Category Archives: Major League Baseball

It’s Not My First Rodeo

While ballparks across Florida and Arizona are coming to life with the sounds of Spring Training baseball, there is another tradition of the season that has arrived a little closer to my Texas home.

It is rodeo time and all throughout town the sights, smells and sounds of barbecue, bucking broncos and music abound as the annual salute to all things country and western rolls into town.

Rodeo time has come to Houston and everyone is getting into the spirit. Photo R. Anderson
Rodeo time has come to Houston and everyone is getting into the spirit.
Photo R. Anderson

For several weeks the days and nights will be filled with livestock auctions, skills competitions and nightly concerts. As part of this rodeo bonanza television ads for everything from trucks to mattresses focus on stampedes, herds and other buzz words of the season.

Another tradition of the season is the unexplainable need of the local television reporters to dress up in rodeo gear while they are covering the various activities. Some of the reporters look the part, but most of them definitely look like they are all hat and no cattle.

I have always said that you either are something, or you are not. So the dressing up as a cow poke, when you are a obvious city slicker, really is not fooling anybody. Still, I am sure when rodeo rolls around next year there will still be the pretenders that dust off those once a year duds or go to the Western wear store to get something new.

In the decade plus that I have lived here I have yet to attend a rodeo. When people ask me if I am going to the rodeo, and I reply that I am not, often times it is like I have stomped their balloon animal into tiny little pieces.

It is not that I am anti rodeo per se, I just don’t feel the need to battle the crowds to see the events and concerts. Plus, growing up I was not really exposed to the cow and horse events where it became something that I am drawn to.

Don’t get me wrong, I have much respect for the rodeo performers and I know that they each have spent years honing their craft on horse and bull. I can also respect the people who raise livestock for the various judging.

Countless hours and sleepless nights go into any effort to become the best at anything. While there are always the exceptions and phenoms that seem to have everything come easy to them, for the rest of us we get where we are through hard work and practice.

The same can be said for the baseball players kicking up dirt on those various Spring Training ballparks. Each of them has spent years honing their skills and making countless sacrifices to reach the pinnacle of their field.

Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Ben Zobrist was a popular target of hecklers at Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. Photo R. Anderson
Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Ben Zobrist was a popular target of hecklers at Rangers Ballpark at Arlington.
Photo R. Anderson

While not working with temperamental bulls or raising sheep with the best looking wool, they have nonetheless paid their dues and earned their place in the spotlight.

This is why I have never understood the activity of heckling players when someone attends a sporting event.

Even if someone does not necessarily like the other team or certain players it seems like one could respect the amount of time and effort they took to get there without the need to resort to name calling and other tactics.

To be clear, I am not talking about the “little league” heckling about “belly itchers” which is started as a way to focus wandering minds in the dugout and create team chemistry.

I am talking about the heckling that amounts to personal attacks and other areas that seem to go beyond the line of good taste. And yes the players can usually tune out the stands but there have been a few times when I was sitting in the outfield that I could see a physical reaction from the player who was the target of the heckling.

Proponents of heckling, when confronted on the issue, will usually quote the First Amendment or say that buying the ticket gives them the right to shout down at the players. While I am a huge believer in freedom of speech and the First Amendment I also believe that the freedom of speech comes with responsibility and does not protect all speech.

Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas is the only ballpark where the bullpens are surrounded on all sides by the fans giving hecklers prime access. Photo R. Anderson
Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, Texas is the only ballpark where the bullpens are surrounded on all sides by the fans giving hecklers prime access.
Photo R. Anderson

The level of heckling I have seen at ballparks varies and some regions definitely tend to raise it to an art form more than others. Still, whenever I am around heckling I cringe. I especially find it unsettling when the heckling is multi generational. When one heckles in front of their children they are basically ensuring that the trend continues for another generation.

There are so many better traditions of baseball to pass along to one’s children than heckling. There is teaching them how to keep score or explaining the various rules of the game etc.

While I hold little hope that ballparks will ever become heckle free zones I do hope that the amount of heckling will be minimized. Maybe baseball could set up sound proof heckle zones where people could heckle to their hearts content without the rest of the fans being exposed to it.

Now if you’ll excuse me I am suddenly feeling the need to find a savings stampede. After all, like rodeo time they won’t be here for long.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Time for Grapefruits, Cacti, and RBI

While most of the country is digging out from under the latest blizzard it may be hard to fathom but spring has officially arrived.

Okay, so spring may not be officially here according to the calendar but try telling that to the Boys of Summer who are embarking on the start of their work year and getting down to the business of playing ball.

After shaking off the dust during inter-squad drills, and simulated games, it is now time for Major League Baseball teams to face each other in real competition as the games of the 2013 Spring Training season have begun in ballparks across Florida and Arizona.

Spring Training serves as a chance for teams to gel together and learn the strengths and weaknesses on the roster. Rosters are never the same from one year to the next so oftentimes players are meeting as teammates for the first time when they report to camp. It is also a time for players on the bubble of making the team to either hurt or help their chances based on their performance between the foul lines.

While it has been tradition for teams to hold Spring Training for as long as anyone reading this has been alive; that was not always the case. Late in the 19th Century most of the Major League Baseball teams were located in northern cities like New York, Chicago, and Cincinnati.

Members of the Baltimore Orioles warm up during a 2012 Spring Training game with the Tampa Bay Rays. Photo R. Anderson
Members of the Baltimore Orioles warm up during a 2012 Grapefruit League Spring Training game with the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte, FL.
Photo R. Anderson

It is still cold in these cities during February and March. As someone who never wore shorts on his March birthday until moving to Florida, I can attest to that. Also, the idea of an indoor ballpark was still about a century away. So, a warmer option was sought as a means for players to train before the season started.

In 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War, the Cincinnati Red Stockings and the Chicago White Stockings conducted organized baseball camps in New Orleans, LA. Jacksonville, FL saw action in 1888 when the Washington Capitals of the National League held a four-day camp.

While the exact start of the migration of Spring Training to the South is often debated, no one can argue that by the start of the 20th Century it had changed the game in a momentous way. While other states had been used for Spring Training in the past, today teams are divided between Arizona and Florida.

In Florida, 15 teams will compete in the Grapefruit League while the other 15 teams will compete in Arizona’s Cactus League. Instead of taking the time to list who plays where there is an easy formula to remember. With the exception of the Houston Astros all teams that reside west of the Mississippi River during the regular season train in Arizona. Teams east of the River call Florida home for the Spring. So there you have it as long as you know where the mighty Mississippi slices through the country you are covered.

After weeks of practicing against each other the games are now starting to count at Spring Training ballparks in Arizona and Florida in preparation for the regular season. Photo R. Anderson
The Houston Astros are the only team west of the Mississippi River to hold Spring Training in Florida.
Photo R. Anderson

And while Spring Training facilities were chosen for the warm climates they are not completely immune to the weather as a photo of snow this week at the Colorado Rockies Spring Training facility in Arizona can attest to.

Teams are also forced to dodge raindrops in games in Florida. Despite these weather hiccups, few would argue that Florida and Arizona still tend to be way warmer this time of year than most of the rest of the country.

I have often wondered why scores are kept, and winners and losers are crowned, during Spring Training since the games do not count against a team’s regular season record. It is not like a strong showing in the exhibition games guarantees success when the games start to count for real. The same goes for teams that struggle through Spring Training. A poor record during the Spring does not mean in all cases that the team will struggle throughout the regular season as well.

After weeks of practicing against each other the games are now starting to count at Spring Training ballparks in Arizona and Florida in preparation for the regular season. Photo R. Anderson
After weeks of practicing against each other the games are now starting to count at Spring Training ballparks in Arizona and Florida in preparation for the regular season.
Photo R. Anderson

So why do they keep score? The simplest reason is the competition level is more intense when there is something on the line. As players battle to be included on rosters having the games mean something, even if it is only bragging rights help ensure that everyone is playing at a high level.

The players and coaches are not the only ones who enjoy their time in the sun. Each year thousands of fans descend upon the ballparks to catch their favorite team in action. Others go from ballpark to ballpark to just enjoy the sights and sounds of a baseball game.

