A Warm Experience in Evansville

On July 18th, Al and I ventured to Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana, on what may be mildly described as a warn evening. The heat index, which had risen to 113 during the day, was still over 100 degrees at game time, which was 7:05. Naturally, this did not deter us and we happily took our front row seats behind the home town Otters’ dugout.

The entrance to Bosse Field.

The entrance to Bosse Field.

Evansville is one of 14 teams in the independent Frontier League, which is now based in the Mid-West. This night, the Otters were taking on the Joliet Slammers. An independent league, as the name implies, is unaffiliated with Major League Baseball. The players play for the love of the game or for one more chance to get noticed by a major league organization. A league rule sets the team salary at $75,000 and yes, you read that correctly: That’s the salary cap for the entire team and so, these boys average a little over $3,000 per season given the 22 man roster. Players live with a host family each summer. Also by league rule, players must be under 27 years of age with the exception of one player per team who may be designated as a “veteran.” The veteran must be under 30 years of age. (Click here for official player eligibility rules.)

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Joliet center fielder, Charlie White, takes a strike in the first inning. Otters’ catcher is JD Dorgan.

Bosse Field, the Otters’ home, is what initially drew us to Evansville. Opened on June 17, 1915, Bosse Field is the third oldest professional ballpark in the country behind only Fenway Park (1912) and Wrigley Field (1914). The park was used as a set in A League of Their Own, the 1992 film about the All American Girls Professional Baseball League in which it served as the home ballpark of the Racine Belles. For a more in-depth look at Bosse Field, click here for a video history of the park, and here for David B. Stinson’s excellent post on Bosse.

Bosse Field is not just an old ballpark; it is a place where the wonderful ambience of ballparks past remains alive not only in the architecture, but also in the buzz from knowledgeable and friendly fans who fill the seats.

We saw an exciting 4-2 Evansville victory by the first place Otters, a team night whose 41-19 record makes them as hot as the night we attended. (The Otters continue to lead the Eastern Division as of this writing nine days later,) Neither the game, nor the ballpark, nor the heat was the most memorable aspect of our visit to Bosse Field, however. What we most enjoyed was warmth of a different kind—that which emanated from the fans with whom we sat. We talked at length with Dave Meyer, a local teacher and athletic director who was there with his dad and his daughter. A well-versed baseball fan in his own right, Dave was eager for us to meet General Manager Bix Branson who in turn was more than happy to take us to his office and show us the photo taken on the day that Bosse Field was officially opened one hundred years ago. Such congeniality was a given on our trip through Kentucky and Indiana, and I know I speak for Al when I say that this is the “souvenir” that we will most cherish whenever we reflect on our trip.

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Fans stand for the National Anthem.

Coming soon, a post on League Field in Huntingburg, IN.

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Our Road Trip By the Numbers

It’s good to be home, although it wasn’t good to be cutting the grass within a half an hour of being home. Al graciously agreed to help and we knocked out that chore. Our road trip to Louisville produced some interesting numbers:

1,468.9 miles traveled

6 times that we crossed the Ohio River

3 states to add to our list of places we have played (Kentucky, Indiana, & Ohio)

3 ballparks visited and 3 games attended

2 barbecue shacks visited (one in Kentucky and one in Indiana)

2 Hooters visited (Of course; they tend to come in pairs, although one was in Indiana and the other in Kentucky.)

1 World War II ship visited.

The Hillerich & Bradsby Factory and Museum

The Hillerich & Bradsby Factory and Museum

1 giant bat found

It became impossible to count the number of friendly, hospitable people that we encountered on the trip, but it is a topic I am happy to blog about at some point. Later in the week, I hope to detail our stop at Bosse Field, and in the near future, I will post a video about League Stadium and our wonderful evening there.

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Craziness at the Reds Game

Al and I had a great time at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati this afternoon,

Great American Ballpark

Great American Ballpark

despite the heat and a strong thunderstorm that delayed the bottom of the first for (officially) 47 minutes. The ballpark is beautiful with fantastic views of the Ohio River, one of the advantages of sitting one row from the very top of the stadium.

Al takes his swings.

Al takes his swings.

Before the game, we took some swings in the batting cage outside the ballpark proper, which means, therefore, that we have now added Ohio to the places we have played. (Hey, it was all that we could do because we’re pretty sure that they wouldn’t let us play catch in the middle of I-71 although they might have because once again, everyone loved our shirts.

As for the game itself, the Indians won 5-3 in 11 innings, despite stranding 18 runners, thanks to four bases loaded walks in four different innings. The last time the Reds walked in four runs was 45 years ago in September of 1970. This is in keeping with some strange things that we’ve seen in ballgames this trip. As it was, the Indians took a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth, but Cincinnati rallied with two outs and none on to tie the score.

Hey! I'm talking about the view of the river.

Hey! I’m talking about the view of the river.

Fittingly, the winning run was walked home in the top of the 11th. We enjoyed the final four frames from the comfort and air-conditioning of the Newport, Kentucky Hooters. The view there is fantastic.

We made it as far as Williamstown, Kentucky after the game, which is a bit north of Lexington. Tomorrow we re-cross those 1,029 West Virginia mountains and hopefully, arrive safe at home.

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Heat & Highlights

Al and I have had many adventures since I wrote less than 48 hours ago. Our trip has now covered over 700 miles, which is about the same number of degrees it is outside. We have managed to visit the Ohio River Valley during the first week in which any serious summer heat has set in. And it is serious. As we were coming back from lunch here in Evansville, Indiana, the heat index was 113. Good thing we played some ball in the cutest little park we’ve ever seen.

In Garvin Park near Bosse Field along Don Mattingly Drive in Evansville, IN.

In Garvin Park near Bosse Field along Don Mattingly Drive in Evansville, IN.

It must have been built for four year olds; regardless, we can now add the State of Indiana to places we have played.

From there we visited LST325, the only original such craft left from World War II.

LST 325

LST 325

This ship landed supplies to American troops late in the day on June 6, 1944, making 40 such trips from England in total. It is anchored on the Ohio River in Evansville, because interestingly enough, Evansville boasted the largest inland ship yard during the war and cranked out over 100 such craft.

Tonight we head to Bosse Field to see the Evansville Otters of the independent Frontier League play, but it was last night which provided us with our highlight so far. We saw the Dubois County Bombers play in League Stadium,

League Stadium, Bombers v Madisonville Miners, July 17, 2015

an event that proved to be one of the most enjoyable baseball experiences that I’ve ever had. The Bombers lost 13-6, but the ballpark and the folks who run the Bombers helped make our visit a delight. A big thanks to Mary and Mike Uebelhor for their hospitality, as well as to all the employees who went out of their way to make us (and everyone, for that matter) feel welcome. Any ballpark aficionado needs to make a pilgrimage to League Stadium.

Another special thanks to Peaches Joyce and Alexa!

Two peaches and a plum.

Two peaches and a plum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll provide more detailed posts about our adventures upon returning home and of course, we have several more to go!

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A Lot of Miles and A Little Baseball

As is often the case whenever Al and I travel together, we manage to find great ballparks and delicious barbecue joints. The former we found in Cannonsburg, Kentucky as we were heading to lunch. The Luther E. Craig Baseball Complex is a beautiful Lion’s

Our old Kentucky ballpark.

Our old Kentucky ballpark.

Club ballpark complete with enclosed press box, a covered grand stand, and a beautiful, level, soggy field. This last feature is a result of the tremendous rainfall that has covered this part of the country. Every river, run, and puddle that we crossed was high and muddy. In fact, at one point, a gentleman came over to the field and we feared that he was going to invite us to leave. Instead, he invited us to help push the lawn tractor out of a marshy spot over on the football field. We were happy to oblige.

We are in Frankfort tonight and will head to Louisville and the H & B Factory and Museum in the morning. We ventured into Staxx Barbecue in Frankfort tonight as recommended by the desk clerk here at the Bluegrass Inn. Staxx was delicious and not likely to be our last stop at a barbecue shack.

We covered 480 miles today; 200 of which were across the country and 280 of which were simply up and down about 1,029 hills between Williamsport and Frankfort. Those 1,029 hills were populated by roughly 29 people. If a market for tree-filled mountains in the middle of nowhere ever develops, then West Virginia will be well on its way to being the richest state in the Union.

I’m not sure when the next post will appear, but it should be no later than Saturday afternoon. Keep following our trip on Twitter @austingisriel

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Bats, Bombers, and Bosse Field

To the Bat Factory! No, not the place where Bruce Wayne has his alter-ego’s accessories manufactured; I’m talking about the Hillerich & Bradsby Louisville Slugger factory where baseball bats are turned out by the thousands every year. My long-time road trip buddy and non-genetic twin, Al Smith, and I will head to Louisville, Kentucky on Thursday and we are inviting you along, at least virtually speaking. I’ll post at least a couple of blogs along the way and you can follow our adventures on twitter @austingisriel.

Our plan is to travel on Thursday and hit the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory Friday morning, but we’re seeing far more than that. After the museum tour, we head to Huntingburg, Indiana to see the Dubois County Bombers play in League Stadium where the movie A League of Their Own was filmed. From there it’s out to Evansville on Saturday for an Evansville Otters Frontier League game at Bosse Field, the third oldest ballpark in regular use in the country (behind Fenway Park and Wrigley Field.) Sunday morning will find us trekking to Cincinnati for the Reds afternoon game against the Indians. Monday we head for home.

Of course, we won’t limit ourselves to merely visiting baseball sites, for we are sure to play in every state that we visit. You can see some of those places here. So far we have played in Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia (many times!), North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and the Bahamas (yes, we took our gloves on a cruise.) After this trip, we will add Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio to our list.

On the road again!

On the road again!

Hope you’ll be ready on time Thursday morning because you don’t want to miss this trip! Please tweet, IM, and email us as we go. It will be like having you right there in the back seat with us.

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The Handkerchief

Samantha Holmes placed a manila envelope onto a stack of manila envelopes that teetered upon a card table. The stack trembled, gave way, and the top half went sliding one after the other, onto the floor.

“Ugh! Why did Daddy keep so much stuff! Did he ever get rid of anything?”

“I don’t know,” laughed her brother Sanford, “We could just pitch it all, you know.”

“We could, but then we might miss something interesting or something . . . I don’t know. We can’t just throw stuff away without looking at it first.”

Sanford laughed again. “You mean we have to give every old letter and photo a proper burial.”

“Yeah, I guess that’s what it is.”

Samantha chuckled at her brother who stood among boxes of framed photos, books, and manila envelopes full of God-knew-what. She began to thumb through yet another box of envelopes and plucked out one in particular because it was so thin. Maybe, she thought, she could sort the contents of this one quickly. Inside was a smaller envelope, the kind in which a greeting card might have fit, and inside it was something wrapped in tissue paper. Samantha unwrapped the paper to reveal a lady’s handkerchief embroidered around the edge with faded red thread. In one corner were the initials, S S underneath of which was the outline of a heart.

S S. I wonder who that was?”

“Some old girlfriend, maybe. It sure wasn’t Mom,” laughed Sanford.

Samantha waved it in the vicinity of her nose.

“At least this isn’t mildewed like Daddy’s army uniform.”

Had she held it close and inhaled deeply, however, she would have breathed in the last trace of perfume that scented the air of a U. S. O. canteen outside Ft. Bragg many years ago . . .

It was one thing to have the whole town turn out at the bus depot to send you off to basic training and it was another to be alone on the last night of leave before shipping overseas. Joe Holmes’ buddies were spread out over brothels and bars from Fayetteville to Spring Lake, but Joe, had no interest in those pursuits. He wandered into the canteen, grabbed a donut and a cup of coffee and sat in the corner trying not to spill powdered sugar on his uniform.

“Look here a minute, soldier.”

Joe, obeying orders, looked up to see a smiling, blue-eyed girl, coffee pot in hand, who licked her thumb and then wiped the white powder off the corner of his mouth.

“That’s real spit and polish! You in here by yourself?”

Joe nodded. She filled his coffee cup.

“Let me put this back,” she said, waving the almost empty pot, “and then I’ll join you. My shift’s about up anyway.”

Joe watched her disappear into the kitchen. Within a minute, the doors swung the other way and she came to his table and sat across from him.

She introduced herself and they talked. She laughed quite a bit. Finally, she leaned in and said to Joe, “There’s not one soldier I talk to in here who’s not scared. At least a little.”

Joe looked away, but she took his hand and said, “You just remember that no matter how bad it gets over there, that home is waiting for you. You have a girl?”

Joe shook his head.

“Well, there’s a girl back here somewhere just waiting to marry you. You just haven’t met her yet. In the meantime, you can think of me.” She laughed and reached into her blouse. Joe began to follow her hand with his eyes, but when he saw its destination, he looked away. She pulled out the handkerchief and handed it to Joe.

She had seen more than her share of Joes, enough to the point that she had had the Woolworth’s in Fayetteville order her several dozen handkerchiefs, each one of which she embroidered with her initials. Each night that she worked in the canteen, she gave one to the boy who seemed most in need of a little reassurance.

“Keep it in your helmet or your hip pocket; doesn’t matter where, but I promise it will help when things get tough.”

It did. In the subsequent three years, Joe discovered that the handkerchief contained courage and hope. To hold it was to have a pleasant dream in the middle of a nightmare. . .

“Well,” said Sanford, “There’s no sense in us keeping it. Guess that was just for Dad to know.”

“Guess so,” said Samantha, who nevertheless, rewrapped the handkerchief in its tissue, put it back in its greeting-card envelope, and placed that inside the manila envelope, before consigning it to the trash.

Sanford was right: It was not for Samantha and him to know. We ourselves perhaps, have intruded too far into Joe Holmes’ moment. In any event, we really don’t need to know who S S was. Her handkerchief is gone now, and so is she and so is Joe. Even Woolworths is gone. But can any of us say that that moment in the U. S. O. canteen is gone? Would the Cosmos consign such a moment to the trash? I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think it would. I think It would like for each of us to receive a handkerchief; and I’m pretty sure that It would like it even more if we had a dozen or so embroidered with our own initials, ready to be given away at a moment’s notice.

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