“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.” -Field of Dreams
Perhaps you’ve noticed the title of my little weekly column has changed. I was never all that comfortable with “A League of MY Own” if I am honest. I didn’t like the arrogance or egotistic sound of it. I don’t own Baseball, we all do. I will be the very first person to tell you that I am most certainly not in any kind of a league by myself. I have found the past few weeks to be a trial of self-confidence and lowered feelings of self worth. If anything, I have learned more about my tendency for mistakes and the challenges that accompany them. I struggle to overcome my inadequacies and the last thing that I feel is that I somehow should be associated with anything with even the slightest airs of over-confidence.
So, for this reason I re-name this ongoing column “It’s Baseball, Ray.” It just feels a better fit. I was originally told that it might be perhaps too obscure. Maybe, but maybe not. I was also reminded by someone else that I write my columns for a website called “Next Ten Words.” That, in and of itself, is a fairly enigmatic reference to a great concept introduced in Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing.” The fact that it is cryptic is what I like most about it. The N10W website strives to be something beyond the obvious. It is not about the simple or the easy surface answers. It is about what’s next. The game of Baseball is improvisational. It is meant to change direction, to re-route itself as needed in order to achieve a goal. To put it another way, my slider wasn’t working for me, so consider this my change-up pitch.
If there is one thing that I’ve learned from baseball it is that mistakes are essential to the game. They happen and are to be expected. You certainly don’t want them to take place, but that’s life. In a box score, there is a space to count the runs, the hits and the errors. I like that. Errors are part of the game. Hopefully, these are what you learn from, but even the most experienced veteran will make a blunder of a throw and allow a runner to score. This is why I appreciate it when people say “We’ll get ‘em tomorrow” after a loss. Mario Benedetti once said, “Perfection is a polished collection of errors.” Baseball is a long season and the opportunity for redemption is always out there waiting for you. We all need that.
During Monday’s Los Angeles/Cleveland game, Cleveland’s Designated Hitter Edwin Encarnacion pelted one out deep to the left field corner in the top of the second inning. It looked like it was going foul and then the wind blew it in. By most standards, this could have been either a catch for an out, or at best a double. Neither of those things happened. Angels left fielder Justin Upton fielded the ball poorly, missing a catch as the ball bounced off the wall and then hesitated to go after it as it rolled away from him. By the time he retrieved the ball, his throw missed the cut-off man as Encarnacion rounded third to complete an inside-the-park home run giving Cleveland a first run to spark the team on to a 6-0 win over the Angels. This was not ruled an error. Sometimes, there is forgiveness in the moments we fail, and that is good thing. Now in
his twelfth big league season, Upton is a four-time All Star and three-time Silver Slugger with a career .269 batting average. Things go sideways for veterans as well as rookies. It is good to see someone of his caliber still get it wrong sometimes. There are lessons that we can get out of it.
A Major League Home Opener, it is truly an event. Each team wants theirs to be special, or at least memorable. The Minnesota home opener on April 5th was certainly that. It was a pretty cold day with a 38-degree temperature recorded at first pitch, but it made the team’s record books on a number of other levels as well. The first indelible moment occurred when America’s first Gold Medal Olympic Curling Team took to the mound to deliver the honorary first pitch of the game. As the five Olympians stood shoulder to shoulder, they eyed their respective catchers lined across home plate, took deep breathes and unleashed a quintet of baseballs causing more than one intended recipient to turn away to avoid being hit by the onslaught. Some athletic skills may not be transferable after all.
The highlight of the opener took place during the National Anthem. Singer/Rapper Dessa from Minneapolis’ Doomtree collective gave a fantastic rendition. At the conclusion, 4 U.S. Air Force T-38 fighter jets performed a flyover of Target Field, as a bald eagle named Challenger was to fly from his handler in the outfield to another one on the field. Instead of this stirring demonstration of American patriotism, the giant bird languidly swerved through the left field before setting down next to Seattle pitcher James Paxton, who happened to be standing there at the time. Shortly after landing, Challenger hopped up and attempted to settle on Paxton’s right shoulder. Challenger’s mighty talons and beak were even more impressive than I would have initially suspected. To his credit, the left-handed pitcher kept a cool head as the bird’s trainer came rushing out in an attempt to regain control. Another example that sometimes even the best laid plans go astray.
It is COLD here in Minnesota. Anyone who was here for Superbowl LII will attest to that. Saturday’s game between the Minnesota Twins and the Seattle Mariners recorded a temperature of 27-degrees at the time of the first pitch at 1:10 PM. It was the 7th of April. It was of no great comfort to me that I was informed that this was the coldest April 7th on record in Minnesota in 110 years. That bald eagle would’ve frozen mid-flight.
Now that we are a full week into the season, Shohei Ohtani continues to impress. After a solid pitching start last week, he took to the plate and hit home runs in three straight games. His shot on Friday night went 449 feet to the rocks beyond center field in Angels Stadium in Anaheim. I want to remain cautious on making any great claims about the multi-skilled pitcher/hitter until we are at least 40-50 games deep into the season, but from the looks of it in these first few days of the season he may actually be the real deal. I said it before and I say it louder now, keep an eye on this kid. He’s only 23 years old, so still a few years away from his true prime years. It looks like Mike Trout finally has the partner-in-crime on his team that he deserves. Mike Scioscia, you are one lucky manager. Once again, you have a team stocked full of talent.
Speaking of managers, Ron Gardenhire was ejected in his first game as Manager of the Detroit Tigers for arguing a reviewed
call that overturned what would have been his team’s winning run in the tenth inning. With this toss out, Gardy moves up to tie Joe Torre at 66 games for ninth place in the most career manager ejections. Gardy will have to really step it up in order to hit Bobby Cox’s impressive 161 total ejections. Not only does this require determination, it requires a ready and immediate willingness to rely on the so-called “magic words” that have historically proven irresistible to major league umpires. Desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures. After the game Gardy’s season ejection totals were higher than his teams winning record. There is a You Tube compilation of every Gardenhire career ejection. It takes 47 minutes to watch. I love that.
I really like the fact that Matt Kemp is now wearing a Dodgers jersey once again. During his nine seasons with LA, he was Gold Glove winning, Silver Slugging All-Star. He was also quite a bit of a “scenester” dating singer Rihanna and hitting the clubs. The various excesses hit his performance and brought his eventual trade to the San Diego Padres in December 2014. The Padres were somewhat concerned after a physical revealed severe arthritis in both of his hips. Of his $21,250,000 paycheck during the
2015 season, the Dodgers paid $18 Million. Think about that. They paid the majority of his salary to not play for them. During his second season with the Padres, he was shipped over to Atlanta where he spent the remainder of 2016 and 2017 as pretty much nothing more than a high-priced “once was” playing in left field on a non-contending team. The Braves went 68-93 in 2016 and 72-90 in 2017.
So, it was a bit of a surprise that his former team acquired him in December of last year as part of a five-player trade. Might as well. The Dodgers were obligated to Kemp for salary dollars through 2019. It was suspected that Kemp would report to Spring Training and eventually find himself as a high-paid minor league draw for the remainder of his career. The last time he was seen, he was pushing close to 275 pounds. That’s a difficult bulk to carry if you are an outfielder despite your 6 feet, 4-inch height.
But omething else happened, instead. Kemp spent some time with former Twins outfielder Torii Hunter and re-oriented himself. He changed his diet radically and as a result lost upwards of 65 pounds before reporting to camp. Also gone were the 2 A.M. late nights. As a result, Kemp made the 25-man roster on a contending team. While his hitting in his 19 plate appearances so far have only netted him 4 hits giving a .211 average, this is one guy that I will be pulling for. This is a game about redemption and I am pulling for Matt Kemp to succeed.
In the end, it is the errors, the mistakes, the poor throws, the game ejections and inadvertent landing spots of Bald Eagles that ultimately give this game its beauty and the possibility of redemption. If we don’t have that, what do any of us have any way?
Daniel G. Moir is a freelance writer, musician and baseball enthusiast. He hardly ever misses a Minnesota Twins home game at Target Field. In the past he was known for giving Ron Garenhire tips on dealing with umpires. These days when the team is on the road he watches at home with his pal Brubeck. He can be contacted at @DMoir5150.
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