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Pictures of kids playing baseball.

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Just got back from the Finger Lakes. I was going to visit a ballpark with some interesting history, and then do the usual pix-and-lines writeup that I do when I go to a new (to me) ballpark.

But then my plans shifted and I ended up going to a much less interesting place — from a historical standpoint, and from a photographic standpoint as well.

Still, you gets the writeup and the pictures anyway, because that’s how I do.

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This is Maple City Park in Hornell, New York, a city-owned and -run park that’s home to the Hornell Dodgers of the New York Collegiate Baseball League. (This is a summer league for college-age players, financially supported by Major League Baseball.)

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The small (pop. 8,563) city of Hornell hosted affiliated minor-league ballclubs from 1942 to 1957. The best-known and best-remembered of them were part of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ massive minor-league network, though the city also hosted teams linked to the Reds, Red Sox and Pirates.

Tommy Davis, a sure-shot member of baseball’s Hall of Very Good, spent a season in Hornell in 1956. Charlie Neal and Don Zimmer — who both won World Series titles with the Dodgers, only to wash up with the ’62 Mets — played there in 1950.

Dick Tracewski, a two-time Series winner as a player and later one of Sparky Anderson’s trusted coaches, passed through in ’54.

And Frank Oceak played his last minor-league ball in Hornell in 1943. He never made the bigs as a player, but you might remember him as the Pirates third-base coach congratulating Bill Mazeroski after his Series-winning home run in 1960.

Those players and their teams also played at a ballpark called Maple City Park. But it ain’t the same one; that one was torn down in the early 1960s to make way for a new high school.

The school isn’t far from today’s Maple City Park — just up Seneca Street — but it seems likely that today’s park isn’t on the same site as the old one. Which kinda cuts down on the historical interest, compared to cities like Elmira and Geneva, which still have their old ballparks in play on their original sites.

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City-owned + next door to a school = no beer with your baseball.

To add insult to injury, the one set of fixed stands at Maple City Park is (a) set back from the field some, and (b) is fronted by a screen that completely covers the view. I understand why it’s there, but I don’t like watching baseball from behind a screen — especially at a little local field — so that cost the park a couple of points.

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That said, you can always bring your own chair and sit in foul territory, as a fair number of people do …

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… or if you’re too cheap to pay the $4 adult fee to get in, you can always pitch a seat right outside the chain-link fence and watch for free.

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While it’s not my favorite park in the world — or even in the Southern Tier — Maple City Park has a few things going for it.

If you don’t bother anybody, you can watch the game from small unscreened areas next to each dugout, which brings you a little closer to the action.

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The field is also surrounded by a residential neighborhood, a factor shared by some of my favorite college ballparks. There’s something great about seeing houses all around the field, especially when the houses are modest (though well-kept). Beats being at a ballpark that’s surrounded by acres of parking lots.

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I left in the fourth inning with the Wellsville Nitros ahead of the Dodgers 5-2. I didn’t much care who won, and I had to run a 5K early the next morning.

I probably won’t be back … but I’ll end with a couple more pictures, anyway.

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I wonder what the Los Angeles Dodgers think of the Hornell Dodgers. The Hornell team doesn’t use the familiar “Dodgers” script on its uniforms or website; this is as close as I remember coming to it at Maple City Park.

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Pregame stretch for the starting pitcher.

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A random passer-by offered to sell me this scoreboard; apparently it’s been down for two years and they still don’t know what to do with it.

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Bless the guys who umpire these games. I wonder what they get paid; I don’t imagine it’s much.

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Painting the batter’s box. It’s common for players at this level to do the groundskeeping as well.

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I’ve never been the Duke of Action Shots but this one tells the story: An errant throw pulls the first baseman off the bag while the runner scores from third.

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The two guys in the background at right played hoop for pretty much the whole time I was there.

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Well-used mounds in the bullpen. I believe the building in the background is the junior high (not the senior high that was built on the site of the old Maple City Park). Didn’t know they still put decorative windows like those into schools.

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3 BR, 1 1/2 baths, cozy charmer, walk to park.

Baseball again.

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Regular readers know: Every year I go to college baseball games as early as I can in March. And then I come back and blog about ’em.

I rang in the season last Saturday by going to see the Lehigh Carbon Community College Cougars take on the Penn State-Worthington Scranton Lions.

Nothing noteworthy to say about it except LCCC whipped up on PSUWS 19-3 and they stopped the game early, after five-and-a-half innings. Penn State WS appeared to have only about a dozen active players during the national anthem, and the whole thing was kind of a mismatch from the word go.

The usual photos were taken and you get to look at some.

LCCC scored in every inning, which doesn't happen that often, even in short games.

LCCC scored in every inning, which doesn’t happen that often, even in short games.

A storklike warmup.

A storklike warmup.

I would shoot B&W more often if it didn't torque my battery.

I would shoot B&W more often if it didn’t torque my battery.

If I pitched in that game I wouldn't show my face either.

If I pitched in that game I wouldn’t show my face either.

Baseball ready.

Baseball ready.

Another in a long series of modest proposals.

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News item: Former Montreal Expos star Tim Raines passed over once again for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I only care about halls of fame when I have some absurd, momentarily amusing, impertinent thought related to their existence.

And so it was this morning.

In the face of widespread social media calls for Tim Raines’ election to the Baseball Hall of Fame (a cause I’m down with, for what that’s worth), I had the brainflash of taking it a step further:

Ten Reasons Why Every Member Of The Montreal Expos Should Be Elected, En Masse, To The Baseball Hall Of Fame

  1. Just imagine the hall of plaques, full to bursting with the tricolor “elb” cap. (Yeah, I know it’s not an “elb.”)
  2. The Hall of Fame forfeited its status as a trustworthy arbiter of the truly elite many decades ago, and is now pretty much just a cool place to look at gloves and spikes. Why not do away with the pretense?
  3. The resultant flood of Quebecois tourists would lead to the establishment of many authentic poutine restaurants in Cooperstown.
  4. Baseball has long needed something to counterbalance its excessive fixation on New York. A new century calls for a new town. Why not Montreal?
  5. I’ve always wondered who John Boccabella would thank if he had an induction speech.
  6. Nostalgia for Parc Jarry, now unfairly lacking, would be rekindled. By all accounts, the Expos’ first home park was a cozy and charming place, full of enthusiastic fans.
  7. Montreal has a historic record as a great baseball town — most notably, as the city that first embraced Jackie Robinson. If any city deserves this unprecedented kind of mass enshrinement, I say it’s Montreal.
  8. This move gets not only Raines but also Rusty Staub, Larry Walker, Maury Wills, Lee Smith, Ken Singleton, Graig Nettles, Manny Mota, Dennis Martinez, Dave McNally, Andres Galarraga and Willie Davis into the Hall of Fame. That’s a lot of hits, homers, wins and highlight-reel plays right there.
  9. (And Bartolo Colon! Whenever he retires, that is.)
  10. Un discours de gratitude prononcé en français sonnerait assez grande. Vraiment!

Traveler’s end.

After 350 days, George Canale shuffles off to a well-deserved retirement tomorrow night.

Canale — or, more specifically, a 1990 Donruss baseball card of the former Milwaukee Brewers first baseman — was my choice for 2015’s #walletcard, as explained in my post of Jan. 12.

(For anyone who doesn’t feel like re-reading: #walletcard is a curious social-media thang among sports card collectors. You pick a card from your collection and carry it in your wallet for a year, taking a picture of it whenever an interesting opportunity arises and posting those pix online. You also report back at the end of the year on the condition of your card after a year of activity.)

I felt most of the year like I hadn’t taken my walletcard out often enough, and that I’d be disappointed when I reached Dec. 31.

But, counting it up now, I posted 31 #walletcard images on Twitter over the course of the year.

Somehow that doesn’t strike me as all that bad. Certainly, I didn’t fall into the trap of taking a pic of it with every day’s lunch, just for the sake of another post.

Here, then, I offer my 10 best #walletcard posts of 2015.

Thanks, George. It’s been fun.

Jan. 23. The brand-new Italian restaurant where I took this had closed by November.

Jan. 23. The brand-new Italian restaurant where I took this had closed by November.

 

Jan. 24. Heck of a storm, that was.

Jan. 24. Heck of a storm, that was.

 

Feb. 19. Sorry, Catman.

Feb. 19. Sorry, Catman.

 

March 11. Not all who are called, serve.

March 11. Not all who are called, serve.

 

March 14. Jury duty, you can get out of. Taxes, not really.

March 14. Jury duty, you can get out of. Taxes, not really.

 

April 26. I was grilling in the driveway. The eggplant was grilled for purposes of babaghanoush. The beer was not my first of the evening.

April 26. I was grilling in the driveway. The eggplant was later grilled for purposes of babaghanoush. The beer was not my first of the evening.

 

June 21. The Red Sox and I were not in Boston at the same time, so #walletcard had to settle for soaking in some townie color in the subway.

June 21. The Red Sox and I were not in Boston at the same time, so #walletcard had to settle for soaking in some townie color in the subway.

 

July 3. True, this. (The setting: A home game of the Allentown Railers of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League.)

July 3. True, this. (The setting: A home game of the Allentown Railers of the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League.)

 

Oct. 25. The notorious Jackson Pollock set design of Donruss '90 holds its own against Mother Nature.

Oct. 25. The notorious Jackson Pollock set design of Donruss ’90 holds its own against Mother Nature.

 

Dec. 24. Holiday merriment. No matter what comes along, ol' George never bats an eye.

Dec. 24. Holiday merriment. No matter what comes along, ol’ George never bats an eye.

And, a last look as of Dec. 30:

Dec. 31. A last look.

First pitch.

The salaryman’s Christmas stocking, like those of his kids, usually includes a couple packs of baseball and hockey cards.

And so it was that yesterday, during Belated Christmas Back Home, he took another step into 21st-century pop culture.

In 35 years of collecting baseball cards, I have (to the extent of my memory, and it’s still pretty good) never pulled one with a woman on it.

Until now.

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(This is also the first card I’ve ever pulled to which the words “rockin’ some pleather” apply. But I digress.)

In an attempt to stir up interest among collectors, Topps has taken to lacing its standard set of player cards with bunches of subsets.

Technically, this is not new. Topps has been producing sets-within-sets for decades. Like cards showing boyhood photos of top stars, or cards showing father-and-son player combinations.

But these cards, in the past, were usually tied directly to the prior year’s action … whereas now, Topps seems to take more liberties and license in creating new subsets.

So now, in addition to your basic player cards, you’ll get cards that commemorate a player’s first home run (I pulled the much-sought-after Yadier Molina First Home Run card, commemorating an event that happened in 2004), or cards that pair a current player with a player from the past who allegedly influenced them. (Joe Mauer, meet Rod Carew.)

There’s also a First Pitch subset, which shows various celebrities doing the pregame honors.

This group of cards turned a few pop-culture heads early this year, when it was revealed that petulant blues-rock primitivist Jack White would be on one of them. (That bump in public interest probably justified the subset’s existence all by itself.)

Others in the First Pitch set included actor Jeff Bridges; Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney; marathoner Meb Keflezighi; and this young pop star, who I got back in May when I bought my first and only non-gift pack of the year.

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(Correction to the above: This is the first card I ever pulled to which the words “rockin’ some pleather” apply. Is that an iPhone in your pocket, Austin, or are you excited to be on the mound?)

Anyway, I pulled the First Pitch card of comedian Chelsea Handler as part of my Xmas haul.

And it made me wonder how many Topps baseball cards — in the main set, or closely related subsets — have ever featured women.

(I specify baseball cards because Topps has produced all manner of side sets over the decades. I’m pretty sure I have a Star Wars card upstairs from either 1980 or 1983 with Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia on it. But I’m trying to limit my line of thought to cards you might pull if you bought a standard, basic pack of Topps.)

The Baseball Hall of Fame finally got around to inducting its first woman a few years ago, and she’s received cards from other companies, though I don’t know if Topps has done any in its mainstream set.

Also, several women have owned World Series-winning baseball teams — like Joan Payson of the New York Mets, or Marge Schott of the Cincinnati Reds. But while players, managers, coaches and even umpires have been featured on mainstream baseball cards, owners don’t usually get there.

Edit: I’ve also Googled the “boyhood photos of the stars” Topps cards from the ’70s, to see if anyone’s mom or sister showed up. I don’t see any, though the crop job on Willie Horton’s card sure suggests there were other family members in the original picture.)

Searches for phrases like “first baseball card of a woman” or “first Topps card of a woman” don’t provide an answer.

(Knowing Topps’ fondness for things Yankee, I suspected they might have come up with an excuse to put insufferable Yanks radio announcer Suzyn Waldman on a card. A Google search suggests this has not, in fact, come to pass.)

None of this, even my griping of a paragraph ago, is meant to suggest that cards with women are a bad thing. I ask about them out of historical curiosity, not as a complaint; and I’m hoping that someone who knows their baseball-card history will leave me a comment steering me to some examples from the past.

While I’m not specially a fan of Chelsea Handler, I’m kinda delighted to see something other than a scowling masculine game-face on a baseball card.

Women have always been part of baseball — in front-office roles, now as scouts, always as fans. They ought to be represented in what is still one of the lasting historical records of each season.

And, while I’m generally celeb-phobic, I don’t mind the First Pitch set. It seems firmly enough related to baseball; it’s something you’d see if you went to the park on a given day. Why not put it on a series of cards?

It’s sure as hell more interesting than Yadier Molina’s first home run.

A base ball excursion.

Another of the random perseverations I tend to write when it’s not baseball season.

Imagine taking a job knowing ahead of time that only the most superhuman of success will prevent your prompt dismissal — and the clock starts anew every year.

I was thinking about that today while wading through the latest round of chatter about Philadelphia’s sports teams.

The Phillies managing job pretty much ate the well-regarded Ryne Sandberg alive; he was let go late last season. Now the pundits have moved on to call for the dismissal of Eagles coach Chip Kelly, apparently for the eternal sin of being unable to win big with modest talent.

It turns out that a guy with local ties tackled the challenge of managing in Philadelphia earlier than almost everyone else. This being a temperate day off, and thoughts of baseball very much with me, I decided to track him down.

Unlike today’s managers, Lew Simmons did not come to the dugout after years of experience with hit-and-runs, double plays and pitching changes.

Instead, he came to baseball from the blackface minstrel-show stage. According to a book called Monarchs of MinstrelsySimmons began as a blackface performer in Ohio in 1849 and became a hit performer in Philadelphia in the 1860s and 1870s, operating his own minstrel company and touring abroad.

Simmons did well enough to buy in, around 1881, as a partner in the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association.

(This was the second team to do business as the Philadelphia Athletics. The familiar Philadelphia A’s of Connie Mack, founded in 1901, were the fourth. What we know today as major league baseball traces its roots to 1871, so Simmons was in on the ground floor.)

The A’s main owner at the time, Bill Sharsig, was a theater producer who likely knew Simmons from the world of Philadelphia stages.

While Sharsig also lacked an on-the-field baseball background — at least, in the modern Ryne Sandberg sense — he served as field manager of his own team for parts of four seasons.

John Shiffert’s book Base Ball in Philadelphia indicates that the Athletics’ business partners tended to rotate front-office roles from year to year. That, presumably, is how former minstrel showman Simmons was at the helm of the team when it opened the 1886 season against the New York Metropolitans.

Simmons’s A’s won that first game, 10-3, and the rookie leader managed to keep his team at or above .500 through the end of June. On May 2, they played a 19-19 tie against Brooklyn that must have been a sight to see.

But the losses stacked up in July and August. And, although the Athletics won their last five games under Simmons, he was either fired or agreed to rotate out of the job on Aug. 25, with a 41-55 managerial record.

Sharsig took over the rest of the year, posting a 22-17 record. All told, the A’s finished sixth in an eight-team league.

(The 1886 Athletics’ noteworthy players included rookie catcher Wilbert Robinson, later to be the longtime manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers; second baseman Louis Bierbauer, whose signing by the Pittsburgh National League team would cause them to be nicknamed the Pirates; and pitcher Al Atkinson, who started 45 games and completed 44.)

Simmons never returned to the dugout. Shiffert’s book says Sharsig bought out his partners after the 1887 season, ending the vaudevillian’s connection to the fledgling world of major league baseball.

Monarchs of Minstrelsy, meanwhile, says Simmons returned to the stage in the early 1890s and was still performing as of 1910, when the book was written.

Simmons died at age 73 in Reading, Pa., September 1911. According to various sources, he is buried in Fairview Cemetery on the south side of Allentown. I decided to go look him up there; it seemed like an interesting excursion for a day off.

Fairview Cemetery is not the best-maintained graveyard I’ve ever visited. Falling branches have caused havoc in one area of the grounds, and every section is plagued by sliding or buckling stones, occasional bursts of overgrowth, a reluctance on the part of the lawnmower to clean off the stones afterward, and the occasional grim sunken patch.

(It’s enough to remind a visitor that one of the great horror movies of all time begins in a real-life Pennsylvania cemetery — not this one, but one out in the western part of the state, not tremendously far from Lew Simmons’s birthplace.)

I found a baseball, of all things — a blue-and-white child’s novelty model — but in a walk that took in every path on the grounds, I couldn’t find Lew Simmons’s gravesite.

I tried a building or two at the front of the property, but no one was there. I tried some Googling, in case a full list of burials had been posted online by some resourceful genealogist, but no luck there either.

If Lew Simmons is there, he perhaps has a flat stone, or one that has been undermined by the forces of time.

Or perhaps he is rested far from even the dedicated searcher, in some peaceful corner.

That would be fitting. Anyone who has managed a ballclub in Philadelphia has earned a quiet rest.

For the turnstiles.

I love baseball but hate hype; and it is a combination of these two things that will put a few hundred fresh words on the blog tonight.

My local Lehigh Valley IronPigs, with whom I have something of a love-hate relationship, put out a news release Tuesday announcing what seemed to be a remarkable achievement: “IronPigs Remain Attendance Leader Since 2008.”

The news release announced that the Pigs had topped 600,000 fans for the eighth straight year — each year of the team’s existence, in other words — and that the Pigs “remain Minor League Baseball’s per game attendance leader since their debut season.”

In other words, the team has sold more tickets per game on average than any other minor-league team over the past eight years. They’re averaging just over 9,000 tickets sold per game over that span. (I have been to enough games and seen enough empty seats to be convinced that “attendance” really means “tickets sold,” not “fans through the gate.”)

After reviewing the International League’s official attendance data for the past eight years, I decided the Pigs’ spin was a nice way to camouflage the fact that the team’s per-game attendance had a down year.

The second-worst year in team history, to be precise:

pigsgraf1The Pigs like to boast about their per-game attendance, but they haven’t led the International League in this department since 2012. In the year just past, they fell all the way to fourth, with 8,769 fans per game — trailing Charlotte (9,428), Indianapolis (9,331) and Columbus (9,016).

In other words, that “per game attendance leader” business seems to rely a whole lot on that hot streak from 2009 through 2012.

(I am powerless to explain their weak showing in their very first year, which marked the return of affiliated baseball to the Valley after a four-decade absence. I would have thought they were above 9,000 a game that year too. Guess not. Perhaps the dreadful opening to their season — 13 straight losses, if memory serves — tempered the Valley’s interest.)

There are all kinds of yeah-buts, in-defense-ofs, and caveats to be made about the Pigs’ attendance this year; and I’ll throw in as many as I can think of:

  • Fourth in a 14-team league ain’t bad. Certainly, the Gwinnett Braves and Syracuse Chiefs — both averaging around 3,800 tickets sold per game — dream of support like that.
  • By my rough math, the International League average for fans per game was 7,130 this past season, so the Pigs remain well above average.
  • Coca-Cola Park only has 8,089 fixed seats, so the Pigs continue to admit more arses than they have seats for. This is not quite as remarkable as it sounds: Pretty much every Triple-A park of the past dozen years has a general-admission outfield berm that can hold 2,000 fans or so. Still, if they’re selling 8,769 tickets per game, that’s every seat in the park plus maybe one-third of the berm, which is pretty impressive.
  • The Pigs are stomping their Pennsylvania rivals, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, who averaged 5,753 fans per game last year despite completely revamping their ballpark just two or three years ago.
  • The Pigs’ on-field performance has been so-so to downright lousy. They went 63-81 this past season, the second-worst record in the IL, and have finished above .500 only twice in eight years. Their performance at the gate is a tribute to management’s promotional ingenuity … ’cause all those people aren’t coming to watch well-played baseball.
  • I’m not focusing on total year-end attendance here, because the Pigs picked per-game to be their measure of choice, but 600,000 fans a year at the Triple-A level is nothing to sneeze at.
  • Finally: You can’t read anything conclusive into one relatively slow year.

Yeah, this past year was a good one by many attendance measures, and it wouldn’t have looked bad at all if the team hadn’t concocted questionable ways to crow about it.

Still, seeing the gradual downturn in per-game attendance, I wonder whether the Valley is starting to cool on the IronPigs … and if so, where the attendance levels will eventually stabilize.

Will we dip to around 7,000 to 7,500 and hold there, like longtime International League markets Toledo and Pawtucket have done in the past few years? (Pawtucket was pulling 9,200 per game a decade ago and 8,300 five years ago.)

Farther down to 6,000 to 6,500 per game, like Rochester, another defining International League market? All the way south of 4,000, like Syracuse, also not a fly-by-night market?

Or, who knows? Maybe the Pigs’ front office will find the magic promotional formula to bring attendance back to 9,000 per game. Maybe they’ll hit on just the right tap-dance to keep all eyes fixed on them. They’ve been pretty good at that so far.

My preference, for what it’s worth, would be for the Pigs to settle in at a level where they are well-supported, comfortably profitable … and free of spun-up claims about their attendance performance.