I caught my first ball game of the year at John Thurman Field in Modesto, watching the hometown Nuts defeat the Stockton Ports 4-0. It was a special night, hanging out with a couple of buddies from work and getting an unexpected tribute from the ball club.
Before the game along the concourse I came across Mike Gorassi, the Nuts’ vice president and general manager and a very nice guy. I mentioned that it would likely be my last Nuts game for a while, as I’m taking a new job back east next month.
We had great seats behind home plate, and in the sixth inning the Nuts’ crowd-stirring guy “Mike on the Mic” sauntered over and took a seat next to me. Next thing I knew, I was on camera on the big screen as Mike told the crowd about me and presented me a special Nuts baseball.
That was pretty cool, a delightful reminder of how special baseball is. The ball will be displayed prominently in my new office, to which I’ll bring fond memories of many wonderful days and nights at the old ball game in Modesto.
Opening Day in baseball always brings up memories for me, most of them taking me back to the finger-stinging cold that usually accompanied an Indians opener on the shore of Lake Erie. And somehow this week popped into mind Gomer Hodge, a utility infielder who was the toast of Cleveland in April 1971.
Keep in mind that in those days, the name Gomer was fully in the public consciousness because of the simple country boy Gomer Pyle character that Jim Nabors played on the Andy Griffith show and on Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
Gomer Hodge had labored in the Indians farm system for eight years before getting his chance with the big-league club. Baseball Reference has a fine summary on him, which I won’t repeat here. In the Tribe’s home opener, the late innings of which I caught on the radio, Gomer delivered the game-winning hit. Cleveland went crazy.
Alas, Gomer played nothing more than a utility role that year, appearing in about half the Indians’ games during his only season in the majors. He later managed in the minors for the Indians farm system before dying at age 63 in 2007.
Hodge played a bit part in Tribe history, but he made his mark. Today, there are other rookies getting the first crack in the big-leagues and none of them knows whether they’ll see several seasons or just a few games in “The Show.”
It’s a good reminder for us all to “seize the day,” or “carpe diem,” as the Romans used to say.
Since proposing that fans celebrate the “Baseball Solstice” last week, I’ve received a good amount of feedback and I really appreciate it. The response impels me to keep the idea going by suggesting how baseball fans might observe the solstice, which will be Friday, Dec. 30.
Over the past week I’ve been thinking about the right way to observe the arrival of the mid-point between the end of the 2011 World Series and the first games of Spring Training 2012.
What I propose is for fans to head to the nearest ball diamond, take a photo and share it with other fans. Use Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, PhotoBucket, Instagr.am, email or any other means of your choosing. But share the image, and tag it with “baseball solstice” if tagging is available.
The idea is to capture our fields of dreams in mid-winter, when our longing for the sport intensifies and the hope for a new season passes the halfway mark.
- Take a photo of the snow-swept diamond at the park where your son will play T-ball come spring.
- Snap a shot of the high school diamond where your daughter will open the softball season in a few months.
- Head to the nearest minor league park and capture the desolation of the unattended ticket booths.
- Drive to the nearest big-league park and fire away as in your head you hear the cheers that will fill the air on Opening Day.
Or maybe even better, point your camera to the yard or street where you first tossed a ball with your father or played Wiffle ball with your friends.
Taking a photo isn’t the only way to celebrate the sport, and if you can’t swing getting a photo, feel free to mark the observance in your own way.
Here’s a story from today’s Modesto Bee about the new batting helmets being used in Minor League Baseball. The specs from Rawlings say their S100 model is built to protect a batter struck by a pitch thrown at up to 100 mph.
The Bee story says the helmets are getting rave reviews for their safety, if not their style.
I never worriedmuch about getting hit by a pitch in my playing days as a shortstop in youth leagues in Cleveland, although I was well aware that the Indians’ Ray Chapman was the only major leaguer ever killed in a ballgame. He was struck in the temple during the Tribe’s 1920 championship season and died from the blow.
No one wore helmets in those days. I’m glad I grew up in an era when helmets were required, and I applaud all the efforts to make helmets safer.
Now if we could just get rid of those awful aluminum bats….
Here’s a gem of a slideshow about Charles “Spider” Baum, a member of the Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame who spent his best years pitching for the Sacramento Senators (a.k.a. Solons) and San Francisco Seals. The piece is by my McClatchy Co. colleague Mark Morris, multimedia director of The Sacramento Bee. The presentation is full of delightful of old photos from the Coast League, and the story of Baum — the great-grandfather of Morris — is compelling.
Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out how to make the embed code work, so kindly go to this link to watch the presentation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
It’s high time someone started rating baseball caps, and who better to do it than the guy who writes the Ball Caps Blog? I will resist the urge to present a logical progression from the low minors to the big leagues or some other clever organizational device. Instead, I’m going to hop around as inspiration strikes. In this case, inspiration came from a friend’s Facebook status update about going to a Durham Bulls game.
The Durham ball club is an icon of its own, one of the best known teams in the history of the game. The team is as American as a Mail Pouch tobacco ad plastered on a red barn. The club is steeped in tradition. The Bulls, according to an excellent history on the team Web site, were founded in 1902 as the Durham Tobaccanists. The name was changed to Bulls in 1913. The team got a boost in 1988 when Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins (shown above) appeared in the acclaimed movie “Bull Durham.” Many fans consider it their favorite or even the best baseball movie ever. (I find it the weakest of the Costner baseball trilogy, well behind the relatively obscure “For Love of the Game” and the splendid “Field of Dreams.”)
The Bulls’ cap is as iconic as the team. The bull charges through the center of the bold orange letter “D.” The letter is elegant, classy; the bull powerful, vital. The combination is an excellent symbol for a baseball team.
I give the Bulls cap the highest rating – five – on my caps rating system, which will be represented by clip art caps as soon as I find the right icon.
The 2009 baseball season had barely begun on April 9 when Mike Cameron of the Milwaukee Brewers cracked a line drive through the box. The ball struck San Francisco Giants pitcher Joe Martinez in the forehead, causing fractures and a nasty concussion — and jeopardizing the young pitcher’s career.
Martinez is playing baseball again, pitching for the San Jose Giants in the Class A California League. He is scheduled to pitch tonight in Modesto against the Nuts.
In an interview with The Modesto Bee, Martinez says the continual replays of his scary injury don’t bother him. And he doesn’t hold anything against Cameron, who sent him a gift of Milwaukee sausages after the incident. That’s one thoughtful, gracious young man under the Giants cap.