239 reasons to love baseball and America
Fourth of July is perfect time to celebrate country and sport
Pedro Martinez, about to be inducted into the Hall of Fame later this month, struck out 239 batters for Boston in 2002 and gave up 239 home runs in his career.
Rod Carew led the Majors with 239 hits for Minnesota in his American League MVP season of 1977 -- exactly 80 years after Wee Willie Keeler reached that career-best number for Baltimore.
We could go on, because that's what we do in America. We talk baseball and dig up statistics all the time, even when we're sitting in Section 239, right next to Mike Trout, on a typical night in Anaheim. So we're here to wish the United States of America a Happy 239th birthday on Saturday, and if you take a good look around, you'll see that national pride meets national pastime once again.
For all Fourth of July games, on-field personnel will wear specially designed caps and -- for the first time -- specially designed jerseys from the Stars & Stripes collection, now available at the MLB.com Shop. The caps have a blue or red base and feature the club's primary logo over an image of a waving American flag. The jersey features stars within the club's logo or lettering on the front and number on the back.
All net proceeds from the sales of those same authentic items will be donated to Welcome Back Veterans, which provides grants to university hospitals to treat military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. MLB has committed $30 million to Welcome Back Veterans.
Wednesday was Canada Day, and on that day the Blue Jays had a home game and wore a red cap featuring a large maple leaf and a specially designed white-and-red Canada Day jersey. On Saturday, the Blue Jays play in Detroit and will wear an American flag sleeve patch on their regular road uniforms, in addition to the traditional Canadian flag.
The best place to start with all the Fourth of July Weekend action, of course, is right in the nation's capital. After the Friday Night Fireworks show, the crowds rush right back into Nationals Park for a special 11:05 a.m. ET matinee to see the Giants visit the Nationals. It could be a way-early playoff preview, considering that Washington leads the National League East and the defending World Series champs are in the thick of the Wild Card race.
But then again, is it ever too early to start projecting like that? The Fourth of July Weekend also means something else in baseball: halfway home. All clubs are at, or right around, that 81-game mark in the regular season. Any June swoons are behind us. Now the real chase begins.
Four teams are all within one game of the lead in the AL East. Carlos Martinez is going after his 10th win in a breakout season for St. Louis, and next up for him is San Diego on Saturday at Busch Stadium. The Astros are in Boston, and let's see if they can continue to hold off the post-shakeup Angels while George Springer is on the 15-day DL.
Sunday will be a huge firecracker finish for your Fourth of July Weekend, and here are a few of the biggest reasons why:
• Steven Matz is back for an encore as the Mets' scheduled starting pitcher at Dodger Stadium. After his historic MLB debut last weekend, you have to watch, although it might be asking a bit much for another four-RBI game by a pitcher.
• And we find out how we all voted and who will start the 86th All-Star Game on July 14 at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Starting position players (only) will be unveiled in a new manner at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sunday on the "Esurance All-Star Starters Selection Show" on ESPN, prior to the "Sunday Night Baseball" matchup between the Giants and Nationals. Reserves, pitchers and the Final Vote candidates come a night later this time.
By the time those rosters are announced, maybe Adrian Beltre of the Rangers will have grounded into his 239th double play; he had 238 as of Thursday. Mariners closer Fernando Rodney is chasing 239 saves; he needed just four more as of Thursday.
Clayton Kershaw struck out 239 batters in winning the NL MVP last year. Nolan Ryan and Don Drysdale each pitched 239 innings in their final All-Star seasons, the former in 1989 with Texas, and the latter in 1968 with the Dodgers. It's not a bad number.
We could do this every year. Happy birthday, America.