Day 204 “Fenway Part 2”

The Hardons!
The Hardons!

Today I am back in Boston. I went to a game between Baltimore and Boston, not much of a game, Boston won, 10-6.  I got to see a family I met when I was in Cape Cod a couple months ago, the Hardons. They have been very encouraging since I met them and it was great to talk with them.

Fenway Park is my favorite MLB stadium and this was the second time I was here during this trip. I had the same visceral feeling, the history hit me; so, I didn’t watch a lot of the game. I wandered and caught the game from different site lines. I thought of the players, the most jimmyfundremembered and the forgotten, who played on the field.  I marveled at the how well the place has been maintained and improved. It is a museum. I had the urge to donate to the “Jimmy Fund” every time I walked by a donation station. Simple and unexploited, no sponsor was attached to it, it seems pure.  (Red Sox fans know about the Jimmy Fund)

Sponsorship has been a part of the game since its inception. I personally think is overdone.  Even at Fenway, I cringe at the signage on the Green Monster. Historically, the wall was always intended to have it; but, I just don’t like it.  When you walk and read all the brick walls, seeing the vintage signage that is painted on the brick, something hits you – or it does me.  I am a nostalgia freak admittedly, but it is an art form from “back in the day” to produce these commercial pieces. Today, we let a computer replicate such things, it feels empty.

fenwaysitelineI read somewhere that as you get older you tend to lose your interest in politics and start appreciating history since that is where you will eventually end up and this is happening to me with the game.  It is the history that I have chosen to embrace since it is so much apart of America.  I am excited to see what happens with Wrigley Field, with Fenway’s example, I am positive they will master the update.  I hope other gems, like Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana, get the love and attention it needs.

newspaperfenwayThe day was cool, felt like fall was in the air. I wore a sweatshirt, pants and shoes for the first time in months.  I am fretting about the end of this journey. I still have well over a month left and I know I will get to the end of the regular baseball season.  I hope to be able to make it to the end for the World Series. That has always been the plan and I need a little bit of luck to do it.  The world has already conspired to make this trip happen, relatively easily.  I am starting to think what it is going to be like sleeping in a bed every day and taking a shower in my own place (also daily).  I hope that I continue in some capacity within baseball. I went into this without expectations, to say that I was void of all would be a lie, it has been a roller coaster of expectations, especially when I was getting interviewed every day.  We will see where I end up…

fenwayparkChad, my brother, has pushed and supported me throughout. He reminds me how important it is for me to finish.  I can honestly say that I have never had a moment where I said “What am I doing?”, until now.  Worry has crept in I admit; however, I have absolutely no regrets. I am doing something that very few people have done and maybe, none other than myself.  Why that is important, I will never know. I wish everyone could follow their passion. I’m just so grateful that I have had so many people supporting me.

Being at Fenway stirred up all the memories I have about the trip, things that I haven’t written about. I think of all the nights I have slept in the car. I would say, “More than 70% of the time.” I am so glad I made that decision to ‘camp out’, or I would never have been able to finish.  I have learned so much about the game, people, and especially myself.  I have been told that I am bold, brash, crazy, and fearless. May be when judged from the outside looking in, but there have been many days and nights I had to push myself through insecurities and fears. I do feel more confident. Fenway stirred all of this contemplation in 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.

Day 196 “You little prick!”

“You have to contact us in advance, we can’t give out Media Passes to just anyone” the guy said this to me from behind the security glass at the Will Call window. He was showing the intern how to handle a situation firmly and with an air of authority.  I had now become annoyed and the young woman had already given me a Media Pass. I could have taken it but it didn’t have my name on it and she looked uncomfortable.  I looked at the guy, gave him my best “whatever you little prick” look and said, “I understand”. I walked away saying, “asshole”, to no one in particular.  I text Roger. He sends me the email from the week before they didn’t respond to. So, back to the Will Call window again to show the “little prick” I had contacted them in advance. His boss sends me to the Administration Offices and I ask for the guy that didn’t respond.  The intern in reception makes a couple of calls, then tells me that ‘my guy’ is busy, but another guy is coming to talk to me.

Sandra, Kiley and Me!
Sandra, Kiley and Me!

This big guy walks out. When I say ‘big’, think “bouncer” big.  “I am Rick Medeiros, Director of Security, what can I help you with”, he says.  “Are you throwing me out of here?” I asked, kinda nervous now. My “I am the Baseball Buddha” arrogance was fading fast. Rick was disarmingly polite and he explained that I can’t get a Media Pass even though I requested one in time.  He explained there was not enough time to look into my website, and further stated, “You can’t be too careful now-a-days.”  Rick tells me that he would get me a ticket; and, if I need access to anything to let him know when I am at the game. I felt it was a win. Rick made me feel welcome. “Pick the ticket up at Will Call, should be there by 4:30.” It is 2:30 p.m. and I now have two hours to kill.  I like to write in the Press Box before the games; but, today I can’t. I see a Mobile Blood Center in the Paw Sox parking lot, so I decide to donate some blood.

“Do you know what a Bubbler is?” asks the nurse as she pricks my finger to test my blood. I look at her with a “Of course I know what a bubbler is” expression. “I do”, I said, “I am from Wisconsin”… We had been talking about Rhode Islandism’s, I figured she was switching to Wisconsinism’s.  “It is a water fountain” I said proudly. “YES”, she exclaims and smiles broadly. I was confused as she was. I told her in Wisconsin we call it that. She said, “In Rhode Island, that’s what we call it.” She tells everyone on the bus when they are sticking me with the needle and taking my blood.  Everyone feels good about being from Rhode Island and Wisconsin; now, we are connected in a very small way.

Kiley's first pitch!
Kiley’s first pitch!

The door opens and a couple of ladies walk in with four kids. One kid says he doesn’t like seeing blood. I tell him, “It isn’t that bad.” His Mom tells me about his sister Kiley, who she is holding, who has Leukemia. The Blood Drive is in Kiley’s honor. My demeanor changes. Kiley, her mom, Sandra and I take a selfie.  Kiley is three years old and she is throwing out the first pitch at the game. I instantly think of my daughter Sami. I try to imagine what Kiley’s family has gone through.  I ask Sandra if I can talk to her when the game starts and she agrees.  ALS, Cerebral Palsy and now Leukemia I think after they leave, I am getting an education.

Autographs seekers!
Autographs seekers!

I walk around the stadium after I pick up my ticket. I don’t want to like this venue; but, I am open to liking it after I spoke to Rick.  I think of Kiley, and think to myself, “Get your ego in check. You are living a charmed life at the moment”.  I see smiles on peoples faces, the place is filling up. The Paw Sox are a big part of the community and the ushers are very pleasant .  The stadium is old but remodeled and I really like what they have done. People are hanging things over the railing into the dugouts for players to sign. I must admit, I have never seen that before. But, what a great tradition.  I read about the history of the place, the longest game ever played happened here in 1981. I let go of the minor blow to the ego and the sternness of the “little prick”.

Kiley's family!
Kiley’s family!

I sent a text to Sandra as I watch Kiley throw out the first pitch. Sandra texts me back and go to meet up with her, and her family, sitting under the Press Box behind home plate.  She tells me how traumatic it is to hear your child has Leukemia. She wants to fix it, but doesn’t know how. Friends ask what they can do for Kiley who needs tons of blood products. Therefore, the many blood drives in Kiley’s honor. Sandra is smiling and she tells me about how the Paw Sox have a night when families can camp in the outfield. The movie “Angels in the Outfield” is shown on the big screen, and all one sees is a “sea of tents” and “they have coffee waiting in the morning”, she tells me. All for free.  I concede to myself that it was all me and my arrogance, my first impression was wrong.  I thank Sandra for sharing her stories. She tells me, “Kiley will survive. All of the Leukemia is gone; but, she still has another year of preventive treatment.”  I think of Mike, my brother-in-law, and thank him in my head. He has donated every eight weeks for decades.

Vinny and Keith!
Vinny and Keith!

I walk around the entire park I talk to Vinny and Keith Morris, who grew up across the street from McCoy Stadium. The two of them tell me stories about being a kid and playing ball in the parking lot and in the streets. They used to collect practice home run balls. If you turned them in you could get a ticket for that night’s game. They spent their entire childhood here.  The place has history and I want to come back sometime. I am glad I was wrong. Thank you Pawtucket Red Sox, you were a lot more forgiving than I was initially. You have a great stadium, wonderful history and beautiful fans. Baseball is happiness…

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 194 “Can we switch chairs?”

Chris Cotes, Official Scorekeeper of the Connecticut Tigers
Chris Cotes, Official Scorekeeper of the Connecticut Tigers

“Can we switch chairs?”, I looked at the guy asking the question. He looked at me kinda of annoyed (at least, that is how I saw it). I looked at him up and down and processed what he was saying, I said “Excuse me.” He repeated himself, “the chair, can we switch”, he stood looking at me. He had a can of Pepsi and a bag of Ruffles Original potato chips.  It finally registered why he was asking. He was short and he needed the extra height of the chair I had; besides that, he was the official scorekeeper of the Connecticut Tigers.

