Baseball is a team sport. Individual players do not guarantee World Series Championships, if they did Mike Trout and the Angels would have several Fall Classic victories already. Baseball fandom is the same way, individuals can enjoy the game, but baseball with friends is always better. Watching a baseball game on TV or in the stands, allows people to indulge themselves with the game and pause the rest of the world. Watching with your friends is even better as you self indulge and grow your friendship.
Bernie, Kevin, and I met in graduate school. Bernie and I met when he kicked a water bottle out of my hand at shoulder level to prove he could to someone. Critical life skills. I met Kevin through Bernie and other mutual friends. Unfortunately Kevin does not possess the same skills as Bernie, so our friendship followed a more usual path. Our individual love of baseball quickly became apparent, which after graduation led to our annual baseball road trip. This year we ventured to Denver to watch the Colorado Rockies host the Toronto Blue Jays in a three game weekend series.
Coors Field is a beautiful venue to watch baseball. The stadium was built after baseball realized cookie cutter stadiums were boring. Even the seats tucked behind support columns in right field have a good view of the field. Fans do not feel like they are passing through a cave when they are walking around Coors Field. You can see the field as you circle the lower level. Coors Field embraced the radical concept of fan comfort and enjoyment of their day at the ballpark.
Game 1- Friday
Coors Field has many great view points to watch a game. Our first night in Denver we sat in the Left Field bleachers, the Rockpile. The view was outstanding. We were aligned with first and second base, perfect for watching both teams turn a double play. The true artistry of baseball is lost on TV, players gracefully gliding across the diamond, a ballet in spikes.
Edwin Jackson started for Toronto, pitching for his record 14th MLB franchise, surpassing former teammate Octavio Dotel. Jackson entered the game with a 9.00 ERA in three starts for the Blue Jays. In the top of the first, Toronto drew two walks before a double play and a ground out ended any hope for early runs against German Marquez. In the bottom of the first, the first five Rockies reached base. Colorado scored four runs on three hits, including a two run home run by Trevor Story, a walk, and David Dahl reached on a strike three wild pitch. Jackson did strike out the side in the middle of the mess.
The Blue Jays fought back in the top of the second, with a lead off home run by Randal Grichuk and Cavan Biggio scoring on a Luke Maile RBI groundout. Colorado scored a run in the second and five in the third forcing Jackson out of the game. He gave up 10 runs in just 2.1 innings, ballooning his ERA to 13.22. Relieving Jackson was Elvis Luciano, the first MLB player born in the 2000’s. A Nolan Arenado RBI double in the fifth off Luciano and another two run home run by Story off Sam Gaviglio in the seventh gave Colorado a commanding 13 to 2 lead.
Toronto made one final push in the eighth inning. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a lead off solo home run on the first pitch from Chris Rusin, in to relieve Marquez after seven innings. Grichuk scored Brandon Drury on a sacrifice fly to right. Jake McGee came in to relieve Rusin with the bases loaded. Rusin faced six batters, allowing two runs, four hits, and a walk. McGee walked Maile to score Lourdes Gurriel and a sacrifice fly to right center scored Biggio before shutting Toronto down. Both teams had lead off hits in the ninth, only to leave runners stranded. The Rockies’ early onslaught was too much for the Blue Jays, as Colorado won 13 to 6.
Game 2- Saturday
We always pick good seats for one game, usually the best pitching matchup. Saturday night was Marcus Stroman against Jon Gray. Both Righties, so we sat just beyond Third Base, 11 rows from the field. Stroman is a master at altering his delivery to fool batters. It is difficult for hitters to time Stroman when he is unpredictable. Gray is a solid pitcher for the Rockies, which has often been a difficult task at Coors Field.
