Cleveland’s League Park: A gem restored

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I wore my old-time “skimmer” — just like the “cranks” who followed baseball early in the 20th century — to the refurbished League Park in Cleveland. The infield can be seen to the right beyond the fence.

June was a good baseball month for me: Not only did I get to take in my first game at Pittsburgh, but on a trip back to my hometown of Cleveland I visited the old location of League Park.

The park was the full-time or part-time home of Cleveland professional baseball [go ahead, insert your stinging Cleveland joke here] from 1891 through 1950. Four years later, most of the park was demolished. In all my years growing up in Cleveland, I never visited, and until arriving a few weekends ago I didn’t expect to find much there.

How wrong I was. On site is a beautiful new ball field in the same funky dimensions as the old League Park, where so many great players of the past rounded the bases. Even more surprising, a summer college game was being played between teams from Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

The ballpark is alive again, thanks to the City of Cleveland investing in a rebuilding project completed in 2014.

There’s no grandstand, and only a few fans were parked along the sidelines in lawn chairs with umbrellas shielding them from the sun. But a game was underway, and that made me very, very happy.

We arrived too late in the day to tour the small Baseball Heritage Museum in the park’s old ticket house. It’s a good reason for me to go back, only this time I won’t wait 60 years.

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Not much is left of the old park save for the old ticket house and a portion of the wall along Lexington Avenue. This is shot from inside the old park. The illustrations feature former players from major and Negro leagues, including (from left) Quincy Trouppe, Bill “Wamby” Wambsganns Bob Feller and mural artist Jerome White.

 

 

 

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On the Fourth, reporting on a first game in Pittsburgh

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Here it is, the Fourth of July, 2017, and the day is perfect for baseball. I couldn’t make it out to a game today, but I was able to catch the San Francisco Giants defeat the Pirates 2-1 in Pittsburgh on Saturday.

The game — my first in Pittsburgh — was a delight. Under a sunny sky, we sat down the right field line looking out onto the field and getting a panoramic view of the whole park (photo above was snapped a bit before game time). PNC Park lived up to its reputation. The setting is dramatic, nestled along the rivers and amid the brides spanning them. The stadium pays homage to Pirates greats of the past with statues of Honus Wagner, Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, and today’s players are featured on banners ringing the park.

Bars and restaurants hard by the park were busy if not packed before and after the game, and crossing the Clemente bridge into the downtown core afterwards we found a thrumming crowd at Market Square.

IMG_7883This thriving scene in central Pittsburgh is how things should be in American cities, with baseball bringing in big crowds of couples and families catching a game and maybe grabbing a beer or sandwich or two before and after.

For me, the visit to PNC Park had a sentimental side. As I’ve noted before, my father grew up a Pirates fan and had always wanted to take me to a game at old Forbes Field. As I finally made it to a Pirates’ game, I was pleased to have my younger son, one of my nephews and his wife and daughter with me.

So how could I not pick up a cap? I bought a late 70s-style gold and black Pirates cap for $10 off a vendor at the foot of the Clemente bridge. It will help keep alive the memory of fine day at the ballpark for many years to come.

 

 

 

The 2016 Baseball Solstice

After the 2016 World Series ended in a nationwide outpouring of anguish over the Cleveland Indians’ heart-rending loss
in worldwide jubilation over the Chicago Cubs’ victory ending more than a century of frustration, the realization slowly sunk in that another winter without baseball was approaching.

We’re in the thick of that long, agonizing, “wait ’til next year” layoff, but a glimmer of hope flickers in the night: the annual Baseball Solstice is just one week away.

The solstice — the midpoint on the calendar between the last out of the World Series (early the morning of Nov. 3 this year) and the first pitch of exhibition ball at spring training (Feb. 24, 2017, in Arizona and Florida) — will be marked Dec. 30.

For me, the solstice will be sweeter this year. Last year at this time, I was recuperating from surgery for prostate cancer. I just passed a full year without any detectable sign of cancer in me, and I’m mighty grateful for the excellent care I’ve received from my surgeon,  and the great support I’ve received from family and friends.

As we head to the new year, I’m hoping for continued good health for many seasons to come. Maybe the Indians will actually win the series one of these years!

 

 

 

Flash! It’s the 2016 Baseball Solstice

Happy New Year and Happy Baseball Solstice, everyone! Today — January 1st — not only is the first day of the new calendar year but it’s also the midpoint between the last out of the 2015 World Series 2015 and the first pitches of Spring Training exhibition games on March 1.

I dreamt up the Baseball Solstice back in 2011 while recuperating from surgery and contemplating a long winter without the sport I love most. As 2016 begins, I’m again recovering from surgery, on the mend and very much looking forward to the new season.

To celebrate the solstice, I recommend that all fans connect with baseball in some way today. Watch a baseball movie like “A League of Their Own,” call your Mom or Dad or the uncle or aunt who helped you learn and love the game. Take your kids outside to play catch, with a snowball if necessary.

Me? I’m reading “1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever” by Bill Madden. I’m about four chapters in and it’s a terrific read. I have a sense of foreboding that, in the end, things aren’t going to work out terribly well for my beloved Cleveland Indians.

Today I also figure to play with my younger son a new baseball dice and board game, “Bottom of the 9th,” that he got me for Christmas.  And speaking of gifts, my friend Andy in Los Angeles sent me the light-up San Francisco Giants displayed above, a wonderful addition to my collection of caps.

The Baseball Solstice represents hope and renewal. Please celebrate responsibly, and play ball!

 

Setting the annual Baseball Solstice

IMG_5776With the temperature flirting with 70 degrees today here in New Jersey, I’m aching for baseball even as I acknowledge we must endure weeks of winter before we hear “Play ball!” again.

So it’s high time to announce the annual Baseball Solstice, that precise point between the final out of the World Series and the first pitch of exhibition games renewing America’s Pastime for the next season.

The 2015 series ended at 12:30 a.m. EDT on Nov. 2 in New York as Wilmer Flores of the Mets struck out and the Kansas City Royals celebrated the end of a 30-year championship drought.

Those of us pulling for the Mets must wait till next year, in humiliating fashion for me as my sisters-in-law in the Kansas City area expressed their love by sending me a box full of Royals duds and swag.

It will be March 1 when we again hear the crack of the bat in the first handful of Grapefruit League games in Florida and one in the Cactus League in Arizona. (Follow Countdown to Spring Training for a daily dose of encouragement.)

That makes for an interval of 119 days, and thus we must fix the solstice on January 1, 2016, the first day of the new year on the secular calendar observed by fans of football, hockey, basketball, soccer and squash.

But we baseball fans know the day belongs to us.

So get out there that day and play some catch with someone you love or like (yes, even somebody in Dodger blue). Read some Roger Angell. Or watch a DVD showing highlights (singular, if you’re a Phillies fan) of your team’s 2015 season.

As the offseason deals continue to scramble rosters and cruelly give hope to Cubs fans, there’s no need for speculating on which team will prevail in 2016. It’s an even year, and it’s bye, bye baby: The San Francisco Giants will take it all.

 

 

 

 

 

A farewell to the Freak? I hope not

Just yesterday morning, waking up and moping over the morning news that the Giants had fallen to the Dodgers for a second consecutive night, I got to thinking that it would do the world good to see Tim Lincecum back on the mound.

Today, I woke up here on the East Coast to the news that the Dodgers had swept the Giants, which was bad enough. But then came the cruel word via Twitter that Tim Lincecum is done for the season.  After arthroscopic surgery in Colorado, he may have thrown his last pitch for San Francisco.

Say it ain’t so!

I’ve followed the Giants for the last 20-plus years, all the more passionately in recent years since the bloated Barry Bonds left their employ. So many dynamic players have donned their orange, black and cream uniforms in recent years, it’s hard to pick one’s favorite: MadBum, Buster, B-Craw, Kung Fu Panda, the Baby Giraffe, Sergio Roma, Brian “Fear the Beard” Wilson, Cainer, Hunter Pence and the signs that tauntingly follow him.

As great as they all are (or have been), nobody tops Timmy.

With his long hair and slashing delivery, Lincecum packed overpowering stuff into his relatively slight frame. Each time he took the mound, particularly in his early years, timed perfectly with the arrival of Twitter as a fan-bonding vehicle, the atmosphere was electric. “Happy Lincecum Day!” we tweeted, and those strikeout-stuff starts were must-see events.

But Lincecum’s appeal went beyond his dominating performances. A free spirit, Timmy embodied the free-wheeling nature of San Francisco and San Franciscans. After getting busted for pot possession in his home state of Washington, Lincecum grew even more popular. Vendors sold lots of “Let Timmy Smoke” T-shirts around AT&T Park (wish I’d bought one!).

Even as we started seeing signs of the inevitable decline, Lincecum continued to impress. His relief appearances were critically important to the Giants’ 2012 World Series victory. He tossed no hitters in 2013 and last year.

I don’t know what the future holds for Tim Lincecum, but I do know the past.

As a man and a fan, I’m wistful, while the kid in me is crying.

Meet the Matz

Another reason to like the Mets.

The On Deck Circle

Yesterday afternoon in Queens, New York, starting pitcher Steve Matz, making his Major League debut against the Cincinnati Reds, watched as the first batter he ever faced, Brandon Phillips, smacked a lead-off homer over the left-field wall.

The home crowd of 29,635 could never have guessed what would happen next.

Matz, apparently, had the Reds right where he wanted them.

The Long Island lefty, who grew up a Mets fan, quickly recovered his composure and shut down the Reds the rest of the way (other than a Todd Frazier solo homer in the 4th) on two runs and five hits through seven and two-thirds innings pitched.  Matz fanned six while walking three.  Of his 110 pitches, he threw 72 for strikes.

That manager Terry Collins let Matz go out and start the eighth inning after Matz had already thrown 90+ pitches through seven innings had as much to do with…

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