Drama, Milestones, Rumors, and Tragedy

July 10

Unexpected gifts are the best kind. The U.S. Women’s soccer team provided just such a surprise with a red-white-and-blue bow Sunday morning.

Down one player and down 2-1 to Brazil in the World Cup quarterfinals in the final seconds of extra time, the US scored one of the most memorable goals in the tournament’s history. If I may steal from one of those British commentators, “a lion-hearted goal.”

Megan Rapinoe hit a tremendous cross, and Abby Wambach soared in the air and scored on a header in the 122nd minute to tie the game at 2-2, the latest goal in World Cup history. The U.S. went on to beat Brazil on penalty kicks, 5-3 to avoid their earliest exit ever and avenge an embarrassing 4-0 semifinal loss in the 2007 World Cup.

The stunning turnaround also overshadowed the two-goal performance by the brilliant Marta for Brazil, although she earned whistles from the neutral crowd. She took a page from the men’s book and faked injury and flopped to stall for time. That was bush league for such a top-level performer.

The U.S. moves on to the semifinals Wednesday against France, providing another gift: live sports on a weekday morning in the summertime. And with host Germany falling to Japan, the door is wide open for the Americans to go all the way.

The talking heads will debate whether such a win is going to do much to make soccer a mainstream sport in this country. The win over Brazil happened exactly 12 years after Brandi Chastain’s iconic goal in 1999, when for a moment the U.S. women grabbed all the headlines.

As in 1999, the American women’s rise in 2011 may be more of an event than a watershed moment. Nobody should fool themselves that soccer will become king anytime soon.

However, I guarantee you that thousands of young girls are going to see highlights of Sunday’s game and say: “I want to be Abby when I grow up,” or, “I want to be Hope Solo when I grow up.” It will only contribute to soccer’s slow build.

There has been no overnight sensation for soccer in this country, but in some parts fans have taken it to heart. Just look at the rivalry that has developed among MLS clubs in the Pacific Northwest.

Continued success for the American women can only help, and remember, they have even fewer chances to shine than the men do. Soccer has its faults, but when it’s on the world stage, in a one-and-done tournament, it can shine like a new penny.

Drama, regardless of sport or gender, is a very good thing. We should just appreciate Sunday’s game for what it was: a tremendous sporting event, and one of the spine-tingling matches in U.S. soccer history.

***

My love-hate relationship with the Yankees is one reason I agonized over writing about Derek Jeter. ESPN slobbers over the pinstripes, there is a certain arrogance surrounding those connected with the organization, and they are primary examples of baseball’s caste system.

It’s also true that while George Steinbrenner was a lightning rod for decades, he wanted to win. Most fans would love an owner like that. Also, the Yankees are simply taking advantage of a system that doesn’t really deter spending, save for the mosquito bite of a luxury tax.

My dad grew up in Joplin, Missouri, a Yankees farm town — and the first athlete I ever knew was Mickey Mantle, courtesy of some pinstriped pajamas bearing the #7. In my Little League and youth baseball days, I always tried to get #7, though I fell a bit short of The Mick’s achievements.

Later I hated the Yankees because they stood in the Dodgers’ way in the World Series, until 1981. My hate ended to Howard Cosell, who barely concealed his Yankee partisanship on the ABC baseball broadcasts. In ’81, as the Dodgers pulled away in the clinching Game 6 against pitcher George Frazier — who replaced Tommy John in a tie game after four innings — Cosell said: “you have to feel for ( Yankees manager ) Bob Lemon.”

Yet so much of baseball’s history is intertwined with the Yankees, and it is hard to deny the greatness of that legacy, and the players who fill the Hall of Fame. Derek Jeter is the latest in a long line of such players, and on Saturday he stamped his name permanently into baseball annals.

A certain segment of the population idolizes Jeter for his off-the-field conquests. A few years ago he had a Hall of Fame run of starlets on his arm, a dizzying array of pelts on the wall. However, he’s been dating actress Minka Kelly for a while. She was in the crowd Saturday at Yankee Stadium for Jeter’s latest baseball conquest: his 3,000th career hit.

Jeter, always with the flair for the dramatic, homered deep into the left field bleachers off the Rays’ David Price. He became just the second player in major league history, along with Wade Boggs, to reach the milestone with a home run. He’s the third player who spent most of their career at shortstop to reach 3,000.

Although his skills are declining, he took a dip in the fountain of youth and had a career day: five hits, capping the day with a go-ahead single in the 8th. Like I said, a flair for the dramatic. Oh, and one more thing: no other Yankee has collected 3,000 career hits.

Not Babe Ruth. Not Lou Gehrig. Not Joe Dimaggio. Not Mantle. Not Hensley Meulens. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

I have poked Jeter in the past for not even being the best shortstop on his own team: Alex Rodriguez was better when he arrived, but there was no way he was going to shove a guy with four rings ( now five ) out of the way.

But there is no denying 3,000. And there is no denying five rings, for which Jeter has been the constant along with Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.

He might have been a bit overrated on the field in his later years, but he was certainly good enough to be the undisputed leader of some great teams, including one of the best of all time in 1998. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever seen, and there is no Yankee I would rather see hitting in a clutch situation, even now.

