Friday, May 10, 2019

Maybe There is Hope

Why?  Because baseball continues to reflect and give voice to the American Dream.  Work hard, have talent, succeed, in spite of ethnicity or humble beginnings.  It stands as a bulwark against the tide of dystopian xenophobia promoted by no less than the President of the United States.  It is rule based and while it has succumbed to instant replay challenges, pitch clocks, and exotic statistical metrics, it has essentially changed to remain the same.

There used to be a similar familiarity about the checks and balances of our three branches of government, comforting as a citizen, but we now have a disrupter in the White House, someone who has no sense of history, a disdain for culture, and who measures everything in clicks, sound bites, and winning and losing.  And now he is set to ignore an equal branch of government, Congress, and apparently Republicans there are willing to be accomplices, their sacred vow “to affirm support for the Constitution” relegated to mere hollow words.  If baseball was played this way, players might as well refuse to return to the dugout after strike three is called, saying the people want to see hitting, so let’s make it 4 or 5 strikes before one is called out.  Just tweet it and it shall be.

The recent political developments would normally envelop my blog with multiple entries, as well as more on gun control because of the recent tragic Colorado school shooting, However,with the publication of my book, Waiting for Someone to Explain It, I vowed it would serve as a cathartic statement on such topics, thus allowing my writing life to return to some kind of new normalcy as well.

“As American as apple pie” frequently gets conflated with baseball.  The baseball of my youth was mostly all white players with Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in the National League in 1947 and Larry Doby the American League a few months later.  As an adult I once sat next to Roy Campanella  (who came up to the Dodgers the year after Robinson) at a luncheon; it was sometime in the 1980s.  He was in a wheel chair because of the automobile accident that ended his playing years.  We briefly talked about the old days, not about race, but about baseball.  He was interested in my childhood dreams of pitching but of course I tried to turn the discussion to him, but he was reticent in that regard, I think there was an inherent sadness about missing his buddies, and his last years in baseball. After Jackie Robinson he was the second black player inducted into the Hall of Fame.  I remember his humanity and putting up with me and my questions.

I think of him from time to time especially as the landscape of American baseball changes to reflect our immigrant heritage.  It is truly an international sport and it is no more apparent than here in the United States.  One wonders, if baseball could change and still be the great sport of yesteryear, why not America?  Isn’t that what it means to “make America great?”

And it is nowhere more apparent than in the Miami Marlins’ farm system.  As the Marlins’ CEO (and one of my favorite Yankees of my adult life) Derek Jeter said: "We want Miami to be the destination for top international talent.  This organization should reflect the diversity of the South Florida community."  And indeed it does.

Although we’ve already seen a few Jupiter Hammerheads’ games this season, the Marlins’ Class A+ team in Jupiter, this was the first opportunity to write about one and although Wednesday night’s game involved dropping a 5-1 decision to the St. Lucie Mets, it was notable in other ways.

The first thing that caught my eye after the singing of the National Anthem was the image of the American flag in the background with the Hammerhead’s pitcher, Edward Cabrera, standing in the foreground waiting for the sign.  

He joins the ranks of players from the Dominican Republic, boasting probably more professional baseball players per capita than any place on earth.  We’ve truly, rightfully assimilated the best of the best on the field.  We just need to do so as a nation of citizens.

I was looking forward to seeing him pitch; a highly touted, skinny 6’4” ballplayer who can routinely throw in the high 90s.  His young, 21 year-old body still has time to fill out and will make him even more formidable.   During his last start he had struck out 13 and now has more than 20 scoreless innings to go along with his 1.50 ERA.  While he pitched well for 2 innings (scoreless, and 2 K’s), apparently he had a fingernail problem and had to leave the game.  But one sees how he gets his speed from his whip like delivery.  Edward Cabrera is a player to watch for MLB action, or at least moving up a notch in the minors this year.

He was replaced by Daniel Castano, a lefty who caught my fancy, my being a lefty with baseball dreams which never went beyond my teenage years.  When the Miami Marlins traded away Marcell Ozuna, they got three highly ranked minor leaguers and sort of as an afterthought the left-handed pitcher Castano was thrown in.  He’s labored in the minors but has good control.  His low base on ball to strike out ratio is an attribute of a more mature pitcher.

In five innings he allowed five hits and four runs, although two were unearned, and he struck out five. His ERA is still around 4.00, but his mechanics were powerful, mustering up speed and good breaking stuff.  He was at the low end of the draft (picked in the 19th round) and he is one of the “old guys” on the team at the age of 25.  He’s listed at 6’4” but seems smaller as at 230 lbs he is stocky.  Somehow I think this guy has some chance of making the majors.  Here he is in action:

But that is not the end of the multicultural story.  The shortstop Jose Devers, only 19 years old, is another Dominican.  Disappointingly, my New York Yankees traded him to the Marlins.  He is now one of the high ranking shortstops in the minors, hitting around .370.  If the name sounds familiar, he’s the cousin of Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers.  How cool would that have been if the NYY held on to him for the Sox / NYY rivalry?  During Wednesday night’s game he went 2 for 4. 

Also on the team is the highly touted 22 year old Cuban Victor Victor Mesa who the Marlins signed for about $5 million, along with his 17-year-old brother, Victor Mesa, Jr. for $1 million. To my knowledge, the latter is yet to play minor league ball, but his older brother looks like he has the right stuff.  They’re sons of the famous Cuban baseball player – you guessed the name, Victor Mesa.  Here’s Victor Victor at bat:

Finally that game was the first rehab assignment for one of the Marlin’s regulars, Garrett Cooper, who unfortunately made a bush league error playing left field and seemed to have difficulty getting back into the grove, but the last I looked he was batting over .500 so I can only assume he’ll be joining the parent club soon.

It was one of those special Florida nights, a cool breeze and on the field the kind of multiculturalism which is to be embraced, not feared.