Late Midway

Here we are at the middle of the season.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Most teams are past the ninety-five game mark and several are at ninety-eight–60% of the season. But the All-Star Break is still the traditional mid-point, even though–thanks to this year’s schedule changes–it’s never been later.

And we all know how important tradition is to baseball. (One assumes that Tevye and the rest of the gang fleeing Anatevka became rabid fans when they reached the U.S. Though they probably would have rooted for the Trolley Dodgers, so there’s that. But I digress.)

Jackie’s Orioles, while not exactly covering themselves with glory, at least made it to the break on a two-game winning streak, giving them 28 victories on the season and putting them percentage points ahead of the Royals in the race to avoid the “Worst Team in Baseball Dunce Cap” (not a real award).

The Giants (hi, John!), despite dropping their last two games to the Athletics, are still two games over .500 and have a legitimate chance to challenge for the NL West crown and a playoff spot.

And, of course, the Mariners, flying high as recently as two weeks ago, have lately put on a performance that makes the Orioles look stellar. They’ve lost four straight and seven of the last ten. That they’re still sitting in the second Wild Card slot says a lot more about the way the rest of the American League started the season than it does about the Ms themselves.

Vexingly, they’re not in the Machado sweepstakes. They’ve got a pretty darn good shortstop already, and their third baseman isn’t exactly shabby either. So, while Manny’s bat might be just what they need to kickstart the offense again, they don’t have anywhere to put him. (As I write this, it appears he’ll be going to the aforementioned Trolley Dodgers. Feh!)

Anyway, the All-Star Break means the Home Run Derby. You know I love me some Derby, even though it’s not really baseball. (If preseason baseball is methadone, what does that make the All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby? Nicotine gum, maybe?)

This year’s HRD may have been the best I’ve seen. Certainly the best since I started blogging. No gross mismatches, a couple of dramatic comebacks, an exciting final round, and a complete lack of distracting charity gimmicks. (The key word there is “distracting”. T-Mobile is donating money to Team Rubicon based partly on the number of home runs hit during the Derby. Good for them. And doubly so for not hitting viewers over the head with their message as has been the case with previous charitable donation promotions.)

I could have done with a bit less Bryce Harper adulation during the event. Yes, I know: local player, heavily favored, plays well to the camera. But the frequent cuts to his latest mugging felt contrived. But it’s a minor complaint, all things considered.

The youthful ball-shaggers were good. I saw a couple of nice catches and only one incident that put me in fear for a kid’s health. And it was great to see them get some on-screen recognition as Pitch, Hit & Run winners. Nobody robbed a competitor of a home run as famously happened to Ryne Sandberg in 1985, but I did see a clean snag just short of the wall.

More nicotine gum tonight with the All-Star Game, then two days of withdrawal before real games resume. (Yeah, okay, there’s a Cardinals/Cubs game on Thursday to help tide us over to Friday, but outside of St. Louis, it’s not a big deal. Certainly unlikely to have significant playoff repercussions.)

Feline Doings

GT is doing about as well as can be hoped. I haven’t take a lot of pictures of him, because I don’t want to subject him to the stress of bright, flashing lights.

But I thought he could handle one photo.

Yeah, the poor guy has to wear the Cone o’ Shame for a while. He’s got a drain installed (carefully not included in the picture–you’re welcome) and it wouldn’t be good to have him scratching at it.

(No, we weren’t happy about how little space he had in the cage. A new, larger one arrived today and he’s got quite a bit more elbow room now.)

Not only does the cone prevent him from grooming himself–thus the unusually-mussed fur–but it also keeps him from getting his mouth close to a bowl of food on the floor. Wall-mounted bowls should arrive today, but for the past couple of days we’ve been helping him eat. Wednesday we spoon fed him. None of us enjoyed that. Since Thursday, we’ve been holding the bowl inside his cone.

And if you don’t believe that holding a bowl for a cat while he eats isn’t an exercise in patience, I suggest you go to your local zoo and watch them feed the big cats. A tiger will happily spend hours licking a slab of beef.

Fortunately for everyone, GT is determined to move the food from bowl to stomach as quickly as possible, but even so, licking is a slow transfer mechanism. Those wall-mount bowls can’t arrive fast enough!

If all goes well, he’ll have the drain removed on Sunday and, we’re hoping, he’ll be allowed to remove the cone at the same time.

He continues to be remarkably cooperative. He sits quietly, uncaged, for his twice-daily warm compress, and he didn’t squirm or wiggle when I picked him up to move him to the new cage. He’s not happy. As best we can tell, he’s alternating between grumpy and bored, but he’s bright enough to not make this experience any harder on himself than it has to be.

Meanwhile, inside the house, Yuki got wind* of the fact that the Giants have lost five straight games and six of their last ten. It seems he thought a show of support was in order.

* I assume he read it in the sports section of the newspaper. He certainly spends enough time sitting on the paper while I’m trying to read it, and we all know cats read with their butts.

Note that the flattened ear has nothing to do with his disgust at the Giants’ performance. It’s a combination of the feline equivalent of “helmet hair” and dismay at the number of typos and grammatical goofs in the magazine he’s reading.

At any rate, Yuki prevailed on ‘Nuki to join him in supporting the Giants.

I think the theory is that if the players see the look on ‘Nuki’s face, they’ll be too terrorized to lose again.

Their effort is admirable. Too bad the boys are wearing San Jose Giants caps.

Yer Outta Here!

This week, the San Francisco Giants have been involved in two plays in which fans were ejected from the stadium.

Last Tuesday, the Giants were playing in Colorado. In the sixth inning, Trevor Brown, their catcher, hit a home run*. The Rockies’ fan who caught the ball promptly threw it back onto the field.

* Brown may have wanted that ball. The home run was the second of his career, and it was also his second major league hit. He had another home run two innings later. That made him the first Giant since 1991 to have his first three hits of the season be home runs–and as far as I can tell, he’s the first Giant to start his career with three home runs.

Some ballparks allow that. In Chicago, for example, it’s not only allowed, it’s expected. Heaven forbid a loyal Cub fan should be contaminated by a home run ball from an opponent. Coors Field, however, does not. The fan and his two step-sons were escorted out.

Fast-forward to last night. Giants at home against Arizona.

Brandon Crawford sliced a ball to left field. It bounced a couple of feet inside the line, then rolled through the bullpen and up to the wall. Several fans reached over the wall, and one grabbed the ball.

Interference with a live ball is grounds for ejection in every park. The TV cameras not only caught the fan’s look of horror as he realized his mistake, but also the reaction of the woman sitting next to him. First she buried her face in her hands, her body language declaring, “I’ve never met this guy, and I hope I never do.” As he gathers his belongings, she pulls the hood of her sweatshirt over her face before following him out of the stadium.

Can you imagine the conversation they must have had on the way home? Is spectator interference a divorce-worthy offense? On the other hand, the ejection spared them the sight of the Giants blowing a 7-6 lead with two outs in the ninth inning and losing the game in the eleventh. Maybe she’ll forgive him if he buys her a ticket to tonight’s game, drives her to the park, and then stays outside, listening to the game on the radio…

In all seriousness, though, give the guy credit for class. He didn’t protest his ejection–he actually started packing up before Security arrived–and it doesn’t seem like he’s tried to capitalize on his notoriety. I haven’t found any news stories that identify him or suggest that he hung around to talk to reporters. It’ll be interesting to see who, if anyone, is in those seats tonight. Given the location, it’s entirely possible that the couple has season tickets.

Events played out somewhat differently in Colorado. The fan who threw the ball back onto the field, one Brandon Sanchez, hasn’t been shy about speaking to the press.

In fairness to Mr. Sanchez, let it be noted that he was acting from ignorance. The family arrived in the second inning*, so they missed the public address system announcement of the rule. Still, as the saying has it, ignorance of the law is no excuse. But apparently it’s worth rewarding.

* I’ve been saying for years that arriving late and leaving early destroys one’s enjoyment of the game. A shame the Sanchez family had to prove it.

The team invited them back, and they’re considering going to a game this week. Seems like a strange enforcement policy by the Rockies, but it does seem like the family has learned their lesson.

Hopefully, they’ll arrive before the game starts this time. If they show up in time for batting practice, they might even get a ball hit by one of the Rockies.

Long Week

The Tuxedoed Terrors have a lot in common. They share many things, albeit not always willingly on ‘Nuki’s part.

Case in point, a conversation I overheard last night just before Sachiko’s bedtime.

“I can haz bafebalz now?”

“Not yet, kid. Not until tomorrow night.”

“Tomorrow?! But I want it NAAAAAAAOH!”

“Not gonna happen. Go to bed.”

“Big brudda Nookles, you tell da hoomin to turn on da teebee?”

“He will, kid. He will. I’ll make sure of that.”

Sights of the Week

Because I can: A few thoughts and pictures from my holiday week.

7/3 – Mariners vs. As is a lousy place to watch a ballgame, and I gather that it sucks to play there too. All the worst features of a generic stadium planned for multiple sports and none of the good–assuming there are any.
But when your team wins, you can forgive a lot. The Ms’ four two-run home runs suggested they might finally be pulling out of their extended hitting doldrums. It’s only a suggestion, of course: Wednesday’s 0-14 with runners in scoring position shows they still have a lot of work to do, but, y’know. Hope.

And a very impressive fireworks show after the game. If you’re one of those heretic non-baseball fans, you should consider going out to the ballpark on a fireworks night just for the show. And if you wind up enjoying the game too, so much the better.

7/4 – San Pablo 4th of July Family Celebration and Fireworks Show
09-3(My first opportunity to use the Android Photo app’s Panorama mode. It works amazingly well.)

A relaxing way to spend the Forth. Carnival games for the kids–and a rock-climbing wall and pony rides–a few local merchants and community organization booths*. Amateur entertainment: a karate demonstration, Zumba demonstrations, a clown act. Fortunately, this year’s acts didn’t include any singers. And the lion dance was very impressive. Outlining the lions in color-changing electroluminescent wire was a great idea.

* I got a key chain from the San Pablo Police Department, a flashlight from the San Pablo Senior Center–and joined the San Pablo Friends of the Library.

The fireworks weren’t as technically impressive as the As’ show, but were just as satisfying.

7/7 – Manuscript editing
Sachiko was kind enough to offer her thoughts. She wasn’t impressed. I don’t think the chapter can be salvaged to her standards: it doesn’t have nearly enough scenes of cats being fed.

7/7 – Blaze vs. Giants
Minor league baseball at its best. Perfect weather, excellent seats, and a good game.
One of the beauties of lower-level baseball is the small parks. Sitting close enough to the field that you an read players’ lips after they commit an error gives you a totally different impression of the game than you get from a seat in the upper deck at a major league stadium.

San Jose won the game 9-4. At the same time, the San Francisco Giants beat the Mets to end their seven game losing streak and the Mariners came from behind to win their game against the Tigers in extra innings. So the only team that didn’t have a good time was Bakersfield.

The most dramatic play of the game was Angel Villalona’s long, high home run to center field. Villalona, San Jose’s first baseman, has a body that puts one in mind of Pablo Sandoval, and when he gets it behind a ball, one suspects he could hit it through the fence.

Despite the majesty of Villalona’s home run, the most interesting sight of the day was pitcher Tyler Rogers. He has one of the purest submarine deliveries I’ve ever seen, and he uses it to great effect: 39 strikeouts to 9 walks in 37 innings for San Jose so far this season. I expect him to move up quickly–he had a rough time in a brief stint at AA Richmond (Go Flying Squirrels!) but he seems to be putting the pieces together well, and I expect him to do much better on his next try.

More on Hope

This “hope” thing is tricky.

The Mariners gave some to their fans with a winning road trip (five wins, four losses) that included several games where they remembered how to hit the ball. Then they came home last night and demonstrated how easy it is to score a bunch of runs and still lose the game. Five runs will win a lot of games, but not the ones where your opponent scores twelve. With the All Star Break, the official half-way point in the season, less than a week away, they’re at 38-45, hoping to hang on to a one game lead over last place Oakland.

Meanwhile, over in San Francisco, the Giants have now lost seven games in a row. They’re at .500 on the year, still hoping (there’s that word again) to catch Los Angeles, win the division, and break the Curse of the Odd-Numbered Year.

So how best to celebrate hope for a pair of teams that both expected to be better off than they are? Me, I’m off to San Jose today to watch a game between the Mariners’ and Giants’ Class A (Advanced) teams.

I’ve written about the joys of minor league baseball before, so I won’t rehash it here. I’ll just note that IMNSHO, Class A (Advanced) baseball is the purest baseball experience you can get from professionals. Most of the players have solid skills, though they’re still working to master their abilities. And, by and large, they’re young enough that you can legitimately say they could put it all together and become a star. (For the record, the oldest player on the Bakersfield roster is 26, most are 23 or 24, and the youngest–Rayder Ascanio, a shortstop from Venezuela–is 19. San Jose’s team skews a little older; leaving aside Juan Perez, who was on the major league team last year and is currently on a rehab assignment, they have several 26- and 27-year-olds, and the baby of the bunch is Christian Arroyo*, who just turned 20 a month ago.)

* I find it amusing that the youngest player on both teams is a shortstop. Clearly, I’m easily amused.

As a fan of the Giants and the Mariners, I’ll be cheering for both teams–wearing a Mariners’ shirt and a Giants’ cap–and hoping to get a look at a few of the guys who’ll be leading their major league clubs to titles a couple of years from now.

The weather is perfect and I’ve got nothing riding on today’s game. It’s amazingly easy to ignore the odds that say few of these kids will ever make it to the majors. Maybe hope isn’t so tricky after all.

See you at the ballpark.

Are You Series? Get Real!

The World Series is over, leaving us staring into the bleak off-season. Four months with nothing to console us but the occasional trade, free agent signing, or contract extension. *sigh*

But before we go there, let’s talk about the series. I made a few requests to the Baseball Gods regarding the way I thought the World Series should go. Let’s take a look and see if the gods were listening.

  1. The Royals should win the first three games. Nope. The Giants won the first game, ending the Royals’ post-season winning streak at eleven games. That’s a major disappointment. I was really looking forward to them taking a record away from the Yankees. Maybe next year–though there aren’t any long streaks currently active, so any new assault on the Yankees’ record would require the challenger to duplicate the Royals’ impressive–and record setting–assault on the first three rounds. It could happen, but I’m not going to hold my breath.
  2. The series should go to seven games. Nailed that one. Nobody’s unhappy about that: the Royals’ rooters are unhappy they didn’t win Game Seven, but they’re not sorry the game was played.
  3. Game Seven should go to twelve innings. Didn’t get that. Almost, though. The Royals had the potential* tying run on third in the ninth inning, but didn’t manage to bring him one. On the bright side, Game Seven was close all the way through. That was a pleasant change in a World Series notable for blowouts. Consider: the average margin of victory in the first six games was 5 2/3 runs. Throw out the Royals’ 3-2 win in Game Three and the average for the other five games was 6.6. A 3-2 game is a thriller. A 10-0 or 11-4 shellacking is not.

    * Broadcasters: a runner on base is not the “tying run” or the “winning run”, he’s only a potential run. Washington Nationals’ announcers, I’m especially looking at you, but this year almost everyone was guilty of this offense against logic and the English language. It’s almost as bad as “walk-off walk”.

  4. The Giants should win the series. Yup. If you can believe the polls, that’s only good news for inhabitants of the Bay Area and a few Orioles fans upset by the way the Royals manhandled their birds. For the other 95% of baseball fans, well, there’s always next year. Expat Royals fans in the Bay Area, note that local radio stations are once again playing Lorde’s song again. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether that’s a good thing or not.

So I went 2-2 with my requests. Not bad. I’ll take a .500 average any day.

Moving on.

The Giants’ win is their third World Series victory in five years, and of course the newspapers are throwing around the word “dynasty”. Sorry, I don’t agree. Look, I root for the Giants, and I’m pleased for them but what they have is not a dynasty. According to my dictionary (MW, of course), a dynasty is “a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time”.

I’ll grant the Giants “powerful group” but they fall on their faces on that “maintains its position” bit. Remember last year’s 76-86 finish, fourteen games out of the second Wild Card? Or 2011, when they missed the playoffs by four games?

The Yankees won three consecutive World Series between 1998 and 2000. The As did the same from 1972 through 1974. I’d accept those as dynasties. Even more impressively, the Yankees won four straight (1936-1939) and five straight (1949-1953). No question those were dynasties. Giants? Not so much.

Guys, break the curse of the odd years and win it all in 2015 and again in 2016. Then we can talk dynasty, OK?

I’m Not Making This Up

The World Series starts tonight, and the playoffs have already accumulated enough history to bury us up to our necks.

Those of you who didn’t laugh hysterically when I recommended rooting for the Royals and Giants may now laugh derisively. The Giants and Royals both cruised through the preliminary rounds, racking up a combined record of 16-2. That’s .889, slightly above the .600 figure I cited as the minimum necessary.

I’m not making this up.

They didn’t make it look easy: there were plenty of close games and come-from-behind victories. No boring series featuring obviously outclassed opponents this year. It’s been baseball you want to watch, regardless of your religious affiliation.

As for history, this is the first time both World Series teams won less than 90 games during the regular season. It’s also, not coincidentally, only the second time both teams have come into the playoffs via the wild card.

That 16-2 record? San Francisco is responsible for both of the losses; Kansas City is a perfect 8-0 so far. That’s a new record for wins to start the playoffs. The Royals’ first three playoff wins required extra innings, another record.

The Royals won their final three playoff games in 1985, the last time they made it past the regular season. That gives them an eleven game playoff winning streak. If they win the first two World Series games, they’ll hold the record for longest playoff winning streak. Since the current record holders are the Yankees (twelve from 1927 to 1932 and again from 1998 to 1999), all right-thinking fans will be pulling for the Royals in the first two games.

Really. I’m not making any of this up.

The Giants can’t lay claim to as many records as the Royals this post-season–although they did win the longest playoff game in history (18 innings in six hours, twenty-three minutes)–but they’ve cornered the market in human interest stories. Just look at the last game against the Cardinals: the tying run came on a home run from Mike Morse, who’s been bouncing around the majors since 2005 (Seattle* to Washington, back to Seattle**, on to Baltimore, and now to the Giants). Due to an injury, he played in exactly one game in September, had sat out the first two post-season series, and had only three previous plate appearances in the NLCS.

* There are a lot of ex-Mariners around baseball.

** And a disturbingly large number of players who have been with the Mariners multiple times.

The story behind the winning runs is even more of a tear-jerker. As the San Francisco press has been reporting to the point of nausea*, Ishikawa was released by the Pirates in April, signed a minor league deal with Giants, and sat in Fresno so long he considered retiring. When he was finally called up at the end of July, he was hardly used, appearing in only 47 games. His misplay of a fly ball in the third inning gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. So, of course he hit the game-winning home run to send San Francisco to the World Series.

* We’ll come back to the nausea shortly.

You know, if I were making this up for a book, I’d never be able to sell it, right?

So here we are, with two teams that weren’t supposed to make it past the wild card game playing in the World Series. Since I apparently created this situation by advising you all to root for the Royals or Giants, I feel a sense of responsibility. So here’s my rooting advice for the World Series: the Royals should win the first three games, running their record playoff win streak to an unlucky thirteen. The Giants should then win the next four, with the last game going to twelve innings. That will fortify us all nicely for the long, baseball-free winter that lies ahead.

