Welcome Back

People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh…people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

We missed you baseball. Sunday night, we welcomed you back in to our lives. As the Cubs and Cardinals began their six-month odyssey of sacrifice bunts, missed cutoff men and infuriating mound visits by managers and pitching coaches alike, millions of us across the country (indeed the world) settled in to our couches and bar stools to watch.

As a child, and continuing in to adulthood, I have always been a creature of routine. I have my TV shows, my mealtimes and my habits. Perhaps this is why I have always felt such a natural connection with baseball. More than any other sport, baseball is one of quiet rhythm, of repeated actions and precise movements. No other sport is quite like it.

Basketball is a game of godly athleticism, while football lets us marvel at insanely large humans throwing their bodies against each other violently. Hockey is similar to football, except on ice and every player has a lengthy stick and sharp blades attached to their feet. Running is a purely solitary task; runners often competing more against their own minds and bodies than their fellow competitors.

Football and soccer are once-a-week spectacles, the athletes’ bodies needing days of rest to recuperate from the physical toll of their endeavors. Basketball and hockey play about every other day, with incidences of back-to-back games mixed in with lazy spells of two or three days off. Driven by TV schedules and travel times, it feels haphazard and random.

Only baseball even attempts to take the field every day; most of the players enter the ballpark ready to play. Off days are more a treasured privilege to rest and less a right to expect. The grind of working out, practicing, warming up and playing mirrors the daily struggle of the rest of us, the cab drivers, businessmen and farmers. (Though the benefits are better, and I doubt your last cabbie had his own clothing line.)

The idea of baseball being closer to ‘regular’ life than other sports goes both ways. We force our ideals on the game as much as it imitates us. This is why some of the major leagues’ brightest talents like Yasiel Puig or Bryce Harper are constantly dogged by criticisms of not playing hard enough or getting dirty, even as they just throw out a runner 300 feet away, or hit a 450 foot home run. Meanwhile, relatively mediocre players are routinely lauded for sprinting down to first base on routine groundouts or popouts. It’s not enough to be talented, intelligent and competitive: you have to show a constant thirst to succeed.

This is also why runners insist on diving in to first base, despite the increased danger of injury and multiple studies showing that it actually slows you down. Baseball is great; not always smart.


Baseball seems to fit our year perfectly as well. The season begins as the weather warms up and spring begins. It’s brisk at first, winds whipping through the stadiums and carrying hot dog wrappers on to the field. April turns to May and June, and players and fans alike begin to sink in to the routine. There are no longer any huge firsts of the season – home runs have been hit, strikeouts recorded and umpires booed. The dog days set in. Ballparks become warm, then hot as the sun beats down relentlessly. Players begin to pick up small injuries. A jammed finger here, a weak ankle there. But again, the constant nature of the game whispers in their ear to keep playing. Don’t take a day off – you might get Wally Pipp’d and lose your spot.

Just as we all seem to reach the breaking point, the routine approaching tedium, September begins. A wave of young players flood the dugouts, and we are revived by the joy of seeing a rookie outfielder record his first RBI against a wily veteran, or an impossibly young reliever catches us off-guard with 100 mile per hour heat on the inside corner. Playoff races steal our breath, as competing teams are whittled down and eliminated from contention. Every game is vital, a blown call by an umpire or tactical error by a manager draws the ire of the masses.

At last, the playoffs begin. Only the best of the best remain. Battle-tested clubs with deep lineups, ace starters and unhittable relievers. Also, a team which barely broke .500 but squeaked in to a division title. The game is cruel with its change – a 162-game marathon abruptly shifts in to five or seven game sprints. A game of tiny margins that relies on half a year of games to even out comes down to a week’s worth of pitches. A game supposed to be played in the heat and sun is thrust in to cold rain and late nights at the most important time of the year.

Finally, as the temperature continues to sink, and fans finally concede the battle against woolen scarves and thick coats, a champion is crowed. Out of 30 teams, one remains, successful while all others have failed. The champion celebrates, the loser regrets.

Then, just like a candle that catches a breeze, it’s gone. We are forced to endure four months of tarped-over fields and locked gates. Out of desperation, we grasp for false imitations of the game, tidbits of news of contract extensions and free agent negotiations. We say goodbye to retiring legends and welcome the latest prospects, tantalizing us with thoughts of a new generation of highlights. But it’s not the same, and just like the weather , we left cold and bereft without the game we love.

Until we hear it. The sound of gum chewed through ragged breaths as players run sprints. The first crack of a bat splintering on a pitch that got in on the batter’s hands. The thump of a line drive off the outfield wall. The ice thaws and we head back to the green fields, for another year.

 

Welcome back.

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Now batting, Number Two, Derek Jeter, Number Two

Derek Jeter jogs off the field towards the Yankees dugout. He approaches the first base line then slows to a stop.

 

The white stripe is the same as ever. A smooth even barrier, from fair territory to foul, from the field to the bench, from the game to everything else. He looks up at the dugout.

 

He sees his teammates, his manager and coaches. Joe Girardi is watching him as ever, steely-eyed. Betances, Tanaka, Gardner, the next generation of Yankees leaders. A glance further down the dugout surprises him. Mariano is there, fishing pole in hand, a warm smile on his face. Jorge and Andy are laughing next to him.

 

His family sits just above the dugout, his parents standing, their pride visible. His sister and nephew watching, the young boy tipping his cap in imitation of his uncle.

 

Derek glances back behind him, at the green field he has called home for 20 years. Odd, he thinks. He can almost see the steel handrail that he gashed his face on in 2004. The chunks of grass spit up from his cleats as he relayed a throw home to get Timo Perez.

 

A ball dropping in the right field stands as the clock hits midnight on November 1st. Derek’s hand can’t help but ball up in a fist for just a moment.

 

Kelly Johnson tipping his cap as Jeter rounded first, the Stadium rocking as his 3000th hit landed in the left-center field stands.

 

Jeremy Giambi’s cleats mere centimeters from the plate as Jorge’s glove slides up his calf, and Derek remembers spinning and tumbling in foul territory.

 

He sees the piles of celebrating pinstripes in ’96, ’98, ’99, ’00 and ’09. Fistbumps and backslaps from Paulie and Bernie, Alfonso and Tino.

 

He sees jump throws made, double plays turned, and retreating catches snared in short left field.

 

The stadium has frozen around him. Fans motionless mid-clap, cameras raised.

 

For just a moment, Derek can swear he can see some figures in left-center-field. Not many, a select few. All in pinstripes.

 

The well-known grin slips on to Derek’s face for just a moment, then he turns, and steps over the line.

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Bubbi

There is a wonderful story in the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling about the brothers Peverell, who each received a gift from Death himself. The first brother received the strongest wand in the world, capable of defeating all challengers. The second brother received a magical stone that could bring back the dead. The third brother received an invisibility cloak that could hide him from sight, even from Death.

The first brother quickly perished, having boasted of his superior wand and was caught unaware by a cunning adversary. And thus, Death claimed the first brother.

The second brother used the stone to bring back his late wife. To his horror, she was soulless, a shade of her former self. In his despair, he took his own life. And thus Death claimed the second brother.

The third brother was wise, and used his cloak only to escape from harm. He lived a full life, with children and grandchildren. When he was old and bent, he removed his cloak and gave it to his son. Then he turned and greeted Death like an old friend.

 

My grandmother was 96 when she died, on December 28th, 2013. She passed away peacefully, from complications from a stomach flu. The last person she spoke to was her upstairs neighbor Yvonne, a woman who had cared for my grandmother’s sister and had become like a daughter to my grandmother.

Throughout the funeral, burial and first night of Shiva (a Jewish grieving ceremony), I didn’t cry. In fact, since hearing of my grandmother’s passing, I only cried once, for about a minute. I have wondered why I have not cried. I am sure I am holding something in, and will let it go at some point.

But now, I only feel an odd sense of calm and peace. I will miss my grandmother, my Bubbi, but I do not feel any sense of regret or missed opportunity. My grandmother lived a full life, full of happiness and sadness and joy and grief. The sort of life people are supposed to live. She married a man she loved, she had two daughters she adored as well as a niece and nephew she saw as a daughter and son. She had 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren with more on the way. She was an active and vibrant part of her community, her synagogue and her local politics. She was friends with Chuck Schumer!

My grandmother cared for the people in her life with an intensity and surety that I try to emulate. No one had more confidence in me and my potential than Bubbi, and I suspect my brothers and cousins would say the same.

My grandmother treated everyone she met with respect and kindness, even those that treated her poorly. When she left the hospital after she had her pacemaker adjusted, she managed to find out the names of every nurse and doctor that cared for her and send them hand-written notes, typed on her typewriter, thanking them for their care and energy.

My grandmother was religious on her own way, on a deeply personal level. She was not afraid of dying. In fact, she told my mother a few years ago that she does not dread it because she would be able to see her sister Sarah, her best friend her entire life. She was Jewish and belonged to (indeed, was a pillar of) an Orthodox synagogue, but she cared not for the myriad of rules and regulations that often govern religious life. When my brother Jonathan dated and eventually married a non-Jewish girl named Amy, my grandmother’s only opinion of Amy was that she had wonderful dimples, and Jonathan shouldn’t let her go.

My grandmother was a dignified and quietly proud woman, who was independent and self-reliant until the day she died. She lived in her own house, which she paid for, with no nurse or aide. Outside of slight slowing of her walk and an occasional lapse in hearing, she was completely healthy. Her memory and mind were as sharp as ever, capable of telling stories of her childhood and when she was courted by my grandfather. But she did not live in the past, preferring to thrive in the present. Rather than tell stories of dusty old rooms from her childhood, she preferred to tell you of her newest great-grandchildren (with pictures, of course) or the latest social happenings at her synagogue.

She died peacefully, as she wanted to. She would have hated to have her family, friends or even strangers to care for her. Cleaning her, feeding her, changing her. Like her husband, she was a private individual and took great pride in her ability to live on her own with only the smallest assistance. And that assistance was not needed by Bubbi, but rather evidence of how much the people around her cared for her. She shoveled snow from her driveway into her eighties, until Yvonne’s family had to hide the snow shovel.

I do not know her final thought of me, but I am sure, as sure of anything I have ever been in my life, that it was loving, and kind. Perhaps it was of my red hair, or my name which I proudly received from her husband, and my grandfather, Benjamin, or perhaps that my final conversation with her was helping her fix her cable box. Despite an absolutely microscopic amount of effort required from me, she thanked me profusely as if I had ran to Brooklyn and rewired the box myself. I know that she loved me, and my brothers. I know she loved my mother, my aunts and uncle, my cousins and second cousins and cousins I don’t even know I have.

She lived a life that I envy and will strive to emulate. She had no regrets, no unspoken thoughts or unexpressed emotions. All the hatchets were buried, all the bridges were crossed.

 

When Death offered my grandmother a gift, she asked only for his address, so she could add him to the list of weekly letters she wrote. And when Death came for my grandmother last Saturday night, she kissed him on the cheek, spoke glowingly of her newest great-grandchild and walked with him, content and at peace.

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Aftermath… Thank You

From 9 PM on Monday night until 7 PM on Friday night, I was without power because of Hurricane Sandy. On the grand spectrum of the storm, I was barely affected. Believe me, I am incredibly lucky and happy about that. People lost lives, homes, pets, friends, family, possessions, and memories. In the 5 days since the storm hit, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have been struck in to an odd state. Below 39th street in Manhattan, and in various parts of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, along with the coasts of New Jersey and Long Island, the power has been out. In Manhattan it has been particularly striking – the normally brightly lit corridors and avenues of Chelsea, the Lower East Side and downtown have been dark. In the history of New York City, it has been called many things, but dark is not one of them.

One insanely sadly wonderful thing about New Yorkers, and I think people in general, is how resilient they are. You knock us down and we get right back up, talking trash and smirking at you. We come together and help one another, temporarily forgetting random stuff like race, class or ethnicity. So this is a thank you to the many people that have helped out since Monday night.

Thank you to the policemen, firemen, EMTs, nurses, doctors, volunteers and everyone else who, while I sat in the dark Monday night, were pulling on uniforms and rushing to other people’s aid.

Thank you to the volunteers that have helped out at shelters, food drives and darkened intersections

Thank you to the stores, especially Office Depot, Barnes and Noble, and Duane Reade, for letting people come in and charge their phones and laptops for free.

Fuck you to the Verizon store that was charging people 10 dollars to charge their phones for 30 minutes.

Thank you to the countless people with power that put out extension cords for strangers to use their electricity

Thank you to the bus drivers that drove for 5 or 6 hours, leading a crowded bus full of cranky riders, crying toddlers and complaining pedestrians.

Thank you to the strangers for the kind smiles, the nods of encouragement and for the countless times I saw someone help older men and women with their burdens.

Thank you to most of the people that crossed the Queensborough Bridge with me on Wednesday evening,

Fuck you to the few bikers who apparently took it as a challenge to weave in and out of people walking across the bridge.

Thanks to everyone with power who offered hot showers, hot food and a bed to sleep in to me and my family.

Thanks to the Con Ed workers who slaved away during 16 hour shifts, 24 hours a day and seven days a week to restore our power. And for answering the same question (when is the power coming back??) over and over every day.

Thank you to the Red Cross and every volunteer organization that brought relief to the people in need.

Thank you to the National Guard for taking care of my city, and to the returning armed forces members that came right to help out after returning from war.

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From αθλητισμός to Sports

The 2012 Summer Olympics ended last night, with a fun closing ceremonies. The Spice Girls reunited, the Who performed and Russell Brand infuriated thousands with his rendition of I Am the Walrus. But what I was looking forward to was the montage at the end. I love sports montages. Happy, sad, victorious or in defeat, something about them emotionally connects with me more than most things. As I was watching the NBC montage, I thought of all the stories that played out in the past 17 days. So in honor of the 30th Summer Olympiad, here are my favorite moments from this year’s Olympics, in no particular order.

1) The opening ceremonies were notable for many reasons, but for three countries, it was notable for something special: a woman represented them. For Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia, the 2012 Olympics was a small step towards equality. There is a long way to go but small steps are important.

2) The preliminary heats of the track events often drifted together but one of the preliminary heats for 110 meter men’s hurdles stood out. 2004 gold medalist Liu Xiang of China was in London to take back the gold but he hit the first hurdle and re-injured his Achilles tendon. What happened next earned Xiang a standing ovation and the respect of every athlete that has strapped on a bandage or iced a sore knee. He walked back to the tunnel to leave but stopped, before turning back and limping down the course next to the hurdles. When he reached the final set, he leaned down and kissed the hurdle he would have leaped, before limping across the finish line. His competitors, watching, carried him to the medical tent.

Xiang’s competitors help him after he finished the race

3) Michael Phelps. What can you say? 22 medals, 18 golds. The man retires as the most accomplished swimmer, and in terms of medal count, athlete ever. His performance at Beijing was more dominant but his time in London felt just as powerful. An older, wiser Phelps took a back seat and watched the rest of the swimming team take over. But he retires with grace and as a winner.

4) Speaking of the rest of the swimming team, what a performance. Ryan Lochte wasn’t quite the challenger to Phelps we expected, but Nathan Adrian, Cullen Jones, Matthew Grevers, Tyler Clary will carry the men in to Rio. Meanwhile, the women’s future looks possibly even better, with Missy Franklin, Katie Ledecky, Allison Schmitt and Rebecca Soni all at the top of their games. It started with Phelps, but it seems like a new generation of American swimmers is ready to take over.

5) Oscar Pistorius competed in two events and didn’t medal in either. In fact, his South African 4 x 400 relay team came in 8th of 9th finalists. He was just another athlete amongst the 10,000 in London. Except he was a runner who lost his legs and competed on artificial prosthetic legs. Except he had to face people who claimed his artifical legs gave him an advantage. But he competed with the rest of the so-called able-bodied athletes. So yes, the Blade Runner was just another athlete in London, which was exactly how he wanted it.

6) Jessica Ennis was the poster girl of these Olympics. Born in the city of Sheffield in north Great Britain, she was held up as the golden girl of the host country. Known as Jess in the UK, she had the weight of 65,000,000 people on her shoulders. And in the women’s heptathlon, Ennis won gold, crossing the finish line in the 800 meter race as the stadium shook around her. The golden child came through when it mattered most.

7) One of the few events Michael Phelps competed in but didn’t win was the 200 meter butterfly. Instead, the victor, by five hundredths of a second, was South African Chad Le Clos. Le Clos idolized Phelps as he grew up. Seconds after winning, still floating in the pool, Phelps congratulated Le Clos as applause rang down. After the race, Le Clos’ father was interviewed on the BBC and became an international sensation with his reaction to his son’s victory.  Bert Le Clos was overcome with joy, repeatedly stating how proud he was, and how handsome his boy looked. On that night, no one could disagree.

8) Gymnastics is the sport that exemplifies how American’s view the Olympics. Outside of this 17-day stretch, the vast majority (not all) of Americans don’t follow gymnastics. Two months ago, no one outside of the gymnastics world knew the names of Kyla Ross, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber. But these five girls are now America’s heroines, after winning the first all-around team gold for the USA in gymnastics since 1996. Gabby Douglas became the first African-American woman to win gymnastics gold. McKayla Maroney’s Amanar vault was so technically perfect, so excellently done, that people want to rename it the Maroney. And there were tears in Aly Raisman’s eyes as she finished her floor exercise, knowing she had officially sealed the all-around team gold for the USA. How can you not love that?

9) I have been watching soccer for at least 10 years. And two of the three most heart-stopping games have been constructed by the US women’s national team. The most recent was the semi-final against Canada. Back and forth goals, face-stompings, controversial referee decisions, extra time, and finally, a last-gasp header from Alex Morgan to secure a 4-3 win and a place in the championship game. Despite a heroic performance from Canadian superstar Christine Sinclair who scored three beautiful goals, the USA women advanced to the gold medal game where they would take home the prize.

Forward Abby Wambach, draped an American flag, kneels in the center of the pitch, and cries.

10) Coming in to London, the USA had never won a medal in judo. That changed with Kayla Harrison surprising the judo world to win gold. But her story goes much deeper than that. While most Olympians were training, Harrison was in court, testifying against her childhood coach on charges on sexual molestation. Harrison survived something that would send most people crumbling. Moving on with her life was a victory for Harrison. Making it to the Olympics shows her strength and determination. Winning gold? That just makes it all taste sweeter.

11) This Olympics was something of a coming-out party for female athletes around the world but especially for the US. In addition to the gymnasts, swimmers and soccer players, the US women’s track and field team took over their events. Led by Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards-Ross and the wonderfully named but differently pronouncing Carmelita Jeter, the US women’s took home medals in track, long jump and pole vault, and set an astounding world record in the 4 x 100 relay.

12) Great Britain is known for three things: horrible teeth, a historic empire in decline, and sports teams failing under the brightest spotlight. This extends to tennis, where no British man has won Wimbledon since 1936. The current hero is Andy Murray, who lost to Roger Federer in the 2012 Wimbledon final. Yet, in this Olympics, at the very same tournament, with the royal family watching, Murray fought his way to the end and defeated Federer, rousing a stadium full of fans to roar out God Save the Queen. Murray hugged his family and girlfriend in the stands, before turning back to the court. However, he turned around once more, to hug a young boy who reached out from the stands. I don’t know if Murray knew this boy or whether it was a stranger, but that boy held on to Murray tightly, face buried in the crook of the tennis hero’s neck.

13) What can be said about Usain Bolt that hasn’t already? Yes he’s cocky but how could the fastest man who has ever lived not be cocky? He defended his golds from Beijing, led a dominant Jamaican squad and reveled in the adoration from the fans. But during a post-race interview, he stopped the reporter and respectfully bowed his head as the United States national anthem played for another runner. Beyond his speed, and power, and skill, that is what I will take away from this Olympics about Usain Bolt.

It is really easy to be cynical about the Olympics. It seems so naive to think that a mere sporting event can build bridges between nations that war, genocide, oppression and violence have separated. Yet, somehow it happens. Women in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Brunei can dream a little bit bigger now. Sports has a way of bringing people together, even if it only lasts from the opening whistle to the final buzzer. Hate is bred of ignorance and ignorance is washed away when you are across the mat from your opponent, seeing the tears in his eyes, or the joy on her face. That’s what sports is, and that’s what sports do.

 

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A Song of Balls and Strikes

Quick quiz: is the quote “You know nothing…” from:
a) Listeners calling in to the Mike Francesa radio show referring to Brian Cashman
b) Every Boston fan speaking to any other fan
c) Wildling Ygritte playing a mind game on Ranger Jon Snow
d) Every baseball analyst looking at the Mets’ recent personnel decisions

I love baseball. I love Game of Thrones, though, it should be properly referred to as A Song of Ice and Fire. I also love making character comparisons across things I love. With the help of my compatriot @rebeccapbp, one of the most knowledgeable Yankees and ASOIAF fans around, we have created a master list of Westeros/MLB comparisons, based on histories and personalities. Choices were not necessarily made by name or logo, so the Miami Marlins are not the Tullys despite the Tullys sigil being a leaping fish. Because we had more teams than major families, we split up one family in to three separate branches. We also included some non-Westeros entities, as well as organizations that aren’t families but exist as a unit in Westeros.

ATTENTION: MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS. INFORMATION IS GIVEN ABOUT ALL FIVE BOOKS CURRENTLY PUBLISHED, NOT JUST THE SHOW. IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS, STOP READING NOW. THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING.

Without further ado, I present… A Song of Balls and Strikes.

Lannisters – New York Yankees
A history of success built on a vast gold empire, the Lannisters ruled Westeros even when the Targaryens technically sat the Iron Throne. Tywin Lannister has rebuilt the family from the ruins that his father left it, much as Brian Cashman has rebuilt the Yankees after a decade of Steinbrenner overindulgence. Jamie Lannister is Derek Jeter – powerful, a legend in his own time, and handsome as hell. You fear and respect the Lannisters, or you’re wiped from the face of the earth. Also, I’ve heard the Rains of Castamere sounds an awful lot like New York, New York.

Targaryens – Los Angeles Dodgers
Coming over from Doomed Valyria astride dragons, the Targaryens have a history to match any family in Westeros. Similary, the Dodgers left the mythical land of Brooklyn and Ebbets field and headed West, and changed the way the game was played with the introduction of African-American players. Just like Mad King Aerys sent the Targaryens in to a spiral of defeat until their exile, Frank McCourt almost ran the proud franchise in to the ground. The new ownership group led by Magic Johnson has given up to Dodgers’ fans just as rumors of a mother of dragons in the East spread through loyal Targaryen outposts in the West.

Baratheon (Robert) – Boston Red Sox
From 2004-2007, the Red Sox were the reigning kings of baseball. Two world championships and a bright future led by a brilliant mind. Much like Robert Baratheon, the Red Sox fans loved to brag and boast (and drink. And they’re usually fat white guys). However, just like Robert Baratheon’s reign as king, it came to a short and bitter end. The Red Sox have had some missteps in recent years, and are often talked of in mocking tones by the other great powers in the land. Also, Robert Baratheon is a vision of what would happen if you combined David Ortiz’s gut with Kevin Millar’s general awfulness.

Baratheon (Stannis) – Chicago White Sox
Personality-wise, the Chicago White Sox are pretty bland. So is Stannis Baratheon, eldest of the Baratheon brothers. The ChiSox colors of black and white mirror how Stannis sees the world: no shades of grey. Long-time White Sox Paul Konerko is like Davos Seaworth: a steadying, solid warrior with undying loyalty to a sometimes unworthy cause. And I think everyone can agree that no person in baseball is as strange and shocking as former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen – sounds an awful lot like Melisandre to me.

Baratheon (Renly) – Milwaukee Brewers
Of the three Baratheon brothers, perhaps Renly would have been best suited to rule. A charismatic and well-liked ruler, he was adored by masculine female knights and metrosexual male knights alike. The Brewers are one of the most popular up-and-coming teams in baseball – a powerful offense led by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun backed up a solid starting rotation with Zach Grienke and Yovani Gallardo. However, Fielder’s departure has left the Brewers somewhat adrift, just as Renly assassination has left the Renly support camp headless.

Starks – Minnesota Twins
The Twins motto could be Winter is Coming, since Minnesota is freezing and up in the north. No team is praised for ‘playing the right way’ like the Minnesota Twins. Smallball, bunting and sacrifice flies are the name of the game for the Twins. The Starks, meanwhile, are known for their honesty, loyalty and fair play. This sounds nice, but in the Game of Thrones, it leaves you headless in King’s Landings, with your children dead or lost to the world. Old men in Westeros look back nostalgically at when men like Ned Stark ruled with fair play just like when old beat writers opine for the good old days of double switches and chewing tobacco.

Karstarks – Cleveland Indians
The Karstarks are pretty insignificant and so are the Cleveland Indians. The Karstarks are an offshoot of the noble Stark house, and at times Cleveland feels like a crappier version of the Twins. Injury prone offensive stars? Sizemore and Mauer/Morneau. A spot in the terrible AL Central? Check. And just as the Twins love to ‘pitch to contact’ the Indians stocked their pitching staff with a set of groundball pitchers. Alas, Cleveland is almost as cursed sports-wise as the North seems to be during the books.

Tullys – San Francisco Giants
Despite a great location and a long history, the Tullys just aren’t major players in the War of the Five Kings. Similarly, no one really mentions the Giants when they talk about the great franchises. But the Tullys have strength that demands a measure of respect, as do the Giants in their formidable starting rotation. Brynden ‘Blackfish’ Tully is known to do his own thing, against the wishes of the establishment, just like Barry Zito is pretty out there. The Tully’s fish emblem fits well with McCovey Cove in right field.

Martells – Texas Rangers
Dorne is a formidable place to invade because the desert  and heat is hard to adjust to. Similarly, Texas is hot and dry and the Rangers defend their territory well. For a long time, the Rangers lay dormant, letting the other powers battle it out in the north but they have recently burst on to the scene, making it to two straight World Series’. Martell’s Prince Doran is a mirror of Nolan Ryan – a stern, patient leader with a long term plan and often mocked by his enemies. The feared commander is Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper, deadly in combat – just as Josh Hamilton is deadly with his bat. The Sand Snakes are the Rangers’ deep lineup, with mashers such as Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz and Mike Napoli all a threat.

Tyrells – Atlanta Braves
An old and respected family, the Tyrells have made a move for power behind the lead of Ser Loras, the Knight of Flowers, and his sister Margarey. Similarly, the historic Braves franchise has experienced a rebirth recently,  behind the force of young guns Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and a host of young arms. These potential-laden kids overshadow the true leader, Chipper Jones. Despite his advanced age, Jones can still defeat a younger opponent, just as Joffrey fell to poison from the scheming Queen of Thorns.

Frey – Philadelphia Phillies
Dishonest. Untrustworthy.  Lethargic. Only powerful because of their control over the Twins. The Freys are hated by most everyone including other Freys. Similarly, the Phillies, and their fans, are almost universally disliked by fans of every other team. They must be given a token of respect because Halladay/Lee/Hamels is as good as any top 3, but their future looks bleak. And readers of the books hope the same is true for the Freys. Also, the Freys broke the all-important rule: once a guest breaks bread and drinks wine, he is safe in your hall. And if you go to a Phillies game, there is a solid chance a fan will throw up on you and/or boo your beloved childhood heroes.

Arryns – Colorado Rockies
Isolated and nestled deep within their mountain stronghold, the Arryns possess a fantastic defensive position, just as Coors Field wrecks havoc on the pitching staffs of opposing teams. Lysa’s insanity and poor judgment is mirrored in the managing job done by Jim Tracy, which draws ridicule and ire from Rockies fans. Despite some powerful players (Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez), the Rockies remain like the Arryns: puttering away in their mountain stronghold and only a periphery character in the larger game.

Greyjoys – Seattle Mariners
The men of the Iron Islands are a hard and dreary lot, used to a difficult life. The Greyjoys lead this once-rebellious region. Their house motto is “We Reap, Not Sow.” Similarly the Mariners take the fruit of other team’s labors – they took Justin Smoak from the Rangers, and Jesus Montero from the Yankees. The Iron Islands are led by Euron “Crows Eye” Greyjoy, a man who gained mysterious powers from a foreign land, just Ichiro arrived in America and succeeded with a strange swing and style. Despite a powerful general (Victarion Greyjoy), the people of Pike have not yet truly challenged the status quo, just as the dominance and power of Felix Hernandez often goes unrewarded by his teammates.

Boltons – Miami Marlins
The Boltons are a ruthless family with a predilection for flaying their enemies until they lose all semblance of humanity. The Marlins flayed the people of Miami in to building them a new ballpark, and owner Jeffrey Loria did the same to the old Montreal Expos, forcing them to move. The Boltons joined the Lannisters and tried to dominate the North as the Lannisters dominate the south, just as the Marlins tried to emulate the Yankees and spent a ton of money this past winter. Time will tell if it works out as well.

Baelishs of Harrenhal – Washington Nationals
Borne out of the rubble of the Montreal Expos, the Washington Nationals have experienced nothing but failure since their creation. However, an influx of talent from years of high picks paint a bright future for the Nats. Similarly, Baelish is a brand new noble house, led by Petr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish just like Stephen Strasburg leads the new generation of Nationals. A word of caution: just as Harrenhal is cursed to doom whoever claims it, baseball in our nation’s capital has seen teams come and go and none have survived.

Tarlys – Detroit Tigers
A noble house with a long history, the Tarlys quietly play a large role in the events unfolding in Westeros. Randyll Tarly is a loyal follower of the Tyrells, though you sense some rumblings that the Tarlys may be moving up in the world. Kevan Lannister, Hand of the King, privately worries that Randyll Tarly might be more of a threat than the Tyrells. The same is true for the Tigers, who have quietly put together pieces to compete with the top teams, but haven’t quite executed it yet. Ty Cobb is Randyll Tarly, a shrewd and respected battle commander, but not very liked by those around him. Jim Leyland is Samwell Tarly – intelligent and underrated, and both are often mocked by their own family/fans for their physical appearance.

Reeds – Kansas City Royals
The Reeds are a tiny family, inconsequential in the greater scheme of things. However, their children are are rumored to possess special powers. Similarly, the Royals have a stocked farm system, which is beginning to bear fruit. But it would still take quite a change for both the Reeds and the Royals to gain significant power.

Mormonts – New York Mets
A family in disgrace, the Mormont’s two most important family members only achieved fame and greatness when they left Bear Island – Jorah Mormont to the East, and Jeor Mormont to the Night’s Watch. Similarly, the Mets have this habit of watching players leave the organization only to achieve greatness somewhere else. Nolan Ryan, David Cone, Dwight Gooden, and Philip Humber are all former Mets that threw no-hitters, while the Mets still do not have one in their history. The Mormonts are in disarray, with no leader even fighting to restore the family name.

Wildlings/Free People beyond the Wall – Cincinnati Reds
The oldest group still alive in Westeros, the wildlings north of the Wall have no great power in Westeros, but keep great pride in their history. They have become more of a threat recently with the rise in strength of Mance Rayder, just like the Reds, the oldest team in major league baseball, have been on the rise led by slugging first baseman Joey Votto. The wildlings knew winter approached even before the Starks, just as the Reds traditionally are the first team to play every year.

Rangers of the Night Watch – St. Louis Cardinals
Once, St. Louis was the edge of civilization, the last frontier of America before the wild, untamed West, just as the Wall has separated civilized Westeros from the heathens to the North. For decades, the Night’s Watch have clashed with their enemies to the north, just as the Reds/Cardinals rivalry is perhaps one of the oldest in baseball. The Rangers have recently lost great leaders such as Benjen Stark, Old Bear Mormont and Qhorin Halfhand, while the Cardinals have lost Albert Pujols to free agency and Chris Carpenter to injury.

Citadel (Maesters) – San Diego Padres
Quite possibly the perfect analogy. The priests of Westeros resemble medieval monks in their long modest robes and knowledge of both scripture as well as science. Oldtown is a picturesque village on the sea, just as San Diego is gorgeous. Also, the maesters are non-violent and weak, just like the Padres’ offense. The maesters lost one of their eldest members with the passing of Maester Aemon, formerly of the Targaryens. Similarly, the Padres had a feared hitter, Adrian Gonzalez, but he is gone now.

Brotherhood Without Banners – Tampa Bay Rays
Amidst the War of the Five Kings, a new power rose up – a shifting organization with questionable powers and support amongst the downtrodden. The Brotherhood became a power, threatening the Lannisters, Starks, Targaryens and all the traditional strongholds. Similarly, the Rays have only existed a short time, but use innovative tactics to gain a foothold despite not having the traditional base of power of glorious history. Hell, they don’t even have a semi-adequate stadium. The Brotherhood is led by a mysterious and powerful duo, Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr. Similarly, the Rays are controlled by GM Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon.

Daynes – Houston Astros
A noble house with a long history of fighters, the Daynes are currently in disarray. One of the most famous knights in history was Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning who served on Aerys II’s kingsguard and mentor to Jamie Lannister. The Astros have a similar recent history of mashers in the form of Jeff Bagwell. Both the Daynes and Astros are almost completely gone, without power or mention amongst the stronger houses.

Tarth – Pittsburgh Pirates
Tiny, weak and completely ignored, Tarth is a small island off the coast of Westeros. Tarth has one contribution to the series – Brienne. A powerful and loyal fighter, she is underrated and ignored because she is a woman. Similarly, the punchless and weak Pirates team has one shining star – centerfielder Andrew McCutchen who is underrated and unknown because of his lackluster teammates.

Craster beyond the Wall – Baltimore Orioles
Peter Angelos probably did more to wreck a franchise than any other person in history. Similarly, the despot Craster rules his keep with an iron fist, abusing his daughter-wives and killing his sons. The Orioles are a disaster of an organization, with little long-term plan just as everyone knew that Craster wasn’t going to last long. The only ones who go to Orioles’ games are the family members of the team – just like everyone who lives in Craster’s Keep is part of the family. Sidenote: long-time Oriole Melvin Mora had quintuplets.

The Others/White Walkers – Toronto Blue Jays
A mysterious power from the great white north, the Others could potentially threaten the whole of Westeros. Similarly, the Blue Jays seem well-equipped to collapse the balance of power in the AL East. They have a bunch of young arms and potent bats, and Joey Bautista is among the most feared hitters in the game. But the Blue Jays haven’t made their play yet, just as the Others still remain a silent mysterious force. But should we call them the Othours?

Old Valyria – Chicago Cubs
Once legendary, this land is now just legend. It has fallen in to ruin ever since the great and mysterious Doom. Even now, centuries after its fall, Valyria is said to be haunted by ghosts and curses that affect anyone who enters their lands. Ladies and gentlemen, your Chicago Cubs.

Qarth – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
A fancy city to the east, Qarth calls itself the greatest city in the world. Similarly, residents of Los Angeles (and Anaheim) believe southern California to be the best. But despite moves to gain power in recent times, the Angels struggle. And I think all Angels fans would agree that Vernon Wells is the Undying, even if those fans wish he just would already. That contract, sheesh.

Dothraki – Oakland Athletics
The Dothraki are never still for long, and travel the grasslands in search of plunder and horses. Similarly, the As never feel comfortable in their home, moving from Philadelphia, to Kansas City, to Oakland and rumors abound of a move south to San Jose. The As just don’t have the resources to compete with larger clubs, much like the Dothraki’s horses just cannot compete with the knights and swords of Westeros. To enter Vaes Dothrak, even the mightiest Khal must give up his sword, just as the As seem perfectly content to give up all semblance of an offense.

Pentos – Arizona Diamondbacks
Pentos, one of the Free Cities on Essos, is described as warm and tropical, just like Arizona. Illyrio Mopatis is a powerful merchant there who helps facilitate the wedding of Dany and Khal Drogo, just as the Diamondbacks have made a history of trading with the Athletics, sending a host of prospects to Oakland in exchange for Dan Haren and Joe Saunders.

Baseball is often like a political world, with different factions moving to gain power while others recede in to the background. Dynasties fall and new ones take their place, only to be toppled in their own time. Bran the Builder created Winterfell and the Wall, just as Yankee Stadium will always be the House that Ruth Built. And just as you can’t predict baseball, you can’t predict where George R. R. Martin will take us next.

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Pinstriped Avengers

If you haven’t seen the new Avengers movie, minimize this window, put on your pants, find a convenient friend/colleague/hobo and go watch it. It is amazing. I am not a comic book nerd at all but I loved it.

Me being me, I began connecting it to sports teams. I started with the Rangers, but I think it works best for the Yankees because everything awesome and successful works best with the Yankees.

Starting it off…

Captain America: Derek Jeter. Probably the single most obvious connection ever. Derek Jeter is Steve Rogers. Though the superserum equivalent would not be good. Jeter’s rejuvenated 2012 is like Rogers being awoken from the polar ice cap after 70 years.

Iron Man/Tony Stark: Alex Rodriguez. Ridiculously good at what he does? Check. Brilliant analysis of what he does? Check. Almost universally disliked by people who are not rooting for him? Quadruple check. In recent years, ARod’s humor has come through more in interviews, making him even more like the snarky, sarcastic Stark.

Thor: Robinson Cano. I wanted to say Mariano Rivera for the whole god thing, but Rivera is much too dignified and smooth to play a somewhat loose cannon demigod. Cano is naturally talented, still a little bit unrefined, but at his best, he is probably the most dangerous member of the team. And when Cano’s swing is right, you can hear lightning crackle as he makes contact.

Incredible Hulk/Bruce Banner: Our platoon DH, Randrew Ibones. Both of them are similar players offensively. Hulk only goes at one speed, and designated hitters only do one thing: hit. Their steady veteran influence is like Banner’s calming, rational, zen attitude towards life. But hanging curveballs make them angry. And you won’t like them when they’re angry. DH SMASH!

Hawkeye: the entire bullpen. Much like Jeremy Renner’s character, the crew of Rivera, Robertson, Soriano, Wade and co. fires heat, hits their targets and gets the job done. And with Rivera down for the year, the bullpen loses much of its name recognition. Hawkeye sometimes gets overshadowed by the bigger names in the Avengers, but his long range attacks are valuable and often save the day.

Black Widow: Minka Kelly. Curtis Granderson. Athletic, skilled, and attractive to the opposite sex. Granderson comes from a mysterious quagmire named the Tigers, just as Romanov was trained by the Soviet Union. And Granderson’s eloquence is a break from most other athletes, just like the Black Widow’s feminitiy is a break from the other Avengers’ testosterone-infused masculinity.

Nick Fury: Brian Cashman. Calm, cool, calculating – this man brought together the team, and despite criticisms from his rivals and his bosses, sits back and watches the job get done. Plus I totally think Cashman would look badass with an eyepatch.

Loki: The entire Red Sox franchise, as personified by Kevin Youkilis. He thinks he’s brilliant and hilarious, but really he’s just insane. Plus, I could see Kevin Youkilis wearing that hat with the curved horns.

Many thanks to all the people on Twitter who helped, especially @riddering who supplied 95% of what I know about comic books.

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