Diving Catch

youth baseball, summer baseball
Diving Catch.

In the United States, summer means baseball. That’s especially true if your 13-year-old grandson is on a traveling baseball team. I was fortunate enough to accompany the team to a tournament more than three hours away. It was blazing hot and humid, but it was my grandson playing.

Of course, I always take my camera along. I was particularly pleased to capture this shot of Evan’s diving catch to save both a hit and a run from scoring. You should have seen his uniform after he made the play.

“Diving Catch” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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

Baseball’s playoffs have begun, minus Cleveland of course

former Cleveland Indians
The glory days.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Another Major League Baseball regular season is over. The playoffs have begun.

My favorite team won’t be playing in the postseason again this year, despite the extended playoff schedule. The Cleveland Indians have packed it in once again. Even the most casual baseball fan knows it’s not the first time.

The Indians have been in this position for most of their existence. The Cleveland club has only won the World Series twice. They came close in 1997. But 18 years later, it’s still too painful to recall.

Yes, I am a diehard Cleveland Indians fan, though I do wish they would change their mascot. We have the Cincinnati Reds. How about the Cleveland Blues? That name would appropriately represent the feelings of Cleveland’s fans this time every year.

Terry Francona, Rocky Colavito
Terry Francona and Rocky Colavito.

I would love to see the Indians win the World Series just once. To be fair, I was alive the last time the Indians won it all. Not that I remember it. I was a year old.

Like most other kids, I collected baseball cards growing up. In those days, we had to buy them one pack at a time and hope the flattened stick of bubblegum wasn’t too stale. I spent a lot of nickels saving those cards.

I wish I still had them. The cards accidentally got pitched while I attended college.

My favorite Cleveland Indians were Rocky Colavito, Minnie Minoso, Herb Score, Bubba Phillips, and of course Lou Klimchock. He led the Indians in hitting in 1969 with a whopping .287 average.

I’d stay up late at night listening to Jimmy Dudley call the games on the radio. For some strange reason, he always seemed more excited at the beginning of the season than at the end. I think I know why.

I remember going to a doubleheader game on Father’s Day against the dreaded and perennial powerhouse New York Yankees. The Indians had won the first two games of the series. We sat out in the left field stands in old Municipal Stadium. A standing room only crowd packed the cavernous place.

Hall of Famers like Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and the late Yogi Berra filled the Yankee roster. Cleveland won both games and swept the series. Our spirits were high.

baseball fan, Cleveland Indians
Typical fan?

It seemed like every year the Tribe played their hearts out and built hope against hope that this might finally be the year. But once the Fourth of July rolled around, the Tribe did their annual swan song. By season’s end, the Yankees were the American League champions. The Indians? Well, take a guess.

Keep in mind those were the days when the team that won the pennant in each league went to the World Series. It was all or nothing. It’s been zip for Cleveland for too long.

Hopes rose again when Cleveland built a new stadium, affectionately called The Jake, now corporately named Progressive Field. Unfortunately, the Tribe still hasn’t made much progress toward winning it all.

The Indians have gone to the playoffs a few times in the last two decades. But some of those winning teams were filled with shining stars bloated with egos and steroids. No names mentioned, however.

Since that era, the season has usually ended right on schedule for the Tribe. When that happens, just like this year, all faithful Cleveland Indians fans know what to say.

“Wait until next year!” We always do.

Slider, grandsons
Better than a World Series win.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

Never stop running

inthedugoutbybrucestambaugh
Erik Kratz, right, when he played for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2013.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Erik Kratz is a catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. My wife and I like to watch him play whenever we can.

We cheer for the Cleveland Indians of course. We follow Erik for a selfish reason. He and his family are friends with our daughter and her family. Our grandson and Erik’s son were in preschool together, and they played on the same baseball team.

We have spoken with Erik a few times while visiting our grandkids in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where both families live. Like our daughter and son-in-law, Erik is a graduate of Eastern Mennonite University.

warmingupbybrucestambaugh
The only time we got to see Erik in action was when he came out to warm up the pitcher between innings.
It would be a stretch for me to say that I know Erik. We know who he is, and watched his son and our grandson play. But because of the close connection to our daughter and her family, we like to watch when the Blue Jays are on television and Erik is playing, which isn’t all that often. It’s the price of being a backup player.

