Monday, June 28, 2010
[In telling the following tale, I have no desire to again piss off anyone I've previously pissed off. Therefore, I'm specifically not using the name of one of the main characters. I'd still rather share a few beers with him than anything else.]
Flake (n) – Someone who doesn’t conform to the normal on-field or locker room standards in sports.
Hello. My name is Sully, and I’m a flake.
(Some of you: "Hi, Sully!")
Hey, never mind that stuff. I’ve got a question for you. What’s brown and sticky?
Some of you laughed (or at least smiled.) Others are clicking off of this page even as we speak (which we aren’t actually doing, since I’m typing and you’re reading, and OOPS! There goes the rest of them!)
The problem with being a flake is that some people have no sense of humor. If one of the main joys in your life is making jokes, the humorless fucks will never be best buddies with you. The best you can hope for with them is to not end up trading punches.
The problem with people who have no sense of humor is that most of them don’t realize it. They think because they laugh every so often they have one. No. It’s what you laugh at that counts. Chuckling while you pull the wings off of a fly doesn’t prove anything aside from your psychosis. And when you tell someone without a sense of humor that they have no sense of humor, they usually get pissed off. That's actually the best test for finding out if someone has a sense of humor, by the way. If they have a sense of humor, they'll crack a joke instead of getting steamed.
Anyway, I’ve always been a flake, a wing nut, a goofy bastard. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course, if I wanted to have it another way, then I wouldn’t be a flake. The true test of flakiness is if a person is absolutely content with being one. If you desperately want to be perceived some other way, then you aren’t truly flaky. You’re just a malcontented dweeb.
Why am I telling you this stuff? I figure it’s a good preface to telling you about something that happened a couple of weeks ago.
I own a catcher’s mask. Since I’m a catcher you might already have assumed that to be the case, but it never hurts to be sure everyone knows the specifics. Two years ago, during a game, the mask broke. It’s one of those goalie-style catcher’s masks, giving full coverage to the entire head. A snap fastener on the back of it somehow sheared off. When it did, I tried to repair it, but couldn’t quite get at how to do so. A guy who was on our team at that time graciously offered to take the mask and have it repaired. He said he knew someone who could do it, and he said he’d bring the mask back the next time he played with us. I was happy to hear that. I liked that mask a lot, and it had been a fairly expensive purchase. I thanked him. I expected to get it back in a week or two, and told him I’d be happy to pay for the repair.
I didn't see that guy, or the mask, for two years.
In the meantime, I played, I retired, I came out of retirement - I'm the Brett Favre of fast-pitch softball - and I borrowed masks from other teams when I was catching – always the old-style face-protection-only mask, which I hate - and I thought about buying a new mask, except I was playing first base or DH'ing more often than I was catching, and someone I know was contacting the guy on a semi-regular basis to retrieve the old mask and what I heard on my end, every so often, was that the guy would be bringing the mask to some game or other and I’d be getting it back soon. So, I never bought another one. And I never saw my mask.
This year, I found out I was going to be playing in a league that the guy who had my mask also was playing in. I figured this presented a swell opportunity to get my mask back. I e-mailed the guy at the start of the season and asked him if we could hook up someday before or after one of his games. He never answered my e-mail. At that point, I figure the guy isn’t even acknowledging my existence, let alone acknowledging the fact that he has my mask. I assumed we’d run into each other someday when our respective teams were either playing each other or scheduled back-to-back on the same field, and I’d talk to him in person then, but for the moment, since he seemed to be ignoring me and had been in possession of my mask for two years, I wasn’t in the best frame of mind concerning his intentions. Put it this way: it no longer appeared as though he was doing me a favor.
OK, there’s your background. Here’s where being a flake comes in.
Due to rain outs , holidays, and a team dropping from our Sunday league, the Bombers hadn’t played in three weeks. Jack Atton, our manager, sent out the following playful e-mail:
Good morning. My name is Jack Atton, and I was wondering if anyone would be interested in playing some softball this Sunday 9:00 a.m. at Smith Field??
Being a FLAKE, I responded...
Gee, Mr. Atton, I'd love to play! I have my own glove and everything!!! Some guy named XXX stole my mask, but I'm willing to play catcher without one!!! Gee Whilikers! Can we play TWO, maybe?!?
No biggie. The guy with the mask had never answered my e-mail, and also had never responded to any of Jack’s team e-mails (at least publicly) even though he was still on the e-mail list and nominally part of the team. I made my little jokes and forgot about it.
Except now, the guy answers that e-mail and he’s pissed:
Anyone can come to XXXXX to get mask at anytime I will leave in my backyard if you guys want. I have plenty of masks of my own. I have tried to get it back but went out of my way to get fixed and that was my part. I do not appreciate being accused of stealing a mask.
OK, I truly have no desire to piss off anyone. I answer his e-mail:
Hey, XXX, no offense - really - but I tried contacting you about the mask before and got no response. You've had it for close to two years now. As I understand it, XXXXX was trying to get it from you for a while, too, but somehow the mask never got back to us. Maybe 'stole my mask' wasn't the best way to put it, but it did get you to respond, right? :-)
Seriously, if you had it repaired, I appreciate that, and I want to pay for the repairs, too.
Lets clear the air. I have always tried to get mask to XXXXX... I will leave mask in my backyard for you to pick up if you want. I want it out of my basement as soon as possible. I have enough of my own junk down there. I only happened to see email because of yesterday so i have never get any contact from you. Please lets get this done today or tomorrow.
OK, fine. I'm happy, as long as I get my mask back and it’s fixed. I have some further private correspondence with him. I still offer to pay for the repair and even offer to buy him a beer. I don't want there to be any chance of hard feelings because I do actually like the guy. I remember, during one of the first games I played with him, that I had a horrible game - truly horrendous, something like four errors in three innings - and while I was sitting on the bench with my head down, mumbling to myself, XXX came over to me, put an arm around my shoulder, and said some kind words, something to the effect of we all have bad days, it's just a game, etc. (and I really wish I could give you his real name while I'm telling you this good stuff, because I don't forget niceness like that and he deserves his props for it.) However, each succeeding e-mail response from him seems more terse than the previous one. I’m trying to make nice, but he seems pretty much tired of talking. Maybe he was really busy; I don't know. In any case, it's a classic flake/not-a-flake interface.
Meanwhile, some of my teammates are graciously adding fuel to the fire, sending out e-mails such as this...
Too late to apologize, Sully... an all points bulletin has already been issued in XXXXX to be on the lookout for a semi-nude man in a catchers mask, cursing your name!!
Sorry, XXX, Sully is really a bully!
After all is said and done, it ends with XXX saying he’s putting the mask on his back porch and I can come by to pick it up whenever I want. I send one last one-word e-mail to him ("Thanks") and also send one to the team saying this...
I've arranged with XXX to pick up my mask tonight. Just want to make it clear to everyone that XXX did NOT steal my mask, OK? It was a joke.
... which is the sort of thing a flake often has to end up saying, unfortunately.
I drive to his place and get the mask, although not without a small bit of trepidation. What the hell, this guy is already pissed at me for calling him a thief, and I didn't feel I was really able to make peace via our e-mails, so driving to his place and inviting myself into his back yard, then leaving the back yard with what might appear to be a piece of his property, doesn’t exactly thrill me. I would have rather had a brew or two, but he could shoot me in the back and claim it was justified because I was a prowler.
I told the paranoid part of my brain to shut the fuck up, and I went and got the mask because, hey, it's my mask and it was the thing I had to do. He didn’t shoot me, of course. He DOES shoot off an e-mail to the mailing list that contains a joke...
You can call off the all-points bulletin. Sully has his mask back and with a free repair!
... so he does have a sense of humor and I guess we're not mortal enemies. In case I didn't make this point clear already, I'd still like to have a beer with him.
