What I learned playing softball 3 nights a week this summer

Softball image by Kelsey Vere from Pixabay

Most summers, we play softball one night a week. A few years ago that got bumped up to twice a week – only because the league I joined played two nights a week. It was still just one league. Last year, we kept to 2 nights a week – but in two different leagues. This year, we jumped ahead and upped our game a little bit – three nights a week.

And not offsetting nights either; every week we played 3 nights back-to-back-to-back, with no break in between nights (barring any teams not able to play or rain-outs). Most weeks this meant 3 games, but there were some weeks where we had two double-headers back-to-back, so we would play 5 games in 3 nights. Craziness!

I predominantly played third base, though I shifted around the corners playing 1st, left and right fields, and occasionally rover (we’re not as good as MLB players – we need at least 1 extra outfield position to actually stand a chance) as needed. There were some nights I just didn’t have it defensively, but I felt that I improved immensely at third base simply from having the extra reps at the position. Well, on the catching side of things. I have issues throwing on target in a hurry.

On the offensive side, I think it’s best described as being a wash for the entire season. This is essentially what I expected – that I would have some good games and some bad games. Near the end of the season I was stringing together several really good at-bats; unfortunately I struggled a bit right at the end. Things turned around a little bit during the tournaments, and again in Fall Ball, but really I’m ready to end the season so I’m not too worried about it.

The end result is that I’m not getting super upset with myself when I don’t have a good game at the plate. I really hate messing up defensively, but just knowing I’m going to get a billion more chances to hit the ball helps mentally get over the sting of going 0-for-3 or something on a night. I find it much worse to be the cause of a run scoring against you than it is to not be able to get on base.

So what did I learn? It’s not worth beating myself up for missed plays or bat plate appearances. It’s a rec league – everybody else is in the same boat.

The Week That Was: Mar 29-Apr 4

This Week’s Motivational Picture

First of all, it’s pretty crazy to try and think about regular season baseball happening in March.  Sure, it’s the end of March, and it’s basically April, but it’s still March.  Rest assured though, by 2020 they’ll have corrected this when opening day is once again in April (thanks, Wikipedia!).  Of course this isn’t the first time opening day has been in March, but it’s just so rare that it seems wrong in some way. 

Nevertheless, after a week’s worth of games, we have some standings to look at.  Boston leads the AL East with a 5-1 record, followed by New York at 4-2, and Toronto at 4-3.  There are apparently two other teams in the division but they don’t matter.  Yet.  I’m a bit surprised that Boston has such a big lead – at least I was, until I looked at their first 6 opponents.  They had the Rays, followed by the Marlins (and then today, April 5th, they have the Rays again).  Luckily they will have to face the Yankees, which I think will be a split between the two teams. 

Back to the Jays – they are at least 1 game ahead of where I expected them to be.  I thought they might be at the .500 mark, but they pounded their way above .500 and even enjoyed a 4-game win streak (which included a split vs the Yankees).  So I’m happy with that. 

Honestly, a split vs the Yankees is probably the best result they could have hoped for.  And then they won the series against the White Sox, another plus.  April is looking like a tough month for the Blue Jays, and I think they’ll come out of it in good shape as long as they win 2 out of 3 vs the likes of Baltimore and Texas.  Tread water against the better teams and then move on from there. 

The good news is that on the off day, they are 0.5 back of the wild card spot.  If the Jays can keep up their pace it’s going to be a very tight race all year.

Examining My Issue with Sports Narratives

One of my biggest pet peeves when consuming sports (watching/reading/listening) is the tendency to insert seemingly meaningless statistics to create some sort of narrative.

The Record Narrative

The most annoying offender of the sports narrative for me is The Record.  You know what I mean – “This team is 2 and 25 when playing on a Wednesday night in a non-leap year.”  I exaggerate, but I feel it’s necessary to establish that these are the kind of records that annoy me.

I find it particularly meaningless to learn that my favourite sports team has a losing record in a particular building.  When announcers pull up these statistics, they are pulling statistics for the team ALL-TIME.   Since the players on any given team tend to fluctuate a lot year-to-year, knowing the all-time organization record makes no difference.

A record I just heard today (I’m typing this a week early) on the Senators pre-game show was that all-time, no Senators team has won a playoff series after losing 2 games in a row in the series.  Remember this statistic – they are 0-15.  It’ll be relevant later.  But this is the kind of statistic I find irrelevant; the 2017 Senators team – other than a few key players – have virtually nothing connecting them to those past playoff teams.  So why bother bringing it up?

Individual Performance – Hockey vs Baseball

One area I will be OK with lifetime statistics is baseball.  Specifically, individual records from players.  In baseball, it is actually statistically relevant that a specific player has success (or lack thereof) in a stadium.  This is because baseball stadiums tend to have individual characteristics of their own that can influence game outcomes (if you don’t believe me, I’d start with looking up home run totals in American League East ballparks compared to the rest of the league).

But this comes up from time to time in hockey.  Statistically I feel like it’s not relevant.  A goalie’s life-time record in a particular arena doesn’t seem like it matters.  Hockey arenas, while different in terms of their outside looks and seating layout, all have the same dimensions on the ice.  Unlike in baseball, where outfield fences and field configurations are different from park to park.

You could argue that sometimes the building environment (i.e. the fans) have influence on a player’s mental composure, but I don’t think that effect is as big as people make it out to be.

The Counter-Argument

Remember that 0-15 record I mentioned earlier?  Along with that statistic, I heard a good counter-argument for providing this kind of information.  The radio host mentioned that he mentions these things for context.  The argument is that if the team were to lose 2 in a row, and still win the series, then it becomes a significant milestone in the organization’s history.

It isn’t being brought up to be statistically relevant – the host acknowledges that a previous team record where very few – if any – players were actually present for the established record.

I only partially buy into this argument.  What is the importance of this context?  Is it to temper expectations from fans listening to sports radio?  Is it really important to say that it’s a big deal that this team is defying past history?  I’m not sure.  But I can appreciate acknowledging that a current team is doing something that previous iterations were unable to do before.

The Utterly Pointless Narratives

Overall, I could probably get behind all of the above.  But one thing is for sure – I have no time for the time-filling statistics like the exaggeration I mentioned to start the article.  Thankfully, most of the good commentators I pay attention to don’t either (albeit in an ironic and non-serious context it’s perfectly acceptable).

What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to sports commentating?

Ottawa Senators vs Sports Media

The Ottawa Senators are up 2-0 in their round 2 playoff series vs the New York Rangers; but when it comes to sports media in Canada at least, it feels to some fans like they’re in a hole 0-3.

For the Senators, it’s always been an uphill battle for respect in the league.  They’re roughly in the middle of two franchises with huge fan bases – the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Naturally, this tends to create media bias toward these two clubs, simply because creating content geared toward them will bring more eyes to the major networks.

I think what’s happening is a little bit of bias on the part of Senators fans.  I think a lot of what the mainstream media is saying about the team is largely objective.  There was a piece on TSN with a headline relating to something about “cause for concern” after game 2 – and I think it’s justified!  Game 2 was a mess for both teams, and there will be adjustments.

The real problem, I think, is on Twitter.  I hear about some of these “battles” after the fact, because I tend not to follow a lot of hockey reporters.  But there are a select few reporters who claim to be neutral but carefully choose their words in order to incite angry reactions from Senators fans – and laughter from non-fans.

It’s these irresponsible tweets that have most Senators fans up in arms.  I don’t blame them either, but the best way to deal with them is to just ignore them and not give them anything to deal with.  They want you to be angry at them and read their pieces and generate ad revenue.  They know what they’re doing.

Bottom line for Sens fans – the most important thing for the team is that they win.  Who cares what outside voices say about the team?  Does it matter if the team is respected by people who don’t follow the team?  I don’t think it does.  What matters to me is the team’s performance.

Top Baseball Movies

The World Baseball Classic has officially started, and Spring Training has been underway for weeks now.  I can’t think of a better time to talk about my personal top baseball movies.

Other than being about baseball, there’s no real criteria for how I’ve ranked these.  They range from comedy to drama, and the genre doesn’t really affect how much I like the film.

Moneyball

I read the book well before the movie was announced; I think I wasn’t the only one just a little bit skeptical of whether or not an adaptation would be successful.  A lot of liberties were taken to be sure, but the movie works.  The characters are great and visually, it looks gorgeous.  You can’t help but be romantic about baseball.

Major League I & II

I watched these out of order, first seeing Major League II with my brother in a hotel room when it came on TV.  I understood none of the jokes that weren’t obvious, but years later I re-watch both of these films often.

Field of Dreams

You could probably group this one thematically with Moneyball if you were planning a baseball movie marathon.  Everyone remembers “If you build it, they will come” and it’s pretty much a movie being entirely romantic about baseball.

A League of Their Own

“There’s no crying in baseball!”  Another one I watched as a kid, and another one where some of the jokes went over my head.  A fantastic telling of the women that played baseball during the war.  Did not realize until much later in life that Bill Pullman (aka Lone Star) was in this film.

Angels in the Outfield

I’ve watched this movie countless times, and even today it holds up.  I recently discovered that there was actually an earlier black & white film of the same name that centered around the Pittsburgh Pirates.  I have yet to track it down, but would love to watch it.

42

I’ve got a few issues with this movie, but overall I think it’s great.  The actors buy in 100%, except for Harrison Ford, who buys in 120%.

Trouble With the Curve

This isn’t the greatest movie on the list, but has its charm.  Clint Eastwood plays an aging baseball scout going on One Last Road Trip with his daughter.  Justin Timberlake is also in this for some reason?  The funny thing about this movie is that it feels like a direct response from the baseball scouting world against Moneyball, where the villains of the movie rely solely on computer data and analysis instead of the good old eye test.

Mr. Baseball

I watched this one recently – I’d never seen it, even though we had it recorded on VHS.  I thought it was a really great “clash of cultures” film that happened to be about baseball.

Bull Durham

I think I’ve only watched this once, but it’s definitely a good film.  I need to mark this one down for a re-watch.

Rookie of the Year

The prevailing memory of this baseball movie for me is renting it (on VHS, remember, I’m 33) for a sleepover party when I was 9 or 10.  Daniel Stern gets his shot at putting in 120% in this one.  Hot ice!

Basketball

Not technically a baseball movie in the literal sense, it is however a spiritual baseball movie.  From the creators of South Park, this is a great one to watch that picks on some of the weirder aspects of sports.

Bad News Bears(remake)

This remake wasn’t all that great – it was basically Billy Bob Thornton picking up his Bad Santa role and plopping it into the timeless kids movie classic.  But for what it is, it’s not bad.  It earns a spot on my list, if only because I watched it.

 

What’s your favourite baseball movie?  Or sports movie in general?  

 

 

2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

I’ve gotten into curling a lot more in the past few years than I had been in the past; sure I watched the Scotties and the Brier, but not actively and not really understanding the strategy behind the shots.  I still don’t make the time to watch the games all the time, but I try to make sure to watch all of the big games.

This year’s Gold Medal game was a rematch between Manitoba (Englot) and Ontario (Homan); Manitoba had won their previous two matches (1 round robin, the 1 vs 2 page playoff game), making an otherwise perfect Ontario team look deeply flawed.  They forced them off their game and made some pretty good shots in their own right.  It was shaping up to be a great final.

And trust me, it was a fantastic match-up.  It started off pretty much text-book for Homan: they started the game without hammer (last rock), so they forced Manitoba to take a single point.  They took 3 points in a brilliant shot, and forced another point to take the hammer back.  It was looking pretty good, but there were some mistakes made, and resulted in a tie game after the 7th end.

What struck me is that both teams made more or less equal amounts of mistakes, but at any one point one of the team members pulled off a shot to save the end.  It was really great to watch, even if it was nail biting.

It ended up going to extra ends, and Homan had to make a really difficult shot to secure the win.  It’s hard to describe – so you should watch the highlight reel instead.  Be sure to watch for the broom flip at the end.   I am 99% sure that this was inspired by the likes of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

The full game (and all of the Scotties matches) should be available on Curling Canada’s YouTube channel soon.  Until then, whet your appetite with Manitoba vs Canada 1 vs 2 page playoff.

 

A Beautiful Weekend

When last I wrote, the Jays were heading into what was looked at as a pivotal series.  It was May 2nd, and the Jays were starting fresh after taking a series against Tampa Bay.  The Jays were 12-14, which was at the very least reverse of what was expected going into April.  It wouldn’t surprise me if most fans were expecting to be 24-2 at the start of May.

The Jays ended up winning that series, but that’s where the fun stopped.  After a fantastic opening game against LA, the Jays went on to lose 8 of their next 11 games – including a 5-game losing streak (oh, and there was a bench-clearing brawl in Texas, too).  The sky was falling, and fans were pushing the panic button as if they were waiting for an elevator car that just won’t come.  That was a terrible simile, but you didn’t pay to read this, did you?

But a trip to Minnesota brought a change to the lineup – Bautista leading off?  What sorcery is this?  But it seemed to work – since May 18th, the Jays have gone 7-3.  At the time of publication (Top of the 9th, vs the Yankees), this brings their record for May to 15-11, two outs away from making it 16-11.

The offense is starting to heat up – there’s no questioning that.  The starting pitching faltered a little in the middle of the month, and the bullpen is still terrible.  I even heard talk today of moving Sanchez to the bullpen (please don’t do that if we’re not bringing a better starter).

But what I wanted to highlight was a fantastic series vs the Red Sox, May 27 – 29.  I was lucky enough to be able to witness the game on May 28th, which was a walk-off 10-9 win.  Why was I lucky?  I didn’t get the game Ortiz sat out.  Bautista served his suspension the night before.  I got to see Big Papi hit one over the fence mere feet away, and the Blue Jays still won the game.  I saw a rare (this season anyway) Russel Martin home run.  I saw an absolutely fantastic walk-off single and celebration by Devon Travis.

But I think the best thing I saw?  Bautista’s reaction to the fans in front of me who were trying to get his attention.  I was setting in 113 DR so had a great view of both Jose and Mookie Betts.  While the fans in front of me were unsuccessful in getting Mookie’s attention, Jose delivered some excellent fan service.  Oh sure, he waved a few times – I’m sure that’s not the first time he’s done that.  But what I’ll remember from Saturday was this one moment in the late stages of the game.

Our section was filled mostly with Jays fans – a few Red Sox fans peppered here and there.  But it was the row of (presumably) drunk fans that were the most vocal; this one fan in particular was calling out Jose to hit a grand slam, constantly and boisterously.  Then, with perfect timing – as per usual Jose Bautista – he turned to our section, and made the most fantastic Jose hand motion I’ve ever seen and likely not caught on any camera: the drinky drinky motion.

Thank you for a memorable afternoon, Jose.

The Bat, Flipped

I don’t think there was a single bigger moment in 2015 than the infamous Bat Flip.  The biggest proof of that is that I can say “bat flip” and you probably know what I’m referring to.  For that reason, I think the series starting tonight vs the Texas Rangers is likely the most anticipated meeting of the year so far – the return of 2015’s ALDS opponent to the Rogers Centre.

But the team hosting the series is very different from the one that won the ALDS last year.  Or is it?

While it’s only been one month, the 2016 Jays are playing sub-.500 baseball.  For April they went 11-14, scoring 95 runs while allowing 102.  In the 2015 ALDS & ALCS, the Jays had a record of 5-6, scoring 52 runs and allowing 57 runs.  Doing some very rough extrapolating, the 2015 playoff Jays over 25 games would have a record of about 11-14, with 118 Runs For and 130 Runs against.

For those of you doing the math, their actual RF/RA differential this year is -7, and the theoretical 25 game record above is -12.  Pretty similar!

I’m not suggesting that it’s time to panic, or pack it in.  At only 26 games into the season, with a 12-14 record, it’s far from over.  I have to wonder though…at what point do we accept the team’s real record?  Last year, the Jays had a poor first two months – both below .500, and didn’t turn it around until June when they went on their first 11-game winning streak of the year.  Even then, July was a losing month.  It wasn’t until August when they really took off.

I guess what I’m suggesting here is that you can’t assume the Blue Jays are going to continue to be as bad as they are this year, but you also can’t assume they’re going to be as good as they were at the end of last year.  However, their 2015 playoff record pretty well matches what they put together in April of this year.

I think the Jays need to look at their bullpen options, as that’s been the real issue, but it’s hard to not want to wait it out a bit longer to see if some of the struggling players (read: the entire team outside of the starting pitching staff) pick up their play and start playing to their potential.

An Overly Pessimistic Blue Jays Season Preview and A Note on Expectations

Great Expectations…

With Spring Training just around the corner, we’re going to be hit with a barrage of season previews, predicting the course of how the regular season and playoffs will unfold. Naturally, these spoiler-happy reporters totally ruin the next 6 months, making actually watching the games completely superfluous.

I move to outlaw these predictions, or at least re-brand them to what they are: Expectations. We all expect the Orioles, Red Sox and Yankees to take a step back, we all expect the St. Louis Cardinals to be a model of consistency, we all expect the Miami Marlins to overhaul their roster every three years, we all expect the Washington Nationals to be a World Series Contender, etc. With the exception of the Marlins, we can’t say with 100% certainty that these predictions will come true.

Now onto An Overly Pessimistic Blue Jays Season Preview:

Broad Strokes

In the course of about 30 days, Alex Anthopoulos overhauled the Jays roster, bringing in Melky Cabrera, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle, R.A. Dickey, Jose Rey–OK fuck this, I’m too lazy to write down ALL the names that AA acquired. Long story short, he got a lot of dudes who can play baseball good, so indeed, expectations have been raised.

But let’s be realistic, if you count the Orioles, there are 4 other teams in the AL East, who all play 162 games with the goal of winning the division. They’re not just going to throw up their arms and hand Toronto the division. In fact you could argue that the Rays are the favourite to win the division. They still have solid starting pitching and Evan Longoria, plus they have about five or six years worth of experience that have translated into actual results on the field. They’ve made the AL East a legitimate three horse race.

Don’t discount the Yankees. They probably have the best starting rotation in the East, plus they’ll be getting a full year from Mariano Rivera. Derek Jeter had a solid year last year AND A-Rod will only play half the season at best.

And you never know, maybe John Farrell will bore his roster to death with his minutia and ramblings about pressuring the pitching staff by stealing bases and they’ll actually concentrate on baseball. GM Ben Cherington seems to be taking a page out of the Dodgers handbook*, signing replacement level players, seemingly believing they possess magical powers that will enable them to become good at baseball again.

Also, do discount the Orioles.

* Note: Which GM’s strategy will he plagiarize next year? I’m crossing my fingers for Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers.

PECOTA is Bullshit, Trust PHONI

Pessimistic
Hunches based
On
No
Insight

So, I’ve calibrated my spreadsheets to ensure that my PHONI forecasting system is operating on maximum efficiency. Let’s get on with pessimistic player previews:

Starting Pitchers:


Mark “Pit” Buehrle – He will live up to his billing as an average, middle of the rotation pitcher. Naturally, casual Jays fans will demand that he be traded for Vernon Wells, citing Wells’ intangibles and leadership, hoping that he’ll convince his best buddy and perennial MVP candidate Michael Young to join him in T.O.

R.A. Dickey – Last week John Gibbons announced that Dickey will be the opening day pitcher. Too bad he doesn’t realize that AL batters will figure out that R.A. doesn’t actually throw a formidable knuckleball. It turns out that he was just a pitcher facing terrible players in the National League.

Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison – They will discover that their Tommy John surgeries were unsuccessful and decide to surgically combine their pitching arms together into one powerful bionic arm. This will raise debates on the ethics of performance-enhancing-bionic-arms.

Josh Johnson – Johnson will suffer the fate of “The Curse of the Johnson”*, playing great in April and May, only to fade into irrelevance during the gruelling climate controlled summer months in the Rogers Centre.

*It’s a proven fact – anyone on the Jays roster with the last name “Johnson” has been affected by the curse. Look at the track record: Kelly Johnson.

Brandon Morrow – In a fit of jealous rage over his success, Ricky Romero will recreate the denouement of the classic film “Celtic Pride” and kidnap Brandon Morrow, in the hopes that this will help his beloved Boston Celtics win the NBA Championship.

Ricky Romero – Will create a scandal when Brandon Morrow and Damon Wayons are discovered bound and gagged in his basement. His subsequent arrest will eventually lead to a baseball themed remake of “The Longest Yard”.

Relief Pitchers:


Brett Cecil – Three years from now, we realize that we unknowingly witnessed the beginning of the “wearing athletic prescription glasses” trend, popularized by future hipsters. Horace Grant will become an uber-prophet to said hipsters.

Steve Delabar – Will have an OK season. Future prediction: following his retirement, Delabar will open a chain of restaurants called “DeLaBar” – a “De La Soul” themed bar and grill. The house specialty will be the “Steaks is High” – a porterhouse steak brushed with weed butter.

Casey Janssen – Breathes a sigh of relief and has a solid season, narrowly avoiding “The Curse of the Johnson” by only a few letters.
Brad Lincoln – Will do something good in a game, newspapers will compare him to other Lincoln, using clever pun.
Darren Oliver – Something something, Jeff Frye.
Esmil Rogers – Will add another “S” to his name to make it Essmil, so as not to confuse Buck Martinez while calling play by play.

Sergio Santos – Will discover the truth of the “Closer Myth“, and promptly vanish into thin air.

Actual Players:

J.P. Arencibia – J.P.’s season split will be 500/20/480 – as in 500 at bats, 20 homeruns and 480 strikeouts. Old school reporters will praise his power numbers.

Jose Bautista – Will pen an autobiography entitled “All ‘Bout-ista”.

Emilio Bonifacio – Will change his name to “Charlie Sheen”.

Melky Cabrera – Reporters will discover that Melky Cabrera is actually 53 years old. In unrelated news, Albert Pujols refuses to play Sunday night games as it interferes with Murder, She Wrote reruns.

Rajai Davis – Will get buried in freak sunflower seed shell avalanche.
Mark DeRosa – Has odd clause in contract – to be paid only in masticated sunflower seeds.
Edwin Encarnacion – will raise his other elbow and make “vroom! whoosh!” noises while running the bases, pretending to be an airplane.
Maicer Izturis – Hopefully will be the backup 2nd basemen, so I don’t have to worry about correctly spelling his name on a regular basis.

Brett Lawrie – Doctors will discover that Brett Lawrie is colour blind, explaining the reason why he runs through so many red lights on the base path.

Adam Lind – Will have decent power and batting numbers and put together a solid offensive* season.

*Oops sorry, typo! I meant to say that Lind will have an offensive season, as in it’s offensive that he’s regularly put on the field in the first place.

Colby Rasmus – Rasmus’ Dad will notice a hole in his swing, but sit tight and not interfere with his son’s career at all.

Jose Reyes – Will miss the first half of the season due to horrific smiling injury.

Bonus Predictions:

Jays fans will boo Yunel Escobar, but cheer for mayor Rob Ford when he throws the ceremonial first pitch. The Baltimore Orioles will offer Ford a professional tryout.

Damian Cox will find a way to compare baseball to hockey.

The Boston Celtics will win the NBA Championship

Reporters will overlook the rising number of performance-enhancing-bionic-arms, preferring to revel in the timeless glory of the great game of baseball.

World Series Prediction: Houston Astros vs. Arizona Diamondbacks, with the DB’s emerging* as champions

*NOTE: No homefield advantage was awarded due to the All-Star game resulting in irrelevance.