Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Adventures of the Noreasters:
Softball Spud and the Vow of Silence

The long, humid afternoon is over and a group of tired Noreasters are kicking back a few frozen margaritas at Arriba, Arriba. It doesn’t take many drinks before the conversation turns to making fun of my buddy Chris. He took his verbal bashing graciously, but we decided that he hadn’t taken enough abuse. As a public service (and under orders from my manager Trish), I am devoting this Sunday’s blog to the colorful highlight reel he has blessed us with the last three weeks. For all of you with children participating in sports, this is your warning to make sure your son or daughter doesn’t turn out like Softball Spud.

Saturday, July 11th

Game One: Noreasters 7, Fusion 14
Game Two: Noreasters 11, Fusion 23

After getting rained out pretty much every weekend in June, we finally took the field at Roosevelt Island against the best team in the league. For Chris, it got ugly early. In the first inning, he popped up weakly to the infield. Running out to the outfield, he asked me if he had dipped his shoulder.

“You just hit the ball like shit,” I replied.

“Well, did I…” he started to ask again.

“You just hit the ball like shit,” I said cutting him off.

“Yeah, you’re right. Okay.”

I may come off as sounding mean, but if you indulge him by answering his questions about his form, then he just thinks about it the rest of the game and ends up popping everything up to the pitcher. It’s better to say just enough to shut him up and answer his question at the same time. I have perfected the art, but it took several years and heavy dependence on alcohol.

While the first game was still close, I went from first base to third on a base hit. Let’s just say that I’m not….ahem….quick. However, after starting to run regularly during the week, I’ve gained a few MPHs around the base paths. Chris was nice enough to notice.

“Hey, you finally got the piano of your back!” he said excitedly.

“Thanks man, I’ve been running a lot.” I said.

“See, I can be a good teammate.”

Those were probably the last words anyone heard out of Chris that afternoon. After we lost the first game by a respectable seven runs, things got out of hand in Game Two. This was in large part to the stellar outfield play of Softball Spud. It seemed like every ground ball hit to him went past him and started on an unending roll. Even when he tried to get his body in front of the ball (that maybe only happened once), it always seemed to find a way past him. I knew it was getting out of control when my teammates started to come up to me and tell me to have a talk with Chris about what he was doing wrong. It’s not a good sign when I’m the only person that can approach him without him exploding into a rage of defense and self pity. My girlfriend, who had stuck around despite the hellish disaster that was our commute to the island, even got into the act by telling me he was letting groundballs go by him like it was his job. I decided to give him one more inning before I said anything.

That was a mistake. A fly ball was hit to right field and Chris (playing left center), decided it would be a good idea to drift over about 100 yards, cut off our right center fielder (who was too surprised to call him off) and then drop the ball that would have easily been caught by someone other than him. He followed this up by letting 90-100 more hits go by him.

“I hate the outfield! I’m horrible out here! I shouldn’t be in the outfield!” I heard him screaming to himself. It would have been funny if he hadn’t sounded like he was going to cry. Because of that it was HILARIOUS.

The line of the day went to Trish at the end of a particularly bloody inning. “We gave up nine runs with two outs in that inning,” she said matter of fact. It sounded like she wanted to add something else, but she ended up just sighing and slouching on the bench.

Needless to say, I never had my chat with Chris and we lost by double digits. In fact, no one else had a conversation with him. Toward the end of the game, he took a vow of silence. We found him at the end laying down in the grass slamming his cell phone into the ground. He looked like someone had killed his dog right in front of him. I asked him if he was taking the F train and he nodded sadly. On our walk to the train, he disappeared into what I’m assuming was a giant black rain cloud of depression.

(Note: Chris’ fiancĂ© called him a baby and told him to go whine someplace else after he came home trying to find some sympathy. Just throwing that in there to further prove I’m not making any of this up.)

Saturday, July 18th

Game One: Noreasters 5 (5!), Ball Breakers 20
Game Two: Noreasters 14, Ball Breakers 10

I waited until Tuesday after the Roosevelt Island Massacre to text Chris and see if it had been a decent interval so that I could start making fun of him. Okay, I didn’t ask it that nicely. My exact words were “when can I start making fun of you for making Bill Buckner look good?” He said he was open to all jokes. Here are some of the highlights:

“You’re E.R.A. as an outfielder is higher than Chien Ming Wang’s. Against the Fusion, your E.R.A. is the infinity sign.”

