An Inspired Baseball Fan

Spoiler alert: I’m a baseball geek. Or baseball nerd. Or baseball fanatic. Take your pick. So if you decide to read on, know that unless you are one of those things you are probably gonna get lost with this particular post. And quick. But if you just find it kind of cute to read someone salivating over their own personal heaven, well, by all means, give it a shot. Or if you are a math/stats nerd. Cause baseball geek-dom is a PERRRRFFEECT place for you to hang out then.

As a baseball geek/nerd/fanatic, I just had my equivalent of Christmas morning. My beloved hometown Baltimore Orioles (now my “American League team”, though they are still my overall favorite) came to Los Angeles to play a three game series against my new hometown team, the Dodgers (my “National League team”). If you know anything about baseball, you know that one three game series in July means very little. There are 162 GAMES after-all, and the season doesn’t end until late Sept./early Oct. But that’s the thing about baseball – there is so much history in the game, so many fantastic numbers (math geeks, I told you!), and so many small details to relish in – its easy to be swept up in the magic of it all.

In one 3 game series in July, with teams from opposite coasts that rarely play each other, there is SO much to love.

Here are the 12 gifts of July 4-6 that my true love, baseball, gave to me…

1. The most combined strikeouts in Dodgers Stadium history.

Of the three games, unquestionably the best one was the 5.5 hour, 14 inning finale on July 6. Yes, you heard that right. 5.5 HOURS. Only baseball, the game with no clock, has people scrambling to re-schedule plans as they get nearly double the expected entertainment for their ticket.

Here’s the part for the math nerds. Dodgers Stadium is 54 years old this year, making it the 3rd oldest stadium in all of baseball. Yes, that’s right. Only the hallowed Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston are older. Again, remember, baseball has 162 games in a season, plus playoffs. It used to be 154, but the year it switched to 162 in the National League? You got it, 1962, the year Dodgers Stadium opened its gates. Half the games at home, plus throw in some playoff games, and we are talking close to 4500 games.

4500 GAMES, and never before had any fan witnessed so many strikeouts in one game in Los Angeles. And for the record, there were 36 strikeouts. And perfectly, it was 18 for the Orioles, 18 for the Dodgers. Don’t believe me? Check out this beautiful box score.

2. The Dodgers flat ran out of players, right at the wrong time.

When you have such a long game, the fun part is when it gets late, as teams expect to no longer have to be playing at this point, and they tend to have to make really ridiculous decisions. And this game ENDED with the bases loaded for the Dodgers, down by two, and a relief pitcher at the plate. You got it, a relief pitcher. In order of best people to have up in this situation, it would go star players, regular players, bench players, starting pitchers (if you really really have to), and then… relief pitchers. These guys rarely get to hit. The Dodgers had used every player on their bench, and already had used a starting pitcher as a pinch runner and a starting pitcher as a pinch hitter. Both of those moves are rarely done as it is, so with runners on first and third and two outs in the 14th, up by two, the Orioles intentionally walked a Dodgers hitter to allow the bases to be loaded, knowing that the poor relief pitcher would probably just have to hit by himself. And he tapped a little grounder to the pitcher, and the game was over.

3. Chase Utley had 6 hits, including making mockery of the oh so popular over-shift.

6 hits or more in a game is a rare feat in baseball. Its had been done 70 times since 1901. And only one time did someone get 7, so 6 is the magic number. And now it just happened THREE TIMES in FIVE DAYS. Utley joined Wilmer Flores (Mets) and CJ Cron (Angels). The previous time another player had reached 6 hits was OVER TWO YEARS AGO. Remember, we’re talking a sport that plays about 2500 games a season.

But the best hit, by far, was Utley absolutely schooling one of the most recent developments in the sport, that really only became popularly accepted last year, the over-shift, where usually one infielder is moved from one side of the field to the other, creating a 3 to 1 imbalance, because a team has used analytics to realize that the hitter is likely to hit only to one side. Utley took full advantage of the huge hole on the left hand side. It was a thing of beauty. I laughed out loud, even though i was rooting for the Orioles.

4. Ohhhhhh so many relievers.

There is a lot of talk about how baseball is becoming the realm of pitchers who throw at most an inning, two if we’re REALLY pushing them, and throw over 95 mph, which a recent article said should literally be too fast for a human being to be able to hit the ball. The standard used to be you had ten pitchers on your team, five of them relievers. Then 11/6. Now its mostly 12/7. The Dodgers used 8 RELIEVERS in the game, and still had one on the bench. The Orioles used 6. The starting pitchers each went 5 innings and allowed 7 runs between them. The bullpens each went 9 INNINGS and allowed 3 RUNS between them. And those runs were 1 in the 6th, and 2 in the 14th. So the bullpens allowed 0 RUNS for a 7 inning stretch.

5. Bases loaded escapes.

Baseball, much like its controversial sibling soccer, is maligned for low scoring and nothing happening. Some of the best innings in baseball are ones where the pitcher narrowly escapes, actually not allowing any runs. There was not one, not two, but THREE bases loaded escapes by the Orioles against the Dodgers in this game, all at CRUCIAL times. It is not a way to make your home fans happy, let’s just say that.

Bottom of the 7th, Utley on 3rd, Seager on 2nd, Gonzalez on 1st. Dylan Bundy (who got seven outs, ALL by strike-outs by the way) and then Kendrick looking. The stadium groans.

Bottom of the 8th, Maeda on 3rd, Utley on 2nd, Seager on 1st by way of intentional walk to face Justin Turner. He pops out.

And then Hatcher (our relief pitcher friend) grounds out to the pitcher, again following an international walk to get to him.

6. “I got it, I got it! I don’t got it.”

There were several wonderful only in baseball moments in Wednesday’s game where multiple fielders converged on a ball and had to battle the sun to try to catch it, only sometimes successfully. One of them off of Mark Trumbo’s bat dropped as fielders literally ducked for cover, and he ended up getting to second on a double and scoring. Only in baseball can such a dinky little hit count the same as an absolutely crushed line drive.

7. Two seventh inning stretches.

In my final words on specifically JUST the final game, I had the joy of learning something I didn’t know. Baseball’s popular “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” sing-along when people are invited to get up for their “7th inning stretch” was REPEATED IN THE 14TH INNING. It’s called the 14th Inning stretch, and apparently, its a thing! Surreal, ridiculous, and wonderful.

8. History unmentioned.

As I said earlier, these two teams barely play each other. But this year marks the 50th Anniversary (there’s those nice numbers again) of the 1st World Series the Orioles ever played in. Who was it against? You got it, these Dodgers. The Dodgers were highly favored in the series before they were swept in four games. Guess that’s why nobody mentioned it at Dodgers Stadium. Not exactly a rivalry, but a nice way to just make this 2016 series feel even more dramatic.

9. Puig, Puig, Puig.

Yasiel Puig divisive player who at times seems to not be trying and at times makes miracle plays. In the 13th inning on July 6th, he seemed to lazily approach a single prompting the O’s third base coach to send a player to try to score who normally would have stopped at third base, and then all of a sudden he fired to his cut off man who fired to home and… OUT. As the players ran off the field, Puig just stood there taking in the cheers, a real no-no in terms of classic baseball sportsmanship, you don’t show up the other team, and then he slowly jogged off, the O’s players staring daggers at him from the dugout. So the game went on to the 14th inning, where on a base hit to right with a runner on first, Puig fired to get the force at second, way too late. Justin Turner ran to cut off the ball and he had just a LITTLE attitude in his body language about having to catch the ill-advised throw, and Puig just stood there staring him down.

On July 5 (I promised I would talk about the other games!), Puig threw a FORCE-OUT at second on a single to right. It was a situation where the runner held up because he wasn’t sure the ball was going to drop, but still, it was a thing of beauty.

On July 4, Puig wore Red, White, and Blue Cleats and participated in a lip-sync contest through the video board where he danced like a fool and delighted the crowd. He didn’t get as many cheers as Clayton Kershaw really going for it to R Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” though.

10. Chris Davis and the Three True Outcomes

I was telling my friend at the 2nd game how Chris Davis of the Orioles is a “3 true outcomes” player, which is becoming more and more common in the game. Players who strike-out, walk, or hit home runs. And very little else. Old school people remember Dave Kingman and Rob Deer. The king of this perhaps, would be Adam Dunn, more recently.

Here is Chris Davis’s stat line for the series, mind you, hitting in the middle of the order for a very good team.

1-13, 8 strikeouts, 2 walks. Baseball in 2016 folks.

11. History repeats itself, again.

Two bright young stars shone in this series. The Orioles’ Manny Machado, emerging right now as one of the best players in the game, hit an absolutely MONSTROUS three run home run to left, measuring 438 feet to help the O’s to a 5-2 in in Game Two. Manny Machado is a tall player with power who plays some shortstop, but ultimately has been moved to 3B by the Orioles, in some part because its a more conducive position for a player of his size. Sound familiar? Try Cal Ripken, largely considered to be the greatest player in Orioles history.

Corey Seager extended his rookie year hitting streak to 19 games, one off from a Dodgers record. He is a tall, lanky shortstop with power. The guy sitting behind me during the July 5 game, leaned over and asked me who he reminded me of. His answer: Cal Ripken.

12. A personal fan experience.

Baseball was great in three different ways over three different games for this fan. For one thing, in two of them, I had the satisfaction of the win, in one, the disappointment of the loss. But listen to who came with me to each game, and how it effected my experience.

July 4. Game One. I was accompanied by two friends from Baltimore, and we sat there, prominently displaying our orange and black. One of these two was… a competitor. He stood and shouted with joy when we scored, chanted “Let’s Go O’s” to the boos of those around him, followed by inviting those around him to “bring it on.” I was a little embarrassed, a little terrified, but also swept up in the joy of unbridled “homerism”. I felt proud to be from Baltimore, as I am sure each of the other 29 teams’ fans feel towards their cities. We even screamed “O!” at the national anthem, a Baltimore tradition, except we hadn’t made it into the park yet, so we did it just standing in line to enter the stadium. Surrounded by Dodgers fans pushing to get in. With nowhere to run.

July 5. Game Two. I was accompanied by two baseball friends, one nearly as geeky as me and the other one eager to become as geeky as me. A Tigers fan and a Phillies fan respectively, wearing the appropriate gear. We watched the game intently, and discussed all manner of obscure baseball trivia. The outcome of the game mattered less as just getting to experience baseball. I texted them both during and after game three. Too bad. They would have loved to be there.

July 6. Game Three. I was doing Lyft driving, and I had promised myself if I got near the stadium near the starting time, I would stop and just go in. Well guess what. I got a fare TO the stadium less than an hour before first pitch. I parked, bought a ticket on stubhub, and went in. I told my wife that I would get her the car plenty in time for her appointment. Little did I know…

I shared that final game with strangers, mostly strangers rooting for the opposite team. But as fans dwindled and left as the game went on and on, I felt a camaraderie with everyone around me. We were witnessing this bizarre, great thing. At the end, as the small pack of O’s fans chanted “Let’s Go O’s” and the remaining Dodgers fans with the energy to fight back returned a “Let’s Go Dodgers” it really felt it mattered not what happened at the end of this game.

It was the journey that made it all worthwhile.

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