The beauty of baseball is its unpredictability. Any player in any game can achieve the impossible. Teams can also surprise. Regardless how knowledgeable you are about the game, even experts are not always able to predict baseball.
Ozzie Smith was never a power hitter, he hit 28 home runs in 19 seasons. No one predicted Smith would hit the game winning home run in Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship series. Jack Buck’s memorable call of “Go Crazy Folks” sealed the home run in baseball history. Smith did not hit another home run until May 31, 1988. Unpredictable.
Phillip Humber’s 16-23 record and 5.31 ERA are unremarkable, yet on April 21, 2012 he was perfect. Perfect Games are unpredictable, but Humber’s was almost impossible. Ineffectiveness after perfection forced Humber out of the Majors in 2013.
Prior to each season experts, and The Winning Run, predict which teams will make the Postseason and win the World Series. This season 18 of MLB Radio’s experts made predictions. As expected some were right and some wildly wrong. However, their mixed prediction results have a glaring hole in one particular Division.
Some predictions are easy, some are not. (MLB Radio)
The experts loved the Yankees, good call, and the Red Sox, not so much, in the American League East. New York has won the Division, but once again Tampa and their 92 wins got no love. Tampa’s low budget machine produced another winning teams while Fenway’s big budget will sit at home in October. The American League Central was predictably a two team race between Cleveland and Minnesota. The rest of the Central will finish at least 25 games back, the experts picked the wrong team as the Twins lead the Indians by four games. They knew the contenders, but picked them in the wrong order. The American League West was easy, 18 of 18 picked the Astros. Good Call.
The National League Central was a toss up between the Brewers, 2 of 18 experts, Cardinals, 5 of 18, and Cubs, 11 of 18. These teams have battled all season with the Cardinals taking control as Milwaukee continues fights on without Christian Yelich and the Cubs fade away. 10 of 18 picked the Dodgers in the National League West. Oddly the other eight picked the Rockies, who are heading for a last place finish. Ouch.
The shocking ineptitude of the experts is the National League East. All 18 experts whiffed on the Division, as none predicted the reigning Division champion Braves would repeat. The Marlins predictably struggled, leaving just four teams. The favorite in the East was the Nationals. A rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin should deliver a Division title. The Phillies added Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto. This firepower in the Philadelphia lineup should have made them at least competitive. The rebuilding Mets got one vote from Rob Bender. No love for Atlanta.
Ronald Acuña has emerged as a potential superstar in Atlanta. (FOX Sports Florida)
The Braves did not lose or add a superstar, they tinkered. Atlanta’s biggest move was signing Josh Donaldson for one year. A full season from Ronald Acuña also helped. Predicting baseball is hard, but one would think at least one expert would believe in the defending Division champions. The team steadily improved before winning the East by 8 games over Washington. The Nationals can win 90 games and look poised to return to October as a Wild Card.
Ultimately teams simply want to make the Postseason. Every team has a chance to reign supreme in October baseball. Winning the Division as easily as Atlanta has in 2019 should give experts pause about their predictions in the future. Teams can have surprisingly good seasons, but Atlanta simply improved on their 2018 season. Baseball is unpredictable, but give credit where credit is due. The experts did not believe the Braves were real in 2018 and predicted their demise in 2019. Experts may understand the game better than most, but baseball always follows its own unpredictable path. This is what makes it the greatest game.
The Championship Series to decide the American and National League pennants are set. The Boston Red Sox against the Houston Astros in the American League and the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League. My personal favorite teams are not among the four remaining, so what better time to take an unscientific approach to decide who I want to win the World Series.
Starting with the team’s success every team has won at least one pennant. Their last pennants were: the Red Sox in 2013, the Astros and in 2017, and the Brewers in 1982 (American League). The 1982 American League Pennant remains the Brewers only trip to the World Series. The Red Sox last won the World Series in 2013. The Astros are the defending World Series Champions. The Dodgers last won the World Series with Kirk Gibson in 1988. The Brewers are still waiting to win their first World Series Championship.
In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened. (www.mlb.com)
Looking at the home cities I have visited Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles. Sorry Milwaukee, maybe another time. My positive take from Boston is the rich history of the city colonial days to present. The food and drink is wonderful, which is made better by having extended family in Boston. Houston is a fun city. The food and culture is diverse and it never hurts to have a friend working for NASA to show you around. Los Angeles has great weather, great food, and beautiful scenery from the mountains to the beaches. Never visiting Milwaukee, I would guess the beer and brats are delicious and the lakefront area by Lake Michigan is nice. I would guess.
However, for all the great things about these cities there are drawbacks. Boston is cold and the people are not always warm and welcoming. Houston is the epitome of flat, urban sprawl. Los Angeles has its world famous traffic and pollution, not to mention it is expensive. In my mind, Milwaukee is always cold, and I hate the cold.
The ballparks the teams play in a different as well. Fenway Park is a historic park with a unique configuration and appearance. Baseball legends have played on this diamond for over a century. The history of the park all but speaks for itself. Minute Maid Park is modern with all the amenities baseball fans have come to expect. The weather outside rarely matters as the retractable roof creates perfect baseball weather inside every day of the year. Dodger Stadium is timeless in its simplicity and longevity. Legends, including the voice of baseball Vin Scully, have spent decades within its inviting confines. Miller Park remains on my list of Major League stadiums to visit. Beyond the ability to close the roof and have perfect baseball weather, the Uecker seats and the slide for Bernie Brewer are clearly the most important features of the park.
Celebratory slide for Bernie Brewer. (www.mlb.com)
The good comes with the bad. Fenway Park was built when people were smaller. There is not enough legroom between seats, especially for people who are claustrophobic. It is also an expensive park to visit as people flock to historic Fenway to watch the Red Sox continued success year after year. The roof on Minute Maid Park is not perfect. I had the pleasure of sitting under a leaky portion of the roof a few years ago. Luckily I was able to change seats, otherwise the torrential rain outside would have soaked me inside the stadium. The closed roof also means the cannon fire after an Astros home run is deafening. Dodger Stadium is expensive but the biggest complaint I have is the team does not market their history well. I could not find any memorabilia from their storied history. Maybe keep a few Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella shirseys around, people will definitely buy them. Where do I start with Miller Park. Ummm…it looks a little dark when I watch a game on television.
Everything else is superficial, it is the team on the field that matters the most. The Red Sox have a solid rotation with Chris Sale and David Price, arguably the best closer in Craig Kimbrel, stars like J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts, and the Most Valuable Player in Mookie Betts. The Astros have a proven winning lineup with Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa. A rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Dallas Keuchel does not hurt either. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw leading the charge with Yasiel Puig, a resurgent Matt Kemp, Justin Turner, and a host of other All Star caliber players. The Brewers have the National League Most Valuable Player in Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Jesus Aguilar supported by an almost unhittable bullpen with Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Corey Knebel.
Mookie Betts and the Red Sox look unbeatable. (Boston Herald/ Stuart Cahill)
Each team also has unique drawbacks. The Red Sox have spent a ton of money to assemble a great team. World Series Championships should be won not purchased. The Astros are the defending Champions, their repeating is less than thrilling. The Dodgers have tried to buy a World Series for years, this forever rubs me the wrong way. The Brewers still employ Ryan Braun. I am not a fan of his, not was busted for using Performance Enhancing Drugs, but his attempt to smear Dino Laurenzi’s name, the test collector, to save himself from his own stupidity forever stained his legacy. I have sat in left field when watching the Brewers on the road simply to boo Braun and will continue to do so until he retires.
After weighing the good and the bad for each team my decision on which team to root to a World Series Championship comes down to a single person. Bob Uecker. Mr. Baseball. Bob Uecker has given his life to baseball. He has been the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 1971. He was Harry Doyle in the Major League movies. His appearances on Johnny Carson. Andre the Giant choking him. The Miller Lite commercials. He continues to complain about his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame only as a Broadcaster, the Ford C. Frick Award in 2003, and not as a player. A career .200 hitter with 14 lifetime home runs, including off Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, and Sandy Koufax. Yes that Sandy Koufax. The stats speak for themselves. Come on Brewers, give Milwaukee the World Series they deserve with Bob Uecker making the call.
