Artie!

Look, I’m not one to tell you what to do with your Labor Day Monday. You worked hard for this day off. You should enjoy every single minute of it.

If you think napping in a hammock is the best way to celebrate, then, hey, I’m not going to tell you to do anything different.

Really? Hammock napping? That’s the best you can do?

What if it rains?

Here.

Here’s what you should do with your Labor Day Monday.

Watch Artie Lewicki make his big league debut with the Detroit Tigers.

Artie Lewicki pitching for Virginia in 2014

Last week, the Tigers traded Cy-Young-pitcher-with-the-hot-model-girlfriend Justin Verlander and a boatload of cash to the Houston Astros for a handful of prospects (none of whom was rookie outfielder Derek Fisher, so I immediately lost interest in whatever prospects the Astros gave up).

Into Verlander’s spot in the Tiger’s rotation? University of Virginia alum Artie Lewicki, who will make his big league debut, getting his call up from the AAA Toledo Mud Hens.

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Jim Sullivan — Mine Run, Virginia & The Christmas Cow

phila-inquirer-3-21-1922-here-is-jimmy-sullivan

Here is Jimmy Sullivan.

His curve is a beauty,

His fast ball has the hop,

And his control is so good

He may land on the top.

George MacKay describing Jim Sullivan in The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 21, 1922.

Posed action of Philadelphia A's James Sullivan

Public Domain

Sullivan pitching with the Philadelphia Athletics, 1922.

Jim Sullivan’s story is that of a 1920s-era right-hander who never could figure out how to control his fastball. (George MacKay’s rhyme was really just wishful thinking). It’s also a tale of three cities. And, a story about a cow wearing a Christmas hat.

(If the promise of a cow wearing a Christmas hat doesn’t keep you reading, then, clearly, you’re not the person I thought you were.)

Jim Sullivan was born in Mine Run, Virginia in 1894.

mine-run-va

Here.

The Sullivan family didn’t settle forever in Mine Run. By the late ‘teens, Sullivan is playing professionally and his family is in North Carolina. Later, he spends an off-season with his father in Kentucky.

Sullivan’s big league career is rather brief.

He played parts of the 1921 and ‘22 seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics and two games with the Cleveland Indians in 1923.

jim-sullivan-with-cleveland-indians-1923

Public Domain

Sullivan, with the Indians (briefly) in 1923.

Twenty-five big league games total, 73.1 innings pitched (all but five with the A’s), an 0-5 record, a 5.52 ERA, and a reputation for wildness.

(Keep reading. I promise … Christmas Cow is on the way …)

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Clay Bryant – The Alabaman From Virginia

When a ballplayer’s career in the majors is brief – just a game or two – he is said to have had just “a cup of coffee” in the big leagues.

So, if your time in the town where you were born was brief, does it become your “cup of coffee” hometown?

Clay Bryant had more than a “cup of coffee” with the Chicago Cubs.

clay-bryant-chicago-cubs

The right-handed fastball pitcher spent about six seasons with the Cubs – from 1935 through 1940 – including their pennant-winning and World Series-losing 1938 season.

It’s his birthplace that’s the cup of coffee in this story.

Bryant was born in 1911 in Madison Heights, Virginia.

madison-heights-virginia

He wasn’t there long. Maybe a year – or a couple of years at most – before the family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where his father found work as a pipe fitter. And, that’s where they stayed.

But, being born in Virginia, cup of coffee or not, gets you on my Virginia-Born Project list, even if everyone in baseball forever knows you as “the big, curly-headed kid from Alabama.”

Bryant dropped out of high school when he was 16, and left Birmingham to work his way through the minors. He was called up and played a few games for the Cubs in 1935, and settled there in 1936, where he played until his arm finally gave out in 1940.

Cubs fans who know their history remember Bryant for just one season – 1938.

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Garland Shifflett — The Pitcher From Elkton

Elkton, Virginia is the halfway point between where you are now and where you want to be.

elkton-virginia

It is snugged tight between the Blue Ridge Mountains on its east side and the Massanutten Mountains on its west side.

It is halfway between here … and there.

It’s an anonymous town. The town you pass through, but where you never stop unless you need gas, a snack, or a bathroom.

All my friends around here tell me they’ve been to Elkton. But, when pressed, I discover they mean they’ve been through Elkton, or driven past Elkton, or they’ve stopped out on the highway at the Dairy Queen, but they’ve never actually been to it.

Garland Shifflett, who pitched in the majors, but mostly the minors, from the 1950s into the 1970s, was born in Elkton in 1935.

garland-shifflett-washington

The Los Angeles Times once profiled him on their front page.

His major league career was brief, just 16 games. A few games in 1957, a few more in 1964. But, his minor league career, over 16 seasons, was much longer and richer.

But, there he is on the front page of the Los Angeles Times in the spring of 1972. Next to stories about the Hanoi Offensive, an indicted New Jersey Congressman, and President Nixon’s doctor’s enthusiasm for acupuncture.

Top of the fold. A story about Garland Shifflett and his long career in the minors.

anonymous-man-los-angeles-times-4-12-1972

“Anonymous Man.”

A front-page profile in the Los Angeles Times about a player I didn’t know should have made this story simple. Instead, it has bothered me for a couple weeks now. Ever since I found it and ever since we made our visit to Elkton.

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Monroe’s “Terrific & Terrible” Ken Dixon

In 1903, a mail train departing from Monroe, Virginia derailed 80 miles away in Danville.

monroe-virginia

Monroe, Virginia

This may not be something you know anything about. But, it was one of Virginia’s worst train crashes and is retold in the old country song, “The Wreck of the Old 97” that Johnny Cash once covered.

 

The derailment, the result of excessive speed and trying to keep the train and the mail on schedule, killed 11.

That pretty much sums up all I knew about Monroe. (And, to be fair, even that is mostly about Danville and when we get to Danville on this Virginia-Born Project, I’m sure you’ll hear about it again.)

That train wreck 80 miles away may be all anyone knows about Monroe, Virginia, because, if you set your GPS to Monroe, it will lead you off Business Route 29 and to an empty and desolate rail yard.

(You’re going to have imagine some train tracks running through a spooky, empty field. Editor/Husband told me to take a photo of the tracks. I said we didn’t need to bother because I was sure that we would find something better to show Monroe. I should listen more to Editor/Husband.)

When cities start to sprawl, the one-time little towns that were out on the edges start to dissolve or just get absorbed into a ghostly kind of suburbia. Who needs a grocery store when the big city, in this case Lynchburg, is just 10 minutes away?

We found railroad tracks, houses, churches, and a community center.

In case the GPS was lying, this sign is the only proof that we actually visited Monroe.

Monroe seems to be split today by Route 29, the four-lane highway that will take you south to Lynchburg in just a few minutes, or Charlottesville, about an hour north. Houses cluster on both sides of the highway.

monroe-virginia-route-29

Editor/Husband: “There’s a lot of Monroe, and there’s not a lot of Monroe.”

 

possum-island-road-monroe-va

While an island filled with possums sounds delightful, this sign was just a cruel tease. We saw no possums or island on this road.

Monroe was also the birthplace of Ken Dixon, who was born there in 1960 and pitched for the Baltimore Orioles between 1984 and 1987.

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Marvin Goodwin, “The Gentleman of Gordonsville”

I have 290 Virginia-born ballplayers to account for. I have 114 Virginia birthplaces to visit.

Where do I start?

Somewhat unrandomly, I’ve ended up in a little town just 25 minutes away from our house – a place I’ve been to scads of times.steinbeck-travels-with-charley

Not exactly out seeing the unseen world, but you gotta start somewhere.

What were you expecting, John Steinbeck? (Steinbeck made up a lot of Travels with Charley, you know. He said he listened to the Yankees-Pirates World Series while driving around with his dog in the fall of 1960, but now I’m not even sure that’s true. In any event, I’m not making up any part of my trip to Gordonsville, Virginia.)

marvin-goodwin-photo

Marvin Goodwin was born in 1891 in Gordonsville, which is a little town in the middle-ish of Virginia. He was a pitcher who had a few good – well, good enough – big-league seasons between 1916 and 1925.

gordonsville-map

Gordonsville was a small town back then and it’s a small town now.

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Let’s Go Virginia’ing!

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” – Susan Sontag

You should probably know a little bit about the place where you live.

You know, the stuff they teach you in school. Your state song. Your state flower. Your state motto.

But, what if you’re not from around here? What if you moved to a place once you were out of school? How are you supposed to learn all that?

Virginia postcard

I moved to Virginia after college and have lived here for more than half of my life. And, sure, I know a few things about this place.

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At least there was ice cream

It rained in Virginia this week. That kind of overflowing, cold, pouring rain that makes you stop saying, “Well, we need the rain,” because, not like this. And, now there’s mud on my pants and I have to change. That sort of rain.

So, when I grabbed the basket of massage linens and began to tote them into our basement early Wednesday morning, where the washer and dryer and friendly skinks, lizards, and wolf spiders live, I was especially careful.

Because our basement is a cellar that you enter from outside, pulling up wooden dormer doors, and going down cement steps.

basement

If it’s raining, the steps get wet.

Did I mention that I was very careful?

Sometimes you fall anyway.

Like this.

caleb5

Really, that’s exactly what I did.

(Except, I wasn’t wearing catcher’s gear and there was no foul ball. So not exactly “exactly”.)

I could still be lying there in a puddle of my own carefulness. Instead, I’m just banged up.

But, unbroken.

(Caleb was fine, too, by the way.)

When you fall, it plays out in slow motion. So, in those milliseconds of disaster I saw my career crumbling into a heap of broken bones.

Actually, this is what I saw when I fell.

i fell

Wait, no … THIS is what I saw when I fell.

I really fell

I’m told I could have killed myself, but really, I was just trying not to break my arm.

Once I landed on the cement – my left elbow and low back took the worst of it, for those of you who are injury-curious – and determined I was not dead, I wrote a poem.

You might remember this poem from earlier this season when the Orioles were having a bad spell.

Suckity-suck-suck-suck.

It’s a pretty good poem.

It’s also versatile. Just change the “s” to an “f” and you have a brand new poem which celebrates rain and cement steps and nearly, but not quite, killing oneself.

Please feel free to use it whenever you need it.

I took photos of my bruises for you. They are ugly, but not quite ugly enough. I’m looking for pity here, not another lecture about how one needs to be careful when cement steps are covered in rain. The photos are more like, “Really? I thought it would have been a lot worse than that.” You’d be disappointed. They don’t help my case at all. So, nevermind.

I’m lucky.

But, my very bad, but unbroken, morning, got very, very badder as the Baltimore Orioles were swept out of the playoffs that afternoon by the pesky Kansas City Royals.

The cement steps couldn’t break my bones.

But, baseball broke my heart.

(I’ve been waiting all week to write that for you.)

Let’s cover a few post-season and World Series topics …

#1) The Kansas City Royals won, fair and square. Congratulations! You swept two of the best teams in baseball to make your way to your first World Series since 1985. That’s pretty awesome.

Whining by Orioles fans who think it’s unfair that there’s a wild card team even in the mix, because wild cards often reflect currently “hot” teams, rather than “consistently consistent” teams, were unusually quiet when the Orioles were the wild card team in 2012.

The Royals will be tough to beat … but …

#2) Go Giants.

Because, they’re almost a home team for Virginia and Orioles fans.

Big Hero of Game 5 Michael Morse? Former Oriole (and former National).

morse3

Bigger Hero of Game 5, Travis Ishikawa? Former Oriole (by way of the AAA Norfolk, Virginia Tides).

ishikawa2

(That home run call? That’s Giants radio broadcaster, Jon Miller – beloved, former Orioles broadcaster.)

Giants reliable, reliever Javier Lopez? Grew up in Fairfax, Virginia; played for the University of Virginia.

The Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants AA team), and just an hour down the road from here, has included Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Matt Duffy, Joe Panik, and Ryan Vogelsong (rehab, 2013).

And, Giants Manager Bruce Bochy? He played for the AAA Tides when they were in Tidewater, Virginia (and a Mets farm club) back in 1981-1982.

It’s not my preferred orange and black, but it will have to do.

#3) And, anyway, those ill-mannered Royals are dead to me.

guthrie1

KC Pitcher (& former Oriole) Jeremy Guthrie & his stupid tee-shirt, following Game 3.

Oh, one last thing …

After the Orioles loss, Casey Karp – Mariners fan, cat person, and author of the especially fine Koi Scribblings blog (really, check it out) – arranged for me to drown my baseball sorrows in ice cream.

I had plenty to choose from.

ben and jerrys

But, who can choose just one?

ice cream

When one deserves two?

I’m feeling better already.

Thank you, Casey.

The Orioles will win the World Series in 2015.

 

The Season Before The Season

I told a friend that if I got a lazy snow day at home this week, I would definitely write about baseball and Spring Training – the season-before-the-season.

I forgot the part about having electricity.

So, what began as a rare and beautiful snowy “off day” in a winter that hasn’t had much in the way of snow …

dotty snow

Quickly morphed into a brutal and ugly struggle for survival as a heavy, wet snow took out nearly every tree and power line in Central Virginia. (I’m estimating here, but we had either 10 inches or 8 feet of snow … I couldn’t tell for sure.)

snow day2

The Day After — the slushy, muddy, messy road to our house, after all the tree limbs were cleared away.

No power means a couple things. No heat. No light. No flushing. No internet. Clearly this would not be easy.

It would be a difficult struggle. Our very lives teetered on the brink.

I wore mittens, for God’s sake. IN THE HOUSE. Do you know how hard it is to turn the page on your Kindle wearing mittens? It is impossible.

Yes, we struggled. For six long and torturous hours.

(For point of reference, six hours is like sitting through a 17-inning game. Now, imagine it while wearing seven layers of clothing. And, then your team loses.)

Then, the power came back on.

(My husband and trusty editor would like you to know he napped through most of it.)

The lights lit. The water ran. The house toasted. Why are we more civilized than squirrels? We flush.

I’ve been easing my way into baseball this season. Just like the players, the umps, and the broadcasters, Spring Training is a time for fans to find our rhythm, too. Time to figure out who’s playing where. Time to choose the lucky tee-shirt I’ll wear during must-win games (Manny Machado, #13, don’t let me down).

mannytee

Time to block off the calendar. You’re getting married/having a baby/throwing a party when? April? June? July? September? No, no, I’m afraid I can’t, I’ll be watching baseball.

Time to dissolve into an easy, loping pace. Because easy and loping is the only way you’ll make it through the season without burning out or giving up.

And, if I can get my easy loping skills down (and, as I said, I’m still in spring training) it might be an equally long blog season here. So, settle in …

Sitting in a dark, cold house – mitten-clad – on a wet, snowy, powerless day made me ask myself, “What Spring Training places would be preferable to sitting in a dark, cold house during a March snowstorm in Virginia?”

The correct answer is: all of them.

But, why should I simply plow through all 30 Spring Training locales on this blog when you can just turn on MLB Network, probably right this very second, and catch a game beamed live out of Florida or Arizona?

Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota, Florida. Spring home of the Baltimore Orioles. Go O's!

Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota, Florida. Spring home of the Baltimore Orioles. Go O’s!

That’s when I came up with my list of the most amazing Spring Trai… …

… …

Well, that’s enough for today.

Just like the players, who ease in by playing a few innings here or there, or knock off at noon so they can get in some golf, or just skip the bus ride to the away game entirely, I’m gonna wrap up for today. Can’t push too hard, too early, or risk injury.

But, I’ll be back tomorrow … or the next. Because we’ve got lots of Spring Training ahead, before the real season even begins. (And, don’t forget the World Baseball Classic. Oh, so much to do! Oh, so much to watch!)

It’s Spring!

“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 (legendary 2nd baseman from 1915-1937, .358 career batting average)

Waiting For The Ball, by Clinton Helms

Waiting For The Ball, by Clinton Helms

There’s a moment that comes, long about February, when the need for the spring becomes more than just a gentle, sweet longing.  It becomes much more urgent, almost primal.  As though you’ve gotten so chilled to the bone … there’s no telling if you’ll ever thaw out.

It’s in that moment of urgency that you know that finally – finally! – you can begin to count.

Five, four, three, two …

Not the days ’til spring.

The days ’til Spring Training.

For those whose calendars failed to remind them, pitchers and catchers report in Florida and in Arizona on Monday.

And, while February 11 isn’t spring. It’s close enough.

Because baseball is there to remind you that spring will come, despite the cold and the snow and the dark.

Here in Virginia, it’s still winter. Sure, there’s no snow on the ground (sorry, New England) and today was almost pleasant (apologies, North Dakota). (And by pleasant, I mean I bundled up snuggly in a wool sweater, extra long scarf, and fully buttoned winter coat, but the kid playing outside at the grocery store was in shorts and a tee shirt.)

But, it’s still winter.

Photos of Minor League Baseball, by David Deal at the Arts Center in Orange

Photos of Minor League Baseball, by David Deal at the Arts Center in Orange

Until, you walk into a room filled with baseball.

And, the sun is shining through the windows at just the right angle, and you swear it’s the bone-warming sunshine that comes in May. And, the room is brighter and more golden than any room you’ve been in for months. And, you look all around and you’re surrounded by spring … and summer and baseball.

Even here, in Orange, Virginia, where the Orioles Spring Training camp is – by Mapquest’s calculations – 14 hours and 40 minutes away, and the first day of spring is farther still.

Even here, like even everywhere, baseball brings the promise of new life and the hopes of spring.

This week, the Arts Center in Orange, in downtown Orange, Virginia, opened a warm and sweet multimedia exhibit called Spring Training.  All things baseball, by a talented group of local artists.

Right here, in my little town. Baseball.

If that don’t beat all.

And, it made my heart jump alittle. And I felt the promise of springtime seep through the lining of my coat, through the scarf and wool sweater.  Right into my bones.

Finally. Warm again.

“That’s the true harbinger of spring, not crocuses or swallows returning to Capistrano, but the sound of a bat on a ball.” ~ Bill Veeck (20th-century baseball owner & innovator)

For some, baseball is history …

Ball Park Blessing by Susan Harb

Ball Park Blessing by Susan Harb

For some baseball is youth …

By John Strader

By John Strader

“Don’t tell me about the world. Not today. It’s springtime and they’re knocking baseball around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball.”  ~ Pete Hamill, journalist & author

For some, baseball is memory …

Memories, by Chee Kludt Ricketts

Memories, by Chee Kludt Ricketts

For some, baseball is a game …

Venus Flycatcher by John Strader

Venus Flycatcher by John Strader

For some, baseball is religion …

By Susan Harb

Baseball Candelabra by Susan Harb

For some, baseball is life …

"A Very Long Season" by John Corrao

“A Very Long Season” by John Corrao

“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” ~ occasionally attributed to Yogi Berra (Legendary Yankee, #8) … and sometimes to an 8-year-old kid.  But, hey, let’s give this one to Yogi.

You should wander your way to Orange and check out the Arts Center.  (Lots of cool other things besides baseball, too.  Yes, there are other things besides baseball.  A few things anyway.)

SPRING TRAINING

On Exhibit at the ARTS CENTER in ORANGE

129 East Main Street, Orange Virginia

February 7 thru March 30, 2013

Monday thru Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

No charge, although donations are gratefully accepted

www.artscenterinorange.com

All images are the copyright of the artists.  Images used with the kind permission of The Arts Center in Orange.  A special thank you to Laura Thompson, Arts Center Executive Director.

Ball in Hand, by David Deal

Ball in Hand, by David Deal