Posts tagged ‘baseball’

HERE COMES THE SEASON

 

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Target Field

I am ready for baseball to start. As I write this, the tv brings me a spring training game between the Twins and the Red Sox from Fort Myers, Florida. How nice! In just over a month, the regular season will start, and that will be equally nice.
Consider the nearly silent anticipation before each pitch, the gasp of expectation from the crowd at each swing, and then the shouts and hoots at each hit and catch – it is all exciting, so very satisfying as the rituals of baseball appear in each game; never in the same order, never in quite the way it’s been witnessed before.
At the stadium, the senses are activated with vast possibilities. Listen for the concession guys as they carry their wares up and down the sections of the stadium, and for the crack of the bat as the PA announcements ring through each tier. See the flags fly on top of the stadium as the wind changes, affecting fly balls in windblown arcs, and see the fresh, clean uniforms as the team first comes onto the field after the national anthem. Feel the sun on your face, the excitement as the crowd reacts, the up-and-down as THE WAVE comes by in its different levels of intensity. Taste that bratwurst with all its spicy trimmings and taste the thrill of a stolen base or a double play well executed. Smell the wonderful cotton candy, smell the tantalizing hot spicy foods, smell the dust as a base gets stolen or a run gets scored with a slide under the catcher’s tag.

 

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Buxton Sliding into second base

Whether you’re sitting in a stadium or in your own armchair as you watch in on TV, or listening to the game on a radio out in your fishing boat, consider the intellect of the game – the sensation is virtually the same no matter where you take in the game. You sense the strategies as they happen – an intentional walk, a executed successfully hit and run, a pitching change – it’s all there, whether in person or by courtesy of your home appliances.

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There’s not a big fluff of endless pre-game blabber from overexuberant, underqualified talking heads like we see in other sports (please read here: football.). There’s no need for tailgating – baseball doesn’t need to hype itself up to get going. There is no clock – it is not a matter of who scores more points in a time frame, but who puts who out 27 times while trying to score more times in that limit of 27 outs.

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Casey, Ted and Jim enjoy a game at Target Field

And as George Carlin said in his famous routine about baseball, the goal of baseball is to ‘run home’. How can it be any better?

PLAY BALL!

PICKUP GAME

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My hometown … the field in this poem is at the arrow .. .the houses in the town are mostly gone now, moved out by the mining on the Mesabi Iron Range … but imagine all these town blocks filled with houses and families who have boys who want to play ball.  This is for them.

(dedicated to my boyhood friends who were there . . . )

Boys gather automatically

At Berquist’s field

No signal or notice

The game is on

They call their own strikes and foul balls

(No umps, no sir, never ever)

Disagreements work out one way or another

 

Jimmy, fast on the bases

Gary pitching, so smooth, so clean

John behind the plate with his classy Finnish catcher’s glove

Ole Olson batting so tall, hitting so hard

Charlie and identical twins Rob and Ron

Cover the outfield

Ready to catch ‘em all.

 

Ernine and his brother Etsie

the greatest nicknames in town)

Pull up on their bikes, shouting encouragements

as they lower their kickstands

Pull their gloves off the bike handles

No question, they know what to do next

One heads to the infield, straight to shortstop

One to the team at bat

Joining Jeff, Steve and Roy

On a bench by the third base line

Awaiting a turn to bat.

 

Just a year or two older,

Kim and Tom and John Lee

Lend their age-wise experience

In hitting, catching and pitching.

 

Early spring brings snow shoveled baselines

The summer sun hangs up in the sky longer and later

The fall skies get cooler and darker quicker

The game continues anyway

Until the ball is only a sound as it is pitched or hit

 

All comers welcome

Side by side, turn by turn

Just for

The fun

The pleasure

The joy.

 

 

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BASEBALL FOR GENERATIONS

I first learned my love for the game from my dad. We played catch from when I was old enough to give a ball any form of forward momentum. Mom, too, could bring it when she was available to engage me in a game of catch or a round of batting practice. Even my lovely grandma Hilda took a swing or two with a bat. Aunts Shirley and Inky played semi-pro softball so they showed me some good techniques when they visited from St. Paul. Many other aunts and uncles joined in as we visited them or they visited us.

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Dad in front of his brothers (My uncles) Elwood, Willie, Gus, Henry and Ken

Get all the cousins together and you never saw such a festivity of baseball. We played in back yards, front yards and back alleys. We chased balls under apple trees and down the curbs of the streets before the ball would go down the storm drain. We teased each other about our feeble swings or waving at the air with helpless effort. We would drop our bats and gloves right in the middle of the yard when we were called over to the grill for hot dogs and hamburgers, only to return and play some more. This was true of both sides of the family – whether it was the Johnson/Grundstrom side or the Ruud/Strand gang. And by the way, boys and girls played as one. Who knew, also, that decades later I would join my wife’s cousins in the identical games of fun in their own yards and fields.

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The Johnson cousins, all grown up –  front: Chris, Jean, Charlie, Jim   back; Leslie, Aunt Inky, Cher, Becky, Aunt Shirley, Lois

 

Then we grew up and had our own kids. I first taught Heidi and Steven through simple ‘roll the ball across the floor’ to encourage good hand-eye coordination, just like a good daddy of the 1980s should do. Then it was underhand tossing out in the yard, and finally full games of catch or some batting drills in front of the garage door. Then it was out into the street where I would throw balls as high into the air so they would learn to catch those fly balls . . . and later hearing from the neighbors how fun it was to watch that Johnson family get out and enjoy themselves so much.
There’s the joy of taking the whole family to the game. Down to the Metrodome we’d go, maybe once a year, and we’d experience the grandeur of the game. 2002 presented a nice thrill, when I was selected in a lottery to get tickets to the playoffs against the Angels. I managed to squeeze in a game with each kid at those playoffs … I will remember that for a long time. And again, later on in the first season of the Twins at Target stadium, Sue and I got to take in a game with Heidi and her husband Jon – and it was Jon’s first major league ball game ever – truly memorable when Thome hit a home run to win the game in the bottom of the tenth.

 

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   A young Steven ready to play

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Jon, Heidi and Sue at Target Field

My sister’s kids, too, found their uncle Charlie (Me) always good for some time outside with a bat and ball …. And now as their own kids issue forth, I suspect I will not hesitate to show those babies of this not so old century a thing or two about the glories of baseball, too.

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My kids and their cousins – kids of my two sisters.  Steven in front, In the back is Karen, Paul, Dan, Adam, Joel and Heidi

Baseball – a family game in so many ways.

Other Stadiums in my Baseball World

There aren’t many other ballparks in my past other than the three in the Minnesota Twins history, so this won’t be long, but maybe you’ll like it.
EWENS FIELD

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I grew up on the Mesabi Iron Range, near Virginia, Minnesota. The ballpark there was called Ewens Field. I have no idea who Ewens was, but I do know the high school ball games were there, and other events.
Of course, I can’t go too far without connecting this to the Minnesota Twins. Every summer for as long as they have been around, the Twins would send out men to do workshops for baseball. Part of it would dedicated to actual scouting players; another part would be to teach simple baseball skills – batting, pitching, baserunning, catching – it was all very well done. The head guy I remember then (I’m guessing 1964 or so) was a man named Angelo Guliani – he began the Twins clinics. He died in 2004 at the age of 91.
WADE STADIUM

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Oh, how I wish I could have seen a game here! It was as close as we came to seeing a minor league team (The Duluth Dukes) when we’d drive down to Duluth for various reasons. I never got into the stadium, much less see a game. It was rather kind of a Holy Grail for me that I never got to see.

COMISKEY PARK, Chicago White Sox

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When I first met my wife Sue, her folks lived southeast of Chicago, which meant the opportunity to get to a different ball park. Comiskey Park is on the south side of downtown Chicago, so that’s where we went. Sue, her dad and I drove into the area, got our tickets and took our seats under the overhang behind third base. The game got rained out quite early, so we left the stadium, bummed that we got rained out. As luck would have it, the rainchecks for that game we a while later in our visit down there, so we got to see the Twins play the White Sox… the treat that night was a home run by Tom Brunansky … how fun was that to see! The old Comiskey park isn’t there any more, meaning we got to see a true old time ball park. Which brings me to . . .

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CANDLESTICK PARK, San Francisco Giants
We were visiting Sue’s sister Sandy and her hubby in the Bay Area, when Greg arranged for us to see a game at Candlestick Park, which was not so far from their place at all. Greg also had a ‘V.I.P. Parking pass, which meant we parked right next to the stadium. It was a summer day, but upon the advice of our hosts, we wore sweatshirts (WE being me, Sue, and our kids Heidi and Steven). The seats Greg had procured for us were maybe 8 rows up from behind home plate in the sun … we bought two other seats up higher along third base, and THAT is where it was cold. The breeze coming of the bay was as we were told – cold, colder, and worse. I sat in the ‘good seats’ with one of the kids for half of the game, and then the kids switched. Sue got stuck up in the cold seats for the whole game. What a wife!
Here’s hoping we’ll get to more ballparks over the years. We’ve driven by the St. Louis field and the Kansas City field, but that’s as close as we’ve come to others so far.

NINE BASEBALL THOUGHTS THAT MAKE YOU GO ‘HMMMM’

Nine quotes about baseball; and I didn’t even include any of those by Yogi Berra, who said, “If you come a fork in the road, take it.” Or for that matter, the famousu words of Chicago Cubs star Ernie Banks who said, “Let’s Play Two.”

In any case, here are some others that catch my attention.

GOOD PITCHING WILL BEAT GOOD HITTING ANY TIME, AND VICE VERSA. Bob Veale, 1966

TRYING TO SNEAK A PITCH PAST HANK AARON IS LIKE TRYING TO SNEAK A SUNRISE PAST A ROOSTER. Attributed to both Joe Adcock and Curt Simmons

HITTING IS TIMING. PITCHING IS UPSETTING TIMING. Warren Spahn

THERE ARE TWO THEORIES ON HITTING THE KNUCKLEBALL. UNFORTUNATELY, NEITHER OF THEM WORK. Charlie Lau, 1982

These first four quotes address the skills of baseball. Bob Veale was a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates at the time he said this. He still holds several pitching records for the Pirates

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Bob Veale

Joe Adcock and Curt Simmons, the alleged source of the second quote, were both musclebound hitters who could clobber the ball so very hard. Adcock played from 1950 to 1966, hitting 366 homers. Curt Simmons was a pitcher from 1947 to 1967, winning 193 games. Both men were certainly qualified to assess the skills of Hank Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s home run total of 714 homers, ending with 755.

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Joe Adcock

The third quote is by Warren Spahn, one of the best left handed pitchers in all of baseball. They say he was as crafty a pitcher as there was, too. He won 363 games in his 21 years in baseball.

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Warren Spahn

Charlie Lau, the origin of the fourth quote, was a second rate catcher for the Baltimore Orioles, never truly distinguishing himself as a hitter. His lifetime average over 11 years of baseball was .255, never hitting more than 6 homers in one year. Yet, he was a true teacher and superb batting coach for the Baltimore Orioles, known for his ability to teach so many how to hit successfully.

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Charlie Lau

WHEN THEY START THE GAME, THEY DON’T YELL “WORK BALL.” THEY SAY, “PLAY BALL.” Willie Stargell, 1981

PEOPLE ASK ME WHAT I DO IN WINTER WHEN THERE’S NO BASEBALL. I’LL TELL YOU WHAT I DO. I STARE OUT THE WINDOW AND WAIT FOR SPRING. Rogers Hornsby

BASEBALL, IT IS SAID, IS ONLY A GAME. TRUE. AND THE GRAND CANHYON IS ONLY A HOLE IN ARIZONA. George Will in MEN AT WORK: THE CRAFT OF BASEBALL, 1990

THE OTHER SPORTS ARE JUST SPORTS. BASEBALL IS A LOVE. Bryant Gumbel, 1981

YOU SEE, YOU SPEND A GOOD PIECE OF YOUR LIFE GRIPPING A BASEBALL, AND IN THE END, IT TURNS OUT THAT IT WAS THE OTHER WAY AROUND ALL THE TIME. Jim Bouton in BALL FOUR, 1970.

These next five quotes center on the love of baseball as a game, which explains to some degree why I decided to spend my February days writing up 28 different essays on baseball.

The first quote is from a team mate of Bob Veale – Willie Stargell was a big, strong home run hitter for the Pirates, and a leader of the team both on and off the field. Willie hit 475 homers in 21 years of baseball – all of them with the Pirates. I do miss seeing that kind of team loyalty.

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Willie Stargell

The second quote is from a player well before my time (1915 to 1937) – he was more from my dad’s era. Rogers Hornsby was also known for taking care of his eyes so he could see the ball better when he was hitting – he even refused to go to the movies, fearing damage to his eyes. He later was a manager for several years, his final year was 1953, the year I was born.

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Rogers Hornsby

George Will is known as a journalist and political analyst, but he is also regarded highly for his baseball writings. Clearly the man loves the game.

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George Will

Bryant Gumbel is also a journalist – of the TV variety. He was seen on the TODAY show on NBC for many years.

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Bryant Gumbel

I have found no quote stronger than the last one here – Jim Bouton was a pitcher for the Yankees, winning a good many games in his first few years – but then he blew his arm and became a knuckleball pitcher with a small bit of success. His book BALL FOUR appeared in 1971 and was vilified for its almost sacrilegious tone about major league baseball. Though I agree with that criticisim, I still think this last quote truly defines what makes up a good baseball fan.

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Jim Bouton

 

Whether it’s in the heart with team loyalty or in the head with the statistics and understanding of baseball strategy, baseball can truly grab hold, deep and hard.

Baseball Equipment of my Childhood

BATS – There were no aluminum bats like they use today, that’s for sure. All we had was wood, solid, hard wood. For our baseball games, we would all bring our bats to the field, allowing anyone to use them. Our bats were from one of two bat making companies: Hillerich and Bradsby or Adirondack. The cool thing about the Hillerich and Bradsby bats were the autographs on the end of them – There was a Nelson Fox bat (he was a second baseman for the White Sox) that had a good, thick handle. Someone had a Hank Aaron bat, and someone brought a Mickey Mantle. I’m sure there were others.

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GLOVES – Spalding. Wilson. Rawlings. There were other brands but these were the most common. A kid could go to the hardware store or some other spot and procure a nice glove, stitched with rawhide and made of fine leather. Everyone would oil them up so a nice pocket would form on them. That is, except mine. I don’t know what I did wrong, but mine went pancake-flat – so flat to the point that the guys gave me a good share of guff about it. These gloves, too, had ballplayer autographs in them. My pancake glove was a Bob Allison model. When I replaced that one later, I had a much better shaped glove with the autograph of Brooks Robinson in it. Nice.

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Interesting note: good friend and first generation Finn John Jarvi had the coolest glove of all of us. It was from Finland. It was shaped nothing like our American gloves at all. John used it most often as a catcher’s mitt, but it didn’t look like that, either. It was more of a scoop shaped glove with very little padding. I wonder if John still has it.

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HATS – All of us had the typical baseball hat, complete with brim and adjustable strap in the back. 90% of us had hats with the TWINS logo on it, being from Minnesota. Then again, there was the one or two who weren’t Twins fans and sported other teams. Most notably, Charlie Smith was a (pardon my language) a Yankee fan, so he had a hat with the despised NY fancy cursive logo. We used no helmets in our own games – those were used only during Peewee and Cadet League games, and most of them were the wrong size.

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OTHER EQUIPMENT – PADS, CATCHER’S GEAR AND SO ON – like the helmets, this stuff was not our own property, nor would we have bothered getting our own stuff like this. We used it for leagues and the high school team. So, you can bet it was common practice that in our daily games, we’d show up at home with skinned knees and elbows or some other such injury.

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Guess what? We lasted this long anyway.

Other Games We Got out of Baseball

Sometimes there weren’t enough guys around to get up a game of baseball, so improvisation became the way to kill some time. We had other options when the lack of numbers indicated such need. There are five that I can recall . . .

Rock Ball – This can be played alone – baseball solitaire, if you will. One solid wood bat, a gravel driveway, and some open space are all you need. Step one: stand in the driveway, facing an open area of some sort – in my yard, it happened to be over our neighbor’s large garden. Step two – scan the driveway for pebbles. Those about the size of a thumbnail were about as small as you could go; those larger than a grape wouldn’t do, either. Step three – with bat in hand, take your batting stance, flip the desired pebble straight up into the air and swing as the pebble drops into the strike zone. A miss means you get to try again. A hit is a good thing as bat and pebble meet, sending the pebble arcing out over the open field. Sometimes the pebble would be of a shape that it would whistle or buzz at it flew off the bat. The game ended when the batter got tired of searching for pebbles.

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500 – One batter, a number of fielders. The fielders take their place at the various positions as the batter stands at home plate. The batter hits the ball to the fielders, who retrieve the ball, earning points based on the following: fly ball – 100, one bounce – 50, two bounce – 25. Anything else would be a dime. When a player gains 500 points, it becomes their turn to bat.

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Home Run Derby – This game, now quite the big deal during the all-star game time every summer, was something for just a few guys to play. A backyard and some sort of barrier is required, as is a bat and ball. Two players, a batter and pitcher, is enough. A third player makes a good outfielder. The batter stands at the designated area, facing the designated barrier. The pitcher throws the ball to the batter, who tries to hit the ball over that barrier. The fielder, if there is one, catches any ball that fails to clear the barrier, returning it to the pitcher. The batter remains at bat until he fails to clear the barrier three times – the other players rotate around as each gets a turn at bat. Our back yard was quite good; we had a good, clear shot at the side of our garage with plenty of room for the game.

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Whiffle Ball – It is fun to watch a plastic ball spin and curve in midair. It is also fun to watch it appear to slow down just before it gets to the batter, who swings so wild that he looks foolish. This is the fun of a whiffle ball set. A large white ball, plastic and hollow, weighing as much as maybe a hummingbird, and a big, fat plastic bat, just as hollow as the ball, are all you need. Gloves? Why? The ball won’t hurt – well, not that much. So, you take to the field as batters swing at whiffle balls. Sometimes they miss, sometimes they hit. When they hit, the ball could go into a screaming line drive, or it will zoom straight up and get tossed around in even the slightest breeze. Think of that sound of whiffle bat against whiffle ball – the word ‘solid’ will not work at all. There’s a thunk or a doof or some other sound, but that adds to the fun.

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That Game in the vacant lot next to Tom Larson’s house. It’s just like baseball, but there’s a bit of a secret to it. We played it in the vacant lot next to Tom Larson’s house. I was the manager of the high school baseball team, where we had a pitching machine that used rubber baseballs, allowing us to have batting practice inside. These balls would eventually get too soft to use for high school practice, so when they were discarded, I took them home with me, and we’d use them at the vacant lot. We used regular wooden bats, but these balls, because they were so mushy, didn’t go far at all. The balls often needed to be taped up some, so many of our ‘pitching machine’ balls were totally wrapped in electrician’s tape. To add to the fun, it was quite easy to get these balls to ‘knuckle’, making them dance and hard to hit, just like a real knuckleballer’s pitch would do.

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Baseball: the mother of innovation.