Tag Archives: MLB

It’s ‘phony patriotism’

If the National Football League and the National Basketball Association are able to get their seasons started, we should prepare ourselves for another round of what I call “phony patriotism.”

It will come from those who object to players “taking a knee” while they play the National Anthem. Americans will object to the demonstration of peaceful protest against police brutality. They will assert that kneeling during the Anthem disrespects the flag, the men and women who fight to defend it as well as our way of life.

Donald Trump says he will turn off football games the moment he sees players kneeling. No doubt he will wrap himself in the flag, perhaps even hugging and kissing the cloth stitched in red, white and blue. He’s going to pitch for legislation making flag-burning a violation of federal law.

Except for this bit of history: The U.S. Supreme Court has stood firmly behind what the flag represents. The court has ruled that burning the flag is a form of political protest, which the Constitution protects in the First Amendment.

I want to stipulate once again that I revere the flag. I stand proudly for it. I went to war in defense of what that flag represents. No one who ever seeks to make a political point by burning that flag should do so in front of me.

But the return of pro sports may well be upon us. Major League Baseball has begun — more or less — and yes, players have knelt during the Anthem. The NFL and the NBA seasons are scheduled to begin soon.

I will await the phony patriotism and will dismiss it for what I believe it is: a demonstration of cheap showmanship.

COVID response turns U.S. into pariah nation

The world’s most powerful nation, the one that sees itself as “indispensable,” has become a pariah state.

How do I know this? Well, a story in the Sunday Dallas Morning News caught my attention. It says that with Major League Baseball about to start, the Toronto Blue Jays — the only MLB team headquartered in a foreign land — will not be allowed to play games at their home ballpark.

And why is that?

The Canadian government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau does not want the Blue Jays players infecting anyone with the COVID-19 virus they might have acquired while playing hardball in the United States.

Roll that around for a just a moment.

The European Union has banned travel between the United States and all 27 countries that comprise the EU. The EU says travel also is banned from Russia and Brazil along with the United States because none of those nations has controlled the COVID virus sufficiently.

Now this from Canada.

Major League Baseball prides itself as being an international attraction. Indeed, many of its top players hail from places like the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Japan, Mexico and, yes, Canada. The Blue Jays are a premier MLB franchise.

And yet, the nation with the world’s greatest scientific researchers, the world’s pre-eminent medical establishments, the strongest military (by far!) in the history of the world cannot control a virus sufficiently for a neighboring country to allow its lone baseball franchise to play home games.

To think, therefore, that Donald John Trump calls his disastrous non-response to the pandemic a success. That he’s doing a fabulous job of controlling the virus. That the numbers of infection and death are the product of “fake news.”

My astute wife of nearly 49 years puts it in perspective. “I don’t care what the numbers say,” she told me. “I know that hospital workers are exhausted from the work they are doing to keep these patients alive.”

So, now we hear that a Major League Baseball team will be denied the chance to play baseball on its home field because its athletes will have traveled to the United States.

Is this how you “make America great again”?

Minor league baseball hits the showers

It’s official … there will be no minor league baseball in America this summer.

The dang pandemic has claimed a major casualty. I got word of the demise of minor league hardball in my morning newspaper, which reported that the myriad leagues around the country couldn’t pull it together in time to throw out first pitches.

I had hoped to attend a few games this summer in Frisco, where the Roughriders play ball. It won’t happen. What’s more, I had intended to cheer for the Amarillo Sod Poodles when they ventured to Collin County to play the Roughriders.

In fact, my heart hurts more for the Soddies’ fans than for the Roughrider fans. I mean, the Sod Poodles wanted to defend their Texas League championship, which they won in 2019 during their initial season in existence.

The Big Leagues are set to play a 60-game schedule that begins late this month. I hope they make the grade, although given current infection trends in many states I am not going to cash in my chips on it.

As for the minor league cities all across the nation that root hard for their Major League wannabes, let’s justsit tight and wait for next year to arrive.

They’re going to play hardball after all!

Minor league baseball — the organized, Major League Baseball-affiliated version of it — appears headed for the scrap heap in 2020, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and MLB’s inability to cobble together an agreement to start an abbreviated season.

But get a load of this development: Some minor-league cities are going to play host to a collegiate league comprising players from colleges and universities. Amarillo gets to join the fun when it plays host to two teams, the Amarillo Sod Squad and the Amarillo Sod Dogs. I guess the names are a sort of offshoots of the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the AA Texas League team that has been shelved for the season because of the pandemic.

They’re going to start playing baseball at Hodgetown, the shiny new ballpark the Sod Poodles call home. Brett Wellman will manage the Sod Squad; Jimmy Johnson will manage the Sod Dogs. Wellman is the son of Sod Poodles skipper Phillip Wellman, so they’re keeping it in the family; Johnson is a longtime hitting instructor.

There is an interesting aspect of this league. The teams will play with wooden bats, not the metal sticks used in NCAA games featuring college teams. For those baseball purists — such as myself — the sound of a wooden bat hitting a fastball out of the park is damn near like music to my ears, compared to that tinny sound of bat striking ball we hear during collegiate games.

So, all is not lost after all for minor league baseball fans in at least one American city … which happens to be a place my wife and I called “home” for more than two decades.

The Texas Collegiate League begins play later this month. The teams will entertain fans who’ve been deprived of cheering on their beloved Sod Poodles, who won the Texas League pennant a season ago in their first season in existence but who have seen their second season slip away because of a killer virus.

This ought to work out well. Play ball!

Heart hurts for baseball fans

I might be one of the few and not-so-proud baseball fans out here who is concerned that Major League Baseball’s 2020 season is in dire peril.

It might not happen. The MLB’s owners have pitched a 76-game schedule that cuts deeply into the money the players would earn from a regular season and from a playoff system resulting in the World Series.

They’re still dickering, quarreling and negotiating over the terms of the season. It doesn’t look good, at least not to these eyes.

Furthermore, it’s beginning to look equally bleak for all those minor-league teams and the communities that support them for what they hoped would be a stellar season in 2020.

Yep, that’s you, my friends and former neighbors in Amarillo, those of you who root hard for the Sod Poodles, the city’s AA franchise affiliated with the San Diego Padres.

The Soddies won the Texas League title in 2019. They had high hopes of defending their title this season … until the coronavirus pandemic shut everything down.

This hurts fans all across the land. The big leagues have their faithful fanatics. So do the minor leagues. MLB has its players union. Minor league baseball isn’t affected so much by that governing body.

That damn pandemic is threating to wipe out an entire season.

My heart hurts for the fans who have been waiting … patiently.

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.