Tag Archives: george steinbrenner

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

377733_10151531345957059_356389521_n

“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.

6003_10151531357927059_1037856475_n

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.

catfish-hunter-si-cover

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.

72656_10151531353027059_1949414273_n

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.”

554014_10151531351062059_1735109262_n

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.

559809_10151531355632059_1051484897_n

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.

6313_1017084123

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+

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Baseball

The Unbelievable Implosion of a Storied Baseball Franchise

At one time the Los Angeles Dodgers were one of the most desirable and bulletproof franchises in all of sports. They were one of Major League Baseball’s premier franchises. They had a reputation as pioneers they were the stuff of legends, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snyder, Pee Wee Reese, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Tommy Lasorda, Walter Austin, Kirk Gibson, Steve Garvey, Fernando Valenzuela, and the list can go on ad infinitum especially for a Dodgers hating San Francisco Giants fan like yours truly.

But today something that a couple of years back I could never have imagined. Today Dodgers’ owner and destroyer Frank “I love my MLB ATM” McCourt declared bankruptcy. For me it was like the Soviet Union going tango-uniform to end the Cold War back in 1989. It’s unseemly, it’s unsightly and it’s undignified. My goodness the man and his equally despotic ex-wife Jamie bought the team with none of their own money and took loans totally hundreds of millions of dollars from the team as well as turned the team into their own realm of nepotism. The hired their sons at over half a million dollars a year, they paid the former Mrs. McCourt a million a year, they set up multiple expensive residences and they hired a psychic for a pretty price to guide their decisions, well I guess if Nancy Reagan could why not them. Now that couldn’t have been a good experience after all have you ever heard of a “happy Medium?”

They even signed Manny Ramirez who by the way is now their number one creditor. I mean this is embarrassing; multiple pops for performance enhancing drugs, declining stats, injuries and all the Manny baggage.  The ridded themselves of Dodger Town in Vero Beach that storied spring training facility that had hosted the Dodgers for over half a century. They bankrupted the team and even took a 30 million dollar personal loan from Fox to meet the May payroll.

Why in the hell Major League Baseball gave them, I said gave them a franchise, especially one like the Dodgers I don’t know. After all what connection did McCourt have to baseball? Well none actually. He was a smooth as freshly laid asphalt parking lot mogul with a propensity toward pomposity. He could talk Hannibal Lector out of Lady Gaga’s drumstick, not that there’s much meat on it but still you get my drift.  And to think that baseball rejected Mark Cuban because they didn’t want a new young Steinbrennerish owner to upset the cart. However despite his antics Cuban is a committed owner who would have done baseball and the Dodgers better than the parking lot Putz. Ask the people in Dallas what they think of him, look what he did to revive a franchise. He used his money and put himself on the line to turn the Mavericks into a winner. He hired good basketball people and got out of the way. He was a face, spokesman and cheerleader and he would have been good for the Dodgers. Los Angeles is big and it loves the outlandish he would have been perfect and he would have used his money not others to do it.

Now Bud Selig and the rest of the baseball establishment will have to figure out to do. If they don’t want Cuban they could pick someone like Steven Spielberg or Bill Gates who have oodles of money and love to spend it on charity cases, which by all counts the Dodgers now are.

I see this as a Giants fan would in light of the Cold War. When the Soviets went tits up the world went crazy. They were the Yang to our Yin. I certainly don’t want baseball to experience anything like the world has gone through since the end of the Cold War. Baseball is about stability not chaos and the McCourts have thrown the Dodgers into chaos which is not good for baseball or America.  They should be taken out and banished to outer Mongolia or some other place that is parking lot deprived.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under Baseball

Pennant Races: Padre Steve Picks the Winners…Maybe

I love all things baseball as the Deity tends to speak to me through this most spiritual of games.  I can’t get around it I am mesmerized by the diamond and the nuances of the game, the sights, sounds, smells, which make up the experience as well as the games within the game.  I live for opening day and the call of Spring Training is my first indication of life returning after the cold desolation of winter and the All-Star Game triggers memories of the past greats and my interaction with the various legends of Baseball.  Tell me if I’m strange but I even get excited about trading deadlines and call-ups of Minor Leaguers in September.  Speaking of September I love the pennant races and this year there are a couple of note.  These are my predictions regarding the teams that I think that will make the playoffs.  Since I am neither the Prophet nor the Son of the Prophet I could be wrong, but I was pretty accurate last year. So here I go again, at least if I get this wrong I won’t be taken outside the city gate and crushed to death with heavy stones, unless someone is actually wagering on games based on my picks.  If that is the case I don’t even want to think about it.

