Archive for category Baseball
This column runs in the Fall 2019 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
The Boys of Summer was more than a Don Henley hit – for me, it was my Summer of 2019. We had just made a major move from Texas to the Raleigh, North Carolina area accomplished in a quick two months. I yearned for a real vacation away from the lingering boxes. While perusing an email from Tanglewood, the Western Massachusetts summer home for the Boston Pops, I discovered Josh Groban was going to be there in concert July 2nd. It would be an easy day and a half drive from our new abode. I didn’t have to twist hubby’s arm; it’s his favorite singer.
The concert was awesome. Josh bantered with the audience between sets and the two hours flew by. Next was finding a small town to view 4th of July festivities. I hit the jackpot – a parade in my hometown – Williamstown — and fireworks after a New England Collegiate Baseball League game in North Adams, the next town over. I had actually marched in the Williamstown parade back in the late 50s! Things sure had changed. No baton twirler like me, but many more participants including the baseball team playing that night and instead of just at the elementary school, it was a sixteen minute walk to Spring Street.
After the parade, we looked for a place to eat late lunch which was not easy on a holiday. After trying several places with indefinite waits in Williamstown, we drove to North Adams and discovered the Trail House. While waiting on my burger, I gazed out the window to the people eating in the outdoor seating. Just like a magnet, I zoomed-in to a party of three. One was wearing a Vermont Mountaineers T-shirt. Our waitress confirmed the wishes racing through my mind – the baseball teams, frequented the restaurant. “I’ll be right back.” “You’re not….” my husband interjected. I was already on the patio! It turned out that it was the parents of the starting pitcher for Vermont that night and his twin brother Matt. I learned that Ryan Murphy was a top prospect and playing in the New England Collegiate Baseball League for the summer. Unfortunately, their food came right as I learned Ryan had broken Matt’s nose while throwing. Bad timing by the kitchen!
We got to the ballpark right as the Vermont Mountaineers’ bus was unloading. I wondered how many of these kids I would see in the big leagues in a few years. According to Ryan’s dad, his son would be. Once inside, I headed to the 1st base side where the North Adams Steeplecats were warming up and stretching. The great thing about the collegiate league is that pre-game, the players chat with the fans. It was there I met Alex Gomes. I knew immediately by his right arm, he was a pitcher. He was impressed. I laughed and said, “Catcher was out – you’re too tall.” I bragged to him that I knew Bobby Witt, retired Texas Rangers “rightie” and that his son Bobby, Jr. had just been drafted 2nd in the MLB draft. Alex said, “Oh! You need to meet our Mason Ronan! He was drafted by the Red Sox last year but he’s staying at Pitt to honor his commitment there. Mason! I’ve got someone I want you to meet!” The next thing I know I’m shaking hands with the leftie and Alex is positioning us for a picture together!
The game started as Ryan’s dad predicted. Ryan shut down the Steeplecats holding them to two runs (only one of them earned) and struck out five in five innings. Once he left the game with a 4 – 2 lead, North Adams began their comeback. The relievers held the Vermont team scoreless while the offense chipped away inning by inning. Our excitement wasn’t just the comeback; it was when four of the players came up in the stands and Alex was one of them. They were selling chances at fifty cents each and the number drawn would split the winnings with the team. Alex smiled as Rick dug out his bills and pulled out a ten. “Good luck, Sir” and winked at me. It was fun watching the players interact with the fans. After North Adams won 5 – 4, the team came into the stands and shared high 5’s with fans! It was an incredible night and the baseball that we knew back in to the 60s before money and celebrity took over. Long live the Collegiate Baseball Leagues!! Yes, it was a summer to remember – Ryan, Alex, Mason, and the other Boys of Summer!
I really should call this post “Redemption Time” instead. Backtrack to pregame of game two. I discovered a gate down by right field where the players came from the locker room and out onto the field for warm-ups. Rick’s “assignment” was to get pics of me with the players. My favorite on the team is Ryan Fitzgerald and easy to spot with his long locks and toothpaste commercial smile. I was standing next to two “older” guys waiting for autographs when Ryan answered their call-out. I excitedly looked up towards Rick and he was there at his post, camera ready. Ryan first signed for a guy with a book of college baseball cards, then the guy next to me. Finally it was my turn — no cards or program to sign — but I did get a huge smile from him as I told him I had called his 7th inning home-run the night before. “Really? Why didn’t you do it sooner?” We both laughed. Our chat lasted about 3 minutes, then Ryan headed out to the field as I maneuvered through band members waiting for pregame ceremonies.
I didn’t see the pictures until we got home that night. Here is “The Moment!” Seriously Rick?!?!?
Now on to the game three — the series was tied at one game each — and redemption time for Rick. Unlike the other two evening games, game three was a very warm afternoon start. Upon arrival at the park, we proceeded to the right field gate. There were a couple of players on the phones under shady trees. Meanwhile, I felt sweat trickling down my back at the shadeless gate area. Soon, the two older guys left the area under the stands and joined me as the players emerged. The first guy now had a notebook of 5 cards of each player! The guy next to me had a program and I had my program insert along with my fine tip Sharpie. Players were stopping and signing. Ryan emerged from the building. As he started across the lot, I glanced up towards Rick. He was craning his neck out towards the parking lot where a limo has pulled up!! Not again!! The two guys and I chimed in unison — “Hey Ryan!” Finally a break for me — he came to me first!
And yes, Rick redeemed himself as you can see!!
The game was great too. We were next to the dugout like the first night and even stayed in the shade until the 9th inning. Ryan ended up with 2 runs, 2 hits, hit by a pitch, a stolen base and a dirty uniform. A little excitement in the 7th when the manager and catcher for the Mudcats were thrown out of the game. The Salem Red Sox won 4 – 1.
Warning: Contains Language
Salem Red Sox shut out the Carolina MudCats 3 -0 putting series even at 1 each. Lots of action in the game. Pedro Castellanos launched a solo rocket in the 4th inning. MudCats Payton Henry was drilled by a Thad Ward pitch — game stopped while he was tended to, then while going after a foul ball, Sox catcher Nick Sciortino was down a few minutes after his shin guards jammed into the wall.
Advanced Class A MiLB’s los Pescados de Carolina (Carolina MudCats) rallied to defeat the Salem Red Sox 6-4 Friday night in Zebulon. Salem Manager Corey Wimberly and Zach Schellenger were ejected after Zach hit MudCats Rob Henry.
The cold front storms were not only the thing rocking the Durham, North Carolina skies last night. After a brief delay waiting for rain to let up and prep the field, the Pawtucket Red Sox lit up the scoreboard launching rocket after rocket! Final score 17 – 2 PawSox over the Durham Bulls.
This column appears in the Spring 2019 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
Heisman winner Kyler Murray has decided – he has chosen the National Football League over Major League Baseball. I can’t help admire the kid – he’s very talented when it comes to throwing passes and crushing home runs. In high school, as the starting quarterback, he led North Texas’s Allen HS to three straight state championships and won 43 games in a row. He also played baseball – shortstop/second base – and was a top prospect for the 2015 MLB draft. He was the first player to ever be selected for both the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game and Under Armour All-America Football Game!
Instead of entering the baseball draft, he chose to attend Texas A &M his freshman year. Just a few months into the football season, he transferred to Oklahoma when it became apparent he would be battling against another high recruit, Kyle Allen, for a starting nod. With NCAA transfer rules, he had to sit out in 2016. In 2017, he hit the ground running as Baker Mayfield’s backup and even had playing time in a couple of games. Come spring, he switched hats and had a sluggish start playing Sooners baseball, but did so well the following year; he again caught the attention of Major League Baseball. The Oakland As took him as the 9th pick overall in the 2018 MLB Draft last June and presented him with a high dollar contract including a lucrative signing bonus. In return, he would play in the fall one more season of college football, then report to spring training in 2019.
Things got complicated when Murray led the Sooners to the semi-finals of the College Football National Championship collecting a slew of hardware along the way. He won the Davey O’Brien Award, AP Player of the Year, Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, First-team All-American, First-team All-Big 12 and the big daddy of them all, the Heisman Trophy. He finished out last year with an estimated net-worth of three billion dollars! Meanwhile, the Oakland As quietly waited in the wings for his report to spring training. Now, it is possible to play in both the NFL and MLB at the same time – about seventy have accomplished it – only a small handful since 1987 including Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders. Seahawks Russell Wilson played in minor league ball a few years and currently has a contract with the Yankees.
In January 2019, Murray teased the sports world with hints he would not be splitting time with the two sports. The A’s and MLB met with Murray, deviating from the norm, and offered him a major league contract. A decision had to be made soon since spring training was on the horizon. The suspense was over Monday, February 11th. Kyler committed to professional football citing “football had been his love and passion his entire life.” Murray would not get to keep his entire $4.66 million signing bonus with the As. Brace yourselves — He already has in hand 1.5 million, but only has to repay $1.29 million of that! He hasn’t even picked up a bat! The A’s will retain his baseball rights going forward and he will be placed on the minor-league restricted list indefinitely. Should Murray ever decide to return to baseball, he would have to return to the Oakland organization.
Did the Phenom do the right thing? Will he be a part of the Heisman Curse? Will he ever see a batting circle? Will hard hits from his bat ever replace hard hits from a Defense? Check back with me in five years.
This column appeared in the Winter 2017/2018 issue of Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country
I moved to Houston in 1964 where the baseball team was known as the National League Colt 45s and they played in an open stadium south of the city. The following year, the team moved to the Astrodome, nicknamed the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and the team was renamed the Astros. It was fitting as NASA and the space program were just down highway 45 going towards Galveston. Because the stadium was closed in, an artificial turf was installed for the games to be played on. Above the scoreboard was an area where two bulls snorted, pistols fired and music played when the Astros hit a homerun. The Astros center fielder Jimmy Wynn was nicknamed the “Toy Cannon.” I knew when Wynn batted, there was a pretty good chance the hit would be a homerun.
My favorite player was 2nd baseman Joe Morgan who used to quickly lick two fingers just before taking his batting stance. I was a true fan and even sent him a Get Well card when he was in the hospital. All the girls loved right-fielder Rusty Staub with his red hair and the handsome pitcher Larry Dierker. Bob Aspromonte was the tall, lanky 3rd baseman. One had to be a diehard fan — – the Astros weren’t very good, but we still loved the team. Dad and I attended several games and even sat through the longest shutout ever played. The Astros beat the Mets as Houston scored the only run in the twenty-fourth inning at one-thirty in the morning!
When I moved away in the 80s to the DFW area, I didn’t get to see the Astros games since I was living in an American League city. My parents were still in Houston and my mom morphed into a huge Astros fan with her favorites — pitcher Nolan Ryan and shortstop Craig Reynolds. The ‘Stros were actually doing a lot better making it to two National League Championships and one Division Championship game in that decade, but typical of the team, they lost all three of those games. One Christmas, I found the perfect gift for her – an Astros Cabbage Patch doll waving a pennant. Also included was a cute little Houston batting helmet. My niece Jennifer was very impressed that Santa brought her Grandma such a special gift. In 1989, my mom’s Astroworld came crashing down. Nolan Ryan had signed with the Texas Rangers! Ironically, my parents moved to an assisted living in North Texas the following year. Mom reluctantly adopted the Texas Rangers, but her heart was still with the Astros. Her collection of Nolan Ryan baseballs, baseball cards and the Astros doll were displayed on a bookcase. Hanging in her closet was her yellow, orange and red striped Houston jersey. Meanwhile the team moved from the antiquated Astrodome to Enron Field. The bulls, pistols and fireworks were replaced by a whistling locomotive over the outfield.
Mom passed away in 2003. Her Astros finally made it to the big dance just two years later, but the series was ugly with a sweep by the Chicago White Sox. This year Houston not only got to the World Series but they were there as the underdog. The series went seven games with Houston shutting down the Dodgers in game seven 4 -1 and finally winning the big prize. Nolan Ryan is back with the ‘Stros as their executive adviser. Something tells me there’s an angel in Heaven celebrating the World Series Championship win and who is happy Nolan is back where he belongs.
This was my column for the quarterly magazine, Heart Beat of the Texas Hill Country Spring 2017 issue.
As I write this column, it is Super Bowl Sunday. Normally, my favorite day of the year, but this year God threw a curve ball and took our Boxer Rex away from us a week ago. It just won’t be the same without him. “Big Boy” Rex was the one who would obediently come to the closet when I said, “Game Day! Where’s your bandana?” He would sit and hold his neck up, still as a statue, as I put his New England Patriots scarf on. He knew it came with his mom’s crazy superstitions on game day! You ask how could a gal who lives in Texas like a team who deflates footballs? Well, I’ve lived in three areas of Texas all but 14 years of my life, but I was born in New England. Patriots football is in my blood along with fall foliage, skiing on ice, “pahking the cahr” and loving “lobstah.”
It was fortunate for Rex that he was so big that I couldn’t find game jerseys to fit him. He just wasn’t into clothes. He made his point with one torn football jersey from his puppy days. He drew the line at bandanas. One time when I put my ski hat on him, you could tell by his look that it wasn’t a game face; it was instead a “Seriously, Mom?” There were exceptions to the rule like the time Rex helped me with a Duck Dynasty contest entry at Texas Motor Speedway by donning a beard … well, sort of … it was Rex posing behind a cardboard beard.
Rex’s claim to fame came at the Texas Rangers Bark in the Park. The first year we went, Rex became the hit of section 11 as he howled at the hotdog vendor. The guy yelled back, “Ain’t no dogs for you Bud!” The following year he was chosen from over 700 canines to wear the FanCam in the pregame walk around the ballpark. He proudly stood stoic while they mounted the camera around his neck. I could tell he was thinking this was something important happening and to not to screw it up. What a great job he did! As he did his lap around the perimeter, he got the attention of the Ranger players and coaches observing from the dugout as well as fans hanging over the guardrail. He was the envy of every dog attending! And his footage ran on a Fox Sports Southwest Special including his shot of his “sister” Roxie licking his camera.
Yes, Rex led a life many dogs only dream of. R.I.P. Rex. Sports will never be the same without you.
You Tube — Rex and the Hot Dog Vendor — Texas Rangers Bark in the Park — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c423zq5PIOU A classic Rex moment !!!
My article in Heartbeat of the Texas Hill Country – Winter Issue
What an exciting year 2016 was for sports! It’s not too often that one sees so much history in the making as we did. The year started out with a Cinderella ending for NFL great Peyton Manning as he guided the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl win. What a way to end a career!! He hasn’t done too badly in post-football either. There’s rarely a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t see Peyton in a commercial. I think the funniest is the one where he’s sitting on the couch in his bathrobe and sipping coffee. Lionel Richie is singing in the background, “It’s Peyton on Sunday morning.” Manning is on the phone with brother Eli wanting him to come and watch Sunday football on his DirecTV set-up. Eli’s seen in the Giants locker room explaining why he can’t – he’s playing football. “I’ll pencil you in for Tuesday,” and Peyton writes “Eli” in the empty calendar.
March Madness in college basketball made history too when the number fifteen seed Middle Tennessee upset number two seed Michigan State in the first round destroying just about every basketball fan’s bracket including mine! The “experts” had predicted Michigan State to make the Final Four and some had even picked them to win the championship. And it didn’t end there! The fourteenth seed Stephen F. Austin upset number three seed West Virginia and Syracuse became the first tenth seed in history to advance to the Final Four. The finals were held in Houston where Villanova upset North Carolina to win the championship on a three-point shot at the buzzer!
The NBA followed suit when the Cavaliers brought Cleveland their first sports championship in fifty-two years! Hubby was happy as he’s from the suburbs of that city on the lake. As Rick watched the TV coverage, he wondered which speck was his nephew Bret and was probably secretly envious because he wasn’t there too.
Even car racing re-wrote history when both the June and July NASCAR races at Pocono Speedway had to be postponed due to weather as well as the Indycars at Texas Motor Speedway finishing the end of the June race in August due to weather. Weather delays are never fun for fans as a lot of the spectators travel in and postponements cause havoc on hotels, car rentals, transportation and work plans. We know only too well after waiting out a few ourselves only to be watching concession stand commercials on Big Hoss and covered cars on the track as the rain dripped off our hair and clothes.
But no greater history was made with the conclusion of the Major League Baseball season! For a while, it looked like both Texas teams, the Astros and Rangers were destined for the playoffs. Houston had a September meltdown, and then the best in the American League Texas Rangers found themselves swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1st round of the playoffs. Our home became a war zone with my husband’s Cleveland Indians and my Boston Red Sox meeting in the AL Championship. I was the queen of trash-talking only to eat my words as Rick’s Indians swept Boston and moved on to the World Series.
I quickly found myself OK with t he loss when I realized that I was watching sports history unfold yet again! The Indians were in the World Series in 1997 when they lost in extra innings in game seven to the Florida Marlins. They hadn’t won the title since 1948. The Cubs hadn’t won the title since 1908, and hadn’t made it to the World Series since 1945 – the infamous series where the Billy-goat curse was put on the team. We were witnessing one of the two longest championship droughts in baseball finally come to an end! It looked like destiny was going to hang onto the coattails of the Cavaliers and side with the Tribe, who jumped out to a lead of three games to one. Then Chicago shocked themselves and the Indians not to only to piece together back-to-back wins, but they also forced a game seven and won in extra innings! . I just wonder if sports will ever repeat a year like 2016!
I love baseball. It actually started back in the 60s in New England. I was raised in a neighborhood consisting primarily of boys my age so I quickly learned what baseball cards were used for. I exceled in a game where you flipped a card against another person and the best combination flip would get to keep both cards. I won some great cards and I kept them in one of my Dad’s cigar boxes … Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Brooks Robinson, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Harmon Killebrew. In the late 60s, we moved to Houston as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the Astrodome, finished completion. I became an Astros’ fan and revered legends such as Rusty Staub, Jim Wynn, Joe Morgan, Bob Aspromonte and Larry Dierker.
Fast-forward to the fall of 1986 when I moved to the DFW area and started working the Texas Rangers’ baseball charters for Delta Air Lines. The following spring found me talking hubby Rick into replacing our ski vacation with spring training in Port Charlotte, Florida. Spring training provided a more relaxed atmosphere where you got to meet the players. In late 1988, to the thrill of Ranger fans and to the dismay of Astros fans — especially my Mom — Nolan Ryan signed on with Texas. That man’s arrival created almost as much excitement as winning the lottery. The Rangers’ charters became “prime real estate” on the bid sheet and flight attendants senior to me who didn’t even care about baseball were infiltrating my turf! Nolan was self-conscious with all the attention coming from the media and fans.
The following year, Mom, who was in her late seventies, asked me to take her to spring training. We flew into Sarasota-Bradenton. I got goofed up leaving the airport and after some time found us heading south toward Naples instead of north to Port Charlotte! By the time I got turned around, we had reached the city limits just before nine p.m. The restaurant on the wharf wouldn’t seat us, as they were trying to close. Needless to say, we were now pretty hungry even by central time standards! A good flight attendant (as well as former Brownie/Girl Scout) always has a Plan B to put in place. I knew of a small restaurant that the players frequented and stayed open late. As we perused the menu, Mom excitedly told the waiter how I worked the Rangers’ charters for Delta. He smiled and told us that one of the players was there — Nolan Ryan. I quickly scribbled a note and gave it to the waiter to give Nolan. A few minutes later the waiter returned and said Nolan wanted to meet Mom. He then escorted us back to a banquet room. Mom was finally going to get to meet Nolan Ryan! She was beside herself! There stood Nolan and another gentleman. I introduced Nolan to my mom. He, in turn, introduced us to Craig Reynolds, a former shortstop for the Astros. Mom immediately dropped Nolan’s hand and threw her hands up to her face. “Oh, my! Craig Reynolds! I can’t believe it!”
Now, according to Nolan, Craig never let him forget that moment — a fan getting more excited over Craig than Nolan! Later that year Mom had knee replacement surgery. When she died and I went through her things, I found in her mementos a Get Well card Nolan signed for her. Yep… Mom dumping Nolan for Craig was just a momentary lapse in judgment.