“Dan (our right center fielder) said he’s suing you for stealing his fly ball. He’s also suing you for dropping it.”

His response to that: “I really thought it was my ball. When I saw it drop, I wanted to run away.”

My response to his response: “You mean run after all the balls that went by you?”

We put all that behind us when we stepped unto the field against the second place team in our division. Chris got his wish and was not playing in the outfield. He was playing shortstop, a position where he once maimed a female softball player during a scrimmage thanks to an errant throw. We put the proper medical authorities on standby and hoped for the best.

Softball Spud did not disappoint. He indeed let a few balls go by him and his first several throws to first base took routes not seen since the times of Ferdinand Magellan. I can’t quite describe his throwing motion. I admit that I don’t have a release point or a strong arm, but at least my motion doesn’t resemble a cartoon character (well, anymore). Imagine a bear fielding a ground ball down on one knee (pretty much every time for reasons he can’t even explain), taking a few baby steps forward to get some momentum and throwing the ball side arm toward first with both legs in the air pointed straight out in front of him. Then picture the ball flying over the first baseman’s head and then that bear start to swear profusely, hit himself viciously in the hip and tug his hat over his eyes. Let’s just say this guy has better mechanics than Chris:

To his credit, he eventually straightened out his throws and played a very serviceable shortstop. After suffering another disaster in the first game, we played well enough to earn our first win in months in the second. Chris even hit a legit home run over the rocks that he had no trouble bragging about.

Saturday, July 25th

Game One: Noreasters 11, Firebirds 3
Game Two: Noreasters 12, Firebirds 16

The Noreasters were back in action and Softball Spud was back at shortstop. It was a miracle he got to the game at all though. Usually, I’m the one with the worst commute, but he had me beat this time around. I was able to keep track of his progress through text messages:

“I am on a 6 train right now being pulled by lame donkeys.”

“I missed the M35 by a minute. Have to wait for the next one at 2:15 which will of course be late. I will be at the field around 4.”

“Did I mention I lost my bank card this morning? Yeah, it’s gone.”

He finally made it and it was my hope that Chris would learn by osmosis after watching me play a sparkling short during batting practice. The trick with him is to try and train him without him really knowing you’re doing it (kind of like a golden retriever or a gerbil). If a ground ball was hit his way during the game, I would shout from the outfield some of the following:

“You have time!”

“Step and throw!”

“Nice and easy!”

“Nice play! Good boy! Who’s a good boy?!”

After one of Chris’ errors, one of our outfielders turned to me after shouting encouragement and said, “Isn’t it kind of interesting that the whole team goes on “Console Spud Duty” after he screws up?”

That’s what is so great about Chris. You want to get upset at him for making a dumb play, but he beats himself up so badly that you end up pitying him and trying to cheer him up. I can’t lie; it’s a brilliant strategy by him.

In the second game, a ground ball was hit to Trish who quickly flipped the ball to Chris to get a force out at second. He turned to throw the ball to finish the double play, but the runner was practically there, so he held onto it. The umpire called time and Chris threw the ball to our pitcher Bob. Much to everyone’s surprise, he let out the loudest F-bomb we’ve ever heard walking back to his position. I immediately started laughing out loud in left field. He is the only person in the world that was angry about making an out. The best part was the umpire thought the curse had been directed at him and Chris took it upon himself to apologize at the end of the inning.

We had one calamitous inning early during the second game, so we were playing catch up the rest of the way. We finally got some runners on and Softball Spud stepped up to the plate. I was on first base. He took the first pitch for a strike and then dropped his shoulder to the point where it almost touched the ground and popped it up in foul territory near first base. Luckily, the first baseman wasn’t quite quick enough to make the catch.

Before Trish, who was coaching first base, could say anything, I screamed out, “Get out of your head! Get out of your head!” Trish simply replied, “Thank you. Thank you. Listen to Dan.”

He did, sort of. He hit a towering pop up to center that wasn’t caught because all the outfielders were playing so deep. We ended up scoring some runs that inning, but not quite enough. We ended up losing by four runs.

(Note: the real MVP of the doubleheader was Bob. In unbelievable humidity, the ageless wonder pitched every single inning. You could tell he was out of gas, but he never complained and gave us every opportunity to win the game. Cheers to you Bob!)

The comfy confines of Arriba, Arriba allowed us to unwind and gave Chris a chance to launch a defense of….well….himself.

“I can’t see the ball. I am going blind,” he told us.

He claims that his eyesight has been getting worse, so that he wasn’t seeing the ball well in the outfield, but he can see it better in the infield. Last year it had been his wrist, the year before that his ankle, so blindness was the next logical step I guess. I mentioned that it looked like he was seeing the ball going past him just fine.

Toward the end of the evening, we were watching the Mets play the Astros on the television. A player on one of the teams roped a single and raised his hands and eyes to God after reaching first base.

“Hey Chris, why don’t you do that when you get a base hit?” Dan (again, our right center fielder) said.

“It’s because he has to go back and play the infield and screw up,’ I said without missing a beat.

Softball Spud glared at me, but ended up shaking my hand, admitting that it had been a good zinger.

I doubt I’m going to get the same reaction when he reads this blog.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Every Baseball Has A Story

According to, a regulation baseball “shall be a sphere formed by yarn wound around a small core of cork, rubber or similar material, covered with two stripes of white horsehide or cowhide, tightly stitched together. It shall weigh not less than five nor more than 5 1/4 ounces avoirdupois and measure not less than nine nor more than 9 1/4 inches in circumference.” It’s hard to believe that something I’ve devoted most of my life loving and obsessing over fits into the palm of my hand. In the words of Roger Angell, “any baseball is beautiful…no other small package comes as close to the ideal in design and utility.” In the spirit of that notion, I took a closer look at some of the baseballs I’ve collected over the years and the memories they brought with them. Every baseball indeed has a story and each one is as special as the one before it. Today I offer three from my collection that are very dear to my heart and serve as reminders of why I love the game as much as I do.

First Hit, June 25th, 1998

Watching baseball as a kid, I always loved how when a player laced his first base hit, the opposing team would flip the ball into his dugout for a keepsake. After not playing Little League and going hitless my first season and a half in Pony League, I figured that I would never be able to have that first hit experience. On a hot summer day in June against the Bees, I came to plate pretty angry after making an error in the field. The pitcher wound up and heaved the ball toward the plate. I remember taking a step and swinging as hard as I could. I made contact and the ball dropped in front of the right fielder. I made the turn around first base for the first time in my life with my legs shaking. I remember feeling like a huge weight had just been lifted off my life. I had something other than a zero in my hit column (not to mention I had pulled the ball for maybe the only time in my career). The best part came after the game. I was waiting patiently for my older brother (who was my coach at this point) to unlock the doors of his baby blue Buick when I saw a ball dart through the air toward me. I caught it easily and looked up at my brother. “Nice hit,” he said simply. I’ve had the ball ever since.

Little League Phillies 2000

I tried my best to be as involved as possible in my younger brother’s Little League career since I never had one of my own. I always helped out his coaches during practice or games from the time he was in tee-ball to his first year in the “majors”. In 2000, I was cut from my high school team after the tryouts and was disillusioned, miserable and desperate to at least remain apart of the game. Luckily, my neighbor had become coach of the Phillies and offered me the chance to be his assistant coach. I said yes without even thinking about it. One of the best parts of the experience, other than watching my younger brother become one hell of a ballplayer, was meeting and coaching a young kid named Chris Collins. He wasn’t the best player and I used to kid him that we could time him running around the bases with a sundial. His smile never wavered, his jokes never seemed to run out (some of which at his own expense and his undying optimism was infectious to every one on the team. Now out of baseball for good, I was proud that there were other players like me out there giving it their best despite not having the skills others possessed. He really proved that baseball is first and foremost a game about heart. It’s nice to be able to check out all the young signatures on this ball and remember those times every now and again.

St. John's Red Storm vs. #1 ranked Stanford Cardinal
2004 NCAA Palo Alto Regional

“You’ve been awfully spoiled this year, Danny,” my friend (and former team manager) Derek told me after we found out St. John’s Baseball had been selected to participate in the 2004 NCAA College World Series Tournament. I couldn’t argue with him. Before the season started, I had never been on an airplane, never mind seen the West Coast. Now, with trips to Texas, Arkansas and Notre Dame under my belt, I was headed to beautiful Palo Alto, California to watch my guys play in postseason baseball. My mother had a different reaction when she got the news. She cried. I hadn’t been home in months and with a summer internship in Maine looming, it now looked like I would be away even longer. I remember buying new shorts, washing my lucky polo shirts I had been wearing all year and buying a brand new pair of Oakley sunglasses in the airport to try to look as cool as possible for the televised games. Seeing California for the first time did not disappoint. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky the entire time we were there and the temperature was consistently 80 degrees. Also exciting was the fact that owing to a scheduling fluke, I got my own room at the hotel. I’ll probably never know what it feels like to work in the Major Leagues, but I have to think that this experience came close. We were playing at Sunken Diamond Field, which is one of the prettiest ballparks I’ve ever since at any level.

As the for baseball part of it, we held our own against Long Beach State (a team led by Jered Weaver, who’s now pitching well for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) in Game One, but eventually lost to a bases loaded single in the bottom of the ninth. We beat the UNLV Rebels in our second game, setting us up to play the #1 ranked team in the country to stay alive in the tournament. The Stanford Cardinal were led by John Mayberry Jr., who was a first round draft pick by the Texas Rangers the next year. We started Matt Tosoni, a freshman from Canada who had already beaten Notre Dame on his way to racking up an impressive five wins that season. What we didn’t know then was that he had been battling ulcerative colitis and this would be his last start until 2006. He went six strong innings and was let down by his defense’s five errors. He also gave up a homerun to Mayberry that I think still hasn’t landed. We fought hard all game, but couldn’t find a way to get to Stanford’s freshman pitcher. After the last out was recorded, I realized that it wasn’t only the end of our season, but for some of our seniors, it was their last game in collegiate baseball. I remember looking at our senior shortstop Mike Rozema gazing out at the field with his hands on his hips. He had one of the best pair of hands I’ve ever seen for an infielder and he carried himself with a grace and class off the field that some major leaguers don’t have. I remember his eyes were red as he gathered up his stuff and headed for the bus. I made it a point when we got back to tell him that it had been a real honor to work for him and that I appreciated how nice he had been to me in my rookie year as manager and how hard he played the game. He was drafted by the Atlanta Braves soon after and got all the way through AAA before retiring in 2008.

Player Spotlight: Neal Ball

I found three other major leaguers with the last name Ball (Art, Jeff and Jim), but Neil beat them all out for the spotlight this week. His full name is Cornelius Balland he was born in 1881. Ball played seven seasons as an infielder for the New York Highlanders, Cleveland Naps and Boston Red Sox from 1907 to 1913.

He batted .247 in his first full year with the Highlanders in 1908, including 110 hits, 16 doubles and two triples. He also stole 32 bases. His best season came in 1911 playing for the Naps. Ball batted .296, with 122 hits, three homeruns (a career high) and 45 RBI. He also stole 21 bases and finished with 14 doubles and nine triples. He finished his career with the Red Sox and ended up with a lifetime average of .251, including 56 doubles, 151 RBI and 92 stolen bases.

Ball also has the distinction of being the first player in Major League history to turn an unassisted triple play exactly 100 years ago today. He was playing shortstop for the Naps behind Cy Young and there was a line drive hit toward him. There were runners on first and second who were on the move because the Red Sox coach had called for a hit and run. After making a leaping catch, all Ball had to do was step on second and wait to tag out the runner coming from first base.

The glove Ball used and a picture of him with the three men he got out are on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. For more details, read this great article written by Ball’s great niece Kathia Miller for You can buy a tee-shirt with Neal Ball’s image on it here. You can also buy an old newspaper from July 19, 1909 with details of the game here.

Summer Reading List:
A Walk in the Woods & Life of Pi

If you’ve never read anything by the travel writer Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods is the perfect place to start. In this book, Bryson tackles the 2,100 miles of the Appalachian Trail along with a bumbling overweight sidekick. It is sidesplitting funny and is written in a clear and direct style that makes it perfect to bring along on a vacation or beach day. In between fretting over bear attacks, searching for his wandering companion and navigating hills, mountains and weather, Bryson sheds the spotlight on one of our national treasures and the people that make it so. It’s a wonderful read and will make you want to raid EMS and buy out Trader Joe’s trail mix section and hit the trail!

Life of Pi by Yann Martel is just a beautiful novel. The story about a shipwrecked boy all alone on the open seas with only a tiger as his companion is a remarkable tale of survival at all costs. You can’t help but turn the pages rapidly to see who wins this battle of wits with death as the only consolation prize. The end might have you scratching your head, but in my opinion, only makes the novel all the more memorable and inspiring. Also, the beginning of the novel will give the reader an interesting perspective on zoos and how they fit into our society. This is a couple days read at the most and will leave a lasting impression.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

From the Archives:
Summer Poetry

Earlier this morning, I was looking through some old notebooks and folders which hold just about everything I've ever written. In the pages worn by time and age, I came across a few things that seemed appropriate to share on this cloudless, blue sky summer day in New York City. Enjoy!

Summer Legs
The heat of summer brushes off the cold of winter,
standing upon new legs, sturdy and strong.
They’re bumped and bruised from
slips and dives in the tall, green grass.
Their tan tone clashes with the
splashes of mud and dirt,
that threaten the useless bandage out of place.

Summer legs run in and our of trouble,
dodging the buzzing bees and stepping on a
poor ant along the way.
They pause only for a short while
to admire at a newly formed cut or bug bite.
They’re off again at the mere indication
that the game they had abandoned long before
suddenly decided to grab their itchy attention.

The summer sun sets and still
strong and sturdy new legs splash through
the puddles that spring left behind.
Just when the time has come to finally lay them to rest,
a shout fills the humid air,
the mud and ache are long forgotten,
as they sprint away into the setting sun.

At- Bat
That tall terror on the mound
grinds his hand in his glove,
where his pitch of choice is found.

I lean obnoxiously over the plate,
and watch the pitcher’s eyes
go from collected to completely irate.

The pitch barrels into the catcher’s mitt,
as if launched from a World War II tank,
not one I could hit.

Old Blue behind the plate yells,
“Strike Two”, at the next
and the crowd’s boos swell.

My mind fills again,
not with fear or pressure,
but with the smell of franks and pretzels roasting on the grill.

Those who long to see me be king,
hold their breath and gasp,
as the pitch is thrown with some gas
and I take a step and swing!!

Rain Delay
The field transforms into a labyrinth of puddles,
where ground balls splash their way
into the fielder’s glove.

The players, clad in sweat and mud,
struggle to grasp the slippery sphere,
as raindrops drip off the ends of their caps.

The umpire calls them in a shivering shout,
as he watches the white chalk lines drown
into the base line lagoon.

The day is over.
The game is done without a single pitch thrown,
giving the storm- laden clouds their
rain soaked victory.

A Saturday Morning with Dad
Back and forth
does the rusty blade sway,
sweeping the rest of
the tall grass away.

The mower strays behind me,
with good ol’ Dad,
who wants to do nothing more
than run and flee.

We trudge silently along
with the sound of
the mower and the blade
as our only song.

Our muscles begin to fade
and we pause to
stare out on what
has become the Everglades.

After a stout cough
and a little chat,
we bravely set up our plan of attack
to finish it off.

Player Spotlight: Hall of Famer Al Kaline

Today’s spotlight centers on one of my dad’s favorite players when he was growing up. Al Kaline was an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers for 22 years and was a 15 time All-Star.

His numbers are more than impressive. In 1955, he led the league with a .340 batting average and 200 hits. He smacked 24 doubles that year with 120 RBI. In 1961, 41 of his 190 hits were doubles, also a league best. He won a World Series with the Tigers in 1968 over the St. Louis Cardinals who were led by Hall of Famer Bob Gibson (who had posted a 1.12 ERA that year). He batted .379 in the Series with two homeruns and eight RBI.

Kaline finished his career with a .297 batting average and 3,007 hits. He ended with 498 doubles, 399 homeruns and 1,583 RBI. He also won 10 Gold Gloves and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1980.

Summer Reading/Viewing List: East of Eden and Truman

John Steinbeck’s East of Eden was recommended to me last summer by Next Magazine’s dining editor Peter Sherwood (whose blog Evenings with Peter is a MUST read). I devoured the novel in short order and it instantly became one of my favorite novels of all time. The story revolves around the lives of the Trask and Hamiliton families set in California. Steinbeck’s beautiful prose not only seamlessly marries the lives of both families, but also assaults your senses with astonishing sights, colors and smells of scenic Salinas Valley. Steinbeck also introduces one of the most depraved, intrinsically evil characters of all time in the person of Cathy Ames. I assure you that this novel does not disappoint and should be in your hands as you sun on the beach with some of Peter’s fella’s Sangria!

David McCullough is one of the nation’s most celebrated historians and with good reason. Truman is not only a riveting look at my favorite President, but also a masterpiece of historical writing. Highlights include Truman’s decision to drop the first (and only) atomic bombs on Japan, his firing of General Douglas McArthur, his hard fought re-election upset and his lifetime struggle with poverty. There are times in our country where seemingly ordinary men are capitulated in extraordinary situations and Truman proved he was beyond exceptional coming from humble roots. His deep and lasting love for his wife Bess and his irascible personality makes you admire him even more, especially after reading his famous fiery letter to a reviewer who panned his daughter Margaret’s operatic debut. The book is over 1,000 pages long, but I could have easily read thousands more. It's probably not something you want to lug to the beach, but is perfect reading for a cool, lazy summer evening.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Summer Reading/Viewing List Part 1

Summer to me has always been a time where my appetite for devouring any book, movie or television show put in front of me knows no bounds. In that spirit, during the next couple of months I'll offer up my recommendations for your lazy, summer days and nights. This inaugural list is mostly baseball related, but I plan on highlighting a wide range of diverse genres to satisfy as many people as I can. If you have any suggestions for me, feel free to send them my way. Long live summer!

Summer Game and Five Seasons by Roger Angell

I read Summer Game and Five Seasons by Roger Angell late last February and doing so made me crave the start of the baseball season like never before. Angell’s writing made me feel like I was sitting next to him in a bar having a conversation over watered down light beer.

Summer Game chronicles the years 1962 through 1971, an era that saw the demise of the great Yankee championship teams, rise of the Baltimore Orioles and two former New York teams in sunny California. One of my favorite chapters is the one in which he goes into statistical detail on 1968’s “Year of the Pitcher”. In a year in which the great Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals pitched to a record 1.12 ERA, the two leagues combined batting average was .232 and there were 340 shutouts recorded.

Angell’s heart though lies with the woeful infancy of the New York Mets which is sweetly apparent in every chapter devoted to New York’s second team. At a game early their inaugural 1962 season (in which the Mets lost a record 120 games), Angell struggles to figure out why the Mets fans surrounding him are cheering and rooting on such an inept team. He realizes that the Mets symbolize the antithesis of the mighty Yankees; that “there is more Met than Yankee in every one of us”.

Five Seasons picks up right where Summer Game left off in 1972. Some of the highlights include the greatest World Series every played in 1975 between the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, three faithful Detroit Tigers fans and the three year dynasty of the Oakland A’s. Like Summer Game, the Yankees are strangely absent from the scene (until the 1976 season detailed toward the end of the book). It was refreshing to read about a time in which my favorite team couldn’t just demand the center of attention. I liked reading about characters such as Vida Blue, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver and Brooks Robinson, none of whom donned the Yankee pinstripes.

The Bronx is Burning by Jonathan Mahler

I caught bits and pieces of the eight-part ESPN special a couple years ago, but not enough to really understand what happened in the sultry summer of 1977 in New York City. I picked up the book by Jonathan Mahler in a bargain section of a bookstore and blew through it in little over a week. Intertwined with the Yankees impressive World Series run is the story of a much different city than the one I live in now. Crime was rampant, a blackout inflamed the ghettos in Brooklyn and the Bronx and there was a serial killer on the loose terrorizing young couples for a year. The city was decaying and being fought over during a bitter mayoral race won eventually by Ed Koch. Also interesting was Mahler’s detailing of Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the New York Post and how it set off a newspaper war the likes of which not seen in decades. He makes the larger than life persona of appear more human, well, until his three World Series homeruns made him a hero to New Yorkers who had vilified him all season long. Mahler lets the facts of that year speak for themselves, hardly adding any of his own dramatizations. Even non-Yankee fans will appreciate how far the city has come since those dark days and how our problems now are not insurmountable.

ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia

This is my Bible. It’s where I get all of my stats whenever I do a Player Spotlight. Currently, I’m using ESPN’s fourth edition which came out after the 2006 season, but I was weaned on my older brother’s 1980’s edition. I used to lug that tome around to both of my brother’s practices and ask my dad a million questions about players he watched as a kid. After complaining for years that I didn’t have an updated copy, I finally walked down to the Barnes and Noble near St. John’s and picked one up. I could barely afford my rent at that point, but it didn’t seem to matter because fresh statistics from the past ten years were now at my finger tips. Now I know that Mike Gallego has a lifetime batting average of .239, Jim Abbott won 87 games with only one hand and Ron Karkovice hit 96 career homeruns. It’s been an invaluable tool and if there are fans as nerdy and opposed with meaningless stats as I am out there, this book is for you.

Baseball, directed by Ken Burns

Baseball, directed by Ken Burns, is a masterpiece. There is no other way to describe it. Each decade of baseball’s history is detailed in Burns’ signature style and highlights the changes in the country during baseball’s rise as the national pastime. More importantly, however, is the treatment that Burns gives to the Negro Leagues. He does not shy away from the truth that the best ball players might not have been playing in the white Major League. Players such as Josh Gibson, who was characterized as a “black Babe Ruth” and the great pitcher Satchel Paige finally get their due as integral parts of baseball’s history. With more enlightened background information, I was able to even more fully appreciate the heroism of Jackie Robinson.

As a New York fan, I was impressed with Burns’ portrayal of the great New York Yankees, New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers teams of the 1950s. For a decade, all three teams were great and were seemingly always battling each other for a championship. I’ve heard some criticism that Burns is too New York centric, but there is no way to separate the city from baseball’s history and I think he does more than an admirable job of balancing everything.

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

This book in no way shape or form has anything to do with baseball, but I felt it necessary to include it on my first list. This book should be required reading for all Americans. This is one of the first books I read when I started to gain a passion for our nation’s past. Expecting to find the same stories that I had learned throughout my schooling, I quickly found out that this wasn’t my father’s history book. After reading it, you’ll never think the same way about race relations, labor unions or Christopher Columbus. Zinn sheds light on side of history that has for too long been obscured. Our rise to being a superpower has not been easy or preordained and was done primarily on the backs of the people the Constitution and Declaration of Independence claimed to protect. This book affirmed my belief that lessons for the future can indeed be learned from the past and that history does not need to repeat itself. It may not be good beach reading, but it should be a book that finds its way into your hands sooner rather than later.

Happy Fourth of July!

Being a patriotic fellow, the Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite holidays. As a kid, I remember fondly the barbeques my aunt would host every summer without fail in which she made enough hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salads and Whoopee pies to feed most of Southern Connecticut. Not so fond are the memories of me clinging to the side of the pool in the shallow end while all the “big” kids were having fun in the deep end. Of course, no Fourth of July is complete without fireworks and my cousins always put on quite a show despite the cringing from my aunt and my mother.

That being said, the Fourth gives us pause to remember not only how our great country came to be, but also the men and women who have given their lives to ensuring our democratic freedoms. My undying gratitude and hearty well wishes go out to all the service men and women who are stationed across the globe and here at home in the United States; especially one Airman in particular who is upholding a proud Ford tradition in the armed services. Patrick, we miss you, we’re proud of you and we look forward to your graduation in August.

Wishing everyone and their families a happy, healthy and safe Fourth of July weekend!