BASEBALL, BRANDING, AND AMERICA’S PASTIME

Petco Statium – Photo: Phil Konstantin

“It’s an exciting afternoon here at Petco,” the announcer says. The Padres are playing the Mets. At Petco Park. The mental image this formed in my head were utterly un-baseball, totally non-sporting. The whole branding thing is out of control.

I looked up from the computer, wondering if we needed more dog food and biscuits. We’re forever running short.

But next, the announcer points out the pitcher has been, so far, throwing a no-hitter. Never, in Padre history has any pitcher thrown a no-hitter, so this should have been riveting baseball. Except the announcers couldn’t seem to focus on the game and instead, were busy talking all kinds of nonsense and showing clips of everything except the game in progress. Ultimately, I suppose it didn’t matter since the pitcher gave up three hits in the seventh, but they could have at least given the kid his time in the sun.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Finally they pointed out that the right-hander “… has a great, boring fastball.”

This made me wonder if they should be playing any kind of game at Petco, especially if the guy’s fastball is boring. I understand they are saying something technical about the pitch. Nonetheless, words matter. Boring has multiple meanings, the most common of which is “dull.”

So how boring was that fastball?

Does Petco Park sound like a dog park to you? It certainly sounds like one to me.

Someone once told me I’m “branding” my photographs by signing them. No, I’m not. I sign my art because I’m proud of it.

Branding would be if I sold my blog to Costco, after which this was no longer Serendipity, but Costco Web Thoughts — but I still did the writing and photography while they paid to put their corporate name on my work. That’s branding.

Garry points out the Padres not only have a crappy team and awful branding — Petco really doesn’t work as a stadium name — but they wear ugly uniforms. From Garry, that is condemnation.

Whatever else is wrong with the Red Sox, at least they have not turned Fenway into Burger King Stadium or Walmart Watcharama. To the best of my knowledge, our pitchers throw highly entertaining fastballs.

ME AND “THE NATURAL” (1984) – GARRY ARMSTRONG

“God, I LOVE baseball.”

It’s a line that comes up near the end of Robert Redford’s 1984 film, “The Natural.” Redford’s “Roy Hobbs” character is reflecting on the odd turns his life has taken, but he is still playing baseball, still chasing his dream. It’s a wistful, melancholy reflection because the protagonist has lost many productive years because of a bizarre and almost fatal incident.

As many of you know, I’m a life-long baseball fan with roots dating back to the late 1940’s and the Boys of Summer, the Brooklyn Dodgers.

I’ve always loved baseball!  It’s had an almost hypnotic grip on me. I fantasize about baseball the way some men day-dream about a tryst with a beautiful woman. There are only a handful of really good baseball movies. Hollywood, for some reason, hasn’t been able to get a grip on baseball. The short list of good baseball movies includes “The Natural”, “Bull Durham”, “Field of Dreams”, “Major League” (The original), “42”, “Cobb”, “A League of Their Own” and one or two I’ve forgotten.

“The Natural” and “Field of Dreams” top my list.  Some baseball purists, including a couple of Boston sports writers I know, claim those films are too hokey and sentimental. I disagree. Both films carry the lyricism of baseball. They are “print the legend” movies about America’s national pastime. Pro football is great but baseball is special, part of the fabric of our American dream.

My favorite memories, then and now, are of baseball games played during hot summer afternoons. They are languid, not long. Each at bat is drama unto itself. What will the pitcher throw? Can the batter hit the 100 mph fastball? It’s really a chess match between two teams, managers trying to out-scheme each other. I still stand and gasp when great defensive plays are made. This year’s Boston Red Sox have several gifted young players. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogerts, Jackie Bradley, Jr, and Andrew Benentendi are capable of highlight reel plays in the blur of a second. It’s a joy to watch them play.

Field of Dreams – the Ghostfield

The long-maligned Chicago Cubs were the talk of the Nation last year when they won their first World Series in over a century. Everyone felt good for the Cubbies and their fans. It didn’t really matter that your team was on the outside looking in. Real baseball fans have a special bond. Our political leaders might take note.

The New York Yankees have their own core of talented young players.  Mother of mercy, did I just say that?  Never in the wide, wide world of sports did I think I’d watch and appreciate the dreaded Yankees. Applaud “The Pinstripes”?  Family and old friends would gasp in disbelief. The “Baby Bombers” include Aaron Judge, a giant of a young slugger who is setting the baseball world on its ear. Judge, 6’7″ or 6′ 8″ is a muscled Paul Bunyon who appears on the verge of becoming a legend as a rookie. He’s already surpassed Joe DiMaggio’s record for home runs by a rookie and we’re just past the midway mark of the season.  Aaron Judge has the looks and personality of one of those old “Wheaties” Breakfast of Champions heroes. I tune into Yankee games just to catch Judge at bat. His home runs are routinely Ruthian.  You have to be a genuine baseball fan to appreciate Aaron Judge in a Yankee uniform. He appears to be (so far) this generation’s new superstar without the baggage of arrogance or rumors of drugs.

The new generation of Yankees and Red Sox promises to fire up their long rivalry, hopefully with appreciation rather than spiteful dislike.

The Yanks visit Fenway Park in a few days for a four-game series. It promises to be exciting and fun for all. It certainly will get me away from our national political angst.

All of which brings me back to “The Natural.” I’m 75 and still have boyish dreams. Yes, some are X-rated. Men are pigs. No argument. However, most of my dreams are about baseball. I’m Roy Hobbs who is a composite of Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and (for me), Duke Snider.

Robert Redford admits he copied Ted Williams’ batting stance, even his uniform number 9. Redford’s grace on the base paths and in the outfield remind me of my hero, Duke Snider. There’s a sense of grace to his movements, even the way he swings his shoulders as he runs. I shamelessly copied those movements when I played baseball as a not-very-gifted youth and adult.

If I could have one genie wish, it would be to morph as Roy Hobbs in his prime. I think now, more than ever, America needs Roy Hobbs to hit a walk off home run and send us home with unbounded happiness.

DOES EVERY SPORT HAVE ONE? – RICH PASCHALL

The Openly Gay Athlete, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

If you have read any stories about gay athletes in professional sports you would certainly know about it.  That’s because no matter how often it has been stated, any article that mentions a gay athlete will state that he is “gay” or even “openly gay,” as if telling you he is gay is not enough.  I guess if you tell the press you are gay, then you are pretty open about it, and you certainly can’t take it back.  Reporters follow around openly gay athletes just for the purpose of asking them what it is like to be openly gay and play ______ (fill in the sport here).  I wish just once the athlete would respond that it is the same as being “openly heterosexual.”

Perhaps they should ask the reporter what it is like to be “openly heterosexual” and asking the same stupid questions.  Of course, that would be stereotyping sports reporters as straight and we certainly do not want to jump to conclusions.  Maybe someday we will have an openly gay sports reporter, but I digress.

You can point to many sports and talk about the one gay athlete, and it is usually just one brave person who has spoken up.  Michael Sam created such a stir when he was drafted by the St. Louis Rams that an ESPN sports reporter actually reported on his shower habits in the preseason. Seriously, “google” it. It must still be in cyberspace. ESPN later apologized.

Jason Collins was the first openly gay basketball player in the NBA causing big “sports” news, and Brittney Griner is a lesbian professional basketball player.  Griner married another WNBA player in 2015.  All of this means these players will from now on be referred to as that “openly gay player.”

If people think these players are among the first gay players in the sport, they can think again.  Hall of Fame basketball player and current television analyst Charles Barkley was asked by sports host Dan Patrick if he ever played with a gay player and got this surprising response, “Yeah, of course I did. Everybody did. Everybody played with a gay teammate, Dan, and it’s no big deal.”  Maybe it is no big deal to most teammates but it sure seems to be a big deal to reporters.

Soccer has Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy.  Boxing has featherweight Orlando Cruz.  Professional wrestling has Darren Young but I always consider that as acting rather than a sport, and there are plenty of gays in acting. Ice skater Johnny Weir came out in 2011 after indicating for a long time that his sex life was a private matter.  In his case, no one was surprised when he came out.  He has since retired from the sport.

Some well-known athletes in other countries have come out and have not faced the constant barrage of gay questions.  Twenty two year old British diver Tom Daley, well-known to the British public most of his young life, famously came out at the age of 19.  While it caused a bit of stir at first, that a national diving champion came out on You Tube, the press seems to have moved on after a short period of curiosity.  Here they would have hounded the poor boy constantly.

Despite the media circus surrounding gay athletes, the major sports seem to want to prove that they are inclusive and welcoming to gay athletes.  Of course, it is hard to do that when athletes are reluctant to come forward. If everyone has had gay teammates as Charles Barkley suggests, then there must be many who are afraid to say anything, and work to keep their private life completely private.  Such was the case for professional baseball player, Billy Bean.

Major League Baseball, despite its long history, has only had two former players publicly state they are gay.  One was Glenn Burke who died in 1995 and the other is Billy Bean, now 53.  Bean regrets walking away from baseball after a couple of years with the Tigers and Dodgers, a year in Japan, and some time with the Padres, but he was tired of hiding who he was.  It wore him down as he explained in his book, Going the Other Way: Lessons from a Life In and Out of Major League Baseball.  He had no idea how to reach out for help dealing with his secret while he was a player.  He also had no idea that major league baseball would one day reach out to him.

In June of 2014 MLB summoned Bean to a meeting in New York City to ask him about his experiences and to talk about baseball.  Bean went and talked for hours as detailed by sports writer Ken Rosenthal in his FOX Sports column, How Billy Came Back to Baseball.  The sport that had trouble welcoming Jackie Robinson and other black players did not want to be seen as the sport afraid to welcome gay players, so they reached out to Bean.  Billy had, after all, written a book on his experiences and what he learned from them, and was also a speaker to LGBT groups.  In fact, Billy was speaking at a LGBT Sports Summit in Portland, Oregon when he got the call from Major League Baseball.

When Bean learned they had a role for him in baseball he did not seem to immediately embrace the idea.  “I’m not going to be your token gay person that you’re just going to put on a podium,” he kept telling them.  They got it.  Bean said if he had someone to reach out to when he was playing, he might not have quit.  So now, Bean will be that person.  He will be the Ambassador for Inclusion.  To honor the league’s workplace code of conduct, to provide education and outreach, to speak and to listen, Billy Bean will be there because no one was there for him.  If you ask him now, he will probably tell you “It Gets Better.

List of LGBT Sports people, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

JIMMY, CASEY, AND THE DUKE – THOSE AMAZIN’ METS! – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was swapping old baseball anecdotes with friends on Facebook after Marilyn and I re-watched Ken Burns’ classic “Baseball” series recently. It began with memories of 1963, one year after the introduction of the New York Metropolitans into the National League.

The Mets were designed to lure back fans disenchanted by the flight of Brooklyn’s Dodgers and New York’s Giants to the west coast a few years earlier. It was also a great business opportunity to reclaim some of the money that overflowed the coffers at Yankee Stadium. The once three baseball team Gotham was now dominated by the Bronx Bombers.

1963-mets-rosterThe Mets began as a circus with aging baseball legend, Casey Stengel, as ring master and manager. George Weiss, ousted from the Yankees front office when Casey was dumped for being old and losing the 1960 World Series, was the Mets first General Manager. The old Polo Grounds, once home to John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, a young Willie Mays and a host of other legendary Giants, was now home for the Mets. You could smell the history. Sometimes you had to hold your nose.

It was a good year to be 20 years old and a budding reporter with a life long love for baseball. The national stage was being set by JFK and his new frontier. “Gunsmoke” was topping the TV ratings and Elvis was king of the pop world.

Now came the Mets! They had problems hitting, throwing and catching the ball. Otherwise, they were fine. There were instant heroes like “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry, the error prone first baseman who had a minus fielding range. “Choo Choo” Coleman was a pleasant catcher who had problems with pitchers who couldn’t throw strikes. Elio Chacon was a flashy shortstop who did tangos as ground balls went through and around him. Roger Craig was a veteran starter whose fast ball was behind him … by several years … back in the ghost of Ebbets Field.

Opposing teams feasted on the new Mets. Baseball games were like batting practice for the other guys. Their batting averages soared and their earned run averages dropped against Casey’s Amazin’ Mets who lost and lost and lost.

Management decided to hype the circus atmosphere of the Mets by bringing in aging stars who normally would’ve retired. The over-the-hill retinue would include Richie Ashburn, Jimmy Piersall and Duke Snider. Even the legendary Willie Mays would show up a decade later in the dark autumn of his career. But it was storybook time for a young reporter in that summer of ’62.

Casey Stengel was wrapping up a 10 minute, one question interview that I’d forgotten as we shook hands. The Ol’ Perfesser tapped me on the cheek and pointed to Duke Snider as my next interview. I froze!! My boyhood hero, the Duke of Flatbush, was standing a few feet away from me.

You have to appreciate the moment and its back story. Growing up in the city of three baseball teams was a very special time. The time of three great, Hall of Fame centerfielders. Willie, Mickey and the Duke. There were myriad brawls over who was the best. There was even a song about the three heroes.

Duke Snider

Duke Snider

Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider was my idol. He was the sweet swinging lefty slugger from Compton, California. I had the Duke’s baseball cards, magazine stories and photos of Duke and his wife, Bev. I copied Duke’s swing and classic running gait, with elbows slightly raised as I rounded the bases after my imaginary grand slam home run. We still have his Hall of Fame plaque on the wall in the kitchen.

Now, he was standing next to me. My voice shot up several levels as the interview began. The Duke stared at me and mumbled, “I’m busy, Kid”. I just stood there. Crestfallen. Duke? Duke? I was still standing there when the Duke returned with a small smile on face.

Casey was standing behind Duke as he stood and politely granted me the interview. I was mesmerized. He apologized for his earlier, gruff manner and posed for a polaroid moment with me. Behind us, I could see Casey winking at me. As I basked in the moment, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around to see the familiar face of Jimmy Piersall. Casey again was winking at me a few feet away. It was a wicked grin. I was puzzled.

Piersall who didn’t resemble Tony Perkins who had starred in the bio movie, “Fear Strikes Out”, also had a strange grin on his face.  It was a bizarre moment. In a blur of seconds, Piersall was running around the bases backwards with a bat raised over his head and yelling. I kept my distance. It was surreal!! Piersall approached me again, bat in hand and weird smile on his face. “I was just funnin’ with you, Kid”, Piersall explained. He went on with a rambling anecdote about the joys of playing for Casey and the Mets.

I don’t recall ever asking Piersall a question. It didn’t matter.

My tech aide, actually a pal from the college radio station, was laughing as he showed me the pictures he’d taken. We had proof. I hadn’t imagined the crazy events. I wish I had those pictures now!

So it was, some 54 years ago. One memorable summer afternoon, when all was right in my world.

STORM OF THE CENTURY – EVIL SQUIRREL’S NEST

This is a great story and it’s also true! This is peak baseball season. Time for some thrills and chills that have absolutely nothing to do with politics! From the inimitable Evil Squirrel’s Nest, I give you …

STORM OF THE CENTURY!

Evil Squirrel's Nest

Mother Nature's always at her worst when I go to a ballgame. Mother Nature’s always at her worst when I go to a ballgame.

If you happen to be one of those weird people who actually keep track of my weekly picture dayfeatures, then you’re probably looking at your squirrel calendar right now wondering if it’s really Wednesday already.  No… calm down.  It’s still just Tuesday.  If you have a stereotypical job, you’ve got another three and a half days to toil away yet before the next weekend.  I decided to run Picture Day a day early this week because I wanted to commemorate the night I had a front row seat to the most wicked weather event this city’s seen in my lifetime… and that occurred ten years ago today on July 19, 2006.

It was just another Wednesday night at the ballpark for me… it was also the one game each year my Mom tags along to.  Which is good, because…

View original post 1,146 more words

SUMMERTIME SUMMERTIME SUM SUM SUMMERTIME

Summertime! When all the leaves and trees are green … and the red bird sings, I’ll be blue …

The Jamies were an American singing group
Single Released in 1958
Chart : Peaked at No.26 on The Billboard Hot 100 in 1958

There’s a long, interesting history of “Summertime” and its historic relationship to Fenway Park and the Boston Red Sox. Possibly the oldest tradition in baseball! 

Sherm Feller, who wrote Summertime, Summertime was an old pal of Garry’s as well as the public address announcer at Fenway Park for many years. He was known for playing the song regularly over the speakers at the park.

Read all about Sherm Feller and his song …

72-Fenway-Sox_14

Summertime, Summertime Lyrics


It’s summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime summertime…

Well shut them books and throw em away
Say goodbye to dull school days
So come on and change your ways
It’s summertime…

Well no more studying history
And no more reading geography
And no more dull geometry
Because it’s summertime

It’s time to head straight for them hills
It’s time to live and have some thrills
Come along and have a ball
A regular free-for-all

Well are you comin or are you ain’t
You slow-pokes are my one complaint
Hurry up before I faint
It’s summertime

Well I’m so happy that I could flip
Oh how I’d love to take a trip
I’m sorry teacher but zip your lip
Because it’s summertime

It’s time to head straight for them hills
It’s time to live and have some thrills
Come along and have a ball
A regular free for all

Well we’ll go swimmin every day
No time to work just time to play
If your folks complain just say,
It’s summertime

And every night we’ll have a dance
Cause what’s a vacation without romance
Oh man this jive has me in a trance
Because it’s summertime

It’s time to head straight for them hills
It’s time to live and have some thrills
Come along and have a ball A regular free for all
It’s summertime

It’s summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime summertime sum sum summertime
Summertime

It’s summertime!

BRANDING THE AMERICAN PASTIME

“It’s an exciting afternoon here at Petco,” the announcer says. The Padres are playing the Mets. At Petco Park.

The mental image this formed in my head were utterly un-baseball, totally non-sporting. This whole branding thing is out of hand.

72-Fenway-GA_068

I looked up from the computer, wondering if we needed more dog food and biscuits. We’re forever running short.

72-Yawkey-Fenway_166

But next, the announcer points out the pitcher has been, so far, throwing a no-hitter. Never, in Padre history has any pitcher thrown a no-hitter, so this should have been riveting baseball.

Except the announcers couldn’t seem to focus on the game and instead, were busy talking all kinds of nonsense while showing clips of everything but the game in progress. Ultimately, I suppose it didn’t matter since the pitcher gave up three hits but still, they might have at least given the kid his time in the sun.

Finally they pointed out the right-hander, Odrisamer Despaigne “… has a great, boring fastball.”

And this made me wonder if they should be playing any kind of game at Petco, especially if Odrisamer Despaigne’s fastball is boring. I get they are really saying something technical about the pitch. Nonetheless, words matter. Boring has multiple meanings, the most common being dull. So how boring was that fastball?

72-Fenway-GA_075

And doesn’t Petco Park sound like a dog park to you?

Someone once told me I’m “branding” my photographs by signing them. No, I’m not. I sign my pictures because I’m proud of them. “Branding” would be if I sold the rights to my photographs to Costco, after which this site became Costco Web Thoughts. I would continue to write and take pictures, but Costco would put their corporate logo on all my work. For a price. That’s branding.

Garry points out the Padres not only have a crappy team and awful branding — Petco really doesn’t work as a stadium name — but they wear ugly uniforms. From Garry, that is total condemnation.

72-Homer-Fenway-Sox_62

Whatever else is wrong with the Red Sox, at least they have not turned Fenway into Burger King Stadium. Or Walmart Watcharama. And, to the best of my knowledge, the pitchers throw highly entertaining fastballs.