Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Postseason 2014 Starts Tonight!!!

            The postseason is here!!!  I am so excited.  There is nothing quite like playoff baseball.  You never know what miracle the baseball gods will concoct.  Carlton Fisk waving the fly ball fair in 1975, Ozzie Smith's walk-off home run in 1985 ("Go Crazy Folks!  Go Crazy!" - Jack Buck), Kirk Gibson's walk-off home run in 1988 ("In the year of the improbable, the impossible has happened." -Vin Scully), Sid sliding in 1992, David Freese in 2011, the list goes on and on.  It truly is a magical time.

            We'll just get this out of the way.  My Braves didn't make it.  They just didn't seem to have "it" all year long.  There were some good times, but the dominance of years past just wasn't there.  Losing Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy during Spring Training started everything off on the wrong foot and they never seemed to quite recover; just as I feared.  Maybe next year...

            Two of my three favorite teams made the playoffs this year.  The Dodgers and the Cardinals.  Unlike last year when they faced off in the National League Championship Series (NLCS), they are playing each other in the first round; the National League Divisional Series (NLDS).  I don't think I can choose between the two; so once that series is over I will know who my playoff team is.  I am so excited about seeing Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright pitch against each other Friday night.  That is the match-up I was hoping for last year, but never got.  We will see it in game one and then hopefully again in game five (because I hate seeing anyone get swept in any playoffs).

            From there the winner of that series will play the Nationals and the National League Wild Card winner.  This will be either the Pirates or the Giants and it will be decided tomorrow night.  This is the third year that the Wild Card will be decided in a one game series between the top two remaining teams in each league.  I still hate this.  Don't get me wrong.  It is very compelling and exciting.  It gives the playoffs the feel of a Game Seven right out of the gate.  As I write this I am watching the A's and the Royals in the top of the eleventh inning, knotted at seven, loser goes home.  But it is just morally wrong.  Anything can happen in baseball; which means any team, no matter how inferior, can win one game and any team, no matter how great, can loose one game.  So one fluke play can determine a game and knock the second best team in the league out (because let's face it, if they were the best team they would have won their division).  That being said,  maybe I am opposed to the wild card all together; but it's been around since 1995, so I guess it's not going anywhere.

            Admittedly, I am nowhere near as familiar with the American League, but their Wild Card game is now headed into the twelfth inning .  The winner of this game will go on to play the Angels in one ALDS and the Tigers and Orioles will play in the other.  The American League ended up interesting this year.  Lots of smaller market teams that you cannot help but root for; unless you just absolutely refuse because they do not make their pitchers bat.

           All in all I think this is going to be a great Postseason and I just cannot wait to see it all play out.        


Thursday, June 19, 2014

I can't believe I missed it!

            I love a  good pitching performance.  So last night at 9:00pm when I got the notification on my phone that the Dodgers game was about to start and that Clayton Kershaw was pitching I thought I would tune in.  I have MLB TV and can watch out of market games on my computer.  Truth be told I do not watch it enough to justify the $120 a year it costs.  The Dodgers start so late here in the Central Time Zone and I've usually watched the Braves, so I just don't go through the trouble of getting out the laptop, logging in, etc., etc.  But yesterday the Braves played early, so I thought I would tune in. 

            I watched the first few innings.  Listening to Vin Scully reminded me of why I've shelled out the $120 the last two years.  I could listen to him read the phone book.  I'm sure he would have an interesting nugget of information about each person listed.  Around 10:00 I started to get sleepy.  I dozed off and woke up about ten minutes later.  It was then that I decided to shut the computer down and go to bed.  When I woke up this morning I saw the notification that the Dodgers won 8-0.  I don't do this every morning but I checked the box score.  I wanted to see how long Clayton pitched.  Maybe he had a complete game shutout.  Wouldn't that be exciting?  I also wanted to see how many hits he allowed.  I was sure it wouldn't be many.  Then I saw it, and I was devastated; he didn't give up any hits.  He threw a no-hitter!!!!!  And I missed it!  And for what?!?!  To sleep.  I feel so weak.  I couldn't have possibly needed to sleep that badly.  I can't believe I missed it.  How could I have not checked the box score before I turned it off?  It might not have even mattered?  Three hitless innings isn't that uncommon for Kershaw.  I guess I would have probably turned it off even if I had realized that he had not given up a hit yet.  I've learned my lesson though; check the box score before you turn off a game that has not ended yet!