After the drumming Toronto took Friday night, one might expect the Blue Jays to come out with some energy. Nope. The Blue Jays went down in order in the top of the first. In the bottom of the first, Stroman allowed four consecutive hits, three singles and a double, giving Colorado a 3 to 0 lead. Toronto mustered only a single, weakly hit infield as they took the field in the bottom of the fifth. After Jon Gray struck out looking, Raimel Tapia stepped to the plate. Tapia lined a double to Centerfield on the first pitch, then circus music began to play. Centerfielder Jonathan Davis had trouble picking up the ball, allowing Tapia to reach third. On the relay throw, Second Baseman Cavan Biggio threw the ball out of play, awarding Tapia home. Yes Stroman allowed the hit, but his defense dug him an even deeper hole. The Rockies brought in Carlos Estevez in the ninth to close out the Blue Jays. He served up a lead off solo home run to Justin Smoak. Biggio reached on a Trevor Story throwing error and scored on a Danny Jansen double. Estevez eventually got the final out, securing the 4 to 2 Colorado victory.
Marcus Stroman is one of the most exciting young pitchers in baseball. However the young Toronto team has wasted his 2.84 ERA (post game), leaving him with a 3-7 record. Toronto is extremely young, hopefully Stroman gets help soon and does not become the American League Jacob deGrom.
Game 3- Sunday
Day baseball is perfection. The sun shining on the green grass, the extra white baseballs, the game is more alive. The Rockies were looking to sweep the Blue Jays in the final game of our baseball road trip. Toronto finally showing some life as Eric Sogard and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit back to back singles off Colorado starter Antonio Senzatela to begin the game. Justin Smoak grounded into a Fielder’s Choice at first, scoring Sogard and giving the Blue Jays their first lead of the series. Again the offense could not sustain the momentum, scoring just one run despite sending seven batters to the plate. In the bottom of the first, Raimel Tapia lined out before Blue Jays’ starter Aaron Sanchez surrendered consecutive singles to David Dahl, Nolan Arenado, and Daniel Murphy to tie the game.
Toronto went down in order in the second, third, and fourth. Colorado scored a run in the second and third. Our seats for the finale at Coors Field were in the upper deck, first base side. Looking out, the Rocky Mountains rose beyond left field. Sadly thunderstorms rolled through Denver, forcing us to retreat. Despite the huge raindrops from the soaking downpour, the game was not delayed. The rain faded and Chris Iannetta launched a lead off home run in the sixth that may not have returned to earth yet. Nolan Arenado hit a solo home run in the seventh extending the lead to 5 to 1. Justin Smoak walked to lead off the Toronto eighth, but was stranded by two fly outs and a Brandon Drury strike out. Luke Maile’s single was Toronto’s last gasp as Bryan Shaw struck out the side to complete the Colorado sweep.
The Rockies began the home stand 23-26, fourth in the NL West, 4.5 games behind the second Wild Card. They won eight of nine games on the home stand; winning two of three from the Orioles, before sweeping the Diamondbacks and Blue Jays. Colorado finished the home stand 31-27, second in the NL West, 0.5 games behind the second Wild Card; most likely saving their season.
Baseball is beautiful wherever it is played. A sandlot in Georgia, a high school field in Ohio, a Minor League park in Indiana, or a Major League park in Colorado. Since graduation we have scattered across the country, our annual baseball road trip allows us to get together, catch up, and enjoy the game we love. Our lives constantly change, yet baseball remains constant. Next year will be no different.
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again”
The line from the 1980 Willie Nelson classic On the Road Again, originally recorded in 1965 by Bob Dylan, especially resonates with me this time of year. Bernie, Kevin, and myself are just a week away from our third annual baseball road trip. Few, if any, days go by throughout the year without us talking baseball. Our love of the game led to the creation of our annual baseball road trip, which is now a fixture on the calendar.
The first year we met in Pittsburgh, as it was a good meeting place between Cincinnati and Washington D.C. We watched the Pittsburgh Pirates play the Mets on a Sunday night and then the Diamondbacks on a Monday day game. We played catch in a parking lot across the Allegheny River from the Park and had a full baseball weekend. What could be better than watching baseball at PNC Park and playing catch with friends.
Our first baseball road trip was to Pittsburgh, this year we head to Colorado. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Last year, Kevin bailed on the road trip for an extended scouting trip in New Zealand. Bernie and I solidified the tradition without him with a true road trip. We met up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he was for work and drove to Lansing. We played catch in Adado Riverfront Park before watching the Lansing Lugnuts take on the Dayton Dragons. The next day we drove to Detroit to see the Tigers play the Minnesota Twins. We tried both American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit’s ongoing Coney battle. The Fort Wayne TinCaps followed the next day, as they took on the West Michigan Whitecaps. Our final stop on our four games, four teams, in four days trip was to see the South Bend Cubs play the Lake County Captains on Mr. Rogers Day. Bernie has the jersey to prove it.
Bernie had the winning bid for the Mr. Rogers jersey worn by South Bends winning pitcher, Enrique De Los Rios. (The Winning Run/ BL)
Each trip means exploring a new city or two. Sampling the local culture and food scene. Indulging in baseball for a few days. Simply it is hanging out with friends. This year is no different. Kevin is back and the three of us are meeting to explore Denver and watch the Colorado Rockies host the Toronto Blue Jays in a three game series. This is the furthest our road trip has taken us from home, and for me it comes just a month before becoming a first time Dad. One last trip before Fatherhood truly begins. What better way to send it than with friends, at a baseball game, inside a Major League park I have never seen a game at before. I just can’t wait to get on the road again.
There is getaway day and then there was September 28, 1919. The New York Giants hosted the Philadelphia Phillies in a doubleheader on the last day of the season. The first game, all nine innings lasted just 51 minutes, the fastest game in Major League history. MLB is eager to increase the pace of play, New York and Philadelphia may have taken this too far a century before pace of play was an issue. The game was the opposite of Dan Barry’s Bottom of the 33rd.
It was the final day of the season, neither team won the pennant, and both teams knew the faster they played, the sooner they could head home for the winter. The Giants finished the season in second place, 9 games behind the eventual World Series champion Cincinnati Reds. Cincinnati’s World Series victory is a story for another day. Philadelphia’s season was over in August, the Phillies finished last in the National League, 8th place, 47.5 games behind the Reds. The doubleheader was played simply because it was on the schedule.
The first game featured six future Hall of Famers; four players, a manager, and an umpire. Dave Bancroft was Philadelphia’s future Hall of Fame shortstop. New York had future Hall of Famer Ross Youngs in Right Field, Frankie Frisch at Third, High Pockets Kelly at First, and manager John McGraw. Umpiring the game were Future Hall of Famer Bill Klem and the notorious Bob Emslie. Klem is the father of baseball umpiring, working a record 18 World Series. He was the first umpire to wear a chest protector, taught other umpires to call balls and strikes from the slot, and the first to use arm signals when making his calls. Emslie was the base umpire during Merkle’s Boner in 1908. The controversial play earned him the despised nickname Blind Bob.
The Polo Grounds, a few seasons after the 51 minute sprint in 1919. The view from the outfield bleachers towards the infield and Coogan’s Bluff, with fans watching from behind the Grandstand. (Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images)
The Phillies got off to a great start, scoring in the top of the first inning. Lena Blackburne doubled and later scored thanks to an Art Fletcher error, giving Philadelphia a 1-0 lead. Philadelphia held the Giants scoreless in their turn at bat, and New York returned the favor in the top of the second.
In the bottom of the second, the Giants offense awoke. New York scored one in the second, three in the third, and two in the sixth on their way to a 6 to 1 victory. The Giants pounded out 13 hits, including five doubles, and drew three walks. Every Giants starter collected at least one hit; Larry Doyle and Art Fletcher collected two hits and High Pockets Kelly collected three hits. The final line for Phillies starting pitcher Lee Meadows was ugly: 8 innings (Complete Game), 13 Hits, 6 Runs, 5 Earned Runs, 3 walks, and 1 strikeout. Taking the loss, Meadows, who split the 1919 season between the Cardinals and Phillies, finished with a 12-20 record and 2.59 ERA.
The Phillies completed their anemic campaign on the final day of the season. Philadelphia collected five hits, one double, no walks, two strikeouts, scoring one unearned run. New York’s Jesse Barnes pitched 9 innings (Complete Game), allowing 5 hits, 1 run, 0 earned runs, no walks, and 2 strikeouts. The victory gave Barnes his National League leading 25th victory, finishing with a 25-9 record and a 2.40 ERA. The Giants swept the Phillies, winning Game Two 7 to 1, closing the 1919 season and the career of Phillies’ catcher Bert Adams.
