A light tower that sits atop Fenway Park’s Green Monster wall – Photo: Soe Lin, 2010. Soe Lin is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.
When I was younger and still living with my parents in Beverley, we’d regularly make the trip to Western Australia’s capital, Perth. That city had better shopping and entertainment than you could ever find in a small country town and wasn’t too far away, around 130km, so there’d generally be at least 1 journey there a fortnight. Sometimes these trips would end after nightfall and those nocturnal rides back to home were something I enjoyed.
My parents probably didn’t. They had to pilot a lumbering Holden HX (The steering is lighter, said Holden optimistically) along a worn country road through forest, farmland and yawns. The paving was barely wide enough for 1 car and so at the realisation of an oncoming vehicle you had to drive your metal steed (They were mostly metal then. And vinyl) half onto the gravel shoulder, hoping that your fellow traveller would reciprocate in kind. To further complicate this crossing of paths, the arrangement was conducted at a fairly high speed, around the 100kmh mark.
Home, James, and don’t spare the horses, my mother used to quote. And neither of my parents spared the horses that the HX had left to give.
This wasn’t so bad in darkness – Oncoming headlights at least give advance warning – A healthy advantage on a road that was heavy on the blind curves, dips and rises.
That was my parents’ concern though – I got to sit on the back bench seat, head tilted back so that I could see out the rear window, watching the stars through the over-arching trees. This was both thrilling and comforting – There was a menace in those trees but not the kind that was beyond the power of our mostly faithful car to outrun and overcome. I imagined giant wolves bounding along, parallel to the road and just beyond the glow of our tail-lights, and they were both friend and foe, escorting us home with a sort of latent threat.
I got real scared when we broke down 1 night. The wolves never hurt us though – They just gambolled in the fields while Dad tied the muffler back on. Afterward I sketched a nervous nod at them, climbed back into the car and hunkered down as they shepherded us home with a shaggy grace.
It was a 50th Anniversary Holden so maybe we were due the respect.
It wasn’t all looking out for wolves though. Perth is located on a coastal plain, separated from the interior by an escarpment rising up to a plateau. The Darling Scarp, as this natural barrier is called, isn’t exactly mountainous, being a few hundred metres above sea-level at most, but it does provide for a panoramic view of the Perth metropolitan area as you near its crest.
And at night… Wow. Just wow. Even now, 30 years on and I still look down on that constellation of earthly stars and imagine that they each represent a story of a home – A warm and caring tale, filled with laughter and a video player.
We didn’t have a video player when I was growing up.
That’s pretty much how I’d like this blog to be – Each post shining out, a story, filled with laughter and once in a while perhaps a video player.
Still don’t have 1. Probably never will get 1 now. I missed out entirely on the video era – If video was truly killing the radio star, she just had to hang out with me and she’d have at least been safe.
For sure, video players aside, this blog is not as grand as a city and maybe the lights don’t always shine as bright as I’d hoped. Every now and then though I like to look down on it from the escarpment in my mind. Here then are the past 50 Soups, represented by the images that help to illuminate them:
A big thanks to all who read this stuff. I’d like to particularly direct my love to my sons and their rather lovely (and sexy) Mum. In my life now they are the brightest of lights – The 3 of them do a grand job of keeping my wolves at bay while I get to enjoy the ride home.
Periodic comets travel alone through the emptiness of space, eventually returning back to where they started from. The 1 depicted in the above image is known as the Great Comet of 1680. It is a sungrazing comet with an orbital period thought to be around the 10,000 year mark, so no wonder its heart is cold and hard – Image: Lieve Verschuier, c1680. Lieve Verschuier is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.
I get homesick. This isn’t unexpected – Home is a safe place where I can be me, wrapped up in love and easy laughter. Being separated from that kind of supportive base is never going to be a good feeling at the best of times.
At the worst of times, I need to factor in chronic depression and anxiety attacks.
Boarding school was consequently not a lot of fun for me. I survived (just) but this was because I had to – With a year left in my schooling, what I thought of as ‘home’ just ceased to be. Since it wasn’t there to pine for, then I defaulted to simply enduring. Consequently by the time I got to Perth, where I shared a flat with my brother, I was fairly resilient.
That enforced strength soon waned though – I lived for nigh on 6 years with my bro and in spite of our relative poverty and sometimes comic attempts to get by, they were good years – By-and-large safe, secure and with an easy, if eccentric, rhythm. We found a way to collaborate on most aspects of life – Even alternating our visits to a local takeaway so that the cute girl behind the counter didn’t think we were associated and thus individually eating junk each night.
After a couple of weeks of this she politely asked me 1 night how my brother was doing. You know, the guy who comes in here every second night.
Yet life went on and these small setbacks apart, it was good.
Maybe this level of comfort weakened me, made me more vulnerable – Either way I was cruising and, I figured anyway, ready to tackle the wide world on my lonesome.
Yeah, not so much.
I struck out on my own and pretty quickly began a slide into homelessness. Not so much in that I was sleeping rough – I almost always had a roof over my head and a decent pillow to lay my head on. It was more that I had no place to call home, to feel like I had a place to be ok. This was down to me – I blame nobody else – I made bad choices, losing a fair chunk of my possessions (including a bed I didn’t properly replace for 18 months) and ended up camped out on couches, both those of friends and family. 1 kind soul even allowed me to live rent-free for a decent time, stretched out each night on a floor in a room of my own.
It wasn’t home though.
I even squatted 1 time. That definitely wasn’t home either, not figuratively or legally.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Well, having to flee a house in the middle of the night because a well-meaning friend had a then-undiagnosed mental illness and a sudden interest in axes, definitely toughened me up. And it ultimately set me up too, being both the bottoming-out point of that dive and the shedding of ballast that started me swimming back to the surface.
Over the next 12 years I found the love of my life, got a house and then filled it out with 2 beautiful children. I now live surrounded by their voices, sometimes angry or upset, but mostly joyful and I can truly say that I am home.
And nobody talks axes.
Which just makes the homesickness even worse. Such is the magnitude of ‘home’ and what it means to share it that there is nothing in the world that could be offered to me to forsake it, even for a short time.
Having a home is priceless.
Even if you offered me the fulfilment of 1 of my cherished sporting dreams, to play for Liverpool FC, striding out from under the famous ‘This Is Anfield’ sign and onto the hallowed turf of that great stadium.
Couldn’t do it.
I’d be halfway around the world from home and my heart would not be there with me. That’s not to say that others can’t manage such a move – Liverpool FC’s regular 1st team currently features just the 1 local lad, captain Steven Gerrard. Within the wider squad of 32 players, just 14 are from the United Kingdom and only 4 of them (Gerrard, Martin Kelly, Jon Flanagan and Adam Morgan) are what you could reasonably classify as local lads. There are a further 9 players out on loan, of which 3 are from the UK and 2 are locals.
The balance of the squad (including those players on loan) hail from all corners of the globe, including 1, Brad Jones who started life out here in Perth, Western Australia. There are also 4 players from Africa, 4 from South America and 15 from continental Europe. None of those players can top Jones for the distance he has travelled to get to work – Around 14663km as the crow flies.
The crow would need to make some layover stops.
As it would for at least 2 players on the active roster for the Boston Red Sox. For Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara the poor bird would clock up around 10781km although a mid-journey break on the white sands of Waikiki Beach would probably put the fluff back in its feathers.
At least when the crow got to its destination it would be able to easily communicate with other crows. Not so Tazawa or Uehara – Both require translators when talking to US media outlets, a language barrier that surely must increase the possibility of feeling isolated.
This is generally not a problem for this blog’s 2 Australian-based teams – The Perth Glory Women’s outfit does feature some overseas players, including a trio of North American adventurers, Canadian duo Sasha Andrews and Christina Julien plus American Chantel Jones. Whilst they all have to journey over 15,000kms to get to Perth, they do speak the language and for Andrews, a pivotal central defender, this is her 2nd stint with the Glory.
The Fremantle Dockers meanwhile don’t really have any players that can be said to have travelled from overseas to play football. This is not unusual in the Australian Football League (AFL) which is not played to a suitable standard elsewhere such that there is a ready supply of football immigrants. There is an exception of sorts, however it isn’t particularly common – Gaelic football is a code with some points of similarity with what we do down here and so some Irish exponents of that sport have made the transition and the long journey to Australia.
1 of them is the Brisbane Lion’s midfielder, Pearce Hanley. The 24 year old had played for Mayo in Ireland before heading to Australia as a teenager to try his luck. That’s a fairly notable leap of faith and you could easily argue that he’s gone a bit further than his fellow Australian recruits in terms of the kms travelled for his sporting dream.
Pearce certainly thinks so. When 5 fellow Lions recently left the club, citing homesickness and thus a desire to move back to various points across this wide land, Pearce didn’t seem to sympathetic about their plight. So much so that when he got a tweet congratulating him on staying put, he fired off a reply that was less than complimentary towards his want-away team-mates:
@pearcehanley: life goes on, you grow up and inevitably move away from home. Appreciate the tweet #mummiesboysarehomenow
I reckon homesickness is genuine and it’s not really about being dependant upon your mum. Humans do better with a strong support network and for young kids moving across the country for a footy career, they often don’t have that kind of safe base to build from.
For a time I missed out on that latter bit. I didn’t get to be a mummy’s boy or anybody’s boy for that matter. I wish I had been, but that time I alluded to where ‘home’ ceased to be for me? Yeah that was my Mum dying and that meant that I had to stop being a boy. Maybe you could call me a mum’s guy but I’ve not got my Mum to go home to now. Instead, I do have an amazing family of my own, plus enough friends to suit me, all of whom are living with me or within a short distance.
I’m their guy now.
Oh, and I’ve found a cute girl who makes sure that I don’t eat junk much any more.
The peak of the main top hat tower of the Kingda Ka roller coaster. Topping out at 456 feet, this is the tallest roller coaster is the world, making it some kind of green monster to get over – Photo: Dusso Janladde, 2006. Dusso Janladde is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.
No matter what happens to the Boston Red Sox in Game 6 of this World Series, 2013 has been the most fun I’ve had across a baseball season in my memory.
Yeah, 2004 was awesome, seeing as it did the end of an 86-year old curse. But that history was exactly why it wasn’t as enjoyable – It couldn’t be when you’re waiting every pitch of every game for an implosion. Sure, it was epically fun right after Keith Foulke underhanded that ball to Doug Mientkiewicz for the last out of the year, but everything up to that was a solid lump of something radioactive in my gut.
Well almost everything – That part where the Sox rallied from 0-3 down in the 2004 American League Championship Series (ALCS) to eliminate the Yankees was just a little bit of non-radioactive hilarity that ironically has a half-life of forever.
2007 lacked the historical context and was therefore definitely fun, but it was kind of not unexpected. There was no wonderful shock to the system – That Red Sox World Series win was a final confirmation that the curse was gone. If 2004 had seen the curse killed off then 2007 was the funeral for it.
A Jamaican-style funeral, a la Live And Let Die, with dancing and music but without the clandestine death of a secret agent.
However it was celebrated, it was the end of a story arc coloured by 86 years of bad baseball juju. And now, after some murky years wandering the transitional baseball swamp of hackery, 2013 has marked the beginning of a new narrative and it’s been a lot of fun to watch.
Perhaps it was the contrast with the mammoth implosion that marked the closing September of 2011, or the Bobby Valentine-led dysctional mess of 2012, but 2013 has seemed like the kind of year where even the losses are positives in disguise. In no small measure, credit for that goes to General Manager Ben Cherington. He went out and filled roster holes with stand-up guys – Players who brought a vibe to Fenway that was about more than just pure talent.
Guys like Shane Victorino, who at least once per outing tries to run through a wall for his team, or Mike Napoli, who made that scene in Moneyball, where Ron Washington tells Scott Hatteberg that 1st base is really difficult, redundant.
And then there’s Jonny Gomes, who in 2002 suffered a heart attack, forcing his then-team’s doctor to keep nitroglycerin tablets on standby in case of a 2nd instance. Nowadays Jonny seems to be amping up on those tablets for fun, making the most easy outs look difficult, in between swatting occasional but very important blasts over the fences.
None of these guys seem like Hall of Fame entries. What they represent though is the ability of this year’s Red Sox to forge something out of intangibles.
How else do you explain the pitching? Jon Lester we knew about – He had been on the wane but is back to being an ace. Clay Buchholz is not really a surprise either – He’s delivering on promise, although that does include being injured. John Lackey though?
Nothing tangible there at all. He is the same John Lackey who stunk up 2011 so much that many fans were grateful that he was forced out of 2012 for Tommy John surgery.
I was 1 of them. I may have suggested he move to Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland. Which in my defence is a lovely place with the painted houses, the friendly locals and a dearth of starters who can chew innings.
Fortunately he didn’t move to Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland. This is lucky because in 2013 John Lackey has been inspiring in a positive way. He has gone to the mound and pitched his guts out, often without run-support and early on without respect.
He’s earned the latter back by sheer force of pitching will and an apparent attitude shift towards fighting for his team. He’ll even start Game 6 of this World Series having successfully volunteered to come into Game 4 as a reliever. That he did so in a spot where the Sox have struggled of late makes it all the more commendable.
For all of that, the most intangible of Red Sox pitchers in 2013 is not John Lackey. It is instead Koji Uehara. The 38 year old journeyman was hired as a late-innings relief guy and seen by many pundits as being of no great import. Then Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan both got injured and suddenly the enthusiastic veteran was thrust in as the closer.
In hindsight, calling Koji the closer is like calling Da Vinci a painter. For just like nobody can work out what’s going on with the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile, Koji’s palette of splitters is painting up mysteries. Seriously, they might be in the low 80′s to high 70′s but they’ve proven beyond the comprehension of pretty much all of the game’s big hitters.
And then there’s the dude’s irrepressible love for what he does, as manifested in his wildly over-the-top yet somehow genuine high 5s. That kind of thing doesn’t get isolated to just the originator. From the outside, what Koji does looks like an airborne affliction, spreading to everybody in range – Even errant high 5s that smack unprepared colleagues in the head get a laugh. Think less of a disease floating around and more nitrous oxide leaking around the Japanese closer.
Koji was a Ben Cherington hire too. As was David Ross, the veteran catcher who has become less of a back-up to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and more part of a platooning option at backstop. Ross, like Napoli, Gomes, Lackey and others has embraced the growing of a beard, the symbol of this team. At another time growing a playoff beard in April might seem like hubris – For these guys in 2013 it’s just an indication that they are bat#%^* crazy enough to make their postseason gig a foregone conclusion.
Which is not to say that beards, Cherington or splitters are the only aspects that have made this fun. John Farrell, replacing Bobby V in the skipper’s role, has bound this collective into a playing entity without his predecessor’s histrionics. Think of a roller coaster which has a bunch of cars, many of which have different gauges and ways of operating.
John Farrell turned them into a pretty awesome ride. With a forked dip from Koji at the end.
The biggest of those cars and the most familiar is David Ortiz. Big Papi is the last remaining veteran of 2004 still getting on board for the Red Sox. At a lumbering 38 he should be resting on his laurels or at the least letting his younger colleagues drag him around the track.
Nope. Not this Papi.
About all you need to know about David Ortiz in 2013 is encapsulated in this World Series so far. He’s had 15 at bats and has hit safely in 11 of them. That is an astonishing .733 if you’re counting, including 2 doubles, 2 blasts and 6 RBIs. And this is against a backdrop of pitching that has seen his team-mates add just 18 more hits to his total.
It does make me wonder why the Cardinals keep pitching to him though.
For all that, Big Papi is not who I’m ending this post with. Instead I’m finishing up with a player who is no longer with the Red Sox, having been traded to the Detroit Tigers a bit over 2/3 of the way through the season.
José Iglesias is a 23 year old shortstop with a glove that will surely be golden 1 day soon. His batting however has in the past been a weakness – So much so that in 2013, across 133 plate appearances for Triple-A Pawtucket, he managed to bat at just .202.
But then he got called up to the Boston Red Sox and across 230 plate appearances hit a hitherto unbelievable .330, which included what seemed like the greatest collection of infield hits you’re ever likely to see this side of a circus act. What made this all the more astonishing is that Ben Cherington used this to leverage a starting pitcher via a trade to Detroit.
Where Iglesias managed 148 plate appearances at a much more realistic .259. That, plus his defence did get him a gig for the Tigers through the playoffs and he was in fact the last out of their 2013 campaign.
In Game 6 of the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox.
Where he whiffed at a Koji Uehara splitter.
Tell me that’s not some kind of magic going on there. Man, this baseball year has been fun.
Perth’s main medical centre Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. Here they treat everything from head injuries to cancer – Photograph by Gnangarra…commons.wikimedia.org, 2006. Gnangarra is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.
I used to smoke cigarettes. It was mostly a social thing – My friends smoked and I’d join in because it seemed like a decent trade-off – Light up and I’d get an excuse to hang with my mates. None of them ever forced me to or in any way actively encouraged me – I guess then that you could say that it was subconscious peer-pressure. I know that sounds lame and it surely is – I’d watched my Mum and 2 grandfathers die from cancer.
Long, awful deaths.
Only 1 of those was down to smoking but what a stupid thing for a life to end early like that, to have to throw in the towel on the wonderful potential of living, and all for big tobacco.
And yet I willingly subscribed to that.
Smoking is compelling.
A while back I wrote a Soup about boxing. In that piece I admitted that, to me at least, boxing too was compelling. I described the sport as ‘skilful, technical and exciting’ and I brought out that old label, ‘the sweet science’. I wrote all of that while acknowledging that boxing is, in the main, not good for participants. It’s the brain that is the problem you see – When somebody gets hit in the head region, that soft, spongy grey matter, so critical to us being who we are, bounces around inside the skull. Even if there is no immediately apparent damage, the results of such traumas accumulate, and almost inevitably serious brain damage will occur.
But the sport is still compelling I wrote. And it is so compelling that, even though I said I was no longer a fan, I’ve still been finding ways to sneak a glance, to look back at historic fights, because they’ve already happened and watching them is not supporting boxing now.
It is though. Just like revelling in those cigarettes I once smoked would be tacitly supporting the tobacco industry, me enjoying Clay and Liston going at it in ’64 is somehow saying that boxing is not that far removed from ok. That if we just whack a filter on it and drop the levels of toxicity then maybe we can return to the days of glamour and glory.
Except that boxing is not even close to being ok and it never really was. Those toxins are lethal even in reduced concentrations and we’d need to put 1 hell of a filter of regulation on it to make it breathable. Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali is now a trembling wreck, a shambolic caricature of the vital person he once was. Liston isn’t even with us any more – He died in shadowy circumstances in 1970, his heart muscles hardened and his lungs wasting. On his tombstone reads the epitaph:
Which he was until boxing robbed him of that, his ability to be a person.
There’s something I reckon all sports fans should read. It’s by a truer boxing fan than I’ll ever be and it is as clinical a dissection of that sport and what it means to its participants as I’ve ever seen. Let’s call you reading it as Round 2 of this post. Go on, the bell just rang…
…And breathe deeply, maybe get some vaseline on that cut to your sports-loving core. Come on now, shake it off and get yourself focussed for Round 3…
In which I’ve embedded the video you may have seen in that article. If you didn’t watch it and are tempted now, then I’ll warn you in advance that the footage contains some very graphic images. If you’re already against boxing then spare yourself because this is some kind of awful to watch. If though, you were like me and you held out some sliver of a belief that throwing punches is a sweet science, then dose up on smelling salts and do not look away:
This is an undercard fight between Mexican Raul Hirales and his countryman Francisco Leal. The latter loses the fight.
If you didn’t or couldn’t keep your eyes on that film let me tell you what happened.
At around the 38 minute mark, a person died.
I don’t necessarily mean ‘died’ in the way we imagine it from watching movies. For some time after it happened, he was still functioning to some degree, able to sit up – and he even got to his feet for a time – but nonetheless he was dead. The towel was chucked in on the wonderful potential of living (He was 26), and all for big boxing.
And by big boxing I mean the promoters, the boxing associations, the bookies, the networks and the ignorant tossers like me who somehow thought there was something magical going on in that stupid game.
I’m not even tacitly supporting that @#$% any more. In fact, just like I quit smoking 15 or so years ago, I’m throwing boxing completely out of my life.
The 1st World Series was in 1903. It was played between the Boston Red Sox (Then the Boston Americans) and the Pittsburgh Pirates. 5 of the 9 games, including the 1st, were scheduled at Boston’s Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds. The home team, with Cy Young on the mound, lost that 1st encounter, but clinched Game 8 there to win the title 5 games to 3. You can’t make it out in the above photo, which was taken during that seminal series, but Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds had a tool shed located in deep center that was considered in play – Photo: Unknown, 1903. Image cropped by Longworth72.
In 2008 a poll found that just 28% of Americans could identify Gordon Brown as the then-Prime Minister of the UK. This lack of knowledge of international affairs is not unusual – a. There’s enough going on domestically in most countries to keep the citizenry internally occupied, and b. It’s possible that a sizable percentage of Americans had actually come across the unassuming Gordon Brown but just couldn’t believe that he was the Prime Minister of anything, let alone a global power like the UK.
Gordon’s own party once went with a slogan of, ‘Not Flash, Just Gordon.’
The point is though that folks don’t often know what is happening beyond their borders. This is a problem I’m confronting of late because I live in Australia and I can’t find many people who are willing and able to discuss American baseball and its showpiece World Series. Which starts in around 10 hours.
Fortunately though, just like Gordon Brown, I’m a problems person.
Here then is the Longworth72 FAQ primer on the 2013 World Series, the Major League Baseball (MLB) best-of-7 title-deciding stoush.
Is calling it the World Series, when it’s almost exclusively an American franchise opportunity, hubris?
Not if you define hubris as extreme pride or arrogance. The key there is the ‘extreme’ bit – For sure there is some pride and undoubtedly arrogance. It’s justified though.
Forget that ol’ chestnut that the contest between the best of the American League (AL) and the National League (NL) is named for the New York World newspaper. Regardless of how it began, this sporting challenge is now truly thought of as being a World Championship. That’s how it is referred to in pretty much every professional publication and that is how you’ll hear the winners labelled: World Champions.
MLB does, it’s true, have just 30 teams, 29 of which are based in the US. The solitary ‘international’ outfit hails from Toronto, just north of the border in Canada. You could make a case that this limited spread is hardly representative of the ‘World’, but that argument breaks down quickly when you look at a. The dearth of top quality league play in any other country, and b. The range of nationalities represented within the MLB rosters.
Quite simply, MLB is the pinnacle for any player from any country and there is very little doubt that these teams represent the best in the world. That’s a prideful and arrogant claim but it just happens to be a true reflection of the game today.
If that causes you some pain to accept then consider referring to the series as the Fall Classic. Even if Americans are the only folk to call Autumn ‘Fall’ and global warming may well be rendering the season obsolete anyway.
Where will the series be played?
It’s split across Boston’s Fenway Park and St Louis’ Busch Stadium III. The former has the home-field advantage, meaning that Games 1 and 2, plus 6 and 7 if required, will be at Fenway. The middle stretch of games (3, 4 and 5 if required) will be in St Louis.
Boston earned that home-field edge by dint of the AL winning the All-star game. To any objective person this is a bizarre method of sorting this key aspect out – Essentially, MLB has designated an exhibition game as the deciding factor – A situation unparalleled in any other sport that I’m aware of.
How does the World Series adjust to the AL and NL having different rules?
Well this boils down to the Designated Hitter (DH) role. The AL has it and the NL doesn’t. This means that pitchers don’t have a place in the batting lineup in the AL but that they do in the NL. This is partially offset by some creative use of pinch hitters in the NL but it’s still a big deal.
For the World Series, the rules are quite simply decided by the park they’re playing in. Suit up in St. Louis and your pitchers would best be prepared to swing a bat as per NL rules. Front up at Fenway though and you’ll be needing that AL-mandated designated hitter.
This makes home-field advantage all the more critical, particularly given that Boston’s pitchers managed only 1 hit during interleague play this year.
Who will be singing the national anthem for Game 1?
This might seem like a frivolous question but it’s really a crucial selection. How the chosen vocalist belts out the Star Spangled Banner is going to set the tone for that game and maybe the series – Just check the player’s body language during that rendition – The anthem will either get the juices flowing or it will set an edgier, off-kilter vibe.
Anyway, for Game 1 it will be American R&B singer-songwriter Mary J. Blige with the microphone in hand. Inexplicably, I always get Mary J. confused with Canadian-American folk-pop singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright. Maybe it’s because they are both the kind of soul-strumming tunesmith’s that make the world go round, but regardless it’s Blige getting the gig for this Fall Classic opener. There is some compensation for Wainwright though – She gets the title song for this Soup. Swings and roundabouts Martha, swings and roundabouts.
Who will throw out the 1st pitch?
For the 2013 World Series the 1st ceremonial toss will be by Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski.
Yaz played his 23 year career wholly with the Red Sox. 18 of those years he was an All-star, 7 of them a Golden Glove. His #8 has been retired by the Red Sox while he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989 with 94.63% of the vote at the 1st time of asking.
All of that is epic, but it’s what he did in 1967 that’s the real clincher now – Playing in Boston’s Impossible Dream outfit of that year he helped – And by ‘helped’ I mean that he won the Triple Crown and the AL MVP – turn a 72 and 90 record from 1966 into a 92 and 70 record the following season. The team parleyed that into a World Series appearance, losing out in 7 games to those birds from St Louis.
Now, 46 years on, and the current edition of the Boston Red Sox have gone on a dream run of their own. Last year they went 69 and 93. This year they swung that around to 97 and 65 and just like for 1967, have parleyed that latter record into a World Series contest with those birds from St Louis.
So yeah, as the Red Sox look to make the Possible Dream happen, Yaz has a lock on that 1st pitch.
What’s with the focus on the beards?
Playoff beards have long been a thing in baseball (Except in Yankee-land). For 2013, the Red Sox got their beards on early, pretty much at the start of the season, and then just added insurance from there on in. So in this case it’s less a playoff superstition thing and more a sign of something magical happening within the team. As Lance Armstrong would say: It’s not about the beard. Instead it’s more about the mystical juju concentrated in those facial tentacles of awesome.
Although, just in case there is some wannabe Delilah out there with access to some chloroform and a straight razor, it’s worth noting that Koji Uehara, he of the spell-binding splitter, is clean-shaven already.
Who will win?
In the crap shoot that is the playoffs, you don’t always get the best teams in the World Series. This time out though we have, based on regular-season wins, the top outfits from the AL and the NL. Both finished with 97 wins and both did it by scoring more runs than anybody else in their respective leagues. This will be the Cards 4th trip to the Fall Classic in the past 10 years, edging the Red Sox who will be making their 3rd journey across the same decade.
They are however 2 very different outfits, particularly in how they go about their business. The Cards are efficient across the diamond, a team that thrives on work and grind rather than magic. Run production is shared and comes more via regularly safe hitting than big blasts, while the pitching shows up few weak links.
The Red Sox by contrast thrive on the mystical side of the game – If you’d have grown a cornfield at Fenway and these guys had wandered out of it at the start of each game nobody would really have been surprised, except maybe the groundskeepers. This is a side with an uncanny ability to just get it done, even if that means a grand slam at the bottom of the 8th when they’ve barely registered a hit to that point. Say it’s the beards or blame it on the dirty water, but either way the Red Sox know how to win when they’re playing bad and when they’re playing well, they’re nigh on unstoppable. So even though their run production has been down this postseason you can be assured that somebody else will step up.
Red Sox in 5.
Warm those vocals up Mary J. and let’s go Red Sox!
A Convair 640 of Hawaiian Airlines – The other flyin’ Hawaiian – Photo: RuthAS, 1971. RuthAS is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.
Our house is directly below a flightpath. This means that we routinely get some big passenger jets flying overhead, close enough that you can clearly read logos on the underside of the fuselage. Sometimes we get smaller planes too, down to single engine prop aircraft, but the resultant fleet of big and small isn’t so frequent as to be a nuisance.
Instead it provides a point of interest for The Angus, who as soon as he hears the noise will point up to the sky, often before he’s even located the source of the aerial traveller. Sometimes there is no aircraft – The other day a loud motorbike, presumably with a custom or blown muffler, went past our house.
The Angus pointed to the sky and began to earnestly scan for a plane.
Noise can be confusing like that, especially when there’s no picture to illustrate the context. This can be true even in my sporting world, where you’d think that there would be little in the way of confusion – Simplistically, it can be tempting to break it all down to winning or losing.
They are however just extremes on a continuum – The result of a sporting encounter isn’t always as neatly located at an endpoint of that spectrum.
I used to live across the road from Subiaco Oval and often I could tell how a game was progressing just from the crowd noise alone. 1 time the Australian national Rugby team, the Wallabies, was playing the South African national team, the Springboks, at Subiaco. Not being at the match, I could tell an Australian try score just from the roar, but at the end of the match I’d have guessed that the Boks won from the relative silence that ensued.
And I’d have been wrong.
The Test ended as a 14-14 draw.
Draws do yield a certain type of silence – A sort of universal deflation as fans on both side think about what could have been. This is kind of a glass half empty approach to be sure, but both the Wallabies fans and the Springbok faithful in attendance that August, 2001 evening in Perth will have thought they could, and maybe should, have won.
In hindsight maybe I should have picked that sound – It was far more deadened than even if the home side had lost – You see, it’s not like the Saffer fans would have been vastly out-numbered either – Perth has a significant ex-pat population from South Africa. And on that note…
I’m off sick for the day and have taken the chance to sit out in the yard, soaking up the Perth Spring sunshine. As I write this a 4-engined airliner, most likely an Airbus A340, has just flown overhead. As if to emphasise my previous point about the ex-pat contingent from there, it’s a South African Airways plane. And yes, The Angus pointed at it. He had a clearly understandable noise and some context to work with too.
If you’d have been walking down Yawkey Way in Boston a day or so ago you’d also have heard a clearly understandable noise and you’d have had some decent context to work with too. For there and then, the home-town Boston Red Sox were playing in Game 6 of the 2013 American League Championship Series (ALCS) against the Detroit Tigers.
The best-of-7 series to that point had been tight – 4 of the 5 outings had been decided by a solitary run and each of those encounters could have so easily gone to either team. You could in fact point to a narrative of defining moments, pivot points on which momentum swung – Like Big Papi’s score-levelling grand slam as the Sox rallied late in Game 2 for a walk-off and a 1-1 tie in the series.
And that big slam was emblematic of how the Sox rode those big moments best of all. So well in fact that despite being effectively blunted by the Tigers’ awesome starting rotation, the Boston club had a 3-2 series lead going in to that 6th test.
Which again proved to be close. Walking on by and you’d have heard a roar swell in the 3rd as Sox fans began to celebrate a 3-run Dustin Pedroia blast. Only to have it stilled by a foul call as the ball flew inches the wrong side of the Pesky Pole.
Then in the 5th as the Red Sox plated the opening run the crowd noise would have swelled, grateful for the score but not yet fully released, as befitted the 1 run margin.
And then Detroit surged back in the 6th, scoring 2 runs as Red Sox skipper John Farrell inexplicably flirted with Franklin Morales as a relief pitcher. Not that the Sox were overcome – A bizarre double-play that saw Prince Fielder run down in a belly-flop as he tried to go back to 3rd, raised spirits and limited the damage.
You might have even heard the derision as Fielder’s epically bad base-running and subsequent flop were replayed on the big screen.
But then, from the start of the 7th, you would have heard the noise begin to grow beyond amusement. Jonny Gomes started it – His lead-off double caromed off the Monster a scant foot or so from being called a home run. Stephen Drew then struck out but Sox fans are conditioned to his current slump and so the din remained for young tyro Xander Bogaerts.
Who drew a walk off of a 3-2 ball that might have been called a strike on another day. Crucially, this chased probably Cy Young winner Max Scherzer off of the mound and led to Detroit reliever Drew Smyly facing down Jacoby Ellsbury, 1 of few Sox hitters to be in form across the ALCS.
Ellsbury though could only hit a grounder slightly to the left of former Red Sox short stop José Iglesias. An easy out and maybe an innings-ending double-play beckoned.
And was given the flip-off. Iglesias spent the ball before he earned it and his error saw each runner advance safely. So now bases were loaded and with just the 1 out, Shane Victorino, the gritty outfielder from Hawaii was up to the plate. The noise was loud, even as Victorino took 2 curves for strikes and was down an 0-2 count. The 3rd pitch was also a curve.
Victorino took it deep and high to left, and crucially, around 6 feet higher up the wall than Gomes’ earlier double. So high up the wall in fact that there was no wall, just the outstretched arms of the ecstatic patrons situated in the Monster seats.
That grand slam, off of José Veras, gave the Red Sox a 5-2 lead and Fenway an Earth-shuddering cacophany that never seemed to let up from then on in. The stands continued to shake as, 1st Craig Breslow stymied the Tigers in the 8th and then Koji Uehara came out to shut down the contest in the 9th.
For Uehara the roar took on a different dimension – The surprise closer is no longer a mystery to Sox fans, even as his wicked splitter continues to baffle opposition hitters like crazy. For the faithful, Uehara wears his heart on his sleeve like few others – He rides every pitch and not just his own either. In turn his team-mates and fans ride his pitches, his high 5s and his off-the-wall enthusiasm for the game. Consequently there is a genuine joy in cheering on the man, and you can hear it through the game and afterwards too.
Particularly after he closed it out 5-2, earning his 3rd save in a 4-2 series win and subsequently garnering the ALCS MVP award. The latter surprised nobody but Koji, who in his acceptance confessed to being so nervous out there that he almost threw up.
The fans cheered that admission just as joyously.
And there’ll be some more noise from Fenway this Wednesday as the Boston Red Sox, complete with Shane Victorino and Koji Uehara, line up against the St Louis Cardinals in the 2013 World Series opener. I reckon there’ll be so much din in fact that you’ll not here a jet plane flying low overhead.
If you are a plane-spotter like The Angus though, fear not – If the Sox bats get going again then you just might be looking up into the sky enough to catch some wings anyway.
Let’s go Red Sox!
A La Quebrada Cliff Diver doing his thing in Acapulco. This is about the easiest way to chase a good splitter pitch. Plus there’s tequila – Photo: DonVick, 1975. DonVick is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.
This season I’ve been enjoying watching Koji Uehara pitch for the Boston Red Sox. Partly because he just seems to be having so much damn fun out there, but also because he’s got some beguiling pitches in his arsenal.
This has been a revelation, the 38 year old wasn’t the 1st choice closer for the Sox. He wasn’t even the 2nd choice. Instead he’d been acquired as a set-up man, but when Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey got injured, up stepped the excitable Uehara.
That was in July and since then his pitching has been so unplayable you’d swear that something supernatural was going on. For instance Koji has a fastball that barely tops 90mph yet laying some wood on it would seem impossible even with the proverbial barn door to hand.
And then there’s his splitter.
Man, that splitter – As all good pitches of that type do, Koji’s gets close to the plate and then just drops off the table like it’s cliff-diving in Fun in Acapulco. And just like Elvis in that film, Koji’s splitters sing their way through the show too, mostly a sort of low hum with the airy swish of the bat for accompaniment.
There was a great example in Game 3 of the current American League Championship Series (ALCS) – Boston went to the bottom of the 8th in the Detroit Tiger’s Comerica Park home with a sheen of a lead, 1-0. They had 2 outs recorded when, with Prince Fielder at the plate, John Farrell summoned Koji from the pen for a potential 4-out save. What followed was a Koji masterclass as Fielder fouled off the 1st pitch and then consecutive splitters had the Detroit slugger going down swinging.
It was a critical out and it set Koji up for the next 3, which he duly got, and giving the Sox a precious victory off of just 4 hits, 1 of which was a Mike Napoli blast. Which is nice and all but afterwards I couldn’t get that splitter out of my mind. I even made an effort to understand the mechanics behind the pitch, using Wikipedia as a starting point.
And there I got sidetracked, my eyes on a curve I didn’t see coming.
For there are multiple splitters in Wikipedia. There’s the type of pitch and then there is a superhero who has been sometimes known as Splitter. Although he is most commonly known as Arm Fall Off Boy.
Arm Fall Off Boy (Alter ego: Floyd Belkin) is who it says he is on the box – A superhero whose big super thing is that he has the ability to detach an arm which he can then hit people with. This might seem like not much of an advantage – Muhammad Ali for instance made a career out of hitting people via his arms, only he thought to keep them handily attached. All Arm Fall Off Boy is getting is extra reach.
That added span though can be critical, and not just for crude practical jokes involving Wonder Woman. Twice as long a reach means that you can get to things that much further away.
Like bloop pop-ups.
In Game 5 of the ALCS former Red Sox short stop, José Iglesias, demonstrated that he might just have that ability. His former team-mate Big Papi popped up a ball in the 3rd that was set to land a good distance the other side of 2nd from where Iggy was standing. Even with a sprint the Flash would have been proud of the now-Detroit Tigers man was still out of range.
Or at least he would have been if he’d not been super about it. Because as the ball looked set to crash to earth from over his shoulder, Iggy whipped his glove around and under for an extraordinary catch.
Even the out Big Papi was clapping as he resignedly peeled off for the dugout.
Not all of the super action went Iggy’s way though – In the 5th he was on the receiving end of a play that Arm Fall Out Boy would have been proud to have called his own. It started with a bunt by Iglesias that went to pitcher Jon Lester’s left. Lester went to pick it up but bobbled the take, only succeeding in knocking the ball towards 1st base. By then José was bearing down on 1st baseman Mike Napoli and so Lester seemingly had no time to pick the ball up for a throw.
So he didn’t.
Instead he shovelled the ball with an outstretched glove acting like an extension of his arm. The ball was scooped low to Napoli, getting to the latter’s glove with Iglesias’s foot still inches above the bag.
Unlike Big Papi, José Iglesias didn’t seem of a mind to applaud that out. He briefly argued and his manager, Jim Leyland, came out to have a chat about it but the replay clearly showed the call had been good and Lester’s quick improv had been better.
To his credit, Jose did pull things together fairly quickly, as did his team. At that point the deficit was 0-4 in favour of the Red Sox, but by the bottom of the 8th and with 1 out it was 3-4. With the Tigers closing fast John Farrell went to Boston’s own superhero Splitter and called on Koji Uehara for the 5-out save. This time there was no Prince Fielder to befuddle, but the 5th and final out was a familiar 1 anyway.
José Iglesias popped out to 2nd baseman Dustin Pedroia, a man that the Detroit tyro used to team up with for super double plays.
So Koji was the super master, passing a big test with all of his limbs attached. Which is more than can be said for Arm Fall Out Boy who has never quite managed to earn entry to the Legion of Superheroes.
He has tried, but sadly in his last attempt he kind of lost his cool and went to pieces. Quite literally as it happens.
*Video contains super moves. Really super. It was the 1980′s.