Blind Spot

I’ve been busy working my day job, as it were, and haven’t really been able to write anything here. I haven’t felt like I have had much to add to the general postseason hangover for Nats fans.

I have, however, been watching the World Series. I’m starved for baseball–any baseball–and this particular Series gives me the opportunity to root unabashedly for the Pete Kozma to lose. That’s good.

Unfortunately, it also obliges me to listen to the mindless blather of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver on Fox–easily the worst baseball broadcast most fans will see in any given year. Buck’s stilted cadences (more suited to the NFL than baseball) and McCarver’s senile witterings annoy the hell out of me, a baseball addict. I imagine they would drive casual non-fans (for whom the World Series is the only Series) away from the game forever. And that’s before the shameless commercial hucksterism, product-placement, awkwardly forced jingoism, and the endless in-game sideline reports!

About those sideline reports: They’re recorded between innings, but broadcast while the game is actually in progress. They disconnect the viewing public from what is actually happening in favor of what someone thinks about what just happened, which seems wrong. Besides, there is nothing that the booth can ask a manager between innings that cannot be better asked (and answered) after the game.

Not content with invading the dugout, the Fox broadcast also “floods the zone” with not one but two dedicated “sideline reporters:” the beautiful Erin Andrews and the reliably dapper Ken Rosenthal.

And yet, with all of this reporting power, they still manage to miss opportunities to bring genuine insight into the game.

One moment in particular bothers me. In the bottom of the 7th inning of Game 3, with the score tied at 2, a runner on first, and nobody out, Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow delivered a pitch that just barely grazed Carlos Beltran’s elbow guard. Beltran made some minimal effort to avoid the ball, but he showed his elbow to the umpire, who awarded him first base. Beltran, the hit batsman, made his way to first base, where he was greeted by Red Sox first baseman (!) David Ortiz. As Junichi Tazawa trotted in from the bullpen in relief of Breslow, The Fox cameras caught Beltran and Ortiz in the middle of an animated discussion. There was much gesticulation.

It did not escape my notice:

Indeed, Fox had a parabolic microphone operator nearby, just up the first-base foul line, who could have aimed his microphone at first base. The lively discussion continued, but Tim McCarver and Joe Buck paid it no mind. It’s not like on-field microphones never pick up interesting conversations between players, you know?

Then it occurred to me that Beltran (from Puerto Rico) and Ortiz (from the Dominican Republic) might not have been speaking English. So, even if the parabolic mic had been able to record their conversation, nobody in the Fox broadcast could have possibly been able to understand it or comment upon it.

Think about that for a minute. In 2013, there were  1,408 Major League baseball players. 327 of them were born in Spanish-speaking nations or territories (Colombia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Puerto Rico, Venezuela). That’s 23% of the population–just under one in four major leaguers.

Of those 327 Major Leaguers born in Spanish-speaking countries, I count 7 on the World Series rosters.

And yet Fox Sports did not have at its disposal one reporter, sideline or otherwise, that might have shed some light on exactly what Ortiz and Beltran were so animatedly discussing at first base. Not one. Ken Rosenthal, fine baseball reporter that he is, doesn’t speak Spanish. Erin Andrews doesn’t speak Spanish either–hell, I’m surprised she can even feign interest in baseball, given her NCAA football roots. Joe Buck can’t speak Spanish. And Tim McCarver? McCarver can barely speak English.

The absence of a bilingual reporter, to me, amounts to a kind of journalistic malpractice. Fox had every opportunity to improve and enrich its coverage with a bilingual sideline reporter– It could have borrowed from its Spanish-language affiliate, Fox Deportes. By failing to do so, they passed up at least one potentially fascinating story in a tremendously fascinating World Series.

And it’s not like the capacity doesn’t exist. James Wagner of the Washington Post is bilingual, and his knowledge of Spanish has tremendously enriched the Post’s coverage of the Nationals, allowing him to speak to players like Wilson Ramos or Rafael Soriano in a language they can understand.

The linguistic blind spot manifests itself in other ways, too. The Cardinals and the Red Sox are playing in the World Series–but for every other organization in the Major Leagues, it is time to turn to off-season player development. Yes: winter ball. But players on MLB 40-man rosters cannot participate in the Caribbean Winter Leagues without a Winter League Agreement.  The Winter Agreement for this season was not finalized until October 12, one day after Opening Day in Venezuela. This was, in effect, a lockout that prevented MLB players from reporting to their Winter League teams–a story totally ignored by the English-language baseball press.

Baseball is certainly America’s Pastime. But if your organization’s mission is to bring the Pastime to America and make them understand it, you do your readers/viewers/listeners a great disservice if you don’t speak all of its languages.

Rehab Start

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I went down to Pfitzner Stadium to watch Ross Detwiler make his rehab start with the P-Nats. Since it was a doubleheader, I also got to watch AJ Cole pitch in the second game.
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Detwiler pitched 3.2 innings, allowing 1 run on 7 hits, with 1 walk and 4 strikeouts. The hits were mostly sharp, clean singles, and it seemed that he was missing low in the zone–but he looked pretty healthy. That’s good news for the Nats.

In the second game of the doubleheader, I got my first look at AJ Cole. Great, lively fastball and good change-up. He pitched 6 thoroughly entertaining innings. His only real mistake was a solo home run by  Keys third baseman Nick Delmonico. Otherwise, he pitched six innings of three-hit ball, striking out 11 and walking only 3. No wonder the Nats wanted him back–and got him back–in the Michael Morse trade.

That’s really all the analysis I have. I’ve been feeling pretty down lately, following the big league team, and I needed a break–a kind of mental rehab start, if you like. A single-admission doubleheader at the Pfitz on a beautiful day was just the ticket.IMGP1061
IMGP1045And what a ticket it was. For the princely sum of eleven dollars, I was able to watch two seven-inning games of, really, very entertaining baseball from a seat right along the chain-link fence on the first base foul line.

The PNats’ former incarnation, the Cannons, used to use “Real baseball, real close” as a promotional tagline. They’re not kidding. For eleven bucks, you get to be practically in the bullpen yourself.

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Another thing you notice is the quiet. During the breaks in play, it’s the cicadas, not the fans that roar. The crack of the bat, the pop of the glove in the catcher’s mitt; the umpires barking and the players calling out to each other: these are the sounds of the game.

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There was a pretty good crowd, though: announced attendance was over 5,000 for the doubleheader. Of course, the Pfitz is nowhere near Nats Park in terms of its creature comforts. It does, however, outdo the big league park in one very important way: The bar by the right-field stands had delicious and refreshing Port City Monumental IPA on tap. Nats park has no shortage of places to get beer–but does a pretty poor job of serving beer made in the area.

There’s a refreshing earnestness to minor league ball that you don’t get in the big leagues any more. When a single homely voice, or a choir of elementary schoolchildren, sings the national anthem, everyone–players, umpires, and the whole assembled crowd–stands at quiet, dignified attention. It is genuinely moving, and perhaps more so than any shock-and-awe display you will ever see in a big league park.
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The baseball was sometimes every bit as homely or elementary as the singing. In the bottom of the first of the first game of the doubleheader, the PNats led off with their Carolina League All-Star outfielder Billy Burns. He legged out a bunt hit–just barely–when Keys pitcher Brady Wagner uncorked a wayward throw to first baseman Chris Walker. The ball hit the chain link fence right in front of me, and, before the Keys knew what was happening, Burns, having turned on the jets, was standing on third. That was the only successful bunt of the day: the PNats would pop up bunts with distressing regularity.
IMGP1049Still, this was, as the old tagline had it, real baseball, and, as such, was really entertaining. Sure, there were the usual stupid promotional gimmicks between innings, but mostly, the crowd wanted–and got–a couple of decent baseball games for not a lot of money.

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Some of the keenest observers of the game were among its smallest. There were a lot of kids in the crowd. I could hear several of them compare what was happening in the game to games they themselves had played. It was kind of neat to see.

I’m not much of an autograph hound, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity. PNats centerfielder Michael Taylor hit a home run in the first game of the doubleheader. Between games, he was walking past the seats and was signing autographs. I handed him my scorebook. He looked at the scorecard, his scoreline, and signed right next to the home run. I smiled.

If you haven’t gone down to a PNats game in a while, you owe it to yourself to stop by and go. It’s a great way to take your mind off stuff–even if the stuff you’re taking your mind off is following the big league team, which is what you do to take your mind off everything else.

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Put Down the Tarp, Nats Town

Stay safe out there, everybody.

This hurricane is a worse than even THIS Nats park rain delay:

You remember that rain delay, right? When the skies cleared, Jayson Werth tied the game in the bottom of the ninth with a monstrous home run.

Well, Charlie and Dave sure didn’t forget it when they called Werth’s epic Game Four walkoff.

Stay safe, Nats town. When this rain delay we call winter is over, we’ll be back at the park soon enough.

Offseason Blues (part 1 in a bazillion) UPDATE: NOW WITH MORE DC SPORTS AWESOMENESS

As I went home after Black Friday, I calculated that, without baseball, I suddenly had something like twenty-four hours a week that I didn’t know what to do with–that figure being a conservative estimate of the number of hours I spent watching baseball in person or on television, or the Internet, or listening to Charlie Slowes and Dave Jaegler call a game on the radio, plus the hours spent going to, hanging out at, or coming from the ballpark.

I don’t think I’m all that unusual, and I haven’t really found anything to fill those hours.

So it’s somewhat comforting that former teen phenom (and future perennial superstar) Bryce Harper is also having a hard time figuring out what to do with his time. Harp’s turned his mind to sartorial matters lately, it seems:

(Just to clear up any ambiguity, I think he’s referring to his own personal “swag,” rather than his ever-faithful dog, Swag)

This takes a delightful turn, though, when he asks another youthful DC sporting hero for style help:

Even more delightfully, RGIII seems ready to oblige:

UPDATE: It appears that John Wall wants in on this particular conversation. This is like a perfect storm of youthful, off-the-field DC sporting exuberance. Hat tip and huzzah for Dave Huzzard, who alerted me to this :

(And, yeah, I know this is really more Nats Enquirer’s beat, but what can I say? I’m bored, too. When’s spring training?)

UPDATED UPDATE:The Great Wall is getting socks, too. Somebody needs to take a group picture.

Correcting the Record

And now, a correction.

Earlier today, I wrote a number of extremely grumpy comments on this Sports Bog piece about the demise Flagship’s Sports Junkies’ “Cised for Bryce” shirts.” I got some facts wrong, I was corrected, and I want to correct the record.

If you know me, or if you follow me on twitter, you’ll know I have no great affection for the Nats “Flagship” station. I love the Nationals Radio Network, which is carried on WJFK–I hate pretty much everything else on that station. I stand by all of my opinions about the Flagship’s “bandwagon” editorial policy.

I did, however, get one thing wrong. I said that 106.7 has not carried Nats day games:

Sure. But a number of weekday Nats day games have been consigned to the 200-watt dim-bulb transmitter of AM-1580. I appreciate AM DX’ing as much as any radio enthusiast, but…. If the much-ballyhooed “Flagship” isn’t broadcasting all the games, well…it’s not much of a flagship.

Well, that got Chris Kinard, program director over at the Flagship, pretty riled. He tweeted at me:

Sorry to let facts get in the way of your opinions, but we do carry all Nats day games and have all season.

I stand corrected. The Nats games not covered by 106.7 conflicted with late-season Wizards games–and the station is contractually obliged to carry the Wizards games.

I let my well-known contempt for the Flagship’s editorial decisions get to me. That’s not OK, certainly not for this blog. I owe (both of) my readers, as well as Chris Kinard, an apology. We’ll try to stick to the facts from here on out–or at least separate the facts from what I think about the facts.