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One Man's Guide to Coping With A World Temporarily Without Sports

The sun was shining yesterday, Tuesday afternoon March 24 2020. I went outside cautiously to pick up prescription nasal sprays and shop for some more groceries.  

I kept a six-foot distance waiting on line to get in, which was impossible to maintain once you did make it to the shelves in a narrow-aisled store.  

 
The sunny day and the promise of increasing light brought me back to my younger days in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Listening on the radio to the sound of baseballs crackling on bats, and being entranced by the background sound of humming crowds as the teams played their last games in warm weather and worked their way up by train to opening day in the big cities around April 15th.  

 
I thought back to my interview with Robin Roberts during my first visit to spring training in 1979, the year I got serious about writing about baseball. The next spring my first book "The Imperfect Diamond: The Story of Baseball's Reserve and The Men Who Fought to Change It" came out, a collaboration with Tony Lupien, the former Red Sox first baseman and Dartmouth College coach.

 

Roberts, the future Hall of Fame pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies, was in his last years of coaching at the University of South Florida in Tampa.  Along with future Hall of Fame pitcher and future U.S. Senator Jim Bunning, Roberts had been instrumental in bringing Marvin Miller into baseball to revitalize the Players Association.   

 
On this day about 41 years ago, Roberts remembered wistfully how each team used to play their regulars for five innings in smaller cities as they moved North. He sensed that already, the intimate connections of players to fans was disappearing, but it was still a poignant memory. 

 
Now we are bereft of baseball until late spring, at the earliest, because of the novel coronavirus that, as I post, could erupt even more in New York City and its environs.  Nobody knows when it will be safe to go out in groups and congregate again at ballparks and in arenas. My guess is late June at the earliest but it's just a hope. 

 
It's not that there isn't baseball news. The Mets learned yesterday that pitcher Noah Syndergaard needs Tommy John surgery and likely will be out until the middle of next season. 


I don't consider myself a pundit or a baseball seer and I'm not a doctor or athletic trainer. But I just KNEW that it was inevitable that Noah would break down.  He bragged about wanting to throw 100 mph and more almost every pitch.  

 
I also just KNEW that the ballyhooed Dylan Bundy would break down early in his Orioles career. Because he too crowed about his vigorous weight program.  Bundy has a chance to show he has become a pitcher with his new team, the Angels.  One wonders if Noah will learn anything during his enforced idleness.

 

Here's a shout-out to the documentary and great game-rebroadcast programming on MLBTV.  Check out "Joy in Wrigleyville," narrated by actor John Cusack who played Buck Weaver, the man with guilty knowledge of the fix who didn't participate in it, in John Sayles's memorable film "Eight Men Out,".  

 
It's a heartwarming film focused primarily on many lifelong Cubs fans who found joy at last when the Cubs won the 2016 World Series over the Cleveland Indians, breaking their 108-year-long drought. 

 

Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins rock band is one of the frequent talking heads. Most memorable for me were a husband-wife firefighter couple from North Carolina that drove fo Game 7 at Cleveland's Progressive Field.

 

Also very moving were two fans who came to the Series with their children. 

One of them said that every parent wants their child to fulfill its dreams.

And it is just as wonderful to watch their parents' dream fulfilled.  Even if most didn't live to see the glorious triumph that eliminated the 108 years of frustration. 

 
Another fine MLB documentary focused on pitcher Mark "The Bird" Fidrych who rocketed on the scene in 1976 to become the darling of Detroit Tiger fans and most baseball fans all over the country. Interviews with Mark's widow and daughter and teammates Rusty Staub and Mark's personal catcher Bruce Kimm added immeasurably to the production.

 

It was followed by a rebroadcast of the ABC Monday Night Baseball game in which Fidrych threw a complete game victory over the Yankees before a packed Tiger Stadium crowd.  Was nice to hear the sounds of a broadcast team that wasn't together very long on national TV - Bob Prince, Al Michaels, and Warner Wolf.

 
Don't forget TCM shows "Pride of the Yankees" after 1015p on Sunday night March 29 and airs some classic baseball films from dawn to dusk on Tuesday March 31.

 

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT!

I heard last night a tremendously informative interview with Max Brooks on Terry Gross's long-running NPR interview show "Fresh Air."  He is an incredibly knowledgeable young family man of 47, the author of both non-fiction books about civil defense and zombie fiction books including the best-selling "World War Z" from 2006. 

 

Brooks said, "Fear can be conquered but anxiety must be endured."  He advised that we all practice "fact hygiene," i.e. don't fall for conspiracy theories or pass along dubious information. 

 

Without getting snarky about it, he suggested that the President must be fact checked after all his statements.  Max Brooks is a fully credentialed defense analyst who is part of research teams at both West Point and Naval Academy institutes. 

 
Check out a 43-second PSA (Public Servic Announcer) Max put out on the internet about the importance of social distance in these nervous times.  He created the clip with his father Mel Brooks, now 93, in the background.  How Max's mother the late Anne Bancroft would be proud of her son.

 
Here are a couple more cultural notes.  I watched on Amazon Prime Mariette Heller's "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," a drama about Pittsburgh's beloved the late Mr. (Fred) Rogers, the children's TV star. 

 

Heller and her staff, including her brother Nate who wrote much of the music, had the full cooperation of the Rogers Foundation including access to his closet and his famous sweater and sneakers.  I haven't seen the 2018 Rogers documentary, but "Neighborhood" is a truly deep dive into a man who truly believed that "everything mentionable is manageable." 

 
The cast is superb with Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers (Hanks sadly is now in quarantine with his wife Rita Wilson in Australia, who also carries the coronavirus) and Maryann Plunkett as Mrs. Rogers.  

 

In a key role Matthew Rhys plays the journalist who is interviewing Rogers for a magazine story; Susan Watson as Rhys's wife; Chris Cooper as the overbearing father of Rhys' character (based on the Esquire magainze writer Tom Junod), and the glamorous Christine Lahti in a brief but important role as Rhys's demanding editor. 

 
Mariette Heller is only 41 and I loved her prior film, "Will You Ever Forgive Me?" about the literary forger Lee Israel starring Melissa McCarthy who got a deserved Oscar nomination for making a not very pleasant woman very human and relatable. (We all owe a debt to Melissa for her hilarious takedown of press secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live early in the Trump years.)

 
I love so-called classical music and there is a marvelous moment in "Neighborhood" where Mr. and Mrs. Rogers are playing a duo-piano version of a gorgeous piece by Robert Schumann, "Pictures From The East," op. 66.  

 
Talking about special moments, I was listening yesterday to WQXR, NYC's only classical music station, and I heard a stunning vocal piece, "In My Father's Garden," by Alma Mahler. It was written before Alma Schindler at age 22 married the great German composer Gustav Mahler who was 41.

 

In a terrible commentary on the age of patriarchy, he forbade her from writing any more music while married to him. What marvelous new tones and sounds she would have created if he had been more tolerant. 

 

She did live a half century after Gustav died in 1911 but none of her later music had the deep creative vein of her earlier work.  (She did become the subject of Tom Lehrer's classic ditty about her marriages to other German notables, writer Franz Werfel and architect Walter Gropius.)

 
Well, that's all for now.  Back to you next month hoping we see some light at the end of the tunnel of the enforced and necessary hiatus on sports.  In the meantime, now more than ever, always remember: Take it easy but take it.   

 

 

 

 

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Another YIBF Journal, Father's Day Edition

Happy Father's Day to Dads and their loved ones! 50 years ago - on June 21, 1964 to be exact - Jim Bunning threw a perfect game against the Mets at New York's brand-new Shea Stadium. I went with my father and it wasn't an exciting game because the Mets trailed early. But the drama built up, of course, and Bunning struck out John Stephenson to end the game. He then headed to be introduced on Ed Sulivan's CBS-TV Sunday night "really big shew".

