Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Auld Lang Syne

It's that time of the year* when media outlets of all forms and sizes publish their year in review stories. Here is a new take on the seasonal regurgitation ... the blog posts I never wrote!

Dinosaurs and More Along Interstate 4

A great trip; seven games in five days, low mileage and more than enough attractions, including multiple dinosaur sightings.

Dinosuars: Saltasaurus, at Dinosaur World, Plant City

There was also old ballparks, Whimzeyland, Celebration, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, a somewhat slimmed-down Luis Sojo coaching the Tampa Yankees, Beefy King and much more.

The emotional high point may have been arriving at The John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art, prepared but not thrilled to pay the $25 admission to the entire compound, only to learn it was World Circus Day and my destination, The Ringling Circus Museum, was free.

More: Detail, Howard Bros. Circus Model,
The Ringling Circus Museum, Sarasota 

Not Ready For Prime Time
Last Weekend in June

A reprise of last year's long weekend in Pawtucket, Lowell and at Fenway, the return trip with buddy Kevin included drinks at the Lowell Beer Works with Dave Iverson, the groom at last year's Lowell Spinners game. Turns out he is a high school English teacher who rocks hard as a guitar player with Ichabod; a really interesting guy.

Photograph of Dave Iverson by JJ Koczan
and used by permission. All rights reserved.

Dave provided tips for future visits to Lowell, notably the annual Lowell Southeast Asian Water Festival and Top Donut. I was feeling pretty satisfied with myself as Kevin's guide, thinking I might be able to offer baseball tours professionally when ... is the karmic payback for hubris always that swift and vicious? We did in the end make it to the three games in LowellBoston and Pawtucket.

Even in the image-saturated 21st-century
sometimes a picture is still worth a thousand words.

The Law of Large Numbers
First Week in July

Melvin and I traveled for years before missing a game due to rain, the 2010 Christmas in July extravaganza in Cleveland. The so-called Law of Averages is a myth, but our good fortune ended in Cincinnati. (Is it an O-hi-o thing?) Almost half of the games on our mid-summer trip were rained out and a couple more were badly waterlogged.

Searching the skies at Great American Ballpark.

By the end, it felt like it rained the whole time or was about to. Our luck was better early in the trip. A rain-out on the day before we arrived in Lexington meant we caught a doubleheader there, including a no-hitter, some consolation in hindsight.

Daniel Stumpf, being congratulated on his
seven-inning no-hitter in Lexington, Kentucky.

There were, of course, non-baseball destinations as well. Melvin has posted pictures of some, so I will add just one more, from Jerry's Junk in Louisville.

Jerry Lotz owns lotza stuff.

This was the first trip we took that felt like an ordeal, something to somehow be gotten through.

2013 Prospects Game
July 14, Citi Field

Among the other observations Melvin has made about all-star games, "there is no significant effort on either side to field the best team...." The Prospects Game is essentially an all-star game, although "showcase" would be a more honest title.

Future prospect teeing off prior to the Prospects Game?

Ne'ertheless, the game was an opportunity to see anticipated major leaguers like Xander Bogaerts (two for three with a walk), who Kevin and I saw in Pawtucket, and Billy Hamilton (scored as a pinch-runner), who was injured when we were in soggy Louisville a couple weeks earlier.

The "U.S." team won the game but it hardly matters. That the players were divided into "U.S." and "World" shows how backward baseball can still be 67 years after Jackie Robinson first played in affiliated baseball.

July 24-28

Primarily a family visit, we all congregated mid-trip for a day game in the inaugural season of the Hillsboro Hops, formerly the Yakima Bears. Under a broiling sun we watched Yogey Lorenzo Perez-Ramos drive in three of the four Hops runs, including the go-ahead single in 11th inning.

"Hello, Mr. Ranger, sir!"

I spent some time on my own, kicked around Portland with my step-brother for a couple days, and visited my father and step-mother. Highlights, respectively, included The Grotto (formally the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother), The Peculiarium, and a drive up to Sweet Home and Foster Lake, with brunch at The Point.

My step-brother Kevin at Cyclepedia: A Century of
Iconic Bicycle Design
, at the Portland Art Museum.

The Glory of Their Times
Sometime after my birthday

Lawrence Ritter's collection of oral histories, a gift from my mother, is the most enjoyable baseball book I have ever read. Ballplayers from a time when the game was played unselfconsciously, speaking unselfconsciously about it. The inverse, say, of Alex Rodriguez.

Red Barber said it before I did.

I don't like the designated hitter but have learned to appreciate the wild card, at least as the format was introduced. After reading The Glory of Their Times, I realized that being a purist is for me about the spirit of the game, not necessarily the rules.

Winning Formula

Well into the 2013 season, I received a series of emailed enticements to see a game at Citi Field, which seemed too little, too late. The Mets finished in fourth place in the previous four seasons yet had the audacity to raise single-game ticket prices 25-75 percent over the winter. The machinations they went through to sell out opening day were something to behold.

Awww, they missed me!

Is ownership the only one to not recognize there is a corollary between winning and selling tickets? When the Mets field a competitive team, people go out to the stadium, and vice versa.

Much of the reduction in attendance from 2008 to 2009 can
be attributed to the considerably smaller size of Citi Field.

The numbers at the end of the season were worse than when I conceived the post.  The Mets held on to third place in the National League East but finished 22 games back. They averaged only 26,295 at home, a 4.8 percent decrease from the year before and the lowest tally this century. Every team has a minimum attendance that is independent of record, a half-empty stadium of die-hards and folks who went out to the ballpark just because.

Best Intentions
August 22

Before the season began, David Bragdon asked me and other friends to attend the Mets' opening day. Given the price gauging, I declined, but I suggested we see some other game. As the season waned, I recommitted to the goal of seeing at least one Mets and one Cyclones game in 2013.

Bragdon and I did make it to (most of) a Brooklyn Cyclones game. It felt obligatory. Exiting before the game was over, we saw Rev. Erik Salgado, the School Choice candidate for New York City mayor, a pitiful highlight. We never got to Citi Field.

Salgado would go on to garner 1,853 votes, or 0.2 percent
of those cast, leaving him in a three-way tie for sixth place.

George Hirose
Labor Day Weekend

A friend and I spent an afternoon with an acquaintance who was hosting one of her last "barbecues" of the summer in an East Village community garden. The open space was festooned with scavenged dolls and dinosaurs (more dinosaurs!) and other bric-a-brac.

"La Plaza Cultural #8 (9th St and Ave C),"
by George Hirose

A Japanese gentleman arrived to check out the folk landscape, more spare but not unlike many that Melvin and I have sought out. George Hirose has taken numerous photographs of East Village gardens, I learned. We compared lists of the folk art environments we had visited. He did not know Whimzeyland (above), where I had a similar conversation with Todd Ramquist in April.

A Bad Day at the Ballpark Beats a Good Day at Work

Obsession and baseball go well together, be it player "rituals"—Paul O'Neill's euphemism for his game-day OCD—or what has evolved into Baseball Byways. And then there is Joseph Neubauer who, when his 27-year career conflicted with his having seen every Yankees' home game since June 1975 ... well, everyone has to set priorities in life.

Neubauer was suspended for 25 days in 2010 when he called in sick 13 times to see the Bronx Bombers. Taking five unauthorized days the next year to see the all-star game cost him a 60-day suspension.

Then, when the September 18, 2012 Yankees game was rained out and rescheduled as the first half of a day-night double-header, Neubauer was faced with a choice. He almost kept his job but for the admission that, under the same circumstances, he might well do the same thing again.

Melvin and Watson Here
October 11

Melvin and Watson got married on September 14 with only immediate family and local guests in attendance. Over the next few months, they hit the road to celebrate with out-of-town friends. Jolanta and Sarah and I took them to dinner at Char No. 4, after which the newlyweds and I retired to Clover Club for cocktails—several of them.

You Make Your Bed
October 30

At Red's suggestion, Norton and I went to see  Sousepaw, 'A Baseball Story,' nominally about George Edward "Rube" Waddell (1876-1914), one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Waddell was eccentric and the anecdotes about him have grown into myths. Even stories of his drinking, to which the title of the play alludes, have been exaggerated.

Playwright Jonathan A. Goldberg takes further license, pairing Waddell with a fictional Reptile Girl from the circus to create an existential drama that isn't really about baseball at all.

James B. Kennedy and Christina Pumariega in Sousepaw.

"Why don't you lay down on the bed?", Waddell suggests at one point.
"IT'S NOT A BED!", screams the Reptile Girl.
"When you lay down, it becomes a bed."

Baseball's Greatest
After Christmas but before New Year's Day

My mother gave me Baseball's Greatest, published by Sports Illustrated. Although the rankings go beyond players, the athletes make up most of the book and are arranged by position. The book's critical flaw is allowing achievements at the plate to compensate for inadequacies in the field. Can anyone really say Manny Ramirez is one of the all-time best left fielders?

Further, there is not the least acknowledgement of the influence of performance enhancing drugs. If you can recalibrate in your head, however, it is stimulating to read appraisals from all eras of the game. And since this is Sports Illustrated, the photography is spectacular.

Footnote ("That Time of the Year")

So, a compilation of the blog posts I failed to write and, what's more, a failure itself. Begun a couple weeks before the new year, I worked at it until April before giving up. I returned to the anthology, however, and ultimately published it on January 10, 2015, while backdating it to one minute before midnight, 2013.

New Year's, 2014

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?"

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