Baseball 2020 and “Summer of ’98”

WrigleyFieldToday, at long last, we will have a baseball post here. With the delay of the 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season because of the coronavirus pandemic, my interest in baseball was waning quickly. Summer life just wasn’t the same (due to many other things pandemic related too, of course) and I didn’t want to find an annual book on baseball to read either. Golf was on my weekly schedule (usually with my 87-year old dad, who still plays well!), and I was grateful to have that interest and involvement at least.

But then the MLB commissioner, owners, and players saved the season, a 60-game schedule was adopted, and at the end of July baseball sprang to life – a little late and a little short and with fan-less ball parks – but at least it was here again. And my beloved Chicago Cubs roared out of the gate – with great starting pitching (we won’t talk about the bullpen just yet) and timely hitting from their batting order of stars, they have climbed to 13-3 – their best start since 1907! Yay! Go Cubbies! Could we have a repeat of 2016 and have another world champion team?!

Summer-of-98-LupicaAnd with that revived baseball season and renewed interest, I also found my 2020 summer baseball read (once again, in a local thrift store) – Summer of ’98: When Homers Flew, Records Fell, and Baseball Reclaimed America by Mike Lupica (Contemporary Books, 1999). This is a great retelling of the season of 1998, when monster home-run hitters Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey, Jr. all chased Roger Maris’ 1961 record of 61 homers in a season (Babe Ruth had held the record of 60, hit in 1927, until Maris came along and hit one more than that).

I remember the season well, in part because I had just spent 8 years in the Chicago area, where I fell in love with the Cubbies, and also because two Cubs players would figure prominently in that season – the above-mentioned Sammy Sosa, and 20-year old rookie Kerry Wood (who would strike out 20 batters in a single game in his first MLB season – his fifth game, no less!).

So now I have the summer-of-2020 pleasure of watching and listening to ball games again, and reading my new book, a portion of which I share with you here. By, the way, this book is also a great story of how fathers and sons come to love and share the game, another gift my father gave to me (thanks, Dad, for letting me play Little League baseball in Georgetown back in the 60s and for all those late-night Tiger games in old Tiger stadium – what great memories we have!).

Because no matter how old you are or how much you have seen, sports is still about memory and imagination. Never more than during the baseball summer of ’98, when baseball made everyone feel like a kid again, when it felt important again.

…For one magic season, everybody’s eyes would be full of the sky.

I never thought I would have a better baseball season than the one I had in ’61, not just because of the home runs, but because of what I thought was the best Yankee team I would ever see in my life [The author is also re-living his own experience of watching the 1961 season and Maris breaking Ruth’s record.]. Now I saw more home runs, and a better Yankee team.

It was McGwire and Sosa and Ken Griffey, Jr., at least until McGwire and Sosa pulled away from him the way Maris had pulled away from Mantle once. It was a strikeout pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, a twenty-year-old named Kerry Wood who would strike out 20 batters in a game.

David Wells of the Yankees would pitch a perfect game for the Yankees in May, the first perfect game in Yankee Stadium since Don Larsen in the World Series of 1956.

…You couldn’t make up a season like this.

Sosa would join the home-run chase in June, when he hit 20 home runs in the month, another record in the home-run summer. Now this wasn’t just about an American-born home-run hero like McGwire, but one from the Dominican Republic, too.

…McGwire and Sosa hit. Kerry Wood threw. Cal Ripkin, Jr., finally took a day off, after sixteen years. He was thirty-eight the night he did it. Tony Gwynn was also thirty-eight in the baseball season of ’98, and would have sat down himself because of aching knees and a ruined Achilles tendon, but Gywnn was limping toward one more World Series, his first since he was a baseball kid in 1984.

…You always hope this will be your year [Cubs’ fans know that very well!]. You always hope this year will be better than last year. That has always made old men young in baseball (pp.10-11).

Indeed, what a season that was. But now there’s the summer of ’20. Did I mention the Cubs are 13-3? 🙂

Published in: on August 14, 2020 at 6:35 AM  Leave a Comment  

Stay-at-Home Activities, Like Reading, Etc.!

During this time of CV-19 lock-downs and stay-at-home orders (such as here in Michigan), many websites and blogs are offering practical help regarding activities for families and individuals involving all ages. Let me add my own suggestions, while relying on some of these other ideas.

Of course, you will expect me to say that READING should be at the top of your list! By all means let this be a time when we as grandparents, parents, and children spend “extra” time diving into books and renewing our love for the soothing activity of reading. March is, after all, National Reading Month (Make sure to read some Dr. Seuss to your children – it’s in honor of his birthday)!

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Many physical bookstores that had been open are now closed, but they are open online and offering curbside service and free shipping, including Baker Books, Barnes and Noble (in the Rivertown Mall, Woodland Mall and Holland), and Schuler Books here in Grand Rapids. While the Reformed Book Outlet is closed, their website is also available for orders. The RFPA is also taking online orders. Don’t forget Monergism’s website too for great book ideas and many free ebooks.

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If you are looking for other books ideas online, especially for children, let me recommend Really Good Reads and Redeemed Reader.

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There are a number of great Kindle deals right now, including many classics and free ebooks. One I purchased this week is a wonderful devotional on prayers in the Bible from the pen of pastor Gordon Keddie (his commentaries are ALL worth while!): Prayers of the Bible is available free through today.

I’ve been hearing that puzzles are making a comeback and puzzle makers are doing a booming business. Wonderful – a great personal or family activity! My own wife has her card table set up in front of our large living room window and is currently busy with a 1000-piece one.

Speaking of puzzles – word puzzles, that is – Another fun activity our grandchildren enjoy is the “Scrambled Scriptures” Bible word search from Creation Moments (other good things on their website too!). You can subscribe to receive the weekly edition, or print off any available at the link provided. Give it a try and see what the kids think.

Watching videos and documentaries also has its place. And there are many valuable educational and inspirational things out there.

Ligonier Ministries is offering all their teaching videos free during this time. This is a great way to feed your soul and expand your mind right now – Bible studies, church history, Christian doctrine are all open to you.

Christian History Institute is offering their “RedeemTV” beta version free right now. This includes videos on church history and documentaries on world history.

Other activities online may be found at the National Archives website (a wealth of history, etc. there!) and your local state history website. The Michigan Historical Society website has all kinds of ideas for children.

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Of course, for those of us missing March madness basketball and the start of the MLB baseball season (Cubs!), there are plenty of classic games being broadcast right now. Yes, sports has its place – just keep it in its place (Indeed, I need that reminder too.).

Better yet, get outside and play your own games, take bike rides, and walk. Some of us West Michigan pickleball players got our first 2020 outdoor game in this week. It was only 50 degrees and breezy, but it sure felt great to be out playing! 🙂

Feel free to pass along your own suggestions in the comments section!

*Update: I forgot to share this bookplate I came across in some books I was sorting through this past week.

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Branch Rickey and the Jackie Robinson Story

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This is a January morning in 1943 and Wesley Branch Rickey is standing outside his house at 34 Greenway South in Forest Hills Gardens, Queens, New York City. …Rickey’s face shows eagerness and excitement even after all his years in baseball. He has asked God for help and believes that is exactly what is happening now.

…He waits in cold, fresh air for his ride to downtown Brooklyn, where he runs the Dodgers baseball team. [Yes, that now LA Dodgers team!] While this does not sound so vital, especially in time of war, today he is doing the work of the Lord with all his heart and mind and these large, gnarled hands he waves. He is going to a crucial meeting with the banker who holds the mortgage on the Dodgers baseball team.

Rickey carries with him a Midwestern Christian religious fervor as strong as a wheat crop, and a political faith in anything Republican. Already he is a familiar figure at his new church in Queens, the Church in the Gardens…. On Sundays, Branch Rickey brought with him to church a prayer book and a background of Methodist studies from Ohio Wesleyan University, and sometimes he delivered the sermon. In one, he announced he was here to run the Brooklyn Dodgers and to serve the God to whom they prayed, and the Lord’s work called for him to bring the first black player into major league baseball.

You held the American heart in your hand when you attempted to change anything in baseball. If a black was involved, the cardiograms showed an ice storm.

…In no calling, craft, profession trade, or occupation was color in American accepted. The annals of the purported greats how that everyone was paralyzed with the national disease: color fear.

But here on this street corner stands Branch Rickey, a lone white man with a fierce belief that it is the deepest sin against God to hold color against a person. On this day he means to change baseball and America, too. The National Pastime, the game that teaches sportsmanship to children, must shake with shame, Rickey thought. Until this morning in Forest Hills, there has been no white person willing to take on the issue. That is fine with Rickey. He feels that he is at bat with two outs and a 3-2 pitch coming. He is the last man up, sure he will get a hit.

Taken from the first chapter in the powerful story of this professing Christian and his singular goal to integrate baseball with black players. The book is Branch Rickey: A Life by Jimmy Breslin, and it is my second baseball read this summer (another of those thrift store finds that turns out to be a gem!). The pages quoted here are 5-7.

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Branch Rickey is the one who introduced the great Jackie Robinson to the major leagues, finally breaking a barrier that opened the door for many other great players. Many may forget the Christian background to the story (Robinson was also a professing Christian), but Breslin tells it straight. You may also be interested to know that when he was a player, Rickey himself refused to play on Sunday, keeping a promise to his godly mother. Yet, sadly, he broke it later as a manager.

My Summer 2019 Baseball Read

EHarwell-my-life-2001As you may know by now, each summer I try to read a book with a baseball theme – sometimes history, sometimes humor – but always centered on America’s past time and my favorite summer enjoyment. My last one celebrated the Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series championship! That was a great read and kept alive my memory of that historic victory by the “Cubbies”.

This year I am reading a book that is a collection of baseball stories from the pen of sports journalist and long-time Detroit Tigers baseball radio announcer Ernie Harwell. Found in a local thrift store this winter, the book is a 2001 Detroit Free Press publication and titled, Ernie Harwell: Stories from My Life in Baseball. (Harwell wrote a baseball column for the Detroit Free Press for many years and other of his stories have been published also.)

I grew up listening to him on the radio and have fond memories of his lively broadcasting (For example, after a player was called out on strikes, he would declare, “He stood there like a house by the side of the road!”).

This book contains Harwell’s short stories of baseball players, managers, and events and is written in the same lively and interesting style with which he announced the games. They are fun to read. Allow me to share one with you today involving a famous MLB pitcher who had Michigan roots, longed to play for the Tigers as a child, started with them, but was traded and became famous with another team [He is now a TV announcer for MLB.]. Here you go:

John Smoltz was destined to be a Tiger. His grandfather worked on the Tiger Stadium grounds crews. And as a Lansing [MI] sandlotter, John dreamed of the day when he would pitch for the Tigers.

He signed with Detroit on Sept.22, 1985, and began to pursue that dream. Then came the shock of his baseball life on Au.12, 1987.

‘I was in the dugout at Glen Falls [NY]’, he recalled. Somebody handed me two notes. One said, “Urgent. Call your father.” The other said to call Tiger Stadium.’

John called his dad first.

‘Have you heard?’ his father asked?

‘No, what?’

‘You’ve been traded to Atlanta. I saw it on the news.’

‘I couldn’t believe it, ‘ John said. ‘My dream of pitching for the Tigers was over. I called Tiger Stadium and Dave Miller confirmed the trade. Detroit was swapping me for Doyle Alexander. The Braves wanted me to report immediately to Richmond.’

…Since he was 7, Smoltz had loved the Tigers. He heard all their games on the radio. His dad and brothers would drive from Lansing to see the Tigers. His grandfather would interrupt his grounds crew duty, grab John by the hand, and introduce him to team executives Bill Lajoie and Jim Campbell.

‘Someday,’ his grandfather would say, ‘this young man will be pitching for you guys.’

…He was a Tiger for three years until the Alexander trade. Then he became a star with Atlanta.

But he will never forget Aug.12, 1987, and the trade that changed the career of a young pitcher who had been destined to be a Tiger. [pp.20-22]

Nuggets from Ol’ Dizzy (Dean, that is)

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Last week’s GrammarBook.com entry was a tribute to good baseball, bad English, and the man who embodied them both – Dizzy Dean. As we have officially entered the baseball season, it makes sense to have a post on America’s pastime and still have a grammar lesson – even if the lesson is in what not to say, English-wise. I ain’t kidding either.

So have fun with this little tribute to Ol’ Dizzy – a great pitcher from the past, but a poor grammarian. Here’s one of his classic statements: “I only went to the third grade because my father only went to the fourth and I didn’t want to pass him.”

And did I mention he played for the Chicago Cubs (1938-42), including in the 1938 World Series? (Yes, they lost to the NY Yankees, to keep their winless Series streak alive. But you do remember 2016, right?!)

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Let’s welcome baseball season with this item by our late veteran copy editor and word nerd Tom Stern.

Baseball’s back. I realize a lot of people don’t care. To them, sports fans are knuckle draggers who probably also read comic books while chewing gum with their mouths open.

But baseball isn’t called “the grand old game” for nothing; it’s been a staple of American popular culture since the 19th century. Renowned authors from Ring Lardner to Bernard Malamud to John Updike have sung its praises.

But now let’s talk about Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean—because not many people do anymore. The Hall of Fame pitcher from the Deep South would have been 109 years old this past January. “Ol’ Diz” was a tall, rangy right-hander who was discovered on a Texas sandlot. During the Great Depression, an era of fearsome sluggers and high-scoring games, Dean dominated with an unhittable fastball and unshakable self-confidence. Of his cockiness he once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.”

From 1933 to ’36, Dean put together four spectacular seasons. He won 30 games in 1934, a feat that has been accomplished only once since. Diz was beaned in the ’34 World Series by an infielder’s throw while sliding into second base. A newspaper headline the next day said, “X-ray of Dean’s Head Shows Nothing.”

He went on to become a popular radio and TV sportscaster who visited mayhem upon the language to the delight—sometimes outrage—of his listeners.

The St. Louis Board of Education tried to yank Diz off the air. His response: “Let the teachers teach English and I will teach baseball. There is a lot of people in the United States who say ‘isn’t,’ and they ain’t eating.”

Dean’s calculated simplemindedness led to on-air pronouncements such as: “He nonchalantly walks back to the dugout in disgust” and “Don’t fail to miss tomorrow’s game.” Both sentences are variations on his clueless-rube routine: In the first one, he uses “nonchalantly” in place of “slowly” (the logical choice). Since both can mean “unhurriedly,” he figures they must be interchangeable. In the second, he makes us all dizzy trying to navigate three negatives (“don’t,” “fail,” “miss”)—whereupon we realize he just told us to miss tomorrow’s game!

One of Diz’s most infamous butcheries was, “He slud into third.” Dean vehemently defended “slud” over “slid,” insisting the latter “just ain’t natural…‘Slud’ is something more than ‘slid.’ It means sliding with great effort.”

In his prime, Diz once said, “I know who’s the best pitcher I ever see and it’s old Satchel Paige, that big, lanky colored boy.” And this: “If Satchel and I were pitching on the same team, we would clinch the pennant by July fourth and go fishing until World Series time.” Dean made these statements a decade before African-Americans integrated major-league baseball in 1947. Reading those two quotes, I was heartened by the generosity of spirit peeking out from behind Dean’s shroud of buffoonery.

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Published in: on April 11, 2019 at 10:46 PM  Leave a Comment  

Of Ice Storms, Michigan Skiing, and Things Bookish

While this Friday quickly slips away, we can still get in a “Friday Fun” post, featuring things related to this week’s ice storms in West Michigan, some old skiing pictures in our great state (thanks to MLive), and some great book items from Book Patrol.

First, a few pictures of the fruits of the ice storms that hit us Wednesday and Thursday mornings of this week. Last week the Lord’s snow left a trail of beauty; this week it was His ice. Here are a few pictures from around the seminary property.

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The second item is also winter related. Today MLive news featured some vintage skiing pictures taken in various parts of our state, mostly in the north country, as you might guess. I love these old photos and give a few here. Find more at this news link.

And finally, Book Patrol has been having some great book-related posts lately, including this neat one featuring some new scroll books being published. Check these out at this link (here’s an example):

Wednesday Night Regatta at the Lake

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We (my wife and I) finally took the opportunity to enjoy a summer night out at Lake Michigan in Holland (State Park). And we remembered to go on a Wednesday night – sailboat racing night. So we packed up our chairs, books, goodies, and parked ourselves along the channel to stick our feet in the cool sand, relax, read, and watch the boats.

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It was a great night for the weekly regatta, a long-time summer ritual in Holland on Wednesday nights. The winds were strong and steady, the racing sails shimmered in the sun, the jibs were billowing, and the boats cut through the waves on the big lake like butter.

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And when the boats are done competing and they head for the channel before sunset, the parade is a pleasure to watch.

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Yes, Deane, I do miss sailing. Maybe someday we can have one together again. Until then, I dream. 🙂

Ah, but the Captain Sundaes treat on the way home…. 🙂 🙂

Published in: on August 1, 2018 at 10:51 PM  Comments (4)  

Time for Cubs Baseball! A Tough April So Far

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Now that college basketball season is over, we can turn our attention to American’s great pastime – baseball! Specifically, Chicago Cubs baseball!

After starting the season with away games (Florida, among other places – good idea!), the Cubs returned to Wrigley Field for the first time in the new season this week. Monday was supposed to be their home opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but conditions were not so great, as you can see.

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April baseball in the northern cities can be brutal, but that doesn’t mean the players and fans can’t have fun, as the next two images prove (also taken at Wrigley on Monday.

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But Tuesday, April 10, the Cubs opener went on! But the Bucs (Pirates) spoiled that by winning 8-5. The Cubbies rebounded the next day, winning big, 13-5. On Thursday, the Pirates triumphed again, 6-1, a game played in 70 degree (F) weather. Crazy, I know, but that’s baseball in April.

Today the 2016 World champions (who can forget?!) lost again, this time to the Atlanta Braves 4-0, ending the day with a 6-7 record so far in the young season. We will not lose hope so early in the year; we have great expectations for this team once again. So, on we go.

And in spite of the slow start and poor hitting, we did have a bright spot this week. Young second baseman Javier Baez had two two-homer games, prompting a fine bullpen dance for the first time in 2018. Enjoy the video of the belt and the jig!

Published in: on April 13, 2018 at 10:17 PM  Leave a Comment  

The Cub’s Way: Game 1 of the 2016 World Series

Cubs-way-Verducci-2017Yes, I am reliving last year’s Chicago Cubs’ World Series-winning season. Especially through the summer baseball book I am reading this year: Tom Verducci’s The Cubs Way; The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse (New York: Crown Archetype, 2017).

It has been a great read so far (I’m about halfway through it), and there are so many quotations from the book I would love to share. But I am going to limit myself to the chapters that treat the actual 2016 World Series’ games between the Cleveland Indians (American League champions) and the Cubs.

So we start with Game 1 (Chapter 4), titled “Game 1,” and which focuses especially on the return of injured Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber, who had torn his ACL in only the fourth game of the season. But I quote Verducci toward the end of this chapter, where he sets the stage for the Cubs’ loss against Indians’ ace Corey Kluber (6-0). here are a couple of gems:

So this is how Maddon would begin the World Series for the Cubs, their first World Series game in 71 years: with a rightfielder making only his 19th start at that position all year, his $184 million left-handed-hitting rightfielder benched against a right-handed pitcher, not talking to a pitcher who has a mental block throwing to bases [Jon Lester, the Cubs’ starting pitcher] facing a team that led the American League in stolen bases, and a designated hitter who was seeing major league pitching for the first time in 201 days. What could possibly go wrong? [p.72]

The Cubs has no chance against Kluber. None. He was that good. They lost 6-0.

Three men iced down after the game: Lester, the losing pitcher; Kluber; and Larry Vanover, the home plate umpire who practically strained a right rotator cuff calling strikes [p.73].

But Maddon, ever the upbeat manager, was still optimistic. He knew the Cubs had just faced Cleveland’s best pitcher (they would two more times yet in the series), and Kyle S had had four great at-bats – a walk, a double, and nearly a home run. Though down, things were looking up for the Cubs. Game 2 next time!

Published in: on August 11, 2017 at 7:31 AM  Leave a Comment  

Friday Fun: Cubs-Diamondbacks’ bullpen antics during rain-delays

On this rainy Friday here in West Michigan, my thoughts turn to the rain delays at Wrigley Field in Chicago yesterday, when this cool front started to make its way through the area.

In another classic display of bullpen entertainment, the Cubs pitchers challenged the Arizona Diamondbacks to some friendly competition. And what you are about to see is the result.

Great, fun baseball stuff. Even if the Cubs lost. No wonder they are the lovable winners! 🙂

Need a good laugh on this cool, gloomy Friday afternoon? Cheer up with these images and video. Yes, by all means, watch the video found at the link below.

Here’s part of the description as found on the MLB.com website:

The D-backs beat the Cubs, 10-8, on Thursday in a game that featured three rain delays (Paul Goldschmidt homered after EACH one). Although much action happened on the field, perhaps the most important action occurred during the second stoppage in play in the Wrigley Field bullpens.

Source: Antics amaze in D-backs-Cubs delays | MLB.com

Published in: on August 4, 2017 at 3:59 PM  Leave a Comment