Something Smells Fishy in Seabrook

Over the past couple of weeks the city of Seabrook, TX , as well as other neighboring cities, have dealt with the lingering effects of a fish kill along the shores of Galveston Bay.

While there is always a certain sea faring odor associated with living along the water, it is usually a salty aroma that makes one want to read Ernest Hemingway novels in a smoking jacket wearing a captain’s hat while eating black licorice rope and sipping iced tea while Nat the lighthouse keeper helps guide the ships safely to port.

A recent fish kill along Galveston Bay has been a little less "Hemingway" and a lot more "Silence of the cod" lately. Photo R. Anderson

A recent fish kill along Galveston Bay has been a little less “Hemingway” and a lot more “Silence of the cod” lately.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course even Nat and Papa Joe himself would have turned their noses at the smell of thousands of dead bait fish washed upon the shore.

According to Texas Parks and Wildlife officials the fish kill is likely being caused by low oxygen levels in the water which can be caused by many naturally occurring things such as algae blooms and other factors that make it hard for the fish to “breathe” under water.

In an official statement released by the city of Seabrook residents were notified that the region’s Kills and Spills Team (KAST) was on top of the situation and that fishing was discouraged in areas where fish carcasses have accumulated due to health concerns.

I can only speak for myself but usually the sight of thousands of dead fish “carcasses” in a given area is pretty much going to discourage me from fishing there without needing to have the city tell me.

Of course while there is never a good time for a fish kill, having one during Memorial Day weekend makes the fine folks at the local tourism office a little squeamish as they try to kick off the summer tourism season.

The waters of Galveston Bay are churning with more than just shrimp boats lately with the arrival of several thousand dead fish washing up on the shore. Photo R. Anderson

The waters of Galveston Bay are churning with more than just shrimp boats lately with the arrival of several thousand dead fish washing up on the shore.
Photo R. Anderson

With seaweed of biblical proportion washing up a bit further to the south there really are no odor free beaches and waterways for one to visit for the time being.

Of course in time nature will takes its course and the salty Hemingway smells will once again return to the shores as the numbers of dead fish and seaweed subside.

While the fish kill is currently limited to mostly smaller fish time will tell if larger fish in the food chain will start to die off with so many of their food sources killed off. As the animated lion and his friends taught me through song, it is all part of the circle of life.

Speaking of fish kills and singing lions, there is a similar circle of life within the ranks of professional baseball where each big fish club is only as strong has its minnows, err Minor League clubs.

Major League Baseball teams like the Tampa Bay Rays depend on a strong Farm system to survive. When the smaller clubs suffer the big club feels the pain which is similar to how the big fish feel during a fish kill ala the circle of life. Photo R. Anderson

Major League Baseball teams like the Tampa Bay Rays depend on a strong Farm system to survive. When the smaller clubs suffer the big club feels the pain which is similar to how the big fish feel during a fish kill ala the circle of life.
Photo R. Anderson

Teams with a healthy level of oxygen and prospects throughout the system tend to thrive while the clubs with a weaker farm system tend to flounder.

Much like seasonal fish kills the ebbs and flows of the haves and have nots in baseball also seem to be cyclical with each team rising and falling with the tides depending on how strong their farm systems are.

The good news for fans of teams such as the Astros, and others who are in rebuilding mode, is that while the product on the field at times may stink during the rebuilding years it never affects the noses of fans in the same way that thousands of dead bait fish will do.

Of course is one ever happens to see a Kills and Spills Team visit their Ballpark odds are the situation is a bit more serious than first thought and it might be time for a fan to “fish” elsewhere for awhile.

Residents along Galveston Bay anxiously await a return to a more fragrant experience full of licorice and lighthouses. Photo R. Anderson

Residents along Galveston Bay anxiously await a return to a more fragrant experience full of licorice and lighthouses.
Photo R. Anderson

So while the residents along Galveston Bay will have to wait a little longer to don those smoking jackets and break into the licorice at least they know that the fish are sure to disappear one way or the other eventually.

Until then the birds will continue to swarm all over the free Golden Gill buffet while residents can stay indoors with the windows closed and watch some baseball.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check the seals on the windows since the direction of the wind just shifted.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Memorial Day is Time to Honor and Remember

Today is Memorial Day which is a United States Federal Holiday that occurs each year on the final Monday of May.

It is a day of remembrance and a time to honor the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

The Battle of Galveston is reenacted yearly. The Civil War led to what would become Memorial Day. Photo R. Anderson

The Battle of Galveston is reenacted yearly. The Civil War led to what would become Memorial Day.
Photo R. Anderson

Formerly known as Decoration Day, it originated after the United States Civil War to honor soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line who lost their lives in battle.

Memorial Day was expanded in the last century to honor all Americans who have died while in the military service.

While dating back to the war between the states, in recent years Memorial Day has also marked the start of the summer vacation season with Labor Day acting as the second bookend in September to signal the end of the summer season.

Over the course of the past weekend families traveled all over to enjoy time in the sun and surf as they officially left winter behind and embraced the feeling of summer.

This year around the shores of Galveston County the outdoor celebrations of Memorial Day weekend included the added sights and smells of shores lined with seaweed and dead fish.

Memorial Day is a time to honor those who fought and died for our freedom. Photo R. Anderson

Memorial Day is a time to honor those who fought and died for our freedom.
Photo R. Anderson

As part of the holiday weekend, numerous television networks used the time to air marathons of their most popular shows to capture the attention of those viewers who were not out in the sun catching waves or barbecuing as their way of celebrating the weekend.

As with most other holiday weekends, Memorial Day also becomes a time when advertisers discount everything from dishwashers to pickup trucks in an attempt to rake in the dollars and lure shoppers into their establishments.

Large flags and camoflauge hats will mark Memorial Day across Major League Baseball today. Photo R. Anderson

Large flags and camouflage hats will mark Memorial Day across Major League Baseball today.
Photo R. Anderson

Major League Baseball will honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice by wearing camouflage on their hats and uniforms during their games today.

And of course in keeping with true American capitalist values that tend to come to light during holiday weekends, versions of those hats and jerseys are available for purchase by the general public.

Of course, not every Memorial Day tribute includes direct commercial time-ins.

There is one Memorial Day tradition that still tends to get me choked up and seems to honor the fallen in the way the holiday was intended if not with a bit of a 21st Century feel.

I am referring to the Memorial Day Weekend NASCAR race. Each year the pre-race show includes a strong military presence, bagpipers, and Taps being played.

NASCAR has a long history of supporting the troops and offers a stirring tribute before its annual Memorial Day Race. Photo R. Anderson

NASCAR has a long history of supporting the troops and offers a stirring tribute before its annual Memorial Day Race.
Photo R. Anderson

NASCAR is arguably the most commercialized of the major American sports with advertisements seeming to cover every spare square inch of both driver and car. But, when it comes to pausing to honor the troops they tend to get it right year after year.

It is hard not to feel the sacrifice that was being made when watching the pre-race ceremony and hearing those bag pipes and lone bugle mournfully wail.

Of course the part where they roll out the extremely large American flag, a staple of most sporting events these days, is another nice touch.

Americans owe their freedom to the sacrifice made by countless soldiers and I am glad that we have holidays, and pre-race ceremonies where we can be reminded of that.

Unfortunately, I fear that in the coming years the commercial aspects of holidays like Memorial Day will overtake the true meanings behind them.

Instead of being a time where Americans all pause to remember the sacrifices made by those that came before them, I fear that the holiday will complete its transformation into a holiday where travelers merely focus on the cars before them as they rush to their weekend getaways, or catch up on those projects that the extra day off from work allows them to finally tackle.

Ceremonial pitches honoring the troops and first responders. Photo R. Anderson

Ceremonial pitches honoring the troops and first responders.
Photo R. Anderson

So while you are enjoying that extra day off of work, or grilling some meat on the grill, or even grilling your flesh on the sand today, take some time to think of the sacrifice of the fallen soldiers.

It is often said that freedom isn’t free and that it comes at a great cost. Days like Memorial Day allow us to remember that cost and appreciate the freedom a little more.

If you happen to come across a member of the Armed Forces today in your travels to and from the beach or that store with the huge sale on mattresses take a moment to tell them thanks for doing their part to keep us free to enjoy those sandy shores and have the means to purchase that mattress with 90 days same as cash financing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the urge to cook something on an open flame and see if I can find a solider to thank for my right to make that burger extra crispy.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Baseballs are Pretty Basic but Spark Fantastic Memories

On the surface, and even down to their core, baseballs are pretty basic items.

Start with a cork core, add two thin rubber wrappings, cover with about 370 yards of wool yarn in varied thickness and color, adhere a cover of white cowhide with rubber cement and hand stitch exactly 216 times with 88 inches of red thread and one has a completed baseball.

On the surface there is nothing really special about a baseball's individual parts. Once those parts are assembled though a baseball can have a life of its own and can be highly sought after. Photo R. Anderson

On the surface there is nothing really special about a baseball’s individual parts. Once those parts are assembled though a baseball can have a life of its own and can be highly sought after.
Photo R. Anderson

The cork-cored ball was introduced around 1910 and standardized the way baseballs were made. Very few modifications have been made to the design in the 104 years since.

Of course the simplistic breakdown of a baseball does not really convey the role that they play in the culture of the game.

Pitchers try their best to make a baseball move in ways that trick the batters while the batters are looking for that one perfect pitch to hit out of the park.

The battle over control of the baseball between pitchers and batters lies at the very cork core of the game of baseball itself.

Of course not all interactions with baseballs occur between a pitcher and a batter.

Recently two examples of interaction with baseballs within a Ballpark showed how they can be much more than the sum of their parts in the eyes of the beholder.

Our first example takes us to Pensacola, Florida and Bayfront Stadium home of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos of the Southern League.

Last Thursday night before a game against the Jacksonville Suns Pensacola Blue Wahoos catcher Ross Perez was called upon to catch the ceremonial first pitch.

On the surface a catcher being asked to take part in the opening pitch is really nothing out of the ordinary as they are often called upon to partake in opening ceremonies.

What made this particular first pitch different was the person throwing it.

Recently the Pensacola Blue Wahoos hosted a father/son first pitch. Photo R. Anderson

Recently the Pensacola Blue Wahoos hosted a father/son first pitch.
Photo R. Anderson

Perez was surprised to discover that the person throwing the pitch was his father who had come all the way from Venezuela in a surprise visit.

Making the moment more special for the father and son was the fact that the elder Perez had never had seen his son play a professional baseball game.

So a baseball made of basic materials helped a father and son from Venezuela connect on a Florida baseball diamond.

The second example of the power of a baseball came from Arlington, Texas and the Ballpark of the Texas Rangers.

In this particular instance a young male fan received a ball during the game and then proceeded to give it to a woman sitting behind him.

Of course the chivalrous act was caught on camera and the fan had his 15 minutes of fame for giving the ball away.

A closer look at the exchange revealed that a decoy ball caught during batting practice was given to the girl while the young man kept the game ball.

It is fairly common for fans to use decoy balls and this particular fan’s sleight of hand was the sort of thing that would put Penn and Teller to shame.

Ceremonial pitches such as J.J. Watt's during the season opener of the Houston Astros last year have been a part of the baseball landscape for decades but sometimes they can take on a deeper meaning. Photo R. Anderson

Ceremonial pitches such as J.J. Watt’s during the season opener of the Houston Astros last year have been a part of the baseball landscape for decades but sometimes they can take on a deeper meaning.
Photo R. Anderson

So while the ball given to the “cute girl” was not the actual game ball it is still a nice gesture but it also shows the power of a baseball and the desire to keep the real thing.

These are just two examples of baseballs creating lasting memories and opportunities inside Ballparks.

There are countless more that occur every night in Ballparks of every shape and size. In fact during the time it takes to read this article it is likely that several such baseball memories have occurred somewhere in the world.

Individually the pieces of a baseball are nothing special but when something as simple as cork and twine wrapped in cow hide is put together they become almost magical under the right circumstances.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about cow hide has me craving a juicy cheeseburger with some Heinz 57 and perhaps even some french fried potatoes.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Brevard County Manatees Would Swim Inland Under Winter Park Proposal

Recently it was announced that the City of Winter Park, Fla., the Brevard County Manatees, and Rollins College had reached a tentative deal to bring the minor league baseball team to Winter Park, beginning with the 2016 season.

The Brevard County Manatees are a member of the Florida State League and a Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Space Coast Stadium in Brevard County, Florida may be without its two biggest tenants in 2016 if the Manatees and Nationals leave for greener pastures. Photo R. Anderson

Space Coast Stadium in Brevard County, Florida may be without its two biggest tenants in 2016 if the Manatees and Nationals leave for greener pastures.
Photo R. Anderson

Under the proposal the current Rollins College Ballpark, Alfond Stadium, would be torn down and replaced by a 2,500 seat minor league stadium which Rollins College and the Manatees would share.

Total cost of the project to be divvied up by the public and private sectors is said to be about $33 million and would include a Ballpark and parking garage.

Winter Park City Manager Randy Knight was quoted by several Orlando media outlets as saying that the fact that Orlando is the largest metro area in the nation without a professional baseball team played a role in the city’s decision to pursue a team.

After hosting Minor League Baseball since early in the 20th Century, the Orlando region was left without a Minor League Baseball team when the Double-A Southern League Orlando Rays relocated to Montgomery, Alabama and were renamed the Biscuits following the 2003 season.

The Brevard COunty Manatees, the Florida State League Class A Milwaukee Brewers farm team have a preliminary deal in place to move to Winter Park, Florida beginning in 2016. Photo R. Anderson

The Brevard COunty Manatees, the Florida State League Class A Milwaukee Brewers farm team have a preliminary deal in place to move to Winter Park, Florida beginning in 2016.
Photo R. Anderson

Without a team to call their own baseball fans in Orlando were left with hour long road trips to either Brevard County or Daytona if they wanted to catch a game.

While few people would argue on the surface that returning Minor League Baseball to the Orlando market is a good idea there are two sides to every relocation.

On the positive side of the coin the Orlando area would gain a new team and Ballpark to fill summer nights with the sounds and smells of baseball.

The negative side of the coin would be that Brevard County’s Space Coast Stadium to the east would lose their summer tenant on top of the likely loss of their Spring Training tenant the Washington Nationals.

Without a regular team calling it home Space Coast Stadium could fall into disrepair and meet the wrecking ball which is a fate that has befallen many Ballparks before it when they lost their professional tenant.

Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals Spring Training days in Space Coast Stadium may be numbered. Photo R. Anderson

Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals Spring Training days in Space Coast Stadium may be numbered.
Photo R. Anderson

While there was a movement to save historic Tinker Field despite it never being able to host baseball games again there are no such historic memories attached to the newer Space Coast Stadium.

In a perfect world there would be room for both cities to have a team but the fact remains that much like those sword wielding immortals from the Highlander, there can be only one.

Brevard County is likely to try to fight hard to keep both the Nationals and the Manatees as tenants inside Space Coast Stadium for many years to come through various incentives as several studies have shown the economic benefits of having the teams play there.

For years the Brevard County Manatees have given their fans much entertainment with each ticket. Soon fans along the Space Coast may have to travel inland to catch their team. Photo R. Anderson

For years the Brevard County Manatees have given their fans much entertainment with each ticket. Soon fans along the Space Coast may have to travel inland to catch their team.
Photo R. Anderson

However,with the current economics of baseball and the desire to treat Ballparks like disposal commodities it may prove to be a losing proposition to keep the teams in the 17-year-old Ballpark.

Under the current plan construction would be in 2015 with the team moving over a year later which would be just shy of Space Coast Stadium’s 20th Anniversary season.

Wherever the Manatees end up for the 2016 season they will likely still entertain the fans with the various aspects of Minor League Baseball that have entertained families for generations.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have the urge to take part in some dizzy bat.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Breaking down Tracy McGrady’s Professional Pitching Debut

As noted on Monday former NBA star Tracy McGrady took the mound for his regular season professional baseball debut last Saturday for the Sugar Land Skeeters.         

While McGrady’s pitching line of 1 2/3 innings, 35 pitches (18 strikes/17 balls), 2 earned runs, 2 walks and a home run by Somerset Patriots shortstop Edwin Maysonet certainly does not sound like a Hall of Fame effort at first glance it is certainly notable in so much as it is not every day that someone goes pro in a second sport.

McGrady earned two NBA scoring titles and seven All-Star Game appearances during his first professional sports career.

Tracy McGrady made his professional baseball debut last Saturday for the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson

Tracy McGrady made his professional baseball debut last Saturday for the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

While McGrady spent 16 years in the NBA honing his basketball skills, the 34-year-old had not played organized baseball since high school.

Prior to Saturday’s game McGrady had just one inning of spring training work against Alvin Community College under his belt so he is obviously still green when it comes to baseball.

Speaking of green the Skeeters very well could be sitting on a promotional gold mine based on the sellout crowd on hand to watch the 1 2/3 innings of work.

Granted many of the fans arrived after McGrady’s debut had ended but if his outings get longer or the fans arrive earlier it very well could be win-win for all involved.

While I am not saying that the McGrady experiment is solely a money making promotional gimmick it is hard to forget that a 50-year-old Roger Clemens was sent to the mound in the team’s first season to drum up awareness of the new kid in town.

While many could question the long-term feasibility of McGrady as a pitcher, Sugar Land Skeeters manager Gary Gaetti stated in a post-game interview that he was sticking with McGrady as a starting pitcher.

Former Houston Astro turned Somerset Patriots shortstop Edwin Maysonet  (#12) collects his bat after rounding the bases on a foul pole rattling home run given up by Tracy McGrady Saturday night as Koby Clemens and the Skeeters dugout look on. Photo R. Anderson

Former Houston Astro turned Somerset Patriots shortstop Edwin Maysonet (#12) collects his bat after rounding the bases on a foul pole rattling home run given up by Tracy McGrady Saturday night as Koby Clemens and the Skeeters dugout look on.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course most managers prefer their starters to go until at least the sixth inning before making the call to the bullpen so clearly there is some work to be done there in terms of increasing McGrady’s pitch count while increasing his results.

Time will tell if he makes as big of an impact on the baseball scene once he works out some issues with his mechanics.

Personally I would love to see McGrady succeed in his professional baseball career.

While not all of us our multimillionaire former NBA stars with high name recognition, we all have dreams beyond our current jobs or other situations in life.

And if a 34-year-old retiree can chase his dreams it brings hope for the rest of us in terms of finding that next chapter to get out of whatever rut we find ourselves in.

The team has not yet announced McGrady’s next start but I am fairly certain that they will try to tweak the rotation to ensure that all of his starts occur during home games to help maximize the crowds and the aforementioned green.

It is even highly possible that McGrady has contract language similar to what Roger Clemens had with the Astros where he does not even travel with the team on road trips.

Tracy McGrady’s pitching line from his professional baseball debut is 1 2/3 innings, 35 pitches (18 strikes/17 balls), 2 earned runs, 2 walks and a home run.  Photo R. Anderson

Tracy McGrady’s pitching line from his professional baseball debut is 1 2/3 innings, 35 pitches (18 strikes/17 balls), 2 earned runs, 2 walks and a home run.
Photo R. Anderson

While I do not know if that is the case I would certainly hope that McGrady is traveling with the team and getting the full Minor League Baseball experience. Taking the bus rides alongside his teammates would certainly be a good team bonding experience and just might make them run after his wild pitches and other miscues on the mound a little bit faster.

And while giving up a home run in your professional debut is certainly not something that any pitcher wants to do McGrady can take solace in the fact that the foul pole hitting shot came off of a former Major Leaguer instead of a college kid during spring training.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go work on my curve ball in case the Skeeters need a thirty something left handed specialist to come in and mop up in the late innings.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Making Arnold Palmers out of Life’s Lemons

It has been said in one form or another since the early 20th Century that when one is handed lemons by life the best reaction is to turn those lemons into lemonade.

Of course, I have also always felt that when life hands you both lemons and tea leaves the best course of action is to make an iced tea lemonade drink named after a certain famous professional golfer.

After a recent last minute cancellation of a planned trip to Italy I was provided with enough lemons and tea leaves to make gallons upon gallons of delicious Arnold Palmers.

When life hands one lemons and tea leaves the best course of action is to make and Arnold Palme, also known as a "half and half" in some circles. Photo R. Anderson

When life hands one lemons and tea leaves the best course of action is to make and Arnold Palmer, also known as a “half and half” in some circles.
Photo R. Anderson

But instead of drinking myself into an Arnie induced sugar coma, I figured I would be a bit more productive with my new found, and completely unexpected week at home.

While the area around Galveston Bay in Texas certainly does not offer the majestic views of the Italian Alps, there is no shortage of activities to keep oneself occupied this time of year.

From music festivals to festivals celebrating cultures and food from around the world the weekends offer a plethora of things to do.

There is of course also the plentiful Houston sports scene for one to take part in as well.

The tricky part is deciding which festival or sporting event is worth attending among the many choices.

One of the main criteria I used for planning the weekend was trying to pick activities to represent an All-American holiday road to replace my Clark Griswald European vacation.

With the parameters in place I decided that I would begin my non-European weekend with some good old American muscle in the form of a Chevrolet Camaro show.

My All-American try not to think about Italy weekend started with a circle of Camaros. Photo R. Anderson

My All-American try not to think about Italy weekend started with a circle of Camaros.
Photo R. Anderson

While I have always tended to be more of a Mustang and Firebird type of guy I can certainly appreciate the history of the Camaro and its lasting impact on the American car scene.

I can also confess to shedding a few tears for those priceless corvettes that fell victim to the sinkhole in Kentucky earlier this year so my love of cars stretches beyond Mustangs and Firebrds and does allow room for Chevrolets.

I was a little disappointed at the lack of older Camaros at the car show as most of the cars had the exact same body style give or take.

After getting my fill of muscle cars my next all-American adventure came in the form of a trip to Dairy Queen for tacos, onion rings and soft serve.

But while the Camaro viewing and carnivorous treats were nice the icing on my All-American Arnold Palmer sipping Saturday was of course attending the regular season pitching debut of former NBA star turned professional baseball player for the Sugar Land Skeeters, Tracy McGrady.

While it certainly is conceivable that I could have found at least one Camaro and some onion rings in Italy, I definitely would have missed seeing the game in person had my original plans not fallen through.

Adding to the excitement of a trip to the Ballpark was the fact that it was Cajun Night which meant crawfish and Mardi Gras beads which are two things that definitely would have been in short supply in Italy.

Brisket and Dr. Pepper was next on the menu for the All-American weekend. Photo R. Anderson

Brisket and Dr. Pepper was next on the menu for the All-American weekend.
Photo R. Anderson

I opted out of the crawfish though and went with an All-American beef barbecue plate with a Dr. Pepper upon arriving at the Ballpark while trying not to think about how far across the Atlantic Ocean I was supposed to be at that particular point in time.

With a belly full of beef and sides I made my way to my seat and prepared to watch a retired basketball player play baseball.

Judging by the amount of people wearing Tracy McGrady jerseys I was not alone in wanting to see his debut.

After all it is not every day that a retired NBA player decides to become a professional baseball player.

Tracy McGrady's professional baseball regular season debut consisted of 38 pitches in one and two thirds innings of work and two runs allowed. Photo R. Anderson

Tracy McGrady’s professional baseball regular season debut consisted of 38 pitches in one and two thirds innings of work and two runs allowed.
Photo R. Anderson

The debut performance went about as well as one could expect it would be for someone facing their first professional baseball appearance.

While it was announced prior to the game that McGrady would be on a strict pitch count I doubt that the team figured that he would be pulled after giving up two runs in one and two thirds innings of work.

Tracy McGrady made is regular season professional baseball debut when he start on the mound for the Sugar Land Skeeters Saturday. Photo R. Anderson

Tracy McGrady made is regular season professional baseball debut when he start on the mound for the Sugar Land Skeeters Saturday.
Photo R. Anderson

I feel bad for the fans who arrived late to the game as the debut was over before many of the announced sellout crowd arrived.

Just as it is too soon to throw in the towel on the Tracy McGrady baseball experiment after a single start it is also too soon to call it a success.

Points to be made on both sides of that argument will be looked at more on Wednesday.

But regardless of the length of his debut or whatever happens next Tracy McGrady can call himself a professional baseball player.

