Posted by: bkivey | 24 May 2010

Baseball and Bicycles

I like baseball. I think that it’s the best game ever invented; a  team game that spotlights individual performance. I like the sights and sounds and smells of the ballpark. I enjoy the individual battles and adjustments that take place during a game: pitcher vs. hitter, fielders making adjustments for each hitter or game situation, the way the catcher calls the game, managers trying to outwit and outmaneuver each other. The game has it’s own sublime beauty in the way a pitcher locates pitches in the strike zone or a in a well-made catch or a hitter driving a ball “DEEP to left field!” and there are few things more beautiful in all of sport than a well-turned double play.

Unfortunately for the Seattle Mariner fan these things have been in short supply this season. The most glaring omission has been the hitting. The Mariners need to go back to spring camp and retrieve their bats because they sure aren’t in the lineup. Ichiro has been consistently around the .350 mark and Mike Sweeney has been en fuego lately but no one else is approaching .300 and several guys are struggling to hit their weight. Starting catcher Rob Johnson has had six (!) passed balls this year and he’s batting .176, so he’ not helping the team either at or behind the plate. Utility man Matt Tuiasosopo has been up and down in the organization this year and with a batting average of .162 will likely be going down again pretty soon.

With the exception of rookie Mike Fister and his 1.96 ERA the pitching staff has been just adequate. Of course, it doesn’t help when the starting pitcher can’t get any run support. Friday night it looked like some of that support might be materializing when the Mariners unloaded a 15-run can of whoopass on the San Diego Padres. It was an indication of  how dismal the season has been when the announcers were making jokes about how the Mariners didn’t score that many runs in a week. The night previously Junior had knocked in the game-winning run on a timely pinch-hit single so I thought that maybe the Mariner bats had been uncorked.

Uh, no. Over the rest of the weekend series it was same old, same old. OK to decent pitching and no hitting in evidence, with some sloppy fielding to boot. This is not the team that went from a 61 – 101 record in 2008 to 85 -77 in 2009. And people really want to like the Mariners. If you swung a 300-mile arc around NYC you would encompass six MLB teams and just miss Toronto. That same distance from Seattle won’t get you halfway to the next nearest franchise in Oakland. The Mariners are the only game in town, and a lot of other towns. Right now, they’re squandering a lot of goodwill.

On more positive note was the last three days of the Tour of California (ToC). Stage 6 on Friday ran from Palmdale to Big Bear Lake, a stage that featured 12,000 feet of climbing and a penultimate climb summiting near 8,000 feet. It was a tough mountain stage that spit out top sprinters (Cavendish and Haeddo on the time cut) and current Belgian National Champion Tom Boonen. There was exciting racing all the way to the finish with attack and counterattack and some very nice crowds sprinkled with spectacular shots of the race with the Sierras in the background. Commentator Phil Liggett was moved to say that it was the best racing he’s seen on American soil, and that’s saying quite a bit.

The time trial Saturday didn’t create any big gaps in the overall standings among the favorites so there was everything to race for on the final stage Sunday, an 84-mile stage run in four circuits of a 21-mile loop in the hills above Los Angeles. The route featured a climb up to an 1,800 foot summit that the riders would have to ascend four times. After the initial team maneuvering on the first lap riders settled down in anticipation of the expected attacks on the final climb.

On the final ascent race leader Michael Rogers was isolated in a group that included contenders Leipheimer and Zubriski, each of whom had teammates to look after them. The crowds were huge; not quite Alpe d’Huez in size, but huge for an American race. What they saw was attack after attack on the final hill as the contenders tried to distance themselves from the race leader, but Rodgers covered each attack, and he covered the attacks without the aid of a teammate. It was true championship-caliber riding. His rivals were very complimentary of him after the race: they had done their best to beat him and he had answered the challenge. A well-deserved win.

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