Saturday, February 25, 2006

The New Yankee Stadium

A recent spate of news articles announced that the New York Yankees have agreed with the city to build a new $800 million stadium across the street from the present site. Why does the Fan have the same feeling as the announcement several years ago of New Coke? It may have been touted as a good thing, but the Pepsi-like soda couldn't replace Coca-Cola Classic.

Information on the new park (for more information, click here) mentions that the new field will have the same dimensions as the original. Dirt from the original will be brought to the new park. The new facade will duplicate the original. The truth culled from this news implies the truth: It won't be the original.

Well...even the original isn't the original. Three decades ago, the original original was renovated and the Yankees spent two (or was it three?) long years in Shea Stadium. The renovation prettied up the old park and left enough of the original to at least remind fans of the old place. But besides ending Bobby Murcer's Yankee career, it wasn't the same place.

The right field corner was fifteen feet further back. The death valley that was center field and left-center was shortened with a new fence (though they left the old fence back there and created monument park behind the new one). The monuments that used to be in play in Center were no longer.

But at least it was still on hallowed ground. Now the ghosts of Yankee glory will have to find their way across the street. It could have been worse. The Yankees were seriously tempted to find a new home across the bridge in New Jersey.

Part of the Yankee mystique is their ballpark. When teams come to play the Yankees, the House that Ruth Built is a big part of what happens. The Fan remembers the Horace Clarke days too well to call Yankee Stadium a weapon. A bad team will still play bad there and the Red Sox comeback took part in the Yank's ball yard. But it does give the Yankees something that no one else has: the history of more than two dozen championships.

The good news is that Steinbrenner's team will have a brand new home in 2009 that will at least have the feel of the old park. It won't be New Jersey. The bad news is that once accomplished, unlike with Coca-Cola, there is no turning back.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Real Questions

What happens when a superstar finds himself with diminished physical abilities due to injuries and wear and tear and is faced with trying to regain former glory. Junior Griffey thrilled us all with a resurrection last season before he again went down. This year other stars are faced with the question if there is anything left.

The big story this week is the return to Spring Traing for Jeff Bagwell. In what has to be a difficult and uncomfortable story, the Astros want Bagwell to hang it up and he wants a chance to earn the paycheck he is going to get either way.

The Astros are in the most uncomfortable position as they can recoup their loss on Bagwell's salary if he is physically unable to play. Their insurance policy on him will kick in and the Astros can get much needed funds for other players.

At the same time, Bagwell has been a warrior for the franchise and they have to walk a fine line for him and their fans that have appreciated and loved Bagwell over the years. It has to be a bad business situation when you want to open your arms to your long time star while at the same time hoping he isn't capable of playing.

It will be interesting to find out how this all plays out and if Bagwell has anything left.

In a much less awkward situation, Jim Thome will try to revive his career with the White Sox. Thome--in all reality--lost the entire year last year due to back and elbow injuries.

Thome is one of those big guys and is now 35 years old. Please refer back to a previous blog entry that makes the case that big guys like Thome only have an eight to ten year shelf life. Thome has had his ten years and is working on the twelfth. Can he defy history and be close to the player (and hitter) he was? The odds are against him.

The one player who can defy the odds is Barry Bonds. Bonds is just plain bigger than life and will, by his inner force, have one last historic year. If he does, he'll put the steroid talk away forever. There has never been a smarter hitter, nor a more determined one.

Bonds may or may not catch Aaron this year, and he may or may not play beyond this year, but he will go out with a bang, and when he does, no matter how much he is disliked, the fact will remain that he is the greatest player of this generation.

One has to wonder if the people of Babe Ruth's day recognized the history they were watching. Do the people of our time appreciate Ruth's significance more than they did at the time? Will the same be true for Bonds?

Whether it's because of race or because of the negative perception concerning his personality, Bonds is not appreciated for his greatness. Bonds is among one of the three best Major League Baseball players of all time.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Plight of the Marlins

Nine years ago, the Fan spent his fortieth birthday watching a Marlin home game. This was before the championships and the subsequent fire sales. The Marlins were a new franchise and there was a good crowd in the stands.

The Marlins were the new kids and there was some magic in the park. Lots of kids filled the stands and it had a wholesome and family feel to it all.

There was the magic of watching the game with a young friend with the same name as Chipper Jones' ex-wife. She loved baseball and the Fan taught her how to keep score. It was a joy to teach this baseball fanatic who had such passion for life, something new and special about the game.

