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Day 14 “Bonnie Frank!”

Original Fenway Scoreboard
Original Fenway Scoreboard

“Do you know who Bonnie Frank is?” Bob asked,  “Bonnie Franklin?” I said to clarify what he was saying, “Yeah, Bonnie Frank”, he stated again, I looked at him kind of confused, why is he asking about Mrs. Romano from “One Day at a Time”, Todd started laughing and said, “he thinks you are saying Bonnie!” and then said to me, “he is saying Barney Frank”, Bob looked at me with that, “what are you an idiot expression” and said forget it and laughed, whatever he had to say about the former US Senator from Massachusetts must not  have been too important.  I was sitting in Bob’s seats with him and Todd at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers for a doubleheader the Boston Red Sox are playing.  For the last 10 years they have started their spring training games against Northeastern University and Boston College to celebrate baseball in the City of Boston, 10 years prior to that it was only Boston College.  The Red Sox have won every game they have played against the 2 universities.

Bob invited me to come to these games, after I met him and Todd at Woody’s on Monday to discuss a project that they were going to help me with, he wanted me to see where he spends the month of March with his baseball family.  He told me that they are a cast of characters that he has come to love and looks forward to seeing them all.  Bob is a detective with the Cape Coral Police Department, Todd calls him the “unofficial” mayor of Cape Coral.  When I was with him and Todd at Woody’s, it seemed that everyone that walked in the door knew him and came over to say hi, he is one of these guys were you feel like he is your best friend within 5 minutes, very out going and gregarious.  I felt at ease with him immediately, I met Todd a couple weeks before at one of the Starbucks where I do a lot of writing, I was writing Day 1 “Lonnie Burton” at the time and Todd saw the 2014 Snowbird Baseball Classic program and inquired to what I was doing, we talked for about 2 minutes, he gave me his card, started following me and eventually emailed me with an idea that I will share at a later date.

Todd and Bob have only been friends for the past 4 years, I would have thought that they knew each other for their entire lives by the way they interact with one another, both are actively involved with baseball, when I say actively I mean that it consumes them.  They heavily participate with their sons baseball teams, one of Todd’s sons plays at Bethune Cookman, where he is a freshman catcher and has another that is 14 and plays with Bob’s 14 year old son on an elite baseball team.  I was excited to meet these 2 at the game to just sit and talk and get to know them a little bit, I met them at the front gate of JetBlue, since Bob had tickets and Todd had 2 extras, Bob hunted down a few Red Sox fans to give Todd’s tickets too.

When we went to our seats, one of the Police Officers working saw Bob and gave him a hug, she was standing next to an usher that also shook Bob’s hand, he laughed and chatted with ease with these 2 like he did with all the others I met at Woody’s, Todd looked at me and smiled and shook his head as if to say “I told you”, we saw Peter Gammons from ESPN and Bob squeezed his arm like he knew him, I didn’t ask if he did, when we got to our seats some of his spring training crew was there and he proceeded to hug and shake hands, while inquiring about personal things.  He asked Dan if “90 year old Mary” was there, she wasn’t, Bob looked over at me and asked if I needed a beer,  everyone in the section yelled, “Bobs buying!”, I declined, he called me a lightweight, Todd was yelling to the lower level to see what kind of beer they needed, Dan and his crew were yelling their order, even the guy who was wearing shorts that had the Red Sox “red socks” all over them, the type of shorts that most guys really won’t wear but this guy was a fan and he was showing off his Red Sox pride.

As we sat there Bob pointed out different people to me and said that the story will write itself…  I met Donald who moved down to Fort Myers 10 years ago with his brother Ronald after his wife of forty two and half years divorced him, Ronald looked at me with those perplexed eyes if to say “can you believe it”, I of course could believe it since this was the first time I met Donald.  Donald and Ronald are fraternal twins (check my Day 6 “Magical” post for the definition of what the difference is between fraternal vs identical), they are about 75 to 80 years old, when Donald went into the Army after high school he was an inch taller than Ronald, when he got out and saw Ronald after he had to look up to him since he was 6’4″; Ronald at 5’8″ asked what happened, Donald said that he could finally eat when he left, Donald laughed…

An usher came up to Bob and informed him about the death of another usher that the crew has gotten to know over the years, “Dan the Man” sat next me and shook his head and said that was sad, the guy was always here and we will miss him.  Dan has a condo in the area and spends all of spring training  there, entertaining different groups of guy friends every week, they come out to all the games and have a great time, Dan is like Bob, he seems to know everyone, he is constantly laughing and entertaining with ease, he is in his element, the guys with him this 1st week are the guy with the sweet shorts and 2 guys he grew up with, on the same block in fact.  One is a Yankee fan, a good one, if there is such a thing Dan’s boyhood friend says of the other, they laugh.  Dan tells me the story of his son and his reaction to Aaron Boone’s walk-off home run in the 11th inning during Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, which gave the New York Yankees a 6–5 victory over the Red Sox. The Yankees won the game and the series on the home run, thus prolonging the Sox’ “Curse of the Bambino” for one more year. After the loss Dan went downstairs to blow off some steam and get over the disappointment, he heard his son crying in his room, he was proud, he knew his son now knew what it is like to be part of Red Sox Nation and told him he was an official fan.

Dan asks if I ever watched a game Fenway Park, I haven’t, he promises to get me a ticket for a game when I am in Boston, he describes to me the chills he gets when he goes up the walkway and sees the green, it is a hair raising experience, I share with him the story of Dotty and Ralph, Day 7 “Red Sox Love” post, he says he knows what they feel. Dan has lived in North Carolina for years and converted numerous fans into Red Sox loyalists, most cheered for the Atlanta Braves prior.  Dan looks at Bob and says I need to meet “90 year old Mary”, they both nod.

The Red Sox beat both schools 5-2; I thank Bob and Todd, they take off, I talk to a few more people.  I found some life long friends, I think to myself.  I will be sharing more about Bob and Todd in future posts and their passion for this beautiful game. “Bob’s Baseball Crew”  will also get a lot more mentions, we have something planned that I am extremely excited about “INDEED” (inside joke between Todd and Bob, I hope they inform me sometime).  Baseball made me extremely happy on this day!

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

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Day 13 “Submarine”

Sean & Eric
Sean & Eric

As I was walking to Roger Dean Stadium to watch the University of Miami Hurricanes take on the Miami Marlins, I was thinking that I needed to get the cheapest ticket, I had already parked 3 blocks away from the field to avoid paying for parking.  As I was crossing the street to the stadium a car pulled up and asked if I needed a ticket, he said he had an extra one and I could have it, I laughed to myself thinking at all the things I worry about and continue to worry about, like how I have to be extremely frugal with money to make sure I stretch it out as long as possible.  Not only did I get a free ticket but I also found my story for the day, again I fretted for no reason!

Major Eric Walters, 51, was at the game with his son Sean, 13, who was skipping his 8th grade classes to be out in the sun watching baseball with his dad.  Eric a 24 year Army veteran, who served in a lot of the most recent wars and conflicts, was out of the Army but reenlisted after 9-11 and has been in ever since.  Over those 24 years as a Commissioned Officer he was responsible for training soldiers, as an Infantry Platoon Leader, Battalion Operations Training Officer and Company Commander, currently he is stationed at the United States Southern Command in Doral, Florida as a US Army Special Operations Civil Affairs Officer and is soon to retire from the military which he loves but is quick to state that he is ready to move on to the next phase in his life.   Thank you for your service Eric!

Sean and his dad compliment each other very well, you can tell right away that they have a tight bond.  Sean is quite the baseball player, he is a “submarine” pitcher, (a submarine pitch is one in which the ball is released underhand, and often just above the ground, with the torso bent at a right angle and shoulders tilted so severely that they rotate around a nearly horizontal axis) which makes him very hard to hit, he has played on teams with much older players and once was asked to pitched for an 18U (18 years and under) team.   Sean will be going to Cypress Bay High School next year, a school that has a very good baseball program, when Eric transferred back to South Florida in 2010 from Oregon, he made sure to move to an area where the schools were very good academically first and then had a good baseball program.  He knew that he had something special with Sean at a young age.  To say that these 2 “like” baseball is an understatement, it is a family passion, it is love, as Eric and I were talking he would rattle off things about so many kids or teams that he saw or helped along in the process of getting better at the game, I couldn’t keep up, I had to interrupt him many times to get all the information down.

In 2010 when Eric came back to the area, they were too late to get Sean signed up to play on any of the select teams, that didn’t stop Eric, he started his own select team with a bunch of kids that were also late.  He said that they weren’t very good in the beginning of the year and lost 75% of their games, but he kept telling the players and parents to hang in there, their goal will be to beat the #1 team at the end of the season and they did it behind Sean’s pitching.  I have this fascination with the parents and coaches of these elite teams and I had to ask Eric what it is like coaching one of these teams, he said it does have its challenges and as a coach he says he really needs to check himself, unfortunately that means that he probably sits Sean out more innings than other players, as to not show favoritism, Sean says he is okay with that since he does get to play a lot of baseball any way.  Like the other parents and coaches I have profiled he says that the time commitment is huge and that the cost does get a little out of control, he tries to keep his teams cost under control by playing mostly local tournaments.

Eric only played baseball until he was 15 or 16, he thought that being a beach bum or a “surfer dude” was his life long calling at the time, which didn’t work out for him, he wishes that he had focused on baseball, but back in those days there wasn’t the elite level of play.   He did play against Jack Nicklaus’s kids in the North Palm Beach Little League in the early to mid 70’s, he recalls that they had to postpone the championship game in either 1973 or 1974 because Jack was in a playoff with Tom Weiskopf at a PGA event, Jack’s sons, Jack was pitching and Steve was catching against Eric’s team, Jack was a big contributor and supporter of the league and everyone agreed that they would wait until Jack could get there to watch, Eric’s team won…

Sean has played in tournaments around the country and while playing in Cooperstown, NY he was noticed for his unique pitching style, a team from Hawaii participating in the tournament labeled him Satchel Paige (Paige was among the most famous and successful players from the Negro Leagues, his outstanding control as a pitcher got him noticed by MLB) out of respect on how well Sean threw the ball, and how well he mixed in what is considered normal.  Sean made sure to tell me, the they were Nuts, the Hawaiian Nuts, their actually team name, he said with a big smile.  He also got a surprise call from Joe Girardi, the manager of the New York Yankees and his favorite team at the end of the game to congratulate him on how well he pitched.

I enjoyed the game I watched with Sean and Eric, I have a lot more information that I will be adding to this blog post sometime this weekend, but my self imposed deadline is upon me and I need to post this, please check back!

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

More about Satchel Paige:

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Day 12 “All American”

John Taylor
John Taylor

One of my biggest worries everyday when I get up is writing this blog from the story I found the day before, once that is done I start fretting about finding a story for the next day, so far it has gone pretty smoothly and when I arrived at the Snowbird Baseball Classic in Port Charlotte, yesterday, I immediately ran into John Taylor walking to watch his son Clayton play.  As we walked to the field, I explained to John what I was doing and if he would like to be my subject for the day.  He smiled and agreed, my worry and fretting was for naught again, I think I do it because I think that if I don’t I will have a problem finding someone to interview or profile…

John, 51, had this easy going nature that I really like, he wasn’t super laid backed and he didn’t have an outward intenseness but I could tell that it was there and what seemed like to me an unbelievable focus (my initial guess was he, like his son, was a very good ball player) he smiled sincerely and had a comfortable way about himself.  He was down in South Florida to watch Nebraska-Omaha, Clayton is their starting 1st baseman this year, first time he has played 1st base regularly since he was around 8, he played shortstop last year but he bulked up and grew some in the last year, now standing 6’4″ and weighing in at 215.  When we sat down to watch the game another Omaha parent or grandparent came to John to tell him about the monster home run Clayton hit in batting practice that hit the concession stand at the other field.  John said calmly, “Clayton is a very good hitter”, I had no doubt.

John was there with his with Denise who he met in 1981 on a blind date his cousin set up, he said his cousin owed him since he set her up with a ballplayer friend of his, John smiled and tapped my leg and then laughed remembering that Denise worked at Bakers, a grocery store chain that had a restaurant counter where you ordered your food via a phone and then Denise would deliver it.

Denise and John actually went to the same high school but didn’t meet until college, they dated for awhile but John got transferred to North Carolina by the construction management firm he was working for at the time and Denise wasn’t ready to move from Omaha, after a short stint there he came back and they were married in 1988, then moved to  St. Louis, Des Moines, Franklin, MA and then back to Omaha.  Besides Clayton who is 20, they have 2 other children; Meredith, 22, a pharmacology student at Creighton and  Jackson, 18, a senior in high school and who is also a baseball player.  John said he was a “farm kid”, he was required to work on his uncles farm that his mothers father started and the way to get out of doing chores was to get involved with sports, he loved competing in football, wrestling and baseball, which ever one he was playing at the time was his favorite, he was given a scholarship to play baseball at Nebraska-Omaha, where he was one of the top hitters, they wanted him more for his bat, he humbly states that he was an average center fielder.  He continues to play 25 baseball games a year in the men’s 50+ MSBL senior league, he batted .375 and thinks he leads the team in that catagory, 3 or 4 of the guys he played with in college are also on the team.

As we were talking Clayton hit a home run, it was a line shot and got out of the park in a hurry, when I looked down at Denise she had a big smile on her face and gave me a thumbs up!  I asked John and Denise if they get nervous when they watch Clayton play, he said not that much, he did more when he pitched but now he trusts Claytons game (Clayton was placed on the All American Freshman Team chosen by Louisville Slugger 2013), Denise on the other hand says she tries to stay even keel on the outside but underneath it is a different story.  John said he does more with Jackson since he coached his select baseball team, but states that there is a fair amount of apprehension with watching your kids he said and then slaps my leg.  Clayton and Jackson both played in select/elite/traveling baseball, Meredith did so in softball, John said that they are a baseball family and even has a building in their back yard with a batting cage and pitching mound, so he could work with the kids.  He coached Jackson’s baseball team and Clayton’s basketball team and makes sure to point out that it wouldn’t have been to much fun for the boys if he coached everything.

John says that he really doesn’t pay attention to major league baseball until playoff time, his favorite team is the Kansas City Royals; he laughs and says that is maybe why…  but quickly states that the Royals did well last year.  He said that they are busy with baseball, Clayton played college summer ball last year in the Jayhawk League for the El Dorado Broncos, so they tried to get down to watch him play a few times, Jackson played and with John playing in the Men’s league it is hard to take time to watch the MLB.  He said that he has taken the family to Chicago on occasion to catch a Cubs and White Sox game when the kids were growing, does root for the Boston Red Sox since they did live in Franklin, Massachusetts for a little while and it was exciting watching them win the World Series.

We talked a little bit about select baseball and what it was like coaching and watching your kids compete at that level, he said parents could get a little out of control  and when he was choosing his team he tried to recruit the best parents possible and not necessarily the best players, he figured he could work with the players if he had the support of the parents.  He stated the parents that were the most overbearing are the ones that never competed and really don’t understand what it takes for a kid to be successful at a high level, they seemed to be living vicariously through their child.  He said when he watched Clayton play on one of his elite teams it was hard to watch games with other parents because some would be rooting against his kid, even when on the same team, since he was taking playing time away from their child.  He said as you move up through the different levels of play that kind of behavior falls off, but acknowledges that it can get frustrating since it is a game it should be fun for all.

I could go on about John and his family, if I write a book about this experience I will share more about them, they are “All American”, I enjoyed watching the game with him and hearing how passionate he is about baseball, his gentleness and sincerity came out and I was comfortable sharing things about my life with him, at one point we were showing pictures of our beautiful daughters.  This is what makes me love this game so much, the people you observe all have a story and have a love of the game that runs deep, some people will never understand, “The people that don’t get it, I don’t get”, John said shaking his head, I agree fully!

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

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Day 11 “Gratitude”

Baseball is Happiness!
Baseball is Happiness!

I am sitting at Starbucks right now, if you didn’t know, this is where I spend a lot of my day writing this blog, I am reviewing the past 24 hours.  I am feeling a lot of gratitude, I thought I really messed this thing up yesterday, but it had the exact opposite affect (or is it effect).  More people read, “Big Mistake!” than any other post.  My intent was to apologize sincerely, figure out how to reestablish my credibility, make sure to not make that mistake again and put it behind me.  The support I received was incredible, a friend of my mine has stated to me on numerous occasions; if you are suppose to do something, be somewhere or live your life a certain way the universe will conspire to make it happen, I believe this is happening to me.  At some point I will do a blog on all the little things that have happened and continue to happen that make all this possible for me, it blows me away, you might think that finding these stories has been hard, not at all, these are the first people I have asked in most cases, the one time it wasn’t, the guy I asked found someone for me to talk too…

Yesterday was a day I thought I had figured out, I was suppose to meet a couple guys (Bob and Todd) at Dunkin Donuts at 7 am, I totally forgot about it, my excuse was that I was up until 4 am working on the website which I was, but the thing was it didn’t even occur to me until 11 am that I forgot!  We agreed to meet later that night and grab a bite to eat.  I had to get my brakes replaced on my car in the morning by this guy named Ivan, he came to where I was staying and did the job, he was incredible and very affordable.  I went to Starbucks later than normal, wrote and posted the “ill fated” blog and then went to CrossFit Salvation.  When I checked my email and got the email from my subject, I scrambled to remove it and figure out what to do, I had to get to Woody’s to meet Bob and Todd, also!  I sent an apology to her, a couple actually because there is something you always forget to state or want to clarify.  Remembered that I was suppose to go to a Little League game at 7, it is now 6:30 when I got to Woody’s, I checked to see if there was a later game, there wasn’t but realized the game at 7 was only a practice.  Met Bob and Todd, had a great time talking with them and made future plans on a project we will be doing together, raced home to write, “Big Mistake!”, saw the response through out the evening and then realized that the day unfolded as it was suppose too.

That was my day yesterday, so here I sit trying to figure out what to write about today!  I have some things I am working on but they need more time to develop, so I just want express my gratitude to everyone that has helped me get to this point in my journey, without all the encouragement and support, be it kind words or financial, you don’t know how much it means to me, it just reinforces that I am doing what I am suppose to be doing, it helps when I get anxious at night thinking about if I am going to find a story the next day or if I will run out of money before this is completed, etc…  An example of how things work out, before I left Milwaukee I thought my strut on my car was going bad, I got it checked out and it was confirmed that it “could” be a strut, was told that it shouldn’t be an issue driving to Florida.  On the way to Florida my exhaust seemed to be getting louder, so I started getting worried that I was going to blow a lot of money on car repairs right off the bat.  I knew that I needed to get my brakes done, but wasn’t counting on the other stuff, I got estimates on everything that “I” thought needed to be done, about $1,500.  When everything was fixed my total bill was $475, things just worked out, so hard to explain.

I will leave it at that for the day, I need to get on the road and get to a ball game and find a story for tomorrow!  Today it is going to be the “Snowbird Baseball Classic”, St Bonaventure against Nebraska-Omaha at Noon in Port Charlotte, baseball season is getting into full swing and it shouldn’t be as hard to find a game everyday, MLB Spring Training games start on Thursday, it is a rough life at the moment but hey someone has to live it!  Have a great day everyone!

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

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Day 10 “Big Mistake!”

My Bad!
My Bad!

I want to apologize to every one that is starting to read my blog on a regular basis, I posted an article earlier in the day that I had to take down.  When I do an article, I like to give the people that it is about time to review it before it is posted.  This way they have an opportunity to clarify and correct things, it also gives them time to make sure they are comfortable with this going out on the world wide web, yesterday when I was interviewing my subject for today, I told her that I wouldn’t post it until she reviewed it, I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain and posted before she had that opportunity.   I gave her my word and I didn’t follow through, doesn’t matter the reason why, I have an excuse but in the end it doesn’t matter and I am wrong.  I pulled the article and to the people who did read it, I didn’t have all my facts straight and for that I am very sorry.  I learned a very valuable lesson today, taught to me by a very intelligent and gracious college student, who has accepted my apology.  Another lesson learned, I will chalk it up to that, since this is my Spring Training also, I will not make that mistake again.

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Day 9 “Lots of Laughter”

As I was walking into the North County Regional Park sports complex to watch Iowa take on St. Bonaventure, I saw a couple of Iowa fans and I yelled, “Go Big Ten!”  They looked at me and smiled in that comforting and approachable way, I immediately asked how Iowa did in basketball, I was hoping they said that they lost since they were taking on my Wisconsin Badgers, “They lost!” he said and shook his head, I, of course, said “Go Badgers”, they looked at me and laughed and I explained who I was and what I was doing.  John and Donna Negro are from Cedar Rapids, Iowa according to John, Donna said no, Marion, John didn’t correct her.  They were at the game to meet up with their friends Ron and Karen Foster and to cheer on and support the Hawkeyes.

Donna & John Negro
Donna & John Negro

You could tell immediately that the Negros and Fosters had been friends for a long time, 40 years John stated, there was a lot of laughing and joking and a real sense of ease with each other. John, 65, is an electrical contractor and owns Nelson Electric back in Cedar Rapids, he bought it from a guy named Nelson in 1977; thought it best to keep the name, as not to confuse people.  Ron is an electrical engineer  and designed a lot of  projects that John “had” to make work, he said with a chuckle.  When I inquired about baseball, John was quick to point out that he played softball from age 20 to 45, “…it was a great excuse to drink beer”, he said with a laugh, Donna quickly added that it was a family affair, stating that her 2 oldest sons were born on Wednesdays and were at the ballpark the following Monday.  Donna says that they basically raised their 7 kids at the ball diamond,(yes they are Catholic), Becky, Barb, Joe, Beth, Mike, Brenda and Jim along with 11 grandkids which she said she hoped I didn’t ask to name..  Karen Foster was a Nurse in the Obstetrics Department and was working when Donna gave birth to 3 of her kids, there was some chuckling and nudging about her having to kick John out one time but I think it was an inside joke, but I couldn’t help but laugh along with these 4.

John and Donna made sure that all their kids were involved with some kind of extra curricular activities during the school year be it sports or music, didn’t matter what it was as long as they were out of the house; Donna needed a break she said jokingly, there was always something going on with the 7 kids and John would call after work and just say, “Who do I pick up and where do I take them?” he said in way that you knew that he would do it all over again if given the chance.

When John retired to South Florida at the urging of the Fosters his passion for softball was reignited and he joined a 60+ softball league, to his surprise they played games in the morning, so the beer drinking would have to wait until the afternoon when Ron and John play golf.  John plays for End Zone, a bar I am guessing; Ron plays for Beyond the Sea, yep a restaurant. I was confused why they didn’t play on the same team, more laughter and then John looks at me seriously and says that there is a draft, he looks at Ron again and they chuckle. The league consists of 10 teams each with 14 players, 11 players play, 5 infielders, 4 outfielders, a pitcher and a catcher.  They do it this way John says so you don’t have to move too fast he adds with a smile, Ron points out that there are a few players that get a bit competitive and need to simmer down, they do play to win but as John says it really is to just have some fun.  However, some of the players are not very good and both John and Ron laugh pretty hard when they try to suggest that they move on to the 70+ league, they laugh harder when it is suggested that those guys probably wouldn’t want them…

John is an avid Chicago Cubs fan, his brother is a Chicago White Sox fan, they have a standing bet whichever team has the worst record that brother has to buy dinner, John of course smiles and says he has been buying a lot of dinners.  John and Donna love going to Chicago and try to make it to Wrigley a couple times a year, it is ideal when the Iowa Hawkeye football team plays the Northwestern Wildcats in the fall, that way they can catch the Hawkeyes on a Saturday and head to Wrigley Field on Sunday.  He has had season tickets for Iowa basketball and football for years, and quickly makes sure to add that he attends Iowa wrestling matches, a perennial powerhouse because of their legendary coach Dan Gable who won 16 NCAA team titles from 1976–1997.

When John was a kid his dad took him and 2 brothers along with a family friend and his son on a baseball road trip to Chicago to watch the White Sox at Comiskey Park on Friday night, the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Saturday, then they camped along Lake Michigan and went to a Milwaukee Braves game at County Stadium on Sunday.  As John recalls it, they got to watch Warren Spahn of the Braves pitch; what was funny to him was that Spahn participated in a cow milking contest before the game, what a great childhood memory to have!  I had a good time laughing along with John, Donna and their friends the Fosters as we watched Iowa defeat St. Bonaventure 2-0.  I loved their sense of humor, it is a sign of a life well lived and I wish everyone the happiness I felt and saw with them.

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

Additional Information,

To learn more about Dan Gable and what he accomplished at Iowa click here:

Warren Spahn cow milking contest:,3122533.

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Day 8 “Iron Pigs”

I was sitting at North County Regional Park in Port Charlotte, Florida watching Ball State put a beat down on Mississippi Valley State in the last game of the day, I was going to head out early since the game got out of hand quickly, I packed up my gear, needed to stop to use the rest room and then hit the road.  As I walked from the restroom I noticed a little league practice going on at another field (this was a big complex with 5 fields, I think there is even more), the kids seemed young but looked like they could play ball, there was a man sitting on the bleachers watching the kids and their coach, I assumed he was a dad so I went to talk to him.  I have a fascination with “the parents” that get their kids involved with sports at a very high level at a young age, so I wanted to “pick this guys brain”.  Besides after a day of hearing, “”Everyone hits”, ‘Let’s roll one”, “Stay hot kid”, “Lets go one- two”…  I needed to interact with someone, people who have been around baseball know the sayings and no “Lets roll one” doesn’t mean what you think, it means to turn a double play, if you don’t know what that means… I am honored that you are reading this blog about baseball.

Wayne Harrell
Wayne Harrell

Wayne Harrell, 41, is a parent of 3, a boy and 2 “girly” girls he said with a laugh, I asked if I could use “girly” and he said they wouldn’t be offended.  He wasn’t a parent to any of the boys practicing, he was just watching, the team he and now we were watching was a 10U “select” team from North Port.  Wayne pointed out the 10 year old shortstop we were watching who was impressively handling all the balls being hit his way, that is the coaches kid and he is talented for a kid his age. Wayne has 3 “select” teams he runs with a partner, the Iron Pigs, he has two 13U teams and one 10U team.  Wayne said he likes to keep an eye on what is happening with other teams, plus it makes good business sense, he is President and Coach of the Top Prospect Sports Academy in Port Charlotte which he and his partner opened this past June.  He also runs IBC baseball tournaments.

In 1991 Wayne graduated from Fort Piece Westwood High School where he was a catcher on the baseball team, former 10 year MLB veteran catcher Charles Johnson also went to Westwood (class of 1989)  and played with Wayne.  Wayne started ahead of Charles as catcher, he said with a wry smile, then admitted that Charles didn’t start catching until he attended the University of Miami.  After high school Wayne attended Brewton Parker Junior College in Mt. Vernon, Georgia and played baseball for one year, he said that his playing days ended there, “I didn’t have the talent to continue”, he stated with a shrug.  He has loved the game since he was a kid and it is just a part of him, he never intended to make it his livelihood, it just happened.

He met his wife Nena at church and got married at a young age and quickly started having kids,  his “girly” girls, Kylee (21) and Alise (19) and son Cody (18), all 3 participated in sports growing up. Wayne says he wasn’t too overbearing as a father but quickly stated that if they joined a team they had to finish the season.  He got into coaching when his son Cody was young and it has evolved since then into what it is today.

The Iron Pigs have 2 seasons, the first season runs from the 2nd week of January until June, then they take a 6 week break, the 2nd season starts in the the middle of July until December and then another 6 week break.  Kids try out for the teams every season, last try out there was 47 kids for the Iron Pigs elite 13U team of which only 12 make the team.  The commitment is a large one, there is a weekend tournament 3 out of 4 weeks and practice twice a week. Wayne said that the cost to the parents is a concern and he try’s to keep it as low as possible but admits that it is getting out of control.  This past season the Iron Pigs had 50 wins with 9 losses and are rated the 6th best 13U program in Florida by USSSA. (United States Specialty Sports Association).  The Iron Pigs name was chosen by the kids over 2 other names a few years ago when Wayne and his partner combined 2 select programs, the Florida Curve and the Fort Myers Bandits, the Iron Pig name comes from one of the Philadelphia Phillies minor league affiliates the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs.

One issue that Wayne says is problematic is that elite or select teams are getting water downed the past 3 to 4 years, competition isn’t  as good because parents want their child playing a certain position or think that their child possess a skill set that they really don’t have, these parents become overbearing and then might get insulted when you try to tell them as diplomatically as possible that their child’s best possible success is at a position that might not be as glamorous  as shortstop or pitcher.  There have been many times that parents have gotten offended and have decided to start their own select team, this way their child gets to play where they want them to play, Wayne says that you feel bad for the kids because you are only setting them up for failure.  Wayne’s head coaches currently don’t have any kids on the teams and he hopes to keep it that way, he wants to develop the kids talents and utilize the kids at their natural positions and not because of favoritism.

It used to be hard find games for the kids in the past but with all the water downed competition he said it is very easy since there is a tournament going on every weekend. I asked what he does for vacation, he laughed and said it usually involves baseball, he has taken a team to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown; recently he took a team to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for a tournament in the Cal Ripken Experience.  At the tournament the Iron Pigs dominated the skills competition as well as winning it all, I think I saw a sparkle in Wayne’s eye when he said this, I understand that it has to be sense of accomplishment when you see all your hard work pay off.  He has a talented team, he called over one of his players that was hanging around the Snowbird Baseball Classic, Kyle is a first baseman and pitcher who said his fastball has topped out at 70 miles an hour, I was impressed for 13 that is fast. Wayne said that he has 2 other players that can throw in the mid to upper 70’s.  I asked if he was concerned that the kids would get burned out with baseball or that they are overstressing their bodies at such a young age.  Wayne says it is always a concern but you have to be careful how you condition the kids, he never uses weight training  and keeps up with all the best techniques such as resistance training with bands.

Some of his training is specialized to explosive movements that simulates baseball moves, he proudly says that he has a Vertimax machine at the Sports Academy. Vertimax is an athletic training device to maximize speed, vertical jump and overall athletic performance, a lot of places including colleges don’t have one according to Wayne.  He wants his kids to get as much repetition and he focuses on the fundamentals which he thinks a lot of coaches overlook.  When he feels that the kids need a break or are lacking focus he will shut practices down for a week.  During the 6 weeks between seasons he doesn’t want any of his players throwing a ball, just utilizing the resistance bands, he says their bodies need a break.  He is lucky to have access to the Tampa Bay Rays minor league hitting instructor Wuarnner Ricones, who works with the kids from time to time to make sure that their form and technique is not over burdening their bodies.

Thanks for sharing your story with me Wayne, I will now be keeping an eye on the Iron Pigs from afar, you sound like you have a good grasp on the realities of select youth baseball and how to develop the kids in a skillful manner, I might just show up at one of your practices.  Stay passionate about the game.

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

Additional Information click on the links.

Top Prospects Sports Academy:,  IBC Baseball:, Charles Johnson:, USSSA:, VertiMax:

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Day 7 “Red Sox Love”

Dotty & Ralph
Dotty & Ralph

“I got my first foul ball on my 69th birthday at the old City of Palms field and I wasn’t going to give it up to a kid,” Ralph said with a smile, “Big Papi autographed it for me since it was my birthday, that was five years ago.”  I met Ralph at the current World Series Champions Boston Red Sox’s spring training facility near Fort Myers, he was wearing a sun hat with autographs of players on the underside and it was full of Red Sox pins and trinkets, his wife Dotty was also decked out in Red Sox gear, hat, socks, bag, and shirt. They show up to the complex about twice a week and then everyday when their daughter Kristen comes down.  They have been doing this for 12 years, Dotty collects autographs of the players, this particular day wasn’t going so well, she only got 1, but the day before she got 7, usually she will get 25 to 30 of the players before spring training ends.  Before they retired they would vacation down here for a week, with Kristen and their son David just to attend spring training, as I talked with Ralph, Dotty would scoot off and try to obtain another signature but the crowd was big, lots of kids down on vacation with their parents, so competition was fierce to get the players attention.

“Big Papi” is David Ortiz, he is the designated hitter of the Red Sox and is very popular with the fans, to read more about him click here:

The love of the Red Sox is a family affair for the Cornette’s, their daughter Kristen has a website called Red Sox Diehard, click here to check it out, and a blog that will give you more than enough information about the Red Sox to get you started on becoming a fanatic.  Ralph says it was Dotty that infected the family with Red Sox fever, he said that he was done with baseball after the Boston Braves bolted to Milwaukee after the 1953 season, they broke his heart and couldn’t believe they could do that to their fans, Ralph’s connection ran deep with the Braves, his older brother Lewis was signed by the Braves and tried to make 1949 roster as a pitcher but had knee troubles and it didn’t work out.  Dotty’s father would take her and her younger brother to games at Fenway regularly when she was young; he always had the game on the radio and he watched whenever they were on TV.  While attending Boston State College (UMass) on April 16th, 1964 she talked her physics class into skipping out to attend opening day, back then you could get tickets the day of the game, she laughs when she thinks of her professor showing up and no one was there.  She excitedly told me that it was Tony Conigliaro’s major league debut and he was being hyped heavily since he was a local boy, he didn’t disappoint either collecting his first home run in his first major league game that day.  There is more to Tony’s story; click here if you are interested:

Dotty and Ralph met at a funeral, Ralph’s cousin was best friends with Dotty and introduced them, they didn’t start dating until a year later since they were dating other people at the time, they felt an instant connection and Ralph proposed marriage within 10 days, 44 years later he still says it was the best decision of his life.  Ralph had 7 heart bypasses in one surgery, you read that right 7, he is a medical success story and knows when to go into “cardiac arrest”,  while attending a cardiac rehab conference which was attended by recovering cardiac rehab patients, 5 minutes into Dr. William Phillips talk, Ralphs heart knew it was time to test this guy out and goes into full cardiac arrest, Ralph jokingly says that he knew he was in good hands, 3 cardiac rehab nurses were also in attendance and reacted quickly, they were dubbed “Charlie’s Angels” on the front page of Lewiston (ME) Sun Journal.  I am glad you have a good sense a humor about such a scary thing Ralph!

Dotty and Ralph explained to me about what it is like to attend Fenway, it always gives them butterflies and the excitement is hard to contain when you start walking up the ramp and you start to see all the green of the ballpark, they say it is overwhelming with so much history.  They try to attend a few games a year and would love to attend more but they live in Maine and it is about a 3 hour drive to Boston.  When Kristen was in 8th grade in 1986, her school planned a year end field trip to Fenway, it would be Kristen’s first time attending a ball game there, Dotty was having none of it, she said that she needed to experience Fenway with her family first and made arrangements to go to a game in May before the school trip.  Needless to say Kristen was infected with Red Sox fever and now attends 25 to 30 games a year.

Ralph says the Red Sox is a part of them he reads numerous articles everyday, reviews all the commentary, emails the ones he likes he will send on to friends and family to get their input, they don’t miss a game on TV and they listen to them all, they have started attending some of the minor league teams games and will attend the Portland Sea Dogs games once or twice a year as long as it doesn’t interfere with the Red Sox.  In 1986, Dotty said that Kristen and her son David were sleeping when Boston was ahead in Game 6 of the World Series and was about to win it all since 1918 and finally be rid of the “Curse of the Bambino”, she woke the kids up to make sure they wouldn’t miss this historic moment…  well, Bill Buckner, yada, yada, yada… Most everyone knows what happened, so no need to rehash it again, Kristen and David were considering filing a lawsuit against their mother for the pain and suffering she caused because of that nightmare, but all was forgiven when the Red Sox broke the curse in 2004.

If you don’t know what the “Curse of the Bambino” is or what happened with Bill Buckner in the 1986 World Series, click here:

The Red Sox have won the World Series 3 times the last 10 years; 2004, 2007, 2013.  Dotty and Ralph were unable to attend the victory parade in 2004 because it was right before one of Ralphs surgeries and he was having knee problems, but they made the trip down to Boston last year and in 2007, getting up at 3am to get there by 6am to get a spot on the parade route.  Ralph said that last year it was really nice, everyone was friendly and cordial, he attributes that to the Boston Strong movement that brought the city together after the Boston Marathon bombing, he hopes it continues and he really believes the Red Sox helped the city heal.

As we were walking out of the complex, Ralph was saying hello or good bye to all the security personnel he knew and they likewise to him and Dotty, I got such a kick out of their family story and how beautiful and kind they were, they looked so happy being in this element, please continue cheering on your beloved Red Sox you 2 and thanks for sharing your story with me!

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

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Day 6 “Magical”

Olga at CrossFit
Olga at CrossFit

One of the issues that I knew I would run into at the beginning and the end of the baseball season was finding games to go to; my goal is to go to a game a day or at least average a game a day or more during the length of the season which will end on the final play of the World Series.  My main objective is to blog about something with regards to the fan experience of baseball everyday, no exceptions!  I am on Day 6 and I have gone to 6 games thus far but none the last 3 days, I went to the Minnesota Twins spring training complex Monday and Tuesday of this week, today I had to get some repairs done to my car and that took most of the day, I was very thankful that it didn’t cost that much; I have a budget for car repairs and didn’t want to blow it all at once!  I did have coffee with Olga Perkins at Starbucks; I met her at CrossFit Salvation in Cape Coral, I needed a baseball story to fill in on these days that a game wasn’t happening and I was planning ahead last week when I was working out and explaining to people at the CrossFit “box” what I was doing and Olga started telling me about her experience with the Cal Ripken World Series and being a host family for the Mexican team, I thought she would be the perfect person to profile and she was gracious enough to share it with me.If you want to know more about CrossFit, click on the following link:

Olga is the type of person that doesn’t beat around the bush, she is very straight forward, she says what she means and you don’t have to wonder where she is coming from, I liked her immediately, I could be blunt and direct with her and she with me.  She is 49 years old going on 50 she said, with a little bit of disbelief in her tone, she has bad knees and she has to be careful when she is working out so she doesn’t tweak them, in her mind I am sure she has said, “…if I knew I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself”, however she thinks, she looks great and in shape, she works very hard in CrossFit doing the daily “WOD”, all CrossFitters know what that that stands for (to me it stands for WTF did I get myself into but to everyone else it stands for “Workout Of the Day, “the” is apparently silent) I am a relative newbie and have only been doing it for the past 4 months and I still call it “wood” at times, when it is pronounced “wad”… Don’t ask me why “wad”…

Her husband of 25 years (they only dated for a few months before marrying), Bob and her recently moved to Cape Coral full time from Baltimore, Maryland; they had a rental property down here for years and thought it was a good time to move, one daughter Rachel, 23, recently graduated from Mississippi State and Shelby, 22, is graduating from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in the spring, where she will immediately jump on a bike for 70 days and peddle from Baltimore to Seattle for 4K for Cancer (very cool Shelby, very cool), besides her daughters not needing her as much, the company she worked for was sold and she didn’t want to work for the new one.  Need to give her daughter Rachel a shout out also, I was wondering why she ended up at Mississippi State from Maryland, her Mom said she was all set to go Catholic University of America in Washington D.C., but she went down to Mississippi with Habitat for Humanity to build houses for her senior service project in high school, falls in love with the area and decides to enroll at MSU, well done Rachel, your mother is very proud!

Olga is the 4th of eight kids she has a fraternal twin, (fraternal twins are developed from two different eggs fertilized by two different sperm cells, while identical twins are developed from a single fertilized egg that split, I didn’t know what fraternal vs identical meant and had to Google it), she says she learned to love all sports at a very young age, her Dad was passionate about the Baltimore Orioles.  When the Orioles came to Baltimore in 1954 her father created a scrapbook and collected all the information about the team that was published for that entire year starting with the 1954 Opening Day program, she still has the scrapbook and might one day give it to the team.

Olga was a Oriole season ticket holder for years and knows former MLB player Billy Ripken and has talked with his brother Cal Ripken Jr., for the uninitiated Cal started 2,632 consecutive games for the Orioles, which equates to 17 years without missing a start.  Cal started Ripken Baseball whose goal is to grow the love of baseball from a more grassroots level and every year they play the Cal Ripken World Series in Aberdeen, Maryland.  10 years ago was the first series and they needed host families for the players.  Olga volunteered her family to take 2 players.  When they came to inspect her home they asked if she would take 4, she said yes but insisted that she get English speaking players and was assigned the Dominican Republic.  Her team assignment was a surprise and she didn’t know what she was going to do because of the language barrier, she was relieved when another family “threw a fit” because they wanted the Dominicans.  The assignments were swapped to placate the other family and she was given Mexican players…

If you would like to learn more about Cal Ripken, Jr. click on the following link:,_Jr. more about the Cal Ripken Baseball click here:, Billy Ripken, click here:,

Nestor Lopez
Nestor Lopez

She was worried, how was she going to communicate with these kids for 19 days?  To her relief 2 of the players spoke some English, Nestor Lopez and Chucky, Jose (who they nicknamed Hollywood because his smile lit up a room) and Jesus did not.  She also didn’t have boys and didn’t realize how much they could eat!  Her family was responsible for all 4 of them and she was considered their mother since parents didn’t travel and if they did players weren’t allowed to stay with them. Another issue she had to address early on was that of flushing toilet paper down the toilet, in Mexico you don’t do it, you throw it in a trash can.  Her daughters enjoyed having the boys around and bonded instantly with them, Rachel knew a little Spanish and would sing/perform the “Dora the Explorer” theme song in Spanish at Nestor’s insistence, performing it on the bridge that led to their loft area above the living room in a concert type fashion.

As Olga described and explained all the things that her family needed to do with the boys, her eyes would light up and she would get excited then repeat after everything she said, “it was such a magical time”.  She still keeps in contact with the boys through Facebook.  Mexico dominated the initial Cal Ripken World Series, Nestor was the tournament MVP, Jose was a pitcher, Jesus played in the outfield and Chucky (nicknamed because he looked like the doll) played 2nd base.  At one point in the championship game Jose struggled pitching and his coached pulled him and replaced him with Nestor, Rachel got on top of the dugout and started singing the “Dora the Explorer” theme song in Spanish which made the kids smile and relaxed them, Sage Brown, currently with ESPN saw this and commented on air that she caught a “magical” moment.

During non playing days and in the evenings host families would get together for cook outs and spend time together with all the players, Olga said she hosted Mexican players for 5 years but the very first year was the one she cherishes the most, it was a magical time since it was all so new and her girls and “her” 4 boys bonded, laughed and played together.  When Mexico was awarded the Championship trophy by Cal Ripken, Nestor wanted a picture with his parents, Cal said these aren’t your parents, but Nestor insisted and said that they were and had Olga come down and get a picture with them. Jose was interviewed and when asked why they called him “Hollywood” he said he didn’t know, everyone else did since he was sporting his million dollar smile when being questioned.  Cal Ripken now refers to Olga as Miss Mexico when he sees her.

As we were finishing up, Olga got onto Facebook and showed me pictures of what the boys currently look like, Chucky has grow up and no longer looks like the doll and Nestor, Hollywood and Jesus are developing into fine young men, it might have been only 19 days but Olga felt a sadness after they left and will always cherish that time and those moments. If you want to read more about Olga her daughter Rachel wrote a fun piece about her, click on the following link:

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!

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Day 5 “Linda Christman”

“I have a very maternal feeling towards the players these days,” Linda said. “I’m not Susan Sarandon’s character Annie Savoy in Bull Durham. They’re the sons I never had. But maybe if I were 20 years younger, I’d feel a little less maternal,” she chuckled. Linda went on to explain that she is very proud of the players who develop in the Twins farm system— players she cheers on at the Fort Myers Miracle (High A) games and the Gulf Coast Rookie League games that are also played at the Hammond Stadium complex. There is no better feeling than seeing these players playing in the “bigs” 2-3 years after she gets to know them. She jokingly thanked Twins General Manager Terry Ryan for drafting “nice guys and cuties.” Again with the chuckle and I laugh along with her, she is very easy to talk to and is sharing her passion of baseball, the players and her history with me very easily, which is very much appreciated.

Linda & Twins Mgr Ron Gardenhire
Linda & Twins Mgr Ron Gardenhire

Linda is 48 years old, a free lance journalist by trade which is very apparent when I am asking her questions and she is filling me in on all the details I would need to write this piece.  She was a Mets fan when her family lived in New Jersey for a couple of years in the 70s. Her love for baseball started when she was a toddler in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where she was born, and where her dad said she would watch Phillies games with him on television and then go outside and hit the whiffle ball around. Her family eventually settled in Evansville, Indiana where Linda went to high school and the University of Evansville, where she received a B.S in Communications.

She has lived in Fort Myers for the past 8 years and attends baseball games as much as possible. She still calls Evansville her hometown and she grew up a mile and a half from Don Mattingly the current manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. As a journalist, she has interviewed Don along with former NFL players Bob Griese and Kevin Hardy, former NBA player Calbert Cheaney, PGA golfer Jeff Overton, and former MLB pitcher Andy Benes and former Twins infielder Jamey Carroll. What do these players have in common?  If you guessed that Evansville is their hometown you would be correct!

As we sit talking behind home plate at Hammond Stadium on this beautiful cloudless warm February afternoon, Linda points out the changes that happened since the last baseball season. She explains the left field grassy berm is new and the whole outfield has a new walkway to spots where fans can get home run balls she tells me excitedly.  Linda says that if she ever gets married her husband would need to be a baseball fan or it probably wouldn’t work out since she loves to spend her summer days and nights at the ball field. She has never been to the new Target Field in Minnesota and jokes with some of the players that she wants to be their date for the All Star Game which is being held there this year.

Linda says she does her homework when it comes to the players and has developed somewhat of a rapport with them as they have come through the system. She inquires about their injuries, kids, weddings, hobbies and other life moments, and she says the players seem to really appreciate it when they are away from home, she treats them like normal people even though they get to live out a dream, she understands that their is a lot of pressure on them to perform.  She also loves interacting with other Twins fans who are knowledgeable about the team, she especially likes to dissect the different players and positions they play and guess on how the season will unfold.

The Twins are now her favorite MLB team and thinks they are one of the most fan-friendly teams in the majors; howerver, she says the 1973 New York Mets will always be a special team for her, and Tug McGraw, a relief pitcher on that team, will always be her favorite player.

Linda said she “stalked” (her word, not mine) Tug in 2003 at the Phillies spring training complex and got to meet her idol, which was bittersweet because 3 days after meeting him he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and died the following January. Linda says she has been passionate about baseball her whole life, she was the only girl on her Little League team and played competitive softball for 27 years. As a pitcher, she imitated her idol Tug by slapping her glove on her leg when coming off the mound, and by wearing Tug’s number 45 on softball and volleyball jerseys, and she had a phone number that ended in 4545. She is grateful that she got to tell Tug all of this before he passed away. Linda thinks he got a good chuckle out of it and it made his day that he was still remembered.

For those who want to know more about Tug McGraw click on the following link, and yes he is Tim McGraw’s father…

Linda you were a great and easy interview, I understand the draw and allure of baseball, you have gentleness about you that I enjoyed, keep that passion for the game and I am sure Terry Ryan will keep the Twins flush with “good looking” baseball talent!

If you enjoy this story and you would like to help me complete the “Baseball in America Tour 2014” which is roughly 265 days, please click on the following link to see how you can help .  Please also share this on your Facebook page and Twitter, I appreciate all the help I can get!