Colin Kapernick Can You See?

 

Anyone who has ever attended a Baltimore Orioles game knows that we Orioles fans are famous for shouting “O!” during the singing of the National Anthem.

This, of course, can be heard the loudest in our home Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, but many of us have heard it on the road from Miami to LA. One is less likely to hear it any of our AL East rival cities like Boston or New York, but we yell it anyway to many dirty looks.

When it comes to the National Anthem, I tend to be a traditionalist. Protocol and etiquette are important to me. I admit to feeling slightly guilty yelling “O!” during the singing of such a sacred national song when one should technically be standing at attention.

Meanwhile, Colin Kapernick, a football player for the San Francisco 49’ers has decided not to stand at all.

That bothered me. A lot. I said a lot of uprintable words about it. I may have even suggested that he book a one way flight to North Korea and see if he likes it better there.

But then I realized that if I am truly an American, I am obligated to accept the fact that he is exercising his Constitutional right to public protest.

Asked why he refused to stand for the National Anthem he stated to NFL Media: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way….” 

Why, just outside our lovely little brick-lined Oriole Park at Camden Yards is one example of that of which he is speaking. The place where Freddie Gray, an unarmed African-American man died last spring in police custody, sparking rioting and violence in the City of Baltimore. An issue, of course, not exclusive to Baltimore.

If Kapernick’s intention is to bring more light to these issues in the hope of finding solutions, then good.

But I see the National Anthem differently. To me, it represents something much bigger than the issues before us today. It is a fight song. It says that despite the perilous fights before us, despite the bombs bursting in air, we can prevail.

While we are far from perfect, we are still the best deal in the world.

For that reason, I will always stand.

“O!” say, can you see?

Dodger Stadium:A Sacred Space

“I don’t see it. I don’t…There it..there it is turn left turn left turn left right there where it says “Vin Scully Avenue.” VIN SCULLY AVENUE? My heart was pounding. My head was spinning. Two airplanes, two time zones, 2,661.7 miles from Baltimore and finally, we had arrived.

IMG_2388

It sat like a deserted shrine at this time of day, save a few workers conversing in Spanish, quietly tending to the field and painting white stripes on the mound. “Do not step on the grass!” the tour guide implored. For a moment I was tempted to reach down and secretly pick a small handful to keep as a memento, to reassure myself that I was in fact not dreaming, to reap some kind of blessing from its beauty and perfection, but decided not to.

IMG_2382.JPG

Here it was in all of its pristine splendor, silently waiting to be graced by the agile feet of the most elite players of the game. To be surrounded by the throngs of worshippers in the stands.

It was the Fourth of July and who better to tell the Baltimore-based story of the National Anthem than that preacher of baseball, Vin Scully himself:

Yasiel Puig entered the area near the on-deck circle. I watched him closely and intently. He kneeled and made the sign of the cross with a small necklace, hanging his head. I thought of his journey as a Cuban defector just trying to make it to the United States to play baseball; police pulling over his car, a boat that failed to arrive, police raiding his safe house and detaining him for six days, being intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard then taken to Mexico by a murderous drug cartel and being sold to a wealthy Floridian who would receive a percent of his future MLB earnings. He stood and made a large cross in the dirt with his bat. His cleats bearing the American flag made all the more poignant by his story.

Image result for yasiel puig flag cleats

Being so far from home, I was overjoyed by the sight of my personal guru, the sage, the teacher, the all-knowing Zen master:

IMG_2411

And look! – One of our saints! (at least to Baltimore fans!)IMG_2409.JPG

Like religious spaces, our nation’s ballparks provide the sacred spaces we need to transcend and temporarily escape the ugly realities of our world. There are all kinds of people here. Black, white, asian, latino, male, female, young and old. In this holy space we are all the same. Baseball fans.

The only wall we care about is just beyond the outfield.

The Kids Are Watching

 

There was a different energy in the air at the game last night.

“He goes inside on me one more time, I’m going out there I swear to God.” my usually mild-mannered son muttered to the catcher through gritted teeth, completely out of character.

Then came the next batter. He is tall and from a distance appears athletic and imposing, but on closer inspection is tentative, awkward, shy. He was immediately and unintentionally plunked by the poorly located pitch of the unskilled craftsman on the mound.

“Charge the mound!!!” the dugout screamed then started a chant “Mann-y! Manny-y! Mann-y!!!” He tucked his head and quietly went to first base, unsure.

Most of us baseball fans understand why Manny Machado chose to retaliate against Yordano Ventura. In fact, many of us begrudgingly celebrate it.

By now we are way, way, way past looking to professional athletes to serve as role models for our young sons. Perhaps it is good for them to see that the best way to confront a bully is to punch him out.

Or…is it?

Today’s Special Value – Doug Fister

We don’t know what the great baseball minds are doing. We can only imagine the hushed conversations and complex statistical analyses and the fast-flying calls, texts and e-mails. But February is bearing down quickly and there remains a gaping hole in the Orioles starting rotation that personally, I don’t believe can be filled by in-house resources. I feel like I am watching QVC when they say, “there are only three left at today’s special value price so don’t hesitate.” It is time to place the order, and I’d like to suggest righty free-agent pitcher Doug Fister.

At only 31, he’s a seasoned pitcher with good-looking numbers that rival those of the most respected pitchers in the game (source: baseball-reference.com – every baseball stats geek’s favorite web site).  In 3 years with the Mariners he had a 3.81 ERA. In 3 years with the Tigers he had a 3.29 ERA. In 2 years with the Nationals he had a 3.10 ERA, but unfortunately dealt with a forearm tendon strain injury in 2015 causing him to go on the DL in May and June of that year.

Baseball Reference has projected him as having a 3.57 ERA in 2016.

In 2014, he ranked 4th in NL Pitching Leaders in Earned Run Average (2.41) only behind Adam Wainwright, Johnny Cueto and Clayton Kershaw.  Also in 2014, he finished 7th in NL Wins. Not long ago, in 2014, he ranked 8th in voting for the NL Cy Young award.

He earned $11 million with the Nationals last year. Who knows how much money (if any) the Orioles have left to spend, but like many others, I’d suggest that Doug Fister is worth a very serious look. I say grab him..before someone else does.

And Doug, I know that you are a California guy, but you have lived in the DC area for the past two years. Why would you want to give up weather…like this?

WP_20160124_004

Where’s my…mailbox?

Davis Makes The Deal

It is a bit disconcerting. Imagine that you are involved in a relationship with someone. You offer to make a serious commitment. They decline. Then a month later, realizing that no one else is interested in them, they suddenly want you back. I don’t know about you, but at that point, I’d say hit the road, Jack. But alas, this is not about love. This is about baseball.

Having just occurred Saturday, it is now ancient news that Chris Davis and the Baltimore Orioles have agreed to a seven-year, $161 million deal. This, of course, after Davis declined an earlier $150 million offer and left the Orioles and their fans hanging while he and his agent tested the free market. At that time, there was talk that Davis, who led all of MLB in 2015 in home runs, was seeking a contract in the $200 million range. Well, well, well, reality, as they say, bites.

While it was a frustrating waiting game for the Orioles fans and organization, there is ultimately nothing wrong with Chris Davis testing the market to find the highest bidder for his skills.  In fact, I think it is our responsibility to know our worth and seek the maximum compensation for our services. Who are we to ask or judge “how much is enough money” for one person? We did not hit 47 home runs last year. He did and that has value.

Some have called it greedy.  I call it smart (by Davis, not by the Orioles). Davis was not out bilking innocent investors or taking advantage of anyone. The Orioles owners and management must think that he is worth that investment (debatable, but we shall see).

$161 million. Not bad for a guy from Longview, Texas with a baseball bat. Good for you, Crush. We hope that it will also be good for the Orioles.

