The Baseball Project – a rock supergroup made up of former R.E.M. members Peter Buck and Mike Mills, Steve Wynn (the Dream Syndicate), Scott McCaughey (the Minus 5 and Young Fresh Fellows), and Linda Pitmon (Filthy Friends, Alejandro Escovedo) – are back with an introspective song that takes its inspiration from the National Pastime.
It was the bottom of the 5th in an otherwise uneventful game between the Tigers and the Royals when fans in the right field bleachers noticed something out of the ordinary. A viral TikTok post summed it up: “Holy crap! The foul pole’s become sentient!”
In an interviews with KSHB News, the pole noted “When a fly ball hits me it’s a homerun so I’m actually a fair pole.”
Seeking greater fulfillment in life than watching baseball games and with a keen sense of right and wrong, the fair pole was later appointed a judge at the Jackson County Courthouse.
Friday Fictioneers is a weekly photo prompt flash fiction challenge on Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ Addicted to Purple blog. See additional stories by other writers here!
Author: Howard Bryant Title: Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original Narrator: JD Jackson Publication Info: HarperAudio (2022) Summary/Review:
Rickey Henderson is a man of contrasts. He was one of the great baseball players of all time, breaking multiple records, and then playing another decade seemingly never wanting to retire. And yet football was his favorite sport which he really wanted to play instead of baseball. He worked hard to develop his game and yet he got a reputation for lackadaisical play and missing games. His flashy style of play earned him the enmity of the conservative, white sports media but the love of young fans especially in the Black community. His approach to baseball of aiming to get on base by any means and scoring runs was looked down upon by the experts of the time who valued batting average and power, but was vindicated by the Sabermetric approach that came into vogue in the 2000s right as Rickey was retiring.
Bryant interviewed Rickey and several important people in his life, including his wife Pamela. His life story is tied to his hometown of Oakland, a segregated city where the Black children found an outlet in the community sports leagues that produced a great number of professional sports stars. One of these was Billy Martin, a cantankerous figure who became a mentor and friend to Rickey as his manager in Oakland and New York. Bryant follows Rickey’s career through 4 stints with the Oakland A’s, a troubled period with the Yankees, and a final decade as a nomad playing for any team who would have him. Highlights include winning the World Series in the 1989 and 1993 and the AL MVP in 1990.
I can’t say that you really get to know Rickey Henderson from this biography. Despite his outsized personality, he’s a very private person, and one who seems detached because of he worries about his lack of education showing as well as his inability to remember names. But I think Bryant does a brilliant job regardless of telling Rickey’s story. His career coincides with a time in baseball when free agency made the star players multi-millionaires and Black players like Rickey were no longer willing to show deference to the white owners and media. I’ve always liked Rickey and this book just makes me like him more.
Becoming Manny: Inside the Life of Baseball’s Most Enigmatic Slugger by Jean Rhodes
Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
Title: Field of Dreams Release Date: May 5, 1989 Director: Phil Alden Robinson Production Company: Gordon Company Summary/Review:
One of my favorite authors when I was a teenager was W.P. Kinsella. I was excited when I learned that his novel Shoeless Joe was getting adapted into a movie. But when I finally saw the movie, I was disappointed. There were a lot of changes from the book to movie, and on screen the story just seemed to ooze with cheesiness. Over the years, Field of Dreams has become regarded as a classic baseball movie to the extent that Major League Baseball has started hosting an annual regular season baseball game in an Iowa corn field. I figured Father’s Day was a good opportunity to revisit Field of Dreams and watch it with my kids for the first time.
The basic story is that aging hippie and baseball fan Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) having married Iowa native Annie (Amy Madigan), has acquired a farm that they live on with their young daughter Karin (Gaby Hoffmann). Hearing voices in the corn field, Ray comes to a realization that he must build a baseball field on his farm. As a result, the deceased but not ghostly former baseball star Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) appears, and is soon followed by other former baseball stars. Other messages prompt Ray to go to Boston to take the reclusive counterculture author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) to a Red Sox game, and then to a small town in Minnesota to find “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster), a baseball player who played only one half-inning in the 1920s. As all this happens, the Kinsella’s farm is failing and faces foreclosure at the hands of Annie’s brother Mark (Timothy Busfield).
The movie still oozes cheese. There are changes from the book (including removing two significant characters) that effectively change the story. There’s also a move away from the book’s magical realism to more of a Reagan-era nostalgia for baseball as something emblematic of America. My wife noted that James Earl Jones’ famous speech about baseball has elements that feel eerily close to MAGA ideology. While baseball is upheld as being something that was from a time when America was “good,” all of the former ballplayers who emerge from the corn come from a time when baseball was segregated. That being said there’s a scene in the movie I’d totally forgotten where Annie takes on a group of conservatives who are trying ban books at the public schools which felt unfortunately relevant to our times. Even then though, the feel of the movie is still steeped in a toothless nostalgia, this time for for 1960s.
With all that being said, the biggest change from the book to the movie is also the best, and I think improves upon the book. In Shoeless Joe, Ray takes the real life author J.D. Salinger to Fenway Park. The filmmakers knew that they couldn’t depict the notoriously reclusive Salinger on screen and instead created the fictional 60s icon Terrence Mann, who is more than just a substitute for Salinger but a character with a well-developed history of his own. It’s surprising that in 1989, Hollywood cast a Black actor in the role originally written as white character, doubly so since in 2022 there are people who still lose their minds when a Black actor is cast as a character originally written as white. Jones is great for the part and his performance brings a lot of energy and authority to the movie right at a time when it needs a jolt.
I probably sound like I’m hating on the movie, it is a thoroughly enjoyable movie, but I’m just a harsh judge since I love the book so much. It is a bit slow-going, but then again so is baseball. I love baseball, and I’m not immune to the magic of ballplayers emerging from a corn field or an impassioned speech about baseball’s role as America’s pastime. For all it’s flaws, Field of Dreams is one of the best baseball movies ever made.
Author: Devin Gordon Title: So Many Ways to Lose Publication Info: New York City : Harper, 2021. Summary/Review:
So Many Ways to Lose is a history of the New York Mets by a long-time fan and writer who happens to live near me in Massachusetts. Gordon’s thesis is that the Mets are a team that is known for their futility and for losing in creative ways, and yet that has only made their moments of greatness all the more endearing.
Since I’ve read a lot about the Mets (and of course, spent most of my life watching the team), I was familiar with many of these stories. But I was impressed with the angles Gordon took on telling the stories. I particularly liked:
connecting Cleon Jones story to the history of Africatown in Alabama which was founded by people brought from Africa on the last known slave ship the Clotilda
How Mackey Sasser got the yips and had trouble returning the ball to the pitcher
While Bobby Bonilla Day has become a day to mock the Mets, Gordon explains that it was a good deal with positive outcomes for the Mets
the greatness of the Endy Chavez catch
How Bernie Madoff bamboozled the Wilpons, owners of the Mets, but nonetheless a somewhat sympathetic portrait of the Wilpons
The parts on the Mets success in 2006 (and subsequent flops in 2007-2008) and 2015 feel rushed. But then again I’ve read about those accomplishments in other books. This is an enjoyable sports book and a requirement for every Mets’ fan’s library.
It’s that time of year again – playoff baseball! Actually, the Wild Card games have already been played, but I consider those more of a play-in game than an actual playoff. The good news is that one of my two favorite teams, the Boston Red Sox, won one of those Wild Card games (my other favorite team, the New York Mets, failed to finish the season with even a winning record after being in first place for much of the first half of the season). The other good news is that two of the three teams I loathe the most – the Yankees and Cardinals – were eliminated in the Wild Card games. The other team I hate, the Los Angeles Dodgers, lives on to play another playoff series.
Here is my ranking of teams from the one I most want to win the World Series to the one I want to see make the earliest possible exit:
Boston Red Sox
Tampa Bay Rays
Chicago White Sox
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
And here are my dispassionate predictions for how I think things will actually play out:
League Divisions Series:
Red Sox defeat Rays
White Sox defeat Astros
Dodgers defeat Giants
Brewers defeat Braves
League Champion Series:
White Sox defeat Red Sox
Brewers defeat Dodgers
White Sox defeat Brewers
We shall see in a few weeks if my predictions play out.
Back in March I posted my 2021 regular season predictions and only managed to correctly predict 6 of the 10 teams that would qualify for the postseason. I was way too high on the Mets and the Padres, but I think the Blue Jays (who I had predicted to win the AL East) were extremely unlucky to end up missing the postseason entirely based on their run differential. The Giants and the Astros were teams I didn’t being as good as they ended up being.
Previous MLB postseason preferences and predictions:
Title: Once Upon a Time In Queens Release Date: September 14, 2021 Director: Nick Davis Production Company: ESPN | ITV Studios America | Kimmelot | MLB Productions Summary/Review:
This ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about the 1986 New York Mets is one that I will have trouble reviewing objectively as it pushes all of my nostalgic buttons. I tend to be a nostalgic person to begin with but this film hit me more emotionally than I ever expected. It’s not just that it’s about my favorite baseball team’s best season ever but that it so richly captures the time and the place of New York City in the 1980s, which I experienced vicariously as a child of the suburbs. And it’s not even that it was the “good old days,” as this film demonstrates it was a time of unrepentant greed, unrestrained substance abuse, toxic masculinity, and racial tensions, all of which were exemplified by the Mets. And yet, there is something about the community that came together around these deeply flawed men who did amazing things on the ballfield. Living in the past quarter-century of a Yankees-worshiping society, it’s hard to believe how much the Mets were beloved and unifying.
The four-part documentary goes deep into the roots of the Mets, a team that was a replacement for New York and Brooklyn losing the Giants and Dodgers that somehow won a miraculous World Series in 1969, and then trading away their franchise pitcher Tom Seaver in 1977. The first part focuses on how the team gained a new owner in 1980 and with a new general manager put together the pieces of a winning team that would have very exciting second-place finishes in 1984 and 1985 before dominating baseball in 1986. The other three parts focus on the season itself with a good amount of film footage both on and off the field, some of it that I’d never seen before.
As you’d expect from a documentary, there are a lot of talking head interviews, and many but not all of the Mets’ players are represented. Some of the best observations come from Kevin Mitchell, who was a rookie in 1986 and played only one season with the Mets, and Bob Ojeda, who was in his first season with the team and thus has something of an outsider’s perspective on the team’s perspective. Manager Davy Johnson is also very insightful. The heart of the film, though, is dedicated to the stars of the team: Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, and Dwight Gooden. All of them came from troubled family backgrounds and all of them suffered from addictions. I was impressed by how candid and introspective each of these men are in their interviews. The other big star of the team, Gary Carter, died in 2012, otherwise he would’ve been a prominent subject as well. Instead archival footage and interviews with his wife have to suffice. At the other end of the spectrum, Lenny Dykstra appears to be inebriated and still full of himself. But he does provide some of the documentary’s best laugh lines.
As documentaries go, there’s nothing groundbreaking in its filmmaking, but it’s extremely well-edited. I also loved the soundtrack which ranges from Tom Waits to the Beasties Boys to the Mets’ own rally songs (yes, they recorded two that season). Writers like Greg Prince and Jeff Pearlman offer expert opinion and context while a wide variety of fans including Chuck D, Cyndi Lauper, George R.R. Martin, and various people who recorded “where was I” videos of their experiences during the legendary Game 6 of the World Series. I didn’t feel that it was necessary to keep cutting in scenes from the movie Fear Strikes Out for the Keith Hernandez story. I also think the epilogue overstates things about the Mets’ “collapse” after 1986. While they didn’t make it to another World Series, the Mets remained a very good team through the 1990 season. It was harder to start a dynasty in the 1980s, and had the three-division structure of MLB been adopted a decade earlier, the Mets would’ve finished in first place 7 years in a row. Despite it being a 4-hour movie, Once Upon a Time in Queens went by quickly and left me wanting more. If you like sports’ documentaries it is definitely worth your time.
On our vacation to Universal Orlando, my son and I took a side trip to see the Boston Red Sox play the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg. This is the 13th current Major League Baseball ballpark where I’ve attended a game in addition to 6 former stadiums. It was my son’s 6th ballpark.
The first thing we learned is that the Tampa Bay region is larger than I realized. We got to downtown Tampa and it was a still a 30 minute drive to St. Petersburg. I thought the cities were right next to one another. I noticed exit signs for the home venues of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in downtown Tampa and I wonder if the Rays’ low attendance problems have anything to do with being so far away from the rest of the local teams. Of course, Tropicana Field is also generally poorly regarded among MLB ballparks, which probably contributes to attendance problems. At any rate, after driving through several rain squalls we arrived in sunny St. Pete where a rainbow pointed towards The Trop’s tilted dome. It was an impressive introduction!
Even though the Rays are one of the newest MLB expansion teams, Tropicana Field is actually the 8th oldest currently MLB ballpark. It opened in 1990 and hosted NHL hockey and Arena Football before 1998 when the Rays played their inaugural season. Tropicana Field is the only current MLB venue with a fixed roof. I think only the Rays and Blue Jays play home games on artificial turf instead of grass, which is quite a difference from the 1980s when about half of the ballparks had artificial turf.I noticed during the game that ground balls would zip along the artificial turf into the outfield (and sometimes past the outfielders) which is quite a difference to how grass slows a ball down. During the game I heard a sound that I thought was people stomping their feet, which was strange since the game was sparsely attended (the official attendance was 7,923 souls). My son pointed out that it was actually the sound of rain falling on the roof. Since the roof is made of some kind of fabric, we could actually see it billowing as the rain ran down the exterior.
It’s hard to judge a stadium when there’s no home crowd, but Tropicana Field feels too sterile and lifeless for a baseball game. I have to give credit to the Rays management for trying hard to improve the fan experience. There was a good food court with a lot of options, on-field entertainment between innings, and some nifty lighting on the underside of the dome that made it different colors (including making it look like a giant orange). The Rays are a talented, first-place ballclub and deserve a packed house. But ultimately, no matter what they do with it, The Trop is just never going to be an inviting place to take in a game.
The game we saw by the way was really good, an old-fashioned pitching duel. The Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez has his best start of the season and Garrett Richards pitched the final three innings to preserve a shutout. Although, the Rays starter Shane McClanahan allowed four runs but was never really hit hard. The game moved briskly and finished just after 10pm, so we had plenty of time to drive back to Orlando before midnight.
The player intro videos for the Red Sox included landmarks from Boston which I thought was a nice touch.
April 1st is Holy Thursday, and if I can be a little bit sacrilege, I think it will be all the more holy by coinciding with Major League Baseball Opening Day. I think this will be an exciting season and I look forward to watching lots of games and maybe, just maybe, being able to attend a game before the season ends. Here are my predictions for how the season will shake out:
NL EAST The NL East will be one of the more competitive divisions. The Mets have had top-notch pitching for several seasons and new owner Steve Cohen has given them support with a beefed-up lineup and bullpen. They’ll face strong competition from Atlanta but both teams should easily sew up postseason spots. Washington and Philadelphia will be good but not good enough. Miami made a surprising playoff appearance in a COVID-shortened 2020 season but will revert to the mean this year.
New York Mets
Atlanta Braves (wild card)
The NL Central remains the most mediocre division. I have a good feeling about Milwaukee winning their first division title since 2018, but St. Louis is always competitive and can’t be counted out. The rest of the division have lots of deficiencies to work through and can shake out in any order.
St. Louis Cardinals
San Diego was already a contender and made themselves the favorite by having arguably the best offseason in MLB. The Dodgers will see a dropoff from their World Series championship season but should have no problem securing a postseason spot. The rest of the division will be competing to see who is the least mediocre.
San Diego Padres
Los Angeles Dodgers (wild card)
San Francisco Giants
Except for Baltimore, the AL East is always a strong division and this season will be no exception. Toronto is stacked after a productive offseason and should win their first division title since 2015, with strong competition from 2020 World Series runners up, Tampa Bay. The Yankees have relied on their one-dimensional approach of mashing homers in their tiny ballpark to secure postseason spots (only to suffer humiliating 16-1 losses and walkoffs off Aroldis Chapman) will find it harder to compete against strengthened opposition including a rebounding Red Sox.
Toronto Blue Jays
Tampa Bay Rays (wild card)
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
The White Sox appear poised to snag their first division title since 2008 after a strong offseason. They will have to fend off a highly-competitive Minnesota squad. The rest of the division will shake out on how well their young and up-and-coming players will perform.
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins (wild card)
Kansas City Royals
I feel that this is the hardest division to predict but Oakland feels like a safe pick to win it. The Angels have the talent that just hasn’t clicked may find this to be their lucky year while Seattle has a chance to succeed with a young roster. Houston lost key players in the offseason and will see their postseason streak come to end.
Los Angeles Angels
Past Predictions for Previous Seasons (If You Want to Check My Work):
One side benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic is the reduced use of automobiles. Some cities (not Boston, of course) have even taken advantage of creating space for people to walk and bike by closing roads to cars. But even in rural areas, animals are thriving because of fewer collisions with motor vehicles.
If you’re American, you’ve inevitably sung along with the chorus “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” baseball’s unofficial anthem. But if you’ve never heard the chorus, you may not know that the song is about a woman who wants to watch baseball at a time when that was considered a men’s only activity. The podcast explores the history of how the song went “viral” and features music by Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust.
Civil disturbances in Black communities in America in 1967 lead President Johnson to call the Kerner Commission. The commission’s report revealed evidence of police violence that was criticized and ignored at the time, but still reads as a diagnoses of our present-day crises.