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

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.