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Joy in Birdland: Orioles Win AL East

WireAP_70adf89e6e10437382ee8d7df9629961_16x9_992

It has been seventeen years since the Baltimore Orioles won the American League East, a period in which they and their fans endured 14 strait losing seasons between 1997 and 2012.

I have always liked the Orioles. When I was a kid they were on television a lot as under Earl Weaver and a Hall of Fame roster they always seemed to be in the playoffs or the World Series. I remember when they had the California League Stockton Ports as a farm team and going to games at Stockton’s Billy Herbert Field when my dad was deployed in Vietnam.

Now my dad couldn’t stand the American League. But he did know baseball and despite his dislike for the the American League, and since they were an American League team, the Orioles, he admired baseball players who were exemplary, as such he loved Frank and Brooks Robinson as well as some of the Orioles pitching greats. I wear my Orioles hats, t-shirts and clothing almost everywhere, I have an Orioles doormat at the entrance of my office and lots of signed memorabilia around my house and office. People ask me all the time if I am from Baltimore or Maryland, I always surprise them and tell them that I was a West Coast Navy brat who fell in love with the Orioles in the 1960s and early 1970s. I guess some folks don’t get that you can be as devoted as fan as me without being from Baltimore, a city that I really enjoy which has one of the nicest and friendliest ballparks in the majors, Camden Yards.

My real passion for the Orioles was reignited in 2004 when we took a trip to Camden Yards to see the Orioles play the Yankees, and when I met the late former Orioles great Paul Blair when he visited different bases that I served. But that passion for the Orioles really took off when the Orioles became the major league affiliate of our local Triple-A minor league club the Norfolk Tides in 2006. Now mind you, al lot of those have been very lean years, but I have gotten to know a decent number of Orioles players, some who are with the team that clinched the AL East tonight including Chris Tillman, Zack Britton and Manny Machado, some who have left baseball and some who are doing well with other organizations including the Cubs Jake Arrieta and the Diamondbacks David Hernandez. Likewise I have gotten to know scouts and front office personnel who have spent time in Norfolk evaluating the Tides over the years.

In 2011 things began to turn around for the Orioles, after a miserable two thirds of a season the O’s hired Buck Showalter as manager, and then Dan Duquette, who had laid the foundations of the Boston Red Sox World Series title as their general manager. In 2012 they made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. In 2013 they didn’t get in the playoffs but had a winning season. This year very few people picked them to go far in a division that had the 201 World Series champion Red Sox, the free spending New York Yankees, the amazingly talented and gritty Tampa Bay Rays and the well stocked Toronto Blue Jays.

However, I believed from the beginning of the season that this team would go far. I think that the organization is smart, Buck Showalter is an amazing manager who gets the best out of his players and develops an amazing work ethic, selfless team spirit combined with a climate that the players are relaxed but determined. Led by Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy the team has a gritty and under rated pitching staff led by Chris Tillman and a host of players that all do their job on a daily basis, often without the fanfare of the big market teams that have tons of money to spend. The team has made smart trades and between August 6th and September 16th went had a record of 27 wins and 11 losses.

Now that they have won the division the Orioles will try to best the Los Angeles Angels for the best record in the American League and for that matter, baseball. The currently own the second best record in the majors at 91-60. My belief is that the Orioles will at the minimum advance to the American League Championship series, and quite possibly on to the World Series. I am really happy about this because I will be in Munich next week and won’t have to be continually checking my iPhone or iPad to see if the won the division.

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So anyway, I am happy. Now if my other Orange and Black team, the San Francisco Giants can get a spot in the playoffs or somehow overcome the Dodgers to take the National League West I will be truly happy. But until then I will still be truly happy because there is joy in Birdland.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Improbable, Unexpected but not Impossible: Four Games remaining and Orioles now Tied with Yankees in AL East

Manny Machado singles in a run on Saturday night as the Orioles Defeat the Red Sox to gain a share of First Place in the AL East (Patrick Semansky / AP)

“No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games.  No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games.  It’s the other third that makes the difference.” Tommy Lasorda

Four games are left in the regular season and the Baltimore Orioles are tied with the perennial AL East favorite New York Yankees for the division. Last year at this time the Orioles were in last place but ruining the chances of the Red Sox but now they are tied for first with the Yankees.

What a night to do it as the Orioles honored Hall of Fame 3rd Baseman and Orioles legend Brooks Robinson before the game.

No expert would have predicted this but this but the plucky and determined Baltimore Orioles are threatening the Yankees in a very real way after 158 games. Today the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Yankees and the Orioles defeated the Red Sox. With identical records of 91-67 the Birds and the Bombers are tied atop the American League East in a manner that no-one expected.

The Orioles are now within a game of clinching a spot in the Wild Card Playoff and are even money to take the East against the Yankees. If the Orioles win tomorrow regardless of what happens with the Yankees they will clinch a spot as a Wild Card team.

