For the Birds…

Friday, September 4, 2015–Blue Jays 2, Orioles 10

So, you probably wouldn’t think this would be a very good game from the score, but scores can be misleading. This was a very tight and entertaining game until things unravled late for the Jays. The Orioles had an early 2-0 lead and Toronto had pecked away on some well-executed small ball to tie it in the bottom of the fifth. When Chris Davis hit a mammoth 2-run homer in the 6th, the game still seemed in hand. But then Matt Wieters hit a ball deep to the warning track in left. It seemed Ben Revere had a good bead on it, but the ball bounced off his glove and over the wall for another homer to make the score 5-2, and things just got more out of hand after that.

28_TorontoBut the real story for me is that I don’t think Blue Jays fans get enough credit. I mean, you never hear Toronto mentioned when American sportscasters talk about the places that have the loudest or most knowledgeable fans. The Jays put up a little bit of a fight with two out in the ninth inning. Two outs and down by two grand slams, the odds of winning are still very low. At a similar game in Boston—one where the home team let a close game get away from them late—Fenway was empty by the time the final out was recorded. When Troy Tulowitzki struck out to end tonight’s game, about two thirds of the fans were still there, still urging their team on, and still involved in all the action on the field (there was even an amused reaction when somebody threw a paper airplane from the second deck which somehow managed to make it almost to the pitcher’s mound).

Meanwhile, I had the great pleasure of speaking with (or, more precisely, shouting over the loudspeaker at) my neighbor Laura who is visiting from Pittsburgh and would like to do an every-ballpark-in-the-majors trip of her own in a couple years. We got to talking about keeping score—a pastime we both enjoy—as well as comparing notes on ballparks we’ve both been to. It was a lot of fun to be able to have the kinds of discussions I just can’t have with people who don’t keep score, such as whether a run should be earned or unearned, or “have you noticed that every one of Jimenez’s strikeouts was looking?” However, there was one moment of irony about that… Wieters grounded out to end the top of the eighth, but because I was showing Laura my custom-designed scorecards, we both missed the play and don’t know how to score it. Oh well.

Here is that scorecard we were making such a fuss over…



Saturday, August 18, 2012–Braves 2, Dodgers 6

If I had come for the sole purpose of seeing the Civil Rights Game, and if I had missed the banquet or the round-table discussion on issues of race in sports (as I did), I expect I would have been very disappointed by the presentation on the field at tonight’s game. Fortunately, that was not my sole intent. There was a short presentation as Don Newcombe, members of the band Earth Wind and Fire, and Congressman John Lewis—winners of MLB’s Beacon Awards—were recognized on the field. Aside from that, there wasn’t much about civil rights for anyone who was actually in the stands. This led me to the conclusion that there was probably quite a bit more said on the subject during the telecast. I guess that’s a good thing, ’cause the broadcast would’ve been dreadfully dull otherwise.

Aaron Harang started for the Dodgers, and it looked like the Braves would get him for a big first inning. When David Ross struck out with the bases loaded, the large clump of Dodger fans around me breathed a large sigh of relief. In the bottom of the second I noticed something odd about Atlanta’s scoreboard. After Hanley Ramirez hit a home run off Ben Sheets to tie it up, the scoreboard registered the hit right away, but didn’t register the run until Ramirez had circled the bases. It’s a nice little nod to the most esoteric sensibilities, a run doesn’t really count until the runner touches the plate. I don’t know if Atlanta’s scoreboard operators are the only ones who do this or not, but it’s the first time I noticed it.

Then, two pitches later, when James Loney hit a ball that bounced just above the yellow line in right for another homer, I got another chance to test this theory. Again, the run was not awarded until Loney touched home. On the very next pitch, Louis Cruz hit another homer, much to the consternation of most of the fans. Sheets had given up three taters… on four pitches.

