March 2009

’33, not #33

I
was happy to find Redbird Chatter on the mlblog.com leaders list this week.  Number 33. 
I have been here before.  I posted
a dedication to #33 Barney Schultz. 
Oddly enough, Mr. Schultz was mentioned on the broadcast of today’s
Cardinals Spring Training game when the discussion turned to whether or not the
Cardinals have ever had a knuckleball pitcher. 
Al Hrabosky impressively pulled out the name, Barney Schultz. 

So,
since I had already written a #33 dedication, I decided to do 1933 instead.  As I did my research, I realized I could use 1933
facts to unveil my projected 2009 baseball adventures.  You might say I was killing two birds with
one stone, but killing birds (especially red ones) is a touchy subject here.

In
many ways, 1933 was a horrific year.  The
Great Depression devastated the nation. 
Aldolf Hilter became dictator of
Germany and terrorized the Jewish
population.  And, the St. Louis Cardinals
only finished in the middle of the National League pack.

But,
there were good things.  Both my parents
were born in 1933.  Frances Perkins
became the first female member of the United States Cabinet.  The St. Louis Cardinals did not win pennant,
but they laid the foundations for what would be a 1934 championship season for
the Gashouse Gang. 

Dizzy
Dean led the pitching staff with a colossal 293 innings pitched.  He finished with a 20-18 record and an ERA of
3.04.  Third baseman, Pepper Martin had
189 hits and 122 runs with a .316 batting average.  He was being knocked in by outfielder, Joe
Medwick, who had 98 RBI’s and slugged .497.

 

Baseball
Adventure #1

Also,
in 1933, Frank Schutt was the general manager of a downtown
Memphis hotel, The Peabody.  He and a buddy returned from a hunting trip
and thought it would be fun to put their live decoy ducks in the hotel’s
fountain.  The ducks liked it.  The guests liked it, and a tradition
began.  The ducks make a daily pilgrimage
to and from the fountain.  It is one of
those “must see” things in
Memphis.  After Graceland, of course.

What
do the
Peabody ducks have to do with baseball? The
Peabody Hotel is in close proximately to
Auto Zone Park, the home of the
Cardinals Triple-A affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds.  On April 3-4, Redbirds will migrate in mass to
the ballpark to watch a couple exhibition games between the St. Louis Cardinals
and the Memphis Redbirds.  And, I will be
among them.

 

Baseball
Adventure #2

On
January
5, 19
33, construction began on
one our nation’s most recognizable landmarks, the
Golden Gate Bridge.  I have only seen pictures.  In May, I will actually touch it, when I
visit
San Francisco to see the Cardinals take
on the Giants.  I am excited to see the
beautiful
AT&T Park on the bay and two
Molinas behind the plate.  Heaven!

 

Baseball
Adventure #3

In
June 1933, the Union Station Massacre took place
Kansas City, where four law enforcement
officers were killed in an attempt to free the prisoner they were
transporting.   Charles “Pretty Boy”
Floyd was thought to be involved, but evidence suggests otherwise.  Hopefully, the only violence I will see on my
June trip to
Kansas City, are the Cardinals seriously
punishing a little leather ball when they take on the Royals in the I-70
series. 

I
am excited to see the newly renovated Kaufman stadium.  But, that is not what’s going to make this
adventure extra special.  I will be
visiting family as well.  Hopefully, if
he or she cooperates, I will be meeting my new niece or nephew that is due to
enter the world in June. 

 

Baseball
Adventure #4

On
September
1, 19
33, Ann Richards, future
governor of
Texas was born.  In July, I will road trip to Houston, Texas to watch the Cardinals
play the Astros.  Last year, I enjoyed my
trip to
Minute Maid Park.  I only hope that the Astros do not sweep the
Cardinals this time. 

I
also plan to get in a visit to
Johnson Space Center, which I have wanted to
visit for a long time.  This trip may
also include a stop off in
Dallas to watch a Rangers game.  It seems wrong to just drive past a ballpark
and not stop in.

 

Baseball
Adventure #5

Also
in 1933, Giuseppe Zangara attempts to assassinate President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt
in
Miami, Florida, but instead fatally
wounds
Chicago Mayor, Anton J.
Cermak. 

Every
fall, my work takes me to
St. Louis for a few days, which is
exactly how this whole Cardinals fan thing got started in the first place.  Luckily, the trip this year coincides with a
Florida Marlins and a Chicago Cubs series. (Yes, I
could not believe that I found a 1933 fact that included both
Florida and Chicago.  Too bizarre.)

 

Baseball
Mini-Adventures

There
will be other baseball mini-adventures. 
Trips to
Oklahoma City to see the Redhawks and
the Memphis Redbirds.  Trips to
Tulsa to see the Drillers and the
Springfield Cardinals.  The Bedlam series
between my Oklahoma State Cowboys and the OU Sooners.  These can all be related to Oklahoman, Wiley
Post, who in 1933 became the first person to fly solo around the world,
traveling 15,596 miles in 7 days, 18 hours and 45 minutes.

