Monday, April 22, 2013

Many look to sports after tragedy...

Let me start by saying, I hate the fact that another senseless, and cowardly act, that resulted in tragedy,  made me think about this topic.  I hate that again, some idiot(s) think so little of life, would take innocent lives and affect hundreds of families for no reason.  But it happened, and this act turned a marathon into a battle zone.  It tore apart families.  Why?  Well that's a bit out of my knowledge zone and nobody at least yet, knows why this act was perpetrated in Boston.  

This latest act of terrorism, got me thinking about 9/11, and how the United States bounced back.  I also starting to think about other tough times our country has been through, like the 1979 seizing of the United States Embassy in Iran, and the subsequent taking of American hostages.  You're probably saying, huh?  Well it seems like there is a common bond in how the US healed from those two catastrophic events, sports.  Yes, sports.  The athletic accomplishes of some, meant so much to many and really seemed to help those directly affected a chance to escape, and heal.  It's not a magic elixir. It won't bring back those who were taken from us, it won't help find those responsible, but it is something that unites us.  

In the late 70's and early 80's, America was in a dark place.  There was a gas shortage.  Russia had invaded Afghanistan.  Iranian students overtook the US Embassy and took American hostages.   President Jimmy Carter spoke to the American people in July of 1979, even before the events in Iran, and said:
It's clear that the true problems of our Nation are much deeper -- deeper than gasoline lines or energy shortages, deeper even than inflation or recession. And I realize more than ever that as president I need your help. So I decided to reach out and listen to the voices of America.
The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.
The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.
I'm not a political person, so please don't look at this as a political statement.  It was bad, morale was low and there was no end in sight to the crisis.  That was until a rag tag bunch of college kids assembled under the direction of a fiery hockey coach Herb Brooks, began an historic run thru the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York.   "American Pride" returned when they faced and then defeated the Soviet Union team, 4-3 on February 22, 1980.  Again, I'm not saying that this event alone healed our nation but it started the rally.  For 3 hours on that February night, nobody was thinking about inflation, about energy shortages, or gas shortages.  The chants that night of USA! USA! USA! were deafening and once again it seemed as though we were the UNITED States of America.

In the wake of 9/11, both the NFL and Major League Baseball shut down.  I remember covering a Chicago Bears practice the day after the attacks.  Standing out on the practice field talking to players, and being interrupted by the sound of a fighter jet flying over head.  It was a new world.  It was kind of eerie with all commercial airlines grounded a normally busy sky was silent.  

I also remember things getting back to "normal".  I remember the electric atmosphere at Wrigley Field when the Cubs got back to playing baseball.  I'll also never forget the signs that I saw that night.  "We Love You New York", "Tonight We Are All New Yorkers" and "Chicago and New York Stand Together".  Powerful.  Considering that in sports these two cities (like San Diego and Los Angeles) are rivals, not friends, nobody in one city roots for the other, but this tragedy brought the country together.  It's kind of like if you have a sibling, it's cool if you want to pick on your brother or sister, but the minute an "outsider" does the same, you take issue and defend.   

Such was the case with the latest tragedy caused by the bombs set off at the Boston Marathon.  The pure evil in the hearts of two idiots, took 4 lives and changed hundreds more with this one act.  Boston has always had a reputation of being strong, and wow, did it ever live up to that billing.  Strangers helping strangers, offering shelter, rides, medical assistance and pure compassion.  It tugged at my heart strings as I'm sure it did yours.  

The outpouring of support from again, rival cities was great to see. 

Even a Phoenix Coyotes Hockey player, Keith Yandle, who hails from Boston, showed his true colors, honoring the memory of the little boy that was killed in the blast...

 Saturday, the Boston Red Sox got back to work.  They honored the memories of the four people that were killed.  They honored the first responders at the race, the multiple agencies of law enforcement that eventually caught "suspect #2".  The team saluted the governor, the mayor and the police chief.  Heck, even Neil Diamond showed up to lead the crowd in the singing of his hit "Sweet Caroline".  But for all of those that were looking for some healing, some distraction or some sense of normal, Red Sox DH, David Ortiz addressed the crowd, wearing the word "BOSTON" across the chest of his home jersey (normally the home jersey says Red Sox) and uttered a profanity, but man was it on point... 

“This is our [expletive] city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”

He later apologized for using a profanity, but in the moment, it was what everybody in Fenway Park was thinking, and for that matter what we were all thinking.  Well done Big Papi.

Sports in general get a bad rap at times.  Athletes being payed millions to play kids games.  Scandals involving gambling, drug use and violence.  Ok, I get it and there's no denying that the industry has its faults.  But look at the evidence, sports unites us, it provides us an escape from our everyday problems.  3 hours a day at a ballpark, stadium or sports venue is never a bad way to spend that time.  I feel so fortunate to work in the industry and while sometimes I feel desensitized because its my life, I look to the examples I've provided, and realize how important sports is.   If you don't believe me...

I always turn to the sports pages first, which records people's accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man's failures.
Earl Warren
Chief Justice of the United States.

Here's to hoping I never have to write something like this again.  I don't want to have to update how a baseball game or football game provided us with an opportunity to heal after another tragedy.  Terrorists are cowards.  Terrorists are weak.  The United States is strong.  

I know one "team" that won't win....The Terrorists.  They will not win.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Quentin and the aftermath

Last night was not a normal night at the ballpark.  Generally speaking there is an unwritten "code" that players stand by when it comes to the HBP.  Carlos Quentin felt that previous history and some "expletives" from Zach Greinke, meant it was time to go...

Quentin knows the game tipping point

The history I spoke of, was two HBP's when Quentin was with the White Sox and Greinke was on Kansas City.  Quentin felt that in the 2009 incident, Greinke threw at his head before nailing Quentin in the shoulder.  Carlos said it only hit the shoulder but was aimed towards his head. 

At the same time during his almost 10 minute session with the media today, Quentin said that the objective was certainly not to injure Greinke, and is sorry about the result of the brawl...

Quentin unfortunate situation the mound

He knows that these things are part of the game, but there certainly are drawbacks to the focus it puts on him...

Quentin brings unwanted attention

Quentin spoke of John Baker, who was accused by Jerry Hairston Junior of the Dodgers as causing the 2nd incident, by taunting Dodgers players about Greinke's misfortune.  Baker told me today that he feels "sick" about the finger being pointed at him.  Baker went on to tell me that he is one of the most positive people in the game, and that he was actually "the one pulling Greinke out of the pile to avoid what happened to him" and that "nobody knew how hurt he was".  

Back to Quentin, he knows that the Dodgers have been hyped this year as a top contender in the west, spending 140+ million on Greinke, and he also knows how he's being portrayed in the national media, as the villain...

Quentin on being villianized

What Quentin saw before his eyes as he left the ballpark last night was Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, the two had words and had to be separated.  Quentin talks about that incident as well...

Quentin w Kemp it at that

Clayton Richard and ballpark security broke up the heated chat before it escalated any further.  Of course if you look at your schedule you plainly notice that the Padres will be in Los Angeles on Monday to start a three game series.  We may learn of the punishments as early as today.  If Quentin is suspended (and he likely will be) will he appeal and decide to play in the series, or will he just accept what comes his way and be done with it?   Buddy Black was pressed by the media to wonder, if Quentin is able to play, will there be another incident.  Buddy said, "I suspect we'll play those games there (LA) and there might be no incidents at all".   As we say in the radio business, Stay Tuned.

Other News:
Padres 3B, Chase Headley is going to start his rehab assignment tonight at Lake Elsinore.  He's expected to get a few at bats as the DH tonight.  Headley will then return to San Diego, as it's his bobble-head night tomorrow and he will receive his Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards in a pre game ceremony.  Headley then is expected to play the field for the Storm Sunday and then be evaluated.  Bud Black was asked if we could see Headley active in Los Angeles, "that would be cutting it close...but I won't rule it out".

Padres made a roster move today, they have selected the contract of RHP Thad Weber from Triple-A Tucson and have designated infielder Cody Ransom for assignment.  Weber was added to provide a fresh arm in the bullpen which has been taxed by some short outings in the starting rotation. Wber was claimed off waivers by the Padres from the Detroit Tigers last season. 

MLB just announced (6:48PM PDT) that Carlos Quentin has been suspended for 8 games, and Jerry Hairston Jr was suspended 1 game.  Each was fined.  Both players have appealed.  No word on a suspension for Matt Kemp.  MLB must still be looking at the tape and gathering information about the incident that took place in the hallway after the game. 

Alright that's a lot to digest.  Enjoy the night.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Time for the Opening Act

I have to admit, every time Opening Day rolls around, I feel like a little kid.  I’ve always said that the first game of the baseball season should be considered a National Holiday.  Banks, Government offices, and yes, schools should be closed to honor the NATIONAL pastime.  

The first game of a baseball season always takes me back to my childhood in the Suburbs of Chicago.  Luckily in my grade school, teachers knew that the attention span of many of us in class was even lower than normal.  So they’d roll in the big 19-inch black and white TV and we would watch baseball instead of doing our multiplication tables.  I would say (even back then I was a bit of a smart aleck) we are still doing math, with that hit Bill Madlock is batting 1.000 for the season!

Baseball has such a special relationship with its fans.  The season is long, but it seems like the winter (even in San Diego) is longer. There’s an emptiness that can’t be filled by one football game a week, by a couple of NBA or NHL games, some NCAA games, no sir.   The only thing that can fill the void is the next season.

I have been so fortunate to have witnessed many openers, as a viewer/listener, spectator and broadcaster.  The game is so special to me and in any capacity I love the opener. 

As a kid, I couldn’t wait to see my heroes return from their long winter away from the game.  There was an air of anticipation, of feeling “this is the year” for my team. Like a kid told he would be going to Disneyland the next day, I couldn’t ever sleep the night before game one.  Baseball insomnia.  I’m sure I’m not alone in that affliction.

