Tatis, Jr. Slammed for Breaking an Unwritten Rule by Hitting a Grand Slam During a Blowout

A few weeks back, one of the unwritten rules of baseball came into play when Fernando Tatis Jr. ignored a take sign and converted a 3-0 pitch in the eighth inning into his first career grand slam with his San Diego Padres up 10-3 over the Texas Rangers.

Instead of celebrating Tatis hitting the first grand slam of his career, Padres manager Jayce Tingler, issued an apology to the Rangers for Tatis swinging on a take sign. The grand slam also resulted in condemnation from the Texas Rangers.

Rangers manager Chris Woodward, as quoted in a USA Today article, stated that, “There’s a lot of unwritten rules that are constantly being challenged in today’s game. I didn’t like it, personally. You’re up by seven in the eighth inning; it’s typically not a good time to swing 3-0. It’s kind of the way we were all raised in the game. But, like I said, the norms are being challenged on a daily basis. So just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not right. I don’t think we liked it as a group.”

The Rangers showed just how much they didn’t like the grand slam during the next at bat when Rangers relief pitcher Ian Gibaut intentionally threw behind Manny Machado enacting another of baseball’s unwritten rules. For his actions of perceived retaliation, Gibaut was suspended three games and Woodward was suspended for one game..

With so many unwritten rules to remember, one has to wonder whether it is time to either write them all down to help players keep track of them, or if it is time to build a proverbial snowman and as the song says, “let it go.”

The Texas Rangers responded to an unwritten rule being broken by intentionally throwing behind Manny Machado enacting another of baseball’s unwritten rules.
Photo R. Anderson

For Tatis’ part, he noted that, “I’ve been in this game since I was a kid. I know a lot of unwritten rules. I was kind of lost on this. Those experiences you have to learn. Probably next time, I’ll take a pitch.”

And therein lies the rub, an unwritten rule is only good if those asked to live by it are aware of it. At the heart of the condemnation of Tatis for hitting the grand slam is the notion of not running up the score on an opponent when the outcome of a game is well in hand.

This is where the debate really come in. Even without unwritten rules explicitly stated, athletes are often programmed to try not to run up scores against opponents. The reasoning being similar to the Golden Rule, where they are doing unto others as they would hope others do unto them.

After all, on any given day depending on which way the ball bounces a team can be on either side of a lopsided game. But, this “golden rule” of athletics goes against the try your best to win philosophy that is instilled in athletes from an early age.

While professional athletes are given some leeway to police themselves when it comes to the so-called unwritten “mercy rules,” many youth athletics enforce mercy rules to the point of ending a game once the margin of score reaches a certain point

While professional athletes are given some leeway to police themselves when it comes to the so-called unwritten “mercy rules,” many youth athletics enforce mercy rules to the point of ending a game once the margin of score reaches a certain point.
Photo R. Anderson

Is showing mercy during an athletic competition mercy, or is it patronizing and outside the realm of sportsmanship and fair play? That question is at the heart of many debates related to mercy rules in many youth sports leagues.

Back when I covered high school sports as a reporter, I loved the mercy rule because, lopsided games are no fun to write about, and the earlier a game finished, the quicker I could rush back to the newsroom to write my story. Baseball games would be called if a team was up by 10 or more runs at the end of the fifth inning based on the assumption that the losing team would not be able to score 10 or more runs in two innings.

In other cases, where a game clock is involved, a running clock is utilized in an effort to end the game as quickly as possible to shorten the time a team has to run up the score against an over matched opponent.

Despite the selfish benefit I received at the time in terms of having more time to write my articles, in my mind I was the only one receiving mercy from a mercy rule. Despite gaining the benefit of more time to write before deadline, I always felt bad for the teams that were getting trounced.

Plus, it was newspaper policy to state that the game ended early due to a mercy rule which further showed how off a particular team was. Calling attention to the mercy rule added another degree of shame to their bad night.

One season while covering high school soccer, one of the teams I covered was so over matched that 90 percent of their games were called by the mercy rule before halftime. Late in the season when they actually got to play a full game it was like a victory for them.

While that particular high school had a football and basketball team that routinely won state championships, soccer was an afterthought.

Of course, this self-policing of trying to show sportsmanship by not running up a score can lead to cases of football players falling down at the 1-yard line to not score, versus running into the wide open endzone as their normal instincts would tell them to do.

With so many unwritten rules to remember, one has to wonder whether it is time to either write them all down to help players keep track of them, or if it is time to build a proverbial snowman and as the song says, “let it go.”
Photo R. Anderson

While well intentioned, and certainly a sports writer’s best friend in terms of making it an early night, it can be argued that mercy rules tarnish the spirit of sportsmanship and take away an opportunity for teams to rally and unite through shared adversity.

It also can lead to a patronizing effect where the team on the winning side of the equation is acting superior or starts to consider the other team has something to pity or despise. Another downside of mercy rules is that the team on the winning side can be shamed for being that much better than their opponent.

The issue of showing mercy in lopsided games is certainly tricky. In my opinion, games should be played in their entirety regardless of the score. Players should also try their best on every play. Asking a player to go against that instinct is asking them to be less than who they are and tarnishes the leave it all out on the field approach of competitive sport.

Yes, lopsided games are painful to watch, and even more painful to write about, but if a team can take their foot off of the accelerator in a lopsided game, what is to prevent them from doing so in other instances? Players should use lopsided games to try new things that can help them in future games versus heading to the locker room early.

Players owe it to themselves, and everyone else, to play their best on every play regardless of what the scoreboard says. Sportsmanship is shown through being gracious in both victory and defeat. Athletes need to go all out on every play knowing that some days they will be on the winning side, and some days they might suffer a terrible lopsided loss.

Those traits are learned in youth sports and carried throughout a person’s life. As such, youth sports need to go the distance and fight through adversity both on the field and off.

