Texas Road Report - Part 3

This is part 3 of the Orioles Observer Road Trip Report to Arlington, Texas for the 2012 American League Wild Card Game. Friday, October 5, 2012 − 6:40 pm (CST)

Batting practice ends and I’m starting to feel the adrenaline in my body. Paul and I talk about how the game in Atlanta will get restarted after the showering of beer bottles on the field after the blown infield fly rule call. In typical MLB fashion, there is no explanation for why the call was made and its just restart the game. If I were the Braves, I would have held the team off the field. A forfeit loss for that egregious of a call would be much better in my eyes than running the team back out there. MLB didn’t even apologize after the game. They just made excuses for why the “right” call was made, even if the spirit of the rule was completely abandoned by the umpires. This harkens back when the “right call” was made in 1996 in New York in right field, a moment that O’s fans still remember all to well.

At the Orioles Observer, we are not fans of over produced baseball ceremonies. Frankly, singing God Bless America after the top of the 7th on Sunday games seems a bit much to us. When the Texas Stadium announcer began his introduction, Paul and I knew right away that this is going to be a production we won’t care for.

Going to eight O’s vs. Nationals games in DC over the past four seasons has shown us first hand what an over-produced game day experience sounds like.

  • The long, drawn out line up introductions - “Now batting (pause) for your Washington Nationals (your Washington Nationals drawn out way too long), the shortstop, number 1, Ian (drawn out) Desmond”
  • The fake baseball cheerleaders (cheerleaders in baseball? C’mon!)
  • The ridiculous use of the song “Thunder” that gives a sterilized and boring feel to the game.
  • “Stand up and greet your (drawn out) Washington Nationals!” Who needs to be told to stand up when the team takes the field?

In Texas, as the saying goes, everything is bigger. Well, not the stadium production. It was virtually the same as the Nationals. In defense of Texas, my guess is that the Nationals ripped this off from Rangers but that didn’t change how generic everything felt.

As we settle into game time, a family of four sits down to the right of me, with the Mom seated directly next to me. I don’t think much of this initially, as I can barely understand her thick, deep Texas twang, but I’m also from Baltimore, where many people speak a version of the English language that is far from correct. The Rangers stadium announcer tells everyone to get on their feet and wave their towels as TBS joins the game. “Get loud and show everyone why the Rangers have the loudest fans in baseball.”

A few Oriole fans in our section start waving anything orange that they have but Paul and I remain seated. When entering the stadium, we were offered white, Rangers give-a-way towels, an MLB postseason staple. Paul and I politely declined, as is our policy on this sort of thing. The ushers appeared to be confused as to why we wouldn’t accept a free give-a-way. We’ve seen too many Yankee and Red Sox fans come to Camden Yards and freely take give-a-ways that they probably discard the second they get home.

As the waving of the towels begins, this prompts the Mom to ask me why we aren’t waving anything. “We’re the visiting fans so it wouldn’t be right. I’ve seen too many idiot away fans come into our stadium and act like jerks. I won’t be one of those.”

“Oh, well we’re all so friendly down here in Texas. We just all love our baseball.”

Little did she know we were fully prepared for the moment (if it happened) when we could take out of “We Believe” orange Orioles towels and display them proudly.

The announcement of the Orioles players was something I wish I could have recorded, but being so present in the moment, I could only watch the ceremony and take it in live. It’s a proud moment being able to see the guys you follow all year finally get some minor recognition. I imagine that’s what it is like when you are a parent and you get to see your kid succeed at something. To quote part time Oriole, part time Injured Reserved player Nick Johnson, the moment was, “Real Nice.”

Paul and I were slightly amused when Darvish was announced and took the mound to loud chants of “Yuuuu!” The idea of the state of Texas, as “American and Patriotic” as any state in the US, going crazy for a Japanese pitcher is fascinating.

Darvish opened up the game with a walk to Nate McClouth, who stole second and was singled home by JJ Hardy. A quick 1–0 lead and you couldn’t ask for a better early situation. Darvish settled quickly and got out of the inning, but an early lead is never something you turn down.

Joe Saunders took the hill for the Orioles and as positive as Paul and I are towards the Orioles, especially compared to the majority of fans, we don’t know what Saunders is going to bring tonight, if anything. Saunders outings ranged from bad (O’s debut vs. White Sox at home) to above average (vs. Yankees at home and vs. Toronto on the road) to great (vs. Red Sox at home).

Smoke and mirrors pitching tends to work best in high pressure, high leverage situations. A pitcher like Saunders usually gets inflated numbers from regular season games where working strictly off of command and off speed pitches does not work every outing. But when the situation calls for someone to step up, Saunders showed he could at least put up a fight. When he was traded to the O’s, Saunders remarked that September and October are a brand new season and he knows how to deal with it. He would get his chance tonight.

Early on, it was rough, with Kinsler walking and Andrus singling, making it first and third, no one out. Steve Johnson got up and was throwing two batters into the game, confirming what Paul and I talked about at Buffalo Wild Wings. But Saunders would get Josh Hamilton to ground into a double play and despite the early lead being washed away, the double play settled the inning down and the game remained 1–1 into the 6th.

Saunders would find himself in trouble a few more times throughout his outing, but a couple of key double plays and grinding through adversity lead to gutsy, well deserved outing.

In the bottom of the second inning, we encountered the one real idiot Texas fan. A foul ball was hit behind the third base dugout, right at a female Orioles fan. She prepared to catch the ball and was run over by a ginger haired, mid–40’s man, with his bright blue Texas Rangers polo shirt tucked into his cargo less khaki shorts. The guy came from across the isle into a different section and literally bowled into her, took the ball, held it up, and smiled as he walked back to his seat. The Texas fans around him weren’t too amused with his actions but the usher didn’t seem to care about this. Half an inning later, the Oriole fan left her seat, crying. The usher chased after her and ended up resolving things, but this wasn’t the last we would see from this guy tonight. [An aside, its very possible that if NBC decides to tape new episodes of “To Catch a Predator”, that this fan will be caught on tape. That’s the look and vibe he was giving off.]

Paul and I hadn’t seen much of Darvish this year, so we were very much scouting him as the game went along, trying to figure out where his cutter moved and any tendencies to the rhythm of his pitches. Yes, that may be geeky, but we are fans who know what we are talking about.

Meanwhile, the Mom next to me is trying to casually converse about what she finds fascinating about the game. Some examples:

  • “Do you know that Nolan Ryan, the President of the Rangers, sits right down there?” as she points to the seats where he sits
  • “Did you see the statue of the man who fell when Josh Hamilton threw the ball to him last year? That was so sad. His son got to throw out the first pitch in the first playoff game last year. That was great.”

After Darvish looked like he really hurt his neck and needed to be taken out, she proceeded to tell me that they took him to the tunnel where the training room is in between innings to check on him. Needless to say, I’m familiar with the various aspects of the major league ball park facilities. Balancing a conversation regarding pitch location with Paul and small talk with this lady made for an interesting counterbalance.

Throughout the game, the Rangers scoreboard operators put up any negative stat they could regarding all the Orioles players. For the batters, most of it was their October numbers, which consisted of three games against the Rays, all three which were pitched excellently. As expected, the Rangers got the prime treatment for their statistics. Event Michael Young, who you can say very little positive about this year, had his career stats at Rangers Ballpark displayed, which are very good. In my limited experience at other ballparks, I haven’t seen the home team go to the lengths to put up negative statistics for their opponents. It seemed like the goal was to cater those stats to the casual fan, who would see them and think the opponent stinks.

On October 5, 2012, catering to the casual fans with misleading stats would only get you so far before the bottom of the 9th came along.