Love Of The Game (and baseball playoff predicitons)
by Michele Christopher
Please welcome guest author Jay of Pop and Sports. Today Jay writes about his love of baseball and also gives us predictions for the the playoffs.
My son who is 9 recently asked me, "Dad, why do you like baseball so much?" It was interesting question. I answered quickly as I am sure somebody with the attention span of a nine year old wouldn't want to listen to me wax poetic about my love of the national pasttime. But it got me to thinking more about it and why it is a sport that is so special to me.
There's a number of reasons. Some are more personal, some are grounded in the game itself and some are historical.
On the personal front, my father introduced me to baseball. I spent the early years of my life in Sunnyside, Queens. We lived in an apartment in Sunnyside Gardens on Barnett Avenue between 44th and 45th street. The LIRR trains would go by right across the street behind this big long row of garages that for whatever reason, I can't remember anybody using. Outside the apartment we had a small yard where my father taught me how to play baseball. It was amazing because for a guy from Brooklyn with a hot temper, my father was amazingly patient teaching me to throw, catch and hit. I can remember vaguely being pretty bad at first, but over time getting better and better. My best friend for some time was a Korean kid named Eugene that lived in the apartment building up the street. My father would come out and be the automatic pitcher while Eugene and I played against each other. My loyalty as a fan to the NY Yankees came from my father as well. Frankly, I am surprised I wasn't raised a Mets fan. My father was raised in Brooklyn. Thankfully, he didn't migrate to the Mets after the Dodgers and Giants left for California. He remained a Yankees fan. I lived in Queens, which for the most part was Mets country. Still, I remember my father telling me how the Yankees had won the World Series in 1977 (I was still too young to stay up and watch). But what made me a Yankees fan for life was my first trip to Yankees Stadium in 1978. As much as I have forgotten about that trip, there are a few things I remember vividly. One is that we sat in the right field stands. Prior to the game, Reggie Jackson turned and waved in our direction. The Yankees were playing the Tigers and the Yankees lost 3-1. The Yankees loss became somewhat of a running joke in our family. It seems every time my father took us to a game, the Yankees lost.
Fast forward to 1996. The Yankees are once again in the World Series. Things looked bleak after two games. The Yankees were beaten handily by the Atlanta Braves. However, the Yankees reeled off three straight in Atlanta and were going back to the Bronx. By this time, I was 26 years old and married. My wife and I were expecting our first child and I was working as a commodities broker in New York. During my time there, a shipping company we did business with quite a bit was always giving us Yankees tickets. I got a call from the rep and he wanted to speak to my boss. She was busy and didn't want to talk to him. She told me to ask what it is he wanted. He replied, "Tell her I have World Series tickets." My heart skipped a beat. I relayed the message to her. She looked at me for a moment and said, "You take them." I practically fell out my chair. The only decision to make was whether or not I wanted tickets for Game 6 or Game 7. I took the two tickets for Game 6. Up until this time, I had never even been to a playoff game, let alone the World Series. Here was the chance to go to the World Series with a chance for the Yankees to win it. We all know how it ended. The Yankees celebrated their first World Series title in 18 years, and all was well with the world.
Baseball is also a sport of moments. Specific moments captured in time that change games in an instant. Think of the famous home runs. Bobby Thompson's 'Shot heard round the world.' Carlton Fisk desperately waving his ball fair in the 1975 World Series. A gimpy Kirk Gibson walking to the plate in the 1988 World Series and hitting one off Dennis Eckersley and doing that arm pump. Joe Carter's walk off game winning and World Series winning home run against Mitch 'Wild Thing' Williams in 1993. Jim Leyritz's three run homer off Mark Wohlers in the 1996 World Series that tied game 4.
There are the down moments as well. A ground ball under Bill Buckner's glove in the 1986 World Series. Dave Dravecky going down on the mound as if he had been shot, his humerus bone snapping after a pitch to Tim Raines. A severly blown call by first base umpire Don Denkinger in the 1985 World Series.
Then there are the defensive moments. Derek Jeter and what has simply become, "The Flip." Ron Swoboda's diving catch off Brooks Robinson in the 1969 World Series. Willie Mays and what has simply become "The Catch" in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. These moments defined sometimes not just a game, but a series or a season.
