World Series Game 7: Take the Crown

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Game 7.

Tonight, a World Series Champion will be crowned. Tomorrow, there will be no baseball. Today, millions of fans in Kansas and Missouri will be wrought with anxiety and accomplish nearly nothing at the office.

Let’s pause for just a moment and remember this: one month ago yesterday we were scoreboard watching as the Royals finished up the regular season with a 6-4 victory in Chicago, their 89th of the season. We needed the Tigers to lose in order to force a tie breaker scenario. They didn’t lose. We would have to face Oakland in the dreaded Wild Card matchup.

Kauffman Stadium started selling gear with “October” printed all over it and I couldn’t help but worry that the Wild Card game was happening on September 30, and a loss would mean we never played in October at all. From the beginning, I always thought that game would be the end.

Then, to quote the Fresh Prince, our lives got flip-turned upside down.

Suddenly this team became a team of destiny. Shoulders relaxed. Mike Moustakas became a destroyer of baseballs. Players laughed. Billy Butler stole a base. Confidence soared. Jarrod Dyson ran his mouth and was absolutely right. A team became the darlings of the nation. Lorenzo Cain became a household name and a friggin American hero.

This entire month has been surreal. Technically, October has 2 more days, but tonight, in Kansas City, October will effectively come to an end.

Did you guys hear Ned Yost’s comments before yesterday’s game? “Even though our backs are against the wall, what is so weird about it is it doesn’t feel like our backs are against the wall…because I think we’re going to win.” Feigning confidence for his team? Maybe. But I don’t think so. It feels right, doesn’t it? Oddly correct. Ever since that Wild Card comeback, this team has just known they were going to be here tonight.

In some strange pseudo-Jedi kind of way, I’ve always known it too. I’ve said multiple times that this team cannot be jinxed. They are destined to win it all. The players know it, Ned knows it, I know it, and you know it too.

We all know they’re going to win it all.

Last night’s game was a joke. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Yordano Ventura/Jake Peavy matchup was the most lopsided matchup possible. After a 10-0 result, I look like a bonafide genius. And if that wasn’t enough, I took to Twitter right before the first pitch last night…

…pretty embarrassing about the strikeouts and thinking the offense would only throw up 4 runs. Here was the result.

It was so obvious to me. Maybe it was to you too. Yordano is our best pitcher. He has been pretty much all season. There were a couple weeks when I thought Danny Duffy would give him a run for his money – and nothing against his performance, because he has been brilliant at times – but our 2014 ace was not James Shields. It was Yordano the whole time.

Now, tonight.

Let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter who we throw and in what order at this point. Our entire bullpen is ready to go. Jeremy Guthrie gets the start, and any combination of Duffy-Herrera-Vargas-Davis-Finnegan- Holland-Shields will be fine.

The Giants will counter with Lopez-Affeldt-Bumgarner-Romo-Petit-Lincecum with Tim Hudson getting the start. If this is a bullpen battle, I like the Royals’ chances – although the Giants’ pen is no slouch.

This same matchup ended in a 3-2 Royals victory in San Francisco in Game 3. Alex Gordon had the key hit: a double off of Hudson scoring Alcides Escobar. It’d be nice to get something like that out of Alex again. He’s looked pretty awful lately, especially against Bumgarner.

Someone will need to come through like that again tonight. Will it be Alex? Alcides? Hosmer? Moose? Lorenzo? Omar? Billy? Nori? That’s the thing about this team – you never know who is going to come through, but it’s always someone.

My prediction: it’ll be Alex again. And I’m standing by my prediction before the World Series began: Yordano Ventura will be the MVP.

One more game. Finish this thing, boys. It’s been an incredible month – probably the best of my life – and you’ve completely changed this city. Thank you for what you’ve done for us this year.

It ends tonight. Let’s take the crown.

-apc.

The Royals are coming home for Game 6, down 3-2: “Never tell me the odds.”

Nasty. Nasty. Nasty.

That’s the word that keeps popping up in my text messages and twitter feed in reference to Madison Bumgarner. So nasty. He has beaten us twice now, and “beaten” is putting it mildly. If the Giants can close this series out over the next two games, there is zero question that Bumgarner will be the MVP.

As much as we can – and have and will – grill Ned Yost’s questionable management in Game 5, we can’t really cast blame at anyone in a Royals uniform. I went on a rant last night about it because I was frustrated, but my frustration should be directed at Madison Bumgarner, not Ned Yost. Gotta give credit where credit is due.

But I’m still frustrated.

The experience of baseball fandom is like riding a giant pendulum back and forth between hope and despair. Just last week, Kansas City was buzzing unlike anything I’ve ever seen. A week ago this same coffee shop was decked out in blue. Then we took a 2-1 series lead and we were about as hopeful as could be.

Today, it’s silent. Today, I’m one of only two people here wearing royals gear. No one is smiling at each other. We’re all just trying to go about our business without having to talk about last night’s poor performance. Eye contact is minimal, talking is non-existent. We’re all avoiding the painful royal blue elephant in the room*.

* – I want to add a line about Madison Bumgarner kicking the elephant in the crotch or something, but that metaphor breaks down and isn’t as clear as I’d like it to be. Oh well. Whatever. That’s what today feels like.

The pendulum has swung us hard toward despair. For a fan, hope brings optimism, but with despair comes realism. Last week I talked a lot about how alive and optimistic this city felt because I was ultra-hopeful. Today, no one around here wants to feel anything. At this point, we just want to talk about our chances. What are the odds?  Is there still a chance?

Of course there’s a chance. There’s always a chance in baseball until the final out is recorded.

Mathematically, things look grim. Assuming baseball games are a coin flip, the Royals only have a 25% chance of coming up twice in a row. Fangraphs has the Giants at 73.7% to win the World Series – slightly better than 50-50, but still not great.

In an effort to try to grasp for some hope, other writers might reference the 1985 team being down 3-1 and coming back to win it all or the 2002 Giants being up 3-2 and losing two straight. They’ll tell you that teams down 3-2 coming home are 22-8 in Game 6…73.3%. They’ll tell you that since 1923 the road team has gone into Game 6 up 3-2 thirty different times. Of those 30 times, here’s the breakdown of how it played out…

  • Road Team in 6: 8 times.
  • Road Team in 7: 9 times.
  • Home Team in 7: 13 times

…13/30 times the home team has won two straight. That’s a 43.3% chance of winning, historically, and 43.3% is much much higher than 25%.

That’s all fun to talk about, I suppose, but these teams aren’t those teams. These teams are these teams. I don’t like looking at past stats as hopeful indicators of present situations. We don’t care about what teams have done in the past. We care about these teams over the nexts two games. Can we win two straight? Of course we can. In fact, these two upcoming games have already happened and the Royals won both of them. They’re rematches of Games 2 & 3.

If we can win the next two games, it will mark the third time we’ve won two straight vs the Giants this year. We won 3 straight when we faced them back in August. We won 2 straight last week in Games 2 & 3. We just have to do it one more time. Besides, if we’ve learned anything about this Royals team this postseason it’s this: with their backs against the wall, they have what it takes to fight out of it.

All that to say, I’m here to tell you that despite the numbers aginast us, the Royals are very much still in this series. Hope is not unrealistic. Sure, I’m feeling most of the way toward realism right now, but when we look ahead to Games 6 and 7 as individual matchups, we have to like what we see.

Game 6: Yordano Ventura vs. Jake Peavy

A rematch of Game 2 which the Royals won 7-2. Ventura scattered 8 hits over 5.1 innings allowing just two runs. He wasn’t flawless – especially in the first inning – but he was plenty good enough. Herrera pitched 1.2 while Davis and Holland threw 1 inning apiece. All scoreless.

Jake Peavy, miraculously managed to slip through 5 innings with only two runs allowed. He even retired 10 straight at one point, which may have led to the decision to let him face the heart of the Royals lineup a third time through. The Royals lit Peavy and the bullpen up for 5 runs in the 6th inning and never looked back.

I don’t see Peavy getting that opportunity again in Game 6. I think Bruce Bochy will have him on a short leash with Lincecum ready. Ned Yost needs to have Danny Duffy ready to do the same. This is a must win game, and Yost obviously needs to pull out all the stops.

That said, Yordano + Duffy >>>>>> Peavy + Timmy The Freak.