Tracy McGrady had 18 of his 38 pitches count as strikes during his professional baseball debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters. Photo R. Anderson

Tracy McGrady had 18 of his 38 pitches count as strikes during his professional baseball debut with the Sugar Land Skeeters.
Photo R. Anderson

While I would be lying if I said that I was not disappointed to have my Italian getaway yanked away from me at the last minute I must admit that my All-American weekend was not too shabby.

Plus, as my mom was quick to point out my trip falling apart meant that I would have the opportunity to visit her on Mother’s Day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about lemons and tea has me a little thirsty. I wonder what I can find around here to drink.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Baseball’s Beasts of the East

This week the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays faced off in an American League East battle.

Before that it was the New York Yankees and the Rays facing off.

After all of the inter division dust settled the margin between the first place Orioles and the last place Rays was a mere three and a half games.

The Baltimore Orioles currently sit atop the American League East standings where only three games separate first from fifth place. Photo R. Anderson

The Baltimore Orioles currently sit atop the American League East standings where only three games separate first from fifth place.
Photo R. Anderson

The order of teams in the division is likely to change many times between now and the end of the regular season with the Rays, Red Sox, Orioles, Yankees and Blue Jays each having a legitimate shot to win the division when all is said and done.

The same can be said in the National League East where only three games separate the tied for first place Miami Marlins and Washington Nationals from the last place Philadelphia Phillies.

As is the case in the American League East, each of the five National League East teams, Marlins, Nationals, Phillies, Braves, and Mets should feel pretty good about their postseason chances at this point in the season.

While the beasts in the east are all within striking distance of each other things get a little more spread out for teams west of the Mighty Mississippi.

The American League Central has a 6.5 game spread between the first place Detroit Tigers and fifth place Minnesota Twins. In fact the Tigers have a 4.5 game cushion over the second place Chicago White Sox.

The Washington Nationals are currently tied for first place in the National League East with the Miami Marlins in a division that also has three games separating the top from the bottom of the standings. Photo R. Anderson

The Washington Nationals are currently tied for first place in the National League East with the Miami Marlins in a division that also has three games separating the top from the bottom of the standings.
Photo R. Anderson

Out in the American League West the margin stretches to nine games from the first place Oakland Athletics to the fifth place Houston Astros.

In the National League, both the Central and West Divisions have a 9.5 game margin between first and fifth place.

This snapshot of the standings shows once again how the most competitive divisions in baseball reside along the Atlantic coast. But the question remains what is it about those 10 teams that makes them so good year after year?

One could make the argument that much of baseball started with the east coast teams and the fact that they are still competitive could be in direct result of their longevity as franchises.

While it is true that the bulk of the teams in the East Divisions have long histories that does not account for the three World Series appearances by the relatively young Florida based teams.

Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball the Tampa Bay Rays manage to stay competitive year after year in one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball proving that money cannot always buy wins. Photo R. Anderson

Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball the Tampa Bay Rays manage to stay competitive year after year in one of the toughest divisions in Major League Baseball proving that money cannot always buy wins.
Photo R. Anderson

The Rays have one World Series appearance ending in a loss and the Marlins won their two trips to the October Classic proving that age is not the only driving factor when it comes to success in the east.

With length of franchise existence ruled out as the driving factor behind the success in the East one might be tempted to say payroll is the key to what makes baseball on the East coast so much more competitive than the western counterparts.

While it is certainly true that the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies are not shy about spending money to sign players, the current teams atop the National League East and American League East, the Marlins and Orioles respectively, have some of the lowest payrolls in baseball.

Additionally the Tampa Bay Rays have shown year after year that they can be competitive despite a payroll that is a fraction of the size of some of the big spenders in the division.

So one cannot use history or finances to point to as reasons behind the competitive balance in the Eastern Divisions of Major League Baseball.

A third possible reason behind the success of the Eastern Division franchises that could be pointed to by some is the proximity of the teams to each other that leads to heated rivalries.

While it is true that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees have proximity as well as a heated rivalry that has spanned over a century there are rivalries in all divisions in Major League Baseball so the Eastern Division teams cannot claim a monopoly on that reason either.

In the final analysis one cannot really point to why the 10 Eastern Division teams seem so much more evenly matched than the other 20 teams in baseball.

Sometimes there are not simple answers for things.

One does not need to know how exactly it is that the Earth spins down to the molecular level to appreciate that it prevents people from floating off into outer space any more than one needs to know the complete formula for the success the teams in the Eastern Divisions.

Sometimes in life it is just best to enjoy the resulting sausage without having to see how it was made, and right now there is some very tasty sausage being made in the American and National League East Divisions.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am suddenly craving some bratwurst for some reason.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Jeter Farewell Tour Hits a Slump

As the Derek Jeter Farewell tour rolls into its second month the namesake of the tour finds himself in a bit of a hitting slump.

Of course slumps in baseball are part of the game. So the fact that Derek Jeter is in one, on the surface, is no cause for concern.

Below the surface however trouble is lurking in the form of how to handle an extended slump.

While benching players in a slump is commonplace, how does one bench a player in the middle of a Farewell Tour without ruffling the feathers of the fans who have paid their money for one last look at the Captain of the Yankees?

The Derek Jeter Farewell Tour and gift giving kicked off at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros. Other teams may not feel so giving if Jeter does not suit up when he gets to their towns. Photo R. Anderson

The Derek Jeter Farewell Tour and gift giving kicked off at Minute Maid Park against the Houston Astros. Other teams may not feel so giving if Jeter does not suit up when he gets to their towns.
Photo R. Anderson

In recent days the manager of the Yankees, Joe Girardi, (who also was a teammate of Jeter’s) has been asked by various media outlets about the possibility of benching Jeter or moving him down to the bottom of the batting order if his production at the plate does not improve.

While Girardi responded by saying that every option remains on the table, to date Jeter is still in the lineup most days trying to hit his way out of the slump while the Yankees have dropped a couple of games to division opponents.

Benching Jeter is certainly within the purview of a manager to do but will added pressure be brought to ensure that Derek Jeter plays in each of the cities on the tour?

Last year during the Mariano Rivera Farewell tour Rivera decided to not play during a visit to play the Houston Astros since he wanted his last memories of the mound to be when Jeter and Andy Pettitte came to take him out of his last game at Yankee Stadium.

While many in attendance at Minute Maid Park were certainly disappointed to not have the opportunity to see Mariano play, as the chorus of boos rocking the rafters when each pitcher not named Mariano Rivera came out of the Yankees’ bullpen demonstrated, in hindsight one can certainly respect Rivera’s wishes.

Of course Rivera only had to be on for one to two innings a game so he faced less pressure than the expectation for Jeter to be on the field for nine innings a game.

There will be people in each of the remaining cites on the farewell tour that will have purchased their tickets with the sole purpose of seeing Jeter play one last time.

While the time may come this season when benching a slumping Jeter is in the best interests of the Yankees as a whole there will likely be more Ballparks filled with booing fans in the event that Jeter does not take the field during his final visits to each city.

Derek Jeter is certainly not the first athlete to falter down the stretch during their careers.

In fact, comparisons to Jeter’s current slump and that of a former NASCAR driver on his “victory tour” can certainly be made.

NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip, like Derek Jeter had trouble knowing when to call it a career. Photo R. Anderson

NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip, like Derek Jeter had trouble knowing when to call it a career.
Photo R. Anderson

In 2000 Darrell Waltrip entered what was to be his final year as a race car driver in a season dubbed his “Victory Tour.”

With full sponsorship from a “big box” retailer and a marketing campaign to boot, the Victory Tour begin with all of the brashness and pomp that one had come to expect from the driver nicknamed “Jaws.”

While few drivers could compete with Waltrip during his prime, the fact remained that the 2000 season was far from DW’s prime as a driver.

In fact, by the time Waltrip’s Victory Tour rolled around it had been eight years since the three-time series champion had been to victory lane.

Waltrip had to use a Champion’s Provisional to qualify for most of the races and when those dried up there were many races that he failed to qualify for.

When Darrell Waltrip's car looked like this he won the Daytona 500. Photo R. Anderson

When Darrell Waltrip’s car looked like this, he won the 1989 Daytona 500.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course even in the races where Waltrip did qualify he was often many laps down or out of the race by the time the checkered flag waved.

While Derek Jeter still seems to have more in the tank than Darrell Waltrip did at the end of his career the fact remains that both men likely held on a little too long making their farewell tours seem a little sad for fans who remember the way they were in their prime.

Despite the lackluster “Victory Tour” Darrell Waltrip was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for is many career accomplishments. There is little doubt that regardless of how his farewell tour goes that Derek Jeter will end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame so few can argue that both men weren’t champions for the bulk of their careers.

By the time his "Victory Tour" rolled around in 2000 it had been about eight years since Darrell Waltrip saw victory lane. Derek Jeter is hoping his farewell tour ends with a World Series title. Photo R. Anderson

By the time his “Victory Tour” rolled around in 2000 it had been about eight years since Darrell Waltrip saw victory lane. Derek Jeter is hoping his farewell tour ends with a World Series title and does not just have him running laps as was the case with Waltrip’s last year.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course there will still be moments where the Derek Jeter of old shows through this year but fans need to temper their expectations and realize that more times than not there will be strikeouts and hitless nights.

There will also likely be nights coming up where Derek Jeter is not even in the lineup.

In a perfect world Jeter would want the farewell tour to end with a sixth World Series title for his career which still could happen despite any potential benchings or extended slumps.

Unlike Darrell Waltrip, who was left to mainly fend for himself on the track, there are eight other players on the field with Jeter at any given time to help pick up the slack as the team moves towards October.

But even if the Yankees do give Jeter the final World Series title the whispers of him hanging on too long will still continue just as they do for every athlete who finds themselves staying around while the mind is still willing but the body is weak.

For every Ray Lewis who retires with a Super Bowl title in his prime there are countless other athletes who just don’t know when to say when.

Now if you’ll excuse me, in the words of Darrell Waltrip it is time to boggitty, boggitty, boggitty.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

May the Fourth Be With You and Play Ball

This Sunday is May 4th and in many Ballparks in galaxies both near and far, far away teams will be celebrating in blockbuster ways in honor of a little science fiction franchise that first hit the global scene before most of the current professional ballplayers were even born.

That science fiction franchise was Star Wars and for those who may not be aware, May 4th is known as Star Wars Day due to a pun surrounding a popular phrase found in the films.

Across this galaxy as well as in a galaxy far, far away May the fourth is Star Wars Day. Photo R. Anderson

Across this galaxy as well as in a galaxy far, far away May the fourth is Star Wars Day.
Photo R. Anderson

That phrase of course is “May the force be with you,” which can easily translate to “May the fourth be with you.”

For years baseball teams have celebrated May 4th in the Ballpark but how many times can you really dust off that storm trooper costume to throw out the first pitch before it gets a feeling of been there done that?

With teams looking for creative and new ways to celebrate Star Wars Day it was only a matter of time then until May the Fourth was celebrated on a Minor League Baseball diamond in the form of players wearing Wookie jerseys.

The Wookie awakening occurred last year when the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A Affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens, celebrated both May the Fourth and May the Fifth wearing jerseys that looked like a Wookie complete with utility belt.

Thankfully, the team opted away from the faux hair version of the jersey and instead went with a more diamond appropriate version where the fur is implied.

Not to be outdone the Kane County Cougars, the Chicago Cubs Class A affiliate, went Wookie wild this year with a double dose of furry jerseys on May 2 and an encore planned for August 30.

While teams will dress up as Wookies, robots and Darth Vader himself as part of Star Wars Day this year the Star Wars jersey I want to see is Bobba Fett. Photo R. Anderson

While teams will dress up as Wookies, robots and Darth Vader himself as part of Star Wars Day this year the Star Wars jersey I want to see is Boba Fett.
Photo R. Anderson

While players dressing up as Wookie is a fairly new Ballpark trend it is not the first time that a Wookie, or at least an actor who played a Wookie, has been at a Minor League Ballpark.

During a May 1, 2010 game between the Oklahoma City Red Hawks and the New Orleans Zephers Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Wookie extraordinaire Chewbacca, threw out the first pitch as part of the 30th Anniversary celebration of the original Star Wars film.

While Wookie jerseys have a certain been there done that feel to them after two years on the field, a pair of Minor League teams are upping their game this year when it comes to honoring characters from the Star Wars stable.

The Durham Bulls, Class Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays will celebrate May the fourth in R2-D2 uniforms while the Milwaukee Brewers Single-A affiliate Wisconsin Timber Rattlers will sport Darth Vader jerseys.

It seems that if a team is going to the trouble of wearing Darth Vader jerseys they should invite James Earl Jones, the man behind the voice of Vader, to announce the players.

Of course with James Earl Jones playing a pivotal role in Field of Dreams it seems even more appropriate to have his booming voice over the Ballpark public address system.

That truly would be a field of dreams to see James Earl Jones announcing a game with players dressed up as Darth Vader.

It would be made even more magical if the announcement was made using the Darth Vader voice box.

I imagine it would go a little something like this, “Now batting (insert breathing sounds), Ray (insert breathing sounds), Smith”

While Lance Berkman gets the visiting villain treatment during a past Star Wars Night at Minute Maid Park a complete team will turn into Darth Vader this year. Photo R. Anderson

While Lance Berkman gets the visiting villain treatment during a past Star Wars Night at Minute Maid Park a complete team will turn into Darth Vader this year.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course players are not the only ones who get into the May the fourth festivities.

Often times fans dust off their finest galactic duds to head to the Ballpark as part of the celebration.

A few years back a complete regiment of Storm Troopers descended upon Minute Maid Park as part of the Houston Astros’ May the Fourth celebration.

While I have never dressed up as Boba Fett, I have attended games where ushers were dressed like Princess Leia. I have also been at games where the opposing players were made to look like Darth Vader and other villains on the Jumbo Tron.

It is all done in good fun and is kind of cool to see the worlds of film and baseball combine in such an entertaining way.

Another staple of many May the Fourth Ballpark celebrations is a post game fireworks show.

With Star Wars Day around the corner the search is on for the perfect shirt to mark the occasion. Photo R. Anderson

With Star Wars Day around the corner the search is on for the perfect shirt to mark the occasion.
Photo R. Anderson

Baseball, hot dogs, and post game pyrotechnics, it doesn’t get much better than that.

With many more Star Wars films in the works it is unlikely that the May the Fourth phenomena will die down any time soon so it is best to just embrace it in the spirit of fun it is intended.

And in the spirit of full disclosure I am a much bigger fan of Star Trek than Star Wars but “Beam me up” Day and “Make it So Number One” Day just don’t seem to roll off the tongue as easily when it comes to a ballpark promotion.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see if I can still make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. And May the fourth be with you.

Copyright 2014 R Anderson