Seeing my baseball dreams come true

Grandson at bat.

As a kid, I always wanted to play third base for the Cleveland Indians. Bubba Phillips was my hero.

I know. I could have picked a more respectable team like the dreaded New York Yankees. But I was born in a blue-collar steel town in northeast Ohio. Cheering for any other team was tantamount to treason.

I began playing baseball at age seven. Right away I had a strong inclination that I wasn’t major league baseball material. A one-hopper hit me square in the mouth loosening a few front teeth.

Still, I kept at it until my college days where I watched the Kent State University baseball team. A couple of years later the team’s catcher, the late, great Thurman Munson and fellow Cantonian, would become an all-star backstop for the Yankees.

Thurman lived my dream, just in a different position, although I spent most of my Little League and Hot Stove baseball days behind the plate as well. I never took one in the mouth though. Wearing a catcher’s mask helped with that.

Before the pitch.
Imagine my joy when our oldest grandchild took to baseball like a duck to water. He was a natural from little on up. Now he’s 15, a high school freshman, and pitching for the varsity baseball team. Did I mention that he also plays third base, and shortstop, too?

Like other youngsters, Evan started with t-ball and kept playing until he progressed to the varsity squad. Nana and I couldn’t be more proud.

I try to let the coaches do the instruction. I do share stories with Evan from my playing days, usually some of my own baseball bloopers. With my talent, what else do I have to say? Evan always politely listens, often without comment. His parents have taught him well.

At the games, I focus on capturing photos of Evan pitching, hitting, and fielding. It’s harder to yell at the umpires with a camera in your face.

My wife and I have enjoyed this baseball journey with Evan and his family so far. We take in as many games as possible. That means huddled up in winter coats and blankets in the spring to keep warm. In the summer’s scorching Virginia sunshine, we share any available shade and try to stay hydrated.

And the pitch.
Evan goes all out in the sport he loves, sometimes much to his mother’s chagrin. I feel her pain when he slides headfirst into a base. A cloud of red dust rises around him from the powdery Virginia infields.

But the uniform always is ready for the next game, just like the young man who wears it. Win or lose, it is pure joy to watch him play. I don’t mind sharing my dreamy baseball romanticism with Evan at all.

I’m overjoyed that our grandson shares my passion for the game. I am even more grateful that he has had many opportunities to play and performs well, whether in the field, on the mound, or at bat. Sure he makes errors, gives up hits, or strikes out. But he is improving, gaining confidence, learning the game, and living his dream and mine.

Even as a grandfather, I still envision playing third base or perhaps pitching for the Cleveland Indians. Lord knows they could use some decent pitchers right now.

My dream is and was a fantasy. I knew that from the time the ball bloodied my lip decades ago. My grandson’s aspiration, however, is just now unfolding. I’ll let you know when he takes the mound for the Cleveland Indians.

Safe at third.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2019

News you may have missed in 2018

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s been another strange year on Planet Earth. So much craziness filled the headlines that some serious faux pas got overshadowed. Never fear. I kept track for you.

Jan. 12 – A British butcher who got locked in a walk-in freezer used a frozen sausage to batter his way out at his store in Totnes, England.

Jan. 16 – Eyelashes froze when the temperature reached 88.6 degrees below zero in Russia’s remote region of Yakutia.

Feb. 9 – An Alliance, Ohio kindergarten student took a loaded handgun to school for show and tell, but had the gun confiscated by his school bus driver when the boy showed the weapon to the only other student on the bus.

Feb. 23 – A third-grade student fired a police officer’s revolver by reaching into the hostler and pulling the trigger during a safety demonstration at a Maplewood, Minnesota elementary school.

Feb. 27 – Entrepreneur.com reported that the three fastest growing franchises in the U.S. were Dunkin Donuts, 7-Eleven, and Planet Fitness.

March 13 – A study by Bar-Llan University showed that the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors was transferred to their children and grandchildren.

March 14 – A Seaside, California gun safety teacher’s weapon accidentally fired in class, injuring a student.

March 23 – Orange snow fell on much of Europe due to the combination of sandstorm winds mixing with moisture in snowstorms.

April 5 – A report that studied the Sahara Desert from 1920 to 2013 revealed that the desert, defined by areas that receive four inches of rain or less annually, had expanded by 10 percent in that timeframe.

