July 11, 2021
20 and 21 in 2021 – On the Ballpark Road Again
Signs of recovery from the pandemic are everywhere. Most U.S. states and cities have greatly relaxed, if not completely eliminated, restrictions on business operations and public gatherings. Life is finally (and surprisingly quickly), returning to normal. For us B.A.B.E.S. members, this happily includes going to MLB games with the stands full of fans and no masks required. This is especially good news for me, personally, as Jack and I have been able to resume our quest to visit every MLB park.
(Nationals Park, Washington, D.C. – July 3, 2021)
Last weekend we combined a 4th of July trip to the Nation’s Capital with visits to our 20th and 21st MLB ballparks – Nationals Park in D.C., and Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Baseball and 4th of July fireworks – what could be more normal for a father and son in America?
(National Mall – July 4, 2021 – you can just make out the Lincoln Memorial through the fireworks to the left of the base of the Washington Monument. The skyline of Arlington, VA, across the Potomac River, is visible to the right of the monument.)
Together the ballparks in Baltimore and D.C. represent the bookends of the “retro era”, the first opening in 1992 and the other in 2008. Jack and I liked both parks, and I would put them in the Top 10 of my personal rankings. You may recall my 2019 pre-pandemic review of Paul Goldberger’s book Ballpark: Baseball in the American City. Here is an excerpt from the book and my commentary on it:
“The baseball park is a metaphor for the joining together of rural and urban. It can be thought of as a place where the field represents the Jeffersonian ideal of the rural landscape stretching out indefinitely while the structure of the grandstands and the clubhouses that surrounds and encloses it represents the Hamiltonian vision of American industry and urban vitality….The infield is the urban world of straight lines, rigid dimensions and frequent action; the outfield is the rural world of open, easy, sprawling land, quiet but for the occasional moment of activity. For the game to succeed, the two worlds have to work in harmony. In the ballpark, the urban and the rural worlds become one.
He had me at ‘metaphor.’ Here is a guy who not only understands that ‘baseball is life,’ but that ‘the ballpark is civilization,’ or at least American civilization.” https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/2019/08/.
Perhaps Goldberger and I both went a little overboard, but any B.A.B.E.S. member should get the idea. If you still have not read Goldberger’s excellent book, Wikipedia has a nice history of Oriole Park and the retro ballpark building boom it inspired, complete with links to each of the pages for the progeny ballparks. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oriole_Park_at_Camden_Yards.
(Oriole Park at Camden Yards – July 6, 2021)
Oriole Park started the Ballpark Renaissance in 1992, and certainly has held its position as the standard in “old-time” parks. The downtown urban setting, exposed iron super-structure, close-to-the-field seating, asymmetrical dimensions, and an iconic outfield backdrop (B&O Warehouse in right field) make it the perfect example of what a “traditional” ballpark should look like. Oriole Park is now in its 30th season, but it is in great shape (much better than the team, although they managed to beat TOR the night we were there). The look of the architecture and the feel of walking into the park from downtown’s Eutaw Street in the shadow of the B&O Warehouse still represent a perfect connection to baseball’s past.
Nationals Park simulates all of these traits, save only the iconic backdrop of a historic building or “neighborhood”. The view from home plate is nice, but not one that immediately identifies which park you are in. The park itself is very nice, though, with many public spaces affording a panoramic view of the field from all levels.
More importantly, perhaps, Nationals Park has sparked an impressive development boom in the old Navy Yards. Anyone who denies that a new urban ballpark actually ignites commercial development should visit 1500 South Capitol Street in Washington. Although there are no immediately identifiable structures or even many old ones, the vibrant residential and commercial development around Nationals Park is perhaps the best picture that baseball can frame for an abandoned urban neighborhood.
Pros and cons of ballpark development aside, it was just great to be in a crowded ballpark again, even during a long rain delay.
The fact that we could also be on a crowded National Mall for July 4th fireworks further proves that life is returning to normal. Happily, we can once again talk about the actual games rather just the environment in which they are taking place.
(The Mall got much more crowded as the fireworks drew near, beginning at 9:09 p.m. I liked the odd starting time, like for the first pitch in a baseball game.)
You can check out where you stand in the 2021 race for The Rocky by consulting the standings as we head to the Mid-Summer Classic in Denver. https://www.mlb.com/standings.
The first half of the 2021 MLB season has provided much fireworks and many surprises so far. HR’s and HBP’s are up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9iAKWtqZ8Q. So are no-hitters. https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/mlb-no-hitter-tracker-cubs-throw-seventh-no-no-as-2021-ties-single-season-record/.
SFO and BOS are surprising team successes, with both Alex Cora and Gabe Kapler leading their squads ahead of tough division rivals that were supposed to crush them. NYY is one of those “supposed to” teams, and they are not crushing anyone or anything. The question around the Bronx has become whether Boone or Cashman will be fired first rather than whether the Yankees can catch BOS. This was likely intensified by the Astros 6-run rally today in the bottom of the 9th!
In the NL West, LAD and SDO are doing well but still find themselves behind the resurgent Giants. Will three teams from the Division make the post-season? There are a few other good news/bad news stories so far: HOU good/LAA bad; MIL good/STL & CHI bad; CWS good/MIN very bad. Everyone in the NL East bad, but ATL is the real disappointment, having spent almost the entire season below .500 and now faced with playing the rest of the season without their injured star Ronald Acuna who tore his ACL last night. Injuries across the league have also been a major story line. https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2021/06/03/mlb-injuries-2021-baseball-season-increase/7510128002/.
We just passed the half-way mark in the season, so there is time for recovery, but none of these teams performing badly appears ready to make a run into the post-season. Even some of the excelling teams have big questions, including defending champion LAD. Can the Dodgers survive all the injuries to its stars – Seager, Bellinger, Kershaw – not to mention Trevor Bauer’s injurious – and possibly felonious – conduct? (Talk about being very bad….) https://www.si.com/mlb/2021/07/08/trevor-bauer-leave-extended-police-mlb-investigate-sexual-assault-allegations.
Obviously, the competition for the Rocky will be impacted greatly by the second half performances following the Mid-Summer Classic in Denver. Can NYY and ATL turn it around. Can SFO, HOU and CWS keep it up? Most of members have either LAD and/or HOU in the World Series, so there is a chance for many points there. Also, several picked Jacob de Grom to win another Cy Young award and Shohei Ohtani for his first MVP. Those picks look strong so far. Ohtani may be the first player legitimately to refute my assertion that pitchers should not win the MVP award. Of course, he is not just a pitcher.
He undeniably brings to mind another player who was not just a pitcher…
All in all, there should be much to cheer about in the second half of the season, including the simple ability to cheer in person. I hope you will get to do it at the ballpark or ballparks of your choice. Jack and I plan to visit a couple more before the 2021 Fall Classic arrives. Since he is now in school in NYC, ballparks #23 and #24 may be Yankee Stadium and Citi Field. More to come – live and in person, mask free.
May 1, 2021
A full-season of play, with fans, is a blessing, right?
The season is now one month old, and things are not going exactly the way anyone planned. However, the beauty of a full-season of MLB means that short sample-sizes do not tell the whole tale. So, there will be no direct performance commentary yet, except to say that A.J. Hinch is probably jealous and angry that Alex Cora got to return to BOS (17-11) while he got exiled to DET (8-20). The Tigers’ record includes a 3-game sweep of HOU in Houston! Perhaps the players threw those games as means of apologizing to A.J. for getting him fired in Houston and then hired in Detroit.
Irrespective of the quality of your team’s start, you are likely enjoying being at the ballpark, or at least liking seeing other fans in the stands on TV and hearing them on the radio. Of course, with that pleasure returns the pain of realization that baseball requires patience to endure inevitable player slumps and teams losing streaks (even LAD is 2-8 in its last 10 games). But that is part of being a fan, and we must re-learn the lesson every year.
On that topic, Hudson Stone, long-time B.A.B.E.S. member and 2017 winner of the James L. Walker Award, sent along the pithy observations below concerning the various MLB fanbases. Do you recognize yourself in Hudson’s description? Anyone want to take exception?
One sentence to describe each MLB fanbase:
NY Mets: For the ninth strikeout season in a row – this is our year!
PH Phillies: I’m glad we overpaid Bryce Harper so that we can hover around .500 all year.
MI Marlins: We’re a playoff team this year because we were a playoff team last year, right?
ATL Braves: Wait, Freddie’s first name is Frederick?
WAS Nats: We’re (11-12) and Strasburg is on the IL but we got ’em right where we want ’em, boys.
CIN Reds: We picked a fight with Molina and nobody died – so we’re basically champs, right?
MIL Brews: We literally broke Yelich’s back from asking him to carry the team.
STL Cards: If Matt Carpenter’s BA were his test results in an advanced physics class, he’d actually be doing all right guys!
PIT Pirates: Not in last place ya’ll! (See next entry for the holder of that position)
CHI Cubs: (Cubs fan at an AA meeting): I was doing pretty good until the season started.
LA Dodgers: “On this evening’s news – Here the story of how one local Dodgers fan left his house two weeks ago to attend a Dodgers game and he’s still sitting in traffic”
SF Giants: Good start boys! It’s too bad we’re not allowed to win the WS in odd numbered years.
SD Padres: We’re contenders! *checks Dodgers score* Oh, nevermind.
ARI D-backs: (D-Back’s fan at a Gamblers Anonymous meeting): I was doing pretty good until they legalized betting at the stadium.
COL Rockies: Based on our on-field performance, it looks like I’m not the only one enjoying some recreational drugs. (maybe more than recreational)
BOS Red Sox: No seriously guys, Alex Cora is just a REALLY good manager. He probably just spent all of 2020 studying advanced cheating tactics analytics.
TB Rays: *TB Rays fan graduates from college with a basket-weaving degree* Oh cool, I now have a higher annual salary than our entire teams payroll.
TOR Blue Jays: Wait, didn’t this happen to Montreal a few years ago? This feels like déjà vu…
BAL Orioles: Not in last place ya’ll!
NY Yankees: George! Just come away from that heavenly handrail! Everything’s going to be all right!
KC Royals: 16-9, just like we planned it!
CLE Indians: No, I actually think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask Bieber to pitch 8 days a week.
CHI White Sox: Guys, we’re not the worst team in Chicago!
MIN Twins: I mean, who even cares right? We’ll just get swept in October anyways.
DET Tigers: We didn’t hire you to be honest AJ! We want whatever Cora’s doing in Boston!
SEA Mariners: I’m a huge Mariners fan!… Wait, Griffey retired? And he’s already in the Hall of Fame?
LA Angels: Guys, we’re the best team in Los Angeles Anaheim!
OAK A’s: So apparently it DOESN’T help our team play better when we “Boo” the opponent.
HOU Astros: It’s not so bad guys, the bus drivers got confused and accidentally dropped the Triple-A team off at the stadium. And once the Triple-A guys learn our trash cans system, we should start winning again. And who cares if this is multiple sentences, cause we’re the Asterisk’s Astro’s and will cheat if we want to.
TEX Rangers: You think the Cowboys will find a way to lose more games this year than the Rangers?
April 18, 2021
It’s early, of course, but I am wondering whether anyone had “Aaron Boone” as the first MLB manager to be fired in 2021? Oh, right, I forgot to tell you to make that pick as part of the competition. And, of course, the Bronx burns less easily since the Boss died. Nevertheless, it should still be interesting to watch for smoke. I predicted last year that Brian Cashman would be fired as GM if NYY didn’t win the AL pennant. Perhaps I was just a year early in my projections. Could we even see a clean sweeping of the House of Steinbrenner? Hold onto your cards.
The 2021 picks you did make are up on the MLB 2021 page linked below. Please check that I have recorded yours accurately, and make sure you can prove otherwise if you want revisions. (And Chip, you know you didn’t pick your beloved Red Sox to win the AL East. O, ye of little faith.) And all you NYY faithful, repeat after me – “You’re fired!”