Jesse Barnes, winning pitcher, fastest game in MLB history. (1922 Eastern Exhibit Supply Company/ http://www.vintagecardprices.com)
Some games are historically significant for Major League Baseball, others are played because they are on the schedule. The Giants and Phillies played a doubleheader on September 28, 1919 because the games were on the schedule. While neither game altered the 1919 season or baseball history, the first game set an almost unbreakable record and gave insight into the future of both franchises.
The Phillies were just four seasons removed from their first World Series appearance, yet they were in the second of 14 consecutive losing seasons. The team would not return to the Fall Classic until 1950. The Phillies had just four winning season (1916, 1917, 1932, and 1949) between their first and second World Series appearances. The 1919 Phillies changed managers midseason. Jack Coombs began the season, managing the Phillies to an 18-44-1 record before he was replaced by Gavvy Cravath. Cravath finished the season 29-46. He would return to the Phillies for the 1920 before he was fired at seasons end, concluding his playing and managing career. Coombs went on to become the winningest baseball coach in Duke University history, winning 381 games over 24 seasons in Durham.
The Giants thrived with 28 winning seasons between 1919 and their move to San Francisco in 1957. They played in nine World Series, winning four. New York finished within five games of the National League pennant in seven other seasons. John McGraw managed the Giants until 1932, compiling 2,583 wins for New York. The Giants were a powerhouse.
One game, even if not important in the moment, can tell you so much about baseball and a franchise. Never underestimate a baseball game, regardless of the pace of play, or if it is played just because it is on the schedule.
Rap is not the usual music genre for baseball songs. Teams may create a music video for the upcoming season, postseason, or a particular player. College teams are known to lip sync from time to time, looking at you 2012 Harvard baseball team. However, it is rarely a rap song. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis changed this with My Oh My. The song was written in response to longtime Seattle Mariners radio broadcaster Dave Niehaus’ sudden death in November 2010. It is the best baseball song of the last decade.
My Oh My is not reserved just for Mariner fans, however to fully appreciate the song you must understand what Dave Niehaus meant to the Pacific Northwest. He was the Mariners broadcaster since their inception in 1971. He broadcast more than 5,000 games, missing roughly 100 games in 40 years. Niehaus was the voice of baseball for Mariners fans.
Baseball had a tough beginning in Seattle. The Pilots lasted only one losing season, 1969, before moving to Milwaukee. The Mariners, and their fans, suffered through 14 consecutive losing seasons. They did not make the postseason until the fabled 1995 season, their 19th. There was little excitement on the diamond, yet the fans tuned in their radios to listen to Dave Niehaus.
Dave Niehaus was the voice of baseball in the Pacific Northwest. My Oh My was a loss.(John Lok/ The Seattle Times)
Mariners fans were rewarded by listening to Niehaus call the golden age of Mariners baseball. From 1995 through 2001, the Mariners made the postseason four times, reaching the American League Championship Series three times. The excitement inside the Kingdome moved to Safeco Field, now T-Mobile Park, on July 15, 1999 with Dave Niehaus throwing out the first pitch. The following summer, Niehaus became the second member of the Mariners Hall of Fame, after former first baseman Alvin Davis. In 2008, Niehaus received the highest award in baseball broadcasting, the Ford C. Frick Award, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Niehaus was more than a broadcaster. The 2011 season was the teams first without him in the booth. The team honored Niehaus with a performance of My Oh My on Opening Day.
My Oh My was released six weeks after Dave Niehaus’ death as a bonus track on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ album The Heist. Macklemore begins by recounting the winning run of the 1995 American League Divisional Series against the Yankees. The voice of God on the radio calling the game as Edgar Martinez drives in Joey Cora tying the game and Ken Griffey Jr. is waved home to win the game. The pace of the song quickens along with your pulse for the play at the plate.
Wisely, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis step back while Dave Niehaus makes the call during an interlude. Artists recognize the talents of other great artists. Niehaus paints the picture of the play at the plate and how it felt inside the Kingdome and across the Pacific Northwest.
The second verse zooms out to examine baseball memories from childhood. Macklemore discusses learning to play baseball, spitting sunflower seeds, playing under the sun, and his Dad teaching him the beauty of the game. He layers in childhood favorites of Big League Chew, recreating The Sandlot, and begging his Mom for one more inning before bed. Recalling childhood memories quicken the pace of the song, like an excited child talking faster and faster.
Macklemore rounds out My Oh My with a final verse connecting baseball and real life. The third verse begins at a frantic pace. The same feeling Mariner fans had as Griffey rounded third. Life feels as though it’s moving faster than we can grasp it. There is a touch of anger underpinning the understanding that life will give you bad hops and you must be ready for them. The lessons of baseball stay with you as an adult. Life is a trip around the bases, success comes by putting your head down and running as hard as you can. The verse slows as it approaches the end and finishes with a trombone playing a mournful farewell…almost a baseball version of Taps.
Macklemore’s description of Dave Niehaus’ call and how baseball makes him feel could be anyone, not just a kid from Seattle. Every baseball fan knows the thrill of following the winning run racing home. My Oh My takes baseball fans back to their childhoods and the joys of baseball and the lessons it teaches.
The song is also a reflection of becoming an adult and losing your childhood heroes. Baseball is a child’s game played by adults, yet those adults are not invincible. Every kid eventually deals with the loss of a hero. Despite never meeting the person, it has a profound impact on their life. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are spot on with My Oh My and the music video. The video is simple, just baseball pictures, equipment, jerseys, old stadiums, and replays of past moments. No wonder people in Seattle had to pull over to collect themselves when they heard My Oh My for the first time.
Calling balls and strikes requires an umpire to not flinch as a baseball is coming at you at 80+ mph. Stay in your stance, knowing your equipment will protect you from the five ounce baseball. No umpire enjoys taking hits, but when your equipment does its job the fear of taking a blow begins to subside. Each piece of equipment is important, however the mask is unquestionably the most important.
Personally, I wear a hockey style mask. It gives me the protection of a normal mask, plus it protects the side, top, and back of my head. Baseballs have hit me on the side, top, and back of my head, usually from ricochets off tight backstops. Always keep your head on a swivel. Your equipment will protect you when you cannot protect yourself.
The hockey style mask protects me from every direction and allows me to hide when things get serious or not so serious. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Beyond the physical protection of the mask, it also allows me to maintain a serious demeanor while laughing when something funny happens. Work enough baseball games and you will see funny things happen. A runner wiping out for no reason, a coach telling a player to quit playing in the grass, a parent’s voice cracking while yelling at their kid. I can smile and laugh a little without anyone knowing. While the mask shields you when something funny happens, it also hides you during serious moments. You can let someone vent about a perceived bad call, while also keeping an eye on them. Inside the mask you see the game, and until you make a call no one knows what you are thinking. This gives you valuable time to make decisions.
It is your own little world inside the mask. The ear protection dampens some noise. The cage protects your face and brain. The mask keeps you a little warmer in the cold and a little cooler in the summer heat. The helmet can get hot, but I will gladly take the heat over the blunt force trauma it guards against. The additional weight of the hockey style mask puts more strain on your neck, back, and shoulders. However it is a small price to pay to mitigate long term injuries like concussions.
You see the game differently as an umpire. You are the ultimate judge. Working behind the plate and inside the mask, you focus on every pitch and ball in play. The mask protects you from the game, without it your mind and body would pay a terrible price. Every piece of equipment is important, but only the mask allows you to see the game up close and then walk off the field with a smile on your face and all your teeth.
Last year we ranked the best pitcher bat flips of recent memory using our proprietary Joey Bats Scale. So what did our promotion of the this glorious celebration of triumph get us in the 2018 season? Nothing. We saw one aggressive bat drop from Clayton Richard and an off-camera BP bat flip from Chris Sale. Shohei Ohtani doesn’t flip bats and none of the other 17 pitchers to hit a dinger in 2018 blessed us with an addition to the Joey Bats Scale.
While there were no bat flips, I did watch every dinger hit by a pitcher in 2018, so in a completely arbitrary order, here are some of my favorites.
Steven Matz Homer With No Witnesses
I’m convinced the few people in the crowd got lost in Willets Point and wandered into Citi Field to ask for directions to Flushing Meadows Park. There is no conceivable reason anyone would subject themselves to a Mets-Marlins game in September 2018. But props to Steven Matz and the Mets for fully enjoying the moment.
