Do I Not Like That!

Graham Taylor – Manager of the England national football team, 1990-1993. He will be remembered forever over here as one of the worst managers we ever had. He made a string of puzzling team selections, changed formations unneccesarily and consequently we drew with teams we should beat easily and lost to anyone who was half decent. In one game against Holland he had a bit of a breakdown on the sideline after a refereeing decision went against us. He had a rant at the officials which has become legendary. A documentary about his time in charge called “Do I Not Like That!” was shown on TV following his sacking and is available on YouTube. Even for non soccer fans it’s well worth a watch for comedy value alone.

The problem with Graham Taylor was that he was just a bit out of his depth. He got the England job based on success he’d had with smaller clubs but he didn’t have the nouse to deal with the step up in class.

Suffice to say, when Graham Taylor was called up to be the Marlins 5th starter I had extremely low expectations of him. I’d never seen him pitch before, never read much about him, but just the name ‘Graham Taylor’ made me extremely concerned.

Three starts later and he’s back in the minors. So much for being able to throw strikes.

Whilst I’m not exactly a fan of Andrew Miller, his name doesn’t make me think of the time we didn’t qualify for the World Cup or the time we lost 2-0 to the USA. That must be a good thing for any fan.

Winning is not enough…

“Winning is not enough – everyone else must fail.”

And it’s just so much more fun to watch teams fail in spectacular fashion. The comeback wins over the Nats in Washington were fun, but victories in New York against the Mets and Chicago against the Cubs are so much sweeter. You see, we don’t have much of a history with the Nationals, we just turn up and beat them. It’s different with the Mets and Cubs though.

Every game at Wrigley is just a reminder for me of Steve Bartman and the Game 7 that followed. I’m sure it’s the same for many Cubs fans. As the cameras panned around the stadium last night I’m sure many fans were thinking “Not again” and “I hate the Marlins”. This pleases me.

Everytime the Marlins play in New York the announcers are compelled to talk about the rivalry that’s built up over the last few years. “And of course, the Marlins have ended the Mets season for the last two years” they’ll say. Marlins fans everywhere smile. Mets fans everywhere get upset and hate the announcers for reminding them about it. This also pleases me.

I’ve been given a lot of stick over the years for following the Fish. Yes, our stadium is poor. Yes, we have no money. Yes, we’ve had a lot of losing seasons. No, we’ve never won our division. That said, we’ve won 2 World Series titles and a new stadium is on it’s way. We’ve never had an epic collapse down the stretch. We’ve never lost a playoff series. It really does seem as thought it’s been more fun to follow the Marlins over the last 15 years than most other teams. This is because of the phrase at the top of this post. Even if we haven’t had success, we’ve always had someone else’s failure to enjoy.

And it’s never fresher in the memory than during a win at the Mets or a during a big inning on a cold night in Wrigley.

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In case you were wondering how the Sheffield Bladerunners got on in our season opener:

We got swept in our double header at Menwith Hill on opening day. I grounded out to the pitcher in my two at bats in the first game and was lifted for a pinch hitter in the 5th inning. In game two I started on the bench, came in as a defensive substitute in the 4th and hit an RBI single to right in my only AB. 1 for 3 with no errors in the field is a solid way to start.

We split the double header the following weekend in Halton although I was unavailable for these games. The second game was memorable for this relief appearance from our star Canadian: 3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K. Sadly, he’s off back to Canada soon and won’t be back until August.

This Sunday we’re at home for the first time against Liverpool. Report to follow.

Haha Haha Hanrahan

I’m sure the Marlins are going to lose again at some point this season but Joel Hanrahan is doing his best to keep our win streak going. 2 blown saves in 2 games and 2 more Marlins victories.

Yeah, Hermida and the pitchers deserve an awful lot of credit for the last two fighbacks but the Nationals sure played their part too with some helpful errors and bad pitches. They looked like a team that just don’t know how to win. It seemed like the fans on both nights expected them to blow it also. Where was the all the noise, roaring the team to the finish? Ok, so you can understand the lack of volume in extra innings after you’ve had the wind knocked out of you by those home runs but it wasn’t even loud before that. At least it certainly didn’t seem that way on TV.

We’ve now won 21 of 24 against Washington and if whether we get a lead or fall behind I’m not going to be too concerned. We look like a team of winners. All the walk-off hits last year showed that and it’s looking the same way again.

Closers may be overpaid, saves maybe overvalued, but blown saves are seriously damaging. And for that, Joel Hanrahan, we thank you.

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Tomorrow is the first day of the British Baseball season. My Sheffield Bladerunners are away at the Menwith Hill Patriots, a team made up of US Air Force servicemen stationed at Menwith Hill, North Yorkshire. It’s one of the best playing facilities in the league, with the runway just beyond the left field fence and the air traffic control tower in right. Sadly, security restrictions mean I won’t be able to take any photographs but I’ll hopefully have some good news to report from our double header.

Last year we ended our season against them by losing both games by the mercy rule after 5 innings. We were already 4-0 behind in the first inning of the first game when I dropped an inning-ending fly ball with the bases loaded. Whilst that didn’t exactly help, I’m not sure it changed the outcome.

We should have a better team this year. Certainly a couple of new Canadian recruits look like they can play a bit. We’ve also got some guys who are completely new to playing the sport, like I was last year. The success of the Menwith Hill team will be dependant upon how many of their good players from last year have been stationed elsewhere and how good the replacements are. My guess is they’ll still be rather good and that we could be in for a long day.

Errors

Just wanted to make a quick point about errors. Yes, the Marlins are going to make plenty of them this season but so is every other team.

The Mets handed us a game last week by dropping a simple fly ball with 2 outs, leading to both of our runs in that narrow win. Just yesterday the Braves dropped two fly balls in foul territory, one of which led to the Marlins starting a rally that essentially put the game beyond Atlanta.

At some point there’s going to be a game when we have a defensive shocker. It’ll probably be soon and it’ll probably cost us a win. When it does, can we all agree not to get upset about it? We’ve benefitted recently so I certainly don’t want to hear anyone complaining that it’s only us who makes these sort of mistakes.

One week, many observations

6 games. We’ve only played 6 games. It’s far, far, far too early to get excited about this season. This time next week we could be under .500. With less than 4% of the season gone it’s wrong to draw conclusions about how our season is going to go.

That said, I’m going to do it anyway.

* I’m excited and concerned about Bonifacio. He might be brilliant, legging out triples and stealing bases every night. Alternatively, pitchers might figure him out and he might never actually reach base.

* I love our infield. I love how many home runs they’re going to hit. I’m also prepared to put up with their errors.

* I like the fact that our catchers can hit. Baker looks like the real deal and as a starter against lefties Paulino doesn’t look overmatched at all.

* I fear that our outfield might only end up hitting around .250. I like Hermida but I doubt whether he’ll ever fulfill his potential. Ross dosen’t fill me with confidence at the plate (I’m not sure why) and I don’t think the constant changing of position in the batting order will help Maybin’s development.

* I’m impressed with Gonzalez’s defensive switches. Twice games have ended on tough catches by Carroll after he’d be brought in as a replacement.

* I think Lindstrom will be fine after a few more outings. He seemed a bit rusty in clinching his 1st save of the season and although he’s not going to be lights out I doubt he’ll be a liability either.

* Nunez and Calero will be fine. The rest of the bullpen scare me half to death.

* I’m not sure if Miller’s the man to be the 5th starter. Certainly if his relief appearances are anything to go by.

I’m sure I’ll look back on this post in a few weeks and laugh at how wide of the mark I’ve been. You can’t make good long term judgements on so few games but I’ve really enjoyed this first week and I just can’t help myself.

Baseball Blackout

Wednesday October 15th, 2003. I woke up on this morning with more anticipation and excitement than any other. The previous night the Marlins had played the Cubs in Game 6 of the NLCS and I knew that if we’d won Game 7 would be live on UK television that night. Not only could the Marlins make it to the World Series but I’d get to see it live. In the UK we only get coverage of ESPN’s Sunday Night and Wednesday Night Baseball and Marlins games are quite rare. Our most important game in 6 years would be live, if only we could win Game 6…

I headed straight for the university library, logged into the Marlins homepage and prayed for good news. I wasn’t disappointed. Marlins 8, Cubs 3. Game 7, Wednesday night, live on TV. Wow.

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I look back on that day with great fondness but sadly, days like that aren’t going to be happening anymore. Channel 5 in the UK has announced that they will no longer be showing live baseball on Sunday and Wednesday nights. For the fans of baseball in this country it’s a hammer blow. No more coverage. No more baseball. The UK market has been blacked out.

It’s the global economic crisis that’s to blame apparently. Since the show goes out between 1am and 5am it’s not exactly a prime spot for advertisers (often whole shows would run without commercials – what a luxury for us fans) and there were simply too many costs to cover. The presenters, Jonny Gould and Josh Chetwynd, made the show special. Yes, the live game is what we’d tuned in for, but in between innings the highlights and stories from around the league, the chat between the presenters, the fun and games and the viewer interaction was just as entertaining. That won’t be a part of my life anymore and I’m saddened by it. Yes, I’ll still watch games on MLB.TV like I have for the last couple of years but this isn’t a luxury that many fans have. I’ve had emails read out on the show, got a birthday shout-out for my dad and seen an article I’d written for the student paper discussed and shown live on air. I felt a bond with the presenters and so did other fans too. It seemed like we were a community of baseball lovers staying up late to indulge in our passion. Other mocked our devotion but we were proud of it. At times the show ceased to be a baseball programme and seemed more like a social gathering. You get your mates round, have a few of beers and watch the game. The presenters were everyone’s friends and the banter that flew around the studio and in the emails was something special.

Only having two games per week plus the World Series meant that most teams were rarely shown. Yes, the Marlins won the World Series during the first year of coverage (1997) but in the next 5 years we were on just once as far as I can recall – a 10-0 loss to Atlanta. Still, it was live baseball and it was better than nothing. We were next shown on September 24th 2003, our playoff clinching win over Philadelphia. With the way the scheduling worked out our games against the Giants weren’t on and had we lost Game 6 to the Cubs it would’ve been Game 6 of the Red Sox/Yankees series instead. As it was, I got to see the Marlins play in the playoffs, a pleasure that I thought fate would conspire to deny me. The World Series was magical, of course it was, but seeing them play live for a place in the World Series is a memory that’ll last a lifetime.

I know that should the Marlins ever make it back I can catch it all online but there’s no sense of occasion when you watch everyday. That Game 7 simply wouldn’t have had the drama for me if I’d watched Game 6. I don’t think I’d have looked forward to it in quite the same way. If baseball was back on British television I’d still watch the Marlins games on MLB.TV, except on Sunday and Wednesday nights because that show was the best thing on the box.

I hope the show comes back soon and I hope it stays on the same channel. New presenters, new format, new channel – well, that’d be fine, but we’d still long for the way it used to be. 12 great years of baseball coverage included some great moments, such as Cleveland coming from 14-0 behind after 7 innings to win 15-14, Boston hitting 4 home runs in a row against the Red Sox, Houston’s extra inning marathon that ended at 7:21 UK time plus all the classic World Series games. If that Houston game happened again now I’d log off, go to bed and watch the rest the following day (just like I did for the SD-COL playoff decider not long ago) but games on TV are different to those online. You felt you needed to keep watching. You couldn’t go to bed. You’d be letting down the presenters and all the other hardcore viewers who’d stuck it out. So what if the sun was already starting to rise, the show must go on and the fans must keep on watching.

Sadly, we can’t watch anymore. The sunshine this morning was lying to us – today was a very grey day indeed.