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Posts Tagged ‘New York Yankees’

Three Base Hit- James Daugherty 1917

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Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.

George Will

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Opening day yesterday and baseball is off and running. This whole damn place might seem ready to go up in flames any minute now but for a few hours every day or so, all seems right in the world. Hey, baseball even gives me a place to find common ground with George Will.

For a Yankees fan, yesterday’s opening day was all that could they could hope for as Giancarlo Stanton, one half of their Twin Towers along with Aaron Judge, quickly put to rest any fears that he would wither under the pressure of playing for the Yanks. In the first inning, on the second pitch he saw, he crushed a home run to right center. Then he bookended the day with an even longer blast to center in the ninth as the Yanks cruised to the win.

And I had a great day in the studio, to boot.

And all was right in the world for a few hours.

Here’s a song I played here a couple of years back, one of my favorite baseball songs. It’s Baseball Boogie from Mabel Scott. Batter up!

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Part of the charm of baseball for me are its mythic elements, the stories that captured my imagination as a kid.  For instance, Babe Ruth allegedly pointing to the centerfield fence to call his home run. Or Satchel Paige supposedly throwing strikes using a single gum wrapper laid on home plate as the strike zone.  Willie Mays’ fabled but very real over the shoulder catch. And Jackie Robinson stealing home in the World Series. Too many more to mention here.

This year has brought a player who may enter into that pantheon of mythic baseball lore.  Rookie Aaron Judge of the Yankees combines a physique that seems right out of tall tales with Paul Bunyan size and strength. He’s 6′ 8″ tall and weighs in the 275 pound range, the largest player by sheer body mass to ever play the game. But it is not a lumbering, heavy mass.  He is athletic and quick with a powerful and accurate throwing arm.

But it is his potent bat that has made him the big news of NY and the rest of the major leagues. He leads the American League in home runs, runs batted in, runs, batting average and walks.

All are amazing stats but it is the way in which he strikes his homers that has thrilled the crowds and made his every at bat must see viewing. His pregame batting practices are already legendary with balls flying to the deepest parts of the park where they have scattered bartenders and shattered television screens. The excitement has people coming to the games wearing costume powdered wigs and he even has a section of the stands named in his honor– the Judge’s Chambers.

He hits the ball with incredible power and the crack of the bat is startlingly sharp, with a thunderclap to it unlike almost any other player. His home runs leave the park at ultra high velocity and go ridiculous distances. Yesterday, he hit a ball at Yankee Stadium close to 500 foot that had the other players as well as the announcers in sheer awe.  He is simply hitting balls to places where they have never been hit before, even in batting practice. As Paul O’Neill said, it’s like he’s a big man playing in a Little League field.

I have to say that he has ignited that excitement in the game that I had as a kid where every game, every at bat has the possibility of the amazing or the transcendent taking place. Something that would tie your experience of it to the great myths of the game.

Now, the realistic part of me, that awful adult part, knows that the odds are that someday soon this torrid pace may slow and he will return to the ranks of the merely good ball players. Baseball is a humbling game for players and fans alike. But for know, Aaron Judge is playing the game like he’s in a comic book, like he’s King Kong swinging Thor’s Hammer at the plate. And that makes this middle-aged boy very happy. It’s a great diversion away from these troubling times.

Whenever he comes to the plate, I always think of this song from the 60’s. It was a minor hit in 1968 from Motown’s Shorty Long, who died the following year in a boating accident. I was just a kid at the time, idolizing Cardinal pitcher Bob Gibson, himself a mythic character, but I remember this song well. Can’t go wrong here, Motown soul with the Funk Brothers laying down a great backing track. Courts in session, here come the Judge…

 

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Derek Jeter #2 - Michelle V. Agins-/NY Times

Derek Jeter #2 – Michelle V. Agins-/NY Times

You would expect that a blog from an artist would focus on the influence and lessons learned from other artists.  Sure.  I have done that many times.  But some of the greatest lessons that I have learned and actions that I have emulated have come from sources far afield from the world of art.

Take, for instance, Derek Jeter.

As we fans of Derek Jeter struggle this weekend with the end of a glorious era as he retires as the legendary shortstop and captain of the New York Yankees, we are left with memories and a few lessons.

The first lesson that I took from the Captain is: Give total effort all of the time.  Watching him come to bat thousands of time, I cannot recall a single instant when he didn’t bust out of the batter’s box and run with his greatest effort on what appeared to be an easy out for the opposing team.  He knew, as the great Joe Dimaggio had pointed out before, that there were people in the stand who might never get to see him again, who had traveled to see him play and to not give his total effort would be robbing those people of seeing him at his best.  And besides that, good and unexpected things often came from this effort– often making the other team hurry, causing mistakes on their part, and spurring his teammates to follow suit and give that same effort.

Total effort becomes routine for players like Derek Jeter, acting like a rehearsal.   In the big moments, they simply focus and do that same thing they have done every time before.

The second lesson is to : Make the most of what you have.  This is an extension of the first lesson.  Over the last year or so, I have Derek Jeter point out , when asked what he thought separated him from other players, that he knew he was not the most talented player in the game or at his position.  But his desire to excel, his dedication to working hard and his willingness to give total effort with each attempt multiplied his talent level.  How many times have you seen those with great amounts of talent in just about any field flounder simply because they cannot find the focus or dedication to fully use their talent?

Lesson three is: Know who and what you are.  This is kind of an extension of lesson two.  Play to your strengths and away from your weaknesses, while at the same time trying to make your weaknesses into a strength.  Derek had vulnerabilities in his swing early in his career, susceptible to inside pitches.  A definite weakness that would be exploited throughout his career if he didn’t do something to change.  So he worked and developed an ability to fight off those pitches with a contorted, inside out swing that became a tremendous strength for him.  He also never tried to be a slugger or home run hitter because he knew that was not who he was, knew that was not his role on the team.  This translates to the art world easily as you often see artists who feel they must be something that they clearly are not and in attempting to do this take away from their real strength.

Lesson four:  Control your image.  Derek Jeter is a master at controlling his own actions and image, on and off the field.  On the field, he does not make wild claims or attack other players, doesn’t need to build himself up by tearing others down.  He never overreacts, never disrespects other players, umpires or the fans.  You never hear wild rumors about him or hear silly comments coming from him.  He has used his fame to create goodwill.  He began his foundation to aid and educate underprivileged kids when he was 21 years old.  Think about that– 21 years old.  How many of us would be thinking about ways to help others when we were that age, especially with a million dollars in our pockets and the free run of NYC?  He has stated that the foundation will be his primary focus in this post-baseball life.  As a result, he has built a reputation based on respect, both for his abilities and his image.

Lesson five :  Do not be afraid to fail.  While Derek Jeter has always seemed to succeed, those who watch the game regularly know this is not the case.  Like most players, he fails to get a it 7 out of 10 times at bat.  Yankee fans often grimace when he hits into double plays, a result of him always seeming to make contact with the pitch.  I have seen him fail numerous times, often striking out to end a game.  But the beauty of it is that he puts it aside and instead of dwelling on that failure, looks forward to the next chance to redeem himself.  You must be willing to go to the plate and swing that bat.  For artists, that means putting  your work out into the world, showing it at every opportunity, knocking on every door and dealing with possible rejections.  Because you struck out once does not mean that you won’t have hit next time up.

That brings us to lesson six:  Embrace the moment.  This is sort of a culmination of all of the other lessons.  Be ready for opportunity and when it appears, step up and take your best swing.  Be confident in who you are, in that you have the ability and that this moment is not greater than you.  Derek Jeter has done this countless times.  In the biggest moments, he seems to make the play, get the hit, score the run– whatever is required in the moment.  Last night, in his last at bat ever in Yankee Stadium, he delivered a storybook ending, stroking a game-winning hit with that swing that is oh so recognizable to his fans.  You don’t get a lot of opportunities in this life so be prepared and do what you must to score that run.

