Go Dogs Go!

I’m back in Minnesota again, after a wodnerful whirlwind of a trip to Western New York. There is no better time of year to visit than early June. The weather was perfect, and the lushness of WNY never fails to surprise me. Who knew there were so many shades fo green? Minnesota is far from being a desert, but there is just no comparison to the verdant shades of green that you see in Upstate New York in early summer.

Last Friday night the 20 Prospect clan descended upon Dwyer Stadium, home of the beloved Muckdogs, to watch them play the Jamestown Jammers. If there is a better way to spend a small town Friday night than watching baseball with 1,000 of your closest friends, then I have no idea what it might be. It doesn’t get anymore Norman Rockwell-esque than this…

alas, they lost. But they always lose when I see them play. It never seems to spoil the experience though.

20 Prospect Jr. nabbed a foul ball while we were going to the concession stand for some Stewart’s Rootbeer. I gotta say, the Rochester Red Wings, who are currently operating the club, are doing a great job with the place. RC Cola, ON TAP!!!!! Not a Coke or Pepsi in sight! It’s like they knew I was coming.

There were fireworks after the game, which were only enhanced by the sound of my niece’s 3 year old squaeling with delight at each explosion. It was so great to share the memories with another generation of the family, and to see that it is still just as wonderful as I remembered it being. May there always be baseball in the summertime on the corner of Denio and Bank Street. And may there always be a 20 Prospecter there to enjoy it.

Triple Header

Whew… that was a day. Three ball games down in Miesville for 20 Prospect Jr.’s weekend tournament. The boys went 1-2 so we will not be going back tomorrow, and I have to admit, I’m happy about that. It may be one of the loveliest valleys in Minnesota, but after spending 8 hours in the sun and wind, I really could use a day to sleep in.

Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect was off with friends at the local six-flags-ish amusement park, celebrating someone’s b-day, so it was just me and the missus, and the 2 pups. We packed a lunch, and snacks, and made a day of it. The little league fields in Miesville are almost as lovely as Jack Ruhr Field where the Mudhens play. It’s rare to find grass infields these days, on fields of this size. They were manicured like putting greens, and the weather was picture perfect.

This is a tournament team from 20P Jr.’s local little league, so it’s a sort of all star team that will play a couple of weekend tournaments. There’s only 1 boy that he knows from his usual team, so it is a whole new group of kids and coaches for him to get to know. For a shy kid, he does amaze me at times. When sports are involved he has no trouble making friends, and talking with strangers. Maybe I was the same way once, but I can’t recall.

We sat out in the bright sun, as puffy white clouds sailed like Spanish galleons through the blue sky, and watched a bunch of 11 and 12 year olds try to play a 19th century sport with more arcane rules, and traditions than you could master in a lifetime. After a seesaw battle, they won their first game. With 1 out and two on in the bottom of the last inning, they brought the tying run up to the plate. The batter looped a shot down the 3rd base line that looked for all the world like it would drop in for a double, when out of nowhere my son came sliding into the frame on his knees and made a terrific catch, then popped up onto his feet and doubled a runner off at second base to end the game. I have no idea where this kid learned how to play this game, as I sure as hell didn’t teach him that.

To his dismay though, after that catch the coach put him in left field the rest of the afternoon. So he spent the bulk of his time standing out there in the weeds watching the game go on around him waiting for the occasional ball to make it out his way. I felt a little bad for the kid, but knew that this is one of those life lessons that we all have to learn at some point. You can do your best, and still not be recognized.

Did he whine? No. Did he complain? No. So I was proud of the composure and maturity he showed. Which made it all the more remarkable tonight when we were putting him to bed, and he asked, “Dad, did you find a baseball when you were unpacking the bags?”

“No, I didn’t see one. Why?”

“There was a baseball in one of the bags, and I was wondering if you saw it, because after you were done unpacking I couldn’t find it.”

“Hmm… it’s possible that Mom just unpacked it and tossed it into your room. Is this it?” I asked holding up a ball that was laying on the floor.

“No, it was one of the game balls from today.”

“Hmm… I’ll go take a look.” I said as I walked out to the kitchen. After digging through some stuff on the counter I found a new, grass stained ball laying under my glove. Carrying it back into his room I held it up to him and asked “Is this it?”

“Yeah thanks!” he said brightening up.