Many of the fans are also retired to the regions where the teams play so there is a definite older crowd present at many of the games. One of the things that I enjoy when I attend a Spring Training game, aside from the relaxed atmosphere and sunshine, is hearing the stories from people who are much older than I am who saw many of the legends play at Spring Training decades earlier. In that way the game is timeless. While the names on the jerseys change, and the prices of the peanuts and Cracker Jacks change, the game itself is mostly the same and is a shared experience that transcends the generations.

So has Spring Training rolls around once again travel plans abound as fans of all ages seek to get in touch with their inner child by traveling to see a game or two, or three, or four, or you get the idea.

To date I have witnessed games in six Spring Training ballparks. My goal is to visit each of the 30 team’s spring training sites in the next three years or so in addition to their main home ballparks. Will I reach that goal? Only time will tell. Still, if one has no goals there is nothing to reach for and life becomes mundane and repetitive. And really who wants to be mundane and repetitive?

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about sunshine and warmth has me a little thirsty for some sweet tea.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Here’s a Choice You Have to Make, Which Bat Type to Hold at Home Plate

Paper or plastic? Coke or Pepsi? Boxers or briefs? The world is full of questions that equally divide people in terms of which answer that they feel is right.

I was on the front lines of one of those debates years ago when I worked as a cashier at a grocery store in college. I was usually pretty good about guessing which bag type each person would prefer. You had your tell tale plastic fans, the old school paper fans and the hybrid double paper stuffed in plastic fans. Although reusable bags were not as popular then as they have become, there were a few reusable bag fans as well. When the store happened to be out of someone’s favorite type of bag it was clear to see that some handled it better than others.

The world of baseball is no different than grocery shoppers when it comes to people having their personnel opinions on everything from whether the designated hitter is good or bad for the game or if it is ever good to intentionally walk in a runner. Another area of debate among baseball fans is bats. In particular, the two camps are divided over whether wood bats or metal bats are better.

Wood bats are a staple of professional baseball. Photo R. Anderson
Wood bats are a staple of professional baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

For baseball purists, it is wood bats or nothing. This stance is often backed up with phrases like, “the bats have always been wood,” or “the Bambino would roll over in his grave to think of metal bats being used.”

These fans also think lovingly of the Louisville Slugger plant that makes many of the wooden bats in the world and all the history associated with it. They would argue that the same love is not associated with the plants that make metal bats. So the wood bat fans are fairly entrenched in their belief that wood is good.

While only wood bats are used in Major League Baseball teams from the college ranks down to the local Little League use metal bats. Metal bats also tend to be the preferred bat of choice for most recreational softball leagues. So who has the better bat?

The metal bat fans will bombard the issue with science and statistics showing that a ball hit with a metal bat travels further than the same ball hit with a wooden bat. The wood bat fans will use the same statistics to say that balls hit with metal bats actually travel too fast and create a safety hazard for the infielders who have less time to react to a ball traveling in their direction.

College players like the ones pictured for the University of Houston have used metal bats for years. Photo R. Anderson
College players like the ones pictured for the University of Houston have used metal bats for years.
Photo R. Anderson

So what makes the balls travel at different speeds depending on the bat type? Well class it is time to enter Ry the Science Guy’s Lab of Science for the answer. There have been studies done on bat types for years and each one includes many formulas and equations and other rationale for what makes each bat type tick.

One could spend hours debating all of the data and trends associated with bat speed and ball velocity upon impact. We are not going to spend hours on that however.

The simplest reason for the difference in ball speed after impact involves which element in the bat/ball equation is flexing. With a metal bat, the bat flexes at impact with the ball and then springs forward creating extra force behind the hit. The wood bat does not flex as much and the ball actually flexes and dissipates some of the energy leading to less energy being imparted onto the ball moving forward.

Washington Nationals sensation Bryce Harper, shown during spring training in Florida, has been known to crash a few Washington area softball games to get in some metal bat work. Photo R. Anderson
Washington Nationals sensation Bryce Harper, shown during spring training in Florida, has been known to crash a few Washington area softball games to get in some metal bat work.
Photo R. Anderson

So there you have it, metal bats make the ball go further due to a trampoline like effect on the ball and the wood bat absorbs more energy than it returns. Given that simplest of reasons one would think that everyone would want to use a metal bat to get the most out of their hits. But, then again there is the whole issue of how fast is too fast.

In fact, a few years back New York City tried to ban metal bats at the high school level citing safety as a major reason. After threats of lawsuits and the usual political process the ban was lifted and each league was left to regulate the type of bats used.

Which is not to say that wood bats are completely safe to use. Anyone watching enough games will no doubt have seen shattered bats flying towards pitchers and infielders. In some rare cases the parts of the broken bats have injured the players on the receiving end. While the risk to fans in the stands is mostly limited to getting hit with foul balls bats and bat pieces also find their way into the stands. Given the choice I think I would rather have a wooden bat flying towards me than a metal one but I would prefer to not have to dodge either one.

Most ballparks have warnings such as this one to alert fans to the inherent dangers they face.  Aside from balls, bats and pieces of bats are also often hurled into the stands at high velocity. Photo R. Anderson
Most ballparks have warnings such as this one to alert fans to the inherent dangers they face. Aside from balls, bats and pieces of bats are also often hurled into the stands at high velocity.
Photo R. Anderson

I have often had my own questions regarding the metal versus wood equation. Primarily, I have always wondered why players would not use the wooden bats as early as possible in order to be accustomed to them in the event that they were fortunate enough to be drafted by a Major League club.

Instead, many players do not start using a wood bat until their first professional games and then there can be a learning curve as well as disappointment when the ball does not go as far as it did with the metal bat.

During my brief baseball playing career, which consisted of a season of T-ball and a couple of Pony League seasons, I used both wood and metal bats. I tended to prefer the wood bat over the metal one. I liked the sound that the ball made on the rare occasions that my bat made contact with it. The ping of the metal bat just never sounded right to me. I also disliked the metal bat for its tendency to give me stingers when it was held incorrectly. Nothing like severe numbing pain shooting up the arms to make one not like a certain bat type.

So the wood versus metal debate will continue to rage on and most likely will never truly be settled. I would be very surprised if a day ever came when metal bats would make their way to the Major League teams but one should never say never I suppose.

Now if you’ll excuse me all of this talk of bats has made me nostalgic for my old whiffle ball bat. It is bound to be around here somewhere and it never splintered or gave me stingers.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Hail to the Chief and Play Ball

Today is President’s Day, or Washington’s birthday as it is also known. While originally the holiday was thought of as a way to recognize the two presidents with birthdays in February, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, President’s Day has grown to include a time to honor all of the men, and most likely some day women, who have served in the nation’s highest office.

Of course, if one has been watching television the past weekend, it appears that President’s Day has also become a time to buy furniture, appliances and cars at unheard of savings. While the founding fathers wanted us to enjoy various freedoms, I doubt they had no interest financing on washers and dryers in mind. Then again maybe they did.

So for our purposes let us not focus on the retail aspects of the day but let us try to focus on the office of the President and what that entails. To date, 44 men have served as President of the United States from Washington to Obama. And while the nation still recovers from the latest multi-year campaign for the office it is important to remember that by and large the system of government that we enjoy is for the most part stable and allows each of us to enjoy freedoms that we would not otherwise have under certain other governmental systems. And of course there is still that whole area of no interest financing. I really need to stop watching television on holiday weekends.

Campaign bumper sticker for the 1992 campaign of Bill Clinton.  Clinton defeated George Bush to become the 42nd President of the united States.
Campaign bumper sticker for the 1992 campaign of Bill Clinton. Clinton defeated George Bush to become the 42nd President of the United States.

I was fortunate enough to come face to face with one of the men who would go on to become president. In 1992 I met Bill Clinton at a campaign event in Orlando, FL. While the election was still months away, and Governor Clinton had not yet become President Clinton, there was still something cool about meeting someone on the campaign trail. I am far from the most politically active of people and part of that was by choice. I felt a reporter should be impartial and not let their political leanings show so I always tried to use that mantra as my guide. Years later though, meeting candidate Clinton is still one of the more memorable moments of my journalistic career. I am sure that reporters that cover the Presidents on a daily basis lose some of the wow factor at some point but there always needs to be a respect for the office at some level.

So on this presidential holiday let us not focus on the civics behind the position, or the red state versus blue state leanings. Let us not even focus on the plethora of sales that will end tonight at midnight. Instead, let us focus on one of the many perks of residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington D.C.; the ceremonial first pitch.

President William Howard Taft started a tradition in 1910 that has linked the Commander in Chief with the National Pastime ever since when he threw out the first pitch on Opening Day. The first presidential first pitch occurred on April 14, 1910, at National Park in Washington, DC. during a game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics with Taft connecting on the pitch to Walter Johnson. The Senators moved to Minnesota to become the Twins and the Athletics packed up and headed west to Oakland but the one constant for 103 years has been presidents and baseball.

From 1910 to 1971 the President traveled to the home ballpark of the Washington Senators to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. To put that streak into perspective it stretched from Taft to Richard Nixon. While Presidents had thrown out first pitches at the World Series as well President Nixon became the first president to throw out an Opening Day pitch outside of Washington D.C. in 1972 when he threw out the pitch in Anaheim, California since there was no longer a team in Washington. Various other ballparks were used for Opening Day after 1972 but Baltimore and Washington D.C. were the most widely used due to proximity to the White House.

While the first pitch did not occur until 1910 the link between Presidents and baseball actually goes back to post Civil War America when Andrew Johnson invited the first team of professional ballplayers to the White House. Other teams were invited as well in the years to follow by other presidents.

Campaign buttons From George H.W. Bush's 1988 Presidential campaign. Bush, was a former college baseball player. Photo R. Anderson
Campaign buttons From George H.W. Bush’s 1988 Presidential campaign. Bush, was a former college baseball player and can often be seen at Minute Maid park watching the Astros play.
Photo R. Anderson

The Presidential links to baseball are not limited to first pitches alone however. Both President Bush 41 and President Bush 43 also have deep baseball roots. George H.W. Bush was a baseball player in college and can often be seen behind home plate at Houston Astros games. It is also a given that if both President Bush and his wife, Barbara, are seated together they will end up on the stadium kiss cam.

George W. Bush also has a baseball pedigree. Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, the younger President Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who, as one may or not know were once the expansion team that replaced the first version of the Washington Senators who left town to become the Minnesota Twins. It is sort of a neat bow to tie it all together.

So on this day that we honor our Presidents let us not forget that soon it will once again be Opening Day and when the President steps onto the mound to throw that first pitch he will be continuing a long standing tradition that honors both the past, present and future of both the Oval Office and the game of baseball itself.

Now if you’ll excuse me I think I need to practice my pitching just in case I am ever called on to throw out a first pitch. After all, no one wants to be the person that bounces it a few times on the way to the catcher.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Souvenir Cup, I Scoop You Up; Proceed to Display

Once upon a time there was a cup. This cup allowed people to put their beverage of choice in it and travel from the beverage source to any other place that they wanted without fear of losing the contents within. Gone were the days of cupping one’s hands together to get a drink from the well or filling a gourd, cow stomach or other container with liquid.

And while the cup was good, and practical, it was not living up to its full potential. That is until the cup became known as the souvenir cup.

Travel to most any sporting event or other event of note and odds are one will be exposed to a souvenir cup of some sort. This cup is usually larger than its other cup brethren and includes features like reuseability and serves as a reminder to all who see it that the holder of said cup was at the sporting event it depicts.

I am not sure when I first caught the souvenir cup bug but over the past few years I have accumulated quite the collection of plastic cups from various venues. There are three things I try to collect from every ballpark that I visit. The first is a ticket stub. The second is a game program. And the third is, you guessed it, a souvenir cup.

I was given several Souvenir cups from the Washington Redskins during the early 80’s and while I still have them, I do not really count them as part of my collecting history since they were not actually collected by me. As near as I can recall my first souvenir cups that were collected by me were ICEE cups from Tinker Field in Orlando, FL. While not being specifically made for the team I was watching, these cups featured each of the Major League teams and also had the added bonus of containing ICEE inside.

The cup that started it all. Photo R. Anderson
The cup that started it all.
Photo R. Anderson

My cup collecting was not limited to ICEE cups however. Once I got to college I soon added many University of Central Florida cups to the collection. One could argue that plastic cups would serve the struggling college student well but I had plenty of actual glasses in my cabinets so the cups were manly turned into display pieces and were in no means used for the purpose they were intended.

Fast forward past college, and the cup collecting was accelerated by trips to various minor and major league baseball parks. Every time I visited a new ballpark I made sure to get a souvenir cup. But I did not always stop at a single cup to stadium ratio. Often each time I visited the same stadium I would end up getting a cup until my pantry turned into a sea of plastic. In my defense some teams would put out several different versions of cups over the course of the season.

Some of the more unique cups are on display in various areas of my office and home while the rest are in static display in the pantry. Now and again I will take the cups down and look at each of them as an archeologist would study some relic of a long lost society. The cups serve as a time capsule, both for the state of sports marketing and cup technology of the time, as well as showing glances at who was considered the star player at the time the cup was issued.

A selection of Houston Astros Souvenir cups accumulated over the past five seasons. Photo R. Anderson
A selection of Houston Astros Souvenir cups accumulated over the past five seasons.
Photo R. Anderson

The star player portion is more limited to the Major League cups as opposed to the Minor Leagues due to the frequency in which players move through the minor leagues. The past few seasons the Astros have also moved away from featuring players on their cups. One could argue that they are also avoiding highlighting players who will not be on the team long.

One particular pet peeve of mine involves the Houston Astros and their lack of souvenir cups at their Spring Training facility. This will be the first year under new ownership and there is a new logo for the team so perhaps this will be the year that the souvenir cups appear but having gone to the ballpark for the past few years and not getting a cup I am not holding out much hope for a change this year. Every other Spring Training game I have attended, away from the Astros home field, has had a souvenir cup of some kind. So it is not like Spring Training cups are a foreign concept.

some minor league cups
A selection of Minor League Baseball souvenir cups.
Photo R. Anderson

While most of my cups were purchased there is another approach that can be employed by the savvy cup collector. While I am in no way encouraging ballpark dumpster diving, often times people will leave their precious cups in the cup holder or other areas around their seats when they leave. So, if you don’t feel like buying one, and the idea of carrying out a cup with someone else’s back wash in it doesn’t creep you out, then by all means grab a few cups on the way out. You are helping ensure that the ballpark cleaning crew has fewer cups to clean up. You are also helping the environment as well by keeping the cups out of the landfill. I have only employed this technique once when I was at Tropicana Field in 2009. I knew that it would be a few years before I would make it back there and while I had already purchased one cup I happened to see a different cup on the way out and decided it was worth adding to the collection.

The back of the cup commemorating the Tampa Bay Rays first World Series appearance. Photo R. Anderson
The cup commemorating the Tampa Bay Rays first World Series appearance.
Photo R. Anderson
Rays front
The front of the cup commemorating the Tampa Bay Rays first World Series appearance.
Photo R. Anderson

This brings up another aspect of the souvenir cup hierarchy, different cups for different types of drinks. Many ballparks will have a different cup for the alcoholic and non alcoholic beverages to help ensure that underage patrons are not walking around drinking things that they shouldn’t be. So in the event that there are multiple cup types I suppose a cup scavenging approach could be warranted to ensure that you left with a full set.

I actually tried to discover when souvenir cups first appeared on the scene but sadly I was unable to locate a source that said, “behold the birth of the souvenir cup.” Short of that I guess one can assume that as long as there have been cups there have been souvenir versions of them. Perhaps archeologists can discover the Rosetta Cup deep in some pyramid or other area to shed further light on the subject.

So there you have it, the pros and cons of souvenir cup collecting. It can be a relatively inexpensive way to bring home a little bit of that ballpark experience while providing much needed hydration during the game. Plus, the cups are stackable which certainly helps when it comes time to store them.

Now if you will excuse me, all of this talk about cups as made me thirsty and in need of some water.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson