Game 23: Wrigley Field, Chicago

1914-2014.

One hundred years of baseball on the North Side of Chicago.

This wasn’t my first trip to Wrigley Field. I went for the first time as a college student in 2005. These days, I make it up there about once a year or so. I always have the same four thoughts, and in the following order:

1. Did I just step back in time?

This trip, it took about 10 minutes for me to start singing that Huey Lewis song, “Back in Time,” from the Back to the Future* soundtrack. Especially taking the short L trip from downtown and getting off at the Addison exit. Just 15 minutes ago we were at State/Lake in the heart of the downtown shopping district, and now we’re inside a 100 year old ballpark!

* – Interestingly, the Cubs supposedly win the World Series in 2015 when Marty McFly travels to the future in Back to the Future II. We’ll see.

The place is old. There’s a ragtime brass band that walks around and plays music in the ballpark. The organ belts out classic tunes. The men’s room still uses troughs for urinals. It’s authentically classic, and the Cubs have worked hard at maintaining it’s history without compromise.

Wrigley Field is still the premier venue to see an afternoon baseball game. In fact, they didn’t even play night games there until 1988 – they didn’t even have lights! They were planning on installing them in 1941, but they ended up donating the supplies to the war following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Then they swore that they’d never install them, but eventually they caved.

Save for the lights, the ballpark hasn’t changed much. Especially in the last 70 years. The scoreboard was already out there. The upper deck was added in the late 20’s and bleachers were added to the outfield in 1937. But slowly, they keep caving in to make minor modifications to keep up with the times -a small electronic screen highlights the right field wall, and there’s a marquee that circles parts of the grandstand now too.

The Ricketts family, the current ownership of the Cubs and Wrigley Field, have committed $500M worth of upgrades and expansion to the ballpark expanding the concourses, improving the roof and seating around the park, significantly enhancing the Cubs clubhouse and press box areas, and adding rooftop concessions with outdoor seating. All with the goal of preserving the structure and facade of the ballpark for the future.  Because Wrigley Field is worth saving for years to come.

The old time feel of Wrigley is pure. It’s special. Fenway Park is the only comparable experience in all of baseball. I’m thankful they’ve committed to keeping baseball at Wrigley for years to come.

2. Is this ballpark regulation size, or what?

If its possible to get over the old-time feel of the ballpark, my second impression is always about the size and seating of Wrigley.

Somehow, they manage to cram over 41,000 people into that tiny little space. The seats are closer together, and the bleachers account for a lot of it. A lot of the seats are hidden up underneath the upper deck which sits extremely close to the field. It feels tiny and cramped, but it also makes is charming and heightens the camaraderie among the Cubs fans.

I’m used to Kauffman Stadium (only 38,000 fans at capacity) where you have all the personal space you need to spread out and relax. I don’t want to touch my neighbor that I don’t know, and I’m certainly not going to strike up a conversation with them. But at Wrigley, it’s inevitable. The tightness in the stands forces interaction and conversation. Smaller space, yet more people.

The small feel is also aided by the shallow power alleys: 368′ to left-center and right-center field makes the outfield look tiny. It makes up for the shallow alleys by having deep corners: 355 & 353 to left and right fields, respectively.

It’s a cozy experience at Wrigley, but not necessarily comfortable all the time.

3. Where’s the Old Style vendor?

Ooooo yeah. Wrigley Field is possibly the only place in the world where an Old Style manages to hit the spot. It’s not the best, but it’s true to the experience. The name sums it up perfectly.

Unfortunately, this year they quit selling it up tap and now only have it in cans. Bad move if you ask me.

4. Is there anyone sitting in the Steve Bartman seat?

Ah yes, the pinnacle of the Cubs’ curse. But before I explain who Bartman is, I first have to explain the Curse itself.

The Curse is believed to have begun in 1945 when the owner of the local Billy Goat Tavern, Billy Sianis, decided to bring his goat to a World Series game as a publicity stunt. Not surprisingly, the goat smelled, and he was asked to leave “The Friendly Confines” because some other fans were complaining about it. He declared, “Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more.”

The Cubs would go on to lose to the Tigers and haven’t been back to the World Series ever since. They last won it all in 1908. Poor Cubbies. Even their curse narrative is somewhat embarrassing.

Okay, on to Steve Bartman.

In 2003*, the Cubs were the closest they’d ever been to making it back to the World Series. It was the eighth inning of Game 6. The Cubs led 3-0 and were up 3 games to 2 against the Florida Marlins. There was one out. Just five more outs, and the Cubs were moving on to the World Series.

* – Ironically, 2003 was the Year of the Goat according to the Chinese zodiac calendar. Next year, 2015, is the first “Year of the Goat” since 2003. You guys, what if Back to the Future actually gets it right?

Luis Castillo was batting for the Marlins, and hit a fly ball down the left field stands. Cubs’ left fielder, Moises Alou, went running over and leapt up against the side wall, attempting to make the catch. Replays indicate that he had a play on the ball and could have recorded the out.

Steve Bartman – poor, poor, Steve Bartman – was sitting in the front row at Wrigley Field right where Alou was jumping for the ball. He was wearing a green turtleneck, glasses, and a Cubs cap with Walkman headphones over his ears. Bartman did what any of us would have done in that situation: he tried to catch the foul ball.

He didn’t make the catch, but he got a solid left hand on it directly above Alou’s outstretched glove. Since the ball was out of the field of play, the umpire couldn’t call fan interference, but it was clear what had happened.

Alou threw an absolute fit. He chucked his glove into the ground. He looked back at Bartman and glared. He yelled into the umpire, shouting for interference.

But no call ever came, and a Cub implosion ensued.

Castillo walked. Ivan Rodriguez singled. Miguel Cabrera reached on an error by the shortstop. Derek Lee doubled. Mike Lowell was intentionally walked. Jeff Conine hit a sacrifice fly for the second out in the inning. Mike Mordecai doubled. Juan Pierre singled. And finally, Castillo – the man whose foul ball had started the whole ordeal – flew out to second to end the inning.

The Marlins sent twelve men to the plate, scored 8 runs, and won the game 8-3. They went on to win Game 7, the NLCS and eventually the World Series.

The image of Steve Bartman sitting with a glum look on his face – eyes teared, neck turtled – is forever etched in my mind. I’ve never felt more sorry for anyone in my life.

This being 2003, there was no big screen to watch the replay on, and no one had the MLB At Bat app to reference either. But slowly, as the carnage ensued on the field, there was a slow fire burning through the grandstand. Fans were getting phone calls and pages from people at home watching the game that it was the guy in the headphones’s fault. Fans started shouting at him. They were throwing peanuts, pointing fingers and dumping beer.

There was a new goat at Wrigley Field.

Every time the cameras cut back to him, he appeared to be getting smaller. Cowering lower with every hitter the Marlins sent to the plate. He needed a police escort to leave the game safely and had patrol cars at his house as well. People suggested he enter the Witness Protection Program and governors offered him asylum from the city of Chicago.

He declined all of those things. He also declines to do interviews. He declines autographs and apparently declined a 6-figure check to do a Superbowl commercial.

The seat – Aisle 4, Row 8, Seat 114 – is now legendary and a favorite for fans like myself to sit in. He isn’t hated around Chicago as he once was, but he is certainly still blamed for the Cubs 2003 playoffs. He still lives in Chicago, but has never been back to Wrigley Field.

******

Wrigley Field has an interesting atmosphere these days. At this point, tt’s like the fans have gotten used to “The Curse” and have embraced the lovable loser mentality. It’s not about making the playoffs anymore or even finishing better than 5th in the NL Central (which they’ve done for the last 5 years and currently sit today).

For Cubs fans who go to catch a game at Wrigley, they just want to party it up and win today. If they don’t win? Hey, that’s okay. We still had some fun.

Wrigley is almost a college atmosphere, actually. Lots of young professionals move to the North Side out of college, work downtown and live in the Wrigleyville area. There are cool restaurants and bars surrounding the ballpark, and it’s very reminiscent of a college town.

For the first time in a while, the Cubs are starting to have some hope coming through their farm system. In 2011, the Cubs hired Theo Epstein to be the President of Baseball Operations. Epstein returned winning back to the cursed Boston Red Sox in 2004, and the Cubs hoped he could do the same for them.

But the baseball landscape is different today, and when Epstein came to Boston, there were new statistics and measurements in the work that set the stage for a revolution in baseball. Oakland’s Moneyball mentality had made its way around the league, and the Red Sox were the earliest adopters with the largest wallets.

But the Cubs are making progress behind the scenes, and I was there right on queue to see that “progress” make it’s first appearance at Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon. But more about that in the “Game Notes”.

My largest connection to spirituality here is definitely going to center around curses. Do they exist? Does God curse? Does God care about baseball teams winning or losing? Does God have any role in 106 year curses?

I believe in a God that is for us and not against us. But in baseball, someone has to win and someone has to lose. We might all be praying for God to bless our team’s performance, but the other team is praying a counter-prayer for them to bless their team’s performance instead.

God can’t answer both prayers, can he?

Or here’s another example: a church is holding a picnic for inner city kids. They pray and pray for nice weather, but on the day of the picnic it’s pouring down rain. However, 15 miles away, there’s a farmer and his family who have been praying and praying for rain so his crops might get the moisture they need to grow.

They’ve both been praying, and one’s answer to prayer is perceived as a curse to another. Interesting.

IMG_8951.JPG

Game Notes:

The “progress” on the field that I referenced earlier? His name is Javier Baez. He’s a power hitting infielder who has been coming up through the Cubs system for a few years now. He’s the first in what is supposed to be a wave of 3 or 4 prospects that the Cubs have been grooming to turn around the organization from lovable losers to lovable winners again.

Friday night was Baez’s first game at Wrigley Field. They had called him up from the minors just three days earlier. In his first big league game, he hit a go ahead HR in the 12th inning to win the game against Colorado. In his third game, he went 3-4 with two HRs. Then in his Wrigley Field debut on Friday, he stroked a single on his first swing of the game and came around to score the first run of the game.

But then he struck out the next 4 times up. Ouch.

The game was a good one: an afternoon matchup against the Rays. These teams scored a single run in 7 different frames making for a back-and-forth game. The Rays first run came in the 3rd with a leadoff HR from Desmond Jennings. Tied up, 1-1.

The Cubs retook the lead in the 4th. With 1 out, Arismendy Alcantara walked, advanced when Ryan Sweeney reached base on a throwing error by the pitcher and scored on a John Baker single. 2-1 Cubs

A leadoff triple from Sean Rodriguez started the 7th inning. Two batters later, Curt Casali hit a ball sharply to third, but the Cubs weren’t quick enough to get Rodriguez at the plate. Tied up again, 2-2.

In the 8th, Ben Zobrist doubled and scored on a Rodriguez single making it 3-2 Rays, but the Cubs answered in the bottom of the 9th when Luis Valbuena led off with a single and came around to score and make it 3-3.

Free baseball was disappointing, however. The Rays quickly made it 4-3 in the 10th with three consecutive singles, and the Cubs went quietly in the bottom half – K, K, 1-3.

Both starters, Chris Archer for the Rays and Tsuyoshi Wada for the Cubs, pitched very well and neither got a decision.

I left the game disappointed. There’s nothing more fun than celebrating a Cubs win with a “Go Cubs Go!” Instead, it was a melancholy walk to the L Station – which was packed with sad fans, so we took a cab instead.

Twenty-three down. Six to go.

Up Next: Minnesota Twins.

-apc.

Game 22: Miller Park, Milwaukee

Things Milwaukee does really well:

  • Beer.
  • Brats.
  • Cheese.
  • Ballparks.

We made the drive up to Milwaukee yesterday morning and arrived at Miller Park about an hour before game time. Their tailgaters were impressive, but the ballpark was so doggone good looking I didn’t have it in me to stop and join the fans. I had to get inside and circumvent the concourses.

As I circled, I kept slowly acquiring items: a Brewers cap (with the old glove logo, obviously), a bloody mary (complete with a beef jerky straw), a Miller Lite (why would I get anything else given the circumstances?), and a “Brat of the Month” – a cheddar brat so juicy it exploded all over the place when I bit into it.

Taste bud overload. Yum.

After killing nearly an entire hour circling the park, we made it to our seats in the front row behind the RF bullpen.

I chose these specific seats because of the impressive view of the retractable roof (see above). It’s super unique and a brilliant design. The roof closes in a quarter circle from both directions. Yesterday the left-field side of the roof was wide open, while the right-field portion was partially closed to keep the majority of the playing field in the shade. It was a comfortable cool afternoon inside the park, and I imagine the fans are extremely thankful in the cold of April and heat of August.

The roof and concourse walls are painted a shade of green that can only be referred to as “Fenway Green” – a color that I’ve determined ought to be the official color of baseball. It’s classic and fresh and old-timey.

Our seats also provided the perfect location for our #HunterPenceSigns as he was playing right field for the visiting San Francisco Giants. If you haven’t seen the sign trolling that has been taking place over the past week, you are in for a Twitter treat. Just give it a quick search.

Here’s a look at our signs…

20140808-095223-35543373.jpg

Got. Him. Good.

It was funny to watch the bullpen guys try to subtly read our signs without reacting in any way. They’d turn their heads around and act like they were watching one of the TVs in the concourse while stealing glances out the corner of their eye.

It’s always a blast to see those guys warm up so close too. We watched Guttierez, Machi and Romo throw from point blank. So fast.

All that was great, but my favorite thing about the Brew Crew: their former logo (placed side by side with their new logo to illustrate how much better the old one is)…

20140808-100618-36378516.jpg

This is one of the greatest graphic design moves in the history of the game. It’s a glove, obviously, with a baseball in the middle of it. But look closer…do you see the M and the B? M-B…Milwaukee Brewers….get it?! I freaked out the day I saw that. Here are some more clever subtleties in team logos.

Team logos are a smaller representation of a larger entity. And when any of us – player or fan – puts on a team cap or slaps a logo bumper sticker on their car, suddenly our actions are representative of that organization.

When ballplayers don their uniforms, they are signing up to represent what that logo stands for. If it’s Yankee pinstripes, then they’re going to have to shave and get a haircut because that’s the image the Yankees want to have of themselves.

Going beyond the sports example: when people look at each of us, what do they see us representing? What am I “about”? When I step out the door each day, do my words and actions represent the life I’ve signed up to lead?

Or, to quote 2 Corinthians 2:15, do I have the “aroma of Christ” about me?

This is why I wear a home team cap everywhere I go. As a fan of the home team, I want to clearly represent each one by looking the part. (Although, as a Cardinals fan in disguise, I was a bit conflicted yesterday. I would not have minded if Milwaukee lost the game to give St. Louis an opportunity to catch up to them in the standings. Instead, both teams won, and the Redbirds remain a game back in the NL Central.) But was there to experience life as a Brewers fan. I need to look and act the part.

I believe that every interaction we have with others has either a positive or negative impact. You could call it our relational carbon footprint. Everywhere I go, I leave behind me a wake. And since I’ve signed up to follow Jesus Christ, I hope and pray that my wake would be the same as his would be.

It’s not. I’ll settle for it being anywhere close at this point.

The other connection I want to mention between team logos and Christianity involves the symbol of the cross.

Why does the church celebrate the symbol of the cross so much? Yesterday I mentioned briefly that I believe Western culture is more interested in getting to Heaven than we are adopting an altered lifestyle, and I think these thoughts are connected. We have emphasized Christ’s death, suffering and payment for sins so that we might be saved from those things.

But the pinnacle of the Jesus narrative is not the Cross. It is the Resurrection.

Why do we wear cross necklaces and image Jesus on the cross so much in our churches? Why has the “team logo” of Christianity been the cross? The Church “logo” should be resurrection.

I propose the following team logo for the Church moving forward:

black-circle-md

The empty tomb. The future restoration of all things. The never ending, never surrendering, never giving up on us love of God. The resurrection. This symbol, in my opinion, better exemplifies the God I seek to know and follow after.

Sorry to get on my soap box about the cross. Obviously it is important too. I just don’t think it’s the point, and I think logos ought to be about the point.

That’s it for now. On to some game notes.

Game Notes:

We got to see the current NL wins leader, Wily Peralta (14-6), start for the Brewers. Jake Peavy was going for the Giants. This marked the second time in the tour I’ve seen Peavy get the loss. (He started for Boston the day Jake Arrietta nearly threw a no-hitter.)

Peralta was lights out. and only gave up 1 run and struck out 9. The Giants loaded the bases in the first but failed to score, and he pretty much cruised from then on.

Peavy didn’t really have it over 5.2 innings, and he was fortunate to only give up 3 runs on 9 hits.

Milwaukee got their first three batters on to start the game and it looked like they were going to pile on the runs, but instead Carlos Gomez was caught stealing and Pence made a terrific catch on the warning track to keep the Brewers to a 1-0 lead.

Bottom of the 5th, Peavy made it to first* on a dropped third strike, and eventually came around to score on a Pence single to make it 1-1.

* – Here’s a fun quiz: How many different ways are there to get to first base?

The wheels came off for Peavy the next inning though. To lead off the 6th, Aramis Ramirez doubled, then Khris Davis did too, and a Rickie Weeks single made it 3-1. The Brewers bullpen – Jeffress, Smith and Rodriguez – would do the rest to seal the win for the Crew.

20140808-110705-40025092.jpg

Twenty-two down. Eight to go.

Up Next: Chicago Cubs.

-apc.

Game 21: U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago

This morning’s post game report is going to be short and sweet because I’m on a time crunch to drive up to Milwaukee for this afternoon’s game. Here are a couple notes from yesterday’s game…

The Cell was way better than I anticipated. Not in my Top 10 ballparks. Actually probably not even in my Top 15. But I had extremely low expectations going into the game, and I was surprised at what I found instead.

U.S. Cellular Field was originally Comiskey Park II. It was built in 1991, which was the year before Camden Yards was built in Baltimore and completely changed the landscape of ballpark design. After Camden, every park for the next 20 years was a “retro” design utilizing steel and brick aesthetics rather than the concrete coliseums/multipurpose parks of the previous decades (think Kauffman Stadium, Oakland Coliseum, Dodger Stadium, etc.). Comiskey II was the last of that era, and I wasn’t expecting it to be worth much. It’s undergone renovations and remodels numerous times to make it more appealing, and clearly their improvements have made an impact.

We arrived in Chicago around 10:30 and bolted as quickly as possible to The Cell on the Southside. We made it most of the way there on the Red Line, but they weren’t letting passengers off at the 35th-Sox station next to the ballpark because there was an acid spill next to the station and they had to close down the whole area – blocks in each direction. A somewhat crazy start to the trip.

Keeping up with my tradition at each ballpark, I picked up a White Sox cap at the ballpark. As a Royals fan, I dislike the White Sox quite a bit, so I opted for the throwback 1983 style (which, as I’ve probably mentioned elsewhere, is one of my favorite uniforms ever). It’s pretty slick, actually.

I saw three potential themes to write about from today’s game: the myth of clutch-hitting, the goal of evangelism, and the purpose of the Ten Commandments.

#1: The Myth of Clutch Hitting

One of the largest debates in baseball circles is whether or not there is such a thing as a “clutch” ballplayer. Certainly there are clutch hits, and clutch situations, but is it true that some ballplayers are literally better than others at hitting in big time situations? When the pressure is on, are there certain guys that inexplicably can rise to the occasion while others cower and sweat and ultimately fail?

The reason I ask, is because on two separate occasions, rookie phenom, Jose Abreu, came up with runners on base and an opportunity to put the White Sox up with one swing of the bat. Abreu leads the MLB in HRs this year with 31. Now that Mashiro Tanaka is out with an injury, it seems pretty certain that Abreu will be the Rookie of the Year in the AL. He’s exactly the guy you want up in that situation.

He came up twice with runners on and both times I found myself leaning forward begging him to come through in the clutch.

In the fourth inning, with a runner on first, he grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. In the 6th inning, with runners on second and third with two outs (the Sox best chance for a rally in the game) he grounded out to the shortstop again, ending the inning and the threat.

Jose Abreu was not clutch yesterday.

But it begs some questions: are there certain humans that thrive in the tight spots? Are there others who are weak in pressure spots?

Ultimately, the guys at Baseball Prospectus will tell you that there’s no such thing as a “clutch” hitters. There are clutch moments – like Carlton Fisk in the 1975 World Series or David Freese in the 2011 World Series – that are certainly clutch moments. But there’s no such thing as a clutch individual. The numbers correlate pretty much across the board that guys who are better players are the guys you want at the plate in tight spots.

There’s more math here, and tons of articles written about it, but we basically know that the idea of “clutch-hitters” is a myth.

It’s funny what myths we buy into as humans. For example, the “creation story” of baseball is a myth. Abner Doubleday supposedly invented the game in Cooperstown. But there is zero evidence that Doubleday was ever in Cooperstown nor that he had anything to do with the game.

Baseball needed an origin story that made baseball purely an American game and not a variation of the English game of Cricket or stickball. We wanted an origin story – a myth – to believe in because we needed to believe in something. I’ve written a lot about the Genesis creation debate elsewhere, so I’m not going to get into it here, but suffice it to say, it’s a myth too.

#2: The Goal of Evangelism

As a culture, we don’t really care about faith/spirituality/belief actually changing our lives. We just want to know how to get to Heaven. What’s the one thing we have to do to cross from “Death into Life”?

I think many of us have adopted this mentality in how we preach the gospel to others. Is the goal of evangelism conversion and subsequent salvation? Or is the goal of evangelism an altered lifestyle? I believe it is the latter.

I believe that our culture is constantly trying to hit home runs in our evangelism when we should be focusing on hitting singles. When we preach or interact with others, are we trying to convert and save them? Or are we engaging them relationally in a new lifestyle?

Relationships aren’t about home runs. It’s done over time. Gradually. Stringing singles and walks together instead.

I love this analogy, but the exact opposite happened in the game yesterday. The only runs scored were off of HRs, and not a single run was scored by stringing singles together. So that’s hilarious, so never mind. We’ll revisit this idea somewhere else probably.

#3: The Purpose of the Ten Commandments

Ozzie Guillen was the White Sox manager from 2004-2011. When he was in Chicago, he had a list of phrases he called “Grinder Rules”, and the Sox have posted these phrases all around the ballpark. Here’s a sampling…

  • Win, or die trying.
  • Everything pitch is full count.Every inning, the ninth. Every game, game seven.Be a man. Play like a boy.
  • Ixnay on talkin’ about the ayoffsplay.
  • Pitch. Hit. Win. Repeat.
  • Crying in baseball is acceptable only if champagne burns your eyes.
  • Taste victory and be hungry forever.
  • Respect the past, people that are shoeless, and anyone named Joe.

There are many, many more, and they’re all full of Ozzie’s goofy yet competitive attitude. They’re a way of playing the game. A way of approaching the game they get paid to play. These phrases define an era of White Sox Baseball.

And it reminds me of the Ten Commandments. Well, I should say the 613 commandments, because thats how many there actually are in the Torah.

The Torah is the Law of Moses. The first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.

When we read these 613 commandments, we often see a list of rules and regulations. A list of Dos and Don’ts. Legalism, even. But that’s not the goal of the Ten Commandments and Torah at all.

The goal of Torah is to maintain right relationship with God and others. It’s not about following the rules; it’s about our connection with our friends, our enemies and our God.

Every ball club has their “Way” of playing the game. The Cardinal Way. The Yankee Way. The Ranger Way. The White Sox Way. Each “Way” calls the players to a certain lifestyle.

The Way of God calls followers to a lifestyle of right relationship.

Just a few connections I started thinking about yesterday. Obviously incomplete, but we’re leaving for Milwaukee in 10 minutes and I gotta wrap this post up ASAP.

Game Notes:

Chris Sale started for the White Sox and really only made one mistake the whole evening – gave up a 2 run HR to Adam Rosales in the 2nd inning. Bummer we had to see one of Sale’s 2 losses on the year.

Rosales hit another HR off the Sox bullpen in the 7th. Dayan Viciedo hit a solo shot for the Sox in the bottom half of the inning to make it 3-1 Rangers and that’s all the scoring that took place.

Double plays were killer for the Sox. They got the lead off man on in 4 consecutive innings and couldn’t score any of those frames. Three DPs led to 0 runs.

Stinks to see another loss. But let’s be honest, I’m not a Sox fan.

Twenty-one down. Nine to go.

Up Next: Milwaukee Brewers.

-apc.

Chicago-Milwaukee-Chicago

cropped-wrigley-field-ivy-400
July was a quiet month for the Ballpark Tour, and I’m thankful that I took a break. The youth ministry I run was in full summer swing, and I’m glad I was able to focus my energy on finishing our semester well. We had our last event of the calendar last night.

But the Tour is back on now.

Games 21, 22 & 23. Here we go.

This morning I’m flying out for a quick three game stretch in Chicago and Milwaukee. All three of these games are afternoon match ups, and it’s lined up to be a pretty stellar stretch.

Let’s take a look at the match ups…

  • 8/6 – Texas @ Chicago White Sox (Tapesch vs Sale)
  • 8/7 – Giants @ Milwaukee (Peavy vs Peralta)
  • 8/8 – Tampa Bay @ Chicago Cubs (Archer vs Wada)

I’m glad I didn’t go to the Sox game last night…they got slaughtered 16-0. In fact, it was so bad that Chicago decided to march Adam Dunn out to the mound in the last inning. Yes, that Adam Dunn. I guess he does know a lot about strikeouts. He only gave up 1 run in the 9th which makes his career ERA 9.00.

But today will be different. How do I know? Because Chris Sale is pitching for the Sox.

Sale comes into to today with a 10-1 record and a 2.09 ERA. Since the Rangers wasted all their runs last night, I’m predicting the White Sox win easily. I’ll go ahead and predict an 8-1 final.

The Brewers game at Miller Park is going to be hilarious. I’m going with four guys I’m extremely close with, and our seats are in the front row beyond the right field  fence. Which, since the Giants are in town, is absolutely perfect for joining in the trolling of Hunter Pence.

Have you seen what’s been happening with this lately? If not, do a quick Twitter/Google search and check out some of the signs Mets & Brewers fans have been rocking over the past two road series against the Giants. I tell you what – there are some funny people in this world.

So keep a look out for us beyond the RF wall. We’ll be the ones with poster board signs that say something like, “Hunter Pence prefers turkey bacon.” Or, “Hunter Pence uses a car phone.” Or, “Nickelback listens to Hunter Pence.” Something really slick and saucy like that. It’s going to be a riot.

Odd note: I saw Peavy pitch in Boston last month for the Red Sox. But he plays for the Giants now. He’s now 1-11 on the season. Here’s to hoping he goes to 1-12. Go Brewers.

And finally, Wrigley Field.

This is one of the ballparks I’ve been to before. Four times actually. And I’m not certain, but I think the Cubs are 3-1 in games I’ve attended. It’s like a college atmosphere at Wrigley these days, and every game is a party. Going to a win at Wrigley is an absolute blast, and I hope I get to experience another one on Friday.

This year is the 100th anniversary of Wrigley too. They celebrated by not eating any cake.

I’m also excited to see Javier Baez. He has been hyped around the league for years now as the guy – along with a couple other Cubs prospects – who was going to bring winning back to the Cubbies. He’s probably been overhyped actually. And the Cubs organization has worked very hard to ease him into the league without blowing things out of proportion too much (see: Bryce Harper).

Well, he just got called up from Triple-A and played in his first big league game last night. And he hit a go ahead HR in the 12th inning in his first MLB at bat.

Sports in general are all about narrative. And this stretch of games certainly doesn’t lack in that department. Can’t wait. No literally, I can’t wait – I gotta fly.

So here we go Sox, Brew Crew and Cubbies! Pull me out 3 wins and my overall Tour record (9-11) will go over .500 for the first time since May! Make it happen boys.

-apc.

Game 19: Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.

If we’re going to talk about the Nationals, we have to talk about Stephen Strasburg. And if we’re going to talk about Stephen Strasburg, we’re going to have to talk about baseball cards.

So, let’s talk about baseball cards.

Baseball card collecting has been a hobby of mine since I was really young. Like 5. Today, I have thousands of baseball cards. Tens of thousands, probably. I have every base set Topps card printed between 1978 and 1991. I have the rookie cards of every member of the 1982 World Series Cardinals team. (My next project should be to assemble all the 1985 Royals rookies.) I have over 100 different cards of my favorite player of all time, Ozzie Smith, Cardinals shortstop in the 80s and 90s.

A few days prior to my trip to Washington D.C., I was in Philly at Citizens Bank Park. As I walked the concourse, I came across one of the more impressive memorabilia kiosks I’ve ever seen – and by far the most impressive I’ve seen at a ballpark.

The kiosk was owned by Hunt Auctions. They had everything a collector would need: cards, autographed balls and bats and jerseys, a huge selection of World Series pins and programs. And not just current players, and not just Phillies. It was the best of the best. There was a Babe Ruth autographed photo. A Nolan Ryan rookie card I couldn’t take my eyes off. A Stan Musial autographed jersey. And stacks of baseballs signed by everyone from Mickey Mantle to Mike Schmidt.

I found an Ozzie Smith autographed ball at the kiosk that I ended up bringing home with me.

My collection is mostly 80s cards and current players. It bleeds a lot into the mid- to late-70s and early-90s, but for some reason I have an affinity for those 80s styles. Probably because they’re a good balance between cost and value for my wallet. RBI Baseball probably helps a lot too.

The baseball card industry dates back to the late 1800s, but really took off in the 1950s with the introduction of Bowman in 1948 and Topps in 1951. Bowman was bought out by Topps after 1955 which made Topps the only option for the next quarter century. So each player only had one card produced each year.

In 1980, Topps lost an anti-monopoly lawsuit, and suddenly two new competitors emerged: Donruss and Fleer. Sure, they had the same guys pictures on it, but I don’t think Donruss or Fleer ever managed to dethrone Topps, At least not in my opinion – all I ever bought were Topps.

Still, I wonder of Topps felt a little competition because around the same time they started getting creative with their base sets.

Suddenly, Topps was releasing All-Star cards, highlights, record breakers and league leaders from the previous year. They also introduced Topps Traded – a short series after the season that would feature players who had either traded teams or rookies who had been called up mid-season.

img500312C1PW0txLFor example, Ozzie Smith joined the Cardinals in 1982 coming over from the Padres, so his base card is in a Pads uniform and his ’82 Traded is his first Cardinals card. In 1986, Barry Bonds and Bo Jackson got called up to join the Pirates and Royals, so their official “rookie card” isn’t in the ’87 base series, but it is in the ’86 Traded series instead.

Topps also launched its Tiffany series which was the same cards only on cleaner and crisper cardboard. Classy stuff.

Suddenly a standard Topps complete set might have a half dozen different cards of the same player. Throw in Donruss and Fleer sets, and you could find 15-20 different cards featuring the same star players. But which one was the realcard you wanted?

Answer: the earliest Topps card. Those were the “official” rookie cards. And if you have an interest in landing complete sets, the value was defined almost entirely by the rookies in that class (with a little aesthetics thrown in).

nolan-ryanHere’s a quick list of each year’s biggest rookies with the complete set value (according to last year’s Beckett). Let’s start with Nolan Ryan’s rookie card from 1968.

  • 1968 Topps ($3000): Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan,
  • 1969 ($5000): Rollie Fingers, Reggie Jackson, Greg Nettles
  • 1970 ($2000): Thruman Munson
  • 1971 ($2500): Bert Blyleven, Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Ted Simmons
  • 1972 ($1500): Ron Cey, Carlton Fisk
  • 1973 ($700): Bob Boone, Dwight Evans, Mike Schmidt
  • 1974 ($400): Ken Griffey, Dave Parker, Dave Winfield
  • 1975 ($600): George Brett, Gary Carter, Jim Rice, Robin Yount
  • 1976 ($250): Dennis Eckersley, Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph
  • 1977 ($250): Andre Dawson, Dennis Martinez, Dale Murphy
  • 1978 ($200): Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Lamce Parrish, Lou Whitaker
  • 1979 ($200): Pedro Guerrero, Carney Lasford, Ozzie Smith, Bob Welch, Willie Wilson
  • 1980 ($120): Dan Quisenberry, Dave Stieb, Rick Sutcliffe,
  • 1981 ($60): Harold Baines, Kirk Gibson, Tim Raines, Jeff Reardon, Fernando Valenzuela, Danny Ainge
  • 1982 ($80): Brett Butler, Chili Davis, Cal Ripken Jr., Lee Smith, Dave Stewart
  • 1983 ($80): Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, Ryne Sandberg, Daryl Strawberry
  • 1984 ($50): Don Mattingly, Dwight Gooden, Jimmy Key, Bret Saberhagen
  • 1985 ($60): Roger Clemens, Eric Davis, Orel Hershiser, Mark McGwire, Kirby Puckett
  • 1986 ($25): Len Dykstra, Cecil Fielder, Barry Bonds, Bo Jackson,
  • 1987 ($25): Rafeal Palmero, Barry Larkin, Greg Maddux
  • 1988 ($15): Ken Caminiti, Tom Glavine

A few notes about that list:

Generally, the value of the sets drops bit by bit each year – which makes sense because older is always rarer and, thus, more valuable. But the value absolutely tanks once you get to the 80s. Sure, they’re way more common, but the fact that there were multiple cards to choose from made each less valuable.

There are 5 instances when the value went up instead of down: 1969, 1971, 1975, 1982/1983, 1985.

  1. Reggie Jackson is the biggest reason 1969 is so valuable. Jackson was enormously popular with Topps and the public. Also it’s the first Nolan Ryan card that he doesn’t have to share with Jerry Koosman.
  2. Ban10The 1971 increase is tougher to explain, and it’s probably a mixture of things (as all of these are). The lack of names in the surrounding years is probably one reason. You have a huge overlap in players from the previous generation of players (Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays) mixed with the next generation (Nolan Ryan, Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench).  The ’71 set also has all black bordering, which makes any dent, scuff or bend extremely noticeable with the lighter cardboard showing through the print. When in good condition, it makes a gorgeous set.Bre1
  3. Yes, George Brett is one reason the 1975 set is worth more, but it also could be due to aesthetics: the duel-colored ’75 Topps set is a favorite among collectors and Topps still does 1975 throwbacks pretty regularly.
  4. The increase in 1982 and 1983 is obvious: Cal Ripken Jr. and the late Tony Gwynn spike those values.
  5. 1983-Topps-Baseball-Tony-GwynnThe 1985 increase is only by 10 bucks. Apparently Topps believes that Clemens/McGwire/Puckett is a bigger deal than Mattingly/Gooden/Saberhagen. Kirby Puckett passing away may have managed to offset the steroid use of Clemens and McGwire. The sharp decrease into 1986 is probably because Rusty Kuntz Rod Carew retired after 1985.

And look how miserable the 1988 set is. The whole set – all 792 cards – is worth a whopping $15. Woof.

Everything changed in 1989 with the introduction of a new fresh brand featuring a rookie who would define a generation of young fans:

  • 1989 Upper Deck ($60): Ken Griffey Jr.

109347When I was a kid, that was the card everyone wanted. It was a huge deal. All the kids wanted Upper Deck and all the kids wanted to be Ken Griffey Jr. It redefined the baseball card industry. I would ride my Dyno bike (no pegs…yet) a couple miles to the nearest card shop (Sports Collectables at 103rd & 69 highway by Skateland South) – and it was all for that UD Griffey rook.

I never managed to find one.

And when I couldn’t find one, I got tired of spending my allowance on Upper Deck cards of guys I didn’t know or care about. So I jumped off the UD ship and starting buying individual cards of the three players I actually cared about: Ozzie Smith, Bo Jackson and Nolan Ryan.

To this day, I don’t own the Griffey rook.

Unfortunately, Upper Deck’s success in 1989 had an unintended side effect: suddenly everybody thought they could do what UD had done and the trading card industry became extremely saturated.

A year earlier, Score had been launched with not much success – probably due to a lame rookie class. To compete, Topps resurrected Bowman in 1989 as well. If the market was going to be saturated, Topps might as well have a majority share.

Leaf – after a couple single-year series in 1949 and 1960 – returned in 1990. Ultra, Stadium Club, Score became Pinnacle, SP, Pacific…suddenly there were dozens of cards of every single player. The industry was flooded with cards.

Suddenly everyone had a dozen rookie cards too. Which one was the real rookie card?

The answer came in 2002 when Topps began branding Bowman as the rookie brand. They started selling Draft Picks and Prospects cards with the phrase “My 1st Bowman” on the card, featuring players who hadn’t even stepped foot on an MLB field yet.

But for most of the 2000s the baseball card industry remained dead. No one wanted cards anymore because 1. The market was still so saturated and 2. all the star rookies from the previous 15 years turned out to have been taking PEDs. The Steroid Era was killing the card industry too.

Then in 2009, Topps became the official trading card of Major League Baseball, which put them back on top. Which brings me to Stephen Strasburg, who was drafted that same year, and who, from my perspective, immediately and singlehandedly resurrected baseball cards.

In his sophomore year at San Diego State, Strasburg posted a 1.58 ERA with 134 strikeouts in 98.1 innings. The following year, he was even better going 13-1 with a 1.38 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 109 innings.

He was, and still is, a strikeout machine.

In the 2009 MLB Draft, Strasburg was picked #1 overall by the lowly Nationals. When he debuted in June of 2010, Joe Posnanski called his start the “most hyped pitching debut the game has ever seen.” And he lived up to the hype going 7 IP, 2 ER, 0 walks and fourteen strikeouts. Although he fell a K short of the debut record, he set a new Nats strikeout record that day. And it was only Day 1.

strasburgFrom February-June 2010, Strasburg was all it took for me to get I back into card collecting. And more intensely than ever before. I hit every baseball card store in KC searching for boxes of Bowmans, and if they didn’t have them, I’d grab boxes at Target or Walmart instead. I went on a midnight trip in Denver that June and hit 3 different Walmarts looking for that card. It was like the 1989 Griffey all over again only now I was an adult spending a salary instead of an 8 year old spending an allowance.

It was Strasburg Fever, and the industry hadn’t seen anything like it in 20 years.

Then…heartbreak.

In July of 2010, Stras went on the DL with inflammation in his right shoulder. A month later, he returned for three starts, before going on the DL a second time, only this time for much longer. He needed Tommy John surgery and would be out for the next 12 months.

As is always the case with pitchers who undergo TJ surgery, there were questions as to whether he would be the same guy when he returned. He came back for 5 starts at the end of 2011 and held opponents to a .179 average, struck out 24 and only walked 2. His ERA: 1.50.

Since his injury, he has a 3.10 ERA with 543 strikeouts. His career K/9 of 10.5 is higher than anyone named Scherzer or Kershaw or Lincecum, albeit in less innings. He made his first All Star game in 2012.

Any questions?

Not until September 2012, there weren’t. That’s when the Nationals sealed a spot in the playoffs for the first time since their move from Montreal in 2005. But the Nationals didn’t want their top starter to get injured again. He had been on an innings limit during the season, and had reached that limit. Playoffs or not, the Nats decided to shut down Stephen Strasburg for the 2012 playoffs.

Since then, he’s been the same guy the Nationals always thought he would be.

He was pitching on Tuesday night in Washington DC. I had never seen him pitch in person, and it was even better than my expectations. He was himself: 1 run on 5 hits with 8 strikeouts in 7.2 innings. His only blemish came in the 8th when he gave up a solo HR to LeMahieu.

I was even more impressed with his mechanics. I had my binoculars with me, watching him from the front row of the upper deck. I noticed two dark spots in the dirt in front of the mound and I couldn’t figure out why they were there. I watched him for a while and realized he was so consistent that his feet would land in the identical spot every single pitch. He would plant with his left foot out in front, and his right leg would fly around and plant in the same place on the first base side of the mound every time. It was mesmerizing, really.

But it was different witnessing him in person than it was looking at his picture on his 2010 Bowman TCP #1.

You see, no matter what collectors might tell you about the worth of their collection or how the 1968 Topps complete set is worth $5k, baseball card collecting isn’t about the their financial value whatsoever.

Baseball card collecting is about nostalgia.

Card collecting is about recalling memories of ballplayers from the past. It’s about remembering the guys you used to celebrate at the ballpark. It’s about seeing Carlos Zambrano’s face and being filled with anger. It’s about the day I learned what a Jheri curl was from Pascual Perez’s gorgeous 1990 Topps card, and how hard I laughed at  It’s about seeing Ken Harvey’s All Star card and laughing about the time he fell behind the tarp at Kauffman Stadium and got stuck.

It’s why I collect Ozzie Smiths and Bo Jacksons and Nolan Ryans. It’s all about my childhood memories.

It’s all about the feelings each card sparks inside your heart. As long as I am making baseball memories, I want to have cards that remind me of them.

I got home from my East Coast Tour and placed my new Ozzie Smith ball along side the rest of my collection. I remembered traveling with my dad and grandpa during the floods of 1993 to catch a 3-game series in St. Louis. I sifted through my 1982 World Series Cardinals booklet and giggled at the sight of Willie McGee’s goofy faced rookie card. He got called up in 1982 and immediately helped win a championship.

I took a look through my pile of Strasburg cards, and noticed something I hadn’t before: new memories.

I’ll forever remember how sickly sweaty it was at Nationals Park that day. I’ll remember how we didn’t have enough time to explore D.C. so we had to jump out of the car, run up and take as many photos as we could of the Lincoln Memorial before my phone battery ran out, and then run back to the car. I’ll remember how I was craving Taco Bell the entire time I was in D.C. and as we were leaving town to drive back to Baltimore, right as I had lost hope entirely, we found one. I’ll remember how the employee at that Taco Bell claimed they didn’t have water.

It’s about more than the cards and their values. It’s about the sentiments attached to each name, team and year.

The reason any of us love baseball cards isn’t because of all profit we’ll all reap when we sell them someday. People used to joke about how our baseball cards would pay for kids college education someday. Well, that didn’t work out. Neither did Beanie Babies. Instead, all my kids are going to get is stacks and stacks of stories about Ozzie, Bo and Nolan. And Ken Harvey. And Stephen Strasburg.

I’m not sure what angle I want to play on this chapter for my book. Perhaps legacy or memorial stones. Is nostalgia spiritual? I guess the roots of the word in Greek is “nostos” (to return) and “algos” (sorrow or pain).  Which is interesting because typically we associate the word with positive memories.

What is the role of nostalgia in our spiritual development? Is there value in longing for the past?

In today’s world, there is quite a bit of future focus. Productivity and efficiency are key values in our society. Don’t waste time because you only get so much of it.

Which has caused the Church to respond with sermons about slowing down and living in the now. And I think rightly so. It’s important to be present to the moment. Don’t work so hard that time gets away from you and passes you by. Notice the world around you. Etc.

But do we spend enough time remembering the past? Is there value in being nostalgic? When is nostalgia helpful? When is it hurtful? What can we learn from dwelling on the past that might help us in the present?

And how does this relate to theology, the early church and spirituality? Hmmm.

Not exactly sure where this ends up, but it feels like there’s a launching point here. But I don’t have time to flesh it out now. That’ll have to come with a lot of research and writing later. For now, on to some game notes.

20140709-113337-41617141.jpg

Game Notes:

Like I said, Strasburg was phenomenal: 7.2 IP, 1 R, 5 H, 8 K.

But the Nats offense was hot too and put up runs early. Rockies starter, Christian Friedrich (who was optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs two days later) walked the first two batters he faced then gave up a double and single to Jason Werth and Adam LaRoche to quickly make the game 3-0 Nationals.

The Nationals would add to their lead in the 4th. They started the inning with back to back to back to back doubles by Strasburg, Denard Span, Anthony Rendon and Werth.

Here’s another Strasburg memory I’m sure to be nostalgic about someday: him running the bases in the 4th. His leadoff double should have been a triple, but he pulled up at second. Then he only advanced to third on Span’s double. Finally, two doubles after his own, he managed to score from third. A faster ballplayer probably could’ve picked up 6 or 7 bases in the amount of time Strasburg managed 4. It was quite the adventure, and in a closer ballgame the fans wouldn’t have been laughing as hard as they were.

Strasburg gave up a solo shot to LeMahieu in the 8th, but sandwiched two Ks around it for his last two outs of his start. Prior to the HR, he had only given up 4 singles and no one had made it past first base. As the MLB.com headline put it the next day, it was a “Stras-free night for the Nats”.

20140709-113034-41434047.jpg

Nineteen Down. Eleven to go.

Up Next: Baltimore Orioles.

-apc.

Game 16: Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia

For a Midwest guy like me, taking a 1 hour train ride to a completely different city is bafflingly wonderful.

We got to Philadelphia around 11:00 AM ET and spent the afternoon exploring the sites: the Liberty Bell, the “Love” statue in JFK Park*, and Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution was created.

* – The Philly level in Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2.

I felt like I was living the movie National Treasure. I kept imagining myself uncovering some 300 year old Free Mason secret and running around like Nicholas Cage on rooftops. Anything that makes places like that a little more action packed is a good thing.

But before we did any of that site seeing, we had to do the most American thing anyone did yesterday: watch the USA/Germany World Cup match.

We lost, but advanced anyway. To quote Adam Schefter of ESPN: “So this is soccer for the USA: ties feel like losses, and losses feel like wins.”

I’m not a huge soccer guy, but the World Cup is a different animal. The entire nation is following the same event at the same time rooting the same way. It’s infectious.

Soccer – like football and basketball – relies on a clock. Whoever has more goals after 90 minutes wins. Whoever has more points after 4 quarters wins. And the last 5 minutes of nearly every game is spent the same way: running down the clock.

Kick the ball out of bounds.

Kneel the ball three times.

Dribble the ball at the top of the key until the shot clock runs out.

It turns into a game of survival. Instead of working to win the game, teams are trying to survive and not lose the game.

But not baseball.

Baseball is 9 innings. It’s 27 outs.

You can’t kneel to a victory or kill time. You can’t run around with the ball or stall the game.

Also – and this is the big one – there are no ties. If you go 9 innings and there isn’t a winner, you play 10, or 11, or 12. Or – like last night in Philadelphia – 14. As long as it takes for a team to win the game.* Baseball has a different concept of time than soccer.

* – The same can be said for tennis, golf, volleyball…any sport without a countdown clock.

The ancient Greeks had words for this differentiation in time: chronos versus kairos.

Chronos: literal minutes and seconds. A set, determinate amount of time. Quantitative.

Kairos: an indefinite timeframe in which everything happens. An appointed time, an opportune moment. Pregnant time. Qualitative.

Baseball occurs in Kairos time. It’s pregnant. Everything happens and you have no idea how long it will take. Soccer, football, basketball, hockey – anything with a counting timer – is in Chronos time. It’s dependent on the clock.

In 1984, the Brewers and the White Sox played a 25 inning game that lasted 8 hours and 6 minutes. In the 1940s, games would consistently last less than 2 hours.

When I go to games, I expect to stay for the entire game, no matter how long it lasts. I don’t make plans after games. It’s the last thing I’m going to do that day. I plan to settle in for the long haul.

Last night, as the game progressed, I could feel myself becoming more and more chronos time conscious. We had a 12:13am train to catch out of 30th Street Station downtown. This game was going deep into the night, and by the 10th or 11th inning I had to start calculating how much time it would take to get back and how late I could stay. Which isn’t the right mindset for ballgames for me.

My kairos moment was conflicting with my chronos schedule.

We live in constant tension between kairos and chronos time.

We want to be present and live in the moment, but we can’t because we are so conscious of our schedules. Our calendars dictate our actions more than the moments themselves.

Ephesians 5:16 – Be careful how you walk, not unwise but wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

The word “time” is referenced in the New Testament over 130 times. Fifty of them are “chronos.” Eighty of them are “kairos.”

The use of “time” here in Ephesians is not chronos. It’s kairos. It’s being present to the moment in front of you. Allowing what is pregnant to be birthed rather than forcing your agenda instead.

What moments are potentially kairos moments that we miss because we’re so enamored by chronos time. We love to focus on the “being good stewards of our time (chronos)” part of Scripture. Productivity. Maximizing our 24 hr day.

It’s a difficult perspective to adopt – especially in places like New York City. It’s extremely countercultural. Chronos time rules in our world today.

Ultimately, I had to let chronos dictate my night. I was not happy with the decision, but I had no choice. We missed a walkoff homerun by Chase Utley in the 14th inning. Plus there was a fireworks show after the game and we missed it too.

It ended up being a terrible choice to leave early anyway. I-76 was gridlocked. We missed our train and had to take a cab 2 hours back to NYC instead. Hilarious.

20140628-000123-83171.jpg

Game Notes:

This one was a division battle that no one really expects to mean anything when the season is over. Going into the game, the Marlins were 39-39 and the Phillies were 35-42. The Nationals and Braves are the contenders in the NL East this year in my opinion. I don’t see there being space for anybody else.

Cole Hamels got the start for the Phillies. He’s been great this season but hasn’t gotten any run support: 2.84 ERA with only a 2-4 record. He pitched well again last night but managed gave up 3 leadoff HRs. He went 6 IP, 6 H, 3 ER and got a no decision.

The Phillies responded with three runs of their own. Utley scored on a Carlos Ruiz sac fly in the 4th to make it 2-1; In the 5th, Ben Revere singled, stole second, and scored on an Utley single to make it 2-2.

Then in the 7th, with the score 3-2, John Mayberry Jr. singled and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and a ground out. Jimmy Rollins hit a slow grounder to the right of first baseman Jeff Baker who attempted a few times to pick it up but couldn’t put a fork in it. Mayberry scored on the error to knot the game at 3-3.

In a questionable move, Phillies manager and former Cubs second baseman, Ryne Sandberg, decided to use Tony Gwynn Jr. off the bench to bunt in the pitchers spot to advance Mayberry. He did his job well, but one wonders if Hamels couldn’t’ve dropped his own bunt and the Phillies saved a pinch hitter for a game that looked destined to go extras. Ultimately, it didn’t come back to bite them.

In extras, the Phillies had their chances in nearly every inning but couldn’t plate anyone. They stranded 7 baserunners from the 10th-13th innings before Utley got tired of the lack of hitting with RISP and deposited one over the left field wall.

The Phillies kept it tied too by stellar defense by Cody Asche at 3B. A barehanded play in the 8th, a diving stop and throw in the 10th, started a double play in the 11th and made a leaping catch in the 14th. He was a human highlight reel in the field.

Utley played the hero in the end. The Phillies broke my home team losing streak. Here’s to hoping the Yankees start a new streak tonight in the Bronx.

Sixteen down. Fourteen to go.

Up next: New York Yankees.

-apc.

Game 15: Citi Field, Queens, New York

Every history of the Mets begins with westward expansion.

In 1957, there were 3 MLB clubs in New York: the Yankees, Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers. Then in 1958, only the Yankees were left as the Giants and Dodgers left for California.

Giants and Dodgers fans were without a team for 4 years, and the New York Metropolitans were supposed to be the answer when they began in 1962.

In 1962, the Dodgers won 102 games in LA but finished second in the NL to the Giants who won 103 games. The Yankees took the AL with 97 games and won the World Series over the Giants in 7 games.

The Mets, in their inaugural year, lost a miserable 120 games.

40-120.

There’s never been a worse record since.

What made it even worse: they were playing in the New York Polo Grounds, the recently abandoned home of the Giants. The team that left went to the World Series against the cross town rival Yankees. The replacement Mets put up the worst record since the 1935 Boston Braves, and the 3rd worst record ever recorded.

I can only imagine how much of an eye roll the 1962 Mets were. This team was supposed to replace two powerhouse ball clubs. Instead…what an embarrassment.

They moved from Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan to Queens in 1965, and still piddled around in the bottom of the standings until 1969 when somehow, by some stroke of luck, they actually managed to win it all. The Miracle Mets had won their first World Series championship.

They won their only other ring in 1986. The Mets roster that year was extremely impressive: Daryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Mookie Wilson, Gary Carter, George Foster, Lenny Dykstra, and Dwight Gooden holding down the pitching staff.

But it still took one of the biggest blunders in baseball history for them to win it all.

That was in Shea Stadium, where the Mets played until 2008. Today they play at Citi Field, which is basically a giant homage to Ebbets Field where the Brooklyn Dodgers used to play. Here’s a look at the entryway rotunda at both Citi and Ebbets Field…

20140626-094746-35266841.jpg

At Citi, they even call it the “Jackie Robinson Rotunda.” The interior is packed with Jackie and Branch Rickey quotes and video clips. It’s cool, but somewhat awkward since the Dodgers still exist.

In fact, the Mets colors – blue and orange – are a blending of the Dodgers and Giants colors.

Karlie and I were at the game last night together and she made the comment that the Mets feel “generic”. Their mascot is a man with a baseball for a head – same as Cincinnati. Their colors are copied from past teams. Their ballpark is copied too. They share a city – their team name is the “Metropolitans” which was supposed to unite both former fan bases into one. They serve “Brooklyn Lager” and don’t even have a hot dog named after their mascot. C’mon guys. Find an identity.

They just don’t seem to have much that is uniquely theirs.

In fact, the Queens fan base isn’t even uniquely theirs…at all. In a map released recently by Facebook and featured in the NY Times, it was discovered that the “Yankees are the preferred team everywhere in New York City.” Even the area surrounding the ballpark has more Yankees fans than Mets fans.

The fan reclamation movement of the 1960s seems to have failed. Even Jay-Z, a Brooklyn boy, is a huge Yankees fan.

The last time the Mets made the World Series was 2000, and they had to play the Yankees. The Subway Series (which I learned yesterday is technically the 7 train between Manhattan and Flushing) was won by the Yankees and they celebrated on field at Shea Stadium in front of probably more Yankees than Mets fans. Sigh.

It almost starts making you feel sorry for the Mets. So much baggage with their franchise. Feeling the pressure of two historic franchises that came before them, yet playing in the shadow of their big brother in the Bronx. It’s not a successful setup. It’s like they were born into a broken family system.

Family systems are so interesting to me. We inherit the system we are born into – the emotional strains, abuse and disease histories, dysfunction, abandonment, birth order, emotional distancing, employment history, marital conflict, etc. – and none of it is in our control at birth. Life is a complex web of overlapping human relationships that all impact one another. The key to healthily navigating broken family systems is managing to differentiate yourself from the emotional system.

Every single one of us is born into a different system and our task is to learn to navigate it healthily.

Discovering your own identity is crucial to navigating life emotionally healthy. And the Mets don’t seem to have their own identity.

Murray Bowen was the pioneer behind Family Systems Theory. I encourage everyone to go check it out more in depth.

I’m excited to look into this connection more as I write this chapter of the book. We talk about this stuff all the time in our seminary classes and ministry spheres.

Probably more to talk about, but for now, I’m going to move on to some game notes. I’m halfway to Philly right now and need to start researching where I’m going to watch the USA/Germany match. Moving on.

20140626-072031-26431574.jpg

Game Notes:

I’ve reached the halfway point on the tour: Game 15 of 30. But I’ve now only seen the home team win 1/3 of the time.

I saw the Royals and Cardinals win their home openers. I saw Atlanta win the first stop on my Smorgasbord Tour in early April. And I saw both Oakland and the Giants win while I was in the Bay Area.

After last night, I can add the Mets to the ever expanding list of teams I’ve watched lose this year: Reds, Rangers, Astros, D-Backs, Padres, Dodgers, Mariners, Rockies, Angels, and Mets.

Tuesday night, the Mets pounded the A’s 10-1. New York had won 3 straight. But then I came to town and had to wreck their mojo.

Last night’s game marked the third time I’ve seen Oakland win this season, and my wife, who has been with me for all three matchups, is basically an A’s fan at this point. Yoenis Cespedes is her boy.

The Mets’ Zach Wheeler was coming off the best start of his career shutting out Miami last week, but he didn’t have it last night. A Brandon Moss HR made it 2-0 after 1, and a string of walks and singles scored another before Cespedes doubled with the bases loaded to make it 6-0 after 2.

And that was Wheelers night. They pinch hit for him in the bottom half of the second: 2 IP, 6 H, 6 ER.

The A’s would add two more before the Mets could do anything offensively. Coco Crisp hit a solo HR and the Mets conceded another run on a double play. 8-0 after 6.

Then the Mets started to mount a comeback: Lucas Duda hit a 3 run shot in the 7th that made it 8-3 and caused the “big apple” beyond the CF wall to spring to life. Every Mets HR causes the apple to rise up from behind the wall. It’s a pretty stupid stadium gimmick.

We saw it again in the 8th when Chris Young homered and made it 8-5. But that’s all the runs Oakland would allow. Sean Doolittle, the A’s closer and a terrific follow on Twitter, struck out the side in the 9th to end it.

20140626-103645-38205717.jpg

Fifteen down. Fifteen to go.

Up Next: Philadelphia Phillies.

-apc.