Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Memorable Moments of the 2022 Season



    It has been over a month, 38 days since the Phillies 2022 season ended. It took me some time to process and be able to put into words what this season meant to me. I refuse to let the defeat destroy my memories of this glorious season. As I was thinking about the season as a whole, I thought about what my low point was at first. That one was pretty easy for me. I was at the Phils versus Mets game in enemy territory on May 28th. The Phils were 21-26 at the time and were about to get swept in the 3-game series. The team looked listless, rudderless, and I could not see any moxie in the team whatsoever.

    Now that we got that ugly time in the 2022 season out of the way, I want to talk about a single point in the season when I thought maybe they had a phighting chance to make some noise. The date was June 15th and the Phils were playing the lowly Marlins. Well, lowly to most other teams, except the Phillies inexplicably had trouble beating Miami for what seemed like a decade. Kyle Gibson pitched maybe his best game of the year, with 8 innings of 1 run ball. However, the Phils had not scored any runs through those same 8 innings. Until the 9th, when backup catcher Stubbs launched a 3-run bomb into the rightfield stands to win the game for the Phils 3-0 in walk-off fashion. If you loved Rhys' bat slam, go take a look at what Garrett did as he was running down to first. An absolutely electric and epic celebration ensued. 

    Game 1 of the Wild Card series 9th inning doesn't normally happen FOR the Phillies, it happens TO the Phillies. That specific game and the 6 runs that the Phils scored in the 9th, on the road, against an incredible (but clearly hurt closer) made me think "this may be OUR year". Then in Game 2, the Phils behind Nola shut out the Cards to take the series and move onto the NLDS. More magic awaited.

    I was lucky enough to be at Game 5 of the NLCS  The Bryce HR to give the Phils the lead and send them to the World Series was the most important Phillies moment I have seen live. I was telling my friends that they either walk Bryce or bring in the lefty. The Padres manager did neither and I was dumb-founded. I was not 100% sure off the bat that the ball would leave the yard from where I was standing. There was that one moment when time stood still. Not believing something so amazing could happen to the Phils. I felt young again, jumping around and running back and forth yelling at the back of my section! What I remember most from that time is that I hugged every person in my section. Or they hugged me, I don't really recall. It was all a beautiful blur that I will remember, treasure, and chase to feel again.

    The hugging and high-fives didn't stop there. Me and my crew headed over to Xfinity to extend the celebration. It was a complete lovefest. We stayed so long because none of us wanted to leave for fear of losing that feeling, that our car was "locked" in the K Lot. We had to shimmy ourselves under the gate so that we could get the car and hoping that some gate was open or someone would let us out. To be honest, I was fine if I was stuck there all night.

    A team that spent one day in 1st place, was shutout 14 times, no-hit twice, changed managers mid-season, lost their best player for weeks, and by all metrics limped into the playoffs...gave us all a thrill. I think it was the unexpected nature of the run after such a poor start that made it even more memorable. 2023 will have high-er hopes for sure and I cannot wait for the ride. Maybe next year is 2023 folks!


Friday, September 23, 2022

Thanks, Coach!


    In baseball, you can be defined as a traditionalist, a progressive, or maybe somewhere in between. I enjoy the stats and numbers that baseball is defined by, however, the complete shift to analytics is something that has gone too far for me. There are no bunts, steals, hit and runs, contact, moving the runners along in baseball much anymore. I miss that aspect of the game and wonder if the baseball brand I played is now a relic. I want to tell that story and focus on a particular team and coach from my young playing career.

    My young life was very weird. I lived in Oxford Circle, went to grade school in Port Richmond and played sports in Bridesburg. This meant I had friends at a young age in many parts of the city. It also meant that the school friends weren't the neighborhood or sports friends. I didn't have that consistent connection to my neighborhood that most of my local friends had. I was somewhat of an outsider at first in school and sports because every other person lived in that community.

    I played for Bridesburg because that is where my Dad grew up and my grandmother still lived there. Bridesburg was a good connection and experience for me overall. People knew my Dad, we have a Polish last name and that made things a bit easier for me there. My first coach in travel baseball was Frank Swanson. Frank headed up the rec center there and also was a connection to allow me to get my first job at Gold Medal Sporting Goods when I was 15. 

    We had a decent team at Bridesburg and Frank was a good coach. I was just much more serious about baseball than most of my teammates. Practices were unregimented. The other kids on the team did not seem to care much if we won or lost. This frustrated me and allowed me to feel further different and often "act out". I was giving 100% and tried to do everything I could to help the team win. We did win the NE Department of Rec Championships when I was 9 and 10, but I was unsatisfied.

    My Dad saw what went on at practices and games, heard my displeasure, but I would work hard outside of practices and we won so I stayed at Bridesburg another year. When I turned 11, I decided to move up with the 12-14 team and a different coach. This was not my worst experience in baseball, but it was really close. Again I found that the teammates didn't care as much as I did. Practices again were just nonsense. The kids on the team were more concerned with chasing girls, drinking, and anything but baseball. That was not me. I wanted to get better and I felt even at that young age that Bridesburg was not the place for me any longer.

    That winter I had talked to my Dad about switching teams/ I wanted to play for a winner and to maybe be closer to Oxford Circle. The previous season my Bridesburg team had played a very good team, Max Myers. They seemed to have their act together, made very few mental mistakes and had what seemed to me like 10 coaches. The odd part was that my Bridesburg team beat them in the championship in prior years when I was on the 10-12 team.

    I felt like somewhat of a free agent that winter and I knew I was not going back to Bridesburg. Would it be Max Myers? Fox Rok? Lawncrest? All had good teams, but I wanted to play for Max Myers. My Dad and I found out when signups were and decided it was a good decision. It was closer to my house, had a great team and I figured the 10 coaches likely ran a better team. 

    I can still remember walking into Spruance School where the signups were. I was cocky, but still nervous. Would I fit in? Would I play to my potential? Would anyone like me, because I was NOT someone who was kind or friendly to opposing teams or players ever. At the table was the head coach and a man who changed my perception of baseball. He knew me and when he saw me, I do not think he knew why I was there at first. I said I was done with Bridesburg and wanted to have a chance to play with his team at Max Myers. Years later the coach told me that he knew that a good team was going to be great and he felt like he hit the lottery. I am not 100% those were the exact words, but this is my story, so I hope you give me some leverage.

    The coach was Sid Burstein. He was strict, kind, knowledgable and welcoming. I knew things were different IMMEDIATELY. I was handed a 40-page Xerox copy of different situations and where each fielder was expected to be, who was the cut-off man was, and where the pitcher should be. It was a handbook of almost every situation that would arise in a game. This was EXACTLY what I craved and needed. Practices were regimented. We ran through all of these situations time and time again until we got it right. Batting practice wasn't just trying to hit bombs the whole time. Sid would call out hit and run and we were to target the right side of the infield as a right-hander. For someone who loved baseball, this was heaven. 

    The team took to me pretty quickly overall. Max Myers was close to my Oxford Circle home, but most of the team was Jewish and I was raised Catholic. I wasn't sure if this would be weird for them or me and it turned out it was not at all. I found the entire team to be welcoming to me and my parents. I became friends with my teammates outside of the field. Most of what we did outside of the field was baseball related. Batting cages, baseball in the schoolyard, and VERY often it was a group of us getting together for our own team-led practice. I really was in baseball heaven.

    Sid was patient with me and I fully realize then and now that I was not easy to deal with. Heat-of-the-moment frustrations with myself, the opposing team, umpires, my own teammates, and coaches often had to be de-escalated by Sid. I can say that after almost every game, I was taken aside and told that the way I behaved was not good for me, the team, or anybody. Over and over again. Here is an example: We were playing a good team with a very good left-handed batter up. A man was on 2nd and we were up by a single run. Time was called and Sid came out to tell me to walk the batter. It was the right move at the right time and I disagreed. My macho bravado wanted to get the guy out myself. I knew I could and hated the feeling to give someone a free base. The catcher stood up, had his closed fist towards the right-hand batter's box and I wound up and hit the batter. I should have been removed from the game right there. When I came in after the inning, I was rightfully berated for what I did. I was adamant that I did what the coach wanted in the way I wanted and saved myself 3 pitches. It was an asshole move that I am still embarrassed about today.

    Sid preached fundamentals and defense. We practiced each of those over and over to where it became second nature. His attention to me as a player and person is something I hold dear and appreciate to this day. His message of not showing as much emotion on the field also got through...eventually. I thought you needed to show outward "fire", but was shown and told that there are better ways of doing things. If the umpire didn't give you a call, he was more likely to give you the next one if you didn't show him up. If a teammate made an error, you don't berate him out loud, but maybe encourage him and "pick him up". That will make you a better teammate and increase the synergy of your team. Thank You for all those lessons, Sid. They served me well in HS, College, and in life in general.

    This brings me back to baseball today. Will the pendulum swing back to a more fundamental game where contact is appreciated more than a .215 hitter with 40 HRs, but 200 K's? Will trying to move a runner over from 1st with no outs be applauded over swinging for the fences? Will throwing strikes win out over throwing 100 pitches in 5 innings with 10 K's? Will the Max Myers and Sid Burstein philosophy of Fundamentals and Defense return to baseball? I sure hope so, because I miss those days.


Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Radio Ga Ga


Freddie Mercury sang:

"I'd sit alone and watch your light

My only friend through teenage nights

And everything I had to know
I heard it on my radio"

There is something nostalgic and simple about listening to baseball on the radio. It hearkens back to a time in my life when things were easier. If I was not attending a game, I would prefer to listen to it on the radio, preferably on my front porch in the Summerdale area of Northeast Philly. I wasn't alone in doing this, as many of my neighbors were doing the same thing. I could walk around my entire block at night and not miss a play, because I knew Mrs. Narwich had the game on. So did Mr. Fox, who was about 10 houses down. The neighborhood was alive with the sounds of Harry and Whitey all summer.

My parents always joke with me saying they were the first 2 voices I heard, but Harry and Whitey were probably the next 2. I probably actually listened to Harry and Whitey more. I mean that figuratively and literally. What made the radio so cool to me then was more by necessity than by choice. When the Phillies went onto cable or pay TV, we simply did not have cable, so if I wanted to follow the game, radio was free and we had one of those!

I have recently shunned TV and almost exclusively listened to the Phils on the radio. I have cable and WiFi and 10 devices that I could watch it on. So the radio today is by choice. I like to use my imagination about where exactly the pitch went. I do not need that ridiculous strike box. I picture in my mind the pitcher looking in, taking the sign and throwing one low and away on an 0-2 count.

My wife recently bought me a vintage-style radio with a dial. No digital readouts or bass boost,BlueTooth nonsense. The radio plugs into the wall and I have to meticulously turn the dial to get just the right amount of clarity. I believe listening to a baseball game on the radio is best done outside the house. We have a stand-alone garage that I have recently rehabbed. Now don't get me wrong, it is not dry-walled with hardwood flooring and LED lights. It is basic, clean, and simple. Just like baseball on the radio is to me.

Part of the switch to radio is that I prefer the announcers. Franzke and LA are the best in the business. I do miss not hearing Kruk talk about food all game and generally making fun of himself. However, the other TV announcers are WAY TOO chatty and annoying overall. I also do believe that deep down TMac is a Mets fan, which is unforgivable. Now LA doesn't do many games anymore, but Franzke is more than enough to sure up the broadcast, even if it is Bourne or Stocker on with him. Murph did an exceptional job leading into the All-Star game and I hope he gets more opportunities. I liked his camaraderie with Scott and think he would be the perfect replacement for LA when he chooses to retire.

I was so wrapped up in 4K, surround sound video broadcasts of games that I generally did not listen to the games on the radio unless I was driving. I did not realize how much I loved the radio and missed it. I urge you to turn off the tube or tablet and take a single game in on the radio out under the sky, on your front steps, or in your garage. Preferably with a cold beverage of your choice in your hand.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

DPF Fable: The Frog and the Scorpion


    Let me tell you a fable about the frog and the scorpion. See, the scorpion needs to cross a river but cannot swim. The scorpion sees a frog by the edge of the water and asks him if he can climb on his back and make his way across the river. The frog is hesitant because the scorpion is deadly and worries about his own safety. The scorpion assures the frog that he would not sting him, else they both would drown in the river. This makes logical sense to the frog, so he agrees and the scorpion climbs on his back and they venture into the water. When they are halfway across, the scorpion does in fact sting the frog. Before they plummet into the depths, the frog asks the scorpion' "Why did you sting me when you know we will both die?". The scorpion replies, "Because I am a scorpion and that is what scorpions do."

    You may be asking why I am writing about a fable on a baseball page. The reason is this: We, as Phillies fans, are the frog. The scorpion has taken many forms, however. The bullpen, the GM, the farm system, Slapnuts, Starting Pitching to name a few. The other side of the river is a World Series Championship. Each year we allow the Phillies to climb aboard and we often get stung, by Memorial Day, 4th of July, etc. The die-hard fans are the frog in this case. We know by experience exactly what the Phillies will likely do year after year. For half of my life, the Phillies have been a below .500 team. Yet each February I have visions and hopes of October.

    There is a different perspective to take on all of this as well. At least we are not Pirates or Orioles fans, because those teams stink. Thankfully, we are not Yankees or Mets fans, because they are generally deplorable humans. Every so often the gods of baseball shine down on us and kiss the frog, which has happened twice in my lifetime. Hope is a dangerous thing to have. It is also a crushing thing not to have. Even Orioles fans have hope. Their hope is that they do not lose 100 games, but it is still hope.

    The scorpion this year may even be different. It is the owners and players themselves that are on their way to sabotaging a possible proper season. There is still hope, but as each day goes by, there is less of it. Too often, the recent hope of Phillies teams has been to be over 500 or to make the playoffs. This is a loser mentality. There is no grey area. The Phillies are either crowned World Champs of Baseball or I am disappointed. That's not to say that the entire season would be a disappointment. I want to feel the way I did in 1980 and 2008. I want to avoid how I felt in 83, 93, 09. I really want to avoid how I felt all of the other years between 1975 and 2021. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Strat-O-Matic Baseball - A Love Story


    I have always been a baseball fanatic. For Christmas in 1982, I asked for a subscription to Baseball Digest. It was a monthly baseball magazine, but it was the size of the old TV Guides. There would always be these weird ads and coupons for some baseball gear, but I was intrigued by the one by Strat-O-Matic (SoM). SoM is a card and dice-based game that can be played alone or with a group of friends. Think Dungeons & Dragons for the baseball nerd.

    Every cent that I had saved was dedicated to clipping the SoM ad and sending off for my own set. When I realized I did not have enough money, I set up a "stand" to sell some baseball cards on the corner of Summerdale and Langdon Streets near my house. I eventually started selling Kool-Aid as well, since I was of the entrepreneurial spirit and realized that I could get more money with the drinks and people perused the cards longer when they had a refreshment. It was more of a pop-up shop because as soon as I had enough money for SoM I closed up shop and sent off my money. It is funny to think of it now that I actually sent exact change via the mail!

    The day my SoM came in, I first read the rule book cover to cover before rolling a single die. I know that isn't normal but I need to know everything about what to do before I do it. From the first roll of the die, it was an INSTANT love affair. The game came with the full set of 1982 cards plus a few bonus teams (1927 Yankees and 1955 Dodgers). I would memorize names and stats, mix and match teams from different eras to play each other (the '27 Yanks usually thumped the '82 Phils, even with Lefty on the mound). 

    When I tell you that I took and played SoM everywhere, I really mean it. School, vacation, parties, etc. All I needed were 3 die, a set of SoM cards, a notebook, a pencil, 1-20 chance cards, and my imagination. I loved creating my own scorecard and then aggregating the stats by hand. Using pencil and paper to do long division to figure out the ERA or Batting Average of the players. I became somewhat of a math whiz because I eventually could do some of those calculations in my head at the tender age of 8 or so. 

    Eventually, life got in the way and SoM took a backseat to being a college student, then a father, then a graduate student, etc. However, in March of 2020, due to the pandemic and lockdown, I fell in love all over again with SoM as an adult. Only now, I had adult money to buy different sets of cards, dice stadiums (Connie Mack replica scoreboard and stadium pictured above), and my love for the game grew even stronger. I was able to play dream match-ups with the '80 Phillies versus the '08 Phillies and settle who was best. I then played the entire 1964 Phillies season to see if I could erase the collapse. I "traded" for Robin Roberts on the 1964 team, but kept the entire rest of the team intact, including the actual starting lineup for each game. The '64 Phillies won the NL by 4 games under my watch. The Phils went on to beat the White Sox in the 1964 Series in 6 games.

    In May of 2020 I purchased the SoM computer game. It is the same "engine" and logic that the card game uses, but the computer aggregates the stats for you. I was in heaven with that too. The PC game lacks almost all bells and whistles of graphics and UI experience, but it can allow you to play a game in about 20 minutes. The Cards and Dice game usually takes 40-60 minutes to play on average. 

    I also virtually some really awesome people, Don P. and Victor C., along the way that shared in my passion for baseball and SoM. So even when the Phillies continue to disappoint and Fall fades into Winter, I keep my baseball passion and math skills sharp with Strat-O-Matic til Spring.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Hope is the Opiate of Fools


    Hope is the opiate of fools. All season we hoped that the Phillies would make the playoffs, but we never believed. We all hoped the bullpen would be better because we did not think it could be worse. We hoped that the extended winning streaks would portend a contending team. The only thing the Phils contended with in 2021 was a .500 record. 

    I perused the MLB team stats and not surprisingly, the Phillies did not lead the league in ANY positive statistic. They were mostly mired in the lower middle in everything. We all want to point the finger at the bullpen and Blown Saves, but guess what? The Brewers, Giants, Dodgers, Astros, Red Sox, Braves and Yankees bullpens all blew 25+ Saves, yet they are in the playoffs. 

    The lack of consistent and clutch hitting coupled with EVERY SINGLE regular position player's (minus JT) Defensive WAR was a negative number. Cutch was historically bad and there is no way he can play everyday anymore. He was just THAT BAD! Didi was another guy who is a defensive liability. If he can't hit and can't field, he can't play. The defense almost never did any favors for the team.

    The bullpen was not good again, but if you at the numbers, they were far from historically bad. They walk too many people and do not strike out enough people. When you let the ball in play versus a bad defense, bad things happen. It isn't just that they have errors, but they do not have the range to get to the balls that other players do at their positions.

    In my opinion, the focus has to be on putting a defense out there that is capable. JT, Bryce, and Jean are the only "locks". They perform decent on defense and have the capacity to be superb on offense. Hoskins has good enough offensive upside to cover up for him being a butcher in the field. Didi and Cutch are both under contract, but should be a bench bats only. Bohm should not be on the roster and should be packaged in a trade if possible. Odubel has been serviceable but still makes so many dumb plays at the plate and in the field that he just does not seem to learn from. He doesn't hit for power enough to move him to LF either. 

    I hope that the front office makes wholesale changes to the defense and bullpen. I have not seen enough evidence of that to be a believer, yet. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Blow up the Phils Minor League System


    As the great Pop Fisher, fictional manager of the Knights in The Natural said " I should have been a farmer".  This Jekyll and Hyde Phillies team is infuriating. They go on a winning streak only to follow it up with a losing streak. They supposedly have the easiest schedule in MLB, yet they are 4-7 in September. The Phillies have actually been in 1st place for 24 games this season. How, I'll never understand, other than the NL East is complete horseshit. It feels like the team should be 10 games out. They just may by the time the season ends.

    The only real bright spots have been Wheeler and Harper. If the Phillies do not eke into the playoffs, Harper will not get the MVP. That is really his only chance and I think Tatis may already have the award in his pocket regardless of what the Phils or Bryce does...unless the Padres miss the playoffs and Phils get in. Fans tend to forget that Harper is ONLY 28 years old. He is entering his prime and his 2021 output should continue for the next few years. The issue is, does it really matter if the Phillies cannot put guys in the lineup to win.

    JT Realmuto is either playing hurt (and not really telling anyone) or he pulled the wool over everyone's eyes and his downside came much sooner than hoped. I tend to believe he is hurt. He is hitting terribly and his Caught Stealing % is much less than his career average. Opposing pitchers continue to pitch him high and inside, where he has a hole in his swing the size of the Grand Canyon. I applaud guys for playing hurt, but is he really doing the team any favors when he is clearly playing at WAY less than 100% health? 

    I was having a look at the Farm System, which is ranked 27th in MLB. They have 1 player in the Top 100, Mick Abel, who is likely 2-3 years from making the major leagues and has been on the shelf with shoulder woes for the latter part of 2021. Bryson Stott, Andrew Painter, and recently acquired Hans Crouse round out the top 4.  The Phillies lack a single impact player in the Top 30 of their minor league system. Mick Abel is not the next Cole Hamels, he is the next Kyle Drabek. Bryson Stott is not the next Jimmy Rollins, he is the next Luis Aguayo.

    Teams have to cultivate talent in the farm system to succeed. The Phillies have little to offer in trades to re-stock the farm. Why do other teams seemingly "find" breakout stars and the Phillies simply cannot? It is no coincidence that the farm has been terrible for 15 years. There is no "top prospect" from the last 10 years that is playing in the majors for the Phillies. Not a single one. Blow up the minor league system and pay dearly for free agents until the Minors can produce.