Play ball!

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It’s no accident that “Baseball” is the biggest topic in the wordcloud associated with this blog. Nor is it an accident that the first thing I wrote on this site related to baseball in some. Without baseball, I might not even have a blog in the first place.

Today it’s Opening Day, and what I’ve been looking forward to since last October has finally arrived. And this year, 2016, is the year that the Cubs will finally get to the Promised Land of the World Series. I’m beyond happy about that.

Enjoy the baseball gallery, and more importantly, enjoy the season ahead. Go Cubs!

Something Old, Something New

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It’s been a quiet February on the blog front. The enthusiasm I once had for doing this has ebbed, and I like sleeping at night, too. But I recently had my annual Cubs preview posted on Cardsconclave.com (has it really been five years of doing that? Time flies!) and I had a piece that I reconstructed from a post in this space published on HistoryBuff.com  It looks like the kind of website I’ve been wanting for a long time. May other stories make their way onto that site soon.

There’s a few things I want to say about life, and hopefully I’ll have time for it soon enough. But for now I just wanted to plug my writing a little bit, and remind myself that I still enjoy doing it.

Goodbye Goose

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I still remember so many things that happened twelve years ago tonight. I’ve relived some of them here so many times. But try as I might, I haven’t just let them go. I’ve been like Maverick in the movie Top Gun, wishing things had turned out differently than they did. And the only way to finally get past it is to wind up and let those dog tags go. Here’s the music that plays during the scene, if the audio experience is desired.

So goodbye, memories of a champagne bottle that was never acquired, much less consumed.

Goodbye, Bernie Mac singing “Root, Root, Root for the Champions” during the seventh inning stretch.

Goodbye, Moises Alou jumping up and down like a baby.

Goodbye, Mark Prior melting down at the worst possible moment

Goodbye, shortstop who couldn’t start the double play that would have ended the inning.

and most importantly of all, Goodbye Steve Bartman. I’ve written about you a dozen times and more without ever typing out your name. It was my way of trying to respect you as a person and a fan, and not make things any worse than they must already be. But dredging up that moment over and over again wasn’t helping anybody out, so I won’t do it anymore. May you find peace one day, if you haven’t already.

Great things are ahead for the Cubs in the coming two or three weeks. I predicted this early in the year, before Spring training even got started.  And only through clearing away the past will this celebration be complete. This is my one last time of rubbing the dog tags, and

away…..

they……

go!

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There! I feel better already.

GO CUBS!

Win Win

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It’s a beautiful fall day as I sit down to type out a few words on my smartphone. Blogging gives me a chance to spend a few minutes getting thoughts down, before the moment changes and the feelings are lost. and this is a moment that I want to preserve in some manner.

The arrival of fall brings football season, and my alma mater, the Northwestern Wildcats, are playing well. They’re ranked number 17 in the polls, which is a validation of their play by those people who have accorded themselves the right to judge such things. Where this season will end up is a mystery, but I’m looking forward to tonight’s game against Ball State in a way that I wouldn’t normally do. As the philosopher Pete Rose puts it, the burgers taste better when you win.

The Chicago Cubs, that other great sporting interest of mine, have clinched a wild card spot, and there will be playoff baseball here for the first time in a while. I hope they will finally get to the World Series and win it, but that remains to be seen, as well.

But what’s really great is that these two sports teams that rarely win are doing so at the same time. Rarely do I get to enjoy one team or the other winning on a regular basis, and never have both been successful at the same time. It’s a vortex of success, and I’m not complaining about it one little bit. Well, maybe a younger and more handsome dude than I could be sporting the teams’ gear in the picture above. But I’ll take what’s come along and enjoy it while it lasts.

Time for some baseball memes

SchwarbtemberI’ve made a few memes before, and posted them in this space. I enjoy the opportunity they offer for some creative expression. So it was only a matter of time before I made some for the Cubs, I suppose.

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And there’s still some time to catch the Cardinals in the division race, too. This is Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. I can see some fear in his eyes. for sure.

I love this time of year, for once.

Chicago’s Moonlight Graham

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I wrote this story some time ago, and it was published on the website ChicagoSideSports.com. An archived version of the site exists, but does not include this piece, so I’m adding it here. Happy Memorial Day to all.

Anyone who has seen the movie Field of Dreams knows the story of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. He played just one inning as a major leaguer, never came to bat, and retired from baseball to become a doctor in the small town of Chisholm, Minnesota. It’s all completely true, and writer W.P. Kinsella turned the story of Graham’s brief career into literary gold, and Hollywood followed suit by creating the character that Burt Lancaster so memorably played on the screen. We can all picture Lancaster as he walks off the field and asks “Win one for me one day, will you boys?” But there was a baseball career that eclipsed even Graham’s in terms of nothingness, and it belongs to Chicagoan Alexander Thomson Burr.

Burr was born in Chicago in 1893, and he attended prep school and college on the east coast. He was included on the roster of the New York Yankees at the beginning of the 1914 season. The Yankees were managed by Frank Chance, who had been a part of the famed “Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance” infield that the Cubs had fielded in the prior decade. Chance’s managerial moves in a game on April 21, 1914 left him with no choice but to put Burr into the outfield for the ninth inning. There was one small problem with this maneuver: Burr was actually a pitcher, not an outfielder. Like Moonlight Graham, Burr played a single half-inning in the outfield, where nothing was hit his way. And like Moonlight Graham, Burr never came up to bat, and never again played in another major league game. But unlike Moonlight Graham, Burr played a position that he was not supposed to be at. But better to play out of position than to never make it at all.

Alexander Burr’s life after baseball was also much different from Moonlight Graham’s. Burr initially returned to school, but signed up for the U.S. Air Service when fighting broke out in Europe. The Air Service was created in May of 1918, and the use of airplanes in combat was still a new idea at that time. The dangers of using airplanes came into full view on October 12, 1918 when Burr collided in mid-air with another pilot over a lake at Cazaux, France. Four and a half years after his half-inning in the big league sun, Burr died at the age of 24.

Thanks to all who sacrificed for this country.

There’s baseball in the air

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With less than two weeks left until Opening Night in Chicago, it’s time to start thinking about the return of baseball. There will be new story lines every day, for the next seven months. And winter will disappear at the same time. How can anybody not love that?

Here’s my 2015 Cubs preview on ThroughTheFenceBaseball, and here’s my White Sox preview for the same website. Yes, I worked both sides of Madison Street this year.

And the NCAA tournament will help get us all through the last full weekend before the season starts. I can’t ask for much more than that.

Nobody on the road, Nobody on the beach

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It’s been more than two weeks since I wrote anything to put in this space. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing, though. In fact, I wrote a trio of pieces relating to the recent death of Ernie Banks, and sent them off to websites that are willing to share my thoughts with their readers. I appreciate having places to go with the thoughts that enter into my brain from time to time.

The title for this post is the first line of Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer.” It’s a song I’ve always liked, because it tries to come to grips with changes in life. The summer’s over, but he’s still interested in whatever girl the song was written about. Dogged determination counts for something, doesn’t it?

The summer feels out of reach for me and this blog, too. I used to sit at the computer every night, looking for new ideas to put into this medium that I hope will be around after this Boy of Summer has gone.

The posts will likely still come to me sporadically, and when I have the inclination I’ll put them down here. But it won’t be with the frequency or the intensity that it was even just a few months ago. Life will still go on, as it always has.

A bleachers retrospective

Hearing that the Cubs started tearing down the Wrigley Field bleachers today felt like the end of something for me. From the first time I sat in the bleachers back in 1987, to the last time I did so back in 2005, they were always a place where I felt good. Granted, a fair amount of this was alcohol-induced, but not all of it was. It was the place to be, if you wanted to have the full-on Wrigley experience. And I certainly did that, for the better part of my adult life.

I went there in the 1980s with the college girl who later became my wife. I celebrated opening day there at least a couple of times, and saw both Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson receive their Wrigley sendoffs there. I went there with my brother, and friends of all varieties, and even went by myself on a few occasions. I took my two young daughters the last time I was there, even though it never was a very kid-friendly place. Simply put, it was my home away from home, and the place I wanted to be whenever I had the chance to go. And now it’s gone.

Whatever comes along to take its place, it can’t be what it once was to me. And that’s probably all for the best, since everything changes and evolves over time.

Here are a few pictures of or from the bleachers:

Dad is a Cardinals fan, so of course I had to become a Cubs fan, instead

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Torco

Wrigley Football

Springsteen's Wrigley shows were amazing. Hope he comes back soon

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Thanks for the memories!

Here’s to Baseball and Sand Castles

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My kids don’t know from Peanuts, the comic strip that was a big part of my life as I was growing up. They’ve seen the Charlie Brown holiday specials and can name Snoopy, Woodstock, Lucy and all the others, and that’s something, I suppose. But when I was their age, back in the 1970s and 1980s, each day brought a new strip in the local newspaper. I took it for granted back then but things change, just as they always have.

Newspapers aren’t what they used to be, and new Peanuts strips haven’t been published since early 2000, when Charles Schultz retired and passed away at essentially the same time. And into that void my own children have grown up.I feel like they’ve missed out on something, in a way.

To honor the 64th anniversary of the first Peanuts strip in 1950, I’m presenting some of my favorites, which introduced Franklin on a beach encounter with Charlie Brown in July of 1968. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April of that year led to a suggestion that perhaps an African American character could be introduced to the strip. Like much of America in the year of my birth, the comic strips were segregated, too, which is to say that white cartoonists didn’t draw African American characters. And so far as I know, there were no African American cartoonists at the time.

Schultz initially resisted the idea, saying that he didn’t want to be seen as patronizing. But the proponent of the idea–a school teacher in Los Angeles named Harriet Glickman–persisted, and Schultz eventually added Franklin to the strip.

It may have looked and felt strange for a previously all-white comic strip to introduce a new African American character in the summer of 1968. But by the time I began reading Peanuts in the early to mid-1970s, it seemed–at least to me–that Franklin had been there all along. And we can count that as progress, right? That’s what it seems like to me.

For the love of the game

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There was no better place to be on Father’s day than at a baseball field, watching my little one play. She doesn’t love the game as I do, and that’s OK. Seeing her bat and play the field is enough for me.

It feels as if the intergenerational transfer of the game–which is the only way it can really take root–is now underway. And it’s better than anything she could have bought or made for me.

The everyday game

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Today I got to meet some fans of the game I love. In everyday life, I’m not always very talkative. In truth, I’ll take writing over speaking every time. But when the subject is baseball, that’s a different story. I could talk about baseball all day long.

In the process of talking about the game today, I articulated something that I’ve never thought about too much before. What makes baseball great, in part, is that for six months a year, there are games going on every single day. Football doesn’t have that. Hockey, basketball, and every other team sport makes their fans wait for another game. But not baseball. There’s a game today, there’s a game tomorrow, there’s going to be games on (nearly) every single day until the end of October. And I love that.

Football, in particular, seems to be particularly cruel to its fans. Six days out of every week are devoted to talking about a game, analyzing a game, and doing everything except actually  playing the game. Not so with baseball. Every day is a chance to start over, to do something memorable, or to atone for something from the previous day. And it gets no better than that.

Winter dies on Opening Day

BatThis has been the worst winter I can remember. We’ve had snow, cold, ice, more snow,  more cold, and still even more snow. Some days it felt like it was never going to go away.

Spring officially started a few days ago, but today was the first day that it really felt like spring. And tomorrow is Opening Day.

It’s good to finally be rid of winter, once and for all.

On Springtime, old guys and losing

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Today is the first day of Spring, and of all the years I’ve been on this earth, I’ve never paid attention to the change of seasons as I did today. Winter 2013-2014 has been a terrible burden to bear, and now it’s over. It can, and probably still will, get cold and bring some more snow and ice. Bring it on, I say, because Winter is now done. It’s over. Gone. Hasta la vista, Winter.

On this first day of Spring, I had two baseball-themed pieces published online. The first one appeared on WrigleyvilleNation, and it chronicled the losing ways of the Cubs and the White Sox, going all the way back to 1901. It was published this morning, when Winter was in its final few hours.

The second piece was published at midday, and it appeared just as Spring was showing Winter the door. It’s fitting that a baseball piece ushered in Springtime, at least to me. Hockey is a Winter sport, and so is basketball, and even football to a certain extent. But baseball is anathema to Winter. Baseball and Winter cannot co-exist with each other, and that’s part of the reason why it’s so grand. Hello Baseball, and good-bye Winter. That’s exactly what we need after these past few months.

The Springtime piece appeared on ThroughTheFenceBaseball, and it listed the remaining major leaguers who were born in the 1970s. They’re an ever-shrinking group, and I started something I’m calling That 70s Project to chronicle–in a way I don’t think anyone ever has–the disappearance of this group from the majors. More pieces in this vein will come, but everything has to begin somewhere.

I’m glad that Winter is gone, and Spring has finally arrived. It was a hard winter, that’s for certain.

Baseball on my mind, as usual

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I write about a lot of different things, because inspiration can be found just about anywhere. But the topic that always seems to inspire me the most is baseball. It’s been a part of my life ever since I was a young kid, and it’s something of my muse.

And so it has been over the past few days, where I put together a piece for ChicagoSideSports about baseball and getting older, followed by a piece for FiveWideSports about baseball and soccer, and topped off by a piece for WrigleyvilleNation about a Spring training game that was played in Arizona. That’s three baseball-themed pieces in three days, and the season hasn’t even started, yet.

There will be more to follow in the weeks ahead, I’m sure.

Me and the old dog

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I posted this photo on facebook today, as a TBT (or ThrowBack Thursday) blast from the past. Zoe was the first dog that I ever had, and we were always looking for things to do with the dog in the pre-children days.

Back in the 1990s, the Chicago White Sox had a promotion called “Dog Day” in which a small section of the outfield was set aside for fans who wanted to buy a ticket for their dogs.

The new Comiskey Park never had the gritty, historical charm that the old park did. But a chance to see a ballgame with your dog doesn’t happen very often, so we went. And it was fun, especially when my dog broke ranks during the pregame parade around the warning track.

Almost as if on cue, Zoe went onto the outfield grass and relieved herself. She did what I could only dream of doing. It may have been the proudest I could feel about a dog.

Zoe brought much joy to our lives before she died in 2009. And now we have another dog, named Dooney, and he does the same. But he’ll never get the chance to pee on the field at Comiskey Park, either.

A fond remembrance of a cherished pet. Isn’t that the stuff life is made of?

Still another writing outlet

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Over the past few years, I’ve sent some of my writing into other websites. It’s always a hoot to see something that I wrote turn up somewhere, whether it’s in print or online. For reasons that may never make sense to me, I enjoy helping to create content for places that share my interests.

So in addition to a baseball site (ThroughTheFenceBaseball.com), and a Chicago sports site (ChicagoSideSports.com), and a general sports site (FiveWideSports.com), I’ve recently contributed a couple of pieces to a Chicago Cubs website as well (WrigleyvilleNation.com). And all while adding some new material to this site every day or two. I’ll hopefully never give this site up.

With the baseball season starting up in about a month, I’ll be sure to shake off the offseason doldrums. I love to write, though, so I’m happy to lend a hand whenever the opportunity arises.

March is going to be hard month to get through, I can tell already. But April is waiting at the end of it, at least.

Light at the end of Winter’s tunnel

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This winter has been unlike any that I’ve seen before. The cold seems colder, the snow seems deeper, and the winds seem to whip everything up with more gusto than usual.

A conversation with a baseball-loving colleague earlier this week produced what I’m going to call the Wilker Rule. It’s an inverse relationship between the severity of a winter and our desire for baseball the following spring. In other words, the worse the winter is, the more we want baseball to come back again.

This winter offers a perfect test for this new rule. Knowing that the ballplayers have converged upon Florida and Arizona–in preparation for another season of twists and turns, disappointments and triumphs–makes today’s blowing snow more tolerable, at least in my mind.

Keep bringing the snow and ice, Winter, but your days are numbered now. And baseball will show you the door soon enough.

A teabag wrapper haiku

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I’ve been drinking tea lately, as I wean myself off of a long-term coffee habit. And when I drink tea at work, I undo the tea envelope so as to leave the paper intact. And today, I took the white space and the baseball on my coffee-turned-tea mug as a form of inspiration.

I really enjoy the challenge of writing haiku. The 5/7/5 structure forces decisions to be made. It’s like the 140 character limit on Twitter, but with syllables.

After a bit of tinkering, I had succeeded in filling the space and giving myself some hope for the arrival of Spring. And that’s not such a bad accoutrement to go with a hot mug of tea, either.

The text of the haiku reads as follows:

The snow is melting
Winter could be over soon
Is Spring almost here?

Mad-dog and A-Rod

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The title of this post sounds like a bad after school special, but it’s actually two subjects that I wrote about over the weekend.

The Greg Maddux piece appears on ThroughTheFenceBaseball, while the A-Rod piece is on FiveWideSports.

As the NFL has its playoffs going on, and the other professional team sports are doing their thing in the regular season, baseball consumes my attention, as it always has. And it always will, I would imagine.

All this could be such a dream

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Nothing like quoting from an old Night Ranger song to start a post, is there? I actually like their song “Goodbye” because it has a wistful, reminiscent air about it. Which is just how I feel about Mark Prior and the Chicago Cubs.

It’s now been a decade since he pitched the Cubs to the edge of the World Series, and almost that long since he did anything worth noticing on a baseball diamond. He got hurt, like many athletes do, and his physical gifts couldn’t survive that process. I wish it hadn’t happened like that, but life is full of such disappointments.

But there was always a hope for a Hollywood ending, or another shot at making it in the big leagues again. I really wanted that to happen for him, to show that the past can sometimes be just a prologue. But it seems that it couldn’t, at least not in this case.

Mark Prior recently retired from baseball, and the memories–good ones as well as bad–will now be retired along with him. I wrote a piece for ThroughTheFenceBaseball, putting my thoughts into a little more focus. But the guitar strumming at the beginning of Night Ranger’s song is always going to accompany any thoughts about his career.

It’s sad that what once looked like a great career has reached its end, but all things have to end sometime, and the true end in this case came many years ago. Now that end has to be reckoned with, and it’s on to the next thing. So shall it always be in life.