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Padre Steve’s Tour Guide: The Jim “Catfish” Hunter Museum, Hertford North Carolina

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“He was very low key, a very warm person. He treated everybody the same. If you were an extra man or you were a star, it didn’t matter. Just a down-to-earth guy.” Sal Bando

In Perquimans Country in Eastern North Carolina just off US Highway 17 lies the town of Hertford. The town has was incorporated in 1758 as the county seat for Perquimans county. A lumber town it is about an one hour drive from Norfolk Virginia and under 15 minutes from Elizabethtown North Carolina.

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The traveller who remains on US 17 misses out on the beauty of the town, though not an Interstate Highway, the main route 17 provides the unknowing traveller no reason to think of the treasures that lie within the little town of just over 2100 inhabitants. However, to those that are willing to get off of the main highway the little town is a throwback to a period and time much like the fictional Mayberry of the Andy Griffith Show.

The town is the location of the one of a kind swing “S” bridge in the United States on which North Carolina Highway 37 crosses the Perquimans River. It is the site of a 1825 Federal Style courthouse and a number of Colonial Queen Anne Revival homes. It is also the place where the great American Disc Jockey “Wolfman Jack” made his home, died and is buried.

But to the baseball faithful the little town is the home of a baseball legend, Jim “Catfish” Hunter who died there at the age of 53 in September 1999 to the ravages of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) commonly known as Lou Gerhig’s disease.

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Hunter grew up in Hertford where he was a star baseball and football player at Perquimans County High School. His talents led Charlie Finely, the owner of the then Kansas City Athletics to sign him in 1964. Though unable to pitch that year the young Hunter, nicknamed “Catfish” by Finely never played a game in the minors and began his career in the Majors, gaining the first of 224 victories against the Boston Red Sox on July 27th 1965.

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Hunter’s on field performance was nothing short of amazing. At the age of 22 he became the youngest pitcher to pitch a perfect game, the 9th in MLB history on May 8th 1968 against the Minnesota Twins. During the game Hunter was also the hitting star of the game going 3 for 4 with a double and a bunt single RBI that provided the first and what would be the winning run.

In 1975 Hunter signed with the New York Yankees for a landmark 3.75 million dollar 5 year contract. He turned down higher offers from San Diego and Kansas City in order to come back to the East Coast, something that his wife Helen wanted. George Steinbrenner who signed Hunter said of the deal: “Catfish Hunter was the cornerstone of the Yankees’ success over the last quarter century. We were not winning before Catfish arrived. … He exemplified class and dignity and he taught us how to win.”

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Hunter pitched five consecutive twenty game win seasons between 1971 an 1975 with the Athletics and Yankees. He was a 8 time All-Star, 5 time World Series Champion and he won the AL Cy Young award in 1974. I had the pleasure as a kid of seeing him pitch in person on a number of occasions during his time with the Athletics, the first time against the Angels in Anaheim in 1970 and also during the 1972 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers in Oakland.

My visit to the Jim “Catfish” Hunter Museum in Hertford was something that I have wanted to do for a couple of years. In Hertford Hunter is still affectionately known as “Jimmy.” This is something that is unique to the people of the area who Hunter was close to. To them, he was and still is “Jimmy” a friend who devoted his life both during and after his baseball career to the people of this quaint town.

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J Sidney “Sid” Eley

Hunter helped raise money for the Lions Club vision program, youth baseball teams and other charities. The stories of his care for his family and community are preserved in the museum, housed in the Perquimans County Chamber of Commerce Building in downtown Hertford. The museum which was founded 10 years after Hunter’s death in 1999 houses various items from Hunter’s life and career, most of which are donated or on loan. J. Sidney “Sid” Eley, the Executive Director of the Chamber, who knew Hunter, taught his children and worked with him over the years spent nearly an hour with me telling me the stories of the man that he and this community lovingly remember simply as “Jimmy.”

To most baseball fans Hunter is remembered as a great player. However, to his friends and neighbors in Hertford he was much more. He was a mentor, friend and helper. His unexpected death in 1999 shook the community and the baseball world, especially his former teammates, a number of whom quickly changed their schedules to be in Hertford to be with Jimmy’s family.   Former teammates present included Lou Piniella, who was then managing the Seattle Mariners, who missed his team’s game in Baltimore to attend the service at Cedarwood Cemetery. Other former teammates who attended the funeral included former A’s Joe Rudi, Vida Blue, Gene Tenace and “Blue Moon” Odom, and Yankees Ron Guidry, Jim Spencer and Reggie Jackson, who took a cab from Norfolk to get to the funeral on time. Attended by over 1000 people the funeral was the largest in the history of Hertford.

