Monday, March 28, 2016


David Ortiz Bids Farewell to Fort Myers

David Americo Arias Ortiz has made it clear that he will play baseball in 2016, and no longer. With that in mind, the powers-that-be in the offices of baseball have decided that they provide “Big Papi” with a victory lap around the track. As he plays his way through the stadia of the Major Leagues this summer, he will be inundated with gifts. And rightfully so.

He broke into the major leagues with the Minnesota Twins in 1997. He spent six years with the Twins before heading to Boston, at the suggestion of a fellow Dominican, Pedro Martinez. (At the sound of that name, many of you Montreal Expo fans can feel slight heart palpitations!) He continued his impressive career in 2003 in Boston. He is completing his twentieth Spring Training campaign, all spent in Fort Myers. Incidentally, he has no love for Spring Training!

One of the most remarkable statistics about the big guy is the his batting average in his World Series games is a remarkable .455. In other words, when it was all on the line, Big Papi could rip the ball and get on base. Quite often he batted against an exaggerated shift: teams put three infielders between first and second base, and left the area between second and third unguarded. Ortiz has never been able to take advantage of the shift by tapping balls into open spaces. With him, it's success by power.

He now has more than 500 home runs, and stands 27th on the list of players from all time. He stands 19th on the Extra Base hits list, and 18th for doubles. Mind you, he has whiffed a few times as well, 34th on that list. There is no doubt that he will be given serious consideration for the Hall of Fame when the time comes. There were whispers of the usage of performance enhancing drugs related to the big guy. I will leave determinations in that regard up to the voters.

Ortiz has indicated that he would rather not receive all of the goodies that are destined to come his way. He would prefer that gifts be donated to his foundation. He has earned the love of the Red Sox Nation with innumerable good deeds. He is revered by his teammates.

He batted in the cleanup spot today, in the final spring game for the Bosox in Fort Myers. He entered the game batting .188. He flied out to right field twice, and struck out. Near the end of the game, a golf cart picked him up at his dugout, and delivered him to the clubhouse. He tipped his cap to the adoring fans.

Before the game, he was presented with seats from the three stadia in which he played in Fort Myers: Hammond Field, City of Palms Park, and Jet Blue Stadium, Fenway South. One of the roads in the park has been renamed “David Ortiz Way”. After he had received the gifts, he smiled that broad, gap-toothed smile, spoke briefly. He cut the nonsense with a terse, “Let's Play Ball!”

The Red Sox will conclude their pre-season work with a couple of games in Montreal against the Jays, the first two days of April. Then, on April 4th, they open the regular season in Cleveland. I would not expect the Jays will see David Price. They certainly will later on in the season. That's baseball, folks.

James Hurst
March 28, 2016.

Monday, March 21, 2016


Waite Hoyt- The Conclusion

Hoyt was born just before the turn of the century...that would be from the 19th to the 20th. Although he was born in Brooklyn, he was signed by the Giants' John McGraw. He made his Major League debut on July 24, 1918. He was dubbed the “Schoolboy Wonder”, because he was so young.

He was sent to the minors, but came back quickly in a Red Sox uniform. Not long afterwards, he became a New York Yankee, and he remained with them for ten years. It was during that time that my friend Jim's wife was born. What a childhood she must have had!

She spent her days at Yankee Stadium, chatting with the legends. She remembered being carried around the diamond on the shoulders of another Hall of Famer, Lefty Gomez. Hoyt also had aspirations in the theatre, and often worked the vaudeville stage with the likes of Jack Benny, George Burns, Jimmy Durante, and Joe E. Brown, Jim Niccum's wife's godfather.

                                                          Joe E. Brown

Hoyt even worked as a mortician during his baseball career. Hence the nickname, “Merry Mortician”.

In one of his memoirs, Hoyt recalled that he rarely nursed a sore arm. After a day game in Philadelphia in 1926, he accompanied Babe Ruth, Joe Duggan, and Herb Pennock to attend a celebration for Pennock, a hometown hero in Kennett Square, about 25 miles from Philly. There were many wonderful booths at the fair. One in particular caught their attention.

There were pyramids of papier-mache milk bottles. The object of the exercise was to knock all of the bottles down with three throws to win a prize. Naturally, it was no challenge to the Major Leaguers. Then they were encouraged to back up a little, to throw more curves, to really outdo each other.

The next morning, Hoyt's elbow was three times its normal size. After weeks of rehabilitation, he was able to return to the starting lineup. Manager Miller Huggins was never informed about the activities at the fair.

Times were different, in those days, to say the least. Huggins had a phone in the dugout, and often called the bullpen just to keep the relievers on their toes. Even team owner Ed Barrow had a phone in his box. On a hot day, he noticed a player on a bench, apparently taking a snooze. Barrow roared at the player to sit up straight! “Get your feet on the ground!”

Not much chance of that happening today. There is major turmoil over the admittance of kids in the clubhouses.

After retiring from baseball, Hoyt went into broadcasting, and was at the mike for the Cincinnati Reds for 25 years. He was well known for spinning fine anecdotes during rain delays. (I made reference to this skill in a previous article about Duke Snider, who also spun a fine yarn!)

Hoyt died on August 24, 1984. A true baseball legend.

March 21, 2016.

Sunday, March 13, 2016


Waite Hoyt and Murderers' Row

                                                                        Waite Hoyt     

When offered the opportunity, Jim Niccum jumped up into the driver's seat of the Model “T” Ford, and turned the key in the ignition. After a few moments, the engine turned over, and a large smile creased his face. Jim works as an historian at the Edison and Ford Estates in Fort Myers. He has been working there for more than twenty years. He has also been rambling around the world for more than ninety years. I always enjoy chatting with him. Every once in a while, he shares a memory with me. I instantly realize that I can churn it into a column.

                                          Jim Niccum, at the Estates

Jim recently asked me if I had ever heard of Waite Hoyt. I replied to the affirmative. He then told me that Hoyt was his father-in-law. The wheels were in motion, and I am pleased to share the results with you.

Waite Hoyt was a baseball pitcher who pitched in the Major Leagues from 1918 to 1938. His finest years were spent on the mound with the New York Yankees. One year in particular stands above all: 1927. The Yankees won the World Series that year.

Hoyt won 22 games and lost 7 in 1927. Wiley Moore won 19 games, as did Herb Pennock. Urban Shocker won 18. But that team is remembered more for the bats than for the hurlers.

George Herman (Babe) Ruth hit 60 home runs. He scored 158 runs, and batted .358. Lou Gehrig led the league with 175 runs batted in. He had 18 triples, and batted .373. Earle Coombs led the league with 231 hits, and was third in runs scored behind Ruth and Gehrig.

The team was dubbed “Murderers' Row” . Baseball celebrated its centennial in 1969, and the 1927 Yankees were selected by the Baseball Writers Association of America as the greatest team ever. Hoyt was also elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame that year, along with Roy Campanella, Stanley Coveleski, and Stan Musial.

In his introduction to a book about that team, Hoyt indicates that the team was not assembled overnight. Hoyt joined the club in 1921, and won the first league championship along with Ruth, Meusel, Bob Shawkey and manager Miller Huggins.

Hoyt finished his career with a record of 237 wins and 182 losses. His career ERA was 3.59. By the time he retired in 1938, he had pitched the most victories in World Series history.

To be continued....

James Hurst

Monday, March 07, 2016


On to the Big Dance!!

Just a few weeks ago, all of the naysayers were predicting that the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles would not go very far in the playoffs. They play in the Atlantic Sun Conference against seven other teams: North Florida, USC Upstate, Kennesaw State, Jacksonville, Lipscomb, NJIT (Newark, New Jersey), and Stetson. There are many other conferences throughout the nation. The purpose of the exercise is to qualify for the NCAA tournament held every March. Hence the term: “March Madness”.

A team qualifies automatically if they win the conference title. FGCU was on the cusp when the playoffs began. They finished fourth in regular season play, and had to play Kennesaw State in the quarter finals, and won that game 74-64. With that win, they faced the first seed North Florida in the semi-final game. The Eagles shocked the North Floridians 89-56 to earn a berth in the final.

On Sunday night, the Eagles faced the Hatters from Stetson in the St. Petersburgh area. The Hatters were led by an outstanding freshman from California, Derick Newton. Newton entered the game against the Eagles with 531 points, the most by any Hatter since 1996. He was also named to the All-Freshmen team for the conference. His teammate Brian Pegg was named to the Second All Star team. Kevin Ndahiro, a freshman from Ottawa, played almost 20 minutes for the Hatters.

The Eagles matched up well against the Hatters with Marc-Eddy Norelia, and Zach Johnson, a Floridian on the All freshman team.

                                                                   Zach Johnson                                                                                 Marc-Eddy Norelia

The Alico Arena was packed with almost 5 000 fans. The band was in fine form, the cheerleaders performed admirably as did the school dance team.

          Caleb Houston                                                            Katie Jones     

The Eagles won the tip, and stormed to a 10-0 lead. Coach Corey Williams called a timeout, and settled the young Hatters. He knows a thing or two about the game. He won a title, once upon a time, playing with Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The Hatters then went on a 16-4 run to take the lead, and finished the first half leading by five points, 35-30.

                                                  Coach Williams, after the game.    
With six minutes remaining, the Eagles trailed by five points. Zach Johnson cut the lead with two bruising drives to the hoop. Newton replied for the Hatters, and the teams battled to a 69-69 draw at the end of regulation.

Teams were even in almost every regard at that point in the game. Stetson had 32 rebounds to 30 for the Eagles. The Hatters shot 6 for 17 from outside the arc, whereas FGCU nailed only one attempt in seven tries. Neither team did well from the foul shot line. The Eagles shot 66% and the hatters 73%.

The five minutes of overtime basketball proved to be equally exciting, and the crowd was deafening. The lead went back and forth several times. Johnson blocked a shot as time expired, and the Eagles won 80-78.

Norelia was named the tournament MVP. He and his teammates climbed the ladder to cut pieces of net. The spoils for the victors! The Eagles will likely play March 15th or 16th in Dayton, Ohio.

We will be watching, needless to say.

James Hurst

Tuesday, March 01, 2016


Basketball 2016- Anticipating March Madness

I do not often make predictions. Basically, it is because I am a coward.

But I am predicting that Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry will repeat as the MVP of the NBA this year. A very safe prediction. Following last year's remarkable season, he has taken his game to greater heights. He has re-written the record book even though the season is far from complete.

In Curry's case, this is a story of the apple falling close to the tree. His father Dell played from 1986 to 2002 in the National Basketball Association. He began his career with the Utah Jazz, moved to Cleveland for a year, and then spent the next ten years with the Charlotte Hornets. After another season with the Milwaukee Bucks, he finished up his career with the Toronto Raptors, retiring in 2002.

Dell Curry grew up in Virginia. In order to perfect his shot, he got permission from his high school coach to practise in his barn. He went on to play college ball as a four-year starter at Virginia Tech. And he was also a decent baseball player as well, drafted out of high school by the Texas Rangers, and later by the Baltimore Orioles.

Steph Curry is the oldest of the three Curry children. His brother Seth plays for the Sacramento Kings, and his sister plays volleyball at Elon University. His mother also played university volleyball. The right DNA, to begin with.

He moved to Toronto with his family in 1999. As an elementary school kid in the West End of the city, he began to learn his trade. Shooting, shooting, shooting. Handling the ball. Learning the ropes. On one occasion, he arrived late for the game, at half time. Without any warmup, his first shot went through the hoop. And the next. And several shots following that. He played for a “Club” team called Toronto 5-0.

They traveled around the province playing other Club teams. They amassed a record of 33 wins, four losses, and won the provincial championship. (Several area kids have also traveled that route
to learn the game, including the Ross boys, the Doornekamps from the Napanee area, and my son Arty.)

Steph married a Toronto native Ayesha Alexander. They have two daughters, and live in the Bay area of San Francisco.

Incidentally, the Raptors drafted DeMar DeRozan in the same draft that saw Curry go to the Golden State Warriors. Curry went seventh, DeRozan ninth. Missed him by a hair! DeRozan has been an outstanding addition to the Raptors roster.

Last weekend Curry hit a shot that has stirred the basketball world. It was measured at more than 38 feet from the basket. It was a game-winning shot, in overtime. It was his 288th three point basket, eclipsing his previous mark. Last year, he established the record for the most three pointers in a season. The Warriors still have almost 30% of their games remaining. He will certainly score at least 400 this season.

Curry shoots slightly more that 50% beyond the arc, and is successful more than 9 out of every ten times that he shoots foul shots. A small man in a big man's game, he seems to compensate, adequately.

An incredible ball-handler, his warm up routine is worth the price of admission. He dribbles two balls, and stretches to prepare for the game. His moves to the basket for simple layups confound opponents. The approach that most opposing teams have to guarding him? Keep the ball out of his hands.

He has elevated his team to great heights. There is a good chance that they will eclipse the best regular season record of all time-owned by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Yes, the heyday of a certain Michael Jordan. Curry will also repeat as league MVP, and will lead his team into the playoffs.

There is also plenty of other wonderful tidbits about this young star on Wikipedia, including video of his times in Hogtown.

Off to see the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles tonight. First Playoff game. Do or die in every game. It's Madness!

James Hurst

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