Recently, a game between the Blue Jays and the Twins was broadcast nationally. Erik got to start the game. On his first at bat, he popped the ball high in the air behind second base.

Both the shortstop and second baseman sprinted to catch the ball while the centerfielder, who was playing deep, ran in, too. The infielders arrived at the ball at the same time, and collided. The ball dropped, and Erik was safe at second, credited with a double.

Before the game with the Indians, Erik spoke with a friend of mine who just happened to go to high school with Erik's father.
Before the game with the Indians, Erik spoke with a friend of mine who just happened to go to high school with Erik’s father.
My wife, who really knows the game of baseball, said enthusiastically, “That just goes to show that you never give up running.” Neva was right on.

Too many times I’ve seen Major League players hit a sure double-play grounder, or a pop-up like Erik’s, and the batter assumes the fielder will cleanly make the play. He gives up running hard, only to discover that the ball was bobbled or thrown away or, like in Erik’s case, dropped.

But because the runner assumed the ball would be caught, the fielders had a second chance. Many times the batter was thrown out despite the miscue because he had quit running.

I thought a lot about what Neva said. Never quit running, not in baseball, not in any sport, not in a business, not in relationships, not in life. Regardless of the odds, keep on running.

My brother-in-law, who is my age, has gone through some traumatic physical issues in his lifetime, some even life threatening. But Bob has never given up. He always, always has kept a positive attitude no matter how serious the situation.

His determination, along with excellent medical care and a strong support group of wife, family and friends, have kept him running, metaphorically speaking. If he had given up, he likely wouldn’t still be with us. But he is.

erikkratzbybrucestambaugh
Erik Kratz.
I admire that in people. No matter the odds, they keep plugging on. Determination, goals, grit, desire, love, moxie, patience, encouragement all are ingredients in living a fulfilling, meaningful, useful life.

I’m glad my brother-in-law has survived another medical episode. His faith and determination surely helped him through, and will continue to do so during his rehab sessions.

I’m glad Erik kept running, too. As it turned out, he didn’t score a run. But that really wasn’t the point. He put himself in position to score. It was up to his teammates to bring him home.

So keep on running, just like Bob and Erik. Isn’t that what life is really all about anyhow?

A game-winning hit by Erik Kratz

(June 23, 2014 update: The Blue Jays sent Erik Kratz to their AAA-minor league team, Buffalo, today.)

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014.

Three spring things

progressivefieldbybrucestambaugh

By Bruce Stambaugh

At long last, spring has officially arrived. Let’s hope it is a spring to remember, just like the recent winter we’d like to forget.

We could use the emotional and psychological boost of spring’s vernal offerings after winter’s long, cold stranglehold on so much of North America. Winter was simply brutal.

springbybrucestambaugh
Spring!
Spring offers up its joyous splendor in so many ways. The greening of the yards and fields, the welcoming blossoms of trees, plants and flowers that gloriously unfurl intermittently the next few months. All are coaxed by spring’s gradually warming temperatures that tend to also thaw our frosted emotive reservations.

Another springtime blessing for me is the start of baseball season. Baseball is in my blood, always has been, likely always will be. I admire the skills needed to be an all-around good position player, being equally proficient in the field and at bat. I marvel at the abilities of pinpoint pitchers, too.

Since my youth, I have faithfully and humbly followed the checkered history of the Cleveland Indians with both passion and annual disappointment. Count it as a masochistic character flaw.

As a youngster, I played baseball, and collected and traded baseball cards. That hobby was passed on to my son, who bought them by the box load, instead of the pack. I still have a few my cards. Our son still has a whole bunch of his, and his mother and I wish he would come get them.

I will confess, however, that with the recent revelations of steroids and the exorbitant salaries for playing a child’s game, I have grown a bit disillusioned about Major League Baseball. It’s lost its innocent appeal. Come opening day, however, I likely will be glued to the television, and I have already purchased tickets for several Indians games.

Between the official beginning of spring and baseball’s first pitch of the new season, another more significant and meaningful event occurs in my life. My wife and I will soon celebrate 43 years of marriage.

That number alone is hard for me to contemplate. It seems like only yesterday that I accidentally stepped on her wedding train, rightfully earning my first finger pointing. We quickly got over that, but obviously I never forgot it. Neither has my wife.

happycouplebybrucestambaugh
The happy couple.
When you are married that long, there are too many other cherished memories to build on to allow the small, petty disputes to devalue a loving relationship. I feel extremely grateful for the multitude of positive experiences my wife and I have had together over the years.

Yes, like most every other couple, we have had our differences at times. I recognize that I haven’t been the easiest person to live with. Even though she talks while walking away from me and I can’t find my underwear in the underwear drawer, we somehow have survived.

I am not holding our marriage up as a model of perfection, because it hasn’t been. We have, however, held on, embraced each other and each day as one regardless of the circumstances we encounter or what obstacles or disappointments have clogged the way forward.

Indeed, gratitude has far overshadowed grief. Our son and our daughter are grown, successful adults with loving spouses. We have three energetic, creative grandchildren and one ornery grand cat.

For 43 years, we have lived, loved and persevered. That accomplishment alone is more wondrous than any fragrant-filled garden, or even a magical, unlikely World Series win by the Cleveland Indians.

fireworksbybrucestambaugh
Perhaps some day fireworks will celebrate an Indians World Series Championship.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2014

The reality of being a forlorn Cleveland Indians fan

Field box seats by Bruce Stambaugh
The view from our seats keeps you in the game.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I have always been a fan of the Cleveland Indians. It must be the masochist in me.

Cleveland was and remains geographically the closest city with a major league baseball team. It was only logical that I follow them. Loyalist that I am, I have remained a true fan through thick and thin. Believe me, there have been a lot of lean years in my lifetime.

In part, that’s why I was a bit taken aback by the recent remarks of Indians’ closer Chris Perez. The young relief pitcher, not one to be shy with his words, vehemently chastised the Cleveland fan base for not supporting the team. At the time, the Tribe, as they are affectionately known, was in first place in the standings and last in attendance in the major leagues. That displeased Perez.

Roommates by Bruce Stambaugh
One of my college roommates met me at Progressive Field for an Indians game.

In a sport where clichés are the standard, it’s not how well you start the season, but where you end it. After winning 30 of their first 45 games last year, the Indians finished the season with a losing record. Like so many seasons before, their fast start melted with the summer heat.

Although I understood Perez’ point, I don’t think he comprehended the perspective of lifetime Indians fans. We have seen it all before. I doubt Perez knows about Max Alvis tripping over third base, turning a routine popup into a double. Or watching Tony Horton crawl back to the dugout on his knees after striking out on a blooper pitch. Or the embarrassing fiasco of “Ten Cent Beer Night.” More to his point, the Indians have been in this position time and time again.

Pick off by Bruce Stambaugh
Over the years, the Cleveland Indians have done about as much diving out of first place as they have diving back to first base.
Take 1961. On Father’s Day weekend, the perennial powerhouse New York Yankees were in town for a four game series. I watched the first two games on black and white television, and had tickets for the doubleheader on Father’s Day.

Cleveland won Friday’s game and then came back in dramatic fashion to beat the hated Yankees on Saturday 10-9. This was in the old Municipal Stadium, a cavern of a place that held 80,000 people. The Sunday games were standing room only. In those days, you could see two games for the price of one, which made doubleheaders so popular.

Fans stood five and six people deep behind the chain-linked fence, which arched the parameters of the outfield from foul pole to foul pole. The meshed fence then was not padded, which allowed the fans to see the action. Cleveland handily won both games, sweeping the series from the mighty Yankees.

Choo at bat by Bruce Stambaugh
Over the years, the Indians have had many good players like Shin-Soo Choo, only to lose them to free agency or trade them.

