Saturday, October 17, 2015

As Mets play Cubs, a Wrigley memory: 'Help, there's a dead Cubs fan in my lap'

The National League Championship Series starts at Citi Field, then heads to Chicago and Wrigley Field.

Now, Wrigley is a fun place and we always seem to have adventures there, between Wiffle Ball with alleged former major-leaguers and snapping photos that end up in ESPN documentaries.

Then there was the day I was sure a Cubs fan died in my lap.

Here’s a trip to the archives for one of the first stories told on this blog a decade ago.

My assignment was to check out a charter school in Chicago that was run by a company setting up a similar school in Flint. 

It was just a coincidence that the Cubs were in town on the day we were scheduled to be there. It also was just a coincidence that I wrapped up the last interview in time to make it to Wrigley before the first pitch.

These things happen. What also happened that day was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen at a ballpark.

Since I was buying just one ticket, the Cubs were able to sell me a seat about five rows right behind home plate — among the best seats I’ve ever scored. Chris Berman of ESPN was in the next section.

It was a beautiful May afternoon, and Jon Leiber was throwing for the Cubs against the Braves and future Met and Hall-of-Famer Tom Glavine. Glavine was not at his best that day, giving up five runs including a blast from Sammy before being chased in the fifth. I take that Tommy was disappointed but not devastated.

But the real story took place in the seat in front of mine.

Early in the game, a guy wandered to his seat with a beer in each hand. He looked a lot like the Jim Belushi character in "...About Last Night," wearing a red satin Bulls jacket and sweat pants.

He didn’t spend much time in his seat, disappearing for an inning at a time to buy more beer and smoke in the concourse — which was fine with me. I was enjoying the unobstructed view of Chipper Jones taking a collar with two strikeouts.

Later in the game, the guy came back and slumped down in his seat to take a nap. I remember thinking, "What a waste of one of the best seats in Wrigley."

As this guy slept, he apparently tried to get more comfortable, stretching out instead of slumping. His arms went out over the seats on either side of him. Keep in mind, Wrigley is an old ballpark with small seats and narrow rows. His head now stretched back so far into my personal space that I had a hard time keeping score in my program.

This went on for an inning or so, with people sitting around me making jokes.

Suddenly the guy’s arms started shaking and bubbly spittle was forming on his lips. I knew this wasn’t good.

Then we heard something spilling and saw a puddle forming under his seat. Did he knock over his beer? No. He was wetting himself.

Now, one of the things I remember best from Mr. Ousteckey’s eighth-grade science class is that the first thing you do after dying is wet your pants — the body just releases everything.

I remember thinking, "This guy is dead. There is a dead Cub fan practically in my lap."

The guy in the seat next to me started freaking out, waving frantically for an usher. One came over and radioed for the paramedic on duty. A lot of people in the section were trying to move away. I was scared, but apparently had the presence of mind to continue keeping score, as my program would indicate.

The paramedic was pretty calm. He leaned over the guy, poked him a little and said. "Hey, chief. I work for the Cubs. Let’s go for a walk."

The guy -- apparently not dead -- woke up, groggily stood up and started walking with the paramedic. Then he stopped, turned around and went back for the half a cup of beer in the cup holder. He walked off, oblivious to what had transpired. Someone came by with a cup of water to pour under his seat and dilute the puddle.

Apparently these paramedics have some experience with drunken Cub fans.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Monkey Kings and other things I learned in China

I’ve just returned from an incredible adventure in China, where we visited five cities in eight days talking about our state, its people and the things we make and do.

This work required our full attention. But I did keep my eyes open to see new and exciting things. Here are 10 things I learned.


The Chinese are probably far too polite to say it, but I suspect they scoff at what we consider ancient history in America.

We spent one morning touring the amazing Great Wall, visiting the Mutianyu section, which is about an hour outside of Beijing. That part of the wall is about 1,400 years old.

To put that in perspective, Columbus “discovered” the New World in 1492, just over 500 years ago. This section of the Great Wall already had been standing for more than 800 years when Chris packed up the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.

I didn't learn the Chinese phrase for "I've got socks older than you," but I think that's how they might feel about our ancient history in the Americas.

American brands

I went for a short walk in Beijing and saw so many little shops that were no bigger than a walk-in closet. But there also were some chain stores that we’d all recognize, like Starbucks, DQ and 7-Eleven. There were KFC restaurants everywhere. But check this out – they don’t specialize in finger-lickin’ good chicken, but Asian food instead. And we got ice cream there, too. Wouldn’t the Colonel be surprised?

Baseball underware

One of my colleagues explained that basketball is very popular in China – thank you, Yao Ming – and American football is just plain confusing. But my beloved baseball just isn’t on the Chinese radar.

So imagine my surprise when walking down a street near People’s Square in Shanghai I saw this sign with the Major League Baseball logo – advertising underware. Now, I get trying to introduce Chinese sports fans to baseball with caps and even jerseys.

But underware?


I’m New York native. I’ve driven in Manhattan. I’m brave. But I’m not brave enough to drive in Beijing. Red lights, walk signs, lanes – these all seem to be merely suggestions to drivers. The most aggressive New York cabbie would be hiding under his dashboard if he had to drive in Beijing.

The streets were scenes of organized chaos set to a symphony of horns. You’d think there would be crushed pedestrians stacked like cordwood at every intersection, but somehow it works.

I learned that driving a car is actually very expensive, with a driver’s license costing what would be $14,000 in U.S. dollars. That explained why so many people opted for bicycles and mopeds, which came in all shapes and sizes. My favorite were the three-wheeled versions, which just looked fun to drive.


I learned the difference between Western toilets and non-Western toilets, which are basically a hole in the ground. You don’t flush, but toss the TP – which you supply – in a little basket. This requires a great deal of undressing before you can take care of business. Or you can wait until you get back to the hotel.

Chinese food

What we think of as Chinese food is not really Chinese food. Meals come in many courses, and none of them ended with fortune cookies. General Tso never came around on the giant lazy Susan. In fact, I don’t even recall seeing any white rice.

I did enjoy trying many new and different things, most of them carefully and beautifully plated. Meals started with cold dishes, and the early waves usually involved soup leading to fish and other meats – lamb seemed to be popular – with at least one round of vegetables. The Chinese don’t seem to like sweets, so meals always ended with fruit. That included something I learned was called “dragon fruit,” which was white with black seeds.

It was fun to try exotic things like jellyfish – tasted like salty noodles – and appreciate the great care our hosts took to prepare such feasts. One highlight: Enjoying Beijing duck in Beijing.
Smoked eel was a breakfast option.

No bagels and Pop-Tarts. The Chinese breakfasts seemed to be similar to lunch and dinner – noodles, pork, black beans, and fish were in abundance. I regret not trying the smoked eel, but I did have some sushi. The hotel restaurants did prepare some traditional Western fare and there always was plenty of fruit.


There’s no denying it. Air pollution is an issue in China, and it’s a shame. There were great skyscrapers in Shanghai that I could barely see through the haze from just a few blocks away. The view from the 112th floor observation deck of the Canton Tower didn’t show us as much of sprawling and vibrant Guangzhou as we had hoped. And the beautiful green hills surrounding West Lake were shrouded in gray.

This wasn’t a problem in Beijing, however. The government was planning for a massive parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and ordered factories closed for two weeks and vehicular traffic cut in half. We were greeted with brilliant blue skies that showed off the city’s architectural treasures.

Contrary to belief, pandas do not run like squirrels around Chinese cities. There might have been some misinformation about this one. We saw no live pandas. But we did see a large sign with a panda outside a zoo, and there were many little pandas in the Great Wall souvenir stand. This was a crushing disappointment.
Monkey King 
I turned the corner in a hotel corridor near the conference rooms and ran smack dab into this guy.  The sign revealed he was the Monkey King. This required some research.
According to the always accurate Wikepedia, the Monkey King “is a main character in the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West. He is a monkey born from a stone who acquires supernatural powers through Taoist practices. After rebelling against heaven and being imprisoned under a mountain by the Budda, he later accompanies the monk Xuanzang on a journey to retrieve Buddist sutras from India.
He “possesses an immense amount of strength; he is able to lift his 17,550-pound staff with ease. He is also extremely fast, able to travel 34,000 milies in one somersault. He knows 72 transformations, which allow him to transform into various animals and objects; however, he is troubled in transforming into other forms, due to the accompanying incomplete transformation of his tail. The Monkey King is a skilled fighter, capable of holding his own against the best warriors of heaven. Also, each of his hairs possess magical properties, capable of being transformed into clones of the Monkey King himself, and/or into various weapons, animals, and other objects. He also knows spells that can command wind, part water, conjure protective circles against demons, and freeze humans, demons, and gods alike.”
I like the Monkey King. He should be one of the Avengers.

In all, I was amazed by China’s beauty, impressed by its architecture – both ancient and modern – and touched by the hospitality shown to me and others in my group.

Mostly, I remember the people we met. One of the government leaders we met told us he thinks Americans have the wrong idea about China, with some he met saying the country was a powerful threat to the United States, and others thinking most people lived in extreme poverty. The truth, he said, is that China is not as formidable as we think, and not as poor, either. The Chinese, he said, are peace-loving people looking to build relationships with other nations.

 It’s a special place, and I’d be thrilled to return.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

30 years ago this week: The forces that heal and Tom Seaver's 300th win

I've been blessed to witness in person some amazing baseball games -- and partake in some incredible experiences with great friends at the ballpark. But one game stands above all the others, Tom Seaver won game No. 300 30 years ago this week. Mets Guy in Michigan was a new blog when the 20th anniversary came around, and the post from that day is still a favorite. So we're reaching back into the archives to tell that story again.

You just know there are cosmic forces at work in baseball.

Usually the forces show their hands with a foul ball to Steve Bartman or a slow roller to Bill Buckner, keeping ancient storylines alive.

But sometimes the forces work to heal. I submit Aug. 4, 1985, twenty years ago this month, as proof.

If M. Donald Grant stabbed Mets fans in the heart by trading Tom Seaver to the Reds in 1977, losing him a second time in 1984 was like taking the wounded pump and throwing it out on the tracks in front of the No. 7 train.

Back then, teams that lost a player through free agency were allowed to compensate by selecting from a pool of unprotected players from each of the other teams.

The Mets, with a rotation of decent starters and Dwight Gooden on the horizon, figured no one would take an icon with a 9-14 record.

Wrong. The White Sox lost pitcher Dennis Lamp to the Blue Jays, they picked Seaver from the pool.

I didn’t take this well.

Just a hunch, but I think I was the only community college newspaper editor in the country to direct his cartoonist to take general manager Frank Cashen to task.

Tom pitched well in Chicago over the next season and a half and I closely followed his march toward 300 wins. He aimed at No. 299 against the Red Sox on July 30, and a win there would mean he’d get to go for the historic milestone in New York, where he never should have left.

Here’s were cosmic forces come into play. Seaver pitched nine innings in a 4-4 tie. But the Chisox threw three runs on the board atop the tenth to get Tom the win.

The next day, my dad bought tickets so the entire family could make our first trip to Yankee Stadium. I was beyond thrilled, and it was appropriate that we could experience it together. Lord knows my folks suffered through my devotion to the Mets and Seaver over the years. And I was leaving for the University of Missouri in a couple weeks, and this would be a meaningful send-off.

Sadly for the Yankees, the team had selected that day to honor Phil Rizzuto, retire his number and throw another plaque up in Memorial Park. Because you know, Ruth, Gehrig and the Scooter…all cut from the same cloth. Whatever.

Rizzuto never had a chance. As he was being showered in trips and golf balls, Tom tried to slip down to the bullpen to get warmed up. That’s when the chanting shouted, “SEA-VER…SEA-VER” cascading down from the upper deck.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Seaver, but you’re going to have to get your win in another city,” Rizzuto said in his remarks. Whatever. Phil then got stepped on by a real cow with a fake halo. 

The game went by like a blur. The Yanks stepped out to an early lead. Several times, “Let’s go Mets” chants broke out -- probably for the first time ever in that yard. The White Sox sent four across in the top of the sixth. The Yanks threatened in the eighth and the ninth, but the baseball forces were clearly determined to right a wrong.

