Tag Archives: Baltimore Orioles

Tanking Goes Mainstream as More Teams Ask Fans to Pay for Subpar Product now in Order to Reap Benefits Later

It has been said that it is not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game that counts. For most people, this means playing as hard as possible, and knowing that win or lose, the best effort was given.

For other people, playing the game involves tanking in the present to improve the future. While there is no one way to tank, some tanking techniques include resting top-level players, building a roster of journeymen players, or encouraging players to leave a little in the tank and not go all out on every play.

By tanking, teams lower their season win/loss records, which leads to higher draft picks. Since most sports leagues give higher draft picks to teams with the worst records, the harder one tanks, the higher they draft. Tank multiple seasons in a row and a team can quickly build a roster of future All-Stars.

Of course, if multiple teams are trying to tank within the same season, than teams can find themselves not in a pennant race to be the best, but in a competition to be the worst. In 2019, four Major League Baseball teams finished with over 100 losses as part of their “rebuilding” process.

Tanking not a new to sports. What is new, is the openness some teams now have to telling their fans, and anyone else who is listening, that they are in “rebuilding mode.” The length of rebuilding varies by market and sport, but the usual length of a rebuild is about three to five years.

That is three to five seasons where fans are asked to accept a subpar product in order to potentially gain an advantage at the end of the rebuilding process. There is no guarantee that tanking will lead to success, but enough teams have succeeded at it that it remains a tool for some franchises to utilize in order to shortcut success.

The Houston Astros are considered one of the forefathers of tanking. The Astros used a tanking philosophy of accepting multiple 100 plus loss seasons from 2011-2013 as a means to secure draft picks. For their efforts of tanking to rebuild the farm system, the Astros won the World Series in 2017. That victory became tainted when the team was caught cheating through an investigation by the MLB Commissioner’s office. So, the actual benefits of tanking their way to a title could be equally owed to a well-placed trash can and video camera.

Proponents of tanking say that a few bad seasons are worth it if they can secure enough prospects to have five good seasons where they can make a World Series run.

The Houston Astros are considered one of the forefathers of tanking. The Astros used a tanking philosophy of accepting multiple 100 plus loss seasons from 2011-2013 as a means to secure draft picks. As one can imagine there were a lot of empty seats in Minute Maid Park during those losing seasons.
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From an ethical perspective, no matter how you slice it tanking is wrong. People will try to justify tanking, but at the end of the day, there is no way one can say tanking is good for the sport.

Tanking cheats the fans of getting to see a competitive game, and it forces players to decide if they want to go along with the plan knowing that many of them will be replaced by the higher draft picks that their tanking efforts generate.

Teams who tank claim that it is the only way they can be competitive with the bigger market teams since they cannot outspend teams to build a roster of All-Star free agents each season.

It is certainly true that there will always be teams with higher payrolls and bigger stars. However, the Tampa Bay Rays, and others, have shown that by drafting smarter and working within their means, they can be competitive year after year without having to resort to “blowing up the roster” and starting over.

When fans buy a ticket to see a game, they are supporting the players on the field on that day. They are not spending money to watch people not play hard so that two to three years down the road a team can be a success.

There is a difference between resting a star player on a particular day, versus a season free of star players or teams trying hard not to win. Players deserve to take a day off here and there. Players should not take whole seasons off in terms of giving maximum effort.

In all sports, there is only one champion in any given year. Teams need to know that not everyone will get a championship ring, but everyone can act like a champion on the field through playing fair and hard.

The practice of tanking needs to be curtailed to preserve the sanctity of sport. Teams that are caught tanking should have their draft picks either taken away, or moved to later in the first round to avoid any benefits being derived from tanking. As long as tanking produces results in the form of high draft picks, teams will continue to engage in the unethical practice.

When steroids were discovered to be widespread in Major League Baseball, steps were taken to punish players found to be cheating. The same type of penalty needs to be handed out to organizations caught tanking.

For their efforts, the Astros rebuilding process gave them a core of young talent. In turn that talent devised a cheating scandal involving trash cans and video cameras proving that some teams really will stop at nothing to gain an advantage, whether that be tanking to rebuild, or tipping off pitches to win a World Series.

To me, there is no difference between willingly accepting years of rebuilding to build a better roster, and cheating with trash cans. Both approaches cheat fans out of seeing sports at its finest. For fans of the Houston Astros, they had the misfortune of enduring seasons of rebuilding only to have the legitimacy of the resulting World Series title called into question thanks to player greed.

I supported the Astros during those rebuilding years, and cheered for their roster of underdog ballplayers both in person and on television. I will take that roster of journeymen who were just happy to get to go to the Ballpark and play every day over the roster of cheaters that followed.

I don’t need my teams to win every year in order for me to feel a season is a success. If I did, I would have stopped cheering for the Baltimore Orioles a long time ago.
Photo R. Anderson

I don’t need my teams to win every year in order for me to feel a season is a success. If I did, I would have stopped cheering for the Baltimore Orioles a long time ago.

What I do need are players who try their best and know that it is the game they are playing now that matters and not some magical roster that will be built years down the road.

Sports will never be perfect. They are messy and complicated due to the presence of messy and complicated individuals. However, those messy and complicated individuals need to act ethically and look for advantages within the lines and not try to shortcut the system by working outside the lines.

I have noted many times that the Houston Astros caught a break this season by not having to play in front of fans booing them this season. Just because the fans aren’t there to boo in person does not mean that the Astros get off the hook. What they did was wrong and that shame should follow the players who took part in it for the rest of their lives.

What good is a rebuild if to find success one has to sell their soul? That is a question that more and more teams will have to answer until professional sports leagues put their foot down to punish tanking.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about rebuilding has me in the mood to build a sandwich that would make Dagwood jealous.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

The 2020 MLB Season Rolls on Like a Tarpaulin Over a Wet Field

To say that the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season has been full of challenges would be an understatement.

The season has consisted of one challenge after another with little sign of slowing down.

For starters Spring Training was shut down in March. Then, when the season resumed two months later, teams were faced with a grueling 60-games in 66 days schedule.

Due in no small part to a shortened Spring Training, several marquee players have had their season cut short due to injuries.

To make things even more interesting, a handful of teams are battling outbreaks of COVID-19 that are causing games to be postponed at an alarming rate.

Those teams that are lucky enough to play games are doing so in empty Ballparks in front of cardboard fan cutouts and the sounds of pumped in Ballpark noise.

This is even the type of season where no hitter bids are ended by routine fly balls getting lost in the air by normally competent outfielders.

To put things mildly, this is a season where anything can and will happen.

With all of those challenges, the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals likely were just happy to be at the Ballpark on Sunday.

The Orioles were ahead 5-2 when the tarp started rolling Sunday in a game against the Washington Nationals. Normally that would mean that the game would be called and the Orioles would be declared the winners. Nothing about the 2020 season falls under normal conditions. So, of course the game fell under a little used wrinkle in the rule book related to faulty equipment and was suspended instead of called official.
Photo R. Anderson

That all changed in the sixth inning when a rain shower in the Nation’s Capital provided some comic relief; while also showing just how crazy this season, and for that matter entire year, really is.

Raise your hands if you had, ground crew struggles to cover the field with a tarp on your 2020 Bingo card.

If you did have that on your Bingo card, congratulations since that is exactly what happened at Nationals Park.

In perfect conditions, the grounds crew can roll out a tarp and cover the field with the precision of a well-choreographed ballet.

In less than perfect conditions, like Sunday’s Orioles and Nationals game, a grounds crew can struggle for more than 15 minutes to get the tarp across the infield while allowing the field to turn into a muddy mess.

After a two-hour, eight-minute delay to try to get the field back in playing condition the umpires declared the field unplayable and suspended the rest of the game.

Under normal circumstances, the game would have been deemed official. According to the MLB rule book, any contest that is called after 15 outs have been made when the visiting team took the lead in the previous inning or earlier is deemed an “official game.”

If the rain delay comes before 15 outs are made, when the game is tied or in the same inning that the visiting team took the lead, it is suspended until a later date.

The Orioles were ahead 5-2 when the tarp started rolling. Normally that would mean that the game would be called and the Orioles would be declared the winners.

Nothing about the 2020 season falls under normal conditions. So, of course the game fell under a little used wrinkle in the rule book related to faulty equipment.

Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose, and sometimes the grounds crew forgets to turn off the timer on the sprinklers on game day.
Photo R. Anderson

The tarp that the Nationals’ grounds crew attempted to use was tangled up in its roller like a string of Christmas lights. As such, it fell under Rule 7.02 of the MLB hand book which reads that any game that is called as a result of “light failure, malfunction of, or unintentional operator error in employing, a mechanical or field device or equipment under the control of the home Club” must be picked up at a later date.

The tarp and the roller are considered a field device and as such due to the inability to deploy said device properly the Nats live to play another day.

“We couldn’t get the tarp on the field. I feel bad for our grounds crew because, personally, these guys, to me, are the best or, if not, one the best. It’s just unfortunate that that happened,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez during the postgame Zoom video call. “For me, honestly, it’s part of this 2020 season. It really is. There is going to be days when you don’t know what to expect. This is part of it. So, we just got to keep moving on.”

As part of that moving on, the game will resume Friday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards as part of a scheduled series in Baltimore. Despite changing venues, the Nationals will remain the home team for the suspended game. When the game resumes, the Orioles will have two men on with one out in the top of the sixth and leading 5-2.

If I were the type to peddle in conspiracy theories, I might suspect that the Washington Nationals grounds crew tangled the tarp on purpose to allow the Nats the chance to climb back from their three-run deficit.

Where are Mulder and Scully when you need them?

Of course, since this is 2020, and there is a global COVID-19 pandemic where up is down and down is up, I will give the grounds crew a pass and say that the 15-minute tarp deployment really was just an unfortunate accident, and not a premeditated act, or a conspiracy, to help the home team avoid a loss.

However, if the Nationals end up winning the game Friday, they should definitely thank their grounds crew for the assist.

I learned many life lessons from the movie Bull Durham. One of the most important ones being, everyone needs a rain delay now and then. The way 2020 keeps rolling on I am sure a lot of us wish that someone would turn the sprinklers on and give us a break from this tumultuous year.

Of course, if that were possible, the way this year has gone, I am sure someone would find a loop hole that says we would have to make the year up due to equipment failure. Once through 2020 is plenty, so maybe it is best not to use the rain delay clause just yet.

If one wanted to apply deep thought to the tarp situation in Washington D.C. they could say that 2020 is a lot like that grounds crew trying to cover that field. This year is a muddy mess and a struggle. However, if we all work together as one, we can roll out that tarp and tackle the raging COVID-19 storm that is washing away 2020.

I guess the key is to Tarpe Diem, err Carpe Diem that is.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a spot on my 2020 Bingo card to fill in.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Dodgers Show That Even in a Global COVID-19 Pandemic Revenge is a Dish Best Served with Some Chin Music

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros faced off for the first time since the Astros were caught cheating with their hands in the proverbial trash can.

The cheating goes back to the 2017 season when the Dodgers lost to the Astros in the World Series. Looking back at those games, an argument can definitely be made that the Dodgers could have added another oversized World Series Ring to their plaza of honor at Dodger Stadium had it not been for a video camera, a bat, and a trash can.

With many people thinking that the Astros players got off way too easily in terms of punishment for their cheating, the 2020 season was expected to be a season long opportunity for players and fans who felt wronged by the Astros to show their displeasure.

As I noted a few months back, the fan-free season during COVID-19 made the Astros the biggest winners of 2020, since fans cannot boo them when they come to town. On can only imagine how loud a completely full Dodger Stadium would have been with fans booing in unison with every Astros at bat.

A year after being cheated out of their first World Series title in nearly 30 years, a lone trash can is seen in front of a mural commemorating the titles the Dodgers have won. It is quite possible that were it not for the sounds coming off of a trash can, the Los Angeles Dodgers would have a fresh coat of paint on the World Series title mural, as well as a new entry for 2017. Instead, they are left with wondering what might have been had the playing field been level.
Photo R. Anderson

While fans in Ballparks have been limited to cardboard representations, the players for the other teams are still free to enforce the unwritten rules of the game, which made the Astros versus Dodgers game must see TV.

After Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly threw a pitch in the area of the head of Alex Bregman, and later taunted Carlos Correa in the sixth inning in game one of a two game series, a good old-fashioned bench clearing brawl occurred.

For his part in the somewhat masked, but totally not socially distanced melee, Kelly was suspended for eight games by MLB. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts received a one-game suspension.

The Dodgers ended up with the last laugh as they won both games of the series by scores of 5-2 and 4-2, respectively.

While the Dodgers won the series, they also exposed the mismanagement of the cheating scandal by MLB. Yes, to be fair, three MLB managers lost their jobs due to ties to the scandal, and the Astros fired their General Manager.  But many fans and players maintain that the punishment did not go far enough since former Astros skipper, A.J. Hinch, wasn’t the one playing a trash can in the dugout like a bass drum to let hitters know what pitch was coming.

Just to make sure this point comes across, players who were caught cheating for an entire season were given zero suspensions for their actions, but a pitcher for the team that many argue was cheated out of the 2017 World Series title is given an eight-game suspension. To put that in perspective, eight games equates to around 13 percent of the shortened season. Kelly has appealed his suspension.

Jose Altuve, and his 2017 Astros teammates, were found by MLB to have benefited from an intricate cheating technique that involved a camera, a bat and a trash can. While the world will never know whether the cheating is why the Astros won the World Series, the world does know that none of the players were punished for their actions during that season. That fact, as a lot of fans and players from other teams mad enough to kick a trash can.
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These truly are strange and mysterious times, and show that in many ways MLB is just making things up as they go along. More on that thought in a bit.

The rules for the 2020 season outlaw bench clearing brawls. However, writing something in a health manual, and actually following what is written, are two entirely different things; as demonstrated by the fact that the dugouts and bullpens emptied in a fan-free Ballpark.

Besides the benches clearing brawl, players have been breaking the guidelines involving walk off celebrations, and high fives among other things.

But while MLB seems quick to enforce the rules for what it sees as retaliation pitches, it is downplaying the wildfire of COVID-19 that is inching closer to bringing the 2020 season to a screeching halt.

The Miami Marlins were suspended for an entire week after a COVID-19 outbreak impacted nearly 20 players and staff, however the teams not impacted by games against the Marlins were left to continue to play ball. Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum.

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers became the latest teams to have games cancelled after two Cardinal players tested positive for COVID-19. The Cardinals and Brewers join the Marlins, Blue Jays, Phillies, Orioles, Nationals, and Yankees as teams who have had games either postponed or played with different opponents than scheduled.

That means that at the time of this writing, nearly a third of all MLB teams have been impacted by COVID-19.

In response to the growing list of games that will need to be rescheduled, MLB has decided that all doubleheaders will be 7-innings, instead of 9-innings, in order to cram as many games as possible into the schedule in their drive to crown a World Series Champion. Nothing like changing the rules of a season after the season has started.

While they are at it, why not just have all games decided by a home run derby? The Sugar Land Skeeters are using home run derbies to settle extra inning games in their four-team, fans in the stand independent baseball summer league.

If MLB needs to crown a champion in order to call the season a success, why bother with the games? Just line the teams up for a home run derby to decide who the best team is? After all, launch angles and the long ball seem to be all the rage these days.

I will take it a step further and say that a home run derby approach can even eliminate team travel. Just have retired pitchers travel to the Ballparks and throw batting practice to decide the games. Teams can choose from a selection of retired pitchers and the same pitcher has to pitch to both teams to make it fair.

Of course, with different ballparks having different outfield dimensions considerations will need to be made for how to assign a weight to each home run.

Maybe, teams can be reward style points for launch angle.

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The remarks below appeared in USA Today in early July, and are chilling when looked at through the lens of hindsight after a week of MLB action.

“We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people,” said Doolittle. “We’re way worse off as a country than where we were in March when we shut this thing down. And look at where other developed countries are and their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functional society, and we’re just like trying to bring it back even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve or whatever you want to say. We did flatten the curve for a little bit, but we didn’t use that time to do anything productive. We just opened back up for Memorial Day. We decided we’re done with it.

“If there aren’t sports, it’s going to be because people are not wearing masks, because the response to this has been so politicized. We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands. We can’t just have virus fatigue and think, ‘Well, it’s been four months. We’re over it. This has been enough time, right? We’ve waited long enough, shouldn’t sports come back now?’ No, there’s things we have to do in order to bring this stuff back.”

Since Doolittle made that statement in early July, the COVID-19 death toll in America has risen by 23,000 to over 153,000 dead and counting, with no signs of slowing down.

Sadly, there are those who will say, “But hey, at least two thirds of the MLB teams haven’t missed any games yet, and the MLB has shown that it is going to come down hard on pitchers who throw at members of the trash can symphony club.”

Yes, there are live sports to watch now, and the NCAA seems determined to ensure that college football returns in the fall despite us not acting anything like a functional society. Why worry about a global pandemic when there are sports to watch?

Sometimes, real life truly is stranger than fiction.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if my seeds from China arrived. As crazy as the world is getting, they may grow a magic bean stalk. But that is a story for another day.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

MLB Gives the Miami Marlins Some Time Off as the Grand Social Experiment of Playing Baseball in the Midst of COVID-19 Rolls On

This week the Major League Baseball (MLB) social experiment season reinforced the fact that we are in a season like no other in the middles of a global COVID-19 pandemic.

After over a dozen players and staff tested positive for COVID-19, the Miami Marlins had a week’s worth of games postponed. As a result of the Marlins outbreak, the Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, and Philadelphia Phillies also had games postponed based on their proximity to either the Marlins, or the clubhouse in Philadelphia used by the Marlins.

In a statement announcing the move to basically quarantine an entire team, MLB noted, “that it is most prudent to allow the Marlins time to focus on providing care for their players and planning their Baseball Operations for a resumption early next week.”

The fact that a team would have an outbreak of COVID-19 in and of itself is not surprise. In fact, each team as a pool of 30 “break glass in case of emergency” players to handle just such an event. Of course, I am sure most teams thought they would be able to get further into the season without having to deal with an outbreak.

The Marlins were shut down while the other teams either continued to play, or rearranged their schedules to avoid games against the Marlins later in the week. One has to wonder whether the entire MLB season would have been called if one of the more popular teams with higher payrolls became infected.

The Miami Marlins are in quarantine in Philadelphia after over a dozen players and staff tested positive for COVID-19. Games in Philadelphia were cancelled after other teams voiced concerns about using the same clubhouse that the Marlins had just left. The Phillie Phanatic could not be reached for comment.
Photo R. Anderson

That is nothing against the Marlins, I like the Marlins. In fact, I still have a program, shirt and hat from their first season in 1993.

Also, Don Mattingly, the current manager of the Marlins, was one of my favorite baseball players growing up.

But there is certainly a difference in parking a team that likely was not going to make the 16-team cutoff for the playoffs, versus parking a team like the Yankees or Dodgers that many people consider World Series bound.

The Marlins will spend their week off trying to find enough players to field a competitive team but there is a chance they may not be able to continue the season. Before the series was cancelled, the Washington Nationals voted unanimously to not travel to Miami for games since it is one of the hottest of hot spots for COVID-19. So, even if the Marlins do resume the season, it is possible they may find that no one wants to play them at Marlins Park.

That calls to mind the biggest flaw of the MLB season. While most leagues that are resuming competition are doing so in a bubble environment to mitigate virus spread, MLB owners basically demanded that games be played in their home ballparks even if those Ballparks were located in the middle of a COVID-19 hot spot.

As mentioned previously, the Toronto Blue Jays, will play the season as a team without a country after the Canadian government nixed their plan of letting ballplayers cross the U.S. and Canadian border freely. So, with the exception of the “Buffalo” Blue Jays wandering the East Coast like a hiker on the Appalachian Trail, the remaining team owners are recouping some revenue by using their home Ballparks versus sharing a bubble, while counting on players to police themselves and stay in the hotel on road trips instead of hitting the town.

While the source of the Marlins outbreak has not been traced the Associated Press reported that at least one Miami player left the team hotel when the team was in Atlanta and could have been exposed there.

The actions of the Marlins players to decide via a group text that they would still take the field even after some players tested positive show that COVID-19 is not going to be corralled under MLB’s plan since it relies too much on the players for enforcement.

With the Marlins outbreak, it becomes more and more likely that the 2020 MLB social experiment will be cut short due to forces outside the control of the owners; allowing them to play the victim card instead of showing real upfront leadership.

If MLB is bound and determined to crown a 2020 World Series Champion, just cancel the season and give the title to the team that ends up with the fewest COVID-19 infections on their roster.

The season never should have started. MLB could have been a beacon of responsibility by saying that baseball is not an essential business, and it is too risky to players and employees to try to crisscross the country creating made for television games. Airing Public Service Announcements with players wearing masks and encouraging social distancing would have been so much more responsible than a few hours of baseball a night.

It is time for the adults in the room to shut the MLB season down and try again next year. Of course, those adults are the same people who insisted on playing in their home ballparks with advertising covered tarpaulins over many of the empty seats. I doubt owners will do much in the way of canceling the season despite the growing evidence that players are going to be sick and ignore the safety protocols since it would cause them to admit they were wrong.

The 2020 MLB season will continue to roll along, and players will continue to get sick. Teams will be placed in timeout, and the schedule will continue to get reworked to ensure that teams are able to get those precious 60-games in, so that 16-teams can earn some of that sweet playoff television revenue.

The Baltimore Orioles traveled to Miami for a series against the Marlins. The only problem being the Marlins were in quarantine in Philadelphia after over a dozen players and staff tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the Orioles to turn around and fly back home. The Marlins are still stuck in Philadelphia after MLB cancelled a week’s worth of their games.
Photo R. Anderson

The optics MLB is projecting come across as “player health be damned, there’s baseball to be played.”

That approach sounds an awful lot like a guy in Washington D.C. who is ignoring the science since he wants the economy and schools to reopen, and for people to act like there is nothing to see here; since it would benefit him in November.

With blinders on, and the distraction of watching baseball, it is easy for some people to ignore the over 150,000 Americans who have died due to the lack of a centralized plan to combat the COVID-19 virus.

