Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Sometimes, there's crying in baseball

I've been trying to think of what to write about the tragic death of Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez over the weekend. I mean, I should write something, shouldn't I? Then again, it's one of those situations where everyone tries to come up with the right words and nothing really seems right.

We all woke up Sunday morning to hear about the tragic boat accident that claimed the life of the 24-year-old Marlins ace. I first saw the news from a friend's Facebook post. As I scrolled further, I found the news stories and read more about what happened. Then I saw the social media posts from the Marlins and Braves, saying Sunday's game was canceled.

I made my way to church that morning, a good place to be after you hear terrible news like that. Afterward, I saw more and more of the social-media outpouring of grief, shock and support for Fernandez and the Marlins.

MLB remembers together
Sunday, the rest of Major League Baseball went on with their ball games, many (including the Minnesota Twins) celebrated their final homestands. League-wide, there was a moment of silence before each first pitch. Teams also hung No. 16 Fernandez jerseys in their dugouts.

As often happens, his death opened my eyes to what kind of person and player Fernandez was during his short time on earth. That's how it usually goes, of course. People are remembered fondly and missed greatly once they are gone.

I'll be honest here. I didn't know much about him. Blame it on my tunnel-vision as someone who covers an American League team, I guess. Maybe that's why my thoughts on this really aren't that important. It's not like I have any kind of close connection really. But I'm a writer, so I wanted to share my thoughts anyway.

Still, even if I would have committed all his baseball stats to memory, I don't think I would have known about all his struggles and everything it took for him to live the life he built for himself. He tried multiple times to defect from Cuba to the United States, only to be thrown in jail. He jumped out of a boat to save his mother who had fallen overboard on the way over. He finally became of U.S. citizen in 2015.

His baseball numbers are another great story. He was a two-time All Star in 2013 as a rookie and again this season in his four-year career. He was also named the NL Rookie of the year in 2013. He was 16-8 this season with a 2.86 ERA in 29 games. The real amazing stat is his strikeout number. He fanned hitters 253 times this year, for a total of 589 career strikeouts. That's pretty good.

What a tribute, tears and all
But I think what I really wanted to touch on here was what's happened since Sunday morning. The support, the hugs, the grief, the tears. The famous line from Tom Hanks in "A League of Their Own" is: "There's no crying in baseball." Well, sometimes there is. And that's totally OK.

The Marlins returned to the diamond for a game Monday versus the New York Mets. Every single Marlins player wore a the black Miami jersey with the 16-Fernandez on the back. They circled the mound in a pregame ceremony, touched the mound dirt. The Mets embraced the Marlins players in another emotional scene. Then, they got back to business: Playing baseball.

The most remarkable sequence came in the bottom of the first inning. Dee Gordon took the first pitch on the right side of the plate, in honor of his teammate. Then, he stepped to the left side of the batter's box. He drove the first pitch he saw there toward the right-field seats. 1-0 Marlins.

It wasn't about the score but about one special moment. Gordon trotted around the bases - and his emotions came rushing out. He sobbed uncontrollably as he was greeted by teammates near home plate and then in the dugout. He was met with hugs and applause. It was truly an incredible moment that will tug at anyone's heart strings.

One more thing: It was his first home run of the 2016 season.

Baseball = family 

See, the people you work often become your family because you're with them so much. It's no different, perhaps even more so, in baseball. It's family. These guys are together pretty much every day for months at a time. So, the Marlins lost a brother. All of baseball lost a brother and member of the family.

I'm not speaking from any kind of experience here, of what I know with absolute certainty to be true of baseball players. I don't want it to come off like I have some strong connection here in respect to what's happened and how everyone feels about it. I'm writing from my seat as a social media coordinator and blogger.

I see teammates - and baseball players all over the league - who are grieving for a guy that loved the game and was taken too soon. I see two teams that came together to play a baseball game and finish it up with a round of emotional hugs. I see the GIFs, photos and thoughtful words plastered all over social media from fans, baseball players and media members. I heard a little about the emotion of the past couple days from the Marlins social media coordinator. Kudos to her and the Marlins for doing a phenomenal and professional job with their social content.

Oh, and the Marlins won their game Monday. RIP Jose. #JDF16

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Play aside, 2016 has been a rainy one for the Twins

Rain delay at Target Field. Sept. 21, 2016.
Among other things, it's been a Minnesota Twins baseball season filled with rain - starting with Opening Day.

Call it a bad omen for the season. Or just some bad luck that no one has any control over anyway. Maybe Mother Nature just got royally upset at the Twins over the winter and decided to get revenge. 

Whatever it is, the rain that has plagued the Twins in 2016 is notable. No matter what you think about it. I've kept some of my own stats on the weather delays for the Twins this season (some credit goes to the Twins Game Notes, too). There's a lot of down time when you're waiting for baseball to resume at the ballpark.

Everything started with not one, but two, rain delays in Baltimore for the Twins Opening Day. It was a frustrating calamity of errors, really. All of us like to think we're weather experts, of course. The game didn't start for an hour and 40 minutes, because they were apparently waiting for some rain to pass. But the kicker was, it didn't rain.

It started raining once they finally started playing, then there was another hour-and-10-minute delay in the second inning. That kicked off the awful 0-9 start for the Twins, and things haven't improved much since. They had another delay in that series, too, just a brief one in the 7th inning.

By the numbers
Here are some of the stats I've kept during this rainy season:

10 games with rain delays at Target Field, plus three postponed games with delays
4 road rain-delayed games
17 total games with a rain delay this season
5 games where rain has fallen but not enough to delay the game (Two at home, three on the road)
2 split-doubleheaders

17 hours, 24 minutes of rain delay time at Target Field
7 hours, 28 minutes of rain delay time on the road

24 hours, 52 minutes of rain delay time this season... and counting, because the season still isn't over and rain is in the forecast for the weekend.

Longest delay: 3 hours, 15 minutes Aug. 19 in Kansas City. This was actually 3:03 for rain, plus 12 minutes for a light delay when the lights went out after midnight. You can't make it up.

Shortest delay: 25 minutes. April 7 in Baltimore in the 7th and May 25 at home v. Kansas City to start the game.

Postponed games have been delayed an hour, two hours and 30 minutes, and an hour and 35 minutes before the games were called for the night.


There was another rain delay Friday. So, that means:

11 games with rain delays at Target Field, plus three postponed games with delays
18 total games with a rain delay this season

18 hours of rain delay time at Target Field
7 hours, 28 minutes of rain delay time on the road

25 hours, 28 minutes of rain delay time this season... and counting.

A notable season 
See? I told you I had some time on my hands waiting for baseball. It's not that I love this kind of stuff, or hate the open-air stadium (as one Twitter follower asked). It just seemed that there were enough rain-affected games this season that it was worth digging into just how much time has been lost to falling rain. Turns out, it's about a day.

What's interesting is that Target Field has had 31 delayed games and 15 postponed games since it opened in 2010. The longest delay was three hours. So, of those 31 delayed games in seven seasons, 10 of them have happened this year. My writer-math says that's about one-third. Two of the postponed games have happened this year.

So, there you go. Just thought I'd share some of the fun-filled rain delay statistics from this season. Yes, there's nothing you can do about the weather. Yes, predicting weather is hard. Yes, we all think we're experts.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Dozier just keeps hitting homers

In my last post, I wrote about the Twins and their losing ways and one major positive: Hitting home runs. Those trends - losing ball games and hitting homers - have continued, with the main man of the hour being Brian Dozier.

First let's get this out of the way. The Twins nearly left a huge mark in franchise history, with a 13-game losing streak. It's just one shy of the franchise record 14 games, done by that 1982 Twins team. So, the Twins returned home last week to take on the AL Central-foe White Sox for a four-game set. The Twins snapped their losing streak and almost came away with a series victory.

#DozierGoesDeep x 3
Back to Dozier. In short, his bat has been absolutely on fire. He hit home runs No. 36, 37 and 38, the first two coming in his first two at-bats, versus the Royals on Labor Day. The first one came on the first pitch he saw in the 1st, for his 17th career leadoff home run. He's chasing Jacque Jones for that crown in Twins history; Jones hit 20. The second homer of the day went to the second deck, 446 feet, with Byron Buxton on base for a 3-2 Twins lead at the time.

That was crazy enough, right? Not quite. After coming up a couple times and not hitting a home run, he belted one even further in the 8th inning. That made three on the day for him. He improved on distance each time: Hitting them to the first, second and third decks in that left field/left-center sweet spot. It made 10 homers versus the Royals for him this season; no player has ever hit more against KC in a single season.

His last one came with nobody on base in a game that was already well in hand for the Royals, who led (and eventually won) 11-5. Dozier didn't look exactly thrilled as he turned the bases. No matter the score, Target Field fans were loving the Dozier show. So, their continued cheers got Dozier out of the dugout for a half-hearted curtain call. It was the second one in two days for the Twins; Buxton also got a much happier call after his grand slam Sunday.

Before I could get this blog posted (most of which I wrote after the first game with Kansas City), Dozier hit his 39th homer of the season to start the game off Tuesday, for his 18th career leadoff home run. This one was significant because he became the third Twins player to ever hit a homer in five straight games. Harmon Killebrew did it three times (of course he did). The other player? Marty Cordova in 1995. That's right.

Once again, Dozier's deep efforts were all for nothing, as the Twins lost 10-3 to the Royals for their 17th loss in the past 19 games. It wasn't a typical blowout like the score would suggest though. Closer Brandon Kintzler took the loss after he couldn't hold a 3-2 Twins lead in the 8th and 9th. The Twins paraded their 'pen out there and the Royals put up seven in the 9th.

A grand total of 22 Dozier home runs this season have come in games the team has lost. It's a stat that leads baseball. Coming into play Tuesday, no other player had more than 15 homers in this exciting category.

It's historic, even in a lost season for the team
Dozier's postgame comments after Monday's game weren't typically what you'd hear from a guy that just had a three-homer game - something no Twins player has ever done at home. It's understandable Dozier would be frustrated though. His team isn't winning these games where he keeps homering.

Whether he wants the acknowledgment or not, Dozier's latest tear should be celebrated. He's homered seven times in his last eight games. So really, once Dozier steps into the batter's box, be prepared for him to hit a home run, because it's been happening a lot.

He's ripping up the stats sheets with his home run barrage. Plus, he's found himself mentioned with one of the greatest Twins hitters to ever swing a bat: Killebrew. The Killer was the last Twins player to crush more than 35 home runs in a season; he did it eight times, the last in 1970 when he hit 41.

Basically, he's been a lot of fun to watch. I mean, how often do you watch a player come up to the plate and you think he'll homer every single time? That's pretty rare, obviously, but it's what Dozier has been doing. His 24 home runs since the All-Star Break lead all of baseball, and it's not a close contest.

Other Twins hitting 'em out of the park, too 
Dozier is hitting out of his mind right now, but he isn't the only one hitting the ball out of the yard lately. Entering play Tuesday, the team had homered in seven straight games. They haven't gone eight games since 2013.

In the White Sox series, the Twins hit four home runs in Saturday's game, then another four Sunday. It was Dozier, Buxton, Miguel Sano and Trevor Plouffe. Then Buxton and Dozier again, John Ryan Murphy and another from Sano. Oh, and Buxton's grand slam Sunday was the first of his career and second of the Twins' season. At that point, Buxton homered in three of the four games since he was recalled from AAA Rochester at the start of the series.

It's been nice to have the home run excitement to focus on recently, especially since the Twins lost Sunday's game 13-11 in 12 innings (a game where both closers faltered and the bullpens weren't exactly stellar). The Twins also got shelled 11-4 to the Royals, when Dozier had his duo blasts.

Of course, this comes back to pitching. It doesn't how many runs a team puts on the board. They have to be able to stop the other team from doing that, too. Expert analysis right there, I know. But pitching is really a whole other can of messy worms that I won't get into right now.

Let's just enjoy the Dozier home runs. #DozierGoesDeep