Monday, March 31, 2014
Great Voices From the Past!
I had an instant last week when all of the great voices of baseball echoed in my brain. One at a time, naturally, as there just isn’t room for all of them: Vin Scully, Harry Caray, Tom Cheek, Red Barber, Ernie Harwell, Jon Miller, Jack Buck, Tony Kubek, Early Wynn, Phil Rizutto, Bill White, Mel Allen, Dizzy Dean, Dave Van Horne, Curt Gowdy,Tim McCarver, Bob Uecker, Ken Coleman, Jerry Coleman, and Joe Garagiola. Current broadcaster Dan Shulman, a Canadian, does a fine job as well. Most were winners of the Ford Frick Award, an annual affair at Cooperstown.
I touched on the fact last week that I had spent an afternoon beside Joe Garagiola, Junior. He is now working for Major League Baseball as a Vice President, in a role similar to that of Brendan Shanahan in hockey.
His father spent ten seasons in the Major Leagues as a player. He signed with the Cardinals as an amateur free agent in 1942, but made his debut on May 26, 1946, when he was twenty years old. He spent his first six years with the Cards, before being traded to the Pirates. He had a stint with the Cubs, and finished his playing career with the Giants.
So that was his fourth team in the National League, when there were only eight teams in the League. He remembers squatting behind the plate when the great Stan Musial stepped up to bat. He looked back at Garagiola, surprised to see him in a Giants uniform. “What the heck are you doing there?” Musial asked.
Garagiola told him that he had been traded. Musial asked, “You did, when?” Joe replied, “This morning.” Musial then asked, somewhat surprised, “Why don’t you quit?” and Joe retorted, as only he could, “Now?”
Garagiola added wit and wisdom to the game whenever he was behind the microphone. He spent 57 years in the broadcast booth. I dare say that he knew everyone in baseball for the latter half of the 20th century. My recollection of the titles of the games, and the networks, is always a little vague. I think the game was advertised as “The Game of the Week,” and it usually was on a Saturday afternoon. But that was the time to settle in with a couple of cold ones to enjoy the great game, and the greatest stars.
Garagiola often teamed with his childhood friend Yogi Berra on the rubber chicken circuit. They grew up together on “The Hill”, an Italian sector in St. Louis. Berra recalled watching Garagiola in the 1946 World Series. Joe hit .314 in the series, outhitting Musial and Ted Williams. After the Series was completed, they both worked together in the hardware section of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Garagiola recalls that Berra “was not much of an expert in hardware. A customer asked Yogi about a specific kind of screw. Yogi went blank. He pointed at the jars of screws and told the customer he couldn’t tell one from another. He said, ‘Pick it out yourself.’” From Yogi Berra, Eternal Yankee, by Allen Barra.
Garagiola moved into a retirement community a couple of years ago, as did Berra. He called Berra after moving in. He asked, “How’s it going, Yog?” Berra replied, “It’s all right, but geez, they’ve got a lot of old people here!”
He remembered a pitcher with a funky delivery: “He threw nothing but elbows and fingernails at you, and, pretty soon, the ball came.”
Garagiola is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame; however, he says his most cherished baseball memory came when he witnessed the Diamond Backs winning the World Series in 2001. His son had put together that team as General Manager, and Joe was justifiably proud of his boy.
Garagiola enhanced the game for all his listeners, and his friends. Always.
Monday, March 24, 2014
More Spring Training-2014
In Port Charlotte, with Joe Garagiola, Jr.
All the talk around the pool, along the beaches, and in the barbershops in South West Florida nowadays, deals with the teams that are trying to dance their way to the Sweet Sixteen. Those are the sixteen schools of learning that will play for the National Championship of Basketball in the United States. Millions of Americans have completed their “brackets”, hoping to select the winning teams in the newest science of “bracketology”. Yes, Mildred, they have coined such a word.
In the meantime, Major League Baseball is winding down to prepare for the upcoming 2014 season. In their efforts to extend the boundaries of the game, the powers-that-be have decided to open the season in Australia! It is part of the ongoing mission to make the game an international affair. Remember the World Classics of baseball? You’ve forgotten? Heavens! Truth to be told, most of us can’t recall the details of those events. Thankfully.
But there are still plenty of games to play to complete the Spring Training schedules here in the Fort Myers area. I was fortunate to see the Jays for the second time, but in Port Charlotte, a half hour from Fort Myers. The Tampa Bay Rays hold their training camp in that area, and they play their games in a delightful stadium. It is always a pleasure to tie in with a couple of cronies from back home, slather on a little sun screen, settle back with a couple of cold ones, and enjoy the “Boys of Summer” in late March.
A little tailgating, from the Peterborough area.
We were greeted with a fine home run from Colby Rasmus, his first of the campaign, great fielding plays, and bonehead mistakes by veterans who should really know better. I try to enhance my knowledge of the game by chatting with fans who are seated in our area. I was fortunate to discover I was seated beside a man of considerable baseball wisdom, Joe Garagiola, Junior.
At times such as these, I work hard to restrain myself from being unrestrained. That is to say, occasionally, I can be somewhat humble. For those of us over fifty, the name Garagiola is synonymous with baseball. Joe Garagiola was our friend, every week, sharing his baseball insights. He was funny, outrageous, and knowledgeable. We knew he had been a catcher, and that added to his credibility. Anyone who stands behind the plate as a career, blocking wild pitches, guarding the plate with large runners steaming in from third base, shaking off the pain from careening foul balls: that’s the stuff that men are made of. And I think you have to be a touch crazy to make a career of it.
More about Joe Senior, next week. During my conversation with his son, I learned that he was the General Manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and that he was with them when they won the World Series a few years ago. He was sporting a ring that Zsa Zsa Gabor would have admired. (That dates me, n’est-ce pas?) But he turned out to be the nicest guy: affable, and willing to chat. Most other press box cronies are embedded into their lap tops, or are on cruise control, not wishing to be disturbed.
Quinte Area sports fans: John Emerson and Doug Townsend
An old hockey referee and sometime umpire, John Emerson, joined us for the last few innings. Joe is now responsible for discipline in baseball, working for Major League Baseball. Basically, he is there to take care of all of the sins in the game. “I’m the Brendan Shanahan of baseball,” he told us in a language that he knew that we would understand. But our conversation continued in the hockey line. He told me he loves the game, and added that he believes that hockey players are the best athletes. Emerson got a chuckle out of Garagiola when he told him that hockey referees had it best: the guys in the other sports can’t skate away when they make lousy calls!
Joe added that it is unfortunate that hockey translates the least well to television, hurting the general appeal of the game in the United States.( I have been informed that the new larger televisions, and HD make the game better to see.) He told me that one of his greatest moments in sports was when he happened to be in St. Louis when the Blues were in the Stanley Cup final against the Bruins. He was lucky enough to pick up a ticket for the game, and watched Bobby Orr sail through the air after scoring the final goal of the season. Quite a thrill.
As a kid in Scarsdale, New York, he skated on a lake in a small subdivision about half a block from his house. He explained that he had difficulty getting the puck off the ice with his shot, and he added that he respects the puck control of NHL players. Now and then, baseball entered the conversation, especially when the Rays’ second baseman threw the ball in the dirt on an easy throw to get a runner at first. I mentioned that I thought Steve Saxe had some difficulty with that at one time. “Chuck Knoblauch also had it. In golf it’s called the yips. In baseball, we call it “The Thing”. Some catchers get it, can’t throw the ball to the pitcher. We tell ‘em, ‘Just pretend you are throwing to second base.’ That usually helps”.
Take me out to the ball game. Any time!
March 24, 2014.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
On the Road, Again!
Last Sunday, Shawn Matthias played his first game in Florida as a Vancouver Canuck. It was not his first game in Sunrise, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, as he played 312 games for the Florida Panthers. Needless to say, it was different for the former Belleville Bull.
“It was very emotional for me,” he told me after the game. He entered the arena from a different entrance, dressed for the game in the visitors’ dressing room. “But it was fun to play here. I have always enjoyed playing in front of the crowds here.” He took some time after the game to visit with a couple of his former teammates.
The Canucks led 2-1 after the second period; however, the Panthers clawed their way back into the game and Jimmy Hayes got his second goal of the game with 1:35 remaining in the third period. The big guy from Beantown was simply doing his job on the power play, filling the space in front of the net, distracting Canucks goalie Eddie Lack. Brian Campbell’s point shot was stopped by Lack, but Hayes managed to fire the rebound into the Vancouver net.
As is so often the case this year, nothing was settled in overtime. The teams selected their players for the shootout. The Canucks: Zac Dalpe, Nicklas Jensen, and Christopher Higgins. The Panthers: Nick Bjugstad, Brad Boyes, and Brandon Pirri. My point here is that you will not find those names in the scoring leaders for the NHL. The Panthers and the Canucks are looking to the future, to put it politely. At any rate, Jensen beat Luongo with a fine deke put win the game for the Canucks.
Hayes was selected as the game’s first star, with two goals. He was traded to the Panthers after his Stanley Cup season last year with the Hawks. Once he had finished his interviews with the media types, I quietly approached him, and told him that Doug and Darlene Shaw asked me to say hello. “Do you know them?” he asked. I explained to him that we are all “County” folk. I also told him that the three Shaw boys played football in the minor league in Belleville, with Doug helping to coach. “You mean those three knucleheads were on the same team?” Hayes is a great friend of Andrew Shaw, who spends a little time stirring things up for the Blackhawks.
Matthias was traded to the Canucks with goaltender Jacob Markstrom for Luongo and Steven Anthony, at this year’s trading deadline. He made no bones about the fact that he enjoyed the win. “I am really pumped about this win,” he told me as he finished packing for the road.
Enigmatic coach John Tortorella was pleased with the win. “That’s the way it’s been,” he said, after the game. “We’ve been on the other side of these things. Good for Eddie lack, and Jensen. It’s not Picasso, that’s for sure. But it’s nice to grind away, and scratch and claw and get the two points.”
The Canucks are dangerously close to missing the playoffs this year. They are 4-12-1 in their past 17 games, and dearly miss the other Sedin. Henrik, the captain, spoke to me after the game. “It was a bit strange to see Roberto at the other end in the warmup. This is a tough time for us right now, but it is great to see the young guys coming up and playing well. If we can keep the mistakes at a minimum, we will succeed.”
On Monday night, the Canucks lost 4-3 in Tampa Bay. There is little time left for failure, for the team, for the coach.
March 19, 2014
Sunday, March 09, 2014
Eagles Come Up short Against Mercer Bears
Once again last Sunday, the city of Fort Myers came out in force to show their support for the Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles. It is Spring Break time at the university; nonetheless, the students also packed the arena to cheer for the Eagles. Again on Sunday, a record number of 4 702 basketball fans filled the seats at the Alico Arena.
Throughout the game, security personnel watched the FGCU students with a jaundiced eye. The kids were loud, but never completely unruly. I have become accustomed to some of the chants they use during the game. “This is our house”. “Go Home, Mercer”. When one of the opponents violated a dribbling rule, they shouted, “You can’t do that”. These are all very effective, somewhat unnerving for the opposition.
On Sunday, unfortunately, the Eagles came up a little short against the Mercer University Bears, losing 68-60. Both teams had advanced to the Atlantic Sun Conference Final, and, due to the fact that the Eagles had the first seed, the game was played in Fort Myers. The Eagles had disposed of the Stetson University Hatters, and the East Tennessee State Buccaneers. Mercer, the second seed in the eight team tourney, eliminated Jacksonville and USC Upstate to reach the final.
Because of the loss, the Eagles failed to gain a berth in the NCAA Championships. They will play in the National Invitational Tournament, held each year in New York City. Opponents will be determined next Sunday, following the NCAA Selection Show. Last year, the Eagles were the “Cinderella” team in the Tournament. The Eagles won the “Best Upset” award for their win over Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The selection was part of the ESPN “Espy Awards” held in Los Angeles last July.
Following the season last year, Coach Andy Enfield left the team to take the coaching position at the University of Southern California. The powers-that-be decided to hire Joe Dooley from Kansas. As an assistant coach for the Jayhawks, for ten years, Dooley was involved in the NCAA finals every year, winning the title in 2007-2008. He had also been head coach at East Carolina from 1995 to 1999. He most certainly is a student of the game, and his teams always enter the arena well prepared.
The Eagles trailed by 16 points at half time. They received few breaks at the rim, and had some questionable charging fouls, always difficult to call at this level. Bernard Thompson and Brett Comer led the Eagles with 14 points, while Chase Fielder just missed a double-double with 13 points and nine rebounds. The Eagles shaved the lead to one point in the second half, but lost momentum and never gained the lead.
Anthony White and Langston Hall led the Bears with 15 points apiece, while Daniel Coursey added 13 points. Hall was selected as the Atlantic Sun “Player of the Year”, while Coursey was chosen as the “Defensive Player of the Year”. Comer and Thompson, both Juniors from the Eagles, were nominated to the First All Star Team. All in all, a tremendous experience for players and fans alike. With fine recruits, and great returning players, the future looks bright for the young Eagles.
Daniel Coursey-Mercer Bears
Congratulations to the Carleton Ravens, once again the best university basketball team in Canada. The team has won 10 National Championships, a truly incredible feat under coach Dave Smart. Well done!
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
"Yer Out! No, I mean Safe! Wait, let me check on that!"
Flags over Hammond Field
There was a certain buzz yesterday in the press box at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. It is the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins, and they were entertaining the Toronto Blue Jays. The sun was shining, the grass was a brilliant emerald, and there was nary a cloud in the sky.
Many were watching the game with baited breath for the first challenge to a play to be done by replay. This is the first season that many of the judgements of the umpires are being called into question, with the hopes that a televised replay will supply a view that will be ruled official.
It happened at 3:06pm. I know that the time was correct because it was murmured throughout the box. “Did you get the time?” one mumbled. “Are you sure?” another asked. It was being treated as some sort of historical moment. One scribe even commented before the replay decision that it was “ just another exhibition game”.
The Twins’ sixth inning began with back to back singles from Jorge Polanco and Kennys Vargas. Eric Fryer smashed a ground ball towards third base. Brett Lawrie dove for the ball, tagged the base, and threw to second to complete the double play. It was the second outstanding double play in the sixth, as the Twins had done the same to the Jays. With two out, Chris Rahl hit a sharp ball to short. Munenori Kawasaki’s throw to first base was a little high, and Jared Goedert had to stretch to make the play. The first base umpire ruled that Goedert was not on the base when the runner touched the bag, using the two handed sweeping signal.
Munenori Kawasaki # 66
John Gibbons, the Blue Jays manager, strolled from the dugout towards first base. That’s when the buzz became a mild crescendo. “Is he really going to do it? Is the machine going to make the call? Is baseball ready for the twenty-first century?” Yes, emphatically.
Decision Making Time!
The first base umpire and the home plate umpire went to the side of the Blue Jays dugout, donned head sets, and waited for the verdict from the truck. Until the season begins, all replay decisions will be made on-site, in trucks with proper replay facilities. The regular season replays will be done in New York, at a studio set up at Major League Baseball Headquarters. The decision took two minutes and thirty four seconds. No kidding. It was announced for the scribes. The safe sign.
Fieldin Culbreth was the umpire at first base. Brian O’Nara was in the truck. O’Nara said that he looked at two different replays. One of the replays was blurry, while the other one clearly showed that Goedert’s foot was not on the bag when the runner touched.
After the game, Rahl talked about his role in this monumental moment in baseball. (My italics!) “It’s pretty exciting. It’s one of those things where I was just trying to hustle and beat it out, just trying to get to that inside corner of the bag. I didn’t really get a good look if he pulled or not off first. When the coach came out and they went to the replay, I was thinking: Maybe I’m the first one. This could be kind of cool.”
Goedert laughed when asked if this was something he would tell his grandchildren about. “Maybe so. I’d probably tell them I was part of history, and then tell them to guess why. And I’ll bet they won’t guess that.
Gibbons used his second appeal later in the game, to no avail. Again, not much fanfare. A couple of steps away from the dugout, the umpire made the safe sign. I suppose if there had been a change, he would have thumbed the runner out. Hopefully, no umpire will extend his arms, palms up. ‘We’re just not sure about this one.” A little humour.
Post game....just checking on that call!
Baseball is catching up with the other major sports in this regard. All critical hockey replay decisions are made in Toronto. NFL decisions are made on the field, with dialogue from off-field officials. NBA replays are judged on court. The world of soccer needs to study these examples. Due to the number of theatrical performances on a soccer pitch, the nebulous judgement of officials on offside calls, and questionable goal mouth decisions, the officials of the beautiful game have plenty of homework.
By the way, the Jays got trounced 12-2. Lefty J. A. Happ made his second appearance this spring. He was not sharp in the first inning, walking four batters, giving up two hits, allowing four runs. The first question that a scribe asked him in the interview situation after his performance was, “Are there any positives you can take from your start?” It really is an uncomfortable situation. He was shelled in his first spring appearance. He spent much of last season rehabbing. On May 7th in Tampa Bay, he suffered a skull fracture when struck by a line drive off the bat of Desmond Jennings; however, he also injured his knee, and spent three months on the shelf.
Happ did say that he needed to be “more aggressive in the zone.” He said that he was anxious to go out there and do it again, but that he needed to rely more on his fielders. He added, “I felt like I was making good pitches. I plan to treat this season the way that I treated the start from last season. I feel like I am more confident with my position with the team this year.” When asked about the instant reply, he added, “Hopefully, it won’t slow the pace down too much.”
The Jays headed to Clearwater to face the Phillies today, with a game against the Pirates in Dunedin on Wednesday.
March 4, 2014
Sunday, March 02, 2014
Pure Gold! Olympic Hockey Victories 2014!
Jonathan Toews struggled to make his way to the Swedish blue line, and, according to commentator Pierre McGuire, should have headed to the bench. Toews decided to stay on the ice to forecheck in the opponent’s zone. Good thing, as well.
The Canadians freed the puck from the Swedes, shuffled it to Toews, and he scored one of the most important goals of his life in the final game of the 2014 Olympic Games. Assists went to Carter and Webber. One for Canada, none for Sweden. That was all that was required. Gold to Canada…the rest to everyone else.
On his next shift, Toews again provided an impetus for a Canadian attack. In this case, McGuire was impressed, stating the Toews was now “in the zone”. Even Roenick recognized Toews’ courage and skill when he shared with us that the young Black Hawk “moved to a spot in front of the net, where goal scorers go”.
Due to the fact that we are required to watch American coverage of the Games, we have been listening to McGuire, Mike Milbury, and J. R. Roenick. On occasion, this has been painful. The tone of the dialogue subsided somewhat after the Canadians took care of the Americans in the semi-final. Some wind left the sails of the talking heads. But the coverage was quite slanted, with McGuire using the word “We”, when referring to the American women in their game against the Canadians.
It is interesting that the rest of the hockey world still has not caught up to the Canadian and American women. Such is not the case in men’s hockey. There are several nations contesting for the medals in men’s hockey. You may find the Swedes, the Finns, the Swiss, the Slovenians, the Czechs, the Slovaks, and, of course, the Russians vying for the title. I am sure it was a huge disappointment for the Russians not to have participated in the big game. Such is the nature of hockey: a goal post here, a great save there, lucky bounces resulting in scoring chances.
The Russians did not catch a break. But there is no need for Ovechkin to apologize on behalf of himself, nor for his teammates. Water under the bridge.
Throughout the game, when there were stoppages in play at the Swedish net, Canadian players gathered like flies to…honey. Jeff Carter, Martin St. Louis, and Corey Perry mingled in the crease on several occasions, exchanging pleasantries, searching for errant pucks. No need to take foolish penalties, just occasions to let the opposition know that you were serious about the game.
Sidney Crosby scored the prettiest goal in the tournament to seal the deal. He stole the puck from the Swedish defender, flew in on goal, and deked Lundquist to put the Canadians up by two goals. On no occasion did I believe that Crosby needed to do anything spectacular to justify his existence, and, once again he led the way to victory.
It is never going to be an easy road to the highest pedestal in hockey. I commend the authorities for great player selection, brilliant coaching, superb organization. Steve Yzerman has indicated that he will step down as the general manager of the team. He has two gold medals to show for his efforts, and we should be most grateful for his expertise. There are other brilliant hockey people in this country. One hopes they will step up to the plate, and follow in the skate marks of Yzerman, Babcock et al.
A job well done, to say the least.
March 1, 2014.