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WPCNR THE SUNDAY BAILEY. News & Comment by John F. Bailey. April 10, 2022:

She still looked the same. Beautiful as ever, I must admit. Able to hit the ball out of my heart’s park with one look, still after all these years.

Demure as always in the crisp dazzle spring sun, colorful, she is something to see she really catches the eye.

She is once again my personal fascination. The tingle is back. The high. The glow.

I did not want to fall again,  I was through with her after the way she treated me for years but after three shows Friday, and I knew it was Opening Day at the big ball park, the new big ballpark. She of course had changed, this first love of mine.

For years, whenever she came into my mist of memory, I dismissed her as her suitors made her change because they could never make enough money. Because they hated the players and wanted them to change the game. Favorite players left teams they had been with for years, as one suitor (baseball owner) usually with more money wooed them. Pennants were bought. The playoffs were created allowing more teams to appear to have a chance to win.

The suitors impaired her performance by condoning for a decade, steroids and players in their “Walk years” took steroids to bulk up have a tremendous year then go off the roids the first year of their new contract and somehow they were not as good. They forgot the best interests of her, (baseball my love), and put themselves ahead of the team like their own owners.

These handlers of hers changed her to no longer the love of my life. I did not watch games for years. Ignored the playoffs. Never watched an inning of the World Series.

Instead I helped my daughter develop her skills in the game, giving her the marvelous experience of playing the hardest game, where you have to overcome fear, deal with failure, put an error or strikeout behind you–and nothing like driving in the winning run.

“There’s no crying in baseball,” as Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own.

But a strange force drew me to the YES Network Friday at 1:13 PM, in time to catch the first pitch of the Yankee Opening Day Game.

The beauty of the park in the sun brought tears to my eyes. And sure enough the juiced ball homers flew out of the park in the very first inning. The Yankee Starter was having trouble locating, the umpire behind the plate was squeezing both pitchers throughout the game by his inconsistency. 

But for some reason I could not turn it off.

On through the afternoon the game flowed. Strikeouts by undisciplined hitters swinging at amazing diving, darting pitches by a parade of 17 pitchers in 11 innings showed me something.

In the efforts to afflict pitching performances to juice not only the  baseball (so hot, you feel the rabbit’s heart beating inside when you grip it) that is like handgrenade exploding off the wooden bats jacking on lines to the not-too-distant stands to lowering the mound, envisioning a pitch clock  to keep each delay between pitches to 20 seconds, and keeping relief pitchers to pitch to three batters. (So many changes not explained explicitly by the announcers to the fans during the game.)

But the game wound on building in drama as the relief pitcher parade began. The Red Sox leftfielder saved 4 Yankee runs with two diving  one hand glove (“put a star in your scorebook”) catches in the  5th and 7th off Yankee hitters with bombers on the bases.

Then the Red Sox tied it on a homer. Into the 10th it went. Boston scored with a Red Sox player actually hitting the ball to the right side to move the “Ghost Runner” to second to third. And with runners at first and third  the Yankee manager brings the infield in, and the ball goes through. Putting Boston ahead. New York ties it up in the bottom of the 10th and  stops the Fenways in the 11th with the Yankees 8th pitcher. In the bottom of the 11th, Boston is forced to bring in a pitcher with only one game of major league experience. The first batter hits one through the infield which is in half way, an up the middle grounder, shortstop and second base diving to block it but missing and the Ghost Runner scoring the winning run

This was a great game I could not tear myself away from. What makes a great game?: Building anxiety.

There were chances every inning. Strikeouts from the undisciplined desire of hitters to hit the out.  The game lasted 4 hours with all the things that make baseball great. The homerun, because they are a cheap shot enhanced by the lively ball and the shrunken strike zone, has become an anticlimactic event. 

I saw the value of a great outfielder. The leftfielder playing shallow could have thrown out the Red Sox tying run at the plate because the left fielder’s  throw was long enough and ahead of the runner coming in but threw wide of the plate.

I saw a trend: pitchers are adjusting.

The commentators said consistently (from the mezzanine press box) consistently the strike out pitch or the ball that was hit was a “slider,” It was funny after while, I was seeing “sliders” that not only slid, nuit dropped sharply and to the left or right, swerved dipped rose, looking like pitches that had a lot on them, a lot of what I don’t know.

Baseball is always herself, she adjusts. Whole teams cheat.

Players adjust. Managers are successful when they know how to adjust. No one adjusts more than the pitchers.  Managers now know that shifts are going to be outlawed next year and they are going to have to compensate. Defensive ability (speed, agility, jump on the ball, and strong arm accuracy has to be there to throw out runners at the plate from the outfield).

Range of players on the infield has to improve, but you cannot depend on good field no hit infielders. Hitting weaknesses in the lineup hurt you. The Red Sox were held to 7 runs in two games by two games  where the starters only went 4 innings. This cannot be continued by teams throwing 17 pitchers a game. The Yankee bullpen with the terrifying Toronto Blue Jays coming to town may be done before the end of April

Baseball turned my head again, as she always does. No penalty flags or fouls called in the last seconds save you in baseball. You have to get them out. No clock saves you.

And you know, I fell for the sportswriters lines about baseball dying. They always say that. They said the same thing in the late 1960s about pitchers being too dominating, they brought in the Designated hitter; in the 70s the players won free agency thanks to Curt Flood and Lou Brock.

Everybody said it was terrible, but the wealthy teams purchased the good players. It is still happening. In the 20s and 30s they traded for the good players now they buy them.

I do not want to hear  about low-scoring games being boring. Or games being too long. Who says that? At 75 to 80 bucks a seat, you want long games.

The sportscasters, sportswriters, and columnists do not because they have to sit there.  The papers do not include box scores.  They write about soccer, golf, tennis, the NCAA basketball tournament and the Pro football league which has incredible inconsistency of officiating that too often decides games and bets.

Baseball showed me a lot in a game that had all the things people say is wrong about baseball on full display. But the game compensated. The players played hard. The pitchers pitched out of tight spots. Managers showed signs of learning to bring back the sacrifice, game situation strategy particularly in the starting a runner on second in extra innings.

The strategy of positioning players in in the infield, straightaway or shifted, changes. Managers should take in some fast pitch softball tiebreakers where the objective in the tiebreaker with the “Ghost Runner” starting on second is to DEFEND THIRD BASE,….prevent the runner from advancing to third when the ball is hit to an infielder on the ground and tagging the runner at third.

The other thing is to walk the first batter, setting up the infield fly situation, if the ball is popped up.

If the ball is hit into a double play try the DP by going to third first, and then back to second. Once you get to 2 outs and runner on second. You can return to the pitcher in charge.

Setting up the double play is a key to getting out of trouble in a runner on second nobody out situation.

Managers have become so out of touch with strategies of moving the runner, and leaning to statistics glorifying guys who strike out a lot, hit .220 or .250 and hit 40 homers (most with bases empty), that the ability to hit to the opposite field (as John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman tell you every game you listen to) or bunt to move the runner is not often used. Managers also have to do away with the pitch count curse that mediocre pitching coaches have invented to keep jobs in organized baseball.

You never forget your old flame. The passion is there. Ready to be inflamed again. I have not felt so GOOD in weeks, after watching that game Friday.

She’s different now that’s all.

The talent is better. The gloves quick. The drama is there. One swing of the bat and one big connection is always there.

So is the game-saving catch the greatest play you ever see and you replay the ones you saw in your mind when you see itl

All the thrill of the game is captured in my poem below.

I love being in love again.

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