Day 163 & 164 “My Birthday!”

I didn’t write a post yesterday since I had a nine hour drive from Bend, Oregon to Palo Alto, California.  When you look on a map it doesn’t seem so far. I will have a few eight hour plus drives coming up in the next week, as I start heading back east.  The beginning of August is upon us, the problem this poses for me is that all the American Legion and College Summer leagues are finishing up their seasons.  August will be filled with a lot of minor league and major league games plus the American Legion and Little League World Series. September will be more difficult since all the minor league seasons end so I will be going to a lot of MLB games.  I have scheduled a lot of games in August already as I am scrambling to get a game in all 48 states. That is my goal in August to accomplish and September will be to finish getting to all the MLB stadiums.

Newest ball for my collection!
Newest ball for my collection!

As a birthday present to myself I checked into a hotel for two nights!  I went to a game at 5 p.m. yesterday, in Palo Alto, between Neptune Beach and Pacific Union of the California Collegiate League (I also got a ball), which by the way was their last regular season game before the playoffs. It finished about 8 p.m. so I headed back to the hotel where I laid in bed and watched TV for a few hours. I woke up this morning at 11:00 and watched a movie until 1:00 this afternoon.  It felt great, but also very odd. I have a minor league game tonight in San Jose at 7 p.m.. I will be taking a nap before and then enjoy an extra long shower!

I have been thinking a lot lately of what I will be doing once this is all over. For some reason I am getting nervous about it, why I don’t know!  I still have a few months on the road and believe it is human nature to have those worries. Most people I know want to be safe and secure. When life is in limbo, it can be unsettling.  The possibilities are endless of what I can chose to do, or live, for that matter. I probably will be back in Milwaukee for awhile. I want to see my daughter in Madison every couple of weeks for dinner and occasionally for breakfast on Sunday mornings. There is comfort in that for me. I hope to find a nice little one bedroom apartment. I want small since I don’t need much. Besides, the more room I have the more stuff I acquire and I don’t want to be a slave to my ‘stuff’. Hopefully I can start taking dating seriously. That is the one thing, I think, I am missing out on during this trip – companionship. There have been many times I wish someone was with me when I was enjoying a beautiful sunset; or, in awe of how gorgeous the stars are on a moonless night.  I have definitely learned, life is to be shared. I guess this is why I write on this blog everyday.

These are really cool, however out of my price range...
These are really cool, however out of my price range…

One thing I do, when I have extra time on the road, is to browse antique malls for baseball related items. I don’t collect cards or bobble heads unless they were from the 1960’s or prior. I have amassed a nice collection of things and I am excited to display them when I am finished with the trip.  I have been very lucky to see what is available throughout the U.S.; and, what is hard to find. For some reason, old baseball gloves are priced very high, but there are thousands available. It doesn’t seem like anyone is buying them with merchants pricing the gloves anywhere from $20 to $50. Occasionally, I see them for $4 or $5. It is what it is.  Baseball bats are another item that are overpriced. Even though, I have found some under $10. For me, the ‘looking’ and finding these treasurers has been fun. And, with prices that most baseball items are, it tells me how popular the game is. Football and basketball items are considerably less.

Football season is upon us with the start of training camp. The focus will be turning to yet another field of play on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. That means less crowds at the baseball games I will be attending on the weekends. I am sure the media attention I have been getting will probably dry up until I get towards the end of the trip, which is fine. I have finally gotten pretty comfortable with interviewing. When the air turns cooler, I will head south to continue the longest summer of my life.  When I think about this, I don’t get sad. I keep thinking there will be less competition for foul balls. I just want to say thank you for all the birthday wishes, Facebook is to credit for all of it. Normally I get seven calls, one from each of my family members. This year, I got over 150 messages!  Feeling very lucky I have such wonderful people in my life! With that, I’m drawing this to a close – I am going to take a nap!

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 at www.baseballbuddha.com. Follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page! Please share this on your Facebook page and Twitter. I appreciate all the help I can get!

 

Day 162 “Going Pro with Seeds!”

Me trying to spit the seeds and where it ends up!
Me trying to spit the seeds and where it ends up!

I will be attending my 180 game tonight and I can say, for certain, that at all of these games at least one person was eating, chewing, or spitting sunflower seeds!  Sunflower seeds—which as any botany student will tell you, are not seeds, but achenes—are eaten around the world in various forms.  I used chew tobacco for over 30 years because of Rod Carew. I was trying to emulate him, his swing and he chewed. I became addicted at an early age.  When I was going through my many attempts to quit that nasty habit, I was told about sunflower seeds.

In the United States, many view sunflower seeds as an alternative to chewing tobacco for baseball players, softball players and fans.  From Little League to the Majors, it’s rare to see a single pitch thrown without at least one emptied shell being spit by someone. But when did players start taking them out to the ballgame?

Hall of Fame Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial were known to chew sunflower seeds back in the 1950’s.  In 1968, fellow baseball legend Reggie Jackson started using them. That’s when their popularity really began to sprout.

Who knows whether this alternative was because of Jackson’s success he had on the field; or, the attention he got for chewing sunflower seeds off of the field. It could have been an increased awareness of the dangers of tobacco use or simply the satisfaction one gets from removing the kernel from its salty hull. But, players started following his lead which was much to the chagrin of Major League grounds crews!

I will finish this bag!
I will finish this bag!

I remember seeing buckets of sunflower seeds when my nephew Eric, Johnny and I were getting a private tour of Miller Park last summer. I was shocked at the amount of seeds that the players, coaches and even umpires went through during a game. If you watch closely, you will see the majority popping them into their mouths through out the game.

When I observed the Omaha Storm Chasers grounds crew after the game, one of the things that they had to do was sweep up the sunflower seeds in the dugout, bullpens and on the field. The ‘remains’ were seemingly everywhere.  I have tried, unsuccessfully, to find what the appeal is to these little morsels.

I have purchased a few bags on this trip, popped some into my mouth and tried to figure out a system to de-shell and spit without making a mess.  If you have just one the process is pretty easy. However with multiples in your mouth, which most people enjoy, it takes quite a bit of coordination to manipulate the shells which adds a whole new level of complexity and skill.  Do you store the kernels of the shelled in between your cheek and gums, then continue de-shelling? Or, do you chew the little kernel up before proceeding to the next shell?  Either way, regarding my personal attempts, I create a huge mess in my mouth. A couple of times I have had minor panic attack thinking that I am choking when a hull has gotten caught in my throat.

The view from the top!
The view from the top!

I am currently working on a 5.35 ounce bag of Bigs Sunflower Seeds Vlasic Dill Pickle flavor. I am committed to finishing the entire bag.  I am a novice at this and my tongue hurts at the moment.  If I can’t be a professional baseball player, I can at least eat, chew and spit sunflower seeds like one!  Anyway, I am in Bend, Oregon sitting at a Starbucks (really another Starbucks, hard to believe). I drove through a mountain range today to get here. The day is beautiful and scenery was equal to the day. I stopped and jumped in a river near the top. Mountain water is COLD, but very refreshing. My car is littered with sunflower shells that missed my “spittoon” cup I was using as I was driving down the mountain.  College Summer baseball game tonight. The season for a lot of these leagues will be coming to an end soon which will make it difficult for me to find games easily!

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 at www.baseballbuddha.com. Follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page! Please share this on your Facebook page and Twitter. I appreciate all the help I can get!

 

 

Day 161 “Maybe a TED talk…”

Today I am sitting in an Outback Steakhouse in Salem, Oregon, I have been running around since I got up.  Before arriving in Salem, while just north of Portland, I went to Planet Fitness so I could take a shower, then ‘laundry’. Once all finished, I drove down to Salem through Portland, the traffic is terrible out here! The game doesn’t start until 6:30 p.m. Yesterday, I wrote about what happened yesterday. I admit that I have not written very many good stories lately; and, to be honest, I haven’t felt like writing.  What I want to do is sleep all day long, just lounge around without worrying about getting to a game or writing a post. I am approaching six months out on the road, I have figured out how much more it will cost me to finish the trip. All in all, I think I will be able to accomplish my goal. I am blown away at the fact that I have gone to a baseball game every day since February 25. People I met three or four months ago will email me and it hits me – I haven’t missed a day since then. This entire trip!

I have gone back and read some of my first posts and I am impressed at how my writing has developed.  I read a book once that said that you need to just write everyday, doesn’t matter what you write about, but just to do it.  I have noticed if I let my stream of thought just flow, I am able to express myself much better. My train of thought doesn’t seem forced.  Also, I have been able to construct stories much better. It is easier to figure out what is important to state and where you let a reader’s mind figure out things.  I have been listening to a lot of “books on tape” (they’re on CD) as I drive. The authors are typically the ones that read their own work. As I am listening, I am beginning to see where they could have added to or subtracted from a story to explain it.  Almost all the books I have listened to have been baseball related, which I am listening to “What the Dog Saw”, by Malcolm Gladwell, currently.  What I love about him is how he constructs and interjects himself into his essays. I have learned so much from his writing; as well as, when I listen to him read these stories to me.

When I started this trip I had all these great ideas of what I wanted to accomplish everyday. I wanted to take tons of pictures, film different aspects of the ballparks, tweet out all the mascots, and other subject matter.  What I have learned is that I would need a team of three to be able to do this daily; and, I am but one person. I have been pushing myself to the limit just trying to attend the games everyday and write a story. I am motivated, extremely motivated. I have been told to dig deep and I’m digging as deep as I can.  I love showing up to the games, watching all that is happening, seeing all the interactions, taking notes, discussing strategy, contemplating how this relates to life and figuring out what is interesting.

I have been asked numerous times what I wanted to do after this is over and the only thing would be to do a “TED talk”, that is it. I love those fifteen minute ideas.  “TED talk” tagline is, “Ideas worth spreading.” I have said to myself that no one would want to listen to my idea and I have questioned if it is even worth spreading. Even though, I also have realized that I said the same thing about doing this trip and about my blog. I have inspired and have been inspired daily. Motivation is not one grand idea; but, many small ideas that energize people to act and in my realization, there is not a specific “someone” I know, but many people that come to mind. Baseball is my vehicle and I am passionate about the game. I love how the sport is part of the history of America. I am intrigued by the people who get so wrapped up in the outcome of a game and the players who play.  Baseball just a game with so many layers, like myself; and, the people I know.

I have stated that this trip is more than just baseball. I have said, “I will be as honest and forthright as I can.” I occasionally will get lost in my thoughts, writing about the game and how I am feeling.  I am exploring the country, baseball and my motivations.  To all the people who tune in for the baseball stories, I apologize that I haven’t been able to write one consistently lately.  I am going to a minor league short season Single-A game tonight. Looking at the time, need to head to the stadium!

Day 160 “It is definitely me!”

Today was one of those days where I was sensitive about everything and it started when I woke up. I was in a rest area in Washington.  Their rest areas serve free coffee and treats, it is normally non profit volunteers that sit and man these stations.  My “weed” smoking friend from yesterday explained all this to me.  I used the facilities and decided to get a coffee and a cookie, I was going to donate a couple of bucks and be on my way.  I approached the area (think elementary school store), I asked for a coffee and spotted the cookie I wanted. It was buried under a peanut butter one that I reluctantly ate the night before. I didn’t want to make the same mistake. I reached for the one I wanted, grabbed it, kinda bobbled it and recovered. As all this was going on one silver-haired women, who was manning the cookie plate, with brow furrowed, scolded me. “You are not to grab your own cookie.” she stated with authority.  This firmness in speech caught me off guard. Another silver-haired lady, who was manning the coffee pot, stop pouring my free cup. I was bewildered and then got slightly miffed. I then decided to deposit the cookie into the trash, apologize over my error in judgment and walk away as the coffee ‘lady’ tried to hand me my coffee.

As I drove down the highway, I thought how a stupid little thing like that got me upset and how foolish I must have looked walking away from, not one but two, old women who were just trying to raise money by dispensing “free” cookies and coffee, at least they got a couple of bucks, I did envision them high fiving each other, with one saying to the other, “that guy is an a$$hole.”  I stopped at the nearest Starbucks drive-thru, and my payback was swift. I had to wait about ten minutes to get a coffee since they were just brewing a fresh pot.  They did give me a coupon for a free drink of my choice next time I stopped since I had to wait so long. I was very kind and kept thinking positive thoughts. I wanted to be rid of the bad juju I created twenty minutes before.

Me, Linnea and Jillian
Me, Linnea and Jillian

I had gone to a college summer baseball game in Bellingham last night and had a great time with another Ashland Oredocker that has lived out in Washington for the past 25 years. Linnea (Mackey) Nielsen along with her daughter, Jillian, met me at the game.  Linnea and I caught up on all things Ashland. We discussed a wide variety of subjects; I loved it. Her daughter didn’t so much, but hung in there until the end of the game with bribes of hot dogs and ice cream.  Jillian didn’t understand how a guy like me who was “a little bit” famous was living in a car and not in a house.  I assured her that my “fame” was fleeting and that I hope that I would be able to afford a small apartment when I was done with driving my car around.  As I left Bellingham last night and headed towards Tacoma I was feeling a lot of gratitude. I was also thinking of my daughter. We had gotten into a heated disagreement over something.  Something I felt strongly about. I was going to text her and apologize for being so stern in my responses to her.  When I pulled into the rest area, my daughter had already texted me about something else. I felt needed and content.  Then I woke up to the coffee and cookies…

I went to a Tacoma Rainiers game today which they won in 14 innings, 4-3, over Sacramento. I was flustered and annoyed from the moment I arrived at the stadium.  I loved the look and feel of the place that had recently been remodeled.  You could see Mount Rainier from the outfield seating; however, I was told that the grass area was sold out. I needed to purchase a ticket that was twice as much.  The lady said that I got a “free” drink with that ticket. I wanted to tell her that there is nothing “free”, but she was too young to understand.  I was told that the area was in the new “R” deck in left field.  I went to the area and was expecting smiles and maybe an “enjoy the game”, but I didn’t get any of that.  I have begun to expect all that kind of stuff at baseball games and when it doesn’t happen, I notice and get a little upset.

Sitting and texting where food is prepared...
Sitting and texting where food is prepared…

Martie Cordero, of the Omaha Storm Chasers, has set the bar high. I measure all places against him and the Reno Aces.  Tacoma is in dire need of Martie’s expertise! I got out to the left field area and was told I could only stay in a little area in the corner of the “R” deck.  I was miffed that I wasn’t informed of this earlier. I went to get my “free” drink and ordered a burger. I was impressed that the burgers were made to order.  In my head I thought that was a great idea since it would be probably be fresh meat and not the premade patties, I was wrong.  The kid that gave me the “free” drink wasn’t very helpful and he actually rolled his eyes at an elderly couple that were ordering burgers, also.  The kid that was preparing the burgers was sitting on the food prep table, I took a picture and tweeted to the Rainiers. The stadium seemed messy, the table I was sitting at had this oily film on it. I asked the elderly couple to check it just to have someone else’s opinion.

Sold out "Grass Area" in the 4th inning...
Sold out “Grass Area” in the 4th inning…

I left the “R” deck after a few innings, the ushers in the area were more interested in talking to each other and texting friends than actually helping patrons. Security seemed a little overzealous; but, I was thinking that I was now on high alert and needed to remove myself, since I kept looking at the grass area which only looked 20% full.  I wandered around the stadium. I kept thinking, the Rainiers have so many positives and they just needed someone who understood hospitality. The first thing I would do would be to explain that a smile and a “thank you” goes a long way.  Not all the staff were rude and one usher seemed to know a lot of the fans. I love seeing that; however, they have a long way to go to get to the level of the Storm Chasers.  I left when the game ended in the 14th inning. My positive for the moment, the game was exciting to watch.  The Rainiers acknowledged my Tweet, but their response felt like an empty acknowledgment.

