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. 

[hr]

Advertisements
Standard
Books, Headlines

Book Review: Baseball as a Road to God

One of the most rewarding aspects of John Sexton’s Baseball as a Road to God is that while it is deeply theological, it fares away from being preachy and overtly evangelical. It in fact, touches upon faith of all walks and more importantly, does not dismiss scientific reasoning. Sexton of course, is at heart, a baseball fan and through his childhood stories of growing up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan (and inexplicably converting to a Yankees fan after their departure for Los Angeles), he is able to teach and explain the many diverging paths between the oft discussed and scrutinized worlds of faith and baseball.

From his earliest memories of praying for a Brooklyn World Series with his school mates to the often unexplainable, almost mythic, facts that seem to trump logic through baseball’s historical vault (like the players who have won back-to-back MVPs being able to fill a lineup position by position in order), much of the book comes across as both a joy to read, and an eye-opening look at faith without the moralizing and combative stance religion has had to take in the wake of what seems to be its declining pull in contemporary society.

Sexton’s knowledge of the sport is evident in all the historical facts he recites and his theological tone helps give their ineffable qualities resonance. His connection between the cyclical nature of faith (through its yearly and seasonal traditions) and of course, the cyclical and seasonal nature of the game (Opening Day, World Series, the lull of winter) early on in the book sets a good foundation of the connections between the two; and through all the years baseball has been part of American (and to some extent, global) society, faith has always played a role in some of the game’s most memorable and almost mystical moments. Yet Sexton stops short of saying that there are actual ‘angels in the outfield’, and has chapters that both deify this idea and those that, of course, present doubt. In fact, in the chapter aptly titled ‘Doubt’, Sexton goes on the say that without doubt, there is no faith, and that idea or notion of it helps instil that faith within us, on and off the field.

While the book was never meant to be as in depth about the sport as a book specifically about the Yankees, or Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth, there is still a lot to gain from Baseball as a Road to God (although the book itself is a fairly short read; 256 pages). From both a theological to the historical to the present day, Sexton has penned an enlightening and rewarding read from beginning to end.

Standard
AFL, Headlines

Chasing A-Rod: Lance Franklin’s Nine Year Plan

When Lance Franklin and the Sydney Swans initially announced the deal to bring the former Hawthorn star to Sydney, so much attention was put into the terms of the deal, 9-years and $10 million, that it left me scratching my head. Not so much because of its terms, but because of the outcry. Fans of the sport, along with some big names of the game (including Collingwood president Eddie McGuire and Carlton coach Mick Malthouse), were incensed that such a deal were to be brokered.

“How could you possibly offer one man so much for so long?”

“How could Sydney possibly afford him under the salary cap rules?”

This of course (along with free agency), is relatively new territory for the Australian sporting landscape, where in my years here as a fan and someone learning the finer details of the Australian game, there is a far closer bond that forms between player and club for reasons other than a hefty paycheck.

For us North American sports fans however, such dealings have been nothing new. It has become a form of normality to see such ludicrous deals take place, and understandably, this led to my initial reaction upon hearing Buddy’s deal to Sydney as “what’s the big deal?”

I had to of course, understand the elements involved in the deal that has caused so many to call foul on the contract. Sydney are one of the AFL teams that has leeway in their salary cap to account for something they call the Cost Of Living Allowance. It is essentially, because “Sydney is an expensive place to live” that the club are allowed to pay their players more than teams in other cities.

Ridiculous as it sounds? Apparently not.

Imagine if the Knicks were allowed a higher salary cap because New York is more expensive to live in than say Minnesota. It’s preposterous to think of it from a North American sports fan’s point of view but it is part of the parity in the AFL.

Our resident AFL writer/insider Franc De Borges explains;

[quote style=”boxed”]“Sydney and Greater Western Sydney are allowed 9.8% more in their salary cap than every other club in the league. Without it, there’d be no way they could afford Kurt Tippett last year and Franklin this year. The other 16 clubs are at a massive disadvantage because they simply cannot fit free-agents like this in their salary cap, but Sydney and GWS still can. The major issue is that GWS is an expansion side so people are willing to give them start-up concessions, but Sydney are one of the dominant teams and they just keep getting stronger because of this Cost Of Living Allowance (COLA).”[/quote]

Parity is such a foreign quality in American sports, where billionaire owners and mega-contract stars continually rule the roost. It’s such bizarre concept that the NFL’s wealth distribution policy was called a “commie love fest” by progressive commentator Bill Maher.

Long term deals at ridiculous amounts of money? Not a problem. Maybe Buddy is just smart enough to know that in today’s sports climate, you might as well go for broke and if some team is willing to pay you that much money to play a sport, then why not?

Cuban cigars don't come cheap.

Cuban cigars don’t come cheap.

Australia is of course, a vastly different market to that of North America. You cannot possibly compare a 9-year/$10million deal in Australia to some of the hefty ones you see in baseball or basketball.

Commentators here have balked at the length of the deal, one which will see Franklin celebrate his 35th birthday by the time his contract is done. This of course, was not a problem for the Yankees who signed Alex Rodriguez to a disgusting 10-year/$275million contract in 2007 (who at the time was already 32 years old), or even more comically, the Angels who signed a 32-year old Albert Pujols to a 10-year/$254million contract in 2012. Pujols of course, played a paltry 34 games this year before pulling the plug on the season.

Perhaps Australian sports are just catching up to the big money culture professional sports has become over the last few decades. There is still plenty of resistance to big named players moving clubs, let alone to such news and fanfare Franklin has been scrutinized under. One can only imagine the kind of money he would have been offered if there was no salary cap in the AFL.

For Buddy, well, good on you Buddy, if someone believes you’re worth that much, then by all means take it and laugh all the way to the bank.

Standard
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.

[separator type=”double”]

Alex Rodriguez’s pre-game press conference:

http://player.espn.com/player.js?pcode=1kNG061cgaoolOncv54OAO1ceO-I&width=576&height=324&externalId=espn:9541555&thruParam_espn-uiautoPlay=false&thruParam_espn-uiplayRelatedExternally=true

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard
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.

Standard