Sept. 30, 2005; SPARTA, NJ — There I was, watching Thursday’s pivotal game between the Red Sox and the Blue Jays on the internet. No visual images, mind you, but simply a text description of each play as it occurred. On this night, there was no TV, no radio, and no tickets to the ballpark.
Fortunately, David Ortiz is a savior in any medium.
The internet GameCast, as it is called, resets itself periodically as the action evolves. There’s a click sound, following by a flash of light as the page reloads with new information. That’s as suspenseful as it gets with a GameCast. I have to admit: the sensation is better than one would think.
After the textual description of the Sox’s ninth inning advised that Johnny Damon singled, and then stole second base, there was a long pause. I took the opportunity to surf over to ESPN.com’s website, where I quickly played the infectious Big Papi, MVP jingle from the Mike & Mike in the Morning (radio) Show. Suddenly, there was a calm to the room. After all, Ortiz was up. And this was clutch time. Back to the GameCast I went. The Blue Jays’ relief pitcher threw several preliminary pitches to Ortiz, which were recorded in the balls & strikes section of the GameCast screen. A few balls and a strike, I think. Doesn’t matter. Eventually, Ortiz struck the ball into an area where it could not be caught. Damon plated the winning run. End of story. Until this weekend.
The Yankees visit Boston tonight, a fact that may even be known in rain forests and igloos across the planet. This is a high risk/high reward scenario for all ticket holders who favor Boston. I know, having attended games one and three of last year’s ALCS (both Sox losses). Describing those experiences is easy: bad, and worse. But I’ll be back for another helping of Sox/Yanks this weekend. Kind of like trying beets again after 15 years, based on the shaky logic that your maturing palate is due to warm up to the taste.
But Fenway Park is not in the cards until Saturday. Tonight, I’ll catch the game on New York’s YES network. Michael Kaye, the ever-biased commentator for YES, will teeter on complete intolerability. He’ll tell the viewers why A-Rod should be MVP (he shouldn’t) and why Jason Giambi should be Comeback Player of the Year (he should). He’ll refer to the fact that the Red Sox banned “Yankees Not-So-Nice” t-shirts earlier this year (translation: “Yankees Suck” t-shirts). And he’ll probably say that the Yankees beat the Sox in the f”illing holes” department by securing pitchers Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small. Don’t wait for a mention of the team’s $220 million payroll. It isn’t coming.
Tomorrow, I’ll trade the comfort of a plump sofa for the discomfort of an unyielding wooden seat. Bad trade. As scenery goes, however, the Green Monster trumps any living room wall, and a crisp, blue sky crushes a wooden-beamed ceiling. And no matter how hearty the effort, the grilled hot dogs from the gas grill on the back deck never compare to the Fenway Franks in Boston. Advantage: Fenway Park.
On Sunday, the medium of choice will be XM Satellite Radio. On a lot of levels, this is a better experience than TV. Ugly people, as conventional wisdom goes, have to work harder on their personalities because they are not given the breaks extended to their better-looking brethren. Same is true for radio announcers. They successfully capture the spirit of the game and the imagination of the listeners because they have to. TV announcers can afford to have some lousy dates; people will watch either way, because–after all– the action is there to see. Hell, you could moot the telecast and people would still watch. Try suggesting that to a radio executive.
On Monday, I’ll hit the newspapers. Hoping for accounts of the Yankees’ demise, of course. The New York media is particularly fond of blasting its teams at season’s end. They figure all will be forgiven by the time they reappear with those “Please talk to me, I was just doing my job” smiles the following spring. This cannibalistic journalism is one of the few recent advantages of rooting for the Sox while living in the NYC metropolitan area. It’s great fun. Highly recommended.
My experience to the Yanks/Sox games will be diversified across several mediums, and I have to say: any additional, game-winning heroics by David Ortiz will be warmly felt no matter what the delivery system. As one of my Yankee-loving colleagues said today: no matter how you are checking the score–TV, radio or internet–you just know the Sox are winners if it’s a clutch situation and Ortiz is batting. That is the intangible that makes an MVP. A-Rod? Please. Sheffield is more feared than A-Rod is, and Matsui would be the runner-up choice with the game on the line. Don’t take my word for it: Yanks reliever Tom Gordon said it himself during a radio interview yesterday.
For years, the power of the Yankees was the paralysis that they forced upon their opponents when the game reached its late, crucial stages. Bermuda Triangle stuff. Opposing players expected the Yankees to rally against them. Teams shipwrecked themselves–playing poorly when it mattered most because of the legacy of the pinstripes. David Ortiz stole that legacy away from the Yankees last year. And he still has it. Until A-Rod, or Sheffield, or A-Rod takes the legacy back, there can only be one MVP: Big Papi.
The MVP does not technically consider the post-season, because the winner of the award is decided-upon at the conclusion of the regular season. This, of course, is inane. All that really matters is who stands on the top of the hill in the end. Last year, that was the Red Sox. And Ortiz was the major catalyst in that championship. Since the closing of the ballots for the 2004 MVP, no player has impacted the game as much as Ortiz. It isn’t even close. This is one of those uncommon situations where what a player does in the prior year’s post-season should carry over into the current year’s MVP race.
Naturally, we’re biased. We’re biased because we’re Sox fans. We’re biased because Ortiz wore one of our red and blue Yankee Hater caps as a NESN crew filmed a lengthy TV spot in his kitchen (see NESN’s DVD titled “Faith Rewarded”, specifically the segment called “Cooking with Ortiz”, which was released after the Sox won the Series last year). And we’re biased because we can’t stand A-Rod. None of these biases, however, necessarily make us wrong on this point. And enough with the “A-Rod plays defense” argument. He’s an excellent fielder, but is not a difference-maker to any meaningful extent when he plays the field. This is the major leagues, and (as the PGA is fond of saying) these guys are good. Nearly all of them, anyway. At least the ones who would be considered in the MVP category.
There’s a Reebok billboard in Boston near Fenway Park that depicts Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. It says: “MVPs When It Mattered Most”. That was true last year. And it’s true now, too. Whether the voters get it right or not.