SABR 48, Us 1

Until this year, SABR was a faceless number-crunching organization. During baseball games, I’d hear “SABR-metrics” mentioned and obscure stats would display on my TV.

Only because the stars align in 2018 do I learn more. Much more.

Back Camera

SABR 48, the national convention, is scheduled for Pittsburgh in late June. My good friend, Mitch, invites Chris and me to stay at his place–less than 15 minutes from the downtown venue. (The three of us and others enjoyed UBT 10: five professional baseball games in five days in four different states. That’s why we call our annual events “Ultimate Baseball Trips.”)

As winter turns to spring, we research SABR 48. The full package is affordable, yet includes the D-Backs/Pirates game on Friday. Mitch and Chris schedule a few vacation days. I’m already off during the summer. Each of us become SABR members and sign up to attend it all.

Along with all of the SABR events, we plan to sprinkle in some craft brews and possibly another ballpark. Let the games begin!

Bring ‘Em On

baseball-snow

Now that the 12 Days of Christmas have given way to the Magi, my epiphany reveals that I’ve heard very little from baseball’s winter leagues. Plus, I haven’t witnessed a baseball game since the Arizona Fall League Championship. Horrors.

Despite MLB‘s #NoOffseason promos, it sure feels like #NoBaseball with a side of below zero wind chill to me. Instead of ice on the Susquehanna, I’m more than ready to see a freshly mown outfield expanse and a neatly groomed batter’s box. Rather than hear the furnace kick on every ten seconds, I could really go for the echoing crack of the bat or a sizzling rope hitting a first baseman’s mitt.

Give me short sleeves (or at least baseball sleeves), a baseball cap and a good pitching match-up.  I want to get lost in the strategy of a pitching sequence or a perfectly executed hit-and-run play.

Put me in a seat at a ballpark where I can soak up the sun, make a cold draft “evaporate,” and arm chair manage my way through a tight, well-played ballgame. Between innings, we’ll talk about the prospects, the playoff chances of the big club, and the team’s new faces.

I’ll happily thaw by enjoying a couple of Spot Dogs (“Two up, please, Eric!”), stroll on the boardwalk in the sunshine, and pick up a slight breeze wafting toward left field. For me, two things that are never overrated: 1) warmth; and 2) baseball. Bring ’em on!

Baltimore’s Hidden Diamonds

Terry Hartzell and I both worked for the same Harrisburg-based broadcasting company longer ago than I’m willing to admit. (I’ll put it this way: when I first started on the air at Starview 92, I was too young to drink at station events.)

Fast-forward to the 90s when we worked together again, this time at a regional audio-video recording studio in Landisville. Not only did we make a great team writing scripts and producing fun projects,  but we also shared rides. Our mutual admiration of baseball sustained us through many daily commutes and traffic jams.

Fast-forward again to more recent times. We still work together on rare recording projects, Terry at the board and me behind the mic.

Beyond that, we continue to enjoy lifelong friendships with many of the personalities with whom we’ve worked over the years. We also still have baseball and its rich history to sustain us. And, boy, did we need it yesterday!

Terry invited me to join him on a Saturday trip to Baltimore. A former ballpark that burned to the ground on July 4, 1944, has risen from the ashes as a craft brewery.

How could I turn down combining two of my favorite things: baseball and beer? Plus, we would meet with a Baltimore-based author, David B. Stinson, who researched and wrote about these former ballpark treasures. A former client from our recording studio days, Jack Gilden, (who lives ten minutes from our destination), would join us.

Jack’s daughter came, too. What a patient trooper she was throughout the afternoon/evening! I mean, she witnessed four grown men (at least physically) getting giddy over sites of kids’ games from more than 100 years ago.

What could go wrong … except for a tanker truck spilling liquid oxygen all over I-83 just after 6 AM? Terry and I persevered through inching along for four miles. It only took us two hours, but we remained focused and determined.

We finally arrived at East 30th and Barclay in Baltimore around 2:15 PM. Just entering Peabody Heights Brewery, the site of hallowed baseball ground, made the major delay all worthwhile. Of course, the “Old Oriole Park” lager draft helped, too!

The brewery’s owner began a tour soon after our arrival. Did he talk about his beer and how the brewery got started? Nope. He enthusiastically shared the rich baseball history of Old Oriole Park, which graced the very site many, many years ago.

