Real Baseball. Games In February. Games That Count.

You can cheer for spring training and it might be warm where you are. But, it’s not quite spring – not quite, not yet – in Virginia.

Last week.

But, it is baseball season. And, not the warm-up-the-bones-in-games-that-don’t-count variety that the big leaguers are playing in Arizona and Florida right now.

Real baseball. Games that count.

The 2019 University of Virginia baseball team began their outside team practices back in January. In cold, snowy, polar votex’y Virginia.

Their regular season began two weeks ago. (Ok, their regular season began two weeks ago … in Arizona. I’ll give you that. But, your nit-picking is missing the point. My point.)

Last weekend, they played Villanova in Charlottesville and it was cold. Bone-chillingly-butt-numbingly-nose-frozenly cold.

(Ok, so maybe it wasn’t that cold on Sunday, and, yes, some people wore shorts to Sunday’s game. But, people who wear shorts in not-freezing-but-still-not-warm winter weather are not to be trusted.)

It was cold – 45-degrees cold – on Friday.

And, before you interrupt me again to tell me how soft people are today and how back in the day people lived without heat or fluffy parkas or polartec or hand warmers, let me point out that the University of Virginia baseball team 100 years ago – the 1919 team – had not even ventured outdoors until the middle of February because their baseball season would not begin for several weeks and it was too cold to practice outside. Continue reading

Manny Got A Job.

I’m not sure why I care so much about Manny Machado.

Manny Machado, you may have heard, is expected to sign a $300-million, 10-year contract with the San Diego Padres.

(The San Diego Padres – the team you always forget when you’re trying to name all 30.)

Not Manny.

This is the biggest free agent contract in sports history.

Until, I guess, Bryce Harper signs – with, maybe, the Phillies – later this week.

Not Bryce.

(The Philadelphia Phillies – the team with the name that’s not even trying. All teams should do that. The Washington Washies. The New York Yorkies – woof! The San Diego Sandies. The Baltimore Balties. Whatever.)

Having boatloads of quality free agents still unsigned when spring training is well underway is both weird and disconcerting. Continue reading

“Charlottesville Is No Spot For A Writer Of Baseball.”

Charlottesville is no spot for a writer of baseball Washington Post 3 13 1912

Washington Post, 1912

Here’s what baseball writers will tell you about spring training in Charlottesville, Virginia.

It snows and hails and thunders and pours rain and gusts wind and freezes and scorches. There are plenty of lousy days for baseball and very few good ones.

Those writers, roaming around Charlottesville more than 100 years ago, won’t tell you much about the baseball they saw, but they’ll give you an earful about the rotten weather.

During Virginia’s hybrid time of still-winter-not-yet-spring – spwinter! – there’s no telling what any day will bring.

snowcat

March 2016. © The Baseball Bloggess

Snow.

March weather in Charlottesville is like a grab bag at the dollar store – you’ll get something for your dollar, but you’ll probably look at it and think, “Really? I paid a dollar for this?”

So why did so many teams from 1892 to 1916 come to Charlottesville for spring training? Were they nuts? Or were the grumpy old baseball writers just annoyed that they had to spend a month in a place which was often snowy and always alcohol-free?

Today, baseball’s spring training is held in Arizona and Florida, more accommodating and predictable climates, and where the only things you have to worry about are swarms of bees and the Zika virus.

But, Charlottesville? “More fickle weather could not be found in any part of the globe,” one Washington Post reporter lamented in 1914 after an early March snowfall.

Who would choose Charlottesville for spring training?

These teams …

In 1894, the Baltimore Orioles came through Charlottesville as part of a nomadic spring training tour through the south and took both games against the University of Virginia. The Orioles, then part of the National League, went on to win the pennant. They were a powerhouse, those Orioles. Yup, chew on that O’s fans. A powerhouse.

In 1901, the Boston Red Sox (then called the Americans) spent spring training in Charlottesville. It was the Sox’ first season and, history will show that the first game ever played by the Red Sox, the first ball they ever hit, and the first run they ever scored, happened in Charlottesville.

There were a few others, but it was the Washington Nationals that spent the most springs in Charlottesville. They were officially the Washington Senators, but everyone called them the Nationals and so should you.  (Although today we call them the Minnesota Twins.)

The Nats “springed” in Charlottesville in 1905 and ‘06 and then again, under manager Clark Griffith, from 1911 through 1916.

Embed from Getty Images

Griffith (third from the right) and his Nationals in Charlottesville. March 1915.

Griffith, today enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, told reporters each season that his choice of Charlottesville over warmer locales was purely strategic.

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The Babe & Bruce. Shreveport, 1921.

When Ruth, the mighty Soccaneer,
Stands up to sock the ball,
The throng is bound to raise a cheer
No matter what befall.
It thrills the vast and noisy crowd
To see a four-base clout.
And yet the cheer is just as loud
When someone strikes him out.

~ John B. Sheridan, Sportswriter | March 1921

Babe Ruth 1921

Babe Ruth, 1921. Public Domain.

When Babe Ruth, the home run hero of 1920, arrived at Yankees’ spring training in Shreveport, Louisiana in March 1921, he was out of shape and overweight.

He was, The New York Times said, the “Bulky Babe.”

The Sporting News was less poetic. The Babe “is fat and is working like a coal heaver to get in shape.”

pablo

(See, Panda Bear, you weren’t the first chubby to turn up at spring training.)

But, that didn’t stop several hundreds of Shreveport fans from turning out to greet Babe Ruth at the train station when he arrived in town on March 5. Shreveport had America’s biggest celebrity in their midst.

Arrival of Ruth NYT 3 6 1921

New York Times, 3/6/21

He fought his way past the cheering crowd and made his way to his hotel, The Sporting News reported, “where he was sat upon by scores of kids, who followed him to his room and were not satisfied until all had shaken hands and the Babe had shown them how he hit home runs by batting imaginary balls over the chandelier.”

The Babe, looking all jaunty. 1921, Shreveport

Public Domain

Babe Ruth in Shreveport, March 1921. 

During his month in Shreveport, the citizens showered him with gifts, and turned out at games – and practices – by the thousands. A local Essex car dealer gave him a car to use during spring training. The license plate read simply: “Babe Ruth’s Essex.” (“Babe Ruth’s Essex” was found one morning abandoned in the middle of the street when Babe rode off with someone else during a night of carousing.)

richmond times dispatch 3 13 21

Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/13/21

 

1921 essex

A 1921 Essex.

But, I’m just using the Sultan of Swat to lure you in. He’s not the star of this post. Bruce Price is.

Price was 24, a local, pitching for the Shreveport Gassers, a Texas League team.

Think of the Gassers as the Washington Generals to the Yankees’ Harlem Globetrotters. Just a small town practice squad for the Yankees to feast on that spring.

Two years ago, I wrote about unusual spring training spots, including Shreveport.

Last November, I found this comment at the bottom of the post:

janets quote2

It’s easy to write about Babe and the ’21 Yankees who, historian Robert Creamer wrote, “roared into that Louisiana city like cowboys coming to town on Saturday night.”

Broads. And booze. Abandoned cars. And Ruthian home runs that sailed over outfield walls and into the streets. That broke the windows of passing street cars.

(I had you at broads and booze, didn’t I?)

But, maybe it’s time to write about the Shreveport pitcher who got the Babe out.

So I sent an email to Janet Johnson who wrote me right back.

She confirmed that it was her grandfather, Bruce Price, “Papa Bruce” to family, who struck out Babe Ruth.

Bruce Price

Bruce Price. Courtesy of Janet Johnson.

He was a smallish pitcher – maybe 5’8” and 150 pounds or so. A righty.

“My dad says Papa would go pitch for teams in little towns in the area.  He also said he played baseball at Louisiana Tech one year but never went to class,” Johnson said.

Price had a wicked curve. He told folks he “could throw a baseball and make it curve through the crook of a stovepipe without ever touching metal.”

Like this.

It may have been that curveball that buckled the Babe.

But, the box score from that March 12, 1921 game, like many family memories, had gotten a little fuzzy with age.

NYT March 13 1921 Yankees Shreveport Box Score

The New York Times, 3/13/21

 Fun Fact: That’s not how you spell Shreveport.

Turns out, Price hadn’t struck the Babe out twice. But, there’s still a story to tell.

The Gassers starting pitcher was shelled that day, giving up six runs over three innings. Price came in in relief, pitching the 4th, 5th, and 6th. He pitched three scoreless innings and faced Ruth once, getting him to hit a weak infield grounder that Price easily fielded.

If you want to quibble about a strike out’s value over an infield out, go ahead. An out’s an out, if you ask me, and I think Price did Ruth a favor by making him leg out a play to first. After all, it was early in the spring and Ruth still had 20 pounds to lose.

The fans had come to see Babe Ruth, but as the game went on they began to cheer their hometown boys instead, especially when the Gassers got Ruth out.

Despite Ruth’s 0-for-5 day, the Yankees won 7-3.

Bruce Price’s ERA? 0.00

Price Pitching Line 3 12 21

In 1983, Wiley Hilburn of The Shreveport Times wrote that the Babe asked about Price after the game. “Who is that narrow [bastard]?” and later told a reporter, “I like that little Price.”

Decades later, Price described how he pitched Ruth: “It was inside low and inside high. … He would take one step with his left foot toward me, and then bring his right foot around to swing. I’d hesitate with my throw and try to throw his timing off.”

The Babe bounced back the next day in Ruthian style, going 6-for-6 – three homers, three singles – and the Yankees stepped on the Gassers 21-3.

New York Times

The New York Times, 3/14/21

(The Gassers did finally take one from the Yankees, 3-2 in 11 innings, on the last game of the spring.)

Price played a few more years on local teams, got married to a girl named Maggie, had four children, farmed, and drove a school bus.

“He never passed up an opportunity to go fishing,” Johnson told me. “He absolutely loved being out on the lake — any lake — but would not eat fish at all. He liked his coffee so strong that my mom would boil some water to dilute hers when we came to visit.”

He rarely missed church on Sunday, played the harmonica, and raised a family that stayed close to home.

“Everyone who knew Bruce just loved him,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s father – Price’s eldest son – retired back to the old home place not so long ago. The original house is gone now. “It had a porch across the front and a steep tin roof,” Johnson said. “I can’t remember exactly when they got a bathroom, but it was in my lifetime. Before that, it was a trip to the outhouse, and a bath in a tin wash tub in the back room, with well water heated on the stove. My uncle Bob lived nearby his whole life, and my two aunts married Air Force men but eventually came back home. Uncle Bob died a few years ago, but all of them have stayed close to the church and community, as have many of my cousins.”

Baseball still runs in the family. Many of Bruce Price’s children, grandchildren, and, today, great-grandchildren played in high school and some into college. One great-grandson – also a righty pitcher – played at Southern Mississippi about 10 years ago, was drafted by the Kansas City Royals, and played a season in the minors before being sidelined with an injury.

Bruce Price died on March 25, 1983. He was 86.

Babe Ruth hit 714 homeruns over 22 seasons. He was a career .342 hitter. It took a great pitcher to get the Babe out.

Bruce Price was one of them.

 

 

And, It’s Not Even Spring

snowballnew

© The Baseball Bloggess

It’s pretty cheap to complain about the snow when there are only a few inches outside.

barn1

© The Baseball Bloggess

I’m sure someone in New England has just come in from shoveling snow off of his roof – again – and is cursing me for complaining.

(Fun Fact: If my local paper was using baseball players to measure snowfall, we’d be moving.)

boston globe

Pitchers and catchers reported to Florida and Arizona this week. The NCAA college baseball season began last weekend. Because, when it comes to baseball, spring begins in winter.

I guess we’re always trying to speed up baseball.

There may not be eight feet of snow on the ground here, but there was still enough to run the University of Virginia baseball team down to Charleston, South Carolina this weekend to play its first “home series” of the season 450 miles away from home.

snow cover

Virginia, snow. South Carolina, no snow.

This meant no baseball for me this weekend.

Charleston, South Carolina was one of the first locations to serve as a big league spring training spot when the Philadelphia Phillies set up shop there in the spring of 1886. (The Chicago White Stockings put together their own spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas that same year.)

Phillies charleston spring 1886

Philadelphia Phillies in Charleston, SC, Spring 1886. ~ Public Domain Image

In 1884, Cap Anson, of the White Stockings, told Sporting Life magazine that early spring workouts in a warmer climate would “relieve the men of all stiffness, soreness, and rheumatism, and [allow the White Stockings to] start off with a physically strong team.”

But, really, the goal was simply to dry out the drinkers.

And, slim down the overeaters.

Apparently, every generation has its Pablo Sandoval.

pablo

(The Chicago White Stockings of 1886, incidentally, eventually became the Chicago Cubs and not the White Sox, as you might have assumed. See, baseball can teach you something even in February.)

The snow is melting today. It never lasts long in Virginia.

And, the University of Virginia is 7-0 this season.

But, it took a historic 18 innings — and five hours — this afternoon to notch that last win versus Marist down in Charleston.

uva tweet1 uva tweet2 uva tweet3 uva tweet4

And, it’s not even spring.

snowball1

© The Baseball Bloggess

 

Free Baseball ~ i can haz baseball edition

Sixty-two percent of Americans today live with a pet – a cat or a dog or both or a bunch.

In short, most of us. (Goldfish and gerbils aren’t even included in this statistic … so that must account for the rest of you.)

I live with four cats (invited) and an increasing number of gangster attic mice (uninvited). (I’m hopeful the mousies haven’t brought plague into the house.)

(That old saying “quiet as a mouse”? A lie. That old saying, “When the cat’s away, the mice will play”? Also a lie. Cats today no longer care.)

Isn’t it odd that we spend so much time on the Internet looking at pictures of cats …

stevie is tired

Stevie is bored with this post already.

 … and dogs …

ruby in the snow

My friend Ginger’s new pup Ruby discovers snow!

… when we already have one or some or a bunch at home we could be looking at instead?

Here’s a video of a cat who has learned sign language for “feed me.”

My cats also know sign language for “feed me” (extend claws, swipe). While they couldn’t care less about chasing delicious mice, they will bray like billy goats when hungry. If that doesn’t work, they’ll smack you.

It snowed today.

Which means some time for me to post my first Free Baseball of 2014 … i can haz baseball edition …

(I had my first “Free Baseball” of the season when the University of Virginia went to extra innings against Boston College on Saturday afternoon. UVa won 3-2 in 12, after Nick Howard who started the game as Designated Hitter came in during the 10th and pitched 2.1 scoreless innings. He struck out the side in the top of the 12th and then singled home the winning run in the bottom of the 12th.)

Ok, back to the critters …

10th Inning ~ Rookie The Retriever

Last summer, I wrote about Chase, the golden retriever “bat dog” of the Trenton Thunder, a Yankees minor league team. Sadly, Chase, who was 13, died of cancer last year.

But, Chase was good with the lady dogs and left a number of puppies as his legacy.  A Chase grandpuppy, five-month-old “Rookie,” will take over his grandpa’s bat-retrieving work for the Thunder.

rookie

Apparently, there are trainers who will teach dogs to fetch bats. So, Rookie will get some schooling before he takes over the job full-time in 2015.

11th Inning ~ Hank the Brewer

While Rookie figures out the finer points of bat fetching, baseball has already begun for Hank, a stray pup who turned up last month in Phoenix, Arizona at the Milwaukee Brewers’ spring training camp.

hankphoto

They named him Hank in honor of Hank Aaron.

The  Brewers announced last week that Hank’s now officially part of the team and he has already arrived in Milwaukee where he’s been adopted by a local family.

Watch Hank run in the Brewers’ Sausage Race.

hank

(I mean it. Watch this video.)

12th Inning ~ Big O

Big Orange the cat showed up one day at Phoenix Municipal (Muni) Stadium, spring home of the Oakland A’s, and never left.

big orange

Unlike Rookie and Hank the dogs, cats cannot be bothered with retrieving bats (stupid) or running with men dressed as bratwurst (demeaning).  (Cats are funny that way.)

One of the stadium employees takes care of “Big O.”

“The stadium manager kind of cut me some slack with running her off because she was kind of taking care of the rat population and the squirrels,” Jim Folk told Sports On Earth last spring.

“She’s definitely got a little attitude,” he said. “Like in the morning, when I quit petting her, she’ll swat me and then chase me down and grab onto my leg.”

The Oakland A’s are leaving the Muni for Hohokam Park next spring, and stadium employees are working to find a good new home for Big O.

*    *    *    *

smokey jo

This post is in memory of Smokey Jo (1998-2014).

A tough little missy who showed how diabetic cats can live long, normal, and happy lives with just a little bit of human help.

#1: Home Sweet Home ~ Spring Training in Charlottesville, VA

In baseball – as in life – the goal is to come home.

Spring Training ended Saturday.  Opening Day is (officially) Monday.

Hope Springs Eternal.

I have one spot left on my top five Spring Training series.

And, I come home to Charlottesville, Virginia.

It isn’t home. Not exactly. But, it’s just a few minutes up the road and that’s close enough.

Charlottesville isn’t the most amazing or the most interesting or the most historic Spring Training location.

No Babe Ruth. No Jackie Robinson. No island, no dance hall.

Charlottesville is my #1 Spring Training place, not because of what happened here, but because it’s home. And, every home should have somewhere to warm up your baseball bones.

Between 1890 and 1916, many teams spent Spring Training in Charlottesville.

The Boston Reds in the 1890s. The Boston Beaneaters (today, the Atlanta Braves). The young Boston Red Sox. The Washington Senators (who had officially changed their name to the Nationals in 1901, but who everyone still called the Senators, until the team just gave up and changed it back in the 1950s. So really, call them whatever you like here).

The Washington Post

The Washington Post

Teams unpacked at Wright’s Hotel near the train station (it was later the Clermont and is now the Starr Hill Building). Or, they rented local fraternity houses.

They trained on cold and snowy days – and there were plenty of them in March – indoors at Fayerweather Gymnasium (now home to the University of Virginia Department of Art). It was a state-of-the-art facility with one of the longest indoor tracks in the country.

They played at UVa’s Lambeth Field, which one reporter at the time called “the best college field.” (It’s still in use today for intramural sports).

Lambeth Field, Charlottesville. Early 20th-century. Photo Courtesy of UVa Small Special Collections Library

Lambeth Field, Charlottesville. Early 20th-century. Photo Courtesy of UVa Small Special Collections Library

Walter “Big Train” Johnson, one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game, spent a couple Spring Trainings there as a National/Senator. (How good was he? He would win more than 30 games a season – twice – and consistently had an ERA around a sinful 1.50. Yeh, The Big Train was good.)

Teams jogged through Charlottesville as part of their training. They played games against UVa’s team. They took day trips to Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and rode the trolley to Fry’s Springs resort, known for its healing mineral baths and “Wonderland” amusement park.

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#2: Look It’s Me! The Orioles in St. Petersburg

When I started this Spring Training series, I had my Top 5 list ready to go.

But, my editor/husband insisted that the Spring Training I attended should be included.

So, apologies Limestone League – the World War II-era years when teams held Spring Training north of the Mason-Dixon and east of the Mississippi. French Lick and Terre Haute. Bloomington and Muncie.

You’re off the list. (Maybe next year.)

Number 2 on my list of amazing Spring Trainings is the one I attended in St. Petersburg, Florida. 

Many people believe that attending Spring Training is the mark of a true baseball fan.

They’re wrong.

To be a true baseball fan is to watch a 17-inning game, start to finish … and then watch it again when the local sports network replays it on Thanksgiving Day. (It will take six hours and seven minutes, in case you’re wondering. And, yes, we won.)

To be a true baseball fan is to sit – or, more correctly, stand – through a freezing two-and-a-half hour rain delay during the playoffs only to have your team go down in bitter defeat in the 9th.

To be a true baseball fan is to watch your beloved team lose more often than it wins and still love them. To watch them lose 100 games in a single season. To watch them lose 21 in a row. And, still love them.

To be a true baseball fan is to say, “We’ll get ‘em tomorrow,” no matter the odds. And, mean it.

Spring Training, on the other hand, is just a lovely way to spend a vacation in Florida (or Arizona) during the chilly, waning days of winter. Sandwiching ballgames with a little beach time or tee time or margarita time.

For a few years in the 1990s, the St. Louis Cardinals shared St. Petersburg, Florida and Al Lang Stadium with the Baltimore Orioles.

There's a lot of milling about at Spring Training.

There’s a lot of milling about at Spring Training.

So, in 1992, I went to Spring Training by myself. I was much younger of course (12 would be a good guess, but since I was driving a rental car and drinking beer, though not at the same time, perhaps I was a bit older).

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#3: From Daytona Beach to Dodgertown

If you think about it, 67 years is not such long a time.

Sometimes it takes the post office 67 years to deliver a letter.

Sometimes it takes 67 years to become an Eagle Scout.

Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were both born in 1946 – 67 years ago.

So were pitchers Bill (Spaceman) Lee and Catfish Hunter. (And, why aren’t player nicknames as good as those anymore?)  So were Bobby Bonds and Rollie Fingers.

And, Reggie Jackson.

It was 67 not-so-long years ago that Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier by playing a racially integrated, professional game.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Reproduction number #LC-L9-54-3566-O

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Reproduction number #LC-L9-54-3566-O

But, no, not as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  (You knew there had to be a twist, didn’t you?)

He did it during Spring Training, on Sunday, March 17, 1946, at City Island Park in Daytona Beach, Florida as a member of the Class AAA Montreal Royals, a Dodgers farm-team.

I don’t think a lot of my friends understand my passion for baseball (hi there, friends!)

One of the reasons is that baseball so perfectly seems to mirror the tenor of the times. It’s an opening to history and reflects us as a society and as a culture.

( I also love three-run homers, double steals, and spectacular defensive plays.  But, I digress …)

Many historians believe that the modern era of civil rights began with the integration of major league baseball.

And, so we come to Jackie Robinson and Daytona Beach, the only place in 1946 Florida that would allow a colored man to play in a white man’s game on a white man’s field.

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#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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