Category Archives: Baseball

At last, the Cubs win


“I am a glass case of emotions right now.”

No, this is not a story about Anchorman. But you gotta love that Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who was no doubt feeling all the pressure one would expect in Game Seven of the World Series, while playing for a team that had not won in 108 years, picked that quote to describe his mental state of affairs last night. And that David Ross, the veteran catcher who was playing his last game in the majors, had just previously told him “Well, it’s only going to get worse. Just continue to breathe. That’s all you can do, buddy. It’s only gonna get worse.” Wiser words…

Game Seven in the World Series. By default this is a situation that comes with some pressure, right? Each team has won 3 games. Whoever wins this one gets champagne showers, so you know there’s pressure. This is the situation that every kid playing baseball dreams about, being at the plate or on the mound at the end of Game Seven, winning the game for your team and your town and your fans. Joe Biden would probably think of it as a pretty big deal.

Joe Biden, ice cream and a fist full of tens.
Who are we kidding? Biden is too busy living the freaking life.

But this was no ordinary Game Seven, last night in Cleveland. No, this was Game Seven featuring the two teams in baseball with the longest Series droughts – the Cubs’ infamous 108 years, Billy Goat Curse and all, but the Indians sporting a not-too-shabby 78 years of their own. For perspective, the last time the Cubs had won the World Series, American women did not have the right to vote, Jim Crow was still the law of the land, and there was no major league baseball on the West Coast. It was an awfully long time ago. And even the Indians’ last win came as African-Americans were finally in the Majors – Larry Doby and Satchel Paige both played for the 1948 Indians – and Harry Truman was President. Generations of Cubs and Indians fans have never seen their team win the Series.

The 1908 Chicago Cubs
But seriously, guys, can I get a smile here? YOU’RE WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS.

The Cubs dominated the regular season but had gone down 3-1 in the Series, then come back to make it 3-3. For the deciding game, the Cubs started Kyle Hendricks, he of the best ERA in the regular season, while the Indians countered with Corey Kluber, who had already won two Series games and was pitching on short rest.

Continue reading At last, the Cubs win

Morneau gives back

Our man John Stewart has given Pucked in the Head some much-appreciated content of late, so I thought I’d keep that ball rollin’. BASEBALL, Y’ALL.

The pride of New Westminster, four-time All-Star infielder Justin Morneau, has recently signed a one-year contract with the Chicago White Soxs. He’s hoping for a return to the bigs sometime next month — probably after the All-Star Game — but will probably see some action with the AAA Charlotte Knights quite soon to shake off the rust. With concussion problems and a wonky elbow, Morneau was limited to just 49 games last season for the Colorado Rockies, who declined the contract option for another year. Enter the ChiSox, who currently sit in the bottom third of the league in just about every hitting category you can imagine. This is a team that desperately needs Morneau to bring even half of his batting title form to the plate if they hope to make a run at a Wild Card spot.

Justin Morneau in a Team Canada jersey.
Justin Morneau suited up for Canada in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, hitting .308 over three games, including two doubles and three RBIs.

During the off-season, Morneau kept busy on a number of fronts. He had surgery to repair a tendon in that troublesome elbow, and focussed on continued recuperation from multiple concussions. Off the field, Morneau donated nearly $35,000 to KidSport in his hometown of New Westminster. KidSport is an organization that assists children of all backgrounds take part in registered sport. Morneau’s donation puts nearly 150 kids who might not otherwise be able to afford sign-up fees and equipment onto New Westminster fields, rinks and courts .

“Justin’s donation came at a time when we really needed it,” says Jen Arbo, KidSport New West Registrar. “KidSport New West has seen a significant rise in number of families applying for funding. In 2015, for example, we saw a 33% increase in total value of grants given out compared to 2014. So far this year, we are on track to see a similar increase. In January 2016 alone we gave out just under $6,000,” says Arbo.

KidSport New West Chair Sandon Fraser says the money is used for a variety of team and individual sports. “The only real limitations [for recipients] are that the sport be a full season, and that registration be with a provincial sport organization.”

For his part, Morneau downplays his donation, “I didn’t do this to receive attention,” he says, “but if it can inspire others to donate or help out with charitable causes then I guess it’s worth the media attention.”

Pucked in the Head was fortunate enough to trade email with the 2014 National League batting champion. Here is our chat with the man Vin Scully calls Big Butter Egg Man, Justin Morneau.

Pucked in the Head: We all know about your success on the baseball field, and hereabouts it’s quite well known that you were a pretty good goalie back in the day. What other sports had a role in your development, personally and professionally?
Justin Morneau: We played almost any sport we could growing up. We played a lot of wiffle ball in my back yard, a lot of street hockey, pick up basketball and whatever else we could make up in our minds. The games we played were not usually organized by parents. We usually just got together and figured out our own teams and what rules we would play by. I think this is something that really helped my development as an athlete because it wasn’t forced by parents. I was getting better athletically without even knowing I was doing it. I feel like this isn’t something that is done as much by kids today.
PITH: At the highest competitive levels, how similar are the roles of catcher and goaltender?
JM: I’ve been asked this question many times in my life and I don’t think I’ve ever really been able to come up with a solid answer. I don’t think there are too many similarities.
PITH: According to Wikipedia, your favourite players growing up included Ray Bourque — who is also my favourite hockey player of all time, by the way — and Cam Neely, as well as John Olerud and Larry Walker. Travelling in pro athlete circles, have you met them at all? Does a pro athlete get the same thrill meeting those childhood idols that we mere mortals do?
I haven’t had the chance to meet Ray Bourque or Cam Neeley yet. I played against Olerud quite a few times and had some short conversations with him at first base. I was also able to get him to sign a bat for me, which was very cool. I have gotten to know Larry Walker quite well. I played my first game in the big leagues against him and before the game he sent over a signed bat that said “to Justin, make Canada proud”. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since.
Two accolades Jason forgot while introducing his email question: Justin Morneau’s 2014 NL Batting Title and being immortalized as a bobblehead. I mean, how cool is THAT?
They tell me winning isn’t everything, but you’ve won quite a few things in your career. MVP awards, Silver Sluggers, a Home Run Derby, a division title and even a Memorial Cup. What is your fondest sports memory outside of the formal accolades?
I think my favourite memories of sports are the relationships that I’ve built along the way. All the way back to when I was playing tyke hockey in New West, to my minor league roommates and then people like Larry Walker. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Harmon Killebrew and Jim Thome. Not only are they two of the greatest baseball players of all time, but more importantly two of the most humble and genuinely nice people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. 
We all know that team sports, and athletics in general, are amazing tools for developing responsible, healthy, able youth. However, the recent discussion around concussions has some parents thinking twice about just how active their kids should be. Obviously, you have a very personal experience with the issue. What’s your take?
While the risk of concussion is real, I still feel the odds of getting one are low. I think the most important thing is that kids aren’t afraid to let someone know when they’ve experienced concussion symptoms, but even more importantly the parents are able to make the right decisions for the health of the child including taking them to a doctor and not pushing them back on the field or the ice for whatever reason. I think we have come a long way in educating parents that true toughness isn’t playing through a concussion like the olden days of “getting your bell rung, and getting back out there”, but of doing what is right in terms of long term health of the child and their brain. 

How Do They Keep Hitting the Baseball?

At Fenway Park last week, the Mariners took the first game of three from the Red Sox. In doing so, they got a win against the best hitting team in the American League — and in fact in all of baseball. The Mariners are currently ranked second in the AL behind Boston, and fifth in the Major Leagues.

A year ago, if you’d told me I’d be able to write that paragraph this season, I would have laughed out loud. Now, in the Mariners’ 40th season in the Major Leagues, I have the pleasure of doing so.

My editor, who continuously nags at me on Facebook about my lack of baseball writing, wondered… why. Why is this Mariners team hitting so well? How did Franklin Gutierrez hit two home runs and drive in six runs in that game? Why is Robinson Cano, recovered from offseason surgery, having such a great season? How has this team hit 101 home runs — and how is it that they’re the only team in the Majors to have five players with double digits in the Home Run column? The answer, my friends: Edgar Martinez.

Continue reading How Do They Keep Hitting the Baseball?

2016 Campaign Opens vs. the Rangers with #boomstick…and some early-season dugout clearing?


Welcome back to baseball, Major League style. Spring training is over, the games that matter (all 162 of them) have begun, and the Mariners find themselves at .500 going into today’s series finale with the Rangers.

Starting the season in Arlington Monday, the Mariners had a nine-year Opening Day win streak on the line. Unfortunately, despite a one-hitter from Felix Hernandez, the Ms lost 3-2. The King issued an uncharacteristic five walks in six innings, and was hurt by two Mariners errors, both in the fifth, which led to the Rangers’ three runs. This was the first time since 1913 when a team lost a one-hitter on Opening Day. Sometimes it feels like the Mariners are apt at being first in categories where one really would rather not lead.

Fortunately, the middle game of the season-opening series with the Rangers had a much better outcome. FOUR Mariner home runs (following two on Opening Day), including a Nelson Cruz #boomstick shot in the fourth, and three (that’s right, three) in the eighth inning off former Mariner Tom Wilhelmsen.

The eighth also featured the Mariners, including new manager Scott Servais, coming out of the dugout after Wilhelmsen appeared to intentionally hit new Mariner catcher Chris Iannetta. Wilhemsen wound up giving up five runs to as many batters in that inning, so he must have been frustrated. But the real story here was the quick response from Mariners players and Servais, who were quickly out of the dugout and yelling at the Rangers. Sure, baseball isn’t hockey, and no punches were thrown, but the passion and fire on display were a welcome contrast to some previous Mariners teams.

Other good stuff: Luis Sardinas hit his first home run yesterday. Robinson Cano now has two home runs, including a monster first-pitch solo shot off Wilhelmsen yesterday.  And the Mariners bullpen threw four innings of one-hit ball, holding the Rangers scoreless after Iwakuma’s exit at the end of the fifth inning.

I told some guy who keeps nagging me about writing Mariners articles here that I think two keys to the season are how 1) Cano comes back from his injuries last year, and 2) how the bullpen performs. It’s very very early going, but so far both of those things look good.

Mariners FanFest 2016: Ziplines, Whitesnake, Kyle Seager…and more!

[Author’s note: yeah, this is what happens when I put a post into draft and then forget about it. Without further ado, we take you back to January…]

This weekend Safeco Field hosted the latest edition of the annual FanFest event, a way for season ticket holder wannabes to take a look at their prospective seats…and for all of the rest of us to have some fan hanging out at the ballpark.

Although the line was longer than I wanted to wait through, the zipline in right field proved quite popular (Yogi’s “no one goes there anymore, it’s too crowded” is rather apropos). The kids enjoyed walking around the basepaths, snapping photos in the dugout, and knocking whiffleballs over the fence in left field.

The Q&A and autograph sessions with Mariners past and present were popular as always. Jay Buhner and Dave Valle enjoyed some time with Mariners broadcaster Rick Rizzs, but the highlight today had to be Charlie Furbush, who donned an epic hairpiece and shared some of his best karaoke moves with the fans. Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” was good, but Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” really stole the show, despite some technical difficulties. A brief Kyle Seager appearance (Seager: “Who’s your favorite Mariner?”, Furbush: “You!”) generated a lot of applause as well. Furbush definitely seems one of those guys it would be fun to have a beer with; not sure I could keep up with his singing talents, though.

Every year, as we get close to the start of spring training, fans find themselves searching for signs of hope. Will this be the year the catching improves, the starting rotation holds together, the bullpen solidifies, the infield and outfield defense is where it needs to be, and the hitting is timely? We’ll have more on those subjects soon, but at least from the players at FanFest today, there appears to be some of that impossible-to-quantify team chemistry brewing at Safeco Field this year.

Mariners FanFest January 30/31

Pitchers and catchers report next month, and baseball’s winter is quickly drawing to a close (regardless of what the weather may be saying). Spring training is coming!

To that end, and to get fans a chance to meet some of the new players and hang out in the friendly confines of Safeco Field, the Mariners do FanFest each year. This year’s edition runs from 11A-4P both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults, kids 14 and under are free.

There are so many things going on this weekend that I can’t list them all here, but highlights include:

* The perennial favorite, Run Around the Bases
* A zip line across the outfield
* Clubhouse tours
* Pitch in the bullpen
* Appearances from, and interviews with, various Mariner players
* See Nelson Cruz’ Silver Slugger award from 2015

and much, much more!

Your faithful baseball scribe is dusting off the keyboard; look for more soon on the Mariners’ many moves this offseason, how the rest of the AL West is stacking up, and more.

These Maddening Mariners

Ketel Marte getting some well-deserved props. Credit: Getty Images/Jamie Squire
Ketel Marte getting some well-deserved props. Credit: Getty Images/Jamie Squire

As the Fall Equinox arrives, the Seattle Mariners are…well, they’re not quite done yet. And that, my friends, is maddening.

As I sat here contemplating the passing of baseball great Yogi Berra, and noodling on something I could put together to appease my impatient editor (what, you expected content more frequently than every 3 months?), the phrase that kept running through my head was the title of this piece.

A team that lost its General Manager (and rightly so, based on performance), whose onetime great hope Dustin Ackley left, finally, because there was just no there there anymore, and whose offense seemed destined to become nothing but Nelson Cruz home runs (welcome as they are, not really quite enough)…suddenly finds itself only 5 games back in the wild card race, with 11 still to play. And three of those are against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who are ahead of the Ms in the wild card race.

It’s maddening, I tell you. Not because it’s not exciting that the team still has a…well, a small chance. That’s great. But I am not embarrassed to admit that I had just about written this team off in early August. And while I am thrilled that, as Yogi said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over”, for crying out loud could the real Seattle Mariners please stand up? Who is this team?

I’m not about to predict any kind of Mariner comeback here. But. This team has gone 13-6 so far in September. Took 2 of 3 from both the Rangers and Angels. Still has that Cruz fellow, who has now hit 42 home runs. Still has that Felix Hernandez guy. And finds itself only 3 games under .500.

So maybe next time I’ll talk about next year…or maybe next time I’ll talk about a miraculous Mariner comeback. Stay tuned.

Five Films You Should Watch While Giving Chris the Finger

Last week, Chris Withers took offence to my list of ten must-watch sports films, and responded by posting one of his very own.  While his list contained some gems, I’ll admit — A League of Their Own and The Battered Bastards of Baseball are impressive entries, in particular — but questioning my taste just because I included an awkward Canadian bobsled film? That’s just low, man.

Oh well, at least he went full Bob Barker and punched Adam Sandler in the face with his words.

Here are five more sports movies you oughta know.

So much win.
So much win.

5. Bull Durham
Buy it here.
I am not the biggest Kevin Costner fan in the world, trust me, but I have to admit the guy had a spell there where he could do no wrong. No Way OutJFKThe Untouchables… Even Dances with Wolves, for all its tatanka cheesiness, was a remarkable accomplishment. One of the first post-modern instances of a star pouring their own resources into a project when studios were backing off Dances with Wolves can be argued as the forefather of such films as Good Night and Good Luck, franchises like Mission: Impossible or series like True Detective, House of Cards and Arrested Development. But I digress. Bull Durham sees Costner at his stoical best, plain-Janing the lead role while chaos swarms around him. Susan Sarandon is steamy and smart as a baseball groupie who latches onto the Durham Bulls minor league team; Tim Robbins is hilarious as a young pitcher who focusses as much on his libido as the strike zone. The jokes hit more than miss, and the acting chops of everyone involved mean we actually care about the people trapped in this special breed of small town hell — two things Major League can’t claim for all of its nearsighted gags and MLB licensing. Bull Durham is worth watching for Tim Robbins standing on the mound in high-end lingerie.

Dodgeball squeezes every predictable sports movie moment, but it works.
Dodgeball squeezes every predictable sports movie moment, and stars Vince Vaughn of all people, but it works.

4. Dodgeball
Buy it here.
Is it smart? No way in hell. Is it funny? Hells yes. Vince Vaughn turns in his only watchable performance, and Ben Stiller nails the brain-dead obnoxious a-hole he’s known for.  Let’s call a spade a bleeping shovel here: Dodgeball boasts an insultingly formulaic script. The owner of a small gym (Vaughn) needs $50,000 to prevent being bought out by a soulless corporation (run by a hilariously over-the-top Stiller), so of course they go head-to-head in a dodgeball tournament with a winner-take-all payout of — wait for it — $50,000. The script, while simple, hits every point a sports movie should: the set-up, the team-building, the initial failure, the swelling of doubt, the seemingly insurmountable obstacle, the almost inhuman opposition, the celebrity cameo, the colourful play-by-play, the moment of truth. We know what’s coming, and when it’s going to come. Still, Dodgeball works, because it features a stellar cast of comedians, all playing to their strengths. It’s worth watching for Rip Torn’s wheelchair-bound ex-world class dodgeballer whipping the contents of his toolbox at his team: “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!”

The real-life Jim Morris (left) is portrayed by Dennis Quaid in The Rookie.
The real-life Jim Morris (left) is portrayed by Dennis Quaid in the Disney live-action film The Rookie.

3. The Rookie
Buy it here.
Dennis Quaid takes the lead in this Disney movie based on the real-life story of science teacher Jim Morris. In his late 30s, nearly 20 years after injuring his shoulder and cutting short a promising baseball career, Morris finds himself coaching a small town high school baseball team. When he challenges his sad sack team not to quit, they throw his own shortened career in his face. “We’re quitters? You’re the quitter!” And thus, a wager is born: if the team wins the local tournament, Morris will try out for a major league team once again. Cue the montage of Rocky-esque training techniques that shows improbable improvement in a few short minutes. Likewise, compact years of marital tension into two perfectly scripted 30-second scenes. Just like that, the team qualifies for the state championship, and Jim Morris sneaks off to a conveniently timed open tryout for the Tampa Bay Rays. It turns out, that shoulder surgery he’d gotten all those years ago didn’t wreck his arm at all. In fact, he’s now throwing 98-mile-an-hour fastballs. History — and a few years later, Hollywood feature — was made, as Morris became the oldest rookie in Major League Baseball since World War II. Director John Lee Hancock isn’t exactly known for a light touch; still, he’ll appear twice on this list with this and #2 below. The Rookie is worth watching for the acceptable cheese in those Disney moments: “Owls win! Owls win!”

Here’s an interview with Quaid and Morris that took place during the film’s promotional cycle:

Every member of the Screen Actors Guild got this visit from Paul Giamatti prior to the SAG Awards in 2002.
Every member of the Screen Actors Guild got this visit from Paul Giamatti prior to the SAG Awards in 2002.

2. Cinderella Man
Buy it here.
When Ron Howard directs Russell Crowe, only good things happen. Okay, the Best Actor Oscar for 2002 went to Denzel Washington for Training Day — while I loves me some Denzel, this was a travesty as far as awards go. Washington won for two political reasons: first, in an attempt to erase decades of quite literally whitewashing their awards, the Academy as a whole was in love with the idea of giving both lead actor statuettes to black performers. Training Day is far from Washington’s best performance, but then again it’s unfathomable that Al Pacino won his Best Actor statue for the pedestrian Scent of a Woman. Second, Crowe had taken home the big prize just one year earlier as the lead in Gladiator. Digression achievement unlocked. Other than Best Actor at the Oscars, A Beautiful Mind won just about every award available in 2002. Three years later, Paul Giamatti was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for Cinderella Man —a Depression-era boxing movie that is at once gritty and gorgeous, superb and sad. It wouldn’t be a Ron Howard picture without a dramatic happy ending, but even that is drenched in a palette of mud browns and dust greys. Like Quaid’s Jim Morris in The Rookie, Crowe’s ex-boxer James J Braddock overcomes injury (in this case a broken dominant hand) to come back better than ever. His wife, played angrily by Renée Zellweger, is so tortured by her hubby’s choice to go back into the ring that she can’t bear to watch the title fight. Cinderella Man is worth watching for its brutally realistic boxing scenes. I felt like Max Baer was hitting me in the midsection in those final moments.

Here’s some highlights from that 1935 title fight:

Spoiler alert: Seabiscuit wins a bunch of horse races.
Spoiler alert: Seabiscuit wins a bunch of horse races.

1. Seabiscuit
Buy it here.
I’m sensing a bit of a pattern here. The Oscar-nominated Seabiscuit features a broken athlete who defies the odds to come back after devastating injury. Tobey Maguire plays Red Pollard, a Depression-era jockey whose side gig as a small town boxer leaves him blind in one eye. That’s not good enough, you say? Well, he shatters his leg at one point in the film as well, but comes back to ride the famous race against War Admiral. Oh, I’m sorry, was that a spoiler? Come on, you know the beats in this film every bit as well as the ones in Dodgeball.The difference: this film features Jeff Bridges, Chris Cooper, Elizabeth Banks and William H Macy instead of Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, Jason Bateman and Rip Torn. Another: it’s written and directed by Gary Ross, of PleasantvilleBig, The Hunger Games and The Tale of Despereaux, whereas Dodgeball was helmed by a guy whose only other widely known feature is the mediocre road flick We’re the Millers. Seabiscuit is worth watching for excellent performances up and down the cast, but especially for the stirringly well-shot racing sequences. This is a gorgeous film; the American Society of Cinematographers gifted Seabiscuit its Oustanding Achievement in Cinematography award for 2004.

If you’re interested in some historical perspective, here’s actual footage from the 1938 match race between Sea Biscuit and War Admiral:

10 Sports Films You Should Watch If You Have Actual Taste

Yesterday, my good friend Jason Kurylo demonstrated just how wrong he can be at times: he published a list of the ten sports movies that you really ought to re-watch. The post’s purpose was the same as all posts of that nature: to make people argue with the author. So argue with him I shall. Cool Runnings, Jason? COOL RUNNINGS?? Continue reading 10 Sports Films You Should Watch If You Have Actual Taste

Ten films you should watch again

I wanted to be up in North Vancouver this morning, checking out the view from Hollyburn Country Club and shooting media day pictures for the Odlum Brown Vancouver Open Tennis Tournament. Alas, I’m at home nursing a later summer cold and flicking my way through a variety of on demand movie listings.

So here’s my list of Ten sports films you should watch again. I invite your commentary, your judgement and your suggestions. I obviously haven’t given a definitive list here, but let’s be clear: I’ll be damned if anyone makes me sit through Slap Shot ever again. Why so many people like that load of unadulterated shite is just beyond me.

Continue reading Ten films you should watch again