October 2012

Fall Classic

With apologies in advance to all the sports not named baseball, there is nothing like the Fall Classic. Really, there’s nothing like October baseball. I should say, there’s nothing in sports like October baseball.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love game seven of an NHL playoff series, or any of the NFL playoff weekends, those are fun too. I watch the World Cup, Olympics, heck, even the NBA during the playoffs. No matter how great an individual or team achievement is in those sports, they still don’t measure up to baseball in October.

Baseball is a six-month grind with amazing moments. Perfect games, no-hitters, walk-off wins, there are games and moments that are every bit as exciting as a long run in a football game. But baseball really is a grind. The people that play, coach, manage, work in the game actually use that term, grind, when talking about their season. In the big leagues, they play 162 games in roughly 180 days.

Rarely during the season does a team feel a true sense of urgency and if they do, it’s typically towards the end of the season. Occasionally during the season there are games that the media and/or fans will label as “must wins” but generally teams don’t put pressure on themselves in June to win a particular game.

But in October everything changes, except nothing changes. In the NBA, they claim defense prevails more in the playoffs. Same thing in the NFL, except there have been plenty of high-scoring playoff games over the years.  How many penalties are in a Super Bowl or AFC/NFC Championship game? Not nearly as many as called during the regular season. It’s almost as if suddenly the players don’t block in the back or hold.

Unlike in the Super Bowl, tonight 43,000 + San Francisco Giants fans will be cheering wildly for their team against the Detroit Tigers. Come this weekend, 40,000+ Tigers fans will be going nuts for their team. Regular, run of the mill, dyed in the wool, fans of both teams will have the opportunity to see their team play in the World Series. How many dyed in the wool fans of the NY Giants or New England Patriots saw the Super Bowl in person last year? How many dyed in the wool fans of the Miami Heat saw their team win the NBA Championship in person last year?

That’s the beauty of baseball. No matter how many ills the game has, the games still involve baseball fans. The teams that win stay on the field to celebrate with their fans, and over the last few years, take laps around the park and exchange handshakes and high fives with their fans.

I love the 49ers and they have several wins in their history that are included in the games greatest games. But none of them define a generation. In 2010 when the Giants won the World Series, that defined generations of fans. People talked about going to games, like myself, with their fathers or grandfathers and watching the Giants always come up short.

There is an ebb and flow to a baseball season. Maybe because it’s the summer and it’s how so many of us measured our summers as a youth, checking box scores, looking at the probable pitchers for the game today, etc. Football is an event. Baseball is a game.

So for the next five to nine days, fans in Detroit and San Francisco, and baseball fans throughout the country will enjoy the Fall Classic. Regardless of who your favorite team is, or whether they are even in the Series, there is nothing like watching the series and having it lead up to a last out strikeout or a Mazeroski or Carter ending. For me, I’ll be watching and hoping and praying the Giants make it two out of the past three years, making up for my first 47 years with none.



The Postseason or What Goes Around Comes Around

Here I sit on a sunny, for now, mid-October day. I was reminded by twitter that 25 years ago late yesterday afternoon I was at Candlestick Park for game 3 of the 1989 World Series. Before I go on I do want to give thanks to the folks that built the ‘Stick, they did good, that’s for sure. The place may have been one of the worst ballparks ever built but it also survived one of the worst earthquakes in American history.

As most of you know by now, the Washington Nationals foray into their first postseason lasted just five games and ended with one of their worst losses of the season. Leading by two into the ninth, they couldn’t nail down the final three outs before giving up their lead.

The final three outs of any game are hard, much less the final game of a series. Some very good to great pitchers have had trouble nailing down the last three outs from Dennis Eckersly to Mariano Rivera and their failures didn’t diminish their great careers. In my first year of broadcasting, Mark Littell was the pitching for the team I worked for, the Ogden Raptors. In case you don’t recall Mark, at the end of his rookie season he gave up a solo home run to Chris Chambliss that ended the 1976 American League Championship Series. He said the Royals called him every couple of weeks that off-season to check on him and make sure he was fine. He told me that Chambliss was a very good hitter, he made a decent pitch, Chambliss hit it out of the park, and that was that.

I don’t know Drew Storen that well, but I’ve spent enough time around him to know he can’t wait until Opening Day in 2013 so that he can put the finishing touches on the Nats first win. If I recall correctly, Drew joined us in August and was nearly unhittable finishing the season with nine saves in under a month. He just has a way about him that I think will allow him to move past this disappointment, put it behind him, and have a great career filled with many memorable saves.

As most of you know, I’m also a Giants fan so I’m following them closely as well. I was hoping for a Nats vs. Giants NLCS thinking that no matter who won, I’d have a “favorite” team in the World Series. As it stands today, the Giants trail the Cards two games to one and will need to find a way to win a game in St. Louis just to send the series back to San Francisco.

In the American League, it seems as if we are watching the end of a dynasty doesn’t it? The Yankees are suddenly old at the plate and with the injury to Jeter, it sure seems like there is a void in leadership. They just don’t seem like The Yankees. But then again, heck, maybe they’ll starting bombing Comerica Park and turn things around in the series.

Baseball gets lost amongst the other sports like the NFL, College Football, and March Madness, but how about all four Division Series going the distance? I’ve already touched on the Nats game, but their was high drama between the Reds and Giants, and the Yankees didn’t run away and hide from the Orioles with game five going down to the last out. Only the Tigers took the steam out of their game five.

At the beginning of the League Championship Series’ I was hoping for a Yankees vs. Giants World Series, but now I’m just hoping for a Giants vs. anyone World Series. For baseball fans over 50, the Yankees and Giants seemingly met all the time in New York but in reality, it has been 50 years this year since the two teams last met in a World Series. The 1962 World Series ended with Willie McCovey hitting a line drive to Bobby Richardson at second base with the tying and winning runs in scoring position. One famous baseball fan, Charlie Brown, never lived that one down.

What goes around comes around, right? In 1960, Bill Mazeroski hit the first walk-off home run to end a World Series in baseball history. He hit that home run off a beleaguered Ralph Terry. The 24-year-old Terry had to live with his failure for two years and three days before retiring McCovey and winning game 7 of the 1962 World Series, a World Series in which he was named the MVP.