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Talkin' baseball, at home and out in the Midwest [Commentary]

Did you miss me? I'm guessing no, that you just went about your lives last week while I was visiting family out in the Midwest. You see, sometimes I get a big head about my position. In any case, I'm still run down from the week-long trip, which makes me very happy I didn't plan to take it this coming week, when the storm of high school sports hits us. Most teams have a game on Friday, Sept. 6, and thinking about dealing with that while in my current state (still sleep deprived, oncoming cold), gives me the shivers. I've still got a weekend to recuperate. Thank goodness.

Here are some things that have been pinging around in my head for the last few days; surprises, ups, downs and wishes, if you will.

Our baseball stadium is nicer than Chicago's: I did not have my tongue out and my thumbs in my ears as I wrote that last sentence, but, yeah, I went and saw a White Sox vs. Rangers game while on the aforementioned week-long trip. First off, I'm completely biased here, so don't take everything I say seriously. Second, U.S. Cellular Field (formerly "New" Comiskey Park) is not anywhere near downtown, like Oriole Park is. My cousin, with whom I was staying, lives about a mile from the park, so it was nice to be able to walk, but it's still about five miles from the city center.

Also, if you have upper deck tickets, as we did, you can't even get down to the lower deck. You come in through your own entrance, and that's that. No going down to the promenade in center field or sitting for a few seconds in the bleachers as the stadium empties out. And, last, the upper deck is almost completely enclosed, so you have to walk out on the entrance ramps to see the skyscape (whereas Oriole Park is wide open, all the way around).

I've been to a lot of ballparks, and most of them were nice (dinosaurs like Wrigley Field and old Yankee Stadium get a pass for being ancient), but I still haven't seen one as pretty as Oriole Park.

IronBirds in the playoff hunt? To be totally honest, when the IronBirds started their 2013 season under new manager Matt Merullo with five straight losses, I thought to myself, "here it comes." It made me wonder if they were going to go on some awful run, like in 2011, when they lost 17 of their first 19 games. Turns out, I was wrong to think that, because the Aberdeen club bounced back and has been flirting with the McNamara Division's top spot since early July. Wednesday night the IronBirds lost, and their main competitor, the Brooklyn Cyclones, picked up a win, which knocked Aberdeen into the second spot, but Brooklyn is only up by a half game, and Saturday the IronBirds travel to play the Cyclones in a two-game series. That, folks, will be the most important series of the season. If it goes the IronBirds' way (as is, they win Thursday and Friday, and Brooklyn loses twice), they could come out on Monday with a 3.5-game lead, with just three games left in the regular season. Four straight victories, especially at this time of the season, is asking a lot, I understand, but Aberdeen has shown us that they have the mettle to win tough, important games (like Monday's must-take game with Lowell, which the IronBirds won in 11 innings).

On a side note, the four-team McNamara Division, Aberdeen's home, has been playing better than any in the New York-Penn League. Over the last 10 games, no team in the McNamara Division has dipped under the .500 mark (Brooklyn, 6-4; Hudson Valley, 7-3; Staten Island, 6-4; Aberdeen 5-5). In the Pinckney Division, half of the five teams are under the .500 mark over that same stretch, while the Stedler Division has just one team that has played that well. The competition is fierce, to be sure, but I'm betting on the IronBirds (I mean that literally; I bet co-worker Bobby Parker a package of Target sugar-free cookies against a six-pack of beer that Aberdeen would make it to the post-season; go 'Birds).

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