In the meantime, the rivalry is getting heated. At least one San Francisco radio station has banned Lorde’s “Royals” from the airwaves until after the World Series. Kansas City stations, unable to find a Top-40 hit that has anything to with Giants in the title are retaliating by playing Lorde’s piece every hour on the hour. No offense intended to Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, but that sounds like a cure worse than the disease to me. (For the record, Lorde appears to be taking the high road here. As of the last time I checked, her Twitter feed is blessedly free of any mention of the struggle.)

And here’s one final item that I really wish I was making up. Let it be known that wildly exciting playoffs are not a totally unmixed blessing. Consider this frightening object advertised in the SF Chronicle.

That’s right. It’s the Precious Moments Giants “Home Run With You” figurine. And yes, there’s one for everyone who wants to horrify their favorite Royals fan as well. (Other teams are also available: due to production lead times, the Cardinals and Orioles have similar figurines. So do the Yankees because, well, they’re the Yankees.) It’s enough* to put one off baseball for life. I told you we would be getting back to the nausea.

* Almost.

Root, Root, Root, for…???

It could have happened, but it didn’t. The Brewers errored their way into a loss to knock themselves out of the playoff chase. The Indians won two of their last three, again, knocking themselves out of the chase. The Mariners… ah, the Mariners. They pulled themselves together and won their last four, but didn’t make the playoffs when Oakland tied their own shoelaces together, because the As didn’t quite fall on their bats.

Am I disappointed? Of course. Am I going to rant about it? Naturally. Just not today. I’ll save it for some time in November, when I’ll be needing a baseball fix to get me through the long, dark days without even a trade rumor. In the meantime, I’ll be over at the kid’s table with my turkey and sour grapes.

I enjoyed doing last year’s post on how to select a team to root for in the playoffs–and enjoyed the comments suggesting changes to the rules even more. So, here we go again with 2014’s Rules for Rooting.

  1. You must not root for any team that has been promoted as “America’s Team” or otherwise held up by its owners and/or the media as the ultimate expression of the sport. Addendum for 2014: You can root for such a team in the playoffs if and only if they are the only team you root for during the regular season.
  2. You should not root for a team from your own team’s division.
  3. That said, you really ought to root for somebody from your own league. Crossing the league boundary without a really good excuse is in bad taste.
  4. Possession of team merchandise with sentimental value trump Rules Two and Three. New rule this year. If an old friend, a lover (or fondly-recalled ex-lover), or beloved relative gave you a shirt or cap, you may root for that team in their honor. You’re on shakier ground if you don’t have the merchandise, unless said flbr has passed away since their team last made the playoffs.
  5. Teams with a record of futility get bonus points in the decision process. Addendum for 2014: So do teams with legit “misfit” and/or “weirdo” credentials. What constitutes legitimacy? That’s between you and your conscience, at least until I get around to doing a blog post on the subject.
  6. All other rules notwithstanding, you are always free to root for the Cubs. A new rule this year, and I hope Stef will forgive me for strengthening the rule beyond her original formulation. Mind you, it’s irrelevant again this year, as it has been in so many years past (the Cubs finished at 73-89, seventeen games out of the division title and fifteen out of the wild card.)

For those of you who don’t want to chase down the logic chains yourselves, here’s your handy guide.

National League:
The teams are Washington, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco.

Washington and LA are eliminated under Rule One, the former for stealing one of Canada’s only two teams and renaming them the “Nationals,” and the latter for the ridiculous media overexposure lavished on Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig. (The Dodger’s banishment is temporary. If the media turn 25% of their collective attention elsewhere next year, the Dodgers will be readmitted to the ranks of the root-worthy.)

Summing up Rule Five’s impact, the Cardinals reached–but lost–the World Series last year. The Pirates made it in as a wild card team, but lost to the Cardinals. The Giants didn’t make it to the playoffs last year. None of the three have strong misfit credentials.

Ignoring sentimental connections, which I can’t manage for you, that means your playoff team this year is the Giants, unless you normally root for San Diego, Colorado, or Arizona, in which case, you’re backing the Pirates.

American League:
Last year’s World Series winners, the Red Sox didn’t make the playoffs this year, which opens things up a bit. We’ve got Baltimore, Detroit, Anaheim (pardon me, Los Angeles), Kansas City, and Oakland.

If I’m invoking Rule One on the Nationals, I also need to invoke it on the Angels, for the cynical ploy of moving the team in name only (for the uninitiated, the team’s official name is “The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim”). No other team is disqualified under Rule One this year*.

* And thank all the Baseball Gods for keeping the Yankees out this year. Derek Jeter, by all reports, is a nice enough guy, but the idea of extending the Jeter farewell tour into the postseason is enough to induce nausea in the stoutest stomachs.

The ranking under Rule Five looks like this:

  • The As lost the AL Division Series to the Tigers last year.
  • Detroit lost the AL Championship series to the Red Sox. On the face of it, that should put them above the As, but I give them a few bonus points under the misfit clause for the lousy state of the economy in Detroit–they need all the sympathy and support they can get.
  • Baltimore lost the Division Series in 2012.
  • The Royals are making their first playoff appearance since 1985, when they won the World Series.

That makes the choice rather easy. Kansas City all the way–unless you normally root for Cleveland, Chicago, or Minnesota, in which case you’re free to cheer for the Orioles.

Non-fans worried about rooting for the wild card Royals, take note: the short series of games in the playoffs make it possible for any team to go all the way. It’s possible to play .600 ball (win 12 of 20 games) and win the World Series. The Angels are the only team to play better than .600 during the regular season. The worst record among the playoff teams was .543 (As, Pirates, and Giants). That’s a tight spread. A few good breaks can easily trump a nominally-better set of players.

There you have it. I’m rooting for a San Francisco/Kansas City World Series, with the Giants taking it in seven games. I hope you’ll join me.

That’s the Way We Do It

I went to a baseball game and no history happened. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

We’ve arrived at the All-Star Break. Last year, I marked the occasion with a pair of posts. I’ll keep it to one this year.

I pointed out that this is the time of year when fans of the under-performing teams begin obsessively watching trade rumors, waiting for the one that will give them hope for next year. What I didn’t mention is that fans of the teams on the edge of making the playoffs are obsessively watching trade rumors, waiting for the one that will give them hope for this year.

So far this year, both groups are still waiting. The only trade with potential major impact was between the As (currently the best record in baseball and the runaway favorite to make the playoffs) and the Cubs (currently the fifth worst record in baseball).* Things should be heating up this week before the frenzy next week leading to the trade deadline.

* Yes, the Cubs are in the first group–under-performing teams–and their fans did get some hope in their acquisition of Addison Russell. However, he’s now their second top prospect at shortstop, a position where they already have a good player. That means if they get a significant boost from Russell, it’s because both of the others flamed out–hardly desirable. More likely, the actual gain will be from a future trade, either of Russell himself, or one of the other two when Russell becomes the full-time shortstop. Either way, there’s a modicum of hope, but it’s a deferred hope, and likely deferred beyond next year.

I also wrote about the joys of the Home Run Derby. It’s not so much the home run hitters, it’s the kids chasing the balls that provide most of the fun and excitement. Last year’s Derby was good in that respect. This year was amusing, but not as good as last year. I think the kids had a touch of World Cup Fever. A lot of flops and slides on the wet-thanks-to-rain grass, but not much “will the ball be caught?” drama.

The Derby isn’t baseball, but it helps get through the lack of meaningful games. The actual All-Star game is tonight. That is baseball. Meaningless, like preseason games, but at least the quality of play is (usually) better than any random preseason game. Tomorrow and Thursday are off days, and the season resumes Friday. So what do we do for baseball Wednesday and Thursday? Well, there are always the minor leagues.

Which brings us back to that baseball game I mentioned in the first paragraph.

The San Jose Giants are, as you could probably have guessed, a minor league team in the San Francisco Giants’ system. They’re a “Class A Advanced” team*, meaning that they’re several steps away from the majors.

* The current classifications are, in descending order of presumed skill and readiness for the majors, Triple-A, Double-A, Class A Advanced, Class A, Class A short season, and Rookie. In the past there were fewer types of “A” teams, and there were “B,” “C”, and “D” leagues. I’ll just note that baseball reflects the society around it, and as such, grade inflation and peer promotion are inescapable.

There is an element of truth in that joke, but it is, as with most of baseball’s long and checkered history, more complicated than that. Maybe I’ll do a post on the Great Minor League Reorganization of ’63 one of these days.

As an A league team, the SJ Giants are not playing in a fancy park like the parent club’s. San Jose Municipal Stadium seats less than 6,000 people, and it looks about half that big. Ignore the small video screen over the right field fence, and it could almost be a small-town stadium from an old movie: small dimensions, painted advertisements on the fences, and an outfield that hasn’t been sculpted to millimetric tolerances.

Since the players are young, the quality of play sometimes leaves a bit to be desired. “Sure” double-play balls aren’t sure at all, flies that look eminently catchable to the eye accustomed to big league play fall untouched, and errant pitches fly past catchers with alarming regularity.

But the teams make up for it in other ways. The small size of the stadium means that even the cheap seats* are closer to the field than 95% of the seats at a major league park.

* And they are cheap. Non-discounted seats for tomorrow’s game start at $11. The major league club changes prices depending on who the opponent is and how far in advance you buy. As of this writing, the cheapest seats for the SF Giants’ first home game after the break are $56.25.

Even in the last row of seats, you’re close enough to really hear the action: the sound of bat hitting ball, ball hitting glove, and–when sufficiently provoked by a bad call–chin hitting ground in disbelief.

And the team takes advantage of the intimate nature of the venue to do things that couldn’t be done at a major league park. In the big leagues, video screens keep attendees occupied between innings by showing “fan cams,” “dot races,” and highlights of other games–sometimes even other sports. The San Jose club is strictly analog in its between-inning distraction. They drive a truck onto the field, and let players throw baseballs at it: any player who breaks a headlight gets $20.00 and a pre-selected fan wins a coupon for auto parts. Four spectators are invited onto the field to play Musical Chairs, with the winner getting movie tickets. A fan throws rolls of toilet paper at the team mascot, who is seated in a Porta-Potty (I never did hear what the fan won).

OK, maybe some of the activities aren’t in the greatest of taste, but they’re still doing better than “Captain Morgan” and a bevy of half-dressed young women throwing T-shirts into the stands while a video urges spectators to drink responsibly. (Yes, this really happened at an As’ game–and, I’ve heard, several other major league parks–a couple of years ago.)

As you move up the ranks from A to AA to AAA, the quality of play improves, and the off-field “product” and ticket prices start to look more like the majors as well. But that just means you can choose your level. There are teams affiliated with one of the MLB clubs in 42 American states (and one in British Columbia: the Vancouver Canadians, a Class A short season affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays). If you need a baseball fix to get you through the next two days, you could do far, far worse than to check out the closest minor league team.

I should note that the game itself, as you might expect, wasn’t a highly-polished performance by either team, but the Giants beat their arch-nemesis*, Stockton, 8-4. The Giants built a 7-0 lead before giving up four runs in the eighth inning: thrills and chills; we wondered if that eighth was ever going to end.

* In Class A, every opposing team is your arch-nemesis, standing between you and the development of the skills you need to move up to the next level.

A good time was had by all. Well, except for Stockton and its supporters, but since they won the other three games that weekend, they can’t complain too much. It was a pleasant evening in the sun with an exciting game. No history was made, but how much history does one need in any given season? Baseball is its own compensation.