My
baseball miles logged will probably fall short of 15,596.   But, I decided last year that I would
organize my life in a way that allows me to see the most baseball possible in
2009.  I saw five Cardinals games last
year.  I hope to see 15 this year.  Not bad, when you live 500+ miles from Busch
Stadium.

I
look forward to taking pictures and chronicling my adventures.  But, mostly, I am looking forward to seeing
some great baseball. 

 

Thanks
to Wikipedia for providing all the great 1933 facts.

Mission Accomplished: Skip Schumaker at Second

Leading
off for the Cardinals, second baseman, Skip Schumaker!

Thumbnail image for Schumaker

Up
until a month or two ago, no one would have dreamed of hearing those words
Opening Day 2009.  Or, ever.  Least of all, Skip Schumaker.

REWIND
TO 2008

Skip Schumaker came in to Spring Training with a crowded class of
young talented outfielders
.  He needed to find his
niche, the skill that differentiated him from the pack and would earn him a roster spot and keep him in the lineup.

He
bats left-handed.  Great!  Problem solved.  Wait, not so fast. 
St. Louis may be the one place
where being a left-handed outfielder will not give you an advantage
.  Instead, you just get in line with the likes
of Rick Ankiel, Chris Duncan and Colby Rasmus.

So, Skip Schumaker looked around and saw the Cardinals
needed a lead-off hitter
.  He worked
his tail off and won the spot.   He had a great 2008 season.  Finishing with 8 HR’s, 46 RBI’s, 8 SB’s, 87
runs, batting .302.  He was healthy,
too.  Not many Cardinals could say that
last year.

The
only criticism thrown Schumaker’s way was that he struggled against
left-handed pitching,
only hitting .168. 
His average against right-handed pitching was an amazing .340.  So, over the off season, Schumaker went back
to
California thinking the only thing
he had to work on was hitting lefties.

For
the last two off-seasons, Schumaker has worked on his swing with the now
reclusive, Mark McGwire.
  McGwire
also works with Matt Holliday, Chris Duncan and Bobby Crosby at an undisclosed
location in
California.  Oh, it might be disclosed, but I did not
track it down.  I am not a very good
stalker.  So, we were all looking forward
to seeing if Schumaker had figured out left-handed pitching over the winter,
but….


FAST-FORWARD TO 2009

Skip Schumaker came in to Spring Training with an even more
crowded class of young talented outfielders.
  Five
or six serious contenders for three spots. 
A nice problem to have if you are a manager.  Not so nice for major league ready players
that might find themselves back in
Memphis.

So,
the crafty Manager looks around.
  Sees the crowded
outfield and turns his gaze toward second base. 
Hmmm…all of outfielders hit better than anybody we have that can play
second, maybe we could bring an infielder in.

LaRussa
might have forgotten to mention this to Schumaker, because when asked a
question about it at Fan Fest, Schumaker basically laughed off the idea.  He said that he played shortstop in
college, but there is a good reason he is an outfielder.

As
soon as he realized the idea was legitimate, Schumaker immediately had his dad
hit him ground balls.  In the rain.  He arrived at Spring Training camp early to
get in as much work as possible with Jose Oquendo before Oquendo would leave to
manage Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.  No one works harder than Skip Schumaker,
perhaps this is why LaRussa chose Schumaker to make the transition.

In
the world of work, I call this “punishment by performance”.  There are always those people at work
that are the most productive and competent. 
How do we reward them?  With more
work, of course, because we know they can do it.

The
great “experiment”, as the transition was first billed, drew criticism.  When you have a pitching staff that does not
rely on the strike out, but pitches to contact and counts on the ground ball
out, it is critical to have a middle infield that can field cleanly and turn
two
.  The early errors made by Schumaker
were not comforting, in particular the errant throw that pulled Albert Pujols
dangerously into the path of the baserunner. 
Schumaker has a good outfield arm. 
Harnessing the cannon for the short throw to first has been the
hardest part.
  Fortunately, we do
have a Gold Glover at first base with great range to pick him up.

Last
year on a televised game, fellow outfielder, Joe Mather, was asked to read the
lineup on air.  He described Skip
Schumaker as “the most intense guy on the field.”
  When I go to a baseball game, I enjoy getting
there early and seeing the players go though batting practice and their warm-ups.  It is most telling.  I knew what Joe Mather was talking about, not
because I had watched Schumaker play, but because I had watched him
prepare.  My favorite thing is that he finds
a quiet spot away from the others, often with a bat in hand.  He seems to clear his mind, visualize success,
lock and load.  Watching Schumaker
prepare is like watching a thunderstorm form overhead that is going to unleash
its wrath on the next town over.

Perhaps,
comparisons could be made between Schumaker’s move to second and Rick Ankiel’s
conversion from a pitcher to an outfielder. 
Ankiel’s story is an amazing one, made even more legendary by the
fact that Babe Ruth made that transition as well.
  But, Ankiel got to do it in the minors, under
the smaller lights with less of a sense of urgency placed on him by
others.  (I have no doubt he placed a
huge sense of urgency on himself.) 
Schumaker got a month in Spring Training at the Major League level to
make it or break it. 

He
has made it.
  On Opening Day, we will hear the words:  “Leading off for the Cardinals, second
baseman, Skip Schumaker. The beauty of his performance this spring is that
even with all the extra work in the field, he has stayed strong at the plate
batting .301
.  Sadly, because Spring
Training stats “don’t matter”, I could not find splits to see if he is hitting
lefties better or not.

The
transition has not been seamless.  He has
made errors, and he will make errors.  “Average”
in the field and a repeat of last year at the plate is the expectation.  Nobody expects Schumaker to win a Gold
Glove.  At least, not this year.
  If he can be an “average” infielder in a
month, I can only imagine what he might be in a year.


Photo Credit: Skip Schumaker preparing for a game against the Astros in 2008 by me. 

A Classic Ending

Thumbnail image for WBCLogo.png

I-chi-ro!  I-chi-ro!  I-chi-ro!

 

The final game of the World Baseball Classic was everything a baseball fan could ask for.  Even going into extra innings, just in case you needed a little more nail-biting baseball.

 

 

 

I had no favorite.  I had no pick.  I felt Korea’s hope rested on their starting pitcher, Bong, who had been successful against Japan in this tournament.  Japan’s success would rest on what kind of night Ichiro Suzuki had.  On rare occasions, my instincts are spot on.

 

Most people live for the long ball.  They are nice, but I live for sparkling defensive plays.  The kind you put a star by on your score sheet.  Japan had a beautiful outfield assist to get the runner at second, and they executed a perfect strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out double play. 

 

Not to be out done, Korea’s second baseman dove for a line shot, getting the out and keeping the runner at second.  They also turned a very long 5    -     4    -    3 double play, which ended the inning and negated the run scored from third.  No easy feat against the speedy Japanese. 

 

In the end, it would come down to Ichiro Suzuki at the plate in extra innings with two runners on.  Japan could not have asked for more.  Ichiro’s stance at the plate is intimidating.  He lifts his bat as if to say “en garde”.   He seems to use the motion to balance himself and prepare for battle.  He stakes out his territory on the left side of the plate where he will make his stand. 

 

It is not that he is going to take the ball deep, but he will often find a way some way to do some damage.  Maybe, he runs out a little infield single and then steals second.  Maybe, he pokes one down the line.  This time, it was a nice shot up the middle.  Two runs score.  Very clutch.

 

Japan held on to the lead to win their second World Baseball Classic title.  Once again, Daisuke Matsuzaka was named the tournament’s MVP, with a 3-0 record and a 2.45 ERA.  But, it was one of those games where it was a shame that anyone had to lose. 

 

It is no secret I love this tournament.  The global competition.  The various styles of play.  Seeing heroes emerge.  It is intense.  It is quality baseball.

 

One of the things I am taking away from this tournament is the joy of discovering players I should know and getting reacquainted with others I have known.  As a Cardinal fan, I live with blinders on.  I know the Cardinals well.  I know their division rivals pretty well.  I am familiar with most of the National League outside the NL Central.  You bring up the American League, well, that is where things get a little hit and miss.

 

I had no knowledge of Brian Roberts when he burst on the scene for Team USA in Round Two.  His performance in the tournament was unforgettable.  I could have told you Ichiro Suzuki played for the Mariners, but I had never really watched him.  Now, he is on the list of people that if I see him at the plate while flipping through channels, I will stop to watch.

 

I have not enjoyed seeing Carlos Beltran play since the time we both called Kansas City home.  Oh, I still see him once in a while, but it is against the Cardinals so I cannot really enjoy it.  Although I love new Cardinal shortstop, Khalil Greene, I loved Cesar Izturis, too.  The Classic gave me the opportunity to reconnect with these old friends.  My list of players could go on and on. 

 

The arguments of where, when and how this tournament should be played will continue for the life of the World Baseball Classic.  We have been playing the World Series for over a century, and we still argue about that.  There are no perfect contests.  Only perfect moments within the contest.

 

The devastating curve ball that freezes the batter.  The fast ball that gets turned on and drilled.  The throw that is just in time.  The slide that narrowly avoids the tag.  The 6-4-3 that is like a sigh of relief or a punch in the gut.  Stretching a single into a double, a double into a triple.  The perfectly timed jump at the wall to snag a ball that was gone.  The clutch RBI single.   The diving catch.  And, the walk-off anything.  Isn’t this why we watch?  Regardless of the details, this is why we watch.

 

So, this will be my last World Baseball Classic post until 2013.  It has been a good run.  I will miss it next Spring.  When the WBC comes back around, I hope to find myself in the stands cheering on Team USA and good baseball. 

 

In the meantime, we can turn our attention to our respective teams.  Go Cardinals!

 

 

On a Windy Night, Team USA Sails into the Doldrums


Thumbnail image for WBCLogo.pngMy dad often says “It’s an ill wind that blows no favors”.  The wild springtime Oklahoma winds did me no favors last night as they rattled my windows, keeping me from sleep.  The ill wind blowing in from left field at Dodgers Stadium did Mark DeRosa no favors as it pushed two potential home runs back into the park.

 

 

Brian Roberts, the Orioles second baseman, came to the World Baseball Classic late, but made an immediate impression in his first game.  He made an immediate impression in the semi-final game against Japan by hitting a lead-off home run. 

 

Jimmy Rollins had a great night at the plate with two singles, a triple, a walk a stolen base and a run.  David Wright hit a nice double to bring Rollins in.

 

With a 2-1 lead, the game was rolling along nicely for Team USA, until the fourth inning when Japan came to bat and stayed.  Before Roy Oswalt was finally replaced after giving up a double to the eighth batter in the inning, Japan had plated five runs.  Although the wind was still blowing hard, Team USA had sailed into the doldrums. The sails luffed uselessly in the breeze.  The colors were no longer flying high.  

 

As Korea had the night before, Japan did everything right.  Great pitching.  Solid defense.  Offensively, they will chip away and run you to death.  One of the highlights of this classic has been watching Ichiro Suzuki.  His presence at the plate is fierce and commanding.  Kind of like a mini-Albert Pujols.  He raises his sword, I mean, his bat as if going into battle.  He is something special.

 

So, Team USA goes home, with their collective teams breathing a sigh of relief.  It is this divided focus between team and country that undermined Team USA’s chances from the beginning.  They were handcuffed both by the players that did not play, and the restrictions placed on the players that did.  Last night, in the devastating fourth inning was Roy Oswalt “getting in his work” as promised to the Astros, just as Jake Peavy did for the Padres when they were blown out by Puerto Rico?

 

Or, maybe it was chilly and it took a while for Grabow to warm up.   Team USA was also handcuffed by the injuries, which may have been limited if they had been game ready.  One thing that became very clear in this tournament is that other teams were better prepared. 

 

Many of the players for Puerto Rico were fresh off winter ball.  Is there any doubt that Ivan Rodriguez was in top form?  Is there any doubt that Puerto Rico had their best players on the field?  Same goes for Venezuela, Cuba and the Netherlands.  These teams played like, well, teams.  That goes double for Japan and Korea.

 

The debate of where, when and how the Classic should continue will rage on.  Should it be played earlier?  Later?  Mid-season?  Regardless of the time and venue, if the United States wants to win this tournament, everyone from the general managers down to the bat boy have to take it seriously.  Major league ballclubs have to see it as an honor to have their best players on Team USA.  And, those players have to be in season form and have time to work together so they can play as a team. 

 

Finally, does this mean that baseball is no longer “our game”?  Yes and no.  The game has become larger than us.  We gave it wings and sent it out in to the world.  It belongs to the world now.  That is what this Classic proves.  However, every boy in every nation that has ever slipped on a glove or swung a bat has dreamed of playing for teams with names like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers or St. Louis Cardinals.

 

We are still the country where the best talent comes to play.  Is that because baseball players are paid well here?  It has a little something to do with it.  But, imagine a WBC where all MLB players regardless of nationality were only allowed to play for the United States.  There would still be four contending teams:  USA, Cuba, Japan and Korea.  Imagine now, that players from Cuba, Japan and Korea could easily opt to play in the United States.  Tournament over.  USA wins.

 

I am not proposing this at all.  I love to see the best go play for their homelands.  It is good competition.  It is good baseball.  I love seeing how the styles of play have evolved in each country, adapted to the particular peoples’ strengths.  My point is this:  it may appear they are beating us at our own game, but truly they are making our game better.

 

At every inclusion of race or nation, American baseball has become a better game.  Just like the inclusion of every race and nation has made America a better country.  Once again, baseball is the reflection of our state of the union.  In recent times, both our country and our team have faltered on the international stage.  We have lost some of the fundamentals that made us great.  Still, we are the country and baseball league that many aspire to. 

 

In tonight’s final game of the World Baseball Classic, Korea and Japan will face off for a fifth and final time.  I have no doubt that Japan and Korea are the best two teams in this tournament.  I have no favorite (although I have a soft spot for Ichiro Suzuki).  Just bring on the world-class baseball!

 

Mighty Venezuela Falls Flat, Korea Jumps Up to the Finals

Thumbnail image for WBCLogo.pngDid Venezuela lose their luggage on the trip from Florida to California Their uniforms made it. Their equipment made it, but one bag was missing on Saturday night‘s game against Korea:  The one that carries their dominant pitching, productive bats and defensive prowess. 

 

If so, maybe Team USA could beef up their team by buying the Venezuelan’s lost luggage for cheap here.

 

 

She-fan loves a good blowout. On occasion, it is nice when the Cardinals jump out to a big insurmountable lead.  But, when I do not really have a favorite in a game, a blowout is one big yawn. Especially, when the game is all but over in the top of the first.  Take out the first inning, Korea still wins, but it would have been a better game.

Instead of the battle I wanted, I got errors. I hate errors in the plural. A singular error falls under the category of “Oh well, stuff happens”. Korea had one of those.  Errors, in the plural, are just painful to watch. It was like watching a Venezuelan 50 car pile up–once the crashing started, it just would not stop. Boom! Smash! Crunch!

 

Oddly enough, Venezuela did get an out at the plate on a wild pitch to end an inning when the bases had been loaded. You know you are having a bad night, when your big defensive break comes on a wild pitch.  Five errors for Venezuela in a 10-2 loss.

Sadly, when a game has no ‘game’, then the broadcasters have to find other things to talk about.  Sometimes this is cool.  Like when they get to telling funny old baseball stories from their playing or early broadcasting days.  But tonight, they debated amongst themselves for two innings on how and when the WBC should be played.  It is a valid talking point.  For about one inning.  After that, it sounded like bickering.

 

On a side note, I about died laughing when one broadcaster said “US Americans”.  If you read Red State Blue State and click on the “US Americans” link you will too.  Every time I watch it, I am glad my blonde days are behind me.

 

After that the most interesting thing they found to discuss was the quilted sliding protection built into one butt cheek and thigh of the Korean’s pants.  The quilting is not surprising considering all the protection the Koreans wear while batting.  Perhaps, they have on body armor as well.

 

All whining and poking fun aside, the Koreans have played a great tournament.  The have all the tools:  pitching, speed, defense and a little power.  They have earned their spot in the finals.  Nobody should doubt their right to be there.  They are a formidable opponent.

A Positive Spring and An Almost Perfect Game

 

09spring_logo250x147.gif

SPRING TRAINING UPDATE

While taking a couple days off from the World Baseball Classic, I realized that I had been severely neglecting my Cardinals.  It is an easy thing to do when only about half the games are broadcast on the radio, even fewer are televised and most all take place while I am at work. 

Work is like a sacrifice fly.  I do not get on base, but I score the funds to live in an enclosed space, eat ballpark hot dogs and wear clothes adorned with the birds on the bat.

 

Just because the opportunity to savor Spring Training games has been sadly lacking, do not think I have not been paying attention to my beloved Redbirds.  Thanks to the fine beat writers at stlcardinals.com and stltoday.com, I get the daily scoop.   

 

Blessedly, for the most part, I like what I hear.  The starting rotation is shaping up.  The headline is a healthy and sharp Chris Carpenter that has yet to give up a run.  Kyle Lohse has pitched the most innings and has a 3-1 record.  Joel Pineiro has a low 1.29 ERA.  Adam Wainwright is has good command of his fast ball.  Todd Wellemeyer has been burned by the long ball, but I know he will work that out.  How do I know?  Well, I will tell you in a bit.

 

Jason Motte has excelled in the bullpen going 4-4 in saves vs. save opportunities, with an ERA of 1.08.  Josh Kinney is 2-2 in saves with a 1.29 ERA.  Chris Perez has struggled with shoulder soreness, but he still has time to come around.  Ryan Franklin, the bullpen veteran, is coming along nicely.  As is lefty, Trevor Miller.

 

At the start of Spring Training, positional player questions were plentiful.  (Try to say that 5 times fast).  Now, it seems we have options.  Many young players have made a strong case for themselves.  Joe Mather seemed a lock for the temp job at third base.  Now, Brian Barden, batting .419, is coming on strong.

 

The innovative idea to take one of the plenteous outfielders and turn put him in the open slot at second base is working out.  Skip Schumaker is making a go of it at second.  He had some errors, mostly on throws.  He seemed to have a little too much arm for the position.  But, he is turning double plays and getting the job done.  All the extra work in the field has not taken away from his hitting.  He is batting .345.

 

Also garnering attention as a possible utility infielder is Joe Thurston.  He has some speed with two stolen bases.  Brendan Ryan is another possibility.  One more infielder worth mentioning is Craig Allen.  Allen played at Double-A Springfield last year.  I watched one Springfield game last year and Craig stood out.  He is projected to be at Triple-A Memphis this year, which is rather sad since he is batting .444 and slugging .667.  What more could a guy do in Spring Training?

 

The final question mark is tattooed on the forehead of one young highly touted prospect.  Fine, Colby Rasmus’ forehead is tattoo free, but the question gets asked over and over and over:  When will Rasmus get the call-up?  The jury is still out.  Rasmus got off to a slow start, but after a little sit down chat with the skipper, he is hitting very well.

 

Overall the Cardinals are 14-6, which puts them in second place in the Grapefruit League.  I know, it means nothing.  But, it is positive.  Very positive. Which is the opposite of a negative like this one:  Houston‘s 3-16 record.  It makes for a happy, hopeful spring for Cardinals fans.

 

MLB 2K9

 

The hardest thing to do in baseball is hit that little round leather orb with the wooden stick.  If that is true, then MLB 2K9 is very realistic.  I had a little time to play today, and I finally figured out how to swing, but offensively, I stink.  I have mastered the groundout to third, as well as the groundout to short.  Through no fault of his own, Yadier Molina struck out more times today than he did all season last year.  I am ridiculous.   

 

My fielding is getting better.  Of course, the only way to go is up when you start with 16 errors in one game.

 

However, I can really pitch.  Todd Wellemeyer is going to be just fine this season.  I know this because Welly and I pitched an amazing game today.  Complete game, no-hitter, with 23 K’s.   Yep, it is a new Major League record.

 

Our first pitch slider was un-hittable.  Then a changeup would usually get strike two.  Finally, the payoff pitch:  a little high, inside fastball to finish the hitter off.  We were dominant.  We were efficient, finishing the game on 82 pitches.

 

But, we still lost.  Our pinpoint control vanished just long enough to allow a walk, a stolen base and two wild pitches, which scored the runner.   I think Molina could have blocked the wild pitches, but he was mad at me for making him look so ghastly at the plate.  Pirates win 1-0.  Maybe, we will get ‘em tomorrow.

 

World Baseball Classic

I enjoyed a couple days off, but I am excited for the finals.  With no baseball on TV this afternoon (well, there was a cubs game, if that counts), I am embarrassed to admit I watched a Lifetime movie.  I am a sucker for John Corbett, no matter how bad the movie.  Baseball will be back on tonight to save me from myself!

I am Wearing Down – Team USA is Moving On


Thumbnail image for WBCLogo.pngThe late baseball games are taking their toll.  I woke up this morning too tired to think let alone write.  After you read this, you may think I am still too tired to think.  Or, write.  But, here is the latest in the World Baseball Classic.

 

Puerto Rico vs. USA

When Puerto Rico lost to Venezuela, my hope of both USA and Puerto Rico making it to the finals was crushed.  So, I knew that no matter what happened in the Puerto Rican-USA rematch, I was not going to be completely happy.

 

Team USA recovered from the rout handed to them by Puerto Rico earlier in the tournament and made this game very tough, very close.  In the end the normally rock-solid Puerto Rican bullpen faltered and allowed the USA to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth.  The last was driven in by a walk-off single by third baseman, David Wright.  USA wins 5-4.

 

There were a couple of nice defensive plays:

·         Mark DeRosa dove to rob Carlos Beltran of a single

·         Brian Roberts dove to snag a sharply hit ball.  The momentum of the slide brought him up to his knees, where he made a good throw to first for the out.

 

There was one spectacular defensive play:

·         This will be a highlight reel staple for years to come.  Carlos Beltran tracked a Brian McCann would-be home run ball to the wall, made a perfectly timed leap and grabbed it.

 

So, a revitalized USA team moves on (which I am happy about), and a very, very good Puerto Rico team goes home (which I am sad about).  I suppose I should be more excited to have Yadier Molina and Jose Oquendo back in the Cardinals camp.  And, I will be.  Tomorrow.

 

Next up, the USA, assured a spot in the finals, will play Venezuela (again) in the pool finals in what may be a wet, drawn out game. 

 

 

Japan vs. Korea

This was the third meeting of these two teams.  The first two games were split.  One a rout by Japan.  One a 1-0 victory for Korea.  In this game, Korea took advantage of an error to get on the board in the first and never looked back.  The Japanese offense never really got going against the excellent Korean pitching. 

 

When Japan‘s boxscore shows the following for Ichiro Suzuki, you know they did not have a good day:

 AB  R  H  RBI  BB  SO  LOB  AVG

  4   0    0   1      0     0     3     .000

 

This 4-1 win guaranteed Korea a spot in the final round.  Japan will face Cuba again in an elimination game.  They met previously in the first game of Round Two, when Japan shutout Cuba 6-0.  I will hate to see either of these great teams go home.

Don’t Forget to Pack Your Tambourine


 
Thumbnail image for WBCLogo.pngRound Two World Baseball Classic action continues…

 

Korea vs. Mexico

In Sunday’s very late (10:00 pm Central) game, Korea defeated Mexico using a surprising weapon:  the long ball.  The three solo shots were surprising both because the game took place in the pitcher-friendly spacious confines of Petco Park in San Diego and because Korea is not know for their power. 

 

Korea also used small ball, with two sacrifices and three stolen bases.  Mexico seemed unable to get their offense going against the fine Korea pitching.  Korea won 8-2.

 

In this World Baseball Classic, there are men playing for jobs.  Reportedly, Ivan Rodriguez is headed to Houston.  All are playing for pride and country.  The Koreans are playing for something more.   

 

In Korea, the government requires mandatory military service from all men that must be completed by the age of 30.  However, military exemption has sometimes been granted to Olympians.  The Korean government has not promised military exemption to the members of the 2009 Korean roster, but if Korea brings home the championship, such an exemption is likely.

