Diamond Diaries

Cardinal baseball, from the girls

Monthly Archives: June 2010

Keeping Score With A Rookie

Before I say anything, I have to talk about the last two games. Monday’s game looked more like the D’Backs snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but a win is a win. Last night brought some fireworks with the bats, which is entertaining since there was a lot of moaning and groaning before the game about what looked like a terrible lineup! That’s one of the things I love about baseball – you absolutely never know what will happen until the last pitch is thrown.

So I have a little special something for all of you today – a guest writer! I suppose that’s unfair since she’s not a writer at all. In fact, she is my baby sister, Rachel. The two of us braved the heat on Sunday in Kansas City, and despite the horrible outcome of the game, we had some fun. She only wanted to see three things: a stolen base (she saw three!), a Cardinals win (well…), and she wanted to learn how to keep score.

Keeping score is becoming a lost art form in my mind, so I enjoyed teaching her all the crazy ins and outs of the process. Because of that, she wanted to share a few things she learned. Remember – she’s not a writer, so be nice! 🙂

On Sunday afternoon my sister Angela and I went to game three of the Cardinals/Royals series.  While I have been to many games at Kauffman Stadium, I have never kept score.  My sister therefore decided that we should keep score for Sunday’s game.  I made several mistakes on my scorecard, and because of that I came up with nine things any fan needs to know before keeping score at a baseball game. So here are my nine tips for rookie score keepers:

1.  Pay attention to the starting lineup.  It is definitely not good when you skip over Albert Pujols and your scorecard ends up with scribbles on it before the game even starts.  This also can mess you up later in the game if – like me – you end up with no room to write in another players’ name when there is a change in the lineup.

Inside jokes? Probably,
but it makes me laugh!

2.  When recording the starting lineup, feel free to use nicknames.  I chose to use my sister’s nicknames because I found them highly amusing.  They made my scorecard a lot more interesting and the game a lot more fun. (Check out her lineup on the right!)

3.  Pay attention to the inning numbers.  Several times on my scorecard I recorded a play in the wrong column because I forgot that it was a new inning.   Along with that, when players at the bottom and top of the order are batting, make sure that you record them in the same inning and do not start recording the top of the order in the next inning.

4.  Each player on the field is given a number. This starts with the pitcher, then the catcher, and then it moves around the bases and into the outfield, ending with right field.  This number is used when recording who made the out.  For instance, if the batter flies out to the left fielder, you would record a number 7 for that player’s at bat.

5.  The shortstop’s number is not 5. It is 6.  The order goes first, second, third, and then shortstop.

6.  When recording a strikeout, you use the symbol K. Sometimes you record it backwards instead of forwards.  This happens depending on whether or not the batter swings or strikes out looking.  If the batter strikes out swinging you would use a forward K, then if the batter strikes out looking you would use the backwards K.

7. I learned several shorthands that are used while keeping score.  The first one that I learned was actually in the first play of the game – a hit by pitch. It was marked as HBP.  The next one is one that I had trouble with.  I assumed that a walk would be labeled with a W, but that stands for win.  Instead a walk is marked as BB for base on balls.  Along with that, an intentional walk is labeled as IBB.

8.  Some more shorthands that I learned include FO and FC which stand for force out and fielder’s choice.  I had some trouble recognizing the difference between these two, but I learned that a force out is recorded when a batter makes it on base but then is thrown out trying to advance to the next base.   A fielder’s choice, however, happens when the fielder chooses who they are going to throw out.  If there is already one runner on base they could decide to throw that runner out instead of throwing the ball to first to get the batting runner out. I think.

9.  The final thing a rookie score keeper needs to know is what to do when a pitcher leaves the game.  The most confusing part of the totaling process is the runs and the earned runs.  If a pitcher leaves in the middle of the inning and there are runners on the bases the pitcher can have more runs added to his total even after he has left the game.  If the runners that the exiting pitcher put on base score, then their runs also count towards the first pitcher’s total runs.
A finished product. Nice job rookie!

The third game for the Cards and Diamondbacks battle starts at 1:15PM this afternoon. Here’s to Jeff Suppan finishing off the… you know what. I’m not going to be the one blamed for jinxing it!

How About That Game??

If you missed the bottom of the 9th inning in last night’s Cardinals game, sit back and enjoy the carnival ride!
The Cardinals ended the night celebrating on the field, winning a game that was all but lost.  After Chris Carpenter gave up a homerun to opposing pitcher Dan Haren and Randy Winn blundered in the field sending a fly ball off his glove and over the wall gifting the Diamondbacks another homerun, fans were throwing their hands up in disgust and switching the channel.  However, to the delight of the viewing faithful – and those just too mesmerized by the train wreck, the Cardinals mounted a rally (of sorts).  Two fielding errors combined to gift-wrap a win for the Cardinals with Adam Wainwright crossing the plate with the walk-off scoring run.
I don’t know about you, but the happy dancing in my house was web-gem worthy!  After Sunday’s horrific beating and losing the series to I70 rival Kansas City, Cardinals fans were feeling a little dejected.  (Which reminds me – how about that ejection of Tony La  Russa last night?  Masterful plan, I’d say!)  But last night gave us something to be giddy about. Hopefully Lady Luck is now a Cardinals Fan, and this will be the turning point. 
Bonus Topic for Tuesday:
Yesterday twitter lit up with chatter about the Cardinals’ rumored interested in acquiring pitcher Cliff Lee from the Mariners.  Will the front office trade their 2009 first-round draft pick, pitcher Shelby Miller?  Will they package up some combination of players from Memphis? 
My submission to Baseball Digest this month happens to be all about my irrational sentimentality and nagging anxiety of MLB midseason trades – and the post just went live last night. Check it out here:  “Breaking Up The Band: Trade Season is Tough for Sentimental Fans” 

What do you think?  Will Cliff Lee be a Cardinal?  Is Valium in my future this Hot Stove season?
Have a great Tuesday Cardinals Fans!

A winning first trip to Kauffman Stadium

My trip to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City for Saturday’s Cardinals-Royals game marked Major League ballpark number 15 that I’ve visited. And other than sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field on my 21st birthday, this was the hottest game I’ve ever been to (temperature-wise, of course). Luckily, the Cardinals made sitting in that heat worthwhile.

The Ballpark

Kauffman Stadium has always looked beautiful on television, especially the fountains in the outfield, so I was excited about the game. (Then again, I was seeing the Cardinals. How could I not be excited?) I went to the game with my friends Michael and Tammy, who live in Omaha, so we had a three-hour drive to get to the ballpark. As we came to a complete stop before even reaching the I-70 exit for the ballpark, I discovered one problem with Kauffman: it’s difficult to park there. Once you are able to exit, and temporarily think you’ll be there soon because there’s the ballpark – no. You have to wind around and around, merge into one lane countless times and, finally, eventually, get into a real parking lot. We did get a good view of the tailgating going on (which reminded me of Miller Park in Milwaukee) as we drove toward the lots. Plus we got a great view of Arrowhead Stadium from our parking spot right in front of it.

The employees at Kauffman all seemed very friendly, from the usher who told us our seats were in the sun to start with but would be in the shade soon to the concession stand worker who apologized for having to double-check she’d charged us for the right number of hot dogs. Of course I was wearing a Cardinals shirt, and was in the majority that day wearing red. And the gift shops were ready for the red-clad fans too, with Cardinals merchandise for sale.

The concession prices seemed reasonable and there was a good selection, including Kansas City barbecue. Given that it was so hot, it was great that the concourse was cooled by overhead fans and that there were three gigantic water coolers with paper cups on a table leading toward the seats. There also was a drinking fountain right outside the bathroom, where many people were refilling water bottles.

Speaking of water, the fountains in the outfield at Kauffman have always looked beautiful on television and they are definitely the most picturesque feature of the park. The scoreboard is also very nice, with it crown on top, but almost filled with too much information. It was easy to get sidetracked reading the facts and stats and almost miss an at-bat completely.

Many Major League parks have their tradition of playing certain songs during games – “Sweet Caroline” at Fenway Park, “Beer Barrel Polka” at Miller Park and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” at Camden Yards. At Kauffman, it’s “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks, complete with Garth introducing the song on the big-screen and lyrics so you can sing along. Seems an interesting choice for a song, given the Royals typical finish in the standings.

As Angela mentioned in her post about Friday night’s game, there was a definite sea of red when you looked around the stands and the cheers for the Cardinals on Saturday were tremendous. However, when there was something for the Royals fans to cheer about, they made themselves heard. Well, most of the time. Highlights of the 1985 World Series were shown after each inning – one game per inning. Not being a Cardinals fan in 1985, I wasn’t sure who won each of the earlier Series games (of course I know about the final two games), but it was easy to tell by the music accompanying the highlights. Sad, slow music: Cardinals won. Upbeat music: Royals won. After the sixth inning, I’m not sure what the music was. All I could hear were boos.

The Game Itself

As mentioned, I was with Michael and Tammy for this game. Tammy and I went to quite a few Quad Cities River Bandits games together years ago, back when the team was an Astros and then Twins farm team. So this was, in all likelihood, not the first time we were together watching Aaron Miles play since he was on the Bandits in 1997 and 1998.

Yes, I have to mention Aaron Miles right away. Michael is, to put it mildly, a passionate Cardinals fan. And (as is the case for many of us) he’d prefer to see any of the Baby Birds on the roster to Proven Veterans such as Miles. So, there was Miles – not just playing on Saturday, but the designated hitter. “If that isn’t an argument for abolishing the DH, I don’t know what is,” Michael said after the lineups were read. So, to be obstinate (or maybe it was the heat), Tammy and I cheered like crazy for Miles. He responded in his first at-bat by getting the Cardinals first hit. “He doubled just to piss me off,” Michael responded. He also singled his second time up, scoring on Skip Schumaker’s homer.

Yes, the homers – first the Colby jack in the fourth and then Skippy’s in the fifth. Wonderful to see, great to be part of the roaring crowd and interesting to hear the following from Tammy immediately after Colby hit his: “I just got chills.” Which always happens when it’s 95 degrees, right? But I saw proof, since it happened again after Skip’s homer: she seriously had goosebumps on her arm.

Pitching-wise, Blake Hawksworth had a very impressive five innings. The sixth inning had a couple of pitching changes, as first Trever Miller and then Jason Motte came into the game. It was while Motte was warming up that we noticed Matt Holliday, Colby and Nick Stavinoha meeting in centerfield.

Then we saw David Freese and Brendan Ryan standing together and chatting.

Which meant that Skippy and Albert were together too, right? No. Skip was all alone, and Albert was doing this.

That hands-on-his-hips death stare did the trick: Motte threw one pitch, which resulted in a double play to get out of the inning. When Motte had to leave the game in the seventh, though, it really made us wonder what Albert was doing while glaring at Motte …

All in all, it was a nice 5-3 win for the Cardinals, and especially good to see Ryan Franklin have a one-two-three ninth inning for his 15th save. And Kauffman Stadium is definitely worth the visit. Hopefully, though, the next time I’m there they’ll be done talking about the 1985 World Series. Twenty-five years seems like enough.

Cards At The K

If you’ve never been to a game at the beautiful Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, you truly are missing out. Now, I wrote about the Cardinals’ rivalry with the Royals over at Baseball Digest, so I won’t rehash it, but despite the score, it was really a fun atmosphere down at the K last night. To start – here was the scene around the third inning last night:

Yes, I sit in nosebleeds. I like it, too. Sweet views!

As you can see, there are an awful lot of red shirts in the seats, to the point where the ‘LET’S go CARDinals! *clap*clap*clapclapclap*’ chants  were much better than anything the Royals PA could put together.

Don’t forget (although you want to) – the Royals won. They were just overpowered in the stands. I heard several mentions on my way into the stadium about how cool it was to see the ‘sea of red’ taking over the parking lots. (To be fair, season ticket holders and anyone buying a ticket package park in a different lot.)

I wasn’t going to say anything, but I have to – Royals fans moan about how Cardinal fans need to get over 1985, but if they don’t quit wearing their 25 year old world championship t-shirts pretty soon, the shirts will start showing up at the park sans-owners. That leads perfectly into my list of FANS OF THE GAME!

1st Place: This gentleman (that’s a kind word) was sitting next to my family. The front of his shirt had 2 dead birds hanging off a bat. This is the back:

2nd Place: I’m amazed that I didn’t notice this man until the 7th inning stretch. Maybe it’s because I see him every year. No joke. Then again, when were Beanie Babies last cool – 2001? I also enjoy that he is wearing a KU championship shirt instead of a Royals shirt. Convenient for when the score is reversed, ehh?

3rd Place: Sadly, I don’t have this one (not for lack of trying), but this one goes to the two buddies that were wearing Royal blue Denkinger shirts. Number 85, of course.

Honorable Mention: I feel the need to notice the following good Cardinal folks that made the trek: the Scott Spiezio jersey, the 2 Chris Duncan jerseys (2? In the same section? But not together? Madness!), and the 2 year old in the Rick Ankiel jersey. Friends, wait to buy player jerseys for your kids until they fit into them. Don’t plan ahead, or if you do, go for a franchise player!

All jokes aside, I truly do enjoy going to games in Kansas City. I’ve been to enough games over the years and have enjoyed seats from the 4th row to the 4th deck. I’m telling you – there is not a bad view no matter where you sit. I like sitting way up high because you can take in everything at once, from the shift of the infield to the action in both bullpens. The Royals have done very extensive renovations in their outfield over the past few years. If you haven’t been recently – here’s the view of the outfield area:

The right field area is the place to be in my mind. On hot days the Pepsi Party Porch will give you a nice mist when the fountains are on, and the whole outfield area is now open with different attractions and places to stand and watch the games. I’d venture that about 75% (probably more) of the people wandering around out there during the game actually have seats, but never sit in them. Even compared to games that I attended here 5 years ago, this is a much more fan-friendly atmosphere now.

Friday nights are the best nights, because the Royals do a pretty spectacular fireworks show that you do not want to miss! It’s not quite to the standards of the 4th of July at the Arch, but it is worth seeing, every time!

So for any of you out there that are going to be at either of the next two games, see ya there (I’ll be one of the ones not sitting in a seat), enjoy the stadium, and help me bring home some winners!

A Bit of Pixie Dust…

Matt Holliday turned on the heat last week and has not looked back.  After a chronic dry spell that had Cardinal Nation seeing red, Holliday finally broke free of the evil curse that had stolen his slugging power.
So what happened? What flipped the switch?  Some have speculated that Holliday heats up when the mercury rises.  Sure, Matt may have just started seeing the ball better or fixed a hiccup in his swing, but isn’t the possibility of magic blogger pixie dust a whole lot more fun?
Hang with me here…
A little blog with magic powers? What if that were true? Maybe Albert Pujols came back swinging to prove me wrong when I blogged about him in “Questioning the King,”  When Holliday heard boos at Busch stadium, Diamond Diaries gave him a shout out of support and maybe Matt returned the favor by hitting us 5 homeruns in the next 4 games. Coincidence?  Maybe.
This week a reader suggested we give a little blogging love to some other Cardinals in need of a boost.   And obviously we could never refuse if the boys need our help!

So, in the spirit of fun …
Ready? Set?   Bring on the magic pixie dust and let’s meet the three candidates for this Diamond Diaries luck-changing experiment!
Brendan Ryan (my favorite spinning RedBird)
image from FSMW
Brendan was the first player nominated for this post.  While he certainly could use another boost, we admit that our track record is poor when it comes to pushing Brendan out of a slump The more we talked about his troubles at the beginning of the season, the longer Brendan kept mucking it up. In fact, Brendan didn’t find his groove again until we QUIT talking about him. So, I’m going to ignore him again and hope that is the magic button. (I will not even mention how his lucky ‘stache is growing in nicely or the fact that Brendan disappointed us by ditching his rockin’ high socks again on Wednesday.)  Shhhhh…
Albert Pujols
When “Dark Erika” showed up and blasted Albert back in May, he went on a tear.  So let’s try it again:  Albert has been striking out A LOT more than he should be.  He is swinging at some crazy pitches that last year’s Albert wouldn’t have touched.  Suggestion:  Colby hit a lot better with new contacts.  Maybe Albert needs an eye exam?  Prove us wrong Albert, because we know you aren’t playing like you should!  And those base-running bloopers are embarrassing.  (Whew! That better work because writing it made me cringe!)
Skip Schumaker
photo from stltoday.com
Poor Skippy has had a rough year so far, and was even recently booted from his perch as lead-off hitter.  Luck has not smiled on Skip as his batted balls appear to sail directly into waiting gloves more often than is logical. Like Holliday, Skipperdoodle’s rocky start this year has frustrated the fans – and the grumbles are getting louder.
With little prior blog love for our darling outfielder-turned 2nd baseman, I had trouble predicting a magical blog tone for Skip.  Holliday responded to support, Brendan to silence, and Albert to criticism.  So here I went with a different plan: “praise plus pep talk.”
Praise: Skippy is the reigning prince of ill-advised headfirst slides and spectacular gliding belly flops across the grass reaching for line drives through the gap. He’s a cutie-patootie, writes a darling column for the Cardinals GameDay magazine each month and the boy likes to slide!  Yay Skip! 
Pep talk: Now Skip, we love looking at you, but we also know you can hit that ball. So it’s time to focus, make solid contact (hopefully hitting away from waiting infield gloves) and earn back your leadoff spot! Your bad luck is now over. *sprinkles magic pixie dust*
Have a magical Friday, Cardinals Fans!  =)
And if Brendan, AP and Skip all sparkle just a bit more tonight, we may just do this again for other worthy candidates!
Cardinals vs. Royals (the I70 Rumble) at 7:10 CST

Photo Thursday

Apparently interleague play was exactly what the Cardinals needed! The Cards finish up in Canada tonight at 6:07 PM and then head to Kansas City for a weekend series.

Hope you enjoy this week in photos. Go Cards!

Motte is so awkward, but absolutely awesome!
Scott Rovak – US Presswire
Would you run on this face? We wouldn’t!
Scott Rovak – US Presswire
Flashing the leather? Yes please!
Scott Rovak – US Presswire
So is this a close your eyes and hope the ball shows up type thing?
Jeff Roberson – AP
The boys brought out the boom boom sticks on Tuesday!
Chris Young – The Canadian Press
Pensive Yadi? Yes please!
Scott Rovak – US Presswire
Brendan’s hits have been few and far between again lately – time for a little Brendan luv!
Scott Rovak – US Presswire
‘You can’t catch me, mang!’
Dilip Vishwanat – Getty Images
Jaime’s beard has the official #chickcomment stamp of approval, in case you were wondering. 😉
Chris Young – The Canadian Press
Wednesday’s play of the night!
Chris Young – The Canadian Press

The Bigger They Are…

A question was posed to me last week about large contracts and how players do in the first year after signing them. This was, of course, regarding Matt Holliday’s record-setting Cardinal contract. As Chris noted yesterday, Holliday is heating up, winning the NL Player of the Week award, but I’m too curious to not do this project, so here we go!

People are always noting how well players do when they are coming up on free agency. Most notably in recent Cardinals history one can point to players like Joel Pinero, who played reasonably well and expected a paycheck the Cardinals were unwilling to sign, and Matt Holliday himself, who went absolutely bananas after the trade bringing him to St. Louis and got the contract he and superagent Scott Boras were desiring. But how do these players do after the big payout? Here’s how the top ten largest contracts in baseball history (as listed by Cot’s Baseball Contracts) have looked in the first year after signing…

  1. Alex Rodriguez – Yankees, $275 million, 10 years – A-Rod won his second MVP award as a Yankee in 2007, which, as far as any team dealing with Scott Boras is concerned, feels like the kiss of death in terms of negotiation wiggle room. So in 2008, after getting his shiny new contract, A-Rod’s statistics lowered across the board. Now, don’t get me wrong, batting .302 (down from .314) and having an OPS of .967 (down from 1.065) is still good, but not as good. Verdict: Not great, not bad.
  2. Alex Rodriguez – Rangers, $252 million, 10 years – Did you just throw up a little in your mouth? I did. (I also made the mistake of seeing how much A-Rod makes per PA in 2010. Needless to say, I don’t think I’ve made that much yet in my short life.) So, from 2000 to 2001, A-Rod generated roughly the same, if not slightly better, counting numbers than the year before, although he took 60 more plate attempts from one year to the next. Verdict: Decent.
  3. Derek Jeter – Yankees, $189 million, 10 years – Jeter is sickeningly consistent, across the board, every year. It should come as no surprise that he put up fairly similar counting numbers after his new contract, although the percentages did drop, from .339/.416/.481 in 2000 to .311/.377/.480 in 2001. The steady slugging percentage can be contributed to a jump in home runs in ’01. Verdict: Not bad.
  4. Joe Mauer – Twins, $184 million, 8 years – Joe’s big payday came just this winter, when the Twins locked him up for a contract that made Minnesotan’s blush and the rest of baseball seemingly nod in approval. This contract has also become one of the pieces that people are going to point to when the Cardinals sit down with Albert Pujols after this season. Many stated that whatever happened to one player would dictate what happens to the other, and that wouldn’t surprise me in the least. As for the numbers, Mauer’s contract technically doesn’t kick in until next year, but this year he is having a down year. Then again, it is kind of hard to live up to a .365/.444/.587 line. Verdict: Too soon to call.
  5. Mark Texiera – Yankees, $180 million, 8 years – At first very quick glance, these numbers fooled me, due to spikes in home runs and slugging percentage, which led from Tex being 20th in the MVP balloting in 2008 to 2nd in 2009. Please, someone try to convince me that there is no East coast bias in baseball. Balancing everything out, his numbers from one year to the next were basically a wash. Verdict: Push.
  6. CC Sabathia – Yankees, $161 million, 7 years – I know Brewer fans that still think they should have signed Sabathia after his brilliant half season with Milwaukee in 2008. (Their next conversation is on how they probably won’t be able to sign Prince Fielder after this year…) Honestly, I’m not entirely sure why. CC had far and away his best year when he was playing for his contract. Before and since that year, he hasn’t been as good. To be fair, he is the best pitcher on Cot’s list, but I think he is far from the best pitcher in baseball. Verdict: Not bad.
  7. Manny Ramirez – Red Sox, $160 million, 8 years – Interesting. Manny actually played in his lowest number of games in 2000 with the Indians after being out all of June and half of July with an injury. After making the jump to Boston, Manny had one of his worst years at the plate. His strikeouts jumped by 30 from the year before (and his 147 is still the highest of his career by 25), his BA dropped from .351 to .306, and Boston fans everywhere found out that Manny is absolutely clueless playing left in front of the Green Monster. Verdict: Letdown, but there was a long way to fall.
  8. Miguel Cabrera – Tigers, $152.3 million, 8 years – Cabrera actually did not have a career year in 2007 before his big contract year. No, really, he didn’t. By my account, he wasn’t even the best player on his team, Hanley Ramirez was. The year before this was his best year, then his contract year was lower, and then the year after signing his contract things dropped even more. That is, everything but his home runs and runs batted in (I have to say it – chicks dig the long ball?). Verdict: I want more than home runs, thanks.
  9. Todd Helton – Rockies, $141.5 million, 9 years – This one was somewhat predictable if you know what kind of player Helton has been over the years. 2000-2004 were his best five years in the majors to date, and 2002 was his contract year. Would you believe that this was his worst of the 5 years? When I say worst – he hit .329/.429/.577. Nice. The Rockies knew what they had, and rewarded Helton in kind. He responded and had a .358/.438/.630 year in the first year after his contract was signed. Verdict: Solid player that didn’t let up.
  10. Johan Santana – Mets, $137.5 million, 6 years – If you are only looking at the 2007 and 2008 years – the years before/after signing his big contract – it would look like Santana had a bump in his stats after moving to the Big Apple. In all actuality Santana was moving more towards what he had been doing for most of his career, as 2007 was the worst year he’d had since 2003. Verdict: Solid.
There’s your top ten, and no, Matt Holliday did not make the list. (His $120 million paycheck checks in at a tie for number sixteen with Jason Giambi.) What should we expect of Mr. Holliday this year? Of the ten players listed, I really only feel like three of them performed better than they did in the year before their contracts. Call it whatever you want – for some it’s moving to a new city, for some they might let up now that their meal ticket has been punched, and for some they feel like they have to live up to the hype that comes with big money (Barry Zito is on line one). The fact is that most of these players did – if anything – see a drop in their production the year after cashing in.
Scott Rovak – US PRESSWIRE

Now, I’m well aware that it’s been said ad nausem that Holliday heats up with the weather. With the last week or so it certainly seems that this is the case this year as well. 5 home runs in 4 games is impressive, but he’s 11 for his last 17 and has 10 RBI as well. Obviously, that torrid pace is not going to hold up for long, but it is a very encouraging sign for many fans who were really scratching their heads wondering where the guy we watched for the last few months of last year had gone.

To me, the beautiful thing about baseball is that it is impossible to predict. The Pirates don’t lose every game and Stephen Strasburg is going to have a bad day eventually. We don’t know what Matt Holliday will do this year, but I’m hoping it looks a lot more like his former teammate Todd Helton and not at all like Manny. My mom doesn’t like how Manny looks anyway.

The Cardinals Big Three

Yes, it’s only two of them.
Photo: Dave Einsel, USA TODAY

Inter-league play continues tonight, with the Cardinals taking on the Blue Jays north of the border in Toronto. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Chris Carpenter, as he again visits the city and stadium where he spent the first six seasons of his Major League career. (Anyone else remember what happened last time he pitched in Toronto?) In addition to Carp pitching on Wednesday, the other two of the Cards’ “Big Three” are pitching this series as well: Jaime Garcia tonight and Adam Wainwright on Thursday.

Coincidentally, the Big Three also are the subject of my article today at Baseball Digest. Check it out here.

In non-pitching news, congratulations to Matt Holliday for being named National League Player of the Week! He definitely heated up over the weekend, so it’s good we weren’t the only ones who noticed.

Counting Baseball Blessings

With the Cardinals’ recent winning ways, being a thankful Cardinals fan is a whole lot easier. Focusing on the positive, here are the Cardinals components that are making me smile:

photo from stltoday.com
Cardinals pitching has been nothing short of spectacular. Adam Wainwright continues to build on his personal record of 22 consecutive quality starts at Busch Stadium, grabbing his 10th win of the season (plus he’s holding a 2.23 ERA.) Our rookie starting pitcher, lefty Jaime Garcia has the National League’s 2nd best ERA at 1.59. Chris Carpenter’s record is 8-1 so far with a 2.83 ERA. Fans have a lot to celebrate there!
Even with two injured starting pitchers currently out of the mix (Brad Penny returning soon and Kyle Lohse likely out for most of the season after surgery,) the Cardinal hurlers have kept the team at the top of the National League Central division, now 1.5 games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds. Plus the Cardinals’ recent move, picking up Brewer cast-off (and former Cardinal) Jeff Suppan to deepen the pitching rotation, has gone better than expected with Suppan turning in 4 and then 4 2/3 innings in his two appearances so far, giving up 3 earned runs (2 HR).
Dilip Vishwanat /Getty images
The bullpen, an often thankless job, deserves recognition as well – especially with the club’s haunting lack of run support for its starting pitchers over the past month.
Jason Motte, the sometimes ‘Crazy Man’ on the mound with a radar-loving fastball continues to dominate opposing batters. This guy is entertaining, at times yelling manically into his cap or glove and pacing frenetically across the mound between pitches. He also happens to be ON FIRE, nailing his location and throwing heat. Making Motte even more lovable is his alter-personality: laid back, friendly and playful during pregame warm-ups, sometimes calm and controlled in the heat of the action. Not knowing which Motte we will see step onto the bump certainly adds intrigue to the late-inning drama.
photo by Robert Cohen – P/D
Ryan Franklin has quieted the early-season skeptics who were questioning his fortitude as closer after Ryan struggled down the stretch in late 2009. Franklin has since deservedly regained the trust of Cardinal nation. Joe Strauss’ article from yesterday (Cardinals closer is closer to the end) highlighted the fascinating personality of Ryan Franklin, an uncomplicated, unpretentious guy from Oklahoma, and shared these statistics on Franklin’s 2010 season as it stands right now:
Entering the weekend, Franklin ranked 12th among NL relievers with at least 20 appearances in ERA (1.86) and eighth in baserunners per inning (0.86) while maintaining the best conversion rate (12 of 13) among closers with at least four saves. Of the league’s 12 closers with at least 12 saves, Franklin maintains the lowest strikeout rate; however, he had walked only three in 29 innings, a ratio second only to Los Angeles Dodgers ninth-inning monster Jonathan Broxton. Franklin had allowed two earned runs in two months before engaging the A’s this weekend. To date, this season has represented a solid follow-up to a season in which he ranked sixth in the major leagues with 38 saves and ranked second in ERA (1.92) among NL closers.
In addition to pride in the pitching, I have confidence that Matt Holliday’s surging power recovery is a good sign that the big bats are indeed heating up. In case you missed it, Holliday hit FOUR homeruns in the last three games! We are certainly seeing more signs of Cardinal magic. Won’t it be fun watching this team finally get it together consistently and go on that winning romp we know is due?
I believe the Cardinals are turning a corner. This team is built to win. We have Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Ryan Ludwick and Matt Holliday. Colby Rasmus and rookie David Freese have both earned NL Player of the Week honors this season. Combine that talent with the skill of the Cardinals hurlers and we have something to be excited about. The summer is heating up and so are our Cardinals!

Enjoy your Monday as the Cardinals take a break and travel to Toronto for interleague play versus the Blue Jays

Next game: Tuesday at 6:07pm CT (yep, I double-checked it… what a weird start time!)


In Honor of Father’s Day

Jack Buck, Sept. 17, 2001

Fathers and sons are understandably a common baseball archetype, the basis for movies like Field of Dreams and books like Will Leitch’s Are We Winning (which is sitting on top of my to-be-read pile). In recent years for the Cardinals, we saw Chris Duncan join his father Dave on the team and Scott Spiezio become a Cards World Series champion just as his father Ed had been in 1964 and 1967. Yet the Cardinals father-son combo that meant the most to me personally was in the broadcast booth instead of on the field: Jack and Joe Buck.

As I detailed in my history here, I’ve only been a Cardinals fan for 10 years. My first as a fan in 2000 was decidedly old-fashioned, as I mostly followed the Cards via radio. (And not today’s MLB Gameday Audio on an iPhone I could take anywhere. No, it was the radio in my car or home stereo from a station 30 miles away that sometimes wouldn’t come in clearly.) It was quite a change of pace from having been a Cub fan and having access to games via WGN on cable and an in-town radio station where I never needed to worry about static. Yet listening to the Cardinals helped me to learn more about the team each game too, thanks to the wit and wisdom of Jack Buck.

There’s a wonderful book called What Baseball Means to Me that features essays from a variety of people about the sport – everyone from Dave Barry and Rudy Giuliani to Tim Russert and Pat Sajak plus more than a hundred others including both Jack and Joe. “In baseball you tell a story as the game goes along,” Jack wrote in his entry. And even in 2000, as he was reaching the end of his broadcasting career, he told masterful stories.

I especially loved hearing Jack and Joe together. That season, I kept an ongoing journal about the season (my intention at the time was to write a book about becoming a Cardinals fan). Flipping back through it, I found this entry from April 9, 2000: “Following the games only on radio is taking some getting used to (there’s no box in the corner to give me the score!) but it does have one benefit: listening to Jack and Joe Buck. Today was Willie McGee Day, with a tribute to him before the game. At one point during their first inning broadcasting together, Joe asked his dad ‘Did you cry?’ as they were talking about the pre-game ceremony. It sounded like something one of my brothers would ask our Dad.”

Hearing the two of them together was always special, because you could tell from listening how enjoyable they found it. During the 2001 season, I was at a Sunday ESPN night game so Joe was in the radio booth with Jack instead of on Fox Sports Midwest. There was a rain delay during the game and the team was in the clubhouse, so my friend could no longer use her binoculars to watch Mark McGwire’s every move. So I used them and watched Jack and Joe together. They sat side by side and it just looked like they were having a conversation. I didn’t hear any of the radio broadcast, but it looked like it could be a chat around the kitchen table or at a bar. Just hanging out, talking. “I know what baseball means to me,” Joe Buck wrote the book mentioned above. “Baseball is that which binds me to the man I most admire.”

While I didn’t have the opportunity to experience most of Jack’s signature moments live, there is one unforgettable moment that brought me – and no doubt everyone – to tears. Sept. 17, 2001, was the first Cardinals game since the terrorist attacks nearly a week before on Sept. 11. And, as described here, he read the poem he had written, “For America.” I can’t tell you what the score was of the game, or even who the Cardinals played that night, yet I will always remember Jack saying, “Should we be here? Yes!”

And, sadly, that was one of the last Cardinals games Jack ever did. It’s perhaps fitting to remember Jack Buck today, June 19, since yesterday was the eighth anniversary of his passing in 2002. That was the start of such an unbelievably emotional time for all of us as Cardinals fans, although of course we didn’t know then how much worse it was going to get – we only knew how sad it was that Jack was now gone and that memorable voice silenced for good.

I am sure that Joe Buck is remembering and missing his father this weekend, just as I am remembering and missing my own Dad and how much I learned about baseball from him too. “No sport celebrates its history quite like baseball,” Joe Buck wrote. “It is a great game filled with good-hearted people and surrounded by fans who care about it … It links generation to generation, father to son—” And father to daughter.

Happy Father’s Day.

%d bloggers like this: