The Colorado Rockies are in the World Series? Seriously? I must admit, I never thought I’d see that happen. To be honest, I didn’t actually <em>see</em> much of it, thanks to those 10 PM eastern starts. I caught a few innings here-and-there either at the beginning of games, or on the nights when my cough kept me awake and I went downstairs for awhile.
It’s a shame most of the country has missed their run, because it is one of the most remarkable runs in sports, ever. Pro sports teams just don’t run off 22 game stretches where they win 95% of the time. Especially when pretty much every game in that stretch has been do-or-die. At least we’ll get to appreciate them in the World Series, which means they’ll fall apart completely and America will wonder what the big deal was all about.
In the AL, the series is on the verge of becoming very good if you’re a true baseball fan. Although the Indians have won the past two games, the battles between Cleveland pitchers and Boston batters have been incredible. I love watching pitchers and batters match wits, with at bats lasting 10, 12, 15 pitches. If the Red Sox had to trail in the series, it makes sense that it comes down to the ultimate team guy, Tim Wakefield, to save their bacon tonight.
I’m having trouble finding a reason to root against Cleveland. Well, there is one big reason not to. The mascot. We can argue all day about the use of Native American mascots in sports (I think they’re wrong. “Honoring” them? Give me a break. So we stole their land, used horrible, crude methods of biological warfare to kill them off, broke nearly every treaty we ever signed with them, then relegated them to reservations that might as well have been in Third World countries guaranteeing most would never have an equal opportunity for success in life, then we “honor” them by naming sports teams after their noble, warrior spirits? Please.) but there is no defending using a big, red-faced Indian with a crazy grin on his face as a mascot. Aside from Chief Wahoo, the Indians might have the best uniforms in the league. I love the color scheme and options they use. But the big Chief needs to go. A few baseball blogs have been referring to the Cleveland ballclub as the Spiders, since that name was once used by the franchise. I dig that. A lot of cool options for logos and merchandising. They should make the change now.
I must admit, though, my favorite thing about the playoffs is Manny Ramirez. I think he’s the most misunderstood player in baseball. People tend to think he’s a clueless space cadet who only cares about himself. There’s certainly an element of truth to that, but I don’t think it gets to what he’s really all about.
First, he’s one of the greatest hitters I’ve ever seen. Even when he makes an out, you can see that he’s working hard to get the bat on the ball and put it in the right place on the field. There are all kinds of stories about how other players marvel at his approach to each at bat, how he has a plan for what he’s going to do on every single pitch. There are even stories, and I’m not sure if they’re apocryphal or not, about how he intentionally misses pitches in order to set the pitcher up to throw them again later in the game, or even later in the season. I love when Manny strolls around the batter’s box between pitches, looking up into the sky. I get the impression he’s either thinking, “Now this guy threw me a splitter away on this same count two months ago and got me looking. But, his splitter hasn’t been working tonight, so he’ll probably come with something fast inside since he’s gone with that pitch on 2-2 counts 75% of the time over the last six weeks in night games playing in relative humidities below 65%.” -or- “I like birds. Their chirping makes me happy. I think I’ll buy a bird tonight. When I get back to the dugout, I’ll ask Papi if he knows a good place to buy birds.”
What I really love about Manny, though, is his child-like enthusiasm. When things are going good, he seems genuinely happy, as child who is joyful when playing. I love the way he chats up other players while on the bases, clearly joking around with them. When he makes a catch in the outfield that is a little more difficult than it should have been, I love the sheepish grin he gives his teammates, and the pointing back at them when they acknowledge his effort as if to say, “You didn’t think I’d get that?” Even his celebratory admirations of his home runs make me laugh. When Barry Bonds is clearly preening and making sure he’s the center of attention, Manny, again, comes across like a kid. “Did you see what I just did? Isn’t that cool? Isn’t this fun?!” Instead of macho posturing, he brings the basic love of the game too many players lose while they’re making the transition from kid to adult. Cleveland might rock, but Manny definitely rocks.