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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 Giant’s, A’s and Orioles and the 2012 MLB Playoffs: Taking Me Back to the Church of Baseball

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones….It’s a long season and you gotta trust it. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham

As any reader of this site knows Padre Steve loves baseball. In fact it is a passionate love that goes back to my childhood thanks to my dad. I talk with good reason about belonging to the Church of Baseball.  I love the game and I find a lot of life lessons and draw much inspiration from it.  It is something that is good for my soul, baseball parks are among the few places that I feel absolutely safe and even baseball on television or radio can calm my often troubled PTSD afflicted mind. I love the game, I love the players, I love the people. I can’t say that about a lot in this world.

I have gotten to know a lot of players both major league and minor league, front office staff and among my favorites former players of the Negro Leagues.

This year is kind of weird. If lucky I might have one of my three favorite teams, the Giants, A’s and Orioles make the playoffs. The last time I had a favorite win the World Series was 2010 when the Giants did it. The Orioles and the A’s have had fairly long droughts in getting to the playoffs or the World Series.

As a kid growing up on the West Coast, born in Oakland and being a Navy brat I have a natural tendency to support West Coast teams in the post season, unless they are the Evil Dodgers, who I hate to say I have cheered for in the World Series when they played the Yankees, may God have mercy on me, but it was against the Yankees so I’m sure there is some measure of grace.

My dad was a big National League fan and he became a die hard Giants fan a bit before I was born as the Giants moved to San Francisco about the same time he was transferred to Naval Air Station Alameda. I remember seeing the Giants in Candlestick as a kid, seeing Mays, McCovey and Bobby Bonds play and watching Ed Halicki throw his no-hitter there in 1975. We also went to a decent number of A’s games including the 1972 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers back in the days of Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Mutcat Grant, Vida Blue, Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Campy Campaneris and Reggie Jackson. My dad couldn’t stand A’s owner Charlie Finley but who could not like the mixture of uniforms and the ball girls in hot pants down the foul lines?

So in a sense because of geography I was a default fan of the Giants and Athletics. However my love of the Orioles defied my dad as well as geography. I started liking the Orioles as a kid because I would always see them in the playoffs. Though my dad didn’t like the Orioles he had tremendous respect for their players, especially outfielder Frank Robinson and Third Baseman Brooks Robinson. I could name the Orioles starting rotation and liked the way that Manager Earl Weaver argued with the umpires. In retrospect my dad kind of reminded me of the scrappy Weaver. My dad always emphasized fundamentals, pitching and working hard.

The Orioles also had the a minor league affiliation with the Stockton Ports back in the 1960s and early 1970s. When my dad was transferred to Alameda for his final assignment on the Aircraft Carrier USS Hancock he moved us to Stockton because we had a great aunt there.  So with the Ports playing at Billy Herbert Field about a mile from our house and a few blocks from where I played Little League ball I was at the stadium a lot including a hat giveaway where the team gave out black Orioles caps with the classic Cartoon Bird. In 1972 the Orioles left and the Angels took the team but from that time I remained an Orioles fan.

That love for the Orioles has increased over the past decade as I have gotten to know the team, organization and players through their minor league affiliates the AAA Norfolk Tides and High Single A Frederick Keys.

I want all of my teams to advance. As I write this the Giants lost their first game against the Reds last night while the A’s have went down 2-0 against the Tigers thanks to great Tigers pitching and critical errors. The Orioles open tonight against the Yankees.

No matter who wins it has been a great season for my teams. The Giants fought a lot of adversity to win the NL West, the A’s pulled off one of the most amazing runs seen in baseball to overtake the highly favored Texas Rangers in the final game of the season and Buck Showalter’s never say die Orioles have surprised the experts, but not me for the entire year.