I stopped at a Starbucks to get a Sweet Green Juice and a coffee for my drive to Portland, Oregon. Thankfully, I was in a better mood.  Starbucks knows hospitality. I went through the drive thru, ordered my drinks and remembered I had a free one coming. I gave the coupon to the Barista manning the window and she promptly took the $2 off the bill. I asked why she deducted the least expensive of the two drinks. She asked if I would like the most expensive one deducted, I looked at her incredulously. I said that I would, she gave me a little attitude, I said thank you. I told her that her attitude was “noted”. I got on I-5 towards Portland and had one of those belly laughs, saying to myself, “it is definitely me!”  “Happiness is a choice”, I told myself, and everyone is entitled to an ‘off day’. I had one, as did everyone else I came across today.

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 at www.baseballbuddha.com. Follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page! Please share this on your Facebook page and Twitter. I appreciate all the help I can get!

 

Day 158, 159 “I don’t like to smoke alone…”

Louise and Gloria!
Louise and Gloria!

I am sitting in Bellingham, Washington at a Starbucks, of course. At the moment, I’m kind of feeling out of sorts and have been trying to write a post for the last three hours. I had a great day yesterday in Vancouver. Went to a Canadians game which was sold out at Nat Bailey Stadium. I loved the place which was built in 1951 and the crowd was into the game.  When I arrived, I had a minor panic attack since I was told that I was unable to get a ticket.  I talked with Lucas Scott, Media Relations, and he gave me a Press Pass and also got me a Northwest League game ball which I appreciated greatly.  I was meeting a friend I had met when I was in India a couple of years ago. She, and another friend who was also in India, were going to show me around Vancouver.  Lucas was gracious enough to put “plus one” on the pass.

Louise got to the game around the fourth inning. I met her in the parking lot and we went into the game.  We really didn’t know each other well since we only spent ten days together in the Himalayas cleaning toilets and showers during a silent “Introduction to Buddhism” retreat.  I became Facebook friends with her and Gloria. I was always impressed with their adventurous spirit. This coming October, they will be going to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for British Columbia’s Children’s Hospital.  Yeah you read that right – These two are doers!

Sold out Nat Bailey!
Sold out Nat Bailey!

Louise and I talked about our experiences over the last two years. I always want to know what motivates people that can just go out and do things.  After the game we grabbed a drink and waited for Gloria to meet us. The two of them showed me some of the sights within the city. I was very impressed with the skyline of Vancouver and the entire city had a great vibe to it. This is definitely a place I want to come back to.  It was a warm and beautiful night, one of those nights where you feel good about the life you are living, if that makes any sense.

I am in the Pacific Northwest for a about a week. I was at the Seattle Mariners game the day before driving up to Canada. I liked Safeco Field; however, it was a cold and windy night. I am usually prepared for games but on this night I was not! I did wear jeans, a sweatshirt, a jacket but only had flip flops on. I had a chill that I couldn’t shake and decided to buy a $50 Mariners blanket. Yeah, I overpaid for it but I did get warm and now I own a goofy blanket that is probably only worth $10.

That night I drove towards the border and slept in a rest area. When I woke-up the following morning, I heard someone talking outside my car.  When I got out to see who it was I was overwhelmed with the smell of marijuana. There was a guy talking on his phone. When he saw me, he told whomever it was he was talking to that he needed to go.  I started organizing my car. He came over and started asking me questions. I answered and told him what I was doing. He then asked if I wanted to “toke up” with him because he didn’t like to smoke alone. I declined but he continued to tell me that he had some really good “shit’ and besides it is legal in Washington.  I told him that I had to drive to Canada and didn’t think it was a good idea to drive impaired.

This guy interested me, and for whatever reason, I wanted him to think that I actually smoked pot.  Why that was I will never know, he gave me his reasons why smoking ‘weed” was good for you.  I had heard it all before, mostly from people that were high and passionate about all the wonderful uses of hemp.  He told me that they had free coffee in the rest area, I went and got some. I made a donation to the cause they were raising money for. My ‘friend’ was back on his phone talking when I returned to my car with my coffee. However, he interrupted his conversation when he saw me. He needed to tell me about another rest area near Tacoma and I thanked him for the information. He went back to his phone conversation. As I got on my way, I thought about him for the next few miles.

I have to say that Seattle and Vancouver are some pretty progressive cities and I liked both of them.  I am a guy that loves to see diversity in all of its forms.  My rest area “stoner” friend had a story to tell and I wanted to listen to him.  Everyone has a story to tell, some have the medium and the ability to communicate theirs. Others – just stop random people in rest areas.  The need for human interaction and being appreciated, I think, is basic in all of us.  I have been missing Milwaukee, my own place and someone to go home to the last couple of days. The feeling comes and it goes.  I have many stories I have collected on this venture; however, I have not written about them all.  I need to figure out how I can. So many suggest writing a book.  I may; or, I may continue on my website. I need more ideas, more help, as I have so many stories yet to be told.

 

Day 157 “Wide open spaces!”

Hana with her ball!
Hana with her ball!

I need to forewarn everyone, I have lots of driving coming up in the Northwest, along with seeing some friends in the area. So, my days might be quite busy and my writing may not be as ‘plentiful’.  I know I am making up excuses!  Yesterday I was in Missoula, Montana and went to a game with my friend, Brian, and his daughter, Hana. The goal at the game was to get Hana a game ball and I am happy to report that she did get one. She was very focused on where all the foul balls were hit. The catcher in the Osprey bullpen had retrieved one when he was warming up a pitcher and when the inning ended, Hana was right there hoping he would flip it to her.

