Category Archives: Baseball

Cleveland’s League Park: A gem restored

IMG_7809

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.

IMG_7810

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.

 

 

 

On the Fourth, reporting on a first game in Pittsburgh

IMG_7888

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Ending the year with the Baseball Solstice: Dec. 31, 2014

The high priests of baseball emerged deep from inside the clubhouse today, where they’ve been holed up since the final out of the World Series to declare Dec. 31 the Baseball Solstice between the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

The solstice each year marks the midpoint between the final out of the World Series and the first exhibition game of spring training. Pablo Sandoval recorded the final putout the night of Oct. 29 as the San Francisco Giants defeated the Kansas City Royals to win a third championship in five years. The first games between major league teams in the Cactus League and Grapefruit League seasons will be played on March 3. That means we’ll have to endure 125 days without the shouts of “Play ball!” and “Beer here!”

Why the announcement today, the last day of November — a Sunday, when most Americans are watching football? To be contrary, I suppose. And to be a bit sentimental. November touches October on the calendar, and today is the last time we’ll be able to refer to the series as having been played “last month.”

The coldest — and to baseball fans, cruelest — months lie ahead. The solstice will mark the first glimmer of hope that we’re on the downslope toward the crack of the bat. As I do every year, I recommend that baseball fans spend a bit of time on the solstice reveling in the game: A game of snowball catch in northerly climes, perhaps, or a dash around the diamond if you’re in sunnier spaces. A call to a parent or uncle or friend who introduced you to the game works well any day, but especially so on the solstice.

I ask that anyone reading this post who likes the idea please pass the solstice concept along to other baseball fans. The “next year” of “wait ’til next year” is almost here.

Editor’s Note: For the origins of the Baseball Solstice, read my first post on the subject from back in 2011.

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.