November 8, 2010

In Baseball As in Life: A Mother’s Perspective

By Elizabeth Crabtree

I don’t really know much about the game of baseball. After more than a decade of heading to the field with my son, Aaron, I still have to ask him what “RBI” means, why a foul also counts as a strike, and when it is acceptable to supportively exclaim, “good try!” after an error or when you’re just better off pretending that you didn’t see it. As a parent, it’s sometimes best to keep your head down and gently say nothing at all. I’m also completely perplexed by all those peculiar and secretive hand gestures among the coaches, runners and base players. I don’t know how they seem to instinctively figure out that stuff, but still can’t manage to feed the mewing cat or remember to take the garbage out on schedule before the truck arrives at the front door. It must be a ‘guy-thing.’

I have supported my son’s enthusiasm for the game of baseball all the way back to tee-ball. His first debilitating moment on the field was a pop fly catch that missed the confident and eagerly outstretched glove of a five-year-old, bouncing off his top lip and resulting in a bloody yelp that beckoned a chorus of mothers rushing to the field with sympathies and ice packs in hand. That was a tough moment – not because he met with minor injury, but because in that passing instant he would now forever realize that the excitement, joy and fun of playing baseball could also really hurt and bring about great disappointment, embarrassment and fear. Oh, the mother’s agony of nervously waiting and wondering if this early experience would forever shatter his fledgling exuberance and fragile ego. A hint of anxiety and sadness did set in, but only momentarily. It seems that a little humility and a sore fat lip can sometimes be a strong motivator. He could have sulked and sat on the bench, but the next at-bat brought focused determination. He crushed the blood-stained ball with a long baseline grounder that hopped past several foiled fielders and landed him victoriously in a belly-slide at third base. Home plate was within easy reach. He was safe and smiling once again.

Thereafter, we were both hooked and soon got into the habit of practicing for the big game. Aaron graduated tee-ball and was recruited into the little big leagues where he quickly became a go-to pitcher. As an awkward single-mother of an athletically-minded boy I tried my best to fit in with all the dads at the field and took the time to throw the ball around in the yard with my son from time to time – just like all the neighboring dad’s seemed to do. I was really getting the hang of it and found that I was having a little bit of fun, too. After a while I felt so confident about my baseball training prowess that I bought myself a nice new leather glove at our next trip to the sporting goods store. Aaron was even impressed and thought that I was good enough to be his team’s coach. I beamed with pride. Who needs a dad, I thought? Although Aaron had a loving father, we were separated and his time commitment to Aaron had always been fragmented. So I thought that being able to not only be a mother, but a surrogate dad to my son by playing sports with him was an important achievement, which validated my ability to do it all, be it all and never surrender to my worries, doubts and fears. Then, just when I was feeling quite satisfied with myself, I took a hard fast ball on the shin from the kid while catching for him at age seven. I immediately gave up on my budding and bruised coaching career. Who knew baseball could be so painful, I thought? Was he throwing so hard and fast to try to hurt me?! Jeesh! “No more of that,” I said, “Go play with your friends!” And that’s how it’s been ever since. I’ve surrendered to my limitations. I can’t do it all. So I just have to live with doing my best at what I can.

So each weekend, I am there – retreating to the safety of the sidelines, lugging out my chair and cooler, slathering on the sunscreen or rather, opening up the umbrella and shivering under a blanket. After all, this is New England baseball we’re talking about it. Still, each weekend, I am there. Cheering on the team, trying to remember all the players’ names, being proud of my son - or sometimes dismayed - but overall, I’m just hoping for a good day. I do admit that there is a competitive streak in me that would like to see my son’s team win their fair share of games, but at the end of the day, it’s not really about all of that.

I don’t really know much about the game of baseball. Even though I grew up playing a lot of it in the back alleys and vacant lots of the rural South with my three scrappy brothers and their rowdy friends who cheated their way to a win practically every time. There wasn’t as much to it in those days. You could buy a ball at the local hardware store for about fifty-cents and you seldom ever got a new bat or glove – you inherited a nicely broken-in one from your father or an older brother or perhaps your mom snagged a deal on a used one at a local rummage sale. If you were lucky and your birthday came around during the spring or summer, you might be surprised by a new bat or glove, but that generally meant you had an obligation to share it with your siblings, friends and other team mates on a regular basis that in the end, nobody really knew who actually owned it. Forget about cleats, we were lucky to own a pair of sneakers that weren’t two sizes too small by summertime. Nowadays, it is common knowledge that this year’s model hybrid fusion bat is much better than last year’s model and no kid can be respectable at the field without a pair of leather batting gloves, shatterproof sunglasses and sweat-minimizing, anti-chafe, high-performance underwear.

Seriously. When I was a kid we did walk a few miles to get to school each day and we never really knew all the rules of baseball or just how dangerous the game could be. In our neighborhood, a good pitcher or catcher could get a runner out on a steal by simply pelting him with the ball. You might be considered mean-spirited if you hit the runner in the head, but other body parts were fair game and there was no need for an umpire. For us, the rules of dodge ball, kickball, baseball and red rover were all interchangeable and in any dispute, the majority (or biggest fist) ruled. Those boys made me crazy as a kid, but I think of them with fondness as I remember the game of baseball before it became such a serious, business-oriented venture:

Before the business of baseball
There were more battered knees than
Bruised egos:

No midnight strike deadlines
Or board room brawls
No home run fireworks
Or strategic press releases
No boasting million dollar contracts
Or boisterous billboard-sized players

Before the game became a sport
Before the sport became a business
Before the business became a circus

Before the business of baseball . . .

There were sun-tanned boys with
Puffy red-cheeked faces
Bashing sweaty shots in
Back alley lots across
Fields of dandelions and through
Choruses of crickets
Stealing bases and little girls’ hearts
Until the final call for
Suppertime ….

All for the sake of a simple joy:
Playing ball.

The times might have changed, but it’s still a joyful gift to play and watch this insane and unpredictable game of baseball, especially with a fine team whose animated players suit up on a sunny day and meet the sky with high-five winks and self-assured grins, yet never really know what the game will throw their way. I enjoy seeing my son with his coaches and teammates, working hard to learn a thing or two about playing a good game of ball. It takes a lot of commitment, dedication and sacrifice to become a better, stronger and faster player. And even then, there’s still a very good chance that you’re going to screw up, strike out and lose it all in the end.

I sometimes miss my fantasy coaching days, but it is really much easier to be a back-seat coach from the comfort of my lawn chair where I can pretend that I know what’s going on, second-guess the team’s strategies and curse the umpire’s calls under my breath. It’s truly much harder to actually step up to that plate, take that chance, and be that coach in real time. Scheduling games, herding players and placating parents appears to be the most difficult task of all. So I applaud the valiant efforts and perseverance of my son’s coaches all the more. It’s really my business as a mom to do exactly what I do best. Sit back, try to relax and let him live it – injuries, heartaches, errors and all. It’s just part of the game and perhaps, too, it’s a little part of life.

Aaron, now fifteen, already learned a hard life lesson during baseball season six years ago this June. I enrolled him in his first sleep-away camp – Little League’s regional headquarters baseball camp in Bristol, Connecticut. He was so excited and proud to go. We got there after six long hours of driving. The place was so beautiful – ‘fields of dreams’ you might even say. And the college-player coaches were loads of fun and distraction for Aaron while I stood in the long registration line for yet another hour. However, when I got to the head of the line and eagerly gave his name and whipped out my checkbook to pay the account balance, the camp director quickly came over to me with a sense of grim despair. There was an urgent, emergency phone call from our family back home. I stepped aside to dial my parents and was informed that Aaron’s father had died that morning – suddenly and tragically at age forty-one from a stress-induced heart attack. Game over.

I stood there in silent tears shocked and confused as my son impatiently questioned me about what was wrong. I wasn’t at all ready to be called up for something like this. It just couldn’t be true. I never saw it coming. I hadn’t planned for it. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Not now. Not here. Not ever.

So just how do you tell an eight-year-old boy whose joy of the moment was playing baseball that his father just died and their big and woefully overdue summer plans of fishing and swimming and roller-coaster riding would never be realized? Baseball camp, too, would have to wait.

There was nothing I could say to him except the God’s honest truth. A doomsday omen and career-ender, I thought. That long six-hour ride back home changed the game of baseball for Aaron. Somehow though, it didn’t completely break him. A few months later he picked up the bat and was swinging for the fences again. And each summer since, we’ve spent every Father’s Day and the anniversary of that loss with some team, somewhere on a baseball field.

Even though I don’t know much about the game of baseball, it has meant a lot to our little family. After everything Aaron and I have been through these past many years it occurs to me now that baseball somehow prepares us for a lot of life’s lessons. I’m glad that Aaron never lost his love for it, even though one of his earliest memories of baseball coincides with one of the greatest tragedies of his life. After a recent heartbreaking game Aaron simply smiled, patted me on the back, and said, “It’s too bad that we lost, but we played a good game and it was a fun day.” My sideline frustration and disappointment vanished and I readily replied, “You’re right, you guys did play a good game and it really was a beautiful and fun day.”

My boy is fast growing into a young man with a head full of dreams and great expectations. I often find myself wondering what odyssey there will be for us yet ahead and what kind of father he will be someday since he lost his own so early in life. Our days at the field seem plentiful and long, but summer can be all too short and fleeting so I try to savor each and every one as they are sure to be some of the best of our lives. I still find that as a mother much of my energy is spent planning, organizing and worrying until I finally just have to give up, sit back and hope for the best. I can’t control everything. I can’t fix everything. I can’t be everything. And I’ll never really know that much about the game of baseball. Like every inning of every game, his future no matter how well conceived or prepared will always be uncertain.

For in baseball, as in life, you just never know how far you can go or how it will end. But hopefully, you’ll play a good and honorable game, enjoy living in the moment, and have a chance to make your way home safe every now and again.

October 26, 2010

October 26, 2010 Baseball Docent Tour

Today’s tour of all things baseball is all about taking you to other places on the internet. This is something I had planned to do when I started this blog and well… better late than never, right? Look for me to do this more often moving forward.

First up, is a story that’s bigger than any baseball game. It’s really about the mission of Jamie and Karen Moyer. Jamie is a major league pitcher currently with the Philadelphia Phillies. He and his wife Karen started Camp Erin…

Rather than try to explain what Camp Erin is all about here, I invite you to watch this video instead:

There are a great many baseball players like Jamie Moyer (and his wife) trying to make a difference in the world (many are listed on the left). The Moyer’s mission is “to offer encouragement, comfort and support to children enduring a time of profound emotional, physical or financial distress.”

One of my missions is to bring stories like that of the Moyer’s to you.

To learn more about the Moyer Foundation, please visit their web site.

Ready for more?

Next up on today’s tour is Joe Posnanski. Posnanski is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, who worked as a columnist at The Kansas City Star from 1996-2009. During that time he was voted the best columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. If you’ve ever read Posnanski’s material, you know why. If you haven’t, I invite you to read this piece about “The Heart of Los Angeles.” I promise you; you will not be disappointed.

Joe Posnanski is my favorite sports writer. He also happens to blog and his web site: Joe Posnanski – Curiously Long Posts should be a frequent stop for anyone who loves baseball and sports in general.

Something Joe wrote in a post he had written about the Harlem Globetrotters’’ opponent for years and years – The Washington Generals and their coach Red Klotz inspired me. His blog focused on Klotz and what Posnanski called “The greatest quote ever,” but it wasn’t Klotz’ quote that caught my attention; it was something Posnanski wrote about himself as he was talking about the quote.

Posnanski said, “I have tried hard to write about the fun side of sports, the optimistic side of sports, the bright side of the street.”

That little statement has stuck with me and is part of the inspiration for this blog. I’ve given you just a taste of Posnanski here and with the link above. Again, I invite you to explore his material in greater detail.

Last, but not least today I invite you to think about something Rob Neyer had to say about the “Limits of our Knowledge” in his blog the “Sweetspot.”

Neyer makes a great point in that piece about the way we analyze and scrutinize what our baseball teams do or don't do. He talks about how there are limits to what we can know about what happens behind the scenes. Check out Neyer’s piece and keep what he says in mind the next time your team makes a move that you can’t understand. It really appreciated his perspective.

One more piece from Neyer that I enjoyed a great deal is about a letter he wrote to Chadd Hartman, who was a minor league ball player in the San Diego Padres system. It’s the kind of piece I just love to read. It’s about a baseball player, but not one who did his job in the spotlight of the national media or before 40,000 fans. It’s one of those "off the beaten path" kind of stories that’s easy to relate to.

It’s about statistics and numbers, but not in the dry lifeless sense, it’s about bringing numbers to life in a way that only baseball can do it.

And that concludes today’s tour. Again, I hope to do this more often. If you have an idea that you think I should check into, please don’t hesitate to contact me (contct information is on this page). I promise you that I will give your thought every consideration. Also - I’m still open to receiving “letters” about why you love baseball.

Until next time….

October 20, 2010

Catching up with "Rosey" Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of the “Catching up with Rosey.”

As I mentioned last week Chris Rosenbaum was kind enough to respond to my email about what he’s been up to since his last blog “And so it ends.”

Some of what you are about to read actually took place before his last blog and it’s included to fill in the gaps.

After being released by the Angels, Chris went back to his part time job with H&R Block in Tempe, Arizona. Meanwhile his girlfriend was finishing up an internship at Athletes Performance in Phoenix. When tax season ended Chris got in touch with Jaime Cevallos of The Swing Mechanic who is noted for his work with Tampa Bay Rays Ben Zobrist before his monster 2009 season.

Chris went to go work out with Cevallos for a week in Dallas. He had been trading video assessments with him. Cevallos is known for helping hitters get the most power out their swing (which was one of the knocks against Chris’s hitting).

He was hoping to hook up with an Independent League team. While there, he signed a contract with the Washington Wild Things of the Frontier League.

Chris went to their spring training for two weeks and during the process he decided his time was probably going to be better spent elsewhere focusing on what he called his “real career” which would either be in business or possibly in the front office side of baseball.

Being from up-state New York, Chris returned to Albany, New York to begin his quest. Armed with an under-grad degree in Finance and an MBA he decided to focus on investment banking. He looked at the field as the “professional baseball of the finance world.” As he would soon learn, it would be just as hard to break into as baseball.

He started from ground zero, cold calling and emailing banks; mostly small to mid-level sized banks. He knew the competition at the bigger institutions would be steep and those armed with Ivy League degrees and internships would have an advantage.

While searching for a job, Chris taught himself about “modeling” through an on-line course. He learned different ways to value companies; something that wasn’t one of his strengths. Just like in baseball, he realized he had to work on his weaknesses in the business world as well.

He spent a lot of time talking to people; looking for “someone who knows someone.” According to Chris, networking is very important part of breaking into the industry. Chris put in the effort, but the results weren’t coming along as he had hoped.

While Chris has had some luck talking to people, the interviews weren’t as plentiful. His most promising opportunity came at a full service investment firm in Tampa, Florida.

It all happened right around the third week of August. Chris flew down to Tampa with his family to help his sister, who was going to be a sophomore at the University of Tampa move back into school. Afterwards, he ended up flying back to California to help his girlfriend drive cross country to take her new job as an athletic trainer in Mobile, Alabama working with the baseball team at the University of South Alabama.

Along the way while traveling to Tempe, Alabama and back to Albany, Chris learned the bank was no longer interested in discussing a position with him.

Chris noted that his lack of experience in modeling and in working in the industry in general didn’t help his cause. Even though he has an MBA he lacks relevant work experience; something that’s hard to gain when you’re playing baseball. Chris said, that when push comes to shove, experience was “trumping education.”

That’s the finance side of the career search.

On the other hand, a few weeks back Chris started sending our “blind emails” to major league baseball front offices. He contacted somewhere between 15-20 teams. He’s now trying to network with this group to find out how they got involved in professional baseball.

Chris has discovered the best way in to a front office job is probably through an internship. Some are paid and some are not. His focus is on a paid internship, realizing that teams that put an emphasis on hiring from within are more likely to pay to get good quality people that they can retain if things pan out.

He believes his best shot is an internship with a Scouting Department. Chris may have found his best career path. As his girlfriend pointed out to him – he might not stand out when applying for a job in the finance world, but in baseball he’s unique because he not only has playing experience (“playing three years at a high level in a well-respected organization;” the Angels) he also carries an MBA with him.

So, that’s basically where he stands right now.

He also mentioned that he may do an internship with a AA team in Mobile, Alabama near his girlfriend. He hasn’t ruled out an internship in the business world. He’s basically looking to do anything to get some more relevant experience on his resume for either career path.

And that’s where our friend is today. Not the story book ending we might have hoped for, but then again – Chris’ journey is far from over.

We'll be sure to check back with Chris in the near future to see if there are any new developments.

If you're finding us for the first time - be sure to read Part 1 of this post as well.

October 14, 2010

Catching up with "Rosey"

When I first started writing True Grich I hadn’t really read a lot of other blogs. If I did, I probably didn’t even realize they were blogs.

All that changed in the past year as I went looking to find the best baseball blogs on the internet. Turns out there are quite a few of them. Some are written by professional writers like Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski and many of them are written by every day folks just like me.

And then there are those that are actually written by professional baseball players. You might be surprised by who actually blogs (I have a list of some of them on the left).

I recently found a real gem called “Looking through the Mask” written by Chris Rosenbaum (Rosey), a former minor league baseball player from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim farm system.

Chris does an amazing job of telling his audience what it’s like to be a professional baseball player who is trying to achieve the ultimate goal of making it to the major leagues.

He had this to say in 2008:

For the lay baseball fan, it often goes overlooked that we are really baseball players in training, and that the final product on the field every night is not always going to be well polished. The time put in everyday working on hitting, fielding and pitching mechanics often goes unnoticed during days that usually begin five to seven hours prior to game time. Playing at the Class A level, we still have four more rungs to climb to get to the Majors (A-Advanced, AA, AAA, MLB). While we go out every night trying to win a baseball game, our primary objective is to develop as a player so that we are better players at the last day of the season than we were when we arrived in Cedar Rapids.

As you read through all his blog entries, you get a sense of what it must be like working your way through the minor leagues. He talks about his interactions with the fans, his relationships with teammates, the struggles of making it on a meager salary, the long days and so much more.

I found this piece regarding his relationships with teammates interesting:

Everyone in this business is trying to make it to the top. It is paradoxical that while no one can get to the Major Leagues by themselves, there is not enough room for everyone to make it. This is a team game played by individuals. While everyone is striving for the team to win, players are looking out for their individual success along the way. This balance is often strained and is a major reason why the relationships you develop with people should be kept professional with minimal vested emotion. There is only so much of the pie to go around, and no one around you is afraid to take your share.

Since Chris was a catcher and more importantly a catcher in the Angels organization that has Mike Scioscia’s thumb print all over it – it was a natural for Chris to talk about what it meant to be an Angels catcher.

He said this:

If there is a common thread throughout all of the teachings throughout the organization as it pertains to catchers, it is the strong emphasis on the pitcher and catcher relationship. When a pitcher is comfortable with his catcher, he is confident and will perform at his highest level. For this reason, fostering and maintaining these relationships is crucial for a catcher’s success in the Angels organization. These working relationships are so strongly valued that they are viewed at the same level of any other stats kept track of by the organization and can be enough reason to keep a mediocre performing offensive catcher around for several years.

Chris’s love for baseball was evident throughout his posts.

Several people have questioned why I put myself through this lifestyle when it appears that I could take my Bachelor’s and almost Master’s Degrees and go get a lucrative job in corporate America. I stick around because I love to play the game. I love the challenge that every day presents and how you never know what the next baseball discovery you will uncover. I stay in the game to experience the moment I did when we defeated Clinton in the divisional semifinals Thursday night. The excitement that our team shared that night with each other and with our devoted fans that made the trip is something I will never forget. This was the first playoff series Cedar Rapids had won since 2000, and it was amazing to see the energy of the team and the fans after winning that series.

More revealing tidbits from his blog:

The hardest part about minor league baseball is that there are no guarantees. What I mean by this, is that tomorrow is never guaranteed; you never know if you will have a job tomorrow, nor can you even be certain where you will be and who will be around you….

It is unfathomably hard to invest so much time and energy into something that can be gone without warning. Playing baseball is such a fickle profession where knowing the right people and being in the right place at the right time can be just as important as performing well on the field. However, the love of the game keeps most going during the long bus rides, minimal pay, unjust personnel decisions, and time away from home. It is the dream that most of us have had since we were young of playing in the Big Leagues that gets us through the setbacks to face another day.

Chris’s blog is all about his journey through baseball and like all journeys they eventually come to an end.

His final post “And so it ends” was posted on July 3, 2010. In this post Chris says good-bye to baseball. This post was actually the first post I read by Chris. It was so compelling, that I foun myself going back to read all of his previous posts. When I was done, I decided to reach out to Chris to find out what happened to him.

So I emailed him and much to my surprise he replied. We exchanged a few emails and Chris gave me an update on what he’s been up to. That will be the subject of my next post (coming soon). So… stay tuned.

In the mean time, I encouage you to visit his blog. If you really love baseball, you will probably enjoy learning about "Rosey." I encourage you to read all of his posts. Trust me, it will be like reading a good book.

October 13, 2010

There are many reasons to love baseball

Every day is kind of like Christmas for me lately. Seems like every time I check my email, there's another story from a baseball fan who wants to answer my question "Why do you love baseball?"

The following post is from Matt Kelsey, who got wind of this blog from his I-70 Baseball colleague Bill Ivie and wanted to take part in the project as well. I'm glad he did....

I love baseball because my dad and my mom took me to games, back in the days when the Royals played respectable ball and you could take a family of four to a big-league ballpark for less than twenty-five bucks - parking and food included.

I love baseball because after the games, my brother and I would go stand around next to the visiting team bus and the home team parking lot, asking for autographs. More players said no than yes, but the ones who said yes - regardless of how they performed on the field - became our favorites.

I love baseball because of my grandmother. A first-generation American, she was born and raised in the small central Missouri town of Loose Creek, and grew up in the days of Ruth and Gehrig. She became a fan of the Kansas City Royals out of spite, for the exact same reason she voted Republican: her husband, the jovial town barber, told her she ought vote Democrat and root for the St. Louis Cardinals. My grandmother did the opposite. Our family friend Ralph Lynch took my grandmother to a playoff game in 1985, and bought her a Royals jacket. The jacket and a commemorative Dwight Eisenhower plate were her prized possessions. She wore that jacket every spring and fall until the day she died.

I love baseball because of that jacket.

I love baseball because of Ralph Lynch. Ralph was the kind of guy who would throw away caps when they became too worn out. Once, when he was over at our house, shucking corn and drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon out of the can with my father, he decided his old Royals hat was too worn out and chucked it in a garbage barrel. I dug that sucker out of the trash and wore it the rest of my childhood.

I love baseball because of Bret Saberhagen. He was the kid pitcher on the Royals in 1985, and he went on to win a Cy Young Award and the World Series MVP. He was my favorite player, and still is, even though he sprayed bleach on reporters while playing for the Mets and wore his hair in a ridiculous perm.

I love baseball because of Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. A Cardinals fan tried to tell me recently that the Royals would have lost the series if Don Denkinger, the guy who blew a call in Game 6, hadn't been behind the plate for Game 7. The Royals won Game 7 by a score of 11-0. Cardinals fans are delusional if they think a different umpire would have changed the outcome of Saberhagen's complete-game shutout or the Royals' offensive explosion. But I digress...

I love baseball because I was six years old during the 1985 World Series. My family watched the game from our living room, in the house where my parents still live. Ralph Lynch was there, too. My brother and I watched from the living room carpet, laid out on our stomachs, our heads cradled in our hands. When Darryl Motley caught the ball for the final out and Saberhagen leaped into George Brett's arms, we pounded on the carpet and screamed until our fists were sore and our throats were raw.

I love baseball because I love hating the Cardinals, and I love hating the Yankees.

I love baseball because of George Brett, the greatest player I ever saw. Years after he retired I witnessed him at an exhibition game. He was joking around with the crowd, signing a few autographs, and then he took batting practice and his expression became deadly serious. He whacked the ball all over the park, with that wonderfully ridiculous back-to-the-pitcher stance of his. I'll bet money George Brett could still hit .275 in the big leagues.

I love baseball because of birthday money. On my birthday, I would get $15 from my parents to spend anyway I liked, and my brother would get $10. On his birthday, we'd reverse it. One year on my birthday, I blew my entire wad on baseball cards. My brother had always had more cards than me, and it was sort of a sore subject. That night I came home and opened all my cards (probably 30 packs - they were a lot cheaper back then), and shoved all the gum in my mouth. Then, with a mouth full of sugary sweetness, I took my cards and stacked them up in a skyscraper. My brother stacked his cards up too. My stack, for once, was taller.

I love baseball because of the gum. My brother's friend once built a small box out of baseball-card gum and stored his valuables inside, because he swore the gum was fireproof.

I love baseball because of Buck O'Neil.

I love baseball because there's an old family rumor, largely propagated by my brother, that we're distantly related to Mickey Mantle.

I love baseball because my wife lets me teach her about the game, and she's come to love it, too, in a way only a perfect wife can, the kind of wife who doesn't just suffer her husband's obsessions, but shares in them.

I love baseball because it's the only game that matters. It's the only game I'll ever truly love. It's a game that belongs to me in the same way it belongs to all fans, and I belong to it as well.

Submitted by
Matt Kelsey
Content Director
I-70 Baseball

Be sure to check out Matt's blog:
The Henry Wiggen Blog

By the way Matt, I too love baseball because of Buck O'Neil

October 11, 2010

Sometimes baseball provides all the answers

Why do you love baseball? It's really a simple question. The answers; however, are often deeper than one could imagine.

Today's post comes to us from Bill Ivie, who is the Executive Editor and Founder of Enjoy...

It was one of the hardest times I have ever experienced in my life. As my relationship, my family life, and my professional career were all upended very quickly, I was struggling to find answers to more questions then I had ever asked before.

Everything seemed gone. My children, my friends, my family all seem to have disappeared. Looking back now I realize just how mind altering depression can be as many of those things were still there and as strong as ever. But that is not what this story is about.

There are songs, articles, books and stories that have been told for many years about that type of situation. All of these situations were solved by a visit to the author's childhood home. They would sit in their old bedroom, under a tree, on a porch swing, or in a field out back and remember who they were and what they needed to be. As my world felt like it was falling down around me, I decided to try and take their advice.

There was a problem here, though. I did not have that home. We moved a lot when I was younger and many of the houses that we lived in were no longer there. Still, I set out to areas that I had lived, hoping to catch just a little bit of that magic. I drove past a small elementary school that I attended, remembering how big it seemed then and how tiny it was now. I drove through the neighborhood that I spent my junior high school years living in, but it had changed so much that it was hard to even recognize. I drove through neighborhoods of childhood friends' houses, past the high school I graduated from, and even walked around property owned by my ex-father-in-law. Still there was nothing.

I pulled into the park that July night around dusk. An orange haze cast over the sky and there was a slight, unseasonable, chill in the air. The outfield grass was freshly cut and the dirt had been drug over recently leaving a light powder across the infield. There were no other people anywhere in the area as I stepped out of my car and approached the third base dugout.

I sat on the bench, looking out over the infield, barren of lines, with stark white bases protruding from their positions 90 feet apart from each other. I remembered sitting in that dugout as a young man, my father coaching the team that had made it to the championship, having just struck out the inning before with runners on second and third and two outs.

My team trailed by one run with just a few innings left to play and I had let them down. My father patted me on the back and gave me the old "get 'em next time" look. The look was mixed between the strategies a coach had running through his head and the love of a father realizing his son was not sure what to do next.

I remembered vividly that day grabbing my glove to head to left field and my dad stopping me on my way out of the dugout. He told me, "do something amazing and no one will remember the strikeout." With two outs in the next half inning I made a diving catch in left center field with the bases loaded to keep it a one run lead. Two innings later I worked a walk, stole second, and scored on a teammate's base hit to left field to win the game after my team had tied it earlier in the inning.

I think I am the only one that remembers the strikeout.

I stepped out of the dugout and walked to the area where the on deck circles would be drawn in chalk prior to the next day's games. I squatted down and scooped a handful of dirt and let it sift through my fingers like sand in an hourglass. I was reminded of relationship advice, being told to "hold onto her love like sand, too loosely and it falls away, too tightly and it will run through the cracks of you fingers and hands. Gently, yet firm, and it will stay".

I walked the field that night, leaning against the slightly rusty, yet still firm chain link fence. Reminding myself of the times that I chased foul balls down the line to that fence, crashing into it. Reminding myself that I always stood up, dusted off, and got back into the game.

I watched the sun set over the field and buildings that bordered the park. I stood near second base, watching the fence and bleachers reflecting the moonlight. I walked through the dugout, remembering the countless games that I would pack up my equipment and head home. I walked through the grassy park back to my car, wondering if I had found any answers.

I drove home that night, not sure where life would take me, how I would put my family back together, or what I needed to do to become successful in life. I had found no answers despite memories that provided me with lessons I had learned throughout my childhood that applied in the present situation.

On that field that night, all alone walking around, I found something more important than answers. Somewhere amongst fresh cut grass, soft infield dirt, crisp white bases and rusty fences, I found myself.

Because, you see, dear reader that is what baseball is to those of us that love it as deeply as I do. It invents us. It supports us. It identifies who we are. If you dig deep enough, you will find a passion and desire that is second to none. Most of all, when we need answers, it provides us with the right ones, even if we are asking the wrong questions.

And that's what baseball is all about, Charlie Brown.

Submitted by:
Bill Ivie
Executive Editor and Founder | I-70 Baseball
Assignment Editor |
Member of Baseball Bloggers Alliance
Twitter: @poisonwilliam

You should also check out his More Hardball blog as well.

October 9, 2010

It's all about dad

My wife Cheryl and I have a favorite restauant in Long Beach called Jongewaard's Bake N Broil. Over the years we've had the pleasure of getting to know the manager there. His name is Andy and he's a big baseball fan (Dodgers) and a heck of a great guy too.

Last night we happened to go to the restaurant and while we were there Andy told me he was sending me something he had written for this blog. He was responding to my request to have people answer the question - Why do you love baseball?

When I started this blog it was with the intention of getting others to tell their stories. This project about why we love baseball has provided people with that opportunity in a big way.

Every time I sit down to read someone's story I get a little excited because it's kind of like going to a game. You never know what you're going to see, but you hope it's going to be something great. Well, Andy delivered a story that's just that....

It was probably the summer of 1970; it may have been the summer of ’69 but I don’t want to rip off a Bryan Adams song. My Dad took me down to sign up for the Kiwanis T-shirt Baseball league in Long Beach. It was the T-shirt league because our uniforms consisted of just that, a T-shirt and a hat. The hat had a letter of whatever the name of your team was, like an R for Rangers or an S for Sharks. The Sharks were a very good team.

Unfortunately, we got there too late and all of the teams were full. There were still a handful of kids like me that showed up late and didn’t get on a team. The kids looked like just what you might think; the last ones to get picked for a team.

My Dad looked around and decided to do a great thing; he decided to start another team and coach them. I don’t know if I realized it at the time, but my Dad was an amazing guy. He was a fan of the underdog; a teacher and a motivator. I’m not sure if he knew what kind of talent he had or didn’t have, but he started a team and the Kiwanis T-shirt league Giants were born.

I happened to be a pretty good player; not great but pretty solid all around. I never hit very well but I was very good defensively. I recruited a couple of my friends from school and the neighborhood. So with, Danny Sweeting and Tim Pedersen (who I knew were pretty good athletes), and the rest of the “last picks,” we had our team for better or worse.

Some of the kids didn’t have gloves and one kid literally didn’t know where first base was. I remember a mother of another kid asking my Dad what kind of glove to buy her son and he said, “Get one with a lot of fingers in it.” My Dad was a pretty funny guy.

Dad had his work cut out for him, but he was great.

He did some creative things like putting colored dots on balls when he pitched batting practice. He made us guess the color before we could swing; that way he would know if we were watching the ball. When we hit the ball and told him the right color, he would give us candy.

Some kids were afraid of the ball, so he drilled a hole in one and attached a rope to it. He would then swing it around and have us hit it. That way kids knew it wasn’t going to hit them.

I don’t think my Dad was ever a great athlete himself, but he had sound fundamentals. He knew a lot about the game and he passed it along to all of us kids.

By all accounts we had a pretty good season. We went 3 and 9, and believe me those 3 wins were huge.

After the season my Dad made trophies for every player. Looking back at it all, I realize what a great coach he was. He is the reason I love baseball as much as I do and I’m sure all the Kiwanis Giants feel the same way.

Submitted by:
Andy Child
San Juan Capistrano, CA

October 8, 2010

Baseball is always with us

The latest entry to the question Why do you love baseball? comes to us from a transplanted Cardinals fan.

It's simple, really. Baseball has always been with me, everywhere I go.

A little history: I come from a family of fans. My mom made me a fan, too. Born in 1937, she was just old enough to know who Jackie Robinson was when he made his major league debut ten years later and why he was so important.

She remembers the family sitting around the radio (Cardinal games were broadcast on KMOX then; the mighty St. Louis station could be heard all the way to Nebraska on clear nights), listening to the announcer call the Brooklyn Dodgers-Cardinals games. She remembers; as she grew up, the sense of pride that she felt in Robinson's accomplishments, the way he held himself, and the way he performed on the field.

She wept when he died. That, I remember vividly.

My own love affair with baseball has been a slow-burning one. As a kid growing up in St. Louis; listening to baseball or thinking about it, was just something you did: throw some catch in the backyard, play pick-up games in the park down the street, do homework while listening to Jack Buck call Cardinals games on the radio ("And that's a winner!").

My favorite player was Lou Brock; I used to hold my breath, wondering if he would steal home this time or catch that line drive down the line. My fondest memory; in fact, is the day he WAVED TO ME because I kept screaming his name from the bleachers during warm-ups. I don't remember who won that day, but man... Lou Brock waved to me! How ya like me NOW??

Sure, St. Louis had the football Cardinals (at least temporarily) and the NBA's Hawks (at least temporarily) and they still have the NHL's Blues, but none of them had a hold on our city the way the Redbirds did. Still don't. In fact, if you referred to "Redbirds" in the 1970s and 1980s, it was pretty much understood that you were talking about the baseball team. You didn't have to clarify.

My mom went to the World Series in 1967 and 1968 and her favorite player was Bob Gibson... that is until Willie McGee showed up and then she "adopted" him.

Another story: I was in Air Force basic training in 1982, the year the Redbirds played the Brewers in the World Series. After the Cardinals beat the Brewers in seven games, my terminally dyspeptic drill instructor called me into his office and yelled at me because he'd bet on the Brewers and it was somehow my fault that they'd lost. All I could do was apologize for my team winning the Series. Go figure.

Even now, having lived in Los Angeles for almost thirty years, I'm still a Cardinals fan. I'm also a fan of the Angels for sure, but man, the Cardinals? That's where it's at.

Submitted by
Terry Dickerson
Redondo Beach, CA

The idea that baseball has always been with Terry reminds me of a James Taylor song for some reason...

I close my eyes at night
Wondering where would I be without you in my life
Everything I did was just a bore
Everywhere I went it seems I'd been there before
But you brighten up for me all of my days
With a love so sweet in so many ways
I want to stop and thank you baseball
I just want to stop and thank you baby (woah, yeah)

How sweet it is to be loved by you (it's just like sugar sometimes)
How sweet it is to be loved by you

I guess his post reminds me of that song because baseball is game that when you love, it actually loves you back. Thanks Terry. That song is going to be in my head all day now.

Baseball reminds us that anything can happen

The latest story about why we love baseball comes to us courtesy of a previous blog from the Orange County Register. This was posted on April 12, 2010 and is being reposted with permission from the author.

October 26, 2002

Most Angels fans can tell you exactly where they were that night. Just the mention of the date brings back a flood of memories. This date has significance to me for more than one reason. It was the 6th wedding anniversary for my husband John and I. We didn’t have tickets to the game, but, being the devoted fans that we are, we parked ourselves in a local restaurant/bar and watched the game with a few hundred other OC Angels fans.

By the time the bottom of the 7th inning came around, I was quite devastated. Believing it was over, I basically threw in the towel and started grumbling. “I can’t believe they got this far and are going to lose”, I said. “They’re done. I need some more nachos. This game is so over.”

John had a different take on the situation. “Come on, Jen”, he said. “The game isn’t over yet. They still have a chance here. It’s not over until the last out, right? You need to start believing in the power of the Rally Monkey.”

Ah yes, the Rally Monkey. The Angels had pulled off many come-from-behind wins that season with the supposed help of their furry mascot. Clever concept, but since I’m pretty sure the players are the ones who deliver the dramatic comeback, I was not one of those who bought into the whole “power of the Rally Monkey” thing.

Being the eternal optimist he is, John didn’t see any reason why they couldn’t rally and do it again. And being the realist that I am, I figured there was no way they were going to win that night.

I looked at him, almost glaring; shocked that he would even suggest such a thing. All my mind could picture was the years of crushing disappointment. He knew the history too, but he was truly confident, almost with the excitement of a kid.

And then, the game took its defining turn.

The Rally Monkey came out and the fans went crazy, pounding the life out of their thunder sticks. What we witnessed next, as a lifelong Angels fans, were moments for the ages. Spiezio. Erstad. Glaus. With every run that crossed home plate, my body got more tense. I kept my hands over my eyes as if that would some how shield me from potential disaster. But I spread my fingers apart just enough so as to not miss what happened.

Celebrating the win like that in a restaurant setting was as unique a sports experience as I have ever had. We were surrounded by all these people, strangers basically, but bound together by our love for the Angels.

I had no doubt they would win Game 7. It became merely a formality. And on October 27, 2002, the Angels won their first World Series Championship. As a fan that had witnessed so much disappointment over the years with this team, I felt pure elation. The home team, my team, finally won it all.

You don’t soon get over a comeback moment like that. It stays with you. In the days to follow, while getting very used to the term “World Champion Angels”, it occurred to me, that for this fan, there was something bigger behind the use of the Rally Monkey. It was more than just trying to get the fans out of their seats and onto their feet to cheer on the players.

I think it reminds us of why we are fans of the sport we love.

It reminds us that part of the wonder of the game is that anything can happen. This is why we follow sports. This is why we turn on our TVs, and show up to the ballpark or stadium or arena. It’s because we believe that on any given night, our team has a chance to win, all the way up until the whistle blows, the buzzer sounds, or the final out is recorded. And every once in awhile, we get to witness amazing moments that solidify our love for the game.

After all, this is why we watch, isn’t it?

I’m proud to say that I’ve been an Angels fan my entire life. I began watching them as a young girl, during the rough years, when, but for a couple of seasons, wins were hard to come by. I remember the epic collapse that was the 1986 postseason. And I rejoiced during the 2009 postseason when the team took that 86-pound weight off their backs and hurled it at the Green Monster. I cheered for Rod Carew’s 3000th hit and I cried at the news of the death of Nick Adenhart.

And I am a believer in the power of the Rally Monkey.

Every year as October 26 approaches, John and I reminisce about the game and our unique experience that night. “I knew all along they would win”, he reminds me. And he’s right. There’s nothing like a little good old-fashioned child-like optimism to bring the fun back to the game. I know it had that effect on me.

Do you believe?

Submitted by:
Jenelyn Russo
Rally Monkey Mom

"Rally Monkey Mom" is a frequent contributor to the OC Register's Angels Blog

October 7, 2010

It's a family thing

I love hearing why people love baseball. We all love the sport for different reasons; however, a common theme among many who love the game is that the sport some how connects them to their families in some way; usually their dad.

Here's one of those stories:

I think baseball's a family thing. When I was growing up my parents were baseball fanatics and to be honest, I never understood it. Oh sure, I liked baseball when I was a kid; I collected cards, idolized Mickey Mantle… the usual stuff.

When I became an adult my family and I would visit my folks and my dad always had that dang TV on with baseball playing 24/7 and heaven help you if you "talked" during an important play (and most of them were exactly that). I vowed I'd never neglect anything or anyone in favor of baseball and so it was.

Then the kids got older, left home and went off to college, got married… the usual stuff.

I don't know how or when it happened, but when my dad died awhile back, I began watching baseball again.

It was during the Barry Bonds era. All of sudden I was back and hooked on baseball! Now I live for the baseball season. When October comes and goes and I actually find myself a little depressed.

What’s a guy to do? Well, I started collecting baseball cards and now have over 185,000 cards that keep me busy.

Last summer I went on a 7 day baseball tour back East and decided to blog about it. We started in Baltimore and ended up in Chicago, hitting 4 games in between. The tour also took us to Cooperstown and Mickey Mantle's Restaurant in New York City. It was quite a trip.

People were reading my blog and after seeing the responses I received from my 7 day blog, I decided to just keep on blogging.

So now I'm an avid baseball card collector and of all things - an amateur baseball blogger. I don’t blog about a specific team, but rather about baseball in general.

There is so much information on every aspect of baseball on the internet that I find myself surfing at midnight more times than I'd like to mention! I have to tell you there aren't enough hours in the day! I love the game, the players, umpires, coaches and the fans.

Blogging has been great. It allows me to interact with fans from all over the world and I never run out of things to blog about.

Baseball's the greatest sport in the world and has the greatest fans in the world. No matter where you go you can talk about baseball and people get it.

My Giants made the playoffs this year. I feel like I know all the players personally and I get emotional during every game; just like I would if they were my own kids.

I wish my dad could see me now. There are so many things I'd like to talk with him about. I miss him. The good part? My kids love baseball and their kids love baseball! It's a family thing and it just doesn't get any better than this!

Submitted by:
Ronni Redmond, Santa Cruz CA
Garlic Fries and Baseball Blog

Thanks Ronni. More stories to come.

In the mean time - please keep sending in your stories about why you love baseball.

October 6, 2010

The Blogosphere weighs in

As I continue on with the question - why do you love baseball? ...A few baseball bloggers decided to chime in.

It was July of 1979. I had a week off from my newspaper job in Vermont; saw that the Expos had three games scheduled at Wrigley Field and flew to Chicago by myself to take them in.

I found a couple of buses to take from O’Hare straight to the ball park, bought an upper deck ticket at the window and made it to my seat fifteen minutes before the first pitch.

This was ten years before the Cubs would play under lights and they had Dave Kingman in their lineup, who would go on to hit 48 homers that year (and naturally whiff 131 times). The Expos were in the thick of the NL east race, had Gary Carter, that great outfield of Andre Dawson, Warren Cromartie and Ellis Valentine and Steve Rogers on the hill.

Anyway, I believe the Expos won that first game, but as it was winding down I suddenly felt a bit anxious. Here I was in a city I’d never visited, having absolutely no clue where I was going to stay that night when it dawned on me that if the game just somehow went into extra innings; that if it went on and on forever (though it couldn’t without lights), I would never have to face the harsh unknown streets of Chicago.

Baseball fans often say that they’d choose to be sitting at a game than practically anywhere else. It’s certainly true for me. Staring at a vast green field under a gorgeous sky (and at Wrigley, with the bonus green ivy); can make you feel naturally relaxed and comfortable. At Wrigley that 1979 day, I was at least 1000 miles from home, but incredibly, it didn’t seem that way at all.

Sbumitted by:
Jeff Polman
Play That Funky Baseball

Shelby Wyros was a Greek goddess. I think it was her AOL screen name at the time--"GrkGoddess232," so obviously it was true.

I was playing first base in my first All-Star year, holding a runner on, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw Shelby's billowing hair and smile that brought worlds to life wandering down the hill with a few of her friends.

Our coach saw them too. Anybody could have told you that a gaggle of giggling school girls meandering into the radius of 15-20 teenage dudes was a recipe for distraction, no matter what we were doing. We could have been putting out a fire at a children's hospital and still our focus would have been quite easily monopolized by Shelby and her posse. Those poor, poor sick kids. As if their hypothetical lives weren't tragic enough, now they were going to die in a fire.

Anyway, it was a close game--tied 1-1 in the late innings. I was holding on the other team's fastest runner and our coach knew what was coming.

"Justin," I heard him calmly say from the dugout, as if there was a poisonous snake slithering around my ankle that I wasn't aware of. "Stay cool."

Just then, as Shelby and pals entered everybody's undeniable vision, the batter ka-slammed a line drive into the right side of the infield. I reacted instantly--later, my father would tell me I looked like an ostrich who'd been shot in the neck--and, fully extended, made an awesome catch, tagging the runner in mid-air for an unassisted double play. The highlight of my season. With two down, victory was all the more assured.

I soaked up the cheers, only to turn and see Shelby smiling playfully at me and waving. Oh crap. Focus = evaporated.

And as I stood there, wallowing in Shelby's gaze, the distinct *PING* of a metal bat on ball caught my attention. The next batter was already up and swinging and a grounder was coming right at me. Not seeing it until literally the last second, it bounced and smacked me in the bottom jaw. It felt like my teeth were embedded in my brain. I dropped like a brick.

To me, that's baseball. One second, it is the source of endless joy and enthusiasm, and you wonder why the world would ever need to create anything else. And the next thing you know, you're lying on the ground wondering if Shelby Wyros will still go out with you after dental reconstructive surgery. I don't know of much else that can yank your emotions about so ruthlessly. And for that, I love the game. And hate it.

Submitted by:
Justin Klugh
That Balls Outta Here

This past Thursday (Note: this is from Sept. 2009) I went to the Nationals-Phillies game in Washington with five friends – one Nat’s fan, two Phillies fans, and two that just wanted to watch some baseball. The two non-affiliated guys decided to cheer for the Nationals, so I went for the Phillies to balance things out.

The Phils took an early 2-0 lead off Livan Hernandez, but Washington came back – putting 8 up on Joe Blanton, including home runs by Adam Dunn and shortstop Ian Desmond (making his MLB debut). The Nationals led 8-2 at the end of the 8th inning, and the Phillies fans at the park (which at that point was probably the majority of people there) were a bit down.

It was Dunn’s 36th of the year, continuing his trek to 40. Right now he’s on pace for 41, which would be a big disappointment since he’s hit exactly 40 home runs – no more, no less – for the past four years in a row. That’s one of my favorite things in baseball.

With the Phillies down 6 runs and the bottom half of the order coming up, I turned to one of my friends – a Philadelphia fan – and asked him if Matt Stairs was the team’s top pinch-hitter, or if that job was held by Greg Dobbs. “Dobbs is on the DL,” he told me. No offense to Greg, but I took that as good news. Why would I be happy about that, you (and he) might ask?

Because I think of Matt Stairs as kind of a lumberjack. He’s a powerful, short, squat Canadian, and I imagine that after the season ends he puts on a plaid shirt and goes up to the Canadian forest to chop down trees and whittle them into bats for his use the following year.

Mind you, I’ve had this caricature for years. If I could see Matt Stairs bat, it would be worth the price of admission. This was obviously a ridiculous sentiment, even to people that know me.

Rookie pitcher Zach Segovia started the ninth for the Nationals. Raul Ibanez popped out. Jayson Werth reached on a throwing error by Desmond, though the youngster didn’t seem too concerned. Pedro Feliz singles off of Segovia’s glove. As the 8th place batter – Carlos Ruiz – came to the plate, by friend told me to look at the on deck circle. Matt Stairs had a bat in his hands. Ruiz drew a walk; the bases were loaded with one out, and the Lumberjack came to the plate.

Pitch one was a fastball well outside, taken for a ball. Matt Stairs does not swing at such rubbish (Unbeknown to me, Stairs actually hadn’t gotten a hit since July 11th – a streak of 30 at bats). Pitch two was an outside fastball much closer to the plate. The Lumberjack took a mighty swing and sent it deep into the cool Washington night. Matt Stairs had hit a grand slam.

After the game I mentioned to my friends a quote that I don’t remember which player said first, but it’s along the lines of “I always play hard, just in case there’s even one fan in the stands who came just to see me.”

On that night I was that fan. And that’s why baseball’s a great game – because even in a game in which the result made no difference and I didn't care about either of the teams, I still got to see everything I asked for and then some.

Submitted by:
Daniel Moroz
Camden Crazies – A blog about the Baltimore Orioles
The entire post (this was an excerpt) was Posted on Sept. 12, 2009

Thanks to Jeff, Justin and Daniel for their contributions. Please be sure to check out their respective blogs.

More to come... In the mean time, please keep sending in your stories.

October 5, 2010

It's all in the details

In my last post, I asked the question - why do you love baseball? I then invited people to send me their stories. One of the first to respond was a friend of a friend named Woody Berry.

Why is baseball great? It's because when you ask someone why they love the game, they're apt to tell you. Here's Woody's story:

I was a 10 year old living in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1963 and my parents finally agreed (after begging them since I was 7) to pay the five dollar entry fee for Little League baseball. I was drafted by the "Major" Yankees in the Gulf Coast L.L. Over half the guys in the major division were already 12, most of the rest already 11 and only a very few 10 year olds made it.

Suffice it to say I felt like a real Major League draft pick when coach Curly Mellenger called my dad and told him he had picked me. We were; by far, the worst team in the league that year, losing our first 13 games in a row before we finally eked out a win against the lowly Pirates.

At the end of two rounds of seven games each, we stood a whopping 1-13. It bothered me greatly to lose; but hey, I was a 10 year old playing with and against guys I thought were pure gods. I remember our worst loss; a 30-1 drubbing against the Braves (there was no such thing as a mercy rule back then).

I watched Richard Rios of the Braves hit not one, but TWO balls over the light pole behind me in center... in the same inning that night. We were beyond awful; we were just pathetic really.

Then.... the miracle that is baseball began to happen. Our 12 year olds began playing like All-Stars, our 11 year olds finally caught on and we started winning games. Jeff Johnson and John McNeil actually hit a couple of balls out of the park and our two lefties, Richard Wise and Steve Cazstecka, began throwing nasty curves that nobody could hit.

We somehow went 5-2 in the last round, which was significant because each round winner automatically qualified for the playoffs. But the Cardinals also finished 5-2 so we had to turn around and play them in a "play in" game the next night after our last game.

They pounded us like the 1-13 team we had recently been and took a seemingly insurmountable 10-1 lead into the bottom of the 6th; our last at bat. All of the planets must have been perfectly aligned that warm, clear night in May because we started to rally.

A hit here, an error there, a walk here, a hit batter there, seemingly 3-4 Cardinal pitching changes, a tantrum by their catcher - Bill Kirk Jr., son of their loud mouth and mean coach, Bill Kirk Sr., who pulled his own son off the field late in the inning after his 67th passed ball.

It was 10-7, then 10-8, then 10-9 and the bases seemed to be constantly loaded. I got to watch all of it from the first base coach's box, having been pulled from the game during the rout.

Up to the plate stepped 12 year old Emilio Longoria, who had been our hottest hitter in the league during the third round; hitting frozen ropes all over the park. He hit the first pitch he saw just to the left of the center field scoreboard; once again on a line, with what I swear had a white hot tail trailing it as it disappeared into the Corpus Christi night.

It was a walk off salami, to win 13-10, to cap a 12 run rally, by a kid who had never homered in his life, nor would he ever again. Moms were crying; dads were crying; Curly's pregnant wife was crying. Hell, everyone was crying.

Turns out the Cardinals made the playoffs anyway. As the rule was the team with the best record to not win a round got in too. So guess who we played the very next night in the playoffs?

We thrashed the Cardinals 8-2 in a game that wasn't nearly s close as the score and just like that, the 8-15 Yankees were in the championship game against the mighty Tigers who had manhandled us all three times we had played them.

As a result of Little League pitching rules and the extra game, we were completely out of pitchers, so Curly came to a skinny little 10 year old with a pretty solid arm (me) and told me I was getting the ball for the big game.

Don't be getting ahead of me here because this is where reality came crashing back to earth, just like baseball tends to do.

I don't recall even getting out of the first inning, but I do know I walked about 3-4 batters and hit a big kid named Randy right in the helmet. Their ace - Mac Adams, actually stole home on me as I stood on the mound kicking the dirt, wondering how in the world I could be so bad.

In the end, I think we lost 12-2, but the crowd gave us all a standing ovation at the end of the game as Curly made us all come out on the field to take a curtain call. I can honestly say it was the only game I've ever been associated with where I didn't feel bad after a loss. For just a moment, we actually stole all the thunder from the champs. It was heaven on earth.

Why do I love baseball?

Why have I spent most of my adult life as a volunteer coach? Why did I coach each of my three sons through their Little League years, including talking my way on to a U.S. Air Force base when we lived in England, just so they (and me too) could play Little League ball? Why did one of my sons play four years at UCLA and become a two time Major League draft pick?

For the same reasons I can remember names like Curly Mellenger, Richard Wise, Steve Cazstecka, Richard Rios, John McNeil, Jeff Johnson, Bill Kirk and especially Emilio Longoria, just to mention a few of the guys I played with 47 years ago.

For the same reason I came home to Corpus from college at SMU in 1974 to attend the funeral of my former battery mate as a 12 year old (yep, I got converted to catcher at 11 and never played another spot), Joe Ramirez, with whom we went 9-1 when he pitched with the Yankees two years after the miracle in 1965. He had a heart condition and never had a chance.

Why do I love baseball? Because; like Yogi said, "It ain't over, till it's over." Because there's just nothing that emotes quite like baseball. Nothing.

Sometimes, you just gotta believe and that's what that miracle game against the Cardinals taught me back in '63. Never give up; ever... in anything.

Respectfully submitted,
Woody Berry
Richardson, TX

Thanks Woody. That was a heck of a story.

More to come...

In the mean time - keep those stories coming (see the post below).

Why do you love baseball?

Why do you love baseball?

Seriously, have you ever given some real thought to why the game means so much to you? I believe it’s a worthy exercise (see the bottom of this post for directions on how to tell your story) that can be rewarding and revealing .

Take noted columnist George Will for example, who is quoted in Ken Burns’ Baseball Film “The Tenth Inning” as saying “I care about baseball more than ever. It gets worse and worse. My wedding ring, which I designed myself, has the Major League Baseball logo on it. I wanted Mrs. Will to know that in my heart she ranks up there close to baseball. I still subscribe to the theory that there are two, not four, seasons. There’s baseball season and the void, and I hope I never get over this childness.”

We all love baseball for different reasons. I invite you to hear why others (like George Will) love baseball by clicking on this link: Why we love the game.

Perhaps Ken Burns himself puts it best. He was recently interviewed by David Laurila of The Baseball Prospectus. Burns said, “Baseball is the greatest game that has ever been invented. There is nothing like it. In all the other sports you go to your best player all the time. You hand off to O.J. Simpson, or you throw it to Jerry Rice, or you inbound the ball to Michael Jordan. Derek Jeter comes up only once very nine times at bat. David Ortiz comes up only once every nine times at bat. You often have to rely on some little infielder that you just brought up from Triple-A, for your whole season. Think Bucky Dent. Think Kevin Millar drawing a walk in the fourth game of the ALCS in 2004.”

“This is just a spectacular game. I don’t even know why, with these simple yes-no, ugh kind of warfares that take place in other sports that we’re even having to remind ourselves why this game is so perfect. And it teaches us about loss. You fail seven times out of 10, which would be unacceptable in any other sport. You’d be gone, sent packing. As a hitter, if you do that for 15 years, you might go into the Hall of Fame. I know that’s a cliché—failing seven times out of 10—because I get on-base percentage, but that’s the essential draw when you invite people in to understand what this sport means.”

I love baseball for a lot of the same reasons Burns mentioned, but I’ll take it a step further. I love baseball because the most statistically undeserving player on the field can have the biggest moment in a game or a series. I love the craziness that a well hit ball can still be an out and that a miss-hit ball can end up being a bloop single or double.

I love seeing one player match his strength (his legs) against the strength of another (his arm) by going first to third. I love it when an 88 mph fastball can be just effective as one thrown at 98 mph.

Baseball is a world where David Eckstein can be the MVP of a World Series (2006) even though he plays on the same team with Albert Pujols, who is quite possibly the best player in the game today.

More than anything, I love being at the park for a game. I don’t want to see the game through the director’s eyes, who is going to show me the game from behind the pitcher as he looks at the hitter and catcher most of the time.

I want to see the whole field, take in the whole experience of being at the ball park. I want the fun of high fiving strangers simply because you are sharing in the joy of seeing a great play on the field. I want to eat peanuts and throw the shells on the ground. I want to be a part of the wave of boos when Alex Rodriguez steps to the plate. I just want to soak it all in.

Baseball is about memories; it’s about stories and conversations and so much more.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me, in your own words in a paragraph or two why you love the game. Email me at truegrich AT yahoo DOT com. I want to hear why you love baseball. I’m serious. Let’s share the reasons why this game is great with others. Tell me your story and include your name and location. I will compile the thoughts in an upcoming blog as a sequel to this one. I can’t guarantee that I will use every story, but I will use many of them I’m sure. Send me your thoughts by Oct. 10, 2010. (Update: I'm still taking stories from anyone who wants to submit one)

As a side note; if you love baseball you owe it to yourself to watch Ken Burns’ “The Tenth Inning” on PBS. PBS will be doing an encore presentation on November 8 & 15, 2010.

Here’s a preview:

September 21, 2010

Major League Dreams on a Minor League Field

When our heads hit our pillows last night it was nearly 1:00 a.m. Cheryl and I had traveled nearly 120 miles round trip to see a minor league baseball game even though a perfectly good major league game was taking place just down the road.

You see Cheryl and I have become accustomed to winning and our expectation is to see post season baseball every fall. So off we went to Rancho Cucamonga to see the fifth and final game of the California League Championship between the Quakes and the San Jose Giants.

I don’t know about anyone else, but every time we go to a stadium we go knowing we might see something we’ve never seen before and might not ever see again. The anticipation of what might happen fuels or adventures.

Unfortunately, there weren’t any magical moments last night and the Quakes failed to win the game, but as I sit here on the train headed off to work early Tuesday morning; dead dog tired, I can honestly say I don’t have any regrets and would gladly do it again. So would Cheryl.

Even though we only made it to three Quakes games this year, we came away last night with a sense of disappointment; the kind of disappointment one experiences when they’re totally invested in something that doesn’t work out. We didn’t know a lot of the players names prior to going and even now I can only remember a few; however, the affinity we have for the team is real because they’re part of the Angels family. Most of the players we saw will never set foot in a major league ball park. For many of them, Rancho Cucamonga will be the last stop in their quest for a career in baseball.

I’m sure that for some last night was the biggest game of their lives and even though they should be proud of getting to the championship, the memory of not winning it all will likely stay with them forever.

The Quakes had their chances last night, but as is the case with just about every minor league game I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve been to that many), there’s a reason they call it “minor.” The play on the field is every bit that at times. Even the umpiring is suspect at times.

Last night the umpires had to meet after controversial plays on three occasions to discuss what had happened. In all three cases, they changed the call. Imagine that happening at the major league level. That doesn’t even include the obvious calls they missed and didn’t discuss.

The strike zone was a mystery and you had to wonder if the umpires were actually watching the same game at times. Their poor performance definitely factored against the Quakes, but it wasn’t the sole reason they fell short of a title.

Despite it all, it was baseball; good old fashioned baseball. It’s a shame that only 2,099 people managed to attend a championship game. I don’t understand why more people don’t make the effort to get to Rancho Cucamonga or any minor league park for that matter to take in some baseball.

Yes, you will see more passed balls, wild pitches, errors and routine plays that aren’t so routine than you ever will at the major league level, but you will also see players who are truly headed in the direction of a promising career and play that can be outstanding at times.

The most expensive ticket I could have purchased last night would have been $12, but even our $8 seats were fantastic. When we were there Saturday, we bought tickets that were just two rows from the field and directly across from third base. It was actually too close for us and we ended up moving up to higher seats for better photo opportunities, where there was no screen to protect us or mess with the auto focus on our camera.

The atmosphere is unlike anything you will ever experience. It’s fun, it’s interactive, it’s kid friendly and you are guaranteed to laugh and smile all game long. The mascots (Tremor and After Shock), the cheer leader (Crazy J) and even the music they play during the game make the experience memorable.

And then there’s the players... Cheryl and I know that we saw someone special in Mike Trout. His play stands out and even though it’s a long way from Single A to the major leagues, it appears (at least to us) that he’s on his way.

Last night he had two hits, was walked intentionally, got hit by a pitch, stole a base and scored 2 runs. He wasn’t quite as dynamic as he was Saturday night, but he was fun to watch just the same. He’s the kind of player who would do anything to win a game. Mike Scioscia is going to love having him on his roster one day.

When the Giants recorded the final out and began to celebrate on the field, Trout was stranded at third base. He represented the tying run in the bottom of the 10th inning. He had just been hit by a pitch, stole second base and then advanced to third on the throwing error. He was 90 feet away from tying the game and keeping hope alive.

As the Giants celebrated, Trout watched. We heard a lady in the stands imploring him not to look. I don’t know what she was thinking, but in my mind I’m glad he soaked it all in. I have a feeling the image of the Giants celebrating on his field will be etched in his mind and serve as motivation for him. I want him to remember last night and I hope he has a fire in his belly to not only get to the major leagues, but more importantly to be a champion.

Cheryl and I love baseball, but we love championship baseball even more. We look forward to the day when we can watch Mike Trout in October; in Anaheim on the biggest stage in the world. If and when he has a chance to raise a World Series trophy above his head, Cheryl and I will remember last night and cheer with pride, knowing Mike Trout learned something about winning on a Monday night in 2010. We will know that last night served as motivation for something bigger and even though we don’t know Trout on a personal level, we will have shared the experience with him in our own way. We will also know that the sleep we lost will have been worth it.

See you in Anaheim Mike Trout; see you real soon.

(This post can also be found on True Grich. Please note that won't always be the case, just when it's appropriate)

September 17, 2010


As best as I can remember, the first baseball game I ever attended was sometime in 1968. I say as “best as I can remember” because I really don’t know the exact date. I hate that I can pinpoint the date, but that’s life. All I know is that it was at the “Big A” in Anaheim.

That year my connection to the Angels as a fan was established forever. I became familiar with names like Jim Fregosi, Rick Reichardt and Aurelio Rodriguez. The memories of those early years are etched in stone.

However, it wasn’t until 1971 that baseball really captured my attention and imagination. It all started on a weekend afternoon when I tuned into the “game of the week” and saw a team who hit the lights out of the baseball. I was watching the Pittsburgh Pirates play and this was when I got my first look at Roberto Clemente and Wilbur (Willie Stargell). I’ll never forget seeing six guys on their team with batting averages above .300 at the time (at least that’s how I remember it).

I became an instant fan. Although I never waivered from my Angels, this Pirate team played a huge role in my development as a fan. My knowledge of baseball began to expand as I began to pay attention to a team not named the Angels for the first time.

I remember standing in my garage with a bat, pretending to be Willie Stargell. I began to mimic his warm up swings. Stargell made huge looping circles with his bat while in the batter’s box. If I remember correctly, he would whip the bat around 8 times before digging in.

In my eyes, Stargell was larger than life. He hit monster homeruns of the tape measure variety and I loved to watch him play.

However, it was Roberto Clemente who truly captured my heart and it’s because of him that I became a closet Pirates fan for many years. Clemente always looked like he was in pain when he was on the field, but it never slowed him down a bit. He was already in his late 30’s by this time and I regret that I never saw him in his prime. Never-the-less, he still had enough game to make me understand I was seeing one of the all-time greats.

I loved to watch him run the bases and that arm of his was something to behold. I marveled at the throws he could make from right field. He threw line drives from deep in the corner all the way to home plate. They were laser like and I wanted to play just like him.

1971 also happened to be the first year the World Series would be played at night; giving kids like myself a chance to watch games after school on television for the first time. I’ll never forget that series as long as I live and even though 2002 will always be the most special World Series for me, 1971 will rank as the most significant.

That year the Baltimore Orioles were the odds on favorites against the Pirates. They boasted four 20 game winners in Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally and Pat Dobson. Cueller was the only starter with an ERA above 3.00 at 3.08. They had future Hall of Famers like Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Palmer and manager Earl Weaver.

The Pirates had one 19 game winner named Doc Ellis and a 15 game winner named Steve Blass who would become one of my favorites. Most people gave them virtually no chance. After all, even then the old adage was “good pitching beats good hitting.” Every time I hear that saying today, I think of 1971.

I remember watching as much of that World Series as I could with my mother and father. It was definitely a family affair. My parents also cheered for the Pirates and I suppose it was simply because I did. I remember telling them everything I knew about each and every player.

I watched the games sitting on the floor. We had a wall furnace that had just enough space between it and the end of the wall, where I would sit with my back against the wall. It was my lucky seat and I sat there every game with my eyes glued to the TV. My dog would lie next to me and run every time I started cheering.

Those were good times.

My 1971 World Series memories included Steve Blass winning two games and Bruce Kison leaving after a game via a helicopter to attend his own wedding. I remember the Bob Robertson homerun where he missed the bunt sign from his third base coach.

I will never forget a “wild man” named Manny Sanguillen who swung at what seemed like every pitch (Vlad Guerrero would remind me of him, years later). It was the first time I ever heard the expression “notorious bad ball hitter.” Sanguillen hit .379 in the series and if it weren’t for Johnny Bench, he might have been considered the best catcher in the game at the time.

Most of all; I remember Roberto Clemente hitting .414 in the Series with two homeruns and a triple and in the process cementing himself as my all-time favorite with his performance.

I also recall Tony Kubek predicting the Pirates would win in seven games (his prediction would be dead on). All the other experts seemed to be picking the Orioles. It made sense; after all, it was their third World Series in as many years and they were the defending champs.

Kubek broadcasted games for NBC for many years, but his prediction was the one thing I remember most about him.

I also remember being what seemed like the only kid in school who was rooting for the Pirates. I had taken a shinning to the under-dogs and I loved every minute of it.

The feelings of anxiety I felt when the Pirates fell behind 2-0 after the first two games is something I can’t forget, along with my stomach being in knots when the Pirates won the 7th game 2-1.

I became so enamored with that team that in 1972 I asked my parents to take me to see them when they visited the Los Angeles Dodgers. It would be my first ever visit to Chavez Ravine.

This is one date I’ve been able to pin down. It was June 9. 1972 and Steve Blass threw a complete game three hitter to improve his record to 7-1; Roberto Clemente had three hits and Stargell added one as well. The Pirates won 5-1 beating Don Sutton and Hoyt Wilhelm. Frank Robinson provided the only homerun. Other players of note in that game included Dodgers Bobby Valentine at 2B, Steve Garvey at 3B (yes 3B), Bill Russell at SS and Bill Buckner at 1B.

Sadly it would be the one and only time I ever saw Clemente play in person. He would die tragically on December 31, 1972 while taking relief supplies to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua.

His death had a profound effect on me in that this too cemented his place as my all-time favorite. I remember the sadness I felt when I realized I would never see him play again. Years later in 1997, I would stand outside Three Rivers Stadium to see his statue. Unfortunately, the Pirates were out of town, but I finally made it to the stadium he played in some 25 years later.

I continued to follow the Pirates for many more years. You might even say that some years I followed them a little closer than my own Angels. I even enjoyed their 1979 World Series; the same year the Angels won their first division title (they would fall to the Baltimore Orioles in the AL championship game).

As painful as that year was for many Angel fans; 1979, was a good year for me, all things considered.

Most of the baseball seasons are somewhat of a blur to me. I couldn’t really tell you who won the World Series in the years prior to and surrounding 1971 and 1979 and up until the late 80’s.

All I know is that in many ways all those other years pale in many ways to 1971.

The journey begins

Welcome to The Baseball Docent. The goal of this blog is to take you on a journey; a guided tour if you will, of all things baseball.

We hope to engage you in a way that will make you laugh (or at least smile), think, and/or be moved to tears. As the late, great college basketball coach Jim Valvano once said, “If you do those three things every day; that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day.”

Baseball has the ability to touch people in a variety of meaningful ways. This blog will attempt to capture the spirit of Valvano’s life lesson through the sharing of stories about baseball. "All things baseball" leaves things pretty wide open, which is just what we want.

It’s an ambitious under-taking for sure. So, please understand that we’ve set the bar high, knowing full well it’s about the journey towards that goal and not necessarily about arriving at it. When appropriate, we might even stray from the topic of baseball; after all, Valvano was a basketball coach.

Hopefully we will find some indelible moments along the way and more importantly - the stories behind those events.

So... who are “we?” I'm James and I write an Angels baseball blog called True Grich (my wife Cheryl also contributes to the blog in numerous ways). Writing True Grich has been a lot of fun; however, I thought it was time to start a second blog dedicated to all things baseball and instead of just my favorite team. Thus The Baseball Docent was born.

My mission is to go beyond my own thoughts and experiences (which you will still get) by engaging others and encouraging them to share their baseball stories with you here on this blog. That's where the "we" really comes into play.

At times The Baseball Docent may do something as simple as direct you to another site where we can continue our tour; again, keeping Valvano's message in mind.

Are you with us? Do you have a story worth sharing? If you do, please see the my contact information on the left and shoot me a note.

Okay, so here we go - let the tour begin...