Dodgers and Rays in the World Series Proves that Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

Next week the Hallmark family of cable networks will start their yearly rock block of festive holiday movies. No, I am not talking about Halloween movies, harvest movies, or even Thanksgiving movies.

Instead, the channels that were founded on one sentence greeting cards, ornaments, and conservative Midwestern values, will be blasting Christmas movies day and night for the next two months.

I am certainly guilty of watching my share of Hallmark movies throughout the year. I enjoy the way they can take three original story ideas that someone had 20 years ago and turn them into 40-50 “new” movies each year. However, the past few years have shown that there comes a point where there can be too many “filmed over the course of one weekend while still writing the script” movies.

I get that people could use a little Christmas right this very minute, but starting Christmas in October seems a tad extreme even by 2020 standards.

In that spirit of fast forwarding to Christmas without acknowledging the holidays in between Columbus Day and Christmas, today’s column will have a gingerbread inspired coming down the chimney and opening presents on Christmas day, and not Christmas Eve kind of feel to it with some Reece’s Peanut Butter pumpkins thrown in for good measure.

And with a tug on the old sleigh bells, away we go.

In 1897 The New York Sun received as letter from a girl named Virginia who wanted to know whether there was indeed a real Santa Claus after being told by some of her classmates that there was not.  Open consulting her father on the matter she wrote the newspaper with the rationale being, that if she saw it printed in the paper it must be true.

In 1897 The New York Sun received as letter from a girl named Virginia who wanted to know whether there was indeed a real Santa Claus. Here rationale being, that if she saw it printed in the newspaper it must be true.
Photo R. Anderson

Ah, such a simpler time when the media was trusted and not actively called the enemy of the press by an angry man who may or may not have daddy issues.

But I digress.

Back to Virginia and her letter. In the eloquently written style of 19th Century journalistic prose, an editorial response to her letter concluded that, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.”

Words to live by in 1897, as well as in 2020.

Just like Virginia back in 1897, I was beginning to question things as the 2020 baseball season was winding down. I have made it clear since January that I am disgusted at what the Houston Astros did in 2017 when they cheated their way to a World Series title.

The fact that the Astros were one win away from their third trip to the World Series in four years a few short days ago made me question whether Baseball Claus existed and made me question my very lifelong baseball fandom going so far as to utter the words that if the Astros won the World Series baseball and I would need to break up for a t least a year since I could not be around such evil.

Granted, it was a tad over dramatic on my part and likely the result of not having any off days between games but I was certainly wondering why Baseball Claus had forsaken us.

For those unfamiliar with Baseball Claus, he is the guy who makes sure that the National Pastime remains as it should and that cheaters don’t prosper. He is also the guy who makes sure Ballparks never run out of hot dogs and nachos.

Just like every Hallmark Christmas movie worth its gingerbread features at least one scene in a Gazebo, Baseball Claus ensures teams that cheat get a lump of coal in their trash can. At least in the Houston Astros case they can use the coal to power the train in Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

Sadly, Baseball Claus was at his beach house in January when the penalties for the Astros were handed down.

I have no doubt that if Baseball Claus had been in his office at Major League Baseball (MLB) headquarters in New York City when the cheating report came out, he totally would have insisted that players on the Astros be suspended, or maybe even banned them from baseball for their roles in the season long cheating.

So, I gave Baseball Claus a pass on that one. I mean as a fellow lover of beach houses and time away from the office, I certainly cannot fault him for taking some time to himself on the sugar sand shores. I am sure he must have dropped his phone in the water and was unreachable when the cheating scandal broke.

My belief in Baseball Claus was tested once again when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and a decision was made to roll the dice and play a 60-game regionally based schedule in order to crown a World Series champion.

This time around, I chalked up the lack of response to stop the season by Baseball Claus to him being up north visiting his brother, Hockey Claus. Surely, had Baseball Claus not been trapped north of the border he would have stepped in. Of course, Baseball Claus did make his presence felt in Canada when he told the Toronto Blue Jays they had to play their season in America to avoid bringing more COVID-19 to the land of poutine and maple syrup.

After potentially being cheated out of World Series titles in 2017 and 2018, the Los Angeles Dodgers are returning to the World Series for the third time in four years. Unlike in previous years, Dodger Stadium will not host any of those games.
Photo R. Anderson

So, while I could excuse those two failures to intervene  by Baseball Claus when we really needed him, the run up to the World Series had me truly concerned for his health.

Was Baseball Claus in witness protection? Had he succumbed to COVID-19 like nearly 220,000 Americans? There really were more questions than answers as the aforementioned cheating Houston Astros came closer and closer to going to the World Series for the third time in four years.

I had pen in hand ready to write a letter to the editor like Virginia had so many years ago to ask whether there really was a Baseball Claus; and then Game 7 of the American League Championship Series set everything right.

The Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Houston Astros and punched their ticket to the World Series. One has to wonder whether the Houston Astros punched a trash can in the dugout in frustration after the loss.

Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, FL. host the Tampa Bay Rays first World Series game in 2008. The Rays second trip to the World Series will not include a trip to the Trop thanks to COVID-19.
Photo R. Anderson

I know I have been hard on the Astros this year. Upon further reflection I know what they could have done to have tempered the rage I directed at them.

Had the players acted more contrite and shown genuine remorse for their actions in 2017 I would have been more likely to forgive sooner rather then later. Don’t get me wrong, I would have still been angry, but I likely would have been less angry.

Instead, the players tried to play the role of victim and seemed in many cases to be more concerned about the fallout in terms of their brand then in the fallout of breaking the hearts of little Virginias that rooted for them. I saw no genuine remorse or acknowledgment that what they did was wrong. Instead, I saw players who were merely inconvenienced that they got caught.

As stated many times, the Houston Astros were the biggest winners in 2020 since they never had to face fans in the stands during the regular season. The few interactions with fans in Spring Training games before the world shut down showed the type of visceral anger they would have encountered all season long

Of course, in talking with some Astros fans over the course of the last nine months, some of them don’t seem to really care that the Astros cheated, and just wanted the Astros to win no matter what.

The divide among baseball fans in Houston is indicative of the divide within the United States as a whole on many issues like, climate change, COVID-19, the designated hitter, fans in stands, mask wearing, blue states, red states, etc.

If the divide within the United States was a canyon, right now it would be so far across that even Evel Knievel couldn’t jump it with a souped up rocket bike.

The Astros are done for the year and the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers are set to battle it out for World Series immortality. The two teams with the best records all season long are going head to head as it should be.
Photo R. Anderson

Yes, all of you fans of baseball played without the aid of cameras and trash cans there is indeed a Baseball Claus even in this topsy turvy upside down pandemic ravaged year of 2020.

