The Family Ties

If we all stop to think about it, chances are many of our interests in life, both good and bad, are influenced by our family members.  Sometimes we have interests that run counter to the rest of our family although many other times the family ties that bind us include similar interests running throughout the generations.  From a favorite soda, favorite sports teams and everything in between odds are in some way the choices we make are in some small way influenced by our exposure growing up.  I have already mentioned the influence that my mother had on my love of baseball but she was far from the only generation in my family to follow the game and in turn share their love for it with me.  Now up to bat, my two grandmothers, Granny and Mom Mom who each in their own way shaped how I picture the game and have their own place in my Hall of Fame.

Let us begin with my grandmother on my mother’s side; Edna Kirby, or Granny as she is known to me.  Granny lives in Georgia which as many of you know is home to the Atlanta Braves.  Despite living about four hours away from Atlanta, Granny always made it a point to watch her beloved Braves whenever they would come on.  There were definitely some lean years to be a Braves fan but still she would soldier on with her devotion to her boys and most of all Chipper Jones.  Whenever Chipper Jones would make a great play shouts of “attaboy Chipper” would resonate from my grandmother’s recliner.  And, whenever Chipper would strike out or make a bad fielding play the battle cry turned to “oh Chipper.”

Checking up on Chipper

Checking up on Chipper at Astros Spring Training in Kissimmee, FL.
Photo by R. Anderson

A few years back my mother and I traveled from Texas to Georgia to visit my grandmother in the hospital.  While it was never spoken out loud in the car we both feared that maybe we were driving to say good bye to her based on the severity of why we thought she had been admitted to the hospital.  After driving for 16 hours straight we arrived at the hospital and prepared for the worst as we approached the small rural hospital.   Nothing really could have prepared us for what we saw though once we got inside though.  Instead of a woman near death we found my grandmother standing in the hall in her hospital gown shouting to us to hurry up since the Braves game was on.  She did not wait for us to get down the hall. Instead, she turned and went back in her room.  By the time we got to her room she was already back in bed and giving us a recap of the game and asking what took us so long to get there.  Near death indeed, she was as full of life as ever and it was yet another time to talk about the Braves.  To this day whenever we talk to each other the conversation inevitably turns to the subject of how the Braves are doing.

Granny now lives in a nursing home and as often happens when a loved one makes the move to that stage in their live the larger furnishings and other accumulated belongings are divided up amongst the family since there is no room for them in the nursing home. There were not too many items of my grandmother’s that I wanted but  I made sure I got her television.  It is far from a new television, in fact it is down right old and heavy by today’s standards.  There are no HD channels or flat screen components yet to me it is the most valuable TV in the world. For you see, this television that now sits on a dresser in my bedroom is the very same television that showed all of those Braves games that she and I shared together.  Sure there are other channels that the TV gets but for me it is the Braves TV and everytime I see it or power it on I think of her and our shared bond over the game of baseball.   And on those rare occasions when a Braves game is being shown in Houston I smile a little wider because I know we are both watching the same game.

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My other Grandmother, Pat Hall, or Mom Mom as I call her, also shares a deep love for baseball and for years she lived in the perfect area to take advantage of that.  After retiring Mom Mom and my grandfather moved from Maryland to the west coast of Florida near Bradenton.  In addition to being located near some really nice beaches which made for great summer days in the surf as well as year round fishing, there was proximity to baseball; lots and lots of baseball.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the layout of baseball in Florida there are several teams that hold their Spring Training games in and around the west coast of the Sunshine State as noted in the photo I took in Sarasota at the Orioles Spring Training facility.  Each year when Spring Training rolled around Mom Mom and I would try to plan when  I could come down and catch a game with her. Sadly it never worked out that we could see a game in Bradenton but we were able to see several games in Orlando.

A map of the teams that call the Grapefruit League in Florida their Spring Training home.Photo by R. Anderson

A map of the teams that call the Grapefruit League in Florida their Spring Training home.
Photo by R. Anderson

Mom Mom also helped add to my autograph collection as she interacted with many ball players through a part time job that she had at a restaurant that was owned by a former player in the Pirates organization.  Every so often a new package filled with autographs of people that she had met would arrive in the mail.  Many of those autographs are still displayed in my office.  One particularly cool item from those years is an autographed team ball for the Bradenton Explorers of the Senior Professional Baseball Association.  The league disbanded after a single season so I consider that extra cool to have that memento of a forgotten era.  During one visit to her restaurant I was also introduced to college basketball announcer Dick Vitale.  I met him before I really knew who he was so there was not a huge wow factor aside from the normal pleasantries of being introduced to someone and being told that they were famous. Once I did learn who he was I must say as he would surely say, “it was awesome baby.”

Like Granny, Mom Mom also has now moved from the home that she knew to enter that next phase of her life which includes assisted living facilities and the knowledge that the years ahead are fewer than the years behind them.  Still, both women remain strong influences on me as a person in all aspects of my life but the influence on the aspects that involve baseball are surely hard to miss.  Some day I am sure that I will join the line of people to influence the next generation and in turn they will go on to spread the knowledge and love as well.  That is part of the great experience of life. Each generation shares what they know to the next and it builds from there.  It also shows the generation to generation appeal of the National Pastime. Like us, the game gets bruised and tattered now and then but it gets up, wipes the orange clay and grass off and moves ahead.  We should all strive to be as resilient.  Now if you’ll excuse me I think it is time to see how the Braves are doing.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

Danicky, Danicky, Danicky

It was recently announced that NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie drivers Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. were a couple.  While workplace romances have been going on for as long as there have been workplaces this particular high octane power couple marks somewhat of new territory for both sports writers and sports fans.  And, if the early media coverage of the power couple is any indication this is either the greatest thing to happen to racing since cars were first made to go fast, or it is the beginning of the end of racing as we know it like some sort of Danicky Apocalypse where the only thing left standing will be a few campers in the infield that were protected from the onslaught by a well-timed trip to the porta-potty.  I can see it now the reporters will gather in the media center and comment about how the Mayan calendar end of world talk was nothing compared to the coming terror that is Danicky.

(Editor’s Note: At the time of this writing I have not heard what the power couple’s nickname is, since if history has taught us anything it is that every power couple has to have a cute little nickname combining their names a la Branjelina, Benifer, etc. etc.  So with the field wide open on naming rights for the Danica/Ricky romance I maintain and have hence forth noted that they will be known as Danicky.  Remember kids, you heard it here first.)

Danica Patrick at TMS

Danica Patrick at Texas Motor Speedway in 2011.
Photo by R. Anderson

So let us examine both sides of the media coin since we all know there can be no middle ground in this 24-hour news cycle world where if it bleeds it leads and sex sells.  The sportswriters and gossip columnists will have a field day with tracking the comings and goings of this historic coupling among racing rivals.  Aside from the built in star power that comes with “the Brand” known as Danica Patrick there is the realization that this is the first time that two athletes that compete against each other regularly are openly dating.

To be fair NASCAR is the only major sport at the moment that has drivers of both sexes competing so the odds were stacked more in its favor to be the first sport to have this occur, but, it is equally plausible that there may come a day when two openly gay ballplayers enter into an equally high profile relationship.  But since that has not yet happened let us turn our sights back onto the track and Danicky.

Ricky Stenhouse at TMS

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. climbing into his car before the 2011 Nationwide race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Photo by R. Anderson

While Danica Patrick is by far the more recognizable member of Danicky, the “icky” part is no slouch in racing circles having won consecutive Nationwide Titles prior to making the jump to the Sprint Cup.  So Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. has the racing trophies to back up his street cred.  Of course Danica has her one Indy Racing League win and lots and lots of Super Bowl commercials and other interests away from the track so she still has the more famous body of work.  So how exactly did Danicky come to be? Early indications of the newly minted power couple show that they were friends for years before making the leap to coupledom.  They also didn’t let a little thing like Danica still be married get in the way of announcing the happy news.  Remember boys and girls this is not your granddaddy’s NASCAR.  The Danicky pairing follows a slightly less covered event of a certain car owner marrying one of his drivers a few years back.  And there are many other examples of love at the track where people have been hooking up in the garage area and the pits for years. The previous pairings just normally involved a driver marrying his publicist or one of the women who hold the trophy and smile in victory lane.

So aside from the obvious issues of whether the romantic link off the track will lead to on track cooperation let us first in good faith get all of the potential jokes out of the system.  Danica herself stated in an Associated Press story when she confirmed the rumor that had been rampant for months that she was enjoying all of the jokes about bump drafting. While bump drafting is all fine and good let us not forget the other age old adage in NASCAR that “rubbin is racing.”  And of course one needs to remember to pull those belts tight prior to dropping the green flag.  There is also the little issue of who will stand at which car during the National Anthem since it is customary for the drivers and their significant others to stand together and give a little good luck kiss before climbing into their cars.  And will it be a shared motor home or separate motor home on racing weekends?  Maybe the sportswriters were right and this is the Danicky Apocalypse with so little time to answer all of these questions before the start of the Daytona 500. But alas. I digress.

When all the facts are weighed I tend to be in the camp that the racing will still be the same on the track as it would be with two teammates helping each other out.  Both sides of the Danicky coin are too competitive to have it any other way. Plus, there is that whole issue of keeping sponsors happy and so forth.  So, while two drivers dating is something the sport has not seen at this level before it is surely not the beginning of the end of the sport.  It does create the interesting question of who will do the driving when they aren’t on the track though.  Something tells me it will involve a lot of games of Ro-Sham-Bo.   I can see it now Danicky needs to go somewhere and they approach the car and one of them says, “Well, I guess we’ll have to Ro-Sam-Bo for it” and then the winner takes a victory lap while doing doughnuts and burn outs down the driveway before they head to the store.  And that boys and girls is how it’s done in this strange new world.   Now if you will excuse me I need to go see a man about a trademarking Danicky, otherwise all of these shirts and hats will surely go to waste.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

In the Beginning

It has been said, rightly so, that every story has a beginning.  One need only look at literature to see some opening lines that have definitely stood the test of time.  From Charles Dickens declaring in A Tale of Two Cities that “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” to Herman Melville inviting the readers of Moby Dick to “Call me Ishmael,” history is full of great opening lines and beginnings of stories.  These classic openers have grabbed the reader’s attention hook line, and in Moby Dick‘s case very large sinker for generations.

While beginnings are important one cannot and should not stop there.  By stopping at the beginning line of A Tale of Two Cities one would know nothing more than that times were both good and bad. The same can be true of Moby Dick where the hunt for the white whale consumes Captain Ahab and his crew and becomes far more than just knowing to call a guy Ishmael.  So it is with all of us, while we are not classic literature we also have our origin stories and events that shape who we are and what pursuits we follow.  Don’t worry, this is not a back in the day when little Ryan was born kind of story. Although, it is safe to say if we weren’t all born, none of us would be here.  No, this is a tale of when my love of baseball took root. and much like Dickens the tale of my first baseball game experience was the both the best of times and the worst of times.

Memorial Stadium 2

Memorial Stadium in Baltimore circa 1983.
Photo by R. Anderson

As I have mentioned previously, I grew up as a Baltimore Orioles fan who bled Orange and Black pretty much from the time I can remember.  I followed football as well but baseball was also the sport that drew me in just a little bit more.  As such, I tried to catch all the games that I could on the radio and television.  I could recite lineups and stats that would make even the most avid statistician take notice.   So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that I was going to get to go to  Memorial Stadium to see the Orioles play in person in September of 1983.   Aside from the thrill of going to the game for me, 1983 was a very pivotal year for the Orioles as they were in the first year under new manager Joe Altobelli following retirement number one of Earl Weaver and spoiler alert they went on to win the World Series that year over the Philadelphia Phillies.   Of course I am getting ahead of myself  since no one new for sure in September what October would hold but needless to say there was a buzz throughout Birdland on the anticipation of what could be.

Speaking of anticipation, like most young boys gong to their first baseball game I had high hopes and higher expectations that I was going to catch a home run ball hit by Cal Ripken, Jr. and get all kinds of player autographs before the game.  I was joined in my traveling party by my mom, a family friend and his nephew.    The sky was the limit and I was ready to make the most of the ballpark experience.  We all loaded into the car and headed up to Baltimore (or Balmer if you are from there) which was about a 30 minute drive from where we lived.  Throughout the drive we excitedly talked about who we would see first and which inning we wanted to catch the home run ball in since it would be greedy to want to catch all of the home run balls that were hit our way.

Orioles Program

The 1983 Baltimore Orioles game program.

We arrived in plenty of time having pledged to arrive early and see the sights to avoid the traffic.  After walking around the Inner Harbor area it was time to head to the stadium.  It was at this moment that the realization occurred  that the tickets that would gain us entrance into the hallowed walls of Memorial Stadium were not with us in Baltimore but were in fact back in Gaithersburg which was 30 minutes away and at this time even further away in traffic.  Looking back now with 29 years or so of hindsight I want to say that I handled the news of the ticket situation with dignity and grace and the cool assurance that comes from knowing that things like this happen and that the world goes on but the key is to keep calm.  The reality of course is that 8-year-old me did not take the news well at all. And who can blame young me? I was at the cusp of seeing my heroes, of eating hot dogs until I was blue in the face and of course catching that pivotal home run and getting all of those autographs.  Now, all of that was in jeopardy and I was not pleased and was far from calm.

In the end, we made it to the game around the fifth inning, found our seats and watched the Orioles play the Milwaukee Brewers who had not yet moved to the National League at this time. (Why the Brewers did not move back to the American League instead of the Astros for 2013 is another story for another day, but is no less puzzling).  I did not catch that home run ball.  I did not get any autographs.  I did eat a hot dog and I most definitely discovered that baseball is so much better in person.  There is a buzz around ballparks that really can’t be duplicated even with the most high definition of televisions with Dolby surround sound and the freshest of popcorn smells being pumped into the media room.  To truly experience baseball is to experience it in person.

Since moving to Texas I have adopted the Astros into my stable of teams that I follow and try to attend as many games as I can each year in Minute Maid Park in addition to traveling the country and going to ballparks both small and large.  I have also since caught my share of balls despite striking out in my first attempt in 1983.   No matter the ballpark size I still get the same feeling walking in as I did as that 8-year-old boy experiencing it for the first time.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not a huge fan of crowds so the push and shove on the escalators and concourses can get tiring but once I am in my seat the magic begins all over again and it is like I am seeing it all for the first time through the eyes of younger me.  For those few hours in the stadium, I don’t worry about the stress of life or any of the outside world it is just the game and me; well and thousands of my closest friends.

So while that September night in 1983 did not go completely to plan it was indeed the best of times and the worst of times and introduced me to the white whale that I have chased across state lines ever since.  It also taught me to always check and double check that I have the tickets before leaving for the ballpark.  Now if you will excuse me I think I need to catch up on some Dickens.

 Copyright 2013 R. Anderson

The Earl of Baltimore

Growing up as a fan of the Baltimore Orioles as I did there were several faces of the franchise that helped shape one’s opinion of the O’s.  The names and faces that one most identified with was determined mainly on when one first started following the team.  For me the names most associated with the Orioles were Cal Ripken, Jr., Jim Palmer,  Rick Dempsey, Eddie Murray, and of course the leader of the bunch Manager Earl Weaver.

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Earl Weaver’s retired number 4 at The Baltimore Orioles Spring Training home Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.
Photo by R. Anderson

Earl Weaver recently passed away at the age of 82 while on a Fantasy Cruise for Orioles fans.  To think that the man so associated with the Orioles would spend his final moments in the presence of Orioles fans, despite having last managed the team over two decades ago, is a testament to the lasting impact that Earl Weaver had on baseball as well as the Orioles who were the only Major League Team that he ever managed.  The Earl of Baltimore, as he was known, led the Orioles to the World Series four times over 17 seasons  and won the title in 1970. His .583 winning percentage ranks fifth among managers who served 10 or more seasons in the 20th century.  Earl Weaver finished with a 1,480-1,060 record and won Manager of the Year honors three times. Earl Weaver was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.

juice

Ticket stub from the December 17, 1989 Orlando Juice versus the Gold Coast Suns Senior Professional Baseball League game where I met Earl Weaver.
Photo by R. Anderson

I was fortunate enough to meet Earl at Tinker Field in Orlando on  December 17, 1989. He had recently retired from the Orioles for a second time  and like many retirees before him had found his way to Florida.  On this particular day Earl was managing the Gold Coast Suns of the Senior Professional Baseball Association against the Orlando Juice.  For me, he could have been managing a team of preschoolers in  Tee Ball;  it didn’t matter. What mattered was I was able to walk onto the field before the game and meet one of my early heroes.  We talked, he signed an autograph and it became the first of many brushes that I would have with sports figures, and other public officials through my career as a reporter and a fan.  Despite the ensuing years and other high profile meetings I still consider standing on the third base line of Tinker Field talking baseball with Earl Weaver one of my favorite baseball memories.  To this day I have the framed autographed baseball card hanging in a place of honor in my office.  Other autographs lose their luster or stay hidden away but not Earl’s.  It sort of reminds me of the man himself who was a personality that could not hide and who had many ideas and techniques that were ahead of their time 20 years ago and have now become common place.

Earl was able to see his beloved Orioles reach the playoffs last year after a long drought.  I like to think that put a smile on the old school manager’s face. Maybe he even went out in the backyard and kicked some dirt around just to feel like he was back on the field and part of the action.  I highly recommended searching for Earl Weaver vs. Umpires videos. There were some classics that make some of the theatrics of the WWE seem pale by comparison.  But what else would one expect from an original like that? Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go find some dirt to kick Earl Weaver style.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson