Tuesday, August 19, 2008

REMINISCING ON MY SPECIAL DAY

I just read my friend and colleague Scott Whipple’s exceptional piece in today’s Herald (Aug. 19) on the nostalgia that captivates him when a new bank opens.

It just so happens that Scott picked my birthday, number 56, on which to write the kind of story that has made him a beloved local legend in our little corner of the world. Between his quotation from “It’s a Wonderful Life” – you remember, an emotional, young Jimmy Stewart, a breathtakingly beautiful Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore’s classic old miser – and my milestone, it got me to waxing nostalgic.

I remember when my Dad got up into his late 70s and 80s that all he wanted to talk about was his past. We had heard the stories so many times but we rarely interrupted him as he painted vivid pictures about a kinder, gentler New Haven, summers at Momauguin (East Haven shoreline) and World War II’s European theater.

I find myself traveling the same path as I reminisce about my 56 years. Almost everything seems to focus on the past, partly because that’s what folks my age tend to do and partly because present trends disturb me.

With the Rock Cats on the road for 12 days, it was the perfect time for Lisa (Mrs. Sportswriter, the best companion a person can have) and me to hit the vacation trail. We’re not the European jet-set type, mind you. Gas prices be damned, we love to hit the road, hug the country lanes instead of the interstates and wind up well off the beaten path where we can discover what’s left of America’s true warmth.

We went to Old Forge, N.Y. Where, you say? Old Forge is a nice destination for folks from Syracuse and Rochester but virtually unheard of this far away. It’s nestled in the southwest corner of the Adirondack Park, a 6-million acre chunk of New York State that President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed, “Forever Wild” during his legendary administration over a century ago.

We cruised on a small U.S. mailboat on the pristine Fulton Chain of Lakes. We shopped at the hardware store that resembled something out of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. We drove through Blue Mountain Lake, the quaint town of Inlet and past expansive Raquette Lake, far enough from the commercial urban sprawl that has framed our generation.

On the way back, Lisa graciously allowed me to make my biannual pilgrimage to Cooperstown, the home of the game that has shaped my life. We also went to Howe Caverns – my third visit but Lisa’s first. It will never get tired to jump into an elevator, descend 155 feet into the earth and exit in a 52-degree world of stalactites and stalagmites.

We capped it off by attending the Vintage Base Ball World Series, a recreation of the game as it was in the 1980s, trimmed with plenty of extras to freeze an American scene of long ago.

Nostalgia. Scottie? Lisa? I guess it’s just what old folks do. And at 56, with an aching back, an expanding waist line and a love for what used to be, I certainly qualify.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

PC POLICE INVADE LITTLE LEAGUE DREAM

Little League, like so much in America these days, has been swept up in a wave of political correctness that gives credence to the oft-discussed notion that adults can sure make a mess out of a beautiful children’s game.

It was tragic that professional baseball has gotten so caught up in the inanity of the pitch-count limit. The way I see it, some pitchers have great mechanics and as they go through a successful game should not be governed by how many pitches they’ve thrown.

At least among the pros, intercession is based on the philosophy of the organization as interpreted by pitching coaches who have dedicated their lives to the craft.

In Little League, under the premise that kids’ arms need to be protected, an 85-pitch limit has been imposed. Now this is nothing that just came about. It’s just that I hadn’t seen a Little League game in awhile until I covered the New England Regional championship Saturday in which Shelton edged Manchester, N.H., 2-1, in a thrilling contest that went down to the final pitch.

So at 85 pitches, it is deemed dangerous for a boy to continue pitching. When he hits 85, he can finish throwing to the batter he’s facing, then must be replaced on the mound.

Has anybody ever proven that the reason for so many arm injuries for pitchers at every level can be correlated with how many pitches are thrown? It’s utter nonsense. Common sense should take precedent. When a coach can see that a pitcher is laboring, it’s time to come out. That’s where injury may occur. It could be 50 pitches for one and 150 for another.

And who determined that throwing extra pitches wouldn't strengthen somebody's arm instead of risking it to injury? Do weight-lifters bench-press fewer times as they seek to tighten their muscles? Do milers run fewer laps when they try to cut their time?

The problem lies in mechanics, not repetitions. Throwing a baseball with an overhand motion goes against the natural movements of the elbow and shoulder joints. If the process is done in an overly violent manner, or a pitcher resorts to twisting and contorting his arm to make pitches move, that’s where injuries occur. When he uses his whole body and learns the proper angles, he's less likely to suffer injury.

The idea that young pitchers should not throw curveballs is more appropriate thinking. A curveball, when thrown properly, shouldn’t damage young arms, but can be devastating when thrown improperly. Now, how many Little League coaches are adept at teaching kids to throw curveballs properly?

I recall one issue when I was covering Little League extensively corroborates my opinion. An 11-year old kid was the ace of his staff as his team tore through the local district playoffs. The team battled its way through the sectionals and states to earn a berth in the Eastern Regionals.

The team fell just short of its Williamsport goal. The pitcher in question never surfaced again. He never pitched high school ball. His pitching days were over. I remember that his tremendous success was based on his curveball. His arm never recovered, and it wasn’t because he went over 85 pitches.

Little League is intrinsically magnificent. The game of baseball is divine no matter what level it’s being played. But for heaven’s sake, let the kids play. They need to be protected from the adults more than from any aspect of the game.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

MORE PRESS BOX BANTER

I dedicated my previous blog to the Rock Cats press box. It was very late and I left out some very important people and things that you should know.

Let’s start with Dan Lovallo. Dan has become a well-known radio personality over the years, first in Torrington and later in the Hartford area on WDRC. Some of you may know him from his entertaining conservative talk show on WDRC-1360 from 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays.

But in sports circles, Dan has been sitting in with Rock Cats voice Jeff Dooley for nine years. Dan’s one of the nicest, gentlest people I’ve ever known. He can be one of your best friends but don’t start the relationship with any liberal talking points or anti-Yankee chatter. The Pinstripers can do no wrong in Dan’s book, and they always lead the sports report on his talk show. And God help Nancy Pelosi if she ever comes to Hartford.

I won’t hold that any of that against him (particular his conservative bent). He’s a classy man.

Which leads us to Dooley, or Dools as his friends call him. Dools has been telling folks about the Rock Cats for 11 seasons now. He never misses a game. Nothing can keep one of Rhode Island’s finest from his perch in the press box, no matter where the Rock Cats roam.

As I type in the comfort of my own home This fine Thursday morning, Dools is bouncing around in the Rock Cats bus, off on a 12-day road trip that will take him to Bowie, Md.; Erie, Pa; and Akron, Ohio. That means time away from his wonderful wife Marne and the cutest and smartest little guy I know, apple of his grandpa's eye, Master Joe Dooley.

What a sight it is to see Little Joe sitting on a high stool in the press box, listening intently to Dad doing his postgame wrap. Dools says Joe complains to Mom in the car when she listens to music. “Put Dad on!” are his implicit instructions.

If Joe should decide to become a sportscaster, that would make three in the family. Marne’s brother is Don Orsillo, a man who has the ear of Red Sox Nation on television along with Jerry Remy. Now there’s a sports family! Poor Marne.

There are others in the press box who make going there seem like anything but work. Luke Pawlak deftly handles the technical operation of the incredible video board that captures everybody’s attention with a plethora of movie clips and contemporary stuff like Simpsons and Sponge Bob Square Pants. I can’t convince him to run any shots of Bogart, Cagney or Greta Garbo. I also can't convince him that baseball is so much better than soccer. Beckham could never hit the curveball, Luke.

Then there’s Manny, the video recording guru. That’s not his real name. The guy just resembles Manny Ramirez so closely – dreadlocks, dark complexion, round face, omnipresent smile – that everybody just calls him Manny. I haven’t met anybody yet who knows his real name. The big difference between Ramirez and our Manny is that the Rock Cats would never trade him to L.A.

