All-Star Game! Cubs Everywhere!

Well, the All-Star game festivities begin this week, with the Home Run Derby this weekend and the All-Star game on Tuesday. I always enjoy watching the game, because it is a rare time to get to watch the best ball players face off. I particularly enjoy it now that the game actually counts; the winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series. So, unlike the basketball, football, or hockey All Star games, this game actually matters, and the players actually play it for real. People slide, and pitch inside, and try to leg out doubles, and dive for balls in the outfield. It is a real game, and the players play it that way, and that makes it exciting to watch. Also, this usually means that, with so many incredible ball players on the field at once, something amazing will probably happen.

This year, 8 of those amazing players are actually members of the Chicago Cubs! Gone are the days when only Sammy Sosa or Ryne Sandberg were the representatives. This year, Alfanso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome, Aramis Ramirez, Geovanny Soto, Carlos Zambrano, Kerry Wood, Ryan Dempster, and Carlos Marmol all made the team. Soriano cannot play because of a broken hand, and Wood is out because of a blister. Marmol was then selected as Wood’s replacement. The most incredible story on this list? Definitely Wood and Dempster. Last year, Kerry Wood was about to retire until his arm magically healed, and Dempster was the teams closer. This year, Wood is the closer (formally a starter for the Cubs), and Dempster is having a career year as the Cubs No. 2 starter.

Needless to say, I am excited. I am pumped. I’ve never been so elated about a season as I am this year. To be honest, I’m not quite sure how to feel. The Cubs have the best record in the major leagues, have the most All-Star representatives, and just made a huge trade last week for A’s starter Rich Harden that will make them even more solid. It is a bizzarre feeling, and I’m not sure what to do with it. On Tuesday, however, I will be kicking it with a couple beers and my Mark Grace jersey on to watch some baseball.

On Baseball Parks and Scoreboards

Ashleigh and I caught another Orioles game this past weekend, a dissapointing 5-3 loss to Texas. We sat directly underneath the scoreboard in centerfield, and it made me realize something different then when I had done same thing at Wrigley Field.

I’m going to preface this post with a disclaimer: I think that Camden Yards is one of the most beautiful ball parks in the Major Leagues, and a fantastic place to watch a game. I haven’t been to many, but I have always been impressed, ever since my aunt took me thare when it first opened. As should be no surprise, Wrigley Field is, I think, the best place to watch a baseball game. The reasoning hadn’t been entirely clear to me, although this weekend helped solidify it for me. So anyway, if this sounds like a knock on Camden Yards, it isn’t meant to be, it is simply a description of a dramatic difference in two ballparks that were built nearly 80 years apart, and I think, therefore, reflect quite dramatically all that has changed in America during that time. At any rate, my job is to look at man made structures and figure out how they reflect or shape human behavior, so here it goes.

Wrigley Field was built in 1914, and became the Cubs home field in 1916. It is the second oldest ball park in the majors. It is small, seating just over 41,000 people. The foul territory is incredibly limited, the outfield wall is made of brick and covered with ivy, and fans can watch the game from the rooftops across the street. The scoreboard is enourmous, operated primarily by the individuals inside it, who replace the numbers on all the scores by hand. It keeps track of the time (analogue), the batter’s number, strikes, ball, and outs. An electronic ticker was added underneath it that puts the batters name and a couple stats up.

Camden Yards was built in 1992, and was the first of many new “retro” ballparks built in the 90s. These parks were built in the downtown areas, and were supposed to mimic the fan-friendly styles of older parks, such as Wrigley Field. Much like Wrigley, Camden has some unique features: the warehouse on Eutewa Street and the high right field wall come to mind immeidately. The scoreboard is one of modern extravagance: Although topped with a classic rendering of The Baltimore Sun and an analogue clock, two large screens depict videos, games, and highlights between innings, full head shots of players, and stats galore.

It is interesting to consider how the differences in scoreboards changes the way you watch a baseball game, but I argue that it most certainly does. It hadn’t become clear to me until Saturday, when I would have to physically turn around in order to watch the Crab Shuffle or the blooper real in between games, or to figure out who was pinch hitting. It was also interesting to watch everyone else in our seciton do the same, and to watch the umpires watching the board between innings. At Wrigley, this doesn’t happen. You watch the drunks, or the players taking warmups or flag down the Old Style guy or listen to the five piece pep band. It is an entirely different baseball experience. I’m not advocating one over the other (although I prefer Wrigley, but again, personal preference), simply pointing out the differences.

