The Dangers Of Poetry

On July 17, I wrote you a poem.

I hadn’t written poetry since, oh, since Junior High. It wasn’t very good poetry, but the words rhymed, so I’m not sure why you expected anything better out of me. The words rhymed. It was a poem.

On July 17, I wrote you a poem and six hours later I was sick.

Sick, for real, with a 101 fever and chills and visions of this finally being the end and well, I had a good run. (I occasionally overreact in cases of high fever. High fever panic commences for me at about 98.9.)

The New York Times, 4/6/1925

On April 5, 1925, Babe Ruth collapsed with a fever, infection, and an abscess in his gut. But, not before hitting two home runs in a spring training game. He’d been running a temp through spring training and didn’t rejoin the Yankees for eight weeks.

I am here today, recovered after 16 days with an obnoxious summer virus, to tell you five truths about illness.

One. Babe Ruth clearly was much tougher than me.

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Cotton Candy & The Win Streak Ends

The Baltimore Orioles had a four-game win streak through Sunday.

They lost today, 6-4, to the Minnesota Twins.

A new win streak starts tomorrow.

In the meantime, here’s a kid eating cotton candy.

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Getting all sticky.

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Eating the entire thing.

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And, then looking both wistful and a tiny bit barfy at the end.

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(Hey, why does cotton candy only come in pink and blue?)

Also from our recent trip to a game at Nats Park in Washington, DC, here are the Racing Presidents.

racing presidents

(George always seems a little embarrassed about the whole running-around thing or maybe he just ate too much cotton candy and is feeling a tiny bit barfy himself.)

Photos: San Francisco Giants vs. Washington Nationals, Nationals Park, Washington, DC.  August 23 and August 24, 2014

(The Giants lost both games, including getting pounded by the Nats on Sunday, 14-6. This may help explain why I spent an entire inning watching a child cover himself in cotton candy. The Giants are currently on a seven-game win streak … and I hope this doesn’t jinx them.)

 

“Oh, to be 22 …”

“Oh, to be 22 and a Dodger.” ~ Vin Scully

(Describing Dodger Rookie Yasiel Puig after a magnificent throw from right to get the runner at home and end the inning. August 31, 2013. You can see it all here.)

Oh, to be 85 and to see baseball as Vin Scully does.

I’m not a Los Angeles Dodgers fan (though my dad was, in a “I don’t like baseball, but I do like the Dodgers” sort of way).

But, I always like to listen to Vin, the voice of the Dodgers for the past 64 years. (And, soon to be 65 years, as he’s just signed on for 2014.)

He is, quite simply, the voice of baseball. Scully is in the Baseball Hall of Fame, is regularly chosen as the best broadcaster in baseball, and has been calling Dodgers games – on radio and, today, on television — since 1950. Since they were the Brooklyn Dodgers.

When I listen to Vin Scully doing a game today I imagine my dad, out in the backyard in California on a long-ago Saturday, beer in hand in his beloved green hammock, listening to a game on the radio. Vin Scully calling a Dodgers game, same as today. Only the names have changed.

And, long ago doesn’t seem all that long ago.

Whether describing a baby wearing a hat, marveling over a cloud formation, or his regular nightly depictions of the sun setting over Dodger Stadium, baseball becomes richer when Vin Scully is sharing it with you.

The world becomes sweet and timeless and precious.

So, I went to a game on Sunday. And, I took my camera (which is new and foreign and intimidating). I tried to see the things that Vin Scully would see, if he were at the park with me.

Harrisburg Senators (AA Washington Nationals team) vs. Richmond Flying Squirrels (AA San Francisco Giants team). September 1, 2013

(Second to the last game of the AA season. Harrisburg will go to the playoffs. The Squirrels’ season will end on Labor Day.)

Squirrel Autograph Day

It was Flying Squirrels autograph day at the park. Oh, to be 22 …

more autographs

Jarrett Parker

The Squirrels’ Jarrett Parker (UVA alum) … dreaming of the AAA Fresno Grizzlies?

Having A Catch

Having a catch before the game.

upper deck

Zinger

Every team deserves a mascot (hear that Chicago Cubs?). The Flying Squirrels have two. This is Zinger. He is a giant acorn.

fans

swing

This is not a homerun swing.

Lollis homerun

This is. (The Squirrels’ Ryan Lollis, leading off the first inning.)

cotton candy

Hey, snacks!

pitchers mound

Not a good day to be a Harrisburg pitcher.

man on first

right field

Right field can seem awfully far away sometimes.

bullpen

The relievers in their bullpen. (Even minor league teams have their candy backpack … it’s over there on the ground on the left.)

old stadium

All you have to do is turn a camera button and your 21st-century game looks like 1964.

older stadium

Or, 1934. (That’s Editor/Husband on the left keeping track of the pitching changes in his program.)

overexposed

When you get cocky, your camera will change all your settings.

clouds

Some clouds for Vin.

gloves

And, just as quickly as it started, the minor league season is over. Wasn’t it just Opening Day? Where did the summer go? And, how many days until spring?

(And, Vin Scully would be disappointed if I neglected to give you the final score.  Richmond Flying Squirrels 7. Harrisburg Senators 3.)

628 Hours & 30 Minutes

A lot of people complain that baseball is long, slow, and boring.

They are wrong on all counts.

Baseball isn’t really very long at all … a game takes something like three hours.

(In fact, NFL football games take, on average, longer than MLB baseball games. And, only 11 minutes of that is actually football. Tons of movies drag on past three hours. I can watch a double header in less time than a stupid Downton Abbey marathon. So there.)

You know what takes a long time? Building a barn. That takes a long time.

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Oooh, I see walls! (Actually, I don’t.)

Some baseball games go into extra innings, sure.

I was at a baseball game once that went 15 innings and was nearly five hours long.  It was the 4th of July. And, the game was inside. Inside. In the Minnesota Metrodome, the gloomiest place on earth (and smelling vaguely of a high school gym shower and mothballs). Thankfully, the Twins left there in 2009 and now play outside in the fresh air, which is where God intended baseball to be played.

What’s worse … the Orioles lost that game.

But, that was nothing.

I can now say that I attended a LONG baseball game. An 11-inning game that took 628 hours and 30 minutes.

That’s more than 26 days, for you kids trying to find the calculator on your iPhone.

Let me ‘splain.

On July 21, Editor/Husband and I went to Richmond, Virginia for a game between the AA Richmond Flying Squirrels (note: not regular squirrels, but FLYING squirrels, which are something entirely different), and the AA Bowie Baysox (I do not know what a baysox is).

An actual flying squirrel

An actual flying squirrel. Photo courtesy Laszlo-Photos, via the Creative Commons License Agreement

I was especially excited because these are the AA affiliates of, respectively, the current world champion San Francisco Giants and the supposed-to-win-the-World-Series-this-year-but-aren’t-looking-so-good-right-now Baltimore Orioles.

Here you can see me enjoying the game (and my new shoes) with 5,524 other fans.

its me

(It was in the 90s. It was hot.)

Here’s Nathaniel, who was at the game with his awesome “Go Squirrels” sign.

Nathaniel Go Squirrels

(I wrote about Nathaniel and his sign, here.)

Here you can see Nutzy the Flying Squirrel in a Santa cap and beard.

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(Did I mention that it was in the 90s and very, very hot?)

I think the Wall-Nut won the Mix Nut Race, although I neglected to note that on my scorecard. Don’t let the current standings fool you, I think Peanut is lazy. You can watch them race around here at another game and you tell me that Peanut isn’t dogging it a bit.

mix nut race

Here you can see my scorecard.

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Notice how it abruptly ends with the score tied and two outs in the bottom of the 10th?

That’s when it started to rain. Really rain.

And, it was getting late and, you know, people have things to do on Sunday nights, like go home and shower because it was beastly hot out and my clothes were soaked with sweat (and, maybe a little French Fry grease … the Squirrel Fries are dee-licious.)

So the game was suspended.

Yes, for the first time ever, I was at a professional game that ended in a tie. Since I am an Orioles fan, who has a little warm spot in my heart for my childhood sweetheart Giants, this seemed appropriate. I cheered for both, and everyone’s a winner, or a not-winner. Whatever.

But, it just didn’t feel right. My scorecard needed closure.

For 26 days, we waited. The teams moved on to win and lose to other teams. I even got to Richmond for another game.

Someone had to win.

And, so the next time the two teams met, on Friday night, August 16, at 6:05 p.m. the game resumed right where it left off … in Bowie, Maryland, which is 126.16 miles away from Richmond where the game began. It’s about a two-hour and 11-minute drive for you Mapquest Geeks.

Yes, for one brief micromillisecond moment in the 10th inning of this game, the distance from home plate when the game was suspended and the pitching mound when the game resumed was 126 miles.

Let’s see Clayton Kershaw wing one over that!

It took about 30 minutes to finish up. I wasn’t there, but Jon Laaser, the Richmond Flying Squirrels broadcaster was, and he’s a very prompt Twitter Responder.  (Thank you, Jon!)

twitter answer

And, in the bottom of the 11th with the score tied 5-5, the Squirrels knit together three singles … and the winning run came home at about 6:35 p.m. on August 16.

628 hours and 30 minutes after the game started.

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Scorecard, done.

(Later that night, in much quicker fashion, the Squirrels beat the BaySox again.)

final box score

In Praise Of The Bullpen

“The two most important things in life are good friends and a strong bullpen.” ~ Bob Lemon (Cleveland Indians Pitcher, 1941-1958. Manager of the Royals, White Sox, & Yankees.)

What’s the difference between my good friends and the Orioles’ bullpen?

None of my friends melted down on Monday night. (Also, not as much spitting. Thank you for that.)

The Baltimore Orioles’ bullpen fell apart Monday night in Arizona. (It’s was a pitchfork-hot 108 in Phoenix yesterday, but that was nothing compared to the meltdown inside Chase Field.)

One by one the Oriole relievers came out to the mound. One by one, they gave up runs. Tying runs, go ahead runs, tying runs, go ahead runs.

Finally, with the game tied in the ninth, Darren O’Day, the trusty sidearmer, came out, threw one ball – just one lousy pitch. Emphasis on lousy. Homerun. Game over.

Oh sure, we all have bad days. But, I’m grateful that I don’t have thousands of people peering over my shoulder, second-guessing, and jeering when I have mine. It’s a gift, I think, to endure a bad day in the shadows … where no one can see you sulk.

The Orioles weren’t the only team with a leaky bullpen last night. By the end of the night, there were three blown saves recorded in that game. THREE. And, only one belonged to the Orioles. The Diamondbacks won, despite two blown saves from their relievers.

So, a bad night to be a reliever.

Baseball fans say that a lot.

But, instead of jeering and heckling and second-guessing, I’m here to praise the bullpen. The Orioles bullpen. Every bullpen.

Next to Umpires, the most thankless job in baseball.

It’s where starting pitchers are punished. A few bad outings, a few hinky pitches, and a starting pitcher is banished to the ‘pen. One is seldom “promoted” to the bullpen.

(And, how about the use of “hinky” in a sentence? I should stop right now.)

It’s where mascots are crammed together, squeezed in tight with the relievers, as they await a race around the warning track.

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If you look carefully, you can make out the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cat relievers in the bullpen trying to ignore all the mascots.

It’s where Minnesota Twins’ relievers spend a year patiently waiting for that one brief perfect moment to prank the cameras. Oh, come on I know you want to watch … here.

Twins punchout

It’s where pitchers catch homeruns in their caps.

It’s where rookies carry backpacks filled with candy and snacks. (What else is there to do while you wait for your starting pitcher to fall apart?)

sean doolittle

MLB.com @Cut4 via Twitter

A’s Reliever Sean Doolittle’s Twitter Bio says this: I get to play baseball with my friends for a living and sometimes they even let me be pitcher for an inning!

It’s where no one ever gets to be hero and everyone is the goat eventually.

When you come in from the bullpen and fail, most likely you’ve cost your team the game. Even the greatest bullpen pitchers will fail from time to time. (Yes, even Mariano Rivera.)

They will be booed and heckled. Mercilessly. By the time they come into the game, your nastiest hecklers are already well into their cups … many, many beers to the wind. The more beer, the louder and stupider the heckle. It’s a fact.

When bullpen pitchers succeed, when they hold the lead, you won’t hear a word. The batters will be rewarded for scoring plenty of runs. The starting pitcher will be lauded for not letting a game get away. The bullpen? Hey, they were just doing their job.

Remember Jay? My new favorite thing to do is bounce ideas off of him. So, Jay, what do you have to say about relievers?

It is the nature of the role that relief pitchers make you nervous. The term “relief” implies you aren’t the real thing — you are on standby in case something happens – i.e., a relief valve. That is why relief pitchers got no respect at all until they invented euphemisms to class them up — thus, the “closer” – sounds important; “set-up guy” – sounds tricky; “long man” – actually sounds superfluous, but you get the idea.

There are a lot of things that can go wrong in a game. My Editor/Husband will moan like a cat with a hairball whenever a bad play unfolds. But, when the bullpen gets lit up, that’s when he gets really animated. (“Animated” is sort of like heckling but without all the beer.)

A position player can strike out once or twice in a game. But, as soon as he does this … all is forgiven.

crush landing

A starting pitcher can have a tough first inning, but somewhere tonight in America a broadcaster will say, “He’s settled down from a shaky first.”

Bullpen pitchers don’t have the luxury of a shaky first.

So, the Orioles bullpen had a bad night. But, they’ve had plenty more good nights.

So, yay, for the bullpen.

And, relievers everywhere.

For Moe Drabowsky, the wacky prankster. For Mike Marshall, who in 1974 became the first reliever to win the Cy Young (and in true quirky reliever fashion actually became a big league pitcher simply because he wanted to study pitching arm injuries for his PhD.)

And, for every reliever who has had a bad game … or blown a save (or two or seven). Rest up, guys, because we’ll need you to be ready to try again for us tomorrow.

#4: Isle Be Seeing You ~ The Cubs in Catalina

I’ve never been to Wrigley Field.  It must be pretty nice, what with the ivy and all. Built in 1914, it has been the home of the Chicago Cubs for 99 years.  Only Boston’s Fenway (1912) is older.

I’d like to visit Wrigley some day, but not in March.

Because it’s cold.  And, it snows.  And, there are no Cubs there in March.

(Did you know that the Cubs are one of the only major league teams that doesn’t have an oversized, furry mascot roaming around during games? The Cubs are ready-made for a mascot – they’re Cubs, for heaven’s sake.  The team believes a mascot would cheapen the majesty of Wrigley. They are wrong. Mascots are amazing.)

But, back to Spring Training … and #4 on my list of most amazing Spring Training locations (mascot, optional).

There are very few cases of a team actually buying their own Spring Training facility. (Multi-multi-multi-millions of dollars, the majority from taxpayers, fund most of the Spring Training parks you can visit today.  Thank you, Americans!)

In the early years, most teams were virtual nomads, wandering from whatever college or minor league park in the south might accommodate them for a few weeks each spring.  They bunked en masse in fraternity houses or cheap hotels, and dined at boarding houses overseen, I gather, by plump, elderly widows dishing out the morning grits.

Now, imagine if your owner bought an island – an entire island! – and then plopped you and your teammates right down in the middle of it.

Who cares if the nearest other team is THOUSANDS of miles away?  This is Paradise, Baby!

And, so, when Chicago Cubs owner William Wrigley shelled out about $3 million for Santa Catalina Island, 25 miles off the coast of California, in 1919, he packed up his Cubbies and shipped them off to Xanadu.

Cubs Catalina

Dodgertown? It’s a TOWN.  The Cubs had an island!

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#5: The Yankees Go To Shreveport

The game is full of subtlety,

Of science and of art,

Where mind and brain

Beneath the strain

Must carry out their part.

 

But when it comes to climax stuff

Beyond the final scoff,

Give me the bloke

With mighty poke

Who tears the cover off.

~ Grantland Rice, New York Tribune, March 15, 1921

 In today’s installment of “Spring Training Is Way Better Than Sitting In A House Without Power During A Freak Snowstorm In March” … let’s head to Shreveport, Louisiana.

 March 1921.

Spring Training with the New York Yankees. (And, you know this better be good if I’m going to spend a post talking about the Yankees.)

See, Spring Training wasn’t always Grapefruits and Cactus.  Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and Alabama were all popular destinations in the early years of baseball.  Teams just seemed to wander around.

Spring Training over the years has evolved into a structured program to polish up one’s skills with weight training, fielding drills, batting practice, and conditioning programs.  (Even, most happily, Yoga. Big shout out to the Oakland A’s and Baltimore Orioles who have mentioned their Yoga programs in recent weeks.)

Back in early 20th century however, Spring Training was really just a time to get everyone back together, detox from the excesses of the off-season (mineral hot springs were especially popular), burn off winter weight, toss around a medicine ball, and try to get back into some sort of playing shape.

After a few rowdy Spring Trainings in Jacksonville, Florida (highlighted by more than a few “drunken orgies”), the Yankees moved their spring headquarters to Shreveport in 1921 because of its isolation (and because it was, ostensibly, a dry town).  Safely away, they hoped, from the devilish temptations of booze, broads, and brawling. 

Shreveport – in the midst of its own crazy oil boom (and not very “dry” at all) – would be a place where Babe Ruth and the rest of the team could focus on baseball.

Oh, did I not mention Babe?

George Herman Ruth.  Baltimore native.  The man who bestowed one of the most successful and enduring curses on the Boston Red Sox.  He did some other stuff too, hit some homers, changed the face of baseball, you know, that sort of thing, but I think I hit the high points.

New York Yankees, Spring Training 1921. Babe Ruth is there in the center.

New York Yankees, Spring Training 1921. Babe Ruth is there in the center.

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