The Astros are done for the year and the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Dodgers are set to battle it out for World Series immortality. The two teams with the best records all season long are going head to head as it should be. Maybe Hallmark was right to start their holiday movie madness in October, since I certainly received a gift of an awesome World Series match up under my Hallowgivingmas tree.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to fill out my Hallmark holiday movie bracket. I think the grand prize this year is a trip to Kansas City to see where the one sentence at a time greeting card magic happens. If I am lucky, I might even get to see a holiday movie written and filmed over the course of an afternoon. I hope it has a gazebo scene.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Rays and Astros Set to Battle for the American League Pennant

“So, Lord Helmet, at last we meet again for the first time for the last time.”

For reasons that only Mel Brooks knows, the above quote from the 1987 movie Spaceballs came to my mind when it became clear that the Tampa Bay Rays and the Houston Astros would once again cross schwartzs, I mean paths, in the Major League Baseball (MLB) postseason.

Last year, the Rays lost to the Astros in the American League Division Series (ALDS). The Astros went on to the World Series where they were defeated by the Washington Nationals. This year, the teams face off in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) with the winner earning a pennant as well as a golden ticket to the 2020 World Series to face either the Atlanta Braves or Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Tampa Bay Rays and Houston Astros are set to face off in the American League Championship Series. The winner will advance to the World Series.
Photo R. Anderson

In any other year, I would be torn between rooting for the Rays, or rooting for the Astros. In 2020, I am rooting for the Rays all the way. Additionally, I hope that the Rays sweep the Astros en route to their second World Series appearance in franchise history.

The Rays finished with the second-best record in baseball behind the Dodgers and have roster depth that most teams can only dream of. The Astros finished the regular season with a losing record and feelings of disdain from 29-other teams.

As noted before, the Astros truly were the luckiest team in baseball in 2020 by not having to face fans in opposing Ballparks after it was revealed in January that the Astros cheated for much of the 2017 season.

The year 2020 has taken so much and given so little. Were 2020 to give us a season ending with the Houston Astros in the World Series, after it began with the Astros getting caught cheating, that would truly be a bridge too far.

Of course, I say that in jest since comparing the horrors of the Astros hoisting a World Series trophy after getting caught cheating to the horrors of COVID-19 is truly no comparison.

Although the Tampa Bay Rays are four wins away from appearing in their second World Series Tropicana Field will not host any of the games.
Photo R. Anderson

The global COVID-19 pandemic has truly been the story of 2020, as has the inability of the federal government to devise a coordinated way to stop a disease that has killed over 214,000 Americans in a little over eight months. But there will be time enough for counting the failures of COVID-19 response when the pandemic’s done.

For now, it is time to look ahead to the prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays carrying the baton for the Sunshine State while acknowledging that as much as I am thrilled at the prospect of the Rays being eight wins away from winning the World Series, I still remain convinced that the risks of playing baseball in the middle of a global health crisis well outweighed the benefits of getting to see live baseball in empty Ballparks.

Despite my reservations about having a season, MLB is a mere two weeks away from pulling off what many, including me, thought was impossible. So, whether they were just lucky, or if they were in fact good at mitigating COVID-19, I tip my Rays ball cap at MLB for doing what I certainly did not think they could do.

MLB overcame players testing positive and whole teams getting put in timeout for a week in their 60-game sprint to the postseason. They even expanded the number of postseason teams to 16 which allowed a Houston Astros team with a losing regular season record to now be eight wins away from a World Series title.

I would love to see the Rays return to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and finally be able to hang a World Series Championship banner along the catwalks of Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

Some of the COVID-19 season changes, like expanded playoffs, and the universal designated hitter, may even become permanent fixture to baseball as MLB continues to try to tweak the game to appeal to a younger, fickler, shorter attention span, artisanal audience.

While MLB ultimately overcame their early season trials and tribulations, the National Football League (NFL) is facing the same challenges that MLB faced early in their season. Players are catching COVID-19, and games are being postponed. There is even talk that the pause button may need to be pressed on the entire NFL season to allow time to get a handle on outbreaks.

Like MLB before them, the NFL thumbed their noses at the idea of bubbles and decided to let teams travel from stadium to stadium. While MLB kept fans out of their Ballparks for the regular season, the NFL is allowing some fans to watch the games in person.

It should be noted that MLB announced plans to allow fans to watch the World Series in person in an attempt to act like there is not a global public health crisis sweeping the nation. Allowing fans in the stands offers the same containment efficiency that one might have when trying to comb the desert, or rake a national forest.

If sports must be played, there is no reason why they cannot be played in empty Ballparks and stadiums. Even if years without a global pandemic attendance at sporting events was already declining as more and more people chose rooting at home to battling traffic and crowds just to have the in-person experience at the game.

Sports will certainly be changed from this experience in the coming years. What the new experience looks like remains to be seen. For now, there is baseball to watch as the 2020 MLB season draws near the end and the Tampa Bay Rays strive to join the Tampa Bay Lightning in bringing a 2020 title to the Tampa Bay region.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to decide which order I want to wear my Rays shirts in next week. Rays Up!

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Baseball Movies Spark Long Gone Memories and Show What Can be Right in the World

I like baseball.

I like movies.

I like movies about baseball.

Anyone who has read my writing through the years, or has spoken with me in person, will also know that in addition to liking movies about baseball, I enjoy quoting baseball movies. Classmates during my M.S. in Sports Management Program were often subjected to quotes from Bull Durham and Field of Dreams as I tried to make a compelling argument about whatever the issue of the day was in school that particular week.

In the same way, in my column writing over the past three decades I have often found occasion to drop a quote or reference from one of my favorite baseball movies to make a certain point of emphasis. I definitely do not lollygag when it comes to finding ways to drop in a Bull Durham reference.

Over the past three decades I have often found occasion to drop a quote or reference from one of my favorite baseball movies to make a certain point of emphasis. I definitely do not lollygag when it comes to finding ways to drop in a Bull Durham reference.

In addition to quoting baseball movies, for years I have compiled a list of what I feel are the Top 10 Baseball movies and count them down leading up to opening day.

With the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, and the year in general not being like anything that we have seen before thanks to a global COVID-19 pandemic, coin shortages, murder hornets, and sports in bubbles, among other things, it seems only fitting that I would discover a new baseball movie 33 years after it first came out. That movie is Long Gone.

Long Gone, is a 1987 made-for-TV film, based on a 1979 book about a minor league ball club in the Florida panhandle. The film is set in 1957 and aired on HBO. The cast includes William Petersen, Dermot Mulroney, Virginia Madsen, and Teller of Penn and Teller fame.

The movie tells the story of the Tampico Stogies, a team competing in the Alabama-Florida League, battling the odds, and segregation, in an effort to be better than they deserve. The movie also shows players as human beings dealing with real-world problems instead of as larger than life saints incapable of human follies and desires.

If the story of a rag tag bunch of Minor League ballplayers in the south sounds familiar, it should. A little over a year after Long Gone debuted on HBO, 13 months to be exact, a little film called Bull Durham hit the cinematic landscape; and the rest as they say was history.

The late eighties and early nineties are referred to by some as the golden age of the baseball movie based on the number of baseball movies to debut during that time. In fact, four of the Top 10 movies on my yearly countdown were filmed from 1988 to 1989. Those movies were, Bull Durham (1988), Eight Men Out (1988), Major League (1989) and Field of Dreams (1989). By coming out in 1987 it can be argued that Long Gone kicked off the end of the decade baseball movie trend in the late eighties.

Since the movie was filmed as a made for TV movie during a time before streaming services and DVD releases, finding it on DVD or Netflix can be difficult. Thankfully, I found the movie on You Tube and watched it the other day.

While watching the movie, part of me thought I had seen it before as certain scenes were familiar. Other parts of me thought that I had not seen the movie and was mistaking it for something else.

Regardless of whether I had or had not seen the movie before, the fact remains that it is a delightful time capsule of a forgotten era of Minor League Baseball and shows a side of baseball that helped the game become America’s Pastime.

Or to quote Walt Whitman about baseball, “It’s our game . . . it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere; it belongs as much to our institutions, fits into them as significantly as our Constitution’s laws.”

The love affair with baseball has certainly soured over the years as other sports have grabbed hold of a sports population with short attention spans who want games that move quickly and entertain them with shiny baubles and artisanal beer at the Ballpark.

While I certainly enjoy my share of shiny objects, I have noted for years that part of baseball’s allure is the fact that it does not have a play clock and anything can happen on any given night. The unpredictability of the game and the desire to remember a past era is probably why I prefer Minor League Baseball (MiLB) over MLB.

The 2020 MiLB season was cancelled due to COVID-19. If the powers that be get their way in 2021 MiLB as it has been known for over a century is likely to be radically altered. Some affiliated clubs will likely be contracted. The very league structure of MiLB itself could fall under the umbrella of MLB and cease being an independently governed league. I will mourn deeply for minor league ball should it just become another arm of the multi tentacled MLB.

Independent league baseball is likely to flourish if major changes are made to affiliated MiLB. Thankfully the Sugar Land Skeeters are close enough for me to go see. So I will still have baseball to watch in person once the games resume next year, or whenever a COVID-19 vaccine allows normal operations of life to resume on a large scale.

Independent league baseball is likely to flourish if major changes are made to affiliated MiLB Ballclubs in 2021. Thankfully the Sugar Land Skeeters and Swatson are close enough for me to go see.
Photo R. Anderson

In the meantime while we await the day where Ballparks will once again come to life with the sounds, tastes, and smells of the game, cinematic baseball movies like Long Gone and Bull Durham show all that baseball can be if people just get out of the way and let the players play. Too much micromanaging of the game to suit the artisanal crowd could impact the game in negative ways that cannot be undone. We are seeing a little of that in some of the changes that have been rolled out the last couple of seasons in MLB.

On a personal note, Long Gone was filmed at historic McKechnie Field, located in Bradenton, Florida which serves as the Spring Training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, as well as the home of a Class A Florida State League team.

I mention this fact because for years my grandmother who lived in Bradenton Beach, FL wanted to take me to see a game at the Ballpark. Sadly, she died before we ever made that goal a reality. However, I am forever thankful to have watched games with her at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL and for the part she played along with my mom and other grandmother in instilling within me a love of the game of baseball.

I still hope to make it to Bradenton one of these days for a game at what is now known as Lecom Park. Although my grandmother, Mom Mom, will not be there in person, I know she will be there in spirit if I do make it to the Ballpark.

Baseball is a sport where memories can be made and promises can be kept. It is a simple game at heart. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. Sometimes it rains, and sometimes you watch a movie that reminds you of your grandmother.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a 2021 trip to Bradenton to plan.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Looking Back at Some Columnists from the Golden Age of Column Writing Who Inspired Me to Always Write from the Heart and Strive to Make a Difference

The other day as I was pondering, “over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,” as Edgar Allan Poe would say, I was reminded of some of the columnists who inspired me to get into the column writing field.

Throughout my career as a journalist I have written from the features desk, the sports desk, the news desk, the opinion desk, and pretty much any other desk that could be found in a newsroom. While I have written stories of all types and interviewed countless people, columns have always held a special place in my heart ever since I wrote my first column for my high school newspaper. From an early age I dreamed of one day becoming a syndicated columnist whose words were read coast to coast.

Growing up in Orlando, FL in the days before the internet, my exposure to columnists mostly came in the form of the Orlando Sentinel. The two columnists I followed the most were Sentinel columnists Larry Guest and Bob Morris.

Thanks to the newspaper arriving at my parents’ house each morning, I was able to read their columns while eating breakfast and getting ready to head to school. Years later, despite the availability of electronic forms of news delivery, my parents still receive a physical newspaper each morning.

Throughout my career as a journalist I have written from the features desk, the sports desk, the news desk, the opinion desk, and pretty much any other desk that could be found in a newsroom. While I have written stories of all types and interviewed countless people, columns have always held a special place in my heart ever since I wrote my first column for my high school newspaper.
Photo R. Anderson

If I trusted my neighbors to not steal my newspaper each morning, I would likely get a physical newspaper delivered to the Gigaplex.

There is just something about the tactile feel of folding a physical newspaper and getting ink transfer on one’s fingers as they read the paper.

Speaking of neighbors, Larry Guest, the long-time Sentinel sports columnist would always end his column of observations with a witticism from his fictional neighbor, Wolfgang. One such entry that I still remember all these years later is, “My neighbor Wolfgang sez he’s in shape. Round is a shape.”

While I do not have a neighbor named Wolfgang, I do have a neighbor named Niko. The other day my neighbor Niko asked, “Why is it that people will spend hundreds of dollars a year on virus protection for their computers, phones, identifies, and other devices, yet they refuse to wear a $10 mask to protect themselves and others from a virus called COVID-19?”

Why indeed, neighbor Niko. Why indeed?

Sports, like most of the rest of the country, are in unfamiliar territory thanks to the COVID-19 virus and the wide path of destruction that has killed over 202,000 Americans.

In the past, sports have served as a distraction to world events when tragedy strikes. In fact, the coliseum in Rome was built in part as a distraction to prevent civil unrest within the empire.

While I agree that sports have served to soothe the nation in previous times of unrest, it seems like the rush to return sports to full stadiums in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is an attempt to return false normalcy while Rome burns and a man tunes up his fiddle.

Many sports columnists are taught in sports school that sports and politics should never intermingle just like the fans of the Cubs and White Sox know to keep to their sides of Chicago. However, it has become clear in the course of human events that keeping sports and politics separate in 2020 results in a fan base equivalent of ostriches with their heads in the sand since there are people who only read the sports news and ignore the other news of the day.

How much news to include with the sports is something I have struggled with this year. I am from that generation of journalists who were told that news and sports needed to be treated with the same level of separation as church and state.

Although that may have been the case in the past, this year in the middle of a global health pandemic, economic uncertainty, and social justice movements, one cannot just say that sports and news are two separate things.

Sports, COVID-19, and all of the other challenges we are facing in 2020 are strands of the same rope. A slew of recent events are trying to separate those strands, but the more one tries to pull on the thread the tighter the knot gets.

I am a journalist first and foremost and I would be doing a disservice if I tried to pretend that college football conferences who had delayed the start of their seasons reversing course and now planning to play is a good thing.

Shortly after announcing that restaurants and bars in Florida would open up to full capacity, and masks ordinances will no longer be enforced, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis showed further disregard for the COVID-19 pandemic by stating that it was his desire that the Super Bowl in February be held in a full Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. Sports writers have a duty to call out the foolishness of that statement in terms of public health instead of cheering the announcement as a return to sports as normal. Photo R. Anderson

I would also be remiss if I did not point out that opening all of the bars and restaurants in Florida to 100 percent capacity in the middle of a global pandemic is also an ill-advised idea.

Speaking of Florida, the tone-deaf remark the governor of Florida made about wanting a completely full Super Bowl in Tampa, FL is downright criminal.

Additionally, Major League Baseball appears to want to have fans in the stands when the World Series is played in Arlington, TX. Fans in the stands for the World Series basically cancels out any benefits the MLB gained by using neutral sites for playoff games.

To be clear, none of those things are good, and they all have the potential to make a bad situation even worse.

The COVID-19 virus thrives in large gatherings. As someone who was fortunate enough to cover a Super Bowl in person, I can attest that the Super Bowl is a week-long large gathering that would be the perfect storm for spreading COVID-19.

And a World Series with fans? Come on MLB you are better than that. Try to set an example of responsibility for once during your 2020 fly by night and make it up as you go 2020 season.

Going back to the question asked by my neighbor Niko, masks work. In fact, masks are one of the biggest defenses against the spread of COVID-19. Yet there are still people who refuse to wear masks because they think it infringes on their freedom.

As I have noted before, being dead because someone didn’t wear a mask infringes on freedom.

All of this is common sense, yet looking at some sports stories online some of the columnists are merely complaining about how much they miss full stadiums and how much the fans need to return. These same columnists also are cheering the aforementioned decisions of those college conferences deciding to play football despite no real improvement in the overall virus numbers that led to the postponement of fall sports to begin with. In fact, one could argue the situation is worse as many college campuses are having COVID-19 outbreaks which has led to the cancellation of many college football games.

Worse still, there are politicians who instead of trying to develop a national strategy for battling COVID-19 are doing victory laps for convincing sports leagues to return to action in an attempt to unfurl a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

No mission is accomplished. We are still very much in the thick of it. As bad as 2020 has been, unless people start taking things more seriously, 2021 will be just as bad. COVID-19 will not just magically disappear like a miracle when the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Besides Guest and Morris, other journalists that helped shape my columnist world view, were Bob Verdi, Red Barber, Red Smith, and Dave Barry. While I had the opportunity to read Verdi and Barry while they were still writing, my exposure to Smith and Barber came through books of their collected works and on the radio.

The columnists I grew up reading are mostly retired now. Since they are not actively writing, I have to wonder how they would handle the current conflict of conscience within the world of sports writing. Would they tackle the issues of 2020 with the tenacity of a hard-hitting news reporter, or would they jump on the bandwagon of let them play and fill the stands consequences be damned?

I want to believe that they would shout from the rooftops that there are more important things in life than sports and that sports will return when the virus is under control. Since they are not here to answer that question, I will answer in my own way and say, there is a time and place for full arenas and stadiums. The middle of a global COIVD-19 pandemic is not that time and place.

I miss injecting humor into my writing, but COVID-19 is no laughing matter. It cannot be ignored no matter how much people try to sweep it under the rug, or drown it out with crowd noise piped into empty Ballparks.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my neighbor Niko needs some help installing virus software to stop all of those trolls on the other side of the world from trying to hack into his computer.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Remembering Milo Hamilton Five Years After His Death

Thursday, September 17th marks the fifth anniversary of the passing of Hall of Fame Broadcaster Milo Hamilton, the long-time radio announcer for the Houston Astros.

While I no longer support the Houston Astros, I have fond memories of the years I spent listening to Milo Hamilton back when I did root root root for the Astros. Whether it was listening to games from home, or listening to the last innings of a game while driving home from the Ballpark, Milo Hamilton was as much a part of my Houston Astros traditions, as buying cotton candy from my favorite Ballpark vendor.

It is fair to say that I am not the only one who felt that the world of baseball grew a little dimmer with the passing of Milo Hamilton. His calls of “Holy Toledo” echoed from a record 59 Major League Baseball Ballparks during a nearly six-decade career.

Although he is gone, Milo Hamilton, shown in bobblehead form will live on in the memories of generations of fans and in the archives of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Photo R. Anderson

As one of the last of the golden era of announcers, Milo Hamilton worked for the St. Louis Browns (1953), St. Louis Cardinals (1954), Chicago Cubs (1956-57, 1980-84), Chicago White Sox (1962-65), Atlanta Braves (1966-75), Pittsburgh Pirates (1976-79) and the Houston Astros (1985-2012).

Milo’s 60 years broadcasting Major League Baseball games is second only to Los Angeles Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully who finished his career with 67 years in the booth.

Although retiring from full time broadcast work in 2012, Milo remained a special ambassador for the Astros and made several on field appearances up until June of 2015.

While Milo’s career encompassed half of the 20th Century, and 12 years of the 21st Century, I did not discover him until 2000 when I moved to Houston, and listened to him regularly until his last broadcast in 2012.

Those 12 seasons of listening to Milo helped me feel a connection to a forgotten era of broadcasting. Milo had a relaxed style that captured the action on the field with a conversational ease that few broadcasters can get right.

One of Milo Hamilton’s final appearances at Minute Maid Park occurred om April 18, 2015 when he honored the 50th Anniversary of the Astros partnering with NASA.
Photo R. Anderson

Although I read many books on Red Barber, Vin Scully and other great baseball broadcasters of the Golden Age, until listening to Milo, I never had the opportunity to hear one of them live.

Milo Hamilton was the first of the old-school broadcasters I heard call a game live, but he was not the only one. I had the chance to listen to Vin Scully call a few games before he retired. During a trip to Dodgers stadium in Vin Scully’s final year before he retired I even caught a glimpse of him in the press box. There will likely never be a pair of announcers like Milo Hamilton and Vin Scully again.

With his Blue Star light shining brightly from the press box whenever a player did something spectacular, Milo was Houston’s version of Vin Scully. Like Scully, Milo was an announcer who had seen decades of changes within the game of baseball from behind his microphone and had entertained generation upon generation of fans.

