Cactus League: Billy Butler, Pete LaCock and Lee Smith.

Day 2 from Spring Training. 

Let’s get to it.



Cubs Welcome Country Breakfast

We spent yesterday the Cubs facilities checking in on Billy Butler and the visiting Oakland Athletics. As we all know, the Royals let Billy walk after declining to pick up his 2015 option. Negotiations were extensive, but ultimately Billy took a 3 year, $30M deal to play for the A’s.

I have a rocky past with Billy. I generally cannot stand the designated hitter, and Billy has historically been a frustrating player at that “position.” He hits singles and doubles. He does not hit for power. He does not play defense (although, Oakland plans to give him a lot of time there). I’ve never seen him throw a baseball. He was one of the least valuable baserunners in baseball last year.

So he’s one-dimensional. A one-tool player. He hits for average, and that’s it.

Late in the season, Ned Yost benched Butler. Butler whined. He was obnoxious, and I couldn’t wait for the Royals to let him walk. If the Royals postseason run hadn’t happened, Billy would’ve left town without eliciting any emotion whatsoever.

BUT…then he stole that base.

And the Royals did go on that postseason run, and suddenly Billy Butler became the face of the resurrected franchise. The guy who had been there through the darkest times and came out on the other side a winner.

So strangely, over the course of about 6 weeks, my emotions surrounding Billy Butler were transformed. Which is how I somehow found myself wanting to check in on his yesterday in Mesa, AZ. I’m going to miss Billy – I think Kendrys Morales is a better player and putting aside emotions, it’s the right move for the franchise – but Billy was Billy, and he can’t be replaced.

Except yesterday’s game did nothing but help me forget him quickly.

First, he completely ignored me and Dan as he walked into the visitors dugout. We were 3 feet away. I was wearing my #16 Billy Butler powder blue jersey. I told him we miss him in KC. And he gave us the cold shoulder.

Then he went 0-3 at the plate. Snoozer. Not doing much to keep me interested. The A’s come to Kauffman Stadium on April 17-19. I’ll be there on April 18 – which is Billy’s birthday.

Thankfully, there were other happenings that more that made up for Billy’s disappointing day.



Pete LaCock’s 1980 AL Champions ring

There were a group of former Cubs players signing autographs during the game. Fergie Jenkins and Lee Smith were the big names. But I made eye contact with Pete LaCock and he was noticeably excited that I was decked out in Royals gear.

We talked for about 10 minutes. I asked him about his time in KC, how the 1980 World Series loss compared to the 2014. He answered by taking off his 1980 AL Champs ring and handing it to me. Didn’t even ask. Just gave it to me and told me to try it on. Pretty cool.

Look how faded the front is – it looks like the photo is out of focus it’s so worn. Pretty cool experience as long as I ignored Pete’s complaining about the Royals disrespecting him by only giving him upper deck tickets to the World Series. The nerve.

Meeting Lee Smith

The highlight of the day was meeting Lee Smith. 

He was sitting next to Pete LaCock and I spent most of the time with Pete trying to figure out what I was going to say to Smith when the conversation shifted.

I decided to share the story that I wrote about a few months ago – my experience as a 7 year old watching him pitch for the Cardinals in 1993. We laughed about how long he used to take walking to the mound. He said Tony La Russa’s word for his walk was an “amble.”

“I don’t even know what that word means!” said Smith.

I shook his hand twice and both times was shocked at how massive his hands are. I was tempted to ask him to hold a ball for me, but that felt weird. 

Instead, he brought up how short the Cardinals infield felt while he was on the mound. Ozzie Smith (5’11”), Terry Pendleton (5’9″) and Jose Oquendo (5’10”) all had “short man syndrome” according to Lee, who stand at 6’5″. Add an additional 11 inches from the height of the mound, those infielders would come in for a conference and he felt like he could “scoop em all up and put em in his pocket.” 

Great guy. Huge smile. Very friendly. An honor to meet him. My only regrets: not getting a photo with him and not being prepared with his card to sign. Drat.

***

Today is Yordano Day and my final day in Arizona. Headed to Goodyear to watch the Good Guys take on the Tribe this afternoon. Big win yesterday – Cheslor Cuthbert with a 2-run walkoff in the bottom of the 9th to take down the Rangers for the second straight day. 

Miguel Almonte looked great according to Vahe Gregorian of the Star. Escobar and Morales both had two hits apiece. Bubba Starling went 0-3 with three strikeouts. Woof

-apc.

Game 24: Target Field, Minnesota

Did you know Ted Williams played ball in Minnesota?

I didn’t until this past week when @Baseball_Photos tweeted this picture on Monday evening. I would’ve found out sooner or later, I suppose; I have The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. This rotten seminary reading keeps getting in the way. (Just kidding. I love it…occasionally.)

ted-williams-millers-rare-photo1At age 19, Ted Williams (right) spent the entire 1938 season playing for the Minneapolis Millers, the Boston Red Sox AA affiliate. In his year in Minnesota, he hit .366 and slugged .701. As the youngest guy on the team, led the team in every offensive statistical category: games played (148) hits (193), doubles (30), triples (9), homers (43), and at 6′ 3″, 205 lbs, he led the team in those categories as well.

Willie Mays (35 games in 1951) and Carl Yastrzemski (1960) spent time in in a Millers uniform before their pro debut as well. The Millers have their roots as far back as 1885 as a part of the Western League.

On the other side of the Mississippi were their rivals: the St. Paul Saints.

The Saints arrived in St. Paul in 1894 when Charles Comiskey bought the team and moved them over from Souix City, Iowa. They joined the Western League as well and the Minneapolis/St. Paul rivalry was established. But following the 1899 season, Comiskey’s club joined the newly formed American League, and moved the club away to become – you guessed it – the Chicago White Sox.

In 1902, both the Millers and Saints became charter members of the minor league American Association. By the late 30’s the Saints would become affiliates for the White Sox and later the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. Roy Campanella, Lefty Gomez and Don Zimmer were a few of the players to come through St. Paul during those years.

The East-West rivalry between the two ball clubs ran for 59 years between 1902 and 1960. Both teams won multiple league championships. In fact, Minneapolis and St. Paul had the two highest overall winning percentages over that 59 year span:

The played 22 games against one another every season. Sometimes on major summer holidays – Labor Day and Fourth of July, for example – the teams would play home and away doubleheaders. They would play in the morning at one ballpark, and then the fans and players would travel by streetcar to the other side of the river for an afternoon game in the other team’s park.

As expected, the two cities grew to hate one another. Violence would break out in the cities following these ballgames (1923 was apparently the worst of the brawls) The cities kept trying to 1-Up one anthers buildings. In fact, in the 1950s, both cities built brand new ballparks – separately – in hopes of reeling in a Major League team. There are even rumors that they would kidnap census takers so that the other city wouldn’t overtake the  other in population.

In 1960, both the Saints* and the Millers packed up and left town. The Millers became the Seattle Rainiers, and the Saints became the Omaha Dodgers.

* – The Saints returned to St. Paul in 1993 and are there today as a part of an independent league. They’re owned by Mike Veeck (son of Bill Veeck) and BILL MURRAY!!!!!

Why the moves? Because the MLB had just awarded the area with their first Major League ball club: the Washington Senators were moving from D.C. to become the Minnesota Twins.

Technically, it was the Millers who had reeled in the big tuna. The team settled on the Minneapolis side, but without the Saints, St. Paul was going to have to root from across the river. And by the late 1960s, significant healing had taken place between the two.

The team name itself was an intentional move to unite the two groups. It isn’t the “Minneapolis Twins,” but the “Minnesota Twins” – in fact, they wanted to call them the Twin City Twins, but that was too repetitive so they included the whole state. They commissioned a freelance illustrator from St. Paul named Ray Barton to create the team logo for which he got paid a whopping $15.

Target-Field-St-Paul-Minnie-HandsToday, that logo is featured prominently at Target Field. In straight away center field, a giant state of Minnesota borders two goofy looking men and a river with a bridge over it. The men are both wearing baseball uniforms – one with an “M” on the sleeve and one with an “S” and a “P” and a “T” on the chest – and they’re reaching across the river and shaking hands. They’re the real Twins – Minnie and Paul – the two cities united together by this new team.

Now, I’m not going to act like the arrival of Major League Baseball has completely reconciled the ill will on both sides of the Mississippi. There is still significant social segregation. There are strong tribal identities as well. But the arrival of the Twins truly united a previously hostile relationship. Regardless which side of the Mississippi someone lives on, they can come together and cheer for their Minnesota Twins.

The entire Twins franchise is founded on principles of reconciliation and hospitality to one another. How about that? I think I’ll center on that for my book. I’ve already got a good start here.

Baseball. Bringing people together. Cities, even.

Okay. Moving on. Let’s talk about Target Field.

IMG_9344It was built in 2010, and is basically perfect. It features tons of sandstone: the exterior, the section faces inside the park, even the top of the dugouts. It has oversized statues of five Twins greats at each of the gates to the park. Harmon Killebrew extends his gorgeous swing in front of Gate 3. Kirby Pucket celebrates his 1991 World Series walk off HR in front of Gate 34. Kent Hrbek stands outside of Gate 14. Rod Carew has his bat cocked awkwardly outside Gate 29. And Tony Oliva swings outside Gate 6.

Gates 3, 6, 14, 29 and 34? Weird. Those are all retired Twins numbers. Hmm.

“Wait, what about Bert Blyleven?! Where’s his statue? His number is retired too!” His wasn’t retired until 2011, the year after Target Field was built. But his #28 is out beyond left field with the others. (Circle me, Bert!)

The final retired number: 10, worn by Tom Kelly who – despite his overall poor winning percentage (1140-1244, .485) – managed the Twins to World Series championships twice (’87 & ’91) in his 16 years with the team (1986-2001).

There’s a giant Gold Glove outside the park as well. Fans get to climb up on to it and get their picture taken. There’s plaque of all the past Twins Gold Glove winners with it.

The Twins haven’t had many Gold Glovers, but the ones they have won it a bunch. They have 41 total GGs over their 53 years as a franchise, 30 of which are from 5 guys: Jim Kaat (won 11 GGs with the Twins), Torii Hunter (7), Kirby Puckett (5), Gary Gaetti (4), and Joe Mauer (3).

Target Field seats 42,000, but it feels like way less. The ballpark feels very intimate. The lower sections extend much further back than the upper decks, which are basically just stacked on top of each other up high and very shallow. I heard that the ballpark was constructed within 4 city blocks, a 2-by-2 square, so everything feels squeezed in on top of the action. Not in a bad way at all, but in a comfortably communal way.

That Minnie & Paul logo in centerfield is awesome too. It does all sorts of light up dancing moves when the Twins do different things on the field. It goes bizerk when they hit a homer. a line traces the MN border when a run is scored. It blinks when the pitchers strike someone out or throw a scoreless frame too.

And when the Twins win – as they did on Wednesday night when I was there – the T and the S blink off and on so it flashes TWINS, WIN, TWINS, WIN.*

* – Ever noticed how the letters W-I-N are the only letters underlined in the Twins logo? So subtle. So brilliant.

I went to the game with my friends Jourdan and Jeff. Jourdan interned for me at Jacob’s Well a couple years ago, and Jeff, her husband, is a pastor at a church called Mosaic in East St. Paul. The mission for their church centers on hospitality: Stranger, Guest, Host. Extending themselves out of the church and into the community around them. I’m sensing a theme here.

I want to write something about lakes and mosquitos and snow somewhere in here too, but I’ve already spent too much time on this post. Time to get to the game wrap.

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Game Notes:

The Twins were playing the White Sox, and John Danks got spanked. As I wrote in my pre-trip post on Tuesday, the Twins have historically owned Danks – Joe Mauer especially. In fact, basically everyone but Kurt Suzuki bats really well off the Sox lefty, which would explain why Suzuki sat out that night.

The Twins lit Danks up, as expected, for 7 runs on 11 hits in 4.2 innings. The guy was absolute meat and the Twins hit the ball hard all night. The bullpen wasn’t much better for the rest of the game either. Overall: Twins scored 11 runs on 19 hits which meant Twins fans saved 19 cents per gallon at SuperAmerica gas stations on Thursday. Sweet.

Eduardo Nunez went 4-6 and was a HR short of the cycle. Kennys Vargas hit a 429 ft bomb to LF. The other Eduardo (Escobar) went 3-4 with a triple and a walk. Minnesota batted around in the 5th inning – the inning that chased Danks from the game – and my scoresheet ended up looking all messy and gross.

Of course, that could’ve also been because of the rain that kept rolling in and out. It caused one short rain delay at one point lasting maybe 15 minutes. I continue to have really good luck when it comes to weather on this Ballpark Tour.

Trevor May got his first career win. Previously he was 0-4 in as many starts with an ERA over 10. He was working great through three innings but started laboring a bit in the fourth and fifth. He gave up 3 runs in 5 innings, but after the Twins batted around, those runs pretty much didn’t matter anymore. Twins win. 11-4. That logo was extremely busy.

Twenty-four down. Six to go.

Up Next: Tampa Bay Rays.

-apc.

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.

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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 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.