Baseball, Headlines

Confessions of the only* Milwaukee Brewers fan in Melbourne

The first professional baseball game I ever attended in person, if you can believe, was a 1991 Toronto Blue Jays game at the Toronto SkyDome. It’s probably as far as you can get from my then hometown of Jakarta, Indonesia, and much of that memory is fleeting. What I do remember, for some reason, was that Kelly Gruber was on that team. So out of a roster that included Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar and Toronto legend Joe Carter, I remember Gruber. He wasn’t very good, but was sufficiently talented to earn two All-Star berths and of course, a World Series ring with the Blue Jays. It was perhaps, a foreshadowing of what would become of me as a baseball fan; off beat and decidedly off kilter, and somewhat irrational.

Let’s start by saying, if you aren’t born in a North American city with a baseball team in it, then your choices come down to a certain selection criteria you can abide by. Now of course, for those of you born into baseball heritage and cities filled with its rich sporting history, then by all means, you are a legacy fan- born of a Yankee father, or a Red Sox mother, or a parents and grandparents of Cardinal lore.

For those like me, it can come down to one or two things:

1. Marketing exposure/bandwagon jumping: It’s easy, you’re a Yankees fan, a Red Sox fan (after 2004), a Cardinals fan (why?), or, like I see so many here in Melbourne; Dodger fan (because they’re from LA?). Being so far away from the action, and not being an American transplant, it will be apparent if you’re fan of a big team whose marketing prowess (or in the case of a few teams, their on-field success) is fuelled by deep pockets and savvy PR. For some, searching for some American identity, a well-known team like the Red Sox or the Dodgers becomes an easy team to like.

2. Gut instinct and true, unbridled passion for the team:  For some time, I thought myself to be a Phillies fan. Having lived in Philadelphia through high school, I thought supporting the local team would be the way to go. And so I followed along with a loose connection without ever really feeling a strong passion for them. They won a World Series and I thought, “that’s nice”, and when they lost one the next year I thought, “that’s too bad”, but was never really moved either way.

Enter the Milwaukee Brewers. It was an instant connection, my passion for baseball, thought long dormant by my pseudo fandom for the Phillies, was brought back tenfold when a game of MLB2k12 randomly landed me in control of the Brewers. It was passion at first play and since then, I’ve done everything I can to prove that while my fandom took time getting there, wavering through fairweatherness, it’s now found its footing. Like going through life with many girlfriends before finally finding your future wife; once you know, you know. And now I can safely say, that I’m the only* Milwaukee Brewers fan here in Melbourne, Australia, the first since Dave Nilsson packed his cleats and left Wisconsin for Japan.

Just a guy named "Scooter"

Just a guy named “Scooter”

This year marked the first year I can well and truly say I am part of the Brewers faithful. Continents removed from Miller Park, I passionately embraced every BrewCrew win, joyously celebrating Carlos Gomez homers, Jean Segura steals and Lucroy RBIs (the first two earning their well-deserved trip to the All-Star Game). 2013 was of course, an excruciatingly testing year for the Brewers, hobbled by injuries to Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez, the ceiling came crashing down when its once proud son, the future of the franchise, Ryan Braun became the joke to a disgraceful BioGenesis PED scandal once reserved for the likes of Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. It was a painful blow for a small market team, having chosen Braun over Prince Fielder as its one monster contract player; the team is now saddled with Braun’s hefty contract until 2020.

But I’m still here. Instead of cheering on Braun and Hart homers, I revelled in stunning Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura plays. I stuck around when the losses piled up and the team stunk through woeful pitching, anaemic batting and less than stellar luck. I was there, for almost 162 games, of mediocrity, flashes of brilliance, and a hopeful look towards 2014.

I will forgive Ryan Braun when he comes back and welcome him with open arms, and until then, I’ll tell myself Logan Schafer is just as good. Rickie Weeks is old and hobbled, but who needs him when you’ve got someone named Scooter. And yes, I’ll even tell myself that someday Johnny Hellweg will win a Cy Young (and yes, for the Brewers).

It’s that irrationality and loss of all common sense that proves I’m true Brew. Not because irrationality and loss of logic is synonymous with Brewers baseball, but because it goes hand in hand with true fandom.

My name is Billy, and I am a true Milwaukee Brewers fan.

 

 

 

 

*clearly, this is not true. It just feels like it sometimes in the sea of Yankee, Red Sox, Dodgers garb. 

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Baseball

There’s (Still) Something About Alex Rodriguez

The Chicago White Sox have been an average team all year long. Coming in to August 5th, the toothless Sox had lost 10 games in a row, hampered by poor bats all season. Yet, the game this night was something a little different. Fresh from the announcement that Major League Baseball had suspended Alex Rodriguez for their part in the Biogenesis scandal, there was a buzz floating through the air at US Cellular Field. This buzz was, of course, because the much maligned Rodriguez would be making his return to the Yankee lineup, batting cleanup before his suspension kicks in on the 8th.

It’s been a bizarre season for Rodriguez, from his war of words with Yankees GM Brian Cashman to his continued drug scandal saga, it seems that everything we’ve talked about in regards to A-Rod has been about everything except for his baseball. But there’s just something about Alex Rodriguez isn’t there? After the announcement was made that A-Rod would indeed start the game at third, several thousand additional tickets were sold to US Cellular Field for the game, giving the Sox one of the best crowds they’ve seen all season long.

When the Yankees travel, their fans come to opposing ballparks in numbers, so it would be ill conceived to think that the additional thousands of attendees were all Yankee fans. Sure, probably a whole lot of White Sox fans looking for any kind of excitement at their ballpark, but probably a lot of people there to see the Alex Rodriguez trainwreck express.

At the preceding press conference, Rodriguez was still defiant, expressing disappointment in Major League Baseball’s decision to suspend him and the others involved with Biogenesis. He’s called his ordeal a “nightmare” and will appeal the verdict.

“What we’ve always fought for is the process and I think we have that and I think at some point we’ll sit in front of an arbiter and we’ll give our case. That’s as much as I feel comfortable saying right now.” – Alex Rodriguez

So what now Alex?

This series in Chicago could very well be the last time we ever see Alex Rodriguez play professional baseball in the Majors. His suspension, from August 8, running through the entirety of the 2014 season, will see Rodriguez around 40 years old when it’s all said and done, and with his declining skills, there’s probably little left in the exhausted tank. What a sad end to a career we all thought would be the shining beacon of hope crushing the giant melon sized asterisk that comes affixed to Barry Bonds’ career.

Rodriguez went 1-4 in the game, and the Yankees were crushed 8-1. The White Sox put an end to their terrible losing streak and not surprisingly, Rodriguez was not a major factor in the sporting aspect of today’s events. By the time the chorus of boos reigned in for his first at bat in the top of the second, Andy Pettite had already stunk up the mound and the Yankees found themselves down 3 runs.

Yet, here we are, all of us, talking about Alex Rodriguez and the end of his career. Still in the limelight and still drawing a crowd wherever he goes. It’s easy to forget that there were 12 other players suspended, but like with most of career, he was always much more to everyone that just hitting baseballs. Even as a shell of his former self, we can’t help but be transfixed by his traveling circus. There’s just something about Alex Rodriguez, still.

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Alex Rodriguez’s pre-game press conference:

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Baseball

The Fall of Ryan Braun

I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary again, where in the supplementary Tenth Inning, a great deal of time is dedicated to Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire’s home run chase of 1998. It was swing and after beautiful swing, every crack of the bat, and the long soaring flight of all the balls as they sailed out into the crowd, into the decks, and into oblivion, one after another. It was such a beautiful time in baseball. Reeling after the crippling strike of 1994, the home run chase proved to be the perfect elixir to the greed doldrums, and both Sosa and McGwire became icons of the sport for not only enthralling a nation mired in a Presidential scandal, but one that was looking for solace in its old pastime.

Innocence is beautiful” says Pedro Martinez as he flashes a smile. There is a glint in his eye as he talks about his countryman Sosa, yet he knows that time and history will not look back on Sosa’s accomplishments with the kind of love and fervour America and the world showed him and McGwire as they chased, and ultimately, smashed Roger Maris’ record. But for that moment, for that year, as the world looked in on every at-bat, it was one of the greatest races in sports.

“Innocence is beautiful” -Pedro Martinez, talking about 1998 in the documentary ‘Baseball’.

Innocence however, hasn’t been beautiful for Ryan Braun. Now suspended for the remainder of the 2013 season for violating the MLB’s “Basic Agreement and Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program”, the much promised and talented Milwaukee Brewers star will live for the rest of his career under the same cloudy murk McGwire and Sosa live under thanks to this disgraceful Biogenesis debacle. His long stubborn stance proclaiming innocence looks ridiculous in hindsight, and his vehement protest against the process in which the 2012 drug test progressed is both awkward and rather ridiculous (even dragging Packers QB Aaron Rodgers into the mess as he stood up for his friend). It seethed of arrogance, and now with hat in hand, much of his words are neither entirely apologetic and/or filled with accountability. It’s a new kind of “what you do when you get caught”.

Perhaps this wasn’t too unexpected, but there was still a part of me, as a Brewers fan and as a fan of the game of baseball, that players in this day and age would have learned some, any, lessons. Or at the very least, have been collectively savvy enough to avoid the potential pitfalls of strip mall prescriptions. Maybe we want our stars to have learned their lessons, but in truth, when we all put so much on the success of these stars, it’s not hard to see the pressures of expectations and promise from such a young age.

Ryan Braun will probably never be inducted into the Hall of Fame and the Brewers have to accept the fact that the face of the franchise, our superstar, our beloved hero, is much less than we all hoped he would be. For this season, it won’t be too much of a loss. The Brewers are mired in mediocrity and have been without Braun for long stretches of the season, so continued reliance on talented youngsters like Jean Segura will be nothing new. There’s a chance for the likes of Logan Schafer and Caleb Gindl to make an impact, while consistency from veteran players like Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy and Aramis Ramirez will continue to make a difference. But next year and the years ahead? We’ll have to wait and see Braun’s return to Miller Park and whether hometown fans will welcome him back with open arms (no doubt in opposing parks however, he was already hearing the chorus of boos before this suspension).

One of my Brewers shirts has Braun’s name emblazoned on the back. I’ll still wear the shirt because I still love the team, and a part of me wants to ignore the consequences of his actions because there’s a belief that the club, the franchise, will always be bigger than any player. But in baseball, that isn’t always the case. And because as a fan, he’s your guy, on your team. Innocence is beautiful and the support for your team is blind.

Buster Olney’s words on Braun are perhaps the most painful. For baseball fans and for fans of what we perceive to be heroes and ambassadors of the game;

“Their Cal Ripken is not Cal.”

One of the greatest falls of recent times.

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Baseball, Sports

Carlos Gomez saves the Brewers with HR-saving catch

Just a few days removed from writing about the silver lining in the Brewers woefully mediocre season comes this game saving gem from Carlos Gomez. Fresh from his All-Star call up, Gomez robs Joey Votto a game-winning HR, preserving the Brewers 4-3 lead and closing out the game. Gold Glove stuff, and anytime you can stick it to the Reds, I’m all for it.

The Brewers still aren’t very good but plays like this make this crappy season just a little more tolerable.

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Baseball

Silver Lining Playbooks: Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura tabbed for All-Star berth

Jean Segura: One of the bright spots for the Brewers this year.

Jean Segura: One of the bright spots for the Brewers this year.

 

It’s been one of those years for the Milwaukee Brewers. The kind that seem to go on forever with every possible disastrous turn of events sinking the team lower and lower into the depth’s of season’s despair. The latest, Johnny Hellweg’s pitiful ERA, is just another layer in the crap cake that’s being served at Miller Park this year. It’s hard to put too much on Hellweg however, the poor kid’s being thrown into the deep end with little or no support, but there’s little forgiving a 12.79 ERA through two starts. Yet, you can’t really put it all on the kid’s shoulders. Fielding errors in the last few games (with plenty of blame to go around- Segura, Ramirez) have added to the team’s lack of run production. Without Ryan Braun in the lineup, Ramirez on shaky knees, and no Corey Hart for the season, much of the hitting production has been left up to the likes of Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Nori Aoki and a round robin of youngsters yoyo-ing up and down from Triple-A Nashville (Josh Prince, Caleb Gindl, Scooter Gennett). The Brewers need more from the Jonathan Lucroy and Rickie Weeks, otherwise waiting around for guys like Yuni Betancourt and Juan Francisco to hit big means we’ll probably be waiting for a long, long time.

Then there’s the mediocre pitching all around. It seems that every time you tune in, Kyle Lohse is struggling, or John Axford stinks again, and lately, Hellweg getting knocked out of games early. A feared pitching rotation it is not. Silver lining? Both Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura were picked to represent the club at the All-Star Game. It’s not much but both have been putting in the hard yards and have kept afloat a struggling ball club. Carlos Gomez has been fielding a few beauties lately and Segura’s play at the plate has been significant.

Long season’s are part of every club’s cycle. 2013 will be a season to forget in Milwaukee but there’s still the opportunity for some of the youngsters to get in a few games and build on some promising futures. The Brewers could nab themselves some decent draft picks come next draft, so the team will continue to get some young legs in. It wasn’t long ago the Brewers were plying their trade in the NLCS (just two years ago), and in time and continued play from the likes of Gomez and Segura, Miller Park will be home to important games again. Just not this year.

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Baseball

Major League Baseball opens 2014 season in Sydney

With news that the 2014 MLB season will open at Sydney’s famed Sydney Cricket Ground next year with a heated series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Arizona Diamondbacks, talk has turned into the pricing structure and pre-release procedure for those interested in snagging a ticket for the big event. International season openers are nothing new for Major League Baseball, having opened last season in Japan, but a trip all the way down to Australia is a new prospect for Bud Selig’s league, and already there has been much gripe about the process in which fans can sign up for early tickets.

The Australian Baseball League is a burgeoning league here in Australia. While secondary to the AFL, rugby, cricket and even soccer, its connection to the major leagues (it is partly funded by the MLB) means that it has close ties to the very best of the sport. Tickets for the event go on sale next week and priority is given to the members of any ABL team; a good way to boost the local league’s numbers but at the same time, a ghastly cost of having to fork out around $90-$190 for a local membership (these figures are from full membership prices to the Melbourne Aces) just to be first in line to purchase tickets for the series. Prices for the series?

Exorbitant to say the least. Certainly this opportunity is a fantastic one to get up close to two famed MLB franchises, and considering the distance the clubs have to travel, it is no surprise prices are so high. However, those traveling interstate will surely be spending no less than $1000 for the trip- almost an entire fare to the US, where some tickets from either official team websites or Stubhub can be bought for a measly $6.

Is it worth it? From this writer’s perspective, it’s hard to say. Last June I spent $149 each on great seats at Yankee Stadium for a subway series game between the Mets and the Yankees. These tickets were bought off Stubhub so they were more than the regular price- but even New Yorkers weren’t going to gouge me for that much.

