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Friday, August 18, 2017

Rant #1,963: Me, Myself, I



This year's version of the "Subway Series" ended with the Yankees outlasting the Mets, 7-5, for a four-game series sweep.

I am quite happy with the result, and I think that this year, in particular, I would have been really disappointed if the Bronx Bombers would have lost even one game.

The Yankees are fighting for the playoffs, while the Mets have had to deal with a rash of injuries to their pitching staff, and are playing out the string.

The Yankees have had their own run of injuries, but they have been able to sustain their early season momentum; the Mets have no pitching, period.

Whatever the case, the Yankees have bragging rights in the New York City Metropolitan Area, and can move on with some confidence as they now go to Boston to face the Red Sox for in an important weekend series.

And I will be watching, when I can spare a moment, because my family and I have a somewhat busy weekend, highlighted by our family barbecue that we are having on Sunday. Relatives from both sides of the family will be attending, and I probably will be too busy to watch much of anything on that day, except the hot dogs and other stuff on the grill.

When I watched the Yankees-Mets series, I just had to wonder how it would be like if I could have been a major leaguer. I wonder how a human being can hit a 457 foot home run. What if I could do that?

But then I come down to earth. I was as a kid, and have always been, a better fan than a player of any sport I tried to play. I am simply not athletically inclined, although I love sports.

I was never the worst player on the field, but I wasn't very good.

What I was was open to all sports, so that I played everything, from baseball and softball to basketball and football, and table tennis and bowling, too.

Nothing organized, except for baseball and bowling, but I loved playing sports with my friends and in our community's Little League.

I loved getting on the field, and getting into the ups and downs of the game.

When Aaron Judge hit that moonshot, I told my wife about what I believe is the longest ball I ever hit in an organized game.

I must have been about 13 or 14, and I was playing softball in the Rochdale Village Athletic League, our neighborhood's own Little League.

I don't remember the situation, but I do remember that as a right handed batter, I tried to hit the ball the other way. If a right handed batter pulls the ball, it goes to the left side. I thought to myself that I would hit the ball the other way to the right side of the field.

I took a swing with my metal bat and I hit the ball really good.

It must have traveled at least 200 feet, probably more, to right field, but as my luck would have it, the team we played actually had a pretty good player playing right, one of the G-- twins, Larry. His brother was Eric and not playing in that game.

I hit it to Larry--who was, even at this age, about 6 foot 3 inches, and weighed maybe 100 pounds (people will back me up on this description--these two were so skinny that you could see the outline of their rib cages when we went swimming in camp) and he ran back, got in front of the ball, and was able to use his entire frame to barely catch the missile I hit out there.

I was floored, but I was also out.

Another time, I hit a ball that somehow got over the centerfielder's head, and rolled to the fence of where we played the game.

There was a runner on first, named Arthur, who was slower than molasses.

I could smell inside the park home run, and as I ran around first, I saw that Arthur was barely past second.

I reached second, and he wasn't even at third yet.

I barely made it to third as he barely made it home.

To this day, I swear that I would have made it all around the bases if Arthur could run, but he couldn't, so I had to settle for a triple.

Oh well, I guess you can't have everything.

That is why when I see 457 foot home runs, or even home runs of the lesser foot variety, I marvel at how human beings can actually hit a ball that far.

Mickey Mantle once hit a ball about 550 feet. How can that be?

I can see how a player can score a basket, even from mid-court, in a basketball game.

I can see a football player making a great catch in the end zone.

I can see a hockey player making a great shot that gets past the goalie into the goal.

Heck, I can see a bowler getting 12 strikes in a row for a perfect game (I once threw six straight strikes to open a game, and bowled a 239).

But I cannot see a human being hitting a ball 457 feet, or 460 feet, or 500 feet.

But it has happened.

And that, to me, is one of the things that makes baseball so special.

I can hit a hoop, I can catch a football.

But there is no way that I can hit a ball that far. No way, no how. No, no, no.

So although I loved to play the game, I am much better as a fan, watching the game, studying what I am seeing, and marveling at it all.

And I have been doing that since 1965, and will continue to do it into my old age.

Speak to you again on Monday. Have a great weekend.

Classic Rant #617 (November 12, 2011): Onward To 1,000, and Beyond!



Is this the slowest news time of the year or what?

There isn't much going on to waste a column on, so I am going to waste a column on some self promotion.

My lone video on YouTube is nearing 1,000 hits. It's been up several months and quite frankly, I can't believe it even has 500 hits. let alone nearly 1,000.

Sure, popular clips on YouTube often get 1 million or more hits, but I am pretty happy with what this clip has received.

If you don't know about it, it is a less than 60-second clip from my childhood.

I was a big Little Leaguer, playing in my community--my fabled Rochdale Village, South Jamaica Queens, New York--Little League up until I was 15, a year past when my family and I moved away from this development.

I loved to play, even though I wasn't a very good player at all.

And you can see it all in this video.

I suspect that this was taken when I was eight or nine years old, so we are talking about the 1965-1966 time frame. My father took the clip on an old 8mm camera, pretty high-tech for those days.

I won't ruin it for you if you haven't yet seen the video, but my athletic ineptitude is demonstrated by this less than a minute clip.

I guess that some kids are good athletically, and some aren't.

I wasn't. I loved sports, but I really couldn't play any of them.

I was never the worst of the group, but I was always chosen next to last or next to next to last or next to next to next to last when we were choosing up sides.

And this clip really shows the world how "good" I was.

Anyway, it is nearing the 1,000 hit level. I am sure I went onto the clip probably 100 times myself for one reason or another, but evidently several others have also taken a look.

I hope they found it as hilarious as I do.

Onward to 1,000--and beyond!

(And yes, that is me today. And that Yankee hat is from the 1970s--I am sure I will be buried in it when my time comes.)

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Rant #1,962: Catch Me If You Can



Yes, that is an apt title for today's Rant, which once again celebrates the current "Subway Series" between the New York Yankees and the New York Mets.

The Yankees have won the three games, tonight is the final game of the series, and I still don't have a foul ball in my possession.

Going back more than 50 years, I have been at probably at least 100 to 150 baseball games in person, not a lot but enough to have witnessed some great games and a lot of history, too.

But I have never caught a foul ball, never caught a home run ball, never caught a ball thrown into the stands by a player or handed off to me by a player or a ball boy.

Sure, a lot of it has to do with where I sit, usually in "God's Country," closer to the Almighty than to the field.

But many, many times I sat in earshot of foul balls, and while I have been very, very close, I never snared one of these souvenirs.

Just this past Saturday, when my family and I went to the game, we had wonderful seats via my friend, who gave them to me for my 60th birthday.

They were seats that were close to the field, and certainly getting a foul ball was in the realm of possibility.

Well, the first batter for the Yankees, outfielder Brett Gardner, sliced a ball our way, but it veered to our right, hit high off a barrier, and fell into someone else's lap, maybe three or four rows behind us.

Another ball came near us, too, hit by someone on the Red Sox, but it veered way over our heads.

That was it. Nothing else even nearly came our way.

In the past, I have had a couple of near misses.

One was grabbed by someone I was with, a clean catch that I could not even argue about.

Another, a kid next to me with a glove got it on the ball, my fingers touching the ball but never grabbing it.

A few times, the balls hit have been just too high for me to grab.

About 45 years ago or so, I went to a Yankees game with friends, and we bought tickets all the way up in the stands.

As we did back then, and by the way, this was not frowned upon at the time, we moved down to better seats as the game progressed.

We actually got to right behind the Yankees broadcast booth, which was situated right in front of the stands at the time, but certainly accessible and viewable by people in the stands.

We were so close to the booth that Yankees announcer Frank Messer actually asked me what time it was.

I told him, and about a minute after I did, he was standing in the booth, and a player hit a ball right into his vicinity.

He caught the ball with one hand, and flipped it to me, pretty much thanking me for answering his question.

Some creep ran in front of me, grabbed what was to be my prize, and ran off.

And that has been that for me.

I have been to several stadiums in my life, and it's the same thing all the time. I cannot get a foul ball, or if I am sitting in the outfield, I cannot get a home run ball.

People have actually written books about the "science" of grabbing a ball hit into the stands, and I guess I haven't been very good with science.

Or, perhaps, I simply have no luck, which is most probably the case.

I will continue to go to baseball games, and I will continue to believe that this is going to be the game that I finally get my ball, one way or the other.

But time is running out, and I really have to do this within the next few years.

Someone, hit a ball my way!

I have suffered enough.

Classic Rant #616 (November 11, 2011): 11/11/11



Happy Veterans Day. Rather than shop until you drop today, give at least some pause to why we have a holiday today. The men and women who have served our country, and continue to fight wars overseas, are the true heroes of this land, and while some people have called into question why we do what we do during different eras in our country's history, we should all be on the same page with our past, current and future service members.

They should be applauded.

Okay, today also happens to be 11/11/11.

One one, one one, one one.

I would think today would be thought of to be a lucky day for some. That's why the rate of people getting married today--on a Friday--is going to be very high.

And, it's not like we are waiting for a 2/22/22 with any anticipation.

Heck, I will be nearly 65 years of age then. Let's not rush it, I am very happy being 54 right now.

And I am sure, as I brought up yesterday, that my wife is very happy where she is with her age. Well, she probably would love to turn back the clock, but it isn't going to happen.

Anyway, I have to work today. This makes little sense, to be quite honest about it, because it is a federal holiday honoring our veterans and current service members. I just happen to work on a publication that covers military exchanges (department stores) and commissaries (supermarkets), stores that cater to service members and their families.

Why are we open today? I don't know, I really don't.

But it is novel to have 11/11/11, isn't it?

How about young people who celebrate their 11th birthday today--11 on 11/11/11.

That makes the day really special for them.

How am I going to celebrate today?

Other than writing about the people that today's holiday is all about, tonight, I am taking my wife out to dinner to celebrate her birthday, which of course was yesterday.

So I guess I am killing three birds with one stone, celebrating both a holiday that I don't have off for, but should, writing about the people that the holiday is celebrating, and celebrating my wife's birthday.

11/11/11 ... somehow, I am happy there won't be a 22/22/22 in my future.

Have a good holiday, and remember our fighting forces. That is what today is really all about.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Rant #1,961: Hit Me With Your Best Shot



Since this is Rant No. 1,961, I thought I would look at the year 1961, and since this week is "The Subway Series" in the New York Metropolitan Area, I thought I would stick with baseball for at least another Rant.

I was four years old in 1961, way too young to understand what was happening at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, although I do vaguely remember my father calling me over to the TV while Yankee games were on, and me whining and running away as I refused to see what all the commotion was about on TV.

In 1961, Yankees Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle set their sights on a then long-held record, that being Babe Ruth's 60 home runs in a season.

The two dueled down to the dwindling days of another pennant-winning and World Series-winning season, and were neck and neck until Mantle's injury curse caught up to him, and he had to bow out with "just" 54 homers.

The stage was Maris', and he took hold of that stage and yes, he hit his 61st home run into old Yankee Stadium's righfield porch, made a celebrity out of the ball's catcher, Sal Galante, and all that Maris took that magic season to hit those homers was a steady stream of nicotine from cigarettes.

Maris and Mantle were teammates, but Mantle was the fans' favorite to top the Babe. Maris was still considered something of an outsider, coming to the Yankees in a trade just a season before.

Maris had proven to be one of the game's most potent hitters, was an excellent outfielder, and did all the right things, but Mantle was the people's choice.

Not only did Maris smoke a lot of cigarettes during this chase of the Babe, but he also reportedly lost clumps of hair during the season related to the nerves he had as he climbed the ladder approaching the record.

He became a major focus of media during that period, and even without the social media that we have today, this quiet, soft spoken guy was pummeled by every newspaper, TV station, and radio station for comments and quotes about his most recent homer, his pursuit of the record, and just about everything else.

Once getting the record, it simply wasn't enough for baseball to celebrate such an accomplishment; it was ridiculed, because Babe hit his 60 in a 154 game season, Maris hit is 61 in a 162 game season, and actually "only" hit 59 in the 154th game of the season. It took him the full 162 games to get to 61.

The argument was a ridiculous one, but baseball purists--including then baseball commissioner Ford Frick--continued to believe that Ruth still had the record, and that Maris' 61 needed an asterisk to show that yes, he had the record but it did not stand up to what the Babe did.

Many of those purists were older, so they never had to contend with the steroid enhanced home run totals of players like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.

What would they have said to those home run totals?

One can only wonder.

Maris had quite a nice career, winning the MVP twice, but he never approached that season again statistics wise.

He is not in the Hall of Fame, he really should be, and maybe one day, he will get his place in that shrine.

For years, the Yankees did not know how to honor him, and he stayed away from the Stadium. In recent years, since his death, the Yankees have reached out to the family, and they have reached some type of balance. He has a plaque in Monument Park, and his number 9 has been retired.

Whatever the case, for one season, he could say that he did one better than Babe Ruth, unquestionably the greatest baseball player of all time.

In his later years, Maris even questioned himself, often saying it would have been better off if he never broke the record.

However, that record is something that his family can be proud of, and be proud of over the generations.

One can only hope that while Maris was alive--he died at just 51 years of age in 1985--he could be proud of his accomplishment, too.

Classic Rant #615 (November 10, 2011): Happy Birthday!



Usually, when I celebrate a birthday here, it is for some celebrity who has made an impact on my life, usually in some small way.

Well, today I celebrate the birthday of a non-celebrity who has made an impact on my life in a very large way.

Today, I celebrate the birthday of my wife.

I am a lucky guy, I admit it. About 20 some odd years ago, I met this woman through a dating service. I was going through my divorce, and I admit I was lonely. I had a decent job, and it was time to move on from that disastrous first marriage and look for female companionship.

Not wanting to go the bar scene, and not having time to look around myself, I decided to do something completely different.

I signed up with the dating service, then I lost my job. I was laid off, and this was the beginning of a year and a half odyssey to find regular employment.

So here I was, going through a divorce, without a job, and without a clue about what my future would bring me.

It was undoubtedly the lowest part of my entire life.

I had signed up and paid for the dating service, so I figured I would use the service. What did I have to lose?

I went on a couple of dates, but none of them really did much for me. The girls were generally nice, but not my type.

Then, I went to the office, and the woman handling my case asked me this simple question: "What type of girl do you want?"

I hesitated for a moment, and asked her what she meant. She repeated the question. I got it then.

I described the type of girl I wanted top to bottom, and I really mean that, top to bottom.

She set up a date, gave me her number, and we started by talking on the phone for probably a half hour or so. It stands as the longest phone call I have ever had with my wife to date. Neither of us are that much of a phone talker.

Anyway, we went over our likes and dislikes, what celebrity we looked like (people told me at the time I looked like Dustin Hoffman, which I still think is wrong; she said Adrienne Barbeau, who she kinda does look like but kinda doesn't, if you know what I mean).

We then decided to meet at a local Friday's.

I went to the restaurant, and stood outside looking for her.

Then I caught her image.

She was a knockout. Well dressed, nice hair, pretty, nice figure.

I introduced myself and we entered the restaurant.

We talked for several hours about a lot of things. I told her up front my situation, and she seemed to accept it.

I asked her out again, and the rest is history.

My wife believed in me from the get go, and I can't tell you how much that helped me during this period where I didn't know which way was up.

I finally got employment, we got engaged, we lived together for about a year, and we got married in June 1993. We had our son in August 1995, giving my daughter from my first marriage a brother.

I really love my wife. She is my Rock of Gibraltar. I would do just about anything with her, except watch the Ellen Show or The Big Bang Theory, two shows that I hate but she loves.

Anyway, happy birthday to my wife. She is the absolutely greatest thing that ever happened to me.

This Rochdale Village, Jamaica, New York guy couldn't go wrong with a Far Rockaway girl, and I know we will be together forever.

I love you Elena. Have a great birthday!

(No, I won't tell you how old she is. Look at her picture. She is an ageless and timeless beauty to me. And she is like a fine wine, getting better with age.)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Rant #1,960: Brothers In Arms



Tonight is the second game of the so-called "Subway Series" between the two New York Major League Baseball teams, the New York Yankees and the New York Mets.

Last night, the Yankees grinded out a 4-2 win over their crosstown rivals, and the next game of the four game series will once again be played at Yankee Stadium, with the final two games of the series played at CitiField.

This annual series is more than the Bronx vs. Queens for baseball and sports fans; it gives the winning team bragging rights for another year about what team is "better," even if neither team is really "good," as is the case this season.

And as usual, the Yankees have everything to play for in these games as they cling to Wild Card hopes, while the Mets are basically playing out the string.

It only means that the games are more important to the Yankees, but the Mets would just love to win the next three games, making this something of their own "World Series" for this lost season.

The Yankees-Mets rivalry actually goes back generations on its own, but really, it stems from the great rivalry that the Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers had before the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in the late 1950s.

It also can be traced, to a much lesser extent, to the rivalry the Bronx Bombers had with the New York Giants, who also left for the West Coast during the same time.

The aftermath was that for a few seasons, the only baseball team in New York City was the Yankees, but come 1962, once the National League expanded to include the New York Metropolitans, the rivalry was rebooted.

Since 1997, the Yankees and Mets have met during the regular season for a few games in a slate of interleague games between American League and National League teams.

But from 1963 to 1983, the Yankees and Mets played in what was called the "Mayor's Trophy Game," an exhibition game played in the middle of the season, alternating between the old Yankee Stadium and the Mets' old home, Shea Stadium (one year it was played in the Polo Grounds, the old home of the Giants, which served as the Mets' original home prior to the opening of Shea Stadium).

The annual game, which indeed did have a trophy, actually started in the late 1950s with an annual exhibition game between the Yankees and the Dodgers. I don't know if the Giants were involved at all in this game. But when the Dodgers and Giants left New York City, the game was in limbo until the Mets came on the scene.

The Mayor's Trophy Game ended up being little more than a nuisance for the teams to play, as it was right in the middle of the season. In fact, due to disagreements between the two teams, for two seasons, it was cancelled, but for 20 years, that was the only time that the teams played head to head.

And yes, those games also provided bragging rights to the winner, most often the Yankees, who held a 10-8-1 edge over the Mets in these games.

I remember the Mayor's Trophy Game very fondly. Growing up in Queens, not far from Shea, there was a great split between the people I knew, some of whom were Yankees fans and some of whom were Mets fans, and we looked forward to this game each year, first to start the arguments about which team was better, and then after the game, to continue the arguments about the winner being the better team.

The Mayor's Trophy Game was simply an exhibition game for the two teams, and often, the teams would play it as almost a spring training game, using many players, not using their stars for too long during the game if at all, and trying things here and there, using the game as a testing ground.

I actually attended one game, I think it was in 1970, as part of a trip from my day camp.

We were "Con Edison Kids," meaning we were kids from supposedly impoverished areas who would never get to see an MLB game if not for the generosity of the teams and Con Edison, the power provider for New York City at the time.

Of course, nothing could be further form the truth about being impoverished, but our general neighborhood did qualify, so evidently, we did too.

I remember sitting in the bleachers at old Yankee Stadium for that game, and how awful it was sitting in those seats.

The fans packed the place, were crazy, and I swore I would never sit in the bleachers again, a vow which I have kept to all these years later.

Anyway, I don't remember that much about the game, but I do remember that the Yankees' Pete Ward hit a home run into the right centerfield bleachers--a mammoth shot that must have traveled well over 400 feet--the Mets' Joe Foy made at least two errors at third base (it might have even been three), and the Yankees won the game, but I don't remember the score. (Looking it up, the Yankees won 9-4.)

But I do remember that there were probably upwards of 50,000 people there, so for an exhibition game, this was a big one.

The Mayor's Trophy Game is but a memory for people like me, and today's kids have no idea what it was all about, but for years, that is all we had, so if it was a mere footnote on the Yankees-Mets rivalry, it deserved bold face type with the other footnotes, like the occasional spring training game between the two teams.

Whatever the case, it was a fun diversion for the fans during the regular season, and we looked forward to it each and every year.