Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.
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Remember, there’s morning baseball today

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The third Monday in April is Patriots’ Day, an official holiday in Massachusetts, Maine and Wisconsin, and nodded at unofficially in several other states. Schools and banks and stuff are closed there and the Boston Marathon is being run as we speak. For our purposes, we get morning baseball.

Today the Red Sox take on the Rays at 11:05AM EDT. Blake Snell gets the call for Tampa Bay, Steven Wright for the Sox. There is nothing more American than a knuckleballer in my view, so it’s good fortune that the rotation worked out this way for Boston.

There will be some differences from the usual lineup today for the Red Sox, however. Pablo Sandoval will ride pine after batting just .143 with a .196 on-base percentage through 11 games. Meanwhile, Hanley Ramirez is in the starting lineup despite exiting Sunday’s game with a cramp in his left hamstring. Between that and the flu, Ramirez has had a rocky first couple of weeks to the season, but perhaps morning baseball will set him straight.

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

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Hope you had a quiet, enjoyable Easter Sunday with family and loved ones. And hope that you either have the day off or can get away for a few minutes today, as we have morning baseball thanks to Patriots Day in Boston.

Anyway, here are yesterday’s scores. Here are the highlights:

Tigers 4, Indians 1: If the Indians were stealing signs to beat up on Justin Verlander on Saturday, they must’ve stopped stealing them yesterday. Or else the Tigers changed ’em. Here they couldn’t do anything against Matt Boyd, managing only one run in his six innings of work, and doing jack against the pen. Alex Avila hit a two-run homer. Miguel Cabrera knocked in a run but had to leave early due to a bad back. Worth watching.

Orioles 11, Blue Jays 4: Last week I mused that the name “Trey Mancini” sounded like it came from a Ross Macdonald novel. That maybe he was a third or fourth banana bad guy who Lew Archer braces for information but then sets straight. He’s much bigger than that now, having hit two homers in the O’s romp yesterday. Easily moved up to the “boyfriend of the heriess who ran away and who Archer has been hired to find.” Mancini is a bit shady, but only a little. Mostly he’s just out of his league with that heiress and, while he thought he was protecting her, she was protecting him all along by leaving him and keeping his parents, who have a deep, dark secret, from hurting him like they hurt her.

Brewers 4, Reds 2: Four homers led to all six of the runs scored here, with the winners’ homers coming from Ryan Braun, Travis Shaw and Eric Thames.

Marlins 4, Mets 2: A game in which a one team was held hitless until the eighth would be notable enough — here, Dan Straily and three relievers no-hit the Mets until there were two down in the eighth — but this one was notable for a wild ninth inning as  well. That’s when the Mets tied things up at two with a two-run single from Asdrubal Cabrera. But then in the bottom half JT Riddle walked the Marlins off with a two-run bomb. It was only his second hit in the majors, too. Crazy town.

Red Sox 7, Rays 5: Mitch Moreland was not a pickup that a ton of people outside of Boston thought much about over the winter, but he’s been a pretty fantastic pick up for the Sox so far. Here Moreland hit a go-ahead, two-run single in the seventh inning and drove in three runs, helping Boston to a come from behind victory.

Braves 9, Padres 2: The Padres had a 1-0 lead until the fifth but then the Braves got home from Easter brunch and started piling on the runs. Bartolo Colon made his major league debut the same day the Braves’ old park, Turner Field, opened. Yesterday he made his debut in their new park, allowing only one hit and one run in seven dominant innings. Not many players’ careers are longer than the time entire stadiums are in use, but we do live in interesting times.

Nationals 6, Phillies 4: Have yourself a day, Bryce Harper. The 2015 MVP hit a two-run home run in the third inning, breaking a 1-1 tie. In bottom of the ninth with the Nats trailing by one, Harper hit his second bomb, a deep drive to center, for a walk-off three-run homer. I think that kid may be a pretty decent ballplayer one day.

Royals 1, Angels 0: Yet another walkoff, this off the bat of Alcides Escobar, who singled in the game’s only run to break a 0-0 tie. The scoreless game before that left Ian Kennedy and Tyler Skaggs out of the decision, but each of them were fantastic, tossing eight and seven shutout innings, respectively.

Pirates 6, Cubs 1: And the Pirates sweep the world champs. Pittsburgh scored all six of their runs in the final two frames, notching three — two earned — off of Koji Uehara and three off of Justin Grim. For Chicago, it certainly was grim.

Rockies 4, Giants 3: All the scoring here was over after the top of the second, with Jeff Samardzija allowing four and Antonio Senzatela allowing three. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, Samardzija, Senzatela, Hasenpfeffer Incorporated! We’re gonna do it . . .

White Sox 3, Twins 1: Not a walkoff, but it there were late inning/last inning heroics from Avisail Garcia, who hit a two-run bomb in the top of the 10th. Garcia, after the game:

“I said to myself, `Hey, don’t try to do too much. Just put the barrel on the ball because he throws hard. That’s what I do. I just tried to put a good swing, see the ball and hit it.”

Which puts lie to the idea that ballplayers come up with the cliches in response to reporters’ questions. They apparently inner-monologue in cliche too.

Mariners 8, Rangers 7: Yet another wild finish. Nelson Cruz singled in the tiebreaking run to cap a two-run, ninth-inning rally. The M’s overcame a five-run deficit in all. Most of that deficit had been made up before embattled Rangers closer Sam Dyson got the ball, but he was unable to hold a 7-6 lead and got yet another blown save. Dyson has allowed 13 runs in four and a third innings this season. Ouch.

Diamondbacks 3, Dodgers 1: Rich Hill‘s blister nightmare continues. He was activated from the 10-day disabled list before this start but made it only three innings into this one before having to leave. No such problems for Dbacks’ starter Taijuan Walker, who allowed one run and struck out seven over five, handing it over to the pen, which allowed no runs on one hit over five.

Yankees 9, Cardinals 3: The Yankees are on fire, winning their seventh straight and sweeping the Cardinals. Greg Bird and Aaron Hicks hit homers. Michael Pineda allowed only two runs over seven innings, following up his near no-no from last week.

Astros vs. Athletics — POSTPONED:

Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old
Sometimes I’d like to quit
Nothin’ ever seems to fit
Hangin’ around
Nothin’ to do but frown
Rainy days and Mondays always get me down

A few words on baseball, giant American Flags and patriotism

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This morning I woke up and saw that a friend had posted a photo on my Facebook timeline. It was of the opening ceremonies for the first game at the Braves new ballpark Friday night.

The photo was of the large American flag unfurled on the field for the National Anthem. In case you could not see it, on every one of the large video boards was a digital image of an American flag. It was quite the scene:

We’ve seen sights like this one pretty regularly over the past 16 years. Opening Day, the All-Star Game and the World Series would, by now, be considered incomplete without a couple of acres of red, white and blue on the outfield grass. Or, for Blue Jays game, just red and white. 

Baseball and the American flag have obviously long gone hand-in-hand. “The Star Spangled Banner” was first performed at a baseball game years before it was actually our country’s national anthem. Red, white and blue bunting goes back further. Baseball may not really be the national pastime anymore, but its patriotic rituals reach way, way back to a time when it unquestionably was.

As better writers than I have noted, however, the degree and intensity of patriotic display at sporting events has been dramatically ratcheted up since September 11, 2001. The big flags, the addition of “God Bless America” and the incorporation of the military into nearly every aspect of the promotion of the game. The impulse to do so was obvious and understandable, just as other patriotic displays in times of war, peril and tragedy are. The reasons for it make perfect sense and the escalation of conspicuous patriotism at the ballpark is unmistakable.

Something else has happened over this same period, however. Patriotism has been transformed from something most Americans demonstrate out of natural national pride and personal motivation to something more . . . performative. Often, something de rigueur. Unquestionably more political.

We can see it in the silly controversies over who does and who does not wear a little flag on their lapel. Or whether there are or are not the proper number of flags on stage at a political nominating convention. The impulse to characterize one’s political opponents as unpatriotic as a means of advancing one’s own political agenda is undeniable. Casting oneself as more patriotic than the other guy has always been a primary tool in the politician’s toolbox, but it has become a far more important tool in the past 16 years. “If you’re not for us, you’re against us,” is a sentiment that has expanded beyond matters of the literal basic security of our country from its enemies and has become an argument for any old policy one supports or opposes. You can be accused of being in league with ISIS for disagreeing about the ideal rate of taxation for certain brackets.

While people may wish for the ballpark to be a place where the real world does not intrude, sports often reflect what’s going on in society at large. To that end, the world of sports has likewise seen its natural patriotic habits amped up quite a bit. As mentioned above, a lot of that was natural and understandable in the wake of 9/11.

But there has been some opportunism and performative patriotism at play at the ballpark as well. Most notably in the pay-for-patriotism scandal from a couple of years ago in which it was revealed that the government had paid teams to promote patriotic and pro-military initiatives for propaganda and recruitment purposes. Less craven than that but still calculated is the degree to which corporate sponsorship has seeped into patriotic activities. For the 2014 World Series, American flags were provided to every fan at the entrance of Kauffman Stadium. Major League Baseball made sure we knew in the press release, however, that they were “presented by Bank of America, the Official Bank of Major League Baseball.” There are many examples of this sort of thing.

Whether patriotic initiatives and displays are craven or genuine in their conception, they aren’t going anywhere. While conspicuous acts of patriotism have always spiked at the ballpark during times of war — check out the uniform patches worn during World War II — they’ve always subsided after a time. This isn’t happening now. As I’ve mused on this site many times, baseball seems unable or unwilling to cut back on the big flags and the military initiatives even a little bit in the post-9/11 world. I suspect it’s because, in this new age of performative patriotism, they’re worried about being called unpatriotic for doing so. One less big flag on Opening Day or Game 1 of the World Series would be the baseball equivalent of a politician not wearing an American Flag lapel pin. At some point it’s just easier to roll out the flag again than to catch that kind of hell.

Against that backdrop, I looked at the photo my friend posted on my Facebook timeline, and I tweeted out a little joke, poking at those who claim that sports and politics never go together. I did so by sarcastically adopting the voice of one of the many “stick to sports” people we’ve mocked around here many, many times:

Initially most of my followers and people who saw it realized I was trolling the “stick to sports” people and nodding to the many things I’ve written over the years about the often political nature of patriotic displays.

A few hours later, though, some conservative people who are not familiar with all of the stuff I’ve written about this sort of thing over the years saw it and believed that I was denigrating the American Flag and claiming that the Braves were conducting a political propaganda exercise on Friday night. By mid-morning that began to snowball and since then I’ve been flooded with literally thousands of people calling me a commie, saying my tweet was treasonous and telling me that if I don’t like this country I can get the hell out right now. One person said I should be burned at the stake. Another said I should be hanged. One guy even told me he hopes I get cancer.

I get a lot of crap thrown at me on Twitter and I really don’t care, mostly because I stir up a lot of it myself. It goes with the territory. So I am less bothered by the crap than I am by the literally hundreds of people who, while not wishing cancer upon me, simply responded by telling me that, no, it is impossible for the flag or for a patriotic display to be political. That such things are, always, inherently neutral and benign and simply symbolize one’s love of America, nothing more, nothing less.

Whatever these people think of me, this sentiment is unadulterated nonsense.

As mentioned above, patriotism and flag-waving are a huge part of political strategy and always have been. There are entire ideologies based on it. It is likewise used for other, non-purely-patriotic purposes. Brands routinely wrap themselves in the American flag to sell you stuff. Indeed, there are rankings of which brands best-leverage patriotism for commercial purposes. This occurs in baseball too, of course, as noted in those Bank of America-sponsored flags and countless other bits of for-hire patriotic display. While patriotism is a laudable trait — and while I consider myself to be a patriotic American — to suggest that flag-waving is exclusively done by those with noble and pure intent is simply laughable.

Do I think the Braves were making a political point with their giant flag on Friday night? No, not particularly. At least not anything beyond the efforts made by every baseball team which wishes to make its fans feel like going to the ballpark is not merely a commercial experience but a uniquely American one. Especially on Opening Day. And, well, especially when they just made those fans hand over their tax dollars for a new ballpark the team didn’t really need, so hey, let’s make sure we create the impression that this is about more than the Braves’ bottom line.

But let us not pretend for one second that displays of conspicuous patriotism haven’t spiked dramatically in our country over the past 16 years. Let us not pretend for one second that they persist for all of the same reasons that initially inspired them. Let us not pretend that, over more than a decade and a half of it, many have not learned how effective it is to leverage patriotism to aid their political careers, their images, or their marketability and the marketability of their brands. Patriotism is a feeling and an ideal, and like any other feeling or ideal, it can be twisted to any number of other ends, good, bad or neutral.

Even in baseball.