My picks to win the Division series are the Tigers, the Giants, the Cardinals and the Orioles. Yesterday I would have picked the A’s but as much as I like them the chances of taking three in a row against the Tigers pitching are a lot lower than sweeping the Rangers. However, if there is a team that can come back from a 0-2 deficit it is the A’s. I think that the Giants take the Reds despite last night’s loss, and I think that the experience of the Cardinals will give them the edge over the Nationals, but think that the Nats could win the series. Finally I think that the Orioles are going to take the Yankees. They have played them even all year and despite all the power of the Yankees I think there is something about this Orioles team that is going to take them deep into the playoffs.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Beat Down in Texas: Pujols Sets Record as Cardinals down Rangers 16-7

“I’m sure the ball looked to him like a water balloon up there.” Ranger’s reliever Darren Oliver. Albert Pujols hits his historic 3rd Home Run with 2 outs in the top of the 9th against Darren Oliver

Game three of the World Series between the St Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers was one for the ages.  Cardinals First Baseman Albert Pujols set a record for a World Series game going 5-6 with 3 home runs and 6 runs batted in. He is the first player to hit three home runs in a World Series since “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson did it in game six of the 1977 World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Babe Ruth how did it in the 1926 and 1927 World Series.  Pujols home runs were all massive going 43 feet, 406 feet and 397 feet respectively. One commentator referred to Pujols as “Mr. Octobert” to distinguish him from Jackson.

The game was a big change from games one and two where pitching and defense dominated. In those games the teams scored a combined 8 runs on 23 hits and only committed 2 errors.  In those two games the Texas pitching staff had a 2.11 ERA and St Louis a 2.00 ERA. However in game three on a warm and windy night in Arlington the pitching staffs of both teams broke down and both bullpens showed signs of overuse.  In game three the teams scored a combined 23 runs on 28 hits and the Rangers committed 3 costly errors plus one that should have been an error which resulted in a blown call at First Base and helped the Cardinals to a big 4th inning.  The series ERA for the Rangers ballooned to 6.66 and the Cardinals to 3.80.

Of particular concern for the Rangers is their g0-to man in the bullpen Alexi Ogando who was central to their success as a set up man for closer Neftali Feliz has been thunderstruck during the World Series.  He has three appearances and only gotten one out in each appearance.  He has  given up 5 hits, one being a home run and two walks and allowed 4 runs of which 3 were earned for a 27.00 ERA in the World Series. Ogando has to be on for the Rangers to win.

Conversely the batting averages of the teams which had been very low in games one and two Texas hitting a meager .186 andSt Louisa marginally better 2.03 went up.  At the end of game three the Cardinals average was .267 and the Rangers to .252. The Rangers series On Base Percentage (OBP) is .292 and a Slugging Percentage of .378. The Cardinals OBP is now 3.70 and a .455 SLG.

Lance Lynn got the win in relief for the Cardinals and Rangers starting pitcher Matt Harrison took the loss.  Tonight Edwin Jackson 12-9 3.79 will be on the hill for the Cardinals and Derek Holland 16-5 3.95 will pitch for the Rangers. Holland has not performed well in the playoffs giving up 8 earned runs and 18 hits including 5 home runs in 13.2 innings.  His playoff ERA is 5.27 and his opponent batting average is .305. Jackson too has struggled in the playoffs giving up 8 earned runs on 16 hits with 4 home runs in 12.1 innings.  He has a playoff ERA of 5.86 and opponents are hitting .302 off of him. Jackson in his career against the Rangers is 2-3 with a 4.02 ERA and opposing batting average of .244.

Pujols is now hitting .418 in the playoffs with a .492 OBP and .818 SLG.  In addition to Pujols mammoth feat David Freese continued his record playoff run hitting safely in 13 consecutive games with 21 hits including 7 doubles and 4 home runs. He has a .429 batting average, .481 OBP and .816 SLG.   Allen Craig who has been an amazing pinch hitter during the 2011 playoff made his first start in Left Field hit a hitting a solo home run in the first inning off Matt Harrison.

I expect more fireworks from both teams tonight and think that in order to win one team will have to get a clutch performance out of their pitching staff.  The Rangers are down but they are not out. They have the firepower

Peace

Padre Steve+

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3000 Plus 3: Jeter Goes 5 for 5 to Join Elite Club

3000  Photo credit: Barton Silverman/The New York Times 

http://sports.yahoo.com/video/player/mlb;_ylt=Aqi43ZhEeJLoj3clzah_58ypu7YF

Derek Jeter joined the elite 3000 hit club going 5 for 5 against the Tampa Bay Rays.  It was a remarkable performance. Jeter has struggled at the plate this year and spent a number of weeks on the disabled list.  It was the last chance before the All Star break and the beginning of a long road trip for the Yankees that he had to get 3000 hits. Had he not done so today it a place where he is loved and a part of an enduring legacy of great Yankees, none who ever had 3000 hits he would have done so on the road. It would have been like Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s record in San Diego, Cal Ripkin Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game record in Oakland, or Pete Rose breaking Ty Cobb’s hit record in Montreal, which according to some he did in Chicago the game before he broke the record in Cincinnati, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But such records are meant to occur at home. Somehow they just seem more magical when done at home.

Today Jeter not only reached 3000 hits mark he did it with aplomb going 5 for 5 with a Home Run and a double and two RBIs.  His 3000th hit was a Home Run on a 3-2 count to deep left field with one out in the bottom of the 3rd inning against Ray’s ace David Price. Price in his career has held Jeter to 6 hits in 25 at bats with only 2 extra base hits and 3 RBIs, not a bad record against Jeter who has a career .312 batting average. Only one other play hit a home run for his 3000th hit, Wade Boggs who did it in 1999.

There are only 28 players in this club and they include 24 Hall of Famers.  The only ones of the club not yet in the Hall of Fame include Jeter who is still active, Craig Biggio who will soon be eligible to be voted in to the Hall of Fame, Rafael Palmeiro who is tainted by the steroids controversy and the all time hit leader Pete Rose who is banned from baseball for life for betting on games.  The 3000 club is truly remarkable. It includes Rose with 4256 hits, Ty Cobb-4191, Hank Aaron-3771, and Stan Musial with 3630 hits.  Also on the list are greats like Cal Ripkin Jr., Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente.

The rest of the men on this list are also remarkable. All had amazing careers that spanned many years frequently with the same team. Their longevity, consistency and ability to get hits were simply remarkable but even more remarkable for Jeter was that he was the first Yankee to reach the 3000 hit mark.  The next nearest is the legendary Lou Gehrig with 2721 and Babe Ruth with 2518.  It is conceivable that had Ruth not pitched his first four years in the Majors or had Lou Gehrig not been forced to retire due to ALS or as some now posit numerous significant concussive injuries that either of them might have been the first Yankee to reach this lofty plateau.

However that feat belongs to Derek Jeter, the Captain of the Yankees and a man who will by his on-field performance, consistency, work ethic and leadership on and off the field will be in that elite group of Yankee legends.  He will also be remembered as a baseball great something that even Yankee haters have to admit.  Someday, hopefully after he has added much more to his legacy and retires he will be become part of the panoply of immortals in the Hall of Fame and have his monument added to those that grace Monument Park at Yankee Stadium along with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Miller Huggins, Casey Stengel, Reggie Jackson,  Lefty Gomez and so many more.

It was a good day for Derek Jeter and his family, the Yankees, baseball and all that love this most magical game.

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Opening Day 2011: How Baseball Helps Padre Steve Make Sense of the World

The Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish

“This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams

“I love baseball. You know it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just beautiful to watch.” Woody Allen in Selig (1983)

We are approaching Opening Day for baseball and in a couple weeks more the Norfolk Tides will play their home opener at Harbor Park against their rival the Durham Bulls. Unfortunately this year I cannot keep my season tickets in The Church of Baseball at Harbor Park and in particular my little corner of the world in Section 102, Row “B” Seats 1 and 2.  My assignment at Camp LeJeune will keep me from this place of sanctuary in a world that seems to have gone mad.

Baseball has always meant a lot to me but even more so after returning from Iraq in 2008.  Until recently Harbor Park was one of the few places that I felt safe, I have added to the “safe” zones since 2008 but Harbor Park has a special place in my heart a place of solace and community that has been a constant for me. While I will not have my season tickets this year I will still make games whenever I am in town at the same time that the Tides are at home and I will catch some games in Kinston North Carolina where the K-Tribe, the Kinston Indians will play their last season before moving to Zebulon and it’s wonderful ballpark.

Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.  ~Sharon Olds

The ball park is important to me.  When I was really suffering from depression and a major crisis in faith related to my tour in Iraq and battle with PTSD and feelings of abandonment after the tour I would go to Harbor Park just to talk with staff and sit in the concourse.  There is something about baseball people and my seats down in section 102 that help me even when there is no game being played.  There is a peace that I have when I walk around the diamond and I feel close to God when I am around a ballpark, even without the game being played there is something almost mystical about it.  To me there is nowhere more peaceful than a ballpark and every time I watch a game on TV my mind goes back to how much baseball has been part of my life, and how in a very real way that God speaks to me through this special game.

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” George Will

Me with California Angels Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970

Baseball became part of my life as a child when my dad introduced me to it in our back yard in Oak Harbor Washington.  Even before I played an organized game dad played catch with me, showed me how to grip a ball and told me about the great ballplayers.  He made me learn the fundamentals of the game and whether we were attending a game in person, watching one on television or playing catch, pepper or practicing infield or pitching dad was all about the game.  Of course he was the same way with football, hockey and basketball, but the sport that he seemed most passionate about was baseball.  As a kid he was a Cincinnati Reds fan.  His mother, my grandmother who hailed from the hollers of Putnam County West Virginia was a diehard Dodgers fan, though I am sure that God forgives her for that.  She was an independent woman of conviction and determination that has to in some way influenced her love for the game, even as a little boy if there was a game on television she would have it on and could talk intelligently about it.  I still wonder about to this day how she became a Dodger’s fan but it probably had something to do with her independent streak.  “Granny” as she chose to be called was a woman who as a widow in the late 1930s went to work, raised her two boys and bought her own house.  Unlike most of the people in West Virginia she was also a Republican, a rare breed especially in that era. Likewise she left the Baptist church of her family and became a Methodist. As independent in her choice of baseball teams as she was in her politics Granny was a Dodgers fan in a land of Reds, Indians and Pirates fans, so even with Granny we were immersed in baseball.

Dad always made sure that we got to see baseball wherever we lived. In 1967 he took us to see the Seattle Pilots which the next year went to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. The Pilots were an expansion team in a town with a long history of minor league ball. They played at an old park named Sick Stadium, which if you ask me is a really bad marketing plan.  The game that we went to was the “Bat Day” giveaway.  Then they gave out regulation size Louisville Slugger bats.  Mine had the name of the Pilots First Baseman Mike Hegan on the barrel.  That was my first trip to a Major League stadium and I still can remember it as if it was yesterday.  Somewhere in my junk I have a button with the Pilots logo on it.  I’ll have to fish it out again sometime.  The next year I played my first organized baseball with the Oak Harbor Little League “Cheyenne’s.” My coach was a kind of gruff old guy who stuck me out in right field when as any little kid would I was pretty much a spectator as almost nothing came my way.  I don’t know why but our team uniforms did not match, half of us had white and the other half gray. Unfortunately due to military moves I didn’t get to play organized ball again until 1972.

In the elementary schools of those days our teachers would put the playoff and World’s Series games on television in our classrooms as then many of the games were played during daylight hours.  I remember watching Bob Gibson pitch when the Cardinals played against the Red Sox in the 1967 series.  It was awesome to see that man pitch.   I remember the Amazin’ Mets upsetting the Orioles in 1969 and seeing the Orioles take down the Reds in 1970.  I never will forget the 1970 All Star Game where Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse at home plate for the winning run.  I watched in awe as the great dynasty teams of the 1970s, the Reds and the Athletics who dominated much of that decade and the resurgence of the Yankees in the summer of 1978 when the Bronx burned.  Back then every Saturday there was the NBC Game of the Week hosted by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garragiola.  It was a sad day when that broadcast went off the air.

When we were stationed in Long Beach California from 1970-1971 my dad had us at Anaheim stadium watching the California Angels all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 30 to 40 games there and a couple at Dodger stadium that first year and a good number more before we moved to Stockton California in the middle of the 1971 season.  The move north was disappointing, it took forever to get adjusted to Stockton and I think that part of it was not seeing the Angels every week at the Big “A.” At those games I met a lot of the players and coaches and even some opposing players.  The Von’s grocery store chain and the Angels radio network had a “My Favorite Angel” contest when I was in 5th Grade.  I submitted an entry about Angels First Baseman Jim Spencer and was named as a runner up.  This netted me two seats behind the plate and legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg announced my name on the radio.  Spencer was a Gold Glove First Baseman who later played for the Yankees on their 1978 World Series team.  My first hat from a Major League team was the old blue hat with a red bill, the letters CA on the front and a halo stitched on top. I still have a hat from the 1971 team with the lower case “a” with a halo hanging off of it.  It has numerous autographs on the inside of the bill including Sandy Alomar, Jim Spencer, and Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz, Andy Messersmith, and Billy Cowan and sits in a display case on my kitchen wall.

While we didn’t live as close to a major league team baseball did not cease to be a part of my life.  While we were not at the ballpark as much it got more interesting in some aspects as for the first time I attended playoff games and saw a no-hitter. We saw the A’s dynasty teams including games one and two of the 1972 American League Championship Series between the A’s and the Tigers.  Across the Bay a few years later I got to see Ed Halicki of the Giants no-hit the Mets a Candlestick on August 24th 1975.  In those days I got to see some of the greats of the era play, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Steve Garvey, Vida Blue, Harmon Killebrew, Rollie Fingers, and so many others at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Candlestick Park.

While in Stockton I became acquainted with Minor League Baseball through the Stockton Ports, who then were the Class “A” California League farm team for the Orioles.  I remember a few years back talking to the Orioles great Paul Blair who played for the Ports in the early 1960s about Billy Hebert Field and how the sun would go down in the outfield blinding hitters and spectators in its glare.  I would ride my bike over in the evening to try to get foul balls that came over the grand stand when I didn’t have the money to get a ticket.

When I was a kid I had a large baseball card collection which I kept in a square cardboard roller-skate box.  I must have had hundreds of cards including cards that if I had them now would be worth a small fortune. Unfortunately when I went away to college I left them in the garage and during a purge of my junk they were tossed out.  Last year I started collecting cards again, mostly signed cards that I obtained at the Church of Baseball at Harbor Park.  In a sense they kind of serve a purpose like Holy Cards due in the Catholic Church for me.  They are a touch point with the game and the players who signed them.

As I have grown older my appreciation for the game, despite strikes and steroids still grows.  I am in awe of the diamond.  I have played catch on the field of dreams, seen a game in the Yankee Stadium Right Field bleachers seen games in many other venues at the Major League and Minor League levels and thrown out the first pitch in a couple of Kinston Indians games.  I am enchanted with the game. The foul lines theoretically go on to infinity, only broken by the placement of the outfield wall.  Unlike almost all other sports there is no time limit, meaning that baseball can be an eschatological game going on into eternity. The Hall of Fame is like the Calendar of Saints in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches.  There are rituals in baseball such as the exchange of batting orders and explanation of the ground rules and the ceremonial first pitch.  Likewise there are customs that border on superstition such as players not stepping on the foul line when entering and leaving the field of play, no talking about it when a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter and the home run trot. Even the care of the playing field is practiced with almost liturgical purity. The care of a field by an expert ground crew is a thing to behold, especially when they still use the wooden box frames to lay down the chalk on the baselines and the batter’s box.

We have travelled to many minor league parks often in tiny out of the way locations and even to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville Iowa where once again Judy indulged me and let me play catch. Likewise my long suffering wife has allowed our kitchen and much of my dining room is as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them; thankfully she is most tolerant and indulges this passion of mine.

Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond has been one of my few places of solace.  For the first time last season I bought a season ticket to the Tides and in section 102, row B seats 2 and 3 was able to watch the game from the same place every day.  It became a place of refuge during some of my bad PTSD times, and I got to know and love the people around me; Elliot the Usher, Chip the Usher, Ray and Bill the Vietnam Veteran Beer guys behind home plate, Kenny “Crabmeat” the Pretzel Guy and Barry the Scorekeeper.  Last year the Vietnam Vets and the Veterans beer stand were moved down the first base concourse where they were relegated to the boring beers.

Even still there is some sadness in baseball this year as there was last year and the year before.  My dad passed away last year after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  I miss talking baseball with him and wish he was alive and in good enough health to play catch.  However that will have to wait for eternity on the lush baseball field that only heaven can offer.

The season is about to begin and God is not done speaking to me through baseball as I close my eyes and recollect the words of Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams: “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

In a sense this says it all to me in an age of war, economic crisis, natural disasters and bitter partisan political division.  In a sense it is a prayer, a prayer for a return to something that was good and what could be good again.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

 

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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+

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

How Baseball Helps Padre Steve Make Sense of the World

Opening Night 2010 at Harbor Park

“This is my most special place in all the world, Ray. Once a place touches you like this, the wind never blows so cold again. You feel for it, like it was your child.” Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in Field of Dreams

“I love baseball. You know it doesn’t have to mean anything, it’s just beautiful to watch.” Woody Allen in Selig (1983)

Last night was Opening Night at Harbor Park and I the visit took me back to memories of how important baseball is to me.  The Church of Baseball at Harbor Park and in particular my little corner of the world in Section 102, Row “B” Seats 1 and 2 are one of my places of sanctuary in a world that seems to have gone mad.  Baseball has always meant a lot to me but even more so after returning from Iraq in 2008.  Until recently Harbor Park was one of the few places that I felt safe, I have added to the “safe” zones since last season with Saint James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth Virginia and the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach where Judy and I are members of the “Stein Club.” Slowly normalcy is returning to other parts of my life but during baseball season Harbor Park is about the center of my world.

Lefty Phillips and Me

In the fall after last season ended I would go to Harbor Park just to talk with staff and sit in the concourse.  There is something about baseball people and my seats down in section 102 that help me even when there is no game being played.  There is a peace that I have when I walk around the diamond and I feel close to God when I am around a ballpark, even without the game being played there is something almost mystical about it.  To me there is nowhere more peaceful than a ballpark and every time I watch a game on TV my mind goes back to how much baseball has been part of my life, and how in a very real way that God speaks to me through this special game.

“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.” George Will

Me Rich Reese and my brother Jeff

Baseball became part of my life as a child when my dad introduced me to it in our back yard in Oak Harbor Washington.  Even before I played an organized game dad played catch with me, showed me how to grip a ball and told me about the great ballplayers.  He made me learn the fundamentals of the game and whether we were attending a game in person, watching one on television or playing catch, pepper or practicing infield or pitching dad was all about the game.  Of course he was the same way with football, hockey and basketball, but the sport that he seemed most passionate about was baseball.  As a kid he was a Cincinnati Reds fan.  His mother, my grandmother who hailed from the hollers of Putnam County West Virginia was a diehard Dodgers fan, though I am sure that God forgives her for that.  She was an independent woman of conviction and determination that has to in some way influenced her love for the game, even as a little boy if there was a game on television she would have it on and could talk intelligently about it.  I still wonder about to this day how she became a Dodger’s fan but it probably had something to do with her independent streak.  “Granny” as she chose to be called was a woman who as a widow in the late 1930s went to work, raised her two boys and bought her own house.  Unlike most of the people in West Virginia she was also a Republican, a rare breed especially in that era. Likewise she left the Baptist church of her family and became a Methodist. As independent in her choice of baseball teams as she was in her politics Granny was a Dodgers fan in a land of Reds, Indians and Pirates fans, so even with Granny we were immersed in baseball.

Jeff, Me and Rocky Bridges

Dad always made sure that we got to see baseball wherever we lived. In 1967 he took us to see the Seattle Pilots which the next year went to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. The Pilots were an expansion team in a town with a long history of minor league ball. They played at an old park named Sick Stadium, which if you ask me is a really bad marketing plan.  The game that we went to was the “Bat Day” giveaway.  Then they gave out regulation size Louisville Slugger bats.  Mine had the name of the Pilots First Baseman Mike Hegan on the barrel.  That was my first trip to a Major League stadium and I still can remember it as if it was yesterday.  Somewhere in my junk I have a button with the Pilots logo on it.  I’ll have to fish it out again sometime.  The next year I played my first organized baseball with the Oak Harbor Little League “Cheyenne’s.” My coach was a kind of gruff old guy who stuck me out in right field when as any little kid would I was pretty much a spectator as almost nothing came my way.  I don’t know why but our team uniforms did not match, half of us had white and the other half gray. Unfortunately due to military moves I didn’t get to play organized ball again until 1972.

Oak Park Little Little League A.L Rams 1972 and yes A G Spanos of the Chargers was our sponsor

In the elementary schools of those days our teachers would put the playoff and World’s Series games on television in our classrooms as then many of the games were played during daylight hours.  I remember watching Bob Gibson pitch when the Cardinals played against the Red Sox in the 1967 series.  It was awesome to see that man pitch.   I remember the Amazin’ Mets upsetting the Orioles in 1969 and seeing the Orioles take down the Reds in 1970.  I never will forget the 1970 All Star Game where Pete Rose ran over Ray Fosse at home plate for the winning run.  I watched in awe as the great dynasty teams of the 1970s, the Reds and the Athletics who dominated much of that decade and the resurgence of the Yankees in the summer of 1978 when the Bronx burned.  Back then every Saturday there was the NBC Game of the Week hosted by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garragiola.  It was a sad day when that broadcast went off the air.

When we were stationed in Long Beach California from 1970-1971 my dad had us at Anaheim stadium watching the California Angels all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 30 to 40 games there and a couple at Dodger stadium that first year and a good number more before we moved to Stockton California in the middle of the 1971 season.  The move north was disappointing, it took forever to get adjusted to Stockton and I think that part of it was not seeing the Angels every week at the Big “A.” At those games I met a lot of the players and coaches and even some opposing players.  The Von’s grocery store chain and the Angels radio network had a “My Favorite Angel” contest when I was in 5th Grade.  I submitted an entry about Angels First Baseman Jim Spencer and was named as a runner up.  This netted me two seats behind the plate and legendary sportscaster Dick Enberg announced my name on the radio.  Spencer was a Gold Glove First Baseman who later played for the Yankees on their 1978 World Series team.  My first hat from a Major League team was the old blue hat with a red bill, the letters CA on the front and a halo stitched on top. I still have a hat from the 1971 team with the lower case “a” with a halo hanging off of it.  It has numerous autographs on the inside of the bill including Sandy Alomar, Jim Spencer, and Jim Fregosi, Chico Ruiz and Billy Cowan and sits in a display case on my kitchen wall.

Harbor Park in the Fall

While we didn’t live as close to a major league team baseball did not cease to be a part of my life.  While we were not at the ballpark as much it got more interesting in some aspects as for the first time I attended playoff games and saw a no-hitter. We saw the A’s dynasty teams including games one and two of the 1972 American League Championship Series between the A’s and the Tigers.  Across the Bay a few years later I got to see Ed Halicki of the Giants no-hit the Mets a Candlestick on August 24th 1975.  In those days I got to see some of the greats of the era play, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Steve Garvey, Vida Blue, Harmon Killebrew, Rollie Fingers, and so many others at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Candlestick Park.

While in Stockton I became acquainted with Minor League Baseball through the Stockton Ports, who then were the Class “A” California League farm team for the Orioles.  I remember a few years back talking to the Orioles great Paul Blair who played for the Ports in the early 1960s about Billy Hebert Field and how the sun would go down in the outfield blinding hitters and spectators in its glare.  I would ride my bike over in the evening to try to get foul balls that came over the grand stand when I didn’t have the money to get a ticket.

When I was a kid I had a large baseball card collection which I kept in a square cardboard roller-skate box.  I must have had hundreds of cards including cards that if I had them now would be worth a small fortune. Unfortunately when I went away to college I left them in the garage and during a purge of my junk they were tossed out.  Last year I started collecting cards again, mostly signed cards that I obtained at the Church of Baseball at Harbor Park.  In a sense they kind of serve a purpose like Holy Cards due in the Catholic Church for me.  They are a touch point with the game and the players who signed them.

Billy Hebert Field

As I have grown older my appreciation for the game, despite strikes and steroids still grows.  I am in awe of the diamond.  I have played catch on the field of dreams, seen a game in the Yankee Stadium Right Field bleachers seen games in many other venues at the Major League and Minor League levels and thrown out the first pitch in a couple of Kinston Indians games.  I am enchanted with the game. The foul lines theoretically go on to infinity, only broken by the placement of the outfield wall.  Unlike almost all other sports there is no time limit, meaning that baseball can be an eschatological game going on into eternity. The Hall of Fame is like the Calendar of Saints in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches.  There are rituals in baseball such as the exchange of batting orders and explanation of the ground rules and the ceremonial first pitch.  Likewise there are customs that border on superstition such as players not stepping on the foul line when entering and leaving the field of play, no talking about it when a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter and the home run trot. Even the care of the playing field is practiced with almost liturgical purity. The care of a field by an expert ground crew is a thing to behold, especially when they still use the wooden box frames to lay down the chalk on the baselines and the batter’s box.

Grand Slam Home Run by Robby Hammock 2009

We have travelled to many minor league parks often in tiny out of the way locations and even to the Field of Dreams in Dyersville Iowa where once again Judy indulged me and let me play catch. Likewise my long suffering wife has allowed our kitchen and much of my dining room is as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them; thankfully she is most tolerant and indulges this passion of mine.

Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond has been one of my few places of solace.  For the first time last season I bought a season ticket to the Tides and in section 102, row B seats 2 and 3 was able to watch the game from the same place every day.  It became a place of refuge during some of my bad PTSD times, and I got to know and love the people around me; Elliot the Usher, Chip the Usher, Ray and Bill the Vietnam Veteran Beer guys behind home plate, Kenny “Crabmeat” the Pretzel Guy and Barry the Scorekeeper.  This year Ray is not at the park nor is Charlie one of the other Vietnam Vets and the Veterans beer stand is now down the first base concourse where they have been relegated to the boring beers. I now have seats 1 and 2 in the same section and row as last year and it was good to see so many of the old crowd last night.

Chris Tillman

Even still there is some sadness in baseball this year as there was last year.  My dad is slowly dying of Alzheimer’s disease and a shell of his former self but the last time I saw him he did not know me and could not talk about baseball even for a minute.  Maybe if I go back we’ll get a few minutes of lucidity and a bit of time together again but I know that that will not happen because there is little left of him, I wish he was able to get up and play catch, but that will have to wait for eternity on the lush baseball field that only heaven can offer.

Dad Jeff and I around 1973

The season is just beginning and God is not done speaking to me through baseball as I close my eyes and recollect the words of Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams: “The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.”

In a sense this says it all to me in an age of war, economic crisis and bitter partisan political division.  In a sense it is a prayer, a prayer for a return to something that was good and what could be good again.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

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