Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Farewell to Yogi

  I met Yogi Berra at my cousin Jane's wedding back in the early 1970s. He was a member of the same country club as my uncle, so he and his wife Carmen were among the guests.
  Somewhere in a photo album is a picture of my brothers and me posing with him. We were not alone among the guests who were posing for pix with the baseball legend.
  Citing the fact that Yogi had a game the next afternoon -- he was managing the Mets at the time -- the Berras departed early. My father later said that it was more likely that Yogi realized he was taking the attention away from the bride and groom.
  I'd like to say that the occasion resulted in a quotable "Yogi-ism," but such is not the case.

  With his passing, there will be no new quotes, but there are plenty that will be with us forever. For your amusement, here are some of my favorites.

On the game of baseball:
"Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical."
"I always thought that record would stand until it was broken."
"Slump? I ain't in no slump. I just ain't hitting."
"It gets late early out there."
"If people don't want to come out to the ball park, nobody's gonna stop 'em."

On life in general:
"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
"Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours."
"You've got to be very careful if you don't know where you are going because you might not get there."
"You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I'm not hungry enough to eat six."
"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."
"You can observe a lot by just watching."

And the classics:
"It's like deja-vu all over again."
"I never said most of the things I said."
"It ain't over till it's over."

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Saturday Night at the Ballpark

  Since our friends Bob and Deb moved from Connecticut to Maryland, getting together with them has been a bit more of an adventure. Rather than one couple or the other making the 4+ hour trip, we've started meeting at the halfway point, which is in New Jersey just across the river from Philadelphia. We meet at a motel Saturday morning, have lunch, go adventuring in Philly, have dinner, adventure some more (or sit and talk), then head on our separate ways after Sunday morning breakfast.
  This weekend, our primary goal was to see the Genghis Khan exhibit at the Franklin Institute and that's where we headed. The plan was then for dinner and then to Citizens Bank Park for the Phillies / Cubs game. Well, we saw the exhibit, wandered the Institute some more, and then decided we needed a snack. We headed back to our motel and found a diner just down the road with excellent cake. The forecast, however, was for showers all evening and we debated whether we would actually see a baseball game.
   Since we had all eaten sizable pieces of cake at 4:30, no one was particularly interested in having dinner at 5:30. (See, your mom was right; snacks before dinner do ruin your appetite!) So we headed off to the ballpark... and it started to rain while we were en route.
   It was clear that the Phillies had no intention of calling the game. There was a decent crowd at the ballpark and, though the tarp was still on the field, the rain was easing up. Shortly after 7:30, the announcement was made that the game was expected to start at around 7:50 and at that time, we made our way to our seats. And through the evening, not another drop of rain fell.

  Bob and Deb are Mets fans through and through. I divide my allegiance between the Yankees and the Mets, since they are in separate leagues, but in a head-to-head game, I am much more likely to be rooting for the Bronx Bombers than the Amazing Ones. I watch plenty of other games on TV or online when the Yanks and Mets are not playing. But I always enjoy a game at the ballpark and root for the home team.
  In the case of the Phillies / Cubs game, the only player on either starting line-up that I had heard of was the Philadelphia left fielder, Jeff Francoeur, because he had played for the Mets a few years back. Everyone else was an unknown.
  In addition to watching the game, which was quite a pitching duel for the first six innings, Bob, Deb and I were watching the scoreboard. (Laurie, by the way, who has minimal interest in baseball, spent the evening chatting with us and knitting a sweater for Alex.) Bob and Deb were paying closest attention to the Mets / Braves score and secondarily to the Nationals / Marlins; the Mets are closing in on the NL East title and the Nats have pretty much self-destructed out of the race. I was checking the Yankees / Blue Jays game, where the Toronto team was beating up on the Yanks. In the end, the Mets won, the Nats lost, and the Yanks got blasted for the third time in two days.
  Meanwhile, in Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies pitcher Jerad Eickhoff, was pitching a one-hitter into the 7th inning. Unfortunately for him, the one hit had been a home run, and he was on the losing end of a 1-0 score. (For those of you who believe in baseball jinxes, I offer the following: I mentioned to Bob and Deb that this was going to be a tough luck loss for Eickhoff since his one bad pitch had been a home run. As soon as I said it, the next two Cubs got hits!) In the bottom of the 7th, the Phillies bats came alive, sparked by a pinch-hit by Ryan Howard -- hey, a Phillie I actually recognized! -- and they went ahead 5-1.
   Unfortunately, the Cubs came back to tie the game in the 8th and we headed into the ninth inning with a 5-5 score. As I was watching the Phils' pitcher quickly dispatch the Cubs in the top half, it occurred to me that we had not seen much action on the field -- fly ball outs were few and far between and ground outs seemed almost nonexistent. I asked Bob, who was keeping score (and has done so at every game he's attended since the early 1990s) how many strikeouts there had been. He counted. Eleven Phillies and eleven Cubs; make that twelve Phils as another one went down in the bottom of the ninth. Twenty-three of the 53 outs in the game -- 43% -- were strikeouts! I don't have any idea what the Major League record is, but this one most assuredly is one in the book of games I've attended.
   Oh, and those of you who are baseball fans are probably saying, "Hey, wait a minute, nine innings, three outs each --what about the 54th out?" Well, that never came. With two outs, the Cubs pitcher walked the next batter. Then a guy named Cody Asche (who we thought was announced as "Kobioshi") pinch-hit a game-ending home run into the right field stands. Phils win, 7-5.
  The Phillies fans who had stayed to the end went home happy. And so did we, having spent an enjoyable evening at a ball game.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Season Ticket

  I've spent time over the past week or so reliving baseball in the mid-1980s through the eyes of Roger Angell, reading (or, more likely, re-reading, since it is 27 years old) Season Ticket, a collection of his essays that originally appeared in The New Yorker magazine.

  Whether he is talking about how different pitchers throw a fastball, the joys and woes of owning a baseball team, the doldrums of mid-summer play, or the 1986 World Series, Angell's writing is filled with anecdotes and insights that will delight any fan of the game. 
  Three decades later, it is amusing to read about rookie players who managers and teammates (and Angell) think will make names for themselves: Cal Ripkin, Roger Clemens, Darryl Strawberry, Mark McGwire, to name a few... perhaps you've heard of them. And there are patterns that repeat over the decades -- players given outrageously high contracts ($1.5 million-- gasp!) who then fail to perform, teams that are predicted to run away with championships but falter, drug use (cocaine back then rather than performance-enhancing drugs), and lesser-known players who have one shining moment. 
  Fans of this year's New York Mets will enjoy the tale of the '86 team who, after battling the Houston Astros in a 16-inning pennant-clinching game, then went on to march back from the brink of World Series defeat -- two outs, no one on base, down by two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning with the Red Sox moments away from popping open the champagne -- to claim a victory. (I remember that game so well and thinking at the time that every player on the Mets bench was saying, "I'm not going to make the last out!") Mets fans will also note that Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, members of that team and now announcers in the TV booth, were well-spoken about the mechanics and intricacies of the game back way back then.
  Perhaps my favorite anecdote in the book is Orioles manager Earl Weaver talking about his ace pitcher, Jim Palmer: "Do you remember Jim pitching that day against Oakland -- the old Oakland team, when they were so tough -- when he started rearranging our outfielders, the way he does? [Sal] Bando is coming up, with men on base, and he's a right-handed hitter, of course, and Jimmy begins to move our right fielder -- I think it's [Merv] Rettenmund -- in, and then over a step, and then back half a step, like a photographer arranging a picture, and then he holds up his hands -- Hold it! Right there! -- and the next pitch, the very next pitch, Bando hits a shot out to right, and the fielder goes like this and like this, bending in and leaning back while he's watching the ball, but he never has to take a single step, and he catches the ball. Jim Frey was coaching with us then, and he turns to me on the bench and says, 'Well, now I've seen everything.'"
  Angell will tell you, however, and every baseball fan will nod in agreement, that even when you think you've seen everything, something will happen and you'll say, "I've never seen that before!"

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Endless Summer

  It is almost five weeks since I returned from my annual teaching stint at CTY, but, unlike all the previous years, I did not have to return to work in the "real world" the following Monday. With one rainy exception the third day I was home, the weather has been pretty much the same -- hot and sunny -- perfect for sitting by and in the pool.
   There's been volleyball on Tuesday nights (and some Saturday mornings), the Men Seeking Pizza group on Wednesdays, and volunteer Notary Public services at the library on Thursdays, along with socializing with friends, visits with Alex, and a couple of platelet donations. But even with all of this and the variety of indoor and outdoor chores that have filled many mornings, I've had plenty of time to relax and enjoy.
  And, since closing the pool is not going to happen until after Columbus Day, there are still a lot more of these days to come. Indeed, an endless summer.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

And now, the "News"

* An item in USA Today reported that more adults are having accidents while riding bicycles, adding that this is most likely a result of more adults riding bicycles.

* A study by the University of Illinois has determined that police officers working in states with high gun ownership rates are three times as likely to be killed on the job as those who work in states with low gun ownership rates.

* According to The New York Times, 67% of Republicans and 60% of Democrats say they are "very happy" in their marriages. It must be all those Independents who account for the 50% divorce rate.

* Justin Bieber's handlers do not want him doing live interviews to promote his new album because they are afraid he will embarrass himself.

* reports that 25% of new mothers go back to work within two weeks of giving birth, adding that most of them work for companies that do not provide paid maternity leave.

* According to the World Happiness Report (who knew there was such a thing?), Switzerland is the happiest place on Earth. At the other end of the 158-nation list is Togo, which, despite its name, is not the place to go.
The U.S., by the way, came in 15th, falling behind all of Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, Austria, Costa Rica, Israel, Canada and Mexico!