Posts Tagged ‘baseball’

Rockies Souvenir

September 28, 2010

When baseball’s Colorado Rockies were new, I saved every scrap of paper associated with their exploits. Mostly there were articles on how badly they’d lost the day before, team photos, scorecards, giveaway baseball cards and pennants, ticket stubs, napkins, coasters, etc. It was all so new and exciting, and we were living in Denver, the center of it all.

So they were losing almost every game by 10 runs … so what? I’d grown up a Red Sox fan, something that in those World Championship-free days didn’t turn you into a cocky, obnoxious, gloating Red Sox Nation visitor to enemy ballparks. Nope, you were quiet and respectful if lucky enough to catch your boys at, say, Camden Yards, lest someone bring up the Curse of the Bambino.

Here’s my take on that in a comment I wrote at Patrick Smith’s Orioles blog on the subject for the very worthwhile Bugs & Cranks:

Right on, Smitty.

I grew up a Red Sox fan, but hate this garbage and skipped this weekend’s series in Baltimore because of that. I feel worst for the young O’s fans. If only more hometown fans showed up, these “Red Sox Nation” (ewwwww!) knuckleheads could maybe be taught the lesson on the etiquette of visiting an opponent’s stadium that I very nearly learned the hard way.

Got invited to Orchard Park in Buffalo for a Dolphins-Bills game (different sport, same moral, trust me). Can’t explain my Dolphins passion, but there you go. Anyway, it was late December, and somehow it was 75 degrees and sunny — honest to god — so I bought a Bills hat (only thing available) to shield my eyes and quietly and politely watched the Bills go up 24-0.

Then Marino got smoking hot, it was 24-21 in a flash, and I was yelling for the Fish.

And a gentleman behind me asked, very nicely under the circumstances, if he could please have my hat. As the entire section booed me and played frisbee with my “camouflage,” another nice fella poked me — you know, in a friendly way — and mentioned that if I didn’t stop being a butthole, I’d be asked — once — to find another part of the stadium, preferably the parking lot, from which to observe the remainder of the game.

Sniff! I still get choked up. They were so sweet to correct the error of my ways.

Now, when I’m at a visiting ballpark, I cheer the great plays of the home team. I cheer the great plays of the visitors (my team), and I don’t make a beautiful cathedral like Camden Yards a spittoon for my venom at not being cool, rich or connected enough to get into Fenway.

Maybe the O’s fans just need to form a few packs of wandering goons, um, I mean greeters, to help visitors better understand that they are guests, welcome … to keep their goddamn chants to themselves.

Just an idea.

Anyway, the anticipation for that first year of the Rockies was so great that I decided to join a season ticket group at the Rocky Mountain News, my employer then. Ten of us would share the tickets, with a draw of playing cards to determine who got Opening Day, and then who would pick games  in what order.

I drew an ace: Home opener. And, as the others scrambled to get into a game during the team’s first homestand, I grabbed the July 3 Fireworks Game vs. the Cubs — the second-most-sought-after ticket. And on we went. (Did I mention that there was a limited-edition print of Ryan Turner, the first player the Rockies ever signed, that went along with each set of season tickets? Separate drawing: I got a king. The print is on my wall at home.)

Well, between a losing team, flagging interest among our group of ticketholders who weren’t really diehard fans and work schedules for some of the nighttime workers at the newspaper, I went to something like 35 home games that inaugural year, 1993. To put that into perspective, I’d never been to more than three MLB games in one year before then. And Mary? God, she was such a good sport, probably making 20 games herself.

We moved to Baltimore right around Opening Day of the next year. My fellow season-ticket holders held a party, I’m sure. The Rockies paraphernalia came with us, and so did the affection for the team. There have been ups and downs, but all in all it’s been a great ride watching the Rox slowly and painfully put together a competitive team.

Charlie Hayes, Larry Walker, Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga (my favorite: thanks to a friend who attended his Man of the Year celebration, he signed a photo to me (in Spanish), “Steve, come back to Colorado. We miss you”), Walt Weiss, Eric Young … Todd Helton.

Look, even I gasped when the Colorado Rockies signed Todd Helton for way too many years and way too much money way too long ago.

And when I caught my breath, the Softball Coach simply smiled.

The only jersey he'll ever wear ... please.

OK, so Todd and the Softball Coach may worship at different churches, if you know what I’m saying. But there’s no denying what a great and stabilizing presence Helton’s been in the lineup.

Remember Todd and the Toddlers? Ouch. Bad times. One of those little ones was Troy Tulowitzki, the vocal leader the Rox have long wanted Helton to be. But even if Tulo had to find his voice on his own, he couldn’t have had a better lesson on how to play the game right than watching the old man.

Make no mistake: 2010 was a brutal season for Helton. Mediocrity at the plate, a little rust on the Gold Glove, very few moments when you figured, “We’re OK. Todd’s got this.”

Are his astonishing career numbers all a steroids mirage? I don’t know. Steroids don’t make you care as much as Helton cared, right? I’d like to think he was clean. That’s between him and his god — and endocrinologist and orthopedist — down the road.

As for us who adore him as a baseball player, we’ve got only so much more time to cheer his few remaining magic moments. I know every time the Softball Coach is at Coors Field — too rarely now — I root for his name to be in the lineup. And I know he still has about a zillion years on his contract (the Softball Coach exaggerates sometimes), but I hope to be there when they retire his number.

In purple.

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How ‘Bout Them Cubbies?

October 6, 2008

As the lone Red Sox fan in the newsroom, the Softball Coach was asked in 2004 by the Baltimore Sun to write a playoff-preview story about how it felt to get so close — or not so close — year after year without shedding the Curse of the Bambino.

Well, I wrote that it felt like garbage. That it never got easier or better. That I feared and dreaded to my soul that my dad would die without the Red Sox having won a championship in his lifetime.

I also wrote that I feared winning the championship almost as much as I feared losing again.

Anybody can be a Yankees fan, I reasoned, while it takes a special breed to stay faithful to the teasing, bumbling, luckless BoSox. Would being a Red Sox fan become nothing more than loving a front-runner?

Ahem.

So here we are. Feeling sorry for Cubs fans … again. More hopes dashed. Swept out of the playoffs by the Dodgers, of all teams. Now, a century without a ring. The Red Sox hadn’t won one since 1918.

Now, they’ve got two World Championship rings, and everywhere you go, at least one guy’s wearing a Red Sox cap, weathered by rubbing it against cement or whatever so that it looks 50 years old. “Hey, I’ve been a fan since the beginning. Yup. Born and bred.”

And the Softball Coach looks at Johnny Come Lately and thinks: “Why, I oughtta slap that hat off your head.”

But it’s too late. The Red Sox are winners. Everybody likes a winner. And nobody wants to look like they just joined the party (even if they did).

So, cheer up, Cubs fans. So you lost again. You got to see some great baseball at a great ballpark this season. And there are so many great things to do in Chicago to pass the time until 2009. Rejoice that you live in a great place.

And the next time somebody asks how it feels to have gone a whole century without winning a World Series, tell them it’s fine. The beer’s cold, the sun’s warm and the hot dogs are awesome. The blues clubs stay open until 4 a.m.

And a Cubs logo would look horrible on a pink hat anyway.

Vlad the Impaled

October 2, 2008

Many of us have been in Vladimir Guerrero’s cleats, so it should be a lot harder to ride the guy for the baserunning brainlock he suffered in Game 1 of the Angels-Red Sox playoff series. But …

OK, his was a potentially multimillion-dollar mistake and mine cost me probably a beer. Stay with me here.

Vlad’s on first. Bloop over first baseman’s head. Guerrero, channeling the freakishly fast Vlad of his youth, turns second and heads screaming (in his mind, anyway) for third base. The throw beats him there by a stinking mile, killing a potential rally. Ouch. Angles lose, 4-1.

Oh, and did we mention that the third base coach was hollering and waving to get Vlad to stop at second base?

“Vladdy being Vladdy,” teammate Torii Hunter was quoted as saying, which, to those of us who’ve followed the career of one Manny Ramirez, quickly translates to: “Geez, what a dope!”

True story: We’d made the playoffs after several seasons in the cellar. Single elimination. Your Softball Coach was the leadoff hitter — and an aggressive baserunner who hadn’t been thrown out at second, third or home all season. Heck, I’d stolen home on an appeal play when the pitcher lollypopped the throw to first base. I’d seen him do that in an earlier game against another team. Just like I’d seen our current opponent’s centerfielder lob throws back to the infield. So, fly ball to deep center, the Softball Coach tagging at first, knowing he can make it to second and determined that, if the CF makes a lazy throw, he’s taking third, too.

Softy being Softy. Out by a mile and three quarters.

The shortstop had a cannon for an arm — yeah, I’d seen that before, too (my bad) — that more than made up for the outfielder’s gaffe. Rally dead. On the bench, my teammates’ shoulders slumped. The game was far from over, but we were toast.

“Good try,” a teammate called to me, which translates to: “Geez, you’re an idiot.”

My recklessness on the basepaths had of course helped get us to the playoffs, but …

Tell it to Vlad. Or Bill Buckner, whose MVP-caliber year in 1986 went right through his legs. Or Mitch Williams, who served up a World Series-losing gopher ball to Joe Carter in 1983 after saving 43 games for Philly that year. Or Ryan Dempster, who lost his rhythm — or his mind — last night and walked the bases loaded with a 2-0 lead, then gave up a grand slam as Cubs fans collapsed. Dempster had been about unbeatable at Wrigley Field during the regular season.

What can you do but buy your own beer … and suck it up.

Symbolic Gesture

September 25, 2008

Editor’s note: A version of this entry appeared a while back in my blog on letterpress printing. I thought I’d share it again here with a different audience just for grins.

Go ahead, put an asterisk next to the Softball Coach’s name in the record books.

I’ll do it for you: Softball Coach.*

Feel better? Me too. In fact, I’ve rarely felt as strongly** about an issue.

Really, people. Leave the asterisk alone. How did such a magnificent old typesetter’s symbol come to represent everything negative?

How soon we forget. The asterisk has always stood for added value. Think about it: An asterisk whispers of even more great stuff to come later. Present but never pushy. Always helpful. “Don’t stop reading on my account, for I’d hate to interrupt the author’s brilliant prose. But when next we meet, I’ll provide a little more detail or context.”

Now we’ve got a presidential candidate (John McCain***) and a fashion designer (Marc Ecko****) insisting that a baseball player (Barry Bonds*****) has done something so anti-American, so egregious and evil that only an asterisk can capture its rottenness.******

Barry Bonds may have made a Faustian deal in exchange for baseball greatness. It looks bad. And people are starting to go to prison over this whole steroids thing. The asterisk, meanwhile, has done nothing but serve mankind. Why, then, should these two be forever linked?

Just had to get that off my chest.*******

*Note: The Softball Coach is not currently listed in any record book.

** The Softball Coach does not use steroids.

*** Some day just a footnote in human history, as we all shall be.

**** Ditto.

***** Squared.

****** The Softball Coach does not condone cheating in any fashion.

******* Again, unenhanced by human growth hormone (but I guess you knew that — didn’t mean to intrude).