Chew on this
Did you hear the one about the Cubs leaving Wrigley Field? That's not a joke actually, at least according to their owner, Tom Ricketts, who threatened to leave the storied ballpark should the Cubs not gain government approval for the proposed $300m renovation, one which he is paying for privately. It's a bizarre statement considering the cooperation the city and the Cubs seemed to be enjoying in negotiating the scope of work in and around the 99-year-old iconic park. It includes an enormous scoreboard that would dominate left field and additional signage in right field. According to the Cubs, the 6000 square foot screen would allow the Cubs to earn tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue. It could also block the view of fans watching their Cubbies from on the rooftops overlooking the old park. Owners of the buildings that host fans have a deal with the team to provide them with 17% of their revenue - blocking that vista could result in lawsuits.
"All we really need is to be able to run our business like a business and not a museum."
He's half right, it's a business, a business that's as good as it is today precisely because it's a museum, a beautiful, one-of-a-kind baseball museum.
Ricketts is doing a public service by keeping the people out of these costly renovations, but the museum comment is a bit inflammatory and thus leads to this follow up question for Chicago's owner - if Wrigley Field wasn't a museum, do you think anyone would turn up to watch the misery that has been Cubs baseball for a significant portion of the 100 plus years they've been seeking a World Series title? Do you think they would draw as well as they would if they played in some corporate pseudo-throwback shopping mall in Rosemont, the town that has offered the Cubs enough free land to house as big a scoreboard as needed? Those loveable losers lost 101 games last season, and yet, they still drew over 2.8m fans. The Astros lost 107 games and couldn't even fill up half their park. Now, why do you think that is? I don't have an Elias supercomputer at my fingertips, but if I did, I would be willing to gamble that it would reveal that 2.8m in attendance is either a record for teams that have lost 100 games, or pretty close to it.
That Ricketts is willing to shoulder the $300m costs of the renovation and an additional $200m for around the ballpark is a tremendous story considering the way most owners have fleeced taxpayers for stadium upgrades over the last 20 years (*see Miami), and Ricketts should be celebrated for that. However, he shouldn't lose sight of the secret to the Cubs' charming existence - it's the field, stupid.
A National scare
Washington have endured a difficult start to their 2013 season, and for a period on Monday night, it looked to be getting worse, a lot worse. Stephen Strasburg spooked Nats fans as they watched the team ace pitch in Atlanta - the 24-year-old pitcher who was shut down in September of last season in an attempt to protect his long term health was on the mound, shaking out his arm, struggling with his control. In the end he gave up just two runs in six innings, striking out eight, walking four in a no-decision that extended his winless streak to five, but his body language was of much greater concern than his line. After the game, Strasburg said he wouldn't miss a start, while Davey Johnson looked like he'd seen a ghost.
As it happens, Strasburg seems to be just fine, physically that is. It's the tightness of his personality that may be more of a detriment to the pitcher in the long term, which is one reason why skipper Johnson has urged his ace to chill out a bit:
"I just wish he would get to the point where he doesn't put so many high demands on himself. That he just goes out and has a little more fun. That may take a while."
More revealing was Johnson saying "He's awfully good. If he didn't have this kind of media coverage he would be better off."
Maybe, but the press aren't going away anytime soon, and when the hurler walks away from reporters muttering "what a joke", as he did on Monday, it's not a good sign.
Neither was the wince on the face of Bryce Harper, Washington's other franchise piece, who grimaced after a check swing on Wednesday night against the Braves. Harper finished the at-bat, grounding out, but was pulled from the game. Luckily for the struggling Nats, the pain was not coming from a dreaded lat, but rather, pain left over from a bruise he suffered a night earlier. Once again, Washington, the team that finished with a losing April had bitten the bullet, and were able to win their first game in May to boot - a 2-0 victory over first place Atlanta. Perhaps a flip of the calendar is just what the Nationals need to get their season going.
The Yankees didn't have the money to meet Russell Martin's financial demands but the Pittsburgh Pirates did. Talk about role reversals, usually the road leads out of Western Pennsylvania to bigger and brighter destinations, but not with Martin, whose departure left the suddenly pauper-like Yankees without a number one catcher. Not that Martin was something to be excited about for Bucs fans - we're talking about a bat that hit .211, even if he did manage 21 homers. Today, Martin is an unlikely spark plug in the Bucs lineup, one that helped Pittsburgh recover from a 1-5 start to climb to within a half game in the bumper-to-bumper NL Central division despite dropping two of three to first place Milwaukee. The catcher who grew up in Montreal has an OPS of over .900, by far a career high, and was just named National League Player of the Week thanks to a .958 slugging percentage and 23 total bases. It's hard to believe, especially for a fan base that was confused (a polite way of describing it) by the two-year $17m deal he was signed to, but Martin is Pittsburgh's April MVP, if there is such a thing. If you don't buy such a notion just consider that defensively, Martin has also managed to go from throwing out just six percent of base runners in 2012 to 38 percent this time around. Most importantly, Martin is a believer that his Buccos are a capable group that can do more than just eclipsing .500 for the first time in 20 years.
We have power, we play good defense and the key is to be consistent and do it every day and we've been doing it every day...The key is to just keep on doing what we're doing right now.
Visit a ballpark on any given night and there's a good chance you'll see at least one home run. Heading into Tuesday's play, Major League Baseball was averaging just under a dinger a game, or 0.97 to be exact, a paltry number that was knocked way out of the park as stadiums around North America became full fledged launch pads that night. Hitters piled up no fewer than 50 round trippers, or an average of 3.33 a game, more than three times the norm. Cleveland had seven of the nine home runs in their game against Philadelphia, one in which the Tribe's Ryan Rayburn hit a pair of long balls, bringing his two day (and season) total to four. Edwin Encarnacion also had two shots for the Blue Jays against the Red Sox, including this one to the upper reaches of the Rogers Centre, a place where Manny Ramirez once visited in 2001.
Encarnacion is tied for the American League lead with Chris Davis of the Orioles and Mike Morse of Seattle who have all hit nine homers. On baseball's big bopping night, Justin Upton was actually held in the park, a rarity these days with the newly acquired Braves slugger leading the NL with 12 homers. Hanley Ramirez, on his bobblehead giveaway night, did have a big fly however, as his Dodgers beat the Rockies with the help of his first tater since his fast track return from thumb surgery. Only one game failed to yield a home run - the Mets and Marlins, who combined to score just three runs on a night where eight teams hit at least three balls into the outfield seats.
No fork in New York
The Yankees finished April with a 16-10 record, two games behind Boston in second place in the AL East, and they have to be absolutely ecstatic. Their injury issues are well documented - Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson were out when the season began, and now Francisco Cervelli, Ivan Nova and the latest, Kevin Youkilis (whose back situation was mismanaged by management) are also on a DL that features $95,590,950 worth of idle Yankees. There are 16 Major League teams that count lower payrolls than the Yanks DL roster, and of those teams, three are either in first place - Atlanta, Kansas City and Colorado - plus Oakland, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Arizona within 2.5 games or less of first. Outside of fun stats like that, the Yankees have to be commended after getting contributions from unlikely sources such as Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells, left for dead by almost everyone except Brian Cashman, combining for 13 homers. Lyle Overbay is playing his usual quality first base and while providing pop, Youkilis and Cervelli made major contributions before going down, and are getting a bit more than the usual from Cano, who is making the most of his contract year, tearing it up and posting a .988 OPS. The pitching hasn't been spectacular, but it has enabled them to hang around with the usual from Andy Pettitte (minus his last start when he was shelled by Houston of all teams), a steadying C.C. Sabathia, the ace-like Hiroki Kuroda, and Mariano being Mariano. The back of the rotation needs some help and David Robertson hasn't been quite up to speed, but they're more than hanging around - New York are tied for the third best record in baseball. Let's see how they hold up with three at home to Oakland before heading out on a long trip to Colorado, Kansas City and Cleveland.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk