That Strange Game Called Baseball

Addison Russell of the Chicago Cubs

Addison Russell of the Chicago Cubs

The 2015 regular season in major league baseball is now finished.  Unfortunately the Twins did not make it to the playoffs.  The Royals are in again this year.  Madison Bumgarner won’t be ruining the Royals World Series hopes this year as the Chicago Cubs eliminated the Giants.  The Cubs earned the right to play the Pittsburgh Pirates (in Pittsburgh’s PNC park)  in a single-elimination wild card game this coming Wednesday night.  If the Cubs win they will play St. Louis in the playoffs.  Believe me, Wrigleyville is a buzz.

However, before the playoffs start let’s look at some interesing facts about baseball’s regular season.

Each major league baseball team plays 162 games during the regular season; 81 games at home and 81 games away.

During most regular seasons every team will win at least 60 games and every team will lose 60 games.  For example in this past 2015 regular season the St. Louis Cardinals, who had the best record in baseball with 100 wins, still lost 62 games.  On the other hand, the Philadelphia Phillies, who lost 99 games on their journey to the worst record in baseball, still won 63 games.

Do the math:  If each team wins at least 60 games and each team loses at least 60 games, the entire fortune of each team’s season depends on the outcome of just 42 games.

This season St Louis with 100 wins and the best record in baseball still won only 61.7 percent of their games.   This means that they lost 38.3% of their games.  Even the mighty Cardinals lost more than one of every three games they played.  The odds are against even the top teams in baseball to sweep a series, so if your team sweeps a 3 game series it is big deal!  Managers are correct when they emphasize the goal of “winning a series” because even winning two of three games is more than can be reasonably expected over an entire season.  After all, if your team won two of three games in every series for an entire season it would have a winning percentage of .666 which would mean 108 wins and only 54 losses.  This record would most certainly qualify a team for a division title.  In the modern (162 game) era of baseball only the 2001 Seattle Mariners (116-46) and the 1998 New York Yankees (114-48) have won more than 108 games.

Finally the record for the best winning percentage in the entire history of baseball (.764) is held by the 1906 Chicago Cubs, who won 116 games and lost only 36 games!  Moreover, in the 1906 World Series the Cubs were fortunate to be matched against the hapless Chicago White Sox (known as the “hitless wonders”) who had the worst team batting average in the American League!  It didn’t matter; in one of the largest upsets in the history of sports the White Sox beat the Cubs in six games!

That’s Baseball!

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Hurray For Catholics!


Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago, Illinois

Holy Name Cathedral, Chicago, Illinois

Before I make my comments about the Catholic Church and Catholics let me insert a disclaimer. I am not Catholic, nor is anyone in my family. I am not well versed in the liturgy or the fundamentals of Catholicism. My experience and opinions about Catholicism rise largely from my association with Catholic friends from all over the world.

When I was a young kid growing up in the 50’s and 60’s there was a lot of bad blood between Christians of all religions. The Baptists didn’t like the Presbyterians, the Lutherans didn’t much care for the Methodists, and Protestants of all stripes had nothing nice to say about the Catholics. I think that most of that foolishness has been buried along with those who espoused those views but that’s the way it was.

When I was a young man growing up as a “Jack Mormon” I attended early worship at 9:40 am every Sunday. This was followed by Sunday school at 10am and the main church service which lasted until around noon. If that wasn’t enough every Wednesday night my Father and I attended prayer meeting. With a mindset of “the less religion the better” I envied my Catholic friends who could get away with logging in only one hour a week. Later they were able attend church on Saturday evening instead of Sunday morning which I considered the ultimate religious perk!

As the years have gone by I have had the pleasure of having many Catholic friends and of attending mass in several countries. It is my opinion that many people in this world (myself included at times) have strayed from the religious values and eternal truths that we were taught as children. It is difficult to stay on the straight and narrow path that leads not only to salvation but to close families, higher incomes, better life decisions and lasting happiness. Unfortunately many people just don’t think about God anymore, nor do they pray or engage in an examination of their “spiritual health.”

Not so for Catholics. Call it guilt or habit or just blind obedience they SHOW UP for mass. While attending Holy Name Cathedral in downtown Chicago today I saw Catholics of many races kneeling and praying shoulder to shoulder in common pews. Unlike many Protestant churches sparsely filled with old people these Catholic churches have within them many children as well as people in their teens, twenties, thirties and forties. Young parents sit in the pews with well-behaved children dressed in their best clothes. Some parishioners wear nice dresses, some wear suits and ties and some come in blue jeans. And testing the true mercy of the Lord our God, one guy even wears a Chicago Bears football jersey!

These are diverse people but they are one in their Catholicism. No matter how any outsider wishes to judge their religious dedication I say one thing is for sure; these Catholics take at least a minimum of one hour a week to pray, to listen to God’s word, to reflect and to be reminded of who created them and what he wants them to do. In what is becoming an increasingly crappy world where people are setting themselves above their creator and floating far beyond the solid moorings that have served humanity for thousands of years, these Catholics are humbly keeping the faith. I admire them.

God bless them.

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Two Good Photos?

Once in a while I snap a photo that looks really, really good.  I’m going to share two of them with you today.  Both of these photos were shot with a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 or 4 cell phone, although I’m sure that most smart phones have good cameras these days.  I’ve got a digital camera around here somewhere, but it is irrelevant now that my phone has a superior camera.  Besides, when that “photo opp” moment comes, your phone is in your pocket while your camera is usually in a drawer at home.

The first photo was taken on March 7, 2015 near Witoka, Minnesota at sunrise.  It was one of those “pull over, get out of the car” photos.  It is a reminder that every day we are given the gift of a cloud formation, a sunrise or a sunset so unique that it has never appeared that way before, nor will it ever appear that way again.  The only proper response to such beauty is gratefulness.

wonderful wrigleyThe second photo was taken this month at Wrigley Field.  The sun is shadowing the crowd but the field of play is in bright sunlight.  It looks like a photo that was altered to look like a painting but it is straight from the camera.  Those who have attended ball games at Wrigley will note that the two new “jumbotrons” are now installed, part of a 5 year renovation program.  The historic scoreboard above center field will not be altered and is as iconic to Wrigley Field as its ivy-covered brick outfield walls.

I’m no photographer.  I’m sure that anyone who has taken a photography 101 course in college could find plenty wrong with both of my photos.  It’s just the law of averages that one out of 500 photos will be a good one.  I hope you enjoyed them; that’s good enough for me!

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The Case for Being a “Rational” Sports Fan

 They say that the term “fan” is short for the word “fanatic” or an almost uncontrollable exuberance toward one’s favorite sports team. The common belief is that a “true sports fan” is gleeful when his team wins and suffers great emotional distress when his team loses. The true fan is glued to every pitch, every forward pass, and every shot from inside the blue line. His blood pressure can get quite high during a championship series. Losing a World Series, a Stanley cup or a Super Bowl can cause a “true fan” days or even weeks of depression.

I know because I’ve been there. As a fan I’ve had more than my fair share of positive experiences over my lifetime. As a kid growing up in Omaha I watched the Nebraska Cornhuskers win back to back collegiate national championships. When my kids were youngsters we rooted for the Twins in their 87 and 91 World Series championships. I’ve had the pleasure of cheering on the Packers in their 1997 and 2011 Super Bowl Championships. Most recently the Chicago Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups in the past six years reaffirming again and again my decision to become a Blackhawks season ticket holder in 2009 when nobody wanted Blackhawks tickets.

The disappointments have been there for me also. I was depressed for a week when the Packers lost to the Broncos in the 1998 Super Bowl. I’m also a member of the world’s most masochistic group of fans on the north side of Chicago. The Chicago Cubs never fail to disappoint having won their last World Series in 1908, six years before Wrigley Field was built.

All of these ups and downs, elation and the sick feeling in my stomach over the past fifteen years have led me to adopt a brand new philosophy toward sports teams and sports in general. My approach is different from most, but for me it makes a lot of sense.

Here’s my take. It’s not my job to support my favorite sports team. The opposite is true. They are here to entertain and please me! So practically speaking how does this work out? If it is a close game or my team is pounding the heck out of their opponent I’m glued to the television. But if the Cubs or Twins are down by six runs in the second inning, I’m shutting the darned television off. I might check the score in an hour or so, but if there’s no improvement I’ve got a million better things to do than watch them choke. The same is true for the Packers, Twins, or Blackhawks. Notwithstanding that they are my favorite teams none of them are worth my personal suffering. It is their job to please by winning the game! It is not my job to dutifully suffer with them when they’re in distress.

There are folks who say I’m a “fair weather fan.” It’s OK with me if you want to use that label. I would instead reply that I’ve grown into a “rational” sports fan that maximizes my delight upon winning and minimizes my costs (irritation, sadness, frustration) if losing. It is the job of my teams to give me “fair weather” every game! I’m also a sports bigamist, rooting for two baseball teams (Twins and Cubs) and two football teams (Packers and Bears). We all lead busy lives with many great ways to spend our time. Fan or not, I’m not going to waste my time watching my favorite multimillionaires stink up the place. After all, where on the ticket is it written that I have to stay for the whole game and suffer? Likewise, where is the implied contract that I have to keep the television on until I’m depressed?  Try my approach. You might be able to stop taking your blood pressure medicine.

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Premature Death in Atlanta



On the weekend of July 18th I attended two baseball games at Atlanta’s Turner Field, home of the national league Atlanta Braves.   I enjoyed the baseball experience, but as is often the case every story has a byline.  In this case it is the upcoming demise of Turner Field itself, first built as an Olympic stadium in 1996 before opening as the home of the Braves in 1997.

Designed by Minnesota based Ellerbe Becket, famous for numerous sports facilities throughout the world, Turner Field is a beautiful place.  Approaching just its 20th year it is a viable, well-constructed venue near downtown Atlanta.  Promises of politicians to revitalize the low income neighborhood around the field have been broken for years.  Nevertheless Turner field is a safe and popular stadium very close to most of Atlanta’s urban residents.

Urban Food Vendors outside Turner Field.

Urban Food Vendors outside Turner Field.

In the shadow of Turner field a friendly, well-spoken woman sells iced water, soft drinks, and snacks to baseball fans who walk by her table.  She’s done this for 15 years and today has the assistance of her granddaughter.  81 times a year she gets this opportunity to make some needed extra income.  She’s not the only one.  The Braves need parking lot attendants, food vendors, security people, janitorial staff and many other people to hold a major league baseball game.  Many of these people have low incomes and live in  the neighborhood surrounding Turner Field.  Most are people of color.  All of these workers are thankful that this part time income can be earned right in their neighborhood.

All of this will end within two years as the Braves and Suburban Cobb County officials have conspired to abandon sturdy, reliable and still modern Turner Field to build a brand new park in the Atlanta Suburbs.   This was done without a single public hearing and without any vote of the people.  The Turner Field vendors and employees living near downtown Atlanta will not have convenient public transportation to work at the new stadium.  Urban jobs will be lost and essential income will vanish for those in the Turner Field neighborhood.  Societal resources will be squandered on a massive scale as hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent to construct new highway infrastructure and build a new ballpark in the suburbs, miles away from the fan base of the Atlanta Braves.

Ironically this entire boondoggle might end up doing in the Braves.  Attendance is already down 4,200 people per game this year.  Will 40,000 fans want to hop in their cars and fight miles of snarling traffic to see the Braves play in a new ballpark in the burbs or will they decide instead to spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere?  I predict an initial “attendance bounce” in the first year or two that the new park is in business.  Ultimately though unless the Braves can put together a team with the dominance they demonstrated in the nineties, Atlantans may well remember the “good old days” before both their Braves and Turner Field suffered a premature death.

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Reflections on Brasil

father daughter brasilA few months ago I found out that Rotary International was going to hold their annual convention in the city of Sao Paulo, Brasil.  Because I had never been to South America I decided to take an eleven day trip to Brasil.

Brasil is a good country that merits a return trip.  The first four days were spent in Rio De Janeiro with its famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.  The last four days were spent in South America’s largest city, Sao Paulo.  Here are some “Don Factoids” you might want to know if you consider a trip to Brasil.

  • Portuguese (not Spanish) is the language of Brasil and few people speak English, so be prepared to struggle a bit when asking directions.
  • Brasilians are friendly and helpful. Even if they can’t answer your question they will give you an apologetic and sincere smile.  Brasilians are very gracious.
  • Clean, potable water. You can drink the tap water, even from public drinking fountains and not get sick.
  • Soccer Fanatics: The recent 7-1 loss to Germany in the world cup is viewed as a national disgrace to be hauntingly remembered and regretted for decades to come.
  • Litter free: The streets have refuse containers every 500 feet and Brasilians use them.  The street department comes by every night around 8pm to collect the trash.  Unlike India, Brasil’s female trash collectors wear makeup.
  • Affordable: Dining and lodging in Brasil are very affordable.  You can get a good, white tablecloth meal consisting of various meats or other fare for around $17 per person.  Hotels are modern and less expensive than comparable accommodations in the USA.
  • The Fruit…THE FRUIT! You’ve never tasted anything like the fruit in Brasil.  It is so fresh that it attacks your taste buds.  When you go in for a mango shake they will squeeze it as you watch.  Brasil has varieties of fruit that we don’t have in the USA.
  • Comfortable in their Own Skin: Brasilians are not ashamed to walk on the beach in a skimpy swimsuit no matter how old, fat or unsightly they are!   There seems to be no vanity on the beach; Brasilians want to enjoy the beach and that’s that.
  • Brasilians might collectively be the best looking people on the planet. I don’t know why, but after a few days of looking at “average” men and women, regardless of age, Brasilians fare very well.  Think about it; when was the last time Miss Brasil didn’t finish in the top 5 of the Miss Universe pageant?
  • Young men have short haircuts and almost never have facial hair. They are handsome and “clean cut”.
  • No Jetlag: While It is 5400 miles (a Ten Hour flight) from Chicago to Rio.  There’s only two hours time difference.  You won’t get jet lagged.

If you are an international traveler it is my opinion that you should consider a trip to Brasil.  You might want to avoid the Olympic congestion in 2016 but otherwise, I think Brasil is a safe, tasty, and beautiful bet.

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Openers, Madness and the Masters

This blog is written in Minnesota, one of the northern tier of states. Up here winter lasts 5 months at a minimum. I don’t mind winter. The first snowfall is beautiful. The air is crisp and if you dress for it, put the right show tires on it, purchase the right snow blower for it, and have a positive attitude about it, winter is a great season for three months. It’s the last two months that sap your spirit.

Inevitably, by the time you’re in the 5th month of winter the best thing about it is that it finally ENDS! Those in southern climes can’t imagine how excited we are to see spring. But wait; we have no spring, at least as it is in places like Arkansas, the Carolina’s or Oklahoma. The 4th and 5th months of Winter take away our spring and we catapult almost immediately into summer. Furnace one day and air conditioning the next; that’s our Minnesota.

So, if there is no spring what are the Northerner’s harbingers of hope? Our trilogy of winter’s demise is Openers, Madness, and the Masters. This week is the culmination of collegiate basketball’s “March Madness”, the start of the Master’s Golf Tournament in Augusta, GA and the home opener of most teams in Major League Baseball. All three in one week! I’m giddy. Good riddance winter.

march madnessThere are millions of college basketball fans in this country and when 64 teams play in a single elimination tournament over three weeks, almost anything can happen and it usually does. Over 75 million people, a fifth of the US population has filled out a “bracket” for this tournament. Only 4 teams remain and we will have a national champion before the week is over.

mastersFor golfers the Masters Golf Tournament, held at the Augusta National Golf Club, in Augusta, Georgia is THE classic sporting event to usher in the professional golf season. The first of 4 major golf tournaments, this week the 79th annual Masters Tournament gets underway in a place where REAL spring exists. Go for it, golfers! On those thousands of golf courses around the land, take a deep breath, smell the grass, polish up those clubs and get ready for a great year.

The final predictor of winter’s demise is imbedded in the home openers of all teams in Major League Baseball. The rejuvenated Chicago Cubs open at historic Wrigley Fieldernest banks against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night, April 5th where they will honor recently departed “Mr. Cub”, Ernie Banks. The next day the Yanks open against the Blue Jays in the Bronx, while the Brewers open at Miller Park against the Rockies. Our Minnesota Twins open April 13th at Target Field against the Royals. On the first of 182 games, all games are sellouts and every team is in first place. What a blast! I can’t wait to buy my first bag of peanuts from Paul White on the corner of Addison and Clark streets.

My friends, it is now time to put aside all of your trials and troubles and enjoy the end of winter. The joy of boating, golfing, swimming, gardening, and sipping basil lemonade under the outdoor canopy beckons us all.

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