Baseball is also filled with history. Baseball stadiums are all different. In the other three major sports, the dimensions of the field of play are all the same. In baseball, as long as the mound is a certain height and 60 feet six inches away from home plate and the bases are all 90 feet apart, there aren't many other rules. That's what makes so many parks unique. Certain parts of the park have simple names and the fans know what they are. 'The Ivy' at Wrigley Field. 'The Green Monster' and 'Pesky Pole' at Fenway Park. 'The Black' and 'Death Valley' at Yankees Stadium.
And who can forget the nicknames? It isn't as common as it used to be, but no sport has nicknames like baseball. 'Lefty', 'The Sultan of Swat', 'The Iron Horse', 'Hammerin Hank', 'Scooter', 'Charlie Hustle', 'Stan The Man', 'The Splendid Splinter', 'The Georgia Peach', 'The Yankee Clipper', The Wizard of Oz', 'Mr. October', 'Donnie Baseball', 'Big Papi', 'The Mad Hungarian', 'Space Man', 'The Big Hurt', 'The Big Unit', 'The Rocket', 'Big Train.' This list can go on and on.
Even in the world of cinema, baseball reigns. 'The Pride of The Yankees', 'Bull Durham', 'The Bad News Bears', Eight Men Out', 'Field of Dreams', 'Major League', 'The Sandlot', 'The Natural', and 'The Rookie.' All of those movies have their own charm and cover all aspects of play from the streets, to little league, the minors and the majors.
Finally, baseball is a game that doesn't rely on a clock. It has no time limit. In baseball, a team doesn't have to worry about another team running out the clock. They don't have to intiate a hurry up offense or use timeouts seletively in order to get more runs than the other team. They don't have to do a toin coss to see who gets the ball first in overtime. The game is not over until last man is out.
The personal relationship. The history. The gameplay. All of it combined makes up why I love the game of baseball.
AL Division Series
Yankees/Tigers - The Tigers faltered badly in the second half of the season. So much so that they were swept by the Royals in the final weeked of the season and get the pleasure of losing to the Yankees in the first round. The Yankees lineup is too deep and they have more experience. Plus, regardless of what the Tigers say, their second half collapse has to be playing on their minds. Yankees in four.
A's/Twins - While the Twins have Santana, and Brad Radke has looked good coming back, there's question marks with that staff. At the same time, Oakland is a weak offensive team outside of Frank Thomas. Overall however, the A's have better pitching. The A's don't want to face Santana twice. Fortunately, I don't think they will. Oakland in 4.
NL Division Series
Mets/Dodgers - The Dodgers have three starting pitchers with World Series rings. Brad Penny, Greg Maddux and Derek Lowe. They'll be formidable opponents. However, despite the fact that the Mets have no Pedro, they're still too deep and too talented to lose to the Dodgers. They needed too many miracles to get in. They won't have those miracles against the Mets. Mets in five.
Cardinals/Padres - The Cardinals just made it. The Padres have Jake Peavy who is 11-14 on the season but 5-2 in his last 8 starts. David Wells is a big-time post season pitcher. That will be enough against the Cardinals who's pitching staff is a complete mess. Padres in four.
Yankees/A's - The Yankees have Oakland's number the way the Angels have the Yankees. Barry Zito in 16 career starts against the Yankees is 3-9 with an ERA above 5 runs a game. The Yankees lineup is too good and will wear out this staff. The A's have one main offensive weapon - Frank Thomas. While it was good enough to defeat the Twins, he won't be enough for the Yankees. Yankees in five.
Mets/Padres - The Padres have even better pitching than the Dodgers. But the Mets have the superior bullpen, regardless of what Trevor Hoffman has done. The Mets starters only need to get into the 6th and then the bullpen can take over. The Padres, while having better pitching than the Dodgers, have a worse lineup. People constantly talk about pitching beating good hitting. But you still need to score some runs. If the theory were absolute, the Braves would have won more than one World Series title in the last 14 years. Mets in six.
Yankees/Mets - It's another subway series. It happened in 2000. The Yankees won in 2000 and they will win it again this year. The Yankees are simply too deep and have both the starting pitching and bullpen needed to win games. The Mets staff will not have faced a lineup this fierce until this point. It will be too much for the Mets and the Yankees will capture another title after a six year 'drought'. Yankees in 5.
Jay writes daily at Pop and Sports"> Pop and Sports
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