April 9 – Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois became the first sitting U.S. Senator to give birth while in office.

April 13 – A photographer in Madeira Beach, Florida captured a shot of an osprey in flight carrying a shark that was eating a fish.

May 2 – A new report indicated that Americans ages 18 to 22 were far more likely than senior citizens to report being lonely and being in ill health.

May 3 – According to federal research released, the rate of people infected by ticks and mosquitoes has tripled in the last 13 years.

May 9 – A new study by researchers at MIT indicated that fasting could dramatically boost stem cells to regenerate.

May 15 – A Gaylord, Michigan couple opened the hood of their car to discover a squirrel had stuffed 50 pounds of pinecones in their engine compartment.

June 7 – A study showed that seven out of 10 Americans were experiencing news fatigue.

June 25 – A kangaroo bounded onto a Canberra, Australia soccer field, interrupting the play between two professional women’s soccer teams for 32 minutes.

July 3 – Mark Hough of Altadena, California found a black bear bobbing in his backyard hot tub and that the bear had finished off the margarita Hough had left behind.

July 10 – Costa Rica became the first country to ban fossil fuels.

July 21 – After receiving a ticket for speeding, an Iowa woman sped away from police who clocked her at 142 m.p.h. and gave her another citation.

July 27 – A pawn shop in Somerville, Massachusetts bought a stolen violin for $50 and discovered from police that its real value was $250,000.

August 1 – A State of the Climate report indicated that 2017 was the third warmest on record globally after 2016 and 2015.

August 5 – Right-handed reliever Oliver Drake became the first Major League Baseball player to pitch for five different teams in the same season.

August 10 – A new scientific study reported that insect-eating birds consume about 400 million tons of insects each year.

September 10- The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center reported that 600 million birds are killed annually in the U.S. by flying into buildings, most often at night when they are lured by illuminated office windows.

September 14 – New census data reported that Social Security, food stamps, and other government programs kept 44 million Americans out of poverty last year.

September 25 – A record 1,260 dogs attended the baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox during Chicago’s promotional Dogs’ Night Out event.

September 26 – The United Nations Refugee Agency reported that an unprecedented 68.5 million people globally have been forced from their homes.

October 15 – A report by the University of Missouri indicated that honeybees stopped flying during the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017.

October 31 – The journal Nature published a report that showed over the past quarter-century the Earth’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat than previously believed.

November 6 – The World Health Organization listed depression as the leading cause of disability in the world, with the U.S. leading the way with 13 percent of its population on anti-depressants.

November 9 – The Center for Disease Control reported that smoking rates in the U.S. at an all-time low, with 14 percent of adults who smoke cigarettes.

November 25 – A Bank of America ATM machine in Houston, Texas dispensed $100 bill instead of $10, and the bank allowed customers to keep the extra money.

December 8 – A 29-year-old Summerville, South Carolina man was arrested for arson after he allegedly burned several of his neighbors’ outdoor Christmas displays.

December 12 – The CDC listed fentanyl as the deadliest drug in the U.S., causing 18,000 deaths from overdoes in 2016.

December 14 – Snopes.com reported that the busiest day of the year for Chinese restaurants in the U.S. is Christmas Day.

Here’s hoping 2019 is a better year for our planet and all its inhabitants.

Happy New Year!

Let’s let the sun set on 2018.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Safe at Home!

youth baseball, grandson

In today’s world of youth baseball, it’s not always easy getting shots of your grandson in action. High chainlink fences wrap around the playing fields wherever we go to watch him play. I surmised that there are practical reasons for that. They serve as barriers between the spectators and the playing field, where only the players, coaches, and umpires are permitted.

The fences are an impediment to photographers who want to get the best shot possible of their children or grandchildren. In this case, I photographed my grandson batting. I used manual focus to blur the mesh fencing. When he hit a sharp liner to center, the ball skipped by the diving outfielder and rolled all the way to the outfield fence.

Our grandson raced around the bases and slid headfirst into home. The powdery red dirt ubiquitous in Virginia went flying. He was safe by a whisker for an inside the park home run.

“Safe at Home!” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Behold summer’s sights and sounds

Summer sunrise.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Memorial Day has come and gone. You know what that means? It’s the traditional but unofficial start to summer in the United States.

