Tuesday, July 27, 2010


A Rod's Lonely Home Run Derby

A Rod’s Lonely Home Run Derby

Within the week, New York Yankees’ third baseman Alex Rodriguez will likely hit his six hundredth home run to join an exclusive club. Only six other players have managed to hit that many home runs in their careers.

Barry Bonds leads the list with 762 home runs. Hank Aaron had 755, a record which held up for many years. The others on that list are: Babe Ruth-714, Willie Mays-660, Ken Griffey Junior-630, and Sammy Sosa-609.

Under normal circumstances, there would likely be significant hype surrounding A-Rod’s impending success; however, there is an underlying current of distrust as to the legitimacy of his numbers. To put it bluntly, Rodriguez has admitted to using “performance enhancing substances”. As a result, for most baseball fans, there will always be an asterisk beside his name on the list, indicating that his numbers are tainted.

Alex is not the only culprit on the list. Evidence suggests that the current record holder, Barry Bonds, may also have been using substances to enhance his output. Other players who have been linked to substances include: Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Manny Ramirez.

At one time, any player who had hit 500 home runs was virtually assured of a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. At this time, McGwire is the only currently eligible player not elected to the Hall. To become eligible, a player must be retired for at least five years, or deceased for at last six months. Therefore, the nine living players who have more than 500 home runs are not yet eligible, because they have not been retired for five years.

Because McGwire was passed over again this year for entry into the Hall of Fame, many baseball pundits believe that the voters have been establishing guidelines as to how they will treat players from the “Steroid Era”. Not all players will be painted with the same brush. Baseball has been screening players very carefully for the past few years in an attempt to punish the cheaters.

In a nutshell, for Mr. Rodriguez and those of his ilk, the bloom is off the rose. They will be very wealthy for the rest of their lives. They will have opportunities to show off their championship rings. They will be respected and admired in their own circles.

But to the rest of us baseball fans, for the most part, they will be tolerated, and most likely ignored. Their attempts to be the best, to be the greatest, have been tainted by a substance-enhancing scandal. They knew exactly what they were doing. They knew the consequences. They were willing to take the chance of being caught. And now they will have to await judgement from the powers that be.

I suggest that their chances of making it into the Hall of Fame are slim, slim, and none. They will be judged by their peers for what they are. There will be weeping, and gnashing of teeth. But I believe that is the way the cookie will crumble.

Good luck this week in Cleveland, Alex.

In the meantime, I will be watching the Jays and the Orioles.

James Hurst
July 26, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


My Favourite Hit!

There are always great moments in every baseball game. You may witness a wonderful pitching duel, a slugfest, an extra inning nail-biter. But every game is different, every play is a little bit different.

As a personal preference, I believe that a triple is the most exciting event in any baseball game. Any base hit, especially for the home team, should bring you to the edge of your seat. If the batter happens to get to second base with a double, all the better. Home runs are critical, because that means that the batter, and those who were on base, touch home plate and put runs on the score sheet.

There is a sudden finality to a home run. Most of the time, it either clears the fence, or it doesn’t. If the umpire whirls his hand above his head, the batter can decelerate his stride and jog around the bases. Occasionally, there is some doubt about home runs. If the ball hits the foul pole, it is supposed to count as a four-bagger. The powers that be in the Major Leagues have adopted video replay to determine the legitimacy of a long ball. Good for them. It’s a step in the right direction.

The triple, on the other hand, usually comes as a result of speed, and power, and a little luck. Sometimes, the structure of a stadium will bring about a situation where a batter can be standing on third base after hitting a ball, because of a fortunate ricochet, or a poor fielding play.

Many of us became familiar with Bengie Molina when he played for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2006. The Puerto Rico native comes from a family of baseball players. He has two brothers now playing in the Major Leagues. None of the Molina boys are giants, but they are all big boys. Bengie stands at five feet, eleven inches, and tips the scales at around two hundred and thirty pounds.

Bengie is the oldest of the three brothers, and has been playing professional baseball for seventeen years.

Bengie is not known as a triples hitter. He does not possess great speed. He has been in the game a long time, and has seen a lot of pitches, (which takes its toll, but especially on a catcher). In his last at bat on July 16, 2010, he was in a rather unique position. He had hit a grand slam, a double, and a single. One of the most difficult feats to accomplish in baseball as a hitter is to hit “for the cycle”, reaching each base on a hit in one game. As Bengie dug in at the plate, the triple was on everyone’s mind; however, it seemed quite unlikely, as Bengie is notoriously slow.

Teammate Michael Young talked to his fellow Texas Rangers about the situation in Fenway Park. “We tried to map out what he could do to get a triple,” he related after the game.

Molina struck the ball and headed for first. As luck would have it, the ball glanced off centre fielder Eric Patterson’s glove, and Molina was off to the races. He rounded second, and chugged into third base with a triple, only the sixth of his entire career. He is only the eighth player in the history of the game to hit a grand slam as part of his cycle. Another Ranger, Josh Hamilton described the event as a “once in a lifetime thing”.

Molina had recently been traded to the Rangers from the San Francisco Giants. He was playing his tenth game as a Ranger. But when he rounded second base, the entire bench rose to root him on in his quest for the cycle.

Even the opposition applauded his effort. David Ortiz, another big man who wears the Boston Red Sox cap, summed up his feelings after the game. “Nothing is predictable in this game. Things just happen. I’d have put my head in a tree trimmer betting that he wouldn’t hit a triple.”

Almost a month before Molina’s remarkable night, Denard Span of the Minnesota Twins had his name etched in the record books by hitting three triples in one game, tying the record. Span has lightning speed, and was able to accomplish his feat by virtue of his wheels. He had a leadoff triple, drove in two runs with his second three-bagger, and cleared the bases with his final blow.

He is the second Twin to hit a “triple triple”, as Ken Landreaux did the same in 1980.

Yet another tid bit from the great game of baseball.

James Hurst
July 20, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Baseball's All Star Classic 2010

They’re lining the field in Anaheim for the All Star Game tonight. The ballots have been counted, players have been selected, and the first pitch will open the door to another well contested event.

The brains of baseball figured out some years ago that the all star game would be more significant if there were a little carrot at the end of the stick. They decided that the winner would be the host of the World Series at the end of the season, a distinct advantage. As a result, the games are hotly contested. They are truly games, and not frivolous contests. Hockey and basketball have yet to discover a formula to add any excitement to their all star games. The National Football League game for all of its “chosen ones” is a joke.

Baseball also figured out an activity to add to the festivities in the four day break. They would have a home run contest. They would choose the best home run hitters, and let them come up with a king of the dingers.

All players in the contest are allowed to choose their own pitchers. It is a batting practice format. Pitchers stand a little closer to the batter, well protected by a cage. Batters may pick and choose their pitches, but only put numbers on the board when their hits go over the fence.

Champions in the event are not always the biggest and the strongest individuals. Timing is a factor in this endeavour, although it doesn’t hurt to be six feet five inches tall, tipping the scales over two hundred and fifty pounds.

Last night’s winner fitted that bill perfectly. His name is David Ortiz, better known as “Big Papi”, and he plays for the Boston Red Sox. He is a giant, and he can knock the cover off a baseball. But he does not always make good contact, and several of the expert reporters did not select him as their favourite to win. In the final analysis, he was able to put more balls in the seats than any of the other competitors to win the title.

The event fits the format perfectly. After much deliberation, I have concluded that there would only be one event that could take place in all the other major sports which would be comparable to the Home Run Derby: a punting contest for football players.

Even that falls short of the importance of the Home Run. Naturally, a long punt is a good thing in football; however, few outcomes are determined by punters. Home run hitters often make the difference in a ball game. Skating is critical in hockey, but a skating race in the All Star Break is pretty much a yawner. Ditto for the hardest shot contest; nice, but fairly meaningless.

Basketball has its skills competitions, with the emphasis on the Slam Dunk. No matter has you dress up that event, it still is something many of us will never completely understand. It was a chore to run and touch the mesh hanging from the hoop, for me personally. The only times I touched the hoop happened when I was adjusting the netting on a step ladder.

They do have three point shooting contests, with money balls and the like. But it pales in comparison with “Going, going, gone!” in baseball lingo.

Football coaches would never allow their quaterbacks to participate in contests of passing for distance. “Sorry, coach, I tore up my shoulder in that last throw. Torn rotator cuff. See you next year.” That will not happen. Tackling contests? I don’t think so!

Baseball’s Home Run Derby stands alone as an activity in sport. It generates sufficient interest within the game to be an attractive event. All position players from both teams hang out on the field to encourage their teammates. Sons and daughters of all of the players chase balls, play catch, and towel off their fathers for support. It is indeed a family activity.

It is what the game needs, desperately, to keep its fans interested.

On Friday the Jays move on to Baltimore to complete the second half of the season. They need more offence from Hill and Lind, quality starts from all their pitchers, strong relief, and continued good play from the three players they sent to the all Star Game: John Buck, Vernon Wells, and current home run leader, Jose Bautista.

Time will tell. Manager Cito Gaston has his work cut out for him. He will need to pull those magic strings at critical times, hopefully for the best.

Well done, big Papi!

James Hurst
July 14, 2010

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


Saturday Night Excitement!

For the first time in a very long time, we headed out to Brighton Speedway for the excitement of Saturday night racing at the oval. We were not disappointed in the slightest with the action on the track.

We went prepared, for the most part. Insect repellent, long pants, ear plugs. I had forgotten that the benches might be a little unkind to the backside. I also recommend a blanket or a cushion to soften the blow.

Be prepared for a little dust as well. The track was in very good shape, for the most part. But by the end of the night, there was a cloud of dust as the cars swept by the grandstand, especially in the 50 lap feature.

To this uninitiated observer, it was truly a grand evening. Although there were several potentially serious-looking accidents, there were no serious injuries. In one case, the car rolled on its roof, landed back on its wheels, and burst into flames. The track crew quickly responded with extinguishers, and the driver was able to get out unscathed. A little upset, mind you, but unhurt. He had a few choice words for one of his fellow competitors, and did a little finger pointing.

On another occasion in front of the grandstand, a couple of cars were incapacitated in the traffic. They relied on the ever-present tow truck crew to lift and separate the vehicles so they could return to pit row.

For the most part, the drivers are well known by the fans. After one race, the track announcer spoke about all of the sponsors who contributed to the victory of a particular driver. The woman in front of us mumbled, “You could have mentioned his wife!”

Some victories were well received by the crowd. Others received polite applause. There are definite favourites. Many of the drivers are from the Brighton area, a few from Prince Edward County.

Time trials began at 5:00pm. As best as I could figure, there were four main racing divisions that evening. The Pro Stock Division was led by # 8 Gary Vandertoorn from Brighton. He had the fastest lap in the time trials, and the best starting position. They paraded two by two around the track, under the white flag. The started pulled the green flag from the bucket, waved it at the drivers as they passed the grandstand, and they were off and running.

After all was said and done, the Brighton Automotive Pro Stock Championship went to Doug Anderson from Trenton. Picton’s Kraig Handley finished second, Vandertoorn wound up in fourth place.

Tim Burke from Carrying Place won the Canadian Modified Division. He was followed by Ed Snyder from Tweed, Adam Nayler from Quinte West, and Dan Ferguson from Bloomfield.

The Pro Late Model cars provided plenty of excitement in their 50 lap final. One of the competitors was Corey Earl, listed in the program as the driver of car # 11 from Picton, Ontario. I spoke with Corey after the race. He was somewhat disappointed with the result. There had been some jostling for position, some yellow flags that demanded restarts, and some unnecessary bumping along the way. He finished fourth.

Corey races in Brighton, but often packs his gear and heads across the border to race in several locations in Upper New York State. He told me that he had recently raced in Lafargeville, N. Y., began in 20th position, and finished seventh. There is a predominant “Hotch’s Auto Parts” logo on his car, with a tip of the hat to his father, Hotch Earl. He also includes G and R Solar, Bullet Autographics, and Royal Bank Securities-Lisa Thompson, as his main sponsors.

In the final race of the night, the smaller vehicles in the “Comp 4 Division” raced for twenty laps. On the first lap, one car ended up on its roof, and another, # 95 Rob Brooks on top of car # 04 driven by Rob Brooks. Brandon Gregory fought off the charges from # 12 Kyle Sopaz from Carrying Place to take the checked flag.

This coming Saturday night, there will be more thrills and spills at the Brighton Speedway. A fine night of family entertainment!

James Hurst

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