As a fan, there was the buzz in the stadium when the team is introduced and lines up on the foul line.  Some guys we know, some we don’t, some we expect a lot from, some we don’t, but the one thing every fan knows his or her team is tied for 1st place and has a chance to win it all!

I’ve been to only a couple of opening days as a fan.  The first was in 1985.  Growing up a Cubs fan, the ’85 season, was one of “healing” if you know what I mean, and I think you do.  I was with my best friend and his dad, my dad, and yes my High School English teacher.  Scratching your head?

My English teacher, who we’ll call Mr. Wilson to protect the guilty in this case, actually allowed my friend and I to miss the first four periods of school the day tickets went on sale.  The only catch, was to make sure he got a ticket as well.  My friend and I camped out at the local Sporting Goods store and when the metal cage rolled up at the ticket counter, we were among the first to buy ours.  Deciding on the bleachers, we were all set and Mr. Wilson was pleased with our decision and our tenacity. 

The game in 1985 was something else.  It was actually sunny which wasn’t always the case in April in Chicago.  I couldn’t believe my eyes, the color of the grass was so green, the park was ready for the upcoming season.  The red, white and blue bunting was hanging from the fa├žade of the upper deck, seeing that I knew this was a special occasion.  It was, for goodness sake, Opening Day!  I watched as the Cubs beat the Pirates 2-1 on a Keith Moreland (yes he would later become a Padre player) 2 run homer off of Rick Rhoden in the 4th inning.  Rick Sutcliffe was the starter for the Cubs that day.  We had a blast.  It’s a game my dad and I still talk about because of the fun we had just hanging out. 

The other game I attended as a fan was the 1998 opener at Wrigley Field.  It was a moving day, the first without Harry Caray, who had passed away in February of ’98.  That was the day they first started having guest “conductors” for the 7th inning stretch.  Again, I was with my friend from the ’85 game, but this time, since I was 31, parents were not allowed.  I have to admit that sitting in the bleachers that game took on a different meaning than it did in 1985.  I was able to “enjoy” myself a little more, despite the 38 degree day.  I have to be honest, I know the Cubs won that game, but that’s about all I actually remember.  Remember I “enjoyed” myself.   My friends that were with me, still talk about that game as well. 

The next season, was my first as a broadcaster.   Opening day takes on new meaning when you’re behind the microphone.  It’s time to go to work.  Time to make the experience great for those that couldn’t be at the park for that special day.  We try to take those fans to the game with us, by describing the tremendous sights and sounds to them at home or in their cars.  That first one as an announcer is a blur to me.  I hosted the pre-game show, and interviewed countless players that day.   One stands out, but not for the reasons you might think.

Glenallen Hill was coming off a 3 for 4 performance the night before in the opening series at Pittsburgh, so I decided he was the target.   I couldn’t understand why at the moment, but Hill was dropping “F” bombs and other expletives during the taping of the interview.  I tried to get thru it, but Hill who is an imposing figure, wasn’t breaking ‘character’.  It wasn’t until I saw, my long time colleague Ron Santo, laughing and pointing, that I realized I had been “punked”.   Once we started for real, it hit me how special the home opener is to players.  Hill was eloquent when he talked about how players really get amped for the first game.  He told me that other than the first game of a playoff series, this was the biggest moment for a player.  Getting introduced to the crowd, running out to the foul line, seeing a packed house and all the energy in the stadium, was enough to overwhelm some players. 

Over the years, I have seen rookies making their first ever appearance in the big leagues, go out there on opening day.  I’ve witnessed pitchers making their first career opening day starts.  There have been some lopsided scores on opening day during my time as a fan and broadcaster.   Among the most memorable to me as a broadcaster:

2003 Cubs at Mets:  Cubs win 15-2, Corey Patterson 4x6, 2 HR, 7 RBI
2005 Cubs at Dbacks: Cubs win 16-6, Derek Lee 4x6, HR, 5 RBI
2007 Padres at SF: Padres win 7-0, Jake Peavy over Barry Zito, Bud Black’s 1st win
2010 Padres v. ATL: Padres win 17-2, Kyle Blanks 3x6, HR, 5 RBI, Corriea 1st opening day start.

So I guess what I’m saying is, cherish the day.  Realize what it means to players, coaches, broadcasters and yes for fans as well.  For some parts of the country it means the deep freeze of winter is over, for others it means their favorite team is back in business.   For me it means, time to get a suit pressed, it’s a tradition I started for myself back in 2004, wearing a suit on opening day (usually at home).  Yes, the day still has cache for me and it means as much to me know as it when I was a little boy.  After all baseball brings out the little boy or girl in all of us.  As Brad Pitt said in “Moneyball”, “it’s hard not to be romantic about baseball”…so true.

So as the new season approaches, sleep well, if you can. You’ll need your strength for the 162 game marathon we all love so much.