this season was non-existent in last night’s game. Eight singles was all they could muster.
The Rays only had seven hits, but four of those rockets — two back-to-back by Yandy Diaz — fresh off the DL. Some blame it on the decision of As Manager Bob Melvin choosing Sean Manaea for the start. He had a fresh arm for sure — he had just resumed pitching recently after being off for shoulder surgery. And in fairness to the decision, he was 4 – 0 in September with a 1.21 ERA. But there sat fifteen-game winner Mike Fiers, who pitched a no-hitter May 7 and was12-0 since then! Oakland fans have to be scratching their heads!
Here come the Rays — next stop Houston! ‘Stros beware — Tampa Bay may have the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball, but there’s a wealth of talent just waiting to become the next Cinderella in playoff history!
So much irony in last night’s Milwaukee Brewers 4 – 3 loss to the Washington Nationals!
An eighth inning error by rookie Trent Grisham — a ball that rolled under the glove of the right fielder — scoring what would be the game winner.
Grisham was playing right field replacing MVP candidate Christian Yelich –out on season ending injury after fracturing his right kneecap on Sept. 10.
Grisham was Milwaukee Brewers Minor League Player of the Year.
Grisham was 1st batter in the game and scored the 1st run.
The press mobbed the rookie afterwards – flashes going off and microphones jammed in his face. Seriously? Give the kid a break. If it hadn’t been for a sloppy performance by Josh Hader — All-Star lefty who saved 37 games this year – Brewers would have been on a flight to Los Angeles!
Hader loaded the bases with two outs —allowing a broken-bat bloop single —hitting one batter with a pitch (a strange HBP — getting both batter’s hand and the bat — Brewers challenged — wasn’t “clear and convincing evidence to overturn the call.”), and a walk. A 96 mph fastball and that’s all she wrote…
Brewers had their chance in the top of the 9th. Daniel Hudson on the mound for the Nats. Hudson who wouldn’t have been there had it not been for a phone call at the trade deadline.
A soap opera writer couldn’t have scripted it any better.
This column runs in the Fall 2019 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
The Boys of Summer was more than a Don Henley hit – for me, it was my Summer of 2019. We had just made a major move from Texas to the Raleigh, North Carolina area accomplished in a quick two months. I yearned for a real vacation away from the lingering boxes. While perusing an email from Tanglewood, the Western Massachusetts summer home for the Boston Pops, I discovered Josh Groban was going to be there in concert July 2nd. It would be an easy day and a half drive from our new abode. I didn’t have to twist hubby’s arm; it’s his favorite singer.
The concert was awesome. Josh bantered with the audience between sets and the two hours flew by. Next was finding a small town to view 4th of July festivities. I hit the jackpot – a parade in my hometown – Williamstown — and fireworks after a New England Collegiate Baseball League game in North Adams, the next town over. I had actually marched in the Williamstown parade back in the late 50s! Things sure had changed. No baton twirler like me, but many more participants including the baseball team playing that night and instead of just at the elementary school, it was a sixteen minute walk to Spring Street.
After the parade, we looked for a place to eat late lunch which was not easy on a holiday. After trying several places with indefinite waits in Williamstown, we drove to North Adams and discovered the Trail House. While waiting on my burger, I gazed out the window to the people eating in the outdoor seating. Just like a magnet, I zoomed-in to a party of three. One was wearing a Vermont Mountaineers T-shirt. Our waitress confirmed the wishes racing through my mind – the baseball teams, frequented the restaurant. “I’ll be right back.” “You’re not….” my husband interjected. I was already on the patio! It turned out that it was the parents of the starting pitcher for Vermont that night and his twin brother Matt. I learned that Ryan Murphy was a top prospect and playing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League for the summer. Unfortunately, their food came right as I learned Ryan had broken Matt’s nose while throwing. Bad timing by the kitchen!
We got to the ballpark right as the Vermont Mountaineers’ bus was unloading. I wondered how many of these kids I would see in the big leagues in a few years. According to Ryan’s dad, his son would be. Once inside, I headed to the 1st base side where the North Adams Steeplecats were warming up and stretching. The great thing about the collegiate league is that pre-game, the players chat with the fans. It was there I met Alex Gomes. I knew immediately by his right arm, he was a pitcher. He was impressed. I laughed and said, “Catcher was out – you’re too tall.” I bragged to him that I knew Bobby Witt, retired Texas Rangers “rightie” and that his son Bobby, Jr. had just been drafted 2nd in the MLB draft. Alex said, “Oh! You need to meet our Mason Ronan! He was drafted by the Red Sox last year but he’s staying at Pitt to honor his commitment there. Mason! I’ve got someone I want you to meet!” The next thing I know I’m shaking hands with the leftie and Alex is positioning us for a picture together!
The game started as Ryan’s dad predicted. Ryan shut down the Steeplecats holding them to two runs (only one of them earned) and struck out five in five innings. Once he left the game with a 4 – 2 lead, North Adams began their comeback. The relievers held the Vermont team scoreless while the offense chipped away inning by inning. Our excitement wasn’t just the comeback; it was when four of the players came up in the stands and Alex was one of them. They were selling chances at fifty cents each and the number drawn would split the winnings with the team. Alex smiled as Rick dug out his bills and pulled out a ten. “Good luck, Sir” and winked at me. It was fun watching the players interact with the fans. After North Adams won 5 – 4, the team came into the stands and shared high 5’s with fans! It was an incredible night and the baseball that we knew back in to the 60s before money and celebrity took over. Long live the Collegiate Baseball Leagues!! Yes, it was a summer to remember – Ryan, Alex, Mason, and the other Boys of Summer!
I really should call this post “Redemption Time” instead. Backtrack to pregame of game two. I discovered a gate down by right field where the players came from the locker room and out onto the field for warm-ups. Rick’s “assignment” was to get pics of me with the players. My favorite on the team is Ryan Fitzgerald and easy to spot with his long locks and toothpaste commercial smile. I was standing next to two “older” guys waiting for autographs when Ryan answered their call-out. I excitedly looked up towards Rick and he was there at his post, camera ready. Ryan first signed for a guy with a book of college baseball cards, then the guy next to me. Finally it was my turn — no cards or program to sign — but I did get a huge smile from him as I told him I had called his 7th inning home-run the night before. “Really? Why didn’t you do it sooner?” We both laughed. Our chat lasted about 3 minutes, then Ryan headed out to the field as I maneuvered through band members waiting for pregame ceremonies.
I didn’t see the pictures until we got home that night. Here is “The Moment!” Seriously Rick?!?!?
Now on to the game three — the series was tied at one game each — and redemption time for Rick. Unlike the other two evening games, game three was a very warm afternoon start. Upon arrival at the park, we proceeded to the right field gate. There were a couple of players on the phones under shady trees. Meanwhile, I felt sweat trickling down my back at the shadeless gate area. Soon, the two older guys left the area under the stands and joined me as the players emerged. The first guy now had a notebook of 5 cards of each player! The guy next to me had a program and I had my program insert along with my fine tip Sharpie. Players were stopping and signing. Ryan emerged from the building. As he started across the lot, I glanced up towards Rick. He was craning his neck out towards the parking lot where a limo has pulled up!! Not again!! The two guys and I chimed in unison — “Hey Ryan!” Finally a break for me — he came to me first!
And yes, Rick redeemed himself as you can see!!
The game was great too. We were next to the dugout like the first night and even stayed in the shade until the 9th inning. Ryan ended up with 2 runs, 2 hits, hit by a pitch, a stolen base and a dirty uniform. A little excitement in the 7th when the manager and catcher for the Mudcats were thrown out of the game. The Salem Red Sox won 4 – 1.
Warning: Contains Language
Salem Red Sox shut out the Carolina MudCats 3 -0 putting series even at 1 each. Lots of action in the game. Pedro Castellanos launched a solo rocket in the 4th inning. MudCats Payton Henry was drilled by a Thad Ward pitch — game stopped while he was tended to, then while going after a foul ball, Sox catcher Nick Sciortino was down a few minutes after his shin guards jammed into the wall.
Advanced Class A MiLB’s los Pescados de Carolina (Carolina MudCats) rallied to defeat the Salem Red Sox 6-4 Friday night in Zebulon. Salem Manager Corey Wimberly and Zach Schellenger were ejected after Zach hit MudCats Rob Henry.
The cold front storms were not only the thing rocking the Durham, North Carolina skies last night. After a brief delay waiting for rain to let up and prep the field, the Pawtucket Red Sox lit up the scoreboard launching rocket after rocket! Final score 17 – 2 PawSox over the Durham Bulls.
This column appears in the Spring 2019 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
Heisman winner Kyler Murray has decided – he has chosen the National Football League over Major League Baseball. I can’t help admire the kid – he’s very talented when it comes to throwing passes and crushing home runs. In high school, as the starting quarterback, he led North Texas’s Allen HS to three straight state championships and won 43 games in a row. He also played baseball – shortstop/second base – and was a top prospect for the 2015 MLB draft. He was the first player to ever be selected for both the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game and Under Armour All-America Football Game!
Instead of entering the baseball draft, he chose to attend Texas A &M his freshman year. Just a few months into the football season, he transferred to Oklahoma when it became apparent he would be battling against another high recruit, Kyle Allen, for a starting nod. With NCAA transfer rules, he had to sit out in 2016. In 2017, he hit the ground running as Baker Mayfield’s backup and even had playing time in a couple of games. Come spring, he switched hats and had a sluggish start playing Sooners baseball, but did so well the following year; he again caught the attention of Major League Baseball. The Oakland As took him as the 9th pick overall in the 2018 MLB Draft last June and presented him with a high dollar contract including a lucrative signing bonus. In return, he would play in the fall one more season of college football, then report to spring training in 2019.
Things got complicated when Murray led the Sooners to the semi-finals of the College Football National Championship collecting a slew of hardware along the way. He won the Davey O’Brien Award, AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, First-team All-American, First-team All-Big 12 and the big daddy of them all, the Heisman Trophy. He finished out last year with an estimated net-worth of three billion dollars! Meanwhile, the Oakland As quietly waited in the wings for his report to spring training. Now, it is possible to play in both the NFL and MLB at the same time – about seventy have accomplished it – only a small handful since 1987 including Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders. Seahawks Russell Wilson played in minor league ball a few years and currently has a contract with the Yankees.
In January 2019, Murray teased the sports world with hints he would not be splitting time with the two sports. The A’s and MLB met with Murray, deviating from the norm, and offered him a major league contract. A decision had to be made soon since spring training was on the horizon. The suspense was over Monday, February 11th. Kyler committed to professional football citing “football had been his love and passion his entire life.” Murray would not get to keep his entire $4.66 million signing bonus with the As. Brace yourselves — He already has in hand 1.5 million, but only has to repay $1.29 million of that! He hasn’t even picked up a bat! The A’s will retain his baseball rights going forward and he will be placed on the minor-league restricted list indefinitely. Should Murray ever decide to return to baseball, he would have to return to the Oakland organization.
Did the Phenom do the right thing? Will he be a part of the Heisman Curse? Will he ever see a batting circle? Will hard hits from his bat ever replace hard hits from a Defense? Check back with me in five years.