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Archive for the ‘Life and Sports’ Category

The Number 4

If you’ve ever seen the mind-blowing movie “The Number 23,” starring Jim Carrey, in which his character reads a book about the number 23 and then begins obsessing over it and all the ways that not only his life but also important events directly coincide with the number 23, some modification of the number 23, or a number related to the number 23 (e.g. William Shakespeare was born on Apr 23 and died on Apr 23; Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times; human sex cells have 23 chromosomes, etc), then you can completely understand the mind-blowing day I had today.  However, if you saw the movie and you a) weren’t on drugs, b) weren’t a paranoid schizophrenic, or c) could intelligently decipher that there are hundreds of ways to get something to fit into a little predefined box, then maybe my day won’t be that big of a deal to you.  But let’s pretend that these following facts aren’t merely coincidences and are actually signs from the cosmos that they actually mean something on a grander scale.  Oooohhhhhh.

So, let’s start dissecting how the number 4 is significant to this day, beginning with a simple example–today is September 4th.  Even more simply, including myself, my wife and I brought the 4th boy into our family this morning at 2:44 am.  Now a little more twisted, we were the 4th couple to arrive at labor & delivery this morning with the woman already dilated to an 8, which is highly irregular when it’s not a full moon.  Not including my wife and myself, there were 4 people in the room helping to deliver this baby, whose nickname can be broken down into 4 characters.  Lastly, I was at the hospital today on 4 separate occasions today.

Now let’s see how the number 4 was indirectly involved in other things in my life today.  All three baseball teams that I follow regularly–Yankees, Red Sox, Rays–each had outcomes related to the number 4.  The Red Sox lost not once, but twice to the White Sox during a day/night doubleheader, losing each time 3-1 (3 + 1 = 4).  The Tampa Bay Rays lost in Baltimore 8-4 (8 – 4 = 4).  The Yankees beat the Blue Jays 7-5 and out hit them 9-7 ((7 + 9) – (5 + 7) = 4).  Combined, the three teams hit 4 home runs.

See what I mean?  It’s incredible.  Clearly this means something.

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Aug 7, 2010
   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9        R   H   E 
Tampa Bay Rays (67-43) 0 0 2 0 3 0 2 0 4   11 9 1
Toronto Blue Jays (58-52) 1 2 3 2 5 1 3 0 X   17 20 2

Over the past two days, I have watched two baseball games that are the absolute quintessential of why I love this sport so much.  Yes, the Red Sox and Yankees are playing an important series at the Stadium, but I have not seen a minute of either of those games as they have become less about baseball, which has not been very good recently between those two teams, and more about the rivalry, which has been so overblown that it’s impossible to enjoy the contests.

Anyway, the series between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Toronto Blue Jays has been much more entertaining, specifically the games from yesterday and today, although they were each on complete opposite ends.

Yesterday, the Blue Jays won the game 17-11, which may not seem like it was a good game based on the score, but it was incredibly entertaining.  First, the Blue Jays hit eight home runs, six off of James Shields alone, which tied a modern-era record for most home runs off of one pitcher in a game, and increased their major-league-leading season home run total to 175, which is almost 30 higher than the next club. 

[Editors note: I believe that the Blue Jays players have taken it upon themselves to try and hit a home run every time they come to the plate because they know that the only way they are going to win is to out slug the opponents; thus, while they lead MLB in home runs (175) and slugging (.463), they have the 6th worst batting average (.251), 4th worst on-base percentage (.314), and 4th fewest walks (317), which means they are playing only for power and not just to get on base.] 

Second, the Jays’ minor-league call-up, JP Arencibia, who has been hyped up as a kind of wonder kid, hitting 31 bombs in AAA Las Vegas this year, hit a home run on the very first pitch of his very first at bat in the big leagues.  The first pitch!  He followed that up with a double in his second at bat, and single in his third at bat, and capped it with his second home run of the day and of his career.  Truly amazing.

Third, even with a 17-7 lead going into the top of the ninth, you didn’t feel like the game was over, as the Rays scored 4 runs relatively easily and were only a few baserunners away from it being a save situation–even though the Jays had scored 17 runs!

Aug 8, 2010
   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9        R   H   E 
Tama Bay Rays (67-44) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0   0 1 0
Toronto Blue Jays (59-52) 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 X   1 5 1

But today’s game was totally different, even though it was the same two teams playing on the same field, just one day removed from a 28-run outburst.

With two outs in the top of the ninth, the Blue Jays starting pitcher, Brandon Morrow, was one out away from pitching the first no-hitter of his career, and fourth that the Rays would have been a part of this season! (The Rays lost two of the previous no-hitters, one of which was a perfect game).  But with two outs, Evan Longoria hit it to the right side that ricocheted off the second baseman’s glove and into right field for the Rays’ first hit of the game, which was correctly ruled a hit and not an error.

