Monday, August 16, 2010

Rekindling Passion On The Field

The African Queen and I had a conversation recently with Laurie & Ed that sit a few rows from us in Section 218 at Nationals Park. With the trading deadline approaching, the discussion revolved around how these days in baseball you many times have to root as a fan for the team and not the individuals on the roster--because the players can come and go so quickly. The loyalty aspect always comes into question when deciding to follow players on your favorite team's roster. True long-term contracts are getting rarer, most players work on one to two year deals and many team's don't want to shell out guaranteed cash over multiple seasons to aging veteran players. There is little long-term commitment, either way. But from the fans perspective, the loyalty rarely changes. The passion is always there, so is the commitment. It's uncommon for fans to switch allegiances so quickly, or so often, if at all. In many respects as a fan, it is a life-time contract.

That being said because new MLB Network Analyst Eric Brynes drove this point home precisely in the aftermath of the St.Louis Cardinals/Cincinnati Reds brawl last Tuesday night in Cincinnati. Speaking on the MLB Network, Brynes stated the melee did more good for baseball than anyone first realized and this is why:

“In this day and age, there is not a ton of loyalty from players to teams, and teams to players. You don’t get that real good sense of camaraderie amongst teammates. I promise you it’s not really their choice, but it’s really special when you have it. This is a type of thing that brings teams together--that jells teams. That all of a sudden, says: ‘OK, we (the players) have the same passion as our fan base. And it was great to see that when Brandon Phillips stepped to the plate (in the bottom of the 1st inning) the Cincinnati fans gave him a standing ovation--right before this melee ensued.”

We are not sanctioning fighting in any way, but that's a great quote from Eric Byrnes. This past saturday afternoon, Nats320 asked Our Washington Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman and two of his players that have played for several franchises--Michael Morse and Kevin Mench--their thoughts on Byrnes' commentary on the brawl.

Jim Riggleman: “I think there is a lot of truth to that. And the reason for it is there is so much player movement. Back in the days of even the 70’s and early 80’s, you pretty much knew who was going to be on each team every year. Now, there is so much player movement those guys on the opposing team you know a whole lot better than the guys on your own team. Unfortunately, you don’t want to see something like a brawl to bring a team together, but it can do that. It can unite a group. And I think The Cardinals are probably going to reap the benefits of that brawl. The comments that were made that led up to it. The results of the brawl itself has really united that group.”

"With The Cubs (in the late 90's), we had a pretty tight knit group. We had a couple of brawls, one against The Mets that was pretty violent. But it does bring guys together. But that group was together anyway as I am sure that Cardinals group is together anyway. Sometimes you do hear comments from players. When I was with Seattle, one time we had a brawl. Afterwards, a couple of the players were saying: ‘Yeah, that’s what we needed. That’s going to bring us together more.’ So, I think it’s definitely something that is tangible, something the players feel."

"We certainly don’t have any issues on our ballclub from a negative side (today). But as you see this team--eventually there will be Ramos here, another young player. You'll see Desmond, you'll see Bernadina and you will see Strasburg and Storen--and for these guys, if they can stay together and grow together, I think you will see, very much, a good chemistry ball club. A united group with passion."

Michael Morse: “I think if you look back, I think it was the 1984 Padres. They had a huge brawl (with Atlanta) and they ended up winning their division (and played in their 1st World Series). But I think he (Byrnes) is right on some points because when you get in a situation like that where another team and other players, even if they are your friends, and come over, start talking, yelling or screaming--or even wanting to fight one of your teammates--your reaction is to protect them. Not only do your coaches see that, your other teammates see that, and it makes you even closer as a team."

"You have to remember, I have been with these guys since April and I have seen them every single day. And a lot of these guys are married and I’ve seen them more than their wives are going to see them this year (funny and true). So, if a guy on that other team, say a guy I know, wants to charge the mound to get to John Lannan--John is like family to me. I am going to protect him no matter what. Even if that guy is my friend (the instigator), you know what? Call me later after the game, maybe I will apologize? But you better understand you are messing with my family now and I might not forgive you.”

And finally: Kevin Mench: “He’s right in what he says. Sometimes you need a little spark. The St. Louis players are going to use it as ammo to get themselves into a mindset that even though they may already be focused--it will give them that little bit of edge--even more of a focus. You saw how all the fans in St. Louis handled it. They gave Yadier Molina a standing ovation when he came out. He (Molina) did the right thing as well. If someone is going to talk bad about you, you are just not going to go up to them and be friends with him? Are you?"

"No. And I’m not either. That’s just a part of the business. All teams need it. It just depends if it’s done at the right time. You see this a lot in hockey. Something happens, a team isn’t scoring a bunch of goals--you send out a guy to throw a big hit on an opponent or start a fight--and the next thing you know things turn around and you are back on track and on your way. Who knows how far it can carry you?"

"Now, I haven’t played on the same team with Adam Dunn until now, but I’ve played against him for a while and I’ve known Adam Dunn for a while, but I will protect him because he is my teammate now. You build relationships that way and just by playing against guys from your hometown or someone else along those lines. I’m from Delaware, there are not many of us (in the Big Leagues). To see that other guy here makes it all feel like family. And remember, families have fights all the time. But fortunately, most times it is for the good of things. Sometimes they need it. Even in and amongst teammates, you will see some fights some times. Maybe that’s just what they need to get over the top---a good kick in the ass."

Riggleman, Morse and Mench agreed with the premise of Eric Byrnes thoughts. Baseball can use a little more passion, and not from its fans, but the players themselves--toward the very teams and cities they play and represent. Good for them in saying so. Hopefully, something good will come out of that unfortunate brawl in Cincinnati last week for baseball as well. There is little in American Sport better than watching a full fledged baseball pennant race, especially one with some edge, when the rekindled passion on the field is being displayed openly on the players' uniform sleeves. That's the type of stuff that brings baseball fans back to any ballpark-wanting to see more and more--again and again.

Brawl Photos--Tom Uhlman (AP)
Picture Taken Of Air Of MLB Network

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