WILT

short for what I learned today… Let’s see. Some stuff I already knew.

1. Five minutes early is ten minutes late.

2. Manage your client’s expectations. Something can’t be all things to all people… Be realistic and their devil’s advocate (in a nice way).

3. Be more thorough. There is a reason that you went over the same situations 100 times in baseball practice – because you need to be prepared for everything and react consistently. This means when you get work back for a client: make sure that the work is consistent with what your expectations are, and what theirs are, to a T. Work completed as a client expects it will yield happy clients.

4. When you make an error, learn from it. Don’t carry the error around with you. That makes you mess up the next play. Learn from it, pay more attention, anticipate differently. The dudes who can’t transfer what they learn in BP to the game are the ones who never get out of indy ball. Make the mistake, adjust, operate with a clear mind, and learn.

I’m done. Categories: sports and who-knows-what.

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Baseball cards

I’m now hooked on Josh Wilker’s blog “Cardboard Gods”. Amazing writing. Dude just has a way of saying what the rest of us are feeling.

And so, it got me into thinking about baseball cards.

I’ve spent seven years working in baseball, but I’m out now. I always wanted a baseball card, and was the guy who put the set together most of the years, but I couldn’t – wouldn’t – do it. The guys who taped ankles got cards. The guy who did corporate sales and everything else, well, he didn’t get a card. It wouldn’t have been the same anyway. I wanted a card with CF or P next to my name.

And you look at card sets. It happens – you have major leaguers who end their careers playing for teams they shouldn’t have played for. Willie Mays was a Met, although for him that was a homecoming of sorts. Same situation for Henry Aaron, going to the Brewers, and Dan Quisenberry – a Cardinal at the end, playing for Whitey Herzog.

My first job in baseball was in the South Atlantic League. One good year, but somewhere we knew we would never stay; too far from home and nothing keeping us there.

Then close to family. I talked myself into a job interview, told the team I could do anything, and then went and did it. Literally, I fooled the receptionist into making an appointment for me with the GM, and he needed someone to do the job, it just so happened. I tripled my salary in an interview. And it was a great situation in so many ways. We had a beautiful ballpark, a major league city, a rotten major league team, corporate sales which seemed like the deal of the century compared to the big guys and… fun. People forgot how fun it was to go to a game until they came to our little ballpark. And boy, did they come. We increased attendance every year, filled the place, and all we heard were good things. Fun things. Happy things.

But with a young family, the life on the road wasn’t working for me. I took a job with an arena football team, made more money, but it wasn’t a fun product. No one ever came up to me and told me about how they grew up playing arena football with their fathers, and former arena players didn’t come back to sign autographs. I lasted three months. I wasn’t ready for another logo on the front of my card.

So I got back into baseball. I went to work in the front office of a team in California, what seemed like a dream job. It was fun – we had a great front office – but it wasn’t what I’d had. So I left to pursue the minor league fun feeling I’d once had with a team in the Eastern League. There were fun things about it – but we never had the freedom we had with the team in the midwest, when we could decide we wanted to build a catapult to shoot massive dice – and do it.

So I look at college players who have a hard time moving on, or Jackie Robinson, who retired a Dodger rather than become a Giant. And I get it. Because they know what I didn’t: that what they are experiencing just might be the best they will experience. I’ve moved on and the changes I’ve made have improved my life in ways I can’t conceive. But I wish the last three years of my baseball career hadn’t ever happened. I know I couldn’t have stayed with the team in the midwest forever; eventually I would have needed to provide for my family in a different way. Plus, they turned my beautiful old ballpark into a baseball/soccer stadium. The day I walked into that stadium I knew it was the place for me. But it changed. And I needed to.

For the players who can keep the column second from the left – the team name – the same on their baseball card, the whole way through their career, more power to you.

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14 Years

There is a scene in Field of Dreams where Ray Kinsella’s talking to Moonlight Graham. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. Kinsella’s talking about Graham’s baseball career, which consisted of half an inning in the field for the New York Giants, and he says “It would KILL some men to get so close to their dream and not touch it. God, they’d consider it a tragedy.”

Graham replies, “Son, if I’d have only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.”

I thought about that a lot over the last couple of weeks.

Cory Aldridge was called up by the Angels. That doesn’t mean much to most people, but when I heard the broadcasters talking about him when he got his first at-bat since 2001, I perked up. Aldridge was batting .309 in Triple-A, the Angels needed a bat, and they called upon a kid (I use that term loosely) who had been in the minors for 14 years. He had gone 0-for-5 in 2001 with the Braves and quit baseball in 2007, played a year of indy ball in 2008 and somehow made the majors this year, in 2010.

