Tag Archives: baseball

Remembering Josh Gibson

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I arrived early at Nationals Park for Game 4 of the NLCS and did a lap around the stadium to see the sights. I discovered three statues near the home plate entrance, and as a student of baseball history anticipated two of the honorees—Frank Howard and Walter Johnson. But I confess that the Josh Gibson statue was a most pleasant surprise.

Not that Gibson, the greatest home run hitter in baseball history, does not deserve a statue. Quite the opposite. Gibson hit more home runs than anyone, including the longest home run in the history of Yankee Stadium. Some called him “the black Babe Ruth,” while others preferred to refer to Ruth as “the white Josh Gibson.” No, I was surprised to see the statue since Gibson, simply because of the color of his skin, was never allowed to play a Major League Baseball game.

Sadly, Gibson died of a stroke at age thirty-five. Three months later Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball.

In certain ways there has been undeniable progress in race relations in this country, thanks in part to baseball and the heroism of players like Jackie Robinson. When the team from our nation’s capital takes the field tomorrow night in their first ever trip to the World Series, their roster will feature players from Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela—and the United States. And from the United States, alongside white, European-Americans you will find African-Americans, a Japanese-American, and a Mexican-American. It is a beautiful thing to witness.

But do not be deceived. Progress is simply signage on the road to somewhere, and the destination most assuredly remains on the farthest horizon.

Josh Gibson’s statue outside a Major League Baseball stadium in our nation’s capital honors one of the greatest baseball players of all time. At the same time, it reminds us that he was never allowed on the team. Both deserve remembering.

1982

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“Baseball has been good to me since I quit trying to play it.” – Whitey Herzog

The year was 1982, and I was adjusting to life in junior high school. I doubt I knew the word hazing, but I sure was nervous about going to the locker room, which was unfortunate since sports were my very favorite things.

But God smiled on me as a young baseball fan.

The combination of my dad and Paragould, Arkansas, made me a St. Louis Cardinal baseball fan, and 1982 was simply our year. Dale Murphy tore up the National League, and Robin Yount the American League, but destiny was with the Redbirds.

The previous winter the Cardinals added Joaquin Andujar and Lonnie Smith—and more importantly, Ozzie Smith—and during the season they called up young Willie McGee. In the summer they would draft future stars, Vince Coleman and Terry Pendleton, but it was Keith Hernandez and Bruce Sutter who were the beasts on the field in 1982. They led Whitey Herzog’s team into the playoffs for the first time since 1968 where they faced the Atlanta Braves.

It is a special memory. The Cardinals were my team, and I knew them so well from listening to Jack Buck on the radio. But Ted Turner’s young television “superstation” helped me know the Braves, too, and for a twelve-year-old boy enamored by all things sports, it was just special. That my team swept the series was icing on the cake.

It is disturbing how quickly thirty-seven years can pass, but here we are again. Times have changed, including baseball, and along the way I have watched the Redbirds go to the postseason fifteen more times, including six World Series appearances, but today I am remembering that first innocent memory: The Cardinals versus the Braves in the playoffs.

The Braves are loaded this year, and I would be surprised if my Redbirds survived the challenge. Honestly, I don’t really care that much anymore. Now, I simply like to watch and imagine Bob Forsch firing a fastball in to Darrell Porter on a fuzzy console television. Those two players aren’t with us anymore, at least in person, but they have never left my sweet childhood memories.

Love & Baseball

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“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” – Yogi Berra

I caught some of the Little League World Series on ESPN a couple of weeks back and smiled to see eleven-year-olds treated like major leaguers. One little dude came up to bat, and I saw on the screen:

Age: 11
Height: 5’1”
Weight: 97 lbs
Favorite band: AC/DC

Disturbing, sure, but also hilarious.

While football season kicks off, baseball is sprinting toward home at full speed. Baseball is a remarkable sport and has become as much of Labor Day as charcoal grills, furniture sales, and packing up your white clothing—and baseball is something my wife and I enjoy together.

We are told that opposites attract, and Jody and I are living proof. We are similarly independent, which makes the differences even more pronounced. Jody likes listening to music, and I like a quiet place to read. Jody is flexible, and I need structure. Jody enjoys soaking up the sun, and I burn like a piece of toast. Jody prefers an indoor cycling class, and I prefer a long run. Jody is beautiful, talented, and popular, and I prefer a long run.

We have tried over the years to find things we enjoy doing together, and while our love for each other has continued to grow stronger, our attempts at shared interests have remained a challenge.

Enter baseball.

We have both enjoyed baseball over the years, but it has not been something we enjoyed together. Until now, that is. Recently, we have been following our favorite MLB team together and keeping the television on MLB Network most of the time. Last weekend, we went to First Tennessee Park for some top-notch minor league action to watch the Nashville Sounds battle the San Antonio Missions. Jody tracked down a scorecard, and we took turns every half inning attempting to remember how to keep score. We are suddenly crazy for baseball!

Honestly, I’m not 100% sure if it will last, but like a fun baseball rally, what I do know is that we are both seeing the curveballs of life pretty well right now and making good contact. So I’d say it’s a hit, and if you are keeping score at home, you can score one for the home team.

Big Dreams, Small Places

1889There is nothing quite like minor league baseball. Young and hopeful talent, goofy small-town promotions, and unsurpassed fan access all wrapped up in a classic sport.  On my recent stay in Ogden, Utah, I could not pass up the opportunity to see the hometown rookie league affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers in action, so I splurged the twelve bucks required for the best seat in the house and sat on the second row behind home plate in the middle of scouts with radar guns evaluating the 18-24 year old athletes on the field.  It was awesome.

Lindquist Field is reportedly the most picturesque venue in the league, and I cannot argue. The view from my high-priced seat featured the centerfield flagpole, which stood in front of the city’s Mormon temple, which stood in front of a gorgeous mountain range lit up by the evening sun.

It was clearly the minor leagues, however, complete with the civilization-insulting Chicken Dance, a corny hometown announcer, and a grounds crew consisting of a grown man dressed like Elvis and two unfortunate children dressed like a Dalmatian and some sort of hound dog. If I was the kid dressed like a hound dog sweeping the dirt, I would be crying all the time, too, simply from sheer embarrassment.

I ignored sound nutritional advice and downed a hot dog, nachos, and churro and root, root, rooted for the home team Ogden Raptors like I was a local. There was no shame in Ogden that evening since a couple of teenagers planted home runs over the sponsorship-laden wall en route to a 3-1 victory over the Grand Junction Rockies in exciting Pioneer League action.

I couldn’t help but think of my trip to Dodger Stadium earlier in the summer when I paid much more than twelve bucks to sit about as far away from home plate as one can manage and still be in the ballpark. The Dodgers are the hottest team in baseball this year and are the darling of a star-studded city, and not that long ago their crazy good all-star rookie Cody Bellinger was just a kid playing for the Ogden Raptors. As was their all-star closer Kenley Jansen. Even the legendary Dodger manager, Tommy Lasorda, once managed the Raptors, too.

The road to the big show always begins in much smaller places. To me, those small places where dreamers set their sights on the distant mountaintops are more fun than the actual object of their dreams.

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Dreams

18380491_1304245319630140_7970860990956830720_n(1)My sweet wife visited the Field of Dreams Movie Site in Dyersville, Iowa, last week and brought home several souvenirs since she knows Field of Dreams is my favorite movie of all time. And, it seems, because she loved it there.

It still feels strange to say that Field of Dreams is my favorite movie. It has a corny plot–literally–set in that spooky Iowa cornfield complete with ghost baseball players and disembodied voices. It surely wasn’t my favorite movie when I saw it at the theater in 1989. Sure, I enjoyed the baseball history and the touching storyline, but I tend to prefer movies that aren’t set in fantasy world (nothing personal against Iowa).

My mistake was watching it years later. After my father died. That did me in. That famous last scene when a father is reunited with son and they play catch once again and Annie says to Ray, “Introduce him to his granddaughter” . . . 

Okay, I might need to change the subject. These darn allergies.

Mother’s days and father’s days mean something different to those of us on the other side of the great divide called death. It can be quite depressing, but oddly enough, it never has been for me. And I don’t even have to work hard to understand why. 

As fantastic as it sounds, although Field of Dreams is crazy fiction, I believe it touches on something that is actually very real. In my heart, I believe that someday I will once again hold my mother’s hand and play catch with my dad and introduce him to his youngest granddaughter.

The very thought of it nearly makes my heart explode with anticipation.    

One Big Family

wbcDodger Stadium hosted the World Baseball Classic championship game last week, and I was honored to be in attendance as the United States claimed the title with an 8-0 win over Puerto Rico.  Like the Olympic Games, the WBC takes the field every four years, and it seemed appropriate that the USA finally won a title in its fourth try seeing as how we invited the sport and all.

My youngest daughter was home for spring break and agreed to hang out with old dad for the evening, and we knew it would be fun before we made it through the gate as the Puerto Rican fans made themselves known honking and cheering their way into the parking lot.  It just got better throughout the evening as fans of both nations/teams made their patriotism clear.  Our personal favorite was a gentleman who never stopped banging on a wok with a ladle throughout the marathon four-hour game.

At one point, the national cheers even melded into an antiphonal chant that resembled the cadence of the goofy (and potentially culturally-insensitive) Three Wandering Jews song from my childhood Vacation Bible School days.  “Puerto Rico!” “U.S.A.!”  “Puerto Rico!” “U.S.A.”

The game was sort of terrible.  United States’ pitcher, Marcus Stroman, mystified the Puerto Rican bats while the American hitters scored early and often.  There was some excitement when Stroman carried a no-no into the seventh inning, but Angel Pagan’s base hit took away that fun and the victorious American squad anticlimactically went on to complete the blowout.

Most headed for the exits after the fireworks and confetti declared the world champions, but we stuck around for the trophy presentation.  So did the Puerto Rican team.  At one point, probably predetermined, after the victors paraded around the stadium and the runners-up watched in silence, the two teams met and hugged that from our vantage point beyond the left field foul pole looked like two sets of interlocking fingers.

And there was applause.  

After hours of two competitors cheering, chanting, and heckling one another out of love of country, the two sides came together, and this apparently made everyone happy.

There is much contempt in this old world.  But the applause at Dodger Stadium last Wednesday evening reminded me that respect still has a chance.

Put Me In Coach

3“Baseball, it is said, is only a game.  True.  And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.” – George F. Will

Baseball is back, and I am happy.  Somewhere in the lazy sunshine, major league teams are taking the field for the first games of spring training, and all is right in the world.  Who am I kidding, all is not right in the world, but when you need a distraction because the world may be going to Crazyland—and reports are that it may have already boarded the plane—some opt for pictures of cute puppies and others choose a stiff drink, but I prefer baseball.

My team is the St. Louis Cardinals.  Tomorrow, 2,685 miles away in Jupiter, Florida, my beloved Redbirds will take on the Miami Marlins for their first game of the new season.  It is so far away from my house that it might as well be on the planet, Jupiter, but all I need to know is that baseball has awakened and that a new season is on the way.  I love how baseball wakes up with the sun in the early spring, hits its stride in the summer heat, reaches its conclusion in the picturesque fall, and hibernates through the dark winter.  So today, as far as I’m concerned, despite the calendar, spring has sprung.

Now truth be told, our mortal enemy, the Chicago Cubs, remains World Series champions, and they have the best lineup in baseball—again.  But this is baseball, and hope springs eternal.  You just never know what might happen.  Heck, listen to me, the Chicago Cubs are reigning World Series champs.  It is undeniable that anything is possible.

That anything is possible may be my favorite way that baseball reflects life.  So on this glorious weekend, wherever you happen to be in the seasons of life, remember that spring is somewhere in the rotation.  Where anything is possible.

Cardinal Baseball

My favorite baseball team swung through Los Angeles this past week, and I had the rare opportunity to catch the Cardinals in person both at Angel Stadium of Anaheim and Dodger Stadium.  The Anaheim game increased the number of places I have been the “visiting fan” to six stadiums.  For those scoring at home, in such a hostile environment I choose to wear my Cardinals gear but adopt a low-key approach—in part out of respect for being in someone else’s house but mostly to avoid trying out my Jackie Chan impersonation when under attack from inebriated fans in a post-game parking lot.  I hate to hurt people.

I love baseball because of my dad.  He grew up as a Depression-era Cardinals fan in Missouri, and in our daily games of catch in the backyard, told mesmerizing stories of seeing Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang in an exhibition game in the 1930s and of later games at old Sportsman’s Park, including a doubleheader that pitted Stan Musial against Willie Mays.  I was hooked.  My dad, of course, was my first hero, so when your hero tells stories of heroes, well, it is sort of hard not to be forever influenced.

My first trip to see the Cardinals in person was in the middle of a sticky St. Louis summer in 1979.  We couldn’t afford a St. Louis hotel or to leave our family without a car, so my dad bought two bus tickets for our first ever father-son trip.  We left before sunrise and arrived in time to wander around the city.  We checked out the zoo in Forest Park and gazed in awe at the mighty Gateway Arch, but we came to watch baseball—and we watched the Redbirds get destroyed by the Cincinnati Big Red Machine sixteen to four.  The score didn’t matter.  I will never forget sitting in the left field loge seats behind Lou Brock at old Busch Memorial Stadium with my dad.  Afterward, we boarded the bus and rode home through the night with me asleep on his lap.  At that point it was the best day of my life, and now so many years later, it remains pretty darn close.

There is a crazy cool baseball website that has box scores and game information from MLB games dating all the way back to 1913, and I discovered that every play of my special baseball trip with my dad is recorded there.  It was a Thursday evening (July 19), and 27,228 were in attendance.  Dave Collins led off the game by grounding out to Keith Hernandez, unassisted, followed by a walk to Joe Morgan.  Lou Brock went three for five with three ribbies.  Ray Knight hit a grand slam.  Johnny Bench hit a single to left that scored Dave Concepcion.  Mario Soto struck out Tony Scott to end the game.  The game lasted two hours and fifty-two minutes.

Nobody cares about the details but me, but I care enough for the whole world combined.  It reminds me of an innocent kid with a hero dad on a grand adventure.  I suspect that is why I fought Los Angeles traffic twice this past week—just to tap into that special feeling from thirty-seven years ago.  My dad has been gone for over twenty years now, but when I watch the Cardinals play baseball in a major-league stadium, he is right beside me.

 

Hope for the World

As Valentine’s Day bled into Presidents’ Day, I decided to give up any love of politics for Lent. This may be the perfect year for such a sacrifice.

The tragic loss of Justice Scalia over the weekend was quickly followed by the tragic politicization of his passing.  There is political work to do, of course, but it was sad, though not surprising, that a presidential candidate had tweeted an opening shot before the Supreme Court had even published an official statement on the loss of their colleague.

This presidential campaign cycle? Wow.

Best I can tell, nine viable candidates remain—two Democrats (Clinton; Sanders), six Republicans (Bush; Carson; Cruz; Kasich; Rubio; Trump), and one lurking independent (Bloomberg). It is possible that Batman or a Muppet or One Direction (campaign slogan alert?) may enter the field, too, given this unpredictable election cycle.

If the presidential field took the field as a baseball team, I’d put Sanders in left (of course), Bloomberg in center (of course), and Cruz in right (of course). Trump would have to play first because it has a #1 in it. Bush and Kasich would necessarily be the (Republican Establishment’s) double-play combination, and Clinton would be a natural at the hot corner given her experience with controversy. I’d put Carson behind the plate (i.e., coming from behind now anyway), and Rubio could take the mound since he is the youngest candidate and may have the most lively arm.

American presidential politics is both fascinating and disturbing, sort of like a roadside accident elicits a peek. Although I vote and appreciate our system, my personal philosophy is best summed up by the late Will D. Campbell (and speaking of baseball): “I watch the political process pretty much as I watch baseball. I have a favorite team, but I know that ultimately it makes no difference who wins. I gave up on politics offering any hope for the world’s problems a long time ago.”

There is a complex thought system that underlies the quote. Just so you know.

Well, I’ll risk oversimplification and explain it this way: I stand with Will D. Campbell and Dr. King in believing that the hope for the world lies in our ability to see one another as brothers and sisters.

Watching our prospective leaders in a democracy speak as they do is a direct reflection of our own hearts, and it seems that we hate each other. Well, maybe not hate (yes, I do mean hate), but at least we resent or despise or fear each other. Surely not family.

I am happy that the inspiring friendship between Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg has received some attention this weekend.  It is unfortunate that it appears to have zero effect on the presidential campaign.

My best bet as to who will win in November? Nobody. Oh, someone will be elected president of these United States, but in this political climate, I’m not predicting any real winners. I am predicting a lot of angry people. (I’m also predicting a large number of folks will renege on their pledge to move to Canada if ________ is elected.)

It is personally comforting that I do not believe the “hope for the world’s problems” lies in a presidential election, but at the same time, it is troubling that the hope I believe in appears to have zero traction, Scalia/Ginsburg notwithstanding.

I’m going to see everyone as brothers and sisters anyway.

Breaking Curses

The baseball playoffs arrive this week with a potential Cardinals-Cubs matchup. I will now reveal my important Steve Bartman theory even though it is not in my self-interest.

First, let me say that an objective fan would not place a bet on my much-beloved Redbirds this postseason. Although the Cardinals own the best record in the major leagues, the team limps into the playoffs both physically and in baseball play down the stretch. Still, I wouldn’t necessarily bet against the Cardinals for reasons that go straight to my Bartman theory.

For those who do not know, the Chicago Cubs are cursed. It is sad, but it is true. The Cubbies last won the World Series in 1908 and have not won the National League pennant since they were cursed by a goat in 1945. In 2003, twelve long years ago now (and the last time the Cubs won a playoff game), the Cubs were looking good and just five outs away from breaking the curse and going to the World Series when an unsuspecting fan named Steve Bartman tried to catch a foul ball and foiled the attempted catch of Cubs left fielder, Moises Alou. Alou threw a veritable fit, the Cubs lost the game (and ultimately the series), and Bartman became the bearer of the curse, sadly making him more (in)famous than that old goat.

So, my theory:

I am convinced that if Moises Alou would have simply smiled and ran back to left field that the Cubs would have gone to the World Series. I am serious. I believe that Alou’s fit fueled the crowd reaction, which led to Prior’s subsequent wild pitch, which led to Alex Gonzales’s error and the downfall of Western civilization.

I may be wrong, but as it stands now, the alternative theory is that a sports franchise was cursed by a goat.

My point is this: Life sure seems to be more cursed the more you believe you are cursed. Conversely, things start to look up the more you expect things will start to look up. Some call it self-fulfilling prophecy, and some call it the power of positive thinking. I just call ‘em as I see ‘em, and I’m calling this one as a strike right down the middle of the plate.

Last week, a Cubs fan started a GoFundMe page to raise money to send Steve Bartman to the wildcard game in Pittsburgh. A Cubs fan, not a Pirates fan. I love it. Bartman turned it down and gave the money to charity, but I love the campaign. It was touted as an act of forgiveness, but I think it was much more: That, my friends, is the way you break a curse.