Faster than a speeding bus…

Tuesday, I drove from Crestwood to Evansville.

One road trip every year, I take my car and ditch the team bus for a few days. The trip always takes us to Evansville and Florence, not necessarily in that order. Last year, we went to Florence first and when I was faced with the task of making the six-hour drive home from Evansville, I was a little dismayed. It had been a long seven days and I would much rather sit back on the bus with a book than have to drive myself.

I then discovered that the drive home was one of the great experiences of my season. There isn’t much highway in between Chicago and Southern Illinois, so there is a lot of driving down country roads. That makes for a more scenic and peaceful ride, with virtually no other cars around. I spent my six hours last August getting reacquainted with Sherlock Holmes and listening to NBC’s First Fabulous Fifty years on the radio. It turned into quite a delightful trip.

This year we started in Evansville. This arrangement has its positive aspects, but there are several things I don’t like about it. One such thing is the fact that my Evansville journey is already over. The ride home from Florence/Cincinnati will not be nearly as fun I am sure. But, I did get to make the drive to Southern Indiana.

It wasn’t nearly as fun.

Maybe I’ve just grown more grumpy over the last ten months. In fact, that’s a sure thing, but perhaps the biggest difference was my foolish inability to obtain the location of the hotel. I got directions to Evansville thanks to the wonderful Google Maps, but they only told me how to get to the center of the town. Wonderful, except we weren’t staying in the center of the town.

None of this would have been a problem had I just stayed behind the bus the whole way, but I had to stop to get some Gatorade. It’s OK, I thought to myself. It was a 90-second stop; I’ll catch right up. I didn’t.

I never really worried because I had the directions to Evansville and I thought I could find the hotel from there because I spent three days in Evansville last year, which makes me a supreme expert on the layout of the town.

I drove around for a half hour before finding something that looked familiar. For a small town, Evansville’s actually pretty big, but I’m a genius, so I was able to eventually find my way around. The only problem I figured I had at that point was that I didn’t know how I was going to get into my hotel room considering I didn’t know what room I was staying in or who my roommate was. Furthermore, I wasn’t even sure I was at the right hotel. I just knew I was at last year’s hotel. With my luck, I became positive that I was going to be at the wrong hotel.

OK, time to come down a little. I knew how to get to Bosse Field, so in a worst case scenario, I would just show up to the game and follow the team back to the hotel from there. My point being that there really wasn’t anything at stake here. I did find the hotel, though, and there was no bus there.

My fears had been confirmed. There was a different hotel this year. Or was there? I went inside to discover that I was at the right hotel, the team just hadn’t arrived yet.

I went outside and got back in to my car thinking I would find…I don’t know, something I guess. But as I pulled out of the hotel parking lot I caught a glimpse of a bus. our bus? Yes, yes it was our bus. I followed it back into our parking lot as though I had been behind it the whole way. Only I knew the truth. I was faster than the bus. I beat it to Evansville by half an hour and still got to the hotel ahead of the team. On Tuesday, I was a hero.

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I love Lebron James!

I am reminded today why I love having no time to watch TV when the team is at home. I have spent several hours with ESPN on in my hotel room the last few days. I know, ’nuff said, but I’ll explain.

I was actually moderately interested in this year’s NBA Finals despite the Bulls getting knocked out. Now, I have heard approximately 6 million people talking about Lebron James’ latest flop and his assuredly upcoming flop. I can’t take it anymore. I just wish this series would end. (Not enough to hope the Heat win the next two games, of course)

I hate Lebron James as much as the next guy, but he doesn’t matter. The talk is annoying; let’s move on to other things. Hey, the Pirates are .500, huh?

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A very annoying blogger makes a very annoying point

It seems weird because I don’t think I’d ever had such a discussion until yesterday, but in the last 24 hours, I have had two separate instances in which I have had to correct someone else’s usage of “Central Standard Time.”

Yes, the truth is coming out. I am neurotic and annoying and I waste way too much time talking – and now writing – about things that couldn’t matter less. But here is my problem: not once, but twice, someone has referred to a start time for a ballgame as 7:05 Central Standard Time.

The issue, of course, is that it’s not Central Standard Time. We are smack dab in the middle of Daylight Saving Time, making tonight’s start time 7:05 Central Daylight Time. Yes, it is a small issues; no, I should not be concerned about it, but the reason I am is because almost no one ever refers to standard or daylight time when they give a time. Saying simply, central time, would suffice in almost any situation. If you are going to insist on going all the way with the time zone, then I am going to insist on your getting it right. So until November 6, let’s all remember that we are in daylight time. Thank you.

This has been my public service announcement for the day.

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I don’t believe what I just saw!

We are now 11 games into the ThunderBolts 2011 season and the team still has not hit a single home run. That’s almost astounding, but I like it just fine. As a big proponent of “small ball,” I enjoy a team that scores runs without hitting the ball out of the park. And anyway, the pitching staff has only given up one homer.

Over the last few days, though, several people have told me I have reason to complain because I don’t get the chance to work on my home run call, to which my only response is, “Who cares?” Home runs are not intrinsically more exciting than any other plays, and in fact, I think, though they are very beneficial to a team’s offense, homers are perhaps the most boring play in baseball. Nothing really happens other than a ball travelling through the air. I would much rather work on my triple call (the Bolts don’t have a triple this season either).

I imagine that if I ever did get to call a home run, it would sound exactly like this:

Home Run Call

Actually, that might be a little too specific for most homers. In reality, my home run calls are usually pretty weak. In fact they almost all sound the same boring way (That ball hit deep, back toward the wall…it is…GONE!). Perhaps my porous calls come from my porous attitude toward round-trippers.

I’m just kind of hoping I don’t have to break out the ole home run yell this year. One more game and we’ll be an eighth of the way there!

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I like the sunrise

…cause it brings a new day. I like a new day; it brings new hope they say.

Back on November 2, 2006, I awoke at 4:00 a.m. to do some laundry. It grew to be the only time of day I was able to do my laundry, very peaceful in the early morning.

My tradition of getting up early began the previous May. I was a senior in high school and I realized that I had never begun a day that early, and that I should probably try it at least once before I graduated. so, on a May Monday, I made the decision to rise at 3:30. I didn’t really have anything to accomplish that morning, so I ate breakfast, read the paper and finished my homework. I quite enjoyed the experience of being out of bed before the majority of the world. But I only did it the one time.

In November, of course, i decided to give it another try. As I said, I soon decided that rising at 4:00 was the only way I would get my laundry done. I started a routine in which I would go to bed early and wake up early at least once a week. I pulled it off whenever I had clothes to wash or had a paper that needed finishing – I found it much easier getting homework done in the wee hours of the morning after I had slept rather than in the wee hours working on no sleep.

Anyway, on that November 2, I walked down the stairway with my dirty clothes, on my way to the laundry room and I just happened to look up and notice an incredible sight. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but out the window, I saw the sunrise. I was blown away. It was one of the more sensational sunrises I have ever seen.

I am asleep almost every morning when the sun rises. When I’m not, I’m usually getting ready for work or school and don’t even consider pausing to watch outside to see it come up. On this day, however, I was able to stop and appreciate it. At that time, it amazed me to think about the fact that I saw that same sun every day, and that every day, it became visible in almost the same dramatic fashion. I made it my goal to catch the sunrise every time I allowed myself to get out of bed at 4:00.

It usually didn’t work out. So often there is cloud cover and the sun is hardly visible as it ascends. Still, since that November morning, I have maintained that the sunrise is the most beautiful of all natural occurrences and I consider a great fortune when i can see it.

These were the thoughts on my mind as I returned home from Washington yesterday morning after an all-night bus trip in which I did not receive nearly as much sleep as I should have.

I was in my car, heading home, and though I was tired and eager to get to bed, disappointed about losing two out of three games to the Wild Things and still uncomfortable from those eight hours on the bus, I considered the trip a success. I got to see that same beautiful sunrise yesterday morning and when I got home, I crawled into bed feeling good.

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Welcome to Washington

I wandered through the city of Washington, Pennsylvania today. It’s always been one of my least favorite areas to explore when I’m on the road with the team, but today wasn’t as bad as usual. Perhaps my expectations were lower.

Actually, I went out today and made the 45 minute walk downtown solely for the purpose of finding the library so I could get some work done. Being the educational wonderland that it is, Washington has one library, which is closed on the weekends. I didn’t know this when I set out this morning.

I ended up sitting outside Washington and Jefferson College all afternoon reading (for enjoyment; I didn’t end up getting any real work done).

It always seems unbearably hot in Washington. We’re not in the deep south, but everything that surrounds me makes me feel as though we are. Today, that heat, and more accurately, the sun, has made my evening and most likely tomorrow significantly less enjoyable. Yes, I am burned.

The city of Washington was named after our first president, George Washington. I hope that I would have been able to figure this out on my own, but I haven’t had to because there are reminders everywhere in town; statues, plaques, Washington and Jefferson College. Their nickname is the Presidents. Brilliant!

The highlight of my trip, as always, was walking past Brothers Family Pizzeria. It always amuses me. I assume that it is so named because the family that owns the restaurant has the surname, Brothers, but maybe it’s just a couple of brothers who are really¬†trying to emphasize the fact that it’s a family owned business (We’re brothers and we are from the same family! How does that not make sense?) I think the only thing better would be Brothers Brothers restaurant. I couldn’t avoid eating there. I wonder if Big Dan Brouthers has any siblings.

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A New Beginning

It’s been over a year since I last posted on this blog. I had left it for dead, assuming that I would never return. So why did I? Well, I thought about something else I wanted to write about. I came over to wordpress to start a new blog when I realized I already have a perfectly good one right here.

So now, I have a brand new theme, and the first several months of this thing are now going to fit in with the future of it, but if anyone wants to read a little bit about baseball history, it’s there in the archives.

I certainly haven’t given up on the idea of writing about baseball. In fact, it is baseball that has brought me back to the blogosphere.

I never thought it would come from Who’s the Boss?, but Tony Micelli, played by Tony Danza, seemed to me to sum up the grand game better than anyone else. He was involved in an argument with his daughter Samantha, played by Alyssa Milano, about some nonsense, modelling I think. The important thing is, when Tony made the comparison to getting knocked down in the batter’s box and getting up and digging right back in, Samantha responded, “It’s not baseball, dad!”

Tony looked offended. He raised an eyebrow and stated defiantly, “Everything’s baseball.”

Certainly that’s a notion that had been expressed many times before and has been expressed many times since. In fact, just a few days after I saw that episode, The Simpsons displayed the same attitude, thanks to guest star Mike Scioscia who, very annoyed, responded, “Yes it is,” to the remark “Not everything’s baseball.”

Perhaps my favorite instance was in Philip Roth’s The Great American Novel. When one character, who had lost the ability to speak after being hit in the throat by a ball, wrote the words “Stuff Baseball,” he was met by this reaction from the commissioner, “It is a man who has lost all sensibility who would utter those words.”

Yes, it’s not a novel concept (although in Roth’s case, I guess it was), but somehow, when I saw Tony Danza utter that line a few months ago, it struck me. Everything is baseball.

That idea has been present in me more lately than ever before, as I get set to begin my third season covering the Frontier League’s Windy City ThunderBolts. Though they play just four months out of the year, it was during the considerably longer offseason that baseball dominated my thoughts.

I dedicated myself this winter to learning more about the game and becoming more a part of the tradition I’ve followed my whole life.

The more I read about the national pastime, the more I remembered how big a part of me the game is.

I grew up with baseball. I consider myself a pretty big basketball and football fan as well, but there is a difference between following other sports and following baseball. I allowed the game to entirely engulf me during my childhood years. At the age of seven, I saw probably every Cubs game in a strike shortened season. By the time I was 13, I was a walking baseball encyclopedia. I only wish I remembered half of that stuff.

When my brother died recently, I spent a lot of time looking back on our childhoods together, and I was reminded more than ever of what an enormous part of our lives were consumed by, you guessed it, baseball.

The fact that the Cubs played most of their games in the daytime during our youuths allowed us to watch a lot more games than we would otherwise have been able to. In the summer, of course, we didn’t watch every game. That would have cut into our time playing ball out in the yard, or better yet, in the park down the street.

My brother and I along with our two cousins used to play four-man baseball routinely. I vividly remember one morning, getting out of bed and going out to the backyard where I very excitedly discovered that there was a game already underway. I jumped in and soon had a black eye because we were smart enough to play with plastic wiffle bats and a league ball. It wasn’t a very big yard, but we had a high wooden fence, so it wasn’t easy to hit home runs.

When we did make it over the fence, though, it was an adventure. There was a kind of scary dog in the yard across the alley, and if the dog was outside that day, we would be down one ball. Now that I think about it, we spent way too much time walking through other people’s yards. But we sure din’t get all the balls back. One that we lost was signed by Alex Rodriguez. My brother brilliantly entered that one into play after he had received it at an Appleton Foxes game. Rodriguez was only 18 at the time. Who knew?

As we got older, we spent more and more time playing in the park and less time in the yard. I always made sure to check the box scores in the paper so that we could play as Major League teams and use the appropriate lineups.

On the days we didn’t have a bat, there were hours of running bases and of course, Throw Up in the Air Baseball. The pitcher had total control of the game as he threw the ball behind his back, declared a hit and the rest of us tried to catch it to record an out.

If we weren’t playing or watching baseball, the go to activity was trading cards. When, after several years, I realized my collection was bland as could be and I kept getting cheated in trades, i decided to start collecting checklists. I had quite a few.

As life went on, my love of baseball never waned. For Christmas when I was twelve, I received what I still consider the best gift I’ve ever gotten. It was simply a book about baseball. Titled 100 Years of Major League Baseball, it contained season summaries of every year between 1900 and 1999. I read one year every night and after nearly four months, I was a scholar.

I died a little when the Cubs lost in 2003, and I don’t know if I’ve ever been the same person since. I don’t think I realized at the time how much that playoff series would effect me in the long run, but I have had an increasingly difficult time being the fan that I was when I was ten years old.

Perhaps part of growing up is letting go of baseball. For me, when I was a kid, baseball was my life, during the summer anyway. So now, over the past few years I have had to put away childish things in order to grow up.

The problem is, I am not ready for that. I much prefer the years when childish things dominated my life, and for that reason, I’m happy to have found what I have: eternal youth, baseball.

As the radio guy for the ThunderBolts, I get to watch games every day and not worry about the way the corporate world and the owners’ greed has ruined what once I cherished.

If you look closely at the Frontier League, you’ll see pretty much all the same problems that exist in the majors. There are too many playoff teams, the DH is around. But still, for some reason, over the past two seasons in the minors, I have rediscovered the passion for the game that had been missing the last few seasons of Major League ball.

For that reason more than any other, I wanted to return to the written word to chronicle the exploits of myself and the team during the 2011 season.

I’m not sure exactly what this blog is going to look like in a few months. I plan on writing about whatever comes to mind about the ThunderBolts, about the road trips, about baseball in general or about nothing in particular.

There is much more I would like to write about right now, but I won’t. There is plenty of time to get all of my thoughts out there (my boring, boring thoughts), so I’ll leave it at this for now. I hope to continue to update this space as close to every day as I am able. We’ll see how this goes.

Right now, I’m just happy to once again be around the game of baseball. Almost constantly around the game of baseball, in fact. I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk and write about this great game, and as I look up now, I can see that there’s a game about to start.

So, let’s play ball.

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For the Record

Hank Aaron has the most career home runs, Ty Cobb is the batting average leader, Pete Rose has the most hits, and Cy Young tops pitchers in all-time wins. Big stats, most people seem to know them. But I think there are plenty of important records out there that aren’t quite as recognized. Let us now look at just a few.

You know, I’ve always felt like the best power hitters should be putting up big doubles numbers, turning bad pitches into good hits, rather than just hitting home runs and striking out. To me, a double is a big time hit. So who holds the doubles records? Earl Webb has the single season mark with 67 in 1931 and Tris Speaker’s 792 lead Major League history.

Well if doubles are hot stuff, triples should be 1.25 times as good, right? So who is chief of the three-bagger? It’s Chief Wilson, of course, with 36 in 1912. Sam Crawford is the all-time leader with 309.

In this day and age, with so much importance placed on On-Base Percentage, isn’t it nice to know that Barry Bonds is not the career leader? Ted Williams edges him out, .482 to .474.

We all know that the name of the game is scoring runs, so who has done that better than anyone else? Slidin’ Billy Hamilton has for a single season. He scored 198 runs in 1894. In fact, 7 out of the top 10 single season runs leaders played in what we now consider the Dead Ball Era. Funny so many runs were scored. But it is a much more recent player who had enough longevity to cross the plate more than anyone else in the history of the game. Rickey Henderson did it 2295 times.

Cal Ripken, Jr. is widely known as the Iron Man, who has played in more consecutive games than anyone else, but who has played in the most games total? In a landslide, the answer is Pete Rose with 3562. Carl Yastrzemski is second with 3308.

And now some incredibly important, yet less acknowledged records have been recognized. I’ve done my duty for the day. Good night everybody!

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The Midsummer Classic…in April?

Maybe some day people will realize that what we need is less of the DH, not more. Apparently, that day was not yesterday when Major League Baseball announced they were instituting the designated hitter rule for all All-Star Games, not just the ones in American League parks. I’ve also felt that the all-star rosters have been too large for too long, so expanding those is unsettling. All in all, another bad day for Bud Selig as far as I’m concerned.

This whole rule shake up got me thinking about All-Star Games of years past. Did you know that when the game was first introduced in 1933 that the fans were involved in the roster selection process? Just like today, huh? Except it apparently didn’t work because by 1935 rosters were chosen entirely by the managers. They flip-flopped on the issue every ten years or so before the system of the fans voting on the starters and managers selecting the reserves was settled in 1970. That lasted until 2003, when the players and coaches got some say in electing the reserves, where we sit now.

The All-Star Game was the idea of Chicago Tribune writer Arch Ward in 1933. That first game was played at Comiskey Park and Babe Ruth hit the first all-star home run. How fitting.

In the old days, the game showcased each league’s top talent, but there was plenty on the line. There used to be this thing called league pride. It doesn’t really exist anymore, but in the days of yore, it made a difference to be playing in the National League over the American League or vice versa. I’m not sure I ever saw those days, but I miss them just the same.

We are now eight years into the joke of the All-Star game determining home field advantage in the World Series. I’m still laughing. I guess they wanted to make the game more competitive, but I still can’t figure out why players and coaches wouldn’t compete simply because they are on a baseball field. I still laugh at the time they called the 2002 All-Star Game after 11 innings. The argument was that nobody wanted to over extend the pitchers. They had each only pitched 2 innings. They seriously couldn’t throw one more?

Between 1959 and 1962, there were two All-Star Games per year. I’m not sure what the logic behind that was, but in 1959, Don Drysdale pitched a combined (gasp) 6 innings in All-Star Games.

Here’s an interesting all-star fact that isn’t a complaint about pitchers: The first 6 American League starting pitchers were all named Lefty. 5 of them were Lefty Gomez and in 1936 it was Lefty Grove.

I’ll close my all-star ramblings on this thought. In the 1970 All-Star Game, Pete Rose barreled over catcher Ray Fosse (from Marion, IL, home of the Southern Illinois Miners) in the twelfth inning, separating Fosse’s shoulder. While Rose was widely criticized, he claimed that if it is the owner’s intention to make money off of baseball and the All-Star Game is the biggest money-maker of all, it wouldn’t have made sense not to give 100 percent in that game. My feeling is that the money shouldn’t be an issue. I’d like to see each team go out and try to win for the sake of giving their league the victory. And while I agree with Rose about going all out all the time, running over the catcher in an All-Star Game is pretty stupid.

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Let’s Talk About No-hitters

To the most impressive feat that seems to be accomplished by the most unimpressive people, I salute the no-hitter!

While the perfect game has been reserved in history for only the top-notch pitchers, no-hitters occur usually a couple of times a year and often by guys like Ubaldo Jimenez and Anibal Sanchez. Yeah, Jimenez is pretty good and Sanchez was a rising star at the time, but when we look back at the annals of history, theirs are not the names everyone will remember, yet they achieved arguably the best individual accomplishment in the game (next to sealing the deal with a perfecto obviously).

Nolan Ryan holds the record for most no-hitters with 7, and everyone knows him, but how about these other guys who have thrown more than one: Ted Breitenstein, Frank “Piano Mover” Smith, Virgil Trucks, Carl Erskine, Jim Maloney, Don Wilson, Ken Holtzman, Bill Stoneman, Steve Busby, Kent Mercker (one was only 6 innings) and Hideo Nomo. There’s some good pitchers on that list to be sure, but not a legend among them.

Johnny Vander Meer is the only player ever to throw back to back no-hitters. He did so on June 11 and 15, 1938. He’ll probably always be remembered for that feat though it was really the only spectacular thing about his 13-year career, which he finished with a pedestrian 3.44 ERA and a losing record.

In the one major league game I went to last year, I saw Jonathan Sanchez get lit up. Several weeks later I saw the box scores and realized that the most mediocre pitcher in the game had just come one error away from a perfect game and did collect a no-hitter. I think Juan Uribe’s error only served to weed out Sanchez from the game’s elite perfect game throwers. Since 1900, there have only been two perfect game throwers not to have made at least one All-Star Game.

No-hitters don’t always serve to make their pitcher’s immortal, but they do, at least, put them on the list that people like me research more than one hundred years in the future. Sanchez will always be on that list along with guys like Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Cy Young, Warren Spahn and Bumpus Jones. Bumpus Jones? Yeah, you know, the guy who pitched in eight career games, won two of them, and ended his playing days in 1893 with 10 strikeouts and a 7.99 ERA. Why does anyone know who this guy is? Simple. In his first career start, he no-hit the Cincinnati Reds. That’s enough to put you in the history books.

To pitch a no-hitter, just about everything has to go right. As a pitcher, you have to be totally on your game, but throwing that no-no doesn’t make you a star. Then again, I don’t think anyone cares about that after they’ve done it.

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