The Men That Play The Game

In this internet-driven, video-game type of fandom that we see so much currently, it’s sometimes hard to remember that it’s not just automations out there playing games, but real human beings very similar to ourselves. It’s easy, from our padded chairs and in front of our big screen TVs, to question a person’s manhood or effort. And, to be fair, the players know what they are getting into when they get into this game and are well-compensated to make up for it.

But does that excuse us calling a player weak when perhaps he has pain so excruciating most of us would need a morphine drip, but he still shows up to play? Can we fault a player who may have the argument with his wife on his mind when he throws a pitch that winds up in the bleachers?

Or can we really be surprised that a player can go into a tailspin when his integrity and honesty is questioned, only to pull out of it when he gets that weight off of his mind?

Rick Ankiel appears to have done that. He’s met with MLB and no punishments seem to be forthcoming. He’s gotten past the HGH story, at least the worst of it. And now he’s back to hitting the ball, driving in runs, and winning ball games. He’s made adjustments and had two consecutive three-hit games. With a strong finish, it will help Cardinal fans feel a little better about 2008, or at least his role in that team.

You look at the focus of an Albert Pujols. Here he is, just one RBI away from continuing his streak, even though he could have begged out of the rest of the season if he wanted. But he wants to play, he is driven to win like many of us can’t even begin to understand. The stats, the accolades, I think they come second to him. Then you get into his charity work, his faith, as shown in his foundation, and it gives you an even better picture of the actual person that he is.

You’ve got Scott Rolen, who has his own foundation to help kids. I’ve talked about Rolen and his drive to play through pain before, but I think it’s one of those things people just don’t think about. So many of us want to take the day off work if we wake up with a headache. To do a physically demanding job when your shoulder is screaming is something few of us would consider, yet he did it and, at least defensively, did it pretty well until the pain got to be too much.

You’ve got guys like Brenden Ryan, who had no idea that he’d make it up this year. Do you think he questions himself sometimes? Wonders if it’s a fluke? Was embarrassed by LaRussa yanking him a couple nights ago, but vowing never to let that happen to him again? This year, the bench players, the scrappers, the players that are great complements to stars have had to take on such a larger role and they have, for the most part, stepped up as much as they can. The only reason this team was in the hunt and not embarrassed by a last place finish is that those role players expanded their role and did it well. That doesn’t mean that you have to take them on for next year–they may not be able to do that again. But you have to appreciate what they did for the team this year.

Cards take on Milwaukee today. It’s getting to be a moot point–with the Cubs up 3.5 games, it’d take a collapse of ’64 Phillies proportions (or, I guess, ’69 Cubs) to lose this one. However, the Cards will go out and battle, with the added benefit that if they lose, the Brewers gain on/keep up with the Cubs. It’s pretty much a win-win situation! And Wainwright–talk about people that have stepped up this year–takes the mound, which will invigorate the Cardinals even more.

EDIT: Good story at the P-D site about the pitcher hitting eighth.

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