Byrd’s Injury Brings Perspective to Fenway Finale

The image of the baseball hitting Marlon Byrd in the face is one I am having a hard time shaking off. The second image, the one of him thrashing around home plate on the ground from the pain is even more disturbing.

Marlon Byrd is the type of player that can carry a team when he’s on a hot streak. When his bat hasn’t quite hit it’s stride, he’s still a Cub that is fun to watch because you can tell he takes pride in being here and playing for Cubs fans. To see interact with the fans in the bleachers at Wrigley is one of the hidden gems of the Wrigley Field experience. The friendly jabs back and forth. The willing conversations with kids and adults alike. The dancing, the pointing, the smiling. Marlon Byrd is possibly the most likable player on the team which is what makes this injury all the harder to take.

I wouldn’t wish getting hit in the face with a fastball on any baseball player. Not a player I dislike and of course certainly not one I root for on a regular basis. The league is doing more to test out new helmets to help with preventing concussions that occur as a result of beanballs. Thing is, when you are unable to get out of the way and one of those pitches catches you in the face…not a whole lot you can do about it except go down hard and hope for the best.

Think about the highlights you’ve seen on Sportscenter…all the times you’ve seen them play that disturbingly loud PLUNK sound of a baseball hitting a batting helmet. You’ve seen the concern of players in the field and teammates in the dugout when they show those shots. Of course, they generally show the reaction once and the plunking about 30 times in a row. To see the concern on those players when a beanball happens off a batting helmet is one thing. You know it’s a big deal when players on the other team have looks on their faces like Youkalis did for the Sox. He looked absolutely horrified and rightfully so. Regardless of which uniform he is wearing, no player wants to see another player take a fastball to the face. And if they are concerned, players who have ‘seen it all’, then you know it is something to be concerned about.

As soon as it happened I thought of the scary episode baseball experienced earlier this year with Atlanta Braves minor leagues manager, Luis Salazar getting hit in the head with a foul ball and then slamming his head to the ground on his fall afterwards. He has lost the eye and his life will never be the same. Coaching like that can’t be easy…it would be impossible to play. My number one concern is Byrd’s health and vision. Number two would be his ability to play. When you start to talk about injuries to the head, you can’t mess around or take it lightly. The Cubs need to take this very seriously and take care of Byrd. He is an important part of the line up and fabric of this team however they must not rush him back…if coming back is an option at all.

Nothing would be sadder than to see a player in his prime, loving playing for the Cubs, have his career cut short because of this type of play. The head is just such an intense opportunity for brain and vision injuries, maybe the league needs to go even further to protect their players. Facemasks? I don’t know, not necessarily…but maybe.

My friend, Paulie Malignaggi, is a professional boxer. He fought the fight of his life at Madison Square Garden a few years back against a real brawler. It was a title match against the very talented and very strong Miguel Cotto. I produced a documentary of his training leading up to the fight and then we were there filming on fight night. Paulie performed to his best ability and made us all proud of him. While he did not win, he was impressive in defeat. I couldn’t believe he went the distance considering in the third round, he broke the orbital bone on the left side of his face (the bone below the eye/lower part of the eye socket). I couldn’t imagine the pain he must have been in and was concerned for his well-being, his career and his vision.

Luckily, Paulie healed and went on to continue his boxing career. Sometimes though, athletes can endure the same type of injury and not come out of it as lucky.

This Red Sox/Cubs series is something I’ve looked forward to because I predicted Cubs/Red Sox in the 2011 World Series. Game one was exciting until it turned into a giant blow-out loss. Game 2 was more fun as we ran off an 8-run 8th inning. Thing is, the game 2 success was greatly affected by the fact that one of our Cubs went down with a serious injury earlier in the game. Perhaps it’s because I have first hand experience with an injury like this, knowing someone who has suffered facial fractures/broken bones around the eye. I know how serious it can be and maybe that’s why I’m having a hard time shaking the Byrd injury off.

I can’t wait to hear an update and I very much so hope Byrd is okay. I realize he is a baseball player and not a boxer. It’s not like it was ten rounds of continuously getting hit in the face with a fastball. One shot, that was all. But to think about seeing the pitch hit him in the face and then him flailing in pain on the ground…a concussion would be one thing and I believe the team will handle his injury well and look out for Byrd’s health. As of right now, his vision is my real concern and I’m hoping for good news about his condition soon. Even more so than a Cubs win this evening.

Hoping for the best re: Byrd and that his teammates will one for him tonight. Would be a great start to what could be a long road back to the playing field for Marlon. Go Cubs Go.

Book Review: ‘Remembering Fenway Park’

Before this weekend’s series at Fenway Park, the last time the Cubs appeared in a game that mattered there was 1918. It was the World Series and as the result of a shortened season due to the world being at war, the two teams at the top of their divisions were selected to play for the championship.

Those teams were of course, the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.

1918 is a Series that ended up in the W column for the team from Beantown. That year would haunt them for 86 years until their next championship. Yankees fans would chant NINE-TEEN EIGHT-TEEN at the Red Sox year after year as they would meet their AL East division rivals in the playoffs in what felt like every single year (although realistically that was not the case). The Cubs on the other hand, are still waiting to capture their ‘next’ title and the last one occurred 10 years before the 1918 Series. In a decade that featured arguably the best Cubs teams of all-time, they would unfortunately come up short (possibly to their own accord, according to documents recently released) and the memories they would have of Fenway Park were not exactly fond ones.

93 years later, a Cubs team would finally step back into Fenway Park for games that counted. Not playoff games mind you (although I do predict that’s how 2011 will play out). A weekend series that has the entire MLB fan base watching primetime matchups between two of the most storied franchises in the game. It’s definitely a series I’ve kept my eye on since the schedule was released and I was // this close to heading to Boston this weekend to take a game or to in, in person. As it is, while Wrigley Field is the best place to watch a baseball game, arguably, Fenway Park is the second best (and some fans would even flip flop those two). The two oldest ballparks in the major leagues, it’s amazing how high they rank in the eyes of baseball fans. The casual fan would think that the newer parks featuring all kinds of replica throwback feel plus the technology and comfort of modern day would be the favorites of fans. However, as it turns out, while some of the newer amenities are nice, the replica throwback effort often comes across as trying too hard and nothing can match the true feeling you get when you walk into the real deal.

Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, while receiving slight updates and additional seats over the years since the 1918 match up, are still the truth when it comes to our favorite past time. They provide fans with a home to celebrate their team game in and game out and the opportunity to relish in the history of their beloved franchises as it surrounds them inside the ballpark every where you look. There is no need to reference a key part of the stadium or the field where something amazing or magnificent happened throughout the years. No need for pictures or museums. Whatever is there to celebrate the past is simply by choice, not be necessity. All of the areas of the ballparks where those special moments occurred are still there, right in front of you, getting groomed and prepped by the grounds crews each and every season.

The two parks are special in that way and nothing else in the league is, can or will ever be quite as magical as them.

The 1918 Series is something the two teams have in common. The fact that their ballparks are such true relics to the history of the game is certainly another.

I was sent a review copy of a book called ‘Remembering Fenway Park – An oral and Narrative History of the Home of the Boston Red Sox’. It’s a great book and I wish they did one for Wrigley Field.

My favorite thing about the book is the way it manages to cover the history of the park from both the inside and out. What I mean by that is, not the outer walls and inside of the park, but the way it reviews the history of the stadium as an observer in addition to the quote, emotions, memories and thoughts shared by former Red Sox players who played many, many games at Fenway. With a foreword by Johnny Pesky, immediately you are taken to a place that gives instant credibility to the author. The stories told by the players give you an inside look as to what it is to be a Boston Red Sox player and the images that accompany it are spectacular.

Williams, Fisk, Ramirez, Rice, Clemens…they are all here. The book takes you decade by decade, year by year breaking down what the atmosphere was like around Boston at the time. It paints a picture as to what the pulse of the nation felt like and how it affected the league as time went by. It’s hilarious to see the old park in it’s youth and the types of ads that are around the stadium (apparently shaving blades were a very hot commodity in the early 1900’s and the companies that made them were willing to shell out dough to get their razor known around Fenway…also a razor with two blades was a big deal back then…what are we up to, like seven blades by now?)

Some of my favorite images are those of the spectators. I wonder if we’ll ever get back to wearing suits and fedoras to the ballpark. They say what’s old will be back and become new again.

To see Fenway Park expand throughout the book is also a very interesting aspect. It is like a time capsule reference of the business plan blueprint the organization took throughout the years. How to make more money…where to put more seats…how to get more people to the ballpark. Baseball is a beautiful game with it’s measurements from mound to plate and from base to base. However, while the talent on the field is a spectacle to behold, the game is also a business. The owners of the team throughout the years clearly understood this and it’s fascinating to see them maintain the honor and reputation of the park as a landmark of the sport while still finding places to build here and change there to increase the seating capacity. If they had made mistakes or errors along the way, they’d still be selling out to large numbers, however, fans wouldn’t feel the same way they do about the ballpark.

Opening Day line ups of the teams throughout the years from 1912-2009 is also a great resource in watching the team develop like an amoeba. Young stars come up to the league early in the book and you watch their careers develop until they leave you as a respected, beloved veteran at the end of their careers. This happens constantly and it is also an interesting way to see how the Red Sox have handled the ballclub throughout the years. Who did they keep? Who did they trade? Who did they sign? It’s a record of nearly 100 years of business decisions that have made the Red Sox the team they are today and Fenway Park the stadium we all know and respect.

Wrigley Field deserves this type of treatment. I know that there are NUMEROUS books out there about the history of Wrigley Field and many of them are quite good. However, aside from no World Series title reference next to the year 1918 in the book and the dates listed as 1912-2010 (which I feel gives the impression that Fenway closed in 2010…I maybe would have listed it as ‘Since 1912′ or something to that effect), the author, Harvey Frommer, does it right. If he already has encapsulated the history of Wrigley Field, then I want someone to tell me where I can get it. If he hasn’t, then let this be my official ask that he do so.

Baseball fans will love this book even if they are not Red Sox fans. I would encourage you to find it, buy it and enjoy.

Rubber band match tonight. Cubs at Red Sox. One more game that matters in the books for 2011 at Fenway Park tonight on Sunday Night Baseball. Garza is out with tightness in his shoulder. Byrd still hospitalized from being hit in the face with an Acevedes pitch. While my thoughts are with Byrd and I hope for GREAT news as far as he’s concerned and I wish Garza could represent us in this third game against the Sox, it will be fun to see one more game against the Sox at Fenway……and I hope we get seven more this post-season. Only this time, I want the Cubs to walk away with the title and I want to be there. That’s how I’d like to remember Fenway Park.

Go Cubs Go!