Since I’m not Muslim, I don’t know the Quran, and I’m not all that big on massive crowds, it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever visit Mecca, the Holiest city of the Muslim world. Don’t get me wrong, I think it would be really cool to visit and see the sights, watch the swirling masses of people all joining in a gigantic celebration and demonstration of their collective faith. Take a look at the Google Street View of the place, its surreal. At the same time, this is not a perfect utopian vision where all peoples in the city are all singing their own version of Kumbaya, of which this is my personal favorite rendering is below. There are indeed factions amongst the Islamic faithful, this much is evident in a brief viewing of world news over the last umpteen years. Sadly, for all concerned, it doesn’t seem to stop at mere divisions of believers, it gets much more extreme and ugly.
While I may not have the right to visit Mecca in my lifetime (Saudi Arabia only allows Muslims to enter the city), I understand that there are pilgrimages all over the world, each offering their own healing, enlightenment, or rebirth. Christianity has the Holy Land. Judaism has the Western Wall, a pilgrimage back to the site of the second temple. Hindus have the Kumbh Mela, which is touted to be the largest religious pilgrimage on the planet, more than 30 million in a single day in 2013. Insane people have presidential campaigns where they tour the great country of the United States of America and yell at people like stark raving lunatics that are fit for little more than a strait jacket and a padded, door less cell. Sadly instead we put these nutsos in charge of everything…this is what we get for giving up on Manifest Destiny and putting fluorine in our tap water I guess (P.O.E.).
The classic Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. (Sony Motion Pictures)
Out of all of these, I could currently care less. Right now, it’s March and I’m in Tampa. It’s the best pilgrimage of all: SPRING TRAINING.
I have ended up in Tampa, a mere 2.7 mile jaunt down the street to the George M. Steinbrenner Field, spring home of the Damn Yankees. Putting things into perspective, I am closer to baseball right now than any of my fellow fantasy league devotees will be for weeks, measurable in mileage ticked off in triple digits. Eat it.
I am not an expert on pilgrimages, but for the following observations, I am willing to self-appoint myself to this lofty title, Grand Poobah of All Things Pilgrimage, The Winning Run edition (GPoATPTWRE for short). I know some things about a few pilgrimages, so I think that makes me expert enough to do this job, so let’s get started.
The Grand Poobah (Hanna-Barbera Productions)
The people. There are tons of people traveling here in Tampa wearing their favorite team’s logo/merchandise/moniker on their bodies somewhere. I am usually the sole person traveling that is sporting any form of a baseball T-shirt. My favorites are always Minor League teams, but I will also sport the big boy’s threads too, if the feeling strikes me. Last night was the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, go and see their bat dog, it’s worth it. Tonight I have shared my elevator trips with Pirates, Orioles, and Yankees fans. I’m calling that a first for me to make three consecutive trips in the same elevator and see three different offerings of fan wear en mass.
Minor League Baseball is always fun. (The Winning Run)
The traffic. Tampa traffic sucks. I’m not sure if this is just a Spring Training thing, or a Tampa thing, but someone needs to learn to get their red lights in some sort of order. Right now, I think rabid squirrels, high on peyote, that are drowning in Jell-O pudding, must program them. I’m serious, traffic here is dumb in the face.
The businesses. There are marquees up around town welcoming fans from the closest team in Spring Training. People love feeling like they are being acknowledged, this prompts businesses to get desperate and put up things like this. A fool and his money…
Don’t waste your money. (The Winning Run)
Breakfast. I went down for breakfast this morning, and in any other place that I’ve stayed before, when breakfast is offered, there is usually a decent mix of men and women staring blankly into space drinking a hot cup of coffee that likely tastes like a sweaty sock (I’m not a coffee fan, so I assume all coffee tastes this way). Tuesday morning I went down, presented my breakfast voucher, and observed something quite to the contrary. Out of roughly 40 people eating, a visual guestimate would place the male to female ratio somewhere in the vicinity of 39:1, with the one being roughly 5 years old and hyper.
The pool. The lady at the front desk made a big deal about giving me a room with a view to the pool. Fine by me, I enjoy people watching. I took a glance out my room last night and noticed the following: a hot tub directly outside my window with seven guys and zero girls. Again, the proportions are all kinds of off. If these guys were like the standard spring break bro bunch, they are picking a bad location to stay, roughly 45 minutes from the beach, and are striking out desperately with the ladies.
It’s Tampa. Why else would you come here? We queried a taxi driver we had a few years back that was taking us to Tropicana Field on what else there was to do in and around Tampa. His reply, “There’s nothing to do here in Tampa. This is God’s waiting room.”
The above evidence is admittedly circumstantial; there is no cause and effect directly shown. I may have shown up in a demographic anomaly where men outnumber women in ways that typically lead to war. It could be that the International Sausage Festival is at the Tampa Convention Center this week and I’m just out of the loop on deliciously spiced and flavorful tube meat meet-ups. Another idea all together is that Mango is dancing this week at a club in Tampa. People must have Mango, but Mango says “No!” If none of these things are true, then we should probably follow the logic of Occam’s Razor and pick the outcome that has the fewest assumptions as being true. There is a pilgrimage going on right now, and its destination is baseball.
2015 has been a wonderful year for baseball. Baseball has been everywhere from Spring Training and Opening Day to playing catch in the backyard and playing a friendly season of fantasy. The big moments like the Royals winning the World Series can be just as special as feeling the pop of the ball when it hits your glove. Everyone experiences baseball differently. As 2015 comes to an end the staff of The Winning Run wanted to share our best moments from baseball in 2015.
Spending three days going through the National Baseball Hall of Fame was the highlight of 2015 for me. I literally moved inch by inch through the museum, reading every plaque and sign, look at every picture and artifact on display. Seeing everything from the baseball used in the first game in which spectators had to pay to watch, to the glove used by Willie Mays to make The Catch, to the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery. Three days and at least 24 hours may seem like an extraordinarily long time to spend inside of a museum, however when it was time to leave Cooperstown I found myself rushing to finish seeing everything.
Visiting Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame only increased my passion for the game. While the museum is just a building and Cooperstown is just a small town, there is something magical about both. 2015 has been a year of transitions for me personally and professionally. Visiting Cooperstown allowed me to be a kid again, even for a weekend. Walking through the Hall of Fame with the same wide eyes I have had since I first fell in love with the game only solidified why baseball is and forever will be special.
Fantasy baseball. I was mesmerized by Madison Bumgardner and the SF Giants in the 2014 World Series and was really excited to get back into watching baseball in 2015. Fantasy was such a pleasure because it helped me keep on track with news and yet had to pace myself to get through the week and season. There were plenty of great baseball moments but the overall winner that made the experiences more enjoyable started with playing fantasy baseball this season.
So 2015 is almost over and we think back on what a year it was. That’s a tough assignment when I’m sitting outside grilling in shorts in the last week of December. I should have a baseball game on instead of Christmas lights. But this does aid in recapping my best memory of baseball this season.
This season was my year of watching it on tv. I did not get a chance to travel and catch any games and only saw a handful of Atlanta and Gwinnett Braves games. A lot happened around the league but I’m going to share a personal trip to a Gwinnett Braves game in June. I remember the day because I was stuck on the stairs watching Max Sherzer flirt with perfection. I took the family to what turned out to be Back to the Future Night at the stadium so it was fairly attended. I got us seats down the first base line but in the outfield part that juts back into the field. I brought my glove this time and was determined to catch a foul even with the pessimist behind me ho thought no baseball could make it that far. As luck would have it a foul came my way in the fourth and I made a pretty spectacular play in my opinion and snagged in on the fly while crashing onto someone who ran into our row. I high fived and showed the girls our souvenir much to their non-caring.
By the seventh they mentioned the silent auction going on for the jerseys the home team was wearing for the promotion, so after conferring with our other writer Jesse, who’s as much a Back to the Future fan as a baseball fan, I decided to try my luck. I brought the older child and found a relief pitcher with no bids. I bid with a few minutes left and had the child stand in front and smile at other potential bidders. This guy was ours. We won, paid and were told to come back so we could go on the field to aquire our winnings. I brought the family unit down, hung out til the final out, and then was allowed on field to wait for our guy and his “game worn” jersey that did all of allowing him into the bullpen without credentials. He autographed the jersey for the girls and even signed my fly ball from earlier.
Even though the game was only seen by the crowd in attendance and didn’t help the standings at all, it brought memories and a story I can share for many years to come. I believe baseball is more than just what is happening in the majors or in the headlines. It’s about experiences and sharing your enjoyment of the sport with the ones you love. I am happy that my best memory of 2015 was personal and shared with my family. Happy New Year.
The best things that I ended up doing and/or experiencing baseball related in the year of our Lord, two thousand and fifteen are as follows (dates and order are questionable at best) Any pics that aren’t noted as being borrowed from the internets were taken myself or another member of the Winning Run. Enjoy.
For such a small town, the amount of fun that I had there was better than I could have expected. Only thing I’m disappointed about is that I didn’t see the ball that Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez busted the guts out of.
The National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York (The Winning Run)
Walking among the legends of baeball. (The Winning Run)
Otsego Lake, a short walk from Main Street and the Hall of Fame. (The Winning Run)
Baseball game for my Dad’s birthday
Managed to score some pretty low seats at the Braves on the 3rd base side for my dad’s birthday. Just went with my mom and dad. We were low enough that we were able to see Ron Gant a few rows in front of us. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to check his Twitter account very often. I was hoping to get a pic of him and Dad together.
Jesse enjoying a Braves game with the parents on Dad’s birthday. (The Winning Run)
In a quote I picked up the pages of history (not sure if it comes from Napoleon or Stalin, don’t care) “quantity has a quality all its own.” Thanks to the beauty of online retail and a secondary ticket market, I was able to see a MUCH larger number of MLB games this year. Yay internets.
Thunder and lightning on and off the diamond in Atlanta. (The Winning Run)
The sky was on fire. (The Winning Run)
It is never a bad day if it is spent at the ballpark. (The Winning Run)
The Force is strong with these Tomahawks. (The Winning Run)
After working in an unairconditioned shop in the middle of summer near the exact center of the Everglades (the place was exactly 2 hours from EVERYWHERE in Florida, a true geographic anomaly), I decided to drive to Miami and look for Will Smith. I didn’t run into him, sadly, but I did manage to go to a Marlins game and have very low seats. I was probably as close to Ichiro as I’ll ever be, and that was titillating all on its own. Also, if for nothing else, the bobblehead museum is worth the ticket price.
Inside Marlins Park, watching Ichiro up close and personal. (The Winning Run)
The Bobblehead Museum at Marlins Park in all its glory. (The Winning Run)
Minor League Baseball
Minor League Baseball is my jam. I love the stuff. I can’t say that there is a better bang for your buck in the entertainment world. This year I managed to sit directly behind the net at the local team (the Gwinnett Braves), thanks to buying an A/C, I saw a dog act as ball boy AND run the bases (Myrtle Beach Pelicans), and I walked up to a craft beer and unlimited hot dog night (Chattanooga Lookouts). That was a fun night on the Twitters. It was a good thing that I was only walking two blocks back to the hotel that night.
The batboy for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans at work. (The Winning Run)
Watching the Chattanooga Lookouts play on a warm summer eveing. (The Winning Run)
The Myrtle Beach Pelicans shoot to thrill. (The Winning Run)
Baseball, beer, and hot dogs. What more do you need? (The Winning Run)
Enjoying a lookouts game and a beer. (The Winning Run)
No food is more baseball than hot dogs. (The Winning Run)
Fantasy Baseball has become a great way to sit and talk about the minutia of the day’s baseball awesomeness. This year I managed to get my girlfriend, and now wife, talked into playing. Once she got the basics of what should be going on, she became dangerous. Dammit.
I’ve only watched a few college games live, but this year’s first game was at Gardner-Webb University. Yay baseball’s back.
The 2015 playoffs were some of the most enjoyable to watch in a long time. I simultaneously wanted the Cubbies to win to fulfil their Back to the Future density (yes I meant “density”. Watch Back to the Future if you don’t get it), but I longed for the curse to stay in tact at the same time. Daniel Murphy seemed to be able to do no wrong (until the WS at least). Then there was the “slide” Take a look at the pic, you’ll remember it.
My now son/stepson/boogerface (still working on the naming conventions) confided in me that his favorite team wasn’t the Braves. Mind you that he isn’t much for baseball, of which I intend to learn him in the ways of the base on balls, but he came to me in a bit of a quiet tone to inform me that he liked the Marlins. I was a little take aback, UNTIL I heard the reasoning. His favorite player is Ichiro. He likes the way he tugs at his shirt when he comes to the plate. Sounds like a great reason to me.
Hell Froze Over
Citi Field. It was cold. We were in the nosebleed. It was cold. We rode the 7 train. It was cold. It was cold.
I found a complete set of Fleer baseball cards from 1989 at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore (kinda like a Goodwill for non clothing stuff). Welcome to the Bigs Mr.Griffey. Also, I sadly got the edited version of Billy Ripken’s card. So close.
My First True Doubleheader
Manage to make it to my first true MLB doubleheader on the last day of the regular season. That seems like an awesome way to go into the dark dreary non baseball time of year.
It’s a beautiful day for baseball, let’s play two. Lots of fans came dressed as empty seats. (The Winning Run)
I got a baseball signed by Matt Cain to go along with my ticket from my perfect game. Time to make a display for that awesomeness.
The Nationals didn’t win.
2015 was the most exciting and successful year for The Winning Run. There was so much in and around baseball that we were able to experience. Baseball is special in that you can always feel like a kid even when you have played, watched, and followed the game for decades. While it is impossible to see and experience everything that makes baseball wonderful, we will not stop in our quest to achieve the impossible. We hope our efforts in sharing our love and knowledge of the game have added to your enjoyment of baseball in 2015.
Happy New Year,
The Winning Run