Saturday, May 31, 2008

Leo's called shot

I was in Des Moines this week for two days of committee meetings for the Iowa Newspaper Association and its Iowa Newspaper Foundation.

Not coincidentally, the meetings occurred during an Iowa Cubs homestand, and on Thursday the Chicago Cubs' Triple-A affiliate hosted the Memphis Redbirds.

I was able to pre-arrange a couple of interviews with the I-Cubs radio announcer
Deene Ehlis on the subject of my Red Faber biography. Faber's last two seasons before entering the major leagues were in Des Moines (1912-13). Ehlis, who visited with me during the second inning and also recorded a pre-game show to be played at a future date, was complimentary about my book. (Yes, he actually read it.)

Leaving the radio booth after the pre-game interview, I bumped into Michael Gartner, journalist and principal owner of the I-Cubs. After some conversation about his team and my book, he asked the location of our group's seats. After inspecting my ticket stub -- box seats down the left field line -- he said, "Let's get you something better." We went to his baseball memorabilia-laden office, where he pulled out four tickets. Handing them to me, he said, "You will be closer to home plate than the pitcher."

He was right. (He later said our seats were 55 feet from the plate, compared to the pitcher's 60½ feet.) Our foursome sat in the first row, just to the left of home plate (facing the field). We were spoiled.

Now, to recap the game. It was close throughout, but Memphis took a 4-2 lead in the seventh. However, in the bottom of the eighth, Jason Dubois, a former Cub prospect now back with the organization after not quite making it in the majors with the Cubs, Indians, Orioles and Nationals, slammed a majestic two-run homer over the skyboxes in left field. Tie game.

Later, as the bottom of the ninth was to start and as rain began to fall, a member of our group, Leo, started calling out to the inning's first batter, Casey McGehee (pictured). "Send us home now, Casey!" Leo hollered, though from where we were sitting he about could have reached over and touched him in the on-deck circle. "Send us home!" Meanwhile, I'm thinking, "Casey, just get on base and let your teammates bring you around." Talk about low expectations.

With Casey at the bat, he proved Leo prophetic. McGehee lined the first pitch out of the ballpark, just inside the left-field foul pole. He sent us home with a 5-4 I-Cubs victory.

Nice call, Leo!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Whitewater Canyon

Son Andy and daughter-in-law Josie paid us a visit, and we spent several hours Saturday hiking the area's newest public area, Whitewater Canyon park, on the borders of Dubuque and Jones counties.

Though we had trouble locating -- make that we couldn't find -- the Natural Land Bridge referenced on the directional sign, we still enjoyed the many other sights. What a treasure, right here in the tri-state area!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Life in the 'hood

Today's ripped-off borrowed photo of my granddaughter comes from her parents' blog.

It seems that Claire figured out that if she wore her top in this manner, it caused hysterical laughter in grown-ups. What could be more fun?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Durrant open house

On my way home from the office, I stopped by an open house in The Durrant Group's new building in Dubuque.

Durrant was showing off its new headquarters in the Port of Dubuque -- new construction using the shell of the former Adams Co. warehouse. My tour was conducted by none other than Kevin Eipperle, managing principal of Durrant here.

The 22,000-square-foot facility, open and bright, features loads of "green," energy-efficient technology. I'm no architect, so I won't try to delve into the details. But it was attractive, interesting and impressive.

A public open house is scheduled for June 11. You might want to check it out.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Speed it up!

For years now, fans have complained that Major League Baseball games flat-out last too long. Those complaints fell upon deaf ears, to the point that three-hour ballgames are common. Last fall, a World Series game going the regulation nine innings stretched past the four-hour mark.

Back in the Deadball Era, the period (1900-19) covered by most of my baseball research, it was typical for major league games to zip by in 90 to 120 minutes. In the early 20th century, when the average major league game exceeded two hours, the Powers That Be expressed concern and endeavored to pick up the pace.

Today, time for extra TV commercials and the numerous pitching changes -- 50 and more years ago, pitchers were expected to finish what they started -- have extended the contests. Not much will be done about that. But all the machinations of the ballplayers -- ie, fixing batting gloves before every single pitch -- and prolonged conferences on the mound are dragging out games.

Finally, MLB appears to be showing some concern. In a statement today, MLB revealed that it had a conference call involving the principals -- umpires, managers, etc. -- to discussing picking up the pace.

Let's hope this works!

Ray receives a mention

With another no-hitter by a Boston Red Sox pitcher, Jason Varitek on Monday entered the record books for catching the most no-nos -- four.

For a long time, the subject of my next book, Ray Schalk (pictured), was considered to have caught four no-hitters (including a perfect game) as well. However, Major League Baseball in 1991 ruled that a no-hitter must be just that -- allowing no hits -- and it must be in a game of at least nine innings. As a result a New York Times article mentions Schalk's "old" mark.

That knocked one no-hitter off Schalk's list. On May 14, 1914, Jim Scott of the Chicago White Sox pitched nine no-hitter innings in Washington. In the 10th, the Nationals (also called the Senators) recorded a lead-off single. Scott gave up another hit in the frame, and wound up losing, 1-0. Less than three weeks later, Schalk caught another no-hitter, and this one counted.

Schalk made it his practice to phone or write to the catcher of every major league no-hitter. He knew that the pitcher got the glory of the achievement (as is his due), but the catcher, calling pitches and positioning defenders, usually played a big part in the event.

Schalk's 'official' no-hitters as a catcher:
May 31, 1914 -- Joe Benz, vs. Cleveland, in Chicago.
April 14, 1917 -- Eddie Cicotte, at. St. Louis Browns.
April 30, 1922 -- Charlie Robertson, at Detroit. (Perfect game)

Monday, May 19, 2008

38 years ago ...

It was on this date 38 years ago -- May 19, 1970 -- that Ray Schalk died.

Schalk, the National Baseball Hall of Fame catcher and subject of my next book, had battled throat cancer for nine months, and he caught pneumonia 10 days before his death in Wesley Memorial Hospital, Chicago.

The former Chicago White Sox catcher and manager was 77 years old.

One of his grandsons last week told me that so many people showed up to pay their respects, the funeral home had to devote all four of its viewing rooms to Ray's wake. The grandson and his sister counted 168 cars in the funeral procession to Evergreen Cemetery in suburban Evergreen Park.

Widely regarded in the first two decades of the 20th century as the game's best catcher, Schalk is not well-known today. It doesn't help that the team for which he labored and showed devotion does not even honor the Hall of Famer with other White Sox greats on its outfield wall. Some on the outfield wall are not even in the Hall. (Red Faber has suffered the same fate.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Triple play!!

A triple play in baseball is rare, and an unassisted triple play is even rarer -- almost as rare as a pitcher throwing a perfect game.

In case you missed the highlight, I borrowed this one from You Tube. It happened Monday night in Cleveland.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Happy anniversary to me

Today marked my 22nd anniversary at the Telegraph Herald.

May 12, 1986, like today, was a Monday. My first day on the job, my boss was absent (illness or family emergency or something), so I just went about getting settled in myself. Today, my boss (not the same person) was absent; that was previously scheduled.

I won't bore anyone with other differences and similarities.

Will I make it 23? Check back in a year.

Friday, May 09, 2008

An extra lap of aggravation

More than 30 years ago, I attended the NCAA track championships. In the 6-mile run (distances weren't contested in metrics then) one of the leaders,on his 23rd lap, made a spirited and exhausting sprint to the finish line -- only to be informed that he had lost count and still had to run one more lap (another quarter-mile) to complete the race.

For some reason, I thought of that incident after being informed by my son this week that we had to complete a FAFSA -- government for Free Application for Federal Student Aid -- in order for him to work his campus internship this summer.

The "we" in the sentence above, by the way, means yours truly.

After several years of wrestling with the FAFSA -- the government's antidote to optimism, the Expected Family Contribution is a downer more powerful than drugs -- I had enjoyed a couple of years of not bothering with the hair-pulling and intrusive form. We weren't seeking need-based assistance, so his university didn't need the form.

Until now.

So, thinking my battle with the FAFSA was over, I had to go back, trying to find old PINs and start anew.

In fairness, the form is easier to complete online these days. (Back in the day, it was still a paper proposition.) In fact, tonight the toughest thing was fighting the system to retrieve the old PIN. (And who remembers, after three years, whether you typed your "Challenge Question" answers in ALL CAPS, lowercase or Combination?

Anyway, the FAFSA is submitted, and with our youngest son entering his senior year in the fall, that means that my FAFSA headaches are over.


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

And I thought I was bad about forgetting the gas cap

More than once, after filling my tank, I have forgotten to secure the gas cap and close the cover.

I might be bad about that. But I'm not the worst!

A friend shared this photo. Apparently it has been making the rounds for some time: If you squint and look to the upper right of the photo, you'll see gasoline prices we haven't enjoyed for some time.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Even if you aren't a Red Sox fan ...

This week I finished THE TEAMMATES, a short masterpiece of non-fiction by David Halberstam.

It's the story of four Boston Red Sox teammates from the 1930s and '40s who remained lifelong friends (from left on the book cover) Bobby Doerr, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and the legendary Ted Williams.

It opens in the fall of 2001, when DiMaggio and Pesky, accompanied by another friend, embark on a long drive (for anyone, let alone octogenarians) to pay a final visit to the dying Williams.

Halberstam uses that trip as the foundation of telling the stories of each of the four, and how their lives became forever intertwined. Of course, the nucleus of the group -- with the negative and positive forces that go with it -- was Williams, who had a dominant personality to go along with his dominance on the playing field.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and author, Halberstam, who died in a traffic accident a year ago, does a masterful job. It's not a long book -- just 224 pages of good-sized type, with a decent number of photos. Reading his accounts of the conversation and banter among the men, I wondered if Halberstam had been along on the road trip. He had not.

Even if you, like me, don't root for the Red Sox, I think that if you like baseball and appreciate good writing, The Teammates is a book you would enjoy.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Cubs' ballpark hurting

My favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, last night thumped the Milwaukee Brewers in Wrigley Field -- the major leagues' second-oldest ballpark.

Most baseball fans know the history of the ballpark:
  • Built in 1914.
  • Original occupant: Chicago Whales of the short-lived Federal League.
  • No night games until 1988 (a half-century after most of the other teams in the majors).
  • Manually-operated scoreboard.
  • Ivy on the walls.

Less publicized are some of the other features of Wrigley:
  • Terrible parking accommodations.
  • Tight quarters, including the walkways and restrooms.
  • Structural deficiencies.
  • Many restricted-view seats due to support beams and low upper deck.
Oh, and no World Series games there since 1945.

The challenges facing the 94-year-old ballpark and its future are the subject of an article by a visiting sportswriter, Bill Glauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

In my opinion, it would be nice -- even desirable -- if Wrigley Field's life is extended and the old ball park preserved. But at what cost?