Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Note To Fellow Blogger Users

Even if prompted, don't change to the new Beta Blogger. Let's just say they haven't quite worked out all the bugs yet. Trust me on this one. Take a pass on Beta Blogger, at least for now.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

No Tigers Panic Here. Yet.

It's here somewhere.

Not in the desk. Not under the bed. Not in the kitchen.

Did I put it in the basement? No, it has to be up here somewhere.

Where did I put the stinkin' thing?

Oh, hello. Sorry, about that, but I didn't see you there. I've been spending that last several hours looking for my Detroit Tigers panic button. Now, Big Al, don't get upset, pal. I'm not pushing it yet.

No, even with the Chicago White Sox dispatching our hometown nine seemingly with great ease, Chicago's American League entry is still looking up at the Tigers. A sweep and the southsiders are still five and half games back of the Tigers. Now, I'm not happy about the Tigers performance and the World Champions looked like World Champions this weekend, which doesn't give me the warm fuzzies, either. Yet, digging out the panic button and actually using the thing are two entirely different propositions.

Sure, it's easy to push the ol' panic button right about now. Pitching--which as been the Tigers biggest asset in 2006--is starting to look a bit shaky. Justin Verlander's Windy City outing, coming off an injury rest, could lead one to worry. As could Kenny Rogers pre-programmed second half swoon. Jeremy Bonderman hasn't exactly been a great second half hurler, either. Todd Jones still scares us all to the point of smoking more than Jim Leyland. Then there's that terrible reliance on the homerun.

Combine all that with Chicago's experience, their record against the Tigers and their just completed sweep of Detroit and you've got, well, you've got what every single one of us would have wished for on Opening Day--an honest to goodness pennant race with the Tigers right smack in the heart of it.

Yes, there is reason for concern. The pitching, especially the starters, need to rebound if the Tigers playoff hopes are going to become something more than hopes. Yet, let's not get too carried away. Slumps in a season of 162 games are inevitable. The Tigers are in one. This is their longest of the season and where are they? In first place with the best record in baseball. That's right, boys and girls, in the midst of their worst skid of '06 and the Tigers are still atop all of MLB.

This race for the American League Central crown could get tighter. In fact, I suspect it will get much, much tighter. I'm confident that the White Sox are going to make us all even more uncomfortable between now and the end of the regular season. However, if at all possible, try to embrace the tension of actually having playoff dreams. Remember, if this were April 1st and I told you the Tigers were only five and half game behind the White Sox for first place and were in the thick of wild card chase come August, you would have been thrilled.

Don't push the panic button, yet, Tigertown. Things, in the big picture, are going well above our expectations. However, if you have some nervous energy to burn off, you can help me look for my panic button. Just in case.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Tigers Do It, Again

At this pace, even the thesaurus is going to run out of new words to describe the 2006 Detroit Tigers. Remarkable. Incredible. Unbelievable. Fantastic. Amazing. Astounding. The list goes on, but let's be honest, we've just about used them all up.

I went to last night's affair and I'm still kind of in shock. By now, you all know the story. Kenny Rogers spots Cleveland three early runs, settles down, gets two innings of relief help from Joel Zumaya and the Tigers get within a run heading into the bottom of the ninth. The Tigers then win the game with a two out, two run jack from Pudge Rodriguez. Pudge, his teammates and roughly 43,000 of Rodriguez' new best friends go bananas.

After the initial euphoria over Pudge's dinger faded, I sat back in my seat, basically, awestruck. I pondered at what point does this season make the transition from being very good to special? You could make the case that the last two games are a big step in that direction.

It's the next day and I'm still speechless. If you were not on the bandwagon prior to the Cleveland series, and by the amount of ticket sales and general buzz about this team most of you are clearly aboard, you have to be now, don't you? How much more do you need?

Thanks to Debbie and Paul for my free tickets to last night's game. Due to the Lions free practice, a concert downtown and commitments far north of Detroit during the day, I missed the first few innings--if you call watching Rogers scare the you-know-what out of Tigertown missing something. It also meant I got to park somewhere closer to Windsor than Comerica Park. However, Pudge and the boys made it an enjoyable night.

Friday, August 04, 2006

My Baseball Deja Vu

I was just outside the backdoor to the office, tossing an empty box into a dumpster, when it hit me. It was the smell of the freshly cut lawn combined with a subtle summer breeze against the backdrop of a picture perfect August morning--warm and clear with the exception of the occasional fluffy white cloud dotting the blue sky. For just a moment or two, all of these sensations transported me back in time.

In that oh-so-sweet fleeting pause from reality, I was a kid again. In that instant, it was a Saturday morning in the mid to late 1970's. It was summer and we were out of school. My father had just cut the grass and my brother and I passed him, either on our bikes or as we hopped over the backyard fence, as we headed off to the schoolyard to play baseball.

We would play baseball from morning until darkness fell. Usually three games a day. The one before lunch. The one between lunch and dinner and the nightcap of our daily triple header, the game between dinner and sunset. It was just about the game. No organized league. No umpires. No coaches. No parents. It was just the kids around the neighborhood getting together to play baseball. And we played all summer long for several years in a row.

In that brief moment this morning, I could feel every moment of those baseball filled summers of the past. It was more than just our daily triple-header, too. It was whiffle ball and strike-out. It was playing pick-off with our cousins. It was the memory of our first game at Tiger Stadium, our first trip to the Hall of Fame, NBC's Game of the Week, Mel Allen and This Week In Baseball and Ernie and Paul doing the Tigers radio broadcast on WJR.

It was a time when summer equaled baseball. It was the game. Oh, we played football and basketball, too. Street hockey came on board, as well. Yet, we all preferred our national pastime. In part, I'm sure, because summer meant no school. However, in those years before high school, baseball was a 365 day priority.

We attempted to play in the snow, ice and cold of spring, especially if a new glove or bat had arrived courtesy of Santa, but those efforts just didn't last long. We most certainly played when Autumn arrived, but as we were back in school and to complete dinner and homework, those midweek games were much harder to sneak in before nightfall. That's probably why those summer memories are so special and so strong. Nearly perpetual baseball for days on end left an impression.

When the breeze died down, and I found myself back in 2006 as an adult with all the responsibility that comes with, I was left with the usual bittersweet moment. One where I wish I could return to that time and place--where the only thing that mattered was playing the game--for a longer stay. Alas, I knew my visits there are limited to these passing moments where my senses return me to that time.

Yet, I was warmed by the notion that I have these kinds of memories to look back upon. The games played in sweltering Michigan humidity. That morning we played through the fog and drizzle. The games won in the dusk when few could even see the ball. I am blessed to have such fond memories and blessed to have parents that didn't discourage my passion.

I wonder if children today will have those kind of memories? Will their memories be of PS2 or GameCube MLB simulations? Will they remember the day they beat some kid in Tokyo online in the bottom of the ninth while with Big Papi at the plate? Thirty years from now will a summer breeze remind them of their days of baseball video games with friends? Or will their baseball memories be of organized leagues, overbearing coaches and the pressure to perform in front of their parents?

I feel sorry for the youth of today, as I believe they are missing out. They get to play, but do they get the joy of playing? Do they get the camaraderie? Maybe I'm the one missing out. Maybe it's better to bat for Magglio Ordonez in EA Sports latest game than it is to pretend to be your childhood hero and hit an actual baseball to win a game with your friends. Maybe it's better to be in an structured environment instead of unsupervised play. Maybe the tradition of playing in open fields, crowded streets and schoolyards is more romantic hogwash than fact. Perhaps, but I doubt that today's kids love this game or any game, more than we loved baseball.

Thankfully, I get these rekindled memories from time-to-time. They can come on summer mornings like today. The right temperature with just the right breeze and precisely the right moment and I'm overrun with emotions of days thirty years in my rearview mirror--the carefree summers spent playing baseball.

This feeling can come while I'm watching a game, as well. If the conditions are just right, I can watch a game and get the same feelings as I did when I watched a game when I was thirteen. It's hard to translate exactly how that feels, and it rarely lasts more than a minute or two, but it's magical.

Noted baseball philosopher, Yogi Berra, may have best described my feelings when he said "it's deja vu, all over again". Each short trip back down memory lane is special, but so was living it out in the first place. I'm grateful for both.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Firestone 400 And Other Racing Thoughts

As the only person I know that actually watches the Indy Racing League, I figure I have some responsibility to share my views from time-to-time. There is no better time than now, as this past weekend Michigan International Speedway hosted its annual venture with open wheel racing, the Firestone 400.

I wouldn't call the Firestone 400 a complete disaster. It wasn't. From all accounts the race was very good. It featured cars traveling near 200mph going three and four wide at times. There was a little paint being exchanged--something even the good ol' boys can appreciate. Unfortunately, no one outside of MIS saw the race.

It was scheduled for ABC, but a late afternoon thunderstorm soaked MIS and forced the start of the race back to a time when the race should have been concluded. This meant the time window ABC set aside for the IRL event was over before the race even began. Not only did ABC not show the race, but neither did it's partners at ESPN. Or ESPN2. Or ESPN Classic. Nope, the Firestone 400 got a tape delay broadcast at midnight and another the next day at 2pm on ESPN2. Basically, that meant a majority of IRL's small fanbase didn't see one bit of racing.

I wouldn't call this the IRL's Heidi game, but the comparison did cross my mind. Of course, no one saw an ounce of racing, so that's a major difference. People care about football, too. That's kind of a big difference, as well. But folks at the network and the league have heard the uproar. A number of IRL fans are irate and have contacted ABC, their local affiliate and the IRL. This has been met with a collective shrug and the standard "We did all we could".

No, all you could do was put the stinking race on ESPN Classic. One thing I can almost guarantee--they were running a repeat of something. (Which begs the question "Can you really preempt something that's already been broadcast?") In all likelihood, it was a World Series of Poker event or college football. I'm 100% certain that both would get better ratings than a live IRL race, but don't you have some kind of commitment to show the race? Apparently, no.

Anyway, beyond Helio Castroneves' win and regaining the IRL points led by claiming his fourth win of the year, there was other news out of MIS in regards to open wheel racing. Alas, not all of it good. Jim Hawkins of The Oakland Press reported that at the practice/qualifying session on Saturday some counted the number of people in the stands. It was almost 100. Which, not coincidentally, was close to the temperature. (I encouarge you to read Hawkins column. He has solid views on the IRL and his piece also reveals, in part, why I like Castroneves--the two-time Indy 500 champ likes his sport and tries to promote it.)

I guess had I known that the IRL's Saturday show was going to be so poorly attended, I would have just headed out there. (I originally had a commitment elsewhere, but the heat canned my plan and my schedule was unexpectedly open. I'm kicking myself for not heading to the Irish Hills.) Of course, that would only bring the crowd up to 99, which is still an awful total. While the race itself, prior to the thunder and lightning, is still reasonably well attended, the future of the IRL at MIS, and the sport in general, gets called into question with such astronomically tiny numbers.

The IRL/Champ Car split is still ridiculous. How either side maintains its position is beyond common sense. Of course, it always was, so neither part may care. Even with the rumored re-unification, this sport needs some help and soon. Like yesterday. A circuit with the combined events, combined fields and combined fanbase would be a good start. A start that cannot happen quickly enough.

As for open wheel racing's future in Michigan, Roger Penske is kicking around the idea of bringing back the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle. Mr. Penske appears to have a plan. One that includes the IRL and building an solid race track, with other necessary amenities and infrastructure. He's also thinking about getting on the 2007 racing schedule.

I'm going to defer to Mr. Penske here. The Super Bowl he just produced in Detroit was a success. If Penske can make Detroit's image, in mid-winter no less, better than it was before, I'm going to assume that he can build a solid race on Belle Isle. Of course, that's assuming he is given the same level of cooperation. That last part will be the biggest hurdle, but if Penske thinks it can be done, who am I to doubt him?

I would encourage Mr. Penske to jump into the IRL/Champ Car reunification process, as well. Combine a new Detroit Grand Prix, Danica Patrick's popularity and a reunified open wheel racing circuit and you've got something to market and build upon. If Penske plans on two Detroit area races in 2007, and hopes either or both can sustain long-term success, it would help if they had fields comprised of all of the sports biggest names.

Organizing a Super Bowl and lifting Detroit's image was a challenge, but unifying open wheel racing, re-igniting the Detroit Grand Prix and getting two open wheel races in Michigan in '07 might be a bigger mountain to climb. Here's hoping he finds a way.