March 31, 2021
“What I have written, I have written.”*
My 2021 picks, for your review and comment:
NL East – ATL – I am not buying the NYM hype. ATL was one win away from the World Series last year, and they added Uncle Charlie Morton to an already impressive pitching staff (and they get Mike Soroka back from the IL). Oh, and did I mention Acuna, Freeman (MVP), Ozuna and Albies? This is a very good team, in my opinion. (See below, for how good).
NL Central – STL – Somehow the NL Central became the division of misfit toys, but I like the cast-off pieces named Arenado and Goldschmidt that are on either side of the infield for the Cardinals. 85 wins could win this division, and I see STL as the most likely team to get there.
NL West – LAD – So they won a title in 2020 and saved Dave Roberts’ job, just as I predicted they would. Can they be the first repeat World Series champion in 20 years? Yes. Will they? (See below).
NL WC – SDO – I am tempted NOT to buy the hype on this team, either, but they do have a short season of success under their belt, and they did add some tantalizing and accomplished arms to the rotation. So, I will give them the WC spot and dare them to knock off LAD.
NL WC – WAS – I am so tempted to pick MIA here, a team that performed very well in the COVID season and is clearly a franchise on the rise (well done, Captain Jeter and Field General Mattingly). But, I just can’t take them over the Nationals, who still have one of the best teams in baseball even after losing Harper and Rendon the past couple of years.
NL Pennant – ATL – Yes, that’s how good I think they are. They promise to be even more controversial than good. (See below.)
AL East – NYY – Last year I predicted correctly that TBR would slay Goliath, but that was in a short-season fight. I know that a longer season inevitably means more injuries for the Yankees, but I still see them as the best team in the long haul. Also, I am not buying the TOR/FL hype, yet. (FYI, TOR is starting the season with its home games in Dunedin, FL, due to Canada’s continuing COVID restrictions.)
AL Central – MIN – Still the best team, over the long haul, in a rapidly improving division. I am not buying the CWS hype, and am actually looking forward to watching ancient Tony LaRussa melt down over the attitude of young players. Also, keep an eye on KCR – royal blue may come back into post-season fashion sooner than you think. (Anyone else happy that powder blue unis have already returned, not only in Kansas City, but in TOR, TEX, TBR, MIN, PHI and STL?) (More importantly, can anyone explain how MIN has lost 18 consecutive post-season games? What are those odds?)
AL West – HOU – Another interesting division, in an unflattering way. Are the Astros still Satan’s team? Is OAK ever going to be as good as TBR at their own game of Moneyball? Will Mike Trout ever win a post-season game – or get more hits than strike outs (1-12 lifetime, with 2 s/o’s). Will TEX ever get back to the level of Ron Washington’s back-to-back pennant winners, now 10 years in the past, or will his wisdom continue to be proven sage? “That’s just the way baseball go.” (See below for one answer.)
AL WC – TBR – The best run MLB franchise, the best radio announcers (I love to listen to Dave Wills and Andy Freed on MLB-At Bat), and the players are the best over-achievers in any sport (Randy Arozarena!). I just can’t leave them out of my picks despite them letting Morton go to ATL and trading Blake Snell to SDO. Somehow, they will find a way to win enough games to return to the post-season.
AL WC – OAK – I really struggled with this last pick. TOR? I already picked two teams from their division. CWS? I already dissed them, and Eloy Jimenez is out for months with an an ugly injury. OAK? Same story, but I also like listening to radio announcers Ken Korach and Vince Cotroneo, with special appearances by Ray Fosse – one of MLB’s tragic figures: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtkU3apSMHw. Ray retired from the booth at the end of 2020. So, in his honor, I am picking OAK.
AL Pennant – HOU – I just have a feeling that this team has another long run in its bag (or trash can), even without George Springer. Satan’s team? Or redeemed sinners? Either way, I see Justin Verlander coming back in August and leading his teammates to a pennant just like he did in 2017.
World Series – ATL – The team (with Ron Washington as its 3rd base coach), is championship good, and should make for fascinating post-season viewing – with perhaps even some political hysterics. The tomahawk chop? Can the game be forfeited if the fans refuse to refrain from this cultural appropriation? Even more interesting, however, is whether there could be a player and league boycott of the entire state of GA for its new voting rights law? We will get a preview with how they handle the All-Star game set for Truist Field in July. https://www.fox5atlanta.com/news/mlb-all-star-game-truist-park-boycott-georgia.
Of course, the real showdown could come in October with the World Series, if my ATL pick is correct. Another alternate site championship series in TEX? Oh, wait, TX has its own pending voting rights law, and what if HOU is the AL representative?
Can’t we just play the games? Somewhere? Wherever that is, ATL wins.
NL Batting Title – Trea Turner – I picked Justin last year. I am switching coasts this year, and first names, for the win.
NL Cy Young – Jacob deGrom – I said I was not buying the hype about NYM, but there is nothing hyped about this pitcher. He is one of the best of his generation and could become a Hall-of Famer. A third Cy Young Award would certainly build his case.
NL MVP – Juan Soto – He should have won it last year – as I predicted – but was cheated by a false COVID test and those who voted for Father Time Freeman. Neither stops him this year. He could win the Triple Crown, as well as MVP.
AL Batting Title – DJ LaMahieu/Tim Anderson; Anderson/LaMahieu – eeny, meeny, miny, Mo. I picked Anderson last year, so I am going with LaMo this year.
AL Cy Young – Gerrit Cole – Once again he will do his part, but the rest of the Yankees will not, and Cole can’t break the 12-year World Series drought on his own.
AL MVP – Carlos Correa – Like a good villain, he has proven the ability to back up his swagger – even after a cheating scandal. He just turned down a $120 million contract extension offer as insulting, although he said he understands the business of baseball. I say that he stays healthy in his walk year, wins the MVP and more than doubles his money in the off-season free agency market. He’ll want to triple it, but there are too many SS’s on the market next year, and not enough big-spenders (assuming there are any spenders, at all.) Maybe that is his penance?
Much more later about baseball and morality in connection with the coming work stoppage, but for now, Play Ball!
(*quoting Pontius Pilate at the start of a baseball prediction post may seem odd, at best, and blasphemous, at worst. However, the quote expresses my resolve, and it also gives me an excuse to wish you a blessed Holy Week and Passover. Further, I get to point out that one of the most maligned men in history made up for his action in the best way he knew how. (John 19:17-22). To paraphrase Ron Washington: “that’s the way life go.”)
March 25, 2021
Left Coast Dominance? Or, the Best Laid Plans….
So, how does your NCAA bracket look today? Not so good, I’m guessing.
The Sweet 16 consists of four teams from the unheralded Pac-12, with the conference posting a collective 9-1 record so far, and yet none of these teams is the best one from the West Coast. That title, for now, belongs to Gonzaga, but can it really go undefeated in any year, let alone this COVID-crazy one? There are as many 15 seeds remaining as 3 seeds (1), and as many 11 seeds as 2 seeds (2). If Gonzaga does not win the title – and perhaps even if it does – 2021 will go down as a year of upstarts and upsets, with the balance of sporting power having decidedly shifted to the West.
That geographical analysis is certainly applicable to MLB, and even to the NBA. LAD and LAL are their respective league’s reigning champions, and LAD, at least, looks like the best MLB team again in 2021, and most experts say its neighbor SDO is the second best team. LAL had that title in the NBA until about a month ago when Anthony Davis went down with an Achilles injury, followed by LeBron James suffering the infamous high-ankle sprain. Suddenly, the Lakers are looking like a possible first-round loser in the play-offs (current standings would have them playing Denver in the 4/5 match-up). Injuries, as they say, are a part of the game, and can greatly alter the outcome of any competition.
That is certainly true in MLB, where some injuries have already occurred in Spring Training that could impact the season. I am guessing that the names Tatis, Springer, Jimenez, Carrasco, Realmuto and Valdez sound familiar to you, and that most of them are expected to play a role in your selections for this year. (“Valdez” is Framber Valdez for the Astros. If you don’t know his name already, you will as soon as he recovers from a broken pinkie on his leftie pitching hand.) Other players are coming back from injuries and how they fare could likewise make a difference in the season’s results – Bellinger, Strasburg, Verlander, Syndergaard and Soroka, among many others. (I would mention Chris Sale, but are any of you going to pick BOS even if he were to pitch the entire season? C. Babcock, I am looking at you….) In case the rest of you have not kept up, here is a link to the current MLB injury report, for your viewing pleasure, or pain. https://www.mlb.com/injury-report.
