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August 16, 2005: Touching Base (My baseball travels in August)

My baseball travels have been extensive of late — so extensive that I have not had time to pause and write about all the things I’ve seen and done. Here are some snapshots from the past month in my baseball life.

August 1
I went to Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame inductions, which was quite a fun experience, and to top it off the Yankees pulled off improbable comeback wins two days in a row, coming back from four runs down in the 8th inning both times. I was wearing my lucky Mike Mussina jersey while walking the streets of Cooperstown after the second of these wins, on my way back to the neighborhood yard where I parked my car (for a friendly fee). Suddenly, a van came to a screeching halt next to me and the driver jumped out, shouting “I have something for you!” He opened the back of the van, stuck his hand into a cooler, and pulled out something in a wrapper. He ran up to me, handed it over, and then jumped back into his van and drove away.

It was a Mike Mussina “MOOSE” candy bar! “All Proceeds to benefit the Mike Mussina Foundation.” It is apparently a peanut butter and chocolate bar of some kind, but I haven’t actually eaten it. I want to save it as a souvenir. I don’t suppose it will keep, though. Perhaps I’ll save it until the winter, when I’m missing baseball and I need a sweet reminder.

August 6
The annual SABR Convention, this year was in Toronto, and guess who was in town to play the Blue Jays? The Yankees.

I tried to make some notes the first night of my trip. Here’s what came out:

Here I am at SABR 35 in Toronto, the national annual conclave of the Society for American Baseball Research. I’ve only had three hours sleep last night, and today only ate one actual meal (dinner), so I’m a bit fried as I type this.

Day began with ignominy. I arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport in plenty of time to catch my 6:30 am flight. Sadly, though, I had a major brain fart, which was that I forgot that Toronto is in a foreign country and that air travel has become a heightened police state… and that I forgot my passport. Air Canada refused to let me on a plane without it or a copy of my birth certificate. So, underslept and pissed at myself, I had to shlep all the way back to my house on the T (two train changes, a shuttle bus, and walking six blocks), find the passport, and then shlep all the way back in time to catch the 9:30am flight.

In the three hours I lost to this little excursion, I managed to miss Stu Shea’s presentation on Wrigley Field, the MLB.com special session, the women in baseball committee meeting, and the women in baseball book signing, all of which I had been looking forward to eagerly. Thankfully on my part, Jane Dorward took over my 1pm judging slot so I could grab a bowl of potato leek soup in the hotel restaurant!

From there it was sessions, sessions, sessions. I saw:
Sam Bernstein: Duping Babe Ruth
Norman Macht: Debunking Baseball Myths
Steve Krevisky: Elston Howard in Toronto
Then after a quick trip up to the book dealer’s room, where I signed the inventory of “50 Greatest Yankee Games” at the Baltimore Chop table, and bought a book of baseball crosswords that I am resisting opening, or I might spend the entire convention in my room with a pencil… I then went to the brief panel discussion moderated by Jean Ardell about Women In Baseball In Canada. The panelists included an organizer of a girls baseball league here in Toronto, a woman who was a professional umpire in the Pioneer League for two years before giving it up, and a player for Team Canada. (I will try to get the spellings of their names from Jean.)

I squeezed in one more sessions, Craig Lammers’ presentation on Night Baseball, and then it was off to meet the rest of the Cup o’ Coffee Players for Dinner. We are a loose group being assembled to do a dramatic reading (with some songs) of Gene Carney’s play “Mornings After,” based on the life of real life ballplayer Paddy Livingston. Native guide Maxwell Kates led us to a place called Big Daddy’s Crab Shack, which was absolutely delicious New Orleans-style food. I had crawfish, boiled up and served in the shell for hand-cracking, and gumbo, and a wonderful baked cheese dish served with toast points called “seafood fondue.” Yum.

Then it was to the poster presentations, and talking with a lot of people in the lobby before I realized, wow, it’s midnight and time to go upstairs, check the scores, and go to sleep.

The Yankees finally won a game from Cleveland today (after losing the first two), this time by virtue of Jason Gimabi hitting two home runs, one in the top of the ninth after A-rod had done the same… to give them a 4-3 lead, and then Mo closed the game. I guess if they will do it, they will do it with comebacks.

The Yankees will be here tomorrow and going to the game will be one of our major events.

AFTER that, I was so busy I never had the chance to write any more about that trip. The convention was great as always, and if you have never been to one, I highly recommend you try it.

August 10
My women’s baseball team went on a bit of a winning streak before I went off to SABR, but upon my return I heard the bad news. Not only did they lose both games while I was gone, but our favorite umpire, Tony, passed away of what looked like a massive heart attack. He was actually umpiring a game when it came on. He felt sweaty and sick and had to leave the game early. He went to a nearby home to rest for a bit, then felt a little better, drove to his own house and apparently collapsed shortly after that. Tony was the best of our league’s umpiring crew, the best-liked and the best-respected. He will be sorely missed.

After the first game back, I finally had my long promised coaching session with my teammate Heidi. (With me doing the coaching.) Heidi plays the cello and has many qualities to recommend her as a person, but her performance at the plate this season hasn’t been very good. In fact, to put it in her own words: “I’m tired of striking out every time I get up to bat.” We had worked on her stance at the batting cage, and ten different people on the team have been trying to give her advice. I think what she needs most is to train her eyes to see the ball at the plate and to train her hands to time making contact with the ball. To me that means soft toss practice.

We had wanted to do it earlier in the season, but she had gotten injured, then I was on the road, and so we didn’t have a chance to do it until tonight. I brought a bag of balls in my car, and I soft tossed for her — about thirty or forty swings into the fence. Then we did one round of a dozen at the actual plate, hitting onto the field so she could see where the ball would go. Ten of the twelve went out of the infield. Then I did a round just to keep my swing fresh.

The next game, we played our nemesis, Carter & Carter. We hadn’t beat them yet this year, and there are various interpersonal reasons why we want to beat this team in particular. They are also a very talented and good team, with great speed and a lot of plain great players, so we want to beat them to prove ourselves as well.

We got our chance on a Friday night, and because many people were on vacation, and a few injured, our roster numbered only ten players. (There are actually 18 players on the team.) The thing I like best about playing with only ten is I know I’ll get more than one at bat on the night. Well, I got a hit to drive in a run, scored after moving up on a passed ball and a ground out, and later walked. A good day at the plate, which makes me 9 for 18, if I have been counting right. Since I run to first with my head down and not looking at what is happening in the field, it’s possible that some of those times I reached were on errors, but I don’t actually know. Add in the walks and my on base percentage is something like .540.

Well, we beat them 7-5, and Heidi not only contributed to the offense by grounding out and moving me over, later in the game she got her first hit of the season! Next year I’m going to bring the bag of balls to every game and offer to soft toss for any teammate who wants to hit after the game.

By which I suppose I have already decided that I’m playing again next year. Considering what I good year I am having at the plate, it would be hard to quit now, eh?

August 13
What are the odds of Mariano Rivera blowing two saves in a year, and then the Yankees winning both games on walk off home runs? And what are the odds that I would be at both games? I don’t care about the odds, because I was at both games. I was there in April when Jeter hit the homer off Foulke, and I was there in August when Bernie Williams hit a two-run shot to end a game against Texas after Mariano had let the tying run score. Am I worried about Mariano? Not especially. He’s actually having his best year EVER as Yankees’ closer — see my column at http://www.gothambaseball.com for the complete details on why I think that.

August 14
My second day at Yankee Stadium in a row. The rain was just starting to fall when Hideki Matsui came to the plate with two men on (both walks). The crowd, which had been quiet and sleepy all day, had smelled blood in the water when Sheffield had walked, and began to chant and howl during the pitching change. Buck Showalter saw that Matsui was 0-for-10 against lefty sidewinder Brian Shouse, so in came Shouse… but the crowd doesn’t really react to numbers. The crowd reacts to a sense of drama and anticipation. It just FELT to us like Matsui was going to hit a home run.

And he did. A towering shot, a big fly of the biggest kind, one that dropped my jaw I was so astonished at its majesty. Not a line drive at all, but a Mantle-esque blast that just never hooked foul and landed in the upper deck. One of the most awesome home runs I’ve seen, not just for its majestic arc, but for the intensity of the moment that built up to its arrival. Shortly thereafter, the first of two rain delays took place, and we stayed until the very end, but for all real purposes, Matsui’s home run ended the competition for the day.

August 15
Saw a game tonight at Citizen’s Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia. corwin and I saw Livan Hernandez hold the Phillies to five hits, two runs, and the Nationals got a 6-3 win out of it, though the Phillies got a gift run in the ninth and brought the tying run to the plate to make it interesting.

The most excitement of the night was in the stands rather than on the field. It was ‘dollar dog’ night, meaning that hundreds of people were lined up at all times to buy hot dogs for one dollar. corwin, while in line to participate in this bargain, saw some of the funniest interactions he has ever seen at a ballpark, including one fellow who went up to the ice cream stand with a regular, full-batting helmet, and tried to get them to make a sundae in it. (“But the sign says ‘helmet sundae, five dollars…”) Then there were the host of people who would get in the beer-only line and then try to talk the cashier into selling them some hot dogs as well.

Sporadic cheers for the Eagles broke out throughout the game since the football team was playing a pre-season game and various people had portable TVs with them to keep track.

Citizen’s Bank Ballpark has some nice features, including a kids fun game section where you get coupons for every time you play which you can turn in for Citizen’s bank swag, a nice timeline of Philly baseball history (did you know that “Phillie” is the oldest baseball team nickname still in use?), but my favorite thing was the great out of town scoreboard. Not only did they show all the AL games, the indicator lights for each game show who is pitching (by number), how man men are on and how many outs there are. So it was that I was able to keep one eye on what was happening with the Yankees and Red Sox all night.

At the time we left the game, the Sox were leading Detroit, and the Yankees were leading Tampa Bay. But by the time we walked to our hotel, which is right by the ballpark, Detroit had mounted a comeback. By the time I got back up to our room, Detroit had handed a loss to Curt Schilling, Closer, 7-6, and the Yankees had nailed down a 5-2 win in Tampa. Good times, good times.

(Did you enjoy reading this blog entry? Please consider buying me a hot dog.)

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