Those 150,000 and counting Americans are not just numbers. They were fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, sons, daughters, grandparents, husbands, wives, coworkers and friends. Some of them were baseball fans, and some of them probably even voted for that guy in Washington D.C. who listens to the “Demon sperm” doctor who claims she cured COVID-19, instead of listening to real science.

For some people, it is easier to play the victim than the hero. Even if one wants to blame someone on the other side of the world for allowing COVID-19 to come to our majestic shores, and spread from sea to shining sea, the fact is the virus is here. It is going to continue to rage against the machine of indifference and spin. COVID-19 does not care if someone is playing the blame game, or wondering out loud why they aren’t as popular as other people.

But by all means, play ball and tout drugs that the legitimate scientists say don’t really help with COVID-19, like a fiddle playing Roman emperor, instead of standing up and actually trying to be part of the solution by leading with a national strategy.

I don’t know how we got here as a country. America used to be looked at with a level of respect by the majority of the world. Now, those same countries are likely either pitying us, or shaking their heads in disbelief. It is time for people to wake up and take COVID-19 seriously.

Baseball can always come back next year. If we do not get a handle on COVID-19, there will be a lot fewer fans around to watch it. You know, because they will be dead from that virus people got tired of and decided to try to ignore. Those are facts and not self-serving conspiracy theory laced spin.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol showed old Ebenezer that he had the power to change his ways to ensure that Tiny Tim’s chair was not empty the following year. However, it seems that many people are content to decrease what they view to be the surplus population by ignoring COVID-19, and saying “bah humbug,” while they engage in self-serving activities and worry about filling their money vaults.

Now if you’ll excuse me, that’s enough Dickens for one day.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Lightning on MLB Opening Day Reminds us That We are Still in the Middle of a Storm

After months of negotiations, Major League Baseball (MLB) started the 2020 season that they were bound and determined to have despite cases of COVID-19 surging from coast to coast, and more specifically surging within several cities that have MLB teams.

While I was watching the Opening Day game Thursday night, between the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees, an eerie sight of potential foretelling took place to remind us all that this is not a season like the others.

No, I am not talking about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s “just a bit outside” first pitch. I can only hope that I am in as good of shape as he is when I turn 79. While, Dr. Fauci is not the best at throwing pitches, thank goodness for all of us that he is adapt at not sugar-coating things and giving us the facts we need in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic.

The eerie moment occurred during an on-air interview with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred when the Washington D.C. skyline was filled with lightning. Manfred was unaware of the light show since it happened behind him, but he became aware of it when the thunder reached his ears.

Lightning, and related rain, led to the first game of the 2020 MLB season being called three innings early. At the time, I thought that it was fitting that a long-delayed season would have its first game end that way.
Photo R. Anderson

The lightning, and related rain, led to the first game of the 2020 MLB season being called three innings early. At the time, I thought that it was fitting that a long-delayed season would have its first game end that way.

By the time I was watching the Los Angeles Dodgers game, I had forgotten about the lightning. Instead, I was making preparations to write about the wayward Toronto Blue Jays finally finding safe harbor after being told that they could not play in Toronto or Pittsburgh due to concerns related to COVID-19 spread.

While the Baltimore Orioles offered to share their nest at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a Triple A Ballpark within the Blue Jays organization in Buffalo, New York was chosen as their home for the 60 game in 66 days season; despite the players noting their desire to only play in an MLB Ballpark.

With my sights set on chronicling the plight of the Blue Jays in mind, I sat down at my computer in the Gigaplex and was ready to let the words fly from my fingers onto the screen. That was until the giant thunder clap briefly knocked out the power, and took out the Wi-Fi and cable connections.

The storm lasted all of 60 seconds, and included only that single bolt of lightning and related thunder. As quickly as the sky turned dark as night, the sun returned. It was as if the storm had never even been there aside from the lack of Wi-Fi and cable to remind me.

As I was resetting all of the Gigaplex clocks, suddenly the lightning in Washington, D.C. the night before was back in my mind. I realized that the lightning was a metaphor for the season of baseball in the middle of COVID-19. Much like Commissioner Rob Manfred, I did not see the lightning because my back was turned, but I heard the thunder.

The Texas Gulf Coast was under a Tropical Storm watch for much of the day, but when the storm track shifted south of me it became an out of sight out of mind event. I went about my day as if there was not a storm churning in the Gulf of Mexico with the possibility of rain bands stretching to my side of Texas.

So, when that lone lightning bolt did arrive, and leave as quickly as it popped up, there was no one more surprised than me. I have lived through many storms, and as far as I can recall I have never seen a storm of a single lightning bolt but as my mother said, “it only takes one.”

COVID-19 is a lot like lightning. We can try to turn our backs on it and play baseball, or go out to eat, or do whatever else we used to do when the world was open, but even if we have our backs turned and ignore it, the thunder will remind us of its presence.

While we cannot fully control the strength and ferocity of lightning, there are some pretty easy steps that we can take to starve the COVID-19 virus of the fuel it needs to spread. Thinking of these mitigation steps as medical lightning rods if you will.

Wearing masks, washing hands, socially distancing, and avoiding large gatherings are such simple steps to stop the spread. Sadly, despite the simplicity of these things, there are still people who feel they are immune to the CVOID-19 virus, or that they would rather die free than be forced to wear a freedom stealing mask.

I have said it before, and it bears saying again, you know what steals a person’s freedom? Being dead from the COVID-19 virus because they refused to wear a mask, and just had to go to that house party, or whatever other gathering was deemed so important.

The Baltimore Orioles offered to share their nest at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with the Toronto Blue Jays. Ultimately, a Triple A Ballpark in Buffalo, New York was chosen as their home for the 60 game in 66 days season Time will tell whether the Blue Jays, and the other 29-MLB teams, are able to get through a season played in the middle of a global health crisis.
Photo R. Anderson

There are a growing number of stories of younger people infecting their grandparents, and in some cases leading to the death of their loved ones.

That is certainly something you would not want to put in the annual Christmas letter, “Hello friends, this year I was selfish and went to a house party in the middle of a pandemic, and as a result Grandpa is dead.”

Personally, I do not want to risk the guilt of thinking that my actions of needing to socialize led to someone else’s death. But if someone feels that they absolutely have to go out, I hope they remember how thunder and lightning work. By the time you hear the thunder, the damage has already been done by the lightning.

The MLB season was greeted by lightning on Opening Night. Time will tell whether the pandemic’s lightning of cases among the players, or hot spots where games are to be played, allow for the full season to take place.

MLB really wants to be able to unfurl the proverbial “Mission Accomplished” banner after crowning a 2020 World Series Champion.

I just hope when the dust settles it was all worth it, and they aren’t having to write about anyone dying as a result of being hellbent on playing baseball in a time of COVID-19. From where I am sitting right now, the risks of trying to crisscross the country far outweigh any benefits.

That is not to say all is doom and gloom. The COVID-19 storm will pass and there can be joy in Mudville once again. One of the best things about a thunder storm, is the double rainbow that is left behind to remind us that storms are temporary and there are better days ahead.

Of course, those better days will only come if we all do our part. So just wear a mask, and practice social distancing. Laying off an off speed pitch is hard, wearing a mask is easy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to ponder why there are so many songs about rainbows.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Houston Astros are Potential Biggest Winners in Shortened MLB Season

Well, it is finally official, after three months of tense negotiations, the 2020 Major League Baseball season will take place as a 60-game sprint, instead of a 162-game marathon.

Players are expected to resume Spring Training activities at their home Ballparks by July 1, with Opening Day of the truncated season of teams playing a mostly geographical schedule  occurring on July 24.