            In all seriousness, I am so very excited for Clayton Kershaw.  I can't think of another pitcher in the major leagues right now that deserves it more.  I'm also excited for the Dodgers.  Two no-hitters in one season is huge.  Two no-hitters in one month is unbelievable!  I would also like to point out that I did not see Josh Beckett's no-no on May 25th either.  I was out of town and did not even know anything about it until well after the game had ended.  I guess I need to start paying more attention.  Maybe there will be another this season! 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band + The Braves = Best Weekend Ever

            Last weekend was just about the best weekend ever.  Saturday I saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and then Sunday I went to my first Braves game of the year.  

            Bruce Springsteen is (and has always been) my absolute favorite musician.  Case in point:

Me in my first Bruce shirt (and Auburn shorts)

            Saturday I went to my tenth show (which I know is a drop in the bucket compared to the legions of fans who have seen him hundreds of times).  Unfortunately during the last two tours he came to Atlanta before April 15th, and I worked in public accounting.  Hopefully I won't miss another one.  We did not have great seats.  Well, the seats were okay; our circumstances were just bad.  The guy in front of me was the broadest guy there and the two in front him were probably the tallest.  We could not see anything; but the music was good.  Scratch that.  The music was incredible!  Here is the setlist:

Clampdown (The Clash cover)
Adam Raised a Cain
The Ties That Bind
Jackson Cage
She's The One - opened with the first couple of lines of Not Fade Away (Buddy Holly cover)
Independence Day (tour premiere, piano solo)
High Hopes
Just Like Fire Would
Tougher Than the Rest (sign request)
Cadillac Ranch
Trapped (sign request)
Point Blank
Heaven's Wall
Death to My Hometown
Wrecking Ball
Shackled and Drawn
The Ghost of Tom Joad
The Rising

Drive All Night (tour premiere)
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
Tenth Avenue Freeze-out
Highway to Hell (AC/DC cover)

            This was only the second show that included Clampdown.  It sounded great and has been played in both shows since.  After Adam Raised a Cain, Bruce said, "I'm in a River kind of mood."  He proceeded to play seven songs from The River over the course of the show, including two tour premieres.  It was a night of firsts for me.  I would have to check my records (yes I keep copies of setlists from the shows I've seen and refer to them as "records"), but I'm pretty sure this was the first time I have seen Jackson Cage, Independence Day, Tougher Than the Rest, Seeds, Point Blank and Drive All Night; and of course all of the covers he played and anything from the last two albums.  It was so awesome!  I hope he comes back around soon. 

           The next day we saw the Braves take on the Reds.  It was Julio Teheran against Johnny Cueto.  Their ace against our ace (arguably).  I expected to see a low scoring pitchers duel.  The Braves won 1-0 in the tenth.  The score can't get much lower than that.  It was a good game.  Plus we got to see our first manager's challenge in person.  In the bottom of the first Johnny Cueto tried to pick off B.J. Upton on first.  Upton was called safe.  Bryan Price, the Red's manager, came out to challenge.  The replay on the jumbotron showed that Upton was out.  It would have been the third out.  The Braves fans were disappointed, but knew the call would be reversed and the Reds fans cheered.  (There were a lot of Reds fans there by the way.)  But then, after discussing with the replay officials in New York, the umpires came out and said that the play stands.  The Braves fans were in disbelief and the Reds fans were livid.  There were two right behind us that repeatedly declared that the call was horse fertilizer (how do you like my Vin Scully-esc paraphrasing?).  Then Bryan Price came back out to argue and was ejected. 

            The next nine innings were just business as usual.  In the top of the tenth I realized that the pitcher's spot was coming up for the Braves in the bottom of the tenth.  I just knew Evan Gattis would pinch hit, hit a homerun and that would be it.  Evan Gattis did in fact pinch hit, but struck out, for the second out.  Then Jason Heyward singled, B.J. Upton singled and then Freddie Freeman singled; scoring Jason Heyward.  It was a good thing the game ended then because it was about to rain.  The grounds crew was getting the tarp ready before the game was even over.  Even though the game ended before the rain came, we were not left with enough time to get to the car without getting completely soaked.  In hindsight, we should have looked at the radar and hung out in the concourse area for a while because it probably only rained for twenty or thirty minutes.  But we were out in it when it started pouring and got to ride all the way home soaking wet.  Oh well, I guess the entire weekend couldn't be perfect.          

Monday, March 31, 2014

Opening Day 2014

            Opening Day is finally here!  And not a moment too soon.  It's been a long off-season, especially for Braves fans.  

            First, the season ended a lot sooner than we wanted after going 1-3 against the Dodgers in the NLDS.  That was heart breaking. 

            Then, we lost Brian McCann to the Yankees in free agency, no surprise there.  After that, we lost Tim Hudson to the Giants in free agency.  I don't know what everyone else was thinking, but this surprised me.  I thought he would want to stay in Atlanta.  Then the Giants came along and offered him $23 million for two years.  I don't remember the amount the Braves offered, but if memory serves, they only offered him one year.  So, good for him!  I am a Tim Hudson fan; we will miss him as a Brave, but at the same time I am very excited for him.    

            After that, the Braves made the surprise announcement that they are building a new stadium.  (What?!?!?!)  It is set to open in 2017 in Cobb County, northeast of Atlanta.  To be honest, I'm still processing this.  

            In January it was announced that the Braves will have three inductees into the Hall of Fame in July.  Bobby Cox was elected along with Tony La Russa and Joe Torre by the Veterans Committee.   And then Greg Maddux and Tom Glavin were elected along with Frank Thomas (War Eagle!) by the Baseball Writers Association of America.  Six inductees is a lot in one year, especially after no one was inducted last year.  I am so excited to see all of these men go to Cooperstown.  They are all very deserving!   

            Then came the extensions.  This was by far the best part of the off-season.  The Braves signed extensions for:  Jason Heyward (two years, $13.3 million), Freddie Freeman (eight years, $135 million), Julio Teheran (six years, $32.4 million), Craig Kimbrel (four years, $42 million), and  Andrelton Simmons (seven years, $58 million).  They also extended the contracts for manager Fredi Gonzalez and general manager Frank Wren.  They locked up a lot of very important guys for a long time.  

            Everything was looking great.  Sure, we lost two important veterans, but with those extensions, it looked like we were going to be set this year, and for years to come.  Then tragedy struck.  In about a twenty-four hour period, during Spring Training, we lost not one, but two of our top starting pitchers; Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy.  Both have since had their second Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire season.  Not to take anything away from those five huge extensions, but such a blow to the starting rotation really hurts.  

           In other news around the league:  
               - Clayton Kershaw signed a seven year, $215 million contract with the Dodgers; which is the biggest overall deal for a pitcher, ever.  If any pitcher deserves this, it's Clayton Kershaw.  
               - Derek Jeter will retire after this season.  It does not matter what teams you like (or loathe), everyone likes Derek Jeter.  The game will not be the same without him.  
               - Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera just signed monster deals with the Angels and Tigers, respectively.
               - We will have repay and certain calls can be challenged this year.
               - The penalty for using PEDs is now more stringent: 80 games for the first offense, 162 games for the second offense and banned for life after the third offense.

            So here we are, Opening Day.  It's been a crazy off-season and I'm so glad we can just play already (or, at least, watch them play) instead of speculating about it. 

Happy Opening Day everyone!


Sunday, February 16, 2014

The off season is a little more bearable for me because…..I love hockey too!

            I started really watching hockey during the 2010 Olympics.  I had watched hockey before.  Birmingham used to have a team in the East Coast Hockey League and I went to several games.  During that time I watch some NHL too.  But the Birmingham Bulls left in 2001 and, let's face it, hockey isn't exactly popular in the deep south, so I stopped keeping up with it.  Then came the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.  I didn't get to watch a lot of those games.  I was still in public accounting at the time and was lucky to see the prime time coverage, even on Saturdays; and the hockey games do not get very much of the prime time coverage.  I did get to see the gold medal game.  That sealed it.  I was hooked.  It's funny, now that I think about it; that a game so heartbreaking could hook you, but it did.

            So after the Olympics were over I wanted more.  I wanted to be a hockey fan too.  Which meant I needed to pick a team.  Obviously the hero of the Olympics was Sidney Crosby.  You couldn't have written the scenario of what he did any better.  The face of the NHL, getting the gold medal winning goal, in overtime, for Canada, against the USA and in Vancouver to boot.  Yep, he was a hero, for the Canadians.  For the Americans, not so much.  I read that he was booed in his first game back in Pittsburgh.  That's crazy, because he is LOVED in Pittsburgh.  The next Penguins game was schedule to be on TV.  So I watched it.  Then I watched the next one and the next one.  And that was it, I became a Penguins fan.  I've been accused of being a bandwagon fan.  I guess that's true.  I became a Penguins fan the year after they had won the Stanley Cup.  The thing is, if you are going to follow hockey in Birmingham (and you are not planning on paying for NHL Game Center) you have to pick one of the more popular teams because they are on TV more often.  I may be a bandwagon fan in the way I chose my team, but not in the sense of how I follow them; i.e. I will not be changing teams.  And by the way, I have been a subscriber of NHL Game Center for two years now.

            So here we are, in the middle of the 2014 Olympics.  I have gotten up at 6:30 the last two mornings (Saturday and Sunday) to watch USA hockey.  The game against Russia yesterday was amazing.  Eight rounds in a shootout before there was a winner!  Are you kidding me?!?!?!  I'm so glad I got up early for it.  I'm hoping for another USA vs. Canada gold medal game; just with a different outcome this time.  Go USA!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What do we do now?

            Well.  The Braves season ended Monday.  I still can't believe it.  I knew we didn't have the momentum going in, but the Dodgers did not have a great September either, so I thought we had a chance.  I really thought this was our year; this was THE team.  They played their hearts out this year and I am proud of what all they accomplished.  I just hate that it ended so early.

            Monday was heartbreaking.  Absolutely heartbreaking.  First of all, the game was in LA, so it did not start until 8:30 cst.  I watched the game with the TV muted and listened to Jim Powell and Don Sutton through my MLB At Bat app.  That is not something I usually do, but I just couldn't listen to the TBS announcers any more.  I watched games one and three with the sound on.  If you did not know any better you would have never guessed the announcers were not affiliated with either team.  This was the Dodger's show, and it was the Dodger's series to lose.   Nevermind the Braves finished 96-66 and the Dodgers finished 92-70; or that the Braves won the regular season series 5-2.  When game three started and the announcers were recapping game two, the sentiment was that the Dodgers had lost game two, not that the Braves had won.  Looking back, maybe that was the case.  Games one and three  ended with scores of 1-6 and 6-13, respectively.  Blowouts.  And game two's score was 4-3.  So the one game the Braves won, was close.  Even so, I just couldn't listen anymore.  The app was a couple of minutes behind the television feed, which was unpleasant, but I dealt with it.  

            The game was close.  So close.  I was so proud of Freddy Garcia.  From what I saw leading up to the game no one game him a chance; especially after the Dodger's announced they were starting CY Young favorite Clayton Kershaw.  Garcia allowed two early solo home runs to Carl Crawford, but other than that he held his own.  In an interview the day before he said he was not nervous and that he would "just make pitch".  And that's what he did.  The game was tied 2-2 when he came out after the sixth.  Then in the seventh Jose Constanza hit a single, scoring Elliot Johnson and the Braves took the lead.  I thought that was it.  It had to be.  We have one of the best bullpens in the league.  Jose Constanza would go down in infamy just like Francisco Cabrera when he drove in Sid.  "Just make pitch" would be our new saying; it would be on t-shirts for sure.  We would play again Wednesday in Atlanta.  Kris Medlen would get the start against Zack Greinke (who we beat in game two).  We would go on to play the Pirates in the NLCS (because I had tickets to game seven, so we would need home field advantage).  But none of that came to pass.  In the bottom of the eighth Yasiel Puig hit a double off of  David Carpenter.  Then Juan Uribe hit a home run giving the Dodgers a one run lead.  And that was it.  It was so sad.  The boys looked so defeated.  I can still see Chris Johnson standing at the rail of the dugout with his arms draped over it.  He had a great series, and a great year, and to see him like that; so dejected.  Heartbreaking.  Tuesday was rough.  I was still so disappointed; oh, and tired.  The game ended after midnight and I stayed up until the end.                      

            So what do we do now?  I've played the "what-if / if only" game the last couple of days.  What if Craig Kimbrel had been brought in to pitch the eighth?  What if Jonny Venters or Eric O'Flaherty had not gotten hurt and could have pitched that eighth inning?  If only Tim Hudson had been healthy, game four might have been our clinching game instead of our "win or go home" game.  If only our sluggers hadn't been slumping, maybe we could have had a bigger lead and those two runs in the eighth inning wouldn't have mattered so much.  I'm tired of thinking about all of that.  It doesn't change anything.  

            The Cardinals beat the Pirates last night, so even if the Braves had advanced, my NLCS tickets would have been obsolete.  The Cardinals and Dodgers will face off starting tomorrow.  That is going to be a great series.  I would love to see Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw face off, but the schedule was released today and that does not look likely.

            There is a lot of good baseball left.  I guess that is what we do now.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

It's Hard to Not Count Your Unhatched Chickens When You're 13 Games Up

            I cannot believe baseball season is almost over.  This summer has flown by!  Maybe that is because all three of my favorite teams are doing well.  The Braves, Cardinals and Dodgers are all currently leading their divisions.  The Braves and Dodgers have considerable leads, but we know all too well not to take it for granted.  Remember 2011?  As late as September 8, 2011 the Braves were leading the Wild Card race.  The closest team behind them was the Cardinals.  They were 6.5 games back.  The Braves did not make the playoffs that year.  That was decided on the last day of the regular season.  The Cardinals went on to win the World Series.  That’s one of the things that make baseball so great.  Nothing is decided until the very end.  The best game I have ever watch was game six of that World Series.  The Cardinals were down to their last strike not once, but twice.  They pulled out the win and went on to win game seven and the World Series.  I felt sorry for the people who just do not “get” baseball after that series.

            I am getting a little worried about the Braves.  Sure they are thirteen games up, and playing very well, but we’ve all seen this before.  I wrote a while back about the Braves being streaky this year.  I’m still worried they will hit a cold streak at the worst possible time.  Plus, guys are getting hurt; really important guys and by really freaky accidents.  Tim Hudson’s ankle got stepped on while he was covering first and it resulted in a season ending injury.  Jason Heyward got hit in the jaw by a fastball while batting and he is out for at least the rest of the regular season.  By the way, my favorite hockey player, Sidney Crosby, took a slap shot to the jaw and missed a considerable amount of time last hockey season.  I’m starting to wonder if it’s me.  Hudson and Heyward’s injuries both happened at Citi Field.  Good thing we don’t have to go back there!  Last night a pitch hit Justin Upton and now he has a contusion on his hand.  Hopefully he will not miss too much time.  We cannot afford to lose anyone else. 

            They pretty much have to keep it together because…..I HAVE POST SEASON TICKETS!!!  Presale tickets went on sale earlier this week and I have two to the second game that will be played at Turner Field during the NLDS.  Of course it is yet to be determined when exactly that will be, but I will be there.  I am so excited!  I have never been to a post season game before.  I can’t wait.  In the mean time we will see how the Braves finish.  Here are a few things to consider:

-We have already lost Hudson, and Beachy had a scare last week with his elbow.  We are second in the league in ERA and have had great pitching.  Will it hold up?

-Will Jason Heyward make it back for the post season?  He was the best hitter on the team when he got hurt.  Will he still be hot?

-During the game tonight they announced that Fredi Gonzalez has started his original line-up 28 times this season.  Tonight is game 134.  Things have not gone exactly as planned, but the boys have done a fantastic job.  Will the back-ups continue to step up?

I hope so, on all counts!  We will see.