Baseball & Hippos? Come On, Don’t Tease

Baseball and Hippos.  Has there ever been anything more right with the world?

hchI absolutely love Minor League Baseball.  It’s pro baseball at affordable prices, each seat is a great seat, there is always an easy going sense of humor in the ballpark and every effort is made under the sun to keep you interested between innings.

Locally we have the Somerset Patriots, an independent league team with a terrific stadium. I love going every year.  About an hour away we have the NY Yankee’s Double A farm team, the Trenton Thunder. In fact, Stacy and I got to see Andy Pettitte make a rehab assignment start there a few years back.

milblogosBut what first got me into MiLB were the names, hats and uniforms of these teams.  It started years ago with the Durham Bulls (because of Bull Durham, the movie). Then, I  found (and fell in love with) the logo of the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Portland Seadogs (a softball team I played on) and now, my newest favorite – The Hub City Hippos.

This Double-A Affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks are actually the Jackson Generals, based in Jackson, TN

It started with a 2016 April Fool’s joke. The Jackson Generals announced they would become the Hub City Hippos for every Friday home game that season. Enough people were on board with the idea last year, however, that the team decided this year to do it for real.

An article on BaseballAmerica.com reads, “We wanted to pay homage to the hippopotamus. Locals know that hippos are a major part of the ecosystem in West Tennessee,” Generals assistant general manager Nick Hall said. “The Generals are honored to be the first organization in the region to rightly honor the species.”

It went on to say “The designs for the caps and jerseys were done in-house, marking a second team’s departure from the two minor league design kingpins—Brandiose and Studio Simons—this season. The Lowell Spinners went to FS Designs for their new artwork.”

So, you know I had to … and I did … but alas, they’re not available online.  So, I contacted the store directly and for the low low price of a partial mortgage payment, I learned that I, too, can own my own Hub City Hippo fitted cap.

Yep.  For only $43.09 I can get the hat.  $58.09 if I throw in the T-shirt.

I’m not sure if you hear/saw that so I’ll just put it out there again.

$43.09.  For a hat.

$43.09.

For.

A.

*&^%ing.

Hat!

Naturally I stopped for a moment to think this through, catch my breath and ask myself if this is something I really wanted to do.

Well. Yes. I want to do it.

But then I asked myself if this is something I really want to spend my money on?

Ah.  Now we’re singing a different song.

… and as I ponder the pros and cons of the purchase I remind myself of a mani/pedi that Stacy got from a really nice Spa a week or two ago.  She dropped nearly a hundred on that.  Nearly a hundred bucks to get the nails did.

Hippos

I take another look at the face of the hippo on the hat.  I LOVE IT.  I really do.  But is it worth the money?

Did I mention it is $43.09?

That’s the price.

Then, I watched this video.   You should totally watch this video.  About five weeks ago The Memphis, TN Zoo welcomed Winnie…  I am serious  It is two and a half minutes.  You should watch this video.

I am SO buying this *&^%ing hat now.

 

You Told Him I was Gonna throw a Deuce, Right?

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If you are paying any attention to Major League Baseball you know the future of New York Yankees looks more exciting than it has in years. Fortunately, now that Comcast and the YES Network have put their big boy pants on and came to an agreement, I have Yankee baseball in my home once more. Even though it is about damned time, it could not have come at a better time. if it had not, I would be missing out on something special.

The story of the season thus far has centered around right fielder Aaron Judge. I unabashedly join in the chorus of Bomber fans everywhere singing his praises.

image014The man is a powerhouse. He stands 6′ 7″ tall and 282 lbs. To give a better perspective, Yankee Magazine tweeted out this photo of him with our shortstop Ronald Torreyes. Standing slightly smaller than the average American male, Torreyes is 5′ 8″ and 151 pounds.

That is a big boy.

Just last night, in the 25th game of the year he hit home runs 11 and 12 of the season and in the process is becoming the best thing that happened to MLB’s Stratcast since its 2015 inception.

I know. I had no idea either. But since it keeps coming up when people talk about him, I felt it was time to learn. Now it’s your turn.

Statcast is a high-speed, high-accuracy, automated tool developed to analyze player movements and athletic abilities.

With respect to hitting, it measures exit velocity, launch angle, vector, hang time, hit distance and projected HR distance. The latter by calculating the distance of projected landing point at ground level on over-the-fence home runs.

One month into the season Judge is at the top of the list. last week he hit a shot that got out of there in a hurry, exiting at 119.4 MPH. In doing so, he sent Mr. Rawlings 435 feet. No one this season has hit one harder.

Further? Yes.  Harder? No.

When reviewing Stratcast’s Top 50 hardest hit balls of the season, Judge is responsible for nine of them. NINE! Let’s do quick math: 30 teams. 25-man rosters. In the NL, pitchers can hit. This makes a total of 375 potential NL batters and 240 American League batters who are on active rosters.

Of these 615 men, one is responsible for nine of the top 50 (18%) hardest hit basballs in April.  It is the rookie right fielder for the NY Yankees.  Three of those nine were home runs that went 435, 448 and 457 feet.

I have been hearing a lot of comparisons to Derek Jeter lately. That initially gave me pause until I learned these comparisons are with respect to Judge’s mannerisms on and off the field. Polite. Respectful. Professional. Pausing and thinking before he speaks. He does not shoot from the hip. For a young athlete in NYC, that is impressive.

“He’s a little bit like Derek to me,” Yankee Manager Joe Girardi said on Monday. “He’s got a smile all the time. He loves to play the game. You always think that he’s going to do the right thing on the field and off the field when you look at him. He’s got a presence about him. He plays the game to win all the time, and that’s the most important thing. It’s not about what you did that day.

Even Jeter himself is becoming a fan.

“The good thing about him is you can tell from his demeanor and his attitude that he wants to improve,” said Jeter on a video posted on yankees.com “He wants to be better and he handles himself the right way, not only on the field but off the field. So I’m a fan of his.”

Judge’s reaction? He is staying silent.  I think Jeter would have done that, too.

In my limited experience in watching him, Judge comes to play everyday. He comes to win, everyday. That’s also what Jeter did. That’s what all the great Yankees have done in the past and do today.

With a bit of luck, Judge will be one of them. The coming years will tell us yes or no.

But for now, all rise for Aaron Judge!

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NOTE:  Judge named American League Rookie of the Month

This is For the Birds…

For those who prefer to listen, than read, I offer this:

*       *      *     *     *

CamdenPan

As a Catholic, it is a big no-no to have any other Gods before me. I get that and I should be clear that I don’t have any. I don’t have any before me, behind me, beside me or any others. So I would then respectfully request you not misinterpret what I am about to write as taking the Lord, His name or His church in vain.

Hell, I love me some Jesus just as much as the next Christian does. I pray and I talk to Him every day. Am I a good Catholic? Mmm. No. No. But, my faith is important to me and it is a big part of my life.

That being said, you can believe me when I tell you there are few places on earth where my spirit will rise to the heavens like it does when I am inside a cathedral that houses the church of baseball.

Someone, I don’t know who, once said “90 feet between bases is the closest man has come to perfection.”

They’re right.

Last Saturday, a church opened its doors to me; a cathedral I’ve longed to visit. Clad in vestments of orange and black, their opponents in gray and navy, there was a  congregation of 38,000 strong readying themselves for a religious experience. I grant you there may not have been any laying of the hands, or kumbaya’s, but there was a warm sun and no there was no threat of rain.

The service begins as it usually does, with a hymn and a prayer. In our case the hymn was the Star Spangled Banner, the benediction was a cry from the pulpit behind home plate, letting the the boys know it was time to “Play Ball.”

For communion I had a soft pretzel, a hot dog, a bag of peanuts, four pints of Miller Lite … don’t judge me, I was at a game. And all of this was complimented by the Baltimore faithful singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

CamdenMeStacy

Me and Stacy

 

Three-plus hours later, and in spite of a 5-4 loss, my heart was singing Hallelujah and Praised be to Jesus … and at the risk of full-blown blasphemy, Praise be to Cal Ripken, Jr. and the house he built too.

For the first time since Oriole Park at Camden Yards opened 25 years ago, I stepped through its gates. Immediately I was impressed. Inside the stadium and out, its cleanliness was eye opening. The concession staff greeted patrons with smiles, even late in the game when they were tired. Lest I forget the kindness of Baltimore baseball fans. Holy cow.  One thing was for sure, I was not in the South Bronx.

TheBaltimoreOriole

I mean, come on. Look at that face? How can you not love it?

As a kid, as I am now, I was and am a Yankee fan.  But the Orioles have always my “second team.”  Quietly, my second team.  To explain this would deserve its own blog post at some point.  Just not here and now.  Nevertheless, it began when I was a kid.  It may have been the colors, or it may have been their logo.  I will tell you, to this day, The Oriole Bird is my all-time favorite logo in sports.

But win or lose, on this day it didn’t matter. It was spending an afternoon in the sun at Camden Yards, right next to my girl, and a handful of her friends from college, all making for a great day at the ballpark; a great day of baseball.

After I wrote that last line it reminded me of something a friend of mine once told me close to 30 years ago.

Every day is a great day for baseball, Patrick. It’s just some are better than others.

Amen, brother. Amen.

 

CORRECTION:  In the audio I mistakenly said 23 years ago … it is 25 years ago.

Just the Book I Needed …

From March 21, 2016

If I am being honest, the book took me by surprise. I didn’t realize how much I would like it. To me baseball books are all the same. Don’t get me wrong, I like them and the fact that they’re all the same doesn’t really bother me too much. When you love the game, it’s perfectly acceptable. But what threw me for a shock was how this book made me feel like I felt when I was 11 years old.

calicojoe.jpgIt put me back on my old little league field, the old benches in the dugout with fresh paint, the dirt and gum wrappers on the floor. When I would stand on the mound, my weakling little arm feeling like rubber, six innings in with pitch counts not to be considered for another 25 years or so. Letting up hit after hit and that rare feeling of amazement when I struck someone out. I may not have been all that good at the game, but the game was always faithful, true and honest with me. She was the love of my young life.

I think if I could rate books in terms of baseballs and not stars I would give it five baseballs … this way those who are like me – men and women who still daydream about playing every spring and summer day of their life – would know this is a baseball book worth reading. Because it is.

But to the rest of the world, I’m not so sure. You can call it a Father-Son book if you want. You wouldn’t be wrong to do so. But we all take different things from books, don’t we?

It allowed me to have flashbacks of a wonderful childhood when baseball meant everything. It was all that mattered. Batting averages and RBIs, extra base hits and ground balls with eyes; dying quails and drives in the gap. The perfume mixture of a leather baseball glove, Red Man chewing tobacco and pine tar. Oh dear God, I swear to you, if they could bottle that mixture and make it a perfume it would save marriages.

Just the feel of the ball hitting the sweet spot of the bat. When you know you’ve hit safely in the gap, your confidence as you round first, just like the big leaguer’s on television and that slight chance you can stretch it into a double. My God it’s so romantic. I just don’t know anything else like it.

All of this, and so much more, were the images I conjured up when reading this little story.

Do you love the game? Are you a nerd and daydream about breaking up double plays and unsuspectingly drag bunting a ball down the line when the corners are playing you deep? If you are and if you do, read Calico Joe. It won’t take you long to get through, but the memory of it will last for a long time.