baseball


Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! It’s been several months since I last posted here at The Bread Line, but this morning I felt the urge to write here again.

While this blog has been dormant (other than the ever-changing Twitter feed on the right side of the website), my other blog, The Midwest League Traveler, has been going strong. That where I chronicled my summer journey to the 16 Midwest League (Class A minor-league baseball) ballparks and continue to write about baseball-related topics. I’m in the process of writing a book about the ballparks and my experiences visiting them. My plan is to publish the book by the start of the next baseball season, and most nights I’m staying up late to work on it. If you haven’t done so already, I hope you will check out my work at The Midwest League Traveler and if you use Twitter, follow me at @MWLtraveler in addition to @thebreadline.

That brings me to what I’m thankful for this year. In addition to the usual stuff — you know what kind of stuff I mean — I am thankful for the opportunity to be pursuing my dream of writing a book and, in doing so, being able to combine my loves of baseball, road trips and writing. I’m thankful for all the support I’ve gotten from family, friends and even some strangers (people I hear from through the blog or Twitter, or whom I met at ballparks this year), but I’m especially thankful for the unwavering support of my wife, without whom my book project wouldn’t be happening.

Thanks for checking in at The Bread Line. While I rarely post here anymore because of my commitment to finishing my book and pushing it through my other blog and social media, I am glad you stopped here and read this.

Now it’s time to enjoy a turkey day cup of coffee. Have a happy and safe holiday, everyone.

My apologies to readers of The Bread Line who haven’t had any new blog posts to read for several weeks. I was on vacation for 12 days (road trip to Atlanta and Florida) and since then I’ve been busy working on my summer project: visiting all 16 Midwest League ballparks and writing about the experience.

I’m still in the beginning stages of the adventure, having gone only to a couple Peoria Chiefs games so far. I’ve got a schedule in place for when I’ll visit the other 15 Midwest League ballparks (and likely return to Peoria’s park, too, since that’s the closest one to me). I set up a second Twitter account from which I’ll tweet about my Midwest League odyssey: @MWLtraveler. I’m also building a blog at which I’ll chronicle my ballpark visits at www.MWLtraveler.com. It’s still a work in progress right now, so please excuse the metaphorical dust as construction continues, but bookmark it and check back regularly if you want to follow along there, too.

That’s it for now here at The Bread Line. I’ll still be posting here occasionally, but I’ll be posting at The Midwest League Traveler blog a lot more this summer. I hope you’ll like what you read there, and as always, feel free to give me feedback about my writing and the project in general.

As I noted in a post yesterday, today is the 5th anniversary of when then-Gov. Mitt Romney signed a universal healthcare bill into law for Massachusetts. But that’s not the only — or even the most important — anniversary of significance to be marked today.

Of course, the most significant is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. I began to commemorate the day this morning by dusting off my Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion II CD and playing it, beginning with the first track, “Civil War.” Then my wife and I hiked at Starved Rock State Park, where there weren’t many people today, giving us the opportunity to truly appreciate the solitude of nature and, at one point, reflect on how far we’ve come as a society since the Civil War — and even since the 100th anniversary 50 years ago.

You don’t need me to explain all that, but I do wish to take this time to mention a few Civil War-related books I’ve read or that are on my to-read list: Jay Winik’s “April 1865: The Month That Saved America” (about the final days of the Civil War and its immediate aftermath); James L. Swanson’s “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” and “Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse”; David O. Stewart’s “Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy”; Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln”; and George B. Kirsch’s “Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime During the Civil War.”

If anyone has suggestions to add to my reading list, I’d love to hear them. Also, if you have any Civil War sites you recommend I visit between northern Illinois and Atlanta, Ga., during a road trip planned for later this year, I’d love to hear those, too.

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Today is also the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight (by Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin) and the 30th anniversary of the American space shuttle program’s first flight. NASA celebrated by not giving one of the retiring space shuttles to Chicago’s Adler Planetarium — but at least the planetarium will get the flight simulator used by astronauts during their space training.

The four space shuttles were assigned to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum near Washington, D.C.; the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex near Orlando, Fla.; the California Science Center in Los Angeles; and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.

I’ll also be visiting the Kennedy Space Center during my aforementioned road trip planned for later this year. Suggested stops in the TOM (Tampa-Orlando-Miami) triangle are welcome, too. (Baseball games and Everglades National Park are already on the agenda.)

* * *

Finally, today is the 1-year anniversary of when the Chicago Cubs front office started its official Twitter feed, @CubsInsider. This isn’t very notable, except to illustrate a point.

Lately I’ve noticed a few people in my Twitter timeline mention that they’ve been on Twitter for a year now. I’m glad they’ve been on Twitter that long, but I’m not sure why they think the anniversary is a big deal. I’ve used Twitter since early 2009 — proudly ahead of the curve with this form of social media — but I don’t know what day I tweeted for the first time. Nevertheless, if you’re on Twitter and don’t already follow me, I hope you will change that! I’m @thebreadline.

Although the Cubs don’t play until tomorrow, today is still exciting because it’s Opening Day (and a rare day when ESPN broadcasts three baseball games). As of when I’m writing this, three of today’s six games have been completed: the Yankees beat the Tigers 6-3, the Braves beat the Nationals 2-0, and the Reds rallied in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat the Brewers 7-6. Some highlights:

In the Yankees game, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera became the first trio of teammates in any major sport (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL) to play together in 17 consecutive seasons. Posada was the Yankees’ DH today, ending his streak of 11 consecutive years as his team’s starting catcher. Russell Martin was the starting catcher for the Yankees today. The last Opening Day catcher for the Yankees NOT named Jorge Posada was Joe Girardi, who is now the Yankees manager.

In the Braves game, Jason Heyward homered in his first at-bat of the season for the second time. He also did it as a rookie last year.

In the Reds game, Ramon Hernandez hit a walk-off, three-run homer to complete a come-from-behind victory. Hernandez went 4-for-5 and teammate Joey Votto also homered in the game.

The Cubs open their season tomorrow afternoon against the Pirates at Wrigley Field. The Cubs are a dark horse in the NL Central race, mainly because the other three contending teams (nobody counts the Pirates anymore) have suffered significant injuries while the Cubs remained healthy this spring. But in order for the Cubs to win their division, they need the back end of their rotation (Matt Garza, Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner) to pitch well, Aramis Ramirez needs to stay healthy and hit as well as he has historically, second-year players Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin need to improve on their solid rookie performances, and Alfonso Soriano needs to hit better than .260. OK, so it’s not likely the Cubs will get all that, but it’s Opening Day, when hopes still spring eternal!

Any predictions for the 2011 season?

Cubs pitcher Matt Garza got his first taste of his new team’s intracity rivalry with the White Sox today, and like most new Cubs players, he downplayed the importance of such games. From MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat:

Matt Garza didn’t get caught up in the Cubs-White Sox rivalry. He started Thursday, and gave up three runs on eight hits and two walks over five innings.

“It’s a baseball game,” Garza said of the intracity rivalry. “It’s more for the fans. You step on the mound and you’re just looking at who do I have? It’s not, ‘Oh, he’s wearing a Sox jersey, he’s wearing an A’s jersey, he’s wearing a Padres, Dodgers, Mets, Yankees’ — it doesn’t matter. It’s still baseball. They have a job to do to hit the ball and I have a job to do to get outs.”

Will it be more intense in the regular season?

“Nah,” Garza said. “Shoot, I played in Boston during the playoff run, stretch time, and you’re the most hated person on that hill. I’m pretty sure Chicago will like me a little better than that.”

Poor, clueless Garza. I’m sure Red Sox fans booed him in the playoffs, but he was pitching for the Rays, not the Yankees. He is not prepared for White Sox fans — or Cardinals fans, for that matter — especially at their home field. Considering that he previously pitched for a team with a virtually nonexistent fan base, I don’t think Garza is even ready for Cubs fans to turn sour on him if he continues to pitch like he has in spring training.

It’s times like this that I’m thankful for players like Kerry Wood, who understands the nuances of the Chicago intracity rivalry and identifies so much with the Cubs that he turned down a bigger contract with the White Sox to return to the Cubs this offseason.

Incidentally, the Cubs beat the White Sox 8-7 today.

The 2011 Chicago Cubs seem to be clicking on the field finally, as they rallied back from 9-0 and 12-2 deficits to beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 14-13 today. The winning hit came off the bat of Bryan LaHair.

The Cubs won in walk-off style yesterday too, when D.J. LeMahieu hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the 10th inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers. That game, the first to be televised on WGN this year, featured a pitching matchup between the Cubs’ Ryan Dempster and the Dodgers’ Chad Billingsley — the same pitching matchup I saw in person in spring training last year (though at the Dodgers’ home park, Camelback Ranch, not the Cubs’ home field, Hohokam Park, where yesterday’s game was played). In last year’s game, the Dodgers beat the Cubs 7-3 and Reed Johnson homered for the Dodgers. This year, Johnson is back with the Cubs but didn’t homer; instead, LeMahieu did and the Cubs won 5-3.

In an interesting side note to Sunday’s game, Cubs third-base coach Ivan DeJesus got to watch his son Ivan DeJesus Jr. in action playing second base for the Dodgers. DeJesus was the only Cub I was able to get an autograph from during my spring training trip last year.

Speaking of father-son baseball pairs in the same park,  Cubs broadcasters Len Kasper and Bob Brenly made sure to let viewers know Sunday that Cubs farmhand Michael Brenly was at Hohokam Park and ready to play. The younger Brenly was wearing No. 88, which reminded me that Mike Fontenot wore that jersey number during a spring training game I attended last year. Interestingly, Fontenot normally wore No. 17 — the number now worn by pitcher Matt Garza, who had to wear a No. 94 jersey Friday because he forgot to pack his No. 17 jersey. I wonder if Mark Grace ever had that problem during spring training.

Yes, my mind has been spending a bit of time thinking back to last year’s spring training trip, and I wish I was back in Arizona right now. But that’s not in the cards for 2011. What is in the cards, however, is me getting my hair shorn again to raise money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which helps fund cancer research. I did that right before my spring training trip last year, and this will be the eighth year I’m participating in my local St. Baldrick’s fundraiser. It’s something I’m proud of doing annually. I urge you to donate to this worthy cause if you can; you can do so online here. If you want to read about where the money donated to St. Baldrick’s goes, you can do so here. Thank you for your consideration.

WGN Chief Meteorologist Tom Skilling predicts the temperature will drop to -10 degrees in Chicago tonight, which means this will be the coldest night here since January 2009. That also means it’s time to think warm thoughts, so let’s talk baseball …

Let’s start in St. Louis, where the Cardinals are trying to sign Albert Pujols to a long-term contract before the superstar player’s self-imposed Feb. 16 deadline. I’m not sure if the Cardinals will convince Pujols not to test the waters of free agency, but today SI.com’s Jon Heyman reported that the two sides “are so far apart there is virtually no chance for a deal” by the Feb. 16 deadline — so right now I’m in the camp that thinks a deal WILL get done. But I hope I’m wrong and Pujols becomes a free agent after the 2011 season, then signs with the Chicago Cubs.

Let’s transition from baseball’s best hitter to one of baseball’s worst starting pitchers. Last season Ross Ohlendorf went 1-11 with a 4.07 ERA for the pitiful Pittsburgh Pirates (whose record was a major league-worst 57-105 in 2010) — so naturally he won his arbitration case, netting a pay raise from $439,000 to $2,025,000. For winning one game in 21 starts last season, Ohlendorf will get more than four times his 2010 salary this year! I suppose if he wins more than four games this year, the Pirates can consider him a bargain.

If the average American worker earned pay raises based on similarly mediocre performances, our country’s economy would be tanking worse than it has the past few years. But we can’t end on that sour note …

Less than a week left before pitchers and catchers start reporting to spring training! (If that doesn’t give you a warm feeling, you’re not a baseball fan.)

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