For the love of sport: Baseball’s Opening Day

Today (well overnight to start with Australian team) is Major League Baseball’s Opening Day of the season. The Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Padres aside (all who have played already), each team in the MLB kicked off a 162 game marathon with an eye on getting into the post season in October. Actually that is not entirely true, because some teams have goals not at all related to the post season but to improvement (yes they admit as much before the season starts) and reaching the fabled .500 mark.

All of that said, today is one of the great days in sport. 13 games staggered throughout the day in an orgy of baseball action for fans around the world. Some fans will be looking for a repeat of last year’s performances. Some fans will have expectations based on payroll, hype and history. Some fans will just be happy that their team is running around again.

I don’t think in Australia we appreciate the scale of America’s infatuation of with sport and in particular baseball. As I am from Queensland, it makes sense to compare what Queenslanders believe to the national sport, Rugby League, with America’s national pastime. That comparison though is really an apples and oranges scenario: in Rugby League some clubs can not get 10,000 to their games yet in the MLB there are a number clubs who have not had a spart seat in their stadium for year (not a stretch games but a stretch of years).

Take my team, the Chicago Cubs, for example: they have not won a World Series since 1908 (the year that rugby league started in NSW) and have not really challenged in the post season in a decade and yet over that decade they have had an average attendance for the 81 home games they play a year of 37,700 per game. That is in stadium with a capacity of 41,000. The missing seats there have all been sold by the way because every game is sold out at Wrigley Field. Compare that to say the Cronulla Sharks of the NRL: never won a title, not often competed in the finals series and I can not remember the last time they had a sell out crowd.

The scale is massively different as is the season. 162 games in roughly 180 days is nothing short of phenominal and for the fans nothing short of a buffet of sporting action that goes without compare.

I love baseball and started worshiping at its alter when I first picked up a bat in T-ball at aged 6. That was 30 years ago and my enthusiasm has not waned a bit. This morning I found myself, as with every baseball season since the invention of the smart phone, up early and watching scores of my beloved Cubs tick over before dawn (Australian time) and I, again, woke the neighbours with a string of invective when we gave up a game ending home run at the bottom of the 10th inning to the Pirates. Part of the love of the game and the baseball season is that there is always tomorrow for one’s team: for my team the chance to get the first W of the season is only 48 hours away (the Cubs have an off day tomorrow).

Only 161 games to go now until the post season.

Shumpty’s Punt: Horse Racing and the Weekend Multi

It is another ripping weekend of sport this weekend and I have come up with a few racing bets and a multi that I think will lead to good results for followers out there.

Weekend Multi

Leg 1: Washington Nations to cover the line (-1.5 points) against Philadelphia Phillies in the MLB ($1.85)

Leg 2: New Zealand to cover the line (-8.5 points) against South Africa in the Rugby Championship. ($1.92)

Leg 3: Sydney Roosters to cover the line (-1.5 points) against the Manly Sea Eagles in the NRL. ($1.92)

Leg 4: Green Bay Packers to cover the line (-9.5 points) against the Washington Redskins in the NFL. ($2.02)

This multi will pay $13.77 for every dollar invested.

Horse Racing

Mooney Valley:

Race 1 Number 3 Za Moulin Rouge (win) ($5.00 FP)

Race 6 Number 2 Happy Trails (win) ($5.50 FP)

Rosehill:

Race 6 Number 5 Driefontein (each way) ($10 / $3.40 FP)

Race 7 Number 13 Prince Harada (win) ($5.00 FP)

Doomben:

Race 1 Number 4 Raeburn (each way) ($6.50 / $2.30 FP)

Race 6 Number 2 Bribie (win) ($5.00 FP)

Good luck and good punting.

Shumpty’s Punt: Weekend Multi and Saturday Specials

Another massive weekend of sport beckons and I have a five leg multi that I am particularly keen on as well as three bets at Eagle Farm that I think will bring a return for punters.

Sports Multi

Leg 1: Wellington to cover the line (-8.5 points) against Taranaki in the ITM Cup ($1.90)

Leg 2: Waikato to cover the line (-7.5 points) against Otago in the ITM Cup ($1.90)

Leg 3: Detroit Tigers to cover the line (-1.5 runs) against the New York Mets in the MLB ($2.01)

Leg 4: Pittsburgh Pirates to defeat the San Fransisco Giants in the MLB ($2.24)

Leg 5: South Africa to cover the line (-13.5 points) against Argentina in the Rugby Championship

This bet will pay $31.20 for each dollar invested. Please note that you have to get this one on by 4pm this (Friday) afternoon.

Horse Racing

All of my best this weekend are at Eagle Farm on Saturday and are as follows:

Race 2: Number 4 Bribie (each way) ($6.00/$2.00)

Race 4: Number 3 Awesome Ransom (win) ($4.00)

Race 7: Number 2 Funtantes (each way) ($9.00/$2.80)

As always, please gamble responsibly and only bet what you can afford to lose.

Shumpty’s Punt: A Friday Wager

A quick Friday lunch time bet team: I cannot believe the Pittsburgh Pirates are paying $2.21 against the San Francisco Giants in the MLB game kicking off at 12:15pm EST. The Pirates are the top of the NL Central with a record of 74-52 whilst the Giants are coming last in the NL West with a record of 56-70. I know the Giants have their ace on the mound in Matt Cain but his record isn’t that great this year (8-8).

Definitely worth a Friday wager at those odds.

As always: gamble responsibly.

What ever happened to “the umpire’s always right”? A sports fan’s lament

The question of the treatment of match officials is one that has been firmly on the lips of many in recent weeks given the seemingly many and regular displays of petulance we have seen from the stars of many sports. It seems, based on the evidence before me, that respect for match officials in sport in general is at an all time low.

Pondering this issue over the last couple of days the thought that kept coming back to me was the question “what happened to the umpire is always right?”. As I recall childhood spent trundling medium pacers and standing at fine leg / second base in summer and kicking balls of various shapes in winter, the only rule that as young participants in sport that was drummed into us other than “have fun”: was that the umpire / referee was always right.

Indeed, as I, and a sampler of friends from those many moons ago, recall it the rule went something like “even when the umpire is wrong he is always right” and it had a punishment for breaking it that involved a clip over the ear from a parent and a sit on the sidelines the next game.

On the premise of what sports fans have all witnessed over the last couple of weeks across many codes either the rule that we all played by as kids in my generation was not pressed on professional sportsmen when they were kids OR something has happened that has changed the kids running around the local sports grounds into the petulant performers that grace our screens on a regular basis.

It is important to stop at this juncture and briefly examine what I am complaining about here. Obviously I watch a lot of sport and these are the things that I have seen that have concerned me in just the last month:

1. The regular habit of dummy halfs in rugby league throwing their hands up in disgust at seemingly every play of the ball that takes one second longer than they think is appropriate.

2. The regular habit of rugby league and rugby union teams who are waiting for a decision by the television match official to walk back to their own half in anticipation of a try being awarded.

3. The claiming of catches by fielders in the slips in test matches were the fielder could not possibly think they have caught the catch.

4. The captains of teams in both rugby codes regularly and vociferously questioning any call that they consider to have gone against their team. Such questioning now seems to, as par for the course, include swearing.

5. Tennis players questioning every call in an attempt to keep themselves in the game during an obvious losing cause.

Such behaviour appeared to reach its epoch in the first State of Origin game where the captain of the New South Wales team had a running battle with referees and was heard to quip “this is your first State of Origin isn’t it? You can tell” among other choice lines.

Put simply: there is not a game of sport that one watches these days in which such questioning of the match officials is not seen.

Now I acknowledge that the business of sport is big business these days and I also acknowledge that never have players whilst they are on the field been under more scrutiny with the advent of microphones on referees lapels and cameras focused on every facial expression of the players. These competing interests mean that on the one hand it might be said that a wrong decision can have a bigger effect on the team that the decision goes against and on the other hand we as fans get to hear and see more of the interactions between players and officials.

That said, I actually do not care what excuses players and codes might roll out to defend player behaviour in this regard because it is clear to me that changes need to be made. This was really sheeted home to me when my father told me anecdotally about running the line in my nephews under 7 rugby league recently. He (my dad) was shocked when one of the combatants quipped to him after one call “you aren’t doing us any favours are you”. The kid was seven.

If this is what our future stars think is appropriate conduct (and I know my sample size is small) then now is the time to do something about it.

Trying to get back to the rule that the match official is always right seems to me to be an appropriate starting point for the codes that are presently in the news on this issue and the only way that it seems to me that that “golden” rule is going to return to the games we love is for there to be strict punishments for breaching the rule.

Some sports deal with this well. In baseball, if you show dissent you are thrown out of the game; regardless of the state of the game and the position the player / coach holds. In cricket, players who dissent (and this includes the simple act of lingering after a decision is made and looking at the umpire) are punished on a sliding scale that runs from fines through to bans.

Conversely, other sports such as rugby league seem to treat the problem by resting the blame with the match officials themselves. This is simply not good enough.

Whilst I do not advocate a baseball style removal from the game for dissenters in all sport, it seems to me that that is nearly the point we have reached in order to bring the players back into line.

Sport is already playing a losing battle with video games, tablets and junk food and does not need the future generations (and their parents) to be put off by the poor conduct of the stars of the game. Sport also does not sports fans to turn off their TVs and stop watching because they simply can not stomach the whinging any more. Perhaps now is the time for serious action to be taken.

Until such action is taken (and I doubt it ever will), sports fans such as I are left with the continuing lament about the decline of the rule “the umpire is alway right” and our fingers lingering over the off buttons of our remote controls.