Net Gain-MLB Needs To Do More To Protect Fan Safety

Like any baseball fan, I love to sit as close to the game as possible (although sometimes I do enjoy a very, very high perch at Oriole Park at Camden Yards – way, way up at a near dizzying height where I can see the outfield shifts and I am close to the waffle fry vendor. “Would you like crab dip on that?” Mais,oui.).

Also like most baseball fans, I get squinty eyed and suspicious every time I hear the words “baseball has to change.” Ohhhhhh, no. Now, wait a minute, here.

After an increasing number of injuries to fans from errant fly balls and bats, Major League Baseball recently conducted an internal review to consider ways to improve fan safety in ballparks.

Recall this one from August:

http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/eye-on-baseball/25277384/fan-struck-by-foul-ball-in-head-taken-out-on-stretcher-in-detroit

Or this one from July (to name only a few):

Scary, indeed. So scary that several players, including the Tigers’ Justin Verlander have called for MLB to make adjustments to improve the safety of fans. The internal review considered the possibilities of implementing additional netting around the field to protect fans from flying balls and/or bats. After the review, MLB made recommendations to each of its thirty ball clubs.

The official release of the recommendations stated:

Clubs are encouraged to implement or maintain netting (or another effective protective screen or barrier of their choosing) that shields from line-drive foul balls all field-level seats that are located between the near ends of both dugouts (i.e., the ends of the dugouts located closest to home plate, inclusive of any adjacent camera wells) and within 70 feet of home plate. The Commissioner’s Office has retained a consultant specializing in stadium architecture and protective netting to assist interested Clubs in implementing this recommendation.

Hmmm. Not exactly commanding language. Pretty non-committal. Teams are “encouraged”, but not required to implement or maintain netting or some other kind of non-specified protective screens or barriers of their choosing.

The release continued with:

“Major League Baseball prides itself on providing fans in our ballparks with unparalleled proximity and access to our players and the game taking place on the field,” commissioner Rob Manfred said. “At the same time, it is important that fans have the option to sit behind protective netting or in other areas of the ballpark where foul balls and bats are less likely to enter. This recommendation attempts to balance the need for an adequate number of seating options with our desire to preserve the interactive pre-game and in-game fan experience that often centers around the dugouts, where fans can catch foul balls, see their favorite players up close and, if they are lucky, catch a tossed ball or other souvenir.

“I am confident that this recommendation will result not only in additional netting at Major League ballparks but also draw additional attention to the need for fans who make the choice not to sit behind netting to be prepared for the possibility of foul balls and bats entering the stands.”

So, MLB “hopes” that teams choose to enhance their netting but places a greater emphasis on encouraging those who choose not to sit behind protective netting to just “be prepared” for the possibility of taking a ball or bat to the skull. Of course they stated that more delicately than I did. They suggest that fans sitting without netting need to be prepared for the possibility of balls or bats “entering the stands.” Why, “entering the stands” sounds positively polite. We all know that that errant fly balls and bats pop, fly and crush into the stands in a split second violently and indiscriminately.

Baseball fans know that feeling of a momentary panicked bewilderment when a ball pops up and we look up, then behind us, into the glaring sun or the evening stadium lights trying desperately to locate that wildly spinning white sphere. We know the crack of a broken bat and that horror when it turns from a smooth, shiny implement of our baseball dreams into a ragged, shredded, deadly spear hurling through the air with an unknown destination. We know that pitchers are throwing with stronger velocity than ever before. We know that hitters are more powerful than ever before. We know that as much as we pretend, we really cannot rely on our own reflexes to get us out of the way or on our Little Leaguers’ glove to save us from potential harm.

MLB needs to do more than just advise fans to “be prepared.”Without being overly dramatic, MLB must better educate fans on the potential risks in watching a live game because many fans simply don’t seem to know. Especially those that spend the game right behind home plate, looking down at their phones like sitting ducks in a shooting range. Or those holding newborns just one row up from the field (nice grab,though..fortunately…).

Or those that are preening around to be seen on camera like our friend Marlins Man. Tiny signs that read “Watch out for flying bats and balls” is not enough.

Of course, there are risks associated with just being alive. There are risks to our safety just driving to the ballpark. There are risks to our health in the trans fats in the popcorn and the sodium in the hot dogs and in that extra beer. In baseball, as in life, we ultimately have no control over what happens and things can pop up and threaten us at any moment. All we can ever do is seek to mitigate those risks, knowing that we did all that we could to protect our safety and the safety of those that we care about. MLB should do the same by conducting a much more in-depth analysis of what areas of the sport’s ballparks present the greatest risks to fan safety and then requiring, not merely “suggesting” that teams improve netting in those areas. MLB  must also better educate fans on the true risks they face in the seats that they select. As the speed of the game has changed, in this case, MLB must also change.

Chris Davis and The Orioles: We Wish You a Merry “Chris”-Mas?

I am just going to say it. I am not a fan of Christmas. I know, I know. I have heard it all before. The shock. The outrage. The “Maria, what is wrong with you everyone loves CHRISTMAS!!!” Finding that there is very little public support for my honest distaste for this holiday, I have learned that it is best to generally keep it to myself (Well, until now). There is no deep seated psychological reason for my not liking Christmas. All of my childhood Christmases were wonderful by every standard, as they are today. Had I not admitted it here, you would never know how much I dislike it. I do all of the decorating and the shopping and the wrapping and the baking. But secretly, I can’t stand the music, I don’t like forced sentimentality and well, there is no baseball. So three strikes against you Christmas and…you’re out.

Beyond the music and the forced merriment, Christmas involves a lot of spending. Now, no one would ever describe me as a miser or any type of fiscal conservative. Its just that if I am going to buy something, I tend to prefer that it be something that I either really want, really need or can really use – and it has to be at a price that I consider reasonable. Not necessarily cheap. Just reasonable enough so that it does not overly strain my resources and limit other options.

It has been reported that the Baltimore Orioles have now offered a contract to free agent slugger Chris Davis in the amount of approximately $150 million for 7 years. Given some of the numbers being tossed around this off season, I think we are all past the sticker shock on the price tag for certain players, so I won’t go into that. With this offer,the Orioles appear to be making a serious attempt to retain Davis (and alas, in this same space I have been complaining about them not opening their wallets). Could he and should he look for more than this $150 million? Maybe – and getting more would not be out of the question at all for the man who lead all of MLB in home runs last season.

But my question is, should the Orioles really be the ones putting up that kind of money to sign him? We all love our “Crush”. What baseball fan doesn’t love that kind of power and those home runs that seem to so effortlessly fly through the dark, hot summer nights in Camden Yards? But man, we could really use some of that Christmas money to grab a solid (lefty!) outfielder and more importantly, beef up that starting rotation.

Using the same logic I use in shopping for Christmas gifts, I think that the Orioles should consider that while Chris Davis is certainly something that the fan base would want  – will he bring enough overall impact on the number of wins to make retaining him worth that type of investment? Is he someone that we really need and can really use without severely limiting our other options?  Is he just the hottest toy on the shelves right now ?

Well,they made the offer and whatever happens, we wish him all the best.

WP_20150614_035

(Here is a picture I took of him in June. Makes you feel a need to get into the gym doesn’t it?)

Tall Caramel Macchiato for – The Iron Man?

I don’t have a picture of the actual incident. Because in this case having a picture would be kind of well, creepy.

Yesterday I was in a local mall Starbucks with my sister and my niece, seeking some sort of sane refuge from the chaotic white tiled mall corridors, further depleting our cash reserves on $8.00 coffee drinks.

MARIE!” the barista called out, dropping the “A” from my name. Its “Marie –UH” I wanted to say, but of course didn’t. All three of us were in a type of mall-induced stupor. Too many signs, too many lights, too many sales, too many escalators to nowhere, with no exit in sight. It was like being in that 1991 Woody Allen movie, “Scenes from a Mall.”

Then, a tall, bald figure appeared inside the darkened store and I was briefly stunned into alertness as if someone had thrown ice water in my face. “Cal Ripken Cal Ripken Cal Ripken Cal Ripken” I said, “Oh my God, there’s Cal Ripken. Yea.RIGHT there.”

Now, Cal Ripken lives very close to me. So, it is not completely out of the realm of possibility that I could ever see him somewhere in public. The man has to go out sometime.

As he and his wife turned to leave the store, my sister said “Let’s go!” and we quickly gathered our bags. Almost out of instinct we started following them. “Don’t people RECOGNIZE HIM?” I said. “Just keep going, he’s almost out of sight.”my sister said. “He’s shy” I said, having met him once at a book signing. “I don’t think he’s the type that likes being recognized in public.” My sister followed him onward.

He and his wife headed in to a clothing store and casually looked at the jeans like any regular couple in any regular mall on any regular Saturday. “Don’t you have a BASEBALL or something?” I said to my sister in all seriousness then realized that most people don’t routinely carry baseballs in their handbag (note to self: I’m going to start). I warned my niece “Your mother is really weird about celebrities. She will walk right up to him, I swear to God. We have to get out of here.” “We will meet you in Williams-Sonoma,” I called to my sister, but she remained at her post outside the store where Cal was, trying to look as casual and non-chalant as possible in the presence of The Iron Man.

As quickly as he appeared, all six foot four of him vanished as he casually slipped out the store’s side door into the parking garage. “Did you GO UP TO HIM?” I said to my sister as she rejoined my niece and I. “Nah. I didn’t want to bother him in public. That’s probably why he didn’t order a drink at Starbucks. He didn’t want the barista to yell out “CAL!” while everyone turned around.” (or, maybe he doesn’t like coffee).

My sister is a talented artist, painter and art professor. She, more than any person I know, absolutely loathes sports. If you asked her who Derek Jeter is, she’d probably say “Derek WHO?” She may not be able to explain a suicide squeeze play or the infield fly rule, but she can talk Renaissance Classicism and Modern Maximalism with the best of them.

“You know I have always loved Cal.” she said, and I knew what she meant.

Cal is bigger than baseball, bigger than sports, bigger than life – and he goes to the mall – just like everyone else.

2016 Orioles – Embrace The Uncertainty

Last October I was bedecked in orange and black,sitting in Camden Yards looking up at a glowing JumboTron screen. It read four of the most beautiful words in the English language: “American League East Champions.” With the 2015 Orioles finishing their season at .500 (81-81) that screen, and the mood around here, is dark.

Well, at least they went out in grand style with Chris Davis smashing two more home runs (he of course, lead the league with 47) and a sweep of the New York Yankees.

The end of the regular season ushers in fall and a time of uncertainty. Will it be 70 degrees or 40 degrees today? Will we have enough guys to fill our fall baseball lineup this weekend ? What are the forecasters predicting for winter this year?

With six key players set to become free agents this offseason it is also an uncertain time for the Orioles. These players include: Chris Davis (1B), Matt Wieters (C), Wei-Yin Chen (LHP), Darren O’Day (RHP), Gerardo Parra (OF), Steve Pearce (IF-OF).

http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/orioles/bal-these-6-key-orioles-could-soon-be-free-agents-20151006-story.html

(Indulge me in my Steve Pearce crush for a moment. 🙂 Thank you.)

Uncertainty is uncomfortable. Our brains are wired to want to “know.” We speculate, we predict, we make plans. We want information. Perhaps this enhances our illusion of control. But deep down we all know the painful truth – that despite all of the speculating and planning we may do -none of us ever have a clue what is going to happen from one minute to the next.

Uncertainty is generally referred to as a bad thing. But wouldn’t a world where we always knew what was coming next be extremely boring?  It would be like re-watching the game you had seen the night before. When you know what’s going to happen – the thrill is gone.

One thing we do know is that Chris Davis will be a hot commodity on the open market. What we don’t know (or, we kind of do, unfortunately) is whether the Orioles will be able to come up with the cash to keep him. But even if they did, we really don’t know if he can repeat his stellar offensive performances again.

Here is an interesting quote from Dennis Lindley:

There are some things that you know to be true, and others that you know to be false; yet, despite this extensive knowledge that you have, there remain many things whose truth or falsity is not known to you. We say that you are uncertain about them. You are uncertain, to varying degrees, about everything in the future; much of the past is hidden from you; and there is a lot of the present about which you do not have full information. Uncertainty is everywhere and you cannot escape from it.Dennis Lindley,Understanding Uncertainty(2006)

So, if we cannot escape uncertainty, our only other option is to embrace it. Next year’s 2016 Orioles will most likely be a very, very different team. Here is hoping that somewhere in the uncertainty, there will be opportunity.

Yankee Stadium-I Didn’t Want To Love It – But I Did

WP_20150718_032

It was one thing in Fenway. As a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, I admit to having a reasonable distaste for our AL East rival Boston Red Sox. But this? This was practically a sacrilege.

It was a sweltering day. We stepped from the Baltimore heat into the chilly confines of an Amtrak train headed north to New York. A small fortune expended, I held in my hand three left field front-row tickets to see the New York Yankees play the Seattle Mariners – our first trip to Yankee Stadium. Three hours and a crowded, sweaty “D” train to the Bronx and there we were. Facing the house of the Evil Empire.

The New York Yankees – oh how we love to hate them, especially here in Baltimore where they have always treated the Orioles like a piece of lint to brush off, or like some poorer, weaker, second-class cousin; flagrantly flaunting their “World Championships”, their big names and the big checkbook it took to get them. When their fans are unwilling to pay their astronomical ticket prices, they travel gleefully to our Camden Yards, practically taking over the ballpark, becoming way too comfortable. They are unwelcome houseguests greeted by the sight of O’s fans unapolgetically sporting “Yankee Hater”  and “A-Roid” t-shirts. They are loud. They are obnoxious.They speak with those accents (Def-initely…Fuggetiboutit…). Worst of all, on their team is that man who wears jersey #13 whose name I refuse to type anywhere in the contents of this blog.

My son rode all the way from Baltimore without wearing his own signature baseball hat and sunglasses making him practically unrecognizable to us. Upon  arrival at Yankee Stadium, he immediately purchased a hat and a (Maryland native) Mark Texiera t-shirt. He put on the Yankee cap and Texiera shirt and looked at me cautiously, probably wondering if this shirt would somehow disappear in the laundry.

I went in with a plan to just enjoy the ballpark itself,  to somehow ignore the team that plays there and to stay as detached as possible. As we started to walk around, I became oddly enchanted by the place. There was a mystical quality to it  – banners and signs and shops displaying the faces of baseball legends who transcend today’s petty rivalries – Berra. DiMaggio. Gehrig. Mantle. Jackson. Jeter. The House That Ruth Built.

“Today’s my birthday”, an elderly African-American woman that we had befriended in the seats next to us said.  “She took me here for my birthday,” she said, gesturing towards her proudly smiling friend.  Everywhere I turned fans were beaming with a light from within at the thrill of just being there. Those Yankees fans that take over Camden Yards were nowhere to be found, and I was surrounded only by respectful, real, reverent baseball fans enjoying their home team.

The game ended with the Yankees losing to the Mariners 4-2 with all of the offense (two 2-run homers) provided by  ex-Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano who had left New York for Seattle (and $240 million) after nine seasons. Fans tossed back both of those home run balls in disgust. “Sell out!” someone yelled. There – now that sounded more like New York.

On the way out, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” and the famed chorus “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere…its up to you…” echoed out through the loudspeakers.  Looking up, we saw the face of The Babe keeping watch over his house. It felt good knowing that he was a Baltimore guy.

WP_20150718_043