Category Archives: Baseball

Baseball – Nobody has said it better than A. Bartlett Giamatti – the Major League Baseball Commissioner, who sadly died so young : Giamatti wrote a book called The Greenfields of the Mind and wrote this:

Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports, and there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, used to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.

WRITING

WRITING

The first week of March, 2016, is in the books and Max Blue, blinking uncertainly, has awakened from a long winter’s sleep to discover that the need to write is as urgent as ever, maybe more so as the years continue to pile on. The Luminous Liddy sleeps in a nearby room early on a Pennsylvania morning, perhaps dreaming of the 17 years we spent in South Jersey before pulling up roots and moving to Lancaster last October. Or maybe she dreams of that day in April , 60 years ago, when she and Max stood before a magistrate in the Hong Kong Court House and vowed to take on the World, married and full of hope, wide-eyed and unafraid.
Urge to write? Tales? . . . Fishing Tales, Birding Tales, Costa Rica Tales, Jersey Tales, Philly Tales . . . 43 tales, 173 pages, 73,195 words.
Novels? Twelve . . . 340 chapters, 3,244 pages, a million and 78 thousand words, 388 characters. Baseball? Damn right . . . four published books, mostly but not exclusively, about the sorriest major league baseball franchise the world has ever seen – the Philadelphia Phillies. Max continues to search for an explanation – what is it about this game that inspires him to write more than 1500 limericks describing the action? The game is like a virus that entered his body before he was able to read and has touched him for more than 80 years bringing joy, despair, disgust, but mostly

HOPE
Despair is a slippery slope,
It’s just that much harder to cope
With poorly thrown balls
And umpire’s bad calls
Much better the sunshine of hope

                                                       

                                                     FISHING TALES

6 tales 29 pages 13,799 words

LIDDY’S WISH
Liddy, to this day is still wishing
She was down by the river fishing.
She can’t shake this unscratchable itching
To feel her taught fishing line twitching,
And the taste of the smallmouth Bass dishing.

Tales:
(1) Blue Fish
(2) Headboat
(3) The Rhyme of the Ageless Piscadores
(4) Stover’s Dam
(5) Pink Cards and Piscadores
(6) Hell or High Water

THE RHYME OF THE AGELESS PISCATORS

Blue Mountain, just north of Harrisburg, is the southernmost ridge of the Appalachian chain as it sweeps through central Pennsylvania on its way to a rendezvous with the red clay of Alabama, just south of Birmingham. Blue Mountain, along with its sisters, Second Mountain, Third Mountain, and Peter’s Mountain, have dipped politely, gracefully, and some might say, majestically, to allow passage of the wide Susquehanna River. Fifteen miles north of Harrisburg, at Clark’s Ferry, the Juniata River angles in from the northwest to join the Susquehanna on a generally tranquil journey past the state capitol building, past City Island where they play baseball, and have rock concerts that attract 15,000 young people and keep the neighbors awake, past the nuclear power plants at Three Mile Island and Peachbottom, through the central Pennsylvania flatlands and into the neck of Chesapeake Bay, 70 miles away at the graceful harbor town of Havre de Grace, Maryland.
In 20 minutes, all things being equal, you can escape the traffic lights, the tailgating trucks, the fast-food joints, the bewildering cloverleafs, the general hullabaloo of the city. Head north along the Susquehanna where the land folds into mountains and unfolds into valleys like a giant piece of okra-colored corrugated tin. Cross over the creeks feeding the river, notice the water running out of the mountainsides even though we have been two months without rain. Cross the Clark’s Ferry bridge (a segment of the Appalachian trail), notice the solitary backpacker—an elderly lady wearing sneakers with a sign on her back: GEORGIA OR BUST. We have hiked this trail, Liddy and me. We have waded these streams and scaled these mountains to gaze in wonder at the fertile, peaceful, enchanted valleys. We have fished the Juniata, and we will do so again.
A few miles north of Clark’s Ferry the road leaves the Susquehanna behind, and winds upward alongside the Juniata, offering glimpses and occasionally stunning vistas of the river framed in a backdrop of rolling pastures and lonely farmhouses, their silos looking like exclamation marks on the landscape. The land is green with summer, but the hardwood trees shading the hillsides have felt the stirrings, and are musing about how their fall colors will be affected by the lack of rain.
Liddy and me begin our day on the Juniata panning for hellgrammites 300 yards north of the Millerstown bridge. According to my dictionary, a hellgrammite is the aquatic larva of the dobsonfly, which is a large insect having membranous wings, the male of which has greatly elongated, horn-like mandibles. But the small-mouth bass of the Juniata have their own definition—both the larva and the insect add up to one thing: lunch. If the larva is foolish or adventuresome enough to leave its hiding place under the rocks littering the floor of the river, it stands a better than even chance of having its destiny changed from pupa to hors d’oeuvre in the time it takes the laser-quick bass to say “Gotcha.” What tools the bass use to disarm the razor-sharp mandibles of the hellgrammite I do not know though doubtless they are the same the fish uses to immobilize the pincers of the crawfish, which they also find palatable. The hellgrammite has been described as a ferocious predator of other aquatic insects, and if you have ever held one of the squirming, black, two-inch, ten-segmented creatures between your thumb and forefinger, and felt the thrill of its mandibles sinking into your soft flesh, you would not doubt it. And yet, they are no match for the valiant small-mouth bass who treat them as if they were chocolate-flavored doughballs.

Finding the hellgrammites in scant supply, as usual, Liddy and me climb into our boat and begin drifting slowly downstream. Fish are jumping all over the place…a big one almost lands in our boat, (swear to God, Mac). Many fishermen are out…we see one in a bright yellow shirt carrying a bow and arrow. We see a father in ankle-deep water standing next to his young daughter, in knee-deep water. She has caught a sunfish and is excitedly reeling it in. Liddy is catching “sunnies” as fast as she can worm her hook, but she is in the market for bigger game.
We secure the boat to a large boulder in the stream above a rapids where the water discards all restraint and cascades and cataracts joyfully in every direction as it negotiates the rocky barriers strewn haphazardly in its path. These are the choice fishing spots on the Juniata, for below the rapids the rushing water has formed deep pools that attract the fish like a horde of hellgrammites. We have arrived at a particularly attractive area because here the water is terraced in a series of three rapids and pools. In August you can fish the Juniata in shorts and sneakers; just walk right out wherever you please…the water will rarely be more than waist-deep and the bottom is rocky and gravelly, giving firm, if occasionally slippery, footing. We stow the boat and take up positions convenient to casting our lines into the fast water from where they can be carried into the deep pools. Fishing below us is a young lady wearing a large, floppy, straw sun hat. She gives us a friendly wave as we start to fiddle with our lines.
Liddy decides that it is time to use the hellgrammites. I use a yellow Mister Twister that has come highly recommended. Liddy quickly hooks a six-inch rock bass and discovers we have forgotten our landing net. No matter: she takes a firm grip on the struggling fish and deposits it in her creel (which she calls a basket). The next fish is not so easy. I am 20 yards upstream casting my Twister into the bubbling swirl, when above the roar of the rushing water I hear what sounds like a shout. I look up to see Liddy’s rod bent like a fish-hook and quivering like a plucked guitar string. This is no six-inch rock bass. I cannot hear what she is shouting, but I recognize the pitch and the urgency. It translates: “If there is a Knight in shining armor anywhere in the vicinity, let him now appear, for the opportunity to perform a heroic deed is at hand.”
I lay my pole on a rock and head for the rescue. The rocks in the fast water are uneven and slippery, and I soon find myself struggling to keep my balance. I fall, and with nothing to hold onto, find myself rolling and tumbling with the fast water. I pass where Liddy is sitting on a large rock battling her catch, and at the same time viewing with alarm the bottom of my sneakers. I regain my equilibrium just in time to lunge and grab her fish with both hands, in the same fashion that she would grasp me around the throat if I let this fish escape.
I am on my knees holding the throttled fish above my head. Liddy is laughing. The young lady in the floppy hat is a witness; she is also laughing. I don’t see what’s so funny. With a superhuman effort I crawl back to Liddy’s rock,
intent on not losing the fish. Finally we get it into the creel. It is a twelve-inch channel catfish and it is a beauty, sleek with fast living and colorful as a rainbow trout which we thought at first it was.
Liddy and me sit on the rock for a long time, resting from the exertion. We are soothed by the sound of the surging water, and captivated by the vaudeville of patterns. A slim, brown water snake is making a gallant but losing effort to swim upstream. Liddy sees it too, and begins to stammer, “It, it, it…it’s coming towards us,” which it is not. Liddy is outraged that I would laugh at her fear which I have mistaken for jocularity. Liddy does not frighten easily, nor is she squeamish, so I am unprepared for what appears to be an authentic case of ophidiaphobia. She tenses as the snake drifts cross-current in our general direction, but on a path that will give us a very wide berth. She grasps my arm tightly. Beads of perspiration appear on her brow, tears run down her cheeks. With impeccable logic I make the case that the snake is no threat to us; indeed, that it has more reason to fear us than we it. Liddy will not be comforted. With shattering finality she counters every argument thus: “Oh yeah? That’s what you think.”
“Look, why don’t we go look for some more hellgrammites and forget about that damn snake?”
Liddy agrees, and we make our way to an area near the left bank where the water runs slowly over and around a medley of aimlessly scattered large and small rocks. We begin to examine systematically the nether side of the rocks for fish fodder. This time we are in luck, finding a fortune of hellgrammites clinging to the muddy side of the rocks. Soon we are back in the stream and Liddy begins to catch fish with astounding regularity. In two hours she catches four catfish, two small-mouth bass, and five rock bass, one almost record size. With each catch her excitement grows; her eyes sparkle, she cannot stop smiling.
Now she collars a two-inch hellgrammite and flings her line into the stream again. Momentarily, and with explosive suddenness, her line stiffens and begins to run off the reel in a wild and breathless rush. Liddy comes to her feet with a gasp and begins to reel in her line. She is greeted by the loud, complaining zinggg of the resisting reel, normally heard by us only when trying to free a snag. Liddy’s line is stretched to the snapping point. She slides the release on her reel and allows the fish to run free for a few moments until suddenly the line stops running; quickly she reels in. As Liddy plays her catch, I notice that the young lady in the floppy hat seems to be similarly engaged.
I become increasingly aware that the actions of Liddy and the young lady are synchronized. Finally, when the heroic fish vaults from the water in a desperate, thrashing maneuver, it is revealed to all that the fish is encumbered by lines from two directions. Liddy and the young lady in the floppy hat have simultaneously hooked the same fighting fish. Liddy stares at the young lady in disbelief. The young lady smiles. As if by silent command they begin to move closer together while at the same time continuing to play the fish. Soon they are standing side by side, knee-deep in the fast running water. They do not speak, but their movements are perfectly coordinated and shortly the exhausted fish is creeled. It is a magnificent small mouth bass—at least 18 inches—a real trophy.
At last we turn to look more carefully at the young lady who has taken off her floppy hat. Her features reflect the genes of two continents; she is very pretty.
She has jet black hair and the wide-eyed wonder and carefree air of an 18-year-old. She laughs gaily as she speaks.
“We can’t deny that you and I were in this thing together.
We pulled and tugged then found that we were joined by common tether.
But do not fear until you hear my thoughts on this fine treasure.
I yield my share, I would not care to take away your pleasure.
It is my wish that this great fish that vied for our attention,
be yours to keep—no not a peep, please not another mention.”
“We got a lulu here, Liddy,” I whisper.
Liddy is stunned. The combination of catching the big fish and being hit with the unexpected rhyme has left her speechless. She opens her mouth but no sound emits.
“I don’t know whether to be more shocked by what you said or by how you said it, but if I understand you correctly, you want us to keep this fish that was caught by you and Liddy simultaneously.”
“I’m pleased to see that you and me agree upon my meaning.
I never keep the fish you see, and thus avoid the cleaning.”
“I do see, but how do you do that?”
“Advice you wish, on how to fish?”
“No, not on how to fish. How do you manage to say everything in rhyme?”
“The reason for my rhyme, I think, is rooted in the river.
It’s doubtless also why my young partner wears a quiver.”
She points upstream where a young man carrying a bow and arrow and wearing a bright yellow shirt is waving. She curtsies and moves off in his direction.
Liddy and me fish for another hour without success. She has exhausted her supply of hellgrammites, and Mister Twisters are a poor substitute. Finally we have had enough. We board our anchored boat and motor upstream to the Millerstown bridge where we land the boat. As we are unloading our gear an old, gray-haired couple holding hands stroll by. He is wearing a bright yellow shirt, she is holding on to a large floppy straw sun hat.
They smile as they pass and she says: “I hope you enjoy your fish.”

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From the Diaries of Two Salty Dudes

Tin Can Down Cover

 

In the beginning they were Frank Dalton and Hank McGee. Dalton grew up in Detroit, Michigan and McGee in Memphis,Tennessee. They could have been living on different planets, yet the gods of destiny saw to it that their lives intersected, meshed, and forged a path of adventure and excitement that some might call outrageous exploits, others perhaps a more measured unusual, or at most extraordinary. But it should be said that what we have come to know about them, mostly through the diary entries documented below, marks them as not much different from a few thousand other navy men unleashed in foreign lands with money in their pockets and thrill-seeking on their minds.

Except for Frank Dalton who came to be known as Mickey Michigan. When all the anchors are dropped, when all the watches have been stood, when all the bets have been called, Mickey Michigan stands alone as the luckiest deep-water sailor the U.S. Navy has ever known. And that makes Hank McGee from Tennessee, who Mickey called Sunshine, the second luckiest because of the bond he shared with Mickey. It was a bond nobody could have predicted would be formed between a black son of the south and a white dude from the north, but as sure as the ocean is deep these two came together as iron filings to a magnet the first time they met.

One thing is undisputed: the United States Navy was the vehicle that brought them together and made everything possible.

When I came in possession of their diaries, I found their tales so compelling that I took it as my job to share as best I can with you the reader, the story, dare I say the saga, of Mickey Michigan and Sunshine McGee which I have done in the novel TIN CAN DOWN.

                                               FROM THE DIARIES OF TWO SALTY DUDES

LUCKY FRANKIE

I’m one of the Detroit Daltons, my name is Frank and I’m here to tell about some of the things that happened in this city during the war years; Things that happened to me and things that happened to the city. For me it was pretty much okay because I learned how to stay away from people and things that looked like trouble, plus I’m just plain lucky. Now that the war is over, things have calmed down some but there’s still a lot of hate going around.

Detroit has been all about automobiles for almost 50 years, ever since Henry Ford got some bright ideas and started a car factory.

Model T example

Model T Ford – 1908. The “Tin Lizzie”

When the U.S. went to war in 1941 there was a crying need to build machines that the army and navy needed to fight the Japs and Krauts. Detroit knew how to build those babies so the city became “the arsenal of Democracy”. Thousands of people were needed to make things and put things together, I mean to say, hundreds of thousands. I got to be part of that. I worked on an assembly line in 1943 when I was only 14 years old. That’s where I learned about hate.

One day the shop foreman came through with some new workers which we needed badly because the line was moving faster than we could keep up with it. Some of those new workers were black which was okay with me as long as they could do the work. It was not okay with a lot of the white workers.

I heard a guy say, “I’d rather see Hitler and Hirohito win the war than work next to a nigger.” He wasn’t the only one, 25,000 white workers walked off the job rather than work with negroes. Think about that. The country had men getting killed at Guadalcanal, the Navy had lost four heavy cruisers and almost 2,000 sailors at the battle of Savo Island, and these white Detroit factory rats refused to work alongside fellow Americans.

Another guy was griping that some of those niggers coming up from the South were moving into white neighborhoods, and the next thing I knew people were getting killed when the blacks and whites pulled out guns and knives and started going after each other on Detroit streets. When those riots finally ended, 34 people had been killed and over 400 wounded. President Roosevelt had to send in the National Guard to stop it. The war had come to Detroit.

Detroit race riots

I wasn’t black but I was Irish Catholic which it turned out was almost as bad. The Detroit hate list in 1943 covered negroes, catholics, jews, and the New York Yankees. Baseball seemed to be the only thing people could agree on. Everybody loved the Tigers and everybody hated the Yankees.

Let me tell you what the Yankees did to the Tigers in 1944. It came down to the final four games of the season and things couldn’t have looked better for the Tigers. First of all we were in first place, a full game ahead of the second place St.Louis Browns.  Second, we were at home against the worst team in the league, the Washington Senators, and finally, the Browns were at home facing the snotty, arrogant, it’s-our-birthright-to-win, Yankees. What the Yankees did to the Tigers was lose all four games to the Browns which seemed as likely to happen as the moon falling out of the sky or the Niagara Falls running backward. It wouldn’t have mattered if the Tigers swept the Senators, but they didn’t do that, they actually lost two games and the pennant on the last day of the season, which, I’m sorry to say was, more likely than not, my fault.

Here’s how it happened: Remember I told you I was lucky. The first sign of that was when I got picked out of a few hundred to be a bat boy for the 1944 Tigers. But it turned out I was more than a bat boy. About half way through the season the team began to look at me as a good luck charm. Lucky Frankie they called me and patted my head so some of the luck would rub off.   That 1944 team had three all stars – Dizzy Trout, Hal Newhouser, and Rudy York, but to me the most important guys on that team were a couple of worn-out oldtimers, Boom Boom Beck, a right-handed pitcher, and Chief Hogsett, a goofy lefthander. Those two guys taught me how to pitch and how to play poker. They also filled my head with stories about what the world was like outside of Detroit.

Boom Boom and the Chief. What a pair. Detroit was the last stop on their professional baseball careers, so when the Tigers won that Saturday game, it meant the team would head into the final game of the regular schedule in a flat-footed tie with the St. Louis club, and it meant that Boom Boom and the Chief would probably suit up for the last time in a major league baseball uniform.

What I’m getting at here is that Boom Boom and the Chief  wanted to show me the ropes about how to spend a night on the town and they figured this would be their last chance. After the first few drinks they poured down me I can only remember fuzzy images of boozy babes, jazzy trumpets, and Boom Boom Beck standing on a table singing at the top of his lungs, something about Aces in the hole. Chief Hogsett was out cold with his head on the table.

We didn’t make it back to the ballpark until the eighth inning and the Tigers, without me, their luck charm, were down 4-0.  They whacked me for luck and managed a run in the ninth but it wasn’t enough. They lost 4-1. The pennant went to the St.Louis Browns for the first and only time in major league history. It was my fault.

Briggs Stadium

 

 

No Stoplights in Wenonah

NO  STOPLIGHTS  IN  WENONAH

“Something’s wrong with your chair.”

“It’s because you’re sitting in it.” The thought came to me long after she had left. She was a nurse who had come to the house as part of the Home Care Service related to Liddy’s spine surgery. If chairs had feelings this chair in the sun room of our Lakebridge carriage house must have cringed as this morbidly obese lady prepared to sit. Three hundred pounds would b a modest estimate. The chair was one of those constructed with a series of thin metal pipes, a large one extending down from a cushioned seat to a four-pipe system in the form of an X with rollers at the end of each pipe. When she sat, one of the pipes cracked and gave way, causing the chair to sag in that direction. She honestly thought the fault lay with the chair.

Gloucester County, South Jersey is like Costa Rica, there are people who know how to fix things. The Gloucester County Yellow Pages lists 26 businesses in the welding category. It was easy for me to choose because there was only one in Deptford where we live – Cotterman, Inc. The guy who answered the phone, Paul Thomas,  gave immediate reason to think this was the right choice – his voice was sort of gravelly, like the movie actor Walter Brennan if you know what I mean – kind of welcoming. Could they fix my chair? Sure, bring it on over they’ll get right on it.

Paulie Thomas may be good at fixing things, and I was to learn he is a great story teller, but he is lousy at giving directions. Don’t listen to Liddy if she tells you Max is lousy at receiving directions.  The first thing I learned was that the phone book had it wrong – they were located in Wenonah, not Deptford; the Deptford address was that of his bookkeeper and he had no idea how it got there. Paulie led me a merry chase trying to find his shop. I lost count of the number of wrong turns, dead ends, false road markers, blind alleys, etc. At each stop I called Paulie on the cell phone – “Where are you?” He would ask. “What do you see?”              Note: I was only using the cell phone when stopped – there is a New Jersey law against using a cell phone while driving and I respect the law.

“I just passed two stop lights on Mantua Avenue.”

“There are no stop lights in Wenonah. Turn around.”

Am I coming or am I going? Nobody knows. Not true, Officer Hand of the Mantua Municipal Police Force knew. I was headed backwards into a ditch, and he was witness to the whole cockeyed episode. I had pulled onto a small lane bordering  the Avenue, stopped, fired up the cell phone and dialed up Paulie Thomas. I did not notice the police car parked no more than 15 yards ahead of me.

“Hang on Paulie, I just backed into a ditch, I’ll call you back.”

The tow truck arrived within 15 minutes. “If your wagon is draggin’ call the dragon.” That’s what was displayed on the side of the tow truck. My wagon was draggin’. The dragon never had an easier job – they had me out of the ditch in just a few minutes and gave me a special rate of only $100 because I was a senior citizen and a veteran.

But a funny thing happened while the tow guys were setting up. Paulie Thomas and his helper, Pete, showed up. My confusion was complete. “How did you get here?” I asked. I don’t  remember his explanation, but it had something to do with the cell phone.  Whatever. Officer Hand handed me a ticket for using a cell phone while driving, everybody had a good laugh and Paulie Thomas, as well as Officer Hand, gave me directions to the welding shop assuring me “you can’t miss it.”

I missed it. The next thing I knew I was on a four lane divided highway in fast traffic going in the wrong direction. I pulled onto a narrow roadway running parallel to the highway, stopped the car and called Paulie Thomas. A Chiropractor’s office sat on rising ground to my right.

“Don’t  move, I’ll send Pete,” said Paulie.

I had no trouble following Pete over a circuitous route through tree-shaded residential areas and finally to the welding shop that was tucked into a notch of forest somewhere in the wilds of Wenonah. A slogan on the side of a truck in their parking lot proclaimed, “we fix everything except broken hearts.”

Pete went to work on fixing the chair while Paulie began by showing me the railroad-track stitches on his back. It was because I told him I had to get home soon because Liddy was alone recovering from spine surgery.  Here is the story:  Paulie worked thirty some years as a tractor-trailer driver; three years ago he fell from the back of his truck and fractured six vertebrae. “You can’t imagine the pain.” He retired with a 40K pension and $200,000 compensation for his injury. “Money is not my problem, I still have pain.”  Paulie deals with the pain by taking extra strength Tylenol; he could take Percocet but is afraid of becoming addicted to the narcotic. Liddy chose surgery for the same reason.

Paulie is 65 years-old and missed serving in Vietnam because as a high school senior he already had a wife and child to support. But his brother Bill, who founded the company, is 80-years old and served on a Landing Craft in Korea. Paulie took me to the office where I met Bill and exchanged a few sea stories about the Korean war. Bill told of being present at Eniwetok when they tested the first hydrogen bomb.

“No charge for the chair,” said Paulie, “just follow me and I’ll get you back to Deptford, no need for you to get lost again.”

“So how did it go?” Liddy asked when I finally got home around four thirty, in time to cook supper.

“Nothing to it,” I said, “the chair is like new. But in case you ever wondered, there are no stop lights in Wenonah.”

 

Shutting down

When I post what I think are some of my best stuff leading up to the publication of my civil rights novel, COUNT and nobody seems to care, I thinks it’s time to stop and rethink where I am and where I’m going. I have much on my mind, not least giving full attention to Liddy’s recovery – she is scheduled to come home next Tuesday, September 17, 2013.

So until further notice, this blog is  ended.