Beer League Softball Players are People, Too

Beer League softball is a funny convergence of people. You’ve got your young hotshots, aged 20-30, with their backwards hats, knee-high socks and basketball shorts, out to show the world that they could have played beyond the junior varsity team if their coach had only seen the talents inside of them. You’ve got your middle-aged men, decked out in baseball pants and a beer gut, stiffly maneuvering out in the field and around the basepaths in an effort to remind everybody of why they were an all-city team selection in 1985. Almost every team, however, has one guy that, frankly, isn’t any good. His age varies, although he seems to always be a younger guy. His clothes don’t define him – often, he can be spotted before play begins as the guy with tennis shoes instead of cleats, and a glove that was either purchased at a yard sale years prior, or wal-mart the morning of the game. His only experience playing the game is in the backyard with his friends growing up, and the warmups just prior to this game. His friend talked him in to playing, and its his first time on a ‘real’ team. He’s usually quiet, not having the experience to discuss the game’s intricacies or the confidence to talk any trash. He starts the game on the bench, only coming into the game in the late innings to pick up an at-bat and an inning or so in the field. Sometimes, in a close, competitive game, he doesn’t see any action at all.

Beer league softball is supposed to be fun. Its a way to get out, get some exercise, and enjoy yourself and your teammates. In our leagues here in town, its also a family-friendly atmosphere, and many guys bring their wives/girlfriends and kids along to the games. Each team, typically, has a small cheering section for each game.

Late last season, one of the better teams in the league played against one of the not-so-great teams. My team was set to meet the good team in the tournament the next week, and our game on this night was immediately following this one, so I got there early to watch this team in action. In a nice gesture, one of Good Team’s better players benched himself to start the game so that their not-so-good player (we’ll call him Aaron Miles for the remainder of this post) could not only start the game, but play for its entirety. The outcome of the game was never in doubt, but Miles did not perform well. He struck out his first at-bat, and grounded weakly to the pitcher in his second. He played RF on defense, and misplayed several balls his towards him. He one he was able to stop was a fairly shallow hit, and he three-hop/rolled the ball in to the second baseman. His team was very supportive of him and his efforts.

The cheering section, however, was not. His third at-bat, in the 3rd inning, resulted in another weak groundout — and jeers and boos from the stands. From HIS side of the stands. His posture and body language completely changed as he walked back to the dugout and pulled himself from the game. I saw him headed out to his car, his jersey replaced with a tshirt, not long after that.

He is human, and because of that, prone to mistakes. He is young and inexperienced, and because of that, prone to mistakes. He is vulnerable to the boos and jeers, and his confidence takes a huge, irreparable hit because of them. His joy in playing the game was taken from him, and his ‘fans’, because they took things too seriously, lost their joy, as well. Expectations for this young man should have been low, based on what everybody already knew about his skillset, his abilities, and his experience level. But he was booed out of the park anyway.

So, why, do we as Cubs fans, boo this bullpen? Expectations for the group were low. Everybody KNEW they were young, and inexperienced. Everybody KNEW they would struggle. Everybody KNEW their performances would cost the team some runs. Nothing they have done up to this point has been a surprise to anybody. So, why allow ourselves to ruin our enjoyment of this game by being vile?

I understand they all make as much money in one year as I’ll ever see in my lifetime. I realize they are professionals, and they have a job to do. But, I also know they are human, and that NOBODY on that team wants to do poorly. Everytime Soriano strikes out on a breaking ball in the dirt or misses a routine fly ball…do you think its because he wants to? Everytime Samardzija walks the bases loaded or Caridad gives up a HR, is it because its always been his dream to cost his employer success?

Nope. Its because they’re just like the rest of us, and prone to not being perfect, just like you and I.

Soriano sucks in the field. Our bullpen is young and inexperienced. Both things we knew leading in to the season. Expectations should have been low. So, why compound the problem, destroy confidence, and ruin our own enjoyment by booing? What does it solve? Who does it help? Do you feel better when you do it?

Mutter under your breath or to the person in the bleachers next to you. Post negative comments on twitter. But publically, loudly, support YOUR Chicago Cubs. OUR Chicago Cubs. Get behind the team, and its players, with optimism, and respect. Most of us have been fans of the team for a very long time, and invested many long summers into suffering along with them. The least we can do is make the suffering they feel only come from choking away another playoff run, instead of venom spewed from the stands.

We are fans –we need to act like it.


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Hope Springs Eternal…Until Summer

I am an extremely optimistic person. I have often been accused of not being serious, or a realist, or level-headed because of it. I’ve been told that you can’t stay positive all of the time…that certain situations require sobriety, and a somber tone.

I didn’t believe that. Not until I met the 2010 Chicago Cubs bullpen.

I know the bullpen isn’t solely at fault when it comes to Sunday’s game. I know that getting only one run off of a kid making his major league debut in one of the better hitter’s parks in all of baseball is unacceptable, and that Soriano’s glove apparently has some voodoo magic in it that makes him unable to run a good route to a ball, or catch it if he miraculously does. This loss isn’t TOTALLY the bullpen’s fault. But, the losing record surely is.

The optimist in me wants to scream out that HEY! If the bullpen could’ve held the lead in all of their opportunities so far, this team would be 5-1! That’s reason for optimism, right? That’s a best-record-in-baseball jolt of optimism. But the jaded realist, the dark corner of my psyche I keep tucked far away from the public, points out that the record is 2-4, and that the bullpen has blown more games than the Cubs have won overall. That, my friends, is not something to be happy about.

Maybe getting home, and playing in front of a stadium full of their own fans, and sleeping in their own beds will help these guys. But, it may be too late for them. How will a Caridad, or Grabow, or — God forbid — a Samardzija be received by the Wrigley faithful if called upon in a one run game this afternoon? This is not a fanbase that, unfairly or not, is patient with a slow start. (See also Jones, Jacque or Bradley, Milton) Will the smattering of boos from fans clad in the same shade of blue as theirs irreparably shake the confidence of those guys? Or is the damage already done?

Hendry rolled the dice on a group of extremely inexperienced relievers based on their performances in a collection of meaningless games. Now, Lou is forced to play the hand he’s been dealt, while the Cubs faithful cover their eyes as the bullpen doors swing open.

The late innings have already been ruined for me, just as they’ve ruined some great performances from our pleasant-surprise rotation. Six games in, none at home yet, and I’m already wary of the 7th and 8th innings.

Come on, guys. Give me a reason to be optimistic again.

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The Triumverate of Carlos

52.00 ERA. A history of walks and hit batsmen in late inning situations. A reputation for being moody, surly, and Rich Garces-esque physique.

Coming in to the series against the Reds, this was the picture painted for us all regarding the Three Carlos’: Zambrano, Marmol, and Silva, respectively. Zambrano absolutely imploded on Opening Day. Marmol had a shaky, albeit successful, appearance in his season debut in the series finale in Atlanta, and Silva has been the (big) butt of jokes ever since Chicago acquired him in The Great Clubhouse Chemistry Experiment of 2010.

But in Cincy, the Three Carlos’ all exceeded the expectations 2010 has thus far set out for them. Silva looked VERY good in the series opener, and would have picked up his first Cubbie W if not for the flaming stinkbomb laid by the bullpen (again…).. Z looked more like the Z of old, and Marmol was absolutely disgusting, striking out the side and picking up the save this afternoon.

The bullpen is still awful. Samardzija still smells like rotten eggs and hair care product. But the offense is hitting: lots of homers early on, and those balls that are staying in the park are being hit hard. Marshall has been taking his Ted Lilly vitamins, and TRL himself will be back before too long. If the starters can just go 8 innings every other day, Marmol can keep throwing the junk he threw today, and M. Byrd, the Clubhouse Chemist, can keep Sullivan’s mind on this team instead of his favorite 2009 subject…

I gotta say, I’m really looking forward to watching this team this summer.

If they win, then Cubbieland will rejoice. If they lose, its probably going to be because of a late inning bullpen collapse, and…well, Ron’s funny to listen to in that case, right?

Week 1 is almost in the books. Can’t wait for the rest of this summer!

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The Pressure is Off!


After waiting for an eternity…so many sleepless nights wondering if the Cubs would EVER win a game in 2010…they finally pulled it off in a 2-0 win over the Braves. Scores of Cubs faithful can breathe easy, knowing that this team will NOT go winless this season! And boy, the team sure did make us wait a long time before picking up that first win…

In the third game of the season. After hearing some fans after the first two games of the year, you’d have thought this team was in the running for Worst Squad Ever. Sure, they managed to look absolutely awful (16-5 on Opening Day) and hand over the close one (3-2 in game 2), so they proved they can lose in every conceivable fashion. All we needed was a cosmic, universe-shifting, that-was-Cubbie-fate loss to officially stamp this season as over!! Once Wells and SuperMarshall were out of the game, and it was turned over to Grabow and Marmol, it seemed destined to happen. RIP, 2010 Cubs Season. But, they both held, the shutout stayed intact, and the Cubs managed to not only snatch the hopes of this season meaning something out of the clutches of futility, but they pulled themselves up to only one game back of the division lead!

The above paragraphs are extremely flawed, in much the same way that hanging an entire season on the outcome of the first series of the year is. Two losses in April are just two losses. It’ll happen again. Probably in April, too. This team will win a lot more games, as well…probably in the 80-85 times range. I think the mindset in early games is “must win” because the football season is fresh on everybody’s mind, and 0-2 in the NFL IS a bad sign. In the NFL, 0-2 means you’ve got to figure something out or risk falling out of the playoff race. In MLB, 0-2 just means you’re positioning yourself for a World Series run, just like the 08 Phillies and 09 Yankees. Both teams started 0-2, and those seasons turned out pretty well.

If this team starts 1-20, you can start to panic. But until then, sit back and enjoy the ride. Its going to be a summer of highs and lows…but really, aren’t the best roller coasters that way?


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No Surprise

The 2010 Atlanta Braves are really, really good.

This is primarily a Cubs blog, but Turner Field in Atlanta is much closer to me than Wrigley. I try to catch a game in Chicago every couple of years, but I always make a Cubs game in Atlanta. Most of the time, Cubs fans vastly outnumber the fans of the hometown team – the name Wrigley South is justly earned. For me, its literally become the home park for the Northsiders when I’m able to watch them play.

If I have my way, I catch the entire series every year. This year, with the off day between Opening Day and the rest of the series, I was forced to make the choice between catching the two games after the day off, or the first-in-my-lifetime opportunity to see the Cubs play on Opening Day. It seemed like a no-brainer to me to be a part of the kickoff to the baseball season. Until, of course, the Braves bats had an opportunity to meet the Cubs pitchers.

Many writers far more talented than I have already talked about the Cubs in this game: Z should be no more than a #4, Samardzija should be catching Cutler passes instead of offering free passes to the opposition…so I won’t even bother going there. Except to say that Samardzija sucks. A lot. Like, a whole lot. But, this 2010 Cubs team really didn’t surprise me in Game 1 of 162. Their bullpen isn’t that solid. Their starting rotation will struggle until Lilly returns. The middle infield is weak. To be successful, Soriano and Soto will have to hit.

These are things blogs and the twittersphere have been saying since the end of 2009.

The real story from Opening Day wasn’t how bad the Cubs looked. It was how good the Braves offense looked. The middle of their order, if Glaus and Chipper can still hit, is extremely dangerous. RBIs will come from 1-8. Their expected leadoff hitter is slumping and hitting 8th, but is giving them exceptional CF defense. (The trap/DP ball notwithstanding, he robbed a couple other Cubs of extra bases.) Lowe pitched well, and there isn’t really a dropoff between he and starters 2-5. The bullpen was solid.

Oh, and that Heyward kid might wind up being decent, too. Or Rookie of the Year, IMO.

Yes, the Cubs were manhandled. Yes, Samardzija should never be allowed near a baseball again. But the Braves are going to give the Phillies a serious run in the NL East, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they claim that division as their own this year.

To panic and say “The Cubs are finished!” after 1 game at the beginning of April against the, say, Nationals would be silly. But to concede the season after playing a GREAT baseball team in a Bobby Cox-and-Jason Heyward charged road stadium would be absurd. The Cubs are GOOD. Maybe not great, but not horrible, either.

They will give us great baseball this summer.

They will give us a playoff push this fall.

They will give us some things to be happy and positive about.

So what if it wasn’t in Game 1? They have 161 more chances to prove me right.


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Split Decision

Much has been made of updates and renovations being discussed for Wrigley Field since the Ricketts family took over ownership of the club. Issues as small as the troughs in the restrooms, to as large as the possible addition of a jumbotron, all seem to have many people divided over the issue of what exactly Wrigley Field is, and what it should be.

Is it a baseball stadium? A museum? A national landmark? The Cubs are in a position different from any other MLB club (with the exception, perhaps, of the Red Sox with Fenway) where the answer to all three of those questions is a resounding “yes”. Wrigley Field is the home to a remarkable amount of baseball history — but it is also the home to a modern-day baseball team: a team that is striving to stay economically competitive, and bring its tortured fan base the championship it has been starved of for more than a century.

The recent announcement of the Toyota advertising signage highlights the main issue. Wrigley Field purists see the sign (and the jumbotron, and any other “new” items) as desecration of sacred ground; an addition to a baseball shrine that is viewed by some as a perfect mix of the history of the game and the present. Supporters point out that in baseball’s current economic climate, any and all sources of revenue should be pursued in order to field a competitive team. Stadiums need advertising, be it naming rights of the stadium, or a sign near the bleachers at Wrigley.

Both sides are right, but unfortunately, no compromise can be made in this case. There is no “middle ground” here: either Wrigley goes “corporate”, or it doesn’t. Even the Under Armour signs, while placed somewhat inconspicuously on the outfield walls, drew a lot of criticism from the Wrigley purists. So, how do the Ricketts increase the revenue the Cubs stadium brings in, while keeping Wrigley field, Wrigley field?

Simply: build another stadium…but continue to call Wrigley Field home.

The University of Alabama employed this tactic for a good portion of the 20th century…playing a majority of their games in Birmingham’s Legion Field because it was more accessible for many teams coming in to play. Even as recently as 2003, Alabama had some home games on it’s schedule at the old stadium, eventually switching all home games to Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium due to safety concerns with Legion Field. The New Orleans Saints and Hornets split home games over a few sites after Katrina ravaged that city, and the Buffalo Bills have started scheduling some home games in Toronto, probably preparing for a permanent move to that city. So, why couldn’t this approach work in Major League Baseball?

First, the cons…and there are plenty. First and foremost is the reason for the new stadium in the first place: could the Cubs playing home games anywhere but Wrigley still draw at the gate? For many casual baseball fans, or fans of other baseball teams, a HUGE part of the selling point of attending a Cubs home game is the stadium itself. Being referred to as a mecca of baseball will do that for a place. Would a Cubs team be able to sell out a home date at a new venue, especially if Wrigley were still an option? Something the Ricketts brain trust would have to consider carefully.

Second, would a second venue be too confusing? In every other instance I listed, the multiple stadiums were in different cities. In the case of the Cubs, they would both be in, or near, Chicago. Logistically, this could create a mess for not only the fans, but the vendors and support staff working the games.

The pros could make it all worth it. First and foremost, the construction of a new stadium could give considerable freedom in the forms of advertising that the team needs to be financially competitive. The jumbotron that is drawing so much debate over placement in Wrigley would be impossible to leave out of a new venue. Advertisers could plaster the stadium to their heart’s content, much like many other modern ballparks. The modern amenities missing from Wrigley would be plentiful.

Then, there’s the matter of scheduling. “Premium” games could still be played at Wrigley, and my guess is the atmosphere would be even more electric. Could you imagine a Cardinals series in Wrigley in late August, with the division on the line? Would being back in the old park be an emotional lift for the Cubs and their fans?

I’m not saying this is THE answer. But its definitely something to consider.

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Saving Silva, Man

Milton Bradley is no longer a Cub.  And the fanbase couldn’t be happier.

That’s what you would expect, right?  After a season full of strikeouts, mental errors, hobbled first steps out of the batter’s box, menacing glares at umpires on third-strike calls, comments from moms, DL stints that weren’t, then were, and suspensions, fans were clamoring for a hasty exit for Mr. Bradley.  Many called for Hendry to move Bradley at “whatever cost”, including some items that wouldn’t even constitute a murder weapon in the board game Clue.  “We HAVE to get rid of Bradley!” stated the teeming masses of fans, and even some players.

Welp, the deal is done.  Bradley is gone.

Tickertape parades?  Fireworks?  Renaming of Addison to Hendry Ave, perhaps?

Nope.  Outrage.  Disgust.  Disappointment.

Carlos Silva?  How DARE you, Jim Hendry?  THE Carlos Silva?  The 8.60 ERA Carlos Silva? The “The Yankees aren’t even dumb enough to offer him that kind of $$$” Carlos Silva?

Yep.  That’s the one.

Ask and ye shall receive, folks.  Hendry made some mistakes during this whole ordeal, beginning with the fact he signed Milton in the first place.  I’m pretty sure everybody on the outside looking in knew exactly how this was going to play out — it’s been a recurring theme at every stop Milty has made in his major league career.  Hendry’s handling of Milt after the season, practically proclaiming him as Plutonium and unwelcome back into the Cubs clubhouse, did the situation no favors, either.  But, in the end, Milt had to be moved, and he was.  And the backlash ensued.  Carlos Silva?  He sucks, dude!!  Milt is so talented!  He’s such a great baseball talent when he’s healthy…or when he’s happy…or…GAH!  This trade is so lopsided.  Hendry, you’re a moron!  This trade makes no baseball sense!!

We are Chicago Cubs fans, and as such, actions aren’t thought out in terms of “baseball sense”.  We think with our emotions, first and foremost, and for anyone with some history rooting for this team — the high expectation heartbreak sprinkled in amongst the mediocrity — there’s nothing wrong with that.  I know that I’m not the only person that waits as expectedly for pitchers and catchers to report as I do to open Christmas presents…not the only person with Opening Day scrawled on their calendar and entered into their Blackberry…not the only person hopeful for a Cubs win the next time they are able to see them in person.  From the time the first Northsider begins throwing a baseball in the spring until the last out in the fall, I live and breathe Cubs baseball…all of the highs and the lows.  The team is a lot like family to me, and I know there are many, many others out there the same way.  It’s a bond built over years of emotionally investing into something, and it’s the sweetest bond a sports fan can have.  The life of a die-hard.

It is also the most sour.  Ruled by emotion, we lash out at every negative blip on the radar with an Armageddon-like fury.  As longsuffering fans, each summer that passes without a World Series championship, or even a National League pennant, just makes the blips grow larger and the hate grow stronger.  Those raw emotions are what ran Jacque Jones out of Wrigley.  They ran an innocent fan out of town altogether.  And now, they’ve run Milton Bradley off, as well…and snapped us back to reality for a moment.

Wait a second…Carlos Silva?  WHY?!?  He’s a horrible pitcher!  Why’d we trade Bradley for HIM?!  Milton is great at what he does!  When he keeps his emotions in check, he’s amazing!  Such discipline!

Really, as Cubs fans…are we much different from Milton Bradley?

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