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Confessions of a Cubs Fan: Ode to Opening Day

I do not care what any of the pessimists say, in my mind, 2016 will always be a great year. Despite the unprecedented celebrity deaths or the political divisiveness, what could possibly be better than the Cubs finally winning the World Series?

I remember last November – packed like sardines inside a Cubs bar, as far as you could possibly be within the continental United States from Chicago – watching Kris Bryant smile as he made the final out of the World Series. My eye’s welled with tears. I passionately embraced random strangers. I cheered and hollered and sang “Go, Cubs, Go” with my new friends loud enough to wake the dead. The improbably had finally happened, the impossible had finally happened, the Cubs won. The Curse of the Billy-Goat was finally broke. In that moment, I couldn’t help but share the sentiment of the final lines of the movie Moneyball (2011).

“How can you not be romantic about baseball?”

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The city of Peoria, Ariz., and the Peoria Sports Complex played host to Air Force Week during a 2007 spring training baseball game between the San Diego Padres and the Milwaukee Brewers March 21. Airmen were invited to attend and the Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard posted the colors. The Wings of Blue parachute demonstration team jumped in the game ball. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

Making Baseball Great Again

Baseball, our national pastime. For a while there, it seemed like baseball, the sport built on tradition, was not going to stand the test of time. With spring training coming to a close, it seems like baseball fans everywhere should optimistically look forward to a great season.

So why has baseball struggled?

For the early part of the new millennium, baseball has had an issue of branding. After the steroid era, the sport was in a real funk. Having to rebuild a brand, and rethink a sport which had celebrated offensive power for at least a decade. Baseball also needed to regain trust. Trust of the many players who were seemingly thrown under the bus during the steroid witch hunts, and trust of the fans who felt they had been cheated and deceived by the league. Almost a decade removed from the congressional hearings and Department of Justice investigations, the sport seems to be leaving the past in the past and a new baseball is emerging.

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Spectator-less Baseball

SmashCut Talk thumbnailIf a home run is hit and there is no one around to cheer, did it really happen? We’ll soon find out. The Baltimore Orioles will host the Chicago White Sox in riot-torn Baltimore at Camden Yards sans fans in the seats. Because, even though the streets are on fire, people are getting hurt, and the police department continues to investigate another death-while-in-custody case, the game must go on!  I’d be interested in hearing from those that support this decision to play ball, and from those who would prefer a cancellation or change of venue during this time.

Exit question:  Will the call to keep out the public incite those with violence on their mind to target the Camden Yards?

Literature You Should Know: Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus

Oscar_Taveras_2013As I write this morning, the baseball world is still in shock over the sudden death of 22-year-old Cardinals rookie Oscar Taveras and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Edilia Arvelo, due to a car accident in the Dominican Republic.  Such a loss would be heartbreaking enough even without the baseball connection; they were young, and their families must be devastated.  From all accounts, Taveras was a joyful, friendly guy, and the feature his teammates most recall about him was his smile.  But Taveras had been one of the Cardinals’ top prospects since he was 16 and had the potential to become one of the greats.  Of his four career home runs over eighty games, his first came in his second major-league at-bat, and the last was a game-tying pinch hit in Game 2 of the NLCS.  So it’s inevitable that there has been, and will continue to be, a lot of mourning over a career that might have been.

In some ways, such talk reminds me of Christopher Marlowe, whose career was likewise cut short when he was murdered in 1593 at the age of 29.  His youth and unconventional views make him a romantically tragic figure four centuries later (as Swinburne’s gushing biography from the 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica amply demonstrates).  And to this day, critics speculate that Marlowe could have become an even greater dramatist than Shakespeare and lament the works he never wrote.

marlowePerhaps it’s fitting, then, that Marlowe’s best known for his 1588 masterpiece, The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, first printed in 1604.  The Faust legend had begun forming forty years earlier, loosely based on the exploits of a real German con artist, Johannes Faust, who had become infamous in the early decades of the 16th century.  Later writers, from Goethe to Dorothy Sayers, each put their own spin on the story, but Marlowe’s, coming only a year after the publication of the original prose version of the tale, is closest to that version both in details and in message.

The tragedy of Faustus is, in many ways, the exact opposite of the tragedy of Marlowe.  When the play opens, Faustus has already had a long and distinguished career, but after mastering all the arts, he’s bored and believes he has yet to reach his full potential.  So he conjures the demon Mephistopheles and eventually agrees to sell his soul to the Devil in exchange for twenty-four years of access to all types of arcane knowledge, power, wealth, and the services of Mephistopheles.  He has to sign the contract in his own blood, but his blood refuses to flow for such a purpose until Mephistopheles warms it with hellfire.  Off and on throughout the play, Faustus considers repenting, but appeals to his pride and greed invariably turn him back to his downward spiral, until at last his time runs out and the demons come to take him to Hell.

faustuswoodcutYet the displays of Faustus’ power that Marlowe shows on stage are hardly the stuff of nightmarish necromancy or of the grand dreams of empire that drive Faustus to embrace sorcery.  Rather, once the bargain is struck, Faustus seems more interested in feasting, carousing, and enjoying popularity with nobles and students alike.  He plays childish pranks on the Pope and various rubes who cross his will, conjures ghosts like Alexander the Great purely for the spectacle, takes Helen of Troy as his lover, and has Mephistopheles bring a pregnant duchess a plate of out-of-season fruit.  It doesn’t seem like the kind of life and power that would be worth selling your soul for—and that’s the point.  Whatever Marlowe himself thought on the matter, the story of Faustus has always hinged on one simple question:  “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world but lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).

The loss of young talents like Oscar Taveras is a terrible tragedy, especially when the death is a true accident, and we have every reason to mourn.  But sometimes high hopes are disappointed when a prospect’s potential is never quite achieved—and sometimes those hopes put pressure on young people that drives them into Faustian bargains of their own.  We can’t know what might have become of these lives cut too short.  And maybe, in the end, that’s a mercy.

Literature You Should Know: Take Me Out to the Ballgame!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, when jerseys and caps are the height of fashion, hot dogs haut cuisine, and peanuts and popcorn the staples of diet, when the crisp autumn air bears colorful leaves and the roar of the crowd as the umpire cries, “Play ball!”

Yes, my friends, it’s time once again for OCTOBER BASEBALL!

After clinching the NLDS yesterday, it remains to be seen whether my beloved Cardinals will get their chance for a twelfth World Series win this year.  But given an assertion made by one of my former creative writing professors that every American poet has at least one baseball poem, I figured it was time to take a quick look at some of my favorite celebrations of the Great American Pastime.

Don’t think ladies should be writing about baseball?  Let me introduce you to a venerable young lady by the name of Katie Casey:

And speaking of Caseys….

Finally, who could forget—well, I don’t know, but probably not; they’re both pretty reliable infielders—

So what are some of your favorites?

5 Biggest Snubs

emmystatuette__130419054303__130912171435__130914002423__130918203153The Primetime Emmy nominee list came out today and the annual turmoil over who was left unrecognized has begun. However, there is another set of fans who feel unrest over the mistreatment of their favorite celebrities.

I’m referring to the finalization of the MLB All-Star rosters. Today the Final Vote elected Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale as the final members of the NL and AL teams, respectively. Both are extremely deserving (especially Sale, who is at the very least a top-5 starter in baseball right now), but there are several others for whom the politics of these “award ceremonies” proved unjust as ever.

5. Cincinnati Reds CF – Billy Hamilton

Cincinnati Reds CF - Billy Hamilton
Cincinnati Reds CF – Billy Hamilton

Now, he has missed his last few games with a hamstring injury, and he is on a team in the Reds that is one of the best represented teams with 4 All-Stars, but leaving the speedy Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton off the NL outfield reserves was an oversight. Coming into his rookie season, the 23-year old was expected to impress with his speed (and he has, with a spectacular 37 steals, good enough for 2nd in the NL), but the major concern was whether or not Billy would be able to hit enough to make his speed a factor. And he has! Hamilton has shown above-average contact abilities with a .280 avg, and has even demonstrated a little unexpected power with 5 bombs and 6 triples. Again, there are already 4 Reds on the NL roster (three of whom are extremely deserving; I’ll let you decipher who is the fourth) but in an outfield bench that features Pittsburgh utility man Josh Harrison (What?), we certainly could have made room for Hamilton.

4. Atlanta Braves LF – Justin Upton

Atlanta Braves LF - Justin Upton
Atlanta Braves LF – Justin Upton

Okay. If you don’t buy that Hamilton should take Harrison’s spot, you should at least agree that Atlanta Braves slugger Justin Upton should be headed to Minnesota for the mid-season festivities. Upton’s 17 HRs are good for fifth in the NL and he’s no scrub in any of his other categories. A .280 avg., 50 RBIs and 8 steals demonstrate his versatile role in the heart of the second-place Atlanta offense. Arguably the most dangerous guy in this lineup (that includes you, Freddie Freeman), Upton has very quietly put up numbers that are certainly All-Star caliber.

3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim SP – Garrett Richards

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim SP - Garrett Richards
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim SP – Garrett Richards

Like Upton, young Angels flamethrower Garrett Richards was a Final Vote candidate that lost out. The former reliever has had a breakout season in the starting rotation, playing a major role in the success in Anaheim.  His 10 wins, 2.71 ERA, 14 quality starts, and 119 strikeouts are all good for Top-10 in the AL. Not to mention the fact that his average fastball sits at a sizzling 96.3. It would have been fun to see him throw at Target Field, but the AL pitching staff is admittedly crowded.

2. Houston Astros RF – George Springer

Houston Astros RF - George Springer
Houston Astros RF – George Springer

Another rookie outfielder that was overlooked, elite prospect George Springer has pulled the bottom-feeding Houston Astros out of obscurity. The phenom has knocked 19 HRs and 50 RBIs, despite spending his first two weeks in the minor leagues. In addition, he has already shown prowess defensively with a combination of speed, glove, and arm strength. Yes, his .238 avg is bad, but he has proven to be unexpectedly disciplined.  Springer has gotten on base at an impressive .342 clip (only .006 behind mediocre All-Star honoree, Alex Gordon). He’s a future All-Star, without a doubt, but so far Springer has done enough to deserve a place on baseball’s biggest stage. I wouldn’t have minded watching him in the Home Run Derby either.

1. Detroit Tigers 2B – Ian Kinsler and Minnesota Twins 2B – Brian Dozier

Detroit Tigers 2B - Ian Kinsler
Detroit Tigers 2B – Ian Kinsler
Minnesota Twins 2B - Brian Dozier
Minnesota Twins 2B – Brian Dozier

Yes. It’s a tie for number 1. I simply could not choose, because both of these AL second basemen were denied a much-deserved roster spot. Veteran Ian Kinsler has been extremely productive all around in his first year in Detroit. Kinsler has hit .303 for the first-place Tigers, along with 11 bombs, 9 steals, and a whopping 62 runs that are good enough for second in the AL.  Second to… ? That’s right. Minnesota Twins keystone Brian Dozier. The Minnesota favorite is on pace for a 30-30 season, matching 15 swipes with 16 longballs. And, as mentioned, his 65 runs are best in the AL, again, proving his .338 OBP to be more important than his lackluster .235 avg. Most importantly, he’s the hometown hero! It’s a shame he’ll miss a chance to represent in front of his city.

I was shocked to hear that Angels SS Erick Aybar got the nod to replace injured Alex Gordon while both of these middle infielders remained at home. Nothing against Robinson Cano, who was voted by the fans as the AL starter, but the only second baseman who has been better than these two is the Astros’ diminutive speedster Jose Altuve. I’m just thankful AL Home Run Derby captain Jose Bautista acknowledged Dozier’s snub by selecting him to the AL Derby squad.

That’s my list. Who did I forget?

My Life Ends Today (And I Couldn’t Be Happier)

It's Finally Opening Day
It’s Finally Opening Day

That’s right.  It’s Opening Day!  The great ballparks across the US are opening up today and we’re finally getting baseball back.

So here’s what my productivity level is going to do:

Richard Mattox: Productivity During Baseball Season
Richard Mattox: Productivity During Baseball Season

All other aspects of my life will be put on hold from 4-10 pm every night.  They will be replaced by gallons of useless knowledge about who has a great BABIP and which midseason minor league call up has the best potential.  Some people say the nation’s pastime is falling away, but to me there’s still nothing that makes me feel more American.

My O’s (that’s Baltimore Orioles) made a few late signings this offseason and look poised to make noise in a competitive AL East division.  We’re all just praying Chris Davis’ 53 homer season wasn’t a fluke.

Chris "Crush" Davis: 53 HRs
Chris “Crush” Davis: 53 HRs

How do you feel about Opening Day? Have you been counting the days since October? Or do you find baseball to be unbearably slow? What are you looking forward to most in the 2014 season? Let us know!