MY AMAZING CAREER: THE UNNATURAL – Garry Armstrong

I’ve written numerous pieces about my love of baseball. I’ve shared memories of the teams I’ve followed as a diehard fan.

From the Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer in the ’40s and ’50s to Casey’s inept, Amazin’ Mets in the early ’60s.

1969 The Amazing Mets!

To the sons of Teddy Ballgame who, in 2004, broke generations of hearts before smashing the curse of the Bambino and 87 years of futility. I’ve told you about meeting many baseball legends including Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Ted Williams.

Our kitchen wall includes tributes to my personal baseball hero, Edwin Donald “Duke” Snider. I met “The Duke” back when he played briefly with the Mets. It was one of the most memorable days of my life.

2004 Red Sox Series Win

Like many New York youngsters of a certain era, I was in the middle of the argument about who was the best center fielder — Willie, Mickey, or The Duke.  We were blessed by having three major league teams in Gotham back in those days. On any given day or night you could listen to Hall of Fame voices like Vin Scully, Mel Allen, Red Barber, or Russ Hodges describing the fortunes of the Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees.

On the streets of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens – and, later, Long Island, ragtag teams of boys — identified by their block — played softball, stickball and, if lucky, baseball.  The games began after school and continued, in my case, until the familiar chorus of “Garry, your mother is callin’ you. You gotta go home —now!”

Duke Snider

Sulking, I’d drop the bat, pick up my glove and slowly, slowly walk home. I never heard the guys laughing as I left. In retrospect, I guess they were always laughing as I left the games.

Why?

I was “that kid.”

The last one picked to play on the street team. The kid they played in deep right field and prayed no ball was hit to him. I mimicked Duke Snider’s sweet left-handed batting stance. I set up in the batter’s box just like Duke so I could rip the ball to right field.

I never ripped or hit — and rarely made any contact — with the ball. I looked good. I had style.

In the field, I couldn’t catch routine fly balls or cleanly field hits and hold the runner to one base. I still had Duke Snider’s style, though. I jogged, swinging my arms up and down — in Duke’s regal manner. I was sure I had class even if I couldn’t hit or field.

My misfortune continued as a teenager when I played with the church baseball team. The Luther League.

The coaches probably felt compelled to play me because we were one of only three families of color at our church. Not to play me probably would’ve caused unrest as the predominantly German Church was trying to be progressive in the mid-1950s. No one ever said this, but, deep down, I knew

I was something of an albatross.

The Black kid with no athletic ability. I wanted to be good but I wasn’t. I was sure I’d find my niche as I grew older. I also labored under the illusion that I would gain five or six inches of height, miraculously, one night in my teenage dreams of glory.  My Dad stood six feet plus, My two younger brothers already were taller than me. I always really believed I’d gain those inches when I turned 20. It had to happen. I believed.

By the early ’70s, I was a rising TV news reporter in Boston. My celebrity may have been rising but not my height.  My USMC ID card read 5 feet 5 and a half inches. I’d been the shortest kid as a Marine recruit at the Parris Island Training base back in 1959. (That’s another story.)

In the early 1970’s Boston, only a handful of minority TV News Reporters existed. I was “it” on Channel 7.

When it came to the celebrity/media softball games, I could only hope to shed my athletic ineptitude. I think it was assumed — oblivious to my past — that I would be an asset to Channel 7’s team. I looked fast, had that classic Duke Snider swing and had an elegant gait. It didn’t take long for the truth to emerge.

The color of my skin didn’t guarantee athletic prowess.  Still, there was some hype to my appearance on the baseball field on Boston Common. Adding to my dilemma, the minority reporters on the other teams were good players. They had achieved their bonafides. I was the new “phenom.”

It was awful. The first game I played seemed to last an eternity. I was the leadoff hitter. Big mistake.

I did manage a weak single in 3 or 4 at bats. I botched most of the balls hit to me in right field. I blamed it on the glare from the lights.  They believed me and gave me “attaboys”.  The rest of my Boston baseball/softball career was, in the words of Sir Charles Barkley, “terr’ble.”  I remember some of my Channel 7 colleagues shaking their heads when I showed up for games. One of them, a legendary cameraman, used to giggle and laugh “Oh, Geerey … no … no.”

One of my early show-cased appearances on Channel 7 featured me in a Walter Mitty-like series. One of the Mittyish assignments had me working out, in full uniform, with the Boston Red Sox. I believe a young Pudge Fisk was catching as I dug in with my Duke Snider stance. The Towering figure on the mound supposedly tossing easy “BP” stuff to me was former fireballing right-hander, Bob Veale.

Veale was now a Sox pitching coach. I figured he’d take it easy on me. As I leveled my Duke Snider stance, I glanced out to the mound. Big Bob Veale seemed 8 feet tall. He had an evil grin on his face.

Baseball season!

The first pitch was by me and in Fisk’s glove before I could begin my swing. Pudge giggled louder. Veale’s grin grew bigger. Remember, cameras were rolling on me for this ballyhooed TV feature.

I think I ticked the second pitch which only incensed Mr. Bob Veale. He reared back and fired what Dennis Eckersley now calls “Hot, high cheese”  to me. I swung, probably 5 seconds after the ball was caught by Pudge Fisk who was now laughing.

At Fenway

Most of the Sox players were smiling or laughing quietly except for Johnny Pesky who offered me solace. Pesky and I would be friends until he passed away. For some reason, he took a liking to me even though I clearly had no athletic skills.  Class act — Johnny Pesky.

It remained for Teddy Ballgame to put everything in perspective. We were chatting about stuff. I’d hit it off with Ted Williams who rarely bonded with the media. I suspect Mr. Pesky was my liaison.

Johnny Pesky

Williams asked me to show him my swing. I did. He tossed a few pitches to me. I missed all of them. Teddy Ballgame tapped me on the shoulder, smiling, “Garry. You need to see the ball before you hit it or try to hit it.  Forget it, Pal”.

I still have fantasies about being a 70-something “Roy Hobbs.”

WALKS, TRAILS AND THE SIDEWALK – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Walks, Trails, Sidewalks

We have many paths. Some of our roads look more like paths. We are kind of rural and not overly tidy.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

SHOW ME THE MONEY! – Garry Armstrong

I’m just back from running an errand. I had the car radio on the local sports radio station, the flagship station for the Boston Red Sox radio network. The regular season starts next week and I’m excited as you would expect of a guy who’s grown up with baseball as a passion.

From my youth in the ’40s and ’50s, following the fortunes of Brooklyn’s Boys of Summer to the early ’60s, tracking the daily misfortunes of Casey’s Amazin’ Mets to the present, hyperventilating over the sons of Teddy Ballgame playing at Fenway Park, the so-called cathedral of baseball.

This is the time of year when we scour pre-season predictions of all the major league teams. We look at stats and projections for all the players.

Politics and other breaking news is set aside to focus on how OUR team will fare. During ancient times, preceding 24/7 online coverage, we studied the magazines that featured baseball experts, looking through their crystal balls, telling us who would be good and who would be lousy. I spent more time on these magazines than on my homework.

Hell, baseball was more important than history, science, geography, math, and science combined.

Cuba Gooding: “Show me the money!”

Ironically, decades later, I’d use my weak math skills to understand crucial baseball stuff, namely contracts. Contracts garner today’s headlines because of the money shelled out to today’s biggest baseball stars.

As I write, Mike Trout is at the top of the world, Ma, agreeing to a multi-year 400-million-dollar contract with the Los Angeles Angels. I wonder if Gene Autry, the original Angels owner, is scratching his head at the big Melody Ranch In The Sky.

Trout’s record-shattering contract tops last week’s record-shattering deal by Bryce Harper with the Philadelphia Phillies. Harper’s “It’s not about the money — I love baseball” proclamation covers the multi-year 300 million dollar bonanza for the former Washington Nats star.

Sports media yakkers and writers have been foaming at their collective mouths over Red Sox star and last year’s A.L MVP, Mookie Betts who stands to be new man atop the world when he hits Free Agency in 2 years. Mookie is staying mum, saying “he just wants to play baseball.” Right.

So, I’m listening to talk radio, expecting a little yak about the dough, then moving onto assessing the upcoming season.

Red Sox Nation wonders about last year’s astounding 119 wins –including regular and postseason momentum, including the World Series championship. That was a once-in-a-generation season. Hard to top. I and many other fans are already worried.

We don’t have a decent bullpen, let alone a postseason-caliber roster of relievers. We bid adieu to ace closer Craig Kimbrel who wanted BIG money as one of baseball’s top closers.  We also bid “vaya con dios” to Joe Kelly, the master curve ball artist who presumably could’ve replaced Kimbrel. Kelly went west for big money with the Dodgers.

I’m listening to the radio gas baggers, waiting for some chat about the Red Sox plans for the bullpen, not to mention how the rest of the team looks. They’ve looked pretty bad in Spring Training even though we know Grapefruit League games don’t matter. They are exercises intended to get the team ready for the regular season. Still, you’d like to see the pitchers evolve from rusty to sharp. You’d like them to at least look ready for the real games coming up in just a few weeks, wouldn’t you?

Bosox pitchers have looked like hamburger helpers in the Grapefruit League. The rest of the team looks very iffy, save a few hitters who’ve been slugging like they’re hitting grapefruit instead of horsehide.

The pennant at Fenway

The Talkers also slide over to politics and whether the Sox should pay the traditional championship visit to the White House this year. A number of players have made it clear Donzo is not their kind of guy and have sent regrets to the Oval Office.

I timed half an hour of money talk — and Donzo’s affability — by the yakkers, and callers who seemed to be off their meds.

This isn’t “Field of Dreams” stuff. It’s an offshoot of Cuba Gooding’s famous line in “Jerry McGuire.” We laughed long and loud when Gooding’s baseball player screamed at Tom Cruise’s agent, “Show me the money!”

We’re not laughing now.

CITYSCAPE: A PHOTO A WEEK – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Cityscape/Townscape

I love shooting in town. We used to get into town a lot more often than we do now. Admittedly, we get into Uxbridge often, but there isn’t a lot of Uxbridge to shoot. It’s a very small town and all the towns in the area a small. Boston has a lot to offer, but it’s a long drive with terrible traffic, bad roads, and incredibly expensive parking and we go there only rarely these days.

Schubert Theater, Boston, 2014
Fenway Park 2018

The city has spent literally billions of dollars to redesign the roads. They look better, but the traffic is even worse. They made the roads straighter and one of the worst ones now runs underground so you don’t have to see what a terrible mess it is. But the mess is there and for me, the idea of bumper-to-bumper traffic in an endless tunnel is not an improvement. Just breathing would be traumatic.

Brookline
Parking on the street!

So we stay here in the country. Our city pictures all date from 2016 or earlier. That’s how it will remain. I don’t see the traffic, parking, or distance getting easier, cheaper, or shorter.

On the street
Symphony Hall, Boston

BRANDING THE AMERICAN PASTIME – Marilyn Armstrong

In just about a month, baseball’s “spring training” begins for 2019. It’s earlier than usual this year. Garry explained that the Red Sox were playing the Yankees in London, so the season was starting early.

What? They are doing what and where? So, in honor of the upcoming season, a little remembrance of baseball seasons past.


“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.

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

Petco Park, San Diego,, CA

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 “… has a great, boring fastball.”

padre player uniformThis made me wonder if they should be playing any kind of game at Petco, especially if the pitcher’s fastball is boring. I understand they are actually saying something technical about the pitch. Nonetheless, words matter.

Boring has multiple meanings, the most common being dull. So how boring was that fastball? And doesn’t Petco Park sound like a dog park to you?

Someone once told me I was “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 would be 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 complete condemnation.

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.

SPOOKY SHARING ON HALLOWEEN – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World

“Spooky”  Share Your World


Today is Halloween! Got your costume ready? Stocked up on candy? Good. I’m looking forward to a bag full of candy. Yum.


Name something you wouldn’t want to run into in a dark forest or in an abandoned building.

I wouldn’t BE in a dark forest OR an abandoned building. Especially not in combination.

Share the creepiest thing that’s ever happened while you were alone.

I found a spider in my bed. I screamed, then I dislodged it. I have no rational fear of spiders. I’m just scared to death of them. Mindless paranoia.

What would you like your last words to be?

See you soon!

Do you believe in any ‘mythical’ monsters like chupacabras or shadow people?

No.

How long do you think you would last in a horror movie?

I wouldn’t even be in the audience, much less the movie.

Are you afraid of or find clowns creepy?

I find clowns weird, but not necessarily creepy. But I also don’t find them particularly funny — even when I was a kid.

In the zombie apocalypse, what would be your weapon of choice?

First, I plan to be living in one of the world’s best anti-Zombie apocalypse location on earth.

Other than that, I figure a paint gun with iron filings in the paint. You know, all creatures from the Never world are terrified of iron.

Have you ever had your tarot cards read?

I used to read them. I creeped myself out.

Anyone know the reason behind putting candles in jack-o-lanterns?

I assumed to make them light up in the dark. No?

Do you think putting special emphasis on certain holidays – like Halloween is ‘spooky’ for example — is a good idea or just more mindless entertainment for the masses? 

ARTWORK: Evil Squirrel’s Nest

I like Halloween when I was a kid, but it wasn’t nearly the big deal it has become. The problem in this country is that every holiday eventually becomes another way for malls to draw crowds. People actually sent Halloween cards. Halloween cards? Really?

Share a positive thought or message or something that’s inspired you this week.

The Red Sox did it! Their best team ever took the World Series, their fourth win in 14-years. Yay Sox!

A TERRIBLE WONDERFUL YEAR – TWO ARE WON! – Garry Armstrong

And tonight, minus the rain and the lightning, game two commenced … and we won. Two down, two to go. 

No power outage and there will be a day off, then they will be off to L.A. It was 47 degrees (8.3 Celsius) in Boston. It will be hot in L.A. It was a good day. 

Maybe the Sox really ARE the superpower team?

Yes, we won. Again. So far, and even better!!


I’ve asked my “Uncle Louie” to supply the music for this piece.  So much of what we’ve shared and written this year has been tinged with negativity.  It’s the state of our nation and world – greeted by dawn tweets and midnight White House tantrums.

Baseball has been my salvation.  It has been for most of my life. I’ve escaped to the field of dreams from youth, rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers, to the 20 something years cheering for Casey’s inept New York Mets, to retirement years yelling for the Red Sox to exorcise decades of futility.

This year, the sons of Teddy Ballgame have produced perhaps the best team ever to play at Fenway Park, exceeding even those early years when Babe Ruth was our Mr.October. Regardless of how the Sox fare in the upcoming World Series, they’ve already given us a season about which we can ponder for years to come.

This piece has a different feel for me.

There’s no “David Versus Goliath” theme for our hometown team.  For decades, we could point to the Bambino curse and generations of despair marked by garish plays like “… the ball went right through Buckner’s legs,” and “… there’s a long drive outta here. The Red Sox lose — thanks to the bat of Bucky fuc##ng Dent.

I could sprinkle images of past stories with snapshot memories of music, movies, politics. Iconic stories covered along with personal interviews with major players.

Not this year.  We’re on the outside, looking in. Like regular fans.

Our TV baseball package has precluded us from watching Sox games live.  We’ve been able to follow all the other teams — except the Sox.  Ironically, I’ve seen more games of our blood rivals, the New York Yankees than the Bosox. It’s reduced my nightly high anxiety where I frantically reach for my blood pressure meds as another game lurches on the high cliff of danger.

Marilyn is the score updater with reports from her computer as we watch Aussie melodramas or our favorite procedurals.  It’s a different feel.

Marilyn tells me, “We won again.”  I allow myself a sigh of satisfaction and look forward to reading the sports section online the next day. It’s a new world!

Pundits outside New England are pointing out that the Red Sox are seeking their 4th World Championship in 14 years.  It’s the national attitude faced by the Bronx Bombers for so many years.  There’s no underdog love for our Red Sox in small towns and big cities across the country as the World Series fervor begins.

I look at this year’s Red Sox and smile. A paternal smile.  A grandfather’s pride.

I don’t have any inside anecdotes. I appreciate the growth and maturation of the players.  There’s an irony to how this team is constructed.  Mookie Betts, the frontrunner for “Most Valuable Player” honors wasn’t the first choice to be the franchise player he is.

When the talented Jacoby Ellsbury bolted from the Red Sox to the Yankees for a mega contract 6-years ago, we felt betrayed again. We wondered how Boston would revive its outfield.

The Sox Suits said they had a youngster with huge potential. He was an infielder with an impressive minor league career. Fine, but how does an infielder help us with the outfield gap and power loss with Ellsbury’s flight to Gotham?

The question rippled with tsunami-like waves across Red Sox Nation.

I remember watching a spring training game with a young — very young –Red Sox outfield. Who were these players? Too young to shave and, certainly, not ready for prime time baseball!  There was Jackie Bradley Jr. who roamed centerfield like a young Willie Mays. The aforementioned Mookie Betts seemed okay in right field, but there was more interest in his first name than his player bonafides.

Many of us wondered if he was related to Mookie Wilson,  the one-time Mets star who hit the ball that went through Bill Buckner’s legs in the ill-fated 1986 World Series.

Our brave, new world was just beginning.

The next five years included a World Series triumph,  3 Eastern Division crowns and 2 (3?) last place finishes. These guys were definitely the spawn of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Fenway Park, Boston – Photo: Garry Armstrong

Meanwhile, the Yankees were overhauling their team and presenting baseball with an intriguing collection of young sluggers.  We were scared out of our retro Red Sox.  I admit to angst and anxiety all winter as I watched the video and stats of these youthful Pin-stripers. Aaron Judge,  Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, and the newly acquired Giancarlo Stanton who’d come close to 60 home runs as the National League MVP last year.

Surely, New York would crush the Red Sox like Rob Gronkowski plowing through a defensive line of mortal defense players.  It didn’t look good as the 2018 season rolled around. I avoided reading pre-season predictions, something that was a rite of spring for most of my 76 years.

The Yankees were the flavor of the year team, biding their time to acquire their 28th World Series title.

2018 Red Sox Team

My anxiety ramped up when I realized our baseball TV package excluded live Red Sox games.  Surely, that was a sign. I wouldn’t be able to see the Sox doomed chase of the Yankees.

A funny thing happened along the way.

The Red Sox won the regular season opener. An olive branch, I thought with cynicism creeping through my fevered fan’s brain. But the Sox kept winning. Game after game. Injuries and illnesses, they kept winning.

Meanwhile, the vaunted Yankees stumbled off to a mediocre start. A month into the season, the Red Sox were in first place and had established a nice distance from New York and every other American League Eastern Division team.

I scratched my head, watching a Yanks game.  The young sluggers were struggling. The pitchers were inconsistent. I laughed at the Yankee broadcasters who smugly made excuses for the team which, they said with enormous confidence, would right itself and catch the runaway Red Sox who they referred to sneeringly as “that other team.”

I dared to wonder.

Soon, the Sox, aka “The Sawx” to sports journalists outside New England,  were highlighted nightly on the national sports outlets. Old beisbol-wise guys were marveling over J.D. Martinez who was everything and more as our big-ticket free agent slugger.  Boston’s “3  Bee” outfield — Andrew Benintendi, JBJ (Jackie Bradley, Jr.), and **MOOKIE** Betts were making highlight-reel defensive plays and mashing the horsehide with incredible regularity.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

As the regular season unfolded, the Sox kept winning.  The Yankees improved and gave chase, providing a little drama … but the Sox never fell behind. Not once. Their longest loss was three games.  “YES,”  the Yankees Broadcast Network, relentlessly told fans that the Sox would fold and succumb to the mighty pinstripers.  Yes. I believed “YES.”

Marilyn wasn’t so sure and kept commenting, “We are playing really well, you know? Like … all the time.” We, the skeptics, were exposed as the Sox continued to roll through the regular season, spiced by a late August sweep of the Bronx Boys that left us giddy in Red Sox Nation.

I noted, with surprise, that the Sox were doing all “the little things” that mark a championship team. They were disciplined and aggressive at the plate. They ran the bases with abandon and played defense like never seen before, at home and on the road. They even BUNTED – something akin to walking on water in New England.

Rookie manager Alex Cora, a former utility player and member of past Sox teams, pushed all the right buttons. He utilized all the players on his roster.

Cora had the respect of players who “dissed” previous managers. He didn’t shirk from pulling pitchers who were tiring but nonetheless argued to “get one more inning.”  That argument had severely cost previous managers and Sox teams. Cora was honest and straightforward with players as well as upper management and media.

He was a breath of fresh air from the “Bull Durham” baseball clichés of the past.

The pennant at Fenway

Boston, to almost everyone’s disbelief, in and outside of Red Sox Nation,  swept past the Yankees and defending World Champions Houston Astros, to await the World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers as their opponent. The Dodgers soundly defeated the stubborn Milwaukee Brewers to advance to baseball’s biggest stage.

It’s going to be a very interesting series.  Many of us have a tinge of Dodger Blue from our childhood days as Brooklyn Dodger fans.  The Boys With Mics are calling the Dodgers underdogs because they haven’t won a World Series in 30 years. Not since Kirk Gibson’s iconic home run off Dennis Eckersley.

The Cathedral of Baseball is open for business!

A moment remembered with Vin Scully’s perfect line:  “In the year of the improbable, the impossible has happened.” Here’s hoping the now-retired Vin Scully graces Boston and offers a few more memorable game descriptions.

The Cathedral of Baseball is open.  It’s diverting our attention from a world gone crazy.

Here’s to the Boys of Summer who’ve made this Autumn our field of dreams.