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Monday, April 22, 2013

The Baseball Historian's Notes for April 22, 2013

Other sports like football and basketball may have infringed on the popularity of baseball over the years, but make no mistake about it, the game is still America’s National Pastime. Baseball personifies Amercianism and is often seen as an example of what is right and good in the country. While that may be a Pollyanna way of viewing the sport, it is a unifying force in society that cannot be claimed in the same way by the NFL, NBA or NHL.

Any baseball game can provide people with a positive reminder of what it is to be an American, or how much the game can infiltrate everyday life. However, there are also those special moments that spring up out of nowhere that leaves little doubt about the influence of baseball on our culture. Some of those moments showed up this week…

***Saturday’s Boston Red Sox game against the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park in Boston was one of the best regular season showings in recent memory. Before the game, the Red Sox honored the victims, survivors and first responders of last week’s Boston Marathon bombing tragedy. The celebration was capped by a brief impromptu speech by slugger David Ortiz, who was appearing in his first game since last August because of injury. Despite the use of a four-letter word, Ortiz encapsulated the feelings of many in the community and whipped the fans into a frenzy before the first pitch. The moment was so apropos that Julius Genachowski, the FCC’s notoriously curmudgeonly chairman, took to Twitter to voice his support of the on-air profanity.

The game itself was like something out of a Hollywood production, with an emotional and exuberant crowd seemingly willing the team to victory. Clay Buchholz looked like he would take his first loss of the season, despite throwing eight strong innings, until outfielder Daniel Nava put the team up for good with a dramatic three-run home run.

Legendary singer Neil Diamond, whose song “Sweet Caroline” has been a staple at Fenway for years, made a surprise appearance and led the crowd in a live rendition during the game.

All-in-all, the game was a spectacular reminder of the power of the human spirit and the role that baseball can play in providing comfort to people in times of difficulty. If there were any doubts that baseball is still the national pastime, this game should be used as an example to put that ridiculous notion to bed for good.

***Cincinnati Reds’ infielder Todd Frazier provided another baseball-related feel-good moment. Ted Kremer, a young man with Down syndrome, was able to be the Reds’ batboy for a game last year after his parents won a silent auction. He and the team enjoyed the experience so much that he was invited back to serve in the role again in a game against the Miami Marlins.

Kremer asked Frazier to hit him a home run, and the third baseman went out and did just that in an 11-1 victory. The reaction of Kremer, Frazier and the team afterwards was priceless and a reminder of how much impact one play can have, both on and off the field.

***In other news, with Daniel Nava off to a hot start for the Red Sox, there hasn’t been much playing time for outfielder Mike Carp, who was acquired from the Seattle Mariners during the offseason. His first start of the season didn’t come until April 17 against the Cleveland Indians, but he made up for all his down time by accomplishing something historic. According to a tweet by ESPN researcher Jeremy Lundblad, the left-handed hitter became the first Red Sox player to record three extra-base hits in three plate appearances in a game since Babe Ruth accomplished the feat in 1917. Carp had two doubles and a triple in Boston’s 6-3 win. Naturally, it took nearly a week for him to get another start.

***Speaking of historic, Milwaukee Brewers’ shortstop Jean Segura accomplished something in a game last week that has never happened before in the history of baseball. After reaching base in the eighth innings of a game against the Chicago Cubs, he stole second base, was picked off second, stole first base, and finished up by getting thrown out trying to steal second again. Sound confusing? It actually happened, so check out the details here.

***It was announced last week that New York Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter, out with a broken ankle since last year’s playoffs, will now be sidelined until at least the All-Star break with a new crack in his ailing foot.

The Yankees are already missing a number of key veterans, including Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez. Losing Jeter for an extended period of time will only make the season that more difficult for New York.

Soon to be 39, Jeter was looking to end his Hall of Fame career strongly, after batting .316 with a league-leading 216 hits last season. He is just outside the top-10 all-time in categories like hits (3,304) and runs scored (1,868). It was wondered how much he could add to those totals before having to call it a career. Instead, it appears it will be a struggle to just get him back on the field again. It remains to be seen what he will have left after such a lengthy layover and severe injury, but at the very least, he is one player you wouldn’t want to bet against.

***There is an interesting situation developing in Washington. Nationals’ third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was just placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained hamstring. Even before the injury, he was struggling, having committed four throwing errors and generally looking like he had a case of the yips in the field because of the number of bad throws he has made to first base this season.

Prospect Anthony Rendon was summoned from the minors to take Zimmerman’s roster spot. The 22-year-old is considered an intriguing young player with a bright future. Despite being the fifth overall selection in the 2011 draft, he has played just a total of 57 minor league games since then because of injuries. He has a knack for being able to get on base, and also has 20+ home run potential. Finally healthy, he is being given a chance to see what he can do.

Depending on what happens, Washington could find itself in a sticky spot. Zimmerman signed a huge extension with the team during the 2012 offseason and is owed a minimum of $104 million through the 2020 season. If his problems in the field continue, the Nats have too much tied up in him to not try and find a solution. But with Adam LaRoche locked into a two-year contract at first base through 2014, there is seemingly no place for him to go. Stay tuned on this one.


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