Starting in the American League we have the New York Yankees and the Durham Bulls South, or as they are better known the Tampa Bay Rays.  These are such contrasting franchises; one built around veterans and several future Hall of Fame members and the other full of young raw talent and experienced young players.  They have been in a fight for the division most of the year but especially over the past month. The Yankees are a half game up on the Rays as of today.  With 13 games left for the Yankees and 14 for the Rays this is a tossup. The Yankees and Rays meet this week in a four game series at Yankee Stadium and followed by three games with the Yankees meeting their hated rival Boston Red Sox for a three game set.  The Yankees then travel to Toronto for three against the Blue Jays and finish the season at Fenway Park against the Red Sox.  This is no easy schedule and I expect all three opponents to challenge the Yankees.  The Rays have the easier schedule and this may prove to be the difference if they avoid a sweep at the “House that George Built.” I expect at least a split against the Yankees but they then go home to play three with the Mariners and three with the Orioles at the Trop. I don’t see much trouble with the Mariners but the Orioles under Buck “play to win every game” Showalter could play the spoiler if the Rays are not careful. They then travel west to Kansas City where they should do well and end the regular season.

AL East Winner

My prediction: Rays win 9 of 14 to finish at 98-64, while the Yankees will win just 7 of 13 to finish at 97-65 to give the Rays the East by a game. The Yankees will be in the playoffs but as the Wild Card. The Orioles extra innings win on Sunday in Baltimore will prove to be more significant than most would expect. The Yankees need to take 3 of 4 from the Rays to give them the edge down the final stretch, if they can do this they have a chance to tie or win the division outright. The Rays have to split in New York and not allow any of the bottom dwellers that they face to surprise them and I think that the O’s just may play spoiler.

AL Central Winner

AL West Winner

In the AL Central the Twins have the division all but won with a magic number of just 4 over the seconds place White Sox who trail them by 10 games. In the West the same is true of the Rangers who have a magic number of 6 over the second place Athletics who sit 9 games behind the Twinkies.

AL East Spoiler?

Going on the senior circuit we begin in the National League East where the Phillies and the Braves have been going at it all year.  In the Phillies lead the East by 3 games over the Braves and have a magic number of 10.  The Phillies are hot and the Braves have struggled the last few weeks. The Phillies have 12 games left of which 6 are against the Braves.  The Braves have to take 4 of those 6 games to stay in the race.  The Phillies face the Braves beginning tonight at home for a three game set and then face the rather pathetic excuse for a team called the New York Minaya’s I mean New York Mets.  However the Mets are blood rivals of the Phillies so I don’t expect them to go down easily nor do I give them much of a chance.  The Phillies then hit the road for 3 games against the rather hapless Nationals in Washington before travelling to Atlanta to face the Braves in the in final three games of the season.

NL East Winner

My prediction: I see Philly winning 8 of 12, splitting with the Braves and taking 5 of 6 from the Minaya’s and the Nats. The Braves as I said need to take at least 4 of six to stay in the race and win out against both Washington and the Florida Marlins and even then they need help in order for the Phillies to lose at least 6 of their last 12 games. I don’t see that happening. In fact if the Phillies dominate the Braves and the Braves split their games with the Nats and the Marlins then they may not even reach the Wild Card. Bobby Cox and crew have their job cut out over the next two weeks.

NL Central Winner

In the National League Central the “who are those guys?” Cincinnati Reds hold a 6 game lead over the perennial NL Central leader St Louis Cardinals and have a magic number of 8 to clinch the Division.  The Cardinals have been unable to buy wins of late and their August collapse totally surprised me as it has everyone else. The Reds have 6 games against the Brewers, 3 against the Astros and 3 against the floundering Padres.  The Cardinals actually have the easier schedule with 6 against the perpetual owners of the MLB Marianas Trench, the Pittsburg Pirates and 3 games against their rival the Chicago “we ain’t ever going to win the World Series” Cubs and 3 against the red hot Colorado Rockies.  They did not help matters losing a make-up game to the Marlins today. This made the Reds magic number 7 and that much harder for the Cardinals to get back in the race.

NL West Winner

We go now to the NL West where the San Francisco Giants lead their rivals the San Diego Padres by a half a game and the red hot Colorado Rockies by a game and a half.  The Giants have a magic number of 13 but in a race this close that will change day to day. The Rockies schedule provides them opportunity should they stay hot and their opponents cooperate.  They play the Arizona Diamondbacks in Arizona for a three game set and go home to play three against San Francisco followed by three against the Evil Dodgers before finishing the season in St. Louis against the Cardinals. My guess is that the should take two of three or sweep the Diamondbacks, split their series against the Giants and probably sweep the Evil Dodgers even though right now I would prefer that the Dodgers sweep them. I guess I am like Winston Churchill in saying that he would become an ally of the Devil if the Devil was against Hitler. The final three games against the Cardinals could spoil the hopes of the Rockies because I think that the Cardinals have far too much organizational pride to go down easy. As a result I think that the Rockies go 7 of 12 to end the season.  The Padres have struggled of late and I think this will continue.  The Friars play the Evil Dodgers and I think that this series is a tossup with the Dodgers possibly taking 2 of 3 games. They then go home to face the Reds and I think that the Big Red Machine will take 2 of 3 at Petco Park. The Padres then play against the Cubs who just might take 1 of 3 from the Padres. The Padres finish their season against the Giants in PacBell Park and I think that the Giants take 2 of 3 at home.  As a result I think that the Padres go 5 of 12 to end the season.  The Giants face the Cubs for a three game set which they should sweep or take 2 of 3. They then go against the Rockies where I think they will go 1 and 2. The then face the Diamondbacks and I believe that they go 2 of 3 against them before ending the season in San Francisco against the Padres where they take 2 of 3. T believe that the Giants go 7 of 12 and take the West by 1 and a half games above the Rockies with the Padres fading to third two and a half games back.

My prediction is that the Giants take the west by a game and a half over the Rockies with the Padres fading back to third.  Despite this the division could go to any of the three teams as none have any margin for error and it is likely that the team that remains hot will win the division. My prediction which is primarily based on how the teams are doing right now coupled with their schedule is that the Giants will win, but I could be wrong on this as a grounder with eyes, a bloop single or a booted ground ball could be the difference in a critical game that could decide the race. Id the Braves falter I believe that whatever team finished second in the NL West will be the Wild Card in the NL. I do not think this will happen based on the schedules but stranger things have happened.

Now here are my predictions:

AL Wild Card

American League: AL West- Rangers, AL Central- Twins, AL East Rays, Wild Card- Yankees.

NL Wild Card

National League: NL West Giants, NL Central- Reds, NL East- Phillies, Wild Card- Braves

We’ll see if I am as good as I was last year, but wait I didn’t start making predictions until the playoffs last year. Even if I’m wrong about these I can redeem myself by doing what I did last year in the playoffs and World Series.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball

The Orioles Take Flight: The Showalter Era Takes Hold

Buck Showalter, a New Sheriff is in Town (Reuters Photo)

On August 3rd the Baltimore Orioles had a record of 32 and 73 and appeared to be heading not only for a 100 loss season but very possibly 110 or more losses.  Under Manager Dave Trembley and Interim Manager Juan Samuel they had lost 52 games before they had won 20.  It was a dismal record for a team that was demoralized and without real leadership.  Trembley and Samuel were both gentlemen and loyal organization people.  They were both popular with players but could not inspire them to win.

The organization was not only a losing organization of the field but in all departments except the minor league system. Unfortunately the promising prospects coming out of the minors entered a clubhouse where losing was accepted as a way of life presided over by an owner who did nothing to promote winning and spent no money to get All-Star caliber veterans to help provide leadership to the team. Instead of hiring top quality managers they settled for second and third tier managers for years, men who were good guys but terribly lackluster leaders and not Major League caliber managers.