While well intended, mercy rules, and the other unwritten rules for lopsided games, have no place in athletics, even if that means that reporters have to work a little later into the night.

In the example of that Padres game against the Rangers, it was the job of the Texas pitcher to keep the ball out of the reach of Tatis’ bat to prevent the grand slam. It was not Tatis’ job to lay off of the pitch and take a walk, or strike out.

Let the players play, and keep the unwritten rules of the game to a minimum when it comes to asking players to forego their competitive instincts at the plate.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some unwritten rules to jot down.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Dr. Fauci to Throw Out First Pitch for Nationals as MLB Social Experiment Begins

The 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season is set to begin tomorrow as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise from coast to coast like a perverse purple mountain majesty.

If one is convinced to play baseball in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic, it makes sense that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, would throw out the first pitch in the home opener for the Washington Nationals tomorrow as they begin the defense of their World Series title, and MLB begins a social experiment on whether baseball can be played outside of a bubble.

While the role of throwing out the first pitch in the Ballpark closet to the White House historically falls to the President of the United States, it is fitting that the man polls show is trusted by more Americans to lead them out of the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic would be the one throwing out the first pitch of a season that promises to be like no other season that has come before it.

It should be noted that until the current administration ended the tradition, every president since William Howard Taft had thrown out a ceremonial first pitch. Taft started the tradition on April 14, 1910, at National Park in Washington, DC. during a game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics with a pitch to Walter Johnson. The Nationals invited the current administration to continue the tradition in 2017 but they declined, and the team stopped asking.

While the over a century tradition of presidential first pitches came to an end, it is a great gesture by the Nationals to bestow the honor upon Dr. Fauci who, as a true fan of the team, has been wearing a Washington Nationals mask for weeks now.

While there are likely to be detractors who will try to discredit Dr. Fauci, or say he should have better things to do with his time than go to a Ballpark, I say let the man pitch, and I hope he throws a strike to someone dressed up like baby shark.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will throw out the first pitch in the home opener for the Washington Nationals tomorrow as MLB begins a social experiment on whether baseball can be played outside of a bubble as COVID-19 cases spike. Here’s hoping he throws the ball to Baby Shark.
Photo R. Anderson

I also say that we need to continue to listen to his science-based guidance to help us navigate these turbulent politically charged waters where even the act of wearing a facial covering, or mask, has become politicized. COVID-19 does not care if people have grown tired of it or choose to ignore it.

The same group that popularized red hats with white lettering as a way to self-identify as an ardent fan of the current administration could have done a world of good early on in this pandemic had they designed their own red mask with white lettering to “make masks great again.”

I have no doubt that had masks been embraced early on from the occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., we would have had fewer deaths from COVID-19, and we would not be leading the world in cases while having to watch sporting events on television instead of the Ballpark.

The same group that popularized red hats with white lettering as a way to self-identify as an ardent fan of the current administration could have done a world of good early on in this pandemic had they designed their own red mask with white lettering to “make masks great again.”
Photo R. Anderson

Instead of thinking of a mask as something the hinders personal freedom, people should think of a mask as a ball cap for their face.

Just like wearing a ball cap protects your scalp from the sun, a mask protects both the wearer and those around them from catching a disease.

Speaking of the consequences of not wearing masks, and following public health guidance, thanks to the virus spiraling out of control like a kayak trapped in an eddy, there likely will not be any football this fall.

Sure, some leagues are not willing to say that yet, but all signs point to no fall sports which will result in billions of dollars in lost revenue from industry tied to professional and collegiate football.

One of the great joys I get each fall is waking up and watching Lee Corso and the ESPN College Game Day crew every Saturday morning. But, thanks to COVID-19 there will likely be no College Game Day this year. Or, if there is, it will look vastly different from years past.

I mean there is no way that students are going to be packing in like sardines waving their signs in the middle of a public health emergency that currently has the upper hand based on a lack of consistent coast to coast containment steps. It is also highly probable that many of those campuses will not even have students on them as schools are likely to continue remote learning as a way to keep students and staff safe.

It should be noted that it did not have to be this way. While, looking back and playing the if only game, is rarely productive, just think if only people had worn masks back in April how much more likely it would be that there would be football come September.

While the jury is still out on whether football will happen in the fall, starting tomorrow there will be 60 MLB regular season games in 66 days. The Toronto Blue Jays have still not announced where they will be playing their home games, but virus willing, a full World Series Champion will be crowned at the end of the shortest MLB season ever. Let the asterisking of the record books commence.

Aside from accepting a shortened season as being equivalent to a full-length season, MLB fans are being asked to swallow a lot this season. From empty ballparks with pumped in crowd noise and cardboard cutouts of fans, to a universal designated hitter, it is clear this season amid the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t like the seasons of old.

One other change to the season involves the unmistakable presence of a Nike swoosh logo on the player uniforms.

Despite minoring in Advertising and Public Relations in college, I cringe every time a new revenue stream is created that distracts from the game. Granted, a Nike swoosh in and of itself is not that different from what other sports leagues show. However, a swoosh is a slippery slope to the MLB embracing soccer style uniforms where team names are replaced by corporate sponsors. I truly hope MLB does not head that route.

I am all for sports leagues making money, but there need to be limits to just how far they are willing to go lest a baseball uniform turn into a NASCAR style driver fire suit.

Speaking of revenue streams, with fans unable to go to the Ballpark to buy some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, it seems fitting that a new seventh inning stretch song be selected to properly capture the ambiance of what the 2020 MLB season is all about since there is little sense in singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” when going to the Ballpark is not an option.

With that in mind let me suggest a classic song from the 1971 Academy Award nominated musical Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The song, which I believe totally captures the current response to COVID-19 in the United States, is titled, “Wondrous Boat Ride.”

