Ringing in a New Baseball Season in Charlottesville

Last night, that is to say on the evening of January 30th, Martha, Becky, Jesse, and I had 20160130_174303the pleasure of attending the University of Virginia “Step Up to the Plate” banquet. This is an annual fundraising affair for the Cavalier baseball team, and last night’s was particularly special as each member of the 2015 College World Series (CWS) championship team was presented his ring.

Approximately 1,000 people were spread out at tables across the John Paul Jones Arena and enjoyed a meal of ballpark food including hot dogs, chicken fingers, and some delicious barbecue. (Regular readers of this blog know that barbecue is often a part of my 20160130_191357baseball adventures!) A wide variety of people were in attendance from elementary-aged children to grandparents. Over 50 former players were there including a gentleman who graced our table and played shortstop for the Cavs in the ’60s, and Tyler Wilson, who on this February 18th, will report to Sarasota, Florida in an attempt to earn a spot in the Baltimore Orioles’ rotation.

The Cavs have a very supportive and enthusiastic fan base who were actually rooting and cheering during the showing of the CWS highlights, even though they obviously knew the outcome. Head Coach Brian O’Connor received a standing ovation upon being introduced and he delivered a speech of sincere thank yous and of admiration for what his ballplayers had accomplished. He emphasized that they had learned a valuable life-lesson during the season, which was the ability to overcome adversity, citing a stretch during the season when the team went 17 -18 and barely qualified for the ACC tournament. Finishing seventh in the conference tournament allowed them to barely qualify for the NCAA tournament, but at that point the team got healthy and hot, bringing a championship back to Charlottesville. (Ironically, the only game we saw last season had to be Virginia’s worst loss, giving up six runs to Duke in the 9th inning.) Coach O’Connor clearly emphasizes the development of his players as students: All six of the 2015 seniors graduated and 14 of the 2016 squad earned a place on the honor roll for the first semester.

It is always rewarding to be a part, however small, of a group of people in a common cause, in this case supporting an amateur baseball team; winning a championship was really a bonus. The folks at our table were knowledgeable baseball fans with whom we soon bonded to the point that we received an invitation to tailgate next time we attend a game. Considering that they serve barbecue, we’re in! The Cavaliers begin defense of their national title on February 19th in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina against Kent State. The home opener is scheduled for February 23rd at 3:00 p.m. versus Virginia Military Institute.

NCAA Championship trophy at left; this commemorative plaque will be placed at Davenport Field for all to see.

NCAA Championship trophy at left; commemorative plaque at right will be placed at Davenport Field for all to see.

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The Colonel, Christmas, and Grandma

Christmas has passed and the decorations are down (except at the houses of THOSE people–you know who you are.) There was a fascinating Yuletide story that I didn’t get to during the Holiday Season, however, one that actually appeared on the front page of the December 19th edition of the Wall Street Journal.

Japan, as one might expect with a Christian population of less than 1%, does not celebrate Christmas in any official way, but also, as one might expect given the Americanization of that country, the Holiday is celebrated unofficially. While Christmas trees are displayed and certain traditional (by our standards) music is played, by far the most popular Christmas tradition is to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken and Christmas cakes. In fact, the tradition is so popular that Japanese citizens begin ordering their Christmas chicken dinners as early as October. They may also be ordered on line. The fried chicken-at-Christmas frenzy began in the early 70s and has been combined with white cake with icing and/or strawberries, essentially strawberry shortcake. In Japan, it’s not Christmas if it’s not finger-lickin’ good.

This chicken-chomping chic might seem strange at first, but I can imagine that many a harried mom who has spent hours preparing turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, rolls, pies, and cookies might much rather see the Colonel making his way down the chimney with a big bucket of deliciousness in one hand and a fistful of napkins in the other than spend another exhausting day (week) in the kitchen. Especially, according to the WSJ when “a basic KFC Christmas-chicken set costs a little less than $35 and includes chicken, salad, and cake.”

The funny thing is that this tradition does not seem strange to me at all. When I was a boy and my grandmother lived in Baltimore City, we would pick her up, usually on Christmas Eve, and bring her out to our house in the country for the Holidays. Grandma always had a hankering for certain Kentucky fowl that had been deep-fried in 11 herbs and spices and so we would pick up a bucket of the Colonel’s fare for our Christmas Eve feast.

Perhaps the lesson is this: Any tradition that brings people together, be they a family or a nation is a good tradition. It occurs to me that the Middle East is overrun by militaries and militias, but what is really needed is just one Colonel. It’s hard to hate and eat Kentucky Fried Chicken at the same time.

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Dare to Create Your Self

I once knew a couple whose love was based on pure fiction. The girl had taken a compliment, a few good times, and a little affection, and out of these meager ingredients created a boy who would love and cherish her always. It was easy for me to see this, but very difficult for her because this was her creation. Her imagination had filled in all the places in his character about which she had yet to learn. Her desire to be loved prevented her from exercising patience which would have allowed his character to reveal itself. The conflict between the boy in her heart and the boy who stood before her, often insulting her and rejecting her, caused tremendous pain and confusion. It was so great that it drove her inward, but there she discovered a little girl who needed to be protected from the person whom she “loved.” So, she put aside the boy she created and this freed her from the boy who stood before her. And she began to grow.

It occurs to me now, however, that we all start as somebody else’s creation. Our parents impose upon us their vision of who we are and we absorb that before we are even aware of our own existence. (This is their job, of course, “we” have to start somewhere.) Our siblings, our teachers, our peers, even our own bodies add to this picture. Our blank places are filled in by others and by circumstances, and we simply accept that creation as our identity.

For a lucky few, what has been created matches what they would have chosen for themselves, but I think this is very rare.

On the other end of the spectrum there are a very unlucky number who know that the created self that they have inherited does not match the self that they would create if they knew how. Artists and comedians tend to fit here; unable to create selves they create other things, including laughter.

The vast majority accept the inherited self and react to the same old thing in the same old way, no matter how unsatisfying or unproductive their lives may be. These people don’t grow, they settle.

Then there are both the luckiest and the unluckiest of all: those who ask “Why?” about themselves.

“Why do I think this way?”

“Why do I feel this way?”

“Why do I act this way?”

These people gather in answers to such questions and begin to build new selves.

Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz these people follow a yellow brick road, risking witches and poppy fields, and flying monkeys in order to discover and to create the real self. These folks are unlucky because it can be very painful to realize that the witch who strikes fear into your heart is some version of you. Or your mom, who dropped some careless remark one day that went straight to your heart—and your subconscious—and it has echoed inside  you ever since. These folks will walk miles and miles along the yellow brick road to silence that echo because they have discovered that such walking is less exhausting than listening to the echo forever. And carrying the shame forever. Such a process is also painful for those who love the self-seekers. Dorothy was a different girl by the time she reached Oz:

“You’re not who I thought you were!”

“I’m not who I thought I was.”

However, in one way, those who follow such a path are the luckiest of all, for they meet others along the way. People who journey inward always find each other, and often experience a love like no other, one born of giving and receiving guidance for no other reason than to give and to receive.

“Why can’t I think?” asked the Scarecrow.20151211_143815

“Why can’t I feel?” asked the Tin Man.

“Why can’t I act?” asked the Cowardly Lion.

And Dorothy loved them all. And they loved her in return.

Dare to go within. Dare to grow. Dare to climb up out of your rut and wander around lost. Wander and wonder. In the case of the former, someone will find you soon enough and guide your steps even as you guide his. In the case of the latter, remember that to be full of wonder is wonder-ful.

Dare to be your own creator.

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It Was All in the (Christmas) Cards

xmas cards0002Does anyone else out there remember when Mom set up a card table or commandeered the dining room table for Operation Christmas Cards? Al and I were recently laughing about the tension that often permeated both of our houses as our mothers dutifully dragged out the Christmas card file, cross-indexed to see who had sent one to us and to whom we had sent one in years past. As I recall, if you hadn’t sent our house a card for three consecutive Christmases, you were banished to the back of the file box, and you no longer received greetings from our smiling snowmen unless and until you started sending them again. Great care was also taken NOT to send the same card to someone two years in a row. This was an issue because the number of cards that Mom stockpiled during the post-Christmas sale, always outnumbered the number of people to whom we sent our seasonal best wishes. In fact, I still have some unopened boxes of Mom’s Christmas cards in the basement.

I actually enjoyed helping my mother and it was usually my job to seal the envelope and affix the stamp. To that end I had a little cake plate that held a damp sponge. I used this to moisten both the envelopes and the stamps, for stamps back then were not self-adhering. Of course, what do you want for five cents apiece? I remember the outrage when they rose to eight cents apiece.

Sitting down after dinner to open  Christmas cards  is a happy highlight in my personal parade of Christmas memories. I opened any that were addressed to my parents and “Austin” or “family.” I reasoned that I had an equal right to open those since I was included as an addressee and that, of course, increased my pile over and above those that were addressed to me.

The best cards, of course, were the ones that contained money, which may be a crass sentiment, but it’s an honest one. The worst cards were the ones that contained novel-length letters about everything that happened in the sender’s family including such riveting highlights as Johnny getting a B on one of his third grade spelling tests and the dog being neutered. I’m not sure those letters would have been interesting even if Johnny had been neutered and the dog had turned out to be a passable speller.

We would routinely receive 100 or more cards every year when I was a kid. This year Martha and I received five and those were from the same five people who sent us cards last year. Well, things change and the logistical puzzle that was the sending of Christmas cards is a fast fading Holiday tradition. I guess my grandchildren may one day sit with their parents after dinner and send Christmas instant messages and that’s okay as long as they experience the same warmth that I did. They’ll never experience, however, the fun of watching Mom turn that wonderful shade of Christmas red when Dad accidentally knocked over the file box, scattering file cards to the North Pole and back.

***

One of the greatest gifts I ever received came not in December, but in October when I was nine years old and my parents took me to Game Three of the 1966 World Series where I saw Wally Bunker shut out the Dodgers in a 1-0 Orioles victory. I had the opportunity to write a short “biography” of that game, which has recently been published by the Society for American Baseball Research and may be viewed here.

May the joy of a nine-year old seeing his favorite team win a World Series game in person be with you throughout the year!

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The Day of Infamy is Fading

Today, of course, marks the 74th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I say, “of course,” but for many young people now, it’s not a matter of course. It’s a matter of history, and World War II has been consigned to the distant past. That is the natural order of things, and is no reflection on them.

I, however, and all my fellow baby-boomers are grandchildren of “the War.” We had no direct experience, but it was part of our lives. The War defined our parents, coloring as it did their perspective on life and on Life. “What did you do during the War?” was a common starting point in any acquaintance. The War was like an old clock at your grandparents’ house. It had always been there and it quietly marked the time, and as grandchildren, we never really thought about it because it WAS always there. And the time it kept began on December 7, 1941.

That clock is winding down, however. It has never meant as much to our children as it does to us, and it means even less to our grandchildren. That’s the way of things. For many of us, our parents are gone. Their loves, their lives, their experiences consigned to some part of the Cosmos that, like the most distant stars, can only be glimpsed briefly out of the corner of one’s eye. When our parents died, we sorted through their effects, consigning many to the trash, but most of us kept that old clock. There is a certain rhythm in us that comes from its ticking, a steady quiet beat that we absorbed as children. When it’s time for our children to sort through our effects, however, they’ll probably see that old clock as just an old clock, and send it to the auctioneer or to the dump.

Because of my love for the music, film, and fashion of the 1940s, my younger daughter Sarah often laughingly accuses me of being out of time; of being from the wrong decade. Yet, it is she who keeps the wedding photo of her grandparents by her bed. My mom in a regular dress; my dad in his sailor’s uniform before he shipped out aboard the USS Gleaves, first to hunt German submarines in the Atlantic and then to escort larger ships in the Pacific. Perhaps Sarah, sees a couple of distant stars more clearly than even she realizes. I know of several other young people who seem to respond to that ticking that marks the time of World War II. I am grateful for that and glad to know them, for while it’s natural to forget, somebody, somewhere has to keep alive the memory of a bunch of boys who saved the world.

If you’ve ever wondered what that Sunday afternoon of December 7th was like if you were simply sitting in your “parlor,” as my grandmother used to call it, listening to the radio, here is a chronology of the day from authentic history.com that includes actual news clips and other radio programming. Take a few moments and listen to some of that day. Rewind the old clock so that it ticks for at least a few minutes.

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Auto-correct Can Kiss My Add

One of Life’s great annoyances in this advanced electronic age is the auto-correct spelling feature present in our phones. It never seems to get certain things correct, automatically or otherwise. For example, when I type way I get easy and when I type easy I get ready. When I type as, I get add, which is at least close, but when I type better I get beget. That’s kind of close letter-wise, but no one since Moses has used the word beget so I don’t know why the phone automatically includes it as a choice.

The phone seems to have problems with B words in general. When I type, “I am going to breakfast,” the phone spits out “I am going to Bhagat.” Bhagat for those of you who don’t know, and that’s all of us, derives from a Sanskrit word meaning devotee. Again, why is that even a choice? I mean, is the phone thinking, “This guy can’t be talking about bacon and eggs, so let’s automatically assume that he’s making reference to a practitioner of Hindu.”

Often, when I type a, as in, I am going to a public place, I get s or z. What makes the phone think that? There’s only one other single-letter word in the entire English language, so if I hit only one button the phone should give me a or I, not s or z. Someone at Acme Auto Correct should have noticed that an s appeared when he typed a and yelled, “Hey, we need to adjust our programming. Get me the vice-president in charge of vowels!”

Sometimes the phone cops an attitude with me. I might type Chihuahua and it will put down circus, so now the person to whom I am texting thinks that there’s a lost circus in our neighborhood. When I go back and carefully type each letter of Chihuahua correctly, it still puts down circus. Then I realize that I haven’t hit the little check box to tell the phone that yes, this is really the word I meant. It stares at me in a condescendingly blank way and I know it’s thinking that I don’t know what I’m talking about until reluctantly, it spits out Chihuahua. It’s not a Smart Phone, it’s a Smarmy Phone.

Once I texted the phrase final shot, but the phone got all sophomoric on me and changed the vowel in shot. You would think it would auto-correct that, but no, the phone just giggled instead.

Let’s face it, our phones only half listen to us, anyway. I just randomly ran my fingers over the text keyboard and out came Both she only age Muncie. I wasn’t even typing any words, but it repeated what it thought I said. It must have been watching a ballgame on its little internal screen and was only half-listening.

Now, granted, I could hit the microphone icon and speak into the texting app, which would then translate my words into print and send them along, but this I refuse to do on principle. That’s just a phone conversation with a middle man. Many of you remember those decidedly immobile, five pound, rotary-faced, telephones that didn’t do much except connect you directly to another person. Looking back, I’m grateful for one thing in particular that those old phones didn’t do: Raise my blood pressure.

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Randolph Scott’s Hat

As I have written before, movies can be unintentionally funny if the writing is poor. Once that occurs, I just can’t take a film seriously. Sloppy scripting is by no means a modern phenomenon, either.

I recently watched A Lawless Street, a 1955 Western starring Randolph Scott, one of the great cowboy actors of all-time, and Angela Lansbury, who’s no slouch of an actress herself. Despite this top-notch acting talent, I was completely distracted during a scene in which Randolph Scott walks into a saloon, the Hired Gun gets the drop on him, and then shoots our hero. The bullet, however, has only grazed him across the top of his head, knocking him unconscious. The sympathetic town doctor pronounces him dead in order to fool the Hired Gun and the Bad Guy who hired him. Doc takes Randolph Scott to the jail where he nurses him back to health. In one day. Why no one in town questions storing a corpse in the jail instead of burying it is beside the point. More miraculous than Randolph Scott’s healing powers are the properties of the man’s hat.

Again, the bullet grazed him across the top of his head, but the next day, he donned his white hat (yes, it really was a white hat) to which there was not only no damage, there wasn’t even a speck of blood on it. If the bullet was low enough to miss the hat altogether, then I suggest that Randolph Scott’s thinking parts would have been pretty well-ventilated, at which point the color and condition of his hat would not be an issue, at least not to him.

If the bullet were high enough to merely part his hair, then the hat should have suffered some consequences. As should have the writers. You would think that someone on set would have said, “Hey, let’s throw some fake blood on the hat.” (Then someone else could have yelled, “Hey! I can’t believe we’re getting paid for this!”) I guess that was too difficult, but for the rest of the movie, I didn’t care if Angela Lansbury stayed true to Randolph Scott (she did) or whether the Hired Gun would get what was coming to him (he did) or if corruption would be expelled from Medicine Bend (it was). I only cared about the hat. A perfect ending to this movie would have been to have the hat ride off into the sunset by itself, but the writers stuck with a more traditional ending, which is strange to me because they certainly didn’t stick to a traditional hat.

Shortly after watching this Western, I watched a 1962 “thriller” entitled, Homicidal, which was a William Castle production and which, Time magazine liked better than Psycho. Homicidal was famous for containing a “fright break” right before the movie’s climax. A clock actually appeared on the screen and people were told they could leave if they didn’t think they could handle the scary ending. Castle offered them their money back, too, but that’s a different story, which you can read about here. This was a clever idea, but my favorite part of the movie is when the main character looks out the window and says, “Miriam Webster is here!” My first thought was that there was a dictionary walking up the driveway, and all during the rest of the picture I wondered if the writers were amusing themselves with this name or if they subconsciously got it from the unused Merriam Webster dictionary that was must have been lying around on the desk.

I’m only speculating that the dictionary was unused. The writers certainly never looked up the word plot. Well, maybe they did look up the word plot before they started in on the script. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt on that. I am quite positive, however, that the word coherent was not referenced.

Movies can be riveting. Sometimes, however, they rivet your attention to the wrong stuff.

You can watch the trailer for Homicidal below:

 

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