The Orioles at that point seemed to be a franchise on the brink of an unrecoverable death spiral. In my times at Harbor Park last season and this season Elliott the Usher and I would spend much time together and muse about how if we ran the Orioles that things would be different.  As we talked about how to solve the problems of the world, in particular those of the Orioles I finally said that it was not the talent. I felt last season and this season that with the talent available at the Major League level as well as what the Orioles had in their farm system that they should at least be a .500 team this year.  But for the first two thirds of the season that was not the case and I told Elliott at the end of April that it was not the players but on field leadership that was the problem. I thought the Dave Trembley was a nice guy and a good minor league manager but that I felt that he had not been able to step up his game to the Major League level.  In fact I commented back on September 29th 2009 that I thought that Trembley needed to go.

“The one spot that I think that the team needs a change is the Field Manager Dave Trembley.  Trembley seems to be a good teacher but is not terribly inspirational.  Admittedly he began the year with a weak squad but something is not working and I do like his calm, but I wonder if the teams needs fire rather than calm right now.” See Oh, Oh, Oh, O’s….The Orioles Skid Continues But there are Some Bright Spots

I repeated this when the O’s had lost 9 of their first 10 games this season. Last year I was looking at Bobby Valentine as a potential manager having forgotten that Showalter was available. At the time that Trembley was fired the Orioles had a 15 and 39 record, the word by far in the majors with a pitiful .278 winning percentage. This did not improve much under Samuel who had served under Trembley as the Third Base Coach.  Samuel had a 17 and 24 record as the Orioles interim skipper with a cumulative .305 winning percentage. Most people doubted that Showalter do much with this year’s team but they were wrong. Drew Forrester wrote: As I wrote earlier this week, if I had to place a bet, I’d bet AGAINST you because history has shown that no one can turn this thing around in Baltimore…because management and ownership don’t want to do what it takes to win. But I’m really pulling for you, because I think you’re exactly what we need in Baltimore.”

I remember when Showalter was hired and I took a look at his track record. He has been successful at every team that he has managed. In fact he was in large part responsible for building the Yankees team that Joe Torre would lead to 4 World Series Championships. He did the same foundation laying work in Arizona with the Diamondbacks.  I would dare say that without Showalter building the foundation that Joe Torre might have been about as successful in New York as he was with Mets, Braves, Cardinals or Dodgers.  All of Torre’s championships came with the Yankees. I believe that this was in large part due to the acumen of Showalter and the willingness of George Steinbrenner for big name player as well as building up an excellent Minor League system to spend the money needed to produce a winner. When I saw Showalter begin to manage the O’s I knew that he would change things and that the team would start producing.  Since he took over the Orioles have won 25 and lost 15 and for the first time since 2008 had two consecutive winning road trips.  They have the second best record in the American League during this time period behind the Minnesota Twins.  The Orioles are now beating the teams of the AL East and in the past week have taken 2 of three each from the Rays, Yankees and as of tonight the Blue Jays who they will play again tomorrow.

The Orioles hitting has come alive and their starting pitchers who had been beaten about by about everyone in baseball made a turn as well.  It is interesting to look at Orioles player’s reactions after Showalter took over. Center Fielder Adam Jones said: “I think what’s really going on is everyone knows his reputation as a hard-ass. He’s going to get on you for doing this; he’s going to say something about everything. I think that’s actually worked. Hey, let’s get it done. You might as well. You don’t want him on you. I think that’s the approach a lot of guys are taking. Hey, let him sit in there with that scowl. If it works, it works.”

“It’s just that his presence, well, you can just feel the change coming. He’s been on some winning ballclubs, he knows what it takes. Everybody knows his reputation around here. They know it as someone who’s going to get on you, and it’s working for us.”

Showalter and his hard driving style, ability to get the most out of players and develop young talent is already remaking the Orioles. Any observe can sense that this team, which before Showalter’s arrival was described by Forrester as “a lot of people — players, coaches and management — who have done nothing but LOSE in their respective careers in Baltimore…  Pick a player on the team.  I don’t care what his name is or what his stats show, I can guarantee you this:  He’s contributed to LOSING during his time here.  Guys who won elsewhere in their career – like Tejada and Millwood – show up here…and start losing.  It’s the “Oriole Way”.

That has changed. As of tonight they have won 4 consecutive series for the first time since 2004.  The Orioles have made one of the most dramatic end of season turnarounds in recent memory.  Players universally talk about Showalter’s tough expectations and the difference in the clubhouse. They now believe that they can win any game against any team that they play.

The starting pitching is one department where things have changed When Showalter arrived; the rotation of Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta had a combined record of 15-45 with a 5.50 earned run average. As of September 7th under Showalter, those pitchers are 15-11 with a 3.23 E.R.A.

The expectations are high. Ty Wigginton commented ”This is our manager….You’ve got his track record, and everybody knows that Buck knows how to win. That speaks for itself with a lot of guys. Let’s wait and see, but I think for some of the younger players, it kind of opened their eyes to realize: I’ve got to start getting this right.”

Brian Matusz commented: ”You can’t just walk over us….We’re playing good baseball right now. We’re doing all the little things right. It’s fun to come out and beat teams in our division and continue this streak that we have.”

The Orioles management has stated that the off season will be very busy. There will be a lot of moves and hard evaluation of talent. There is a new sheriff in town, and his name is Buck. I expect that the Orioles will now be a factor in the AL East.  I do not expect them to be the “Washington Generals” of the division and they will make the East a very interesting division next year as teams that were used to getting 10-15 wins at their expense will have to fight the Orioles at every step of the way. It will be fun to watch the Orioles the rest of this season and next year as they take flight as they have not in the last 14 years.

This could well be the start of something good.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles

A Tangled Mass of Emotions: Dad, the Boss, an ICU Death and the All-Star Game

The Big “A” that I knew

I am a mess the past day or so. Not that anything is bad or going wrong it is just that emotionally I am a mess.  As I try to get back into normal life I find emotions brought up by my dad’s death three weeks ago going all over the place.  Today was so strange; it actually began a couple of days ago when I finished the third chapter of my series on “Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11” entitled “A Death, a Rain Delay and a Visit from Saint Pete.” Since my dad’s death due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease I have experienced number of things that sent my emotions into overload because they somehow connected with dad and his death.  Over the past couple of days these intense emotional surges, I cannot call them swings because they are not swings, I am not going between depression and elation but rather experiencing strong emotional impulses as things remind me of my dad or of childhood.  I know that I am okay because grief and the emotions that follow the loss of a parent particularly your father if you are the oldest son are guaranteed to mess with you. They are normal, I am a highly trained pastoral caregiver but since I am not a Vulcan but a Romulan with probably a bit of Klingon mixed in the emotional surges that well up from under my normally cold and logical exterior are a real bitch, no wonder the Romulans wage war with such ferocity and the Klingons appear to be in a perpetually foul mood.  But I digress…

The past couple of weeks have been weird because I never know when something is going to trigger emotions that remind me of my dad.  Much of this of course revolves around baseball as it was my dad that taught me to love the game and through the connection between baseball and dad there has been, even when he was no longer himself due to the ravages of Alzheimer’s something that brought a sense of stability and peace to life, even when I was a post-Iraq PTSD mess.

Now I am a mess again as things that I see, hear and experience things that bring me back to dad.  At this moment my excrement is together but I have no idea what or when the next emotional surge will hit and I will be blubbering like I girl, not that there is anything wrong with that.

The past few days are a case in point. I went to Harbor Park on both Saturday and Sunday and had a great time, at the same time I felt like my dad was there. He never came to Norfolk during my time here because of his physical and deteriorating mental state but now since his death it almost feels like he is there with me.  I went to work Monday and had the on-call overnight duty at the Medical Center and was doing pretty well but in the late afternoon I was called for a cardiac arrest of an 81 year old man and off and on throughout the evening was called back as he continued to get worse to take care of his family, a wife of 63 years and a son a couple of years old than me.  I really wanted this man to live but it became apparent as the night wore on that he would not survive the night and his wife asked me to perform the Sacrament of Healing or what some used to refer to as “Last Rights” which I did with she and her son present using the rite form the Book of Common Prayer.  With his condition somewhat stable I went to our call room where I attempted to get a little rest on the bed from hell.   Of course getting to sleep on said bed is difficult at best and since when I am on duty the hyper vigilance factor is real and present it takes a while to get to sleep.  About 0215 my fitful sleep was interrupted by the pager going off and with it the message to come back to the ICU as the patient was dying.  I went back and was with the family when he died and until they left the building about 0315.

The next morning or rather later in the morning, but not much later I was back up and preparing for a meeting across the bay at the VA Medical Center. While I prepared I found out that George Steinbrenner had died.  When I felt the emotions well up in me, especially while I was watching ESPN’s Sports Center and various players, managers and other sports figures were interviewed about the Boss the emotions started coming in waves, funny how that happens.  As I reflect on this I guess it is because in many ways my dad and Steinbrenner were similar, passionate, outspoken, driven but also caring and good fathers who often showed compassion to others but in a private manner. Now my dad was not a fan of Steinbrenner or the Yankees, but the Boss engendered such emotions in people, positive and negative I am not surprised my dad had little regard for the American League after all he was a National League man.  When I heard Derek Jeter, Joe Morgan, Paul O’Neil and so many others talk of their relationship with Steinbrenner I laughed, cried and reflected on dad.  Strange connection but a connection anyway.

Photo Day 1970 with Angels Manager “Lefty” Phillips

Later in the evening I went to Gordon Biersch for a salad, beer and to watch some of the Major League Baseball All-Star game which was being played at the home of the Los Angeles Angels, at one time th California Angels, Anaheim Stadium, the place where more than any my dad taught me a love and respect of the game of Baseball.  As I looked at this cathedral of baseball, now expanded and Disneyfied since I was a child shagging foul balls and collecting autographs I was taken back in time.  I remember the very first game that dad took us to at Anaheim Stadium as it was then known as the “Big A” like it was yesterday, July 4th 1970 the day after Clyde Wright pitched a no-hitter. On this day the Angels did not win, the A’s won 7-4.  I saw the first major league home runs that I can remember seeing in person that night as we sat in the lower level of the right field corner near the foul pole. At that time the bullpen was adjacent to the grandstand and there were no mountains, valleys, palm trees or whatever else is out there, a log ride perhaps, but I digress. Back then there was a warning track and a fence as well as an amazing scoreboard in the shape of a big block “A” with a halo near the top.

That night I saw home runs by Reggie Jackson, Bert Campaneris and Sal Bando for the A’s and Jim Spencer for the Angels.  Jim “Catfish” Hunter got the win and Jim “Mudcat” Grant got the save. Rudy May took the loss for the Angels.  The fact that I saw two future Hall of Fame players in this game was amazing, the winning pitcher, Hunter and Reggie Jackson.  Later in the year I entered a contest and wrote why Jim Spencer was my favorite Angel.  I had met Spencer at an autograph signing event at the local Von’s grocery store and when the contest winners were announced I was a runner up. I got tickets behind home plate and my name announced by legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg on the radio and my name in the Long Beach newspaper that sponsored the contest.  Dad took us probably to 30 or more games that year and I fell in love with the game.

Back in those days teams still had photo days where players would be available on the field for pictures and autographs and on autograph day in 1970 my dad took my brother and I onto a major league ball field for the first time and I was in awe.  The warning track was a red clay and the field was lush green as I looked back in toward home plate I wondered what it would be like to play in such a place.  From that season on the game had a hold on me. Dad and I did not have much in common, my brother I think is actually more like him than me but Dad taught me about the game at the stadium and in our back yard and gave me a gift that connected him to me more than anything else, something that I didn;t realize until much later in life.  I looked at that stadium on television and I saw the field, the main part of the stadium is still so much like it was when dad took us there and as I looked at it and remembered him I was in tears, I had a hard time keeping my emotions in, kind of embarrassing to be in tears at a bar during a baseball game but I was doing my best to hold it in.  Judy told me that I probably needed to talk to Elmer the Shrink about this but he is out of town until next week.  So I’ll wait, everyone deserves time off.

While we were still there and I was working on my second Kölsch style sömmerbrau a friend came up to me. He was a bit lit up having consumed his fair share and maybe more for the night but God used him and in his own way to bring comfort to me in what appeared rather earthy and even ludicrous manner but when he was said and done I felt better.  I think that he will need to serve as a model for some character in the Meeting Jesus and the Team series, I have no idea which figure from the Bible or Church history just yet but I will look around because what he said even though a tad under the influence of decidedly good beer was profound.  God does use people in strange and mysterious ways.

So I will continue I am sure to have emotional surges whenever something reminds me of my dad and I guess in the long run that is a good thing as my friend said it would make me better at what I do, I have now experienced the loss of my dad and am that much closer to the time that I will pass away, a generation has been removed between me and the end of my earthly life. This is something that so many people that I know already deal with.  It allows me to be connected to them in a way that just a few weeks back that I could not be.  It makes me a bit more human and more connected.

Dad, the Boss and the All-Star game at Anaheim Stadium, it is amazing what this concoction of images, memories and feelings can turn me into, a blubbering girl, not that there is anything wrong with that.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under Baseball, faith, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Religion, sports and life

Baseball is Back….Thank God!

Norfolk’s Harbor Park

Night baseball isn’t an aberration. What’s an aberration is a team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908. They tend to think of themselves as a little Williamsburg, a cute little replica of a major league franchise. Give me the Oakland A’s, thank you very much. People who do it right.” George Will on the Chicago Cubs

Baseball is back and I am very happy as spring returns and winter fades away as I can again watch baseball again live or tape delay.  Sure it is pre-season and the teams are still sorting out rosters but Spring Training is something that I look forward to every year.  I was actually hoping to get to Florida this year to take in a bit of the Orioles camp in Sarasota but thanks to a nasty Kidney stone I was pretty much knocked out of it.  Work will be too busy and Holy Week is coming so I will have to wait until opening day at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.

Joey Gathright bunts for a hit against Atlanta’s Gwinnett Braves in 2009

There is something about Spring Training as you watch the teams, study the roster reports and look at potential line ups pitching rotations and relief pitching staffs.  It is also the time that we begin to see how the personnel changes, signings, departures and prospects look up close.  It is a time when teams and players get to know each other again. I follow the Giants, Orioles and A’s very closely as well as looking most of the other teams as I look trough team sites, ESPN, Yahoo Baseball and sports blogs.

The statement of George Will the political columnist and avid Cubs fan speaks a lot of truth. The Cubs for years have either been penny pinchers or spent money like a drunken sailor with little to show for it. Since Jesus will come when they win the World’s Series next I think it likely that they will continue to be just what Will said they are “a cute little replica of a major league franchise.  Some teams spend their money be it large amounts or small wisely and know how to win.  Others spend money with no return throwing good money after bad on horrible deals every season and reaming losers.

What really interests me in baseball is not just the Major League teams but their Minor League affiliates.  Of course I have a close up view of the Orioles AAA International League affiliate the Norfolk Tides from my pew in Section 102, Row B Seat 1 and 2 a Harbor Park.  One of the things that I follow closely are the prospects as well as former Major League players as they move between the Majors and Minors as well as how they figure in trades.

A lot of people simply follow the big name players on contending teams and I admit that there is nothing wrong with that.  However, my view is that you have to take a look at a team’s farm system in relationship to the Major League team that it supports and feeds.  The depth and talent found in a teams’ Minor League system is vitally important to a team’s success or failure. Let me follow this with a few examples.

Mariano Rivera- Raised in the Yankee System

Let’s begin with the New York Yankees.  They are often portrayed as a team filled with “hired gun” type free agents who the pay an ungodly amount of money to obtain. Yes the Yankees are committed to winning and they will pay top dollar to get the best in baseball. Teams that want to win make the commitment to doing it.  Those that are content to be in the middle of the pack or lower don’t.  It is that simple. Like him or not George Steinbrenner knew what he was doing. However this is only part of their formula for success.  They also have also chosen to invest a lot in an excellent farm system.  Many of their top players came out of that system including Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada.  Their current middle relief staff, which had for many years been a weakness, is now stocked with solid pitchers who came out of the Yankee system.  The depth of their system also allows them to use it to sweeten up trade deals with other teams.  If you want to win consistently you have to have the depth in the Minor League system in case you need it.

David Wright: One of the Few Bright Spots for the Mets

So now we go to the other end of the spectrum.  The New York Mets also spent a huge amount of money on big name free agents.  However, because the Mets invest almost nothing in their Minor League system it has been consistently the worst in baseball for years.  Likewise the mid to end of season implosions show just how bad the Mets system is.  For example the Mets treated their farms teams so badly since the arrival of Omar Minaya that their flagship affiliate, the Norfolk Tides ended their relationship with the Mets at the end of the 2006 season to become part of the Baltimore Orioles system.  The Mets system has few prospects and at the upper levels is stocked with older Minor Leaguers and worn out Major leaguers looking for one last year in the sun.  The Mets initially had to move the team to New Orleans for two years and then were able to market themselves to Buffalo when Cleveland moved their AAA affiliate to Columbus Ohio.  The team was the worst in the International League last year and Buffalo fans that for years enjoyed high caliber ball players and young prospects became angry.  Little good is being said about the Mets in Buffalo even now and since the Mets have depleted what they can spend, and few Minor League prospects they have little bargaining power to reach out and deal for the top tier free agents.

Brian McCann, one of the  18 “Baby Braves” who took the Braves to the 2005 NLCS

We move to another team that does things right with regard to this is the Atlanta Braves.  The Braves have been consistently good for many years winning 14 Division titles and a World Series. In that amazing run where they won more than 90 and sometimes over 100 games a season almost every year they often dominated to National League.  The team is stocked with home grown talent.  I have seen the Braves minor league teams at the AAA and AA level and am well acquainted with their system.  They too are usually really good, very good. That minor league system has produced great players including Chipper Jones.  Do not forget 2005 when the Braves beset by injuries called up a large number of Minor league players from Richmond and Mississippi including All Star catcher Brian McCann, Jeff Francoeur, Ande Marte, Kelly Johnson and 14 other rookies and the “Baby Braves” as they were known helped take the Braves to the playoffs.  The system had to recover from that and it has now because the Braves invest in it and those players are beginning to make an impact in the Majors.

Billy Beane the GM of the Oakland Athletics

Another team that knows how to use a farm system is the Oakland Athletics. The A’s after being very competitive using very little money for years fell on hard times last year, but one of the keys to their success was their reliance on top prospects in their Minor League System.  Over the years that system has produced some great players and more than likely will do so again.  The A’s system is built on the principle of Saber metrics which looks at numbers crunched by statistics geeks and has for the most part served them well.  The A’s General Manager Billy Beane has revolutionized the game for small market teams that want quality on a limited budget. Many former A’s cut loose when they would become too expensive now star on other Major League teams. The system is discussed in the book Moneyball.

The new “Baby Birds” Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold along with Luke Scott great Oscar Salazar after a Home Run

A few years back the Orioles realizing that they could not compete dollar for dollar against ht Red Sox and Yankees began at the single A level to build a premier farm system.  Each year the best have moved up into the system to AA and AAA levels.  Last year the Norfolk Tides started out on fire and when the Orioles ran into major injury problems they called up a lot of minor league players including Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, Brad Bergeson and Chris Tillman.   The Orioles have built their system in stages and that building process went through the 2009 season.  Many of those called up were not quite ready for the majors but many are looked upon as future All Stars, especially their deep well of pitching talent that most teams could only dream about having.

Phillies Slugger Ryan Howard who I have seen play as a Reading Philly and Scranton-Wilkes Barre Red Barons before he went to the Majors

When I look at teams I always look at their minor league system and their prospects because that system and those prospects are the future of the team.  Teams that are consistently bad typically have bad minor league systems.  I have been watching minor league ball in person regularly for almost ten years.  As such I have seen many of today’s biggest stars including players like Ryan Howard, Felix Hernandez, Jason Verlander, Heath Bell, Grady Sizmore, Victor Martinez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jhonny Peralta, Brian McCann, David Wright, Evan Longoria, Jonathan Papelbon, many of the current Baltimore Orioles as well as countless others.

The relationship of the Major League team to its farm system is of paramount importance. If a team does not invest in their minor league affiliates and make good draft choices and trades they will seldom do well even if they have a decent team at the beginning of the season. Without quality prospects in the minor league system they will not have personnel readily available for call up on short notice in case of injury, not will they have depth to trade for quality players if the need them.

This is one of the things that make the game of baseball so different than other sports with the possible exception of NHL Hockey and its farm system.  The relationship and the development of players at the minor league level have a direct impact on the Major League club.  This is part of why I am so passionate about this game.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, philosophy