邪恶女帝The Baseball Magazine For People Who Hate Baseball Magazines

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Zisk #29

The Occasional Sweet Sounds of the Ballpark -- 2017 Style by Rich Puerzer

Fritz, We Hardly Knew Ye by Rev. Norb

Glimmerglass by Adam Berenbak

"Aparicio to Henry to Skowron" A Close Encounter with Baseball Immortals by J. Patrick Henry

Foley Before the King, October 1989 by David Lawton

Scorebook Memories by Mark Hughson

It Was Game 2 of the 1996 World Series by Nancy Golden

From Devastation to Elation -- Houston Celebrates Its' First World Series by Gabe LaBounty

The Astrodome and Astroturf by Todd Taylor

Baseball and Grass by Todd Taylor

A Few of Our Participatory Moments in This Great Game of Baseball by Abby & Jesse Mendelson

Panda and the Freak -- Written and Performed by The Baseball Project and Annotated by Jade Wade Edwards

The Occasional Sweet Sounds of the Ballpark – 2017 Style by Rich Puerzer

For the last thirty-some years, I have been a huge fan and had apassion for two things: all things baseball, and music, specifically what wasonce called “college rock.”  In the1980’s, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bill James, R.E.M, and the Replacements broughtme more joy than just about anything else. Unfortunately, at least for me, in those thirty-some years a trip to theballpark rarely brought aural pleasure.  WhileI will never complain about the classic sound of a ballpark organ jamming away Muzak-stylebetween innings, and aside from the perfection that is “Take Me Out To TheBallgame,” generally speaking, the music played before and during games doesn’treally do much for me.   I likeSpringsteen and am ok with John Fogerty, but at this point I would be fine if Ididn’t hear “Glory Days” or “Centerfield” for at least a few years.

One of the greatest things to happen in the world in the last decade isthe band The Baseball Project.  Featuringmembers of great college rock bands The Dream Syndicate, The Young FreshFellows, and R.E.M., The Baseball Project has three albums of songs aboutbaseball culture and history.  In myopinion, their songs should be on the mandatory playlist for major and minorleague ballparks. But alas, I have only heard their songs in my car on the wayto and from games.  However, during mytrips to major and minor league games during the 2017 season, I had severaloccasions where I heard music played throughout the park that brought a smileto my face and joy to my heart.    

In May, I was in Baltimore and saw the Orioles take on the RedSox.  Of course there was “Thank God I’mA Country Boy,” and a lot of other dreck. But during a late game pitching change, “How Soon Is Now” by the Smiths,one of my personal 1980’s anthems, came over the speakers.  There is certainly something dissonant inhearing the very English Morrissey signing about loneliness in one of the greatballparks in the U.S., but it sure made me happy at the time.

Another enjoyable music experience came during a Lakewood BlueClawsgame on the Sunday night of Labor Day weekend. I really like going to minor league baseball games for many reasons,although music does not usually make that list. Two of my sons and I thoroughly enjoyed this game at this Central NewJersey, Class A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies in the South AtlanticLeague.  The ballpark, the food, and theplay on the field were all very cool.  Ofcourse, minor league teams almost always have a “night” or hook to make thegame experience more attractive to the public, and this was “BeatlesNight.”  I like the Beatles, ofcourse.  And perhaps like millions ofpeople walking the Earth, I truly love a bunch of their songs.  But I fully expected that the music played atthis game would just be drawn from the “1” compilation of their number one hits.  However, whoever was in charge of music did afine job of mixing up the hits with what classic rock stations refer to as“deep tracks.”  They played “Blue JayWay,” “Dear Prudence,” “Polyurethane Pam,” and two of my personal favorites butcertainly not #1 hits, “Yer Blues,” and “Blackbird.”  But my favorite moment was when the BlueClawsplayers took the field to the tune of “Helter Skelter.”  That was pretty great.

My favorite baseball/music experience of the summer occurred throughouta Red Sox – Blue Jays game that two of my sons and I attended in July atFenway.  This was my first visit toFenway, and it did not disappoint. Finally getting to this classic park and seeing the Green Monster inperson was very cool.  And as anunexpected bonus, our trip to Fenway was more than enhanced by the music playedbefore and during the game, especially many of the songs played on theorgan.  As we were making our way to ourseats well before the start of the game and we were taking in the neat featuresof Fenway on this hot and sticky evening, there was a song playing on the organthat made me pause.  I knew the music butcouldn’t immediately place the song.  Andthen it hit me – “Innocent When You Dream” by Tom Waits!!  It was perhaps the perfect soundtrack for themoment – subtle and sublime.  Then Iremembered that the organist for the Red Sox, Josh Kantor, was known for his coolplaylist – not Muzak-style but classic and, to some, obscure songs.  I had seen him play with The Baseball Projecta few years ago at what was a very cool show. There were more great songs to come. He later favored us with The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” which soundsamazing on a stadium organ.  Later stillcame “Punk Rock Girl” by The Dead Milkman, another classic from the 80’s.  The music played over the PA was also great.  CCR’s “Fortunate Son” was played, which Ihave to think and hope was a political statement for our time.  And in between the eighth and ninth inningscame Japandroids’ “The House That Heaven Built,” another song that despite itsabsolute greatness, I never thought I would hear at a ballpark.  Hearing all these great songs put our Fenwayexperience over the top.

I know that college rock classics of the 1980’s is not everyone’sthing, and that next season I am sure to here “Centerfield” at nearly everytrip to the ballpark.  But on occasionthe music that I heard this season made my trips to the ballpark even sweeter,and gives me hope that I will be surprised by some great tunes playedthroughout the park in the future.

RichPuerzerteaches engineering and occasionally baseball at Hofstra University, where heis the Chairperson of the Engineering Department.  He has a poster of Mark Fidrych, whom he considersto be among the most rock ‘n roll ballplayers of all time, in his office athome.

Fritz, We Hardly Knew Ye by Rev. Norb

1965 was a pip of a year for baseball: The artists formerlyknown as the Houston Colt .45s changed their name to the Astros upon receipt ofthe lease to their new home, the Astrodome (making them the first major leaguebaseball team to play their home games in a venue named after a charactervoiced by Don Messick), the Braves finished up their tenure in Milwaukee beforeheading to the Land of the Boiled Peanut, and the Los Angeles Angels changedtheir name to the California Angels, presumably in preparation to change it tosomething even stupider in the 21st Century. The Angels’ roommatesat Dodger Stadium for the 1965 season – unshockingly, the Los Angeles Dodgersthemselves – won the NL pennant despite pitcher Juan Marichal of the Giantsattacking catcher (and former Sheboygan Indian) John Roseboro with a baseballbat during a late-season game, then overcame a 0-2 World Series deficit toupend the Minnesota Twins in seven games, largely on the strength of ace SandyKoufax – who famously sat out Game 1 due to Yom Kippur – and his complete-gamevictories in Games 5 and 7. Willie Mays hit his 500th home run,Mickey Mantle played his 2000th game (all with the Yankees), and theKansas City A's trotted Satchel Paige out to the mound at the grand old age of59 for his final MLB start in a tilt against the Boston Red Sox, where he gaveup no runs and one hit (a double to Carl Yastrzemski) in three innings of work.Zoilo Versalles of the Twins and Willie Mays of the Giants were the AL and NLMVPs. The season, as stated previously, was a pip.
            Thepippitude of 1965 extended from the primary equation of the MLB season itselfto baseball's first derivative, baseball cards. The 1965 Topps set is arollicking and jolly 598-card assortment of bold shapes, bright colors, andmanly joie de vivre, one of the best-looking sets of a visually peerlessdecade. The most expensive card of the set, were one inclined to undertake aproject of this particular tenor, is, as usual, Mickey Mantle. Mickey Mantle isalmost always the most valuable card in any baseball card set that has MickeyMantle as a member (when there’s a set with a card that’s even pricierthan The Mick, you got big trouble [looking at you,1963 Pete Rose rookiecard]). Given the infernal pull of the Commerce Comet on the commerce ofsecondary market baseball card trading, this reporter often finds it moreinteresting to note what the second-most valuable card in any givenbaseball card set is, assuming that the most expensive item on that year’sto-do list is almost always Mantle. In the 1952 Topps set, the second-priciestcard is Braves slugger Eddie Mathews. In 1959, it’s the Bob Gibson rookie card.In 1964, it’s the Pete Rose second-year card, restoring the natural order ofthings so grievously uprooted in 1963. And, for the 1965 Topps set, the silvermedal – per the Beckett Baseball Card Price Guide, generally held to bethe industry standard – goes to neither Koufax, nor Mays, nor any othercelebrated hero of the 1965 season, but instead to a little-known righty fromNorthern Wisconsin: The immortal Fritz Ackley.
            FlorianFrederick Ackley was born April 10th, 1937, in the fair hamlet ofHayward – a city of just over two thousand hardy souls, tucked away in theremote northwest quarter of Wisconsin, and home to the annual World LumberjackChampionships. Hayward’s most well-known landmark is the World’s LargestMuskie, conveniently located outside the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall ofFame (a photograph of the Parasites cavorting inside the creature’s mouth canbe viewed in the accompanying graphics to the Rat Ass Pie album).Possessed of one of the truly great unibrows of his generation (second only toDodgers utility man and part-time Dick Tracy villain Wally Moon) and signed bythe White Sox organization upon graduating from Hayward High School in 1954,Fritz began his world-beating baseball career with the Class D Dubuque Packersof the Mississippi-Ohio Valley League, posting a 2-3 record with a 4.76 ERA.Over the course of the next decade, Ackley spent time with the Superior Blues,Waterloo White Hawks, Duluth-Superior White Sox, Colorado Springs Sky Sox,Davenport DavSox, Lincoln Chiefs, Savannah/Lynchburg White Sox, capping off histenth year in the minors with a brilliant 18-win season for the AAAIndianapolis Indians. As a late season call-up for the big league team, Fritzmade his major league debut on September 21st, 1963 in front of araucous crowd of 4,291 at Tiger Stadium, giving up three runs over six inningsof work in a 4-3 White Sox (Chicago edition) loss to the Tigers (Ackleyreceived a no-decision, Denny McLain took the complete game victory forDetroit). Undeterred by this brief speedbump on the road to greatness, Ackley tookthe mound six days later for the second game of a doubleheader against theWashington Senators, scattering two hits and a lone run over the course ofseven strong innings of work, as the White Sox cruised to an easy 7-1 victoryover the Nats. This would be Ackley's lone big league victory that year... or,for that matter, any other year. Fritz stuck around as a reliever with theparent club for the beginning of the 1964 season, but, after three more gameswith the White Sox in which his ERA ballooned to an unwieldy 8.53, Fritz wassent back down to Indianapolis, traded to St. Louis, and assigned to theJacksonville Suns of the International League, never to return to the bigs.Ackley's lifetime record in the majors – consisting of five games spread out overthe end of the 1963 and beginning of the 1964 seasons – would be permanentlyfrozen at a pristine 1-0, with a 4.19 lifetime ERA, 17 strikeouts, and 11 baseson balls. Although the caption on the back of Ackley's 1965 baseball card reads“opportunity is tapping Fritz on the shoulder after ten years in the minors,”Fritz spent 1965 ringing up an 8-11 mark for Jacksonville, followed by a tradeto Pittsburgh, reassignment to the Tulsa Oilers, then the Columbus Jets, thenback to Hayward, where Fritz became a manager: Manager of the Chip-A-Flo Lodge,conveniently located on the Chippewa Flowage. Fritz Ackley's 1965 baseball cardis worth $200 in mint condition.
            At thispoint, it might do to inject a little context. What, exactly, does it meanwhen a player's baseball card trades for two hundred bucks American? Well, forone thing, it means the player ain’t no Mickey Mantle: The Mick’s 1965 cardbooks at a hefty $600 in mint condition, triple that of FlorianFrederick Ackley (the collector appeal of Mantle-iana is so great that the cardcommemorating Game 3 of the 1964 World Series – captioned “Mantle's ClutchHomer” – is itself the eighth-priciest card of the 1965 set, listing at $80 inmint). That aside, baseball cards with that hefty of a price tag, unsurprisingly,are generally reserved only for first ballot Hall of Famers and the occasionalchronic gambler with HOF-level credentials. Per Beckett, there are twoother 1965 baseball cards which command the same dollar value as that of FritzAckley: Pete Rose and Roberto Clemente. Rose was a 17-time all-star, andremains MLB's all-time leader in hits (4,256), games played (3,562), at-bats(14,053), and plate appearances (15,890). The beloved Clemente was a 15-timeall-star, a National League and World Series MVP, racked up exactly 3000hits, and died while manning a relief flight for earthquake victims inNicaragua. Fritz Ackley's claim to fame is that he never lost any of the fivegames in which he appeared. Even some of the players whose cards’ net worthhasn't quite attained the lofty heights of Ackley-dom had fairly decent yearsin 1965: Willie Mays hit 52 of his 660 home runs that year, en route to hissecond NL MVP award and the twelfth of his twenty consecutive All-Star seasons,and his 1965 card books at a measly $150. Hank Aaron's home run record mighthave only lasted 33 years, but he still holds the all-time MLB records for RBI(2,297), total bases (6,856), and extra-base hits (1,477); his card is worthbut half an Ackley – $100. A hundred bucks is also the going rate for a mintcondition Sandy Koufax, pitcher of more victories in the 1965 World Series thanFritz Ackley pitched in his entire big-league career. Ernie Banks hit his 400thhomer in 1965, Tony Perez played his first full season in the majors in 1965,and Jim “Catfish” Hunter, bypassing the minor leagues entirely, made his majorleague (and baseball card) debut in 1965. None of their cards break the centurymark, dollarwise, let alone threaten the two hundred dollar plateau. At thispoint, one might be reasonably be forgiven for asking the obvious question:OKAY, SO WHAT THE HELL IS THE DEAL WITH THE FRITZ ACKLEY CARD???
            The rootsof the deal can be, in a roundabout way, traced back to MLB’s 1960’s expansion:From the dawn of the 20th Century through 1959, the NL and AL eachfeatured eight teams. In 1959,  ToppsBaseball was a 572-card set. Figuring around twenty-five players for each ofthe sixteen major league teams, and one card to a player, that’s still only 400cards – leaving 172 additional cardboard rectangles to fill. Thus, pretty muchanyone who could walk, stagger, or crawl in front of a camera got to be on abaseball card: Managers got a card, rookies and prospects got cards, all-starsgot two cards, World Series games got their own cards, even commissionerFord fricking Frick got a card. By the mid-sixties, however, the sixteenexisting teams had been joined by the Angels, Astros, Mets and Senators Mk. II,thrusting an additional hundred players into the mix. Meanwhile, reflecting a presumablyreasonably inelastic demand for baseball cards, the Topps series had expandedvery little – nudging up from 572 cards in 1959 to only 598 in 1965. By themid-sixties, there were a lot less extra cards to fill. As a result, therewould be no more cards for front office executive types, no more double cardsfor all-stars, and multiple rookies were squished together on a single card.The Catfish Hunter rookie card is a quad occupancy deal – the late A's hurler'spostage-stamp-sized mug sits among similarly-sized portraits of three othercan't-miss Kansas City prospects. This, too, is the situation for the duplexed1965 Fritz Ackley card: Florian Frederick Ackley's delightfully-unibrowedkisser occupies only the left side of the card bearing the half-correct heading“CARDS 1965 ROOKIE STARS,” while the right half is given over to a player whoactually wound up suiting up for the Cardinals. Between Fritz and his rookiecardmate, the two pitchers would combine for 330 lifetime wins and four CyYoung awards, which is because... the $200 Fritz Ackley rookie card is also...the $200 Steve Carlton rookie card. And that is the story behind the1965 Fritz Ackley card. Hey, at less than $67 an eyebrow, you might need oneyourself.

Glimmerglass by Adam Berenbak

Theday began at nine, but I made sure every morning to get through the staffentrance by 8:45, in order to spend at least a few moments watching the sunrising through the windows of the plaque gallery. The morning sun bathed thebronze faces of past heroes in a soft light that matched the soft silence of aroom normally bustling with sound and activity despite inspiring an awereserved for [church altars] and cathedrals.
            Soft cushioned benches, like churchpews, lined the hall, beckoning me to sit and reflect for a few moments beforeheading upstairs to my internship in the library of the National Baseball Hallof Fame. I have had my share of disappointments, of idols brought down to earthand the true face of heroes exposed. Long ago I gave up any notion of expectinganything from ballplayers that I would expect from any person. But the plaquegallery in the morning was a place where I could suspend reality for a shortwhile and get lost in the mythos.
            The stairwell to the second floor ofthe library took me to a hallway at the end of which was my office. It led pastthe file room, overwhelmed with dozens of stacked file cabinets filled withalphabetically arranged folders on every man and woman to play or be associatedwith the game. Crammed into those drawers were the real lives strewn on paperof the gods’ one floor below.
            My job did not require a moment ofZen in order to prepare – every facet of the work was a joy.  Though I often retreated to the file room toconduct a quick survey of a player or team’s file to support a finding aid orprepare for a museum talk, I spent most of my time in the tiny office down thehall. There I processed collections and wrote draft obituaries, talked baseballwith permanent staff and gazed out the window that looked over the small townof Cooperstown. 
            From that window I could see therooftops of the cafés, souvenir shops, collectibles shops, hotels, andchurches. I could see a tiny glimpse of Pioneer Street as it sloped down to thebanks of Lake Otsego, and I could see the end of the short alley running fromthe staff entrance of the Hall of Fame along the side wall of Cooley’s Tavern.
            Unlike many of the interns thatsummer, I had decided to stay in downtown Cooperstown rather than the studenthousing offered in nearby Oneonta. This meant that I could walk to work andavoid a half hour drive every evening down Rt. 28, past the Dreamparks and cowpastures, barns filled with antiques and the waterfall, and instead stop in toCooley’s for a beer.
            Though occasionally overwhelmed withsummer tourists, the staff and regulars that typically comprised the crowd weregenuine and engaging. Besides talk of the Mets or Yankees, the place was anisland in a sea of baseball history, a welcome refuge to escape from the ghostsof heroes and periodically to reality.
            It was there during Hall of Fameweekend that several octogenarian fans of Dick Williams got into it with somethirty-something fans of Goose Gossage. The reality of the pavement hit theGossage fan harder than the fists of Williams’ buddies.
            However, like my daily sojourns tothe plaque gallery at dawn, I was not in Cooperstown necessarily for the sakeof reality. As much as I enjoyed hours in the file cabinets lost in thedetailed history of forgotten leagues and anti-heroes, the whole town wassteeped in myth, surrounded by hills and set on a lake, like something out of afairy tale. Traveling to the town is an almost medieval adventure, and the goalof the journey is more often than not to revel in all things heroic, legend,and fantasy.  So when Cooley’s was toocrowded, I would head to the water and the Glimmerglass Queen.
            “Rapunzel! Rapunzel! Let your hairdown.” The tinny quality of her voice was the result of the overused recordingbursting out of the speakers loud enough to rise over the sound of the breakingwaves.  The trip lasts about an hour.
            Up and back from the banks of the Otsegoto Kingfisher Tower at its epicenter, the voyage of the Glimmerglass Queentakes you off the solid footing of Cooperstown and into the mystic lake that isultimately the reason for the existence of the town that houses the legends ofbaseball.
            Council Rock, a meeting place ofNative American tribes long before the arrival of the Coopers, as in JamesFennimore and family, still resides in the same place as it always has, only ahundred yards from the dock of the Glimmerglass Queen, a tour boat running up anddown the lake on the hour. The rock brought civilization, which attracted thesettlers, attracting Cooper on down the line to Edward Clark, who made hisfortune as the money man for the Singer Sewing Machine Company.
            Edward Cabot Clark, you see, haddied during the construction of his masterpiece, the Dakota apartment buildingon Central Park West. But not before establishing a home base along the shoresof late Otsego and leaving all of his money to four grandchildren, includingStephen. 
            Stephen turned the home base into atown bestowed by Clark money. In 1939, he had worked with the fathers of MajorLeague Baseball to turn his small baseball exhibit based on Abner Graves dreamsinto a Depression-era celebration of baseball mythology. Only decades anddecades of chipping away at those legends left the Hall what it is today,serving to promote a true history of the game amidst the pageantry of its lore.
            But not too long before Stephen wasborn, Edward had bestowed upon the town something equally magical. Jutting outat the midway point of the lake, just across from Three Mile Point at PointJudith, he built a sixty-foot gothic revival tower that played a starring rolein the girlhood dreams of the pilot of the Glimmerglass Queen.
            You learn of her dreams over theloudspeaker as the vessel drifts out of the small dock next to a breakfastjoint and meanders past the Leatherstocking golf course at starboard and thetree lined Route 31 off port side. It’s an old audio recording of the pilotmeant to narrate the sites, but that quickly delves into the fantasy world ofher past.
            It’s easy to get lost in thefantasy. My dreams of being a ballplayer melting into my dreams of meetingballplayers finally melting in grounded dreams of working, in some way, aroundthem and their legacy. I no longer looked up to those ballplayers as idols, asgods, but couldn’t help but worship them despite my better instincts.
            As the Glimmerglass Queen approachesKingfisher Tower, you learn that, as a girl, the pilot would climb the rocksand wander about Point Judith, all the time seeing herself in the high towerwaiting to be rescued. She builds the story into a dizzy rapture before singing“Rapunzel! Rapunzel!” as if she is still that young girl dreaming on the shore.
            Every visit to Cooperstown isdreaming on the shore.  Me in my castleat dawn watching the sunrise illuminate bronze tributes. Alone at my desk, alowly intern looking over the rooftops of tourist traps and memorabilia shops. Togetherat the bar, drinking a beer and letting it all sink in.

“Aparicio to Henry to Skowron”A Close Encounter with Baseball Immortals by J. Patrick Henry

“A partial plate on my left side and Nellie Fox is to blame.”
            So began theessay I submitted to The Buffalo Newstrying to earn a spot on the field alongside a group of traveling Hall of Famersabout to play in what was billed as “Buffalo’s Grand Old Game.”
            The year was1984, and a Chicago promoter had put together a four-city tour of retired majorleaguers, everyone an All-Star and many Hall of Famers. The lineup was to includenames like Mays, Spahn, Doby, Cepada, Wynn, Feller, Ford, Larsen, Banks, Wilhelm,and many others. The most important name to me, as you’ll soon learn, was formerWhite Sox Shortstop, Luis Aparicio.
            First, let’sset the scene.
            In the early‘80s Buffalo was in the midst of a baseball revival. Mayor Jim Griffin hadrecently obtained a AA franchise and a working agreement with the Chicago WhiteSox. It was his dream to bring a major league team back to Buffalo, and this AAteam was to be the first step. And no, my use of the word “back” is not a typo.
            The originalBuffalo Bisons began play in 1877, and although they were a AAA franchise formost of their history, from 1879-85 Buffalo was a member in good standing of the National League. Yes, thatNational League.
            By the late‘60s, the Bisons were a successful AAA franchise, the farm club of the CincinnatiReds, and fielded a team that included Johnny Bench, the greatest catcher ever toplay the game. The quality of minor league baseball prior to MLB’s expansion wasnever higher, but the economics of the game were changing, and the city lostits AAA franchise after the 1970 season. It seems that the opportunity to watchmajor league baseball every Saturday afternoon on NBC’s Game of the Week reducedthe popularity of minor league baseball in America, and Buffalo was noexception.
            Once MayorGriffin restored professional baseball to Buffalo, plans were begun to build anew downtown baseball park, to be named Pilot Field. It was the first of the retro-style,fan and player (grass field!) friendly designs out of HOK Sport in Kansas City,the company that later brought the same concepts to Camden Yards, starting atrend that continues today. The new park would have two decks designed to hold20,000 fans, and extra-large supporting beams strong enough to accommodate anadditional two decks. Alas, the franchise Buffalo sought was awarded to Torontoinstead, and those decks would never be needed. But that’s another story.
            Until PilotField opened, the AA Bisons played their home games in War Memorial Stadium, avenue originally built for football and home to the Buffalo Bills for the first12 years of their existence. When you shoehorn a baseball diamond into afootball stadium you end up with odd field dimensions. Thus, in a mirror imageof the LA Coliseum, the Dodgers’ first LA home, with its 295-foot left fieldwall, War Memorial had an even shorter right field porch, one that hadleft-handed hitters drooling the minute they walked on to the field.
            The stadium hadbeen vacant for years and was in such poor shape that it was known affectionatelyas “The Rockpile.” Its condition was so bad that writer Brock Yates was quotedin Sports Illustrated as saying itlooked “…as if whatever war it was a memorial to had been fought within itsconfines.”
            As bad as itlooked, the Rockpile’s 1930s design was deemed perfect as the setting of one ofthe best baseball movies of all time, TheNatural. It was filmed there in 1983 and starred Robert Redford, GlennClose, Robert Duvall and Kim Basinger. A few former major leaguers with ties toBuffalo were also in the film, including Phil Mankowski, one-time AL Rookie ofthe Year Joe Charoboneu, and the lesser-known Sibby Sisti. (In a mildly strangecoincidence, my family had lived in a house once owned by Sisti that sported abasement stair railing made of his old baseball bats.)
            In 1984 Iwas 36 years old, married and the father of two sons. Refusing to give up thepastime of my youth, I played second base in two softball leagues, one thatused modified fast-pitch rules. It wasn’t baseball, but there was bunting andsliding and stealing and, well, it was close enough.
            Oneafternoon in May of that year I picked up the afternoon paper to find anannouncement that there was to be an Old Timers game involving former majorleaguers to be played in late June. My eyes widened when I saw the sidebar, headlined“A Baseball Buff’s Dream Come True,” and my heart beat double-time when I read:
            Two winners—one foreach league—will be invited to a party honoring the players the night beforethe game. Then they will join their teammates in the morning at the hotel, busto the ballpark, take part in pre-game ceremonies and batting practice. Oncethe game starts, they will ride the pines with the AL or NL reserves until themanager—Gene Mauch for the Americans, Herman Franks for the Nationals—decidesthe time is right. Each winner is guaranteed one at bat and one inning in thefield.
            And,when it’s over, each player will have memories to last a lifetime, not tomention a uniform from the team of their choice as well as a Louisville Sluggerwith his name inscribed on it.
            The rules ofthe contest were simple: anyone over the age of 35 (just made it!) could enterby submitting a 50-word essay explaining why they wanted to play for theAmerican or National League. Ten finalists were to be chosen and brought to theRockpile to take batting practice with the Bisons, after which the two winnerswould be announced.
            That sidebarheadline said it all: A Baseball Buff’s Dream Come True! What could be coolerthan playing alongside the heroes of my youth? These were the same faces that staredout at me when, as a boy of twelve, I sorted through my collection of baseballcards (a collection that my mother, in keeping with an age-old tradition,tossed out when I left for college, cards that today would be worth…yada, yada).
            I immediatelysat down to gather my thoughts. What would it take to win? I decided that humorwas the key. With only 50 words to impress the judges, there was no time tofully explore my love for the game, or to find a way to tug at their heartstrings.Nope, it would have to be funny, and funny in a way that jumped off the pileand hit ‘em right between the eyes. My first draft went like this:
            I don’t entercontests. Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes? Toss it. $18.5 million dollar Lotto?Ho-hum…look at the suckers in line. Wait? A chance to rub elbows with thegreatest ballplayers of my youth? I can suit up and take swings against Spahn?Mingle with Mays and Mantle? Breathe the same locker room smells as Aaron andStargell? Show me where to start the incision and my left arm is yours.Well…okay, the right arm if you insist, just let me get my swings in before youstart the operation. After that experience I wouldn’t even need anesthesia.
            Cute, Ithought, but nothing that would grab the judges by the horsehides. I neededsomething more “out there.” That idea of an operation got me thinking, and ledto this second attempt:
            I’msitting in the doctor’s office, standard motif—plastic begonias, soothingwatercolors, G-rated magazines—but an inner turmoil clouds my vision: thedoctor is waiting to hear my decision. Should he operate? Wait…an old Sport magazine halfwaydown the pile…hmm…an article on the late Nellie Fox, my boyhood hero. Now THEREwas a MAN…a wad of tobacco the size of a ping-pong ball pushing against hischeek, shins a miniature roadmap of Los Angeles from holding his ground on athousand double-plays…suddenly I know I’ve made the right decision, “No, Dr.Thurlow, they’ll be no sex-change operation for me!” How could I suit up withthe gods of my youth on June 23rd without the proper equipment?
          Now if that doesn’t get their eyeballs swimmingin their heads, I thought, nothing would. But, then again, this was more than 30 years ago. At that time mostpeople couldn’t define transgender, and Renee’ Richards’ successful fight toplay in the Women’s U.S. Tennis Open had only recently concluded. This version was“out there” all right, but well beyond the standards of a family newspaper. I’dhave to try something else.
            Okay, forgetthat angle, but Nellie Fox? He could still be a hook to hang my tale upon. Likeme, he was a second-baseman and an undersized singles hitter. A Hall of Famer,he was crucial to the success of the Go-Go White Sox, winning the MVP in 1959.Although Fox wouldn’t be with the Old Timers (he’d passed away in 1975), hiskeystone partner, Luis Aparicio would be. That led to my third and final attempt:
             Apartial plate on my left side, and Nellie Fox is to blame.
            I wasa 2nd baseman, half of the greatest double-play combination St.Agnes Parochial School ever saw. I wouldn’t take the field without a wad ofbubblegum big enough to choke Godzilla nestled against my teeth. I had to look like Nellie and used that bubblegumto push my left cheek out to the proper dimensions. I could spit with the bestof them, but never learned to hit the curve ball (to this day I can’t put on myglove without salivating). Anyway, all that sugar rotted my teeth and they,like Nellie, are gone for good. The dream lives on though, and you couldfulfill a big part of it by choosing me to play for the American Leaguealongside Aparicio on June 23rd.
             A few weekslater the phone rang. It was the Sports Editor of the News advising me that I’d been selected as one of the ten finalistsand was to report to the Rockpile the following Thursday afternoon with gloveand spikes to take batting practice with the Bisons!
             The next few days were one long daydream. I imaginedtaking the field with the American League team, lining up at 2ndnext to Aparicio. I’d make a diving stop to my right and flip him the ball tostart a double play, then come to bat to lead off the next inning. Isn’t thatthe way it always goes? The guy who makes an outstanding play to end an inningalways leads off the next, doesn’t he? Well, this time that guy would be me.
            I had nodoubt that I would be chosen. Playing softball twice a week and running threemiles every other day or so meant that I was in game shape. And, when I readthe follow up News article profilingthe finalists, I became even more confident. Most looked to be at least twentyyears older than I, and one of them was a woman! This could be easier than I thought.
            WhenThursday arrived I drove to the stadium and went through the players entrance,up the tunnel and out on to the field. Every fan knows that feeling of leavingthe darkness of the passageway and watching the bright, green grass of thediamond come slowly into view. Knowing that I was about to actually walk outand play on that field made the moment even more special. The setting sun, hangingabove the third base stands, threw a layer of golden light across the field, completingthe perfect scene.
            I found aseat in the dugout, laced up my spikes and took up a position at 2nd.It was disappointing to see that the only Bisons on the field were a bullpencatcher, an older guy throwing batting practice, and a few club interns helpingto shag flies. The rest of the team was back in the clubhouse suiting up forthe game. But that didn’t matter. I was dancing on the balls of my feet on aprofessional baseball field, waiting for my first ground ball.
            Each of thecontestants was allowed ten or so swings, but I wasn’t anxious for my turn tocome. I wanted to display my fielding chops first, to show that I could keep upwith the major leaguers I’d be playing with in two weeks. When the contestant who’dbeen manning the shortstop position went in to bat I moved over before someoneelse could take his spot. I handled a few ground balls with no trouble, but mybig chance came when the batter hit a high pop fly in foul territory behindthird base. Because this play is more difficult for the third baseman, it’s theshortstop’s responsibility. Without hesitating I raced to the area where Ithought the ball would come down and settled under it. Just a routine play, mybody language tried to convey, as I casually caught and tossed the ball toward themound, where a Bison intern picked it up and placed it in a bucket behind thepitcher.
            With oneexception, another 30-something guy who drove a pitch off the left field wall,most of the contestants couldn’t do much with the bat. My turn arrived and I toostarted slowly, but soon was making solid contact. As per usual, the hitsdidn’t travel very far, but most were line drives, well struck. I swore I heardsomeone behind the cage utter the phrase, “frozen ropes” as my turn ended. I leftthe park that day sure I’d done everything I could to prove I was worthy totake the field on June 23rd. Now it was up to the judges.
            It was ahuge relief when the call finally came. There’d been far too many days spent waitingand wondering, savoring all the wonderful things that would be mine when I won—theuniform, the personalized bat, the story, and pictures in the following day’spaper. Then it hit me—the box score! I would be in the box score! Right there,just beneath “Skowron,1b” and “Aparicio, ss” it would say “Henry, 2b”. I’d bememorialized forever among the greats of the game. I imagined myself getting thatbox score bronzed and hanging it in my office where every visitor would see it,and where I could sit at my desk and stare at it all day.
            When thecall ended I sat there, staring at the receiver in my hand until the sharp buzzof a dial tone, followed by a snarky female voice that said, “If you wish tomake a call, please hang up and dial again,” broke my trance.
            How couldthis’ve happened? Who beat me out? The Newssecretary wouldn’t tell me who’d won, only that the results would be in thenext day’s paper.
            Visions of stridingon to the field and standing next to Aparicio, images that had shone sobrightly in my head for weeks, were shattered into so much diamond dust. My distresswas magnified the next morning when I read that a woman had taken what I’dconsidered my spot! Beaten out by a girl? Good Lord, what was going on? ApparentlyI was the victim of some horrible, politically correct attempt at genderbalance.
            Of course, ifthis happened today I would not have been at all surprised at the notion of awoman wanting to play baseball. In fact, I’ve recently become a supporter of“Baseball For All,” an organization founded by Justine Seigal, the first womanto coach for a MLB organization—A’s in 2015). Her group is working to give everygirl a chance to play real baseball. (You can learn more about this movement attheir website—Baseballforall.com.)
            My batteredego began searching for reasons other than gender bias that explained my loss. Perhapsthe judges thought that, because I was twenty to thirty years younger than theOld Timers, I was too young. Or maybe (and most ridiculous of all) after seeingmy display of baseball skills at that practice they thought I might be too good? That perhaps one of my “frozenropes” might be too much for the aging stars?
            I eventuallycame to my senses and got past my disappointment at not winning the contest,but (I’m ashamed to admit now) when June 23rd came around, I stayedaway from the Rockpile. I couldn’t face seeing someone else out where I sobadly wanted to be.
            Reading an accountof the game in the News the followingday, I got a small sense of relief to learn that the experience of the contestwinners bore little similarity to the vision I’d had of the event. While each didget a turn at bat and played one inning in the field, it wasn’t at all as I’dimagined. Each contestant was the 10th man (person?) on the field,playing a position that in softball is known as the “short fielder.” And their turnat bat really wasn’t a part of the game—simply an extra out in the inning.Finally, the aspect of the experience I’d most obsessed over—seeing my name listedamong those of my heroes—would never have occurred. The next day’s box score hadnary a mention of either of the contest winners.
            While Ididn’t win the contest, my brief brush with Buffalo baseball immortality got meexcited about the game again. I switched from softball to the real thing,joining a team that played in the city’s MUNY league, albeit at the lowestlevel. Teams consisted of guys like me in their late thirties or early forties alongwith kids just out of high school.
            It was greatto be on a real baseball diamond again, with 90 feet between the bases and livepitching, but in just my second game one of those kids taught me a painfullesson about declining reflexes. Swinging at what I mistakenly thought was a sliderabout to break over the inside corner, my left arm took the full brunt of thepitch. My radius snapped like a popsicle stick and the ball trickled out to themound, where the young fireballer casually picked it up and tossed it to first.Then, adding insult to my injury, as I lay there moaning in the batter’s box theumpire raised his right arm and called me out.           Myteammates surrounded the umpire and argued loudly on my behalf, but his out callwas the correct one. Because I’d offered at the pitch that broke my arm, theball was in play, and I was out.
            So ended my renewedbaseball career, short as it was.
            I did comeback from that injury, but it was to the softball diamond again—and a coedleague to boot.   

Thanks to Wikipedia and BuffaloNews columnist Mike Harrington for background information used in thisarticle. Any hyperbole or errors of fact are the sole responsibility of theauthor.

J. Patrick Henry is a retired public servant who has moved onfrom composing memos and other legal mumbo jumbo to more personal prose, bothfiction and non-fiction.  His work hasappeared in various on-line and print publications, as well as The Buffalo News.  Links to these and other works are availableat www.jpatrickhenry.net.