It goes as such. Feel free to sing along.

The current COVID-19 climate and lack of a coordinated national response makes it feel like we are all on a “Wondrous Boat Ride” with Willy Wonka.
Photo R. Anderson

There’s no earthly way of knowing

Which direction we are going

There’s no knowing where we’re rowing

Or which way the river’s flowing

Is it raining, is it snowing

Is a hurricane a-blowing

Not a speck of light is showing

So the danger must be growing

Are the fires of Hell a-glowing

Is the grisly reaper mowing

Yes, the danger must be growing

For the rowers keep on rowing

And they’re certainly not showing

Any signs that they are slowing

Yes, COVID-19 is showing little sign of losing steam, yet the rowers who want to act like there is nothing to see here keep on rowing and trying to reopen at full speed.

A few weeks back, I mentioned the need for us to feed the right wolf if we are to get out of the current situation. Perhaps, instead of feeding the wrong wolf, people who are denying the existence of COVID-19 are listening to the wrong Oompa Loompa.

As for me, I am going to listen to Dr. Fauci and the other scientists who know a thing or two about pandemics and infectious diseases.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see a man about a Golden Ticket.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Universal DH Among the Changes Coming in Shortened MLB Season

Baseball fans are being asked to swallow a lot of changes this year as Major League Baseball (MLB) plows forward with their plans for a 2020 season like an out of control conductor-less freight train being chased by Denzel Washington and Chris Pine.

Changes being introduced as part of the guidelines to play ball in the middles of the global COVID-19 pandemic include, daily temperature checks for everyone entering the Ballpark, COVID-19 testing, no touching, no fighting, no spitting, no licking, and wearing masks and socially distancing when not on the field.

Of course, problems with timely delivery of the test results in order to clear players to participate may cause the entire operation to topple like a poorly constructed house of cards being built in a fan factory.

Changes being introduced as part of the guidelines to play ball in the middles of the global COVID-19 pandemic include, daily temperature checks for everyone entering the Ballpark, COVID-19 testing, no touching, no fighting, no spitting, no licking, and wearing masks and socially distancing when not on the field.
Photo R. Anderson

Assuming that the 60-games in 66-days MLB season does take place, aside from the player interaction protocols outlined above, one of the biggest changes in the game for 2020 is the introduction of the universal Designated Hitter (DH).

For nearly a half a century the DH was an American League only thing, but now thanks to a shortened season, each of the 30 MLB teams will have a DH in every game.

Make no mistake, MLB has been very transparent in calling their shots the last few years. From looking at ways to shorten the game by limiting the number of pitching changes a manger can make, to exploring limitations on the use of defensive shifts, the MLB powers that be have clearly said, the long ball is good, and 0-0 ties in the 14th inning are bad.

So, it stands to reason that MLB would want a universal DH to add one more “quick bat” in the lineup to replace the pitcher striking out in the “nine hole” in the batting order and killing offensive rallies.

While many pitchers were considered easy outs at the plate, Stephen Strasburg was one of the pitchers who could rake at the plate.
Photo R. Anderson

To be fair, there are some pitchers who, as the saying goes, “can rake.” Pitchers known for their ability to throw the ball, as well as hit the ball, include Stephen Strasburg, Zack Greinke, and Noah Syndergaard, to name a few.

Shohei Ohtani is another dual threat as a pitcher and a hitter who has been used as a DH by the Los Angeles Angels on days that he wasn’t pitching.

So, while there are pitchers who swing a mean bat from time to time, the majority of times a pitcher goes to the plate it involves them borrowing someone else’s bat and standing uncomfortably at the plate while either swinging wildly at three pitches, trying to lay down a wicked sacrifice bunt, or refusing to swing and hoping to strike out so they can go back to keeping their arm warm in the dugout.

Whether to leave a pitcher in, or take them out for a pinch hitter, is one of the managerial chess pieces that National League managers have had to juggle. Now, thanks to the universal DH, there will no longer be the need for managers to fret about a pitcher coming up to bat with two outs and the bases loaded.

Mention the designated hitter in polite dinner conversation and one will quickly find out how divisive the topic really is among fans.

The pro designated hitter camp will point to the fact that by eliminating the pitcher as a batter the rallies can continue without the fear of a nearly guaranteed out with a pitcher batting. The DH also allows players to lengthen their careers when their fielding suffers.

The foes of the DH rule will say that having pitchers batting, despite the almost guaranteed out they provide, is a truer form of the game and is more historically accurate while creating more cat and mouse strategy between the managers.

Or as Crash Davis in Bull Durham would say, “I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter.”

With respect to Crash Davis, having watched both types of games over the years, I have to side with the pro DH camp, but I am totally with him on the need to ban artificial surfaces in Ballparks.

Former Tampa Bay Rays first baseman, and current MLB Network analyst, Carlos Pena, was the first full time designated hitter in Houston Astros history. The Astros were in need of a DH after the team made the move from the National League to the American League.
Photo R. Anderson

When I wrote about the 40th Anniversary of the DH back in 2013, I mentioned the possibility of pitchers getting injured at the plate as a major benefit of rolling out the DH across the board.

And for all of you out there who say surely a pitcher can’t get hurt just trying to bunt or swinging wildly, I remind you of the story of Andy Pettitte, and his brief tenure with the then National League Houston Astros. Pettitte injured his pitching arm while trying to check a swing in his debut game with the Astros. He missed the next three weeks with a strained left elbow.

While a pitcher is more likely to get injured on the mound than at the plate, the story of Andy Pettitte shows that swinging a bat is better left to the professionals.

Of course, there is still a very real possibility that the 2020 MLB season will get scrapped and we will have to wait until 2021 to see the universal DH. You know, because of that whole raging coast to coast COVID-19 pandemic that is pouring like an avalanche coming down the mountain.