These magic memories include a homer by then hero, Jeff Conine, that won the game. It wasn't like a childhood spent in Yankee Stadium, but it was pretty darn close.

It has been painful watching the franchise sink to a point when even a playoff-contending team can only draw six or seven thousand fans. What other franchise has won two championships in its first decade? How could something that special languish like it has.

Part of the problem, of course, is the ballpark. Though pretty and homey inside when watching, it doesn't suit the climate when the combination of 90 degree heat combines with 90 percent humidity, not to mention the downpours that can appear in a matter of minutes.

It seems ironic that an area that boasts multi-million-dollar condo expansions everywhere one looks, can't support a new ballpark for a professional team that brings in 25 wealthy athletes.

The lack of support, whether it be the ballpark, the weather, or all the other things to do in the area, has left the owners no choice but to sell off talent twice in the past six years. That compounds the problem of attendance as loyalty takes a hit whenever the sell off happens.

Now the Marlins are listening to offers from other cities that would love to have them. It's a sad scene. It would be hard not to have a future pilgrimage possible to remember that memorable birthday with that memorable, passionate, and lovely girl who left her team and this world far too soon.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sorry Soriano

So Alfonso Soriano doesn't want to play left field. The Fan bleeds for him. If you gave the Fan $10 million in hard cash, he's cook the hotdogs, mow the outfield, and catch batting practice.

It is hard for the average Joe watching from the inner city, suburbia or the cornfields of Kansas to identify with a man living out our dreams and making money we'll never dream about, refusing to play a position out of his comfort zone.

Let's face it, Soriano never looked comfortable at second base either. He always looked awkward and it's hard to imagine him looking any less awkward anywhere else. Jose Vidro is a great second baseman, and before his injuries, an All Star caliber player. Get real, Alfonso.

There are so many stories to root for this year. Can Griffey bring it back like the second half of last year? Will Giambi continue his resurrection? Can Nomar play first base in Los Angeles and hit like the Nomar of old? How close will Bonds get to Aaron in this his final year?

With all these great stories, the true Fan can only hope Soriano sits on the bench or is released. He is the anti-Jeter...the anti-Schilling of baseball and doesn't deserve his good fortune.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The Flagrant Fan is Back

After a two year hiatus, and inspired by Peter Gammons getting into the blog environment, it's time to get the Fan back to the game. What has happened between two years off and the Fan's 284 previous blogs? The steroid scandal, another Yankee post season loss, the decline of Sammy Sosa, the World Baseball Classic, the White Sox winning the World Series (??!!) and an ERA win for the Fan's favorite pitcher--Roger Clemens.

Let's start with the World Baseball Classic. I'm a fan of Major League Baseball. The WBC means nothing to the Fan. I understand conceptually and empiracally about the desire to celebrate the world with baseball. But to a MLB fan, the whole thing is just a distraction.

You see, the Fan doesn't have a desire to see Roger Clemens pitch for the last time against South Africa or Jamaica. The Fan doesn't want to see one of the best players in the game get hurt in a game that doesn't count. And maybe, just maybe--if the Fan was honest--there is the fear that the WBC will give Cuba one more chance to shine.

The commissioner speaks of the WBC in glowing terms of globalizing the game. Players on rosters such as: Wang, Ichiro, Godzilla, Seo, Rodriguez and others don't already do that? A significant percentage of MLB rosters already include players born outside of the United States. The point has already been made and the reality already exists. If you want a worldwide tournament, wait for the Olympics.

The Fan applauds the Red Sox for their trend of signing young emerging players such as Beckett and Crisp. The strategy is less expensive and has a greater chance at being a great move for years to come. Contrast this with New York's strategy the last few years.

When is the last time the Yankees lured a superstar who was less than 32 years old? I believe this trend has led to the breakdowns we have seen in the last three post-seasons. I just read Peter Gammons' blog where he stated that 43-year old, Randy Johnson, was the key to the season. Isn't that a bit like making a '69 Cutlass the key to successfully making a cross country trip? A '69 Cutlass is a great car, but it's expensive to maintain and its best days are behind it.

It saddens the Fan that Sammy Sosa has turned down the National's offer to play in Washington this season. The Fan appreciates that Sosa doesn't want to play if he is no longer good enough to be Sammy. But Sammy Sosa was fun and explosive and a bit of a primadonna, but he wasn't boring. The Fan--remembering the bombs off of Sosa's bat in the Home Run Derby--will miss him.