Tag Archives: MLB

Hoping for a good outcome for Amarillo’s baseball future

The start of the Major League Baseball season remains a moving target.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown it all into a cocked hat. MLB hasn’t yet played a game that counts. The National Basketball Association suspended its season, along with the National Hockey League. The National Football League is supposed to start blocking and tackling, but there might not be fans in the stands.

As for baseball, there appears to be some serious tension building between the big-league clubs and their minor-league affiliates.

Pay attention, dear friends in Amarillo, Texas. I am about to talk about the beloved Sod Poodles.

There is some discussion about MLB shedding 42 minor league franchises. What in the world does that mean for the Sod Poodles, which are affiliated with the National League San Diego Padres?

Here is a small part of what Sports Illustrated is reporting:

Even as taxpayers help to keep teams afloat, several minor league affiliates reported that their MLB teams seem unconcerned about their plight during the COVID-19 crisis. Though MLB clubs are not allowed, by rule, to directly pump funds into their affiliates, several minor league executives chafed at not having received so much as a check-in phone call.

The frostiness comes amid months of tense back-and-forth between MLB and the minors over the Professional Baseball Agreement, which governs their relationship. Last extended in 2011, the deal expires this September and, as part of the negotiations, MLB is seeking to save costs by eliminating more than a quarter of affiliated teams by next season while pushing for other significant changes to its minor league partnership.

The SI article is titled “Minor League Baseball is in crisis.” So I’ll leave it to you to decide just how much of minor league ball is hurting.

As for the Sod Poodles, the franchise does not have a lengthy history. It has competed in just a single season. Granted, it was a highly successful season in 2019, with the Sod Poodles winning the Texas League championship.

Please do not accuse me of heightened negativity here. I want nothing more than for my friends and former neighbors in Amarillo to cheer the Sod Poodles on again and again.

We are faced, though, with Major League Baseball in the midst of a financial crisis created by a worldwide medical crisis. I don’t expect the baseball players union to give up the substantial sums of money that go the players. MLB, therefore, might have to face the harshest of realities if it cuts the enough affiliated franchises to save enough money to stay in business.

I am crossing my fingers. Please, let those savings not involve the Amarillo Sod Poodles.

Will there be a fan-less baseball season? Well … probably

At the risk of being called a Dickey Downer, or a Negative Ned, I need to suggest what is looking patently obvious to this baseball fan.

If the Major Leagues suit up for the 2020 season while we are fighting a deadly worldwide viral pandemic, the athletes will play in front of themselves and each other. No fans in the stands. No cheering from behind the dugout. No curtain calls after dramatic home runs.

MLB is considering an 82-game schedule to begin around the Fourth of July. I understand that the team owners have signed off on it, but need approval by the players union to close the deal.

Yes, we have all these beautiful baseball venues around the country that will be devoid of fans. Why? The answer is obvious: Social distancing requirements — which are essential to stemming the infection rate — will not allow fans to be crammed into the stadiums next to each other.

Am I OK with that, with playing these games before tens of thousands of empty seats? Absolutely. I want to see baseball return.

Now … I want to speak briefly to my friends in Amarillo, who have been awaiting the start of the Texas League AA season featuring their beloved Amarillo Sod Poodles. The last time I commented on the team’s immediate future, a sorehead among the Sod Poodles fan club accused me of being Mr. Negativity.

I hate to say this, but Hodgetown — the shiny new ballpark built along Buchanan Street in downtown Amarillo — should remain empty, too, even if the Sod Poodles take the field for some hardball.

Yes, this pains me terribly. The ballpark came into being with considerable fanfare and much-deserved hype. It’s a first-class venue. The Sod Poodles’ fans packed the place for virtually every home game in 2019.

For the sake of community health — which at this moment appears to be teetering with a rash of outbreaks — the Sod Poodles should play their games before no one.

Baseball fans all across this great country are going to suffer the same withdrawal. If that’s what must happen, well, there’s always next season … or we can hope.

Minor league baseball falls victim to the pandemic

Oh, brother …

This story saddens me at a level I never thought I would experience. It comes from The Associated Press and it portends a grim short-term future for minor league baseball across a nation that is caught in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic.

Listen up, my friends in Amarillo, you fans of the Sod Poodles who had hoped to be flocking to Hodgetown — the city’s shiny new ballpark —  to cheer on the defending Texas League champions.

AP reports that minor league baseball experienced a 2.6 percent attendance increase in 2019. Minor league ball had more than 40 million fans for the 15th straight season, according to AP.

The 2020 season hasn’t started. There’s no prospect on the horizon when it will start, unlike what’s happening with Major League Baseball, where team owners and the players union are working on a schedule that would commence with no fans present in the stands. The AP reported:

While Major League Baseball tries to figure out a way to play this summer, the prospects for anything resembling a normal minor league season are increasingly bleak.

For minor league communities across the country from Albuquerque to Akron, looking forward to cheap hot dogs, fuzzy mascot hugs and Elvis theme nights, it’s a small slice of a depressing picture.

Yes, you can include Amarillo in that roster of minor league cities. Amarillo fought hard to lure the Sod Poodles from San Antonio. The team’s initial-season success in 2019 was one for the books. It was epic. The fans can’t wait for the first pitch.

Then came the COVID-19 crisis. Every single sporting league is shut down. That includes the plethora of minor leagues scattered.

When will they play ball? When will it be safe to cram fans into ballparks, sitting next to each other, allowing them to high-five and cheer when the home team scores a run or makes a spectacular play in the field?

Uhh, who in the world knows?

At this moment, it doesn’t look good. We might be in for a lost season.

And now … let’s cheer this sports moment

I want to share a brief video that I like watching periodically. I want to share it to get away for a moment from the coronavirus pandemic madness, the criticism, the hard feelings and the recrimination.

A baseball player hits a home run in this video. First, a bit of background.

The hitter is Albert Pujols, first baseman for the Los Angeles Angels. The game occurred in the summer of 2019. The stadium was packed with fans who came to see Pujols.

The game occurred in St. Louis, where Pujols — a certain first-ballot Hall of Fame selection when he retires — played his first 11 years in the major leagues. He became a revered figure in St. Louis. He left the Cardinals after the 2011 season in search of a better contract. Many fans were angry at Pujols for “deserting” them and the team.

Eight seasons later, they buried their hard feelings. Pujols returned to St. Louis for the first time since leaving the team. In the second of the three-game set the Angels and Cardinals played, Pujols drilled a pitch into the bullpen for a home run.

The reaction by Cardinals fans was epic. They cheered loudly for an opposing player. Moreover, they stayed on their feet cheering until that opposing player — Albert Pujols — came out of the dugout for a “curtain call.” That the fans would cheer so loudly for an opposing player is virtually an unheard of spectacle.

It’s going to be a while before sports fans will be jammed into sports venues such as they were in this venue. But … I want to share this here just to show you the meaning of sportsmanship.

I happen to think this is quite cool to watch.

Albert Pujols called the Cardinals fans the “best fans in baseball.” They proved him so right.

Waiting for the escape hatch to open

I believe I understand why the current worldwide health crisis is so unprecedented and devastating in its scope.

Let me say first that I totally understand the illness and death it has caused, creating untold misery, heartache and mourning. Its victims die alone, as hospitals cannot allow loved ones near them to hold their hands, whisper their love into their ears or just to act as comforters in time of pain and peril.

The unique quality of this coronavirus pandemic rests in the absence of any escape hatch for us to get away from the onslaught of bad news we are being forced to consume from our news networks.

Professional sports? College sports? Any sort of entertainment that allows us to sit among crowds of people who are cheering at the same performance? That’s all been put on ice.

Pro basketball and hockey has been shelved. Major League Baseball’s season has been delayed until only God knows when. The Summer Olympics in Tokyo has been postponed for an entire year … maybe even longer than that. College football is supposed to start later this summer, but they might not kick it off until much later.

New York’s Broadway theaters are closed. Movie theaters everywhere are closed, too.

So, we’re stuck. At home. Our governor asks us to stay put. He’ll get back to us soon to tell us where we might be able to go.

Some of us are going batty looking at the same walls for weeks on end. To be honest, we’re doing OK in our home. My wife and I happen to like each other’s company; at least I can speak for myself anyway on that matter.

This pandemic, though, is unprecedented simply by virtue of all the activities it has been on the back shelf. We are waiting now for an escape hatch to open.

Be patient, sports fans

Those of us who enjoy watching sports activities — and are fortunate to stay healthy during this pandemic crisis — need to suck it up and be patient.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has issued a strict crackdown on gatherings of 10 or more people. Activities of all stripes have been postpone or canceled. Sports teams are put on hold. The governor’s order extends to at least April 3, although I wouldn’t bet my last dollar that he will lift the restriction on that date.

Baseball’s season is put on hold. That means Major League Baseball won’t commence hardball. Nor will MLB’s farm teams, the minor league franchises that flourish in smaller to mid-size communities around the nation.

Listen up, Amarillo Sod Poodles fans: That means you, too.

The Sod Poodles finished their initial season in 2019 with a Texas League title. They whetted the appetites of their thousands of fans who packed Hodgetown at every home game.

They likely will have to wait to resume their cheers.

Sigh. I’m with you, ladies and gentlemen. I wish you could settle into your Hodgetown seats on time, but this crisis compels us to be patient and to do our part to help “flatten the curve” of new cases of coronavirus.

Our sporting appetite will be fulfilled in due course. None of us knows when our government can declare some semblance of victory over the deadly virus. I hope it is soon. So, too, do sports fans in every community from coast to coast to coast.

March Madness now becomes March Slumber

You can rest assured that I am not a college basketball fanatic who lives, dies, eats and sleeps according to the bracket I might fill out for the men’s college basketball tournament.

However, the cancellation of March Madness — the men’s and women’s tournaments — is a big, big deal.

The coronavirus pandemic has claimed a gigantic “victim” in the form of these two major sports and entertainment events.

Disneyland has closed its park in Anaheim, Calif., the NBA and the NHL have suspended their seasons until further notice; Major League Baseball has delayed its opening day for two weeks (but I’ll bet real American money it’ll last longer than that); colleges and universities are canceling “face to face” classes; school districts are closing for two weeks.

Major disruption anyone? Hmm?

Meanwhile, the Trump administration seeks to restore some semblance of order to the chaos that has enveloped the nation. Its strategy ain’t working. Donald Trump’s speech last night from the Oval Office was meant to quell the stock market turmoil, but it made matters worse; what’s more, the White House issued a “correction” two minutes after Trump’s speech to “clarify” what he had just said in announcing the travel ban from some or most of Europe … whatever the case may be.

So, lots of public institutions that rely on men’s and women’s basketball teams to make money for them are going to do without. Professional team owners that rake in millions every day when their teams performing against each other are watching the turnstiles remain quiet. Same for the Disney Corp.

Oh, how I wish this wasn’t happening. Wishing it, though, won’t solve this problem or end this crisis. Patience and prudence are the rule of the day … and likely beyond the foreseeable future.

MLB confronts a new season reeling from controversy

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred is a man with a spotlight shining on his every move.

MLB is reeling from a controversy involving a recent World Series championship team, the Houston Astros, who were caught in a massive sign-stealing scandal that has put a stain on their 2017 World Series victory.

What is happening now is that other teams’ pitchers are throwing “payback” pitches at Astros hitters. Manfred has vowed to be more aggressive than before in handing out punishment for pitchers who are determined to be exacting revenge on Astros players who were on that winning team three seasons ago.

Throwing “purpose pitches” is part of the game. Pitchers don’t like hitters crowding home plate. They will throw pitches that aim to “brush them back” off the plate. That’s a purpose pitch. Occasionally, pitchers take that practice to an extreme. When a hitter stands in the batter’s box to admire a home he has just hit into the stands, pitchers often take offense at being shown up; the next time up for the batter then becomes personal and pitchers occasionally hit batters on purpose as payback.

This year presents a serious potential problem for Manfred and managers who face the Astros. One of the competing managers, Joe Maddon of the Los Angeles Angels, has said he won’t tolerate that kind of behavior among his staff of pitchers. He said he intends to urge them to not throw at Astros hitters. The game must go on and teams must play it with integrity, Maddon believes.

I am all for that kind of approach.

As for Manfred, well, he has his hands full.

Many players and managers are angry that none of the Astros players involved in the cheating has been punished. I get that. However, that is not the players’ fault. Accordingly, throwing a hardball traveling at 95 mph at a player’s head constitutes a potentially deadly overreaction to a transgression that didn’t put anyone in imminent danger.

Let’s just play ball.

‘No!’ to reinstating Pete Rose

I am directing these brief remarks to Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Mr. Commissioner, do not knuckle or buckle under the pressure to reinstate Pete Rose, to bring the former Charlie Hustle back into MLB’s good graces. Rose has asked Manfred to be reinstated. He cites the relatively light punishment given to the Houston Astros for their high-tech sign-stealing in the 2017 World Series. C’mon, man. That’s apples and oranges.

Rose bet on baseball games. The MLB rules, which the commissioners knows better than I do, state categorically: Anyone who bets on big-league baseball games is subject to a lifetime ban from the game.

Lifetime ban needs to mean what it declares.

Pete Rose is still drawing breath among us. He broke a clear-cut, unambiguous rule. He should pay the price that he received from one of Manfred’s esteemed predecessors, the late A. Bartlett Giamatti.

Yes, he played a great game of hardball … even with supposedly limited athletic skill. He bet on baseball seemingly because he had a fetish he couldn’t control.

That’s too bad. He broke the rules. Pete Rose doesn’t deserve reinstatement.

Sign-stealing scandal claims another field boss

Wow! It looks as though the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal is way bigger than I imagined.

A third field manager has been sent to the proverbial showers. Carlos Beltran, who was supposed to manage the New York Mets this coming season, is now the former Mets manager. Why? Because he, too, was among those mentioned by Commissioner Rob Manfred in the sign-stealing scandal involving the Astros and their now-controversial 2017 World Series championship.

Beltran was a veteran member of the Astros when they won the World Series and, I guess, he was deeply involved in the sign-stealing tactics employed during the Series.

The Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers three seasons ago in the Series. They cheated, though, by stealing signs and transmitting that theft using high-tech hardware from the outfield to the bullpen. It’s really weird, given that sign-stealing on the field has been part of the game since its inception. Runners on second base watch the signs the catcher flashes to the pitcher and somehow communicate what he sees to the batter.

The Astros went way beyond that.

Major League Baseball was going to suspend the Astros’ general manager Jeff Luhnow and field manager AJ Hinch for the season. The Astros, though, fired them both. Then came the boot delivered to Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was bench coach for the Astros during the 2017 season and was part of the sign-theft crisis.

Now. Beltran is gone.

The question is circulating about whether MLB should vacate the 2017 Series title won by the Astros. I hope the Astros get to keep the trophy. I also don’t want them to have to bear an asterisk next to their designation as World Series champs.

The Astros could do the sportsmanlike thing and perhaps offer the Dodgers a share of the trophy. Maybe the Astros organization can make a profound public apology to the Dodgers for doing what they did during the Series.

I am dubious about whether the Astros’ tactics proved decisive, that they would not have won without cheating. I am not sure how you prove such a thing.

My strong hunch, though, is that there might be more heads to roll before this matter gets settled once and for all.

Now I am feeling badly for dismissing the scandal initially. Yeah, this is a big deal.