Moreover, Morrow struck out 17 Rays hitters on his way to his first complete-game shutout of his career and was absolutely dominant.  Also the only run of the game was scored in the first inning when Yunel Escobar moved from first to third on a ground out to the third baseman Longoria, which was one of the most gutsy and incredible base running plays I’ve ever seen.  I mean, he went from first to third on an infield ground out.  Talk about speed and guts.  Two batters later Vernon Wells drove him in for the eventual game-winning run, which held up due to Morrow’s incredible pitching as the Jays won 1-0.

Anyway, sorry to gush so much about this great game, but you can’t possibly have any more diametrically opposing back-to-back games and be as thoroughly entertained as I was.  So much so, that I had to write about it.

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Stras-mas

I haven’t had much time to blog lately since I began studying for the CPA exam while trying to keep up with my P90X regiment, but I felt like I had to after witnessing the performance last night of one of the most hyped pitchers ever. 

I recorded the local MASN feed because I felt like the local broadcasters could give a more in-depth and educated analysis than the national broadcasters can because the national guys are forced to pander to an audience with mostly a very shallow knowledge of both Strasburg and baseball in general and would probably have to spend their time trying to explain why a 90-MPH curveball is so special instead of being able to comment on the pitch selection as a whole.  And even though Bob Carpenter and especially former major-league-pithcer and “Nasty-Boy” Rob Dibble can come across as homers at times, it was really fun to hear their reaction with each K, especially as Strasburg struck out the final seven batters he faced!  I think on the last K in the 7th, Dibble actually yelped in excitement and could be heard clapping in the background.  I’ll forgive the obscene cheering for this occasion, but there really shouldn’t be cheering in the broadcast booth, in my opinion.

As I was coming home from work yesterday, I felt like a little kid who wakes up early on the weekend anxiously awaiting Saturday-morning cartoons.  And despite the hype, Strasburg was everything I anticipated and more.  I expected him to have a decent debut, but I didn’t expect him to have a line like this: 7.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 14 K, HR, 2.57 ERA.  The numbers that really stand out are not only the 14 strikeouts but also the fact that he didn’t allow a single BB.  That’s amazing.  I’m excited to see him pitch again in his next start.

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This confession that Mark McGwire used steroids during his playing days is neither shocking nor revealing.  Anyone who followed the game and saw someone who was so stricken with injuries that he consistently missed lengthy periods of playing time and then suddenly broke Roger Maris’ single-season home-run record knew that something was up.  However, I still take it very personally.

I was a freshman in college in the summer/fall of 1998 and the home-run chase between McGwire and Sammy Sosa was one of the most fun times I ever had following baseball. 

Keep in mind that 1998 was a time when the Internet and texting were still in their infancy as far as accessibility was concerned.  So every day I would come home from class to my dorm because a group of guys in the building directly outside my room kept a tally on their window of the latest home runs hit by either Sosa or McGwire.  And even though it may have been a primitive way of staying informed, most of the Cubs game were (and still are) during the daytime and this was how I kept up on the race.

As McGwire and Sosa battled it out throughout the summer and into September, I would do my homework in front of the TV in our dorm basement and try to get an update on ESPN because I wanted to know if either player got closer to the record.

On Sept 8, 1998, my entire dorm floor was invited to watch a rare interview between Larry King and President Gordon B. Hinckley at the home of one of the guys on my floor who is the son of a very prominent author—Stephen R. Covey. 

But I chose to stay behind because Fox had decided to air the Cardinals/Cubs game which was being played at Busch Stadium at the same time.  This was very unusual for Fox to show a game that wasn’t on the weekend or wasn’t a playoff game.  But I wanted to see history be broken—and I wasn’t disappointed.

As a baseball fan, watching McGwire break Maris’ record that night and then be embraced by not only his rival/pursuer Sammy Sosa (who was playing for the Cubs) but also by the Maris family members (Roger had died long ago), I never had more chills and been more excited than I was that night. 

And remember, I’m a huge Yankee fan and this was a record that had been held by a Yankee since 1961.  Furthermore, the Yanks had recently won the World Series in 1996 and were on pace to eventually set a single-season record for most wins by any team in major league history in 1998.  And, still, I pinpoint this moment as one of my top five baseball moments of all time.

When the next Sports Illustrated magazine came out with McGwire on the cover, displaying his home run prowess and glorifying him for his accomplishment, I bought it immediately and still have that issue to this day.  In fact, I think it’s the only non-Yankee related Sports Illustrated magazine I own.

