“The One Foul Blot on Dakota’s Map”

I was going to post this on Friday. But, instead, we shoveled snow away from our cars and plowed down the pasture road and out to freedom. 

Freedom being the paved road about a mile away that was completely clear and dry. Ten inches of snow on Thursday; sunny and 52 degrees on Friday.

So, Editor/Husband and I went out to lunch. And, shoveled just a little bit more, but mostly out of guilt because everyone else seemed to be shoveling, so we thought we probably ought to, too.

Snow Day Feb 14

Nice walkways, yes?

This post should have ended up on the scrap heap. That’s where most of my posts end up. You get only the very best ones. You might now be thinking, “Good god, what kind of crap doesn’t make the cut?”

(That’s very rude and hurtful, by the way.)

Some of what doesn’t make the cut is stuff like this:

“Skdjkl sj;lagja ppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp”

This was a guest post from Stevie who paws her way across the keyboard from time to time. Every cat is attracted to a keyboard at least once. My cat Squeekee once stepped on the “enter” key and sent an unfinished, typo-filled email to a consulting client. Always a plus when you’re charging to edit their copy.

I was going to scrap this post because it’s mostly about (me). Writing about (me) simply means there isn’t good baseball or Yoga to write about.  And, there’s always good baseball and Yoga to write about.

For those of you still reading (as you wait for the Olympics or tonight’s Downton Abbey), here’s the post I should have scrapped:

When I was in Junior High, my parents uprooted me from California to return to their original home – a farm in North Dakota (a few dozen miles from the geographic center of North America; a good 10 miles from the nearest paved, two-lane road, and 15 miles or so from the nearest grocery store).

It was cold and flat. It was very, very cold and very, very flat.

I had the foresight to keep this newspaper article.


I went outside that day, but I am not the person jogging. Needless to say, that was my last winter in North Dakota.

The eastern half of North Dakota is so flat that from our farmhouse, I could easily see the town lights at night 14 miles away … except when the snow blotted them out (which was more often than you can imagine).

I lived in a town called Devils Lake.

In 1883, a local newspaper editor wrote this about there:

“If they persist in their infernal mobs, shooting scrapes, shanty burnings, etc. people cannot but be convinced that the Devils Lake country is inhabited by a band of roughs and that a decent man’s life is not safe there. … All respectable people regret to see the settlers of Devils Lake … the one foul blot on Dakota’s map.”

The Devils Lake high school sports teams were called the Satans and no one there thought it odd when a gym full of high school students yelled, “Satans spirit never dies! Never! Never! Never!”  (After nearly 80 years, they changed the name to Firebirds in 2002, but, they’ll always be the Satans to the locals.)


High School Yearbooks were called “The Satan.” And, how about that artwork?

It was far too cold and far too snowy for the high school to have a baseball team and no one there thought that was odd either.


No baseball. But, we did have curling. I was an awesome sweeper.

My years there was time spent, I guess, as the foundation for saying “I’m much happier here in this better place” ever since.

(If you think I’m being tough on that old town, you are right, although I’m being far kinder than I would be if you and I were to sit down together and have a beer. For the record, I recently checked the school’s alumni pages, and I am not included with my graduating class. It’s as though I never existed. This, at first, pissed me off. But, now it just gives me validation in rehashing many not-so-kind memories. It also makes it much easier to lie about my age.)

Finally sprung from both high school and college, I came east, happy to find much warmer weather, far better music, Yoga, and, yes, baseball.

I never looked back.

In North Dakota when it snows, the snow sticks around, often for months. In Devils Lake, the main streets in town have a permafrost layer of packed down snow, ice, and gravel throughout the winter. You just live with it.

Snow? -100 wind chills? You just live with it.

Here in Virginia as soon as there is a threat of even two inches of snow, everyone panics. The store shelves are emptied and schools are closed, often for days on end.

It snows.

And, then the sun comes out and the day turns warm.

The snow melts.

Baseball has come. Spring Training’s underway in Florida and Arizona. College games are being played.

Enough about (me). It’s baseball season!

(Want more curling? I’ve written more curling! Click here.)

Snow Cat

There’s No Plate Like Home.

Back in the day, baseball’s home plate was often a perfectly round – and, later, a perfectly square –  chunk of marble. Iron or wood would do in a pinch. Or, a hunk of anything, really, tough enough to withstand baseball’s roughhousing 19th-century games.

The Dodgers’ broadcaster Vin Scully explained the history of home plate during a game last season. Listen here.


Home plate is, technically, called “home base” but rarely is it called that, in the same way that the Cincinnati Reds are rarely called the “Red Stockings” even though that is their name. Technically.

Should you wish to build your own 21st-century home plate, you will forgo the marble (and the round and the square). Instead, find yourself a nice piece of white rubber and carefully carve it into a 20-pound pentagon.

Emphasis on “carefully.” Because home plate’s dimensions and placement are very, very precise.

home kingofears

Image Used with Permission By Kingofears via WikiMedia Creative Commons.

(Explicitly precise dimensions in the infield surrounded by decidedly imprecise outfields is what makes baseball a perfect game.)

The pentagon shape was settled on in 1900 to help umpires better see the strike zone.

(You may insert your favorite umpire joke here. Or, try this one … Why are umpires so fat? They always clean their plates!)

Thank the 1880s Baltimore Orioles for the creation of a home plate made of rubber.

(Thank you for home plate, Orioles. Oh, and while I have you, where’s that ace starting pitcher you’ve been promising us?)

orioles 1896

1896 Baltimore Orioles. Public Domain Image.

(Purist Alert: These 19th-century Orioles do lead to the rubber home plate, but they didn’t really evolve into today’s Orioles. They also did not evolve into the New York Yankees – a later, traitorous 1901 Orioles’ incarnation did that.)

The rubber home plate was the invention of lefty pitcher Robert Keating, who pitched one big-league game for the Orioles in 1887.

Keating’s one-game career was rough – a complete-game loss that left him with a career 11.00 ERA.

Apparently, Keating knew his baseball days were numbered, and that same year he patented one of many dozens of inventions that he would create during his lifetime – a much safer rubber home plate to replace the stone and iron ones that often led to injuries.

Keating is rarely remembered for this important contribution to baseball.

Instead, he is best known for the Keating Bicycle, a “safety bicycle” which had front and rear wheels that were the same size. This was an alternative to the dangerous big front-wheel numbers that people seemed all crazy for in the 1880s.

keating bicycle

(Keating, apparently, was a “safety first” man – a safer home plate, a safer bicycle, and he also invented an early version of the “safety razor.”)

Keating fans will also tell you he invented the first motorcycle in 1901, a full year before it was “officially” invented by someone else.

But, back to baseball. Here’s what you should know about home plate.

* It may have informally been called “home” before then, but it was the famed Knickerbocker Rules of 1845 that formally named the base where a batter swings and a runner scores as “home.”

knickerbocker rules

* Major League Baseball’s rules “suggest” that home plate be positioned in an “East-Northeast” direction.

This is to accommodate batters during sunny day games. Of course, most of today’s baseball is played at night under lights – or indoors – so it’s much less important. Still, rules are rules, even when they’re just suggestions, and you’ll see that many modern ballparks still properly place home plate to the east-northeast.

* Modern-day rubber home plates are durable, sure, but they’re no marble. Today’s major league teams will usually wear through two home plates each season (they’ll bring in a fresh plate around the All-Star Break).

Minor league teams will often squeeze a couple seasons out of their home plates.

(Bulldog Field Equipment, based here in Virginia, supplies home plates and pitching rubbers to many major- and minor-league teams. Their “double-sided” plates weigh 40 pounds and can be flipped over to increase their lifespan.)

* Umpires have their own very specific rules for the care of home plate. They will dust it with a brush before each half inning and whenever needed. The umpire will step to the front of the plate, turning his back to the pitcher’s mound before dusting, so as not to moon the fans when he bends over. Players don’t dust off the plate. Ever.

umpire brush

* Whether rubber or marble, it’s not easy to steal home, which makes it one of baseball’s rarest and most exciting plays. Detroit’s Ty Cobb stole home 54 times in his career – the most of any ballplayer.

On those few occasions when a runner on third attempts to steal home, this is what almost always happens:


He’s Out!

But, once in awhile, this happens:

Jackie Robinson stole home 19 times in his career, but, to this day, catcher Yogi Berra insists that Robinson was out during this famous play during the 1955 World Series.

Berra told Sports Illustrated in 2009, “The ump never saw the play good. … He was short and never got out of his crouch. The hitter even admitted later that Jackie was out. And he had a great view.”

Asked what he remembered most about one of baseball’s most famous plays, Yogi says, “Mostly, I remember he was out.”

(Special Thanks to Jason Grohoske & Steve Ruckman of the Double A Richmond Flying Squirrels who answered my questions about the life span of modern day home plates. Go Squirrels!)

(Much of the information on Robert Keating is from the fine research of Daniel E. Ginsburg of the Society of American Baseball Research. Find more here.)

More of my posts on the evolution of “home”:

Skizzle, Sweet Skizzle

Don’t Try This At Home

Don’t Try This At Home


Ty Cobb goes “spike’s up” into home. Navin Field, Detroit (1912 or 1913). Public Domain image.

Don’t try this at home.

Because it is stupid. (“It” being Ty Cobb’s collision. My pun, on the other hand, is brilliant.)

As a baseball-writing massage therapist with nearly 10,000 massage sessions under my belt, I’m often asked for my thoughts about home plate collisions.

Actually, no one’s asked.

But, I’m going to tell you anyway.

Because I’ve been thinking a lot about home plate ever since my last post.

And, because one doofus said on his webpage (which has approximately a zillion more readers than I ever will) that banning home plate collisions is further proof of the “wussification of America.”

And, all I could think was, “Good god, how many times has Glenn Beck’s head collided with the sidewalk? Because he sure sounds like he’s brain-clunked pavement a few too many times.”

Glenn Beck doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

But, I do.

I know collisions. I see colliders every day. Colliders are my massage (and Yoga) bread and butter.

I have clients who have collided with other people, with airbags, with telephone poles, with staircases, with the ground (woody, gravelly, asphalty, rocky, and cementy.) I see clients who have broken things, strained things, torn things, ruptured things, and gotten their bells rung.

I sometimes see them a day after they have collided and often for years afterward.

I see equestrian clients who are tossed off of their horses so often that you would think their bottoms are loaded with crazy Wonderland-like springs that catapult them randomly through the air and into rocks and bramble. Over and over.

I have clients who live with chronic pain and permanent injuries and brain impairment because they collided into something – or someone – else.

I know colliders.

So, I am delighted that Major League Baseball is taking the necessary steps to ban home plate collisions – where a base runner coming home seeks to dislodge the ball from a catcher’s mitt by violently colliding with him. That’s how the Giants’ Buster Posey broke his leg in 2011. And, that’s how many professional ballplayers sustain debilitating concussions throughout the season.

Home plate collisions are needlessly dangerous, unnecessary, and just plain stupid.

Former Catcher and now St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny retired in 2007 following a series of concussions caused by home plate collisions. He lost 18 months of his memory as a result. If I haven’t convinced you, listen to him, click here.


Baseball’s owners and the players’ union are still working out the details and wording, but the belief is that new rules could be in place by the start of this season or 2015 at the latest.

ESPN’s Buster Olney (who has so many “insider” sources, he probably knows someone who has spilled all your secrets), was told that the new rules would include:

• Catchers cannot block home plate.

• Runners will not be allowed to target the catchers.

• Umpires will determine whether or not the plate was blocked or the runner targeted the catcher and this will be a reviewable call, and

• Players who violate these rules will be subject to disciplinary action.

This won’t eliminate all collisions. But, it will eliminate some extremely violent home-plate encounters.

In its very earliest long-time-ago incarnations, baseball required a runner to be struck by the ball in order to be out. Yes, just like dodgeball you would throw the baseball at the runner – as hard as you could and sometimes right at his head. If you severely maimed him in the process, well, hey, it was the 18th century, he probably wasn’t going to make it to 40 anyway.

But, that was stupid. And, baseball improved its rules.

The rules already protect fielders from collisions by base runners who seek to break up double plays through collision or “spikes up.” (Interference is called on the base runner and he is out.)

A sprained ankle might slow you down for a week or so. A concussion is much sneakier and can cause permanent brain damage that you won’t notice until one day you’re standing in a grocery store and you wonder, “Why am I here?” (And, not in an existential way, either.)

Watch the PBS Frontline documentary League of Denial that shows, in grim detail, the heartbreaking damage that concussions have done to professional athletes. Watch it here.

league of denial

Glenn Beck, apparently, thinks that baseball rules are unnecessary (in the same way that he believes that government is unnecessary, until the potholes on his street need fixing).

Life has risks. Games have risks. Jobs have risks.

I know that.

But, that doesn’t mean that an employer doesn’t have the responsibility to try to eliminate risks whenever possible.

A bakery gives its baker an oven mitt so he doesn’t melt the skin off his hands when he pulls the bread out of a hot oven.

A warehouse puts brakes on its forklift so a driver doesn’t run over his colleague who is stacking boxes.

Baseball stops home plate collisions.

Good heavens, why are we even debating this?

I’m guessing Ty Cobb, like Glenn Beck, would say that minimizing injuries is a wussy thing to do. (Although, honestly, I don’t think Cobb would use the word “wussy.”)

But, tough. And, stop whining.

Those nasty spike’s up, knock-em-down, slasharoos that Ty Cobb made famous are stupid. (Say, Ty, maybe if you picked up the pace a bit coming in from third you could have beaten the throw to the plate. Now THAT’s exciting baseball!)

Just 25 days until pitchers and catchers report.

By: Frettie, used with permission via Creative Commons 3.0

By: Frettie, used with permission via Creative Commons 3.0

Skizzle, Sweet Skizzle.

The bases in baseball might have been imagined in the 19th century, but their beginnings were probably much earlier than that. Historians often reach back to the 18th or even 17th centuries to find something undeniably baseball-ish about the games children played.

(Historian David Block can take it all the way back to 1450.)

(There are a lot of very good baseball historians in the world today. You could probably fill Wrigley Field’s bleachers with them and have to pour the overflow historians into Fenway. Football historians, on the other hand, can easily be transported in a minivan.)

Bases are the grail for many historians. If a game had you run to a specified point or “base,” you were probably playing some form of baseball.

But I think if they were inventing baseball today, there would be no “Home.”

Oh, the base would be there … the plate, the dish, it has a few different names. The umpire might still ceremoniously dust it off with a whisk broom from time to time, and it would still be 60 feet 6 inches from the pitcher. But, I don’t think we would call it “home.”

We might call it a Blast Pad, a Stamping Stone, or the Swat Zone. Those all sound cool, right?

Or, more likely, we’d just make up a word. The Skizzle! The Bagzooka! The Scoreatorium!

(God, I’m bad at this.)

Two minutes of Blast Pad Bliss!

But, surely not “home” … which conjures up images of the kindness of mom and cookies and soup and underwear hanging on the line.

And, unlike baseball, the place in life where you start and then you end isn’t always the same “home.”

I’m not even sure I know what a hometown is. Is that where I was born? Where I grew up? Or, where I’m living now? Because I can call each of them “home.”  And, they are all quite different places. (The ocean is on the other side now.)

I don’t really remember much about where I was born.  We moved when I was still mini-sized. (I was born in the same hospital as Robin Ventura, by the way. So I’ll always have a little hometown kinship with him. And, I never liked Nolan Ryan.)

Then we moved to another part of California. And, when I was old enough, my dad taught me about “home teams.” And, since we lived near the Bay Area, I became a Giants-A’s-49ers-Raiders fan.

(It really stinks being on a football boycott when the 49ers are doing so well. Or, leastways, that’s what I’ve been told.)

My dad schooled me in football. My little-girl baseball knowledge pretty much boiled down to ranking the players on my baseball cards on a highly precise and carefully researched Cutie Pie Scale. (Oakland A’s? Very cutie pie.)

I showed flashes of home team spirit, as seen here when I firmly and sadly crossed “GIANTS” off of my Willie Mays’ card when he went to the Mets.

willie mays card

Even then, I was conflicted by what home means. If Willie Mays was no longer a Giant, what was the point? What good is having a home, if no one is going to stay there?

Then we moved.

(Please enjoy this brief interlude as I spend nearly 10 home-team-less years in North Dakota.)

The East Coast, above-zero temperatures, and my very first real live baseball game couldn’t come fast enough.

I tell this story a lot, and it is true. When I stepped out of the cement walkway and into the upper deck of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium for the very first time, I saw the green grass and the diamond spread out before me.

And, I looked, and I said to myself, “I’m home.”

So, maybe the Orioles aren’t technically my “home” team, since they’re 126 miles – and lots of traffic – away. Does it matter anymore where you actually live? Or, do we define home differently now?

Baseball players, themselves, are nomads. They are shuttled around from team to team, town to town. There are few Cal Ripkens left out there who get to play every day for their own hometown team.

Home plate may be the only “home” a player can count on during his career.

(And, woe to the American League pitcher who only gets a look at “home” and never gets to actually go there.)

Fans have cable and the internet and can watch any game from practically anywhere in the world. Live.

I can listen to Vin Scully call a Dodgers game thousands of miles away. Jon Miller, who I missed for so many years, now comes through loud and clear calling Giants games on my Sirius Radio.

Anywhere can be home. And, if anywhere is home, maybe home isn’t the same thing that it once was.

In baseball, home is where you start and where you hope you end up. You’ll run around for awhile, but, if all goes well you’ll end up again at home, right where you started.

In baseball, that’ll earn you a run.

In life, I’m not sure what that gets you anymore. Sometimes, if you end up back at home – to sleep, perhaps, in your parents’ basement – it’s because things haven’t quite worked out so well in life.

I think my home is right here, right now. With my Editor/Husband, the bushel of cats, and the brand-new barn (and unfinished porch). I like coming home. To here.

Skizzle, Sweet Skizzle.

good morning barn2