Tuesday, July 29, 2008

O is for Offense

Last night was a big night for the O's. They got their 50th win of the season. Before the season began I predicted the Orioles would struggle to win 50 games. Sometimes it's good to be wrong. It's not even August and while the O's might be in the cellar of the AL East, they are only 5 games below .500. Which really isn't that bad. At least not when you look at our records for the last 10 years. I'm practically giddy.

But while hammering the Yankees 13-4, the Orioles did much more than beat my preseason expectations. There were many big milestone nights. Not only did the O's stop the Yanks 10 game home win streak. So they have managed to beat 2 really hot teams in 2 days after an abysmal previous 10 games. They also had their best offensive night in years. Every batter in the lineup had a hit. And some of those hits were major milestones.

Adam Jones, the young rising star outfielder, had his first career grand slam. A memorable moment for him. This was a great night to do it. But it was not the only career milestone of the night. Brian Roberts hit his 250th career double. That's right 250. Talk about a lot of good hits and stretching a good number of singles as well. The little man has legs. And finally Ramon Hernandez hit his 1,000th hit. How about that for a good night for the team.

Also our pitching is starting to turn around. After a good outing by Olsen, Guthrie showed he still deserves the ace spot by pitching into the 7th before allowing a run and being taken out of the game. So it looks like its on a the Orioles are on an upswing. Let home they can keep it going and creep back up to .500. It was a true night of Orioles Magic.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sunday Funday

This Sunday I took the day off from watching sports. The Orioles have been slumping lately and had lost 15 consecutive Sundays. They were also playing the Angels who have the best record in baseball. So I figured that I would enjoy my Sunday more if I didn't spend it watching the game. Damn it. I was wrong. Not only did the Orioles beat the Angels 5-2. But Garrett Olson had the best start of any Orioles pitcher in the last 8 games. He made it into the 7th inning. Which has seemed impossible for our pitchers to do lately. George Sherrill racked up his 30th save. That's more than all the Orioles pitchers combined in 2007. What happened?

Don't get me wrong, I'm excited that our losing streak is broken and that we managed to avoid a sweep by a great team, but why did it happen the day I decided not to pay attention. Players tend to be very superstitious. Kevin Millar shaved his head to get back on track. (He likes to grow facial hair but this is against the team policy.) He did it on Friday and then hit 2 home runs. I guess it worked. Sports fans are even more superstitious. I have a friend that wears his Ravens jersey's in a particular order to ensure that they win. I have another friend who believes a Baltimore losing streak can be combated by adding Old Bay to whatever food is eaten during the game. I don't argue with either of these theories as long as we win. I too really believe that how I watch the game has some effect on the outcome. I didn't watch the game and we won, should I stop watching? I just can't do that. Not this season. I can't remember the last time I was still excited about baseball in August. Maybe I just shouldn't watch on Sundays. But Sunday Funday is more fun when the game is on.

So what to do? I will ignore the results of last Sunday as a fluke. Maybe I just needed to change it up to help my team win. I want us to keep winning on Sundays. And I want to keep watching. But this time I'll accept that the win had nothing to do with me. It must have been some other fan or player changing their routine. And next week I'll be ready for a real Sunday Funday. One where I watch the O's continue a streak of winning on Sundays. I just hope that other fan does whatever it was that keeps them winning.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Plea to Orioles Management

As the trade deadline looms I grow more and more anxious. There seems to be nothing that sports writers like to talk about more than trade speculations. Well, maybe, just at this time of year. But either way, I'm not excited about the talk on the town about my team. I understand the Orioles want to trade some people and have had success from the Bedard and Tejada trades but right now there is talk about trading the wrong players.

George Sherrill should not be traded under any circumstance. Well, I guess if we were going to get an entire rotation of proven starting pitchers, that would be ok, but short of that, we need to keep him. Not only has he been a shining start in our injury plagued bullpen, he's basically the team mascot. His silly uncurled brim has become a trademark of the winning Orioles. During O's games out at the bar, there are now tons of people sporting the flat brim. This team of misfits has rallied around him. He's more than a great closer, he's a symbol of what the team can achieve. Don't take him away from the team or the fans.

