Wow already itís the All-Star break! Iím not a terribly big fan of the game itself, but traditionally itís a great time to assess the season at the functional mid-point. Have there been surprises? Of course, there always are. Have there been disappointments? Of course, there always are. Are we having fun in the 2011 season? Of course we are!
Not entirely, of course. Letís take note of the tragic accident at Texas Rangersí Ballpark at Arlington on Thursday night when AL MVP Josh Hamilton, in an effort to please a young fan, threw a baseball into the stands and Shannon Stone, a 40-year firefighter, fell out of the stands reaching for it and died an hour later. His six-year-old son goes to a ballgame with his dad and goes home alone. MLB, the Rangers and the hapless Hamilton have all conveyed their condolences to the Stone family; I hope to read an announcement that the boyís future education is being guaranteed by the Rangers; and frankly I wonder that since the Ballpark also experienced a similar tragedy the first year it was open in 1994 why nothing was done to change the configuration and prevent another death. Letís hope this time the team and whatever authority runs the park does something to fix the problem that has cost two fans their lives.
Moving past the sad news, letís just say that so far the expected World Series collision between the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies still appears to be on track; the reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants figure to have a big say in whether that eventuality does in fact come to pass, and the omnipresent New York Yankees are also almost guaranteed a role. We still have three monthsí of championship remaining, but so far those teams at least have played true to form and generally up to expectations.
At the seasonís outset I wrote that it would be great if the fans of Pittsburgh and Kansas City, two proud franchises that have been slogging through the slough of despond for the past two decades, finally arose to at least respectability and gave their fans something to cheer. As it happens, I was at a family wedding last weekend and I met my sister-in-lawís brother, a man my age. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA and while he lives in Dayton, OH today he is still a big Pirates fan. I commended him for his loyalty and noted that a lot of Pittsburghers Iíd met recently claimed to be Yankees fans. We expressed mutual disgust at such behavior, and he remarked on how this year the Pirates were playing good baseball and seemed to have a modicum of talent. We reminisced about some of the great Buccaneer teams of the past (Sport Illustrated last week remembered the 1971 World Series Champions) and how Three Rivers Stadium is one of the great ballparks in the Major Leagues. The Pirates as of today are four games over .500 and find themselves only a game behind the NL Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers, tied with the fortitudinous St. Louis Cardinals who have withstood injury and deprivation. Whether or not the Pirates can remain a factor in the race remains to be seen, but for now, huzzah for Pittsburgh!