Middle of the Road

The start of the baseball season is always something that washes over me and encompasses the air that I breath. No one notes this more then my wife and as the month closes I know one thing it’s not just baseball that makes this month fly by. It’s NHL playoffs, Strat-o-matic and the fact that the rainforest I live in actually starts to allow the locals to spend some time outside underneath the seldom seen sun.

With all that in mind I found myself pondering several things as the month closes and the Reds sit at the 25 game mark of the season one game under .500 at 12-13. Oddly enough many (including me) spend time trolling the teams stats and the runs allowed/scored, box scores etc… all looking for something that tells us about our team, their team or the game, it’s a natural thing to ponder with 15% of the season gone. But will it give us a true reading of what’s going to happen? I used to think so, sure we see patterns, we see guys fail, but we also at this point have only seen the Reds play 8 teams out of the 15 in the league, 76% of those games have been against fellow NL Central foes, the run differential in that case stands at 94 – 85 and the record is 10-9. In that time the Reds have scored 5 runs 12 times, the opponents 11 times. Against the division the Reds are 5-5 at home and 5-4 on the road. If the Reds April had to a symbol that was to represent its output then I would like to nominate this man as the months mascot.

Well it could be worse, it could have been this guy

The Baseball Magazine is an institution devoted to athletic sport. It has taken a keen interest in the progress of hockey. Under its direct supervision a large amount of preliminary work has been done preparatory to the establishment of a permanent hockey organization in the United States.

F.C. Lane

Hockey – Winters Baseball 1911- Baseball Magazine

As I mentioned prior as a television viewer I‘m currently knee deep in the NHL playoffs as well as the young baseball season, and it’s juggling these two sports that I do a lot of pondering about the nature of both games makeup. I’m not a basketball or football fan, I do know the teams and players here and there but I don’t follow the games nor the ebbs and flows of their respective seasons. Instead I spend my winters (and springs) watching hockey, which is a game that like the aforementioned sports is a back and forth sport, a sport designed with two teams with equal sides taking on the other team in an attempt to score a point(s). Rules of course vary, as do the tools of the trade and surface and area of play.

Hockey of course is played on ice, and growing up in Michigan it was something we all seemed to spend a lot of time doing when we weren’t playing baseball, Like baseball it’s a game of matchups and one on one performances. Both speed and power are rewarded in the games as well as intelligence and grace. Like baseball hockey is a game that relies on hand eye coordination as the basis for using the equipment that generates the games offense, and like baseball in hockey we find that one player stands out amongst all the others and he is not there to generate offense, he is there to limit it to the best of his abilities, on the ice this players is the kindred spirit of the baseball pitcher, he is a man who hold the teams destiny in the palms of his hands.

This of course is the goalie.

It’s the goalie that the center of the game spins around. Like the pitcher he is an icon of solidarity, unlike his fellow players and not expected to contribute to the offense, instead he is suppose to be the backbone of the defense, and should be seeing the game in a different manner then the rest of teammates. It is he who often sets the tempo of the game, driving the flow into a pattern that allows the player to use his best and most resourceful talents. Like the pitcher the goalie sits separate from most of his teammates, he undergoes different training practices, has his own special coach and often spends time speaking about the mental state of the game as much as the rigors of the strict mechanics that they adhere to survive in the game. Goalie coaches are similar to pitching coaches achieving cult status and creating styles that are taught in rinks and on ponds across the globe.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and in my eyes the flopping of the Hasek impersonator is as equal to the kid in Centerville who mocks Bronson Arroyo’s high leg kick. It’s in the flashy play of goalies and to a lesser extent pitchers that often cause us to marvel at them later in the game as the stand alone in their designed spot, separate from the rest of the team as the play develops elsewhere on the field of play. Also lending to their solidarity is the fact that the pitcher and the goalie both guard a little spot on the field that is their own, a spot that only they can fully use in the capacity that it was created for in the rules of the game. The goalies crease is the mound of the ice, an area that the goalie does his magic in, like the pitcher he grooms the area prior to play, he lobs his tools of the trade aside to get a drink much like the pitcher grabs at the rosin bag in an attempt to gain composure.

Both the goalie and the pitcher are marked statistically by the time they put into the contest and the amount of points (or runs) they allow the opposition to succeed in obtaining. Prone to streaks and years of stellar play followed by mechanical breakdowns the pitchers and the goalies of the world know of each others fears of failing underneath the microscope and the spotlight that their chosen profession has thrust upon them. Each is known to occasionally be a fish out of water in game situations, this is best exemplified by the site of a pitcher sliding or a goalie fighting another goalie mano mano in the corner of the rink while 15 thousand fans scream for more. In hockey it’s the playmaker and scorer who hear the largest roars and get the largest byline, but it’s the goalie and the pitcher that mystifies those who watch the game, for in their hands so many facets of the games actions are controlled and it’s a factor that only bad teams ignore.

As the playoffs continue more games will be stolen by the goalie, just as more baseball playoff games are stolen by superb pitching performances, and nothing will be as lonely as the man standing in front of the losing net at the end, chances are that he; like the losing pitcher he will move alone towards his teams bench, head down, despair on his face… alone.

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