Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Boston Barrage

Last night's game revealed the myriad ways the Red Sox can beat you. They have power but they also have the patience to beat you with singles as they did last night. Big Papi against Jamie Walker was a classic duel showing that Papi can sometimes revert to Rod Carew if he needs to--meaning he'll take what he can get. They have middle relief. And perhaps the scariest thing of all, they have Theo Epstein applying the principles of MoneyBall with an unlimited budget. They are the new Yankees but not as nefarious in this fan's opinion--and their decisions all seem to be paying off. When I was in Fenway last summer, I felt the bond between the fans, the ownership and the team. They have upgraded all phases of their game with Dice-K, JD Drew, and Okijima. They have players who can step up to the plate and change the game. They have always been tough to beat--with Lynn, Rice, Evans, Yaz, and Tiant--and that hasn't changed. I like the principle of taking back the Yard, but it will not happen any time soon against the Red Sox. They will be tough to beat this year.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Straight A's

A tough loss to the Oakland A's. From 1972 thru 1975, I lived through one miserable loss to the A's after another. In the playoffs, during the regular season, it didn't matter: they owned us in their greenskeeper garb. I saw the O's play the A's many times as a kid. There was Bat Day when the A's sent Vida Blue and Mudcat Grant to the hill for two wins against Doyle Alexander and Ken Holtzman, the sound of 25,000 Adirondack bats pounding the Memorial Stadium concrete in unison still ringing in my ears. There was Bert "Campy" Campanaris leading off the game with a walk, stealing second with his white golfing spikes high into Bobby Grich's shins, stealing third and then scoring on a ground out. A's ahead before you uncapped a watery soda. Then Campy would ding the foul pole for a late inning homerun. He was brash and obnoxious, just like the rest of them: Bando, Tenace, North, Washington, Garner, Rudi, Reggie and Rollie. If Campy didn't psyche you out then Rollie Fingers with his handle-bar moustache would shut you down in the late innings. These days the A's are Terminators. They are all around the same height and weight, hit with power, and apply the leather. They keep coming at you spraying line drives everywhere. And tonight, with the bases loaded and Tejada at the plate (after a free pass to Markakis), down one run in the ninth after a tenacious comeback, he grounds out on the first pitch.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Birds Sweep Jays

I drove to the Yard today from Virginia to see my first game of the season with my friend Ralphie. The Birds efficiently defeated the Jays with solid pitching, defense and timely hitting for their first sweep of Toronto since 1994. They played like the Weaver teams. They completed one turn of the order against Chacin, made adjustments, and started to unload. Nick "The Greek" Markakis bounced one off the top of the wall in deep center for a triple to plate two runs and put the Birds ahead for good. Jay Payton started in left and added three hits. Tejada chipped in with three ribs. Steve Trachsel tossed 4-hit ball for six innings. The bullpen remains solid. Things are beginning to take shape. We still need another stick but that's been the case for thirty years. I saw one spectator wearing a Virginia Tech t-shirt and the flag flew at half-mast. This year, I've noticed more retro Oriole wear featuring the cartoon bird for sale. Markakis shirts have sold out. I brought dinner home from Matthew's Pizza--the best in Baltimore. Ralphie and I talked about "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy, Johnny Unitas, John McGraw and what it would be like to live at the ballpark. Ralphie wonders whether we'll see another World Championship in our lifetime. We need to raise our children as Oriole fans so they can inform us of any future World Series glory after we leave this place. We both attended the same game of the '70 series when McNalley hit the grand slam. We're old timers and we're living in the past. It's my daughter's birthday tomorrow. Julia's three years old and wants a fish tank. She also plays organized kickball and runs the bases well.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Hokies Trump Orioles and Cavaliers Tonight

This is my first post from Brazil and it is called a "postagem" according to the Portugese translation of my site. I am in Brasilia, the DC of Brazil, with some amazing modern architecture. I followed tonight's game on and nearly gave up until the Orioles began their comeback from a 7-1 deficit. At 7-5, I signed up for the radio broadcast. I listened to Aubrey Huff hit his first Oriole home run. There were some tense moments but the Devils Rays capitulated. Parrish ended a one-out threat with two in scoring position. A Red Sox fan and colleague suggested that the D-Rays were our biggest rivals now, that we can't really have rivalries with the Yankees and the Red Sox until we challenge them for the Division. The last time we were over .500 before tonight was April 29th of last year. The best Oriole teams often started slowly. Perhaps we can prove them wrong this year.

In the end tonight, my thoughts and prayers are with the entire Virginia Tech community. As a graduate of UVA, I can easily say that the Hokies are our biggest rivals and that I sometimes engage in spouting anti-Tech rhetoric, much of which has been the result of my own jealousy as they have excelled in recent years on the football field and now on the basketball court. I watched the news conference on CNN and wondered what the people of Brasil must think of my country. The barrage of questions from the reporters seem to telegraph the facts that will be a part of some lurid documentary in years to come. Questions that you never want to hear. "What kind of gun was used? Did he shoot in one place or move around? Did he turn the gun on himself? What was the scene inside like?" A co-worker of mine has a son who is in school there. I hope he is okay. When will our collective outrage at this behavior make a difference?

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Women's Game

The Imus media frenzy remains focused on the racist comments he directed at the Rutgers women's basketball team. There hasn't been much attention paid to the fact that he was also expressing his disdain for women's athletics as a whole. He was making a comparison between the "thugs" of Rutgers and the "pretty" southern belles of Tennessee. He didn't think much of the game or have any respect for it. So he decided to focus on the exterior qualities of the players.

My father, Snuffy Smith officially retired from coaching basketball last weekend. He most recently coached at Bryn Mawr High School in Baltimore, a prestigious girl's school known more for their lacrosse and field hockey teams. He's coached there for the past nine years and many of his players have gone on to play college basketball. This ends a 25-year coaching career that included stints at Wheeling College where he coached John Beilein, Johns Hopkins University, UMBC and Virginia Commonwealth where he met Tubby Smith. Tubby and my dad remain friends today.

One thing I've observed about the Mawrtians he's coached over the years is that they came to play. They executed his college system perfectly and defended with intensity. They ran their offensive schemes and presses. At times, they knew his inbounds plays better than he did. They discussed what word they would cheer before breaking the huddle. Was it DEFENSE or REBOUNDING? They reached a democratic resolution based on what the situation called for. His teams hustled and made the most of their talent. They shot the ball with arc and backspin. For moments during his nine-year tenure like the 100- year anniversary of Bryn Mawr and St. Timothy's, he turned the school's attention to basketball. He packed the house every year for the annual scuffle against Roland Park. He made the game matter to these young women and to the Bryn Mawr community.

As a result, I've started watching women's college basketball. One thing that is glaringly obvious to me about the women's game is that they are actually playing basketball the way it is meant to be played. They pass and move without the ball. They box out and rebound. They set perfect picks and shoot the three. They don't dunk with regularity or stand around. They don't leave after one year for the pros. They make their foul shots. It's a refreshing change.

I regret never playing for my father directly but he taught me the game. Growing up, I road the bus with the college teams he coached any chance I could. I poured over greasy stat sheets left in the pizza box on the way home. He taught me to shoot the basketball like he did--with backspin and follow-through--and I made my high school team.

If anything good can come from the Imus situation, I'd like it to be a heightened awareness of women's athletics. Post reporter Sally Jenkins suggested that Imus become an ambassador for woman's college basketball--an excellent idea. They play the game the way my father taught me to play it--with intensity.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Tigers 3, Defense 1

All you need to know about this game relates to the Golden Glove graphic displayed on the TV screen before the sixth inning. The Orioles have won 58 Gold Gloves in their history. Only the Cardinals have won more with 78. Jared Wright looked good until the 6th. A Curtis Granderson comebacker nearly knocked him over and the carom was picked up late by Mora. Wright walked the next batter and left the game with an injury. I had just sat down to watch the game after returing home from my three-year old daughter's kickball practice. Her opening day is Saturday. She managed to field three balls kicked her way, after some coaching. Scott Williamson neglected to field a sac bunt and the bases were loaded. "That's not how you practice that in Spring training," Palmer said. Williamson struck out Sheffied in dramatic fashion. Pena grounded into a tailor-made twin-killing--the signature play of the Orioles in the seventies. Not tonight. Roberts threw wildly to first and two runs scored. Ballgame. Comebackers have been the precursor to two losses this year. Fatherhood, my friend, is all one needs to be remembered for.

Opening Day (Orioles 6, Tigers 2)

I watched the rerun on MASN after getting home from work. During the fourth inning, Cal Ripken stepped into the booth to join Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer. He talked about the worst slump of his career going 4 for 55, pick-up basketball games with Jim in the nineties at Bryn Mawr high, the Hall of Fame and new players in the league. "I helped you win some pick-up games," Jim said, referring to basketball. "I know you did," replied Cal like someone who may have remembered the exact score of those games. It also sounded like Jim may have sustained an injury from Cal during one of those sessions. "Basketball was the only thing I chose to do in the offseason to stay in shape. The front office hated it," Cal said. Apparently, Lou Gehrig also played basketball in the off-season to stay in shape. Cal said he was trying not to think about the Induction. He really liked hanging out with Tony Gwynn at a baseball writer's dinner in NY. He talked about Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, and David Wright as players who were "interesting to him." Kevin Millar led the inning off with a home run. As they talked, the Orioles slowly put runners on. When Mora launched one toward the left center wall, Cal responded. "Whoa!" He said. "There it goes." Palmer and Cal could barely contain their passion for the Orioles in that moment. Ripken talked about how he missed the crack of the bat.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

There's a Heart in NY (O's Win, 6-4)

I listened to most of today's game on the radio while driving to my father's house in Baltimore for Easter dinner. I'd alternate between bluegrass on public radio and the Yankees batting. When the Orioles bat, I relax. It's that simple and it's always been that way for the past thirty-seven years. The Yankee faithful rumbled to life in the eighth after Johnny Damon tripled and it was happening again, another late inning collapse. I pulled up to my father's house just as Parrish loaded the bases and I turned the game off to help get my children inside. It was cold and sunny in Batimore and my relatives were talking in the living room. I expected my father to have the game on, but it was Easter, and his family took precedence. He might say what he has said for the past decade, "A collection of banjo hitters." My dad announced on Saturday that he is giving up coaching basketball after 25 years. He will always be a coach to me. At first it felt good not knowing the outcome in Yankee stadium for awhile. Then I needed to know. On the way over from Virginia, I thought about A-Rod's game-winning grandslam. Yankee fans needed that comeback after what they went through last year. They needed something positive like that. I was also thinking about what my friend Rafael had said earlier in the day referring to the Orioles, "If this team plays to its potential, we won't be half bad." I'm sticking with that tonight. I checked the scores and saw the Orioles won. Patience has never been a virtue.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Harlem Shuffle (Yankees 10, Orioles 7)

Good teams find ways to win and bad teams discover new ways to beat themselves. Today, the Orioles uncovered yet another way to lose to the Yankees. We've seen the Yanks come back to beat us many times before, leading me to the conclusion in years past that the Orioles were like the Washington Generals--the team the Harlem Globetrotters played and defeated every time. But we've never seen it like this so early in the season. On the verge of taking the first two games of the series with two outs in the ninth, the Birds handed one back to the Bombers today. The Orioles challenged the Yankees and then they backed off. Chris Ray busted Derek Jeter inside for strike two with two outs in the ninth, albeit nearly hitting Jeter, but he never went back after him. Jeter walked to load the bases. Instead of making A-Rod chase a bad pitch on a 1-2 count, Ray went down the middle and Rodriguez sent it over the centerfield wall for a grandslam. You need to do something to win the game. For the past several losing seasons, the Oriole Way has been to win a few games and lose a few more. The organization seems content with that approach. The players don't respond well to pressure and they don't honestly believe they can beat the Yankees, and haven't for the past nine seasons. It's too much to ask of them. These birds are happiest when they are not in playoff contention and they can focus on playing baseball. I've seen them fold in any number of ways in the Bronx or in Camden Yards against New York. It was cold in the Stadium today and the Yankees could have easily folded. A winning mystique allows them to be in every game no matter the deficit. They keep coming at you. Suddenly in the late innings we don't believe we can hit Rivera or retire Jeter or A-Rod in clutch situations. If we get a lead, our hitters retreat and wait for the Yankees to wake up. Instead of trying to score more runs, we swing at first pitches to shorten the game because we don't want to be there. Losing breeds more losing. Only champions beat other champions (e.g. Yankees vs. Red Sox). We don't believe.

Put "Baltimore" on the Away Jerseys Now

I recently read that the Orioles are considering putting "Baltimore" on the away jerseys. It makes perfect sense to me. We're not the Nova Birds or the DelMarVa Orioles or The BWI Orioles. We're the Baltimore Orioles and we should flaunt our glorious city and its uniqueness. Baltimore is my Rome and my Dublin combined, a place where my feet are on familiar ground and where I first embraced my Italian and Irish heritage along with Oriole baseball. My grandmothers, one Italian and the other Irish, were passionate bird fans. Carolyn Bartoli and Mary Swift each made "the best crabcakes in the city" and I made sure to never favor one over the other. They were Baltimore matriarchs who ruled their families like Earl Weaver ran the Orioles.

Baltimore possesses a rich baseball tradition and "Orioles" should not be the sole brand experience. I don't like the hats that simply say "O's" and nothing else as this signifies decades of failure on the field, a big "zero" or an "Oh-for" the last ten years. I remember a game in Yankee Stadium in the mid-nineties when I first witnessed people wearing air-brushed O's graphics on their tee-shirts with pictures of Camden Yards and thinking I don't know my team anymore. I'm okay with the ornithologically correct bird but that's where I draw the line. Let's put our city's name back on the jersey the way we had it when we won championships, contended with regularity, and jumbo crabs ran abundantly in the bay.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Birds Topple Yanks, Mussina

It's never easy in the Bronx and there is no better feeling on this earth than beating the Yankees. The season starts now.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Only Eighteen Losses Needed to Break the 88' Streak

Last night's Metrodome disaster against the Twins does not bode well for the 2007 campaign. We committed three errors. Tejada is becoming a defensive liability. Jared Wright looks like the next player to end his career in Baltimore, following a long and growing line from Albert Belle to Javy Lopez. This group will soon include Kevin Millar. The only players who want to be in Baltimore are those in a downward career spiral. Sam Perlozzo is a player's manager, meaning the player's love him, which translates into Mr. Softee. He told reporters last night that his players did nothing to win the first three games. What that really means is the Birds didn't pitch, hit or catch. We're playing like it's September and we're 28 games out of first. The Yankees will show no mercy. Next up, Mike Mussina. The best news of the year thus far is that the Washington Nationals may be worse.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Snowy Night in Minneapolis

It's the second game of the year and the Orioles are playing in a racquetball court known as the Metrodome. They lost last night to the Twins 7-4 but Daniel Cabrera is pitching like Bob Gibson tonight. His new contact lenses seem to help him find the plate. The score is 2-2 and we have some new players like Aubrey Huff and Paul Bako to help the cause. Cabrera allows the Twins to tie the game with an error on a comebacker but he recovers to strike out the side. It looks like Daniel has developed a new pitch that cuts back inside at the last second on lefthanded batters. I'm watching the game on Peter Angelos's new television network MASN--his viewing rights deathgrip on the region which has bred bad feelings toward the Orioles among National fans. The commercial spots between innings feature digs at the Yankees. I'm feeling optimistic about the season, as I always do in the first few months, and my allegiance for the most part remains intact. Cabrera's stuff is amazing--dipping and diving across the plate--and the Twins look confused. Cabrera walks the lead-off man in the seventh and the Twins take the lead on a broken bat single from the ninth place hitter. They have developed a winning formula with homegrown talent. They are wholesome, prairie-home companion types. The Orioles put two on in the eighth with one out. With his frosted hair and great clubhouse attitude, Kevin Millar flies out to end the threat. He looks like he may never get another hit after an 0-8 start to the season. I need to turn in. It's too early to start bleeding orange.
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