Of course, over a 162 game season there will be many additional injuries that will impact the results, so even the best-laid (and informed) plans – geographical or otherwise – may go awry quickly. Good luck guessing where those will occur and what the effects will be. Of course, you can just avoid the headache or waste of time by simply winging your B.A.B.E.S.’s picks. That approach has been quite effective in the past!
Whatever process of discernment you decide to employ, be sure to email your picks to email@example.com by Noon, April 1.
March 18, 2021
How “March Madness” Can Make us Sane
The NCAA men’s basketball tournament starts today. The fact that it is being held at all, and follows a generally successful regular season (even with some fans in attendance), is an encouraging sign that we are slowly getting back to normal. The process should help us continue to regain our collective sanity.
Even so, the NCAA is being cautious in holding the entire tournament in Indianapolis, and the fact that several teams are under COVID quarantine as play begins reminds us that events are still tenuous. However, I am struck by the similar approach the NCAA has taken to MLB’s 2020 season – completing a traveling regular season and then isolating in specific areas for the post-season. It worked for MLB last fall. Let’s hope the same develops for NCAA basketball. The country needs March Madness as a framework for baseball’s Spring Training. If we can complete a successful tournament bracketed around a successful MLB Opening Day, we may truly be seeing the return to sanity in sports and life.
We are already seeing a generally normal course of events in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues, with the biggest surprises being that MIA at 8-2 and KCR at 12-5 lead the respective leagues. https://www.mlb.com/standings/spring-training. That news is insignificant compared to these startling COVID-19 standings compiled since the opening of training camps: 49,281 tests conducted, 27 total positive tests (21 players, 6 staff members); a 0.05% positive rate.
That is very encouraging news, indeed, and the picture becomes even rosier when the most recent weekly tests are viewed: only two confirmed cases, which translates to a 1 in 10,000 positive rate! You can read MLB’s official reporting here: https://www.mlb.com/press-release/mlb-covid-release-03-12-21.
So, I hope your NCAA brackets fare well and that the prediction practice prepares you for the B.A.B.E.S. bracket deadline: Noon, April 1. By then, March Madness will be down to the Final Four, and my bracket is sure to be busted, but my MLB mental outlook should be rosy, and getting rosier.
“Field of Dreams” – Dyersville, IA,
(August 19, 2014)
March 11, 2021
We all know that this phrase is traditionally used as an excuse for an error in judgment. However, after the year that we have all just endured, it might take on a new meaning – such as “things could be worse, like back in 2020”! Of course, things have not improved markedly in 2021, and certainly not for those of us in Texas. We just experienced a winter storm of Biblical proportions and a breakdown of social infrastructure reminiscent of Mad Max – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEJnMQG9ev8. Although it remains to be seen what will happen with the Texas power industry (which I have been working on restructuring since the storm ended), our society has survived and is starting to put even COVID-19 behind it. The thought is that we all must move forward, and that is exactly what MLB proposes to do, with a 162 game schedule set to begin April 1 (as fitting an opening date for a pandemic recovery as any I can think of).
Who knows how this is all going to work out? Well, if you look back to 2020 you might have a strong clue. LAD is the defending World Series champion, and was clearly the best team last year. For 2021, they have added the Cy Young Award winner to their already stellar pitching rotation, (even if he is a headcase), and are scheduled to get David Price back from injury and COVID-19 opt-out. They also retained Justin Turner, a star player even if he did violate all logical health protocols to celebrate the World Series victory. 2020 hindsight says that was not a smart move, but apparently no one else was infected. So, is there any reason to pick any other team to win the 2021 World Series? The only one I can think of is that no MLB team has repeated as World Series champion in over 20 years. Which hindsight are you going to follow?
More insight to come from me this month, but you should start thinking about your picks now.
April Fool’s Day is only three weeks away.
© JSR 2021