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Remembering My Friendship with Carl Long, Negro League Hall of Famer and Civil Rights Pioneer

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was a day of recovery from a long week with little sleep, lots of work, contractors in the house doing renovations, and a lot of stress. Last night it took me forever to get to sleep even though I went to bed early I could not get to sleep until about four AM. I big part of the problem was that I had my sleep meds lapse as there was a problem between my military provider, the military pharmacy, and the civilian pharmacy that my meds get transferred to. I put on my CPAP and with the lights off I laid in bed for almost four hours before I finally went to sleep. I slept until two PM. I did go out and pick up some melatonin and Advil PM to try to help me sleep tonight. We did get a bit more work done in the house today but not nearly what I hoped to get accomplished.

This evening I had a twitter exchange with a few people including the President of the Negro Leagues Hall of Fame in Kansas City. One of the people encouraged me to write down my memories of the Negro League players that became my friends. The best was the late Carl Long who is in the Negro League Hall of Fame. So tonight I am reposting an article about the beginning of my friendship with him. I will post another tomorrow night.

So until then,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Me with Carl Long

On Friday, after a long and stressful week at work I decided to head to Kinston to see a ball game.  It was a rough week, my staff and I dealt with the death of an 11 year old girl that came through our ER on Monday morning.  I found that a Marine that I had served with while serving with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in 2000-2001.  Staff Sergeant Ergin Osman was killed around Memorial Day with 7 of his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan. His death hit me hard.  I remembered the great Marine and wonderful young man that I knew back then.  That night I went out and sat in the light of the half moon and cried. Some other things went on and I finished work Friday caring for a family that lost their unborn baby and knowing that I was going to have to come in during the early morning hours Saturday for another still-birth.  I needed something and for me that “something” is baseball.

So when I was done with work I loaded up my trusty 2001 Honda CR-V and drove from LeJeune to Kinston. The trip across rural Eastern North Carolina was relaxing, there was little traffic and despite a passing thunder shower was uneventful, not even a driver doing well less than the speed limit in a no-passing zone to annoy the spit out of me. Eastern North Carolina has its own charm, small towns and settlements dot the farm fields and forests of the area. It is not uncommon to drive by a former plantation or to pass gas stations and country stores that seem to have stopped in time.

Kinston is one of those towns that have seen better times, the outsourcing of the garment industry to Central America and Asia has hit the town hard.  While a budding aviation industry promises better times many of the poorer and less educated people in the city have little opportunity.  While there are some very nice areas in town the central part of the city, especially downtown shows the real effect of what economic damage has been done to our country by the actions of industries to relocate overseas and actions by successive administrations and congresses to help them abandon Americans in order to increase profits.

However Kinston has had a team in the Carolina League for years and Minor League Baseball has been in the city continuously since 1937, with a four year break between 1958 and 1962 when the Kinston Eagles became part of the Coastal Plains League.  Grainger Stadium was built in 1946. The team became part of the Carolina League in 1956. Over the years the Kinston team has had various affiliations with Major League teams as well as various names.  The Team was called the Eagles until 1982 when they became the Blue Jays until 1986 when they again became the Eagles. Then in 1986 they became the affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, a relationship that they maintain until this day. Before the 2011 season it was announced that the team had been sold and was being moved to Zebulon North Carolina to replace the Carolina Mudcats which are moving to Pensacola Florida. The team owner is seeking to bring another team to Kinston in time for the 2012 season.  It will be a sad day if a team cannot be found to bring to Kinston which has one of the nicest parks in Class “A” ball.

I got to the game and was able to relax talking with new friends and moving around the ballpark to take pictures. When I moved back to the first base line I saw a man that I had watched a game with earlier in the year in his season ticket box. John is a retired Navy Supply Corps Officer and really nice to spend time with. This particular evening he was sitting beside a heavy set older African American man wearing a Negro League cap.  I came up and John invited me to sit with them and I got to meet the man, Carl Long.

Carl had played ball in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Barons and played with Willie Mays and for legendary manager Buck O’Neal and he was the first black player in the Carolina League playing with the Kinston Eagles when they were with the Pittsburgh Pirate organization.  In 1956 he led the team in home runs with 18, hit .299 and had 111 RBIs a season record that still stands in Kinston.

