Bored to Tears

March 30, 2009

So I’ve been checking out a lot of games the last couple months here in the Southern California area. I’ve pretty much covered it – high school, little league, pony league, junior college, four year college, etc. 

Um, I’m bored. I honestly haven’t seen one player who thrills me. Not one. And this area is supposed to be one of the hot beds of baseball talent in the world. Crickets. Zippo.

All I’ve seen is a bunch of little robots running around, doing everything technically right, but with the passion of a dirt clod. It’s about as entertaining as watching paint dry. What the heck is going on? Where in the heck are the performers? The risk takers? I wanna see some kid NOT get his foot down on time. A kid with a WILD leg kick and HUGE hitch in his swing but can just flat hit. Scratch that, I don’t even care if he can hit or not, I’ll settle for 4 strikeouts by someone who takes his hacks with authority and recklessness.

I want to see a player who’s loose, passionate, and creative. I want to see someone with 19 batting gloves in their back pockets. I want to see someone who talks some smack. Someone with rhythm and funk. I want to see someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass if he fails or not. I just want to see someone show off a little bit.

Everybody’s trying to dance perfectly. NEWS FLASH! You can’t think and dance well at the same time! Yogi was right. You end up looking like a robot. For cryin out loud….let it go!

Can’t there be someone who’s brave enough to just PLAY? Someone who recognizes the difference between practice and game time?

Somebody save me!!!!!!!

I keep coming back to these quotes….

“It’s supposed to be fun, the man says ‘Play Ball’ not ‘Work Ball’ you know.”   –  Willie Stargell

“To be successful, one must take chances.”   –   Willie Stargell

“Though they play an important role in the early stage, the techniques should not be too mechanical, complex or restrictive. If we cling blindly to them, we shall eventually become bound by their limitations. Remember, you are expressing the techniques and not doing the techniques. If somebody attacks you, your response is not Technique No.1, Stance No. 2, Section 4, Paragraph 5. Instead you simply move in like sound and echo, without any deliberation. It is as though when I call you, you answer me, or when I throw you something, you catch it. It’s as simple as that – no fuss, no mess.”      -      Bruce Lee

It’s Not Hot Bud, It’s Not Hot

March 26, 2009

1990, Southern League, Memphis Tennessee, a hundred billion degrees with a hundred billion percent humidity. I’m on the AA Chicks and we’re playing the second game of a double header against someone. To add to the heat, our field is astroturf. And not just any astroturf. I think this might be the first piece of astroturf ever used on a baseball field. It’s so old, the green color has faded into a glaring and heat intensifying white. Fun times. 

Anyway, like I said, it’s the second game of a double header and the umpire behind the plate is a guy named Bitchin’ Bud. I won’t use his last name. This guy was a nightmare. He honestly thought he was God’s gift to umpiring. He generally strutted around as if everyone in the stands had paid to watch him call the game.

So, it’s the second inning and super hot and I notice that Bud has stopped talking. He’s also missed a few pitches in a row, (which was nothing out of the ordinary) but the lack of chit-chat from his mouth has me a little concerned.

With two outs in the bottom of the second, our pitcher delivers a 2-0 pitch. The ball gets about half way to me and….the next thing I know, I’m face down in the dirt and Bud is on top of me mumbling for his Mom. I kid you not. I don’t know what the hell has happened so I roll him off me to escape. He’s still deliriously calling for his Mom to make him dinner or something and he’s bright red. Turns out he overheated and passed out on me – mid pitch. Classic. Couldn’t of happened to a better guy.

Apparently, they took him to the the hospital and hooked him up to some IV’s and revived him. And since he only went a couple of innings the day before, they decided to slap him behind the plate for the following night’s game, of which I’m catching again. I take the field in the first inning and put my glove up to catch the warmups, and in big black sharpie ink, just for Bitchin’ Bud to see, someone from our team (Kyle Reese) had written “IT’S NOT HOT BUD, IT’S NOT HOT!!!”

Noah Bear

March 23, 2009

My 10 year old son Noah had a game yesterday. He plays for the Dodgers and they played the undefeated Phillies. The Dodgers took a three run lead into the last inning and lost it, mostly on a throwing error my son made from shortstop. I was so bummed. I would like to tell you I don’t care and he’s only 10 and all I want him to do is have fun, but I would be lying. I was bummed. Mostly because the Phillies have 15 crazy- over-the-top-Dad coaches. They also have a bunch of kids who break out in huge crying fits at the drop of a hat. And they do it about 20 times a game. Don’t they know there’s no crying in baseball? What part of “A League of Their Own” don’t they understand? 

Anyway, they might be great kids and great Dad coaches, but they just bug and I would’ve loved to see them get waxed. And they would’ve if Noah hadn’t chucked a routine grounder away. He was fine after the game. He actually had fun and had an air of “if this is the worst thing that can happen to me on the field, then that’s not so bad”. It was cool. 

I’ve personally been through that situation (losing a game for the team) many times in my career and there’s nothing anyone can say at the time to make it better. You just go through it and move on. It’s a different deal being a Dad and watching my son go through it. Part of me wants to hug him, part of me wants to yell at him to bear down, and part of me wants to let him know that making mistakes is part of baseball and life in general. I keep thinking back to the times I made mistakes and recalling how I felt and how my Dad talked to me or yelled at me or whatever.

So I really didn’t do anything. I asked him if he had fun (yes), told him I loved him, told him I was proud of him, kissed him, and tucked my daughter in to bed and then went to bed myself. In the morning over breakfast, he asked me what the worst game I ever had was. That was too hard to answer (too many) but I told him a story about me playing for Grampa at Orange Coast and striking out to lose a game.

I asked him what his was, and he said last night’s with a smile, and a glint in his eye that told me he was gonna be alright. The little bugger kind of liked it. He liked the challenge. He liked the drama. He likes winning and at least in this instance, he lost gracefully. Damn, he just might be a ballplayer after all.

Welcome to the Freak Show

March 21, 2009

Let’s stay with the circus atmosphere/handicap theme from the last blog. First a couple disclaimers. One, this particular blog is going to be rated “PG” due to the word “testicle”. I’m going to be using the word “testicle” a couple of times. If you’re young, you may want to ask your parents if you can read a blog with the word “testicle” in it. Secondly, no I’m not an insensitive jerk. I’m just a baseball player who had too much time on his hands out in the bullpens of America to think of stuff like this. 

The last thing I’ll say is that if you’re a baseball player, it makes absolutely no difference if a guy’s got a handicap or not. You can either play or you can’t. Honestly, I don’t give a crap if you’ve got testicles growing out of your forehead. As long as you can get them out of the way in time to see the ball and get hits, you can be my teammate.

You will, however, make my All-Freak team. And I say that with all the love in the world. There’s so much down time in baseball. Sometimes, as a way to stay occupied, we’d all pitch in and make up our all- time team of guys we played with or against with weird body issues.

Without naming names, it was really easy and fun to fill a whole roster with guys. There was a manager with a peg leg. There was a coach and one of the all-time great traveling secretaries who didn’t have a shred of hair on their bodies. There were numerous guys with enough hair on their body to pass for cave men. I played with a lot of guys with six fingers per hand, and a couple who were missing a digit. I played with quite a few guys with four nipples.

There was the pitcher I played with in the minor leagues with all baby teeth (never got the grownup ones). A couple six toed fellas. Another right handed pitcher who had a glass eye in his left eye (from the stretch, he had to look over his RIGHT shoulder – hilarious). There were numerous one testicled ball players. I played against a guy who had one ear. We already mentioned the one armed pitcher. There was also a pitcher with no neck. I also had a first base coach with more eyebrow hair than Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes.

I had a coach who was previously a police officer. In a weird mishap, he shot himself in the foot, completely blowing away all the skin off the bottom of his foot. They had to do a skin graft in which the doctor took extra skin from his buttocks and slapped it on the bottom of his wheel. Everything worked out fine and he recovered back to normal. Almost. The bottom of his foot was all hairy! The skin they took from his hairy butt, well….you get the drift. Needless to say, he was a starter on my All Freak Team.

 

Abbott vs. Spehr

March 18, 2009

I went to a local Junior College game yesterday between Orange Coast College and Cypress. The left fielder for Cypress had only one hand. After fielding the ball, he’d flip the ball up, rapidly switch the glove to his left arm, catch the ball with his right hand and then throw. I think. It all happened so fast I couldn’t be sure. Suffice to say, it was every bit as effective as a two handed outfielder.

Anyway, this got me to thinking about Jim Abbott, the ex-Yankee, Angel, and Brewer superstar one-handed pitcher. Here’s my one and only Jim Abbott story. I hope this doesn’t come off as disrespectful or anything. Jim is an awesome person, was a phenomenal pitcher, and is an inspiration to all.  I’m not making fun of his handicap, this is just one of those goofy baseball stories that really happened.

OK, now that the disclaimer is out of the way… It’s 1994 or so, I’m with the Royals, and we’re playing the Yankees. Abbott is pitching and I’ve got the day off. Tim Spehr is our other catcher, he’s a rookie, and is getting his first start against Jim. It’s gets to close to Tim’s first at bat, and he scoots up to me on the bench and nervously asks me if I’ve got any advice regarding what to expect from Abbott. Sensing his nervousness, I tried for a little comic relief. First I told him the obvious – that he was going to for sure get the buzz saw cut fastball. 

Then I told him don’t worry about it though. It’s really not that hard of a pitch to handle (I lied).  I told him the most important thing is to not get caught up in the “circus atmosphere” of him having one hand and how fast he switches the glove over to the other hand and all of that stuff. I warned him that if you pay too much attention to his handicap, he’ll hypnotize you like a cobra and then blow the cutter by you. I told him THAT was his biggest weapon and if you don’t look at him till right before the pitch comes, you’ll be fine.

Well, Tim goes up to bat and he’s in the box and he’s doing what I’ve told him – he’s looking straight down – being very cautious to not get hypnotized. Then out of the blue, as if he’d heard our discussion, Abbott calls time out, kneels down in front of the mound, and unties and ties his shoe with one hand! Have you ever tried to tie your shoe with one hand? It’s impossible. I look at Tim and he’s locked in to Jim, flabbergasted by what he’s seeing, and completely caught up in the “circus atmosphere”. Not the slightest thought thats he’s up there to hit. Completely unfocused.

I’m laughing my butt off on the bench. Abbott got him. He cobrad him. Still reeling and hypnotized from the shoe tying incident, Spehr took three heaters right down the middle and walked right back to the bench. He never knew what had hit him. Good stuff.