Friday, May 28, 2010

William Robert Caddy

[A repeat from last year, but this sort of thing deserves repeating.]

William Robert Caddy

I grew up on Caddy Road in the Lower Mills section of Dorchester (a neighborhood of Boston.) Caddy Road is a small side street off of a side street off of yet another side street.

One year, as a child, I noticed that our street signs were decorated with small American flags as Memorial Day approached. Until that time, I had never given much thought to the name of our street. It was just a street. When I saw the flags, I knew that our street was also a memorial.

I found out, perhaps by doing some research at a library (this was waaaaaaay before The Internet), that our street was named after William Robert Caddy, a war hero. That's all I found out. I didn't know what war, or what he may have done in that war. Nevertheless, I was proud to live on a street that was named after a hero.

A little later on in life, perhaps in my teens, I was in the neighborhood of Wollaston Beach. I found myself in a little park by the beach and I noticed a marker. It read "Caddy Memorial Park".

Yes, it was named after the same fellow. Obviously, he was an exceptional hero. You don't get the Congressional Medal without having displayed great bravery and valor. However, aside from the fact of his death, there was no further information.

Then computers arrived, Google was born, and searching for things - and people - became much easier. I finally found out the story behind the man for whom my street had been named.

Birth: Aug. 8, 1925
Quincy, Norfolk County, Massachusetts, USA
Death: Mar. 3, 1945, Japan

World War II Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient.

Served with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 28th Marines.

On March 3, 1945, in action against the Japanese on Iwo Jima, Caddy, his platoon leader, and his acting platoon sergeant, were advancing against enemy machine gun fire in an isolated sector. Seeking cover from the murderous fire, the three Marines dropped into a shell hole. After several unsuccessful attempts to advance, he and his lieutenant engaged in a hand grenade battle with the defending Japanese. When an enemy missile landed in their hole, he covered it with his body and absorbed the full impact.

The Medal of Honor was presented posthumously to his mother on September 8, 1946.

(From the "Find A Grave" website - - I also got the photos from there.)

William Robert Caddy is buried at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaii. He had not yet reached his 20th birthday.

I never met the man, of course, but I lived on his street for 37 years. He is the one I remember every Memorial Day.

Perhaps you have an actual relative or friend who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. In any case, this Monday, while you enjoy a burger or a hot dog, and perhaps a few cool drinks, would you please take a moment or two to remember a man or woman who made such enjoyments possible for us all?

Thank you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jim Hates Mary?

My swell pal, Cricket, is one of the most decidedly Catholic people I know.

(There should be some way of rendering that word with both a small and a large "c" simultaneously, since he is an adherent of the religion as well as one of the most well-rounded and universal of my friends. I'm somewhat surprised his photo doesn't appear with the dictionary definitions. However, I digress.)

(I'm disappointed that my photo doesn't appear with digress. However, etc.)

Anyway, Cricket will sometimes write marvelous small expository essays concerning his faith. One of them, which you can find HERE - and which I'd recommend reading, if you wish to get the most from what follows at this address - concerns that peculiarly Catholic ritual, praying The Rosary.

Reading Cricket's piece will give you the soul of doing so, but here are the mechanics. The Rosary (which is both the name of the beads closely associated with Catholicism, and of the prayer sequence associated with the beads) consists of a repeated sequence of The Lord's Prayer (the "Our Father") followed by ten renditions of the Hail Mary (it's not just a desperation pass in football, folks) and then a "Glory Be to the Father" (which surely has a proper name, but that's what we called it in our neighborhood.) Each of these repetitions is known as a 'decade'. After each decade, the Mysteries (events in the lives of Jesus Christ and his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary) are recalled and meditated upon (or, in public group prayer, perhaps expounded upon a bit by the prayer leader, most often a priest.)

As much of a Catholic as I was (and still am, in many ways) the rosary was never something that did it for me. I understand all that Cricket says concerning it, of course, and it's not that reflection holds no gift for me - for instance, I especially enjoy the peace and connection with God one can acquire via walking a labyrinth - but The Rosary tends to put me in a mood that I think is less worthy of God's audience, not more. I find myself wishing for it to end. Perhaps I need to learn patience.

Well, all of that preamble leads to this: I have a couple of interesting little stories concerning Mary and they may lend a clue concerning the final disposition of my soul. When all is said and done, God will decide where I'm headed, but, in the meantime, you can offer your thoughts on the matter, if you wish.

(The order in which these two tales occurred may be of some small import if you wish to pursue the thought that one had an effect on the other. However, I truly can't recall which happened first. We'll pretend that they happened in the order given here, but feel free to switch them around as you desire.)

MY WIFE and I were attending Catholic mass one Sunday, and the priest was delivering a homily concerning the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. He elaborated upon what he felt was his own special connection to Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. He then asked for those who felt that they, too, had a special connection, to stand up and acknowledge that connection before both God and the assembly.

After a few uncomfortable seconds, one brave parishioner rose to his feet. As is often the case in such situations, this led to others becoming a bit more courageous. Another person stood. Then another. Then a couple more. Then MY WIFE stood (who, it should be mentioned, has a middle name that could be translated 'Mary', so she has that connection, and whom I have truly witnessed praying fervent devotions to Mary - for instance, she had a special crown of roses made, for our wedding ceremony, which she personally placed upon the head of the statue of Mary, prior to the ceremony proper - so she wasn't just being a total sheep.) Finally, when all was said and done, every person in the congregation had risen to his or her feet, except one.


I don't know what those people standing may have thought of me (if, indeed, they noticed me sitting) but I knew that I didn't have some sort of extraordinary connection or devotion to Mary that warranted me proclaiming it in public, and I felt I would have been a hypocrite and a liar to say, by the action of standing, that I did. So, I stayed seated. I like to think that my honesty in the situation was commendable. MY WIFE, on the other hand, loves to tell the story whenever Mary's name comes up in conversation, and she always starts it by saying, "Jim hates Mary. One time, in church..." I usually let her finish amusing herself (and, depending upon the religious convictions of those present, either shocking or delighting the listeners) before I set about defending what I believe was my wholly defensible inaction.

The other story concerns a vision of Mary. Or, in my case, not.

Milton Hospital, in Milton, Massachusetts, is only a few minutes drive from our former home in Dorchester, a neighborhood of Boston. In 2003, we were visiting old friends in the area, so we decided to stop by the hospital to check out what was supposedly a miracle. There had been a sighting of The Virgin Mary at the hospital.

[At the linked site, scroll down slightly to entry #2.]

Actually, Mary herself had not been seen walking the corridors or anything, Rather, her image had appeared in one of the second-floor windows. Or so folks said, anyway, and we decided that, if it had, it would be truly fascinating to see.

(The photo at the top of this piece shows the window in question.)

I am open to the miraculous. I truly do believe that anything is possible with God. If you accept the concept of God, how could you believe otherwise? And I was truly hoping that the viewing of the window would show me something so startlingly clear and convincing that it would leave no doubt in my mind. I truly believed it could be, and I truly wanted it to be.

While MY WIFE and I stood there looking at the window, others would arrive and give out an audible gasp. A few fell on their knees and prayed. MY WIFE, for her part, saw the image. Me? For the life of me, I didn't see anything even remotely resembling Mary, or any representation of a being, celestial or otherwise. Zip, nada, zero, not a thing.

MY WIFE suggested that perhaps the sun was obscuring my sight, and that I shade my eyes. I did so. Still nothing. She then pointed at various sections of the window and explained what she saw. At that point, I could imagine something perhaps vaguely Madonna-like, but it was just that - imagination.

I believe in God. I haven't even a shred of doubt concerning God's existence. And I believe in Jesus Christ. He is my Lord and my savior. I am not a religious skeptic. I would have been extremely pleased to have seen the vision, but I did not. I was the only one in the crowd on that day who did not. As a matter of fact, I look at the photo above, no doubt taken and framed to show the vision to best effect, and I see something that one might, with vivid imagination, take to be a poor rendering of a Madonna statue of the type seen in some yards, but it is still as blurry and indistinct, to my eyes, as it was that first time I saw it. Had I not been told it was supposed to be Mary, I certainly never would have looked at it and reported to anyone else that I had been witness to a miracle.

So, do you see it? How do you feel about it? And what do you think my experiences, as related here, say about me? I'd like to think they say something good, but I have to think everybody else in attendance at both places (with the possible exception of MY WIFE) would believe otherwise.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Unlucky Dog

If you snoozed yesterday, this won't wake you up.

Two weeks ago, I gave up tickets to the Celtics - Cavaliers deciding game in order to play softball at M Street. The Celtics won one of the most satisfying games of the playoffs, and my softball team got stomped on.

Last night, I once again had to decide between playing softball and going to the Celtics game. I went to the Celtics game.

This time, the Celtics lost (in overtime) and my weekday softball team won their first game of the season, 27 - 4.

It must be me.

I'm hitting .273 over there, which translates to about .182 in baseball terms. I've drawn 6 walks (despite the statistician at the site only having given me credit for 5) and that gives me a decent on-base percentage, but still. When you've been doing most of the catching, and the night you're not there the opposition puts up their lowest run total of the year, it makes you wonder if perhaps you might be deficient defensively, too.

Insofar as the Celtics are concerned, I put the jinx on them. I told a friend, who mentioned the Bruins recent collapse when up three games to none, that if the Celtics blew this series I'd let Alex Rodriguez do lewd things to me in Macy's window at high noon. So, just like when the Bruins had such an insurmountable lead, and lost game 4 in overtime, so have the Celtics.

It must be me.

Mea culpa, Celtics. Sorry! For the record, I'll now say that you're going to lose this series. Get stomped upon, actually, just like the Swingers have been doing every time I get behind the plate for them. You'll be reviled in Boston folklore as the only NBA team to lose a playoff series after leading 3 games to none.

Mea culpa, Swingers. If not for me, you'd be 6 - 0. You'd be challenging for the title instead of having the worst record in the league.

I'm not going to let MY WIFE read this. She'll realize how much my mere presence is dragging her down. If not for my bad luck, she'd probably be living in a penthouse apartment on Park Avenue, eating bon-bons all day and carrying a silly little dog in her purse.

(Her allergy to pet dander would be non-existent, of course. That must be my fault, too.)

And YOU. Just by reading me, you've lost all chance at success. My sincerest apologies. Had I known what I was doing to all of you, I would have killed myself ages ago.

(Not that I'm going to do so now, you understand. I figure the harm has already been done, and it's too late to eliminate the cause. But I wouldn't come here in the future, if I were you. You might still be able to save yourself.)

Come to think of it, my presence in America is probably why our financial systems are tanking and so many other peoples keep trying to bomb us. If I want to do the world some good, maybe I should consider moving. Anybody know any Iranian fast-pitch softball teams looking for a catcher?

I would say...

Soon, with more better stuff.

... but, well, you know.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lucky Dog

[Some of you go into a coma when I write about sports. Get ready for a good long snooze! Before you go to sleep, though, admire the official game-used autographed ball, winging its way to Knucklehead even as you read, and also envy my ticket to tonight's Celtics game. Woo-Hoo!]

I went to church on Sunday. I played softball. Some of you wouldn’t consider it a religious service, but I do. When I get out on the field, I’m more aware of, and thankful for, my blessings than I ever am sitting inside an actual church building.

How blessed am I? I’m 53 years old and I still get to run around in the sunshine on a grassy field. Every so often, someone throws a ball at me and I try to hit it with a stick. Just about everybody on the field knows my name and talks to me with affection.

(One of them, Fast Freddy Goodman, is not only a great teammate who brings a cooler full of refreshing drinks for the team every week, but he’s also one of my best friends. He often invites me out for a sandwich after the games. I usually decline, but not because I don’t like FFG. It’s just that, for some reason, I’m less hungry after exercising than I would be if I were my usual sluggish self.)

As I stretch and warm up, the young pups – Pat Atton and Cam Zirpolo, who don’t need such elaborate preparation – find some amusement in me. That’s fine. As long as I can stroke a hit or two each week, I don’t mind a few friendly jokes about being an old gray dog. The ribbing only bothers me if I stop hitting.

(I went 1 for 3 with 2 RBI this week. They went a combined 2 for 11 with 1 RBI. I’m just saying. I’m the second-oldest player on the team – Ron Johnson has me beat by three or four years – but I do the job that is the most tiring, joint-breaking, and injury-prone. I did the catching for both ends of a doubleheader [I caught 10 of a possible 12 innings this day] and the beating my legs take affects every other aspect of my game. Granted, the guys in the outfield have to be able to run faster and further than me, and the infielders mostly need better reflexes than I have these days, but I’m taking short curveballs off of my shins and foul tips into my chest. When you’re willing to stick your head and body two feet behind a guy swinging a metal rod, with balls speeding at you from all angles, and with the only protection being that afforded by wearing a facemask, it tends to get you a little respect at any age.)

I’m not doing the best job of writing this. I’m sure I could have made it cuter – I could have worked at it and made it sound like I was an actual dog running around a field, for instance - but we’ve got a whole bunch of new guys on the team this year and there’s no need for me to let them know, at this early a point in the season, just how much of a flake I am. There’s plenty of time for that later. I’m going to stick to writing about how good it feels to have beaten the Titans. Those guys have won the championship, more years than not, for the 15 seasons I’ve been in the league, and we haven’t actually won a game against them in quite a while. But we did yesterday.

BOMBERS – 4 Titans – 15 (5 innings)
BOMBERS – 15 Titans – 14

Quick background for those unfamiliar with our brand of softball: We play modified fast-pitch, and games are scheduled for 7 innings. We play a doubleheader every Sunday.

We were scheduled to open the season last weekend, but the team we were supposed to play dropped out of the league at the last minute. This left nine squads in the league, thus necessitating a bye week for each team. The good news concerning them dropping out is that we got our bye week out of the way early. The bad news, of course, is that every other team got to play while many of us sat around and lost any edge we had.

(Some of us play in other leagues during the week, myself included, and that keeps us sharp, but quite a few of the Bombers only play on Sunday.)

The lack of activity on our part, and the Titans having played last week, showed in the first game to our detriment. We took a while to get our legs under us, while the Titans were ready to go. They jumped on us early and kicked us around. There’s a 10-run slaughter rule after 5 complete innings, and they beat us 15 – 4.

It’s hard to pinpoint anything in particular wrong with Josh Lebron, new to the team this year and who pitched decently. That is, he had good stuff. As I mentioned, I was catching and he looked good. Josh throws hard when he wants to – probably as hard, or harder, than anyone else in the league – and his off-speed stuff is good, too. He throws a little screwball that breaks in on a right-handed batter, and has one that wobbles back and forth like a good knuckler. There were a couple of catchable shots to the outfield that our guys misplayed by calling each other off the ball and then neither grabbing it, and one routine grounder that was dropped at first base, but for the most part the Titans just hit Josh despite his having the good stuff. It happens sometimes.

Also, we didn’t hit much at all, and that was disheartening. The top four spots in the lineup went 0 for 7 with one walk. I know we have a much better team, both offensively and defensively, than we’ve had in the recent past; maybe a better team, all things considered, than we’ve ever had. To lose to the Titans by the same old type of score was a distinct downer.

The nice thing, though, is that it was over very quickly. We could clear our heads, come out fresh for game two, and give them hell. And that’s what we did.

Dave Vargas threw for us in game two, and he tossed two scoreless innings to begin. Meanwhile, we plated one in the first inning, then put up a crooked number in the top of the third. With one out, Jack Atton singled. Fast Freddy Goodman followed with a single of his own, sending Jack to third. I followed with – God help us all – a triple.

(It was a solid shot to right center, but I didn’t think it had the legs to get me three bases. For that matter, I wasn’t sure that I had the legs to get me three bases. But there I stood on third, huffing and puffing.)

With two outs, my run scored on an E-6. Danny Espinosa tripled to drive in Cam Zirpolo, and then Big Jay Atton singled to drive in Danny. We were up 6 – 0, and we never trailed after that.

That’s not to say we didn’t still have a fight on our hands. By the time we finished the sixth, the Titans had tied the game at 12 – 12. They’re a very good hitting squad, for sure, and they have years of confidence backing up their play. They never think they’re going to lose, so they come to the plate with no doubts. It was up to us to beat them because they were not going to beat themselves.

Top of the seventh, we came through. With one out, Fast Freddy drew a base on balls. Following a second out on a fly to left, Pat Atton – 0 for 5 to that point – delivered a clutch single. Cam Zirpolo, himself working on an 0-fer, stroked one that scored Fast Freddy. Danny then came up and slammed his second triple of the day, scoring both Pat and Cam. We were up by three going to the Titans last chance at bat.

The Titans are the defending champions for a reason. They never stop fighting, and they fight well. Kenny Bean, one of the best hitters in the league for many years, led off by slashing a vicious one-hopper down the line at first. However, Big Jay Atton dove to his left and snared it, just like a big cat going after a ball of yarn, landing belly down on the bag with the ball safely in his great glove. One big out on a fantastic defensive play.

Dave Vargas, losing a bit of the good control he had for most of this game, walked the next two. Then he induced a can of corn to left for the second out. Dave Sheridan, hitting at the bottom of the Titan’s lineup, got a clutch single to load the bases. That brought the top of the order, and the winning run, to the plate.

They kept coming. A single scored two, leaving us with a one run lead. Another single loaded the bases again. No margin for error. Titan’s #3 batter up. And Dave Vargas worked him magnificently, a no-problem grounder to Andres Pantoja at second, who flipped to Danny Espinosa covering. We win, 15 – 14.

Aside from those heroics mentioned above, there are other kudos to hand out, and I’ll start with our manager, Jack Atton. He made some swell strategic substitutions, as well as keeping all of our heads in the game. Can’t ask for more that that from a manager. Robbie Rogers, in his first time playing for us, had a perfect day at the plate, going 3-for-3, including a triple and an absolutely crushed sacrifice fly that would have been a home run in most parks. Josh Lebron cracked two homers, driving in four runs. Danny Espinosa had three extra base hits in game two, a double and two triples. Alex Acosta had a damn nice day, pounding out a triple and a home run.

(I have to believe we set a record for triples in one doubleheader. We had seven. I’ve been on this team in years where we didn’t have seven triples as a team for the entire season. Speaking of records, Big Jay Atton's team record of consecutive at-bats without a strikeout ended yesterday, at 152. Hell of a streak.)

Final big ink goes to Dave Vargas. He’s a money pitcher. He might falter here or there, but when the game is on the line, I’d trust him with my life. This was the third time in the last two seasons I’ve seen Dave bear down and stop a team with the winning runs aboard in the final inning. He isn’t fazed by pressure. And it was Dave’s final game as a Bomber, unfortunately. He’s moving to Atlanta for business. I’ll miss him, not just as a player but also as a human being. He’s a good guy. I’d have him on my team any time.

So, that was a big write-up for a split of a doubleheader, but it may well be the toughest doubleheader we face all season. A split in this one bodes well for a very successful season. We still have to take care of business, but now I know for certain that we have the horses to win this league. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens the rest of the way.


Soon, with more better stuff.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

How Old Would You Be If You Didn't Know How Old You Was?

The title comes from the eminent American philosopher, Satchel Paige. It was asked of a reporter, in response to that reporter having asked Mr. Paige his age (which was always somewhat of a mystery since Satchel had a tendency to make himself younger or older as he felt the situation warranted.) It's a great question, isn't it?

How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?

Some of you may have had the following happen to you already. If not, you will.

I was 35. I was standing on a street corner in Downtown Boston, leaning up against a light pole and smoking a cigarette. I was wearing some fairly tight jeans, a skin-hugging black t-shirt, a herringbone scally cap, black high-top Converse All-Star sneakers - pretty much the way I had been dressing since I was in my teens, Dorchester never-going-to-amount-to-anything chic. I was in decent shape, and as I puffed on my smoke, watching lots of teens and 20-somethings stroll by, I was thinking to myself, "Not too shabby, Jim. You could probably pass yourself off as 20-something if you wanted."

Just then, a 20-something slacker walked up and said, "Excuse me, sir, do you have an extra cigarette?"

Whuthfuh... SIR? ME?!?

Somewhat stunned by having been called a name with which I might have addressed somebody's grandpa, I pulled out my pack of Kools and proffered one to the miserable young fuck. He took it, gave a smile, lit up, and said, "Thank you, sir." Then he walked away, puffing, headed towards his next innocent victim.

I slumped against the light pole. Bags immediately formed under my eyes, and my skin took on an ashen gray hue. I could actually feel the remaining hair on my head recede an additional inch. I decided there was no point in sucking in my gut now, so I just released it on its own recognizance and it flopped slightly over my belt. I knew the war was over and I was defeated.

I often wonder, when I'm all dressed up in one of my softball uniforms, how ancient some people might think I am. I'm in reasonable shape, but it's obvious, by the graying hair that shows from under my cap, as well as the very whitish sideburns and beard, that I'm not 30-something. I like to imagine that my teammates see me as a grizzled veteran of the wars, awash in the knowledge of 45 years experience in the game, and that my playing into a fifth decade is admirable and an inspiration. The likelihood, of course, is that there are some who see me as a relic who should be sitting on the front porch of The Old Ballplayers Home, whistling at the nurses and trying to remember why.

(I imagine that people other than my teammates might think I'm either a horribly out-of-shape 40-year-old or maybe a tremendously in-shape 65-year-old.)

Back to the question...

How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?

When I get a hit, I'm 19. When I draw a walk, I like to think it's because of my acquired experience and knowledge, so I'm 53. In either case, while I'm running the bases, I'm 42. When I make an out, I'm 88.

This weekend, The Bombers open their Sunday season. Here's hoping I'm 19, 42, and 53 more often than I'm 88.

(Satchel Paige, pictured above when he was 58 years of age, appeared in one game that season - 1965 - for the Kansas City Athletics. He pitched three innings, giving up only one hit and no runs. I just today found out that Satchel wore #29, which is my number. Now that I know, I couldn't be prouder to wear it.)

So, how old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?

Soon, with more better stuff.

[This post was inspired by this post, by Craig.]

Monday, May 17, 2010

Of Ink And Horsehide

There are three types of people who read this blog.

The first are those who can’t stand it when I write about sports. They tune out immediately when I rave about my beloved Celtics, and they take a nap when I write about my own adventures in fast-pitch softball. As a matter of fact, they already left upon the first mention of the word ‘sports’, and are now visiting some other place on the internet; probably some blog concerned with organic gardening, or perhaps knitting. Fair enough. I generally beat a hasty retreat when I encounter those things, so why should I expect them to enjoy my odd passions?

The second group probably comprises the great majority of readers. They aren’t clamoring for me to write about sports more often, but they are willing to read on when I write about softball. They know that I sometimes throw in a tidbit or two NOT about softball, and they’re willing to gnaw on the statistics and other hardcore stuff in order to get to the small pieces of meat that may be attached to the bone. They seem to like me, personally, and are willing to indulge my penchant for heroicizing softball bums, much in the same way many of us put up with an eccentric uncle who sometimes yammers on about the glories of 3/16” hex bolts during a family reunion. We know that sooner or later he’ll shut up, and he’s harmless otherwise, so we just let him run out of steam rather than clock him over the head with a 2x4.

The third group – possibly insane, but I love them - actually look forward to me doing one of my softball posts. For the most part, these are teammates of mine. The allure for them is understandable. Don’t you like it when you see your name in print? Of course you do, unless it’s in connection with an ongoing murder investigation. However, within this group of nuts, there is a sub-group of one, and his name is Knucklehead.

(Well, OK, that’s not really his name. That’s the name he writes under. His real name is somewhat of a secret. The reason for that is because, when he was writing under his own name, one of the people with whom he had to interact on a professional basis complained about him making fun of people like her in a public place. He didn’t want to risk losing his job or having people like her come to his door with an ice pick in hand. MY WIFE thinks that I should worry about the same thing happening, so she hates it when I say that we live in Watertown, so I don’t.)

Knucklehead is such a fan of my softball posts that he requested an autographed softball, signed by all my Sunday softball team, the Bombers.

Oh, OK, to be honest – and aren’t I always? – he didn’t request one signed by the whole team. He requested one signed by Cam Zirpolo.

(Here, lest any of you get the wrong impression, I hasten to point out that Knucklehead is neither gay nor a pedophile. He is, in fact, rather lustily heterosexual, currently in an ongoing relationship with a lovely grown woman named Theresa, and father of at least one daughter and one son. No, the reason for the odd fixation on my left fielder is because Knucklehead thinks that Cam Zirpolo is the best name, ever, for a ballplayer. I don’t agree. I’ve always been sort of partial to Vinegar Bend Mizell.)

Be that as it may – and we’ll pretend it is, even if it isn’t - with this being the opening week of my Sunday softball season, and with the entire roster being present for the first doubleheader, it seemed like an appropriate time to fulfill Knucklehead’s request. So, a ball was presented to the team for them to sign. Most did so. Here’s the ball, which will be winging its way to Knucklehead any moment now.


Those that didn’t sign did not refuse to do so. It’s just that, as is the wont in such loosely organized activities as Sunday softball, they just sort of drifted off towards home following the games. We don’t have a clubhouse, like in the major leagues, wherein our lockers might ring a centrally located table with a box of balls on it needing autographing. The ball was in Jack Atton’s equipment bag, and thus not highly visible. I told folks about it, and requested they sign it for an actual real fan of ours, but the first order of business was playing softball and trying to get off to a good start in this new season.

And, as I’m sure Knucklehead (and a few other of you) will be happy to hear, we did.

BOMBERS – White’s -
BOMBERS – White’s -


And here, I must make a confession and let you in on a little secret. You may be wondering why there are no scores (and, perhaps more curiously, why it says [photo] where there was supposed to be one.) That’s because we didn’t play.

"But... but...," you say, "How could this be? You wrote about your teammates signing the softball, and... I’m so confused, Sully. Please explain?"

You have a right to be confused, and I’ll try to explain. See, here’s what I sometimes do. On the night before our games, I sometimes write up the part of the softball blog that doesn’t have any actual game information in it. Then, after we’ve played, I fill in the rest; the statistics and individual heroics (or my blunders, as the case may be.) And I had every intention of doing so this time around. However, we didn’t actually play. As a matter of fact, we never even got down to the field.

At about 7:30 this morning (Sunday) the phone rang. I was busy putting on my equipment, so MY WIFE answered it. When you get a call at 7:30 on a Sunday morning, it’s not usually good news. I stood there in my jockstrap and two knee braces waiting to hear what it could be. She handed me the phone. It was Jack Atton, my manager. The games were cancelled. The team we were supposed to play had, at the last minute, decided to drop out of the league. I have no idea why they waited until just an hour-and-a-half before game time to tell anyone, but that’s the way it was, so no games for us. And, as a consequence, no autographed softball for Knucklehead, either.

I could have just erased everything I had already written, and then written something entirely new and truthful, but that would have been far too much work for a sluggard like me.

(MY WIFE, in her usual brilliant fashion, suggested that I pretend that this blog was a tape recording and then pretend to rewind the whole thing, typing the entirety of it backwards from the point at which I left off, thusly:

s’etihW - SREBMOB
s’etihW - SREBMOB

.did ew, raeh ot yppah eb lliw (uoy fo rehto wef a dna) daehelkcunK erus m’I sa, dnA

And so forth. But, since it took me about five minutes to figure out how to write that little bit of it, no way was I going to do the whole 950 words that followed. It would have been impressive, no doubt, but it also would have been more insane than even I’m willing to admit to being.)

So, those of you who wanted a softball post didn’t quite get one, and those who left early, because they thought this was going to be about softball, left too early. The vast majority of you, from the second group, probably aren’t thrilled either. It’s not like this was vastly entertaining. Oh, well. If it’s any consolation, imagine how I feel. Instead of getting grimy and sweaty and tearing up my knees catching and having my 53-year-old thighs yelping at me all day tomorrow for having done three hours worth of squats, I had to settle for a nice hot cup of coffee, some peanut butter toast, and a leisurely read of the sports section.

Believe it or not, for me that sucks.

.ffuts retteb erom htiw, nooS

P.S. Since I didn’t talk about softball as much as I had planned, how about those Celtics? Up 1 – 0 on Orlando, and, well, Woo-Hoo!

P.P.S. For those of you folks particularly fond of horses, I may as well mention that the softballs we use in our league aren’t really made using horsehide. They might have been, back in the 20th century, but now it’s some sort of synthetic material (which is no doubt poisonous if ingested, and every time one of them gets hit by a bat, a little bit of murderous powder is probably released into the atmosphere and we’re all going to die, but the horses won’t, so after we’re gone it will be just them and the cockroaches.)

P.P.P.S. I should just shut up now, huh? OK.

Friday, May 14, 2010


So, as related yesterday, I gave up a chance to go to the Celtics - Cavaliers game. Instead, I chose to play softball.

The good news: My showing up for the softball game DID keep my team from having to forfeit. We had exactly 9 players to begin the game.

The bad news: I sucked. And we lost. I went 0-for-4 in a 22 - 6 catastrophe.

All in all, I kinda wish I had gone to the Celtics game.

The great thing about baseball/softball, though, is that a chance for redemption usually presents itself fairly soon. This Sunday (as the Celtics meet Orlando in the Eastern Conference Finals) the Bombers will open their regular season. And I absolutely guarantee I will not be as ridiculously hideous a batter as I was last night.

(Really, I was pitiful. It wasn't just that I didn't have a hit. It was the manner of the outs. Not a single ball left the infield. One weak pop up, two little dribbling grounders, and a soft liner - it could have been a hit - snagged by the first baseman going to his right. I honestly can't remember a game where I hit so poorly.)

All of that ephemera aside, I also received news yesterday that a relative faces a decision regarding serious surgery. I won't say who yet, as that person may not want it mentioned publicly, but it's someone dear to me. A kidney tumor is the problem. If you'd be kind enough to offer up a general prayer, I'd appreciate it. God will know who it is I'm talking about and direct your petition for grace where it needs to go. And I have no doubt that all will work out well, for all involved, in the end. That's the way God works. More info later, if and when I feel at liberty to relay it.

Not a good yesterday, overall, but better days are ahead, I'm sure, so I'll close with the usual...

Soon, with more better stuff.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

This Is How Much I Am Devoted To Playing Fast-Pitch Softball

Let no one ever question my passion for the game. I passed up tickets to the Celtics - Cavaliers game tonight in order to play softball in South Boston.

Considering the fact that the Celtics are my favorite team - as witnessed by this love letter I wrote to them when they were in the midst of an 18-game losing streak three-and-a-half years ago - this proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am the most devoted softball player on the face of the earth.

Or utterly insane.

My Stats At M Street - make me feel good by going "Ooh! What a huge manly on-base percentage you've got!"

Soon, with more better stuff (unless some once-in-a-lifetime thing happens tonight, like Paul Pierce scoring 73 points, in which case I'm throwing myself under a bus.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Brief History

[Backside of me then, backside of me now. Not too shabby considering the 15 years in between. Screw Pilates, ladies! I owe my ass to catching!]

The title is a lie. At least, it will certainly appear so to the 97% of you who won't give a rat's ass concerning the subject matter. Since the regular season begins this weekend, I now present a brief history of my Sunday softball team, The Bombers.

(OUCH! The sound of hundreds of people simultaneously leaving a blog is loud!)

For the three of you remaining, here's the story of our inaugural season - 1995.

The Bombers came into existence via an advertisement in the pages of Sports PLUS, a Friday supplement to the Boston Globe. Much of that section was geared to participation in sports, as opposed to sitting on your ass and watching others play games on TV. Space for free advertisements, similar to classifieds, was provided for those who sought players for various leagues and activities. Having recently moved to Watertown in 1995, I scanned the ads looking for a local fast-pitch softball league I might like to join. I saw an ad for tryouts for a Saturday morning league in Brighton. I decided to go and give it a shot.

When I arrived at the field for the tryouts, there were a goodly number of players, perhaps 15 or 16, milling about waiting for the organizer of the event to show up. I had been slightly apprehensive concerning my age - I was 38 at the time - wondering if I'd be much older than most of the guys who came down. Imagine that. Given my age now - 53 - it seems ludicrous to have worried about that then, but what did I know? Anyway, the first person I struck up a conversation with was Stu Stone, who would turn out to be my teammate for 12 years in three different leagues. He certainly looked older than me - way older, as a matter of fact - which I found comforting. As it turned out, he was perhaps 45 or 46 then. And there were a couple of others around my own age, so no need to have worried.

The organizer showed up. For the life of me, I can't remember his name now. We'll call him Asshat. As we found out later, he was the manager of one of the established teams in the league. He handed out some short questionnaires for us to complete, and then he had us all take the field for batting practice. We took turns hitting (Asshat pitched) while the rest of us shagged flies, fielded grounders, or just stood around shooting the shit and getting to know one another.

Here's the important thing you need to know about our history. As I said, Asshat was already manager of an established team in the league. A fellow by the name of Ron Johnson was supposed to be manager of the team composed of guys who passed the tryout. However, Ron wouldn't be showing up until later. Meanwhile, Asshat got a good look at us and picked off 3 or 4 guys for his own team, leaving the other 12 or 13 of us for Ron to have. In other words, he scooped what he considered the cream before Ron got there, leaving Ron to piece together what amounted to an expansion team from what remained.

For the sake of this next part, you have to know that Ron was (and still is) black. He had been a member of a team called the Bowdoin Bombers (from Dorchester, a neighborhood of Boston) made up almost completely of black players. The team broke up for one reason or another, and Asshat asked Ron if he'd like to manage a new entry in the league. Ron, being a good guy and a softball lifer, agreed. So, now Ron shows up at the field and meets his new team. As he related it to me a couple of years later (with a big laugh) his first thought was, "Who are all these white guys?" After his initial shock wore off, he christened us the B-2 Bombers.

Ron is one of the truly nice guys in this world. If he had been more of a prima donna, he could well have taken one look at the ragtag bunch of honkies he was handed and just walked away. God knows he was good enough to find a slot as a player on another team; he carried our asses that first year, leading the team in most of the significant offensive categories. But, he's a gem of a human being, so he stuck around, did the coaching, and suffered through some seriously sub-par performances.

That first year was hideous. Ron augmented our roster with an old teammate of his (and I do mean old, as Jimmy Jackson was well past 50 at the time and ran the bases about as you might imagine Fred Sanford doing so, but he was still a good pitcher - and a great teammate - and I felt sorrier and sorrier for him as the year went on and he was ill-treated by some of our defensive efforts.) We finished last with a record of 6 - 21. A few decent players (I like to think I was one) escaped the clutches of the selfish prick who ran the tryouts, but we had more than our fair share of flakes, nuts, and head cases who thought they were superstars.

We had an outfielder named Jeff Scott who seemed to think it was his mission in life to antagonize the shit out of every other team in the league. Jeff was an OK ballplayer, but nowhere near as good as he thought he was. He considered himself a power hitter, so he swung from the heels at everything within a foot of the strike zone. He had one home run for the season, and about 55 huge pop ups. In the outfield, he styled as often as possible, catching fly balls with a downward snap of his glove that just totally dissed whoever had hit the thing. And then he'd often make some comment to the opposing player as he was running in towards our bench. I'm amazed somebody didn't croak the guy. If it had been me he was taunting, I'd have had to take a shot at him sooner or later. Of course, the other teams might have taken into account the number of catches he didn't make, and figured it was in their best interests to keep him healthy.

We had another guy, a Hispanic fellow named Eli, who once beat the shit out of a City of Boston rubbish receptacle after making an out. While we all watched, he took his bat, walked over to a trashcan behind our bench, and pounded it with 12 or 15 vicious strokes that would have served him a heck of a lot better had he hit the ball with one of them during his just-completed at-bat. He accompanied the beating with perhaps the most foul string of obscenities I have ever heard spewed on a ballfield, but some of it was in Spanish so I have to reserve judgment on that part of it. Both teams, as well as the umpire, just stood in awe watching the performance. Ron said something soothing during the tirade, aimed at calming Eli down, but it seemed only to spur him on to greater insane heights. Afterward, with his demons released, Eli returned to the bench and sat down, huffing and puffing from his workout, and the rest of us tried to slide as far away from him as possible without his noticing. We didn't want to take a chance at him mistaking any of us for a garbage pail.

(I've got to be honest here and admit to recreating Eli's act myself, a few years later, substituting a stone wall for the trashcan. I had just gone something like 0-for-6 in a one-run extra-inning loss. I was trying to break my bat, but all I succeeded in doing was to chip off a few pieces of the wall and leave myself with a ringing sensation in my hands for a few hours afterward.)

The highlight of the year was our first win, and a true highlight it was. Let me wrap this up by telling you about it.

We played a doubleheader every Saturday, and it was the second game of our fourth week. We were 0 - 7 thus far. There had been a couple of decent games, but overall we hadn't scared too many people. This game, however, was against Asshat's team, the guy who passed all of us onto Ron as though we were leftovers from a rummage sale in Bangladesh. We wanted to beat him, badly, and we hung tough. Going into the bottom of the seventh (seven inning games were, and are, the norm) we had a one-run lead.

We got an out, then they got a runner by way of a base on balls. We got a second out via a fly ball, the runner remaining on first. Then Asshat came up to bat. And we all got a sour taste in our mouths when he laced one down the left field line for a double. Jeff Scott's throw came in quick and on-target, holding the lead runner at third. We still had our one run lead, but now the tying and winning runs were in scoring position, two outs.

We didn't walk the next guy intentionally, which might have been the correct strategic move, but Jackson worked very carefully to him, giving him nothing really worth hitting. Ball One. Ball Two. Ball Three. Ball Four.

At the umpire's signal for the batter to take his base, Asshat claps his hands and starts jogging towards third. Halfway there, he looks up and wonders why the runner on third hasn't moved. And then he realizes why, and desperately tries to run back to second...

Our catcher pegged the ball to second, because everybody on the field - except Asshat - realized that he wasn't forced to third by the walk. Any advance was at his own risk.

"Out!", said the umpire.

"Aarrgghh!", said Asshat, as he lay in the dirt facedown, his outstretched fingers still an inch from second base.

And we all exploded as though we had won the damn World Series. In a way, I don't know if doing so could have topped it. It is, to this day, still the most satisfying feeling I've ever had following any one win on a diamond. And that's why I'm still playing at my age. I've never won a championship at any level, and I need to find out if it could possibly feel any better than that game.



Ron Johnson 50 28 0 0 8 27 .560 9 3 .627 1.040 1.667 16
Eric Cooper 55 26 3 1 0 9 .473 5 2 .517 .564 1.081 19
Scott Sarro 36 17 5 0 0 10 .472 10 0 .587 .611 1.198 17
Jim Sullivan 62 27 6 0 1 17 .436 13 3 .533 .581 1.114 15
Eli - 53 21 4 3 2 22 .396 4 3 .439 .698 1.137 8
Mike - 60 23 4 0 3 16 .383 4 1 .422 .550 .972 15
Scot Hathaway 79 30 4 0 2 16 .379 3 0 .403 .506 .909 21
Jimmy Jackson 66 24 3 1 0 15 .364 6 3 .417 .439 .856 16
Stu Stone 42 13 0 0 0 5 .310 1 0 .326 .310 .636 6
Jeff Scott 80 24 3 0 1 14 .300 2 0 .317 .375 .692 19
Paul B. 30 8 1 0 0 3 .267 2 1 .312 .300 .612 7
ALL OTHERS 101 31 2 2 2 13 .307 14 11 .391 .425 .816 19

TEAM 714 272 35 7 19 167 .381 73 27 .438 .529 .967 178


Jimmy Jackson 4 - 7
Scot Hathaway 1 - 2
Stu Stone 1 - 8
Ariel Monges 0 - 1
Al Lewis 0 - 3

BOLD = Team Leader

Notes: The only two players remaining from the original team are Ron Johnson and me. While I'm 53, Ron is now 57. Jimmy Jackson retired following the 2003 season, well past the age of 60, and only then because he had to have both knees surgically replaced. Stu Stone was a Bomber for 12 years.

Current Bombers Homepage

Thanks for indulging my nostalgia. I'll probably detail a few other seasons as this one rolls along to a conclusion.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Five Great Links (Six, If You Count Choo Choo)

"Wow! This is really good stuff! I'd like to tell people about it, but I've already got that post written for tomorrow concerning my childhood love of Scooter Pies, and I planned on talking about the time I worked as a breaker-upper at a peanut brittle factory on Wednesday, and I certainly can't let Maurice Gosfield's birthday pass without notice, and..."

That's the sort of thought process that occurs in my head as I encounter marvelous things on the internet. I see something truly wonderful, such as this...

A Baseball Fan's Reflections Upon The Passing Of Ernie Harwell

... and, while I enjoy it immensely, and certainly leave profuse praise in the comments section, I rarely tell others about it. And that's a damn shame. The really good stuff, the outstanding stuff, should always find a wider audience. For instance, this...

Rainy Day Old Maid

... not only deserves a wider audience of viewers on the web, it deserves to become part of a major motion picture, or be developed into an HBO sitcom, or something fantastic and full of mad bucks for the participants. And, if you like that - or even if you don't, although I can't imagine why you wouldn't - here's the further adventures of Micky & Patsy...

The Titwillow Affair

Honest to God - and I don't use such sacrilegious phrases lightly - stuff like that leaves me defenseless. I get so totally engrossed in those characters, you could come rob me blind while I'm watching it. I wouldn't notice my Choo Choo Coleman autographed baseball had been boosted until the credits rolled, and maybe not even then.

And, after those two great comedic characters, where do you go for your next serving of awesomeness? Dance, maybe. This, for instance...

Hand In Hand

... should leave you amazed, and possibly in tears (although I believe the intent is to make us aware that tears are NOT needed, and that beauty is possible without all of the accoutrement one would consider a necessity for certain endeavors.)

Finally, I'll leave you with perhaps the only video clip I can think of able to top the previous one for emotional impact. As many of you know, I am a huge fan of Fred Rogers. I've written about him extensively; so much so, that a very good friend recently wrote to me, saying that she thought I must be more "into" Fred Rogers than anyone else in the world is, child or adult. Perhaps so. She then asked me what my favorite episode was. My reply...

Ah, an interesting question, indeed. Insofar as Neighborhood Of Make Believe stuff, I'd have to say the week of episodes where the characters are trying to figure out ways to feed hungry people, wherein Daniel Striped Tiger plants a can of soup in hopes of growing a soup tree. Bob Dog, trying to be kind and not let Daniel's feelings be hurt, ties cans of soup to a small tree and puts the tree into Daniel's planting pot. Daniel thinks his plan has worked, so he starts talking about how he'll plant all of these new cans of soup, growing more trees, and how happy he is that world hunger will be solved, etc., until Bob Dog - with prompting from Lady Aberlin, I believe - tells Daniel the truth, very embarrassed to have to do so.

The heartbreak that Daniel feels (I know this sounds bizarre, but it's true) is almost palpable, even though you and I know that he's a puppet with no movable facial features. I don't quite know how Fred Rogers did it, but he managed to convey emotional impact via puppets with unchanging faces. Some of it was voicing, of course, but he also moved them - most especially Daniel - in such a way that their 'bodies' and utterly still faces also made an impact. One can almost 'see' tears forming in Daniel's eyes during this episode. Perhaps it's only because Daniel is such a tremendously likable character to begin with (and my favorite) that I put my own empathetic reactions into play when he's involved in the story.

As for my favorite episode with Fred Rogers in live action, it is near impossible to top what you'll find at the link I'm including. If you have never seen this - or, even if you have; maybe especially if you have - you'll need a hankie. A big one.

Fred Rogers & Jeff Erlanger

It is hard to imagine a person being more open, loving, and caring. Would that I were so, but one has to be an amazingly stronger person than I am to reach such a level. Fred Rogers is often thought of, and portrayed in popular culture, as (for lack of better words) a wimp. No. Only someone truly ignorant could fail to see the strength needed here.

So many things I want to let you know about. Those are the five I recall at the moment. Once I publish this, of course, ten more will pop back into my memory. And there are hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of such moments of charm and laughter and caring and appreciation out there, ready for us to savor if only we knew where to find them.

(Makes me wonder why I should expect anyone to read my crap, since there are so many better ways for people to spend their time. However, it also reminds me of how fortunate I am to have you put aside a few minutes to come here as often as you do. And, since you do, I'll promise to return...)

Soon, with more better stuff.

[Disclaimers: I haven't really written a post about Scooter Pies, though I may someday and this will serve as your warning. I was never a breaker-upper in a peanut brittle factory, and in fact that joke was stolen from The Three Stooges. That doesn't preclude my desire to become one, though. Maurice Gosfield's birthday was in January, so obviously I did let it pass without notice. Next year you may not be so fortunate. I don't have a Choo Choo Coleman autographed baseball, but if you have one you want to send me, don't. If you didn't know who Choo Choo Coleman was before this, aren't you happy I gave you the link? Considering my past history, I could have easily given you something much worse.]

Thursday, May 06, 2010


[I am re-running this piece, but I still expect you to read every word of it because it's about My Mother, damn it. Anyway, I think this is the first time I've trotted it out here in three years - a fairly amazing thing when you consider that I'll use any excuse, no matter how flimsy, to avoid writing new stuff - and maybe some of you have never seen it before. I expect the rest of you to be polite and pretend it thrills you anew. It's about MY MOTHER!!!

Anyway, this Sunday is Mothers Day here in the U. S. of A., and the following Sunday is My Mother's birthday. As a crummy son, I will be playing softball on Mom's birthday. Yeah, I know. But, here's one of the reasons why I adore My Mother: She's OK with that. And, if she is, I don't expect any guff from the likes of you.

Oh, boy. I'm not exactly endearing myself to you here, am I? Well, My Mother loves me. And that's the point of this.

No, wait. The point is that I love My Mother. Even if I am playing softball on her birthday. So, Mom, here's the same tribute to you that I've published a few times before, except I threw in a few different photos this time and also wrote this hideous introduction. Happy Mothers Day! Happy Birthday! I dedicate my first base-on-balls on May 16th to YOU!]

[My Mom always goes out of her way to have eclairs for me on my birthday. Meanwhile, I'm playing softball on hers, and... Oh, yes, I've already gone over that ground, eh? Mmmmmmmmmm. Eclairs!]

[My Mom and My Stepfather, Bill, both getting soused, as usual. No, no, no. This was at the rehearsal dinner for the wedding of MY WIFE and myself. Knowing the two of us, they had every good reason to get soused, but they didn't.]

[My Mom, showing off the acting skills that have won her numerous Tonys, Emmys, and Bills. Hah! She's been married to two guys named Bill, see? It's like I almost made a joke there, if any of you knew! I won't embarrass My Mom by talking about the Tonys, and the less said about the Emmys, the better off we'll all be.

Oh, OK, I'll shut up now. Here's the stuff I wrote a few years ago.]

[My Mother, left, and her sister, Jeanne, Easter 1950]

First, an explanation.

You know how some people have a birthday on or around Christmas and it kind of gets lost? It just sort of gets melded into the larger holiday and that person gets somewhat cheated out of two special days? My Mom's birthday is like that. She was born on May 16th, so her birthday always falls within a couple of days of Mothers Day. As a result, some people believe she gets the short end of things from me.

However, I'll tell you that my mother isn't all that worried about it. A shallow person she is not. She is very intelligent and she understands the situation. This is not to say that she wouldn't want two parties or two bunches of gifts or two of whatever; everybody likes twice as much good stuff if they can get it. But she understands. And I love her all the more for understanding that I love her just as much, even though I sometimes may not show her how much twice in the same week.

This is my birthday card to my mother. You may or may not "get" everything I write here, but she will and that's what matters. These are mainly just short fond memories of times I treasure; times I had with my mother and things we did together. The greater parts of them are from my childhood. So are the pictures, which look the way they do because I only barely know how to use a scanner and photoshop. If I waited until I knew what I was doing before publishing, this space would be blank for about a decade.

I suppose it makes sense to start with the usual Mom-type stuff.

She wiped my tears and bandaged my scraped knees and kissed my boo-boos and made them better. She vacuumed and made the beds. She did the laundry - early on with an actual washtub and scrub board and wringer - and she hung the clothes to dry on the clothesline in the backyard (or, in the winter, on a clothesline we had strung in the cellar) and a bit later we got a dryer. She did the ironing while watching Loretta Young and Mike Douglas. She was almost always ironing when I got home from school, it seemed.

She nursed me through all the usual illnesses and gifted me with my first copy of MAD magazine during one of them, and thank you for trusting me at such a young age with such revolutionary material, Mom. She put patches on my pants, as I needed them.

(Does anybody put patches on pants anymore?)

She gave me eggnog to drink for breakfast - an actual egg stirred into a big glass of milk, perhaps with chocolate syrup. Those were the days when it was considered healthy to feed your child eggs and milk every day, even raw eggs - maybe especially raw eggs. She gave me vitamins.

(One time, I decided that if a single vitamin tablet was good for you, then taking a whole bottle might turn me into Superman. Mom was the one who called the doctor.)

She packed my lunchbox with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, slices of apples or oranges, usually a cookie or two, and always a thermos of milk.

(How many thermoses did I break? Many. You'd drop one of the things and hear that shattering of the insides and you knew without checking that your milk now had big shards of glass in it. Mom always bought me a new one.)

She made dinners of swordfish or fish sticks or tuna casserole. My Dad did much of the cooking, and he hated fish, but when he wasn't around Mom made sure I got enough of the seafood that I loved. She would buy salmon and tuna just for me to eat straight from the can - something I still do often, although now I might spoon it out onto a plate first. She made me macaroni and plain tomatoes, still one of my favorite simple dinners - and one that, as it turns out, is quite healthy.

We would do some cooking together. We made peanut butter cookies. We made bread pudding. She would bake a cake and I would graciously help out by licking the bowl clean. I was always glad to do my part.

Sometimes, we would go out to eat, just Mom and me. We might go to the Liberty Deli in Lower Mills, or perhaps we would end up at a restaurant called Colstone's in downtown Boston. Both of these would be places we visited after we had been to church to say a prayer and light a candle. The Deli after Saint Gregory's; Colstone's after Arch Street. She would put a coin in the poor box at church and let me light the votive candle. She taught me to pray and she taught me reverence for holy places. She gave me a great sense of God as benevolent and likely to listen to me. It was, and is, a good thing.

She sang, always. She loved to sing; still does. She sang standards around the house. She had a lovely voice; still does. She and her sister, Jeannette, actually had their own radio show when they were teenagers, on WJDA in Quincy. The story, as I remember it, was that they had spoken to the station manager and complained that there wasn't enough programming for teenagers. He told them that if they thought so, maybe they could come up with some themselves. They said, "OK" and went on the air. Pretty gutsy stuff, that.

I owe my livelihood to my Mom. Even before I went into kindergarten, she was teaching me to read. I was always the best reader in my class in school. I am still one of the best readers I know and I work with professional readers every day. Without that early acquisition of knowledge, provided by Mom, I wouldn't have the job I have today. I am very grateful for that.

She taught me an absolute love for the written word and she taught me that acquiring knowledge doesn't have to be a drag. She would buy me books at every possible opportunity. I still have a half-shelf of Golden Library Of Knowledge books, which she bought for me - one at a time - from a store downtown every two or three weeks. I learned about dinosaurs and the planets and insects and the elements and animals from far off lands, and learned about them before I had to learn about them in school. I glided through much of elementary school because my Mom gave me such an enormous head start.

While I was in school, she kept a scrapbook. It is in my possession now. Entitled "Jimmy's School Years", it is an amazingly embarrassing collection of inept crayon drawings, declining-in-quality-as-I-moved-into-high-school report cards, class photos (who are half these people?), and other assorted ephemera from my times at the Gilbert Stuart, Boston Latin, the Woodrow Wilson, Boston Latin (again), and finally, Boston Tech. Grades K through 12 wrapped up in one overstuffed segmented package. While it is embarrassing, even for me to look at in private, I am so very thankful she did it.

I remember something I wasn't thankful for and which non-thankfulness I have been ashamed of ever since. One day, when I was perhaps four or five, Mom came home from a trip downtown and she had a small present for me. It was these two small replicas of phonograph records, one reading "YES" on the tiny label in the middle, and the other "NO". I don't know what their actual purpose was, but I suspect they were part of some advertising gimmick. I seem to remember that they came from Filene's Basement, but I may be mistaken.

Anyway, she had had a small little nice thought when handed them by whomever - "I'll bring these home and maybe Jimmy would like to play with them". My Mom came in and handed them to me, saying something to the effect of she wasn't sure if I wanted these but, if I did, I could have them. I behaved like a bratty little shit and said I didn't want them; why would I want them?; something entirely ungrateful. Maybe I was expecting something else from her for some reason? I don't know.

(Silly thing to remember, but I do. And I am ashamed about it. I was ungrateful for a gift given with love. Now, I'm almost willing to guarantee that my Mom doesn't have the slightest idea what I'm talking about. She remembers good stuff about me and forgets bad stuff. Well, I apologize anyway, Mom, and now I feel better.)

Well, you see, I'm getting into small weird things here and, if I keep on like this, it will be a book before long and even then it won't feel like enough. In the interests of getting this thing published by her actual birthday, I'm going to just list a few things now, things that - if you aren't my Mom - may well sound bizarre or psychotic or both. She'll read each and every one, slowly and lovingly, and have memories - perhaps many memories, and strong - conjured by each.

You were the savior of Davy and the unfortunate bearer of bad news concerning Tippy.

You were Sugar's midwife, twice, and every cat's best friend, always.

You were the teacher and player of Fish, Casino, Rummy 500, Chinese Checkers.

You were my pass to the cafeteria at Prudential and then to shuffleboard in the employee lounge afterwards.

You are the gatekeeper of the "For Now" room.

You were the grower of the rose bush, the tiger lilies and my willow tree.

You gave me a box of kitchen matches and a bowl of water.
You were the magician who made stars appear on my bedroom ceiling.

You allowed my jumps down the stairs and piled the pillows to land on.

You put up with marbles in the bathtub.

You made me believe that the second half of The Wizard Of Oz was in glorious color even though I was watching it on a black-and-white television.

You came to see me play at McCarthy's and you actually stayed through the second set.

You were the buyer of South Station bowling.

Your room had the jewelry box filled with shiny things and a Kennedy/Johnson campaign button, the atomizer, the radio that played Jess Cain every morning, and sunbeams that never were as warm after you left.

You were the person with me as I watched The Flintstones, The Addams Family, Camp Runamuck, Hank, Bewitched, That Girl, Fractured Flickers, The Hathaways, It's About Time and I'm Dickens, He's Fenster. At the very least, three of those were shows you really were not terribly fond of, but you watched them with me anyway.

You brought me to a brave radical church and I gained a new circle of friends.

You introduced me to MY WIFE.

You were the saver of newspapers - "Kennedy Assassinated", "Man Walks On Moon", "Red Sox Win Pennant" - and I wish to hell I had been the saver of them, too.

You were the person I reported the Dow Jones to every night. Why? I haven't the foggiest notion.

You were the person who brought me the news of a death of a person I knew; the first death I actually felt and understood the finality of. "Ma died", you said. And you held me close and I knew that in this world where people I had imagined as permanent were not, your love was.

You are possibly the fairest person in the world. At the very least, you always listen to everybody and give serious consideration to their thoughts and feelings. I've inherited some of that, but not nearly enough.

You were my traveling companion on the railway in the sky that took us to Ma and Pa's for Easter.
You are the child at heart who played miniature golf and skeeball, took swings in the batting cage, ate ice cream sundaes and candy bars, and did assorted other young things with great relish and panache, on your 65th birthday.

All things considered, you're probably the best mother I've ever had.

(Hey, I got some of this sense of humor from you, you know, so stop rolling your eyes.)

Something like this could go on forever, but I'll close with this:

I've described a large number of idiotic episodes of my life on this blog and will no doubt relate many more. I've done things that were illegal, immoral, stupid, and that otherwise seemingly reflect badly on my upbringing. Every single one of those things came about through my own volition.

Meanwhile, every good quality I possess - and every good thing I've ever done - came about as a direct result of how I was raised. That may sound like hyperbole, but it is the absolute stone cold truth.

Thanks, Mom. Happy Birthday! And Happy Mothers Day, too!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Backstop In The Saddle Again

[The above photo is for those of you who requested one of me in my new form-fitting uniform. Stylin’! It was ball one, outside and high, by the way.]

It’s Monday as I write this, but probably Wednesday as you read it. Ooh! Time travel!

In my never-ending quest to turn everything I’ve ever told you into an outrageous lie, I am not only playing softball this year, but also playing in two different leagues. I have my team of 16 years, The Bombers, on Sundays. That was to be expected. However, I’ve also signed on with a weekday league, the M Street Softball League in South Boston.

I last played in Southie in 2004. It’s one of the premier leagues in the city, with pitchers allowed to utilize the “open” style of modified fast-pitch slinging. Unlike regular modified fast-pitch (hand cannot come above shoulder on the backswing) which is the rule in my Sunday league, the open style allows for all deliveries short of the windmill. And some of the guys who pitch at M Street can really bring it. The relative toughness of the league can be shown by one of the rules. If you’re hit by a pitch at M Street, you’re awarded first base. Outside of baseball, and true fast-pitch softball on a collegiate or Olympic level, if a pitch hits you it’s unlikely you’ll be hurt. You are in a slight bit of danger when you step into the batter’s box at M Street.

I actually quit the league, following the 2004 season, because I felt I couldn’t quite catch up to the best fastballs there. My reflexes haven’t improved during the intervening 5 years, but the alignment of the league has changed. There are three divisions now, and the division I’ll be playing in does not include too many of the elite pitchers. In order to ensure truly competitive play, teams within each of the three divisions play each other more often than teams outside of their division. I’ll face true greatness on the pitching mound a couple of times, but mostly it will be on a par with what I see on Sundays.

(Of course, once the playoffs begin – if my team makes the playoffs – then all bets are off. Playoff teams are seeded according to both division played in and finishing position. Therefore, the last qualifying team from the C division will face a highly-skilled team from A or B, and – unless the team from C has depth that was entirely misjudged when the season began – will likely be eliminated quickly.)

My educated guess, from past participation, is that the make up of the league will be about 70% guys in their 20’s, 25% guys in their 30’s, 4% guys in their 40’s, and I’m now in the remaining 1%, which is softball bums for life. And I may be the only position player (non-pitcher) over 50 years of age. I don’t recall playing against anyone as old as me, outside of pitchers, during my previous 6 years in the league.

Mark Senna, who is the commissioner and a former teammate, was my contact for getting back in. For my re-entry into the league, I asked Mark if there was a team that really needed someone to play most games. I’m hoping to win my championship with the Bombers on Sunday, and the weekday participation is for the exercise more than anything else, so all I was looking for was a spot where I wouldn’t ride the pine most nights. I didn’t care if the team had a chance at winning the league.

Mark hooked me up with a team called The Swingers, who went 2 and 16 last year during their initial foray at M Street. From what I’ve seen during practices, that record was probably not an aberration. As old and half-crippled as I am, I might be an all-star representative from this squad. We’ll see.

(That’s not to denigrate the guys as people, since they’ve all accepted me with open arms and seem to be a truly nice bunch. I’ll have fun. And who knows? Maybe once the bell rings, they’ll all become tigers. Also, I have little idea of the competition we’ll be facing. Maybe the rest of the teams in our division suck.)

Anyway, opening night was Monday. Then we played again on Tuesday, with another game scheduled for Friday. With the full scrimmages played this past Sunday with the Bombers, by Friday I will have played 5 games in 6 days, a goodly portion of that behind the plate. I’m either going to be in the best shape of my post-50 life by Saturday or dead.

Speaking of the scrimmages, I’ll close this with some photos from those games. These are all courtesy of Charlie White, a great former teammate who was visiting the city and who asked if he could play in the scrimmages with us. We were thrilled to have him. Truly nice guy with a superb sense of humor, he was (and is) an awesome batter. In my opinion, Charlie turned in one of the top 3 individual performances in our team history during the 2005 season. We played 21 games that year, and he had 32 hits (and also reached via walk 11 times.) Of his 32 hits, 17 were for extra bases. That total included 7 home runs and a still-team-record 6 triples. Now that he lives in Florida, he plays almost year-round. I have no doubt he’s ripping it up down there, as he looked pretty damned good in our scrimmages. I wish he was still in our area. We’re loaded this year, but you can always find a spot for a bat like his.

Here's Charlie at bat. Also a patient hitter, he took ball one here.

Charlie again. He's sporting the very valuable Bombers throwback jersey, which goes for 34 cents on E-Bay these days.

Charlie stepping into the pitch. By the way, I took the photos of Charlie. If they're not as good as the other photos, that's why.

Finally, here's Charlie's swing. Classic slugger stroke. Compare and contrast with my singles hitter swing that follows.

Me, going down to get a pitch. It was a single to left. Nice job by Charlie. Notice he got the shot just as my bat was meeting the ball.

Fast Freddy Goodman in the batters box.

And here's the result - Freddy on third following his triple!

Not too long after, the three players with longest length of service on the team have some fun banter. Me (16th year), Ron Johnson (16th year), Fast Freddy Goodman (14th year).

Freddy on first following a later single. These were just scrimmages against the Reds, another team from our league - sort of spring training games for both of us. We won both, and there was good camaraderie all around. We won't meet them in real play until seven or eight weeks from now. Hopefully, by that time they will have forgotten all of our tendencies :-)

Freddy, as big a Mets fan as there is on Earth, shows off his Subway Series shirt from when the Mets played the Yankees in interleague play in 2006. In the background, Emilio Zirpolo bats.

Me again. I think I look damned good for an ancient geezer whose best days are far behind him.

Me, Freddy, and Big Jay Atton. To the right, Joey Baszkiewicz stands in awe of the assembled talent. If you'll look closely at the photo, you'll see that the bench area slants downward towards the field. Even after putting Big Jay on the low end of the slant, he towers over Freddy and myself. That's why he's BIG Jay.

Finally, here's a group shot of some of the team. For some reason, it's near impossible to get everybody on a softball team to just stop whatever they're doing and come pose for a photo, so a few guys are missing. Robbie Rogers, one of the all-time best power hitters in the M Street league and a new addition to the Bombers this year, strolls by on the far left. In the group section of the photo, Ron Johnson looks like a little short guy, but he isn't. He's about 5'10" (my height), but he's standing on the lower end of the slant and also positioned between the 6'7" Big Jay and the (my guess) 6'5" Charlie.

Left to right, top row: Me, Big Jay Atton, Ron Johnson, Charlie White.

Left to right, bottom : Cam Zirpolo, Fast Freddy Goodman, Emilio Zirpolo

There’s nothing as good as getting out on the ballfield with guys who love the game as much as you do.

Soon, with more better stuff.

(Quick update: The Swingers lost their first game, 14 - 11, but rallied for a 10 - 10 tie on Tuesday. They're a touch better than they looked in practice, but defense will be a concern throughout the year. I caught in both games. I went 1 for 4 [a double], drew 3 walks, struck out once, scored 3 times, and had 2 RBI. Nothing spectacular, but not too shabby for a fossil. The Friday game has been rescheduled for later in the month, so I now have until next Tuesday to heal from my 4 games in 3 days.)