If there is a better PA announcer than Don Steele of WCCC FM fame, please introduce him (or her) to me. Don’s familiar voice fills the air, just drawing in everybody within earshot because of his vast expertise in his field. He handles the 3-inch think script that gets plopped on his table every night. How he squeezes in all that stuff, I’ll never know, but trust me, he squeezes it in. I know better than anybody because he is right behind me.

Mike Torres has been a press-box staple for more than a decade, handling sound effects. You know, when a batter walks and you hear the country song, “Big Wheels Rollin.” Or when he wants to get the crowd going, it’s that old Cab Calloway gem, “Heidi Heidi Ho.” I’m still trying to steal his music and replace it with Grateful Dead but there’s always somebody watching.

So there you have it, the reasons why I love going to Rock Cats games, except for when somebody starts a rally at deadline time or the crack waitress staff totes up dinner with cheese on it. Darryl, Jamie – hold the cheese, if you please.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A PRESS BOX BLOG

I’m still trying to get the hang of this blogging stuff.

I’ve been reading those written by some of my colleagues in New Britain and around professional baseball and it’s a lot more casual than most of the copy I’ve produced on Lip Service.

One problem is that I’m not really enamored with writing about myself. I’m not inclined to spout my opinion on national sports that I don’t cover, unlike popular puffed-up pontificators Mike and the Mad Dog, Jim Rome and so many of the other TV talking heads who have turned sports into a soap opera.

Another problem is generational. Many of you can’t imagine life without ESPN. When I was growing up, we had WPIX-11 doing Yankee games, and we’d be able to swing a few Mets games on WOR-9 when the atmospheric conditions allowed. Other than that, it was the Game of the Week on Saturday.

My parents would only subscribe to one newspaper – The New Haven Register – which circulated in the afternoon. I didn’t want to wait that long, so I would sneak over to my next-door neighbor’s front stoop and quietly take the elastic band off their morning paper, The Journal-Courier. Every now and then, Mrs. Cannata would open the door with her robe on and see me sitting there. Talk about feeling stupid.

But I digress. How about if I tell you about some of the activities that have been going on in the Rock Cats press box?

I got to meet Babe Ruth’s granddaughter. Yep. The elegant and eloquent Linda Ruth Tosetti stopped by to help draw awareness to a local child with a rare illness. She would also like The Bambino’s uniform number 3 to be retired across the board in MLB.

We’ve had many famous visitors over the years – U.S. Senator Chris Dodd, U.S. Attorney Kevin O’Connor, U.S. Congressman Chris Murphy, former Congresswoman Nancy Johnson, MLB executives Terry Ryan of the Twins, Brian Sabean of the Giants and Brian Cashman of the Yankees.

The press box is a great place to spend seven or eight hours for every home game, and it’s the people who work there that make it great.

Scoreboard operator Larry Michaels has missed three games since the franchise came to New Britain in 1983. Official scorer Ed Smith, retired New Britain High teacher and wrestling coach, joined us last year. Nicer people and more knowledgeable baseball aficionados you’ll never meet.

Larry rarely misses a pitch. Ed’s scorebook is so meticulously done that it makes mine look like chicken scratch.

Rock Cats voice Jeff Dooley, as accommodating and affable as they come, has been atit for 11 years now. What a sight it is to see his 3-year-old son Joey sitting on Jeff’s stool with the headset on during the postgame show. If Joey should go into broadcasting, that would make the third member of the family in such a role. Jeff’s brother-in-law is Red Sox voice Don Orsillo.

I would be remiss without mentioning the Dowlings. Most folks in central Connecticut and beyond know Bill, the owner and president. Bill’s got a heart of gold, unless you scoff the last piece of pizza before he gets a chance to get upstairs.

But Bill’s brother Bob works behind the scenes as the media relations director. I haven’t met the reporter or photographer yet that didn’t get the red carpet treatment from Bob.

Okay, I’m done. Have I blogged correctly now? I hope so, because it’s 1 a.m. and I’m all blogged out.