Stable Stability is a Tricky Thing to Balance

Early last year I decided to add an additional team to my stable of baseball teams that I follow.

The addition of a new team into the stable is not something that is taken lightly and a variety of factors are involved in the process in order for a team to be determined worthy.

At the time of the decision to expand, my stable included the Baltimore Orioles (added in 1980), the Tampa Bay Rays (added in 1998), the Houston Astros (added in 2000), and the Washington Nationals (added in 2005). Each of the teams represented areas where I had either previously lived or had a history with following.

While the logo has changed, thirty three years later the Bird is still the word and the Baltimore Orioles still are the longest tenured team in the Stable of teams I follow. Photo R. Anderson
While the logo has changed, thirty three years later the Bird is still the word and the Baltimore Orioles still are the longest tenured team in the Stable of teams I follow.
Photo R. Anderson

I still follow the Atlanta Braves and Florida (Miami) Marlins for sentimental reasons but they were considered on the outside of the core four teams.

Despite their two World Series titles, and the history of me following them since their first year in 1993, the Marlins fell from prime stable positioning a few years ago after years of inept decisions by ownership that led to repeatedly fielding a non-competitive team.

That is not to say that winning is everything, I just want to know that ownership is making an effort to field a competitive ball club year after year. Astros you have been put on notice as well.

As I mentioned, one of the criteria for selecting a team to admit into the stable is historical attachment to the team through living or traveling frequently to their home base.

While once Devilish, The Tampa Bay Rays are the second longest tenured team in my stable of baseball teams. Photo R. Anderson
While once Devilish, The Tampa Bay Rays are the second longest tenured team in my stable of baseball teams.
Photo R. Anderson

Over the past few years I have traveled extensively in and around the Dallas area; including Arlington and Frisco. For those who may not be familiar with those areas they are home to the Texas Rangers and the Frisco Rough Riders, the Rangers’ AA affiliate.

During many of my trips north I would find myself at one of the two ballparks, or watching games in the hotel during downtime.

As the trips grew more frequent, so did the exposure to the Rangers to the point that I started watching Rangers games back home in Houston when the Astros were not on.

So, after careful consideration I decided that, while I consider certain Rangers’ fans to be some of the rudest people I have ever encountered in a ballpark, the Rangers had many pros that made them worthy of stable inclusion.

A new century, and a new team. The Houston Astros joined the stable in 2000. Photo R. Anderon
A new century, and a new team. The Houston Astros joined the stable in 2000.
Photo R. Anderon

The pros included proximity, Nolan Ryan, and Josh Hamilton. It was also decided that with the Astros in the National League and the Rangers in the American League I could easily follow both teams in the same way that I followed the Nationals and the Orioles since they were in the National and American Leagues respectively.

So, in 2012 the Rangers were officially added to my stable. While there was not an official ceremony or military flyover the day was marked with the purchase of a Rangers hat and t-shirt during one of my trips up to Frisco.

Shortly after the stable inclusion, one by one the carefully met criteria that allowed the Rangers in began to crumble.

The Washington Nationals joined the stable once they were exported from Montreal in 2005. Photo R. Anderson
The Washington Nationals joined the stable once they were exported from Montreal in 2005.
Photo R. Anderson

It was announced that not only would the Astros be moving to the American League, they would be moving into the same division as the Rangers. This meant they would face each other repeatedly in head to head battles beyond the yearly Lone Star interleague series.

I already had the Orioles and the Rays in the same division and the heartburn that gives me each year on who to pull for more when it comes to playoff time often has me reaching for the Pepcid.

I quickly came to terms with the fact that most analysts believe it will be years, if not decades, before the Astros are competing for the playoffs in the American League so I will have time to build up a plan for which team to root for more when the pennant races roll around.

The next obstacle to overcome for the Rangers to remain in my stable was the loss of Josh Hamilton to the Angels during free agency.

While I know that players come and go with great frequency, it really seemed like Josh Hamilton was one of the faces of the franchise for years to come and was one of the good guys that one wanted to see succeed based on the personal demons that he had overcome.

Ok, so no Josh Hamilton, no problem. At least they still had Nolan Ryan who by many accounts is the epitome of Texas baseball and has a museum just down the road from Houston.

