Day 165 “I love tradition!”

San Jose Municipal Stadium!
San Jose Municipal Stadium!

I am feeling refreshed! I don’t know how long it will last but it felt great to sleep in a bed the last two nights along with taking three long hot showers. I slept in until almost noon both days. I went to a San Jose Giants game last night. They are the Advanced-A Affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. The game was fun to watch even though they got beat, 5-3, by the Stockton Ports.  What I loved about the experience was overall feel of the stadium.

San Jose Municipal Stadium was built between 1941–1942 as a WPA project at a cost of $80,000. It was one of the first stadiums to be built entirely of reinforced concrete and opened in 1942.  The stadium has remained largely unchanged from its original configuration. However, renovations to the bathroom facilities and clubhouse were done in 1994. Three extra rows of box seating were added in 1996.  In 1999, the dugouts were expanded toward the field.

Press Box!
Press Box!

If you have read my any of my past blogs, you know that I love these WPA stadiums. They are a throw back and I am a nostalgic guy through and through.  I have gone to many of these complexes on the trip, Carson Park in Eau Claire, Grayson Stadium in Savannah, and a few others. The key for places like this is to embrace the tradition and feel of the stadium. Trying to be something you are not turns fans off and just does not work.  I am happy to report that the people running the San Jose Giants have whole heartedly embraced who they are. They have improved the stadium without comprising the history of the place.

When I arrived, I was caught off guard by the amount of people that were attending the game! The reason being is that they have two successful MLB options in San Francisco and Oakland. I am guessing the attendance was about 3,000-plus at the game. The fans were into the game and understood the situational aspects of what was happening on the field. The concessions were very busy as well as the vendors running the stairs. And, the ushers managed the fans with a smile.  Everywhere I went I was acknowledged and encouraged to enjoy the game. I had to hunt down the customer service supervisor, who was manning a booth, to express this joy and she thanked me with a smile.  People seemed happy to be at the game, along with those working.

Yogi quotes...
Yogi quotes…

I wandered around the stadium and looked at the old murals that have been maintained. Someone was documenting them all. There was a great feel to the place as I sensed a lot of history and a connection for the people who attended.  This felt like Americana, same feeling I had in Rapid City, Alexandra, Starkville, Evansville and Lexington.

I pulled the following review from Yelp, by Vanessa D.  “The first thing visiting team fans will notice about Muni – for better or worse – is its age. This stadium is at best, an homage to old-time Minor League ball and at worst, a run-down, hot and crowded old ballpark in need of a facelift.

“I tend to side with the former, as I find SJ Muni to be filled with charm and appreciation for the game’s history. You’ll notice the pennants painted on the concourse walls featuring now-defunct Major and Minor League teams. Ladies: You won’t want to miss the women’s restroom, which is a tribute to the locker room from “A League of Their Own.”

Churros is a way of life here, so you’ll want to flag down the Churro Guy. The team store stocks some good merchandise, and the food selection is the best I’ve seen in the California League.”

7th Inning Stretch and God Bless America!
7th Inning Stretch and God Bless America!

To me, Vanessa is absolutely spot on with her assessment. It is a homage to old-time minor league baseball and I, too, had my very first Churro at the game and loved it!  I hope San Jose continues to expand on their traditional baseball image. This was a great overall experience with that “hokey hometown” feel!  I will definitely want to come back and explore this place again!

Tonight, I will be attending an Oakland A’s game against the Kansas City Royals. I’m supposed to have an interview before the game and when I’m given the link, I will post it. I am excited to see the A’s as they currently hold the best record in the MLB. However, the real reason I want to see them is because of their General Manager Billy Beane. I just completed reading the book Moneyball, which is based on the A’s and specifically Billy.  I admire people that do it their own way; and, Billy has definitely done it his own way.

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 149 “For the love of the game!”

Concession Stand the AG program built!
Concession Stand the AG program built!

When I arrived in Lexington, Illinois my mind wasn’t on baseball, it was on getting home to Milwaukee which was three hours north to see my daughter.  I picked Lexington because the Midwest Collegiate League game fit perfectly with my schedule.  I drove back roads reminiscent of Gene Hackman in the movie “Hoosiers” to get into town. I was craving a Starbucks coffee but had to settle for the breakfast buffet at the Shake Shack since the nearest Starbucks was at least 15 miles away in Bloomington.  I noticed taped to the door of the Shake Shack a flyer that said “Snipes” game today.

I took a left at the Community Center and drove to the end of the road. There was a swimming pool and some ball fields.  I pulled onto a grass field that served as a parking lot.  Two men were getting the field ready and I instantly thought of my experience on Cape Cod the week before. Zach Mason came up to me and inquired if I was there for the game. I asked who was in charge and if the game was going to be played since there was a lot of rain the night before.  He pointed to Billy Dubois, who was marking the foul line in left field. I thought to myself, Billy must be a city worker in charge.  Billy walked over, I explained what I was doing and asked if he would mind if I just hung-out and observed.

Billy and Tyler preparing the field!
Billy and Tyler preparing the field!

I assumed correctly that Billy did work for the city as the Superintendent of the Water Department, the owner of the Lexington Snipes, and also a part time EMT for the volunteer fire department. As I was standing there talking with Billy, another person showed up and started raking out the pitchers mound. Billy said, “That’s Tyler Cook. He is the manager”.

Billy told me he basically revamped the entire baseball field. He stood shirtless pointing towards the outfield where he had taken out the outfield 4 foot high fence and re-purposed it using it down the first and third base line. A neighbor had 800 feet of six foot high fencing that he could have if he tore it out. He, and that same neighbor, installed all the fence poles down the lines and outfield in a weekend.  The old dugouts were in bad shape, so Billy knocked them down and got a mason buddy to build two new dugouts from brick that was donated. Billy was able to get the city to foot the bill for the roofs.  A concession stand was needed. Billy persuaded the high school AG program to construct the stand for their class project.  Also, a scoreboard was needed. A friend of Billy’s gave him an old one. Once again Billy recruited the AG program to paint it. A local electrician donated his time to rewire the board and install it with posts that were donated by another person. As Billy was telling me this he shrugged and said, “This is what is good about living in a small town”.

IMG_4325
The new dugouts!

The ball field was in rough shape and he consulted with Andy Ommen, who takes care of the Babe Ruth fields in Bloomington, on what the best approach would be. Billy aerates, mows, and fertilizes it all with donated time and materials from people around the community. He pointed out that the town is only 2200 people and proudly states that the Snipes are the Cape Cod addition to the Midwest Collegiate Summer Baseball League.  The other five teams have much better stadium facilities, according to Billy, further stating, “It is about the baseball with Lexington.” He understands that the other teams are in better position to make more money than he would ever be able to. It costs Billy about $18,000 a year to run the team and they make just enough to cover all the bills annually.  Each player pays $400 to play and sponsors add about $3000.  His wife and kids run the concession stand. Games cost $2 to attend, if people remember to pay.

Tyler Cook is in his first year as manager of the team. He is only 25 and needed to build his coaching resume.  He asked Billy if he could assist him this year. Billy said, “Why don’t you manage just manage the team.” Tyler who played for Billy a couple of years ago was floored. He told me, “That is Billy though, he is very giving.”  Tyler consults with Billy on strategy and how to deal with personalities.  Billy explained that Tyler has the leadership skills necessary and was recently offered a coaching job at Eastern Kentucky University, which Tyler starts this fall.

Billy coaching!   Photo courtesy of Corn Belt Sports.
Billy coaching!
Photo courtesy of Corn Belt Sports.

I love Billy’s enthusiasm for the game. He just wants to field a team, small town baseball, at its finest.  Billy said that the team was formed in 2000 because he wanted to play baseball and another team passed on him after he tried out. That set ‘the wheels in motion’ to form the Snipes.  Billy and some of his buddies from his 1990 High School State Championship team created the team that played in a merchants league.  Billy said that the merchant league, and ones like it, have died off. Their team evolved to what it is today.

College summer baseball is exploding around the country and the best known leagues are the Cape Cod League in Massachusetts and the Northwoods League in Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Lots of the top talent goes to these two leagues. However, Billy’s approach is to take kids from Central Illinois or kids that have ties to the area in other ways. He taps the talent from Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University, and Heartland Community College.  This way the kids can sleep in their own beds during the summer instead of a host family. The best talent at least considers playing close to home.  This approach has worked for Lexington. Billy’s teams have been league champions numerous times in the different platforms they have played in.

Billy had to get the field ready with the help of other coaches and players. He asked Jack Warren of Top Coach come by to talk to me.  Jack had recently done an interview with Billy, which you can listen to here.  Jack told me that Billy is the type of guy that just gets things done and can get people to see the value for the community.  Jack admires Billy as he makes sure to defer all the credit to others within the Lexington community.  Billy points out that he may own the team, but it truly is the towns’ team.

Billy is the guy that has to chase down the foul balls, the bus driver, make sure the umpires get their checks, head ticket taker, concession stand supervisor, grounds crew laborer, the “General Keeper” to assure all aspects are taken care of. For some reason, I think he loves all of it; that, or the smile, that he had plastered on his face the whole time I observed him, was surgically attached.

I want to quickly say something about Jack Warren. On his website are interviews with some of the best coaches in America. Jack’s approach to the interviews and website is not baseball strategy but how the coaches got to where they are. The website is great and one I recommend if anyone wants to find out what it takes to get to the top collegiate and professional levels of baseball and succeed. Jack did a great interview with NCAA World Series Champion Coach Tim Corbin of Vanderbilt back in February.

Jack Warren and Billy Dubois are a couple of guys that want to be around baseball and both have carved out their own unique niche within the game.  Lexington is a baseball community, a community where baseball is front and center. I loved the fact that I got to experience this “hokey” home town team, a true community team.  I will be back to Lexington to enjoy more baseball. I rank it up towards the top of all the games I have gone to.

Again, this is another story I could spend a great deal of time on but I am running over my word limit.  Writing a book is still in the recesses of my mind. Should I accomplish the feat, I will be able to share more of the baseball community in Central Illinois!

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 145 “WTH!”

Members of the Vintage Base Ball Team the Cleveland Blues!  I am going to check them out next month!
Members of the Vintage Base Ball Team the Cleveland Blues! I am going to check them out next month!

I am testing/seeing how many people will check out this link when I use a headline like that and I will let you know in a few days. Today is a Saturday. I have learned that people don’t normally tune into my posts during the weekend.  I am currently at a Dayton Dragon game in Dayton, Ohio.  I am sitting in the Press Box and I am getting used to doing this. I feel very lucky, that I admit. The perspective is much different and you get a great view of the game.  I walked around the entire place, making ‘notes to self’ on an interesting idea for a story that I will construct in the coming days.  I am not going to write to much today, I already wrote a post regarding Chat, my brother, and the day I missed.  I am working my way towards Minneapolis for the All Star Game on Tuesday. I am excited to get back into Milwaukee sometime tomorrow night after I attend a College Summer League game in Lexington, IL.  My daughter and I will be grabbing breakfast Monday morning and then I will head up to Eau Claire to see my parents and find a game along the way.  If you haven’t read my posts for Day 143 and Day 144 please do! (Click on the Day link and it will take you to the story).

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 144 “LeBron Madness”

The Fans and The News!
The Fans and The News!

I am sitting in a Starbucks in downtown Cleveland right now. I am frustrated because I didn’t get the discount on the Evolution Sweet Greens juice I drink almost everyday. I asked for the discount and I know the code to get a dollar off.  However, the guy said that he couldn’t give it to me. I said, “come on, yeah you can.” He said he needed the coupon to take to his sales meeting.  I was fine with the “no”, but a little miffed with the reason. I have been all over the United States drinking these and getting the discount without the coupon. It might be a flaw in the system; but, I got a little self-righteous and, in turn, the guy got a little testy with me.  I laugh because it is one of those instances where I want to be right for whatever reason, but it just makes me look ridiculous. I put him on the defensive and I owe him an apology.  It doesn’t matter if I was right, or if he accepts my apology, I have to humble myself (He accepted and appreciated it).
Yesterday marked five months that I have been on the road. I left Milwaukee on February 10, as I recall it was quite cold!  I have been lucky that I have been able to chase warm weather. It feels like the longest summer of my life and I am loving it!  Like I said, I am in Cleveland and the town is getting a little crazy with the LeBron James signing. The news is everywhere and people are excited. I just want to watch a baseball game. In view of the recent news break, I don’t think Cleveland cares about baseball at the moment. ESPN, ABC, CBS, FOX are all here getting the fans reaction. What I find funny is how staged the news is. They tell them when to cheer. The majority are happy to oblige for their moment in the sun even if it is for a couple seconds.

T-Shirt Vendor!
T-Shirt Vendor!

I moved from the Starbucks, to a sports bar near Progressive Field, which is across the street from the Quicken Loans Arena where the Cavaliers play.  A t-shirt vendor just rolled up outside the sports bar and is selling t-shirts that say “Forgiven” for $30. There are long lines to get them. What is it about the attachment of a player and/or a team that people get so fanatical about?  The energy and expectations is very high for next season. Anything less than a NBA championship is going to be a let down. I am sure that we will hear the team tell the fans to temper those expectations once the season starts; but at the moment, they are gladly taking the bounty of cash that the fans, with their mob mentality, are willing to pay without hesitation. I am excited for the City of Cleveland. People need things to rally around.  People are high- fiving, with LeBron on all the TV’s, shouts of “We’re Back” and “Forgiven” can be heard and everyone is smiling.  I understand this is a baseball blog but it is hard to ignore the electricity that is in the air. I love the feeling. Fans feel like they are the stars with all the coverage, they want their 15 minutes of fame and are willing to say what the news wants to hear.  The feeling of being important.  I observe one guy slap his girlfriend on the butt after he finishes his moment and gives her a look of satisfaction. She smiles and they get in line to buy a t-shirt.

The Chandelier in the theatre  district!
The Chandelier in the theatre district!

I talk with my waitress about what this means to Cleveland. She is beaming. She tells me that Cleveland is turning around and this helps.  She rattles off everything that the city is doing to improve its image.  She tells me about the chandelier in the theatre district which I saw it earlier when I was at Starbucks.  She says it is going to be a good night for tips, “When people are happy they are generous.”  I listen to some fans who are discussing how much the t-shirt vendor is making, “yeah those shirts only cost him $3 and he is selling them for $30”, one guy points out. “Who cares” another says, “this is awesome.”  A cameraman points his camera in the window, people start chanting “Lets go Cavs, Lets go Cavs”, horns are honking, people are celebrating.  This is the commercialization of sport. LeBron is God- like right now. He gets paid to preform and people are doing shots of tequila in honor of “King James”.  I want to go to the baseball game. I want this energy to show up in Alexandria, Minnesota for a Blue Anchors game.

Since I need to touch on the baseball aspect of the post, I just want to say that I had a long drive last night and today. I had time to think about the most memorable experiences thus far on the trip.  I compiled a list of some of my favorite experiences. There have been many and this is only a few that I want to point out. Please, feel free to click on a link and read.

Best College Experiences

1. Mississippi State

2. Colorado Mesa

3. Clemson

Best Personalities

1. Mr. Willie (Savannah)

2. Lou Presutti (Dreams Park)

Best Baseball Ballparks

1. Bosse Field (Evansville)

2. Fenway (Boston)

Best Small Town Baseball Experience

1. Alexandria

2. Cape Cod

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 143 “Dreams Park!”

In front of the Baseball Hall of Fame!
In front of the Baseball Hall of Fame!

I went to Cooperstown yesterday morning to tour the Baseball Hall of Fame, I enjoyed wandering around the place.  I am huge on nostalgia and dreaming about the past. Thinking about the players, the announcers, the games, the atmosphere; and, how everything evolved to what it is today. For me there is magic and romance in the stories. I laugh at how much I contemplate what these games meant to the people who participated – be it a fan, player, concession stand merchant or umpire. I equate it all to simple living, something I believe we all strive for, the feeling of joy and happiness.

People have called me emotional. I tend to get defensive about that label, I don’t like it.  I don’t know why, I want to be pragmatic and deliberate in my decisions. I personally think, people view people like me in a negative light, that I can’t preform under pressure since I tend to “wear my emotions on my sleeve.” At times, I have been told, I will crumble in the clutch.  Thus, I have become kinda guarded with my thoughts and expressions. I know I probably haven’t totally relaxed in years. I accept is about me as being part of my personality.

Lou Presutti taking time to take a picture...
Lou Presutti taking time to take a picture…

However, I love the people who get a little emotional. The people who understand the gravity of a pressure situation. Or, are passionate about a topic, thing or a belief.  Some just have that “swagger”, a confidence within that they understand about what is right, what is wrong and they don’t “give a shit” what others think of them. Respect is earned with people like this. You can disagree with them, but you better have your facts straight or they will have no use for you.  They can point out a blow hard or fake a mile away. But, they figure out who is genuine in an instant.  If you give your word you better mean it. I came across a man yesterday who fits all of the above, his name is Lou Presutti.

“I hear everybody always say, ‘Hey, it’s OK, it’s all right.’ Well, it’s not OK, and it’s not all right when you don’t achieve your goal. And right now, all that pain you have in your heart, all those tears that are coming down your faces — you’re supposed to feel that way. Because winners hurt and champions feel pain when they don’t attain their goal.”

“Anything in your life you do, if you have a goal and you don’t get to that finish line, you better feel exactly the way you feel right now. If you don’t, then change and do something else.”

I took the above quotes from an article written about Lou, by ESPN writer Jim Caple. Lou was addressing the team that lost in a championship game of one of his many tournaments.  I thought when I spoke and met Lou I had a great story no one has written about, how naïve of me. When I was looking things up about him and his Cooperstown Dreams Park after we spoke, I came across a plethora of information.   I arrived at his complex looking for a game to watch yesterday. I didn’t schedule one since, everyone I talked with that had been to Cooperstown, said they play everyday all summer.  I heard of Lou’s organization from parents and kids who have attended in the past. However, I never heard of Lou.

When I arrived I was blown away at the shear size of the complex and the beauty of the area in which it was situated.  The entrance was Disneyesque and I wondered how much it was going to cost me just to park. My fears diminished when I found it was no charge. There seemed to be order to everything. I was surprised there was no trash anywhere with the amount of kids running around.  All the players wore the same red or blue uniforms. I chuckled at how much all of this was costing these parents.  When I inquired with Lou about the cost, he gave me a look of contempt and just said, “Listen, I have had the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich come through here!”

I watched an elimination game on Field Seven between the Orion Chargers of Michigan and the Kernersville Bulldogs of North Carolina.  The Bulldogs beat the Chargers, 16-5. I spoke with some of the Chargers parents about what I was doing and they were the ones who said I really needed to speak to Lou.  I didn’t think Lou would have the time to speak with me. When I asked some college interns to see if he would, they inquired and said he would be over in a few minutes.  When he pulled into the operations tent where I was waiting for him on a golf cart. I was caught a little off guard. Here was a man that had to be in his middle 70’s, looked to be in great physical shape. My initial thought was he was probably a drill instructor in his former life (Army Ranger), I smiled when I realized it was him. I walked over introduced myself, shook his hand and immediately got the impression Lou did not like me.  The man might be in his middle 70’s, but if I offended him in any way, I got the distinct feeling he would have no problem punching me in the face and tossing me off his property.

We sat at a table, I told him I had a few questions. It started down pouring outside the tent, he got on his walkie-talkie making the statement to the person on the other end, “You said 40% chance of precipitation”, with a wry smile.  Kids, coaches and parents started coming into the tent. I started asking questions, kids came over with their parents asking Lou for autographs and pins, he obliged all of them. He asked for their name, most all answered politely and respectfully, “yes sir, no sir, thank you coach”.  Kids wanted his attention, he was respected, he oozed “swagger”. He engaged with his interns that are there for the summer earning money for college. Lou pays these kids a lot, he demands a lot. Even though, every intern that came to the table, he took an interest in. They seemed at ease with Lou. That is what happens when people know where they stand, do what is expected and respect is given.  You don’t do what you agreed to, Lou has no use for you and has no problem sending you home.

We talk about the state of the game of baseball, how it has evolved, what the power brokers believe, what Lou believes.  Lou asked me for my opinion about the game, I answer honestly and forthrightly. I see that wry smile again.  I worry he might get up at any minute as he is busy, for some reason I want his respect. On the flipside, I worry he might punch me in the face, also.  I tell him what I like about him. To me he represents the type of person that does what is right and he doesn’t want attention for the good deeds he does. As I say this, a kid with a cast on his arm comes to the table for an autograph. Lou asks what happened and finds out he broke it in a game. Lou asks if he wants to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the championship game, the kid was totally in agreement.  When the kid leaves, I ask stupidly – you know, when it’s out there before really thinking – “Why are you letting him throw out the first pitch?”  Lou looks at me in disbelief, “He broke his fucking arm!”.  I realize my error, this is Dreams Park for a reason. I love the fact Lou swears, it isn’t politically correct and I don’t think Lou cares about politically correctness.

Lou and I talk about a lot of things “off the record”, I give him my word I won’t mention any of it. I admire this man I just met. He gives me a pin (every team brings pins to swap), the pin is a good one, “Johnny Baseball”. I put it on my “man bag”, Lou isn’t the type of guy to have a “man bag”.  The rain lets up a little bit, we finish up our conversation. I need to get on the road, Lou gives me a ride up the hill to the parking lot in his golf cart. He tells me they will get all the games in, even if it is after midnight when they start.  I shake his hand, he drives off in his golf cart, and then I start to worry I wouldn’t do this story justice as I walk to my car.

Lou is the one who told me about Jim Caple, a writer for ESPN, and his article. Lou stated, “He got it mostly right.” I could tell that Lou respects the writer. Click on this link: http://espn.go.com/mlb/hof13/story/_/id/9508031/life-village-cooperstown, I think the story is a great one and you should take the time to read it. I also want to post a story Lou mentioned, he might punch me in the face the next time he sees me for sharing it, but it will really give a full picture of who Lou is, click on the following link: http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/stories/2000/04/03/focus14.html?page=all

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 139 “Summer Catch”

I showed up on Cape Cod and didn’t have many expectations. I was excited to see why all the top D1 college baseball talent ends up spending their summers here.  I love the Northwoods League which is based in the Midwest. I would argue that it is the premier summer league with the way it is run and the amount of games that they play. So, I needed to find out for myself and this is where my excitement lays.

McKeon Field
McKeon Field

When I arrived at McKeon Park, situated behind Pope John Paul II High School, I found it “charming”. I know I just used the word charming, but that is exactly what I thought.  It was EXACTLY what I envisioned when I pondered the Cape Cod League. A high school field that had different types of seating. The bleachers were at different angles so people could sit and talk; or, stay out of the sun.  However, it wasn’t in a symmetrical pattern. There were more bleachers along the third base side versus along the first base line which was the visitors side. Also, the seating was at different ages in it’s useful life-cycle. Full capacity is probably about 3,000. There was a “cute” (Yes, that is my reference) Cape Cod building behind home plate that housed the concession stand, public address announcer and ‘team store’ kiosk type concession stand. In front of the building were some bleachers for ‘scouts only’. As you have gotten to know me during this journey, of course I was sitting in the scout section. And, I was soon ‘notified’ of this fact. I told the woman I was ‘Media’, but that didn’t work out. She said, “Then, you aren’t a scout.” How bold and presumptuous I have become. I was annoyed because the scouts stood behind the bleacher, set up all their stuff on the last row, leaving plenty of room for me to sit. Plus, for the most part, the ‘scouts’ used the bleacher as an elbow rest. Even though, rules are rules. Lots of people were just milling about talking and kids were in a large field area behind the concession stand playing catch.

There wasn’t a place for the media; or, the play-by-play announcers. They had a set-up to the right of the scouts’ bleacher utilizing a folding table and a couple of metal chairs. The field sat in a valley that you could overlook from the bleachers and from parking lot next to the school. Being a high school park, no ‘indoor’ restrooms. The ‘convenient’ portable toilets were provided, which an intern pointed out to me. My luck, I was as far away as you could possibly be. I drank a lot of water before the game and I had to hustle as they were located way out on left field line. Behind the entire outfield fence was a wooded area. My thought, “The perfect place were high school kids could hang out when they were cutting class.”

The Facilities!
The Facilities!

It was my first game in Hyannis with very little knowledge of what the game atmosphere would be like other than what I saw in the movie “Summer Catch” (which I only watched part of) and what I read on the internet.  I liked the fact that the league was a non-profit. For some reason this gives me comfort knowing that it isn’t being totally commercialized and taken over by special interests.  My brother in law, Jerry, and I have discussed the differences in talent and marketability regarding the two leagues. We agreed that the majority of the talent ends up in Cape Cod, with the Northwoods a close second. As far as marketing, Northwoods far out shines the Cape Cod League.  “It is a minor league operation”, Parker Bugg’s dad said regarding the Northwoods League.  Parker is a pitcher for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and just finished up his freshman year at LSU.  Parker’s dad told me that Northwoods wasn’t the type of experience his son was looking for at this time and that is why he chose to play in Cape Cod.  I spoke with John La Prise, of the Hyannis Harbor Hawks and the College World Series runner-up Virginia Cavaliers. This was John’s first game and was laughing at how different the atmosphere is compare to the Madison Mallards of the Northwoods League where he played last year.  Last year John was used to playing in front of 4,000 spectators in Madison. However, John stated, “He heard great things about Cape Cod and was excited to spend the summer playing ball here.”

As the game started, I noticed a group of college kids behind the fence in right center. They were yelling, carrying on and looked like they carved out their own area in the woods. I wanted to talk to these kids. I walked down the first base line and onto a trail that went in two directions when you came to the woods.  In one direction was a table and two high school kids manning it seeking donations for entrance into the game (they take donations and don’t charge admission in Cape Cod League baseball). I asked about the people in right center.  They explained that they are friends of Bobby Melley, who grew up in Hyannis and plays for UCONN.  I walked into the woods along the outfield fence line and approached the group of what turned out to be college kids that were home for the summer.  I told them what I was doing and they said I could write whatever I wanted. They also let me know that a documentary film crew would be out later in the game.

Bobby Melley's Crew...
Bobby Melley’s Crew…

Bobby’s freshman roommate at UCONN was “Willy”, who seemed to be the organizer or ringleader. He informed me that they brought the bench they were using when the season started. I asked where they got it, he gave a “no comment”.  I asked why they chose this location? He said, “Because Bobby normally plays first base.” (He was the designated hitter on this night) The group had brought plenty of beer and a small grill. I asked how old everyone was, they looked at me with a bit of contempt.  Willie firmly stated that they were all 21 or older and I chose to believe him.  I will verify this when I go to another game; and, I don’t think they were selling alcohol.  I felt like I was back in high school. I kept my eye out for the cops, just in case.  This group was a lot of fun as they shouted at all the players on both teams. The players seemed to enjoy it and would acknowledge them in their own way.  The pitchers in the bullpen for Yarmouth-Dennis were throwing baseballs at the group. I almost got hit once and I was laughing because it was a very relaxed atmosphere. I couldn’t image this happening at a Northwoods League game.

Some of the girls in the group were trying to distract the Y-D outfielders by telling them how nice their “asses” looked in the baseball pants. The left-fielder seemed to enjoy this. However, the guys in the group got on him with their ‘verbal assaults’ a few times. Willie said, “We’re just having fun.”  The world of college kids and I was enjoying it.  One of the players from Hyannis texted Willie from the dugout to yell a few things, they obliged him. I can’t repeat everything they were yelling to the players, besides your basic baseball stuff; but, it was all in good-nature fun.  Willie told me that they grew up on Cape Cod and this is what they do in the summer – “Baseball, the Beach and Beer!”, he said.  The documentary film crew showed up and I was able to talk with them a little bit. They are following three players around the Cape Cod League this year. Bobby Melley is one of them and they wanted to get some footage of his ‘fan club’.

I went back to the home plate and third base side around the sixth inning to observe them from that perspective. I asked a few fans what they thought of the crew in right center. The general consensus, they enjoyed them because it made the game more interesting. Besides, the kids were supporting their friend and not hurting anybody.  The guys in the Y-D bullpen said they loved the interaction with them. The group broke up the monotony of the summer.  I stood by myself during the last half inning and felt that I was witnessing what baseball was all about.  I can see why players want to play here instead of the Northwoods League. I wasn’t able to catch up with Jason La Prise after the game, but hope to when the summer ends to get his perspective of the two leagues.

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 129 “Storm Chaser!”

Getting Interviewed...
Getting Interviewed…

The grounds crew is setting up the field so the teams can take batting practice. Tarps are being laid on the ground and a big cage is set up around home plate. Protective screens will be set near third, second and first base as well as where the batting practice pitcher will throw. This work is being done by two guys. One looks like he is the Head Groundskeeper and the other is his assistant, or an intern. I am sitting in the stands behind home plate at Alliant Energy/Ashford University Field in Clinton, Iowa.

It is about five hours before game time. The Clinton LumberKings will take on the Quad Cities RiverBandits in a Midwest League Class A game.  I came to Clinton because of a book I am in the middle of reading called “Class A: Baseball in the Middle of Everywhere”.  The book is by “Award-winning essayist Lucas Mann” who “delivers a powerful debut in his telling of the story of the 2010 season of the Clinton LumberKings. Along the Mississippi River, in a Depression-era stadium, young prospects from all over the world compete for a chance to move up through the baseball ranks to the major leagues. Their coaches, some of whom have spent nearly half

Martie and Me!
Martie and Me!

a century in the game, watch from the dugout. In the bleachers, local fans call out from the same seats they have occupied year after year.”  I recommend the book to anyone that is associated with baseball, along with those that like to read an off beat perspective about America’s national pastime.

I came early to the stadium since Clinton didn’t have a Starbucks I could hang out at all day.  Currently, I am fighting the gnats that are swarming around me. I want to write about the great time I had at the Omaha Storm Chasers game.  There were so many things that excited me about my visit; but, one of the nicest things was that the President and General Manager Martie Cordaro took a huge interest in my story. He found out I was going to be attending the game from Andy Kendiegh, from one of the local news stations.  Andy needed permission to do the interview on the grounds so he texted Martie.  After the interview, Martie gave me a tour of the stadium. He seemed to know all the fans and kept thanking them for coming out.

Anyone want to play catch?
Anyone want to play catch?

Martie always had time to chat with them for a few minutes, listening to their ideas or stories.  This guy was awesome! I was amazed at his ‘list of responsibilities’ along with personally showing me the facilities. He would have to run off to take care of things, then he would come right back. He introduced me to all the people working in the Press Box, the radio play by play announcers. He explained to me why they built certain things or how things operated.  I wondered why he didn’t grab a intern to show me around, but I wasn’t complaining.

Operating the Scoreboard!
Operating the Scoreboard!

Before I even met Andy or Martie, I got to the game early, purchased a ticket and went in. I was impressed immediately by the ushers and people working the concessions. All were telling me to enjoy the game, etc.  I felt like I was back in Reno! I have been very critical of the “Baseball Entertainment Complex” and how it seems that all they want to do is suck every last dollar out of you with very minimal effort. I have also mentioned how frustrated I have gotten with all the extra activities that go on that distract from the game.  Well, I can tell you that Omaha has found the right balance of all these things. Their stadium is truly a park that caters to the entire family.  The kids can run around and play while the parents enjoy the game.  The Storm Chasers have a basketball court, an area kids can play catch with a regular baseball, a wiffle ball field, a couple of carnival rides and much more. They designed it with the family in mind. There are areas where the parents can go to keep an eye the kids; but, also, have a cold refreshment while watching the game.

Playing basketball at a baseball game!
Playing basketball at a baseball game!

I have my ideas of what I want to see baseball do with some of the historical parks. I haven’t been a big fan of the parks that try and half-heartedly do what Martie and the Storm Chasers have accomplished. Martie admits that some of the ushers and interns turn into babysitters and that you never truly can tell how many people are in the stadium since so many are running around. However, he says the important thing is to know your demographic and be consistent with your strategy.

Whiffle Ball anyone?
Whiffle Ball anyone?

I agree with you, Martie. I also believe with how their stadium is laid out, he can do even more with some of the people that are hard core baseball fanatics. I won’t lecture Martie with those ideas because he is one guy that has won me over to his way of thinking. The great thing is that he wasn’t even trying. He just showed me his facility.  I will talk more about my experience with the Storm Chasers tomorrow. I spent a bulk of my evening with the grounds crew and have gotten the inside scoop on how the field is cared for and what their responsibilities consist of. I can tell you this, if you are ever in the Omaha area get out to a game, hunt down Martie and say hi. Also, thank him for thinking “outside the box”.

I need to finish this post because these gnats are driving me crazy!  Cheyne Reiter, the play by play announcer of the LumberKings, said, “they are pretty bad.” But, he had heard on the news that they are suppose to die off in about a week. Speaking of Cheyne, I am going to profile him in a couple of day since he is the voice of the LumberKings!

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 124 “Day in the Sun”

Terry signing a copy of his book!
Terry signing a copy of his book!

When I got to Wisconsin Rapids and saw the stadium where the Rafters play their home games, I was excited!  It was another stadium complex that had that “hokey” hometown feel to it. T he town seemed to embrace what they had and didn’t try to make it into something it was not. There’s nothing especially elaborate or flashy about Witter Field, which was built in 1928, its just a gentle reminder of how pro baseball used to be played. How ballparks felt in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

As I wandered around the park I noticed a local TV reporter interviewing one of the Rafters players. I had just come from Alexandria, MN and wasn’t feeling as important as I did there.  Funny how life can humble you at times. I was the center of attention with people wanting to meet me and then a couple of days later nobody knows my name.  I was in the mood to find a good story to write. I have changed up how I was writing my posts, but I wanted to find a person with an interesting perspective.  I walked by a table and it appeared to be a book signing going on. My exact thought was, “This must not be a big deal since the TV reporter wasn’t covering it”.

As I was standing watching the reporter getting some action shots of the game, the Public Address announcer said that Terry Stake would be signing his book through out the game. He then went on to say something about 40 years in broadcasting. I didn’t catch it all but I perked up and thought this had to be an interesting story.  I walked over to the table and started rambling to the guy sitting behind the table. I think I said something like, “I am impressed with people who have written a book, something I have always wanted to do”, as I was shaking the mans hand.

After I said all of this the man (Randy Pahl) pointed to Terry who was sitting at the end of the table. I laughed at myself and introduced myself again and explained what I was doing.  I was intrigued by Terry’s story but he wasn’t telling his story, but that of the local communities.  His book is called “Looking at the Beams – My Life in Broadcasting”.  He signed a copy for me. I went to watch the son of a friend who plays for the Rafters and was to bat. I started reading Terry’s book after my friend’s son singled with the bases loaded. I was impressed with him!  Terry impressed me, also. He told me, “It was about the kids playing and not him.”  It was their “day in the sun”.

The “something about 40 years” I mentioned previously, was about Terry’s longevity, becoming a fixture in Wisconsin Rapids sports over four decades. He broadcasts for all of the wrestling, baseball, basketball, softball, football, hockey, soccer, track games.  He details all of this in his book, what it was like in the early days, where they would have to sit to do the broadcasts, along with injecting a lot of humor.  I couldn’t put the book down as the game was being played. I walked over to the table a few times to talk about an incident or two Terry encountered in his career.  What struck me time and time again with Terry was how he constantly gave credit to everyone else. How he made sure to mention all the people that he encountered during his career.

I took the following off Terry’s website.

“Very excited to read this book Terry! Being an athlete at Lincoln High School 1976-1979, I remember you well. You covered many sports including some of the girls games. We all knew your voice on the radio. We knew your face. When I was younger, I knew the spot where you sat to broadcast games at the Old Lincoln. The small hike up those back steps to the balcony. My Uncle George Hafermann always sat near your “booth”. I was usually sitting next to him. Congrats on the book. It’ll be fun to travel back down the road with your writings.  Laurie A Craft 1979 Lincoln High School.’

If you live in the Greater Wisconsin Rapids area and played sports, Terry probably knows you and you probably know him. He retired in 2009, celebrate his broadcast career like he celebrated you when you were competing. Go to his website and purchase his book.  One last thing, the local TV reporter walked by the table, Terry spoke to her. She said she was from New York and was new to Wisconsin Rapids.  She missed a great opportunity to interview a local sports broadcasting legend, a story sitting in front of her. I am sure that Wisconsin Rapids is a stepping stone to bigger markets and her instincts will improve over time, like Terry’s did in his 42 years.  Terry,  it is now your “Day in the Sun”.

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!