Category Archives: norfolk tides

The Home Opener: Images of Opening Night at Harbor Park

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“A home opener is always exciting, no matter if it’s home or on the road.” — Yogi Berra

It is the day that I have waited for since the last September, baseball returned in the form of Opening Day at Norfolk’s Harbor Park. Major League Opening Day is always great, especially if you live near enough to a Major League club to attend. For many of us we have to wait for Opening Day at one of the Minor League ballparks. In Norfolk our Norfolk Tides are the AAA level affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.

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This evening the Tides hosted the Charlotte Knights, the AAA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. The Tides fell to the Knights by a score of 3-0. Of course wanted the Tides to win but more important for me was the fact that I was back in my refuge with the people that I have gotten to know each season for the last ten years.

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For me there is something amazing about a ball game. In a way Norfolk’s Harbor Park for me is like Hemingway’s A Clean Well-Lighted Place. I fully understand the feelings of the older waiter in that short but poignant story of life, meaning and a place of refuge. As Sharon Olds wrote: “Baseball is reassuring. It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.”

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So today with contractors still banging around the house I give you these images from my place of refuge.

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Peace

Padre Steve+

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The True Harbinger of Spring: Baseball Returns to Hampton Roads

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“That’s the true harbinger of spring, not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on a ball.”  Bill Veeck, 1976

After a long and hard winter here in Hampton Roads I can day that spring officially arrived on March 29th. Yes I know that spring actually according to the calendar began on the 20th but it really didn’t feel that way until today.

No I can’t say that the weather was that great, it was in the high 60s with rain showers which were heavy at times. However, like the swallows return to Capistrano baseball returned today to Hampton Roads.

Yes it was only an exhibition game between our home town Norfolk Tides and their Major League affiliate the Baltimore Orioles, but it was baseball. It was actually pretty good baseball because the Orioles and the Tides are stacked with some pretty good talent. After years of suffering it appears that we will do well in both the Major League and AAA Minor League levels.

The game was eventually rain shortened because the rain had made the field conditions too hazardous to risk injuries to players so close to Opening Day. The Orioles won 4-3, Matt Wieters hit a 3 run home run in the second inning that helped seal the win.

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For me it was also special because the ballpark is a refuge for me. After Iraq a baseball game remains one of the few places that I feel absolutely safe. The past few years I was in North Carolina and did not get to see nearly as much baseball in person as I would have liked. Before I went there in 2010 on a geographic bachelor tour at the Camp LeJeune Naval Hospital I was a season ticket holder and this year I am again. I know a lot of people in the Tides organization and have seen some of the young Orioles work their way up through the minors at Harbor Park.

So today it really didn’t matter what the score was, or who won or even that the rain shortened the game. What mattered to me was that baseball was back and that with its arrival spring is really here.

Mark Kramer said that “Baseball is a harbor, a seclusion from failure that really matters, a playful utopia in which virtuosity can be savored to the third decimal place of a batting average.” That is something that I have to agree with, it is a safe harbor.

In a couple of days the regular season will begin for the Orioles and the Tides. The 162 game major league regular season and the 142 game minor league season, the latter which begins for us in Norfolk on Thursday April 3rd. Of course I will be catching the first Major League games on television and be there for our home opener on Thursday.

This is a good thing for me, as baseball is a calming influence in my life. I totally agree with Walt Whitman who wrote:

“I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”

And with that I wish you blessings on this night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Home Behind Home Plate

I am finally home. Yesterday I went back to North Carolina in order to officially sign out of Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune. It was a nice visit. I spent yesterday evening with my friends at Rucker John’s and the Emerald Club and my friend Eddie was gracious enough to let me crash at his place.

This morning I headed over to the Naval Hospital officially signed out, picked up my FITREP and was able to visit a couple of friends who I will dearly miss, Duke Quarles who serves as a Pastoral Counselor and for the first two years of my tour was a great right hand man and sanity checker. I also was able to spend time with Command Master Chief Ed Moreno. There are a lot of Chaplains who are not as fortunate as I have been with some of the Senior Enlisted Leaders who I have had the honor of serving alongside.

Ed is a colleague and friend and we relied on each other. He and I turned out to be peas in a pod and he and our last Director of Mental Health Services Captain Suzy Ghurrani and Public Affairs Officer Raymond Applewhite helped make the last year of my time at the hospital a time of personal healing as well as service to others. Master Chief Hospital Corpsman Joe Burds was another leader who I will miss. he was not available this morning but I do stay in contact with him. As a Chaplain one needs people like them, especially if one has suffered trauma. Too many Chaplains isolate themselves and while they may deal with command issues with members of the command triad seldom develop the close personal relationships with other leaders that I was able to do and at this point in my life and career am comfortable enough to do.

After doing what I needed I got underway and drove back home to Judy and our dogs Molly and Minnie. This evening I was able to go to Harbor Park in Norfolk to sit in my old section, 102 and hang out watching the game and taking pictures while visiting with my old friends at the ballpark. This is a place of peace and refuge to me. It was hard this year not having a local team in the LeJeune area. I missed my time with my friends in Kinston at Grainger Stadium since the Indians moved away.

Tonight I was able to visit with my friends Elliot, Chip, Art and Tom while watching the game. The Tides won the game 3-2 on a walk off single by Zealous Wheeler, Zach Britton pitched 7 strong innings in the win. It was the final part of knowing that I was really home. Next year I plan on having my season tickets again. Tomorrow begins more of the heavy lifting in the house. I’ll visit California to go to my 35th high school reunion and see my mom, brother and his family before checking in to the Joint Forces Staff College where I will be the Ethics faculty and chaplain.

So anyway, enough about me for the night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Beautiful Day for a Ball Game

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Yamaico Navarro singles in the Winning Run in the Tides 5-4 Win

Let’s go, batter up!

We’re taking the afternoon off. It’s a beautiful day for a ball game, a ball game today.

The fans are all our to get a ticket or two, from Walla Walla Washington to Kalamazoo

It’s a beautiful day for a home run, but even a triple’s ok!

We’re gonna cheer, and boo and raise a hullabaloo

At the ball game today…

“It’s a beautiful day for a Ball Game” 1960 Harry Simone Songsters

Well sport’s fans it’s Padre Steve blogging to you live from beautiful Harbor Park in Norfolk Virginia. Actually I am writing this live but since there is no wi-fi connection at the ballpark this year it will be posted a little bit after the game is over. Tonight I am getting to see my first game of the year in person and I am excited. Tonight the Norfolk Tides host the Charlotte Knights in the second game of a thee game set. On Monday night the Tides were hammered by the Knights who scored 21 runs against a seemingly hapless Norfolk pitching staff.

Tonight Josh Stinson is on the hill for the Tides and he is facing former Tides and Orioles prospect Jason Berken.

Tonight was a better for the Tides who were just 1-4 to open the season. Regardless I was happy to be here with the Harbor Park regulars that I call my friends. It was good to see my buddies Elliot the Usher and Chip the Usher as well as Marty the Card Dealer and sitting down behind the plate in section 102, my old season ticket section before I was transferred to Camp LeJeune in the fall of 2010.

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Baseball as anyone who reads this site regularly or knows me knows, is something akin to a religion for me. Not that there’s anything wrong with that “nothing bad accrues from baseball” a lot more than can be said for most religions and their most fervent, devout and often intolerant followers. The only thing a devout baseball fan might be intolerant of is artificial turf, the designated hitter rule and any bat made out of something other than wood. Of course any of us also have a visceral reaction to our favorite teams blood rivals, one needs to understand that the Dodger’s are evil. At least from this San Francisco Giant’s fan’s perspective.

Going to the ball park for me is one of the most relaxing places to go and a place of peace. Harbor Park, which I refer to as the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish has been that place of solace for me especially after my return from Iraq in 2008. It is a place that I feel safe at and since I still have a certain terror or crowds of people that is no small thing.