“I have cerebral palsy on my right side” Chris tells me, “It is a slight physical disability for me.  Its not… it didn’t affect my intelligence, some people have mental capacity difficulties.”  Chris explained all of this before I had a chance to ask. I am sure he sees people’s questioning expressions. I explain to him what I am doing and asked if it is okay to talk while he is focused on the game. He didn’t have a problem with my request. He immediately sets up his area, you could tell that he has done this before. He positions his computer, phone, score book, Pepsi and chips where he wants them.  He makes a couple of calls and fills out his book.

Chris tells me about all the players that came through when the team was the Double-A affiliate of the Giants and Yankees. He told me that he keeps all the score books from previous years and once in awhile he will go through it to see who has made it to “The Show”.  Dustin Pedroia and Coco Crisp come to mind quickly; but, he said that when he saw them he couldn’t tell if they were something special. He smiles and says, “Lots of players come through, hard to remember them all.” There have been nights that Chris has gone home from a game and when asked who won, he has had to consult his score book. “I stay very in the moment”, he said with a smile, his job is to get the play scored correctly.

“I have always loved baseball,” Chris volunteers. I ask if it was frustrating growing up and having a passion for a game that was physically difficult for him to play. He admitted that it was; but, he found some acceptance when in high school. The baseball coach asked if he would do the score keeping for the J.V. baseball team and this made him feel part of the team.  He attended Eastern Connecticut University where he got a degree in Computer Science. Even though, he continued to keep score for the college and during the summer. He worked with a college summer baseball team to create their website in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. He was asked to fill in for the scorekeeper at a Norwich Navigators game in 2001 and he has been doing it ever since. The team has changed MLB affiliations, play levels and names; but, Chris has remained for 13 years.

Coaches call once-in-awhile to ask to change how he scored specific plays which he has 24 hours to change them. Normally he doesn’t unless a coach has compelling evidence; or, he didn’t have a great view.  He has to call the MiLB offices in New York every half inning to report, I recorded one of the calls and it went like this:

“Chris in Connecticut, Meyers line drive triple to left field, ah left center, fielded by the centerfielder. Monge sac fly to right, Meyers scores.  Moore line drive single to center.  Suarez grounded out to 3rd, 5-3, Moore goes to 3rd, yep from 1st to 3rd.  Yep it was a hit and run, he was starting to go on the pitch, since no one was covering 3rd he went over to 3rd and Hudson grounded out to 2nd, 4-3.  Okay, Thank you.”

As I sit and watch the game, Chris repeats this type of conversation through out. He explains, “Most levels are connected directly into the computers in New York and there is no need to call but since this is the Short Season Class A, they won’t be switched over to that for a few more years.”

It seems that everyone in baseball has a dream of getting to the next level, whether it is a player, grounds crew member or the official score keeper and Chris is no different. He told me he would love to score a Red Sox game, his favorite team.  If Pawtucket, or another higher level team, doesn’t come calling; Chris says, “I’m fine where I’m at and will continue to score the Tigers games as long as they will have 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

 

 

Day 185 “Grounds Crew Buddha!”

Helping with the tarp!
Helping with the tarp!

So, here I am again sitting in a Press Box.  This time I am in Lakewood, New Jersey on the Jersey Shore.  It took me about nine hours from Princeton, West Virginia.  I was so happy that they got the game in last night. I even helped getting the tarp off the field. That experience gave me more of a perspective of those that handle the tarp.  Not as light and ‘fluffy’ as it may look. I was suppose to be at an Independent Pro game in Montclair, New Jersey; but, decided to go to Trenton instead since it was closer.  When I showed up in Trenton, I realized that I looked at the schedule wrong so I needed to find a game and “here I am.” Very grateful the Director of Media and Public Relations for the Blueclaws was gracious and issued me a pass.  Thanks Greg Giombarrese!  I am very impressed with the experience in Lakewood. The team is a Low-A team. Even though, they are drawing over 6,000 fans. Besides that, they are in last place and are still drawing well!

Jersey Shore!
Jersey Shore!

I will be heading over to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the Little League World Series tomorrow and very excited to experience that environment. I was relieved to find out the drive was ‘only’ about a four hours. I have been driving a lot and have a couple of long days coming up. The end of the Minor League season will be here soon, like September 1. I need to get to a few more states to complete my goal of attending a game in all 48 States in the ‘Continental U.S.’ I will need a lot of luck to continue attending a game a day through the end of the season. I have seven MLB stadiums to get to and don’t feel that will be an issue. The playoffs are going to be interesting.  I will be drawing on all my connections to complete this journey.  I am starting to think long and hard about what I need to do when the season ends.  I will need to get an apartment, some kind of job to sustain me in my future. I have gotten so used to driving all over it will be interesting to see how long it will take me to adjust to a stationary life.

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 183 “Things that interest me…”

My view from the Press Box!
My view from the Press Box!

I am sitting in the Press Box at “The Diamond” in Richmond, Virginia.  I am watching the Richmond Flying Squirrels play the New Britain Rock Cats.  This is a Minor League Double-A game of the Eastern League.  Richmond is affiliated with the San Francisco Giants, New Britain is affiliated with the Minnesota Twins.

There are currently three leagues at the Double-A level of baseball.  The Eastern League, Southern League and the Texas League. The majority of teams put their top talent here. If you were like me, you would think that the Triple-A level would get the top talent but the thought process is the top prospects are assigned here to play against each other, rather than veterans of the minor and major league that are usually at Triple-A.  Triple-A is a tough league because there are many guys with Big League experience and others who have just been in the game for a long time. Triple-A usually has more up and down moves to the Major Leagues, meaning it has a lot of “filler” type players for the MLB rosters rather than pure everyday talent.

Double-A baseball players are the most talented, which equates to, also, being the most consistently compared to the players at the lower levels. This is a big deal because you can be a great baseball player; but, if you can never find a groove and be consistent, then you will never make it out of Rookie, or A-ball. Double-A is also a step below the Major Leagues in the sense that most up and coming players will get called up from Double-A. These tend to be more impact players. A lot of foreign professionals start at Double-A since it is expected that they will be at the MLB level before the end of the season. Their salaries are higher than most of the other prospects.  So, if you want to know who are going to be the everyday players for your favorite MLB team in about three years, take a look at their current starting lineup of their Double-A team. Chances are you will see two or three that are good bets!

The above information gave you an overview of some of the thought process that goes into what players get assigned to the Double-A level. I find this stuff interesting and have often wondered what minor league players get paid.  The only time in my life that I really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up was when I was a kid. I dreamed of one day being a professional baseball player.  That dream died in high school when my extreme lack of baseball talent was exposed.  I was probably lucky that the dreamed died then since when you examine the below information you realize that most receive poverty level, or below, pay.

Here is a chart on what players make per level:

Level 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year
Rookie $1150 $1200 $1250
Short Season A $1150 $1200 $1250
Low A $1300 $1350 $1400
High A $1500 $1550 $1600
Double A $1700 $1800 $1900
Triple A $2150 $2400 $2700

The incentives include:  $500 bonus after 60 days in Double-A time, $1000 bonus after 60 days Triple-A time, $5000 bonus after 60 days Big League time.  All minor league players receive $20 meal money per day that the team is away from home. Not including the off season.

Minor League Baseball Players do not get paid during Spring Training. They only receive $20 for every meal the team doesn’t provide. Some teams provide all meals which means the players get paid nothing, while some teams don’t provide dinner.

Therefore those players would get $140 a week for meal money. There aren’t many other things to consider when determining how much money Minor League Baseball Players make / get paid besides the signing bonus. But that is just a one time payment and varies very much depending on where a player was drafted.

“Most earn between $3,000 and $7,500 for a five-month season. As a point of comparison, fast food workers typically earn between $15,000 and $18,000 a year, or about two or three times what minor league players make. Some minor leaguers, particularly those with families, hold other jobs during the offseason and occasionally during the season. While the minimum salary in Major League Baseball is $500,000, many minor league players earn less than the federal poverty level, which is $11,490 for a single person and $23,550 for a family of four….” (http://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/03/minor-leaguers-working-poor-lawsuit-mlb-bud-selig)

If you wanted to know what teams were in the different Double A leagues:

The following are the teams in the Eastern League, the MLB team they are affiliated with  are in brackets: Akron RubberDucks (CLE), Altoona Curve (PIT), Binghampton Mets (NYM), Bowie BaySox (BAL), Erie Seawolves (DET), Harrisburg Senators (WAS), New Britain Rock Cats (MIN), New Hampshire Fisher Cats (TOR), Portland Sea Dogs (BOS), Reading Fightin Phils (PHI), Trenton Thunder (NYY), Richmond Flying Squirrels (SF).

The following are the teams in the Southern League, the MLB team they are affiliated with  are in brackets: Tennessee Smokies (CHC), Birmingham Barons (CWS), Chattanooga Lookouts (LAD), Huntsville Stars (MIL), Jackson Generals (SEA), Mobile BayBears (ARI), Jacksonville Suns (MIA), Mississippi Braves (ATL), Montgomery Biscuits (TB), Pensacola Blue Wahoos (CIN).

The following are the teams in the Texas League, the MLB team they are affiliated with  are in brackets: Arkansas Travelers (LAA), NW Arkansas Naturals (KC), Springfield Cardinals (STL), Tulsa Drillers (COL), Frisco Rough Riders (TEX), Corpus Christi Hooks (HOU), San Antonio Missions (SD), Midland Rock Hounds (OAK).

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 182 “Saving Tradition!”

left fieldI have gained a very unique perspective during this trip, I have witnessed first hand what is happening at the ballpark all over the country.  What is working and what isn’t working.  I am understanding the business side of running a baseball stadium, why the majority of the minor leagues teams have a “baseball entertainment complex” in mind when they pursue and get a new ball park.  I know immediately which teams understand the word hospitality, which ones are working towards educating all of their team members and the ball clubs that have no idea what the word means.  Within five minutes of arriving I fully understand the entertainment I will be receiving.

I have not done a study and this is a total guess but I would say that 75% of the minor league teams have variations of the same “fan” experience, the stadium, the mascot, the routines between innings, the videos on the scoreboard.  A lot are incorporating the “bouncy” houses and basketball courts for the kids, throw in a water feature to run through, etc…  you get the idea.  I am not saying this is a bad idea, I actually like it, Martie Cordero from the Omaha Storm Chasers changed my opinion.  99.9% of baseball fans will never do what I am doing, they will just go to the local teams game and thus will think this is unique to their team.

With the minor league teams it has to be entertainment for the entire family in mind, the baseball game might be the center piece but most young kids will get bored after a half inning, they need additional entertainment so their parents can either watch the game or socialize with friends.  Ball parks have become part amusement park for all the different ages.  The more people you can draw the more money the team makes, it isn’t really about the baseball game, as one team President put it to me the other day, “Our fan isn’t going to remember how we did last July, like they do about the top club, bottom line is revenue generation”.  Get the fan hooked on the fun mascot and the great looking gear!

I won’t argue that it needs to happen in the minor league game, players I have talked to have stated that the winning feels different, you still root for your team but it is just different.  Most fans feel the same way, favorite players come and go during the season.  However, I feel there are venues that need to not cave to the pressures of the “baseball entertainment complex” mentality.  Places like Helena and Bakersfield, they need to continue to embrace what they have, improve where they can but not to forget about the traditional baseball experience.  There are many more beautiful minor league experiences that have perfected this, if you are ever in San Jose make sure to get to a Giants game, I loved the fact that they upgraded without killing the history, they utilized the old park.  Vancouver is upgrading but not tearing down what they have, they are trying different things before going the rout of a new place.

I have traveled around the country I have been able to see first hand that as a country we have gotten kind of homogenous in the majority of regions with all the Starbucks, Wal-Mart’s, Applebee’s, Olive Gardens, etc…  sometimes I look around and have to ask where I am because it could be Milwaukee or Seattle by the ubiquity of the stores.  I have talked about everything above for a reason; the best fan experience I have had at Mississippi State, the Left Field Lounge, is going to be changing.  It makes me sad, the Left Field Lounge (as goofy as this will sound) is breathtaking.  There has been nothing like it, Clemson and Southern Miss were similar.  The powers that be, probably lawyers and administrators, fearing a lawsuit and wanting more revenue have decided to present a plan that on its face is very nice, they came up with the “Left Field Lofts”.  As nice as this is, MSU will now become as sterile an experience as the rest of the teams that have created these clean and organized complexes.  Fans will still come and support their teams, LSU fans come to mind.  But what it does is take away from the tradition and independence of what these fans had.  Mississippi State fans love their baseball team and their allegiance won’t change, but it is hard for me to believe that their rabidity won’t diminish.

Clemson incorporated the “Cheap Seats” bus into their new field, it is a fun experience but it is not like it used to be, Southern Miss has the “The Roost”, to me they have the go to experience if things change at MSU.  The author John Grisham wrote about a time a player from another team stood in wonderment and was speechless besides mouthing “unbelievable” over and over when he first saw and was brought back to “The Left Field Lounge”, I had the same experience. Click here for Grisham’s story. I am an outsider, I am not an Alum, I understand the allure to something “new” but it will be the same experience with a slightly different twist of places all over the United States.  I would urge the “power” brokers to reconsider changing Dudy Noble.  Mississippi State has set all the attendance records in modern college baseball, I personally think that will change.  Fenway Park improved when upgraded, Wrigley Field needs upgrades, it can be done.  However, currently in my estimation there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way Dudy Noble is, we worry way to much about things that can happen, we then change them into sterile experiences…  The Left Field Lounge is one of the most authentic experiences I have ever been a part of, the MSU fans some of the most welcoming, I didn’t pay much attention to the game until the end, I made some friends that I still stay in contact with, I will come back to MSU no matter what happens.

I just want some tradition to be preserved, I was looking forward to bring some of my northern friends to MSU to witness one of the best spectacles in sports and to meet some of the most fun loving fans, it will be a harder sell without the Left Field Lounge…

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 180 & 181 “Connecting…”

Sami and Me!
Sami and Me!

On Thursday I completed my last western swing of this journey.  I met my daughter in Chicago to go to a Cubs vs Brewers game.  Sami took the Amtrak train down from Milwaukee. I picked her up and we drove over near Wrigley Field to park and find a place to have breakfast.  I was happy to see her since it had been a month ago I started working my way West. Not being able to see her at least once a week has been hard. We normally get together for breakfast or dinner and watch a movie if there is time.  She is growing up and is going into her sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin. The thought occurred to me that she might never live with me again. Of course, this makes me sad; but, it is part of the deal being a parent.

As we ate breakfast and discussed ‘all’ life situations and funny moments. Subject matter that I had already heard about, but being with her made it better.  I was happy she agreed to go to a game with me. I figured she would get bored since she really isn’t into sports.  She enjoys the Badgers basketball and football games, and will go to an occasional Brewers baseball game. The social aspects is what is attractive to her. Youth? Maybe, but lots of people, young and old, go for that reason. I didn’t teach her about the game of baseball because I assumed that she wouldn’t care. However, as we were watching the Cubs and Brewers, she started asking questions and I started explaining. Surprisingly enough, she started understanding.  Up to this point, she was bored, and she was tired. I thought of Anthony, from England, whom I watched a game with during Spring Training. He wanted to know what the base coaches did and why they were standing where they were on the field.

I realized, again, this game can be very confusing if you don’t understand some of the little nuances.  My daughter started picking up on the things I had explained. She started saying things made more sense.  I was disappointed in myself that I never took the time to explain when she was younger. I figured she was to much of a “girly girl” to want to learn. My daughter is this very bright, intelligent, fun loving and, to me, the most beautiful person that I know. And, I forgot to include her in my passion.  Hopefully, she will want to go to more than just an occasional game in future years.  I enjoyed my time with her as she is very open and honest with me. Or, should I say, as open and honest as sophomore in college can be with her “at times” overbearing father.  The Brewers beat the Cubs. We sat in the bleachers directly under the big scoreboard. It was a great day for a game.  The Blue Angels were flying overhead practicing for the Air Show this weekend.  I took the long way home and continued talking about “life” with Sami. Overall, one of the best days I have had.

"Ole" and Me!
“Ole” and Me!

On Friday, I went to a game in Rockford, Illinois. The game was between the Rockford Aviators and the Normal Cornbelters in the Frontier League. The game was an offensive routing as the Cornbelters destroyed the Aviators, 20-7.  The great part of this game, I got to go to the game with a boyhood friend who was one of my first friends when I moved to Ashland.  “Ole” and I met in fifth grade. I probably slept over at his house on Friday, or Saturday night, for years through middle school and into high school. We discussed what has happened in our lives since the last time we saw each other and laughed about old memories. It felt like we were back in eighth grade. His laugh was the same and he was quick to smile. He made fun of himself about things he did and how he used to be.

While watching the game, we discussed all things Ashland like I have with others I have gotten to see on this trip.  Ole said, “Rockford isn’t good” before we even went to the game. I think he realized the game didn’t matter once we got there. It was about being in the crowd talking about life.  What I love most about him is his introspective nature and that his emotional intelligence off the charts.  The game was a long one. I did two interviews, but it seemed to go by way to fast.  He and I talked as we walked to our cars, gave each other a hug and went our separate ways. Ole is the guy I think of when I watch Stand by Me. He is the River Phoenix character to me.  It had been ten years since I saw him last; and, twenty-five years since we really talked. I hope to stay in contact with him.  (BTW, he has three daughters.)

I love this game of baseball, it connects people for so many different reasons.  I was able to connect with my daughter in a way I never did before; and, I have gotten to reconnect with so many other people by just being open to it.

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 178 “Dancing Bobby”

Dancing Bobby!
Dancing Bobby!

Sometimes you just walk into something that is just too cool. I am sitting in the Press Box at the Burlington Bees game and I’m working on my story about Donnie Hissa, rookie pitcher from Northern Wisconsin. The game starts between the Bees and the Peoria Chiefs.  I notice a guy behind the first base dugout. He is dancing; and, dancing very well.  I ask Susan Denk, a sports reporter for The Hawk Eye newspaper, “Who is that?” She says “Oh, that is Dancing Bobby”.  I get up and go talk to this guy!

Bobby has been coming to Burlington minor league baseball games for over 30 years he tells me.  He is 55 years old and says he only misses one game a year and that is when he is at Camp Eastman in Illinois.  He is an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts and Camp Eastman is his vacation.  His favorite team is the Bees and, also, the St Louis Cardinals. “They aren’t doing very good this year, they’re three out now (of first place)” Bobby volunteers. I tell him I am a Milwaukee Brewers fan, his face immediately goes into his palm, he laughs again with a big toothy grin on his face.  Bobby is a fan favorite and people stop to say hello.

I walk to the concession stand and talk to a lady named Amy who is working. She tells me Bobby has a brother named Charlie, who also works around the stadium, but he doesn’t dance.  But Bobby -“He is a fixture around here, if he isn’t here something is wrong; but, Bobby is always here though” Amy says.

“First time I start here, I am a bat boy”, Bobby stated, he is proud of this fact. The music starts playing and Bobby starts dancing, some kids join him. He enjoys the interaction. The kids look on in wonderment and try to keep up; they can’t.  “I like it here. It is like my second home here”, Bobby continues when the music stops.  During the off season, Bobby goes to basketball and football games. He doesn’t work at them but fans ask him to dance; so, “I do”, he laughs and loves the attention.  He makes extra money mowing grass for the old people. “That one family I have been doin’ for 14 years” he motions to somewhere over the outfield wall and he laughs again.  He tells me he is still waiting on a girlfriend, he really wants one, “I will get one, I am really nice”, he says hopefully.  He bends over and retrieves two “Dancin’ Bob” cards from his Zip Lock baggie and walks over to two women. He gives each his card and walks back smiling – we fist bump.

bobby cardsI go down by Bobby a few times throughout the game. Kids come and go, he gives them his card, but most don’t know what to make of him.  I am told he was in the movie “Sugar” a couple of years ago. That explains the other side of his “Dancin’ Bob” card, which states “Movie Star Bob”.  I ask him about the movie. “Yep, I am a movie star” he says nonchalantly. He smiles that big toothy grin again, I laugh, and he laughs along with me.  At the end of the night, he is showing some young girls, who are under ten years old, some dance moves, they are keeping up. It’s hard not to smile when you are around Bobby. He invites you to be happy for the sake of being happy.   I love your laugh and smile Bobby. Keep doing what you are doing, my life is better by just meeting you!

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that Susan Denk has passed away, I send my condolences to her family.

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 172 & 173 “What a Gem!”

fire

Last Saturday I drove to Klamath Falls, Oregon from Oakland, California.  It was beautiful driving through the mountainous regions; however, I ran into what I thought was  a “controlled” burn area near Klamath.  I don’t watch too much of the news and didn’t realize that the state of Oregon was in a state of emergency.  There were forest fires everywhere, I drove through a few areas that were heavy with smoke and burning. The aroma, and/or, oder in the air smelled like a campfire.

fry mascotI was to meet a local reporter, Steve Matties, at 4 p.m. at the Kiger Stadium for an interview.  When I arrived, the stadium was smoky and ash was falling.  We met behind home plate and we were joined by another reporter, Brett Sommers, a Wisconsin native who just returned from his honeymoon.  Go Badgers!  Brett grew up in Stevens Point and has been in Klamath Falls the last couple of years.  Steve is from Minnesota. Brett and I didn’t hold that against him, though, as we spoke.  The play by play announcer came by and said that they might not have the game because of the ash. I panicked a little since that would screw up my game streak. We quickly looked for an alternative and found one in Bend, Oregon.  The official score keeper walked by and Steve stopped him to discuss a play from the night before. He wanted his assistance in making sure that he got it correct.  I was impressed with Steve. He discussed the play like it just happened and told the guy how he would score it. The score keeper told Steve he would make sure that he would score it that way.

babeAs Steve, Brett and I discussed the trip, I was on and all things baseball.  The fog-like smoke started to clear and we were told that the game would be played. I was relieved. I didn’t want to drive to Bend since I was in love with Kiger Stadium. The structure was old and had personality, and well maintained. It has some history. In 1968, the Babe Ruth World Series was hosted there; and, in 1970, Kiger was host the American Legion World Series.  Besides that they had a mascot that was a bag of French Fries!  Let me explain, Klamath Falls’ nickname is the Gems – that should clear it up. I always associate French Fries and Gems!  Klamath Falls is named after a potato the grows well in the Oregon climate and is called a “gem”.  I was confused and thought they were named after a jewel.  Before the game started, Steve introduced me to Jerry Shea, who recited a limerick he wrote that he titled “Rememberings“:.

The 2014 season is coming to a close,

And this little ditty will finish my prose.

It’s been a season of fun,

Watching you play under the lights and under the sun.

And what next season brings-who knows?”

Jerry had an entire book of these limericks!

Jerry and Me!
Jerry and Me!

I was impressed with Jerry. Steve told me that Jerry drove 105 miles to attend the Gems games. And, Jerry confirmed that it was 105 miles from his driveway in California to the stadium parking lot.  I was shocked that he drove such a long way to go to a game. He said, “I was impressed with the caliber of ball and the atmosphere in the stands.”  To say that Jerry has a passion for baseball is an understatement. He played organized softball and baseball in competitive leagues and on tournament teams for over 55 years, playing his last game when he was 67 years old.  I repeated inquisitively that he quit playing at 67 and he laughed heartily when he thought about it.

Jerry’s love for the game was ingrained in him at a young age. His father used to take him to games growing up in Los Angeles during late 1940’s and early 1950’s where he used to attend games at Wrigley Field (Yes. There was another Wrigley Field) at 42nd and Avalon streets was the Angels home field, when the Pacific Coast League only had eight teams.  The league comprised of the Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, Sacramento Solons, Oakland Acorns, Seattle Rainiers, Portland Beavers, Hollywood Stars and San Francisco Seals.  I could see Jerry’s mind go to that time period. He told me he loves those memories and I could tell his memory was sharp since he was spot-on with the team names for that period of time (I Googled it to check).   He reeled off a bunch of names of players he saw play. Of course, I wasn’t familiar with any of them; but, to him they were special.   He told me it cost $.15 cents for him and $.35 for his father to get in to the games.

Jerry's Car advertising a Gem's game!
Jerry’s Car advertising a Gem’s game!

I inquired about the limericks. He said he has been writing them all his life.  He does one after almost all the games. He explained that he did the AABBA style that rhymes instead of the more commonly known style of 99669 which is syllables.  I let Jerry know, “That was lost on me.” He took the time to explain further.  I think I understand, but not really.  The Gems season was ending and I was wondering what Jerry would do now and he told me that he keeps very busy.  He was in the Philippines when he was 75. He climbed Mount Pinatubo which is 7.5 miles from the base to the peak. “It was the hardest thing I have ever done”, he stated and chuckled,” that was eight years ago.”

Gems Grandstand!
Gems Grandstand!

Jerry says that he has experienced many things that a lot of people will never get a chance to do. He has tried out for Survivor numerous times and is very active in the Survivor chat forums.  He says he has met so many wonderful people through that show and listed a bunch of names he considers friends who are associated with Survivor. He credits all of this to being a reborn-again Christian.  When he was 59, he and his wife had a son. Unfortunately, she passed away when their son was only 18 months old and raised his son as a single parent. Also, he has two daughters that are in their late 40’s.  He said he is very proud of his children.

I asked Jerry what he did for a living. He said, “I have done a whole lot of crap”, while pondering it all with a smile.  “I am a jack of all trades, master of none!”  He laughs that hearty laugh again.  Jerry is active in politics and it is very important to him. He has held many public offices, and he does currently. As we finish talking, he tells me about last summer when he had cataract surgery. He said he stayed with Bonnie Wallace, she hosts some of the players on the team. He stayed with her and the players took him to his appointments.  He is grateful he has found this baseball family and will continue to come as long as he is able. Jerry told me that he will probably live until 114, so he takes care of himself.

I could go on about Jerry. I only scratched the surface. He had so many great stories and he is a generous man with a that is very welcoming!  Thanks for watching the game with me, Jerry. I know you were itching to walk around and talk to everyone. Your patience with me was very much appreciated.  You are truly a “Gem” – but, not of the potato variety!

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!