Cancel (almost) Everything

On Tuesday, I said that Opening Day will not take place. At the time, it was mostly figurative, at least in America, and it seemed that while the big importance of Opening Day (capitalized) wouldn’t take place it seemed likely that the season would still start on time, albeit in a more depressing manner than usual thanks to the coronavirus.

Now, though, I think that we won’t even be seeing an opening day (not capitalized) as scheduled, much less an Opening Day. In fact, I think it would be malpractice to have it.

This realization came last night. I’m not sure when, but it was probably when a NBA game inexplicably postponed at the last second, a player tested positive for COVID19, and the entire season was suspended all in the space of what felt like a half-hour. Oh, and Tom Hanks announced he tested positive as well.

The average NBA arena holds between 15 and 20 thousand fans. Even the smallest MLB stadiums (Tropicana Field with tarps up, for example) holds thousands more people. Public Health experts in cities seem to differ on what level of crowd is too big, but even the largest estimates are around 1,000 people, or WAY WAY less than any major league stadium. Even a fan-less game may break the level of a safe gathering, given the amount of support staff, journalists, and security.

Yes, it is true that most COVID19 cases are minor, and even those in dangerous categories are more likely to live than not. But think of it this way: you are also more likely to get Christian Yelich out more often than not, but nobody would want to give him the opportunity to bat in the ninth against them.

So what I’m saying is: shut it down. Shut it all down. Unless it is either something  something essential or something that can be done entirely over television or the internet without any large amount of human interaction, it can wait.

It is said that baseball is life. That is true, but you also need life to have baseball, so there is no sense in putting anyone’s life at risk.

So shut it down. Cancel everything, and perhaps we can try again in a month or two.

Opening Day will not take place (Or: Baseball in the Time of Coronavirus)

Opening Day will not take place in 2020.

Oh, sure, an opening day (uncapitalized) will take place. The Major League Baseball season will take place, and there will be a day where the first games take place.

No, I’m talking about Opening Day (capitalized), the holiday where the long winter is finally truly banished on a joyous late-March-or-early-April day full of ace-on-ace pitching matchups, red-white-and-blue bunting, and a sense of hope for everyone. Yes, even the Orioles… at least for a couple of innings.

That Opening Day will not take place. You know the reason, if you’ve paid any attention to the news. I won’t say it here right now for at this point it would be redundant. The reason why Opening Day won’t take place, especially in places like Japan or Korea.

Opening Day might not happen in San Jose, depending on how long the crisis lasts. The A-ball Giants don’t have their home opener until April 17, but given the scary projections from epidemiologists, we have no idea what the world may be like on that day.

It is entirely possible that in the coming days and weeks Seattle, New York City, or other great cities may have the same rules then as San Jose has imposed now. Perhaps those may come before opening day, definitively cancelling Opening Day in those cities.

Ultimately, though, Opening Day has already been cancelled. For even if the gates are open and the people can come, the feelings of the day have been lost this year. For instead of hope, optimism, and rebirth from the long winter, there will instead be worry and fear.

Questions will race: Can I shake the hand of the person in the seat next to me, who I haven’t seen since last season? Did the person selling the hot dog wash their hands correctly? Should that old-timer who has been coming to games for as long as anyone can remember even be here?

Yes, Opening Day is cancelled, and we can only fathom when the long winter will truly end.

Random question: Will we soon have a MLB player with a last name starting with X?

In 1949, writer Ogden Nash wrote “Line-Up for Yesterday”, a poem that paid tribute to some of the greatest ballplayers in history up to that point by going through the alphabet. Three letters did not have representation:

  • I, which was used as a joking reference to himself writing the poem.
  • Z, for zenith, as a way of saying that these players were the top of the game.
  • And, of course… X, because there weren’t any ballplayers with a last name starting in  X. To make up for it, he just paid tribute to Jimmie Foxx.

Time has gone on, and, well, there still isn’t an MLB ballplayer with an X starting their last name. But, I was wondering- are there any candidates for it? After all, there are a lot of baseball players, and those players come from an increasing number of countries, some of which have different languages where having an X at the start of your name is more common.

So let’s go through the history of X-named ballplayers and see who has come closest so far, and see if there is anyone who may have a shot in the near-future.

The closest so far: Joe Xavier.

The closest baseball has ever come to having a Major Leaguer with an X at the start of their last name came in the late 1980s and the 1990 season, when Joe Xavier reached AAA. An infielder with the Oakland, Milwaukee and Atlanta organizations, Xavier later told “The Greatest 21 Days” blog that he may have had a shot at the big leagues if not for being traded to Milwaukee, which had a glut of infield prospects at that time. Alas, the fact that he never was able to crack the big league roster meant that the X portion of MLB reference material would remain empty.

The most recent one: Gui Yuan Xu.

Technically, Xu is his first name, but under western naming convention his family name of Xu comes last and therefore if he were to make the big league that is where he would be found in the index of baseball history.

Putting aside that, though, Gui Yuan Xu is the most recent minor leaguer who would have broken the “X” barrier if he made the bigs. A rare pro ballplayer signed from mainland China, Gui Yuan played three years in the Orioles organization before being released this past spring.

Anyone coming up in the college ranks?

The outlook for X-named ballplayers right now is not looking good. A look at the Baseball Cube (which is better than even Baseball Reference when it comes to college ballplayers) shows no current or recent prospect-level college ballplayers with names starting with X, at least at the Division I level. While there surely must be some high school players with surnames that begin with X, I am not a big enough expert on the prospects at that level to say if any of them may have a shot of one day breaking the “X” barrier.

Chinese Dreams

Ultimately, the best hope of one day having a ballplayer with a X at the start of their surname may lie in mainland China. While many ballplayers in Taiwan transliterate names with the “shoo” or “choo” sound into English with “Ch” instead of “X”, on the mainland the X seems far more common.

To see how that is, you need only look at the Baseball Reference page for players who have had their surname begin with “Xi”. Most of them are Chinese players who were on the Texas AirHogs of the independent American Association either last year or this year. The AirHogs entered an agreement before the 2018 season to more-or-less give most of their roster over to China’s national team, as China prepares for the return of baseball to the Olympics in 2020 and likely then 2028. Six of those Chinese players on the 2018 AirHogs had names starting with “Xi”, and at least one of them has returned in 2019.

Now, the stats for them don’t exactly impress, with only one of the “Xi” (reliever Qi Xin) having statistics that I’d call “good”, but who knows? Perhaps one day a Chinese player with a surname that starts with X will catch somebody’s eye, just as Gui Yuan Xu once briefly caught the Orioles’ eye. And perhaps one day they will make the big leagues, breaking the “X” barrier once and for all.

So will we have a MLB player with a last name starting in X anytime soon? Probably not, but you never know…

BIZARRE BASEBALL CULTURE: Baseball with Galactus in Marvel Adventures Avengers #26

In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE! Avengers: Endgame is breaking all of the box office records, so now is as good of a time as any to bring you a Bizarre Baseball Culture look at a truly bizarre Avengers tale: 2008’s Marvel Adventures The Avengers Volume 1 #26, in which baseball helps our heroes save a planet from Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds.

Well, sort of. It’s more of a non-sequitur thrown in to justify this awesome cover:

Image of cover of magazine, featuring Galactus looking down at the Silver Surfer, Hulk and Spider-Man playing baseball.

And… I’m totally fine with that! It is available to read for Marvel Unlimited subscribers here. Head below the jump for more of this piece:

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2016 WBC Qualifier Preview: Panama City (Panama, Spain, France, Colombia)

Like the Mexicali pool, this is a pool that will pit Latin America and Europe. However, in some ways the only European team will be France, as Spain weighs heavily on imported talent. This should be the most competitive WBC qualifier bracket so far, with only France being a team that I can say has no chance.

Go below the jump for more:

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World Baseball Classic Qualifier Preview: Mexicali (Mexico, Czech Republic, Germany, Nicaragua)

Another round of WBC qualifiers starts on Thursday, with two pools going. One of them, in Mexicali, is a odd mix of two Latin American countries mixed with two European nations. While Mexico is most definitely the favorite, it’s not inconceivable that a shocking upset will take place… just very unlikely. You can see the rosters here.

Go below the jump for more:

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Hello. Just wanted to let everybody know that a very special edition of BREAKING OOTP is now available. Just not here. Oh, no, it’s in an even cooler place (hard to believe, I know): the official blog of Out Of The Park Baseball! So, if you want to see what happens when the entire field is shaped like a literal diamond and the outfield walls are 700 feet tall, GO THERE NOW!

What I’m Looking Forward To In “Out Of The Park ’17”

Out Of The Park Baseball 2017 is coming next month. And I’ve got some thoughts on what I’m most looking forward to:

  • Historical Minor Leagues!

Minor League teams from 1919 to 2015 will be available for the first time. This is going to be really neat. I can presumably do a tournament of the best affiliation-era Red Wings teams now, and others probably will be able to do things like having an “independent” Pacific Coast League during the 40s and early 50s.

  • Historic Exhibition Mode!

In past OOTP, to have the 1927 Yankees play the 1975 Reds required making your own league that happened have both of them. This time, though, there will be a option that means you can just do that. Here’s hoping OOTP Developments also allows minor league teams, international teams, and fictional teams (like the MARIOners) to be used in this.

  • Real player photos out of the box!

In the past, you had to download the faces from modders to appear in the game’s “FaceGen” system. But due to a license with the MLBPA, that no longer is going to be an issue.

  • Better 3D!

The 3D engine of OOTP has always been better in theory than it has in practice, but judging by the images shown on the preview page, it’s going to be making a significant improvement. Something much needed.

  • Improvements to other parts of the game!

More realistic career arcs, auto-created game stories, a better interface… while they won’t be as “sexy” as the better 3D, Minor Leagues, or exhibitions, these are all going to make the product a better game as a whole.

Get hype!

(Blogathon ’16) The Answer Key to Diane Firstman’s Crossword Puzzle

Yesterday, Diane Firstman kindly gave us all a crossword puzzle to try our hands at.

Well, it’s now been 24 hours, so here is the answer key:

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 12.48.46 AMSo, go and check to see how you did, then get ready because the Blogathon resumes in one hour! And don’t forget to donate!

(Blogathon ’16) Greg Gay: Victim of Circumstance

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

Circumstances conspire to form our major league baseball alliances. Perhaps we live near a team and going to games forms an unbreakable bond with the franchise. Maybe our rooting interests were handed down, family member to family member, a continuous line of Cubs or Reds or Orioles fans.

My circumstance was my mother handing me a pack of baseball cards.

She had just returned from the grocery store. It was 1974 and it was the first time I had ever seen or even heard of baseball cards. It was a cello pack, which contained around 35 cards back in the mid-1970s. Don’t ask me how I remember this, but the first card I pulled from that pack featured someone on the brink of a career-threatening injury. They thought he’d never pitch again.

I didn’t know any of that as an 8-year-old. I just knew that I liked this Tommy John fellow, standing there on this piece of cardboard, with a glove held up in front of his chest, his mouth half-open as if he wanted to tell me something. Instantly, I pledged allegiance to the team featured on that card, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers were my team from that moment, even though I lived 3,000 miles from where they played their games. It was a tenuous relationship, which could have withered and died, if not for circumstance.

A few years later, during the first year that I actively watched baseball on TV — my interest in cards had blossomed into a full-fledged love for baseball — the Dodgers made the World Series. My Dodgers. The guys I collected on bubble gum cards.

I lived in Upstate New York, Yankees country. Almost all of my classmates were Yankees fans. They were relentless. I could never hold onto Yankees cards because everyone around me always wanted to trade for them. Gradually, I grew tired of their hounding, their superior attitude as they bragged about how good their teams’ players were. And now my Dodgers were playing their Yankees.

My Dodgers lost. Something about Reggie Jackson hitting three home runs in Game 6. The following year, my Dodgers played their Yankees again in the World Series. Something about Reggie Jackson sticking out his hip. I was deflated. Two years in a row of my team losing to the team everyone around me thought was so superior.

I resented them. But the experience strengthened my resolve. Circumstance saw to it that I remained a Dodgers fan.

In 1981, the Dodgers obtained their revenge, beating the Yankees in six games, just as L.A. had been beaten in six in ‘77 and ‘78. I saw that my team COULD beat their team in the ultimate series. I went to school the next day and announced to the Yankees lovers in the hallway, “How about those Dodgers?”

In 1986, I picked up a book called “The Boys Of Summer.” I was in college, a journalism student. Roger Kahn’s famed memories of the 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers appealed to me as a fan and a future writer. But I didn’t know how fascinated I would become with my team, thanks to that book.

Kahn’s very human stories of the very human Dodgers, and what became of them, sealed my allegiance forever. I was proud of the stories my team had to tell. Jackie, Pee Wee and the Duke. Campy, Billy Cox and Joe Black. The Dodgers’ history is as rich as any team in  professional sports. I wanted to follow a team like that.

Circumstance — an interest in stories and the human condition — drew me tighter to this team. Forever to this team.

Today, I appreciate every moment of my Dodgers’ history. My favorites — Kirk Gibson in the ‘88 World Series, of course — are both large and small. Ron Cey’s crazy RBI April in 1977. Reading about Fernandomania from afar on the floor of my dining room in 1981. Shawn Green’s four home runs against the Brewers in 2002. I could go on for pages. And the characters–so many. Tommy Lasorda. Mickey Hatcher, Nick Punto.

The Dodgers, in my lifetime, have experienced highs (the epic 4+1 home run comeback game against the Padres)  and lows (which franchise gave up both Hank Aaron’s and Barry Bonds’ record-breaking home runs?) . They illustrate the humanity of baseball as well as any team. Bob Welch’s and Steve Howe’s battles with substance abuse. Brett Butler’s battle with cancer.

Living so far from my team, I have watched them play in person only once (Eric Gagne’s blown save in his hometown of Montreal in 2002). But thanks to my third-shift job and night owl habits, I can keep careful track of my favorite team from a distance, far better than when there was just a newspaper and a Saturday Game Of The Week.

I am a victim of circumstance. A faithful fan following his team from the other side of the country, spurred on by a single baseball card and some well-placed moments in time.

And to think my mother — not a baseball fan in the least — started it all by handing me a pack of cards in 1974.

Thanks, Mom.

Gregory Gay is a editor and sportswriter for a newspaper in Upstate New York. He operates the popular baseball card blog “Night Owl Cards,” under his blog alias “night owl.” His twitter handle is: @nightowlcards.

This guest-post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.