Last Tuesday night in the Bronx, Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning with his team trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates by four runs.
It’s the sunset of the regular season in Major League Baseball, so every win matters in the race to clinch a playoff berth and make a run to the World Series.
Leading their division, the Yankees have been struggling of late.
Their form against the Pirates was indicative of a team showing signs of fatigue after another gruelling season. The Pittsburgh game was number 144 of a 160-game schedule, and that’s before the real business starts.
A diamond in the recent rough for the Yankees has been Judge, who was chasing his 60th home run of the regular season as he came to bat, a feat that would see him tie the legendary Babe Ruth and edge closer to Roger Maris’s American League single-season record.
So, phones were at the ready in Yankee stadium as Judge, the famously humble all-rounder in his pinstripe uniform with number 99 on his back, took to the plate to face pitcher Will Crowe.
An early strike only heightened the tension before Judge swung pure and true through Crowe’s fastball, sending a sinker soaring into the left-field bleachers before gently tossing his bat and rounding the bases, almost bowing his head in respect as he passed each one.
Back in the dugout, he reluctantly returned for the crowd’s curtain call, before sliding back to his usual perch amongst his teammates. If Judge was proud of his Ruth-tying home run, he didn’t show it.
His team was losing in the final act of a crucial end-of-season game…to Judge in that moment, that’s all that mattered.
Minutes later, the bases loaded, another Yankee superstar, the struggling Giancarlo Stanton, faced down the Pirates pitcher.
The stadium rocking from Judge’s momentum-shifting heroics, Stanton drilled a walk-off grand slam, ending the game in an unlikely Yankees victory, and once again proving that eight mediocre innings of baseball can turn on one pure swing.
There are not many more beautiful sights in sport than a home run, especially one struck with a game, or in Judge’s case history, on the line.
Few in Ireland may watch baseball regularly, but almost all of us know how it works. Rounders — a game in this country under the GAA umbrella and one from which modern baseball is derived — is a sport familiar to many. The fundamentals of both sports are the same; a batter needs to strike a pitched ball and then run a circuit of four bases to score, though they may stay at any of the first three while the next batter tries to emulate them. It’s the perfect team game — non contact, exercising a broad range of skills that can be played at junior level by both boys and girls.
Why then is Rounders not better supported, funded, reported on in this country?
Its tradition is as strong as handball, but its reach as a team sport should elevate its accessibility and popularity if only it was properly structured and supported.
Last weekend saw the All-Ireland senior championships take place in Abbotstown. Despite the admirable efforts of all those involved in organising and playing, the finals barely caused a ripple outside the few who cared.
The strategic plan for Tipperary GAA 2018-2020 cited dropout rates amongst players of 58% between the ages of 13-21 years of age. In a dual county that regularly competed at an elite level, that is a startling statistic.
Nurturing a sport like rounders, a game that could be played by everybody, may go some ways to stimulate participation, providing an alternative field of dreams for many.
Premier League fear foreign advice
There’s nothing English football does better than blowing its own trumpet, especially when it comes to their leagues being the greatest in the world. Given the disproportionate amounts of money being poured into the Premier League, they’re probably right by dint of the fact that, with the TV revenue came the world’s best players and managers. It’s not as if it’s the best league because of something distinctly English, is it? Well, if what they love is outwardly projecting self-praise, what they hate is any Johnny foreigner who deigns to suggest ways to improve the product, especially if they’re American!
Those imposters, we are told, “just don’t get our game” and see it only as a commercial plaything. Latest up for footballing deportation is new Chelsea owner Todd Boehly who had the temerity to suggest to assorted business leaders in New York that the greatest league in the world could be even greater if only it learned from others.
“Ultimately I hope the Premier League takes a little bit of a lesson from American sports,” he began, before burning an effigy of Stanley Matthews by saying “why don’t we do a tournament with the bottom four sports teams, why isn’t there an All-Star game?” Bring back Roman Abramovich, they cried from the steps of Wembley Stadium.
Boehly may have a point, however reluctant the masses are to hear it. The off-season is dead, the transfer window a mess. Maybe a salary cap and free agency would breathe some life into a creaking ship. After all, everyone wanted to be on the Titanic, till it sank. In the movie version of this story, Tom Berenger will play Boehly and a white bearded ghost of Richard Harris will play an amalgam of Graeme Souness, Jamie Carragher, and Nigel Farage. God made the world Todd, but seaweed made the Premier League.
O’Donovan post-race act getting old
As Paul O’Donovan and Fintan McCarthy pulled the last strokes of their glorious sprint to lightweight double gold at the World Rowing championships, the waiting media must’ve been bracing themselves for another masterclass of post-race self deprecation and/or indifference from O’Donovan in the green zone.
What started in Rio as a comedic duo with his brother, has now evolved into a solo “bit” that is either a contrived attempt to undermine those interviewing him, or a reflection of his genuine disinterest in the opinion of others.
As one of the country’s greatest living sportsmen, he’s arguably earned the right to skip his media duties altogether. Former Olympian David Gillick, working for RTÉ yesterday, might have wished he did. Rowing deserves a higher profile in this country, and O’Donovan’s post-race routine may be doing more harm than good.
Becks still waiting for knighthood
As David Beckham queued 22 hours with the plebs to see a dead queen, Qatar lodged $150m into his bank account for his role in promoting the country as part of World Cup 2022. As with LIV golf, we can hardly expect Beckham, a private citizen who was blessed with a wand of a right boot and an ability to win the hearts of minds of ordinary Britons because of his good looks and everyman persona, to have the intelligence and social conscience to question the morality of cashing such a cheque.
Lest we forget, leaked emails in 2018 allegedly reveal that Beckham admits his philanthropy — particularly his role with Unicef — was part of an effort to become a knight of the realm? One wonders, when he reached the dead queen last weekend, did he remind her of his sentiments back then… “Unless it’s a knighthood, f—k off.”