Now that I am known throughout Slough as the premier baseball expert of the area I am often stopped in the street by the good citizens of this town and asked for help and advice on the subject of the Major leagues.One popular question is "How can we better understand the National League West?" So I have devised an easy to follow system for all rookies to the game. I have categorized the teams of the NL West as rock bands.Pick a band you like-pick a team you like. Anybody who is an expert in the game can also use this reference guide to perhaps pick a band you might like.
The San Francisco Giants would undoubtedly have to open the gig. They are an aging team way passed their best but with a star performer who is clearly under the influence of drugs. The Giants are, surprisingly, Sly and the Family Stone.
The Rockies are a young fast paced team who perhaps flatter to deceive. We need a band who sound better from the next room than in the room that you are in. The Kings of Leon it is.
I think that I have said before (or perhaps it was in a malarial dream) that the dull, efficient Padres are the spitting equivalent of Coldplay.
The Dodgers are a California based group of older men touring the country trying to recall former glories. To misquote Don Henley " I saw a Dodgers sticker on a Cadillac".
Topping the bill are a young exciting team who make plenty of mistakes but regularly draw crowds of over 18,000. More importantly they wear red purely for marketing purposes. The D-Backs are The White Stripes.
Enjoy the show but remember no flash photography and please respect our neighbors when you are leaving.
In addition, since I have gone 2 for 2 in my attempts to double-bluff the universe with my predictions I’m going for the Padres to take 2 of the upcoming 3 game series.
This blog has become increasingly concerned about the mental health of some of our top baseball players and in a spirit of altruism has decided to provide some help to these unfortunate creatures. We asked the esteemed psychologist Dr Albert Grimmerson to answer the queries of the nations top athletes. His replies and advice are detailed below, obviously anonymity is maintained at all times;
The Patient- "I am a tall pitcher with a desert based baseball team. They are paying me a salary roughly equivalent to the GDP of Canada but I am unable to pitch for the rest of the season, yet I feel no guilt, why not?
The Doctor’s Diagnosis- "This is a classic case of ‘PSS’ or ‘Professional Sports Syndrome’. During your daily life you are surrounded by many people with the morality of a Baltimore crack w***e, it’s inevitable that you yourself will take on some of these characteristics."
The Doctor’s Prescription- "Enjoy yourself. This is one of the most liberating diseases known to man. Buy another house, go on holiday, who cares."
The Patient- "I am the Captain of a famous New York baseball team, and a very good player, yet when I go out in public the fans of other teams don’t respect me. What is wrong with them?"
The Doctor’s Diagnosis- "Normally I would say that they are suffering from jealousy at your success. However in this case it seems that you are a genuinely smug and dislikable fellow who just annoys people, especially the way that when you are batting you hold your hand up until you are ready to hit as though the whole world has to wait for you."
The Doctor’s Prescription- "A good slapping."
The Patient- "I am a pitcher with a Florida based,fish themed, major league outfit and I seem to have developed anger management issues. Can you help me?"
The Doctor’s Diagnosis- "In my experience people who say that they have anger management issues usually turn out to be violent thugs who should be banished from normal society for the good of us all. However in your case it could be that you are allergic to this fish that you mention. Food based rage is a particular interest of mine as indicated by a recent incident in which I was served a sausage McMuffin when I had specifically requested bacon."
The Doctor’s Prescription- "A red meat based diet and a twice weekly tasering"
The Patient- " I am the star player for a Detroit based team. I recently called a former manager a racist, but then denied it,why?"
The Doctor’s Diagnosis- "Because you are a sociopath."
The Doctor’s Prescription- "A heavy dose of mind altering drugs."
The Patient- "I am the best player that has ever lived and am currently approaching a home run record,yet all anybody ever talks about are steroids, even though nothing has ever been proven.Why don’t people respect and love me, and treat me with the awe I deserve."
The Doctor’s Diagnosis- "You are like the man who fell into an Egyptian river.You are in denial. (This blog wishes to distance itself,and it’s sponsors, from that previous joke) Problems are like bullies, once you face up to them they don’t seem quite as scary."
The Doctor’s Prescription-"If you’re guilty,say so. You can make a fortune from books and TV movies, and don’t forget to go on to the Oprah show and cry, it worked for me,of course I was only in the audience but I think the point is made."
The Patient- "I play for a team that has it’s home games in Kansas.I recently shot a television reporter in the face and claimed that it was an accident.But it wasn’t, it’s something that I had been planning for weeks. Do I have a problem?"
The Doctor’s Diagnosis-"You are in the classic early stages of what is known as ‘SKD" or "Serial Killer Disease". It is more than likely that you will strike again, but who knows when and who knows how? Only a crack team of Quantico based profilers can track down this menace to society."
The Doctor’s Prescription- "All the really succesful serial killers have great names. I suggest ‘The Kansas Killer’ or The Baseball Butcher’, alliteration is very important. All this is discussed in my latest book "Naming a Serial killer:Why Alliteration is Very Important".
Thank you Doctor.
Those of you who study the minutiae of this blog (and I assume that you all do) will be aware that my soccer team is Derby County. What you almost certainly won’t be aware if is that the name of our old,and now demolished, stadium was The Baseball Ground and was originally the home of Derby County Baseball Club (in this picture Julio Franco is sitting in the middle wearing a top hat) from 1890 to 1898. The building of the stadium was an heroic, but ultimately doomed, attempt by a local businessman to introduce baseball to the United Kingdom, his name was Sir Francis Ley and his foundry gloried in the name "Ley’s Malleable Castings Vulcan Ironworks" (which has a much more solid and trustworthy sound to it than modern money making enterprises such as "Google" I think). Derby County ran away with the initial Baseball Championship but were forced to resign from the competition after just one year due to other clubs protesting about the number of American players in the team (once again the Americans ruin it for everyone!). The soccer club began to share the ground from 1895 and the rest,as they say, his history.
I’m just a little bit too young to remember the latter part of the 19th Century so the reasoning for the name of the stadium never really registered with me. For me The Baseball Ground was purely about soccer, and in it’s heyday it was a mud filled swamp that other teams found almost impossible to play on, and the crowds seemed close enough to touch the players (on one infamous occasion the spectators swarmed to the edges of the pitch and lashed out kicks at the opposition, causing the game to be abandoned). It was situated in the middle of some dank and dreary terraced houses whose increasingly immigrant inhabitants would look out with a mixture of nervousness and curiosity at the people who descended on their streets every other week.
It’s gone now. Derby have moved to a bright modern stadium called Pride Park (dreadful name), but just occasionally when the floodlights are on and the game is going well and the crowd are behind the team, it almost (almost) feels like the old place is still standing.
Derby v Manchester United -see what I mean about the pitch.
The Baseball Ground-aah the sheer glamor of it all.
Brian Clough-Derby’s greatest and most controversial manager gives his view on the Germans.
I’m basing this on no empirical evidence or any kind of statistical analysis but the Diamondbacks seem to be the streakiest of teams this season. The current run of 6 consecutive games won is just the latest example of the team either blowing exceptionally hot or freezing cold. Personally I put this down to the young age of the team.
The Diamondbacks are essentially behaving like a teenage boy going through puberty, with periods of intense excitement and joy(usually due to the fact that a girl has looked at them) interchanging with periods of profound disillusionment and depression(usually due to the fact that a girl has not looked at them).
If we were to meet this team in one of their downturns it would probably be wearing a Metallica or Marilyn Manson t-shirt and muttering something incomprehensible about not being understood and how it was,like, the system that was,like,really f****d up.
But if we were lucky enough to meet it in it’s good phase it would be talking excitedly about traveling the world and volunteering on a really great project that will bring water to a small village in Sudan.
Let’s hope it’s foolishly idealistic phase lasts for a while yet, or at least surfaces at the right time in the future.
Incidentally, following my astonishingly successful "double-bluff" prediction that the Marlins would sweep the recent series, I am now genuinely predicting that the Braves take the up-coming series by two games to one.
A recent confluence of events (East coast timings,double-headers) meant that I had the misfortune to watch the Tampa Bay Devil Rays get an absolute shelling from the Yankees. Normally another team’s misfortunes are a source of constant joy to me, but with the Devil Rays there is very much the sense of "there but for the grace of God go I".
I was in Miami in October 1997 and thus every bar and restaurant was screening the Marlin’s surge towards the World Series title (I was naturally looking for somewhere that was showing the England versus Italy soccer game) and I realized that the game of baseball was one that I could very easily get attached to. I knew straight away that I couldn’t be a Marlin’s fan because they were obviously the power players in this sport and to follow them would be what we in England call "glory hunting", so I did some research and found out that there were two new expansion teams starting in 1998. It took me about a month to work out what an expansion team was, but in the end it came down to a decision between the Diamondbacks and the Devil Rays, and after weeks of careful research and studying the various demographics and political affiliations of each community I decided that,on balance, the Diamondbacks had the better name, and my allegiance was struck.
I also liked the idea that the the Arizona Front Office had a plan to start small and gradually build up a team through the use of a carefully nurtured farm system, but I also liked it when they abandoned that idea completely and spent money like there was no tomorrow in order to win today.
I would occasionally glance over at the Devil Rays with their constant struggles, their seemingly endless losing seasons and their inability to even vaguely contend for their division and I realized how lucky I was. Even to this day if the Devil Rays are on MLB.tv and I see a fellow Brit sitting alone in an empty stadium holding up a cardboard sign that says "Hello Manchester" or "Derbyshire Devil Rays" I can’t help but feel a mixture of pity and admiration for both their fortitude and their sheer unadulterated bad luck.
Within hours of my recent post concerning paradigm shifts I was contacted by Professor Grubelhoof of Slough University who was keen to discuss his latest research project. "The changes in the universe that you make such weak jokes about are actually happening" he told me "and I have a machine that can prove it,it’s called a Particle Accelerating Thermal Hygroscopic Electrolyte Thermal Imaging Coagulator". I asked him if he realized that he had used "thermal" twice, and once the sound of him bashing the phone against his head had receded he explained what the machine could do.
"You understand the principle of "Schrodingers cat" of course" (I neither knew this Schrodinger or any of his pets but decided to keep quiet) "well, essentially a new universe is created with every action that we take, and what my machine does is enable me to look into these alternate worlds."
I was fascinated and asked if it would be possible for him to give me some details about how baseball has developed in these other places. He told me that he simply had to turn a few dials and it could be done "but remember" he said "the greater the number of the universe the greater it will have departed from our own world". These are the results as he explained them to me;
Universe #5- technology is used extensively throughout the game.Computer programs call balls and strikes, and contentious plays are decided by video replays. Disputes have been completely eliminated from the sport but unfortunately games now take 12 hours to complete and attendances have plummeted. Tractor pulling is now considered the national pastime.
Universe #23- the headline on Baseball Tonight was the spontaneous combustion of Scott Olsen whilst pitching against the Diamondbacks, "it seems that he got some dirt on his uniform and he just went over the edge" a spokesman for the Marlin’s said (baseball related explosions are not unusual in this universe but this incident was said to be the worst since the "Lou Pinella Disaster" of 1995 in which 12 people died).
Universe #87-baseball is unrecognizable in a universe in which the English still rule America, the game stops for cream tea after the 5th inning and a home run is referred to as an "absolute corker", the star player for the Boston Britishers is Lord Frederick Smythe-Jenkins.
Universe #155- President Thomas Cruise has declared that Scientology is the official religion of the United States. The Hollywood Thetans are the reigning World Series champions and the "post game audit" is a traumatic but necessary part of the fan’s experience.
Universe #289- America has prohibited immigrants from entering the country since the Second World War. As a consequence the level of play is at such a low standard that most talented players ply their trade in Latin America. "Most of my players are frightened of even catching a ball" complained Yankees owner Rudy Giuliani.
Universe #586- during the golden years of Hollywood baseball changed into a "pro-celebrity" sport, with teams made up of a mix of players and stars. The "Matt Le Blanc Mets" are the current force in the National League with the "Regis Philbin Angels" dominating the American League. "Pro-celebrity baseball keeps going from strength to strength" said Commissioner Paula Abdul.
Universe #1033- the world is ruled by apes, and an astronaut is grief stricken to find a half buried Statue of Liberty by the ocean side.
It was at this stage that I decided to take my leave of the Professor and his amazing machine. But it was incredible to think that with every pitch thrown a new world is created,with every home run that Chad Tracy hits a new universe is born (six already this year).
Some of you may have noticed that my postings on here recently have been less than optimistic towards the future for the Diamondbacks.Don’t worry, there is method in my misery. For I have noticed a phenomenon that may possibly be unique in both human history and science, namely, the instant that I hit the "publish now" button on the MLBlogs page is exactly the same instant that the universe initiates a paradigm shift thus rendering everything that I have just written complete nonsense.
For example, on the day that I lauded the D-Backs for their performances in one run games they lost,and continued to lose, one run games. I praise Brandon Webb and he can’t win a game. Last week I hoped for a split in the 3 game series against the Cubs (before I published the blog it was a 4 game series).
This means that I have to think very carefully about what I commit to these pages. If the universe is determined to prove me wrong (and believe me it most certainly is) then I need to make sure that what I predict is the opposite of what I hope for.
This probably sounds simple to you but I’m afraid that it is much more complicated than it might first appear. For one thing I have to believe in what I predict, otherwise the Universe would not be fooled. So if I want the Diamondbacks to win I genuinely have to believe that they will lose, in other words, the greater my despondency the better the results. This requires the kind of mental control that Tibetan monks struggle for a lifetime to achieve, I’m essentially convincing my own mind that it’s beliefs are false whilst always being aware of the falsification.
There will of course be diagrams available to explain the kind of mental gymnastics that I am currently going through but suffice to say that I can genuinely predict that Florida will sweep the upcoming series and,as a bonus, the Marlins will suffer no injuries during their time at Chase Field.
Since the All Star Break I have felt a gathering sense of foreboding hovering over me, a sense not unlike that felt by a husband discovering his wife checking out his internet search history,or maybe akin to that felt by an Englishman seeing a coach load of Americans in front of him in the queue for the all you can eat buffet. Either way, you get the picture. So what has caused this shadow to pass over the sunlight of my soul? To find it’s origin we need to travel to another time,another country and even another sport (cue harp strings to indicate a different location).
In 2001, after years of under performance, Sven Goran Eriksson was named the head coach of the England soccer team. His appointment was both revolutionary and unpopular, largely because he was Swedish (and therefore foreign) an intellectual (he wore glasses) and could speak many languages (previous England coaches had struggled with the rudimentary aspects of their mother tongue). Yet many heralded his arrival as a new dawn for the side, not least because he was taking over at the time that the so-called "golden generation" of young players were coming to the fore.
The first few months were a honeymoon period, with the fans welcoming a new approach and the players reveling in a different, less histrionic, management style. Yet strange thing were also happening. At major tournaments England still managed to under perform, the players were accused of lacking passion and fight (accusations close to treason in the eyes of the fans) and the team still continued to perform at a a barely reasonable level.
Questions were starting to be asked of Sven. Why could he not get the best out of these players? Why were they not fired up for big games? Certainly he was fiercely loyal to his team,and his team were fiercely loyal to him. But nobody ever got left out of the team, nobody ever got called out in public, nobody ever felt threatened.
Eventually the whole country turned on Sven.They were sick of him sitting passively in the dug-out no matter what triumph or disaster came his way. Whilst other country’s coaches prowled along the touchline like Charlie Sheen on the set of "America’s Next Top Model" our man sat there impassively. How could the players (or the fans) be inspired by this man?
The end was not pleasant. He left in a flurry of tabloid headlines detailing shady business meetings, fake Arab businessman and TV weather girls. England’s "golden generation" was tarnished, perhaps beyond repair.
As I watched the recent D-Backs-Cubs games it all came flooding back to me. The promising young team, the high hopes, the manager who shows little emotion on the bench. It’s a genuinely disturbing sequel to a movie I have already seen. Now it could be that in the confines of the locker room Bob Melvin launches his own veritable haboob at the players, but I doubt it. What this team needs is to be scared, to be excited, it needs a benches clearing brawl, and it needs it’s leader to let them know that he will never be satisfied until they reach the limits of their abilities.It needs, in short, to step outside of it’s comfort zone.
When Sven was England manager it was often the case that his half-time team talk (the one chance the manager has to change the mood of his players) would result in the team putting in a worse performance after the break, and the joke was that his post-match interviews could be summed up by the phrase "first half good,second half not so good". I’ve got that foreboding feeling that this could be a pretty accurate description of the Diamondback’s season.
As I made my way into work this morning passed the cars that had been abandoned due to heavy flooding I obviously spared a thought for the people of Phoenix stuck in that very hot and very dry place. But as I sat watching several people being dragged to their death by the swirling waters it also gave me the chance to ponder where the Diamondbacks were in their season. A few days ago I wrote that this was their "moment of truth", with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer sacked and the momentum seemingly leaving the club it seemed likely that by the end of the series against the Cubs we would know how the second half of the season would pan out.
So far it doesn’t look good. After a brief false dawn against the Padres the old woes seem to have returned, particularly in relation to the hitting.My sad little heart sinks every time the D-Backs get a runner on third with one out as it can pretty much be guaranteed that this will be followed by a pop-up and a strike-out (I actually have a very good pop-up blocker on my PC that maybe the D-Backs should look at investing in). Now they face a streaking Cubs team in a series that they at least need to split in order to look back at this road-trip with some semblance of satisfaction. Brandon Webb needs to prove that he is the ace of the staff tonight (his last few starts have been exercises in giving his team "a chance") and pitch his best stuff.
Luckily the Padres and Dodgers have not got too far ahead but the team need to get that elusive momentum back before all the talk reverts back to what a good team they will be "next year".
Now that the Diamondbacks have finally won a game, this would seem to be as good an opportunity as any to look at some of the things that made a simple English boy like myself fall in love with the game of baseball so, in no particular order;
No Segregation of Fans- my first love is soccer so it was a genuine culture shock to see fans of two opposing teams sitting in the same area, even more of a shock was seeing somebody in a Cardinals uniform at a D-Backs/Padres game. There are neutrals in soccer but they have to pretend not to be, the simple rule is that you feign to support the team of the people that you are sat with, it’s like a crash course in method acting.
The Fielding- people who don’t understand the game tell me that the fielders all have "big gloves" so catching the ball is easy. I would like to be able to tell them how wonderful it was to see Steve Finley play in center field compared to the average cricket fielder who flails around like Stan Laurel in a brewery.
The Stats- these are really not an important part of European sport, but I have learned to love the transcendental joy of studying a hitters batting average when facing left-handers in day games.
Base Running- a stolen base, or a hit and run, is so much more exciting in person than on TV, you genuinely have to be there.
World Series 2001- I was working a night shift and disagreeing with every decision Bob Brenly made until Gonzo got his famous hit. Best night shift ever.
The Swimming Pool- You probably all hate it, but when people in England ask me what the Diamondbacks stadium is like I can nonchalantly tell them that is has a pool,and it’s air-conditioned!
A Pitching Duel- I now consider myself a "purist" and therefore despise the pyrotechnics of a slug fest.
Finally Getting the Joke-I now fully understand Woody Allen’s routine about thinking of baseball players during sex ("I don’t know whether to squeeze or steal").