In Honor of Pops; The Sports Moments of 2018 Where I Missed Him the Most
This is not one of my normal articles. This is going to be a way-too-deep dive into the sports moments of 2018 where I missed my pops the most (not in sad way mind you–more just, oh man it would have been AWESOME to see, well, actually, HEAR, his reaction). In other words: if you knew the man, had him as a coach or heard him yelling at any point on any sideline or court, this is for you. The reason for the article is as follows. At sundown last night, we commemorated the lunar anniversary of my pop’s death. We Jews work off of the moon. Judaism’s beginnings are extremely agricultural so it tends to work out that way. It is why pops can die in 2018 and we somehow celebrate the anniversary of his death in…2018. The exact date for those curious is the 19th of Tevet (or י״ט טבת–Thank you, my dear girlfriend, for the Hebrew keyboard). Without further ado, here are the top-three instances from the sports calendar of 2018 where I, and my brothers, immediately went, “oh boy, that has pops written all over it.” (Yes, they are all baseball. Baseball is his sport).
No. 3 Pops Moment of 2018: Joe Kelly Bookends 2018 with Badassness
Joe Kelly is the pitcher every team dreams of getting. A fiery right-hander with some of the greatest stuff in the game. The St. Louis Cardinals tried to get the most out of Kelly, but couldn’t. After two-and-a-half seasons, they shipped him to the Boston Red Sox. The Sox had the same hopes and aspirations; sometimes slotting him into the starting rotation, while at other moments, relying on him to hold down the fort in the bullpen. At the start of 2018, it looked like Kelly finally put it all together. Then he decided to stick up for Brock Holt after the super-utility player got spiked by Tyler Austin. In 1941, the year my pops was born, spiking was an acceptable slide. In 2018, not so much. The result? A 98 mph fastball directly into the back. A perfect beanball if there ever was one. Apparently, Tyler Austin thought you could spike somebody and get away with it without repercussions. Joe Kelly had other ideas:
Beanballs and breakup slides are all a part of the game. The most anticipated practice of any Justin Donnelly coached team was the first rain practice. Oh no, is it raining? Guess we will have to cancel practice… or… we can grab some cardboard and all learn how to slide. You might be the most ineffective batter of all-time. You might be the worst fielder, completely devoid of hand-eye coordination, but if you were on a “Coach Donnelly” squad, you damn sure will learn how to slide and run through the first base bag (where you will receive a high-five).
As you got older, those slides came with a caveat. Do you want to go spikes up? Fine. Just know that you will probably end up with a baseball looking bruise somewhere on your shoulder or back. Hey. That is baseball. The greatest sport known to man. Austin Tyler forgot that rule. Joe Kelly did not. However, after the brawl, Kelly lost his stuff. It would take months of tinkering before late-season Kelly looked like early-season Kelly. He finally discovered it again, just in time for the playoffs. That set the stage for stage Joe Kelly’s signature moments of 2018:
Sports teach you almost everything you need to know about life. How to battle through adversity being the most prominent. You can lose your confidence. Fine. But you are NOT allowed to give up. Tuck your shoulder in, brace for the worst, and push through. When you come out the other side, you will be better for it. Joe Kelly was the embodiment of that attitude in 2018. For that, Joe Kelly represents the No. 3 Pops Moment of 2018. Now, as Joe Kelly would say, “let’s f*@%ing go” to Pops Moment No. 2.
No. 2 Pops Moment of 2018: Manny Machado Goes Johnny Not Hustle
There is this old joke about two buddies who loved baseball. They had a deal that whichever one died first, the one that died would come back and let the other know if there is baseball in heaven. As the joke goes, finally, after years of talking about it, one finally croaks. After a couple of days of waiting, the guy that did not die finally gets visited by the deceased. The living guy is not spooked, in fact, he is excited.
He asks, “So, tell me, is there baseball in heaven?” The ghost responds, “well, I’ve got some good news and bad news, which one would you like to hear first?” Living guy goes, “Good news!” The ghost retorts, “the good news is, there IS baseball in heaven.” The living man cannot hold back his excitement, “that… that is the greatest thing to hear. I’m so excited, I am no longer all that scared of dying… Ummm… wait, what could the bad news possibly be?” Ghost kind of chuckles, “the bad news is you’re in the starting lineup on Monday.”
While my pops would probably be ecstatic to be on the bump or behind the dish once again (with a non-blown out right-arm), he would be more than content to be in the stands yelling at any player who did not hustle. He never cared about any player’s talent. From little league to the pros, you played hard or you did not play at all. Not hustling was the greatest sin one could commit in sports.
Manny Machado is a great baseball player. Offense, defense, he can do it all. But, he does not exactly put forth 100% effort. He does not play the game the right way. His lack of hustle is a baffling part of his character. Internet scribes in 2018 scoff at things like lack of hustle. However, there is still a time and a place where everyone can expect players to bust their butts nonstop; the playoffs. For Manny Machado, not even the playoffs can bring out that type of effort
Nor the World Series…
Machado is the antithesis of a hustle player. To the extent that somebody made a lowlight reel of Machado. If there is a heaven, and there is baseball in heaven (maybe Iowa?), there is most definitely a very loud man in jeans and a Marine Corps hat yelling at people to hustle
No. 1 Pops Moment of 2018: The Damn Yankees Do Something Respectable
Life is not fair. Life is simply life. You just go through it trying to do the best you can. You succeed sometimes, you fail most times. What you do when life throws you a curveball is what makes it special. Do you be selfish and live knowing you are that type of person or do you be selfless and go to sleep at night with a clean conscious? For C.C. Sabathia, he goes to sleep with a clean conscious.
The No. 1 Pops Moment of 2018 comes from my father’s No. 1 most hated team; the Yankees.
As much as it pains me to admit this, the most Pops Moment of 2018 belongs to the Yankees and C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia was due to receive a $500,000 bonus if he hit the 155 innings pitched plateau. After just 55 pitches in his final regular-season start, Sabathia was two innings away from the bonus mark. However, the Tampa Bay Rays overreacted to an unintentional plunking by throwing at Austin Romine. This greatly upset Sabathia. As it should have. Sabathia did not mean to hit Jake Bauers. The Rays responded by throwing very high on Romine. So what does Sabathia do? He plunks Jesus Sucre (low). Costing Sabathia $500,000.
That SUCKS. Sabathia sticks up for his teammate and it literally cost him a half-a-million dollars. My dad was a many of many (many) flaws. One of his good flaws was that he would give you the shirt of his back. He would do pretty much anything for anybody else, even if it was to his detriment. That is exactly was Sabathia did. He wanted to right a wrong, even if it cost him. Sometimes doing the right thing is the wrong thing for you. C’est la vie. After the game, Sabathia had this to say, “I don’t make decisions based on money. I just felt like it was the right thing to do.” (I cannot think of a more Justin Donnelly statement regarding money than that one).
HOWEVER… The New York Yankees… those damn Yankees. That cost my pop’s two favorite teams (the Boston Red Sox and the Brooklyn Dodgers–oh my pops LOVED losers) so much heartbreak throughout his life, did a solid, and it was their final move of 2018. The Yankees and General Manager Brian Cashma, ponied over the dough as if Sabathia hit the 155-inning mark! Sometimes in life you do the right thing and it costs you. But sometimes… sometimes… life can wonderful… and even the Yankees can be respected (excuse me while I go throw up).
PSYCH! No. 1 Pops Moment of 2018: BROCK HOLT HITS FOR THE CYCLE IN THE PLAYOFFS!
No way I could end an article derived from memories of my pops by saying something nice about the Yankees. Nope. No way. There was even a perfect sports moment in 2018 that buoyed the Red Sox and denigrated the Yankees. That is Pops 101. So what is the No. 1 Pops Moment of 2018? I answer your question with a question: who is the only player to ever hit for the cycle in postseason history? BROCK HOLT BROCK HOLT BROCK HOLT!!!