Tag Archives: national pastime

Baseball Then and Now

For as long as I can remember, I have loved the game of baseball. I still do. I don’t just love the game play, but I love the strategy, the gamesmanship, the personal effect, the unwritten rules, and perhaps most of all, the measurement by which all eras can correlate with one another.

I watched last night as the San Francisco Giants punched their ticket to the World Series by ousting the St. Louis Cardinals in five wonderful games. (Yes, I watched the Bruins and the Patriots too. Sometimes technology is my friend.) During the series, and last night’s broadcast, history was made. Things that I love about the game like…SF Giants starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner joined Bob Gibson and Mike Mussina as the only pitchers ever to submit five consecutive playoff starts of at least seven innings with seven or fewer base-runners

Or perhaps it was the ties to history such as…the Giants advanced to the World Series by way of a walk-off home run for the first time since Bobby Thomson’s unforgettable ‘Shot Heard Round the World’ in 1951

Then there was the mention of Bumgarner and Carl Hubbell in the same sentence…Bumgarner is just the fourth Giant to toss at least seven innings in four straight postseason starts, the first since Carl Hubbell between 1933 and 1936

I know a lot of things are different about the game now than they were then. Then again, with each moment bigger than the last, a pitcher holds the ball while a batter waits. The battles are won and lost pitch by pitch. It’s a beautiful thing.

The Wide-Eyed Boy and The Game

This is a short story I wrote because even after all of my years in baseball, playing it, watching it, writing about it, coaching it, dreaming about it, and teaching it, I was genuinely inspired. The source of my inspiration doesn’t know about this story, and neither does anyone else, so I’m hoping everyone enjoys it.

I have a tendency to romanticize things here and there I suppose. And yes, I know that reactions and intensity sometimes overtake us when we face adversity and failure, and we show a side of us that might not be so pretty, perhaps because it exposes others directly to our hearts. The truth I see though is the thousands of times that we bounce back almost immediately, pulling ourselves to our feet, to love and compete again, for the love of the game. So, romanticized, or not, there is not much that’s more beautiful to me than the wide-eyed boy and the game. Inspired by #8 and the #9.

If you look really close and let your mind travel along memory’s checkpoints, the past reverses, flashing head-on towards the present and the visual collides with the picture in front of you. It’s the wide-eyed boy, full of wonderment, completely engulfed in joy, participating in a boys game, now in a grown man’s body. The names have changed, the neighborhood kids are gone, the dimensions have expanded, the style, the look now seem to matter, and the canvas on which this picture unfolds is viewed by many. Beneath it all though, is the boy. The boy who still cannot soak up enough of the game or the atmosphere found inside the lines separating the player from the spectator.

The sky is perfect blue. The lines, bases, home plate, pitching rubber and baseballs are bright white. The grass cut short, and symmetrically shaped, is green and beckons all to sample its run at perfection. The Stars and Stripes wave gently; perfectly against the blue backdrop. There’s no actual stage, but still it’s set, for the boys of summer.

Enter, the man, in body and mind he’s a man now. But in pure joy, and jittery excitement, he is, and always will be, a boy. Especially in this setting. There’s something that’s perfect about all of it. It all adds up. The pieces all fit. And, it’s as if all things have come together in this place at this time as they were meant to be.

The man may appear this way, or that way, but there’s more to him than meets the eye. He’d rather be in no other setting, he’s home right here, right now. And when this moment passes, if one were to ask, he’d most definitely fondly remember hours spent on an old field, less kept, working on his skills many years before. He’d probably agree to go to that former place now, and continue to work on his game.

Herein lies the beauty, not just the boy in the picture, but also, the picture itself. This is where baseball has that effect, linking all that was right, pure, and innocent with the golden years; linking directly to right now. A kids game being played by a big kid like all of his heroes did decades before. Over the years sand lots gave way to school fields or town fields, the quality of which were far less relevant than the time and effort spent in honing skills. Generations passed and kids are kept closer at hand, the outdoors simply becoming a place through which we must pass. But not in baseball. Baseball encompasses the outdoors, the fresh air, and the things that come with it. As kids in passing generations are outside less, enclosed in an imaginary box of constant pacification, baseball is outside and is just as wide open and grand as it was when kids took to the places they played a hundred years ago.

And so it is. The lines are the same. Baseballs sail by, spinning, bending, dropping, carrying, curving, all in the open spaces that transcend time. Just like they always have. The crack of the baseball against wood still tells the story of direction, quality of contact, and the speed in which the wooden tool was used. As it has been from era to era. Look closer to see that gaps are a mirage, closing quickly, the pawns shifting and moving in premeditated harmony. Distances appearing either closer or even farther depending on how these boys of summer manipulate the tools of the trade.

Then my wandering gaze catches the source of the encouragement loudly aimed at a teammate taking his turn at hitting a round ball with a round bat, squarely. It’s that same wide-eyed boy pulling for his fellow mate, his tone and intensity leave no clue as to his recent level of success or failure. For, with him, it’s not about him for more than any second or two at a time, but about the game. It’s about the game. It’s about the joy of competing in the same spaces between the lines as any player in history ever did. A smile is never far from his lips because it’s not work when you’re engulfed fully in your passion. A gleam in his eyes, like he’s getting away with something that must be wrong because it’s too much fun. It couldn’t be more right, this game, this symmetry, and this wild-eyed boy.

 

8 and 9

Baseball – I

Close your eyes. I mean, really close them. Let yourself drift off to another place. Clear your mind. As Billy Chapel says in For Love of the Game, ” clear the mechanism.” You’re sitting outside, leaning back in a rigid but somehow, tolerable seat. As you let your eyes close for a moment, your other senses heighten. You feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Somewhere a switch has been flipped and your sub conscience seeks out all that is right with the world. Now smiling, you notice that your seat is more comfortable than it was a minute before, and you slouch a little easier into the seat you are glad, now, that you chose. You smell the renewed fragrances of spring. Your senses come alive as if recovering from a long winters nap. Birds nearby sing their spring song and only now you notice. You hear the enthusiasm in voices from a distance, but those are merely background for the unmistakable sounds of wood meeting rawhide in a full-speed collision. If the trained ear listens close enough you can tell which direction the rawhide sphere is headed without even opening your eyes or disturbing your sun-seeking perch. For a split second you want to open your eyes but you decide better of it as if opening your eyes would end this pleasant dream state. So, you clench your eyes tighter still and put your favorite ball players faces from yesteryear into this dream. The sounds are the same in so many ways. And the crash of the round bat into the round ball echoing around the old yard could be the sound of Ted Williams ripping a long home run, or its Henry Aaron sending a line drive through the box, or maybe its Mickey Mantle launching a towering blast, from either side of the plate, that requires patience and a good ear to hear if it ever comes down.

You are at a ball field, it is spring, and every player, every team, shares in the renewed hopes of spring. It’s a new season. It’s fresh. It’s refreshing. It’s spring. And then it all hits you, there is no place you’d rather be. Your eyes close a little more tightly, and the sounds fade a little further into the distance. Images appear in your mind as your body shifts and gently jolts almost voluntarily when the memories behind your eyelids appear larger than life. You feel like you can reach out and touch the vivid scene you see, but then you remember for a millisecond where you are, and you think better of raising your arm to swipe at the warm empty air. And you drift back into the scene that hides behind your sun-warmed eyelids. Now you’re smiling from ear to ear, eyes still closed. It’s baseball, in some elementary ways, the same as it’s ever been. A stranger makes his way to a seat nearby, he notices your smile with eyes closed, and he understands. He hurries along to his seat so he too can dip himself in the warmth of the magical transformation that only ball fields bring and clasp tightly the memories of boyhood dreams.

There you are back in your yard, at your school field, or sandlot, wherever you first dreamed of the game and played in the spaces you could find, to win all those World Series titles. When you played everyday because you loved the game, you couldn’t get enough of the game. You knew all the stats, who batted 1 through 9, who would hit for whom in the 7th, and every member of the bullpen. You knew who would pinch-run, whether it was to steal second base or score from second on a base hit. You remember the uniform you wore, right down to the trim, and the wayward stitch or two. You lift your leg for second and shake your foot remembering how fleet afoot you felt every time your old spikes were securely fastened to your stirrup laced feet. Somehow it seems like just yesterday when you would wipe the sweat from your brow and tug the bill of your cap a little lower to shield that bright game day sun. Your hands and fingers fidget slightly as you recall your ability to grab a baseball time after time and have your index and middle fingers perfectly aligned across the seams. Now your palms practically ache just to hold that old wood bat you took thousands of swings with. You can still feel the grain and the way the barrel tapered back to a handle that was much thicker than today’s bat handles. Listening closely to the sounds you fabricate in your mind, you swear you can still hear the ‘swoosh’ your mighty swing once created as it carved through the warm air.

Then, sitting a little more upright now, you roll your shoulders a few times, still clenching your eyes shut as not to disturb the calm and comfort found inside this daydream. Today there are no aches and pains, tightness won’t be thought of here, or at least not until you have to rise from your seat the next time. You recollect the days when you felt so strong, felt so right, you felt like you could throw all day, even throw hard all day. And you did. You think for a moment, trying to figure out how difficult it would be were you to try to calculate how many pitches you threw on any given summer day. Then you just smile, knowing it was in the hundreds, and it was nearly every day. A rest day back then was eating dinner, going to sleep, and going to school for several hours the next morning. Then it was a sprint to the ball, glove, and bat as soon as time would allow.

For me, it was my yard. After school it was the place I couldn’t wait to be. I recall thinking about scenarios that were soon to unfold in my yard while I was still on the bus riding home. Actually it started when I was a young boy and it continued throughout my school years. Often times, my desk in some classroom was just the place I dreamed from. My teacher could have just as easily been any Major League public address announcer. My reality was more often a slice of my imagination playing out the details of me playing, competing, and winning, than not. It’s almost all I ever thought about, and it would have been 100% of my thoughts were it not for school, church, and the occasional conversation. In my mind, in my yard, I was the greatest there’s ever been, yet I revered and respected the greats who came before me. I shook hands with Babe Ruth on the field at the old Yankee Stadium. Hank Aaron was there to acknowledge my gracious demolition of his home run record, and maybe we chatted on the field at the old Tiger Stadium where my record homer was still climbing as it crashed into the overhanging upper deck in right field. Ted Williams marveled at my swing while we talked baseball in South Florida in between his fishing days. At the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore I sat in the seemingly vertical upper deck behind home plate and talked with Brooks Robinson who couldn’t believe my range, and I was a lefty, to boot!

On rainy days, when I could throw the ball from just inside the dry cover of our garage roof overhang, I was being congratulated by Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton as a pitcher that was among the all-time winners and clearly the most accurate of all time. Walter Johnson and Bob Feller asked me just how hard did I throw. Ron Guidry asked me my nickname, because even though he was a Yankee, he had a pretty cool nickname in, Louisiana Lightning. After I had twirled yet another complete game, especially on those rainy days, I would grab my wood bat and start to swing. I remember vividly looking down at the broken cement of our garage floor and checking out the shadow of my swing. My swing had to be perfect, both left-handed and right-handed. I would swing at top speed. I would swing in slow motion. I would swing that bat hundreds of times over. I imagined the ball jumping off of my bat and clearing fences all over the major leagues.

After church on Sundays it was a battle for me. I had to decide whether to take the extra few minutes to change my clothes or just go for it in whatever I was wearing. I knew full well that within minutes a ball would carom off of the garage door, too far to my right, and I would have to dive headfirst on the green grass to make the spectacular play. Then I would immediately regret the choice I made, not to change my clothes first, at least for a second or two. Of course, had I not hustled right out to make the play, then someone else would have been in the lineup, so, I was right, get out there and play. Worry about the clothes later. I mean, that was just a double that I robbed down the line. Shouldn’t that cover a for a few grass stains? Some how my mom never put as much stock in my defensive genius in the yard as I did, and as my thousands of fans in the imaginary stands around my yard, did. Neither were wrong, I was, but what’s a boy to do? Somebody’s gotta go out and win the World Series, and I felt that somebody had to be me.

Closer to the truth?

Let me start by saying that I am a life-long Red Sox fan. Watching post season baseball this year makes me wonder how the Red Sox even won as many games as they did this season. The teams still playing, and I stress the word T-E-A-M, look like they’re head and shoulders above and beyond the Red Sox especially when it relates to competing for World Championships.

Anyways, this isn’t about the Red Sox, I wanted to comment on the 2012 Yankees. The Yankees won more games than any other American League team. They slugged their way to 95 victories while belting 245 home runs. They lost their soon to be Hall-Of-Famer closer, Mariano Rivera, just a month into the season, they struggled some in the second half, and lost more 1-run games than they won. I’m not a Joe Girardi fan by any means, but I think he deserves a lot of credit. He managed his team, arranged his personnel, utilized his pitching staff, he worked through the ebb and flow of 2012 Yankee baseball, and won the AL East with 95 wins. After watching the debacle that was the 2012 season for the Red Sox, it was apparent to me that Joe Girardi was an integral part of Yankee success this season. Going a step further, I would dare say that the three strongest managers in the AL East are, by far, Girardi, Showalter, and Maddon. They all won 90 or more games this season, more wins than the Tigers or Cardinals, who are still playing ball. I wonder if John Farrell will join this group of top-notch managers by signing on with the island of misfit attitudes in Boston.

Honestly, listening to the press conferences after games, I was often impressed with the way Girardi handled questions. His cut-and-dry answers were honest, accurate, and rarely snide. He reminded me of Terry Francona when, at his best, he didn’t talk it up, but answered questions within the personal comfort of his baseball brilliance. Girardi managed. He made in-game decisions, as he should, and wasn’t afraid to make the move he thought was best for his club, regardless of popularity. And, until another Hall-Of-Famer to be, Derek Jeter, went down with a broken ankle bone in Game One of the ALCS, it seemed like Girardi and the Yanks would make every right move, wiggling out of trouble time after time. The Jeter injury, from here, appeared to be the official unplugging of the life support that the Yankees were clinging to. I know it was only Game One, but the Yanks were fortunate to have beaten the feisty Orioles.

Unproven, super closer of 2012, Jim Johnson, of the Orioles, assisted the Yankees to the ALCS almost as much as any of the Yankees own pitchers did. Johnson did convert two of three save opportunities in the series, but even that’s deceiving. In the other appearance that was not a save opportunity, he blew up, lasting one-third of an inning, allowing FIVE runs, and earning the loss. In the series, the Yankees battered the AL Saves leader (51) by hitting .316 against him and drove his series ERA to 10.38. What really stuck out to me was the gross lack of execution of pitches in so many of those at bats. I know guys get hits on high quality pitches from pitchers at times, then there are times when hitters would be at fault for not hammering pitches that were blatantly served up mistakes. In the last 20 seasons only two MLB Saves leaders have gone on to win the World Series in the same season that they led the MLB in saves, Brian Wilson with the Giants in 2010, and the great Mariano Rivera with the Yankees in 1999.

When we think of baseball, we think of numbers. When we remember baseball, we remember numbers. When we argue baseball, we argue numbers. So, here are some numbers. These numbers, in my opinion, show (contrary to Yankees GM, Brian Cashman) that the 2012 Yankees were closer to the second half Yankees, and the post season Yankees that we saw. During the season, the Yankees averaged an AL leading 3.32 extra base hits per game. In the post season that number dropped to 2.33 per game. Okay, maybe not earth shattering, but the teams’ post season leaders in XBH (extra base hits) were Raúl Ibañez, part-timer, with four; Ichiro Suzuki, signed as a part-timer, with three; Eduardo Núñez, part-timer who wasn’t even on the original ALCS Roster, with three. More numbers. The Yankees struck out 7.2 times per game in the regular season. In the post season that number jumped to 9.2 times per game. That’s two-thirds of an inning more per game that they didn’t even put the ball in play, and when they did it was with one less XBH than they were getting most of the year. In regular season play, the Bronx Bombers averaged 9.02 hits per game, or one an inning. In the post season they averaged just 6.67 hits per game. Ichiro had as many XBH in the post season as Robinson Canó and Mark Teixeira combined. Curtis Granderson followed up a stellar season of batting .232 while obliterating his own Yankee Team Record with 195 strikeouts by batting .100 with 16 strikeouts in the playoffs. Twenty, yes, twenty times a Yankee has hit more than 43 homers in a season, but with regard to whiffing, not even Danny Tartabull, Alfonso Soriano, or Jesse Barfield ever came close to the degree of swinging and missing that Granderson has each of the last two seasons. I wonder how Austin Jackson and Phil Coke are doing. Anyhow, the Yankees were playing post season baseball when most others were not, and numbers, or not, Joe Girardi should get an awful lot of credit for their run. I mean, he didn’t even come to bat in the post season, and still had as many XBH as A-Rod and Eric Chávez combined.

The Yankees won 95 games, which in the old days, would have been good enough to win the AL Pennant and an automatic trip to the World Series. In one seven game series, maybe the Yankees would have been good enough to win title number 28. Over the last 43 years, the Yankees are 7-4 in the Fall Classic, which is still impressive. Compared to the previous 48 years though, when the Yanks went 20-9 in the World Series, the last 43 years look pretty thin. Even so, this year they played in the ALCS, to me, it was through the ‘dog days’ and into the post season, that these Yankees looked a little closer to the truth.

Summer of 2007

 

Fortunately, and unfortunately at the same time, I came across this little email I wrote five years ago. It still brings tears to my eyes when I read this and reflect on that summer of baseball. I was not able to come back and coach the team in 2008, so we didn’t get to make another run at the Babe Ruth World Series, although the team did advance to Regional’s in Orange, CT. I know this piece might not mean a whole lot to those folks outside of the Goffstown School District, but this is about the kids, the game, the passion, and in my opinion, the right way to play our pastime.

This was a special team in many ways, a special group of players, parents, and coaches. In 2010 Goffstown’s American Legion team won the NH State Tournament, and four of these players who were still eligible 16-year-old Babe Ruth players, played key roles on that squad. One of them led the team in Batting Average and On Base Percentage. Another one led the team in Hits, At Bats, Runs Scored, and Triples. Two others tied for the lead in Saves, combined to go 5-1 on the season, and struck out 55 batters in 55 2/3 innings pitched. They were key players for sure.

This summer, 2012, marked the end of something very special that had started well before 2007. This group of kids, now young men, will never play baseball together again. Not as a town team, not as youth, not again. Although many of the 2007 team were no longer playing baseball by the time this season rolled around, the reality still hit me hard on the evening of July 31st this summer. Goffstown lost in the NH American Legion State Tournament Championship Game, and the game, the season, the era ended. Like that.

It started to hit me as I sat in the stands waiting for my son to come up from the field so I could chat with him and say good-bye before heading home. I heard a parent or two in the distance talking about getting “the 13’s” together one last time, in uniform, for a picture. Unfortunately, the picture didn’t happen. As I sat there and one player after another came up the cement steps, I fought back tears. I remembered the Goffstown on their chests when many of these kids started playing all-star baseball together when they were just 9 years old. I remembered the battles we endured together as 12-year-old’s in 2006, and of course the amazing run in 2007. You can read more about the final night of an era here if you would like to.

So here it is, as I wrote it in 2007 on the evening after one of the toughest days in competition that I have ever had, with only a couple of grammatical errors corrected.

 
Sent: Thursday, August 09, 2007 6:18 PM
Subject: Summer of 2007 – 13-year-old team
 
Good evening to all –
 
This has been difficult for me to write and I hope I didn’t miss anyone or anything.
Please be patient as this might take a while.To the parents of my players:
Thank you for your commitment to the kids, our team, and our coaches. Thank you for re-arranging vacations, work schedules, and personal commitments for all of us. We all know the commitment to baseball in Goffstown is a big one, and I hope you all found its value this summer. We truly could not accomplish any of these things without your commitment and flexibility. I hope the boys are up for a run at the World Series next year. New England will be expecting us in the 2008 Regional and look to take us down, as it should be. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all. You made it very easy for me to coach this team this summer. I saw many different parental influences throughout the Regional, and all I can say is that I am grateful and fortunate to have been the manager of Goffstown and not another team. You folks were tremendous.To my coaches:
Tony and his stats. Do any of you know many times Danny Diaz ( Norwalk ) struck out against us, and on what kind of pitch? Tony does.

John and his ‘what are you thinking of going with here’? Good question John. Sometimes he had to tell me what I was thinking, and he was usually correct.

Matt and his trips to Burger King in Tilton. Not that any of us are superstitious or anything.

You guys are the best! Thank you for all your support, your words of advice, your time, and your hard work. Thank you for reeling me in when I was completely unconventional; ok, that’s all the time, but you kept me in check for the most part. Thank you for all the pitches you threw, the ground balls you hit, and the fly balls. Thank you Matt for pitching to us so many times, in the dugout or not, you are part of this and I appreciate your help and support. I am proud to have been announced along side Tony and John and our team 12 times this summer. I would be hard pressed to find a finer group to go to battle with the than the 2007 13-year old Goffstown Babe Ruth All-Stars and staff. It has been my pleasure and my honor to be at the helm of this group. Every coach should be so fortunate. My sincerest thanks to you.

To my players: (the best 13 yr old team in NE)
Thank you guys for your hard work and dedication to the team concept. Team concept is a nice thing to talk about and to throw around with coaches and reporters, but it takes on an entirely different meaning when it’s implemented, understood and executed. Our team was a very good example of how this works. Only 9 players get to start the game and only 9 get to play at a time, and as you know, with 12 players, the math doesn’t work. I am proud of how you all handled yourselves, in the good times (many, many), and the hard times. For each of you who came out of games, sat and waited to get into games, or just didn’t play as much as you wanted, please know this. I fully believed and trusted in every single one of you to get the job done, no matter what that job was. I know Vermont and Goffstown were the only teams in the Regional to play every player in every game, even if it was just an inning. Thank you for being ready to contribute (anywhere at anytime) and support your teammates. Several opposing coaches throughout our tournaments were impressed/amazed how well our players played from top to bottom. This is a compliment to each of you for being prepared physically and mentally and for taking pride in your own game.

I still believe we are the best 13-year-old team in New England . I don’t think I am alone on that statement either. The best team doesn’t always win as we all know. The best team does rebound and continue to be the team to beat. We will rebound, and we will be very difficult to beat in years to come. I love you guys, I really do, and I have enjoyed (very much) spending so much time together over the last 2 months. Baseball is my passion and you all let me have some fun in the sun and be a kid for 56 days this summer. I sincerely thank you for that. I hope you each have a similar passion and pursue it to its fullest. Dream big, never give up, be willing to work harder than anyone else, and success will follow you like a shadow on a sunny afternoon.

All Stars is about the kids and that’s the part I enjoy the most. Seeing the development, the friendships, the support and camaraderie of coming together and achieving success while overcoming adversity. Call me crazy or old, or both, but that sentence will mean more to you later in life. Remember what it felt like to walk into St. A’s and see your opponents for the first time. Remember what it felt like to have your name called for all to hear (except in Laconia where nobody could hear the announcer). Remember what it felt like to come home and be announced as a team in the New England Regional opener this past Friday. Remember how great it felt to watch the other outstanding players and teams, and to know you were every bit as good as they were. Remember the feeling of watching the Blue and Gold celebrate their achievement in the final, and work hard to never taste that again. Remember how it felt to put on the Red, White, and Black with GOFFSTOWN across the front. Remember too what I told you from the start, respect the game, respect your opponent, and respect yourselves. These are the days of your lives. Don’t forget these days, don’t forget these friendships, don’t forget to pat yourselves on the back, don’t forget what you achieved together. I sit here proudly to say that you 12 boys achieved more this year than any single team in Goffstown Babe Ruth Baseball history. That is something to be very proud of. Next year when we’re the first team in GBR history to go to the Babe Ruth World Series, we’ll have this chat again.

In Summary:
I have rambled on enough I am sure. I will close by saying this. I am truly honored and proud to have been selected as the manager of this years’ 13 yr old team. I hope that my coaches, my players, and I, represented our town, our program, and ourselves with class and dignity. I know I made a lot more mistakes than the kids did (thanks guys for bailing me out time after time).

I look forward to seeing you all soon. We will have a team party in the next week or two. I had to come back to the park today to shake the feeling I had leaving the field yesterday. We should be out here starting to throw and loosen up. I miss it already.

Respectfully,
Steve Beal
Manager – Goffstown
13 Yr. Old All-Stars
Goffstown Babe Ruth
2007 District 3 Champions
2007 NH State Champions

The 2007 NH State Champion 13-year-old’s having a little fun in Laconia. Sorry guys, but I had to throw this picture out there. This moment will always be ours.

Ryan and I after his last game playing for Goffstown. He will continue playing baseball at Central Connecticut State University, and I will continue to watch, cheer, and be more nervous than him. Thanks for taking a moment for the picture with me. Photo by Kris Shaw.

 

 

Goffstown In Baseball

Goffstown, NH was incorporated in 1761. Goffstown ranks as just the 14th largest municipality in the state of New Hampshire. The 2010 Census put Goffstown’s population at 17,651. Roughly 15% of the population is between age 18 and age 24, or approximately 2,648 people. I am going to point out some more details from this age group a little later on in this piece. There are roughly 4,000 folks in Goffstown that are under the age of 18, in this group, nearly 10% of this group play baseball in the Goffstown Jr. Baseball organization. I point these numbers out because I find these things interesting enough to share.

Goffstown is a small town. There are 202 municipalities in New England that are larger than Goffstown. For this piece I refer to Goffstown baseball based on the towns the school district pulls from. Goffstown, New Boston (2010 census pop. 5,321), and Dunbarton (2010 census pop. 2,758) make up the school district. I will also point out which town the individuals mentioned in this piece hail from. Continue reading

Early reviews: Sox are a bust and have lost their way

Welcome to the circus that is Fenway Amusement Park and the 2012 performance of the Boston Red Sox Players as conducted by seemingly, mildly interested ownership. Lead Jester in this years performance is Bobby Valentine.

One of my brothers sent me an email today and shared some of his thoughts on the Red Sox so far this season. This spurred some thoughts and my own written reaction. Which is also where this piece stems from. Many of these thoughts have been cultivated over the last several years. Others came throughout the fall of 2011. An autumn that would have fit better in the 86 year drought somewhere than it does in the 21st century.

Gone are the days when Ted Williams would sign his one year contracts based on how much he and the club thought he was worth during the previous season. Gone are the days when players would stand behind the opposing catcher and watch the other teams’ starting pitcher warm up along the foul lines. Gone are the days when the team would actually take infield before a game. Gone is the net and the retrieval of home run balls after a game by a guy walking the wall at 37 feet high. Gone are the 7:07 start times and the afternoon games before that. The Impossible Dream has been replaced with the Implausible Scene that rears its ugly head 81 dates per year. Gone is baseball as the main attraction at 4 Yawkey Way. Gone is the national pastime in its glory as the only passage of time needed for our fathers and theirs, replaced with entertainment as defined by those who measure a quality start by numbers and not by the quality of the start.

Some how the grand old ball park, 100 years old, has become the theme park and main attraction to an audience of millions throughout New England and even around the world. I cherish Fenway Park. I have since I was a kid, and like millions of other kids, I was sold on the old concrete ramps leading to the most beautiful shades of green I had ever seen. I didn’t need seats on the Monster, or a pavilion in right, or seats behind glass, or even seats that faced home plate. The greatest players in the history of the game played on that field, in front of that wall, and before those seats, empty or not. I knew Ruth, Young, Foxx, and Williams, among others, had even called this park home. That’s the beauty of it. That park was where those ball players played. That’s all that was needed. Just like it would have been at any of those other classic ball parks, if they were still around.

So far in 2012 there has already been too much mediocrity, or less, and worse yet, it seems to be acceptable. Bobby Valentine could have managed several games better this year. He could also have taken opportunities to show who is the boss in the clubhouse. Oh wait, no, he couldn’t have, because he’s not the boss. He’s just another member of the entitled fraternity of Red Sox personnel who think someone actually owes them something. The boss is the collective ownership. Just ask Boston’s GM. Insert puppet here. Ownership needs to look in the mirror regarding their ball club and worry less about the ball park. With injuries, no sense of urgency on anything, and average acquisitions this is what we get. An above average offensive ball club held back by its pitching and lack of fortitude. Even when Adrian Gonzalez finishes with great numbers again, he won’t be enough to over come countless blown 3-run leads and constantly playing from behind. Right now fans want his behind because he’s not off to a Josh Hamilton start this season.

I could go on but I probably won’t. Beckett looked like a golfer trying his hand at pitching on the mound tonight. Couldn’t have been better timing for him to show us all what he’s made of. Not much. I know every year can’t be 2007, but since the title year where’s the hunger, the drive? Actually, humorously, I guess we learned where the hunger was last autumn. He’s 50-33 with a 4.08 ERA since the 2007 title and getting worse. That’s a nice .602 win percentage but by comparison Matsuzaka has a .654 win percentage over the same time frame.

Anyways, the Sox fired the best manager in team history, and seemingly took forever to find the right guy for the job to replace Francona. Now, mind you, the right guy for the job in this case, may just be a guy fitting interesting criteria: Big name, check. New England guy, check. Sells some tickets, check. Vain enough to think it’s all about him, check. Expendable enough to be a rental manager caught in a bad lease, check. Francona may have lost control of the wheel last season, but he may have been driving a vehicle with a bunch of bad tires, and less his fault than originally thought. This season will likely show us all just how bad it could have really been.

Either way, after the Bruins early exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs, Fenway turning 100 years old, and various forms of early season adversity, the spotlight has been shining holes through the club in month number one of the season. The season is long, and we’ve seen that just about anything can happen. There are 131 more chances for our hometown team to redeem themselves this season. In the meantime there’s the College World Series, The Olympics, and the Little League World Series to help restore our National Pastime and then some.

The Red Sox are my life-long favorite team. Even if this season turns around for Boston, there’s several pictures in my mind that I’d rather see at 4 Yawkey Way. I’d love to see Yaz pinwheeling the bat as he settles in to face another pitch. I’d love to see Tiant delivering pitches from every conceivable angle and watch his pitch count approach 200 (talk about your quality starts). I could use a couple of episodes showing “The Steamer” taking a rake to innocent beach balls. I would love to see Lonborg pitching with the heart of a lion when nobody else believed. How about some effort, like that of Fred Lynn using every fiber of his body to make another catch that wasn’t supposed to be made. I could use some time spent in the center field bleachers during the 1978 season when “Jim Ed” would come out and hit balls into the bleachers to the kids before batting practice. Ya, he was awesome. 406 total bases in 1978 and my evenings were good or bad based on how Rice played that night. How about “Dewey” lining himself up in right field to unload his cannon to the appropriate base, time after time? Give me the buzz around the old ball park on any night that Pedro pitched. I’d even take Manny being Manny, rifling a walk-off single through Mariano’s legs on Memorial Day Weekend. Maybe I could use the grit of Lansford. Let me see the old bullpen cart bringing relievers to the mound. Are there any kids in the mix like number 26, who played first base and went 6-for-9 in a double-header against the Indians, a year after Lansford won the batting title? Give me Marty Barrett with a 13 pitch at-bat, or Carbo in the clutch. I’d take Morgan Magic and Benzinger wrapping one around the Pesky Pole. I’d take the Boston Red Sox playing baseball in the old Fenway Park.

Hey ownership, these Sox are a bust! It’s not about the ball park, it’s about the pastime, the game, the players that make the plays and send New England off to sweet summer dreams night after night. The ball park in essence is the fly on the wall that witnesses all the greatness and thus becomes the place for fathers to congregate and pass on the histories as they know it. It’s seats should be so fortunate to be filled with subtle story lines being shared game after game. Stories that live on forever from one generation of wide-eyed youngsters to the next. Instead, for many, it has become a once a year, or maybe once in a lifetime visit to an amusement park that’s so busy with entertainment that’s not the game, that the beautiful symmetry of the game is often lost to the likes of lights, gadgets, bells and whistles.

My favorite ball fields any where are not my favorites because of the amenities they offer. Rather, it’s the beauty of those rarest diamonds, where the colors run into one another at the perfect angle as if the hand of an angel reached down and arranged these things just so. There are fields that are carved into nature where the ball field ends right where the wild begins. These fields don’t have fancy lights and scoreboards, but they do have immeasurable history and countless memories where our pastime was contended by players who didn’t know better than just playing for the love of the game. These fields in some cases have long since passed ‘state of the art’ and have transformed into glorious cathedrals containing priceless pictures of yesteryear hanging in every corner, perceived by thousands from just as many angles.

I probably won’t get to Fenway this year, but if I do, I am sure someone will have to hear more stories of mine as my memory plays back images to me while I look around the old yard. Until then, I would just as soon sit on the front porch and listen to the game on the radio so I can paint my own pictures of the memories being created.