While the Frisco Rough Riders were already in the Minor League stable their big brother joined the stable in 2012. Photo R. Anderson
While the Frisco Rough Riders were already in the Minor League stable their big brother joined the stable in 2012.
Photo R. Anderson

Then a few weeks back it was announced that Nolan Ryan may be leaving the team that he helped purchase a few years back.

While I would hate to see him go I know that Nolan Ryan will land on his feet if his tenure with the Rangers does end. Nolan’s loss alone, like that of Josh Hamilton, would not be reason enough to rescind the Rangers’ membership in my exclusive stable of teams to follow.

So, the Rangers become the fifth team in my stable with their place firmly entrenched. Of course whenever they play the Orioles, Rays or Astros they will not be the team that I root for the most. I mean tenure in the stable has to count for something.

Of course if they end up playing the Nationals in interleague play that creates another interesting dilemma since the Rangers were once the Washington Senators before leaving for the suburbs of Dallas in 1972. I guess who to pull for in that pairing of D.C. past and D.C. present will be another decision for another day.

This brings us to this Sunday and the start of the 2013 Major League Baseball season. The Rangers and the Astros will face off in a nationally televised game to kick the season off.

I am sure there will be a sellout crowd at the game. If past games between the two are to be any indication, the mix at Minute Maid Park will be about 60 percent Rangers fans, 30 percent Astros fans and 10 percent Texans fans (Seriously, the number of people who wear football jerseys to baseball games amazes me).

I haven’t decided for sure which jersey I will sport at the game. I am leaning towards the Astros even though I am fairly confident that the Rangers will prevail.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to review another stable application that just came across the Triple B news desk. After all, if realignment has taught me anything it is that even numbered divisions are much easier to manage than odd ones.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson

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Tis the Season When the Road Goes Both Ways

As the 30 Major League Baseball teams make their final cuts this week to get down to their 25-man active roster there will likely be tears of joy as well as sadness depending on which side of the cut a player is on.

For every player who is told that they made it, there are many more who will start the season in the minor leagues. For others, the dream will end altogether as they realize that their professional baseball careers are over altogether.

The Pensacola Pelicans are a former independant baseball team where players would try to prolong their careers. Photo R. Anderson
The Pensacola Pelicans are a former independent baseball team where players would try to prolong their careers.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course getting cut by a MLB team does not have to be the end. Many players try to extend their careers through playing overseas or for one of the many independent baseball teams around the country.

The motivation for not wanting to call it a career and give up on the dream can be easily understood when one considers that for many of these players baseball is all they have known since they were old enough to hold a bat and wear a glove.

The decision to continue their careers in the independent leagues can be a financial burden for many players who never made it to the Major Leagues. One aspect of many independent leagues involves finding host families where the players can live rent free during the season since many of them are making less than minimum wage to follow their baseball dreams.

Two stories that recently broke involving players associated with an Independent baseball team down the road from me prove that the dream can continue after the road most taken ends.

Let us consider the curious cases of Scott Kazmir, Koby Clemens and the Sugarland Skeeters of the Atlantic League.

Kazmir was recently named the Cleveland Indians’ fifth starter entering the 2013 season resurrecting a career that had seemed doomed after control problems derailed his Major League career in 2011.

As a member of the Tampa Bay Rays during the 2008 World Series he was a dominant ace. Shortly after that Kazmir’s fall from grace was swift and painful to watch when he collapsed following a trade west to the Angels.

After being out of the show for a few years, and still considered a relativity young pitcher at only 29 years-old, the Houston area native and former American League All-Star looked to revitalize his career as a member of the Skeeters last season.

He started 14 games with Sugar Land, going 3-6 and collecting 51 strikeouts in 64.0 total innings pitched. The performance with the Skeeters, as well as time spent in Winter Ball, gave Kazmir an invite to Indians Spring Training where he was 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA with 13 strikeouts in four games.

Whether that return to form will last over the course of the season remains to be seen but what is known is for the first time since 2011 Scott Kazmir will be on a Major League opening day roster.

The case for Koby Clemens finding redemption and another shot at Major League glory through the independent route is a little hazier. Koby, son of Roger, has bounced around the minor leagues since being drafted in 2005 by the Astros. Aside from being invited to Major League Spring Training once, he has not advanced beyond AAA ball.

After eight years in the minor league farm system of the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays Koby Clemens has landed with the Sugarland Skeeters of the Atlantic League. Photo R Anderson
After eight years in the minor league farm system of the Houston Astros and Toronto Blue Jays Koby Clemens has landed with the Sugarland Skeeters of the Atlantic League.
Photo R Anderson

Drafted as a catcher and spending time as a first baseman and third baseman the tools just have not been there to earn a look at the big league level.

Koby did catch in one game last year for the Skeeters when his dad was on the mound. It was recently announced that he will be the team’s full time catcher this season and he will try to regain some of the confidence behind the plate that first had him drafted eight years ago.

Time will tell whether the detour to independent baseball will help prolong and perhaps kick start Koby Clemens’ career the same way it helped give another chance to Scott Kazmir.

The odds would say that Clemens will become just another statistic and victim of a system where only a select few ever excel, but one never knows.

When I was in high school I had a friend who was a star pitcher on the school baseball team. The team made it to the state playoffs my junior year. The following year it was not uncommon to see various pro scouts in the stands.

Although he never made it on the 25-man roster, Koby Clemens did get invited to Spring Training once with the Astros. Photo R. Anderson
Although he never made it on the 25-man roster, Koby Clemens did get invited to Spring Training once with the Astros.
Photo R. Anderson

My friend was a southpaw pitcher which was then and continues to be a hot commodity. He ended up signing with the New York Yankees right out of high school and as Tom Petty would say, “the future was wide open.”

Setbacks on the field as well as off the field led him to bounce around the Minor Leagues for 10 years until finally calling it a career without so much as a cup of coffee in the show.

There are thousands of players just like my friend who seek the bright lights of big league ballparks only to find their dreams cut short.

Many will bounce along as long as possible chasing the dream until the realities of life and family commitments lead them to a more steady form of work.

I lost track of my friend a few years before the end of his career but would still follow his career whenever I saw a blurb on one of the Minor League sites. I hope he is doing well for himself and that he landed on his feet after he hung up his glove for the last time.

Now if you’ll excuse me I think it is time to order some Skeeter tickets.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

I’ve Got a Fever and the Prescription is Baseball, and More Cowbell

In a little under two weeks the 2013 Major League Baseball season will officially begin with the prime-time Easter Sunday showdown between the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.

Minute Maid Park will be the site of the first game of the 2013 Major League Baseball season. Photo R Anderson
Minute Maid Park will be the site of the first game of the 2013 Major League Baseball season.
Photo R Anderson

Ever since I bought my ticket to that game I have found myself with a little spring in my step knowing that soon the games will count for real.

I guess it is not to say that Spring Training does not count but there is certainly a difference between the validity of a Spring Training record versus a regular season record.

Another factor that has me ready for the start of the season is the historic aspect of being present for not only the first game of the season but also the first game for the Astros in the American League.

So with all of the excitement one might even say I have a fever for baseball.

The fever got me thinking about a classic Saturday Night Live skit involving Christopher Walken. In the skit Walken plays a music producer who has a fever and the only cure is more cowbell.

Throughout the skit Will Ferrell runs around like a man possessed banging his cowbell all over the sound stage to the dismay of his band mates.

With the baseball season approaching I am in the mood for more cowbell. Photo R. Anderson
With the baseball season approaching I am in the mood for more cowbell.
Photo R. Anderson

If you have never watched the skit I highly recommended you do so if for no other reason than to watch one of Jimmy Fallon’s many times that he broke character and laughed during a skit.

Inspired by the skit, teams soon made sure that cowbells were available in the various gift shops for fans to make sure they get into the spirit.

Of the ballparks that I have visited I have to say that Tropicana Filed, the home of the Tampa Bay Rays, is the most cowbell frenzied one.

While the Rays often rank near the bottom each year in terms of attendance one cannot deny that the fans who are there definitely make some noise and that noise is often fueled from cowbells.

What can I say there is just something fun about thousands of one’s closet friends clanging on the cowbell in unison.

Fred Schneider of the rock band The B-52's is definitely someone who enjoys more cowbell has demonstrated during a concert at Tropicana field. Photo R. Anderson
Fred Schneider of the rock band The B-52’s is definitely someone who enjoys more cowbell as demonstrated during a concert at Tropicana field.
Photo R. Anderson

But like everything in life there is a time and a place for the cowbell.

The most appropriate times to ring the cowbell are when a pitcher has two strikes on an opposing batter, the home team player reaches base or scores a run, and of course whenever one is prompted to do so by the stadium announcer or visual cues.

Of course another time for cowbell in the ballpark is when the B-52s are in concert there. That was the case during my first visit to Tropicana Field. For those unfamiliar with the band, they do enjoy their cowbell as well.

So hopefully the thoughts of baseball and cowbells have you pumped for the start of the season as well.

Now if you’ll excuse I need to make sure my cowbell is still in tune. And remember don’t fear the cowbell.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson

Spring Training Goes a Little Greener on St. Patrick’s Day

For those of you living under a rock, or perhaps more appropriately under a blarney stone, yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick’s Day is named after Saint Patrick, one of the patron saints of Ireland. The actual origin story and legends surrounding St. Patrick are varied and tend to depend greatly on the source material one looks at.

There is of course the legend about St. Patrick driving all of the snakes out of Ireland. However, most scholars and scientists agree that there is no evidence in the historic or fossil record of snakes ever being in Ireland to begin with so the likelihood of a single man driving them all off of the island is highly improbable.

I guess now is also a good time to mention that despite Walt Disney’s assurances and “documentary” techniques King Brian and Darby O’Gill also didn’t really exist.

What is agreed upon is that St. Patrick was born in England in the late 4th century A.D. and was kidnapped as a child and brought to Ireland.

He escaped his captors after six years and returned to Ireland as a missionary combining Irish pagan beliefs with Christian sacrament while devising the Celtic Cross.

Tis the season for all things green, including green felt hats. Photo R Anderson
Tis the season for all things green, including green felt hats.
Photo R Anderson

In the centuries that have followed St. Patrick’s Day has been less about the man and more about green clothes, green beer, green hats and pretty much anything else green.

Over the past couple of years the green movement has moved to the fields of Major League Baseball as well.

No, I am not talking about the grass on the fields.

I am not even talking about the number of teams who are now encouraging recycling and other “green initiatives” inside their ballparks.

What I am talking about is the green that is popping up on the players.

For the past few years the Spring Training games on St. Patrick’s Day have included teams wearing green uniforms and hats.

The first team that I recall, going green was the Boston Red Sox. The green uniforms and hats seemed an obvious choice based on the amount of Irish American fans in the Boston area.

Other teams followed the green trend and soon it became a league wide tradition as part of the day where everyone can claim to be a little Irish.

The teams that go green each year vary with some teams forgoing the green for their more traditional colors.

The Houston Astros joined the St. Patrick's Day green movement this season. Photo R Anderson
The Houston Astros joined the St. Patrick’s Day green movement this season.
Photo R Anderson

The first time I saw a televised game with the Red Sox wearing the green uniforms I actually thought there was something wrong with my televisions set since the sight of teams in colors other than their normal ones can take some getting used to.

This year the Baltimore Orioles took the green movement a step further with a charity auction of autographed game worn green cartoon bird caps.

Don’t feel like bidding on green Orioles hats? Don’t worry you can still get into the green swing as well with various green items available for purchase for all 30 teams.

The full circle marketing of St. Patrick’s Day to include green items for the fans was just a matter of time since Major League Baseball, like most successful businesses, has made a habit of capitalizing on every opportunity to make money.

Don Zimmer (far right) is a special adviser to Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays and is not to be mistaken for a leprechaun despite what one might think from seeing the Zim Bear giveaway item last year. Photo R Anderson
Don Zimmer (far right) is a special adviser to Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays and is not to be mistaken for a leprechaun despite what one might think from seeing the Zim Bear giveaway item last year.
Photo R Anderson

While the green gear is popular with the fans it also allows the players to try something new in Spring Training. There are special uniform nights throughout the season but green uniform day is the only one that falls during Spring Training.

So as a public service announcement next time March 17th rolls around do not adjust your set when you are watching that Spring Training game. Your eyes are not playing tricks on you and the players really are wearing green.

Now if you see a leprechaun at the ballpark and ask to see his pot of gold odds are it is just Don Zimmer.