Count me among the people who feel that in the name of player safety, umpire safety, manager safety, sanctity of the game, and whatever else you want to pile on there, that the risks of putting on a 2020 MLB season far outweigh any benefits of starting up a season that may not be able to be completed.

For comparison, Major League Soccer (MLS) resumed at the Walt Disney World Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, FL. this week. MLS is joining the National Basketball League (NBA) in a bubble of safety at Walt Disney World.

Despite all of the precautions being taken, the Dallas and Nashville MLS franchises have removed themselves from the rest of the season because too many of their players tested positive for COVID-19. NBA players are also testing positive for COVID-19 at a growing rate.

The NBA is set to resume their season July 30 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Disney World Resort. All eligible playoff teams will be kept in three hotels and will play all of their games inside the borders of Disney World.
Photo R. Anderson

MLB, which is using a regional, instead of a bubble approach, is going to have a taxi squad of players in reserve who can fill the holes in any rosters decimated by COVID-19 infection. Before the season has even started numerous teams have reported players testing positive for the virus.

So, while players are going to get sick with COVID-19, it is likely that the MLB will not see whole teams having to skip the season since they will just plug any roster holes with reserve players as they crisscross the country putting on a made for television season.

With the credibility of a 60-game season already being called into question, I can just imagine the raging dumpster fire that would result if say the New York Yankees ran out of reserve players and had to forfeit the rest of the season while leading their division.

Consider how much more widespread the number of MLB players testing positive could be in a non-bubble approach. As I have said for months, MLB needs to just shut it down and wait until next year. That is unless as the band the Butthole Surfers would say they are “sharing Sharon’s outlook on the topic of disease.”

There are times in American history when people have been asked to sacrifice for a common good with the knowledge that they were putting their health, or their lives at risk as part of something nobler than themselves.

Playing baseball, or any sport, right now, does not rise to that level of self-sacrifice and nobility. I do not need people risking their lives, or future health, to play baseball for my entertainment. Netflix is entertaining me just fine right now.

The nobler gesture is for MLB to set an example by not traveling from place to place and staying home, socially distancing and wearing a mask when one has to be out in public.

This isn’t rocket science. We are still in the early innings of a game against COVID-19 that we are currently losing by double digits. At the time of this writing over 133,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. That equates to 41 out of every 100,000 people in the U.S. population dying according to John Hopkins University.

In Houston, 1 in 4 people who are tested for COVID-19 come back with a positive result. And no, doing more testing does not mean more positive results. Other MLB cities are in similar, and even worse positions, than Houston when it comes to being ravaged by COVID-19.

It is time for each of us to step up to the plate and swing for the fences as we try to tame this 100-mph fastball throwing virus that doesn’t care who it strikes out. That is a noble goal for us to get behind in 2020, wanting to see live baseball is not.

Baseball will be around in 2021, if with don’t knock down this virus, many people will not be around in 2021. But you don’t have to take my word for it, just listen to the scientists.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some late 20th Century music to listen to.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Sugar Land Skeeters Form A League of Their Own to Play Ball During Global COVID-19 Pandemic

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23.

The idea of a four-team quick summer league sounds great on the surface. Of course, as one peels back the layers of the onion, they are reminded of the fact that we are still in the middle of a global pandemic caused by a virus with no known cure or standard treatment.

The news of the league comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in Texas continues to rise to record numbers on a daily basis. As a result of the rising numbers of cases and hospitalizations, some businesses that had reopened, like bank lobbies, are starting to close again.

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23.
Photo R. Anderson

With that in mind, the team ownership noted when they announced the league that they would be working with local and state health officials to provide as safe of an environment as possible for fans, staff and players.

Among the steps being taken is following the guidelines from the state of Texas as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in regards to stadium capacity and social distancing. Players will be tested for COVID-19 at least once a week, as well as prior to their arrival in Sugar Land.

In regards to fans in attendance, the plan calls Constellation Field to allow up to 25 percent of its 7,500-seat capacity to be full for each of the planned 56 games in the season.

According to a press release from the Skeeters, there will be a total of seven games played at Constellation Field each week from the Opening Day on July 3 through the conclusion of the season on Aug. 23. The schedule is subject to change, but single games are anticipated to be played on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and doubleheaders will be played on Saturday and Sunday.

The names for the four teams have yet to be announced. In the spirit of helpfulness might I suggest such timely names as, the Pandemics, the Social Distancers, the COIVD-19’s, and the Doc Faucis.

The four teams will be managed by Skeeters manager Pete Incaviglia, seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens (along with his son Koby), and former Cleveland Indians pitcher Greg Swindell. The fourth team will be led by a manager to be named later. It should be noted that both Roger and Koby Clemens played for the Skeeters.

Former Sugar Land Skeeters player Koby Clemens will manage one of the four teams in the Skeeters Summer League alongside is father, Roger.
Photo R. Anderson

Open tryouts for the league are scheduled to take place at Constellation Field on June 24. It is expected that the teams will consist of former Major Leaguers and an assortment of professional players who’ve appeared at affiliated minor league levels as well as independent leagues.

Despite the best efforts of social distancing and testing, it is extremely likely that there will be people associated with the league who contract COVID-19. In the event that occurs, team officials have noted that the show will go on as the league takes the posture of accepting a certain level of risk in order to play baseball.

This is the magic question faced by all sports leagues, and in fact all individuals, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. How much risk is one willing to take in order to do the things that were done in the olden days of pre-March 2020?

The answer depends on the individual’s level of comfort, as well as whether the individual involved belongs to one of the identified high-risk categories of greater susceptibility to the virus.