The game started late with lots of hits and runs; thus, got done a little late.  After the game Brian wanted to grab a bite to eat at his favorite place which had great burgers.  I had a six-plus hour drive to Yakima, Washington last night and today. I needed to stop at Sprint to get a new phone and update my WiFi. It was painful to spend the money on the phone, but my other one was beginning to have issues.

Being in the Northwest I am understanding the phrase, “wide open spaces”. At times it is overwhelming, making me feel very vulnerable and wishing that I had company on the trip.  After we ate, I drove about two hours last night and on the open road, it was very dark. I knew I was driving up mountain ranges but didn’t have a very good feel for what I was “not” seeing.  I pulled into a rest area and set up my car. I had no reception with my phone so I couldn’t check my messages. It is times like this when I feel very exposed. I don’t know why that is, but could be the fear of the unknown. I still have a lot of “kid” in me and at times need some reassurance, which I know that sounds goofy.  However, I know that a lot of people, no matter the age, have moments like these.  When I woke-up in the morning and got out of the car, I was greeted to a beautiful scene. I was in a mountain valley with a river and green trees everywhere.

I drove into Spokane, Washington where I dealt with my phone issues and then headed towards Yakima. I was listening to “Moneyball”, a CD book.  I have read numerous baseball books on this trip and just finished the book on Roberto Clemente. My goal this entire trip has been to turn off the noise of everything else and just become engrossed about everything baseball.  I am learning so much about all the different aspects of the game beyond the game being played on the field.  Also, I can say, now that I made it to Washington, I have been to all different regions of the United States in my life (besides Hawaii and Alaska). I was very surprised at how barren and dry eastern Washington is. I expected it to be green and lush. I am told that Seattle will be and I will be in Seattle tomorrow to see for myself.  I am excited about getting a tour of the Starbucks headquarters from Ka Bao Lee, a summer intern with the company; and, someone I used to work with!

I have to stop for now. I will be on the radio again tonight and a little unnerving since it is live. However, I have done it a few times so I am getting used to it.  I also finished up another TV interview.  I haven’t posted all the interviews on Facebook; even though,  I have posted quite a few and I am shocked that people actually watch them.  I kind of feel self-absorbed for posting them all the time. I would be lying if I said, “That it hasn’t been fun.” But, I am sure it can get old for all of you.

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 at www.baseballbuddha.com. Follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page! Please share this on your Facebook page and Twitter. I appreciate all the help I can get!

Day 156 “Big Sky”

Brian fixing the gas cap?
Brian fixing the gas cap?

I am sitting in Missoula, Montana at a Barnes and Noble.  I will be going to another Pioneer League game tonight with Brian Roberts, who is in Missoula for the summer.  If Brian’s name is familiar to my regular readers of this blog, it is because he lives in Orlando, Florida most of the year and I stayed with him for a night back three months ago.  Brian has a motorcycle shop here, and in Orlando. He also has a love for baseball and is the doting father for his nine year old, Hana. In addition, he is from my hometown of Ashland!

Donnie Hissa from Iron River!
Donnie Hissa from Iron River!

I was in Helena yesterday for a Brewers game and got to talk with Donnie Hissa who is a pitcher for Helena, is a recent graduate of Notre Dame and he was drafted by Milwaukee. Donnie grew up in Iron River, Wisconsin which is 30 miles west of Ashland. I have been paying attention to his career the last couple of years since Jerry, my brother-in-law, pointed him out.  Last year he played for the Lakeshore Chinooks of the Northwoods League and Eric, my nephew, and Johnny Seechon went to see him play.  Donnie stands 6’7″ and he told me that his fastball is where it was when he was a sophomore in college and he is feeling good.

Helena got beat 11-7 by Grand Junction.  Grand Junction, Colorado, which is also the home of the Colorado Mesa University and “The Pit”.  If you haven’t read that story please take the time, “Day 58”, it was one of my favorite experiences.  When I was trying to find out how I could talk with Donnie, from the General Manager of the team, an intern came over to me and said that a couple of people would like to meet me. I had been featured in the local newspaper a few days before and they wanted to donate some money to me since I was sleeping in my car.

The intern introduced me to Kevin Horner, an usher, who told me that a couple other baseball travelers were in Helena within the last week.  Kevin told me that a guy from Evansville, Indiana was doing the same thing I was doing and had over 20,000 miles on his car!  I will be honest, I initially was skeptical and didn’t want it to be true. All of the sudden I felt threatened because I wanted this to be my thing; besides, I had over 30,000 on my car.  After I processed what he was telling me, I had to laugh at my own thought process. It was my ego getting the best of me.  Kevin gave me the guy’s name and email. Also, he told me of another guy that was recently in Helena and had been to baseball games all over the world, I got his information, too. I am now excited to talk to these guys.

I was introduced to Monique and Kevin Damuth who were at the game with Helen. I assumed that she was the mother of one of them, I should have asked. Anyway, they said they enjoyed the story written about me in the paper. I explained more of what I was doing, they didn’t realize I wrote a blog post about the experience everyday.  I was humbled, yet again, when they gave some money. Why it surprises me, I will never know. The goodness of strangers is such a wonderful thing and it happens everyday. However, when it happens to me I am blown away each and every time.  The TV reporter came back and she got some shots of me talking to the Damuth’s.

helenastadiumI loved Helena’s stadium, it was old but well maintained. The ushers and interns were cordial and there was a lot going on for all the kids. The site lines were incredible with the mountains in the background. Foul balls were plentiful and I had a desire to chase a few down since I wanted one for my collection. I did talk to a few kids and said I would give them a couple of bucks if they got me one. A few tried passing some batting practice balls off on me but I wasn’t going along with their idea. I chuckled when young boy came up with a ball that was signed by all the players. He said, “It’s a Pioneer Ball and the ink will probably wash off.”  An usher got me a game ball and I was very thankful. I was offered to give him a few dollars but he refused. Right after I was given the ball, a young girl walked over with a perfect game ball and she smiled. I almost bought it since she was so cute when she approached me. I showed her that I had already had one. She looked at me a bit perturbed and said, “Well, mine is cleaner.” And, she walked away, kinda of mad at 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 at www.baseballbuddha.com. Follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page! Please share this on your Facebook page and Twitter. I appreciate all the help I can get!

 

Days 154 & 155 “Lots of interviews”

A marriage proposal!
A marriage proposal!

The last few days have been extremely busy for me and I haven’t been able to get anything posted!  I was in Casper, Wyoming for a college summer league game where I met Aaron and April McCreight the owners of the Cutthroats who are doing a fantastic job operating their team in the Mountain Collegiate Baseball League. The league is a fledgling summer collegiate baseball league which currently has four teams, two in Colorado and two in Wyoming. Next year, the hope is to expand to six teams.   The Cutthroats had a great crowd and I loved the small town atmosphere. Aaron and April were running around all night making sure everything was being done, while taking care of their young twin boys, also. Before the game started, the manager of the Cutthroats proposed to his girlfriend after she threw out the first pitch!  You don’t get any more small town than that and I am happy to report that she said, “Yes!”  The game went into extra innings, but the Cutthroats prevailed.  Before the game, I was interviewed by the local news station. I have become very comfortable doing these; even though, hopefully not too comfortable as I am keeping all in perspective. As much as I am enjoying my 15 minutes of fame, I realize it is only momentary.

Cutthroats signing autographs after the game!  Very Cool!
Cutthroats signing autographs after the game! Very Cool!

After I left the game I began driving towards Billings and I was awestruck at the beauty of the stars in the night. There was no moon but the sky was gorgeous. I actually pulled over about an hour into the drive and laid on top of my trunk gazing up at the stars. What was odd is that I was on an interstate highway and I didn’t see any traffic for 15 minutes!  It was a very quiet, peaceful night and I was literally in the middle of no where. I felt at peace in the vulnerability of it all.

The rigors of rookie ball in the States!
The rigors of rookie ball in the States!

Yesterday, I was in Billings, Montana to watch a doubleheader between Medicine Hat Moose Monarchs of Alberta and the Billings Scarlets.  I was tired and I watched both games without talking to many people.  I was interviewed in Billings by the local newspaper reporter Mike Ferguson, who I think did a fantastic job. I posted the article on the Facebook page.  I also want to point out, that Billings has a player that was very impressive and I hope he gets a look by some colleges or pro scouts.  Today I was interviewed in Helena, Montana. While here, I am going to see a Helena Brewers rookie ball game and as I was finishing up my interview, I observed some of the Latin America players taking an English course.  I want to thank everyone for all the nice compliments regarding the last couple of posts.  I wish I had the talent to be able to produce those everyday.

I spent about five hours today figuring out my schedule through the end of August. I am excited to say that I should be able to get to a game in every state which will include the Little League World Series for a day and the championship game of the American Legion World Series.  Now I have to figure out how to get tickets!  My worry now is the month of September and getting to a game everyday.

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 at www.baseballbuddha.com. Follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page! Please share this on your Facebook page and Twitter. I appreciate all the help I can get!

 

Day 153 “The Spirit of America”

A 1000 fans at a American Legion game!
A 1000 fans at a American Legion game!

The first note I made in my notebook says, “I can’t believe the size of this crowd for an American Legion baseball game.”  This was my first impression of the Rapid City Post 22 Hardhats game versus Minot.  The TV sports reporter, from Sioux Falls, told me the day before that I am going to see a town that loves their American Legion team. Also, he said, “Their baseball complex was pretty sweet.” He was not exaggerating in the least bit.  This is Rapid City, South Dakota as of 2010. There were 67,956 people who lived here, and this American Legion Post is the most successful of all of the sports programs in South Dakota.  The reason is that they had the same baseball coach for 47 years, who demanded that the team come before individuality.

Dave Ploof coached the Hardhats from 1965-2011, compiling a 2,483-808 record, making him ‘The Coach’ in the history of  American Legion baseball with the most wins. Under Coach Ploof, Post 22 won 33 state titles and advanced to the Legion World Series eight times. In 1993, Post 22 went 70-5 and won the national title. From 1970-87, Post 22 won 18 state titles in a row – a national record. He never had a losing season. When Coach Ploof stepped down in 2011, Mitch Messer took over the program and he is in the middle of his third year.  In his first two seasons, Messer has a record of 98-45, winning the South Dakota Class A State Championship in 2013.  Coach Messer played American Legion baseball in Rapid City from 1993-1997, winning state and regional championships in 1995 and 1996, earning back to back trips to the American Legion World Series.

The view is beautiful!
The view is beautiful!

Coach Messer was an excellent choice to replace the legendary Ploof. I took the following from a last year’s yearbook as the coach addressed what it meant to be part of Post 22 baseball. I was so impressed with it, I have included it in its entirety: “We love our baseball players at Rapid City Post 22.  It is enjoyable to be around a group of young men who sacrifice so much individually in order to promote their team.

At Rapid City Post 22, things are different in comparison to some other programs.  We do not try to impress players and their families.  We believe in giving an honest look at who we are and what we are doing.  We want to leave no false impressions.  A player should be thinking about what he can do for the team and be aware that it is an honor for him to be here, not a privilege for Post 22 to have him.

We are extremely disciplined and make no secret of this.  A player who does not like to work hard or be told what to do will not be one of ours.  Our appearance is a strong concern as well as our off-the-field activities.  There are things which we just do not do.  A positive image must be upheld.  Thus, it becomes a challenge to play baseball for Rapid City Post 22.  If you want to be treated as a prima donna, complain because the official scorer did not award you a hit, throw equipment in frustration and begin all of your sentences with the word “I”, we suggest you choose a different program.  However, if you want to play in a strong program and be a top contender for National American Legion Tournament play, be with a group of talented and classy people, play a strong schedule on a good facility, have good coaching, sacrifice like you never have before and, most importantly, GET BETTER, then come meet the challenge here at Rapid City Post 22.”

Notice the Hardhats...
Notice the Hardhats…

I was introduced to Tom Rudebusch, General Manager for Post 22, and Play by Play announcer (if you just thought, they have a GM and a Play by Play announcer?, that is exactly what I thought), who came by the merchandise stand as I was questioning the lady working. My mind was going crazy with questions. I had fallen in love with the place and the tradition of Rapid City before I even watched a game. This place had history and tradition that I crave. They have a coach that was teaching young men what it was like to be a man. A stadium that had beautiful site lines. A fan base that was as loyal as some of the great college programs in the South.  Tom was expecting me on this night, he heard I was going to be here from the State Commissioner for Legion baseball, who was also in attendance.  The commissioner heard about me on the radio the day before in Sioux Falls, which is five hours to the east of Rapid City.  I felt important. People were talking about me, the commissioner was attending the game, he found out that Rapid City was playing because of me.

I talked with Coach Messer and Tom for about 15 minutes before the game. I was interested in why they were called the Hardhats. When Coach Ploof took over the program back in 1965, he required all the players to wear the hard helmets in the field for safety reasons. Tom said, “He was way before his time in that regard.” Therefore, local paper started referring to them as such. About three years ago the name was officially adopted and the tradition has stuck for the last 50 years.  Tom explained that he had seen three pitchers get hit in the head during his 28 years as the play by play broadcaster. “The helmets limited the damage that could have been much worse,” he said.

I was impressed with the entire complex. They have a baseball academy that operates year round, which helps to support the three teams that are part of Post 22.  Post 22 operates like a miniature MLB team. The top team is the Hardhats, which all the top players are on. The next level down is the Expos. Players on this team are usually a year younger or need more seasoning. Some players are shuffled back forth between the two teams depending on need.  Then there is the Bullets. I equate this to Rookie Ball in the Majors. These kids are just coming into the league learning what it takes to be a ball player for Post 22.  Tom told me that any kid that comes into the program can participate, no one is cut.  They currently have about 60 players on the three teams, there is no cost to join besides purchasing a season ticket for home games.  Yeah, I said that it doesn’t cost anything but a season ticket – not a high price to play. This is a program that has an operating budget of $400,000! 1200 season tickets are sold yearly at a cost of $75, the rest comes from the baseball academy!  All three teams play at least 40 games, the top team plays around 70 and they travel to different tournament’s. They went to Las Vegas this year and it cost the program about $14,000. The players were only responsible for the cost of their bag on the flight, about $50 bucks.

The Baseball Academy!
The Baseball Academy!

To play for Post 22 requires a commitment for most of the year. Your summer will be dedicated to playing baseball and that means no summer jobs (I wish I had a place like this growing up). You are expected to hone your game during the off season, with most utilizing the baseball academy but isn’t required.  Since the academy brings in enough money to support the teams, they also have great coaching utilizing the top conditioning techniques.  I spoke with one parent, Shelly Daly, whose son Ty is a pitcher for the Hardhats. She said, “Ty dreamed of playing for the Hardhats growing up. Lots of kids do.” Shelly told me that members of her family have been coming out to this ball park for over 40 years.  She made the statement that she would miss it when Ty moves on to college this fall at Jamestown in North Dakota. However, she plans to continue to come and support the team next year.  She says, “I love the tradition. This is a baseball community through and through, it is ingrained in the culture.”

As far as the game between Minot and Rapid City, Rapid City won, 9-0, which ended on the eight-run rule after five innings. The game was 1-0 going into the bottom of the fourth inning, but the Hardhats bats came alive!  Matt Minnick had a stand up triple  to lead off the 4th, as did Zach Solano. I was impressed I made a note that said “Wow! Two stand up triples in the same inning!” Following suit, Connor Merriam decided to hit one. He slide into third for whatever reason he didn’t need to. That’s right, three stand up triples! The Hardhats batted around, Matt Minnick came up again. For good measure he hit another stand up triple!  I have never seen that, I chuckled, the game ended. I congratulated Coach Messer, and headed out of town thoroughly impressed.

As this trip has progressed, I am seeing more and more how this beautiful game interacts with everyday life. I love the fact that when I have gotten off the “beaten path”, exploring such places as Rapid City, Lexington, Grand Junction, Starkville, Bourne, Hyannis and Alexandria, that baseball is part of the backbone of these towns – the coming together as a community is such a wonderful thing.  Baseball is the National Pastime for so many reasons.  It supports, encourages, unites, and helps these communities thrive in the spirit of America.

This is another story I could write another 1000 words about, but for this post – I am way over my limit. If you have read this far, thanks for the loyalty!  If you are ever in Rapid City, head over to Fitzgerald Park and catch a Hardhats game. You will not be disappointed. Try to get there on the 4th of July, they have fireworks and about 3000 fans show up!

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 at www.baseballbuddha.com. Follow me on Twitter and like my Facebook page! Please share this on your Facebook page and Twitter. I appreciate all the help I can get!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 152 “My daughters mother…”

Just drove across South Dakota! Sitting in a Starbucks in Rapid City. Stopped at the Wall Drug, finally got to see the place that gives out all those bumper stickers.  As I was wandering around the place, I started getting this urge to purchase a cowboy hat, even tried on a few. I started thinking maybe I should buy a book on the west. Maybe, even purchase a piece of art that I could hang up in my living room.  This way the memory of being in South Dakota, and specifically at Wall Drug for the hour that I was there, would not be forgotten, I can show people how worldly I have become. The problem was, I started seeing all the Made in China and other foreign labels, not “Made In The USA”. When that happened it really took away from the illusion that I was in the American West.  I came back down to earth. What is it that riles me all up with nostalgia and makes me think that purchasing something in South Dakota will make me capture the essence of the place?

I posted a newspaper article from Helena, Montana that was done on me on the Baseball Buddha Facebook page. I liked what she wrote. Yesterday, I was also interviewed in Sioux Falls and I posted that on the page as well. I can tell that I have relaxed quite a bit from the first few times I was interviewed. I know the story flows a bit better.  As the journey has progressed and the realization that I might actually be able to finish this, it has hit me how lucky I am to have the people in my life that I rely on.  I have talked about the people that help me everyday, Roger, Beth and, my brother, Chad.  But the unsung persons that don’t get mentioned very often are my ex-wife and daughter.  I know I have told you how much I love my daughter, and that I am very proud of her. Her support and encouragement has been unwavering. She tells me how cool it is that I am doing this. Even though, I worry that I haven’t been there for her. To make sure that when she falls down, I would be there to pick her up – Because, that’s what Dad’s do.

Well, I am very lucky to have the ex-wife that I have. We get along very well (most of the time).  When I was contemplating this trip it was important to me that she supported me.  I know that my daughter is 19 and will be a sophomore in college, but parenting doesn’t just end. My worry was that I would overburden my Ex, since at times with a teenage daughter and mother, you become a referee. You get the picture.  I just need to say that my ex-wife and I have been on the same page with our daughter since we have gotten divorced seven years ago. Our worry has always been Sami.  We haven’t been perfect, but it seemed when one of us was down or emotionally not available, the other picked up the slack with her.  She has always supported me and my goofy little manifestos on how to raise a child. I know that being married to me for as long as she was is quite the accomplishment in itself.

By no means was our marriage perfect but it wasn’t all bad. I choose to remember the good times and I love my ex-wife for who she is. Sometimes that can be very trying, but I wouldn’t trade her for the world. She is the mother of my daughter, she was the one that was there for her when I was going through what I call my “dark period” after the divorce. She maintained a household.  I made a pledge that I would be the best ex-husband I could be. It was a choice and at times, one that was tested.  There are moments I like to get self righteous when she does things I don’t like; but, believe me, she is quick to put me in my place.  Our marriage didn’t work out but our friendship remains strong and is a testament to what can be done if you are willing to humble yourself at times.  Our daughter didn’t get the All-American upbringing and I think that might have been hard on her. However, I think when she looks back and sees how unique it was, she will be very grateful.

I point all this out because I am constantly amazed at what my ex-wife has accomplished in her life. A life that has had its’ fair share of turbulence. Even though, she has persevered. Life may not have always been the way that I would have done it, or I even agreed with at the time – but she is still standing. She has a successful career, a beautiful heart, and we both have a well adjusted and intelligent daughter. As much as I want to take a lot of the credit for our daughter, the genetic code is a combination of both of us.  My Ex is a strong independent woman, even when she doesn’t want to be, that needs to recognized. She might burn all the bridges to the island she is living on at times, but that is what makes her who she is. Before anyone says anything disparaging about her, I will gladly take you to the woodshed and point out how wrong you are. Don’t ever forget she is the mother of my daughter and I have love and admiration for her.  I may joke about her personality, but her heart is always in the right place!

You may be asking why I would post this. The reason is simple, you can’t live life in a vacuum. I am the person I am because of the people I surround myself with, people have said I have inspired them and that is great. I am just mentioning the people that inspire me everyday by the little things that they do. They don’t have to travel the country and go to a baseball game everyday to be inspirational.

When I started this trip, I said I would be as honest and forthright as I can be. I have a lot of time to think and contemplate life as I am driving. I watch and observe people when I am at the baseball games and form my opinions when I am doing these activities.  I will get back to writing baseball related stories; but, what I wrote needed to be said. Thanks for reading it!

(Another thing, because it does get mentioned, my ex-wife and me made the correct decision when we got divorced. Sometimes things in our lives just don’t work out. Even with that said, our friendship is strong because we have chosen to resolve our differences as best as we can).