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The Men of the Negro Leagues: Carl Long Day 2011

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For tonight a reposting of an old article dealing with my friends from the Negro Leagues. These men were heroes, they played ball in the face of prejudice and discrimination and were a part of the Civil Rights movement. They were peers of Jackie Robison, Willie Mays, Satchel Paige, and Larry Doby.

This article is from 2011, my friend, Negro League Hall of Famer Carl Long passed away in 2015. I do miss him.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Carl Long Night: L-R  James “Spot”King, Hubert “Big Daddy”Wooten, Dennis “Bose”Biddle and Carl Long  at Historical Grainger Stadium

Friday I had the privilege of being invited to spend a portion of the day a number of former Negro League players, Minor League players and a couple of former Major Leaguers including one veteran of the 2004 Boston Red Sox World Series Championship team, Trot Nixon.  In addition to the ballplayers I met Carl’s lovely wife Ella as well city officials from the City of Kinston and regular folks, baseball fans and parents with their children.

Carl and Ella

It was a day to honor one of the few remaining veterans of the Negro Leagues.  Carl Long played with the Birmingham Black Barons alongside Willie Mays and Country and Western singer Charlie Pride. He played against Hank Aaron and spent time in the minors with Willie McCovey and Roberto Clemente.  He was the first black to play in the Carolina League and still holds the record for the most RBIs in a season inKinstonwhich has also seen such sluggers as Jim Thome, Alex White and Manny Ramirez play at Historic Grainger Stadium.  Carl did not have a long baseball career, he injured his shoulder and his wife of over 50 years Ella, a local Kinston girl stole his heart.  In Kinston he became the first black commercial bus driver in the state, the first black Deputy Sheriff in North Carolina, and first black Detective on the Kinston Police Department. Carl was presented with a certificate from the Mayor of Kinston during the

That evening the Kinston Indians hosted Carl Long Appreciation night.  Carl as well as Dennis, James “Spot” King and Hubert “Big Daddy” Wooten and a number of local Negro League era players took the field near along the third base line as their names were announced.  A local television station filmed the event and Carl made sure the members of the “Field of Dreams” Little League team each got a copy of his signed baseball card. It was a night of emotion, appreciation and history.

Carl broke barriers wherever he went and credits his father with ensuring that he got his education, a mantra that he repeats to every young person that he meets.  I met Carl earlier in the season and knew that I was in the presence of a pioneer and a great American.  When I am in Kinston there is nothing that I enjoy more that listening to Carl’s stories of life in the Negro Leagues and breaking the baseball’s color barrier in the Deep South.

Hubert “Big Daddy”Wooten” 

It is hard to imagine now just how deep the poisonous river of racism ran in 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s America.  Then it was a fact that segregation was not only acceptable but widely practiced in much of this country.  Institutionalized racism was normal and violence against blacks and whites that befriended them was commonplace.  We like to think that we have overcome racism in this country but unfortunately there is a segment of the population that still practices and promotes this evil.  Even this week there was a Ku Klux Klan attack on the home of a black pastor in the South.  His offense….supporting a white candidate for county sheriff.  While we have overcome much there is still much work to be done.  I think this is why I believe it is so important to remember the men and women of the Negro Leagues.

One of the men at today’s events was Dennis “Bose” Biddle who played for the Chicago American Giants in 1953 and 1954.  He was in the process of having his contract purchased by the Chicago Cubs when he suffered a devastating injury to his leg and ankle going hard into Second Base.  When he couldn’t play in the Majors he went to college and became a Social Worker.  Dennis said to me “you know that “take out” sign at restaurants? We started it” referring to how black players would have to get their food at the back of a restaurant or eat in the kitchen out of sight of white customers.

Dennis “Bose”Biddle autographing a baseball 

The truth of the matter is that the players of the Negro Leagues were torch bearers in our society.  The men and women of the Negro Leagues barnstormed and played against white teams when baseball was still segregated.  When Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson it was a seismic event with great social connotations.  A barrier had been broken and I dare say that without the men of the Negro Leagues that the work of other Civil Rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have had a less fertile audience in White America and probably a even less friendly reception than they had as they worked to fulfill the vision of a better America where men and women of every race, color and creed could aspire to great things.

