My freshman year of high school, I played on the JV softball team. But whenever the JV team wasn’t playing, I was effectively the backup 2nd baseman for the varsity team. And while this meant I got to travel with the team for varsity tournaments, it also meant I rode the bench a lot for those games.
One game, we found ourselves without a scorekeeper. There were no parents willing to do it (or who knew how), and the JV coach was acting as 1st base coach for this varsity contest. Faced with limited options, the varsity coach called me over, sat me down with the scorebook, and gave me a crash course in scorekeeping. For the rest of the year, I also became the backup scorekeeper for the varsity team. From my sophomore year on, when I was a true member of the varsity squad, I became the backup scorekeeper for the JV team.
Equipped with this new know-how, I began keeping score whenever I’d listen to Royals games on the radio late at night in my room. My pencil-and-spiral-notebook system of scorekeeping was a much-simplified system compared to what I knew could be done in a true scorebook, but I still found it a great way to stay engaged with the ballgame.
My habit of keeping score for Royals games became sporadic, at best, after graduating high school, until the practice became virtually nonexistent. Today, however, I sat down with a notebook in the minutes prior to the start of the Royals-Mariners contest and I created that same, crude little table I used to make on those late nights as a teenager. I filled in the lineups for both teams, and as the game commenced, I tracked the results of each at-bat.
The ghost runner didn’t exist the last time I scored a game, so that was a new experience — I created the not-so-imaginative notation “GR” to note the ghost runner. I really thought I was going to have to start a new page when I used up the last player spot for Royals pinch hitters, but the conclusion of the game in the 12th sadly prevented that from becoming a necessity.
I’m pretty heartbroken that the Royals ended up losing in extra innings (and got swept by Seattle in the process). But I rediscovered how much I enjoy keeping score and the act of watching every at-bat with so much intent. I definitely need to reignite this practice as a habit, and hopefully it won’t take too long before I get to score a Royals ‘W’.
Sharing a dream is not something I’ve ever done here, but then, dreaming about baseball is not something that has happened to me for years and years. Baseball appeared in my dreams last night, though, albeit in a very strange and disjointed manner.
I dreamed that some friends and I were attending some kind of retreat or camp. The theme of the camp was not baseball — to be honest, I’m not sure what the theme, if any, actually was — but baseball seemed to play a prominent role. Throughout the first part of the dream, a variety of activities took place, including a sort of jungle gym/obstacle course, which I decided to tackle. (As an aside, I wish I could do as many pullups in real life as I found myself doing in the dream.) Not too much of the national pastime going on in this portion of the journey, though it was hinted at through an array of miniature bats that littered the tables and the fact that a friend of mine seemed to be doing something with a stack of scorecards. Of course, that same friend later sat down to do some cross stitching. So nonsensical.
The second portion of the dream featured something that actually kind of resembled a baseball game. However, this game did not take place on a diamond, but rather, inside of some kind of church or small cathedral. At the front of the church was positioned a battery, the pitcher’s mound located in between the first set of pews and the catcher positioned just in front of the altar. Instead of a baseball cap, the pitcher wore a graduation mortarboard, the tassel flailing wildly with each pitch he threw. The pews were filled with teenagers and young adults, presumably all who were participants in the camp, each waiting their turn to go to the plate. An usher stood in the center aisle between the pews and behind the pitcher, and when the usher nodded at an individual sitting in one of the pews, it was that person’s turn at bat.
In the final part of this strange journey, the game had ended, and I settled into a comfortable corner with a couple of friends. As we sat there, a letter was handed to me. The letter was from a young girl, and it contained a very important question, “We are choosing jersey numbers for my baseball team, and the only ones left for me to choose from are numbers 3, 15, and 37. What is the best way to choose a jersey number?” It is a question no one has ever asked of me, and I knew the answer wasn’t going to be a straightforward one. After giving it a lot of thought, I finally sat down to write a response, “Choosing a jersey number can be a very personal decision….” And I went on to describe how some folks choose a number related to their birthday, or to a loved one’s birthday, or how a jersey number can reflect something else important in one’s life. A part of me shakes my head in disbelief over how seriously my dream persona took this question, but then again, folks in the real world do get pretty particular about their jersey numbers.
I didn’t quite reach the point in the dream where I finished the letter and mailed it off, however. Right about this time, a sandpaper tongue commenced licking my forehead, waking me from my slumber. I had slept fifteen minutes past my usual waking time, and the cat was hungry.
MLB Opening Day was yesterday, and as hard as I tried, I just could not get excited about it. The Royals play their opening game tonight, and while I feel a tiny bit happier about that, it’s still nothing like what I usually feel when Opening Day comes around.
I am making an effort, I really am. From the time the announcement came down that a season was going to happen up to now, I have been trying to get excited about baseball.
It’s just really hard to do right now.
Every time I think about Major League Baseball proceeding with a season, I find myself thinking, “Half those players are going to get COVID.” “This season will be ended by early September.” “It’s not like anyone can go to the games anyways.” “It’s not about the game, it’s all about the money.”
Now, admittedly, bringing baseball back is not all bad. It’s been weird not having new games to watch, even from the living room. I miss the highlight reels, even the repetitive ones. I miss having to confess to my co-workers, “Um, yeah… I fell asleep in the seventh inning, so I didn’t see that homer.” I miss the bench-clearing brawls in all their glorious stupidity. I miss seeing the perfectly cut grass of the myriad outfields and listening to the various broadcasters react to and analyze the games. I miss baseball itself.
But even that can’t drown out the thought in my head that keeps insisting that going through with this season is stupid to the core. The schedule is so short and compact, it’s almost laughable. Then there’s the not-so-funny fact that all these players are at risk for exposure.
I will watch some games — it will be hard not to. But it still won’t be the same.
I’m sorry baseball. I just can’t this year.
My dad was the first person to show me how to swing a baseball bat. I believe we were still living in San Diego at the time, and we were spending the day at the park as a family. My younger brother had received a yellow plastic bat with a white plastic ball for Christmas (or was it for his birthday?), and we now stood on a rough little baseball field at said park. The grass in the outfield shone a rich green, with a few weeds scattered in, and the backstop consisted of a chain link fence and nothing more. There were no dugouts, no bleachers, no bases. I can’t remember whether my mom or my brother stood at the makeshift mound to do the pitching (underhand, of course), but my dad positioned himself at home plate with me.
I am right-handed, so Dad showed me which side of the plate to stand as a righty. And when I cocked the bat with my left hand on top, Dad explained to me that I needed to switch my grip — right hand over left. He taught me to keep my back elbow up and he showed me how to step into the pitch with my front foot. I don’t think I had much success in making contact with any of the pitches that came my way that day. Or, if I did, I didn’t manage to do anything impressive enough to be worth remembering. That part doesn’t matter, though. Dad’s lesson stuck with me through backyard baseball with my brothers and through the occasional schoolyard game. When I started Little League a few years later, I already knew the fundamentals of how to grip the bat at the plate, and some of the other kids starting out didn’t have a clue. It gave me a boost of confidence as I embarked on learning the sport, and confidence is key when one is so young.
My dad has taught me so many other things besides how to swing a bat, of course. When I was very young, Dad created a clock with moveable hands out of pink and blue construction paper, and over the course of many evenings, he patiently taught me how to tell time. As a teenager, Dad taught me how to drive. I know how to change a tire, how to check the air pressure, and how check the dipstick in my car. I know how to do a proper pushup, how to run a lawnmower, and how to perform standard maintenance on that lawnmower. I even know that when you assemble a piece of furniture, you shouldn’t completely tighten all the screws until the very end. There are so many other things beyond the items listed here that Dad has taught me (and continues to teach me), and I am forever grateful for it. Because, even as an adult, having an idea of how to do these kinds of things is a real confidence booster.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!
With the Houston Astros’ sign stealing scheme making the news these last couple weeks, I find myself reminded of one of my own experiences with stealing signs. While my own venture into sign stealing didn’t make any headlines, I can certainly identify with the advantage that it provides.
One summer, when I was playing in a girls’ softball league, the coach of one of the other teams invited me to join his team for a tournament (an experience I also mention in this post). This tournament was external to the league in which we played against one another, and it’s no small compliment when another coach thinks enough of your ability to invite you to join his own team, so I naturally jumped at the opportunity.
While I don’t remember all the details of that particular tournament, there are a couple things that continue to stick out to this day. The first was the birth of my ballplayer nickname, Duke. The second revolved around learning the signs for this team I played with for the duration of the tournament.
Naturally, in order to be an effective part of the team, I needed to know all the signs that might get flashed at me from third base whenever we went on offense: bunt sign, steal sign, take a pitch, etc. I learned the signs, and I played pretty well throughout the tournament. One would also naturally assume that once we all returned to regular league play and I was back on the opposing side, this coach would change his own team’s signs.
The next time my league team faced off against this other coach’s team, I found myself playing third base. Out of curiosity, I found myself watching the team’s coach, who would also serve as the third base coach, out of the corner of my eye. I wouldn’t turn and stare, of course, but I used my periphery vision to the best of my ability to watch what signs he flashed to hitters and runners.
The first time he flashed what I recognized as the bunt sign, I was still wary. If the other team did change their signs, in anticipation of playing against me, I certainly didn’t want to creep up too close to the plate, lest I find myself on the receiving end of a hard line drive to the face. So I took half a step forward, but also made sure to stay on my toes in anticipation of a bunt.
Much to my surprise and delight, the hitter squared around and lay down a bunt that happened to roll up the third baseline. Anticipating the possibility, I was able to get on top of it quickly and threw her out. I couldn’t believe my luck.
The rest of the game, I didn’t hesitate to move up any time I saw that bunt sign flashed. I couldn’t believe that this coach didn’t stop to think about the fact that the opposing third baseman knew their signs because he had given them to me himself. On a couple of occasions, I found myself tempted to yell, “Watch the bunt!” to my teammates, but I knew that would be a dead giveaway, so I kept my mouth shut. I just continued to watch the coach, and they didn’t have a successful bunt attempt all game.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not condoning what the Astros are accused of doing. Even by Major League Baseball standards, what I did was perfectly legal, since I used no technology to steal signs and take advantage. If anything, it was the other team’s blunder in not changing their signs once we returned to regular league play. And I definitely wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity my situation presented.
A few weeks ago, a co-worker came by my office and mentioned that she would be going on a day trip to see the world’s biggest baseball. She knew the information would interest me (it did), and it amazed me to discover that this baseball resides just over an hour’s drive from where we stood, in Muscotah, Kansas. Muscotah also happens to be the birthplace of Joe Tinker, the famous Cubs shortstop of the renowned Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double-play combination of the early 20th century.
I learned in my research that the self-proclaimed World’s Largest Baseball is not really a baseball. Rather, the people of Muscotah took an old water tank to create the twenty-foot diameter ball, using rebar to fashion the stitches. The eventual goal for the project is to create a Joe Tinker museum on the inside of the hollow, steel baseball. As things stand, my co-worker informed me the week after her visit, the World’s Largest Baseball isn’t much to look at. Nevertheless, I knew I wanted to check it out for myself, and I took advantage of the opportunity to do so this weekend.
I left in the morning, shortly after breakfast. The route consisted primarily of small, winding, two-lane highways through rural Kansas. I took a couple wrong turns along the way, thanks to some confusion in the directions, so the trip took slightly longer than anticipated, but fortunately I had no reason to hurry. I passed through a number of small towns on the drive, though I noticed that Muscotah never appeared on any of the highway distance signs. The population of Muscotah, it turns out, was a mere 176 people as of the 2010 census.
When one finally reaches the city limits along highway US-159, one of the first things you notice is the welcome sign:
I continued driving for a couple more blocks, and the giant baseball itself proved hard to miss. I turned off the highway onto Kansas Avenue, where the ball stood, and maneuvered my car into an acceptable parking position in the tall grass along the side of the street.
As for the World’s Largest Baseball, well, it definitely looks like a very large, steel baseball:
I walked around and poked my head into the entrance of the hollow tank, and while it seems it’s still going to be quite some time until any kind of museum takes shape, there was at least the faint promise of it in the form of building materials on the interior floor:
Not too far from the steel baseball stood a trio of baseball player silhouettes, no doubt intended to represent the threesome that was Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance.
As my co-worker forewarned, there really wasn’t much to see beyond the baseball and the silhouettes. It would have been easy (and it was tempting) to just hop back into my vehicle and head home straightaway, but I decided to walk around for a few minutes to stretch my legs. But in truth, there doesn’t seem to be much to Muscotah itself.
Some of the older, run down buildings do seem to carry echoes of a more vibrant time in the town’s past:
And I do have to comment that this is quite possibly the smallest post office I have ever seen:
All in all, Muscotah is just a quiet, rural Kansas town, silent and still with sleepiness on this warm May weekend. I certainly wouldn’t say that the World’s Largest Baseball is a “must-see” attraction worth traveling halfway across the country to catch a glimpse. However, for any hardcore baseball fans who just happen to be in the area, it does make for a different and relaxing daytrip destination.
These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
~”Baseball’s Sad Lexicon,” by Franklin Pierce Adams
Every now and then, I’ll go out and do things with other people, whether it be for a work function or just hanging out with friends or colleagues in general. Certainly this partaking in social rituals is a normal part of being a member of society and the human race, although, introvert that I am, I often do so begrudgingly and with a sense of discomfort and dread.
I went out for dinner on Friday evening with some folks from work, though I was actually looking forward to this particular outing. It had been a high stress week on the job, so the thought of some good food and a cocktail out with some company struck me as appealing.
The catch to this, I realize in retrospect, is that I am not the kind of person who can go out with just anybody solely for the sake of going out with somebody. Granted, this is not a brand new epiphany that has only occurred to me in the last couple days — when it comes to dating, for example, I won’t just go out with anyone who happens to be available. There has to be some level of interest already established, and my date certainly won’t be reaching any metaphorical bases until I deem an appropriate level of worthiness. In non-dating scenarios, ironically, it becomes a bit more complicated. Agreeing to go out for a casual not-date drink with a colleague or acquaintance does not generally come with the implication that someone might be looking for more. It’s just about “hanging out” or “blowing off steam” or whatever-you-want-to-call-it.
The reason I find this more difficult is because it makes it harder to say no. Saying no to a proposed date is socially acceptable. If you don’t meet my standards, then I won’t date you, period. Most people respect that equation. Simply hanging out, however, comes with a more lax set of expectations. It is a societal norm to hang out with folks even when we aren’t all that close to them. We meet old acquaintances for lunch or we go out with co-workers during happy hour, even though we may not even like them. If you say no to these invitations, you are dubbed “antisocial” or “unfriendly” or, most confusing of all, “stuck up.”
All that said, I agreed to this outing on Friday evening primarily due to the appeal of potentially letting go of the tensions brought about by the workweek. I should have known better than to go out with a couple of co-workers in the attempt to accomplish this. I wish I could say there was a high point to the conversation that commenced, but there really wasn’t. I’ll own up to the fact that I didn’t do much to help matters: I made no effort to try to redirect the conversation, merely eating my food and sipping on my whiskey and Coke in relative silence. As a quiet individual, I find that trying to steer a conversation being dominated by two or more other, louder people often feels like more effort than it’s worth.
Fortunately for me, we had decided on meeting at a local sports bar, which meant that Game Two of the NLDS was playing soundlessly on all the televisions in the establishment. So while the conversation devolved from the exasperations of online dating to an all-out gossip/bitchfest about work (that topic I was hoping so much to avoid), I frequently glanced over to see how the Rockies and the Brewers were doing. I confess that I had largely stopped watching the Royals as their 58-104 season dragged on — even as things started to pick up for them in September, I couldn’t bring myself to watch. But no matter how distant my relationship with the game might seem at times, baseball always holds a greater appeal for me than listening to negativity from other humans.
I have family members living in Wisconsin. Combine that with the opportunity to watch former Royals Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas, I defaulted to rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers. I was pleased to see that they were up 1-0, and the score remained that way until our dinner outing (thankfully) ended. It made me smile a little to see that they did go on to win the game, and it was good to see both Cain and Moustakas at the plate again. I miss having them in Kansas City, but I can’t help but be happy for them and their opportunity to play some more October baseball. I hope the Brewers continue to do well.
All this, I guess, is just a long way of me saying that I like baseball infinitely better than I like most people, even though baseball obviously wouldn’t exist without people. I meant to write a lot more about baseball itself here, which clearly did not happen, but at least I can still say that the “moral” of this post is that baseball continues to provide a nice escape whenever our lives throw us into these somewhat uncomfortable situations, no matter how distant we might feel from the game.
Yesterday afternoon, a friend and I attended the baseball game between Kansas and Texas Tech Universities. I had previously been to games at the Little League, high school, and even minor league levels (plus MLB games, of course), but this was the first-ever college game for either of us.
Unlike this year’s Royals, the Kansas Jayhawks actually have a winning record (17-12 going into yesterday’s game), so I was looking forward to seeing them play in person. What I didn’t realize before we bought the tickets was that Texas Tech has an even better record at 25-6 prior to yesterday. Even so, I had a hint that it would be a tough game, considering the Jayhawks lost 15-6 to this Texas Tech team on Friday.
I’m sorry to say that yesterday’s game was quite the slaughter. Long story short, KU lost 10-0. Even in spite of loading the bases with no one out in the sixth inning, KU didn’t manage to score a run, proceeding to blow the opportunity with two strikeouts and a groundout to short.
On the plus side, there was a hot dog race. Even better, my favorite condiment, ketchup, won this game’s race.
Hoglund Ballpark in Lawrence is a very nice facility. It would have been nicer had the weather been warmer than 40 degrees and breezy. General admission tickets were only $10, which has me thinking this is too good an opportunity for cheap baseball to not take advantage of in the future. There just might have to be more KU baseball in the future, including (hopefully) a win or two.
I spent much of the last week visiting an old friend who now lives in New York state. Though I was only there for a few days, we managed to cram a lot into our limited time together. We spent a full day in Manhattan — my first time ever in New York City. Another day, we went on a five-mile hike up a mountain in the Hudson River Valley. I also insisted, so long as I was making the trip halfway across the country, that we had to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
The day we reserved for visiting the Hall of Fame came the day after our NYC day, and we didn’t get to bed until about 2:00 a.m. that night before. Cooperstown is about a three-hour drive from my friend’s home, and as late as we were out the previous night, there was no way we were going to be on the road by 6:00 am to be there in time for the 9:00 open time. Instead we pulled into town a bit after noon, and we stopped for sandwiches and coffee at a nice little café called Stagecoach Coffee (which I highly recommend, by the way, if you’re ever in Cooperstown).
We finished our lunch and arrived at the Hall of Fame around 1:00, leaving us about four hours to explore before closing time. There ended up being a couple of exhibits we didn’t get to see (pro tip: don’t go out the night before so you can get there earlier than we did), but we did see most of it, and I took an insane number of pictures in the process. For sanity’s sake, I’ll just post a few of the highlights here, but if you are somehow just morbidly curious, I’ve created a public album including all my photos here.
Baseball has seen some pretty awesome nicknames over the years: George “Babe” Ruth; Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra; Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown; Jim “Catfish” Hunter; Leon Allen “Goose” Goslin; Leroy “Satchel” Paige; among others. When I was playing softball through my high school years, I also had a nickname. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not trying to imply that I belong in the same company as these baseball greats. It’s just that, on those rare occasions when I stop to reminisce about it, I can’t help but think that it’s pretty cool to be able to say that I once had a ballplayer nickname.
The summer in between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I was playing ball on a team with the local parks and rec girls’ softball league. In the later half of the season, the coach for one of the other teams in the league approached me and said that he had signed his team up to participate in a tournament outside of the league, and would I be interested in joining their roster for the tournament? It’s one heckuva compliment to have another coach be impressed with you enough to invite you for that kind of thing, so naturally, I was all over it.
I was loaned a uniform, number 16, and my dad came out with me to cheer us on. I don’t recall the exact location of the tournament, only that it was seemingly in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of the metropolitan Kansas City area. Nor do I recall how we as a team finished in the tournament, but thinking about it doesn’t leave a sour taste in my mouth, so surely it couldn’t have been awful.
I also don’t recall the exact details of how this one particular play unfolded, only that at one point in the tournament, I found myself rounding third, heading home at full speed in what promised to be a close play at the plate. I reached home at virtually the same moment as the softball. As the catcher was still scrambling to get control of the ball, she was blocking my path to the plate, leaving me no choice but to plow through her to get where I was going.
I slapped home plate, and there was a pause as the umpire tried to locate the ball. The catcher didn’t have it. “Safe!”
There was cheering. There was congratulations. Then eventually, that half-inning came to an end.
Playing shortstop for the team in this tournament was Lauren, who was a couple years older than me, and who also happened to be the shortstop for our high school varsity team. I had spent my freshman season on the JV team, but my goal for my sophomore year was to make varsity, so naturally I admired the girls on the varsity squad. So it was quite an ego boost when Lauren expressed her approval at my base running.
“You know what?” she said as we ran back out onto the field to take our defensive positions. “You’re too tough to be called Precious. From now on, I’m calling you Duke.”
There was a ripple of agreement throughout the field and in the dugout. And the name stuck. For the rest of the summer, whenever I was playing softball, my on-field name was Duke. Then, when the school season began, Lauren ensured the name continued. Even after Lauren graduated, no matter what team I played on, whether it was with the school or on a summer team somewhere, there always seemed to be a parent or a coach or a teammate from a previous team to perpetuate the nickname.
A couple summers after the nickname was bestowed upon me, I was playing ball with a summer competitive team, and we had a tournament up in the Twin Cities area. My parents decided to turn it into a family road trip for that weekend. As we loaded up the SUV with our bags, I discovered that my dad had purchased a glass marker and wrote “DUKE” in big, orange letters across the rear windshield. I have to admit, I was a bit embarrassed by it. But it was also really, really cool.
The summer after high school graduation was my last season of organized ball. Nobody has called me “Duke” since then (and, please, don’t start now). While I don’t necessarily miss being referred to or cheered on as “Duke,” I sometimes do miss just the concept of the whole thing. For four years, I was a ballplayer with a pretty cool nickname, and seemingly everybody knew what it was.
Today marks the five year anniversary of my first post on this blog. While I started this project as a way to stay in touch with the game and to encourage my own continual learning about it, when I reach milestones like this one, I find that it’s kinda fun to share something a bit more personal. A high school softball nickname isn’t something that comes up in everyday conversation, but it does make for a fun story in appropriate circles.
Thank you, my readers, for following along on my blogging journey. That it’s been five full years seems a bit unreal to me, but all the posts are there as proof, even to my own eyes. I look forward to the next five years and hope you’ll continue to hang out with me here as well!