Category Archives: Baseball

You can’t slide home again: A trip to the diamond of my youth

The Denison Park baseball field in Cleveland Heights, or what remains of it.

The Denison Park baseball field in Cleveland Heights, or what remains of it.

Several weeks ago I was back in the neighborhood where I grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and I took a stroll down Memory Lane. More accurately, I walked up and down Bluestone Road, the major thoroughfare of my youth, connecting our home on Erieview Road to my grade school in neighboring South Euclid. In between was Denison Park, where I played hundreds upon hundreds of ball games and practices over the years.

I’ve always joked that if I succumb to Alzheimer’s and disappear, put out a Silver Alert that I’ll turn up on the left side of the infield at the Denison baseball field. Even now, I can conjure up the dirt beneath me and I use the toe of my cleats to smooth out a spot at shortstop where I’d crouch and ready myself for the next pitch. With my dad or my buddies or a coach shouting “charge it,” I raced in for countless dribblers to bare-hand and bounders that I’d try to glove at “the top of the hop.” For every grounder I stopped straight on or backhanded, I booted or bobbled another or watched it sail through my legs toward the thick green grass behind me.

In my head, I’m still brushing the dirt off my uniform after snagging a liner on a dive, or whirling and dashing madly back to run down a pop fly in shallow left field.

I can see my CYO coaches, Mr. Spada and Mr. Byrne, watching me whip the ball sidearm to first, impressed but speculating there might be something wrong because I didn’t throw overhand. (I made the team that year, 7th grade, and came back as captain in 8th grade.)

Yes, that swath of dirt at Denison was sacred ground to me, and I wanted to walk it again on my return to Cleveland over the summer. Except that the ball field is gone.

It’s been replaced by the picnic pavilion shown above, which covers a big chunk of the old infield. The area I used to patrol at short is roughly where a group of barbecue grills stand behind the pavilion. The plaque honoring the park founder has been swiped from the boulder that used to sit behind the backstop.

Disappointing, yes, that that old ball field is gone. Even more disappointing: there is no baseball diamond at the park, although the tennis and basketball courts remain and there’s an immaculate new soccer field with artificial turf dominating the center of the park.

IMG_4282My nostalgic mood didn’t improve when I decided to visit the house my maternal grandparents rented in the 1960s on E. 98th Street at Elwell Avenue in Cleveland. The house, the first one on the left as you turn onto the dead-end block, is gone. A grass lot with no trace of a foundation is all that’s there, and the old landlord’s home beside it facing Elwell is heavily boarded and probably is vacant. And on a telephone pole  between the two houses is a sign saying “No ball playing allowed.”

I’ve been stewing on that day of soured nostalgia for a number of weeks, and it’s pointing me to the inevitable decision to stop writing this blog. From the start, I wanted the blog to be something that would express something fresh and interesting on the sport I love, initially using the caps I’ve collected as a peg for posts. I pushed the blog hard for a couple of years, and I enjoyed getting involved in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, especially for making a number of friends among my fellow bloggers.

This season, my posts have been sparse, and I’ve neglected my alliance duties almost entirely, and maybe that’s for best. In my last post trying to stay current, I picked the Texas Rangers to win the World Series.

I don’t want this blog to devolve into a series of old-man memories of how much better baseball was “back in the day.” I believe firmly the game is still as vibrant and entertaining and special as ever. Look no further than the terrific World Series between my San Francisco Giants and those upstart Kansas City Royals.

It’s a great game, but it’s time for me to head to the blogging showers. I plan one more, likely final post, once the World Series ends. That’s to fix the date for the next Baseball Solstice, marking the mid-point between the last game of the series and the first exhibition game of spring training. If anything lasts from this blog, I’d like it to be that the solstice — my little brainstorm from a couple of long winters ago — gains broad acceptance among baseball fans. That and the notion that baseball is the thread that ties so many families and friends together through the generations.

Meet the Mets: A first visit to Citi Field

Citi FieldSpending a day at the ballpark with family is always a treat, and yesterday I had the special pleasure of visiting Citi Field for the first time to catch a game with both my sons.

With a temperature in the low 80s, a nice breeze and seats in the shade in Section 311, conditions were perfect to watch the Mets show a surprising outburst of power in defeating the Texas Rangers 8-4 in an inter-league game.

Getting to the ballpark was a breeze, a quick 20-minute train ride from Penn Station on the Long Island Railroad. From there it was a short walk across a boardwalk and through a subway station to the park, a gleaming brick structure festooned with banners of Mets greats from the past. Inside were  all the amenities you expect from a modern stadium. The concourses were wide and offered a convenient selection of food stands and rest rooms without seeming hyper commercialized as I’ve experienced at other parks (see AT&T Park, San Francisco, for Exhibit A).

Our seats were comfortable, the view unobstructed, the sound system excellent, the passageways clear of debris. Had it not been for the pigeons swooping overhead and lighting on the speakers, I almost thought I wasn’t in New York City. But it’s hard to forget you’re in the Big Apple when the oversized guy in the blue and orange jersey three rows in front bellows over his beer cup most of the game. One or two knuckleheads aside, the crowd was family-friendly and well-behaved.

The Citi Field wifi worked flawlessly — something I haven’t found at the parks in Cleveland, Philadelphia or San Francisco in recent visits. So chalk up one more positive for Citi Field. I hope to visit again soon.

 

 

My National League picks for the 2014 baseball season

These picks and $3 will get you a coffee and donut at Dunkin’ Donuts:

East

1. Atlanta – Top of a weak heap

2. Washington – They’ll make it interesting

3. New York – Struggle, they will

4. Philadelphia – It’ll be a long summer

5. Marlins – It’s always a long summer

Central

1. St. Louis – The team to beat in the NL

2. Piitsburgh – Another fine year

3. Cincinnati – Missing it by “this much”

4. Chicago – Friendly confines but little more

5. Milwaukee – It pains me to place them here

West

1. Los Angeles – It pains me to place them here

2. Diamondbacks – On the upswing

3. San Francisco – Rotation is beginning to fade

4. San Diego – This will be a tight race; they could go higher

5. Colorado – Another year or two of scraping bottom

At the risk of having all my fellow Giants fans bail forever, I’m picking the Dodgers to take the NL pennant and (brighten up, Bay Area!) lose to the Rangers in the World Series.

My Amerian League picks for the 2014 baseball season

These picks and $4.50 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks:

East

1. Boston — Sizemore, win more

2. New York — A close second

3. Tampa Bay — Another “so close” season

4. Baltimore — One of these years, but not 2014

5. Toronto — Still the best team in Canada

Central

1. Detroit — Too much talent

2. Cleveland — Playoffs again, if briefly

3. Kansas City — Better, but not best

4. Chicago — Poor

5. Minnesota — Poorer

West

1. Rangers — Too many bats not to prevail

2. Oakland — All-around strength

3. Los Angeles — Persistent under-achievers

4. Houston — Wild hunch; I may be the only one on the planet not to pick them last

5. Mariners — Sorry and soggy year ahead

I predict the Rangers will make it to the World Series and win the whole shootin’ match, to use Texas phraseology.

Agreed: The Tribe should retire Chief Wahoo

The Plain Dealer came out forcefully in an editorial Friday recommending that the Cleveland Indians drop their long-serving, cartoonish mascot, Chief Wahoo.

I agree.

Years ago, I didn’t.

I made the usual arguments: Chief Wahoo is part of our Cleveland heritage, a rallying point for the whole community — black and white — that unites behind its team. The Indians are named in honor of a native American ballplayer, Louis Sockalexis (who went to Holy Cross College 80 years before I did).

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Now that I’ve had a couple of decades to consider the issue, I’ve changed my perspective. There’s no getting around the fact that Chief Wahoo, a product of an earlier era, is a stereotypical caricature who offends not only Native Americans but many other minorities and a lot of white folk who wish we Americans would put racial and ethnic divisiveness behind us.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken on Chief Wahoo in this blog, started in 2008 with the idea that it might be fun to use baseball caps as a jumping off point for discussing baseball and other sports. After a “hello world” entry, in my first true post I analyzed the Cleveland Indians cap, a natural in that I am a Cleveland native who grew up in Cleveland Heights as a diehard fan of the Tribe.

Toward the end of the post, I “came out” against Chief Wahoo. My commitment has only deepened over time, and I was glad to see The Plain Dealer make its case.

Notably, the PD doesn’t say that the Chief Wahoo logo should be obliterated. It is part of Cleveland and baseball heritage.

But like the Chief Wahoo sign that topped old Municipal Stadium, it belongs in a museum, to be visited occasionally as a reminder of the good times we associate with it, and of the shame we should feel from a less-enlightened era.

Baseball: The Winter Game

Yes, baseball is the summer game. But that is precisely why it resonates so warmly in the dead of winter for those of us in cold climes.

As I write this post on a Sunday morning from my home in  New Jersey, a good deal of snow still dominates the view through the picture window of our family room. A leonine storm is headed our way today on this second day of March, threatening to dump several inches of snow and probably a bit of ice on us once more. The forecast low temperature for Monday is 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Yet this afternoon I can turn on the transistor radio or, more accurately, fire up the MLB app on my iPhone or iPad and listen to a spring training game from Florida or Arizona. Yesterday, I tuned in to disappointment: the Indians and Giants were both rained out, and the Phillies had wrapped up. I thought I’d try the Brewers-Dodgers, but the only options were LA broadcasts (no thank you). So I managed to catch a couple innings of the Pirates and Rays before errands chased me off the couch and into the cold.

It’s been a long winter across much of the United States, and I’ve had little inspiration to post the last couple of months. But the sound of bat meeting ball coming through a tinny speaker from a distant Snowbird stadium does wonders for one’s mood. It is hope, springing eternal.

 

 

 

Phillies fans are a passionate lot

As I put my purchase onto the checkout counter at the sporting goods store, the clerk looked me in the eye and said bluntly, “Why did you take Hunter Pence from us?”Image

In a split second, I realized that this young man was a Phillies fan and had noticed my San Francisco Giants cap.

“I wasn’t involved,” I replied. “But what I can’t understand is why the Phillies let him go.”

Such exchanges with strangers aren’t unique here in the greater Philadelphia area, where fans are gonzo for their teams. And I like that.

Today’s episode — in the middle of the off-season, mind you — was at the Dick’s store in Princeton, N.J., nearly an hour’s drive to Citizens Bank Park. The exchange was similar to one I had with an Acme grocery store clerk shortly after I moved into our new home two summers back. I was wearing a Tim Lincecum T-shirt. The clerk at the register eyed it and said, “Why aren’t you a Phillies fan?”

“Hey, I just moved here from California,” I said. “I’m a Giants fan but I like the Phillies.”

The clerk’s reply?

“Lincecum sucks.”