Tag Archives: MLB

Opening Night Pomp, Circumstance, and Hot Dogs

Last night, the 2013 Major League Baseball season kicked off with all of the ceremonial pomp, circumstance, and hot dogs that one would expect from the National Pastime’s opener.

The Astros and Rangers observe the Opening Day tradition of being introduced on the field. Photo R. Anderson
The Astros and Rangers observe the Opening Day tradition of being introduced on the field.
Photo R. Anderson

As part of Opening Day, all of the eyes of baseball were focused firmly on Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas thanks in part to a scheduling matter with ESPN that made the game between the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros the only one in town.

Even pre game rain, that forced the roof to stay closed, couldn’t dampen the spirits of the over 41,000 fans in attendance.

As is normally the case when the Rangers come to town, the stands were full of supporters for both squads. Unlike in previous years though, where the lack of vocal Astros fans made it seem like a Rangers’ home game, the chants of Let’s go Rangers were enthusiastically drowned out by chants for the Astros.

Astros 8, Rangers 2
Astros 8, Rangers 2
Photo R. Anderson

When the Rangers and Astros took to the field at Minute Maid Park, it was more than a ball game between two in state and in division rivals. It was the continuation of a tradition as old as the game itself.

It marked the beginning of the season where anything is possible and everyone is tied for first place until that final out is tallied.

Before last night I had never watched Opening Day in person. I had attended the first home game of the Astros several times but it was never considered the Opening Night game for the entire league.

Former Astro Lance Berkman, now with the Rangers, received a mix of cheers and jeers when he came to the plate. Photo R. Anderson
Former Astro Lance Berkman, now with the Rangers, received a mix of cheers and jeers when he came to the plate.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course aside from being the first game of the year, it was a statistician’s dream as the Astros took the field as an American League team for the first time in their 51-year history.

This fact leads to the inevitable list of firsts that will forever be in the record books.

Let us consider just a few of them.

First pitch by an Astro pitcher in the American League? Thrown by Bud Norris.

First member of the Astros to get an American League hit? Jose Altuve.

Bud Norris threw the first pitch of both the 2013 regular season as well as the first pitch for a member of the Astros in the American League. Photo R. Anderson
Bud Norris threw the first pitch of both the 2013 regular season as well as the first pitch for a member of the Astros in the American League.
Photo R. Anderson

First Home run hit by an Astro since the move to the American League? Rick Ankiel. Ankiel also gets bonus points as being the first player to hit a home run in the 2013 season.

First National Anthem Singer? Lyle Lovett.

First ceremonial first pitch? Thrown by J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans.

J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans threw out the first pitch of the Astros' tenure as an American League franchise. Photo R. Anderson
J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans threw out the first pitch of the Astros’ tenure as an American League franchise.
Photo R. Anderson

You get the idea.

If there is a statistic to be tracked, odds are someone, somewhere in the ballpark became the first person to do it since the big move to the American League.

It has been said repeatedly by many experts that this will most likely be another long season for the Astros with the team recording more than 100 losses for the third straight season.

But for at least one night the Astros were the best team in baseball as the only team with a win.

For those keeping score at home, the Astros stunned many in the baseball world with an 8-2 win over the heavily favored neighbors to the north.

Time will tell if the trend continues and the Astros are able to in fact exceed expectations with a winning record this year.

A big game deserves big flags. Photo R. Anderson
A big game deserves big flags.
Photo R. Anderson

Hollywood is full of stories chronicling the exploits of loveable losers who excel against tough odds and blow past low expectations to reach the highest pinnacle of personal and professional success.

Use sports as your measuring stick for the Hollywood treatment, and you can choose from the Mighty Ducks, the Bad News Bears, and the Cleveland Indians in Major League to name a few.

Time will tell whether the Astros will become the Mighty Bad News ‘Stros and turn doubters into believers by exceeding the low expectations set out for them this season, or if they will be the really bad ‘Stros that are far from mighty that everyone who claims to know baseball thinks they will be.

That in itself is part of the magic of the sport. Each season there are things that happen that no one saw coming when they were writing their preseason previews and looking into their crystal balls.

There will be pitchers that everyone thinks will throw no hitters that won’t and pitchers that seem to come out of nowhere and do.

Ian Kinsler prepares for the first pitch of the 2013 Major League Baseball season. Photo R. Anderson
Ian Kinsler prepares for the first pitch of the 2013 Major League Baseball season.
Photo R. Anderson

Batters will rise and fall with no real rhyme or reason.

Teams will deal with injuries that can be the great equalizer.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and there will be those who claim that they saw a particular trend long before anyone else.

As for this season, there are 161 more games before the playoffs start. One game is far too small of a sample size to discern the difference between contender and pretender. But, what no one can take away is that for one night the Houston Astros were the best team in baseball and that is certainly worth tipping a cap to.

The fact that the first game for the Astros as an American League team ended with a fairly convincing win over their bitter in state rival just makes it that much more meaningful.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the Astros victory has inspired me to look into other things with the potential to exceed expectations this year.

