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Saturday, June 9, 2012

If You're Going to San Francisco: An Ode to the 2012 Griffs



“You ever gotten your heart broken?”

“Yeah, when we lost the pennant in ’87.”

-For Love of the Game          

          
Although the title of the movie is misleading in my conception of this sport, I feel this quote rings true in capturing the mood and bitter taste left in the mouths of all who participated in the 2012 Griffs’ Baseball season.
  
            Have you ever had that one person or one thing in your life that continuously breaks your heart?

They insist on ripping your heart out, stepping it, all while you return year after year. You continue to expose yourself to stress and anxiety. You keep volunteering your emotions to a game of failure, to a game where so much is beyond your sphere of influence. Your attachment and willingness to continue can be considered crazy, illogical, and outlandish. For me, words like ‘absurdity’ and ‘turbulent relations’ encapsulate my feelings regarding the game of baseball. 

            We, as players and coaches, renew our relationship year after year with the game of baseball. We willingly enter into this marriage with the game, devoting hours of our time despite its reputation and past experiences of crushing our hopes and dreams.

But why? Why do something that has a good chance of making you miserable in the end? Why not just end the heartache and misery, remove our vulnerable baseball-playing selves from the harsh side of the game, and dump baseball’s sorry butt?

            Everyone’s relationship is different. One’s connection with the game of baseball is truly personal. Some play for a ticket out of poverty, for a chance at a new beginning. Some play for the opportunity to battle alongside teammates and to submerge themselves in the competitive atmosphere of college and professional sports. They play with the promise of achieving greatness and having their names scribed on the trophy of their respective conference or league.

Others play for more frivolous reasons: a chance to hang out with friends, to continue clinging onto the title of ‘athlete,’ to socialize and escape reality by swinging a wooden club as hard as they can. Everyone’s reason is a personal reflection, a unique connection with the sport they devote their lives too, or just 2 nights a week depending on where you play.

            Our attachment to a game that can torture us is probably ridiculous and most likely inexplicable. Why we put up with the beating that baseball has been known to attack us with is difficult to comprehend at times.

Whatever our reasons for playing baseball, one thing is certain. Successful teams possess a special unity. Like so many other sports, individuals and egos have little bearing upon the outcome of an entire season. The 2012 Griffs truly captured this idea. We were bonded together by phrases like: “Think we won’t?,” any reference to big dogs, “Knock knock,” and any other heckling that catcher Brooklyn Foster initiated via Twitter.

We were interwoven through songs like Dirty Mix by DJ Blend (a song not appropriate for parents and children). Our ‘victory song,’ which was played after each Griffs’ win, provoked dancing from even the most unlikely of candidates. And the loud group singing that came during the “Going to San Francisco” portion of the song is certainly a memorable part of the 2012 campaign. This song and the dancing that ensued caused the unfortunate demise of a kitchen table in an unnamed clubhouse on the road.

The best and worst part of competitive sports is that come next year, everyone is 0-0. Despite the past year of success or failure, everyone becomes statistical equal and must begin a new quest next February.

Along with resetting the records, your traditions reset as well. There are no big dogs, no going to San Francisco, and no knocking, just a unique team trying to find an identity, unified for one year trying to capture a title that has eluded even the most talented Canisius alum. My most sincere encouragements go out to the 2013 Griffs as their growth has been a pleasure to watch and be a part of.  

As I bequeath this blog to any willing returnee, I would like to thank a few people who were instrumental in giving me this unique opportunity to showcase the lives of college athletes. Matt Lozar has been excellent, not only in his continuing coverage of the Griffs, but in editing and publishing this blog on gogriffs.com. A big thanks goes out to Lozar for all his help.  

Finally, a huge thanks to Ryan Fennell, who set up and designed the website on blogspot.com. He also used his Canisius marketing degree to promote and broadcast our joint effort. Without him, this opportunity to communicate with parents and fans would not have been possible.

    
Alex Tufts

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Snoring Epidemic



            Sharing a room on the road with fellow teammates is a positive experience for the most part. Friendships can be enhanced by finding the most efficient method of spending meal money and season-long bonds can be forged by playing cards in the lobby.  Everything usually goes pretty smoothly… that is, if your roommates don’t snore.  



“Stolz… Stolz come on man…” Linseman’s voice grew louder and was filling with anger and sleep-deprived rage.

Stolzenburg… Shut up!


(These quotes are paraphrased, omitting many expletives).  




           Most times in the Linseman, Stolzenburg, and Tufts room, verbal harassments are insufficient in halting snoring roommates. All three bullpen pitchers in this room are guilty of snoring from time to time and it can cause the other two roommates to awake during valuable sleeping hours.

Due to how much we all loathe snoring, despite our tendency to do so ourselves, our room members have entered into a contractual agreement that permits physical force to neutralize any snoring offender at any given time.

Linseman’s vocal efforts were futile. I reached down beside my bed, still half asleep, and fished for anything that would stop the loud snoring coming from the cot where Stolzenburg lay; roughly 8 feet away from me. I retrieved a Griffs travel hoodie from the messy floor of our cavernous room and proceeded to tightly wrap it into a ball. I then sat up and launched it at the snoring beast as hard as I could. My makeshift hoodie-bomb drilled the sleeping freshman square in the back, much like some of the fastballs I had thrown recently.

The sleeping monster grumbled and ceased his chainsaw-like groans that were reverberating throughout our room. He remained silent for the rest of the night. Victory and peace had been achieved against the painful and sleep-denying noise of the young lefty-specialist.

Nate Linseman and I, veteran roommates of two years, run a tight proverbial ship. Thankfully, the loudest and most irritating snoring offenders are quarantined, forced together in one room like lepers so as to limit the harm on the non-snorers.

Roommates of Linseman and I learn fairly quickly that snoring is not tolerated in our room. During the 2011 campaign, Shane Zimmer experienced barrages of pop-bottles, turf shoes, pizza boxes, and coins if he was to fill our room with nasally breathing in the wee hours of the night. Most of these efforts had little effect on Zim, as his area of the room was already littered with coke bottles and empty boxes of Mike and Ikes and Lifesavers.

Like I said however, everyone in our room has snored from time to time. So if you wake up in the morning with water bottles, pillows, bodily injuries, and a remote control beside your head in the morning, chances are that you were the one keeping everyone awake the night before.

Alex Tufts

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pitchers' BP: A Guide to Throwing Your Back Out


LHP Nate Linseman looks in right before hitting a six-hopper to the right side

            On May 5th, The Griffs concluded their conference series against Iona College with two shutout victories. Masterful performances by starting pitchers Billy Martin and Devon Stewart led the Griffs to a comeback series win.



A shutout for your team in college or summer baseball means two things: a win, and Pitchers’ BP. In reward for an excellent performance on the mound, coaches will traditionally give all the pitchers on staff a chance to bring their swings out of retirement during the next practice. Pretty much all pitchers love this opportunity. Pitchers’ BP is a rare opportunity to showcase these supposed hidden talents that pitchers claim to have and to relive the days when “I hit bombs, man” or “I was a good hitter back in high school.” These anecdotes and tall tales, ones that have been exaggerated by pitchers through years of being confined to the bullpen, usually evaporate once said pitchers swing through the first pitch.



            Just as much as pitchers love an opportunity to take batting practice, hitters despise it and I can clearly see why. First, they are forced to observe about 12 vomit-inducing swings by pitchers. Then they must also collect the balls that come dribbling off the bats of the pitchers’ grotesque hacks. The most frightening part of pitchers’ BP for some hitters, is that they must lend their precious bats to the untrained, unathletic, and sluggish hands of pitchers. I sympathize with the hitters. The staff strolls in on the day when they take batting practice and make a mockery of the talent that hitters work so hard to perfect. While the pitchers are swinging out of the their shoes trying to lift the ball over the fence, the real hitters are working diligently to stroke line drives to the gaps, a skill that does not come with nearly as much cachet as the BP-moonshot.



            There are a variety of approaches that pitchers take when they step into the on-field hitting cage. The first is “The Hero Approach.” This guy thinks if he has a few good rounds of BP coach might pencil his name in the 3-hole next game. He works hard to stay inside the baseball and hit it where it is pitched. This guy also showed up to the yard early to work on his bat path and hit front toss. This plan is hopeless, delusional even. Cracking the lineup from a good day in Pitchers’ BP is as believable as the time-altered tales from his high school hitting days.     



Another approach is what I call “The Ryan Fennell Approach.” Simply make contact. Try not to embarrass yourself by whiffing on six consecutive pitches or peppering the opposite side of the hitting cage. Get a few balls in play, maybe a few to the outfield if you are lucky, and call it a day. Prove your fellow teammates wrong who said that you would make your coach look like Nolan Ryan.



            The last and only legitimate approach, in my mind, to taking pitchers’ batting practice is “The Get Big Approach.” Turn and burn. Don’t get cheated. Coil, collapse, and crush. Drop and drive. However you want to phrase it, you are swinging as hard as you possibly can and trying to hit bombs. Because really, who cares how many singles you can hit up the middle? Who cares if you stayed on that outside pitch and let it get deep? The bottom line is you are a pitcher and maybe if you run into a batting practice meatball and hit it over the fence you can briefly recapture a time and place where you were not yelled at for touching the team’s bats.



            For me, Pitchers’ BP is a hard tailing fastball in on the hands that says “you suck at hitting.” It is a rude awakening that reminds me how difficult it is to square up a baseball, even when it is laid right over the plate. After about 30 swings and convincing myself that the sweet spot on the bat is an urban legend, I usually pack it in. I am always left with a greater appreciation for what hitters do day in and day out. But no matter how many roll overs you hit to third or 3-hop cappers you hit into the L-screen, nothing validates a pitcher’s existence and pumps his egotistical tires more than a BP wall-scraper-homerun. 




Alex Tufts


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Baseball Gods



           Baseball is likely the most superstitious sport. The lack of a time clock (in every league except the NCAA) allows ample time for some players to follow their meticulous routine each time they walk to the plate or approach the mound. The timelessness of baseball and its rich history that is engrained in American culture certainly plays a factor in the superstition and wild beliefs as well. Through movies and myths of on field supernatural baseball occurrences, many players have become increasingly careful with their words and actions, ensuring themselves in the existence of a higher baseball entity.


Many unwritten rules and guidelines must be followed by those who are on the field, on the bench, or in the bullpen. Certain things like no-hitters, how fast a game is going, and personal/team streaks are forbidden to be discussed. Why are these things so taboo in the baseball world? How does someone mentioning a no-hitter 300 feet away in the bullpen have any impact whatsoever on what takes place on the field? The answer that is traditionally given to these questions is the presence of the Baseball Gods. That is, all-powerful beings who watch over each game of baseball and enact justice when someone breaks one of the unwritten rules.


It always seems that once someone mentions or informs the team of a current streak, whether in terms of wins, hits, or scoreless innings, that streak is subsequently broken. When someone speaks of how fast a game is going, the pace is sure to immediately slow down. When a pitcher is complimented on how he has not yet walked a batter during a game, he will almost always proceed to walk someone. According to the traditionalist, these actions are not coincidence. They are not in any way related to skill, chance, or even luck. These events are a direct result of the Baseball Gods exercising their unquestionable influence on the game; divinely intervening with those who have chosen to neglect the mighty deities.


The Baseball Gods were involved in Fairfield, Connecticut last weekend. Closer Jon Fitzsimmons quickly retired the first two batters in the bottom of the 9th inning in game one versus the Stags. Then, a Griffs relief pitcher stood up off the bullpen bench, as if to signify the conclusion of the game.



“Alright, here we go boys” he said, as he approached the gate to the field, eager for the on-field celebration.



The Baseball Gods did not approve of this assumption of victory. The first pitch to the next batter struck him directly in the spine.

“Sit down!” “What are you doing?!” and other derogatory comments rained down on him as the rest of the bullpen was aware of the Baseball Gods’ strong disproval.

 
 
As soon as the fellow bullpen pitcher (who shall remain nameless) returned to his seat, the final out was recorded and the Griffs were victorious. It is undeniable in many players’ minds: abide by the moral code of baseball or you will surely be tormented by the wrath of the Baseball Gods.


It is fun to believe and to attribute coincidences and perceived karma to something other than shear luck in the game of baseball. The belief in the Baseball Gods posits meaning upon all of our actions and it plays to the vast history of the game. Some players are not believers though. Some players choose to live in a world of baseball atheism, where they are free from constraining words and actions during a game, free to express their opinions and observations without consequence. These moral baseball nihilists deny that there is anything more than just a game. They scoff at the idea of on and off field actions being relevant or predictive of future events.


Do your superstitions and trivial routines of dressing the same way and not stepping on the foul lines really matter? Or is this all there is, just a game, a simple pastime played without meaning, without reason, without any higher significance except for the ones that we create? 
 
  
Alex Tufts 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Unimportance of Uniform Combinations


Sharing a bullpen with the opposing team is a baseball rarity

Last Wednesday at the University of Buffalo and Sunday at home against Manhattan, the Griffs dawned the unusual uniform combination of gold hat, gold jersey, and grey pants. These were the first games in recent memory that Canisius has ever sported gold jerseys with grey pants. The newly found combination caused much debate from the team’s omniscient baseball fashion experts and protégés of “baseball swag.”

As per baseball tradition, the Canisius coaching staff will usually give the game’s starting pitcher his choice of uniform combination. Most starting pitchers on our team continuously choose the jersey that they either like, feel most comfortable in, or fits them the best. Billy Martin has always been a blue hat and blue jersey kind of guy. Garrett Cortright’s taste has evolved from the all grey look freshman year, to the gold jersey and white pants combination this spring. It was also well known that Shane Davis was a persistent chooser of the grey jersey and grey pants combo with the Canisius grey vest revealing his trademark navy Under Armor shirt whose color was faded by years of UV rays and complete game victories.

The only certainty that exists with regards to the uniform selection process is that someone is going to complain. No matter what combination is chosen, some critic or defender of “baseball swag” is sure to chime in with a well-thought objection. Ridiculous complaints range from how white pants do not look good on certain days of the week to how we should refrain from wearing gold hats because they are more susceptible to shrinking, thus putting unneeded strain on one’s cranium whilst pitching. The groans and complaints are endless. No matter how much you plan and discuss possible combinations, someone is always going to be upset.

            So how do you please everyone with the uniform combinations? You don’t. In my opinion, it is not necessary to attend to every player’s fastidious swagger needs. Baseball is one of the few areas of society that is external to the scope of evaluation based upon clothing or appearance. A beauty of the game is that one needs not to drape themselves in regal baseball attire to be noticed by professional scouts or to go 3-4 with a double. Some players prefer to look their best and take pride in their equipment, which is fine. But to correlate the quantity of phiten necklaces with one’s quantity of success would be mistaken. What I am saying is that while expensive clothes and accessories may help you succeed in the real world, no one has ever made it to the big leagues based on their eye black symmetry or ability to color-coordinate their wrist bands. With all this being said, I still think the grey and gold clash.