World Series Game 2: An incredible game of inches (feat. Puig’s glove & bat).

What a game. The Astros beat the Dodgers last night in one of the more entertaining World Series games you’ll ever see.

Dodgers led early. Astros tied it late and took the lead in extras. Dodgers tied it up again. Astros took the lead back. Dodgers brought the tying run to the plate in the 12th, but couldn’t close the gap a second time. Astros won 7-6.

As is the case with most baseball games played at the highest level, the one came down to a handful of plays that tipped the scale the Astros’ way. This one seemed to have a dozen such moments – “game of inches” moments where neither team necessarily did one thing better than the other, the ball simply found a glove or didn’t, and they all would’ve had drastic implications on the turnout of the game.

For example, the ball that landed in front of a diving Chris Taylor. Instead of bouncing over the centerfielder’s head and rolling to the wall for a possible triple or inside-the-park home run, it caught the bill of Taylor’s cap and rebounded directly into the hands of Joc Pederson in left. Game of inches.

Or another example: In the bottom of the 11th, down two runs, both Corey Seager and Justin Turner hit rockets off Houston reliever Chris Devenski. Seager’s found the mitt of Cameron Maybin deep in the outfield, Turner’s was hit directly to Carlos Correa. If either of those balls are hit slightly up, down, left or right on the bat/ball, Charlie Culberson‘s home run is a 2- or 3-run shot instead, and his reaction around the bases is much more appropriate to the situation. Game of inches.

A third example: In the bottom of the 10th with the game tied and two outs, Devenski tried to pick Enrique Hernandez off of second base. The throw was wild and sailed 10 feet to the shortstop side of the base. Cameron Maybin was shifted towards right field and there was a lot of green grass available out in left-center. For a moment, it looked like Hernandez was going to advance to third, and potentially score if Maybin wasn’t able to scamper over to it quick enough. Instead, the ball hit umpire Laz Diaz in the thigh, thudded to the ground. Instead of being the winning run, Hernandez wasn’t able to advance advance at all. Game of inches.

The moment that defined the game for me more than any other is really two moments – the second a response to the first. This “game of inches” moment happened in the top of the 8th, with the Dodgers leading 3-1.

Alex Bregman led off and sliced a fly ball into the right field corner. Off the bat it seemed destined to find grass, but Yasiel Puig made a long long run and looked to have a beat on it and this wouldn’t be his first magical defensive play. He dove headfirst toward the corner, glove hand extended. The ball found leather, but not enough leather. It ricocheted off Puig’s glove, bounced once off the outfield grass and over the short wall in the right field corner for a ground rule double. Game of inches.

Within a matter of seconds, Puig hopped to his feet and did this:

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A quick aside: Yasiel Puig is wonderful and so good for the game of baseball. He’s having fun, but not at the expense of his team or his own success. There have been times a times when many of us – myself included – wondered whether he would be able to dial it in to where his energy was a positive and not a negative. When he was sent down to AAA in Oklahoma City last season I wondered if Puig’s actions were indeed misguided. I think he’s proven this season that he can be fun and quirky and play with significant passion without it negatively impacting the outcome of the game.

Yet announcers continue to use words like “emotion” and “passion” (which I recognize I also used above) to describe him, but their words are still laced with so much disdain.  No one defends him. No one says they like him or support him or even enjoy him. Instead, they drop judgmental comments about his antics and say loudly that they disapprove without needing to say it at all. So of course when he stands up from missing the fly ball, the internet and the broadcast booth are too focused on the outburst and fail to understand what’s totally happening in that moment.

Puig’s glove spike reminded me of Moises Alou’s outburst in the 2003 NLCS when Steve Bartman leaned over the left field rail at Wrigley Field and interfered with a ball that probably would’ve landed in Alou’s glove. Alou threw a tantrum, spiked his glove and glowered at Bartman from the left field foul line. I remember watching that game thinking he was acting like such a baby. Throwing your glove because and barking at a fan? Cmon, man.

But there’s an obvious difference between the two situations. Alou was crying about someone else, about something out of his control. Alou’s screaming and whining is directed away from himself and toward Bartman. Puig is mad at himself, his own effort. Which is always totally fine in sports.