Public swimming pools will open to the sounds of laughter and joyous splashing by youngsters fresh out of school. They are the envy of those still laboring over mandated tests and counting the days until they, too, can roam free.

Church camps and scout camps and Bible schools will open their floodgates and let the children pour in. Snipe hunts and dreaded memorizations will commence just to get to the real treasures, homemade snacks.

The warning chirps of robins disturbed from their nests resound until inattentive humans continue on their way. The first broods of fledglings squawk and beg for their parents to feed them despite being nearly as big. If a brown-headed cowbird has snuck into a song sparrow’s nest, the scene can be grotesque.

At the feeder.
Lawn mowers, riding mowers, weed eaters, and leaf blowers join the summer society’s songfest, mostly off key. Those willing and able to expend the energy on their hands and knees for hours at a time do less intrusive weeding. Their rewards come in more than tidy flowerbeds. They enjoy the bees and butterflies flitting from bloom to bloom.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds zip from flower to flower, too. They supplement their diet with long sips at the local sugar water fountain to the delight of dedicated bird watchers everywhere.

Many times the best show is when the tiny birds chase one another high and low, zigzagging at light speed after one another even though there are plenty of places to perch and feed. Those in charge of refilling the feeders applaud the performances.

At night, the summer breezes diminish. Fireflies rise up out of the grasses and fields and light up the evening skies blinking their romantic messages. Overhead, commercial jets sail beneath the stars and planets that twinkle brightly.

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On the horizon, faint yellow flashes children like to label heat lightning interrupt the nighttime play. In reality, storms a hundred miles away had already driven other children indoors long before dark.

The next day, the sunrise blazed crimson and orange, signaling a fabled warning to sailors and civilians alike that rain was on its way. Sure enough, a squall line raced through, bending trees to the stress point. A few sacrificed a limb to save the whole.

Lightning flashed and crashed, and hailstones pelted the ripening strawberries to the dismay of both growers and customers. In suburbs and cities, torrents rutted gardens and sump pumps ran overtime.

Those were minor issued compared to the storms that others endure. All of this romanticizing and reminiscing about summer pales in comparison to those whose nights are peppered with gunshots and emergency sirens.

Summer in the city is filled with garden plots, swimming pools, day camps, and library readathons, too. Picnics in the park and taking in a baseball game, Major League or Little League, are also part of the warm weather entertainment.

Bicycling along picturesque country roads or designated bike paths hits its peak. Helmets are always a safety requirement.

Isn’t everything merely a matter of perspective and geography and circumstances?

We still have nearly three weeks until the summer solstice, the scientific start of fun in the sun. It’s also the day with the most daylight, giving us plenty of opportunities to enjoy the sights and sounds of summer yet to come.

Amish girls, Holmes Co. OH
Enjoying a summer’s day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

Clinging to hope despite experiencing the dark side of baseball

first pitch 2016 World Series
First pitch.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Another Major League Baseball season has begun. As a devoted Cleveland Indians fan, I’m hoping this will finally be the year they win it all. I say that every year. But this year is different.

Coming off of last year’s incredible run to the seventh game of the World Series, the Indians have a better than average chance of repeating as American League champions. That’s true if everything goes as planned. Like most things in life, they usually don’t. But Indians fans do what they have always done. We hope.

This year, however, my hope is less rosy, less enthusiastic. That has nothing to do with the Tribe’s chances.

It’s just that having attended my first ever World Series last year I saw the reality of professional baseball, the business end, the dark side if you will. I wasn’t impressed. My naiveté hit a brick wall.

Cleveland Indians, Progressive Field
Our “regular” seats.
As a member of a group of season ticket holders, we had prime opportunity to purchase our seats for the playoffs. Only, the seats we were given weren’t the ones we had during the regular season.

Our group discovered that Major League Baseball had confiscated our seats, and we had to purchase alternative seats two sections farther from home plate and twice as far from the field of play. MLB and the Indians treated other long-time season ticket holders similarly.

I didn’t have to inquire too far into the system to realize why. Money. Our tickets were being resold to the highest bidder, meaning they sold for thousands of dollars each.

The tickets for the substitute seats we were assigned went for half as much, if we wanted to sell them, which I didn’t. When I inquired of the Indians about the situation, I received no response.

