Category Archives: Baseball

Baseball on Gay Place

A memory of an older Lexington.

Great.

Now I’m gonna want a Dodger Dog all night.

I know I’ve mentioned once or twice…or perhaps a hundred times before how much I love baseball. I come by this infatuation honestly and early.

I grew up in North Lexington, on a street named Gay Place. Go ahead, snicker if you wish, but all it meant to us then was that it made it easy to fill out any forms requiring a home address. I didn’t need to write out street names like “Henry Clay Boulevard” and “Avenue of Champions” until much later in my intellectual development. To be perfectly accurate, the street was South Gay Place and yes, there was and still is a North Gay Place. Today I suppose we would call this configuration a cul-de-sac, but in the late 50’s/early 60’s the only French we knew was French’s Yellow Mustard (See? Completely obsessing on those Dodger Dogs).

On Gay Place, in the summer, we played baseball all the time, everywhere, and with all kinds of equipment.

We mowed the vacant field behind our street and played on the stubble. The field was severely canted on a hill. What did we care? Yes, the run uphill to first base was arduous and rarely successful, but if you made it, you could attain Olympic speed from first to third. Flat is seriously over-rated.

We played intense wiffle ball. We would locate the densest shrub in the neighborhood and put home plate in front of it. That eliminated the need for a catcher. I recall one memorable game when my participation was cut short after I reached into the catcher/bush to retrieve the ball and retrieved a wasp nest instead.

We played in driveways using a fishing cork for the ball and a broomstick for the bat. Our eyes were better then.

My favorite games were played in our backyard. The ground rules were remarkable and vital to know to determine a winning strategy.

  • A ball hit over the right field fence was a home run UNLESS;
    • It crossed over my dad’s vegetable garden. Then it was a foul ball. If it landed in the garden, it was an out – no, it was the ultimate out. We weren’t allowed to play anymore that day. OR…
    • …if the unsympathetic neighbors (probably hockey fans) who lived in the house over the right field fence were home. Then the ball hit over the right field fence was considered un-retrievable until they left home and the game was over or suspended until such time.
  • A ball hit over the left field fence was considered to be “in the outfield”. It could be caught on the fly for an out or fielded to hold the runner to a single or a double. UNLESS…
  • …it was a ball hit over the left field fence AND traveled beyond the tree in the middle of the neighbor’s back yard. That was considered to be a home run and would invariably initiate an argument over the distance measurement of such vitriol it would dwarf today’s chats between Clinton and Sanders supporters.
  • Games would continue until twilight, at which time we would switch to horseshoes, just to irritate ALL the neighbors.

No matter which incarnation of “baseball” we happened to be playing each day, the score for each game was meticulously kept and just as meticulously forgotten the next day. Players switched teams with complete fluidity. Feelings were hurt…and healed. People were offended…and survived. Heroes were made…and humbled. The sun set…and then rose again. We could spell “Gay Place”, but we couldn’t spell “Republican”, or “Democrat”. We had heard of the Reds and the Yankees, but we had never heard of conservatives or liberals. If, in the middle of the game, we felt the call of nature, we ran home or to a neighbor’s house or behind the catcher/bush and no one checked any birth certificates about it.

We had all the time in the world, but there was no time to waste on foolishness like that. We had a game to play.

Oh yeah, I love baseball. I earned the right to that love. Those wasps…!

Bad Checks, Baseball, & Bicycling

Bad Checks, Baseball, & Bicycling

 

Yesterday I went to a softball tournament in Frankfort. It was an all-day affair featuring 8-year-old young ladies missing pop flies, running from base-to-base with joyous abandon regardless of their safe/out status, bearing bats bigger than themselves, and chirping sassy, abusive cheers at the opposing team (which I suspect had cleansed a bit by their parent/coaches).

Janie and I loved it.

Cynics may suggest our delight may have been heartily induced by the un-biased fact that one our favorite nieces was the best player on our, alas, winless team.

Meh…haters will hate.

It was a beautiful day; sunny, temperature perfect. I’m at a ball game, listening to the opposing fans parent-splaining shrilly about keeping your hands up, keeping your eye on the ball, and wait’ll we get home. There were hot dogs…not good hot dogs, mind you…but there are no bad hot dogs at a ball game. That’s what yellow mustard is for.

Man.

How good can life be?

Between games, I mused about the last time I was at these particular playing fields.

I would’ve been 23 or 24 at the time. I was managing two Shoppers Village Liquor stores and living in Frankfort. I liked living in Kentucky’s capitol city. I lived a couple of blocks away from the Capitol Building and the Governor’s Mansion. It was a lovely neighborhood. I was cycling a good bit then and thoroughly enjoyed the impeccable pavement in my neighborhood……it’s good to live near the state capitol.

But not all was hunky-dory.

One of the bete-noirs of retail is bad checks. This is a problem that is rapidly fading as we sail into a cashless world, but in the early 70’s this was a serious impediment to a successful retail endeavor. As such, it fell to the store manager to collect these abominations.

I hated this duty and felt unsuited for it.

But as an actor living by desire in Central Kentucky, a locale that paid zip/zero/goose-egg to its actors, the sponsorship of my employment was paramount. If collecting bad checks was the rent for living in the Eden of my choice…so be it.

This duty led to some interesting adventures and interesting neighborhoods.

One of them had its denouement at the very softball fields of my past weekend.

It was a $20+ promise on a now worthless check. But in the early 70’s, $20 was a week’s rent, or a month of gasoline for the car, or a couple of days’ meals. This was not something to be abandoned without a fight.

I fought.

I first called the offender; no cell phones, only land lines…no answer.

I then drove to offender’s home (not as many guns back then). I parked in front of the address and rang the doorbell. No answer……BUT there was a twitch of the window curtain. Young and invulnerable and Sherlockian that I was, I decided further investigation was called for.

I drove around the block to the alley (alley…not as many guns back then) and waited. Sure enough, the offender emerged from his house in a bathrobe, smoking a cigarette. He spotted me and darted back into the house. I darted around to his front door. He was waiting for me. I received a promise of payment within the week.

Another promise unfulfilled.

Research ensued.

I discovered my offender played in a softball league on Tuesdays (aren’t smaller towns great?).

The next Tuesday, I was on the aluminum bleachers at the fields (Yes! The same ones my butt occupied yesterday!). There was my offender, warming up with his team. I sauntered over (“sauntered”…le mot juste…).

“Crestfallen” has always been a favorite word of mine and I believe I witnessed its living definition at that moment.

“I’ll get that money to you this week, I promise.” Was volunteered.

“Fine”, I replied.

I continued; “I love ballgames, ya know. I especially like ‘em when I know some of the players. And tonight I see a bunch of my customers here.

“If we’re not settled up by next Tuesday, I’ll be back and it won’t be to see the game, as thrilling as the contest might be. It’ll be to let everyone know……”

By Wednesday afternoon, I had received full payment for the check, plus the interest contributed of a choice selection of loud, vulgar abuse……rest easy, there was no vocabulary I had not heard before.

That’s OK.

I wasn’t feeling that good about myself anyway.

Conclusion?

We should pay our actors if we want’em to stick around.

Vada Pinson

Baseball is great because of its timelessness.

It is un-anchored in time.

This is true in large. 150+ years of statistics and players and stories provide a context for every happening in every day’s game.

This is true in small. Every pitch provides the potential for game-winning action, or as a savory consolation, an opportunity to analyze and/or reminisce and/or solve the problems of the world in a beautiful, geometrically-correct setting with a nutritionally-incorrect hot dog (maybe two if there’s a pitching change).

Tonight’s between-the-pitches discussion is triggered by George Grande’s suggestion that the Reds’ Vada Pinson (late 50’s-early 60’s) belongs in the Hall of Fame. Chris Welsh’s retort was that every fan of every team had two or three players from their team’s history that they felt should be in the Hall of Fame.

Well…sure, Chris. That’s probably true.

But those fans would be wrong.

We’re talkin’ Vada Pinson here.

In my pre-teen years, I determined that Vada Pinson was the greatest player not named Frank Robinson in the game. I based this on data…serious data;

  • I went to two games in Crosley Stadium and saw him play.
  • I saw maybe three or four TV games (there was only one televised baseball game per week then – Saturday afternoon – the Reds rarely were featured, not being the Yankees).
  • I listened to several hundred games on the radio (including dozens of late-night games from the West Coast, secretly monitored on my transistor radio under my pillow – don’t tell my Mom.
  • I had a baseball card.

Pit yer analytics against that, Mr. Welsh!

Oh, look.

It’s time for the next pitch.

Backyard Baseball

Ah, I see the Dodgers and the Cardinals are our Sunday night TV baseball contestants this week; from Dodger Stadium. Great. Now I’m gonna want a Dodger Dog all night.

I know I’ve mentioned once or twice…or perhaps a hundred times before how much I love baseball. I come by this infatuation honestly and early.

I grew up in North Lexington, on a street named Gay Place. Go ahead, snicker if you wish, but all it meant to us then was that it made it easy to fill out any forms requiring a home address. I didn’t need to write out street names like “Henry Clay Boulevard” and “Avenue of Champions” until much later in my intellectual development. To be perfectly accurate, the street was South Gay Place and yes, there was and still is a North Gay Place. Today I suppose we would call this configuration a cul-de-sac, but in the late 50’s/early 60’s the only French we knew was French’s Yellow Mustard (See? Completely obsessing on those Dodger Dogs).

On Gay Place, in the summer, we played baseball all the time, everywhere, and with all kinds of equipment.

We mowed the vacant field behind our street and played on the stubble. The field was severely canted on a hill. What did we care? Oh sure, the run uphill to first base was arduous and rarely successful, but if you made it, you could attain Olympic speed from first to third. Flat is seriously over-rated.

We played intense whiffle ball. We would locate the densest shrub in the neighborhood and put home plate in front of it. That eliminated the need for a catcher. I recall one memorable game when my participation was cut short after I reached into the catcher/bush to retrieve the ball and retrieved a wasp nest instead.

We played in driveways using a fishing cork for the ball and a broomstick for the bat.

My favorite games were played in our backyard. The ground rules were remarkable and vital to know to determine a winning strategy.

  • A ball hit over the right field fence was a home run UNLESS;
    • It crossed over my dad’s vegetable garden. Then it was a foul ball. If it landed in the garden, it was an out – no, it was the ultimate out. We weren’t allowed to play anymore that day. OR…
    • …if the people who lived in that house were home. Then the ball was considered un-retrievable until they left and the game was over or suspended.
  • A ball hit over the left field fence was considered to be “in the outfield”. It could be caught on the fly for an out or fielded to hold the runner to a single or a double. UNLESS…
  • …it was a ball hit over the left field fence AND traveled beyond the tree in the middle of the neighbor’s back yard. That was considered to be a home run and would initiate an argument over measurement of such vitriol it would dwarf today’s chats between Clinton and Sanders supporters.
  • Games would continue until twilight, at which time we would switch to horseshoes, just to irritate ALL the neighbors.

No matter which incarnation of “baseball” we happened to be playing each day, the score for each game was meticulously kept and just as meticulously forgotten the next day. Players switched teams with complete fluidity. Feelings were hurt…and healed. People were offended…and survived. Heroes were made…and humbled. The sun set…and then rose again. We could spell “Gay Place”, but we couldn’t spell “Republican”, or “Democrat”. We had heard of the Reds and the Yankees, but we had never heard of conservatives or liberals. If, in the middle of the game, we felt the call of nature, we ran home or to a neighbor’s house or to that catcher/bush and no one checked any birth certificates about it.

We had all the time in the world, but there was no time to waste on foolishness like that. We had a game to play.

Oh yeah, I love baseball. I earned the right to that love. Those wasps…!

It Could Be the Last Thing You Do

Baseball musings while watching Alfredo Simon make a pitching career out of the first inning (48 pitches already and still flingin’ – I’m guessin’ he’s not gonna get a complete game outta this) on a balmy evening (39 degrees and still droppin’) in Chicago. Night games…in Chicago…in April…what kind of mind…? This game is currently on a pace to last 6 ½ hours.

Hey, not to worry, more time to muse. It’s baseball, baby.

Yesterday I caught a few minutes of a Dodgers game described by Vin Scully. One of the batters was blessed with “Socrates” as his first name. Mr. Scully proceeded to give us a biography of the Greek philosopher AND a play-by-play of what it’s like to die from drinking hemlock AND a pitch-by-pitch description of the batter’s plate appearance. You can’t get that kind of service from any other sport.

Right now I’m listening and learning about the circulatory system of ducks as imparted by Thom Brenneman while the Reds pitcher tries to lay down a bunt. You can learn a lot useful stuff in a baseball game.

But what I’m thinkin’ ‘bout tonight is the fearful responsibility involved when buying a ticket to a baseball game. We take it lightly, but think about it.

It could be the last thing you do.

If the game is tied at the end of nine innings we don’t stop playing by the regular rules of baseball until we have a winner. No matter how many innings that may take.

We don’t have clocks, or ties, or judges’ decisions, or goal kicks, or coin flips. We play on. Theoretically, any game you decide to attend could last forever.

Cool……………and a little scary.

W. P. Kinsella wrote SHOELESS JOE, the book the fine baseball film FIELD OF DREAMS was based upon. His next novel was another fine baseball book; THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY. In it, he posits exactly such an eternal baseball game. I recommend it. Oh, don’t get anxious, it’s only 310 pages long and it has an ending.

So, the next time someone asks you if you’d like to catch a baseball game, stop and ponder if you’re really ready for that kind of commitment.

I pretty much always am.

Give the Other Man His Chance

Well, my Reds are off to a surprisingly good start and exhibiting flashes of pretty good baseball. They’re in first place with a fanciful magic number to clinch the pennant somewhere in the 150 range. I probably shouldn’t get too het up. Another minor league pitcher will make his major league debut with the Reds this afternoon against Pittsburgh, one of the best teams in the game. Could be magic – could be tragic.

We’ve only lost one game, but it was a heart-breaker and quite dramatic. The Pirates hit a late-inning grand slam to win 6-5. We had ‘em and we let ‘em get away.

As disappointing as the result was however, it illustrated another of the many reasons to cherish the sport.

Roger Angell in his very satisfying collection THE SUMMER GAME, quotes Earl Weaver in his 1969 explanation of the Orioles’ unexpected loss of the World Series to the Mets;

“You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the goddam plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

No stalling. No waiting for the clock to run out.

“…give the other man his chance.”

Perhaps our elected officials should watching a bit more baseball.

(Fade to geezer grumping off to watch yet another rookie pitcher…)

June’s Boy

Baseball Rhapsodies #1

April 4, 2016

Stop the presses!

The only sport that matters opened its 2016 season this afternoon in Cincinnati. Oh sure, there were a few games played yesterday and we’ll count those results out of pity, but we know what’s right and what’s wrong. The season doesn’t truly begin until the first pitch flies in Cincy.

It flew today and it flew well.

I love baseball for many reasons and many of them were on display today.

Frankly, things look grim for my beloved Reds this year.

  • This year’s Reds came into this season looking like the second worst team in baseball. That was before they opened the season today with their entire starting pitching rotation on the disabled list.
  • They started an outfield today in which Jay Bruce was the greatest offensive threat. Mr. Bruce had his worst year in baseball in 2015. He batted about .226 and spent the winter waiting to be traded. He continues to wait. He’s the best outfielder we have.
  • Our all-star third-baseman was traded in the winter and has been replaced by a young player who has not previously played the position.
  • Our shortstop only played about 40 games last year due to injury.
  • Our catcher only played about half of last year due to injury.
  • Our second-baseman has a clause in his contract that allowed him to refuse multiple off-season attempts to trade him. How inspiring for him to be playing for a team that wishes he would go away.

Given all those happy considerations, why watch ‘em?

Day-to-day baseball is not played on paper. We play the games every day, and every day is new flip of the coin, a new chance to catch the grounder you didn’t/couldn’t catch before, a new chance to hit the curve you didn’t/couldn’t hit before, a new chance to clip the corner of the plate with a come-back fastball that missed yesterday…you get the idea.

The Reds won today. They won!

The starting pitcher pitched well: the bullpen pitched better. The outfielders didn’t hit, but they made sterling plays in the field. The young third-baseman fielded his position well. The shortstop looked healthy and got three hits.

They made the catch. They made the throw. They got the hit. They won the game.

They may lose the next 161, but they won TODAY.

The largest opening day crowd in Cincinnati history watched them win. Why were they there?

Because baseball is all about hope – not great, grand, life-changing hope for the future – but daily hope; hope that today could be better than yesterday. Oh sure, it might not be, but that’s OK too – after all, we’re gonna play again tomorrow!

I love baseball.