It was really nice just to be able to listen and to spend time with one of those great men of the Negro Leagues and pioneers of baseball integration. He played with Mays, McCovey, Clemente and against Aaron and even country and western singer Charlie Pride.  He played on a number of minor league teams until the end of 1957.  He was 22 years old and had a lot of good years left in him but he had married the woman of his dreams and he elected to settle in Kinston with her.  They are still married and went on to become the first black deputy Sheriff and first black Detective on the Kinston Police Department and even the first black commercial bus driver.

Carl is part of the Living Legends of surviving Negro League players and makes many appearances, the most recent at Rickwood Field in Birmingham the oldest ballpark in the country and home of the Barons.  He will be honored on July 22ndin Kinston with other Negro League players, including Sam Allen who I know from Norfolk.

I plan on visiting more with Carl as I enjoyed the man immensely. When he found my interesting in baseball history and the Negro Leagues he gave me an autographed baseball card.

I drove home through the night feeling much better even knowing that I would be called in to deal with sad situations at the hospital, but once again I was blessed to have the opportunity to spend time with Carl and John and to meet some other really nice people.

Thank God for baseball and the Church of Baseball, Grainger Stadium Parish.

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 Cold Rain Fell: The last Night of Kinston Indians Baseball as K-Tribe Falls to Frederick 11-3

The Kinston Indians ended their 25 years in Kinston losing to the Frederick Keys on night that seemed more like early November than mid-September in Eastern North Carolina.  In a game that was delayed by rain an hour and 11 minutes at the outset which experienced a second delay in the 4th inning

It seemed that the K-Tribe never recovered their edge after their heartbreaking loss in Frederick Tuesday night in game two of the Carolina League “Mills Cup” Championship Series.  For the second strait night in the series ineffective pitching and critical fielding errors doomed the K-Tribe. The damage all was done in the 3rd inning when the Keys, down 2-0 found the range early and often.  Once again they used excellent hitting and aggressive base running taking advantage of every opportunity that they were given by the Indians.  The Keys had doubles by Dale Mollenhauer and Miguel Abreu and Manny Muchado had a 3 run home run which served as a coup de gras capping an 11 run 3rd inning in which 7 of the runs were scored with 2 outs.  In the inning the Indians committed 3 errors and had a wild pitch.

It was a sad end to what had been a magical final season for the K-Tribe.  The Indians become the Carolina Mudcats in 2012.  Many fans plan to continue to follow the team and make trips over to Zebulon to see “their” Mudcats next year.  Many are pessimistic about the possibility of a new team coming to Kinston next year though management is hopeful of something coming through. Kinston is the smallest city to have a Minor League Baseball team in the country with a baseball tradition that dates back over 100 years.  During the 25 years of their affiliation with the Cleveland Indians the K-Tribe won 5 Carolina League Championships and 11 Division titles.  The playing field has been named the best in the Carolina League 4 of the past 10 years. Numerous Major Leaguers including Jim Thome, C.C. Sabbathia, Manny Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Alex White, Grady Sizemore, Albert Belle, Matt Williams, Bartolo Colon, Marco Scutaro, Jhonny Peralta, Cliff Lee, Luke Scott, Fausto Carmona and Lonnie Chisenhall along with many more Indians have reached the Majors.  I expect that a number of the current K-Tribe players will follow in their illustrious footsteps.

One has to compliment the Orioles organization and the Frederick Keys.  They put together a talented team that played aggressive yet solid fundamental baseball.  A number of these young players will likely become outstanding Major League players.

I watched the game with the friends that I met this year and as we filtered out of the stadium we agreed to meet for dinner once a month.  Since we are all connected on Facebook this will be much easier than in the past.  Hopefully Kinston will land a Minor League Franchise next year.  I appreciate the people of the city and hope for both baseball and better economic times for it and them in the future.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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K-Tribe on Verge of Elimination: Lose 3-2 on Wednesday and 7-3 Thursday to Keys

Jesus Aguilar hit his 4th Home Run in 4 consecutive post-season games

In the space of 21 hours the Kinston Indians went from being 4 outs away from a two games to none series lead to being on the verge of elimination.  On Wednesday night in Frederick Maryland the Indians lost a close game which did not begin until 10 PM due to a 3 hour rain delay.  The Tribe took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 8th inning and lost when reliever Kyle Landis gave up 2 runs with 2 outs on singles by Manny Muchado, Miguel Abreu and Brian Ward. Frederick won the game which ended at about12:45 PM.  The teams arrived in Kinston after an overnight bus ride at about 7:30 AM Thursday.

K-Tribe starting pitcher Mike Rayl and Indians relievers struggled Thursday night

On Thursday at Historic Grainger Stadium the K-Tribe got off to a quick start on First Baseman Jesus Aguilar’s two run home run in the bottom of the second inning.  The shot was Aguilar’s fourth home run in the last 4 post season plays.  However the Indians were shut down by Frederick pitchers Scott Copeland, Ryan Berry and Sean Gleason scoring just one more run that in the bottom of the 9th inning.

The Keys played very aggressive baseball against a Kinston team that seemed at times listless taking advantage of K-Tribe mistakes all night long. Kinston’s problems began with and ended with pitching.  Starting pitcher Mike Rayl struggled from the beginning and relievers Trey Haley and Giovanni Soto had a hard time finding the plate. They were taken deep in the count by numerous Frederick batters and control was a major issue.  K-Tribe pitchers gave up 7 runs on 10 hits, but the walked 5, hit 3 and a wild pitch.  The K-Tribe added two errors in the field both on errant throws.

Keys reliever Ryan Berry looking like something out of the 1970s shut down K-Tribe hitters

To give credit to the Keys they played well, their pitching was strong and their hitting sharp. They used aggressive base running, stole 3 bases and laid down several outstanding bunts.  In the field turned three very important double plays that erased chances that the Tribe had to get back in the game.

The losses were difficult especially because of how well the Indians have played during the second half of the season.  It think that the loss Wednesday took a lot of life out of the Indians Thursday.

Friday night the teams will meet again in a must win game for the K-Tribe.  If the Indians win they will force game five on Saturday and if they lose it will be the end of an era for baseball in Kinston as the Indians franchise moves to Zebulon to become the Carolina Mudcats in 2012.  I will be there and cheering for the K-Tribe to win and force that final game in their quest for the Carolina League championship and the Mills Cup.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Kinston Wins Opener in Frederick: Defeat Keys 3-1

Tyler Holt 

Kinston pitchers were solid and timely hitting proved decisive as the Kinston Indians defeated the Frederick Key by a score of 3-1 at Harvey Grove Stadium in Frederick Maryland on Tuesday night.  The K-Tribe now stand two wins away from winning the Mills Cup and Carolina League Championship in this their final year in Kinston.

K-Tribe starter Clayton Cook got the win going 5 and a third innings giving up one run on four hits. Relievers Chris Jones and Toru Murata pitched solid innings and Preston Guilmet closed out the game to get the save.  Key’s starter Nicholas Houghian took the loss giving up 3 runs, 2 of which were earned on 6 hits in four inning work.

The Indians struck first in the top of the 3rd inning.  Tyler Holt singled and advanced to second on an errant pick off attempt by Houghian.  Bo Greenwell singled to advance Holt to third and Holt scored on a ground out by Adam Abraham.

The Keys got their only run in the bottom of the 3rd when Manny Muchado hit a two out double to drive in Bobby Stevens.

In the top of the 4th inning the K-Tribe struck again.  First Baseman Jesus Aguilar homered to lead off the inning, his second home run in as many games.  Tyler Cannon doubled to right and scored when Casey Frawley bunted for a single and took second on a throwing error by Key’s third baseman Dale Mollenhauer.

Kinston had 3 runs on 8 hits and left 7 runners aboard.  They committed no errors while turning two double plays.  K-Tribe pitchers struck out 8 and walked 4. The Keys scored 1 run on 7 hits leaving 9 men on base and committed 2 very costly errors.  Keys pitchers struck out 10 Indians and walked just 2 batters but were beaten by timely extra base hits and their team’s errors.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Celebration in Kinston as K-Tribe Wraps Up Carolina League South Title

The Kinston Indians (Cleveland) are now on the verge of finishing their 25th and final season in the Eastern North Carolina city in a grand fashion by defeating the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Texas) for the Carolina League Southern Division title.

Jesus Aguilar crosses home plate after his massive 3 run blast

The Indians (76-62) who won the second half battered the first half leading Pelicans (72-67) winning the series 3-1 battering the birds with 24 runs in the final three games.  Led by strong pitching and the hitting of  Tyler Holt, Adam Abraham and a massive final game three run homerun by Jesus Aguilar the Indians capitalized on defensive mistakes and pounded the Pelicans in the final three games by scores of 8-6, 7-0 and 9-2.

Indians starting pitcher Mike Rayl

I was at the two games in Kinston against Myrtle Beachand the K-Tribe was fun to watch. When the last out was recorded on Saturday night the celebration was something to remember. I have not seen a championship game in person although I did attend two games in the 1972 ALCS which the Oakland Athletics took from the Detroit Tigers winning the final game in Detroit.  To see the players celebrate and the fans remain after the game was special.

My friends and loyal K-Tribe fans

The Indians will open the final series for the Mills Cup against the Frederick Keys on Tuesday the 13th in Frederick.  The teams will play the first two games in Frederick and return to Kinston on Thursday the 15th.  The Keys (Baltimore) (80-60) defeated the Potomac Nationals in 5 games to win the Northern Division in a series extended by a rain out.

The Keys hold an 8-7 head to head advantage against the Indians in 2011. The teams during the second half of the season have been exceptionally well matched and the series should be exciting.

It ill also be the last series played inKinstonwin or lose. The K-Tribe will move to Zebulon to take the name of the AA Carolina Mudcats of the Southern League who are moving toPensacolaFlorida.  While it is indeterminate if Kinston will have a team next year both the President and the Vice President of Minor League Baseball have visited this year.  While old, Historic Grainger Stadium is very well maintained and its immaculately kept field is among the best in Single-A baseball.   Frederick whose future with the Keys was in doubt now appears to be on the verge of signing a 10 year stadium lease agreement with the Orioles affiliate.

Kinstonhas a long baseball history in the Carolina League and the team is central to the identity of this city which has been hard hit with the exporting of most of its textile jobs overseas.  I hope that Minor League Baseball finds a team for Kinston and I hope that the K-Tribe gives the city one last Carolina League title.  It has been a special season; why not go out on top?

I plan on being at each game to be played inKinstonwith my friends.  Watching a game at Grainger Stadium is like being in the stands in the movie Bull Durham.  The people fans and the team are special. It is the end of an era that hopefully will be the prelude to a new era of baseball in this historic town.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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What Makes Padre Steve Tick: My Vocation, Life, Love and Baseball

I’ve always related to the characters in Kevin Costner’s baseball films, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and For the Love of the Game. The main characters in each of the films touch me each in different way.  Crash Davis and Billy Chapel are players at the end of their careers.  Davis is a career Minor Leagues journeyman who “played 21 days in the show.” and Chapel is other a future Hall of Famer at the close of a final season filled with disappointment.

The character of Crash Davis strikes a particular chord in me.  Crash Davisis a journeyman minor league catcher with the dubious distinction of having the most minor league home runs, 227 to be exact. The real life Minor League Home Run King is Mike Hessman who played for 15 years in the Minors with a few trips to the Majors and the U. S. Olympic Baseball Team; he had 329 home runs and is now playing in Japan) I have seen Hessman belt numerous home runs and the man is a beast, but I digress…

Davis also played “21 days in the show.” In the film Davis is a consummate professional. He loves and respects the game and actually cares about the development of the young guys, even if they try his patience.  His dealings with Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLooche played by Tim Robbins are case in point.  Crash is demoted by the big team from his AAA contract to the single “A” Durham Bulls, back when Durham was in the Carolina League in order to help the team develop the young bonus baby.  Crash is not happy with the job, he’s proud, and threatens to leave the team, only to ask his new manager what time batting practice is.

He takes the new assignment on with a mixture of skill and humor in a manner that benefits not only the young pitcher but motivates the rest of the team.  It does not matter that he is in the minor leagues as he still plays his heart out and spends his time teaching the next generation.  He even gets thrown out of games if it helps motivate his team.  Likewise he is not hesitant to let his young charge learn the hard way when young “Nuke” decides to ignore his advice.  The thing that Crash has the hardest time in dealing with his young charge is that he feels that “Nuke” doesn’t respect the game. Respect matters to a professional.

Mike Hessman

The comparison fits for me in more than one way. In a sense my life has been like a journeyman ball player.  I started my military career in the Army almost 30 years ago.  I come from a different generation of military than the vast majority of the Sailors and Marines that I serve with today.  I am “old school” in some ways but have learned to adapt, just as the men who were the old soldiers when I was a young enlisted man and officer. My career has been quite diverse and I have not always done the same job on the same team or at the same level.  I think this is the mark of a true journeyman, to keep playing because you love the game. Mike Hessman is doing that in Japan.

To continue the baseball journeyman analogy I played one position for a number of years and then so to speak left the big team to train for a new position while playing in the minors.  I left my active career as a Medical Service Corps Captain and transferred to the National Guard to attend seminary. When I graduated from seminary I became a National Guard and Reserve Chaplain.  I did not go on active duty. Back then the reserves were kind of like the minor leagues. Being a Reserve component Chaplain while doing my hospital residency and first hospital chaplain jobs it was like working my way up through the minors.  When I was promoted to the rank of Major in the Army Reserve it was like moving up to AAA ball.  When I got mobilized to support the Bosnia operation it was like getting called up during the regular season by the Major League team.  When that time ended and I returned to the reserves it was like being sent back to the minors.  I honestly thought that I would spend the rest of my career there, maybe getting called up for brief periods of time but knowing that my career was destined to end in the minor leagues.

That all changed when I was given a chance to go into the Navy.  I took a reduction in rank and came in with no time in grade. This meant that I was starting from scratch with a new team.  I had all of my experience but I was starting over.  It was like when a player gets traded or is sent back to the Minors by one team and has his contract picked up by another team in a different league in mid season. His slate is clear; it is a new start with the new team. That is what happened to me.

The analogy also fits because I do not like it when I feel that people do not respect “the game.”  By game of course I mean the vocation of serving as a Military Chaplain as a calling as well as their attitude toward the organization in which they serve. I have little tolerance for clergyman or women who enter the military with better education and natural or God given abilities than me who do not respect the institution, those in it and are out to push their agenda. This is how Crash feels about “Nuke” and I love this exchange from the film:

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: How come you don’t like me?
Crash Davis: Because you don’t respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don’t respect the game, and that’s my problem. You got a gift.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: I got a what?
Crash Davis: You got a gift. When you were a baby, the Gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt. You got a Hall-of-Fame arm, but you’re pissing it away.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: I ain’t pissing nothing away. I got a Porsche already; a 911 with a quadraphonic Blaupunkt.
Crash Davis: Christ, you don’t need a quadraphonic Blaupunkt! What you need is a curveball! In the show, everyone can hit heat.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Well, how would you know? YOU been in the majors?
Crash Davis: Yeah, I’ve been in the majors.

Looking at Billy Chapel, the central character in For the Love of the Game I also find some connection though not quite the same as Crash Davis.  Billy has played the game a long time for the same team, 19 years. He came back from what should have been a career ending injury.  In the film and in the novel he pitches in what for his team is a meaningless last game of the season against the playoff bound Yankees in New York.  The story focuses on this last game, Billy’s relationships with current and former teammates as well as his long term relationship with the team’s owner who is selling the team.  The new management wants to deal Billy to another team in the off season and is asking him if he wants to continue in baseball.

While the game is going on, Chapel knows this is the end and spends a lot of time reflecting on his life, his parents, his World Series appearances and friendships. He thinks about things that have gone well and things that he regrets. He especially regrets his relationship with the woman he loves but has messed up.  While his mind visits these subjects he tries to maintain his focus on the game and block out the thoughts as well as the near hatred of the Yankee fans. “Clear the mechanism….”

The thing that hits me the most is relationship between Billy Chapel and Jane Aubrey played by Kelly Preston.  I have done a lot in my military career but at the same time have missed a lot of time with Judy.  From 1996-2001 we spent most of 40 of 60 months apart. Since September 11th 2001 we have spent many more months apart. We have only spent 12 of 28 wedding anniversaries together not to mention birthdays and other holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving.  So many times Judy has missed the high points of my career and I have missed out on being with her to celebrate her achievements and to be there when times were hard.  But as anyone who serves a full career in the military knows it goes with the game. Chapel’s words to Jane Aubrey played by Kelly Preston after his perfect game strike a chord with me, I don’t ever think that I have said that I didn’t need Judy, but I spent a lot of my life not needing anybody, so she probably thought at times that I didn’t need her. Thus Chapel’s words to Jane do get me and when I first saw the movie put tears in my eyes:

“I used to believe, I still do, that if you give something your all it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, as long as you’ve risked everything put everything out there. And I’ve done that. I did it my entire life. I did it with the game. But I never did it with you, I never gave you that. And I’m sorry. I know I’m on really thin ice but, when you said I didn’t need you… well last night should’ve been the biggest night of my life, and it wasn’t. It wasn’t because you weren’t there. So I just wanted to tell you, not to change your mind or keep you from going, but just so you know, that I know, that I do need you. “

The second thing that really gets me is where the owner tells Billy Chapel that he is selling the team and tells Chapel that “the game stinks.”  I’ve seen a lot of people throughout my career with that kind of attitude about the Church, the military, their vocation and life in general that I want to scream.  Yes there is much that is not perfect in life and the institutions that we serve, but neither life nor serving God one this country stinks. Chapel’s words back to him echo how I feel about so much of life.

“The game doesn’t stink, Mr. Wheeler. It’s a great game.” After all these years I still love the game, my vocation, my service as a chaplain in the military and the young people that I get to work with.

Since coming back from Iraq there have been plenty of times that I have felt like I had nothing left to give. In the times that I was really struggling I made my transfer to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth where I ran into a number of guys who were like Chapel’s catcher Gus Sinski (played by John C. Reilly) and let me know that they were not only with me but were going to take care of me:

Billy Chapel: I don’t know if I have anything left.
Gus Sinski: You just throw whatever you got, whatever’s left. The boys are all here for you. We’re gonna be awesome for you right now!

There are times in life where we think that we have nothing left and when we have people that challenge us and stand with us even painful situations where we don’t think that we don’t think we have anything left to give.

Finally there is the announcer, the legendary Vin Scully calling the game and realizes that something special is going on:

“And you know Steve you get the feeling that Billy Chapel isn’t pitching against left handers, he isn’t pitching against pinch hitters, he isn’t pitching against the Yankees. He’s pitching against time. He’s pitching against the future, against age, and even when you think about his career, against ending. And tonight I think he might be able to use that aching old arm one more time to push the sun back up in the sky and give us one more day of summer.”

Now I know that I am quite as far down the road career wise as Billy Chapel in the movie, but I do know that I am closer to the end of my military career than I was even a couple of years ago, but the thought that I could be on the last few years does cross my mind a lot.

I guess that there are three major things that I want to accomplish before the end of my military career. I want to take care of all of the people that God gives me and puts in my life.  Second is to help coach the young men and women that I meet along the way, especially clergy and chaplains as well as colleagues and friends, especially when they hit difficult patches.  In one scene Billy Chapel talks to a young player named Mickey Hart (played by Greer Barnes) who made a boneheaded play on a fly ball against the “Green Monster” in Boston.  The young man knows that his flub will be all over the news and chapel advises him:  There’s a bunch of cameras out there right now waiting to make a joke of this, Mick. So you can either stop, give them the sound bite, do the dance. Or you can hold your head up and walk by, and the next time we’re in Boston, we’ll go out there and work the wall together. Don’t help them make a joke out of you.” When I see young guys get in trouble or make mistakes I want to help them get back on their feet, especially the young chaplains and medical professionals that come into my life.

What is funny is that I am as old or older than most of our young Sailors and Marines parents.   I’ve been in the military since before many of the Sailors and Marines were born.  In a sense I’m a Crash Davis and Billy Chapel kind of guy. I want to finish well and have my last season be my best, to go out like Mike Mussina when he retired from the Yankees.

My career isn’t done yet. I should have a few more good years left. I’ll be promoted on September 1st to Commander in the Navy.

I love both films and characters and find a new connection every time that I watch them. I think that it is important when we have lived the often disconnected military life that we find things that help connect us to the people closest to us, those who have often have had to endure our choice of vocation.  Somehow in Her grace the Deity Herself allowed me to find this in baseball and somehow relate it to the rest of my life.  After all, it is for the Love of the Game.

Peace, Steve+

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An Evening in the Minor Leagues with Carl Long

Me with Carl Long

On Friday, after a long and stressful week at work I decided to head to Kinston to see a ball game.  It was a rough week, my staff and I dealt with the death of an 11 year old girl that came through our ER on Monday morning.  I found that a Marine that I had served with while serving with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in 2000-2001.  Staff Sergeant Ergin Osman was killed around Memorial Day with 7 of his fellow soldiers in Afghanistan. His death hit me hard.  I remembered the great Marine and wonderful young man that I knew back then.  That night I went out and sat in the light of the half moon and cried. Some other things went on and I finished work Friday caring for a family that lost their unborn baby and knowing that I was going to have to come in during the early morning hours Saturday for another still-birth.  I needed something and for me that “something” is baseball.

So when I was done with work I loaded up my trusty 2001 Honda CR-V and drove from LeJeune to Kinston. The trip across rural Eastern North Carolina was relaxing, there was little traffic and despite a passing thunder shower was uneventful, not even a driver doing well less than the speed limit in a no-passing zone to annoy the spit out of me. Eastern North Carolina has its own charm, small towns and settlements dot the farm fields and forests of the area. It is not uncommon to drive by a former plantation or to pass gas stations and country stores that seem to have stopped in time.

Kinston is one of those towns that have seen better times, the outsourcing of the garment industry to Central America and Asia has hit the town hard.  While a budding aviation industry promises better times many of the poorer and less educated people in the city have little opportunity.  While there are some very nice areas in town the central part of the city, especially downtown shows the real effect of what economic damage has been done to our country by the actions of industries to relocate overseas and actions by successive administrations and congresses to help them abandon Americans in order to increase profits.

However Kinston has had a team in the Carolina League for years and Minor League Baseball has been in the city continuously since 1937, with a four year break between 1958 and 1962 when the Kinston Eagles became part of the Coastal Plains League.  Grainger Stadium was built in 1946. The team became part of the Carolina League in 1956. Over the years the Kinston team has had various affiliations with Major League teams as well as various names.  The Team was called the Eagles until 1982 when they became the Blue Jays until 1986 when they again became the Eagles. Then in 1986 they became the affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, a relationship that they maintain until this day. Before the 2011 season it was announced that the team had been sold and was being moved to Zebulon North Carolina to replace the Carolina Mudcats which are moving to Pensacola Florida. The team owner is seeking to bring another team to Kinston in time for the 2012 season.  It will be a sad day if a team cannot be found to bring to Kinston which has one of the nicest parks in Class “A” ball.

I got to the game and was able to relax talking with new friends and moving around the ballpark to take pictures. When I moved back to the first base line I saw a man that I had watched a game with earlier in the year in his season ticket box. John is a retired Navy Supply Corps Officer and really nice to spend time with. This particular evening he was sitting beside a heavy set older African American man wearing a Negro League cap.  I came up and John invited me to sit with them and I got to meet the man, Carl Long.

Carl had played ball in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Barons and played with Willie Mays and for legendary manager Buck O’Neal and he was the first black player in the Carolina League playing with the Kinston Eagles when they were with the Pittsburgh Pirate organization.  In 1956 he led the team in home runs with 18, hit .299 and had 111 RBIs a season record that still stands in Kinston.

It was really nice just to be able to listen and to spend time with one of those great men of the Negro Leagues and pioneers of baseball integration. He played with Mays, McCovey, Clemente and against Aaron and even country and western singer Charlie Pride.  He played on a number of minor league teams until the end of 1957.  He was 22 years old and had a lot of good years left in him but he had married the woman of his dreams and he elected to settle in Kinston with her.  They are still married and went on to become the first black deputy Sheriff and first black Detective on the Kinston Police Department and even the first black commercial bus driver.

Carl is part of the Living Legends of surviving Negro League players and makes many appearances, the most recent at Rickwood Field in Birmingham the oldest ballpark in the country and home of the Barons.  He will be honored on July 22nd in Kinston with other Negro League players, including Sam Allen who I know from Norfolk.

I plan on visiting more with Carl as I enjoyed the man immensely. When he found my interesting in baseball history and the Negro Leagues he gave me an autographed baseball card.

I drove home through the night feeling much better even knowing that I would be called in to deal with sad situations at the hospital, but once again I was blessed to have the opportunity to spend time with Carl and John and to meet some other really nice people.

Thank God for baseball and the Church of Baseball, Grainger Stadium Parish.

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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