 

Shin-Soo Choo, a 27-year-old prospect in the Cleveland Indians organization, has not yet completed his military service.  Without the exemption, he will be forced to go back to Korea and spend a couple years in the military, and then try to resume his baseball career.  The Cleveland Indians, with a significant investment in Choo, were probably the only major league club that said to a player, “Yes, please, go play in the WBC” in the hopes an exemption would be granted.

 

Venezuela vs. Puerto Rico

Monday night, these two Caribbean rivals met in Miami.  The crowd was large, loud and rowdy.  Forget “thundersticks”, these fans bring everything from drums and tambourines to pots and pans.  One even had a stainless steel dog bowl that she was beating on with a spoon.  While the American public seems rather blasé about the WBC, there is no doubt that other countries are taking this very seriously.

 

I so wishing I was at this game.  I have a game bag I pack with all my essentials:  camera, score sheet on a clipboard, pencils, sharpies, umbrella, tickets, cell phone, hot dog money, XM radio, and a jacket.  I love the idea of slipping in my tambourine or even my spare dog bowl into my game bag.

 

Perhaps, there is something contagious about the crowd because I was riveted to the TV, feeling the weight of importance on every single pitch.  And, pitching was the story of this game.

 

Puerto Rico’s Ian Snell was great, but a walk, a stolen base and a single got Venezuela on the board in the third inning.  Amazingly, that would be all Venezuela would need, as their pitching staff, led by Felix Hernandez, shut down the Puerto Rican offensive machine.

 

Venezuela‘s Ramon Hernandez added a solo home run in the seventh inning that was debated for about ten minutes before being ruled a home run.  That has to be the longest home run trot in history!  At first, it ruled a triple.  The umpires debated on the field, then disappeared into the tunnel to view the instant replay.  The replays on TV clearly showed it to be a home run.  Yet, we waited and waited.   Finally, the umpires appeared and declared it a home run.  As it turns out, the replay equipment was not working, so after a debate among themselves, they called it a home run.

 

Venezuela‘s win ensures them a spot in the finals, while Puerto Rico and USA will battle for the other spot.  In the rematch between the USA and Puerto Rico, we will find out what Team USA is made of.  Can they rebound from their drumming by Puerto Rico in the first round?

 

Cuba vs. Mexico

Another 10:00 pm game at Petco Park.  These are killing me.  Well, actually, this one killed Mexico, as it was an elimination game.  

 

Cuba prevailed 7-4 in this match-up.  Mexico‘s success or lack can largely be judged by how first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hits.  In his home park, Gonzalez only got on with a walk.  Not good for Mexico.  Mexico’s Cantu and Presichi both contributed solo homers, but in the end Cuba put up seven runs on eleven hits.

 

With the embargo against Cuba, you may wonder how do the Cubans get to play on American soil?  They agree to donate any winnings to charity.  These are lowest paid players in this classic, and they are only allowed to play for national pride, not prize money.  Am I the only one that thinks the foreign policy against Cuba is outdated? Can we please be the “bigger” country and kiss and make up with our neighbor? 

 

Mexico goes home.  Mexican left-handed reliever, Dennys Reyes, will head to Cardinals camp in Florida, where I hope Dave Duncan can whip him into game form.  In an elimination game on the 18th, Cuba will go on to face the loser of the St. Patrick’s Day game between Japan and Korea

 

Big, Little, Short and Tall – The WBC Has Them All


Thumbnail image for WBCLogo.pngRound two action in the World Baseball Classic action continued today.  One of the things I love about baseball is that it is not a short, tall, big, small, strong or fast man’s game.  It is a game where any body type can find their place.  That fact was highlighted in today’s WBC action.  Great big Adam Dunn, jacking a huge home run.  Wiry Ichiro Suzuki getting on base again and again.  A pitching match-up between Dice-K and a long, tall Cuban.  The World Baseball Classic is a reflection of all the ways that baseball is played.

 

Here are recaps for the first two games.  Game three between Korea and Mexico did not start until 10:00 pm my time.  That recap will have to wait until tomorrow.

 

Cuba vs. Japan

This game was a rematch of the 2006 Championship game. The outcome was the same.

Japanese pitching was led by Daisuke Matsuzaka, who dominated the normally strong Cuban hitters. Japan did what they do best:  manufactured runs with a bunch of singles and one double.

I do not know who said it first, but the statement of “if you watch a baseball game, you will always see something you have never seen before” was true today.

Cuban pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, walked batter number one, then picked him off at first.  He walked batter number two, threw over to first and caught him stealing in a run down.  Finally. the third batter was caught looking for a three up, three down inning.

During one at bat, two foul pop-ups were mishandled.  One by Ichiro Suzuki in right field, and one by the catcher, Kenji Johjima (the sun was tough).  Both were charged with an error, again IN THE SAME AT BAT.  The Cuban batter finally struck out looking.

 

Cuba never got anything going in this game, while Japan looked great winning 6-0.  Even so, I want to recruit some of those Cuban players.  When will we ever make up with our next door neighbor?  I know most Americans would like to export our goods to the island, while importing Cuban cigars.  I just want Cuban to once again be the getaway it was in the days of Hemingway, and I want to import their baseball players. 

USA vs. Kingdom of the Netherlands

Perhaps, Team USA bonded through adversity.  In the game against Puerto Rico, Team USA seemed flat and disjointed, while Puerto Rico played with fire and unity. Tonight, Team USA looked like a team.

Brian Roberts came in to replace injured Dustin Pedroia and had a big game with a  single, double and triple.  Injured, Chipper Jones, who has gone 0 for 10, also exited with a sore oblique.  This opened up the potential to get both Jeter and Rollins in the lineup at the same time.

There were two fabulous defensive plays by the NetherlandsCatcher, Kenley Jansen threw out Brian Roberts trying to steal 2nd, and he did it FROM HIS KNEES.  Somebody forgot to warn Roberts about Jansen’s arm. I did not double check, but I do not think he has missed a stealer, yet.  The Dodgers have talked about converting Jansen to a pitcher because he is having trouble hitting, but I hope he finds his bat because I love watching him behind the plate.

Also, the Netherlands, first baseman Randall Simon, made a diving stop and threw FROM HIS BACK to get the force at the plate.

Jimmy Rollins for Team USA also had a fabulous diving stop that he shuttled FROM HIS BELLY to second base, where Roberts turned it for a double play.

 

Team USA was wining 8-1 in the seventh, when somebody set off a few fireworks.  Netherlands left-fielder, Bryan Engelhardt, hit a solo home run–the team’s first for the WBC.  Team USA pitcher, Matt Lindstrom, seemed to think that Engelhardt admired the shot a little too long, because threw at hip level behind the next batter.  The Netherlands team took offense to this and yelled at Lindstrom from the top dugout step.  Both teams were warned.

 

Engelhardt might have watched the shot a second too long, but throwing at the next batter, when you are winning 8-2, is ridiculous.  But, what goes around, comes around.  Lindstrom gave up another run and left the game with an injury.

 

Under the category of something no one has seen before, catcher Brian McCann came in to pinch hit in the ninth for Ryan Braun and remained in the game in the OUTFIELD.  Amazingly, no ball found him.  Ryan Braun exited the game with what sounds like another oblique injury.

 

This ends the Netherlands Cinderella run, but they have much to be proud of.  They made it to the second round.  They have never been mercy ruled.  Even, the USA can not say that.

 

The USA team had much to be proud of tonight, as well.  They seemed to come together in the way they need to in order to contend in this tournament.  USA now waits to face the loser of tomorrow’s game between Venezuela and Puerto Rico.

My Number Fifteen

This week, I was amazed to find Redbird Chatter at number fifteen on the leaders list for fan blogs.  Thank all of you that have stopped to read my ramblings.  I am grateful and humbled.

 

So, who gets the #15 dedication?  The weird thing is fifteen has always been “my” number.  In middle school, some coach handed me a basketball jersey with “15” on it, and from then on every time team jerseys or t-shirts were handed out, I would take #15.  I have bet on it in roulette and keno with mixed results.  Fifteen is divisible by five and three, but not two, and for some reason I like that.  It is odd.  I am odd.  We match.

 

I am not narcissistic enough to dedicate a ranking to my own pathetic athletic endeavors.  So, avoiding the most recent and obvious #15 (Edmonds…I cannot get the image of him as a cub* out of my head), I delved into St. Louis Cardinals history via baseball-almanac.com.

 

What caught my attention is how often #15 has been worn by a catcher.  Seven different catchers in a total of 25 seasons since 1940.  Most notably are Walker Cooper, Tim McCarver and Darrell Porter.  I am going with Walker Cooper because he was the first.

 


walker_cooper_cardinalshistoryweb.jpgWilliam Walker Cooper was born
January 8, 1915 in Atherton, Missouri.  He was a catcher.  His brother Mort Cooper was a pitcher.  How convenient.  They both enjoyed great success with the Cardinals from 1940 – 1945.

 

While with the Cardinals, Walker Cooper played in three All-Star games and finished second in the NL MVP race to his own teammate, Stan Musial.  He played in three World Series, splitting with the Yankees in 1942 and 1943 and defeating the St. Louis Browns in 1944.

 

Cooper entered the Navy in 1945.  The New York Giants bought out his contract for $175,000, so when he was discharged in 1946, he was no longer a Cardinal.  He went on to play with the NY Giants, Cincinnati Reds, Boston Braves and Chicago cubs*, coming back home to roost with Redbirds in 1956 to finish the last two seasons of his 18 year career.

 

Here’s to you Walker Cooper!

 

*lower case “c” is not at typo

 

Photo from cardinalshistory.com

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