The World Serious

Even though the St. Louis Cardinals broke my heart by beating the Brewers in the playoffs, I find myself wanting them to win the World Series.  Not too long ago, the Cardinals were written off, 10 games back, with no hope for the wild card even.  But here they are in the World Series.  On paper, they are supposed to lose to the Texas Rangers–a team I also liked, especially last year in the series–but they have been defying whatever’s on paper with incredible clutch performances.  Chris Carpenter shutting down the Philadelphia Phillies, no less!  Albert Pujols batting close to .500!  And then the other performances all the way through the batting order!  And the manager Tony la Russa, said to be playing chess while all of the other managers are playing checkers!

What is your analysis, prognosis, and prediction?

Weekend sports

Watching baseballl playoff games is intense, especially if you have a horse in the race. I was following every pitch and, due to time zones and having to record games, staying up until 1:00 a.m. But what games they were! The Milwaukee Brewers, whose games I used to attend faithfully when we lived in Wisconsin, beat the Arizona Diamondbacks to get into the championship series and then beat the St. Louis Cardinals–who themselves heroically defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, ostensibly the best team in baseball.

And the Sooners, from one of my alma maters, just demolished our arch-rivals the Texas Longhorns, beating up on the #11 team in the country as easily as they beat Ball State the previous week.

The Sooners were rated #1 in the AP pre-season poll, as they still are in the Coaches’ poll. But now they have slipped to #3, getting based by LSU (#1) and Alabama (#2). Why? Oklahoma defeated two nationally-ranked teams. What did LSU and Alabama do that is more impressive than what Oklahoma has done?

Wisconsin’s big weekend

This was being called the biggest sports weekend in the history of Wisconsin, my former state.  And in each contest, Wisconsin was victorious.  The Milwaukee Brewers won two playoff games over the Arizona Diamondbacks.  The Wisconsin Badgers welcomed Nebraska to the Big Ten by demolishing the nationally-ranked Cornhuskers.   The Packers pounded the Denver Broncos.  And the Milwaukee Marathon was won by a guy from Marquette.

For a brief, shining moment, Wisconsin teachers and Congressmen, tea partiers and Occupy Wall Streeters will be united in a feeling of common sports euphoria.

Defensive plays

Charles Krauthammer, taking a break from bemoaning the state of the world, devoted a column to baseball, specifically to the defensive plays made by a few members of the otherwise hapless but improving Washington Nationals.  I love his descriptions:

When you live in a town with a team that is passing rapidly through mediocrity on its way to contention — the Nats have an amazing crop of upcoming young players — you go for the moments.

I go to see Ryan Zimmerman charge a slowly hit grounder down the third-base line. This happens roughly once a game. Zim comes flying in, picks up the ball barehanded and throws it across his body to first base, perpendicular to the direction he’s running.

Except that this cannot be done. You could never get enough (velocity) on the throw to get the out at first. So Zimmerman dives forward, leaving his feet and hovering there for an instant, his body parallel to the ground in order to get more arm extension and thus more on the throw, which by now is nearly underhanded, his fingers almost scraping the ground. Batter out.

Try this yourself. Aim for a barn door. You will miss. And also dislocate your shoulder.

Another attraction is rookie second baseman Danny Espinosa. He has what in baseball parlance is known as range. A hard shot is hit to the hole between first and second, and Espy ranges to his left to snag it. Three weeks ago, one shot was hit so hard and so deep that he had to dive onto the outfield grass to reach it, sliding on his side in the general direction of the right-field foul pole.

Nice grab, but unless you can get the ball to first, it’s just for show. Espy starts to get up. But there is no time for standing. So, from his knees, while still sliding on the grass out toward the stands, he forces himself into a counterclockwise 180-degree spin to throw back toward first base — except that he actually begins his throw mid-turn, while facing the outfield, thereby gaining velocity from the centrifugal force (and probably the rotation of the Earth, although this remains unverified). It’s like throwing on your knees from a spinning merry-go-round that is itself moving laterally in a landslide. Try that.

Batter out.

The piece de resistance, however, is what center fielder Rick Ankiel pulled off last Sunday. It’s the bottom of the ninth, one out. The Reds have just tied the game with a solo homer. They need one more run to win. Batter crushes the ball to right-center field. If it clears the wall, game over.

But it doesn’t. It bounces off the wall, eluding our right fielder. Ankiel, who had dashed over from center, charges after the ball, picks it up barehanded and, in full running stride, fires it to third, to which the batter is headed and from which he is very likely to later score and win the game (there being only one out).

Now, when mortals throw a ball, they give it arc to gain distance. That’s how artillery works. Ankiel is better than artillery. He releases the ball at the top of his throwing motion, the ball rocketing out as if tracing a clothesline. It bounces five feet from third base, perfectly on line, arriving a millisecond before the batter and maybe 20 inches above the bag.

Quick tag. Batter out. Game saved. (Blown five innings later. But remember, it’s the Nats.) Said Nats broadcaster and former major leaguer F.P. Santangelo: “That might be the best throw I’ve ever seen.”

via The best show in town – The Washington Post.

If you don’t believe that first example, here is a picture of Ryan Zimmerman throwing:

Prosecuting Roger Clemens

The great pitcher Roger Clemens testified before a Congressional hearing that he had not used steroids.  But then came evidence that he had.   So he was brought to trial for perjury.   The prosecution used hearsay evidence that the judge told them not to use, resulting in a mistrial.   So do you think Clemons should be retried?

Notice that steroid use was not illegal, nor was it then a violation of the rules of baseball.   I don’t see why steroid use back then should keep a Mark McGwire, a Sammy Sosa, or a Barry Bonds out of the record books, even with an asterisk.  It wasn’t cheating, since it didn’t violate any rules.  Now it does, so it’s a different story.  As my cousin Mark observed, there have been different eras in baseball–such as the dead ball era and the juiced ball era–so we just need to realize there was a steroid era.  Perhaps we should ban all of the vitamins players take these days.  Other sports such as cycling are outlawing “doping,” including practices such as injecting one’s own blood, so as to increase stamina by increasing the number of red blood cells.  And yet our whole Olympic team trains in Mark’s home of Colorado Springs at an altitude that increases red blood cells.  Yet one is OK, because labeled “natural,” and the other is banned because labeled artificial, even though the effect is the same.

Clemens was hauled before a court for lying to Congress, not for using steroids.  He was speaking out against steroids, probably also trying to protect his reputation so he could get into the Hall of Fame.  Once again, it isn’t the action but the lying, or, better yet, the hypocrisy, that gets people into trouble.

Is it worth the expense and the time of our court system to once again try to convict a baseball player?

A church and the Jackie Robinson signing

A church played a major role in baseball history:

Sometimes, matters of faith have a quiet yet powerful way of influencing history.

Take, for example, the behind-the-scenes story that preceded the entry of the first African-American player to major league baseball more than six decades ago.

That player, of course, was the legendary Jackie Robinson, who shattered the big-league color barrier when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. The story of faith belongs to the baseball executive who signed Robinson, the equally legendary Branch Rickey, and to a New York minister who played a quiet role in a major decision.

And the telling of that story spans generations and families, from the minister’s wife, who wrote it down, to the couple’s granddaughter who uncovered it many years later among her late grandmother’s writings.

“I had no idea that I would find a story that linked my grandfather to a part of U.S. history,” the granddaughter, Donnali Fifield, told CNN. “But as soon as I read it, I knew it was historically significant.”

What Fifield read was an account by June Fifield of her husband, the Rev. Dr. L. Wendell Fifield, and his encounter with Rickey as history was about to be made.

Fifield, who was pastor of the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn in the 1940s, counted Rickey, then general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, as one of his parishioners. . . .

Fifield’s historical footnote of faith was more passive. In a paper titled “Branch Rickey’s ‘Day of Decision’,” June Fifield wrote about a visit Rickey paid to her husband’s office at the church just before his decision to sign Robinson.

“Don’t let me interrupt, I can’t talk with you,” Rickey said as he walked into the minister’s office, according to the paper. “I just want to be here. Do you mind?”

The two men passed the time without words – the minister going about his work; Richey frenetically pacing the floor, stopping only occasionally to peer out the window on the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood that surrounded the church.

Amid ongoing silence, more pacing, more stopping, more pacing, more stopping from Rickey for some 45 minutes, according to the article.

Finally, Rickey didn’t just break the silence, he shattered it.

“I’ve got it,” Rickey yelled emphatically as he banged his fist on the desk.

“Got what, Branch?” Fifield asked. “Wendell,” Rickey said, “I’ve decided to sign Jackie Robinson!”

June Fifield wrote that as Rickey regained his composure he sank into a chair and told her husband, “This was a decision so complex, so far-reaching, fraught with so many pitfalls but filled with so much good, if it was right, that I just had to work it out in this room with you. I had to talk to God about it and be sure what he wanted me to do. I hope you don’t mind.”

The article continues that as Rickey straightened his bow tie and donned his worn hat, he offered, “Bless you, Wendell,” then left the room.

via How church helped sign Jackie Robinson to Brooklyn Dodgers – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.


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