Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Yankees and Rays: Baseball Highs And Lows In Two Games

The New York Yankees came into this home series against the Tampa Bay Rays with an opportunity to increase their distance from the team's closest rival. On Monday night, after an exhilarating homer by Edwin Encarnacion put the Yankees ahead by two in the bottom of the eighth with the usually reliable, Aroldis Chapman, on the mound for the ninth to close it out. He never did, of course, and, for the team and the fans alike, the Rays gave the Yankees the most deflating loss of the season. In the course of one half inning, two games switched in the standings.  As low as that loss was and as angry the reaction, the following night turned the tables as the Yankees scored six in the eighth to bury the Rays and provided one of the best and most fun win of the season. Two nights led to anguish and euphoria!

And that is the beauty of baseball. This is why I chafe when all these talking heads on sports radio call baseball boring and needing a heavy dose of fixing. Bah humbug! I have even heard the talk of paring the season down to a hundred games! Sacrilege! The most I would ever accept would be 154 because there is a historical value to that number. That is how many games Babe Ruth played in a season.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with baseball as it stands right now. The game is as beautiful for me at 63 as it was when I was 13.  Oh, I know, I stand on the wrong side of demographics. It is a young person's world and I am the anachronism. Bah humbug again. My generation has buying power. My generation watches the games religiously. My generation grew up with the marvelous wave of each baseball season and love it as passionate as can be.

Once again, it is the media that is driving the narrative which drives social media which catches young people's attention like moths to flame. I will not beat this too far in the ground, but it is the me-first NBA and the head-cracking NFL and their crooked college counterparts who get all the media love and nothing else stands a chance.

These beacons of media say that baseball needs personalities. I do not totally disagree with the assessment. But if Mike Trout is considered boring because all he lives for is to play baseball, that passion itself for the game and his team is enough. And lets define personality for a second. What exactly are they talking about?

Apparently, on some level, personality means a sort of primal pounding of the chest when a player does something particularly above average. A big dunk or a long run or touchdown catch deserves such chest pounding. Am I all wet when my favorite memories were of Barry Sanders simply handing the ref the ball after another spectacular jig to the end zone? That was class. Sanders was quietly saying, I did this before and I'll do it again.

I remember the Knicks in the late sixties and early seventies when passing the ball was the prettiest thing I've ever seen and long shots getting buried with just a move back into assuming defense after the made shot. We went crazy over those teams as kids just like I'm sure Laker and Celtic fans cheered on Magic and Bird as their artistry on the court had no peers. There was no chest thumping and we ate it up.

So what then is personality? Is it becoming an "influencer" in social media? If that means having a good time with fans, well, great. Yeah. I seem to remember baseball players doing that first. Remember LoMo? I am all for such fun accounts online. But if it leads to politics, leave me out. Just like the stars of Hollywood, being really good at sports does not make one an expert on politics. I simply don't care what they think. I have my own mind, thank you.

Is personality when players get caught up in romances and gossip fodder with other famous people? Do I really care which Kardashian is shacking up with which famous basketball player? What does that have to do with the sport they play?

All the definitions of personality that I see so far are negatives. It is about the starved for attention, the adulation of a gullible public and the mockery of what is really news. The argument goes nowhere unless the idea is to get a bunch of gullible youngsters to want to emulate these news makers. And is that really what you want to have emulated? Should all kids want $200 sneakers because LeBron wears them?

No, it is the sport that counts. Mike Trout's problem is not that he is boring. Watch the dude play, for heaven sakes! The problem is that more than half of his games start after ten o'clock Eastern Time. And while we are on the Mike Trout subject, let's interject a minute about the All Star Game. I remember growing up and the really big stars like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle played the entire All Star Game. Those were the guys everyone really wanted to see. Mike Trout is the biggest star in MLB. And he played four innings and got two at bats. Really!? Way to give the radio sports hounds some ammo.

I enjoy watching the NFL. I do. But I hate the primal peacock strutting. Seriously, your team is losing by three touchdowns and you are going to stomp around and pound your chest because you got a sack? Give me Barry Sanders' class any day. And the last I checked, an NFL game lasted just as long as most MLB games and the last time I studied this subject, there was even less time actually playing the game in the NFL than there is in a baseball game. I cannot watch the NBA. I was taught the game and loved it. But then players were allowed to travel at will, play zones with impunity, palm the basketball bringing it up the court and the inevitable primal exhibition when a successful dunk takes place. It is unwatchable for me.

I cannot watch college sports because of all the shenanigans that go on recruiting players and all the money that is made by the schools when the players receive nothing. I cannot support that.

All that aside, baseball is not perfect. Bad things happen. Players cheat. Players misbehave. Players get arrested just like any other sport. But baseball is as much a key part of my life as The Beatles were and are. It has been with me through loss and gain and more loss. Life lessons like: If things go badly, there is always tomorrow and this may have been a bad year, but there is always next year. It is a fabric of my being.

And this--for the millionth time--becomes crystal clear with the games Monday and Tuesday between the Yankees and the Rays. On Monday, Rays and Rays fans are soaring with a thrilling win by unlikely hero, Travis d'Arnaud. Yankee fans are crushed. The next night, Rays fans are crushed and Yankee fans are celebrating Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius. That is baseball. That is the greatest sport on earth. That is the beauty of six games a week for six months and then a month of drama. Leave baseball alone. It is perfect the way it is.