icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle

YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever) Journal - September Stretch Drive Edition

The Dog Days of August have given way to the September Stretch Drive in Major League Baseball. Before I look at what September and October may hold for the contenders and pretenders, let me mention a couple of highlights from my whirlwind trip in mid-August to the new ballparks in Pittsburgh, Washington, and Philadelphia.

**PNC Park in Pittsburgh ranks deservedly high among the new ballparks in MLB.
I attended a Monday night game Pirates game against fellow contender/pretender Braves - hard to say which way either team is going though Pittsburgh is far closer to top than Atlanta where Washington is running away with NL East.

More than 31,000 attended a game in which there was no particular promotion. They stayed rooting despite a six-run first for Atlanta. Pirates even brought the tying run to plate in 6th inning but bad base-running did them in.

Sound system was mercifully not too loud so one could converse with a neighbor. Like at the best of minor league parks, there was constant activity on the field during the half-inning breaks. But again nothing too loud or in bad taste.

Sight lines and concessions are very good. The location on the three rivers that surround the verdant city of Pittsburgh is very lovely.

Lots of sculptures dot the outside of the park including one of Roberto Clemente and a jubilant cap-waving Bill Mazeroski after his glorious 1960 World Series-winning home run over Yankees. And there are a lot of restaurants in the area that make a fan want to stay around for a long time.

**Nats Park in the Navy Yard SE section of Washington, D.C. is not as homey as PNC Park. But of course Washington is not as homey a city as Pittsburgh. There is some grandeur to the park but the seats are not as close to the field as in Pittsburgh.

As a New Yorker I felt at home seeing Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack and Blue Smoke
available. But there is too much cuteness in the names of the other concessions – Pop Fly Popcorn, Steak of the Union, and the like.

I wore my Oriole cap to the night game against the Diamondbacks – a Washington rout determined by another early six-run inning. I received the kind of verbal abuse I often get at Yankee Stadium wearing the same cap. So there is a genuine local rivalry brewing between Washington and Baltimore which augurs well for the baseball business in the DC-Balt beltway.

**My fourth visit to Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia for a Wed. aft. day game was pleasant. The stadium has a carnival aspect with many booths outside the lower deck - former Phillie slugger Greg Luzinski has a food concession.

The day game with the Seattle Mariners proved to be the most competitive tussle I witnessed. Phillies rallied to win 4-3, showing off the kind of strong bullpen that enabled them to no-hit the Braves on Labor Day. Cole Hamels ran out of gas in both games but clearly he remains a top-of-the-rotation kind of starter.

The only sad aspect to the day was sparse attendance. Reminded me too much of the barrenness at CitiField in Flushing. It’s the price of the Phillies and the Mets no longer being contenders.

And now time to analyze what we may expect in September on eve of playoffs:
The Washington Nationals have the best record in the National League and a comfortable lead in the NL East. The other spots are wide open with this historically-minded New Yorker looking forward to another Giant-Dodger showdown in the NL West while the Cardinals-Pirates-Brewers battle for the NL Central crown.

Returning to contention after some down years in the AL West, the California Angels have the best record in baseball. They stunningly swept a four-game home series against the Oakland Athletics the weekend before Labor Day.

So many pundits anointed the A’s as a Series lock when they made July trades for Cubs pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel and Red Sox ace Jon Lester.
Journeyman Hammel finally delivered an overpowering performance on Labor Day holding surprise contender Seattle to three hits in a 6-1 victory.

Samardzija and Lester have pitched well in their new rental uniforms – both will probably leave as free agents in the off-season – but Oakland has stopped hitting consistently. They probably miss their Cuban star and cleanup hitter Yoenis Cespedes.

The A’s now likely face a one-game play-in wild card elimination to just make the playoffs. But so much can change in September.

Thus discussion of “magic numbers” to clinch make me nervous. Never far from my mind is the specter of Boston’s 7-20 record in September 2011 that cost Boston manager Terry Francona his job.

An excellent manager of players and personalities, Francona resurfaced in Cleveland in 2013 and a great September led them into the wild card game that they lost to Tampa Bay. The Indians are lurking in the hunt for the same game in 2014.

So are the Yankees who still have eight games remaining with the AL East leading-Orioles who trail the Angels by three games for best record in the AL. The Orioles are a feel-good story with sterling contributions from unheralded players like career minor league catcher Caleb Joseph and perpetual fringe outfielder-first baseman Steve Pearce.

“Give Pearce A Chance” could be the motto for the 2014 Orioles but he has been sidelined for a few days with a dread abdominal injury that the team hopes is minor.

The Birds’ roster does seem to have the “deep depth” that legendary late manager Earl Weaver craved. But, please, not too many magic number prognostications – though as of this writing it is 19 – the number of combined Oriole wins and Yankee losses to bring Baltimore its first AL East crown since 1997.

My closing words this week come from the Angels’ new closer, Huston Street, a veteran of many teams and someone with a fine athletic lineage – his father James Street was an outstanding championship-winning U. of Texas-Austin quarterback.

“The media’s job is to remember. My job is to forget . . . everything but the next pitch.”
Be the first to comment