The Royals’ season isn’t going too well this year — if you can count a .211 winning percentage thus far as merely “not going too well.” At the NCAA level, the Kansas Jayhawks aren’t exactly making headlines either, but at least their season is faring better than that of their MLB neighbors. I had the opportunity to participate in a somewhat behind-the-scenes experience leading up to the Jayhawks’ game yesterday, so naturally I signed up for it.
The afternoon began with batting practice, and our group was able to hang out in the KU dugout while we watched the team get in their swings.
Afterwards, we were shown the indoor batting practice facility, which I did not get any pictures of. That building also featured a wall of photos featuring former Kansas ball players, and the nameplate on each photo indicates not only the player’s name, but also the name of an MLB team. We passed through the building rather quickly, so I didn’t have time to peruse this wall very closely, but given the number of photos up there, I’m guessing these are all players that were drafted by teams, and not necessarily all of them actually made it to the Major League level.
After a filling lunch of pulled pork sandwiches, salad, chips, and brownies, it was time to head back to Hoglund Ballpark for the game. In the early innings of the game, I found myself being gestured at by the KU mascot, who invited me to have a seat with him for a bit. As amusing as it was, conversation with a mascot tends to be sparse and largely one way.
The game itself turned out to be a good one — if you were rooting for Kansas, anyways. The Jayhawks collected 3 home runs, and their pitchers held Air Force bats down quite solidly. The game ended in the seventh inning due to run spread, with a final score of 12-2.
The Jayhawks were 18-18 going into this game, so the win over Air Force yesterday puts them back on the winning side of .500. It was also the first Kansas win I have ever been able to see live. All in all, an enjoyable afternoon.
After purchasing a case of tonic water on my last grocery shopping trip, I naturally needed a reason to use it, so I stopped by the liquor store this morning to pick up a bottle of gin. Contrary to my plan, however, that did not end up being my only purchase of this trip, as this caught my attention:
I’ve never heard of Hall of Fame Vodka before today, but the marketing genius who put this stuff into baseball bat bottles clearly knows the way into the hearts of suckers like me, because I could not pass this up. When I brought my purchases to the pink-haired gal working the register, I asked when they had gotten these in. She responded, “Oh, I don’t know, a couple of weeks ago, I think?”
“Ah, just in time for baseball season, eh?”
But she gave me this what-the-hell-makes-you-think-I-know-anything-about-baseball look, so I shut up through the rest of the transaction and contented myself with being pleased with the find.
The headquarters for Hall of Fame Vodka appear to be located in Bardstown, Kentucky. Appropriately enough, Bardstown is a mere 45-minute drive from Louisville, home of the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. The company does not currently produce any other kind of spirits, but according to their FAQs, they do have a goal to expand their brand in the future.
To celebrate the Royals finally winning two in a row, I’ve decided to go ahead a try a bit of this stuff out this evening. Despite its position on the top shelf, this is hardly premium vodka. I imagine the positioning of the bottles had more to do with how ridiculously tall they are than anything else. But it’s not the cheapest of the cheap, either. I’d probably put it in the same league as Svedka or 360 vodka — not anything I’d want to drink straight, but perfectly decent when mixed in with something.
Congratulations to Japan on winning the World Baseball Classic championship! And congrats, as well, to Shohei Ohtani on earning MVP honors. As a United States citizen and resident, I was naturally rooting for the USA to repeat, but I certainly can’t be mad about Japan taking the title. The whole nation is so passionate about baseball, and they produce some amazing ballplayers.
Insomnia has struck tonight, but the plus side of it is that I was able to listen to the last 3.5 innings of the first official game of the World Baseball Classic. The Netherlands has defeated Cuba to kick things off, and in just a few short hours, Chinese Taipei will be taking on Panama.
There’s been a lot of talk about the new rules going into effect for Major League Baseball’s 2023 season. With Opening Day just over a month away, it seems like a good time to take a look at these updates here.
This year, the size of first base, second base, and third base is increasing from 15 inches to 18 inches square. This, in effect, decreases the distance between bases by 4.5 inches. One argument in favor of this change is that it will create more excitement, with closer plays at each base. The league believes that the larger bases will also decrease injuries, which seems like a more plausible explanation.
My thoughts: I can’t help but wonder how necessary this really is. I have heard the new bases getting compared to pizza boxes, which seems a bit excessive to me. When I played softball in high school, there was a “safety base” at first base — a double base that allowed the runner to run through the exterior base while the first baseman fielded the throw from the interior base. I think I would rather see the double base implemented at first over the bigger bases all around the infield. Is there a greater injury risk with the smaller bases? Sure, I agree that’s probably true. I guess I’m opposed to this change in the same way I oppose the restriction on sliding into fielders to break up a double play. It takes away from the game, in a way.
On the other hand, some proponents point out this could mean an increase in stolen bases. As a fan of small ball, if this turns out to be true and the game becomes more exciting as a result, I might become a convert.
Restrictions on defensive shifts
Going forward, we will no longer see defensive shifts where the shortstop or the third baseman plays on the first base side of second base. With the new restrictions, two infielders are required to remain positioned on each side of second base. Furthermore, infielders must have both feet situated within the boundaries of the infield — no more second basemen playing shallow right field. What’s more, players cannot switch positions unless a substitution is made. Therefore, a team’s second baseman and shortstop must stay in their positions — they are not interchangeable for the sake of putting the better defender in position to field a batted ball.
My thoughts: At first, I was very much against this. In his book, The Science of Hitting, Ted Williams argues that it is up to the batter to adjust to the shift, and that made perfect sense to me. But then I saw this tweet about the decline of batting averages in recent years, and I realize that perhaps the shift has become a little too effective, and maybe it is time to bring a little bit of a spark back to small ball.
The pitch clock
In the same way that basketball has a shot clock and football has a play clock, baseball now has a pitch clock. Between batters, the pitch clock is set to 30 seconds before the pitcher must begin his motion. When bases are empty, the clock sets a limit of 15 seconds between pitches. When runners are on base, this limit is 20 seconds. If there is a delay that is determined to be the pitcher’s fault, a ball is added to the batter’s count. If umpires determine a delay is the batter’s fault, then a strike is added to the count.
The rule also limits hitters to one timeout per plate appearance and allows pitchers to step off the rubber twice per plate appearance, at which point the clock resets. This essentially puts a limit on the number of pickoff attempts a pitcher can make, which will hinder pitchers’ ability to prevent stolen bases. You’re able to make a third pickoff attempt, but if you don’t get the runner out, it’s a balk, and the runner advances automatically.
My thoughts: I am a bigger fan of this change than I thought I would be. As much as I love baseball, even I can find the 3 1/2-hour games a bit cumbersome. Maybe that’s just my millennial attention span speaking, but I don’t think so. Back in the day, baseball games were played in as little as 51 minutes. Granted, a lot of the delay in today’s games are due to commercials, ballpark entertainment, and other advertising bull, but I do think that it is a good time to inject a little pickup into the pace of the game itself.
I re-watched Moneyball this weekend, the movie based on the book by Michael Lewis with the same title. Moneyball tells the story of Billy Beane and Peter Brand during the 2002 season, and how they used a sabermetric approach to build a winning team on a limited budget.
Following the 2001 season, the Oakland A’s lost Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi and Jason Isringhausen to free agency, and general manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, finds himself needing to replace them. During a scouting trip to Cleveland, Beane meets Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), a Yale economics graduate who impresses Beane with his statistical analyses of ballplayers.
With Brand’s help, Beane built a low-budget team by focusing on players’ stats, such as on-base percentage. The start of the season was predictably rough, with the A’s finding themselves ten games back. Beane convinces team owner Stephen Schott to stick with the plan, and Beane then trades Giambi to the Phillies for John Mabry and Carlos Peña to the Tigers, leaving manager Art Howe no choice but to use the team Beane and Brand have designed. Three weeks later, the Athletics are only four games behind first.
The A’s launch into a winning streak that culminates in a dramatic victory over the Kansas City Royals, in which the A’s achieve a then record-breaking 20th consecutive win. The team falls short in the playoffs, however, when they lose to the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS.
Recognizing that sabermetrics is the future of baseball, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry first hires Bill James to the organization, then offers Billy Beane a $12.5 million salary to join Boston as well. Peter Brand tries to persuade Beane that he is worth the offer, however, not wanting to leave his daughter behind, Beane ultimately turns it down to stay with Oakland.
As a movie, I enjoy Moneyball. It’s dramatic, emotional, and there’s lots and lots of baseball. It sheds light on the idea behind sabermetrics. Critics argue that the movie is not an entirely accurate depiction of real-life events, excluding key players and portraying various relationships in a slanted light. It seems to me that the transition from real-life-story-to-movie presents the same challenges as book-to-movie situations: there’s just no way to be 100% true to the original without creating an hours-long film. As with any movie based on real life (or on a book), it’s worth doing your own research on the side in addition to enjoying the cinematic experience.
On February 11, 2001 at 8:03 a.m., Three Rivers Stadium was imploded using 4,800 pounds of dynamite in 2,500 spots placed throughout the former home of the Pirates and NFL’s Steelers. Over 20,000 people viewed the implosion from Point State Park, and thousands more watched from various points throughout Pittsburgh. Roberto Clemente’s 3,000th hit and Mike Schmidt’s 500th career home run are part of the historic legacy of the 30-year-old sports venue.