Hey Dad, Wanna Play Catch?
Before we dive into some highlights of the first-place Cardinals' series win over the Reds this past weekend, I want to take you on a warm/fuzzy stroll down memory lane.
I don't have tons and tons of memories of my dad, especially from when I was younger, but I do remember some things about him. For instance, he always loved NFL football. My dad adopted the Kansas City Chiefs pretty early after the Cardinals left St. Louis. He also rooted for certain coaches - Joe Gibbs with the Washington Redskins and Tom Landry with the Cowboys are a couple.
But he loved football because every game had so much weight. Three games out of first place in baseball? That's nothing. Three games out in football? Better blow up your roster, try that new rookie quarterback, or fire the coach and bring in that hot college football coordinator. Every game was almost as important as a playoff game. My dad loved it.
And I see the attraction in that.
As many say, "NFL" stands for "Not for long". Seriously, when has an NFL coach actually fulfilled his entire contract before getting fired, quitting, or melting down in front of 39 reporters at a post-game press conference? In a modern world that craves instant gratification, it's no wonder the NFL is King. A team can go 15-1 as easily as 1-15. Dynasties are built in a single off-season and collapse just as quickly.
So I don't mind sounding mushy when I confess: boy, I love baseball.
162 games is a beautiful thing. A "good" team wins 55% of their games, a "bad" team 45%. It's nice to have perpetual hope (or perpetual madness, right, Cub fans?). There is no time limit. There is no "running out the clock". Baseball is almost eternal, for better or worse. You gotta get 27 outs. I believe I watched nearly all of the 20-inning marathon between the Cards and Mets last year even though I really knew we were going to lose. As long as you have a strike left, you have a chance.
Insurmountable 10-game leads in September standings whittled away in just a week.
A batter's quest to lead the league in average, home runs and RBIs - the rarest of rare, the Triple Crown.
Perfectly pitched contests broken-up by the last batter off the bench, pinch-hitting who's batting a measly .185.
A 100-year-old curse broken.
Football is fast food. A can of cola. You devour it and move on. And that's fine. But baseball - baseball you savor every minute of the season because you never know when you'll see history.
So, I hope my six-year-old ends up sharing this passion with me more and more. I hope I can give him a leg-up on what this baseball game is about. I can't wait for the day when I have tell him to ease up on his throws - it's really starting to hurt my hand. I can't wait for him to ask me to play some catch.
It is time, my fellow Cardinal-lovers (or haters) for...
The Hard Nine
1. Molina Took My Lunchable, Yo!
Brandon Phillips is having a nice year so far and I'll be honest: he's growing on me. He's having fun at the Cards' (and their fans') expense and, yes, true rivalries are good for the sport. Plus, it's very unfortunate that the number of black players has been declining steadily for years. And that's a lot of talent not being added to the league for fans to enjoy.
One of my favorite Cardinal outfields in recent memory was in 1996 when Brian Jordan, Ray Lankford and Ron Gant roamed the Busch greenery. My grandpa called them (probably a bit too tongue-in-cheekly) the "St. Louis Blackbirds". I shake my head now and today we see so clearly, a diverse sport is a much richer sport. Back then, I just knew we had a kick-butt outfield and those guys were a blast to watch.
AVG HR RBI SB
Brian Jordan .310 17 104 22
Ray Lankford .275 21 86 35
Ron Gant .246 30 82 13
B.J. was the best clutch-hitter in baseball. Ray Lankford, while whiffing too much, had a sweet lefty swing that could send the ball a mile and you can't forget he had speed, too. He had 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in the same season five times in his career. Ron Gant's first year in St. Louis was terrific. He had not yet become the whiff-machine that plagued him in later years and he led the club with 30 bombs. What a trio of power, speed, and production.
No wonder the Cards finished in first place that year.
So, Brandon Phillips says that Nelly's cool in his book. Well, BP is ok my book, too. We need more characters with All-Star talent. And besides, my homeboy, Yadier Molina took care of business on Sunday giving the Cards, yet another, series win over the Reds in St. Louis. It's gonna be a fun year.
2. Not-So Saint Valentine Hates the Cards
Cardinal fans have learned to dislike certain opposing managers over the years. And some of the dislike is tinged with a bit of respect. There's Dusty Baker's "stick up for my family" thuggery. Bobby Cox, whom you simple could not rattle...and that just ticked you off.
But I don't think the Cards ever faced a slimier opposing manager than Bobby Valentine. (The 2000 NLCS between the Cards and Mets was NOT FUN for Redbird fans.) And today, if you listen to Valentine's commentary on ESPN's TV broadcast, you quickly pick up that he simply knows more than...well, just about anyone else on earth.
Low-lights from Sunday night's game:
Cardinal shot #1:
"When I managed against Tony, I used to love it when he would bat the pitcher eighth!" (Valentine laughing hysterically, crew also chuckling)
Cardinal Shot #2
"The Cardinals have some major bullpen issues."
Thank goodness we couldn't see his trademark used-car salesman cheesy grin while he made those comments.
All I know is, there's a reason you are no longer a manager, Bobby. The Cards bullpen finished off the shutout that night. And Tony La Russa is going into the Hall of Fame, not you. But you can buy tickets and visit whenever you want.
3. I Need Some Stats, Stat!
So far this year, McGwire's Mashers are 1st in the National League with a .293 team batting average, 2nd in runs (114), 2nd in home runs (24), and Dunc's Dealers are 4th in pitching ERA (3.19).
Something tells me the Reds are NOT running away with the division this year.
4. Ex-Cardinal Update
Former THN-Favorite Player Ryan Ludwick finally had a game he could feel good about. He hit two homers yesterday, the second of which was a game-winning walk-off job in the bottom of the 13th inning to give the Padres a 5-3 win. After his monstrous game, he's still batting just .195 with .378 slugging percentage. .378 slugging - that's like David Eckstein weak. I hope Luddy's bat comes back, for his own sanity's sake.
I also must admit that it's become apparent to me that Cards general manager John Mozeliak just might know a little more about running a major league baseball team than I do. If I had it my way, the Cards would be running Brendan Ryan (.220) and Luddy (.195) out there instead of Ryan Theriot (.311) and Lance Berkman (.377).
Um, yeah. Whoops.
5. With Apologies to Bob Marley
Remember when Franklin, used to get outs
In da top o' da Ninth
We observed his smoke and mirrors
He was like da good voodoo doctor, mon
But den he mixed in some knuckleballs
And good pitching was not his ting no more
Now da future is bright, with Boggs and Sanchez
Dry your tears with Motte and Salas
No Franklin, No Cry
No blown saves, No Cry
Carp and Garcia, shed no tears
No Franklin, No Cry
6. Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?
Wherever it is, Andre Ethier is trying to follow Joltin' Joe there. Ethier, after going 0 for 4 in the Dodgers first game of the season has now hit in 22 straight games - four of those, of course, coming against the Cards. He's also been a little lucky as in almost half those games (nine of the 22, to be exact) he's only gone 1 for 4, barely keeping the streak alive.
7. SWING...and a miss?
IP H BB K R ERA
Fernando Salas (H,2) 1 0 0 2 0 1.50
Eduardo Sanchez (H,3) 1 0 0 2 0 0.00
Mitchell Boggs (S,3) 1 1 0 2 0 1.46
The knock on Ryan Franklin? Terrible swing and miss rate from opposing batters. More balls in play means more chances for bad things to happen. On Sunday night, the Cardinals' suddenly youthful bullpen threw three shutout innings giving up just one hit and striking out 6 of 9 batters. Needless to say, we've not seen many innings like that from venerable relievers like Franklin. Perhaps my nails will finally grow back this year.
8. Do They Want ANYONE To Survive the Season?
The Rams won the Super Bowl the year my family moved from St. Louis. Great timing, yes, I know. We did go back for the obligatory Super Bowl party and yes, the game was quite the thriller. The Titans and Rams were both up-and-coming teams. One coach weeping over greeting card commercials and the other telling players to tuck their spleens back in and get back out on the field. It was probably a once in a lifetime year for Ram fans and I basically missed it.
But, I like football very much. Living down in SEC country now (an adopted Auburn fan in Crimson Tide country) I'm following the college game more, too. Since relocating to Huntsville we've seen both Alabama and Auburn take the national titles in the BS bowl system. (Oh, sorry, typo...)
But as far as the NFL goes, for the love of Pete, when the NFL collective bargaining lockout is finally over, they better not increase the regular season from 16 games to 18. It doesn't sound like much, but I will be sorely tempted to boycott the NFL if they do that. The players break down enough as it is. They end up nearly crippled in retirement. The line has to be drawn somewhere. Just my two cents.
9. NHL Ramblings
Congrats to the Nashville Predators who finally won their first playoff series in their 12-year history. The team that has closely emulated the Blues for so long in construction, after taking years of lumps by my Blues, and the finally surpassing them the past few years have moved on in the Stanley Cup playoffs. After knocking out the Anaheim Ducks, they'll face a much taller task in round two, whoever the opponent is.
And the Canucks and Cheatin'hawks have gone to Game Seven. After leading the series 3 games to none, the Canuckleheads are on the verge of completing one of the greatest choke jobs in NHL history. The Hawks didn't just scrap and claw back. They DESTROYED Vancouver in games 4 and 5, and then did squeak by in overtime in game 6.
I don't know who to root for. Vancouver would be logical since I must hate Chicago but the Canucks had the best record in hockey during the regular season. The mighty must fall, no?
Next Time: Pujols' hammy will be cooled off, but hopefully the birds bats will not. Stay tuned...
As always, thanks for reading.