Category: Baseball

New York Mets Spring Training – Day 3

Our time in the New York Mets bubble has come to an end.

Back to reality.

No more waking up in the dark, throwing on a wrinkled blue and orange t-shirt and tossing an interlocking “N” and “Y” inscribed hat on my head, preferably backwards, 19 year old frat boy style.

We’re back to khakis and hair gel and spreadsheets.

But another year of memories have been added to the ever growing repository. We’ve already relived them 8 times over and started the 2018 planning. I’m considering creating a binding contract for my wife and kids to ensure they will happily attend these same festivities through 2025. I need to know this will never end and that we will act this young for the foreseeable future.

That bubble I speak of, here is what I mean by that:

We took a detour from fastballs and fungos on Tuesday afternoon and headed for the nearby beach, about 25 minutes away. We’d find a place for lunch and then glance at the ocean for some time before heading back to Mets Land.

We found a great lunch spot and hit up the beach where it was sunny and warm and pleasantly pleasant.

After sufficient breathing in of the salty air, we headed back to the rental vehicle with a brief stop at a bench in the dunes to wash the sand off of our feet.

Within seconds, we were welcomed by a group of five who appeared to be holding some sort of ad hoc religious discussion, complete with pamphlets and funky looking bibles. They were nice folk who appeared to be interested in the fact that we were wearing Mets gear. Of course we were still in Metsville so the fascination seemed like a means to strike up conversation and then solicit our sins.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to confess to slandering Matt Harvey’s reputation and ultimately learned that one of the women was former Met Tim Teufel’s sister in law who was in town to celebrate his 35th wedding anniversary. That’s how things work down there. It is all Mets all the time, and we love every fucking second of it.

Of course once you are armed with this type of intel, you have to take advantage of it. And so yesterday, when Tim Teufel, currently a Mets coach, arrives looking to sign autographs, it is a joy to throw a “Happy 35th wedding anniversary Tim, Rose says Hi” out there just to sit back and observe his dumbfounded reaction.


Day 3 was ultimately a wash out as most of the players remained out on the field for only a short time before heading indoors, and away from the crowd for the remainder of the workout due to the rain.

The rain kept the crowds away which was great, but it also limited our exposure to balls hitting gloves and the sound of wooden bat on ball. The sounds are almost as much of a part of the sensory experience as the sights are.

It is the sound of spring and promise.

We did manage to witness some action, including the daily treat of watching the players run from the main field to other fields where they are greeted by the coaches. The kids all jump in line and await their high-fives.

 

 

The pitchers day consisted of some long toss and a few bunting drills before they disappeared and left us wanting more. I had a lot of fun capturing their long toss sessions through the drizzle.

 

 

 

 

 

Every team should be forced to carry one side-armed pitcher because to watch them pitch defies the laws of physics.

 

Once the pitchers departed, I watched the infielders warm up and even a simple act of tossing a ball back and forth is fascinating to me. It is like art. I could ogle all day.

 

 

Warm up was done and it was time to practice turning double plays. Mets top prospect Amed Rosario has the “it” factor and I made it a point to observe the future for a few minutes.

 

 

 

Soft hands and panache. I like.

Another interesting part of watching practice, is to see which players are working out at positions other than where they normally play. Like Jose Reyes fielding grounders at second base.

Versatility is king as the player gets older.

 

 

We were heading out of the complex by 11:00 and other than a quick stay in the parking lot to see if any players were signing as they vacated the facility, our day and time spent in Port St Lucie was done for 2017.

We agreed to eat lunch before heading to the airport and just as we were about to turn right towards Rt. 95 South, we collectively agreed to take one last peek at the complex. As we pulled up, there was a small crowd gathered by the security gate so we gave ourselves 20 minutes max to wait it out and see who may appear.

The stars were apparently aligned as Mets captain David Wright emerged into the parking lot as the last remaining player. He got in his car, turned it on and then shockingly headed over to the group, willing to sign before heading home. With David battling injuries and Father Time, we knew that this may be the last opportunity to spend this type of time in his presence.

Our travel companion these last two years, Jeanine, nearly hyperventilated. To say she loves “David” is an understatement. She had never met him and had never secured his autograph.

Ladies and gentleman, dreams do come true at Tradition Field.

Who is with us next year?

 

 

 

New York Mets Spring Training – Day 2

Back at it again 5:30 this morning.

The day proceeded not too unlike the day before and come to think of it, not too different from year’s past. We ogled world class athletes while they played a game and then chased them all over the complex so they could scribble their name on an expensive official MLB ball.

And then we complained about lower back pain.

I could go into painful detail about geeky Mets and baseball stuff but that isn’t really appropriate in this forum. Some day soon I’ll start an all Mets publication where like minded nerds can wax poetic about the need for a third lefty in the pen or ensuring there is a balance of lefties available off of the bench or whether or not a six man rotation makes sense.

If you understood any of that, can we be friends?

Even as the chaos unfolded in front of me and I took hundreds of photographs, I felt something more today. I felt present. I stared at my kids and realized this was a special and fleeting moment in time.

My son is 14 and how much longer will he get this excited to take this annual trip?

I could watch him organize his binders and balls all day.

I could watch that shit eating grin when he scores another autograph.

I cherish that fist pump he makes when he thinks no one is watching.

Unbridled enthusiasm and pure elation and I want to drink it in until I’m drunk and falling down.

I felt live in the memories today and while they filled me with warmth, there was a dash of bittersweet in there and I didn’t like it.

May this never end.

Jack with future superstar Amed Rosario.

 

The kids with Zack Wheeler.

 

Jamie and her Jacob deGrom autographed ball.

 

The kids and the joy of a bubble gum bucket.

The lack of sleep, endless waiting and pacing, sharp pain in the calves and disappointment when a potential autograph falls through is all worth it.

Baseball and sunshine and family and friends. That is a good way to spend a day.

Fine, here are a few additional pics for you Mets fans and baseball nerds.

The three-headed monster of a pitching rotation. Syndergaard, DeGrom and Harvey.

 

The beast that is Yoenis Cespedes.

 

Remember kids, Uncle David Wright always says look the ball into your glove.

 

I love me some baseball bats.

 

Manager Terry Collins firing up the boys.

 

Goofy stretching is a rite of passage in baseball.

 

Robert Gsellman signing for Jamie.

 

Mets owner Fred Wilpon.

 

 

New York Mets Spring Training 2017 – Day 1

Pleasant sounding alarm awakes us all at 5:40 AM.

We all slept like shit the night before. 75% of us are battling illness and the cacophony of coughing emanating from room 210 probably kept the entire hotel awake all night.

But Jack and I push on.

We get ready in 7 minutes but bump into every piece of furniture at least twice along the way. The ladies will be up for good as a result but thankfully aren’t dumb enough to accompany us to Tradition Field in the wee hours of the morning.

Quick trip through the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru and we are on our way stocked with caffeine.

It is a 2 minute drive to the park because any further distance away and my son would physically attack us.

The three of us (including Jeanine, our Mets companion for the past two years now) arrive at the park at 6:07 A.M. and there are two other knuckleheads present and as insane as us.

We now wait for the players to arrive in the players only parking lot. The spots in the lot are marked with their uniform numbers so we immediately know who has arrived. Our move is to have me identify the player and then shout it out so Jack and Jeanine can plan accordingly. Some players are worthy of official major league baseballs and others fall down a bit and are worthy of a baseball card.

Within twenty minutes, we strike gold big time. Superstar Yoenis Cespedes agrees to come over and sign for us. Jackpot.

Fan for life.

We only get one more autograph but that is OK. The joy of this morning ritual is what gets us through the winter months in the Northeast U.S. We are diehards and proud of it.

The park opens up at 9:30 A.M, so we have time to head back to the hotel for a bathroom break and pick up my wife and daughter. The five of us are decked in Mets gear and ready to watch millionaires play catch.

Actually before that, there is stretching. Lots of stretching.

As they stretch, we start to sweat in the Florida heat and fucking love it.

The players then all run off to different fields to start the day’s drills.

The Mets lead the league in hair volume by a landslide.

We wander from field to field to watch infield practice.

But eventually settle on watching the pitchers because they are the main attraction for this Mets team and have been for years running now.

As the players run from field to field, we do our best to get in their way and annoy them and give them unsolicited high-fives.

That would be Thor (Noah Syndergaard) and his killer man-bun.

A favorite rite of passage dating back to 2014 is to be completely ignored by Matt Harvey and his ego and this year was no exception.

Swoon. I love a player who plays hard to get.

Practices last under three hours because baseball players are weak. I kid, they do a lot of work inside the facility away from the rabid fans where they don’t have to pretend to enjoy our presence.

And there are moments of intense exertion on the field as well.

As practice winds down, we all take our places in anticipation of the insanity that is autograph signing. And we wait.

And wait some more.

Until some of the players take the time to sign and interact with the fans.

Although, I honestly don’t know how they put up with it all day after day. Oh, they make millions? Scratch that.

We do truly appreciate those who take the time out and sign for the kids as they provide them with a memory for a lifetime. The smile on their collective faces make the trip worth it.

Each signed ball or card now has a back story that we relive throughout the year.

And f it, we’ll do it all again tomorrow morning starting at 5:40 AM once again.

 

 

Why I Love Spring Training

The Markowski family “New York Mets Spring Training 2016 Extravaganza” came to a close earlier this week.

Put it in the books.

It’s outta here.

To say we are hooked on the experience is a gross understatement. It dominated our conversations all three days while we were in Disney World following ST, which is really saying something. Mickey ain’t got nothing on “The Big Sexy”.

bartolo-colon

After returning home late Wednesday night and somehow stumbling into the office on Thursday, I was bombarded with the requisite “How was your trip to Florida?” Normally I’m not a fan of recounting a vacation because you know, it’s over and I’m annoyed and you really don’t care much anyway, you’re just being courteous.

But this time was different.

Without hesitation, I went all tween:

 … and then we like, saw Harvey

I totally got a fist bump from Yo

Oh my gawd, Piazza was there and he looked like way skinny  

Yes I’m 43 and many of the players are of the age where they could be my son. Don’t judge.

As I provided detail after painful detail about the Spring Training experience I could see that my coworkers expected to hear more about Disney, the most wonderful place on earth. Sure it was magical or whatever, but it couldn’t hold a candle to watching overpaid men throw a baseball back and forth.

why i love spring training

At this point you are probably asking yourself, why the love for glorified baseball practice? Thanks so much for asking. You’ve aided in my transition to now listing all of the reasons why. Some will be obvious and others not so much, but collectively I hope I can effectively express why ST is a must-see for any baseball fan.

 

Florida is warm in February. New Jersey is not warm in February. If you hate the cold as much as I do, this is an easy one to grasp. My goal is to figure out how one becomes a snowbird and still keeps their day job at my age.

mets tradition field 2

 

There is no better player access than during Spring Training. I don’t know if all teams provide the same level of access as the Mets do, but it is phenomenal.

mets wright

The kids (and adults if they so wish) get fist bumps as the players race between fields and drills. You can listen in on the conversations between coaches as they watch/evaluate their players. Getting to watch the players hit in the batting cages from just feet away is worth the price of admission. Speaking of admission …

 

There is no admission cost. Yes, you heard that right. Attending ST practice is free, including the parking.

why i love spring training

 

The autographs. Good luck trying to score an autograph at a major league game. Those days have been over for a while now. But during ST, almost all of the players will sign at one time or another. With the success of the Mets last season, the crowds seemed to double in ST this year, as did those seeking autographs. Still, the chase is exciting and most of the players are as accommodating as possible, especially with kids.

mets wheeler signing

My son is an autograph freak. His collection has become super impressive over the past few years. I’m not going to lie, the hunt during ST is a bit like gambling and the rush is a hell of a lot of fun. This year, we were at the stadium for three straight days before 6:30 AM and were the first fans to arrive. Most of the time, the players arrived to the park and just waved, but there were a few who stopped to sign and that was awesome.

We also typically stay until the last player/coach has left the facility and have hit pay dirt from time to time.

Mets Collins

**Negative aside** There was one much more noticeable negative this ST in terms of autographs. We encountered way more “dealers” than last year and I’d have to assume that has to do with the team’s success. They had no problem pushing kids aside and shoving their way to the front of the line. My son is very laid back and not the least bit aggressive or obnoxious when it comes to pursuing an autograph. These a-holes made autograph pursuing a lot less fun this year for him and they don’t know a thing about the Mets to boot.

True story: a group of 5 guys came up to my son and asked him to identify a few players they had on a photo they were looking to get signed. I shit you not, it was Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndergaard. I’m sorry, if you don’t know who they are by now, stay the hell out of Tradition Field. There should be a basic entry test before one is allowed into the facility. I’ll design it and even implement it next year.

 

Fan camaraderie. This is the most underrated benefit. The majority of the fans at ST are the diehards. Those that remember every Met dating back twenty years. They remember Butch Huskey and Danny Heep. They know who plays second base in AA and what WAR means.

At least 15 casual conversations are had each day with someone you just met and there is that immediate bond. I could listen to stories about how entertaining Rickey Henderson was in ST in 1999 or how much more out of shape the players were upon arriving to ST back in the 80’s. Every fan had a story and one was better than the next.

 

Taking an interest in a player’s personal life. Since the access is so fantastic and often times you get to chat up a player, it makes you interested in the person as much as the player. You feel like you got to know that player on a more intimate level even for a brief moment and it inspires you to want to know more about what makes them tick.

I’ve taken a liking to the Mets relief pitchers, specifically those who are on the bubble for a roster spot. You can see their appreciation for getting another chance and you cannot help but pull for them to make it. During the season you may scream at the TV “How can you walk a .225 hitter?” but then think back to that interaction in ST and realize they are more than just a number on the back of a uniform.

That player for me this year is Buddy Carlyle.

mets - jamie and carlyleSuper nice guy and beyond signing for my daughter, I watched him chat with another little girl who reminded him of his own daughter and all I saw was the human, missing his child, but having no choice if he wanted to continue in his current profession. I’m pulling for him.

 

A chance to watch the “up and comers” before they explode on the scene. Since ST includes those players who will start out in all levels of the minor leagues, you get a chance to get a sneak peak at the future stars. You get to see the players go about their business quietly and humbly since they are just starting out and learning the ropes. You get to see glimpses of their skills and why they were so highly touted in the first place. You get to see them before they have a chance to become hardened to the never ending carousel of fans and media requests. That player was Noah Syndergaard last year.

mets thor 2

Now he is “Thor” and has taken New York by storm in only one year’s time.

mets - thor hitting

 

Your fandom becomes a richer experience. Last year was the perfect example. As the Mets season developed into a special one starting in July and running all of the way through October, I got that feeling of “I was there from the beginning. I literally watched certain players meet on the practice field.”

I watched players get criticized in ST (Ruben Tejada) only to bounce back and play well at times during the season. I watched players come into camp as potential starters only to be gone at season’s end (John Mayberry). I watched pitchers who were up an coming really up and come within no time (Thor).

It’s the reason you start calling the team “we” instead of “the Mets”.

 

On a more personal level, here are additional reasons why I plan on heading down to Port St. Lucie, FL for the foreseeable future:

Photographic opportunities. If you read any of my posts from the past week, this one is obvious. ST allows you to feel like you were granted special access to the players. The photo opps for a wanna be professional photographer like me are endless.

Mets - Wright

 

Inspiration watching someone do what they love. Maybe it’s just me and where I am in age and professionally right now, but I walk away from ST determined to also pursue what I love as a profession. It may not last beyond the plane ride home, but watching these young dudes do something that requires such skill and athleticism and all of it done with a smile on their face is a thing of beauty. You can’t help but get caught up in it. It even extends to the photographers and the beat writers and the security guards and the coaches. It is a contagious thing and I gladly allow myself to soak it in.

 

The crew grows larger year after year. My wife and daughter and another friend attended ST for the first time this year and they have all admittedly been converted to lifers. It’s fun to watch someone experience it for the first time and we hope to up the crowd even more in 2017.

Mets - all of us

Who’s with us?

 

 

 

 

 

2016 Mets Spring Training – Day 3

Quick one today.

Made it to the field by 6:00 and while we greeted almost all of the players, no autographs. Still don’t regret it one bit.

And this may have something to do with it.

mets - field

A gorgeous day for baseball.

And a gorgeous bagel I might add.

mets - bagel

DeGrom and Syndergaard acting like 2 year olds and clearly not listening to a very important message.

mets - pitchers

Batting practice coordination at its best.

mets - teufel bp

Guest instructor Mike Piazza.

mets - piazza

Autograph insanity was the theme of this trip.

mets - autograph

Even the greatest strategy in the world couldn’t make up for it.

mets - strategy

Jamie battled on though.

mets - jamie and carlyle

Kevin Plawecki with the good guy award for the day.

mets - plawecki signing 2

mets - plawecki signing

After three days, insanity kicked in.

mets - kids mrmet

But damn if we didn’t have a good time.

mets - me and jack

mets - train to reign

I could have watched for another week.

mets - granderson

On to Disney.

2016 Mets Spring Training – Day 2

Up at 5:45. We are not good with 4 of us sleeping in the same room. Another rough night of sleep.

In the car by 6:10. Why the hell are we doing this?

At the stadium by 6:20. Oh yeah, this is why.

mets - stadium sunrise

Hot damn I love baseball.

mets - stadium sunrise 2

While we were the first fans to  arrive, a lot of the players were already there. Which means we have no choice but to get there even earlier tomorrow. Don’t challenge us.

Even though we witnessed so many players arriving, only one stopped over to sign for my son. And that was the “Big Sexy” himself, Bartolo Colon. He allegedly never signs for fans so we considered it a big win.

By the time the gate opened for practice, we had already been there for over three hours. The feet burned from all of the standing around but who’s complaining, this is a good time.

The players soon arrived on the field and began their stretching and warm-up routine and I focused solely on Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom and Steven Matz.

mets - harvey, degrom, matz

They literally laughed through the entire thing and gave it around 57% effort. Nice way to make a living if you can get it.

mets - harvey, degrom, matz 2

Like I said, a very serious atmosphere.

mets - harvey, degrom, matz 3

Once the 15 minute stretching ended, the players left the field and we all gave them a hero’s welcome.

mets - harvey and team

mets - flores running

mets - verrett

mets - wheeler

We spent the next hour or so jumping from field to field watching the pitchers only as we all know they are the stars of this team. There were a lot of fist bumps and high fives and I’m pretty sure we’re now allowed to say “us” rather than the “Mets.”

mets - familia

mets - matz

mets - thor

Have I mentioned how much I love these pitchers?

mets - thor hitting  mets - matz hittingAs practice started to wind down around 11:15 or so (yes, you read that right, less than 2 hours of practice, my kids work harder in gym each day at school) we headed to the “autograph spot”.

Jacob DeGrom and Matt Harvey walked over to the relatively small crowd ready to sign.

mets - harveyAnd we got neither of them.

Jacob seems a bit shy and eager to run and Matt, well he makes sure the photo opp is there and then bolts. I find myself more and more down on Mr. Harvey each passing day. If David Wright can sign for 20 minutes or more at a time, so can you big shot. Trade him to the Yankees now and get it over with.

While my son was temporarily disappointed, he quickly had that smile back on his face when Yoenis Cespedes picked he and his sister out of the crowd and signed for them both. He is a good dude with the kids and I’ll never forget that. I was so excited that I forgot to snap a picture.

Soon after, Wilmer Flores stopped by and not only signed for a long time, but interacted with the fans in a fun way which reminded us all as to why he has become a fan favorite.

mets - flores signing kids

Yes, that is my son anxiously looking for the next victim signer. I will now remind him to appreciate the moment more.

Done.

But by far the “most patient and willing to sign for all” player was uber-prospect and former 1st round pick Michael Conforto.

mets - conforto

He literally signed until no one was left. Beyond impressive.

And me thinks my wife has a crush on him. Jerk.

One last thing and a really killer one at that.

My daughter was picked to be interviewed by the Mets TV channel – SNY – where she will be featured with other kids throughout the year on the show “Kid’s Clubhouse”. What a natural she was. Comfortable in front of the camera like she had done it many times before.

mets - jamie sny

Get those DVR’s ready people.

One more day to go in Met Town before we turn our attention towards Disney.

Mets - all of us

Who would have guessed that Disney World would be a welcome sight for rest?

The alarm is set for 5:35 tomorrow …

2016 Mets Spring Training – Day 1

Up at 5:55. Horrific night’s sleep.

Breakfast at 6:50. Need to fuel up for the long day ahead. Give me plenty of those funny textured eggs.

Leave the hotel at 7:10. 58 degrees never felt better.

Arrive at the stadium at 7:15. I could live and work down here.

About 15 others are there already. Within 2 minutes I despise 80% of them. They are all “dealers” seeking autographs and are clearly not Mets fans. We enjoy giving them dirty looks throughout the day.

We watched about half of the team arrive for the first full day of camp in ridiculously expensive cars. What a way to make a living. No autographs but fun to get immersed in this world of spring baseball.

By 9:30 the gates open and we are ready to go.

mets - kids

Within minutes, the players are out on the field ready to stretch and warm up.

2016 Mets Spring Training

Yeah, that is the “Captain” David Wright leading the way.

A quick team meeting and then the players scattered among the 5-10 different fields.

2016 Mets Spring Training

Before they arrive, I try to get as many equipment photos as I can.

2016 Mets Spring Training

mets - equipment

A thing of beauty.

Manager Terry Collins runs between fields, tending to his troops.

mets - collins

I spend a good deal of time trying to get candid shots of the players.

Mets - Wright

Mets - Ces

mets - lagares

Mets - Reed

mets - walker

mets - d'arnaud

As practice drew to a close, some of the players started to sign autographs and it was absolute friggin chaos.

Mets - autographs

My kids are buried somewhere in that crowd and while my daughter scored big time with a David Wright signed ball.

mets - wright ball

My son was nearly trampled to death while trying to get a Yoenis Cespedes autograph. He was knocked to the ground by grown men acting like immature 10 year olds. It was an insane scene and completely different from the more laid back atmosphere we experienced last spring. Guess that’s what happens when you go to the World Series.

Mets - Robles

After recovering from the onslaught of overzealous fans, we headed out of the facility with one last stop at the media gate to see if we could hunt down a player or ten.

Mets - Jack media gate

Tomorrow we are getting up at 5:45 with plans to be at the stadium by 6:30. Either a brilliant or asinine move. The goal is to see every player arrive and stalk welcome them.

I’m exhausted but excited already.

Some other tidbits from the day:

  • I am badly sunburned and my face looks like a raccoon. What is this sunscreen you speak of?
  • We admittedly allowed Ruben Tejada to pull out in front of us when leaving, and subsequently chased his car down for an autograph.
  • We saw Wally Backman at lunch after practice and knew to stay the hell away based on his negative body language.
  • Shopping at Walmart in Port St Lucie is remarkably the same as shopping at WalMart in New Jersey.
  • Never underestimate the beauty of a hotel pool for children.
  • Always overestimate the fun time spent at a chain restaurant on a Friday night.

Until tomorrow.

 

The end of an era

I am writing this post on Saturday morning as I sit outside, a balmy 57 degrees, and watch my daughter’s softball fielding practice. People are looking at me strangely as I type and they chat nonsensically among themselves. I am not in a social frame of mind today so the laptop is a great crutch.

He must be doing important work so let’s leave him alone.

I am at Diamond Nation, an impressive baseball/softball facility where there are 3 softball practices and 3 men’s college baseball games going on at the same time. As interesting as a 3rd/4th grade softball practice can be, I’ve walked around quite a bit, watching the baseball games and allowing my mind to wander.

More on that in a moment.

** Quick warning – this post will include time travel so please read in small chunks in order to fully comprehend it. **

This weekend was more than likely the last basketball game my son will have ever played. He is in 8th grade and isn’t looking to continue playing when he enters high school next year. I’ve coached him this year for the first (and last) time and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to do so. It’s been fun to run along side him in practice, shove each other while scrimmaging and get in a little trash talk along the way.

When I originally started writing this post, I envisioned exploring how sad it felt to see the end of my son’s basketball career. But now it is Sunday afternoon (FYI, first jump in time), I’m at another softball practice (batting practice this time) and turns out the final basketball game was in fact not all that sad. The sadness morphed into more of a melancholy feeling and a look towards the future.

Up until 5 seconds remained in today’s game, Jack had yet to score in a game this season. Dude has a killer jump shot but just hasn’t had any luck this year. But yes, I shit you not, he scored the last basket of the game today. While it had no outcome on the game itself, it couldn’t have been more appropriate and the perfect ending to his 8 year basketball career. Jack hasn’t scored much over the years, but he knows the game better than anyone and that bodes well for his future. After the shot went in, we looked at each other across the court, smiled (me with a slight tear) and without saying a word, knew we were OK with the end of this era.

Baseball season will start in a few weeks and this could potentially be Jack’s last season with that as well. Baseball is his true love and we’ve all thoroughly enjoyed trekking out to all of his games over the past eight years. I still remember the first time he pitched in a game and how terrifying and exciting it was. I remember tears after losses. I remember catching him in the driveway after the snow had cleared. I remember throwing “high pops” off of the deck and into the backyard. It’s cliche, I know, but where the hell did the time go?

jack baseball

Just like with basketball, Jack most likely won’t play in high school next year and again, we’re all OK with that.

Back to Saturday morning’s softball practice. Fun, right?

As I watched these college kids play baseball, completely cognizant of the fact that they were of an age where they could be my son, I felt two different and distinct emotions:

Jealousy – these kids are at their physical peak doing something they love. Bastards. Even though each had a .01% of making it to the major leagues, the possibility was still there. Not to mention, they have their professional life still ahead of them as well, with endless options. I’m struggling with where I am professionally right now and would kill to go back and take some chances. They’re still young enough to mess up and recover, multiple times.

A quick selfish aside – I was let’s say, an above average basketball player while in high school. I was a smart player with decent size and a solid jump shot. Athletically, I was 6 foot 3 inches tall but skinny as a bone. I can remember my father pushing me to work out more and add more muscle. I never heeded his advice and to this day, still wonder what could have been if I worked harder and dedicated myself more. It still burns me inside. That little bit of backstory hopefully helps explain my aforementioned jealousy.

Excitement – I just love being around baseball. The sound of the pop in the glove. The sound of bat on ball. The routine of warming up and stretching. Don’t laugh at me, but baseball is sport and art. I truly believe that. The family is going to New York Mets spring training next week and my photos will further cement the idea of baseball as art.

But what really excited me as I watched these youngsters play, was the knowledge that my son will some day be involved with the sport (and other sports like basketball) in some capacity; be it as broadcaster, as writer or as reporter, this will be his world.

announcer

For years now he has known his future profession and I know he will dominate when the time comes. I just hope he invites me to hang around with him on the job once in a while.

So while the sports playing may soon be coming to an end, a new era is arriving. I look forward to stories he writes for the school newspaper. I look forward to hearing him announce games. I look forward to watching him develop into the man I know he will be. A super compassionate, quietly funny and ridiculously knowledgeable dude.

Will I miss the little league games and catches after dinner? Sure I will. But I now see that all of that has led to where we are today.

And I’m pumped to see what is next.

1977 Topps Baseball – Belloir, Kucek and Lindblad

I’ve mentioned previously that I am attempting to build a complete set of 1977 Topps baseball cards. I’m looking to do it through purchasing small lots of cards on eBay (just purchased 55 more for $3.50). I’m obsessed with the ’77 Topps set out of nostalgia and if I’m honest with myself, I’m probably regressing back to my 7 year old self as an escape from reality.

At first, there was a lot of laughing at the cards; strange photo angles, airbrushed hats, horrific uniforms, embarrassing poses and questionable athleticism. It is also fun finding the cards I distinctly remember from my childhood; players I loved (George Brett, Pete Rose) or even uniforms I thought were the coolest (Padres, Expos).

But what I’m most intrigued by now are the fringe players. Those who only had a small cup of coffee in the bigs and then were never heard from again. Their cards captured a moment in time when they realized their dream, when they “made it”. Looking at these cards now, I swear you can see it in their collective faces. Add in the fact that it is so easy to research what they have done since their careers ended, and you have the recipe for fascinating human interest stories.

Here are three of those stories:

1977 topps baseball

  • Only 36 hits in 81 career games
  • 12 errors in those 36 games
  • Debuted in ’75 and had 6 hits in a two game span. This article from ’75 sums up the excitement of getting to the MLB and just appreciating the opportunity.
  • Missed the ’71 season due to military service
  • Out of the majors by ’78
  • While I appreciate any type of humor, I find this type of negative blog post to be unnecessary. Dude made it to the majors, that is like winning the lottery.
  • I found his Facebook profile and it seems too understated. Photo should scream, I played in the frickin MLB. I’m still contemplating sending him a friend request and asking for an interview.

 

1977 topps baseball

  • 7 career wins over 7 MLB seasons
  • Career 5.12 ERA
  • 2nd round draft pick in ’74
  • That grin tells me he appreciated being able to put on that killer Sox hat.
  • In 2008, he invented the Strike Out Strippz, a pitching glove that helps pitchers evaluate their pitching motion after each simulated pitch. A great sales pitch here: “Strike Out Strippz Pitching Glove will do for pitchers what the batting tee did for hitters.”
  • Here’s an example of Roger Clemens pimping it.
  • After digging around some more, my best guess is that he sold it as it is promoted current day through this site without his name prominently attached.
  • I located his LinkedIn profile as well. I am fascinated how typical it looks until you scroll down his page and see “Former Major League Pitcher”. What? Put that shit up top dude, you are one in a million with that.

 

1977 topps baseball

  • I can’t shake this one. Shame on me for not remembering him and more importantly, not knowing his tragic story. More on that in a bit.
  • A lefty middle reliever who made 655 career appearances in the MLB.
  • Was the winner of game 3 of the ’73 World Series against my beloved Mets.
  • He has the distinction of being the last pitcher to face Willie Mays.
  • Participated in 3 World Series with the A’s and was part of the 1978 Yankees World Series team.
  • He died in 2006, after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Take a look at this fascinating article from ’97 that talks about the disease in great detail.
  • He started showing signs of early onset Alzheimer’s in his late 40’s. It has been determined that his children have a 50/50 chance of getting Alzheimer’s as well.
  • Research shows that he was a descendant of one of a few German families that migrated to Russia in the 18th century and were linked to familial Alzheimer’s.

1977 Topps baseball cards

I was an avid baseball card collector as a child and into my early teens. This spanned from 1978 up until 1990. During the early years it was all about trying to get a complete set or collecting my favorite players or beloved Mets.

And then the baseball card boom hit in the early 80’s and it became all about collecting and speculating on players’ rookie cards. I completely ignored the common/veteran player and just focused on those first year player cards. I was going to be rich with my 74 Don Mattingly and Darryl Strawberry rookie cards.

The baseball card market eventually crashed and all of those cards became worthless. This was in the early 90’s and I completely turned my back on the hobby and focused on other things like college and hanging with the girl that would become my wife years later.

Fast forward to current day and my son has taken card collecting to levels so way beyond anywhere I ever went with it. But now it is about collecting/finding rare inserts and autographed cards. One pack of cards was 30 cents back in my day yet they are now anywhere from $3 to $10 per pack. He has cards worth hundreds and actively sells and buys cards off of eBay. A burgeoning entrepreneur.

My son’s interest in the card collecting hobby has awakened a nostalgia in me that harkens back to a simpler time. The innocent era of collecting cards without any financial motives. Trying to complete the entire Minnesota Twins team set. Enjoying the players from back in the day who clearly never indulged in any performance enhancing drugs. Players that looked more like my weird uncle then a young and blossoming professional athlete.

Which brings me to 1977 Topps baseball cards. The set I worshipped as a child. The set I am now collecting again. The set that has inspired me to learn about each and every player in the set.

As a young dude, I always found the 1977 Topps baseball set to be the coolest. I loved the white border and bright colors.

topps

The sets prior and subsequent to 1977 Topps baseball were drab and missing that 70’s funk. The players seemed to be photographed in cooler and stranger poses. I willingly traded many ’78, ’79 and ’80’s Topps cards for any 77’s anyone was offering up.

I’m now 43 years old and I still love these cards. I dug through my entire card collection recently to reunite with my favorite cardboard cutouts. As expected, they were in awful condition but just like I remember them. They made me smile and brought back a wave of great childhood memories.

But I didn’t have enough of them. I wanted more. I wanted the rush back.

So I followed my son’s lead and purchased a lot of 1977 Topps baseball cards on eBay. I didn’t want any superstars from the set. The more obscure the better. When they arrived, I found a quiet spot in the house and leafed through them slowly. They are still the best.

Here are some of the cards I received in the lot and why I love them so much. Some are based on the photos, some based on the uniforms and some are just freakin funny.

Going forward, I plan on doing one post per week featuring one of the players and an in depth review of their story.

 

topps 5

  • My favorite hat of all time. That mustard color is phenomenal.
  • Quintessential 70’s mustache.
  • Traded to the Mets in ’79. Touted as the “savior”. Never liked playing in New York so I came to hate him.

 

topps 15

  • Coolest cat around. That necklace alone made this card awesome. Claimed it was the “second baseman’s teeth”. This photo captures him even better.
  • Wore a helmet in the field at first base.
  • Died in 2013 in his hometown of Greenville, MS.

 

topps 18

 

topps 13

  • Even as an 8 year old, I knew this dude looked stoned.
  • Epic mustache.
  • Funny thing, he never pitched for the Expos.

 

topps 8

  • Bake is the best baseball first name ever.
  • Always had a solid 70’s fro.
  • This video brings me back to Saturday afternoon games with Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola.

 

topps 12

  • Interesting fact – combined with his brother for a shutout. Only time in MLB history.
  • Great article from 1985 article on what he was doing now.
  • Maybe the least intimidating pitcher of all time.

 

topps 14

  • This is why I bought that lot of cards.
  • Phenomenal sideburns
  • More my weird uncle than an MLB player

 

topps 6

 

topps 11

 

topps 3

  • The air brushing of the hat is pretty awful. The Mariners had yet to play a game when their cards were added to the 1977 Topps set.
  • Probably the best Mariners hitter (27 HR and 90 RBI) in their inaugural season in ’77.
  • Was included with Nolan Ryan in the worst trade in Mets history.
  • Was beaten out by Bobby Bonds in ’77 and did little after that.

 

1977 Topps baseball

  • Top ten ugliest uniform contender.
  • Great action shot although I can’t figure out where the base is and why he is fielding the throw on the inside of first base.
  • Within 2 months had two 2HR/8RBI games.
  • Had no idea until now that he died of a heart attack in 2002 at the age of 55.

 

topps 2

  • Impossibly hideous uniform
  • Scored 1,000,000 run in MLB history. Great party trivia question.

 

topps 10

  • In the top ten worst uniforms list. The matching shirt and pants are classic.
  • Known as the “Bogalusa Bomber” which is simply awesome.

 

topps 9

  • I loved these quad rookie cards. Such promise and potential for the card gaining value in years to come. These are the guys I paid close attention to.
  • Mike Champion only played 2 years with San Diego.
  • Juan Bernhardt hit the Mariners first home run but only played a total of 154 games in the MLB.

 

topps 7

  • My favorite card in the set to this point based on the hair/uniform combo.
  • Cy Young award winner the year this card was created.
  • Credited with All Star save in ’75 and All Star win in ’76.
  • In his last start of ’76, he was injured and never the same again
  • Owned a catering company and hosted a baseball radio show.