So why? What’s going on here? As should be no surprise, parks with the multimedia scoreboard are trying to keep baseball “interesting”. Most sports only have serious down time every half hour, whereas baseball could have it every ten minutes. Someone paying 30 bucks for a seat should be stimulated at all moments of the game, so the scoreboards have become the center of the baseball action. For most of the game, you are consulting the scoreboard, be it for a batting statistic or some between inning entertainment. About the only inning that the scoreboard is not being watched at Oriole Park is during the 7th inning stretch, when the same country song is played and everyone dances (I should point out that this is the most exciting inning break for everyone). At Wrigley, the focus is always on the field. The park is small, you are on top of the action at all times.

The newer parks of the last twenty years are all fabulous structures. Camden, more so then most, has managed to capture the feel of the small park, and it is a shame that it does not fill up as it did in the 1990s. Wrigley continues to fill up the seats, and has for a long time, in part because it is a tourist attraction in and of itself. People go to “experience” Wrigley Field, not so much to watch baseball. I’m not sure what that says about the park itself, but I think it implies that the afternoon at Wrigley can be relaxing place, whereas the newer parks are trying to constantly create a frenzied, constantly stimulated place to be -- which is precisely the kind of world we live in.

All that being said, baseball still is the most wonderful game in the world, and the ballpark has a lot to do with that. It is a variable: only in baseball does the field vary from place to place. The only restriction is the distance from the mound to the plate, and from base to base, and that makes this game unique, and that makes it special.

Go O’s! Go Cubs!


alright, I'll talk about them...

I have been reluctant to write about the Chicago Cubs lately, if only because we have been incredibly succesful this season. Being a baseball man, I believe
quite strongly in baseball related superstitions. I, for example, wore the same undershirt since seventh grade until my last game of college ball underneath my baseball jersey. The only day I didn’t wear it? Tore my hamstring. In the regular world, that is a terrible coincidence, in baseball, that was a tragic disturbance baseball’s mystical, religious law. So, do write about the Cubs when things are going well for the Cubs is to interfere in their success. It is also to acknowledge that something is happening that usually doesn’t. It is to mess with the baseball cosmos, to tease the baseball Gods, and to bring one’s team, a team who’s logo adorned your wallpaper in your parents’ home until you were 24, into the danger of destructing.

Fortunately, Alfonso Soriano
broke his hand last week, and Carlos Zambrano will have a MRI on his shoulder, so any sort of downfall can be blamed not on my blog, but quite simply on injuries to our two start ballplayers. Phew. Off the hook. However, what does this mean for the Cubs? Will they survive losing both of these players? Soriano is out for 6 weeks, while it is unclear about Zambrano; he may not miss any time at all. The Cubs can survive without Soriano for a while. They were able to do it earlier this season when he hurt his leg, and they did it last year when he hurt his hamstring. They have enough depth to fill his position. Granted, it is a downgrade, but at least it’s filled. Matt Murton will get a chance to play regularly, and that will help him, his confidence, and increase his value. DeRosa can play anywhere, and Fontenot and Cedeno add the depth in the middle of the infield to let him. Fukudome, Edmonds, and Johnson will be able to hold down the other two outfield spots, and occassionaly shift over to left field. Otherwise, the lineup remains the same, with Theriot, Soto, Lee, and Ramirez sticking to their everyday spots.

If Big Z goes down, then we have a problem. He is the force in our starting rotation, that has already been weakend with the demotion of Rich Hill, and the streaky play of Marquis and Lilly. John Leiber will have to step up, or Hill or Marshall will have to emerge from their injuries and the minor leagues and start pitching well again. The most important part about Zambrano is not only his ability to win baseball games, but to pitch innings. Doing so lets the bullpen get a rest. If they only need to pitch one or two innings when Zambrano is on the mound, then that saves up those innings for when someone else starts. Zambrano getting hurt will start to drain the bullpen, and that will lead to more injuries.

Griffey hits 600

Ken Griffey, Jr. hit his 600th home run last night, a towering, two-run homer in the first inning against the Florida Marlins. Only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Sammy Sosa have hit the 600 mark, and only three of those players I actually have any respect for. As far as I am concerned, Griffey is the fourth greatest power hitter of all time, and quite possibly one of the greatest all around players ever. Tim
Kurkjian does a great job remembering just how dominant Griffey was in the 1990s. I remember how amazing he was, and as a bitter Cubs fan, jealous of the Mariners for their superstar, I didn’t like him much. However, it was not until the last seven years that I began to respect him so much more. In the wake of all the steroid scandal, Griffey was the one baseball hero of the 1990s who didn’t use. Who truely was as amazing as he played, and no baseball player at this moment could ask for a more shining statistical resume: 1575 Runs scored, 2615 hits, 600 home runs, 1730 RBIs, 184 stolen bases, and a .289 hitter. By the end of his career, he will most likely get 3000 hits, 2000 RBIs, well over 500 doubles, and, if he can hit 61 more homers, he will pass Willie Mays to be the fourth most prolific home run hitter in history (including our artificial friend Barry Bonds). So, Mr. Griffey, congratulations. Keep it up.