As I sat on the sofa yesterday evening, watching with surprisingly increased curiosity as the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers faced off to open the National League Championship Series, I couldn’t help but harken back to a youth dominated by the joy of baseball card collecting. Indeed, I like to think that the same innocent and magical fascination (if not outright obsession) that used to permeate card collecting is alive and well within me through my recent (relatively speaking) appreciation and devotion to all things horse racing.
This isn’t the first time we’ve referenced baseball cards here, as you may recall, and I must confess immediately that part of the inspiration for this post is the wonderfully written baseball card blog known as “Cardboard Gods” from author Josh Wilker.
My card collecting began in earnest, likely following the actions of my brother who was 2-years my elder. This would have been somewhere around the spring of ’83 when I was a whopping 5-years-old and continued right up into High School in the early-to-mid 90′s. At the time, there were no bigger stars in my life. As I recently revealed to another fan from the same era, I can vividly remember going into the backyard, wiffle ball bat in hand, and attempting to recreate the batting stances of every one of the champion 1983 Baltimore Orioles. Dan “Disco” Ford (pictured at the top of this post as a member of the 1980 California Angels), John “T-Bone” Shelby, Eddie Murray, and of course Ripken. In fact, I like to blame my infatuation with the awkward batting stance of Dan “Disco” Ford for my rather paltry batting average through my first several years in Little League ball, until I began copying the stances of Randy Milligan and Cal Ripken, but I digress.
At some point along the way though, three things happened. First was a growing infatuation with football – an infatuation that continues to this day (as any who are unfortunate to have to listen to my NFL or fantasy advice are all too familiar with). Next there was a growing dissatisfaction – or perhaps more correctly a disappointment with my human “heroes” for continually letting me down, either through obscene actions, damaging revelations, or for being (or at least seeming to be) cold and distant to their fans. Add to that the “investment” that baseball cards then became – which ruined the fun that they were intended to be and turned them into some sort of perverted adult money-making scheme. Ditto the mega salaries of the players that rose so meteorically and so quickly as to be incomprehensible to my (at the time) young mind. Finally, there was horse racing, and once that came along everything else was swiftly moved to the back pages of my existence.
Now, truth be told, I could see how one might rightly ask “But Kevin, there are shady people in horse racing as well that are difficult to root for” – and indeed this is likely the case wherever our species is involved in competition and money is changing hands – but I remain convinced that for every single headline grabbing character of unflattering qualities in our sport, there are 10 folks working behind the scenes (although perhaps not in the same role) who are genuinely good natured souls and care about nothing more than the care of our equine heroes.
Anyhow, once the “cardboard gods” who I had cherished and adored in my youth slipped into retirement or obscurity, a void was left that needed filling. It seemed difficult at times to find that same level of devoted connection to the next generation of human stars on the baseball diamond. Maybe it was the rising salaries, or the strike shortened seasons? Perhaps in even more simpler terms, it was the painful to watch slide from greatness to awfulness that characterized my beloved Orioles following the 1983 World Series and continues to this day? Whatever it was, the meaning was clear – there was a void in my life that had to be filled by something. Thankfully, in due time I found horse racing (rather than say – methamphetamines), and the rest is history.
Ever since then, it’s brought me a bit of nostalgic joy whenever the opportunity arises to connect the two passions on the bookends of my existence into a continuous stream. Watching the “fighting Phils” walk out of Los Angeles with a crucial game 1 victory, thanks in large part to the Earl Weaver-esque employment of the 3-run-homer (on two occasions), I suddenly remembered that just such an opportunity had indeed presented itself.
Months ago I posted an article suggesting that if we were ready to classify 2009 as the “year of the filly”, by virtue of the exploits of the amazing Rachel Alexandra and the undefeated champion Zenyatta (and others), that it would only be fitting and proper if the Philadelphia Phillies repeated as baseball champs. Since that time the bullpen of the Phillies had gone on life support and it seemed that with every passing day either the Braves, the Marlins, or some combination thereof were gaining on them. In the back of the mind, one couldn’t help but think “if their bullpen plays like this in the post season, they’re bound to get swept in the 1st round!”
Now we find the Phillies preparing for Game 2 with that ever-crucial series lead after 1. How crucial? I believe it was announcer Buck Martinez who opined last night that in the previous 17 NLCS contests (an odd number to begin stat counting from) , that the team who had won the first game advanced to the world series 14 times. Clearly then, the odds are in the Phillies’ favor.
And what of our beloved equine fillies? Well, I’m certain by now (roughly one week later) that we’ve all seen the effortless victory by Zenyatta in the Grade 1 Lady’s Secret at Santa Anita. California’s darling silenced all her critics by once again demonstrating that she is head and shoulders better than anything that has ever met her on the race track. Now the question remains whether she will take on fillies and mares in the Ladies’ Classic, or a showdown with the big boys in the Classic itself. Either way, it’s clear she’ll have a tremendous opportunity in front of her to continue to progress unbeaten through her storied career.
With that in mind, I’d just like to take the opportunity to state once again that the “year of the filly/Phillie” is still alive and well – and the final chapter in this story remains to be written. Ahead on the horizon await the Yankees (presumably, unless the Angels can get some divine intervention) and a potential date with history in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Go, Zenyatta – and go Phils!
Make this the “year of the filly” across multiple sports.
Before we close – I’d also like to point out to readers that Brian A has launched his own horse racing blog here on WordPress. Stop on over and give him some encouragement if you get the chance, as I truly feel his is a voice that needs to be heard. A word about that encouragement though – only show him the whip – don’t actually strike him with it….well, maybe just a few taps for good measure, but I suspect he’ll cruise to acclaim relatively quickly under merely a confident hand ride.
Enjoy the weekend everyone – and best of luck in all of your wagers this weekend. It’s pouring rain here in the Mid Atlantic -which kills my original “get rich quick” scheme this weekend of betting longshots on the Laurel Park turf (has anyone been paying attention to the mutuels in turf races at Laurel? Seems like only a handful of favorites have won all meet and the average win payout has got to be in the double digits). All of this means I’ll likely take it easy this weekend and attempt to save some coin for the Breeders’ Cup.
Oh yes, almost forgot – in closing, and since he has now been found safe and sound, allow me to employ the latest internet meme taking the country by storm (and sounds eerily similar to a familiar horse racing catch phrase) by offering the following piece of commentary on the entire “balloon boy” fiasco that took the news media by storm yesterday afternoon: