Globe Life Park in Arlington may not have the history of old Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, but it has been home for the Texas Rangers over the last 26 summers. Memories with friends and family were made, though most are never known to the masses. In those summers, the Rangers made back to back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011. Eight trips to October in all. Fans watched Hall of Famers Ivan Rodriguez and Adrian Beltre play. They watched Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, and Josh Hamilton play, but each will not reach Cooperstown for individual issues complicating their eligibility to play. Other players like Juan Gonzalez, Ian Kinsler, Prince Fielder, and Michael Young hold a special place in the hearts of Ranger fans. Memories were made.
Jesse, John, and I had the privilege to attend the final game at old Yankee Stadium. Baseball is beautiful. (The Winning Run/ JJ)
This weekend the Rangers close Globe Life Park and their season against the Yankees. Texas closes their second stadium since arriving from Washington in 1972. Closing out stadiums is becoming a habit for Jesse, John, and myself. Globe Life Park will be our third fine game attended. We sat in the left field seats as the Braves closed Turner Field and moved to the suburbs and SunTrust Park in 2016. Our first, and forever greatest, final game was sitting in the right field bleachers for the final game at old Yankee Stadium in 2008. The Yankees missed the Postseason for the first time since 1993, the House that Ruth Built did not see one final October. The history of old Yankee Stadium is unmatched in baseball. Closing out old Yankee Stadium was bittersweet, attending the Mets final home stand at Shea Stadium was not. Low flying planes, Shea shaking as we walked around, and Mets fans doing the wave remain vivid in my memory. It is hard competing with old Yankee Stadium.
Jesse, John, and I do attend games together when stadiums are not closing. A late night decision to drive 10 hours to watch the Pirates play at PNC Park was fantastic. Baseball creates memories that last a lifetime. Attending a game is always enjoyable. So once more we are hitting the road to say hello and goodbye to a baseball stadium, creating our own memories like so many fans before us.
Lou Gehrig is remembered for three things: his greatness on the field, a speech, and the disease that claimed his life. He left a legacy in baseball and for those facing adversity, especially those battling ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Today is the 80th anniversary of Lou Gehrig Day at Yankee Stadium and Gehrig delivering baseball’s most famous speech. He did not focus on his problems, rather he spoke of the good in his life. A life cut short less than two years later.
On the diamond, Lou Gehrig was a tremendous competitor, forming the toughest duo in baseball history with Babe Ruth. Gehrig played 17 seasons for the Yankees, 1923 to 1939. In 2,164 Games, Gehrig collected 2,721 Hits, 534 Doubles, 163 Triples, 493 Home Runs, 1,995 RBI, scored 1,888 Runs, Stole 102 Bases, drew 1,508 Walks, 790 Strike Outs, .340 BA, .447 OBP, .632 SLG, and 1.080 OPS. Gehrig’s career numbers ensured his enshrinement into Cooperstown, even without his special election in 1939.
Putting Lou Gehrig’s greatness into perspective, consider his all time rankings today. Gehrig ranks 64th in Hits with 2,271. He is 42nd in Doubles with 534 and 33rd in Triples with 163. His 493 Home Runs still ranks him 28th. His 1,995 RBI are seventh all time. Gehrig’s 1,190 extra base hits are 11th most and his 5,060 total bases are 19th all time. His 1,888 runs scored rank 12th all time. He walked 1,508 times, 17th most. A career .340 hitter, 16th best. His .447 OBP is fifth, his .632 SLG and 1.079 OPS both place him third all time. His 179 OPS+ ranks fourth and his 112.3 oWAR places him 14th. 80 years after his final game, Lou Gehrig remains an all time great.
Hall of Fame numbers are not compiled in a few good seasons here and there, they come from excellence year after year. In Gehrig’s 17 seasons with the Yankees, he played fewer than 13 games in three seasons. Playing 14 full seasons before ALS robbed him of his abilities further shows Gehrig’s greatness. The Iron Horse registered eight seasons of 200 or more hits, leading the league in 1931. In 1927 and 1928 he led baseball in Doubles with 52 and 47 respectively. In 1926, his 20 triples paced baseball. Gehrig was the Home Run King three times (1931, 1934, and 1936). He was perfectly placed in Murderers’ Row, leading the league in RBI five times, driving in at least 109 in 13 consecutive seasons. He led baseball in Runs Scored four times, scoring 115 or more Runs in 13 consecutive seasons. The Iron Horse possessed both power and patience at the plate, drawing at least 100 Walks in 11 seasons, leading baseball on three occasions. Gehrig struck out a career high 84 times in 1927, he would never strike out more than 75 times in any other season. Gehrig hit .300 or better in 12 straight seasons, led the league in Slugging twice, OPS three times with 11 consecutive seasons above 1.000. He had five seasons with at least 400 total bases, leading baseball four times. In 1934, Gehrig won the American League Triple Crown with a .363 BA, 49 Home Runs, and 166 RBI. Shockingly he finished fifth in MVP voting behind a trio of Tigers (Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer, and Schoolboy Rowe) and teammate Lefty Gomez. Gehrig did win two MVP Awards (1927 and 1936), while finishing in the top five in six other seasons. The Iron Horse was always a MVP contender.
Lou Gehrig was one of the greatest players to ever step on a diamond. (Mark Rucker/ Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
The Yankees during the Gehrig years were seemingly in the World Series every October. Lou Gehrig played in seven Fall Classics. New York won six World Series with Gehrig (1927, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1937, and 1938), sweeping their National League opponents four times. Gehrig played in 34 Games with 119 At Bats. He collected 43 Hits, 8 Doubles, 3 Triples, 10 Home Runs, 35 RBI, and scored 30 Runs. He drew 26 walks against 17 Strikeouts. Gehrig hit .361, .483 OBP, .731 SLG, and 1.214 OPS. The Iron Horse helped the Yankees reach and win multiple World Series.
Despite his greatness on the diamond, Lou Gehrig is best remembered for the speech he gave on July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig Day, as the Yankees honored him as he fought ALS. The Gettysburg Address of Baseball remains one of the most famous moments in baseball history. There is no known full recording of the speech, however we do have a partial recording and a transcript of Gehrig’s words.
“For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
When you look around, wouldn’t you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such a fine looking men as they’re standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.
When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift- that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies- that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter- that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body- it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed- that’s the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”
My 2018 was filled with baseball. I umpired more than 200 games plus attended more for the enjoyment of the game. I have no clue how many games I watched on television or listened to on radio. Whatever the number, it was a lot.
This year I watched games in six different ballparks. I attended four Cincinnati Reds games at Great American Ball Park. I always attend at least one game when the Braves visit the Reds. I also attended a game against the Giants in August with a fellow listener to the Effectively Wild podcast; he was in the home stretch of a road trip to visit all 30 MLB teams. The other games were more random, yet just as exciting.
First game of the year, Braves at Reds. My wife and sister-in-law supporting their hometown team, while I do the same. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
I finally watched a Florence Freedom game from the stands. I have umpired several games on the field for the local youth leagues. The Frontier League is underrated, like most Independent Baseball Leagues. The play on the field is fun and exciting, even though the team lacks a Major League an affiliation. The fun of attending a game remains. As an added bonus, my wife and I accidentally attended a double header, it was awesome.The Florence Freedom split a double header with the Normal CornBelters. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
My wife and I took another three week summer road trip. While it did not involve as much baseball as our honeymoon did last year, we still visited several important places in the baseball world. The first stop on our trip was in Kansas City. Visiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was my top destination while planning the trip. Saying it exceeded my wildest expectations is an understatement. As wonderful and well done as the Hall of Fame is, Jesse and I both agree the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is better. We understand Cooperstown deals with everything baseball, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum focuses on a much smaller portion of baseball. However, something about the museum eclipses the magic of Cooperstown.
Welcome to the Negro League Baseball Museum. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The greatest players in Negro Leagues history are still playing in Kansas City. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The jerseys of the Negro League Museum. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
The next day we drove to Omaha. Among our stops there were the current, TD Ameritrade Park, and the historic, Rosenblatt Stadium, homes of the College World Series. Standing where so much baseball history has taken place gave me goosebumps. The drive between the ballparks felt like traveling from new Yankee Stadium to old Yankee Stadium. The new park is fine, but nothing like what it replaced.
The entrance to TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
What is left of Rosenblatt Stadium. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Our last baseball stop on our road trip was in Fargo, North Dakota. Inside the West Acres Mall is the Roger Maris Museum. While Maris is best remembered for his 1961 season, the Museum, which consists of a video room and long window display, walks you through Maris’ life and career. The simple museum is perfect for the two time MVP who often seemed happier when avoiding the spotlight.
The highlight of my baseball year was the road trip I took with Bernie. Four games, in four days, in four cities. We watched the Lansing Lugnuts, Detroit Tigers, Fort Wayne TinCaps, and South Bend Cubs play. While the Major Leagues are the pinnacle of the sport, Minor League Baseball gives you more for your money. You can sit closer, attend more games, and see future Major Leaguers play today. Beyond the great baseball, such a road trip allows you to explore new cities. Bernie and I ate our way through each city, especially Detroit. We both needed a salad and a workout at the end of the trip.
A beautiful sunset as we watched the Lansing Lugnuts play. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Bernie caught a plush baseball at our first game on the road trip in Lansing. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Welcome to Comerica Park, home to the Detroit Tigers (The Winning Run/ DJ
Much closer and we could have suited up for the Fort Wayne TinCaps. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Our seats for the final game of our road trip as we watched the South Bend Cubs play on Mr. Rogers Day. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Batting practice home run ball hit by one of the Minnesota Twins. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
View from our seats over the Tigers bullpen in left field. (The Winning RUN/ DJ)
2018 was a wonderful year of baseball for me. I spent far too many hours umpiring, watching, and traveling for baseball. It was an excellent year of exploring the game. I am excited to see what 2019 brings.
I can still hear legendary Yankee Public Address Announcer Bob Sheppard introducing Derek Jeter for his first at bat on Sunday, September 21, 2008. Jeter walked to the plate while Sheppard’s voice echoed around Yankee Stadium. Jesse, John, and I had flown to New York solely to watch the Yankees play the Orioles in the final game at Yankee Stadium. The House That Ruth Built was closing.
Baseball brought me to New York City for the first time. I would later live and work in New York for five years, but that first visit was about baseball. Knowing we only had one game to explore one of the greatest ballparks in baseball we arrived at 161st Street Station in the Bronx around 9:30 am, 11 hours before first pitch. We were greeted by a sea of fans who, like us, we eager to spend the day inside the House That Ruth Built before it closed.
We made it to The House That Ruth Built. (The Winning Run/ JJ)
The crowd outside the Stadium was chaotic, joyous, and a bit solemn all at once. The new Yankee Stadium stood just across the street, and except for a few glances I had little interest in the building. I had come to see THE Stadium, not its replacement. After slowly making our way through the line we finally entered the hallowed stadium. We soon learned our first stop would not happen. Monument Park was at capacity and the Yankees were closing it early. We scrapped our other plans and began exploring every nooks and cranny of the stadium that was accessible. We walked around the cheap seats, the foul lines, behind home plate, everywhere but our seats. Our seats were in the right field bleachers, with the Bleacher Creatures. Once you entered the bleacher area, security would not permit you to return to the rest of the stadium. We explored until our feet ached from the concrete. Once you join the Bleacher Creatures, there is no coming back.
Our first glimpse of the field was from behind home plate. Seeing the most famous baseball field in the world, where so much of the game’s history was made, where so many legends played, felt spiritual. I remember silently standing with Jesse and John gazing at the field, soaking it in. Three baseball fanatics in awe of their surroundings.
The field is beautiful from the cheap seats (The Winning Run/JJ)
Warming up before the game. (The Winning Run/JJ)
Breathtaking. (The Winning Run/JJ)
Our day touring Yankee Stadium went by in a flash before we joined the Bleacher Creatures. The pregame festivities included Yankee legends returning to the field one last time. Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Reggie Jackson, and other living legends were joined by the ghosts of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, among others. Fittingly Babe Ruth’s daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, threw out the final first pitch in the House That Ruth Built.
Once the actual game began, it was like every Yankee game I would attend while living in New York. The nationally televised game between two teams who would finish the season a combined 36.5 games behind first place began at 8:36 p.m. There were plenty of people, like us, who were not the regulars among the Bleacher Creatures. It was easy to identify the Bleacher Creatures. They are loud, obnoxious, generally know their baseball, and above all are die hard Yankee fans. The chants began in the top of the first, roll call. Every Yankee, except the pitcher and catcher, had their name chanted until they acknowledged the Bleacher Creatures. Some players, like Bobby Abreu, waved quickly, others, like Johnny Damon, made us work for a few minutes before waving. The loudest chant was for the Captain, Derek Jeter. Jeter was the man; no one on the field commanded more respect than #2.
Our seats with the Bleacher Creatures. (The Winning Run/JJ)
I remember only pieces of the actual game. We went to the game for the experience, not necessarily the actual game. The Bleacher Creatures did what they do best, being loud. I have clear memories of a chant regarding Hall of Fame player and then ESPN Sunday Night Baseball announcer Joe Morgan, who was broadcasting the game. The chant was simple, “Joe Morgan Sucks! Joe Morgan Sucks! Joe Morgan Sucks!” Over and over and over. I was never a fan of Morgan’s broadcasting, but the Bleacher Creatures were less bashful in voicing their opinion. Another memory is a different chant “Box Seats Suck! Box Seats Suck!” The metal bleachers in right field were anything but leisurious. They reminded me of the bench at a little league game. The most memorable moment sitting among the Bleacher Creatures happened when people sitting several rows in front of us attempting to start the wave. Yes the wave. Every time they tried to start the wave they were booed and told to “Take That Sh@$ Back To Shea!” Eventually stadium security and the New York Police Department stepped in. This was late in the game after beer could lower people’s inhibitions. Obviously the people threatening those trying to start the wave were removed by security. Wrong. Attempting to start the wave gets you removed to the cheers of the Bleacher Creatures. I might have missed something someone said or did, but I like to think they were arrested for attempting to start the wave at Yankee Stadium.
On the field, Jose Molina hit the final home run in Yankee Stadium with a fourth inning two run shot off Chris Waters to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead. The Yankees would stretch out their lead in the sixth inning with a Jason Giambi RBI single and a sacrifice fly by Robinson Cano to score Brett Gardner. The tension was palpable in an otherwise meaningless game. Everyone wanted one last Yankee victory inside the House That Ruth Built. The Yankees led 7-3 heading into the ninth inning.
The guitar riff blasted through the speakers. Metallica’s Enter Sandman filled the stadium. The greatest closer of all time was trotting in from the bullpen. 11 pitches and three groundouts later, Mariano Rivera closed Yankee Stadium.
Mariano Rivera coming in to close out Yankee Stadium. (The Winning Run/JJ)
The final out. (The Winning Run/JJ)
Jesse and me after the game. (The Winning Run/JJ)
John and me after the game. Note the mounted police on the field to keep people off.(The Winning Run/JJ)
The celebration was not the World Series many envisioned to close Yankee Stadium, it was still special. Derek Jeter spoke to the crowd, thanking the fans and creating a bridge between the two stadiums. He was brief and to the point before leading the Yankees around the field to say goodbye. Yankee Stadium was the House That Ruth Built and the House That Jeter Closed.
The game ended just before midnight. An era in baseball history was closed. No one wanted to leave. Grown men were tossing empty water bottles to the player’s kids on the warning track, begging them to fill the bottles with dirt before tossing them back. Every nook and cranny inside Yankee Stadium was filled with memories and the thought of never coming back was almost too much for some to bear. Normally at the end of a Major League game the ushers and security are quick to push you out of your seats. This was different, we stayed in our seats for an hour after the final out. The crowd was slow to disperse and the stadium staff did not have the usual urgency to clear the stadium. It was after 1 a.m. when we left Yankee Stadium. No one was in a hurry to leave the ghosts of baseball history alone in a now closed Yankee Stadium.
Growing up around Atlanta in the 1990’s there was plenty of great baseball games and players to watch. Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Chipper Jones were all Hall of Fame players. Andruw Jones, Otis Nixon, Javy Lopez, and so many more were great players to watch. These riches on the diamond were amazing, but as time has gone by the realization of how great it was to watch these players night after night has set in. Fans across the country might only have a few chances each season to see these players and they understood that you should take the time to slow down and appreciate them.
The understanding that I need to slow down and watch when a great player passes through town has sunk in more as I get older. Appreciating the greatest of a player goes beyond the highlight reel plays. It is watching how they approach each pitch throughout a game, both at the plate and in the field. There are only a select few players in baseball that can capture my attention even when they are not making great plays. Players who make me stop and watch just in case they do something amazing.
These stop what you are doing and watch players are the elite few. Some I have had the pleasure of watching in person, others I missed my opportunity to watch their greatness. When I was living in New York for graduate school and the few years after, I was lucky enough to see Derek Jeter play on a few occasions. Jeter was never the best hitter, but he was good one. He did not have the most power, the biggest arm, or greatest fielding range, but he commanded everything inside Yankee Stadium. While only getting to see Jeter in the later part of his career, it was still special to see one of the few players who was respected across baseball without exception. It takes a special player to be respected by Red Sox fans even though he was a lifelong Yankee that broke Boston’s heart on so many occasions. Watching Jeter play consumed a majority of my time at Yankee Stadium. I watched how he moved with every pitch and how he was the man on the field and yet everyone knew in their heart that he was never the most talented. Derek Jeter could do everything on a baseball diamond, but it was what did not show up in the box score, which set him apart from everyone else.
I usually went to Mets games simply because the tickets were cheaper, however when I did venture up to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium it was special. Even inside the new Yankee Stadium the history of the Yankees resonates. Watching two players who will and should be first ballot Hall of Famers, Jeter and Ichiro, plus my favorite player in Andruw Jones meant the 2012 Yankees were the best for me. Watching Jones patrol the outfield with the Braves growing up spoiled me. If it was catchable, he seemed to always catch it. The 2012 Yankees meant I got to relieve a bit of my childhood with Andruw Jones, watch the coolest man in baseball in Derek Jeter, and watch one of the greatest pure hitters of all time in Ichiro.
The beauty of Ichiro’s swing and his athleticism at the plate are what always caught my eye. He seemed, and still seems, like a magician at the plate. He never seems to be fooled on a pitch; he might swing and miss but never look awful in doing it. Ichiro is to me what a baseball player ought to be. He can beat you with power, though he rarely displays it. He can put the ball in play and then beat you with his speed. Then on defense, he can chase down fly balls with the best of them. If runners are on base they advance at their own risk, as Ichiro is blessed with a cannon for an arm. Ichiro has all five tools, though he keeps his power hidden until it is absolutely necessary. Watching Ichiro hit is the closest I will ever come to watching a hitter on the same level like a Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio, or Honus Wagner. Watching Ichiro and Jeter play were and are a return to my childhood. A return to when baseball was simple and the players were larger than life; the baseball that was and forever will be my first love.
I have not gotten to see every player I wanted to see play in person, though I did on television. The two biggest players that I did not get to see play in person that I will forever be sad about are Ken Griffey Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero. Yes, I saw both players on television, but not in person. There is a big difference in appreciating how great a player is when you see them not through a camera lens, but with your own eyes.
The two most obvious reasons I never saw Ken Griffey Jr. play in person are that he played in Seattle and Cincinnati and I lived in Atlanta. This meant at best his team would come to Atlanta once a year. Interleague play did not start until 1997. This meant seven seasons of Griffey’s 22-year career were already gone. Then there were the last three years in Seattle before he moved on to the Cincinnati Reds. There were some opportunities to see Griffey play in Atlanta during interleague at some point with the Mariners, but I went to only two or three games a year growing up. So not great odds, plus we usually went to the less popular games with the slightly cheaper tickets and the smaller crowds. I loved going to games, but looking back, I wish I had seen Griffey. His time with the Reds meant he only came to town one time a season, and sadly there were several lost seasons in Cincinnati due to injuries. Griffey was, and remains, the prototype for what it means to be cool on a baseball field. Jeter was New York cool, suave. Griffey was fun, exciting, and electric. His wiggling batting stance is still mimicked by people today, though admittedly no one else, even in softball leagues can ever hope to hit a ball like he did. Griffey could amaze you and do things that just did not make sense for a player his size. You expected Frank Thomas and Albert Belle to hit the ball a mile, but Griffey at worst hit the ball as far as they did, plus he could run like the wind. Ken Griffey Jr. was a once every few generations type player and I missed him. As great as his highlight reel is, I can only imagine how great it would have been to see him play in person.
Missing several opportunities to see Ken Griffey Jr. makes sense, not seeing Vladimir Guerrero play does not. Guerrero spent 8 of his 16 seasons with the Montreal Expos. Playing in the National League East with the Braves meant I had plenty of opportunities to watch him play, but for whatever reason I never did. It was not from a lack of interest, I just never seemed to go to Turner Field when the Expos were in town. Not sure why, just the way it worked out. Guerrero was a lot like Andruw Jones, great power and speed and a howitzer for an arm. The main difference between Guerrero and Jones was that Guerrero was a more complete hitter and Jones played for Atlanta, not against them. Vladimir Guerrero never met a pitch he could not hit. It reminded me of playing baseball in the street with my brother and friends. If it was within reach, you swung, partly so you did not have to go pick it up and partly because it may be the best pitch you will see. Guerrero never seemed to care if the pitch was a foot outside and head high, he could serve it into the outfield. He could also bloop a ball into short left field after the pitch bounced in front of the plate. Ichiro is a magician in the batter’s box in the sense that he can almost place where he hits the ball. Guerrero is a difference sort of magician as he can hit nearly everything thrown towards the plate, and hit it well. The other thing I missed was seeing Guerrero unleash his arm. There are few players with arms that stop the opponent from even attempting to take an extra base; Rick Ankiel and Jeff Francoeur are the players in recent years that come to mind regarding the fear their arms put into the minds of opposing base runners. Perhaps Vladimir Guerrero was not the best player in terms of doing the conventional things on a diamond the best, though he did them extremely well. What I missed the most in not seeing Guerrero play in person is his ability to leave fans speechless. He could hit or throw a baseball a mile, or single on a pitch that most players could not even reach. Vladimir Guerrero took the sort of baseball that I grew up playing to the Major Leagues and still made it look as amazing as it felt.
The opportunity to see something unique and amazing at a baseball game exists every time the gates open. You could see Matt Cain throw a Perfect Game (as Jesse did in San Francisco), watch the final game at old Yankee Stadium (as John, Jesse, and I did in 2008), or just see a fun game like I have on so many occasions. Baseball is a team sport played by individuals. These individuals are what make the game great. Players of all size can find success on a baseball diamond, whether they are Jose Altuve at 5’6”, Randy Johnson at 6’10”, or Jonathan Broxton at 300 lbs. Great players come in every physical form possible and they are all capable to doing something amazing. Most of us do not have the financial ability to go to every game, but we should all make the time when these elite, once in a generation type players come to town. Continuing to put off going to see Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, Aroldis Chapman, and others will be a sad memory. There is no guarantee they will do something amazing at the game you attend, but you will still be able to say you saw them play. No one cares if the one game you saw Sandy Koufax pitch he did not win the game, you still got to see Koufax pitch. Do not miss your opportunity to see great players in person. We can all watch highlight reels, but watching in person is always special and you will remember it better than any video.
Baseball season is in full swing and for the first time since I really started paying attention to baseball the game is without a familiar face. I am the resident New York Yankees fan here, and I believe we are without the greatest player of my lifetime. I am talking about Number 2, Derek Jeter, Number 2. It should be a sad time, baseball without the core four or the fantastic five or whatever they call them all, but I am excited about the future.
I have been a fan of the Yankees since I could walk. I knew the greats and knew where they played and what the uniform looked like. I have met Don Mattingly and gotten his autograph. Unfortunately, this was the late 80’s and early 90’s and the Yankees were about as good as the Marlins have been for the last 10 years. It was not until I moved to enemy territory that the organization brought up a promising young shortstop from Kalamazoo, Michigan. I started following more intently, the Yankees started winning, and Jeter started wooing us all. It was good, but all good things yada yada yada. It is 2015 now and we are moving forward.
Derek has left the Stadium and we are stuck with Arod for another couple of year but we still have talent and potential. Our most tenured homegrown talent is Brett Gardner and we have patched together the rest of the team, as is Yankee fashion. Our new shortstop is Sir Didi Gregorius, a knighted player who played well for half a season for those jerks in Arizona (still sore over the 2001 World Series). He has big spikes to fill and still must earn his pinstripes but he has the potential for greatness, as does every other player out there. This is why they play 162 and hope the baseball gods smile and keep them healthy so they may become as iconic and loved as The (hopefully not last ever Mr. Cashman) Captain, Number 2, Derek Jeter.
One of the biggest issues facing Major League Baseball is the regionalization of the sport. Yankee fans watch Yankee games, Rockie fans watch Rockie games, and Twin fans what Twin games. Fans tend to watch the game their team is playing. This could be partly due to local television deals, which make it difficult to watch out of market games. It could also be due to the nature of the sport. Teams play almost every day during the season so keeping up with multiple teams at once can be daunting and time consuming. I have my teams who I root for, my one primary team and a few backups who I cheer for unless they are playing my main team. I keep an eye on the standings and can tell you which teams are good and which teams are starting their vacations early this year. However I cannot tell you about every player and how good or bad they are playing this season or during their careers. The sheer volume of games, combined with the regionalization of the sport, and the finite amount of time I have to spend looking at the sport each day prevents this from happening.
Despite all the forces working against me, there is something, which has expanded my view of the day-to-day happenings from around Major League Baseball. Playing Fantasy Baseball has taught me a lot about daily baseball in a short amount of time. The Fantasy Baseball League I play in, Infield Lies, makes you set a line up every day. You start understanding how great a player is after you look every day to see how they did the previous day. The competition of the league drives me to continually look for someone who is hot and can help me win the week or the season. You start looking around and you see these phenomenal players who do not get national press on a regular basis, or at all. These are not the Mike Trout’s or Andrew McCutchen’s of the world. These are the versatile players like Martin Prado who can essentially play everywhere on the diamond. You lock on to Prado, also known as Nitram Odarp, because he can fill so many gaps for you on your roster. Then you start seeing his ability with his bat show up on the daily stat line, and then you start watching a few minutes of the game he is playing in with the Diamondbacks and now the Yankees. Despite his not being on my fantasy team this year, I still follow him and will continue to do so because I “discovered” such a great player that I might otherwise have never known about.
Every year I hope to make the rest of the people who are in my league upset by finding that player who come out of nowhere to have a career year or to be a breakout star. I am not always successful in this mission, but it does not mean that players other league members “discovered” do not interest me. Trying to have more steals each week meant the “discovery” of the Dodgers’ Dee Gordon. Prior to 2014, Gordon had average 60 games, 223 plate appearances, 27 runs scored, 22 stolen bases, 6 doubles, 2 triples, 12 walks, 11 RBI, a .256 batting average, a .301 On-base Percentage in parts of three seasons with Los Angeles. In 2014, Gordon has his break out year. He played in 148 games, had 650 plate appearances, scored 92 runs, stole 64 bases, had 24 doubles, 12 triples, walked 31 times, had 34 RBI, a .289 batting average, and a .326 On-Base Percentage. Aside from the triples and stolen bases, which led all of baseball, Gordon could have gone unnoticed unless you are a fan of the Dodgers.
Looking to find the reliever that could put his team over the top in 2013, Jesse picked up Jason Grilli of the Pittsburgh Pirates after his hot start. Prior to the 2013 season, Grilli had collected five saves, a 4.34 ERA, 1.413 WHIP, and a 1.96 Strikeout to Walk Ratio in 10 seasons. The Pirates returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1992 and having a shutdown closer like Grilli helped them secure the Wild Card. Grilli had an All Star season with 33 saves, a 2.40 ERA, 1.040 WHIP, and 5.69 Strikeout to Walk Ratio. “Discovering” Grilli during his best season has led Jesse, John, and me to follow his career as it has moved forward. I hope that Grilli has a few more good seasons, but if not we were able to appreciate his greatest season while it was in progress.
After learning that Charlie Blackmon went to one of the local high schools near his house, John did the dutiful thing and picked him up. The 2014 season was Blackmon’s first full season in the Majors and it turned out an All Star year. He hit .288, with 19 homeruns, 72 RBI, 28 steals, 82 runs scored, 27 doubles, 31 walks, and an On-Base Percentage of .335. Not much in his stat line leaps out at you except for the steals. However, digging a little deeper and you see that Blackmon had 171 hits in 648 plate appearances. His batting average can be a bit deceptive, as it masks the success Blackmon had at the plate. The simple connection that occurs, like growing up in the same area, can help you “discover” players that you might otherwise overlook.
I generally cheer for all players; if they make a great play it does not dissuade my excitement even if they are playing against my team. There are exceptions though, mainly Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun both for their PED use and their lies about their PED usage. I was at the game in Yankee Stadium against the San Francisco Giants when Rodriguez broke Lou Gehrig’s career Grand Slam record. The entire stadium went nuts because it was a big home run in a big moment, but I knew what it meant and I just could not bring myself to cheer. I felt the pit in my stomach, which only sadness can bring. People did not understand the moment; they focused only on that single game. This singular focus on winning also seems to exist within fantasy sports in general. You are trying to win this week, so you are not so much concerned about next week or next year. People who become overly obsessed with their fantasy sports begin to root against their team, because someone on the opposing team in on their fantasy team. I have personally seen this and heard stories of this, which boggled my mind. I root for my teams and this will not change. I want the players to do well, but if I have to choose, I want the team I cheer for the win more than my fantasy team.
I understand that ultimately this allegiance to real life teams and players is in its own way a fantasy. However, it is a fantasy that does not continuously change. Once I begin cheering for a team or player, they have to do something terrible for me to stop, and I do not mean wins and losses. My dislike for Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun is because they both cheated and then lied about cheating multiple times, not the uniform they wear. Honesty goes a long way for me. Even if a player like a Rick Ankiel, when he was still a pitcher, clearly can no longer play at a Major League level, I will not stop rooting for them so long as they are honest and give it their best effort. Ultimately, every player deserves to be treated as a person, so why would I boo someone who is struggling, yet trying their best?
Fantasy Baseball has expanded the sport for me. It has exposed me to a slew of great players, who I may otherwise have never seen or noticed. Some see fantasy as a way to ruin the game, but for me Fantasy Baseball has made me a better fan of the entire game. The improvements of teams like the Mets the past few years or a player like Casey McGehee, and his career year last season, allow me to love baseball more and to be a true fan of the game, not just or a few teams. Fantasy Baseball is what you allow it to be, and for me it has allowed me to look into the game of baseball like never before.