World Series Game 4

10.28.17

On a cool evening in Houston, here’s another set of inning-by-inning ramblings from the World Series.

1st inning

Every seat, walkway, and home run porch at Minute Maid Park is again packed. The game time temperature is 56 degrees, not quite half the sweltering 103 degrees at the start of Game 2 in Los Angeles. Astros orange still dominates the stands in every direction though many fans are sporting long sleeves or jackets that obscure some of the glow. Still, just about every fan has invested a decent amount of money to buy their team colors, and that’s not to mention the typically hundreds of dollars to attend just one World Series game: the cost of tickets, parking, ballpark fare, and beer are all inflated. In thinking about these staggering numbers, I think back to my arrival at the ballpark. Across the street from Minute Maid Park is a chain link fence. On one side of the fence is parking lot for those fans who shelled out all that money to see a game. On the other side of the fence is a row of tents where many downtrodden locals sleep. It doesn’t seem quite right to say they live there, but rather survive there. In major sports you often hear discussions about the “haves and have nots”—wealthy, large-market teams like the Yankees compared to smaller-market teams whose purses don’t bulge nearly as much. In the scale of things, this discussion seems odd compared to the haves and have nots on either side of the fence. One group is vying for a good position from which to view a game, the other is hoping just to somehow secure tomorrow’s meal. No score.

2nd inning

The hometown fans are still high from last night’s 5-3 victory by the Astros, the team’s first-ever win of a World Series game at home. That puts them up 2-1 in this best-of-seven series and makes tonight’s game pivotal. If the Astros win, they only need to win one of the last three games to win the title (Game 5 is in Houston, and the last two, if needed, will be in Los Angeles). Going down 3 games to 1 would be a tough, but not unprecedented, deficit for the Dodgers to overcome; just last year, the Cubs were losing 3-1 to the Indians before winning the last three games to take their first World Series title since 1908. On the other hand, if the Dodgers win tonight, the series will be tied at two and definitely go back to Los Angeles for at least one more game. No score.

3rd inning

I grew up in Ohio and lived there until graduating from college, but thanks to the rapid accumulation of years, I’ve now lived in Arizona longer than in the Buckeye State (or Florida or North Carolina, the two other states in which I’ve lived). While I’ll always be a Midwestern at heart, I also now maintain a western bias in many things, including sports. For instance, when it comes to World Series time, if I don’t have any horse in the race, I often root for any team that plays their spring training games in Arizona (in the so-called Cactus League, as opposed to the Grapefruit League in Florida). That got me thinking about the history of spring training in general…

Baseball spring training can be traced back to 1870 and involved two teams—Cincinnati and Chicago—from the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), America's first governing organization for baseball. In the ensuing years teams from different leagues, including today's Major League Baseball's (MLB) National (established 1876) and American (established 1901) Leagues, set up spring camps to prepare for the regular season.

For years most MLB spring training camps were in Florida and surrounding localities in the American southeast or the Caribbean. The Cubs were the first team to train out west, in Los Angeles in 1903. The Cubs' cross-town rival White Sox were the first team to play in Arizona, matching up against a local team in Yuma while barnstorming on their way back east from California.

The first spring training game in Arizona between MLB clubs was in 1929, with the Tigers hosting the Pirates in Phoenix. However, the majority of training remained focused in Florida or California. In 1942 the Cubs met with leaders of the Phoenix suburb of Mesa to explore training there, but WW II wartime restrictions ultimately canceled this proposal.

In 1945 Bill Veeck led a group that bought the Cleveland Indians. He soon met with Giants owner Horace Stoneham to discuss the possibility of jointly moving their respective teams to Arizona for spring training. Veeck thought a move to Arizona would bring a lot of new fans to the games. He didn’t want to relocate to Arizona unless another team did too, so he contacted Stoneham, who Veeck knew was unhappy training in Miami. Stoneham liked the idea of moving to Arizona for many reasons, including the presence of the well-known Buckhorn Hot Mineral Baths in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa.

Veeck and Stoneham agreed to relocate their teams and in 1947 the Indians began training in Tucson, playing their home games at Randolph Field (later renamed to Hi Corbett Field) while the Giants practiced in Phoenix, playing games at the original Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

In 1952 the Cubs moved their spring training operations from California to Mesa. With the arrival of the Baltimore Orioles in 1954 the circuit of teams in Arizona became known as the Cactus League (as compared to the Grapefruit League in Florida). Since then, the Cactus League has gained and lost teams but by 2010 had the highest number of teams ever with 15, exactly half of the 30 MLB teams. No score.

4th inning

So far this game is flying by, with a total of no runs, two hits, and two walks. While so much media attention in the first three games focused on the starting pitchers—the best pitchers on each team—these latter-part-of-the-rotation hurlers are up to now holding even with, or even outclassing, their colleagues. No score.

5th inning

Well before tonight’s game, I was talking with a very nice member of Minute Made Park’s guest services team named Dennis. Gray haired with a handle bar moustache and sporting an Astros baseball cap and jacket, he was stationed at the door of the auxiliary media work room, near the center field bleachers, for yesterday’s game, and he’ll be there again tonight for Game 4. Dennis spent his career as a telephone repairman before retiring around 15 years ago. With his newfound time, he decided to become a pastry chef but soon gave that up when he found it was much more stressful than any retirement job should be. A friend then suggested he apply for the guest services position with the Astros; someone as personable as Dennis, his friend figured, would be perfect for such a job. Dennis applied and has been working at Minute Maid Park for the past 11 years. He has enjoyed the job, particularly this year. Not because of the success of the Astros, though that has a lot to do with it. The real reason this season has been good for him is because his wife died of cancer earlier this year, and going to the ballpark was sometimes the only thing that got him through the pain of loss.

Whether it was Dennis trying to deal with this personal tragedy or the community of Houston looking to rally around something positive in light of Hurricane Harvey, the Astros have been saviors for many in H Town.

5th inning postscript – After the inning ended, nearly everyone in the stadium—fans, players, broadcasters, umpires, food handlers, Dennis—stood as one and held up “I stand up to fight cancer” signs. As part of this nationwide awareness and support effort, Mastercard has donated $4 million to go toward cancer research. No score.

6th inning

Many people I have known prefer to stay away from the ballpark because they can “watch it comfortably from home”. There are other factors, too – cost of parking, cost of food, cost of tickets, sitting in traffic, etc. At home you get instant replay, you generally don’t have to stand in line for bathrooms, and you can drink one of your beers, part of a 6-pack that cost you $8 at the grocery store, as opposed to the single, $15 beer at the park. I understand all of that and have felt that way myself at times. But the 6th inning just reminded me of one of the reasons why I love being at the park, and that’s because of the energy of the crowd, the thunderous applause that can shake the entire stadium and wake up a game. Going into the bottom of the 6th inning, the Dodgers had two hits and the Astros no hits (but 2 walks). With one swing of the bat, George Springer changed that, lining a homerun to the left field bleachers. The crowd went wild and the entire stadium felt like a living organism, bursting with an energy that left it almost breathless. As with every home run by the Astros, the train engine pulling the box car of oversized oranges moved on the track as the whistle blew, and just below it, the “Phillips 66 Home Run Pump”—an oversized gasoline pump whose meter keeps track of home runs hit by Astros players since the park opened—registered 1702. Score: Astros 1- Dodgers 0.

7th inning

Well, that was a short-lived lead. In a game that has been tightly contested and evenly matched, it seems appropriate for the Dodgers to answer Springer’s home run with their own score. At least the home team had the 7th inning stretch, and stretch is a good word to use here. The break between innings stretched over three songs—God Bless America, Take Me Out to the Ballgame, and Deep in the Heart of Texas. The last one hadn’t even finished yet when the public address announcer started introducing the Dodgers leadoff batter for the 8th inning. Score: Astros 1, Dodgers 1.

8th inning

This World Series has been great for home fans. In my perfect world, every home team should win on Opening Day of the season (except, perhaps, the Yankees). I also think that in the World Series, the home team should win at least one game for their fans. Besides that, exciting and close games are always fun. In the four World Series games so far this year, all of those expectations have already been met. In Game 1 the Dodgers treated their fans to the team’s first World Series win since 1988, and then the second game in LA was one of the most dramatic playoff games ever, going into extra innings and featuring a record 8 home runs. The Series then shifted to Houston and the Astros gave their fans the present of their first win in a World Series game ever. Now, in game 4, we’ve seen a sublime pitchers’ duel and a tie score late in the game. Score: Astros 1, Dodgers 1.

9th inning

As in Game 2, we’re now witnessing more offense toward the latter stages of this game. The Dodgers just scored another run to take the lead but that hasn’t dampened the enthusiasm of the Astros fans, who continue to chant and gyrate and pound their hands together with each pitch.

There goes another run for the Dodgers, but the fans continue to try and will Dodgers batters to make outs, beating on bleacher seats and slapping together the paper noise makers that each customer received upon entering the park. These efforts have gone for naught this time, as the Dodgers Joc Pederson just blasted a 3-run dinger to hike LA’s lead to 6-1. There was no train moving on the track for this home run, nor a train whistle or meter change on the Philips 66 pump—just a loud, collective groan from the crowd.

The Astros gave their fans one more reason to cheer in the bottom of the 9th when Alex Bregman set off the train and pump with a blast into the left field bleachers. But the Dodgers prevailed and so have pulled even in the series. Game 5 is tomorrow in Houston, and then the Series moves back to Los Angeles for Game 6 and, if necessary, Game 7. For my part, tomorrow’s game will be my last as I’ll fly home to Flagstaff Monday so I can share Halloween with my grand sweetie and the rest of the family. Final score: Dodgers 6, Astros 1; series tied at 2.