Reds’ Pitchers Hitting Grand Slams
Not one but two Reds’ pitchers hit grand slams in 2018, Michael Lorenzen and Anthony DeSclafani. More impressively, Lorenzen’s grand slam came on a pinch-hit and was his 3rd (and final) dinger of the season.
A.J. Cole Does His Best Big Sexy Impression
A.J. Cole hit his first career home run last season, but that’s not what’s impressive. What matters here is that he took 30 seconds to round the bases, turning in the longest home run trot by a pitcher since Big Sexy in 2016.
German Marquez Hits a Dinger Off a Second Baseman
I am all for the recent trend of position players pitching more often in blow out games if it leads to more moments like this.
Let’s hope the DH never comes to the NL. Pitcher homers are fun, bat flips are better, and it is great to see pitchers celebrate these rare moments. Let’s hope the 2019 season brings us more pitcher home runs and more bat flips.
Major League Baseball is roughly two years away from welcoming its 20,000th player. The overwhelming majority of players are not Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, or Mike Trout. They are players like Virgil Jester. While they do not have the accolades of those in Cooperstown, players like Jester helped build baseball into the game it is today.
Fooling your opponent is part of baseball. Deceiving a batter with a curveball. Catching the defense sleeping by stealing second base. These are fundamental parts of baseball. On April Fool’s Day it seems fitting to highlight one of the players who despite not having a long, distinguished career deserves recognition for his contribution to the game. The only Jester in Major League history, Virgil Jester.
Virgil Jester was a star high school and college pitcher in Denver when he signed with the Boston Braves in 1947. He worked his way through the Minor Leagues before debuting with the Braves on June 18, 1952. Jester entered the game against the Cincinnati Reds in the top of the 7th inning with the score tied at 5. He struck out his first batter, Cal Abrams. The next batter, Andy Seminick, was not as kind, smacking a solo home run to give the Reds a 6-5 lead. In the 8th inning, Jester walked Bobby Adams before allowing a RBI double to Willard Marshall, extending the Reds lead to 7-5. The Braves scored a run in the bottom of the 8th, making it 7-6, but would get no closer. Jester pitched 2 innings, allowing 2 hits, 2 runs, walking 2, struck out 3, with a 9.00 ERA, and took the loss.
Virgil Jester was the winning pitcher in the Boston Braves’ final victory before moving to Milwaukee. (www.baseball-reference.com)
The Braves final season in Boston was Virgil Jester’s best. In 1952, he went 3-5 with a 3.33 ERA and 1.411 WHIP. He appeared in 19 games, starting 8, throwing 4 complete games, and 1 shutout. Jester pitched 73 innings allowing 80 hits, 31 runs, 27 earned runs, 5 home runs, walking 23 , striking out 25, and hitting 1 batter. Jester’s season was capped with a complete game victory over the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 27th, the final Braves victory in Boston.
In 1953, the Braves moved to Milwaukee and Virgil Jester concluded his brief Major League career. He appeared in just two games. He pitched 2 innings, allowing 4 hits, 5 runs, a home run, 4 walks, no strikeouts, with a 22.50 ERA and 4.000 WHIP. Jester finished his career with a 3-5 record, 3.84 ERA, 1.480 WHIP, appearing in 21 games, 8 starts, 4 complete games, 1 shut out, pitching 75 innings, allowing 84 hits, 32 earned runs, 6 home runs, 27 walks, 25 strikeouts, and 1 hit batter.
Pitching got Virgil Jester to the Majors, however he was also a good hitting pitcher. In 22 plate appearances, he collected 4 hits, including a triple, scored 3 runs, 2 RBI, drew 1 walk, struck out 4 times, and posted a .211 BA, .250 OBP, .316 SLG, and .566 OPS.
Virgil Jester’s career did not lead to enshrinement in Cooperstown. However he joined the elite group of players who have played baseball at the highest level. Fewer than 20,000 people have played in the Major Leagues. Virgil Jester played alongside the giants of the game. Only a select few have that opportunity, and Virgil Jester was among those who rose to the top. Even a fool can understand that.