When Moonlight Graham talked to Ray Kinsella about what he wanted to do as a major leaguer, he said he just wanted to wink at the pitcher, run the bases, stretch a double into a triple. This is my blog, so I can write how I want to write, and I’m going to digress. There is nothing better in baseball than a triple, the moment when the crowd realizes that there’s going to be a play at third base. There’s an awful lot of buildup in a triple. It gives you time. A home run, crack, it’s gone, and if you look up the guy’s rounding the bases. If you see a triple, you have time to look up, hear the crowd crescendo, and still see the conclusion of the play while you feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

So Aldridge gets up to bat last week. The Angels were on their way to a 15-0 loss and the stadium was, in all likelihood, empty. He came into the game in the sixth inning, hit a ball the opposite way, the left fielder chased into the corner and couldn’t come up with it. Aldridge never took off the gas and wound up on third base with a triple.

The funny thing about it, though. He had a look on his face that was a combination of happiness and relief. He had an out of breath expression that didn’t look consistent with being weary from running; he looked like he was almost gasping to avoid crying. In watching it, it seemed like the perfect facial expression.

He’s now 1-for-18. His career average: .056.

When I was broadcasting, I used to say I’d want just one inning, just one inning in the major leagues. Then I could say I’d gotten there. I only did it for four full seasons and change, but I paid some dues. Bus trips up and down I-29, marginal food, lousy hotel rooms, time away from family, and doing a job for less than minimum wage a lot of the time with the idea that I could somehow get a major league job. I got awfully close – I spent a lot of time doing television in a major market – but I never got a base hit.

I have much more in common with a Cory Aldridge than, say, Alex Rodriguez. That’s why I root for guys like that. Get him his base hit. Get me an inning.

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Bo Jackson

It’s been 21 years.

I was there, along with my Mom and my good friend the Bird, back in 1989. July 11, to be exact. I’d worked in the morning at Sgt. Pepperoni Pizza Store, knowing we were going to the All-Star Game. We’d been at Anaheim Stadium the day before for the All-Star Skills Competition (which, now, seems oddly innocent, as a precursor to what this thing has become – but was monumental, as it resulted in Barry Larkin getting hurt and missing much of the rest of the season).

There were two big stories. One was that Tony LaRussa had decided to hit Bo Jackson leadoff. The other was that President Ronald Reagan was going back to his broadcasting roots, joining Vin Scully on the air for (I think) the second inning. We taped the game.

In the bottom of the first, the first pitch Jackson saw from Rick Reuschel (really National League? That was your starter?) he hit about half a mile into dead center field, where the big rocks are now. Back then, the stadium was completely enclosed; the Rams played there and baseball really played second fiddle. 448 feet away, where Jackson hit it, was a big black baggie designed to serve as a batter’s eye.

Buck O’Neil used to tell a story about running to the field from the clubhouse in his underwear the first time he heard Babe Ruth hit, because of the percussive sound of bat meeting ball. Then, the first time he heard Josh Gibson hit, he did the same thing. The third one in the story wasn’t Reggie Jackson, or Frank Robinson, or Harmon Killebrew. It was Bo Jackson. When I saw Bo, I hadn’t ever met a big league scout, or given thought to different hitters making different sounds with a bat. But we all knew that he was something special.

Even though his career was brief, he’s in my top five athletes of all time. I don’t know if it was the fact that the commercials were so cool, or whether he was really that good. I am thinking he was… just… really… that… good. Can you imagine? When he played baseball, he had the most power of anyone in the league; was one of the fastest in the league; had the best arm in the league (ask Harold Reynolds); and was just fun. When he played football, he ran like a freight train (ask Brian Bosworth) and couldn’t be caught (ask the rest of the Seahawks).

I got sent to Birmingham for work in 1998. Know where I went, first day there? McAdory High, the home of Bo Jackson, in Bessemer.

Getting back to things. It’s 21 years later. The ballpark looks different. Bo Jackson looks different. So do I.

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Fan Club

So, in 2006 there was this show called Fan Club. (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2006/jul06/07-10FanClubPR.mspx). Someone had come up with an idea that it would be ok to have the starting lineup for the Schaumburg Flyers, an independent team in the Northern League (where I worked from 2004-06) be decided by the fans. There was a reality component to it, where the players talked about all sorts of things, from nights out to on-the-field activities.

It was interesting, to say the least. I’d walk into the Flyers’ clubhouse and run into Andy McCauley, their manager and a baseball man if I’ve ever met one. Andy would say things like, “Can you believe I’ve got to start that SOB in center field, Loren? He’s never played center field in his life. And he’s the slowest guy on the team and I’ve got to bat him leadoff.”

Who knows who was doing it, and why, but someone was stuffing the ballot box so Andy’s lineup would be horrible. He was a great manager, from an indy ball perspective. He’d take the time to show me his salary cap spreadsheet, tell me why he was doing what with whom, and teach me. I wasn’t his broadcaster. But for some reason, the dude held me in high regard. He used to tell me I could have been the operations director for the league, that no one else in the league knew the roster rules and intricacies better than I did.

But later in the season the Fan Club people got bored. They needed story lines, and they had grown tired of doing things like a profile on Randy Birch, our public address announcer who used to chant “Who-pper” when the Burger King Whopper batter got two strikes. (We’d set up a promo where if the Whopper batter struck out, one section would receive a free whopper.) “Ahh, I can taste the flame broiled goodness!”

So they took Blake Williams, a Schaumburg pitcher who was a little outspoken. A former first rounder, Williams was in independent ball as much for his attitude as for his results. And the producers fed Williams some questions about the T-Bones, and Kansas City, and all of that, and Williams bit. You see the same sort of thing on the Bachelor: the producer and staff know what they want to hear, they ask leading questions, and they fool the principals and the audience. A rather simple tactic, and Williams fell for it.

Well, the staff showed some of our players the video in the dugout. I remember seeing it. And I remember seeing a few of our players right after, and them intimating that Williams was going to pay for it.

So, to set the scene, Greg Jacobs is at bat. Jacobs is a guy who had gotten to Triple-A for the Mariners, and while Jake always had a tough exterior, I’ll never forget when he held our four-month-old daughter one night at dinner for about half an hour. He had a huge grin, just loving it. But the Flyers thought Jake was peeking – looking back with his shades and seeing what the catcher was calling. The catcher said something to Jake. Jake said something back. Charles Peterson (#23), another first rounder who had gotten an offer to quarterback the FSU Seminoles, came out and got between Jake and the catcher. At that point, the umpire Sean Randall should have warned the benches, sent Chuck Pete back to the dugout, and resumed play.

But Randall didn’t. And the sound guy played “If You’re Happy And You Know It”.

Jake kept yapping. It went for a while. And the next pitch from Rick DeHart went behind his back. Randall warned both benches – and then, the on-deck hitter, Peterson, charged the mound, flattening Randall along the way.

You always wonder how dudes will respond. There’s J.D. Foust (#20), running around trying to knock someone out. There’s Chad Sosebee (#5) punching someone, trying to defend someone on the team. There’s Flyer shortstop Sandy Almonte sucker punching people until catcher Craig Hurba tracks him down “like Wild Kingdom” (I have a still shot of that, signed, on my wall at home). There’s big Eddie Pearson (#48) getting sucker-punched and losing his mind. From a team standpoint, it was all bad. Foust, Jacobs, Peterson and Pearson were all suspended for varying time periods. It knocked us out of any playoff contention and basically ended Eddie’s career with the team.

And then the field manager “Dirty” Al Gallagher (#24). Yeah, that was his name, and it was “Dirty”, not “Dirty Al”. Al was trying desperately to stop Chuck Pete from getting back into the thick of things. It wasn’t working. Al did a Jeff Van Gundy impression and I thought he was going to have a heart attack.

Bobby Bell, the hitting coach for the Flyers and another good man, was going after Sean Randall for his complicity in letting the whole thing take place. McCauley (#22) tried to get Bobby out of there, and finally he did. What a mess the thing was. It reminded me of reading Bernard Malamud’s The Natural, when late in the book the fans get disturbingly violent.

And you get the dude at 4:03 in the video (http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=24219954618) – “Is this going to be on TV? Can you get me on TV?” He sounds a lot like LeBron James, come to think of it.

It’s amazing what kind of insanity you can cause by telling someone they’re going to be on television. Amazing.

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Too much of a good thing

When I was a kid, fireworks were a huge deal. On the 4th, we would go to a park overlooking the Back Bay in Newport Beach, CA. We’d stake out our spot early, listen to Vin Scully call the Dodgers on the radio (I still remember 1984 or 1985, when Orel Hershiser shut the Pirates out on the 4th) and wait for the show, which involved fireworks shot from a barge. Nice.

Occasionally, we’d get to go to Dodgers games where they’d have fireworks. Only there, the big deal (to me) wasn’t the fireworks. It was getting to go on the field with other fans, spread a blanket, and wait until they shut the lights out and the show started. That was a special occasion, truly.

Until I started working in baseball.

The first year I worked full-time in baseball, I saw at least 20 shows in the South Atlantic League. Keep in mind, I was doing radio at the time, so I got everyone else’s fireworks shows – and ours. The highlight (if you could call it that) was when we were in Kannapolis, NC. Brad Hennessey was on the mound for us, and he was a quick worker. The game lasted about an hour and fifty minutes, and the Intimidators (yeah, the Kannapolis Intimidators, named after favorite son Dale Earnhardt) had packed the place for the 4th. Do the math… the game was over before 9pm. It wasn’t dark enough to shoot fireworks off yet. So the Intimidators made one of the best decisions of all time: turn the beer taps back on, make an announcement, and sell more beer until the show.

For a front office member, fireworks are a good way to sell tickets. People love them. If you’re on the road, it’s a guarantee that the team bus is going to be stuck in traffic. Think about it: if you keep people at the ballpark for an additional 20 minutes after the end of the game, the post-game traffic is going to coincide perfectly with the team bus trying to get back to the hotel.

But back to the original topic. Too much of a good thing. I’m going to guess I saw 120 fireworks shows in seven seasons of baseball; some were excellent, some were flat rotten, and I’ve got to tell you I probably didn’t watch half of them. I used to absolutely pine for In-N-Out Burger, but after eating Double-Doubles in a stadium about three minutes from an In-N-Out for two years straight, the bloom wore off.

And, in this, my first season not working in baseball in almost a decade, I can tell you this: I am looking forward to watching fireworks with my family, not having to worry about what the other few thousand people with me are doing, whether it’s going to rain, whether we have enough beer, or whether the hot dogs are cold.

And I’d cut off my arm for a Double-Double, fries and a shake.

It seems like the best cure for too much of a good thing is none of a good thing. Enjoy the fireworks and fun, wherever you are.

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Don’t Get Cheated

So, in 2004, we made a trade late in the season. Picked up this kid from Mississippi with a chip on his shoulder. A lot of the guys didn’t like him, but he hit well, which is what we needed at that point in the season. And he remains the only player who ever sought me out because he wanted to get to know me. He couldn’t field a lick, but he could swing it.

He always swung hard. Always. You could say what you wanted to say about him, but he never got cheated. He’d walk up to the plate, swing out of his 5’8″ ass, if he hit it it went zing – on a line – and if he didn’t, you could feel the breeze in the press box.

One night, we were in the middle of a winning streak. It was one of those playoff situations where we needed to win every night, and it was late August and the playoffs were right around the corner. We trailed by two heading into the bottom of the ninth, two men reached base, and he strode to the plate. You knew he was going to win it with one swing, and I think I aced the call, saying he hit it halfway to Tonganoxie or something like that. We won that night, and I think it was nine in a row before we lost.

The funny thing for him, that no one saw, is when he hit the homer, he started jumping up and down with his mouth open. He was missing some teeth but had a false plate in there, and when he jumped up and down his teeth fell out. Only in indy ball would you see a guy looking for his teeth after he assaults a baseball to win on a walk-off.

The next season, we came back. Apparently he’d believed the hype. The guy with whom I’d bonded the year before became a little harder to deal with. But he still swung the bat with aggression – he never got cheated.

In spring training, our official scorer charged him with an error on a ground ball. The day after the game, I came in late – I’d had some dental work done and was still way numb. I walked into the ballpark and met a reporter from the Kansas City Star, Mike DeArmond. Mike was asking me some questions when the player walked by.

“Hey, what was with that error last night?”

I thought he was kidding. It was pretty cut and dried. “Nothing, man. Make the play, it’s not an error.”

“I think y’all are a little racist up in the press box.”

“Excuse me, Mike.” I followed the player into the locker room. “You want to say that to my face?” He made a beeline for his locker, which was filled with bats.

As quick as I caught up with him, half the team was holding him back; the other half had me. We didn’t get into it. He called me up later and we met on the concourse, and he apologized to me – he was the same friendly guy I had known.

But when I think of him, I don’t think of that. I think of the homer, the massive swing that sent us into the playoffs, and never getting cheated. I hope wherever he is he isn’t getting cheated, that he’s getting the most out of his life.

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