I credit the McGwire/Sosa race of ’98 with helping me and other baseball fans recover from the 1994 strike more so than I credit Cal Ripken’s consecutive-games streak because I think more people can recognize and characterize the home run as an incredible feat than playing in 2,131 straight games.

Now today, with McGwire as the latest superstar to admit to his use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), I might still have fond memories of that late summer/early fall, but unfortunately it wasn’t real and has now lost much of its appeal.

So now what should Major League Baseball do?  I have heard this suggestion before, but I agree with it the more I hear it.  I think that because it would be impossible to, first, find out who was taking PEDs and who wasn’t and, second, determine if the PEDs helped certain players to succeed, I think that while the records should stand, as much as I hate to acknowledge Barry Bonds as the all-time HR leader and single-season-HR-record holder because it’s only a matter of time before he either confesses or the truth comes out, any personal achievements or accolades of admitted steroid users should be stripped from or refused to those players.  This means that McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, etc would never be inducted into the Hall of Fame; A-Rod would lose his three MVPs; McGwire would lose his Rookie-of-the-Year award; etc.

Despite all this, I’m still not sure what to think of the “steroid era,” but hopefully baseball is better for it.

McGwire Admits to Steroid Use (mlb.com)

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One thing Andre Dawson has never been accused of being misleading with his feelings.  His intensity was pervasive throughout his playing career and that same intensity was seen in his interviews today as he discussed his induction into the Hall of Fame.  And after being on the ballot for so many years without being accpeted, it was obvious how much it means to him to now be introduced as Andre Dawson—Hall of Famer.

As a kid, I loved following Dawson and he was in the handful of guys that I liked to watch, mainly because his games were more easily accessible when he played for the Cubs and they were always on WGN.  Anyway, I’m happy for him.

I was surprised to not see Roberto Alomar, Jr. get inducted in his first year of eligibility, but I suppose the dual spitting incidents and how he seemingly gave up on the Mets left such a sour taste in the mouths of many of the voters that he missed the requisite 75% by only a few votes.  But both he and Bert Blyleven should make it next year.

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It’s no secret that the Mets and Yankees had vastly different results to their 2009 seasons.  At least now someone is willing to summarize it succintly and put it on record.

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I am not a fan of reality TV and would never schedule time to sit down and watch an entire show.  This isn’t because I don’t think it’s good programming, but it’s more because I am bothered by how contrived everything is and I don’t believe that any of it is real, which, to me, goes against the entire basis of reality TV.  I maintain that the best reality TV has and always will be sports, which is why I enjoy them so much. 

But every now and again I will catch snippets of reality shows as I’m flipping through the channels, in between innings or during a timeout, and on a rare occasion I will stay and watch a few minutes if I see something interesting.  This was the case tonight as I randomly flipped through the channels and landed on a show that one of my friends at work had mentioned—“The Sing Off” on NBC.  After he told me that one of the judges was Ben Folds, my interest was immediately piqued, although I could certainly do without the Ryan-Seacrest-wannabe Nick Lachey.

When I turned to the show, I understood by the title that there would be a singing competition of sorts, but I didn’t know that it was a capella groups or what kind of music they would be singing.  So as the show was coming out of commercial, Nick introduced the next group and mentioned that they would be singing a medley from The Who.

I thought it was great as the group began with “Behind Blue Eyes,” which morphed into “Who Are You,” and ended with “Baba O’Reilly.”  Once they were done, Nick asked each of the judges their opinions, beginning with Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls.  Nicole’s comments were directed towards the group’s performance as she pointed out the energy that they sung with and the smiles.  Constructive criticism it was not.  Next, Shawn Stockman, of Boyz II Men fame, gave his thoughts on the performance and also focused on the entertainment factors of the group, mentioning how much of a rock star one of the performers appeared to be.

But when Ben Folds began to critique the group, he blew the other two judges out of the water.  He hit upon the concept of how old records were focused on the lead singer and how, especially with “Behind Blue Eyes,” the melancholy was the essence of that song.  You could get the sense that Ben, who may not be as marketable as the other two, as far as looks are concerned, has made an in-depth study of music in his life, and is focused on harnessing the art of his craft.

As someone who firmly believes in a difference between the art of music and the appearance of music, it was nice to see that NBC promotes those, like a Ben Folds, who believe in that too and try to bring out the best in what he writes and listens to.  This is why, although it takes more time and effort, I try to seek out the best in music regardless of how someone looks or performs.  Justin Vernon or Sam Beam, for example, look nothing like some of these corporate pop bands, but their music is incredible and is well worth the time invested in getting to know it.

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