Independence Day 2020

Humanity advances on all fronts thanks to individuals who possess innumerable skills, ideas, beliefs, perspectives, and talents. Let there be no mistake: The United States of America is the greatest expression of the individual in the history of humanity. The Constitution is its political underpinning and capitalism is the economic foundation of the individual. Marxists have been whittling away at America and the ideal for which it stands for decades. In the past 6 months, the penknives have been put away for chain saws, and now the Marxists are cutting down everything in sight. If we allow that to continue it won’t be long before the only thing left for them to do will be to burn off the brush and bulldoze the stumps of what was once humanity’s greatest hope. If they succeed, the human race will be plunged into another millennial-long dark age, and the individual will become a greasy spot in the road to a Totalitarian utopia in which many must suffer for the good of the few. I realize that this post will one day put me in a re-education camp, but then I don’t plan to go quietly into that good nightmare. People such as I may even have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of our Founding Fathers and unfurl our flag by some rude bridge.

Therefore, on this the actual anniversary of the passage of Richard Henry Lee’s resolution for independence in 1776, watch this dramatization of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the perfect document written by an imperfect man. America was founded on the ideal of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We must not permit the destruction of that ideal on the pretense that since we can’t perfect it, there is no point in pursuing it.

“What brave men I shall lose before this business is through.”~~ Geo. Washington

 

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Hunter’s Last Hit

Hunter Rains sighed as he clicked off the TV. Still no agreement between the Major League Baseball Players Association and the owners about starting the 2020 season, which of course, had been delayed because of the nationwide shutdown from the Covid-19 virus. I’m dying to play ball, and you guys . . . His thought trailed off. Well, I’m dying, sure enough.

Throughout the winter, Hunter had been looking forward to his own high school season, but then the cancer struck, and struck quickly. As he lay back on the bed, he recalled the entire sequence of events for the thousandth time: the symptoms, the visit to the family doctor, the first oncologist visit, then the second (how his parents both cried), the chemo, and now, here he was in hospice. At first, he cried, then cursed, then finally came to the conclusion that the Universe was a giant actuarial table and his name was assigned to the “Cancer, aged 18” box. Hunter shrugged to himself.

His doctor thought that Hunter might have until early April, but Hunter held on. He wanted to see one more Opening Day. April came and went with still no baseball, but a rumor made the rounds that the game would resume sometime in May. His doctors were amazed that he made it past Memorial Day.

Negotiations between the players and the owners sprang up again, but a July 4th Opening Day was pushed back to July 19th, and still they argued.

Hunter could wait no longer.

A couple of days ago, he had talked his grandfather into retrieving his uniform, and his grandfather had talked the coach into giving it to him. Hunter told his grandpa that it would make him feel better to see it hanging in the little closet, and oh, would he bring his glove and a bat and the ball bucket, too?

Hunter rose from the bed, taking a couple of steps toward the closet. Nope, he couldn’t wait any longer.

He called for an Uber driver, then changed into his uniform. He smiled. He knew he could count on grandpa, who may have been a bit suspicious about why he wanted these things, but grandpa never asked any questions. The entire uniform—the three-quarter length under sleeves, the belt, the stirrups, the sanitaries, even his jock were all there. So were his spikes, which he tied together and draped over his shoulder. He picked up his bat and glove with one hand, and tried to lift the ball bucket with the other, but it was too heavy now. He looked around and removed the pillow case, dropping in 10 balls. Quietly, he snuck out a side door and waited for his ride.

“What are you dressed up for?” said the driver. “There’re no games anywhere.”

“Oh, um, my little cousin is in hospice and he’s a big baseball fan. Thought it would make him feel better if I visited him in uniform.”

The driver thought about this for a moment, then said, “You don’t look so good yourself.”

“Take me to the high school, please.”

The car pulled into the student parking lot just before dusk.

***

It took a while for Hunter to walk from the parking lot down to the ballfield. Tired as he was though, he couldn’t help but smile. The bases were left out when practice had been shut down and no one had bothered to come out and get them. He sat on the bench and changed into his spikes, which crunched into the cinder warning track as he crossed it.

He loved that sound.

Hunter took the pillow case to the mound and climbed up on the rubber. He put a couple of balls in his glove and grabbed a third, then wound up and threw. He had nothing on the throw, of course, and it bounced weakly just past home plate. Hunter didn’t care. He threw the ninth ball and was about to throw the last, when he paused, shook off his glove, and went to the bench where he had left his bat. He strode to the plate, dug in to the right-hand batter’s box, and tossed the ball in the air. Swinging as hard as he could, he lofted a ball that landed softly in the grass in short left center.

Hunter suddenly found himself running to first base. Weak as he was, his instincts hadn’t failed him as he rounded into foul territory and hit the inside corner of the bag perfectly. As he touched second and made for third, he heard himself calling the action to an imaginary radio audience.

“Rains has rounded second and he’s steaming for third! The ball has rolled all the way to the wall. Trout has just now retrieved it and Rains is going for an inside the park home run!” He saw his third base coach waving frantically. Out of the corner of his eye, he was aware that everyone in the stadium, including his grandpa was standing and cheering. He saw the catcher lean towards the foul side of home plate to receive the throw, and so he angled his body towards the fair side and slid into home. He wasn’t going very fast, though, so it wasn’t exactly a slide.  It was more like he sat himself in the dirt, tucking his left leg under him as he scooted his right foot across the plate.

Lying there in the dirt, he could feel the dew begin to settle across the field. He saw the first star blink at him, and he blinked back. He was amazed as he realized that, for the first time in months, he didn’t hurt anywhere. He laughed at himself when he wondered if his home run had won the game or tied it or if his team had lost anyway. He shrugged. It didn’t matter.

***

Search parties had gone out just before dusk. Hunter’s grandfather arrived at hospice after the others, including Hunter’s parents, who had already gone out to look for him. He was frantic, of course, but he suddenly had a feeling, and he looked in Hunter’s closet. He said nothing and hurried out.

He pulled into the student parking lot and hopped out of his car just as the first stars were coming out. Even as he began to run towards home plate, he was dialing 911 to have an ambulance sent to the high school baseball field, but he knew. He knelt in the dust and lifted Hunter’s frail upper body out of the baseline, hugging him closely. His tears smeared the dust on Hunter’s cheeks. This was the last of many moments that they would spend in a ballpark together. He saw the ambulance pull into the parking lot and heard a voice call out, wondering if anyone was “down there.” Hunter’s grandfather finally answered, “Yeah. Down here.” He relinquished Hunter to the paramedics and called his daughter. Then, he gathered up the balls along the backstop and Hunter’s bat. He headed to the mound and picked up Hunter’s glove, and as he walked back to the parking lot, he spotted a lone baseball in short left field. He walked over to it and picked up Hunter’s last hit.

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Real Journalism

It is becoming increasingly important to separate the mainstream media from hard-working journalists. I have utter contempt for the former and great admiration for the latter. In fact, I have a deep and abiding love for one of the latter: Our younger daughter Sarah happens to be the Night Side reporter for ABC 27 in Harrisburg, PA. It’s not just a father’s pride that makes me say she is hard-working. More than once she has called to ask about using the exact right word. She has shed tears over the tragedies, large and small, that she has had to cover. She endeavors to get the story right, rather than angling to get the “right” story. In covering certain political rallies, however, she has had to endure the wrath of the crowd that sees her as simply another member of the media.

I see her and her friends and her colleagues at small and mid-market stations everywhere as the saviors of journalism because they are setting the proper example for the media “stars.” The real journalists in this country still follow the facts wherever they lead, and they doubt every story and every source until the story and the source are verified. That is a quality not only lacking in the national news, it is no longer even a value. If members of the profession such as Sarah don’t save journalism, it won’t be saved.

My favorite journalist.

There is nothing glamorous about covering the local school board meeting, or lugging around your camera when it’s 98 degrees only to have your shot ruined by a truck roaring past, or interviewing a surly person who doesn’t want to talk. Or having all that happen in one story and still have it written and edited for the 11 o’clock edition. It’s important for the rest of us to remember that when it’s done right it’s a dirty job. To you highly-paid blowhards on national television who think you are the story, pay attention to your local field reporters and learn how journalism is done correctly.

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Crashing Into Destiny

During an American Legion baseball game back in 1933, in Gastonia, North Carolina, a 14-year old shortstop named Lawrence Davis was chasing down a pop fly into left field. Then known as “Squeaky” because his infield chatter always ended with a rising, almost falsetto tone, Davis collided with the left fielder. It was a hard collision and “Squeaky” immediately became “Dynamite.” While Dynamite Davis makes for wonderful alliteration, “Dynamite” quickly transformed into “Crash.”

Yes, there really was a Crash Davis, just like in the movie, Bull Durham. When he reached age 18, Davis entered Duke University. Playing semi-pro ball after his freshman year, he caught the eye of Connie Mack, the owner/manager of the Philadelphia A’s, and the team picked up his tuition for his sophomore year. Davis made his major league debut that summer, in 1940. (Against future Hall of Famer, Bob Feller. He popped out.)

Davis served in the U. S. Navy and played on the Norfolk Naval Air Station baseball team; that was his official duty. Teammates included Pee Wee Reese and Dom DiMaggio. He was then assigned to Harvard University in 1944 where he served as the Officer of the Day for the ROTC program and one of his cadets was Bobby Kennedy.

As with so many other young men who served in the military, his baseball skills had deteriorated just enough that he was no longer major league material, and he was cut by the A’s in Spring Training, 1946. Playing minor league ball in New England for a couple of seasons, he returned to North Carolina, where he played for the Durham Bulls in 1948 and set a then league record with 50 doubles. Davis played in the minors through 1951 before retiring.

Gregarious and intelligent, he coached baseball and worked in personnel for Burlington Industries, destined to be a local legend with a major league pedigree. One day, however, Davis got a call from an unknown movie maker named Ron Shelton who had been thumbing through a Carolina League record book and came across the perfect name for the main character of a movie he wanted to film. Permission was quickly granted.

Crash Davis

That’s how Kevin Costner became “Crash Davis.” Not surprisingly, Shelton and Davis developed a friendship that would last until the latter’s death in 2001.

I came across the real Crash Davis because his player card is included in the A’s team set for my 1941 Strat-O-Matic game. Naturally, that was a name that I had to look up, and in doing so, I discovered a remarkable story and a remarkable man. Everyone has a story, and Mr. Davis tells his in a couple of interviews which can be accessed here. If you enjoy baseball stories from the old-days or if you enjoy good story-tellers, then I highly recommend clicking on that link.

Funny how Destiny may be dramatic and even world-changing—think December 7, 1941—or it can be as simple as a pop fly into left field.

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Pandemic Reveals a Truth Ignored

The current pandemic is revealing a fundamental principal of life, one which we often pretend does not exist: Life is uncertain. Inherent in, if not synonymous with the idea that Life is uncertain, is fear of the Unknown. Fear is a powerful tool whether trying to sell dandruff shampoo or persuading one to exchange liberty for security.

Our technology, which has kept us alive and functioning beyond what anyone could imagine 63 years ago (i.e. when I was born), combined with our innate hubris, has even led us to react with indignity at Life’s most certain prospect, which is to say death. We constantly try to negate this fundamental truth. If we compare our sense of uncertainty to a hole, we have tried to fill it with money, fame, cars, conquests, power, and entertainment. That hole of uncertainty that is inside society’s soul cannot, however, be filled for the very practical reason that it is bottomless. Life is uncertain.

Now, this pandemic has swept in and reminded us that people die. Randomly. I could be next.

Or you.

Back in the day (i.e. when I was born) it seems that everyone knew someone or had a family member who owned a farm. Death is all around on a farm, and we accepted it then as part of Life. Back then, if you were served a Sunday dinner of fried chicken while visiting the farm, you can be sure that someone had chased down dinner and chopped its head off right there behind the kitchen. Going back 100 years, people died suddenly from infections, accidents, undetected health issues. There were no antibiotics, trauma centers, CAT-scans. We accepted death because we had no choice. Everyone knew that Life was uncertain.

We still have no choice. We wear ourselves out and frustrate ourselves pretending that we do. We howl at the moon and sue the hospitals and attending physicians because we want to blame somebody rather than accept that people die. Right now many are telling themselves that “things” will be okay when a treatment for Covid-19 is developed or we develop a vaccine or the virus simply burns itself out. But what if there is no treatment or no vaccine? What if it doesn’t burn itself out? Medicine can’t fill that hole, either. Life is uncertain.

Until we decide, each one of us for ourselves, that we are going to step out of our houses, go back to school, go back to work, and face the uncertainty, we are going to be captives of the fear that has permeated parts our society. There are no guarantees, and there will never be any guarantees concerning Covid-19. There’s no guarantee that you won’t be diagnosed with cancer tomorrow. There are no guarantees that you won’t slip in the shower tomorrow and break your neck. There are no guarantees that one of the asteroids flying through our solar system on a regular basis will miss us, and if one say, a mile across, should collide with Earth, it would destroy civilization as we know it. Life is uncertain.

Face the uncertainty of the day. You can do it with a mask and 6 feet away from anyone else if you choose, but sooner or later, you are going to have to face the current uncertainty and the fear that goes with it, and the fear that has been injected into it. Money, power, vaccines, fame, medicine, glamor, none of it will render you less fearful. You can’t fill the hole.

You have to bridge it with Faith.

I’m not going to tell you what to have faith in, so long as it brings you to the idea that Life is Good and you will face what the Universe throws at you without question and with as much grace as you can muster. Understand this as well: At some point, hopefully, after a long and happy life, you will fall into that hole of Uncertainty, immediately reaching the level of the Unknown. That much of Life is certain. Embrace it. But there are no guarantees. “At some point” may be tomorrow; don’t waste today on fear.

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Orioles Win the 1971 Strat-O-Matic Tournament!

If you read my previous blog entry, then you know that I have created a “calm time” in my day by setting up a tournament with my old Strat-O-Matic baseball game, which features the American League teams from 1971. I am happy to say that the Baltimore Orioles, my team since 1964, won the tournament by defeating the Boston Red Sox in 7 games. The Birds had a 3 games to 1 lead, and then lost 2 straight, and yes–I would have been upset if they had lost that 7th game. They’re my team whether they are real players on a diamond, or stat cards on a table in my basement. (For the record, no shenanigans were employed to insure the outcome.)

The tournament took 44 games to complete, and I kept statistics on every team, compiled the league stats and individual leaders, and named an all-star team and a Most Valuable Player. (Actually, Ray Culp and Frank Robinson were co-MVPs. And all of this information is available upon request.)

I feared having more quarantine than tournament games, which has turned out to be the case, so as I suggested in that last post, I ordered the player cards from both leagues for the 1941 season. It’s been a great deal of fun sorting through those players. I found Boots Poffenberger’s catcher from his days in the Marine Corps, i.e. Gene Desautels as well as two players–Cliff Melton and Don Heffner–whom my mother had major crushes on when she was a girl and those two gentlemen played for the Orioles when they were a minor league team. There was also a pitcher for Cleveland named Al Smith, and regular readers of this blog will understand the significance of that.

So, in the next day or two, I will begin managing Ted Williams the year he hit .406 and Joe DiMaggio the year he hit in 56 straight games, and Pete Reiser before he crippled himself by repeatedly running into walls, and Mel Ott hitting in the Polo Grounds (yes, the new and improved Strat-O-Matic includes a “ballpark effects” chart) and Bob Feller and a bunch of guys you never heard of, but who played major league baseball and they have the Strat-O-Matic cards to prove it.

Of course, if I complete this tournament before the quarantine is lifted . . . Well, we just won’t think about that.

Ted Williams’ on-base percentage was a mind-boggling .553 in 1941, which is 3rd all-time.

 

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Maintaining My Sanity Through Strat-O-Matic Baseball

Early in this lock down, I realized that I needed more than mere distractions, such as movies and books. I needed to create my own little world, a safe place to which I could go, and thanks to the fact that I still have my 1972 Strat-O-Matic baseball game, complete with every American League team, I have done so. Each afternoon or evening, I head to the ballpark, er, my basement and play one game in the 1971 A. L. Championship Tournament. (I got the game in 1972 when I was 15, but that means the numbers on the player cards are from 1971.) I keep the statistics for each team, and send out game summaries to a select group of baseball junkies. This helps make my baseball world even more real. (Message me if you want to be added to the list. It will give you something to talk about.)

Boston is playing the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox are playing the Baltimore Orioles in the semi-finals, just so you know. The Yankees scored the biggest upset so far, by knocking the actual West Division champion Oakland A’s out of the tournament.

I began to worry, however, that I will run out of tournament before I run out of lock down, but then I discovered that the Strat-O-Matic Company has produced player cards for past seasons, and I’m beginning to think that I’ll need to purchase a set from another year, run another tournament, and pit that winner against my 1971 Champions. The dilemma is, what year? 1966, the year the Orioles won it all? But what if they lose in my basement? 1964, the year I first began following the game? Maybe I could get the first Orioles team that I ever followed (I was 7) past the Yankees. They almost won it that year anyway. Or 1957, the year I was born? And then there is 1941, the year DiMaggio hit in 56 straight and Ted Williams hit .406. Of course, if I got the 1941 set, I might have to play the entire 154 game season, at least in the American League just to see if Ted can hit that well in my basement. Let’s see 154 games times 8 teams equals . . . way more games than I better have time to play during this lock down because if it lasts much longer I’m going to take up the hobby of rioting.

What are you doing to maintain balance in your life?

Player cards from 1971. The game is very detailed statistically, yet my average time of game is around 25 minutes. And yes, I keep track of the time of game.

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Gunfight at the O. K. Corral and Gone With the Wind Have a Connection

I don’t know about flattening this virus curve, but I have been working hard at flattening my own emotional curve, which seems to rise and fall within minutes on some days. A good book helps me, as I’m sure it does you. Having been raised on Westerns, I am very happy to be reading Allen Barra’s Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends. A thoroughly researched biography, this volume also compares the facts to the legends, whether those legends appeared in print or in the movies.

I have enjoyed every page, and was sorry to come to the end of this story. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, because I highly recommend it, but I will share two items that I found most interesting.

First, the real Wyatt Earp was calmer, cooler, tougher, and more fearless than any cinema lawman who has ever been imagined by novelist or script writer. In his testimony regarding the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt stated that he saw Billy Clanton draw his pistol and that they began the fight by firing almost simultaneously. “He was shooting at me, and I shooting at Frank McLaury. I knew that Frank McLaury had the reputation of being a good shot and a dangerous man, and I aimed at Frank McLaury.” Ignoring the man who is shooting at you, because you have calculated that you need to fire at someone else is coolness under fire and then some.

Second—and here’s the answer to the teaser title of this piece—it turns out that Doc Holliday corresponded with a cousin of his, one Mary Melanie Holliday, who lived back in their home state of Georgia. Doc was quite well-educated and the cousins seemed to have a certain affection for one another. Mary eventually entered a convent where she was known as “Sister Melanie” including by one Margaret Mitchell, “who made her the model for Melanie in Gone With the Wind.”

Who would ever imagine that there was a direct connection between the saintly Melanie Wilkes and the . . . less than saintly John “Doc” Holliday?

If you’re a fan of Western history OR you enjoy stories that relate how things came to be, or in this case, how and why the most famous lawman in Western history came to be so famous, then read Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends.

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Angry Buddha

In my last entry, I called for all of us to be a Buddha in the face of this Chinese flu pandemic, part of which means to accept what we cannot change. Implied in that idea is the notion that we should be alert to things that we can change, and to do what we can to change them. I’m finding it impossible to keep up with the news on this subject and to adjust my emotions accordingly  and so, I will address just one subject in an attempt to influence my little corner of the blogosphere: Politicians who portray themselves as benefactors of the people by handing out money that was ours to start with should be quarantined from office.

There is no doubt that many, many people need some kind of financial assistance in the current situation, but here’s a good idea, not that it’s original to me: Instead of taking my money in and then handing it back to me, how about you STOP TAKING MY MONEY IN THE FIRST PLACE? Let’s place a moratorium on collecting any taxes at all until 30 days past the date when the current emergency is declared to be over. If ever the local, state, and federal governments had an incentive to find a cure for this pandemic, that policy would surely provide one.

As it is, these elected potentates have no clue, and what’s worse, no plan to pay for the several trillion dollars in aid that they plan on distributing. Which means that the federal government is just going to print more money. Which means that the dollar you get back under the guise of their beneficence isn’t going to be worth the dollar you put in.

Ironically, part of a plan to pay for the recovery has already presented itself: If public schools and universities can carry on in a virtual classroom now, why not all the time? Ask any educrat, “What is the optimal per pupil spending figure that insures a good education?” and the answer in all 50 states is always, “More.” What the citizens have received for their investment of tax dollars are high schools that look like shopping malls, stacks of unnecessary or useless text books, and graduates who can’t make change. Even now, school systems are saving on electric, water, and fuel bills. There is a great deal more tax money to be saved—and directed toward the recovery—by overhauling our entire public educational system.

This pandemic has dramatically altered our way of living, but we should look at it as an opportunity. Let’s pay attention to what we do in this situation and how we do it in an effort, when this is all over, to deliver goods and services (including and especially education) more efficiently, to make our economy more stable and even more robust, and to make our nation more secure and self-sufficient. If we do these things while we are saving lives, then we can truly declare a grand victory. If we return to the way we have always done things we will have wasted a golden opportunity to improve our society.

The Buddha would not like that.

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Be a Buddha

The current pandemic may be just the opportunity we so desperately need to sit beneath the Bodhi tree and regain that spirituality with which we were born.

Whatever words you use, hymns you sing, scripture you quote, or theology you follow, there are two great Spiritual Truths endemic to humanity that we need to, not only recognize once more, but embrace fully. They should become mantras for modern man:

I control nothing but myself.

There is Something out there greater than I am.

You do not control the corona virus or how it is presented in the news. You cannot prevent it from mutating. You cannot make your neighbor wash his or her hands. You cannot worry this virus into submission. It has no will for you to bend. It is not sympathetic to your anxiety or your schedule or even your ability to make ends meet. Neither is it doing this to you on purpose. It is neutral, indeed, oblivious to human feelings and endeavors. This will come as a shock to the vast numbers of people who expect their feelings to be considered by everyone and everything. If you’re anxious, it is because you choose to be anxious. The virus didn’t “make” you be that way. If you’re worried, you choose to worry. You control only you.

I know that it is hard not to be anxious and not to worry, but these are bad emotional/spiritual habits, and the more you practice resisting these twin temptations, the stronger you will be. You will relax. A calmness in your core will start to grow. . . .

You are not the pinnacle of Creation. You are special because the Universe did conspire to create you, but It did not name you the Boss of Everything. After all, we may have no other purpose than to house the million microbes that are swimming around in us, corona virus being just the latest. Call it God, Humanity, the Cosmos, Tao—there is Something that is greater than you. Recognize this fact. Embrace it. Submit to it. The more you paddle against the Cosmic Flow, the more frustrated—and exhausted—you will become.

Celebrate it. The Universe doesn’t need you to navigate this Grand Trip on which we find ourselves. It’s a Trip taken on a raft more so than a canoe, so quit paddling. Just try to maintain a steady keel. It doesn’t need you, but for some reason, It invited you along, anyway. No guarantees on the difficulty of the rapids or where you’ll ultimately land, but enjoy the ride. Every day. Virus or no virus; quarantine or no quarantine.

Do what you can to make the journey pleasant for your fellow passengers. You can control that.

You will not solve the medical crisis nor will you dictate policy. You can build that calmness at your core, which will naturally emanate to the others on your raft. The gloom and anxiety we feel over this pandemic is palpable. So too are individual acts of kindness and thoughtfulness and calmness. That’s palpable, too.

Be a Buddha.

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