Baseball on my mind, as usual


I write about a lot of different things, because inspiration can be found just about anywhere. But the topic that always seems to inspire me the most is baseball. It’s been a part of my life ever since I was a young kid, and it’s something of my muse.

And so it has been over the past few days, where I put together a piece for ChicagoSideSports about baseball and getting older, followed by a piece for FiveWideSports about baseball and soccer, and topped off by a piece for WrigleyvilleNation about a Spring training game that was played in Arizona. That’s three baseball-themed pieces in three days, and the season hasn’t even started, yet.

There will be more to follow in the weeks ahead, I’m sure.

Light at the end of Winter’s tunnel


This winter has been unlike any that I’ve seen before. The cold seems colder, the snow seems deeper, and the winds seem to whip everything up with more gusto than usual.

A conversation with a baseball-loving colleague earlier this week produced what I’m going to call the Wilker Rule. It’s an inverse relationship between the severity of a winter and our desire for baseball the following spring. In other words, the worse the winter is, the more we want baseball to come back again.

This winter offers a perfect test for this new rule. Knowing that the ballplayers have converged upon Florida and Arizona–in preparation for another season of twists and turns, disappointments and triumphs–makes today’s blowing snow more tolerable, at least in my mind.

Keep bringing the snow and ice, Winter, but your days are numbered now. And baseball will show you the door soon enough.

Spring training and life itself


Since this winter has been dragging on and on, the news that Spring training is almost here is a welcome reminder of warmer days to come.

I’ve written about Beyond the Vines before, and in a way it reminds me of something, too. Nestled among the graves at the Bohemian National cemetery on Chicago’s North side, it tells me that some day my last spring training will come, and I probably won’t even know when that happens. And it’s better this way, because every one of them needs to be savored as though it might not ever happen again.

For those that are buried here, in a replication of Wrigley Field’s ivy-covered outfield wall, Spring training won’t ever come around again. As Steve Goodman once sang, they’re watching the Angels now.

I hope there’s good baseball wherever it is that we go after we die. But then again, how could there not be?

Waiting on Opening Day


A few things are going on in the sports world over the coming two months: the Super Bowl next weekend, the NHL trying to fit something resembling a season in, and the NCAA final four. And of course, Spring training will also get going in a few weeks’ time.

The Cubs will open their season on April Fool’s day (insert joke here). It seems a long way off right now, but it will get here soon enough, just like it always does.

The unbeatable Trever Miller


Every old baseball card could tell a story, if you wanted it to. I have thousands of these things sitting in boxes, just waiting for me to pay some attention to them. And many days I have other topics that I’m more interested in writing about. But these things serve as my bulwark against running out of things to say.

Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’ve never heard of Trever Miller before. I hadn’t either, until I happened upon this card and read the verbiage on the back. The alliterative description of him as a “lanky lefty from Louisville” caught my attention, and so I gave his name a Google. As it turns out, he’s got what has to be the most impressive record that I’ve ever heard of, at least as far as pitching goes.

Trever Miller spent several years in the majors as a LOOGY. It’s a funny-sounding name, to be sure, but it’s also a very important role player for a big league club to have. LOOGY is a sort-of acronym for Left-handed One Out GuY (I said sort-of for a reason). These are guys who come in, late in a game, and face one hitter in order to hopefully end an inning.

LOOGYs–I think that’s the plural of the term– are relief pitchers, but without the dramatic flair of a closer, or even the reflected importance of a set-up man. These guys are like the cardboard sleeve that you put over a hot cup of coffee at Starbucks: unremarkable, and not something you think about very much, but just try getting along without them.

The nature of what a LOOGY does is to plug a hole. And when Trever Miller entered a game in San Diego in early August of 2006, he was just an 0-3 pitcher on an average Houston Astros team. He didn’t win that game, but he didn’t lose it, either.

Over the rest of that season, Miller didn’t lose a single game in which he took the mound. No big thing, really, because Miller’s job is to get outs, not to impact the game in any significant way. But still, every mound appearance is a loss just waiting to happen.

Miller managed to get through the entire 2007 season without taking a loss. And he repeated that trick for the 2008 season, as well. It wasn’t until late in the 2009 season that Miller’s luck finally ran out when he took the loss in a game against Colorado. To borrow a line from Bull Durham, “Some days you win; some days you lose; some days it rains.” And yet for three years, Trever Miller somehow managed to avoid the middle part of that proposition.

The best part of this story is that nobody was even aware of the record, not even Miller himself. It wasn’t until a writer named David Laurila noticed something in Miller’s statistics, and then asked Baseball Prospectus to do some research, that Miller’s record was identified as being a record to begin with. Imagine how it would feel if someone approached you and said you had set some kind of a record, without even knowing you were doing it. It must have been a confusing–and yet also thrilling–piece of news for him.

Spring training 2013 is just around the corner, and Trever Miller– now on the verge of turning 40–could get a spring training invitation from one of the teams in MLB. That’s what happened with the Chicago Cubs last season. But there are no guarantees that the Spring Training invite will lead to anything, either. Miller learned this last year as well, as the Cubs cut him and he spent his first season out of baseball in decades. It must have been an unsettling summer for him in 2012.

I’ll be keeping an eye out to see what happens with Trever Miller this Spring. Hopefully he still has some baseball left in him, but whatever the future holds, he’s got a record that might never be broken. And how many of us can say that?

April is here at last

It’s finally April, at least on the calendar. It feels like April was here a few weeks ago, or maybe like April never came at all this year.

But no amount of warm weather could bring the baseball season any earlier. Spring training is an annual ritual, which must be carried through to its completion. But the end is finally in sight.

Next weekend will find us all at the start of a new season. There will be surprises and storylines aplenty, and every day will bring new opporunities for history to be made.

Last night, as the Final Four was unfolding on television, I started to talk about baseball. I put forth my theory that unlike basketball and football, baseball is an everyday sport. You couldn’t have another sports league survive with the business model that baseball has. Injuries would destroy the players’ pool, but public apathy would set in pretty quick, too.

When a player has a great game, or a lousy one, they don’t have a chance to linger on it for too long. There’s another chance the next day. That’s the best I can do to explain the appeal of this game for me.

I sometimes see people wearing “Baseball is life” t-shirts. I don’t entirely believe in this sentiment, but I’m happy to point out the similarities between them from time to time.

Happy baseball season to one and all.

Signs of Spring

Yesterday I listened to a Cubs game on the radio. A spring training game, but still enough to get me thinking about the impending season. I don’t know (and don’t much care) if the Cubs won the game or not, but just knowing that the season is in the pipeline, so to speak, is enough.

And I bought some tickets to an actual game last¬†Friday. The day that the single-game tickets go on sale at Wrigley Field is an annual ritual, which brings the baseball season that much closer to being a reality. There’s only one game that I have for now (on September 21st against the Cardinals), but it’s enough for me. Others may follow in the months ahead.

And, finally, warm weather and sunshine are here this weekend. It now feels like baseball weather. There’s probably one last surprise snowstorm on the way, but Winter now appears to be in retreat.

These next three weeks will be difficult, but they’ll go by and then all will be right with the world.

Everyone’s in camp now

The Cubs apparently now have all their players in spring training, so the start of the season keeps getting closer.

I offered my opinions on the Cubs this year for a Cardinals site, and they were published today. I was assuming at the time that the Brewers would be without Ryan Braun for the first 50 games of the season, but I didn’t see his suspension being overturned, either.

The only thing I’ll say about that situation, having listened to what Braun said today, is that the “collector” who let Braun’s sample, and others, sit for 44 hours before taking them in to Fed Ex shouldn’t have his job any longer. But it’s over with, and now it’s time to move on.

Some of my writing will appear in other places online soon. I’ll provide links as soon as I can.

Pitchers and catchers reported today

It’s officially spring training, now that the pitchers and catchers have reported to the Cubs’ facilities in Arizona. Position players are coming in next week.

Burt Hooton was a Cubs pitcher who seemed destined for greatness. He made his big league debut in 1971, without spending a single day in the minor leagues. No Cubs player has done this in the four decades since. And, on the second day of the 1972 season, he threw a no-hitter against the Phillies in Wrigley Field. ¬†Somehow, though, Hooton had a losing record for the 1972, 1973, and 1974 seasons. He was dealt away to Los Angeles early in the 1975 season, where he would later pitch in three World Series–all against the Yankees–and win a championship with the team in 1981.

He pitched his final season with the Texas Rangers in 1985, and he is currently the pitching coach for the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros. Looking at his career, it can be said that being traded to Los Angeles clearly helped his career. It was actually the inverse of Rick Sutcliffe‘s experience with the Cubs and a trade.

And so the 2012 season–which is still more than a month away from officially starting–has passed its first milestone. More will be coming in the days ahead.