Steve Christilaw: Baseball fans need willpower to survive August
Welcome to the Dog Days of Summer, that time of year when your hat develops its own white halo and the only thing that keeps us from smelling like stale sweat is the constant manufacture of fresh rivulets of moisture.
Face it, the only thing sweating more than we are is the outside surface of a fresh glass of iced tea. It’s that one month of the year where you deeply regret not investing in air conditioning and even a bad movie sounds appealing because, well, the theater did.
Taking in a night baseball game during August takes effort when the temperature hovers above 90 degrees until after the seventh-inning stretch.
For the baseball fan, August is that time of year where the game used to have the sports page to itself. The NBA was off for the month, the Stanley Cup has settled into a new home and the NFL was at training camp.
That’s not the case anymore.
The NBA is still in the midst of its annual free agent frenzy and the NFL treats training camp the way a hungry person treats a complimentary smorgasbord. ESPN beams us games from the CFL while the Pro Football Hall of Fame opens its doors to enshrine a new class.
But on the diamond, the game takes on a make-or-break grind that reveals character and unmasks the game’s characters.
Spring generates excitement in the heart of every fan because everyone starts with the same record on opening day, and most teams keep it alive through June. July brings the All-Star Game, giving way to the trade deadline, when some hopes are fanned once again by the addition of fresh arms and bats while others are abandoned with perennial sighs of “Wait ’til next year.”
August is baseball’s crucible – and it can be an interminably long month, as any Mariners fan (or Cubbies fan) can attest. If you can’t weather August, you will have nothing to play for in September.
It takes willpower to battle through the grind of August. Wilt and a team will dip into its minor league coffers and find a replacement (think of the slumping Wally Pipp getting a day off and being replaced by a young slugger from Columbia University by the name of Lou Gehrig, although that happened June 2, 1925).
August is where streaks end.
Joe DiMaggio’s incredible 56-game hit streak in 1941 came during the temperate days of May and June, and the Yankee Clipper put an end to his brother’s 34-game hit streak on this day in 1949. The bespectacled centerfielder for the Red Sox was hitless in his first four at-bats against New York’s Vic Raschi and his brother made a shoestring catch on a soft line drive in the eighth inning to end the streak.
Pete Rose’s 44-game hit streak ended on Aug. 1.
The Philadelphia A’s had a 20-game losing streak end on this day in 1916 when Joe Bush hurled a 7-1 win over Detroit. The win was just the third win in 43 games for the hapless A’s, leaving them with a 20-80 record.
Roger Craig, pitching for Casey Stengel and the inept New York Mets, had lost 18 consecutive decisions going into a start 50 years ago today against the Chicago Cubs. In an effort to avoid tying the major league record of 19 consecutive losses, the future manager of both the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres changed his uniform number to 13 in an attempt to change his luck, and it worked. Jim Hickman lifted a two-out line drive to left field that ticked off the overhang at the Polo Grounds for a grand slam and an improbable 7-3 win.
And for us fans of the Mariners, it’s much more fun to watch a team battle to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot than it was four years ago, when general manager Jack Zduriencik fired manager Don Wakamatsu and three of his coaches on this day in 2010, citing a loss of confidence.
While we hurry to squeeze in those last few trips to the lake to beat the heat and enjoy these last days of summer before the kids head back to school, baseball heads to Arlington and Houston, Texas, and St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri. To Chicago and Detroit the hot, humid climes of Boston and New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore, all in hopes of being within striking distance of a playoff berth as the season heads into Labor Day and a September to remember.
And we’ll be watching. Preferably from friendly confines near an AC unit.
Steve Christilaw is a longtime freelance sportswriter and reporter. He can be reached at steve.christilaw@ gmail.com.