Category Archives: Sports-Baseball

The Dog Days of Being a Sports Fan

The Super bowl was pretty damn good this year. However, something happens every year after the super bowl recaps are done. Sports fans encounter about a 3-4 week black hole. Unless your biggest sports passions are with basketball, hockey, golf, or tennis, it’s really hard to be excited about anything in the sports world this time of year. Even with basketball, it’s middle of the season for the NBA and it’s still a few weeks from the college basketball games really getting meaningful. It doesn’t mean the games are terrible. I have actually seen some great college games recently. But, this isn’t college football, so it’s hard to get super fired about the season until it is close to the end and the league tournaments start. When you really look at it, this is the worst time of the year for sports in general. Just think about what the weekends are like in the fall when football is going. Saturdays generally start for me around 930-1000 am. After making some breakfast, I’m firmly planted in front of the TV ready for College Gameday.

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See? What a great way to start off my day! And while I’m eating my breakfast watching the crew preview the matchups, this is me anticipating the games:

Kickoff rolls around and all day, I’m pretty sure this is what I look like

But this is how I’m feeling all day

Then of course there is the fact that generally some beer is involved in some form or fashion during the day, so at some point I have to realize I have drank too much

That’s a pretty good sign.

Then I’m upset because all of the games have come to an end, but then it hits me:

I get to do it all again with the NFL tomorrow!!!! Man life is really good with football on TV.

But just like that, football goes away.

No worries though, I still have the weekends to relax. Well it’s only middle of February, I can go figure out something to do outside.

Well playing outside is over-rated anyways (Yes, it gets cold in SC, maybe not with snow, but cold enough to were no one wants to go outside).

Let me flip on the TV. Oh so lets see, there is professional bowling

Some golf tournament I’ve never heard of

FIGURE SKATING

What am I going to do? I try to keep my mind occupied. But without all those football games, for some reason, it just feels so lonely

And for just as glorious as the weekends are getting to witness 2 days of football, I get double dose of nothing-ness for these weeks. So Saturday shows up and does this

Then Sunday rolls along with this

So for roughly a three-week time frame we, as sports fans as a whole, suffer. We kick, scream, and exhaust all our energy

But just when we have had enough

March begins. All baseball teams have reported for spring training. The madness that is college basketball begins and it is fantastic. The playoff races are taking shape in the NBA and NHL. The build up for the first major of the year in golf is underway. Hell even NASCAR is well underway at this point. March brings anticipation of seeing that sports light at the end of the tunnel

Plus the weather is warming up, which means much better weather for so many more activities!

Rejoice sports fans! We can do this! It’s only a few weeks we have to deal with the dark, dog days of sports. We do it every year. We can do it again this year. So even though we feel like this for 3 weeks

We all know that our schedules will be full with great sporting events and we can be happy yet again!


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Liar, liar, your career is on fire

2013 has already brought some compelling sports stories. Great match-ups in the NFL playoffs, fake girlfriends, NHL coming back, and pitchers and catchers are not far from reporting. But no story has been bigger than steroids. Two major headlines of the new year revolve directly around them. Lets take a look at each individually.

Baseball keeps its Hall-of-Fame doors shut for class of 2013

The writers spoke very loudly to some of the greatest players the game has ever seen. It looked Barry Bonds and Rodger Clemons right in the face and said “We don’t allow cheaters in here, kiss our ass.” Bold, but in my opinion, the right thing to do. The Hall-of-Fame is not a museum. It is a club that you have to earn the right to be in. The numbers baseball fans saw during that time were off the charts. But we all know why. These guys were blatantly cheating. Did baseball I’m general support it? You bet all those extra millions of dollars the game saw during that time they did! All the arguments about “well it was to stay on a level playing field” or “roids don’t help you hit home runs” or “I just did it to stay healthy” are all utter BS. First, THEY ARE ILLEGAL. That’s as clear cut as it gets. But if that doesn’t end the argument for you then there is this. You give the best baseball players in the world the ability to stay healthier and stronger for longer periods of time, it does help them hit home runs because the play in more games and now once two-hoppers to the fence are clearing the wall. So I applaud the writers in them sending the clear message to these guys.

Lance Armstrong is a dick

Lance Armstrong sat down to tell Oprah that he was a cheater (then apparently still lied about some stuff). Is it possible I can get my own special one-on-one chat with her to tell her that I’m bald? Or how bout it’s time I confess that I was born in Texas? Even better story for her, I have definitive proof that the world is indeed round. Lance Armstrong is living proof that if you cheat, you will get caught; no matter how powerful and/or popular you are. Here is a man who for over a decade hunted out media outlets around the world to scream about he was clean. He called people evil. He sued “liars” and took money from people who were telling the truth. He thought he was untouchable. Long fall down from the top isn’t? Sure all the money he has raised for cancer research is great. That must be what helps him sleep because in the interview, he appeared unapologetic. His emotions never matched the words that came out of his mouth. He isn’t sorry he cheated; he is sorry he got caught.

The common theme with athletes and steroids is none of them seem sorry or ashamed they took them. They are simply upset they got caught. I have yet to see an athlete who got caught using steroids and owned it. Something like “What I did was wrong. It was illegal. I did it to gain an advantage. I did it to get stronger. I’m sorry for being a cheater and a bad example.” People are pretty forgiving. It’s amazing what happens if you tell someone the truth and don’t shy away/make excuses for your actions. So Rodger, Bonds, Armstrong, A-rod, Sosa, and countless professional athletes who used illegal substances to do your job, I don’t feel an once of sorrow for you. You don’t have my respect. If anything, you own me and the general public respect points you can’t afford. Go look for pitty from someone else because I ain’t got time for that.

Sa-wing Batta!

Whether the sound is “Ping!” or “Crack!”, contact from a baseball bat on to a ball is where the action begins. Without it, nothing is going on other than a pitcher throwing to a catcher. It is the hardest thing to do in sport. Make contact on a round ball with a round weapon in less than half a freaking second. Pictures are better than words, here is a break down of the swing scientifically:

There ya have it. I couldn’t have broken it down better myself. It is a sweet science to behold. Like the quote in the graphic says, it is “clearly impossible.” I assure it is not. But it has to start somewhere and that somewhere is the stance. Each batter has their own unique batting stances. At point of contact, all batters (when doing it right), look the same. But how they get there is what’s great about it. There are certain characteristics at the foundation of a stance that will hold true. However, it is the natural skills of the batter that will ultimately determine how the stance forms. The stance can, and will, change. It won’t be things noticeable to the fan, until compared side-by-side. But, thanks to the scientic breakdown above, players must spend countless hours making the swing become natural. The timing, the positioning, everything has to become second nature because of the little time to react and hit a baseball. Below are some of the more recognizable stances in baseball:

The stance, though, is only the beginning. End of they day, you have to put the bat on the ball. Breaking down all-aspects of the swing would take too long and even start to bore me writing it. No, we are going to look at the one-on-one show down a batter goes throw facing a pitcher, and the clash of egos that ensues with each batter. It starts in the on-deck circle. You grab your helmet, bat, possibly some batting gloves, step out of the dug out, and head to the “circle.” Whether there is an actual circle to stand in or not, there is a general area where every batter can loosen up and prepare mentally for the upcoming at-bat. Standing in the on-deck circle, you really get a feel for the situation. You get away from your teammates and any other distractions going on. Each batter goes throw his own little routine in the box. Some will swing multiple bats while others will just use a donut (weight that can slide over the bat). Some will take full speed swings while other will just go throw the motions. Whatever gets each person ready is all that matters. But now it’s go time. Your mind is racing about the current situation. If it’s a big spot in the game, you have to get your nerves under control. You also can’t think about failure. Great baseball players fail 70% of time when they come to bat. But that is the last thing on your mind. It’s one of those realities that you block out when it’s your turn to bat. Why? Because in your mind, all you’re saying is “I’m gonna rip the shit out of this ball.”

You approach the batters box and, again, the customization continues. However you get settled into the box is up to you, but you have to feel comfortable. It’s important to make everything as natural as you can so all you have to worry about is reacting to the pitch. Once you settle in, it’s a waiting game. In all reality, it won’t be more than about ten seconds from the time you step in the box to the time the pitch has been thrown. But it lasts forever. The anticipation only adds to the pressure to focus solely on the upcoming pitch. You re-grip that bat a few times, maybe swing it back and forth, all the while telepathically telling the pitcher “Throw the damn ball already.” The pitcher receives your message and starts his wind-up. The moment grows larger and larger with every movement of the pitcher. Then the pitcher reaches his release point and your mind starts racing. You are trying to determine the spin on ball, and thus predicting where the ball will be when you are trying to make contact. The harder it’s thrown, the less time there is complete the process, equaling a smaller window of error that’s already way too small to begin with for someone who is supposed to be on offense. Shit this one is coming for my head!! You duck out the way and save your face. You brush yourself off and stare back at the pitcher. He’s staring right back at you. The egos take visual form on the field and you can watch them throwing alternating blows. Oh it’s epic.

Time for the next pitch, and the pitcher gets the batter to swing and miss. Another stare down commences. Now the egos have turned into giant middle fingers being shoved into each others face. With this next pitch, however, the pitcher makes a mistake. He tried to throw a curveball and it’s not curving. It’s just a floating, spinning, beach ball at this point. You lick your lips, knowing that the pitcher is done for. Your hands start to whip through and you make contact. You have made such perfect contact, that you can’t even feel the ball leaving the bat. The ball has a tight back spin on it as it continues to climb and travel farther and farther away from home plate. When you can’t feel the ball leaving the bat, you found the sweet spot. You know the ball is crushed. This is how you feel watching the ball fly over the fence:

Nothing like admiring your fine work with some serious swag (that Griffey Jr. guy did that pretty well). You start to trot down the first base line, and work your way around the bases. As you round third and finally cross home, you pound fists with your teammates on the way towards the dugout and take one more look back at the pitcher. You just want to send one more message to him, “Suck it.” Yeah, there are plenty of other times that won’t go your way. But that’s the nature of the game, and it’s only the times of success that need to be glorified. Everyone makes outs; few people drop bombs. There is nothing like blasting that pearly white over the fence. The only thing that tops this is the walk-off home run. It goes something like this:

Step 1: Crush

Step 2: Admire

Step 3: “Cruz” around the bases in pure joy knowing you are the man

Step 4: See the Half-Circle formed around home plate by your teammates ready to erupt when you hit that plate

Then you bounce around and celebrate the glorious victory. Oh happy day. Baseball is designed where the defence is in control and the offense has to be the one that reactionary. Because of this, it gives the offense that much more satisfaction when it triumphs. Making solid contact on a baseball is such a unique sports feeling. It takes thousands upon thousands of swings to get it right. But all those times in the batting cages hitting off of tees, soft toss, pitches from behind an L-screen (a protective screen in the shape of an L to keep pitchers from getting destroyed by line drives) and live batting practice on the field is worth it when you see that ball flying away. And if the pure satisfaction of achieving a goal through hard work isn’t enough, there is one more indisputable fact about hitting home-runs as well…

Paintin’ the Black

No man is an island entire of itself…

-John Donne, 1624

John Donne’s famous line still resonates today. Staying with a basic interpretation of this line (and the entire poem), Donne is telling the world we all depend on one another and, in a way, all our actions affect others. Very true, especially in the world of baseball. But, I’m here to tell you, if his 17th century-ass stood on a pitcher’s mound, he might have reserved that line for another moment. Because the position of pitcher turns a man into an island. One man stands on a small hill 60 feet, 6 inches away from a white, irregular pentagon with thick black edges. He has 7 defenders behind him and 1 catcher in front of him waiting, anticipating. At the root of pitching, it doesn’t seem that difficult. You just throw the ball to the catcher. Oh wait, there is that damn batter standing there with a bat trying to crush the shit out of the ball. When you think about it though, the batters fail about 70% of the time, so why is it that difficult to pitch? Basic logic says throw the ball around that white thing up there and just let them hit it. But, it’s not that simple.

Lots of it has to deal with the fact that most of those guys are pretty good. If pitchers just floated the ball in the same area of the plate, at the same speed, with the same amount of movement on it, batters would be getting out far less often. And while it would be fun for a bit to watch baseball scores turn into low scoring football games, it would get old really quick. A pitcher has to face 9 different batters, with 9 different strengths and weakness, who are going to face him at least 3 times a game. So the pitcher has to always be changing things up during the game.

A pitcher has to handle so many thoughts between each pitch. The pitcher essentially has a constant conversation with himself during the game. Here is an example of what a pitcher’s “conversation” looks like. The two separate “voices” are going to be distinguished by one being in italics. In this scene it is a 0-0 count, no runners on, in the 1st inning:

“It feels great to be on the mound, time to do work.” (Result-fastball thrown for a strike)

“Good, now what?”

“Well, he’s standing off the plate, I’m gonna throw another fastball down and away.” (Result-missed wide enough to get pass the catcher, count now 1-1)

“That worked out well.”

“No shit, no worries, we will come back with something off-speed because he’ll be expecting another fastball after that one missing poorly. Worse case, he gets a weak swing on the ball.”

Ok, just keep it down. Don’t try to over throw it” (Result-ball missed low, but batter was way out in front, count now 2-1)

“Ass-hole somehow held up.”

“You’re behind now; you should attack with the fastball.”

“Na, I’ll throw a curve-ball over. He was lunging at the last one, should catch him off guard again.” (Result-curve-ball thrown for a strike, batter swung right over it, count is 2-2)

“I’ll get him a tennis racket when the game is over.”

“Maybe you should get him out first, everything has been low and/or away, come up and in.”

“Like that, gonna bring the heat.” (Result, hits a weak ground ball to 3rd, rolls right under 3rd baseman’s glove between his legs, reaches 1st on an error)

“You shitting me? That’s how the game starts? Whatever…holy crap who is the brunette?”

“Where?”

“Behind our on-deck circle, she just showed up.”

“Oh that’s whats her face? Man she’s got some great legs! And she’s got a sexy tan!”

“I’m gonna break off a nasty curve-ball to start this guy off, show her some serious skills from the mound.” (Result-spun the curve-ball, floated over the middle, batter holds his follow through for about 5 seconds after he crushes the mistake, ball traveled farther than an intercontinental ballistic missile, the outfielders had to get rushed to the hospital from severe whiplash trying to get their heads’ around to see where it would land, batter crosses the plate, stares down the pitcher and pops his jersey, team is now down 2-0, hot brunette now spends more time on her phone instead of watching you pitch)

“Wow…”

“Shut it, don’t wanna hear it.”

“She looks real impressed hahahaha!!”

“God, I hate you.”

…And just think, that’s only 6 pitches into the game. Pitching is such a mental game; without a solid mental game, it is impossible to be a good, much less great, pitcher. I don’t care if you throw 100mph, with some nasty breaking stuff. If you can’t control your own mind, you can’t control those pitches. Different types of pitches add to the complexity of the position. It’s not enough to just learn the ability to throw them, you have to master them in order to be successful. If you only have one pitch worth a damn, you can’t be effective after one trip through the lineup, if that long. With that said, we are gonna take a quick look types of pitches commonly thrown from the bump.

Fastball: I mean do I really need to go into depth? Good ole number 1. Rear back and let that sucker fly as hard as you can. This is the most basic pitch, but can be tinkered with to be more than just heat. Grips will dictate the movement on the ball. Hitting something traveling 90 mph is tough; hitting the same-speed pitch that slides 3 inches, well that’s why I’m writing about baseball instead of still playing.

Change-up: Again, pretty self-explanatory. This pitch is used to change-up the speed of the ball (slower) without slowing down your arm. The grips will vary, but basically you grip it closer to the palm of your hand, relax your fingers, and just let it roll of your fingers instead of “pushing” it like you do with a fastball. Generally, the ball will drop off close to the plate and if executed correctly, will have the batter way out in front with little to zero power.

Curve-ball (aka Uncle Charlie): This is where things get really interesting. The ball does what its name implies, but the curve they take are unique to each chucking it. Some are big, loopy curve-balls that are much, much slower than the pitcher’s fastball. Some don’t break as much, but have a tight spin and are closer to the speed of the fastball. Also the angle of the break is going to vary by the arm angle of the pitcher. This pitch can, and does, make batters look awfully silly at times. You will see the knees buckle as the batter bails out before realizing it breaks back across the plate. Oh it’s a great feeling to throw a pitch that does that to a batter.

Slider: Similar to a curve-ball in the fact that it breaks more than a change-up or fastball. But sliders are much closer to the speed of the fast ball and has more horizontal movement than vertical movement. You come to bat against a hard-throwing pitcher with a great slider, just go home.

Knuckleball: This pitch is the most unique of them all. This pitch barley has any spin/rotation on the ball and has an unpredictable path to the plate. It is extremely difficult to throw because of its grip, how differently you have to release that ball, and because you can’t predict where it will go when it leaves your hand. It isn’t thrown hard, but is very difficult to hit. The biggest thing working against the knuckleball, if thrown and it spins/doesn’t knuckle, the pitcher basically threw a slow-pitch softball up there. Be prepared to duck and cover.

Ok, now you’ve mastered that voice in your head. Standing all alone on the mound doesn’t bother you. You have done a great job learning 3-4 pitches and can control them. Go back to the scenario up top. Since the 2 run home run you gave up, you go on to retire ever single batter you face. Not one batter reaches base and you managed to strike out 11 in the process. By all standards and averages, you did your job as a pitcher. Not just did it, but did it pretty well. But the offense didn’t show and you suffered a loss to your name. I mean come on? You guys couldn’t get any runs on the board. But that’s the way it goes. Shouldn’t have been checking out that brunette.

But there are also days when you as a pitcher can pick up a win while sucking. Go out, give up 7 runs, walk a few batters, throw a couple to the backstop, sail one over the 1st baseman’s head and walk away with a 9-7 victory. It’s funny though because pitchers, for the most part, are pretty arrogant. Pitchers know damn well they can’t get a W if the offense doesn’t produce runs. But it doesn’t matter. Standing on that island changes your mental state. You start every sequence in the game. The game doesn’t move forward until the pitcher does. So you start to think you are waaaaaaaaay more important than everyone else on the field. But in the same poem, Donne reminds us:

…every man
is a piece of the continent

In that case, pitchers would be Texas. Bigger, badder, and more dominant than the rest of the country (Of course, Donne was referencing Europe in the poem, details. If Donne met Texans and knew baseball, he would agree with me). You can laugh all you want about how much of a head case a pitcher can be. But, don’t you want a guy standing on the mound, who controls the tempo of the game, to have unlimited confidence? You want someone on the mound that’s gonna say “Give me the damn ball and y’all get on my back.” As a defense, you can pick up on that, and it can carry over on both offense and defense. So, when talking about baseball, let a pitcher be an island. He stands on one, let him control it as his own. That island is where he goes to work for his team. Let that bright, bright spotlight be a sun for him on his island. Go ahead and let his ego run a little rampant. After all, there is a batter standing at the plate with a bat who can remind that pitcher how much he actually sucks. Oh the egos of baseball players…

With that closes the door on the position of a pitcher. Yep, not just a dude on a mound playing catch with another player. Quite complex actually. As mentioned though, there are plenty of batters pitchers face. So the next blog post will examine the awesomeness of hitting in baseball. Nothing like being on offense even though the defense controls the ball.

Opening day


Opening day has a feeling unlike anything else for fans and players alike. Now I have never played in front of 40,000 people with a giant American flag that covers all of the outfield on grass soft enough to sleep on. Or one at a stadium where the world’s greatest Air Force flexes its muscle and shakes the crowd with the awesome power of jet or bomber engines. But I have played a few opening day games. So we are going to take a look at Opening day from both aspects.

As a fan, baseball’s opening day brings so much more that just game one of one-hundred sixty-two. The pageantry of that day reminds us of America. In most of the country, you are brought with fantastic spring weather. Clear skies and highs in the 80s; it’s like the baseball Gods wrapped you in a hammock and showed up with a beer and hot dog (see post about hot dogs, added new picture). Also, most of these games are played during the day (when baseball should be played more often). Night games are great, but day games are just better. I know it won’t change for plenty of good reasons; I just wish more day baseball existed. Anyways, back to the spring weather and the American flags covering the stadium. There is a renewed hope and a genuine feeling of joy with opening day. It’s a day filled with visions of elusive world series trophies, championship banners, or just a winning record. With a game that involves so much repeated failure, yet reveals such greatness at the same time, it just seems like with 162 games ahead of a franchise that anything is possible. Isn’t that what America is about? I mean, come on, just look at these pictures:


God Bless America

The game itself may be different, but it has something else to offer. At first glance, it appears that the crowd is a normal, baseball crowd. However, on second look, there is something different about the crowd at opening day. Because of the games being predominately during the day, there are plenty of “sick” people at the game. Never in my life have I seen 40,000 “sick” people so damn happy. We had got the same speech from whoever our baseball coach was at the time. We always had practice during games and attendance at practice they day before was well noted to be sure to combat against any “sick” calls. Also, the coaches would pop into classes to make sure we were still there as well. Crafty coaches…

With that being said, opening day as a player (for me), had one huge difference. It was always…super…fucking…COLD! That’s right. I don’t know how it always happened, (granted, it was February every year) but without fail, the clouds rolled in, the wind kicked up to around 25 mph, and the high dropped down into the lower 40s, upper 30s. It was the most miserable thing ever. Hell, practice for up to 2 weeks before the game, the weather would be perfect. I got sucked in ever year. There would be a big tournament, get the chance to play teams you normally wouldn’t get a chance to, and play at some new ball park. Then the day before, the weather would be on and I’d get some report on a cold front blowing in. I always hated The Weather Channel in February. They acted as a soul-crusher every year. Look, I was chomping at the bit to start playing baseball. The spring semester would start off in January and practice would be roughly the same thing day in and day out. So after about 30 days of same shit, different day, it was time to start playing someone else. But baseball is miserable in the cold.

If the cold games were close, they were bearable. But if they were a blowout, it wasn’t even fun. The game would be over by the 3rd inning, so it just became a struggle to get to the end of the game. Sure, you go out and compete. There was never any quit. No one likes striking out. But unless a string of 5 batters reached base, momentum never changed and the end result was inevitable. So inning after inning, your body temperature would slowly turn to freezing. No longer fueled by adrenaline, each gust of wind cut through your body deeper and deeper as the game grew on. Nose starts running, hands get a little numb, and every contact with a baseball sent pain jolting up your forearms. But the game would eventually end and you totally forgot you just played a baseball game. It would be great to write about the great outlook the opening day brought to me as a player, but it was never enjoyable. It was just a fight to get the season started, instead of some joyous occasion. It’s gonna be hard to find many people who love playing baseball more than I do, and I never had a great experience on opening day. So ya, as great as opening day in the MLB is, it could possibly be that bad as a player (unless of course you make it to the show). And on a side-note, if you live above the Mason-Dixon line, you just don’t live in good baseball country. A baseball field covered in snow as often as it has green grass on the field equals bad place to play baseball. I just feel sorry for you northerners.

It’s great to see baseball back on TV. The Rangers are looking to become the first team in since the New York Yankees (1998-2001) to go to 3 consecutive World Series. With baseball back, the blog will take a look at pitching, hitting, fielding, and even umpiring. Make sure that you’ve got those David sunflower seeds ready and PLAY BALL!

Oh ya, almost forgot…the Masters is in the 2nd round. You can bet to see an appearance of Augusta National on the blog soon. Probably interrupting the baseball coverage now that I think about it. Green jacket is important enough to put aspects of baseball on hold.

HOOOOOOOOOTTTTT DOOOOOGGGSSSS!!!

There are very few things in this life that are more American than the hot dog. I don’t know exactly what a hot dog is made up of, nor do I care. At this point in my life, I have eaten enough of them that even if I knew what random concoction of patriotism that makes a hot dog (no matter how gross), it wouldn’t stop me from going through mounds of hot dogs for the rest of my life. Truly and honestly, if you don’t like hot dogs, you most be a terrorist (which unfortunately includes my loving mother, such a shame). The versatility of the hot dog lends itself to practically anything under the sun. It’s damn near impossible to find something you can put on a hot dog that would not work. Maybe that’s what adds to the mystery of the hot dog. Not too many foods out there that can adapt to its supporting elements so well to satisfy pallets from Chicago, New York, California, Texas, Georgia, Washington, and anywhere in between. These, and other regions, of the United States have their own take on a hot dog which they claim as their own. We are now going to take a look at these different delicious masterpieces.

Sonorans (Tuscon and Phoenix, Arizona)

Bacon-wrapped hot dogs are grilled, then nestled in steamed bolillo rolls and topped with (but not limited to) pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, onions, mustard, mayo, jalapeños, shredded cheddar, queso fresco, cotija cheese, salsa verde, and guacamole. What ever does it for you, that’s the beauty of the hot dog. Oh I almost forgot, hot dogs wrapped in bacon are unreal. We need a quick visual:

Now that we have established just how beautiful that sight is, back to the Sonorans. Take your favorite Mexican flavors, and dump them on a hot dog. How could you go wrong? The answer: you can’t. I have yet to have one of these, but am looking forward to my first experience.

Chicago Dog (Chicago)

All beef dogs in a steamed poppy-seed bun and makes its rounds through the garden: minced raw onion, neon sweet relish, sport peppers, pickle spear, halved tomato slices, yellow mustard, celery salt. Most importantly on the Chicago dog, NO KETCHUP. This dog screams Wrigley field to me. I need to find away to get to the north side of Chicago, get a seat in the bleachers with one of these treasures and a cold beer.

Coneys (Midwest)

Small-sized, all-beef dogs served in steamed buns and topped with minced meat chili, mustard, and chopped onions (order the “loaded” and you’ll get shredded cheddar, too). Here is a dog where less is more. Chili, onions, mustard, cheese firmly settled on top of a hot dog. A sloppy taste of euphoria is fully loaded with the Coneys.

Dodger Dog (Los Angeles)

One of the most eaten stadium dogs out there, Dodger dogs are skinless foot-long hot dogs made of pork and set in a steamed bun. I have been lucky enough to have this hot dog, and they live up to the hype. I would recommend sitting out in the outfield where the tickets include all-you-can-eat hot dogs, water, nachos, popcorn, nuts, and sodas (No, beer must still be bought). That summer day back in 2007 easily ranks as one of the top 5 fattest moments of my life. And yes, it was totally worth it.

The Homewrecker (Charleston)

The Homewrecker Hot Dog is as scary as it sounds: It is a half-pound all-beef dog that is served in a “build your own dog” concession stand. The Riverdogs offer a total of 25 signature toppings that may be added to complete the experience and is priced at only $5.50. When this episode of Man vs. Food originally aired, I was in college and had no idea I would end up stationed in Charleston. I just knew that I needed this dog. Clearly, this is something of an event in itself. The Riverdogs are known for their unique take on the hot dog, but this one is the Pièce de résistance. Just look at that thing one more time. Unreal. The Riverdogs have a beautiful ball park and I can’t wait to go to my first game and chow down on my own Homewrecker.

This is goes to show just how awesome the hot dog can be. But let’s not forget about how much of an American symbol the hot dog is. As if it weren’t American enough, there is a tradition that is carried out on our nation’s birthday every year that puts the hot dog front and center; Nathan’s hot dog eating contest.

According to legend, on July 4, 1916, four immigrants had a hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous stand on Coney Island to settle an argument about who was the most patriotic. I love this country. I’m a bigger patriot because I can eat more than you. LOVE IT!! The contest has been held each year since then, except in 1941, when it was canceled as a protest to the war in Europe, and in 1971, when it was canceled as a protest to civil unrest and the reign of free love. And you can’t just be any joe schmo either to get into the contest. You must meet on of the 4 qualifications to get into the spectacle:

The defending champion
Winners of a regional qualifying contest for that season
Qualifying as one of two wildcards (highest two average qualifier scores without winning a single qualifier)
Special invitation by IFOCE (International Federation of Competitive Eating, yes this is real, check the website.)

The event is televised live on ESPN every year and last year an estimated 40,000 people attended the contest. Yes, you read that right. 40,000 people watched for 10 minutes how many hot dogs a human could possibly wolf down. What’s even more interesting is the 40,000 people who attended actually was more people than the Jacksonville Jaguar’s 2011 home attendance (should have gone after Tebow harder). The winner, Joey Chestnut, ate 62 hot dogs and buns in 10 min. How that is possible is beyond me. I watched and it’s like they are machines. The contestants never slow down until the horn goes off. The important thing in all of this is that the Mustard Belt has been in the hands of an American for the past 5 years.

So there it is, America in your hands. You get a shot of Red, White, and Blue every time you bite into a hot dog. There is not a reason you can give me that justifies why you don’t like hot dogs. Opening day is only 2 days away. Even half-way across the world, I can hear the local hot dog vendor back in Arlington getting his voice ready for at least 80 homes games of slinging hot dogs and watching people swap cash with complete strangers in order to get an edible piece of the great game of baseball. Check back in on opening day as I will have posted my take on opening day and the stark differences it has for a fan and a player.

Baseball is right around the corner!!

Opening day is quickly approaching. April 4th and the 2012 season officially begins. So that means 162 games of too much talk of the Red Sox and Yankees, not enough talk about all the other great teams in the league, and a chance for the Pirates to break a losing streak of 19 consecutive seasons with a losing record. 1992 was the last time they had a winning season. Here is what the U.S. looked like in 1992:

-I was 6 years old.
-Here’s the songs that made it to #1 in the charts in ’92: Michael Jackson – Black or White, Color Me Badd – All 4 Love, George Michael and Elton John – Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, Right Said Fred – I’m Too Sexy, Mr. Big – To Be With You, Vanessa Williams – Save the Best for Last, Kris Kross – Jump, Mariah Carey – I’ll Be There, Sir Mix-A-Lot – Baby Got Back, Madonna – This Used to Be My Playground, Boyz II Men – End of the Road, Heights – How Do You Talk to an Angel, and Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You
-Few movies that were #1 at the box office:
-Average price for a gallon of gas: $1.13
-Mike Tyson went to jail for 6 years after being convicted of rape.
-The Cowboys spanked the Bills in the Super Bowl.
-The Georgia Superdome is constructed.

You get the point. I’m not here to rip the Pirates. It think if the Pirates become relevant again, it’s good for baseball. They have a great stadium & they have some good pieces already in place. They just need to hold on to their good prospects and not trade for players like A.J. Burnett. Now moving on, with opening day almost here, my plan is to have plenty of baseball posts over the next few weeks. Today, we are going to look at a trip to the ballpark. What a great slice of heaven the ballpark has to offer. The fact that there are so many around the country and the experience at all of these parks have something special to offer just makes me smile thinking about it. But there are plenty of characteristics that are shared at any level. But for purposes of this post, we will focus on the professional level (independent league, minor league, and of course the big league).

Once you arrive at the gates of the ballpark, you are hit harder with the sounds and smells of the place. There is just a unique sound a baseball stadium has that you don’t get at any other sporting event. It’s almost like you can hear the smells of the place. The smell is what really makes the atmosphere so different. Mix hot dogs, beer, sweat, pretzels, popcorn, cheese fries, cotton candy, anything you could possibly grill and/or fry, sunflower seeds, and gum and you have a cocktail of smells that just strikes a chord with everyone’s inner child. But the smells change once you get to your seats. They now transform into grass, pine tar, dirt, rosin, maple and ash wood, leather, chalk, more beer and more sweat. You feel so much closer to the field than maybe your actual seat would indicate. Unfortunately, if you are watching at a dome, then you are missing out. Baseball needs to be played outside; no domes, no turf. I hate that crap. I don’t even wanna here it from the teams up north either. The Yankees, the Twins, and the Mariners all play outside. Why in the hell does Tampa Bay play in a dome??? Sorry, I’m getting side tracked.

Once you have got to your seats and the game has started, you can just sit back, soak up the sun, and relax. Baseball games are great for both the casual sports fan or the die-hard baseball fanatic. Those who aren’t big baseball fans can still enjoy the drinks and food. Speaking of food, baseball is one of those places where you expect to eat certain foods. Let’s face it; you think baseball, you think hot dogs (saving that topic for its own post). Because of this, those who aren’t huge baseball fans can still share in the experience of the game. But if you are a baseball fan, you can break down the situations developing, first hand, with every single pitch. While that happens, you can still interact with those who don’t quite see what the big deal is with each pitch. Nothing brings the group more together than $1 beer night (odds are, if you have an independent team and/or minor league team in your city, they have a $1 beer night). Then you get picked to do things like the dizzy bat race:

As the game progresses, you get other great experiences. They range from some sort of mascot race, kids putting on a uniform and racing around the infield, someone guessing a piece of trivia, kiss cam, marriage proposal, and random baseballs being thrown into the stands. Don’t forget about eating an entire hot dog after a batter strikes out before the next pitch is thrown, which in turn guarantees a home run by the next batter (this is a fact, I’m 2-2), foul balls, and “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.” How can you not love the 7th inning stretch (of course if it’s a Rangers home game, you follow-up “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” with “Deep in the Heart of Texas”)? Then you also have little kids dancing on the jumbo-tron in a way that if a grown man would dance like that, your first thought would be “How drunk is he?” You also get to hear the slow crescendo of sound when a Taylor-made double play ball gets put into play and executed perfectly in a 6-4-3 fashion to end the inning. Or a deep fly ball that finally crosses over the fence with an eruption of cheers. The same decrescendo happens when the home team gives up the home run, or hits into the double play. Mix in the crunch of cleats, the scrape of dirt that happens when a player slides into a base, the echoing crack of a finely pine-tared up baseball bat on a pearly white ball, a belly full of greasy food, a gallon of beer guzzled, and before you know it…it’s the ninth inning and the game is about to be over (I know, so sad). If you team is losing, another great tradition is unveiled throughout the ball park:

The Rally Cap. Oh the power of the rally cap. The basic idea of the cap is to “sacrifice” some of your own personal dignity and transferring that power to the team in order to mount a comeback victory. The exact origins of the rally cap are disputed, and there are multiple types of rally caps (my favorite can be seen above). These also extend to rally sunglasses, towels, monkeys, or any random thing that triggered a rally that will be carried on for all of eternity. Once you have experienced the power of the rally cap, you will never doubt it ever again. Especially when you see a walk-off home run. The crowd is in a frenzy for the duration of the trot around the bases with the entire team waiting at home plate with such anticipation of their teammate officially ending the game. Helmet flies, player leaps up in the air, lands safely on home plate, and the mobbing commences. All the while, in a drunken stupor, you are yelling to everyone around you “IT WAS MY RALLY CAP! I CALLED IT!” This is the only phrase you can utter for approximately the next 30 minutes.

Now, it would be awesome if every baseball game you went to turned out like this. But it doesn’t. As a matter of fact, the beauty of the game is you will never know how the game will play out. Pitchers duel, error fest, someone gets ejected, possible bench clearing, offensive explosion, extra innings, or a combination of them. The game is so unique; it’s one of the few sports where you will never have a good idea of what’s going to happen. Football and basketball, for the most part, have a certain “predictability” to them. Hockey does as well, but not as much as basketball and football. But baseball, with all it’s moving parts and specialties, gives it the ability more than the other major sports to deliver something unexpected.

Baseball is my all-time favorite sport, with football being an extremely close second. I spent my life growing up on a dirt diamond, and a lot of who I am today is a direct reflect on my time spent on a baseball field. I can spend hours upon hours on the field without realizing how much time has passed. Perfect example was when I was blessed to get the opportunity to coach at a high school baseball showcase camp in Virginia during the summer of 2010. I was given control of my own team, and we were on the field for roughly 10 hours a day. It wasn’t enough for me. I could have been out there sun up to sun down (longer if the lights stayed on), even if my hands looked like this after hundreds of ground balls hit:

Yes, my managerial job, as well as my job as an instructor, with my team was fantastic. We went 5-0 in all of the showcase games. I will argue until I’m blue in the face the baseball is still America’s national pastime. It is an awesome sport that just reminds you of what is good in the world (outside of the steroids issue, of course). The next couple of post will cover hot dogs, opening day (as a player and fan), hitting, fielding, pitching, umpiring, and baseball hats. It just needs to be said one more time before I end this. I…LOVE…BASEBALL!