Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Just got back from a vacation to Antietam and Strasburg.

Do you know how many people have said, "What the heck is Antietam, and did you really visit with the Washington Nationals' rookie pitching sensation?"

In regard to the first part of the inquiry, I feel ashamed for someone who has to ask that. To the second part, I don't believe that Stephen Strasburg has anything to do with Strasburg, Pa., a striking little burgh in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country dotted with houses out of Hansel and Gretel and a famous railroad museum.

The Antietam part is a serious matter to me. Antietam is the name of the creek that flows through the softly rolling hills of Sharpsburg, Md. On Sept. 17, 1862, the bloodiest battle involving Americans was fought there, a crucial clash in the outcome of the Civil War.

Over 23,000 men were either killed or wounded at Antietam. The tales of how the skirmishes unfolded are testament to their bottomless courage and the utter uselessness of war. Imagine walking stealthily through a cornfield, stalks reaching six feet tall, with your rifle ready, your eyes as big as silver dollars and fixed with the realization that your life could end abruptly at any moment.

When the troops reached the end of the field, enemy soldiers were primed and waiting just a few feet away, kneeling and aiming. Thousands fell in minutes.

The battle raged for most of the day. Confederate General Robert E. Lee used the Hagerstown Road behind his long grey line to move troops rapidly to where they were needed. Union General George B. McClellan tried desperately to cross the three bridges that spanned Antietam Creek so he could outflank Lee's men.

The result was that Lee's Army of Northern Virginia was denied its master strategy of taking the war directly to Pennsylvania and the north. Lee would try again a year later at Gettysburg and fail.

Why should you care? Why do I care? I do not want these men who gave their lives to be forgotten. I can only think of the young athletes that I cover -- the high school seniors and the minor league baseball players -- forced to fight wars instead of being able to engage in more figurative battles that don't generally spill blood.

I visited the graves at Antietam last week and in Gettyburg last year and I connected with those who fought so that I could cover baseball games for a living. I focused on Lincoln's stirring Gettyburg Address and Lee's foiled war strategy. Remembering is the least I can do.

I went to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country for a variety of reasons. I'm captivated by the simplicity of the Amish lifestyle and just as overwhelmed how brilliantly they have mastered the tenets of tourism. The Amish won't drive mechanized vehicles but they will ride in them. But believe me, they'll sell you just about anything you can imagine.

We bought homemade root beer and took a guided tour on one of their little horse-drawn buggies. We frequented the shops in their attractively named villages of Intercourse, Bird-in-Hand and Blue Ball and watched others put out top dollar for quilts, pottery and other bric-a-brac.

The other reason we went to Pennsylvania is so I could bring home some Yuengling. I'm no beer connoisseur but I know what I like, and nothing tastes quite like a cold Yuengling Original Lager on a hot day. I think I said the same thing about Coors when it was only available west of the Mississippi. Maybe I can't resist that lure when something is taboo.

And then there's baseball. Take a vacation from baseball writing and what do I do? Search for a ballgame, and I found one at Lancaster's Clipper Magazine Stadium. The independent Barnstormers of the Atlantic League were hosting the Bridgeport Bluefish. Wily Mo Pena, that slugger Boston traded to Cincy for Bronson Arroyo, hit a homer to win it for Bridgeport.

Now it's back home to the Rock Cats and the same old story -- the grandstands are packed but the Cats have been sent out onto New Britain's cold, cruel diamond without the claws necessary to compete with the Portlands and Trentons.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


If bad luck were base hits, the New Britain Rock Cats would be scratching at the penthouse door instead of living in a basement that has been all but sealed for 2010.

The team's most highly touted prospect -- center fielder Ben Revere -- has certainly lived up to advanced billing. He's a born .300 hitter, can steal bases with the best of them and tracks fly balls down as well as any we've seen south of Torii Hunter. But Revere has dealt with so many nagging injuries that trainer Chad Jackson's dossier on him could serve as a script for ER.

When Revere flipped his ankle after stepping on a bat last month, it looked like he would be logging DL time but he persevered. On the recent road trip, he sustained an eye injury when he took a knee to the head. Two punches set him up and the third one knocked him out. He tried to give the Rock Cats a first-inning lead Tuesday with a head-first slide into the dish and was spiked. The wound had to be closed with stitches so he'll miss time.

Erik Lis fouled a ball off his ankle in Altoona. It wasn't your average "foul the ball off the foot, limp around for a moment or two then get back in the game" kind of thing. Lis, resilient and persistent like Revere, tried to continue but had to leave the game.

So, you have a team buried in the basement that has its sure all-star leadoff man out and its plus-.300 cleanup hitter ailing. Anything else? Sure.

Third baseman Yangervis Solarte didn't have any gold-plated prospect tags hanging off him when he arrived from Class A but this switch-hitting Venezuelan is a gamer. He's played outstanding defense at third, even though manager Jeff Smith said he's equally projected to play second, and has come up with some timely hits.

Naturally, Solarte strained his hamstring, which we all know can keep a player out or at less than 100 percent for months.

TO THE LORDS OF BASEBALL: Please, oh esteemed holy ones, can't you see Smith has played the role of Job long enough? The man has paid his dues. He's suffered a career's worth of setbacks in less than half a season.

How about allowing he and his battered Cats to keep some of their dignity by letting them remain healthy for the second half and give the great fans of central Connecticut the competitive baseball they so richly deserve.

How about allowing Carlos Gutierrez or Kyle Gibson to pitch a no-hitter? Or maybe one of the Cats' wayward relievers can suddenly find some late movement or an extra yard on his fastball.

We've got to give our gallant radio announcer Jeff Dooley something to be happy about. He's a good lad, even if he didn't know that Barney Fife's boss was Andy Griffith and why his partner Joe D'Ambrosio would have two blackbirds with rhyming names (Heckle and Jeckle) as his desktop decoration. Can we at least get him a winning homestand with a walk-off win or two and and some hits with runners in scoring position? How about an eensy-weensy save?

At least you Lords have ascertained that president/CEO Bill Dowling and his GM John Willi are terrific guys. You haven't caused any natural disasters like floods or typhoons to prevent fans from entering the stadium and they're coming in at a stirring 5,330 per opening. They have indeed withstood the unnatural disaster of the city-run parking situation at the yard. Those fans just keep on coming, Rock Cats record be damned.

So as the diamond scriptures tell us, the Rock Cats are destined to have just two kinds of luck in 2010. Bad luck and none at all. Hang in there guys. We love ya anyway.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


A little of this and a little of that ...

The media is awash with talk of this vuvuzela, the plastic horn that World Cup enthusiasts are tooting in great number. It seems that soccer fans are finding them a distraction when watching games on television.

When I was working in the Eastern League back in the 1980s, they were a popular item amongst the younger set but we didn't have some elegant Spanish term for them. We called them horns, and there were those back then who hated them, too. Side note to New Britain Rock Cats GM John Willi and his promotional staff: Please don't go there. I'm sure Cats broadcasters Jeff Dooley and Joe D'Ambrosio are with me on this one. ...

Rock Cats are back home tonight for a quick 3-gamer with the Strasburg-less Harrisburg Senators. The locals presently hold a slight lead over the Baltimore Orioles for the unenviable distinction of being the worst team in professional baseball. At least the Cats don't have to face the constant challenge of playing the Yanks, Sox and Rays, but they've had enough headaches with the Curve, the Flying Squirrels and the Sea Dogs. ...

Kudos to the local high school teams and athletes that have represented this spring. I see the Farmington High girls golf team and Southington boys volleyball team have won state titles and New Britain track star Rob White continues to excel on a state and regional level. My absence on the high school beat come springtime always poses a dilemma for me since I can't be with the kids, but I'm watching and embracing what all of you have accomplished. Great job of coverage by my colleagues, too. ...

Best wishes to the CIAC's Michael Savage as he sets sail into his retirement. High school sports have taken giant steps forward under Mr. Savage. Best of luck to his successor Karissa Niehoff. Ms. Niehoff, currently the principal at Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, will do a great job, I'm sure. ...

In a related matter, I can tell you that the Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance, an organization I've helped steer for 15 years, is working closely with the CIAC to make conditions more favorable for the media. That in turn allows reporters to publicize the great accomplishments of our student-athletes.

CSWA president Robert Ehalt and the CIAC's Stephanie Ford have been at the forefront of this effort and it is bearing fruit. The transition to today's technology is both demanding and requires great communication between all parties concerned, and thanks to Ehalt, Ford and CIAC computer whiz Matt Fischer, we have turned the corner. ...

Saturday, June 5, 2010


It was brought to my attention that one regional newspaper ran an editorial urging support for the NCAA Baseball Regionals being played this weekend at Dodd Stadium in Norwich.

I concur. Folks should go to Norwich and watch UConn, Central Connecticut State University, Oregon and Florida State do battle. In UConn, you have one of the Huskies' better teams and some great local talent. Central had a terrific year. Florida State and Oregon come from two of the best conferences in the country.

But please don't insult the intelligence of baseball fans by saying an NCAA Regional is equivalent to Double-A. I've found that it is generally accepted that top-level college ball can be compared to high Class A, maybe even a shade better when teams like Texas and Florida State are playing, but the Division I midstream is a far cry from Double-A ball.

If it were Double-A's equal, you wouldn't be seeing pitchers like the New Britain Rock Cats' Kirk Gibson, a former Missouri Tiger, starting out in high A. In Gibson's case, he was up to the task in high A so he was promoted here in mid-May. Gibson, however, ranked as one of the better pitchers in the nation.

So I'm all for going to Norwich for some great college ball but I promise you you're not going to see the same quality you'll see day in and day out at New Britain Stadium and around the Eastern League. The bigger issue is that colleges use those pinging aluminum bats, at least until some poor pitcher gets killed, and games with 35 runs scored aren't unusual.