Movie Review: The Shot Heard ‘Round the World (2001)


TitleThe Shot Heard ‘Round the World
Release Date: July 11, 2001
Director: ?
Production Company: HBO Sports
Summary/Review:

This documentary goes back in time to when New York City was the capital of baseball. The Brooklyn Dodgers fans hated the New York Giants, and the Giants fans hated the Dodgers, and they both hated the Yankees.  The 1951 season was pivotal in that the Dodgers took a huge lead in the National League and went on cruise control.  Late in the season the Giants went on a hot streak and tied the Dodgers on the last day of the season, leading to a best-of-three playoff.

In addition to the heated rivalry among players and fans of the teams, the documentary focuses on the Giants’ elaborate plot to steal signs during home games in the latter half of the season.  The jury is still out on how much this gamesmanship helped them catch the Dodgers since statistics show that their batting average dropped, pitching improved, and they won more games on the road than at home after it began.

The three game playoff is analyzed from several angles.  Many involved seem to point to Dodgers’ manager Charlie Dressen as the real goat for his poor decisions in game.  Special attention is given to the life stories and game experiences of the two pivotal figures of the final playoff game, Bobby Thompson who hit the pennant-winning “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” and Ralph Branca, the Dodgers’ relief pitcher who surrendered the home run on his second pitch in the game.

Interviewees include ballplayers like Branca, Thompson, Willie Mays and Duke Snider as well as a number of fans including celebrities like Jerry Lewis and Larry King.

Rating: ***1/2

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Book Review: Once Upon a Team by Jon Springer


Author: Jon Springer
TitleOnce Upon a Team: The Epic Rise and Historic Fall of Baseball’s Wilmington Quicksteps 
Publication Info: Sports Publishing (2018)
Previously Read by the Same Author: Mets By the Numbers
Summary/Review:

Generally, I would not be prone to pick up a book about 19th-century baseball in Wilmington, Delaware, but I know the author, and I appreciate his writing on baseball.  Jon Springer uses a wealth of primary documents to provide a lot of detail and quotes about the rough and tumble early era of professional baseball.  It’s common to think that “baseball as a business” is a recent phenomenon, but in these pages are stories of players jumping from team to team for better contracts, teams moving to new cities hoping for more profits, and snarky sportswriters covering it all.

With a preamble on the history of amateur and professional baseball clubs in Wilmington, the heart of the book focuses on the 1884 season of the newly formed Wilmington Quicksteps.  1884 is a year where professional baseball supersaturated America’s cities. The National League and their rival American Association were joined by the upstart Union Association.  The new league set out to challenge the reserve clause, the means by which teams retained rights to players after their contracts expired, keeping players in a state of indentured servitude.  Nevertheless, the Union Association found it difficult to lure away talented players from the two existing leagues.

The Wilmington Quicksteps began 1884 as part of the Eastern League, a minor league that was a forerunner of today’s International League.  Lead by colorful characters like Oyster Burns and The Only Nolan, the Quicksteps dominated the rest of the teams in the league.  The downside to this is that the team was so far ahead they had trouble drawing spectators and found themselves in a financial pickle.  The Quicksteps played exhibition games against major league teams passing through Wilmington in order to bring in spectators and money, and often played competitive games.

By August, with clubs in the Union Association folding, and the Quicksteps seemingly too good for the Eastern League and in need of a financial boost, it seemed like a natural decision for Wilmington to join the Union Association as a replacement team.  But fortune was not on Wilmington’s side.  They played only 18 games in the Union Association and won only 2 of them.  The experience brought the Quicksteps to their demise, and the Union Association was unable to return for the 1885 season.

This well-researched book is an engaging read and will be of interest to anyone curious about baseball history.

Recommended booksA Game of Brawl by Bill Felber, Ed Delahanty in the Emerald Age of Baseball by Jerrold Casway, and Connecticut Baseball: The Best of the Nutmeg State by Don Harrison
Rating: ***1/2

Video Replay in Sports


This year the FIFA World Cup is using video assistant referees (VAR) to correct or confirm questionable calls made by the referee on the field.  VAR has already played an instrumental role in several matches, including both of Monday’s Group B games where the referee reviewed plays in the 90th minute of Spain vs. Morocco and Iran vs. Portugal.  One of the joys of soccer that distinguishes it from other team sports is that the clock never stops and excepting the oddity of stoppage time, 90 minutes on the clock is generally close to 90 minutes of real time. So it’s a bit of a drag to see the referee staring at a video monitor for several minutes at the height of a game.

FIFA is not the first sporting body to adopt video replay review. The NFL started using replay review in 1986, adopting their current system in 1998, and many other sports leagues have followed suit. Major League Baseball began using instant replay on a limited number of types of plays in 2008 and then expanded it to greater usage in 2014.  Obviously, it can be very exciting when a call is reversed in favor of your team, especially in a big game, but these instant replay reviews can be interminable, delaying the game and sucking momentum from the action while the officials watch the clips over and over. (I speak for myself in not enjoying reviews, as my son enjoys going to the MLB sight to watch reviews from various different games).

Now, I’m not a Luddite opposed to the use of technology.  There is a place for replay reviews and I’m certain many games in the past would’ve been improved if umpire’s miscues were overruled. Who can forget these famous blown calls in MLB history, all of which were followed with apologies from the umpires in post-game interviews?

1996: Derek Jeter awarded a home run in a playoff game when a fan reaches over the wall to catch the ball.

1999: Jose Offerman called out despite Chuck Knoblauch failing to tag him.

2010: Armando Galarraga’s perfect game is ruined when the umpire inexplicably calls a base runner safe.

(Note that 2 of these 3 plays benefit the Yankees in line with the statistic that 66% of blown calls in MLB history favor the Yankees)

I think there is a place for video replay review when an umpire or a referee makes a call that anyone watching the game on tv (or after an initial replay) is glaringly wrong.  I don’t think it benefits the game when “too close to call” plays are analyzed for several minutes at multiple speeds from different angles to see if the point of a baserunner’s spikes poked the base milliseconds before or after a fielder brushed his uniform with the lace of his glove.

So I propose that all of these sports should use video replay review with a time limit.  The referee would have 30 seconds or 45 seconds tops to watch a replay and confirm or overturn a call.  If a decision cannot be reached in that time, the call on the field stands.  I think that would bring the full benefit of video technology to making sure that sporting games are free of the most glaring errors with out falling down the rabbit hole of full-on forensic analysis of a play that drains that urgency from a game.

On the other hand (pun intended), if there’s no statute of limitations on video replay reviews, I’d like VAR to go back to 2002 and evaluate this play.

Movie Review: No-No: A Dockumentary (2014) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “N” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “N” documentaries I’ve reviewed are New York: A Documentary FilmThe 1964 World’s FairThe Night James Brown Saved Boston and NOVA: Iceman Reborn.

TitleNo-No: A Dockumentary
Release Date: January 20, 2014
Director:  Jeff Radice
Production Company: Arts+Labor
Summary/Review:

Even if you’re a baseball fan, what you probably know about Dock Ellis is that he was a pitcher who threw a no-hitter in 1970 later claiming to be under the influence of LSD at the time.  This movie posits that Ellis was more than one weird story, but instead that he was a leader of a second generation of African American baseball players after integration.  Ellis spoke out against injustice to black and brown players and freely expressed his personality and African American culture.  Ellis received criticism from team management and the media for wearing curlers in his hair on field during pre-game warmups. In one key moment of the film, Ellis reads a supportive letter he received from Jackie Robinson, breaking up in tears as he reads it.

The high point of Ellis’ career was 1971 when his team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, won the World Series.  He was the top pitcher in the National League that season and after the American League announced Vida Blue as the starting pitcher for the All-Star Game, Ellis openly questioned if National League manager Sparky Anderson would “start two brothers against each other.”  Perhaps rising to the challenge, Anderson did start Ellis, making it the first time two Black pitchers started the All-Star Game.  Later the same season in a game started by Ellis, the Pirates made history by having a team entirely of black and Latin American players take the field for the first time ever.

Despite his on-field success, Ellis’ personal life was more troubled.  Like many ballplayers he was involved in a lot of partying after games as the team traveled across the country over a long season.  Over time Ellis fell into serious alcohol and drug dependency, punctuated by angry outbursts. His pitching performance became erratic and sometimes manifested in bizarre incidents such as the time he tried to bean every single batter on the Cincinnati Reds.  His home life was far worse.  His first two wives testify in the film to incidents of horrific domestic violence they received at the hands of Ellis.

After retiring from baseball in 1980, Ellis sought and received treatment for his addiction.  He dedicated the remainder of his life to working as a drug counselor both with minor league baseball players and with young men in prison.  The final portion of the film shows Ellis’ redemption for the bad things he’d done and the positive influence he made on people in counseling.  People interviewed in the film – teammates, friends, and those he counseled – all seem to remember Ellis fondly so I take it that his redemption was well earned.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

I didn’t really know much about Dock Ellis so I learned a lot about him, but this movie is also a glimpse into the America of the late 1960s and 1970s and showing how cultural changes and the emergence of Black Power manifested in the national pastime.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Watch movies like The Black Panthers or Wattstax which each show different aspects of the social and cultural changes of the Black Power era in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Also check out The Baseball Project song “The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads.”

Source: I watched this movie on Netflix streaming.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Papi: My Story by David Ortiz


Author: David Ortiz with Michael Holley
Title: Papi: My Story
Publication Info: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.
Summary/Review:

I know that David Ortiz is a prodigious slugger, has a big heart, and a potty mouth.  From his baseball memoir, I’ve also learned that he holds a grudge.  A bit too much of this book is full of Ortiz’s resentments against his manager in Minnesota (and two different managers in Boston), the Red Sox front office, the Boston media, and everyone who suspected him of PED use.  Granted he actually is justified in his anger against these people, but it weighs down what is otherwise an insightful book about his life in baseball.  I particularly enjoy what Ortiz says about how he became a student of the game and studied pitchers while on the bench so that he could become a better hitter.  He talks of learning a lot from fellow players, especially Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez. And then he passes along that knowledge to younger players from Dustin Pedroia to Andrew Benentendi.  Outside baseball, Ortiz reflects on his marriage to his wife Tiffany and how he was contending with their marriage falling apart right around the same time as the magical 2013 series.  It’s an entertaining book and a must read for fans of Big Papi and the Red Sox, and baseball fans in general.

Favorite Passages:

“I’ve always been amazed at people who criticize baseball players for showing emotion, especially in playoff games. What do they expect when every move you make is with the game on the line?  You’re a competitor.  You want to be sucessful for your team and your city.  You’re not supposed to respond when everyone is losing their minds in the stands, to the point where you really can’t hear anything?

Why not?” – p. 76

“To me, Pedroia is the prototype.  I’d never met anyone like him in baseball.  It’s hard to explain.  For example, I love baseball.  Love it.  But what I saw from Pedroia made it clear to me that his connection to baseball was beyond everyone else’s.  It was so much more than just love for the game.  He was the game. Seriously.  Everything that was good and true about baseball was in Dustin Pedroia.  He breathed it.  He lived it.  He’d do anything to play it, to be around it, to talk about it.He was such a force of energy, talent, and humor that it lifted our entire clubhouse.” – p. 116

“I believe the Boston media is powerful when it comes to the fans and, in some ways, influential when it comes to the way the team is managed.  When the media make a big deal about something, when they create a problem or issue, what are the fans supposed to think?  They figure that these people are around the team 24/7, so they must know what they’re talking about.  But they don’t.” – p. 151

Recommended booksBecoming Manny: Inside the Life of Baseball’s Most Enigmatic Slugger by Jean Rhodes, Pedro, Carlos, and Omar: The Story of a Season in the Big Apple and the Pursuit of Baseball’s Top Latino Stars by Adam Rubin, and Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season by Stewart O’Nan
Rating: ***1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending December 2


The Story Collider :: The Bats and the Bees

A reluctant field researcher finds purpose in showing drunk 17-year-olds how to tag bats with microchips, and a bee researcher who is allergic to bees.  Science!

Radiolab :: Stereothreat

Research into the effects of negative stereotypes and the difficulty of replicating that research.

Hit Parade :: The Queen of Disco Edition

Things I learned about Boston’s own Donna Summer: 1. she got her start in the Munich production of Hair where she became fluent in German, 2. she wrote or co-wrote most of her songs, 3. she and her producers basically invented electronic dance music, and 4. she continued to have club hits into the 2010s.

Afropop Worldwide :: A Brief History of Funk

A brief but beautiful story of funk with many funky classics and interviews with Bobby Byrd and George Clinton.

Slow Burn: A Podcast About Watergate

A new podcast that tells the story of the Watergate scandal with an as-it’s-happening approach focusing on long-forgotten key players in the scandal.

30 for 30 Podcasts :: The Lights of Wrigleyville

The story of the contentious battle between theChicago Cubs and their residential neighbors to install lights in Wrigley Field in the 1980s.

More Perfect :: Mr. Graham and the Reasonable Man

The story of a legal case that underlies our current crises in policing in America, and the legal fiction of the “Reasonable Man.”

2017 Major League Baseball Postseason Preferences & Predictions


It’s that exciting time of the year again, the MLB playoffs and World Series!  As I did in 2014, 2015, and 2016, I’m going to lay out what teams I’d like to succeed in the postseason and predict what teams will actually win.

NATIONAL LEAGUE PREFERENCES

The Washington Nationals are a team that as a Mets fan you’d expect me to dislike the Nationals, but I’ve never been able to muster strong feelings against them.  The Nationals success since 2012 hasn’t really come at the Mets expense since the Mets generally are their own worst enemy (except in 2015, of course,when the Mets miraculously knocked the Nats out of postseason contention).  The Nationals have not only never won a pennant, they have never won a postseason series (when the franchise played in Montreal they won a single post-season series).  The Cubs are okay in my book, but since they won it all last year, I have no urgency to see them repeat.  I’m indifferent to the Diamondbacks and Rockies. At the other end of the spectrum, the Dodgers are one of the teams (along with the Cardinals and Yankees) that I absolutely loathe.  So I’ll be supporting the underdog Nationals to finally win a pennant this season, and for the Dodgers to lose, lose, lose.

Wild Card Game: Rockies beat Diamondbacks

NLDS: Rockies beat Dodgers, Nationals beat Cubs

NLCS: Nationals beat Rockies

NATIONAL LEAGUE PREDICTIONS:

Wild Card Game: Really no idea, so I flipped a coin and it came up Rockies

NLDS: Dodgers beat Rockies, Nationals beat Cubs

NLCS: Nationals beat Rockies

AMERICAN LEAGUE PREFERENCES

The Red Sox are my home town team, my favorite American League team, and my second favorite team of all.  I’ve seen them win three World Series in recent years, but I wouldn’t mind seeing them win another.  Obviously, Cleveland is probably the biggest underdog in the AL, not winning a title since 1954, but they should change their nickname first before the win a World Series.  I have no strong feelings on the Astros other than that they should be a National League team.  I like the Twins and hope they do well, starting by clobbering the Yankees (this will never happen because the Twins always lose to the Yankees in a big game.

Wild Card Game: Twins beat Yankees

ALDS: Red Sox beat Astros, Twins beat Indians

ALCS: Red Sox beat Twins

AMERICAN LEAGUE PREDICTIONS

Wild Card Game: Yankees beat Twins

ALDS: Red Sox beat Astros, Indians beat Yankees

ALCS: Indians beat Red Sox :(

WORLD SERIES PREFERENCE: Red Sox beat Nationals

WORLD SERIES PREDICTION: Indians beat Nationals

What are your preferences and predictions?  Let me know in the comments.

Photopost: Oldtime Baseball Game


Last Thursday, my daughter and I attended the Oldtime Baseball Game in Cambridge, MA. This annual event features players wearing woolen baseball uniforms in the style of classic major and minor league teams of the past. The players are mostly college and high school players from across the country, plus a handful of celebrities. This year Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez returned to the mound and with him came big crowds.

I’d attended the Oldtime Baseball Game several times before, but not since I moved south of the river from Somerville to Jamaica Plain ten years ago. It’s good to see that the fundraiser is growing more popular even though it meant that we ended up having to sit 4 people deep behind the outfield fence. And it was a treat to see Pedro pitch again. I believe he allowed no baserunners in his two innings pitched, and he even came to bat (albeit striking out), something he didn’t do all too often in a Red Sox uniform.

Trying to take photos with a chainlink fence in the way and my daughter grabbing my arm at the wrong moment was challenging, but here are some of the photographs that came out ok.

Book Review: Jackie & Me: A Baseball Card Adventure by Dan Gutman


Author: Dan Gutman
TitleJackie & Me: A Baseball Card Adventure
Publication Info: New York : Avon Books, ©1999.
Summary/Review:

This is the second book in the Baseball Card Adventure in which Joe Stoshack uses  his power to travel through time using baseball cards to meet Jackie Robinson.  As an added wrinkle to the story, he initially arrives in 1947 as an African-American boy and directly experiences the racial animus of New York at that time.  I felt that Jackie Robinson’s character in this novel was one-dimensional, too much of a heroic martyr, although the book does offer some nice glimpses of his family life.  Meanwhile, it seems too flippant that Stosh is traveling to meet Robinson merely to write a Black History Month report for his school, and spends much of the novel trying to gather rare baseball cards to bring to the future.  The lesson of the book is how to stand up to bullies without resorting to anger, which Stosh applies in his own youth baseball games, but seems to miss out on the heart of the Jackie Robinson story in the process.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Ted & me: A Baseball Card Adventure by Dan Gutman


Author: Dan Gutman
TitleTed & me: A Baseball Card Adventure
Publication Info:  New York : Harper, c2012.
Summary/Review:

Joe Stoshack is a kid who can travel in time by touching baseball cards which take him to the time and place of the player in the photo.  In this installment of the series, the FBI learns of his ability and send an agent to convince him to go back in time to warn Franklin Roosevelt of the Pearl Harbor attack and prevent the United States entry into World War II.  The person to help Stosh on this mission is Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, an appropriately patriotic figure who gave up five seasons of his career to serve in WWII and the Korean War.  The characterization of Williams is well done since it captures a person who could be alternately an abrasive jerk and good-humored and generous.  Williams is also impulsive enough to take Stosh under his wing, and after finishing up the season in Philadelphia ensuring his .406 batting average, takes Stosh on a road trip.  There are a few stops along the way which I won’t spoil, but add to the characterization of Williams and his bond with Stosh.  Obviously, Stosh doesn’t prevent World War II, but it’s interesting to see some of the historic detail through his eyes, including a frightening encounter at an America First rally with supporters of Charles Lindbergh, something you wouldn’t expect to see in a children’s book.  It’s a good adventure for kids who are fans of baseball and American history.

Rating: ****

The November 18th All-Stars


As a child growing up rooting for the Mets, I knew that Dwight Gooden (then Mets’ ace and arguably the 2nd-greatest Met of all time) celebrated his birthday on November 16 and the all-time greatest Met, The Franchise, Tom Seaver, celebrated his birthday on November 17.  With my birthday on November 18, I was a natural for future Met great.  There was one problem, I had no baseball talent.

I’m now 43, past retirement age for baseball, although as long as the ageless Bartolo Colon continues to pitch there will still be an active major leaguer older than me.   For fun, here is the all-time all-star roster for players born on November 18.

C – Deacon McGuire – known as a gentleman who played 26 seasons at the most demanding position
1B – Roy Sievers – hit nine career walkoff homeruns
2B – Gene Mauch – can also be the team’s manager
SS – Kermit Wahl – finding a shortstop for the team was tough,  could move over Sheffield and seek out another third baseman?
3B – Gary Sheffield – Doc Gooden’s nephew!  Wonder if they celebrated their birthdays together?
LF – Steve Henderson – his walkoff homerun at Shea Stadium in 1980 is one of the defining moments of my baseball fandom
CF – Les Mann – regular centerfielders were also hard to find, but Mann played a key role for the Miracle Braves of 1914
RF – Dante Bichette – I remember him being called “Bionic Fat” which was inspiring to us men of large girth
DH – David Ortiz – Big Papi is  without question the greatest November 18th baseball player of all time

SP – Jamie Moyer – pitched until he was 49!
SP – Jack Coombs – won 31 games for the Athletics in 1910
SP – Allen Watson – was born in Queens and was briefly a Met in 1999
SP – Jay Hook – pitcher of record for the Mets’ first ever franchise win in 1962
SP – Cal Koonce – a reliever for the 1969 Miracle Mets although he was a starter earlier in his career with the Cubs

CLOSER – Tom Gordon – the Red Sox star of the late 90s had a Stephen King book named after him
RP – C.J. Wilson – a 2011 All-Star
RP – Shawn Camp – was the 500th selection in the 1997 draft
RP – Mark Petkovsek – had his best season in 1996 working as starter and long reliever for the Cardinals
RP – Matt Wise – appeared in 8 games for the 2008 Mets

 

Happy birthday to all of the November 18th All-Stars!

MLB Postseason Preferences and Predictions


The Major League Baseball playoffs begin tonight and as I’ve done in previous years, I’d like to offer my opinions on which teams I would like to succeed and which teams I expect will actually win. This is an interesting year in that both of my favorite teams – the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox – are participating in postseason play. This makes me nervous because I don’t want to see them play against one another in the World Series because I’d hate to see either team lose to the other. The last time this happened in 1999, I was ready to lean towards the Red Sox in a World Series matchup since they were in the midst of their famed championship drought. Now, if forced to choose, I’ll lean toward the Mets since the Red Sox have won a World Series more recently (2013 compared to 1986) and have won more championships in the last 12 years (3) than the Mets have in their entire history (2).

The 2016 Mets have shown that living well is the best revenge. Their 2015 World Series opponents, the Kansas City Royals, were eliminated while the Mets returned to the postseason by winning the first Wild Card spot. Who would have predicted that last November after the Royals dismantled the Mets in five games? Or even as recently as August 20th of this year when the Mets were 60-62.  Of course, if the Mets are to win the World Series they’re going to have to face Chicago, Los Angeles, and/or Washington, all of whom will be seeking revenge on the Mets for 2015 .  These teams may not recognize the Mets who show up to play in 2016 as there seems to have been a lot of roster changes since last autumn. Daniel Murphy moved to the Washington Nationals during the offseason, while David Wright, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Stephen Matz, and Wilmer Flores are all injured. Instead the Mets are relying on newcomers like Asdrubal Cabrera, Robert Gsellman, Seth Lugo, Rene Rivera, T.J. Rivera, Jay Bruce and a returned Jose Reyes. It will be fun to see how far the Mets go with this squad, but even if they don’t achieve much it gives hope for future seasons that – should everyone be healthy – the Mets will have so much depth to choose from.

The Red Sox won the American League East after what I consider a successful 4-year rebuilding period. As would be expected during a rebuild, the Sox finished in last place 3 of those 4 seasons, but more unlikely, they won the World Series in the other year. Nevertheless, the important thing is that the Sox rebuilt their farm system and held on to talented young players who form the core of this year’s team and I believe will make the Sox contenders for years to come. These include Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Travis Shaw, Brock Holt, Sandy Leon, Steven Wright, and Andrew Benintendi. They’re joined by veterans acquired via trade David Price, Rick Porcello, and Hanley Ramirez. And of course, Sox old-timers Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. This is notably Ortiz’s final season, and one of the best reasons I have for the Sox to go all the way this season is to see Ortiz win his fourth World Series with Boston before he retires.

There are a lot of intriguing possibilities considering the other teams in this year’s postseason. 8 of the 10 teams have significant championship droughts greater than 20 years: Toronto (1993), New York (1986), Baltimore (1983), Washington (no championships since franchise began in Montreal in 1969), Texas (no championships since the franchise began in Washington in 1961), Cleveland (1948), and most notoriously Chicago (1908). At the other extreme, the remaining two teams – the San Francisco Giants (2014, 2012, & 2010) and the Boston Red Sox (2013, 2007, & 2004) – have combined for half of the World Series title in the last 12 seasons!

Some interesting World Series matchups include:

  • Chicago versus Cleveland – the two longest droughts head to head as well as an original NL team versus an original AL team
  • Boston versus Chicago – an original AL team versus and original NL team, playing in MLB’s two oldest ballparks
  • New York versus Baltimore – rematch of the 1969 World series
  • Washington versus Boston – the Amtrak Northeastern Corridor Series
  • Boston versus San Francisco – which team will get the fourth title of the 21st century?
  • Washington versus Texas – which team will win their first World Series? (also, former Washington team versus current Washington team)
  • Washington versus Baltimore – an All-Chesapeake Series

The League Championships Series may also have some interesting storylines:

  • Chicago versus Washington – each team has a lengthy pennant drought, the Cubs last appeared in 1945 and the Nationals have never won a pennant since the franchise was born in Montreal in 1969
  • San Francisco versus Los Angeles – classic West Coast rivalry for the first time in the NLCS
  • New York versus Washington – a younger East Coast rivalry but I think it’s  a fun one

After all that, here’s the ranking of my preference of which teams I’d like to see win the World Series:

  1. New York Mets
  2. Boston
  3. Chicago Cubs
  4. Washington
  5. Baltimore
  6. Toronto
  7. Cleveland
  8. Texas
  9. San Francisco
  10. Los Angeles

And here is my prediction of how I think this postseason may actually shake out.

Wild Card Games:

  • Toronto defeats Baltimore
  • New York defeats San Francisco

League Division Series:

  • Boston defeats Cleveland
  • Toronto defeats Texas
  • Washington defeats Los Angeles
  • Chicago defeats New York :(

League Championship Series:

  • Boston defeats Toronto
  • Chicago defeats Washington

World Series

  • Chicago defeats Boston

Let’s hope I’m wrong.  What are your picks for the MLB postseason?

Book Review: The Iowa Baseball Confederacy by W. P. Kinsella


Author: W. P. Kinsella
TitleThe Iowa Baseball Confederacy
Narrator: Tom Parker
Publication Info: [Ashland, Or.] : Blackstone Audio, Inc., [2014]
Summary/Review:

I’d been meaning to reread this book, one that became one of my favorites of all time when I first read it in a high school, and with the recent death of W.P. Kinsella, this seemed like an opportune time to do so.  The story is one that blends baseball, Americana, time travel, magic, and just plain weirdness.  The narrator inherits from his father the knowledge that his rural town in Iowa was once home to a team in a local baseball league known as the Iowa Baseball Confederacy before the town was destroyed in a flood.  No one else is able to remember anything prior to 1909 .  While Gideon Clarke is mocked for obsession, he eventually finds a way to travel back in time with his friend Stan, a minor league baseball player, to observe and join in the Iowa Baseball Confederacy All-Star Team’s epic game against the visiting Chicago Cubs in 1908. The game lasts 40 days in a rainfall with a stone angel playing outfield and visits by President Theodore Roosevelt and Leonardo da Vinci.  He finds love with a woman named Sarah but also finds that reality is being manipulated by an Indian named Drifting Away and that none of this can last.

So does this book hold up to my fond memories?  I say yes!  It may not be a brilliant work of literature, but it is a fine book which works on different levels of story and metaphor.
Favorite Passages:

“Baseball is the one single thing the white man has done right.” – Drifting Away

Recommended books: The Universal Baseball Association by Robert Coover, The Curious Case of Sidd Finch by George Plimpton, and The Veracruz Blues by Mark Winegardner
Rating: ****

Remembering W.P.Kinsella


The Canadian author W.P. Kinsella died on Friday, September 16.  H’es most famous for the novel Shoeless Joe which was adapted into the film Field of Dreams.  From the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, if you’d asked me my favorite author, I would’ve said Kinsella.  It’s been a long while since I read a Kinsella book and the last time I read him as an adult I found it wasn’t as good as I remembered, but still a key figure in my reading life.

I was introduced to W.P. Kinsella in an odd way when I received his short story collection The Thrill of the Grass as a Christmas gift from my grandmother.  It seemed an example of my grandmother being clueless since I actually didn’t like baseball at this point in my life.  Also, it was clear she hadn’t read the book since there were many depictions of sexual activity that I’m sure she didn’t want a 10-year-old reading.  But maybe Grandma was a conduit for something because within a year I had become an avid baseball fan.  And Kinsella’s sex scenes were not bawdy fantasy but depictions of the complications and conflicted feelings of people in committed relationships, something a boy should learn about.

And so I became a devoted Kinsella reader, getting every book of his I could find at the library or the bookstore.  His baseball stories were easier to find than his stories about Native Americans, although I read some of the latter too.  My favorite W.P. Kinsella story is The Iowa Baseball Confederacy which involves the 1908 Chicago Cubs, time travel, an endless baseball game and a torrential downpour, and a statue of an angel (which was creepy long before Doctor Who made angel statues creepy).  Here are some other memories of Kinsella’s work:

  • Long before I read anything by Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, this was my first exposure to magical realism.
  • A story of how the Catholic Church hierarchy is so removed from the people of the church, and the harm it causes.
  • Stories of First Nation people in Canada, including one where a couple disguise themselves as Indians from the subcontinent because they’d be treated better in Canada.
  • A swindler using the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate to win a bet.
  • Baseball fans use the 1981 strike to replace the artificial turf at the local baseball stadium with real grass, one square foot at a time, and the community that forms to tend the grass.
  • Tributes to J.D. Salinger, Richard Brautigan, and Janis Joplin, among others, in his works.
  • A manager has to deal with the knowledge that the Cubs will win the last pennant before Armageddon and there’s nothing he can do to stop it.
  • A story in which a bunch of male friends share punchlines of jokes and the protagonist reveals to himself that he is gay, through a punchline.
  • And my favorite story of all, “How I Got My Nickname,” which is the ultimate bookish nerd fantasy in which a bookish nerd gets a spot on the 1951 New York Giants (as a pinch hitter because he can’t field, throw, or run) and discovers that all the other Giants are readers who have literary discussions in the clubhouse.

I remember being a bit irritated that Field of Dreams deviated from the book – especially regarding J.D. Salinger and the oldest living Cub – as well as being cheezy and melodramatic, but yeah, I liked it too.

Here’s to W.P. Kinsella, and the stories we tell and the memories we share.

Photopost: Farewell Summer, Farewell Papi


The kids & I visited Fenway Park on Tuesday night, taking advantage of their free Kid Nation tickets on Xander Bogaerts bobblehead night.  This was our last Red Sox game of the season and thus most likely the last time we ever saw David Ortiz play in person.  Sadly, it was not a great game for Big Papi and the Sox, although he did drive in a run on sacrifice fly that was snagged on a great catch.  Hanley Ramirez put the Red Sox ahead on a home run past the Pesky Pole, but the Tampa Bay Rays hit a home run to tie the game and then another to go ahead for good.  Still, it was a lovely night out at the old ballpark near the end of summer.

Book Review: Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park


Author: Linda Sue Park
TitleKeeping Score
Publication Info: New York : Clarion Books, c2008.
Summary/Review: This brilliant children’s novel is set in Brooklyn in the 1950s, the golden age of New York City baseball. Young Maggie, a devoted Dodgers fans, listens to games with the firefighters at the local station, until one day a new guy is listening to a Giants game on the radio.  Despite their conflicting allegiance, Maggie and Jim become friends and he teaches her how to score a baseball game.  Then he is drafted into the ambulance service in the Korean War.  They keep in touch but then Jim suffers a trauma that prevents him from being able to communicate with anyone.

The novel depicts Maggie’s efforts and sacrifices to connect with her friend through baseball and doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war, or the futility of this particular war.  Along the way, Maggie also invents sabermetrics (okay, I’m kidding, but it’s not too far of a stretch).  This is a loving book about friendship and healing.

Recommended books: Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger and Wait Till Next Year: A Memoir by Doris Kearns Goodw
Rating: *****

Photopost: Baseball, Rainbows, & Fireworks


On Saturday, my family spent 7 hours at McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket, RI and we didn’t even see a baseball game!  We started with a free on-field clinic for the kids with PawSox coaches and players as instructors.  Then we settled onto a blanket on the grassy berm in centerfield and waited for the game to start, the kids getting batting practice balls tossed to them by a Buffalo Bisons pitcher.  But just as the game was set to begin, a torrential downpour swept through, and we huddled under a tent with scores of other fans to wait it out.  A beautiful rainbow graced the heavens after the storm, but the field was flooded and it took a long time to determine if it would be safe to play.  The game was postponed, but the superhero-themed fireworks went ahead as scheduled. All in all, a dramatic day at the ballpark!

 

Podcast of the Week: Mike Matheny’s Manifesto on Fresh Air


I was impressed listening to former big league catcher and current MLB manager Mike Matheny discuss the culture of youth sports, the subject of his new book The Matheny Manifesto.  He also had some fascinating stories of his major league experience and concussions.  It actually made me like a St. Louis Cardinal!

http://freshairnpr.npr.libsynfusion.com/-silence-on-the-sidelines-an-mlb-insiders-manifesto-on-youth-sports

 

Book Review: The Philly Fake by David A. Kelly


Author: David A. Kelly
TitleThe Philly Fake
Publication Info: Random House Books for Young Readers (2014)
Summary/Review:

This is a book in my son’s favorite “Ballpark Mystery Series.”  Set at the Philadelphia Phillies ballpark, it’s a mystery that involves the Philly Phanatic and an evil Ben Franklin.  Lots of fun Philly “Spirit of ’76” activities mixed in with baseball and mystery solving.

Rating: ***