The glove spike communicates three things to me:

  1. Yasiel Puig desires to perform to the best of his ability.
  2. Yasiel Puig wants to win very badly.
  3. Yasiel Puig understands the situation well.

And what’s the situation? Instead of making the first out of the inning, there’s now a runner in scoring position in a 2-run game with the Astros best bats coming up in Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. Second, and of perhaps even more importance, Dave Roberts is forced to turn to Kenley Jansen earlier than desired to get the final 6 outs. If the tying run isn’t at the plate, Jansen likely stays in the bullpen and starts with a fresh 9th.

Altuve advanced Bregman to third on a ground out. Correa slapped one up the middle for a single, scoring Bregman and making it a 1-run ballgame. Jansen then gave up a solo homer to Marwin Gonzalez in the 9th to tie the game, 3-3.

Now, if Puig catches that ball, it’s the first out of the inning, Altuve’s grounder is the second out, and Correa is stranded at first because Yuli Gurriel popped out immediately after and that would’ve ended the inning. Granted, all of those happenings could have changed with 1 out and nobody on and Brandon Morrow still pitching instead of Kenley Jansen.

Baseball-Reference.com gave the Astros a 13% chance of victory before the Bregman double, and a 22% chance after – the miss cost the Dodgers 9%. If Puig catches the ball, that number likely drops from 13% to something like 7%, a difference of 4%. Overall, a 15% swing in winning probability added (WPA).

Here’s the other thing that moment did though: it lit a fire in Yasiel Puig. Yes, he always plays with passion, but a moment like that gets under your skin and effects how you view the game from that point farther. Puig feels responsible for a chunk of the team’s winning probability (again, around 15%), and he wants to do right by himself and his team. A player like Puig wants to fix where he erred, and his opportunity to do it is at the plate.

Which brings us to the second moment – the response to the first.

By the time Puig bats again, he’s leading off the bottom of the 10th and the Astros have taken a 5-3 lead. Houston is sitting pretty at a 91% chance to win the game.

Puig, of course, destroys the baseball and does this:

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Do you see what Puig does here?! He is re-writing his own narrative. This is so great, and I hope I can do a solid job explaining what I love about it.

First, he unloads on the baseball, undoing the damage he feels he inflicted by being unable to corral the catch earlier (which few players even get to, let alone nearly catch). That homer dropped the Astros’ WPA from 91% to 80% according to Baseball-Reference. That’s 11%, which is greater than 9%, if you’re keeping score at home like Puig undoubtedly is in hi ahead. If he’d made an out, the Astros WPA jumps to something like 96%, a jump of 5% and an overall net of 16%, which is greater than 15%, the overall WPA adjustment when he didn’t catch the ball. In one swing, he has mathematically salvaged what he feels he shouldn’t have allowed earlier.

But he’s not done – and this is the amazing part: Puig, the guy who is notorious for smooth yet obscene batflips in all sorts of moments, slowly and methodically places the murder weapon on the grass.

Why?

Because he spiked the glove in the field.

Do you see what he’s doing?! It’s brilliant. He made up for the ground rule double by hitting the dinger, but he’s also reconciling his reaction to the play. Setting down the bat undoes his glove spike! His response in the good undoes his response in the bad. If he bat flips, he’s doubling down on passion. But by setting the bat down gently, he is actively adjusting his own narrative away from the out of control player with too much emotion for the game and toward the centered ballplayer who is focused enough to perform calmly in the biggest of moments.

Of course, after reconciling his performance and his character, he’s back even when he came up to the plate as the tying run with two outs in the bottom of the 11th. This time he doesn’t have a score to settle so who knows what he’s going to do.

He struck out.

Photo: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrell. Accessed here.

 

2015 MLB Predictions

Congratulations, baseball fans. You did it. You successfully navigated the miserable winter months. Spring has arrived. And, save for a flurry of offseason moves and meaningless spring training games, you’ve been deprived of the game you love. But the wait is over.

Thankfully, for those of us in Kansas City, the offseason went by much faster this year due to it being one month shorter than it has been the previous 29 years. Still, it’s good to have baseball back.

