Five Laws We Will Have When I Am Emperor

I have always believed that the degree to which any people are civilized is in direct, inverse proportion to the number of laws it has. Simply put, good people don’t really need many laws to tell them how to behave. Nevertheless, if I become Emperor (why stop at King?) here are five laws that I will decree immediately:

  1. As everyone is in way too much of a hurry these days, everyone will be required to mosey between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. as well as from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. That gives you 10 hours to hurry, which I might point out is counter-productive, but I understand that old habits are hard to break. Meandering is an acceptable alternative to moseying.
  2. Modern automobiles are technological marvels, able to guide themselves, park themselves, and drive themselves. We’ve come a long way from seat belts being an option and a glove box full of improperly folded maps, but I will mandate another piece of standard equipment. Under my reign, automobiles will also come with an onboard howitzer which will automatically fire a warning shot across the hood of any idiot who believes that the word yield means “I’m going to ignore you while I drive parallel with you and then give you the finger when you didn’t get out of my way, even though there is a tractor-trailer on your left.” As I mentioned, the warning shot will be fired automatically, but there will be a manual override in order to lower the shell’s trajectory. Educators call this a “teachable moment.” Actually, if people glean the benefits from the Mosey Law, the Learn the Meaning of Yield Law will most likely prove unnecessary. (See how laws decrease as folks become more civilized i.e. considerate of one another?)

    This will be illegal when I’m in charge.

  3. All toast must be cut into triangles and not rectangles. It just tastes better that way. Period. Clearly, too many restaurants do not understand this, and so the Triangle Toast law will go on the books. How you cut your toast in the privacy of your own home, however, is none of the Emperor’s business, even if you do it wrong.
  4. Ever go to a sporting event and hear some patron of the game yell, “My grandmother could hit that pitch!” (or whatever the sport and whatever it is that any given grandma could do better?) Hence forth, from the start of my Emperoring, anyone who yells such a thing will have to immediately produce his grandmother, who will then have to complete the “offending” player’s at-bat. This will benefit society in two ways: First, perhaps these people will learn that we might want to go easy on judging other people’s failures, and second, Grandma will make an appearance in a professional game and that is pretty cool.
  5. Finally, if you send your parents a cryptic text or instant message; or if you suggest in your Facebook status that some undescribed tragedy has befallen you and you do not immediately provide the details to the people who love you, you will be arrested. You will be arrested and returned to junior high school where you will be given a second chance to grow up, because that childish nonsense has to stop.

I am sure that there are other decrees that will improve our lives that I have overlooked; therefore, please feel free to suggest them to me, your Emperor-To-Be.

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I Believe in Miracles and Scooter Gennett

Scooter Gennett reminded us again last night (that is on June 6th) why baseball is the greatest game in the world, when he became only the 17th player in major league history to hit four home runs in a single game. The Cincinnati Reds utility man also set a single-game club record with 10 runs batted in, and blooped a run-scoring single to boot making him 5-for-5 on the night. The single came in the first inning and he followed that with a grand slam, a two-run homer, a solo shot, and another two-run blast. The grand slam went to right center; Gennett then hit the next three home runs to center, left, and right respectively. Gennett became the first player in the 135-year history of the Reds to hit four homers in a single game. [Boxscore]

It’s a rare feat indeed, but it becomes even more improbable when you consider that when the game began, the lefty-swinging Gennett had hit only three homers on the season, and 38 in his five-year big league career. Furthermore, he had been released by Milwaukee in March and the Reds then claimed the 5’10”, 185 pounder on waivers.

Scooter Gennett is yet another example of a primary thesis in Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience which is that our passion for baseball arises, in large part, because it strengthens our faith. Baseball provides events that are so improbable that they suggest the impossible and when the Impossible happens, we label it a Miracle. The concepts of the Infinite and the Eternal are beyond our comprehension, but we can understand the metaphors that suggest what these things are like and this strengthens our faith. Believe me, Scooter Gennett hitting four home runs for the Reds, when Ted Kluszewski, Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, George Foster, Adam Dunn, and Joey Votto have not is miracle.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that he is officially listed in baseball-reference.com as “Scooter,” which means that he was destined to play baseball because that’s a baseball name if ever there was one. Besides, how many bank presidents do you know are named Scooter? What else could he do? Actually, Ryan Joseph Gennett picked up that nickname when, at the age of five, and refusing to wear his seatbelt, he was taken by his mother to the local police station to have a uniformed officer scare him into wearing it. Frightened that he would be arrested if he provided his real name, the quick-thinking kid gave them the name of his favorite Muppet character.

Only in baseball.

Oh, and to put one final improbable cherry on this most unlikely of sundaes? Though he graduated from Sarasota High School in Florida, where the family moved when he was nine, Scooter was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.

You gotta believe.

Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati witnessed a most unlikely event Tuesday night, courtesy of Scooter Gennett.

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The Life of Riley

Our granddaughter, Riley, celebrates her 5 month birthday tomorrow, and her growth is astounding. In fact, she’s becoming so dexterous that I bought her her first sleeve of little baseballs and I’d like to see her on a throwing program before the summer is out.

In any case, I say that she’s going to “celebrate” her birthday, but really I imagine that she’ll pretty much do what she has done her whole life now, which is eat, nap, and require several diaper changes, although her cooing, smiling, and key-ring chewing has increased considerably. It is remarkable how these simple activities are so engaging to me. We Skyped with Becky and Riley on Monday and she kept us entertained for 40 minutes with that simple repertoire. In fact, I find myself smiling and laughing at pretty much anything she does. I notice that she seems to elicit this reaction from other people when they see her photos and videos. As a good friend of ours has said, “She’s magic,” and that’s a very accurate description. Her little being seems to slow people down and make them just Be, too.

Our Skype time on Monday brought us another reward, however, besides little gummy smiles and wide blue eyes. As much as Riley has grown in these five months, so too, has Becky. She was holding Riley on her lap in front of the camera, and we got to watch our daughter just be with her daughter. Becky seems relaxed and confident as a mom now and that’s not a given. After all, becoming a mom is a serious adjustment. I mean first you give birth, which may be in accordance with the laws of biology, but it’s a process that certainly seems to defy several laws of physics. Then, they put this little naked bundle in your arms, one that comes with absolutely no instruction manual, and say, “Congratulations! You’ve just committed the rest of your life to this brand new miniature person!”

I am happy to say that Becky and Jesse both are happily committed.

Riley isn’t aware of much now, certainly not aware that she is a Keeper of the Magic. When she is older and goes out into the world seeking its wonders, my role will be to help her look inside for that Magic that she has always possessed. Right now, her great power is to remind the rest of us that we have the Magic, too.

Riley doing her ET impression.

 

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Brooks, Still the Magician

This is a weird day for me, and probably many other similar-aged people, boys especially, who grew up in Baltimore in the 1960s and 70s. My childhood hero, Brooks Robinson, turns 80 today. 80! I knew that one day Brooks would no longer be playing third base for the Baltimore Orioles because I knew that I would be the one replacing him. Half of that knowledge proved accurate. But Brooks was never going to grow old, and while I was going to grow up, I wasn’t going to grow old either. Neither of those beliefs proved accurate.

Brooks played for the Orioles for 23 seasons beginning in 1955, so he was always there during my entire childhood. When I first began to comprehend the world, around the age of seven or eight, I quite naturally made the mistake of believing that this is the way the world has always been and the way it always will be. I always enjoyed history even at that age, but I viewed it about the same way that I viewed a movie: It wasn’t quite real. Then, somewhere in adolescence, I began to realize that change is a constant. My friend from 4th grade was not my friend in 10th grade who was somebody I had never met before. My parents were getting older. Some of their friends had died. I was changing, but through it all there was Brooks. Even as his talent diminished, even when he retired it didn’t matter because he was now a fixture, a great Touchstone to all that had been wonderful about growing up. In fact, when he did retire in 1977, I had met this girl named Martha, and we went to “Thanks, Brooks Day” at Memorial Stadium. Then my wife, Martha, and I attended the night in1983 when he was honored for his Hall of Fame induction, and of course, we attended the ceremony in Cooperstown. And when we were expecting our two children, there was no question what his name would be if indeed, the baby turned out to be a “he.”

People used to say that Brooks was “a magician” with the glove, which was true in that sports columnist kind of way, but he possesses a far greater magic than that. He can make my childhood reappear.

I “met” Brooks Robinson when I was seven; actually did meet him when I was eight and got his autograph several times since then. I regard all of those times as highlights of my life. What endears Brooks to so many of us is not just the Hall of Fame talent and the fact that he is a nice guy, but that he seems to take a genuine interest in each one of us. If we were all half as decent as Brooks Robinson, it would be a Hall of Fame world.

Don’t think you can get around on the fastball anymore, Brooks, but believe me, you still got the Magic. Happy birthday.

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Baseball Stories

I recently re-read a book of three short stories that I wrote a few years ago, something that I don’t normally do. As I was creating a new ad campaign on Amazon for these old stories, I wanted to re-familiarize myself with them.

They were good!

Trust me, writers don’t always (don’t usually?) have that reaction to material that they’ve written in the past. When I reexamine a subject after a few years, I often find that my perspective has changed; what I wrote then is not what I would write now. This is why I rarely break that rule about not reading my own work once it’s in print.

What also struck me about these stories is that I was just beginning to touch on themes and observations that have become very important to me since I first wrote them, themes and observations that were an important part of Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts.

In any case, 3 Tales From the Grand Old Game includes “I Love it Here in Indiana!” which demonstrates the lengths to which three friends will go in order to fulfill the final request of their baseball Yoda, Max McGowan. They have promised to scatter his ashes on the diamond where Max managed decades ago, but tracking down the correct field—and keeping track of the urn that contains Max—is not as easy as it seems. Max, by the way, is based on real life Mo Weber whom many of you know. I did an interview with Mo about his days managing semi-pro baseball out in the Dakotas in the 1950s as part of a companion piece to the story and you can watch that video here.

“Spot On,” the second story in the trio, examines the desperation and self-doubt that arises in Trent Tyler when he suddenly and for no apparent reason, develops an inability to throw a baseball accurately. Trent struggles to overcome this throwing “slump,” but he knows that his problem is much deeper than a mere slump. Willing to fake an injury to explain his rash of errors, the third baseman discovers that he needs help, and not from a coach, either.

“A Baseball Fan’s Fairy Tale,” the final story in the collection, is just that. We’ve all dreamed of owning a big league team; long-suffering Oriole fan Larry Koobish, along with a million friends finds a way to make it happen. Only in this fairy tale, Larry discovers that he is not Cinderella, but instead is a Fairy Godfather.

3 Tales From the Grand Old Game is an e-book only and is available on Amazon here and available for all other e-readers here. And it’s only $.99. (That’s pretty subtle, right?)

***

There is one more very important, very moving baseball story to tell you about that occurred just today. You might recall the message that I received from a young lady in California whose Twitter handle is “Krity.” She had placed her dad in hospice and though he was unresponsive, she read him baseball books, reasoning that if anything could get through to her baseball-loving dad, it was that. She had found my book, Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience, and wanted me to know how important it was to them.

I received a follow-up message telling me that her dad died at the end of March. Krity added,

“I’ll never forget reading to him your words about the extra special connection between fathers and daughters who love baseball together. Thank you for your beautiful words and stories—they comforted us both, and gave us such a lovely way to connect.”

It’s a weird and wonderful feeling to think that I functioned like the voice in Field of Dreams and helped connect a father to his child one last time. It’s also probably the best baseball story that I’ve ever heard.

 

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Everything’s Better in Black and White

Rick and Virginia were missing. As there had been no ransom demand, kidnapping had been ruled out. Murder and suicide had seemed unlikely based on their apartment in which nothing was disturbed, and from which nothing had been taken. The police, with nothing to go on, had slowly abandoned the case and now, six months later, in late-night moments of bewilderment, their friends even began to speculate if Rick and Virginia had been abducted by aliens.

“Weirder things have happened,” said his upstairs neighbor, Nelson, and everyone nodded yet no one had any idea what could be weirder than that.

Rick had met Virginia while working at the local food bank and each was sensitive to the plight of the unfortunate, but they believed in wholly different approaches to how best to resolve that plight. They had voted for opposite candidates in the last election, which produced several dinner-time arguments that carried well past their bed time. At their wedding, they had vowed never to go to bed angry; hence, some of their political discussions indeed lasted long into the night.

They were not only frustrated with one another, but a bit frightened, too, for this was the first time in their six years of marriage (“eight years of being together” as Virginia liked to add) that their disagreements had become so heated. Nevertheless, at the end of the day (sometimes quite literally) they had their love of old movies that brought them together.

As a girl, Virginia had spent a great deal of time with her grandmother and neither slept particularly well. The girl had an unnatural anxiety about the future and the grandmother had a deep longing for the past and so, one or two o’clock in the morning would find them awake and delighting in the Marx Brothers or marveling at how Humphrey Bogart found the Maltese Falcon or how Fred and Ginger would dance away their difficulties.

As for Rick, he loved Virginia and so he came to love old movies, too.

Shortly after the election, they got into a tremendous argument. At some point past midnight, Rick had half-shouted, “Why don’t we just get divorced then!” Nelson was sure those were his words when the police interviewed him. Virginia was stunned when she heard this, but an unnatural calm came over her in that moment. Silently, she took Rick’s hand and led him to the couch. With the other hand, she picked up the remote and turned on the television which, quite naturally, was already tuned to Turner Classic Movies.

The television was still on three days later, when their friends became aware that something was wrong.

Both sets of parents refused to hold any kind of memorial service and they continued to hold out hope that they would reappear, but Nelson had quietly convinced them of the practicality of placing Rick and Virginia’s belongings in storage and of giving up their apartment. He and his wife Jeannette had agreed to wrap and box the contents.

Jeannette was working in the living room and went to remove the batteries from the remote when she wondered to herself what Rick and Virginia were watching the night they disappeared. She turned on the TV—still tuned to Turner Classic Movies, of course—and in a melancholy moment, she turned on the DVR. wondering what movies they would never see as they had planned.

“Oh, my God! Nelson! I found them! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” She plunked awkwardly on the couch, her jelly-legs not capable of supporting her.

Nelson came running in from the kitchen. “You found what? What’s wrong?”

“Not what. I found them. Look.”

Jeannette hit the back arrow three times.

“It’s a movie called Carefree.”

“What are you talking about? All I see is Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing.”

Jeannette hit play, then pause as she wiped the tears that were streaming down her face.

“Nelson, this entire DVR is nothing but Carefree. . . . There. Wait until they dance into this room . . . Look!”

Nelson looked. He sat down, too, only half-voluntarily.

“I know what I’m seeing, but I don’t know what I’m looking at. How . . .”

There on an oversized chair sat Rick and Virginia. There was no doubt about it. Rick in his white tuxedo jacket and Virginia in her long black gown rise up as Fred and Ginger enter, the latter playfully bounced off the chair by the former. The camera quickly focused on the two stars, but as they began to dance their way back into the main ballroom, the others followed. Right behind them were Rick and Virginia dancing past the camera, only for a second, but in glorious black and white, dancing and laughing as they disappeared out of the shot once more.

Something weirder had indeed happened.

Anyone look familiar to you?

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My Grumpy Predictions for the 2017 MLB Season

Each year I become less enamored of making predictions for the upcoming baseball season, which is no doubt obvious considering that I’m only getting around to them now, three days after the season has started. This is probably because each year I find myself more irritated by the predictions of the “experts,” and this is definitely because my team—the Baltimore Orioles—are consistently picked to finish last or next to last and are dismissed out of hand. This, in spite of the fact that

  • At 444 wins since 2012, the Orioles have won more games than any other American League team.
  • No one has qualified for the playoffs in the AL more than the three times that the Birds have done it in the past five years.
  • Only the Orioles and the New York Yankees have not had a losing record over the past five seasons in the American League.

The Yankees this season are fielding a bunch of prospects, none of whom has a major league track record, yet they are picked by many to finish ahead of the Orioles. If those identical lineups were switched and the prospects all competed in Baltimore, the “experts” would holler, “Unproven!” and switch the predicted order of finish.

You would think that after five years of being wrong, that the math goobers who make these computations would realize that their formulas are missing something, but then the entire country seems bound and determined to repeat, rather than learn from its mistakes. I digress . . .

Here are my predictions and be forewarned that I have no formulas, I didn’t compute anything, and I firmly believe that when dealing with a group of human beings, i.e. a baseball team, that the total can equal more (or less) than the sum of its parts. Chemistry does mean something. Confidence does mean something. Clubhouse atmosphere does mean something, and even if all those things translate into only one game, then take a look at the two teams who qualified for the wild card last year in the American League.

AL East                      Al Central                  AL West

Boston                         Cleveland                    Houston

Baltimore                    Detroit                         Seattle

Toronto                       Kansas City                 Texas

New York                    Chicago                        Los Angeles (or are they Anaheim again?)

Tampa Bay                  Minnesota                  Oakland

NL East                      NL Central                NL West

Washington                Chicago                       Los Angeles

New York                   Pittsburgh                    Colorado

Miami                          St. Louis                      Arizona

Philadelphia                Milwaukee                  San Francisco (my bold pick because, frankly, I’m tired of hearing that the Giants will “figure it out,” but the Orioles “haven’t done enough.”

Atlanta                          Cincinnati                    San Diego (surest last place bet in all 6 divisions)

Ask me around the All-Star break for play-off predictions, but if I had to pick the two World Series teams right now, a useless exercise, but whatever, I’d say the Cubs will beat the Red Sox.

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