Come on Brewers, let Bob Uecker announce a World Series Champion!!! (Scripps Media-2016)
Baseball has the same romance, drama, and finality as life. There is no preselected destination; an at bat, a game, a season, a career can turn on a single pitch. Life can turn on a small, seemingly inconsequential decision. Future Baseball Commissioner Bart Giamatti’s The Green Fields of the Mind eloquently recalls the end of the 1977 Boston Red Sox’s season and the intersection of life and baseball.
“It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.”
Giamatti ropes you in from the beginning, forcefully reminding you that for all the love we have for baseball, the game itself is fleeting. The once youthful rookie is now the wily veteran. The games slip by day after day, each meaning so much, yet many are forgotten before the season ends. The season begins when the world is coming alive and ends when the natural world around us is starting to ready itself from the forthcoming winter. The sudden end of the baseball season, for every team, is dramatic. There is no clock to countdown but, as the leaves change and the cooler temperatures settle in, baseball fans know their time is running short.
The grass is always green at Fenway Park. (The Winning Run)
The cold of winter compounds the sadness and the void left by the end of the baseball season. Coats and scarves appear in an effort to conserve the spirit of the waning, warm sunshine. Baseball demands an outdoor space with the horizon for a backdrop. It cannot be appreciated like a wintry landscape from the warm comfort behind a window to watch the snow fall. Winter weather traps people inside, unable to find the space and comfort required to play the game. The sudden end of summer shocks the system and the dwindling daylight slows our daily routines to a crawl.
Bart Giamatti understood the love of baseball is tied to the love shown in rooting for your team, not in rooting against your opponent. No matter the ferocity of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, Boston wants to win more than it wants to see New York lose. Love is the driving force in baseball and in life. We all continually search for the joy of victory while knowing the sting of defeat will last longer and cut deeper. The highs are few and the lows are many, but the love of the game is the one constant that brings us all back every spring and breaks our hearts every winter.
The Green Fields of the Mind is among the greatest pieces of baseball literature. Forty years have passed since a cold, rainy day in Boston inspired Giamatti to write. The forty summers of Giamatti’s life and the forty summers since have continued the thrill and pain the moment the baseball season ends. Red Sox fans know the season has ended when Joe Castiglione begins to recite Giamatti’s words. The love, passion, fragility, and fleeting nature of baseball is what makes the game great as season after season fans return back to their radios, TVs, and ball parks. For forty seasons baseball loved and tortured Bart Giamatti. The 2017 season will mark forty seasons since that love and despair inspired a man to write what all baseball fans knows in their heart. The game on the field slowly begins in the Spring and suddenly stops in the Fall, but in our minds the season lasts forever.
Umpires have a difficult job. When they do their job well, the fans and players forget about them. When they make a mistake, whether actual or perceived, then they’re no longer invisible but rather the epicenter for the eruption of jeers and insults. The men, and women, in blue do not have many fans beyond close family and friends. Umpires do not become famous for their great calls but, they can become infamous for their misses. So why would anyone want to enter into a world where little recognition and glory could come from their efforts? The only rational reason is for love of the game, and that is why I have entered this crazy world.
I am umpiring. Obviously, I am not remotely in the same class as Jim Joyce, Dale Scott, Fieldin Culbreth, or the rest of the umpires who work Major League games every night. However, I am doing it and trying to get better at it. The odds are stacked that I will never make it to the Majors, but it still keeps me around the game I love. That is enough to keep me coming back for more.
The game moves fast, umpires have to move faster. (www.10news.com)
Recreation League Slow Pitch Softball is my current assignment. I am under no illusion that this qualifies as real baseball umpiring. It is a great training ground to work on the basics and find my way through some of the problems an umpire faces in almost every game. The extra pay also helps, using slow pitch softball to finance my baseball addiction means double the fun. As I umpire more games I plan to use some of the money I earn to buy equipment and move on to actual baseball. It is a process, one that takes some time as there is so much to learn. As an added bonus, I am also developing a decent tan, decent for me anyways. What better way to get rid of the stress in life than going outside and being on the diamond.
