Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Both Barrels

Rough times for Cardinals fans....Pujols is out 4-6 weeks with a fractured wrist and all of a sudden, the Cardinals look like a very mediocre team. Of course, anyone who's a fan of a team in the NL Central has to acknowlege that even the best team in the division might be mediocre. Injuries have been a big part of the story of the 2011 Cardinals, but when you have a guy like Albert Pujols in your lineup you tend to weather the storm. But even with guys like Holliday and Berkman around to help keep this ship on the right course, you don't lose a guy like Albert to injury and not see some kind of impact. I didn't think the impact would be quite this noticeable, though.

One thing that I never do is celebrate injury. I think the vast majority of Cardinal fans are with me on this one. As a whole, we're a part of a fanbase that appreciates good baseball, and so that's why a recent post by a friend on Facebook has been bugging me for the last few days.
"My condolences to the Cardinals fans on the loss of your Pujols for 4-6 weeks. Today's message is brought to you by the letters H and A!! ;)"

Now to be completely honest, I'm married to one of THE greatest Cubs fans in the world. Her first words when she heard of the injury were "So we won't see Albert when we go to St. Louis?" (We're making our annual trip to Busch for the 7/29 game vs. the Cubs). That's how a real fan reacts. But too many Cubs fans seem to fit the comment above. Well, folks, it's a little too easy, but rather than respond directly to this "friend" I decided this was a better forum to blow off a little steam with responses that I'd have to that statement. With both barrels.....

  1. Well now I feel bad....I didn't share my condolences when Darwin Barney...your team's best player....hit the DL.
  2. Umm, when you posted this, you were still 5 games behind the Pirates. now you're 8.
  3. (the LeBron answer) But when you wake up tomorrow you're still going to have the same problems....you're still rooting for the Cubs.
  4. The hand gesture I'm showing you has been brought to you by the numbers 1, 9, zero and 8.
  5. My favorite joke from 2006 was "What do the Cubs and Cardinals have in common? Neither team has won a World Series in their new stadium." Of course, the Cardinals ruined it by winning the 2006 World Series. I resurrected it in 2009 with the Yankees (my other favorite team) instead of the Cardinals. They ruined it, too. Doesn't have the same zip if you plug in the Twins, does it? Ahh, but it's still fun.
  6. Good for you....maybe you'll only finish 15 games behind the Cards instead of 20 (or more).
  7. Feels like I should be able to come up with a really witty response, but after 100+ years of this, I've grown weary of making fun of the Cubs (Ok, not old enough to have done this for 100 years, but you get the idea...).
Thanks. Felt good getting that out of my system.

(and seriously, this is meant in fun, and with the type of spirit that makes the Cardinals/Cubs rivalry the most fun in baseball)

Monday, June 20, 2011

LeBron could learn from ARod, Jeter

It might be the most I've enjoyed a championship that didn't involve a team that I cared about. It's also probably the first time since the Jordan era came to a close that I've really watched an NBA Finals series that didn't involve the Celtics. The rational human being that lurks somewhere inside my head wanted to feel at least a little bit sorry for LeBron and Heat as they fell short of their own expectations, but the obnoxious sports fan - as he often does - took over and enjoyed every second of the Heat's demise. He even switched over to see just how dejected the losers looked after the last two losses. I don't think I'm much different from any fan out there that doesn't hail from Cleveland. I don't really have any reason to hate the Heat and LeBron except for "The Decision" and the premature championship celebration. No use in spending more time talking about those events. Bottom line, you celebrate a title that you have yet to win, and people are going to love watching you lose. At times, I feel a bit uneasy at how we put people up on a pedestal in our culture and then try to tear them apart. Yet, you just know that one day, after LBJ has failed to win title after title, he'll be the sentimental favorite.

One thing that just baffles me about LeBron is how he simply refuses to learn from his previous gaffes and continues to give the public things to pick apart. He really has replaced ARod as the most needlessly dissected athlete in America.....at least until the next girlfriend is caught feeding ARod popcorn at a sporting event. Truthfully, the steroid fiasco took some of the fun out of hounding ARod. So we've moved on to LeBron. He doesn't come off as calculated as Rodriguez, but he does have the same talent for saying something completely dumb at the worst possible time. Case in point, LBJ was doing a decent enough job answering questions during the post-game presser after the Mavs clinched. Then, all of a sudden and seemingly out of nowhere, he responds with a quite that sounded to many as if he was essentially saying "I'm still 'King James', you're still a bunch of peasants, and when you wake up tomorrow, then next day, the next month, that will still be the case." It's up to you to decide what he really meant with the statement, but everyone agrees it was a poor choice of words. LeBron could learn a thing or two from a guy like Derek Jeter -- a guy who very rarely seems to be the center of controversy even playing in New York. Instead, LeBron seems to have taken a few pages out of ARod's "Guide to Embarrassing Yourelf In Front of the Media."

Thanks to my infrequent posting, a few other thoughts to share.....

  1. Someone in the Post Dispatch floated the idea that the Cardinals might be the best team in the majors, and the Cards answer with a 7 game losing streak that finally came to end against Kansas City on Saturday. When healthy, the Cardinals should be as much a contender as any other NL team. But, the injuries have caught up with the team a bit, and now we're facing 4-6 weeks without Albert Pujols....although knowing Pujols, it will only be 3 weeks.
  2. Speaking of Albert, the silver lining may be that it lowers the price tag a bit for 2012. Still can't imagine him playing in another uniform.
  3. I'm sure this will read as a Cards fan picking on Cubs fans, but I had to laugh that many of the Cubs fans I follow on twitter suggested that their team was putting itself back into the NL Central race. We all know the NL Central is a shaky division at best, but really, when your team comes off a nice stretch where you've made up ground and you're STILL 9+ games out.....well, you were that far back for a reason, and post-Memorial Day, these things don't tend to change. Sorry.
  4. Picking on the Cubs, Part II: Many Yankees fans that I follow on twitter said that the shine was off of young shortstop (of the future?) Eduardo Nunez now that they'd had a look at Starlin Castro. Wonder how they feel after watching the full series. To my eye, and it is admittedly one that looks for things to not like about the Cubs, Castro is much like Carlos Marmol and Carlos Zambrano -- tantalizing talent that makes you think he could be special, but a head that just as often makes you wonder how quickly he can get out of town.
Can't think of anything else that needed to be said....thanks for reading.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The I-55 "Rivalry"

With the possible exception of Celtics vs. Lakers, the I-55 rivalry is hands down my favorite in sports. I don't think it's one that translates outside of a particular geography, though, in the same way that C's/Lakers, Yankees/Red Sox or Packers/Bears does. A big reason for that was on grand display this past weekend.....It has seemed to be very rare in my 38 years that both the Cubs and the Cardinals have been good in the same season. They have been closer in the standings in the last decade, but the last time that this rivalry seemed to have real teeth was back in 2003 as the favored Cardinals just couldn't hang with Dusty Baker's surprising Cubs. But then in 2004, the roles flipped and the Cardinals returned the favor by being a juggernaut team (that eventually lost to the more...er, umm ....juggernaut-y Red Sox). But more often than not, it seems that when one team is a serious contender, the other fades by mid-August if not sooner. And we've certainly never seen any games with the kind of drama that was on display in the 2003 and 2004 playoffs when the Yankees and Red Sox met in the ALCS in consecutive years. It was those two series that really lead ESPN to believe that the nation really cared about that rivalry (and they've been shoving it down our throats ever since.....and I mean no disrespect -- I am as much a Yankees fan as I am a Cardinals fan).

But still, growing up in Central Illinois, this is the rivalry that seemed to matter above all others. Peoria is about 3 1/2 hours from St. Louis and about 3 from Chicago. Peoria' local Midwest League has been the low A affiliate to both the Cubs and the Cards at different points in the franchise's history -- and has seen the beginning of the careers of such talents as Greg Maddux, Mark Grace, Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. I had friends growing up that shared my love of the Cardinals, and I had just as many friends that were Cubs fans. (Side note....only a handful of folks cared about the White Sox until they donned black hats in the 90's. And even after that, they are a distant #3 in terms of baseball pecking order....maybe further down with the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and Braves having dominant stretches that attracted fans). For my 8th grade class trip, we had a choice of going to the St. Louis Zoo and a Cardinals game or spending a day at Six Flags. We voted for the former simply because it was the option that got us a day off of school. My 8th grade teacher, herself a huge Cubs fan, gave a lecture to the class that for the Cubs fans, it was one thing to go to St. Louis and cheer against the Cardinals, but another to do so wearing a Cubs hat (the opponent was the Braves). In other words, leave your Cubs apparel on the bus or at home.

The other reason that I love this rivalry -- it really is a friendly rivalry. I've watched games at Wrigley field, proudly wearing my red, and not been the least bit worried about being an opposing fan in "the enemy's ballpark." Same has held true for my wife when we've taken in games in St. Louis. Sure, you get a few good-natured barbs thrown your way, but I've never once felt like things would turn ugly (the same can't be said when I've worn my Yankees gear as a visiting fan). In truth, though my loyalties are rarely at odds (though I will admit to rooting for the Cubs in 2003 once the playoffs started), I just can't muster up much hatred for the Cubs. Doesn't mean I enjoy watching the Cards lose to them, but on days like today -- where the Cards have finished a heartbreaking sweep of the Cubs -- I really feel pity for Cubs fans as much as anything.

There are two players on the Cubs that I truly dislike....Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Marmol. I think both are perfect examples of the kind of misguided talent evaluation that has taken the Cubs from contenders in 2003, 2004 and 2007-09 and put them where they are today. They have great "stuff", but they also have screws loose that will ALWAYS prevent either from ever reaching his true potential. The Cubs will never win a World Series with Big Z in their rotation, and if they do ever get to a pressure packed game 7 in the NLCS with Marmol as their closer, I have no doubt that he'll fold just like he folded today. Zambrano is a bit easier to explain...I'm not sure where I picked up the intense dislike for Marmol.

But aside from that, there are a lot of Cubs players that I semi-root for....especially the young guys like Colvin and Barney. So on a day like today, I'm marveling at the way Pujols, in a down season, ended two straight games (one on a pitch that wasn't all that bad) in walk-off fashion. But I can't help but feel a bit sorry for a fan like my wife. She loves her team -- always will -- but has always had respect for the Cardinals. Of course, she like me, is married to a fan of the enemy, and related to several more such fans. But even in the worst of times, her stripes don't change. One change has happened, though. The cluelessness of the Ricketts family combined by the occasionally brilliant but mostly awful reign of Jim Hendry has made her somewhat apathetic to her team. For the second straight season, we're not going to make a single trip to Wrigley, which is especially note worthy because the Yankees come to play this year. In 2003, I burned a vacation day to buy tickets for the same series. This year, we decided that we didn't want to put any money in the Cubs' wallets. I'm thrilled with the way the Cardinals have hung in there all season -- one in which my expectations were fairly low -- but I do feel sad that a fan like my wife hasn't been able to feel the same sense of hope around her team. It's been years and years of either waiting for the bottom to drop out (when they're good) or just wondering how far down the bottom is (how she feels this year).