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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Baseball, Culture, Featured, Sports

From Broad Street to the Bronx: Embracing The Evil Empire

There has been a plague slowly overcoming me. Not the kind that destroys the body, but the kind that eats away at the soul. I was recently in New York and went to the new Yankee Stadium for the first time and marveled at the statuesque nature of not just the structure itself, but the grounds surrounding it. There was an unrivaled mysticism to it all; being somewhere you only ever see on television. It felt in a way, like stepping on sacred soil. And this wasn’t even the old Yankee Stadium. Its pristine exterior only rivaled by the billions of dollars poured into the lavish interior; highlighted by a baseball diamond so near perfect that one would believe during its construction the echoing mantra was surely “if you build it, they will come.”

The problem here you see, is that I’m a Philadelphia Phillies fan. At least I think I am. I’ve lived through the toils of supporting a franchise with more losses than any other professional team in America. Born a year after their first World Series, I was 27 years old before they won anything of significance. The second baseball game I ever saw was one between the Orioles and the Phillies; so boring and lifeless that a bunt down the left foul line was met with the kind of exuberance reserved for parades down Broad Street.

So these words are hard to write, but ever since I went to see the Yankees play the Mets on June 10th of this year, there has been a slow but growing black tide washing over me. Like the spirit of evil filling my veins; resistance futile. There’s the history, the unmatched global branding in its sport, the legends that have donned the pinstripes and of course, the 27. Winning championships are the pillars of sporting success and with 27, few franchises are held up stronger than the one that calls Yankee Stadium home.

At the game, there was a good spattering of Mets fans. Not sure why or why they exist. But they were there. Hopeful as always, buoyed annually by the promise of hope, but left disappointed by an ineptness that is but the yearly tradition of ‘the Yankees win, the Mets lose’. The Mets lost of course, but it wasn’t just this one game, they’ve been losing forever; a paltry 2 World Series titles to the Yankees 27. If you were living in New York and identified as a New Yorker, why on God’s green Earth would possess you to choose the Mets over the Yankees? I’m sure there’s plenty of that “the team chooses you” nonsense but really? Suppress it, ignore it, will it away. I’ve never understood the choice to be a loser over a winner. Life is about choices. Why pick the Cubs over the White Sox? Why pick Melbourne Heart over Melbourne Victory? Why pick Manchester City over Manchester United (until recently)? Why pick the Mets over the Yankees?

Since I’ve come back to Melbourne, I’ve been in this perpetual rut. At the gym, I’ve started giving the “what’s up?” head nod to the guy always wearing the Yankees shirt (maybe I need to stay away and get a home exercise program, like the Rushfit). Feeling slowly torn from what I thought was right, slowly overcome by an injection of navy blue, white and grey. These colors are bleeding into the red; turning the crimson into night.

Yet, the most obvious and painful realization is that I just like Evil Empires. I am a Manchester United fan, a Melbourne Victory fan and if I lived in Chicago, there is no chance in hell I would suffer a lifetime of being a Cubs fan. I like global corporations, I like law and order, I like money, I like first class and I like nice things. And so maybe the darkness overcoming me is an inevitable turn; an evil just waiting for an Anakin Skywalker or an Eddie Brock to sink its teeth into. I’ve been bitten and the infection is spreading.

The Philadelphia red in me is still fighting; a spirit of brotherhood bred on the tough Philly streets swinging away at Wall Street, but in the end the spirit is always broken. The high rises of success and power are far too great for man to overcome and winning is far too much of an intoxicating brew to pass up. I’ll toss and turn and feel my soul staving off the inevitable, and I will try with every bit of cheese steak left in me to fight away the allure of glory, money and power. Yet I know deep down inside, evil will rise. And I have a feeling it won’t be long before I enjoy wearing my #7 Mantle shirt more than I do any other.

Photos by: Billy Ho
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