From the second through the fifth, the main highlights were defensive. On back-to-back plays, Dodgers second baseman Mark Ellis made outstanding plays—going up the middle and making a nice jump throw to rob Martin Prado, then diving to his left to take a sure single from Jason Heyward. Not to be outdone, Braves second baseman Dan Uggla dove even deeper into the gap to rob Shane Victorino in the 6th. But the fans could sense trouble when Sheets walked two batters, and when Ramirez hit his second homer of the night, there wasn’t much of interest after that. Well, except my little obsession over the scoreboard: sure enough, all 3 runs were added one-by-one as the runners crossed the plate. In all, the Dodgers only got four hits, but all of them went over the fence.

Here’s the scorecard. I made this one at home—from one of my own templates—because the Braves’ printed scorecard is simply too small for any practical use.

Rocky Mountain highlight reel

Sunday, April 29, 2007–Rockies 9, Braves 7 (11)

This was a bus-by-night operation. I went up to Denver on the overnight Greyhound, went to the game and came back on the overnight bus back. I couldn’t sleep on the bus, and because there wasn’t much to see, I wound up spending the entire trip up looking at the moon. About the time we got Las Vegas (New Mexico, that is), I felt a tickling at the back of my throat. By the time we got to Springer, I was talking to the moon. In Raton, I bought a roll of cough drops and found myself dizzy walking around.  By Colorado Springs, I was half expecting the moon to start talking back. It was just about the worst 24-hour flu I’ve ever had–I  belonged at home, in bed with a thermometer in my mouth and a cold compress on my forehead.

In Trinidad, the entire bus got a very important civics lesson. A gentleman who didn’t speak English wanted to get off the bus, not understanding that we weren’t scheduled to stop there. At first, the driver tried to explain to him that he’d have to go to Pueblo and change busses there, but then made an announcement over the PA, explaining the situation in succinct terms. “Who wants me to keep on schedule, and who wants me to turn around, let this guy off and possibly make you miss your connections?”
     “I don’t mind turning around,” I said.
     “Is that the consensus?” he asked.
     “That’s just me.” Nobody else said anything, so we turned around. Later, people who were trying to catch a connecting bus in Denver were grumbling about being late. A nice little fable about taking part in our great democratic process, two of them would have been able to outvote me.

I walked around Denver a bit in the early morning, but soon decided that if I couldn’t be in bed, I should be as inert as possible, so I went to the ballpark at 10:00 for a game that started at 1:30, and sat outside the gate. I swore I’d keep the cheering to a minimum because my throat was really bothering me. That proved to be problematic.

I know that usually when I see a team on its way to the World Series, I say that there was some sort of special buzz around the stadium. Not so here. It was April 29, and the Rox were still in single digits in the win column. In the sports section, there were suggestions from (those oh so erudite and refined) sports fans that the owners be fired, that the manager be fired, that the GM be fired, and my personal favorite: that the team change its name to the Pebbles. About a third of the announced attendance of 31,445 came dressed as empty seats, and another sixth were in Braves apparel. There was no buzz at all—until the seventh inning.

On my scorecards, I use exclamation marks to denote moments of great excitement. Usually, an outstanding defensive play or a walk off, but also occasionally a particularly high-tension strikeout or other moment when a pitcher wiggles his way out of a jam. I do not hand out exclamation marks liberally. A typical game gets one or two, and some don’t get any at all. This game has nine. Here’s the rundown:

  • 1) Chipper Jones robbed Troy Tulowitzki of a double down the line in the first (Remember that-Jones and Tulo, it comes up again). 
  • 2) In the third, Tulowitzki went deep into the hole to take a hit away from Edgar Rentaria.
  • 3, 4 & 5) In the seventh, Tulo was in the right place at the right time, snaring a sharp line drive off the bat of Chipper Jones on a hit-and-run. He then stepped on second to double off the runner there before tagging the guy coming in from first. An unassisted triple play¹, which gets three exclamation points. (Why three? Because it’s an Unassisted! Triple! Play!) That preserved the tie.
  • 6) On the other side of the stretch, Jeff Francouer got an exclamation point for hauling in what should have been an RBI double by Garret Atkins…
  • 7, 8) …and then picked up two more in the ninth with his diving, corkscrewing robbery of what would have been the game-winning hit, a little Texas-leaguer off the bat of Clint Barmes, to send the game into extra innings.
  • 9) In the eleventh came the cherry on top: one point inside the diamond representing Matt Holliday’s walk-off 2-run homer.