It is interesting to watch the game. A couple of years ago when I was a season ticket holder I knew most of the team but then I moved away and only got to a few games each of the last two seasons. The guys that I knew are either in Baltimore or with other organizations and some are out of baseball. The life of minor leaguers is hard, not much job security and most never spent much time in the majors. This year’s team has a number of veterans and journeymen who have been around the majors and minors with a sprinkling of young prospects. Some of the veterans include Russ Canzler, Danny Valencia and Travis Ishikawa. Prospects include Jonathan Schoop, Trayvon Robinson and L J Hoes. I expect that some of the young players at AA Bowie or High Single A Frederick will make their way to Norfolk before the end of the season.

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The game began under perfectly clear skies with the wind blowing in from the southwest and a temperature of about 80 degrees. It was dominated more by defense than hitting and at the end of the 5th inning the Knights had a 3-0 lead. Both teams removed their starting pitchers in their half of the 6th inning. The offense for the Knights was produced by 2 solo home runs by Jordan Danks and Seth Loman.

The Tides were down 4-0 in the bottom of the 8th when Trayvon Robinson doubled down the left field line. Russ Canzler belted his second home run of the season off Daniel Moskos to deep left to make it a 4-2 Knights lead. The Tides loaded the bases with 2 outs and scored another run when reliever Jeff Gray pinch hitter Conor Jackson. L J Hoes grounded out to the pitcher to end the inning.

In the 9th inning Tides reliever Adam Russell loaded the bases but worked out of trouble to keep the score at 4-3. In the bottom half of the inning Gray walked Trayvon Robinson and Canzler hammered a deep drive to left center which died at the wall. Gray then walked Danny Valencia. Travis Ishikawa singled to right scoring Robinson and advancing Valencia to 3rd. With one out and runners on 1st and 3rd Yamaico Navarro singled to center giving the Tides a walk off win.

Peace, Love and Baseball

Padre Steve+

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A Few Day after the Non-Rapture Thoughts

There will be some coming after me again

Well after a very good conference on trauma and spirituality I am back in North Carolina with a chance to collaborate with my staff to see how we can take what we learned and apply it at our hospital. Of course had Harold Camping had his way it would have been a wasted week, or maybe not because there would have been a lot of trauma going on for the vast majority of the world’s population who Camping did not see as being Rapture-worthy, including the bulk of the world’s Christian population.  But Camping muffed his prediction yet again and his website and radio have been silent on getting shut out by God after God pitched a perfect game no-hitter against Camping and his followers.  But Camping’s ministry has earned over 80 million dollars in the past few years so I guess if you are Camping you still have to count that as something.

I personally think that Camping was unpatriotic and insulted the military by getting everybody spun up about his end of the world claims when it was Armed Forces Day.  By the way if anyone hasn’t noticed we are still involved like in three wars and most of Washington is trying to figure out how to emasculate the military while sparing the big corporations the pain of any new taxes, despite the fact that those corporations make oodles of money off the military and love to have us bail out their overseas operations so long as it benefits their bottom line.  But as Napoleon Bonaparte said of such people “The hand that gives is among the hand that takes. Money has no fatherland, financiers are without patriotism and without decency, their sole object is gain.”  Usually the politicians wait until the war is over or operations are significantly reduced before carving up the military.  I guess that we live in different times.

I also found out that some of the late David Wilkerson’s followers still despise me for suggesting that his fatal “accident” may have been suicide because of the circumstances and the despair of life reflected in his last 3 months of blog posts.  Christians can be so nice to each other, but then my critics have called me everything but a Christian.  Such is life. I think I’m going to prod local reporters in Texas to see if they can find anything out regarding the accident investigation or file a Freedom of Information request to see what the results of the investigation showed.  For those that want to attack me I also suggested that it was possible that he could have had a sudden medical condition that caused him to lose control of his car or that he might have been distracted by something, regardless the suicide option has to be considered.   However those that have criticized me have practically turned Wilkerson and his rich ministry into an idol which practically turns him into a mythological figure incapable of being human.