Although Milo Hamilton was known by generations of fans in Houston, one of his most famous calls took place in Atlanta. That memorable moment, which is forever housed in the Baseball Hall of Fame archives, is the radio call of Henry “Hank” Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run in 1974.

The call by Milo Hamilton of Hank Aaron’s home run goes as such, “Here’s the pitch by Downing. Swinging. There’s a drive into left-center field. That ball is going to be … out of here! It’s gone! It’s 715! There’s a new home run champion of all-time! And it’s Henry Aaron!”

Milo Hamilton signs an autograph during the 2014 Astros Fan Fest.
Photo R. Anderson

Ironically Milo Hamilton was behind the microphone capturing history in Houston when Barry Bonds tied Hank Aaron’s record in 2001.

As noted before, that record tying night by Barry Bonds also marked my first trip to see an Astros game in person. Although the night later became tainted by the drama surrounding Bonds’ alleged steroid use, it was definitely a fun way to visit a new Ballpark.

Other memorable calls made by Milo Hamilton include calling 11 no hitters as well as being on the call for Nolan Ryan’s 4,000th strike out in 1985.

Milo Hamilton was also there to cover the first trip the Houston Astros made to the World Series in 2005. When the Astros won the World Series in 2017, I thought of how much Milo Hamilton would have loved to have experienced that.

Later, when the Astros were busted for cheating during the 2017 season, I once again thought of Milo Hamilton and wondered how he would have addressed both the cheating, and the upside down 2020 MLB season.

With so many changes to how the game is being played in 2020, it would be interesting to have had the opportunity to hear Milo Hamilton’s take on things like fan free Ballparks, the universal DH, playoffs in a bubble, and pretty much everything else that has made 2020 a season like no other.

While Milo Hamilton was not around to see the Astros defeat Vin Scully’s Dodgers in 2017, one has to wonder whether he had a view with his trusty blue star from a heavenly sky box.

It is inevitable that the game of baseball continues to move on. As such, it is important to take time to remember those shoulders that the game is built upon.

Old baseball announcers are a lot like World War II veterans. There aren’t too many of them left, and we owe them all a debt of gratitude for the ways that they made our lives better through hard work and sacrifice.

If only that spirit of sacrifice and determination was more wide spread today. If it were, we would likely have a better handle on COVID-19 and all of the other issues that are plaguing us in 2020. We might even be worthy of a blue star shining brightly from a press box if we had had a clear national strategy, or coordinated response, to a virus that has killed nearly 200,000 Americans with no sign of stopping.

Earlier this year, I said that COVID-19 was spreading coast to coast like a wildfire. Now, we have real wildfires plaguing the western United States, hurricanes plaguing the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as well as COVID-19 to form a terrible triple play of death and destruction.

The year 2020 has definitely been a handful to deal with, but reflecting on the fond memories of listening to Milo Hamilton provides some brief distraction from our infected, flammable dumpster fire of a year.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel like rereading Milo Hamilton’s autobiography and remembering a simpler time when the Houston Astros weren’t considered cheaters, and food poisoning was the only thing I had to worry about catching when eating inside a restaurant.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

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

Tanking Goes Mainstream as More Teams Ask Fans to Pay for Subpar Product now in Order to Reap Benefits Later

It has been said that it is not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game that counts. For most people, this means playing as hard as possible, and knowing that win or lose, the best effort was given.

For other people, playing the game involves tanking in the present to improve the future. While there is no one way to tank, some tanking techniques include resting top-level players, building a roster of journeymen players, or encouraging players to leave a little in the tank and not go all out on every play.

By tanking, teams lower their season win/loss records, which leads to higher draft picks. Since most sports leagues give higher draft picks to teams with the worst records, the harder one tanks, the higher they draft. Tank multiple seasons in a row and a team can quickly build a roster of future All-Stars.

Of course, if multiple teams are trying to tank within the same season, than teams can find themselves not in a pennant race to be the best, but in a competition to be the worst. In 2019, four Major League Baseball teams finished with over 100 losses as part of their “rebuilding” process.

Tanking not a new to sports. What is new, is the openness some teams now have to telling their fans, and anyone else who is listening, that they are in “rebuilding mode.” The length of rebuilding varies by market and sport, but the usual length of a rebuild is about three to five years.

That is three to five seasons where fans are asked to accept a subpar product in order to potentially gain an advantage at the end of the rebuilding process. There is no guarantee that tanking will lead to success, but enough teams have succeeded at it that it remains a tool for some franchises to utilize in order to shortcut success.

The Houston Astros are considered one of the forefathers of tanking. The Astros used a tanking philosophy of accepting multiple 100 plus loss seasons from 2011-2013 as a means to secure draft picks. For their efforts of tanking to rebuild the farm system, the Astros won the World Series in 2017. That victory became tainted when the team was caught cheating through an investigation by the MLB Commissioner’s office. So, the actual benefits of tanking their way to a title could be equally owed to a well-placed trash can and video camera.

Proponents of tanking say that a few bad seasons are worth it if they can secure enough prospects to have five good seasons where they can make a World Series run.

The Houston Astros are considered one of the forefathers of tanking. The Astros used a tanking philosophy of accepting multiple 100 plus loss seasons from 2011-2013 as a means to secure draft picks. As one can imagine there were a lot of empty seats in Minute Maid Park during those losing seasons.
Photo R. Anderson

From an ethical perspective, no matter how you slice it tanking is wrong. People will try to justify tanking, but at the end of the day, there is no way one can say tanking is good for the sport.

Tanking cheats the fans of getting to see a competitive game, and it forces players to decide if they want to go along with the plan knowing that many of them will be replaced by the higher draft picks that their tanking efforts generate.

Teams who tank claim that it is the only way they can be competitive with the bigger market teams since they cannot outspend teams to build a roster of All-Star free agents each season.

It is certainly true that there will always be teams with higher payrolls and bigger stars. However, the Tampa Bay Rays, and others, have shown that by drafting smarter and working within their means, they can be competitive year after year without having to resort to “blowing up the roster” and starting over.

When fans buy a ticket to see a game, they are supporting the players on the field on that day. They are not spending money to watch people not play hard so that two to three years down the road a team can be a success.

There is a difference between resting a star player on a particular day, versus a season free of star players or teams trying hard not to win. Players deserve to take a day off here and there. Players should not take whole seasons off in terms of giving maximum effort.

In all sports, there is only one champion in any given year. Teams need to know that not everyone will get a championship ring, but everyone can act like a champion on the field through playing fair and hard.

The practice of tanking needs to be curtailed to preserve the sanctity of sport. Teams that are caught tanking should have their draft picks either taken away, or moved to later in the first round to avoid any benefits being derived from tanking. As long as tanking produces results in the form of high draft picks, teams will continue to engage in the unethical practice.

When steroids were discovered to be widespread in Major League Baseball, steps were taken to punish players found to be cheating. The same type of penalty needs to be handed out to organizations caught tanking.

For their efforts, the Astros rebuilding process gave them a core of young talent. In turn that talent devised a cheating scandal involving trash cans and video cameras proving that some teams really will stop at nothing to gain an advantage, whether that be tanking to rebuild, or tipping off pitches to win a World Series.

To me, there is no difference between willingly accepting years of rebuilding to build a better roster, and cheating with trash cans. Both approaches cheat fans out of seeing sports at its finest. For fans of the Houston Astros, they had the misfortune of enduring seasons of rebuilding only to have the legitimacy of the resulting World Series title called into question thanks to player greed.

I supported the Astros during those rebuilding years, and cheered for their roster of underdog ballplayers both in person and on television. I will take that roster of journeymen who were just happy to get to go to the Ballpark and play every day over the roster of cheaters that followed.

I don’t need my teams to win every year in order for me to feel a season is a success. If I did, I would have stopped cheering for the Baltimore Orioles a long time ago.
Photo R. Anderson

I don’t need my teams to win every year in order for me to feel a season is a success. If I did, I would have stopped cheering for the Baltimore Orioles a long time ago.

What I do need are players who try their best and know that it is the game they are playing now that matters and not some magical roster that will be built years down the road.

Sports will never be perfect. They are messy and complicated due to the presence of messy and complicated individuals. However, those messy and complicated individuals need to act ethically and look for advantages within the lines and not try to shortcut the system by working outside the lines.

I have noted many times that the Houston Astros caught a break this season by not having to play in front of fans booing them this season. Just because the fans aren’t there to boo in person does not mean that the Astros get off the hook. What they did was wrong and that shame should follow the players who took part in it for the rest of their lives.

What good is a rebuild if to find success one has to sell their soul? That is a question that more and more teams will have to answer until professional sports leagues put their foot down to punish tanking.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about rebuilding has me in the mood to build a sandwich that would make Dagwood jealous.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Pumpkin Spice Season has Arrived Bringing with it the Taste of Fall to Summer

For as long as I can recall, my favorite season has been Fall. While, thanks to daily heat advisories, it can be hard in this part of Texas to know when Fall arrives, after consulting a calendar I can confirm that Fall is just around the corner.

Why do I love Fall? Let me count the ways. First, there are the changing leaves. Second, fall brings the crisp smell in the air as one curls up with a hot cup of apple cider. Third, pumpkin spiced everything.

While some folks like things that are artisanal like pickles, I like things that are Autumnal like pumpkins.

Fall, or Autumn, as the fancy people call it, really is a tale of all seasons. By starting on September 22, and running to December 21, fall encompasses the summer like heat at the start, as well as the chill of winter at its climax. Of course, in Texas fall usually only has a few non summer like days during the march to winter.

Why do I love Fall? Let me count the ways. First, there are the changing leaves. Second, fall brings the crisp smell in the air as one curls up with a hot cup of apple cider. Third, pumpkin spiced everything. While some folks like things that are artisanal like pickles, I like things that are Autumnal.
Photo R. Anderson

As much as I love fall, having lived in mostly fall free climates for the majority of my life, I have often been forced to only see the leaves change color either on television, or on the rare trip to a fall filled environment.

And while I can still enjoy a warm cup of cider, it is hard to get in that festive fall mood when one is wearing shorts and battling the heat while sipping that cider.

While I am limited in my ability to fully embrace all that fall has to offer in terms of leaves and cider, I am able to embrace the seasonal tradition of pumpkin spice season.

Each year, like Linus in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, I count down the days until I can enjoy pumpkin spice pancakes, pumpkin spice cupcakes, pumpkin pie Blizzards, and pumpkin spice lattes, or PSLs. In fact, the only time I drink lattes is during PSL season. That is how much I love the pumpkin spice season.

Either because seasons are currently all a blur, or because marketing knows no boundaries, most of the pumpkin spice items arrived on September 1 this year. For those keeping track that means the tastes of fall debuted in the summer. At this rate, the tastes of the winter holidays will arrive by October 1 and summer time flavors will roll into town in February.

Can you say 4th of February Barbecue?

Each year, like Linus in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, I count down the days until I can enjoy Pumpkin spiced pancakes, pumpkin spiced cupcakes, and pumpkin spiced lattes, or PSLs. In fact, the only time I drink lattes is during PSL season. That is how much I love the pumpkin spice season.
Photo R. Anderson

Sadly, pumpkin spice season only lasts a few months of the year. As a result of the shortened season, each year I try to extend the smells of the season by stocking up on pumpkin spice scented air fresheners.

Sadly, I have yet to find the sweet balance of buying enough air fresheners in October to last me until they go on sale again when pumpkin spice season returns the following year.

I suppose that were pumpkin spice season to last all year, I might not appreciate it as much. By having a specific season each year, pumpkin spice season manages to come and go without over staying its welcome.

This year, as we grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, the arrival of pumpkin spice season provides a brief reminder of what normal life entails. It also should serve as a reminder that if everyone does their part it can be that way again.

Sports have tried to return this year to give people a sense of normalcy, however, there is nothing normal about the way they are being played.

The NHL and the NBA are playing playoff games in bubbles, and the NFL is set to kick off their version of a season in the midst of a pandemic next week. College Football will also try to fill some Saturdays with gridiron action.

When fall rolls around each year, I am usually one of the first people to declare when asked, that “yes, I am ready for some football.” However, this year I really would have preferred that football stay on the sidelines instead of trying to cobble together a season.

When done right, sports can provide a temporary escape from daily life. However, when down incorrectly, the escape can ring hollow.

Major League Baseball games look and sound like they have in the past, if one keeps their eyes closed. However, once you open your eyes and see that the fans are just cardboard cutouts, and the sounds are being piped in through the speakers, you become aware of the man behind the curtain. As a result, the great and powerful Oz seems just a little less magical.

In a pinch, I can always just sprinkle pumpkin spice flavoring on anything to get me through those pumpkin spice free dog days of summer and spring.
Photo R. Anderson

When baseball first returned this year, I caught a few games and tried to suspend reality and see the games for the pandemic distracting entertainment they were trying to provide.

But, after a few weeks of that, I realized that distraction was the last thing we need since it makes it too easy to buy into the myth that COVID-19 isn’t real, or that it is real and is totally under control.

Baseball is a sport full of statistics. Each year it seems like someone finds a new stat to track that no one had thought of before. Launch angles and exit velocity are now as much a part of the nomenclature of the game of baseball as balls and strikes.

With so many numbers to keep track of, it can be easy to lose track of the numbers that matter. The nearly 200,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 over the past nine months or so are a statistic that each and every one of us should be ashamed of. It should also motivate us to do our part to make sure that number does not continue to rise.

To put COVID-19 into baseball terms consider the following. A baseball manager would not leave a pitcher in the game who was giving up home run after home run and say, “well, it is what it is, and Bob’s really got control of his fastball today.” On the contrary, that manager would see that Bob’s control was not where it needed to be and would bring in a new pitcher to try to salvage a win.

America’s response to COVID-19 is a lot like Bob’s pitches. You know kind of all over the place, and hitting the Bull mascot, as well as anything else in the unfortunate path of one of his fast balls.

Instead of taking steps to correct the issue, our manager in chief is saying that a magical breakthrough will arrive just before the last out in the ninth inning and planning a World Series style parade, when there really is nothing to celebrate.

That would be like a baseball team sizing Championship rings for their players without ever taking the field. Sure, there is a chance that the other 29 teams could forfeit an entire season and allow the team that never took the field to be crowned champion.

I mean anything absurd that would never seem plausible in any other year can certainly happen in this wacky year called 2020. But, counting on winning a championship because the rest of the league forfeited is about as far-fetched as saying things like COVID-19 will just disappear.

Like the arrival of baseball before it, pumpkin spice season’s arrival is trying to allow us to act like we normally do in the fall. There is a temptation to just act like there is nothing to see and just sip that sweet pumpkin spice latte. But that would be the wrong approach to take.

Like the arrival of baseball before it, pumpkin spice season’s arrival is trying to allow us to act like we normally do in the fall. There is a temptation to just act like there is nothing to see and just sip that sweet pumpkin spiced latte like there is nothing to see here. But that would be the wrong approach to take.
Photo R. Anderson

I will still get my PSLs, and eat my pumpkin spice flavored foods just like I have in years past. But this year as I am partaking of the flavors of the season, I will be more aware of the essential workers behind the scenes who create all of those pumpkin flavored masterpieces.

Good Old Charlie Brown’s best friend Linus fell asleep in the pumpkin patch waiting for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. We can not afford to fall asleep in the battle against COVID-19; unless we want to continue to have empty ballparks and restrictions on our movements.

It really is that simple. A little inconvenience now, like wearing a mask, and social distancing, will allow life to return to normal sooner than just ignoring the science and hoping that COVID-19 gets bored and decides to go away on its own. That is something we can all raise a pumpkin spiced latte to.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some flavors of fall to eat in the middle of a late summer heat wave.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

Athletes Protest Racial Injustice as MLB Honors Jackie Robinson

This past weekend Major League Baseball (MLB) celebrated Jackie Robinson’s acts of courage and determination in breaking the color barrier within MLB.

When Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, he ushered in a new era of inclusion for players from all walks of life. Of course, as recent events have shown, there is still a long way to go in ensuring equality for all both on and off of the diamonds of life.

While the delay in the start of the MLB season, due to COVID-19, pushed the celebration from the typical April 15 date, it is fitting that the celebration of Jackie Robinson occurred when it did.

Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in the movie 42, died during the Jackie Robinson celebration weekend, which allowed both men to be honored for the contributions they made towards raising awareness for equality.

When Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, he ushered in a new era of inclusion for players from all walks of life. Of course, as recent events have shown, there is still a long way to go in ensuring equality for all both on and off of the diamonds of life.
Photo R. Anderson

The delayed celebration of Jackie Robinson’s milestone also came during the same weekend that professional basketball, hockey, soccer, and baseball players all protested racial inequality by refusing to play their sports.

For some teams, not playing meant not even going to the ballpark or arena.

For others, not playing meant lining up as if the game were being played, and then putting a jersey on each side of the batter’s box before walking out.

Other teams even put a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on home plate before returning to the clubhouse.

Whether one calls the actions of the teams a protest, a walk out, or a strike, the fact remains that players across the spectrum of sports used their platform to draw attention to disparities they see within the way people of color are treated. The sports have since resumed, but the rolling demonstrations over the course of the last four days wrote a new chapter in athlete activism.

While the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin was the event that ultimately led to the players’ stand, it was far from the event that lit the match.

The year 2020 has been full of examples of racial inequality that have ignited months of protests from coast to coast.

The political, social, and economic conditions within the country stand at a tipping point where it would not take much to send the country towards another civil war of sorts. Throw in a botched response to a deadly virus that has killed over 190,000 Americans with no sign of slowing down, and you have the makings of a very volatile environment.

Chadwick Boseman, who played Jackie Robinson in the movie 42, died during the Jackie Robinson celebration weekend, which allowed both men to be honored for the contributions they made towards raising awareness for equality.
Photo R. Anderson

When used correctly, social media can be a powerful tool to connect people.

When used incorrectly, as is often the case, social media can be a cancer that attacks the body and sews division and hatred at the speed of light.

To be clear, social media did not cause the ideas of hatred and supremacy on the far left and the far right. Those ideas have been around ever since humans first noticed that not everyone looked the same.

But, social media’s ability to let people post anonymously from their parent’s basement, or from a troll farm on the other side of the world, have allowed misinformation to permeate into society and lead to hateful speech and actions running unfiltered like water coming out of a fire hydrant.

People just accept what they read and hear without fact checking. This is creating bunkers of ignorance on both the far left and the far right. The truth lives in the middle, and very few people seem willing to engage each other in constructive conversation on the issues.

With so many unregulated “news” outlets available through social media, some really absurd ideas are gaining traction in the mainstream that would never see the light of day if people would just stop and fact check from time to time.

Functioning societies are built on the ability to have civil disagreements on issues. While people can disagree on issues, working societies know at the end of the day everyone is in this together whether they drink Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Functioning societies also need reputable news outlets speaking truth to power and holding people accountable.

Prior to 1947, there were no minority players on any of the teams in the highest level of professional baseball. It took an owner willing to do what others wouldn’t in Branch Rickey, and a player willing to withstand insults from on the field and in the stands in Jackie Robinson, to pave the way for those that came behind them.

In this hyper politicized climate where everyone is retreating to their point of view either on the left or the right, it is fitting to take time to honor Jackie Robinson’s sacrifice and to ensure that generations who were not alive back in 1947 can learn the story and know that without the sacrifices of people like Jackie Robinson the world would be an entirely different place.

While rosters are certainly more diverse today thanks to the actions of Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, there is still a long way to go to ensure that players from across the ethnic and racial spectrum are provided opportunities to excel in sports.

These efforts include ensuring that all communities have access to quality baseball diamonds, basketball courts, soccer fields, and hockey rinks where people from all walks of life and economic backgrounds have an equal opportunity to learn a sport if they so choose.

In 1997, on the 50th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game, Major League Baseball retired the number 42 on all teams in honor of Jackie Robinson. As part of the number retirement players who were still wearing 42 were grandfathered in and allowed to keep wearing the number for the remainder of their careers.

Following Mariano Rivera’s retirement at the end of the 2013 season, no player will ever again wear the number 42 in a Major League Baseball.

Jackie Robinson set the stage for the players who followed him and in honor of that each year players on all teams wear the number 42 to honor him during games played on Jackie Robinson day.

In 1997, on the 50th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game, Major League Baseball retired the number 42 on all teams in honor of Jackie Robinson. As part of the number retirement players who were still wearing 42 were grandfathered in and allowed to keep wearing the number for the remainder of their careers.
Photo R. Anderson

There are still trails to blaze in a variety of areas, and memorials will continue to be built for those individuals who conquer that new ground.

But each new trail that is blazed is built upon the foundation of those who showed the way through their own courage.

Society is currently in one of those defining chapters that historians will debate for decades.

Additionally, many term papers will describe the year of COVID-19 and civil and economic unrest for years to come. We still have time to decide how those papers end.

Is this the time that we let society careen into tribal warfare where people in pickup trucks with flags and paintball guns roam the streets attacking protestors, and vice versa, or do we use this time to heal wounds and build a better society?

As I have noted before, this year I have been constantly reminded of the Native American story of the two wolves. The current state of society is definitely fitting of that analogy. As a reminder the story of the two wolves goes as such.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

History is a great thing to honor, but the promise of the future can be equally exciting as long as we remember to feed the right wolf, and do not cannibalize our society through continued tribalism.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to watch 42.

Copyright 2020 R Anderson

Hockey in the Summer is a Small Silver Lining in an Upside Down Sports Year

If anything can be said of the 2020 sports landscape, let it be said that 2020 has been a season like no other.

From fan-free stadiums and Ballparks, to playing sports in a bubble, sports fans are truly seeing things they likely never thought they would see. Of course, due to social distancing they are seeing it from a safe distance which most likely means from their couch.

One of the biggest treats I have discovered during this upside-down season is summer bubble hockey.

Normally I would be fully engaged in the Major League Baseball (MLB) season this time of year. However, thanks to COVID-19 taking a sledge hammer to the schedules of the major sports leagues, the National Hockey League (NHL) is fully engaged in the quest to crown a team worthy of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup meaning the “Boys of Winter” are now the “Boys of Summer,” at least for this season.

Washington Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin is seeking his second Stanley Cup Finals victory. Unlike previous years, thanks to COVID-19 The Capitals and the rest of the Stanley Cup eligible teams are playing hockey during the summer while quarantined in either Toronto, or Edmonton.
Photo R. Anderson

To say that I am enjoying summer hockey would be the same type of understatement as saying that I enjoy breathing.

While breathing is a mostly automatic factor that I take for granted, I had no idea how much breath I would get out of four hockey games a day.

With teams safely quarantined in either Toronto, Ontario or Edmonton, Alberta, there are literally back to back to back to back hockey games on almost every day.

That is like a hat trick of hockey plus an overtime period. Or stated in a more Canadian way, it would be like ordering poutine and learning that the chef made too much, and, instead of throwing away the extra he is giving it to you at no extra cost.

The Vancouver Canucks have given their mascot, Fin, something to cheer about; albeit from a social distance and outside of the Edmonton bubble. The Canucks have a two games to one lead over the defending Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues.
Photo R. Anderson

It should be said that I am totally sorry that it took a global pandemic to create summer hockey. COVID-19 is a horrible disease that I am ashamed to say the United States government has not done enough about.

Over 170,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 at the time of this writing. That is unacceptable. Each and every one of us should be holding our elected officials accountable for the way it was mismanaged.

Also, the rush to reopen schools, with zero coordinated effort, is already generating the type of results that anyone paying attention to the way germs spread could have told you would happen.

A week after returning to on campus classes, the University of North Carolina is shutting down in person learning and going back to online instruction due to outbreaks of COVID-19. Of course, UNC was quick to point out that even with students learning remotely have no fear the Tar Heels are still on track to play football in the fall, and travel from city to city with the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).

Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the important things, the bulk of the country has seemed to embrace a “let them eat cake” philosophy. Although instead of cake as the tone-deaf refrain, it is let them play football.

Playing hockey in two arenas where players are quarantined, is a completely different matter than allowing college football teams to go from town to town to bring people enjoyment on the weekend.

MLB has shown that playing outside of a bubble and traveling is a perfect recipe for catching and spreading COVID-19.

Stand up if you had summer Zamboni rides on your 2020 Bingo Card. Thanks to COVID-19 a winter sport is now a summer sport as the NHL seeks to crown a Stanley Cup Champion from inside the bubble.
Photo R. Anderson

Of course, the proponents of playing college football are likely to say that there is way less physical contact in football than there is in baseball. So the ability for the virus to spread won’t be as high, oh wait…

As I have said many times, I love college football. I would love to be watching college football when September rolls around. However, we are not in a position where that would be wise to do.

I also don’t see us magically getting the case count of COVID-19 to a low enough level in the next four weeks where playing college football is a wise thing to do.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said that she wished that the United States had shut down and managed the virus in the same way that Italy did. Perhaps if the task force she is in charge of had made a stronger case for that, people would have listened.

Instead, America did a halfhearted shutdown before opening things wide open in time for Memorial Day. I mean why let a global pandemic get in the way of a three-day weekend, right?

As anyone who pays attention to how trends work could tell you, the levels of COVID-19 went up faster than a high stick in a hockey rink; and all of the gains made during the brief shutdown were lost.

Instead of a unified approach to the virus, some Americans wore masks and socially distanced, while others called the virus a hoax and said wearing a mask infringed on their civil liberties. Seriously?

When did doing what is right for the greater good become a political statement?

It looks like COVID-19 will continue to rage until there is a vaccine since some people cannot bring themselves to wear a mask. As a result, I will continue to enjoy bubble hockey from the safety of the Gigaplex.

I would love to be back out in the world doing the things I did before March of 2020. However, with around 1 in 4 people around here infected with COVID-19, and with so many unknowns about the long-term impacts of the disease, I am choosing to stay safe by limiting the number of things I do outside the Gigaplex. And when I do venture forth, I wear a mask and keep a safe social distance from those around me.

In Texas, very few people seem to be wearing masks. I guess they are still thinking they are immune. Either that, or they enjoy playing an extended game of Russian roulette. After all, I believe one of the conspiracy theories being spread on the misinformation superhighway is that wearing a mask takes away your Second Amendment rights.

That would be so worthy of a face palm, although as part of being COVID-19 aware we are not supposed to touch our faces. So, a virtual face palm will have to do.

The next NHL season is supposed to begin in October. Whether that season begins in two bubbles in Canada pretty much rests on what we do over the next two months to take COVID-19 seriously.

As much as I love bubble hockey in the summer, I really would like to attend sporting events in person again.

I am wearing a mask and doing my part to make that happen. What about you?

Now if you’ll excuse me, my Kraft Dinner is waiting.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson