Category Archives: sports

part of what I do for fun – being active

Pennant Race

I fess up, I’ve not added a post to this blog in almost a year, let’s just say I had a few other things going on. I’ve also been encouraged (ahem) to be a little less public with my personal life. OK. However, my last post will bear resemblance to this one. As I write, the Oakland A’s have a 5 and a half game lead in the AL West with just a couple weeks to play. In games I’ve attended this year, we’ve seen Bartolo Colon 4 times, the first 3 were wins. Doing it for old guys everywhere. Thanks Bartolo.  We watched his pregame warmup from killer seats on fathers day.

bartlolo 1

bartolo 2

Baseball Magic in Oaktown

I’m a local. By some stroke of luck, I was fortunate enough to grow up in what I think was the golden era of sports in Oakland: the A’s won 5 straight division titles and 3 world series starting in ’71; the Raiders were a perennial powerhouse, winning a Super Bowl in ’77; the Warriors brought us a world championship in ’75. But lest there be any doubt, the 2012 A’s will remain in my memory as one of the most enjoyable seasons EVER.

I had my doubts on opening night, despite an enormous homer by Yoenis Cespedes. Throughout the year we hung in there, and with every walk off win, you felt the team surging, both in the standings and in the amount of pride that swept the community.

Again, luck came into play for me this year, as I attended the last 3 home wins. Each time a packed house, each time a feeling of family in the stands, it was a vibe like that which I had never before witnessed. The players sensed it and their response was to reward us with wins.

Thanks, guys.

“Walk Off Capital of the Baseball World”

Overtaking the Rangers in game #162

Feeling the love

I hope these videos stay online (at least for a while, whaddya say, mlb.com?)

AL West Champs – How Sweet It Is!

A’s players stream onto the field following the final out

As I write this, it will be 41 years tomorrow that my dad extracted my brother and I from school to attend a baseball game. October 5, 1971 was a warm Indian summer morning in the bay area. That afternoon, game 3 of the 1971 American League playoffs would take place between the Baltimore Orioles and my hometown Oakland A’s. My classmates were envious, and I had to endure their good-natured teasing, but knew that somehow the class would monitor the progress of the game. My very first playoff experience.

Some striking similarities in the game Mary Ann and I attended yesterday. Weekday game with a playoff atmosphere, kids in attendance missing school, classic bay area Indian summer weather, Oakland Coliseum, green and gold taking the field, a palpable level of excitement. Game #162, the final game in a season full of magic and exceeded expectations. We endured a loss back in ’71, Jim Palmer threw a complete game, despite a pair of home runs by Reggie Jackson. But the O’s were a powerhouse, even though they lost to the Pirates in the World Series, their lineup was formidable up and down.

Texas has a lineup more than capable of lighting up a pitching staff, but my A’s never flinched.

To say that history was made this day is a little misleading, but it certainly marked the culmination of an incredible regular season.

My observations:

A.J. Griffin was pulled after surrendering 5 runs. Unfortunate for him, the quality of his pitches wasn’t all that bad, it looked to me like he was more a victim of bad luck more than anything else. Evan Scribner relieved Griffin and ended up getting the win, but after getting a force out on one pitch in the 3rd, he did give up some loud contact the following inning. With 2 out, Beltre smashed a single, Cruz doubled and Young lined out to first. Were it not for Brandon Moss’ reach, Young probably has 2 RBIs. Scribner was sharp in the 5th and into the 6th inning.

A 4-run lead was not enough to strike fear into the hearts of the A’s and their faithful fans. Yes, the volume dropped temporarily until Scribner got the out in the 3rd, but we sensed that being as early in the game as it was, scoring 4 runs was certainly within our reach.

A’s players run a victory lap after their infield celebration. Ah, to have front row seats – alas.

A’s fans are my people. It was like sitting with extended family – high fives, “Let’s Go Oakland” chants, vuvuzela blasts – the works. Lots of love in the stands.

The right field bleachers greet Grant Balfour with the boxing kangaroo move. Hilarious!

The players not only feel the love, they give it right back. The infield celebration was madness, the victory lap run by the entire roster afterward was even better. They just couldn’t get enough, returning to the field over an hour after the last out.

Not in our house, baby

I suppose it’s jealousy, but only to a certain degree.

Oakland fans and Boston fans: 2 distinctive breeds.  For a variety of reasons, the Oakland A’s draw the largest crowds when three teams are in town: the Giants, Yankees and Red Sox, and at times, it might seem like there are equal numbers in attendance rooting for the visitors.  I don’t remember it always being this way.

The Giants have strung together some pretty good seasons recently, the preseason Bay Bridge series has always been fun to watch from both sides of the water, same true of interleague play.  The Yankees and Sox draw for different reasons: history, tradition, and fierce loyalty among them.  They play in storied ballparks that are tucked into neighborhoods, the average baseball fan’s consciousness can easily conjure visions of the façade at Yankee Stadium, or the green monster at Fenway.  So many iconic and defining moments have taken place there – I clearly suffer from ballpark envy.  But I have my own set of iconic memories that took place on our field.  Hey, it ain’t beautiful, but it’s our home.

The A’s just finished playing a series against the Red Sox, my family was in attendance for the July 3 game that featured fireworks afterward.  It wasn’t quite a last minute decision, but without really planning in advance for it, we got tickets, gathered up some snacks, and found ourselves sitting in the 2nd deck near the left field foul pole.  The stadium was at far less than full capacity when Coco Crisp led off the bottom of the first with a home run to stake the A’s to a 1-0 lead. People eventually found their seats, and as the sections filled up, it was easy to make note of the number of Boston faithful that were in our presence.

I like to think of myself as fairly thick skinned, but there just happened to be a few people sitting in our section who pushed my buttons.  I suppose it was a source of motivation to root more vigorously for my A’s, as I found myself shouting out a coarser-than-usual “SIT DOWN” or “GOT HIM” whenever a good defensive play retired a Red Sox batter.

Let’s start with ponytail mom.  Sitting 3 rows in front of us, she has the look of a well-heeled suburban soccer mom in her 40s, married to a mid-level executive, blond ponytail bouncing from underneath her weathered Red Sox cap.  But what’s this? Her husband and 4 kids all have identical equally weathered caps, as though they were bought that way.  OK, I own pre-faded jeans, my bad for pointing this out.  What’s bothersome is seeing her jump up to celebrate a Boston batter reaching base.  Sorry, but save your jumping up and down for a hard hit double in the gap, not for reaching on an error by the second baseman. I didn’t hear exactly what she was saying, but I imagine it as “Oh yay! He did something good!”

Next is Mr. Encyclopedia, who, for 2 innings sat in the row right in front of me.  Fairly or unfairly, he fulfilled my own stereotype of the typical Boston fan.  Wearing a Pedro Martinez replica jersey, he had a nervous energy and intense demeanor, fidgeting in his seat, rocking from side to side as he professed as to how Jon Lester would pitch successfully against Oakland hitters (pretty decent night for Lester, unless of course, you count the leadoff homer), or how Dustin Pedroia was going to rifle one into the gap (he didn’t).  Clearly a smart guy, more that once I heard him recite a player’s statistic, my guess is he’s in multiple fantasy leagues.  Good for you, Skippy.  When Pedroia was called out on a close play at first base to end an inning, I put a little more behind my shout of  “OUCH”.  There go your stats.

Sitting next to Mr. Encyclopedia is yuppie girl.  I had little problem tuning her out, but I did catch enough of her conversation (hey, she was sitting almost directly in front of me, I’m just trying to watch the game, OK?) about the great Boston neighborhoods she’d lived in back in the day.  “You just don’t find that out here.” Thank you for the brilliant observation.  You’re in California now for what reason? Be gone.

We talked about our strategy for going onto the field to watch fireworks after the game.  The line forms from the first deck in the left field corner, just below our section.  To land the choicest plot on the outfield grass, Nat and I decided to get in the front of the line and give cuts to Mary Ann and Eric whenever they arrived, so we headed down in the 8th inning.  3 television monitors are visible from the corridor where people are lining up, and although we couldn’t see in detail, as the fireworks line grew, we saw the events that led up to the A’s stunning comeback and victory.  Joy.  Elation. High fives.  Hoarse voice. Before the winning run crossed the plate in the bottom of the 9th, a number of Boston fans, seemingly craving attention, would parade past the growing gathering of A’s fans, holding up their caps, so proud of their 1 run lead and expected victory, whereupon they were subjected to a chorus of booing, hand gestures, and profanity.  Excuse me, but your gloating is about to come to an end.

I don’t dislike the Red Sox, honestly.  There was a time when I really hated them, but I got over it long ago, probably when Dave Stewart went about OWNING Roger Clemens in truly meaningful games.  I do admire their fans’ zeal, just not in OUR house.


Coming back to my memory are some other sweeps over the Sox. A couple times in the playoffs (1988, 1990), and a stunning sweep at the Coliseum that wrested the wildcard lead from Boston in August of 2001. I took an “extended lunch break” from work that day to soak in the victory under ideal bay area baseball weather conditions.

Best spot to see a ballgame

My little league pitching career came to a screeching halt when, at 12 years old, I could no longer find the strike zone.  Fortunately for my team, we had other arms to take my place, and I settled in behind home plate.  I relished being a catcher, and from their earliest playing days, I tried to impress upon my kids how gratifying it could be.  It also helps to be on a team where there is quality pitching.  Natalie finally tried it out in a game against OMI at Bates field.  She found out what I’d known all along.

Thanks to Dick Atkinson for the photos

A friendly rivalry (of sorts)

The first year my daughter was on the roster of a tournament team, she was 9 years old and only saw garbage time on a team that won just 1 or 2 games all summer.  My friend Mike’s daughter had a similar experience on that same team, our girls represented the younger end of the spectrum and rode a lot of pine.  They’re now juniors at rival high schools, although the rivalry is mostly amiable when it comes to softball – CPS has won each of the last 7 matchups dating to their freshman seasons.  We see each other at the games, do some friendly razzing and catch up.

The same team has another of Nat’s former teammates, Haley (now a freshman) as their starting pitcher.  Nice girl, good athlete, I coached her on 2 summer teams, we’ve known the family for some years.  With Natalie pitching in the top of the first, Haley takes one the other way, slugging a long triple over the right fielder’s head.  Bottom half of the same inning with Haley on the mound, Natalie sends a bomb way over their centerfielder’s head for an 2 run double.  Win-win, I enjoyed seeing both kids having success.

Padres sweep through playoffs

padres_champs800Eric completed his first season of Juniors in NOLL SOLL baseball, the next level up from Majors where games are played on a larger diamond.  It is truly an understatement that the season had its ups and downs, the second game of the year saw one of our impactful veteran players go down with a season-ending injury, and another was injured to a lesser degree the same day.  To their credit, this group never gave up – through good times and bad, including one of the worst drubbings you could imagine.

I’ll hold on to certain memories of the season that involve my son.  In the very first game, with the Padres in the field in the top of the first inning, the Angel’s leadoff batter hit a line drive to the right side that Eric handled easily.  His other chances on defense were handled with equal aplomb as well that day, in spite of an opening day loss.  In their first meeting against the Reds, Eric stroked a two-run double down the left field line in another losing effort.

Also important, this season witnessed the fact that the post season provides a new set of opportunities, and what sometimes matters is when you get hot.  In their first playoff game, they jumped ahead of the Angels in the first inning and never looked back.  They also staked an early lead against the Diamondbacks which held up for their second improbable win.  The championship game of the double-elimination tournament took place on a Wednesday evening, facing a well-rested and powerful Reds team.  Again, the Padres jumped out to an early lead in the first, only to see their opponents chip away and take the lead midway through the game.  The comeback started immediately, aided by some incredible defense, and they earned a berth in the regional TOCs.

The Padres coaching staff provides a contrast to that of some of the other teams in the league.  Head coach Larry is somewhat soft spoken when compared to some of the younger, more intense coaches of other teams.  The manner in which he ran the team sometimes took getting used to, but even if his style may have come into question, there’s no way anyone would dispute his dedication and devotion.  Now that we’re sitting in the stands at a larger diamond, a bit further from the action, it’s not always clear to a spectator why a move is being made at a particular time.  Now it all makes sense, Larry had a great handle on pitch count, any one pitcher’s effectiveness, and strategy relative not only to the current game, but juggling things effectively in order to make sense for upcoming games.

Kudos

NCS Champs 2010

1955CPS softball played incredibly well this year, last night they were crowned NCS Division V champions, and deservedly so. The team played a total of 21 games since February, each a victory.  Some games were hard-fought, others blowouts, but in NCS play they ran the table and did not allow a run – remarkable. Last night they defeated a very talented team, St. Barnard’s of Eureka, 1-0.  It was classic softball, dominated by pitching and defense.  The Cougars scratched out a single run in the 4th inning, a razor thin margin of victory.  The game ended with St. Barnard’s runners in scoring position, the tying run at 3rd, the go ahead run 60 feet behind her, and Sadie striking out the side.

I’m very proud of my daughter and all the girls, here’s what we’ve had all season long:

A group of talented, competitive and dedicated young ladies who know the game, play it hard, and show respect toward the game, their opponents, and officials.  Everyone knows their role, accepts it and fulfills it for the greater good of the team.

An outstanding coaching staff, full of positive energy, equally well versed in instruction, strategy and motivation.

An enthusiastic and knowledgeable fan base consisting of students, alumni and parents.  The time spent together is always very enjoyable.

Team spirit.  To witnessed it firsthand is to know what I’m talking about.

An outfield that can run, catch and throw.  Witness the relay against Valley Christian, when a bomb to the wastelands of right center field beacme an out at 3rd base.  It hapened that way because the fielders didn’t give up, and they executed the way they’ve been taught.  In addition, these girls consistently did all the little things right. For example,  hustling into position to back plays up and keeping runners from advancing on errant throws.

An infield that turned many a hard shot into outs.  The other team hit the ball hard? No problem, we routinely gobbled up ground balls and line drives, retiring batter after batter.

On-field leadership. One word: Zoe.  To see her in action is to truly appreciate her talent.  A catcher that knows home plate belongs to her.

Pitching.  This is what we had that put us way over the top in our league and in NCS play.  Most teams have just one, a few teams have a pretty good one. Not us, we have two. We are blessed with a pair of hard throwing, accurate and cool-under-pressure pitchers.  They’re both sophomores, and both getting stronger with each progressing season.

A school that puts the right amount of support and emphasis on their athletic program.  CPS is typically not the place to go if a kid is looking to immerse in a highly competitive athletic program, that’s somewhere else.  The administration, faculty, staff and student culture allow for a rich balance of academics and athletics.

College Prep will now hang a softball championship banner in the gym for the very first time.

CPS alum Nick Masson (brother of senior 1B Helen) has been documenting the last several games, you can see more photo sets here.

wire to wire

bcle_champsThe 2010 CPS softball team accomplished a lot this year.  You don’t always believe the preseason predictions, but in this case, those who made them had an inkling.

And so it goes from year to year, certain teams are loaded with talented seniors, the next year their core has moved on.  CPS certainly benefited from the talent and experience of their upcoming graduates, and next year may be another story.  What remains is a strong and dedicated group, including 2 outstanding pitchers (ahem), a pair players that should continue to have a significant impact on the program. The season went along without too much drama, save for a scare against OMI on Senior Day.  Highlights would include the tournament win in Calistoga, and the 1-0 win over Marin Academy, no question our best played game of the year.

Contributions came from up and down the lineup, but our pitching absolutely set us apart from the rest of the pack, en route to a 19-0 record.  Over the course of the season,the 2 sophomores compiled some impressive stats:

Natalie Laber: 9 wins, 67 strikeouts, 0.52 ERA, 1.000 fielding percnetage

Sadie Oliver-Grey: 9 wins, 102 strikeouts, .080 ERA, 1.000 fielding percnetage

It’s on to NCS, Prep finds out about their draw Sunday May 23.