Before I make my predictions for the 2015 season, let me quickly point out how wildly successful my 2014 predictions were. I, along with everyone else who predicted these things, whiffed on the AL East. I missed on the Pirates too, and made the mistake of picking against the A’s. But 7/10 ain’t bad.

So here we go. Let’s look into the future together. Postseason picks in italics. I’ve added ALCS/NLCS/WS/MVP/Cy Young winners this year too.

AL East

  1. Boston Red Sox
  2. Baltimore Orioles
  3. Toronto Blue Jays
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Tampa Bay Rays

Another year of uncertainty in the AL East. The Red Sox reloaded adding Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. The Yankees did nothing and appear fragile. The Blue Jays added Josh Donaldson but are young and lack a rotation. The Orioles were predicted to stink it up last year but ran away with the division and are likely under projected in 2015. The Rays are a dark horse as always.

Typically I refuse to buy into teams that spend tons of money to restock their teams. I think it takes a year to gel as a unit and establish an identity. However, the Red Sox rotation is already strong and on paper this is the best team in the division. Look for Mookie Betts to break out this year too.

AL Central

  1. Kansas City Royals
  2. Cleveland Indians
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins

Another wide open division, and one where I am obviously biased. The Indians return basically the same team but their defense is terrible. The Tigers added Yoenis Cespedes but lost Max Scherzer, and now Verlander is injured. The Royals are defending AL Champs and have lots of swagger, lost Billy Butler, James Shields and Nori Aoki but added Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios, Edinson Volquez and Kris Medlen. The White Sox had perhaps the best offseason of any AL team. The Twins will not contend.

But I’m picking my hometown boys. People keep saying the Royals got worse in the offseason but I just don’t see it. Morales and Rios are both upgrades. Shields is gone, but Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura both have the potential to match his production. Plus they have three of the most sustainable strengths to their advantage: bullpen, defense and speed. I believe in this team, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Indians and Royals swap spots. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers absolutely tank and finish 4th.

AL West

  1. Seattle Mariners
  2. Oakland Athletics
  3. Los Angeles Angels
  4. Houston Astros
  5. Texas Rangers

I’m not going to make the mistake of picking against Oakland two years in a row. The A’s blew up their entire team and look like they’re probably going to win the Cactus League this year too, whatever that’s good for (absolutely nothing). The Angels and Mariners are both really good though and it’s hard to pick one of the three to miss. The Mariners just missed the playoffs last year. If they can stay healthy, I think they’ll run away with this division in 2015. The Angels will likely regress slightly and should still contend, but I think they’ll end up on the outside looking in. Houston will continue to improve – they appear to be trying out the Royals model of success in bolstering up their bullpen. The Rangers are going to be bad.

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Miami Marlins
  3. New York Mets
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

While the American League has all sorts of intrigue, the National League is a joke. Washington is going to run away with this division. They were already the best, and then they added Max Scherzer. The Marlins and Mets are both no slouch, but the Nats could win 100 games this year. The Marlins added Dee Gordon, Michael Morse and Mat Latos. They extended Giancarlos Stanton and get Jose Fernandez back from injury. The Mets get their ace back too in Matt Harvey. Plus both teams get 18 games against the Phillies and the Braves which ought to inflate their records a bit. They’ll be in the mix come September.

NL Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Chicago Cubs
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

As has become the norm, this division race will be good, but the Cardinals will eventually pull away and the Pirates will separate themselves form the rest. The Cubs obviously got much better with the acquisition of Jon Lester, and if they can get their prospect trio – Kris Bryant, Jorge Solar and Javier Baez – into the majors sooner than later, they could manage to make a push in the second half. But I do think 2016 is their year to return to the playoffs.

NL West

  1. Los Angeles Dodgers
  2. San Diego Padres
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks
  5. Colorado Rockies

The Dodgers are only going to be better from last year. They added Jimmy Rollins and dropped Matt Kemp. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher and best player in baseball, in my opinion. You can talk about Trout all you want, but Kershaw has the power to completely dominate a game. The Padres added Justin Upton, Kemp, and former Royal and Ray, Wil Myers. Their biggest addition is James Shields. Their bullpen is dominant too. They could do some damage, but I see them finishing as the first team out. The Giants got much worse this offseason with the loss of Panda, and with the injury to Pence. Plus, Madison Bumgarner is super overrated. The Rockies and D-Backs are…not great.

