The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

March 2, 2009

Apparently This Year I Bleed Dodger Blue

Filed under: Sports — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:14 am

With the Winter finally beginning to near it’s end (on the calendar at least, if last year’s Spring weather is any indication the weather might be hanging around for a while still,) once again baseball season is off on the horizon  Spring Training has officially begun, and a little more than a month remains before opening day, which will this year be started with a game on April 5th between the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies (I’m sure there are some people in Philadelpha who wondered if they would ever see that happen again in their lifetime) against the Atlanta Braves.  Up here in Seattle, the big baseball news (besides the wholesale replacement of the manager, general manager and most of the coaching staff) is the return of Ken Griffey Jr. to the team where he spent the best years of his career for what many presume may be the final year of his career.  Still, expectations for the Mariners (especially after last year’s 101-loss season, the first for a team with a payroll over $100 million) remain low, and the team is not expected to contend this year, and is widely expected to improve marginally if at all.

Which brings me to the title of this post.  Yesterday, there was a Vanderhoeven family get-together down in Federal Way, where we all did a bunch of yard work at Opa’s house to clean up some of the neglect that had accumulated in the yard and got rid of the old playhouse in the back of the yard (which was disposed of in a standard Vanderhoeven raging inferno after being dismantled.)  As we worked, there was some discussion of the upcoming baseball season, and the low expectations for the Mariners (to say that the members of the Vanderhoeven family are Mariners fans would be something of an understatement.)  As we discussed this, an idea was formed to generate a bit more excitement in what will probably shape up to be another 90-loss season, and at the same time commit an act of wholesale sports bigamy that would probably make Bill Simmons proceed to light himself on fire:  In this scheme, 30 different people chose a team at random out of a hat, and whoever’s team wins this year’s World Series would receive a party in their honor at the end of the season, with the other participants bringing gifts (so in other words it’s basically a pool, with a minor technicality or two thrown in for good measure.)  This means that everyone involved in this has a different team to support this season.

I didn’t stick around to find out which team everyone got, but I did draw a team from the hat, and ended up with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  On one hand, over the years I’ve spent a lot more time rooting against the Dodgers than I have rooting for them.  In fact, I think the only time I ever recall actually rooting for the Dodgers was in the 1988 series when they played against the A’s, which was the year Kirk Gibson hit his famous home run in game 1.  Even though my family’s allegiances at the time were firmly in the Atlanta Braves camp (which also meant that up until 1991, they were also pretty firmly mired in the basement of the National League,) even back then we couldn’t stand the Oakland A’s, a fact which has definitely not changed over the years with the Mariners being in the same division.  In fact, when 1991 rolled around, the Dodgers became the enemy as the NL West pennant race heated up, and was finally decided  with the Braves on top by a game on the last day of the season, which ultimately ended with a hard-fought 7-game loss in the World Series to the Twins.  

Although there is a fairly lengthy history of Dodger-hating in the family, it’s been years since I’ve really followed the National League on more than an occasional basis.  I think if I gave it some thought, I think I might have just the faintest hint of sentimental support left over for the Braves and the Cubs, but I’ve long since learned my lesson on the futility of being a Cubs fan, and the Braves team of today has almost nothing to do with the Braves teams of my childhood (Bobby Cox is still around and Tom Glavine is back this year, but I think that’s about it.)  Of course, this was also back from the days when the Cubs played on WGN and the Braves played on TBS, and with no major league team anywhere near New Mexico before the Rockies arrived in 1993, those were the only two teams we could watch on TV on a regular basis (I think we could sort of occasionally catch AM radio broadcasts of the Astros at night too, but that was just a bit too much work.)  Still, it’s been at least a decade now since I’ve really paid too much attention to the National League, and I don’t think there’s any particular reason (yet) that I would have to dislike the Dodgers, so I guess I’ll go for it and see what happens.  There’s just one problem:  I guess this means that I’ll be forced to formulate an informed, well reasoned opinion on the whole Manny mess going on right now.  Let me get back to you on that one… 

On the other hand, depending on what my work situation looks like in June I’ve been giving a bit of thought to heading down to LA for a long weekend (since airfares are ridiculously cheap right now,) and this might give me an excuse to try to squeeze in a trip to Chavez Ravine for a Dodgers game if I do decide to go.  It looks like there’s even a weekend Mariners versus Dodgers series in LA at the end of the month if I’m looking for a chance to be really conflicted about the whole thing.  I’ll have to see what happens before I make any definite plans though.