Baseball purists, players, owners, broadcasters, and all other interested stakeholders, are likely to debate the merits of playing the shortest season in MLB history in the middle of a global pandemic that is exploding like an uncontrolled wildfire in an oxygen rich environment.

While those debates occur, the Houston Astros can breathe easy knowing that their season of atonement tour where they were set to feel the brunt of angry fans, and fellow ballplayers on 29 other teams in response to the trash can banging cheating scandal, will only last about 37 percent as long as it would have during a full season.

With the delayed 2020 MLB season set to launch in July Jose Altuve, and the rest of the Houston Astros can breathe easy knowing that their season of atonement tour tied to the trash can banging cheating scandal, will only last about 37 percent as long as it would have during a full season.
Photo R. Anderson

Heck, the Astros don’t even have to worry about fans in the stands heckling them since the 2020 MLB season will be played in empty Ballparks.

Additionally, the players on the other 29 teams, who would have likely made it extra difficult for the Astros by enforcing a whole slew of unwritten rules of baseball between the foul poles, are likely going to have other things on their minds, like not catching a virus that has no cure and has killed over 121,000 Americans.

It is doubtful that anyone is going to want to have a bench clearing brawl in the middle of a pandemic. Although a socially distanced mound charge could make for good television as the batter tries to voice his displeasure at the pitcher from six feet away.

For those who may not be aware, or have forgotten about the Astros high crimes and misdemeanors against baseball, the MLB commissioner’s office completed an investigation at the end of the 2019 season into cheating allegations levied against the Houston Astros by a former player and whistleblower, related to games played in the 2017 season, which also happened to be the same year that the Astros won the World Series.

According to the report, the Astros used a video monitor of a camera feed from center field, and a trash can in the dugout to relay signals to batters about what pitch was coming in order to give the Astros hitters an advantage at the plate.

As Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis demonstrated in Bull Durham, when the hitter knows what is coming, the ball coming off of the bat travels so far that it ought to have a flight attendant on it. Or to use the sabermetrics lingo, “advanced knowledge creates epic launch angle, and equals the ball traveling many feet.”

The Houston Astros won the World Series in 2017. In 2019, it was revealed that some players on the team cheated that year which taints the first Championship in team history. Using a trash can to tip off the batter to what pitch is coming is less obvious than the two bats and a glove technique demonstrated by Jose Altuve during Spring Training in 2016.
Photo R. Anderson

As one might expect, the players on teams who lost to the Astros in 2017, in particular, the Dodgers and Yankees, feel cheated, because as it turns out they were cheated.

Every victory by the Astros in 2017, including the World Series title, has a stigma attached to it despite all of the protestations by Astros players that they only used the trash can banging system in the regular season, in order to win enough games to get to the playoffs, and then played fair and square after that once they were in the playoffs.

The world will never know whether the claims of postseason innocence are true or not. What is known, is that through a system of cheating that lasted for a portion of the 2017 MLB season, all members of the 2017 Astros, whether they benefited from the trash can signals or not, are forever tainted in the eyes of fans and other players.

Although the Astros are likely to face less retaliation due to the current climate where people have real things to worry about like COVID-19, and seeking social justice reform, I am not going to let them off so easily.

I will no longer root for the Houston Astros, since I do not respect the organization, nor do I feel it is worth my time, or money to support them based on the actions of players who cheated the system, and the actions of other players who remained quiet about the cheating.

In the big picture, I am sure that the $500 or so I used to spend a season on the Astros is a drop in the bucket to the team. But, if enough people like me take the same action, the team will realize that actions have consequences. That is how quickly the actions of members of an organization can affect the overall bottom line. That is why it is so critical that sports organizations instill an ethical culture and swiftly address any employees found acting unethically.

It takes years to build a reputation, and mere seconds to tarnish it. Just ask all of the MLB players who were linked to the steroids era and are on the outside looking in of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I have always respected Dusty Baker, who at the age of 71 years old, has the herculean task of trying to rebuild the reputation of the Astros as the new team skipper. I hope he succeeds, but it will still be a few seasons before I can think about supporting the Astros again. Also, there is no guarantee that I ever will decide that the Astros are worthy of my time and money. As Robert DeNiro once told Ben Stiller, “The circle of trust is broken, Greg.”

Dusty Baker, pictured with A.J. Hinch, the man he replaced as Astros skipper, has a tall order in front of him as he looks to try to rebuild the reputation of the Houston Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

From the time I moved to Houston, I embraced the Astros and supported them through some very lean seasons.

In fact, some of my best memories of going to games at Minute Maid Park occurred during the seasons where the Astros had some of the worst records. I knew the players were trying their best, and I was there to support them win or lose.

I do not care if a team I support wins every game. If I did, I would have given up on my beloved Baltimore Orioles years ago. I mean, think about it, only one team wins the World Series each year. That doesn’t make the other 29 teams total losers, it just means one team played better than the rest, or had a few more lucky breaks fall their way. And no, a trash can dugout drum is not a lucky break, that is just cheating no matter how you try to bang it.

I want the teams I support to play hard and to play fair. That shouldn’t be too much to ask. Teams will now have 60 games to earn a spot in the playoffs and try to unseat the Washington Nationals as World Series Champions.

The Washington Nationals will start their defense of their World Series title next month.
Photo R. Anderson

I stand firm in my opinion that the 2020 season should not be played under the current cloud of COVID-19. I do not see a scenario where I will waver from that position.

But, now that a season seems inevitable, I will hope and pray that the number of people involved in putting on the made for TV season that become infected with COVID-19 is low, and that those who do catch the virus make a full recovery.

I am especially concerned for some of the older managers, like Baker, and Joe Maddon, who fall within the high-risk category, based on their ages, for needing to be extra careful about not catching the disease.

When the dust settles, and this season that everyone was so gung ho to have played is over, I really hope people will say it was worth all of the risks to player health and the overall health of baseball in general, instead of saying, why in the world did we do that?

One of the great constants in the world is that hindsight is always 20/20. So far, the year 2020 has been one for the ages, and sadly there are still six more months to go before we can put a fork in this year. There will be plenty of time for hindsight when the year is over, but the time to make good decisions to look back on is now.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to order some more face masks since the COVID-19 cases in Texas are rising faster than a 95 mile per hour brushback pitch.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Dear Baseball, I Hope This Column Finds You Well in These Uncertain Times

Dear Baseball, it is me Ryan.

I know it has been a while since we have seen each other at the Ballpark. These are definitely crazy times. I hope you are doing well.

I have been thinking a lot about the fun we used to have together back before the world was turned upside down by that uninvited party crasher COVID-19.

Remember that time my mom had me called out of class in elementary school so I could see you in a Spring Training game  between the Minnesota Twins and the Baltimore Orioles for my birthday? The entire time I was walking to the exit of the school I thought for sure that someone in my family had died. Imagine my relief when I learned that everyone was alive and well, and I was getting to spend an afternoon at the Ballpark with you.

One of my best baseball memories was getting Earl Weaver’s autograph at Tinker Field.
Photo R. Anderson

Another memory that makes me smile, is that time you gave me the opportunity to meet Earl Weaver on the third base side of Tinker Field. I was definitely start struck at meeting a man I considered to be larger than life, but I was relieved to learn that he was fairly down to earth, and was not just the fiery dirt kicking, base throwing manager I had seen on TV.

Baseball, you have not yet afforded me the opportunity to meet Cal Ripken, Jr., but I guess I will let that one slide since you did give me such good memories following his career during “The Streak” and beyond.

