Archive for Base Paths

Bad day at first base

The Chinese Professional Baseball League is located in Taiwan, and most of their games are played with more finesse than this:

One imagines an Asian version of Casey Stengel grumbling “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

(Via the Nightfly.)

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Do not be noticed

I don’t have particularly good luck, but then I don’t have particularly bad luck either; the die rolls whichever way it rolls, and that’s that. Not everyone lands this close to the middle of the road:

Let’s say I’m as lucky as a fat duck in a French bistro. Nope, too obscure. I’m not lucky. Let’s just go flat and factual on it.

But I’ve learned from it. I can’t conquer my natural superstition. I believe in not putting hats on the bed, and throwing salt over the left shoulder, and umbrellas remaining closed inside the house. I believe in touching wood, saying “jinx,” and touching a dwarf for luck. I believe in the superiority of odd numbers, certain colors, and wearing a particular pair of socks on game day.

My biggest one, though, is not mentioning it when something good happens.

I was listening to a baseball game when I hit that link, and baseball is utterly riven with superstition. The only one I’ve ever honored myself, though, is the one that says you don’t mention the no-hitter until the twenty-seventh out. The truly expert play-by-play guys know how to convey the situation without actually saying those dreadful words. For example:

Tampa Bay Rays broadcaster Dewayne Staats refrained from using the phrase during the entirety of Matt Garza’s no-no on July 26 [2010].

“I framed it in every way possible without actually saying it,” he told the St. Petersburg Times. “Fans start to catch on that something is happening. At one point, I said, ‘Garza has faced the minimum and has allowed only one baserunner and that came on a walk.’ So I’m essentially saying it without saying it.”

A guy who can do that deserves dinner at a French bistro.

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Even old New York

As you may remember, it was once New Amsterdam. Our topic today is New Amsterdam Spirits, which isn’t actually headquartered in old New York but in marginally newer Modesto, California, where the names on the door are Ernest and Julio Gallo. New Amsterdam produces gin and vodka apparently aimed at a Millennial audience. I’d never heard of them until this month, when I discovered that they were sponsoring the radio broadcasts for the Oklahoma City Dodgers on KGHM. I’m guessing that this is as far as they can go with broadcast media in this state: a tag at station-break time, and at commercial breaks, to the effect that “You’re listening to Oklahoma City Dodgers radio, presented by New Amsterdam Spirits.” I assumed at first it was a local liquor store trying to drum up some business, but no. Still, minor-league baseball needs sponsors every bit as much as the big-league operations, so you’re not going to hear me complain.

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Having a rough day

Sad 38th birthday for this pitcher, just called up from the minors:

Almost, um, historic:

And the two outs he did get came via the sacrifice fly.

The Phillies went on to beat the Nats, 17-3.

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Wearing number 15

The Columbia Fireflies (formerly the Savannah Sand Gnats) of the Class A South Atlantic League, a farm club of the New York Mets, opened their 2016 season at home this evening against the GreenJackets of Augusta, Georgia.

No score through the first inning. Then in the bottom of the second:

Not bad for a 29-year-old rookie.

Here, take a look for yourself:

Damn.

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Get rich slow

You really can’t do it any slower than this:

The Windy City Thunderbolts are an unaffiliated minor league baseball club located in Crestwood, Illinois, a southwest suburb of Chicago. Thunderbolts pitcher Clay Chapman has signed a $3.4 billion endorsement deal to be paid out over 10 million years.

Um … what?

That contract works out to $340 a year, thus further validating what you already assumed when you clicked over here — this deal is nothing more than an egregious publicity stunt (but a very clever one!).

Archer Men, a manufacturer of men’s home care products, has signed Chapman to the largest sports endorsement deal of all time; or so they claim.

Of course, they can afford it:

16 ounces of barrel-aged, whiskey-inspired sink soap. you know how cowboys used whiskey to clean their bullet wounds? same concept.

Sixteen bucks. Perhaps a lot of money for a dish soap, but hey, they have to pay this guy three billion dollars.

(Via Fark.)

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A decision lacking balls

I think I hate this more than I hate the designated-hitter rule. [Warning: autostart video.]

As part of its initiative to improve the pace of game play, Major League Baseball has approved a change to the intentional walk rule, going from the traditional four-pitch walk to a dugout signal, it was announced Wednesday.

MLB has studied various ways to quicken games.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark reported earlier this month that MLB had made formal proposals to the players’ union to usher in raising the strike zone and scrapping the practice of lobbing four balls toward home plate to issue an intentional walk.

Getting rid of the old-fashioned intentional walk would eliminate about a minute of dead time per walk. In an age when intentional walks actually have been declining — there were just 932 all last season (or one every 2.6 games) — that time savings would be minimal. But MLB saw the practice of lobbing four meaningless pitches as antiquated.

If they were always meaningless, then maybe. But sometimes they aren’t.

Nor is this the only Bad Idea in circulation before spring training:

There is apparently some proposal afoot to make baseball games more palatable and exciting for the 140-character limit crowd by starting off any extra innings with a runner on second.

This is plainly blasphemy, as baseball is one of those games that is rather deliberately not bounded by time. Like a tennis match, a baseball game takes as long as it takes.

These ideas are so horrid it’s amazing that Bud Selig didn’t think them up himself.

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I recommend Sudden Death

No, not as a tiebreaker. I mean, as a method of discouraging bad ideas in baseball:

When a baseball game is tied after 9 innings, play continues until one team finishes an inning ahead in the score or unless a boneheaded commissioner decides to commit blasphemy and declare it over. These extra innings are played just like every other inning in a baseball game — to get on base, you have to get a hit, a walk, or be hit by a pitch.

But under the proposed change, the team at bat would start inning ten — or whatever inning might be selected — with a runner on second base. If there’s no score, then we go to the other team, who starts their at-bat with their own man on second.

Statistics, the very heart of baseball, will of course be thoroughly screwed up:

If the runner scores, to whom is he charged? Usually, that run is charged to the pitcher who allowed the baserunner. But nobody allowed those runners on. Also, who gets to be the baserunner? Is it the last batter of the previous inning? Is it a pinch runner? And if it is a pinch runner, once that player comes off the field, are they considered used and therefore ineligible to enter the game? If they score, do they get credit for a run even though they did nothing to get on base and only made it halfway around the bases?

If that had been the only bad idea floated before spring training — but come on, you know it couldn’t possibly have been:

Now this week MLB is trotting out a trial balloon about changing the games to 8 inning affairs.

There are, of course, alternatives, none of which will be tried:

Get rid of the designated hitter. Fewer hits equals shorter innings and shorter games. Raise the mound back up to pre-Bob Gibson levels. What did you say MLB? You want more offense? Then that equals longer games. Cutting a 3 hour game to 2:45 is not going to bring in the young fans.

How about, oh, getting rid of those long stretches when no pitches are being thrown because the pitcher keeps trying to catch a base runner wanting to steal?

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Just call ’em the Jays

And this is why:

And when will these be seen?

For every Sunday home game and again on Canada Day, the Jays will wear these red-soaked alternates.

Never argue with the Baseball Establishment. They’ve already scared the devil out of Tampa Bay.

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Fark blurb of the week

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And a pink crustacean

Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp logoThe Jacksonville Suns, longtime Double-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins, have been rebranded as the Jacksonville, um, Jumbo Shrimp.

As Floridian Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up:

In a break from established Minor League Baseball rebranding protocol, Jacksonville’s announcement was not preceded by any sort of “Name the Team” contest and subsequent fan vote. Ken Babby, who bought the team from Jacksonville baseball icon Pedro Bragan prior to the 2015 season, said the decision to rebrand was made after “quiet conversations with local officials and community leaders.”

Babby has experience with this process. He purchased the Akron Aeros following the 2012 season and changed that team’s name to the RubberDucks prior to the 2014 campaign. That rebranding, as with the Jumbo Shrimp, was done in concert with San Diego-based design firm Brandiose.

In three years of Babby’s ownership, the Ducks have prospered: three seasons over .500, with 2016 seeing an Eastern League championship. The ex-Suns, not so much: 9th in the Southern League in 2015, 8th this past season. Babby clearly has his work cut out for him.

(I promised you this earlier in the month.)

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In search of sweetness

The Triple-A ball club formerly known as the New Orleans Zephyrs has renamed itself “Baby Cakes”:

It’s official, the New Orleans Zephyrs are no more. The city’s Triple-A baseball team has been renamed to the New Orleans Baby Cakes, the team announced Tuesday afternoon at a ceremony at Zephyr Field.

Baby Cakes was selected from a group of seven finalists following an online contest, during which more than 3,000 submissions were turned in by fans to replace the Zephyrs nickname, which carried over with the franchise when the team arrived from Denver in 1993.

New Orleans Baby Cakes insignia

The other finalists: Crawfish, King Cakes, Night Owls, Po’boys, Red Eyes, and Tailgators.

You’ll note that Zephyr Field is still Zephyr Field.

I will never again make fun of the Montgomery (Alabama) Biscuits, though I reserve the right to snark at the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.

(Via Fark.)

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A fan to the end, and beyond

There’s something different about one of the 168 chairs at the Oklahoma City National Memorial this week:

Chicago Cubs jersey on an OKC Memorial chair

It’s just what you think it is:

The family of a lifelong Cubs fan killed in the Oklahoma City bombing is helping their loved one celebrate the team’s World Series victory.

After the Cubs snapped their 108-year streak to win the 2016 World Series, Sara Sweet adorned her father’s memorial chair with a Cubs’ shirt.

Sweet’s father, Stephen Williams, worked for the Social Security Administration and was killed in the 1995 bombing. Williams was a lifelong Cubs fan and Sweet reports one of her favorite memories of her late father is gathering to watch the Cubs on TV.

I found this gesture moving, though admittedly your mileage may vary.

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Asleep at the switch

ESPN Radio, bless them, actually provided radio coverage of the first game of the World Series, which suited me fine since they generally go to the trouble to pretend to be unbiased, something that wasn’t going to happen with the Cubs network (WSCR) or the Indians network (WTAM).

Unfortunately, KWPN, the local ESPN Radio affiliate (640 AM), gave an indication of being woefully short of clues. Unable to determine whether to run ESPN’s national spots or their local commercials between innings, they ran both simultaneously. This is the manner of radio stations that aren’t paying attention to their business.

(They finally figured this out in the middle of the fourth; I have no idea whether they saw my none-too-gentle tweet on the subject. Unfortunately, the malpractice resumed half an inning later; eventually I gave up and returned to WTAM.)

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Symbolism in the on-deck circle

Something I didn’t notice, but probably should have:

The Cubs will battle the Dodgers for the National League championship. MLB has scheduled the Games in Chicago to start at 7:08 local time. That is 1908 for those who use military time. 1908 was the last time the Cubs won a World Series. Cue Twilight Zone music.

Hmmm. The Dodgers last won the Series in, um, 1988. Doesn’t translate well to clocks. Perhaps more insidious: the Boys in Blue have won the NL West title eight times since then, including four in a row since 2013, but haven’t gotten a single National League pennant for their trouble, let alone a World Series.

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0 for 3

Tim Tebow’s debut for the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League was, we may say, inauspicious: in three trips to the plate, he grounded out three times, though one of those times he did manage to advance a runner. What’s more, there was this:

If anyone is curious, Tebow, who started in left field, batted seventh.

Still, the Scorps won that game, 9-6 over Glendale, before 912 presumably paying fans. (Scottsdale Stadium seats 12,000.) And this happened:

Tebow’s interaction with the fans continued after the game. While he was signing autographs, a fan collapsed and appeared to suffer a seizure, and Tebow stayed by the man’s side, providing comfort until the paramedics came.

