brewers baseball and things


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post apocalyptic baseball starter kit

I had no idea what the rumors of Jose Abreu being traded to the Red Sox might do. I mentioned it Thursday morning as a work warm up and the lone Red Sox fan in our Montreal warehouse smiled a David Ortiz smile and then added,

“Wasn’t there another Abreu in baseball?”

“Yeh,” I said. “Bobby Abreu.”

“For the Cardinals?” he asked

“No, a couple of other teams, but mostly the Phillies,” I said.

“Oh yeh the Phillies,” he responded. “He was an Expos killer.”

I had no idea about Abreu being an Expo killer but I related to the horror because Reggie Jackson murdered the Brewers at County Stadium. I told my co-worker this. He paused and then said,

“We’re going to an Expos game one day.”

He might have been referring to the annual spring training games held at Olympic Stadium between the Blue Jays and some other team, but he said Expos. I could have asked him, could have made clarification my top priority, but I prefer riffing off someone any way I like, delusional as it may be.

So one day we were going to an Expos game. Hmmmm. Of course things would have to change. Typically baseball arouses ire rather than awe in Montrealers. They seem to use the sport as a springboard to deconstruct society and all its woes, maybe understandably so considering the Expos were stolen from Montreal and moved to Washington D.C.

Then there is a group that welcomes the idea of baseball back here, but only if there is a new stadium. They know exactly where to put one too, how much money it would generate, and so on. No one liked Olympic Stadium. No one does. This is nothing new. Even the Expos management didn’t like it back in 1975 when they promised major league baseball it was a temporary solution while a new stadium was built. We’re still waiting. But a new stadium wouldn’t solve Montreal’s problems. Sure, if you build one, people would come, but only for a year or two and then what? The newness of the fashion would fade.

I say forget the new stadium mentality. Start over. Take a new road. Mind you this is very much a work in progress. I’m no urban planner, but as a baseball fan in Montreal I can only tolerate so much Bobby Wine-ing. Here’s my nine cents…..

1) revive Montreal’s lost rivers from before the automobile highways aroused a strange desire in cement.
2) create blue prints to carve canoes from fallen trees, paddles too.
3) 
build real simple baseball diamonds all over the place, river to river.
4) organize teams according to old parish neighborhoods
5) open bars and diners near the diamonds.

6) organize baseball games.
7) don’t keep score.

8) stop the games at random moments and have players and fans breathe, feel the wind, make games longer.
9) make batting practice a city-wide every day holiday and let fans take batting practice after every game.

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winter meetings

I always assumed the winter meetings took place in warm climates. Well, I was wrong. They’ve been held all over the place including Toronto in 1979, Chicago in 1942, and a couple of times in Columbus, Ohio. There is of course no obligation to make deals of any sort. Owners, General Managers and whoever else sets up a booth at these things can do absolutely nothing. They can sit and glow at what some critics call a commercial mish-mash, advertising nightmare.

I wonder what kind of hallucinated beings Hunter S. Thompson would create at such a venue?

In 1967, the meetings were held in Mexico City to celebrate the Mexican League’s upgrade from Double-A to Triple-A. It was the first one held outside the USA. This year’s pow wow is in Orlando, Florida, December 9-13, and there might be a trade or two, a few free agent signings….fuel for a wintery day.

The Brewers are shopping for a pitcher to replace Jimmy Nelson who suffered season ending surgery last year. You could argue that he was one of baseball’s best pitchers over the last year and half. It’s not clear how long he will be sidelined for 2018. There are a few free agents to choose from if the Brewers decide to go that route, but I hope to beer mug heaven they don’t.

The last two pitchers we signed were total busts. The bad judgment began with Jeff Suppan in 2006. He was great for the community, a god fearing man no doubt, but he was also great for opposing team’s hitters. Then came Matt Garza in 2014. He’s been  injury prone and for the most part, another dud. Both Suppan and Garza were over 30 years old when we signed them to 4 year contracts. Ughhhhhhhh! 

The ultimate solution would be an in house one. They could convert Josh Hader, a left hander, into a starter. He was lights out as a reliever last year….68 k’s in 47 innings, 2.08 ERA. I don’t know how he was just slipped into trades, from the Orioles to the Astros to the Brewers? Maybe he was the bargaining chip? Whatever the reason, we got him now.

What about Brent Suter? He’s also left-handed and was very serviceable as a fill-in starter last season. I love his antics on the mound. he made every pitch seem like it might be his last. Very fidgety like watching Tug McGraw in a Brewers uniform. Sure, he labors, but he get outs…maybe more like a spot starter and a long reliever? There’s also hope that Junior Guerra will be healthy and regain his 2016 out of nowhere success. How does a guy 31 years old slip under the high-tech extra terrestrial scouting bureau radar? His baseball reference page barely fits on one screen.

Trades….I hear the Rays are looking to rebuild. The Brewers could go after their ace – Chris Archer. I’m drooling at this possibility. The Brewers won 86 times last year. A starter like Archer would put them over the top, help them win the division. I’ll put 20 bucks on this too. Trades have been “berry berry berry” good to the Brewers as Chico Escuela of Saturday Night Live might have said. We brought in CC Sabathia in 2008. He was 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA and we won the wild card. Then in 2011, we traded for Zack Greinke. He was 16-6 (11-0 at Miller Park) and we won the NL Central. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I prefer a big ol’ trade to a free agent signing any day of the work week.

I guess every winning team is a combination of drafted and developed players, astute trades, and smart FA signings. The trick is knowing the right balance. For the Brewers this is where big daddy Counsell comes into play. He has four kids waiting for him at home. I get the sense that he lets his players have fun, that this freedom is an extension of his playing days when he didn’t try to out stage anyone. He let people be. This bodes well for the Brewers. It already has.


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a love story with no beginning

Damien was the falcon nosed kid. I forget the color of his hair, but he could stare without blinking. He had pointy bones and liked to fight. He ruled the playground. I learned more about the history of the world from Damien, with all its divide and conquers, survival of the fittest, and begging for mercy than I did in the classroom. It wasn’t just Damien bashing in kid’s heads either. He knew all the books, especially the literatures and yet he talked so street talk colorful.

Damien had the golden tongue, but not the kind that put priests in a holy mood. He mocked and ridiculed. I often hid an extra 10 minutes under my blanket knowing i would have to face Damien’s music, that tongue of his. I never knew what he might say. Some days I slid a thermometer in my arm pit, waited for the mercury to rise and moaned to my momma. What a relief when she insisted I stay in bed.

One day Damien announced he was gonna be a field goal kicker. That changed everything for me because he needed someone to hold the ball and as it turned out, much to my surprise, he liked me.

“A place kicker ain’t no job for no shaky handed boy,” he said. “You’re one of dem’ honest types. I can tell. I can trust you.”

He said it would be easy. The only thing to worry about was the cold, but even that was curable with the big mittens and giant sideline heaters pro kickers used. 
We walked over to the university and tried our luck. He got pretty good. The longest he kicked was 35 yards. But then spring came and we started playing strikeout and forgot all about field goals and football. I guess we had attention deficit disorder. We learned it from the seasons.

But from then on we were friends. In summer, we got drunk in Damien’s basement. His dad had rigged up one of those makeshift bars, fully equipped with a neon “beer served” sign, a tap, and spirits under the rail. We drank whisky and went to girl’s softball games. We cheered for the first baseman. She was tall and skinny, a definite contortionist, perfect fit for a first sacker. Her name was Sabrin. Damien asked what happened to the “a’ at the end of her name. She smiled and whipped around 180 degrees. Her long blond hair spread out like a Japanese fan.

We made up songs about her, making sure to put a lilt in our voices so she knew we meant no harm.

Sabrin started to come over and talk to us between innings. She told us she liked digging her cleats into the dirt. She wondered if her cat enjoyed the same sensation when she scratched the carpet tower? I think her saying that changed Damien. He started asking her more and more questions. This went on for many days. He stopped picking fights at school. People were free to do whatever they wanted.

I was curious what had happened. So I mustered up the courage and invited Sabrin for a soda at the arcade. She said yes and then gave me one of those 180 degree spin arounds. Once again, her hair spread out like a Japanese fan. I think in that moment I already knew what had happened to Damien.

When Sabrin wasn’t on the diamond, she took to fixing things, mostly dishwashers and washing machines. She learned to take them apart and put them back together again. She did the same thing with herself and soon gave up first base and batting third and baseball all together. She turned her bats into bird feeder ledges and her mitt into a nest for her cat. She took her collection of balls and rolled them down a hill and watched them disappear.


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a hippopotamus may not be the sexiest creature, but still…

if some strange creature in an unfamiliar place promised me a body, but said you must have nine personalities, I would try and be positive and respond with something like,

“Well, can I at least choose the nine personalities?”

And if this strange creature said yes,
i’d pick nine positions on the diamond as my personalities.
the catcher would be my first choice.
he’d be my psychiatrist since catchers suffer a lot themselves.
it would be like choosing a boat builder if stranded on an island.
but the catcher wouldn’t eliminate the other eight personalities.
no way.
he’d help each personality realize their full potential.
for example,
he’d calm the aging super star pitcher down,

try to get him to not be so perfect.
maybe take him to the equivalent of a Fear concert,
have him play air guitar to “let’s have a war.”
give him a new edge,
put that look back in his eyes.
remind him that having good stuff is rare and insist,

“You don’t have any more good stuff. You’re old, but don’t worry.”

This would be a shock wave wake-up to the former ace who would realize the trick is turning not so good stuff into something halfway decent. He’d develop some new pitches and the results would be decent,
like six innings of 5 hit ball, maybe two or three earned runs, a couple of k’s and
keeping your team in the game.

then Dr. catcher would talk to the show-off rookie center fielder,

and well,
that’s an entirely different story.

at this point i would probably start feeling dizzy from all the inner voices,
all the banter back and forth,
not every position/personality blindly agreeing with Doctor catcher’s diagnosis.
i would take a deep breath,
pull up a chair,
pop a top on a Pabst and
enjoy a good old nine inning game on TV.

 

 


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a visionary dud or?

On a good day after work, I take deep breaths and walk home slowly. It’s paradise. I inhale bus fumes and see amputated trees. It’s been that way for 10 days now….tree stumps on apartment lawns. Makes me wonder if a man in a cape will swoop down at night and turn them into gnomes? Or maybe they’ll be picked up by a shredder truck and turned into pulp?

I hadn’t given these stumps too much thought until I sat down and started to write about them. Maybe the city cut the trees so the overhead electric wires will have more room, in anticipation of freezing rain this winter? Or maybe the trees have been diseased and had to be removed to not contaminate the other trees? Or maybe I’m the chosen one and it’s my duty to gather up all this wood and begin construction on a new baseball stadium? Of course, stadiums aren’t made of wood anymore, but I would be part of a new nation, a chosen nation, that comes together, a nation of warriors, wood gatherers, and millioners….together as one people to get people off their anti-baseball asses. There’s too much culture in Montreal anyway. They already took away our horse tracks.

We wouldn’t be the first to consider ourselves a chosen people. There were the Moonies starring Reverend Sun Myung Moon. He preached that Korea was chosen by god to perform a divine mission. There were also the Tarahumara people of northwest Mexico. You might recognize the name from one of the stories in Dreaming .400…..Running from the Shackles. In it, the main character – Tunis, the one who inspires the test tube baseball babies is part Tarahumara. The story is fictional, but the Tarahumara are real and they believe they are chosen people or “Pillars of the Sky.”

There are many examples of people who believe they are chosen. It probably does wonders for an individual’s self-esteem and potentially propels an entire race to great heights or causes a nosedive into confusion and paranoia. Either way, I like the extremes it begets. With that in mind, what would happen if I heard more voices,

“Collect 18 tree stumps and I will give you a dugout in which to dwell. Collect 7 more and there will be livestock for you everywhere, plenty of cows and pigs to provide an endless supply of hot dog-hamburger-bratwurst stadium concessions, wheat and barley for your beer too, and an endless supply of joy….no more misery, only dancing and joyful noise and screaming and laughing and fun fun fun!”

And then in flash, what if all of it was taken away. What if the 18 stump sacrifices and dugout promises didn’t exist? What if it was all fig newtons of our chosen people’s imagination? Then what? Well, we might look at each other anyway and realize that we had something going on, something good, a dance of sorts, a people, so we might decide under a still standing tree to carry on the tree stump search as a metaphor……..and from there, on that first day, we might find a stray stump and from it, carve out a baseball bat and it may not turn out so good. It may be a bit asymmetrical, but the historians among us might point out that old-time baseball players used bats a little less than perfect too.

 


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a melody for roger maris

i had a dream Sunday night, of playing baseball in a beautiful beach fog. It was warm and i wasn’t doing much more than playing catch, but i woke up feeling great, not about having to go to work, but about that dream, about baseball. It felt like….I don’t know…..like a life jacket. I guess I was drowning. I guess I am. Even a newborn baby’s breath begins to rot on the way home from the maternity ward. Diaper rash soon follows and wail wail wail? those blood curdling screams tell a tale, of being a human, to suffer and yet, we carry on. Put on your overalls boy and hop up on the John Deere. It’s your day.

That other morning, there was an interim period, no more than a few seconds, when the beautiful baseball dream faded and my life came gushing back to me like the window of a slurpee machine….all the blood gushing down the window and into my head and all I wanted to do was flush it away and go back to sleep and dream that baseball clear dream. But I was awake. It was too late. I was doomed…..again. I had this and that to pay and there were rumors that Canada would be getting dumped on this winter more than last winter and that the snow would last longer, possibly into March or April. I downed a cup of coffee and thought about winter and then Dylan came to mind, his “You don’t need a  weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” I thought about him being raised in Hibbing, Minesota and Roger Maris being born there. I’ve thought about this before. It’s geographically pleasing like Aaron and Ruth being born a day apart is astrologically pleasing. Look at me….a day after that dream and i was thinking about Aaron, Ruth and Maris….Roger Maris, just saying the name pleased me, warmed my bones.


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flick your bic for one more song

It’s 1954, Christmas Eve, in Boise, Idaho and all young Petie Squibbles can think of is the organ he hopes to find under the Christmas Tree come morning. The idea of an organ sort of came as a surprise. It happened in Boston a few months earlier.

Petie and his pops were on a trip out east, to Fenway Park, to see Jimmy Piersall and the Red Sox play and much to Petie’s surprise came the soothing sound of an organ blaring in from the overhead stadium speakers. From that moment on, he dreamed of having one to play in their Idaho basement.

Is this realistic? Did kids really long for organs the same way they did a few years later with guitars, after seeing Elvis or The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show?

Organs are an old instrument, dating back to Ancient Greece. Apparently they were water organs back then, whatever that is, but what gets me pumped is that they were predominately played during races and games as opposed to strictly religious ceremonies. That seems to set the later stage for sporting events.

The first baseball team to have an organ was the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 26, 1941 when Ray Nelson played the pipe organ. The following year, the Dodgers made Gladys Gooding at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn the first ever full-time organist.

Other teams soon joined in the organ fun. The sound added to the ambiance of the stadium and even enhanced the experience of watching the actual game. At some point the organists began to mirror the actions on the field, almost like DJ’s spinning appropriate records and in some cases sarcastic ones. They provided musical commentary. One of the more well-known was Nancy Faust of the White Sox. She would play the Paul Leka song ‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’ after the opposing pitcher gave up a home run or was in jeopardy of being taken out of the game.

More than anything else, I find the organ to be a very relaxing sound. I have fond memories of hearing ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ during the 7th inning stretch of Milwaukee Brewers home games. That was back when they played at County Stadium.

The baseball organs disappeared with the arrival of new stadiums in the early 1990’s or maybe it was because of all the commercial music and other pre-recorded noises piped in. Thankfully, interest has revived and slowly, teams have brought back the organ including the Brewers at Miller Park.

I don’t know if kids really dream of owning an organ, but former pitcher Denny McLain once had one and he recorded an album ‘Denny McLain at the Organ.’ I like the tune ‘Extra Innings.’ Every time I play the song’s last notes and think the song is over, I am always surprised when those same notes repeat, a reminder of the beauty of Extra Innings, that once hooked and reeled in by a game, I never want it to end.

The song reminds me of a game I watched on TV. It was the longest game in major league history, a game between the Brewers and White Sox at Comiskey Park. It was suspended on May 8, 1984 and finished the following night. The Sox won 7-6 when Harold Baines hit a home run off Chuck “my bags please” Porter.

25 innings in all.
43 hits.
Tom Seaver got the win.
I love extra innings.
I love the organ.