Posts Tagged ‘baseball’

It’s the National Pastime, So to Speak

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

This article first appeared in Talking Writing on June 9, 2011.

By Jeremiah Horrigan

If the Mets can win the World Series, the United States can get out of Vietnam.” -- New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver

“If the Mets can win the World Series, the United States can get out of Vietnam.”
      — New York Mets pitcher  Tom Seaver

Some still call it the National Pastime, but I’d say baseball is something closer to the National Religion. That revelation came to me after a few hours spent poring over a summertime favorite of mine: a 500-plus-page tome called “Baseball’s Greatest Quotations,” by Paul Dickson. It’s become a catechism of the game for me — a pain-free, smile-inducing way to rediscover a love of baseball I hardly knew I had.

Like other religions, baseball has seen better days. It’s under siege, even on the sports pages, which sometimes read more like the financial pages these days. Or the police blotter, with headlines about grand juries, not grand slams.

Make a pilgrimage to one of baseball’s storied cathedrals, and you’ll find that corporate grandees have paid far more than most of us can earn in a lifetime to secure the pews with the best sight lines. And then there’s the six bucks you’ll pay for a cup of baseball’s holy water: body-temperature beer.

Do I sound like a believer? A defender of the faith? I’m not. I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s and hated playing baseball more than doing long division. More even than mowing the grass.

But baseball was the faith of my father and his father before him, although both men saved room in their hard-working lives for the more traditional forms of worship.

Over the years, I’ve argued with and turned my back on both types of religion, but I know I’ll never completely say goodbye to either. Nor do I really want to. Both are too tightly entangled — for good and ill — in a remembered time that gives me great pleasure.

Which is why “Baseball’s Greatest Quotations” is sitting, Gideon-like, beside me on a hotel nightstand as I write these words during a weekend vacation. No longer in danger of being struck out, chosen last, or beaned by one of Tommy Corcoran’s famous fastballs; no longer forced to learn humiliating life lessons by shagging grounders or losing pop flies in the hot summer sun; in short, no longer having to practice the religion all the other guys loved so much, I find one of my greatest summertime pleasures to be this: reveling in the words of baseball’s most notorious characters.

An extremely partial and necessarily random list of these characters — whose nicknames even Damon Runyon couldn’t improve upon — would include Jim “Baby Cakes” Palmer, Kenny “The Incredible Heap” Kaiser, “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, “Say Hey” Willie Mays, and Enos “Country” Slaughter.

These names are but the wispiest helix of baseball’s indestructible DNA, as evidenced by the book’s subtitle: “From Walt Whitman to Dizzy Dean, Garrison Keillor to Woody Allen, a treasury of more than 5,000 quotations plus historical lore, notes, and illustrations.”

The book is a century-spanning sampler of mots both bon and not-so-bon, requiring no great familiarity with the quotees or the particulars of the game. Its appeal is, quite simply, nostalgic, hearkening back to the storied “simpler times” that all nostalgia encompasses. And you needn’t have lived in those times to delight in them.

You want simplicity? Here’s the great DiMaggio, looking back on his first days in the majors: “I can remember a reporter asking for a quote. I didn’t know what a quote was. I thought it was some kind of a soft drink.”

Keep in mind that the gifted rube who said those words went on to marry Marilyn Monroe.

You want some more? Here are a very few of the choicest bits:

  • “You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.” — author Roger Kahn.
  • “No, why should I?” — pitcher Don Larsen, when asked if he ever got tired of speaking about his World Series perfect game.
  • “Finley is a self-made man who worships his creator.” — sportswriter Jim Murray, describing A’s club owner Charlie Finley.
  • “If the Mets can win the World Series, the United States can get out of Vietnam.” — New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver, circa 1969.

I could go on, but, as the great A. J. Liebling would have said, it would explode me.

The ultimate baseball quote belongs to Philip Roth (whose best and funniest work, “The Great American Novel”, is a baseball saga, natch). Here’s his description of what baseball meant to him as a kid growing up in New Jersey, a gem plucked by Dickson from the pages of The New York Times, circa 1973: “… baseball — with its lore and legends, its cultural power, its seasonal associations, its native authenticity, its simple rules and transparent strategies, its longeurs and thrills, its spaciousness, its suspensefulness, its heroics, its nuances, its lingo, its ‘characters,’ its peculiarly hypnotic tedium, its mythic transformation of the immediate — was the literature of my boyhood.

“Literature of my boyhood.” Wish I’d said that. But I’ll stick with my religious metaphor and recommend Dickson’s book to true believers and old apostates everywhere.

And, don’t forget, if memories of that centerfield sun get to be too much for you, quench that thirst with an ice-cold can of Quote — the drink of champions!

  • Baseball’s Greatest Quotations, by Paul Dickson, published by HarperResource, January 1991 (revised edition published by Collins Reference, September 2008).            

 

If the Grandy Man Shirt Fits, Wear It

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

By Bob Gaydos

The shirt

The shirt …

I’m wearing my Curtis Granderson shirt today. The Yankee shirt. Number 14. This is significant for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is why the heck a 75-year-old man is wearing a shirt bearing the name of any of today’s professional athletes.

It was a gift. Several years ago, my son, Zack, who has inherited my rooting interest in the Yankees and my mother’s desire to choose the perfect gift for whomever was on the receiving end, gave it to me for my birthday. (If my memory fails and it was Christmas, he will let me know.) It was … almost perfect. One size too small. A nice compliment, but that consigned Grandy to the bottom of the shirt drawer for … well, until now.

Now, I’m wearing it and, obviously, this is another significant reason for mentioning it. I’ve lost weight and gotten in better shape. Wearing the shirt actually makes me feel a little younger and a little stronger and who cares if it’s all in my head. My head can use all the positive vibes it can get these days. As I’ve mentioned before, I often turn to sports when the rest of the world is too much to face first thing in the morning.

… This seems like a good point to let the non- sports fans in on the conversation. Zack gave me the shirt because Granderson was my favorite Yankee at the time, and that was only partially because he’s a heck of a good ballplayer.

The man ...

The man …

Let’s get the ballplayer part out of the way first. Granderson, who now plays centerfield for the New York Mets (the Yankees should have never let him go), is a three-time All-Star. He has power and speed, being the rare major leaguer to have 20 home runs, 20 triples and 20 stolen bases in the same year. He can bat leadoff or third, depending on the team’s need. He’s an excellent outfielder. A streaky hitter, he is also a clutch hitter and can carry a team when he’s on a hot streak, as he did for both the Yankees and Mets. He is a quiet leader in the clubhouse. He also strikes out a lot, but today that doesn’t seem to matter in baseball. It also makes him human.

None of that is why I have a Curtis Granderson shirt. Nor is it because I liked to hear Yankees’ radio announcer John Sterling sing, “Oh, the Grandy Man can” after every Granderson home run. If I wanted speed and power I could have gone for Mickey Mantle, who was at least in my age group. The truth is, as good as Granderson has been on the field, he has been spectacular off it. Indeed, his biography on Wikipedia talks as much about his community and charitable work as about his baseball exploits. You don’t find many athletes who come close to what he has done and continues to do out of uniform.

And who, by the way, are as well-spoken as he is. In fact, his ability to express himself served him well as an ambassador for Major League Baseball International, traveling  to England, Italy, the Netherlands, France, South Africa, China, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan to promote baseball.

There’s more. With a noticeable decline in the number of black athletes choosing baseball, he has worked with the African-American community to discuss the reasons. When signed to endorse products for Nike, Louisville Slugger and Rawlings, he asked them to donate money to his foundation or equipment to inner-city baseball programs rather than pay him. That foundation raises money for the education of inner-city children and Granderson has also written a children’s book, ‘’All You Can Be: Dream It, Draw It, Become It!,’’ which is illustrated by New York City public school students.

Too good to be true, right? Other players, counting their home runs and their Twitter followers, must resent this guy, right? Well, in 2009, the players chose him baseball’s man of the year for his community work and, in 2011, he was voted one of the friendliest players in the Major Leagues, according to a poll Sports Illustrated conducted of 290 players. One more thing. He.wears his socks high, the old-fashioned way (which I really like), to honor players from the Negro leagues.

And so what? you say.

And so, I say, in my ever more persistent effort to be aware of synchronicity in my life, that I was given my Granderson shirt to wear today because it would inevitably lead me to a place of positive thoughts, a place of hope and a bit of serenity.

There are, after all, Curtis Grandersons in all walks of life, accomplished, intelligent, articulate, modest, compassionate, generous and willing to lead the way. Some of them are even rich. (Granderson’s getting paid $15 million this year by the Mets.) I’d venture to say that any one of them who happened to magically appear behind a big desk in the Oval Office tomorrow would have the common sense to say, “Get Steve Bannon the hell out of here right now or you’re all fired!”

That’s what. They’re out there. We just have to dig their shirts out of the bottom of the drawer and start wearing them.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Back Page for Gary; Two Bits for 50 Cent

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Gary Sanchez ...future star?

Gary Sanchez …future star?

Back page stuff: Last week, I wrote about my need in this time of negative news to find a feel-good sports story, one worthy of the back page in a tabloid newspaper. The baseball gods must have read my plea and felt my angst.

They delivered Gary Sanchez, a gift to Yankee fans like myself, in particular, and baseball fans in general. Sanchez, 22, was liberated from the Yankees’ minor league affiliate in Scranton, Pa., as part of the major league’s club purge of aging veterans and infusion of young, potential stars.

Sanchez has been with the Yankees for two weeks and has been named American League player of the year both weeks. No rookie has ever earned that honor back-to-back, never mind in his first two weeks. In fact, the last time an American League player won the award in consecutive weeks was 18 years ago and that was an established star, Albert Belle of the Chicago White Sox.

Sanchez was installed as the Yankees’ starting catcher and immediately started hitting home runs, a Yankee tradition. He has not stopped hitting them yet. He has 11 home runs in 23 career games. No Yankee slugger got to that number that quickly and the Yankees’ roster of sluggers boasts such names as Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle.

That’s not all. Sanchez is batting .398, driving in runs and throwing out would-be base stealers routinely with a cannon of an arm. He has energized a slumbering Yankee offense. His at bats have become must-see TV, or, in my case, must-hear radio. The other day, listening to the Yankee game on the car radio, I parked in the driveway at home as the Yankees were batting. Sanchez was due up next. I waited to hear what he would do. No way I was going to miss his at bat. He walked. He has been walked a lot, too, a sign of respect from pitchers who haven’t yet figured out how to get him out.

That will come, of course. The pace he has been on is impossible to maintain, but that’s what makes it back-page material. That’s what is at the heart of the appeal of sports — the wholly unexpected happening. Will he do it again? Oh my god, he did it again! The drama, the amazement, the shared joy of fan and player. The lure that first made me want to start the day by reading the paper from back to front,

The Yankees’ obviously had high hopes for Sanchez when they signed him to a $3 million bonus as a 16-year-old in the Dominican Republic. But no one could have predicted what his first two full weeks as a major league player would be like. The hope, of course, is that he doesn’t flame out just as quickly as he ignited, but that he settles in and becomes maybe another one of those legendary Yankee catchers. The ones who provided plenty of back page material themselves. Yogi, Thurman, Elston, Jorge. … Gary?

Meanwhile, back in the front of the paper:

50 Cent ... two-bit star

50 Cent … two-bit star

When I read that the rapper 50 Cent was coming to Newburgh, a small city on the Hudson River that is struggling to regain its former glory, I had the same reaction as many other residents of the area: Newburgh? Really? He’s big time. Why’s he coming to Newburgh?

When I got the answer to that question, I had another question. Vodka? Really? He’s coming to Newburgh to shill vodka?

I have since asked myself numerous times whether my reaction to this appearance was somehow exaggerated or misplaced or unfair or even old-fashioned. I have decided that, in fact, my reaction was entirely appropriate and I can’t believe no one else has voiced it.

So … The idea that a world-famous black performer would come to Newburgh, a minority majority city that has had to battle drugs, gangs, drug-related shootings, crime in general, poverty, a sullied reputation and a revival effort that at times smells strongly of gentrification to sell, of all things, vodka in a company in which he is a shareholder struck me as ludicrous and incredibly tone deaf.

And talk about crass marketing. For a $40 bottle of vodka, a fan (more than 100 showed up at the liquor store) could get a bottle with 50 Cent’s signature. (I don’t know if he signs 50 in cursive.) For $240 — the price of a six-bottle case — one could get a photo with Mr. Cent. As far as I can tell, all the money stayed with 50. There were plenty of smiling faces. After two hours, he left, presumably to hawk his vodka at another liquor store.

This left a really bad taste in my mouth. Did he not know anything about Newburgh? Does he not remember his past in Queens? The drug-dealing as a teen. Being raised by his grandparents. Serving time in a juvenile detention facility. Being shot. Did he not have the sense even to say that any money collected from his appearance would go to efforts to fight drugs and alcoholism, to help after-school programs for children, to buy computers for the schools, to fund neighborhood cleanup programs, to promote cultural awareness programs, to help a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, to fund scholarships for talented students who might want to pursue a career in music? Pick one.

He doesn’t need the money. His appearance helped only the liquor store owner and the company that sells the vodka. They’re entitled to want to succeed. And 50 Cent is entitled to want to help make his shares in the company appreciate. But Newburgh deserved better. Be a source of inspiration for Pete’s sake, not a liquor salesman. You’re a star; act like one. Give a performance; raise money to promote revival of Newburgh beyond the waterfront.

On the same day as Mr. Cent hawked vodka, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also visited Newburgh to “unveil a new affordable housing program in which residents can take over properties at little to no cost and get money for renovations,” according to the local paper. Unfortunately, more people were aware of the vodka event than the housing event.

By the way, the name of the booze 50 Cent is pushing? Effen Vodka. Yeah, it’s not funny.

And so it went …

rjgaydos@gmail.com

And So It Went … A Review of the Events of the Week

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear. Hate.

Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear. Hate.

Ridicule, lie, insult, lie, mock, lie, bully, lie. Hate.

Fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear, fear. Hate.

White, white, white, white, white, white, white. Hate.

God bless America. God bless Donald Trump.

She said/she said. She said she said/she said.

Ego, ego, ego. Lies, lies, lies. Fear, fear, fear. fear.

Hate.

For those fortunate enough to miss it, the preceding is my synopsis of the Republican National Convention, which dominated the news last week. This is by way of resuming my contribution to the Internet dialogue with a regular Sunday collection of events that piqued my interest, tickled my fancy or struck me as almost too dumb for words (see above).

For this first installment, I’m going back more than a week because the major media apparently had no time to report on anything but the white supremacist rally in Cleveland. So …

  • Mick Jagger is going to be a father,
    Mick Jagger ... proud papa to be, again

                              Mick Jagger
                 … proud papa to be, again

    for the eighth time. Gathering no moss (sorry), Jagger, who is a great-grandfather, will be 73 when the baby is born next year. Mom-to-be is a 29-year-old former ballerina, who is said to be quite content with her relationship with the Rolling Stones frontman, which includes everything but marriage, living together and Mick changing diapers. Mine not to judge. I was 50 when my first son was born, 52 for the second. But I changed a s***load of diapers. Also, vasectomies are safe.         

  • Interesting footnote that occurred to me as I researched Jagger: He has four children, aged 18 to 32, with his former partner, Jerry Hall, 60. She and Jagger split 17 years ago. Earlier this year, Hall, a former model, married media mogul and billionaire Rupert Murdoch, 85. There’s no talk of additions to their extensive families, but Hall chose a favorite site of her old Rolling Stones days for her honeymoon with Murdoch, who just seemed happy to complete the climb to get there. Draw your own conclusions.
  • The Russian track and field team was disqualified from the 2016 Olympics because of what was described as a state-sponsored comprehensive doping program involving the 2012 Olympics and other competition. (The International Olympic Committee, never known for bold action, decided not to ban the entire Russian team, leaving that decision to the ruling federation of each sport.) The sports world was not shocked at the news, but, responding on social media, Russian fans criticized the author of the report that fingered the Russian testing lab and government officials by saying he was a typically biased American. He was, in fact, a typically neutral Canadian academic. Denial knows no nationality.
  • Pokemon Go. Why didn’t I buy Nintendo stock two weeks ago? I have no idea how the virtual reality game works, but these people should be working for the CIA. Maybe they are. (By the way, there’s a Charmander hidden in this copy, which you can find if you buy the app. Only $1.99. See the e-mail below.)
  • The National Basketball Association moved its 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte to New Orleans. The principled move was a response to North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law, which is a classic example of the fear-based legislation proposed in the Republican platform at that hate-fest in Cleveland. Well-played, NBA.
  • Terry Collins, manager of the New York Mets, had the honor of managing the National League team in this year’s baseball All Star Game. He had two Mets on his roster for this exhibition of the sport’s best. Players consider it an honor to be chosen. They consider it even more of an honor to actually play and when your manager is the All-Star manager, you figure on having a good chance of getting in the game. Go figure. Bartolo Colon, at 43, the oldest all-star and a fan favorite, never got to pitch. Neither did Jeurys Familia, the Mets’ star relief pitcher. They were not happy, but politely kept it to themselves. Collins managed to get players from the 14 other teams in his league in the game, but said his guys were only going to be used in “special” situations that didn’t arise. Terry, Terry, Terry, the whole game was “special” and it didn’t mean anything in the standings. These were your guys. Special treatment would have been letting each pitch to a couple of batters.
  • Roger Ailes was fired as the boss of Fox News, by Rupert Murdoch, the owner of Fox News. Ailes was shown the door
    Roger Ailes ... Fox boss no more

                                Roger Ailes
                         … Fox boss no more

    (with a hefty severance check) when Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox anchor, filed a lawsuit  against him claiming sexual harassment. Other females then joined in to say Ailes had behaved the same with them. The move by Murdoch was swift. (It’s good to be the king and a billionaire.*) It was also without much controversy, probably because Ailes is well-known as a thoroughly despicable person. He is, in fact, in large part responsible for creating the orgy of anger and paranoia reported at the top of this   column by molding Fox News into an organ of fear, bigotry, misinformation, disinformation, and hateful, negative, bordering-on-compulsive propaganda directed at Democrats, in particular Barack Obama, the first black American president, and Hillary Clinton, who, if there really is some method to all this madness will soon become the first female American president.

R.I.P. GOP. Lincoln rolled over in his grave last week. So did Eisenhower and Reagan. John Boehner cried. Paul Ryan lied. And so it went.

* With a nod to Mel Brooks.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

For Little Leaguers, No. 2 was No. 1

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

By Bob Gaydos

Derek Jeter

Derek Jeter

Confession: As coach of my son’s Little League team, I used my responsibility as uniform distributor to make sure that Zack got the number he wanted. Number 2.

Yeah, it’s the number probably 90 percent of the kids wanted, but I never felt guilty about it because: (a) the smaller kids got the lower numbers and Zack had a delayed growth spurt and (b) c’mon, what dad wouldn’t do what he could to help his son got Derek Jeter’s uniform number?

For those who may have been on another planet, Jeter is retiring after 20 years as a New York Yankee. This is his last week as a major league baseball player. The season has been a continuous homage to his career and, more significantly, to the professional, dignified manner in which he has lived it. Number 2 has been Number 1 when it comes to athletes as role models.

Some people (not Yankee fans) have complained that the Jeter Love Train has been a bit much this year, with tributes paid to him in every ballpark the Yankees visited. I can understand that, but when the commissioner of the league says he’s proud that Jeter has been the face of baseball for a decade or more, I think it’s important. There has been no hint of scandal attached to Jeter for his 20 years with the Yankees. No steroids. No arrests. No trash-talking or posturing.

And, by the way, only five players (Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Tris Speaker) have compiled more hits (3,460 and counting) than Jeter. He happens to have been a hell of a ballplayer. Clutch hits. Clutch plays in the field. Mr. November. The Captain. Five World Series rings. Mr. Consistency. More games at shortstop than anyone else. Never played another position. He is a guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famer and any baseball writer who doesn’t vote for him should have his voting privileges rescinded.

Jeter managed all this in the toughest market and media center in baseball — New York City. Funny thing though, while he qualifies as an all-time great and conceding that playing with the Yankees has helped burnish his image, Jeter doesn’t even make the list of top five Yankees of all time in my opinion. That would be Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. Still, being number six to that group is no small thing and it’s hard to imagine anyone breaking in to that Top Six club.

Mostly, when I look at Jeter’s career, I’m impressed with how quietly he went about his job, how almost routine he made the anything-but-routine appear. I don’t know how humble one can be when millions of fans shower you with praise every day for a year, when TV commercials extol your nice-guyness. Of course, Jeter has made hundreds of millions of dollars from baseball and those product endorsements. But that’s the world we live in and he has managed to carry it off with a sense of grace and dignity. You don’t hear those words used much around athletes these days.

Not to belabor what is really only repetitive, I felt an obligation to publicly thank Derek Jeter for showing youngsters how to go about whatever they do in life with a sense of purpose, responsibility, dedication, modesty, focus and respect for others. For showing them how to be grateful for the gifts they may have. That he also played baseball much better than most others was icing on the cake.

So here’s to Number 2. That number will be retired by the Yankees this year, which means a new generation of young ballplayers will have to find another number to demand. And a new group of dads will try to make it happen.

Going Home

Friday, August 15th, 2014

By Gretchen Gibbs

Roger Angell, the writer who constructed such great pieces for the New Yorker, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame a couple weeks ago. He could make baseball come alive even for those who consider it boring. One of his statements, paraphrased, was that baseball is a metaphor for life, that we struggle through it, only to arrive finally at home, where we started.

Remembering this philosophical nugget, I began to think about my ex-mother in law.

I was never close to Catherine, who was too self-centered and childish to be a good mother to my former spouse, or to hold a real conversation with me. She was only appealing to certain men, who were charmed by her beauty and child-like enthusiasm for pretty things and good food. In her seventies, demented with Alzheimer’s, or something like it, she still had a boyfriend who adored her.

After she began thinking there were men living in the back room of Southbury, her retirement village condo, men who were stealing things from her, she had to go to the Home, a comfortable nursing home with remarkably caring nurses. She would forget where she was and say in a matter-of-fact way, “It’s time to go home to Southbury now.” She spoke of the retirement village as though she still lived there, reminding herself, regardless of the season, that it was time to put out the green and white striped awnings, or that she needed to go through her papers. When we had brought her to the Home, we discovered that the Southbury condo was full of papers, unpaid bills mixed in with junk mail and old letters, and shopping lists, most of them stuffed into the washing machine.

A year passed. We visited regularly, and often Catherine would say, “It’s time to go home to Floral Park now. I want to sit on the screened porch.” The house in Floral Park, set next to the vast extension of the Belmont Racetrack, was where she and her husband had brought up their children through adolescence, and on hot summer evenings the screened-in porch was a soft green delight.

Another year. Catherine still seemed happy at the Home, but she spoke of needing to go home to Woodside, the apartment house in Queens where she lived when first married. She wanted to visit Aunt Anna who lived in the apartment upstairs, and to have the whole family over for Anna’s gingery sauerbraten and crisp potato pancakes. But Anna was no longer alive.

Finally, Catherine had to go to a hospital, where she died, unable to recognize us, wandering in her mind through her childhood home in Hastings, Pennsylvania, speaking to her dead mother and sisters, re-grieving the deaths of her brothers, one on an embankment and the other drunk on the railroad track.

Roger Angell was right, but he left out that at some point in our lives we begin going backwards around the bases, revisiting in our minds all our homes until we arrive at last at the beginning.

 

 

The Old Ball Game

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

By Jeffrey Pagerockland-boulders-secondary-logo

There’s plenty to grouse about at a minor league ballgame.

Example: Those stupid mascots that prance all over the field in the time between half innings. I think a mascot with a gyrating pelvis is inappropriate at a gathering where there are hundreds of seemingly innocent kids. But if the bump-and-grind weren’t enough, the bird-like creature that represents the Rockland Boulders in Pomona also parked himself on an inner tube and appeared to be delivering a lesson on potty training. Maybe I’m too critical.

Example: Then again, maybe I’m not. The Boulders’ announcement that if such-and-such a player on the opposing team struck out, everyone in the stands would get a ticket for a free soda at a future Boulders game. Now I have no problem with someone’s yelling to an opposing player, “Swing and miss, batter! Swing batter batter batter!” Somehow that’s part of the game. But to have free-soda-if-he-fans blasted into his ears (not to mention into our ears) over the stadium sound system? That should be outlawed by any league that is remotely aware of the concept of sportsmanship.

I could go on. There was the woman who sang the National Anthem and tried to jazz up “free” as in “o’er the land of the free” and proved that maybe the Star Spangled Banner is no rollicking affair.

But enough. Let’s talk baseball, which I thoroughly enjoyed at the Boulders game.

There’s a certain purity to be found in minor league baseball that once existed in the bigs but doesn’t much anymore.

The Boulders played the Trois Rivieres Aigles from Quebec at Provident Bank Park in Pomona. It was cat and mouse for the first seven and a half innings with the score tiptoeing one run at a time, finally reaching 3-3. The Boulders needed a run; I needed a hot dog. They succeeded; I got a dog whose flavor was unlike any other frank I’d ever consumed. That is not a compliment.

The major leagues have fixated on the home run, to the near exclusion of other run-producing weapons. But as Rockland and Trois Rivieres had at it, I got a nice taste of what the game used to be about.

For example, I saw the Boulders attempt a hit-and-run play, and could not recall the last time I’d seen this exciting tactic. (The runner on first base starts running as the pitcher lets go of the ball. The batter must make contact because if he misses, the runner is toast. If the hitter succeeds and gets a base hit to the outfield, the runner could well reach third base.

Rockland tried it and failed but at least I saw the attempt. Done right, the hit-and-run is as much choreography as it is athleticism and fun to watch.

Something else you find at little places like Provident Bank Park is the sacrifice bunt to move a runner. Do they bunt at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium? Maybe not at the stadium because it’s an American League park and AL teams have the designated hitter – an abomination if you ask me – and probably figure they don’t need to ask their players to bunt.

I saw one of the Aigles lay a bunt down so exquisitely that it caught the Boulders’ infield glued in place. Keats easily could have been describing a left-handed batter pushing a bunt along the third base line when he observed that a thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Back to the present. The Boulders’ bats, which had been suffering from iron deficiency anemia, finally came to in the bottom of the eighth, and the home team scored six runs with single after single. Very exciting. The Aigles picked up two runs – on a home run – in the top of the ninth, and that was it. The final: 9-5. A nice evening.

The hot dogs may taste like an alien life form, the management may make kids look like braying fools by tossing t-shirts into the stands and the children pleased for a shirt to be thrown in their direction, and we still may be blasted with a few notes from the Toreador Song, the Notre Dame Fight Song, and other adrenaline anthems after every pitch, but I’m going back.

It’s a great place to see some baseball.

A Husband/Father/Ballplayer Gets It Right

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

By Bob Gaydos

Victoria and Daniel Murphy, proud new parents

Victoria and Daniel Murphy, proud new parents

Witnessing the births of my two sons were moving experiences for me. I was a grab bag of emotions, equipped with a camera. Anxiety, impatience, excitement, irritability, awe, relief, exhilaration and happiness played tag at different times in my head. In the end, gratitude won out.

It still does. I like being a father. I love my two sons and I am proud of them. Witnessing their entrances into the world was, for me, the right way to begin our lifelong relationships. I think being there is important. Yes, their mother did the hard work, but I never felt my presence at their births was pro forma. You know, show up, look concerned, puff your chest out, then go hand out cigars and leave mother and child alone. Old-school fathering.

It’s not me.

Daniel Murphy apparently isn’t an old-school father either. Murphy plays second base for the New York Mets. He’s an average second baseman, but one of the best hitters on the team. Instead of being with the team for Opening Day, Murphy, 29, took three days of paternity leave allowed major league ballplayers to be with his wife, Victoria, when she gave birth to their first child, Noah.

For this, he was assaulted with a flood of criticism from — not teammates, not fans, not baseball officials — but by three windbags on WFAN Radio and one on Fox News. They said Murphy should have checked in to see his first child born, then rushed to be back with his team. One day off tops, they said. None of this three-day paternity leave nonsense.

Because, of course, missing a couple of games out of 162 is an act of disloyalty or lack of work ethic. Unmanly even. C’mon, Murph, hire a nanny, they said. Where are your priorities? You should be fielding ground balls, never mind being by your wife’s side for the first three days of this exciting new chapter of your lives. This is stupid personified.

For the record, Murphy appears to be doing just fine in the stereotypical, outdated, macho, male-providing-for-the-family role that seems to underlie much of this criticism. He’s getting paid $5.7 million this year by the Mets, which means, as one of his critics suggested, he could hire 20 nannies if he wanted to. The thing is, he apparently doesn’t want to. He preferred to be at the hospital when his son woke up crying.

“We had our first panic session,” Murphy recalls. “It was dark. She tried to change a diaper, couldn’t do it. I came in. It was just the three of us, 3 o’clock in the morning, all freaking out. He was the only one screaming. I wanted to.”

That’s a memory he and his wife will always have and some day share with Noah. Nothing unmanly about it.

But here’s what Mike Francesa, the big name in WFAN Radio’s lineup of sports personalities, had to say about Murphy’s decision: “I don’t know why you need three days off, I’m going to be honest. You see the birth and you get back. What do you do in the first couple days? Maybe you take care of the other kids. Well, you gotta have someone to do that if you’re a Major League Baseball player. I’m sorry, but you do … Your wife doesn’t need your help the first couple days, you know that.”

There’s more: “One day, I understand. Go see the baby be born and come back. You’re a Major League Baseball player, you can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help … What are you gonna do? Are you gonna sit there and look at your wife in the hospital bed for two days?”

Well, at least we know what Francesa did when his son was born. Wonder what his wife thought about that.

Boomer Esiason, who also hosts a show on WFAN, went so far as to suggest that Murphy should have told his wife to have a Caesarean section before the season started so he wouldn’t have to miss Opening Day. After all, the former pro football quarterback said, baseball pays Murphy well, so he should make baseball his priority. (Note: Victoria Murphy, in fact, gave birth via Caesarean section and Esiason apologized a day later.)

Esiason’s partner on the morning radio talk show, Craig Carton, was his usual crass self: “You get your ass back to your team and you play baseball … there’s nothing you can do; you’re not breastfeeding the kid.”

I stopped listening to WFAN’s morning show years ago when Carton was teamed with Esiason because I thought Carton was the most misogynistic, immature excuse for a radio sports host I had ever heard. He was insulting, crude, sexist, arrogant and not especially knowledgeable about sports either. This incident only solidifies my opinion and I think he continues to be an embarrassment for WFAN, but maybe his bosses don’t care.

Let’s not let Fox News host Gregg Jarrett of the hook. Here’s what he had to say about Murphy’s paternity leave. “He’s rich. He could have like 20 nannies taking care of his tired wife, and he’s got to take off two days? It’s absurd. It’s preposterous.”

No, Gregg, it’s about being a father first, not a baseball player. Let’s talk about priorities. Imagine this scenario: It’s Noah’s 20th birthday. Mom is recalling that second day in the hospital when, all of a sudden, the infant’s temperature started rising. Nurses were rushing around and calling for a doctor. She was trying to stay calm, she says, but was really scared to death. “What about you, Dad,” asks Noah. “I was grounding into a double play in Queens,” he replies.

Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead, Murphy was there to share the first diaper-changing “emergency” with Victoria.

Not everyone thought Murphy did the wrong thing. Mets fans, his manager and teammates all supported Murphy’s decision to take the full paternity leave. Major League Baseball, in fact, is among the few employers in the United States that allow paid paternity leave — a fact that begs changing — and about 100 ballplayers have reportedly taken advantage of it since their union got it written into their contract three years ago.

It makes sense. Baseball players are undeniably well paid. But they are also away from their families for much of the time for eight months in the year. Half of their games are played away from home. Three days out of a 162-game season is a pittance. And for Murphy to be criticized for missing games is absurd since he played in 161 of the Mets’ 162 games last year, often with injuries. He’s what they call a “gamer.”

(In my case, paternity leave was not available, but I had an understanding boss who let me spend as much time as needed with my sons and their mother. Besides, my work was a 10-minute drive from home; Murphy’s son was born in Florida and the Mets were playing in New York. A tough commute.)

Taken aback by the harsh criticism, Murphy described his decision simply: “We felt the best thing for our family was for me to stay.” That says it all.

While Murphy was being criticized for wanting to be with his wife in the first three days of their son’s life, other ballplayers who had taken performance enhancing drugs — cheated — were being greeted back from their 50-game suspensions. Pro football and basketball players continue to be arrested for assaulting their wives or girlfriends. The New York Jets recently signed quarterback Michael Vick, who served time in prison for running a dog-fighting enterprise.

These are the role models professional sports have offered to today’s youth for much too long. Rich, macho, spoiled, selfish, arrogant, self-centered, young men.

Murphy returned to the Mets after three days with his wife and son, was cheered by fans and singled in his first at bat. He’ll be able to tell Noah that story some day. Way to go, Murph.

bobgaydos@zestoforange.com

 

The Joy of Baseball in Spring

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

By Gretchen Gibbs

Well, the baseball season has opened, and already on Thursday the Mets (the team I root for) were behind by two games in the NL East standings. The Yankees were playing .500 ball and were tied for first place in the AL East with Tampa Bay and Toronto. It seems a good time to reflect on my recent baseball experience.

I’ve always wanted to attend spring training, but this was the first year I managed it. I would have gone to Port St. Lucie, where the Mets train, but I have a sister in the Clearwater/Tampa/St. Pete area, and I wanted to see her, too. My sister’s condo turned out to be five minutes from the Phillies training site in Clearwater, and I saw two games there, one against the Braves and one with the Yankees. I also drove five miles to Dunedin to see the Toronto Blue Jays camp, and watched them play the Tampa Bay Rays.

The thing I realized about spring training is that it doesn’t matter who wins.

Nobody really cares. Not the players, not the managers, not even the spectators. Tie games are usually ended after nine innings. And when you take away the tension about who’s ahead, something else emerges. It’s a relaxed camaraderie in the stands. More attention is paid to the sparkling plays – the incredible catches against the wall, the diving catches in the infield, the home run hit over the wall and onto the berm where young children are picnicking with their parents.

There is the smell of buttered popcorn and beer and hotdogs. There is a certain background crowd noise at a baseball stadium that I haven’t heard elsewhere. It’s kind of a steady hum, a soothing “white noise.” And the vast stretches of green, now Astro Turf even in Florida, and speaking, “summer, summer, summer.” It was March but in Florida it was already summer. Spring training is quintessential summer.

I saw a few things I’d never seen before. For example, just as at big league ballparks, the walls of the stadium are padded panels that players can bang against without hurting themselves too much. In one game, a batter hit the ball sharply to the wall, and it disappeared. Nobody could figure out what happened. The two closest fielders were scratching their heads and there was muttering in the stands. It turned out the ball found a path between the panels, never to be recovered. They played it as a ground-rule double.

I loved the Phillie Phanatic and wished the Mets had a decent mascot. The Fanatic goes around the field and stirs up the fans with his dancing and good-natured taunting of the opposition players. Mets fans and Phillies fans generally don’t like each other, and it was instructive to sit with a bunch of folks from Philadelphia and see how their feelings about baseball were just like mine.

I liked the experience of seeing a game with a Canadian team in Florida. At the stadium in Dunedin, they sang “O Canada” at the start of the game. The vendors ply you with Labatt instead of Bud. The crowds were full of folks from Toronto and Montreal and Vancouver, all willing to tell you their winter stories.

I would happily replace the regular season with six months of spring training. Nobody talked about drugs or salaries or trades or whether the franchise will survive.

It was just a game. As Roger Angell said, “The Summer Game.”

 

 

Lesser Lights

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

By Gretchen Gibbs

Ralph Kiner

Ralph Kiner

In the last few days, the Times has announced the deaths of two of my favorite public figures, Ralph Kiner, the baseball legend and long-time announcer for the New York Mets, and Maxine Kumin, Pulitzer Prize winner for her wonderful poems and the equivalent of poet laureate before we had an official designation. If you think this an odd conjunction of public figures for me to be mourning, keep in mind that Kumin was an ardent Red Sox fan, and Kiner had a relationship with Janet Leigh. People resist pigeon holing.

Did they have anything in common? For all their fame, both Kiner and Kumin received less acclaim than they deserved. Kiner was described in the Times as “vastly undersung.” He had one of the most impressive home run records in the history of the sport, but because he played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, perpetually at the bottom of the standings, he wasn’t much noticed. He became an announcer for the Mets from the beginning of their franchise in 1962, because, as quoted in the Times obit, he “had a lot of experience with losing.”

In 1972, I was ill for an entire summer, not in pain, but with nothing to do but lie in bed and watch television. Daytime television in that era was six or seven channels of soap operas, with a little baseball thrown in. In those days there were many more afternoon games than there are today, and I became a Mets fan. Ralph Kiner, with Bob Murphy, and Lindsey Nelson of the florid sports coats educated me and turned me on to the glories of the sport.

Kiner, in spite of a speech problem brought on by Bell’s palsy, still announced once in a while this last season, and his comments were always intelligent and generous. I never heard him make a mean remark about anyone, regardless of their team.

Maxine Kumin certainly achieved fame as a poet, but she always existed in the shadow of her friend, Anne Sexton. Even the obituary in the Times devotes several paragraphs to Sexton. She was a gifted poet who, like Sylvia Plath, committed suicide after years of struggling with the impulse.

Maxine Kumin

Maxine Kumin

The two friends had an open phone line between their houses. Sexton is described, by her daughter and many others, as self-centered, narcissistic and demanding. I can’t imagine a more difficult friend.

I discovered Kumin’s poems in the New Yorker in the 70s, and was pleased to find a great poet of the everyday, who was not suicidal or difficult. “I was not influenced by women writing poetry,” Kumin is quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle. “There weren’t any women to admire.” She herself became the model for many women, including me, who aspired to write.

What is to be concluded? There should be bridges to rename, but that will not happen. I’m sure that some portion of CitiField will be named Kiner’s Korner, and I’m sure there will be a Maxine Kumin prize in the literary world. Let us just remember that success does not always come with a lot of hoopla.