And now let's turn to Quotations from Orioles manager Buck Showalter. The Baltimore skipper worked as an ESPN commentator in between his Texas Rangers and Orioles jobs. He has a gift for the terse insight that this sound bite-happy world of ours requires. As the O’s try to assert themselves in the AL East, here’s a sampling of the baseball-savvy bon mots of Baltimore’s baseball boss:

**“This game has a way of embracing you or spitting you out.”
Said by Buck after the Orioles nail-biting Flag Day June 14th 3-2 victory over the Jays.
Opportunistic base-running by Delmon Young and brilliant shortstop play by JJ Hardy prompted this comment. (Hardy mysteriously has lost his power at the plate, perhaps because of lingering back issues, but his defense is exquisite – I highly recommend turning one's eyes away from computer screens to watch it.)

**”If you have one good pitch, you can compete in the big leagues.
If you have two good pitches, you can win in the big leagues.
If you have three good pitches, you can dominate.”
--Buck quoting ace pitcher-turned-broadcaster Orel Hershiser.

“There are four ways you can leave the major leagues.
You can TALK your way out of it.
You can PARTY your way out of it.
You can EAT your way out of it.
You can PLAY your way out of it.”
Showalter wisely recommends the last.

AN HOMAGE TO BB&T STADIUM in Charlotte, North Carolina.
A week ago I paid a visit to the new home of the Charlotte Knights the White Sox affiliate in the International League. It’s located across the street from the Carolina Panthers’ NFL home.

I was quite amazed that despite torrential rains the game was played with only a 75 minute rain delay. The drainage system at BB&T Stadium is excellent, and I was impressed by the swift manner in which Knights’ personnel used modern suction equipment to remove wet spots and puddles from the outfield.

The game turned out to be a slugfest won by the division-leading Columbus Clippers, an Indians affiliate, over the tailend Knights. Charlotte starter Tommy Hanson, once a promising Braves righty, was lit up early by a home run by Indians prospect Jesus Aguilar. Neither Hanson nor his first reliever former Cardinal Mitchell Boggs gave evidence that they might be heading back soon to The Show.

The Knights fell behind early but they had some moments with a rally that knocked out Clippers starter Gabriel Arias before he could qualify for a win. Jared Mitchell, former star LSU football and baseball player, blasted a homer but his BA remained under the .200 mark so I think his development is still lagging.

But I was really glad I got to see BB&T Stadium with its spectacular view of downtown Charlotte. It was Bark in the Park day and many fans brought their pooches to parade around the rapidly drying grounds. Retired wrestling star George “The Animal” Steele also was on hand to throw out a first ball from nowhere near the pitching mound. And the concessions were quite good.

COLLEGE WORLD SERIES IN FULL FLOWER:
The eight-team double elimination competition began in Omaha yesterday with Cinderella UC-Irvine staging a late rally to beat Texas, 3-1. It was a matchup of septuagenarian coaches Mike Gillespie of Irvine versus Augie Garrido of Texas. Both have won the CWS with other schools – Gillespie with his alma mater USC and Garrido at Cal-Fullerton before his last title at Texas in 2005.

In the evening game Vanderbilt held on to beat Louisville, 5-3. The deadened bats have reduced the offense in the college game so games are usually low-scoring. So a premium is placed on pitching and defense and the sacrifice bunt and the bunt for a hit take on more importance.

I’m enough of a purist to miss the thwack of the bat - I still cringe at the ping from the metal bat. But the intensity of the games and the usually close competition have won me over.

Father’s Day matchups are another surprise team Texas Tech versus Big 12 rival TCU and Virginia versus Mississippi. All aired on ESPN2 with the final best-of-three series starting on Mon June 23.

More on the CWS next time as well as word on the upcoming inductions into the College Baseball Hall of Fame near the Texas Tech Lubbock campus.

In the meantime the YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever) always advises:
Take it easy but take it!
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