Category Archives: Baseball

If You Build It…

Well, I have pretty well wasted the weekend.

My beloved Reds are getting well and playing well…and they’re damn fun to watch.

Watch I did, every inning against the woeful Pirates for four games – all won by the Reds. The weekend closes with Cincinnati trailing the despicable Milwaukee Brewers by a mere five games. Can the World Series be far behind?

But it’s not just the winning.

The team boasts three young players who are legitimate contenders for Rookie-of-the-Year, two current all-stars and one former, a shortstop/catcher (whatta combination) having a career year, and a for real starting pitcher rotation. And they’re ten games over .500.

But it’s not just the winning.

There is joy in Mudville.

They smile, they dance (poorly, but…), they ride motor bikes, and they play hard.

Today they honored the memory of Joe Morgan, perhaps the greatest second-baseman of all-time. His daughters were in attendance. His plaque from the Hall-of-Fame was there. People had their picture taken with the plaque. Bob Costa was there. Stories were told. Tears were shed. For a few minutes national stupidity and incivility evaporated.

There was joy in Mudville.

Baseball does that.

“It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

A wide-eyed James Earle Jones says that in the film; FIELD OF DREAMS.

I watched the MLB Network’s 25th anniversary special on the making of FIELD OF DREAMS this evening (wasting the weekend, remember?). It featured Bob Costa interviewing Kevin Costner and Timothy Busfield on the corn-ensconced baseball field in Iowa.

“It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.”

I’m gonna get me one of those MAGA baseball hats, but it’s gonna stand for Make America GOOD Again.

Good to know.

Good to stand next to.

Good to live next to.

Good to each other.

Jes’ good.

We know how.

For this geezer, baseball immersion helps a bit;

  1. It’s a team game, but individuals are held responsible for individual actions.
  2. You may win today or you may lose today, but you still have to play tomorrow.
  3. Failure means you have to let someone else swing, pitch, run, or catch…but you still have to play tomorrow.
  4. It’s a game. Find the bliss in each play. Remember, you GET to play tomorrow.

PS. If I may recommend a couple of books that will NOT change your life, but might help you happily waste a weekend or two.

W. P. Kinsella wrote SHOELESS JOE, the book on which FIELD OF DREAMS is based. He also wrote THE IOWA BASEBALL CONFEDERACY, which I like even more.

Troy Soos has written a series of baseball mysteries set in the years after World War I. I’m enjoying them.

Now, who might these Rampaging Reds be playing tomorrow?

Jes’ Spitballin’

So…

…major league baseball has announced that beginning June 21 they will be enforcing the rule against pitchers applying foreign substances to the baseball.

Beginning?

This rule has been around for decades.

I drove to Louisville last week for the first time in about six months. I drove a modest 10mph above the posted speed limit and ducked as dozens of other drivers blew by.

The IRS has been so denuded of personnel and resources that they rarely pursue complicated tax returns. “Pursue” is a euphemism for “audit”, and “complicated” is a euphemism for “lucrative.” “Collecting taxes” is a euphemism for “go ahead and drive over that bridge – it’s fine.”

We’re told that there are enough gun laws already in existence, but they’re not enforced. Meanwhile, minimum wage grocery store cashiers are being popped for asking customers who chose to honor the shop with their trade are miffed for being asked to wear a mask. I remember times when I pissed customers off for not letting them wear Halloween masks while shopping in our liquor store. Go figure.

But this is about baseball.

The foreign substance that sparked the now-to-be-enforced rule was spit. Pitchers were spitting (whatever might currently reside in their mouths) onto the ball about to be launched. In theory, it made the ball slippery and unpredictable in its trajectory. Predictably, a bunch of hitters were beaned. Baseball deemed this a dangerous situation and banned the substances…in theory.

Now the rule is being shanghai-ed to alleviate a completely different complaint.

Spin rate.

Never heard of it?

Wanna take a guess?

No, it’s not a measurable when considering for whom you should vote. And no, it’s not referring to the setting on your washer/dryer. Spin rate is how fast a pitched ball rotates on its journey to the strike zone. A faster spin rate creates sharper curves and shorter time periods in which batters can question their career choices. Spin rates have increased lately and batting averages, and game attendance have plummeted.

Spider-tack (spelling here is a wild guess).

Spider-tack has replaced spit, resin, and Prince Albert in a can as the magic elixir du jour. A spot of spider-tack on the hat, glove, belt, or private parts, that can be transferred dexterously to the dexters of the pitching hand seems to magically transform waiver-wire hurlers into Cy Youngs, and permanently consign hitters to a dungeon well below the Mendoza line.

<<<<  sigh  >>>>

I dunno.

In a world where;

  • Presidents don’t pay taxes.
  • People refuse to protect themselves from disease.
  • Ubiquitous firearms have replaced loud voices and fists.
  • Obscene student loan debts have reduced the best and brightest to indentured servitude.
  • Voting is being made harder.
  • Lying is being made easier.

Maybe…just maybe…there are more important rules to fret about.

Pitchers, quit cheating…or don’t. It’s just a game. You know the right thing to do.

Batters, pull up your big boy pants and get better…or don’t. It’s just a game. You know the right thing to do.

The rest of us, pay attention! This is not a game, nor is it a reality show, nor is it a Road Runner/Coyote cartoon. If your democracy dies, it won’t come back to life. It’s dead.

It’s dead.

You know the right thing to do.

Quit cheating, get better, pay attention…don’t wait for someone to ask to examine your hat.

Do the next right thing.

The Road Best Not Taken

We all grow up to soundtracks. Mine included the Beatles, the Temptations, Neil Sedaka, and Wilson Pickett. Don’t judge. It also included Walter Cronkite and Huntley/Brinkley. It also included local voices like radio DJ’s Billy Love, Tom Kindall, and Little Bee. I suppose these and other voices were influential to varying degrees to a goofy teenager in Lexington who was (to quote every first year major league baseball player in history) just glad to be here.

But the soundtrack also included baseball announcers. First it was polished Claude Sullivan describing the Cincinnati Reds games as they it just might be more important than just a game (which of course they were). Then whiling away endless hours of rain delays with Waite Hoyt’s remembrances of his playing days. Al Michaels’ urgency and, occasionally Vin Scully’s erudite ramblings followed.

This had to be the greatest job in the world; major league baseball announcer. It was right up there with being a cowboy or an astronaut or a three-chord guitar-strummin’ British rocker. THAT’S what I wanna be!

Of course I’d never ridden a horse, or thrown a lasso, or shot a six-gun…and frankly, I still question the wisdom of throwing your now empty gun back at pursuers.

I was pretty sure I’d never achieve the required quantity of push-ups to earn my space suit, and I feared projectile hurling might defy my efforts at the anti-gravity waltz.

But play-by-play for America’s game? Oh yeah – that was for me.

But baseball is a fickle game. It only follows the script after the real game is played. You can’t impose a romantic and glorious story line on it with any confidence until the actual statistics are tabulated. To attempt to do so can lead to a humiliation that this sensitive soul simply cannot bear.

Listening earlier today to Barry Larkin and John Sadek gleefully extol the glory of Eugenio Suarez raising his batting average to a giddy .170 was embarrassing. I am a fan of all three of those fellows but…

Listening to Mr. Larkin start a comment; “Notice how the pitcher, with nobody on-base…” and at that precise moment watch the batter sting the pitch into right field for a single, forcing Larkin to amend his comment on the fly in mid-sentence…ouch.

It’s got to be frustrating at an alarming frequency.

I recall a moment early in Jeff Brantley’s announcing career. A young Edwin Encarnatión came to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with the Reds trailing. Mr. Brantley launched into a rant about the ineptitude of Mr. Encarnatión. It was brutal. On the next pitch, Encarnatión smacked a game-winning home run. The crowd was ecstatic. The announcing booth was eerily serene. Encarnatión has gone on to a sterling power-hitting career. Brantley is my favorite current voice of the Reds. But at the time…uber-ouch.

But the moment that I first suspected that the mine-field that baseball announcing might not be for me occurred in the sixties during a Saturday Game-of-the-Week broadcast with Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek. The Mets won the game on a walk-off hit by Choo-Choo Coleman. Tony Kubek interviewed Coleman in the dressing room after the game.

Kubek: “I’m here with the star of today’s game; Choo-Choo Coleman. Choo-Choo…that’s an interesting nickname. Do happen know how you got it?”

Coleman: “No.”

Kubek: “Back to you, Curt.”

My admiration for Tony Kubek soared.

I went back to work on those push-ups.

Baseball 2020

Tonight’s home plate umpire has an entertaining and malleable strike zone, but the beloved (and bemused) Reds are currently ahead. I’ve seen a good bit of 2020’s baseball-in-the-time-of-the-cholera.

Some thoughts occur;

  • I like the rule change starting each extra inning with a man on second base. It maintains the clock-free bliss that is baseball while intensifying the action in the extra innings of a game that has stretched over the years. The strategy of waiting around for a home run isn’t so sound under these new conditions. With a runner on second and nobody out; singles, doubles, and (God forbid) sacrifices are back in play. You might still be sittin’ and watchin’ a tie game for the rest of your life, but you’ll be seein’ some action.
  • Ditto for the rule change requiring a relief pitcher to pitch to at least three batters or to the end of an inning. It adds a dollop of strategy to the game and it eliminates seeing four pitchers warm up in one half-inning.
  • The jury’s still out for me on the designated hitter, but I’m not as opposed I was. Tonight, it’s a lot more entertaining to see catcher Curt Casali batting in the ninth slot than wailing at Luis Castillo’s inept whaling.
  • The crowd sounds being pumped into the empty stadiums need to go away. It’s a hoax. It sounds like a hoax. It makes me wonder if the game is really real. It makes me wonder if we really did land on the moon.
  • The two-dimensional fans in the stands are odd, but at least they’re not all looking at their phones.
  • I like Sam LeCure’s increased participation with the broadcast team. He is more relaxed this year and has an interesting wit and perspective. I’m also happy to see more of Lexington-born Jeff Piecoro…but then, I’m an unabashed homer.
  • The Reds are flat-out disappointing. The highest batting average in tonight’s starting nine belongs to Nick Castellanos. He’s batting .237…pitiful. New additions to the team have not delivered. Moustakis has neither impressed at the plate, nor in the field, and has been often injured. Shogo Akiyama is just now fighting his way through a tough transition to US baseball. Matt Davidson has been released from the team. Pedro Strop, and now Wade Miley – injured. And then there’s Nick Senzel, clearly our answer in center field for the foreseeable future, injured and now injured again. This team should have been in the playoffs this year. It looks highly unlikely now.
  • On the happy side, the pitching has been strong and deep, and all should be Reds next year. A corps of young potential stars are interesting to watch. José Garcia, Tyler Stephenson, Aristide Aquino, and Nick Senzel all should be Reds next year.

I do dearly love the game, though it has and will change. So must I.

But the strike zone…that should be immutable. Someone tell tonight’s umpire.

May your launch angle be correct, your exit velo be 110+, and your spin rate be dazzling.

And this one belongs to the Reds! (Despite the shimmering strike zone)

Missing Sidney on This Sunny Day

It’s strange what can trigger a memory.

Today I heard my friend and adopted faux-daughter Karyn Czar asking the first reporter’s question at the governor’s press conference. I was so proud.

I first met Karyn on stage in a play.

Today was also to be the opening day for the local minor league baseball team; the Lexington Legends. Of course there’ll be no game and perhaps no season at all thanks to the corona virus. My friend Sidney Shaw loved to go to the Legends’ games. He would not have been pleased with the waste of a fine sunny day with no baseball.

I first met Sidney in the same play.

It was the summer of 1994. It was a production of Measure for Measure in the Lexington Shakespeare Festival when it was still in Woodland Park.

I remember admiring Sidney’s ease with the language and the wisdom with which he infused the character he played. I remember being delighted the first night in rehearsal when his character cast aside wisdom for outraged passion. It made the dramatic moment mean something more…more human. Working with Shakespeare’s foreign-to-us cadences and vocabulary can make an actor forget the humanity of the situations being depicted.

Sidney didn’t forget.

This was a nice production with a bunch of new (to me) actors, most of whom I’ve had the good fortune to work with multiple times over the ensuing years. This group of actors has gone on to mean much to Lexington’s theatre audiences; Karyn Czar, Jeff Sherr, Donna Ison, Eric Johnson, Laurie Genet Preston, Joe Gatton, Glenn Thompson, Spencer Christiansen, Holly Hazelwood, and others.

Ave Lawyer directed. It was my first time to work with Ave and certainly not my last. I’ve moved furniture and learned lines for her in a number of shows since then.

Thus it was with Sidney. He and I shared the stage in four or five productions. He was always good company and I learned something from him in every show.

However, my favorite theatre experience with Sidney was as an audience member for his performance in Death of a Salesman. I watched my friend Sidney disappear into Willie Loman. The growing desperation and evaporating control of Willie Loman was so alien to the Sidney Shaw I knew. It was a remarkable stretch for an actor and Sidney handled it adroitly and broke my heart.

I miss Sidney.

This is Our Time

That’s what Governor Andy Beshear told me today.

What a blessing he has been in this season when America learned to its dismay that “corona” was not something you could drive or smoke, but something that could truncate your season basketball tickets, or hose down your spring beach hormones, or free up your Sunday mornings (but not to play golf), ……or kill you……or kill those you love……or kill what you love.

I do not want to disappoint Governor Andy…or endanger my mom, or Janie, or my friends, or total strangers for that matter. I will stay healthy at home.

But I do miss baseball.

I’m loving the free streaming from the Metropolitan Opera and looking forward to the National Theatre’s stream of “One Man Two Guvnors” this Thursday evening.

Continuing my dubious literary journey though the tawdry Edgar Wallace canon is amusing.

Walking the dog 18 times a day is fulfilling.

Janie’s cooking is jes’ fine.

But I do miss baseball.

That explains the giddiness I’m feeling over the “Baseball’s Greatest Games” series on the MLB Network. Bob Costa zips though highlights of the greatest baseball games in the last 50 years with commentary from participating players. Then the network shows practically the entire game with the original play-by-play.

So…

Tonight I’m watching the first game of the 1988 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers (formerly of Brooklyn) and the Oakland Athletics (formerly of Kansas City and Philadelphia). This is the Kirk Gibson game; a cherished moment for any baseball fan. Mr. Gibson’s one-legged homerun in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off (hop-off?) victory for the Dodgers. I know it sounds like a Monte Python routine but it’s actually quite thrilling.

The play-by-play is by Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola, similarly cherish-able; “He was about three minutes late on that fast ball” or “The ball didn’t get up. It didn’t get down. It just got out.”

I got yer analytics right here. Vin and Joe didn’t need no stinkin’ stats.

Also cherish-able for this baseball nerd is getting to watch Lexingtonian John Shelby play center field for Los Angeles.

An interesting aspect of the rebroadcast is the elimination of 90% of the replays and 100% of the strolling time between pitches. It turns baseball into a rhythmic action sport. It’s gripping. You can’t take your eyes off of it.

“You can’t take your eyes off of it.”

Not even for a second.

Not even to take a bite outta yer hotdog, or turn to the friend (or stranger) next to you to discuss in complete sentences and grunts what shoulda been done on that last play or what should be done on the next, or who’s a bum and who’s not, or whether the so-called poetry of Rod McKuen was simply a long-range pre-publicity campaign for Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me (that’s a close call).

In these re-broadcasts, as much as I’m enjoying them, time has been extracted from the timeless game.

Time for important stuff.

And it’s our time.

Our time for important stuff…

…like staying home…

…being healthy…

…being together…

…protecting what we love…

…protecting ourselves…

…not being part of the problem……

……waiting for the next real pitch.

I do miss baseball.

Quarantine Casserole

I’m a lucky guy.

If you’ve spent more than a half an hour with me, you’ve probably heard that phrase and you know I’m talkin’ ‘bout Janie. The eye doctors in Central Kentucky owe me a moiety of their prosperity for all of the eye-rolling I’ve inspired with that phrase, but it’s undeniable. The day I tricked her into thinking she tricked me into marriage was the best day of my life.

First of all, she’s a pole dancer…for real. We even have a pole installed at the house…for real. How many guys do you know that live in a house with a library (with thousands of books, movies, and music discs), and a pole (with a resident dancer)?

I rest my case right there. I’m a lucky guy.

But wait! There’s more!! And it has nuthin’ to do with Ginsu knives.

Said pole dancer is also one sharp cookie.

Janie went hunting and gathering today at Kroger. She slapped on her pith helmet and sallied forth, sans grocery list (that means “without” – apologies to Groucho Marx). She was spurred to action after hearing about lockdowns in Italy and Spain, and Walter Tunis’ trophy-hunter selfie with the last can of tuna from Kroger.

She returned, sporting a grimly triumphal look.

“I hunted. I gathered. You bring ‘em in.”

“What’cha get?”

“Bags of random crap.”

That’s BORC to the I-can’t-be-bothered-to-spell generation (ICBBTS’s).

She was off to wash her hands while I toted in the nine BORC.

What a treasure hunt! What a jumble sale!

There was evaporated milk, clam strips, blueberry muffins, calamari, two cans of tuna (take that Mr. Tunis), a bag of oddly curled pasta (the last in the free world I’m told), one can of spam, and one tiny tin of anchovies. That last sentence was un-exaggerated and unexpurgated.

There was more, of course, but these were the items that dazzled me.

Anchovies.

I have never owned an anchovy in my life. I’m not sure I even know what one is. We are truly living in historic times.

I asked the Great Red-Headed Hunter, gently mind you, about the anchovies.

“I think I have a recipe.”

I surveyed the expanse of the BORC and pondered.

What kind of casserole could involve clam strips, calamari, tuna, spam, and anchovies? Do I wanna know?

The pondering swirled away (as pondering often will) into a stray remembrance of when I collected baseball cards as a child. I recall one summer when every pack of baseball cards I bought had a Marv Throneberry card in it. I didn’t know Marvelous Marv personally. He may have been a charming fellow, but I hated him that summer. What I really wanted that year was Pete Rose’s rookie card. I never got one. At one point, I offered to trade six Marv Throneberry cards for one Pete Rose. No takers.

Today, as I move the grocery piles to the pantry under the avaricious eyes of the dog (hoping for droppage), I am offering one tiny tin of anchovies for six Marv Throneberry cards…plus a few Ginsu knives thrown in.

Thus far, no takers.

I’m gonna go wash my hands.

The Oddness Continues…

I watched the Kentucky Derby…at least I thought I did.

I saw the horse cross the finish line first and his jockey give the first congratulatory interview. Then I switched to an event of far more importance; a titanic early-season baseball contest between my revered Reds and the despised Giants from San Francisco.

The oddness continued from earlier in the week.

– The Reds are wearing uniforms from 1902. I actually like ‘em, but…odd.
– Cody Reed threw a strike…odd.

Then a banner scrolled across the bottom of the screen essentially quoting the Firesign Theater; “Everything you know is wrong” about the Kentucky Derby. The winner (the betting favorite) was disqualified and the second-place finisher (a 65-1 underdog) was been declared the winner. I flipped back to Derby broadcast to see;

– Our scruffy governor in his gimme hat and his five o’clock shadow booed by the vocal majority of a crowd of 150,000 on national TV…very odd.
– The Derby trophy presented to owners that seemed almost apologetic for winning…certainly odd.
– A quick network breakaway to…a hockey game?

Befuddled, I flipped back to the baseball game where I learned the Reds had won the game and scored a lot of runs and Trump was still president.
Odd, odder and oddest.

I sense a disturbance in the Force (or fourth if you must).

Odd Night

It is an odd night after an odd day in these odd times.

I’m watching a little baseball on the tube; my cherished Reds are playing the Mets in New York on a cold and drizzling night. You can see the players’ breath.

Odd and unsettling.

The Reds are facing a fierce and talented pitcher, hittin’ the ball hard, have just left the bases loaded…and have yet to get a hit.

Odd and unsettling.

Speaking of odd and unsettling…

Earlier today, I saw a bit of Attorney General Barr’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I heard the Committee Chairman use the word “fuck” to open the hearing…a United States senator…on national TV…with the Attorney General of the United States sitting in front of him…in a Senate committee room…a room in the same building as the room where John Dean gave his astounding testimony to the Watergate Committee in June of 1974.

I was working nights in 1974. Thus, I got to watch and listen to some of Dean’s testimony in those pre-cable and pre-internet days.

I was struck by the difference between the hearings. In 1974;

– No one said “fuck.”
– Speeches were mostly absent.
– Questions were prevalent, prepared, and mostly to the point.
– Questions were expected to be answered, not dodged.
– Partisanship was present but not raw.
– No one seemed to regard participation in the proceedings as an opportunity to personally shine.
– Indeed, no one seemed to be happy to participate at all. It was serious bidness.

Today?

Well, aside from Kamala Harris, the senators and the Attorney General seemed clearly lesser lights than I remember from 1974.

Odd and unsettling.

I can’t say I know I want Ms. Harris to be my president yet. It’s too early for that.
But it’s not too early to know I don’t want the other participants in today’s exercise to be my public servants. I’m not stupid enough to not want my elected officials to be smarter than me. Otherwise, why would I need ‘em?

Surely we can do better.

Now, ‘bout that ball game…
It’s nuthin’ to nuthin’ and the beloved Reds have just replaced their 3-hit-shutout-throwin’ pitcher.

Odd.

Son of Hankerin’ for Horsehide

I’m sittin’ here in the gloom…
… and the wetness that is this Kentucky night.
The color palette outside my window ranges from slate to indigo to gray to charcoal to stygian abandon-all-hope black.

What could possibly redeem this evening?

My dog is bouncing off the walls; “Is it spring yet? Can I go out? Can I come in? Can I go out and then come in…three times?”
The cat languidly blinks at me; “Deal with it, fool.”
There’s joy for me in these critters, but no succor for this murk.

But lo!

The first baseball spring training game is on the tube, like an oasis shimmering in a desert-ordeal flick.

My first glimpse of this game in Arizona features short-sleeved, sunglasses-bedecked fans enjoying the sun.

The sun; whatta concept!

Palm trees peeking over the outfield fences.
Green.
Dry.
Bright.
Gulp!

The game is apparently between the Cincinnati Reds (masters of last place for the last 5-6 years) and the Cleveland Indians (legitimate contenders).

Apparently.

Actually, the game is between unknown strangers wearing uniforms that say; “Cincinnati” or “Cleveland.” That’s how it is in the early days of spring training.
This being so, one of the charming traits of these pre-season games is the uniform numbers.

I just watched #62 of the Indians walk #78 of the Reds, filling the bases (#’s 80 and 68 were already on second and third). #63 of the Reds then flied out to #72 in center field and #84 struck out to end the inning. These stratospheric numbers are issued to the players who are “just glad to be here” and have no chance of making the opening day rosters. In a few days, they will be dispersed back to the camps of Asheville, Louisville, Akron, Missoula, and Waddy-Peytona; towns that will not appear in your newspaper’s daily “Major League Standings.”

Another less-than-charming trait of spring training is the absence of extra-innings. The teams are only playin’ nine and settlin’ for ties. The teams are there to practice and get in shape…not win. This jars me to my genomes. It’s a violation of all things baseball. I need some president to blame.

I also notice there’s a “pitch clock” counting down in the background. Good luck with that.

Wait a minute! #105 just caught a stinging line drive in the left field corner! I hope, if he ever makes it to the big leagues, his number is maintained at #105 for at least a year so I can connect today with that day. Maybe, by then, I’ll also have learned his name.

But forget all that.
Cling to what’s important;
– Green
– Dry
– Bright
– Players chasing and throwing and batting and catching spheres……

Tell me again why I enjoyed Harry Potter books so.