Game 9: NYY vs. BAL — Jackie Robinson Day 2015

Today is the day when every player and coach in MLB dons the #42 on their jersey. It’s Jackie Robinson Day, commemorating the anniversary of Robinson’s first day as a professional ball player, breaking the color barrier and changing the face of baseball forever. This year marks 68 years since that Spring Day when a young kid from Pasadena stepped on the field to play 1st base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. On his back, the number 42 was emblazoned, a number that would become nearly synonymous with the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, calling for equality, fairness, and justice for people of all colors, ethnicities, ages, genders, and beliefs. So, in that spirit, MLB recognizes that all its players are #42.

In Baltimore, the Yankees capped their 3-game series against the Orioles in a bit of a toss-up match. Nathan Eovaldi got the start, throwing 101 pitches over his 5 innings, giving up 8 hits, 3 walks, and 2 runs, but striking out 9 batters. His pitch count was rather high because he kept finding himself in some sticky situation. Like in the 1st inning, with 2 outs and 2 runners on the corners, a single easily scored the Orioles’ first run. And in the bottom of the 4th, a lead-off solo home run pushed the O’s score up to 2. But other than those runs, Eovaldi really was able to pitch his way out of some trouble in almost every inning. It drove up his pitch count though, which really sunk the game having to turn it over to a messy bullpen tonight.

See, Eovaldi left the game on the hook for the win as the Yankees found a bit of a thrill scoring some off the Orioles’ starter. In the 3rd, with 2 quick outs, Ellsbury doubled and Headley walked, then both would score on Carlos Beltran’s double. Then in the 4th, Alex Rodriguez smacked a very long solo home run deep into the left field seats.

When Eovaldi turned the ball over in the 6th inning to reliever David Carpenter, the Yankees had a 3-2 lead. But Carpenter promptly gave up a solo home run to tie up the game and eliminate Eovaldi’s chance to earn the win. And that was just the start of what some people dubbed the “sucky sixth” (though that is the PG-rated term). A single, a sacrifice bunt, and an intentional walk was all Carpenter needed to turn the ball over to reliever Justin Wilson. Wilson unfortunately gave up an RBI single and a 2-RBI double, and suddenly, it was 6-3 Orioles and Chris Martin was in for relief. Martin ended up getting those final 2 outs, but not before giving up an RBI single to push the O’s up to 7 runs scored.

Branden Pinder, up just today from the minors, made his Major League debut in the 7th inning, throwing a whopping 4 total pitches (all strikes, by the way) — a lineout, a foul ball, a triple, and a bunted double play ball. Betances’ 8th inning because a 14-pitch continuation of Pinder’s scoreless 7th, complete with 2 strikeouts.

In the top of the 8th inning, the Yankees made a decent rally attempt. Headley led-off with a single, ending at 3rd on Teixeira’s double, and then scoring on Brian McCann’s sacrifice fly. Teixeira scored on a bouncing wild pitch. But that was it for the rally.

Final score in Baltimore: 7-5 Orioles.

Roster updates: as mentioned above, Pinder was called-up from AAA Scranton to replace Kyle Davies who was sent down. And Yankees minor league pitcher Wilking Rodriguez is currently suspended 80 game for testing positive for a PED substance called furosemide, a common diuretic banned for its use as a “masking agent”.

Okay, back to the good, positive stuff … Jackie Robinson Day. When I think of Robinson (or any of the other “firsts” on a team like Elston Howard as I mentioned yesterday), I am reminded of the great expectations that so many people had for the desegregation of professional baseball (and well, this country in general). Expectations from segregationists that it will “ruin the game”, expectations from some people to “show them up” or something, expectations from others that things would change and were wary of whether that would be good or bad. Expectations nonetheless that drove as many people into the stand to watch the “spectacle” as much as it drove some people away to boycott such a thing.

And it got me thinking about expectations in general. I realized something. One’s expectations are determined by one’s ego. I mean that what we expect out of ourselves or others is based on some standard we set that makes us feel better about the situation. For the segregationists, they expected Robinson to fail or become intimidated and leave so that they could be proved right that this would ruin the game to have non-white players. For those coming to watch the “spectacle”, they expected to see something greater than a ball game, their entertainment wasn’t in the game but in the jeering or the show of how this shift in race relations would play out on a national stage, because they wanted to see something controversial.

I think some people still show up to games for “expectations”. It’s why some people seek out certain players to specifically boo them for failing (or perhaps in a weird twisted way meeting) their expectations of who the people believe these players are and thus deserve to be treated.

But players like Robinson and Howard and the slew of amazing players that came when the floodgates opened for players of all colors weren’t trying to live up to someone’s elusive expectations. No, they just wanted to play ball and play ball with excellence. And so, I am then forced to draw a natural conclusion. If expectation is determined by ego, that it is excellence that is driven by character. Robinson wasn’t just a great ball player; he was a great man. His drive for excellence didn’t come from a place where he must somehow prove his worth to be a Dodger, but rather a personal choice to be the best Jackie Robinson he could be. Robinson was a stellar athlete, considering baseball the sport he was the least qualified to play, but if he was going to do anything, he was going to do it exceedingly well.

Because you can’t ever meet everyone’s expectations. But you can strive for personal excellence. Excellence comes from strength of character first, knowing that failure is merely part of the journey and learning from those failure and successes only make you a stronger, better person. Not to prove some point or be the “first” at something, but to just be who you were meant to be, and do it with excellence.

Three things to me make a great ball player — ability, teamwork, and character. Sounds like Jackie Robinson to me.

Today, we are all #42.

Go Yankees!

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