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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful For a Game?

It's Thanksgiving Day here in America, the fourth Thursday in November. It's a day where we give thanks to our God and spend time with the family and friends with whom he has blessed our lives.

The day usually includes a traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, vegetables, pies, and other foods and treats. It also includes watching pro football games on TV, and sometimes watching high school rivalry games in person.

Something that we don't usually think about or associate with on Thanksgiving Day is the sport of baseball. But I am going to take a little time to speak about the game on this day for one important reason.

This is supposed to be a day on which we recognize and express our gratitude for the people and things that we love, and in my life there have been few things outside of my family that I have loved more than the sport that I like to call "The Greatest Game That God Ever Invented."

My love of the game encompasses every way that it can be enjoyed, from playing to coaching to spectating to fantasy. My involvement in the game pretty much began with the opening of Veteran's Stadium in my South Philly neighborhood when I was just 9 years old. Until that point the only real sports events that I had been exposed to were the Big Five basketball games that I remember my dad watching on television.

In the spring of 1971, 'The Vet' opened it's gates at Broad and Pattison, and my dad took my brother Mike and I to the 'Opening Day' festivities. It was an event prior to the first game, where fans could get in and walk around the sparkling new facility.

All of the baseball specific features were on display, from the baseline picnic areas, to the booming cannon of Phil & Phyllis that would follow each Phillies' home run, to the colorful Dancing Waters fountain in center field.

I was hooked by the place, and the team and game would soon follow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hot Corner Gold Glover

Scott Rolen is the greatest defensive 3rd baseman that I have ever seen in my lifetime.

For any real fan of baseball, and especially for those who both know me and my passion for what I regularly call "The Greatest Game That God Ever Invented", you'll know that is no small statement for me to make.

It is also a fairly controversial statement. After all, this is the town where Phillies legendary 3rd baseman and Baseball Hall of Famer Michael Jack Schmidt played for all of his nearly 18 big league seasons, and I got to see him in every one of those seasons.

It is also controversial because my lifetime takes in the majority of the career of another Baseball Hall of Famer, the legendary Baltimore Orioles 3rd sacker Brooks Robinson. During their careers, Schmitty was a 10-time Gold Glover at 3rd base, including 9 in a row from 1976-1984 and Brooks won the Gold Glove a record 16 times at the hot corner, all consecutively from 1960-1975.

In fairness, it's difficult for me to comment on any first-hand witnessing of Robinson's greatness. I didn't really begin following baseball until the 1970 season when I was 8 years old and Brooks was playing at age 33 in his 15th MLB season. Even after that, in those pre-cable TV days the only time I got to see him was on the occasional Game of the Week or other national TV broadcast such as the All-Star Game or the playoffs. I will toss in this caveat, that my pick Rolen has a ways to go to match the number of Gold Gloves won by Brooks Robinson.

I did get to watch Mike Schmidt's entire career here in Philly. I was 10 years old when he broke in for a September 1972 call-up, and 27 years old when he retired early in the 1989 season. I probably saw Schmitty play in more than a hundred games at Veteran's Stadium over the years, and in hundreds more on television. He was incredible at the hot corner, a human vacuum cleaner with a cannon for an arm, tremendous instincts, and uncommon athleticism. He could charge a slow roller and make the bare-handed pickup and throw in one motion play as well as anyone who ever played the game.

My opinion on Rolen is no knock on Schmitty, who in my books is simply edged out just slightly, and who comes in 2nd out of the hundreds that I have seen play 3rd base.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

The 2008 Philadelphia Phillies thrilled local sports fans with the city's first major sports championship in a quarter century. For that they were embraced and showered with love, and as Fred Shero once famously said of the 1970's-era champion Flyers, they will "walk together forever."

Eventually there will be reunions, old-timer's games if you will, alumni homerun derby nights at the ballpark. These heroes, some of whom are now temporarily booed because they moved on to opposition teams, will all be cheered again at the ballpark. 2008 will trump anything and everything else in the long run.

Nothing lasts forever, particularly the roster of a major sports team since the free agency era began, and especially in the 21st century when the money involved has become so huge. Keeping the core of a championship team intact for more than 3-4 years is nearly impossible. What Ruben Amaro has done at the helm of the Phillies has been magnificent, but the challenge becomes more and more difficult as each year passes, and as each new champion from 2008 gets a year further along in their contract and a year older in age.

The first major goodbye came almost immediately after the magic of 2008, while some loose confetti still blew down Broad Street and before championship rings had even been dispersed. Pat 'the Bat' Burrell, the slugging leftfielder who had bashed homeruns for 9 seasons at Veteran's Stadium and Citizens Bank Park and who had ridden in the honor position at the very front of the team title parade caravan, left via free agency for World Series opponent Tampa Bay.

Another year passed, the Phillies returned to the World Series and this time lost to the New York Yankees, and following the 2009 season another longtime franchise hero left when pitcher Brett Myers signed as a free agent with Houston. Myers had pitched 7 1/2 seasons for the Phillies, including a year when he saved their skins by moving successfully into the closer's role.