ALMS FOR THE RED SOX – GARRY ARMSTRONG

If you are a real baseball fan, you live and die with your team’s success and failure. It’s all about winning, not how you play the game.

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I’ve been passionate about baseball for more than 65 years of my life. The pre baseball years were devoted to kid stuff like cowboys and Indians. I’ve rooted for three teams in my life. The Brooklyn Dodgers, Casey’s original Amazin’ New York Mets, and the Boston Red Sox.

Agony and ecstasy have marked my love for these teams. All were perennial long-time losers, demonizing generations of their followers. Victory as in winning the World Series was the sweetest wine ever tasted.

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When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, their first title since the end of World War One, peace was bestowed on generations in the Red Sox Nation. The Bosox have since won two more World Series, totaling three in nine years. Success is now expected by the pilgrims who discovered baseball after 2000 and (current) new Sox ownership.

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Great expectations easily breed discontent. In the Red Sox Nation, the grapes of wrath are growing because of the team’s mediocre pitching, despite off-season trades and free-agent signings to bolster the offense.

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The suits who run Fenway’s boys of summer club refuse to deal for quality pitching. They claim to be satisfied with the mediocrity of the current staff, saying the arms will improve with time. One of the pitchers is already on the disabled list with a “tired arm”, six weeks into the season and with an ERA over five.

The suits say it’s still early. They don’t want to deal or spend foolishly.

Marilyn and I recently made our pilgrimage to Boston’s cathedral of baseball. The Sox were playing out-of-town, so we could move around easily, observing the salutes to past teams.

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You could hear murmurs about the current Sox and their woeful pitching. What to do?

Marilyn decided to help boost the team’s financial coffers and bought a nifty hat. It was a bargain! Only 3 times what you would pay at your favorite department store not named the “Red Sox Team Store.” Marilyn should get a lot of use out of her hat. Its brim has more snap to it than most of the curve balls thrown by the Red Sox starters.

It’s a long season. Maybe Marilyn’s purchase will be the alms that bring quality arms to our beloved team.

Maybe. Not.

THE GIANT CITGO SIGN

Guest Challenge: Symbolism

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It is a peculiar, beloved symbol. Familiar to anyone who follows baseball or who lives in or near Boston.

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The CITGO Sign in Boston’s Kenmore Square

The iconic CITGO sign has been a part of the Boston skyline since 1940. Located at 660 Beacon Street, on what was once a Cities Service divisional office, the sign originally featured the Cities Service logo, but was replaced with the famous CITGO “trimark” of today when the CITGO brand was created for the marketing division of Cities Service in 1965.

Efforts to remove the sign in the early 1980s faced fierce opposition and led CITGO to restore the sign, with groups even fighting to declare the sign a landmark. The CITGO Sign is held in particular high regard by Boston sports fans. Red Sox sluggers are enticed by the so-called “C-IT-GO” sign as they blast home runs over the left-field wall, and runners in the grueling Boston Marathon welcome its sight as the 20th mile mark. Its pulsing flash in the night sky has even been used by mothers-to-be at nearby Beth Israel to time their contractions.

It’s no secret that the CITGO Sign in Boston’s Kenmore Square is beloved by people across the country and around the world. Not only has it become a major image of the city of Boston, featured in postcards and tourist brochures, but the sign was deemed an “Objet d’Heart” by Time Magazine, was photographed by Life Magazine and featured in the New York Times. It has even become a source of inspiration for artists, musicians and filmmakers from around the world.

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It is an important piece in trying to navigate Boston. If you can see the Citgo sign, you know you’ve found Kenmore Square. And Fenway Park. As soon as it it comes into view, you are not lost.

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If, perchance, you’re on your way to see the Red Sox, you’re home.

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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.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

AT THE OLD BALLGAME – RICH PASCHALL

Harold takes a road trip, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Friday was “Fun Day,” or at least that is the way Harold saw it.  It was a day given over to sports.  Harold read all the sports he could in the morning paper.  Watched some on television.  He even made time for high school or college games in the area.  In the late spring and early summer, there was minor league baseball to be seen.  Every Friday could have an appropriate sports theme.

On one particularly nice Friday in the baseball season, Harold decided to drive all the way to St. Petersburg to catch a major league baseball game.  It’s not that the Tampa Bay Rays, who did not play in Tampa, were an exciting team, but the visiting team was making a rare appearance.  Actually, it was Harold’s favorite Midwest team.  The Chicago Cubs and the Rays were having an interleague game and Harold thought that was just about the only reason to drive over an hour to get to a baseball game.

The details of this road trip were laid out in Harold’s computer-like mind the night before.  He knew exactly what to take, when to leave and how long to stay at the park.  It would be a treat to see the park, as Harold had absolutely no reason to make the trip before this.  It would be years before the Cubs would come that way again, so they certainly had to be on Harold’s schedule as well as the Rays’.

St. Petersburg, Florida

St. Petersburg, Florida

Neither team was very good.  In fact the Cubs were in last place and the Rays were not in the running for anything.  The Chicago organization called it a “rebuilding” year, but most years were rebuilding years for the Cubs.

It had been that way since 1908.  Still, Harold had an unexplainable affection for the team so he decided to take the trip. When the appointed hour came, according to his expert calculations, he was off.

He arrived at the parking facility more or less on time and spied the ticket office right away.  There were not a lot of cars as the team needed a winning season to fill the lot, so Harold got a spot close to the ticket windows.  He put up the sunshield in the front window and then added another for the back.

It didn’t matter. The car would be hot when he returned, sunshield or not.  With plenty of time before game time, Harold took a leisurely stroll to purchase his tickets.  He only had to wait behind one person when he heard someone call out.

“Harold?  Harold, is that you?”  It was George, a former colleague from work and his wife Martha.  Whenever he heard their names together it reminded his of a movie or show, but he could not remember which one.

It was not important to him.  George, like many Cub fans, would travel almost anywhere to see the boys in blue play.  Older Cub fans with time on their hands frequently made vacation plans to include a Cubs’ road game.

“Hello, George, Martha,” Harold said, not at all certain he was glad to see them.  “What brings you down here this time of year?  People normally visit in the winter.”  At that, it was Harold’s turn at the ticket window.

Ballgame seating

Ballgame seating

“I need just one ticket,” Harold declared.  “I don’t want one of those 281 dollar tickets.  I think a 66 dollar ticket is quite enough.”  Actually Harold thought that was too much but he figured it would be a rare treat.  When he collected his ticket, Harold turned around and said to the couple, “Well, it was nice to see you again.”

But when George got to the window, he had other ideas.  He said to the person selling tickets, “Can you get us two tickets right next to that last guy?”

“Sure,” she replied and sold him the next two seats.  Harold would be on the aisle and the couple from the north would be right next to him.

“Hey Harold, wait up,” George shouted and the couple hurried along to catch up with the master planner.  The problem is, George and Martha were not in the plan.  They all went into the park together and Harold and George had to stand around for fifteen minutes while Martha went to the women’s washroom.

When they got to their seats, the National Anthem was being played.  George decided to sit next to Harold for half the game in order to tell him everything that happened since Harold had retired.  Martha took the second half to update George on local gossip, most of it having to do with people Harold could not remember — or possibly never knew.

Harold’s seat on the aisle did not prove to be so ideal, since vendors and fans frequently went by, obstructing his view.  Beer vendors were particularly annoying because when they stopped in front of Harold, they were usually there for too long.

The game moved along slowly. The Cubs fell behind early due to errors and poor relief pitching.  It did not look major league.  At precisely three hours after the start of the game,  the alarm on Harold’s watch went off. He announced to the now somewhat tipsy couple, it was time to go.

“Go?” George shouted in horror.  “It is only the bottom of the eighth.  The Cubs could have a rally.  See, I have my rally cap.”  At that George took off his cap, turned it inside out, and put it back on his head.

“But I have somewhere to go … and the game has run long.”

Martha protested, “You’re retired.  Where do you have to go?  Sit down and watch the Cubs come back.”  The couple put up such a fuss that Harold sat back down just to put an end to the scene.  Rays fans around them were shouting at them to sit down.  It was embarrassing to the usually quiet Midwesterner.

The Cubs went three up, three down in the ninth, as might be expected from such a team.  The threesome filed out with all the others.  When Harold got to his hot car, the traffic was building. The trip through the lot and onto the roadway was slow and painful to Harold.  The Cubs had played as expected, but the day had not gone as Harold had planned it. Harold, master planner of retirement time, had been defeated again.