Monday 28 May 2012

Two things I would have bet were impossible.

The super slow motion camera is a wonderful thing. I can remember nature shows that my father made me watch as a young child. There would be the hummingbird, slowly flapping its wings, suspended over a flower. Sometimes it would be an insect feeding, or a plant shooting pollen, but always in perfect, crisp detailed motion.

It turns out that it comes in just as handy for baseball games, if the camera is pointed in the right place. It can reveal that what I thought was impossible, has already happened.

Everything I have read about hitting, power is generated by a complex relationship of force and leverage. The result of carefully timed hip and shoulder turns, arm extensions and wrist tension is what makes hitting a ball out of the yard possible. If you had bet me that you could hit a home run by holding the knob of the bat with your thumb and forefinger slipping off of it, I would have bet against you in a second.

I will now send you to a GIF over at Getting Blanked. I don't want to steal that one, so go take a look and I'll be here when you get back.

Poor Jamie Moyer. He's been on the right side, and the wrong side of the magic forces lately.

That clip reminded me of somthing that I saw last year. A similar camera angle. From SBNation, this is Troy Tulowitzki getting the bat on the ball in an incredibly unusual way.

Yes, I would have bet that making contact a second time on the same stroke was impossible. I would have wagered quite a bit of money that you couldn't swing slow enough to hit it so softly that you were then swinging hard enough to catch up to the ball you just hit. Troy Twoquickhitzki. For reals.

I would have lost both bets, because I also sometimes forget that baseball is magic.

Friday 25 May 2012

Bases Loaded, Bottom 4, 2 out.

Miami, Florida. May 21, 2012. An evening at Marlins ballpark, the home team hosting the Colorado Rockies.

Before I get to the magic moment, some background is required. The Miami Marlins are, in many ways, a brand new team. That might be a little generous. They are a new team in much the same way as the coffee I buy has been placed in a different shaped jar and labelled (boldly) Brand New Look! The coffee tastes about the same, but they surely got some attention by changing the label and the jar. The Marlins have undergone changes in their name, from 'Florida' to 'Miami', to their new uniform and logo, and their shiny new stadium. They are starved for attention, it would seem.

The most notable feature has been the home run sculpture. It, since the offseason construction project neared completion, has been the most talked about part of the 'new' Miami Marlins. It has no name, no official title. It simply announces it's own presence whenever a Marlin hits a home run. Sometimes I wonder if it goes off in an empty stadium when a Marlins player homers on the road. Maybe it knows, somehow, when it is needed.

With no official name, I have taken to calling it The Stanton Machine. That's a tribute to this guy, who also rebranded himself into the new stadium. Giancarlo (nee Mike) Stanton is, regardless of first name, the man most likely to set off the display in center field. After all, Giancarlo Stanton hits baseballs like this:

They tell me that that's only 461 feet.

Mr. Stanton, it would seem, was unmoved by the efforts to build a 75 foot tall temple of animated silliness as a tribute to his abilities. Perhaps he was unimpressed that any of his teammates could, at any time, set off the home run display with their own home run. Giancarlo is not a follower, Giancarlo is a leader.

In the bottom of the 4th, Jamie Moyer, the wily veteran who I talked about in a previous post, faced the 21 year old Giancarlo for the 3rd time in the game. And Giancarlo pulled a rabbit out of his hat. Jeff Sullivan does a wonderful job of breaking it down.

Not only did Mr. Stanton attempt to break the spirit of the ageless Mr. Moyer, but he affirmed his home run mojo as being greater than any other hitter to drive a ball over the fence at Marlins Stadium. When Giancarlo homers, the display now includes a whole section of the scoreboard going dark to honour him. Observe.

(via twitter)

Yes, folks, Giancarlo Stanton out-crazied the craziest ballpark in baseball. And he did it with the power of nothing more magical than an ordinary baseball. I fully expect that, with each home run he hits, more and more lights will go out in Marlins Stadium, until a single shaft shines down upon home plate, and one spotlight follows the flight of every Stanton homer.

You gotta dream sometimes, don't you?

Friday 18 May 2012

First pitch of the 8th

On April 18th, 2012, Yan Gomes made his major league debut for the Toronto Blue Jays, of the American league. He played third base, and recorded two hits. As Darren Oliver entered the game to start the top of the 8th, he threw his first pitch of the game. Courtesy of The Blue Jay Hunter, you can see what happened below.

Nice play. Great reaction time! I've led you a little astray, though, because that's not Yan Gomes, 24 year old rookie. That's the very adept glove handling skill of Omar Vizquel.

Vizquel, for the uninitiated, is a very, very, veteran defensive replacement. He is 45 years old.

That's the magic of baseball for you. In a game with no clock, every so often, a player comes along and holds off father time in surprising ways. Vizquel came into the game to replace a 24 year old rookie, because he's believed to be the better glove man. And he showed it on the very first pitch thrown while he was in the game.This season Vizquel is not the only man testing his ability to turn back the clock.

Our even more unlikely candidate is below.

The hit pictured above is from Jamie Moyer. Moyer is just returning from a year off to have Tommy John surgery. Which means he is a pitcher. A pitcher who recently celebrated his 49th birthday. He is now the oldest player in MLB history to get a hit, and also the oldest to drive in a run. Moyer is the oldest player in MLB history to do anything that he does. He is the punchline to every 'this guy is older than something really old' joke made in the last 6 months.

Every day, though, Jamie Moyer is the one laughing. He gets up in the morning and can put on the uniform of a real big league team. He makes a real contribution to the Colorado Rockies. He's almost 50 years old, and he's still living the life of a baseball player, a life many former players who washed out in their 30s would still trade him for. Jamie Moyer is some kind of wizard.

If there is one player who best captured the impossible spirit of playing beyond any expectation, though, it is not Jamie Moyer, or Omar Vizquel, or Jesse Orosco, or Julio Franco. It is a man most associated with one number and one letter. The number is 5714. The letter, is K.

Nolan Ryan.

Nolan Ryan was a Time Lord. He debut in 1966. He led the league in strikeouts from 1987 to 1990. Those were his age 40 through 44 seasons. He continued to throw in the mid 90s, and even no-hit my beloved Toronto Blue Jays in 1991. Again, when he was 45. He struck out 5714 batters in his career. Is that good? Well, here's the all time list.

As a comparision, Moyer hasn't got a pitch that he can throw 80mph. Omar Vizquel had to come to camp and compete for a job this year. Ryan was heaving it up there like a champion, until his elbow ligament popped in his last start. Like at the end of every series of Doctor Who, when they finally change actors, time had defeated Nolan Ryan, but he had held it back in an unbelievable way.

Baseball is played on a field that is, in theory, infinite in dimensions. Take the fences away, and the outfield rolls on forever. The game has no limits, tie games are played on and on, without concern for the clock. Sometimes that timeless magic gets into a player's blood, and he looks like he could go on forever.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Flyout 5-7

The title of this post hardly makes any sense to me. I'm pretty sure that's how it would show in the box score, though. Not that it gets written in the box score very often. I'd kind of be curious, really, to know how many times a flyout has been recorded that way in Major League Baseball history.

Third baseman assists left fielder in catching a fly ball.

Now, if you didn't see it happen on May 12, 2012, just let that sink in. Try to picture the third baseman touching, but not catching a fly ball. Now, you have to get that fly ball into the left fielder's glove without it touching the ground. Can you picture that?

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Bottom of the 9th, 7-7, nobody out

That title, up there, it's almost always the game situation that provides us with a magic moment. I often have to look up the game summary or box score to figure out exactly what the title will be. Today, I did not. Brett Lawrie makes remembering the magic easy to do.

I often hold off on showing you the play, or the link to build a little tension, but I'm just going to give it to you right off the top, because that's what Brett Lawrie did. With nobody out, and the count full, Brett Lawrie swung the bat, and won the game. would like you to Click here so you can watch it happen in full motion video and sound.

Boom goes the dynamite, indeed. Everybody jump around! Did he just do that? Yes! Now we all go home!

For those of you not students of the game, I must tell you something important here. There are no clutch hitters. No major league baseball hitter has shown any real ability to get better at hitting when his team is behind, or he is the tying or winning run. Great hitters are great all the time. Bad hitters are bad all the time. With random variations thrown in. There are no clutch hitters, but there are clutch hits.

The walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth, that's the kind of clutch hit that narratives are written about. Ask Joe Carter. Brett Lawrie already knows quite a lot about clutch hits. His 71st big league hit was a walkoff home run. You have to be in the right place at the right time to get a walkoff hit. It must be the 9th inning or later. Your team must be tied or behind. There must be enough runners on for your team to take the lead, given certain outcomes of your at bat.

Lastly, you must do the right thing.

Brett Lawrie did exactly the right thing on May 1st,2012. If you are Lawrie fan, you know he's tried this move out before. It was September 5th, 2011, and in the bottom of the 11th inning, in a 1-1 count, Lawrie hit a solo home run to walk off the Boston Red Sox. It looked, in part, like this. says this is old enough that I can show it to you right here. Isn't that convenient?

A quick trip to my calculator shows me that 2.8% of all the hits Lawrie has made in the major leagues have been walkoff home runs. That's crazy. And makes him seem magical. Right place, right time, right thing. 2.8% of the time.

If you don't agree with me, I'd like to direct your attention to another MLB player with exceptional talent. He has been around a little longer that Brett, and has had time to amass 2,406 hits against major league pitchers. He's got quite the reputation for being able to get hits whenever he needs them. He's led the league 7 times in the hits category. His name is Ichiro Suzuki. Now here's the funny part, this link is to an article about Ichiro's first walkoff hit (hit, not homer, mind you). In the text of the article, we are told that it's the 1953rd hit of Ichiro's career. So, there's one walkoff for him, 2 for Brett.

It turns out, Ichiro thought that getting a walkoff hit was really cool. The next night, he was in the right place at the right time, and for the second night in a row, he did the right thing. He homered off Mariano Rivera and won the game, bringing his career walkoff hit percentage to 0.001%. So, Brett and Ichiro Suzuki now are tied in game winning hits. However, Lawrie has a 2-1 lead in walkoff home runs.

I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but I know what happened to end the game on May 2, 2012, and it was magical to me.