Well as if to ensure that Camping was wrong the Chicago Cubs lost 2 of 3 to the Boston Red Sox in their first appearance at Fenway since the 1918 World Series.  They did win Saturday, I think simply to rub salt in Camping’s wounds but things really haven’t changed for the Cubbies.  I know it is still early in the season but what Harry Carey said will probably be true this year as well. “What does a mama bear on the pill have in common with the World Series?  No cubs.” Obviously the momma bear is not a practicing Roman Catholic but I digress.

Judy and I saw the movie Bridesmaids which I can highly recommend as a role on the floor and laugh your ass off kind of movie. It was good to be with her and our little dog Molly.

It was a inter-league weekend and although there are a lot of critics of inter-league play I find it fascinating and it gives me an opportunity to size up how potential World Series contenders look against one another.  I do agree with the critics that it gives some teams an unfair advantage in playing weaker non-divisional teams but it gives fans in small markets the chance to see some of the really heavy hitters from the opposing leagues in their own parks in person.

Saturday I spent the evening at Harbor Park and saw the Norfolk Tides defeat the Louisville Bats by a score of 8-6.  It was a relaxing evening and I spent much of it talking with Tides General Manager Dave Rosenfield.  Dave had me come up and sit with him on the concourse behind home plate and it was nice to catch up with him talking about life and baseball.  He actually played minor league ball in my home town of Stockton California. He has been in baseball over well over 50 years and is a treasure trove of baseball knowledge.  At the age of 80 he is still totally engaged in the game.  I hope that will be the same for me when I get to that age. I was also able to see some of my friends from the ballpark including my buddies Elliott and Chip the Ushers.

Oh well, time to wrap things up so I can throw my body into my waiting bed.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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It’s all about Leadership: The Orioles Sweep the Rays to Open the Season

Orioles starting Pitcher Chris Tillman (shown in Norfolk 2010) pitched 6 no-hit inning against the Rays before being lifted when his pitch count went over 100

“Nobody likes to hear it, because it’s dull, but the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.”  Earl Weaver

Note: This is my first baseball post of the 2011 season which actually deals with what is happening on the field. Last year I wrote almost exclusively about the Baltimore Orioles AAA affiliate the Norfolk Tides. I was a season ticket holder and decided to write on every game.  This year since I am stationed in Camp LeJeune and cannot go to Harbor Park every home game I will focus on the Baltimore Orioles and to a lesser degree the Tides. I do this because I know a lot of the players from their time in Norfolk and have met various scouts and team officials to include Orioles General Manager Andy McPhail. I would like to do this for the team that I grew up with the San Francisco Giants but since they are a West Coast team it is harder to keep up with them the way I can the Orioles.  I will also do some commentary on other teams, especially in the AL East but also try to tell the stories of players that I know from Norfolk who are now in the Major Leagues.

Can you say the word “winner in the same sentence as Orioles?” I knew you couldn’t. Well the Orioles started the season off right sweeping the Tampa Bay Rays in Tampa with dominant pitching, solid defense and more than enough hitting to get the job done. Orioles starting pitchers Jeremy Guthrie, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton allowed just 1 run on 6 hits in 20 innings work. Tillman who pitched a no-hitter as a starter for the AAA Norfolk Tides last year had a no-hitter going after 6 innings but was lifted by Manager Buck Showalter as his pitch count had gone over 100.  Orioles’ relievers were solid and some players picked up in the off-season, particularly J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds.

Are the Orioles for real? I say most definitely yes.

In 2010 the Baltimore Orioles began the season under the direction of Manager Dave Trembley lost 9 of their first 10 and 16 of their first 20 games.  Under Trembley the O’s went 15-39 before he was fired and replaced by Third Base Coach Juan Samuel who went 17-34.  The season was in the tank and it looked like the Orioles were on track to lose well over 100 games.  Then proven winner and leader Buck Showalter was as hired as Manager on August 2nd.  After that the Orioles were a different team, the players were the same but the attitude and performance was as if the team itself had risen like the legendary Phoenix. From the time that Showalter took over the Orioles went 34-23 having the second best record in Major League Baseball between August and the end of the season.  It was an amazing turnaround and it was due to leadership. At the beginning of 2010 I thought that the Orioles had the talent to finally break .500 and turn a winning season for the first time since 1997 when they went 98-64 under Davey Johnson and reach the ALCS.  They didn’t finish anything close to .500 but the turnaround at the end of the season showed that it wasn’t the level of talent it was the on-field leadership that was the difference.

