42 (Film Review)

42 (Film Review)

For any fan of baseball history, there are few moments more important to the game, and to the changing views of American society, than the introduction of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to even suit up and play Major League Baseball.

To this day, the MLB still celebrates Jackie Robinson day, a day in which every single player in the league wears number 42 on their backs to celebrate the trailblazer who changed the game forever when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It is completely unsurprising that there is a Robinson biopic, titled 42; it is more surprising that it took this long for there to be one.

42 is an all-around solid sports movie. It gives us our central characters, Jackie and Branch Rickey, the owner of the Dodgers who was so focused on winning and making money, that he decided to be the first professional baseball owner to break the colour barrier.

424What 42 doesn’t do, however, is provide us with much of a supporting cast of characters. There are brief glimpses into the lives of the men who managed Robinson, in both Montreal (the Dodgers AAA affiliate), and Brooklyn, and there are glimpses of some of the Dodgers players. But that’s about it. We don’t get to know anything about them at all, and the moments of them finally realizing that Robinson is on their team, and that they need to stand up for him no matter what come across as fairly run-of-the-mill. There is the vitriol of some players, and coaches, and managers, and fans that exist, and Robinson needs to overcome these things.

But it all seems a little bit too Disney. I feel that the real story is much darker, much harsher, and much more impressive an accomplishment than 42 portrays. We still get it that he overcome the longest of odds to become a legend, but the whole story seems pretty cleaned up, when it could have been absolutely brutal. At times, it seems like the writers and director of the film were wanting to make something more, that transcended more than just the game of baseball, but were wrangled into making a feel-good sports movie that would appeal to the largest possible audience.

422And there is the fault of 42. There are a thousand stories to tell about the arrival of Jackie Robinson, including what could have been much more focus on his teammates, and the rise of the Dodgers as a powerhouse team after his arrival. We are given the broad strokes of an incredible feat, and an incredible career. His time in Montreal is given a quick flyby, even though it historically was extremely important. His interactions and friendship with Hall of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese is glossed over to a few brief moments in the final film.

But those are superficial beefs, I suppose. Starting to watch 42, I knew that the film was not going to produce a gritty retelling of the legendary ascent of one of the game’s best players, and the revolution of the sport that happened after his arrival. I knew that it would be rife with cliches, and not offer the depth, or breadth, of the story that I would be hoping for.

Regardless, this is a strong film. It tells the story, which is the most important thing. For those who are younger, and don’t know his story, or the lasting impact that it has had, 42 is a good place to start. The film has good performances throughout, and allows us to get the general idea of what was happening in that time, and why this feat is so impressive.

423There are some really great moments in the film, those moments when you know that things are going to change, whether it is the attitude of the fans, or the owners, or the players themselves. The moment when Reese slings his arm over Robinson’s shoulders in front of a hostile crowd is one of those moments. And these moments are what make 42 so good: despite the desire to know more, and see more, we are given parts that really do justice to the story of Jackie Robinson.

At the end of the day, I liked 42 quite a bit. I don’t think it will soar to the heights of the greatest baseball movies of all-time, simply because I wanted more of the story. But it will stand as a good film about an important moment in the history of the game, and generally, it does a pretty good job of doing it.

Goodbye Jeter, From a Sox Fan

Goodbye Jeter, From a Sox Fan

As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, I should hate Derek Jeter. All Red Sox fans should. He was a great ballplayer, one who tormented the Sox for years and years. During the heyday of the Yankees, he always had his hand in shattering the hopes and dreams of Red Sox Nation time and again, as he led the dreaded Yankees to five World Series titles.

jeter2But looking back now, now that we have won three World Series of our own, broken the Curse, and remained one of baseball’s most well-run organizations, it is possible to look back at the career of The Captain with some respect.

Had the Sox never come back from that 3-0 deficit in 2004, and never emerged as champs again in 2007 and 2013, Jeter would probably remain one of the most hated people among Sox fans. But finally, we overcame him and his team, and are champions ourselves, so now we can give him the respect that he deserves.

I know that he is being lauded as such, but I don’t think that Jeter is a top-5 Yankee of all-time. It is impossible to crack that list, with the truly impressive list of some of the best players of all-time sporting the pinstripes during their careers. Despite his Gold Gloves, he was never really the best defensive shortstop out there, and his bat would never destroy you. But his timing would. When there was an incredible play to be made, or a clutch hit to be had, it always seemed that it was #2 doing it.

Off the field, despite having an impressive list of gorgeous A-list girlfriends, a string of beautiful women leaving his apartment, he was never embroiled in controversy, as so many athletic stars are these days. He kept his nose clean, at least to the best of our knowledge. And this allows us to like him even more, because he never became a true villain in the sense of someone like Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.

We were only able to hate him because he was good.

