“Gateway To The Majors”

“Within the ball park, time moves differently, marked by no clock except the events of the game. This is the unique, unchangeable feature of baseball and perhaps explains why this sport, for all the enormous changes it has undergone … remains somehow rustic, unviolent, and introspective. …

“Baseball’s time is seamless and invisible, a bubble within which players move at exactly the same pace and rhythms as all their predecessors.” 

~ Roger Angell

Baseball keeps me close.

It keeps me close to my dad who didn’t even really like baseball, but it keeps me there nevertheless whenever I hear Vin Scully’s voice (less often now) or see a Dodger’s logo. Even though my dad’s been gone for years.

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“Welcome Fans!”

“Virginia is a team that more than deserved to be a very high seed and host a regional. Why that didn’t happen, I don’t know.” ~ Jim Schlossnagle, Coach, Texas Christian University Horned Frogs

Last Sunday, the NCAA named its 16 host teams for their post-season Regional Tournaments which began yesterday.

The University of Virginia — ranked #13 in the country by D1 Baseball, #11 in USA Today‘s Coaches Poll, and #10 in the Baseball Writers Poll — was not among them.

In the scope of injustices in this world, the NCAA’s slight is plenty misguided, sure, but still pretty teeny-tiny.

And, sure you can argue that Virginia is still one of the 64 teams competing in the post-season this weekend. Look at poor Miami, left out for the first time in 44 years.

Yes, you can argue that at least Virginia gets to play today.

(Don’t try to make me feel better. I’m steamed about this.)

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Our Season In The Blue Seats (part 3)

Sure, I know I’m wearing out my welcome, but here’s one last look from our season in Virginia baseball’s blue seats.

Last post on this. Promise.

If you’re playing catch-up … here’s “Our Season In The Blue Seats” (part 1) and (part 2).

I have a college chum who is an accomplished photographer. He tried to help me understand how carefully manipulating the wheels and buttons and levers on my camera can create a beautiful photo. But, I just can’t seem to ever get it right, especially when I’m trying to shoot through — and wash out — the protective netting at a game while actually also watching the game.

So, my pictures are frustratingly not right most of the time. Which is ok, because if people like me could take a great photo with ease, all the good photographers in the world would be out of work. Which is to say, I’m keeping all the professional sports photographers in business, which makes me a job creator. You’re welcome.

I took a lot of pictures while we watched Virginia baseball from the coveted blue seats this season. A lot.

These were all shot through the protective netting. They are my favorites.

Virginia Pitcher Teddy Paisley.

I’ve been waiting all season to tell you about Teddy Paisley.

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Our Season In The Blue Seats (part 2)

I’m the person you meet at a party who wants to show you a picture on her phone and then as she’s sweeping through hundreds of them she stops to show you a bunch of unrelated ones that have made her nostalgic (well, as nostalgic as a picture from 2013 can make one). She ultimately forgets the one she was looking for in the first place, which is ok, because one more tiny picture from last summer’s family reunion filled with people you don’t know is going to end the friendship.

Just a few more pics from our season in baseball’s blue seats at the University of Virginia. I promise it won’t take long.

(What? You missed ‘Part One’? Poor dear. Start here.)

Today’s theme – ACTION!

My camera doesn’t catch much action at the game. Blame the camera. (All of these photos were shot through the protective netting.)

Sure, I missed catcher Caleb Knight’s homerun swing, but I did get Virginia’s celebration in a game versus Pittsburgh.

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Our Season In The Blue Seats (part 1)

Editor/Husband broke his leg on New Year’s Day.

You might think that this was a terrible thing and it was. Not for me, of course, but for him. It was a lousy thing to happen.

But, look at the bright side.

His bum leg wasn’t ready for steep steps. And, our season tickets for University of Virginia baseball are out in the bleachers and up some very steep steps. We had to figure this out. Because I don’t care whose leg is broken, we’re not missing baseball.

So before nearly every home game this season I stood in line at the ticket window – sometimes for nearly an hour – in the hopes of upgrading that day’s tickets to closer-in seats that would be an easier commute for Limpy.

Those close-in seats are the ones that fans like us, with our bleacher tickets, dream about.

The blue seats.

Real seats with sturdy backs, not the long backless benches that line the rest of the park. When you’re in the blue seats you can put your bottle of water beside your feet and not worry that someone will accidentally kick it into the opening in the bleacher floor where it will disappear into the abyss.

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Baseball Is A Billion Times Better Than Nougat

When I was a kid there was this amazing “Seven Up” candy bar, made by a company in Minneapolis.

seven-up-bar-label

Heard of it?

They stopped making it in 1979, I’m afraid, so you’ll have to wonder about its wonderfulness. A single chocolate candy bar with seven – SEVEN! – little pockets carved into it, and each one was filled with a different flavor.

Mint!  Coconut!  Butterscotch!  Fudge!  Caramel!  Butter Cream!

And, Nougat!

Nougat.

First of all, nougat is not a flavor. Second of all, nougat is horrible.

tom-hanks-big

I don’t think anyone has ever intentionally eaten nougat. And, I’ll bet it was nougat that did in the Seven Up bar. Well, that and a pretty clear trademark infringement with 7-Up soda.

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“Get Up There & Bunt”

No one really likes the bunt.

Baseball players bunt because their manager tells them to or because nothing else seems to be working.

They bunt – usually as a sacrifice, giving up an out in the process – because they have to.

No one likes the bunt, do they? I mean really really likes it?

President William Taft hated the bunt. And, now he’s celebrated as one of the Racing Presidents at Washington Nationals games …

© The Baseball Bloggess, 2016

“It also came out at the game that Mr. Taft does not like the bunt.  … ‘I like to see them hit it out for all that is in them.’”  The New York Times, May 31, 1909

In 2005, then-Nationals Manager Frank Robinson told The Washington Post that even his pitchers complained when he called on them to bunt.

 

“They cry about it,” Robinson said. “They’ll say, ‘I’m a pretty good hitter.’ I’ll say, ‘You’re hitting .130. How is that a pretty good hitter?’ I tell them to get up there and bunt.”

And, yes, legendary Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver didn’t like the bunt either: “I’ve got nothing against the bunt – in its place. But most of the time that place is the bottom of a long-forgotten closet.”

Some experts argue that at the college level it’s more difficult to bunt with an aluminum bat. But, I see it at college games all the time.

Justin Novak Bunts UVA E Carolina Regional 6 4 16

© The Baseball Bloggess

University of Virginia third baseman Justin Novak squares to bunt in the 2016 NCAA Regional Tournament

Some fans and players might consider a bunt dull baseball. I think it’s beautiful.

Even Babe Ruth knew a well-placed bunt can make all the difference …

Babe Ruth Bunted NYTimes 10 11 1921

New York Times, October 11, 1921

Babe Ruth “near collapse” wins the game with a bunt!

A batter squares up to bunt – and with that one simple movement and change of position he has told everyone, including every infielder, exactly what he intends to do. He knows that where he drops that bunt is key. He knows he’s going to have to run like hell.

It’s sort of gutsy when you stop to think about it.

Oh, and last week’s Korean All-Star Game included a bunting competition which is sort of like if you took bunting and curling and mooshed them together.

The result is absolutely awesome.

 

Hit Bull Win Steak

Remember the snorting bull from the movie Bull Durham?

hit bull win steak original movie prop

It stood out in right field. And, included these words …

Hit Bull Win Steak.

Of course you remember, because Bull Durham is Kevin Costner’s best baseball movie.

That bull was a movie prop. There was no “Hit Bull Win Steak” bull in Durham until the movie dreamed it up. This was a little disappointing. I thought the Durham Bulls had long had a steak-feeding tradition. After all, minor league per diems are pretty slim, even today. A good steak could keep a fella going.

I guess it was too much prop to pack up when the movie wrapped – plus, think of all the bubble wrap you’d need – so it was left behind.

Movie props aren’t made to last, so it’s a new bull out there in Durham these days. It’s bigger and it’s out in left field now. And, whenever the Bulls homer, anywhere in the park, its eyes light up, its tail wags, and it snorts smoke.

hit bull win steak hit grass win salad

Today it says:

Hit Bull Win Steak

Hit Grass Win Salad

And, yup, a local restaurant provides a steak to players who hit a home run off of the bull. (No word on whether a ball that hits the grass actually earns a trip to the salad bar, or if anyone has ever asked.)

Last season, The News & Observer in Raleigh noted that since the new park opened in 1995, the bull has been hit only 29 times. (They also report that there is no longer a steak offered to visiting players for their homers off of the bull. Boo.)

Most of the bull-snortin’ home runs come from high fly balls that hit it on their way down. You’d have to really smoke it to line a homer off the bull. You know, smack it right between the eyes.

College baseball’s ACC Tournament is underway this week at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

And, on Thursday, Virginia shortstop Daniel Pinero did this …

“Right Between The Eyes.”

Lots of smoke-snortin’. But, alas, no steak. College amateur rules are fussy about things like that. But, Sports Channel 8 in North Carolina is providing a “steak dinner” donation to the local food bank in honor of Pinero.

Despite the bullish homer, the ‘Hoos lost yesterday’s game against Clemson (and lost to Wake Forest again today).

But, Pinero hit the bull. So, there is that.

A Call To Arms

No matter who you are – your gender, ethnicity, country of origin, or age – if you win something big, you will raise your arms in victory.

Doesn’t matter who you are … your arms go up. It’s hardwired in you.

(The scientists who study this would want me to tell you that the arm-raise often comes with a chest puff and a shout. They call this behavior the “dominance threat display.”)

Researchers studying the activities of blind Para-Olympians discovered the very same thing. They raise their arms, too.

Even though most of these blind people had never seen anyone else do it, they instinctively raised their arms with joy upon winning a competition.

The feeling of winning, it seems, is uniformly uniform.

In other experiences, we’re individuals. The foods we like, the people we’re drawn to, what makes us laugh. We’re all a little different.

Except when we win.

When we win, we throw our arms in the air.

So, on June 24, when University of Virginia pitcher Nathan Kirby soundly struck out Kyle Smith of Vanderbilt looking, ending the College World Series and bringing UVa their first-ever national baseball championship, Kirby did exactly what evolution told him to do.

Allow Nathan Kirby, now a member of the Milwaukee Brewers organization, to demonstrate the “dominance threat display.”

But, here’s the funny thing.

I was sitting a thousand miles away from Omaha, watching on television. And, I raised my arms, too.

(I may have also whoo’d. Can’t remember. Sometimes I skip the whoos because I don’t want to annoy the cats.)

You may wonder why it has taken me more than a month to tell you that UVa won the College World Series.

I’m not sure I know the answer.

I’ve never really had a team I follow win anything like this before, so I’m not sure how to throw my arms up in the air on a blog without sounding gloaty or pompous or just annoying.

I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

(Dear Vanderbilt fans, I’m very sorry the Hoos beat you.)

(Dear Everybody Else, I’m not really, but I just don’t know what else to say to them.)

UVa wasn’t expected to win. Heck, they weren’t even expected to go to the post-season. They barely made it to their own ACC tournament and, frankly, they were awfully stinky once they got there.

But, baseball is a funny game and on any given day a team can suddenly find the rhythm they’ve been missing all season.

If you still don’t believe how improbable this was, just take a look at the tee-shirt that the NCAA had to hastily doctor to celebrate Virginia’s win.

ncaa teeshirt

Thanks, Ron! :)

Yes, the UVa championship tee-shirt … features Vanderbilt gold.

vandy logo

UVa logo

Thanks, NCAA.

I know it was a month ago, but I still want to share three special moments from UVa’s post-season.

Because, like throwing your arms in the air, these three moments are universally wonderful, regardless of whether you’re a UVa fan, or a college baseball fan, or any baseball fan (except, maybe, Vanderbilt’s).

1) That Smack Down.

In Game 2 of the Super Regionals in Charlottesville on June 5, the Hoos entered the bottom of the 9th down 4-2 to the University of Maryland. It was must-win for Maryland. The Terps starting pitcher, who had pretty much shut down the Hoos all day, loads the bases. No outs. Maryland brings in their can’t-fail closer Kevin Mooney.  He walks in a run. 4-3.  And then, UVa freshman Ernie Clement does this …

ernie clement supers

Check out Clement after the hit (at 1:41). 

Former UVa Hoo and current Oakland A reliever Sean Doolittle helpfully provides the part I’d like you to watch again.

An exceptional display of victory arms, don’t you think?  The smack-down? That’s junior Kevin Doherty.

I believe this is a lesson for all of us. Throwing your arms in the air can feel really good if you’ve just won a trip to the College World Series. But, it puts you in a tough spot should a jubilant teammate wish to make you the flaky crust of a dogpile pie.

2) That Play.

UVa senior Kenny Towns has been “Old Reliable” down at third throughout his college career.

When the Angels picked him late in the 20th round of the MLB draft this year, I thought, wow, they just got themselves a player that’s much, much better than any scout realizes.

(When you see Towns and Trout in the same lineup someday, you’ll think back and say, “That Baseball Bloggess sure was right. I bet she’s cute, too.”)

After the Series I had more people email, text, and mention this play to me than any other. And, they’re right. I love amazing plays in the hot corner. And, this one was nasty, hot, and sweet like when you tell the waiter you want your vindaloo “Indian hot” and he believes you.

3) That Dogpile.

Baseball Prospectus determined that the first World Series dogpile – run, jump, fall into a heap – was done by the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals. 

Take a look … victory arms, dogpiling, fans swarming the field. Wait? Fans swarming the field? What kind of savages were we? Watch here.

Prior to ’82, there was a lot of running, hugging, and weird, awkward jumping around. But, no dogpiles. Prior to 1962, most winning teams didn’t even stick around to hoot and holler. The game ended and they simply ran off the field to party in the clubhouse.

So, celebratory dogpiles are younger than my little Metropolitan dumpling Bartolo Colon (look, I’ve mentioned him again!).

I’m not sure that this is the most perfect, wonderful dogpile in baseball history.

Wait. I’ve watched it again.

Yup.

It is.

 

If …

If you graduate from the University of Virginia with a degree in mechanical engineering and a 3.7 GPA … you’ve earned a place on my blog.

If you persevere in the sport you love … walking on as a freshman and working hard day-in and day-out even though the odds are long against you that you will ever get a chance to play and your last at-bats were in the middle of May … you’ve earned a place on my blog.

And, if you go 3-for-4 and hit a decisive 2 RBI single in a do-or-die game of the College World Series, sending your underdog University of Virginia Cavaliers to Game 3 against heavily favored Vanderbilt … you know, you’ve earned a place on my blog.

Here’s to you Thomas Woodruff … 

Thomas Woodruff UVA

© The Baseball Bloggess

“[T]his guy has been as unselfish a team player as you could possibly be for four years. And I really believe that at the most important time you get rewarded for that, and certainly it showed true today. And it worked. We just did enough.” ~ UVa Coach Brian O’Connor

That Thomas Woodruff and the entire team of “Cardiac Cavs” left the Vandy-happy ESPN broadcasters stunned and speechless as the Hoos went on to win 3-0 against “this-team-can’t-lose” Vanderbilt Commodores is simply a bonus.

A tip of the cap to all the Hoos.

I’m hoping for another night of stunned confusion from ESPN.

Because, it’s so nice when ESPN is left with nothing to say.

Game 3. Tonight. 8 p.m. ESPN.

Photo: Davenport Field, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. 2015 season. © The Baseball Bloggess