Yoo-Hoo!

To fall in love with baseball is to fall into the past, as far back as you can remember it when you were a child, and even further than that if you can.

To fall in love with baseball is to fall in love with people and places and games that are from times that are much older than you, places you’ve never been to, and games that are now just box scores on paper.

Baltimore Orioles Defeat NY Giants 8 5 1896

Baltimore Orioles beat the NY Giants 10-4. August 5, 1896.

Wee Willie Keeler. 1909.

To fall in love with baseball is to be in love with a game that has a history and a culture that is nearly 200 years old. It has changed and evolved and changed back again, but, it’s still pretty close to what it was right from the start.

(When the main thing that people still argue about is the designated hitter rule, you know that things really haven’t changed all that much.)

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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.

vinhome

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:

wieters2

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

Jamie the Yankees Fan.

Most animals find numbers and basic math uninteresting (Cat: “Who sent you here? Go away.”) or irrelevant (Dog: “I either had one treat or 50 treats out of the bag there on the floor, it’s hard to say for sure. I have to go barf on your shoes now.”)

But, not baseball fans. We love numbers and statistics. Wins, losses, batting averages are just a start. ERA.  RBI. WAR, WHIP, WPA.  Yeh, I know, it’s annoying.

Chris Davis’ batting average when wearing an orange jersey? .407 (through June anyway)

orange jersey

A Word Press editor recently suggested that bloggers check their page view numbers no more than once a week.

How can I twist my page views into obscure, meaningless statistics about my self-worth and popularity, if you won’t even let me look at them?

I check my statistics daily. Sometimes every couple hours. (I just checked them.) I don’t want to miss a single page view.

page view 2

Hey look, it’s you and me!

So, it didn’t get past me when my “Followers/Subscribers” number hit 999 earlier this week.

999

If you blog, you know how sketchy this number is.

Barry Bonds hit 762 home runs in his career. I have 999 followers.

(Here’s a stat: I have more followers than Barry Bonds has home runs.)

But, both numbers are juiced. Barry Bonds used steroids. I get followed mostly by spammers and a baffling number of non-English speakers. Welcome, “callgirlsdubai”!

But, still … a milestone IS a milestone, even if it is meaningless.

So, I put out the word to my friends – follow my blog and help me reach 1,000. And, almost immediately Jamie did.

I love Jamie. She is wonderful.

She is follower 1,000.

I decided then and there that I would write a blog post in her honor. Here we go.

Jamie has two dogs, two cats, and one husband.

And, here’s what she told me about baseball:

We have a big baseball conflict in our house. I’m a hardcore Yankees girl, and Jaremy lives, eats and breathes the Red Sox. Our compromise is the Nationals.

I have always said that 100 percent (look, more numbers!) of Nationals fans are default “fans”. They’re really fans of other teams, but since they’re near Washington, DC, oh hell, they might as well root for the Nats since they’ve got nothing better to do. Jamie has proven me 100 percent correct. (I told you, she is wonderful.)

Jamie

Yankees fans.

Red Sox Fan. Tigers fan.

Red Sox Fan. Tigers fan.

So to honor Jamie, I will write five nice things about her Yankees. (If you’ve come looking for my post on Yankees jokes … please click here.)

OK, sigh, here we go.*

Five nice things about the Yankees

1)

Public Domain

Babe Ruth. Public Domain Image

Babe Ruth.

He was born in Baltimore. Played briefly for an early incarnation of the Orioles … and bestowed one of the very best curses on the Red Sox that you’ll ever see. (Once the Curse of the Bambino ran out – and by god it had a good run – the Red Sox started winning, getting all uppity, and growing facial hair. Still, it’s not too late for the Babe to re-wallop them with another good Bambino-sized curse from the great beyond. Come on, it’ll be fun.)

2) Yogi Berra.

yogi berra

Yogi Berra. Public Domain Image

The Yankees catcher was the inspiration for Yogi Bear. And, who doesn’t love Yogi Bear?

Yogi_Bear_don't_feed_the_bears

1961, Courtesy of the National Archives ID #286013

I once had a cat named Yogi, who was named after Yogi Bear. He was a darn good cat.

Yogi. Cat.

Yogi. Cat.

3) If you follow the family tree, the New York Yankees were originally the Baltimore Orioles.

That New York stole the original Orioles from Baltimore (for a paltry $18,000 in 1903) is not surprising. In 2000, the Yankees stole pitcher Mike Mussina from the Orioles (he cost the Yanks $88.5 million).  (I’m still pretty upset about this.)

mike mussina

4) The Yankees have won 27 World Series titles. (The Orioles have won three.)

5) George Costanza used to work there.

I know I don’t really have 1,000 readers, but maybe I have a few. Quality over quantity is my motto. I’m glad you’re one of them.

* Please don’t think I’ve gone soft on the Yankees, people. Jeffrey Maier will never be forgotten.

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