According to the Arizona Republic, the man remembered falling, but then nothing until he woke up to Tebow and another fan praying over him.

Some things will never, ever change.

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And he makes the team

Tim Tebow takes the next step forward:

There were supposedly no guarantees in his contract, so Tim Tebow earned his way on to the Mets’ Arizona Fall League team. Those spots are usually reserved for a franchise’s promising young prospects, but the former NFL quarterback has apparently impressed the Mets.

The 30-year old outfielder will report this Sunday to the Arizona Fall League and play for Scottsdale. Tom Goodwin will manage the club as soon as his responsibilities as first base coach for the Mets conclude.

“We want Tim to play in more games to continue developing his skills on the field while facing advanced competition,” Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said.

Among other players who’ve come up through the ranks of the Scottsdale Scorpions: Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, and, um, Michael Jordan (in 1994, when he hit .252).

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Starting with a tee

Most of America’s problems can be solved, says Severian, by mandatory Little League:

Jack wants to be a ballplayer, but he’s got no arm and can’t hit a curve. He’s got no natural aptitude for it, and if he doesn’t figure that out on his own — some kids have a preternatural ability to endure public humiliation — his coach will eventually take him aside and explain it to him. Coach will kindly but firmly point Jack to the Model UN club. Coaches are good at that kind of thing; they get lots of practice.

Jill doesn’t want to be an engineer, but after 50 years of feminism, her mommy is convinced Jill should be one. So Jill struggles in math class. She’s got no natural aptitude for it … but wait, that can’t be right! There’s no such thing as “natural aptitude” for academics! If Jill’s no good at calculus, doesn’t get fired up by solving quadratics, and never wanted to build bridges in the first place, it’s Patriarchy keeping her down. No teacher will ever take Jill aside and explain to her that it’s ok not to be so great at math, that calculus is the mental equivalent of being able to hit a curve — it weeds out most of us — because it’s the end of that teacher’s world if she does. So she doesn’t, and … well, you know the rest.

I herewith admit that I don’t get fired up by solving quadratics. I did, however, learn to do it, because math.

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Quote of the week

The national pastime, says Mike Hendrix, continues to endure:

[G]iven the reverence baseball has for its own traditions, it has proved nicely resistant to so much of what has made popular culture so damned rotten, so degrading and demeaning and sordid. I’ve always said that every time some player trots onto the football field with a yard of disgusting dreadlocks hanging out from under his helmet, the grave-rotisserie Johnny Unitas is on by now cranks on another 100 RPMs of speed. Meanwhile, I’d bet a goodly portion of the people who casually watch football have no idea who Johnny Unitas is in the first place. But you can be dead certain that everyone who watches baseball even occasionally can tell you at least a little about Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio.

Baseball history is never more than the next pitch away, and it still has the power to amaze. I remember looking up something on Los Angeles Dodgers play-by-play man Vin Scully, who retires after this season, and up to that point it had never occurred to me that Vin was calling Dodgers games while the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn.

Yes, there are always going to be Unfortunate Events:

Of course, there’s always villainous, crusty old Ty Cobb to consider, too. And the Black Sox.

But there’s poetry in baseball still, and plenty of it. The rhythm and pace of a baseball game hearkens back to an earlier, better time. It’s casual, relaxed, and unforced. And the beauty of it is, there are no dodges: fiddle and fidget around on the mound all he likes, scratch and spit and adjust his cap by way of stalling, sooner or later, the pitcher has to throw the ball. And the batter has to either hit it or not. Ain’t no running out the clock. Sooner or later, the game will be played, and one team will win, and one … won’t.

When you sense your own clock might be running out, this means even more.

I am grateful for the fact that no team is ever going to go 162-0. With a week and a half to go this season, only one club — the Chicago Cubs, yet — is playing better than .600 ball. Get one hit out of every three at-bats and you’ll at least be considered for Cooperstown. And there’s always a smile when I consider that the Arizona Diamondbacks started playing in 1998 with one uniform number already retired: 42, for Jackie Robinson.

But maybe more important, in the grand scheme of things, is the sheer ubiquity of baseball: below the majors, there are several levels of minors, and they play by basically the same rules. (One anomaly: in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, a double-header consists of two seven-inning games — except when it doesn’t, as has happened a couple of times this year when one of the games went into overtime extra innings.) You can be in the nation’s capital, or you can be way up in Hagerstown, Maryland — where the Washington Nationals have a class-A affiliate — and if the Nats play a hair better, the hot dogs cost less in the South Atlantic League.

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Tebow still unbowed

I remember saying when Tim Tebow tried out for the baseball scouts:

He is, of course, aware that if he’s signed, he’ll be dropped into the lower (Class A or thereabouts) end of the farm system, with no guarantees that he’ll ever make it to The Show.

Not a difficult prediction, really. And this is exactly what is happening:

Tim Tebow will report to the Mets’ Spring Training complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla., alongside dozens of teenagers, hoping to make a career in professional baseball.

Tebow is not a teenager, but he is a professional baseball player, however unlikely that may once have seemed. The Mets on Thursday signed the 29-year-old former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy Award winner to a Minor League contract, the first step in what Tebow hopes will lead to a Major League career.

And the odds are against him:

That process begins Sept. 18 in instructional league, which is typically used for younger players to work on their skills prior to the offseason. If all goes well, Tebow could advance to the Arizona Fall League and winter ball, and eventually to a Minor League affiliate next April. But the Mets are keeping his timeline as fluid as possible, refusing to commit to any singular path.

As they should.

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Diamonds are forever

The fifty-year odyssey of a born-again baseball fan.

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Tebow unbowed

Tim Tebow, having bade goodbye to the National Football League, has been trying to make a case for himself to Major League Baseball:

The former NFL quarterback worked out at the University of Southern California in front of a large contingent of Major League scouts and media, and he showed off his trademark speed, plus a little bit of pop with the bat.

“I had fun. I think it went pretty well,” said Tebow. “Obviously this form of workout’s a little different than what I’m used to, but just being out there and running the 60 and throwing it around and catching fly balls and hitting some BP, but the most fun for me is trying to hit live pitching.”

After running a quick 60-yard dash and doing throwing and catching in the outfield, Tebow took batting practice and elicited his first share of wows. Then he moved on to live hitting against former big league pitchers and barely missed a “real” homer.

He is, of course, aware that if he’s signed, he’ll be dropped into the lower (Class A or thereabouts) end of the farm system, with no guarantees that he’ll ever make it to The Show.

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Future Vin

When I was born, Vin Scully had already been calling Dodgers games for three years. Brooklyn Dodgers games. (The big move West didn’t happen until 1958.) With Scully retiring after this season, his 67th — he’ll be 89 this fall — you can hardly blame the Dodgers organization for wanting to clone him:

What would Vin say about that picture?

[I]f Vin was around to narrate this, he’d probably give a history of the mask, explain how the stone mask at the Musée Bible et Terre Sainte is likely the oldest mask in the world and then break down the mask’s usage in popular culture from The Masque of the Red Death to Halloween.

There’s just no replacing Vin Scully.

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Strange new hybrid plastic

Major League Baseball MasterCard issued by Bank of AmericaThis turned up on MLP.com MLB.com, home page for Major League Baseball, and I’m sure 99 out of 100 people who saw it didn’t see anything peculiar about it — which is, of course, where I came in.

BankAmericard, the brand, goes back to 1958, originally with Bank of America behind it. After about a decade, BofA began licensing the name to other banks, and in 1970 they withdrew from control: issuing banks became a de facto consortium, kind of like archrival Master Charge. Eventually it was decided that the card was still too closely associated with BofA, resulting in a 1976 name change: to Visa.

About thirty years later, BofA revived the name “BankAmericard” for a new rewards card, a Visa. It would never have occurred to me that there ever could be a BankAmericard that was a MasterCard, but there it is.

Really, I should have paid attention. BofA also these days issues American Express cards under license.

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Reverse thread

Now and then we see what could be considered an infelicitous name for a baseball club, particularly in the lower reaches of official Minor League Baseball or in the independent leagues that have no upward connections. I’m not sure this is as goofy as it sounds:

Logo of Wichita Wingnuts

The Wingnuts, founded in 2008, were an expansion franchise in the present-day American Association, which, unlike previous American Associations, is not a part of the Major/Minor continuum. Their first manager was Kash Beauchamp, about whom all you need to know is this:

Beauchamp was ejected, suspended for four games, and was not rehired — by any team — at the end of the season.

The current manager of the Wingnuts is, um, Pete Rose, Jr.

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Oh, the ex-Manatees

The Brevard County Manatees, the Class A-Advanced farm club of the Milwaukee Brewers, will move out of Brevard County next spring, into Kissimmee’s Osceola County Stadium. So “Brevard” has got to go. The new team will simply be designated “Florida” — but Florida what? Here are the six finalists:

  • Florida Dragonflies
  • Florida Fire Frogs
  • Florida Mud Kickers
  • Florida Rodeo Clowns
  • Florida Sorcerers
  • Florida Toucans

Yes, they do allegedly have fire frogs.

The winner will be announced later this month.

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Low and inside

Some 2015 data gathered by Major League Baseball suggests that the umpiring is good, but it could be better:

2015 data on taken pitches

Better than 90 percent of calls at the plate are correct — unless the next call will finish the at-bat, either with a strikeout or a walk. The umpires are evidently reluctant to make that last call. This is, suggests MLB, a reason to justify robotic assistance.

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Slap-happy

It was easier when all you had to deal with was “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”:

The [Chicago] Cubs have terminated the stadium disc jockey who played the song “Smack My Bitch Up” after Aroldis Chapman’s outing Sunday night at Wrigley Field.

“We apologize for the irresponsible music selection during our game last night,” Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said in a statement on Monday. “The selection of this track showed a lack of judgment and sensitivity to an important issue. We have terminated our relationship with the employee responsible for making the selection and will be implementing stronger controls to review and approve music before public broadcast during our games.”

After Chapman closed the ninth inning against the Cardinals, The Prodigy’s 1997 song was played. Chapman began this season serving a 30-game suspension covered by Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy after a dispute with his girlfriend in South Florida last October.

Chapman’s usual walk-up music is Rage Against The Machine’s “Wake Up.”

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I’m all about that baseball

While I was hospitalized, I rediscovered an old friend: baseball. In the period between the time they take the dinner dish away and the time they bring the nightly pain meds, baseball did a wonderful job of filling up the time I would otherwise use bewailing my fate and wishing I was dead.

Unfortunately for me, I managed to be in bed during the All-Star break, so there were a couple of rough nights to be faced. When I finally got out of there, I stayed with it, going back to the ancestral home of baseball: AM radio. No trick to pick up the local Triple-A club, the Oklahoma City Dodgers: they have a deal with one of the smaller stations. Getting the parent club is trickier: they have a nominal local affiliate, but not all the games get through the endless web of tedious talk shows.

When I discovered Sunday that the Pittsburgh Pirates/Los Angeles Dodgers game would not be carried here, I took action. I cranked up the tablet, which doesn’t get enough work, and installed Major League Baseball’s At Bat app, which gives me all the audio I can stand for twenty bucks a year. About halfway through the first inning, I had everything in place and running.

Standard MLB blackout rules apply to the Rangers, the Astros and the Cardinals, though not to the Royals.

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The stuff no one’s dreams are made of

When I was younger, I’d have jumped at the chance to spend some time in the broadcast booth at the ballpark; it’s a unique perspective, and the opportunity to meet guys like Vin Scully or the late Harry Caray was a powerful draw.

Perhaps it’s not so much in the minor leagues. OKC Dodgers radio guy and media-relations dude Alex Freedman mourns:

Now I’m sorry I missed the game.

(For the record: Dodgers 8, Chihuahuas 4. Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, there is a ball club named after a dog.)

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