Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I resolve to be a better Mets fan in 2010

Tonight the ball drops – both in New York and here in Grand Rapids – marking the end of a year that I’m really not all that sad to see go.

A new year marks a new opportunity to take stock in what we as Mets fans think, do and go about our business.

We Mets fans survived 2009, and it was rough. We can get 2010 off to a great start by changing some of our behaviors to cleanse away the stench of the last decade and embrace this shiny new one.

It’s a tradition to use this day to make resolutions. Here are my ten resolutions for 2010 Mets fans. Please hold me accountable.

1) I resolve to not freak out every time another team signs another team signs a player the Mets didn’t particularly want, and think that the other team’s general manager is smarter or better than Omar.

OK, the Giants signed Mark DeRosa. He’s kind of old and hurt, and there really wasn’t a position for him on the Mets. So we really shouldn’t get all worked up worrying that Omar missed out on a guy we shouldn’t be chasing in the first place.

2) I resolve not to get all worried when a free agent the Mets are after has not been signed by a deadline set by New York Daily News sports columnists.

Opening Day is in April. It’s a good idea to have Jason Bay and people like him in uniform by that date, and maybe even a little earlier. But just because the News shows a back page photo of a crying child in a Mets cap in December does not mean that Bay will never sign, or that the season that starts four months from now already is a lost cause.

3) I resolve to not whine and get upset every time Bob Klapisch writes a column taking cheap shots at the Mets.

As reporters, we are always amazed when people purchase pit bulls, make them pets, give them names like “Diablo,” and then are shocked when the pit bull eats the neighbor children.

Pit bulls eat children. It’s in their nature. It’s what they do. They don’t stop being pit bulls because you make them a pet.

Bob Klapisch is a known Mets hater. He will not change. He cannot change. I must stop reading his columns and being shocked when he does what he does.

4) I resolve to not complain about the lack of Mets history and colors on display at the Mets' ballpark.

I’m pretty sure the Mets are the ones playing at Citi Field. It’s not that hard to figure out, especially when I see Oliver Perez is on the mound and he’s given up five walks by the third inning.

So I don’t need blue and orange trim in the mens room to remind me I’m in the right ballpark or posters of Tom Seaver to remind he played for the Mets, because I have a lot of those in the basement baseball room. I don’t have a live-sized Tom Seaver statue in the basement, however. Hint, hint.

5) I resolve to not complain when Derek Jeter gets undeserved praise for doing things people on my coed softball team are able to do -- without much fanfare.

Well, who are we kidding.

6) I resolve only to complain about things Derek Jeter actually does or says, as opposed to super-powers assigned to him.

That’s a little more realistic.

7) I resolve not to get drawn into nasty arguments with Phillies fans.

Hey, they’re a rough, disagreeable lot. Make no mistake. They like to fight and wear mean-spirited t-shirts.

We need to show Phillies fans compassion. It must be difficult to root for the most losing team in the history of professional sports. Let them yell and boast about their three division titles.

But we must not engage them, unless they say bad things about David Wright or question Jose Reyes’ health or make implications about Daniel Murphy’s fielding or take issue with K-Rod’s save celebrations or make snide remarks about the orange button on our caps or the drop shadows on the jerseys or suggest that Johan Santana is not the best pitcher in baseball or call attention to Carlos Beltran’s big mole.

If any of those things happen, the gloves are off, understandably so.

8) I resolve not to panic when a Mets player goes on the disabled list.

OK, when they ALL go on the disabled list, it’s a cause for concern. But 2009 can’t really happen again, can it?

9) I resolve not to hate Curtis Granderson now that he’s a Yankee.

Curtis is still a really nice guy who cares for the community. Now he’s just a nice, caring guy in a really ugly uniform with overrated teammates and fawning columnists.

10) Speaking of uniforms, I resolve not to get suckered in and buy the ugly new batting practice cap just because Major League Baseball decides it can get fans to buy more caps by changing the design every two years.

I am SO sticking with this one. Unless there’s a good sale on or if I somehow get the new jersey and need to cap to match. But I standing firm and I mean it.

There! I shouldn't have too much trouble sticking with those simple resolutions.

May your 2010 be filled with happiness and health, filled with a summer of celebrations!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A nephew's discovery ends a Mets memorabilia hunt that started years before he was born

My nephew Zach gave me the coolest thing for Christmas – a complete set of 1994 pre-paid phone cards saluting the 1969 Mets.

You have to realize that I like quirky, oddball Mets collectibles. Back when there were big card shows, I’d look for a dealer – I think his store was called something like “Wizards of Odd” – who carried all kinds of off-the-beaten path collectibles.

There were baseball cards on every table, but this was the place to go to see the Tom Seaver lunch bags and super balls.

I love the items that were available only one or two years, then replaced by another product attempting to be the next Starting Lineup figures or other in-demand collectible.

They can instantly bring me back to a specific point in time, and fun because they usually were limited – and soon forgotten by all but folks like me.

Phone cards fall right into that category. Baseball cards were hot, hot, hot, and only so many companies had the license to produce them.

This led to a whole industry of unauthorized cards, which usually inspired Will and I to stand in front of a dealer’s table and openly mock his illegal merchandise. The “Cardboard Crusaders” had little patience for such nonsense and were not shy, given the moral authority offered by our weekly column in the Flint Journal.

But there were other ambitious businesses that searched for new ways to sell items that were kind of like baseball cards, but not really.

Pre-paid phone cards appeared in the mid-1990s. They were plastic cards with photos on the front. But instead of statistics on the back, there were instructions to call certain phone numbers, enter a PIN that was concealed under a scratch-off section, and call a number of your choice for a pre-determined amount of time.

This particular set commemorated the 25th anniversary of the 1969 Mets championship team, using paintings by Ron Lewis, which appeared on postcards and other items tied to the anniversary.

They were licensed by The Miracle of 1969 Enterprises, a group formed by the 29 surviving players and the widows of Gil Hodges and Rube Walker to market the anniversary.

According to a 1993 New York Times article, Art Shamsky organized the group with a goal of each earning a profit of $18,000 – the share each earned by beating the Orioles in the World Series.

Some of the proceeds also were targeted for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the whole enterprise was blessed by the Mets and Major League Baseball.

I have no idea how much they ended up making, but I remember seeing the logo on all kinds of products.

What I like about the 32-card phone card set is that it includes everyone on the team, including Hodges and coaches Walker, Yogi Berra, Joe Pignatano and Eddie Yost.

It’s not to difficult to find items commemorating Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan, or even stars like Jerry Koosman. But you don’t often see something saluting Bobby Pfeil and Jack DiLauro.

There’s also a card with the anniversary logo and a special album to keep them all together.

I’d guess these were pretty easy to find back in the New York area, but I was out in Michigan for the anniversary. I’ve stumbled across individual cards at some of the big shows, but never the whole set.

Not that Zach realizes any of that. But he knows Uncle Dave likes the Mets and has a whole room dedicated to Mets stuff. He discovered the set at a coin shop at his home near Peoria, and was excited to add something really cool to his uncle’s Baseball Room – ending a search that started eight years before he was born. Good stuff.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

OK, raise your hand if you're ready to turn the page on this year. One, two.. OK, everybody.

But Christmas is a time to forget all that, remember all the many ways that the Lord blesses us and look forward to the promise of the future that started with the events in the manger.

God bless us everyone! And a very merrry Christmas to you and your families.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Baseball Place No. 77: St. Louis Walk of Fame; No. 77A: Busch Stadium walkway

One of the reasons St. Louis is such a nice city is that downtown is very “walkable.”

I was in town in 2008 for a conference, and got up early each morning just so I could take long walks to see the dawn light reflecting off the glorious Arch and the ballpark, then later to Union Station.

Josh Pahigian takes us to the city’s Loop neighborhood for place No. 77 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out” for the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

It’s another place with questionable baseball ties, since only 11 of the 116 people honored have ties to the game.

The list includes people you’d expect, people who either played for the Cardinals like Bob Gibson and Lou Brock or are from the city, like former Mets Manager Yogi Berra.

I found a more baseball-related walk of fame on one of my morning strolls. That would be:

Baseball Place No. 77A: Sidewalk around Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals, it should be noted, tend to do things properly. They don’t just have a fan walk, where fans can purchase beloved bricks with their names. The Cards use those bricks to surround stones that tell stories about great players and events.

I couldn’t help but get sucked in, reading the stones and learning things with each step.

Two Mets, one stone: Fernando Tatis gets some love for his two grannies off Chan Ho Park.
This one has some accuracy issues in the headline. Carlton baffled most of the Mets that night, but not Ron Swoboda, who hit two home runs, leading Carlton with 19 Ks but one L for the night. Just shows you how magical those 1969 Mets were in September.
The new Busch overlaps with the previous stadium, and the walkway shows some of the landmarks, such as where the outfield wall.
Walking around the front of the stadium and you see statues of great Cardinals and Cool Papa Bell that used to be at the previous Busch. It seems a little odd that they're small, but that makes them pretty accessible, too. They're easy to see and photograph.
The greatest Cardinal of them all, Stan Musial, always had the largest statue at Busch. Now he gets his own plaza on the walkway.

The mighty Mississippi is just a couple blocks from the ballpark, and this shoot of the moon and the Arch is my favorite from the morning walks.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Baseball place No. 76: National College Baseball Hall of Fame; 76A: Museum of the Gulf Coast and the short Mets career of Chuck McElroy

Chuck McElroy’s Met career didn’t amount to too much. But at least he can say he was traded for Jesse Orosco. Not that Jesse…well, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

The point is that McElroy’s Mets career was sadly overlooked in the display of his career at the Museum of the Gulf Coast that I saw in October in Port Arthur, Texas.

Josh Pahigian takes us to a different Texas museum, the National College Baseball Hall of Fame, as place No. 76 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

Actually, the museum I went to might be bigger. The college baseball hall is an exhibit in a library at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, though Josh reports there are plans to expand into a separate building.

Lubbock is a long way from Beaumont, where I spent a week helping my mother-in-law and her sister. After dropping them off at an appointment, I was happily sent to explore the area’s many museums.

The Museum of the Gulf Coast looked pretty interesting, and Port Arthur was close enough for me to get there, make a quick tour and get back in time.

I passed what I can only assume to be the world’s largest oil refinery before arriving at a costal town that looked like it had been absolutely devastated by Hurricane Rita. In fact, the museum was one of the only buildings that appeared to be standing and open in what was a downtown area.

I got the impression that the museum doesn’t get too many visitors, largely because the person collecting admission told me far, far more than I ever wanted to know. Port Arthur in a nutshell: Indians, oil and Janis Joplin.
This is a replica of Janis Joplin's car. The original is at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I made quick work of the Indians and the oil and proceeded straight to the famous people of Port Arthur section, which was pretty big considered the town didn’t seem all that big.

The music section had a large display for Joplin – even selling bricks from her original home in the gift shop for $25 – and the Big Bopper, who died in the plane crash with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.

Then I moved into the sports section. Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson gets big treatment. Former Jets DB Gus “Hound Dog” Hollomon gets to show off one of his helmets and a jersey that looks kind of like a onesy.

Then I found the baseball players. Actually, Rangers owner Tom “I over paid for a juiced ARod” Hicks gets a bust and jerseys from the Rangers and Dallas Stars.

Then I saw Angels pitcher Ben Weber’s jersey and even Xavier Hernandez’s rainbow-sleeved Astros jersey – excellent – and Yankees cap – ick. I averted my eyes when I saw that, like I did when I saw the section about the Indians being cannibals.

But sharing the display was some of McElroy’s gear, including one of his Phillies’ jerseys.

Alas, nothing with the proud orange and blue Chuck wore for 15 games in 1999.

McElroy came over in the trade with the Rockies with Darryl Hamilton for Rigo Beltran, Brian McRae and minor-leaguer Thomas Johnson.

Hamilton was a great pick-up. McElroy pitched 13.1 innings, giving up 12 hits and 8 walks, with 5 runs for a 3.38 ERA. He didn’t have any wins or saves, but no losses, either.

About the best thing you can say about his tenure is that he was traded for Jesse Orosco. Sadly, it wasn’t the young, strapping Orosco who came from the Twins and went on to pile up 107 saves, third-most in the Mets history.

Instead, it was a 43-year-old Jesse, coming over from the Orioles. Orosco never made to a second tour with the Mets, though, traded in mid-spring training for Super Joe McEwing – who was a pretty good pickup for the Mets of 2000.

That’s stuff the fine residents of Port Arthur deserved to know.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Baseball place No. 75: Distant Replays; and No. 75A: Gerry Cosby's and the first real jersey

Back in the day, you couldn’t go buy a baseball jersey at any strip mall or place an order for any team at

It took a special store to have such things.

Josh Pahagian takes us to a jersey store, Distant Replays in Atlanta, as place No. 75 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

Sounds like a neat place, full of retro shirts, caps and jerseys. They have a nice Web site, too. But I’ve never been to the store.

But it reminded me of another store that, when I was younger, almost seemed as good as a trip to Cooperstown.

Alternative Place No. 75A: Gerry Cosby’s in Westbury, N.Y.

I love baseball jerseys about as much as the game itself. I’ve always paid close attention to what players were wearing, taking notice of every slight change and patch. The uniforms worn on the fronts of baseball cards were studied just as closely as the statistics on the back.

Growing up in the 1970s, there weren’t many places where kids could obtain something that looked like a real baseball jersey. Obtaining the real thing was beyond comprehension, of course.

And I had my assortment of Mets t-shirts, sometimes with SEAVER 41 emblazoned with iron-on letters across the back.

Then I heard that polyester versions of the jerseys in kids’ sizes were for sale. Naturally, I became somewhat obsessed with this, and my parents knew about Cosby’s.

I remember the first time we went to the store, which seemed to be filled mostly with hockey equipment. But there was a section of shelves filled with replica jerseys.

And the best part was that the store didn’t just have the Mets, which were the obvious and automatic first purchase. But there seemed to be all the teams. This was a slice of baseball heaven, right there in Westbury.

I remember making the clerk pull down shirt after shirt, building a pile of polyester on the glass-topped counter for me to touch and ponder.

And in that glass were the real deal, actual authentic jerseys. I was amazed that a person could buy such a thing.

Needless to say, my birthday and Christmas want lists for the next years were to be filled right there at Cosby’s.

Before long, I had acquired the Dodgers and Padres, Expos and Phillies, Giants and, best of all, a rainbow-striped Astros replica.

Kids in school didn’t get it. I remember one classmate looking at me in total disbelief and disgust, saying, “Why are you wearing an Astros jersey?”

The answer, of course, is that if you can come into possession of an Astros rainbow jersey, you wear it proudly. Duh.

In 1984 I received what might still be considered the best Christmas gift ever. Naturally, it came from Cosby’s.

I remember exactly where I was sitting in my parents’ den when I opened the box containing a real, live Mets home jersey, the pull-over with the racing stripes.

It was magical. And it was almost incomprehensible that I could own the very same jersey the Mets wear on the field.
We added the anniversary patch in 1986.

Naturally, this jersey was constantly and considered suitable attire or any occasion – including proposing to my wife. True!

I’ve collected many other major and minor league jerseys since, both authentic and game-worn. There was a time when they were semi-affordable, especially if I could find a good sale. Those days have passed.

And we went back to Cosby’s for several years because they could customize jerseys with the proper letters and numbers. Let’s just say there must have been much celebrating at Cosby’s when the Mets obtained Eddie Murray.

The first and most-special jersey no longer fits, but I was proud to pass it down to my son, who wore it to his first home Mets game when we went to Citi Field last year. It’s treats it with the respect a family heirloom deserves.

I believe the Cosby’s in Westbury is long gone, and I recently learned that the Madison Square Garden store has moved. The company’s Web site indicates it still sells all sorts of equipment.

I can’t tell if it still sells jerseys, but I hope so.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Place No. 74: Bob Feller Museum; and Place No. 74A: Bob Feller statue and the amazing man himself

The only way you could learn more about Bob Feller than visiting the Bob Feller Museum is to spend a couple minutes with “Rapid Robert” himself.

I’m convinced about that after having the pleasure of meeting Feller a couple times.

Josh Pahigian takes us to Feller’s hometown of Van Meter, Iowa and the Feller Museum as place No. 74 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

I’ve never been there, so I’ll substitute:

Place No. 74A: Bob Feller statue at Progressive Field, Cleveland

It’s a huge statue just outside the rightfield gate at the Indians’ home, a fine meeting spot before or after a game, as you can tell from Will and I hanging out here in the mid-1990s.

If you’re an autograph collector and you don’t have Feller’s signature, that’s on you and not Feller. He is among the nicest and most prolific signers in the game.

My experiences with Feller were a few years prior to the new stadium and that statue. I was living in Connecticut and working in the Bridgeport Post’s Valley Bureau. Feller had relatives in nearby Waterbury.

Each summer he’d visit, and would be sure to line up a handful of appearances in the area. I’m sure he made a few bucks – and not many, based on the low-for-the-time rates he was charging. But I think Feller just liked meeting fans and talking baseball.

I was a little nervous the first time I met him at a card shop in Seymour, Conn. in 1987. I brought a ball for him to sign, and there were only a handful of other people in the small store.

With little prompting, Feller starting telling me about his amazing Hall of Fame career. After asking my name, he wrote on an 8.5 by 11 sheet with his photo on the front, and flipped it over to show me where it listed all his career achievements.

I heard about the 266 wins and three no-hitters, and how he could have had more of each had he not enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor, spending 44 months serving his country and earning eight battle stars.

He pointed out the line reading “The only pitcher in Major League history to win 20 games or more games before age 21,” then crossed out “only” and replaced it with “first,” since Dwight Gooden had matched the feat.

While proud of all he had done, Feller was humble, too. I handed the Hall of Famer a new ball to sign, and he chose the spot above the Rawlings logo, instead of the sweet spot, where only, managers and the best players sign. I met Johnny Mize a short while later, and he had no qualms writing his name in that spot on that ball.

I met him again the next year at a New Britain Red Sox game, sitting at a table near the concession stands, signing photos and telling stories. He signed everything for everyone and then walked around the stands talking, signing and shaking hands.

He come off a little crusty in interviews these days, not having a lot of love for modern players who don’t approach the game the same way. Don’t expect Feller to ever welcome Pete Rose, Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire into the fraternity with open arms.

But he’s also still throwing in Old-timers Games, too, and he's in his 90s. I think Feller views himself not just as a standard bearer for old school hardball, but as an ambassador for the game. And to that end, few are better than the “Heater from Van Meter.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Counting our many blessings -- and the turkeys, too

I just finished preparing the mashed sweet potatoes and the steps that will lead to my turkey’s stuffing, events that can only signify that my favorite holiday is approaching.

I love Thanksgiving because I have so much to be thankful for, and I appreciate them all. I’m blessed, and I realize it.

So let’s launch into the annual list of all that is good – and the accounting of the turkeys who try to spoil all the fun.

I’m thankful that I have a job that I love. One and a half, actually. I don’t take this lightly, because Michigan is hurting bad. It’s been a rough year in my state and in my profession. We’re hanging on, and don’t think there isn’t a day when I don’t thank the Lord for this blessing. And I’m glad that I can continue my adjunct teaching job in the spring semester. Working with such wonderful students tells me there are still talented young people who are dedicated to journalism and have hope for the future.

Turkey! Hallmark. People mocked in the past when I bemoaned the Hallmark Christmas Ornament Curse. But I was distraught when I learned that Johan Santana was this year’s decoration. Of course, he had season-ending surgery just after the ornament was released. And he took most of the team with him, leaving us with an especially dreary season.

I’m thankful that I was able to see our beloved Mets three times this season, twice in the spring and on Aug. 5 in our Citi Field debut. And amazingly – considering my past -- the Mets won all three. The 9-0 destruction of the Cardinals in August was viewed from spectacular seats provided by my parents – awesome – and was marred only by Jon Neise being carried off the field to join the DL party. But my son was able to see his first Mets game in New York, and I got all weepy seeing my glorious FanWalk brick, provided by Cousin Tim, who was there to join the celebration. And we all caught up with blogging buddy Greg Prince at the game, too. It was a very, very good day.

Turkeys! The ESPN Sunday Night Baseball crew of Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. Look, I like Miller, one of the best voices in the game. But Morgan is killing me, and he’s an anchor around Miller. When Morgan is not reminding us that he “played the game,” he’s praising Derek F. Jeter. Jeter doesn’t even have to be playing at the time. But it’s darn near embarrassing when he is. How many times have you heard this scenario: A weak, routine five-bouncer to short, which Jeter gets only because it’s hit right at him, then promptly throws to first base, bouncing twice along the way. “Look at Jeter get to that ball,” Morgan will exclaim. “He makes that play look easy. Derek just brings that something special every time he steps on the field. He makes everyone around him better. I know how players do that, because I played the game.” Gag.

I’m thankful for my iPhone, which is very close to surpassing my iPod as the greatest device ever. It is life-altering. The apps are incredible for both work and home. I’m especially thankful for the “Lose it” app. All I’m saying is that I installed it on July 7 and now I’m 50 pounds lighter. Really. And there’s the app that tracks how far and fast I can run, with the pause button so I can flick over to the maps app so I can get unlost while running in Texas and find my way back to Aunt Darlene’s house. Yes, this happened.

I’m thankful for lax security in the Astrodome and tour guides who don’t mind giving individual tours of Minute Maid Park. That trip to Texas offered all kinds of adventures.

I’m thankful that the Baseball Hall of Fame is taking the task of adding executives and pioneers more seriously by adding a keen and brilliant mind to the selection committee. That would be Tom Seaver, who is being lured from the vineyards next week to make sure these knuckleheads don’t mess things up again.

Turkeys! Sadly, the Hall still managed to goof things up. The committee to consider managers and umpires includes Tom Verducci, the infamous Yankee hack who actually declared that cyborg/reliever Mariano Rivera should start the 2008 All-Star Game so applause could fall on him like soft rain. I almost gagged on the turkey just typing that again. But seriously, this is a bad idea. Is there any doubt that “The Duce” will start the meeting by protesting that there are non-Yankees on the ballot? Do we not believe that Verducci will, with a straight face, make a case that Billy Martin should have a spot in Cooperstown, then try to slip in Ralph Houk and Joe Girardi and goodness knows how many once and future Yankee managers into the Hall? Then he'll move along to Yankee coaches and bullpen catchers and the grounds crew and Derek F. Jeter's parents for their role in making the world a better place. I, for one, hope that they don’t put Verducci in charge of counting the ballots.

I’m thankful that the Mets are not totally screwing up the new uniforms all the way. We love the team. You know that. But sometimes it makes questionable decisions when it comes to tinkering with the astonishingly great uniforms the Mets were blessed with. This week the team announced it would feature cream-colored pinstripes intended to honor the 1969 champs. I’m down with that, even though the typical Mets pinstripes are the best uniforms in baseball. But for reasons I can not figure out, they are leaving the black drop shadow on there. Help me figure this out. If you are going to recreate a uniform from 1969, why exactly are you keeping the feature from the past decade? We know the Mets. The team makes progress in increments. That’s why we’re getting a Mets Hall of Fame a year after the ballpark opens. As long as we’re headed in the right direction, it’s all good.

I'm thankful that I was allowed to coach the greatest church coed softball team ever. One a communication-forced forfeit prevented us from smashing through the playoffs. We settled for the consolation championship -- excellent -- and lots of wonderful fellowship. And now I can start planning and plotting for next year.

I'm thankful that I was able to hear Audio Adrenaline's Mark Stuart and Will McGinnis one more time. One of my favorite bands, Audio A called it quits a couple years ago when Stuart started losing his voice. Now he and Will tour as Audio Unplugged, and share their stories as they play a few songs, which is easier on Mark's voice. I had the chance to meet them after a recent concert, and share how much their music inspired me, especially when I was looking for ways to connect with the middle school youth groups. They probably hear that kind of thing all the time, but maybe not. I didn't want the opportunity to say "thank you" slip by.

I hope this holiday finds you happy and healthy and in appreciation of the blessings the Lord has given us. Even in the toughest of years on and off the field, may we never forget what is special about our lives, and the people we get to share them with.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Place No. 73: Baseball Reliquary; and Alternative Place No. 73A: South Shore Sports Legends and a Mets tragedy

I confess I had to look up “reliquary,” which the American Heritage Dictionary defines as “a receptacle, such as a coffer or shrine, for keeping or displaying sacred relics.”

We need to know this because Josh Pahigian takes us back to Los Angeles for The Baseball Reliquary or place No. 73 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

Spread over several locations, the reliquary’s mission is to display objects “that more conservative, timid, or uninformed baseball museums have failed to bring to the public’s attention.”

According to Josh, the collection seems to run toward the scandalous, with items like thong panties worn by Wade Boggs’ mistress, a half-smoked cigar Babe Ruth allegedly left behind at a brothel and a signed record from “Disco Demolition Night.”

You can learn more about it here.

“Whereas the sine qua non of most baseball museums are bats, balls, and gloves, the Baseball Reliquary has pursued a more visionary acquisitions policy, which has resulted in many extraordinary discoveries,” reads the organization’s Web site.

“While each artifact is approached with meticulous scholarship and veracity, the ability of an object to invoke a sense of wonderment in, and to inspire the imagination of, the viewer is of supreme importance. The Baseball Reliquary's collections chart an eclectic terrain, and it is the purpose of this guide to introduce the public to the scope of materials that have been procured.”

Considering I once picked up some of Mike Schmidt’s lawn clippings, I suppose I can’t be hard on these guys.

I do like quirky little museums, so that takes us to:

Alternative Place No. 73A: South Shore Sports Legends display at the Indiana Welcome Center

You never know what you’ll find when you pull off the highway.

I had a mission while traveling back from Texas last month, trying to find postcards, key chains and a snow globe from each state I drove through, presents for my nephews.

Indiana was destined to be a challenge, since I’m only in it for the stretch from Chicago to Michigan City, and most places along that stretch offer souvenirs featuring the Windy City. Guess there’s not a huge demand for Gary snow globes.

But there is an elaborate welcome center in Hammond, partly shaped like a barn with a large exhibit space and a museum about John Dillinger, including his “death trousers.”

I have no interest in learning anything about bank robbers. They’re evil, like Yankees, but not as arrogant. And I was mildly offended to see photos of his corpse for sale in the gift shop near items from “A Christmas Story.” Ick.

And the key chain-postcard-snow globe selection was rather poor, too.
But I did wander over to a temporary exhibit called South Shore Sports Legends, saluting athletes from Northwest Indiana. There wasn’t much to it, other than a series of banners for each inductee and a small display case.

Among the 2009 inductees, I saw a baseball player in a Mets uniform, a blue batting practice jersey with the tail under the team name -- the short-lived style from the mid-90s – and pants with the racing stripes from the 1980s and early 1990s.

I had only a faint recollection of Tim Bishop, and was sad to read at the bottom of the banner that he passed away April 18, 1997.

It said he was one of only two players ever selected for state all-star teams in three sports, was selected by the Mets in the 1994 amateur draft, batted .325 for Kingsport in 1996 and that he played for Columbia.

A quick Google search revealed the rest of the story, and it’s pretty sad. In a New York Times story from June 1997, Buster Olney reported that Bishop and a Bombers teammate were driving home after a game was postponed.

A tire blew out and the car spun around into a highway passing lane. The players got out, but Bishop went back to turn on the hazard lights. As he was doing that, the car was struck by another car, throwing Bishop over the median and into the path of another vehicle. He was just 20.

Olney reported the Mets two months later asked for resignations from Bombers manager Doug Mansolino, pitching coach Dave Jorn and coach Tim Leiper.

Olney reports that a “high-ranking official in the Mets' front office,” told him the three men did not appropriately address whether players had been drinking on the team bus before the crash.

Frank Thomas, from the original Mets team, also is in the Sports Legends hall, along with baseball players from lesser teams, like Ron Kittle, Don Larsen, Kenny Lofton.

Sadly, the display was taken down this month and is looking for a permanent home. That’s a shame, because it will make it more difficult for fans to learn about player like Bishop. And I'd rather learn about people like him and Frank Thomas as I stretch my legs and buy a post card than some outlaw.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Place No. 72, Pink's Hot Dogs. Seriously. And, 72A, Nathan's Famous

Is the World Series over yet? I’ve been hibernating, attempting to avoid exposure to the whole sordid affair.

I did emerge and see a photo of ARod dressed in his Halloween costume. I’m assuming he was dressed as Rocky Balboa. Seriously, that had to be a costume, right?

"Yo, Adrian! Trick or treat!"

Speaking of people trying to pull our legs, Josh Pahigian tries to salute ballpark hot dogs by taking us to Los Angeles and someplace called “Pink’s” for place no. 72 in his “101 Baseball Places to See Before You Strike Out.”

Based on this entry, the book should be renamed “100 Baseball Places and one Hollywood Eatery That Has Nothing to Do With Baseball.”

Seriously, even Josh points out that the place has a Hollywood motif, and that you have to look hard to find a baseball connection.

The fact that Josh looked to Los Angeles for hot dogs is an outrage and makes be uneasy about places Nos. 73 through 101.

I shall come to his rescue.

Alternative place No. 72A) Nathan’s Famous, Coney Island.

Nathan’s, of course, is the kind of hot dog served at Citi Field and formerly at Shea. So it only makes sense that we had to return to the epicenter of all things Nathan’s to pay proper tribute when we returned to the homeland this past summer.

Hot dogs have been a ballpark staple since Harry M. Stevens began serving them at the Polo Grounds in the early 1900s.

Tim and Andrew liked thier dogs.

History tells us that Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker, in 1916 opened his small stand at Coney Island, serving the dogs and crinkle-cut fries are served with a little fork.

The company's Web site claims President Franklin Delano Roosevelt served Nathan's Famous hot dogs to the King and Queen of England in 1939, and had the dogs shipped to Yalta when he met with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.

Dad, Tim, Andrew and I headed to Coney Island after seeing the Mets beat the Cardinals 9-0 in our Citi Field debut.

After braving the Cyclone and Wonder Wheel, we made our way down to Nathan’s. Things had changed, but not that much. Dad ordered a round of dogs and fries, and we sat down on some tables to watch the colorful world that is Coney Island walk past.

There are massive signs about the annual hot dog eating contest, which seems kind of freakish.

New York requires restaurants to disclose the number of calories on menus. A hot dog with bun had 296 calories. This year's hot dog eating champion, Joey Chestnut, ate a record 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes on July 4. That would be 20,128 calories.

The dogs were glorious, and I’m sure I savored my one more than Joey enjoyed his 68.

We came right from the game, though I removed my Tom Seaver jersey for safety, lest there was any hurling on the Cyclone.

I was in standing on line for a second round of Diet Cokes when I guy looked over and said, "Hey, were you at the game today?"

"Yeah! How'd you know?"

"Well, you got Mr. Met on your face."

I'd forgotten to remove the menacing Mr. Met temporary tattoo. Not that strange facial tats made me stand out in a crowd on Coney Island.

Truth be told, I’m not keen on franks at the ballpark. Order a dog at your typical stadium, and an employee will open a drawer and hand you a ball of foil, the contents of which will be a shriveled dog and a squished, soggy bun that sticks to the dog.

One of things I liked best about the old Tiger Stadium was that vendors would roam the stands with boiled dogs floating in water that I assumed was hot. (If you know otherwise, don’t tell me. I’m in my happy place.)

Anyway, the vendor would capture a dog with tongs, take a fresh bun out of a bag, slap it there and then offer you mustard or ketchup, which he’d apply from a bottle.
The dogs were Ball Parks and not Nathans, but I could pretend.