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POSTCARDS FROM PORTSMOUTH MURALS & HUDSON VALLEY RENEGADES

The bulk of the following post originally appeared on booktrib.com but before we go there, just want to say a word in behalf of September baseball. The pennant races have not been dramatic this year but suddenly the Tampa Bay Rays and California Angels started to make moves in the American League wild card race and in the case of the Angels they are now only one game back of the Texas Rangers in the loss column.

In the National League the St. Louis Cardinals have suddenly surged and the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves have slumped, not coincidentally because the latter two have been playing the absolutely dominant Philadelphia Phillies.

NOT EVERY PENNANT RACE HAS TO BE A NAIL-BITER AND ONCE AGAIN I PLEAD THAT NO EXTRA TEAMS BE ADDED TO AN ALREADY SUFFICIENT PLAYOFF FIELD OF EIGHT TEAMS. BASEBALL IS SUPPOSED TO BE DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHER SPORTS!

My Orioles have had a respectable September so far and even split eight games with the Yankees who had absolutely dominated them earlier. They still have to play good baseball to avoid the ignominy of losing a 100 games for only the third time in their history. Alas, their play of the last decade and a half is closer to their lineal ancestor the St. Louis Browns than the team I fell in love with in the early 1970s as a model of consistency and smart play. I remain, of course, a true believer.

And now the post with slight editing that originally appeared last week at booktrib.com N.B. A feature on the families that house the HV Renegades discussed below will air Su Sept 18 on CBS "Sunday Morning" aired from
9 to 10:30AM (EDT), most likely some time in the last hour.

POSTCARDS FROM THE PORTSMOUTH MURALS & THE HUDSON VALLEY RENEGADES
I have had my share of wonderful moments this summer and added a great bonus at the end of August when invited to speak at the rededication of the Branch Rickey-Jackie Robinson mural in Portsmouth the county seat of Rickey’s beloved Scioto County located in south central Ohio on the Ohio River upon the Kentucky border.

Really lucked out on weather. Got out of NYC’s LaGuardia Airport just hours before Hurricane Irene hit town. Spent Saturday in Cincinnati getting a grand tour of the Reds Hall of Fame located in the Great American Ball Park.

A must-stop for any baseball fan. Among permanent exhibits: the pistol of legendary early 20th century Reds owner GARRY HERRMANN, highlights of Reds World Series teams of 1939-40-1961-1990 & memorabilia of former pitcher-broadcaster WAITE HOYT including his painting of TED “BIG KLU” KLUSZEWSKI.

Plus a special exhibit honoring JOHNNY BENCH the Hall of Fame catcher who will have a night on Sat Sep 17. Expect overflow crowd at the new ballpark that resides on Ohio River and has become a carnival with a riverboat restaurant in center field, the towering Great American Insurance building overlooking the ballpark from behind home plate, and get this, health-conscious fans: a very popular fruit stand within the ballpark itself!

Sunday August 28 in Portsmouth proved a special occasion. Took pleasant two hour plus drive on picturesque four-lane roads southeast from Cincinnati.

Was awed by the nearly 100 murals in Portsmouth. All the work of gifted artist ROBERT DAFFORD from Lafayette, Louisiana. His mural “Waiting for the Whistle” is one of most acclaimed at Chemainus, Vancouver Island British Columbia, the town that started the mural-revival movement. Other work can be found throughout US and Belgium and France but he always returns for more summer work in Portsmouth.

This year he touched up the Rickey-Robinson mural that had been damaged by water erosion. At outdoor ceremony Dafford told crowd of nearly 200, including more than two dozen members of Rickey’s family, that he always had affinity for people who make heroes heroes.

“EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED” DEPARTMENT!
I knew that Dafford’s home town was same as former Yankee great southpaw RON GUIDRY. “I ran track with him in high school,” the painter told me.
“Usually well behind him!”

At indoor Portsmouth ceremony GENE BENNETT (recently retired Reds scout & another Scioto County legend) remembered Rickey’s love of baseball, work ethic and fear of idleness of young people standing on street corners.

In videotaped message Hall of Fame Dodger broadcaster VIN SCULLY said that Rickey “talked baseball like no one I ever met, . . . but he was far more interested in my character than my knowledge of the game.”

85-year-old former Brooklyn Dodger right hander CARL ERSKINE also sent memorable video greeting from home in Anderson, Indiana 3 hrs away. When Rickey wrote in scouting report, “This boy can learn anything I can teach him,” Erskine considered it finest compliment he ever received in baseball.

Erskine also paid tribute to Rickey’s strong religious foundation he once compared to the “red threads” in a baseball. Whenever in jam on the mound, thinking of that gave Erskine needed “confidence and calmness.”

Speaking of compliments I was very moved when Erskine held up his copy of my biography of Rickey to his ear and said, “I hear the voice of Mr. Rickey in this book.”

FINALLY ON TO HUDSON VALLEY: The following Sunday September 4th
I attended the final home game of the Hudson Valley Renegades at Dutchess County Stadium in Fishkill, New York, just north of Beacon. Another scenic trip this time taken on the Metro-North rail line.

Competing against the talent-rich often older players of the Staten Island Yankees and Brooklyn Cyclones (the Mets’ affiliate) in the McNamara division of the New York Penn League, the Renegades, a Tampa Bay Rays farm team, did not make playoffs in 2011. But they finished respectably at 37-39.

At least two of their pitchers are headed to Instructional League later this month in Port Charlotte on Florida Gulf Coast: Lefthander RYAN CARPENTER and righthander PARKER MARKEL. Who knows? One day may soon follow in footsteps of former Renegade righthanders JAMES SHIELDS and JEREMY HELLICKSON who’ve had outstanding American League seasons.

Capacity crowd of 5300 plus came to the finale. Post-game fireworks was one attraction plus many bargains. How about tennis balls – pack of 6 for $5? Or delicious homemade cupcakes. SANTA CLAUS made an appearance and Mrs. Claus as well. After all, no baseball until next spring.

Never a dull moment at a GOLDKLANG GROUP franchise. Pre-game entertainment a regular attraction – tonight a lively dance troupe.

And how about the Giant Toothbrush sponsored by a local dental company that cleaned off home plate before the top of the 5th. Never saw that before!

And to wrap up evening HV Renegades tied up pitcher’s battle in bottom of 7th and scored eventual game-winner in bottom of 8th in 3-2 victory over Aberdeen Ironbirds.

Hate to end my post with a reference to the Woerioles’ NY Penn League franchise. They began the year 2-16 and wound up with by far the worst record in the league, 24-51. Triple A team in Norfolk also deep in basement not to mention the Woe’s themselves.

Try to be positive, I know I know. And be grateful for health. I know I know.

OK that’s all for now. Remember: Take it easy but take it!




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