Yes, The Playoffs Are Beginning Without Us

BaseballYou may have noticed that I haven’t posted very much on the baseball season since the All-Star game.  For those watching the Nats’ season fall apart, the reason will be obvious.  And now that the local nine have wrapped up a miserable year, we get to begin speculation here in D.C. on where Bryce will land next year.  Frankly, I’ve read about all the ink I care to on Harper.  I just hope he makes up his mind early and doesn’t drag this out all year.  Robles and Soto are two excellent young (and cheap) outfielders, so it isn’t like we’d have chopped liver out there in the outfield

But let’s move on to the teams still playing.  The team with the top record, the Boston Red Sox, look good, but I think they have a tough row to hoe to win it all.

To cut to the chase, here are my picks/hopes:

First in the American League:

  • I hope the A’s (now Claire’s team since she lives in Oakland) use their “new pitcher every inning” strategy and shock the Baby Bombers in the Wild Card.
  • In what may be the best series of the first round, I’m picking the Astros over the Indians.
  • With the A’s in out of the wild card game, I’ll take the Red Sox.
  • For the ALCS, I’d have to pick the Astros over the Sox. While the Sox have been great, they have too many problems in key areas (e.g., pitching).
DJB with ABB and CHB at Nats Park

With my two favorite baseball fans: Dad does his best to make baseball fans of the next generation

Then the National League:

  • While I’d like to see the Rockies win the NL Wild Card, I suspect it will be the Cubs.
  • I don’t want either team to win, but I think the Dodgers are getting hot and will take the Braves.
  • I’m going to take the Brewers over the Cubs, just because they are such fun to watch and I’ve loved Lorenzo Cain since he was with KC.
  • And on that note, I’m going to take the Brewers over the Dodgers to get to the World Series.

And in the World Series:

  • I think we have a repeat champion with the Astros, although the Brewers could give them a good run for their money.

Few teams had a more disappointing season than the Nats, but the Mets fall in that category.  So I sympathized—and laughed out loud—at this wonderful article on the announcers for the Mets.  Here’s just a small sample of some wonderful baseball writing:

“The problem, though, is that baseball — good, high-level baseball — often is boring. A “perfect game” is one in which, miraculously, nothing happens. Ten-pitch at-bats that end in routine groundouts are boring, and shaving a few seconds off them won’t fix that. Gary Keith and Ron aren’t magicians, but perhaps they do represent an alternate strategy for attacking baseball’s existential crisis: fix the game itself, yes, but fix the conversation around it too. Baseball is a peculiar sport, filled with dozens of climactic anticlimaxes, and wide pockets of time for digressions into movies or politics or, in Keith’s case, deeply felt opinions about uniform design. But too many booths are occupied by people with nothing to say — a problem some of them solve by literally not talking. With Gary Keith and Ron, meanwhile, each one has enough charisma to carry stretches of a broadcast on his own. And anyway, if things ever get too sleepy, Keith will just announce that he’s nodding off, which, ironically, is quite fun.”

Do yourself a favor and read this article.  And yes, you will note that the Nats consistently have one of the worst rated announcing teams in Major League Baseball.  After this season, that figures.

Let’s play ball!

More to come…

DJB

Baseball at (or just past) the Break

NOTE:  This was a post I meant to finish a week ago.  Then life intervened.

All Star Tickets

Scoring great seats at the All Star Game

In the past three weeks I’ve checked two items off my baseball bucket list and saw the most amazing comeback in my 40+ years of watching this always fascinating sport.  We’re now a little more than a week past the all-star break, the traditional midway point of the baseball season, so it seems appropriate to unleash a few thoughts on you, dear readers, in reverse chronological order to the way they happened.

The All-Star Game is Great Fun:  Washington hosted the 2018 MLB All-Star Game at Nationals Park earlier this month. Almost by a fluke Andrew and I scored great seats.  A colleague—who is British—was given two tickets by a former colleague of his from National Geographic. (Remember that Nat Geo is now owned by FOX, which was televising the game.)  Not caring a great deal for the American pastime, he offered them up to me. For free! Which is how Andrew and I landed in section 133 in fantastic seats for the game on a beautiful Tuesday evening.

Player Introductions

Player introductions at the All Star Game

I love Nats Park when there is a big crowd on hand, and this one was a sellout (even at the outrageous prices). It was great to see all the different jerseys on fans supporting every team in the league. We often see Phillies, Mets, Red Sox, and Orioles jerseys at the ballpark, but we sure don’t see many Trout, Altuve, or Verlanders on this side of the country. I ran into Kiki, a friend from St. Albans, in the long line in the clubhouse store, as we were both successfully seeking All-Star gear. The player introductions were terrific, with a big welcome-home for the Buffalo, Wilson Ramos (boy could we use that bat this year).  Seeing 29 Medal of Honor winners come out to be recognized before the game and having one of them throw out the first ball to Bryce Harper would stir the heart of even the most cynical. A male quartet sang an absolutely gorgeous version of O Canada.  A mass choir formed a flag on the field and sang the national anthem (pre-recorded, but that was okay…the quality was better). Flyovers. Max—the hometown hero—striking out the first two hitters before Mike Trout works him for a 9-pitch walk.  The man-child Aaron “Here Come the” Judge stroking a monster tater off of Max in the second to put the AL up 1-0.  A pretty decent presidents’ race where Teddy was taken out by a flying rabbit (had to be there).  Lots of home runs.  Even more strikeouts.  (Welcome to baseball in 2018.)  Neighbors in the seats nearby from Atlanta and Los Angeles. Everyone just thrilled to be there. Not really caring who wins, but just enjoying seeing these monster lineups (especially on the American League side) go up against pitchers throwing 96-100 mph because they knew they only had to do so for one inning.

I’ve always wanted to attend an All-Star game, but when I checked the ticket prices this year I balked. I’m still saving up in hopes that I will get to a World Series game in Washington before I die. But to have the chance to go this year in our hometown team’s park, in terrific seats, and enjoy it all with Andrew was more of a treat than I even imagined. It is a memory to treasure.

Chalk Up Another One:  Earlier this month I was in San Diego for a conference.  Of course I had checked to see if the Padres were in town.  Yes!  Playing the Dodgers.  Yes!! Since this was one of my stadiums still to be checked off the old bucket list, I invited three friends to join me for a game where monster pitcher Clayton Kershaw was going against the hometown nine.  It really wasn’t much of a match with the Dodgers getting a blowout win, but the ballpark is beautiful and the weather in San Diego is close to perfect every day.

Petco Park Panorama

For those keeping score, here is the list of ballparks visited:

  • Atlanta Braves – Fulton County Stadium (multiple visits in 1980s; never got to Turner Field before they tore it down, but this counts given my rules; don’t want to go to the new one…hate that they moved it to the northern suburbs)
  • Baltimore Orioles – Camden Yards (multiple visits in 1990s and 2000s)
  • Boston Red Sox – Fenway Park (1988)
  • Chicago Cubs – Wrigley Field (1964, 2007, 2012)
  • Chicago White Sox – US Cellular Field (2013)
  • Cleveland Indians – Progressive Field (2014)
  • Colorado Rockies – Coors Field (2008, 2013)
  • Houston Astros – Minute Maid Park (2016)
  • Kansas City Royals – Kauffman Stadium (2009)
  • Los Angeles Angels – Angels Stadium (2016)
  • Milwaukee Brewers – Miller Park (2005)
  • Minnesota Twins – Target Field (2014)
  • Oakland A’s – Oakland Coliseum (2008)
  • Philadelphia Phillies – Citizens Bank Park (2008)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – PNC Park (2013)
  • San Diego Padres – Petco Park (2018)
  • San Francisco Giants – AT&T Park (2012 and 2014)
  • Seattle Mariners – Safeco Field (2009)
  • St. Louis Cardinals – Busch Stadium (old – 1993; new – 2012)
  • Tampa Bay Rays – Tropicana Field (2012)
  • Washington Nationals – RFK (multiple times) and Nationals Park (multiple times + part of a season ticket group since 2012)

And here is the ballparks remaining to visit list:

  • Arizona Diamondbacks – Chase Field
  • Cincinnati Reds – Great American Ball Park
  • Detroit Tigers – Comerica Park (I’ve seen it from the outside, but haven’t made a game.)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers – Dodger Stadium (This is the only park that family members – Claire and Andrew – have seen before I have had the opportunity. In Claire’s case, three or four times, no less. That’s just not fair!)
  • Miami Marlins – Marlins Park
  • New York Mets – Citi Field (I think this is an easy one to do, but it never works out.)
  • New York Yankees – Yankee Stadium (I know – how can I not have made it to Yankee stadium yet?!  Just goes to show I’ve never been a big Yankees fan)
  • Texas Rangers – Texas Stadium (Seen from the highway but no game yet)
  • Toronto Blue Jays – Rogers Centre

Every Time the Nats Give You Hope…: Right after the July 4th holiday, Andrew and I went to Nats Park to see the Nationals play the lowly Miami Marlins.  So what happens…well, the Nationals fall behind 9-0.  Just about the time we thought we’d seen enough, our guys start an amazing comeback.  Suffice it to say that the 14-12 Nationals win was the wildest I’ve ever seen live.

Scorecard 14-12

Crazy scorecard for the 14-12 Nats win vs. the Marlins

Of course, you’d think that would build momentum.  But you would be wrong.  This weekend is a perfect example.  After winning three straight, they have the Marlins on the ropes in Miami, only to lose a bitter 2-1 game in 10 innings on Saturday night, and then look brain-dead in losing 5-0 today.

This year is feeling a lot like 2013 and 2015…and that’s not a good thing.  I miss Dusty.

It will be interesting to see if the Nats are buyers or sellers at the trade deadline on Tuesday.  I have no idea what they’ll do, but if they don’t do something quickly they will not be playing in October this year.

The dog days of summer have definitely arrived when it comes to the Nats.  But anytime you get to go to a ballgame – especially with one of your children – I’ll take that no matter how the hometown nine are playing.

2018 All Star Game with Andrew

2018 All Star Game with Andrew

More to come…

DJB

What a Wonderful Washington Weekend!

It is a great weekend to live in Washington…

Stanley Cup Celebrations Continue — From bars in Arlington to today’s game at National Park to the Georgetown Waterfront, the Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals are having a great time celebrating the franchise’s first Stanley Cup championship with the hometown fans.  While I was across the country when they clinched on Thursday evening, I could hear the city explode from Phoenix. We’re ALL CAPS here in D.C. It was an especially satisfying run, given 1) that they weren’t expected to go very deep due to losses of players to the expansion draft, and 2) that they got through a couple of perennial stumbling blocks:  John (Torts) Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets and—most significantly—the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Too bad Martin St. Louis—who was always a playoff pest—no longer plays for Tampa Bay.

If you want another thrill, watch the highlights from the cup-clinching game.

Pride 2018 Celebration — Thousands have descended on DC this weekend for the annual Pride celebration.  Andrew almost always makes it to Pride, but because of singing commitments out-of-town, he’s only able to attend Sunday’s festival.  (Work can be such a bummer sometimes!)  I have a number of friends and colleagues who are enjoying this celebration of diversity in the DC capital, and I suspect the good times are rolling.

Politics and Prose Member Sale — Several times a year, our wonderful independent bookstore, Politics and Prose , holds a big members sale…and it just happened to be this weekend.  So after our traditional Saturday morning farmers’ market visit and pastries at Tout de Sweet, we headed into town for the sale.

Candice was much more methodical in her research than I had been.  Nevertheless, I had a few titles in mind, and planned to trust my instincts when faced with a decision.

Books from Politics and Prose

Today’s purchases at the Politics & Prose members sale – what a treasure trove!

The books from Educated to the top are Candice’s choices.  Mine go down from there to the recent Pauli Murray biography Jane Crow.  Our summer reading bags are full once again!

And Did I Mention That the Nationals Won — Once the Nats were finished with the pre-game celebrations with the Caps on Saturday, they turned around to beat the San Francisco Giants 7-5, holding on to first place in the National League East.  Adam Eaton returned from the Disabled List and Bryce hit another home run.  Go Nats!

Have a great weekend…wherever you live (but this weekend, it is hard to top D.C.)

More to come…

DJB

P.S. — Oh, and not everyone stayed in Washington this weekend…that’s not a bad thing.

The Coming of Winter (Part 2)

No Baseball

No Baseball…until February

I’ve had a few days to stew on the Nats Game 5 loss to the Cubs…enough to see the Cubs completely tank against the Dodgers, who are now headed to the World Series.  All “Joe Maddon is a genius” comments have to be walked back a bit after some of the ways his team played in the NLCS.

Nonetheless, the Cubs were there and the Nats weren’t.

Let’s get to a few things about the Nats and that Game 5 loss, and then I’ll turn to thinking a bit about the games this week (and the games ahead).

First, if you want to read sharp commentary on the Nationals, go to the blog Nationals Baseball.  Harper regularly provides the best clear-eyed and unsentimental analysis of this ball club (so much better than the Washington Post crew), and the comments are first-rate (how often do you read that on the internet?).  Read his Game 5 analysis at the link above when you get the chance.  Much of what I’d say, especially about how bad Matt Wieters was in that series (and much of the year), can be found there.

Second, Dusty really did get out-managed again in the playoffs. Using the same line-up for five games…who does that in the playoffs?  Winning managers maximize their team’s strengths game-by-game.  Jayson Werth is old, you don’t play him out of loyalty.  Matt Wieters was terrible. Gio is a head case and should NEVER start a critical game. Michael A. Taylor was the only player tearing the hide off the ball all series, and you leave him batting 8th! Zimmerman, who had a great year, is a head case when batting 4th behind Harper against the Cubs. Why would you bat him there?  I could go on-and-on…but go to the blog above.  Harper has a longer and better list.

I’m now okay with Dusty not being rehired for 2018, but when are we going to start talking about Mike Rizzo’s role in this “can’t get out of the first round” mess?  Who gave this club the absolutely worst bullpen in baseball for the first half of the year and tried to talk as if it was no problem?  How many games were lost and how many starters lost sure-fire wins because of that crew? We’re supposed to cheer Rizzo’s trade-deadline acquisitions, but remember who got us into this mess in the first place.  Who keeps making bad decisions with his managers? Who never got a decent starter after Joe Ross went down? And yes, I think the Lerners bear blame for low-balling the salaries of their managers.

And can the Nationals get a hitting coach next year who can teach situational hitting.  Trea Turner was so overmatched, but all the Nats were swinging for the fences and hitting into the teeth of shifts when the situation called for a different approach.

For some good things, this was Strasburg’s year and he had a stellar playoff series.  Game 4 was about as good as one can pitch in an elimination game.  Watching the Nats for the first half of the season (except for the bullpen explosions) was great fun, especially after Anthony Rendon took off.  The second half was too much coasting, as the N.L. East is so bad, and that may have hurt them in the playoffs. It would be nice to come in hot.

Enough of this rambling.  Now for the three (for one more day) teams left.

Jose Altuve is great.  Last night, after taking the series to 3-3 against the Yankees, he goes on national television and says, “I freaking LOVE Justin Verlander.”  With Altuve and Curry, short guys are taking over the world!

Aaron Judge is a freak…but he seems like a nice freak.  I really don’t like the Yankees and I hope they lose tonight, but this kid is having such an amazing rookie season that you just have to root for him.  All rise, indeed!

The Dodgers look very much like the real deal, and I’ll be surprised if anyone can beat them in the World Series.  Stranger things have happened, but they’re my team now.  I’m going over to the Dark Side with my Claire!

Claire at a Dodgers Game

Claire (center) at a Dodgers game…she knows how to pick ’em

More to come…

DJB

Winter Has Come

No Baseball

No Baseball…until February

Well, that will leave a bruise.

I’m at a board meeting for work, so will have to wait until later for a longer reflection on the Nats 2017 campaign, but oh my…the bad taste from that last game is going to linger for a while.  I was sitting in the only television room in the place, watching the game alone until 1 o’clock in the morning.  At least I resisted the temptation to pull out a beer or have a glass of wine to drown my sorrows.

Gio does his Gio thing and melts down under pressure.  Max and Wieters pick the worst possible time to play sandlot ball.  Dusty’s loyalty bites us in the behind.  Harp isn’t always Mr. Clutch.  Instant replay can be correct and yet wrong for the game.

Oh…and for those Chicago Cubs fans who are itching to tell you how your team blew it…you’ve now become just like the insufferable Red Sox and Yankees fans.  Is that what you really want?  Memo to self…if the Nats ever do win a first round series in the playoffs or more, don’t gloat.  It is just a game. Behave like the Royals fans did during their recent run of excellence, and just thank the baseball gods that you got to have some fun.

Winter (and more) to come…

DJB

Clinch!

Nats vs Phillies

Nats win on Sunday to reduce their magic number to 1…for about 90 minutes

You never know when you draw a September day at the park in the season ticket package if the game you pick will be meaningful.  But around Friday, I realized that today’s game could be the one where the Nats clinch the 2017 National League East Division title.

I had tickets for Sunday at Nationals Park.  Nats vs. the Phillies.  And the magic number of National wins or Marlins losses was two!  Woo hoo!

Sarah, a colleague from work, joined me, and we laughed when we both  showed up in our 2012 East Division champions gear.  I told Candice as I left for the ballpark that I was wearing my hat for good luck, since I bought it the night they clinched that year when we were both at the park.  Candice replied, “Well good.  At least you won’t have to buy a new hat.”  She needn’t worry…I’m not buying any new playoff/championship gear until we get to a World Series.

Today sure was a fun day at the park.  Stephen Strasburg was brilliant through 8, extending a scoreless innings streak to capture a franchise record.  Trea Turner blasted a home run and a double and seems to be fully recovered from his broken wrist.  Top prospect Victor Robles drilled a ball off the outfield wall and before you could look up he was at third…unfortunately, he was motoring so fast, he slid past the bag.  Gotta love that rookie exuberance.  The 3-2 win happened in the blink of an eye, and the magic number was 1.

Nats roots for Braves

Nats fans gather in the lower bowl after the game to cheer for the Braves to beat the Marlins

But the Braves vs. Marlins game was only in the 7th inning, so we moved to the lower level to watch the next 90 minutes of that game on the big screen at Nats Park.  It looked hopeless when the Braves were down 2 runs in the 9th, but they made a comeback to send it to extra innings.  Finally in the 11th, the Braves had a two-run walk-off homer, and the partying began in Washington.

Nats fans and players celebrate

Nats players and their fans celebrate the National League East Division title

2012 was different because it was the first time for the Nats, but today was very satisfying.  The Nationals have been banged up this year, but youngsters kept plugging the holes and the team kept winning.  The bullpen has been rebuilt from the first half dumpster fire.  The regulars are starting to come back from injury.  And they just kept winning.

Teddy Celebrates Nats 2017 East Division Title by Sarah Heffern 09 10 17

2017 National League East Division Champions.  Sounds great.  Now, let’s go win in the playoffs.

More to come…

DJB

A Fine Week

BaseballBabe Ruth — when asked in 1930 why he made more money than President Herbert Hoover — replied, “But I had a better year than Hoover.”

I had a fine last week in July.  Much better than Donald Trump’s week, I hasten to add.

What made my week so special?  I went to two games at Nats Park, where the Nationals lost both games and looked pretty sleepy while doing so

But…

  1. The weather was clear and cool, with highs around 80 degrees and a light breeze adding to the perfect atmosphere.
  2. Ryan Zimmerman — in the midst of a monster comeback year — hit a home run on Tuesday night that gave him the lead for most career home runs by anyone playing for a Washington franchise.  (He passed Frank “Hondo” Howard for the honor.)
  3. Any day at the ballpark beats a day without a game.

And…

Family time at Nats Park

Family week at Nationals Park – first with Andrew on Tuesday and then with Claire the following Sunday

…oh yeah, Andrew and Claire each joined me for a game at the old yard.  With Claire in Washington for a month before heading back to graduate school, everyone has been around the house and we had the chance to catch a couple of games on the recent home stand.

One of the wonderful things I seem to have done as a dad is to have raised a couple of baseball fans.  This was Andrew’s fifth game of the season – four at Nats Park and one with Claire at Dodger Stadium in LA.  Claire just moved to Oakland, and what do you suppose she did for her first night in her new city?  Yep, went with a new roommate to see the A’s (a significant downgrade from the Dodgers, I must admit).  However, it was “Bark at the Park” night, so she got to see fans bring their dogs to the stadium and catch an A’s win.

Both took selfies after we found our seats in section 313, and soon I was all over Facebook.  Andrew was in a discussion with a mutual friend who was asking him to define “biggest” in his post about being at the game with the family’s biggest fan.  (Not funny.)  Claire posted that there was no one she would rather be at a game with…and then added that it didn’t have anything to do with the fact that I’d buy her beer.

Here I am on vacation, living the dream.  Any better way to spend three hours or so than with your son and/or daughter at the ballpark.  (That’s a trick question.) No!

Hope you get time to catch a few innings, savor a half smoke (all the way), and down an I.P.A. or two this summer with someone you love.

Play ball!

More to come…

DJB