baseball: brewers @ braves

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I bought stupid good tickets for me and Trav to see the Brewers play the Braves last night; I heckled Mark Reynolds (“Cut your damn hair, Reynolds!” “Fall down again, Reynolds!” “Swing at that pitch and miss, Reynolds!” “WHAT IS YOUR FACE, MARK REYNOLDS!”) and watched my beloved ex-Tar Heel Rob Wooten pitch 1 1/3 scoreless relief and got to see a comeback Braves victory which only matters to me so much as Trav is a Braves fan.

I’d been to Turner Field once with him before, but now I can cross it off the lifelist.

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book review: a whole new ballgame – caryn rose

baseball: seton hall @ unc

Last Saturday I was sitting at Trav’s dining room table, eating scrambled eggs and bacon, and talking about — something. Something that was in all likelihood not related to baseball at all. Definitely not this book. Something that prompted me to say, “Hold on, I need to see who’s on the Astros’ top ten prospects,” turn to my iPad, and then instruct Trav on how George Springer was an anomaly, because he came out of a snowbird school, and Carlos Correa was a true shortstop who they expected to stick there in the majors. He also loves me despite this.

This is how my brain works.

So basically Caryn Rose’s newest novel, A Whole New Ballgame, about a woman who gets her heart broken by a musician and then accidentally takes up baseball as a hobby, is exactly my jam. It’s a smart story about falling in love with baseball, and in the hands of a writer less able to convey the joy of baseball, it would probably fall flat, but in Rose’s, it makes me want to quit my job and drive around watching baseball (even more than usual). It’s full of romantic improbabilities that are upfront about their improbability, which mimics the magic of baseball and that moment when your team just wins. (As a lifelong Orioles fan, I am still trying to remember all those moments.)

Rose’s story is not unfamiliar — boy breaks girl’s heart, girl meet a better boy — but the way she tells it is. The thing that surprised me is that her message isn’t baseball will save your life (or rock and roll will save your life, or anything like that), but rather, the thesis of Rose’s story is that living your life will save your life. Here, baseball is the metaphor for Laurie’s decision to live her life, and move towards her future, instead of betting on the “safe thing” or the “sure thing”. The so-called “bad guys” — ex-boyfriend Kirk, sleazy-charming love interest and musician Ryan — are encased in amber throughout the piece, unable and unwilling to change, destined to be rolled over by tar and their own stagnancy.

So if baseball will save your life isn’t the thesis, how is this a baseball book? Because baseball is so at the heart of it; Rose is by profession a music writer, but she wrote at metsgrrl.com — one of the first professional female baseball bloggers — for many years, and Laurie’s path into baseball fandom is written with a true hand and one that never gets preachy, or too pedantic in explaining baseball to the readers as Laurie learns it. The novel is peppered with Red Sox trivia — Laurie lives in Boston at the start of the book — but as much genuine love for baseball as there is devotion to a single team. Laurie’s path crosses, early on, with Peter and Eric, lifelong friends visiting every MLB park in a single summer, and that’s the story that I won’t spoil for you. But as I said, the improbabilities don’t feel improbable, and the exposition doesn’t feel expository; these characters felt like friends, and several times I wished I was the one sitting in the fourth seat with Laurie, Peter and Eric in Kansas City or, even, the hallowed seats on the Green Monster.

A Whole Other Ballgame isn’t a new classic, and if it was, I’m not the person to determine that. But it is a smart novel about how you move on from losing the things you love, to finding new things you love, and maybe the old things, too. It’s a novel about love, loss, and the fact that no matter what happened last year, pitchers and catchers report in February every year. There’s always next year.

You can find every outlet to buy Caryn Rose’s A Whole New Ballgame here. There’s a release party in Brooklyn at WORD on March 12. The only thing this book was missing is that I never got to find out Peter and Eric’s opinions on my beloved Camden Yards.

(Up top is a photo from a February Carolina baseball game, in 2011. I think I got a sunburn. This year, the Heels are starting in Charleston, SC, instead of the Thrill, because snow. Fuck snow. I was ready for college baseball.)

baseball: mariners @ orioles

baseball: mariners @ orioles

If you watch a lot of college baseball, eventually players you love will make it to the major leagues. This is a familiar view, of Kyle Seager’s bubble butt and lazy slow approach to third base, a view that makes my heart ache a little, a view that still makes me want to yell GODDAMNIT, SEAGER, at every possible opportunity, a view that makes me damn proud because when he was 19 I watched him commit at least three throwing errors at second base that involved the ball flying somewhere into the right field stands. If you’d asked me in 2009 if I would see Kyle Seager play in a major league stadium in four years, I would have laughed so hard I cried.

Last night I got to, though, and I ragged him the whole game because I could, and because that’s what that familiar view means I can do. I watched him play second base for a whole season in 2008; outside his family, not a lot of other people can say that.

Full set, including a bunch of Manny and one of the Wieters running really, really hard, is here.

why i bag on matt harvey

baseball: duke @ carolina, game 3

Matt Harvey was a non-entity to me his freshman year. He started on the weekends, but I was much more concerned with the bullpen, with Alex White and Adam Warren, than I was with the Harv. To the point where I have more photos of Buster Posey (two), who didn’t even play for Carolina, than I do of Matt (zero) from that year. He could have been a name, I suppose — he was one-third of what was to date the best Carolina pitching signing class. His classmates were meant to be Madison Bumgarner and Rick Porcello, who both obviously signed first round contracts and never enrolled at Carolina — but can you imagine? They’d all three still be in the majors now, Bumgarner would still have his ring, Porcello would probably still have seen at least one World Series, and that’s what they would talk about on broadcasts: college teammates, Harvey, Bumgarner, and Porcello, you know?

But he wasn’t. He was the Sunday starter. He helped the team go to a third straight College World Series. I barely remember him.

baseball: unc @ nc state

I call this photo the Matt Harvey Walk Of Great Shame And Despair. He’d just been totally ineffective in four and a third or so against NC State, and that photo expresses everything about Matt Harvey’s sophomore year that made me completely, totally insane. Brilliant, infuriating, ineffective, spoilt.

baseball: florida state @ unc, game one

baseball: florida state @ unc, game one

He spent a lot of time talking to pitching coach Scott Forbes (21) and a series of infinitely patient catchers, including Dodgers AAA farmhand Tim Federowicz, who hated talking to pitchers so much he would actually walk to the back of the mound and clean his cleats instead of participate in a conference, as well as minor leaguers Jesse Wierzbicki, Mark Fleury, and Jacob Stallings.

baseball: nc state @ unc, game one

baseball: nc state @ unc, game one

baseball: nc state @ unc, game one

Then, somewhere along the way, he settled down in his junior year. He needed more pitches, ran more counts full than would make me or scouts happy, but his junior year, he was steady. He wasn’t reliable, per se, but he wasn’t such a walking trainwreck. He might only hit one guy a game. And he quietly, sneakily, became the sort of leader that year’s team needed.

baseball: ga tech @ unc, game one

It was raining this night. We were playing Georgia Tech. As you can see, he was having a good night, this early season ACC game in his junior year. The Ks behind him, you know. I think he struck out 8 or 9 that game.

baseball: ga tech @ unc, game one

He lost the game, though. This photo, on Flickr, is captioned Angriest Harv Face, because the final was 1-0, or 2-1, and whatever the winning run was, it was unearned, runner reaching on E1, because the grass was slick and the Harv’s feet just flat went out from under him trying to field a mediocre bunt. He sat on the ground for a minute, that time, and you could see his resolve shape. This was the only game he lost his junior year. He was a rare junior on a young, talented, untried team that won more than it lost but was certainly not the College World Series caliber teams he’d played on the two years before. He was stubborn, fierce, pitched late into games and threw, probably, too many pitches. He tossed temper tantrums on the mound when Coach Fox tried to pull him from games. He hurled his glove at Scott Forbes in the dugout tunnel, final game of the season against Virginia, on regional television, after being removed from a game in the 10th inning.

It’s a joke about a joke, at this point. Every time I roll my eyes about Matt Harvey taking no-hitters into the seventh, I’m rolling them with affection, the affection of having watched someone grow up in front of you. I bag on Matt Harvey because I watched him grow up. He can win the Cy Young and I’m still going to roll my eyes and go, remember that time he left the Maryland game in the first inning? Because if I don’t remember what came before now, when it comes to Matt Harvey, the way he made a conscious decision to grow up, who will? Everybody can marvel at him, but only shep. and I remember the time he hit three Duke batters in the first inning. Matt Harvey has become a star, but you need to know where he came from to realize exactly how impressive that is.

Grant Bisbee sounds off on the Harv becoming an event pitcher here.

(Next up, a hard-hitting expose about how Kyle Seager leads the American League in doubles because he doesn’t like to have to run all the way around the bases at once*. And just wait til the Seags makes the All-Star Game for the first time.**)

(* The only part of this sentence that is true is that Kyle Seager leads the AL in doubles.)

(** This sentence is totally true, which is why you should never doubt baseball fanatics with cameras, Seager.)

perfection’s always flawed: a baseball mix

baseball: norfolk tides @ durham bulls

My all-time favorite photo of Matt Wieters, future of the Orioles organization, existed before the Big Bang, subject of all love songs ever written, bad ass new god. He hit a two-run homer in the first inning of the O’s first game today.

This is a playlist of baseball songs. You should listen to it, and share it. (For some reason I don’t understand because Spotify, it’s not showing all 16 songs in the playlist here. If you have Spotify and click through, you can see all of them, though.)

song share: gratitude (for curt flood) – the baseball project

baseball: athletics @ orioles, camden yards

Today is the birthday of Curt Flood, whose refusal to be traded from the Cardinals to the Phillies and the subsequent legal battle (Flood v. Kuhn) defined free agency as we know it today. Flood sacrificed his career, which might have been a Hall of Fame one, for the rights of baseball players not to be sold like cattle between clubs. Say what you will about Barry Zito’s current contract, professional sports would not look like they do today if not for Flood. (There is a lot to say about Barry Zito’s current contract. Free agency does not excuse stupidity, San Francisco Giants.)

Brad Snyder’s A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood’s Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports is an incredible though hefty look at Flood’s life, career, and lawsuit, and is a great read if you’re willing to slog through or are curious about the legal nitty-gritty of the case; if you just want well-written information (and a great look at ’70s baseball in general), my buddy Dan Epstein covers Flood and free agency really well in Big Hair And Plastic Grass: A Funky Ride Through Baseball And America In The Swinging ’70s.

The minor key indie rock dirge of “Gratitude (For Curt Flood)” always raises the goosebumps on my arms, every time I hear it. It’s one of my favorite things about the Baseball Project and their songwriting: for every song about every Stephen Strasburg, there’s a gorgeous love song to someone else who shaped the game but might not be a household name.

(This is my Baseball Project story: during YR15, back in October, the crowd at the Cradle overloaded cell phone networks, and thus a bunch of baseball fan types shared playoff scores around the crowd, cribbed from slow phones and peering through the windows at Bada Wings’ TVs in between sets. After checking on the Orioles / Yankees Game 4 in the 5th inning or so, I stood outside the Cradle for a bit and discussed Joe Saunders with a slightly tipsy, crazy-haired, genial gentleman in a Giants cap. I thought he was a slightly nutty, slightly tipsy, thoroughly genial Giants fan! He turned out to be Baseball Project frontman Scott McCaughey. He is an excellent dude, yo, and when I told him what I had thought later in the weekend, he laughed and said, “I am a slightly tipsy genial Giants fan!”. Also: Joe Saunders, bringing people together for … one week in October 2012, and never before or since.)