Now, which baseball writers will leave him off the first ballot for the Hall of Fame ? Because you know someone will. 28 excluded Rickey Henderson, so anything can happen.

***

When Giants manager Bruce Bochy named Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran to the National League All-Star team over Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, I blogged that conspiracy theorists would have a field day. Was this the opening salvo in trying to woo Beltran to San Francisco ?

Well, it didn’t hurt. Beltran says he would waive the no-trade clause in his contract to play for a contender, and as the Mets arrived in San Francisco Friday he praised the Giants’ championship run last year. The next salvo came Sunday night, when Beltran was scheduled to fly with the Giants’ contingent to the All-Star game.

Giants General Manager Brian Sabean has said he might be willing to break down and deal for a rental. So there’s plenty of speculation about whether the Giants would deal for Beltran, and whether it would be a good idea. As a host on Sportsphone 680 after Giants games the past couple of weeks, I call this “Talk Show Gold.”

It’s funny how some Giants fans react: they are still feeling the sting of past ill-fated trades, even after their team won the World Series, and the gut reaction is to second-guess the trade before it has even happened. We don’t even know what the Giants will give up.

How much of the remaining $8 million on Beltran’s contract can the Giants take on ? It might be too rich for their blood right now, but eating more of the contract may reduce the pain in terms of talent relinquished.

I sense the Mets will want a current major leaguer and a prospect, or a couple of prospects, in return. The Giants won’t give up their top prospects, such as Brandon Belt, Gary Brown, or Zack Wheeler. They might pull something from the next shelf.

The howls of protest would be heard, no matter what the Giants give up, because of Beltran’s injury history. That’s the roll of the dice you take when you’re trying to defend a title, and with the Giants’ window of opportunity still open a player of Beltran’s ability brings risk and reward: if healthy he’s their best hitter and makes their flaccid lineup look much different.

For a team with the Giants’ pitching, it might be enough to get them deep into the postseason again. You know Beltran has performed well under the bright lights before, and scouting reports indicate his bat speed has returned close to where it was during his prime.

Other questions remain: will Jonathan Sanchez return from the disabled list refreshed, and if so, will he be part of the trade mix ? Do the Giants trust Barry Zito enough to consider trading Sanchez ?

Also, with the Mets playing well lately, will they want to hang on to Beltran a while longer to see if they can stay in Wild Card contention ? The Giants took two of three from them over the weekend, pushing them 11 games out of first place in the NL East, and 7 1/2 out of the Wild Card, so they’re closer to being sellers.

Don’t expect Beltran to walk off the plane in Phoenix wearing a Giants uniform. He’ll at least play in the All-Star game as a Met, but with little chance he’ll re-sign with New York, his team will be compelled to get something in return from somebody. And given their recent financial woes, money will be at the center of any transaction.

***

Meanwhile, Pablo Sandoval has been added to the NL All-Star team. I mentioned a month ago that he’d have to tear the cover off the ball to justify his selection. Well, a 21-game hitting streak will do.

That’s not the reason he was chosen. He’s an injury replacement for the Mets’ Jose Reyes. But Sandoval has played at an All-Star level since returning from the disabled list.

Best of all, he has regained his power, and his game-tying two run double Wednesday against the Padres was one of the big hits of the season. He got hot when the Giants desperately needed a spark on offense.

Sandoval’s selection also makes up for being snubbed by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel in 2009. The Giants have five All-Stars for the first time since 1966. Once again, to the victors go the spoils.

Last week I joked that Bochy could also add Nate Schierholtz, Javier Lopez and Sergio Romo. Of course, that could have put him danger of being the first All-Star manager to be deposed.

***

People go to baseball games to have fun. They’re not supposed to be injured. They’re not supposed to die. Dads are supposed to take their sons to ballgames — it’s a part of Americana. They aren’t supposed to die as their sons look on in horror.

On Monday, funeral services will be held for Brownwood, Texas firefighter Shannon Stone. You probably know his tragic story by now. He died after falling over a railing catching a ball tossed into the stands by Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton as the Rangers hosted the A’s.

The details are simply heartbreaking. Hamilton says he heard Stone’s son Cooper cry for his dad. A’s reliever Brad Ziegler says Stone, still conscious. asked paramedics to check on his son to make sure he was OK.

He was just trying to be a Dad, catching a ball for his son. In his final moments, he was also trying to be a Dad. He died on the way to the hospital.

The tragedy deeply affected Hamilton, Ziegler, and both the Rangers and A’s organizations. Flags at the Rangers ballpark are being flown at half staff, and both teams set up memorial fundraisers.

If you’re so inclined, pray for Stone’s family, especially young Cooper. I just don’t know how a young boy can recover from this, but I hope he gets all the help he needs, for as long as it is needed.

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One Response to “Drama, Milestones, Rumors, and Tragedy”

  1. Jim from Napa Says:

    If people go on the Rangers website they have a link to give money to the family of Mr. Stone. I was lucky enough to be able to do that.

    I never get too into sports stories but this one was rough and I was sad for days. A good man.

    I still think soccer will be a non entity in the U.S. We are into events and soccer just isn’t our thing. If winning the cup on our home soil can’t make it happen then this won’t. But I’m glad if anyone is inspired. Always is a good thing,

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