On the radio

Bat

Today was a new experience for me. I spent the week brushing up on the rest of the National League’s Central division–since I could already talk about the Cubs in my sleep–and I went on the radio this morning to discuss the division with Steve Bortstein of Fox Sports radio in New Mexico. Thanks to the internet, I was able to listen to the interview after the fact, and can even present it here for anyone who wants to listen.

I enjoyed the experience, and will be happy to do more of it if the opportunity presents itself. Anything to share the game with those who are interested in it. And opening day is now less than a week away. I can’t wait for it to arrive.

So it’s come to this

I wrote an earlier post about how I had no NCAA brackets to consult this year. The Final Four has now been set, and there are no VCU-type cinderella stories this year. Louisville, Kansas and Kentucky are among the entrenched elite of college basketball, and even the team that wears scarlet and gray has had more than its share of success over the years. So it’s one more weekend without baseball, and then on to the baseball season, at last.

I don’t want to do this, but I’m pulling for that school that comes from Columbus, Ohio to win it all (I can’t even bring myself to say their full name, or that silly “the” that comes in front of it). It’s the only Big Ten school left standing, and since the SEC has a hammerlock on the college football scene, everyone else has to grab what little bit of glory is left over.

The Big Ten Network, which I don’t have anymore after canceling cable TV, has been effective at making all of the Big Ten schools feel like part of something, well, Big. It’s a big dust-up between all the schools during the regular season, but then it’s time to close ranks and pull for the conference standard-bearer when the other schools and conferences are involved.

I employed a similar philosophy last fall, when I begrudgingly went on the record as favoring the Cardinals over the Rangers in the World Series.  It’s quite easy to hate on the State, particularly after the football scandal that erupted last year, but the truth is  I want to have a rooting interest for the games next weekend.

Since I’m lacking a good reason to pull for any of the other schools playing in New Orleans next week, I’ll  pull for the Buckeyes. But I won’t like it, not one little bit. And I’ll be much happier once it’s over, when baseball season will be just a few days away.

and I believe in the Promised Land

Over the nine months I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve written more posts about the Chicago Cubs than any other topic. But I have other favorites, too, and Bruce Springsteen’s music is definitely on that list. This is the first time I’ve been able to fuse the two subjects together, and I’m excited to be doing this, so here goes:

The first–and so far, the only–Springsteen concert that I’ve seen was at the United Center in Chicago back in 2007. I went with my sister, and we had a great time, both at the show and in the perfect fall weather that bookended it. Lately, I’ve been listening to a bootleg of the show that I found online. My favorite song from that show–and possibly my favorite Springsteen song of all–is one called the Promised Land. The concept in the title goes back thousands of years, but I can relate to it as a Cubs fan in the 21st century.

The Israelites in the Hebrew Bible wandered through the desert, looking for a land that they had been promised. I’m not religious–13 years of Catholic school notwithstanding–but I’ve been wandering about my whole life. And the absence of anything to show for that hasn’t diminished my belief that it’s still out there. For some reason, it’s only become stronger over the years.

Bruce Springsteen played at Fenway Park in Boston for two nights back in September of 2003. For the first night’s show, he and his band played The Promised Land as the 17th song and before the first encore started. But for the second night’s show, he didn’t play it at all. Every show has a different setlist, and sometimes songs don’t get played. But the year after those two Springsteen concerts, the Red Sox finally did get to their promised land, after eight decades of wandering through baseball’s desert.

Did that song finally help to get the Red Sox over the hump? It sounds like a goofy thing to say, but is it any goofier than a ground ball rolling through Leon Durham’s legs in 1984? Or the almost unbeatable Mark Prior blowing a 3-run lead in 2003? Or the persistent belief that one man and his goat have effectively cursed the team for over 60 years? It’s certainly worth a shot to find out if there’s anything to playing this song live in a star-crossed baseball venue. Perhaps it has worked once, already.

After reports, rumors, and speculation, it’s now official that Bruce Springsteen will be coming to Wrigley Field this fall. He played in the Uptown Theater once upon a time, and Soldier Field back in the 80s, but this is the first time he’ll be at Wrigley Field. I hope to get tickets, but even if I don’t I’ll try to find a listening party in the Wrigleyville area. Bruce and his band will be heard up and down Clark Street, when the time comes. (NOTE: I attended the first of the two shows, and wrote about it in various places online.) 

In trying to get ahead of that curve, I humbly suggest to Bruce Springsteen, and to everyone else reading this, that The Promised Land would be an essential addition to a Wrigley Field setlist. Not only is it a fantastic song–one that calls on the power of an unshakable belief in something–but it could also be the portent of something great to come for the Cubs. (NOTE: The song was the first one played at the second Wrigley Field show in 2012, and not the first show that I attended. But at least it was played.) 

I’d like nothing more than to argue about whether or not this made any difference, after it finally takes place. And so I’m laying down this marker now because, as Tug McGraw once said, you just gotta believe.

(NOTE: The video presented above was filmed in 2016, four years after I wrote this post. The original video was removed for copyright grounds, but this one’s really good, too. They all are, I’m sure.)

Winners go on, losers go home

No other professional sport comes close to baseball for sheer number of games played in a season. Playing (almost) every day, for six months plus the post season, shows that baseball is the American game. Football is too violent to play once a week, and the idea that NBA teams could play two or three games in a row in the same city is laughable. Although right now, they probably hope they get to play anywhere at all this season. But we’ll see how that works out soon enough.

Every baseball game is less than one percent of a team’s entire season. And a double in April counts the same as a double tonight does. So there isn’t anything terribly special, statistically speaking, about tonight’s final regular season games. And yet, these at-bats for the players, and these innings thrown for the pitchers, could make the difference between playing games this weekend, or hopping a flight back to wherever home is. The old saying “win or go home” really does apply to the Cardinals, Braves, Red Sox and Rays this evening.

These aren’t “playoff” games, in the sense that they’re still being played during the regular season. The MLB logo doesn’t appear on the tickets to tonight’s games, and there aren’t umpires down the first and third base lines. But the stakes are essentially the same as a playoff game, and the fact that they’re not head-to-head games makes it even more interesting.

The concept of watching the scoreboard, in order to see how the other team is doing, comes into play tonight like it rarely does at any other time in the season. Fans at the games tonight will have one eye on the field, and the other eye on the scoreboard. Scoreboards are put into ballparks for signage money, sure, but tonight they serve the purpose they were intended to serve. And that’s great for the game.

The wild card has made tonight’s multi-city drama possible, and the fans in whatever cities emerge victorious tonight–or in a playoff game, if needed–should be grateful that baseball has extended them a second chance. That doesn’t guarantee success in the playoffs, but it means that a long season doesn’t have to end just yet.

I’ll be watching tonight, and hopefully there will be something to write about in the future. To be honest, it would only be surprising if there wasn’t something worth writing about to come from tonight’s games. It’s as if we’ve started the post season a day early, and we’re all the winners for that.