Lest We Forget
Every year, as the fall begins, we are inundated with columnists, talk radio hosts, and television talking heads telling us how the NFL is the greatest sport and baseball is dead and tired. Although baseball is still referred to as "America's Pasttime," it is a title that may be more honorary than reflective of its current stature. In today's world, there are more sports and more sporting events than you can shake a hockey stick at, and baseball does not hold the same dominance it once did. Baseball's management does nothing to really help, as stronger leadership in the NFL, NBA, and even NASCAR have raised these sports to the upper echelon while baseball is perpetually under the specter of another work stoppage. So, despite the "Hallelujahs!" for the NFL's arrival in early September, after September becomes October, October belongs to the baseball playoffs. If baseball is dead, somebody forgot to tell these guys....
Roger Clemens. The Big Texan for the New York Yankees is 41. He has won six Cy Young Awards, an MVP, is a perennial All-Star, has over 300 wins, and over 4,000 Ks. He is one of the top three pitchers in the history of MLB; his career is complete, but he is still out on the mound. This is his final season and as he warmed up in Minnesota during the first round of the playoffs, the fans in the Twin Cities went to great efforts to remind him that his was possibly his last start. The Rocket simply shrugged off the slings and arrows and proceeded to put up a vintage performance: seven innings and one earned run. Yankees win and Rocket lives to pitch another day. His next start will be against the team he began his career with and the city and fans, who to this day despise him; the Boston Red Sox.
And speaking of Boston....Teams do not come back to win three games in a row, nor the fifth and deciding game on the road using a starting pitcher as their closer. The Sox and A's put together what can only be described as the strangest playoff series in the past several years. If there was an obscure rule or call, this game had it. A suicide squeeze in extra innings with two out, who the hell does that?!? Ramon Hernandez, the A's catcher, laid down a perfect bunt in a do-or-die situation that put the A's on top of the series. As they headed toward Beantown, with the A's up 2-0, Sox manager Grady Little sounded strangely confident, "We've won three games in a row before." Sure they have, but never like this. Game 3 featured not one, but two obstruction calls-one of which possibly cost the A's the game-as the umps somehow ruled that Miguel Tejada would not have scored on a play at the plate even without the obstruction. Oakland center fielder Eric Byrnes forgot to touch home plate; something called the "no pitch" rule was called, which resulted in a backyard-esque do over, and Boston rallied behind "Rally Karaoke Guy," a video of Boston first baseman Kevin Millar lip-synching "Born in the USA" made while he was in college. Warning: If you make embarrassing videos while younger, always remember to destroy. Trot Nixon hit the game-winning homer in extra innings, or did he? According to Nixon, it was actually hit by "Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Note to Nixon: Be careful what you say, because it may be used against you come contract time. "I'm sorry Mr. Nixon, but of those 27 home runs you supposedly 'hit,' by your own admission, Jesus Christ actually hit them. NO RAISE!"
Kerry Wood. When Wood went to the mound for Game 1 against the Atlanta Braves, it was the fulfillment of an appointment made the day he was drafted. The hard-throwing right hander has been The Next Big Thing for many years, hype backed up by his 1998 Rookie of the Year award and his 20 strikeouts against the Astros the same season. Arm trouble required him to miss the '99 season and the title of The Next Big Thing was transferred to teammate Mark Prior. While the hype may have cooled down, the fire inside Wood never did. He led the NL in strikeouts and won several big games for the Cubs, including a 1-0 shutout of the Florida Marlins immediately following the All-Star break. Unlike the '98 postseason, when the Cubs were simply happy to be there against the Braves, Wood and his fellow "lovable losers" were playing to win. Two starts and 18 strikeouts later, Wood was the MVP of the Divisional Series and the Chicago Cubs had won their first post season series since 1908.
Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez. Pudge is arguably one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game. However, after the 2002 season, he was not resigned by the Rangers (the team with whom he has spent his whole career). They let him walk, despite 10 All-Star appearances, 10 Gold Gloves, and one MVP. A 31-year-old catcher is usually seen as "broken down" and since the Rangers pay ARod 1/4 of one billion dollars, Pudge had to find a new place to call home. When he signed with the Marlins, no one really understood it would be one of the more important signings of the free agent period, but during Game 4, Pudge showed why he was still worth $10 million. There were two plays at home, both involving Pudge. As a baserunner, he was barreling down the third base line toward home, but the ball beat him. BAM! The Giants' catcher was on the ground, the ball rolled to the side, and the Marlins took the lead. In the ninth inning, with the Giants trying to stay alive, J.T. Snow turned the corner at third base, Marlins outfielder Jeff Conine threw home. As with the play before, the ball beat the man, but in this situation home plate was guarded by Pudge and despite the most physical efforts of Snow, the ball stayed comfortably inside his glove. The Marlins vanquished the favored Giants and Ivan Rodriguez held the ball high and triumphant.
If baseball is a game of yesteryear, belonging to our grandfathers and the ghosts of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, than someone needs to inform the fans in Chicago, Boston, Miami, and New York. Baseball is alive and well in these cities. So, when August becomes September, the columnists and the heads can continue talking about the Bucs or Tony Stewart, or even LeBron James. These are all fine athletes and sports. But October belongs to baseball, and even if it is only for one month, America's Pastime will reign supreme.
P.S. Go Cubs!
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