There are more things I could surely say about Derek Jeter.  He said that he has achieved his greatest wishes and beyond, more than he had dreamed possible.  So maybe I should have said something about creating  a vision of what you want to be. Perhaps you too  will achieve more than you initially thought possible.

It’s going to be hard to not see that number 2 jersey on the field after this weekend.  I already miss him but will not complain because Derek Jeter has given me 20 years of baseball that I have loved along with those lessons I have learned.  Thanks, Captain.

 

 

 

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It’s always disappointing as a baseball fan when your team’s season ends unceremoniously in defeat.  Such is the case today as I ponder a long year that began in March with the high expectations of spring training for the Yanks and ended nearly eight months later with a loss to the Texas Rangers, who move on to the World Series.  The Rangers outplayed the Yankees on every level, outhitting, outrunning and definitely outpitching the defending champs in all but a handful of innings in the series.

The Yankees had a pretty good year but the watchful fan had a feeling they came into the postseason out of rhythm.  They struggled in September, losing their divisional lead and going into the playoffs as the wildcard.  There was seemingly a renewal of spirit after their sweep of the Twins in the first round but, in reality, the Twins had come into the playoffs in as much of a funk as the Yanks and were even more out of step.  It created a false hope that this team could simply turn it on and be back in a smooth winning rhythm.

The Rangers made certain that this was not the case and made the Yanks look older and slower and uninspired.  Oh, they were professional and always on the verge of springing to life but never seemed to make the crucial pitch or play.  As much as it galls me to say it, after watching George W. Bush clapping in the stands next to Nolan Ryan during some of the games, the Rangers were simply the better team.

For now.

So my investment of time rooting for my team comes to an end and my remaining fan allegiance for this season is transferred to the San Francisco Giants.  They are a team that is fully in rhythm and playing as a cohesive unit.  Although they have less talent than any of the teams still standing, they are doing the most with what they have, playing with an attitude of confidence and destiny.  Hopefully, they pull it out tonight against the Phils.

I mean, how can you not root for a team whose best players are named Buster Posey (what a great moniker!) and Tim “the Freak” Lincecum?

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George Steinbrenner , the polarizing owner of the New York Yankees, died yesterday at the age of 80.  To many fans of the game, especially for Yankee-haters,  he was the epitome of what went wrong with the game over the years, with his win-whatever-the-price mentality and larger-than-life bluster.  But if you were a fan of the Yanks, you probably grew to love the guy over the years for the same reasons. 

I liked the guy.  Over the years, there was a mellowing of his public persona and the focus went away from his public battles with Billy Martin and others to one that centered on his desire to win and his sentimental nature which led to his legendary generosity.  There are countless anecdotes about him talking to cashiers one day then having his people contact them the next with the news that Steinbrenner was putting them through college.  He started numerous foundations in cities around the country to send the children of fallen police officers through college.  He gave second chances to flawed humans, from the well known such as Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden to the many obscure folks who found themselves on the Yankees payroll after they had reached the bottom.  There are several stories out there of  people who Steinbrenner had come across over the years, who ran on to hard times with financial and health problems who were notified out of the blue that they were being hired by the Yankees as scouts.  They had no duties as scouts.  Nothing was required from them.  They simply received a paycheck for the rest of their lives.

I also liked his willingness to let others poke fun at him.  It made him an unlikely iconic figure in popular culture.  What other team-owner or businessman could host Saturday Night Live twice?  Then there’s his persona on Seinfeld with Larry David doing him as a staccato speaking loony.  It made Steinbrenner a cult figure of sorts.

Actually, Steinbrenner actually did appear on an episode of Seinfeld, although it was cut in the end and never aired.  It’s kind of funny. 

So, whether you hated or liked the guy or have absolutely no feelings, take a moment and watch  him be a good sport…

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hideki matsuiThe World Series ended last night with a bang as an aging Hideki Matsui (AKA Godzilla) single-handedly slugged his New York Yankees over the Philadelphia Phillies.  He drove in 6 runs with 3 hits including a soaring home run off longtime Yankee nemesis Pedro Martinez on the way to a 7-3 victory.  It was the 27th championship in the storied history of the team.

It was a really good Series between arguably the two best teams in baseball.  The Phillies, last year’s reigning champs, were a formidable opponent and a very likable group that played the game with full effort.  They could have easily won any of these games.  However, the  Yankees were just a step ahead this year.

To a baseball fan, the game becomes part of your daily ritual.  It’s a long season that spans all four  seasons, running from  spring training that starts in the last weeks of winter to the Fall Classic, as the Series is called.  The Yankees played 177 regular season games not to mention all the spring training games.  It is, as they say, a marathon sport based on finding the rhythm of a team and trying to maintain it through the ups, downs and grind of this long year.  It very much mimics day to day life.

So, you follow your team and suffer through the lows and relish the highs.  Being a Yankee fan has had a lot of highs, certainly.  But the heightened expectations create deep lows when your team fails to follow through on the promise of their potential.  And this year’s team was promising a lot.  It was a team that was very easy to like in many ways.  I’ve heard fans of other teams say that it tore them up because this team was so hard to dislike.  They played hard all the time, played with joy and never seemed to be just putting in the time when they were on the field which means a lot to the day to day fans.  When you’re committed as a fan you want to know that your players are as invested emotionally as you in the season.

That’s why it’s been a pleasure following these Yankees over the last 15 years or so.  I remember reading about Joe Dimaggio saying that he played hard every day out of respect for the fans, that he knew what a big deal it was for many of them to make the trip, many from long distances, just to see the game on that particular day.  It might be the only time they’ll ever see you in person and they deserved to see you try to do your best.  I’ve watched Derek Jeter day in and day out for since 1996 and he has never made me feel as though his full attention was anywhere other than where he was at that moment on the field.  Full effort all the time.  Oh, he’s failed.  Much more than he’s succeeded.  That’s the nature of baseball.  But his effort has never lagged.

And that’s what carries the fans through the lows.  That feeling that though they couldn’t go all the way, they gave it all they had.  It’s a good life lesson.

And when they give all and win, it’s even sweeter.

Now I have a baseball void for the next few months.  Can’t wait for spring training…

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Walk-Off WinI’m up surprisingly early this morning, after watching about a 5 1/2 hour Yankees/Angels playoff game last night, one that ended well after 1 AM.

It was a classic with everything that a fan could want.  Great performances.  Drama.  Heroics.  Sheer elation.

And humility.

Yeah, that’s right.  Humility.  I’m not talking about the “Aw, shucks, it weren’t nothing, Ma’am …”  kind of humility.  I’m talking about the built in humility of the game.  This a game where you will fail nearly every game in a game that is played nearly every day, often in crucial moments.  If you only fail as a hitter 70% of the time you could very well end up in Cooperstown, in the Hall of Fame.  As a fielder, there will inevitably be moments where, even if you are the best,  you will fail, making an error.  As a pitcher,  you are an ace if you only give up 3 or 4 runs a game.

Yet with all this failure, there is still the possibility of victory.  Take for instance, the night Derek Jeter had last night.  The Yankee captain started the scoring early with a home run.

Top of the world, ma, to quote Jimmy Cagney.

But as the game progressed he struck out a couple of times, hit into a costly double-play  and made an error in the field that could have been disastrous.  Yet, through all of this failure, his team emerged victorious.  That’s what I like about baseball.  It’s not about physical dominance but is most often about consistency and persistence, slogging forward despite the failures.  Shrugging them off and looking forward to the next at-bat, not as a chance to again fail, but as an opportunity to succeed.

There’s a life lesson for us all in there somewhere.  The most successful players in baseball have the ability to sweep away the memory of the last failure and move on to the next opportunity.  They try to learn from their failures.  Adjust.  And dare to fail again.  Something we should all remember.

That’s the humility in baseball.

Go, Yanks…

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