Sunday, April 26, 2009

Yankee Stadium: Old and New

I don’t remember a whole lot about my first visit to the old Yankee Stadium when I was six or seven. I know it’s supposed to be a seminal event in any Yankee fans life and that every detail should be remembered as an everlasting photograph. However, at that age, I just didn’t understand the importance of the moment.

I’ve been told it was an Old Timer’s Day and I could have potentially seen Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto and other Yankee legends who were still alive back then. It would have been a nice memory to tell my kids one day, but alas, it isn’t one that survived.

However there are certain memories from that day that do stick out in my mind.

I was a shy kid so I vividly remember being overwhelmed by the sheer mass of the crowd. Walking around the stadium before the game, I don’t think I could have clung tighter to my dad’s hand. I remember looking around, eyes wide open, at all the people surrounding us. I sat between my father and older brother, Tom, and was hypnotized by the cheering crowd. I’ll never forget that out of all those people, Tom was the one a pigeon picked to relieve itself on. Classic.

But, unfortunately, I have no memory of the game itself.

I’m pretty sure the Yanks lost, because I only saw a few wins in the old place. One of the first wins I remember seeing in person was in 1996. It was a school field trip, but I got to take my dad. The Red Sox jumped out to an early lead, but after a rain delay, Bernie Williams tripled to put the Yankees in the lead for good.

The best part about that game was watching the Yankees superb end of the game relief pitchers in person. Mariano Rivera mowed down the Sox in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Yankees’ closer at the time was John Wetteland and he started out the ninth inning with a strikeout that made the whole stadium shake. He ended the game with a strike out after Joe Girardi threw out a runner trying to steal second base. I remember my dad jumping out of his seat like he was a teenager. I’ll never forget giving him a high five and hugging him while all the fans went nuts around us.

The best seats I ever had in the old stadium fell into my lap. I received the tickets as a gift for a July 4th game. I brought my dad and we were pretty happy to find out that the seats were a section removed from the seats closest to the field. We were also under the upper level and out of the harsh July sun. Early in the game, a couple came up to us and asked if we wanted to switch seats with them because they wanted to get their young daughter out of the sun. The father pointed to where his seats were—eight rows up from the visiting team’s on-deck circle. I’ve never seen my father move so fast to claim our new seats. And I immediately went to get us some flat, overpriced celebratory beer. It never tasted so good. It was hot in the sun, but we had come well prepared with ample amounts of sunscreen so we didn’t fry like bacon. I don’t think we left those seats once, not even to use the bathroom. When the game ended, with a Yankees win in fact, neither of us was eager to go home.

I watched every last second of the last game at the old Yankee Stadium on television. My girlfriend, who had gone to bed well before it ended, asked me in the morning how the game had gone and I told her I cried at the end of it. She couldn’t understand why. She said the new stadium was going to be hundreds of times nicer and soon everyone would forget about the old one. My father actually said the same thing when I called him later in the day even though he was only saying it to comfort himself. But it wasn’t the Stadium I was crying for; it was all of those memories I still have. I know I’ll make memories in the new stadium, but there will always be a piece of me that will always remain with the old one.

What was really weird about my first visit to the new incarnation of Yankee Stadium was seeing the old stadium still standing across the street.

It was like having your ex-girlfriend sitting a couple seats over from you and you’re still desperately in love with her. Coming out of the subway, my muscle memory almost dragged me to the opposite side of the street. However, I overcame that when I realized that my current girlfriend was even better than the old one.

My actual girlfriend is the reason I got to go in the first place. I concluded when the new stadium was built that there would be no way I could afford tickets. She received an e-mail last week with a promotion for $5 tickets and made me call immediately. The next thing I knew, I had two seats in the upper deck for only $20. You have to love the $10 service charge.

I was in love at first sight.

I couldn’t stop looking at the beautiful new design once I got off the subway. The outside is very reminiscent of the old Yankee Stadium prior to the 1974-1975 renovation. It had a really old school feel to it, but also looked fresh and modern. I had a huge grin on my face and was bouncing around excitedly like it was my birthday and I was ten years old. I couldn’t wait to get inside.

I’ll never forget walking into the Great Hall for the first time. It defies description. It’s everything that makes the Yankees the Yankees. It’s over-the-top, lavish, in-your-face and historic. It’s wide open and feels like you’re walking into the lobby of a five-star hotel. There are banners representing Yankee greats, as well a humongous picture of the celebration of the 1996 World Series victory. I started seriously following Major League Baseball that particular year and to see the image of Wetteland jumping into Girardi’s arms blown up larger than life instantly gave me chills.

As much as I wanted to see where my seats were, I wanted to see the field. My favorite part about going to a game as a kid was emerging out of the dark passageways into the brilliant sunshine and having the field seemingly leap into my consciousness. It appears as if the green grass never ended and it was always perfectly cut. The grounds crew would be raking the dirt to get it as smooth as possible. The players would be stretching or running in the outfield or having a catch on the grass in front of the dugout. All of these images attacked my senses at once and filled me with euphoria. I was happy to find out that seeing the field for the first time at the new stadium was just as awe inspiring as before.

The whole experience made me feel like I had been there before. I sensed all of the old stadium’s charm. My dad, who had gone to a game there the previous Sunday, commented that it felt like you were home. And he was right. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this place had been here forever, instead of being just a month old.

I am absolutely in love with the façade that surrounds the roof. It’s a great touch and really adds a feeling of nostalgia to the whole place. I remember growing up watching old highlights of games before the original stadium was renovated. I always appreciated the way the stadium used to look. To me, the post-renovated stadium lost a little of that old-time charm by having only part of the façade over the centerfield scoreboards. The Yankees made the right decision to replicate the old façade in the new design.

Much like the old stadium, the new one included a walk of shame up the ramp to the grandstands. You keep walking and walking and feel like the game will be over by the time you reach your seats. However, what’s different about these ramps is that you have enough room so that you don’t feel like cattle being led to the slaughter house.

Space is one of the biggest differences in the new Yankee Stadium. If the game is going bad and you want to leave your seat and go off by yourself, you feel like you can do that. Even though it was a smaller crowd because of the weather and I was in the upper deck, it felt like you had all the room in the world to walk around. I’ll need to go to another game to see how it is with more people there, but I got the impression that it was a lot easier to move around.

Our seats were great. We were in the upper deck on the third base side in left field. Much like the old Yankee Stadium, I really don’t think there is a bad seat in the house. From where I was seated, it looked like every seat had a good view of the field, even if you were farther away.

Andy Pettitte pitched that day and at first, I wasn’t that excited about it. I love him to death, but I’ve seen him a bunch of times in the last couple years. There was a rainout on Monday, so all the pitchers back a day. I knew I shouldn’t have been disappointed. Andy pitched great for seven innings.

It was a really good game. The Yankees jumped out to a four run lead early and held on to beat the A’s 5-3. Brett Gardner made a terrific diving catch in centerfield, which my girlfriend remarked was worth the cost of our tickets. Mark Teixeira also made a heads-up play to throw a runner out at home plate and Johnny Damon sealed the lead with a homerun to left field. Since the Yankees led by less than three runs, I was able to see Mariano Rivera pitch. Seeing him trot in from the bullpen with Metallica’s Enter Sandman blaring and the stadium going crazy is one of the best moments in sports. He gave up a single to make it interesting, but retired the last batter on a weak pop up.

Other than the game and seeing all the new stadium had to offer, there are a ton of other memories from that day that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. It was fun teaching my girlfriend who the new players were so she could keep everyone’s name straight. Also, thanks to her, I now have a complex about why I don’t cheer along with the music. We got to know a drunk girl who was so wasted my girlfriend had to point out that the Yankees were in the white uniforms and the A’s were in the green uniforms. We got an added bonus when we were able to collect some souvenir cups that people left behind.

As we were walking out, the old stadium seemed like it was sulking in the shadows cast by the bright lights of the new stadium. I almost felt guilty for enjoying the Yankees’ new home as much as I did. That feeling didn’t last long when I took a last look up at the new exterior all lit up against the black night. I felt like I was looking up at a monument. In a way, I was. It was a monument to all the memories that came before and all the memories that were ahead. It is a symbol of all the hope and promise that comes with being a Yankee fan. I look forward to experiencing it someday sitting with my father and brothers.

I want to give my dad the last word in regards to the new stadium because he really put it best. He said:

“They just did everything right and I knew they would. I don’t know how they do it all the time, but they do it.”

Sunday, April 19, 2009

End Game and Baseball Brothers

It’s Game Four of the World Series.

The Yankees are up three games to zero in a best of seven against the Atlanta Braves.

It’s late in the game and the Yankees are down by a run.

After a base hit, the Yankees’ big slugger comes up with a chance to do some real damage. He’s one homerun away from setting an all-time record and putting his team up in the final inning. He calmly touches the plate with the end of his bat and eases into his stance. He’s ready for anything.

The Braves’ pitcher takes his time on the pitching rubber. He’s not sure what to throw. He finally makes up his mind and starts his delivery. His mechanics are perfect. He plants his foot and releases the ball exactly where he wants to.

The white ball slices through the crisp fall air. Everything is silent as it makes its way toward home plate.

The batter takes a step and starts a mighty swing. His wrists move his bat quickly toward the strike zone. His head is down and he rotates his hips to generate maximum power.

The silence of the moment is broken when the ball connects with the bat. It starts again as the two competitors watch the flight of the ball.

“It’s gone!”

A record breaks and a World Series victory is within reach as the ball hits the top of the outfield fence and goes over. The batter raises his arms as he starts to round the bases. It’s a triumphant moment. He leaps up and lets out a yell.

The pitcher does not take any of this well. It appears like he’s lost the game and feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. He can’t help but cry.

Then, he gets angry as he watches the batter celebrating around the base paths. He grips the only weapon he has, his glove. He rears back his arm and lets it fly.

It finds its target, who is stunned as he reaches home plate. Yelling fills the air as the pitcher starts barreling toward the man who’s just humiliated him. The batter puts his hands up defensively. The pitcher swings his fists wildly, but the batter keeps pushing him away before he can make contact.

“Boys!” a scream fills the air. “Get inside right now! You can’t play nice, your season is over!”

The younger brother quickly lands one more punch before running into his house crying even harder. The older brother picks up the yellow Wiffle bat that he just hit his 200th homerun of the season with, gives one more look around the backyard and also heads inside.

World Series over. Season over.

Years later, the older brother is trying to survive the Florida heat while his college team fights off elimination. He cringes as a third strike sails by their last hope. He watches as his hated rival celebrates on the field.

He eases off the bench and starts going through the motions of getting all of the equipment together. He recognizes the faces on the seniors. It’s the recognition of a last moment. There is no tomorrow and there is no next year.

He stops what he’s doing.

He’s a senior. He’s done now too.

The dugout empties out quickly, like it does after every loss, save for the handful of guys looking at each other not knowing what to say. It’s harder for the men around him; they actually have a uniform and a line in a stat book to walk away from. He just has to hand in a laundry room key.

In the locker room, the coach tells him what their plans are for “getting out of Dodge”. The older brother is half listening, wondering what it’s going to feel like in a day or two waking up and not having to pick up after 25 players and four coaches. The game has been apart of him so long, he wonders what it will be like not to be around it every minute of every day.

He takes a deep breath as he remembers something. His younger brother’s high school season isn’t over yet. His team opens the state tournament two days from now.

There are still games left.

The younger brother gets a hit in his last at-bat.

The game is too far out of reach to matter, but it’s a line shot between the first and second baseman. He rounds first base like he’s been taught all his life. He watches the left fielder come up with the base hit cleanly and throw it in to the shortstop covering second base. He retreats back to first base and waits there until the pitcher is back on the rubber.

He’s erased off the base paths moments later after his teammate hits a groundball to the shortstop. He wipes the dirt off his pants and sprints back to the dugout.

His team can’t rally and the crowd is left stunned by the upset. The older brother watches from the stands as the seniors take a last look around. Some are going off to play college ball and still have games to savor. Others though, like his younger brother, are leaving the game behind for good.

The crowd starts to shuffle out. Some of the players come out of the locker room of the old time ballpark quickly, wanting to get away from the pain of losing right away. The older brother knows that his younger brother won’t be among them. He’s always the last one out and tonight will be no exception.

True to form, the younger brother walks out with the coaches. His faded, sweat-lined blue hat is pushed up on his forehead. Their mother rushes to hug him, despite the fact he’s all dusty.

The older brother waits patiently.

Finally, the two brothers shake hands.

They meet blue eye to blue eye.

Two careers began in a backyard not too far away from where they were standing. One brother was able to wear a uniform and captain a team to a state tournament. The other hung on for dear life as the game brought him around the country as a watcher, writer and go-to-guy.

There’s no throwing a glove this time or staging a tantrum. There are only smiles and pats on the back.

The two walk out of the stadium together, arms around each other.

Neither has to look back.

Player Spotlight

Brothers have long been an intricate part of baseball history. Joe, Vince & Dom DiMaggio ; Cal & Billy Ripkin ; Aaron & Bret Boone ; Felipe, Matty & Jesus Alou and of course, the tres Molina brothers are some of the more well known bands of brothers littered throughout baseball’s past and present. However, I wanted to think outside the box for this week’s player profile. I was not disappointed.

I’m a big fan of any player with my first name (even more so of Dan Ford , who will get the spotlight to himself one of these weeks), so I was pleased to discover Hall of Famer Dan Brouthers . Brouthers played in 19 major league seasons from 1879-1896 (He also played 5 games in 1904, but did not accumulate any stats). In 1883, he achieved his career high in batting average, .374, and drove in 97 runs. He also had a whopping 159 hits in only 98 games, including 17 triples. Brouthers also had a career year in 1892 when he racked up 197 hits and had 124 RBI. He finished his career with a .342 lifetime average, a .423 on-base percentage and 2,296 hits. He died in 1932.

In honor of today’s guest and, well, me, I also discovered the brother duo of Gene and Russ Ford. I sympathize with Gene because he was the older brother, but had to watch his younger brother enjoy the better career. Then again, Gene can also say he played in the major leagues and I can’t (well, he could if he wasn’t dead). Gene pitched in seven games for the Detroit Tigers in 1905 and came away with a 0-1 record with a 5.66 ERA. Russ, on the other hand, pitched seven seasons for mostly the New York Yankees from 1909-1915. He went 22-11 in 1911 with a 2.27 ERA and 158 strikeouts. He finished 18th in the MVP balloting that year according to He ended up just one win shy of 100 career wins with an ERA of 2.59.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hardball Heart Guest:
Softball Spud

Happy Tuesday Everyone!

Sorry for the late posting of this interview, but I promise you it is worth the wait. This week’s guest is a good friend of mine I met during my first stint in grad school at St. John’s University. We started making fun of each other right away and a beautiful bromance was formed. Our friendship really started to take off when he asked me if I wanted to play for the softball team he was on. I couldn’t say yes fast enough. He then informed me it was a gay league. To which I replied, “I don’t care. Yes.” It ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and my first year on the team really got me through some rough times. So without further adieu, here is my conversation with my buddy Chris a.k.a Spud (normally I would say if you have trouble understanding his mumbling and gibberish look to me for translation, but since it’s via text, you shouldn’t have any trouble. I think).

DAN: I, along with our friend Scott, came up with the idea of dressing up as Revolutionary Era historical figures for your wedding. We have you as Aaron Burr, who we’ll come back to later, me as George Washington and Scott as Alexander Hamilton. Has your fiancé warmed to this idea at all and when are we getting fitted for powdered wigs?

SPUD: Kristy is all over the idea of us getting married in Revolutionary garb. Mainly, it’s so she can rock a revolutionary era gown that will probably put me even deeper in the poor house, good times. No, the only issue I have with this incredibly thoughtful plan is Scott coming as Hamilton. I like Scott and do not want to have to kill him because he besmirched my character. I am thinking Scott could be Ben Franklin or, hey, who doesn’t like a John Adams sighting. You as Washington is a horrible casting job. I know you are floating over the MVP award you won last year from our softball team but I am not sure you have the same stature as the original W.

DAN: Growing up, baseball was really something that got my family through a lot of struggles and tough times. What has the game meant to you and why do you think it has such a special place in our culture?

SPUD: Baseball meant summer when the season started. I know school was going to come to an end soon. Also, it meant days of playing the numerous versions of the game we played in the complex I grew up in, from stick ball, waffle ball, fast pitch to, ironically, the occasional softball game. Baseball helped me create a social network when I was a kid and allowed me to meet people I would have never met without the game. I think baseball plays such an important role in our culture because some version of the game has been played since the mid 1800’s and has survived the many calamities that have faced Americans during that time. Baseball was there during the Depression and WWII as a way to forget about the misery for 9 innings.

DAN: We play in one of the more interesting leagues for a couple of straight guys. I said earlier that it was one of the best decisions I ever made to sign up, but I was wondering what you think makes it so special? What do you enjoy most about it?

SPUD: The reason why our league is so special is our team. They always make you feel welcome and treat everyone with respect. I remember my first practice and how I felt like I belonged, even before the practice was over. Once they got to know me and how insane I am (they being Chris, our third baseman), treated me like the baby I was and made the game fun. Regardless if we win or lose there is always a margarita to be had after the game and a Family Guy quote that will have us laughing for hours. Where else can the McNugget song take a team to the championship game? Only in the BASL!

DAN: That being said; how do you like our chances this year?

SPUD: We are going to be fine. We hit well and play the field decently. All we have to do is stop having horrible first innings and we will have a good season. Regardless it is slo-pitch and if we play well at the end of the season I think we can beat any team in our league.

DAN: When I sent you the first draft of my blog entry this week, you were pretty upset about devoting so many words on sweat, but not mentioning what you do to your hats every softball season. Explain to everyone the evolution of your hat funk.

SPUD: The hat funk started when I was younger. I would play games of basketball with a hat on and thoroughly destroy it simply by sweating through them. Know that I am bald and have no hair to stop the sweat, so my hats are doomed from the start. The first hat I wore with the Noreasters had the coolest salt line, almost to the top, until Kristy decided to wash it. Also, that hat suddenly disappeared once the season was over. The Minnesota Twins hat from two years ago was done after the first month and I ruined one of my jerseys from the red dye leaking down my back. I think it had to happen during the championship game we played in the sauna. The Brooklyn Dodgers hat from last year and the hats we bought this year should be fine, simply because every time we play it rains so they will be cleaned by nature.

DAN: We spent a lot of time deciding on what hats we were going to wear this season. We try to select hats that either match the blue in our uniform or have a New York connection. Which hat is your favorite and which one do you think you’ll sweat through first?

SPUD: I love the New York Giants hat and I know that hat will be destroyed first. The Montreal Expos hat has a chance to be a complete mess because of the red dye in the back. Hopefully I can destroy both hats by the end of the season so we can buy new hats next year. I am thinking an old Yankee hat and something from the Negro League. This is why I love the summer!

DAN: So my topic on Sunday was smells of the game. What is your favorite sports related smell?

SPUD: Well, we discuss swamp ass and butter nuts on a weekly basis during the season, but my favorite sports related smell is the smell of the fog and dew before the games we play in Central Park around the Fourth of July. Also, the smell of hot dogs always reminds me of the old Yankee Stadium and my first game with my Pops.

DAN: You basically moved me into my apartment single-handed in a raging thunderstorm, heat wave and a highway investigation. Where does that rank up there amongst your smelliest days?

SPUD: Possibly the worst day I ever had. The funk was so bad I had to throw away every stitch of clothing I wore on that damned day. If I had known about your stairs before I moved you there is a chance I would have feigned illness and not showed up. I have never sweat that bad in my life and then your girlfriend wanted to taked pictures, WTF!

DAN: Obviously, you’re a history buff like I am. What is your favorite era of history? What about that era have you enjoyed learning about?

SPUD: I love colonial era New York history. Ever since I started reading the history of New York, I have loved learning about the growth of the city over the time and how it was formed into the city it is today. The topic I enjoyed the most is the effect slavery had in the development of the city and the lack of knowledge many people have on that topic. The slave revolts are of particular interest to me and I will eventually either write about them further or teach that as part of my history classes.

DAN: Ok, back to Burr. Here is your chance to defend why you like him so much without me interrupting you to make fun of you.

SPUD: I just think he was always fighting for any semblance of respect. During the revolution he actually was a legitimate Colonel and fought in battles unlike Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and Adams. He also ran for President the way one was supposed to during the times. He did not advocate for himself because Washington didn’t and therefore no one should. Jefferson on the other hand always had his minions (I am talking about you James Madison), who would spread the Jefferson gospel. Also, anyone that bothered Jefferson to the point that Burr did is definitely a friend of mine. I am not going to discuss Burr’s attempt to split the U.S. in half simply because he wasn’t the only great American involved (*cough* Andrew Jackson), and he was backstabbed by Jefferson’s best friend and foreign spy James Wilkerson. Finally, he dueled with Hamilton because Hamilton and Burr had aspirations to be the American Napoleon and he was the better shot, plain and simple.

DAN: I know you’re going to take some issue with what I’m about to say. There were a lot of characters in that era, including Burr, Wilkerson (who was an administrator of the Louisiana Purchase and a double agent for just about everyone in the world), Washington, Lewis and Clark, etc. However, I think if you needed to point to one guy that exemplified all the potential and contradiction of that era, I think it would have to be Jefferson. I’m not saying what he did was right or wrong, I’m just saying that he continues to be fascinating because he introduced this bold, Enlightment vision of human freedom, but at the same time was able to justify slavery and keeping minorities (which was really everyone but white landowners in those days) out of that vision. I think Adams’ too had his hand in just about everything and left a lasting mark on the country. I can definitely appreciate you rooting for the underdog though. I’m a big fan of Henry Clay, who never won the Presidency, but was a force in early western politics and in the Senate fighting against James C. Calhoun.

I hate talking to you about the Yankees in April because you are one of the first lemmings to jump off the cliff at the first sign of trouble. You happened to be right last year, but I will reserve judgment on them until at least June. What do you think of their chances this year?

SPUD: To be honest, I am writing this after Chien Ming “Wrong” gave up nine runs in the first two innings Monday night and after the bullpen gave up seven more, so I might be a bit jaded. With all that said, I do like their chances because of CC Sabathia , A.J. Burnett and Joba Chamberlin. I still think Joe Girardi is a bad manager and the bullpen is a lost cause. But they will be in it until the end and hopefully they can get “Wrong” right and find some pen help before the trade deadline. The offense looks anemic at times, but I love Nick Swisher and I think Robinson Cano is going to have a huge season.

DAN: Talk to me about your new big T.V. What did you have to agree to get it and will this be you last upgrade?

SPUD: Good God, I love my new T.V. It is a 65” Sony Aquos and the picture is ridiculous. I watched The Dark Knight on it and I got emotional like I was at a theatre, just with better picture. The games look incredible on it and it fits nicely in my house. I have nothing but great things to say about the purchase and, to be honest, if I didn’t have softball I could easily gain 80 lbs watching the beast. This might be our last upgrade for a while since we are going to be paying off the Tinkerbell bedroom set for a while.

DAN: When you have a bunch of us over to play Madden, how many points do you think you’ll beat me by?

SPUD: If you show up, I will have to beat you by at least 30. Like in our previous game, I will give you hope and then crush you like a bug. Please bring Steve-O [author’s note: Steve-O is my former roommate and future Baseball Sunday guest] over so I can redeem myself. I played so bad against him and it is still bothering me.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Smells of the Game & Rouglas Odor

Baseball smells.

Sure, there are those smells that every sports writer likes to wax poetic about. Everybody loves the smell of an old leather glove pressed up against their nose, overpriced hot dogs, frothy beer spilling everywhere and freshly cut green grass.

However, you won't be able to spin the odors we'll be discussing today into eloquent hyperbole.

I cracked into my softball bag for the first time in a couple months and it was, ahem, ripe. There weren’t any dirty clothes or ancient socks in a hidden nook; it was just the lost vapors of last summer’s sweat and B.O. that had stubbornly clung to the insides before being zipped up for winter. I guess a pair of well worn cleats didn’t help matters much.

However instead of alerting the authorities of an impending biohazard, I breathed in deeply. I felt alive! I could have thrown on a pair of gym shorts and played 18 straight innings of softball right then and there (had it not been pouring outside with a biting wind). It was a great "bad" smell.

There is nothing quite like the aroma of baseball or softball sweat. It doesn’t smell like other sweat. All athletes experience extreme heat and the sweat pours out of them. But for the most part they’re constantly moving around. With baseball, you could be standing in the same spot in the outfield for hours, just baking. There have been times in the dead of summer that I have been left for dead in left field with the sun torturing every drop of liquid out of my body. I sweat from everywhere. The water cannot escape my body fast enough.

So, all of this man sweat has to go somewhere. It does. It finds a home in the fabric of my dri-fit jersey and shorts. Of course I’m also wearing black socks that go up to my knees so by the end of a marathon softball day, I could ring them out and fill a medium sized swimming pool that no one would want to cannonball into.

To try to combat this prodigious sweating, I drink as much water and Gatorade as humanly possible so I have something for the sun to suck out of me every time I trudge back out onto the field. I repeat this for six to seven innings, my insides gradually burning while I do all I can not to collapse in a puddle of my own sweat.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like if I didn’t have anything to drink. If I tried to man it out in a battle against the sun, who would win? I envision the heat and sun would mockingly laugh at me before liquefying my insides, sucking them out through my nose and turning me into dust.

I digress.

By the end of the day, I smell like a combination of the East River, rancid sewer water, burning flesh and just a hint of lemon-lime (depending on the flavor of Gatorade I’ve consumed that particular afternoon). By now, I’m sure you can’t imagine anything that could make this situation worse. But I can.

The subway!

Stepping into the air conditioned train is almost better than the shower that awaits me at home. The main difference is that people are staring at me, and not because they know all about the game winning hit I smacked. It’s because I’m the reason they’ve forgotten all about the homeless guy at the other end of the train (who is making plans to hop off at the next station because even he can’t stand the stench). The best part is that all the smells I’ve accumulated are congealing on my body and clothes. Even after a thorough washing of both, the memory of the stank never really goes away. And that’s not exactly unfavorable (unless you make your significant other uncontrollably dry heave to the point where they need immediate medical attention).

Like I said, baseball smells.

Player Spotlight

Continuing today’s theme of smelly Sunday, I was able to unearth some fine examples of baseball’s fragrant past. According to, Rouglas Odor played 8 seasons in the minor leagues from 1988-1995. He played in 618 games and had a career average of .248. His best season came in 1990 playing for the Cleveland Indians Advanced A Affiliate. He hit .261 with 116 hits, 21 doubles and a slugging percentage of .326. He did find some success playing independent ball in 1995, batting .289 for three teams. He was a shortstop/second baseman that made 65 errors in his career, good for a .965 fielding percentage.

I also discovered Chester Sweatt, who played 13 seasons in the minor leagues from 1909-1922. He was a lifetime hitter of .263, but did manage to hit .302 in 1917. His best season arguably came in 1914 when he smacked 8 homeruns, with 13 doubles and 12 triples. He finished that year with a slugging percentage of .380.

There was one major leaguer that exemplified my odorous ode to baseball. He is Frank Funk, pitcher for the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Braves in his brief four year career from 1960-1963. He was actually a pretty dependable relief pitcher for the Indians in 1960. He pitched in close to 100 innings and won and saved 11 games. His E.R.A. was 3.31, which isn’t that bad pitching in a league with Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, et. al. He struck out 64 batters that year and finished with a career total of 150. His last season with the Braves he went 3-3, with an E.R.A. of 2.68 in 25 games.

Major League Update

Opening Week usually provides some scenarios that make baseball fans and commentators scratch their heads. I mean, how can you honestly have a conversation with someone about the fact that the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays are sitting on top of the AL East with only one loss each. Both teams are expected to be awesomely bad, but there they are, ahead of the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees, three teams expected to be the best in the entire league. Speaking of the Red Sox, they bring back Jason Varitek after he has a mess of a season offensively and what’s the first thing he does? He hits a homerun on Opening Day. He hit another homerun two days later and compared to last year is hitting a respectable .267. The Cleveland Indians are 0-5 after yet another off season of speculating that this would be the year that they put everything together and made another run to the World Series. The Royals, who have been a trendy pick to be this year’s Rays, have seven players in their lineup hitting below .215.

The reason I’m bringing all this up is that baseball, more than any other sport, needs at least a month or two to sort everything out. You can’t possibly judge who is really good and who is really bad. The Indians could run off 10+ wins in a row, the Orioles could lose 10+ in a row and we’re right back where we started from.

Opening Week is like taking a big gulp of air when you’ve been submerged underwater. Everything seems possible and you’re just grateful that you’re still alive. After awhile, you forget to remind yourself to breathe and your reason and common sense comes back. We’ll see where we are come June. My apologies to the Washington Nationals fans. Your luck isn't going to get any better this year, enjoy your five wins (and if you root for the Texas Rangers, consider yourself cursed).

Sunday, April 5, 2009

First Principles, Mickey Mantle & Papa Ford

All the wires were plugged in where they needed to be. The cable box was blinking bright green numbers that made no sense. I double checked the instructions and quickly rearranged the cables to where they actually needed to be.

There were more nonsense blinking and numbers. I unplugged the cable box from the power source and plugged it back in. Different numbers, and even letters, popped up on the display screen. This is around the time I started swearing.

I sat on the couch and waited. I was patient for all of five seconds before I got up and tried everything all over again.

No cable. No baseball.

I had fought my girlfriend to re-up our cable for the start of the 2009 Major League Baseball Season, I had fought the bureaucracy of the 23rd St. Time Warner office and I had fought the rush hour subway crowd on my way home. There was no way I was giving up without watching a baseball game in my own apartment, especially with the Yankees opening up their new palatial stadium.

However, after 15 more minutes of sweat and swearing, give up is exactly what I did. I slumped onto the couch thoroughly exasperated. I fired up Google to call up Time Warner and berate the first real human being I got. I was promptly put on hold, by a machine.

As if scripted, my technology savvy girlfriend arrived home from work and wanted all the attention. I had a sour puss plastered all over my face as the hold music blared in my ear. She started to ask me question after question and in my ensuing tantrum I hung up on Time Warner. I was on my own again, this time with a cranky girlfriend.

I was about to give in, let everything go and give her all the attention she wanted, when out of the corner of my eye, something started to happen.

Something different!

I shoved her lovingly out of the way and focused all of my attention on the new run of numbers and letters. The television stopped spitting out static and snow and went blue. A countdown began. And then it happened.


I wasted no time in commandeering the remote to frantically search for the Yankees’ flagship station. My eyes widened and my smile returned. There was green grass, brown dirt and bright, white, pinstriped uniforms. Finally, baseball (and a prolonged argument about how to program the remote).

Before we continue, I guess introductions are in order. My name is Daniel Ford and I’ve been a passionate baseball fan all my life. With the help of my family and friends, I will be discussing the game that has been like a religion to me. Each Sunday, I’ll delve into a variety of topics I find interesting about the ins and outs of baseball and the players who have defined it. I must admit I am a die hard Yankees fan, but will do my best to keep my bias and Red Sox hating to a minimum. There will also be a weekly interview series featuring my family, friends and whoever else comes along. I do hope you enjoy.

Player Spotlight

Words upon words have been dedicated to this week’s Player Spotlight selection, but I couldn’t think of a better example of how my love for baseball started. This player played 2,401 games for storied New York Yankees and was an icon for a generation of young boys, including my father. He is the one, the only, Mickey Mantle.

Besides the unreal numbers he put up in his Triple Crown year of 1956, there are several other stats that jumped out at me from the pages of my Baseball Encyclopedia. He had an on-base percentage of .512 in 1957 and that didn’t even lead the American League! He lost out to Ted Williams who had an on-base percentage of .526. The other stats are his .685 and .605 slugging percentages in 1961 and 1962. From 1960-1962, Mantle whacked 124 homeruns and lead the Yankees to three World Series.

Mantle was also a legendary drinker. It was eventually his undoing, but to his credit, he spent most of the last years of his life telling his fans “don’t be like me”. The Mick died in 1995.

Baseball Sunday Guest

For this inaugural edition of Baseball Sunday, I wanted to get the perspective of someone who saw Mantle play in person. I have long maintained (to the unending criticism from women and mothers everywhere) that baseball is a game best reserved for fathers and sons. It is a game that not only enhances their bond, but in many ways, defines it. I am lucky enough to have a father that created and nurtured a passion for baseball in all three of his sons. I couldn’t think of a better person to interview first.

DANIEL: What do you remember most about Mickey Mantle?

DAD: I remember how well he played with bad legs. He would have 3” of tape wrapped around his legs, but he had such speed, could hit for power and could catch up to any ball in outfield. He made it seem like he wasn’t hurt. I saw him play in person a bunch of times. I used to take a field trip with an altar boy club and we’d sit in the bleachers. One year we’d go to Yankee Stadium and the next we’d go to Fenway Park.

DANIEL: Were you one of those kids that emulated Mantle?

DAD: As a left handed hitter, I tried to copy Roger Maris’ swing. Maris had such a fluid swing and I liked the way he cocked his bat above his head. Mantle had such a powerful swing, it was fun to watch.

DANIEL: What did you think of the way he carried himself off the field?

DAD: He was a partier. There are legendary stories of drinking nights with him, Billy Martin and Whitey Ford. It makes what he did on the field even more amazing. Not only was he battling injuries, but he was battling alcohol too. Toward the end of his life, he really made an effort to make people see who wrong he was. He didn’t want people who idolized him thinking that everything he did was right.

DANIEL: You watched three sons play baseball. What do you miss the most?

DAD: Watching you guys play the game. It was my favorite thing to do in the world and I miss it terribly. I was proud of all three of you. I would rearrange everything to watch you guys and that wasn’t always easy. When Tom (my older brother) was playing in the American Legion Tournament in Rhode Island, I had to call in a lot of favors with people at work on top of trying to make that drive pretty much everyday. Those are things you don’t forget though. Even you, with no experience, you went out and played really hard in that park & recreation league. I was proud of you for winning the most improved player award. I think if I had it to do over again, I’d have pushed you more to play Little League and then who knows what you would have done. I was proud of Pat (my younger brother) too when he was the co-captain of his high school team. I just loved watching you guys and being a dad. I miss going and cheering and would kill to watch another game.

DANIEL: Why do you think the game has been so special to our family?

DAD: I think we just have a love for it. I started you guy in it and you really took to it. It’s always been a great diversion in bad times, especially this year with all the economic stuff going on. Tom actually deserves a lot of credit for carrying the torch. He loved the game more than I did after awhile and hooked you guys at an early age. You weren’t that social when you were younger, but he had Pat swinging a bat around the age of three. He worked with you once you got over your shyness. He actually said something to me when Pat started playing to help me be a better Little League parent. He said, ‘don’t coach from the stands, don’t criticize, just cheer’. It’s something I pass on to the guys at work who have kids playing ball right now. It’s just a great game and I just loved watching you guys play it.

MLB Predication

I hate making a prediction this early in the season when all I have to go on is a bunch of spring training games. So, I’ll reserve some of my thoughts for a later date. I will say that it is going to be a very interesting season. I don’t see any team that really pops out and looks like it will be a dominate team. I think both the Yankees and Red Sox look great on paper, but have plenty of question marks that make me think the Rays might still be the team to beat in the AL East. I don’t like any of the teams coming out of the NL or AL West, but I think the AL Central could be an interesting division. I would never sleep on the Twins and think the Indians have the pieces to be a really good team. The Phillies are returning 22 of the 25 players from last year’s roster and look like the team to beat in the NL. I think the Mets have a great bullpen, but other than Johan Santana, don’t have an intimidating starting rotation. I look forward to seeing another Mets collapse in late September, this version with the starting pitching sticking the knife of the hearts of Mets fans. I think the Cubs will be good too, but honestly can’t think of another NL team being of any interest.

Well, that’s enough for this week. I hope you enjoyed the inaugural Baseball Sunday and I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Have a great week and I’ll be back next Sunday!