The stadium erupted as Don Baylor, the home team’s slugger, flied out to Reid Nichols, just below our seats out in left. I can still see Seaver jumping into the arms of fellow future Hall-of-Famer Carlton Fisk, then running to the stands to his family while I hugged members of mine.

I’ll never forget the chills and the tears of that sunny afternoon. The uniform might have read SOX, but I didn’t see it. For a day, M. Donald Grant’s spiteful banishing to Cincinnati didn’t happen. For a day, the front office didn’t make the mistake of not protecting “The Franchise.” For a day, he never left and claimed his historic win before the fans who would enjoy seeing it the most.

Do you believe? The final score that day was 4-1, the same as the uniform number that would eventually be retired at Shea. Over in Chicago the Mets were playing the Cubs and Dwight Gooden won his 11th straight game. The score in that game: 4-1.

And give Tom credit for taking care of business, pitching a complete game. Will, me and the rest of the Executive Board were in Detroit the day Roger Clemens made an attempt at his 300th win. He was pulled in the sixth with a 7-1 lead, only to have the Yankee infield kick the ball around and allow an historically bad Tigers team to tie the game. He lost his next game to the Cubs, and only lasted 6.2 innings in the game against the Cardinals when he eventually reached the milestone.

Perhaps it wasn’t Clemens’ fault. He didn’t have the cosmic forces on hand to mend wounded hearts.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bad postcard of the week: Greenville, the healthiest town in America

Today we have a classic example of not one, but two bad postcard genres.

We’re headed out to Greenville, Mich., for United Memorial Hospital and Extended Care Unit, which the back tells us is an accredited community facility of 110 beds. The hospital still exists today as Spectrum Health United Memorial.

Greenville’s a nice place, and there are many people who live there. Not a single one of them is in our postcard, though. That means we have the classic ghost town genre, usually associated with government buildings.

Then, we have a hard time getting a look at United Memorial in our United Memorial postcard. It is there, somewhere beyond the vast and empty parking lot and trees. It’s a bad sign when the most prominent in our hospital postcard is a street light and not a hospital.

On the bright side, we know that Greenville is a very healthy place. And we know this because there are no cars in the lot. No patients, no workers, no ambulances – nothing!

We can only assume that everyone except the photographer is at the Danish Festival, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. 

Bad postcards of the past:

April 13, 2014: Newsflash -- water is wet!

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Ballpark adventures: Lansing Lugnuts, Cooley Law School Stadium and the nicest employees ever

Nephew Zack came to spend a day with me at the office, and naturally we needed to finish off a day in Lansing, Mich. by attending a Lugnuts game.

Thomas Cooley Law School Stadium was previously Oldsmobile Park, reflecting the company’s ties to the city and connecting with the automotive theme, including the team’s name.

Now, nitpickers out there will point out that the Lugnuts' logo is technically a screw. This is true. Stop thinking too much and enjoy the game.
Naturally the Gnome of Victory and Celebration came along.
And there is much to like at Cooley, which is nestled just three blocks from the state Capitol and is the center of a revitalized neighborhood of restaurants and apartments, including a new building rising in centerfield that will allow people to watch games from their balcony.

Zack and I walked around the stadium and parked in our seats in the eighth row behind the visitor’s dugout, as our allegiance is with the rival West Michigan Whitecaps.

This is key, because I told Zack it’s always good to know the name of the third base coach. Whitecaps Manager Andrew Graham was manning the spot, and when he scooped up a slow-rolling foul ball and looked to the stands, I yelled “Andrew!” and he tossed the ball to me. We also yelled “thank you,” of course.
Thank you, Whitecaps Manager Andrew Graham!
The Lugnuts, in the Single-A Midwest League, were for years affiliated with the Cubs but have been linked to the Toronto Blue Jays for a while now. The list of former Lugnuts we care about is headed by Noah Syndergaard.
Thor experienced the joys of Lansing before heading to the Big Apple.

Here are some of the highlights:

Ultra-friendly staffers: It’s not that you run into too many grumbling people at a ballgame. Working at a stadium must be fun, especially if you are a fan. But every Lugnuts employee – and I mean every single one – was over-the-top friendly, and not in fake way. Lots of nice conversation, from whether we were enjoying the game or where we came from. I don’t know if this is a team policy or people are just generally happy to be there, but it was very pleasant.

Employees who understand the glory of the Pass-Port program: Zack and I had our books and went straight to the Nuts and Bolts team store. The nice folks had the stamps ready to go, took a practice run to make sure the stamp was right-side up and even paused so we could document the activity. Good job!

Nice statues: There are several outside the stadium, though they are of generic players and fans. Even cooler is the giant lugnut atop a nearby smokestack.

The food choice: It was fair. Again, we’re spoiled by the Whitecaps. But the pizza looked good and the ice cream was plentiful. There was something called a “pulled port parfait” that mixed pork with potatoes. We were not that adventuresome on this evening.
We passed on the pulled pork parfait.

Autograph zone: The Lugnuts have a designated area where players stop by before the game. This sure makes things easier, and if players are coming over, you know you are not interrupting their work. Our Pass-Ports have a page for autographs, and we enjoyed meeting three Lugnuts. This is a brilliant idea.

Good use of the MiLB ap: We were able to use the ap to enter various contests and post photos on social media. We attended a game on “Flat Screen Friday” and Zack was one of nine people to win a television.

Minor grumble: The team has rules against bringing your own food into the ballpark. I like to bring my own peanuts in than overpay at the concession stands. It's not like we're not going to buy other things once we're inside. 
This is Big Lug.
Overall, we watched a good game – the Whitecaps won – and got to meet some nice people and enjoy a fun ballpark. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What if MLB treated Pete Rose's gambling as an addiction and offered help instead of a lifetime ban?

Pete Rose is in the news again, and not for the reasons some expected in the weeks before the Reds host the All-Star Game. 

There are new allegations that Rose gambled on baseball not just as a manager, but during the waning years of his playing days.

That has me thinking, and so far Will and the Crane Pool Forum friends think I’m out in left field, like Rose was as debris rained down from the Shea Stadium mezzanine in the 1973 playoffs.

 I think Major League Baseball mishandled the Rose situation back in 1989 when he was banned for life after being accused of gambling on baseball. I don’t think the situation then or now has helped the game; despite what I’m sure were best intentions.

A few disclaimers are in order. First, hindsight is easy. I’m in no way an expert in addiction or mental illness. And, I understand fully why baseball can’t allow people to suspect that players or managers are throwing games.

Now, go back the late 1980s. Pete Rose had just retired as a player after breaking Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record, managing the Reds and was a player writers speculated would be the first unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame.

And, apparently, while this was going on he was betting thousands and thousands of dollars on sports, allegedly supporting this habit by getting involved with unsavory people who enabled and profited from his activities.We are not condoning this behavior on any level.

And we know the path that was chosen both by MLB and by Rose in the 25 years since this revelation. It’s not been pretty – not even a little bit. Rose's combative denials, then partial confessions have not served him well.

What if MLB chose another path? What if, instead of banishing Pete Rose, MLB pulled him closer?

What if MLB instead took the guy who had been one of baseball’s brightest stars and gotten him the help he apparently needed?

The volume of Rose’s gambling and the risks he took to support it suggest compulsive behavior that a person might be powerless to stop.

Today we look at addictive behavior as a disease. There are efforts to eliminate the stigma of mental illness. Baseball teams have staffs to deal with physical issues, but what do they do to care for a player’s mental wellness?

Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton is a high-profile example of a player who has tragically struggled with addictions. He’s been suspended – several times -- but teams also have worked to help him. His addictions have been recognized and helped, even after unfortunate relapses. Rose’s addictions got him banned for life.

That leads to another issue. We know why the threat of a lifetime ban is necessary, but there is a danger in absolutes. There’s a difference between a guy with a sickness he apparently can’t control and the Black Sox conspiring with gamblers to throw the World Series. One is a compulsion and the other is a conspiracy.

Having an absolute punishment – the lifetime ban – probably makes it less likely for people to get the help they need. We know about “zero tolerance” policies for weapons in schools, and we’ve heard the stories about elementary school students getting expelled for bringing plastic butter knives to class. People in authority need to be able to look at each situation individually.

Today, Rose is banned not for throwing games, but for gambling on baseball. Today we also have MLB allowing the families of team owners to also own casinos. Something seems off.

Pete Rose should face consequences for his actions. People aren't absolved of transgressions because they struggle with an addiction, even when they get the help they need.

But I think baseball would have been better served all these years by helping Rose, and by working with a more flexible method of dealing with his struggles. 

It seems fair that he should not be allowed to manage a team again. And, now that he’s in his mid-70s, I’m not sure that’s an option for him anyway.

He should be eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Considering that writers today won’t enshrine Mike Piazza because of alleged bacne, they’re not going to elect Rose anyway, at least in his lifetime.

But Rose should be allowed to participate in on-field celebrations, such as the Reds Hall of Fame days or even the upcoming All-Star Game. 

More importantly, let Pete Rose into the clubhouse to do things like talk to today’s players about the dangers of addictions and compulsive gambling – and hopefully direct them to an MLB program that can get them the help they need if they ever face the demons Rose allowed to conquer him 25 years ago. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ballpark adventures: South Bend Cubs and Four Winds Field

Father’s Day weekend usually means a trip to the ballpark, and this year we hit the road to South Bend, Ind. to see the West Michigan Whitecaps play the South Bend Cubs.

It’s the first year of the team’s affiliation with the Cubs, which meant a new name. It was previously called the Silver Hawks, after the car made by Studebaker, which had a presence in the area.

The stadium name is also relatively new. Four Winds Field was previously named after Hall-of-Famer Stan Coveleski, who lived in South Bend for years.
There were some vestiges of the old Silvehawks name.

It’s a nice park and we had a good time despite only finding lawn seats available and the Whitecaps losing 3-2.

Fun things:


There’s a neat statue of Stan Coveleski near the centerfield gate. Fun facts about Stan include that he was one of 17 pitchers allowed to keep throwing the spitball after it was made illegal. 

He also was known to give kids free pitching lessons in the field behind his service station.

The Cubs Den

I like how the stadium worked some of the nearby buildings into the stadium rather than have them leveled. The gift shop is a vacated synagogue, and the team treats it respectfully, with a plaque detailing the building’s history and a verse from Exodus on the wall.

The prices seemed a little steep, even by ballpark standards, but there were some fun things in here, like foam rubber Cub heads.

Star Wars Night

It’s always fun when minor league teams wear special jerseys, and we were lucky to catch the Cubs on Star Wars Night. There were not as many people in costume as the Whitecaps seem to attract,  but there were enough to feel the Force.

The Cubs wore sweet Boba Fett jerseys. Gift shop had jerseys with Yoda, Chewbaca, R2-D2 and Darth Vader, which weren’t worn on the field.

The scoreboard replaced the player photos with Star Wars characters, with the Cubs swapping out for heroes and the villains replacing the Whitecaps.

Stuff for kids

The Cubs have a whole section in the outfield with giant Cubs-themed inflatables that dominates left-centerfield, making for a fun backdrop. There’s a splash pad beyond the lawn seats, and a playground just beyond that.

There also was a Cubs Performance Zone with batting cages that looked pretty neat. I liked that each cage was designated using the logo of a South Bend team of the past,

Trains and cars

South Bend’s Union has been closed since 1971, but the tracks are still there and the beautiful building looms over the wall near right field. Trains rumbled along the tracks in full view throughout the game.

Right behind the train station was the old Studebaker factory. 

Lawn seats

The lawn section was pretty small – and fairly expensive compared to other stadiums, especially considering that you have sit on the grass. But rather than the hill or berm you get at many places, the Cubs have a terraces to keep up from sliding down the hill during the game.

The down side of a lawn section is that you get a lot of disinterested kids, who in good times run in a clump to the location of any foul ball, even one four sections over. In bad times, you get kids like Noah and Manny.

Minor grumbles

Not many. Overall, the prices seemed steeper than at other minor league parks. And the team didn't have its Pass-port stamps yet after making the name change. (The stamps have since arrived, and the folks are taking care of fans who left un-stamped. Very nice people working for the Cubs.)


A good ballpark! I get spoiled by the West Michigan Whitecaps and the stadium experience there. But South Bend was a good destination for a short road trip.