And I figure that’s that and happily ever after, etc., except the very first game I wear the mask again, it breaks in the second inning. Same exact problem. Whatever repair was made didn’t work.
I took the mask home and repaired it myself, which is what I should have done two years ago and everybody would have been happier. I duct-taped the crap out of it. It is now Frankenmask.
Truth be told, I kind of like how it looks. But, I’m a flake.
Meanwhile, back at Smith Field…
BOMBERS – 18 Courtesy Flush – 6
BOMBERS – 23 Courtesy Flush – 5
I’m loving this season. The Swingers (who were rained out of their only scheduled game this week) have won 6 of their last 7, and are now 6 – 5 – 1. As long as we don’t fall apart completely the rest of the way, we should make the playoffs. And, if we keep winning, there’s a real chance we could finish first in our division and receive a first round bye.
The Bombers now stand at 7 - 1, which is the best start in team history. And that makes perfect sense. We’ve got a loaded lineup, very good fielding, a fine pitching staff, and team chemistry is great. Jack Atton has done a swell job assembling this squad since I handed him the manager’s reigns 4 seasons back, and (more important than just putting the pieces together) he keeps everyone involved and on their toes. It’s almost impossible to manage a team and not have at least one or two guys feeling they're not being utilized correctly, but so far so good for Jack. He’s made all the right moves and everybody likes him. That’s an amazing accomplishment.
The unfortunately named Courtesy Flush (now there’s a name that would make me feel just fine about being a Master Batter, and if you don’t get that joke it means you didn’t read last week’s report) hasn’t had much success since entering the league. If I’m not mistaken, they’ve won one game up to now, and this is their third season. But, you know what? I give them all the credit in the world. They show up every week, they play with enthusiasm, and they are improving. They’re just a couple of good players away from being truly competitive, maybe only one player away if they can latch on to a lockdown pitcher. They have a decent enough nucleus so long as the good players don’t become discouraged and start dropping out.
With scores like we had this week, the usual superlatives about hitting won’t do. Almost everybody put up numbers that would be outstanding if they came against a higher level of competition, but aren’t so much when graded on the curve. That’s not to say anybody should be ashamed. You can only play whom you’re playing, and if your good numbers are less impressive because they were had in fairly non-competitive games, it’s not your fault. However, if I start listing every instance of a couple of hits or RBI, we’ll be here until next week. I’ll limit the shout outs to three truly outstanding performances.
Pat Atton had about as good a day as it’s possible to have in the leadoff position. He went 5 for 6, drew two walks, scored 7 runs, and had 7 RBI. Wow. Hell of a good job. As a former leadoff man, I truly appreciated the artistry of his day.
Big Jay Atton pitched both ends of the doubleheader. He ran his record this season to 5 – 0 (9 - 2, when you throw in his Swingers stats) and he’s been fairly much lights out much of the time. At the plate, he blasted a homer, and he leads the team in that category.
Final kudos to the newest member of the team, Charlie (he’s so new, I don’t even know his last name.) He’s a good outfielder with speed to burn. He’s also a hellacious hitter, cracking a double and two home runs. He had an astounding 10 RBI in his Bombers debut. Hell, I’ve had entire seasons where I didn’t rack up 10 RBI.
(Hey, I was a leadoff hitter, remember? It was my job to get on base. It was the other guy’s jobs to drive me in.)
Speaking of me, I went 2 for 3, drew 3 walks, scored 5 runs, and had two RBI. I hit two solid liners for the hits, and actually got good wood on the ball for the out, too, and that was nice after the slew of weak grounders and trivial pop-ups I’d had recently. If you’ll indulge me for just a little while longer, I’d like to tell you about my final at-bat.
The score was already 18 – 5. As I came up, the bases were loaded with nobody out. For some reason, Courtesy Flush pulled the outfield in to about 40 feet behind the infield. I mean, it was the most I’ve been dissed as a hitter in my entire career. I was already 2 for 3 with two walks, and both hits had been solid line drives. I don’t know what the hell they were thinking. Maybe they were just grasping at straws at that point, hoping to luck into a double play if I hit an at ‘em shot. Anyway, the temptation to try and stroke one over their heads was strong. If I hit anything that got past them, it might have been the cheapest grand slam in history. But I’m too old to start playing the game the wrong way. I was facing a pitcher who was having control problems and he didn’t give me a pitch good enough for me to go against what I knew was the right thing to do. I took four straight balls and walked to first, driving in a run. And I did literally walk to first base, slowly. I mean, if they were going to diss me that badly, then I felt I had a right to say, "I did the correct thing in this situation. I hope you realize that." I mean, they’re a nice bunch of guys, but still...
And that does it. No games for the Bombers next week. We’re off for the 4th of July. We resume play on the 11th versus the Moe Howard Club (and there’s a team name I really dig!) Tonight, I’m back behind the plate for the Swingers, and I'll be wearing Frankenmask. Life is good, man. Life is good.
Soon, with more better stuff.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Last time, I said that disaster was about to strike the little neighborhood stores, including Charlie’s. Before I tell you what that disaster was, I need to explain a bit more about our Lower Mills neighborhood during the 1960’s.
There were three places for the moms in the neighborhood to do their shopping at, aside from the mom and pop stores. The Purity Supreme was in Mattapan Square. That was beyond walking distance. If you wanted to shop there, you had to take the trolley, then carry your sacks of groceries home on it, as well as make the two or three block walk to and from the trolley stop at both Central Avenue and Mattapan. That put it out of consideration for most. The Stop & Shop was located on Morton Street, near the end of Galivan Boulevard. It was a good 10-minute walk from our house on Caddy Road, so the only time a mom went there was when an amazing bargain made the trip worthwhile. Most often, when serious shopping needed to be done, the First National was the place to go. It was about a five-minute walk from home, next to St. Gregory’s Catholic Church, in what was referred to as ‘The Village’.
Now, I hope you noticed that I said ‘walk’, not ‘drive’. This is because the moms rarely had access to a car with which to do their shopping. In those days, if a family had a car, that’s what they had: ONE car. Half the families didn’t have a car at all. As a result, most expeditions to the supermarket entailed returning home carrying your groceries by hand or by pulling them along in a wagon or cart. Walking even five minutes with your arms weighted down by four or five sacks of goods was no picnic. Neither was dragging a cart along bumpy sidewalks and streets, with the likelihood of something fragile and/or breakable being jostled out of your cart.
As a result, the smaller stores, closer in proximity and not unreasonably priced, did enough business to be profitable. If they offered friendlier service than you got at a supermarket, that was a plus. You could pay your utilities bills at McDonald’s. Charlie would grind your hamburger to specifications. And if you wanted something quickly, such as cigarettes or a quart of milk, you certainly didn’t want to walk fifteen minutes – or even five – to someplace where you’d have to wait in line for five more minutes to pay, and then have another longish walk back home.
One more very important thing: For many years, Bakers Chocolate had their headquarters along the Neponset River in Lower Mills. They were a national company, using a railroad spur to receive shipments of cocoa beans, and then shipping out chocolate products via that same railroad line. They decided to close the factory, moving their headquarters to the Midwest. This did two things of import concerning the neighborhood. First, it put a bunch of people out of work, giving them less discretionary income and puting them in a position where they had to find bargains. Second, it put a large parcel of land bordering River Street, home to a now useless railroad roundhouse, on the market cheap.
The Jewel Companies put two and two together and came up with a million dollar idea that spelled disaster for the mom and pop stores. They looked at the geography of the neighborhood; where the other supermarkets were; and the fact that this magnificently located parcel of land could now be had for peanuts. Then they bought the land and built a small shopping center on River Street. In addition to their own Star Market as the flagship tenant, they built an Osco's pharmacy. Gilchrist’s opened a department store in the complex, Brigham's opened an ice cream parlor, and a small bank moved in as well.
Now, not only could the moms of the neighborhood get their large grocery shopping done somewhere nearby, they could also get prescriptions filled, buy inexpensive clothes and toys, have a decent ice cream sundae, and cash checks. This spelled doom for the little neighborhood grocery stores, and it also croaked a whole bunch of other neighborhood stalwarts.
The first place to go out of business was Sam’s. He was almost directly across the street. The Star could sell meats more cheaply than he could and it was no further away for most folks. He stood no chance. Sam’s became a real estate office.
Next to go was Shirley’s. Hers was a barely-going concern to begin with, and The Star was only a half-block away. Her place was rebuilt into a residential dwelling.
A fruit-and-produce store, Orlando’s - where everybody bought Christmas trees every year, as well as vegetables - was next to fold. They couldn’t compete with Star’s prices. Star didn’t sell Christmas trees, but that business wasn’t enough to float Orlando’s through the other 11 months. They sold their building and it became a law office.
There were three neighborhood pharmacies when Osco’s opened. One folded immediately. When that happened, the other two were able to scrape by due to a loyal clientele. Getting folks to transfer their trust along with their prescriptions wasn’t as easy as getting them to buy their milk and eggs someplace new. However, they barely survived.
An ice cream store, Hendrie’s in Milton, closed. It was actually part of an ice cream factory, which still operated. However, even as part of a factory, they couldn’t compete with Brigham’s location in the shopping center.
(The main thing Gilchrist’s opening did was to keep business from going to the Mattapan Square stores of W. T. Grant’s and Woolworth’s, the two largest businesses in that commercial area. As a result, Mattapan Square businesses in general had less traffic, and stores that relied a bit more on impulse buying – restaurants, bars, movie houses – died a slow death, leaving that area depressed for years.)
McDonald’s was the next-to-last small store in Lower Mills to close. He held out for a couple of years, doing a business in comic books, cigars, men's magazines, and other items that The Star and their brethren either didn't care about or thought unprofitable. However, he finally called it a day, too. His land was used to open a sub shop called Spukie’s and (irony) a chain convenience store, L’il Peach, a few years down the road.
The only neighborhood store that survived more than a couple of years was Charlie’s. The only reason it survived was because Charlie Capabianco had given his life to his store. In return, the store gave him life. It was his life. There was nothing else he could do but keep the store open, even if it wasn’t making him any money.
And it wasn’t.
The first thing Charlie had to do, in order to survive, was lay off his teenage helper, Pete. He just plain couldn’t afford to have someone else on the payroll. He then started opening an hour earlier in the morning and sometimes staying open later at night. He concentrated his stock in things that people always wanted quickly – cigarettes, milk, cream - and things that the supermarket didn’t carry, or sold only in quantity, such as penny candies, small snack cakes, tonics, and iced treats like Fudgsicles, sold one at a time rather than in 12-packs.
We were too young to know all of the finances of these things at the time. I only realize in retrospect what he did to survive, and how much he was hurt by the Star. We had no idea how much cashflow he had lost. He still got a bit of adult business, but not much. However, he never lost the kid’s business.
He never lost the kid’s business because he was the guy who had given us treats on Halloween; who had trusted us enough to let us pick and choose our own penny candies; who stocked great treats - root beer and banana Popsicles - starting every year when school let out; who had let us feel like big deals when we got to eat a little bit of leftover hamburger from his grinder; who had taken every bottle we brought to him for a 2 cent or 5 cent return fee, even if he had never sold that brand of soda before and the bottle was caked with filth from where we found it along the banks of the river; and who had let our families put things ‘on the tab’ when we were broke.
As we became teenagers, his adult customers were few and far between. Only the most local of the locals, those who lived right around the store, came in to buy anything. Older retired gentlemen with no place else to go hung inside while we hung out in front, pitching pennies at his front wall.
When we reached 15 and 16, he let us sit inside and read the paper when we had nowhere else to go. His place became a hangout for the unemployed, the never employed, and the barely employed. While we tried to act like adults – smoking cigarettes behind our parent’s backs, and using ‘fuck’ every third word in sentences – Charlie sat at his counter, drinking his Old Granddad and barely breaking even.
And when we reached 18, 19 and 20, semi-hoods occasionally selling drugs, trading sports bets, playing quarter-half poker and desperately trying to come up with schemes to keep from working legitimate jobs, we hung out at Charlie’s all day, sitting around the store like we owned it, paying our clubhouse dues by purchasing the occasional pack of smokes, or maybe a bag of chips and a Coke. And, when he wasn’t arguing sports with us, Charlie dozed at the counter, one hand wrapped around his empty whiskey glass.
We tried to do right by him. Those of us who had cars would give Charlie a ride when he needed one, usually taking him home to his apartment on River Street when he closed up. If he wanted a new bottle, we’d make the run to the liquor store. There weren’t too many deliveries, but when one came, we unloaded the boxes and stocked the shelves, or took the overstock to the cellar. More than once, one of us removed a burning cigarette from his fingers after he fell asleep at the counter. If an actual customer came in – which was a rarer occurrence than ever – we rang up the sale for him and let him sleep.
Then we were all in our early 20’s. Well, even when we were little kids, Charlie had seemed old to us. Now, he actually was. And we knew – every one of us KNEW – that when he finally decided to call it a day, and close the store for good, he wouldn’t be with us much longer.
And that’s exactly what happened. Charlie’s, the store, closed. Less than a month later, Charlie Capabianco, the man, died. That was a bit more than 25 years ago now.
There’s a whole bunch of guys originally from that neighborhood, like me, who hold a very dear place in their hearts for that little Italian guy we literally grew up with; who might have been the first adult to treat some of us like adults; who gave us a place to hang, keeping us more-or-less off the streets and out of more serious trouble; who extended us credit when we were hurting; and who – God bless him – trusted us with the penny candy. Like I said earlier, 19 times out of 20 we repaid that trust with honesty.
I wish to hell it had been 20 out of 20.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
[Another reprint. I still don't feel much like writing except for the weekly softball reports (and I know how much some of you love those.)
This is NOT about softball. It being Summer around these parts, I've decided to once again share the story of my old neighborhood 'Mom & Pop' store (although, as you'll soon see, there was only a 'Pop'.) The store was open year-round, but it is one of the places that immediately comes to mind for me when I think 'Summer'.
Charlie's store, nowadays...
View Larger Map
Here's the story. I hope you enjoy it.]
I lived in the Lower Mills section of Dorchester/Mattapan, in the city of Boston, for the first 37 years of my life.
(The Post Office said I lived in Mattapan, but maps say it was Dorchester. Take your pick. I was right on the border.)
When I was a kid, during the 1960’s, there were many small neighborhood stores in the area. Within a five-minute walk of our home on Caddy Road, there were 6 or 7 places for a kid to buy things like baseball cards, penny candy, comic books, Cokes, Popsicles, Hostess and Drake’s cakes, and other necessities of a happy childhood.
When you wanted to check out the latest Green Lantern or Avengers, McDonald’s was the place to go. It was located at the intersection of River and Washington, and it had a wooden magazine stand that took up most of a complete wall, lined from one end to the other with not only the mainstays, like Superman and Batman, but also interesting new titles that the real junkie (me) would give a shot; stuff like The Hawk & The Dove, The Inferior Five, and Luke Cage, Hero For Hire.
(Trivia note: Luke Cage was the first black superhero character to have a whole title devoted to him. I remember visiting an older female relative at her house in Brockton and lying on a bed reading that first issue. She came into the room where I was doing so, looked at Luke Cage on the cover, and got a look on her face as though she had been physically violated. She said, "Is that comic book about a nigger?"
