Posts Tagged ‘Baseball’

Songs of the Week: Third by The Baseball Project

Baseball returned this week and appropriately the band The Baseball Project released their third album, named Third.  The Baseball Project seems an unlikely collaboration of 80s rockers including two members of R.E.M – Peter Buck and Mike Mills.  Good songs about baseball are few and far between with the typical lyrics being cheezy tributes to some moral ideal of the game or a hagiography of great players (see Terry Cashman).  The Baseball Project is better than that as the music varies from punk rock to country twang and even talking blues on “The Baseball Card Song.”  Lyrically, they celebrate the good and bad of baseball, most vividly in “They Played Baseball” which lists a gallery of baseball’s worst rogues, who someone ended up loving anyway, because, well it’s in the title.  Similarly, the troubled life of Lenny Dystrka – one of my favorite Mets when I was a kid – is summed up in “From Nails to Thumbtacks.”  Players like Dock Ellis, Alex Rodriguez, Dale Murphy, and the entire Oakland A’s also get their own songs.  Then there’s “Extra Inning of Love” which makes baseball metaphors far more sexy than Meat Loaf could ever hope to.

It’s a fun album, worth checking out if you like baseball, good music, and good stories.

“They Played Baseball”

“From Nails to Thumbtacks”

“The Baseball Card Song”

“Extra Inning of Love”

 

Check out Desert Island Mix Tape for another review of this album.

 

Movie Review: Knuckleball! (2012)

Title: Knuckleball
Release Date: 18 September 2012
Director: Ricki Stern & Anne Sundberg
Production Co: Break Thru Films and Major League Baseball Productions
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: Documentary | Sports | Baseball
Rating: ****

The knuckleball is baseball’s most enigmatic pitch.  Despite its name, it is thrown with the finger tips and unlike any other pitch it prevents the ball from rotating.  This makes the ball move in unpredictable ways that it make the knuckleball difficult to hit.  Yet that unpredictably has a way of coming back to haunt the pitcher, so there are few pitchers who risk using it.  This documentary follows the 2011 season of the only two knuckleball pitchers in Major League Baseball at that time: Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox (now retired) and R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets (now with the Toronto Blue Jays).  These are also two of my all-time favorite pitchers.  The documentary does a good job of explaining the mechanics of the knuckleball and how knuckleball pitchers are treated as an oddity in the baseball community.  It also has some excellent archival footage of the lives and careers of Wakefield and Dickey. If there’s one thing that could improve the movie is to not have so many talking heads and clips of baseball commentators repeating the same basic facts about the knuckleball and perhaps delve into the science and history of the pitch a bit more.

Red Sox are the 2013 World Series Champions

For the third time in ten years, the Red Sox are the World Series Champions.  I’ve watched the Red Sox play in four World Series in my lifetime, and although I rooted for the opposing team in 1986, I’ve been firmly behind the Red Sox in the most recent three.  The 2004 World Series saw the end of the drought of 86 years without a championship (despite coming close several times) and the 2007 team proved that it was not a fluke.  The 2013 championship seems all the more special because it proves the resilience of the team coming back from a losing season in 2012 and a bad finish the year before that.

I particularly enjoyed this season because my 6 y.o. son Peter is a big baseball fan and devoted to the Red Sox.  We attended five game this season – four at Fenway and one at Yankee Stadium – and the Red Sox won them all (Peter’s lifetime record is a remarkable 9-1).  We also listened to games as Peter drifted off to sleep each night, so I’ve found myself following the team and getting to know the players much better than I have in many years.  The World Series victory came the day before Halloween when Peter dressed as his favorite player, Stephen Drew, and two days before his 6th birthday.

On Saturday, I took Peter to see the Red Sox Rolling Rally in the morning and then we had his birthday party in the afternoon, perhaps the best day of his life.  The Duck Boat Parade was a joyous occasion, and it was great to see so many happy people filling the streets of Boston to celebrate just six months after the atrocities on Patriots Day.  While we watched from Tremont Street opposite Boston Common, there was a moving tribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing on Boyslton Street.

Below are my pictures of the parade.  It was a fun day, and I hope we get to do it again.

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Movie Review: 30 for 30: Four Days in October

Title30 for 30: Four Days in October
Release Date: 5 October 2010
Director: Gary Waskman
Production Co: Major League Baseball Productions
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Documentary | Sports | Baseball
Rating:  ****

The ESPN documentary documents the last four games (played over four consecutive days) of the 2004 American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, from the Red Sox point of view.  There’s nothing radical about it from a filmmaking perspective, merely clips of tv and radio footage from the games interspersed with interviews with Red Sox players and some celebrity fans.  I watched it mainly so my 5-year-old son could learn some Red Sox history, and it quickly became his favorite movie.  It was also a nice nostalgia trip to see memorable Red Sox comeback and all the little aspects I’d forgotten (doubly so to watch it without the feeling of twisted intestines that I had back in 2004)

Photopost: A Tale of Two Ballparks

My son Peter and I were fortunate enough to take in two Boston Red Sox games in the same week. The first was a home game at Fenway Park versus the White Sox. For the second game, we ventured into enemy territory to see Red Sox take on the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

I’ve been to Fenway Park dozens of times in the 15 years I’ve lived in Boston and my son and I have been using 4-game Sox packs the past two seasons.  I don’t have much to add to what I’ve written before other than to say that Fenway Park is a great place to see a ballgame, the improvements in fan amenities the past decade have really improved the experience, and I love going to games with my son.

This was our first visit to the third iteration of Yankee Stadium.  Growing up in Connecticut, I attended several Yankees games in the 1976-2008 version of Yankee Stadium as a child as well as one college football game between Boston University and Grambling State.  I made my last visit to Yankee Stadium II in 2006.  Despite the history that came with the building due to the Yankees many successes, I never thought it lived up to its reputation as a great ballpark.  It was kind of gloomy and felt like a 60′s/70′s concrete doughnut squashed in an urban shell.

I’m happy to report that  Yankee Stadium III is an improvement on its predecessor.  We took the D train to 161 St, and exited right outside Gate 6.  There were several lines open so we swiftly made our way inside.  We entered a long concourse with a high ceiling that felt like an airport terminal or railway station.  While the Stadium has escaped corporate naming, the corporate presence was strong here (and throughout the ballpark) with large neon signs for the Hard Rock Cafe and other amenities.  There was also a large screen and news ticker showing Yankees highlights on repeat and reminiscent of Times Square.  The whole feeling was definitely to remind you that you were in the land of the Yankees now and playing with the big boys.

To access our seats on the Grandstand Level, we had to walk up a long, looping concrete ramp.  This was one of the least appealing parts of the stadium.  At least the ramps at Shea Stadium were exposed to fresh air and sunshine with views of the Manhattan skyline.  The Yankees museum could be entered from this ramp but the line was quite long so we didn’t take it in.  The concourse on the Grandstand/Terrace level was much nicer with lots of sunlight and views of the field and lined with the usual concessions and souvenir shops.  The only one we availed ourselves to was Carvel for an ice cream cone (Peter passed on getting the ice cream in the helmet).

Our seats offered a commanding view of the field with only the left field corner obscured by the seat deck in front of us.  (This would become relevant in the game when Ichiro made a catch against the wall of a drive by David Ortiz).  The centerfield scoreboard is big and informative.  There is a secondary scoreboard behind homeplate but I was surprised that there was only advertising along the baseline.  The out-of-town scoreboard was not visible from our location.  The corporate feel was strong during the game with lots of advertisements on all the scoreboards.  Strikeouts by  Yankees pitchers were sponsored by an appliance store and walks by Yankees batters were brought to you by a brand of whisky.

Our seating area was well-populated with Red Sox fans giving us a feeling of safety in numbers.  The rivalry among fans was good-natured on this day.  Several times Red Sox fans started chanting “Lets Go Red Sox!” only to get booed by Yankees fans.  Then one guy would chant “Lets Go Yankees!” and no one else would join in.  The top of the stadium is encircled by pennant flags for every team in Major League Baseball arranged by division in the order of the standings.  Appropriately, we sat directly beneath the flag that read “BOSTON”.

The game was enjoyable, with the teams duking out to a 13-9 finale in favor of the Red Sox.   Boston took a big lead early and then New York chipped away at that lead to make the game more competitive.  Definitely not a pitcher’s duel, or a short game, but a fun one.  We left after the game and it was actually pretty easy to get to the subway, and then board a “baseball special” train which has a poetic ring to it, like something out of a W.P. Kinsella story.

Yankee Stadium proved to be an adequate place to see a game.   Like Citi Field, it is somewhat corporatized and soulless, and a city like New York should do much better for its ballparks. They don’t compare well with ballparks in San Francisco, Baltimore, or San Diego that incorporate aspects of their cities and surroundings into the stadium.  It seems like they got the idea to copy the retro-ballpark style without doing anything to make it uniquely New York.  Perhaps they just need to be lived-in a bit longer and will accrue some charm with age?

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Book Review: Hit By Pitch by Molly Lawless

Author: Molly Lawless
Title: Hit By Pitch
Publication Info:  Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., 2012.
ISBN: 9780786446094

Summary/Review: 

I was fortunate enough to receive a free copy of this work through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.

This graphic novel tells the true life story of the only baseball player to die from an injury on the field, Ray Chapman of the Cleveland Indians, who was beaned in the head by a pitch from the New York Yankees’ Carl Mays in a 1920 ballgame in New York’s Polo Ground.  Lawless finds some common history among the two men both born in Kentucky in the same year building up their parallel stories leading to the fateful fastball in a similar fashion to Hardy’s “Convergence of the Twain.”  Chapman is charismatic and popular with his teammates and fans while Mays is an outsider who is not well-liked setting up the perfect hero and villain scenario.  Yet, Lawless makes sure to give Mays his fair due.  Lawless details the incident and its aftermath with grim and fascinating details.  For example, did you know that Mays and Yankees’ first baseman Wally Pipp fielded the ball that bounced off Chapman’s head thinking that it was a bunt?  This is a great work of baseball history as well as the graphic arts.

Rating: ****

Recommended BooksThe Glory of Their Times : The Story of Baseball Told By the Men Who Played It by Lawrence S. Ritter, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover, and Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel.

Book Review: Honus & Me by Dan Gutman

Author:  Dan Gutman
Title:  Honus & Me
Publication Info: HarperCollins (1999)
ISBN: 0380788780

Summary/Review: This is another baseball ebook I borrowed from the library to read to my son that I ended up liking more than he did.  The story is the first in a series in which a boy named Joey discovers he can use baseball cards to travel through time and meet famed players.  In this case, it’s Pittsburgh great Honus Wagner who takes Joey to the 1909 World Series and even gets him in the game.  It’s a great fantasy which touches on issues of integrity and honesty.  Wagner comes across just a bit too perfect, but then again all accounts have him as a great guy.   A good read for kids who like sports from around the ages 7 to 11.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Rivals by Tim Green

Author: Tim Green
Title: Rivals
Publication Info: HarperCollins (2011)
ISBN: 0061626945

Summary/Review:  I downloaded this ebook from the library because my five-year old wanted me to read him a story about baseball.  He ended up not liking it due to the protagonists doing things they shouldn’t do, but I think an older child around 8 to 12 would really enjoy it.  The story is about the great 12 y.o. baseball player Josh, his goofy sidekick Benji, and their friend Jaden (who is a reporter) discovering corruption at a baseball tournament in Cooperstown that may possibly lead to a former star baseball player-turned-actor who has a son in the tournament.  The in-game action scenes are great and the mystery has some interesting twists.  Overall it’s formulaic, but I think this is an enjoyable story for kids about sports, fairplay, and friendship.  It’s part of a series of books called Baseball Great.

Rating: ***

Book Reviews: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Author: Chad Harbach
Title:  The Art of Fielding
Publication Info: New York : Little, Brown and Co., 2011.
ISBN: 9780316126694
Summary/Review:

Set at a liberal arts college in Wisconsin, this novel focuses on shortstop phenom Henry Skrimshander and the Westish College catcher and captain Mike Schwartz who recruits him for the school and team.  The early part of the novel focuses on Henry’s fish out of water at college and his sassy gay roommate Owen Dunne.  Owen seems to good to be true as he not only writes plays but also is on the baseball team (and gets away with reading books in the dugout) .  The novel takes an unexpected turn when the college president Guert Affenlight becomes the central character as he deals with reconciling with his estranged daughter Pella and an obsession with Owen.  Eventually the stories of all five characters come together, although the unlikelieness of their grouping based on a number of coincidences is one of the weaknesses of the story (especially the actions of these characters at the conclusion of the novel which just don’t ring true).  The strengths of the novel are strong characterization and beautiful prose.  Harbach is adept at describing baseball like a great sportswriter but also fills his novel with literary references (most obviously to Herman Melville, but the novel often seems to be channeling John Irving).  The Art of Fielding is not a perfect novel but it is an enjoyable read with unforgettable characters.

Recommended books:  A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger, and The Little Book by Selden Edwards.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times by Steven Travers

Author:Steven Travers
TitleThe Last Icon: Tom Seaver and His Times 
Publication Info: Lanham, Md : Taylor Trade, 2011.
ISBN: 9781589796607
Summary/Review: I received a free advance review copy of this book through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program.  The biography of the great Mets pitcher and Hall of Fame baseball star is generally a hagiography from the title to the conclusion.  Not that I would prefer a hatchet job but depicting Seaver as near-superhuman does him no favors in my opinion.  Also, Travers and Seaver share the same alma mater of USC and Travers doesn’t miss any opportunity to mention it.  I did learn some interesting things about Seaver such as the fact that he was a late bloomer and didn’t become a great pitcher until his college years.  There are also some interesting details of his Mets years and relationships with coaches and players.  The diehard Mets or baseball fan may want to read this book but otherwise I think the great Seaver biography remains to be written.

Recommended booksGil Hodges: The Quiet Man by Marino Amoruso, The Ticket Out: Darryl Strawberry and the Boys of Crenshaw by Michael Sokolove and If at First: A Season With the Mets by Keith Hernandez.
Rating: **

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