One of my proudest achievements in life is stealing a ball from a small child at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. The unfortunate kid missed the catch when the ball was thrown to him. When it landed on the vacant concrete a row behind him, I seized my courage and initiative and sprinted the five steps to the ball. I picked it up, mumbled "sorry" towards the "Shame on you!" protestations of the child’s mother, and stuck the ball in my pocket. It now lies on my brother Richard’s mantelpiece with the moniker ‘Sammy Sosa Ball’, the slugger having grounded out - that is, he was tagged out at first base after hitting it to the infield - in that inning. It's a pride that few in Scotland would relate to, and not just because of the stealing from a child element.
In Edinburgh, there is no university baseball team, a fact that will hopefully be corrected sooner rather than later. Unlike American football, there is no established fanbase that stays up late at night watching satellite TV to keep up to date with the latest goings-on. With the Major League playoffs in full swing (indeed, by the time The Journal goes to print most, if not all, of the contenders will have advanced to the league finals) my baseball junkie sibling says there are some main contenders we should look out for in the post-season.
"The Cincinnati Reds have their first base (1B) man Joey Votto, recently named his league’s Most Valuable Player, who has just been amazing in both fielding and hitting. The Phillies [of Philadelphia] have been really impressive, though, and there are some decent pitchers in their roster: Roy Halladay [who in the first play-off game against the Reds pitched a no-hitter, only allowing one man to walk on base] and Roy Oswalt, one of the best pitchers of the last twenty years, to name two.”
While Philadelphia’s pitching pen seems like Manchester City forward line, that of the New York Yankees - the Man United of the Major League - hasn’t been as convincing. The man with the number two jersey, recently shot by Mark Wahlberg in the movie The Other Guys, is struggling.
“Derek Jeter has had one of his worst seasons,” Rich offers, “hitting a .270/.280 average" - roughly scoring a base hit 27% of those he is at bat - "when he’s supposed to be over .300. The Yankees do have the best fielding percentage, so make the fewest errors of anyone in Major League; Mark Teixeira on first is like a vacuum cleaner, sucking everything up.”
Teixeira would make Rich’s all-star team, alongside Yankees infielders Robinson Cano. But the sport's most expensive player Alex ‘A-Rod’ Rodriguez, who is “pretty shaky sometimes, since he doesn’t move as fast as other 3B men" would not be at third base: "The Yankees can cope without him.”
Rich is sad that Texas Rangers’ Josh Hamilton is out of the post-season with injuries. Others, he says, battle on despite physical pain: “In 2004, Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling came out to the mound and pitched a few innings. The camera showed his shoe during the third, which was drenched in blood. People fight through injury in post-season; Jorge Posada did something similar.”
Posada will, as he has been for over a decade, be behind the plate this post-season, forming part of the 'core four' of Jeter, Pettitt and emotionless closing pitcher Mariano Rivera. Between them they have won the ‘five rings’; five World Series titles stretching from end of the '90s to 2009.
The news that the Boston Red Sox owners are, legal adjudication permitting, about to buy Liverpool FC is met with acclaim by Rich, who elaborates with reference to his prospective career in banking. “The new ownership will work because the Red Sox and Liverpool are similar. Both have a great history, a cult all around the world with a huge fanbase – most of the fans of both teams I know are certainly fanatical – both two of the best teams in their sport but just haven’t won as much as they should.
“Liverpool fans may be angry that their club is still in American hands but what Hicks and Gillett don’t have, and what the Glazers at Man United don’t either, is the understanding of the importance of the fans.”
Asked whether any Boston players could fill in for Torres at Anfield, Rich identifies 2B man Dustin Pedroia and speedy outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury; perhaps they can, in turn, make a pinch hitter of Lucas Leiva. In any case, Rich tips his Yankees for the win: “They’ll win in six, over the Phillies. Yankees-Rays and Phillies-Giants for the league finals.”
Trust the future investment banker, but don’t bet on it. It’s baseball, after all.