Tag 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It’s been replaced by the picnic pavilion shown above, which covers a big chunk of the old infield.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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

Marking the Baseball Solstice with a list of Top 10 moments

To mark the Baseball Solstice, I’ve been contemplating the greatest moments in baseball history. A number of these came to mind instantly, a few of them took a bit more prodding of the memory banks.

This list is strictly my own reckoning on this date. Ask me in a few weeks or a few months, and some of the items may change — although the top three to five would likely stick.

10. The Amazin’ Mets win the 1969 World Series. The expansion Mets were a miserable franchise in the 1960s (no comment on subsequent decades) and their defeat of the Orioles was as exhilirating as it was surprising. I should note that I was rooting for the Orioles, yet even as a kid I thought the Mets were quite the story.

9. Cal RIpken breaks Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played. Gehrig’s once unassailable record fell when Cal took the field that night, an event that connected the glory days of the past to what was then the present day.

8. Billy Buckner boots the grounder at first base. The Red Sox were oh so close to breaking the curse of the Bambino, and then Buckner let the ball go between his legs. It would be several more years before the Red Sox would finally win their first World Series  since the first decade of the century.

7. The George Brett pine tar bat incident. Never have I seen anything so uproariously funny during a baseball game. Brett charged from the dugout like a demon, screaming bloody murder. Later it came out that Billy Martin had waited for the ultimate moment to call the pine tar violation, which makes the incident even funnier.

6. Who’s On First? OK, so this isn’t a real baseball moment. But Abbot and Costello’s classic routine underscores baseball’s relevance in American culture better than anything.

5. Babe Ruth calls his shot. We know that “Who’s on First” was made up, but the Ruth legend is somewhere in between fact and fiction. That the famous gesture to center field was issued in a Yankees’ defeat of the Cubs in the World Series tells me without a doubt it really happened.

4. Lou Gehrig’s “luckiest man” farewell address. This sad yet sweet moment under the echoing arches of Yankee Stadium is undeniably one of the great ones. It’s a reminder of the nobility of man, and that baseball can break your heart.

3. Roger Maris hits his 61st home run. Through all the relentless pressure he faced, Maris still managed to launch home run No. 61 off Tracy Stallard in 1961. He broke Babe Ruth’s single-season record that day. And he did it witout any hint of performance-enhancing drugs.

2. Willie Mays catch at the Polo Grounds. In Game One of the 1954 World Series, Vic Wertz ripped a monster drive into cavernous center field. Mays raced straight back and brought the ball to earth and, his cap flying off, hurls the ball back toward the plate. The Indians, the winningest regular-season team ever, were toast and lost to the Giants in four straight.

1. The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.  Bobby Thompson smacked a home run off Brooklyn’s Ralph Branca to give the Giants a victory in the final of a three-game playoff series to determine the National League champion. It was the ultimate “walk-off” moment, immortalized by Russ Hodges’ radio call: “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”

It’s nearly time to celebrate the 2013 Baseball Solstice

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The Baseball Solstice draws nigh. This Sunday, Dec. 29, marks the midpoint between the end of the World Series and the beginning of Spring Training games in Arizona and Florida.

Just as Rocky Balboa “invented” the names “Cuff” and “Link” for his turtles, I invented the baseball solstice in 2011 as I contemplated disconsolately the long winter ahead without the crack of the bat. As I saw it, since at least the time of the Druids humans have been figuring out ways to hold a party in the midst of the coldest months of the year. Why should we baseball fans be any different?

How to mark the occasion? In the past I’ve suggested that people engage in some sort of “baseball activity.” That could mean hauling out an old record album or VHS tape of some past season of your favorite team — 1995 Indians, anyone? — and reliving the glory (or near glory, in the case of Cleveland). If you’re lucky enough to live in a climate where you can play ball any month, by all means go outside and play catch with your dad or your kids. And if you’re stuck in ice-bound Maine or Michigan, get out the Strat-O-Matic board and roll the dice to re-enact a great season past.

You could even dig out your old mitt and give it a restorative leather treatment. Merely picking it up and smelling the leather will get you in the mood for the 2014 season.

The important thing on the solstice is to do something meaningful involving baseball, even if it’s merely sitting in an easy chair and pondering the warm memories of Little League games in which you made multiple errors (sometimes on one play) or that fantastic evening you had at Fenway Park when the Yankees and the Red Sox went at it hammer and tong.

The best Black Friday deal? The Baseball Solstice is one month away!

The Baseball Solstice is just one month away. On Dec. 29, we baseball fans in the know will mark the midpoint in the long, barren gap between the end of the World Series and the opening of spring exhibition games.

If you’ve been up early shopping today, it might help you get through the packed aisles and long lines to know that after today, there will be fewer days without baseball than we’ve gone without them.

I’d greatly appreciate it you’d share the news of the approaching solstice with fellow baseball fans. The solstice is a splendid way to honor the game we love, even in the dead of winter when there’s nothing happening between the foul lines.