Book Review: One Shot at Forever

Jan 25

I’m a sucker for a good baseball book.

I hadn’t heard of “One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and a Magical Baseball Season” by Chris Ballard before stumbling across it on Amazon. The Kindle price was but $2.24 (it’s since gone up to $2.99, but still a very fair price), so I thought it would be a good way to start the 2013 reading campaign.

One Shot at Forever

This is more of a historical baseball book as it goes back to remember a small-school baseball teambased in Illinois. They have old uniforms and a unique coach who does things quite a bit differently. This coach — the English teacher at the school who has zero experience in coaching — leads his squad to the Illinois state final. This is back in a time when there were no divisions. Macon is still the smallest school to reach the state final.

The team took on the spirit of its coach — long hair, peace symbols on their hats and a carefree outlook that seemed balanced enough to win over a town.

Ballard is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, so he tells a wonderful story from beginning to end, including catching up with many of these players in the present time.

The Good

This is a great story. If you like feel-good stories, especially in sports, this is a fine read. This shows that all in sports isn’t bad and it brings you back to a glory day when high school sports were serious, but at the same time, it wasn’t as crazy as it is today. Games were serious back then, but society today puts high school sports on a whole different level.

Ballard does a wonderful job of developing all the people in this story, which is tough, considering you have a full team, a coach, his eventual wife, school administration, members of the media and some parents. That’s a lot of people. For the most part, I was able to keep track of who is who throughout, though not always. It was really easy to cheer for certain people and, at the same time, have a bit of a dislike for others.

The book also helps the reader related to the team. Even those who grew up and live in large urban areas should be able to feel the emotion of this town and area and the support of the team. One think to keep in mind is this is the early 1970s, so a different time. Though everybody will be able to relate and see what this type of atmosphere was like, I know I got a bit more out of it because I grew up in a small town and understand the thought process and how people will live for the days of a great high school team to show pride in the town.

The Bad

At times, it was tough when some of the players were being mentioned. Though the big ones were pretty easy to follow with, sometimes one of the more secondary players was mentioned and it would make me stop for a moment. I think that’s the tough part with a book like this because there are so many people who need to be in it. This isn’t fictional, so one can’t just eliminate some in situations. To tell the story, these players need to be in the story.

This is a tough “bad,” per say, but books like this need a few photos. When dealing with historical items like this, I know I like to see what people look like, or anything else to help my mind paint a picture of the town, the field, the players and all that. Ballard does a wonderful job of describing everything, but having a section in the book with images would have helped. If it’s in the print version, I can’t comment. But I didn’t see any photos, outside of the cover photos in the Kindle edition.

Overall thoughts

I truly enjoyed this book. I didn’t take too long to read it as it moved quickly, kept my attention and made me want to keep going. And it really is an underdog story. If you are a sports fan and like something like Hoosiers, you’ll like this book. It’s the same sort of thing — the David vs. Goliath. I won’t give away the ending of this book, but it doesn’t matter what the end result is. It’s well worth the read and I would encourage anybody who likes books about real life, sports, overcoming odds or the little guy to give it a go.

Rating

This is a strong book and one I’d highly recommend to many people. In the end, though not fully perfect, I’d give this book a strong 4/5 and consider a little higher if I gave it a little bit of a longer thought.

Artwork (For The Artful Readers Club)

This book is also one I’m reading for The Artful Readers Club. In this club, we read one book per month and also have to so some sort of a piece of art to go with it. For this one, I decided to take an old baseball photo I took and make an “advertisement” for the book. It’s not great, but I hope people enjoy!

Artful Readers Club artwork.

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Foto Friday: Baseball Hall ages through Hipstamatic

Jan 18

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown is a storied institution.

The Babe is all over the Hall of Fame. (Film: BlacKeys Supergrain; lens: Helga Viking)

Being local to the Hall — and covering it as part of the baseball beat for several years at the local daily — I’ve been through, in and around the Hall for much of my life. I’ve seen it change through the years, expanding and growing. I’ve watched Induction Ceremonies, saw players visiting and had a chance to get to know many people who help make it run.

I’ve researched in the library, too, which is one of the most wonderful tools available to those who are working on things in regard to baseball history.

And each year, I try to visit the Hall a few times.

Part of that is being a member. Though I haven’t been the past few years, I recently re-upped because they offered me an excellent deal and one I could afford. Being a member gets me admission throughout the year, whenever I feel like going.

That’s pretty sweet.

What that does is makes it possible for me to go check out new exhibits and then leave, if I want. It usually doesn’t turn out that way, though.

A couple of weekends ago, I decided to visit the Hall, with this little idea in mind. I wanted to take many photos throughout the Hall, using Hipstamatic.

For those who don’t know, Hipstamatic is a really cool photo app for the iPhone/iPad/iPod. It gives you the ability to switch films and lenses to get old and crazy film looks. If you use flash, there are many flashes to choose from, too. Basically, it gives you some “old’school” looking images.

I’m a fan, usually, of this app. The last few updates have been frustrating as it seems to crash in odd times, sometimes losing photos (it happened to me while doing the Hall shots). Basically, each shot needs time to “develop” and if something happens in that amount of time, you lose the photos.

Still, the idea was to see the Hall through the eyes of Hipstamatic, using as many films and lenses as I could to get a different look at things. Those of you who follow the blog may remember I did the same thing this past July when I did a post about shooting pro wrestling with Hipstamatic.

Balls from 1863. (Film: DC; lens: James M).

I figured I’d zip through the hall, snapping photos and getting out of there within about an hour.

By now, I should know better.

I spent about two hours and change in the Hall, looking over things I had seen many times before. There weren’t many people there, so I had time to look, snap shots and enjoy the afternoon. I pretty much zapped my iPhone battery with the amount of shots I took. But, it’s all good.

And I got some cool Hipstamatic shots.

I think the one cool thing is being able to check some of those shots and get that old feel — almost like it really captures the history of baseball.

The Hall is a magical place to visit, no matter what you use for a camera. But if you visit, try it through the eyes of Hipstamatic — it really gives awesome results.

More of the images from that day are below.

Old catcher’s equipment. (Film: Ina’s 1969; lens: Lucas AB2)

 

Abner Doubleday. (Film: Alfred Infared; Lens: Roboto Glitter)

 

There’s no crying in baseball! (Film: Sugar; lens: Salvador 84)

The Phytin’ Phils. (Film: W40; lens: Foxy)

Some of the Phillies best. (Film: Pistil; lens: Melodie)

Pete Rose’s hat. (Film: BlacKeys B&W; lens: GSQUAD)

Eddie Gaedel’s uniform. (Film: Alfred Infared; lens: Melodie)

John Fogerty’s guitar for “Centerfield.” (Film: Dylan; lens: Lucas AB2)

The Babe and Teddy Ballgame in the Plaque Gallery. (Film: Alfred Infared; lens: Wonder).

The original class. (Film: BlacKeys Supergrain)

 

Jackie Robinson. (Film: RTV; lens: Tejas)

One of my favorite Hall of Famers. (Film: Sugar; lens: Kaimal Mark II)

Another of my favorite Hall of Famers. (Film: W40; lens: Melodie)

The infamous Barry Bonds ball. (Film: D-Type Plate; lens: Americana)

Hammering Hank. (Film: Cano Cafenol; lens: Buckhorst H1)

The Mick. (Film: D-Type Plate; lens: Watts)

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!

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The Baseball Hall needs to shake up its election process

Jan 10

Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.

That’s the motto of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. The Hall is a not-for-profit entity that is independent of Major League Baseball.

Well, so it goes.

For many years, I covered the Hall of Fame. I know many of the employees and the countless hours they put into everything that makes the Hall one of the most wonderful places in the world, especially if you are a fan of baseball history.

As a paying member of the Hall, I get free entry all year, so I can come and go as I please. It’s nice to go escape and look at the history of the game. I spend hours there, even when I plan on just checking a few things out. I’ve also spent time in the research library, looking up players for the HooHaa 9.

One thing with the Hall, though, is it seemingly has no say in who is enshrined there.

Though the Hall decides the veteran committees, the main election is done by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. On Wednesday, those writers decided nobody would be elected to the Hall this year.

I could spout number after number about the players I think should be elected. Or about how certain players were dominant for a generation. But let’s call it as it is — the steroid era is what did this election in.

What I have issue with is the fact that voters seem to treat the Hall like it’s the Hall of Perfection. It’s not. There are a lot of scumbags in the Hall. There are a lot of people with low moral character. And I guarantee there are cheaters in the Hall.

The ball Barry Bonds hit to become the all-time home run king is showcased in the Hall of Fame, though if the writers will likely continue to make sure he’ll never be enshrined.

Again, the ones who decide who goes into the Hall are writers. That’s needs to be changed. I don’t think players should be in total control. I’m all for writers having a say, but the process needs to be changed.

Let’s do a history lesson. In 1994, baseball went into a labor war, which ended up canceling the World Series. In the meantime, it was the beginning of the end for the Montreal Expos, who arguably had the best team in baseball that season.

Once it returned the next season, baseball slowly worked back into the hearts of people. But what really did it? The Mark McGwire vs. Sammy Sosa home run race in 1998.

Remember “Chicks dig the long ball?”

Steroids were rampant in the game that time. I find it hard to believe people didn’t know about it. But nobody cared. Money was flowing. The game was back and people were slamming home runs, which the crowds loves.

Then it all started to fold.

Steroids became the worst thing. Reports came out. People admitted guilt. Moral objections flew all over the place. Then came the “cleaning” of the game.

I’m all for cleaning up the game. I don’t like performance-enhancing drugs. I’m not a supporter of drug use. I want to see the game pure, just like anybody else. That being said, it was an era of the game, so people like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds should be in the Hall.

It’s part of baseball history.

This game has gone through time. It hasn’t always been great. There’s been racism, drug use, cheating and anything else you can come up with. Ask some of those old timers about greenies. How about the amount of players who did — and still do — cheat on their wives? There’s been many other illegal drug uses. Talk about morality.

There might already be someone in the Hall who used steroids. I have no clue who, but Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins confirmed there has been “talk” among some Hall of Famers that there’s suspicion of one person as being a user.

Everyone in the steroid era is under suspicion though, and apparently that’s enough to keep people out.

Jeff Bagwell is close, but not in. Mike Piazza was fully looked over this year. Craig Biggio — and his 3,000 hits — were left out this year. Though some people might question Bagwell and Piazza, they haven’t truly been connected to any steroids scandal.

Heck, people like Clemens and Bonds never failed a drug test. Though there’s not likely many people on this planet that don’t suspect steroid use for the two, the facts are the facts — no drug tests have been failed.

My favorite is the first-ballot setup, where it’s some special honor to be in right away. That’s silly, too. You’re a Hall of Famer or you’re not — it’s as simple as that. In the 15 years it took for Jim Rice to get into the Hall, his statistics never changed. Never. He didn’t get any more homers or hits.

This is the power trip for the writers.

Let’s remember, too, that I spent much of my career as a sports writer. I covered the Hall. Though the minor leagues, I covered pro baseball.

But I never understood why covering baseball meant somebody should be able to decide who is in or out of the Hall of Fame.

I still can’t figure out why Jack Morris isn’t in the Hall. Or why Dale Murphy didn’t get more of a look. Heck, Fred McGriff, who I don’t ever think I heard in the steroid discussion, hit 493 home runs and garnered a whopping 20.7 percent of the vote this year.

Now, to be fair, I’m not against players of this era having it being noted on their plaque. But it would have to be everybody. As far as I’m concerned, everybody is possibly guilty.

For heaven’s sake, Andy Pettitte admitted using PEDs at one point during his career.

It’s time for a change to the system. The Hall needs to stick to its mantra and start preserving history. Players like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Pete Rose should be in the Hall. Should it be noted on their plaque what happened? Absolutely. But they are Hall of Famers.

So are Clemens and Bonds. And others who are in the steroid era. Eventually Alex Rodriguez, who has admitted use, will be up for election. I don’t like A-Rod and his moral character goes beyond steroids. But is he a Hall of Famer? Yes.

Unfortunately, things aren’t going to change. The Hall won’t sever ties or start a war like this to take control of it. You risk a lot by doing that, without a doubt. And I understand their spot. Still, something should be done. Because to let a bunch of writers who are preaching morality decide who is in or isn’t in the Hall is not working anymore, plain and simple.

I don’t mind a morality clause for gaining induction, but it needs to consider many things. This is a full era of the game we are talking about. Players are going to go into the Hall who may have used but never been suspected.

Plus, it would appear that the writers are also punishing those who aren’t directly connected to the steroid scandal, anyway. Otherwise Morris and Lee Smith would already be in. And players like Curt Schilling would have been much closer this year, if not in.

But hey, you have to protect that first-ballot status.

I still love the Hall of Fame. I love the history. I love the game. And I realize steroids are an extremely important part to the history — now and in the future. You can’t tell the story of baseball without them.

Leaving these players out might make some living Hall of Famers happy and allow the voting contingent to feel like they are doing the right thing, but in the end, they are trying to ignore history.

It’s time for the Hall to step in and start work on a new way so it can be honestly looked at in more than just a morality clause.

Until then, this will continue for at least the next 15 years, if not longer.

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!

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Brookens makes it easy to cheer for the Tigers

Oct 24

Tom Brookens, managing the O-Tigers in 2006.

Tonight is Game 1 of the World Series.

People who know me realize that outside of the Phillies, there aren’t many teams I’ll pull for. I have a couple of other teams I’ve been able to get behind over the years, but for the most part, if it’s not the Phillies, I’m not cheering.

This year is slightly different.

With the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, I can root for a team. See, from 2004-09, I covered Detroit’s Single-A short-season squad in Oneonta. It was one of my career goals — covering pro baseball. I enjoyed every aspect of it and over the six years, I met a lot of different personalities. I always got along quite well with the managers and coaches that were sent to Oneonta and many players were extremely fun to deal with.

Tom Brookens coaches third during the 2006 season in Oneonta.

I won’t lie that some teams were better than others to cover. The same can be said about all managers, coaches and players.

But the two years Tom Brookens was the manager of this team made it a lot of fun to cover the squad.

What I always liked about Brookens was his straight-shooting style. He didn’t hold anything back. He remained calm, but he would tell it like it is. And I liked that. He did things based on a mutual respect.

At the beginning of his first season, I spoke with him in-depth for several stories. We were in the dugout during a workout chatting about the team, season and, when the interviews were done, just some chatter about other things.

But professionally he asked one thing — after the game, he would like about five minutes or so to speak to the team. After that, it was open game. And if a player refused to talk for whatever reason, to get him and he’d help with the situation. See, being in the minors is more than just adjusting to play baseball at the professional level. It’s learning all the nuances, such as dealing with fans, media and everything else.

Especially at the level I covered.

Brookens made it that much more fun.

Those two years (2005-06) were also excellent when it came to minor leaguers in the Detroit system.

Brookens’ 2005 team went 48-27 and won the division. That team featured 10 players who, at some point, would at least get a taste of the major leagues. Some of them, such as Matt Joyce (now with the Tampa Bay Rays), Burke Badenhop (also now with the Rays) Guillermo Moscoso (now with the Rockies) and Will Rhymes (also with the Rays) would go on see some significant time in the majors. Joyce was a 2011 All-Star and Badenhop has been a reliever at the top level for several years with the Marlins and Rays.

Brennan Boesch was a core player for Tom Brookens in 2006. He’s now on the big club, where Brookens is a coach.

The following season, Oneonta went 44-32, again winning the division. Seven players on that team have major league experience, including Brennan Boesch, who has been on the big team for the past couple of years. He hasn’t been on the playoff roster this year, however, as he was a bit cold down the stretch.

That team also featured Casper Wells (now with the Mariners), Casey Fien (who pitched in 35 games with the Twins this year) and Cristhian Martinez, who has pitched out of the pen for Florida (2009) and Atlanta (2010-12).

There’s much I remember about “Brookie,” including is southern Pennsylvania sound, his way of dealing with players and the way he always treated everybody with respect. He also made himself available to me for future stories, even after he left this team as he climbed the ranks. In the end, he always showed how much of a class act he is and for that, he’s always been my favorite manager I dealt with.

And, with knowing some people in the organization, it’s nice to see some of these people reach this level and have a chance at that ring.

I watched as the Tigers swept the Yankees in the American League Championship Series and as the celebration unfolded, I saw Brookens with that big smile and his signature mustache among the crowd. It was easy to smile and be happy for this squad.

Brookens won a World Series as a player (1984 with Detroit), and if the Tigers win, this will be his first as a coach.

Knowing what kind of person Brookens is makes it easy to cheer for a Detroit World Series title this season.

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!

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Notes from my noodle: September 25 edition

Sep 25

“Get busy living or get busy dying…”

I’m sure many of you may remember that quote from the Shawshank Redemption, said by Red, portrayed by Morgan Freeman.

I write this post as I listen to some big-band era swing music. It’s some pretty sweet stuff. It can get you in the mood to be creative. Though I’ll readily admit not being a fan of a lot of jazz music, there’s something about the big-band era that really works for me.

Especially the songs with the faster pace and beat. Songs like “Sing, sing, sing” by Benny Goodman. Excellent stuff. Makes me thing of the 1920s and 1930s. Gangsters. Prohibition. Suits. Cigars.

Ahhh… talk about a time in history.

Recently, I was at a friend’s wedding. During the dinner portion, the DJ played some swing music. A couple people got out and danced. It was kind of fun to watch.

I was then chatting to a friend about this era of music and noted if I could go and live in a different era, this would be the one.

Back when Zoot Suits were the norm.

And I’m not a supporter or advocate for organized crime, but there’s something about the gangsters from that era. The suits. The cars. The Tommy Guns — AKA a Chicago typewriter.

And, of course, swing music.

I’m not sure what I would have been. Maybe I’d still have been a scribe. I could see covering the Yankees or something back then for one of the many New York papers. Maybe I’d have been on the crime beat.

Heck, maybe I’d have been a gangster. Chewing a cigar and rat-a-tatting with the Tommy Gun.

Who knows.

But what an era.

I know a lot of people don’t listen to music when they write. And, for the most part, I can’t listen to music with words when writing. But tunes such as classical pieces or the swing band era can keep my mind rolling as I write.

And with the jazzy stuff I have playing tonight, it’s got me thinking of old cars (Like the Ford Model Ts and As) and the prohibition era of time. Black and white.

That’s the era I’d definitely love to be in if not for now.

And while you read the rest of this post, have a listen to a little Benny Goodman:

YouTube Preview Image

****

As many of you know, I’m still working on finding a job. The resumes keep going out and I can’t seem to find much. I’ve thankfully landed something on a part-time basis, but it’s basically once a week and it’s not even every week. Still, it’s something to help me along and get something more recent on the resume.

So, I’ve been looking at career changes. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that here before.

I recently visited a school for a program I’m highly interested in. I’m not going to spill all the beans here because I hate putting things out there until I know for sure if I’m going to do it or not. Some friends already know as I needed to see what some people thought.

My issue?

I don’t want to fail — again.

Though I realize I didn’t fail in newspapers and journalism, the industry failed me. And I don’t think it’s getting any better. And with barely anything in a retirement fund, I need something different.

I’ve watched others go the route of changing careers during the mid-life years and do well. Heck, take a peek at my brother who fully changed directions and went into teaching and now he’s a tenured teacher at a good school.

Might as well give it a go, yeah?

So, I’ve e-mailed one other school today in hopes of being able to compare the two programs. There’s a significant price differential in the program, as well as hours needed and the time frame to finish. The end result would likely be me going into business for myself. It’s something I’m thinking long and hard about.

Once I decide, believe me, I’ll share with the readers of the blog. For now, I’ll leave it with my seriously considering a massive change in career direction.

****

Speaking of writing and career things, I’ve also finally sat down to work on a couple of fictional books. These likely won’t be huge books, but I’m hoping to write them and see where it takes me.

I don’t fathom any riches here.

I need to get working on my book ideas so I can one day have a book like this!

The reality is, I’ll likely publish them on myself. If any money is made, it will basically just be a bonus. My thing is just getting it done. Then seeing about shaping it and all from there. If something bigger comes out of one of these, awesome. If not, it’s more of a goal to just do it.

My big issue with fiction is shaping the story.

I have a couple of real-life things I’m working on, too. I’m not sure if they will be full-blown books, a series here on the blog or something along the lines of an Amazon Kindle Single. But, I am hoping to work on those, too.

I need to push forward. I’ve applied and applied for things to get squashed. I guess it’s time to take the bull by the horns…

****

I went on a small trip Sunday, heading up to Ithaca to hike a bit, find some waterfalls and take a few photos.

But I also got to play disc golf for the first time since early June.

Taughannock Falls just outside of Ithaca. I took this shot Sunday during a day trip to the Ithaca area.

It was nice to get out and flip a few discs on an actual course. To be fair, it was just a nine-hole course, but it was so nice. It’s also good because I’m playing in an Ace Race in a couple of weeks. While I don’t expect to do anything major in that Ace Race, I’d at least like to know I can throw a disc well enough to get it close to baskets!

As for the day overall, it was nice.

For those of you who have never been to Ithaca, it’s a wonderful little city. The city’s motto is “Ithaca is Gorges.” There are many gorges and waterfalls to explore throughout the area, so it makes for a nice day trip.

In total, I got to see several awesome waterfalls and hiked — including the disc golf — upward of 3.5-4 miles, which is always nice to do.

I had been worried about the waterfalls and how much water would be coming off them, considering the lack of rain we’ve had all summer. Alas, recent rains made most of them vibrant falls. All but one were fun to check out and take photos of — in all their glory.

And yes, there were a few geocaches mixed in as well.

In the end, it was a good getaway from the real-world issues going on in my life. Nature can do that to you.

**** 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the passing of a well-known local person.

Sid Levine died Sunday at the age of 99. I only knew Levine in his later years as he owned part of the Oneonta Tigers, the minor-league team I covered for six years. A quiet man, Levine was one of the nicest people I dealt with. He also was a no-nonsense person. He didn’t worry about what people though, he told you how it was.

And that’s how it should be.

He, along with co-owner Sam Nader, ran the local team up until selling in 2008. The team then left the area before the 2010 season.

I dealt with and developed a stronger relationship with Nader, now 93, but toward the end of the run of the Tigers, I also got to know Levine. He was always a gentleman and had an infectious smile. And he knew his baseball.

Nader and Levine were close friends for more than 75 years and when I visited with Nader one afternoon earlier this year, I had to come after a certain time as he and Levine still met nearly every day to chat.

Levine’s legacy in the Oneonta area will live on for a long time. But he’ll be missed, that’s for sure — for many more reasons than baseball.

Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail P.J. at hoohaablog [at] gmail.com. Also, please “Like” HooHaa Blog on Facebook!

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