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Mr. Padre

Posted: June 18, 2014 by waltmtaylor in Uncategorized

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Tony Gwynn passed away yesterday, and I have been reading all the outpourings of emotion and reflections over the past 24 hours or so.  Time for me to add my recollections of Mr. Padre.

Gwynn was my favorite ballplayer growing up.  He remains the professional athlete that I admire most, and nobody will ever surpass him in my mind.  My feelings about Tony Gwynn are far from unique, other than the fact that I have lived in Indiana my whole life.  How does a kid in the 1980′s right in the middle of Reds/Cubs/Cardinals country, with all the cool stars of the 80′s to choose from, end up following Tony Gwynn and the San Diego Padres?

1984 was a great year, and I was 10 years old.  If you had cable TV, you got every Cubs game.  The Cubs were actually good in ’84, and people were going crazy, but I would have none of that nonsense.  It was so annoying to me to hear all this talk about everyone’s favorite team, the Cubs.  So as I read my weekly Sporting News and checked the standings and the box scores in the paper every day that summer, I began gravitating toward the Padres.  Maybe I was hoping they would be the team that could ruin the dream of the Cubs making it to the World Series.  That ’84 Padre team was a cool squad with Gossage, Garvey, Nettles, McReynolds, Kennedy, and of course this guy who was at the top of the list of batting averages in the paper every Sunday, Tony Gwynn.  I started collecting baseball cards, and instantly knew everything I needed to know about that whole Padre team.  I was hooked, and the new batting champ was my favorite by far.

I’ve watched replays of games 4 and 5 of that 84 NLCS many times.  It never gets old watching Garvey’s home run, but the line shot by Gwynn right before that moment is just classic hitting.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtbSq5G2d8w).  I remember thinking it was a robbery for Sandberg to win the 84 NL MVP.  I remember watching the 84 World Series.  Gwynn was my guy and the Padres were my team for life.

Over the years, I got to see Tony Gwynn play many times when the Padres came to Cincinnati, St. Louis, or Chicago.  My favorite trip though was to Pittsburgh in 1989 (or so I think it was 89).  I was the only kid in 3 Rivers with Padre gear on, and we got there for batting practice.  I found my way to right field where Gwynn was shagging fly balls and began yelling to get his attention.  It worked!  I asked him to throw up a ball, and sure enough he tossed one right up to me.  I then hollered down thanking him for signing a baseball card that I had dropped in the mail with a SASE and sent off to San Diego on a whim.  It of course came back a few months later with a legit Gwynn autograph.  He acknowledged me again.  What a great guy.  We had tickets to 2 games in that Pittsburgh series that year, but I didn’t dare bring my prized ball back the next night out of fear something might happen to it.  So, I went right back to work on the Padres in BP that next night, and Carmelo Martinez gave me another ball.  Then I saw Tony working the wall down by the visitor’s dugout signing autographs.  I was down there quickly, with the gift from Martinez in hand, and of course Gwynn took care of the only Padre fan in the mass of autograph seekers and signed that ball for me.  What a moment!

Fast forward to 2001.  Tony Gwynn had announced his plans to retire, and my dad was wise enough to know that we should go see him one more time.  My dad, my brother, and I went to Pittsburgh again.  The Pirates gave Tony a painting of the slide into home that won an All Star game in Pittsburgh and did a nice recognition.  I then got to see the last home run of his career and line drive double.  Now 27 years old and about to become a dad in couple months, I was just like a kid, convinced he got those hits just for me.

I was a Tony Gwynn fan because he could flat-out hit long before I knew what a great person he was.  I now appreciate that side of him as much as I do his hitting. He was everything a pro athlete should be both on and off the field.  There will never be another one like him, but it sure would be great if today’s generation of MLB stars tried to be like Tony.

The Best Value In Pro & College Sports

Posted: June 20, 2013 by waltmtaylor in Uncategorized

It’s no secret that going to a professional or major college sporting event can put a real dent in the old wallet these days.  I can take the hit every now and then, especially if it is just me paying for myself, meeting up with my buddies and taking in a ballgame.  But when you load up the whole family, multiply that cost by 4, you can be talking some big bucks.

I have found a true exception to this rule in Cincinnati when going to see the Reds.  I’m not talking about sitting behind the dugout or on the suite level, but in this ballpark that’s not really necessary since there are plenty of good seats at a value price.  Pretty much anything in the 400 level is $30 or less, and the site lines are great.  Factor in the deals they have on Sunday afternoons and weeknights, and you can easily get a family of 4 through the gates for under $100.  Last night, using a promo code, we had 4 great seats in the 400 level, even with the 3rd base bag, for under $65 total!  It really isn’t hard to find ways to get seats at 50% off during the week, so you could even upgrade and go lower for less than the regular price of upper level seats.

Factor in reasonable parking ($10), a safe and nicely developed area outside the stadium, and it gets even better for a family outing.  Concession stand prices are, well, concession stand prices, but when going with the family (as opposed to going with BDS founder JKlee) I am not sucking down $10 beers all night, so even the concession bill is manageable.

The product on the field is pretty good too, and who doesn’t enjoy tracking the hidden baseball under a bowl of Skyline Chili on the scoreboard between innings.

The Short Porch – Post #2

Posted: June 15, 2013 by waltmtaylor in Uncategorized

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While watching the NBA finals recently, rooting against Miami and for San Antonio, I started thinking about why I have chosen sides in a series where I have absolutely no rooting interest.  That thought got me thinking even more about why fans root for certain teams, against others teams, and how casual sports fans pick sides when they are really not fans of either team in a game.

The two most obvious factors are geography and affiliation.  People root for their hometown teams and the college teams to which they have some sort of connection.  I’m sure if I had lived my entire life in Boston, I’d be a fan of the Patriots and Celtics no different than I am fan of the Colts and Pacers today.  There is nothing that the Colts or Pacers ever did to “win” me as I fan.  I was here, they were here, I like sports, I like I Indy, so I like them.  And, as a result of favoring the Colts, I hate the Patriots and enjoy it very much when they lose.  Besides winning over and over again, and for the most part having the Colts number, the Patriots never did anything that should have caused me to have the level of disdain that I have for them.  But, as is the case for nearly every fan, I am programmed to loathe my team’s rival.

The situations that are more interesting to me are those where a fan is moved from neutrality to hatred by other not so obvious factors.  The first thing that comes to mind from my experience is that the fans of a team are capable of turning me against their team.  I once had a neighbor who drove me to root against Ohio State when before I looked at them as just another Big 10 team.  IU fans are also an unusually annoying bunch, but my perception could impacted by my required hatred for that school as a person with Purdue ties.  However, I bet the folks from around the rest of the league think that fans who wear the candy cane pants are stupid, and have heard enough of “we’re back” when it comes to IU basketball.  Yes, IU fan, your program is no longer a joke, but enough already.

Turning to baseball, IU and Ohio State fans though pale in comparison to Boston Red Sox fans. Long after I had heard way too much about the “Sawks,” I went to a Reds-Nats game in Cincy only to sit down next to a guy in his kelly green Sox hat and jersey.  Yes, I said I was a Reds-Nats game in Cincy when I encountered this guy.  He was arrogant, entitled, loud, whiny, and really didn’t know his baseball.  Typical.  Take the annoying fans and add them to the over saturation on ESPN, and I’ve grown to the point where I can’t stand what should be viewed as a pretty cool, historic MLB franchise in Boston.

Speaking of ESPN, they have pretty much turned me against the entire ACC all by themselves.  I won’t even watch Duke and North Carolina basketball, again great programs with great history, only because I can’t stand how the analysts blather on and on about these programs.  People who think the Big 10 was the first conference with a network to promote its product are dead wrong.  The ACC has had one since 1980, and it is called ESPN.  ESPN’s Baseball Tonight gang has made the Yankees all the more hateable, leading off every single night talking about a mid-May game in Baltimore as if it were the 6th game of the 1975 World Series, and covering their tabloid drama as if it were real sports news.

Lastly, I think the thing that will turn me sour toward a team or franchise is arrogance.  Back to the beginning with the Miami Heat, clearly that is my issue with them.  The LaBron James signing show (of course on ESPN) just fired me up to root against them, even though I’m not even really into the NBA.  When they lost to Dallas 2 years ago, I was literally laughing out loud.  After last year’s Finals, I avoided sports media so I didn’t have to listen to all the NBA talk about how much “adversity” the Heat had overcome to win.

So, best of luck to the Spurs, whoever is playing the Red Sox and Yankees, and whoever Ohio State opens up the football season with.  Even though I probably don’t follow you and will never care about you, I might be rooting harder for you than I do for the teams that I am supposedly a fan of.

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We are just past the first quarter mark of the 2013 MLB season, and small-market baseball has a pulse.  Cincinnati is clearly the class of the small-market clubs, but others are trying to crash ultra-exclusive MLB Postseason party.  The Pirates are playing .600 ball and are only 2 games off the pace in the NL Central.  After a hot start, the Royals have cooled to .500, but are only 4 games back in the AL Central, a division that nobody seems capable of running away with.  Oakland and Tampy Bay are doing what they do, hanging around their respective races despite their relatively low payrolls (and attendance figures in Tampa).  Colorado is tied for the lead in the NL West, another division that looks to be wide open, even for the likes of the small-market Padres. 

While optimism in May and June is nice, will any of these clubs still be relevant in August?  Based on the current rosters, rising stars, failing big-market teams in LA, and the pieces that are in place on these clubs, it’s not out of the question that we would see a World Series or LCS showdown that did not involve the Rangers, Yankees, Cardinals, Giants, or Braves.  But there lies the problem.  The rosters as they currently stand will not be the rosters in August and September. 

The real question is not whether these teams can keep performing at their current levels, it is whether or not they will be buyers at the trade deadline in July.  The big boys, unless they fall way off the pace, will make the moves to win now.  The little guys will be cautious, not wanting to mortgage their future on an investment that may only turn into a wildcard and an early exit from the playoffs.  We see it every year.  But what are they waiting for?  They don’t want to give up their prospects, but what will they do when those prospects develop into a solid team on the playoff fringe a few years later?  Nothing.  They will again not want to mortgage their future, and thus be stuck in a cycle of mediocrity. 

The time to win is today.  The season to build for is this season.  I doubt that a Kansas City Royals fan will mind if his team has to have a fire sale and stinks in 2017 if he gets to experience playoff baseball this year.  I think Pirate fans will be fully capable of dealing with a sub-.500 season in 2105 if they get another sniff, the first in over 20 years, at the NLCS this fall.  It will be good for baseball, maybe not TV ratings, if 1 or 2 of these clubs will get bold, spend some money, and give their fans a winner in 2013.