Gone with the wind? Someone do something about the heat

aliATLANTA – The first thing one notices about Atlanta are the trees. They’re everywhere. In fact, from a certain vantage point the landscape is shrouded with green as far as the eye can see. They weave in and out of the office buildings, too, which is quite something. How many urban centers have this many trees?

And we aren’t just talking about the fact that every other road is called Peachtree. Apparently when the city was rebuilt after Sherman’s march to the sea, they planted tons and tons of trees and ran out of ideas for street names.

There are worse things one can say about a city, I suppose. I haven’t checked out the crime statistics or the murder rate or anything like that. However, it’s interesting to note that even though Georgia is a profoundly deep Red State, its biggest city’s most well known citizens in recent history are so-called “liberals.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., former president Jimmy Carter, Ted Turner and Andrew Young looked at things differently than the consensus in these parts, yet still have streets and buildings named after them.

Go figure.

A couple of those buildings (and streets) I will get to see during my visit here to catch the Phillies play the Braves. Strangely, the Phillies are in Atlanta for the first time this season even though the Braves have been to Philadelphia twice. That means the Phillies have two more trips here during a stage of the season where things really get tight, the games take on added significance and the weather is much more hotter than it is now.

It gets really freaking hot down here. Hotlanta? More like Humidapolis.

Anyway, at Turner Field yesterday the first thing I wanted to see was the configuration of the playing field. After all, the ballpark was originally built to be the Olympic Stadium for the centennial games back in 1996. All of the track and field games were held at what is now Turner Field as well as the finish for the marathons and the opening and closing ceremonies.

Turner Field is where Muhammad Ali, clad in white, dramatically and unforgettably appeared out of nowhere with an Olympic torch in his hands and lit the cauldron. Now I’m not one who gets all choked up or overly-sentimental at sporting events – that’s just not how I am, because it’s just a game – but imaging Ali atop that ramp that hot summer night still gives me chills.

Now I’m a track geek. More specifically, I am a distance running nerd. Between watching lots of baseball and distance running I’m a hoot at parties. Woo-hoo!

So it was with great interest that I attempted to see if there were any relics or pieces of the Olympics in ’96 still within the playing surface at Turner Field. For instance, the track was said to be notoriously hard, which led to blistering times in a bunch of the running events. Like, it was during those games where Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia beat Paul Tergat of Kenya in the 10,000-meter dream race where Geb solidified his legend with an Olympic record and a dramatic victory.

Standing in the visiting team’s dugout I looked out at the field and thought, “This is where Bob Kennedy tried to steal the 5,000-meter finals when he brazenly surged to the lead at the top of the curve of the last lap. It was a move that was so daring and unexpected that I shrieked (not smart since the race wasn’t aired until nearly midnight and woke up the entire house) and thought of what a bad-ass Kennedy was even though he faded to sixth place.

That was how Prefontaine must have done it, I thought.

The lasting image of those games, though (aside from Ali), was Michael Johnson coming off the curve in the 200-meter finals. Clad in those gold Nikes, Johnson was moving so fast that it seemed as if Johnson was going to burst onto flame or take off like a rocket ship into the soupy, humid air.

How can anyone forget the shock on Johnson’s face when he turned around to see the clock and saw that he had just moved faster than any human being on two feet? Remembering Johnson’s reaction as well as the reaction of everyone else in the stadium is part of the reason why Usain Bolt’s record-breaking 200-meters victory in last summer’s Beijing Games was so amazing. No one thought Johnson’s record would ever be broken, or no one thought it would ever been broken after just 12 years.

fulton_countyRegardless, if it were up to me, I’d have plaques placed on the spot where all of those memorable events occurred. Certainly the Braves have done a nice job preserving old Fulton County Stadium by keeping some of the outfield fence as a relic in the parking lot beyond the gates of the “new” place. It was in the so called “Launching Pad,” where Chief Noc-A-Homa stood guard and Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record in 1974.

Anyway, we’ll be back at Turner Field tonight to see how the Phillies respond to last night’s extra-inning loss. And for the record, the warning track that rings the playing surface is very hard… no plaques though.

Gone with the wind? Someone do something about the heat

image from fingerfood.typepad.com ATLANTA – The first thing one notices about Atlanta are the trees. They’re everywhere. In fact, from a certain vantage point the landscape is shrouded with green as far as the eye can see. They weave in and out of the office buildings, too, which is quite something. How many urban centers have this many trees?

And we aren’t just talking about the fact that every other road is called Peachtree. Apparently when the city was rebuilt after Sherman’s march to the sea, they planted tons and tons of trees and ran out of ideas for street names.

There are worse things one can say about a city, I suppose. I haven’t checked out the crime statistics or the murder rate or anything like that. However, it’s interesting to note that even though Georgia is a profoundly deep Red State, its biggest city’s most well known citizens in recent history are so-called “liberals.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., former president Jimmy Carter, Ted Turner and Andrew Young looked at things differently than the consensus in these parts, yet still have streets and buildings named after them.

Go figure.

A couple of those buildings (and streets) I will get to see during my visit here to catch the Phillies play the Braves. Strangely, the Phillies are in Atlanta for the first time this season even though the Braves have been to Philadelphia twice. That means the Phillies have two more trips here during a stage of the season where things really get tight, the games take on added significance and the weather is much more hotter than it is now.

It gets really freaking hot down here. Hotlanta? More like Humidapolis.

Anyway, at Turner Field yesterday the first thing I wanted to see was the configuration of the playing field. After all, the ballpark was originally built to be the Olympic Stadium for the centennial games back in 1996. All of the track and field games were held at what is now Turner Field as well as the finish for the marathons and the opening and closing ceremonies.

Turner Field is where Muhammad Ali, clad in white, dramatically and unforgettably appeared out of nowhere with an Olympic torch in his hands and lit the cauldron. Now I’m not one who gets all choked up or overly-sentimental at sporting events – that’s just not how I am, because it’s just a game – but imaging Ali atop that ramp that hot summer night still gives me chills.

Now I’m a track geek. More specifically, I am a distance running nerd. Between watching lots of baseball and distance running I’m a hoot at parties. Woo-hoo!

So it was with great interest that I attempted to see if there were any relics or pieces of the Olympics in ’96 still within the playing surface at Turner Field. For instance, the track was said to be notoriously hard, which led to blistering times in a bunch of the running events. Like, it was during those games where Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia beat Paul Tergat of Kenya in the 10,000-meter dream race where Geb solidified his legend with an Olympic record and a dramatic victory.

Standing in the visiting team’s dugout I looked out at the field and thought, “This is where Bob Kennedy tried to steal the 5,000-meter finals when he brazenly surged to the lead at the top of the curve of the last lap. It was a move that was so daring and unexpected that I shrieked (not smart since the race wasn’t aired until nearly midnight and woke up the entire house) and thought of what a bad-ass Kennedy was even though he faded to sixth place.

That was how Prefontaine must have done it, I thought.

The lasting image of those games, though (aside from Ali), was Michael Johnson coming off the curve in the 200-meter finals. Clad in those gold Nikes, Johnson was moving so fast that it seemed as if Johnson was going to burst onto flame or take off like a rocket ship into the soupy, humid air.

How can anyone forget the shock on Johnson’s face when he turned around to see the clock and saw that he had just moved faster than any human being on two feet? Remembering Johnson’s reaction as well as the reaction of everyone else in the stadium is part of the reason why Usain Bolt’s record-breaking 200-meters victory in last summer’s Beijing Games was so amazing. No one thought Johnson’s record would ever be broken, or no one thought it would ever been broken after just 12 years.

image from fingerfood.typepad.com Regardless, if it were up to me, I’d have plaques placed on the spot where all of those memorable events occurred. Certainly the Braves have done a nice job preserving old Fulton County Stadium by keeping some of the outfield fence as a relic in the parking lot beyond the gates of the “new” place. It was in the so called “Launching Pad,” where Chief Noc-A-Homa stood guard and Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record in 1974.

Anyway, we’ll be back at Turner Field tonight to see how the Phillies respond to last night’s extra-inning loss. And for the record, the warning track that rings the playing surface is very hard… no plaques though.

Ol’ Man Moyer keeps getting outs

One of the true pleasures of watching baseball is pitchers like Jamie Moyer. With a fastball that could barely scuff a pane glass window and a repertoire that includes a changeup that he throws off his change and a decent curve, Moyer gets by more on smarts and guile than his arsenal of pitches.

Besides, who doesn’t like a guy that when watching at home one thinks, “Man, I bet I could hit those pitches… ”

Well, no. No you can’t.

What’s interesting is reading quotes from players like Aaron Boone, who, for the life of him, just can’t figure out Moyer. Yeah, he knows what’s coming and he knows when it’s coming, yet he still can’t hit it.

“It seems like you should be killing him,” Boone, of the Marlins told Todd Zolecki after yesterday’s loss to the Phillies at the Bank. “I haven’t been able to figure it out yet. He’s great at what he does.”

He added: “He’s different from everybody, even guys I’m used to facing in the AL Central like [Mark] Buehrle and Kenny Rogers. Moyer, I’ve faced him a fair amount now and haven’t had much success. Today was actually the best I thought he’s pitched. However many pitches I saw against him, I didn’t feel like he made a mistake.”

It seems as if that’s the key – Moyer just doesn’t make many mistakes. It’s more than trying to time an 81 m.p.h. fastball, too. After all, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux are two other pitchers that don’t throw too fast, either, and both of those 40-something pitchers are heading to the Hall of Fame when (and if) they retire.

For Moyer to last as long as he has in the big leagues is telling enough. After all, he started pitching in the Majors when Ronald Reagan was still president. But just hanging around isn’t much of an accomplishment for Moyer. No, Moyer, as John Updike wrote about Charlie Manuel’s hero, Ted Williams is “the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill.”

It might not be anything as pomp as that, but having had the chance to talk to Moyer following his unspectacular but solid start against the Washington Nationals earlier last week, Moyer explained why he was disappointed about his starts despite the above-average stats.

“I’ve been struggling for three starts,” he said. “I’m not really concerned about my numbers, but I’m searching for consistency and I don’t feel as if I’ve been consistent. I haven’t found the consistency that I’m looking for. But, to be able to keep us in the game, I’m happy for that. I don’t feel as though I’m as sharp as I want to be, but I’m still able to keep it within reach.”

When I threw some of his numbers at him to argue a point about his production, Moyer said that the stats don’t really matter.

“You’re looking at numbers and I’m looking at what I’m trying to accomplish and create and it’s not there,” Moyer said.

To me, that’s a very striking statement. It doesn’t look like much sitting there in black and white on the page, but it really is quite telling. In a sense it was Moyer saying don’t let the statistics fool you because they really aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

He’s definitely correct about that, and if you can excuse some self-indulgence I’ll try to explain the genius of Jamie Moyer.

Last November I ran a marathon in Harrisburg, Pa. where I was in shape to run in 2:36 to 2:45. At least that’s what all of the indications were based on workouts, races, age and other scientific formulas. But when the day of the race came the weather was less than conducive for those types of times. It rained steadily the entire day, there were puddles and standing water dotting the course and the wind whipped off the Susquehanna River directly into our faces for at least 14 miles of the race.

In the end, I finished in 2:54, which is respectable, but disappointing. However, over the last 5 to 6 miles of the race I ran as strong and tough as I ever had. Over that span I went from 12th to 6th place and felt strong in the knowledge that if the race was just a half-mile longer I could have jumped up a few spots in the final standings.

The point is that despite those closing miles where toughness and the hard work paid off, I still felt compelled to explain away my “poor” time. Jamie Moyer, in discussing his pitching – his art – understands the triteness of the statistics. Successful pitching in the big leagues is about so much more that even the most self-absorbed distance runner would ever understand.

In other words, I’m an idiot.

Still, Moyer’s statistics from yesterday’s gem against the Florida Marlins do tell the story about his outing. Two hits and two walks over 7 1/3 innings, including taking a no-hitter to the second out of the seventh inning – that’s hard to downplay.

Regardless, Moyer was upset about falling behind in the count early. Because he fell behind, 3-1, to Miguel Cabrera, he couldn’t escape the inning with the no-hitter intact.

“I was a little upset with myself for going from 2-1 to 3-1,” he said. “If I could have gone to 2-2, I think that at-bat, I’m not going to say the outcome would have been different, but my pitch selection would have been different.

“It’s a pitch I wanted to make. He popped up that same pitch in the first inning. I know he’s an out-over-the-plate hitter, and I’ve gotten him out over the plate. But I’m thinking that he’s looking over the plate here, and I wanted to see if I could get him to pop it up or even take it.”

Moyer pitches again on Friday night in San Francisco. Watching him go up against lefty Barry Bonds should be pretty interesting.

***
The Phillies play the first of three games in Atlanta tonight, which forced me to dig this up from last season:

Ten years already!?
Watching a game from Turner Field makes me think about the summer of ’96 when Atlanta was the home for the Olympics and the Braves’ field was configured quite differently. These days, it’s a typical nouveau ballpark that have popped up in nearly every American city, only Turner Field, nee Olympic Stadium, plays slightly in favor of the pitchers.

Since the Braves bread-and-butter has always been their pitching prowess, it makes sense that the stadium developers would skew things that way. It also gets very hot and humid during the summertime in Atlanta, which often causes the baseball the sail a little farther. They didn’t nickname the Braves old stadium the Launching Pad because it was kitschy.

Anyway, I always have to remind myself that some of the most memorable sporting events that I have ever seen occurred in that stadium during that summer 10 years ago. I’ll never forget Muhammad Ali, dressed in white, dramatically appear out of nowhere to light the Olympic torch. Now I’m not one who gets all choked up or overly-sentimental at sporting events – that’s just not how I am, because it’s just a game – but imaging Ali atop that ramp that hot summer night still gives me chills.

Along with baseball, track, specifically the distance events, is my favorite sport to watch. Most people would call these two sports among the most dull to watch, but I can’t really think of anything more interesting. Needless to say, the track events at the Olympics are about as exciting as sports spectating gets.

Call me crazy.

Anyway, the track events on that famously hard track that ringed Turner Field produced some events that running geeks still talk about. Like, for instance, when American Bob Kennedy brazenly surged to the lead at the top of the curve of the last lap in the 5,000-meter finals. It was a move that was so daring and unexpected that I shrieked (not smart since the race wasn’t aired until nearly midnight and woke up the entire house) and thought of what a bad-ass Kennedy was even though he faded to sixth place.

That was how Prefontaine must have done it, I thought.

Along that outfield warning track is also where Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia beat Paul Tergat of Kenya in the 10,000-meter dream race where Geb solidified his legend with an Olympic record. The two will meet up again in the London Marathon next weekend in possibly the greatest collection of marathoners ever, but more on that at a later date.

But the image that really sticks in my mind is Michael Johnson coming off the curve in the 200-meter finals so fast that either his gold shoes were going to burst into flames or he was going to soar into the humid sky. How can anyone forget the shock on Johnson’s face when he turned around to see the clock and saw that he had just moved faster than any human being on two feet?

If it were up to me, I’d have plaques placed on the spot where all of those memorable events occurred.

Linkage: Ten years already!?