Incidentally,  I feel really sorry for whoever it was who ended up with the A’s or the Angels in the drawing.  THAT one is going to be tough to deal with.

March 30, 2008

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Filed under: Culture, Sports — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:01 pm

(Programming note:  Posting may be light here for the next week or so, but I plan to write at least one post each day over at buzz.mn while the host of that site is on vacation (it’s not so much guestblogging as usurping, but that’s beside the point.)  This particular article is a crosspost from there.  The rest of my buzz.mn blog entries can be found here.)

Well, I’ve been trying to think Spring, but lately it just doesn’t seem to be working all that well. The picture above shows the scene this morning when I got to church. According to the news, some places in the Puget Sound area got as much as six inches of snow overnight, and there’s been scattered snow throughout the area since Wednesday. I suppose for those of you who live in some frozen wasteland snow in late March probably isn’t all that unusual, but considering the fact that over here getting snow more than two or three times over the course of the Winter is considered abnormally snowy, this seems to be just a tad excessive.

Nonetheless, the calendar says that it’s just about time for the Boys of Summer to take the field for another season of Baseball. Although in recent years I haven’t followed baseball as closely as I used to, in my family Opening Day is practically considered to be a holiday, celebrated with hot dogs and apple pie (NOTE: Due to ongoing criminal investigations, the Cream will not be provided with apple pie this year.) Although rooting for the home team (which around here happens to be the Mariners) seems to be the order of the day, living in the middle of nowhere meant that there really wasn’t a “home team” where I lived, which meant that I had to make do with whoever’s games we could get on cable TV. For many years, this meant the Chicago Cubs, whose games came to us via WGN out of Chicago via the not-so-silver tounged Harry Caray (who I got to meet once at a Spring Training game in Arizona, which the Cubs of course lost.)

Soon faced with the realization that backing the Cubs wasn’t exactly a winning proposition (the ’84 playoffs were probably a good sign of this,) my allegiances eventually shifted toward the Atlanta Braves, whose games played on TBS. Given their frequently dismal record during the late Eighties, expectations were set low, until they suddenly managed to get good in 1991, and pulled off the miraculous worst-to-first comeback and even more improbable playoff win against the Pittsburgh Pirates to reach the World Series in 1991. Although I would later learn to respect both of them as players and people, Kirby Puckett’s game 6 walk-off homer and Jack Morris’ 10-inning shutout in game 7 of the 2001 World Series are both in the top ten of my most traumatic baseball experiences. Although a couple of years later the expansion Colorado Rockies would give us something that would reasonably call a home team, my loyalties remained with the Braves until my family moved up to Seattle, where the Mariners were a cellar-dwelling team at risk of being moved to some random city in Florida. We figured they could use all the help they could get, so we hopped on the bandwagon. And what a ride it would turn out to be.

Then came the 1995 season, when suddenly everything came together, and the Mariners managed to get into the playoffs by winning a one-game tiebreaker with the California Angels, then pulled off an even more improbable comeback from a 0-2 deficit in the Division Series to beat the Yankees before finally losing the ALCS in six games to the Cleveland Indians (who would then go on to lose to the Atlanta Braves in five games. All in all, not a bad year for baseball in our family.)

Although the Mariners didn’t make the World Series (and have not yet done so in their 30 year history) that 1995 run ensured that the Mariners would stay in Seattle, and set the table for the incredible 2001 season, in which the Ms would win 116 games and host the All-Star Game, but lose to the Yankees in five games in the ALCS. Among the highlights of the season that I saw in person were the All-Star Game itself, with Cal Ripken’s home run in his final All-Star appearance (marked today by a plaque in the visitor’s bullpen at Safeco Field,) and the “victory lap” that the team took around the diamond carrying an American flag the day that baseball resumed following the September 11th attacks. Oddly enough, I was working in a concession stand at Safeco Field for that game (something that I would do for anywhere from 5-15 games a year for several years on a volunteer basis, to help raise money for various nonprofit organizations. It was hard work, but it provided plenty of opportunity to be at the ballpark. I can best describe the experience as similar to trying to watch the ballgame through a hole in the fence while serving beer and hotdogs to everyone else crowded around. I must have served thousands of the things, yet surprisingly enough, I still consider the hot dogs at the ballpark to be superior to those you can find just about anywhere else (just don’t ask me to actually pay for one.) This concession standexperience came in handy when I took a trip to Disneyland a couple of years ago, and found that the food prices inside the park almost seemed reasonable in comparison.

Since that 2001 season, the Mariners haven’t given us a whole lot of reasons to celebrate, but nonetheless, there’s nothing to compare to a beautiful summer evening as you watch from the cheap seats as the sun sets over the third base line as the National Pastime plays out on the field in front of you. Sure, my team ends up being down by six runs in the fourth inning more often than I would like, but still, a bad day at the ballpark beats a good day at work anyday. Feel free to share any baseball memories you have here. Even if the Twins did beat the Braves in the ’91 series, we can all agree that we don’t like the Yankees, right?

Oh, and Play Ball.

December 15, 2007

(Not So) Juicy Reading: The Mitchell Report

Filed under: Sports — Tags: , , , — Brian Lutz @ 2:44 am

If you follow sports at all, by now you’ve probably heard a lot more than you really care to about the Mitchell Report (Note: the link goes to a PDF of the full report.)  Over the course of the last couple of days, many a barrel of pixels has been spilled over the report and its contents, so I’ll leave the analysis of the contents of the report to the professionals.  Instead, I’d like to take a look at the report itself.  Over the course of the past couple of days, I have managed to read through most of the 409 pages of the report (with the exceptions of the appendices and other administrivia) and only fell asleep once while doing so.  Based on that, I think I can pretty much sum up the whole thing here:

  •  Yeah, steroids are bad for you;
  • This isn’t the first time we’ve had druggies playing baseball;
  • Donald Fehr is still a jerk (a fact that most baseball fans figured out 13 years ago);
  • Those BALCO guys juiced up a bunch of ballplayers;
  • Kirk Radomski juiced up even more of ’em but he got busted, so he named names;
  • Apparently people do actually buy stuff from Internet spammers.  Some of them happen to be baseball players;
  • MLB should probably do something about this.

Of course, we already knew most of this stuff before the report came out.  For a document that’s caused as much uproar as the Mitchell Report has, it sure doesn’t read that way.  The overall appearance of the report itself makes the whole thing look something like an overgrown research paper from a High School English class, and at times, the writing can be a bit sloppy (especially toward the end.)  After beginning with some dryly presented background info on the effects of the various supplements discussed, the current situation and some of the earlier drug and steroid issues,  the report moves into a discussion of each of the players implicated in the BALCO investigation, by Kirk Radomski, and those alleged to have purchased performance enhancing drugs over the Internet.  For what is purported to be one of the most damaging exposs in recent memory, it sure doesn’t read like one.  The report plays it straight as it rattles through the laundry list of Kirk Radomski’s clients, outlining the means by which they were put in touch with him, their purchases and (where available) the checks they wrote to make the purchases.  All in all, you begin to suspect that more scandalous prose has been used in describing trips to the grocery store.  For those people who may not be familiar with the steroids involved, ESPN presents this page describing them.  Unfortunately, the descriptions it provides make it seem to give it more  of a “hey kids!  Look at all the fun you can have with Steroids!” tone than anything, almost as if someone cut-and-pasted it off a steroid users’ FAQ or something similar.

Granted, the subject matter doesn’t exactly lend itself to much embellishment, but this type of thing isn’t going to do much of anything to keep people off the juice.  Sure, there’s a bit of background info at the front of the report that tries to make the point that steroids have bad side effects, but you hear virtually nothing of any ill effects to any of the players who used it, aside from a couple of injuries here and there which may or may not be related to steroid use.  You get the feeling that a couple of strategically placed anecdotes of shrunken genitalia or exploding biceps (Video link, somewhat graphic) would have gone a long way to get the message across, but about the worst thing the report manages to find are steroids being mixed up in bathtubs and sinks on drug raids.  Given the relative lack of sources available to Mr. Mitchell this is understandable, but for all the hyperbole in the press about the “devestating” impact of the report, there’s not really a lot besides a few of the names that came from Kirk Radomski that we didn’t already know.  Incidentally, my picks in the Mitchell Report Juicer Fantasy Draft were all pretty much busts.  Maybe I’ll have better luck with the next scandal…

None of this is intended to trivialize the impact of the Mitchell Report, but as a summary of whatever information the MLBPA wasn’t able to keep out of Mr. Mitchell’s hands, the report works reasonably well, even if it is a bit dry and clunky at times. As an exposé of the rampant use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball, it’s OK, but since much of this is hyperbole generated by the assorted punditry, it probably gets more credit than it deserves.  As a work of literature on which to spend your precious reading time, I’d probably suggest looking elsewhere.

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