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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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Pre-Memorial Day Musings

We are past the quarter pole of the baseball season. Unlike the NBA where it has seemed pre-ordained for months that the Durant-Curry-led Golden State juggernaut and LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers will meet in the finals, I am happy to report that there are no clear favorites for the 2017 World Series.

The old cliche remains true - you cannot win a pennant in the spring but you sure can lose one. The odds look very long for post-season play for supposed contenders Kansas City and Toronto in the AL and the Mets and San Francisco in the NL - all are mired well below .500.

Yet for fans of those teams, please remember there are more than a hundred games yet to play with summery weather ahead. AND YOU SEE SOMETHING NEW IN EVERY BASEBALL GAME. Trust me.

Houston was rolling along in the AL West until a sweep at home this weekend by defending AL champs Cleveland. The Astros still have the best record in baseball before games on May 22, but they must hope that the DL stints of ace southpaw Dallas Keuchel and veteran catcher Brian McCann are brief ones.

A pleasant NL surprise is the Colorado Rockies under new manager Bud Black. They have developed some starting pitching to go with the potent offense they've had for a while. Before games of May 22, they were leading NL West 11 games over .500.

I'm not surprised that Bud Black is having early and I think lasting success. In 2002 he was the pitching coach for the California Angels world champions that had three future managers on the staff to go with Mike Scioscia who remains the senior skipper in terms of active longevity in MLB. (Joe Maddon and Ron Roenicke were the others.)

Here in my home town of New York, the Yankees look poised to reclaim the mantle of Gotham’s best pro team. The huge young right fielder Aaron Judge leads MLB in HRs with 15. His circus catch against Tampa Bay on Sunday saved the game and more than made up for his 4 K’s at bat.

Meanwhile, the vaunted Mets pitching staff has been plagued with serious injuries. I don’t like saying, “I told you so,” but when I read that Noah “Thor" Syndergaard during the off-season had been building up muscles to throw even harder, I knew he would break down.

“Thor” is now out well into the summer (at least), Matt Harvey has been lit up regularly, Jacob DeGrom is continually plagued by throwing hand blisters, and Steven Matz and Seth Lugo have yet to throw regular season pitches.

It says here that the Mets don’t have a consistent enough offense or defense to make up for these injuries. The Washington Nats look poised to remain on top for the rest of the year in the AL East. Again, though, many many games left to play.

As for my Orioles, they returned from a disappointing 1-6 road trip to win 2 out of 3 at home from Toronto. Their starting pitching bounced back from a disastrous trip away from home, but it is hard to possess great expectations with ace closer Zach Britton out until early summer (at best).

The O's less-than-imposing starting staff is headed by Chris Tillman, free agent-to-be just returned from nagging shoulder discomfort; Dylan Bundy (the most consistent so far but prone to the gopher ball lately); the one lefty Wade Miley (who does work with blessedly fast tempo a la the retired Mark Buehrle); Ubaldo Jimenez (another free agent-to-be who cannot repeat his delivery), and Kevin Gausman who was counted on as a possible ace but has gotten off to a very shaky start..

The Orioles do play spectacular defense most of the time, but it is needed most every day. When normally steady Jonathan Schoop booted an easy grounder in the loss to Toronto yesterday, it led to the three unearned runs in a 3-1 defeat.

Before I sign off, here is an update on baseball at the grass roots.

Weather permitting, the PSAL high school championships start on Wednesday May 26 at 3:30p at various locales around NYC. I have my eye on #3 seed Beacon in midtown Manhattan that seemingly has a deeper pitching staff than usual in 2017.

They tangle with my alma mater Bronx Science at the #3 North Diamond in Central Park, northeast of the 97th Street entrance to Central Park. Updates on the entire
tournament can be found at the psal.org website.

Perennial powers George Washington and James Monroe are seeded #1 and #2 but defending champion Midwood of Brooklyn is a contender as is Staten Island powerhouse Tottenville, runners-up for the title in the last three seasons.

Finally, on Thursday May 25 from 9p-2p, there will be a Scout Day at City Park Stadium in New Rochelle, N.Y - You enter on City Park Road off 20 5th Avenue.

Highly regarded college and junior college players from the New York area and INNER CITY PLAYERS WHO HAVE BEEN RARELY SCOUTED are invited to display their baseball wares to scouts from many major league organizations.

The event is sponsored by the Cesar Presbott Foundation run by the longtime Yankees area scout who signed Dellin Betances among many others. The Presbott Foundation does wonderful charitable work. For years, it has distributed more than 1000 Thanksgiving turkeys to needy areas in the Bronx.

That’s all this time - always remember: Take It Easy But Take It!
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