Please don't trade Brian Roberts. I know he our most valuable trading chip. But he also is a huge part of this team. Right now we don't have a shortstop, and you want to get rid of our second baseman as well. That's just crazy talk. He's a great player and a fan favorite. And he's never done anything but be good for Baltimore. He's not clubhouse cancer like Tejada, and I doubt we're going to get the same value for him we got for injury prone Bedard. I know he looks like a good trading chip, but after that bare handed catch the other night, I was reminded of how much I don't want to see him go. He's exhilarating to watch and has been a really great leader. With a young team like this we need leaders.

As for Cabrera, there aren't nearly as many rumors floating around about him, but there are still some. Please give him a little more time. He has progressed well this year and really has done well in the struggling rotation. You know you'll be kicking yourself if he gets his head totally together and starts pitching shutouts and/or complete games on a regular basis. Which, he has the potential to do. Just a little bit more time for him, please, please. Plus, I love him and would be very sad to see him leave Baltimore.

Maybe I'm too optimistic or just too attached to the team chemistry we have now. But the only person I'd really be willing to trade is Huff. Yes, he's having a great year. And yes, he's usually a second half player, so he could do good things for us this year. But he's not that young, and he probably won't be around for much longer. So maybe we should get something for him now while his value is so high. It'd better be good though. Because he is hot and has been the difference in more than one game.

Overall, I don't think we should mess with the team very much. And if anything, we should be aquiring more pitching, not trading it away. It's hard to get a team to really believe in each other like this one does. And the fans deserve a chance to see a team win some games in the second half. So don't sell the farm right now for some prospects. Give us a chance to keep watching baseball. I know its been a long time since I was still watching this late in the season. And I don't want to stop.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Sport of Beer Pong

Now some people may not consider this a sport but with the upturn in high stakes tournaments, that notion should be revisited. I mean there's a World Series of Beer Pong with $50,000 prize for first place. If poker is a sport then why not beer pong. Beer pong at least involves some coordination. Poker might involve some mental toughness and strategy, but not really any type of physical ability or coordination. Throwing a ping pong ball into a cup with accuracy is not easy. Add excessive amounts of beer and it can be incredibly challenging.

I think the beer is probably what the main hurdle in the game being considered a sport. On the other hand there is a high level of competition. There are leagues and tournaments all over the country, and of course the aforementioned World Series. This is not just a game for drunk frat boys anymore.

For those of you unfamiliar with beer pong, there are many different variations. (It is also called Beirut) But since its my blog, I'm going to use the rules that my friends and I play with. Here's a brief overview. You get an 8' long table and put 10 cups on each side in a pyramid formation. There are 2 players on each side and two balls. Each player has a chance to throw one ball into the opponents cups. If the player hits the cup, the opponent must remove that cup. Opponents should drink but are not required to. (People who consistently do not drink face ridicule.) If both teammates hit cups then they get to shoot one more ball. Then the other team does the same thing. The goal is to get rid of all of your opponents cups, get drunk, and claim bragging rights, and maybe even win some money.

There is a whole industry developing around organizing leagues and tournaments, making tables and other accessories, and even an independent film. (I have not seen the film but I've heard it's not that great.) So if you are one to write this off as some passing fad, then you should think again. The popularity and skill level in competitive beer pong has only been growing.

The increased popularity and organization of the game has led to much increased skill level and competition. Now I'm not saying that beer pong should be an Olympic sport but people should at least give it a little recognition. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that 90% of American between the ages of 18 and 30 have heard of beer pong. And probably 75% of those people have played it at one time or another. So its not exactly as if this game is only being played by a tiny portion of the population.

Yes, it may cause you to break a sweat, or put you at risk for terrible injuries (though since there is drinking involved there is always a chance) but it takes more coordination than poker, which is regularly on ESPN2 and is more popular than curling, an Olympic sport. And with the slew of high stakes tournaments around the country, I think it deserves a little respect.

So next time someone talks about how good they are at beer pong. Don't scoff or say there's nothing to it. Nod and realize they may be making more from it than you are from online poker. And at least they're being social.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

DH Dominance?

With the coming All Star Game it seems like a good time to talk about the biggest problem in baseball. In my opinion, this is not steroids, its the lack of a standard set of rules. Steroids are bad and all but MLB seems to be trying to come up with a solution to that problem. However, other than casual fans and the occasional sports writer, I rarely here people talking about the inconsistencies among not only the different leagues but even within the same division.

Is there any other sport where the fields of play are different sizes? No. A long fly ball at some parks is a home run at others. This is not fair. I know that both teams are playing at the same park so technically they are each hitting the ball the same distance. But really, that's like each basketball court having a different three point arc and free throw line. It's not just about players stats. A player knows how far and hard he has to hit it in his stadium to get a particular hit. That gets thrown out of whack when he goes to another park. There should be a standard. There should be continuity. A home run in one park should be a home run in every other park. The fields should be the same size and the walls should be the same height. (Yes, I think there's a problem with the Green Monster, but I'm not going into that now.)

Besides the total lack of conformity in the fields of play, the rules are different in the National League to the American League. The most hotly contested is the existence of the Designated Hitter in the AL. Now, either way I'd like to see both leagues play by the same rules, whether it means the DH or the pitcher batting. But being a huge AL fan, I'm going to argue for the DH.

The DH makes baseball more fun to watch. The average fan likes higher scoring games. Yes it's possible that there is slightly more strategy when watching NL games and when to switch pitchers, but overall the casual fan doesn't really care about that too much. Mostly people want to see high scores with lots of hitting. And making a pitcher bat is like giving the other team an out. Why have nine batters in the line up if you are only going to have 8 actually hit.

The DH also extends careers of players. Older or injured players can become a DH and stay in baseball longer. This means your favorite players can stick around for a few more seasons. Also a player with a minor injury could still be a DH and not have to go on the DL and still be able to contribute to the team while resting up a little. Plus, this can help avoid having that idiot outfielder you have mostly for his bat, he can just be DH and you're team will get better and fans get to watch better baseball.

I think the most potent argument against the DH is that the pitcher plays in the field, why shouldn't he have to bat. But when you think about it the pitcher is a special position. He can't play every day, or maybe a closer can pitch one inning a day, but even that would be stressful on his arm. And the pitchers are even relegated to a different part of the field away from the other players. Everyone else sits in the dugout. The pitchers stay in the bullpen until called in. That, and there really is very little expectation for a pitcher to be a good hitter. So why bother.

The other frequently thrown around argument is that having the pitcher prevents the pitcher from hitting batters because he has to bat as well and face the other pitcher. Was there a wave of mean spirited pitchers in the NL or something? In general pitchers try to throw strikes. And pitchers don't try to hit batters. No one really wants to injure the other players, and no one wants to walk. Also, if there really is this type of retribution, shouldn't the pitchers be worried about their teammates. A pitcher is not going to do well without his fielders behind him. So I think this argument is a little bogus.

There are some other arguments against the DH but most of them are not even worth mentioning. Or at least not worth addressing. But if you feel that I'm missing anything big, I'd like to hear about it.

Overall, I think the DH makes the game more interesting and exciting to watch for most people. Like I said before, I'd be happy with either set of rules as long as they are the same for both leagues. I just personally think that the AL has the better rules. And since recently the AL has been kicking the NL's butt, maybe the baseball should just adopt the rules of the dominant league so that the NL can compete. But I think we can all agree, the fields should be the same size.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Olympic Anticipation

With the trials for the Olympics happening all weekend I'm starting to get really excited about the upcoming games. There's something about the spirit of the competition that really gets me interested. One country versus another in intense but friendly competition to achieve national dominance.

The sport I am most excited about is swimming. This seems to be a sport of American dominance. And not only American dominance but Maryland dominance. Both Micheal Phelps and Katie Hoff hail from the Free State. Between the two of them there is the possibility of 13 medals. And not just a possibility, but a really legitimate chance at 13 medals, most of them gold.

Phelps is trying to break Mark Spitz's record of 7 gold medals in one Olympics. He's swimming in 8 events, 5 solo and 3 relays and holds the world record in several events. So he has a very realistic chance of winning 8 gold medals. EIGHT!!!! That is truly absurd. And incredibly awesome at the same time. Every Olympics gives us the chance to see athletes at their bests, to see new records set, and to bask in national pride. But seriously talking about someone win 8 gold medals seems like lunacy. And I can't wait to watch it.

Hoff on the other hand is trying to rebound from a dismal 2004 performance. Basically she tanked in her races and then threw up after getting out of the pool. Pretty embarrassing. But then again she was only 15, and that is a lot of pressure for someone who cannot even drive. So with 5 races this summer, expect big things from the older, wiser and stronger Hoff.

There's even a super feel good story in swimming this time around. Dana Torres, 41, qualified for two events. That's right, there's a 41 year old mother is swimming for America in the Olympics. And before you start with the steroids talk, wait a moment, she has never been linked to performance enhancing drugs, she volunteered for the pilot program for wider drug testing in the sport, and she has been tested 12-15 times since March. She's not just denying it, she's actually trying to back up her claims. Which, call me naive, but gives me faith that she really is clean.

The one thing I am not excited about is the new Speedo LZR suits. Part of the fun of watching swimming was the mostly naked men with the Adonis bodies. And now they're covering these up. While I understand these new suits are helping to break world records, I am not thrilled. I am not willing to make the argument that because they enhance performance, they should not be allowed. I mean if Nike is giving its endorsed athletes a chance to switch to this suit, it must be good. And I'm all for records being broken, well, broken by Americans. And I'm for any competitive advantage that doesn't involve drugs. But man, I'm going to miss those rock hard abs.

Overall, its going to be one hell of a time for swimmer in the US. I'm excited for the rest of the Olympics as well, track and field is always exciting and gymnastics is fun to watch. But the supposed ridiculous dominance in swimming is going to be what I don't want to miss. I mean, 8 gold medals, who are these people who think this is so possible?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My Orioles are Back

After blowing two saves and losing in extra innings, I have to say it, it looks the O's of old are back. No longer are leads safe, especially small leads. Two heartbreaks in a row and I feel almost comforted. I needed this reality check. I was starting to hope and dream of an over .500 season, maybe even a race for the playoffs. I had forgotten my prediction that the O's would struggle to win 50 games this year. And I had almost forgotten the pain that they could so easily inflict on me.

But my optimism is still there. Tonight is the official halfway point of the season for the O's. And it is not mathmatically possible for them to be below .500. At the beginning of the season I would have laughed at you had you told me they would have won 40 games before the All Star break. But they have already surpassed that mark. I would have snickered if you told me a group of no name misfits would come together with amazing chemistry and make the city I love believe in them once again. And I would have stared blankly at you if you had told me a no name pitcher who never even learned to bend the brim of his cap would be the subject of trade rumors because of he ranks 2nd in the AL in saves.

But all that has happened. Which just goes to show that none of us can predict the future or really has the slightest clue whats going on. I mean, the Rays have the best record in baseball, the Rays. What I do know now is that I need to remember this is a rebuilding year. I can't hold the Orioles to some magically high standard because the first half of the season was better than I expected. Yes, I do expect them to be somewhat decent for the rest of the season, but what I really want is for them to be even better next year. And the year after that.

I don't want to start next season thinking that the 50 win mark will be hard to reach. I don't want to think that no lead is safe. I don't want to put too much stock in this season and deal away young prospects for big names to be a little instant gratification and immediate gain. Big names haven't really worked that well for us in the past. But all of a sudden a group of guys that most people in Baltimore couldn't name at the beginning of the season are winning. So lets stick with them.

All I want is to believe that we can get better, that this really is the start of new era in Baltimore baseball. I want to believe that while the O's might have been playing over their heads for the first half, that next year this record won't be over their heads. This is a team that believes in itself. So I'm going to believe in them too. I'm just not going to get my expectations to high. But I am going to keep hoping. And I hope the rest of Baltimore will keep hoping and supporting them too.