I didn’t let that spoil my enjoyment of the World Series. I was happy for the Chicago Cubs, the World Series champions. I was elated for my oft-beleaguered Indians for just making it to the World Series.

erikkratzbybrucestambaugh
When Erik caught for the Phillies.
Still, a bad taste lingered in my mouth until the Indians signed the only professional baseball player I know personally, Erik Kratz. He’s an acquaintance of our daughter’s family. His son and our grandson played on the same baseball team and were in preschool together. Though I have seen him in those settings, Erik wouldn’t know me from Adam.

Erik is 37 years old. That’s ancient in baseball time. He is past his prime playing days. And yet, he keeps trying to make a major league team. This year it was with my Indians.

A sports writer chronicled Erik’s long and windy path to the major leagues. Even after all these twists and turns, the ups and downs, the trades, and releases, the opportunities, and disappointments, Erik gave a very positive perspective about why he keeps playing baseball.

True to his faith, Erik shared a story of hope, determination, and dedication to both his career as a baseball player and his family. His story awakened me from my first world pouting.

If Erik could endure all the circuitous travels across the country, and the emotional ups and downs between major and minor league teams, I could certainly buck it up and give baseball one more try. Hope should always triumph over disillusionment.

I decided that I would not let the bureaucratic dark side spoil my lifetime love for the game. After all, this could be the year the Cleveland Indians win it all.

Hope is a true healer of all ills, especially for diehard Cleveland Indians fans.

Cleveland Indians, fireworks
Hoping for World Series fireworks in 2017.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

Living in consideration of others

2016 World Series
Standing.

By Bruce Stambaugh

There we were, my four friends and I, fortunate to be among the thousands in attendance at Game 1 of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians.

I wish you could have seen us. I wish you all could have been there, too.

It was a dream World Series to be sure. The Cubs played the Indians in a battle between the two most title deficient teams in Major League Baseball. And we got to witness it. Well, mostly we did.

Joe and his son Jesse saw the game just fine from the mezzanine high in right field. Even though we had better seats than them, it was a different story for Kurt, Tim, and me. I was ever so grateful to be able to secure prime seats a dozen rows up from the Indians dugout. Don’t ask how. Just know I didn’t steal them.

Despite our excellent seats, much of the time we had trouble seeing what was happening on the field. Two guys three rows in front of us insisted on standing for most of the game.

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I felt like I was at the old cavernous Municipal Stadium with obstructed view seats, looking around old steel girders trying to see. Instead, these two middle-aged men stood. It’s the World Series they said. You’re supposed to stand.

Several fans and Indians staff members tried numerous times to persuade these two men to sit down. Still, the men stood. One person even kindly pointed out to the two human pillars that most of the folks sitting behind them were older, and didn’t have the stamina to stand that long.

The men were unfazed. It’s the World Series they reiterated. Between innings, they even taunted the people immediately around them. My friends and I just looked at one another in bewilderment. Kurt thought these men needed a lot of attention, and I had to agree.

On the way up to the game, our vanload of Tribe testosterone relished this glorious opportunity. Avid baseball fans all, we each agreed that is was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

As we neared the stadium, the excitement increased. Fans crowded the sidewalks. Between the Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavaliers were getting their championship rings, and the Indians Progressive Field, thousands of revelers milled around on the Gateway Plaza. The excitement was electric.

The Indians gave its standing room only crowd much to cheer about, winning 6 – 0. My friends and I indeed had a marvelous time that neither us may have again. The misbehavior of the pair of baseball statues couldn’t deter our enjoyment.

RTA, rapid transit
Happy to be on the train.
In this childish behavior of two adult men, there was a universal lesson to be learned. Be considerate of others wherever you are. Apparently, these two bullies hadn’t yet taken that class.

I thought about how others had shown kindness to us in the crush of the crowd. Police officers, passengers on the commuter train, other drivers in snarled traffic, and the ushers at the game all were considerate to us in giving directions, assistance when needed, and simply being courteous.

In a way, I was sad for these two men who couldn’t see the negative consequences of their selfish actions. Still, far greater injustices exist all around us that deserve our utmost consideration and attention.

In our coming and going in everyday life, we each have multiple opportunities to be considerate and compassionate to others. Sometimes we just need to sit down to see them.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016