Hooray for the Cubs

It is very typical for a sports fan to root for the underdog, especially when it comes to playoff time. I mean, who wants the same old team to win the championship ever year? There is a team in this year’s playoffs who define what a lovable loser is, that team is the Chicago Cubs. It has been nearly 70 years since that famous franchise has made it to the World Series, 70 years!! The last time the Cubs won the World Series happened in 1908. A few years ago, I began to wonder if there was better chance that hell would freeze over before the Cubs won the World Series. It is hard to believe, but this year’s squad may just the team that breaks that long curse of the Billy Goat.

I still remember like it was yesterday. Who can forget that infamous Steve Bartman game! The year was 2003. The Cubs were just 6 outs from going to the World Series. They had a 6-3 lead in game 6 and lead the Series 3 games to 2. One more win and the jinx would finally be over. Then the unimaginable happened. First, Bartman interferes with a Cubs outfielder on a fly ball hit near the seats which would have been a sure out. By the way Cubs fans, blaming Bartman for losing that game is one of the most ridiculous things that I have ever seen in sports. Blame the team for choking on the field, not a fan. The Cubs went on to lose that game, followed by losing game 7. I remember watching the television shots of dejected Cubs fans in the seats. How could this have happened? One of the most stunning collapses in sports history. The Cubs are going home and the jinx is still alive.

This year’s team is very capable of not only going to the Series, but winning the whole thing. They seem to be a team of destiny. Every year, a team suddenly gets hot at the right team and the Cubs just may be that team. First they beat Pittsburgh on the road in the Wild Card game. Then they beat a good St. Louis Cardinal team. I firmly believe they have as good of a shot at winning the whole thing as any other team. They have absolutely nothing to lose. If they don’t make it this year, they will surely be contenders for the next few years. If you are a Cubs fan, you have to feel good about all that good young talent on the team.

The Cubs fan are among the most loyal fans in all of sports. I cannot help but to be happy for them if the Cubs went to the Series or even better, won the whole thing. I still remember all of the lean years when they still filled Wrigley field despite the awful team on the field. Loyal fans like that deserve a championship and a successful team. Imagine if the Cubs did win the World Series? I can just hear Harry Carey shouting down from heaven, “Cubs win!, Cubs win!” Justice would be served for all the loyal and patient Cubs fans in not only Chicago, but around the country. This could be the year that the jinx of the Billy Goat comes to a screeching end.

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Hooray for the Kansas City Royals, America’s real team.

Let’s turn back the clock a few years, shall we. Suppose somebody came up to you and predicted that the Kansas City Royals would be playing in the 2014 World Series. Your reaction might have been like many. Perhaps this person making the bold prediction had just consumed too many adult beverages. Or maybe he or she is just insane and needs a mental evaluation ASAP. Yes, it was only a few years ago that this franchise was one of the laughing stalks in all of professional sports. Sure they won the World Series in 1985, but that was followed by nearly 30 years of futility. All those years of missing the playoffs is matched by very few organizations. The Royals defined what professional sports futility was all about. That is why their stunning sweep through the playoffs is so refreshing to see. Starting with their remarkable comeback in the play in playoff game, this team seems to be one of destiny.

Many baseball franchises seem to think that the only way to win a World Series is to go out and spend a fortune on free agents. The Royals did pick up a huge free agent in James Field who deserves a lot of credit for their turnaround, however, they have also developed a lot of young, upcoming talent through their farm system. Mike Moustakas is one of the brighter young stars in major league baseball. These playoffs have really been his coming out party. In addition to these budding young stars, the Royals have several unsung players responsible for their sudden turnaround. Their bullpen is arguably the best in baseball. Give that team a lead in the late innings and it is nearly impossible to beat them. It can said that the Royals turnaround can be a blueprint on how to turn a struggling franchise around. It is not necessarily about spending a lot on a bunch of underachieving free agents. The Royals payroll ranks near the middle of the pack, much lower than the team they will face in the World Series, the San Francisco Giants. Having a bunch of young upcoming players combined with a few free agent pickups, particularly if these free agents happen to be pitchers, can go a long ways in making a team very successful.

When I think of the Royals turnaround, I am the happiest for their long-suffering fans who have endured years of mediocrity. Imagine being a fan of a sports team that loses constantly, year after year. What makes you come back? I happen to be huge fan of our local NBA team who has pretty much the same track record as the Royals. Seeing what has happened to the Royals has given me hope that one in perhaps the near future, I will be joining thousands of rabid fans for a meaningful big game in late May. The Royals are a classic example that droughts in sports can only go on for so long. A team’s success goes in cycles. I do not care if my teams suffers through a few losing seasons as long as there are some good young players who can give us fans hope for the future. If you are a Royals fan, you have to be very excited about the future. This team is built for years of success.