After the baseball discussion, which included Babe Ruth’s playing days on the site, the owner tossed the ball to his son for the behind-the-scenes brewery part of the tour.

That’s when David detoured us to a spot on the cement floor near the beer vats. That’s where 2nd base had been. He also informed us that where the owner had been talking to our tour group was left field.

Following one additional round from the taps, we eagerly poured outside for David to continue giving us perspective on the lay of the land. David showed us where the left field wall had been, where the mound had been, and where home plate had been (right on the curb on Barclay).

While imagining the Babe swinging for the fences from that curb, I had to take a few imaginary cuts of my own from the other batter’s box.

After we soaked in that atmosphere, we all bounded toward 29th Street. Here was the home of another Oriole Park (American League Park) and … the future New York Yankees. Confused yet?

We then strode down the hill a few more blocks toward the former site of Union Park. I took my batting practice cuts in the parking lot where home plate once graced the ground beneath. I also trotted toward 3rd base to take a few grounders.

As Jack stated, this is where Wee Willie Keeler’s 44-game hitting streak ended. John McGraw played here as did Wilbert Robinson.

I’d add photos, but David had already taken the best shots and showed us on his phone during our trifecta former ballpark tour. He’s also a heck of an author and was a guest speaker for the Harrisburg Senators Fan Club. I highly recommend David’s book.

During our walk back up the hill, David departed. The rest of our lineup decided on the Charles Village Pub, Towson, for dinner before heading home.

The original Charles Village Pub, one of Terry’s  favorite places for ribs, would have to wait for our next visit. After all, it’s near the former site of Memorial Stadium.

At the Old Ball Game

My list of ballparks is somewhat extensive for a few reasons: my broadcasting career netted me occasional press seats; my recent medical software marketing position required travel with many evenings free; and, one of my best friends (whom I met while we were playing baseball) planned annual baseball vacations for us for nearly ten years. I’m hoping he and I can resurrect that tradition soon.

Philadelphia – The Vet (My parents surprised me on my birthday in May with scheduled doubleheader tickets against the Expos. I remember the man sitting in front of us smoking a cigar.) I returned many times. In fact, before our daughter was born, my wife and I enjoyed a weekend ticket plan. We’d fill in the gaps using my press credentials.

When I was even younger, I saw one Sunday game against the Giants at Connie Mack Stadium on a bus trip with relatives.

And, Citizens Bank Park. Much more fan friendly than The Vet.

Baltimore – Memorial Stadium. I recall attending a Monday Night Baseball telecast game where the A’s wore their yellow and green uniforms and the Orioles wore their orange tops.

And, Camden Yards – one of my favorite ballparks. It’s still a fun destination and as close to my home as Philly, without the horrendous traffic.

Washington, DC – Nationals Park is fun with lots of good food options. I recommend taking a bus trip or take the train to a day game. Trains only run until 11 PM, so you may have to miss an exciting ending or get stranded.
And RFK, the Nats’ home before the new park was ready.

Pittsburgh – PNC Park is my current favorite. There’s something very special about the rivers, the Clemente Bridge and the cityscape surrounding this gem.

New York – Yankee Stadium (the former), Shea Stadium and Citi Field. My wife and I enjoyed a burger and a beer across the street from Yankee Stadium. We also saw an Old Timers’ Game there.

Boston – Fenway Park. There’s nothing like it or Yawkey Way and the surrounding pubs before a Sox game.

Toronto – I only saw one game at Rogers Centre, but I experienced both the roof on and off! About the 4th inning during a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon game, I suddenly saw sunshine and shadows on the field. I couldn’t even hear the roof opening to a much brighter day.

Detroit – Comerica Park. There’s even a brick near the Tiger at the entrance with my name on it … in the players’ section, (except I’m not the former major leaguer, Brian Williams) I still got a photo of myself with that brick! Sadly, during that same trip, I visited the remains of Tiger Stadium and actually witnessed a wrecking ball crashing into the press box. I was surprised how close I could get. I still have a small piece of concrete from the site.

Cleveland – I still really like The Jake. It’s the only stadium where I paid for the standard tour. I especially enjoyed standing on the field, sitting in the Indians’ dugout and seeing the broadcast booths. My friend and I would stay at the Holiday Inn Express two blocks away. It was converted from an old bank and still operated the narrow elevators. Rooms featured spacious wood floors, heavy doors and ten-foot ceilings. Large windows provided a view into the outfield seating at the ballpark.

Cincinnati – Great American Ballpark surprised me. The river behind the park with passing riverboats sets off a fine baseball atmosphere.

Chicago – Wrigley Field. ‘Nuff said. Be sure to visit nearby pubs pre-game (and post-game before getting back on your train).

And Southside. The train takes you right there, too. And the original stadium’s home plate is marked in the parking lot. I saw the Yankees there.

Milwaukee – Miller Park, with the roof closed on a stifling Sunday afternoon. Fortunately, we visited a handy brew pub after the game before returning to our Chicago hotel. I also bought my daughter an Alcides Escobar shirt before he was cool. On a baseball vacation, my friend discovered we could hit Wrigley on Saturday, Miller Park on Sunday and the White Sox Monday. I love having friends who are as passionate about baseball as I am.

Minnesota – This is another well-designed ballpark. Although today’s hitters make even this park look small, it’s cavernous and beautiful.

Kansas City – I never realized how close you could get to those fountains in right field at Royals Stadium! Definitely leave time in your itinerary for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and Buck O’Neil’s and Satchel Page’s grave sites. And don’t forget to sample authentic KC barbecue.

St. Louis – The latest iteration of Busch leaves a perfect view of The Arch beyond the outfield. For some reason, I had difficulty navigating the place. (Honest, I only had one beer at Mike Shannon’s.) Maybe it still required some finishing touches, but I ran into a couple of dead ends at the bottom of stairwells. The shops/restaurants beyond left field weren’t built yet in 2013. I like that they marked the base line of the former Busch along the third base side outside the current park.

Los Angeles – Dodger Stadium may be old, but it’s fun. (Yes, I had a Dodger Dog.) Unlike some of the locals, I stayed for the entire game and witnessed an inside-the-park homer.

San Francisco – Candlestick Park. I’m showing my age, but I saw a Dodgers’ game here. I got sunburned in my seat, yet was freezing in the stiff winds on the concourse.
I’d love to see a game at the new park, which looks amazing.

I’ve been fortunate enough to eye-witness two no-hitters: Roy Halladay against the Reds in the playoffs at CBP; and, Jordan Zimmermann wrapping up the regular season at Nationals Park when Steven Souza, Jr. made the game-ending, diving grab in left center field.

I think that leaves a dozen current parks that I haven’t visited. My bucket list includes some Arizona Fall League action and the Midnight Sun Game in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Only because a current colleague asked, I compiled a list of 32 minor league parks (including affiliated and independent) where I’ve seen at least one game. I guess that gives me more writing material.

Vinyl Circles

Before we began listening to music as “ones and zeroes”, albums were actually … albums. Flat, grooved platters made of vinyl with a little hole in the middle. The cardboard protector, into which you would slide your album, usually started new inside a cellophane wrapper.

When I began in the business, new albums would arrive from record companies almost daily. Stamped “Promotional Copy Only – Not For Sale”, these nuggets of new music were specifically sent for on-air promotion.

Sometimes the record companies would send multiple copies of the same album or single. You see, vinyl isn’t nearly as nondestructive as “ones and zeroes”. And the record companies wanted to be sure you had all you needed to play their music on the air over and over again.

When I would work on Sunday mornings, our station played religious and public service blocks of programming to help fulfill our quota of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) public service. Once I had these large reel-to-reel tapes cued and playing, I had time for other things: making coffee, cleaning up the studios, writing and producing commercials or promotional announcements for the next day, and–most importantly–previewing some of the new music that arrived that week.

This is how I discovered Van Halen. I put their album on one of the large Gates turntables in the production room and started listening to “Running with the Devil”. Wow! Then “Eruption” segued into their cover of “You Really Got Me”.

I was so excited that I plopped the big, heavy tone arm at the start of each track. There wasn’t a loser among them. And the rest is history.

I enjoyed debuting songs and artists when the cardboard containers arrived. Even if an album was a dud, I could usually find a piece of a track that I could use behind a commercial or a high energy promo.

I still have a vinyl collection, but sadly, I don’t get to listen to it much. I have some of what had been popular when I was in the business as well as more esoteric titles.

These days, I’m much like everyone else. I usually play “ones and zeroes” while I type these posts.

Proportionately Perfect

Just as we can be any size, shape or gender to enjoy playing baseball, baseball trips don’t need to be epic to be fun. If you like epic, please see my series of posts in “UBT 2013”. That was two baseball lunatics scouring the country across 2,500 miles to see ten professional baseball games in ten different cities in nine days. Fulfilling? Yes, but treks like that take mucho planning and effort to be successful. We did it, of course, just as we had several UBTs before.

This, on the other hand, is a different kind of baseball trip: four season ticket holders, four games in one city over three days. To borrow Mitch’s phrase to describe this trip, let’s call it “Ultimate Baseball Trip … Lite”.

Binghamton, NY, is a leisurely three-hour drive north on I-81. It’s even more leisurely when you aren’t the driver. Due to the generosity of my friends and our proximity to I-81 North, I received door-to-door service.

We begin Tuesday, August 2nd, at 11 AM. Ruth picks up Barb and Sam at Barb’s house in Susquehanna Township. They swing by to add me and we’re on our way.

Along the way, I learned that you can pack a lot of laughs into a three-hour ride. We break up the trip with a late lunch at a familiar Perkins near Wilkes-Barre. Before we know it, we’re parking on Court Street in front of M & D-R Nuts.

 

 

FM (No Static at All)

In The Transition I mentioned that the radio station that just hired a 14-year-old was an AM day-timer. So why the confusing title for this post (thanks to Steely Dan)?

Ever heard of Cable FM? This was a unique way for this small-town AM day-timer to generate revenue after the FCC said it had to sign off the air.

Think about how radio stations (before the Internet) could be viable businesses. Only through advertising. When could those stations attract the most advertisers? Usually between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But when your station has to sign off at 4:45 PM every day during December, how can you squeeze all those commercials into every hour without losing listeners?

Well, this small AM station was innovative enough to offer cable FM, which expanded its reach beyond over-the-air. Not only did this allow the station to broadcast wildly popular high school football and basketball during the evening, it also allowed me to practice my radio skills after the AM signed off, while my family and friends could listen. That gave me additional incentive to do well.

I had a blast. But I wasn’t going to improve without professional help.

That’s why I’ll always be grateful to Curt, Rick and our boss, Jim, for always taking time to help me. Since they did it all (as you must do at a small station), I had the advantage of learning many different skills. I learned a lot just by observing them and listening to them. But they also worked with me, explained all kinds of situations and even assisted with my slight dialect. (If you grew up in this part of Central PA, you would exhibit a touch of Pennsylvania Dutch. My dad’s grandparents didn’t speak English.) I still notice it in family and friends from home, but I practiced and practiced until I sounded like the voice of America rather than the voice of a PA coal-mining town.

I now paid special attention to radio and TV commercials, how the voice talent emphasized certain words and phrases. I listened to on-air talent from any station, their content, their deliveries.

Meanwhile, I would need to attain my FCC 3rd Class Radiotelephone Operator license by passing a test at the courthouse in Philadelphia. In those days, this “ticket” was required to monitor that the broadcast transmitter was operating within regulation. One would maintain a log every hour or two by documenting transmitter readings with signature, time and date.

Next time, we’ll get to one of my favorite parts of working weekends on the air.

The Transition

With my left arm in that ridiculous compression sling, I decided to put down my bat and pick up a mic. Once healed, I could still play rec baseball, so I began to concentrate on trying to team my passion for baseball with — oh, I don’t know — broadcasting, perhaps?

My voice was maturing into a rich, relaxing delivery. Not terribly deep, but more easy-listening. It would stand out from the crowd.

I started a radio station in my family’s basement. My dad repaired record players and other electronics for fun, so I had a pair of turntables, cassette recorders and a mic.

Once I had enough nerve to tell my friends, they reacted as though they wanted to try it, too. They brought their own music and we played radio through a real Radio Shack AM transmitter.

We didn’t care that the signal traveled less than 60-feet. We had fun creating radio.

Between that, recording my own play-by-play baseball onto cassettes and listening to radio stations more intently than ever, I talked to my folks about contacting the local radio station with a letter and one of my tapes. I offered to clean and make coffee for the opportunity to learn.

The owner (also the GM, sales manager and locally well-known morning host) called me to arrange an after-school meeting. I received a tour (studios and offices in a modest colonial house), a quick audition in the production room, and an offer to learn on-the-job!

The family-owned AM day-timer (broadcasting dawn to dusk according to FCC regulations) was six miles from home. My parents reminded me that I would be sacrificing other activities. However, if I was willing to make the commitment and this is what I really wanted, they assured me that they would provide “taxi service” until I could drive.

The stars seemed to be aligning. I could now get paid to learn broadcasting at a unique radio station that could pay even more dividends for my career.

She’s a Beauty

The DH debate can lead us farther and farther away from what had attracted us to this beautiful game in the first place. All of us learned by watching.

In the beginning, we didn’t care about defensive positioning, different pitches or two-strike swings. We saw something special in that instant when bat meets ball.

That’s an elementary view of a game that offers so much more than the crack of the bat. Yet the DH leads us back to that simple time. One can get that thrill from any home run derby, video game or Sunday slow-pitch softball.

But, as we allow the deeper game to reel us in, we understand that baseball offers such incredibly rich knowledge. Tradition, yes, but I continually learn from this perfect sport. On any given day of any regular season, we can witness something that has never happened before during a professional baseball game … in 150 years!

Do we really need to “dumb it down” for MLB marketers to justify their existence? Is baseball’s demise worth stealing from the delicate balance of a lineup to satisfy a new generation that may or may not take notice?

Long ago, baseball magically fused into a three-out-per-inning, nine-inning-per-game, nine-player-per-team sport that builds on its own perfection. Each player must hit, field and run.

Early innings are just as important as later innings. Offense balances defense. Hitting balances pitching.

A team that’s behind never runs out of time. A team that’s ahead can never run out the clock.

Each team receives the same number of opportunities to win. So when we shake our heads because the bottom of our lineup is due to bat in the bottom of the 9th, we can thank that pure mathematical balance that only baseball provides to us.

I’ll never understand why the failure of weaker hitters (such as pitchers) should pose a problem in a sport where Hall of Famers fail 7 of every 10 times. No sport can expose team or individual weaknesses the way baseball can. And it’s precisely connected to the value of no free substitution.

Should a manager play his weaker-hitting shortstop with a slick glove or his offensive-minded SS who has less range or a weaker arm? Should a pitcher who’s dealing be lifted because we have a runner in scoring position in the 5th?

If you think about it, decisions like these are affected when a tenth player is added to the equation. The exception to no free substitution waters down all that the perfect nine-player sport represents.

To me, the DH is like putting a side car on a Lamborghini. It may seem convenient or even practical at times, but boy, what does it do to the overall value of what a Lamborghini represents?

 

DH Debate Continues

We began this debate in the last post, citing three quotes from those who are pro DH. Below, I’ll continue to refute their points.

4 – “Both leagues need to play by the same rules.”

Here’s something we can agree on. The current situation isn’t palatable for any of us. Especially when each league features an odd number of teams.

I’ll bet the pushers for inter-league play never saw this mess coming. The AL owners painted themselves into a greedy corner in January, 1973. At this point, MLB is stuck.

MLBPA will never relinquish the DH, (at least not without savvy bargaining agreement negotiation). That leaves MLB with the abomination we have now.

Would the MLBPA consider a 26th or even 27th active roster spot to get back to pure nine-player baseball across both leagues? That’s up to 60 more major league jobs (members).

Those additional roster spots could also alleviate any current pitching issues, such as one-inning or even one-batter relief staff. (See? I’m flexible with my traditional baseball values. Just not where the integrity of the game itself is at stake.)

5 -“The DH has been in effect for more than 40 years. It’s time.”

It’s time, all right. It’s time to stop the madness.

I could counter and say the pure game has been in effect for 150 years. I’ll take that nine-player baseball any day.

6 – “It doesn’t take a genius to double-switch.”

No one is saying you need to be sophisticated to manage or even to follow a manager’s moves. We’re just saying that a team needs to accept the penalty for substituting any player.

Guess what? That’s called “baseball”!

7 – “Look at the specialization in football.”

Football has become a product of television. Although I no longer watch it on any level, that has nothing to do with this debate.

Free substitution exists everywhere except in National League baseball (and select minor league games). Because of this, maybe … just maybe, the NL really offers something more for a sports fan. Something that no other game can offer.

We’ll pick up there in the next post.