UBT 2022 – Day Three

The Carpenter Complex looks vastly different than it did 34 years ago. Mindy and I attended games at Jack Russell Stadium (and other spring training parks) during our honeymoon.

Today’s games are played on Robin Roberts Field, which is just beyond Steve Carlton Field and parallels Richie Ashburn Field. For these rookie league games in the Florida Complex League, you park for free and walk right inside. (For perspective this had been called the Gulf Coast League since 1964.)

Mike Schmidt field features a pitcher throwing a simulated game with a live hitter wearing shorts standing in the right-handed batter’s box with a helmet and bat.

We sit on the single set of abbreviated aluminum bleachers next to the Blue Jays’ on deck circle. This setup reminds me of watching an American Legion game except with professional players and equipment on an extremely well-manicured field.

The Jays’ mini dugout is about fifty feet to our left. Players and coaches stroll past us. A couple of players sit on chairs between us and the tarp-covered, field-level dugout.

Carpenter Complex, Clearwater, FL
Robin Roberts Field at Carpenter Complex, Clearwater, FL

The scoreboard displays the basics (R/H/E totals, the score by inning and B/S/O). There’s no PA announcer or music played. Baseball is truly the focus. We can hear coaches calling to the players and players communicating with teammates. After one inning the Blue Jays’ coaches shout for the team to hustle off the field.

There may be five other spectators at this game. A couple of women behind us cheer when the Jays do something well. Between innings, one gentleman with an umbrella to shade the sun informs us that he attends most of these games. He also shares that he’s the PA announcer for the Threshers. We tell him that we attended last night’s game. He goes on almost apologetically about how poorly they played in the 8-0 defeat. I look back between innings and he’s busy typing player notes on a device.

If I lived here, I would attend every one of these games. This would be my current sweet spot for enjoying professional baseball. These are the new signees, the rawest of professional baseball players. Many are from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. At least one player is just 17-years-old. One of the Phillies’ players is from New Zealand. Mitch looks up each of the players and learns that this New Zealander could have been drafted as a pitcher as well. That’s quite a rarity, especially from a non-baseball region of the world.

Another lefty-hitting Phillie, Jordan Viars, hails from Plano, Texas. His arm sleeve features a cross. The Phillies selected him in the third round of the 2021 draft. With two strikes, he picks on a high pitch and laces a double in the gap. I know next to nothing about this young player, but I’m happy for him. Just like the players I coach, I want them all to perform well.

Jordan Viars, Phillies
Jordan Viars, FCL Phillies, at bat

The Jays win 4-2, but the Phillies leave the go-ahead run at the plate when the game ends. It’s exciting, well-played baseball without distractions.

After sitting in the 90-degree sun on aluminum bleachers, we retreat to a local Latino restaurante called Huarache Azteca. This may have been the best carne del cerdo (pork) burrito I’ve ever had. Mitch commented that you know you’re in the right place when you’re the only native English speakers.

Soon it’s time to roll south to Bradenton. We cross the iconic Skybridge and arrive at LECOM Park an hour early. Fortunately, we notice Magnanimous Brewing directly across the street from the neighborhood ballpark. This small satellite brewing location boasts a fairly modern building featuring a good-sized U-shaped bar, a handful of tables and lots of taps.

Magnanimous Brewing, Bradenton, FL
Magnanimous Brewing Tap List

Mitch and I grab stools at the bar along with three couples and scan the beer menu. I decide on the Juice Lord IPA, their signature IPA, although a few IPAs catch my eye (and thirst). The couple nearest us talk Mitch into the bourbon barrel aged imperial stout called Space Turtle. It’s a ten-ounce pour due to the alcohol content. I follow up with a Hazy Road double IPA pint before we re-cross the street to the ballpark.

LECOM Park exterior, Bradenton, FL
LECOM Park exterior, Bradenton, FL

Mitch had played on this field during his Pirates Fantasy Camp days. He shares fun memories of being here many times, including when Michael Jordan debuted as a baseball player on March 4, 1994.

While we walk around soaking in the ballpark, the Lakeland Flying Tigers go ahead early, 2-0. Our seats are front row behind the plate, but we sit in the fourth row for a better angle of the pitcher-catcher-batter-umpire dynamic. We both notice a very light crowd for a Friday night. In fact the announced attendance is only 825.

LECOM Park, Bradenton, FL
Action from 3B side, LECOM Park, Bradenton, FL

Before the Flying Tigers hold on for an eventual 7-4 win, Mitch strikes up a conversation with a bearded gentleman sitting alone in front of us. He lives in Jacksonville, his two teenage sons play ball, and his wife is from York, PA, so we have a lot to discuss over the final two innings.

After the game we linger to chat with a couple of employees who comment on our UBT shirts. They thank us for making LECOM Park part of our 2022 itinerary.

UBT 2022 – Day Two

Thursday, July 28

Today’s schedule includes an early ride into Ybor City and the Al López homestead, which houses the Tampa Baseball Museum. As we seek a place to park the car in front of us slows and then stops to allow a few free-range urban roosters to cross the street. Of course they aren’t using the crosswalk, but we ignore their pedestrian faux pas. Street thugs!

Street Roosters, Ybor City (Tampa), FL
Street roosters roaming Ybor City (Tampa), FL

My mind immediately goes to “Why did the roosters cross 19th Street?”

Street rooster, Ybor City (Tampa), FL
Street rooster roaming Ybor City (Tampa), FL

Apparently they’re everywhere, at least enough of them to have a sign posted at the parking lot entrance.

Street Rooster Sign, Ybor City (Tampa), FL
Street Rooster sign, Ybor City (Tampa), FL

After a few more poultry one-liners, we arrive at the museum.

Tampa Baseball Museum, Tampa, FL
Tampa Baseball Museum, Tampa, FL

A Cuban-American, Al López became the first Tampa native to reach the majors, enjoyed a Hall of Fame managerial career (culminating in his induction in 1977), and won a pair of pennants while ruling the bench. The well-respected manager of both the Indians and White Sox led the Indians to 111 victories in 1954 and the Go Go Sox to 94 wins in 1959.

The woman who greets us at the museum is a wealth of knowledge of both Al’s family and the baseball history of the area. (She’s also the CEO of the local historical society and is the first woman to speak in this video.) Surprisingly, the museum has only been open since September, 2021, as you’ll learn from the video link above.

I don’t want to spoil this unique baseball treasure in case you’d like to spend some time here. It celebrates all of the teams and players from this area (going back to the 1800s) with a large focus on Al López, because he was the first Tampa native to join the big leagues. It’s definitely worth the time for baseball nerds (like Mitch and me) who especially enjoy the history of the game.

The woman is helpful with a lot of information, including recommending Columbia for lunch a few blocks away. Opened in 1905 this is Florida’s oldest restaurant. Since there’s a wait for a table, we decide to take the other Yelp-er’s advice and lunch at Duffy’s Sports Grill.

Duffy’s is a chain peppered along both Florida coasts that appears to be a typical sports bar, except it’s all times ten. The place features dozens of TVs and full-size college football helmets from every team surrounding every booth. We’re seated, and guess what’s directly behind Mitch?

Mitch at Duffy's Sports Grill, Tampa, FL
Mitch with the Pitt helmet at Duffy’s Sports Grill, Tampa, FL

Mitch informs the young man that seats us, “With hundreds of helmets in here, you seated us at my alma mater.” Without missing a beat, he quickly responds that he did it on purpose.

Mitch enjoys a Mahi Mahi sandwich while I order the Shrimp Po Boy special and a couple of Jai Alai IPA pints by Cigar City Brewing.

On our way back to the hotel we stop at Mitch’s nephew’s wife’s business, St. PetersBARK. (I love the punny name!) Neither relative is on site, but we browse through the doggie treats and toys. All of the employees are busy with customers, so I take a photo of Mitch with the store sign so he could send it to them as a surprise.

St. Peters Bark, St. Petersburg, FL
Mitch in front of St. Peters Bark, St. Petersburg, FL

BayCare Ballpark is less than 30 minutes away so we leisurely trek to Clearwater, arriving well before first pitch. Little do we know that tonight is Craft Beer Night, the only such night scheduled during the entire month of July. (More UBT magical timing! I can just hear Harry Carey asking, “How about that?”) We taste a few and chat with some brewers before settling on something we each really like. All 24 oz. pours are only $3.75! I can’t remember the last time I paid that price for a ballpark pint, much less 24 oz.!

Threshers Times
Threshers Times – July 28 edition

Our UBT shirts attract a husband and wife who became season ticket holders this year. They live three miles away so it’s a convenient night out of entertainment for their family with reasonably priced food and drink. They also walk occasional laps around the ballpark for exercise.

Mitch and I take a pre-game stroll around the concourse and on the walkway beyond the outfield. There’s even some grass seating available between the outfield fence and the walkway. Picnic tables dot the outside of the walkway beyond left and right fields.

BayCare Ballpark, Clearwater, FL
BayCare Ballpark from RF line, Clearwater, FL

It’s a modern minor league ballpark a long homer’s launch away from the Carpenter Field Complex, tomorrow morning’s destination for Florida Complex League rookie baseball.

Before the first pitch, we concentrate on ordering ballpark fare to complement our discounted craft beverages.

BayCare Ballpark feast, Clearwater, FL
BayCare Ballpark feast, Clearwater, FL

The Threshers, Single-A Phillies Florida State League affiliate, lose 8-0 to the Dunedin Blue Jays. As we discover, this game is part of a day/night split twin bill due to a Tuesday rain out so the teams only play seven innings.

In the parking lot we’re greeted once again by the enthusiastic season ticket holder couple. They ask how we enjoyed our BayCare Ballpark experience. We thank them for their welcome earlier in the evening before parting. More baseball (in two different cities) tomorrow!

UBT 2022 – Day One

Learn more about the background for our UBT tradition, which began in 2005 after Mitch Mansfield and I struck up a friendship while playing baseball with former big leaguers in 2004.

Wednesday, July 27

Mitch leaves his cottage along the Allegheny River at 8 AM, which is plenty of time for our 3:44 flight from HIA to St. Petersburg. Suddenly, plenty of time becomes almost won’t happen! Mitch is idled for more than an hour behind a serious traffic accident in the Lewistown Narrows. With Mitch still an hour out and sitting still, I decide to leave for HIA to check in and be ready. Mitch is finally up to speed while I’m arriving at the airport.

Over the years we’ve experienced minor setbacks from a classic NYC traffic jam to storms threatening game play. These inconveniences pale when compared to the UBT magic that always seems to find us. From rubbing up game baseballs with the umpires before a game in South Bend, IN, to being honored as VIPs in Madison, WI, UBT magic always surprises us. Both of us express that if UBT 2022 isn’t supposed to happen, then we would accept it. The odds could finally be turning the other way.

I check my bag and go through security. Every time I fly, my first priority when I get to my gate is to see whether a plane is on the other side of the glass. Today, the plane we’re supposed to take hasn’t yet arrived. Suddenly our boarding time shifts from 2:40 PM to 3:10 PM! Mitch texts that he’s two miles from the airport. UBT 2022 is off to a shaky start, but quickly hits its stride.

I wait for Mitch to come through security. Both of us immediately reflect back to UBT 2013, when I flew to O’Hare to meet Mitch and begin a 2,500 mile, eight day, nine game trip across the upper Midwest. Soon after we left the airport in Chicago, Mitch’s truck suffered a flat tire. We laughed it off, and soon were celebrating the 25th anniversary of Wisconsin’s New Glarus Brewing Company on the way to our first game in Madison.

Mitch asks me, “Do you know the girl at the Allegiant desk downstairs? When I checked my bag, she said, ‘Brian’s already upstairs waiting for you.’”

After we board, two passengers, one in front of me and one beside Mitch, pepper us with suggestions for pizza and craft beer during our trip. They almost battle to one-up each other – dueling Yelp-ers! Along with Mitch and I catching up on family and what we’ve been up to, this made our flight go quickly.

After retrieving our bags, we head for the rental car counter. Two customers are in front of us. The man heads for the lot. The woman in front of us has rolling luggage. The assistant finishes her paperwork and instructs her to “go out these doors, go right for 110 yards, and an attendant will greet you in the lot.” You’ll see why this is important in a moment.

When we reach the counter, the female assistant tries to persuade us to “Take the Camaro!” several times. We curiously ask if she receives a commission if we upgrade to the Camaro, but she shakes her head, “No” and smiles. Suddenly, the woman who received the explicit instructions returns in a huff, says she can’t walk that far with all this, and immediately cancels her car rental. My mind drifts to Steve Martin’s car rental scene in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” except instead of snow, this scene featured sweltering temperatures and humidity.

After securing our SUV (following the instructions to a tee) we take the advice of one of the Yelp-ers and head directly to The Nona Slice House in Safety Harbor. He had recommended Detroit Style, which I love.

Mitch and I order Death by Pepperoni and add mushrooms. We are not disappointed. We enjoy the guitarist while Mitch downs a couple of Big Storm TENFLARE Red Lagers and I nurse Marker 48’s Hazy River IPAs. We toast the gentleman who steered us to Nona.

Besides our lengthy conversations, there’s no baseball scheduled for this evening. We find our hotel and pretty much collapse following a long day of lots of moving parts. We have much to look forward to over the next few days.

Thank you, #Alignable

This notification really surprised me:

🏆Just Say WOW! Harrisburg’s Winner Of Alignable’s SmallBiz Story Search Revealed Today

Chuck Casto from Alignable Oct 3rd, 2019

Today’s a big day for the great storytellers in our network!

After reviewing thousands of funny, emotional, and inspirational entries, plus heartfelt comments from our members, we’re happy to announce the local small businesspeople who’ve just won the first phase of our WOW-Worthy SmallBiz Story Search.

🥁Drumroll please! 🥁

Harrisburg’s Best Small Business Storyteller for 2019 is Brian Williams of Brian Williams Creative

Here’s the story I submitted:

Wow Worthy Story Contest

What’s The Craziest Small Biz Story You’ve Experienced?

Answered by:

Brian Williams

Brian Williams Creative

This isn’t directly involved with my voice over business, but it’s related. When I worked in full-time radio I would supplement my income with voice work and by spinning records in bars and clubs. After my ongoing Wednesday happy hour gigs, a former broadcaster would take me aside to chat about radio.

One day I was frustrated with the direction of the station where I worked and blurted, “The only way to do radio right is to do it yourself.” I don’t even recall what the issue(s) may have been.

The following Wednesday this gentleman arrived with large topographical maps and research about the FCC opening new FM frequencies around the country and offering them for bid. He stated, “If you really want to do it yourself, here’s your chance.”

After more investigation, bringing in two additional partners, and bidding on a frequency in an under-served, growing resort area, we won the bid. We were now owners in the radio business!

For a broadcaster who started on the air at age 15, there isn’t much more professionally satisfying than planning and building your own studios, hiring a loyal staff, and implementing your own fun format.

Even more satisfying were meeting lifelong friends, the opportunity to broadcast play-by-play high school baseball and football state championship games, and volunteering station resources to help the region to thrive.

Eventually we purchased a competitor, the area’s traditional AM station, to diversify our programming and capture a different target audience (and attract more regional advertisers by offering packages with exposure on both stations). After nearly 13 years from the time we signed on our original FM, we sold both stations to a regional broadcast group.

I feel so fortunate to have experienced this dream come true. I still enjoy the memories and maintain friendships with many who were involved with our venture.

Please contact me if I can help you tell your story.

The Power of Baseball

When we consider “power” in baseball, it usually involves a Ruthian swing and that special sound off the bat. Or it could mean a sizzling fastball nearing triple digits that pounds the catcher’s mitt. The power I’m thinking of is much more understated, more subtle, and plays out over time.

I wanted to treat my father-in-law to baseball, which he loved all his life. What I didn’t count on when we got to our seats for the first time were the folks surrounding us just beyond first base at the Harrisburg Senators ballpark on City Island. We all became fast friends. After a season or two, we became more like a family — a family brought together through the power of baseball.

What became “our section” was lost to the park upgrades a decade ago or more. However, our group of fans became so close that we all decided we wanted to move to the same new section so we could continue to sit together.

One of those fans was Barb Thomas. Although “fanatic” isn’t strong enough a word to describe Barb’s love for the Senators.

I mean, who else remains in her seat through blistering cold winds, torrential downpours, and searing heat? Who else, upon retirement, drives to Spring Training and stays at the players’ hotel for a month? Who else has been to every Eastern League ballpark multiple times … including some no longer used by Eastern League teams?

She even hosted a player in her home. That player and his wife kept in touch with Barb since that unique season. And, yes, Barb was there for Milton Bradley’s rainy walk-off grand slam to bring a fourth consecutive EL championship to Harrisburg in 1999.

Barb wasn’t at the game to predict a 3-2 slider or second guess a decision. Barb loved the Senators as people. She cheered their successes and offered standing ovations for home runs and victories.

More so, Barb became everyone’s friend. Staunchly independent, Barb could make everyone feel welcome in any situation. She got to know many of those players during spring training. She became friends with a Washington Nationals usher and visited with her whenever we took in a game at Nats Park.

Barb had a smile for everyone. She always reminded me of the Colonel Potter line from M*A*S*H: Barb had a drawer full of them. And she was great at letting you borrow one whenever you needed it.

Her soft-spoken demeanor never changed. In the two decades I knew Barb, she never raised her voice nor spoke negatively about anyone.

I could show up at the ballpark stressed over a project or traffic, and Barb could easily make me forget about whatever it was. She had the same calming effect over Senators Fan Club business. I would pick up Barb to attend a meeting with a thousand loose ends on my mind. By the time we arrived, everything seemed better.

Over the years, Barb became a regular guest at our home whenever Mindy made spaghetti, Barb’s favorite dinner. She would always arrive in a red top (very practical) with a bouquet of flowers for the table (very appreciative).

She also became a regular at our family birthdays, holidays (whenever she wasn’t visiting her family), ABC Mug Club events, and sometimes just a relaxing dinner with friends.

Barb’s social calendar never seemed to pump the brakes. She enjoyed bus trips, former work friends, family events in Pittsburgh, Penn State home games, and Senators road series to the far reaches of the Eastern League. Barb would cheerfully participate wherever her calendar took her.

That was the way Barb was. She could brighten any situation without any effort. That was just her nature.

Section 105 isn’t the same without Barb. She was so woven into our baseball and friendship landscape that we weren’t ready to let go. I’m thankful that we’ve gotten to know her family and that we have so many fond memories. As Barb would have wanted, we laughed much more than shed tears at her visitation.

As we toasted an empty pint glass at last Monday’s Mug Club gathering, here’s to you, Barb. Through the power of the baseball diamond, thank you for letting us into your circle.

Shhh

While we’re hearing nothing but crickets from MLB teams and free agents, I want to share about two baseball-worthy events. This past week featured the first Senators Fan Club Diamond Talk of 2019. Yesterday marked the SABR Babe Ruth Chapter meeting in Baltimore. So while MLB struggles for new headlines, please allow me to shout from the rooftops … from the keyboard.

We introduced a lot of new content during our Diamond Talk. We voted to update our bylaws, discussed the Nats’ moves so far this off-season, and previewed what the club has in store through the Senators‘ Opening Day.

SABR historian and Fan Club member, Ted Knorr, shared some insights about the 1960 World Series. Ted and Fan Club member, Fred Walker, attended the Game 7 rebroadcast at the Forbes Field wall back on October 13th. They projected stats, photos, and told us about their annual APBA Game 7 replay.

This year’s event, played near the left field wall, featured unique qualities that you’ll only find in baseball. Their game even elicited some curious onlookers, which opened up a fun baseball conversation.

Speaking of conversation, I’d been fretting the forecast all week because Fan Club member, Terry Hartzell, and I had committed to the SABR Baltimore Chapter meeting on Sunday. Never underestimate the power of baseball! Like magic, the storm fizzled, the state of emergency lifted, and we were on our way to Peabody Heights Brewery on North 30th Street.

On the way, we encountered rain showers and fog, but spotted lifting clouds and even some blue sky after crossing the Mason-Dixon Line. We arrived in plenty of time to strike up some Hot Stove talk.

The first person I saw was Dick O’Keefe, the brewery owner. I met Dick more than a year ago when Terry and I visited for our historical baseball parks tour. Dick’s such an inviting gentleman! He offered the venue, built on the site of a former Baltimore Orioles’ minor league park (1916-1944), gratis to the local SABR Chapter. He also supplied free beer to all attendees!

We all enjoyed presentations throughout the day. The only time out was for all of us to enjoy a Mission BBQ catered lunch.

Author David B. Stinson, who was a Fan Club guest speaker after releasing “Deadball”, emceed. We heard from authors, long-time SABR members, researchers, even a former ballpark chef (named Grill) told their stories. A former Orioles Rookie of the Year, Ron Hansen, approached me after the meeting adjourned and warmly shook my hand. Since I’d never officially met Mickey Morandini, Ron becomes the first to greet me and turn an MLB unassisted triple play.

Larry Haney and Ron Hanson

Ron and former Orioles’ catcher Larry Haney informed and entertained our group throughout their appearance. Both seemed would be just as comfortable sitting down to chat over a cup of coffee. Both enjoyed long coaching careers following their playing days and each has been married more than 50 years. Ron and Larry truly appreciated their time associated with MLB and it showed. Ah, respect for the game…

A few years ago, I received a wonderful gift. “The Last Boy” by Jane Leavy is one of the most comprehensive baseball biographies I’d ever read. Without referring to one note, Jane fed us details about her latest effort, “Big Fella,” a unique look at Babe Ruth. Just when you thought you’d read everything about George Herman, Jane unearths more about The Babe’s childhood and persona. I instantly purchased a copy onsite. And I wasn’t the only one. Jane spent a few minutes chatting with me while personally signing my copy.

After seeing Ken Mars and David Stinson‘s video presentation, I gained a new appreciation for their level of research on John McGraw. Our day was filled with wonderful baseball surprises like these. And then, we switched gears.

A former client when Terry and I were creative directors at a recording studio penned his own sports book and released it last fall. Jack GIlden’s “Collision of Wills” tells of the relationship between Don Shula and Johnny Unitas. Although I lost interest in football long ago, I have two relatives who grew up as Baltimore Colts fans.

After Terry and I said our SABR goodbyes, we secured two copies of Jack’s book and met with Jack at The Corner Stable. Jack kindly personalized each gift. We visited over refreshments before parting. Terry and I rolled toward Harrisburg (on dry I-83 North) with a terrific day full of fresh memories.

So nothing’s happening on the free agent front? Shhhh. Keep your eyes and ears open. You’re sure to find satisfying Hot Stove action nearby.

Brian Williams
From Deep Short

Less Than 30 Minutes

Once upon a time a young broadcaster is hired as a member of the team to take an automated FM station (licensed to Harrisburg) live for the first time. He now needs a place to live that’s close by.

Someone else on that new on-air staff informs the young man that an air personality from another Harrisburg station is seeking a new roommate. (His former roomie left the area for a radio gig in another state.)

That air personality is 29-year-old Chris Andree from WKBO. I’m that immature 20-year-old, yet had already pulled shifts on four different stations.

We meet for the first time in the parking lot of Rock 99 in Wormleysburg. As we talk for less than 30 minutes in Andree’s car, we decide to sign a lease together on a townhouse right down the hill on Third Street.

First of all, that’s a commute to make anyone envious. Secondly and much more importantly, that’s how friendly Andree is.

That quality comes across on the air in the Harrisburg market for more than 40 years. It also creates an unmatched continuity and fun feeling during his 15 year stint as the Harrisburg Senators PA announcer.

We share a townhouse for two years before I take a position at Q106 and rent a house south of York. But the broadcasting community is close-knit. Andree and I see each other occasionally at area events and just to get together.

Fast-forward a few years. I’m hired as program director to take 97.3 FM live for the first time. I’ll handle afternoon drive. The midday shift will be covered by a current employee.

Who can we hire for morning drive and to help me with music? Andree agrees to bring his passion for music and enthusiasm behind the mic to Broadcast Center!

My contract ends after three years. New management doesn’t renew it. However, Andree continues to thrive through several position, format, management and even ownership changes into 2017.

He also continues to make his mark on the Harrisburg market through regional commercial production and ABC-27 News bumpers. And, of course, the magic he creates during Senators games. Since the millennium no voice has been heard more in this area.

During games we text each other suggesting clever walk-up music for opposing batters. We meet after games and continue to share in each others’ lives. The same Andree smile. The same signature, “Yeah.”

We attend out-of-town baseball games together: Reading, Philly, DC. I see my only NBA game ever … with Andree. Andree meets me downtown at the Harrisburg Brewfest last June.

That same month I schedule our mutual friend Dan Steele as guest speaker to the Senators Fan Club. Andree shows up. Dan hired Andree away from his hometown radio station in Bellefonte 42 years earlier. We all enjoy dinner and laugh over radio and baseball memories after the meeting adjourns.

I receive a call from Dan two weeks later on July 4th. Not a happy holiday call, but a shocking Andree-has-big-health-related-challenges-ahead-of-him call.

I get to play one-hit-wonder music trivia with Andree around his birthday. He beats Todd Matthews and me a number of times by quickly naming an artist after Randy Whitaker calls out a title.

The same Andree smile. The same passion for music. They’re still there.

Three months later there’s suddenly worse health news.

Two weeks later I’m notified that Andree’s fight has ended.

No more smile.

When I was very young and very immature, I still knew within 30 minutes that I not only was compatible with Andree, but that I’d found a lifelong friend.

Dan brilliantly conducts the Harrisburg Senators tribute to Andree at FNB Field. Surrounded by his family, his friends, the broadcasting community, the Senators front office, his favorite music over the PA and great photos on the big screen, I can see that Andree affected more than just me within the first 30 minutes of meeting him.

That was reiterated at his memorial service in Bellefonte yesterday. Andree is still radiating positively … just as he did to his listeners over several decades behind the mic. In fact you can still enjoy hearing his unmistakable voice on recorded messages prior to any Senators home game. I have to smile every time I hear them.

SABR 48 – The Closer

Let’s start our SABR 48 Saturday with a 1979 Pirates players’ panel featuring pitchers John Candelaria and Grant Jackson. Nothing like a cup of coffee and two former major leaguers telling stories out of school. Both personalities contribute to a fun session with tales from the field, the clubhouse and even from the streets of Montreal.

SABR48-Candy-Grant

Three different committee meetings follow, including BioProject, Nineteenth Century (which I attended) and Statistical Analysis. [If you’re not a baseball fan, you’re probably thinking — if you hadn’t already throughout this series of posts — “What’s wrong with this guy?”]

Now it’s time to learn how to perform baseball research with SABR’s Cecilia Tan. Very interesting discussion with a variety of authors of research articles. I’m impressed with how these folks are willing to dive into an extensive baseball research project and submit their results for SABR publication. I learn quite a bit from this session.

At noon I take time to soak in poster presentations. SABR offers this medium to present your research project without having to speak to a roomful of other researchers.

Friends from Virginia, a husband and wife whom I met through baseball [Imagine that!], display their poster on Pirates’ season openers. Great work, Lisa and Gordon!

SABR48-Poster-Lisa-Gordon

I attend Branch Rickey’s Pirate years, the Baseball and the Arts research committee meeting, Negro Leagues = Major Leagues presentation, and wrap up the day with Ford Frick’s 61* ruling by Dave Bohmer. There’s one more round of sessions; however, it’s a beautiful Saturday and there’s a new ballpark to visit.

We say our goodbyes, tip our caps to SABR 48, and then we’re on our way to West Virginia. A straight shot down I-79 gets us to Monongalia County Ballpark as the Pirates’ Class A short-season affiliate West Virginia Black Bears host the State College Spikes (St. Louis farm team) in a New York-Penn League tilt.

The artificial turf reminds me of Washington, PA, where the independent Wild Things play alongside I-70. The ballpark proves cozy featuring a few suites, standing room in right field (near the craft beer stand) and a beautiful mountaintop view.

Monongalia-County-Ballpark

The concession stands feature a variety of selections. While in line I notice a fan walking away with a fine-looking cheese steak and seasoned fries. I immediately call an audible and order one to accompany my WV-brewed IPA.

Black-Bears-Food

We enjoy our standing room tickets from beyond 1st base. The Pirates recent 2018 #1 amateur draft selection, Travis Swaggerty, collects three hits from the three hole and gets good jumps in centerfield.

As a bonus, the home team rallies from a 5-0 deficit to score 9 unanswered runs. We join the Black Bears and the crowd in celebrating the home victory with a post-game fireworks display.

Our final SABR 48 destination is one of Mitch’s go-to diners for Sunday brunch. Eggs-R-Us serves omelettes and the largest breakfast burritos I’ve ever seen.

Before I head back east on the turnpike we tentatively arrange our bottling at Copper Kettle Brewing. That’s when the curtain will officially fall on our SABR 48 experience (and where we’ll pick up next time). Thanks for reading!

SABR 48 – Middle (and Extra) Innings

SABR 48 sessions don’t begin until 8 AM today. We take advantage of an extra 30 minutes of sleep.

Larry Lester, chair of the Negro Leagues Research Committee, leads that meeting beginning at 8 AM. Larry casually asks committee members what they’re currently working on. I’m amazed at the shear number and depth of research projects. A few match with others so those researchers can collaborate.

Larry played an integral part on Thursday’s Wendell Smith panel. I eagerly introduced myself to him following the session. He warmly welcomed me and immediately wanted to exchange business cards. We may work together on some audio books.

I remain in the front row in Grand Ballroom 1 for the Media Panel. Curt Smith moderates Pirates’ broadcasters Steve Blass, Greg Brown, Joe Block and Lanny Frattare, whom I got to meet beforehand.

From the moment Joe Block is introduced as “Joe Buck” this session is wall-to-wall entertainment. This hour of funny baseball and broadcasting stories (and attendee Q&A) concludes before any of us are ready. I could listen to this group all day!

SABR48-Media-Panel

However, we have the Warhol Triple Play to attend, featuring Maris, Rose and Seaver. Paul Ember teaches me so much about Andy Warhol and his baseball art in this 30-minute session.

I remain in Grand Ballroom 2 for “In Harmony: The National Anthem for the National Pastime.” I expect to learn some history of playing our nation’s anthem prior to baseball games. Joseph L. Price throws me a curve ball instead.

He takes sabbatical from Whittier College to buy an RV and travel all corners of the US to sing the National Anthem at more than 100 professional ballparks. Joseph’s “Perfect Pitch” includes his favorite ballpark, favorite fans, food, ballpark architecture, mascot, etc. Talk about entertaining!

Then comes the final question from the audience: “Why don’t you sing it for us?” All rise as Joseph sings a cappella his favorite verse #4 in less than 1:15. Following this proud performance and rousing applause, I now vote for verse #4 to be sung prior to every game.

We now have some time to mingle prior to the SABR Awards Luncheon. We enjoy chatting with other SABR members before VP Leslie Heaphy presents prestigious awards to several dedicated and deserving baseball researchers.

After lunch we all stroll across the Roberto Clemente Bridge for an exclusive SABR 48 ballpark session. We sit behind the Pirates dugout to hear Joe Block moderate featured speakers such as Clint Hurdle, Neal Huntington and Dan Fox.

Following Q&A we talk with other members as the tarp and a threat of rain eliminates BP. As it opens we meet with friends in the Jim Beam LF Lounge until game time.

We settle into our seats just under roof between the Pirates dugout and left field foul pole. Occasional sprinkles don’t affect us as we end up with free baseball. The D-Backs eventually win in extras and the Pirates only manage four hits all night, but there’s nothing like being at the ballpark.

SABR 48 offers one more day of sessions. Our morning reprieve lasts until 9:15 Saturday morning for the Pirates Players Panel.

Ahhh. Extra rest after our late night at PNC Park.

 

SABR 48 – The Opener

To immerse oneself in the SABR experience, one needs stamina, coffee and energy bars. SABR 48 presentations and research committee meetings are scheduled from 7:30 AM until 7:30 PM. No break for lunch. Two or three sessions running simultaneously.

Good thing I’m prepared with my travel mug and lightweight Senators Fan Club backpack to hold my bars, apples, variety of nuts and a pen. (Thankfully, I never got hungry enough for the pen.)

SABR48-1st

I’m mesmerized from the very first session featuring two veteran Pirates’ official scorers. I know the official scorer in Harrisburg and enjoy hearing his take on hit/error disagreements from the dugouts, using video replay to make calls, etc.

This hour-long session flies by as do each of the rest. I attend presentation after presentation until 7:30 PM. Between sessions I meet more inviting SABR veterans. I share our great flood story from last evening with a few of them.

Highlights include Pirates’ President, Frank Coonelly, offering opening remarks. I learn much more about Roy Sievers’ baseball career and Negro League exhibitions in Pittsburgh. A research committee meeting featuring Women in Baseball and a panel discussion of Wendell Smith prove particularly enlightening.

As a former broadcaster, I enjoy Curt Smith’s history of Pirates’ baseball announcers. A sneak peek at Aviva Kempner’s upcoming film on Moe Berg takes us to 7:30. Aviva treats us to some incredible footage to be included in her project.

Tonight’s dinner is scheduled for the strip district. The good news is no flooding. The bad news is no parking.

Industry-Public-House

After circling and diligently trying side streets and alleys, we head for Industry Public House, which pinch hits nicely for our original plan. Following fish and chips and Hop Farm IPA, we need to pick up Mitch’s formerly stranded SUV and rest up for Friday’s SABR events.