In the traffic jam outside the stadium, people were nearly delirious with joy. They were already celebrating as if the Indians had won the American League pennant. That proved slightly premature. By season’s end, the Yankees had won the league with the Indians far down in the standings.

In the off-season, the manager was fired. Players were traded, and that pattern was repeated for the next 30 years with no better results. Try as they might, the Indians always fell flat. The reality for the Indians fans was first place at the 4th of July, last place by September 30.

Verlander by Bruce Stambaugh
Late in a recent game vs. Detroit, Justin Verlander was still throwing 102 m.p.h., possibly out of frustration. The Indians won 2-1.
Of course that all changed in the 1990s when the Indians built a new stadium, spent big bucks acquiring free agent stars and grooming outstanding players in the farm system. Tribe fans were hysterical when the Indians went to the World Series in 1995 and 1997, only to lose both times.

The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948. Only the beloved Chicago Cubs have had a longer dry spell. And yet, there is no stigma to being a Cubs fan like there is cheering for the Indians.

I won’t let that deter me, however. It’s not yet July 4th. There’s always hope, and of course, if this season goes as previous ones, always next year.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012

Two lifetime experiences in one day

From the press box by Bruce Stambaugh
The view I had from the press box at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I had looked forward to this day for a long, long time.

A reporter friend of mine asked me if I wanted to accompany him to a Cleveland Indians game with seats in the press box. Big kid that I am, it was a lifetime dream of mine to do so.

For years I had wondered what it would be like to sit in the press box to watch a baseball game. Last week, my dream came true with an unexpected bonus.

To get me through the press gate, my reporter friend, who will remain nameless for professional reasons, listed me as his photographer. Good thing I had taken my camera along.

My excitement settled soon after attaching the yellow press tag to my belt loop. Our planned first stop on my behind-the-scenes tour of Progressive Field was the playing field to watch batting practice and mingle with the players and coaches. But this game was the day game of a day-night double-header. There was no batting practice.

Progressive Field by Bruce Stambaugh
My regular seat at Progressive Field is just above my left shoulder, seven rows back.

Since I was actually standing on the playing field I wasn’t all that disappointed. My friend took my picture in front of the Indians dugout and by the Indians on deck circle, which is directly in front of where I usually sit as a fan.

We headed into the Indians dugout. I sat in the shade on the bench a few feet from some player who had completely shaved his head. It was Justin Masterson, the starting pitcher for the Indians.

Soon we made our way down the tunnel and up the ramp to the players’ clubhouse. We rubbed shoulders with several players, but passed them without speaking according to media-player etiquette. All in all, I found the locker room to be much less luxurious than I had envisioned.

I had a similar reaction when we entered the media dining room. It was spacious, but reminded me of a college cafeteria, only with a nice view. We signed in and paid for the buffet. Thoughts of the media being coddled began evaporating. Once I tasted the food, the memories of college continued.

Across the hall was the press box, curving left and right high above and behind home plate. Here, too, I was surprised. Instead of plush, I saw plain. The press box was more functional than cushy. There was plenty of room to work, but it really wasn’t the best view from the third row where we were assigned to sit.

Reporters at work by Bruce Stambaugh
Reporters hard at it in the Progressive Field press box.

It was unexpectedly quiet, too. With deadlines to meet, the reporters simply minded their own business and watched the game.

The game moved right along until 1:51 p.m. when the press box itself began to move. I felt an obvious swaying east to west. I asked my friend if he felt it. Indeed he did.

Other reporters swiveled their heads with astonished looks on their faces. The press box rocked and rolled for 30 seconds, stopped briefly, then began again, only not as severely nor as long.

Someone checked on the Internet and said that the Pentagon was being evacuated because of an earthquake centered in Virginia. Here I was in my first and probably only major league press box and I had also experienced my first earthquake.

I had always wondered what a quake felt like. Now I knew. I felt both nauseated and exhilarated.

With those lifetime experiences realized together, I happily took my usual seat at the next Indians game I attended.

Batter up by Bruce Stambaugh
The view from my regular seat at Progressive Field is much improved over the press box.