Carl Long giving a baseball and good advice to a young fan

Men like Carl Long are responsible for this.  Some made their impact at a national level while others like Carl and Dennis on a local and regional level.  Like the men and women of the “Greatest Generation” this fellowship grows smaller with each passing year. Hubert “Daddy” Wooten was one of the last Negro League players; he played for and later managed the Indianapolis Clowns in the years where they barnstormed.  During that time he managed the legendary Satchel Paige. “Big Daddy” Wooten  is the youngest of the he surviving Negro League players a mere 65 years old.  Most are in their mid-70s or in their 80s.  It is important that their friends and neighbors write down their stories so they are not forgotten.

Baseball in particular the Negro League Hall of Fame and Museum has done a credible job of trying to preserve the contributions of these men to baseball and the American experience. Yet many more stories are still to be told.  I hope that as I continue to visit with Carl, Sam Allen in Norfolk and other players that I will be able to help them tell more of those stories.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

So until then,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Me with Carl Long

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Blowing out the Candle(stick)…Power Goes out During Big 49ers – Steelers Game

I hesitate to call Candlestick Park old. It opened the year that I was born just across the bay.  I have never been to a 49er’s game but saw the Giants a number of times at the venerable yard. However even in the 1970s it was cold and dank, especially during the summer.  Monday night however the old stadium lost power twice the first time just before kickoff and the second during the second quarter of the game between the 49ers and Steelers.

The stadium has been the scene of some of the most memorable moments in sports history. One was “The Catch” when the 49ers defeated the highly favored Dallas Cowboys on January 10th 1982. Tight End Dwight Clark leaped to grab a pass from Joe Montana in the NFC Championship game, a game which ended the decade long Cowboys dominance of the conference.

It was also the site of the 1989 World Series.  The cross bay Oakland Athletics had taken the first too games in Oakland and the pre-game activities were in full swing when  a massive earthquake, the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck Northern California. Measuring 6.9 (7.1 surface wave) the quake hit at 5:04 PM on October 17th 1989 and was the first earthquake ever recorded on national television.  I was a seminary student and I remember sitting in front of my television in our run down East Fort Worth home, a neighborhood known for its frequent appearances on the TV show COPS.  Judy was in the kitchen getting something to drink if I recall and I watched the event occur. It was surreal and being from California I knew that it had to be a bad quake.

The Giants never won a World Series will playing at the “Stick” despite having some of the greatest players to ever play the game grace the field.  Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bobbie and Barry Bonds, the Alou brother’s outfield, Felipe, Manny and Jesus who became the first “all brothers” outfield in 1963. Of course there were pitchers like Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry.  49ers greats Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and Ronnie Lott all made their names in the cavernous confines of Candlestick.

 

The 49ers moved to the Stick in 1971 from Kezar Stadium while the Giants moved to the new Pac-Bell or AT&T Park in 2000.  The Beatles player their last full concert there on August 29th 1966.   The biggest event I ever saw at Candlestick was Giant’s pitcher Ed Halicki no-hitting the Mets back on August 24th 1975.

The power outage was called embarrassing by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and the Pacific Gas and Electric had no immediate explanation for the outage. The fact that it happened on a nationwide broadcast of Monday Night Football gave it fare more attention than in might have received. Fortunately for the 49ers approval of a new stadium in Santa Clara are almost done and by 2015 the team should be in its new home so long as the ghosts and demons of the Stick don’t find their way south.

Blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Remembering the Men of the Negro Leagues: Carl Long Appreciation Day

Carl Long Night: L-R  James “Spot”King, Hubert “Big Daddy”Wooten, Dennis “Bose”Biddle and Carl Long  at Historical Grainger Stadium

Friday I had the privilege of being invited to spend a portion of the day a number of former Negro League players, Minor League players and a couple of former Major Leaguers including one veteran of the 2004 Boston Red Sox World Series Championship team, Trot Nixon.  In addition to the ballplayers I met Carl’s lovely wife Ella as well city officials from the City of Kinston and regular folks, baseball fans and parents with their children.