Until that point, I hadn’t thought that what I was reading was all that unusual. Luke Cage just looked really cool on the cover; that’s why I bought it. The story was good, and made sense, too. He had acquired some special powers – I forget exactly what and how - so he decided that he’d hire himself out, for money, to solve folk’s problems. I figured that’s what I might have done, too, if I had somehow gained superpowers. Anyway, thoughts concerning the race of the main character hadn’t entered into my decision to buy it. Her comment, however, made me feel very radical for reading literature that could have such a startling effect. I became a big Luke Cage fan. I bought every issue during its short-lived tenure, and whenever I was outside with one, I made sure that I carried it with the cover showing, just in case anyone was unsure of my credentials as a freedom fighter.)
In the unlikely event that McDonald’s didn’t have some title you craved, there was always Clover Drug, just across the Neponset River in the richer suburb of Milton.
(You’ve heard the phrase, "Born on the wrong side of the tracks?" Milton was literally on the other side of the trolley tracks from my neighborhood. Whenever my friends and I ventured over there, we were no longer fairly-well-behaved middle-class white kids, most of whom came from comfortable homes with loving parents. In our minds, we transformed into tough kids from the slums. We had no doubts concerning our ability to whale the piss out of any Milton kids who happened along. Of course, that’s how kids from the projects up on Morton Street probably felt when they came into OUR neighborhood, so it all evened out.)
Comic books were the only item of interest sold at Clover Drug, so you never went out of your way to go there unless you needed an issue that had the finale of a two-or-three-part story. You’d often end up waiting in line behind some matronly Milton woman having a prescription filled, and that might take a good 5 or 10 minutes – an eternity for a kid. McDonald’s had no such wait, and it also sold postage stamps, took payments for electric and phone bills, and provided other services that made it useful for moms and other grown-ups to send you there.
There were other "mom and pop" stores. Sam’s was sort of an all-purpose butcher shop that, in addition, sold baseball cards for some reason. It was located on River Street next to the liquor store, a decent place to buy a cold soda or a Slim Jim, even though the other mystifying liquids they sold were temporarily out of our age range. Shirley’s was a tiny place on Cedar Street, not known around the neighborhood for any specialty. It was basically where you went if every other place was closed. However, the undisputed king of the neighborhood stores in our area was Charlie’s, on Sanford Street. There were no comic books, but everything else a kid could ever want was available. And Charlie was there, too, which was the best thing.
The guy at McDonald’s (I assume, McDonald himself) never smiled, at least that I remember. He always had a stubby cigar jammed in his puss and you could feel his eyes burning into your back as you perused the comics. Sometimes you'd grab something you weren't quite sure you wanted and take it up to the counter to buy it just because you were spooked. Sam always seemed less-than-thrilled when a kid walked in. Shirley was friendly enough, I suppose, but we went there so rarely, it wasn’t really a consideration.
Charlie wasn’t a saint, by any means, but he talked to you as though you were a real customer, not just some pain-in-the-ass kid he had to deal with until someone with actual money showed up. And he trusted you. He let us go behind the counter and pick our own nickel or dime’s worth of penny candy, expecting that we’d be honest about the whole thing, not putting any in our pockets when he wasn’t looking. 19 times out of 20, we met his expectations.
Most important, aside from his proximity to our house – literally, just around the corner - was the fact that Charlie extended credit. If your parents were a bit short on cash that week, they’d send you to Charlie’s with an instruction to tell Charlie to "put it on the tab." After your purchases were totaled up, Charlie would write the amount, with grave flourish and in pencil, on the back of a torn up cardboard cigarette carton with your name at the top of it. These scraps were considered a sacred honor, and I never knew anyone who cheated Charlie out of what he or she owed. It was a neighborhood sign that you had reached adulthood when Charlie allowed you to start running your very own tab.
Charlie, whose full name was Charlie Capabianco, was a thin man of medium height, perhaps 5’ 7” or so. He always seemed to have a two-day growth of stubble on his face – never clean-shaven, but also never with an actual beard or mustache – and his gray/black hair was receding. He had the dark complexion common to Italians of Sicilian heritage. In my youth – or, at least, in my youthful memory - he always wore the same clothes: a light gray button-down waistcoat of the sort associated with meat cutters; dark green corduroys; black shoes; and a plaid shirt under the butcher’s jacket. He had slightly outsized features for his small frame – big hands, a not-quite-Durante-but-still-substantial nose, thick avoirdupois lips, and ears that (when taken with the nose and lips) didn’t look out of place. He usually sat behind the counter on the right-hand side of the store, next to the long glass-enclosed penny candy display case, on a small wooden stool. The cash register, and pile of tabs next to it, sat on the shelf behind him. He rarely left that stool. As a matter fact, about the only things that got him off of the throne from which he ran his small empire were when he was called upon to get an item situated on a high shelf, out-of-reach from a customer, or when he was asked to grind hamburger.
We kids always looked forward to our parents sending us to Charlie’s for ground hamburger. This couldn’t happen today if you went to a million different stores across America, but it happened at Charlie’s. When he was done grinding the meat, he’d let the kid whose family ordered it run his finger around the opening that dispensed the ground-up chuck, taking the small remnant of raw meat for a tiny snack. I don’t know how that sounds to you, but to us kids it was delicious and a rare treat. None of us ever died from it.
(Another thing that could never happen today: Charlie sold cigarettes. If one of your parents was out of smokes, and didn’t feel like going to the store themselves, they’d send you for a pack. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t odd for other grown-ups to see you walking down the street and shout to you, "Jimmy, would you mind running down to Charlie’s and getting me a pack of Camels?" That was a cause for rejoicing. The cigarettes themselves cost only 25 cents in those days, so the person would give you a quarter for them, but they’d also – depending upon their current cash-flow and overall generosity – give you either a nickel or dime for yourself, for doing them the service. And, in those days, a dime pretty much put a kid in business for the entire day.
When you went for the smokes, you also took a trip behind the counter to pick out 10 cents worth of penny candy – and it really was penny candy, too. In some cases, the candy cost LESS than a penny. There were these things called Mint Juleps that went two for a penny. God only knows what they were made of to cost so little, but they were spearmint, hard and chewy, and a pocketful of them would allow you to rot your teeth from sunup to sundown.)
I said before that Charlie was no saint. While he generally treated kids decently, and let them do such wonderfully death-defying things as scrape raw meat from his grinder, he drank Old Granddad whiskey pretty much all day. One of the things I recall about Charlie, with particular fondness, was how he would pour the last drink from his whiskey bottle and then do a pantomime wherein he “wrung out” the empty bottle, pretending to squeeze it vigorously, producing one or two more drops. He also wasn’t averse to calling you a little cocksucker if you did something he didn’t like; perhaps dropping a coke bottle, necessitating him to get off of his stool to mop it up, or if he thought you might be stealing a piece of candy. His mean outbursts were rare, though – probably justified, too, now that I look back on it - and most of the kids thought of him as a sort of extended member of the family, albeit one who was sometimes half-drunk.
I want there to be no doubt: We loved this guy, even if he drank like a fish and sometimes called us obscene names. Let me see if I can tell you one more story that shows him in the right light.
Charlie usually closed up at around 6:30 or 7 o’clock each night. On Halloween, however, when we kids would go out trick or treating, Charlie kept his store open late. And kids from blocks around went there, knowing that Charlie would put some treat into their bags. This was an Irish-Catholic neighborhood, in the days when birth control wasn’t prevalent, so that meant LOTS of kids. And some of these kids probably never went to Charlie’s any other time of the year. It didn’t matter. Charlie gave something to every kid, and not just one of the cheap two-for-one Mint Juleps, either. Everybody got a bag of chips or a pack of cupcakes or some other nice higher-priced item.
Charlie didn’t have to stay open. None of the other little stores did. And he didn’t have to give us 10-cent goodies. A one-cent piece of Bazooka Joe would have been enough to get rid of us, and with a smile on our faces, too. But he did stay open, and he did give us the expensive treats. That’s why he was loved, and why, after all of the other little stores had long since closed, Charlie’s was still open.
Charlie’s was a profitable concern when I was very young. As a matter of fact, he had so much business, he hired an assistant, a teenager from the neighborhood named Pete. Pete dressed in the same manner as Charlie, with the button-down gray coat, but he stocked shelves, swept the floor, and did other manual labor, leaving Charlie time to drink his whiskey undisturbed by such tasks.
Life was good. Charlie, and all of the other owners of small stores in the neighborhood, prospered. Then, disaster struck, although most of us didn’t realize just how disastrous it was at the time...
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
[In my continuing quest to recycle everything I've ever written, I am re-posting this piece which I've re-posted at least once before. It is pertinent because the creatures mentioned herein have, indeed, returned again. And just a tad earlier than usual, too, thus giving me something to post right when I feel like being lazy and not writing anything new, so if I knew of a treat to give them - aside from a Cicada - I'd be more than happy to do so as a way of showing my thanks. However, if you still have a problem with this being a re-run, just be thankful it's not about softball. Softball does get mentioned, in an off-hand sort of way, but no statistics or anything else will rear their ugly heads to intimidate the less mathematically inclined.]
RETURN OF THE CICADA KILLERS
The firm for which I work, Marketing Messages, is located in Newton, Massachusetts. At our building, we have a fascinating insect population for two months out of each year. Every July, the Cicada Killers come out to play.
If you've never encountered a Cicada Killer, you're missing something big. And I do mean BIG. They are the largest damned wasps I've ever seen. Here is a picture that provides some idea of their size.
And that doesn't really do them justice. When they're alive and flying around, they look bigger. Here's one standing next to a water pipe. The pipe segment is perhaps four inches long and an inch-and-a-half wide.
The thing about them, though, is that they appear dangerous, but are actually completely harmless.
(Unless you're a cicada, of course, in which case they will KILL YOU.)
The first time visitors to our building encounter these biplanes flying around near our entrance, they're likely to get frightened. You can't blame someone for feeling that way. These things are almost big enough to saddle, and most wasps would just as soon sting you as look at you. However, here is the thought process of your average Cicada Killer:
He flies up to within ten inches of your chest and looks you over.
He says, "Duh... are you a cicada? Doy... guess not! Ooooh, look! I think that's a cicada over there!"
He flies off to look at a big rock.
A minute or so later, he comes back to within ten inches of your chest. He looks you over again.
He says, "Duh... are you sure you're not a cicada? Doy... guess not! Ooooh, look! I think that's a cicada over there!"
He flies off to have a look at a Buick.
And so on.
After a while, you realize they won't harm you. So, you walk right through bunches of them hovering about, and you say, "Get out of my way, you chowderheads!" And then they do, because they want to see if that passing UPS truck might be a cicada.
Some folks in this building kill them. Why? I suppose because it makes them feel big or something. I can't imagine a less-thrilling sport than hunting these thick-as-a-brick creatures. I mean, they fly right up to within a foot of you, with no more guile or reticence than Paris Hilton. Where's the thrill in bringing your boot down on such a thing as that? Hell, if I took a softball bat out of my trunk at noon, I could swat them all out into the street by the time my lunch hour was over. Big deal.
I like to watch them, actually. They're amazingly industrious. When building a nest, they get down on the ground and dig dirt like a dog, throwing it out with their hind legs in prodigious amounts. For instance, I left work last night, not a sand mound of theirs in sight, and came in this morning and saw this...
That's about 7" x 7", a couple of inches high, and dug by ONE wasp. That's like you or me building a duplex in one night.
Using only our legs.
While taking time off to go up to passing tractor-trailers in hopes that they might be something good to eat.
Oh, one last thing (in case you didn't click on the link above and find this out already.) The Cicada Killer adults don't actually kill the cicadas. The females - since the males have no stinger - paralyze the cicadas and transport them back to their nests. Then they place the still-living-but-paralyzed cicadas in the nest with a new Cicada Killer egg. When the new one hatches, it eats the cicada.
Yuck! I'm mighty glad I'm not a cicada!
(You, too, no doubt.)
The Cicada Killers go away by the end of August, having finally caught cicadas and lain eggs (and whatever else they do during their brief lifespan - perhaps catch a Buffett concert or some other summery activity.) Anyway, if you run into some of them, just say, "Get out of my way, you chowderheads!"
(Unless you actually are a cicada, in which case you'll be toast.)
Soon, with more better stuff.
(Credits: I took the photo of the living wasp, while I stole the photo of the dead ones from this website. However, the photo of the dirt mound was taken by my former co-worker Sarah Colvin, who actually got down on the ground next to it and took the shot while the resident Cicada Killer was hovering within inches of her head trying to decide if she was something good to eat. After figuring out that she wasn't, it then flew off to investigate a jeep.)
Monday, June 21, 2010
Today’s Bombers re-cap is brought to you by the letter C.
C stands for Clutch.
But first, we're going to have a history lesson. This won't mean much to some of you, but I think it's important to have folks new to the team know something about what came before them. What follows are the Top 10 All-Time best seasons by Bombers hitters. This is subjective. These are MY choices. Nobody else had a vote.
Player Year AB H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG BB K OB% SLG% OPS RTough call between these two for the top spot. Conrad had the better power numbers, but Jay was more consistent overall. Jay set records for Average, On-Base Percentage, and OPS. Conrad still holds the records for Home Runs, RBI, and Slugging Percentage. Basically, I gave the nod to Jay because he had his year while also giving the team a 3 – 2 record as a starting pitcher (which has nothing to do with being a hitter, but I had to decide it somehow.)
Jay Atton 09 53 38 4 2 6 30 .717 7 0 .750 1.208 1.958 27
Conrad Pacquette 07 53 26 4 3 10 42 .491 1 0 .500 1.245 1.745 23
Player Year AB H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG BB K OB% SLG% OPS RStav was magnificent all-around that year, playing a superb shortstop as well.
P. Stavrinos, Jr. 01 66 40 6 0 7 30 .606 2 1 .618 1.015 1.633 29
Player Year AB H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG BB K OB% SLG% OPS RRon was easily the best hitter on the Bombers for the first four years of the team, leading the team in OPS every year. His record of 8 Home Runs - from 1995, the first year of the team - was not topped until Conrad Pacquette hit his 10 in 2007. We won 5 games all year in 1995. Without Ron, we win zero.
Ron Johnson 95 50 28 0 0 8 27 .560 9 3 .627 1.040 1.667 16
Player Year AB H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG BB K OB% SLG% OPS RCharlie had 17 extra-base hits, still a record (tied by Conrad Pacquette in 2007.) Charlie also set the standard for triples, with 6 (tied by Cam Zirpolo in 2009.)
Charlie White 05 60 32 4 6 7 32 .533 11 4 .606 1.150 1.756 25
Player Year AB H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG BB K OB% SLG% OPS RThirteen years later, that 35 is still the record for runs scored in a season. Scott was a magnificent outfielder and had a great eye at the plate, as witnessed by the 14 – 1 walk to strikeout ratio.
Scott Sarro 97 80 39 6 1 6 33 .488 14 1 .564 .813 1.377 35
Player Year AB H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG BB K OB% SLG% OPS RBilly’s 43 hits are the team record.
Billy Botting 08 70 43 8 1 6 32 .614 1 2 .620 1.014 1.634 31
Player Year AB H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG BB K OB% SLG% OPS RJay tag-teamed with Charlie White in 2005 to provide one of the best one-two punches in Bomber history.
Jay Atton 05 52 26 9 5 1 25 .500 8 1 .567 .923 1.490 23
Player Year AB H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG BB K OB% SLG% OPS RMatt was a Bomber for 12 years, and consistently good as a hitter.
Matt Stone 04 66 37 8 4 1 31 .561 3 1 .580 .848 1.428 19
Player Year AB H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG BB K OB% SLG% OPS RJay’s third appearance on my list. This time, he supported Phil Stavrinos, Jr., in 2001.
Jay Atton 01 40 22 3 2 3 24 .550 6 0 .609 .950 1.559 14
There’s always room for argument with these sorts of lists. I’ll list a few more seasons that I considered (just by name and year, no stats – I’m tired of typing in the entire lines.)
Jay Atton '07
Matt Stone '99 & '00
Matt Widiger '04
Jeff Gabriel '97
Ron Johnson '96 & '97
And, of course, there are some guys who had great seasons in the field, or pitching (or who played under adversity while taking one for the team, and whose contributions don’t show up on any stat sheet.)
Now that I’ve filled up enough space, let’s get to the actual ball played this week. We’ll start with M Street and then get to the Bombers.
SWINGERS – 9 MasterBatters – 5
SWINGERS – 16 L Street Tavern – 9
The Swingers have now won 6 of their last 7, and we are firmly in 3rd place in our division. That’s the last playoff spot and we control our own destiny.
These were two particularly important and satisfying wins. The MasterBatters (now there’s a team name that makes me glad I’m a Swinger) are the team directly above us in the standings, so this win gives us hope of possibly catching them before season’s end. Jay Atton pitched, giving up 5 in the first and then holding them scoreless over the final six innings. Jay has been great the past couple of weeks (including his Bombers outings, more on those in just a minute.) Josh Lebron threw for us in the win over L Street and he was swell, too, despite the 9 runs. The Swingers defensive woes continue, but we’re still hitting well enough to overcome the errors. L Street is in the division above ours, so this was our most impressive win to date (think Appalachian State over Michigan.)
I went 1 for 5 in the two games, catching both, drew a couple of walks, had 3 RBI, a run scored, and a double. If I can pick it up a little over the final part of the schedule, I have a chance to post some decent numbers at M Street. I have to pick it up, though. I’m not getting good wood on the ball lately (more on that during the Bombers segment, too.)
M Street Softball Website
BOMBERS – 8 Dot Rats – 6
BOMBERS – 9 Dot Rats – 8
A couple of really satisfying wins. We came up big when it counted, securing the wins by scoring 3 in the 7th inning in the first game, and 2 in the 7th in the second game. The Dot Rats (“Dot”, for those not from Boston, is what some people call Dorchester) were the runners-up last season. We have now completed what should have been the toughest part of our schedule with a 5 – 1 record. We should cruise into the playoffs barring some sort of decimation of our roster.
(I know that sounds cocky, but it’s true. We won these while missing two of our biggest sticks – Robbie Rogers and Josh Lebron – and without the flexibility afforded by having Josh Lebron on hand to pitch. We fielded just enough healthy players for game two.)
Since this post is already stat heavy, I may as well continue in that vein. Here are the outstanding performances from Sunday.
Cam Zirpolo 6 for 8, 3 runs scored, RBI
Pat Atton 5 for 8, 3 runs scored, RBI, double
I mention those two first because it was Fathers Day. Here’s what their Dads did.
Emilio Zirpolo 3 for 7, run, walk, 3 RBI
Jack Atton 1 for 6, run, walk, strikeout, 2 RBI
Jack’s line doesn’t look all that great, but his hit was the biggest one of the day. We trailed the second game, 8 – 7, going into the bottom of the final inning. Jay Atton (Jack’s nephew, 4 for 7, run, walk, 2 RBI, pitched both ends) led off with a single to right. Emilio Zirpolo then drew his walk, and he represented the winning run at first base. Following an out, Manny Dominguez – playing hurt all day – reached, loading the bases. That brought Jack to the plate.
Jack took a strike. Then another. The second strike appeared to be both high and outside, and Jack stepped out of the box.
(The umpire was calling a pretty expansive strike zone all day, but that one still appeared just a bit outside of it.)
The next pitch came in slightly low and outside, not Jack’s pitch, but Jack had to protect against the strikeout. He lashed at it and scorched it into left center, Jason and Emilio scoring, game over.
Happy Fathers Day, Jack! And Happy Fathers Day, Emilio, too! On a day when they got to play ball with two sons who had marvelous days, one dad got the winning hit, and the other scored the winning run. How excellent is THAT?
(Even better, the doubleheader started with Pat Atton singling and ended with his dad’s single for the win. The second batter in the first game was Cam Zirpolo, who singled, and, as I said, his dad scored the winning run. Talk about storybook stuff. Could any of those guys possibly have asked for a better Fathers Day doubleheader? I doubt it.)
A couple of other guys deserve mention. Danny Espinosa continued his great play, going 4 for 7 with 6 RBI. Check out the stats page and compare his stats and Big Jay Atton’s stats. Fascinatingly similar. Fast Freddy Goodman, who went 3 for 4 and drew 2 walks, had the other nice day.
Interesting stat of the day: The Bombers accomplished these two wins while getting only two extra-base hits - two doubles. It was all grind it out and guts.
Me? Last week I said that, barring injuries, this team needs me like you need a third nostril for your nose. That’s still true. However, this week we had some injuries and some guys who couldn’t make the games, so I was needed. I didn’t do as well as I might have liked at the plate – aside from a walk my first time up, I did nothing but hit weak grounders – but I caught the second game, played first for the opener, and if I’m not there we don’t have enough players to fill the field in game two. And that’s why everybody on a roster is important. You never know.
If you got all the way to the end of this, I thank you for that. No more softball talk until next Monday, I promise. But I'll have an interesting tale about my mask!
Soon, with more better stuff.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
[Originally published two years ago, and entitled "Dad, 14 Years After", I've made only the slightest of edits.]
My father died 16 years ago today. He was 62 years old.
At the age of 56, while he was in the hospital for something else, he suffered a heart attack. The doctors who examined him determined that he had had multiple previous attacks, but had probably passed them off as an upset stomach or perhaps a muscle spasm. Shortly after this diagnosis, he underwent triple-bypass surgery.
He was never quite the same afterwards. That isn’t to say he never had any good days again, or that he never laughed, but the bad days far outnumbered the good, and the laughs were less numerous than they had been before.
The main problem was this: before the surgery he carried an inner sense of utter invincibility. He had been a boxer earlier in life, so he feared few men when it came to physical encounters. He served in the navy during the Korean conflict, so had discipline and grace under fire. He had briefly attended seminary, so had a rock-solid belief in God. He also had innate inherited intelligence. He wasn’t some pug with a cauliflower ear, ducking imaginary flocks of birds. He was erudite, had a great memory for jokes, and trained his somewhat pudgy fingers to do amazing things with cards. He also trained himself to become a very decent amateur chef. So, he was extremely independent, with a belief that he could accomplish almost anything to which he set his mind. He asked others for help on occasion, but he always knew that, when push came to shove, he could do it himself if need be.
After the surgery? He was as weak as a kitten. He became exhausted from a walk around the block. Just getting dressed was a chore. He did almost no exercise because he feared another attack. As a result of the no exercise - and by not giving more than a cursory nod to changing his diet - his heart went from bad to worse. He was regularly in the hospital with congestive heart failure.
He had almost always been a bit overweight during the years that I knew him, but heavily muscled. As time passed following the heart surgery, his weight went up and he lost muscle mass. I recall trying to make him feel better, on a visit to his house in New Hampshire, by giving him a nice backrub. I was shocked when I felt bone under my fingers where once there had been thick slabs of muscle.
Before I go on, I’d like to make sure that you know my father wasn’t some pitiful character. He had a pretty rich life, overall. He traveled to exotic places, made love to beautiful women, ate high off the hog, and got to realize more dreams than most. One of his favorite expressions, usually spoken about some poor unfortunate soul who never even had a chance to realize his dreams, was “He never got a kick at the cat.” Well, my father had enough kicks at the cat to cost it all nine lives and then move on to a new cat altogether. This is the anniversary of his death, however, so despite the abundance of good times, that’s what I need to get to.
On the day he died, he was in the hospital - again. I had taken the day off from work, and I planned on driving from Boston up to Plymouth, New Hampshire, where the hospital was, and visit with him. Then I’d go to his house in Thornton, about 15 miles up the road, to mow the lawn and do a couple of other housekeeping chores. I was going to get an early start, perhaps 6am or so, to avoid traffic and to give myself plenty of time.
At about 4am, our phone rang. It was my Dad. He told me that he wasn’t feeling too good, that the doctors were going to have him doing some tests, and that I should just enjoy my day off and not make the ride, since we wouldn’t be able to spend much time together. I asked him if he was sure about it. He said that he was. I told him I loved him, he said that he loved me, and I left it that I’d call him the next day, or maybe the day after, to re-schedule a visit.
At about 8am, the phone rang again. It was my Dad’s primary physician, calling to tell me that he was dead.
If I had taken the ride up there as scheduled, I would have arrived at about 8:30 or 9:00. He would have already passed. And there I would have been, alone in Plymouth, crying. In addition, MY WIFE would have gotten that hideous phone call, and then had to wait in dread to pass the news on to me. Instead, I was home, and MY WIFE hugged me as the tears came. MY WIFE gave me the hug, God bless her, but being home to receive it was my Dad’s last gift to me.
He died on Thursday, June 16th, 1994. His wake was on the following Sunday.
It was Father’s Day.
These are some pictures of my Dad, from infancy up to the year of his passing. I hope you enjoy them. If your own father is still living, even if it’s a few days before or after Father’s Day, do yourself a favor. Give him a call. If he's near you, and he likes such things, give him a nice backrub. I guarantee you won’t be sorry. Ask anyone whose Dad is no longer around. Being sorry only happens if, while you have the chance, you don’t take advantage of the opportunity.
The realization of a lifelong dream. My Dad's thoroughbred race horse, More Now, winner of the first race on April 15th, 1971, at Suffolk Downs, East Boston, Massachusetts. He owned a minority share in the horse. It was the only horse he ever owned any part of, although he had money invested in many horses throughout the years...
This is what I said to my Dad every night I was in the same house with him at bedtime. It was said as it is written here, without what would seem to be some necessary punctuation. It was said without pauses, like a magical incantation. I haven’t said it to him for 16 years, but here again, for good measure.
Good night God bless you.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Now THAT is one magnificent rock ‘n roll photo. Attitude, beer and whiskey bottles, cigarette butts strewn on the floor, egg cartons on the rehearsal room walls, and a bass player who looks like he just crawled out of a dime bag.
(I thought about saying, "... and they have Jesus Christ on bass!", but then decided the less I compare myself to God, the better off I'll be in the long run.)
The band is Live Wire (a.k.a. Powerline) and the time period is circa 1981. I’m the bass player. I’ve shared a few stories about my time in that congregation (Here, Here, and Here, the last with a link to one of our original tunes, performed live, including my bass solo.) And, this past Saturday, three of us got together to jam as a power trio – Ron Frattasio on guitar, Steve Giusti on Drums, and me (a.k.a. Jimi LaRue, back in the day) on Bass.
Want to hear a bit of the jam session? Maybe you do, but, sorry, no. I was hoping to put something out here, but we still sound way too rough. Instead of the tight hard rock outfit we once were, we’re still feeling our way around and the sounds are no better than a second-tier garage band. Thirty years worth of rust takes a while to shake off. But the jams are fun, and I just got that photo from our one-time singer (Thanks, Marty!) and had to show it to you.
Meanwhile, surrounding that musical excursion back in time, I played ball on Thursday night, Friday night, and Sunday morning. In other words, for four straight days, via music and sports, my 53-year-old ass pretended it was 20-something again.
I am blessed beyond measure to be able to do this stuff.
How many people can recapture, for even a few minutes, the days of their youth? And I keep getting to do so in a manner that transports me utterly and completely into those moments, rarely having to acknowledge the ravages of time. The only thing that brings me back to reality is when I have to run the bases. That’s when I suck wind and concede that the rock ‘n roll lifestyle I once indulged in makes it necessary for me to have a pinch runner once in a while.
Philosophical whining aside, the ball has been very satisfying this season. My weeknight team, the Swingers…
(I can’t say that I’m thrilled with that name. Yeah, it’s semi-clever, but when you wear uniform pants as tight as mine, and that sort of team name is emblazoned across your chest, you can’t help but wonder how many people you run into, on the way to and from games, just think you’re some sort of aging sexual deviant.)
(Which I am, of course, so that makes it all the worse.)
Anyway, the Swingers have been playing some decent ball of late, raising our overall record to 4 – 5 – 1, following an 0 – 4 – 1 start to the season. We’re back in contention for the final playoff spot in our division, something I would have truthfully considered an improbability not too long ago. I didn’t think the defense on this team could possibly make enough plays to keep us in the race. It’s still a problem, to be sure – I haven’t seen this many stone-fingered hands outside of a sculpture museum - but the team is a beast on offense, and the recent addition of a couple of good pitchers (Big Jay Atton and Josh Lebron, both also playing with my Sunday team, the Bombers) has helped the defensive effort via inducing more easily-fielded types of plays; pop-ups, weak grounders, and strikeouts. When our pitchers are on, and our batters are hitting to their averages, we’ll have enough to overcome our defensive deficiencies. Either of those things goes sub-par, though, and our bad defense will croak us quick, fast, and in a hurry. Still more than half the season to go, so we’ll see how many nights we can outslug our error-prone fielders.
M Street Softball website
Swingers team statistics
Meanwhile, the Bombers are strong, strong, strong. If this isn’t finally our year, I don’t know when it ever will be.
BOMBERS – 13 Reds – 5
BOMBERS – 16 Reds – 13
These wins bring our record to 3 – 1, and we’ve completed 2/3 of what, going into the season, I figured would be the roughest stretch of games we’ll face. Our first four have been against the defending champs and the runners-up from two of the previous three seasons. Our set next week will be against the runners-up from last year. If we come out of this start with a winning record – and all we need is a split next week – then it should become relatively easy for us until the playoffs.
Look at the type of doubleheaders some of our guys had for this week:
Danny Espinosa – 6 for 6, 2 doubles, a walk, 5 runs scored
Big Jay Atton – 6 for 6, 2 Home Runs, 6 RBI
Cam Zirpolo – 4 for 8, 2 Home Runs
Robbie Rogers – 3 for 7, 2 Home Runs, 5 runs scored
And, damn! The first dinger by Rogers was one of the most vicious hits ever seen in this league.
The left field fence on Smith is a long way away for softball. There are actually two fences – a ten-foot fence maybe 340 feet straight down the line, then a taller fence about 20 feet beyond the first one. They both enclose a track and field complex belonging to Harvard University. In the 16 years I’ve played in this league, I had never seen anyone clear the fence.
I was coaching third base at the time. Robbie came up to lead off the third and...
He hit a towering LINE DRIVE that cleared the first fence and was still in the air when it clanged off of the taller inside fence. Unreal. I high-fived him as he rounded third, and it was such a mighty stroke that the players from another team, on another diamond altogether, turned toward our bench in unison and applauded. I’ve never seen anything like that before.
This is the first time I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a teammate of Robbie’s, but I’ve known him for a few years. He’s been a fixture in the previously mentioned M Street Softball League for a long time, winning some home run titles and also the annual home run hitting contest. I’ve played against him. It’s more fun having him on my side, that’s for sure.
(By the way, he’s convinced he can clear the tall inner fence. If he does, I’ll buy him the best steak dinner in Boston. It’ll be worth it to see it. Same offer holds for any of my teammates who do it, but I think Robbie is the only one I have to worry about. That’s no slam on the other guys, some of whom have a good power stroke, but most of them – Big Jay or Danny, for instance – aren’t the type to pull the ball with that much air under it. We’ll see what happens. Maybe it’s like when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile. Once he showed it could actually be done, lots of other runners started doing it and now a four-minute mile is considered slow in elite competition. Maybe by the time we hit the playoffs, everybody will be doing it, including me.)
(Yeah, right. I’m lucky if I can clear a tall second baseman these days, never mind a left field wall.)
Everybody on the Bombers contributed to the two wins, not just the folks I’ve named so far. Great team effort. I’ll give another quick shout out to Big Jay Atton. Aside from his perfect day at the plate, he tossed game one and only gave up three earned. On top of that, he managed the team in the absence of our skipper, Jack Atton, who had personal business to attend to. Good pitching, perfect day at the plate, perfect record as manager; can’t get much better than that.
Personally, I went 3 for 6. That sounds good, but it was as weak a 3 for 6 as you could imagine. I had one solid hit. The other two were a weak little grounder I barely beat out and a pop up that found a home between three fielders. But, hey, the team won two. I don’t give a damn if I never get another hit as long as we keep winning. Barring injuries, this team needs me about as much as your nose needs a third nostril. I’m fine with that. I put in my dues the previous fifteen years. I’ll cash in now and enjoy the ride.
Soon, with more better stuff.
P.S. Go Celtics!
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Fast Freddy Goodman shows us what goes into ballpark hot dogs
In general, getting older has not meant much to me. That is, I haven’t had too many age-related complaints so far. Sure, I gripe about the world in general as much as any old fart, but it’s not because I find myself falling apart in any of the myriad ways usually associated with aging. It’s just that modern life sucks spectacularly, in some respects, when compared to the relatively recent past. My bleating is usually confined to bemoaning the loss of some part of the outside world rather than some part of me. However, there is one physical loss that I really am sad about, and that's the loss of my eagle-like eyesight.
When I was a kid, I had 20-15 vision. That meant I could see at 20 feet what most others had to be within 15 feet of to see clearly. Ted Williams, the great slugger for the Red Sox, was said to have had 20-10 vision, and I figured if he could hit .406 with his vision, and ‘normal’ folks hit .270 with their crummy 20-20 vision, then it was reasonable to assume I would split the difference and hit about .337 in the majors. That did not turn out to be the case, but I was consistently able to read billboards and street signs from up to a city block farther than when they’d come into focus for my friends. Outside of sports, there was little practical use for such a skill (unless I had pursued a career as a sniper) but it did come in very handy in one way that personally gratified me. I’d buy a seat in the bleachers at Fenway Park and view the game as easily as the folks who paid twice as much to watch it from the grandstands. The action being 500 feet away presented no hindrance to my enjoyment.
I mention this because, a few weeks ago, I found myself in the right field grandstands at Fenway with my friend, Fast Freddy Goodman, and I couldn’t see shit. Even when I put on my glasses (which I had never had a need for until the age of 47) I still wasn’t able to see things as sharply as when I was a kid. The glasses only correct to 20-20.
Of course, being in the right field seats at Fenway is no bargain for seeing a game under the best of circumstances. Most of the seats face approximately toward second base, necessitating always turning your head to the left in order to see home plate (and then you’re looking through about 8,000 heads in front of you, so you can’t see it anyway.) Since I couldn’t really watch the game in any way that afforded me pleasure, I sat back and listened to it. And (here comes the old-fart-bitching portion of our program) it sucked. You can’t hear even a tiny portion of the actual game these days. No crack of the bat; no ball thwacking into the catcher’s mitt; no "Strike!" or "Out!" or "Safe!" from the umpire. Every aural space is filled with hideous music, canned crowd chants, superfluous announcements from the P.A. system, advertising noise accompanying the video scoreboard, and, on top of those annoyances, most of the fans are attempting to hold conversations by shouting at one another over the general cacophony. The only fans not talking to each other are the self-important dickheads on their cell phones calling home to ask if they’re on camera (and, as far as I’m concerned, bringing a cell phone into a ball park should be punishable by having a flaming hot Fenway Frank shoved up each of your nostrils. As a matter of fact, that would be funny enough to get me to hand out cell phones at the gate to the unsuspecting. And I’d pay for the franks, too.)
At what point did sporting events themselves become not enough to hold a patron’s attention?
When I was a kid, the only sounds at a ballpark - at Fenway, in any case - not coming from the game itself were player introductions by Sherm Feller and the organ playing of John Kiley. Had cell phones been around then, and someone had had the temerity to pull one out and make a call during the game, the fans in that section probably would have grabbed the thing and shoved it up his ass while Kiley played a rousing rendition of "The Mexican Hat Dance". Had anyone tried to start The Wave, they would have been carted away to the Massachusetts Home For The Terminally Bewildered.
Certain people I am acquainted with – Hi, Daryl! – find baseball a hideous bore. I always used to counter such complaining by saying that baseball is the thinking man’s game, and if you find it boring, well, it’s not because the game is stupid. Now I have to acknowledge that argument as being false. There is absolutely no way for anyone to even begin to think at a baseball game these days. As soon as any sort of cogent thought begins to form in your head, it’s time for a sausage race, or time to guess tonight’s attendance, or time to sing Sweet Caroline, for God’s sakes (although I do have to admit to getting a certain perverse pleasure from imagining some visitor from out of town hearing 35,000 Sox fans singing a Neil Diamond tune and trying to fathom why. The fact that there is no good reason is what makes it an especially entertaining thought.)
The ball park – any ball park – used to be a pastoral place, green and relaxing, where you could watch a ballgame unfold while enjoying a bit of sun and the ambiance peculiar to the sport. If the game went four hours, or went into extra innings, or – pleasure of pleasures! – you attended a doubleheader, so much the better. That was just more enjoyment. Now, however, the "baseball is too slow!" crowd, their charge led by the cretins at FOX, has seized the day. They've done their damnedest to turn major league baseball into football. What they've succeeded in doing is to make attending a game something much less than pleasurable for fans from a generation or two previous; neither a thinking game nor a game of constant adrenalin rush, but some hybrid monstrosity of sport containing not enough of either to satisfy.
Despite my moaning, baseball IS still the thinking man’s sport. It’s just that you have to do your thinking at home with the sound turned down on your TV (or, better yet, with the game on your radio, where you often can use your imagination to create any ballpark and any era you like.) Actually being at the ballpark, these days, is good for getting drunk on lousy beer and stuffing your gullet full of questionable food choices. That used to be only part of the experience, but now it is the best part of it. What a shame. For me, ticket prices have gone through the roof and entertainment value has plummeted to the sub-basement. I’m sure mileage varies tremendously for most baseball fans as shown by ever-increasing attendance figures. For me, though, I think my last baseball game at Fenway may have been my last baseball game at Fenway. I loved the company – Fast Freddy is always a kick to be with – but I can’t imagine subjecting myself to that experience again.
(Of course, if you invite me to a World Series game, I’ll accept. I may be crotchety, but I’m not totally insane.)
Soon, with more better stuff.
P.S. Some real ballplayers, The Bombers, finally resume play this Sunday. I'll have a wrap-up of that action come Tuesday (I'm taking Monday off.) See you then.