The Giants win, the Braves are eliminated, Bobby Cox rides off into the sunset

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The last at bat of the game was pretty emblematic of this season. The Braves, undermanned, finished the game with a hitter who probably shouldn’t have been there, really. But you know what? Melky Cabrera took a good hack. He hit it fairly hard. He even ran hard. Maybe he did it because he realized that Bobby Cox was watching and he didn’t want to let his manager down.

Game 4 was much like all the other games in the end.  Not much punch for the Braves. A homer from Brian McCann and a sacrifice fly was it.  Defensive lapses, though nothing egregious from Troy Glaus, surprisingly enough.  A move from Bobby Cox that, in hindsight, was a bad one. Like I said earlier today, Bobby Cox has lived and died by trusting his players.  This day he died by it, leaving Derek Lowe in the game in the seventh inning against his better judgment. Lowe said he could get Pat Burrell out. He couldn’t. He walked him and extended the inning. If Cox decides not to trust Lowe there, maybe the Braves get out of the jam. If Cox doesn’t trust his players, however, he doesn’t manage for 29 years in the bigs.

Ultimately, though, this was about a team without enough talent. There weren’t enough bats. If there were Melky Cabrera and Diory Hernandez would never have been allowed to the plate. Not enough competent fielders. If there were, Glaus wouldn’t have been playing third base. Derek Lowe showed tremendous heart pitching six and a third strong innings on short rest. Brian McCann was tremendous both at the plate and behind it. But it takes more.

The Giants had that little extra that a team needs to move on. Cody Ross — a savvy midseason pickup — was responsible for both of the Giants earned runs.  Santiago Casilla, Javier Lopez and Brian Wilson bent a bit, but never broke. The balls fell when the Giants needed them to. The pitchers made the pitches when they needed to. The opposition crumbled at the worst moments and the Giants took advantage. San Francisco never excelled, but they endured and, ultimately, survived.  They’ll now go on to face the Phillies in the NLCS.  I hope for their sake they step things up, because the Phillies are a much, much better team than the Atlanta Braves.

And thus ends the career of Bobby Cox. When the game ended and Cox emerged from the dugout, the Giants players stopped their on-field celebration and applauded the man. He deserved it. Not because he was the best manager ever. He probably wasn’t. Not because he was the most likable guy ever. God knows he wasn’t.  But because he’s been running baseball teams since before most of them were born, and that’s a pretty rare things these days.

Bobby Cox returned to Atlanta to take over as general manager for my Braves when I was 12 years-old. I’m 37 now. I loved that team even when they were still a laughingstock, but eventually the novelty would have worn off.  I’m not sure what would have happened to my baseball fandom if I had lost interest in the one team I could see on TV every day back in the late 80s and early 90s. Maybe I would have stuck with the lovable losers, but I suppose I may have just let it go too. Hard to say.  It’s a question I’m glad I never had to answer thanks to Cox building that team back to respectability and then taking it over to lead it to glory.

Thanks Bobby. Thanks for everything.

The Chicago Cubs: Spring training games, regular season prices

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Craig Calcaterra
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MESA, AZ — I’ve been covering spring training for eight years, and in just those eight years a lot has changed in the Cactus and Grapefruit League experiences. The parks are bigger and fancier and the vibe is far more akin to a regular season major league one than the intimate and laid back atmosphere most people think of when they picture February and March baseball.

Just imagine, however, how much has changed if you’ve been coming to Florida or Arizona for a really long time.

“When we first started coming, you could bring your own beer in,” says Don Harper, a lifelong Cubs fan from Kennewick, Washington who spends his winters in Arizona. “You couldn’t bring a cooler, but you could bring a case of beer and a bag of ice and you just set it down in between you and you just put the ice on it and keep it cold.”

I asked Don if the beer vendors complained.

“They didn’t sell beer,” he said.

That was three decades and two ballparks ago. They certainly sell beer at the Cubs’ gleaming new facility, Sloan Park. Cups of the stuff cost more than a couple of cases did back when Don first started coming to spring training.

The price of beer is not the only thing that has changed, of course. The price of tickets is not what it used to be either. Don told me that when he started coming to Cubs spring training games tickets ran about seven dollars. If that. It’s a bit pricer now. Face value for a single lawn ticket, where you’ll be sitting on a blanker on the outfield berm — can be as high as $47 depending on the day of the week and the opponent. Infield box seats run as high as $85.

The thing is, though, you’re not getting face value seats for Cubs spring training games. Half of the home games sold out within a week of tickets going on sale in January. Since then just about every other game has sold out or soon will. That will force you to get tickets on the secondary market. According to TickPick, the average — average! — Cubs spring training ticket on the secondary market is $106.30. For a single ticket. It’s easily the highest price for spring training tickets in all of baseball, and is $26 higher than secondary market tickets for the next highest team, the Red Sox:

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That may be shocking or even appalling to some, but as the automatic sellouts at Sloan Park and those high secondary market prices suggest, there are at least 15,000 people or so for each Cubs home game who don’t seem to mind. Supply meet demand meet the defending World Series champions.

I spoke with two younger Cubs fans, Corey Hayden and Eleanor Meloul, who traveled here from Salt Lake City. On Sunday they lucked out and got a couple of lawn seats for $28. On Saturday, however, they paid $100 a piece on StubHub to get some seats just beyond third base. I asked them if there is some price point that would keep them from coming.

“There isn’t one,” Hayden said. “I paid $4,500 for a World Series ticket, so . . .”

Don Harper wouldn’t do that, but he doesn’t really mind the higher prices he’s paying for his spring tickets. Of course, he’s a longtime season ticket holder so he gets access to the face value seats. I asked him whether his spring training habit would end if those prices got jacked up higher, as the market would seem to bear, or if he had to resort to the secondary market.

Don paused and sighed, suggesting it was a tough question. As he considered it, I put a hard number on it, asking him if he’d still go if he had to pay $50 per ticket. “Yeah, probably,” he said. “$75?” I asked. He paused again.

“As long as I got enough money.”

Don is a diehard who, one senses, will always find a way to make it work. Corey spent a wad of cash on that once-in-a-lifetime World Series ticket, but he and Eleanor seem content to bargain hunt for the most part and splurge strategically. If you’re a Cubs fan — and if you’re not rich — that’s what you’ll have to do. The ticket it just too hot.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.