Now if you’ll excuse me all of this talk about green things has me in the mood for some green eggs and ham.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson

 

Big Time Fights, They Aren’t Just for Hockey Anymore

The other day I decided to watch the World Baseball Classic game between Mexico and Canada.

Part of the motivation for watching the game was to try to figure out how it was that Team USA lost to the Mexican team the day before. The other motivation was the fact that I had watched Team Canada play in a tournament in St. Petersburg, FL last year.

Members of Team Canada take batting practice during a 2012 exhibition game at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, FL. Photo R. Anderson
Members of Team Canada take batting practice during a 2012 exhibition game at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, FL.
Photo R. Anderson

So as I settled in to watch the game I knew that while there are Major League Players on each of the rosters, the World Baseball Classic plays by international rules which differ from the MLB rules in some areas.

One of those rules involves running up the score when possible to help the run differential numbers.

In most cases running up the score is frowned upon in sports when the lead is well in hand.

In fact, high school and college games include an 11-run mercy rule to help prevent really lopsided scores.

Back when I covered high school baseball I actually found myself rooting for the mercy rule to come into play many a night.

It wasn’t that I wanted a team to lose by that much, but a shortened game meant that I could get back to the office sooner and in theory get the pages on the press earlier. It did not always work out that way but when it did it was uber nice.

So during the Canada versus Mexico game, and with Canada having a very safe lead late in the game, the lead off batter in the eighth inning for Canada dropped down a bunt and reached safely when the third baseman was late to react.

There was nothing inherently dirty about the bunt. As mentioned earlier, the tournament was set up to encourage teams to score as many runs as possible.

Apparently the third baseman for Team Mexico missed that memo and directed the pitcher to deliver a message to the next better. One international constant in baseball it seems that is understood in every language is the intentional hit batter when a team feels it has been wronged.

So, the pitcher hits the batter in the back, the batter takes offense and starts to charge the mound, and both benches clear and partake in an all out brawl.

Team Canada and the Baltimore Orioles during a 2012 exhibition game. Photo R. Anderson
Team Canada and the Baltimore Orioles during a 2012 exhibition game.
Photo R. Anderson

While not as common as say a fight in hockey, baseball fights do occur now and then. The main catalyst for these fights usually centers on a player getting hit by a pitch.

One of the more absurd elements of these fights for me is the sight of the bullpen pitchers running all the way across the outfield to get to the fight, which in many cases has already ended by the time they arrive to participate.

The fight between the Canadian and Mexican teams was atypical in the fact that it seemed to last a lot longer than most.

Once the teams were finally sent back to their dugouts and the dust had settled, fans of the Mexican team started throwing items into the Canadian team’s dugout. The most glaring of these being a mostly full water bottle that hit one of the coaches in the head.

Fans were ejected and the game was finally able to continue with Canada advancing and Mexico getting eliminated from the tournament.

While I do not go to a baseball game hoping to see a fight, I know that sometimes emotions run high and tempers flare leading to a dust up like the one at the game the other day. What I have no patience or sympathy for is unruly fans or people trying to get in on the action by throwing things onto the field.

For the most part athletes are not looking into the stands, except for Alex Rodriguez trying to get phones numbers, so they are more at risk of not seeing items flying in their direction. These projectiles falling from a long distance can create serious injury.

The fan mob mentality of throwing things is not limited to American soil. Soccer is known for the massive riots that erupt oversees. And many of those riots end with people being killed.

Seriously, people it is just a game. And there will be other ones so there is no need for people to lose their lives over it. Also, in many of those riots it is innocent people that end up paying with their lives over the action of a few.

I have had the opportunity to go to several sporting events that have included Canadian fans, both hockey and baseball. And by and large they are some of the most well behaved and considerate fans I have ever been around in terms of stadium etiquette.

Even when they are “heckling” the other team it seems polite and never rises to the level of personal attacks. Now, I am sure that there are bad Canadian fans, just like there are good and bad fans anywhere, but I have yet to see them.

My point is not to say that fans cannot get emotional about their teams. Quite the opposite healthy passion for one’s team is at the very heart of sports. What I am saying is that it is possible to be passionate and polite at the same time. If you don’t believe me just try sitting next to some Canadians some time.

Now if you’ll excuse me all of this talk about Canada has me in the mood to watch some Bob and Doug McKenzie movies.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson