The Secret of Their Midnight Tears Trilogy is About to Be Completed!

It is heartwarming to know that many readers of this blog are also fans of my books, and, therefore, I am pleased to say that I’ll Remember You All, the final book in The Secret of Their Midnight Tears trilogy, is almost ready for publication. It is about to be copy-edited, and once that task is complete (thank you, Martha!) I will format both the electronic and paperback editions, and publish both versions. Formatting probably takes 10 hours or so, which means a couple of hours to format 95% of the book, and 8 hours trying to remember how to format the other 5%, especially those page numbers!

As the publication date draws near, I’ll sample certain sections and provide some background on some of the novel’s characters and plot twists.

 

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What is the Saddest Song?

Living life to the fullest isn’t just about maximizing the happiness in it, it is also about embracing the sadness and the pain. I use the word embrace very deliberately. After all, one can’t know happiness without knowing its opposite and all that one may feel in between. If you want one side of the coin, you have to put the whole thing in your pocket. Embrace the sad, the grief, the frustration, the disappointment. Trying to ignore or suppress it only makes it worse anyway.

All of which brings me to the idea that when the sadness falls, a really sad song might be very helpful. It is reassuring to know that someone else out there is hurting, but more than that, and at the bottom of that well of tears, there is this gift: Someone has put words to your sadness, a melody to your grief, and when that gift is delivered by the perfect voice, then you have a tool by which to embrace the sadness—to face it, talk to it, understand it, and begin heading towards the next happy wave in the ups and downs of life.

I got to thinking about this while watching the PBS documentary, Country, which is really a biography of country music. No one writes or sings sad songs like the old-time country musicians, and I expect it’s because they were people who happened to sing, and not singers trying to be real people. An example from Country is the fact that Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins became immediate friends when they discovered that both had scars on their fingers from picking cotton as kids.

Most sad songs are about love that is no more, but not “Blue Bayou.” Written by Roy Orbison, who also recorded it, the most haunting version is by Linda Rondstadt. The song captures the longing for home: “I’m going back some day, come what may to Blue Bayou,” and images of that beautiful place drift by in the lyrics that follow. The sadness lies between the lines, however, for we all know that quite often “some day” never comes, and if it does, home won’t be the way we remember it.

Another “between the lines” sad song is “I’ll Be Seeing You.” The most popular version was by Bing Crosby. Released in 1944,  it’s the historical context that gives the song its sad flavor. Many families no doubt sent their boys and girls off to fight with the words, “I’ll be seeing you,” but they were said with false courage, for everyone knew that they might be parting for the last time. Another Crosby song, released the year before, contains the same theme, waiting until the last line before facing the reality: “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

Roy Orbison’s “Crying” should be on everyone’s list. “I was all right for a while, I could smile for a while . . .” And right there, after the first line everyone starts nodding. Orbison’s delivery is perfect. He just stands there, straight as can be, his voice strong and steady, but he makes you feel that at any moment, he might drop to his knees and start sobbing. But he doesn’t, and we think, Well, if he can stand there and sing that song, then I can go to work, or do whatever it is we need to do to carry on.

Many Patsy Cline songs are like that. “I Fall to Pieces,” and “Crazy” wouldn’t be so sad were it not for her strong delivery. She seems to shake her head and say between the line, “I’m doing this to myself,” and we shake our heads and say, “Yep! Me, too.” Perhaps, her saddest song is “Faded Love,” the very title of which is haunting. As Patsy sings the final line, her voice catches before the last word—“I’ll remember our faded . . . love.” Some in the studio thought this ruined the take, but producer Owen Bradley left it in much to his credit. (To add another level of poignancy, “Faded Love” was recorded in Cline’s final studio session, a month before the plane crash that took her life.)

As much as I love Patsy Cline, I’d have to say that “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams is the saddest song I know. It’s not until the penultimate line that we learn what caused the emptiness about which Hank sings, but by that time, it doesn’t matter. We say we’re down when we’re sad, but this song shows just how far down down can get.

There’s no sense in me talking about it, anymore: Just listen. Then tell me the saddest song you know in the comments below.

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Winchester’s Own, Spottswood Poles

Spottswood Poles was one of the greatest Negro League players, and he was born just a few miles from where I write this, in Winchester, Virginia.

Please enjoy the twelth installment of Off the Beaten Basepaths:

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The Spirit of the Man

One week ago this evening (August 12, 2019) I attended “Mo’s 10th Inning,” which was the posthumous party Mo Weber threw for his friends, complete with endless trays of shrimp and an open bar. Laughter erupted constantly in various corners of the room. Photos and mementoes of Mo’s seven-decade coaching career evoked smiles and memories.

The only thing Mo loved more than baseball was his family. The thing is, if you ever met Mo, you were immediately part of his family. He had this great ability to not only connect with people, but to connect those he met to each other.

That night, Martha and I sat with Tom and Tina Carr, down from upstate New York, specifically to attend this 10th Inning. Mo had hired Tom 30 years ago to coach the New Market Rebels who play in Virginia’s Valley Baseball League. As Tom explained, Mo became something of a father to him—and clearly something of a father-in-law to Tina. Tom had read Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley, and he and I had exchanged e-mails, but this was our first in-person encounter. Had you dropped in on the conversation, you might have thought that the four of us had known one another for all of those 30 years. Later in the evening, Tom introduced me to Will Gangwer of New Market. The Gangwers were Tom’s host family when he was coaching and Will was about nine years old. Will is now a second-generation host family. Will had read Safe at Home, too, and enjoyed it so much that he was moved to present to me a print of Rebel Park that his wife, Keisha, had drawn. I had seen the same print prominently displayed in Mo’s home. Tom was clutching one, too.

All evening, I had the sensation that I would look up and see Mo at the bar or at the other end of the buffet line or telling someone the story behind one of those photos. Then it struck me: Maynard G. “Mo” Weber may have died, but he didn’t leave us. That would be impossible, because he was there, within us. The love and respect that he had for his fellow passengers on this Journey was so great that Mo was still connecting people even after he had reached his Destination.

***

I often stop by Rebel Park on my way through New Market to walk the warning track and listen to the silence. I see in my mind’s eye boys I wrote about and boys who played there; and in this sacred space they remain boys forever. And next time I’m there, and I pass that part of the outfield fence on which Mo Weber’s retired jersey is painted, I’m sure that the emotion will be strong. It won’t be sadness, however, but rather profound gratitude that through Fate or Fortune, I can say that Mo Weber was my friend.

Mo and McKinnon Langston, 2009

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Why Are There Ohio Road Signs in Virginia?

We have all had those moments when we’re driving, in which we forget where we’re going; or our minds are wandering, and we merrily motor along on our way to work; only it’s Saturday and we meant to head to the grocery store, which, of course, is in the opposite direction. I thought I was having one of those moments when I passed the sign that appears in the photo. Clearly, I had not been daydreaming for so long that I drove right past the grocery store all the way to Ohio, had I? Couldn’t be because the entrance to our community of Snowden Bridge is clearly visible in the background. In fact, I noticed four or five of these signs in the area, and indeed, our local SR 661, a.k.a. “Red Bud Road” will be closed for repairs until early August. All of which begs the question as to why Virginia is using Ohio road signs.

Did Ohio order 10 SR 661 signs only to have the Acme Company read the order as 100? I say the “Acme Company” because Amazon doesn’t carry them (I checked), and if dynamite and anvils and such supplies can be ordered from Acme, then it stands to reason that they would have road signs, too. In fact, I’m pretty sure the Road Runner has a number of Acme road signs in storage for any “need-to-detour-Wile E. Coyote” emergencies.

For the record, Ohio does have an SR 661, a 22.22 mile stretch of road that begins just south of Granville, and runs due north until it dead ends at SR 13 just south of Mt. Vernon. Generally, speaking this is between Columbus and Cleveland. Maybe 10 was the minimum order—one sign every 2.2 miles seems excessive to me in the first place, so it’s possible that Ohio got on a group chat, and let all her buddy states know that if anyone had a State Road 661, and needed a few signs, they had some extras that they could sell at a clearance price:

“That’s right, Virginia, they’re on clearance. . . . Oh, you know some are dinged, some are scratched. . . . All of ‘em have the outline of Ohio painted on them. . . .”

“We’ll take five!”

Could anyone in VDOT verify this conversation or otherwise explain why we have Ohio road signs in Virginia? I’d just like to know.

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R.I.P. Mo Weber

Last Friday, I received news that my baseball mentor and good friend, Mo Weber had died. Mo lived a good long life, having just turned 96 on June 24th of this year. I wrote about him in three different books, and I’m sure that he would laugh and say, “You better write about me now, too.”

I first met Mo over 15 years ago when he was a coach for the New Market Rebels of the Valley Baseball League. I interviewed him for the first time in November of 2008. We met for lunch and when we left, the restaurant staff was setting up for dinner. As it turned out, he became an entire chapter in Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley.

Mo always had a quip or a story, and it was often the same story, but that was one of the many characteristics that made Maynard G. Weber so lovable.

Mo was a character.

He taught me so much about the game that I love. Me, and about a million other people. We spoke the language of baseball, and one of my great pleasures in life has been sitting right behind home plate on some warm, lazy night in New Market with Mo, who is studying the action on the field the way an art critic might view a painting. That’s not surprising as his father was Max Weber, to whom the New York Times referred as “the dean of modern art in this country.”

Mo is silent as the pitcher comes set and sneaks a peek at the runner on first. The pitcher looks once, twice, then fires homeward as the runner takes off for second.

“Catcher has slow feet,” says Mo as the runner slides in safely. Classic Mo. (If the catcher doesn’t set his feet quickly, he can’t throw quickly enough to catch an average runner, must less a speedster, even if he has a strong arm. It is a compliment to think that Mo knows I’ll understand the meaning of his comment.)

Mo, himself, was as quick as they come. Quick with a laugh, quick to exhibit kindness, quick to take an interest in anyone who showed love for the game.

My friend is gone, but he is not lost as some people like to say. He contributed so much knowledge and joy and love to this world, and nothing in the Universe has more permanence than those elements.

I had the honor of writing the inscription for his plaque which hangs on the wall of the Rebel Park concession stand. It was placed there in 2015 when Mo’s Rebel uniform number, #1, was retired. I think it is a fitting epitaph:

 

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Huntingburg, Indiana Is a Championship Town

We Americans currently focus on our divisions so much that we are blind to the good that people do for one another.

By way of illustration, I give you the Dubois County Bombers of Huntingburg, Indiana.

The Bombers are one of eight teams playing in the Ohio Valley League, a summer college baseball league just like the Valley Baseball League here in the Shenandoah from where I write. Al and I attended one of their games back in 2016, and produced an Off the Beaten Basepaths video on the team and their ballpark, League Stadium, which was used extensively in the filming of the movie, A League of Their Own.

Mike Uebelhor, a managing partner of the Bombers, and his wife Mary, whose lack of an official title belies the many responsibilities that she is asked to fulfill, “spearhead” the Dubois County Leukemia Association, which Mike founded years ago. For five years now, they have asked their players, as well as their vendors—young ladies who don the uniforms of the Rockford Peaches—to sign up for the Be the Match bone marrow registry. Twenty-four did so last Wednesday.

“We’ve had matches from some of our other drives, but have not yet had a match from a Bombers drive,” said Mary via Instant Messenger. “Once you are in the registry, you stay there, so there’s still plenty of time for any of them to be called. It’s sooooo exciting for us when we hear that one of our registrants is a match for someone!”

Mary, who has been on the registry for 25 years herself has never been called, but added, “What a cool thing to be able to save someone’s life – or at least give them a chance!”

No corporate spectacles, no pink baseball bats, no calling attention to how woke our brand is. Just this “cool thing” that a bunch of people in Dubois County, Indiana, and their baseball team do that could, you know, maybe help somebody someday.

Such championship towns cover the map of the United States, and such heroes are everywhere. Thank you, Bombers for reminding us of that.

League Stadium, Huntingburg, IN. For the record, the Bombers won the OVL playoffs in 2015 & 2017.

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