Sunday, September 7, 2014

(February 27, 1925 – September 3, 2014)

The Good Do Not Always Die Young

 An extraordinary man has left us. Perhaps he was more extraordinary to me than to others. He was my friend and more importantly my mentor. He was the man who taught me with great humor how to enjoy a Cuban cigar a very dry Martini, bridge, the theater and most importantly, good food in good restaurants how to embrace life to its fullest.
“Pat” Grissom was wounded in World War Two by a German bullet on March 26, 1945 in the village of Lamperthiem. He remained in a wheelchair thereafter. If that were all there were to say about him, it would be enough. Yet for the then twenty year old farmer from Syracuse Kansas there was so much more.
I met Pat in 1967. For reasons known only to him he decide I was one worth saving and we became great friends and over the next fifteen years I was regaled by his wonderful stories always told with the loudest voice in the room and the best sense of humor as well. I’m not sure I ever saw Pat mad. I’m not at all sure he knew how to be. He could find humor in the most awful situations.

One of the stories he loved to tell was about being in the field hospital after he was shot. Pat was stricken by the anxiety of how he was going to tell his family that the bullet severed his spine since he could not at that point imagine how he could have a wound in his back unless he was running away from the gunfire. Finally, he screwed up the courage to ask the doctor why the hole was there. “Oh,” He said, “That’s the exit wound, you were only shot once,” pointing to the wound in his side, “that’s where it entered. The other will heal in a few days.” At this point in the story, Pat would throw back his head and with a great laugh of self-deprecation, exclaim his relief that he needn't explain it at all.
For a time Pat was the third National President of a nascent group of veterans with spinal cord injuries. He was one of the few I knew who lived until last Wednesday that could claim he picketed the Truman White House for better benefits for returning war veterans. While he was president of The Paralyzed Veterans of America, he helped get Congress to pass the first accessible housing grant legislation. It gave all veterans who used wheelchairs a $10,000 grant to build the ramps and modify existing homes or build new ones without obstacles. He built his own on Sunburst Street in the San Fernando Valley soon thereafter. He lived there the rest of his life until he became a long term care patient at the Long Beach Veterans Medical Center.
While he was busy with his trips to the Hollywood Bowl, The Amundsen Theater, and visiting friends in Malibu, and understanding life and its possibilities far better than most of us, he managed to survive two major earthquakes. The first destroyed the old San Fernando VA hospital where he got his post hospital care and the second the Northridge quake, destroyed his house while he was sleeping in it. When the noise stopped he said, and the dust settled, he realized that the wall to his room was gone, the fireplace lay in the yard nearly intact, and he was gazing out on the street in the dark of the early morning. His garage and his house guest survived so they drove his van to a friend’s house just a few miles away which had hardly any damage where, by his description, he remained a “homeless veteran” for the next year while he rebuilt. By then I was living elsewhere and called a few days after the event. His message machine was miraculously intact and I assumed my friend was well and safe. He wasn’t obviously, and without any thought that anyone might have been worried about him, he threw the machine away without ever retrieving the full message tape.

There is neither space nor time to tell all the Grissom stories. He lived too long for that. He was a legend. He was a technical advisor and crowd member along with 45 other veterans in a 1950 Stanley Cramer movie which starred Jack Webb and Marlon Brando. The Men proved to be important at the time, much as “The Best Years of Their Lives” was since it raised the public’s awareness to the problems faced in re-entering society by seriously wounded veterans.
In those early years in the Birmingham VA hospital before all the spinal cord patients were moved to Long Beach, Pat and the rest were visited by more movie stars than family. Seeing Robert Mitchum walk down the hall was not a particularly big deal on a Saturday afternoon. He and the others who experienced it would tell those of us he always called  “the young pups” about these and so many things there is as I said, neither time or space to relate them all.
Suffice to say that men like Patterson Grissom do come this way often. They are special people, made more so by their ability to adapt to the new life they found when they came home.

I once suggested that he was the most “rehabilitated” man I ever met during a discussion about how to define that term. I still believe he was despite the fact that he worked only two months after the war in a lawn mower shop, but could recite Supreme Court citations and the latest Johnny Carson joke with equal alacrity. He was an educated man because he made himself one and yet he rode the train every summer back to the farm in Syracuse Kansas to visit his parents for many years after he was injured.
He was a man of remarkable talent and fortitude who I am sure was smiling before he went to sleep for the last time Wednesday night at the age of 89.

I will miss him even though we haven’t seen each other in a long time. I was one of many he helped see life as a better place. I thank him for that as do so many others he helped in his quiet and gentle way. May he rest peacefully now, perhaps with a good Havana and a very dry Martini nearby.

Saturday, May 24, 2014


                                       ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY

Any one that has attended one knows there is a certain aura about a military funeral that is different than all others.

No funeral is a good one, but the formality and tradition of one in the many quiet places across the country is inspirational as well.

                                                  ECHO TAPS

I have been to a few. They are never fun, but I always come away feeling the strength of those that are buried there that died as an intended or unintended consequence of those who sent them.

Take a minute to thank whatever god you have that they did what they were ordered to do so well. Memorial Day is a day about those who died as a result of their war. They are the ones we honor this weekend.

Remember them.

There is a day in November for the rest. 

Friday, May 2, 2014


It was an event not specifically important in the lives of anyone perhaps except Doug Spiel and Danielle Dronet and the few employees that still work in the stadium in Newark New Jersey built in the infectious belief of a former N.Y. Yankee star that baseball could flourish there again. They were certainly not happy to see the stickers that adorned the equipment late last month as a place where history was made yet not well rewarded or remembered by the game of Professional Baseball came to an end once more.

The Newark Bears held a liquidation sale and the stadium that Rick Cerone, a very good former Yankee catcher had convinced Essex County New Jersey to finance so that the glory days of a once storied franchise could be restored. It will now host high school, college and perhaps, in a final indignity, move the bases and mound in for Little League games.

Baseball went missing from Newark for nearly half a century when the Bears were born again. It was once a remarkable place where soon to be top prospects and eventual Hall of Fame Players played. It was owned and operated in the Negro Leagues by the only woman baseball executive now in the Hall of Fame. A player by the name of Moe Berg, later a spy in World War II once played there as a New York Yankee hopeful. Don Newcomb, Roy Campanella, Monte Irvin and others passed through there on the way from the 1946 Negro League Champions to the white Major Leagues. They enjoyed it there, played well, and marked time as they peered across the river to New York and waited for Jackie Robinson to succeed so that they could follow. It was a place to dream and to hope for the AAA minor leaguers of the New York Yankees for many years after that and then sadly, without a Major league affiliate to bolster the budget in recent years only a place for fading “used to be” stars that refused to accept that it was over such as Ricky Henderson and Jose Canseco to play and try once more to make it back to “The Show.”

The last owners, the affianced Doug Spiel M.D. who, appropriately it would seem specializes in pain management, and Ms. Danielle Dronet, a marketing specialist bought the franchise a few years ago. Yet not even their unbounded enthusiasm, long days and nights of work, and a lot of their own money could turn it around. They thought they could. They were mistaken. Now, the batting cage (Lot Number 166) languishing behind the fence and the table the auctioneer will use (Lot Number 42) and even the team bus was for sale. As the soon to be jobless equipment manager said, “pretty much anything that isn't actually part of the stadium” was to be sold.

Spiel and Dronet never lacked for enthusiasm in their quest to make a go of it. Spiel spent a million dollars of his own money to pay vendors and they did everything they could think of to attract sponsors and of course sell the 6,200 tickets to every home game, even hiring a group of dancing girls known as the Honey Bears.
Dronet says that the bureaucracy of Essex County, in that way New Jersey is said to have of crushing the good with the bad, did everything they could to see to that they failed and lacked interest in the team’s survival despite the fact that the county will have bond debt obligations for stadium construction until 2029.

But in the end, it was the tickets. The “fannies in the seats” that didn't happen. It was also a storm called Hurricane Sandy that arrived without paying her way in and had her way with the stadium. It was a failed attempt to turn the couple’s stadium into a reality show, a scamming promoter who announced Justin Bieber would be performing for a charity (much to Bieber’s surprise), and finally, a burglary that cost the team most of its electronic equipment that brought them to the brink and the Fat Lady tuned her vocal cords in the wings all winter in 2012.

Last season the Bears were last in the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball with a record of 37-63. It claimed a generous estimate of 500 average attendance when 2,000 at least were needed to maintain the owners’ sanity. In November, The Can-Am League dropped Newark and the Fat Lady sang in earnest.

That in the end is what led to the super pretzel warmer becoming lot 83; assorted napkin holders, lot 122, and a framed picture of Monte Irvin, the first black New York Giant stealing home yet another.
After a half century absence of baseball, in 1999 at an expense of $34 million to the citizens of Essex County and the high hopes of Rick Cerone and several baseball visionaries after him never saw the development promised by the county around the stadium. In the ethereal glow of light from the city, the stadium stood alone to be seen by so many New Jersey commuters out the train windows without a notion that coming there to see a ballgame with the family might be a fine idea. Why not the Mets, the Yankees, or even the Jackals in Little Falls? Why come into this city?

As Doug Spiel said, “What if you gave away 3,000 tickets and nobody came? What does that tell you? What if the City and County Officials had free box seats and came maybe twice a year, what does that tell you?”

What if no major league team would affiliate with you because you were in Newark, yet the Mets would start a new franchise in Brooklyn, the Yankees were as far away as Trenton, NJ. What does it tell you about a sport always starving for new talent with an alleged solemn commitment to inner city baseball programs?

This was the franchise of the storied Newark Eagles, the best in the Negro leagues in 1946. This is where Roberto Clemente and so many of the eventual stars of the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants played and was owned by Effa (Effie) Manely, the most famous woman in baseball history and the only one in the Hall of Fame who along with her husband Abe operated the Eagles from 1935 until 1946 and then did so on her own until 1948 after his death. This interracial woman, trained as a hat maker kept the books, made the travel arrangements and altered the face of the Negro leagues, demanding and getting better accommodations and food for her players, and who made even the team bus, the luxurious Flexible Clipper a symbol of the team’s success.

Yet baseball apparently has no time for that now or memory of it. There is no time or appetite for its own history beyond Jackie Robinson Day held in the spring every year when all players, mangers and coaches in both leagues wear his number 42 in his memory. For a multibillion dollar industry which pays a feckless Commissioner 20 million dollars a year to oversee the chaos of instant replay and the vicissitudes of egomaniacal owners, it is apparently too much to ask to find a way to help a franchise exist, perhaps even flourish in Essex County in a stadium bought a paid for by the citizens of New Jersey. The former affiliate of The New York Yankees for so many years, perhaps ten miles as the crow flies from the new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx apparently isn't as “special” as Trenton, a hundred miles further on.

Perhaps in another 50 years someone with the zeal and the willingness to work as hard as Spiel and Dronet did will come along and try again to remember, to make it right, to give baseball and its history back to this city that gave it so much and perhaps they will succeed and perhaps not. Whatever happens, do not count on Major League Baseball to have a memory longer than the last World Series, or the will and the money to help.

On a Saturday in late April at 10 AM, the auction was held. The weather was fair and in the 50’s. All who made successful bids had their faces shown on the “Jumbotron” (lot 187) in center field, and the Newark Bears Professional Baseball Team is gone and that seems very sad and wrong. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


Opening Day has come and gone.

Yes, they played a baseball game in San Diego last Sunday night. Yes, two games were played in Australia last week that for reasons known only to the lame brained Commissioner of Baseball will count in the standings, but yesterday was really opening day.
There is a comfort in knowing that baseball is back and will be played nearly every day or night from now until October. The Standings are in the newspaper, the injuries and transactions recorded there with the box scores in agate type to be pored over at our leisure. The men in the funny pants with the round bats trying to hit a round ball traveling in excess of 90 miles an hour from 60 feet 6 inches away are back and as the old saying goes, everyone was equal on Opening Day. No matter how television and the constant soap operas of contracts, performance enhancement, and instant replays try to screw it up, it is really about the fact that the Pirates “own” the Cubs because they already beat them once this year.

Baseball asks its fans to deal in trivia like that, yet it also allows them to relax more than any other sport. The long season, the long game, is like a train. You get on and off at will and mainly miss very little. There are innings to be missed when nothing more than six outs are recorded and there are others we tune into because six runs are scored. You can miss a game and not feel badly about it. There is tomorrow and the next day and then another one and another until they play 162.

This is the relaxation of baseball. It is not something afforded to fans of many sports. Until the gut wrenching games in late September and October, there is no sense of life and death. No one except managers and coaches watch 162 games. Players will be injured and leave for weeks and come back and still have what can be considered a “good” year. This is not football or basketball played in prime time, it is a slow afternoon or early evening anytime between now and October at the ball park watching those who know how to do it far better than we ever could in front of 15,000 hard working stiffs who gave up their Monday afternoon/evening to see why.

Yes, it can be spectacle, but how many of the 30 teams play out the season in a spectacular way? For the fans of the game this is a comfortable time. For the fanatics who live and die by the won and loss record of one team, who are narcissistic enough to lean over a dugout to try to get an indecipherable “autograph” on a ball or cap, it is perhaps more than that. I do not identify with them. If the standings are missed for a day or two, it doesn't matter. Things have a way of evening out in the game.

To watch as those of us who love the game, you really only need to know a few things:
a) Pitching and defense wins pennants although scoring runs is nice.
b) If everyone stays healthy, the teams with talent all have a chance.
c) The doctrinal belief in baseball is that games in August and September somehow mean more than those in April and May. I do not know why that last is true. A win is a win, yet players and mangers repeat the mantra daily now, “It’s early, we’ll get better.” and
d) Some team will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of last year and win the Division or League Championship or scare the hell out of whoever was supposed to according to the talking heads on the sports channel and those ink stained wretches known as “beat writers” that travel with the team for the local paper. Of course, the fact that they never predicted it would ever happen will not stop them from delivering an oration or writing an obligatory column claiming “I knew they would be better than everyone thought,” replete with facts and figures they had overlooked in the spring when they picked them to finish dead last.( See Pirates, Pittsburgh 2013).

I settle in now after my trip to the desert to see the talent available (it is getting older and more predictable and seems to be getting hurt more regularly) and ready for the long and lazy days of the season. In the cold of the late October nights when it is all decided, I will  be sad to see it go as always. But if I am here in the spring  when the sound of the turtle is on the land, I can get aboard the train again and love it just as much.

It is, after all, only just a game.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


The annual spring trek to Arizona to see which teams have a chance to win more games than they lose this year begins next week.
These are curious times in the desert. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks will have decamped by the time we arrive, a full 10 days earlier than the other teams to travel to Sidney Australia where they will play an exhibition game each against a local nine and then play two games against each other that will count as the opening of their season. The Sidney Cricket Field is being transformed for the event.
As simple and as groundbreaking as that that sounds, it is decidedly not.
Baseball on a professional level was introduced in 1888 to the “Aussies” by no less than Albert Spalding, maker in later life of all manner of sports equipment but at that moment the owner of the Chicago White Stockings. He took them and a team of all-stars there and it was hailed by sportswriters there as here in the U.S., never shy about their making any sports event sound as important as any World War, as “the great event in the modern history of sports.” While baseball has flourished in a minor way in the school yards and a few professional leagues in Australia, it has never reached the heights that Spalding had hoped despite his extensive tour and his financial backing of several teams there before and after his team’s tour. The major “summer” sport (just ending there) is still Cricket and will always be Cricket. Spalding was beginning to sell sports equipment then, cricket bats included, so while his motives were somewhat proprietary, those of Major League Baseball today, on its blitzkrieg-like adventure to the land Down Under are merely avaricious.
The Spalding tour went to Adelaide, Sidney, Melbourne, and Ballarat. The final game was played in the Melbourne in front of a crowd of 12,000 and included an opening contest against the Melbourne Baseball Club. The White Stocking Game was inexplicably halted in the sixth inning for a bit of a show by baton twirlers and dancers. After they left the field a throwing contest was held. A young, now long forgotten all star pitcher named Eddie Crane from the Giants “won” and set a record for what was believed to be the longest throw of a baseball in Australian history (398 feet). The crowd was apparently as enthralled by that feat (and the twirlers and the dancers) as it was by the game. While baseball is considered by many here as slow and boring, they have clearly never tried to sit through a cricket match with its tea breaks and overnight time outs.
There will, of course be no such frivolity this time. Baseball now is a serious ten billion dollar a year business. They have committed, not to a series of meaningless exhibition games, but to actually start the baseball season there, a serious thing indeed.  As described this week by the principal owner of the Dodgers, it will allow them to start the season in “one of the most exciting cities and rapidly developing baseball markets on earth…” (Emphasis mine).
Baseball for the owners is about the marketplace and Mr. Kasten believes—along with the lame duck Commissioner, one Alan H. “Bud” Selig—that this is an opportunity to market the “product.”  So they will travel across the date line to tomorrow before it becomes yesterday and countless time zones and back to “promote” the product. There are perhaps ten players from Australia now good enough to play baseball for money here in America all but one to my knowledge played their collegiate careers here. This is a detail that means nothing to the Lords of the game. This is a market to be conquered, a place to be enhanced by the “influence” of the professional game.
Suffice to say the week to go to the faraway land Down Under and acclimate and then come back and do the same has sent the managers, coaches, and a few of the players of the two teams screaming from the room when they learned that Selig, who is paid 20 million dollars to run this circus, made the decision that the games played would count rather than be mere exhibitions of the considerable talents on each club.

No problem, right? Well, yes.

If you are the manager of the Dodgers or the Diamondbacks, when you get back in two weeks, you will still have 160 games left in the regular season and perhaps close to 20 more if you are fortunate enough to reach the World Series. Most pitchers these days, the stars, the starters, the ones like the Dodgers Clayton Kershaw who won the Cy Young Award as the best in the league last year, usually start 30 games and you hope for 200 or 250 innings out of his exhausted throwing arm by the end. The press reported early on that he wasn't keen to go, and as manager you know he will need extra rest if he pitches on “Opening Day” on the Cricket Field so he will be “lost” for at least an extra five days when you get back. You have games those days, all played against teams that you will compete with for the Western Division Championship. What to do? He could and should go if this is an honest attempt to spread good will, exhibit the best talent and win the games as one would here since they count and are not mere athletic exhibitions as first supposed. A conundrum, what? And what of those fellows who must pitch the game the following day? They should be the regular number two starter who will likewise be lost. Would it be better to take others for that start so that some semblance of a pitching rotation can be maintained when you get back? Others could join the roster and go to the minor leagues when the team returns.  Yet the Commissioner is treating this seriously. Zach Greinke for one, the Dodgers number two starter, showed no interest in making the trip and strained his right calf in an odd incident on February 27. He will stay home to wait his usual start in April.  Kershaw agreed to go perhaps because he just signed a new contract that guarantees his income from the Dodgers whether he pitches or is too badly injured to do so for the next 5 years in the 18 to 24 million dollar range, perhaps not. Those numbers can make you loyal and compliant.
When this whimsical expedition to the other hemisphere was first dreamt of by the Commissioner and it was assumed the games would all be exhibitions and there would be a certain mix of veteran “stars” from both teams and a number of “maybe will be someday” types who would go. Yet since both teams chosen were in the same division, why not, he thought in his habitually fuzzy way, have them count and make it all the more, well, important  for the denizens of Sidney? One can only suppose that it never crossed his small dollar driven mind that it might be more than inconvenient  to the teams involved.
The manager of the Arizona Nine is a man who, to put it mildly, does not suffer fools or foolishness gladly. He is Kirk Gibson, a colorful fellow who, besides hitting the most famous home run in Los Angeles history while only able to stand on one leg which allowed the Dodgers to advance to the last World Series they played in back in 1987, was a football player of considerable skill at the University of Michigan. He had the good sense to chose baseball over football and had a long a reasonably distinguished career. He issued, as is his wont when gravely irritated by people with titles like Commissioner, several unprintable sentences when he learned that the games would count. He is of course faced with the same sort of Hobson’s choices as the manager of the Dodgers.

We who will be in Arizona next week are left then with those teams which remain in “camp,” and players dreaming dreams of making The Show or re-earning their positions in it. The symmetry of the spring seems askew this year with two teams already gone and the rest still trying to make decisions about who will play when they open the regular season. Before then, one of the two teams in the Western Division could be in first place, two games ahead before the other three even get to their home cities while the other could  be in last place.
There will be many curiosities for us nonetheless. There are rule changes to be observed. Runners approaching home plate may now be called out if they collide with the catcher, unless the catcher is blocking the base path and has the ball. This has not gone well in its early implementation because it is hard to decide intent and the umpire must decide quickly. Instant replay has been widely expanded and so far has proven annoying and prolonging. All are assured that it will “get better” as they work it out before the season starts. I am personally in favor of neither of the changes because they are as subject to interpretation as the rules they are superseding and in the first case make the umpire far more responsible for whether a run will count while in the latter, making them nearly redundant to video replays on a number of safe and out calls that can profoundly affect the game.

 This was an active winter for players who went to new teams because their contracts had expired and found another team willing to pay them more or for a longer period of time. So there are new faces in camps in Arizona that used to be in Florida. It was also notable for the number of trades. Trades, since the advent of expiring contracts or so-called “free agency” were largely overlooked as ways in which to improve your team and often only done as acts of desperation. Yet there is a new philosophy, born as always by some bright baseball man in charge of acquiring talent and thus copied immediately by as many others as possible and hailed as the best idea ever. It is a phenomenon known around the front offices as “clearing salary.” It is not a hard concept to understand, and one wonders why it took so long to embrace it.
For example, a team may have paid too much for a player last year who may not be meeting its needs and expectations, and yet he is still viewed around the game as one of the better hitters or pitchers. One can, in the argot of the game, “unload” his salary by trading him for a number of lesser talented players and “prospects” and fill two positions on your team now where you need help this year. There is a visionary aspect to it as well. If you have a player who you really want to keep whose contract will expire next year, the team has now “cleared salary,” i.e. taken it off the books in future years for the star they traded and can make a competitive offer for that player’s return when equally avaricious teams around the league do likewise. Thus, you have made your team no worse by letting a star go now while he still has value and acquiring a lesser talent with some unique skills that you need (who will be paid a pittance by comparison) while the rest of the cash you owed the alleged “superstar” for four or five more years goes into the bank. It is the best new thing since boiling water right now for some teams that believe they have benefited greatly from its use. We will know if it did if, like the Red Sox last year, they are still playing in October.

All this  to a lifelong fan who is passionate enough about the game to travel several hundred miles to watch exhibition games for a week when the talent being showcased might well spend the summer playing in  Iowa means nothing. We go because of the game. Because no matter how many dollars the men who play this little boy’s game make it is still played with extraordinary skill. It is still 90 feet between the bases and there are still three outs in an inning and the timelessness of it all has not yet been lost. It is done with grace and speed and far better than we could imagine on the playgrounds of our youth. They see the ball, hit the ball and catch the ball or they don’t and that is why we come, not the clauses in their contracts or the loading and unloading of salary. There is still an idyllic charm to the chatter from an infielder on a warm spring day and the subtle positioning of a fielder before a pitch and the reasons why one player hits far better batting  second rather than sixth.

That is why we come, why we watch, and why it is still "the game."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


It is about the time of year that Reamus delivers his yearly disquisition on the joys and vicissitudes of Spring Training. I am going, it is late this year, and having come across this article I could not help but put it here since it says more about the love of a game than any philosophical waxing that I could do about the new and wrongful uses of instant replay in a game that started as described here and one perhaps wishes resembled this a bit more.
For these young and old on Long Island, I hope the cry of “Game On!” will be carried forward for many more generations by them and their ilk that understand the baseball, as life, is a human endeavor, beset and made more fractious by its need for order and rules, but somehow all the more fanatically fun because of them .

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.


Yearning for the Fields of Summer


Something strange appeared in front of my house recently: a little patch of grass and dirt, peeking out from the icy crust that has enveloped Long Island for most of the past two months. A sign of life. On the news, I caught glimpses of David Wright making those loose, easy first throws of training camp. George Harrison’s voice filled my head.

The emails should start coming any week now. As soon as the blades of grass outnumber the snowflakes, somebody is going to try to get our Sunday softball game up and running. It took about 60 inches of snow to finally put the game down for the winter, after some of the boys tried to keep playing even after temperatures started dipping into the 30s.
“Game on!” the subject lines would say, sometimes in all caps, sometimes with multiple exclamation points. “It’s going to be clear and in the 40s! Who’s in for softball on Sunday?”
At 40 degrees, I was most certainly not in for softball. I can just imagine the sound of my rotator cuff tearing on a frosty December morning, like a frozen branch snapping off a tree.

So I didn’t respond, even as enthusiastic replies flooded my inbox. Almost enough for a full game.
“C’mon guys, its big-boy time,” the next email said. It was from George. “Drag yourselves down to the field like the beer-swilling, [expletive], football-watching, [expletive], meat-eating, hammer-swinging men that we are.”
More emails followed. They urged and implored, cajoled and castigated. To not want to play softball, they reminded us, was to call into question our masculinity, our patriotism, our belief system and moral code. I was fine with that.
I have been struck by the direct genetic relationship between our weekly softball doubleheader and the antebellum game of town ball. It was named, at least in part, because a game was most likely to spring up when all the outliers had occasion to venture into town — for the Fourth of July, say, or Election Day. Tied into such events, the game was inherently nationalistic, even without the bump from the born-in-America myths. It was an organic happening, a reaffirming of community, when friends and neighbors bonded through the shared experience of physical game play. Toward the middle of the century, clubs were formed for men to play town ball or the modified “base-ball” — mostly as intramural affairs but eventually expanding to include interclub challenges.
From March to December (generally), our group performs the same kind of ritualistic gathering every Sunday morning at an elementary school ball field in Port Washington. Players drive in from all over Long Island — from Syosset and Massapequa and, in George’s case, from Mastic, a little more than an hour away. Some have been playing the game for decades; some watched their fathers play. At 44, I’m somewhere in the middle of our age curve. We have contractors and mechanics, cardiologists and dentists, graphic designers, bankers and lawyers. Try arguing the infield-fly rule with a lawyer.
It is a self-governed game, with teams divided into comparable sides and playing by an amalgam of baseball, softball and schoolyard rules. Disputes arise. The strike zone is something of a free-form abstraction. And we have a fouling-out rule that is a bottomless wellspring of constitutional-style debate.
The peace is kept in large part by our de facto commissioner, Mark, who puts his skills as a legal marketing executive to good use. He’s just one of our characters. Jarrod — J-Rod — is the dispenser of nicknames as well as some of the vilest infield banter ever heard; Hugh dives headfirst for every fly ball and into every base; Spence sprinkles outfield chatter with Yiddish; and Rich — Tino — is a pull-hitting left-handed first baseman with the demeanor of an oversize puppy (shake a ball and throw it, and he’ll run after it).

Then there is George.
George drove tanks in the Army; now George is a tank, a regular Old Hoss Radbourn, pitching for both teams in both games when we are short players. He swings a wood bat, and he has the Yankees logo and Thurman Munson’s No. 15 tattooed on his arm. Every week he takes line drives to the arms, thighs and belly. He proudly displays his hideous bruises, gimps around the mound and keeps pitching.
Gruff as he appears, George is the consummate town ball gentleman, tirelessly serving up hittable pitches. He pitches me low and away, where I like it, but he’ll happily go high and inside to Chris, a savage tomahawker who petitions to play more innings every week. Chris would have loved town ball, with games sometimes played to 100 runs.
In those formative years, winning was not the presiding objective. More so, the men were there to compete, to bond in a healthful, upstanding manner. For professional men in the urban centers, it became a valued source of clean, wholesome recreation. For us, their descendants, it may not always be that. But it’s as close as it gets.
Certainly we play to win, but that’s not why we play. We play to make that one backhanded stab deep in the hole or to rip that one double into the gap — or even just to land that one good zinger and draw a laugh. It doesn't matter if it’s schoolyard softball . It is a universal and archetypal experience.
This has been a long, cold, lonely winter. The ice is slowly melting. I know the boys are eager to play ball. I am, too. And every day that patch of grass sprouting out of the ice becomes a little bit larger.

I hope you enjoyed what you could of this brutal winter and that the green is beginning to poke through the snow where you are as well. Stay well and in touch. I will no doubt have opinions of the quality of play  and the abilities of those who do it when I return .

I am certain only that it will be no more fun than softball on Long Island this year.

Editors  note: Reprinted with slight editorial changes from the New York Times Opinion Section, March 1, 2014, with thanks to the author.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Except for the New Year felicitations this week, there has been no post to this blog since February of last year. I am both amazed that it has taken me that long to get to it and that I yet have anything to say.

Readers here in the past will know, Reamus posts when traveling or has some strange human interest baseball story to tell either during the World Series or Spring Training. The February post was about the beginning of spring training and I found most of what happened in baseball during the so-called Championship Series, except for the mighty efforts by the Pittsburgh Pirates who achieved their first winning season in 23 years and reached the first round of the playoffs in one year too predictable to write. Oh, there were moments when I thought the Detroit Tigers would prevail but either through my own ennui or because everything went according to script without some heroic rookie or grizzled old veteran performing way beyond their talents, the game seemed predictable last season. Those who deserved to lose did and the best team won. The “lunchbox” team from Boston as they like to be known with enough pitching a few remarkable moments of drama and an adequate defense won it all. They were picked by few of the experts but most of the savants that I drink coffee and other beverages with everyday from the beginning and that is the way it ended. Good for them and a yawn from me.

I enjoyed the Red Sox as a team this year, yet I am not a member of the Red Sox Nation so can only rise to a certain contained level of glee when they do so very well.

As for travel, there has been little. Since the Great RV Incident of 2012 when my beloved La Coachasita rolled quietly into the ditch by the side of the road I have been having an inner argument as to whether I want to invest the time and money into such an endeavor again. I am no younger and while not in any worse health I am not sure how ready I am to outfit another van to go out and see the country, wrestle half frozen water lines, and do the day to day things an RV requires. I miss it, I admit to that. I miss the wonder of the things I saw once I got there and the peace that it brought, which was almost Zen-like. Yet other endeavors have occupied me until now and since I would never be out there in the winter, I feel no compulsion to do it now. When you have the sort of weather I enjoy in this part of the country and views like those posted here to wake to most days, it is hard to leave.

Reamus and the woman who lives here with him (who wisely forever refuses to be known as Mrs. Reamus) did take a trip to Carmel in more conventional transportation. We visited eight of the old Missions founded by the Spanish here in California in the 1700’s when all of this was theirs. It was a lovely adventure, although the coming and going from a motel every night seemed more onerous than I enjoyed. We did pretty well with it by the sixth day but it is harder than having my “house” right behind the driver’s seat. There is a nascent plan to go east when the spring comes to see family and perhaps attend a reunion.

So the traveling Reamus of the past eleven years may have posted his last small town visit while he is busy doing other things. Writing is my great passion and I exercise it now by writing novels. The latest was published this month (fourth book, third novel). Not good novels, necessarily yet I hope a good story worth a few hours of one’s time.

The last is a sequel to the one before, The Worlds of Harry Logan. It is a book about a man writing a book, a genre all its own now, I am told, known as meta-fiction. It is fun to write, fun to shape characters from the misty shadows of the imagination, live with them here for a year or so and then have them fade back into that amorphous place. In a few months I hope to find some new imaginary friends to share my office and I will do it all again. My publisher finds my marketing plan for this all very strange. It consists of sending copies to relatives, giving a few to local libraries, and mentioning it in the header here. This is a hobby after all, not something I need to put food on the table and doing more costs money.

So while I remain ambivalent about recreational vehicles and plan other trips, I hope for spring training in Arizona in two months or so. I am sure there will be something to say about that. 

Meanwhile, I hope you all are staying well, warm, and continue doing good works.