Young veteran Jeremy Guthrie pitched 8 scoreless innings against the Rays on opening day

This season as always the Orioles are getting little respect from the so called experts, most predicting a slightly better year than 2010 but almost all saying that the Orioles will finish at the bottom of the AL East once again. I don’t think that this will be the case at all. I think that the O’s are going to surprise everyone this year and break .500 and finish at least 3rd in the division. They are going to give everyone trouble including the vaunted Red Sox and Yankees.  This is a tough division and though the Red Sox and Yankees have a lot of money to spend a decent number of their stars are beginning to show their age and over the course of the 162 game season injuries will be a factor.

Rookie Zach Britton called up from Norfolk to replace the injured Brian Matusz got his first Major League win on Sunday

As for the Orioles they have excellent pitching that goes deep into their minor league system and they picked up a solid closer in Kevin Gregg.  Pitching is a big deal and the Yankees will struggle in this department. The Red Sox have good pitching but some of their best including ace closer Jonathan Papelbon are showing their age and do not have the same stuff that they had before. In fact the Red Sox were shelled by Texas Rangers hitting this weekend and swept in Arlington by the Rangers who do not seem to have missed a beat coming off of their American League Championship in 2010. The Yankees took 2 of 3 from the Tigers but gave up 18 runs to the Tigers in those three games.

I know that it is very early in the season but the Orioles made all the right moves in the off season and have improved in every aspect of the game. The young pitchers after having been blooded in 2010 are about to show what they are made of against the AL East and the rest of the American League and the difference will be the pitching.  I think that Orioles will win between 85-and 90 games and make a lot of teams miserable. Of course I could be wrong but I think that I will be more right than the experts when it comes to the 2011 Baltimore Orioles squad under the direction of Buck Showalter.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Opening Day 2011: How Baseball Helps Padre Steve Make Sense of the World

The Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish

“This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams

“I love baseball. You know it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just beautiful to watch.” - Woody Allen in Selig (1983)

We are approaching Opening Day for baseball and in a couple weeks more the Norfolk Tides will play their home opener at Harbor Park against their rival the Durham Bulls. Unfortunately this year I cannot keep my season tickets in The Church of Baseball at Harbor Park and in particular my little corner of the world in Section 102, Row “B” Seats 1 and 2.  My assignment at Camp LeJeune will keep me from this place of sanctuary in a world that seems to have gone mad.

Baseball has always meant a lot to me but even more so after returning from Iraq in 2008.  Until recently Harbor Park was one of the few places that I felt safe, I have added to the “safe” zones since 2008 but Harbor Park has a special place in my heart a place of solace and community that has been a constant for me. While I will not have my season tickets this year I will still make games whenever I am in town at the same time that the Tides are at home and I will catch some games in Kinston North Carolina where the K-Tribe, the Kinston Indians will play their last season before moving to Zebulon and it’s wonderful ballpark.

Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.  ~Sharon Olds

The ball park is important to me.  When I was really suffering from depression and a major crisis in faith related to my tour in Iraq and battle with PTSD and feelings of abandonment after the tour I would go to Harbor Park just to talk with staff and sit in the concourse.  There is something about baseball people and my seats down in section 102 that help me even when there is no game being played.  There is a peace that I have when I walk around the diamond and I feel close to God when I am around a ballpark, even without the game being played there is something almost mystical about it.  To me there is nowhere more peaceful than a ballpark and every time I watch a game on TV my mind goes back to how much baseball has been part of my life, and how in a very real way that God speaks to me through this special game.

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” George Will

Me with California Angels Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970

Baseball became part of my life as a child when my dad introduced me to it in our back yard in Oak Harbor Washington.  Even before I played an organized game dad played catch with me, showed me how to grip a ball and told me about the great ballplayers.  He made me learn the fundamentals of the game and whether we were attending a game in person, watching one on television or playing catch, pepper or practicing infield or pitching dad was all about the game.  Of course he was the same way with football, hockey and basketball, but the sport that he seemed most passionate about was baseball.  As a kid he was a Cincinnati Reds fan.  His mother, my grandmother who hailed from the hollers of Putnam County West Virginia was a diehard Dodgers fan, though I am sure that God forgives her for that.  She was an independent woman of conviction and determination that has to in some way influenced her love for the game, even as a little boy if there was a game on television she would have it on and could talk intelligently about it.  I still wonder about to this day how she became a Dodger’s fan but it probably had something to do with her independent streak.  “Granny” as she chose to be called was a woman who as a widow in the late 1930s went to work, raised her two boys and bought her own house.  Unlike most of the people in West Virginia she was also a Republican, a rare breed especially in that era. Likewise she left the Baptist church of her family and became a Methodist. As independent in her choice of baseball teams as she was in her politics Granny was a Dodgers fan in a land of Reds, Indians and Pirates fans, so even with Granny we were immersed in baseball.

Dad always made sure that we got to see baseball wherever we lived. In 1967 he took us to see the Seattle Pilots which the next year went to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. The Pilots were an expansion team in a town with a long history of minor league ball. They played at an old park named Sick Stadium, which if you ask me is a really bad marketing plan.  The game that we went to was the “Bat Day” giveaway.  Then they gave out regulation size Louisville Slugger bats.  Mine had the name of the Pilots First Baseman Mike Hegan on the barrel.  That was my first trip to a Major League stadium and I still can remember it as if it was yesterday.  Somewhere in my junk I have a button with the Pilots logo on it.  I’ll have to fish it out again sometime.  The next year I played my first organized baseball with the Oak Harbor Little League “Cheyenne’s.” My coach was a kind of gruff old guy who stuck me out in right field when as any little kid would I was pretty much a spectator as almost nothing came my way.  I don’t know why but our team uniforms did not match, half of us had white and the other half gray. Unfortunately due to military moves I didn’t get to play organized ball again until 1972.

In the elementary schools of those days our teachers would put the playoff and World’s Series games on television in our classrooms as then many of the games were played during daylight hours.  I remember watching Bob Gibson pitch when the Cardinals played against the Red Sox in the 1967 series.  It was awesome to see that man pitch.   I remember the Amazin’ Mets upsetting the Orioles in 1969 and seeing the Orioles take down the Reds in 1970.  I never will forget the 1970 All Star Game where Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse at home plate for the winning run.  I watched in awe as the great dynasty teams of the 1970s, the Reds and the Athletics who dominated much of that decade and the resurgence of the Yankees in the summer of 1978 when the Bronx burned.  Back then every Saturday there was the NBC Game of the Week hosted by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garragiola.  It was a sad day when that broadcast went off the air.

When we were stationed in Long Beach California from 1970-1971 my dad had us at Anaheim stadium watching the California Angels all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 30 to 40 games there and a couple at Dodger stadium that first year and a good number more before we moved to Stockton California in the middle of the 1971 season.  The move north was disappointing, it took forever to get adjusted to Stockton and I think that part of it was not seeing the Angels every week at the Big “A.” At those games I met a lot of the players and coaches and even some opposing players.  The Von’s grocery store chain and the Angels radio network had a “My Favorite Angel” contest when I was in 5th Grade.  I submitted an entry about Angels First Baseman Jim Spencer and was named as a runner up.  This netted me two seats behind the plate and legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg announced my name on the radio.  Spencer was a Gold Glove First Baseman who later played for the Yankees on their 1978 World Series team.  My first hat from a Major League team was the old blue hat with a red bill, the letters CA on the front and a halo stitched on top. I still have a hat from the 1971 team with the lower case “a” with a halo hanging off of it.  It has numerous autographs on the inside of the bill including Sandy Alomar, Jim Spencer, and Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz, Andy Messersmith, and Billy Cowan and sits in a display case on my kitchen wall.

While we didn’t live as close to a major league team baseball did not cease to be a part of my life.  While we were not at the ballpark as much it got more interesting in some aspects as for the first time I attended playoff games and saw a no-hitter. We saw the A’s dynasty teams including games one and two of the 1972 American League Championship Series between the A’s and the Tigers.  Across the Bay a few years later I got to see Ed Halicki of the Giants no-hit the Mets a Candlestick on August 24th 1975.  In those days I got to see some of the greats of the era play, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Steve Garvey, Vida Blue, Harmon Killebrew, Rollie Fingers, and so many others at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Candlestick Park.

While in Stockton I became acquainted with Minor League Baseball through the Stockton Ports, who then were the Class “A” California League farm team for the Orioles.  I remember a few years back talking to the Orioles great Paul Blair who played for the Ports in the early 1960s about Billy Hebert Field and how the sun would go down in the outfield blinding hitters and spectators in its glare.  I would ride my bike over in the evening to try to get foul balls that came over the grand stand when I didn’t have the money to get a ticket.

When I was a kid I had a large baseball card collection which I kept in a square cardboard roller-skate box.  I must have had hundreds of cards including cards that if I had them now would be worth a small fortune. Unfortunately when I went away to college I left them in the garage and during a purge of my junk they were tossed out.  Last year I started collecting cards again, mostly signed cards that I obtained at the Church of Baseball at Harbor Park.  In a sense they kind of serve a purpose like Holy Cards due in the Catholic Church for me.  They are a touch point with the game and the players who signed them.

As I have grown older my appreciation for the game, despite strikes and steroids still grows.  I am in awe of the diamond.  I have played catch on the field of dreams, seen a game in the Yankee Stadium Right Field bleachers seen games in many other venues at the Major League and Minor League levels and thrown out the first pitch in a couple of Kinston Indians games.  I am enchanted with the game. The foul lines theoretically go on to infinity, only broken by the placement of the outfield wall.  Unlike almost all other sports there is no time limit, meaning that baseball can be an eschatological game going on into eternity. The Hall of Fame is like the Calendar of Saints in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches.  There are rituals in baseball such as the exchange of batting orders and explanation of the ground rules and the ceremonial first pitch.  Likewise there are customs that border on superstition such as players not stepping on the foul line when entering and leaving the field of play, no talking about it when a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter and the home run trot. Even the care of the playing field is practiced with almost liturgical purity. The care of a field by an expert ground crew is a thing to behold, especially when they still use the wooden box frames to lay down the chalk on the baselines and the batter’s box.

We have travelled to many minor league parks often in tiny out of the way locations and even to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville Iowa where once again Judy indulged me and let me play catch. Likewise my long suffering wife has allowed our kitchen and much of my dining room is as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them; thankfully she is most tolerant and indulges this passion of mine.

Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond has been one of my few places of solace.  For the first time last season I bought a season ticket to the Tides and in section 102, row B seats 2 and 3 was able to watch the game from the same place every day.  It became a place of refuge during some of my bad PTSD times, and I got to know and love the people around me; Elliot the Usher, Chip the Usher, Ray and Bill the Vietnam Veteran Beer guys behind home plate, Kenny “Crabmeat” the Pretzel Guy and Barry the Scorekeeper.  Last year the Vietnam Vets and the Veterans beer stand were moved down the first base concourse where they were relegated to the boring beers.

Even still there is some sadness in baseball this year as there was last year and the year before.  My dad passed away last year after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  I miss talking baseball with him and wish he was alive and in good enough health to play catch.  However that will have to wait for eternity on the lush baseball field that only heaven can offer.

The season is about to begin and God is not done speaking to me through baseball as I close my eyes and recollect the words of Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams: “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

In a sense this says it all to me in an age of war, economic crisis, natural disasters and bitter partisan political division.  In a sense it is a prayer, a prayer for a return to something that was good and what could be good again.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

 

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