It’s time for Jose Melendez’s KEYS TO THE GAME.
1. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Japanese culture, the rituals that precede the epic confrontation between Japans’ two biggest baseball stars, Mr. Matsu and Ichiro, this evening may confuse you. In order to assist you, Jose has put the one-eight of his brain that is Japanese to work, summarizing the finest guides to the ritual, the internet has to offer.
Matsuzaka mounts the mound and Ichiro enters the batter box even though first pitch may be minutes away. There are strict traditions and rituals that must be obeyed in preparation for the at bat. The pitcher and batter first face away from each other and perform shiko, a foot stomping ritual which drives demons from the field. Next, each takes ladle of water Matsuzaka from a relief pitcher, probably Hideki Okajima, and Ichiro from the man on deck. The water purifies the field. Also, for Ichiro’s benefit, it slows down the infield.
Next each takes a first handful of salt and throws it onto the field, infuriating the ground crew, who will now have to deal with brown spots for the rest of the year. Each then squats and faces the other. From here they clap their hands in unison, in the rhythm of the intro to “Put Me in Coach” to summon the gods. Gods love clapping. The players also turn their palms upwards, as if to say, “come here and let’s play that game where I try to slap your hand and you try to get away.”
Then comes the stare down. Each man crouches down and glares at the other. Eye black helps! Over the course of the next several minutes, the cycle of stare downs and sewing the ground with salt continues cyclically, until one man blinks or starts to laugh.
How can you tell when it’s time for the first pitch?
Well, aside from the yelling of “play ball," the umpire will offer a cloth to each player to wipe the sweat off of his hands, or alternatively, to blow his nose.
Now and only now, with the elegant, ancient ritual complete, the park purified, the warriors cleaned of sweat does Matsuzaka strike out Ichiro on five pitches. Banzai!
Please try to be sympathetic to what may seem like a strange and foreign custom. And remember, even though the ritual preceding the first pitch may take a full five minutes, we can handle it. It can’t possible take longer than Nomar’s ritual before each pitch.
(Note: Thanks to Canada’s Sumo page, for providing insight into this mysterious ritual. See Ron Borges how easy it is to not plagiarize?)
2. While the NESN television crew (note: or so Jose heard) failed to immediately identify the long standing animus between Sox reliever Brendan Donnelly and the Mariners’ Jose Guillen, the Globe’s Nick Cafardo did a nice write up today capturing the sordid history. (Note: Reader Moises Sabina of Portland, Maine suggested that Jose nickname Donnelly “Brendan ‘Black’ Donnelly,” in honor of what is apparently a popular television program. Not a terrible idea. However, in light of the recent trouble radio host Don Imus has gotten into over racial remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team, Jose thinks he will skip anything that could ever, even vaguely by the most self-righteous of people, be interpreted as a racial remark. Moises may not understand this, as there are few people of color in Portland, Maine, but the only way this joke would be appropriate is to call him Brendan “African-American” Donnelly. And that’s not funny. Wait… hold on. Al Sharpton on line one.)
But Jose digresses. While Cafardo did a good job of identifying the most obvious causes of the feud (note: Guillen through a fit when Donnelly and other Angles pitchers did not issue retaliatory beanballs in 2004, and responded by pointing out pine tar on Donnelly’s glove in 2005) he missed what we liberals call “ the root causes.”
Let’s look at the timeline:
March 6, 2004—Donnelly tells Guillen the seat next to him on spring training bus to Tucson is taken. It is not.
March 10, 2004—Guillen calls Donnelly a “stupid head.”
April 4, 2004— Donnelly sticks hand of sleeping Guillen in warm water—leading to nickname “piss boy.”
April 29, 2004—Guillen has sex with Donnelly’s mother.
April 29, 2004—Donnelly’s mother gives Guillen herpes
May 15, 2004—Guillen breaks Donnelly’s glasses
May 30, 2004—Donnelly calls INS on Guillen.
June 7, 2004—Guillen calls DEA on Donnelly
June 20, 2004—Donnelly post some really mean stuff on Guillen’s myspace page about how he’s a whore and how he thinks he’s so great but he’s not.
July 4, 2004—Guillen celebrates Fourth of July by putting cherry bomb in Donnelly’s locker.
July 20, 2004—Donnelly tells Guillen to go back to Hati.
July 20, 2004—Guillen corrects Donnelly on the geography of Hispaniola.
August 1, 2004—Peace and Truce of God, nothing happens.
August 2, 2004—Donnelly replaces Guillen’s normal bats with sticks of TNT.
August 20, 2004—Guillen blows up Donnelly’s car.
September 5, 2004—Donnelly puts Guillen through a table.
September ???, 2004—Guillen rips Angels pitchers for failing to retaliate after hit batsmen,
September 27, 2004—Guillen suspended for remainder of season without pay.
September 29, 2004—Guillen suspends Donnelly naked from a flag pole in front of Angel Stadium.
December 25, 2004—Donnelly sends Guillen lump of coal for Christmas.
January 6, 2005—Guillen sends Donnelly Hunta virus for Greek Christmas
June 14, 2005—Guillen points out Donnelly has pine tar on his glove, Donnelly suspend eight games
April 11, 2006—Donnelly strike out Guillen on three pitches in Fenway debut,
April 11, 2006--Guillen acts like a punk.
Jose’s not saying it’s Spiderman vs. Dr. Octopus or Shawn Michaels vs. Brett Hart or even that it’s The Cosby Show vs. The Simpsons. But there’s a lot of history and it’s not pretty. And you know what they say about history. He who doesn’t learn from history is doomed to take a fastball in the ear.
3. According to the Globe, peppy new shortstop Julio Lugo struggled to find his way to Fenway Park for yesterday’s home opener and nearly arrived late to the ballpark. Sources say that, while Lugo drove very quickly, far quicker than his predecessor at short Alex Gonzalez, his failure to get his foot set on the break pedal before making decisions about which way to go led to some sloppy performance and possibly to inadvertently throwing away his map.
I’m Jose Melendez, and those are my KEYS TO THE GAME.