Late Arriving Memorial Day Gives Extra Time to Reflect

Next Monday, May 29, 2023, is Memorial Day. I say that with confidence after checking a calendar to confirm my suspicions. Normally, I would have no trouble at all remembering that the last Monday of May is set aside as a day of remembrance, and a time to honor the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

However, this year, thanks to May having five Mondays, Memorial Day is arriving later than normal. Formerly known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated after the United States Civil War to honor soldiers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line who lost their lives in battle.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was commissioned in 1921 as a memorial to veterans of World War I.
Photo R. Anderson

As I have noted in the past, for me, the highlight of the extended Memorial Day weekend usually is, as the announcer used to say, “Sunday, Sunday Sunday.”

I would awake before the sun to catch the Monaco Grand Prix, and then switch over to the Indianapolis 500 before ending my day of nonstop auto racing with the Coca Cola 600.

The times that I was not watching racing, I could catch numerous baseball games from coast to coast. Sure, I knew that there was a solemn reason behind Memorial Day, and I have always respected the troops, but the need to truly sit still and quietly thank them seemed like an afterthought, especially when the world of sports was offering so many of the best of the best events.

Whether it is because I had an extra week to think about it, or because my priorities have changed, I find myself not really that excited about the prospect of wall to wall racing this Sunday.

Instead, I find myself for the first time in years really focusing on the message behind Memorial Day, while also being truly worried about the direction that the country is headed in. When trying to find a reason why I feel this way as Memorial Day approaches, my thoughts kept turning to a trip I took to Washington D.C. at the beginning of the month.

I was born outside of Washington D.C., but had not been back there for decades. When I lived there, I was constantly reminded of the various monuments and memorials to the various people and groups who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the American experiment in Democracy.

In Washington D.C., there are over 130 memorials honoring everything from the founding fathers, to fallen soldiers. The myriad monuments help ensure that the sacrifices of those who have come before us are always remembered.

Back when I would visit Washington on school field trips, seeing the various signs of democracy that so many have fought to protect, always made me feel a little bit more American

While the concentration of memorials in D.C. works out to roughly one memorial every two miles, there are memorials spread throughout the world honoring sacrifice of all shapes and sizes.

As a younger version of myself living outside of the Nation’s Capital, it was easy to think that America was as strong, if not stronger, than the various marble monuments that stood guard over the National Mall.

In reality though, the American experiment in Democracy really comes down to a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin by Maryland Constitutional Convention delegate and founding father James McHenry who quoted Franklin as replying to a question about whether America was a republic or a monarchy by saying that it was a republic, “if you can keep it.”

What had seemed like a throwaway statement when studying American history in school, now rings even more ominously as a cautionary warning that the American ideals that were fought for over 200 hundred years ago, are not guaranteed for 200 more years, or even 200 days.
Just this week, individuals were sentenced to prison for engaging in seditious conspiracy during an attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. Photo R. Anderson

What had seemed like a throwaway statement when studying American history in school, now rings even more ominously as a cautionary warning that the American ideals that were fought for over 200 hundred years ago, are not guaranteed for 200 more years, or even 200 days.

Just this week, individuals were sentenced to prison for engaging in seditious conspiracy during an attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021.

In past challenges that are remembered on Memorial Day, like World War II, citizens rallied to do all they could to defeat the common enemy, versus attacking the various symbols of democracy. My grandmother built battleships in Georgia, and my grandfather fought at Pearl Harbor, among other battle sites. My grandparents, and millions of other people’s grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters have done similar things when called to duty.

Memorial Day reminds us that Americans owe their freedom to the sacrifice made by countless individuals who came before us, and to the people who are currently serving in the armed forces. The sacrifice of those who came before us who we remember on Memorial Day made us who we are.

Instead of focusing on that aspect of Memorial Day, we find ourselves with a battle between the Executive and Legislative branches of government battling over whether to pay the nation’s debt, and a football coach turned senator holding up military promotions on political grounds.

These are just two examples of the rampant division that is infecting America and threatening not only people’s financial health, but also the very health of the nation itself.

As was the case during the Covid-19 pandemic, there were voices who said that sports were the great distraction that people needed to forget about their troubles.

Sports have been a large part of my career in various capacities. But at some point, people need to stop being distracted by shiny things and start demanding action.

When Sunday rolls around, I may yet revert to old habits and watch some racing on television.

However, hard deadlines that will potentially shape the lives of everyone person in the world will start to arrive shortly after Memorial Day.

Those same soldiers that we honor on Monday may soon have their paychecks delayed if Congress cannot reach an agreement on raising the debt ceiling.

I try to remain optimistic that grown ups will emerge in Washington D.C. to avert a catastrophic financial meltdown caused by two sides failing to put aside petty differences and remember that there are real world consequences to their political gamesmanship.

A lot has happened in Washington D.C. in the decades since I was last there. Some of the monuments and sights that I had treasured in my youth have been sullied somewhat by the actions of extremists and wannabe dictators. Yet, for now, the monuments and the democracy still stand. Photo R. Anderson

A lot has happened in D.C. in the decades since I was last there. Some of the monuments and sights that I had treasured in my youth have been sullied somewhat by the actions of extremists and wannabe dictators.

Yet, for now, the monuments and the democracy still stand.

I am glad that I got to return to Washington D.C. and I still want to believe in what the monuments represent.

However, Washington does not exist in a bubble. Actions and inactions have consequences.

Sadly, red lines that once seemed uncrossable are now used as political pawns by extremists on both sides of the political spectrum.

Memorial Day stands as a reminder to the best of us.

Unfortunately, that message seems to be falling flat among many of the rest of us.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some quiet reflection to get to.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

Way Back Wednesday: Star Wars Day Brings About Angels in the Outfield and Wookies in the Batter’s Box

Editor’s Note: As part of our occasional Way Back Wednesday feature, today we travel back to a column written long, long ago, in a Gigaplex far, far away on May 3, 2013. In this column, we covered the unofficial holiday of Star Wars Day in the pre-Disney+ era of Baby Yoda. As you await the return of the aforementioned Baby Yoda while practicing your Jedi mind tricks, please enjoy this column on how the world of baseball celebrates Star Wars Day and as always, May the Fourth be with you.

For years, Minor League Baseball teams have looked to wacky promotions and giveaways to help attract crowds and give the fans a little something extra besides a seat at a ballgame.

There are the Ballpark standards of hat and seat cushion giveaways.

However, what I am talking about are the really outside the box promotions that make you both say, “I can’t believe no one ever thought of that before,” while also saying, “I can’t believe someone thought of that.”

In terms of the memorable crazy promotions, there have been promotions of every shape and size.

Teams have had Harry Potter themed nights. Teams have had speed dating nights. There was even a team that thought the biblical figure Noah, of the Ark building fame, needed his own bobble head figure. The list goes on and on regarding both good and bad promotions in the Ballpark.

One of the more predictable baseball promotions is the timeless tradition of teams giving fans a foam finger.
Photo R. Anderson

With all of that past pedigree of promotions, and with tomorrow marking a holiday of sorts for fans of a certain science fiction franchise, it marks a perfect opportunity for yet another creative ballpark promotion.

For those who may not be aware, May 4th is known as Star Wars Day due to a pun surrounding a popular phrase found in the films.

That phrase of course is “May the force be with you,” which can easily translate to “May the fourth be with you.”

For years, teams have celebrated May 4th in the ballpark. Realistically though, how many times can you really dust off that storm trooper costume to throw out the first pitch before it gets a feeling of been there done that?

With teams looking for creative and new ways to celebrate Star Wars Day, it was only a matter of time then until May the fourth was celebrated on a Minor League Baseball diamond in the form of players wearing Wookie jerseys.

That’s right boys and girls I said Wookie Jerseys.

The Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A Affiliate the Toledo Mud Hens are going to celebrate both May the fourth and May the fifth wearing jerseys that look like a Wookie complete with utility belt.

Thankfully, the team opted away from the faux hair version of the jersey and will instead go with a more diamond appropriate version where the fur is implied.

Across this galaxy as well as in a galaxy far, far away May the fourth is Star Wars Day.
Photo R. Anderson

This is probably a very wise decision. No player wants to have an error assigned to them because they lost a ball in their Wookie hair.

I am also thinking it would be hard for the pitcher to read the signs from the catcher with all of that hair getting in the way.

So far, there has been no word on whether the special Wookie jerseys will be available for sale to the general public. But as Darrell Hammond impersonating Sean Connery said to Will Ferrell who was impersonating Alex Trebek on Saturday Night Live’s parody of Celebrity Jeopardy, “You’re sitting on a gold mine, Trebek.”

I expect in the coming days that Wookie jerseys will be available in the Mud Hens team store. After all, who wouldn’t want a Wookie jersey?

Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals becomes the evil emperor during Star Wars Night at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

While this is most likely the first-time players have dressed up as a Wookie, it is not the first time that a Wookie, or at least an actor who played a Wookie, has been at a Minor League Ballpark.

During a May 1, 2010 game between the Oklahoma City Red Hawks and the New Orleans Zephers, Peter Mayhew, the actor who played Wookie extraordinaire Chewbacca, threw out the first pitch as part of the 30th Anniversary celebration of the original Star Wars film.

As mentioned before, there have been numerous other teams who have honored Star Wars in various ways on both the Major and Minor League levels by encouraging fans to wear their favorite Star Wars Cosplay outfits.

While I have never dressed up as Boba Fett, I have attended games where ushers were dressed like Princess Leia. I have also been at games where the opposing players were made to look like Darth Vader and other villains on the Jumbo Tron.

Lance Berkman gets the visiting villian treatment during a past Star Wars Night at Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

It is all done in good fun and is kind of cool to see the worlds of film and baseball combine in such an entertaining way.

How will I be spending Star Wars Day this year? At a ballpark of course.

And while there will not be any Wookie jerseys on the field, rumor has it that there will be a Star Wars themed fireworks show to fill the night sky.

Baseball, hot dogs, and pyrotechnics, it doesn’t get much better than that.

And in the spirit of full disclosure, I am a much bigger fan of Star Trek than Star Wars but “Beam me up” Day and “Make it So Number One” Day just don’t seem to roll off the tongue as easily when it comes to a ballpark promotion.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see if I can still make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. And May the fourth be with you.

Copyright 2023 R Anderson

NFL Bans Players for Gambling Despite Taking Millions of Dollars from Sports Books

The National Football League (NFL) recently banned five players for betting on sporting events.

Receiver Quintez Cephus and safety C.J. Moore of the Detroit Lions and defensive-end Shaka Toney of the Washington Commanders were suspended for the 2023 season for betting on NFL games, while Lions receivers Stanley Berryhill and Jameson Williams were suspended for six games each.

Despite the NFL bringing in millions of dollars in revenue from partnerships with gambling entities, it is still against the rules for player to bet on football games.

Merriam Webster defines hypocrisy as a, “behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel.”

Using that definition, one could make a strong case that the NFL punishing players for conduct that they encourage their fans to engage in is the epitome of hypocrisy.

However, a closer look reveals that the players were suspended for breaking a rule under the collective bargaining agreement between players, teams and league.

Despite all NFL employees being prohibited from entering or using any sportsbook during the season, the Washington Commanders opened the first in-stadium sportsbook in January, the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Giants and Jets have sportsbooks outside their venues.

Despite all NFL employees being prohibited from entering or using any sportsbook during the season, the Washington Commanders opened the first in-stadium sportsbook in January, the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Giants and Jets have sportsbooks outside their venues.
Graphic R. Anderson

That is a nice way to say that the NFL can have their cake and parlay, too, by saying that the players knew the rules and fans are not under the same restrictions.

Sports betting has always been a part of the game.

Some of my earliest memories of watching football involve Brent Musburger and Jimmy “the Greek” Synder talking about point spreads and predicting winners of games using coded language on the NFL Today pregame show on CBS.

While sports and gambling always had a connection of some sort, the floodgates of the rise in sports betting opened wide in 2018 when the United States Supreme Court voted 6-3 in the case Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association to strike down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, a 1992 law that forbade state-authorized sports gambling everywhere other than Nevada.

At the time of the ruling, all four major U.S. professional sports leagues, the NCAA and the federal government had urged the court to uphold the federal law and rule against New Jersey governor Phillip D. Murphy.

In the years that followed the Supreme Court decision, those same leagues went from opposing sports betting to embracing it. In fact, sports betting became mainstream to the point that now there are professional sports teams in Las Vegas, and official Sports Book sponsors in multiple leagues.

What was once only whispered in the shadows came out into the sunshine and spread like a kudzu vine choking out everything in its path.

Personally, betting on sports has never appealed to me. Throughout my career as a collegiate Sports Information Director, sports reporter and editor, I avoided any actions that could seem to be ethically questionable. That included betting on teams I covered, or really any sports for that matter.

That is the stand that worked for me. It is similar to the stand that the NFL and other leagues have for their employees.

I know some people who held similar positions to me take a more relaxed view of the issue of sports betting.

One of the first newspaper groups I worked for in Houston had an annual Christmas party at a local Greyhound racing track. I thought that it was an interesting choice of venue for a newspaper group.

A few years later, while working for a different newspaper, I was sent to do a feature on that same greyhound track because as my editor said, “they are a big advertiser and we like to keep them happy.” In fact, every night I had to dedicated a large about of space in the sports section for the results from the track.

I mention all of this to say that media groups and sports leagues have long been embedded with various forms of sports wagering. As more and more sports betting became legal, more and more embraces between leagues and sports books were made.

There is a huge difference between greyhound racing and the NFL when it comes to participants and betting.

The greyhounds did not know that people were making and losing money based on their performance. In many cases, the greyhounds were just doing what they were trained to do by going around in circles chasing the mechanical rabbit around the track in a counter clockwise motion.

On the other hand, NFL players, and other professional and collegiate athletes know about the millions, if not billions, of dollars that are being wagered on the fruits of their labors.

To be fair, I do not think that athletes should be betting on games that they are playing in. The Black Sox Scandal and the Pete Rose suspension were justified to prevent players and managers from throwing games for financial benefit.

Teams throwing games for better draft picks is an entirely different issue and a column for another day.

There is no easy answer for what to do with sports betting and athletes.

The future of sports betting, as well as player compensation, were topics that came up quite often while I was working on my Masters in Sport Management. In fact, I studied the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in both my academic and professional career.

Leagues are going to continue to gladly accept the revenue that comes from sports betting advertisements with the really small print about how gambling is addictive, etc.

At the same time, athletes are going to continue to test the limits of how much betting they can do on the sports they play in to get a share of the millions, if not billions, of dollars changing hands every sports weekend.

Speaking of million-dollar bets, there is a Houston area business man who is famous for bankrolling promotions at his store with large bets that he makes in Louisiana.

This individual was asked what he thought about the growing movements to legalize sports betting in Texas.

His response was that legalizing betting by phone would bolster gambling addiction, and that his two-hour drives to Louisiana to place bets “limits impulses by a factor of 1,000.”

When those comments first came out, many people called the aforementioned businessman a hypocrite based on the appearance that he saw nothing wrong with him traveling to place bets, but felt that the people of Texas would not have the same control if betting become legal in the Lone Star State.

Online sports betting is now legal and active in 36 states across the country. Massachusetts, Maine and Nebraska are all expected to join the legalized sports betting states in the coming months.

California, and Florida are amongst the states where it’s not yet legal to place an online bet. Texas is one of seven states, along with Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina, with bills or ballot initiatives to legalize sports betting.

With so much momentum moving towards legalized sports betting from sea to shining sea, it is likely that soon the professional sports leagues will be even more in bed with online gaming sites.

Municipalities will claim that they will earn money from taxing gambling operations, and sports leagues will continue to say that embedding their content with online gambling gives a more well-rounded experience to fans.

Time will tell if their actions remain such that they can be called hypocrites, or if they will make it easier for players to get a slice of the pie.

Meanwhile, five football players may never take another snap in a league that makes billions of dollars for their fans and themselves off of the efforts of their players.

Suddenly, it sounds a little better to just be a greyhound focusing on the rabbit unaware of everything that is going on around them

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about sports betting has given me a bit of a headache.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

Shortened Games Lead Some MLB Teams to Stretch Beer Sales Past the Seventh Inning

Recently, several Major League Baseball teams announced that they would extend how long they sold alcohol in response to changes that have shortened the average time it takes to finish a game.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and Milwaukee Brewers are among the teams who have announced that they will sell alcohol beyond the seventh inning.

Traditionally, teams declared last call on all alcohol sales after the seventh inning. The rationale for stopping beer sales in the seventh inning was to allow fans two innings to “sober up” before they headed to their cars after the game.

With the unforeseen circumstance of lost revenue due to shorter baseball games, some MLB teams are expanding the window in which alcohol can be served inside their ballparks.
Photo R. Anderson

However, the newly introduced pitch clock has dropped the average time of games by about 30 minutes to start the season leading to scenarios where the seventh inning is arriving earlier than it used to in many cases.

As a result, there is less time for teams to sell alcohol.

I never held any grand illusion that stopping beer sales in the seventh inning meant that there would be a decrease in the number of drunk fans leaving a Ballpark.

A 2011 study by the University of Minnesota determined that one in every 12 fans leaving a sporting event are above the legal limit when it comes to alcohol. That means in a stadium holding 40,000 people, 3,200 fans will likely be legally impaired by the time they leave.

To be fair, I know that most attendees of sporting events drink responsibly and use designated drivers. In fact, the above statistic breaks down to about eight percent of the total attendees. So, I am not painting all fans who drink with the same broad Clydesdale hair brush.

However, it only takes one of those individuals to make a bad decision and cost someone their life.

I often left Ballparks at the seventh inning stretch to ensure that I got ahead of the crowds leaving after the ninth inning.

Whether leaving early actually increased my odds of avoiding an encounter with a drunk driver or not, the practice usually made me feel like it did.

The entire premise of MLB teams ending beer sales in the seventh inning to give fans time to sober up falls flatter than a dropped keg when faced with the new approach of extending beer sales into later innings to allow teams to maintain their revenue streams.

Make no mistake, sporting events generate thousands of dollars of revenue from alcohol sales every game.

An example of how much revenue can be found in the trend of beer snakes. For those who may be unaware of what a beer snake is, it is comprised of empty beer cups extending from the bottom of a stadium section to the top. One of the teams that fully embraces the beer snake is the D.C. Defenders of the XFL.

For the sake of some quick journalist math, let us assume that with about two cups per inch, a hundred-foot beer snake would be comprised of around 2,400 cups.

Now, let us say that each of those 2,400 beer cups in the beer snake cost $12 when they were full.

That makes the cost of the beer snake to be $28,800 from head to tail.

Once we realize that not every beer sold in a stadium or ballpark becomes part of the snake, we are talking about some serious money.

The Sporting News estimated that MLB teams could make up to an average of $8 million on beer sales a season for their 81 home games. Multiply that by 30 teams and the amount of money teams are heading to the mountain with expands to a whopping $240 million for the league per year.
Graphic R. Anderson

The Sporting News took the alcohol sales math further and estimated that MLB teams could make up to an average of $8 million on beer sales a season for their 81 home games. Multiply that by 30 teams and the amount of money teams are heading to the mountain with expands to a whopping $240 million for the league per year.

Considering a 31 minute shorter game time thanks to the tinkering MLB did for the 2023 season, and the 30 teams could lose a little under $35 million in beer sales in total over the course of a season.

Proponents of extending the alcohol sales window will likely try to paint a human element on the issue by saying that longer sales mean that the vendors who provide alcohol to thirsty fans will not miss out on as many tips.

To that I say, many of the vendors at the games I have attended usually park blocks away from the Ballpark. By extending alcohol sales, vendors will now be faced with the prospect of having to walk further past more buzzed and/or drunk drivers leaving.

Proponents of extending the alcohol sales window will likely try to paint a human element on the issue by saying that longer sales mean that the vendors who provide alcohol to thirsty fans will not miss out on as many tips.
Photo R. Anderson

To be clear, I am not against responsible alcohol consumption inside Ballparks, or anywhere else for that matter.

What I am against, is when decisions that have real impacts on innocent people are made solely on a financial profit basis as appears to be the case with the MLB teams extending their alcohol sales.

The optics of extending beer sales beyond the seventh inning is profit over safety no matter how many team spokespeople try to spin it as a catering to fans approach.

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Matt Strahm weighed in on the issue of longer beer sales during an appearance on the Baseball Isn’t Boring podcast and provided some sobering insight.

“The reason we stopped it in the seventh before was to give our fans time to sober up and drive home safe, correct?” Strahm said. “So now with a faster pace game, and me just being a man of common sense, if the game is going to finish quicker, would we not move the beer sales back to the sixth inning to give our fans time to sober up and drive home?”

It used to be that common sense would say that the best approach was to be proactive and try to avoid a situation from happening versus reacting to it after the fact.

A bartender who overserves a patron is held responsible if that patron gets in a car and kills someone. It will only take one incident of a fan leaving a Ballpark and killing someone for the beer sales issue to be placed back on tap.

Someone who is going to overindulge at the Ballpark is going to do that whether alcohol sales end in the seventh inning or the ninth inning. So, at the end if the day, the percentage of drunk and unruly fans will likely not increase if teams continue to leave the bar open longer.

What will change is any goodwill MLB teams got by saying that they were halting beer sales early to allow fans time to sober up before hitting the road.

Those MLB teams don’t get to have it both ways. The optics are either, fan safety or profits.

With the rise in sports leagues cozying up to Sportsbooks, it is fair to say that MLB teams are gambling that extending beer sales closer to the time that fans leave will not lead to catastrophic events like drunk driving crashes, or fans falling over a railing in the Ballpark.

I certainly hope they are right and that the cash grab of later alcohol sales does not increase the occurrence of fan death and injury.

Then again, every gambler runs out of luck eventually.

Now if you’ll excuse me, doing all of this math has made me feel like I need to rest for a bit.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

XFL and USFL are About to Duel for Fans

This weekend, for the first time since early 2020, two spring football leagues will be competing at the same time as the USFL joins the XFL in a battle for viewers and fans in the great quest to fill those football free months between the end of the Super Bowl and the beginning of NFL training camps.

The experiment in 2020 regarding whether two spring leagues can survive between the XFL and the Alliance of American Football was cut short due to financial troubles with the AAF and a cancelled XFL season due to COVID-19.

The XFL returned to the gridiron this year under new ownership and his entering the final stretch of their season. The United States Football League, aka the USFL, is set to return for season two since arising like a phoenix from the ashes in 2021.

For the first time since early 2020, two spring football leagues will be competing at the same time as the USFL joins the XFL in a battle for viewers and fans in the great quest to fill those football free months between the end of the Super Bowl and the beginning of NFL training camps.
Graphic R. Anderson

While there will be two leagues for the next couple of weeks, the approach between them could not be more different.

The XFL returned for its third iteration following a sale of the league from Vince McMahon of World Wrestling Entertainment owning fame, to an ownership consortium that includes Dwayne “can you smell what the Rock is cooking” Johnson fame.

The third version of the XFL has already lasted longer than version two in 2020 and seems to be on strong footing despite lackluster attendance and television ratings.

For someone used to watching football on television, it can be a bit of a shock to see near empty football stadiums during a time without the COVID-19 limitations that forced games to be played fan free for two years.

Nearly empty stadiums were something that also plagued the USFL during their reboot season last year.

For those unfamiliar with the USFL, it was a spring football league that played for three seasons from 1983 through 1985. Some notable USFL players who later joined the NFL include Jim Kelly, Doug Flutie, Steve Young and Hershel Walker.

Ultimately, like the myriad spring football leagues that followed, the USFL went the way of the dinosaurs and became extinct. With the number of failed leagues trying to come back to life lately perhaps one should say the USFL is trying to atone for its Icarus style hubris of flying too close to the sun during its initial three season run.

I will not get into the inner workings of why the USFL failed during their initial late 20th Century incarnation. Numerous books and documentaries cover that subject in grave detail. However, for those wanting to get down in the weeds on why the league failed, I do recommend the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?”

Spoiler alert, the answer to the question of who killed the USFL may surprise some, and seem completely on brand to others.

While the original USFL included individual owners for each of their franchises, the current version of the USFL is owned in part by Fox Sports, which will share broadcasting rights with NBC. The XFL games are televised on ABC, ESPN and FX.

As I noted in a column last year when the return of the USFL was first announced, the rising symbiosis between leagues and broadcast partners is a troubling trend that is certainly column subject for another day.

Suffice to say, as a classically trained sports journalist, as well as someone with a Masters degree in Sport Management, I am deeply troubled by the trend of mergers and blending of networks and leagues.

I am equally troubled by the way that sports leagues have gone from acknowledging sports betting with a nudge, nudge, wink, wink, to fully embracing it by including live betting lines on their broadcasts.

I have nothing against someone wanting to bet on sports. I just trhink it sets a bad example when players can be banned for life if they bet on their games, but fans are free to bet until their hearts content.

Turning professional sports leagues into glorified Jai Lai and dog racing is bad optics from my point of view. Then again, that is another column for another day.

It goes back to the age-old journalism school question of whether sports events are news or entertainment. Based on the number of leagues jumping into bed with gambling interests, I would say sports are sliding into the easy to manipulate realm of entertainment programming which could very well soil the sanctity of the game.

Further proof of the football as mere television commodity model is the fact that despite recycling the cities and team nicknames from the USFL of old, for the second straight year, the USFL will not play games in the host cities. Instead, all USFL games will be played in the hub cities of Detroit, Canton, Memphis and Birmingham.

Currently, Houston, TX is the only city with a team in both the XFL and USFL. However, someone wanting to catch a Houston Gamblers game would need to travel to one of the USFL’s four hub cities to see their “home” team play a home game. Fans of the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks can actually see the team play in Houston.
Graphic R. Anderson

Currently, Houston, TX is the only city with a team in both the XFL and USFL.

Someone wanting to catch a Houston Gamblers game would need to travel to one of the USFL’s four hub cities to see their “home” team play a home game.

Fans of the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks can actually see the team play in Houston.

The XFL realized that home field advantage and leaning into a fan base is a smart business model.

Given the chance to actually see a game in your own town, versus watching them from afar is definitely likely to earn more fans for the Roughnecks than the Gamblers.

The USFL is gambling that enough people will attend the games in the hub cities to make it look good on TV without actually caring if the people in the stands have any connection to the towns the teams claim to represent.

I am no stranger to spring football leagues. One of the first sports articles I ever wrote was about the arrival of the World League of American Football (WLAF).

My article focused on the Orlando Thunder and the excitement that the City Beautiful was getting another chance to be a professional football town.

I have gone down this road many times and it never ends well. One of the first sports articles I ever wrote for my high school newspaper was about the arrival of the World League of American Football (WLAF). My article focused on the Orlando Thunder and the excitement that the City Beautiful was getting another chance to be a professional football town. The excitement lasted all of two seasons as the WLAF became NFL Europe and the Thunder and the other domestic teams ceased operations.
Photo R. Anderson

The excitement lasted all of two seasons as the WLAF became NFL Europe and the Thunder and the other domestic teams ceased operations.

A fun fact tying the WLAF to the USFL was that Lee Corso was the Orlando Thunder’s general manager after coaching the Orlando Renegades of the USFL.

Leagues will always say that they learned from the mistakes of others as they climb over the smoldering remains of all of the spring leagues that came before them. In this way, they really are like the classic tale of Icarus who flew too close to the sun and fell down to earth after his wax wings melted.

It really would be fitting for a spring football league to use Icarus for one of their teams if one could decide if the plural should be the Flying Icaruses or the Flying Icuri.

Over the course of the USFL three seasons only five teams played all three years without relocating or changing team names. Those lucky teams with the most stability were the Denver Gold, Los Angeles Express, Birmingham Stallions, New Jersey Generals, and Tampa Bay Bandits.

Already in year two of the USFL, the Tampa Bay Bandits are a casualty of teams that were around last year and failed to take the field for year two.

The official word is that the Bandits, who were once partly owned by the Bandit himself, Burt Reynolds, and coached by the Old Ball Coach himself, Steve Spurrier during “classic” USFL, have gone “on hiatus.”

Although the USFL issued a statement that the move to replace the bandits with the Memphis Showboats is based on a restriction of only eight teams in the made for television league, one has to wonder whether anyone will really notice if the Bandits return based on the whole not playing in the home markets approach.

Time will tell whether the latest iteration of the USFL can match, or best the three-year high-water mark of spring league viability it set nearly 40 years ago. Perhaps Icarus will use some stronger wax this time.

Since spring football leagues seem to be all about gambling these days, my money is on the XFL making more of an impact on football fans than the USFL based on the ability of fans to actually go to a stadium in their home town and root for their team.

To see how much fun spring football can be for hometown fans, one need only look at the XFL’s Washington Defenders, where fans have the opportunity to make an awesome beer snake in the stands, and the St. Louis Battlehawks, where football hungry fans have brought life back to a long abandoned domed stadium.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a trip to a football stadium to plan.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

Trump Arrest Places Media in Uncharted Waters

Yesterday, April 4, 2023, for the first time in United States history, a former president was arrested.

While other countries around the world have experienced their top leaders being arrested, for nearly 250 years, the United States had managed to avoid becoming a member of that club.

That all changed when Donald Trump exited a courthouse in Manhattan charged with 34 felony counts.

On April 4, 2023, Donald Trump became the first current or former United States president to be arrested for a crime. Trump faces 34 felony counts in New York State.

Although no current or former U.S. president had ever been arrested before yesterday, there is a general consensus among many historians that Richard Nixon would have faced charges after he resigned in 1974 had he not been pardoned by Gerald Ford.

Additionally, Bill Clinton’s law license was suspended for five years in Arkansas after he reached a deal with prosecutors in 2001, at the end of his second term, over allegations that he lied under oath about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

A less known presidential “what if?” involves whether President Warren Harding would have been implicated in various crimes as part of the “Teapot Dome Scandal” had he not died in office, in 1923.

In the days, weeks, months and years to come, there will be countless opportunities to delve into whether the arrest of the 45th President of the United States was valid.

It is also possible that there will be other arrests of the same individual over the coming months that will also be debated.

Right now, presidential historians and journalists are likely securing publishing deals for the myriad books that will be written on this chapter of American history.

This is not a column about the arrest, nor is it an exploration of whether the charges are valid.

Although no current or former U.S. president had ever been arrested before yesterday, there is a general consensus among many historians that Richard Nixon would have faced charges after he resigned in 1974 had he not been pardoned by Gerald Ford.
Photo R. Anderson

Instead, this is a column about how a hyper divided country like the United States can navigate its way through something that was likely never considered by the Founding Fathers.

A high visibility case involving a high visibility individual is certainly nothing new.

Since the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995 put cameras in the courtroom, Americans have been fascinated with watching celebrity court cases.

Last year, viewers clamored around coverage of the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial.

So far in 2023, viewers were treated to the Alex Murdaugh and Gwyneth Paltrow cases.

These are just a few of the many court cases that have drawn the attention of viewers through the years.

Any potential trial in New York would likely not begin until next year. As such, there is a lot of time for other things to happen between now and then. It is also not clear whether a trial would be televised, since the judge would ultimately have a say on the issue of cameras in their courtroom.

If a case involving a former president goes to trial, and is televised, viewership would likely rival any of the previous cases.

Watching the helicopter coverage of the former president’s motorcade leading to the New York courtroom yesterday definitely gave me some white Bronco related déjà vu.

This brings us to the role the media should play in how they cover any lead up to a trial, as well as how a trial itself is covered, as well as post-verdict aftermath.

O.J. Simpson had many fans who believed that the Juice was innocent. Those fans were elated when the glove didn’t fit and the jury had to acquit.

However, if O.J. had been found guilty, it is highly unlikely that his supporters would have rioted in the streets, or charged the courthouse.

Granted, this was nearly 30 years ago, before social media, and during a time when society was slightly more civil towards people with differing opinions. So, perhaps there would have been riots if the O.J. trial happened in the 21st Century versus the 20th Century.

While we may never know how the O.J. trial would have been different during a time of social media, one can be fairly certain based on events that have happened since January 2020, that if there is a trial involving a former president, it could get messy.

To be clear, I am in no way comparing the crimes that O.J. Simpson was accused of with the crimes that Donald Trump has been accused of. I am merely comparing the way the media and public are drawn to coverage of both trials.

The media therefore faces a delicate balance between feeding the public’s right to know with avoiding any reporting that encourages incitement of violence.

Even if a network felt that providing wall to wall coverage was not the right thing to do, there would likely be great pressure to push ahead to avoid being the only network not covering the event.

In this way, the media herd mentality and desire to not miss out on a scoop works against them.

There are many individuals and groups who blame the news media for the hours of free coverage they gave Donald Trump during the 2016 election. Some have even gone so far as to say that the coverage of nearly every rally and speech given by the former president on the campaign trail played a huge role in the outcome of the 2016 election.

I thought of this as I watched the prime-time coverage of a speech given by the recently arrested former president last night.

There was certainly a news value in airing the speech. It was a historical moment documenting a moment in American history that had never occurred before. It is the news media’s job to cover events like that.

However, as the speech ventured into a slew of attacks on individuals, as well as a greatest hits list of grievances, the news value of the speech dwindled with each passing moment.

As the current court case, and perhaps other cases move towards potential trial, there will be other moments where the media will be tempted to cover a speech in its entirety.

Such is the dilemma of the news media. How does one differentiate between what is truly in the public interest, and what is just a man getting free air time to rant around the Festivus pole with an airing of grievances?

Arguments around media coverage potentially tainting a jury pool is a possible consideration. Although, it is highly likely that all potential jurors already know who the former president is.

Whatever happens from here with the case will continue to plow new ground for legal experts and journalists alike.

We are definitely going to need a bigger boat as we navigate the uncharted waters and choppy seas ahead, as well as a measured approach to steer it through the rapids and eddies.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about alleged presidential crimes and journalists has me in the mood to watch “All the President’s Men.”

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

Weather Extremes and Gun Violence Show We Are in For a Bumpy Ride

The other night I was awoken at 3:30 a.m. by a loud clap of thunder.

In this part of Houston, getting awakened in the middle of the night by a storm is nothing new. Based on weather patterns, most of the bad weather that arrives here comes in like a thief in the night.

What is odd about this latest bit of overnight extreme weather, is the fact that it seemed to come out of nowhere and just sort of formed without warning.

As I sat in bed listening to the storm, I thought to myself that it will likely become more frequent that random storms just pop up in the middle of the night.

Scientists will say that the rise in extreme weather, like more frequent hurricanes and tornadoes, is the result of global warming and climate change.

The other night I was awoken at 3:30 a.m. by a loud clap of thunder. In this part of Houston, getting awakened in the middle of the night by a storm is nothing new. Based on weather patterns, most of the bad weather that arrives here comes in like a thief in the night. As I sat in bed listening to the storm, I thought to myself that it will likely become more frequent that random storms just pop up in the middle of the night.
Photo R. Anderson

I agree with that assessment. I also believe that more should be done to address climate change to ensure that we do not turn the only planet with a habitable atmosphere into a stormy terrarium where only cold blooded creatures and aquatic life can live.

Those who do not believe in science will say that there is no correlation between more extreme weather and global warming.

The reasons for denying the facts can be both economical and political in nature. The reasons usually are the result of a selfish need on the part of the person who is denying the facts that are getting increasingly harder to ignore.

As I continued to sit in bed as the storm raged, and now fully awake with no chance of drifting back to sleep any time soon, my thoughts went from extreme weather, to extreme acts of gun violence as yet another mass shooting took place in a school earlier that day.

When I first heard about the shooting at a private school in Nashville, my first thought was, how does this keep happening?

Then, while sitting in bed listening to the storm that came out of thin air, I thought to myself, in many cases, the same people who deny that global warming is real are the ones who do not think that America has a mass shooting problem.

I will never understand how someone who sees entire towns wiped out by more frequent tornadoes, and elementary school children and their teachers getting killed by assault rifles can think that either occurrence is normal, and not something that should be addressed with the full power of the private and public sector.

Extreme weather events, and mass shootings each tear communities apart and leave lasting physical and emotional scars among the survivors.

Following the latest shooting in Nashville, many lawmakers recycled some of the talking points that emerge after every mass shooting.

The tropes of “lone wolf,” “mental illness,” and “unsecured school” filled the airwaves as politicians made themselves into human pretzels twisting and turning their words while trying to balance the needs of their big gun lobby donors with the hurt felt by average citizens.

As I always point out during my way too frequent columns after a mass shooting, I am not advocating for a repeal of the Second Amendment, or saying the answer to solving the issue of mass shootings is to take away all guns.

What I am saying, is I refuse to believe that nothing can be done to eliminate mass shootings, which as noted before, seems to be an uniquely American problem.

One particular talking point that disgusted me the most was an elected official from Tennessee who, after being asked why gun violence seemed to mostly only occur in America, said that part of price of our freedom as Americans was that we had to accept that mass shootings were just a part of life, since in order for us to be free, we have to let some people abuse that freedom in the form of gun violence.

With all due respect to the lawmaker, I refuse to accept that part of living in a democracy means that people are free to gun down people.

I also refuse to believe the narrative that the key to stopping gun violence is to turn schools into impenetrable fortresses. As shown by the various other places where a gunman has taken lives like houses of worship, movie theaters and grocery stores, a mass shooting can happen anywhere.

The shooting in Nashville also shows that locked doors can be shot through in order to gain entrance. This fact, blows to shreds the whole locked doors stop mass shootings narrative even further.

Furthermore, even if a locked door could stop a mass shooter, it would be impossible to reinforce every soft target, or to think that an armed good guy with a gun will always stop the bad guy with a gun.

To be clear, there is no way that the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms will ever be stricken from the United States Constitution. Although, one should really stop to consider whether the right to bear dozens of high-powered assault rifles is really what the founding fathers had in mind when they were amending the Constitution.

For a bit of context, here is the exact wording of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution, A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

There is a huge difference between ensuring that citizens can protect their families and property in case the British decided to invade the colonies again, as was the basis for the Second Amendment, versus using it as a jumping off point to say that there should be no regulations nor permits for the type of arms one can bear.

Instead of tightening laws, in many states, it is being made easier to own and carry firearms out in public.

For the majority of gun owners that is not an issue.

Most gun owners use their guns responsibly.

Most gun owners surveyed want stricter controls on who can own guns.

As noted in many of the columns I have written about mass shootings, I am forever thankful that mass shootings in schools were not something that I had to worry about when I was in school.

Early in my journalism career, I had the opportunity to interview a man who traveled the country teaching high school students how to survive an active shooter attack at their school. Promoting a common-sense approach may have worked 20 years ago, but I have to question whether that approach nowadays is the equivalent of telling students to hide under a desk during nuclear fallout.
Photo R. Anderson

There is hardly enough time in the school day for teachers to cover all of the subjects that students should learn without having to practice active shooter drills.

My entire life, I have heard how the United States of America is the most powerful country in the world.

I do believe that there is a lot of truth to that statement. I also believe that will great power, comes great responsibility.

That responsibility includes ensuring that children can learn in a safe environment, and that to every extent possible, everything is done to slow, it not reverse, the impacts of climate change.

As the old saying goes, it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. There is no reason why the aforementioned most powerful country in the world cannot address both climate change and gun violence at the same time.

In the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy challenged America to reach for the stars and land a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

Many scoffed at the “moonshot” speech. Yet, in July of 1969, human footprints were placed on the lunar surface in response to that quest to “go to the moon and do the other things.”

As the president said at the time, the goal to go to the moon was chosen, “not because it was easy, but because it was hard.”

In the 1960s, President John F. Kennedy challenged America to reach for the stars and land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Many scoffed at the “moonshot” speech. Yet, in July of 1969, human footprints were placed on the lunar surface in response to that quest to “go to the moon and do the other things.” It is time for the elected officials and common citizens alike to unite for a 21st Century Moonshot to curb climate change and more importantly find common sense solutions to addressing gun violence and mass shootings.
Photo R. Anderson

Tackling climate change and the wholly American problem of gun violence will certainly not be easy.

However, it is time for the elected officials and common citizens alike to unite for a 21st Century Moonshot to curb climate change.

Additionally,, it is time to find common sense solutions to addressing gun violence and mass shootings.

Due to geography, I may never be able to fully prevent thunder from waking me up in the wee hours of the morning.

However, I would love to have a night where I was not holding back tears due to watching news coverage of another mass shooting.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to take a nap since I really did not get much sleep last night.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

Looking Back at 50 Years of Designated Hitting in Baseball as MLB Moves Fans’ Cheese Once Again

As Spring Training winds down, and teams begin their final preparations for the 2023 Major League Baseball Season, a lot of attention has been paid to the new rules that are being rolled out in an attempt to speed up the game.

The changes coming to an MLB Ballpark near you include, banning infield shifts, putting pitchers on a pitch clock and making the bases larger.

When announcing the rules changes MLB officials noted they were aimed at improving pace of play, action and safety at the MLB level.

The rules changes have received a mostly mixed response ranging from fans who believe that baseball traditions should be maintained at all costs, to those fans who see no issues with changing rules on a regular basis.

Personally, I fall somewhere along the middle of the spectrum.

While I would not consider myself to be a full baseball traditionalist, one of the things I enjoyed most about baseball was that it was the only major sport that did not include a clock of any kind.

Unlike football, basketball, soccer and hockey, baseball game lengths were varied like snowflakes and varied depending on the actions of the players on the field.

Sadly, those days are now gone thanks in part to fans with shorter attention spans and a desire to compress the action into a predefined, yet completely arbitrary definition of how long a baseball game should take.

The latest slate of rules changes follows changes made to extra innings of games starting with a runner on second base, to a universal designated hitter rolling out for the 2022 MLB season.

Prior to the latest bunch of rules changes, perhaps the greatest “who moved my cheese” moment in baseball was the introduction of the designated hitter in 1973.

I was born into a world where the DH already existed in the American League. As such, I did not experience the tectonic plate shifting impacts felt by those who lived in a world before the DH.

For many of those baseball fans from the before times, the introduction of the DH sent ripples through their collective scorecard completing souls.

The American League introduced the designated hitter, or DH, fifty years ago, and the game of baseball was forever changed. Once the designated hitter was introduced, pitchers on the American League ball clubs were no longer burdened with the hassle of having to bat.  National League pitchers would continue to take their swings at the plate.

On January 11, 1973, American League owners voted 8–4 to approve the designated hitter for a three-year trial run. On April 6, 1973, Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees became the first designated hitter in MLB history when he stepped into the batter’s box to face Luis Tiant of the Boston Red Sox.

Blomberg was walked on five pitches with the bases loaded in the first inning, which meant that not only was Blomberg the first DH, he was also the first DH to earn an RBI.

On April 6, 1973, Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees, depicted here on one of my 1988 Topps Baseball cards, became the first designated hitter in MLB history when he stepped into the batter’s box to face Luis Tiant of the Boston Red Sox. Blomberg was walked on five pitches with the bases loaded in the first inning which meant that not only was Blomberg the first DH, he was also the first DH to earn an RBI.

The “three-year” DH experiment has rolled on for 50-years and counting.

Mention the designated hitter in polite dinner conversation, and one will quickly find out how divisive the topic really is among fans.

The pro designated hitter camp will point to the fact that by eliminating the pitcher as a batter the rallies can continue without the fear of a nearly guaranteed out with a pitcher batting.

The foes of the DH rule will say that having pitchers batting, despite the almost guaranteed out they provide, is a truer form of the game, is more historically accurate, and creates more cat and mouse strategy between the managers.

The debate entered a new phase when the universal DH was applied to all 30 MLB teams as a health and safety measure during the 2020 season as a result of COVID-19.

The DH returned to pre-pandemic rules during the 2021 season before being universally applied to all 30 MLB ballclubs starting with the 2022 season.

I was so convinced that the baseball purists would never allow designated hitters full time in the National League that I boldly proclaimed in a 2013 column honoring the 40th anniversary of the DH that, “I do not see a time in the near future where the DH will go away any more than I predict a time when the National League will start using them in their home ballparks.”

I could certainly argue whether the DH expanding nine years after I made that statement counts as the near future, or if I put a five-year cap on a definition of near future. Instead, I will admit that I was wrong about the universal DH coming to baseball.

Personally, as someone who always identified more as an American League fan, I will not miss watching National League pitchers try to bunt, or strike out on three pitches.

I know that some National League pitchers could swing a mean bat. As such, it is unfair to say that all they do is bunt, strike out, or pop out. I also know Shohei Ohtani can take the field as a pitcher, designated hitter and outfielder for the Los Angeles Angels. So, there are definitely exceptions to the rule regarding whether pitchers can hit.

MLB was not done tweaking the game by adding a Universal DH. It is like someone at MLB headquarters looked out at the field and said, “hold my glove” as they looked at other ways they could upset the popcorn cart of baseball purists.

Which brings us to the 2023 MLB season that begins in eight days.

MLB has already had to make changes to the rules related to the pitch clock since wily managers and players found ways to best the system for an advantage in their favor during Spring Training games.

When announcing the tweaks, it was stated that more changes could be coming to ensure that the clock is applied fairly across all 30 MLB Ballparks.

When rumblings about a pitch clock coming to baseball first started a few years ago, I questioned whether that was in the best interest of the game. I still question that today.

The Sugar Land Skeeters and their fellow Atlantic League of Professional Baseball clubs were used to test many proposed MLB changes, including a pitch clock, prior to the changes moving up to MLB Ballparks.
Photo R. Anderson

The Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, of which the Sugar Land Skeeters used to belong, served as a testing ground for many of the rules that MLB is rolling out now, including the pitch clock.

Watching Skeeters games with the pitch clock and robotic umpires back in 2019, I felt my inner baseball purist scream.

I also pictured a scenario where the players from the movie “Field of Dreams” would quickly go back into the corn field if they emerged from the stalks and discovered Ray Kinsella operating a pitch clock.

Say it ain’t so, Shoeless Joe. Baseball has a pitch clock.

To be fair, the game of baseball will continue, albeit with a little less joy from some of the residents of Mudville.

However, if the MLB brain trust continues to tweak the game in order to appease a crowd that often seems more interested in the amenities in a Ballpark then the actual plays on the diamond, it might not be too long before baseball does not look anything like the game I grew up watching.

That is not to say that I want to see baseball revert back to the way it was played in the late 19th or early 20th Century. I just think that part of the charm of baseball exists in its imperfections, and the fact that there was no time clock or buzzer to beat.

Continued efforts to shoehorn baseball into a mold that it doesn’t belong in could backfire. It is entirely possible that efforts to change the rules of the game to attract new fans fail, while also causing the traditional fans to find other ways to spend their time that don’t involve baseball.

Unfortunately, as long as advertisers and broadcasters continue to pump millions of dollars into the team coffers, MLB may not care so much about what the product on the field looks like as long as people still pay money to see players run around the pizza box size bases.

Perhaps like no other time in my lifetime, we are all about to discover whether if you time it, they will come.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this talk about pizza box size bases as me hungry for a slice.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

Honoring Three Women Who Shaped my Love of Baseball

Aside from being the month of my birth, March is also Women’s History Month.

Established in 1987, Women’s History Month highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society.

Few can argue that women have played a pivotal role in societies across the globe for centuries. It would be impossible to list all of those accomplishments in a single column.

Instead, I am going to focus on the three women in my life who, among other things, helped shape my love of baseball and sport in general. It is a love that has proven to be quite useful throughout my life and career.

Those three women are, my mother, my maternal grandmother, and my paternal grandmother.

Each of them, in their own unique way set me on the path that I am on today.


Our journey through the inspirational baseball loving women in my life begins with my mother.

My mother grew up as a Washington Senators fan and became a Baltimore Orioles fan after both versions of the Senators fled the Nation’s Capital to become the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers, respectively.

As my mother would often point out, had the Senators stayed around, I likely would have never been a Baltimore Orioles fan.

But the Senators did leave town twice, which meant either by default, or by choice, I became a Baltimore Orioles fan.

In addition to taking me to my first regular season Major League Baseball game in Baltimore, my mother also took me to my first Spring Training game to see the Orioles play in Orlando.

In January 2013, I wrote a column about the series of events that occurred on that fateful trip to Memorial Stadium in 1983 for my first regular season game.

The story behind my first Spring Training game was equally memorable.

After moving from Maryland to Florida in the third grade, I went from living in a state where I had a local Major League ball club to root for from April to October, to a state that only had Major League Baseball during two months of Spring Training.

I did not know it at the time, but the lack of full time Major League Baseball, that existed until the arrival of the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays about a decade after I moved to Florida, would be a great benefit to shaping me.

While I would go on to attend hundreds of Spring Training games in my life, my first encounter with spring training started with a bit of constructive deception.

The Program from my first Spring Training game that occurred thanks to some creative deception from my mother.
Photo R. Anderson

One March day, which also happened to be my birthday, as I was sitting in my classroom like a good little student, my name was called on the intercom to go to the principal’s office.

To be fair, there were many times when my name was called over the intercom because I had done something to warrant a trip to see the principal.

However, on this particular day I was at a complete loss as to why I was being summoned.

As I exited the classroom, my mom met me outside my classroom door. We walked in virtual silence. The whole time we were walking, a series of thoughts ran through my head. The thoughts ranged from someone must have died, to I must have really done something this time if my mom is the one escorting to the office.

But we did not stop at the office. Instead we kept walking in virtual silence all the way to my mom’s car.

Once we were safely away from listening ears and inside the car, my mom told me of the real reason why I was leaving school. And that reason was, we were going to Tinker Field to see a Spring Training game between the Baltimore Orioles and the Minnesota Twins.

I was excited to learn that my fears of a death in the family were not realized. I was even more excited that I was getting to go see a baseball game Ferris Bueller style while the rest of my classmates were stuck at school.

Two traditions began for me that day. The first being, that one should never be in school ,or at work on their birthday, and second, birthdays are best when they are spent at a ballpark.

In the years since that first Spring Training game, I have often followed my mom’s example to stop and smell the nachos from time to time by skipping school, or work, in order to take in a day at the ballpark, even on days that aren’t my birthday.

My mom did not only take me to see Spring Training though. She would often take me to see the Orlando Sun Rays play Minor League Baseball games. My mom also took me to a Senior Professional Baseball Association game where I was able to meet Earl Weaver.

I have written extensively through the years about how those numerous trips to Tinker Field with my mom shaped me as a fan, as well as a sports writer. Those trips also instilled in me a yet unreached goal of working for a Minor League Baseball team.

As I also recently noted in another column, my mom also often took me to baseball card shops and card shows to ensure that my baseball itch was scratched outside of the ballpark as well.

Yes, my mother was quite influential in ensuring that my love of baseball was fed at every possible opportunity. However, she was not alone in nurturing my love of baseball.


The next women who inspired my love of baseball was Edna Kirby, who I called Granny. Granny lived among the slash pine trees of southern Georgia about four hours away from Atlanta. In addition to going to nearly every baseball game at the local high school, Granny always made a point to watch her beloved Atlanta Braves whenever they were on TV.

Before she got a satellite dish, and long before streaming games on the internet or a phone was a thing, Granny used an over the air antenna strapped to the roof.

On the days when the antenna just couldn’t pick up the station carrying the game, Granny would go old school and listen to the broadcast on the radio.

There were definitely some lean years to be a Braves fan. Still, Granny 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 throughout the house from Granny’s recliner.

And, whenever Chipper would strike out or make a bad fielding play the battle cry from the recliner turned to “oh Chipper.”

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

About 20 years ago, my mother and I traveled from Texas to Georgia to visit Granny 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.

However, nothing really could have prepared us for what we saw once we got inside. 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. Granny went on to live about another 10-years after her “near death” experience.

When Granny went into a nursing home, many of her things were divided up among family. There were not too many items of my grandmother’s that I wanted, but I made sure I got her television. It was far from a new television. In fact, it was downright old and heavy by today’s standards.

For me, it was the Braves TV. Every time I saw it or powered it on, I thought about Granny and our shared bond over the game of baseball.

Eventually I replaced Granny’s TV with a newer HD model after thinking to myself, there is no way that Granny would still be watching the Braves on this set.

I laughed a little when I thought that if she were here she would say, “Buster Brown, get rid of that old TV and get yourself one where you can see the blades of grass on the field.”

To this day, whenever I watch the Braves play, I smile a little wider because I know we are both watching the same game.


The third woman who shaped my love of baseball is Pat Hall, or Mom Mom as I called her. For years, Mom Mom lived in the perfect area to take advantage of a love of baseball. After retiring, Mom Mom 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.

Each year when Spring Training rolled around, Mom Mom and I would try to plan when I could come down from Orlando and catch a game with her.

Sadly, it never worked out that we could see a Spring Training game in Bradenton. However, we were able to see several Minor League Baseball games together at Tinker Field in Orlando.

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

In addition to fueling my love for attending baseball games, Mom Mom also helped add to my autograph collection.

Mom Mom 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 SPBA.

The SPBA disbanded after a single season. So, I consider that extra cool to have that memento of a forgotten era.

Encounters with sports figures was not just tied to baseball however. 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.”

One of my remaining bucket list Ballparks is McKechnie Field in Bradenton. It is the Ballpark that Mom Mom and I never made it to. It is important to me that I make it there at least once in her memory.

I had planned to make the trek in 2020, but then the world of sports shut down for COVID-19. Hopefully 2024 will allow me to finally catch a game there 40 years after the invitation was first made.


Although both my maternal and paternal grandmothers have passed away, the lessons they taught me and the love of baseball remains.

My mom and I have attended many baseball games together over the years, and hopefully we will get to attend a few more in the years to come. Inside and outside of ballparks she continues to be an inspiration.

There are countless other personal stories that I am sure people can tell about their own experiences with inspirational women in their lives.

Of course, just like a single column cannot contain all the stories of important women in my life, a single month cannot contain all of the ways that women have contributed to societies throughout history.

Be sure to take time to recognize a few women in your life who have helped shape you into the person you are today, and the person you are yet to be.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some trips to some Ballparks to plan.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

A Topps Quest 40 Years in the Making

Through the years, I have collected everything from Matchbox Cars and comics, to ticket stubs and books from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. It has often been said that my collections have collections.

One of the earliest things that I collected was baseball cards.

I started collecting baseball cards in elementary school back when packs could be purchased for pocket change and included a stick of card staining bubble gum.

One of my greatest joys back then came from riding my bike to the neighborhood 7-Eleven to spend some of my allowance on a pack of baseball cards, a comic book, some powdered doughnuts and a Sunny Delight.

On special occasions, my mom would drive me to one of three baseball card and comic book stores where I would thumb through the boxes of comics and binders of cards looking for items to add to my collections.

Once I was able to drive and was earning money from working, I would still go to the card shops on the weekends. My trips became less frequent once I was in college.

Eventually, as other priorities and interests emerged, my card collecting was relegated to occasionally buying a pack here and there out of nostalgia.

Way back in 1983 I started collecting baseball cards. This binder, complete with dot matrix label printed on a Commodore 128, was the first time I tried to complete a full set. The set has remained 125 cards short of being complete for 40 years.
Photo R. Anderson

Back on August 19, 2013, I wrote a column about wanting to finish the 1983 Topps baseball card set that I had started 30 years earlier.

In that column, I made a bold prediction that I would finish the set by the end of the year by procuring the missing 125 cards that I needed out of the 792-card set.

Despite starting the quest in the fourth quarter of 2013, it seemed like a very doable thing to complete.

In reality, the quest to finish the set would take another decade.

Paraphrasing a song about black eyed peas and homicide, as spring turned to summer and summer faded into fall, I found out that the 1983 Topps baseball set might be the set that was not completed at all.

I cannot really say why the set was not finished back in 2013.

When I wrote the column, I really had the intention and desire to finish the set that year.

In the years since 2013, I had mostly forgotten about the incomplete set of cards despite walking past the binders of baseball cards nearly every day.

That all changed in January. While I was moving my baseball card binders, I was once again reminded of the incomplete set.

At the time, I did not take any action to finish the set.

Then in late February as I was looking through some old writings, I was reminded of the column about the 30-year quest.

So, determined not to wait another 10 years, I decided that I would make completing the set an early birthday gift to myself.

Back in the latter half of the 20th Century when I was actively collecting baseball cards, I carried around checklists in my wallet for each set I was working on. The checklist was numbered from 1 to 792, or however many cards that particular set had. As I found a card, I would cross it off of the list.

This system was extremely helpful in providing an exact snapshot of the status of every set of cards I was working on at any given time.

Back in 2013 when I first came up with the grand idea to complete the set, I could not find my checklist from 1983. So, I was forced to sit on the living room floor and thumb through the binder with the cards I did have crossing off the corresponding number on the checklist one by one to determine just how many cards I needed.

One would think that realizing how tedious that task was that I would put my 2013 checklist somewhere safe.

This was the thought that ran through my head on a continuous loop as I found myself in 2023 once again sitting on my living room floor creating a checklist for the cards that I needed.

Having lost both the 1983 original, as well as the 2013 version, I once again found myself painstakingly checking off cards one by one in 2023 as I sought to complete the 1983 Topps baseball set.
Photo R. Anderson

With my list of missing cards completed once more, the question now was how to best procure the 125 cards.

Back in 2013, complete 1983 Topps sets were selling for around $50 on eBay. At the time, I decided against buying 792 cards when I only needed 125.

In my mind I thought that it would be way more fun and economical to procure 125 cards on a card by card basis to mimic the old days of thumbing through the cards at Ye Olde Baseball Card Shop.

Of course, in 2013 Ye Olde Baseball Card shops were hard to find. Many of the shops had either closed altogether or consisted of people who used to run baseball card shops selling their stock online.

When I resumed the quest last week, I had the same mindset that it would be cheaper to buy the 125 cards I needed individually compared to buying a whole set.

I also ran into the same problem as I did in 2013 that the days of driving to a strip mall and looking for baseball cards at a baseball card shop have come and gone.

So, it was off to Ye Olde world wide web and the virtual baseball card shop to find those pesky missing cards that had eluded me for four decades.

After spending several hours online carefully selecting the cards from a vendor who was selling singles, I watched as the price soared well past the complete set price.

I was about to give up hope until I saw a listing on another site for a mostly complete set of 1983 Topps baseball cards. By mostly complete, I mean that the set had every card in it except for the five most expensive cards including the rookie cards of Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg.

As luck would have it, I already had those cards from my trips to 7-Eleven back in 1983.

So, I was able to by a mostly complete set of 1983 Topps Baseball cards for far less than a full set price, and way less than the 125 card a la carte price. This approach also allowed me to claim a technicality that I did not buy a complete set to only find 125 cards.

Sure, I bought 667 cards that I already had, but what a bargain compared to paying the per card price for the 125 cards that I did not have.

Best of all, I can finally say that the first set of baseball cards that I ever tried to finish, has now been completed.

Happy early birthday to me indeed.

When the cards arrived in the mail, bringing an end to my quest to complete the 1983 Topps baseball set, I was hit by a range of emotions.

While I was both happy and sad that the quest was completed, the emotion that was most impactful as I stared at a cardboard box filed with cardboard baseball cards was the feeling of being transported back in time to the sunken living room of my parents’ house in Florida.

In 2013, I wrote a column about wanting to complete my 1983 Topps baseball set. The column was inspired in part by being reminded of the set when Ryne Sandberg was named manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2023, I was able to add the 125 missing cards thanks to buying a mostly complete set that did not include Ryne Sandberg’s rookie card and three other rookie cards that I thankfully already had.
Photo R. Anderson

As I placed the finally completed set of 1983 Topps baseball cards on the shelf, I was also reminded that I will be ending another 40-year quest in December when I graduate from the University of Florida.

Two 40-year-old goals completed within nine months of each other. Not too shabby.

Back when I was riding my Diamondback bike to the 7-Eleven to buy baseball cards that I sorted while sitting on the sunken living room floor of my parents’ house while watching the Gators play football on TV, I never would have imagined that I would find myself accomplishing two goals 40-years after they first formed in my head.

Back then, I likely also would have thought that 40-years is a very, very long time.

And while my bike is now a Mongoose instead of a Diamondback, it really does seem that the more things change the more they stay the same.

While I do not think that my recent baseball card purchase will fully reignite the passion I once had for collecting baseball cards, it was nice to revisit younger me for a bit and to be reminded of a simpler time filled with bike rides to the 7-Eleven and Saturday trips to a baseball card shop.

I guess the morale of the story is, one is never too old to accomplish a goal. Also, if you ever find yourself sitting on the living room floor making checklists of baseball card sets, by all means make sure you remember where you put the list in case you need to find it years later.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to decide on what my next 40-year quest will be.

Copyright 2023 R. Anderson

Observations from the cheap seats, the beach seats and everywhere in between