SUNSHINE, SPRING TRAINING AND SURVIVAL

The missing Harold mystery, Rich Paschall

George and his ever talkative wife Martha had just about enough of the Midwest winter. They were tired of snow,  tired of cold. At close-to-retirement age, they were just plain tired. When another cold night forced them to stay at home rather than visit a favorite neighborhood stop, they realized there was only one thing which could pull them through to warmer weather. Baseball! Right then and there, they began to talk about a trip to sunny Florida for a round of spring training games.

A year before, they had traveled to Florida on a rare road trip to see the Chicago Cubs play. The Cubs lost, of course, but they deemed the trip a success. They had visited a ball park other than Wrigley Field, spent a day at the beach, and wandered through town to do some typical tourist shopping. They had some very hot days, but did not suffer the kind of stifling humidity Lake Michigan can serve up in July. Now, in March, they were ready to go south again.

Always sunny Florida?

Always sunny Florida?

George sat down with spring schedules to see what teams would be playing, so that he could  find the best matches for the days they could go to Florida. Martha researched the ball parks themselves and the surrounding night spots on the internet. When they had chosen a few games they might like to see, they looked at hotels, air fares and rental cars. After a full night of debate and delay, they made their choices.

They would return to the familiar spots of St. Petersburg. From there they could go to Tampa to see the Yankees, then down to Bradenton to catch the Pirates and from there to Sarasota to see the Orioles.

Unlike the famous George and Martha of Broadway play and movie fame, this couple rarely had arguments. In fact, they were in agreement on just about anything that meant parties and good times. When almost all of their arrangements were in place, and they were congratulating themselves on another “road trip extraordinaire”, Martha had one more good idea. Of course, the good idea may have been fueled by the German beer she had been drinking all night, but it was an interesting idea, nonetheless.

“Why don’t we call old Harold for the game in Bradenton or Sarasota?” Martha blurted out as if her head had been hit by a rock and she was stunned silly.

“Harold!” George shouted with glee. “That’s a wonderful idea. The old boy probably needs a road trip anyway. Let’s give lucky old Harold a call.”

While Martha dutifully looked for Harold’s phone number, George wondered why the little tapper of Dortmunder beer had run dry. “I am headed to the basement, ” George called out. “I have to find another one of these big cans of beer. You killed the last one.”

“I did no such thing, George,” Martha lied.

When the twosome finally met back at the kitchen table, each was carrying the object of their search. “Well dial the phone and hand it over, old woman,” George said with a laugh.

“I am not as old as you, wise guy,” Martha said as she handed over the phone. Both began to giggle and laugh like school kids up to no good. The phone rang away as the couple talked on until George finally realized there must have been at least 20 rings. He hung up.

“I can not imagine that Harold is not home at this hour. He was never out late.” It was true, of course. In all his life Harold was rarely out at night, and since he retired and moved to Florida, he was always home by dark.

“He’s probably sleeping, you nit wit,” Martha declared. “Let’s give him another try tomorrow.” And so they did. In fact, they called for several days in a row and at different times of day, but Harold never answered. When the day of the trip arrived, Harold was not part of the plan.

Undeterred by their lack of success at lining up Harold for a game, they resolved to try him again once they landed at the Florida airport. They departed from Chicago’s Midway airport. Unbelievably, it was once the busiest airport in the country, but that was before the jet age. Now the crowded airport just seemed like the busiest airport. St. Petersburg airport, on the other hand, was in stark contrast, even for spring training. The crowd was small and the rental car line was short. The couple got their car, got to their hotel, and got on the phone. Still, there was no Harold.

“I hope the old guy is OK,” Martha said, finally voicing more than a bit of concern.

“Sure, Harold is just fine,” George insisted. “He is probably at some nice restaurant right now being fussed over by some cute waitresses. Don’t worry.”

At that very moment Harold was being fussed over by some weary nurses at the Intensive Care Unit of the county hospital. This trip, the retired planner from the Midwest was going to miss the endlessly talkative George and Martha.

Note:  The next Harold story appears in 3 short weeks.

WHAT A GAME!

Brady-Brady-Brady

I’m sure that those who hate the Patriots will find a way to “prove” that they cheated. But really, if Seattle hadn’t made that bad play, we’d have lost. We were losing. Seattle, we couldn’t have done it without your help! You got a lot of ‘splainin’ to do when you get home!

As for Brady, it’s good to be the king.

Much ado about nothing: deflategate my ass

If the balls were under-inflated, they were under-inflated for both team. Whatever advantage there was to be had was equally available to both teams. There is a deep level of illogic to this whole thing. It isn’t about football. It’s about hating whichever team seems to be winning a disproportionate number of games.

They can’t just be a better team. There has to be some subversive thing going on, a conspiracy. Cheating. Something. Because there’s no such thing as actually having a better team, right? Since the beginning of this whole “non-event event,” all I keep thinking is this is a massive display of sour grapes and poor sportsmanship. But hey, what do I know, right? So here’s another voice!

AT THE SUPERBOWL – THE ISRAELI QUARTERBACK

Happy Superbowl Sunday!

2011-02-08-superbowl

THE ISRAELI QUARTERBACK

The coach had put together the perfect team for the Chicago Bears. The only thing missing was a great quarterback. He had scouted all the colleges — even the Canadian and European Leagues, but he couldn’t anyone with an arm who could guarantee a Super Bowl win.

One night while watching FOX News, he saw a war-zone scene in the West Bank . In a corner of the background, he spotted a young Israeli soldier with a truly incredible arm. He threw a hand-grenade straight into a 15th story window 100 yards away.

KABOOM!

He threw another hand-grenade 75 yards, right into a chimney.

KA-BLOOEY!

Then he threw another at a passing car going 90 mph.

BULLS-EYE!

“I’ve got to get this guy!” Coach said to himself. “He has the perfect arm!”

He goes to Israel and after much searching and negotiating, brings the Israeli to the USA where he trains him in the great game of football. And the Chicago Bears go on to win the Super Bowl!!! The young man is hailed as the greatest hero of football. It’s a miracle! When the coach asks him what he wants, all the young man wants is to call his mother.

“Mom,” he says into the phone, “We won the Super Bowl. I’m a hero!!”

“I don’t want to talk to you,” the woman says.”You are not my son!”

“You don’t understand, Mom,” the young man pleads. “I’ve led the team to victory in the greatest sporting event in the world. I’m here among thousands of adoring fans.”

“No! Let me tell you!” his mother shouts into the phone. “At this very moment, there are gunshots all around us. The neighborhood is a pile of rubble. Your two brothers were beaten within an inch of their lives last week and I have to keep your sister in the house so she doesn’t get raped!” The old lady pauses, and says, tears choking her voice …

“I will never forgive you for making us move to Chicago!”

LET’S PLAY TWO: REMEMBERING ERNIE BANKS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was “off the grid” the last couple of days fighting a nasty cold that won’t say uncle. So I missed the news. Very sad news if you’re a baseball fan from the days when the grass was really green and there were only 16 teams in the Major Leagues.

Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub aka Mr. Baseball, the REAL Mr. Baseball, passed away.

banks-vintage

Banks was 83. To his final days, he was an ambassador for baseball wherever he went. “Let’s play two,” was Ernie’s famous life long catch phrase. He meant it. He played baseball when a doubleheader was a normal, regularly scheduled event in “the bigs.”

Ernie Banks wore uniform number 14. He was the face of the Chicago Cubs for 19 years. But he was that rare star who was appreciated WHEREVER he played. Banks was a lanky, power hitting shortstop decades before Cal Ripken was credited for redefining that position. As an avid Brooklyn Dodgers’ fan, I appreciated the Cubs’ “gold-dust twins”. Ernie Banks at shortstop and Gene Baker at second base.

Most eyes were on Jackie Robinson in the early 50’s as baseball continued to grapple with integration. Quietly, with minimal fanfare, Ernie Banks was also leading the way while enduring racial epithets in many cities. He smiled while Jackie often raged. Some in the Civil Rights movement suggested Banks was an “Uncle Tom” because he wasn’t more outspoken. But there was nothing timid about Mr. Banks.

“I let my bat, glove and resolve do the talking,” Ernie Banks told me in a 1962 interview. We talked in the visitor’s dugout of the old Polo Grounds, the initial home of the fledgling New York Mets baseball team. Banks’ eyes scanned the ancient ball park, remembering his early days along with that of Robinson, young Willie Mays and others who broke baseball’s color line.

Ernie Banks told me the racial strife and discord took a back seat to his love for baseball and the opportunity to play in the major leagues. He smiled when reminded of the joke that he loved baseball so much that he would play for food and board. The smile rendered that joke obsolete for me.

Ernie Banks compiled 512 home runs in an era when pitchers were dominant. He was an 11 time all-star, inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility and presented with the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2013.

Banks Ernie Plaque 142_NBL_0I still remember Banks’ sparkling eyes as we sat in the Polo Grounds dugout and chatted about baseball and all the legends who’d played there for generations. I recall smiling to myself, thinking I was sitting next to a legend.

It’s nice to remember Mr. Baseball in this off-season when most of the chatter is about mega salaries and long-term contracts. It’s also appropriate as the Chicago Cubs seem to be on the verge of being relevant again. Cubbies — really ALL baseball fans — should celebrate the legacy of Ernie Banks. He shined during many frustrating seasons at Wrigley Field.

Let’s play two!

Ernie-Banks-medal-Obama

RAMBLINGS OF A SLEEP DEPRIVED RED SOX FAN

Not being able to sleep is a serious bummer. In my case, it’s my back. I can’t find a comfortable position and the drugs that are supposed to make me sleep are not nearly as strong as the back pain. It’s not that I don’t sleep at all. I sleep a little. Restless, light sleep and then I’m up again. Waking and sleeping and waking again. As I said: Bummer.

Sunrise

It gives me a lot of time to think during those long, uncomfortable nights. I think about what I should do that I haven’t done. I really get myself going by thinking about what I did do that I shouldn’t have done. Best of all, there is what I should have done differently. In that direction lies true madness and I don’t recommend it.

Eventually, I crawl out of bed, get sort of dressed. I turn on the coffee, throw the dogs out into the cruel world to do their business, then settle into the recliner in the living room. Blearily drinking coffee as the sun sort of rises. It’s been grey and dark for the past three days, so it never really feels like daytime has come and sunrise is just a slightly lighter color grey than night.

Right before bed last night, Garry and I were having a conversation. It was a reminder of why I love that man. We were talking about baseball. For those of you who aren’t fans and don’t follow this stuff, the “winter meetings” are in progress. This is when teams dig into their pockets, pull out their checkbooks, and negotiate with players.  Whatever the holes in their lineups — pitching, hitting, fielding — they are going to try to sign players to fill the roster for the coming year. Hopefully, for a lot longer than just one season.

fenway_480x200

The Red Sox, our home team, traded away pretty much the entire pitching staff at the end of last season in favor of a bunch of sluggers. Not that it helped much because we still managed to get a firm grip on last place and hold it to the bitter end.

So, no one is arguing they didn’t need the offensive players, but perhaps they might have shown a bit more restraint in cutting loose people like Jon Lester, who clearly didn’t want to be traded and is the el primo pitcher in baseball. This week, as the meetings continue, they are trying — balls to the wall — to get him to come back to Boston — and he isn’t playing nice. No home town discounts this round of talks.

I said “They over-estimated their ability to sweet-talk him back to Boston.”

Garry said “They over-estimated their clout at the winter meetings.”

I said “They under-estimated how pissed off he was at getting traded.

And Garry summed it up. “Hubris,” he said. “Hubris. Gets them every time.”

Hubris: (noun) Excessive pride or self-confidence. Synonyms: arrogance, conceit, haughtiness, hauteur, pride, self-importance, egotism, pomposity, superciliousness, superiority; more. Antonyms: humility
(In Greek tragedy) Excessive pride toward, or defiance of, the gods, leading to nemesis.

“Hubris,” I agreed. “That covers the whole thing.” After which we stumbled off to bed.

But in how many husband-wife discussions does “hubris” figure? Not a lot, in my experience. That we can have conversations like this and not have to say “Come again?” or “What do you mean by that?” makes a world of difference, to me at least.

Better yet, it was all about baseball. They should have held on to Lester. Especially in view of the fact that Lester just signed with the Chicago Cubs for 6 years at $155,000,000 with a 7th vesting year that could take the contract up to $170,000,000.

Theo Epstein, who left the Red Sox with a mad on because they didn’t treat him well — and Lester, who was unceremoniously traded by the Red Sox against his wishes and thus also departed with a mad on, got together to jointly stick it to the Red Sox. I’m sure they are both smiling. Chicago has reason to celebrate while Boston scrambles to find a couple of top-quality pitchers. Good luck with that.

Hubris, hubris, hubris.


(Note: In case the Daily Prompt gets their act together this is part of today’s dysfunctional prompt: All or Nothing? – “Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously close to wanting nothing.” — Sylvia Plath

The Red Sox wanted everything. I hope they don’t end up with nothing.

LIFE’S GRAND SLAM – A WALK-OFF HOME RUN

Grand Slam

The World Series starts tonight! In your own life, what would be the equivalent of a walk-off home run? (For the baseball-averse, that’s a last-minute, back-against-the-wall play that guarantees a dramatic victory.)


We are baseball fans, so when you mention baseball and walk-off home run in one breath, David Ortiz rises before my eyes. I know the Sox aren’t in it this year, but it’s been an interesting baseball season with last year’s first place Sox become this year’s solidly last place Sox. How did they do that? How do you take a winning team and become the biggest losers in just one year? Without major lineup changes or something weird happening with the owners? I don’t get it.

Go Royals.

Back to earth. At this point, my walk-off home run would be a multi-faceted project involved a magic remedy to alleviate arthritis, regenerate missing body parts and internal organs, and winning a big payout on a lottery ticket which I suppose I’d to actually buy, something I keep forgetting do. I used to buy tickets, but during the past year, I never seem to have cash when I am someplace that sells tickets.

nationals in DC baseball

These days, I’d be a happy camper if I could get a night’s sleep and wake free from pain. One day a week. To have the calcification of my spine stop getting worse, even if it won’t get better. To have enough money to buy an all-wheel drive vehicle to get me out of the driveway when it snows.

Mind you, I’m not unhappy. Despite everything, I find life engaging, entertaining, amusing, satisfying. Fun. I’ve had to find new things to enjoy, but everyone has to adapt. We change, the world changes. Unless you want to be one of the people who sits around griping about the “good old days” and how nothing is as like it used to be, we all have to find new stuff to enjoy and new ways to do it. It merely takes some determination … and creativity.