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Tag Archive: baseball


   

Review by C.J. Bunce

Summer means baseball, and so it’s time again to delve back into the mythology of the game.  Like every other American sport, baseball is very different than it was when Bernard Malamud wrote his first novel, The Natural, in 1952.  At that point countless fictional stories had been written about the game, yet it’s his story that grabbed the attention of readers and it has since been referred to as both the first great baseball novel and the best ever written.  The novel was made into a major film that was nominated for four Oscars and starred Robert Redford as hero/antihero Roy Hobbs–the film, too, is on many rankings of the best sports movies ever made.  For those who have only seen the film, they’ll find most of the novel familiar, but several differences will make the movie more enjoyable for most.  Roy of the book is an oddity but in different ways than the Roy of the movie.  Malamud’s story is a dressing down of baseball more than an inspiring showcase of the great American pastime.  The movie on the other hand is another film about a fractured sports hero who comes out on top in the end.

For its day, and without the benefit of all the great baseball stories, real or imaginary, that have been passed around since, Malamud’s novel is a fine piece of American literature.  It’s about a young man who creates a baseball bat that he names Wonderboy.  It either possesses some kind of magic, or it’s all in Roy’s head.  Either way, Roy experiences the same bad luck (being at the wrong place at the wrong time results in Roy getting shot), misfortunes (he misses his opportunity to be a professional player because of the gunshot, and so he doesn’t get a chance again until everyone else says he is too old), trials (he’s constantly after the woman who doesn’t care about him when the one we all know he belongs with is right there in front of him), and successes (he eventually albeit briefly gets his fifteen minutes of fame).  Yet Roy’s ego and the general lack of develop of the other characters result in a story with truly no one to care about.  The baseball as backdrop is thin, nothing so deeply researched and vivid, for example, as Harry Turtledove’s The House of Daniel (reviewed here at borg.com last year).  Malamud writes his baseball scenes with the feel of a radio announcer shouting out the stats during gameplay.  His hero/antihero could be a driven character who fails and falls in any story (any sport or any vocation), and it feels like baseball is more of an excuse to tell Roy’s story.

   

Yet there is something about the aura of baseball that Malamud gets right.  His novel does illustrate well the level of superstition among baseball players, which continues today.  His cast of characters may have determined the similar stereotypical cast of characters in every baseball movie since.  Yet Malamud couldn’t find a place for real women in a baseball story, so he populates his story with three odd characters: the first shoots Roy (and incredibly enough was based on a real incident, the shooting of Eddie Waitkus, derived from the dark recesses of baseball lore), the second only has value for Roy because she is attractive, and plays the siren luring him to the dark side (aka rigged gambling), and the third is like some kind of sign from God, a muse for Roy appearing from nowhere to make Roy win at baseball again after a long slump.  So ultimately readers will need to dig deep to find the Americana in the book–hidden between the action you can find it as he revisits his dreams and memories of the past, as he looks out the train windows, and as he tries and fails to figure out what makes him tick.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As professional baseball takes us into the playoffs this week, we could have a repeat of last year’s World Series, with the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians again vying for the championship.   Just in time, a new Harry Turtledove novel is now in bookstores that will take baseball fans backward in time with a bird’s-eye view of life as a farm team ball player during the Great Depression.  The House of Daniel follows a down on his luck “Okie” as he plays a season of semipro baseball on a team based on the real church-sponsored team called The House of David, known for its religious flavor and long-haired players–an early take on the Harlem Globetrotters but without the theatrics.  During the Great Depression the team barnstormed the country along with dozens of other teams that sprouted out in every corner of small town America, providing a source of income for players and providing the average American a few hours of respite from a bleak reality, all for a few cents per ticket.  Hugo Award winner Turtledove’s account of player Jack Spivey is a fictionalized one, but his knowledge of farm teams and forgotten byways reflects a historic realism that will make you forget this is also a supernatural tale.  Turtledove is known for his alternate histories, and this time he throws in a past with a Kim Newman style change-up, with vampires, wizards, werewolves, voodoo, UFOs, and zombies interspersed in what would otherwise be a typical work of historical fiction.

Baseball fanatics will be impressed, but fantasy readers may not find enough here to satisfy.  In fact, about 100 pages into the novel only the slightest mention of a fantastical element will remind the reader this isn’t entirely straight fiction.  The fantasy elements could easily be excised leaving behind the kind of account that will have you thinking you’ve picked up a lost John Steinbeck novel.  Spivey is a semipro baseball player.  Everyone everywhere is poor, except for the few with power and influence to control the rest.  Spivey is asked to work over a guy by the man who controls him–the price for a bit of protection and relief money, but when Spivey arrives and finds the target of his thuggery is a woman, he tells her to get out of town and he looks for a way out.  Fortunately for him, two ball players for the well-known barnstorming team called The House of Daniel literally collide while fielding a pop fly into the outfield, leaving an opening for Spivey to join up.  Thus begins a long, really-small-town by really-small-town-travelogue, told first person by Spivey, as the team bus takes him and his team across every bump of every gravel highway, into every diner, into every small field, and bunked at every boarding room between Enid, Oklahoma, and Denver, between Salt Lake City and Idaho Falls, and between Seattle and San Diego.  But first Spivey needs to wear a wig and glue on a fake beard until he can grow his own.

Long-haired baseball players from the real House of David team that inspired Turtledove’s House of Daniel team in his novel.

Spivey infrequently looks over his shoulder for the mobster’s hitman who could show up any day to claim his pound of flesh.  Meanwhile we follow Spivey and get to know him and his Southern Oklahoman accent thanks to Turtledove’s believable dialect forged from the Tom Sawyer school of talkin’.  After a few chapters the reader gets the hang of his colloquialisms and from then on it’s hard not to get sucked in.  The road and player’s life on it becomes “old hat” for Spivey, and whenever the meandering, wandering from town to town (with the ultimate destination a tournament in Denver) becomes a bit stale, Turtledove inserts his fantasy bits.  Like a couple of encounters with Depression era vampires trying to con their way into an invitation to the current boarding house.  Or strange lights in the night sky over a small town in New Mexico.  Or zombies, who have replaced slave laborers in some parts of the country.

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Kauffman Stadium 14 innings Tuesday October 28 2015 World Series Game 1

As predicted by Bob Gale in his script for Back to the Future II, it was the destiny of the Chicago Cubs to be playing–in fact sweeping–this year’s World Series.  At least in the current alternate timeline we’re all living in, that just didn’t happen.  If the Cubs hadn’t lost to the New York Mets they would have played Game 1 tonight at the home field of the American League champs instead of Wrigley Field because the American League won this year’s All Star Game.  That meant Game 1 was played in Kauffman Stadium, and had the Cubs made it to the Series they would have faced off against the Royals last night in Kansas City.

In that game we got to see the second longest game in World Series history–14 innings, ultimately with the Royals taking the win, 5-4.  The bright lights at the stadium in the wee hours of this Wednesday morning seemed to actually burn into the wet night’s sky.  Fourteen innings and more than five hours of exciting gameplay.  You can’t have a better World Series game than that–well, unless you’re a Cubs fan.

Bunce World Series 2015 dugout

We did our part, yours truly and borg.com writer Elizabeth C. Bunce were bound and determined to see the Royals face off against the Cubs, because we’re sci-fi (and Royals) fans, and thanks to our friend Mike we watched Game 1 from dugout seats last night.  Watching Lorenzo Cain steal second base when you’re sitting at first base… just can’t be beat. (And, hey, that stolen base means Taco Bell must give away free A.M. Crunchwraps on November 5, 2015, because they sort of lost a marketing bet in their Steal a Base, Steal a Breakfast campaign–see here for details).

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Billy Butler World Series Oyo KC Royals figure 2014   Buster Posey SF Giants World Series Oyo figure 2014

Thanks to the magic of targeted Internet advertising, these Lego-ish figures streamed across the ad banner of borg.com this week and caught our attention.  (You know how we like finding ways to talk about baseball here).  Although they look at first blush like Lego knock-offs, these figures by Oyo Sports are fully licensed by Major League Baseball.  Turns out, according to the Oyo Sports website, they seem to have been inspired by Legos, but attempt to go further by expanding the articulated movement of the standard building block figure.

And you gotta love how they matched up the goatees with the players.

You can buy individual players or team building sets, and not just for the current American League and National League champs.  You can get current players and retired players like Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly, and Bob Feller, or even mascots for pro and college teams, and figures from other sports.  You can buy them on Amazon here.

KC Royals Oyo Gametime set

The playsets for the current World Series teams reminded us of the metal figures some Dungeons & Dragons players use to visualize their role-playing game.  Maybe this could be a new twist on fantasy baseball?

Electric Football

It’s the latest incarnation of sports table top play–remember electric football?

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The creators that made Ray, the biopic of musician Ray Charles, a critical and financial success are back with another biopic, starring a relative newcomer, TV actor Chadwick Boseman as baseball legend Jackie Robinson, who (as everyone knows or should know) was the first black player in Major League Baseball, and became one of the best players of all time.  The film is titled simply 42, representing the number worn by Robinson throughout his career, the number retired by the league back in 1997 in honor of Robinson.

Baseball movies have become their own genre, although they dip in and out of other genres more commonly featured here at borg.com from time to time, like the spectacular Kevin Costner fantasy movie Field of Dreams and the magical Robert Redford film The Natural.  There is a whole slew of baseball comedies, too many to list, but they include Bull Durham, Major League, The Sandlot, and The Bad News Bears.   Most movies we think of as true baseball movies are firmly entrenched as the classic American apple pie movie–these include great biopic films about triumph in the face of adversity and include Eight Men Out with John Cusack, The Pride of the Yankees with Gary Cooper, and last year’s Moneyball with Brad Pitt.  42 looks to be set to fit into this last category.

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By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

The Midsummer Classic, baseball’s All-Star game, takes place on Tuesday and to help out you non-baseball fans, here are some cool things to keep in mind as you watch.  I’ve tried to frame the game in ways that I hope will make it easier for non-fans to understand.

Centerfielders Abound Just Like The Simpsons Episodes!

In the third season of The Simpsons (a season that I love for my favorite Halloween episode “Treehouse of Horror: II” because the frogurt is cursed) they had a baseball crossover episode called “Homer at the Bat” that starred the biggest baseball stars of the age, including Ozzie Smith, Mike Scioscia, Don Mattingly, Wade Boggs, Jose Canseco and Darryl Strawberry.  At the end of the episode, you hear a revised version of “Talkin’ Baseball” by Terry Cashman called “Talkin’ Softball.”  The new version replaced the signature “Willie, Mickey and the Duke,” with “Homer, Ozzie and the Straw.”  The original song commemorates the city of New York and the three great centerfielders that played there at the time, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider.  Today, a couple of new centerfielders, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, have drawn comparisons to these celebrated players of the past.  Add to them the great defensive centerfielder for the Braves, Michael Bourn, and you have a new part to the song, “Michael, Harper and the Trout.”  As the linked articles say, we’ll be seeing these guys for a while, and you’ll be lucky to catch glimpses of them both in their first All-Star Game.

The Fellowship of the Championship Ring

In baseball when you win the World Series, each member of the team now gets a championship ring.  To win the World Series, a team must win four games.  To get to play four games at home, the league must win the All-Star Game.*  So, think of it this way – the players for each team in the All-Star Game are like the league’s Fellowship of the Ring.  Nine members of the fellowship, nine players start for a baseball team. They are there to protect the interest of their league in procuring rings in October.  Here’s your guide to what person in each league equals each member of the Fellowship.

Frodo Baggins – Mike Napoli, AL;  Buster Posey, NL

Frodo was the guy that was modest but really in charge, and that just screams the position of catcher to me.  I put catcher Mike Napoli here because he looks like he would have hairy feet and Buster Posey because he has a baby face like Elijah Wood.

Samwise Gamgee – Derek Jeter, AL;  Yadier Molina, NL

Samwise had to be the most loyal person in the history of literature.  So, for his position, here are two players that have been with the same team for their entire career.  Derek Jeter with the Yankees and Yadier Molina with the Cardinals.  The fact that Molina also looks like he has hairy feet is just a bonus.  Since Molina won’t be at the game due to being on the bereavement list, I think Carlos Ruiz makes a great substitute as he has always been a Phillie and also looks to have hairy feet.

Merry Brandybuck and Pippin Took – Elvis Andrus and Asdrubal Cabrera AL;  Rafael Furcal and Jose Altuve, NL

If hobbits were ever to play baseball, they’d have to be middle infielders, generally the smallest players on the diamond.  Jose Altuve, the 5’5” second baseman for the Astros, makes this list as the slightest of all the players.  Elvis Andrus joins him because not only is he a middle infielder, he has hobbit power with only 1 home run.  Add to them shortstops Asdrubal Cabrera and Rafael Furcal and you got some serious small and quick guys (small being relative as Elvis and Asdrubal both stand 6’0”.)

Gandalf the Grey – Joe Nathan AL;  Chipper Jones, NL

When I think grey, I think older, as in, “I keep getting older and keep getting more grey hairs.”  So, for Gandalf, look no further than the two oldest players on each team that I didn’t select for another character.  Joe Nathan is just a little bit younger than Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones is the oldest player on both teams at the ripe old age of 40.

Aragorn – Robinson Cano, AL;  Matt Kemp, NL

I think of Aragorn and I think of a strong leader.  So, for Aragorn I choose the Home Run Derby Captains, Robinson Cano and Matt Kemp.  If we were just judging it on dreamy guys, because I think all fan girls swoon at the sight of Viggo Mortensen, then I think Matt would still easily make this cut. (He dated Rihanna.  Don’t worry, you probably don’t know her because you didn’t see Battleship.  Trust me – she’s very pretty.)  We’ll give Robinson Cano the benefit of the dreamy doubt as well.

Legolas – Curtis Granderson AL;  Andrew McCutchen, NL

I think Legolas, I think lithe.  Yes, both Andrew McCutchen and Curtis Granderson can hit a lot of home runs, but watching them cover ground in centerfield harkens back to Legolas running through the woods without getting winded.

Gimli – Prince Fielder, AL;  R.A. Dickey, NL

Prince Fielder is an easy choice as he is easily the most bearded guy on the field, and if there is one thing that dwarves can do, it’s grow a beard.  R.A. Dickey might not be as bearded as Prince, and since he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, he may be closer to Frodo or Sam climbing Mt. Doom, but I wanted to be sure to include him on a list because he is cool.  He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.  If you want an NL player with the same physique as Prince and Gimli, the Kung Fu Panda (yes, that is his nickname) Pablo Sandoval is pretty close.  If I had to name a fourth dwarf, David Ortiz of the AL would easily make the list.

Boromir – Josh Hamilton, AL;  Joey Votto, NL

I think Boromir, I think of a big, strapping, huge guy ready to take on all comers.  As far as hitters go, you can’t get much bigger and stronger than Josh Hamilton and Joey Votto.  (If you think of Boromir as a traitor, put a little more Sean Bean as Ned Stark in your viewpoint.)  Right now, Joey and Josh are 1st and 3rd in wOBA, a stat created by Tom Tango to measure the whole picture of a player’s offensive contribution.  What does that mean?  They are the first and third best hitters in the game right now.

Now, you can watch the game, look at all these players and see if you agree with me.  If nothing else, it will keep your mind occupied in between the action on the field.  To make it simpler, just look at the big screen on each player and ask yourself: hobbit, dwarf, elf or man?

*Is it a good rule to have the home team of the World Series determined in this way?  Probably not, but I have much bigger complaints in the world and all the griping I hear now should have been as loud for alternating years back in the 80s.  Weee!  It’s an even numbered year and that means NL home field advantage!  Weee!  Do I sound bitter for being a fan of the Cardinals who made the World Series in the odd numbered years of 1985 and 1987 when I actually paid attention?  Yeeessss!

Pitchers pitching as fast as a Tron Identity Disc

Yes, Tron and Flynn can throw their identity discs with the speed of a starship, but wait until you see what these pitchers can do with a baseball.  Because the radar gun in Kansas City is “hot,” the readings will regularly look to be near triple digits, but even if you know that ahead of time and adjust down two miles an hour, you’ll still have plenty of chances to see guys that can throw a baseball at speeds approaching 100 miles an hour.  Here’s a list of pitchers and their average fastball velocity, but to simplify it to those on the All-Star roster, here are the All-Stars with their average fastball speed:

Stephen Strasburg – NL – 95.9 mph
David Price – AL – 95.5 mph
Justin Verlander – AL – 94.0 mph
Gio Gonzalez – NL – 93.3 mph
Clayton Kershaw – NL – 93.2 mph
Yu Darvish – AL – 93.0 mph

That’s just the starting pitchers.  These relievers can also throw very, very fast:

Craig Kimbrel – NL – 96.8 mph
Joel Hanrahan – NL – 95.9 mph
Fernando Rodney – AL – 95.6 mph
Jim Johnson – AL – 94.3 mph

If you look beyond the speed and just want to see pitches that move in crazy directions, check out R.A. Dickey and his “angry” knuckleball.  Yeah, that’s off the point, but I wanted a chance to mention R.A. Dickey again.

Hope that helps non-baseball fans to enjoy the game.  Happy viewing!

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