I watched his final game at Yankee Stadium the other day, and when he came up in the bottom of the ninth, it was almost guaranteed that he would do something. Hitting a walk-off single to secure a victory for his team was pretty much expected. Sure, they may have tossed him a ball that was easy to hit, but he still got it done. And that is all that matters. It was a perfect sendoff for a magnificent career.

jeterI always liked that he wore #2, now the final single-digit number that a New York Yankee will ever be able to wear, as his will be retired soon. Letting him have that number was a historic move, and he honoured it throughout his career. He does stand with the likes of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle, and that single number on his back was always a symbol of that, of his greatness.

Even as a fan of his most hated rival, it is easy to look at Jeter with respect, and some admiration. He had a great career, and in five years, it is all but guaranteed that we will be seeing him again when he is inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

It is a place that he belongs, among all the other greats of this amazing game, and as much as I don’t want to see another Yankee cap in bronze there, he deserves it, and he belongs there. Even just being the all-time hits leader on such a hallowed team is enough to get him in to Cooperstown, in my opinion.

In a season that served as a year-long sendoff for #2, it has become tiresome reading all of the articles about him. Seeing all of the strange, and somewhat cheesy gifts that teams presented him with over the course of his farewell tour. But now that it is over, with only two games left on his career (being played in Boston, no less), we can really look at him and appreciate what he has done for the game of baseball.

He played, he won, and he did it with class.

Congratulations to Derek Jeter on a great career. I won’t miss seeing you rip the hearts out of Red Sox fans, but I will miss having you be a part of baseball.

Because that’s where a true ballplayer belongs. A part of the game, forever.

Retooling the Red Sox

Retooling the Red Sox

The non-waiver trade deadline day was a bittersweet one for me, as a Red Sox fan.

It is time to admit that there will not be playoffs in Boston this season, but I can accept this “do poorly one year, make some smart moves, and compete every other year” concept that seems to be happening there over the past couple of seasons. There is no question that moves needed to be made this year, that the team assembled just wasn’t working out. There are significant gaps in that lineup, and some changes needed to be made.

The Red Sox ended up making the most moves on deadline day of any of the teams, getting back some good major league talent in exchange for some pretty central pieces of their championship team of a year ago.

And this is where the bittersweet feelings come in.

When the rumours surfaced that Jon Lester was on the trading block, I didn’t want it to be true. I know the way the Sox operate, that they don’t want to dole out massive contracts for aging players, but I wanted them to break their own rule for Lester. He is my favorite pitcher, and I have followed his career since he first started with the Sox and threw his improbably no-hitter right at the start of his career. I always figured that he would rack up a couple of Cy Youngs over his career, and while we still may be waiting for the awards, he has had some outstanding seasons and shown himself to be a great playoff pitcher in the Series wins in 2007 and 2013.

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red SoxFor me, Lester was the Red Sox, as much as Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz are. He was the core, and despite him coming up on 30 years old, I wanted him to remain with the organization for his whole career. Sure, there is talk that he could re-sign with the Sox in the off-season, but let’s be honest. That almost never happens, and there will be plenty of teams that will offer him the term that the Red Sox won’t, given his age. I just pray that he won’t end up on the Angels or Yankees.

If he had to be traded, I wanted him to be traded to the Pirates or the A’s, teams that I like, and that do still have playoff aspirations this year. In the case of the A’s, he now can join the best team in baseball, in hopes of leading them to a championship that has eluded them for 25 years.

It was surprising that the Red Sox managed to get back an All-Star player for Lester, given that teams are often looking for top prospects when the big names are traded. Instead, we are treated to a big player-for-player trade, that rarely happens in the MLB anymore. It made for exciting discussions, and while the loss of one of the best left-handed pitchers is crushing for the Sox and their fans, it was no secret that their outfield needed a lot of help.

I will miss Jon Lester, and while I will still cheer feverishly for the Red Sox, I know that they are done for the year. I will cheer along the A’s as they try to make their way through the postseason, hopefully making it back to the World Series.

Some thoughts on the other moves the Sox made:

  • Despite my sadness in losing Lester, I was happy for the return. Cespedes will fit nicely in the outfield, and he should be able to mash in the small confines of Fenway.
  • Surprised they traded John Lackey as well as Lester, but content that they got a couple of big leaguers back in Kelly and Craig. They are both having down seasons, but are “needed a change of scenery” candidates.
  • Glad they traded Jake Peavey. I never liked the deal that got him in the first place, and never felt like he fit with the Sox. Sure, he contributed to the World Series last year, but it was frustrating to watch him this year, because you knew he was going to give up at least one home run every time. He will do much better with the Giants, and being back in the NL.
  • Good return on Andrew Miller, getting a quality prospect.
  • I like the whole idea that they were not gutting the team and rebuilding. They are more doing a retooling, changing things on the fly.
  • They are going to have to go after some pitchers in free agency this winter. They need to try and sign Lester back, and should probably make a play for someone like Max Scherzer. They will need a top of the rotation starter at least, to give the kids coming up some breathing room and some lowered expectations.

I understand that the Red Sox needed to make some moves, and despite so many quality pieces being sent out the door, I understand what they needed, and so I would definitely qualify them as winners on this trade deadline day.

2014 MLB Second Half Predictions

2014 MLB Second Half Predictions

With the season half over, I went back over my preseason picks for the order of finish in each of the divisions. Sometimes with deep regret (sorry for picking the Rays to win the AL East), and some with some satisfaction (dead on in the AL Central). Of course, it is impossible to know what will happen at the outset of a season, but there are always strong indicators.

If you want to check out my original article, the 2014 MLB Predictions, find it here: https://gatsbyfuneral.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/2014-mlb-predictions/

There is some wisdom in there, and some foolishness. Here are a few thoughts on what I had guessed, and ideas for the second half in each division.

mlb2

AL East

Preseason Prediction: Rays, Red Sox, Orioles, Blue Jays, Yankees

  • I stated that I had considered picking the Orioles to win the division. Looks like I should have done that.
  • I still believe the Yankees could finish last here. Injuries are going to catch up to them, as are the underperformances of some of their big names. Sad to see Jeter go, however. As much as I despise the Yankees, he has been nothing but class for his entire career. Nothing bad to say about him, he is one hell of a competitor, and a great baseball player.
  • Do the Red Sox have it in them to turn around a terrible first half of the season? Yes and no. They will be able to make up some room, but I don’t see them getting back into it, even for the wildcard at this point. They are perhaps a third place team this year.
  • As usual, injuries are going to derail a Blue Jays season. So much promise, so little delivery. That’s what happens when you have a roster full of Band-Aids. Too bad, they can be a really fun team to watch when they are mashing like they can.

AL Central

Preseason Prediction: Tigers, Royals, Indians, White Sox, Twins

  • So far, I have this division picked exactly right.
  • I don’t see much changing here for the rest of the season. The main question is if the Royals can push for one of the wild card spots and end a playoff drought that has lasted since 1985.
  • The Indians are a solid ball team, but they are just the picture of mediocrity. At .500 thus far, they will probably continue that pace until the end of the year.
  • I think everybody and their dog picked the Tigers to win this division again. The talent there compared to the rest of the division is miles ahead.

AL West

a'sPreseason Prediction: A’s, Rangers, Mariners, Angels, Astros

  • Fairly surprised the Rangers are this bad. Sure, they are riddled with injuries, and that is impossible to predict. But they are just bad. Do they become sellers now?
  • The A’s are just a very good baseball team. Difficult to name a bunch of their players, but they make it all work.
  • A lot more competition from the Angels than I suspected. Trout is an absolute beast, and he is dragging the old guys along with him. Improved pitching has helped them out a ton. Who knew.
  • The Astros are going to be very good in a few years. They are a pretty exciting team, and there is an absolute ton of young talent there. Watch out for the 2018 Astros!
  • I think the A’s hang on to the division, and the Angels will now grab that wild card berth.
  • I love seeing the Mariners doing so well. It has been a long time since they have been a decent club. They will probably stay in the fight for the wild card until the end.

NL East

Preseason Prediction: Nationals, Braves, Mets, Phillies, Marlins

  • Well, my top two seem about right. I think the Nationals hang on and take the division. They are too good, there is too much talent there. I think the Braves will fade a little bit.
  • My order for the rest was messed up. I mentioned that the young Marlins had the potential of being really good, and I should have gone with that feeling.
  • It is impressive how inconsistent the Mets can be. They are definitely a third place team.
  • The Phillies are really bad at baseball at this point. So old. If I was their GM, I would be trading everything that wasn’t bolted down and loading up on prospects to build for the future. The Nats and Braves are going to be good for a long time, and Philadelphia needs to get on board with the youth movement.

NL Central

cardsPreseason Prediction: Cardinals, Pirates, Reds, Brewers, Cubs

  • I still think I could be right about this when it is all said and done. The Brewers were a huge surprise out of the gate, but I don’t think they can sustain that, and they will continue to fade as the year progresses.
  • The Pirates have started surging, and it is nice to see that they are now a team that won’t completely fold up when they have tough stretches.
  • This is definitely the toughest division, with the top four teams all within 3.5 games of one another. It will be tight right down to the end. There are massive benefits to winning the division instead of being faced with the one game playoff, but I don’t think the depth of the Cardinals will be beaten here.

NL West

Preseason Prediction: Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Giants, Padres, Rockies

  • Shame on me for picking Arizona to finish second in the division. They are terrible, and their manager is going to be the first one fired this season. The team is a mess.
  • I still think the Dodgers will prevail over the Giants in the division. They have a ton of depth, and they will probably do something ridiculous at the trade deadline to get another highly paid superstar. Maybe another pitcher. Would make them very scary in the playoffs.
  • Holy hot and cold, Giants. No way that they are as bad as they have been over the past month, but I don’t think they are as good as they were earlier, either. They will fight for the wild card.
  • This is a two team race. The Padres, Rockies, and D-Backs are out of this one.

Overall, I’d say I did alright with my choices. Could have been better, could have been worse. There were some serious blunders, but that happens to everyone, doesn’t it?

Playoff Predictions

nats
AL Wild Cards
: Red Sox and Royals. Nope and maybe? I’ll stick with the Royals grabbing one of them, with the other going to the Angels.

NL Wild Cards: Braves and Pirates. Hmm. I’ll stick with the Pirates, and go with the Giants getting the other one.

AL Champion: A’s. I’ll stick with the team with the best record in baseball right now. They do have questions, but they are just solid all around, and this could be their year. They will have serious competition from the Tigers and Angels, however.

NL Champion: Nationals. Hard to argue against the might of the Dodgers. But I will stick with the Nats.

World Series Champion: Nationals. Sure, why not?

Red Sox Lose 8 in a Row

Red Sox Lose 8 in a Row

What’s wrong with my beloved Boston Red Sox?

Coming off an improbably World Series victory last year, even the most feverish of fan had a tough time believing this group would be able to pull off the feat again. Because one of the key things about last season’s win was that it was improbable. Going from worst-to-first and erasing the stink of the Bobby Valentine era was something incredible, and they were a scrappy team that managed to get the big hits and clutch pitching exactly when they needed it.

Boston_Red_SoxThis season, after falling to 20-27 on the year, and last place in tough AL East, they are not getting the big hits when they need them most, and they seem to be falling behind early in games frequently. Not a good way to play the game. Despite some pretty bad numbers over the past month, I don’t think that the pitching is the real issue here. Sure, there are major question marks in their rotation: why can’t the team score runs when Jon Lester is pitching, or who knows what you are going to get when Jake Peavy is on the mound (answer: at least one home run against and a bunch of walks, it seems), what is wrong with Clay Buchholz this year (he is healthy, but not good), is John Lackey actually their best pitcher (nope, but sometimes he looks that way), and is Felix Doubrount actually good enough to be a No. 5 in the rotation?

This group is good on paper, but has been doing things that they didn’t last year. They are giving up early leads, walking too many batters, and giving up too many dingers. It is tough to play from behind all the time, especially when the hitting is struggling to push runs across the plate, as the Sox are this year. Being behind 2-0 is not a big deal. Being behind 2-0 seemingly every game is much more of a struggle.

Too many times this year, I will watch the Sox get runners on base, and then completely flounder. There are inning-ending double plays, weak fly balls, poor strikeouts, and they are all coming at the wrong time. There is nobody in the lineup at this point that is mashing, and nobody is there to get that key hit that can keep them in these games.

The 2014 Red Sox do not have a stellar offensive lineup, and the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury looks to be more stinging with every loss. But they aren’t getting him back, so they need to adapt. The Sox need to go back to being a patient team, working the pitchers, being patient at the plate, and taking their bases in any way that they can get them. Also, they are not a speedy team, which hurts, because with a stagnant offense like they have now, they need to try and manufacture some runs. Somehow, some way.

One of the many beautiful things about baseball is that the season is a marathon, and an 8 game losing streak does not eliminate them from the playoff chase. In fact, despite their recent slide, they are still only 6 games behind Toronto in the division.

But the time is now to get things going. Hoping for a miracle run will leave them with nothing but that empty hope. The Sox need to play with some urgency. 2013 is over. It was amazing, but it’s over, and they need to realize that to even have a sniff of a chance to play for the title again, they need to start making moves up the standings.

This team needs to start playing its heart out. And soon.

At the Ballpark: Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)

At the Ballpark: Fenway Park (Boston Red Sox)

For baseball diamonds, Fenway Park was always the ultimate destination. It was the one place I had to see games, no matter what. It was a bucket list item. Fenway is home to the Boston Red Sox, my favorite baseball team, the team I have cheered with for years, being fortunate enough to watch them through three glorious World Series runs.

And it did not disappoint.

On the streets of Boston, Fenway is nestled in there, almost unnoticeable until you are standing right in front of it. It is not a gargantuan behemoth of engineering placed far away from the city, surrounded by parking lots and a couple of bars. It is right in the heart of it all, lined by the famous Yawkey Way and Lansdowne Street, which is chock full of bars and restaurants, all geared towards the Red Sox crowd. From the outside, you see the green that has been made so famous by the ancient stadium (going on year 102 now).

And you simply can’t wait to get inside.

I took the ballpark tour, because, come on, this is Fenway. The tour was good, and the guide was an excellent source of knowledge, telling stories about the park and about the teams that had played there.

monsterFirst walking into the stands behind home plate, you have arrived. You stare out at the field, you look at the Green Monster in left field. You see Pesky’s Pole out in right, the famous scoreboard on the Monster, the current AL East standings, the signs for W.B. Mason. It is all so iconic, and it takes a moment to stand there, take it all in, take your pictures.

The tour was good, taking us to some of the most memorable and historic parts of the park. The ancient stands, the bleachers and the lonely red seat (which denotes the longest home run hit inside Fenway, by none other than Ted Williams), the press box, the outdoor patio high above left field, the Red Sox museum, and of course, the seats on top of the Green Monster, which have become the most coveted tickets in all of baseball.

The only disappointing thing about the tour was that we didn’t go to the locker rooms, or onto the field. This is understandable, as it was the day before Opening Day, but still…to stand on the shale of Fenway would have been something incredible. For $17, the tour was a good way to spend a little over an our, in the baseball cathedral that is this park.

My initial impression, walking up that ramp to see the field for the first time, was that this park is small! Fenway is intimate, and this only adds to the lustre of the place. It is not a mega-stadium that sits fifty-some-thousand. It is a small place, where fans gather to cheer for their beloved Sox. The beautiful thing about the smallness of the park, is that there is not a bad seat in the house. Wherever you are, even though it may seem like miles away from home plate, you still get a really strong view of the game. That is, of course, unless you are stuck with one of the obstructed view seats, but you would know that going into it.

 

The view from the back of the stadium.
The view from the back of the stadium. (not my photo)

The seats: I was lucky enough to be in Boston for Opening Day 2014, where the champs raised their banners and got their rings, celebrating an amazing season that culminated in an almost improbable World Series win last October. I will write a separate post on Opening Day itself, so for this one I will stick to the stadium. For Opening Day, we sat in the bleachers, section 62 (same section as the red seat), row 50 (actually the last row in the place). Tickets cost us $30 (we were lucky enough to buy them at face value before going to Boston, on StubHub before the game, those seats were going for close to $200- Opening Day!). Despite being as far from home plate as possible in right field, the seats were still great, and this speaks to how intimate the stadium is. There was a good view of the action on the field, and although you can’t call balls and strikes from that far away, it is still pretty awesome. You can soak in all the views from the bleachers, watch as balls ring off the Monster, and see the plays made in the infield with amazing clarity.

The seats, for being the bleachers, were pretty comfortable, and you are never too far from a beer stand, concession, or washroom. There is definitely a passionate fan base that sits in the bleachers, which gives the game more personality than it already has. I have never been to a sporting event where the fans are as knowledgeable as they were in Boston. They love baseball, and they LOVE baseball. It was amazing. No fair weather, just checking out a game because it sounds fun crowd here. The people of Boston live and breathe the Red Sox. I loved this.

Fenway_Park05The Monster: For the second home game of the season, of course we needed to sit on the Monster. This was a life goal, and both of us were pretty giddy to actually be able to get seats. Since we hadn’t initially planned on a second game, this one was more last minute. We paid $90 for standing room tickets on the Monster, for a night game on Saturday night. Even before getting there, we knew it would be worth it. And we were not disappointed.

There is no better place to watch a game than from the Monster seats. Standing room, while it sounds like a massive inconvenience, was actually kind of perfect. It gives you the chance to move around (which was great, considering it was bone chillingly cold that night). There are under 300 seats and standing spots on the Monster, so it is like a little community up there. There are two concessions just for the Monster people, with beers and Monster dogs (definitely better than the Fenway Franks!), and very close access to a bathroom. For those going for standing room, get there earlier than you normally might, claim your spot, and enjoy. Plus, if you are on the Monster, you really need to get there for batting practice, as the odds of snagging a home run ball are pretty good. All standing room seats are lined up against a bar, where you can lean, and rest your food and drinks. It makes the whole standing thing much more comfortable, as you don’t have to stand awkwardly in one position for hours at a time.

On the Monster, there were some of the nicest, and well-educated, fans I had been around. We made friends with all of the people in our standing section, and looked out for one another by saving spots when they would have to go to the washroom, top up a beer, or need to walk to warm up. Out little piece of the Monster was a nice one, and the great people made this one of the most fun ball games I have ever been to.

The views from on top of the most famous wall in baseball are incredible. In the crisp, cool night of April baseball, under the lights of Fenway, you see it all. You are on top of the action, and even closer to it than I would have thought. You look down at the left fielder, you see the pitches clearly (which makes yelling at the umps easier), and you are literally on top of the action.

If you are planning on going to Fenway as a vacation, see a game from the Monster. Despite the steeper prices, you will not regret it. Apparently standing room tickets are normally about $60, which is well worth it. Plus, as it was freezing cold, and the game ended up going in to extra innings, we ended up with Monster seats for about half the game, as some who were not as prepared for the temperatures ended up leaving early. Since it was so frosty, we still ended up standing, but we had moved closer to the famed edge of the Monster, and it was glorious. Plus, it gave us the chance to sit if our legs were feeling tired.

Prices: It is not cheap to go to Fenway. But I’m sure there isn’t anybody out there who are hoping for a cheap night out by going there. Beers cost nearly $9 for a can, a Fenway Frank is $5 (they are not large), and a Monster Dog is $9 (but good!). The service is fast and friendly.

champsAtmosphere: Simply put, there is no better place to watch baseball than at Fenway Park. Period.

The combination of the team, the city, the fans, the knowledge, the history, and the ballpark all make Fenway THE place to see a game.

The surrounding area: Is there more famous streets that surround a ballpark? Yawkey Way is the place to be on game day. The bars are lined up around the block, and the street is jammed full of people, elbow-to-elbow. There is a buzz there that is unprecedented in my experience. I can’t even imagine it during the playoffs. There are plenty of options for food and drink before and after the game. Either get there early (most places were open at 8:30 AM for Opening Day), or be prepared to wait in line for a decent amount of time. It is cool, because everybody is there for the same reason: because they love baseball, and they love the Red Sox.

Final Comments: Having the opportunity to fly across the country to watch baseball is one that I am grateful for. Seeing a game at Fenway really was a dream come true, and getting to see two was just adding to the perfection. Leaving the park after the end of the 11th inning on Saturday night, I simply thought to myself that I can’t wait to go back.

The Bad Guys Won! (Book Review)

The Bad Guys Won! (Book Review)

This book is a few years old already, so this review is definitely about a decade late, but I just finished reading it, and decided to write about it anyways.

First off, I love books about baseball. No other sport has created volumes of great work, created so many timeless stories, as baseball has. Perhaps it has something to do with the pace of the game being slower than other major sports, perhaps it is because it is easier to describe a one-on-one pitcher versus batter matchup, than it is to describe the actions of 22 men on a football field, or all of the insane action on the ice in a hockey game.

Books about baseball are the best. My bookshelves are packed with them. I find that I will read about anything, since the history of the game is so chalk full of great characters, heroes and villains, stories of the impossible, or improbable.

The story of the 1986 New York Mets is a great one. And it is put together extremely well in The Bad Guys Won!

badFrom the beginning, Sports Illustrated writer Jeff Pearlman paints the ’86 Mets as being a group of degenerate, hard-partying, self-obsessed, overly cocky jerks, who happen to, together, be one of the great teams in baseball history. People didn’t like them, other teams hated them, there was even a fair amount of self-loathing going on in the locker room. They knew that they were crazy, and they were mean to each other, but they won together.

Often, the ’86 World Series is remembered best because the Boston Red Sox blew the series, and Bill Buckner went down in infamy. The fact is, the Mets were the favorites to win it all (according to experts, and to the players themselves), and they were a team coming off a 108-win season, which is nothing to sneeze at. They were good. And they knew it.

Pearlman pieces together the season, including the lead-in years where the Mets were a league laughingstock. Smart moves, drafts, and trades created a team that was poised to dominate for years. With these Mets, and their hard living ways, they ended up having one great season, and then been broken apart, bit by bit. Some of their destruction was due to their own foolishness (just look at the nefarious careers of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry), others due to poor decisions after winning it all in ’86, and part was due to an organizational shift in philosophy, where ageing veterans were favored over youth. The fact is, the Mets were an incredible team, but they were only truly incredible once, which makes them that much more magical. Because it never happened again.

Rightfully, Pearlman laments the death of the fun ballplayer, of which the Mets had several. Today, people are trained on being politically correct, saying the right thing at the right time. The Mets were trash talking, rude, destructive. And they could back it all up on the field, by being a great team.

The narrative here is strung together well, and the book reads at a fast pace, much like the way the Mets lived. Pearlman doesn’t get too bogged down in unwanted details, instead focusing on what is important. He doesn’t spend too much time discussing the debauched evenings the Mets had (and I’m sure there would be a million more stories), as that can be saved for a Motley Crue biography. He talks about the partying, focuses on some of the major stories, and moves on. Even the cocaine problems that were rampant at the time are discussed, but not dwelt upon. If someone wanted to read a history of Darryl Strawberry and cocaine, there are plenty of other sources. The Bad Guys Won! is about the whole team, and for this, it is a very interesting read.

There is enough in here for baseball geeks to sink there teeth into, as there is no shortage of statistics or descriptions of games. For those who are not huge fans of the game, there is still much to savor here, mainly the rowdy off-field behavior and personalities of the players.

As a kid (I was 7 at the time), I remember these Mets, and I remember them winning that World Series. I thought Doc Gooden was the greatest pitcher even, and that Gary Carter was the best catcher I would ever see. Maybe I was partially right. Reading this book now, gave me insight into that team I never could have imagined as a kid, and I’m glad I did.

After reading The Bad Guys Won!, it is easy to wish for the athlete who spoke his mind, for the team that knew it was great, and was willing to tell the world about it.

But, at least for now, we are stuck with our heroes giving their tired cliches, trying not to offend anybody on the entire planet.

Makes us wish for those ’86 Mets again.

A great baseball read.

2014 MLB Predictions

2014 MLB Predictions

Even though I will surely regret trying to pick the standings for the upcoming season, I might as well give it a shot. Last year, I was way off in my bold prediction of a Washington Nationals vs. Kansas City Royals World Series. I guess there is no harm in trying again! Except for my inevitable hurt pride in being so wrong about things.

AL East

  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. Boston Red Sox
  3. Baltimore Orioles
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. New York Yankees
  • raysAlways the most difficult division to pick, because there are three very good teams in here, and two others that have great teams on paper but have yet to deliver it on the field. It’s hard to argue with the Rays’ success over the past years.
  • So much went right for the Red Sox last year, it will be difficult to duplicate that. But, they made some smart, low-cost moves over the summer, and should very much be in contention again. I like these guys, because they are tough and scrappy.
  • Yes, I’m picking the Yankees for last place. That rotation is just a huge question mark for me, and that starting infield is brutal. One injury to their old men roaming the shale, and they’re done. Their outfield is definitely improved, but that is only three of nine positions. Brian McCann is an upgrade at catcher, however.
  • I thought about going with the Orioles to win this division, but they are always such a tease. Third is where they belong.
  • Those poor Jays. Even if they put together a year that is injury-free, they will have too tough a time getting past the other monsters in the division. Too many questions in the rotation, as well.

AL Central

  1. Detroit Tigers
  2. Kansas City Royals
  3. Cleveland Indians
  4. Chicago White Sox
  5. Minnesota Twins
  • tigersHard to pick against the pitching of the Tigers. They can basically roll out three aces in a row, and the rest of the rotation is pretty solid, as well. I think their bullpen is improved.
  • This year, the Royals start to put it together. After a few seasons of expectations, they started to get it together in the second half of last year. They keep it going. Definitely a team trending upwards.
  • The Indians put together something special last year, making it to the one-game playoff. I don’t think they can do it again, but they are another fun, scrappy team. Love what Francona has done there.

 

AL West

  1. Oakland A’s
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. LA Angels
  5. Houston Astros
  • a'sNot much changing at the top. The Rangers have still more firepower, but there is something about this team that is lacking over the past couple of years, and doesn’t seem to be fixed. It’s finish. They lack finish. Prince Fielder could have a huge year there, if he doesn’t wilt in the Texas sun.
  • The A’s are just consistent. They are a good team, even if they seem to lack good players.
  • Finally, an off-season where the Angles don’t overpay someone. Trout is incredible, but the aging lineup around him won’t do much to help him out.

 

NL East

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Atlanta Braves
  3. NY Mets
  4. Philadelphia Phillies
  5. Miami Marlins
  • natsThe Mets will actually probably be the bottom of this division, because there is a lot to like about the young Marlins.
  • I feel that last year was a season-long mistake by the Nats. They are better than what they showed last year, after their success the year before. They pull it back together this year.
  • Is it just me, or does the Phillies just seem like a collection of dinosaurs at this point?

 

NL Central

  1. St. Louis Cardinals
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Cincinnati Reds
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Chicago Cubs
  • cardsShould be the most interesting division race again this year.
  • Impossible to bet against the always-consistent Cardinals. That rotation is excellent, arguably the best in the NL.
  • I think the Pirates contend again. They had players last year, on their miracle run, that had off-years. If they get it going as well, they can be good. Exciting team to watch, as well.
  • The Reds just kind of stay the same. Pretty good. Not excellent.

 

NL West

  1. LA Dodgers
  2. Arizona Diamondbacks
  3. San Francisco Giants
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies
  • dodgersThat LA payroll is crazy. As is their roster. Even with the inevitable injuries, they have bought the depth to stay competitive. Another very good stable of pitchers. Seems like they have a dozen starters to choose from.
  • Arizona is building, and this division always seems to have tons of movement in it.
  • The Giants are usually good every second year, and this would be their year again. Don’t count them out, but I feel there are a few too many gaps to oust the Dodgers here.

 

AL Wild Cards: Red Sox, Royals

NL Wild Cards: Braves, Pirates

AL Champion: A’s

NL Champion: Nationals

World Series Champion: Nationals

 

Dream Come True: Opening Day at Fenway

Dream Come True: Opening Day at Fenway

I love the Boston Red Sox.

Ever since I became a fan of baseball, they arbitrarily became my favorite team. I love the idea of the long-suffering fan base, I loved that they were rivals of the New York Yankees, and I loved the idea of the Curse of the Bambino, which had been going on for about 80 years when I started following them.

The reason they became my team was simple, as my sister was on a trip to Boston, and I asked her to buy me a Sox hat. It started there, and has lasted ever since.

This will be my view from the bleacher seats.
This will be my view from the bleacher seats.

After being lucky enough to watch them win three World Series titles during the tenure of my fandom, I feel grateful that I chose them as my team, even if it was a random selection.

After completely falling in love with the game, I will finally be able to fulfill one of my bucket list wishes: I will get to go to a game at Fenway Park. And not just any game, but I will be able to go to Opening Day, to start a season after they won the championship. I have long dreamed of going to Fenway, and have been to Boston before during the season, but that was during the 2005 playoffs, when they were facing the White Sox, the year after they won their first, curse-breaking Series in 2004. There was no way I would have been able to afford tickets to that game. So I watched, along with the rest of the city, in bars. The Red Sox lost that series, but the city was still abuzz with the team, still basking in the afterglow of their series win the year before. I had decided that when I returned to Boston, I would see a game, if not several games.

I may not have the chance to see more than one, but I will be there for the most important, and celebrated, games of the year, outside of the playoffs.

A friend won tickets to opening day, and when she was not able to go due to her small children, I bought them from her. Quickly, I booked a flight to Boston, as they were more reasonably prices than I would have expected, and so it goes. I will get to sit in Fenway, watch the team I love, and party with the other faithful of one of the most popular teams in baseball.

To say the least, I am truly excited. April 4th can’t come quickly enough!

At the Ballpark: Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs)

At the Ballpark: Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs)

The friendly confines.

Wrigley Field is, without a doubt, one of the most legendary stadiums in baseball, and in all of sports. It was with this ballpark in mind that I drove thousands of kilometers to see a game.

Wrigley_field_720And it did not disappoint.

Wrigley Field is nestled in the beautiful and charming Wrigleyville area of Chicago, where shops and restaurants line the street, and hey, look, there is a baseball stadium on the street corner there. Walking into the park, and through the tunnel, you can’t help but feel awe when you first see the green grass of the diamond.

During my trip there, (it was in May), the famous outfield ivy was not fully grown, and clung to the outfield walls like brown death, but it was still cool to see in person. The stadium has earned its nickname, as the place really does feel cozy and friendly. The views from the seats are incredible, and even though I was in Row 30 or so, it felt like we were still on field level, getting a fantastic view of the game. It was incredible. The  slope of the seats is quite gradual, so even if you are sitting further back on the first level, you don’t feel like you are a mile over the players. It all feels pretty equal, and this helps with that “friendly confine” feeling.

wrigley2And the day I was there, it was a perfect day for baseball. The Cubs eventually lost the game to the Florida Marlins, thanks to a blown save by Carlos Marmol and an implosion in extra innings, but it was truly a magnificent experience.

The people there, while not the most outgoing of fans that I have ever come across, love their Cubs, and die a little with each of the many, many losses they have garnered over the past one-hundred-and-some-odd years. Who knows what would happen should the Cubs actually win a World Series one of these days. Chicago wouldn’t stop partying until the next season began, I’m sure.

The park is easy to find, and the public transportation to get there is great. You can essentially get dropped off right across the street from the stadium. It is far more convenient than the more distant US Cellular Field, where the cross-town White Sox play. There are tons of great places for a snack, meal, or beer before or after the game, and the whole area around the park is bustling before game times.

Since Wrigley is so old, having opened around the beginning of the First World War in 1914, there are many ancient things in there that come across as charming, since this field has been through so much history, to the point where it has become history. The washrooms are small and cramped, with long lines, and nothing more than a long trough to pee in (nothing like really getting to know your neighbors and the person across from you, I guess!). There is no electronic scoreboard, which is fantastic, since I have found these multi-million dollar HD scoreboards to often be a distraction from the game. Wrigley doesn’t need the flashiness. You are there to see baseball, and you can really maintain your focus during the game. The whole idea of the rooftop seats is one of the coolest things you might see in any major league stadium. Across the street, you can buy a ticket, sit on a roof and watch the game take place. Sure, they wouldn’t be the greatest view in the world, but it has that hip factor to it in the same way that the Monster Seats in Fenway do. For those in the stadium, seeing the buildings across the street peering over the outfield grandstands is one of the great, and classic, views in all of baseball. So many stadiums have now developed these outstanding scenic cityscapes in the outfield, but one cannot argue with the fact that Wrigley was one of the first to have it done. It is great to look at, and to see the sun set over the legendary park.

wrigleyFor me, Wrigley was all about the personality. This stadium has it. It is not a common, modern stadium where everything is amazing and shiny and new. There are not high end restaurants and massive team shops all over the place. Wrigley is a baseball stadium, in the truest sense of the word. There are hot dogs and beers, and small places to buy Cubs gear, but in the end, you come to Wrigley to cheer for the Cubs, and little more. It is a park that has that magical quality to it that you see in movies about baseball. It is a place where legends have played for 100 years.

And it was well worth the drive to get there.