So much for not cheering. Because it was a 9-exclaimation-point game, and I found myself in a section with a large group of Braves fans doing their tomahawk chops, I took it as a point of pride that even though I am not a Rockies fan, I was able to drown them out on the line “Root, root, root for the ROCKIES…” In the ninth inning, a young boy in orange was having a grand time dancing in the aisles on the jumbotron. He had an even grander time in the eleventh when he was again on the big screen with the words “rally dancer” superimposed and the crowd going nuts for him.

I got home entertained, but feeling like I was gonna die. But I didn’t, and that’s what’s given me the opportunity to upload the scorecard.

¹ This is one of the rarest plays in the game. In the hundred-plus years that Major League baseball has been played, Tulowitzki’s unassisted TP was only the 13th to be turned in a regular season game, and the 14th overall.

Snakes alive (even when the fans aren’t)

Saturday, May 6, 2006–Diamondbacks 8, Reds 9

Dad and I went on an Arizona roadtrip in May of 2006. It’s a trip we wouldn’t be making this year. We went to a D’backs game, Flagstaff, el Cañon Grande, Meteor Crater and Walnut Canyon. Many of the places we visited (except the ballpark) had a bit of an astronomical flavor to them, the planetarium show at the science museum in Phoenix, Lowell Observatory and the Meteor Crater visitor center. This made me want to get out into a truly dark Arizona sky and do some serious stargazing. This was especially true as we were hearing a docent giving a sundown talk about how Flagstaff was the first “dark sky” city, with lighting fixtures to minimize light pollution. “But we can’t do anything about the biggest source of light pollution… The moon.” We were gone while the moon was waxing, so we’d’ve had to stay up way too late to get any dark skies. Drat.

I’ve been a bit surprised at how much my memory differs from what actually happened, and how arbitrary it seems which games I remember well and refer to the scorecard simply to check for accuracy, and which games I couldn’t tell you the starting pitchers of without the card. Common sense would say that the more exciting and entertaining games would be the ones to remember, and for the most part, that’s true. So why has my memory so spectacularly dropped the ball on this one?

Do you remember Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez spent some time with the D’backs in ’06? I sure don’t, which is remarkable, considering he was their starter that day. Memory doesn’t serve very well for the Reds’ starter either. Until I saw on the card that Dave Williams took the bump for Cincy, I could have sworn it was Aaron Harang again. The way the mind puts objects into categories seems to have failed me here. Looking at the scorecard, I see a high-scoring slugfest, with several lead changes, and a bottom-of-the-ninth comeback that came–literally–within inches of being a walk-off win for the D’backs, and yet I remember this game as being fairly dull and listless. What gives? I think it was the fans. The attendance is listed as 27,707, and it seems like there were more there, and yet for all the noise and enthusiasm they were generating, it may as well have been half that.

I remember vividly a discussion about patterns with my father. The Reds scored 4 in the third and the D’backs answered with 5 in the bottom half. When the Reds scored 4 in the sixth, Dad  proclaimed that the snakes would score 5 more, and then went on to say the 4-5 pattern would be repeated in the ninth, and the final score would be 12-15, D’backs. I disagreed, feeling that while such a score line would be very attractive and symmetrical:

004 004 004
005 005 005

this isn’t how baseball works. “Patterns rule the Universe, dude,” was his answer. I’m sure I must have been gloating when the first two Arizona batters were retired, and I guess he might have been ribbing me as they put together a rally for two runs, but the pattern did indeed break there to make it 8-7 Reds.

The only play I remember is the final play of the game. Arizona had the bases loaded with one out, and I was trying to get the fans in my section to make some noise. Just this in itself should tell me something’s funky about my memory, I must have thought the game was exciting at the time.  Nonetheless, the crowd’s apparent apathy–for a 1-out, bases-loaded, winning-run-in-scoring-position situation–had me back in my seat and sitting on my hands for the final pitch. Johnny Estrada hit a screaming line drive, right into the glove of Reds first basemen Scott Hatteberg, who then trotted over to first for the game-ending double play. Had it been hit a few inches to either side of Hatteberg, it would’ve scored two and delivered a win for the home team.

Here’s the scorecard.

Blue flag day at Wrigley

Tuesday, August 9, 2005–Cubs 3, Reds 8

This day started with us meeting a friend for the Architectural Foundation’s boat tour of the Chicago River. If you’re ever in Chicago and only have time to do one thing… That’s it. (Don’t hold your breath about getting Cubs tickets at the last minute.) The whole tour was fascinating, but what I really remember was when the pilot was telling us about how Chicagoans changed the course of the river (which was where they had been dumping all their sewage) to flow to the Mississippi rather than Lake Michigan. “And so,” the driver was telling us, “contrary to popular belief, the first Taste of Chicago was not in 1980, it was in 1900… in Saint Louis.” That got a lot of groans. “And Saint Louis has gotten their revenge, they host a baseball team that plays in the National League.” That got louder groans from all the Cub fans on the boat. “I know, that’s cold, right?”

It was August in Chicago, so it was actually quite hot. I knew we had to get a day game at Wrigley or else things just wouldn’t be right. To get Cubs tickets without a markup, you have to be online first thing in the morning some day in February, wait online for nearly an hour and find that the game you really wanted to see (against the Cardinals, of course) has already sold out. Once we’d scheduled our vacation around which Cubs game we could get tickets to, I ordered my one White Sox ticket three weeks before we left.

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I must point out that while the Sox were on their way to a 99 win season and World Series title, the Cubs were coming off game 6 of a losing streak and were already in “wait till next year” mode.  I mention this in case it makes any difference for the following statement: I really enjoyed the White Sox game more. Don’t get me wrong, the whole Wrigleyville experience is amazing–the hole-in-the-wall souvenir stands, the street performers who dance to drumming on plastic pails and the ambiance of the club scene there. (I’m not much of a clubber, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the ambiance, right?) The stadium is beautiful and the character of the place, and the rooftop stands across the street are exactly as advertised. The fans, on the other hand… well, maybe I shouldn’t talk–after all, it was a long losing streak.

The Reds beat the Cubbies 8-3 to make it a seven game skid (the streak would end at eight two nights later when the Cardinals arrived in town, but nobody knew this at the time). Mark Prior and Aaron Harang had almost identical lines: 7 innings, 8 hits, 3 earned runs and no walks. The only difference was the strikeouts: Prior held the edge 11-3. So, it goes without saying that the Cubs bullpen dropped the ball on this one. What’s most notable about this game is that Nomar Garciaparra (in a down year) hit his first homer of the season for the Cubbies. 

Cubs fans put out a fantastic parody newspaper, The Heckler, in which they lambast players from the teams that the Cubs will be playing, as well as Cubs players who are seen as underperforming. The Heckler as well as the hecklers were being especially unkind to Cory Patterson, who had just (that very day) been recalled from Triple-A Iowa. It was deemed that Patterson was the sort who would swing at a pickoff attempt, and that’s why he was sent down (and also why he apparently deserved to be booed as soon as he was announced and subjected to a large number of catcalls and personal epithets). In this game, he had a bunt single, two flyouts and he was struck out once… looking.

Just the nature of the scorecard is that good pitching shows up as nice, clean rows, while big offensive outbursts lead to messy scribbling and traffic jams on the page. My own personal convention is to chart the starting pitcher’s performance in black, and then alternate between red and blue for each reliever. Perhaps because we took the train to Chicago, the best way to describe this scorecard would be a nice set of tracks going straight down the page for 7 innings with only a few turns, and then a derailment in the eighth, with red and blue boxcars strewn about every way you look.

Here is that derailment, if you wanna see for yourself.