No offense to fans of the Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers or the Atlanta Braves, but the Kansas City Royals are America’s real team right now. I am sorry to all you San Francisco Giants fans out there but how can you not root for the Kansas City Royals in the upcoming World Series? They are the darlings of professional sports at the current moment. Sports fans love rags to riches stories and there is no better example than what the Royals have accomplished. My only question is this, is there enough room left on the Kansas City Royals bandwagon? This sports fan from Minnesota wants to know if I can jump on, at least temporarily until next spring.

Derek Jeter is a role model for all pro athletes

With recent stories of numerous off the field problems involving professional athletes, isn’t it ironic that one of the classiest pro athletes ever will be retiring today? Much has been written and spoken during the past week about Derek Jeter and his legacy. I don’t necessarily consider him to be the greatest player to ever put on a jersey; a hall of famer, yes, but there has certainly been players who have had higher career batting averages, hit more home runs or stolen more bases. But when you combine what Jeter did during his 20 years of playing on the field along with his off the field record, very few players can match him. In fact, if you look up the word captain and professional in the dictionary, a picture of Jeter should appear. He defines what a real captain and professional athlete should be all about.

Nearly every high-profile professional athlete in this country gets involved in some sort of scandal or controversy at some point in their career. In this day and age of social media, the internet and TMZ, one off the field slip up can ruin a guy’s career. Amazingly Jeter played in one of the largest tabloid markets in the country, New York City, yet during his 20 year career, how many scandals was he tied to? I never heard of any. Imagine a young, high profiled, handsome athlete playing in New York City and not being involved with any off the field controversies? Surely the blood thirsty New York media had to be trying day and night to dig up some dirt on Jeter! Perhaps there was a time when he failed to lift up the toilet seat ? Or maybe he jay walked on a New York street? For an athlete like Jeter to have played in New York for that long and not be involved in any off the field scandals is a great testament to who he was. I highly doubt he was a total saint, but he did not go out in public and make a fool of himself like many athletes do. I always admired his attitude towards his off the field activity. He behaved like a professional should after leaving the stadium. No bar fights, domestic issues or police arrests for Jeter. He carried that captain and professional label off the field as well.

His play on the field speaks for itself. An over .300 career batting average, various globe glove awards and many world championships. He might have been one of the savviest and smartest to have ever played his position. Much has been talked about his brilliant play in the Oakland series to stop an Oakland rally and help the Yankees win the series. Little plays like that were a norm in Jeter’s career. I will always remember Jeter for some of those fantastic back-handed plays at short-stop where he jumps in the air and still has enough mustard on throw to get the runner out. Very few who have ever played the game can make those type of plays. You also very seldom heard him whining about his statistics. He was all about winning from the minute he entered the stadium. Many pro sports superstars these days only care about themselves and what they can do to win a batting title or lead the league in home runs. Jeter was only concerned about winning world championships.

A professional athlete in any sport should play close attention to the career and legacy of Derek Jeter. A professional athlete has many responsibilities to not only himself, but to their organization, the fans and most of important, the game itself. Athletes like Jeter are one of a kind. Their conduct both on and off the field is a blueprint on how to act properly as a professional athlete. In this day and age of self-serving me first athletes, Jeter was certainly a breath of fresh air for this sports fan. I join millions of sports fans around the world in wishing the Yankee’s captain the best of luck in any future plans. Pro sports needs more Derek Jeters.

Ways to improve Major League Baseball

Attention all you sports fans out there, if you became commissioner of major league baseball, what changes would you make to the league? I consider myself to be a very lukewarm fan of the league. I am not a huge diehard fan or fanatic by any means. Just your average fan who enjoys watching a game from time to time on television or in person. I think MLB is a great league. No major sports league sport has the tradition that baseball has. The post season games always produce a lot of drama as well. Watching my Minnesota Twins win a couple of World Series ranks among some of my fondest memories ever. I still think the league could do more to improve the game and bring in new fans. The following are just a few ideas of mine that could help the league.

1. A more balanced schedule.  Teams within their own division play each other 16-19 times. In my opinion, that is way too many games against the same old teams. As a fan, I am sick of seeing my team, the Twins play constantly against the same  teams, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City and Cleveland. It would be nice to see teams from the East more often such as the Red Sox and the Yankees as well as teams from the National league. I am one of those fans who likes interleague play.  I am sure that MLB baseball has the schedule set up the way they do for travel reasons but seeing a greater variety in the schedule would be appealing to many fans.

2. A designated hitter in both the National and American league.  I am of the opinion that both leagues should follow the same rules. Why have a DH in one league and not the other? It makes no sense!! It is very painful to see most National league pitchers come to the plate and attempt to hit. It is pretty much an automatic out for their team. Suppose your starter is pitching a great game but trails 1-0 in the middle innings. Do you take him out of the game when his turn is up to bat because you need some base runners and hits? I hate to see a guy who is pitching a good game get yanked for that reason. The DH rule eliminates this problem. In addition, wouldn’t you rather see some good DH hitter bat who can hit home runs as opposed to some pitcher who is lucky to make any contact at all?

3. Expanded instant replay.  Currently, there is instant replay allowed for questionable home run balls and will be expanded next year to include foul balls and questionable catches by outfielders. What about expanding it to calls on the base paths especially those at home plate? I have seen countless missed calls that have doomed teams in games including crucial playoff games. It would seem only logical with the high technology that is available to have expanded instant replay. Managers could be given a certain number of challenges in a game. Umpires are simply human and do make mistakes. I hate to see a team get robbed over a bad call made by an umpire.

4. Shorten the season.  Unbelievably, this year’s season is guaranteed to end before November 1st if there are no rain outs or maybe snow outs!! In the old days, the season usually ended around October 15th. Today is October 18th and the World Series has not even started. That is totally ridiculous!! One of these years, the World Series is going to be delayed due to a major snowstorm. It will happen believe me!! I would like to see the season go from mid April to until October. The schedule should be dropped to about 144 games as well. My team, the Minnesota Twins opened the season at home on April 1st this year. The temp at game time was a balmy 32 degrees. If you must open the season at that time, make sure the schedule is loaded with away games for those northern teams. The fans will greatly appreciate it.

5. Speed up the games.  If there was only one change that I would make, it would be this one. There is absolutely no reason that a 1-0 game should take 3 hours to play!! The league should be creative to find ways of speeding up some of these games. Maybe have a pitch clock similar to a 24 second clock in basketball or less time between innings. I love those managers who need to make 5 pitching changes every inning. These guys ought to be banned from the game!! Another annoyance is the player who constantly steps out of the batters box to adjust his uniform or the catcher/manager/coach who needs to visit his pitcher every inning. There are a lot of little things that MLB can do to speed up the game and prevent fans from having to endure those 4 hour 9 inning games.

I think the overall product of Major League baseball is very good and it is nice to be able to buy a ticket to a game without having to take out a second mortgage. I just wonder how the new generation of sports fans will attach to MLB.  The NFL has overtaken them in terms of popularity with the NBA nipping at their heels. Is baseball too long and slow of a game for the next generation of fans? Only time will tell. It is very important for baseball to realize their new fan bases and make the proper changes. I still think the game is in very good shape for years to come.

 

The worst team in MLB

Of all the pathetic professional sports teams in this town, a new one is quickly making its way to the top of the ladder. Yes, none other than those beloved Minnesota Twins. In fact, this team will be hard pressed to win more games than last year’s dismal 63-99 squad.  They are simply a bad team with little hope for the near future.

During a stretch from about 2002 to 2010, the Twins were known as a very solid franchise, not great but a team who consistently contended for the AL central crown every year and won it many times. They may not have had much success in post season play, due in a large part to the Yankee jinx, but it is hard not to like a team who consistently wins games and contends for the playoffs every year.

Things looked really rosy for Twins fans in the spring of 2010 with the opening of the brand new ballpark. Tickets were in high demand and interest in the team was at one of the highest points every. Despite another AL central crown, the Twins fell once again the Yankees and things have gone down hill ever since.  Believe it or not, they only have a winning percentage of around 27 percent since last June.  For a major league baseball team, that borders on historic mediocrity.

So what is the problem? Many people like to blame key injuries as the reason but when you have a very below average pitching staff combined with a team who struggles at the plate, that is not a good recipe for winning baseball. The fact that they got no hit last week was no accident. I just hope they don’t get embarrassed again by another pitcher this year. While the pitching is at times awful, the hitting is even more so especially with men on bases.

This team needs to rebuild quickly and I hope it starts with their starting pitching. I always believe the best way to build a contending team is to develop a strong starting staff. It is not easy to find good starting pitching so teams with a good staff can usually contend for a long period of time. I just hope that GM Terry Ryan can work some of his magic and come up with a few good starters. And another thing, please do not fire the manager. Ron Gardenhire is one of the best in the game. It is not his fault that he was given this pathetic roster. Of course it is always easy to blame the manager or coach when the front office are the ones who should be taking the heat.

I enjoy watching the Twins both on television and in person. The new ballpark in downtown Minneapolis is awesome and a very welcome relieve from the worst baseball park ever, the Metrodome. Now that we have a major league ball park, I wish the home team played like a major league team. But unfortunately, it may be a long time before that happens.

 

 

The Twins playoff failures

During the last few days, there has been a lot of discussion around here about the Minnesota Twins sudden departure from the playoffs. People in the media are mostly split about the season and whether it was a success or not. Of course, most of the focus has been on the continuing losing streak the Twins have had in the playoffs. Now it is 9 straight including 8 at home.  The Metrodome used to be a house of horrors for opposing teams during their 2 World Series championships. Now it is shocking to see them lose that many in a row at the Dome during the playoffs. But the truth is, is anyone really surprised?

The Twins are a nice young ballclub that has really captured the hearts of people in this area. The overcame several injuries to win a very weak AL central. One thing that I have always been impressed with, is the grit and determination of this team. They never give up in any game, even if they are several runs down. People love that in a team. But unfortunately that has not gotten them anywhere when it comes to the playoffs.  It is one thing to win a tie breaking game against Detroit, it is another thing to go up against the Yankees or Angels and beat them in a playoff series.  This has been the case for several years with this club. They are just not good enough to get out the first round and fans should express their concern about this.

I am personally calling out the cheap management of this team to go out and do more in the offseason to ensure they have a shot to compete with the big boys of baseball. First of all, sign Joe Mauer to a long term contract. There is no guarantee he will stay here. By signing him to an extended long term deal, you are telling the fans of Minnesota that you are serious about building a strong contender for years. But this cheap organization will probably just waffle on this issue until it is too late and he ends up with Boston or New York.  Give this guy the keys to the city if you have to! I think they should also go out and find  a veteran pitcher to add to the staff and maybe add some help to the infield.  They are not really that far off from becoming a serious contender. Maybe just signing a few good players will do the trick. With the team moving into a new stadium next year, they should be able to generate enough money to sign more quality free agents. The owners of this team should take a clue from the other pro sports owners in this town and open up their checkbooks.  But this has always been the cheapest team in baseball for many years and I doubt it will change soon.

The bar on this team should go much higher. I am not interested in watching some gusty little team win a weak division and continually get knocked out in the first round.  That stuff gets old in a hurry! Fans are interested in a team reaching a higher and higher level each year. The same old status quo has got to go. Set your sights on beating the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels instead of the Tigers and White Sox.  And just open up the wallet for once!

Game 163 Twins vs. Tigers

You knew it was going to happen! After playing 162 games, the terrible AL central is still not settled. On Tuesday, The Twins and the Tigers will play an extra game to go on and face the best team in baseball, the New York Yankees. Whoever comes out of this tilt will be heavy underdogs in the playoffs.

After playing terribly inconsistent baseball all season, the Twins have really caught fire, winning 15 of 19.  Now granted they did beat up on Kansas City, Cleveland and the struggling Tigers during that span.  Not exactly a stretch of games that would send shivers down the spines of many teams.  But you have to give the team credit for hanging around and not giving up. They have had to deal with several injuries including the big one with Justin Morneau being out for the season.

Detroit is spinning wildly out of control! They are going in the complete opposite direction of the Twins.  Their starting pitching has been extremely shaky during the month of September. Losing a 3 game lead with only 4 games to play is inexcusable. Like I wrote in another blog, if I were a Tigers fan, I would probably being going insane by now.  If there ever was such a thing as giving a division title away, the Tigers have done so.

Everyone is pretty much betting on the Twins to win this game but I would not automatically give them a playoff berth.  The Tigers are more than capable of coming in here and winning. They have a good rookie pitcher starting and a dangerous lineup.  I really believe and some people will disagree on this, but the pressure is really on the home team in these type of games.  Sometimes that is a big disadvantage to the home team especially in baseball.  But this is what makes these games and playoff baseball so special. One swing of the bat can change a teams fortunes for good or bad.  Anything can happen in a one game playoff.  Having said those things, I  predict the Twins will win 7-3. They are the better team and deserve a playoff spot more than the choking Detroit Tigers.