Before I left, I turned and asked him. “Where did you get that ball from?”

That’s when he said, “The coach gave it to me in the dugout after I made that catch.”

“The coach gave you the game ball?” I asked

“Uh, huh. He gave me it during his speech after the game”

“Well” I said, “that’s something to be proud of.”

He just smiled back at me from the darkness.

Stepping out of the room, and turning off the hallway light, I was more proud of him for not telling us about getting the game ball from the coach, than I was about him making the catch. And like the proud Dad I am, I just walked down the dark hallway to the living room, smiling.

Shaddup Boyd

One of the greatest things about Spring in Minnesota is sleeping with the windows open. After six months of huddling under blankets trying to stave off hypothermia, Spring arrives and we throw open the windows and let the cool, clear Canadian air blow through the house and take the stench out. However, after six months of hearing nothing but the quiet hum of the furnace as we sleep, the sudden riotous noise of birdsong takes a little getting used to. Despite rolling out of bed at 5:45 am each workday, I seldom need an alarm in April or May. The birds have usually woken me by 4 am when the first pink blush of sunrise begins to lighten the horizon. Last night however, I was awoken from a deep slumber at 2 am by the wild bacchanalian sounds of an avian orgy in the lilac bushes outside our window. I’m not an ornithologist (I just play one on TV) but I am not aware of any birds that sing their fool heads off in the middle of the night. All I can think is that our alcoholic neighbor spilled some of his hooch in the bird bath by accident, and the feathery little reptiles were tying one on.

Which is all a fancy way of saying I’m tired. However, nothing is going to get me down this morning, for yesterday afternoon the slugging droogs of Our Lady of the Subdural Hematoma drubbed the little rich kids from St. Paul, and put them out of the game in the 5th inning with the 10 run mercy rule. Yes, our Catholic Athletic Association has a mercy rule, at least when we play other Catholic schools. Of course when we play the Lutherans or Baptists we show no mercy. Our team is now 4-3 on the year, with only one game left. I couldn’t be prouder of the boys, they have been a joy to coach. If there is anything I have learned in my years of coaching youth sports it’s that it is not about the kids. Seriously, if it were about the kids the little porkpies would be laying in front of the TV playing their Nintendo’s. No, youth sports exists for the edification of middle age men like me who lament the passing of their youth, and need to compensate for the emasculation of their virility in the modern world. Nothing soothes the shame of picking up a package of Mini-pads at Target, as well as barking at 10 year olds like a drill sergeant until they burst into tears. Seeing the fear in their eyes when they drop a ground ball, and look toward the dugout, is one of those priceless Kodak type moments that pass all too soon.

So as Spring turns to summer, it is with bitter sweet feelings that I bid adieu to another season of coaching baseball. 20 Prospect Jr. will continue to play for his local little league team for another month, but my managing duties are over. Now I will have to be content with shouting obscenities at the umpire from the distance of the third base bleachers. Damn restraining orders.

Fisheater Baseball

Another fine spring evening at the ball field watching 20 Prospect Jr. and his ball team. He’s playing on two teams at the moment, his usual little league team of Ritalin fueled miscreants from the public school system, and his 5th grade team from Our Lady of the Subdural Hemotoma. Where sports are concerned, we are very ecumenical. Let’s just say that I’m happy to be coaching the later of these two teams. It’s refreshing not having to work with parole officers to schedule practices. Also the Catholic league allows beer in the dugouts.

While 20 Prospect Jr. is now into his 4th year of organized baseball, and actually capable of playing the game, my own little league experiences were quite different. I started playing Little League, and Pop Warner football in the 2nd grade. In Batavia, unless they did really well at tryouts, 2nd and 3rd graders played in the minor league over at MacArthur Park. Most likely they still do. William Morgan would have been mortified to know that I played for the Masonic Lodge Stars. Yes, we were indoctrinated into their dark, nefarious rites at an early age. You’d think being a good Catholic boy they’d have put me on a team sponsored by the Jesuits or Opus Dei. Perhaps the Nuns pulled some strings to have me planted among the masons as a double agent. In any case, I was issued my red t-shirt, and red wool cap with a white S on the front. That cap, some dungarees, a pair of Keds, and a Wilson Paul Blair model glove were all I needed. No spikes, baseball pants, stirrups, or batting gloves were required to play little league. No parent took their kids to a hitting coach at an indoor batting cage to prepare them for the season. Ah, it was a simpler time.

I would ride my Huffy Thunder Road the four blocks to practice with my glove hanging on the handlebars, and a bat over my shoulder. Our practices were over in Austin Park, right behind the post office & city hall. Back in 77-78 they did not have a backstop or a ball field at Austin Park, just some dirt spots worn into the grass where the bases and pitcher’s mound were. We improvised a backstop for practice by parking our bikes in a semicircle behind home plate, so that wayward pitches would hit a few spokes before they rolled out into the street. And Lord, were there wayward pitches. Thinking back to my two years playing for the dastardly Masons, about all I remember was getting beaned by pitches. I think I got to first more times that way than by hitting the ball. In one memorable practice, my coach even beaned me in the helmet twice. Perhaps he knew I was Catholic.

Games were even less fun than practice. Back then they kept score, and there were actually winners and losers. No trophies for being a participant. Positions were determined by the coach, so if you stunk, you played outfield. No exceptions. I spent my first year picking dandelions in right field. By year 2 I had moved to shortstop, so I must have showed some signs of improvement. Still, I split time at shortstop with another kid, so half of the game I was on the bench. In 3 innings of baseball, I could realistically count on 1-2 at bats, which was fine by me. Any more shots to the head and I would have had permanent brain damage.

I only played baseball for two years, before I gave it up. Mom gave me a hard time about it, wondering what I was going to do with myself all summer, but I don’t recall ever having a problem finding something to do. Besides, compared to wiffle ball in the backyard, organized baseball was a bore. By 6th grade Batavia got its first youth soccer league, the Genesee Amateur Soccer Association. So I came out of retirement to play co-ed soccer with all the other uncoordinated kids, and a star was born. Well, a Falleti Motors “Striker” anyway. I led the team in scoring my first year, and made the all star team. We got to go play a tournament game inside of the Aud in Buffalo, but that is a story for another time.

It’s funny, but I don’t ever recall my parents driving me to baseball or soccer practices, or hanging around to watch us practice. No, we were left along with whatever shady adult had volunteered to coach youth sports. Baseball wasn’t a problem as it was usually someone’s Dad. Soccer on the other hand was coached by the hippy subversive types that you’d expect to coach a sissy sport like soccer in the late 70’s. Long haired, dope smokers for the most part, which put them right in the median for Batavia youth at the time.

Times were different then. Even at the age of 10 we were given a lot of freedom, that I would never consider giving to Lil’ Miss 20 Prospect or 20 P. Jr. Back then, all kids were free range kids. Oddly enough, despite the hippy freaks that abounded, spray painting LOVE and what not in the center of Oak Street, we all seemed to survive. I think Lenore is on to something. Although as I say that, I am watching 20 P. Jr. taking his hacks at the ball, waiting for practice to end so I can drive him home.

As a parent in a big city, I’m really torn. I don’t want my kids to grow up completely sheltered and be unable to cope when they finally get too old to keep locked in the basement. I want them to know the innocence, and freedom of being able to run around the neighborhood without a care. And yet, it’s a big city. Two folks were shot a block away from where we sat having a donut one Saturday morning. So I would be irresponsible if I were to let them run like I ran when I was there age. There’s a big difference between an inner ring suburb in a metro area of 3 million people, and a po-dunk town of 15,000 people. I am glad to have been blessed to grow up in the time and place that I did. I don’t take one second of it for granted. I hope someday my kids can say the same.

The Time Traveller’s Brother in Law

As I said to Bella in yesterday’s comment section. Perhaps all I needed to get hooked on a computer game was to find one appropriately pretentious enough. Which is why it’s not enough to just play Strat-o-matic baseball. No, I am playing the games using the major league teams from the 1909 baseball season. Oddly enough, having read several books about the dead ball era, like The Glory of Their Times, and Crazy 08, I am more familiar with the players from 1909 than I am with the current major leaguers. If that’s not pretentious, then I don’t understand the meaning of the word.

Which is all a lead in to saying that I spent my hour of free time last night playing games instead of writing a blog post. So today’s posting is going to be light on words, and heavy on pictures. I’m turning the dial of the Wayback Machine to 1909. It’s time to put on your bowler hats folks, we’re gong to the ball game.

Clark Griffith of the Washington Senators, taking batting practice in the stadium that would later bear his name.

Same vantage from Ebbets', looking out at the field. Back in the days when Brooklyn was rural.

The Red Sox, playing the White Sox in 1904 at South Side Park, Chicago

The Philadelphia Athletics, getting ready for their opening day game against the Highlanders (Yankees) at Hill Top Park in NYC.

George "Slats" McConnell, warming up before the game with Michael Cann. Even the nicknames in 1908 were awesome.

The 4th game of the 1912 World Series, between the NY Giants and the Boston Red Sox, at the Polo Grounds in NY.

Fred Snodgrass of the Giants, at the 1911 World Series

NY manager John McGraw, one of the finest cusser's in all of baseball, with catcher Chief Myers. Every player in MLB with a drop of Indian blood was called Chief back then.

Cincinnati's audaciously named "Palace of the Fans". A ball park that looked like an outdoor Opera House.

Speaking of architecturally significant ballparks, here's Shibe Park in Philadephia

Shibe Park, crowd milling about before 1914 World Series

Washington Park, Brooklyn New York. Flag Raising before game between the Buffalo Bisons, and Brooklyn Federals, of the upstart Federal League. 1914

White Sox vs. Cubs for the City Championship Series, at West Side Park in 1909

Smoky Joe Wood of the Red Sox, at Fenway. One of the greatest fastball pitchers of his day

League Park, Cleveland, Ohio. Back when the ballparks were made of wood, and the men were made of steel.

Boston vs. New York, at the Huntington, Avenue Grounds in Boston. For big games they would sell standing room tickets for the outfield, just to get more people in the gate.

and that’s enough for one day. All photos are from the Library of Congress. I’ve downloaded them over the years because, obviously. Click on them. Some of them have amazing detail.

Opening Day

Yes it’s that time of the year. Time for Little League baseball, one of the 2 sports that 20 Prospect Jr. has decided to play, much to Mrs. 20 Prospect’s chagrin. Back in the day it was just accepted that all little boys played little league baseball. In fact, I think it was a pre-requisite for Middle School, as it allowed the bullies to identify the weak, which saved them countless hours figuring out who they could beat up for lunch money. Woe beith the 3rd grader that threw like a girl.

 

As I wrote about before, I spent last summer coaching 20 Prospect Jr.’s little league team. After the experience of coaching the Ritalin Rangers, I almost swore off coaching youth sports altogether. It has gotten so bad that a person needs a degree in Special Education to coach kids these days. But as you might guess, I have signed up for another go ‘round.

 

However, there is one key difference this year. I am not coaching in our local little league. Instead I am coaching 20 Prospect Jr.’s  5th Grade baseball team from Our Lady of the Subdural Hematoma. We may not be the richest, smartest, or most hoighty-toighty Catholic elementary school in town, but at least the private school is allowed to weed out the children with police rap sheets. With the public schools you never know what sort of up and coming serial killers you are going to end up with.

 

So we are now 2 weeks into practices, and I must say, it has been a world of difference from last summer. The kids are all capable of throwing and catching a ball, and focusing their attention for longer than 3 seconds at a time. Why, I might even go so far as to suggest that I am enjoying it. I might even start to think that we have a chance of winning some games, if I didn’t already have 2 years of experience coaching girls soccer in the Catholic Athletic Association. The cost of tuition at one St. Paul private school we played last fall was $23,000. I kid you not. At a school like that they have the full time, paid coaching staff from their High School giving instruction and development to the 5th graders.

 

I was reminded of this again last night at the coaches meeting. Gathered in a gym were the softball and baseball coaches of every school in the St. Paul CAA, receiving our schedules and instructions on the rules for the upcoming season. One coach asked about the rules for baseball bats this year. Did the new Little League bat regulations govern what types of bats the teams could use? Sitting in the bleachers I looked at my counterpart on the 5th grade girls softball team from OLSDH, and said “Bats? They get bats? We’re lucky that our school springs for a box of baseballs.”

 

But as always, hope springs eternal, and for the next week I will continue to live in my illusion of being competitive. After all, if I could lead the Ritalin Rangers to a 2-12 record last summer, there’s no telling what sort of miracles I can work with these boys.