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Lucking Out in Arizona + Farewells to Joe Delucca and Kelly Rodman

Here is my first blog post since the cancellation of the rest of spring training and MLB's decision to delay the opening of the regular season until no earlier than April 9. 

 

As someone who grew to love baseball when opening day was around April 15, this decision is welcome. Here's hoping for a return to a 154 game season or less. 

Of course, we don't know when the season will really start. It could be very late.  

 

I feel heartsick for the college seniors who will not play any college baseball this spring.  Omaha will host no College World Series in mid-June. (Most likely, MLB's amateur free agent draft, which would have been held for the first time in Omaha on the eve of the CWS, will now be back in MLBTV studios in Secaucus, NJ, in the NY metro area.


I also feel the pain of all the college basketball seniors, men and women, whose careers have ended abruptly.  A shout-out to Wisconsin's only senior, swingman Brevin Pritzl whose sharp-shooting and clutch rebounding meant so much to the Badgers' eght-game winning streak that propelled them to their unexpected Big Ten title. 

 
We will survive this current scare just like we survived the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, the polio scare of the early 1950s, and the divisiveness over the Vietnam War.  

 

If there is a blessing in disguise during all this unease, I hope we can regain the sense once again of what a real "nation" is - populated by people who may not agree on everything but who share an acceptance of basic decencies and belief in "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."


So here folks is the blog I nearly finished before all the shutdowns began. 

 

My annual trip to Phoenix for the 28th annual NINE baseball magazine conference 

was blessed with perfect weather in the first week of March. Temps in low 80s, sunny but breezy and comfortable even if a tad chilly at night and early morning.  

 

As always, the DoubleTree Hilton on the Tempe-Phoenix border on S. Priest Rd. provided a comfortable setting. The conference attended by nearly 100 scholars/writers/teachers/informed fans was very stimulating. 

 
Too many highlights to list them all but here are a few.  

As keynoter and opening night panelist, Ron Rapoport, veteran sportswriter now based in LA after many years as Chicago Sun-Times columnist, talked movingly about his Ernie Banks biography LET'S PLAY TWO, now in paperback from Hachette Books.  

 
It is not only a wonderful baseball book that will enthrall if bring back painful memories for Cubs fans who watched their chronic losing franchise let their 1969 lead slip away to the onrushing Mets. 

 
It is also a profound look at an essentially lonely man who was at his best, as Rapoport says, "being Ernie Banks," a person whose bubbling personality on the surface masked a crippling depression. 

 

Like any good biography, the book is peopled with incisive portraits of people who intersected with the Hall of Famer. Among them the innovative but baseball-blind Cubs owner Phil Wrigley, belittling manager Leo Durocher, and admiring teammates like Billy Williams who was as happy in his family life as Banks was unhappy. 

 
Another revelation at the NINE conference came in the screening of Larry Foley's documentary, "The First Boys of Spring." It is about Hot Springs, Arkansas where starting in 1886 the first spring training was held.  

 

Foley, a film professor at the University of Arkansas, has unearthed footage of Babe Ruth, working off his wintertime paunch, and Rogers Hornsby delivering hitting instruction to students at Ray Doan's baseball school that operated from the mid-1930s until shortly after World War II. 

 
"The First Boys of Spring" also features interviews with baseball historians Charles Alexander and Marty Appel.  The latter was appropriately filmed at Foley's bar a block south of the Empire State Building. (But I doubt Larry is related to the late NY Daily News sportswriter Red Foley for whom the tavern is named.) 

 

NINE offers the chance for authors to deliver brief papers about their books.  Mithcell Nathanson, previously a biographer of Richie/Dick Allen who did not consent to be interviewed, delivered a brisk talk about the late Jim Bouton, who did cooperate on Mitchell's upcoming biography from University of Nebraska Press.  

 

Anne Raugh Keene's discussion of her book "THE CLOUDBUSTER NINE: The Untold Story of Ted Williams and the Baseball Team That Helped Win World War II" also whetted the appetite. It will be out in paperback on April 21.

 

In the kind of find that historians dream about, Anne discovered after her father's death a trunk with clippings and photos about his time as a batboy for that navy team preparing for combat in the Pacific. Jim Raugh Jr. was inspired to become a great college pitcher at UNC-Chapel Hill and later a minor leaguer who never quite made the show. 

 

The NINE conference always features two afternoons of "field research," which of course means seeing Cactus League games.   The idea was insisted upon by conference founder the late Bill Kirwin, a social work professor at the University of Edmonton in Alberta who was an all-around athlete who played hardball until his early 60s. 

 
The first game we saw was especially sharp for so early in spring training as the visiting Dodgers flashed a lot of leather at the home team Oakland Athletics at Ho-Ho-Kam Stadium in Mesa, the former home of the Cubs. 

 

Yet another Santana in pro ball, Cristian Santana, whose number #94 likely indicates he will be back in the minors for the Dodgers, made three outstanding plays in a row at third base. He is only 23 but the native of San Cristobal in the Domincan Republic is entering his seventh year as a pro.   


Our second game was at the joint Diamondbacks-Rockies facility, Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in the outer reaches of Scottsdale. What the game lacked in artistry was made up for by the welcoming aspects of the park, its fine concessions, and the excellent design that offered  both sunshine and shade, the latter very welcomed by this aging fan. 

 

For information on next year's NINE conference (and yes, despite the anxiety of the moment, there wil be a next year), contact david.pegram@paradisevalley.edu 

 
I must now conclude this post with some sad notes.

Near the end of February, Joe Delucca, longtime baseball scout and high school coach and teacher in the western area of Long Island's Suffolk County, died at the age of 91.

 

The funeral was held at the ornate red brick St. Joseph's Cathedral just opposite Babylon High School and the baseball field named in Delucca's honor. 

His daughter Joyce captured the essence of her father's life-affirming nature. 

 

A veteran of the Korean War, Joe Delucca had a love of all kinds of popular music.  He liked the Creedence Clearwater Revival and Janis Joplin.  One day he whispered to his daughter, "Have you heard the Grateful Dead?"  

 
A year ago, Delucca's scouting mentor and best friend Tom "T-Bone" Giordano passed away at the age of 93. T-Bone had been scouting director for both the Orioles and Indians with Joe as his right hand man.  It was Joe who did the leg work to get Manny Ramirez to sign his first Cleveland contract.  

 

The presiding priest at Joe's funeral must have known this connection because he told a joke about two lovers of baseball who made a pact that when one died the other would let the survivor know if there were baseball in heaven. 

 

So not long after one dies, the curtains start shaking in the other's bedroom and a voice is heard bringing good news and bad news.  The good news? There is baseball in heaven and whatta team - Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Robin Roberts, Don Larsen just signed on.

 
So what's the bad news?  "I'm sorry but you're starting next week."       

 
Joe Delucca lived a long fruitful life. It was achingly tragic to learn that early this month Yankee scout Kelly Rodman left us before her 45th birthday, losing her battle to ovarian cancer.  Her friends, many young athletes, and the scouting community came out in force to remember her on Monday March 9th at the Bailey Funeral Home in Wallingford, Connecticut. 

 
Kelly exuded a love of life and love of baseball in every pore.  She was a star softball player in high school and at Eastern Connecticut State University. She then played hardball in New England, other areas of the U.S. and internationally until she found her niche in scouting.

 
She graduated from MLB's now-unfortunately-defunct scouting school in 2013, and had been a full time area scout for the Yankees since 2017.

 

Yankee scouting director Damon Oppenheimer and northeastern scouting supervisor Matt Hyde spoke movingly about how Kelly accepted without complaint the incessant travel and the hard work of evaluation that comes with the territory of the job.  She only regretted that she couldn't fulfill the terms of her contract, Oppenheimer said.

 

I have a vivid memory from a couple of winters ago of Kelly working with joy and energy at a Baseball Miracles clinic in Newburgh New York. Her ablity to connect with baseball people of any age or nationality or gender will be sorely missed. (There are only two other women scouts in MLB at the present time.)

  

She asked that contributions in her memory to the organization that brings equipment and instruction to under-served communities all over the world.  The address is www.baseballmiracles.org 

 
That's all for now.  I'll be back soon with more thoughts on coping with baseball without actual games for a while.  Always remember:  Take it easy but take it!  

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Teny Ymota Says: Spring Training Should Be On Everyone's Bucket List

Meet a new pseudonym from yours truly: Teny Ymota (The Earl of New York [for Weaver of course] Your Man On The Aisle.

2015 will go down as the first year I saw spring training games in both Arizona and Florida. First stop was mid-March in Phoenix - the 22nd annual NINE Baseball Magazine conference, probably the most stimulating one in its storied history.

In 2008 I was proud that the founder of NINE, the late social work professor and former Boston College running back Bill Kirwin, asked me to keynote the conference. I still like the title of my speech, “Whatever Happened To the Marvelous Importance of the Unimportant?” Of course, it is wistful thinking to think there can be a return to a time when baseball talk wasn’t obsessively focused on money.

My vote for the best sentence at NINE 2015 goes to Villanova law school professor Mitchell Nathanson who in an excerpt from his upcoming biography of Dick Allen said: “By saying so little he became the symbol of so much.” Hard to beat that pithy insight into the
U.S. of A.’s ongoing fractious racial discourse.

The NINE conference always includes two afternoons of “field work,” taking in MLB exhibition games. At the first game we attended the starting time was moved up to noon to accommodate Will Ferrell’s farcical attempt to play every position in several spring training games. It’s for an upcoming HBO special.

The startled look on Oakland starter Scott Kazmir’s face when he saw Ferrell playing shortstop in the first inning of their home game against Seattle was priceless.

I like much of Ferrell’s work, esp. his imitation of George W. Bush.
But it took retired football coach/TV analyst John Madden to take Ferrell publicly to task for such a publicity stunt.

Former San Francisco Warrior basketball star Rick Barry once tried something similar at Madden’s Oakland Raiders training camp and the coach made sure that his “gentlemen” defensive backs Jack Tatum and George Atkinson were prepared for Barry if he ran into their territory.

The NINE conferees also saw a ragged White Sox-Angels exhibition at Tempe’s Diablo Stadium. In truth, though, the great baseball-watching highlight of my trip was a thrilling 1-0 Oregon State Beavers victory over the Sun Devils of Arizona State.

Each starter tossed shutout ball into the eighth inning. Elapsed time? Under two hours. Then the bullpens took over and the last two innings needed nearly an hour to complete. The Beavers have an effective lefty reliever with a striking name – Luke Heimlich. Need I say what we should call his summons from the bullpen?
The Heimlich maneuver, of course.

My Florida trip was briefer, beginning with a Saturday afternoon game at the Braves’ home field at the Disney complex in Kissimmee outside Orlando. It was scorchingly hot and there is not much shade at the ballpark. Heavy-duty Neutragena sun screen sure came in handy. A highlight of the field is lawn seats back of third base that have an excellent sightline on the pitcher’s mound.

The Braves held off the Nationals in a close game. But it is unfortunate planning when many spring training games are played between teams in the same division. Who wants to let opponents know what you may be working on when games don’t count?

My trip ended with a Sunday afternoon game in Sarasota between the visiting Cardinals and the Orioles. For almost a half-century the Cardinals trained in St. Petersburg and seemingly more St. Louis fans than Baltimore rooters came out for the Cardinals’ first visit to the Florida West Coast since they moved to Jupiter several years ago.

Ed Smith Stadium is a great place to watch a game – more shade than in most spring training ballparks and reconditioned seats from Camden Yards give it a distinctly Baltimore flavor. Do wish that there were more leg room for yours truly. I did make a close survey for next spring of seats with double leg room!

In a very lackluster spring season for my Orioles, Adam Jones did provide a couple of home run highlights as did Manny Machado for one laser shot. Early in the game
huge Matt Adams belted a lazy 3-0 Bud Norris offering for a big Cardinal home run.
Fortunately I was on my way to the airport when St. Louis won the game with a Grishuk 9th inning home run.

I’m hoping that the 11-18-2 spring training record of the Baltimore birds (as of the morning of April 3) will not be indicative of a mediocre season. Won’t need much time to find out as the bell at long last rings on Sunday night for what should be a very unpredictable and exciting 2015 season.

That’s all for now – always remember: Take it easy but take it!

YIBF (Yours In Baseball Forever),
Teny Ymota (The Earl of New York, Your Man On The Aisle)
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