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

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.

Door Closes, Window Opens

Living near the school, I don’t have much time to think before arriving home following that first baseball practice of the season. I now realize that I need to confess to my mother, who is an RN, that my shoulders have felt weird all weekend.

Baseball activity exacerbated the situation, allowing me to experience new dimensions in pain. Just as I’d expected, no more baseball practice for me until we see the doctor.

I’ll spare you the gory details. The result? Cracked clavicle in my lead shoulder.

I wear a pressure sling for six weeks. Following that eternity, the doctor calmly tells my parents that we’ll need another couple of weeks in the sling. Ugh.

I couldn’t wait to ceremoniously burn that sling, and now I need to begin another countdown to freedom from it. The high school season is lost, but I recover enough to play teener ball with my friends.

I never recover enough to make an impression on the high school coach. I never hit well enough anyway.

My right shoulder is never treated. I still feel that sensation across my shoulders when lifting weighty items a certain way.

Now what? I absolutely love baseball. I love to play. I love its strategy.

It’s the perfectly balanced sport between team and individual performance. Its math adds up: three outs per inning, nine innings, 90 feet between perfectly squared bases. How can this part of my life become part of my future?

I listen to games on the radio. A nationally televised MLB game is a real treat when you only receive three network stations from your antenna.

I call the local radio station for advice on how to begin a career in broadcasting. Most of the rest, as they say, is history.

Day Six – I70

Thursday, June 6 – UBT Day Six

The cloud cover that slightly threatened the Royals game dissipates, giving way to bright morning sunshine. We have a (relatively) brief easterly jaunt ahead of us: 3.5 hours of I-70, the tour of Missouri’s mid-section.

We lunch on the eastern side of Columbia. The hotel Mitch selected is a few minutes walk to the train that’ll take us to the new Busch Stadium. No parking or traffic hassles. No parking fees. Just an affordable round trip train ticket. Mitch’s impeccable planning once again promotes convenience and frugality!

During our walk we pass Tom’s Bar & Grill on South Euclid, making a mental note for post-game beverages. The train ride proves much shorter than I anticipate.

Busch Stadium 3rd Base Gate - St. Louis

As we climb the steps from the platform, Busch Stadium’s third base gate, and more importantly, a statue of Stan Musial come into view. We secure our tickets, but have other priorities before game time.

As we stroll the street toward left field, a security guard on a golf cart stops to chat. The friendly guard confides that he prefers “old Busch” to the new facility.

I was still surprised after he presented his reasons, but of course, I’d never been to either one. I wasn’t about to allow his opinion to influence my first impression.

After he wished us a fun evening, we continued on our way to Mike Shannon’s Steaks and Seafood. Rather than an upscale dinner, we were mostly interested in the memorabilia, which is everywhere.

Mitch and I each sip one AmberBock draft before we head back toward the ballpark. On the block in between, we’re greeted by a street vendor preparing cheesesteaks and a large outdoor room in which to enjoy them. We take our seats to partake while watching baseball highlights on one of several flat screens adorning the walls.

Now comes time to enter the “new Busch” along with nearly 44,000 others. Not a bad turnstile evening for a Thursday in early June.

Mitch and I adhere to our usual exploration. Below us, two 1st place teams, the D-Backs and Cards, each cross the plate twice in the 1st inning.

Arizona puts up a 3-spot in both the 7th and 9th frames and still lose, 12-8, thanks to a St. Louis snowman in the 4th. Ian Kennedy sticks around through 4 IP for a 13 H, 10 ER, 3 HR line. That’ll make the ol’ ERA soar in a hurry.

It doesn’t get any better for Matt Reynolds in the 5th. He surrenders another pair of long balls so the D-Backs’ late surge only gets them within 4. Starting and winning pitcher, Shelby Miller, even registers a dinger.

The early laugher gives us an opportunity to check out the stadium even more closely. A kids’ play area in right center’s family section is enormous. A party bar occupies the area above the batter’s eye.

The openness in left is by design to allow a game view for “rooftop grandstands” across the street. This is on the property of the former Busch and is currently under construction to include shops and restaurants.

In fact, as we exit an outfield gate, we discover the “former Busch” foul line marked across the sidewalk and onto the wall of the new park. A plaque tells the story. Very cool!

Maybe it’s because of how Mitch and I enjoy exploring new parks; maybe it’s due in part to the open left field; we find that this stadium seems to impede your progress as you attempt to travel up and down levels. More than once we attempt to shift from one level to another, but only discover escalators going up when we want to go down and vice versa.

At one point, we find only flights of stairs that lead us down to a dead end. An usher is stationed there to assist weary explorers like ourselves. Again, maybe this isn’t an issue for 44,000 others, but the other MLB parks we visited this week were much easier to navigate. That could be what the security guard had alleged this afternoon.

The Arch from Upper Level - Busch Stadium - St. Louis

It certainly is a picturesque view as my late afternoon iPhone pic (above), taken from an upper deck, can attest. Here’s another instance, such as PNC Park in Pittsburgh, where it seems the city was painted around the stadium.

After snapping photos for other visitors next to the “Stan the Man” statue, we descend the stairs to board the next train. The brief ride followed by a short walk take us back to Tom’s, where we belly up to the bar for some local craft brews and baseball highlights.

As we continue our stroll toward our hotel, we pick up sandwiches for a late bite. The hotel features a patio where we enjoy our late night snack in the cool night air.
Brian Williams
From Deep Short

Day Five Nightcap

Wednesday, June 5 – UBT Day Five

Day Five has already been a great day, yet a ball game awaits at Kauffman Stadium. On our way to the hotel, Mitch spots something you don’t see every day (unless you live in Kansas City): a cow on a pillar on a hill high above the treetops. We’re thinking this bovine is somehow related to CowParade Kansas City, but someone in the know can (hopefully) provide the true story.Steer on a Pier - Kansas City

Our hotel is conveniently just across the Interstate from the ballpark. As we arrive, we see plenty of both Twins and Royals gear. I guess we aren’t the only ones on a baseball trip this week!

Fortunately, the hotel room offers my favorite view. (Below is an actual shot I took from the hotel room window.) I’ve stayed in hotel rooms in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Cleveland where I’m actually closer to the stadium, but this is as close to Kauffman as one can stay.

Kauffman Stadium from Hotel Window - Kansas City

We don’t have much time if we want to enjoy our usual pre-game. As a starting pitcher prepares on game day, Mitch and I need to soak in the park early to enjoy the amenities before the first pitch.

Shuttle buses leave the hotel parking lot every few minutes. We step onto one with several Twins and Royals fans.

There’s a buzz of excitement as the driver asks baseball trivia questions. Eager fans respond.

Kauffman Stadium Pregame - Kansas City

We pull up to a gate where Mitch and I acquire our tickets for the evening. After a quick jaunt around part of the outside of the stadium, we enter and head for the fountains.

I never realized how close they were to the playing field or to the spectators. See the fence behind Brett’s statue below? It’s directly adjacent to the fountains.George Brett Statue - Kauffman Stadium - Kansas City

Across the concourse from the fountains, a sign promotes college student Happy Hour: hot dog and craft draft for $7. Usually unheard of in MLB parks, so Mitch and I partake.

After snapping some fountain and statue photos, we head toward left field and the Royals Hall of Fame. A brief video with stadium seating (second time today, I know!) precede Royals memorabilia and a shop featuring Hall of Famer gear.

You can also take your photo on a bench next to a statue of Buck O’Neil. (Both of us did. Surprised?)

Behind the concourse (away from the left field wall) from the Hall of Fame is a netted mini-ballpark, where younger employees/interns pitch whiffle balls to youngsters. This was a great, unexpected family gem. Mitch and I wanted to participate, but decided to allow for some dignity. Looked like fun though!

Kauffman Stadium Scoreboard from LF - Kansas City

At this point in the season, Minnesota is ahead of the Royals in the AL Central. The game starts out offensively. Josh Willingham knocks in a 1st inning run off Jeremy Guthrie, but the Royals answer with 3 in their half. Thanks to Salvador Perez and Billy Butler accounting for 5 of KC’s 8 hits, the home team pockets a 4-1 win.

Throughout the game, Mitch and I make our usual rounds for different perspectives. One perspective eludes us, however: the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat.Buck O'Neil Legacy Seat - Kauffman Stadium - Kansas City

The only differently colored seat in the stadium is behind home plate in the Diamond Club area. Near the end of the game, we strike up a conversation with an usher, who radios to the usherette near the Legacy Seat.

“Can these gentlemen take photos after the game?” She responds that we could once the Diamond Club area clears out.

It’s worth the wait. Especially considering the meaning behind it.

Following the game, we look forward to a frothy beverage or two and maybe an appetizer in the hotel’s sports bar. That’s when we discover a true marketing gaffe.

While on the shuttle van, we agree that I’d get a table for us while Mitch drops off his camera in the room. We figure that post-game celebrations would abound in such a convenient venue with a captive and thirsty hotel audience.

I’m a little surprised to only see a few folks at the bar and none seated at the many tables. The waitress invites me to sit anywhere, but they aren’t serving food. Mitch is in disbelief when I relay the message.

Okay, it’s barely 10 PM after more than 12,000 people leave a baseball game across the street. You’d think they’d want to keep the kitchen open a couple of hours to serve a percentage of them 81 days a year.

So we check apps. We have to drive away from the hotel to pay someone else to satisfy our appetites. Am I missing something here?
Brian Williams
From Deep Short

Kansas City, Here We Come

After a few more photos from outside Werner Park, we bid farewell to Omaha and begin our journey toward today’s Game 2 in Kansas City, KS, where the T-Bones await us.

The weather no longer threatens as we travel back into Iowa over a two-lane iron toll bridge. Back to hugging the Iowa-Nebraska state line, we cross into Missouri and eventually sneak into far eastern Kansas. I’d been to Kansas City and the Overland Park area many times, but never for baseball.

Community America Ballpark is nestled near Kansas Speedway and rows of every franchise retailer and restaurant you can imagine. The same light colored brick adorns each building. The entire area appears brand new and well planned.
Community America Ballpark Parking Lot - Kansas City
As more fans arrive, we make our way across the parking lot to the ticket window. The modern brick exterior is inviting, clean and appearing new although this park is ten years old in 2013.

The T-Bones match up against the Sioux City Explorers tonight. After the miles we covered since Fargo last night, I can’t help but think about the travel for these teams: bus rides covering El Paso, St. Paul, Fargo, Gary (Indiana), and even Winnipeg.
Community America Ballpark Action - Kansas City

Community America Ballpark RF - Kansas CityYou can walk all around the playing field with the now popular grassy areas beyond right field. The building behind the sloped grass houses games for kids.
Sean Toler in T-Bones Pen - Kansas City
Mitch and I stroll about and stop near the T-Bones pen. We’re intrigued by how close the fans could be to Sean Toler, who begins to loosen for an eventual appearance in the 8th inning. We remain here until Toler gets the call and races toward the mound.

Unfortunately for the T-Bones, Sioux City scratches out an unearned run in the 8th to win a well-pitched game, 2-1. Toler takes the hard luck loss.

After the game we settle into a Holiday Inn downtown on the Missouri side, the only Holiday Inn we’ve ever experienced with a 7-11 attached. We loosely plan the next day over a Slurpee and MLB highlights.

Since we’re staying in the area, we definitely want Kansas City barbecue. We need to decide between two breweries to visit. Plus, we promise ourselves a priority stop before Wednesday night’s game, part of our overall trip plan since January.

Little did we know, UBT magic would take over yet again following a good night’s rest.


Brian Williams
From Deep Short