Wednesday, August 05, 2015

30 years ago this week: The forces that heal and Tom Seaver's 300th win


I've been blessed to witness in person some amazing baseball games -- and partake in some incredible experiences with great friends at the ballpark. But one game stands above all the others, Tom Seaver won game No. 300 30 years ago this week. Mets Guy in Michigan was a new blog when the 20th anniversary came around, and the post from that day is still a favorite. So we're reaching back into the archives to tell that story again.


You just know there are cosmic forces at work in baseball.

Usually the forces show their hands with a foul ball to Steve Bartman or a slow roller to Bill Buckner, keeping ancient storylines alive.

But sometimes the forces work to heal. I submit Aug. 4, 1985, twenty years ago this month, as proof.

If M. Donald Grant stabbed Mets fans in the heart by trading Tom Seaver to the Reds in 1977, losing him a second time in 1984 was like taking the wounded pump and throwing it out on the tracks in front of the No. 7 train.

Back then, teams that lost a player through free agency were allowed to compensate by selecting from a pool of unprotected players from each of the other teams.

The Mets, with a rotation of decent starters and Dwight Gooden on the horizon, figured no one would take an icon with a 9-14 record.

Wrong. The White Sox lost pitcher Dennis Lamp to the Blue Jays, they picked Seaver from the pool.

I didn’t take this well.

Just a hunch, but I think I was the only community college newspaper editor in the country to direct his cartoonist to take general manager Frank Cashen to task.

Tom pitched well in Chicago over the next season and a half and I closely followed his march toward 300 wins. He aimed at No. 299 against the Red Sox on July 30, and a win there would mean he’d get to go for the historic milestone in New York, where he never should have left.

Here’s were cosmic forces come into play. Seaver pitched nine innings in a 4-4 tie. But the Chisox threw three runs on the board atop the tenth to get Tom the win.

The next day, my dad bought tickets so the entire family could make our first trip to Yankee Stadium. I was beyond thrilled, and it was appropriate that we could experience it together. Lord knows my folks suffered through my devotion to the Mets and Seaver over the years. And I was leaving for the University of Missouri in a couple weeks, and this would be a meaningful send-off.


Sadly for the Yankees, the team had selected that day to honor Phil Rizzuto, retire his number and throw another plaque up in Memorial Park. Because you know, Ruth, Gehrig and the Scooter…all cut from the same cloth. Whatever.

Rizzuto never had a chance. As he was being showered in trips and golf balls, Tom tried to slip down to the bullpen to get warmed up. That’s when the chanting shouted, “SEA-VER…SEA-VER” cascading down from the upper deck.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Seaver, but you’re going to have to get your win in another city,” Rizzuto said in his remarks. Whatever. Phil then got stepped on by a real cow with a fake halo. 

The game went by like a blur. The Yanks stepped out to an early lead. Several times, “Let’s go Mets” chants broke out -- probably for the first time ever in that yard. The White Sox sent four across in the top of the sixth. The Yanks threatened in the eighth and the ninth, but the baseball forces were clearly determined to right a wrong.

The stadium erupted as Don Baylor, the home team’s slugger, flied out to Reid Nichols, just below our seats out in left. I can still see Seaver jumping into the arms of fellow future Hall-of-Famer Carlton Fisk, then running to the stands to his family while I hugged members of mine.

I’ll never forget the chills and the tears of that sunny afternoon. The uniform might have read SOX, but I didn’t see it. For a day, M. Donald Grant’s spiteful banishing to Cincinnati didn’t happen. For a day, the front office didn’t make the mistake of not protecting “The Franchise.” For a day, he never left and claimed his historic win before the fans who would enjoy seeing it the most.

Do you believe? The final score that day was 4-1, the same as the uniform number that would eventually be retired at Shea. Over in Chicago the Mets were playing the Cubs and Dwight Gooden won his 11th straight game. The score in that game: 4-1.

And give Tom credit for taking care of business, pitching a complete game. Will, me and the rest of the BaseballTruth.com Executive Board were in Detroit the day Roger Clemens made an attempt at his 300th win. He was pulled in the sixth with a 7-1 lead, only to have the Yankee infield kick the ball around and allow an historically bad Tigers team to tie the game. He lost his next game to the Cubs, and only lasted 6.2 innings in the game against the Cardinals when he eventually reached the milestone.

Perhaps it wasn’t Clemens’ fault. He didn’t have the cosmic forces on hand to mend wounded hearts.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bad postcard of the week: Greenville, the healthiest town in America


Today we have a classic example of not one, but two bad postcard genres.

We’re headed out to Greenville, Mich., for United Memorial Hospital and Extended Care Unit, which the back tells us is an accredited community facility of 110 beds. The hospital still exists today as Spectrum Health United Memorial.

Greenville’s a nice place, and there are many people who live there. Not a single one of them is in our postcard, though. That means we have the classic ghost town genre, usually associated with government buildings.

Then, we have a hard time getting a look at United Memorial in our United Memorial postcard. It is there, somewhere beyond the vast and empty parking lot and trees. It’s a bad sign when the most prominent in our hospital postcard is a street light and not a hospital.

On the bright side, we know that Greenville is a very healthy place. And we know this because there are no cars in the lot. No patients, no workers, no ambulances – nothing!


We can only assume that everyone except the photographer is at the Danish Festival, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. 

Bad postcards of the past:


April 13, 2014: Newsflash -- water is wet!

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Ballpark adventures: Lansing Lugnuts, Cooley Law School Stadium and the nicest employees ever


Nephew Zack came to spend a day with me at the office, and naturally we needed to finish off a day in Lansing, Mich. by attending a Lugnuts game.

Thomas Cooley Law School Stadium was previously Oldsmobile Park, reflecting the company’s ties to the city and connecting with the automotive theme, including the team’s name.

Now, nitpickers out there will point out that the Lugnuts' logo is technically a screw. This is true. Stop thinking too much and enjoy the game.
Naturally the Gnome of Victory and Celebration came along.
And there is much to like at Cooley, which is nestled just three blocks from the state Capitol and is the center of a revitalized neighborhood of restaurants and apartments, including a new building rising in centerfield that will allow people to watch games from their balcony.

Zack and I walked around the stadium and parked in our seats in the eighth row behind the visitor’s dugout, as our allegiance is with the rival West Michigan Whitecaps.

This is key, because I told Zack it’s always good to know the name of the third base coach. Whitecaps Manager Andrew Graham was manning the spot, and when he scooped up a slow-rolling foul ball and looked to the stands, I yelled “Andrew!” and he tossed the ball to me. We also yelled “thank you,” of course.
Thank you, Whitecaps Manager Andrew Graham!
The Lugnuts, in the Single-A Midwest League, were for years affiliated with the Cubs but have been linked to the Toronto Blue Jays for a while now. The list of former Lugnuts we care about is headed by Noah Syndergaard.
Thor experienced the joys of Lansing before heading to the Big Apple.

Here are some of the highlights:

Ultra-friendly staffers: It’s not that you run into too many grumbling people at a ballgame. Working at a stadium must be fun, especially if you are a fan. But every Lugnuts employee – and I mean every single one – was over-the-top friendly, and not in fake way. Lots of nice conversation, from whether we were enjoying the game or where we came from. I don’t know if this is a team policy or people are just generally happy to be there, but it was very pleasant.


Employees who understand the glory of the Pass-Port program: Zack and I had our books and went straight to the Nuts and Bolts team store. The nice folks had the stamps ready to go, took a practice run to make sure the stamp was right-side up and even paused so we could document the activity. Good job!

Nice statues: There are several outside the stadium, though they are of generic players and fans. Even cooler is the giant lugnut atop a nearby smokestack.



The food choice: It was fair. Again, we’re spoiled by the Whitecaps. But the pizza looked good and the ice cream was plentiful. There was something called a “pulled port parfait” that mixed pork with potatoes. We were not that adventuresome on this evening.
We passed on the pulled pork parfait.

Autograph zone: The Lugnuts have a designated area where players stop by before the game. This sure makes things easier, and if players are coming over, you know you are not interrupting their work. Our Pass-Ports have a page for autographs, and we enjoyed meeting three Lugnuts. This is a brilliant idea.

Good use of the MiLB ap: We were able to use the ap to enter various contests and post photos on social media. We attended a game on “Flat Screen Friday” and Zack was one of nine people to win a television.

Minor grumble: The team has rules against bringing your own food into the ballpark. I like to bring my own peanuts in than overpay at the concession stands. It's not like we're not going to buy other things once we're inside. 
This is Big Lug.
Overall, we watched a good game – the Whitecaps won – and got to meet some nice people and enjoy a fun ballpark. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What if MLB treated Pete Rose's gambling as an addiction and offered help instead of a lifetime ban?


Pete Rose is in the news again, and not for the reasons some expected in the weeks before the Reds host the All-Star Game. 

There are new allegations that Rose gambled on baseball not just as a manager, but during the waning years of his playing days.

That has me thinking, and so far Will and the Crane Pool Forum friends think I’m out in left field, like Rose was as debris rained down from the Shea Stadium mezzanine in the 1973 playoffs.

 I think Major League Baseball mishandled the Rose situation back in 1989 when he was banned for life after being accused of gambling on baseball. I don’t think the situation then or now has helped the game; despite what I’m sure were best intentions.

A few disclaimers are in order. First, hindsight is easy. I’m in no way an expert in addiction or mental illness. And, I understand fully why baseball can’t allow people to suspect that players or managers are throwing games.

Now, go back the late 1980s. Pete Rose had just retired as a player after breaking Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record, managing the Reds and was a player writers speculated would be the first unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame.

And, apparently, while this was going on he was betting thousands and thousands of dollars on sports, allegedly supporting this habit by getting involved with unsavory people who enabled and profited from his activities.We are not condoning this behavior on any level.

And we know the path that was chosen both by MLB and by Rose in the 25 years since this revelation. It’s not been pretty – not even a little bit. Rose's combative denials, then partial confessions have not served him well.

What if MLB chose another path? What if, instead of banishing Pete Rose, MLB pulled him closer?

What if MLB instead took the guy who had been one of baseball’s brightest stars and gotten him the help he apparently needed?

The volume of Rose’s gambling and the risks he took to support it suggest compulsive behavior that a person might be powerless to stop.

Today we look at addictive behavior as a disease. There are efforts to eliminate the stigma of mental illness. Baseball teams have staffs to deal with physical issues, but what do they do to care for a player’s mental wellness?

Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton is a high-profile example of a player who has tragically struggled with addictions. He’s been suspended – several times -- but teams also have worked to help him. His addictions have been recognized and helped, even after unfortunate relapses. Rose’s addictions got him banned for life.

That leads to another issue. We know why the threat of a lifetime ban is necessary, but there is a danger in absolutes. There’s a difference between a guy with a sickness he apparently can’t control and the Black Sox conspiring with gamblers to throw the World Series. One is a compulsion and the other is a conspiracy.

Having an absolute punishment – the lifetime ban – probably makes it less likely for people to get the help they need. We know about “zero tolerance” policies for weapons in schools, and we’ve heard the stories about elementary school students getting expelled for bringing plastic butter knives to class. People in authority need to be able to look at each situation individually.

Today, Rose is banned not for throwing games, but for gambling on baseball. Today we also have MLB allowing the families of team owners to also own casinos. Something seems off.

Pete Rose should face consequences for his actions. People aren't absolved of transgressions because they struggle with an addiction, even when they get the help they need.

But I think baseball would have been better served all these years by helping Rose, and by working with a more flexible method of dealing with his struggles. 

It seems fair that he should not be allowed to manage a team again. And, now that he’s in his mid-70s, I’m not sure that’s an option for him anyway.

He should be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Considering that writers today won’t enshrine Mike Piazza because of alleged bacne, they’re not going to elect Rose anyway, at least in his lifetime.

But Rose should be allowed to participate in on-field celebrations, such as the Reds Hall of Fame days or even the upcoming All-Star Game. 

More importantly, let Pete Rose into the clubhouse to do things like talk to today’s players about the dangers of addictions and compulsive gambling – and hopefully direct them to an MLB program that can get them the help they need if they ever face the demons Rose allowed to conquer him 25 years ago. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ballpark adventures: South Bend Cubs and Four Winds Field


Father’s Day weekend usually means a trip to the ballpark, and this year we hit the road to South Bend, Ind. to see the West Michigan Whitecaps play the South Bend Cubs.

It’s the first year of the team’s affiliation with the Cubs, which meant a new name. It was previously called the Silver Hawks, after the car made by Studebaker, which had a presence in the area.

The stadium name is also relatively new. Four Winds Field was previously named after Hall-of-Famer Stan Coveleski, who lived in South Bend for years.
There were some vestiges of the old Silvehawks name.

It’s a nice park and we had a good time despite only finding lawn seats available and the Whitecaps losing 3-2.

Fun things:

Stan

There’s a neat statue of Stan Coveleski near the centerfield gate. Fun facts about Stan include that he was one of 17 pitchers allowed to keep throwing the spitball after it was made illegal. 

He also was known to give kids free pitching lessons in the field behind his service station.

The Cubs Den

I like how the stadium worked some of the nearby buildings into the stadium rather than have them leveled. The gift shop is a vacated synagogue, and the team treats it respectfully, with a plaque detailing the building’s history and a verse from Exodus on the wall.

The prices seemed a little steep, even by ballpark standards, but there were some fun things in here, like foam rubber Cub heads.

Star Wars Night

It’s always fun when minor league teams wear special jerseys, and we were lucky to catch the Cubs on Star Wars Night. There were not as many people in costume as the Whitecaps seem to attract,  but there were enough to feel the Force.

The Cubs wore sweet Boba Fett jerseys. Gift shop had jerseys with Yoda, Chewbaca, R2-D2 and Darth Vader, which weren’t worn on the field.

The scoreboard replaced the player photos with Star Wars characters, with the Cubs swapping out for heroes and the villains replacing the Whitecaps.

Stuff for kids

The Cubs have a whole section in the outfield with giant Cubs-themed inflatables that dominates left-centerfield, making for a fun backdrop. There’s a splash pad beyond the lawn seats, and a playground just beyond that.

There also was a Cubs Performance Zone with batting cages that looked pretty neat. I liked that each cage was designated using the logo of a South Bend team of the past,

Trains and cars

South Bend’s Union has been closed since 1971, but the tracks are still there and the beautiful building looms over the wall near right field. Trains rumbled along the tracks in full view throughout the game.

Right behind the train station was the old Studebaker factory. 

Lawn seats

The lawn section was pretty small – and fairly expensive compared to other stadiums, especially considering that you have sit on the grass. But rather than the hill or berm you get at many places, the Cubs have a terraces to keep up from sliding down the hill during the game.


The down side of a lawn section is that you get a lot of disinterested kids, who in good times run in a clump to the location of any foul ball, even one four sections over. In bad times, you get kids like Noah and Manny.

Minor grumbles

Not many. Overall, the prices seemed steeper than at other minor league parks. And the team didn't have its Pass-port stamps yet after making the name change. (The stamps have since arrived, and the folks are taking care of fans who left un-stamped. Very nice people working for the Cubs.)

Overall

A good ballpark! I get spoiled by the West Michigan Whitecaps and the stadium experience there. But South Bend was a good destination for a short road trip.



Sunday, June 14, 2015

Rush R40 concert in Chicago: 40 years, three musicians, two buddies and one awesome concert


I start with a warning: This post includes spoilers.

The day of the epic R40 Rush concert finally arrived, wrapping up an insanely busy period that included a conference in Louisville, four intense work days at Mackinac Island, a visit from a king and queen, an honors ceremony, a high school graduation and finally an open house with relatives and many, many marching band members.

With all of those events going well, a celebration was in order. And a long-awaited Rush concert with my buddy and fellow Rush fan would do the trick!

I arrived in Chicago around 1:30, in time for a late lunch. Will used to write restaurant reviews and knows lots of cool places to eat. I know lots of things on the Panera Bread menu. So Will picked our lunch spot, a neat place in Lincoln Square. We spent the afternoon checking out a store filled with action figures of the past and catching up.

While we communicate frequently by email, it was our first time together since Will's epic birthday surprise just over a year ago. Fiancee Laurie pulled off an amazing feat -- gathering friends and family from across the country in a U.S. Cellular Field skybox to celebrate a milestone birthday.

Will has shed his ponytail after five years, and we've both had eventful years. It was a long overdue opportunity to share stories and photos.

We then made our way to the United Center, which also is home to the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks, the latter still competing for the Stanley Cup.

There are statues of Michael Jordan and Blackhawks heroes, and Jordan is wearing a Blackhawks jersey – that’s a “sweater” to hockey fans.

From our seats in section 314, we determined that the rest of the audience leaned toward middle age, but not as old as we thought it would be, and heavily male, though with more ladies than expected. Perhaps Rush is suddenly becoming cool!

Billed the R40 tour to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Neil joining the band, the show is decidedly an effort to look back at a long and glorious career.

I peeked at a set list online, but Will prefers to be surprised. I offered only that it read as if Geddy and the gang said, “Dave and Will, create a set list for the show” then accepted, and said “Well, we’ll make some changes, but this is pretty good.” Part of the fun for me was knowing what was coming, and watching Will’s reaction to hearing some long-unplayed favorites.

Note that this is twice in two years that I've been able to keep a big secret.
You know you are at a Rush concert when the line for the men's room is out
the door and down the hall, and there is no line for the ladies' room.

And Will was indeed surprised when the band ripped into “The Anarchist” from Clockwork Angels as the curtain raised, a curious choice to be sure.

The show was a trip back in time, starting with three songs from the most-recent release and the stage filled with some of the steam punk props form the Clockwork Angels tour.
The band proceeded to work backwards through its catalog, from Clockwork Angels though the debut album, and even a snippet of a pre-Rush song at the very end.

But as the band played, guys in red jumpsuits – like the movers on the cover of Moving Pictures – began disassembling the props, replacing them with a wall of Marshall amps on Alex’s side and white washing machines on Geddy’s stage right. On past tours, Geddy’s sounds were pumped directly through the PA, so he filled his side of the stage with various appliances, including revolving dessert trays.

The second half curtain rose to reveal a wall of amps on both sides and Neil’s old drum kit with chimes, and bells.

Geddy and Alex also pulled out older instruments as the set list worked backwards, including the double-necked guitars and bass for “Xanadu.”

And there were concert effects of the past to go with songs of the period, like the lasers shooting across the United Center during “YYZ,” which was greeted by Will yelling, “Hey, it’s “XYZ!” More than 30 years later, we are still bitter.

As the band proceeded to play older songs, the movers started removing amps. By the end of the show, Geddy was reduced to one amp set on two chairs and Alex with one stack – and the screen behind the stage showing a high school gym, showing where it all started.

Highlights

The set list was amazing, with the band dusting off favorites that have not been played in decades, including “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Hemispheres Book II Prelude,” “Cygnus X-1,” “Lakeside Park” and “What You’re Doing.”

The video screens were a big help, showing close-ups of the musicians and also videos from the past.

Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson is photographing the tour, and even from the upper bowl we could pick out the 6-foot, 10-inch “Big Unit” at the edge of the stage snapping away.

The intermission included outtakes from previous tour videos, ending with the South Park “Lil Rush” into to “Tom Sawyer,” which the band used to start the second half.

Speaking of “Tom Sawyer,” the guy sitting behind us was funny. He was a little older, and needed help from a kid when he wanted to post a concert photo on Instagram. But he went nuts as the first notes of “Tom Sawyer” burst through the PA, loudly singing both the lyrics AND the keyboard parts – “Wooo-woo-woo-woooo—woooooo.” He also knew all Geddy's song intros from the live albums.

Was this annoying? Yeah, a little. But he was clearly a huge fan having a great time.  And he somehow convinced his wife to come to the show with him. Enjoy the show and rock on, my loud friend!
Printed tickets are convenient, but I miss real ticket stubs!
Geddy noted that it's still hockey season in Chicago, with the Blackhawks battling the Tampa Lightening. And one of the red-jumpsuited movers came out in a Hawks jersey for one of the prop changes. That's cool because when I saw Rush at the Nassau Coliseum for the Permanent Waves tour, Geddy and Alex came out for encores wearing Islanders jerseys, noting that the team was in the Stanley Cup finals. A year later on the Moving Pictures tour, Geddy again noted that the band was performing on eve of a Stanley Cup victory.

So, if the Hawks win, Geddy and the boys get some of the credit. 

Minor grumble

One minor beef: The band worked backwards through its catalog, but skipped songs from Test for Echo, Presto and Hold Your Fire, and Power Windows. Since Will and I earlier in the week ranked Presto and Hold Your Fire at No. 2 on our R40 Countdown, we were bumming that we didn’t get to hear songs from those discs. It’s easy to look back and think they could maybe trim two of the Clockwork Angels songs and one of the Snakes and Arrows songs and work in some things from the omitted.

But that’s minor. And as Will pointed out, Rush could add three hours to the show and would still not be able to play all the songs we want to hear. That the burden of being spectacular.

All in all, a wonderful concert experience. It included a great band with great songs with a great show – all experienced with a great friend.


And Will jumps in:

I told Dave ahead of time that there were two things that Rush usually does at a show, besides kick all form of butt:

1) They play something old I'd never heard live before.

2) They play something I'd never heard before, period.

Mission accomplished:

1) “Jacob's Ladder” (a wish fulfilled, thanks boys), all of” Xanadu”(thanks again), a large chunk of “Cygnus X-1,” “Lakeside Park.”

2) “What You're Doing.”

I, too, loved the retro sets and lights. I half expected Alex and Geddy to come out in kimonos for 2112, like the Foos did at the RRHOF ceremony, but, well, you can't have everything.

I, too, was similarly disappointed about the skipping of certain things. Skipping Test for Echo was no surprise, because, as I assume, Neil just absolutely refuses to play anything from it. Skipping Presto was a disappointment, however. (I also would've preferred “Dreamline” instead of “Roll the Bones.”)

The second half of the show more than made up for the first half. After “Spirit of the Radio,” the boys served up a big steaming plate of progressive: It was basically an hour-long chunk of 10-minute songs broken up by only the obvious “Closer to the Heart.” I ate it all up and was asking for seconds.

In thinking about it more, the disappointment of no Presto was two-fold, not only for not hearing one of those songs again but also I was hoping for the rabbit to re-emerge from a top hat one last time. Hey, if you're doing retro staging, that had to have been one of their most famous pieces. It then could have stuck around and "rocked out" to “Subdivisions.”


Here's a video with the rocking rabbits in the background!

Unlike Dave and the unknown poster below (ahem), I didn't like the roll-back set list, although I understand why they did it that way (for the set), and it was a good choice, but, as Dave noted, I like to be surprised, and as soon as I realized what they were doing, I was able to start guessing most of what was coming, which wasn't as much fun. The only times I was truly surprised was “Hemispheres” and “Lakeside Park.” (I was surprised for “The Anarchist,” too, but only because I couldn't imagine that as a lead song. It was more a WTH surprise than an OMG surprise.)

It wasn't my favorite Rush concert, but it was awesome, like a hundred million hot dogs, sir.

Here's the R40 Countdown Will and I compiled as we waited patiently for the show.

No. 1: Moving Pictures (both of us)
No. 2: Hold Your Fire (Dave), Presto (Will)
No. 3: Permanent Waves (Dave), Signals (Will)
No. 4: Roll the Bones (Dave), Permanent Waves (Will)
No. 5: Power Windows (Dave), Roll the Bones (Will)
No. 6: Test for Echo (Dave), Grace Under Pressure (Will)
No. 7: Signals (Dave), A Farewell to Kings (Will)