As I am new to Cincinnati, making friends and finding a team to play on was challenging. The greater challenge though was the expense of paying to play baseball or softball. While not absurdly expensive, it is still difficult to justify such an expense while trying to get my finances in better shape. Umpiring allows me to go to the field several nights a week and be part of many games each night. I have always been one that shows up to games early and stays well beyond the final out, or stays at the field practicing hitting and fielding until physically exhausted. A single game each week was not going to satisfy my appetite. While different than playing, umpiring allows me to consume more. I see more, learn more, laugh more, and honestly am happier.
Not everyone will always agree with your calls. (Greg Fiume/ Getty Images)
Umpiring has been filled with surprises, both good and bad. First, the good. Every pitch requires your focus so you stay on your competitive edge from when the teams meet to when they shake hands. When playing you get to take a break while on offense, unless you’re at bat. Every pitch is followed by a sequence of calls. Did the pitcher balk? Was it a strike or ball? Was the ball fair or foul? Was the runner safe or out? What’s the best position to make the potential calls in this situation? Crouching behind home plate to call balls and strikes, racing down to first to make a call on a ball in play (I work as a one man umpiring crew, every call is mine). Every pitch feels like competition. I either get the call right or wrong. In an evening, I can work 21 innings or more. After the games have finished for the night, it is the one or two mistakes I made I dwell on. Those plays repeat again and again in my head, not the dozens of other correct calls. The competition against myself is real. The teams are playing to win. I work hard to make sure their play decides who wins and losses, not my calls.
Another surprise is how fast the game can move and how you do not have time to think. Two seconds is not a long time in normal life, but it can seem like forever waiting on an umpire to make a call. As an umpire you have to make the call quickly, yet be sure you are right. See it, call it, no thinking. You also have to watch the game away from the baseball. A ball gets hit into the gap in the outfield, nearly everyone is watching the outfielders chase the ball. Not Umpires. They are making sure the runner is touching the bases, the defense is not obstructing the runner, and getting themselves into the proper position to make any potential call as the runner advances around the bases. So much of the game happens away from the ball, and yet many people never see it as they are watching where the ball went.
Nothing feels better than knowing you called a good game. (www.gammonsdaily.com)
There have also been a few bad surprises. These have been more brutally honest moments than bad surprises, as anyone could have seen them coming. Every umpire makes mistakes. Miss a call or make a call incorrectly. I have missed a call or two on bang bang plays at first. There is no instant replay. I am getting better at remembering where runners are before every pitch, so as to ensure force plays do or do not exist. Nothing confuses teams more than calling a runner safe at home due to no tag being applied when the bases were loaded when the ball was put into play. Fortunately I realized my mistake and quickly corrected it. Again there is a reason you sharpen your skills first in beer league softball and not Major League games.
The most lasting surprise has been the physical soreness. I keep myself in good physical shape, but umpiring is putting that to the test. The physical soreness has made me reassess my physical training. Crouching, running, twisting, and turning for over three hours at a time takes a toll. Taking care to stretch and strengthen my back and legs has helped to maintain my focus from the first batter of the evening through to the last. Umpiring can be a grind, but every batter deserves a good strike zone and every runner deserves an accurate call.
I do not know how long I will umpire or how high up the ladder I will go. Slow Pitch Softball may not be the most glamorous umpiring job in the world, but I love it. There are few places in this world that I would rather be on a warm evening that a baseball diamond, with the lights buzzing high above the field. Baseball is baseball, no matter if it is Fenway Park in October, a high school diamond in Texas, or a recreation field on the banks of the Ohio River filled with players who want nothing more than to play ball with their friends, runs the bases, and have a good laugh.
The announcement that David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox will retire after the 2016 begins the reminiscing of his career and its place within baseball history. The numbers associated with Ortiz are impressive, and there is plenty of time to debate his hall of fame candidacy. His statistics place him in Cooperstown, but the allegations of his using Performance Enhancing Drugs could raise some doubts in the minds of Baseball Writers. The Baseball Writers will do what they believe is appropriate, let them debate whether Ortiz is enshrined in Cooperstown.
Few athletes have meant as much to a city as David Ortiz has to Boston. He is happy and playful, but he always stands up for himself and his teammates. Ortiz played a critical role in helping the Red Sox to win three World Series championships during his tenure. He will always be a beloved figure in Boston for helping to break the Curse of the Bambino in 2004. Winning the World Series again in 2007 and 2013 only solidified his place in Boston sports lore.
On-field success has showcased Ortiz’s talents, but it is what he did for the city of Boston itself that he should be most remembered for once he retires. Following the Boston Marathon Bombing, the entire city of Boston went into lockdown. Even after the death of one and capture of the other bomber, the fear of the unknown still hung in the air. Would there be another attack? Was it safe to go out to big public events? Many legitimate concerns proliferated among Bostonians.
On June 11, 2008, David Ortiz became an American Citizen. He chose to become part of the fabric of the United States. America is a land of immigrants, only the Native Americans have not at some point immigrated to what has become the United States. Immigrants from all over the world play an important role in shaping America. On April 20, 2013, Ortiz, an American Citizen who came to America to play baseball, gave the city of Boston the pep talk it needed to feel good again and not allow a few people dictate how they live. Standing along the first base line, with a giant American flag draped over the Green Monster, David Ortiz told the Fenway crowd and the rest of Boston:
“Alright Boston. This jersey that we wear today it doesn’t say Red Sox it says Boston. We want to thank you, Mayor Menino, Governor Patrick, the whole police department for the great job that they did this past week. This is our fucking city, and nobody’s going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong. Thank you.”
You may not like the language Ortiz used when speaking to the crowd, but it encapsulated everything the people of Boston had felt since the bombing. Boston needed to hear from one of their own that everything was going to be ok. This is exactly what David Ortiz gave to the people of Boston when they needed it the most.
The debate about David Ortiz’s place in baseball history and should he be enshrined in Cooperstown is up to the Baseball Writers. What I think of first when I hear the name David Ortiz is a man who used his place on the Boston Red Sox to tell his fellow Bostonians and Americans that it is ok to be scared, but that no one is going to change who we are. David Ortiz gave the city of Boston exactly what it needed, when they needed it, and for this, he will always hold a special place in their hearts.
Parks and Recreation directors rarely get remembered, but as luck would have it one has lasted the test of time in Florida. In Lakeland, Florida sits Joker Marchant Stadium, the home of the Detroit Tigers’ Class A Advanced minor league team, the Lakeland Flying Tigers. The stadium was named after the late Joker Marchant, the aforementioned Parks and Rec director of Lakeland, Florida. Marchant was one of the people driving to keep the Tigers in Lakeland. The amazing story of the stadium is not it’s conception, but rather it’s longevity. The same facility was built in 1965 and opened in 1966 to bring the Detroit Tigers in for spring training, meaning that only three MLB stadiums are older: Fenway, Wrigley, and Dodger Stadium (Angel Stadium and the Oakland Colosseum also opened in 1966). The Tigers have returned every spring since, making the 2013 season their 47th season at Joker Marchant, but more surprisingly it will mark their 77th season returning to Lakeland for spring training.
The Tigers’ affiliation with the Flying Tigers will not end likely with the resigning of a Player Development Contract (PDC) in which major and minor league teams join new affiliations, since the Flying Tigers are owned outright by the main club in Detroit. Being owned by the big club with no PDC is not normal, actually only a few teams are directly owned by their parent team in this manner. Most minor league teams are independent of the parent clubs, bound only by their PDCs’ for a minimum of two years, with optional two year increments able to be added on when both parties agree. The Atlanta Braves are the oddball in this case, as they outright own all but one of their minor league affiliates, the Lynchburg Hillcats. The total number of minor league teams owned by their MLB affiliate and with no PDC is only 22 out of 240. Since this is baseball and stats need to be discussed, the Braves have 27.3% of all the teams held by their major league affiliate. The majority of the teams directly owned are in the Florida State League with eight, where several of the teams’ stadiums double as spring training facilities, and the Appalachian League, a rookie league with seven.
The city of Lakeland is a place fortunate to have an enthusiastic baseball community, Major League support, and the right weather to keep the fans and the players returning year after year. If you want to experience baseball history along the I-4 Corridor, stop by Tiger Town in Lakeland see what you find.