Sadly, not all of my encounters with the men who played you were as encouraging as meeting “The Earl of Baltimore.” Through my attempt to meet Frank Robinson, you taught me the valuable lesson that not everyone who wears your uniform is a hero to be looked up to.

While it is entirely possible that the outcome would have been different on another day, my attempt to meet Frank Robinson soured my opinion of the man, and taught me a valuable lesson in the dangers of heroes letting you down.
Photo R. Anderson

It was a hard lesson for me to learn at the time, but it has helped me separate talent for the game from being a hero off the field. It is possible to respect what a player can do on the field without expecting them to be perfect off the field.

There are of course players who shine both on the field and off, but you let me see that those people are exceptions to treasure, versus the rule.

My joy in you was not limited to just being in the Ballpark. I spent hours collecting your cards and trying to compile complete sets of them each year. I kept checklists in my wallet to know which cards I needed whenever I would find myself at a card shop. I even tried my hand a running a small card shop in my neighborhood for my friends. Grandstand Cards was my first business venture, but it was far from my last.

Every Saturday I rode my bike to the neighborhood 7-11 for powdered doughnuts, a Sunny-D, some baseball cards, and a comic book. Those were much simpler times. While I cherished those days at the time, I cherish them even more now.

I still have those cards, as well as the team scrapbooks that I made for the Orlando Sun Rays and the Baltimore Orioles. Each time I pull them off the shelf the memories return, and I am transported back to those days of going to the local baseball card shop, and sitting in those well-worn grandstands at Tinker Field.

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

While my three seasons of attempting to play you did not lead to All-Star numbers, you taught me that I could make a career out of telling your story through the various news outlets I worked for.

You even gave me the opportunity to have a full-ride scholarship as a collegiate baseball team manager, which a younger me turned down to go to a different school. It all worked out in the end, and to this day I can still legitimately say that I turned down a full-ride baseball scholarship. I just leave out the part about it not being as a player.

Then there was that 21-inning high school playoff game that I covered as a high school reporter at the old Baseball City Stadium. Man, I sure learned my lesson that night about not leaving the warmth of the press box before the final out. I spent 12 extra innings freezing behind the dugout while my colleagues mocked me from their warm perch.

Despite that unseasonably cold Florida night, and all the other nights shivering in your stands, you taught me that one of life’s simple pleasures is sitting in your Ballparks and getting caught up in the action. You also taught me to never write the lead to an article while the game is still going on, since very few leads are safe once teams are forced to go to the bullpen.

I also learned from you, Baseball, that whenever possible, get a seat in the Ballpark next to the scouts. The times I have been seated in the scout section at Spring Training and Minor League games, I have been entertained by hours of stories of baseball behind the curtains. Sadly, scouts are a dying breed as more and more of your teams are taking a strictly statistical look at how you are played, versus relying on gut feel.

Very little tops a day at the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Baseball, you have given me the chance to interview many coaches and players. Some of them gave thoughtful answers, while others allowed me to play cliché bingo.

One manager even trusted me enough to write my own quotes for what I thought he would say. To keep it real, I even included some clichés in his quotes. At the end of the season of covering his team, he invited me into his office and said that he had never sounded better than he did when I “quoted him.”

I have thought a lot lately about those post-game interviews under the unforgiving Florida and Texas sun, as well as the interview in the rain that killed my recorder right after I transcribed the quotes. On that day Baseball, you taught me to never rely solely on a recorder, but to write down quotes in real time as well.

Just when I think that you have run out of things to teach me, Baseball, you give me new lessons through this delay in the action brought about by COVID-19. Through the virus you have taught me that player strikes are not the only thing that can cause the games to stop, and that we should not take you for granted when you do return.

More importantly, Baseball, you have reminded us that there are more important things than you, and your other sport siblings. Taking care of ourselves and others is far more important, no matter how badly we want to throw caution to the wind and cram inside your hallowed halls and watch you “play ball” once again.

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball was the first to use a pitch clock when the Sugar Land Skeeters and other teams implemented it as part of a test with Major League Baseball..
Photo R. Anderson

When you do return, Baseball, either this year, or next year, some people will no doubt continue to complain that your games are too long, that pitchers need  to not take so long between pitches, and that umpires need a robotic voice in their head telling them how to call balls and strikes.

Ignore those people, Baseball, and try to resist the calls to constantly tinker with your game. Part of what makes you perfect are your perfect imperfections, and the fact that there is no game clock to say when the game ends.

Baseball, you will come back stronger, and will once again fill those summer nights with the sights, sounds and smells, of the National Pastime.

Hang in there Baseball, I know we will see each other again soon when it is safe to do so. Until then, thanks for the memories you have given me so far, and thanks in advance for the memories yet to come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this trip down memory lane has me craving some powdered doughnuts and Sunny-D.

Sincerely yours,

Ryan

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Building my Ballpark Bucket List for When the World is Open Once Again Part 2

As the world of sports continues to look into ways to safely return fans into their facilities thanks to the COVID-19 virus, sports fans are left to wait and wonder when they can return to their local Ballparks and Stadiums and raise their souvenir cups high.

Although I will not be able to see live sports any time soon, that does not mean that from the relative safety of my gigplex I cannot compile a Bucket List of the ballparks I want to visit once the green light is given to safely return to mass gatherings.

Since catching my first Major League Baseball game at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore I have visited a lot of Ballparks. There are still many more Ballparks I want to see.
Photo R. Anderson

My Bucket List of ballparks was already pretty extensive, but as I have had much time at home to contemplate, I have had the chance to add to it. For the purpose of this exercise I have selected a Top 10 list of Ballparks I want to see.

The list is broken up into five Ballparks that I want to visit again, and five Ballparks that I want to see for the first time. The Ballparks include facilities at the Major League level, the Minor League Level, as well as the Independent League level.

I unveiled the five Ballparks I want to see again in Part 1. Today, in Part 2, I unveil the five Ballparks that I have never visited, but in some cases, have wanted to see for years.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD

Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the main Ballpark on my Bucket List that I want to visit.
Photo R. Anderson

While there are many Ballparks that I want to visit, the one that has topped my list pretty much from the time it was built is Oriole Park at Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles. I was raised as a Baltimore Orioles fan, and saw my first Major League game at Memorial Stadium where the Orioles played prior to making the move to Camden Yards.

Once I moved to Florida, Spring Training meant trips to see the Orioles at Tinker Field, and later at Ed Smith Stadium. I have even seen the Orioles play regular season games against the Astros in Houston and against the Rays in St. Petersburg.

Still, the one venue that has eluded me is Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Ballpark started the movement for single use Ballparks, and includes a distinctive warehouse wall feature which the Astros mimicked when they built their new Ballpark at the site of the old Union Station. As soon as I am able, and the world gets a little more stability, I will board that big blue Boeing 737 nonstop from Houston to Baltimore to catch a game, enjoy an Esskay hotdog, and some crab cakes smothered in Old Bay. On a positive since the Orioles have struggled mightily the last few seasons, it is likely that the Ballpark will not be full which should allow me to really explore as I check it off of my Bucket List.

Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.

Proximity to Space Coast Stadium allowed me the chance to see many Washington Nationals Spring Training games when I lived in Florida. However, I have yet to see the 2019 World Series Champions play at Nationals Park.
Photo R. Anderson

When I lived in Maryland, the Washington Senators had already fled to Texas to become the Rangers, after replacing the version of the Senators that fled to Minnesota to become the Twins.

Additionally, the Washington Nationals went by the name of the Montreal Expos, so the ability to catch a game at Nationals Park would have been rather difficult since neither the Ballpark, nor the team existed. But from the time that the Nationals arrived on the scene, I embraced them with the full vigor that one would for a long-lost friend.

My fandom of the Nationals was further entrenched after my mom reminded me one day that since we had lived closer to Washington D.C. than Baltimore, had the Nats existed when I lived in Maryland, I likely would have followed them instead of the Orioles, or I would have followed them both. When I lived in Florida the Nats had Spring Training less than an hour away from where I lived, which made catching games easy. Even after moving to Texas I continued to catch the Nats whenever I traveled to Florida for Spring Training.

When the Nats made their magical World Series run against the Houston Astros in 2019, I certainly got nasty looks as I wore my Nats gear proudly around the Houston suburbs but my fandom was well entrenched by then and as the song goes, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, and the trash can gonna bang, bang, bang.” So when I make the trip to Oriole Park, I will be sure to stay in town long enough to catch a game at Nationals Park as well while I am there.

Globe Life Field, Arlington, TX

The Texas Rangers traded in their quaint, furnace of a Ballpark for a retractable roof version next door. When the scoreboard says it is 108 degrees outside it will be nice to catch a game in air conditioned comfort.
Photo R. Anderson

The third Ballpark I want to visit for the first time is Globe Life Field, the new home of the Texas Rangers.

I attended games at Globe Life Park, which the Rangers previously called home, and left each game a few pounds lighter than when I went in based on the triple digit heat, and the general lack of air circulation within the lower bowl of the Ballpark.

The Rangers decided that their under 30-year old Ballpark was not conducive to the climate in the Dallas Metroplex and a retractable roof Ballpark was built next door. Globe Life Park briefly served as the home of the Dallas XFL team, but with the XFL gone Globe Life Park will be two teams short.

While some could argue that based on the hard to miss similarities between the design of Globe Life Field and Minute Maid Park, I have already seen the new facility, I still want to visit it. Whenever I do make it up to Arlington it will definitely be nice to experience a Rangers game for once without needing to bring a dry set of clothes for the drive home.

Nat Bailey Stadium, Vancouver, British Columbia

During my previous trip to Vancouver, British Columbia I had poutine in Stanley Park. During my next visit to Vancouver I hope to have poutine in the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

While the previous three ballparks on the list have all been on the Major League level, my fourth Bucket List Ballpark that I want to visit takes us north of the border, and also down to Class A in the Minor Leagues.

Nat Bailey Stadium, located smack dab in the center of Vancouver, British Columbia, is the home of the Vancouver Canadians, who are the Class A Toronto Blue Jays farm team.  A few years back, I had the opportunity to catch a Vancouver Canucks hockey game in Vancouver. Catching a BC Lions CFL game in Vancouver is also on my Bucket List, so it is only natural that I would want to see baseball north of the border as well.

Taking my baseball fandom international will certainly be an experience to treasure. Of course, traveling all the way to Canada just to see a Minor League baseball game would likely be rather silly in the big picture. Good thing that there are many other items on the list for things to do on the trip besides the game. I just hope they serve poutine at the Ballpark. Something tells me that they do.

FNB Field, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

The Washington Nationals have a Farm Team named the Harrisburg Senators who play on an island. As long as I don’t have to take a boat called the S.S. Minnow to get there count me in.
Photo R. Anderson

The final Ballpark on the list is FNB Field in Harrisburg, PA. FNB Field is the home field of the Harrisburg Senators, the Double-A Minor League affiliate of the Washington Nationals,

The Ballpark has been on my Bucket List for several years based on a) it being a Washington Nationals farm team and b) it is located on an island in the middle of the Susquehanna River.  I mean, a Ballpark in the middle of a river. How cool is that?

I still have the program from my first Major League Baseball Game. between the Baltimore Orioles and the Milwaukee Brewers.  It is one of many programs that I have collected through the years. In the years to come I look forward to collecting even more programs, ticket stubs, and souvenir cups as I travel around to various Ballparks.
Photo R. Anderson

If I plan really carefully, I can likely catch a game on the island during the same trip where I go see Oriole Park and Nationals Park. Three days of Esskay hot dogs, Old Bay lump blue crab cakes, and Utz cheese curls sounds pretty spectacular right about now.

Of course, visiting any Ballpark will be welcome once the all-clear is given on this terrible virus that has taken far too many lives, and forever impacted the lives that it hasn’t taken.

Stay safe. Stay smart, and I will see you at a Ballpark in the not too distant future.  Until then, may your dreams involve Ballparks with all you can eat popcorn and unlimited soda refills.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check to see if we are still keeping track of the days of the week.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Looking Back at the First Baseball Game Played in an Empty Ballpark

Editor’s Note: As the world of sports continues an extended timeout due to the COVID-19 virus we look back on a column from April 29, 2015 which captures what the future of sport may look like for the foreseeable future as Major League Baseball and other sports look at ways to “Play Ball” without fans.

Earlier today The Baltimore Orioles and Chicago White Sox tested the baseball equivalent of the old adage about what happens when a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it.

Instead of a forest though the two teams were in the nearly empty Oriole Park at Camden Yards for a Major League Baseball game in which the Orioles defeated the White Sox 8-2.

The National Anthem was still played, and a stretch was still made in the seventh inning complete with the John Denver song that has entertained Birdland for the better part of four decades; but something was definitely missing.

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team to host a game with locked out fans. Photo R. Anderson
The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team to host a game with locked out fans.
Photo R. Anderson

With only players, team officials, some scouts and members of the media allowed inside the Ballpark the game marked the first time in MLB history that fans were locked out of the Ballpark when a game was going on.

While there were fans who gathered to watch the game from outside the gates no ticketed fans were allowed through the turnstiles.

With no fans inside the Ballpark home run balls and foul balls went uncaught and parts of the Ballpark were so silent one could likely hear a pin drop.

Orioles Skipper Buck Showalter noted after the game that it was so quiet that he could hear the bullpen phone ringing from the other end.

As strange as playing in an empty Ballpark is today’s game was merely one of many things to occur during a strange week for the Orioles who briefly told fans that they could not leave the Ballpark on Saturday night and then saw games on Monday and Tuesday completely cancelled.

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and his teammates played a game in an empty Orioles Park at Camden Yards after MLB officials deemed it was unsafe to allow fans to attend. Photo R. Anderson
Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and his teammates played a game in an empty Orioles Park at Camden Yards after MLB officials deemed it was unsafe to allow fans to attend.
Photo R. Anderson

The Orioles will also fly south this weekend for a “home” series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals.

The reason for all of the juggling of the schedule is protests that are occurring in the neighborhoods surrounding the Ballpark which have led to the city of Baltimore imposing a 10 p.m. curfew.

Even with all of the efforts to shorten the pace of play a regular MLB game could not be finished in time for fans to all get home before 10. Ironically though the game in the empty Ballpark was finished in just a little over two hours which might lead some to believe that the ultimate way to shorten the game is to lock the fans out all the time.

With police and National Guard troops trying to restore order within Baltimore to prevent future acts of violence and looting, the Ballpark will stay silent until it is deemed safe to once again play ball.

Part of the freedom Americans have is free speech and the ability to show displeasure with things in a way that very few other countries have.

The Orioles will fly south this weekend for a
The Orioles will fly south this weekend for a “home” series at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays after the Rays voiced concerns about visiting Baltimore for the scheduled series between division rivals.
Photo R. Anderson

But there are limits to the protection of free speech. Just as it is illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no fire it is also illegal to burn buildings and other property as a form of protest.

