Monday, July 25, 2011

25 Years of Hall of Fame Weekend

24 years ago today, while attending a weekend-long party in Albany during our college years, my pal Joe asked me if I wanted to head down to Cooperstown for the National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.

When Sunday morning rolled around, the two of us were so hungover that, if it wasn't for Joe's girlfriend at the time—now his wife—a tradition may never have been born.

This past weekend was the 25th such occasion. I missed the event in 2000 to attend a wedding in Kamloops, British Columbia, and we all missed the actual ceremony in 1990—it was rained out and we couldn't skip work the next day to attend the rescheduled ceremony—but otherwise it's been a pretty strong ongoing tradition that brings friends together to celebrate a common obsession for one weekend a year.

KJ and I skipped the induction ceremony this year as well, due to various reasons, not the least important of which is the future arrival of Little Chuck. We did, however, catch the Hall of Famer parade on Saturday evening, and these are the photos that best capture this particular highlight of the weekend.
Ralph Kiner

Al Kaline

Johnny Bench

Gaylord Perry

Phil Niekro

Carlton Fisk

Eddie Murray

Rickey Henderson

Bert Blyleven

Friday, July 22, 2011

Rock a No-Show vs. Rox

Last night was my last chance of the season to see Tim Raines's Newark Bears play at Campanelli Stadium versus the local team, the Brockton Rox. I had fully intended to write a blog post about how I saw Tim Raines in Brockton last night, when I really should be seeing him in Cooperstown this weekend.

Of course, I've written plenty here about how I feel Tim Raines should be a Hall of Famer. In fact, I didn't realize how many times his name has been mentioned in this blog until a search on Raines returned 11 results. One of those was actually about his son, but if you're interested you can read my feelings on Rock's Hall of Fame credentials here.

If you want even more on the subject, check out this excellent web site.

Anyway, I didn't get to see Raines last night, because he wasn't there. In fact, neither was his son, Tim Raines Jr., who is one of Newark's star players. He's currently hitting .321, with 8 HR, 38 RBI, 46 runs and 16 stolen bases in 46 games.

As it turns out, the junior Raines hasn't played since July 16 due to injury. But, according to this article, the elder Raines is out with a bad back. So, I was disappointed not to get to see him, but I was pleasantly surprised that the Bears' acting manager and pitching coach is none other than Yankees' 1996 World Series hero Jim Leyritz.

My good friend—and former drinking buddy—Barb accompanied me to last night's game. At one point, a question she asked prompted me to explain that most of the players in the independent minor leagues have previous experience in affiliated professional baseball and are just trying to work their way back into the system. That is, they're trying to get noticed enough to earn a contract with a major league organization and get their dreams back on track.

My post-game research uncovered a good example of such a player. Jorge Jimenez started the 2011 season with the Brockton Rox, and was the starting third baseman for the team when KJ and I attended our first game back in late May. Jimenez, who had previous experience in the Boston Red Sox farm system, recently had his contract purchased by the Cincinnati Reds and is currently playing for the Bakersfield Blaze in the Class A California League.

She also asked me if I'd seen any "washed-up former major leaguers" at these games. My reply was no, but last night provided a good example of this as well. Former Astro/Dodger/Pirate/National/Brave/Cub Daryle Ward is the first baseman for Newark. Ward, now 36 years old, played 11 years in the majors from 1998 to 2008, and was basically an average-to-slightly-below player.

Of course, this makes him a star in the Can-Am League, and last night provided evidence of this. He got the scoring started for the Bears by hitting a solo homer in the second and an RBI single in the third to give Newark a 2-0 lead.

Then, in the bottom of the 6th, with his team leading 9-2, Chris Valencia was on second for Brockton with no outs. The batter—Mike Torres—smacked a hard grounder that Ward snared on a hop and threw to third, with Valencia attempting to advance, as he's supposed to, on a ball hit to the right side. My initial reaction was, "What the heck is he doing?" (in reference to Ward). But, lo and behold, he threw the runner out. Unorthodox, but unbelievable. Leyritz had to have been shaking his head in the dugout.

Newark won the game, 10-2, snapping an eleven-game home winning streak for Brockton. The loss was also the Rox's first defeat in the second half of the Can-Am League season.

The league plays a split-season schedule, with the first-half and second-half champions (if different) both qualifying for the playoffs, in addition to the two (or three) additional teams with the best overall records. The Qu├ębec Capitales won the first half, while Brockton and the New Jersey Jackals are currently tied for the second half lead at 4-1. The Rox are also third overall, so they're in a good position to qualify for the postseason in Bill Buckner's first season as manager.

Unless Brockton meets Newark in the playoffs, I'll likely have to wait until next season to see Tim Raines at Campanelli Stadium. It remains to be seen how much longer than that I'll have to wait to see him in Cooperstown.

Who Am I? (Hall of Fame Weekend Edition)

I've been doing a weekly "Who Am I?" feature over on Pickin' Splinters since mid-June, and will probably continue to do so through the end of the baseball season. It's pretty self-explanatory: I offer a bunch of facts about a certain player, written in the first person as if by the player himself. It's a pretty fun exercise, and the folks over there are good about not looking up the answer on the internet, as that would be too easy.

Anyway, since this coming weekend will be my 24th (in the past 25 years) trip to Cooperstown for Hall of Fame Weekend, I thought I'd share this week's entry. Also, feel free to head over to Pickin' Splinters on Wednesday mornings if you care to participate. Just don't go there now. It will give away the answer to this one, which honestly isn't very difficult.

I was one of the great ones. That’s right, I have a plaque in Cooperstown.

I’m one of two Hall of Famers who was born in Baltimore. The other guy is a way bigger deal. You know, an icon…one of those guys with multiple nicknames, a larger than life figure who played most of his career in a stadium they supposedly built for him.

I was a pretty special player too. So much so I was signed right out of high school and made my major league debut at the age of 18. The next year I was a full-time starter, and the following season I finished second in MVP voting.

As it turns out, I never won an MVP, but I finished in the top 10 in the voting nine times, including three times in the top three. Every time I finished in the top three, I was beaten out by Yankees. Even when I finished third, the top two vote-getters were those damn pinstripers.

I did earn my share of accolades, though. What do you think about 10 Gold Gloves and 15 All-Star selections? Not too bad, huh? Of course, the ultimate honor was a first-ballot Hall of Fame induction. There aren’t that many people who can say that.

I didn’t make very many postseason appearances, however. You can probably guess why. I played my entire career for one team, and we happened to be in the same league as the Yankees. I did finally make it, though, kind of late in my career. We had a phenomenal season, led by a starting pitcher who accomplished something that hadn’t been done in over 30 years, and hasn’t been matched since.

In the World Series, our ace was twice out-pitched by their ace, a guy who had a pretty historic season himself and who would enter the Hall of Fame the year after me. But, a different pitcher for our team came back on two days rest to out-duel said Hall of Famer in a game-seven matchup that earned him the Series MVP. It was his third complete game victory in the Series, a truly historic performance.

If not for that player, I had an MVP-worthy performance (11-for-29, 6 runs, 2 HR, 8 RBI) myself. But, as usual, I was outshined.

I came pretty close to being the first player to ever collect over 3000 hits and 400 home runs solely in the American League, but Carl Yastrzemski later earned that distinction.

I wasn’t outshined on the day I got into Cooperstown, though. Well, I was inducted alongside another legendary player, but it was his 11th year on the ballot. Like I said, I was voted in on my first try. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Who Am I?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Back to Blogging Basics

The term "blog" was coined in the late '90s as the short form of "weblog," when a particularly clever blogger broke the latter term in the two words "we blog." Back then, the weblog or blog was typically used as an online diary of sorts. Nowadays, bloggers are writing about more diverse subjects than their innermost feelings and/or what has happened to them over the course of a day.

When I started this blog, back in December of 2003, its initial purpose was to be the vehicle to count down my top ten albums of the year. With no clear ongoing purpose, though, I then posted a grand total of 24 times over the next three years, mostly about baseball, but I also revisited the best music of the year concept at the conclusion of 2006.

Then, in 2007, as my 40th birthday approached, the blog became about a 40-part series I wrote discussing the 40 musical artists who had meant the most to me during my lifetime to that point. After that momentum died down, I slacked off for a while, but successfully resurrected the blog the following year to chronicle a pretty serious baseball road trip.

These two projects are what really defined the blog from that point forward, and I can now say I'm approaching the third anniversary of writing on a fairly regular basis in this space. That is, the blog became about my life as seen through the lenses of my major interests, primarily baseball, my mostly non-mainstream taste in music, and my enthusiasm for craft beer.

So, for some time my challenge has been to write about myself—what I'm listening to, concerts I've attended, ballparks I've visited, breweries I've toured, etc.—without making the subject matter too personal. While I don't have a problem sharing some of the more personal details, I've tried to only occasionally do so, but in a veiled way. 

Late last year, I joined a group called the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. Doing so has given me the opportunity to network, and even establish a few new friendships, with some of my many fellow members.

For a while there, from seeing all the great work being done by so many other baseball bloggers, I felt motivated to try and take my baseball writing to the next level, but it hasn't been in the cards. This all happened to coincide with many major life changes that, while all very positive, haven't really allowed me to devote a lot of time to writing.

The latest change is, perhaps, the biggest one of all. Since I just got married last year, I'll let you figure out what I'm talking about.

Anyway, my point is I've resigned myself—and, honestly, I'm quite happy with the decision—to the idea that I'm returning to blogging basics. By this I mean, I'm remaining focused on what the strengths of this blog have always been, and those strengths seem to correlate pretty closely to what the original purpose of a blog was.

So, what I'm really saying is, stayed tuned for more of the same...just maybe a little less of it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ranking the Portland (OR) Brew Pubs

KJ and I just booked our flight for a summer trip to Portland, Oregon. It will be my third trip to the "City of Roses," otherwise known to me as the wife's hometown.

Of course, if you're reading this you know my favorite aspect of Portland is that it's indisputably the #1 beer city in the country. In our two previous trips, I've spent a fair amount of time exploring the local beer scene. Admittedly, though, I've only been able to scratch the surface and, short of moving out there, I'll probably never be able to produce a worthy list of the city's best brew pubs.

Regardless, I thought I'd post a short list of my favorites so far. There are so many more I need to check out. Hopworks Urban Brewery and Lucky Labrador are among those currently on my radar. But, for now, here are my top five:

  1. New Old Lompoc Brewery - On my first visit to Portland, in the summer of 2009, I was pretty much blown away by both their LSD (Lompoc Strong Draft) and C-Note Imperial Pale Ale. The former was my pick for that year's best new (to me) beer, while the latter is named for the fact it's brewed with seven different varieties of hops beginning with the letter C.

  2. Admittedly, not my most
    flattering photo
    Amnesia Brewing Company - Also during that first visit, I was quite impressed with Amnesia's Copacetic IPA and Desolation IPA—as well as a couple others—and by the fact this particular establishment had two IPAs on tap simultaneously. I also loved the atmosphere here. It's an old converted garage with lots of outdoor seating. In fact, I was so enamored with this place that I bought a T-shirt.

  3. Alameda Brewhouse - This past Christmas, on my second trip to Portland, I discovered this spot and it quickly became one of my new favorites. I enjoyed their Papa Noels Olde Ale and Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA, the latter so much that I risked making a mess in my suitcase to bring home a 22-oz. bomber.

  4. BridgePort Brewing Company - When I first met KJ, she considered BridgePort IPA to be the one beer that fondly reminded her of home, so this was one of our first stops my first time out there. Their beers were very good, particularly the ESB and IPA, but they were lacking that one brew that really blew me away. It's a special place nevertheless.

  5. Laurelwood Public House & Brewery - My latest trip included a stop-off at Laurelwood. Their Workhorse IPA and Vinter Varmer were more than solid, earning them the final spot on this short list, although it may be tenous, considering I have every expectation my next trip will result in a couple more great discoveries.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Shannon Stone Memorial Fund

This is something I should have done back when the Bryan Stow incident occurred in Los Angeles, but not believing this blog had enough readership to warrant it, I neglected to do so.

Well, not this time. The Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation has set up a memorial account in honor of Shannon Stone, the fan who lost his life at the Rangers' game last week, a game he was attending with his six-year old son, Cooper.

The link in the paragraph above will take you to the donation form, which is a secure page on Major League Baseball's web site and includes the following verbiage:

All funds donated to this account will directly benefit the Stone family. The Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation will not benefit in any way.

And, since I brought up the subject, Stow's condition was upgraded from critical to serious last month, providing a glimmer of hope to an otherwise dire situation. The Bryan Stow fund can still be found on the web site of the San Francisco Police Credit Union.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Frequent Spins (2011.4)

Steve Earle - I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive
I had almost given up on Steve Earle, an artist who appeared in my yearly top ten in four of the first five years I produced such lists, but has failed to even grace my more expansive lists since. Well, the critics might not be completely in agreement with me on this one, but in my opinion, his latest is his best album since 2000's Transcendental Blues.

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
I'm going to go out on a limb here and tell you how much this album reminds me of the folkier side of Yes. In fact, I'm going to suggest that Yes is, in fact, a folk-prog band rather than a prog-rock band. Seriously, think about this as you listen again to "And You and I," "Starship Trooper" and "I've Seen All Good People," and tell me I'm crazy. The best example of this comparison is the title track to this album of wonderous stories. It's absolutely my favorite song of the year so far. Of course, Fleet Foxes show up closer to the folk end of the folk-prog spectrum than Yes did, so to complete the "name three artists they remind you of" game, I'll add Simon & Garfunkel and My Morning Jacket. Speaking of whom...

My Morning Jacket - Circuital
...I was turned onto My Morning Jacket, circa 2002, when I read in the Metacritic user forums a description that they were like a cross between Neil Young and the Flaming Lips. I'm not really sure if that comparison holds true, but I was an instant fan after making myself a mix of mp3s that I downloaded from their web site. 2001's At Dawn and 1999's The Tennessee Fire were my first purchases, and they were great, but there was a drop-off after that, which happened to coincide with their signing to a major label. I'm not saying that's always a problem, nor am I saying they were no longer any good after that. But, what I am saying is this just may be their best album since their big breakthrough.

Okkervil River - I Am Very Far
I'm sure I've said several times before that this band will probably never make an album quite as good as the one that drew me in initially, Black Sheep Boy. This one, in my opinion, comes the closest of all their subsequent efforts, although it's still very far away.

Neil Young & The International Harvesters - A Treasure
Back in the mid-'80s, Neil Young released Old Ways, a pretty unremarkable—and that's being generous—country album. This live recording from the same time period captures the true energy that Neil was capable of putting into country music, something that was seriously lacking on that studio effort.