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Friday, October 16, 2015

Who I'm liking in baseball playoffs (hint: it isn't the Chicago Cubs)


I wrote just last week how the death of a dear friend had given me crucial life perspective, that in the great scheme of things the Pirates losing a one-game wildcard playoff didn’t really matter.
I lied.
I am bereft! Devastated! Bereaved! Disconsolate! Mournful!
Forlorn?
Hell, it’s been more than a week and I still feeling closer to eightlorn.
I really thought this was the year the Bucs would make a nice long run. More than a few top experts picked them to win it all.
Alas, it was not to be.
So once again I’m left to contrive some stupid artificial reason to cheer for a bunch of overpaid strangers I’m pretty sure I’d mostly dislike if I ever met them in their street clothes.
This is a very poignant time of year for ardent baseball fans like me. Best case scenario: there are only 21 games left 
So when people ask me what I’m hoping will happen, I always say, “Game 7s, rain delays and extra inning games that don’t end until spring training.”
Spring training, by the way, begins in 126 days.
We’re left with the Toronto Blue Jays vs. the Kansas City Royals in the American League; and in the National, the New York Mets vs. the Chicago Cubs.
Let’s break it on down:
Kansas City Royals — I’ve never been to Kanas City, don’t know anyone from Kansas City and think if Kansas was good enough for Dorothy and Toto, it’s good enough for me. Still, I’m suspicious of Kansas City because Kansas City tries to hide half its population in Missouri. That’s very deceptive. What does Kansas City, Kansas, have against Kansas City, Missouri? I’d like to see Royal players who live in one state square off against the Royals who reside in the other. But my ignorance of the city and its people works to their benefit. I can’t hate what I don’t know.
Toronto Blue Jays — Many Pittsburghers are rooting for the Jays. Our former catcher, Russell Martin, departed the Bucs last year because he wanted to play for his native country. We admire that. And until Trump tells us it’s time to extend our xenophobic hatred to Canada, Martin’s is a feel good story. But for me it goes deeper than Martin. I have a family connection to Jose Bautista. My daughter met him. It was 2008, Bautista’s last year as an unheralded Buc. Josie, then 8, got drawn for a “Kids Take the Field” Sunday. She was stationed at 3rd base and stood there for pre-game festivities until it was time for the players to come out. Each kid was given a ball for the players to sign. I was thrilled. She was so cute. I stood above the dug out filming as this massive ballplayer bent down to converse with my daughter. When she returned, I asked what they’d talked about. “I said, ‘Hi!’ and he said, “Gimme the ball.’ Was that it? “That was it.” So, Bautista has remained a favorite of mine because he didn’t say, “Gimme the ball, bitch,” to an 8 year old. Classy guy. And he hit what is already one of the most iconic homers in baseball history to beat the Texas Rangers (and, boy, would this rant be different if Texas were still alive). The homer followed an ugly incident in which enraged Toronto fans rained beer cups on the field. This is disqualifying behavior for many cultural observers. Not for me. Had this happened in any major American city, the fans would not have tossed beer cups in protest. They’d have drawn concealed weapons and begun firing indiscriminately. So because of their comparative civility, I’m rooting for the Canadian team to beat the Kansas City hooligans in seven games.
New York Mets — Many Americans reflexively hate New York City and all it stands for. Not me. I love New York, admire the Yankees and have overcome my old hatred of the once-rival Mets. Hating the Mets was for me like a religious conviction. Part of it goes back to ’92 when they stole once-stalwart Bobby Bonilla from the Pirates. I remember Bonilla turning down a $25 million Pirate contract saying, he needed to “take care of my family,” a comment that caused then Pirate manager Jim Leyland to observe, “For $25 million, he could take care of Guam.” But after decades of comical fecklessness, these Mets are a spunky bunch. Plus, if you hate New York, what you’re really saying is you hate the Yankees and the Mets winning infuriates the Yankees.
The Chicago Cubs — The Cubs winning is great story. They haven’t won in 107 years, the longest drought in professional sports. They’re America’s favorite underdog. I, too, love underdogs. Heck, rooting for the favorite would be like me rooting against myself. But I can’t root for the Cubs. It’s very surprising because I love Chicago, have had some great times at Wrigley and the city is home to many good friends. But I can’t root for the Cubs for two primary reasons: The first is Steve Bartman. The name is unfamiliar to casual baseball fans, but many Cubs fans foster an irrational hate for him that supersedes even arch-villains like Roger Goodell. Bartman had the misfortune to in a 2003 playoff game be sitting in the front row when a possibly catchable foul ball drifted near. Reacting on fan instinct he reached out for it, possibly interfering with Cub shortstop Moises Alou’s ability to catch it for the out. Ugly death threats followed. And if you checked out the picture of the guy (above) you’ll be forgiven if you mistook him for Charlie Brown. A lifelong fan, he’s never returned to Wrigley. They ruined his life. It’s appalling. Worse, I personally witnessed what Cub fans will be like if, God forbid, they do win. For all the gory details about why I hate the Chicago Cubs I urge you to read the below link helpfully headlined, “I hate the Chicago Cubs.” Like-minded friends are worried about the Cubs. I am not. I tell them the Cubs will eventually realize they are Cubs and all will be well.
I’m rooting for the Mets to win in 7.
In the World Series, let’s go with the Blue Jays to win in 7.

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