Copyright 2013 R Anderson

The DH Turns the Big 4-0

Forty years ago this week the American League introduced the designated hitter, or DH, and the game of baseball was forever changed.

Once the designated hitter was introduced pitchers on the American League ball clubs were no longer burdened with the hassle of having to bat. National League pitchers would continue to take their swings at the plate.

Of course there are exceptions for when the DH is and isn’t used. For example, during the World Series and Inter League play the rules of when a designated hitter is used depends on the home ballpark. National League home ballparks continue to be DH free forcing the American League pitchers to bat while the American League ballparks use the DH and force the National League teams to designate a DH for those games.

Mention the designated hitter in polite dinner conversation and one will quickly find out how divisive the topic really is among fans.

The pro designated hitter camp will point to the fact that by eliminating the pitcher as a batter the rallys can continue without the fear of a nearly guaranteed out with a pitcher batting.

The foes of the DH rule will say that having pitchers batting, despite the almost guaranteed out they provide, is a truer form of the game and is more historically accurate while creating more cat and mouse strategy between the managers.

Former Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Pena will be the first full time designated hitter in Houston Astros history.  Photo R. Anderson
Former Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Carlos Pena will be the first full time designated hitter in Houston Astros history.
Photo R. Anderson

I grew up primarily in American League towns so the DH was a common sight for me.

It wasn’t until I moved to Houston that I started watching National League games on a regular basis and in turn saw many pitchers at the plate.

Of course with the Astros moving to the American League, Houston is now a DH town as well.

Having watched both types of games over the years I have to side with the pro DH camp.

While it happens infrequently pitchers can get injured batting and running the base paths. With the amount of money that teams spend on their starting pitchers I would cringe as a General Manager of the ball club whenever a pitcher stepped up to bat.

And for all of you out there who say surely a pitcher can’t get hurt just trying to bunt or swinging wildly I give you the story of Andy Pettitte. During a feud with the Yankees over money, Houston area native Andy Pettitte decided to take his skills to his hometown Astros when he became a free agent. While this move in turn ended up allowing Roger Clemems to also join the home team Astros it was not without its share of pain for Mr. Pettitte.

As a long time pitcher in the American League who did not have to bat regularly, Pettitte injured his left elbow while trying to check a swing in his debut game with the Astros. He missed the next three weeks with a strained elbow. And as a footnote Mr. Pettittie found his way back to the Yankees at his earliest opportunity and while he is still very injury prone he no longer has to bat regularly.

Granted Pettitte is one of the more injury prone pitchers in the game and countless pitchers bat each day without hurting themselves but the fact remains pitchers can get hurt at the plate.

With all of the money they are paying Stephen Strasburg the Washington Nationals can ill afford to lose him to an injury. Strasburg's injury risk, like that of other National League pitchers is increased by the fact that he has to bat as well as pitch. Photo R. Anderson
With all of the money they are paying Stephen Strasburg the Washington Nationals can ill afford to lose him to an injury. Strasburg’s injury risk, like that of other National League pitchers is increased by the fact that he has to bat as well as pitch.
Photo R. Anderson

Risk of injury to the pitcher is far from the only reason why I think that the day of pitchers needing to bat has come and gone.

Watching a National League game where the pitchers bat is definitely not for everyone. With few exceptions if there is a runner on base when the pitcher is up you know that they are going to try a sacrifice bunt to move the runner over. If there is not a runner on base you know that the pitcher is most likely going to strike out within three pitches.

There are certainly exceptions to the rule and some pitchers can hit. But, by and large when a pitcher is up to bat everyone in the stadium knows that the at bat will result in an out one way or the other.

Of course the manager can choose to pull the pitcher out of the game and put in another better if he wants to sustain a scoring rally but that means the pitcher is out for the game and another pitcher will have to be brought in.

With the designated hitter in place, teams are not forced to choose between a pitcher having a good day on the mound or the need for a hot bat at the plate to drive in some crucial runs.

Another factor that has developed during the 40 years of the era of the DH is the lengthening of player careers.

No, I am not talking about the use of performance enhancing drugs as a means to extend a player’s career. I am talking about the ability to DH as a magic fountain of youth that has extended many careers past their normal expiration dates.

Former Houston Astros pitcher Wandy Rodriguez is one of the few pitchers with actual pop in their bat. Photo R Anderson
Former Houston Astros pitcher Wandy Rodriguez is one of the few pitchers with actual pop in their bat.
Photo R Anderson

When older players can no longer play the field regularly they can make a very decent living as a DH as long as they can still make regular contact with the ball.

It is not uncommon to see players prolong their careers well into their 40’s in a DH only role.

So who is right, and who is wrong when it comes to the DH? The answer will continue to depend on the person who asks the question. I do not see a time in the near future where the DH will go away anymore than I predict a time when the National League will start using them in their home ballparks.

So, it will continue to divide people like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. One is certainly sweeter than the other but it all boils down to which one tastes better going down to the person drinking it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about soft drinks has left me a little thirsty.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson