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.
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 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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
John Stewart guests in our second baseball episode. We talk the back side of the ball in this, the 69th episode of Pucked in the Head.
• Sofa Surfer Girl by the Orchid Highway
• Mike Zunino can’t hit but he frames pitches like a master
• Paxton designed Zunino’s mitt
• Robinson Cano has a sky high baseball IQ
• A happy little dance at shortstop
• John loves Felix Hernandez
• John loves Kyle Seager, too
• John loves being a nerd, three
• Being a manager is a tough gig
• Stompa! by Serena Ryder
Baseball’s back — all right! It’s that time of year when all the other sports goings-on take a break, and we relish the crack of the bat, peanuts, and beer…mmm…beer. But I digress.
[Editor’s note: For those NOT wearing baseball-coloured glasses, of course, it’s playoff time in the NBA and NHL, ramp up time for the Women’s World Cup, and right in the middle of the bloody season for MLS. *evil eye to John* But I digress.]
When last we left our heroes, Spring Training was still in progress. Since then, the Mariners started the season with a great series at home against the Angels… and then delivered a very disappointing road trip featuring some surprising (and painful) implosions on the part of the starting pitching rotation. This was… not expected.
Fortunately the Ms arrived home and put King Felix on the mound to turn things around. The King was as good as gold, fanning 12 and stopping a four-game losing streak.
Mariners fans entered Game 162 of the 2014 campaign with as much excitement as we’ve had in a long time. Felix on the mound, a beautiful fall day, and the Ms in striking distance of their first playoff appearance in… well, a while. [Editor’s note: Please forgive John’s lack of specificity on this one. He resides in a country where they still use quarts, miles, pounds and Republican Senator Thad Cochran.]
Sadly, despite beating the Angels of Anaheim/California/etc., 4-1, the Mariners were eliminated when the Oakland Athletics won their game that same day. And so another Mariners season ended without a trip to the postseason. The Mariners finished 87-75, one lousy win short of that that bloody Wild Card spot.
Yet for the first time in… a while [ahem]… there was a real sense of optimism at Safeco Field. With a league-low ERA of 3.17, Mariners pitching was generally outstanding, both in the rotation and out of the bullpen. The offense, again, was the weakest link, with later-season moves for Austin Jackson and Kendrys Morales proving to be insufficient to move the needle quite far enough. Still, being relevant on the last day of the season was a welcome change from the previous several years.
With attendance up, and some excitement building about beisbol (to be put on hold by many during NFL season, as the Seahawks mount an amazing run toward a second Super Bowl appearance in as many years), it was on to the Hot Stove League, aka the off-season. What did Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik have up his sleeve?
Any degree of sports fandom tends to affect things at home. My personal connection to the Seattle Mariners, and to baseball in general, is hopelessly intertwined with my personal life. And so it was that last Sunday, with the Mariners’ playoff chances hanging in the balance, I found myself sitting on the Washington State Ferry Yakima, headed south to Anacortes from Orcas Island, checking and re-checking the MLB app on my phone. Were the A’s winning? How was Felix pitching? Had the Mariners scored any runs? Could Texas come back, and give the Ms a li’l help?
As I learned in the car after we got off the ferry, the Rangers were incapable of mounting a comeback against the A’s (not surprising for a team whose Disabled List outmanned its 25-man roster). Thus ended ended the Mariners’ playoff hopes, despite their final game 4–1 win over the Los Angeles Angels. The win, while gratifying, did not get the team that Wild Card berth we had dared to dream about all summer.