Who would have expected it? Name the players that have really came on to get the Orioles where they are? Most people can’t. Manny Machado? Last year I was watching him lead the Frederick Keys to the Advanced Single A Carolina League title in Kinston against the Indians. Chris Tillman? Last year not called up in September despite being on the 40 man roster. Nate McLouth, in Pittsburgh. Jim Thome? In Cleveland in order to get his 600th home run where so much of his career was made. Chris Davis? In AAA Norfolk. The list goes on and on. They are a real life version of the movie Major League Cleveland Indians.

There is a great line in that movie uttered by the Indians Manager Lou Brown played by James Gammon: “Every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish last. The local press seems to think we’d save everyone a lot of time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I’m for wasting sports writers’ time. So, I’d like to hang around and see if we can give ’em all a nice big shitburger to eat.” 

Personally I would love to see everyone that predicted the Orioles to finish last again eat a shitburger and for the Orioles to win it all.

The Orioles are 72-0 when leading after 7 innings. They are 28-9 in one run games and have won 16 straight extra inning games. That is something that makes the Orioles something special, a tam that will defy the odds to win. Yes anything can happen but I think that this season is one that people will remember for a long time to come. The Orioles have not have a playoff appearance or winning season since 1997 and were predicted by most experts to finish last or next to last in  the AL East this year. I have never bought that line. I thought back in April and May that this was a special team. It is a team on a mission, a team fixed on the next 9 innings.

I think that is a sure fire way to win this thing. God this is fun.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Midsummer Night Dream: Memories of MLB All Star Games Past and Present

“I think the National League has better biorhythms in July.” – Earl Weaver (1979 All Star Game) 

Before the days of inter-league play and free-agency and the multitude of national and regional television outlets for baseball the All Star Game was the one time outside of the World Series that fans of in a National League town or American League town could watch players from the opposing league play their “boys.”

MVP Melky Cabrera homers in the 4th inning. (Getty Images)

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22979315&topic_id=34326704

My dad was typical of his generation. He was a National League fan. He grew up with the Cincinnati Reds and when he moved west with the Navy he became a San Francisco Giants fan. When the All-Star Game rolled around at was if time itself would stop as we gathered around the TV as a family to watch it.

Me with Angel’s Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970 at Anaheim Stadium

I think that is in large part why I have such a veneration for this annual event. As I mentioned back then there was no inter-league play and with free agency very limited players spent their careers in the same organization or with teams of the league that they played.

As far as what league I am for it is hard to say. My dad took me to so many California Angels games at Anaheim Stadium when we were stationed in Long Beach in 1970 and 1971 that I became much more familiar with the players of the American League than the National League. That American League attachment grew stronger when we moved to Stockton California where the local minor league team, the Single A Stockton Ports of the California League were then affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles and because of going to Oakland Athletic’s games when the team was in its first era of World Series dominance. He also took me to an occasional Dodger’s game when stationed in Long Beach and sometimes to Candlestick Park to see the Giants but most of the exposure that I had to baseball in my early years was with the American League.

My favorite teams, with the exception of the Orioles tend to be West Coast teams, the Giants and the A’s. My dad was not a fan of the American League, especially of Earl Weaver’s Orioles but between the Ports and seeing the Orioles constantly in the playoffs or World Series in the late 1960s and early 1970s I became a closet Orioles fan. I remember the greats of that team, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Paul Blair and Pitcher’s like Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson and Dave McNally the team was amazing to watch. I became fascinated with the “Oriole way” which to use Cal Ripken Sr.’s phrase “perfect practice makes perfect” really is a model for success in any field.

Despite this I also love the National League primarily because it does not use the designated hitter and there is more emphasis on pitching and because the San Francisco Giants are a National League team.

Both Leagues have had eras where they dominated the game. Between 1963 and 1982 the National League won 19 of 20 games and the American League won 12 of 13 between 1997 and 2009, the only game that they did not win was the 2002 debacle where Commissioner Bud Selig ended a tie game in the 11th when the teams ran out of substitute players, the only previous tie was in 1961 when rain stopped a tie game in the 9th inning at Fenway Park.

There are some All-Star Game moments that stand out to me more than most. The was Pete Rose plowing over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game.

Pete Rose collides with Ray Fosse in the 1970 All Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=5766041

I remember reverently casting my ballot at Anaheim Stadium that year, which was the first time that fans voted in for All-Stars since 1957 when after a ballot box stuffing scandal by Cincinnati Red’s fans caused then Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick to end the practice. I still remember taking that paper ballot and putting it in that box and those votes probably were more important than any political ballot that I have cast, at least I felt like my vote mattered.  Of course now the vote early vote often philosophy which has exploded on the internet takes away some of the reverence that I have for the All Star voting process, but at least no-one checks your ID to vote.

In 1971 I remember the massive home run hit by Reggie Jackson off Dock Ellis at Tiger Stadium, the longest home run in the history of the game, a home run that had it not hit a electrical transformer on the roof was calculated as a 532 foot home run.

Reggie Jackson’s massive home run in the 1972 All Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=15759689&topic_id=20156278

I remember the 1973 All-Star Game which was the last for Willie Mays, it was his 24th trip to the game, a record that still stands.

The 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park was one that brought tears to my eyes. It was magical as Major League Baseball announced its “All Century Team” including the great Ted Williams.  It was an exceptionally emotional experience for me as I watched many of the living legends who I had seen play as a child walk out onto the field.

Ted Williams at the 1999 All Star Game where the All Century Team was Inducted

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=5570299

But I think one of the most memorable for me was watching Cal Ripken Jr. in his final All-Star Game when Alex Rodriguez insisted that Ripken start the game at Shortstop where he had played most of his career and when Ripken went yard in his final All-Star Game plate appearance.

Alex Rodriguez pushes Cal Ripken Jr. to Short in the 2001 All Star Game

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unF087sArpg

Tonight’s game was played in Kansas City, a town with a remarkable Baseball history especially with the Negro League Kansas City Monarch’s. The Negro Leagues were founded in Kansas City in 1920 and it is the home of the Negro League Hall of Fame. The Athletics played there between their time in Philadelphia and Oakland, and the Royals began as an expansion team in 1969 and opened Kaufman Stadium in 1973. I saw the Royals play for the first time in Anaheim against the Angels.  The Stadium was unique in its era because it was the last non dual-purpose stadium built until Oriole Park and Camden Yards opened in 1991. As such it was and is a beautiful yard and with the renovation completed in 2007 is still among the most beautiful parks in the Major Leagues and there is a seat designated in honor of the late Monarch’s player and manager Buck O’Neil and the home of such greats as Satchel Page.

Buck O’Neil

Tonight  like most All-Star Games I was torn my feelings. Unlike my dad I am not an exclusivist regarding the American or National League. I have favorite teams and players in both leagues. Tonight my Giants have a number of starters on the field including the Starting Pitcher Matt Cain, Catcher Buster Posey, 3rd Baseman Pablo “The Panda” Sandoval and Outfielder Melky Cabrera.  The Giants contingent aided by the ballot stuffing San Francisco Fans dominated the game.

On the other hand the American League had three Orioles on it for the first time in a long time, Closer Jim Johnson, Catcher Matt Wieters and Outfielder Adam Jones. There are future Hall of Famers on the field including Atlanta Braves 3rd Baseman Chipper Jones who is played in his final All-Star Game and got a soft single in the top of the 6th inning.

Chipper Jones 

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22978231&source=MLB

Justin Verlander was hit hard giving up 5 earned runs in the top of the 1st and Pablo Sandoval had a bases clearing triple. Joe Nathan of the Rangers pitched the 2nd inning and David Price of the Rays pitched the third while Matt Cain pitched 2 shut out innings and was relieved by Gio Gonzalez of the Cardinals. I hope that the game produces a great moment that will be replayed forever.

Managing the game for the National League is Tony LaRussa the now retired former Manager of the 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The American League Manager is Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers.

Pablo Sandoval hits a bases clearing Triple off Justin Verlander in the 1st Inning (Photo Getty Images)

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22978523&topic_id=34326704

Well the National League won 8-0 led by a home run by Melky Cabrera in the top of the 4th inning. Five of the 8 National League runs were produced by members of the San Francisco Giants.  Cabrera was the Most Valuable Player and Matt Cain got the win.  It was a long night for the American League  especially with the pitchers due to pitch including National’s Stephen Strasburg, Met’s Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Dodger’s ace Clayton Kershaw, and three closers, Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies, Ardolis Chapman of the Reds and Craig Kimbrel of the Braves.  As Earl Weaver said “The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s First All-Star Game Memories

My dad taught me to love the game of Baseball and art of that love was the annual experience of watching the All-Star Game. I continue that tonight with the National League has just one by a score of 5-1.

I first remember doing this in the late 1960s but where the All-Star Game became etched in my mind was in the summer of 1970.  We were living in Long Beach California about a 15 minute drive from “The Big A” as Angel’s Stadium was known back then. Dad was taking me to every game that he could and back then tickets were easy to come by and players were very accessible to fans, especially 10 year old kids like me.

Riverfront Stadium

I remember going the Anaheim Stadium and getting to vote for the players. I didn’t know it then but it was the first time since 1957 that the position players were voted in by fans.  I don’t remember all the players that I voted for but the one that I do remember voting for, Angel’s First Baseman and Gold Glove winner Jim Spencer was not elected or named as a reserve.  Later that year I wrote a short essay for the “My Favorite Angel” contest telling why Spencer was my favorite Angel and ended up being one of the runners up for the contest. My name was in theLong Beachpaper, I still have the clipping and my name was announced by Angel’s announcer Dick Enberg during a game and I got two tickets directly behind home plate.

I do remember some of my other picks that made the rosters as elected players or reserves, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Boog Powell, Harmon Killebrew, Johnny Bench, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Sandy Alomar, Tony Perez, Jim Fregosi and Pete Rose.

I was the first election that I ever voted in and certainly more worthwhile than most political elections that I have vote in since.  When the game came on July 14th we gathered in from of our television to watch.  I was transfixed as I watched the action. We still had a black and white television and antennae as cable TV was not available.  It is hard to believe that back then we had only the three major networks ABC, NBC and CBS, no ESPN, MLB Channel or any of the region sports networks that air Major League games today.

Left Phillips California Angels Manager and me in 1970.He was one of Earl Weaver’s American League Coaches in the 1970 All Star Game

The game as was telecast on NBC which also televised the Saturday “Game of the Week” and called by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Mickey Mantle who had been out of the game for a season and a half.  It was played at the brand new Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati a dual purpose stadium designed for the Reds and the Bengals covered in some of the most horrible artificial turf imaginable with cut outs for the bases, home plate and the pitcher’s mound.  It was very similar to Three River’s Stadium inPittsburgh; Veteran’s Stadium inPhiladelphiaand so unlike the nicest field built in the 1970sKansas City’s Kaufman Stadium.  It should come as no surprise that Riverfront,Three Rivers and the Vet are gone and Kaufman is as beautiful as ever.

It was a great game certainly one of the epics in terms of All Star Games.  The American League had a 4-1 lead in the top of the 9th as Jim Catfish Hunter gave up a lead off home run to Giant’s catcher Dick Dietz. Two more runs would score the last being Joe Morgan, then with the Houston Astros who scored on a sacrifice fly by Roberto Clemente off Yankees’ pitcher Mel Stottlemyer who was credited with a blown save.

The game went to the 12th inning tied 4-4 Earl Weaver sent Angel’s ace Clyde Wright who had thrown a no-hitter in Anaheim against the A’s just 11 days before for a second inning of relief work.  Wright got the first two outs and then gave up consecutive singles to Pete Rose and Billy Grabarkewitz. He then gave up a single to Jim Hickman which was fielded by Royals outfielder Amos Otis. Otis got a great throw to Indians Rookie Catcher Ray Fosse who dropped the ball when he was run over by Rose at home plate.

The Pete Rose hit on Ray Fosse that gave the National League a 12th Inning Walk Off win

Dad was torn on this. He loved Pete Rose but he had come to like dare say an American League team, the Angels.  He hated to see Clyde Wright get the loss.  I still remember that collision as if it were yesterday and despite his being banned from the game I still admire the playing ability and hustle of Pete Rose.

That was my first All Star Game.  The only ones that I have missed since have been those when I was deployed and unable to watch.  I love to see the players there and though the All Star format has its flaws I still love it because it takes me back to that magical summer of 1970 and fond memories of my dad teaching me the game at Anaheim Stadium and in our back yard.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Back on the Diamond: Padre Steve takes the Field

“Fundamentals are the most valuable tools a player can possess. Bunt the ball into the ground. Hit the cutoff man. Take the extra base. Learn the fundamentals.” Dick Williams

“Be on time. Bust your butt. Play smart. And have some laughs along the way.” Whitey Herzog

“I could field as long as I can remember, but hitting has been a struggle all my life.” Brooks Robinson

“Am I still in uniform? Then I ain’t retired.” Pete Rose

I can still hear my dad’s voice every time I pick up a bat, glove or ball.  Today was no different. At the age of 51 I stepped back onto a softball field to play for the Naval Hospital team on a Marine Corps Base. It is the first time since seminary nearly 20 years ago that I have had the chance to play in an organized league. I was a bottom of the 4th inning defensive substitute and went out to a familiar position, Right Field.  I have always whether in baseball or softball been a utility player and play pretty well on defense though my arm doesn’t have the power or range that it had 20 or 30 years ago and I have never been much of a hitter. Basically I have a lifetime average somewhere around the Mendoza line and though a decent number of my hits were doubles, more due to where I hit them than how far I hit them I only had one season where my hitting came together.  That season ended early when I was run over at home plate by a player that ploughed into me like Pete Rose did to Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game.  I landed on my throwing hand and broke my arm just above the wrist, so much for a season in the sun.

Today was a good day. It was just good to be back out on the diamond even if I was a mid game substitute.  Despite my age I am not the oldest player on the team, there is one player a number of years older than me and one just a bit younger by a couple of years.  Unlike the Marine teams we also have some of our civilian employee’s means that we are older in comparison to the Marine teams.  Even so most of the other players are in the 20-30 year age range.  The team is pretty good and has been in the playoffs and is expected to be there again, although tonight was one of those nights where little went right.  Basically it came down to not doing the fundamentals of defense and hitting.  We lost but have games on Wednesday and Thursday.

As I said at the beginning I still hear the voice of my dad in my head every time I step onto the field. My dad was a man who believed in teaching the fundamentals of the game and drilled me constantly in our back yard doing infield drills, playing pepper and teaching me to pitch. Unfortunately he did little to teach me about hitting except to turn me from being a lefty to a righty. One of the last conversations that we had before his mind slipped into the clutches of Alzheimer’s dementia and he could no longer recognized me was when I told him that I heard his voice telling me to “get your butt down” “stay in front of the ball” “follow the ball into your glove” “run out every play” “never step on the foul line going on or off the field” “go into every base hard” “always know the count and how many runners are on base” and “hustle every play.”  He was a big fan of Pete Rose, “Charlie Hustle” and he drilled that kind of ethic into my head. I wish that I had continued to play baseball rather that dabbling in Ice Hockey and Football during Junior High and High School; I might have done pretty well.

Yet in that last visit I told him that he never taught me to hit. He told me that hitting was a gift and not many people could do it well. Thus I languish as a hitter to this day. I came to the plate one time grounding weakly into a fielder’s choice to end the top of the 6th inning though I dug hard and ran the ball out just in case the fielder went to first or if an error was made.  At the same time I hustled on every play. As dad told me I ran on and off the field, made sure that I didn’t step onto the foul line, kept my situational awareness and made sure that I was where I needed to be to make plays.  When the game was over I felt good. Here I was a 51 year old man playing a game with men who for the most part were a lot younger than me.  Tomorrow is another game.

Over the weekend I plan on going to a batting cage near the island hermitage to work out my hitting mechanics. I know what I did wrong on that weak grounder but the only way to correct it is more at bats and I won’t get that many as a mid-game substitute.  What I don’t want to say about my hitting is what Andy Van Slyke said “I have an Alka Seltzer bat. You know, plop plop fizz fizz. When the pitcher sees me walking up there they say, ‘Oh what a relief it is.'”

I was happy with my range in the outfield as well as my speed getting to first base.  I will also put my ball return net together and practice some throwing and infield work and probably use my “heavy ball” to build up my arm strength.

God I love this game.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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We Called Him Sparky: A Baseball Legend Passes Away a Victim of Dementia

Big Red Machine (L-R) Tony Perez, Johnny Bench, Sparky Anderson, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose

Baseball great Sparky Anderson died today at the age of 76 of complications from dementia a day after being admitted to hospice care in his home in Thousand Oaks California.  The Hall of Fame manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers had been in declining health for a number of years and had spent time in the hospital in February for a Kidney related illness.  He last visited a ballpark in May when he visited Dodgers’ Stadium and visited with managers, coaches and players. At the time the loss in his cognitive abilities were noticed but for a few moments the spark of his old managerial self came out.  In 2009 he was at the reunion of his World Series Champion Detroit Tigers team. It was obvious then that he was slipping even though he was quite animated as seen in this video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJQBKlkrnIw&feature=player_embedded#at=87

Dementia of any kind is one of the cruelest afflictions as it often takes everything from a person. In the end stages it is often something like aspiration of mucus into the lungs as the person loses their gag reflex. The last two years of my dad’s life were difficult because he lost the ability to be himself ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease.  The last time I had any real communication was for a few minutes in May of 2009, after that he didn’t know me. I can only imagine what Sparky’s family went through in the last years of his life.  We don’t know a lot about Sparky’s illness but the signs of his declining health were noticed by his friends. Tommy Lasorda the legendary Dodgers’ manager commented: “He looked bad,” Lasorda said following an appearance at the annual Hall of Fame dinner in August: “He was really down. He was very sickly, and we had to take him off the stage. And then I called him about 10 days ago because I was thinking about him. We spoke, but I didn’t want to speak too long because he sounded exhausted, you know? We talked for maybe eight or 10 minutes, and he thanked me for thinking of him, and that was it.”

In the 1970s my dad loved Sparky Anderson and the Cincinnati Reds, the Big Red Machine. My dad had been a Reds fan as a kid and despite becoming an avid Giants fan always had a soft spot in his heart for the Reds.  I remember my dad’s disappointment when the Reds lost to the Orioles in the 1970 World Series, even though I was secretly rooting for the Orioles because I liked Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell and Jim Palmer.  However in 1975 when the Reds won 106 games and defeated the Boston Red Sox in a thrilling 7 game World Series I was enthralled by Anderson and his team. When they swept the Yankees in 1976 I was similarly elated and my dad, well, he was about in heaven.  When dad taught me about baseball he used Sparky Anderson and the Reds players as models on how to play the game right.

One of those players was Pete Rose who is still banned from the game for life for betting on games.  Despite that my dad never gave up on Pete and had an autographed picture of Baseball’s most prolific hitter who despite what he did should be in the Hall of Fame. Rose said of Anderson today.

“Baseball lost an ambassador today. Sparky was, by far, the best manager I ever played for. He understood people better than anyone I ever met. His players loved him, he loved his players, and he loved the game of baseball. There isn’t another person in baseball like Sparky Anderson. He gave his whole life to the game.”

Another Reds’ great Joe Morgan said “He was a people person. I don’t think anybody else could have managed that team nearly as well as he did. We had a lot of different personalities. Sparky was able to deal with all of us on an individual basis but also collectively as a team. Because he was close to you and cared about you as a person, you were always willing to do more for him than you were for somebody else. I never thought of him as my manager. I thought of him as part of my family.”

The latter statement by Morgan is something that endeared Anderson to his players. He cared about them and he was totally committed to the game. Anderson overcame a hot temper which had earned him the nickname “Sparky” in the minor leagues In his time as a Major League manager he led the Reds to two World Series titles and one with the Tigers and 5 pennants. He is credited with beginning the pitch count which is now almost universally used in baseball.  He made pitching changes with such regularity in a day when starting pitchers typically threw complete games that he was nicknamed “Captain Hook.” Anderson admitted that it was because of the weakness of his starting pitching and strength of his bullpen. “Captain Hook? Yeah, I used what I had. We weren’t blessed with the Dodgers’ starting pitching, but we had a really deep bullpen. People say I was ahead there, too, five years ahead of the league, you know, having more saves than complete games, but I didn’t do it because it was in some book. I did it because we didn’t have but a couple of guys who could go much past six innings.” He is 6th on the all time wins list for a manager and was beloved by his players.

A saying that he picked up from his father epitomized his view on life and relationships

“Being nice to people is the only thing in life that will never cost you a dime. Treat them nice and they’ll treat you the same.”

Alan Trammel, Bench Coach of the Arizona Diamondbacks said today “I’m happy to say that Gibby (Kirk Gibson) and I are going to be able to pass along his legacy because we teach what we were taught. Being a good baseball player and person went hand in hand with him. He wanted us to put our dirty clothes in the bin so that the clubhouse guys didn’t have to pick up after us.”

Tiger’s pitcher Jim Morris said:  “Wow. He died way too young. I got a lot of phone calls yesterday about the hospice and the dementia, neither of which I knew about. I wasn’t prepared for this. I don’t know what to say. I’m kind of shocked, he was a big part of my life, for sure. He had a lot to do with molding me professionally and taught me a lot about perseverance.”

He demonstrated that care in his community.  In 1987 Anderson founded “CATCH”, which raises money for sick and at-risk patients of Children’s Hospital of Michigan and Henry Ford Hospital. Sparky became a man of faith late in life when managing in Detroit when he was baptized as a Catholic.

One of Sparky’s quotes sticks with me and sums up what I feel about life is this: “People who live in the past generally are afraid to compete in the present. I’ve got my faults, but living in the past is not one of them. There’s no future in it.”

Sparky died too young. May he rest in peace.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Dad’s Gift of Baseball to Me…a New Season Begins

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

Harbor Park

Baseball has always been a source of enjoyment for me.  I’ve noted in numerous other posts that God speaks to me through baseball.  For me there is something mystical about the game.  It extends beyond the finite world in some respects and there is symmetry to the sport unlike any other.  George Will’s quote at the beginning of this post is dead on.  Not all holes or games are created equal and as Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) said in Bull Durham “the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

Though I had played Little League Ball in the 1960s and well as a lot of backyard or sandlot games, it was in 1970-1971 when my dad began taking us to California Angels games while stationed in Long Beach California that the game really captured me.  The seed of course had been planted long before watching games on a black and white TV and having my dad play catch, teach me to throw, field and run the bases.  In 1967 we even saw the Seattle Pilots in person while stationed in Washington State. While my dad thrived on all sports but baseball was the one that he gave me as a gift.  He gave my brother golf, another spiritual game, which Zen masters love, but which is not to be compared with baseball.  Golf it is an interior and individual game whereas baseball is a game where individuals depend upon one another in community much as in an ideal world Christians depend upon one another in the Church.

Me with Angels Manager Left Phillips 1970

Growing up with baseball was something that I cannot imagine not having done.  It was part of life from as far back as I can remember and this was because dad made it so.  I cannot remember a time that I did not have a ball, glove and bat as well as at least one baseball hat. It kind of reminds me of the beginning of the movie For the Love of the Game where home movies of a child playing ball with dad are shown during the opening credits and score.  I can close my eyes and remember vivid details of ball fields and backyards where dad would play catch with me play pepper and fungo and teaching me to pitch.  He never did much with hitting.  When I had him in a brief lucid moment when I visited in May of 2009 I thanked him for teaching me to love the game. I told him that I still heard his voice telling me to keep my butt down on ground balls but complained that he did not teach me to hit.  He simply said “you can’t teach someone to hit, it’s a gift, lots of people can’t hit.”  Obviously he understood that I would never hit much above the Mendoza Line and stuck to teaching me defense and pitching.

Oak Park Little League Rams Stockton CA, the Team Sponsor was San Diego Chargers Owner Alex Spanos

Back in the days at Anaheim Stadium when it was still called “the Big A” I really did fall in love with the game.  I met players, got signed balls and hats, and was even selected as a runner up in the “My Favorite Angel” contest.  For that I met my favorite Angel, First Baseman Jim Spencer a Golden Glove Winner who later played for the White Sox and Yankees, and two tickets behind home plate.  I met so many of the players on that team and those of opposing teams and it was that personal connection of ballplayers giving a 5th grade kid the time of day that endeared me to the game. Players like Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz, Andy Messersmith, Sandy Alomar and Ken McMullen as well as coaches and managers gave me some of the best memories of childhood.

Billy Hebert Field

When we moved to northern California we reconnected with the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s.  This was during the A’s dynasty years and we saw a number of games including an ALCS game against the Tigers.  Seeing the greats like Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Campy Campaneris and Vida Blue was awesome.  However our first love was the Giants.  We only occasionally got to Candlestick Park where they played in those days because of the inhospitable location and added distance from home.   If you have ever seen a baseball game at Candlestick you will know that it is a perfectly miserable place to see a game as in that if nothing else that it is colder than hell, if hell were cold.  One game we did see was Ed Halicki’s no-hitter against the Mets in 1975.

While dad was deployed to Vietnam my mom would drop me off at Billy Herbert Field in Stockton California where we lived. In the summer she would let me see the Stockton Ports several times a week. Back then the Ports were the California League Single “A” affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.  Those games were always fun, chasing balls down and chomping down peanuts that cost a quarter a bag.  I remember talking to Orioles great Paul Blair when he visited a military base that I was serving and he told me how he remembered playing in Stockton as a minor league player in the 1960s.

Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse to win the 1970 All-Star Game

http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=5766041

In high school and college due to other diversions I stopped playing baseball and did not have as much contact with it.  However the call of baseball never completely left me and I always longed to be either playing in or watching a game. I think that the biggest mistakes that I ever made were taking on hockey for a couple of seasons and an ill-fated one year career in high school football. It was like I sold out baseball for games that seemed more exciting but were not me.  I have dreams of what it would be like to get the chance to play at my advanced age for one inning in a minor league game.

Moonlight Graham

I feel in a sense like Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams when he tells Ray Kinsella:

“Well, you know I… I never got to bat in the major leagues. I would have liked to have had that chance. Just once. To stare down a big league pitcher. To stare him down, and just as he goes into his windup, wink. Make him think you know something he doesn’t. That’s what I wish for. Chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases – stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That’s my wish, Ray Kinsella. That’s my wish. And is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?” I can totally relate.

Other major sports do not hold me captive the way baseball does.  I think there is a spiritual dimension that the game has which makes it timeless.  Other sports such as football, basketball, hockey and soccer are limited to rectangular playing surfaces of set dimensions determined by their leagues. With the exception of a few old hockey rinks there are no individuality to these venues, save perhaps for team or sponsor logos.  Likewise all of the other sports play a set time clock.  If a team gets way ahead early, it is likely that the game will be over.  While it is possible that a game could go into “overtime” the overtime in these games has different rules than regulation time making them seem somewhat hypocritical to me.  “Sudden death” “Shootouts” and truncated times show that these games are not meant to go past regulation time.  It is an aberration from what is considered “normal.” In these games a team with a big lead can simply sit on the ball and run out the clock. Earl Weaver put it well: “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

Jeff Fiorentino Going Yard at Harbor Park

Baseball is not like that.  In order to win you have to throw the ball over the plate and give the other team a chance to come back. The nine innings could in theory go on for eternity, as they nearly do in W.P. Kinsella’s The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, A story which is patently eschatological, though not in a pre-millennial dispensationalist manner.  Foul lines in theory go on for eternity, only the arbitrary placement of the outfield wall and the physical limitation of hitters keep the game within earthly limits.  I’m sure that outfields are a lot more spacious and have a wonderful playing surface in heaven.

I love baseball parks. I like their individuality and savor their differences and save for the late 1960s and early 1970s when fascists took over the design of stadiums in order to make them suitable to play football on, baseball parks have kept their individuality.  Outfield dimensions, type of grass, the kind of infield and warning track soil which is used, are all determined by the team.  Some fields cater to hitters, others pitchers.  And with the overthrow of the stadium fascists at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, the baseball park regained its dignity. Although the ivy of Wrigley Field, the Green Monster of Fenway are about all that are left of the great old ballparks however the new ballparks have returned to what makes every ballpark special in its own way.  Gone are the ugly drab oval stadiums with their fields covered in often shoddy artificial turf with only a small cut out for the bases.  The unsightly and even hideous venues such as Riverfront, Three Rivers, Veteran’s Stadium and others, even dare I say the Astrodome and Kingdome were demolished and made nice piles of rubble or retired to serve in other capacities and replaced by beautiful ballparks each with its own unique character that reflect the beauty of the game.

Oak Harbor Little League where I played my first organized baseball

Last year for the first time in my life I bought season tickets for my local AAA team, the Norfolk Tides who are the AAA Affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. I also went Norfolk’s Harbor Park to see the Commonwealth Classic an exhibition game between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals.  The ballpark is a place of solace for me that was after I returned from Iraq one of the few places that I could have peace, even church was a dangerous place but walking onto the concourse and taking in the lush green diamond and immaculately trimmed infield there was a place of peace.  I found that watching the young players striving to reach or get back to the majors to stay helped motivate me as I recovered from PTSD, chronic pain, depression, anxiety and a crisis of faith that scared the hell out of me.  I appreciate the young pitchers that I have met behind home plate as the chart the game following their starts, and my hope and prayer for them is that they will see their dreams fulfilled and eventually make it to the show and stay there.  So Jim, Andy, Chris, Ross, David This year I look forward to again taking me seats in Section 102 Row B seats 1 and 2.  Opening day is the 8th of April and the Weather Channel’s 10 day forecast says that the weather should be good.  However this is Hampton Roads, opening day was rained out last year and in 2005 the temperature at game time was 38 degrees with winds of 25-40 knots coming out of center field.

Harbor Park was one of the first of the new generation of minor league parks and a wonderful place to see a game, or as I like to say “Worship at the Church of Baseball.”   When Harbor Park was built the Tides were affiliated with the New York Mets. As such the outfield dimensions are nearly identical to the former Shea Stadium, making it a very large yard and pitchers playground.  The outfield backs up to the East Fork of the Elizabeth River, shipyards and bridges dominate the view.  There is not a bad seat in the house.  My seats in Section 102 row 2 are right behind home plate and offer a field level view of all the action. I love the people in the section, Elliott and Skip the Ushers, Kenny the Pretzel Guy, Marty the Card Dealer, Ray, John and the Vietnam Veterans of America at the beer stand and of course legendary General Manager Dave Rosenfield and President Ken Johnson as well as Linda, Heather and the rest of the staff.

With every home game the gift that my father gave me begins to unfolds again as I gaze in wonderment at the diamond.  This year is different than last year but similar my dad is still in a nursing home in the end stage of Alzheimer’s disease, the disease is taking its time and now has robbed him of everything that he once was. In November I saw him and he did not know me.  It is so sad to see.  A year and a half to two years ago he still knew enough of what was going on to talk about baseball, especially the San Francisco Giants and bad mouth the American League. Dad was always National League fan and he loathes the designated hitter. He used to call the American League the “minor league.”  I never shared that opinion or the fact that I have been a closet Baltimore Orioles fan for years as he could barely handle my liking the Oakland Athletics.  He did not like Earl Weaver one bit but was a lot like him in his approach to the game and life…however he did admire Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson.

Dad told me stories about the greats of his childhood and he made sure that there were books of baseball stories around the house.  I learned to read with books about Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Bob Feller, Stan Musial, Rogers HornsbyJackie Robinson and Satchel Paige. Dad was an avid fan of Pete Rose; he loved “Charlie Hustle’s” high intensity play and hustle, something that he passed on to me. I can still recall dad yelling at me to “get your butt down,” “stay in front of the ball,” “hustle down the line any time you hit the ball” and “don’t be afraid to run over a catcher or go in hard at second base to break up a double play.”   Rose’s banishment from baseball for gambling hit him hard.  I guess it was for him like the banishment of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and for me the agony of the Steroid Era where players who were Hall of Fame caliber sacrificed their reputations by doing steroids.

My Dad and I May 2009

I don’t know how long my dad will live. He has outlived his doctor’s expectations by well over a year maybe even a year and a half. He doesn’t know what is going on for the most part but somewhere in his Alzheimer’s ravaged brain he must still be there.  Dad gave me a gift, a gift called the game, the game of baseball.  Sure, it’s only just a game.  Right… Baseball is only a game in the sense of the Grand Canyon just being a hole in the ground and the Pacific Ocean a pond.  I’m sure that the Deity Herself must agree.

Play Ball!

Peace, Steve+

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