A New Season Starts In Milwaukee
ALSO: MIXING BASEBALL AND POLITICS CREATES A MESS
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Thanks to sharp-eyed reader Elliott Kalb for correctly pointing out that Albert Pujols, not Cal Ripken Jr., is the career leader in hitting into double-plays.
Did you know ...
Shohei Ohtani put on quite a show in his first start of the 2021 season. The 26-year-old two-way star of the Los Angeles Angels became the first pitcher to bat first or second in a lineup in 118 years; the first pitcher deliberately written into an American League lineup since 1976; and the author of a 450-foot home run, with an exit speed of 115 mph, on the first pitch he saw in the first inning . . .
Michael King, the first Yankee since Bob Shirley in 1986 to pitch six scoreless innings of relief while yielding one hit or less, got his thank-you with a ticket to the alternate training site . . .
After leading the major leagues with 556 hits last year, the Atlanta Braves got a total of 12 hits (7 in the opener) in the Citizens Bank bandbox while dropping three straight to the underdog Phillies in their opening series. The Braves, seeking their fourth straight NL East title, also lost three in a row (10-4, 8-6, and 5-1) in Philadelphia to start their successful 2019 campaign . . .
Even with more than a half-dozen key players idled by Covid, the Washington Nationals won their first game, overcoming deficits of 3-0, 4-2, and 5-4 to beat the Braves in their first game Tuesday . . .
Veteran lefty Mike Moore, new to the Phillies, went 6-3 with a 2.65 ERA and 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings in Japan last season.
By Adam Rygg
Opening Day is a big deal. Don’t let fair-weather fans or football fans or that one co-worker who can’t help but play “Debbie Downer” to everyone around him tell you anything different. The coming of the Major League Baseball season is the symbolic end to a long winter, especially so in the northern cities touched by the sport.
For over a decade straight (and 15 of 16), I’ve been attending the home opener at Miller Park in Milwaukee. The home of the Brewers was a welcoming respite from the day-to-day of my career. Scheduling that day off on my company’s vacation system always felt right and deserved. Long could it be looked forward to, a light at the end of the year’s first quarter.
The global pandemic tried to extinguish that light in 2020. While there was still a long-delayed Opening Day, the reality was that there would be no attendance at the games by fans. The day off was still taken and the game watched, but not being able to watch Major League Baseball in person was another blow in a locked-down country. With the dawn of a new season, hope -- like the coming of spring itself -- was renewed at the prospect of live baseball inundating my senses.
Attendance felt mandatory and tickets were secured. A two-person “pod” at the newly- Christened “American Family Field” (still in Milwaukee) got a quick reservation and my son’s first Opening Day was again looked toward on the calendar.
That morning felt weird. Following so many games viewed from afar, it was perhaps the surreality of it all that contributed to a lackadaisical morning. Absent was the rush of emotion, the flurry of activity, ensuring an on-time arrival. No tailgating due to now-removed restrictions also gave less to do after waking on a day that ought to be a national holiday. As an obnoxious optimist, perhaps it was an uncharacteristic feeling of impending doom -- like they would still take away this day. Then the news of Washington’s virus outbreak hit the wire and, while it wasn’t fear per se, dread certainly outpaced exuberance.
Walking up to the ol’ ballpark for a ballgame for the first time in hundreds of days made it all evaporate. My son and I took a selfie with the new stadium signage in the background and ear-to-ear grins in the fore. Our mouths were peppering questions to each other with a staccato long missed, and nary a wisp of annoyance befell the two ears receiving. It was truly joyous.
While headed to bleacher seats, a small glove was filled with a baseball “Christian Yelich hit for a homer in [batting practice.]” The fire of a burgeoning fandom was fanned behind wide, appreciative eyes and memories from similar personal experiences splashed another smile on my face.
There wasn’t any walking around or time spent on the (closed) indoor playground. Food was ordered from a phone app and picked up along with instruction to return to our seating pod and consume only there. The people seated nearby were usually masked up and only occasionally was it even noticed when someone would walk close, face covered or not.
None of that mattered up against the thrill of being back.
The fears and anxieties of being in a crowd, felt too often over the preceding 13 months, were nearly gone for what ended up being four hours and fourteen minutes (Milwaukee’s area code is 414) of a ninth-inning comeback, tenth-inning walk-off live baseball.
Tickets are already bought for a return. This time, though, our return won’t take so long. I do expect it to feel just as good.
Adam Rygg is a father of two, a husband of one, and a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers. When the blogging mood strikes, his work can be found on Medium at thebrewernation.com. He can be contacted most easily on Twitter at @BrewerNation.
"Don’t let fair weather fans or football fans or that one co-worker who can’t help but play “Debbie Downer” to everyone around them tell you different."
Let’s Keep Baseball And Politics Apart
By Dan Schlossberg
Apologies for the bad metaphor but baseball shouldn’t be a political football. The game has enough problems of its own – think Players vs. Owners – without bringing national politics into the equation.
That being said, Commissioner Rob Manfred made a major mistake moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta to protest Georgia’s new voting law.
The decision is devastating to the Braves, who were counting on a huge financial boost after losing $100 million in the pandemic, but also to the region’s hotels, restaurants, bars, airlines, and car rental companies. And that doesn’t even account for the vendors who work in and around the ballpark. None of them had anything to do with the controversial law.
The general public is also hurt by the decision. A special tribute to long-time Braves legend Hank Aaron, who died in January, won’t have the same significance in Denver, where he never played a major-league game.
There’s also not enough time for the Colorado Rockies to ramp up all the arrangements, usually done years in advance (Philadelphia is already working on the 2026 game, for example).
Manfred, known for making deliberate decisions only after considerable pondering, moved too quickly in this case – only a week after Players Association executive director Tony Clark said he hoped to “open a conversation” with the commissioner.
It surely seems that Manfred, a registered Republican whose employers are owners of the same political persuasion, responded right away to avoid accusations that Major League Baseball is not sensitive to issues involving race.
Apparently, Manfred was moved to make a quick decision after Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who will manage the National League team, said he would consider declining the honor. Other managers, including Terry Francona of Cleveland and Bud Black of Colorado, chimed in with their support of the move.
So did the Players Alliance, a group of black players formed after the death of George Floyd during his arrest in Minneapolis last summer.
On the other hand, Georgia voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, a Democrat defeated by Brian Kemp in the last gubernatorial election there, questioned the wisdom of the MLB pullout.
“Boycotts are complicated affairs that require a long-term commitment to action,” she wrote in The Washington Post. “I have no doubt that voters of color, particularly black voters, are willing to endure the hardships of boycotts. But I don’t think that’s necessary – yet.”
She’s right: what will Manfred do if the Braves reach the World Series? That could involve four games – not just one – and have a much bigger television audience than the Futures Game, Home Run Derby, and All-Star Game, which are only exhibitions.
In addition, how would MLB react to players or even teams that refuse to play in Atlanta until the law is revoked or repealed? Mark your calendar for June 4. That is the date Roberts leads his Dodgers to Dixie for the start of a three-game series – the first between the teams since the scintillating seven-game National League Championship Series that very nearly brought Atlanta its first ticket to the World Series since 1999.
Would the Commissioner go so far as to revoke the Atlanta franchise and force the team to find another city after the season has already started? A tangled web of vitriolic lawsuits would surely follow.
Even though Manfred is merely following precedents set by the NFL, which moved the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix to Los Angeles after Arizona refused to make Martin Luther King Day a paid holiday, and the NBA, which moved its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte to New Orleans in protest of a law that challenged LBGTQ rights, he is also opening up a huge can of worms for baseball.
Choosing Colorado as an instant fix is clever; Coors Field, site of the 1998 game, is still gorgeous and within walking distance of downtown hotels. Denver is also a liberal bastion in a state with a conservative western tradition but a Democratic governor. In addition, Colorado is one of only 15 states where Democrats control the legislature.
What would have happened if MLB moved the game to a city in a state that enacts objectionable legislation between now and the All-Star Game? Would another move – or even an outright cancellation of the game – be in the cards?
Not surprisingly, the reaction to the relocation is strong. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican up for re-election, declined to throw out the first pitch at Globe Life Field when the Texas Rangers start their 2021 home schedule.
In addition, angry Republicans in both houses of Congress are threatening to punish MLB by enacting legislation that would strip the game of its anti-trust exemption, which has stood unchallenged since 1922. It would take defections from only a few stray Democrats to pass such a bill, even though it would face a certain veto from President Joe Biden.
Biden has already called the Georgia law “Jim Crow on steroids” and said he strongly supports Manfred’s decision to move the game elsewhere. To counter that, Donald Trump has called on his base to boycott companies – including Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines – that oppose the new Georgia election law.
That law, the first of nearly two-dozen now pending in states with Republican legislatures, was enacted after Democrats carried the 2020 election in Georgia, choosing Biden and U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff and Rafael Warnock over Republican incumbents.
We’re not discussing the merits of the legislation here – only how and whether baseball should get involved. With a major labor dispute looming, plus serious concerns about more Covid interruptions, it would seem Manfred rushed to judgment – or perhaps even caved to pressure.
Opinions inside baseball, as well as in the general public, vary widely.
The Braves summed up the feelings of many in an official statement:
“The Atlanta Braves are deeply disappointed by the decision of Major League Baseball to move its 2021 All-Star Game.
“This was neither our decision, nor our recommendation, and we are saddened that the fans will not be able to see this event in our city. The Braves organization will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities and we had hoped our city could use this event as a platform to enhance the discussion. Our city has always been known as a uniter in divided times and we will miss the opportunity to address issues that are important to our community.
“Unfortunately, businesses, employees and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision. We will continue to support the community legacy projects which have been planned and are in process.”
It is worth noting that the PGA Tour Championship, scheduled for Atlanta in September, is still planned for the city. And the Masters golf tournament is taking place this week in Augusta, where Manfred is a member of the golf club.
Next year, the Winter Olympic Games will be hosted by China, which has practicing genocide against a small Muslim minority. Although Jimmy Carter once ordered a boycott of the Moscow Olympics, not a word has been said yet by President Biden about whether the U.S. will do the same to call attention to China.
Mazel tov to Dusty Baker, who tied Bill McKechnie Sunday for 14th place in wins by a manager with 1,896 . . .
Congrats also go to Detroit rookie Akil Baddoo, who homered on the first big-league pitch he saw . . .
No kudos to beleaguered Boston pitchers, though, as the Red Sox got off to their first 0-3 start at Fenway since 1948 . . .
Can the Texas bullpen be that bad? It blew a five-run lead on Friday and four-run lead Saturday . . .
Over the past three seasons, Mets ace Jacob deGrom has gone 25-19 with a 2.10 ERA, 628 strikeouts, and more no-decisions than he can count (31 in his career) . . .
If Michael Conforto starts slowly, blame a pre-spring training case of Covid.
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HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [firstname.lastname@example.org] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [email@example.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [firstname.lastname@example.org] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.