Yeah, James Shields pitched well yesterday, and he’s technically our “ace” – or at least his salary suggests he is – but I believe strongly that our actual ace(s) are the two guys lined up to appear tomorrow.

Yordano Days are the best days for a reason, you guys. Let’s just throw fire, okay?

It’s also important to mention that instead of Jarrod Dyson and the pitcher in the lineup, we will have Nori Aoki and Billy Butler. The offensive advantage shifts heavily in the Royals direction coming back home for these last two games.

Game 7: Guthrie(?) vs. Hudson

Another rematch of starters. Guthrie pitched well in Game 3 – 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R – and he has earned my confidence over the past two months. Herrera, Finnegan, Davis and Holland combined for the final 12 outs and the Giants had no chance.

Tim Hudson went 5.2 IP, 4 H, 3 R. The Royals got to him with a run in the first and two more in the 6th – have we all noticed that these two innings are when the Royals score pretty much all of their runs? So far they’ve scored 15 runs in this series and 9 have come in the 1st or 6th innings. The Royals seem to have two trajectories: get on the board early and play with a lead, or let the starter cruise through 5 innings and get to him on the third trip through the lineup.

With pitchers having a short leash before the third time through, this makes it imperative that we strike early off of both Peavy and Hudson. Get em on, get em over, get em in, and early. We won’t see a pitcher three times in the same game over the next two games.

That said, I’m guessing that these will still be the starters for this game, but it’s possible that we could see someone throw on short rest. The Giants have announced Hudson will start Game 7, but the Royals haven’t said who it will be. Could be Guthrie or Vargas (or Duffy?). My money is on Guthrie, but it wouldn’t shock me if Ned threw Vargas and had Guthrie ready to go as well at any sign of things going wrong.

The starters from yesterday will likely be available too. James Shields threw 94 pitches yesterday while Madison Bumgarner threw 117. I can’t imagine either of these guys would be the first options for middle relief – Volgelsong and Vargas, Duffy and Lincecum would likely make an appearance first.

If this series goes to seven games, it will be so interesting to see how Ned Yost manages. If I were him, I’d have Herrera/Davis ready for relief at the first sign of trouble and let them go until Duffy/Vargas have had enough time to warm up completely and come in to start an inning. Then, same thing – first sign of trouble, have the other one ready to get out of the jam. If we can dowse the fires as they happen, our bullpen is good enough to bridge available starters together to get to Holland.

Maybe elimination Ned will be the Ned we’ve all been hoping for all this time. He sure seems like he’s learned a thing or two about managing over the past few weeks.

So what are the odds?

Obviously they’re in San Francisco’s favor overall, but not as much as the coin flip method or Fangraphs would make you think. I’d say the Royals have around a 60% chance of taking Game 6 behind Yordano/Duffman. Game 7 is probably closer to a coin flip, but the game being at home tilts it slightly in the Royals favor too. I’d say it’s 60-40 and 55-45, Royals the favorites in both, which puts us at a 33% overall chance for the Royals to take both games.

We’ve already seen both of these matchups before, and the Royals won both of them. Why wouldn’t we expect them to do it again? But I’m getting ahead of myself. First thing’s first, and that’s win tomorrow. And the Royals are the favorites to do exactly that.

A parade could still happen this weekend, and I got chills just typing that out.

-apc.

PS – If you aren’t aware, that’s a Han Solo quote in the title…for all you people who used to be my friends.

World Series Game 5: A Quick Postgame Rant

I need to rant about Ned Yost’s performance tonight, but there are two things I need to address before I do so.

First, I have been a Ned Yost defender all year long. I don’t join in with the #Yosted banter because it’s mostly just hypercritical fans who like to gripe. I think Ned does a great job managing a clubhouse and getting the best out of his players. He understands the longview of the baseball season. He maintains his emotions and has proven now that he can motivate a team through 162 games and beyond. I think that has way more to do with managing than any strategic decision a manager ever makes or doesn’t make.

And I’m not alone. Dayton Moore agrees. Or maybe I agree with him. Back in 2006 when he was hired as general manager of the Royals, he had 5 points for what he wanted out of a manager. They are…

1. Communicate with the front office.
2. Earn the players respect.
3. Keep players focused for 162 games.
4. Keep players motivated for 162 games.
5. Keep politics out of the clubhouse.

…no strategy needed. Just facilitate a healthy and happy clubhouse for a whole season. That’s 95% of managing in my opinion, and it’s not easily done. It takes the right kind of individual to manage 25 or 40 grown men with grown egos. And let’s be honest, if any of us did 95% of our job well, we’d be pretty highly valued in our careers.

But Ned Yost isn’t valued in baseball. In the 2014 postseason, Yost has faced Bob Melvin, Mike Scioscia, Buck Showalter and now Bruce Bochy. All of those men are loved by their fans, city and by baseball. Ned Yost – a “dunce” according to the Wall Street Journal before the ALCS – has beaten them all. Even Bochy early in this series.

The issue with Ned? The extra 5% of his job is the most public. And he’s admittedly not the greatest at that portion of the game.

Yet I have continued to defend his managing, because I believe strongly in the other 95%, and have the ability to overlook the various “miscues” he has had this year. Even with those, Yost gets an unfair wrap because no one ever applauds the manager when they make the right choice. We only criticize when the manager makes a mistake.

We praise the ballplayers, but we point fingers at the manager. It’s a tough job and I don’t envy anyone in that position.

Which brings me to my second pre-rant point: whether Ned Yost makes the right or wrong choice, it is still the players’ job to produce on the field and at the plate. Managers only have so much control over the outcome of a game. Ned said it himself after he brought in Ventura in the Wild Card game – a decision that he now claims to have learned a lot from – just because it doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean it was the wrong move.

So before I take off here, I want us to all understand those two points. I have defended Yost because managing a ball club is much more than strategy, and the players ultimately dictate the success or failure of a team and its manager.

That said, I’m about to go off on Ned Yost’s managing in Game 5 of the World Series.

Bottom 4

The grumbling began in the bottom of the 4th, and the questioning began in the top of the 5th inning.

The Giants had already scratched 2 runs across. The first came in the 2nd inning when Hunter Pence led off with a single and went to second after Brandon Belt took what the Royals’ defense was giving him by beating the shift, dropping down a bunt single. Both runners advanced when Travis Ishikawa flew our to Jarrod Dyson – rough night – in deep centerfield. Both runners advanced, and Pence scored on a Brandon Crawford groundout to make it 1-0.

The second run came in the 4th off of three singles that managed to find daylight. Pablo Sandoval singled to left. Then Escobar alligator armed a groundball in the hole off the bat of Ishikawa. Then Crawford blooped one toward centerfield – Dyson, coming in hard, couldn’t get there in time and had to play it on a bounce. He didn’t field it cleanly allowing Sandoval to score from second.

Which is what started the grumbling. Fans were frustrated that Dyson was in centerfield instead if Lorenzo Cain, as if Cain could’ve made the catch and prevented the run from scoring. Which simply isn’t true. Centerfield is massive at AT&T Park, and if Dyson couldn’t make that catch, then Cain couldn’t either. Statistically, Dyson is actually the better outfielder, which is just hard to wrap our minds around since we have seen so much flashy brilliance from Lorenzo this fall. But it’s true.

However, Cain probably wouldn’t have bungled it off his mitt, so perhaps Dyson did allow a run. So be it. Ned went with his best defense and it let him down.

Top 5

The Royals had only gotten two hits at this point – one from Lorenzo and one from Salvador Perez – both singles. With one out, Omar Infante smacked a double to center, and the Royals seemed to be in business. Except up next came Dyson and Shields.

Some would’ve rather seen Josh Willingham, Nori Aoki or Billy Butler here instead of Dyson. A pinch hitter wouldn’t have gotten much to hit with the pitcher spot coming up next, and first base open. Pinch hitting for Dyson would’ve made a lot of sense, followed by the other one hitting for Shields next. You don’t get many chances off of Bumgarner, so it’s important to be aggressive when you have any slight ray of light.

Instead, Ned stuck with Dyson and Shields who both struck out to end the inning and the “threat.” Felt like a missed opportunity.

Bottom 5

Of course, right on cue, Ned turns out to have seemingly made the right call. With runners on 1st and 2nd and two out, Hunter Pence hit a shot to the gap in right-center. Lorenzo Cain, as we have come to expect, made great catch running back and to his right saving two runs and ending the threat.

It was a catch that Aoki or Willingham would never have made in the same position. Point, Ned.

Not only that, but Shields lasted another inning, saving the bullpen and keeping the Royals in the game.

At this point, thanks to Cain’s catch and Shields’ quality start, the “dunce” was done just fine.

Bottom 7

This is where the wheels really came off. The inning began with a double switch: Kelvin Herrera came into pitch, occupying the #7 spot in the lineup instead of Omar Infante, and now batting in the pitcher’s spot and taking over at second base would be Jayson Nix.

First of all, it’s baffling to me that Nix is even on this team over utilityman, Christian Colon. Nix still hasn’t tallied a hit since joining the Royals on August 30. He’s now 0-10 as a Royal. Meanwhile, Christian Colon is just as good defensively, faster on the bases, and hits the ball much better. Unless Colon’s finger wasn’t 100% following his injury, Nix has no business even being on this roster.

But here we are, and he is. And he was suddenly lined up to bat 2nd in the 8th inning. In Game 5. Of the World Series.

My biggest issue with the move isn’t Nix as much as it is the timing of the move by Yost. For some reason, Ned felt it was of the utmost importance for Herrera to throw multiple innings down 2-0, otherwise he would’ve just let Herrera takeover the #9 spot for Shields instead of pulling the double switch. If Ned had waited an inning to pull the trigger, he could’ve sent Herrera out for the 7th, pinch hit Billy for him in the 8th, and then brought in Wade Davis to start the 8th and done the double switch then.

Top 8

Instead, Yost sent Billy Butler out to pinch hit for Dyson and lead off the 8th inning. Billy saw 3 pitches, none of which were strikes…

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…yet they were all three strikes. Our best hitter off the bench was done after three crummy pitches.

Then up comes Jayson Nix in the pitcher’s spot. He’s the last infielder on the team, so you can’t pinch hit for him and he goes quietly flying out to left field.

Escobar struck out to end the inning. Pitiful all around.

Bottom 8

Nori goes out to play right and Cain moves to center, and Herrera comes back out to throw the 8th – which is still a dumb idea – and he promptly gives up two singles to Sandoval and Pence.

Which forces Yost to go to Wade Davis anyway, just with 2 on and none out. Wade struck out the side, but not before the Giants plated 3 insurance runs spearheaded by a Juan Perez double off the centerfield wall. Suddenly the game had been blown wide open. It was 5-0 Giants, which is how the game would end.

What I would’ve done differently:

1. Don’t double switch. Give Herrera the 7th and that’s it.
2a. Pinch hit for Dyson with Billy Butler.
2b. If he gets on, pinch run with Gore.
3. Pinch hit Aoki for Herrera. Sure, Aoki is 0-16 lifetime vs Bungarner, but hitless against MadBum is better than hitless against the whole league (Nix).
5. Finally, execute the double switch. Nori for Dyson (Cain moving to CF, Nori out to RF) and bring in Davis to start the 8th with his spot in 8 spot now occupied by Billy/Gore. That way Davis – who rested yesterday and has a day off tomorrow – could pitch his normal 8th inning and not come in later with runners on base.

The resulting lineup would have been…

Escobar – SS
Gordon – LF
Cain – RF-CF
Hosmer – 1B
Perez – C
Moustakas – 3B
Infante – 2B
Dyson – CF
Butler – PH
– Davis – P
Shields – P
Herrera – P
– Aoki – RF

Instead of this…

Escobar – SS
Gordon – LF
Cain – RF-CF
Hosmer – 1B
Perez – C
Moustakas – 3B
Infante – 2B
Herrera – P
– Davis – P
Dyson – CF
Butler – PH
– Aoki RF
Shields – P
– Nix – 2B

That way you get Aoki’s bat instead of Nix’s. You keep Infante in the game. You give HDH the innings they’re used to throwing. You would also save a bat for later on the off chance you happened to tie it up and things went later.

This is NL Managerial Strategy 101 here. It’s not complicated stuff, yet Ned Yost biffed on it entirely.

Of course, the players probably wouldn’t have come through anyway. The damage had already been done. But this sort of thing is the extra 5% that the manager needs to get right to be considered great. The manager’s job is to put his players in the best position possible to succeed, and Yost didn’t do that at all in Game 5.

Would we still be down 3-2 coming back to KC? Probably. But in a game that looks like a 5-0 blowout on paper actually came down to a handful of little mishaps. Championship baseball is in the details, and Ned Yost hurt his chances for the first time in a while.

-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…

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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)…

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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.

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Twenty-two down. Eight to go.

Up Next: Chicago Cubs.

-apc.

Game 12: AT&T Park, San Francisco

Something I’ve learned in this life of traveling, ballpark touring, scorekeeping and next-day blog posting: it’s hard work. Harder than I anticipated. Especially when trying to balance it with full time youth ministry and seminary work.

So forgive me for the delay on this post. I’ve been itching to get to it because AT&T Park was such a terrific host.

I spent last weekend in Los Angeles, Seattle and Oakland. San Francisco was my last stop on the West Coast Tour, and it did not disappoint.

Five hours before game time, I was on the field.

My publisher, The House Studio, arranged for me to meet up with Jeremy Affeldt, Giants relief pitcher and all around stud, at the ballpark that afternoon. Jeremy is a two-time World Series champ in 2010 and 2012, and was Setup Man of the Year in 2009. He also wrote a book called “To Stir a Movement: Life, Justice and Major League Baseball” last year. Told you. Stud.

We talked about his journey as a Christian in the MLB – struggles, failures, calling, morality, mission – and it was so awesome to hear him share his experience of God as a professional ballplayer.

I’ll mention part of our convo in this post, but you can read the whole interview with him here.

While I was hanging with Jeremy in the seats behind the Giants dugout, I couldn’t help but glance around as other players arrived at the ballpark.

Tim Lincecum, the Giants starter Monday night, came walking in sporting a yellow and purple Washington Huskies cap, which paired up nicely with his gorgeous mustache. Buster Posey had the night off, so he was out on the outfield grass playing with his little son. Sergio Romo rode in on a custom scooter.

I was borderline freaking out, but I tried to keep calm in front of Jeremy. It was just another day at the office for these guys. Yeah, killer office, man.

Affeldt told me the view from the seats we were sitting in was the most Instagrammed photo of 2013: the Coke bottle and glove beyond the left field wall. I told him that photo has been my Facebook banner photo for the past two years. I was trying to brag because I put it up in 2011 before it was cool. I think I ended up just sounding lame.

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It is beautiful though. AT&T Park is situated just south of the Bay Bridge on the west side of the San Francisco Bay on “McCovey Cove” after the former Giants slugger – although, I suspect that it wasn’t called that before the ballpark was built in 2002. The seats in right field are only three rows deep, so occasionally a ball will leave the park entirely and land with a splash in the Cove.

There have been 65* splash homers since 2002. Thirty-five were hit by Barry Bonds. Which means there have been 30 splashes over 12+ seasons. Which means, ignoring Bonds, it happens about 2-3 times a year. So it’s relatively rare. Nevertheless, you can always count on a handful of kayakers parked in the Cove hoping for a souvenir.

* – As of Monday night. Brandon Crawford hit one two days later to make it 66 splashes.

Our seats were in the front row of The Arcade, which is what they call the 3 rows in right field – hoping to see a splash on Monday night.

Second inning, two outs, in his first ever MLB at bat as a starter, Tyler Colvin unloaded on a 1-1 pitch. It sailed over our heads – over The Arcade -and splashed in the Cove. Colvin had a game: 2-3 with a triple and a homer.

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I watched the replay and took a screen shot of the home run. Hard to see, but there’s where I was sitting.

We actually got to see another splash homer. Braves’ first baseman, Freddie Freeman, poked one out in the 9th, but we weren’t cheering for the Braves, so…

What an incredible experience for Colvin. He’s probably been working to get into the big leagues for a long time, and to have a game – a moment, really – like that in his first MLB start? Amazing.

Jeremy and I were talking before the game about the pressure rookies feel they first come into the league. They’re still seeking permanent work and the financial security it provides. They want to feel like they’ve made it, and often times they – like Affeldt – don’t experience immediate success when they break into the league at a young age.

Now, I don’t know anything about Colvin’s spiritual life, and I’m certainly not claiming this to be true of him at all. I don’t know if he believes in God and feels a calling on his life like Jeremy and I do. But I wonder what happens to a rookie when they experience immediate success. Do they continue to need God? Or do they begin to rely on their own strength instead?

Jeremy had a great quote about this that I didn’t include in yesterday’s interview post: “They don’t need God, and they’ll tell you that. ‘I’ve got money, I’ve got cars, I’ve got women, I’ve got fame – why do I need God?'” Because of his early struggles in the game, Jeremy has a profound perspective on failure as an athlete.

Success doesn’t cause us to grow. Only failure can do that.

And baseball is a game of failures. “It’s who fails the least that does well in this game,” Affeldt told me, “you have to learn to fail…You base your days, or your trust in God, on your wins and losses – your successes or not.”

I admire Jeremy for his pursuit of God in the midst of his struggles as a professional athlete. It is his frustration, struggle, pain and perplexity that have taught him to find his strength in God and not himself.

That’s what was running through my head when Colvin put the Giants on the board in the 2nd. Where do we find our strength – in ourselves, or in the one we created us in his image? Do our actions reflect that understanding? Is it about us, or is it about our Creator?

It’s a question not just for athletes, but for all of us to consider. When I finish this book, and it’s selling millions of copies and is a NY Times Best Seller*, who gets the glory for that success? Is it about me, the creator of this book, or is it about the ultimate Creator – the one who made me, gifted me, and has already written my story within his Story?

Or when this book flops, and the only people reading it are friends and family who are simply humoring me, reading it out of obligation because of their relationship with me, will I look to God to teach me why I’m not experiencing success for all my hard work? Will I allow the Spirit to grow me, give me strength and persevere in my calling as a follower of Christ?

What is it for you? Can you relate? What has been your experience of failure or success? Where does your strength come from?

I lift my eyes to the hills –
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2

San Francisco is a good place to talk about hills too. It’s been four days since I left the Bay and my calves are still sore from walking around that city.

Game Notes:

Earlier in the day, I was in a cab headed to Pier 39. My driver and I were chatting about the Giants and their season so far. I told him I was excited to see Tim Lincecum pitch that night, but the driver wasn’t so enthusiastic.

“I don’t know what his deal is. He’s not the same guy he was a few years ago.”

I agreed, but tried to keep it positive. “Totally, but you never know. He could turn it around.”

“I hope so. The Freak is still in there,” he responded, “It seems like any day he could be back to his Cy Young ways.”

It turns out Monday was that day.

Because Timmy and his mustache were awesome.

He was absolutely dominant. He went 7.2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 11 K. His breaking ball is a slider-curve combo (slurve) that he can control all around the strike zone. It was unhittable on Monday night.

BJ Upton, by some miracle, had 2 hits – a solo homer and a double – but the rest of the Braves lineup was totally miffed by Timmy the Freak.

When I left for the coast, I thought I was going to get to see Aaron Harang pitch for the Braves. Instead, I saw Gavin Floyd, who did his best Harang impression holding the Giants to 1 run through 6 innings – Colvin’s splash being the only mar to his line.

But in the 7th, the Giants put on 4 straight batters.

Hector Sanchez led off with a single. Brandon Crawford reached on a grounder to first that Freddie Freeman couldn’t corral. Colvin ripped a triple scoring both base runners, and then he scored himself on a Brandon Hicks single. Floyd got to pitch to Lincecum, whom he struck out, before getting hooked, and the Atlanta bullpen shut down the Giants’ bats from there.

But the damage was done. 4-1 Giants headed into the 9th.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy had Affeldt warming up for a long time, and closer Sergio Romo was ready too, but he decided to go with Javier Lopez to start the 9th instead to pitch to the lefty Freeman before bringing in Romo to get righties Chris Johnson* and Gerald Laird.

* – Also, how many people do you know named Chris Johnson? I know at least 5.

Lopez promptly gave up a splash HR to Freeman and left the game after 1 batter with a binary line: 0.0 1 1 1 0 0.

But Romo closed it: 4-3, 4-3, and struck out BJ Upton looking to end it.

The Bay Area really treated me right. Oakland and San Francisco have been the two best games I’ve seen so far, and they stopped my home team losing streak at 6. The home team is now 5-7 on my ballpark tour.

Twelve down. Eighteen to go.

Up next: Colorado Rockies.

-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.