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If you are in the area it is a trip worth taking, not because the museum is overwhelming like the Baseball Hall of Fame or other baseball museums that reside in larger baseball cities. However, it is a museum that allows the humanity and goodness of Jimmy Hunter to shine through, even above his on field accomplishments, of which Mr Eley is well versed in telling. I enjoyed my visit to it and my time with Mr Eley tremendously. As a fan of the game who saw “Catfish” pitch in person as a kid it helped me see him as not just a ballplayer or a victim of ALS, but as a man who sought nothing more than taking care of his family, helping his community and the people who entered his life, from the most powerful to the most humble. Reggie Jackson said of Hunter that “He was a fabulous human being. He was a man of honor. He was a man of loyalty.”

It is open from 9:30-4:30 Monday through Friday or by appointment. It is located at 118 Market Street in Hertford. The museum can be contacted at (252) 426-5657 and the website is www.visitperquimans.com

Two short but interesting television segments about the museum are provided in the links below.

http://www.bladi8.tv/watch_A61hEGlrwao_-_NC-WEEKEND-%7C-Jim–Catfish–Hunter-Museum-%7C-UNC-TV.html

http://www.wral.com/lifestyles/travel/video/8260577/#/vid8260577

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Dominator 2011: Verlander voted AL MVP

2011 AL MVP Justin Verlander

For the first time in 25 years a starting pitcher was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League. Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers was named the American League MVP today in as convincing manner as he pitched during the season.

The last time a starting pitcher won this honor was in 1986 when a young up and coming Roger Clemens won it as a member of the Boston Red Sox.  The last time a pitcher won the ward was in 1992 when Dennis Eckersley won it as a closer for the Oakland Athletics.  It was the first time since 1984 that a pitcher won the MVP as well as the Cy Young award.  In winning both in the same season Verlander joined Brooklyn Dodgers’ great Don Newcombe who won them in 1956, Los Angeles Dodgers’ legend Sandy Koufax who did it in 1963, St. Louis Cardinals’ great Bob Gibson and Detroit’s Denny McLain who led pitchers in both leagues in 1968, Oakland’s Vida Blue in 1971, Rollie Fingers who won it as a relief pitcher for the Milwaukee Brewers in 1981 and Detroit’s Willie Hernandez who did so in 1984.

It is unusual that a pitcher wins the MVP. Part of the equation is that starting pitchers are not every day players and even like relief pitchers who may appear several times a week.  Because of this a starting pitcher must be absolutely dominating in all aspects of his game and do so in such a way that their team’s success is in large part attributable to their play.  This was the case with Verlander who dominated pitching this year.

Verlander’s accomplishments speak for themselves.  He went 25-4 in 34 starts, had a ERA of 2.40, held opposing teams to a .192 team batting average, struck out 250 batters while walking just 57 men.  His Walks/Hits inning pitched WHIP was a tiny 0.92.  He led every competitive category for pitching in the American League and  for that matter led all pitchers in wins and strikeouts during the season.  To top things off Verlander also had a no-hitter against Toronto coming a walk from a perfect game and he won 12 consecutive games leading the Tigers to their first division title since 1987.

The was no player in baseball that was as valuable to their team or as dominant as Verlander this year.  That may be a hard sell for those that believe that pitchers should not be considered for the MVP since they are not every day players but the numbers support Verlander’s selection as the 2011 American League Most Valuable Player.  His competition among American League position players could make no such claim, while excellent ballplayers none was such a standout that they had any real chance of winning.

Congratulations on a job well done!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Baseball News: Awards, CBA, Player and Manager Moves…Why the Off Season Matters

“You win pennants in the off season when you build your teams with trades and free agents.” Earl Weaver

The World Series is in the past but the baseball world is abuzz with awards, trades, free agent offers and the possibility of a reorganization of the Major Leagues and even a new five year Collective Bargaining Agreement deal between the players union and the league.  Baseball it seems has become the model of stability and sensibility in the American sporting world.  Even as I write the Owners and GMs are meeting in Milwaukee and the Winter meetings are just over the horizon.  This is where teams are built and where the seeds of future pennants are planted.

One has to admit that the 2012 baseball season was something to behold. The record comebacks of the Rays and Cardinals and epic collapses of the Braves and Red Sox in the final month of the season that led to one of the most if not the most memorable regular season endings in baseball history.  The storybook season of the Arizona Diamondbacks going from worst to first in the NL West was another amazing story.

Awards for outstanding achievement are being given out; Tigers Pitcher Justin Verlander won the American League Cy Young Award on a unanimous ballot.  Diamondbacks Manager Kirk Gibson won the National League Manager of the Year award for leading his team to a Division Championship and Rays Manager Joe Maddon who brought his team back from the abyss to reach the playoffs on the last day of the regular season won the American League Manager of the Year.  The National League Rookie of the Year award went to the Atlanta Braves reliever Craig Kimbrel and Rays starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson took the American League award.  The National League Cy Young still remains as well as the Most Valuable Player awards.

The Cubs and Red Sox are still shopping for managers while the Cardinals chose former catcher Mike Matheny to fill the shoes left by Tony LaRussa who retired after the miraculous finish that led to a Word Series Championship.  Pitching Coach Dave Duncan, LaRussa’s long time right hand man remains as does Hitting Coach Mark McGwire.  Former Red Sox Manager Terry Francona announced today that he will not manage in 2012 something that most baseball experts agree is a good choice.   I agree considering how exhausted Francona appeared after the end of the season and his firing.  The Orioles have a new General Manager, Dan Duquette who replaced Andy McPhail and Red So GM Theo Epstein went to the Cubs in the hopes of reversing the curse.  There are reports tonight that the Cubs will sign Dale Sveum as their new Manager.

It looks as if the sale of the Houston Astros will go through and with it the team’s move to the American League. This will balance the leagues at 15 teams each and allow for year round inter-league play and is part of the new CBA which reportedly could be signed as early as Friday.  The CBA is actually remarkable considering the great consternation caused by the NFL lockout and the probable loss of an entire NBA season due to failures to resolve collective bargaining agreements.  The baseball negotiation process has been fireworks free and negotiators from the owners and player’s union seem to remember the damage caused by the 1994 strike and what happened in the NFL and NBA seems to have learned the lessons of history.

Some of the big free agents look like they could be on the move and one, Red Sox Closer Jonathan Papelbon signed a contract with the Phillies while the Miami Marlins are making serious bids for St Louis First Baseman Albert Pujols and Met’s Shortstop Jose Reyes.  Brewers First Baseman Cecil Fielder is on the market and the Yankees appear to be looking for pitching support to complement their ace C C Sabathia who the re-signed. Plenty of other big name free agents remain to be signed and it will be interesting to see where they all land.

Even though there are no games being played in the Major Leagues baseball is making news and in the process showing how important the off season is to the regular season.  This is going to be an exciting off season for baseball and bodes well for the upcoming regular season.  What a great game.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s World Series Prediction: Tortureball Continues Giants in Seven

We Baseball fans it is that time, time to pick the winner of the World Series.  This series is very interesting because no-one saw this series coming. Perhaps it is the bias of many sports writers to the East Coast that had most predicting a Yankees-Phillies matchup.  Regardless the Rangers and the Giants are in the series and both teams are looking to break long term World Series droughts the Giants going back to 1954 when they were still in New York at the Polo Grounds and the rangers to their establishment in 1961 as the expansion Washington Senators.

The teams go into the series with similar regular season records the Rangers finishing the regular season 90-72 and defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 in the NLDS and the New York Yankees 4-2 in the ALCS to get to the World Series.  The Rangers have some outstanding players the most notable being Cliff Lee (12-9 3.18 ERA) and slugger Josh Hamilton.  They are backed by some other outstanding players such as starting pitcher Tommy Hunter (13-4 3.78 ERA), Shortstop Elvis Andrus and Outfielder Nelson Cruz as well as their young closer Neftali Feliz (4-3 2.37 ERA 40 Saves).   The Rangers had a team batting average of .276 a .338 OBP a .419 SLG and .757 OPS.  The Rangers hit 162 home runs and scored 787 runs in the regular season led by Josh Hamilton who hit .359 with 32 home runs and 100 RBIs.  Lead by Cliff Lee the Rangers’ pitching staff had a 3.93 team ERA allowing 636 Earned Runs and 162 Home Runs while giving up 551 Walks, 24 Intentional Walks and striking out 1181.    The Rangers’ pitchers allowed an average 8.4 hits, 1.0 Home Runs, 3.4 Walks and 7.3 Strikeouts per 9 innings. Cliff Lee who dominates other clubs has done so with the Giants in the past but has not faced them this year.  Lee is 3-0 with 1.13 ERA in three career starts against San Francisco while holding Giants to a .159 batting average.  The last time Lee faced the Giants was with the Phillies in 2009 and Cody Ross has had success against Lee. The Rangers committed 105 errors and a .982 fielding percentage.

The Giants finished the season 92-70 and defeated the Atlanta Braves 3-1 in the NLDS and the Philadelphia Phillies 4-2 in the NLCS.  The key to the Giants success has been their pitching which was led by great young starters including two time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum (16-10 3.43 ERA 231 Ks) as well as the excellent Matt Cain (31-11 3.14 ERA 177 Ks) and Jonathan Sanchez (13-9 3.07 ERA 205Ks) and Rookie Madison Bumgarner (7-6 3.00 87 Ks).  The Giants also have a topflight bullpen which is anchored by closer Brian Wilson (3-3 1.81 ERA and 48 Saves). Their offense has not been their strong suit but on occasion they have had good run production and have managed to get timely hits all through the season to allow them to win many low scoring games which were dominated by Giants pitching. The Giants hit 162 Home Runs, had 687 RBIs and had a team .257 batting average, a .321 OBP, .408 SLG and .729 OPS. Their leading hitter was Aubrey Huff who hit .290 with 26 Home Runs and 86 RBIs and rookie Catcher Buster Posey who was called up from Triple-A Fresno on May 31st and hit .305 with 18 Home Runs and 67 RBIs.  Their pitching staff had a 3.36 team ERA and allowed 546 Earned Runs, 134 Home Runs, 578 walks, 58 Intentional Walks while striking out 1331 batters.  They gave up an average 7.9 hits, 0.8 Home Runs, 3.6 walks and averaged 8.2 strikeouts per 9 innings. In addition the Giants led the National League in fielding allowing only 73 errors for a .988 fielding percentage.

One possibly overlooked statistic is their records against common opponents. They played the Red Sox, Orioles, Cubs Marlins, Astros, Brewers, Athletics, Pirates and Blue Jays. The Rangers went 37 and 30 and a .552 winning percentage. The Giants went 33 and 18 against the same opponents for a .647 winning percentage. The Giants also have the home field advantage, a ballpark that is not a hitter’s park where they had a 49-32 record in 2010. The Giants lead the all-time series against Texas 15-7 and have won last seven meetings (2001-09). The Rangers have lost 11 in a row in San Francisco, where they are 2-12.

I expect this to be a close series and for Giants pitching to do better in shutting down the Rangers than the anemic Yankees’ pitching staff of the Rays especially in San Francisco. I expect Cliff Lee to pitch well but I don’t think that he will be the same factor that he was against the Yankees in the 2009 World Series or the 2010 ALCS. I expect that the Giants will continue to get the key hits and defensive plays coupled with solid pitching in tight games and because of how they have played all year. Add to this the habit of Giants’ Manager Bruce Bochy to make the right moves at the right time as he has seemingly done since the beginning of September. The Rangers have not had to face the caliber of pitching that the Giants can throw at them and I believe like Earl Weaver said “The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.”

Both teams have had amazing seasons with tremendous stories of comebacks as well as stories of personal redemption. There is also the story of a band of cast offs, and a pack of eccentric pitchers that do amazing things. Giants win in seven games of Giants’ Baseball, better known as “torture-ball” for their first World Series title since 1954.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Beating Bartolo Colon

bartolo colonBartolo Colon Pitching at Norfolk 19 July 2009

Tonight the Tides beat the Knights of Charlotte 4-3 defeating Chicago White Sox pitcher Bartolo Colon.  Colon who has pitched in two All Star Games, won the Cy Young Award in 2005 with the Angelsby going 21-8 with a 3,48 ERA  and is in the 100 MPH club was pitching in a Rehab start against the Tides.  He was rocked on the second pitch of the game by Tides Shortstop Blake Davis who went yard to the right field picnic area.  The Tides scored a second run that inning and in the bottom of the 5th nJeff Fiorentino who hit a three run shot last night went yard again with a two run blast off Colon.  Colon took the loss while Andy Mitchell pitched 7 inning for the Tides improving to 8-2 on the year.  I was fortunate to get two great photos tonight one of Colon pitching and one of Fiorentino’s home run.

Fiorentino HR against ColonTides OF Jeff Fiorentino Going Yard Against Bartolo Colon at Norfolk 19 July 2009, this would be the winning hit

Peace, Steve+

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