A Patriotic Ode to the Hot Dog

Yesterday, July 4th, the United States of America celebrated the 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence from British rule, and the first anniversary of the declaring independence from COVID-19 with coast-to-coast fireworks and mask less and social distance free celebrations galore as a weary nation partied like it was 2019.

While time will tell whether declaring independence from COVID-19 was premature, one cannot argue that we are not in a better position this year than we were at the time a year ago.

The US celebrated the 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence from British rule, and the first anniversary of the declaring independence from COVID-19 with coast-to-coast fireworks as a weary nation partied like it was 2019.
Photo R. Anderson

In addition to fireworks, another truly American Fourth of July tradition is a celebration of gluttony in the form of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Each year competitive eaters descend upon Coney Island, New York and stuff their faces with as many hot dogs and buns as they can while the world watches on ESPN.

When all of the bun crumbs settled Joey Chestnut, the world record holder with 76 hot dogs and buns consumed, earned his 14th Mustard Belt title in 16 years.

While part of me refuses to accept Joey Chestnut as my hot dog champion ever since the questionable dealings that led to the ousting of Takeru Kobayashi in 2010, I fall well short of driving around town with a “Joey is not my Champion” flag waving from a pickup truck.

In addition to fireworks, another truly American Fourth of July tradition is a celebration of gluttony in the form of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.
Photo R. Anderson

For starters all of the eligible hot dogs and buns were counted in a free and fair hot dog contest, and second, I don’t own a pickup truck or a flag.

So, while each July 4th I pour a little deli mustard out for Kobayashi, I find no need for a recount from the Cyber Buns.

But I digress, this is not a column about Chestnut and Kobayashi. This is not even a column about the ways Americans flaunt their abundance of riches on the world stage while many other nations beg for life saving vaccines that a wide swath of Americans refuse to take.

Instead, this is a column about my love of eating hot dogs at the Ballpark. Over the course of my life, I have eaten my fair share of dogs from coast to coast. I cannot wait until I return to a Ballpark to consume another cased meat treat.

It is always best to not dig too deeply inside the casing of the hot dog. While I try to eat healthier hot dogs, at some point one has to realize that one does not eat a hot dog as part of a health and wellness plan.

Nope, hot dogs, like America at the moment, are a hot mess full of competing ideas and doctrines and various parts of animals, yet somehow when they are combined together and boiled, fried or grilled the various parts of the hot dog make culinary magic.

Hot dogs, like America at the moment, are a hot mess full of competing ideas and doctrines and various parts of animals, yet somehow when they are combined together and boiled, fried or grilled the various parts of the hot dog make culinary magic.
Photo R. Anderson

Perhaps if more people thought of America like a hot dog there would be less divisions along party lines. I mean if fans of the San Francisco Giants can eat a Dodger Dog in the Ballpark of their most hated rival Los Angeles Dodgers, there really is hope for the rest of society to bond over a coney, or as some people prefer to call them a wiener.

Major League Eating (MLE), has sanctioned the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest since 1997 and while I will never be a member of that sanctioning body, I am nonetheless a Major League eater. At least a Major League Baseball eater.

In addition to eating hot dogs at dozens of Minor League Baseball and Spring Training Ballparks through the years, I have consumed hot dogs at seven MLB Ballparks.

My first professional Ballpark hot dog was an Esskay hot dog at Memorial Stadium for a Baltimore Orioles versus Philadelphia Phillies game. In hindsight, it is fitting that my Ballpark hot dog tradition would start watching a game from the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

As a side note, Esskay hotdogs are so popular in Birdland that they are shipped down from Maryland to the Orioles Spring Training ballpark in Florida each year lest the Orioles fans be forced to consume a different type of hot dog.

The Dodger Dog is such a big deal in Los Angeles that Dodger Stadium features statues of a hot dog mascot.
Photo R. Anderson

My other MLB hot dogs were consumed at the home Ballparks of the Rays, Astros, Rangers, Rockies, Angels and Dodgers.

It was during trips to Dodger Stadium that I truly experienced the elevated Ballpark hot dog experience in the form of the famous Dodger Dog.

The Dodger Dog is such a big deal in Los Angeles that Dodger Stadium features statues of a hot dog mascot. The Dodger Dog is available steamed, grilled, or fried. And starting in 2021, a plant-based Dodger Dog was even added to the lineup.

Of course, all is not copasetic in the house that Vin Scully built as the long-time meat packing supplier of the Dodger Dog did not have their contract renewed after the 2019 season.

That means that for the first time in nearly 50 years the Dodger Dog will not taste the same. At least the Dodgers got a World Series title in 2020 to soften the blow of losing the Farmer John Dodger Dog.

Los Angeles Dodgers fans consumed 2.7 million hot dogs in 2019. While I did not contribute to the 2019 numbers, I did eat my fair share of Dodger Dogs during the 2018 season. Sometimes I even ate my Dodger Dog with a fork and knife on a real plate.
Photo R. Anderson

I am not alone in my love of hot dogs. According to hot-dog.org Americans spent more than $7.68 Billion on hot dogs and sausages in US supermarkets in 2020.

Los Angeles was tops on the hot dog and sausage consumption scale, which kind of blows SoCal’s rep of being all about avocado toast and juice cleanses.

Going back to hot-dog.org one learns that Los Angeles residents consume about 30 million pounds of hot dogs annually. Los Angeles Dodgers fans consumed 2.7 million hot dogs in 2019. Across the major leagues, fans enjoyed 18.3 million hot dogs during the 2019 season.

My memory is a bit foggy from the nitrates to know how many of those 18.3 million hotdogs I consumed in 2019.

While I did not spend yesterday in a Ballpark, I went to the local hot dog shop and selected a New York dog, a polish sausage, a Chicago dog, and two chili cheese coneys to continue my dog on the Fourth of July tradition.
Photo R. Anderson

While I did not spend yesterday in a Ballpark, I went to the local hot dog shop and selected a New York dog, a polish sausage, a Chicago dog, and two chili cheese coneys to continue my dog on the Fourth of July tradition.

The hot dogs were tasty but they definitely had me yearning for the Ballpark experience. I don’t know when I will see a Ballgame in person again but know that when I do a hot dog will be involved. I am hoping to visit a favorite Ballpark in September. Until then, my occasional hot dog cravings will be satisfied through drive thru windows.

During a trip to Denver’s Coors Field, I became a member of the Mile High Hot Dog Club during a game between the Rockies and Marlins. That’s a thing right?
Photo R. Anderson

I doubt the founding fathers had hot dogs and baseball diamonds in mind when they decided to break away from the British in 1776, but I am certainly glad that they did declare independence to allow such things to occur in the centuries that followed.

Otherwise, activities today might be filled with watching cricket and shouting “pip, pip” while sipping Earl Grey tea, hot.

Not that there is anything wrong with cricket or Earl Grey tea mind you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk about hot dogs is making me hungry.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Way Back Wednesday: Remembering When the Tampa Bay Rays Joined My Triple Double Ballpark Club

Editor’s Note: As part of our occasional Way Back Wednesday feature, today we look back to the time that I saw the Tampa Bay Rays play at Minute Maid Park for the second time which gave them entry into the Triple Double Ballpark Club. With the Rays knocking out the Houston Astros and heading to the 2020 World Series it seemed a fitting time to reminisce.

As an aside, in the years since this column first appeared in 2013, and in keeping with the World Series theme, I had the chance to see the Texas Rangers, who are playing host to the 2020 World Series match up between the Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers at their new Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, play the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, California, and again in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays. With those two new additions, the Texas Rangers became the first team I have seen play in four different MLB Ballparks.

If you had asked me who I thought the first team I would see in four Ballparks would have been, it is doubtful the I would have said the Texas Rangers. Nevertheless, the Rangers are the charter member of the Cuatro Single Ballpark Club, as well as having membership in the Double Double Ballpark Club.  

In addition to seeing the Rangers on two coasts in the seven years since this column first appeared, I also added trips to Coors Field in Denver Colorado, and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California bringing my total MLB Ballpark count to seven out of 30. When the world of baseball reopens, I hope to continue my quest to see all 30 MLB Ballparks. Until then, please enjoy this blast from the past on this World Series inspired Way Back Wednesday.

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Tonight, July 3, 2013, at around 7:30 or so, I will be at Minute Maid Park watching the Tampa Bay Rays play the Houston Astros in the third game of a four-game series.

While the night will include post-game fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July, it occurs to me that it will mark another milestone as well.

While it did not cross my mind at the time when I purchased my ticket, tonight’s game will mark the second time that I have seen the Rays play in Houston. Add that to seeing the Rays play two games at Tropicana Field and two games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and the Rays become the first member of my Triple Double Club.

There have been numerous teams that I have watched come and go through Minute Maid Park through the years.

Fresh off their first World Series appearance in 2008 I visited the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009 for a long overdue trip to Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

But with the exception of seeing a few of them for Spring Training games, there have not been many that I have seen in multiple Ballparks so the Rays induction in the Triple Double Club is sort of a big deal.

The fact that the event will be met with post game fireworks is sort of a happy coincidence.

Okay so the Triple Double Club may be something that only matters to me but I thought that it was pretty cool.  Considering that I have only made it to four of the 30 Major League Ballparks so far, the fact that I saw the same team twice at three of those ballparks is nothing to sneeze at.

I have seen the Baltimore Orioles play at three stadiums during the regular season but only once at each ballpark so they are in the Triple Single Club. Of course, seeing them play in two different Ballparks over a four-day period gives them bonus points. And I have seen them play in three ballparks over the years during Spring Training.

A second ballpark viewing of the Rays was added in Arlington when I saw them take on the Texas Rangers.
Photo R. Anderson

The Texas Rangers are in the Double Double Club as I have watched them at both their home Ballpark and Minute Maid Park.

It stands to reason that they would be a strong candidate to join the Triple Double Club as all it would take was a trip to an additional ballpark when they were in town to get them there.

The Toronto Blue Jays make it into the Double Single Club as I have seen them play at both Tropicana Field and Minute Maid Park.

The Houston Astros are the team I have watched the most due to the close proximity between my house and the Minute Maid Park.  I have probably seen close to 100 games at Minute Maid Park over the past decade but ironically I have never seen them play a regular season game at any other Ballpark.

I’ve made numerous trips to Florida to see the Astros play in Spring Training games but during the regular season it seems that the desire to see them play far from home just doesn’t exist. In that way the Astros closeness is both a blessing and a curse.

Minute Maid Park became the third ballpark to watch the Rays in when I saw them take on the Houston Astros in 2011.
Photo R. Anderson

There have been years where I thought about making the four hour drive to see them play the Texas Rangers in Arlington but those thoughts were usually quashed quickly at the thought that I could just wait until the Rangers came to Houston.

But there are certainly worse places to watch games than Minute Maid Park.

With the Astros moving to the American League this year the odds of me completing the Single Thirty Club of seeing all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park is pretty high.

I do not have the number in front of me but it seems highly likely that I am less than five teams away from reaching that goal of seeing all 30 teams from the air-conditioned comfort of Minute Maid Park.

Off of the top of my head I know I have yet to see the New York Yankees play there but the other teams that I am missing escape me at the moment. The Oakland Athletics seem like another team that I have yet to see play but with them sharing a division with the Astros that is an easy team to cross off of the list.

Tonight will mark the sixth Tampa Bay Rays regular season game that I have attended and the second at Minute Maid Park earning an inaugural induction into the Triple Double Club as I have seen a pair of games at Tropicana Field, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

I suppose it is entirely possible that the Yankees and Athletics are the only missing teams but I will definitely have to look into that.

I do know that the National League, and in particular the National League Central, is well represented in my list of teams that I have seen multiple times there.

While the focus tonight will be placed firmly on enjoying the Rays and the induction of the first member of the Triple Double Club the festivities will be short lived.

Tomorrow afternoon I will start my way towards the Triple Triple Club as I will be catching a matinee game between the Rays and the Astros.

I guess that means I need to plan road trips back to Arlington and St. Petersburg to complete the Triple Triple Club for the Rays.  I don’t think my arm will be twisted too hard to make that happen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to decide which Rays shirt to wear to tomorrow’s game.

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Epilogue: In the years since this column first ran, the Tampa Bay Rays joined the Triple Double Ballpark Club following trips to see them play at Minutes Maid Park and Tropicana Field. As such, the Rays are just a trip to Arlington away from making the Triple Triple Ballpark Club. Hopefully a trip to Arlington to see the Rangers and Rays play will be able to take place in 2021. I also was able to complete my journey of seeing all 30 MLB teams play at Minute Maid Park when the New York Yankees came to town.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

 

The 2020 MLB Season is Rolling on Like a Tarpaulin Over a Wet Field

To say that the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season has been full of challenges would be an understatement.

The season has consisted of one challenge after another with little sign of slowing down.

For starters Spring Training was shut down in March. Then, when the season resumed two months later, teams were faced with a grueling 60-games in 66 days schedule.

Due in no small part to a shortened Spring Training, several marquee players have had their season cut short due to injuries.

To make things even more interesting, a handful of teams are battling outbreaks of COVID-19 that are causing games to be postponed at an alarming rate.

Those teams that are lucky enough to play games are doing so in empty Ballparks in front of cardboard fan cutouts and the sounds of pumped in Ballpark noise.

This is even the type of season where no hitter bids are ended by routine fly balls getting lost in the air by normally competent outfielders.

To put things mildly, this is a season where anything can and will happen.

With all of those challenges, the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals likely were just happy to be at the Ballpark on Sunday.

The Orioles were ahead 5-2 when the tarp started rolling Sunday in a game against the Washington Nationals. Normally that would mean that the game would be called and the Orioles would be declared the winners. Nothing about the 2020 season falls under normal conditions. So, of course the game fell under a little used wrinkle in the rule book related to faulty equipment and was suspended instead of called official.
Photo R. Anderson

That all changed in the sixth inning when a rain shower in the Nation’s Capital provided some comic relief; while also showing just how crazy this season, and for that matter entire year, really is.

Raise your hands if you had, ground crew struggles to cover the field with a tarp on your 2020 Bingo card.

If you did have that on your Bingo card, congratulations since that is exactly what happened at Nationals Park.

In perfect conditions, the grounds crew can roll out a tarp and cover the field with the precision of a well-choreographed ballet.

In less than perfect conditions, like Sunday’s Orioles and Nationals game, a grounds crew can struggle for more than 15 minutes to get the tarp across the infield while allowing the field to turn into a muddy mess.

After a two-hour, eight-minute delay to try to get the field back in playing condition the umpires declared the field unplayable and suspended the rest of the game.

Under normal circumstances, the game would have been deemed official. According to the MLB rule book, any contest that is called after 15 outs have been made when the visiting team took the lead in the previous inning or earlier is deemed an “official game.”

If the rain delay comes before 15 outs are made, when the game is tied or in the same inning that the visiting team took the lead, it is suspended until a later date.

The Orioles were ahead 5-2 when the tarp started rolling. Normally that would mean that the game would be called and the Orioles would be declared the winners.

Nothing about the 2020 season falls under normal conditions. So, of course the game fell under a little used wrinkle in the rule book related to faulty equipment.

Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose, and sometimes the grounds crew forgets to turn off the timer on the sprinklers on game day.
Photo R. Anderson

The tarp that the Nationals’ grounds crew attempted to use was tangled up in its roller like a string of Christmas lights. As such, it fell under Rule 7.02 of the MLB hand book which reads that any game that is called as a result of “light failure, malfunction of, or unintentional operator error in employing, a mechanical or field device or equipment under the control of the home Club” must be picked up at a later date.

The tarp and the roller are considered a field device and as such due to the inability to deploy said device properly the Nats live to play another day.

“We couldn’t get the tarp on the field. I feel bad for our grounds crew because, personally, these guys, to me, are the best or, if not, one the best. It’s just unfortunate that that happened,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez during the postgame Zoom video call. “For me, honestly, it’s part of this 2020 season. It really is. There is going to be days when you don’t know what to expect. This is part of it. So, we just got to keep moving on.”

As part of that moving on, the game will resume Friday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards as part of a scheduled series in Baltimore. Despite changing venues, the Nationals will remain the home team for the suspended game. When the game resumes, the Orioles will have two men on with one out in the top of the sixth and leading 5-2.

If I were the type to peddle in conspiracy theories, I might suspect that the Washington Nationals grounds crew tangled the tarp on purpose to allow the Nats the chance to climb back from their three-run deficit.

Where are Mulder and Scully when you need them?

Of course, since this is 2020, and there is a global COVID-19 pandemic where up is down and down is up, I will give the grounds crew a pass and say that the 15-minute tarp deployment really was just an unfortunate accident, and not a premeditated act, or a conspiracy, to help the home team avoid a loss.

However, if the Nationals end up winning the game Friday, they should definitely thank their grounds crew for the assist.

I learned many life lessons from the movie Bull Durham. One of the most important ones being, everyone needs a rain delay now and then. The way 2020 keeps rolling on I am sure a lot of us wish that someone would turn the sprinklers on and give us a break from this tumultuous year.

Of course, if that were possible, the way this year has gone, I am sure someone would find a loop hole that says we would have to make the year up due to equipment failure. Once through 2020 is plenty, so maybe it is best not to use the rain delay clause just yet.

If one wanted to apply deep thought to the tarp situation in Washington D.C. they could say that 2020 is a lot like that grounds crew trying to cover that field. This year is a muddy mess and a struggle. However, if we all work together as one, we can roll out that tarp and tackle the raging COVID-19 storm that is washing away 2020.

I guess the key is to Tarpe Diem, err Carpe Diem that is.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a spot on my 2020 Bingo card to fill in.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Dodgers Show That Even in a Global COVID-19 Pandemic Revenge is a Dish Best Served with Some Chin Music

Earlier this week the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros faced off for the first time since the Astros were caught cheating with their hands in the proverbial trash can.

The cheating goes back to the 2017 season when the Dodgers lost to the Astros in the World Series. Looking back at those games, an argument can definitely be made that the Dodgers could have added another oversized World Series Ring to their plaza of honor at Dodger Stadium had it not been for a video camera, a bat, and a trash can.

With many people thinking that the Astros players got off way too easily in terms of punishment for their cheating, the 2020 season was expected to be a season long opportunity for players and fans who felt wronged by the Astros to show their displeasure.

As I noted a few months back, the fan-free season during COVID-19 made the Astros the biggest winners of 2020, since fans cannot boo them when they come to town. On can only imagine how loud a completely full Dodger Stadium would have been with fans booing in unison with every Astros at bat.

A year after being cheated out of their first World Series title in nearly 30 years, a lone trash can is seen in front of a mural commemorating the titles the Dodgers have won. It is quite possible that were it not for the sounds coming off of a trash can, the Los Angeles Dodgers would have a fresh coat of paint on the World Series title mural, as well as a new entry for 2017. Instead, they are left with wondering what might have been had the playing field been level.
Photo R. Anderson

While fans in Ballparks have been limited to cardboard representations, the players for the other teams are still free to enforce the unwritten rules of the game, which made the Astros versus Dodgers game must see TV.

After Dodgers reliever Joe Kelly threw a pitch in the area of the head of Alex Bregman, and later taunted Carlos Correa in the sixth inning in game one of a two game series, a good old-fashioned bench clearing brawl occurred.

For his part in the somewhat masked, but totally not socially distanced melee, Kelly was suspended for eight games by MLB. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts received a one-game suspension.

The Dodgers ended up with the last laugh as they won both games of the series by scores of 5-2 and 4-2, respectively.

While the Dodgers won the series, they also exposed the mismanagement of the cheating scandal by MLB. Yes, to be fair, three MLB managers lost their jobs due to ties to the scandal, and the Astros fired their General Manager. But many fans and players maintain that the punishment did not go far enough since former Astros skipper, A.J. Hinch, wasn’t the one playing a trash can in the dugout like a bass drum to let hitters know what pitch was coming.

Just to make sure this point comes across, players who were caught cheating for an entire season were given zero suspensions for their actions, but a pitcher for the team that many argue was cheated out of the 2017 World Series title is given an eight-game suspension. To put that in perspective, eight games equates to around 13 percent of the shortened season. Kelly has appealed his suspension.

Jose Altuve, and his 2017 Astros teammates, were found by MLB to have benefited from an intricate cheating technique that involved a camera, a bat and a trash can. While the world will never know whether the cheating is why the Astros won the World Series, the world does know that none of the players were punished for their actions during that season. That fact, as a lot of fans and players from other teams mad enough to kick a trash can.
Photo R. Anderson

These truly are strange and mysterious times, and show that in many ways MLB is just making things up as they go along. More on that thought in a bit.

The rules for the 2020 season outlaw bench clearing brawls. However, writing something in a health manual, and actually following what is written, are two entirely different things; as demonstrated by the fact that the dugouts and bullpens emptied in a fan-free Ballpark.

Besides the benches clearing brawl, players have been breaking the guidelines involving walk off celebrations, and high fives among other things.

But while MLB seems quick to enforce the rules for what it sees as retaliation pitches, it is downplaying the wildfire of COVID-19 that is inching closer to bringing the 2020 season to a screeching halt.

The Miami Marlins were suspended for an entire week after a COVID-19 outbreak impacted nearly 20 players and staff, however the teams not impacted by games against the Marlins were left to continue to play ball. Of course, nothing happens in a vacuum.

The St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers became the latest teams to have games cancelled after two Cardinal players tested positive for COVID-19. The Cardinals and Brewers join the Marlins, Blue Jays, Phillies, Orioles, Nationals, and Yankees as teams who have had games either postponed or played with different opponents than scheduled.

That means that at the time of this writing, nearly a third of all MLB teams have been impacted by COVID-19.

In response to the growing list of games that will need to be rescheduled, MLB has decided that all doubleheaders will be 7-innings, instead of 9-innings, in order to cram as many games as possible into the schedule in their drive to crown a World Series Champion. Nothing like changing the rules of a season after the season has started.

While they are at it, why not just have all games decided by a home run derby? The Sugar Land Skeeters are using home run derbies to settle extra inning games in their four-team, fans in the stand independent baseball summer league.

If MLB needs to crown a champion in order to call the season a success, why bother with the games? Just line the teams up for a home run derby to decide who the best team is? After all, launch angles and the long ball seem to be all the rage these days.

I will take it a step further and say that a home run derby approach can even eliminate team travel. Just have retired pitchers travel to the Ballparks and throw batting practice to decide the games. Teams can choose from a selection of retired pitchers and the same pitcher has to pitch to both teams to make it fair.

Of course, with different ballparks having different outfield dimensions considerations will need to be made for how to assign a weight to each home run.

Maybe, teams can be reward style points for launch angle.

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo R. Anderson

Prior to the start of the 2020 MLB season, Washington Nationals Pitcher Sean Doolittle, aka Obi-Sean Kenobi Doolittle on Twitter, weighed in on the wisdom of playing baseball in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The remarks below appeared in USA Today in early July, and are chilling when looked at through the lens of hindsight after a week of MLB action.

“We’re trying to bring baseball back during a pandemic that’s killed 130,000 people,” said Doolittle. “We’re way worse off as a country than where we were in March when we shut this thing down. And look at where other developed countries are and their response to this. We haven’t done any of the things that other countries have done to bring sports back. Sports are like the reward of a functional society, and we’re just like trying to bring it back even though we’ve taken none of the steps to flatten the curve or whatever you want to say. We did flatten the curve for a little bit, but we didn’t use that time to do anything productive. We just opened back up for Memorial Day. We decided we’re done with it.

“If there aren’t sports, it’s going to be because people are not wearing masks, because the response to this has been so politicized. We need help from the general public. If they want to watch baseball, please wear a mask, social distance, keep washing your hands. We can’t just have virus fatigue and think, ‘Well, it’s been four months. We’re over it. This has been enough time, right? We’ve waited long enough, shouldn’t sports come back now?’ No, there’s things we have to do in order to bring this stuff back.”

Since Doolittle made that statement in early July, the COVID-19 death toll in America has risen by 23,000 to over 153,000 dead and counting, with no signs of slowing down.

Sadly, there are those who will say, “But hey, at least two thirds of the MLB teams haven’t missed any games yet, and the MLB has shown that it is going to come down hard on pitchers who throw at members of the trash can symphony club.”

Yes, there are live sports to watch now, and the NCAA seems determined to ensure that college football returns in the fall despite us not acting anything like a functional society. Why worry about a global pandemic when there are sports to watch?

Sometimes, real life truly is stranger than fiction.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if my seeds from China arrived. As crazy as the world is getting, they may grow a magic bean stalk. But that is a story for another day.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

MLB Gives the Miami Marlins Some Time Off as the Grand Social Experiment of Playing Baseball in the Midst of COVID-19 Rolls On

This week the Major League Baseball (MLB) social experiment season reinforced the fact that we are in a season like no other in the middles of a global COVID-19 pandemic.

After over a dozen players and staff tested positive for COVID-19, the Miami Marlins had a week’s worth of games postponed. As a result of the Marlins outbreak, the Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, and Philadelphia Phillies also had games postponed based on their proximity to either the Marlins, or the clubhouse in Philadelphia used by the Marlins.

In a statement announcing the move to basically quarantine an entire team, MLB noted, “that it is most prudent to allow the Marlins time to focus on providing care for their players and planning their Baseball Operations for a resumption early next week.”

The fact that a team would have an outbreak of COVID-19 in and of itself is not surprise. In fact, each team as a pool of 30 “break glass in case of emergency” players to handle just such an event. Of course, I am sure most teams thought they would be able to get further into the season without having to deal with an outbreak.

The Marlins were shut down while the other teams either continued to play, or rearranged their schedules to avoid games against the Marlins later in the week. One has to wonder whether the entire MLB season would have been called if one of the more popular teams with higher payrolls became infected.

The Miami Marlins are in quarantine in Philadelphia after over a dozen players and staff tested positive for COVID-19. Games in Philadelphia were cancelled after other teams voiced concerns about using the same clubhouse that the Marlins had just left. The Phillie Phanatic could not be reached for comment.
Photo R. Anderson

That is nothing against the Marlins, I like the Marlins. In fact, I still have a program, shirt and hat from their first season in 1993.

Also, Don Mattingly, the current manager of the Marlins, was one of my favorite baseball players growing up.

But there is certainly a difference in parking a team that likely was not going to make the 16-team cutoff for the playoffs, versus parking a team like the Yankees or Dodgers that many people consider World Series bound.

The Marlins will spend their week off trying to find enough players to field a competitive team but there is a chance they may not be able to continue the season. Before the series was cancelled, the Washington Nationals voted unanimously to not travel to Miami for games since it is one of the hottest of hot spots for COVID-19. So, even if the Marlins do resume the season, it is possible they may find that no one wants to play them at Marlins Park.

That calls to mind the biggest flaw of the MLB season. While most leagues that are resuming competition are doing so in a bubble environment to mitigate virus spread, MLB owners basically demanded that games be played in their home ballparks even if those Ballparks were located in the middle of a COVID-19 hot spot.

As mentioned previously, the Toronto Blue Jays, will play the season as a team without a country after the Canadian government nixed their plan of letting ballplayers cross the U.S. and Canadian border freely. So, with the exception of the “Buffalo” Blue Jays wandering the East Coast like a hiker on the Appalachian Trail, the remaining team owners are recouping some revenue by using their home Ballparks versus sharing a bubble, while counting on players to police themselves and stay in the hotel on road trips instead of hitting the town.

While the source of the Marlins outbreak has not been traced the Associated Press reported that at least one Miami player left the team hotel when the team was in Atlanta and could have been exposed there.

The actions of the Marlins players to decide via a group text that they would still take the field even after some players tested positive show that COVID-19 is not going to be corralled under MLB’s plan since it relies too much on the players for enforcement.

With the Marlins outbreak, it becomes more and more likely that the 2020 MLB social experiment will be cut short due to forces outside the control of the owners; allowing them to play the victim card instead of showing real upfront leadership.

If MLB is bound and determined to crown a 2020 World Series Champion, just cancel the season and give the title to the team that ends up with the fewest COVID-19 infections on their roster.

The season never should have started. MLB could have been a beacon of responsibility by saying that baseball is not an essential business, and it is too risky to players and employees to try to crisscross the country creating made for television games. Airing Public Service Announcements with players wearing masks and encouraging social distancing would have been so much more responsible than a few hours of baseball a night.

It is time for the adults in the room to shut the MLB season down and try again next year. Of course, those adults are the same people who insisted on playing in their home ballparks with advertising covered tarpaulins over many of the empty seats. I doubt owners will do much in the way of canceling the season despite the growing evidence that players are going to be sick and ignore the safety protocols since it would cause them to admit they were wrong.

The 2020 MLB season will continue to roll along, and players will continue to get sick. Teams will be placed in timeout, and the schedule will continue to get reworked to ensure that teams are able to get those precious 60-games in, so that 16-teams can earn some of that sweet playoff television revenue.

The Baltimore Orioles traveled to Miami for a series against the Marlins. The only problem being the Marlins were in quarantine in Philadelphia after over a dozen players and staff tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the Orioles to turn around and fly back home. The Marlins are still stuck in Philadelphia after MLB cancelled a week’s worth of their games.
Photo R. Anderson

The optics MLB is projecting come across as “player health be damned, there’s baseball to be played.”

That approach sounds an awful lot like a guy in Washington D.C. who is ignoring the science since he wants the economy and schools to reopen, and for people to act like there is nothing to see here; since it would benefit him in November.

With blinders on, and the distraction of watching baseball, it is easy for some people to ignore the over 150,000 Americans who have died due to the lack of a centralized plan to combat the COVID-19 virus.

Those 150,000 and counting Americans are not just numbers. They were fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, sons, daughters, grandparents, husbands, wives, coworkers and friends. Some of them were baseball fans, and some of them probably even voted for that guy in Washington D.C. who listens to the “Demon sperm” doctor who claims she cured COVID-19, instead of listening to real science.

For some people, it is easier to play the victim than the hero. Even if one wants to blame someone on the other side of the world for allowing COVID-19 to come to our majestic shores, and spread from sea to shining sea, the fact is the virus is here. It is going to continue to rage against the machine of indifference and spin. COVID-19 does not care if someone is playing the blame game, or wondering out loud why they aren’t as popular as other people.

But by all means, play ball and tout drugs that the legitimate scientists say don’t really help with COVID-19, like a fiddle playing Roman emperor, instead of standing up and actually trying to be part of the solution by leading with a national strategy.

I don’t know how we got here as a country. America used to be looked at with a level of respect by the majority of the world. Now, those same countries are likely either pitying us, or shaking their heads in disbelief. It is time for people to wake up and take COVID-19 seriously.

Baseball can always come back next year. If we do not get a handle on COVID-19, there will be a lot fewer fans around to watch it. You know, because they will be dead from that virus people got tired of and decided to try to ignore. Those are facts and not self-serving conspiracy theory laced spin.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol showed old Ebenezer that he had the power to change his ways to ensure that Tiny Tim’s chair was not empty the following year. However, it seems that many people are content to decrease what they view to be the surplus population by ignoring COVID-19, and saying “bah humbug,” while they engage in self-serving activities and worry about filling their money vaults.

Now if you’ll excuse me, that’s enough Dickens for one day.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Verlander Shut Down with Forearm Strain as Injuries Pile up in Shortened MLB Season

The Houston Astros were dealt a major setback in their quest to return to the World Series for the third time in four years when it was announced Sunday that pitcher Justin Verlander has a forearm strain and will be shut down “for a couple of weeks,” according to manager Dusty Baker.

Verlander, the team’s ace, pitched for the Astros on Friday and experienced “tenderness,” which resulted in an MRI on Saturday according to Baker.

The news of Verlander getting shut down likely echoed through the Astros dugout like a well-placed swing with a Louisville Slugger to the side of a trash can.

In a normal season, a 14-day stint on the injured list (IL) is no big deal. However, in this 60-games in 66 days COIVD-19 inspired season, two weeks represents close to a third of the regular season. Plus, there is no guarantee that Verlander will be ready when the two weeks is up.

This is not Verlander’s first flirtation with injury this year. Verlander, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, was expected to begin the season on the IL back in March after having groin surgery and experiencing muscle soreness in the back of his shoulder.

With pitchers falling like Jenga towers, the MLB might want to look into using t-shirt cannons, or mascot sling shots as a means to prevent injuries to pitchers during the shortened 2020 MLB season.
Photo R. Anderson

The delayed start to the regular season created enough time for Verlander’s groin and shoulder to heal allowing the 37-year-old to take the mound for opening day.

Unfortunately for Verlander, and the Astros, a new injury popped up.

During Saturday’s Tampa Bay Rays versus Toronto Blue Jays broadcast, Rays broadcasters Dewayne Staats and Brian Anderson, mentioned that the shortened amount of time players had to get ready for the season would likely lead to many injuries as players tried to get up to speed in half the time of a traditional Spring Training.

Viewers did not need to wait long to see the prophecy from the broadcast booth come true. In the sixth inning, Toronto center fielder Randal Grichuk left the game after experiencing discomfort in his right sacroiliac joint while tracking down a ball at the outfield wall.

Three innings later, Blue Jays closer Ken Giles, a former teammate of Verlander, left with right elbow soreness after struggling with pitch velocity that allowed the Rays to load the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Due in part to Giles’ struggles, the Rays managed to tie the game from two runs down and ultimately won in walk off fashion in the 10th inning.

Toronto Blue Jays closer, Ken Giles, shown during 2016 when he was a member of the Houston Astros, became the latest pitcher to leave a game early as a result of an arm injury when he left the ninth inning of a game between the Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays. Giles’ former Astros teammate Justin Verlander is out for a minimum of two weeks following arm tenderness during his Opening Day start.
Photo R. Anderson

While I am ecstatic that the Rays won, I never want to see anyone get injured on the field.

No timetable has been announced for the return of Giles and Grichuk to the Blue Jays lineup. Much like the Astros with Verlander, the Blue Jays will just have to wait and see how long they are without their teammates.

Back when the rumblings of playing baseball in 2020 were percolating, I mentioned that it was asinine to rush players back to play a shortened season that would not only expose them to a deadly virus, but would also lead to the possibility of increased injuries, all in the name of saying that baseball was played in the middles of a COVID-19 pandemic.

I take no joy in saying that just a few games into the season it appears my prediction was correct.

Verlander, Giles and Grichuk are just three of the players already injured. Texas Rangers pitcher Corey Kluber, a two-time American League Cy Young Award winner, left his start in Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Colorado Rockies after one inning due to tightness in his pitching shoulder. Also on Sunday, pitcher Reynaldo López, of the Chicago White Sox, left the game in the first inning mid-batter due to right shoulder tightness.

Stephen Strasburg, of the Washington Nationals, has yet to make a start in the 2020 season after being scratched due to arm soreness.
Photo R. Anderson

Aside from players leaving games early due to injuries, Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, both were scratched from their Opening Day starts due to injuries.

John Means and Hunter Harvey of the Baltimore Orioles are both on the IL for arm fatigue. The list goes on and on with more players likely to be added daily.

Additionally, players with the Nationals, Rays, Reds, and others have yet to take the field due to being in the COVID-19 quarantine protocol.

While I admit that I am enjoying watching baseball on TV, it is not like I am unable to find things to do with my time if a 2020 MLB season did not happen. Providing fans a few hours of entertainment still does not seem worth the risk to players health both from COVID-19, as well as freak injuries like the ones that are running through the MLB with the same reckless abandon that COVID-19 is spreading across America.

An athlete’s career is short, and skills usually diminish with age. So, I understand the competitive nature of players wanting to take the field as often as possible. In that way, a 2020 season of any length, even one that allows over half of the teams in the league to make the playoffs, makes sense.

However, when one considers that this season is taking place amidst a global public health crisis, the optics get a little murkier.

As far as the Astros go, even without Verlander on the mound, they are likely to be one of the 16-best teams this year and should make the playoffs. Assuming they do make the playoffs, and Verlander’s injury is healed by then, that should help them in the postseason.

Of course, there is no guarantee that they won’t have other players joining Verlander on the IL.

The 2020 MLB season will be one for the ages. Hopefully it is a one-time only thing, and normalcy returns to the diamond, as well as the world in general, by the time Spring Training 2021 rolls around.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to give myself another quarantine haircut.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Lightning on MLB Opening Day Reminds us That We are Still in the Middle of a Storm

After months of negotiations, Major League Baseball (MLB) started the 2020 season that they were bound and determined to have despite cases of COVID-19 surging from coast to coast, and more specifically surging within several cities that have MLB teams.

While I was watching the Opening Day game Thursday night, between the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees, an eerie sight of potential foretelling took place to remind us all that this is not a season like the others.

No, I am not talking about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s “just a bit outside” first pitch. I can only hope that I am in as good of shape as he is when I turn 79. While, Dr. Fauci is not the best at throwing pitches, thank goodness for all of us that he is adapt at not sugar-coating things and giving us the facts we need in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic.

The eerie moment occurred during an on-air interview with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred when the Washington D.C. skyline was filled with lightning. Manfred was unaware of the light show since it happened behind him, but he became aware of it when the thunder reached his ears.

Lightning, and related rain, led to the first game of the 2020 MLB season being called three innings early. At the time, I thought that it was fitting that a long-delayed season would have its first game end that way.
Photo R. Anderson

The lightning, and related rain, led to the first game of the 2020 MLB season being called three innings early. At the time, I thought that it was fitting that a long-delayed season would have its first game end that way.

By the time I was watching the Los Angeles Dodgers game, I had forgotten about the lightning. Instead, I was making preparations to write about the wayward Toronto Blue Jays finally finding safe harbor after being told that they could not play in Toronto or Pittsburgh due to concerns related to COVID-19 spread.

While the Baltimore Orioles offered to share their nest at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, a Triple A Ballpark within the Blue Jays organization in Buffalo, New York was chosen as their home for the 60 game in 66 days season; despite the players noting their desire to only play in an MLB Ballpark.

With my sights set on chronicling the plight of the Blue Jays in mind, I sat down at my computer in the Gigaplex and was ready to let the words fly from my fingers onto the screen. That was until the giant thunder clap briefly knocked out the power, and took out the Wi-Fi and cable connections.

The storm lasted all of 60 seconds, and included only that single bolt of lightning and related thunder. As quickly as the sky turned dark as night, the sun returned. It was as if the storm had never even been there aside from the lack of Wi-Fi and cable to remind me.

As I was resetting all of the Gigaplex clocks, suddenly the lightning in Washington, D.C. the night before was back in my mind. I realized that the lightning was a metaphor for the season of baseball in the middle of COVID-19. Much like Commissioner Rob Manfred, I did not see the lightning because my back was turned, but I heard the thunder.

The Texas Gulf Coast was under a Tropical Storm watch for much of the day, but when the storm track shifted south of me it became an out of sight out of mind event. I went about my day as if there was not a storm churning in the Gulf of Mexico with the possibility of rain bands stretching to my side of Texas.

So, when that lone lightning bolt did arrive, and leave as quickly as it popped up, there was no one more surprised than me. I have lived through many storms, and as far as I can recall I have never seen a storm of a single lightning bolt but as my mother said, “it only takes one.”

COVID-19 is a lot like lightning. We can try to turn our backs on it and play baseball, or go out to eat, or do whatever else we used to do when the world was open, but even if we have our backs turned and ignore it, the thunder will remind us of its presence.

While we cannot fully control the strength and ferocity of lightning, there are some pretty easy steps that we can take to starve the COVID-19 virus of the fuel it needs to spread. Thinking of these mitigation steps as medical lightning rods if you will.

Wearing masks, washing hands, socially distancing, and avoiding large gatherings are such simple steps to stop the spread. Sadly, despite the simplicity of these things, there are still people who feel they are immune to the CVOID-19 virus, or that they would rather die free than be forced to wear a freedom stealing mask.

I have said it before, and it bears saying again, you know what steals a person’s freedom? Being dead from the COVID-19 virus because they refused to wear a mask, and just had to go to that house party, or whatever other gathering was deemed so important.

The Baltimore Orioles offered to share their nest at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with the Toronto Blue Jays. Ultimately, a Triple A Ballpark in Buffalo, New York was chosen as their home for the 60 game in 66 days season Time will tell whether the Blue Jays, and the other 29-MLB teams, are able to get through a season played in the middle of a global health crisis.
Photo R. Anderson

There are a growing number of stories of younger people infecting their grandparents, and in some cases leading to the death of their loved ones.

That is certainly something you would not want to put in the annual Christmas letter, “Hello friends, this year I was selfish and went to a house party in the middle of a pandemic, and as a result Grandpa is dead.”

Personally, I do not want to risk the guilt of thinking that my actions of needing to socialize led to someone else’s death. But if someone feels that they absolutely have to go out, I hope they remember how thunder and lightning work. By the time you hear the thunder, the damage has already been done by the lightning.

The MLB season was greeted by lightning on Opening Night. Time will tell whether the pandemic’s lightning of cases among the players, or hot spots where games are to be played, allow for the full season to take place.

MLB really wants to be able to unfurl the proverbial “Mission Accomplished” banner after crowning a 2020 World Series Champion.

I just hope when the dust settles it was all worth it, and they aren’t having to write about anyone dying as a result of being hellbent on playing baseball in a time of COVID-19. From where I am sitting right now, the risks of trying to crisscross the country far outweigh any benefits.

That is not to say all is doom and gloom. The COVID-19 storm will pass and there can be joy in Mudville once again. One of the best things about a thunder storm, is the double rainbow that is left behind to remind us that storms are temporary and there are better days ahead.

Of course, those better days will only come if we all do our part. So just wear a mask, and practice social distancing. Laying off an off speed pitch is hard, wearing a mask is easy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to ponder why there are so many songs about rainbows.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson