And Now For Something Completely Different

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Hi all.  Instead of telling you how I see baseball on this Father’s Day, I’m going to break with format for a moment to tell you of an unforgettable event in my life and the very special man who made it possible. Father’s Day was first celebrated in 1910, and today I’ll celebrate it in this forum.

My parents raised 5 kids, and I was the youngest.  I was born blind, so it may have come as a surprise to my dad that I discovered and came to love baseball when I was 8 years old.  Like any kid, once I discovered baseball I wanted to go to a game.  Dad had a chronic illness even then, and it would be many years before I knew how sick he really was.  But he wasn’t the sort of man to say “You can’t go to a game. I’m too sick.”  Money didn’t grow on trees then or now, but he didn’t say “You can’t go because we don’t have enough money.” He said “You’ll go when you’re big enough.”

I kept listening to games and started collecting baseball cards.  Dad spent hours reading the names of the players which I wrote on the cards.  After about a million years of waiting (in little kid time,)  he told me we were going to a Mets’ game.  The magic day came on August 6, 1972.  We set off from Jersey in his ’68 Ford station wagon bound for Shea Stadium, a dad and a boy of 9. When we got there, I could smell the hot dogs and the fresh-cut grass of a ball park that was still almost new. He told me we had to wait before we could get to our seats, so I stood by his side, not sure what the wait was for.  I was about to find out.

While we were standing there, here came Lindsey Nelson, one of the 3 Mets broadcasters.  He shook my hand, that I remember.  What we said is lost in time, but anything I could have said wouldn’t have made much sense.  I was star-struck.  He left, we stayed where we were, and here came Ralph Kiner, another of the Mets’ broadcasters with the same glad hand and the same lost dialogue. He went on his way, we remained in place and here came my favorite of all the Mets’ broadcasters, Bob Murphy. He rotated between TV and radio then, and when he did I rotated with him to hear his gentle voice teach me the game at long distance.  How did I feel then?  Imagine if you had a teenage daughter who met all the members of her favorite boy band.  That’s how I felt, without the shrieking for joy.   Today it would be called a “meet and greet.” In that day, to me it was a miracle that Dad had arranged such a thing.   I couldn’t have said it then, but as we walked to our seats where Dad got me a hot dog, he was the tallest dad that ever walked.

Years later I was told how it went down.  Weeks before the big day, Dad had written a letter to Mets public relations director Jay Horwitz.  In the letter he told Mr. Horwitz he had a blind son and asked if there was a way I could meet the broadcasters.  Always a perceptive man, Dad knew that meeting the broadcasters would trump meeting a player.  Because of my blindness the broadcasters were more real to me than the players were.  The players were part of an ongoing story, but the 3 future Hall of Famers in the booth told me the story, whether the Mets were in New York, Montreal or Los Angeles.  Night after night Mom had to unplug the TV and radio to keep me from hearing baseball when I ought to be sleeping. When the Mets won the  pennant in 1973 Mom recorded the clincher, plus games 4 and 5 of the NLCS where they beat the heavily-favored Reds. The voices remained the same until the end of 1975 when Lindsey Nelson left the Mets for California.  Ralph Kiner did extensive television coverage for many years thereafter, and Murphy was the leading voice on Mets radio until his retirement in 2003.

As for my dad, he took me to at least one Yankee game when they played at Shea, and to several Philadelphia Phillies games at Veterans’ Stadium, but to steal a line from Waylon Jennings, “soon he grew old, much younger than most people do.” By high school I could pronounce the ugly word that was his death sentence-emphysema.  Now it’s called COPD, as if giving it a bunch of letters takes the curse off it. Even when he couldn’t travel he nourished my love for sports.  I began watching boxing in 1975 and over the years that followed, he combed TV guide looking for fight telecasts  so I wouldn’t miss them. In high school I was public-address announcer for basketball and wrestling.  Whenever he could, Dad would sit by my side and tell me either the score of the hoops game or who won the wrestling match so I could announce it.

When I went to college and became a broadcaster it was clear he was too ill to come and hear my first baseball game.  So I made certain to record it, and bring it home for him to listen to the next time I came home.    It was the only broadcast of mine he ever heard.

My dad passed away, at 59 on June 25, 1985.

While he went way too soon, he left me a lifetime of memories that haven’t grown dim in the decades since. Happy Father’s Day to all dads reading this, and to my dad RIP

The College World Series got underway yesterday in Omaha.  It’s a different game since Rosenblatt Stadium was abandoned.  The new park plays much bigger than Rosenblatt did, and runs are at a premium.  This was never more true than in the first game yesterday when Oklahoma State beat UC Santa Barbara 1-0. Thomas Hatch fired a complete game at the Gauchos striking out 7 along the way. The Cowboys, who once had their own small ball park were once a mighty hitting team powered by Pete Incaviglia and Robin Ventura. The modern Cowboys hadn’t won a game in Omaha since 1993. The only run crossed in the fourth when Corey Hassel, Donnie Walton and Garrett Benge singled. After the run scored, Walton and Benge moved to second and third on a passed ball but a liner by Conor Costello turned into a double play to end the inning. Oklahoma State now plays Arizona on Monday night, while UCSB plays Miami in the afternoon Monday. Miami, who talked the most junk on social media before the tournament laid a monster egg in game 2, losing 5-1 to Arizona. When I broadcast games for a living my partner and I would say a team “Mailed in” a game like that, or “never showed up.” How a team as proud as Miami could mail in such a big game is beyond understanding.  The broadcasters for WVUM radio in Miami certainly mailed it in.  They were not on the air at gametime which to me is inexcusable,  and if they ever did get on the air it was after the game had been decided.  The Wildcats got 3 in the first inning off Mike Mediavilla, who had pitched so well against Boston College in the Super Regionals. He walked a man and hit two to load the bases. He walked in the first run with the bases full, then gave up a two-run double to Jared Oliva. The Canes got one in the 4th but Zack Gibbons doubled home two more runs for the final margin of victory. They will need a ton of pitching to survive the loser’s bracket.  Whoever wins the OSU-Arizona game Monday night doesn’t play again until Friday, leaving their pitching plenty of rest.  Not so for Miami and UC Santa Barbara.

Father’s Day once saw a perfect game, on June 21, 1964.  Jim Bunning overmatched the Mets to the tune of 6-0.  Bad as they were in those early years, he was the only one to send them away 27 up and 27 down.

Most of the great starters  who might have a perfecto in their future-Arrieta, Scherzer, Greinke and  Kershaw aren’t pitching today.  The best in action today are the Mets’ Jacob DeGrom against Atlanta, David Price for Boston against Seattle, Chris Tillman for the Orioles against Toronto and  Mike Fiers for the Astros against Cincinnati, (remember Fiers does have a no-hitter to his name.)

Logan Verrett is 26 today and is our first baseball birthday.  He’s been up and down between the Mets and their AAA team in Vegas several times since breaking in last season. The Mets drafted him in the third round in 2011 out of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. What happened after 2014 gets complicated.  Somehow the Mets didn’t protect Logan Verrett from the Rule 5 draft, so the Orioles chose him.  They found he couldn’t make their roster so they put him on waivers, and the Rangers claimed the Texas native. After 4 appearances with them he was returned to the Mets.  After six weeks in AAA he was on the Mets’  roster for the first time. He was left off the postseason roster last year.   He has started in place of both Matt Harvey and Jacob DeGrom, and once appeared from the bull pen after Noah Syndergaard was ejected from a game with the Dodgers.

Jacob DeGrom, who is pitching for the Mets today is doing so on his 28th birthday. The Deland, Florida native was National League Rookie of the Year in 2014. He has put up a 26-16 record in his brief career up to now. Last year he was an All-Star, and around Citi Field and on the #7 subway line he’s called The DeGrominator. He started his college career at Stetson University as a shortstop, but became a pitcher with the Hatters.  He gained notice in a duel against current White Sox ace Chris Sale, then pitching for Florida Gulf Coast University.   The Mets took DeGrom in round 9 of the 2010 draft.

Another former Met prospect, Collin McHugh is 29 today.  Jacob DeGrom found a place to pitch when McHugh was traded to the Rockies.  Next he went to the  Astros where he still pitches. He won 11 games in 2014 for a poor Astros’ team, then won 19 as the team got the wild card spot in the playoffs, losing the ALDS to Kansas City. His 19 wins and Dallas Keuchel’s 20 make 39, which may be as close as a team ever comes again to the 49 wins by two pitchers-Dizzy Dean (30) and his brother Paul (19.) McHugh is a native son of Naperville, Illinois whose most famous son may well be Phillies’ broadcasting icon Harry Kalas.

Former Indians’ second baseman and current Giants’ tv broadcaster Duane Kuiper is 66 today. As a player he hit .271 between 1974 and 1985 after the Indians drafted him in round 1 of the 1972 draft. The Indians and Giants were his only two teams, which was beginning to be unusual by the time he retired as players moved around like chess pieces. While he never was an All-Star, he has 7 Emmy awards to his name for his work with the Giants. He hails from Racine, Wisconsin, a city formerly best known for Johnson’s Wax being made there. His only home run came off future Cubs’ broadcasting standout Steve Stone. Kuiper was playing second base the night Len Barker threw his perfecto against the Blue Jays in 1981. Herb Score, a former pitcher who lost his career to an injury was at the mike for the Indians. He began doing TV games with the Giants in 1987, spent one year with the expansion Rockies in 1993, then returned to the City by the Bay where he remains. His younger brother Glen broadcasts for the A’s.

Some players of note would get a full treatment today but time constraints don’t allow it. Jerry Reuss (Royce) is 67.  He was an ou tstanding lefty pitcher for the Cards and Astros among others.  Bob Aspromonte is 78.  He was an early Astro but I remember him as one of the legion of third basemen the Mets have had. Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig was born this day in 1903 and died on June 2, 1941. What can be said of the Iron Horse that hasn’t been said?

Last and certainly least, Eddie Cicotte pronounced (SickCotty) was born this day in 1884 and died in 1969.  He was one of the 8 Black Sox who were banned for life by Judge Landis in his first act at Commissioner of baseball. He was the starting pitcher in game 1 of the fixed World Series, and his act of hitting the first Reds’ batter was done on purpose to alert the gamblers that the fix was going to happen.

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