The day was Oct. 10, just last fall. A Monday. At noon, the freeway running through downtown Los Angeles was at a stop and would be for the distant future. Just too many cars. There’d be a baseball game in about an hour just up the road, maybe three or four miles, and there’d be no chance to see the first pitch, unless you were to have left your car and walked. Unhurriedly. Then you would have reached Dodger Stadium in plenty of time.
There are murals on buildings that can be seen from the freeway: large, colorful renderings of classical musicians many stories high that, in passing, are quite lovely.
Stare at them for 40 minutes, though, those things start talking to you.
“You’re late, you know.”
“You’re never going to make it.”
“Is that the anthem I hear?”
“Sure you have enough gas?”
“Still listening to ‘70s music, I see.”
I was going to work. The Dodgers and Nationals had been rained out in Game 2 of the National League division series, which meant Game 3 was moved to Sunday, which meant an early Monday flight across the country in time for a 1 p.m. PT start. So, for the first time in many years, I was funneling into Dodger Stadium with 50-some thousand other people, all of us wanting to be in our seats by the first pitch, needing to be there, and yet here we were, inching along guardrails, past guys risking their lives to buy and sell tickets, past guys waving you three inches closer to a parking lot a mile away.
For the first time, maybe ever, I thought, “Man, it’s hard to be a fan. It’s hard work.”
It hadn’t occurred to me before, not like that.
When Kenley Jansen blasted Dodgers fans Sunday — and Kenley Jansen is one of the more likeable players I’ve ever met — I thought back to that afternoon in October, to what those people endured (and paid) in order to get into that ballpark, into those seats, just to watch Kenley Jansen — turned out — give up four runs in one-third of an inning. And some do it 81 times a year, more if they’re lucky and the team they follow is any good.
No wonder they’re mad when a ballplayer can’t drag himself 90 feet with any enthusiasm three or four times over three hours. No wonder they boo. No wonder they sometimes don’t have the time to vote for stuff.
Being a fan requires nothing. You don’t have to go to games, you don’t have to watch on TV (a fortunate clause for Dodgers fans), you don’t have to buy shirseys or little mounds of dirt that Tim Tebow may or may not have trod upon, you don’t have to rent 5×10 plots of tar for $10 an hour. Just try not to, you know, throw anything or hit anyone, just like in the 21 hours around the games.
Jansen is by all appearances a good guy. When he took on the fans in the name of friend and teammate Justin Turner, his heart was in a decent place. It’s just, well, he may have been a little rough.
By Tuesday, a couple days later, his tone had softened.
“I blame myself too,” he said, and admitted he’d spent time voting for Turner since Sunday. “We have the best fans in the world. I just want to be the messenger.”
Besides, he added, “The reaction from the fans is great. JT is leading the vote right now. … I say whatever I have to say. I love my fans. I never doubted my fans.”
To hope for more is, I guess, reasonable. But to demand more?
As my pals on the building would say, “You’re never going to make it.”
*** So, the baseball.
It’s always flying too far or missing too many bats or whizzing by people’s heads or connecting with people’s heads or being messed with in Costa Rica, and now it’s been accused of raising pockets of puss where they shouldn’t be. Which is anywhere.
The latest, beyond their being wound too tightly, according to the conspiracists, along with those employed to hold and throw the things, is that baseballs have consistently lower and wider stitches. So they carry farther. So they don’t curve with the same bite. So they cause blisters.
I never took physics. And I’m not going to sit in my darkened garage with a baseball and a hacksaw. But here we are.
Blue Jays starter Marcus Stroman, after developing a blister during a start on Monday, restarted the conversation.
“I’ve never had a blister in my life,” he said. “Nothing even remotely close to having a blister. It’s crazy. … I feel like it’s an epidemic that’s happened across the big leagues now, a bunch of pitchers getting blisters.”
With flatter stitches, assuming they are lower, pitchers must grip the baseball with greater pressure, exposing areas in their hands not previous callused. Also, perhaps, because the ball has less drag, it might carry farther. And, if that theory plays, more home runs.
Veteran lefty Rich Hill is an expert on pitching. Also, on blisters.
“I never had a blister until 2016,” he said.
So, the baseball’s are different.
“A lot of guys are saying that,” he said. “There’s a lot of talk the baseballs are different. The seams are flatter and wider.”
He fetched a memo from his locker and held it up. It was from MLB and, he said, basically refuted speculation baseballs had been altered. To summarize, same specs, same balls, same everything.
Except, it seems, different game.
*** WHAT ELSE:
While the accountants are probably super busy, the folks on the baseball side of the Miami Marlins are waiting and wondering who their next boss is going to be, and whether he or she will prefer to keep the roster together or fling it into pennant races across America. It’s something they would love to know in the next week or two, ahead of the July 31 deadline.
Left-hander Brad Hand, at 27, with 135 minor-league appearances and 211 major league appearances behind him, waived by the Marlins a little more than a year ago, is an All Star. Sure, the San Diego Padres were required to send somebody. But also there’s plenty to be said about showing up, doing your job, and making your right place and right time.
The best moment in Mike Foltynewicz’s near no-hitter Friday night in Oakland was a dugout exchange he revealed afterward. In the seventh inning, while trying to adhere to no-hitter superstitions, Folty needed to use the bathroom. He was unsure, however, at a time of same seats and same routines, if the trip would kill his mojo. He leaned over to his catcher, Tyler Flowers, and asked, “Should I go?” To which Flowers responded, “Oh no, that doesn’t matter. Go to the bathroom.” Whew.
In a lawsuit, umpire Angel Hernandez claims two things — that he is an exceptional umpire and that MLB has discriminated against him for reasons of race (Hernandez is Cuban) and “personal animus.” Perhaps, if nothing else, the suit will bring traction to the idea that umpire’s grades be made public. Then we’ll all know.
Waiting on the Chicago Cubs to start winning has become a daily event, because they can’t possibly be this mediocre, because the hangover that’s impossible to deny anymore can’t possibly last forever, because it shouldn’t be that hard to overtake the Milwaukee Brewers.
The starting pitching has been almost as unimpressive as the offense, and the defense has been worst of all, and a year ago we had some of the same questions about the Cubs before they blew through the second half at 50-23.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have lost six of nine. They are 17-24 on the road. Starling Marte won’t return for another two weeks. They come to Wrigley for three this weekend.
As good a time as any.
Friday: Trevor Williams vs. Eddie Butler
Saturday: Ivan Nova vs. Jake Arrieta
Sunday: Jameson Taillon vs. Jon Lester
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