Years ago I saw this sign at a Pensacola Pelicans game. It is unknown whether the tickets to the Sugar Land Skeeters Summer League games will include small print waiver language stating that fans in attendance assume both the risk of getting hit in the head by a foul ball, as well as assuming all risk if they contract COVID-19 at the ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

It is unknown whether the tickets to the games will include small print waiver language stating that fans in attendance assume both the risk of getting hit in the head by a foul ball, as well as assuming all risk if they contract COVID-19 at the ballpark.

I can picture the wording going something like this, “Sorry folks, you can’t sue us for getting sick. The lime green mosquito up front should have told you that.”

The Skeeters are not alone in trying to find creative uses for their Ballparks this season. According to the ALPB, the High Point Rockers, Long Island Ducks, and Southern Maryland Blue Crabs are working with several professional baseball clubs, towards finalizing a 70-game schedule of play that would begin in mid-July and wrap up at the end of September with a five-game championship series.

Other ALPB teams that are not able to host baseball games due to crowd size limitations in their regions are hosting movie and music festivals in their Ballparks as a means to generate revenue.

And of course, Major League Baseball is still trying to hammer out an agreement to play baseball without fans in attendance for the 2020 season.

Personally, I would love to see baseball at all levels sit the season out. I do not believe the short-term gains of unfurling those Opening Day banners in 2020 outweigh the long-term risks to player health, as well as overall league health.

The last thing anyone should want to do is have a short term pebble drop ripple turn in to a tsunami with unforeseen consequences down the road. One should not sell their soul for a shortened season.

And just because a Ballpark is open, it does not mean that fans need to go to it. If the movie Field of Dreams was filmed in the era of COVID-19 it is likely that the voice heard in the corn field would tell Ray Kinsella to “build it and they will come after the threat of the COVID-19 virus has been eliminated by the invention of either a vaccine or a therapeutic treatment.”

After all, those players may have been ghosts, but they were certainly in a high-risk category based on their ages. Speaking of that Iowa corn field, the New York Yankees and Chicago White White Sox are scheduled to play each other at a temporary ballpark adjacent to the field from the movie on August 13. It is unknown whether the game will be played, and if it is whether the people will be allowed to come, or if only the corn will have ears to hear the game.

Baseball, and the rest of life as we knew it in the golden days of pre 2020 will hopefully return next year. We will reach the other side, and when we do, the Ballparks will once again be full of fans and games of dizzy bat. Until then, teams and leagues will continue to seek creative solutions to “go the distance” as they navigate uncharted waters like a 21st century Lewis and Clark to ease our collective pain.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk about shortened summer baseball leagues has me in the mood to watch Summer Catch.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Dear Baseball, I Hope This Column Finds You Well in These Uncertain Times

Dear Baseball, it is me Ryan.

I know it has been a while since we have seen each other at the Ballpark. These are definitely crazy times. I hope you are doing well.

I have been thinking a lot about the fun we used to have together back before the world was turned upside down by that uninvited party crasher COVID-19.

Remember that time my mom had me called out of class in elementary school so I could see you in a Spring Training game between the Minnesota Twins and the Baltimore Orioles for my birthday? The entire time I was walking to the exit of the school I thought for sure that someone in my family had died. Imagine my relief when I learned that everyone was alive and well, and I was getting to spend an afternoon at the Ballpark with you.

One of my best baseball memories was getting Earl Weaver’s autograph at Tinker Field.
Photo R. Anderson

Another memory that makes me smile, is that time you gave me the opportunity to meet Earl Weaver on the third base side of Tinker Field. I was definitely start struck at meeting a man I considered to be larger than life, but I was relieved to learn that he was fairly down to earth, and was not just the fiery dirt kicking, base throwing manager I had seen on TV.

Baseball, you have not yet afforded me the opportunity to meet Cal Ripken, Jr., but I guess I will let that one slide since you did give me such good memories following his career during “The Streak” and beyond.

Sadly, not all of my encounters with the men who played you were as encouraging as meeting “The Earl of Baltimore.” Through my attempt to meet Frank Robinson, you taught me the valuable lesson that not everyone who wears your uniform is a hero to be looked up to.

While it is entirely possible that the outcome would have been different on another day, my attempt to meet Frank Robinson soured my opinion of the man, and taught me a valuable lesson in the dangers of heroes letting you down.
Photo R. Anderson

It was a hard lesson for me to learn at the time, but it has helped me separate talent for the game from being a hero off the field. It is possible to respect what a player can do on the field without expecting them to be perfect off the field.

There are of course players who shine both on the field and off, but you let me see that those people are exceptions to treasure, versus the rule.

My joy in you was not limited to just being in the Ballpark. I spent hours collecting your cards and trying to compile complete sets of them each year. I kept checklists in my wallet to know which cards I needed whenever I would find myself at a card shop. I even tried my hand a running a small card shop in my neighborhood for my friends. Grandstand Cards was my first business venture, but it was far from my last.

Every Saturday I rode my bike to the neighborhood 7-11 for powdered doughnuts, a Sunny-D, some baseball cards, and a comic book. Those were much simpler times. While I cherished those days at the time, I cherish them even more now.

I still have those cards, as well as the team scrapbooks that I made for the Orlando Sun Rays and the Baltimore Orioles. Each time I pull them off the shelf the memories return, and I am transported back to those days of going to the local baseball card shop, and sitting in those well-worn grandstands at Tinker Field.

While I saw numerous Spring Training games at Tinker Field, it was Minor League Baseball that really grabbed my attention and stoked the desires of younger me to work in sports promotions at a ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

While my three seasons of attempting to play you did not lead to All-Star numbers, you taught me that I could make a career out of telling your story through the various news outlets I worked for.

You even gave me the opportunity to have a full-ride scholarship as a collegiate baseball team manager, which a younger me turned down to go to a different school. It all worked out in the end, and to this day I can still legitimately say that I turned down a full-ride baseball scholarship. I just leave out the part about it not being as a player.

Then there was that 21-inning high school playoff game that I covered as a high school reporter at the old Baseball City Stadium. Man, I sure learned my lesson that night about not leaving the warmth of the press box before the final out. I spent 12 extra innings freezing behind the dugout while my colleagues mocked me from their warm perch.

Despite that unseasonably cold Florida night, and all the other nights shivering in your stands, you taught me that one of life’s simple pleasures is sitting in your Ballparks and getting caught up in the action. You also taught me to never write the lead to an article while the game is still going on, since very few leads are safe once teams are forced to go to the bullpen.

I also learned from you, Baseball, that whenever possible, get a seat in the Ballpark next to the scouts. The times I have been seated in the scout section at Spring Training and Minor League games, I have been entertained by hours of stories of baseball behind the curtains. Sadly, scouts are a dying breed as more and more of your teams are taking a strictly statistical look at how you are played, versus relying on gut feel.

Very little tops a day at the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Baseball, you have given me the chance to interview many coaches and players. Some of them gave thoughtful answers, while others allowed me to play cliché bingo.

One manager even trusted me enough to write my own quotes for what I thought he would say. To keep it real, I even included some clichés in his quotes. At the end of the season of covering his team, he invited me into his office and said that he had never sounded better than he did when I “quoted him.”

I have thought a lot lately about those post-game interviews under the unforgiving Florida and Texas sun, as well as the interview in the rain that killed my recorder right after I transcribed the quotes. On that day Baseball, you taught me to never rely solely on a recorder, but to write down quotes in real time as well.

Just when I think that you have run out of things to teach me, Baseball, you give me new lessons through this delay in the action brought about by COVID-19. Through the virus you have taught me that player strikes are not the only thing that can cause the games to stop, and that we should not take you for granted when you do return.

More importantly, Baseball, you have reminded us that there are more important things than you, and your other sport siblings. Taking care of ourselves and others is far more important, no matter how badly we want to throw caution to the wind and cram inside your hallowed halls and watch you “play ball” once again.

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball was the first to use a pitch clock when the Sugar Land Skeeters and other teams implemented it as part of a test with Major League Baseball..
Photo R. Anderson

When you do return, Baseball, either this year, or next year, some people will no doubt continue to complain that your games are too long, that pitchers need to not take so long between pitches, and that umpires need a robotic voice in their head telling them how to call balls and strikes.

Ignore those people, Baseball, and try to resist the calls to constantly tinker with your game. Part of what makes you perfect are your perfect imperfections, and the fact that there is no game clock to say when the game ends.

Baseball, you will come back stronger, and will once again fill those summer nights with the sights, sounds and smells, of the National Pastime.

Hang in there Baseball, I know we will see each other again soon when it is safe to do so. Until then, thanks for the memories you have given me so far, and thanks in advance for the memories yet to come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this trip down memory lane has me craving some powdered doughnuts and Sunny-D.

Sincerely yours,

Ryan

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Building my Ballpark Bucket List for When the World is Open Once Again Part 2

As the world of sports continues to look into ways to safely return fans into their facilities thanks to the COVID-19 virus, sports fans are left to wait and wonder when they can return to their local Ballparks and Stadiums and raise their souvenir cups high.

Although I will not be able to see live sports any time soon, that does not mean that from the relative safety of my gigplex I cannot compile a Bucket List of the ballparks I want to visit once the green light is given to safely return to mass gatherings.

Since catching my first Major League Baseball game at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore I have visited a lot of Ballparks. There are still many more Ballparks I want to see.
Photo R. Anderson

My Bucket List of ballparks was already pretty extensive, but as I have had much time at home to contemplate, I have had the chance to add to it. For the purpose of this exercise I have selected a Top 10 list of Ballparks I want to see.

The list is broken up into five Ballparks that I want to visit again, and five Ballparks that I want to see for the first time. The Ballparks include facilities at the Major League level, the Minor League Level, as well as the Independent League level.

I unveiled the five Ballparks I want to see again in Part 1. Today, in Part 2, I unveil the five Ballparks that I have never visited, but in some cases, have wanted to see for years.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, MD

Oriole Park at Camden Yards is the main Ballpark on my Bucket List that I want to visit.
Photo R. Anderson

While there are many Ballparks that I want to visit, the one that has topped my list pretty much from the time it was built is Oriole Park at Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles. I was raised as a Baltimore Orioles fan, and saw my first Major League game at Memorial Stadium where the Orioles played prior to making the move to Camden Yards.

Once I moved to Florida, Spring Training meant trips to see the Orioles at Tinker Field, and later at Ed Smith Stadium. I have even seen the Orioles play regular season games against the Astros in Houston and against the Rays in St. Petersburg.

Still, the one venue that has eluded me is Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Ballpark started the movement for single use Ballparks, and includes a distinctive warehouse wall feature which the Astros mimicked when they built their new Ballpark at the site of the old Union Station. As soon as I am able, and the world gets a little more stability, I will board that big blue Boeing 737 nonstop from Houston to Baltimore to catch a game, enjoy an Esskay hotdog, and some crab cakes smothered in Old Bay. On a positive since the Orioles have struggled mightily the last few seasons, it is likely that the Ballpark will not be full which should allow me to really explore as I check it off of my Bucket List.

Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.

Proximity to Space Coast Stadium allowed me the chance to see many Washington Nationals Spring Training games when I lived in Florida. However, I have yet to see the 2019 World Series Champions play at Nationals Park.
Photo R. Anderson

When I lived in Maryland, the Washington Senators had already fled to Texas to become the Rangers, after replacing the version of the Senators that fled to Minnesota to become the Twins.

Additionally, the Washington Nationals went by the name of the Montreal Expos, so the ability to catch a game at Nationals Park would have been rather difficult since neither the Ballpark, nor the team existed. But from the time that the Nationals arrived on the scene, I embraced them with the full vigor that one would for a long-lost friend.

My fandom of the Nationals was further entrenched after my mom reminded me one day that since we had lived closer to Washington D.C. than Baltimore, had the Nats existed when I lived in Maryland, I likely would have followed them instead of the Orioles, or I would have followed them both. When I lived in Florida the Nats had Spring Training less than an hour away from where I lived, which made catching games easy. Even after moving to Texas I continued to catch the Nats whenever I traveled to Florida for Spring Training.

When the Nats made their magical World Series run against the Houston Astros in 2019, I certainly got nasty looks as I wore my Nats gear proudly around the Houston suburbs but my fandom was well entrenched by then and as the song goes, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, and the trash can gonna bang, bang, bang.” So when I make the trip to Oriole Park, I will be sure to stay in town long enough to catch a game at Nationals Park as well while I am there.

Globe Life Field, Arlington, TX

The Texas Rangers traded in their quaint, furnace of a Ballpark for a retractable roof version next door. When the scoreboard says it is 108 degrees outside it will be nice to catch a game in air conditioned comfort.
Photo R. Anderson

The third Ballpark I want to visit for the first time is Globe Life Field, the new home of the Texas Rangers.

I attended games at Globe Life Park, which the Rangers previously called home, and left each game a few pounds lighter than when I went in based on the triple digit heat, and the general lack of air circulation within the lower bowl of the Ballpark.

The Rangers decided that their under 30-year old Ballpark was not conducive to the climate in the Dallas Metroplex and a retractable roof Ballpark was built next door. Globe Life Park briefly served as the home of the Dallas XFL team, but with the XFL gone Globe Life Park will be two teams short.

While some could argue that based on the hard to miss similarities between the design of Globe Life Field and Minute Maid Park, I have already seen the new facility, I still want to visit it. Whenever I do make it up to Arlington it will definitely be nice to experience a Rangers game for once without needing to bring a dry set of clothes for the drive home.

Nat Bailey Stadium, Vancouver, British Columbia

During my previous trip to Vancouver, British Columbia I had poutine in Stanley Park. During my next visit to Vancouver I hope to have poutine in the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

While the previous three ballparks on the list have all been on the Major League level, my fourth Bucket List Ballpark that I want to visit takes us north of the border, and also down to Class A in the Minor Leagues.

Nat Bailey Stadium, located smack dab in the center of Vancouver, British Columbia, is the home of the Vancouver Canadians, who are the Class A Toronto Blue Jays farm team. A few years back, I had the opportunity to catch a Vancouver Canucks hockey game in Vancouver. Catching a BC Lions CFL game in Vancouver is also on my Bucket List, so it is only natural that I would want to see baseball north of the border as well.

Taking my baseball fandom international will certainly be an experience to treasure. Of course, traveling all the way to Canada just to see a Minor League baseball game would likely be rather silly in the big picture. Good thing that there are many other items on the list for things to do on the trip besides the game. I just hope they serve poutine at the Ballpark. Something tells me that they do.

FNB Field, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

The Washington Nationals have a Farm Team named the Harrisburg Senators who play on an island. As long as I don’t have to take a boat called the S.S. Minnow to get there count me in.
Photo R. Anderson

The final Ballpark on the list is FNB Field in Harrisburg, PA. FNB Field is the home field of the Harrisburg Senators, the Double-A Minor League affiliate of the Washington Nationals,

The Ballpark has been on my Bucket List for several years based on a) it being a Washington Nationals farm team and b) it is located on an island in the middle of the Susquehanna River. I mean, a Ballpark in the middle of a river. How cool is that?

I still have the program from my first Major League Baseball Game. between the Baltimore Orioles and the Milwaukee Brewers. It is one of many programs that I have collected through the years. In the years to come I look forward to collecting even more programs, ticket stubs, and souvenir cups as I travel around to various Ballparks.
Photo R. Anderson

If I plan really carefully, I can likely catch a game on the island during the same trip where I go see Oriole Park and Nationals Park. Three days of Esskay hot dogs, Old Bay lump blue crab cakes, and Utz cheese curls sounds pretty spectacular right about now.

Of course, visiting any Ballpark will be welcome once the all-clear is given on this terrible virus that has taken far too many lives, and forever impacted the lives that it hasn’t taken.

Stay safe. Stay smart, and I will see you at a Ballpark in the not too distant future. Until then, may your dreams involve Ballparks with all you can eat popcorn and unlimited soda refills.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check to see if we are still keeping track of the days of the week.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Building my Ballpark Bucket List for When the World is Open Once Again Part 1

For the past five years, I have traveled an average of one to two weeks a month. During this time, I saw a lot of hotel rooms, drove a lot of rental cars, and most impressively I mastered the art of snagging a coveted aisle seat close to the front of a completely full Southwest Airlines flight. On those rare occasions when the seat next to me on the flight was empty, I felt like I had won the lottery as I crisscrossed North America during the carefree days before COVID-19.

Over a five-year span I logged a lot of miles in blue planes just like this one.
Photo R. Anderson

Many of those trips involved visits to Ballparks and other sporting venues. I saw Major League games at Dodgers Stadium, Angels Stadium, Tropicana Field and Coors Field. I caught Minor League games in Colorado Springs and Port Charlotte, among other places.

For good measure, I even visited four hockey arenas. While Coolio sang of living in a “Gangsta’s Paradise,” I was truly spending most my time living in a sports fan paradise.

The era of the non-retractable roof Ballpark as fallen out of fashion in recent years. Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, is truly the last of its kind. Based on historically low attendance some might argue that the Trop was the first Ballpark to engage in social distancing.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, that carefree ability to cram into full arenas, full ballparks, and even full blue Boeing 737s, has been put on hold for the foreseeable future thanks to the COVID-19 virus.

Large gatherings of people at sporting events would be the perfect storm for community spread of the virus. So out of an abundance of caution, fans will not be allowed to congregate for a while once the sports world reopens.

I can totally respect that since, a) I really don’t feel like getting sick just so I can see a game in person, and b) drinking Dr Pepper with a straw through a hole in my officially licensed MLB face covering does not sound like fun.

Constellation Field in Sugar Land, TX has a scoreboard that reminds people what state they are in. This can be helpful for fans who become disoriented from the heat.
Photo R. Anderson

Although I will not be able to see live sports any time soon, that does not mean that from the relative safety of my gigaplex I cannot compile a Bucket List of the ballparks I want to visit once the green light is given to safely return to mass gatherings.

My Bucket list of Ballparks I wanted to visit was already pretty extensive. However, as I have had much time at home to contemplate, I have had the chance to add to it. For the purpose of this exercise I have selected a Top 10 list of Ballparks I want to see when the world reopens.

The list is broken up into five Ballparks that I want to visit again, and five Ballparks that I want to see for the first time. The Ballparks include facilities at the Major League level, the Minor League Level, as well as the Independent League level.

For the first installment of our series, I have chosen to look at the five Ballparks I want to see again. While I will always enjoy finding new Ballparks to visit, I also enjoy returning to some old favorites. The five Ballparks on this list are ones that I would visit for every game if I had the chance.

Constellation Field, Sugar Land, TX

A mascot with a water gun is the perfect combo for baseball in triple degree heat.
Photo R. Anderson

Located just a smidge too far away from the gigaplex for me to be a season ticket holder, Constellation Field plays home to the Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.

With reasonable prices on tickets, food, and souvenirs, a game inside Constellation Field won’t break most piggy banks. The action on the field is exciting, and the mid-inning promotions staff provides the usual Minor League Baseball standards to keep the fans entertained.

I do take issue with the team getting rid of the carousel in Center Field a few years ago, but aside from that, this little ballpark is pretty much perfect for catching a game. The Ballpark is in Texas so it does get hot during day games in the summer, but there are thankfully ways to stay cool including a splash pad and air conditioned areas.

Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, FL

Though it is criticized by many, I find Tropicana Field to be a pleasant place to catch a game while also feeding some wildlife.
Photo R. Anderson

Tropicana Field gets a lot of flak from a lot of people. They complain about the location of the facility as well as the fact that it is one of the last of the multi use large domes that once dotted the sports landscape from coast to coast.

While domes in Houston, Seattle, and Minnesota have given way to single use baseball fields, courtesy of the Ballpark renaissance kicked off by Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Tropicana Field stands as a reminder of what a certain era of Ballpark design looked like. While the Trop has haters, I actually like the Ballpark. It was one of the first facilities to allow people to bring in their own food and also offers an unlimited refill policy on soft drinks.

Paying tribute to the days when the Tampa Bay Rays were known as the Devil Rays, there is even a Ray touch and feeding tank in center field. Plus, it is hard to beat catching a game in air-conditioned comfort and staying dry during those hot and wet Florida summers that last from March to November.

Coors Field, Denver, CO

During my lone trip to Coors Field I hit a triple with a Pepsi, a hot dog, and a bobblehead.
Photo R. Anderson

Next up is Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies. I have only had the pleasure of attending one game at this Ballpark. It was a day game during a Colorado heat wave and the vendors were selling equal amounts of beverages and sunscreen.

From what I could see through my sun screen irritated eyes, the Ballpark has a lot to offer. The game I attended included a bobblehead giveaway, as well as a race between people dressed up as the presidents on Mount Rushmore. Not too shabby.

Coors Field made the list, based on my desire to catch a night game at the Ballpark and to have time to explore more of the amenities without feeling like I was every bit of a mile closer to the surface of the sun.

Dr Pepper Ballpark, Frisco, TX

Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco, TX is a great venue to catch a game, just try to avoid day games in August.
Photo R. Anderson

Dr Pepper Ballpark is home of the Frisco Rough Riders, who are the Double A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. It has been several years since I made the drive up to the Ballpark located in a suburb of Dallas, but it is a drive well rough making.

The Ballpark features bullpens that are surrounded by seats so fans can really get a close look at the pitchers warming up. The facility also includes a lazy river and a pool, which is perfect for the sweltering heat that the Dallas Metroplex is famous for.

One major plus of Dr Pepper Ballpark, is the availability to have a cold and refreshing Dr Pepper. I am sure there are people who do not mind Pibb Xtra, but for me it has to be Dr Pepper. With the headquarters for Dr Pepper being located next door in Plano, TX, I feel pretty confident that the Ballpark will keep serving Dr Pepper for years to come.

Blue Wahoos Stadium, Pensacola, FL

Pensacola’s Blue Wahoos Stadium is a true gem among Ballparks and has a waterfront view that can often include spotting the Blue Angels returning from an Air Show.
Photo R. Anderson

Blue Wahoos Stadium is home to the Blue Wahoos, a Class Double A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. The Ballpark is one of my favorites for many reasons. The location right on the bay is hard to beat.

The concessions are top notch. The Ballpark itself is beautiful and has been named best ballpark in the country by numerous outlets, including being a three-time recipient of the Southern League Ballpark of the Year award. The Ballpark is the smallest facility in the Southern League and this creates an intimate fan experience.

I try to visit Pensacola as often as I can. When the world reopens, and it is safe to move about the country once again, Pensacola will be one of the first trips that I make. Southern League Baseball has always been my favorite league since catching Orlando Sun Rays games with my mom at Tinker Field in Orlando. The Blue Wahoos allow me to keep that tradition alive once every other year or so.

These five Ballparks are definitely places I would go to again and again. There are other Ballparks that I could have included as well on my list of places I love catching a game at. Be sure to return Friday when I will reveal the five venues that I want to visit for the first time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about Ballparks has me craving a hot dog and some nachos.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson