brewers baseball and things


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catching foul balls

i guess you could make an analogy of seats at a stadium to class structures.
box seat bourgeoisie
proletariat grandstand
blue-collar bleachers and so on.
i’m probably messing up the terms.

County Stadium Milwaukee had its red seats and green ones,
upper and lower
box and grandstand
each had a number that matched the ticket.
row-seat-aisle.
like a private property chair,
until the last out anyway.

then there were the bleachers.
there were no private seats there.
i guess you could say it was communism,
all of us sharing space on wood planks,
we could see outfielders up close
and catch home runs too.

one of the first games i ever went to was with my older brother.
it was the Brewers against the Twins,
the year Carew flirted with .400.
we were in the upper grandstand.
a foul ball came there.
it pinballed around and disappeared.
we ran in its general direction, but couldn’t find it.
then this older guy reached down under a red seat and snagged it.
up went his arm.

another time, i was in the lower grandstand with my dad.
i forget who was batting,
but they hit a towering foul ball.
it was coming our way.
i cupped my hands together and watched it ricochet off the mezzanine.
arms went up all around me,
all kinds of arms.
I felt like a midget looking up at a levitating octopus.
the ball somehow eluded those arms and fell into my hands.
it had a black scuff mark on it from the 
mezzanine.
I had caught a foul ball.

i wish i could say i kept score of games or
studied the graceful gazelle like strides of Robin Yount or
clumsy back tracking of Ben Oglivie or
Gorman Thomas’s shaggy hair.
i wish i could describe in microscopic detail how each seat provided a different vantage point,
but where i sat never mattered.

i was just glad to be at the game or because ummmm…..
there was always a chance.

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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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battered bastards of baseball

One of the criticisms of minor league baseball is that teams are under the watchful eye of Big League Daddy. Players are called up to the next level on short notice. What was once a good team turns it into a not so good one. On the one hand, it makes for a unifying force with all affiliates aimed at the big league level like Santa’s little helpers. But how  can a team or a city for that matter build anything under such insecurity?

There were The Milwaukee Brewers of the AAA American Association. They  changed affiliates a number of times, but played from 1902-1952 at Borchert Field in Milwaukee. The major league Brewers of today took their name from that team and their beer barrel chested mascot as well. Only the colors changed.

Some fans opt for the Indy Leagues. There are currently nine Independent baseball Leagues scattered across the USA and Canada including two teams in Quebec. There are three more that play in the winter and a new league – The Southwest League to start up this April. In the early 1970’s the number of Indy leagues had dwindled down to zero. Then something happened in Portland, Oregon. It’s been made into a documentary, Jim Bouton included. It delves into this topic of Indy leagues versus minor leagues and much much more.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s available on Netflix (the internet TV network) and youtube, for the time being. I say time being because many vintage baseball games and programs have been taken down due to copyright violation issues. 


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baseball’s seismic shift….

Shohei Otani, a two-way player from Japan, will soon be signed to a contract and once he does, he will remain a two-way player. Otani has spent the last five seasons playing for the Nippon Ham Fighters in the Japanese Professional League. He has a 42-15 record over that span with a 2.52 E.R.A. and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings. He also has a .286 batting average with 48 homers and 166 runs batted in. I don’t think major league baseball has ever seen someone like him before. He is potentially a franchise player, a term used more often in basketball.

More than franchise, he could end the pampering of pitchers and inspire kids to dream of being baseball’s Jekyll and Hyde.

What makes the situation even more exciting is that he can’t be signed for more than a minimum amount of money due to this or that in the new CBA. I think it’s somewhere around 3.25 million. He is 23 years young. This opens the door to every team.

In an unprecedented twist, Otani’s agent sent a questionnaire to all 30 teams, asking them to explain why their team and city is the best fit for Otani. There are seven questions or requests.

1. An evaluation of Shohei’s talent as a pitcher and/or a hitter
2. Player development, medical, training and player performance philosophies and capabilities
3. Major League, Minor League, and Spring Training facilities
4.  Resources for Shohei’s cultural assimilation
5.  A detailed plan for integrating Shohei into the organization
6.  Why the city and franchise are a desirable place to play
7.  Relevant marketplace characteristics

This is unique. This suggests concern for a 23 year old kid about to take a journey into a foreign country. It rearranges the priority. I hope the Brewers get him.

Dear Shohei Otani,
Milwaukee is a small market city, totally out of the spotlight. The success we enjoyed last year pushed our rebuild phase up a few notches. We are young and enjoyed being in the playoff hunt till the last day of the season. We aim to compete in 2018, to battle for the NL Central title. We want that World Series. We have past dealings with Japanese born players, most recently Norichika Aoki who we signed as a free agent in 2012. He played two seasons with the Brewers. The city embraced him.

There are a number of Japanese restaurants in Milwaukee including Kanpai Izakaya. There are also cultural centers and festivals dedicated to Japanese culture.

OR

We could skip the ambassador talk and send Mr. Otani a few sexy baseball haikus that integrate Lake Michigan with Miller Park and being on the Brewers.

I’m dreaming because Otani will probably pick an American League team where he can serve as a DH when not pitching.

Regardless, he is a once in a life time phenom. Sure, he’s from Japan and unproven, but at 3.25 million, there’s not much to lose, not in baseball cents anyway. Rumors are swirling. The courting has no doubt already begun. He will be posted in the next few weeks and then most likely be signed before Christmas.

Too bad Otani and/or his agent don’t make their address public. We could flood them with mail. That might turn the tide.


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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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towards mount olympus

i don’t know why i liked harold baines.
he began his MLB career with the chicago white sox.
i lived in milwaukee and rooted for the brewers.
brewer fans and white sox fans sometimes brawled and yet,
I liked Harold.

the white sox games were on channel 32 WFLD.
i watched Harold’s name on the scoreboard at comiskey park.
it was broken up into syllables.
HAR…………OLD
a ball bounced above each syllable.
fans responded by singing,
HAR………OLD.

a friend of mine called Harold “fish face” and yet,
i liked Harold.

I met Harold in spring training.
he signed a ball for me,
but never cracked a smile, never even looked at me.
he was talking to a man dressed in a suit with a beard but no mustache.
i remember it being very strange.
i had never seen Amish people on a baseball diamond.
i had never seen Amish people at all.
looking back now,
there was great variety in that.

reporters called Harold the dullest interview of all time
and it’s true he was more placid than a peaceful lake.
shortstop Ozzy Guillen said he drove Harold up to milwaukee
and the only words Harold said the entire trip were at the very end
“thank you” and yet,
i liked Harold.

he lifted his front leg.
people called it japanese-esque,
but i didn’t know anything about all that.
he often looked sad like he didn’t want to play and yet,
i liked Harold.

he hit a lot doubles – 488.
that tied him with Mel Ott and Jeff Bagwell for 73rd all time,
he hit a lot of home runs – 384 including 13 grand slams and 10 walk-off blasts. i watched one on tv.
it was against the Brewers.
it was the longest game in baseball history-25 innings.
Harold hit it off the Brewer’s Chuck Porter.

on the back of his 1981 Topps baseball card,
it says,
“was first noticed by white sox as a 12-year-old playing little league ball.”
maybe that’s why I liked him?
since i was 12 when I first held that card in my hand….

I later learned that Charlie Lau worked with Harold.
i knew Lau from the movie Max Dougan Returns.
i loved that movie.
so maybe that was it?
maybe that’s why i liked Harold?