Carl and Ella

It was a day to honor one of the few remaining veterans of the Negro Leagues.  Carl Long played with the Birmingham Black Barons alongside Willie Mays and Country and Western singer Charlie Pride. He played against Hank Aaron and spent time in the minors with Willie McCovey and Roberto Clemente.  He was the first black to play in the Carolina League and still holds the record for the most RBIs in a season inKinstonwhich has also seen such sluggers as Jim Thome, Alex White and Manny Ramirez play at Historic Grainger Stadium.  Carl did not have a long baseball career, he injured his shoulder and his wife of over 50 years Ella, a local Kinston girl stole his heart.  In Kinston he became the first black commercial bus driver in the state, the first black Deputy Sheriff in North Carolina, and first black Detective on the Kinston Police Department. Carl was presented with a certificate from the Mayor of Kinston during the

That evening the Kinston Indians hosted Carl Long Appreciation night.  Carl as well as Dennis, James “Spot” King and Hubert “Big Daddy” Wooten and a number of local Negro League era players took the field near along the third base line as their names were announced.  A local television station filmed the event and Carl made sure the members of the “Field of Dreams” Little League team each got a copy of his signed baseball card. It was a night of emotion, appreciation and history.

Carl broke barriers wherever he went and credits his father with ensuring that he got his education, a mantra that he repeats to every young person that he meets.  I met Carl earlier in the season and knew that I was in the presence of a pioneer and a great American.  When I am in Kinston there is nothing that I enjoy more that listening to Carl’s stories of life in the Negro Leagues and breaking the baseball’s color barrier in the Deep South.

Hubert “Big Daddy”Wooten” 

It is hard to imagine now just how deep the poisonous river of racism ran in 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s America.  Then it was a fact that segregation was not only acceptable but widely practiced in much of this country.  Institutionalized racism was normal and violence against blacks and whites that befriended them was commonplace.  We like to think that we have overcome racism in this country but unfortunately there is a segment of the population that still practices and promotes this evil.  Even this week there was a Ku Klux Klan attack on the home of a black pastor in the South.  His offense….supporting a white candidate for county sheriff.  While we have overcome much there is still much work to be done.  I think this is why I believe it is so important to remember the men and women of the Negro Leagues.

One of the men at today’s events was Dennis “Bose” Biddle who played for the Chicago American Giants in 1953 and 1954.  He was in the process of having his contract purchased by the Chicago Cubs when he suffered a devastating injury to his leg and ankle going hard into Second Base.  When he couldn’t play in the Majors he went to college and became a Social Worker.  Dennis said to me “you know that “take out” sign at restaurants? We started it” referring to how black players would have to get their food at the back of a restaurant or eat in the kitchen out of sight of white customers.

Dennis “Bose”Biddle autographing a baseball 

The truth of the matter is that the players of the Negro Leagues were torch bearers in our society.  The men and women of the Negro Leagues barnstormed and played against white teams when baseball was still segregated.  When Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson it was a seismic event with great social connotations.  A barrier had been broken and I dare say that without the men of the Negro Leagues that the work of other Civil Rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have had a less fertile audience in White America and probably a even less friendly reception than they had as they worked to fulfill the vision of a better America where men and women of every race, color and creed could aspire to great things.

Carl Long giving a baseball and good advice to a young fan

Men like Carl Long are responsible for this.  Some made their impact at a national level while others like Carl and Dennis on a local and regional level.  Like the men and women of the “Greatest Generation” this fellowship grows smaller with each passing year. Hubert “Daddy” Wooten was one of the last Negro League players; he played for and later managed the Indianapolis Clowns in the years where they barnstormed.  During that time he managed the legendary Satchel Paige. “Big Daddy” Wooten  is the youngest of the he surviving Negro League players a mere 65 years old.  Most are in their mid-70s or in their 80s.  It is important that their friends and neighbors write down their stories so they are not forgotten.

Baseball in particular the Negro League Hall of Fame and Museum has done a credible job of trying to preserve the contributions of these men to baseball and the American experience. Yet many more stories are still to be told.  I hope that as I continue to visit with Carl, Sam Allen in Norfolk and other players that I will be able to help them tell more of those stories.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s First All-Star Game Memories

My dad taught me to love the game of Baseball and art of that love was the annual experience of watching the All-Star Game. I continue that tonight with the National League has just one by a score of 5-1.

I first remember doing this in the late 1960s but where the All-Star Game became etched in my mind was in the summer of 1970.  We were living in Long Beach California about a 15 minute drive from “The Big A” as Angel’s Stadium was known back then. Dad was taking me to every game that he could and back then tickets were easy to come by and players were very accessible to fans, especially 10 year old kids like me.

Riverfront Stadium

I remember going the Anaheim Stadium and getting to vote for the players. I didn’t know it then but it was the first time since 1957 that the position players were voted in by fans.  I don’t remember all the players that I voted for but the one that I do remember voting for, Angel’s First Baseman and Gold Glove winner Jim Spencer was not elected or named as a reserve.  Later that year I wrote a short essay for the “My Favorite Angel” contest telling why Spencer was my favorite Angel and ended up being one of the runners up for the contest. My name was in theLong Beachpaper, I still have the clipping and my name was announced by Angel’s announcer Dick Enberg during a game and I got two tickets directly behind home plate.

I do remember some of my other picks that made the rosters as elected players or reserves, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Boog Powell, Harmon Killebrew, Johnny Bench, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Sandy Alomar, Tony Perez, Jim Fregosi and Pete Rose.

I was the first election that I ever voted in and certainly more worthwhile than most political elections that I have vote in since.  When the game came on July 14th we gathered in from of our television to watch.  I was transfixed as I watched the action. We still had a black and white television and antennae as cable TV was not available.  It is hard to believe that back then we had only the three major networks ABC, NBC and CBS, no ESPN, MLB Channel or any of the region sports networks that air Major League games today.

Left Phillips California Angels Manager and me in 1970.He was one of Earl Weaver’s American League Coaches in the 1970 All Star Game

The game as was telecast on NBC which also televised the Saturday “Game of the Week” and called by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Mickey Mantle who had been out of the game for a season and a half.  It was played at the brand new Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati a dual purpose stadium designed for the Reds and the Bengals covered in some of the most horrible artificial turf imaginable with cut outs for the bases, home plate and the pitcher’s mound.  It was very similar to Three River’s Stadium inPittsburgh; Veteran’s Stadium inPhiladelphiaand so unlike the nicest field built in the 1970sKansas City’s Kaufman Stadium.  It should come as no surprise that Riverfront,Three Rivers and the Vet are gone and Kaufman is as beautiful as ever.

It was a great game certainly one of the epics in terms of All Star Games.  The American League had a 4-1 lead in the top of the 9th as Jim Catfish Hunter gave up a lead off home run to Giant’s catcher Dick Dietz. Two more runs would score the last being Joe Morgan, then with the Houston Astros who scored on a sacrifice fly by Roberto Clemente off Yankees’ pitcher Mel Stottlemyer who was credited with a blown save.

The game went to the 12th inning tied 4-4 Earl Weaver sent Angel’s ace Clyde Wright who had thrown a no-hitter in Anaheim against the A’s just 11 days before for a second inning of relief work.  Wright got the first two outs and then gave up consecutive singles to Pete Rose and Billy Grabarkewitz. He then gave up a single to Jim Hickman which was fielded by Royals outfielder Amos Otis. Otis got a great throw to Indians Rookie Catcher Ray Fosse who dropped the ball when he was run over by Rose at home plate.

The Pete Rose hit on Ray Fosse that gave the National League a 12th Inning Walk Off win

Dad was torn on this. He loved Pete Rose but he had come to like dare say an American League team, the Angels.  He hated to see Clyde Wright get the loss.  I still remember that collision as if it were yesterday and despite his being banned from the game I still admire the playing ability and hustle of Pete Rose.

That was my first All Star Game.  The only ones that I have missed since have been those when I was deployed and unable to watch.  I love to see the players there and though the All Star format has its flaws I still love it because it takes me back to that magical summer of 1970 and fond memories of my dad teaching me the game at Anaheim Stadium and in our back yard.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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An Evening in the Minor Leagues with Carl Long

Me with Carl Long

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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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GIANTS WIN IT ALL! BRING TITLE TO SAN FRANCISCO END 56 YEAR SERIES DROUGHT

The Drought is Over Giants Win! (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

It was something that no one predicted at the beginning of the season, a Cinderella story of a team of journeymen unknowns, cast offs, rookies and a phenomenal staff of young pitchers overcame obstacle after obstacle to win the team’s first World Series title since 1954.  Back then it was the “Say Hey Kid” Willie Mays who electrified the nation with his back to the ball catch in deep center at the Polo Grounds while in 2010 it was a collection of misfits who bonded as no team ever has to win the World Series when no-one said they would even win their division.

Aubrey Huff in the Arms of Buster Posey (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

This team whose theme song was Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” didn’t stop believing and did what no Giants team stocked with All-Stars and Hall of Famers had not done since they were the New York Giants playing at the Polo Grounds. The franchise that had known sudden defeat in a 1-0 bottom of the 9th inning loss in the 1962 World Series to the New York Yankees finally won.  The franchise that had endured the tragic Earthquake Series of 1989 when they were swept by the A’s overcame all to win in 2010. Likewise the franchise that when just 6 outs from the victory in game six with the Champagne chilling on the clubhouse lost to the Angels had finally overcame decades of despair to win a World Series that most experts said that they would never win.

Tim “the Freak” Lincecum and his wild hair were a trademark of the Giants

Throughout the year the Giants were accorded no respect.  At the beginning of the season the Giants were picked by most to place no better than 4th in the National League West.  They won the West on the last day of the regular season and then went on to beat the Braves in 4 games in the NLDS winning game 4 in Atlanta holding the Braves to just 7 earned runs and a .175 batting average.  They played and defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in the NLCS in a series that no baseball writers that I saw, heard or read predicted them to win against the highly favored Phillies…well no one but me and ESPN 94.1 Norfolk’s Tony Mercurio.  The Giants held the mighty Phillies to just 18 earned runs in 6 games and to a .224 batting average. Asked on the Giants chances in 2011 closer Brian Wilson said “I like our chances, we were picked fourth in spring training. We should at least move up to third next spring. You’d think.”

Brian Wilson looks to the Heavens after striking out Nelson Cruz to end the World Series (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

The Giants pitchers allowed just 37 earned runs in 135 innings for a 2.47 post season ERA holding the Braves, Phillies and Rangers to 94 hits in 480 at bats and a playoff opposing batting average of .196.  Any way that you stack it, the Giants pitcher’s dominated two of the most prolific hitting teams in baseball as well as a good hitting Braves team allowing only 9 home runs.

“The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers.” Earl Weaver

Edgar Renteria gets his game winning home run off of Cliff Lee in the top of the 7th inning (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The story of the 2010 Giants is a story for the ages, a team composed of cast offs, second chance journeymen, veterans with their best years behind them and rookies who played like seasoned veterans overcame every obstacle and proved to the multitude of naysayers that they could win in a convincing manner.  Rookies including Catcher Buster Posey and pitcher Madison Bumgarner who both played the first months of the season at Triple-A Fresno played key roles in the last half of the season and the post season with Bumgarner’s win in game 4 being something that had everybody talking. Edgar Renteria in his second year of a 2 year contract that all expected to be his last year playing ball was the MVP.  He overcame a torn bicep and a lack of playing time to hit 2 home runs including the winning hit tonight after only hitting 3 in the regular season spending 4 months on the bench.  In the World Series he hit .412 with 6 RBI. To make it even more of a story Renteria called his shot in game 5 to Andres Torres and he had the game winning hit in the 1998 World Series for the Florida Marlins against the Cleveland Indians.

Cody Ross was picked up off waivers at the last possible moment after being released from the Florida Marlins had 5 post-season home runs and many key hits and at bats.  Aubrey Huff a free agent that no one seemed to want became the team’s home run leader and hit a massive home run in game four on Sunday night and a great sacrifice bunt that led up to Renteria’s home run.  Freddy Sanchez when not hitting with the bat made defensive play after defensive play. Andres Torres hit at a torrid pace, Juan Uribe with key home runs in the NLCS and World Series while numerous other Giants had key hits, defensive plays or pitching performances.

Tim Lincecum holds the World Series Trophy (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Giants featuring the arms of 4 home grown pitchers outpitched the Rangers shutting down the most potent offense in the Major Leagues like they were a luckless Triple-A team belonging to a dismal major league franchise.  Tim Lincecum defeated Cliff Lee twice and in game 5 pitched 8 innings allowing one run and on three hits while striking out ten.  Matt Cain blew through the Rangers to shut them out in game two and finished the post-season allowing no earned runs. When Jonathan Sanchez struggled the bullpen came in and shut the Rangers down as they had the Phillies and who could believe the poise of Madison Bumgarner.  The Giants’ closer Brian Wilson was locked on and the Rangers definitely had reason to “fear the beard.”

This was an everyman’s team that embodied real America, guys getting second chances, men who worked for years unnoticed before landing with the Giants and young men that played with strength and maturity throughout the season.  There was something special about this team that transcended the parts and turned them into World Series Champions, they believed in themselves and their team took care of each other and didn’t listen to the naysayers.  Bruce Bochy the Giants’ manager managed them like a great General took charge and put players on the field each night that he knew would give the team the best chance to win. He moved players around for defense in the late innings when he got a lead, trusting in the arms of his pitching staff to shut down the vaunted Rangers’ offense which many experts said would overcome the Giants pitching staff.

“The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.” Earl Weaver

Well they were wrong. Just as the Giants had throughout the playoffs the Giants’ pitching staff dominated their opponent.  The Rangers who had a .276 team batting average in the regular season and hit .304 against the Yankees in the ALCS had just 29 hits in 153 at bats for a .190 batting average against the Giants scoring just 12 runs in 5 games and were shut out twice. In the final 18 innings the Rangers managed just one run against a Giants pitching staff that finished the series with a 2.38 ERA.

By contrast the Rangers’ staff could not stem the tide in games that were blowouts and games that were close with the exception of Colby Lewis in game 3 who held the Giants to 2 runs.  The Giants scored 29 runs 28 of which were earned on 42 hits in 169 at bats for a .249 team average while the Rangers’ had a 5.86 team ERA.  Cliff Lee who had never been beaten in the playoffs and had two World Series wins against the Yankees in 2009 allowed 9 earned runs on 14 hits in 11.2 innings work for a 6.94 series ERA.  His opposite Tim Lincecum allowed 4 earned runs on 8 hits in 13.2 innings for a 2.72 series ERA.

This team was amazing and was supported by the Giants greats from the past including Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Felipe Alou, Jack Clark, John Montafusco, J. T. Snow and many more including Barry Bonds. I’m sure that the spirits of men like Bobby Bonds, Rob Beck  and Bobby Thompson were cheering them on as Judy’s cousin Bill who died during game one and my father Carl who died in June were.  The outpouring of support and emotion by these great who had never experienced a World Series victory in San Francisco was amazing.  Likewise the fans who came to endure a season of what has been named “torture ball” finally found that it paid off.

The Last Time 1954 Willie Mays makes “The Catch”

After 53 years of suffering in San Francisco the drought ended, the decades spend in the icy and unforgiving confines of Candlestick Park, the ravages of an earthquake and disappointment that left fans saying “maybe next year” was over.  The Giants led by cast offs, rookies and home grown pitchers featuring characters who sported “luck thongs” in the clubhouse, wild hair and beards that made them look like they might have a few screws loose had overcome the curse, whatever curse it might be and brought the World Series trophy home to the most beautiful city in America, San Francisco. Willie Mays commented after the game that “Oh, man, I don’t get overly excited about baseball, but looking at these kids and how excited they were, I had some tears in my eyes, because you never know, this might be the last time something like this happens to some of these kids. It’s a wonderful feeling for me, and I’m sure it’s a wonderful feeling for these kids and their families.” Mays knows that from experience, there is a sense of grateful appreciation in his manner that rings true, for none of us ever knows what tomorrow brings.

“I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” – Walt Whitman

I think that there is a lesson for us in our country today, that if you believe and pull together you can win even when everyone predicts your demise.  Maybe Americans can look at this team and take this lesson that you don’t have to spend excessively to be successful, that success does not have to be bought and that friendship and teamwork matter more than having a bunch of elite super-stars who can’t get the job done in the clutch.  Maybe that’s the lesson that we need to learn again.  The lesson so eloquently put by James Earl Jones as Terrance Mann 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.”

The Giants took home the World Series as I predicted with their pitching, defense and clutch hitting being the difference. Congratulations Giants.  I guess that I will have to hang a 2010 San Francisco Giants pennant next to my 1989 Giants NL West Pennant in my kitchen. Like many fans I have spend my entire life waiting for this to happen enduring the cold of Candlestick where I saw Ed Halicki no-hit the Mets in 1975, took in the beauty of AT&T Park, watched Barry Bonds tie and break the Home Run record while deployed to Iraq but nothing compares to this. It was worth the wait. Go Giants!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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My Life and Baseball: How Padre Steve Makes Some Sense of the World

harbor park opening dayThe 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)

I went to Harbor Park last week just to talk with staff and sit in the concourse.  Tomorrow after work, though the weather is not predicted to be very good I plan on doing the same. There is something about baseball people and my seats down in section 102, row B, seat 2 and 3 that help me even when there is not game going on.  I walked around the diamond, the weather was gorgeous and it was so peaceful, even as the head groundskeeper aerated the field in preparation for the winter.  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.  Tonight as I sit watching game one of the National League Championship Series between the Dodgers and the Phillies 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.

grainger stadiumGranger Stadium Kinston NC

“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

Baseball is part of my life and I think this goes back to my childhood 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 weather 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.  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. 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.

Me and Lefty PhillipsCalifornia Angels Manager Lefty Phillips and Young Padre Steve 1970

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 game 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 find it 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.  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.

jim_spencer_autographMY Favorite Angel Jim Spencer as a Yankee

In the elementary schools of those days our teachers who put the playoff and World’s Series games as many 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 that the Bronx burned.  Back then every Saturday there was the NBC Game of the Week hosted by Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek and Joe Garragiola.

halicki no hitterEd Halicki No Hitter

When we were stationed in Long Beach California from 1970-1971 my dad had us at Anaheim stadium all the time.  I imagine that we attended at least 30 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.  That 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.  My entry about Angels First Baseman Jim Spencer was a runner up, netting me two seats behind the plate and having Dick Enberg announce 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.

Me and last last picMy Dad and Me May 2009

While we didn’t live as close to a major league team baseball did not go away, though we were not at the ballpark as much it got more interesting as I got to see playoff games and 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 Paul Blair 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.

1972 Oak Park AL RamsMy Championship Season

When I was a kid I had a large baseball card collection which I kept in a square cardboard 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 junk they were tossed out.  This 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 other venues and thrown out the first pitch in a couple of minor league games.  I am enchanted with the game. The foul lines theoretical go on to infinity, only broken by the placement of the outfield wall.  Likewise unlike 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, the exchange of batting orders and explanation of the ground rules, the ceremonial first pitch, 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. 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 are as close to a baseball shrine as Judy will let me make them; thankfully she is most tolerant and indulges this passion of mine.

042Elliott the Usher

Since I returned from Iraq the baseball diamond is one of my few places of solace.  For the first time I bought a season ticket to my local minor league team the Norfolk Tides.  Section 102, row B seat 2 and 3 and was able to watch the game from the same place game after game.  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.

122Moon Over Harbor Park

My dad is slowly dying of Alzheimer’s Disease and a shell of his former self but the last time I visited him we had a few minutes where he was with it we talked baseball and I gave him a new Giants t-shirt and hat.  I plan on going back next month sometime to spend some time with him.  Maybe we’ll get a few minutes of lucidity and a bit of time together again, I wish he was able to get up and play catch, but that will have to wait for eternity on the lushest baseball field imaginable.

The season there is over, but 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.”

044Jeff Fiorentino hits a 3 run shot at Harbor Park

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 can be good again.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

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How Padre Steve’s Teams did in 2009 and What a Game…Twins Win in 12

1972 Oak Park AL RamsThe 1972 Oak Park Little League Rams, American League Champs, Padre Steve’s One and Only Trip to the Post Season

Well, I gave my divisional playoff picks last night and as I start this post the Twinkies and Pussy Cats are going to the 12th inning tied at 5. As I said last night I hope the game goes as long as the Braves-Astros NLDS game that went 18 innings back in 2004. While I’m waiting and watching to see who wins I need a bit of a review to see how my teams in the major and minor teams do this year?

Well…let me change the order of things here, the Twins just won the game actually fulfilling my prediction.  It was one of the best baseball games that I have watched in a long time.  Jim Leyland and Ron Gardenier both did a great job of managing and both teams played really hard.  There were some amazing plays and the Twins pitchers came up big when they needed to in difficult situations often aided by outstanding defense including a play at the plate with the bases loaded with one out in the top of the 12th.  It ended with one out in the bottom of the 12th when Alexei Casilla singled to right off Tigers closer Fernando Rodney to drive in Carlos Gomez.  As I predicted the Twins had the advantage of the 10th man in the Metro Dome.  To win the AL Central they won 17 of their last 21 games and overcame a 7 game Tigers lead.  Even more amazing they came back from 3 three game deficit with only four games left in the season to force the playoff against the Tigers.  When they did that I knew that they would win tonight.  There are some things in baseball that you can feel and no matter how many times the Tigers took the lead I knew that it wouldn’t last.  On a side note, Twins reliever Bobby Keppel got the win. Keppel pitched here in Norfolk when the Mets were the Tides major league affiliate.  It was good to see one of the Tides come through in the clutch to deliver the win.   What a game, I hope every playoff series is this exciting.

As anyone who knows me can tell you I love the game of baseball.  So unlike most people who live and die with one team I can honestly say that I have a number of favorite teams, often for different reasons but always because I like something about them.  This doesn’t mean that they are all winners as is evidenced by some of the records this season, or maybe the past few seasons.  Likewise it means I get conflicted sometimes when two of my favorites play one another.

Of course my favorite team is the San Francisco Giants. They came out west the year before I was born across the Bay in Oakland.  I cannot forget all the greats who have played there and how close they have come to winning the World Series but not doing so.  Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichel, Bobby Bonds, Gaylord Perry and the list can just keep going.  I saw my one no-hitter back in 1975 at Candlestick when Ed Halicki no-hit the Mets.  I won’t forget watching the 1989 World Series when the Bay Area was rocked by a major earthquake or when I saw Barry Bonds hit 756 when sitting in a Army Dining Facility eating breakfast at Camp Victory in Baghdad.

I also have liked the A’s, well I was born in Oakland and even though my dad hated Charlie Finely and never was a fan of the American League I enjoyed the freewheeling A’s of the 1970s, the teams fielded by Tony LaRussa and Billy Ball.  We saw a couple of games in the A’s and Tigers Championship series.  It is really amazing to think that back then you could get field level tickets for a decent price on game day.  There is some tension here because I have a soft spot for the Anaheim Angels who happened to be the California Angels when my dad took us to a huge number of games at the “Big A” before Disney redid everything.  I really came to love the feel of a ballpark in the confines of the “Big A.”  I still have a Angels hat signed by a number of the players from that era including Jim Fregosi, Sandy Alomar, Jim Spencer and Chico Ruiz.  I have pictures of my brother and I with Angles Manager Left Phillips and 3rd Base Coach Rocky Bridges.  Back in those days’ players and managers still had interesting nicknames like Lefty, Rocky, Catfish and Mudcat.

I also liked the Orioles because when we moved to Stockton California they were affiliated with the Stockton Ports of the California League.  I had an Orioles cap that I got there for many years afterward.  I visited Orioles Park back in 2004 and fell in love with the place.  When the Orioles affiliated with the Tides in 2007 I renewed that affection for the O’s even though they have not been very good the past few years.  This year was great to see a number of Tides go up to the majors and do well.

In  2003 I came to follow the Atlanta Braves after seeing their AA and AAA affiliates on a regular basis beginning when I saw the AA affiliate when they played Jacksonville in the Southern League and the Richmond, now the Gwinnett Braves play Norfolk in the International League.  In 2004 when they had the year of the “baby Braves” I had seen all play in the minors that same season.

So how did my teams do?

San Francisco finished 3rd in the NL West despite having an 88-74 .546 record. The Braves had a very similar situation finishing at 86-76 .531 behind the Marlins and Phillies.  Both teams were in contention for the NL Wild Card until the last week of the season.  They had the 6th and 7th best records in the National League.

My American League Teams did not do well with the exception of the Angels.  The Orioles had a bad season topped by a dismal September.  They were able to pull off a 4 game win streak to end the season and keep from losing 100 games.  They finished 64-98 .395 and 39 games out of first place.  They have some positives to build on as they had a very young and fluid roster.  I expect them to be significantly better next year.  The A’s also had a bad year, not as bad as the O’s but bad.  They finish last in the AL West at 75-87 for a .463 winning percentage 22 games behind the Angels.  The Angels though won the AL West with a 97-65 .599 winning percentage. They had the second best record in the American League.

That is why there is always next year.  Besides I still have the game and this post season could be a great one if tonight was any indication.  I’m sorry but the battles on the gridiron cannot compare to the drama that happens on the diamond.  That is why I belong to the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish and this is my view from 102.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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