The violence and destruction over the past few days takes away from those members of society who are trying to peacefully demonstrate and have their voices heard.

As is almost always the case a small minority of protestors escalated things to the level of violence so any generalizations about the behavior of all of the protestors would be false. Sadly, the actions of the few far out shadow any peaceful message that the many may have been trying to share.

And while a baseball game being played in an empty Ballpark is likely something that will be forever mentioned as part of Baseball lore and may even warrant a small exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame, it is those few individuals who turned to violent protests that caused the community of Baltimore to lose the economic benefit from at least six baseball games.

Granted two of the cancelled games will be made up as a doubleheader later in the season but the fact remains the protests took money out of people’s pockets.

Bars and restaurants near the Ballpark did not benefit from the game day crowds and the various vendors who sell peanuts and Cracker Jacks missed out on income from the games as well.

Hopefully the Orioles are able to come home to roost by the time of their next schedule home game, however, Major League Baseball has made it very clear that fans will not be allowed inside the Ballpark while protests are still actively occurring.

While it is certainly unfortunate that games are being played without fans and Camden Yards, the safety of the thousands of fans had to be taken into account so while it was a difficult decision to move out of Baltimore it was likely the only decision MLB felt they could make.

When the dust settles it is the images of the burning police cars and looting that most people will remember more than any peaceful demonstration that may have occurred.

In previous times of despair, such as the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, baseball has served as a way to unite the community and help heal wounds.

Hopefully baseball in Baltimore can once again unite the community to focus on being one Baltimore cheering together for the men wearing the orange and black.

That is not to say that Esskay hot dogs, and crab cakes can solve all of societies problems nor is diminishing the rights of citizens to engage in peaceful demonstrations to stand up when they feel they are being wronged.

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was one of two players to hit a home run with no fans there to catch it. Photo R. Anderson
Orioles first baseman Chris Davis was one of two players to hit a home run with no fans there to catch it.
Photo R. Anderson

Regardless of whether one agrees with the protesters or not one should agree that they have the right to demonstrate within the boundaries of the law.

It is when those protests fall outside the boundaries of the law that action, even the difficult action of looking fans out of a Ballpark, must be taken to ensure that innocent people are not harmed.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see what sporting event will be aired next without any fans.

Copyright 2015 R Anderson

Triple B Flashback: In the Beginning

Editor’s Note:  For the remainder of June we will be counting down our 10 favorite columns as we celebrate summer vacation. Coming in at number 1 on our countdown is a column from January 25, 2013.

It has been said, rightly so, that every story has a beginning.

One need only look at literature to see some opening lines that have definitely stood the test of time.

From Charles Dickens declaring in A Tale of Two Cities that “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” to Herman Melville inviting the readers of Moby Dick to “Call me Ishmael,” history is full of great opening lines and beginnings of stories.

These classic openers have grabbed the reader’s attention hook line, and in Moby Dick‘s case very large sinker for generations.

While beginnings are important one cannot and should not stop there.

By stopping at the beginning line of A Tale of Two Cities one would know nothing more than that times were both good and bad.

The same can be true of Moby Dick where the hunt for the white whale consumes Captain Ahab and his crew and becomes far more than just knowing to call a guy Ishmael.

So it is with all of us, while we are not classic literature we also have our origin stories and events that shape who we are and what pursuits we follow.

Don’t worry, this is not a back in the day when little Ryan was born kind of story.

Although, it is safe to say if we weren’t all born, none of us would be here.

No, this is a tale of when my love of baseball took root. And much like Dickens the tale of my first baseball game experience was the both the best of times and the worst of times.

Memorial Stadium 2
Memorial Stadium in Baltimore circa 1983.
Photo by R. Anderson

As I have mentioned previously, I grew up as a Baltimore Orioles fan who bled Orange and Black pretty much from the time I can remember.

I followed football as well but baseball was also the sport that drew me in just a little bit more.

As such, I tried to catch all the games that I could on the radio and television. I could recite lineups and stats that would make even the most avid statistician take notice.

So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that I was going to get to go to Memorial Stadium to see the Orioles play in person in September of 1983.

Aside from the thrill of going to the game for me, 1983 was a very pivotal year for the Orioles as they were in the first year under new manager Joe Altobelli following retirement number one of Earl Weaver and spoiler alert they went on to win the World Series that year over the Philadelphia Phillies.

Of course I am getting ahead of myself since no one knew for sure in September what October would hold but needless to say there was a buzz throughout Birdland on the anticipation of what could be.

Speaking of anticipation, like most young boys gong to their first baseball game I had high hopes and higher expectations that I was going to catch a home run ball hit by Cal Ripken, Jr. and get all kinds of player autographs before the game.

I was joined in my traveling party by my mom, a family friend and his nephew. The sky was the limit and I was ready to make the most of the ballpark experience.

We all loaded into the car and headed up to Baltimore (or Balmer if you are from there) which was about a 30 minute drive from where we lived.

Throughout the drive we excitedly talked about who we would see first and which inning we wanted to catch the home run ball in since it would be greedy to want to catch all of the home run balls that were hit our way.

Orioles Program
The 1983 Baltimore Orioles game program.

We arrived in plenty of time having pledged to arrive early and see the sights to avoid the traffic.

After walking around the Inner Harbor area it was time to head to the stadium.

It was at this moment that the realization occurred that the tickets that would gain us entrance into the hallowed walls of Memorial Stadium were not with us in Baltimore but were in fact back in Gaithersburg which was 30 minutes away and at this time even further away in traffic.

Looking back now with 29 years or so of hindsight I want to say that I handled the news of the ticket situation with dignity and grace and the cool assurance that comes from knowing that things like this happen and that the world goes on but the key is to keep calm.

The reality of course is that 8-year-old me did not take the news well at all. And who can blame young me?

I was at the cusp of seeing my heroes, of eating hot dogs until I was blue in the face and of course catching that pivotal home run and getting all of those autographs. Now, all of that was in jeopardy and I was not pleased and was far from calm.

In the end, we made it to the game around the fifth inning, found our seats and watched the Orioles play the Milwaukee Brewers who had not yet moved to the National League at this time. (Why the Brewers did not move back to the American League instead of the Astros for 2013 is another story for another day, but is no less puzzling).

I did not catch that home run ball. I did not get any autographs. I did eat a hot dog and I most definitely discovered that baseball is so much better in person.

There is a buzz around ballparks that really can’t be duplicated even with the most high definition of televisions with Dolby surround sound and the freshest of popcorn smells being pumped into the media room. To truly experience baseball is to experience it in person.

Since moving to Texas I have adopted the Astros into my stable of teams that I follow and try to attend as many games as I can each year in Minute Maid Park in addition to traveling the country and going to ballparks both small and large.

I have also since caught my share of balls despite striking out in my first attempt in 1983.

No matter the ballpark size I still get the same feeling walking in as I did as that 8-year-old boy experiencing it for the first time.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a huge fan of crowds so the push and shove on the escalators and concourses can get tiring but once I am in my seat the magic begins all over again and it is like I am seeing it all for the first time through the eyes of younger me.

For those few hours in the Ballpark, I don’t worry about the stress of life or any of the outside world it is just the game and me; well and thousands of my closest friends.

So while that September night in 1983 did not go completely to plan it was indeed the best of times and the worst of times and introduced me to the white whale that I have chased across state lines ever since.

It also taught me to always check and double check that I have the tickets before leaving for the ballpark.

Now if you will excuse me I think I need to catch up on some Dickens.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson