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A Sunday at Oriole Park


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sunday was a long day but a pleasurable one. I took a trip with the booster club of our Baltimore Orioles AAA affiliate the Norfolk Tides to see the Orioles play the Houston Astros at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It and the San Francisco Giant’s AT&T Park are my favorite places to watch a major league game. I also like the Astro’s Minute Maid Park in Houston. All three are beautiful and have a certain intimacy that I really enjoy. 


We arrived about an hour and a half before game time, it was hot, humid, and steamy, so I elected not to sit in my ticketed seat but wander the ballpark before and during the game. This allowed me to get a chance to meet the Orioles legendary First baseman from the 1960s and 1970s, Boog Powell. He was outside his bar-b-que stand on Eutaw Street, Boog’s BBQ, signing autographs and letting people get their picture taken with him. I was able to shake his hand, tell him how I admired him as a kid, get a picture with him and having him autograph the inside bill of my Orioles hat. The man is a gentleman and reminded me a bit of the late Harmon Killebrew who I had the opportunity to meet fifteen years ago while serving at Mayport, Florida. I won’t trade that brief experience for anything. Maybe I’ll get a chance to meet Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, Rick Dempsey, Cal Ripken, and some of the other great Orioles in the future. I always regret that I never got to meet Earl Weaver, though I did get to spend time with Paul Blair on two occasions before he died. 


The Orioles won the game 9-7 with Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, and Trey Mancini, all playing big roles on the offense to buttress a weak start by Dillon Bundy. Back from the disabled list, Zach Britton got the save. It was a nice game to watch. I was able to observe it from almost every angle, I wish I had brought my SLR camera with the zoom and sports setting for pictures but such is life. I’ll have to break it out for a Tides game before the end of the season. When it was too hot I enjoyed some nice craft beer at a couple of the pubs in the concourse, and at Dempsey’s Brew House on Eutaw Street. Of the beers I had I liked Raven’s Lager the best, as the sign said it was “Poetic.”

Baseball is a refuge for me that even in the age of Trump assures me that there is still hope that the world might not just blow up. To me baseball is more than a game, it is a key part of my faith. As Annie Savoy said in Bull Durham: “The Only church that truly feeds the soul, day-in day-out, is the Church of Baseball”

So until to tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles, faith, norfolk tides, Religion

The Triumph of Durability: Cal Ripken Jr., Lou Gehrig and the “Unbreakable” Record

“Whether your name is (Lou) Gehrig or (Cal) Ripken, (Joe) DiMaggio or (Jackie) Robinson, or that of some youngster who picks up his bat or puts on his glove, you are challenged by the game of baseball to do your very best day in and day out. That’s all I’ve ever tried to do.” Cal Ripken Jr. 

Before the Orioles and Yankees began their game tonight the Orioles honored Cal Ripken Jr. on the anniversary of the night in 1995 when he broke the record that most thought would never be broken. On September 6th 1995 Ripken played his 2131st consecutive game, eclipsing the record of the legendary Yankees First Baseman Lou Gehrig. Ripken’s consecutive game streak finally ended and 2632 games on September 20th 1998 when he took himself out before a game against the Yankees.

The record is likely to remain for many years as it would take any current player at least 16 years playing every game of the 162 game season to break it. However records are made to be broken and in 1939 no one thought that anyone would break the record set by baseball’s Iron Horse, the great Lou Gehrig.

On April 30th 1939 Lou Gehrig played his final game after playing in 2130 consecutive games. That day he went hitless against the Washington Senators and was obviously struggling. The team travelled to Detroit to begin a series against the Tigers and on May 2nd the Iron Man benched himself.  He had played every day since coming up as a pinch hitter on June 1st 1925 and at the age of 36 Gehrig had still had a respectable year in 1938, even though he felt that something was wrong with him during the last half of the season.

It was a shock to Americans and the baseball world. Gehrig remained with the team but his wife Eleanor contacted Dr. Charles Mayo of the Mayo Clinic. He was examined by Mayo and endured 6 days of arduous medical tests before he was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Eleanor instructed the physicians to withhold the full devastating impacts of the disease and while he knew that his playing days were over he thought that he might “need a cane in 10 or 15 years.”

However Gehrig knew that his days were numbered and on the 21st the Yankees announced his retirement. July 4th was proclaimed Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day by the Yankees and a ceremony was held between games of a double header against the Senators that day. His teammates and former teammates gathered with a crowd of over 61,000 fans while numerous dignitaries spoke in his honor. His number was retired and when the the speeches and presentations were complete Big Lou spoke.

The speech is one that will not be forgotten. I remember reading it as a kid when I read a biography about Gehrig in 3rd Grade. I would later see the video of the speech and when I watch it today I am filled with awe and deep emotions, sometimes I even cry. That speech by a dying man is not one of pity but of gratefulness despite the adversity that Gehrig faced.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SKyfGK9brs

Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” Speech 

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. 

“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky. 

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

Gehrig kept as active as his condition permitted, serving as a Parole Commissioner for the City of New York until he resigned about a month before his death due to his now greatly deteriorating health. On June 2nd 1941, 16 years to the day that he replaced Wally Pip at 1st Base in the Yankees starting lineup the Iron Horse died at his home. Mayor LaGuardia ordered the flags be lowered to half-staff in the city.

For 56 years Gehrig’s record remained unbroken, but 17 years ago tonight the unbreakable record was broken by Cal Ripken Jr. at Camden Yards against the California Angels.

Ripken’s record of 2632 games will probably not be broken in the next couple of decades if at all. Ripken’s record, as well as Gehrig’s before him are rare. Only seven players in the history of Major League Baseball have played in more than 1000 consecutive games.  The two men forever linked by their extraordinary abilities and durability to withstand the brutal grind of the long and arduous baseball season need to remembered in this day when durability, consistency and stamina are not as appreciated by our society. Now it seems that many are more enamored with flash, glitter and the quick fame or infamy of men and women whose only claim to fame is their ignorance, arrogance and lack of talent.

It is also a night to remember that both Gehrig and Ripken also gave credit to their families, coaches and teammates. In an age when some want to say that they did it all by themselves Gehrig’s words about those that helped him are timeless. I know I know that I haven’t gotten where I am all by myself. I guess that is why I really appreciate both of these men.

Tonight is a night to reflect on long term excellence and to remember both Cal Ripken Jr and Lou Gehrig.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles, sports and life

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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UNBELIEVABLE! Braves and Red Sox Collapse Complete! Rays and Cardinals win Wild Cards, Orioles sink Red Sox with 2 Outs in Bottom of the 9th as Longoria hits walk off against Yankees

Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon reacts to the Orioles scoring the winning run (Getty Images)

What an amazing and unlikely end to the regular season. The Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox who appeared to have their respective Wild Card berths cinched on September 1st had their seasons end tonight in the most unexpected and unlikely ways.  Both the Braves and the Sox had what seemed to be insurmountable leads as August drew to a close.

“It’s like living out a bad dream. You never expect this to happen to you.” Chipper Jones

Matt Holiday and Chris Carpenter celebrate the Cardinal’s Wild Card win

The Braves were up by 10 ½ games over the Cardinals on August 26th and had an 8 ½ game lead on September 6th and slipped into a tie on Tuesday against a resurgent Cardinals team.  The Cardinals defeated the Houston Astros 7-0 behind a two hit performance by Chris Carpenter earlier in the evening putting all the pressure on the Braves to try to force a one game playoff to decide the Wild Card.  The Braves looked like they would force the playoff and had a 3-2 lead with one out in the top of the 9th against the Phillies.   With one out and their ace closer Craig Kimbrel saw it slip away as Chase Utley hit a sacrifice fly to score pinch runner Pete Orr to tie the game.  The Braves could not score a go ahead run and in the top of the 13th the Phillies put the final nail in the Braves coffin as with 2 outs in the top of the 13th when Hunter Pence singled to score Brian Schneider to give the Phillies a 4-3 lead.  The Braves could not score in the bottom of the 13th completing a most amazing collapse.  Kimbrel said after the game “It was tough to be so close and then have the feeling like it was falling out of your hands, and that’s the feeling I have now.”   One has to feel for Kimbrel and other Braves relievers who have endured a punishing season and faltered down the stretch due to a starting rotation which struggled in their performance and due to injuries to young pitchers Jair Jurgens and Tommy Hansen.

A stunned Braves bench after their loss to the Phillies

For the Braves it was an epic collapse but the Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals after having been written off by every expert managed to catch the Braves and steal the Wild Card berth.

While the National League decision was exciting it paled in comparison to what happened in the American League East on Wednesday night. The Rays appeared to be done early as starter avid Price was hit hard by the Yankees especially by Mark Teixeira who hammed a grand slam home run in the top of the 2nd off Price inning to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead and a solo shot against Price in the top of the 4th. When the Yankees finished their at bat in the top of the 8th they had a 7-0 lead.  It looked like the Rays were done unless the Orioles could come from behind to defeat the Red Sox and force a playoff.  As their fans began to leave Tropicana Field the Rays scored 6 runs in the bottom of the 8th and then tied the game with a two out home run by Dan Johnson in the bottom of the 9th.  The game went into extra innings and as the Rays battled the Yankees an even more remarkable story was developing in Baltimore.

Evan Longoria raises his arms in triumph after his walk off home run against the Yankees (Getty Images)

The Red Sox had led the Orioles for most of the game and had not lost a game all season when leading in the 9th inning.  They were 76-0 in this situation.  A rain delay pushed the game toward themidnight hour and when it resumed the Red Sox seemed to be ready to put the Orioles away.

Robert Andino hits a walk off single to score Nolan Reimold against Jonathan Papelbon

With a 3-2 lead the Sox sent their vaunted closer Jonathan Papelbon into the game. After retiring Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds on strikes Chris Davis doubled and the O’s sent in Kyle Hudson to run for Davis.  Papelbon worked a 2-2 count against Nolan Reimold who hit a ground rule double to scoreHudson.  This brought up Red Sox nemesis Robert Andino who hit a walk off single to score Reimold stunning the Red Sox Nation in an unbelievable finish, but the Red Sox had life if the Yankees could put away the Rays in Tampa, but that hope would be dashed three minutes later.

As the Orioles drove the stake into the heart of the Red Sox Nation Yankees reliever Scott Proctor retired B. J. Upton on strikes.  This brought Evan Longoria to the plate. Longoria had hit a 3 run homer in the Rays 6 run 8th inning and took Proctor’s pitch and hammered it down the left field line where it ended up in the stands.  It was only the second time that a walk off home run put a team into the playoffs, the last was Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard around the world” in 1951.

Orioles celebrate. After a rough season they turned into winners in September and ended the Red Sox playoff hopes

It was an amazing finish that was unimaginable and thrilling to behold.  For the Orioles it was their World Series. They have been dominated by the Red Sox for years and going into September had won just 3 games against the Sox all season.  Then in September the Orioles began to win.  They split 4 games with the Yankees, took 2 of 3 from the Rays, 3 of 4 from the Red Sox at Fenway, 2 of 3 from the Angles and split a four game series against the Tigers.  After the 4 games in Boston the Orioles hosted 3 games against the Red Sox at Camden Yards.  They won the first, lost the second and stunned the Red Sox on Wednesday night.

As the bell tolled midnight on the east coast the unthinkable had happened.  Two epic collapses, two remarkable comebacks and an underdog Orioles team that rose to the occasion to beat the Red Sox 5 of 7 games in September.  No one could have scripted the end to this regular season and one can expect that the playoffs will be equally exciting.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles

The Gift My Dad Gave to Me: Baseball and the Mystery of Life

The Big A

This post is an updated and edited version of an article that I published here in 2009.  It is something that I come back to often because it deals with my dad and the influence that he had on my life especially in giving me a gift, the gift of baseball something that almost more than anything else which been a bastion of peace since I returned from Iraq in 2008.

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

Basketball, hockey and track meets are action heaped upon action, climax upon climax, until the onlooker’s responses become deadened.  Baseball is for the leisurely afternoons of summer and for the unchanging dreams.  Roger Kahn

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.

Though I had played Little League Ball in the 1960s and well as a lot of backyard or sandlot games, it was during the 1970-1971 season 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 by him long before when we watched games on a black and white TV and going to see the Seattle Pilots in their inaugural and final season back in 1969 and in our back yard when he taught me to throw, field and run the bases. He tried to teach me to hit, but that didn’t work too well as I never hit above the Mendoza line in any organized league. The only mistake he made, a mistake that my kindergarten teacher also made was to turn me from a natural lefty to a right hander.  I think that this is one of the reasons that I am as warped as I am.  Bill “Spaceman” Lee once said “You have two hemispheres in your brain – a left and a right side. The left side controls the right side of your body and right controls the left half. It’s a fact. Therefore, left-handers are the only people in their right minds.” In a sense my mind has been at war with my body since kindergarten but at least I am in my right mind.  In spite of that he did turn me into a pretty good pitcher something that unfortunately my Little League coaches never noticed.

While my dad thrived on all sports, baseball was the one that he gave me as a gift.  He gave my brother golf, another spiritual game, which Zen master’s love.  But Gold is not to be compared with baseball because it is not a team sport though individual accomplishment is key to both and neither

Growing up with baseball was something that I cannot imagine have not done.  It was part of life from as far back as I can remember and this was because dad made it so.  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 teach me to pitch.  He never did much with hitting except turn me around at the plate.  When I had him in a brief lucid moment when I visited in May of 2009 when he was markedly deteriorating from Alzheimer’s disease and I thanked him for teaching me to love the game. I told him I still heard his voice telling me to keep my butt down on ground balls and 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.”

In 1970 we moved to Long Beach California where we lived about 15 minutes from Anaheim Stadium, the home of the then named California Angels.  Back then Anaheim Stadium was called “the Big A” due to the scoreboard shaped like a large “A” with a halo ringing the top in left center field.  Dad took us to more games than I can count and the times there were simply magical.  It was and still is a wonderful place to watch a game.  Back then access to players was easy.  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.  Now I find that I have a hard time sitting anywhere except behind home plate and when I had season tickets at Norfolk’s Harbor Park that is where I sat.

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.  To be able to watch the greats like Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Rollie Fingers, Campy Campaneris and Vida Blue was awesome but our first love was the Giants.  We only occasionally got to Candlestick Park where they played in those days because it was a lot more difficult to get to from Stockton as opposed to Oakland.  Candlestick if you have ever been there is a miserable place to see a baseball game if for no other reason 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.

Me with Angel’s Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970

Minor League ball became a part of my life around the same time. While dad was deployed to Vietnam my mom would drop me off at Billy Herbert Field in Stockton California so I could see the Stockton Ports who at the time the California League single “A” affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.  Those games were always fun.  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 leaguer.

In junior high school I switched to hockey and in high school football and never played organized baseball again falling to the temptation to do what the popular people were doing.  In college I played softball where I did hit better and I always longed to be either playing in or watching a game.  I did get to a few Dodger’s games when attending California State University at Northridge and although I am not a Dodger’s fan I remember their World Series comeback against the Yankees and I have always thought that Vin Scully painted the best verbal picture of a ballgame and season that has ever been done.

I like other sports but they do not hold me captive the way baseball does.  I think there is the nearly spiritual dimension baseball which gives it a timeless and sometimes other worldly dimension.  I find that other sports such as football, basketball, hockey and soccer are limited in this aspect.  Baseball yards are all different, with the exception of the infield dimensions there is a great variance allowed to designers.  The other sports are limited to rectangular playing surfaces of set dimensions determined by their leagues. With the exception of a few old hockey rinks which have smaller playing surfaces there is no individuality to these venues, save perhaps for team or sponsor logos and the quality of the seating.  Likewise all of the other sports play a set time clock which determines much of what happens during the game giving these sports an almost industrial feeling where baseball is not bound by time. In the other major team sports if a team gets way ahead early, it is likely that they will win the game.  While it is possible that a game could go into “overtime” the overtime in these games often has different rules than regulation time.  “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.  

Baseball is not like that.  Legendary Orioles Manager 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.” In order to win a baseball game you have to throw the ball over the plate and give the other team a chance to come back. A baseball game in theory might not ever end and I have been to a number that I thought had some eschatological dimensions.  W.P. Kinsella’s novel The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, depicts a game that is patently eschatological, though not in a pre-millennial dispensationalist manner between the 1908 Cubs and a semi-pro team in Iowa. The game which is recorded by a young man who steps into a time warp on a country road goes on for well over 2000 innings eventually provoking the intervention of a Native American deity.  In baseball the foul lines in theory go on for eternity and only the arbitrary placement of the outfield wall and the physical limitation of hitters keep the game within earthly limits.  I’m sure that the outfield in heaven is a lot more spacious and has a much more wonderful playing surface than is even imaginable for us on this terrestrial ball.

Baseball stadiums all have their own distinct design and personality. Save for the late 1960s and early 1970s when fascists took over the design of stadiums in order to make them suitable places to play football, baseball parks have had maintained their individuality.  It is a pity that some of the great parks have disappeared, Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium to name a few are gone but new parks have recaptured the magic.  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.  Gone were the ugly, drab oval stadiums, fields covered in often shoddy artificial turf.  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, replaced by beautiful ballparks each with its own unique character that reflect the beauty of the game.

In 2009 and 2010 I was blessed to be a season ticket holder at Norfolk’s Harbor Park home of the Norfolk Tides.  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.

With every home game the gift that my father gave me begins to unfolded again as I gazed in wonderment at the diamond.  This year is different; my dad passed away last year but up to a year before his death he still knew enough of what was going on to talk about baseball, especially the San Francisco Giants while  bad mouthing 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.”  Likwise I do not have my season tickets in Norfolk since I am now stationed at Camp LeJeune North Carolina, but I will get up to a number of games including Norfolk’s home opener next Saturday.

When I was a child he told me stories about the greats of his childhood and he was an avid fan of Pete Rose, he loved his high intensity play and hustle, something that he passed on to me. I can still recall him 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 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 which was a stain on game but now is now history. Unfortunately it is being used by self-righteous politicians a bureaucrats to make baseball and baseball players look bad so they can look good.   At this point I say reinstate Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose and stop with the endless illegal leaks of documents and alleged positive tests of players whose names are being leaked out one or two at a time.  I think my dad would say the same now, if only he could.

Tomorrow I will take in an afternoon game at Grainger Stadium in Kinston North Carolina. It is the home of the Kinston Indians, or the K-Tribe, the Advanced Single “A” affiliate of the Cleveland Indians in the Carolina League. It will be nice to take in a game, even if not at Norfolk.

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.

Peace, Steve+

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Plop Plop Fizz Fizz Oh What a Relief it’s Not: Tides Lose 7-5 as Relievers Melt Down

Zach Britton was impressive in his AAA debut in Norfolk but got a no-decsion

It was an absolutely gorgeous night for baseball in Norfolk with unseasonably low temperatures in the mid-70s and low humidity at Harbor Park on Thursday night, the kind of baseball weather that in this part of the country fans long to have instead of the normally hot and humid weather typical for the 1st of July. On such a night the Norfolk Tides opened a three game home stand with the Charlotte Knights with Zach Britton making his AAA debut for the Tides.

Going into the top of the 7th inning it appeared that the Tides were well on their way to a victory behind the pitching of Britton.  The young pitcher dominated the Charlotte nights and in six innings work had a shutout going allowing only three hits while throwing 45 of 70 pitches for strikes.  The young left hander was in control the entire outing striking out four and walking none as Tides hitters had given him a 4-0 lead powered by Jeff Salazar and Rhyne Hughes who each pounded out a home run over the right field wall.

Jeff Salazar hits his 14th home run of the season

With Britton being on a pitch count Manager Bobby Dickerson brought in Armando Gabino into the game in the 7th inning. Gabino who has for the most part been a lights out middle reliever this season as well as occasional starter had control problems early throwing only 15 of 27 pitches for strikes. He walked Tyler Flowers to lead off the inning and on with 2 strikes on Josh Kroeger surrendered a home run that bounced across the roof to the right field Straub Beer party deck.  Gabino then got Stefan Gartrell to pop up for the first out. Jordan Danks then singled.  The Knights then received a gift from the Tides when on a deep fly ball to right field by Fernando Cortez Rhyne Hughes dropped the ball sending Danks to third and Cortez to second with only one out. Gabino then stuck out Brent Morel before being pulled for Alberto Castillo. Castillo has had his ups and downs this season and on the first pitch he hit Alejandro De Aza to load the bases. Luis Rodriguez singled to score Danks and Cortez to tie the game before striking out Buck Coats to end the inning.

Despite the loss it was a beautiful night for a ball game

The Tides took the lead back in the bottom frame when Robert Andino singled and pitcher Carlos Torres walked both Jeff Salazar and Michael Aubrey. Greg Aquino came in for the Knights and with the bases loaded walked Nolan Reimold to score Andino.  Unfortunately for the Tides they could not take advantage of a bases loaded and one out situation. Rhyne Hughes popped up and Blake Davis struck out swinging to end the inning.  The failure to capitalize on the pitching mistakes of the Knights would prove fatal for the Tides.  Castillo got his act together to send the Knights down in order in the 8th and in the bottom of the 8th the Tides failed to bring across Matt Angle who had reached first on a 3rd strike wild pitch and advance to second when Robert Andino walked before Jeff Salazar flew out to deep right field to end the inning.

With the lead again the Tides brought in Denis Sarfate who has been lights out as a closer this year having 10 saves to his credit.  Tonight however was not Sarfate’s night. After striking out Jordan Danks Sarfate loaded the bases on two walks and a single before giving up a single to Louis Rodriguez which scored two runs and left Rodriguez in a rundown in which he was out but the third runner Alejandro De Aza to score to give the Knights a 7-5 lead that they would not relinquish as the Tides went down quietly in the bottom of the 9th with only Joey Gathright reaching base on a two out walk.

Denis Sarfate (0-1 BS-1 4.08 ERA) got the loss for the Tides while Greg Aquino (1-3 5.25 ERA) got the win and Ryan Braun his 13th save. It was a night that the Tides wasted an opportunity to win the game and gain ground on the Knights but for the miserable performance of normally solid pitchers and the huge error of Rhyne Hughes.

Tonight the teams renew the series at Harbor Park with Zach Clark (0-2 3.09 ERA) on the hill for the Tides facing Jeff Marquez (6-4 4.24).  Tonight is a salute to the Negro Leagues and both the Tides and the Knights will be wearing replica Negro League uniforms as the US Postal Service unveils a commemorative Negro League stamp set in a pre-game ceremony.

In Baltimore Jake Arietta and Frank Mata got beaten up by the Athletics as the Orioles went down to defeat at Camden Yards by a score of 8-1.

See you at Harbor Park tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Road Trip to See the Stockton Ports

Bakersfield Blaze outfielder David Paisano slides in ahead of the throw to third in the 1st inning

With my dad’s memorial service now in the past and having done all that I can do in fighting through government and business bureaucracies I went to see my old “home town” team play at Banner Island Park. As you all know by now baseball is one of the few things that help bring order to my world in times of stress, grief and loss which pretty much describes the past week.

My association with the Ports goes back to the days in the early 1970s when they played a Billy Herbert Field and were the “Single-A” affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.  They enjoyed that relationship from about 1958 to 1972.  The fact that they were an orioles farm team and that on “hat day” they gave away Orioles caps caused me to have some interest in the Orioles throughout my life to the point now that I can say that with the Giants and A’s that they are one of my favorite ball clubs despite the fact that they have not had a winning season in 13 years.  The Ports now belong to the Athletics’ organization playing in the California League which along with the Carolina League are consider “High Single A” leagues, so they have some good talented players that do have a legitimate chance to get to the big leagues.  Their new home which replaced the venerable Billy Herbert Field is a marvelous facility that sits on the Stockton Channel with a “splash down” area over the right field wall and concourse. It is a wonderful venue to see a ball game and I recommend it if you are ever around Stockton when the Ports are in town.

Ports Catcher Ramon Soto after applying the tag at home to Andres James in the 2nd inning

Tonight the Ports played the Bakersfield Blaze of the Texas Rangers farm system the first game of a three game home stand prior to the July 4th Weekend. I got to the park a bit early and got my ticket for a seat directly behind home plate in the first row. Like about any minor league park on a really hot day, it was well over 100 today in Stockton, but no humidity, the Monday night crowd was sparse and I sat near some gents that knew the Ports, California League and the A’s system well. I also as is my custom struck up a conversation with one of the ushers as well to ensure that I could move around to get some photos.

Michael Madsen gets a called strike against a Blaze hitter

The game was low scoring; the Blaze scored one run in the 1st inning when John Whittleman singled off of Ports starting pitcher Michael Madsen to score David Paisano from third. They scored another in the second when Andres James doubled to score Doug Hogan who had been hit by a pitch with two outs.  Apart from those two runs the pitching staff of both teams shut down the offense of the other team. The Ports mounted no real threat and scattered only 6 hits scoring none of the 4 runners that reach scoring position.

Ports relief pitcher Scott Deal fields a sacrifice bunt by Andres James in the 7th inning

While I was at the game I found out that former Norfolk Tides infielder Brandon Pinckney who hails from Elk Grove up by Sacramento had just been picked up by the Athletics and signed to a minor league free agent deal with the Ports. At the end of last season Brandon became a free agent and signed with the Phillies who released him on the 15th of June.  After the game I was able to welcome Brandon back to California where while it is definitely hot in Stockton there is no humidity.  Once the sun set tonight the temps were very comfortable.

In Norfolk the Tides dropped the final game of their home stand to the Louisville Bats by a score of 7-2 and in Baltimore, don’t look now but the Orioles have won 4 in a row sweeping the Nationals in Baltimore this weekend and face the Athletics tomorrow at Camden Yards. The Orioles designated First Baseman Garrett Atkins for assignment.

Tomorrow my Road trip continues and I will see the Ports take on the Blaze in a game that will be nationally televised on the MLB Network at 11:05 Pacific Standard Time and 2:05 Eastern Standard Time. I will be wearing my Norfolk Tides black road jersey and hopefully will have a sign to say hello to any of my friends watching the game. I will be attending it with an old high school classmate and retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Tony Melendez.

See you there.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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