Thursday, July 22, 2010

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

FatherBlog grew up in Brooklyn, where he was one of the few New York Giants fans during baseball season. Everyone else around him, of course, rooted for the Dodgers.

This was during the late 1940s and into the 1950s, before the Dodgers and Giants bolted for California, back when the Dodgers played at Ebbetts Field and the Giants played at the Polo Grounds.

Ebbetts Field was in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, where today stand the Jackie Robinson Apartments. The Polo Grounds sat on Coogan's Bluff, or actually under Coogan's Bluff, above the Harlem River across from Yankee Stadium; today, it is also an apartment complex.

Back then, though, Ebbetts Field and the Polo Grounds were baseball sanctuaries, the home to two beloved franchises who spent their entire existences trying to overcome each other and then, in some miraculous years, those "Damn Yankees."

The Giants and Dodgers featured legendary players and managers. Their rivalry was one of the greatest in the history of American sports.

It peaked in 1951, when the Giants came from 13.5 games back on Aug. 11 to catch the Dodgers, winning 16 straight games along the way at one point. The result was a best-of-three playoff for the National League pennant (there was no NLCS until expansion in 1969 and no wild cards until 1995; back then, the two league champions went directly to the World Series).

The Giants, of course, won the pennant on Bobby Thomson's three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth of Game 3. Thomson hit it barely above the short 315-foot sign in left field, off of Dodger pitcher Ralph Branca, with then-rookie Willie Mays in the on-deck circle.

If you make a list of the greatest moments in American sports history, "The Miracle of Coogan's Bluff" has to be in the Top 10, maybe Top 5. For his part, FatherBlog had made bets with his Dodger friends and had paid them off before the Giants scored four times in the ninth, so his story always revolves around how he had to get his money back and his winnings.

To hear FatherBlog talk about the days of the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers is to understand the love that people of his generation had for their baseball teams. It goes beyond simply being a fan, and it's probable that in this day and age, with the way players make so much money and change teams so easily, that having that kind of affection for your team might be impossible.

TigerBlog was a much bigger baseball fan 20 years ago than he is now, and much of that can be attributed to 1) the disaster that Major League Baseball has become and 2) Bill Tierney. Today, TB would consider himself to be a very, very casual baseball fan.

He doesn't check the standings too often, but he did this morning. He knew the Braves, a team he rooted for in the late 1980s and 1990s, were in first, but he didn't realize they were 6.5 games up on the Mets, the team he rooted for in the 1970s and into the 1980s.

Two things TB did know about the 2010 Major League Baseball season were that the Padres were in first (four games ahead of the Giants) and that the Pirates were in last (34-60, 19.5 games out of first and headed to an 18th straight losing season).

The Padres and Pirates (who are 29th and 30th in the Major Leagues in payroll, by the way) are the two teams that have Princeton alums on them, and it hasn't been an easy year for any of the three.

The Padres have two former Princeton baseball/basketball players, Chris Young and Will Venable. Young threw six shutout innings in his first start of the year back on April 6 to beat Arizona - and has been on the disabled list ever since. Young, who has a shoulder issue and who missed much of last year with a back problem, is hoping to be back in August, which would be just in time to see if he can contribute to the pennant race.

Venable has had the best year of the three alums. His batting average is .238, but he has hit 12 home runs, driven in 32 and stolen 15 bases while also being one of the better defensive outfielders in the National League. Plus, his numbers are deceiving because he got off to a very slow start. And like Young, he's been hurt as well, though he played against Cincinnati yesterday in his first game back after being activated.

As for the Pirates, they have Ross Ohlendorf in their rotation, and he pitches tonight against the Brewers. Ohlendorf is 1-7, but he's actually pitched much better than that. His ERA of 4.62 isn't bad, and the pitchers directly above him and below him on the ERA leaders list have records around .500 (Jamie Moyer, for instance, is 9-9 with a 4.84 ERA).

Ohlendorf's last outing lasted less than two innings, but his three before that were all strong. Pitching for the Pirates, though, is not easy.

Still, for Princeton fans, the plus side for this season would be a healthy Young and Venable in the postseason.

It would take a miracle much greater than the one in 1951 to get the Pirates there.

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