Nonetheless, recent events between the Dodgers and the Dbacks have been less than friendly, adding a possible edge to next year’s series (baseball players tend not to forget getting hit by a pitch). We’ll get to see the best sport in the world in our own backyard which is always a positive, and let’s hope that when March rolls around, we’ll also get to see a little of this too:

Baseball in Australia is a growing sport, but there are plenty of Australian major leaguers who more than just contribute to their respective clubs. Perhaps this is the best way to expand the sport here, and in a sense, we’re lucky that Major League Baseball is enthusiastic about sending teams all the way down. Time will tell whether or not such ventures are worth it for the fans. We should be excited that they aren’t sending the Marlins or the Astros, and let’s hope they bring some Dodger dogs down with them.

Play ball (mate).

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Baseball, Film, Sports

The Greatest Baseball Documentary Ever Made

It took weeks of real time to consume, but getting through Ken Burns’ historic PBS documentary series Baseball, all 20+ hours of it, was worth it. It immediately got me thinking about the endless list of baseball related documentaries that have made their rounds and just which one could possibly be picked out as the finest. It is perhaps an answerless question, “which baseball documentary is the best of all time?” but one whose labor is very much the reward itself.

Some of the few I’ve consumed lately spark much debate, thought and introspection into America’s game. Through its vast history and interconnectivity with much of the country’s history, baseball has, and always will be part of its fabric.

The best place to start is of course, the Burns documentary. Originally airing in 1994, it powers through 9 original volumes (with a 10th added in 2010) dating back to baseball’s earliest roots in the 1800s. It is a meticulously planned, beautifully done trek through history that progresses through the many eras of baseball’s past. From the birth of the sport on the Elysian Fields to Babe Ruth’s discovery by a priest, from Jackie Robinson to the steroid era, it is perhaps the quintessential modern documentation of a sport. But is it the greatest? For one thing, it does take a herculean effort to get through, and anyone not so engrained in the historical resonance of Ty Cobb may find the first few hours nothing more than thumbing through a history book.

Conversely, on the opposite scale, the few others I’ve consumed narrow its scope and focus. Part of the original ESPN 30 for 30 run, The House Of Steinbrenner is a brief but complex look at one of baseball’s most definitely characters of the past 50 years. Part ode to the Yankees, part ode to the man himself, yet both forever intrinsically linked. Fascinating because it is not all adulation, but confronts the egomaniacal autocracy he ruled with, it is another strong entrant into the debate. For Red Sox fans, it all begins and ends with Four Days In October, marking the most memorable turn of events for any Boston baseball fan. Remarkable because in itself, documents what can be argued as the closing chapter to one of baseball’s most storied legends- “The Curse of the Bambino”.

The Ghosts of Flatbush hits home for any elderly Brooklynite, counting down the last days of the Brooklyn Dodgers before they went Hollywood, while The Lost Son Of Havana follows the heart breaking story of Cuban exile and ex-major leaguer Luis Tiant returning to his country after 46 years. Then there’s The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg, the tale of baseball’s first Jewish superstar, while lovers of the Brewers will undoubtedly find home in Harvey’s Wallbangers, about the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers who made it all the way to the World Series only to come up short.

For those who do their sports betting, you can place your hard earned cash on the Pete Rose film 4192; but don’t be surprised if you come up short when you find out it’s about his chase for Ty Cobb’s hit record and not his quest for the Hall Of Fame. For whatever your baseball inclination, there is something to satiate your tastes.

It’s endless. And as I power through documentary after documentary, it becomes clear to me that while baseball goes through the ebbs and flows of scandals, strikes and competition, there is a timeless art to the sport that will never fade. Major League Baseball will have its stories told in film and television about its characters big and small; all the strike outs, balls, walks and homeruns, but the greatest baseball documentary will always be baseball itself.

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Links to documentaries/official websites:

Ken Burns’ Baseball
The House Of Steinbrenner
Four Days In October
The Ghosts Of Flatbush
The Lost Son Of Havana
The Life And Times Of Hank Greenberg
Harvey’s Wallbangers
4192

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