So my postseason looks like this:

AL: Red Sox, Royals, Mariners, Indians, Athletics
NL: Nationals, Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates, Marlins

ALCS: Mariners over Athletics
NLDS: Dodgers over Nationals

WS: Dodgers over Mariners

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Yasiel Puig

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw

Here’s to a great 2015 MLB season! As always, I’ll be rooting for a 1985 rematch. (Which nearly happened last year. So close.)

-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…

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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.

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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.

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Fifteen down. Fifteen to go.

Up Next: Philadelphia Phillies.

-apc.

Game 9: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles

It’s time for Dodger baseball.

The West Coast Tour begins at Chavez Ravine in a contest between the two teams that first brought baseball to the left coast in the 1950s: the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s a rivalry going back 130 years and 3,000 miles.

The New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers were cross-town rivals for two decades before the Orioles left Baltimore for the Bronx in 1903 to eventually become the Yankees. For 35 years, the three teams split the Big Apple into three strong and proud fan bases – especially in Brooklyn. But in 1958, westward expansion caused MLB owners to dream of new vistas as well and the Giants and Dodgers – to the shock and chagrin of their passionate fans – bolted from their busy neighborhoods for SF and LA.

When the Dodgers first landed in LA, they played at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for four years and promptly winning the World Series in 1959 thanks to one of the best 1-2 starting pitcher combos to ever play the game: Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.

In the 1940s, there was a low income development proposed for an area just north of downtown Los Angeles. It was populated by a few poor Mexican-American communities who, in ethically questionable fashion, were forced to leave the area so the city could expand into the hills surrounding the burgeoning city. After the housing development fell through, Dodgers owner, Walter O’Malley, purchased the land as the new site for his ball club.

Dodger Stadium was opened in 1962 and today looks almost exactly as it did 51 years ago, and the Dodgers work hard to keep it looking pristinely old school every year. I’ve heard they repaint the seats every off-season and that they employ a gardening crew for the outside of the stadium. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and its hilltop location puts it (literally) one step above most.*

* – Some baseball fan from Colorado is fidgeting wanting to make a “mile high” reference. I see you, Rockies. But you’re not on a hill, and that’s my point here.

It is the oldest ballpark in the MLB not named Wrigley or Fenway, and it survives as the only unmodified ballpark of its generation (along with Oakland…but we’ll save that compare/contrast conversation for Sunday).

The only bummer about Dodger Stadium: traffic.

Oh my. Now I’m from Kansas City, which is one of the most vehicle-accessible cities in the nation, so the traffic in Los Angeles is something I flat out don’t understand. How do they not have a better public transit situation? Where the heck is everyone going? Is there any time of day when the roads aren’t completely congested?

Our trip to the ball park was from UCLA to Chavez Ravine. Which is __ miles according to Google Maps. It took us well over an hour to get there.

I’ll never complain about my 15 minute drive out to Kauffman Stadium again.

The crazy traffic causes a slightly transient attendance too. About half (no exaggeration) the ballpark arrives late and leave early. It’s a nightmare. Granted, we were seeing the home team take on a hated division rival, but still, it’s a Thursday. Announced attendance was 43,068.

2014-inflatable-chairIt was Inflatable Chair Night last night. Which, as you might expect, turned into a somewhat poor decision on the part of the Dodgers’ marketing department as dozens of chairs became beach balls and started bouncing around the stands.

In the 1970s, when Bill Veeck was the GM of the Chicago White Sox, he was always trying to came up with goofy gimmicks to draw more people into the game. The players wore shorts as their uniform for part of a season. He hired a midget to play for his team once to make the strike zone smaller. But his best blunder was Disco Night at Comiskey Park – they gave away EP records to all the fans, and all the records turned into frisbees launched around the ballpark and all over the field. They had to cancel the game halfway through for safety concerns.

This wasn’t as bad as that. But how didn’t they see this coming?

One older gentleman near me with headphones on was NOT amused by the crowd’s antics. He was all business and kept his arms crossed clearly fuming over all the action.

As I looked around, I noticed quite a few Dodgers fans sporting the headphones/earbuds. The reason is an obvious one: Vin Scully.

Vincent Edward Scully got his start into professional broadcasting when Red Barber hired him to do radio broadcasts for CBS in the late 40’s. The story goes that Vin was broadcasting a Red Sox game on a freezing cold day at Fenway. There wasn’t a press box for him to call from, so he called the game the roof. And since he had planned on being in the box, he hadn’t brought a coat or gloves either.

Yet he never once mentioned being so cold on the air.

Red Barber, who called the Brooklyn Dodgers games back then, was so impressed that he tabbed young Vin to be his successor as the voice of the Dodgers when they made the move out west. Vin has been with the team ever since.

To many, myself included, Vin Scully’s voice is baseball. It’s smooth and rich, insightful and clever, and baseball fans across the nation turn on Vin’s call of a late night Dodgers game after their own team’s game has concluded back East.

Vin’s voice is pumped into the concourses of Dodger Stadium throughout the game, which actually makes the concessions and gift shops a little less rowdy while listening to his soothing call.

Speaking of concessions. I wasn’t there for more than 5 minutes before getting a Dodger Dog in my mouth. It felt a bit overhyped to me, but it was delicious none-the-less. I added mustard, onions and ketchup, and dripped a giant glob on my jacket around bite number 4. I paired it with a Dos Equis, which felt appropriate considering the past and present Latino culture around Chavez Ravine.

20140509-074417.jpgThe Dodgers are an impressive franchise. Six time World Series champs, 8 Cy Young pitchers in 11 Different seasons, plus 12 Rookie of the Year awards.

Names like Jackie Robinson & Branch Rickey, Koufax & Drysdale, Kirk Gibson, Fernando Valenzuela, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Tommy Lasorda, and Vin Scully are legendary in Dodger history. And today the team – with the financial help of Magic Johnson and others – has one of the better (and most expensive) lineups and pitching rotations in the MLB.

What intrigues me most about this team – and this Giants /Dodgers matchup – is the struggle that took place back east after the teams skipped town in ’58.

Suddenly, the teams that had been foundational for the game and had created passionate fan-bases in NY, had lost their identity overnight. Now what do we do? Who do we root for? How do we follow a team that’s suddenly 3.000 miles away?

A couple options:

  1. Try to follow your baseball soul from across the country.
  2. Root for the Yankees.
  3. Quit on baseball for a decade until the Mets show up.

None of which are quality options, but those were the choices New Yorkers were stuck with.

I wonder how this translates into how we react when our life, our relationships, our job, or our faith gets tough. Do we abandon our beliefs or our communities when we are abandoned? What happens to our commitments when those we’re committed to don’t return their loyalty*?

* – Side note: when we pulled into the parking lot for the game, the song “Loyal” by Chris Brown & Lil Wayne was playing on the radio. Terrible song, but an odd coincidence…

Our options are fight, flight or freeze.

Which is what Brooklyn and New York fans were presented with as well. Fight the move and keep trying to follow the team from a distance. Run away from the pain and become a Yankees fan instead. Or freeze for a decade in hopes that someday a successful franchise (or the Mets) will once again be in their midst.

Fight. Flight. Or freeze.

Personally I’m a runner. If something gets too painful or difficult, my gut tells me to move on to something else more fun or exciting. On the positive side, I’m always seeking new adventures, but on the negative, I often don’t give those experiences enough time to sink in and transform me.

I can sometimes be a mile wide and an inch deep, as the saying goes, and it takes intentionality and effort on my part to dig deeper into things to extract meaning. It’s more painful that way, sure, and it would be way easier to move on to something new (read: tonight’s game in Seattle!), but sitting in the moment longer allows transformation and depth to transform me.

Or maybe it’s a divorce or a friendship turned sour that makes us face these options. Which is your gut move? Do you have one?

Perhaps there’s a bonus option of simply sitting in the pain instead of running, fighting or being paralyzed by it. What happens when we acknowledge pain and allow it to sit with us for a time? Can that bring about transformation? Is that beneficial?

I was chatting with my friend, Tim, about this just a couple days ago. He and I are similar in that we seek new experiences and run from pain. He said some faint brilliant: “When we run from pain, we are afraid. But when we stop running and let our pain “catch” up to us, we are no longer afraid.” Isn’t that great? Instead, we’re growing, learning and maturing. We are being transformed into something new.

I’d love to get some insights on this from some old school Brooklyn fans about this experience and how they dealt with the struggle. How does one align themselves after being abandoned like that? Very interesting stuff. Excited to explore this more in depth later.

For now, on to the game notes.

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Game Notes:

Starting pitching was terrific both ways in this one.

Ryan Vogelsong went 7.1 innings, 5 hits, 1 run for the Gigantes. He was perfect through 3.1 innings until Puig broke it up with a hard grounder to Brandon Crawford’s left. Crawford got a glove on it, but couldn’t make the play. I’d’ve given him an E6, but the home scorekeeper gave Puig the hit.

Josh Beckett was just as solid going 6.2 innings, 5 hits, 1 run. Beckett walked a few early, but settled down and really only made one mistake the whole evening when he hung a curve to Brandon Hicks who hit it over the 360′ sign in left field.

20140509-074330.jpgIt doesn’t show up in the box score, but Brandon Crawford defense was probably the difference in the game. He made 2 different diving plays at short, in the 4th and the 9th, that robbed two singles. The one off the bat of Hanley Ramirez in the 9th was backed up by a Brandon Hicks highlight dive too off Gonzalez’s bat, and if those balls had gotten through the infield, it would’ve been 1st and 3rd with 0 out for the Dodgers, bottom 9. Instead, Kemp struck out to end the inning and the Dodgers went quietly

It’s a bummer when games like this are decided on something lame. Last night the Dodgers bullpen walked the bases loaded with J.P. Howell and Jamey Wright pitching. Giants scored two on a sac fly and a single to break the tie and take the game 3-1.

Also, it’s important that I mention that I did purchase a Dodgers foam finger.

Nine Down. Twenty-one to go.

Up Next: Seattle Mariners.

-apc.

The West Coast Tour

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Let’s recap.

The tour began in Cincinnati for the Opening Day. Then it came home to Kansas City and over to St. Louis for the home openers in the two ballparks where I feel home. Then the tour took me east to west across the southern part of the country for what I called The Smorgasbord Tour: Atlanta, Arlington, Houston, Arizona and San Diego.

Exploring each of these ballparks, talking with the fan base, experiencing the traditions and taking in the the atmosphere, have sparked some significant conversations and with each visit, I find that the book I am working on is slowly being framed in new ways.

Opening Day was so full of hope; visiting my “home” ballparks was an exercise in self-discovery which then spilled over into Atlanta, Arlington and Houston. Arizona sparked the the concept of conversion, and the green space in San Diego began planting thoughts of creation and Creator, gardens and Gardener.

And after two weeks back home, it’s time for the fourth phase of my ballpark tour…

The West Coast.

Tomorrow evening, my wife and I depart for Los Angeles, then on to Seattle, Oakland and San Francisco.

Here’s the list of ballparks, games and probable pitching matchups I’ll be seeing this week…*

  • 5/8 – San Francisco @ LA Dodgers (Vogelsong vs Beckett)
  • 5/9 – Kansas City @ Seattle (Vargas vs Maurer)
  • 5/10 – Washington @ Oakland (Roark vs Gray)
  • 5/12 – Atlanta @ San Francisco (Harang vs Lincecum)

* – Originally, I had the Angels on my list for tomorrow night, but a flight mix up is getting me to Los Angeles a few hours later than I had planned. Thankfully, my sister-in-law graduates from UCLA in mid-June and I’ll be back in the area to catch the Halos then. Phew.

Lots to love in this lineup.

First of all, and this is no offense to those I’ve already visited, but I think the ballparks are about to up their game immensely.

Dodger Stadium is the oldest ballpark not named Wrigley or Fenway.

Safeco Field is one of the more intriguing destinations. The roof is so unique, and Seattle just feels so far away.

I got to walk through AT&T park a couple winters ago. It was actually set up for a NCAA bowl game. Gorgeous views of the Bay Bridge and Treasure Island, and the Coke bottle and giant glove beyond left field have served as my Facebook banner ever since (image above).

And then there’s Oakland.

O.Co Coliseum is widely understood to be the worst ballpark in the MLB. The sewers backup in the locker rooms a few times a season. It’s one of the last football-convertible ballparks around, and the giant moveable grandstands in center field – known as Mount Davis, named after the late Raiders’ owner Al Davis – is a complete eye sore. The foul territory is enormous and pretty much anywhere you sit places you way too far away from the action.

However, I’m excited to see Sonny Gray in person. He was just tabbed as the AL Pitcher of the Month for April. He’s 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA so far this season. If the same Nationals team shows up in Oakland that did (or didn’t) in Atlanta, it should be a fun game to cheer for the home team.

I get to see the Royals play again. This time in Seattle and this time it’s Vargas instead if Ventura. Bummed it’s not King Felix too. Can’t win em all.

When Clayton Kershaw was making his comeback from injury, it started to look like he was going to get his first start back around this week. Instead, it’s tonight, and we’ll see Josh Beckett instead against Vogelsong. Still should be a solid matchup, but honestly, the mystique and excitement of seeing a game at the Chavez Ravine makes the game itself less crucial. However, If Yasiel Puig isn’t back from his encounter with the outfield wall by Thursday, I’ll be pretty bummed.

Finally, the marquee matchup of this week: Aaron Harang versus Tim Lincecum. Harang has been phenomenal – he threw 6 innings, 5 hits, 1 run when I saw him in ATL. Lincecum, a two-time Cy Young winner, hasn’t been great yet this year, and it’s probably his haircut that’s the issue. Really excited about this one.

Get ready for another series of ballpark posts from out west…and probably prepare for some late night ball game live-tweeting too.

-apc.

yaz-ee-el pweeg.

NLCS_Cardinals_Dodgers_Baseball-0e50f-7532Yasiel Puig came out of nowhere, and even now, months after his major league debut, people still aren’t totally sure how to say his name. It is pronounced “pew” or “poo”? and is it “ig”,”egg” or “eeg”? I’ve heard it every which way all season long. Just yesterday I heard Mike Shannon – the Cardinals syllable-slurring-and-possibly-inebriated radio broadcaster on KMOX – just say “pig”. And his first name isn’t any picnic either. Are there three syllables or two? I honestly don’t know.

I pronounce it  “Yaz-ee-el Pweeg” – long “e” in the middle of both names – and I think that’s right, but I’m no where near confident enough to make a wager on it.

Regardless of pronunciation, the dude can play. He is one of the quickest players I’ve seen. The 22-year-old Cuban somehow got a glove on that flare David Freese hit out in shallow right field that I thought was headed down into the corner for a triple. He was an inch from catching it. And how about his big hit from last night? Despite celebrating at the plate and not running hard out of the batters box, he somehow legged out a stand up triple with absolutely no play. He can change the game with his speed.

He can also hit. Say what you will about the Dodgers resurgence – whether it was all Puig’s doing or whether he was the product of being called up at the same time Hanley Ramirez came off the DL – and sure, he was 0-10 with 6 K’s in the NLCS going into last night’s game. Every player has ups and downs. But you don’t hit .319 and slug .534 in 104 games as a rookie unless you’ve got something special.

And that something special he has: passion. This dude loves to play this game. He’s a competitor, he is having fun, and he loves to play the game of baseball. Following last night’s game, he explained through a translator, “I was able to get back to really having fun. That’s all it really is for me, is having fun playing the game.”

You can tell his teammates love him too. Most, including manager Don Mattingly, will roll their eyes at his antics, but always with a giant smile. It’s just Puig being Puig.

All season long his passion has drawn the ridicule of fans, players and members of the media. He’s a polarizing personality, so this stuff is bound to happen. This morning’s headline is “Beltran irked by Puig’s antics.” And I can’t blame the guy. I watched Puig hit that triple, celebrating twice on a single trip around the bases, and probably muttered something derogatory under my breath too. I am a Cards fan, after all. The comments are surprising coming from Beltran, who after Game 1 was being made fun of by teammates for being unnaturally calm prior to his walkoff single in the Cardinals 3-2 win.

“It’s like you’ve got to put a mirror under his nose to check if he’s breathing, he’s so calm, cool and relaxed,” said Matt Carpenter after that game, “It’s like jazz music is playing in his head.” No wonder Beltran is annoyed by Puig; the two couldn’t be more different in their playing style.

If I were a Dodgers fan, I’d love the guy. Not saying I’d already be rocking his #66 jersey, but I would certainly be defending my guy from the criticism he’s drawn over the past season. He has the ability to make his teammates better. He’s the type of guy that, when his passion is channeled healthily, can energize and excite a team towards winning. His energy is infectious.

Besides, at the end of the day, he’s just having fun. And isn’t that the whole point of baseball anyway? In an age where massive contracts and player demands are so prevalent, it’s refreshing to hear someone talk about just having fun. Of course, he is a rookie, so it will be interesting to see how his perspective changes when he has an opportunity to make some serious dough. But for right now, it’s a nice thing to hear. (UPDATE: You gotta read this Sports Pickle article on Puig. Hilarious.)

Like I said, if I were a Dodgers fan, I’d love Yasiel Puig.

But I’m not a Dodgers fan.

Here’s my only real problem with Puig: his passion clouds his ability to play the game intelligently. So far this season, his antics have largely helped rather than hurt the Dodgers season and playoff run. He has been a lightning rod, a spark plug, whatever you want to call him, and that has turned this Dodgers team into a winner. But there have been moments where his ability to negatively impact the game have surfaced.

The first was June 11. In a game against the Diamondbacks, Puig was hit in the face with an Ian Kennedy fastball and somehow stayed in the game. An inning later, there was a bench clearing brawl when Kennedy hit pitcher Zack Greinke too. Puig can be seen right in the middle of it all. He’s one of the first ones to get into Kennedy’s face. He can be seen throwing punches, pushing players and truly seeking out opportunities to fight. Here’s a video of the brawl.

Eight players were suspended, but miraculously, Puig wasn’t one of them.

Then on two different occasions – June 27 and July 3 – his reckless playing style ran him into two different outfield walls. The first play took him full tilt into the right field wall on a home run. The second play (which he made) injured his hip and he would later have to leave the game.

Then on August 24, Don Mattingly said something interesting

“He’s an energetic young player with such passion. Sometimes he goes out if control. But it’s never malicious. It’s never, ‘I’m missing the cutoff man because I want to.’ I don’t want to break this kid’s spirit. I like him playing the way he plays. But like with anybody else, I just want him to play intelligently.”

Then just a few days later, Mattingly benched him for doing exactly what he was afraid might happen: his passion was getting in the way of his ability to make small intelligent plays that impact the game negatively. In this case, he didn’t slide to break up a double play.

And then last night, in the wake of his headline-stealing performance, he did the exact same thing.

Puig hit a leadoff single to get the Dodgers going in the bottom of the 7th. Then Juan Uribe hit a slow grounder to the shortstop, and Puig nonchalantly jogged through the bag at second. Uribe was doubled up at first, and then AJ Ellis grounded out to end the inning. Not saying it would’ve made a difference, but when you play 162 games plus a potential dozen or so playoff games, little things like that are what lead to one or two small losses along the way.

Baseball is a game of inches, and players have to do whatever they can to make sure those inches are in their favor.

For example, last night, Jon Jay missed three fly balls to centerfield that could have been caught if he had played them properly. (Check my three tweets 1, 2, and 3 – from last night for more on that fiasco. Grr.) None of them were errors, but they led to all three Dodger runs. If he makes those plays, who knows how the game finishes? It’s the little things that go unnoticed and aren’t found in the box score that often swing an entire game.

The minutia of baseball is crucial to success, and Yasiel Puig’s reckless abandon, while exciting, puts the minutia in jeopardy.

Sure, it will be overshadowed by his triple and the way he energized a team that had been near-comatose in St. Louis. As has been the case all year, his little errors in judgement aren’t leading to Dodger losses…yet. When they do, it will be interesting to see how the Dodger faithful react to the same passion and antics that are ticking off his competition and rival fan bases today.

If he shores up those fundamentals, he’s got another fan out of me. Until then, I’m with Beltran.

-apc.

photo credit: Mark J. Terrill/AP