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.

 

 

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!

“Everyone Knows It’s Indy”

Friday, June 7 – UBT Day Seven

Getting on the road in St. Louis, we take a slight detour to grab a sandwich at a place recommended to us by a friend of Mitch. As we roll by shortly after 11 AM, there’s a line out the door of the small city establishment. The line continues around the corner!

The sandwiches must be as advertised, but we decide to forego the delay considering we have 240+ miles to travel before tonight’s game. The line of hungry patrons also reminds me of something my Dad’s been saying since I was a youngster: “I stood in enough lines in the army.”

We agree to catch a bite along the way when we stop for fuel. This must have been a day of reflection for me, because this seemingly small decision triggers another thought. Not just today, not just on this week’s massive UBT undertaking, but Mitch and I always seem to agree with plans … even when they don’t always go according to plan.

Having the same passion for baseball, craft/micro-brews and a variety of food plays a part, I’m sure. Plus, both of us consider ourselves fortunate (extremely understanding spouses, enough vacation time, etc.) to take trips like this, so we never sweat the small stuff.

We cross through Illinois. Shortly after we’re in Indiana, it’s time for a fuel stop — both for the truck and for us. We eat on the go, because we still need to get to Indianapolis, check in to our hotel, and experience tonight’s first pitch.

Lucas Oil Stadium from Hotel Parking Lot - Indianapolis

Our hotel is literally in the shadow of a huge domed building. Football fans may understand the use for this place (above). Our focus is on checking in, dropping off our bags, and walking to Victory Field.

Our walk takes us by a huge coal-fired power plant, which contrasts the clean, new look of Lucas Oil Stadium, but looms nearly as large. At the end of the block rests Victory Field.

Victory Field from LF - Indianapolis

The outfield gate at the corner of West and Maryland looks inviting, featuring brick and an iron gate to match its surroundings. The sidewalk is brick as you approach the entrance.

Just inside, an outfield concourse welcomes ticket holders with concessions and games. A spacious grass bank circling the outfield offers relaxing views of the action.

Families already begin to spread blankets in anticipation of Friday night baseball. Behind the banks and walkway is another roomy, tree-shaded area for children to play, safe from the action.

Mitch and I find craft beverages and an engaging usher on the concourse behind the Indians dugout. We also chat with a local businessman who enjoys the proximity of professional football and baseball with his son.

The concourse displays banners depicting players who’ve graced the current and former Victory Field. This modern version opened in 1996 yet rivals newer parks in many ways.

Former Royals farmhand, Mike Montgomery, takes the ball for the Durham Bulls. Another former Royals prospect plays right field. See how close you could be to Wil Myers?

Wil Myers, RF - Victory Field - Indianapolis

Montgomery steals the show, hurling 7+ innings of no-hit ball. Leslie Anderson and Shelley Duncan provide long ball support and a 4-0 lead, but four walks force Montgomery to the side after reaching his pitch count.

The pen and defense immediately unravel as the home team records a 6-spot in the 8th. Tony Sanchez ropes a clutch RBI double in that big inning.

This game represents the most baseball drama we’ve witnessed since Omaha. The Pirates AAA team hangs on to win, 6-5, sending nearly 14,000 fans home happy. On the other hand, Mitch and I strike out in search of food and beers.

We stroll past a couple of high-class places, one of which spills out onto the sidewalk. On the same block we enter the local Rockbottom. A late dinner, some Red Ales and IPAs, more baseball highlights, and a leisurely walk back to the hotel cap off another perfect UBT evening.
Brian Williams
From Deep Short