Ode to the ‘Ol Ballpark

My usual jogging route through my neighborhood takes me right up to St. Joe’s Park, the place where I, and my older brothers before me, played little league from ages 7 to 14. Today however, I decided to jog a bit further and actually go into the park itself, the first time I’ve looked at it up close in over 20 years.

Whoosh! The feeling of nostalgia and influx of memories was stronger than I anticipated. Being completely alone on a gray morning in a place where I spent so much of my youth was equally enjoyable and forlorn. Leaning up against the fence and staring out over the field where I logged countless innings that felt like ages ago, and yet not so much. If I imagined hard enough, I could actually see myself out there as a kid, hear the echoes of the old P.A. system, see the lights at old Coaches Corner, and hear the annoying, endless buzzing of the air conditioner at the concession stand. Though the park and league are still in operation (going into it’s 76th year), it’s a ghost of it’s own past – my past. This of course, was the park where:

  • At age 4, I tripped over a curb and went headlong into a fencepost, requiring stitches.
  • My 12 year old All Star team won the Zone tournament title (the hottest doubleheader in the history of earth) to advance to the Bronco World Series in Citrus Heights, California.
  • I once hit my Mom in the stands with a foul ball and still feel guilty about it to this day.
  • I threw a complete game shutout with 14 strikeouts for my team’s only regular-season victory when I was 14.
  • My teammate, Dan Markun and I each hit two homeruns in the same game and were staged to mimic the Canseco/McGwire “Bash Brothers” pose for the local newspaper photo. Beyond cheesy.
  • My second homer from the above story came on a knuckleball at the end of an extremely long at-bat, and right after the catcher promised me I was about to strike out. As I cockily walked down the first base line, I said “nice pitch man!” to the pitcher. The one and only time I ever talked trash on the field.
  • My grade school team, St. Raymond, completely dominated the entire season en route to a State Championship when I was in 8th grade. Many say the greatest team in IESA history.
  • You were a local legend if you put a home run on the roof of Bailey’s, the store in right center field, or hit one over the Greeen Monster in center. I did this twice.
  • I learned to absolutely loathe John Fogerty’s Centerfield, when it was played over the P.A. no less than 6,938 times during my 12-year old All Star season.

I often wish I would’ve viewed the game then the same way I do now…I may have played well after High School. I could go on forever blabbing this anecdotal material and perhaps I will expound upon some in a later post(s), but the essence of what I felt this morning was about the connection to the past and the fond retrospection of youth that baseball, specifically the ballpark itself, can provide. Like no other sport’s field, rink, or court of play, an old ballpark has a hauntingly charming atmosphere that should be revered. I was reminded of this today in full force.

It doesn’t have to have an altar and stained glass windows to be considered a church.


No Right For This Wrong

Last week, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred denied Pete Rose’s application for reinstatement into baseball. Naturally, the decision launched much debate, with strong arguments on both sides. I for one, agree with Manfred’s call, wholeheartedly. Here’s why:

  1. The rule was not just broken, it was shattered. Rule 21 is pretty clear. Rose bet on the game both as a player and manager. Repeatedly. He then lied about it and tried to cover it up. Repatedly. He continued for many years to deny it. Repeatedly. He only officially came clean when there was a chance for money to be made (book deal, appearances, et. al.) Repeatedly.
  2. He hasn’t followed the path that now three different commissioners have laid out for him to likely earn reinstatement. He has failed, for nearly three decades, to “reconfigure his life” in a manner that shows honest remorse, or an attempt to convey honesty. He still in fact, gambles on baseball. For better or worse, he has not changed.
  3. “What about all the PED users?” you’ll hear people ask. Comparing gambling to PED users is apples to oranges. Both are evil acts, yes. But whereas a PED user, although cheating, is simply trying to improve himself to the point of winning games or breaking records, those who bet on the game have too much control over the game itself – and therein lies the danger. They can manipulate, in very subtle ways, how the game is played and thus directly affect the outcome. A PED user still must play with all the inherent natural randomization of the game itself, despite the physical enhancements the drug may provide. A gambler can de-randomize everything and change any aspect from a single pitch to an entire game. Integrity, honesty and chance are all sacrificed in the world of betting, and this is why baseball does not trust Pete Rose. He hasn’t earned it.
  4. Baseball has a richer, more ghostly history than any other sport. To go back on a ruling(s) that has sparked so much debate, would take away some of that deep folklore. Though this is purely intangibile and speculatory on my part, it’s something to consider. It’s for reasons like this that players like Shoeless Joe Jackson and Buck Weaver (of 1919 White Sox infamy, a topic for a later post) will likely never be reinstated. To do so would remove the tragic hero and replace him with just another great ballplayer. This may be just, but it would essentially bring the baseball ghost back to life, and lessen the forlorn tale.
  5. Rose is not the victim here. His wounds were and are, purely self-inflicted. While he was one of the all-time greats, and has Hall of Fame worthy statistics, he is not a tragic hero. His case is not an injustice. He destroyed the integrity of the game, and for 26 years since his banishment has not even attempted to redeem himself, despite clear instructions on how to do so from the baseball powers-that-be.


The Jason Heyward Deal

As the dust settles from the recent Jason Heyward transaction, here’s a few random thoughts:

1. Is 184mil a lot? Yes, but not as much as what other teams, including STL were offering. With huge revenue streams coming in, and looking at his AAV, it’s almost a bargain in this market.

2. I fully understand some (not all) Cardinals fans being salty about the deal but the ones wishing he gets injured, dies, or Wrigley Field burns down, that’s overboard. But hey, Cubs fans would say stuff like that too if the situation were reversed and we all know it. Both fanbases are passionate about their teams—lets all agree on that. We all know the division race will be intense and if some extra jabs among fans tosses a little fuel on the fire, I’m all for that. And it’s GREAT for baseball!

3. Cubs have spent a lot in FA this year, because well, they can. Hopefully it pays off.

4. As a Cubs fan, I’d be lying if I said I don’t somewhat fear another 2004 (not in terms of the team, obviously, but the season). There is legit hype now and the target is on the Cubs’ back. Just play. Don’t pressure it any more. Crazy Joe, this is where you do your thing.

5. It’s awfully nice to have legit baseball banter in December.

6. The recent moves, combined with how last season ended, will fuel the Cubs/Cardinals rivalry tenfold. The games will be extra intense this year.

7. Is it Spring yet? Hurry up February!

Top 10 Nintendo Baseball Games

Figured I’d get the ball rolling on this blog with an updated version of an old post on my other site. Without furtuer adieu: The 10 greatest baseball games to ever grace the old NES:

10. Baseball 

One of the launch titles for the NES in 1985, this game couldn’t be simpler. A feature-less game with a handful of nondescript teams to choose from and no rosters or seasons, but a pretty fun title overall. It hasn’t quite stood the test of time like the others, but this is still a good nostalgic trip.

9. Tecmo Baseball

Everyone knows Tecmo is famous for Tecmo Bowl and Tecmo Super Bowl, (and to some extent,Tecmo World Wrestling), but they made a pretty decent baseball game too. Graphics were above average, aside from the clown shoes the players seemed to wear. The music was a bit annoying but the gameplay itself was decent. This is a fair entry.

8. Major League Baseball

The first NES game to be licensed by MLB and thus feature every team from 1987 was nice to have. Though only jersey numbers, not player names, were present, it could be a little confusing without having an actual roster handy determining who was who. Gameplay wasn’t the greatest, but it was more than serviceable and surely a worthy entry to this list.

7. Little League Baseball

SNK delivers a solid title here. As a little leaguer myself at the time of release, this was a neat game, especially with the featured team from Illinois, my home state. As a kid, it was a pleasant thought to pretend that I was “in” the game. Nothing too fancy here, just a basic, enjoyable game.

6. Baseball Simulator 1,000

Now this game is just a riot. Lots of features, such as season mode, the ability to create players/teams, and of course, the superpowers. Can you imagine a game where the pitcher throws 190mph fastballs? Where the ball explodes when the fielder catches it? What about if the hitter winds up Tazmanian Devil-style before swinging to generate a ton of extra power? Yep, you can do all that and more here. One of the stadiums is even in outer space. Sounds ridiculous, but that was the point of this gem. And it’s a lot of fun to play.

5. Bases Loaded

Good stuff here from Jaleco. Featuring 12 fictional teams & players (we used to pretend they were minor league clubs) this was the first game to have the TV-style viewpoint and the ability to elevate your swing. Another fun twist was that one player on each team could charge the mound and start a brawl when hit by a pitch. Plus, gracing our presence in this game is a character by the name of Paste, arguably the greatest 8-bit pixelated baseball player, ever. A solid game overall.

4. RBI Baseball 3

Tengen comes in at #4 with the first of 3 entries. Following where RBI 2 left off, this game features not only every team and player from the 1990 season, but also every division winner from 1983-1989 for a nice touch. Graphics & gameplay were as smooth as ever. If there was a way to make RBI 2 better, this was it.

3. Baseball Stars

Pure awesomeness here. One of the first NES baseball games with data backup, which allowed you to create entire teams, hire and fire players, and even customize leagues. Hours upon hours were spent winning games and earning money to power up your roster, as everyone wanted to beat the feared American Dreams, a team made up of real-life legends of baseball. (Names were non-definitive as there was no player license for the game.) Gameplay was smooth too, and your outfielders could even climb the fence (and fall over it) to rob home runs. This game kicks ass.

2. RBI Baseball 2

With their second entry in this list, Tengen delivers RBI 2, one of the best baseball sequels ever made. As if having every MLB team and player from ’89 wasn’t enough, the great improvement in graphics, gameplay (you can now jump and dive with your defenders), and even measuring home run distances sure round things off. Oh, and this was also the first game to feature instant replay, which at the time was an amazing thing to behold in a video game.

1. RBI Baseball

It should be no surprise this classic, again from Tengen, comes in at #1. A small & simple game featuring the playoff teams from 1986 plus the 1987 All-Star teams, this one delivers arcade-style fun (the arcade version of this game was tremendous), silly graphics and music, and an overall blast of a game to play. A true classic that is just as fun now as it was nearly 30 years ago.

Honorable Mentions: Legends of the Diamond, Baseball Stars 2, Bases Loaded 2, Bad News Baseball.