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

Fickle fall foments melancholy mood

falling leaves, autumn
Office view.

By Bruce Stambaugh

A day after I cleaned up the leaves from our yard, the rain, the wind, and gravity conspired to undo my work. It was to be expected, especially when a grove of deciduous trees surrounds your house.

I sat by the office window and watched the spent leaves rain down like snow showers in January. A gusty northwest breeze twirled the faded leaves every which way, performing independent pirouettes in a splendid ballet. Their curtain call played out on the front lawn.

I’ve seen this performance before of course. Every year about this time. However, this fall’s frolic struck anew at the melancholy that I felt about the scene, the season, my station in life.

Perhaps the steely sky with its dense layer of leaden clouds set the mood for the day. It couldn’t have been the Indians loss in the seventh game of the World Series or the lack of sleep from watching the previous week’s worth of late-night contests. When you’re a Cleveland sports fan, denial is an all-consuming trait that blinds and dulls one’s wits.

Yet, here I was in my stupor enjoying the unfolding act, blah as the elements were. The living picture painted before me seemed just about right for the occasion, and definitely for the season.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one hung over from too much adrenaline-driven loyalty and sleep deprivation. However, I couldn’t help but sense that my malaise was so much more than that.

Seasonal changes do that to us, especially as we age. Like the falling colorful leaves, the Greatest Generation is also fading fast. They bequeath their burdens to their progeny, unworthy boomers who think they have changed the world for the better when it’s clearly the other way around.

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Perhaps it was because my wife was still fulfilling her autumnal obligations in Virginia. Only the delicious day before I had taken lunch and supper alone on the porch. I missed her company and her cooking.

The blustery day wore on as dreary days can do. But in the process, a slow metamorphosis transpired. I would have noticed it earlier had it not been for my manly self-pity.

Patches of blue began to divide the gray cotton rolls roiling overhead. Even the wind subsided, providing an intermission to the leafy operetta. I began to take notice, to think outside myself, to seek the wisdom of others through writings and paintings and photos.

I called my friend Dan, who only recently had lost his father. I had missed the viewing and wanted to visit to express my sympathies. He invited me up to his place in the early evening, which I accepted.

Dan wanted me to arrive about an hour before I showed up. I wanted to shoot the sunset first. The sky had significantly cleared by early evening except for a few high clouds, the kind that often makes for a splendid sunset. Just when I thought the western drama had waned, a fiery encore danced across the sky.

I stopped the car just a quarter of a mile from Dan’s. His observant wife Anna saw the vehicle and figured it must be me. It’s a good feeling when your friends know you so well. They welcomed me into their humble home, and I gleefully shared my photos.

When the clock struck 8, I knew it was time to leave. Otherwise, I’d likely still be there, conversing and listening and laughing, though life had fallen heavy upon us like the morning’s leaves waltzing to the grass.

melancholy sunset
Fiery enchore.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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

Autumn, an appropriate metaphor for life

colorful leaves, autumn leaves
The trees near Ivan’s home.

By Bruce Stambaugh

With our numerous stands of mixed hardwoods, I always look forward to fall’s colorful leaf display. In our busied lives, however, the transition from green to gold seems to take forever. But in a flash or a persistent wind, the trees all stand leafless.

That realization confronted me as the autumn leaves reached their vibrant peak when I received word of Ivan’s death in the middle of the afternoon. Ivan was a valued member of the cancer support group to which I belong. I had visited with him in the hospital only a week earlier knowing that his time was near.

Still, when I heard the sad news, tears of sorrow flowed for Ivan and his family. Our intimate group had welcomed him in, and he contributed far more than his usually quiet demeanor would have suggested. Later that same evening, joy overcame my sadness as my favorite team, the Cleveland Indians, claimed Major League Baseball’s American League pennant. It was a bittersweet moment, one that Ivan would have relished with me.

Right after the final out, I called my friend Tim, also an avid Indians fan. He was as giddy as I was. When I invited him to the first game of the World Series, I think he fell over.

I was fortunate to have secured tickets for the opening World Series game long before the Cleveland club even began the postseason. I hoped beyond hope that they would make it, and they had. I wanted Tim to share in the joy of seeing a World Series game in Cleveland with me.

The leaves were still coloring up when I left Virginia’s majestic Shenandoah Valley the next day to return home for Ivan’s viewing. Paying my respects to the family became a personal priority.

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I had traveled the same roads from Ohio to Virginia just after visiting Ivan the previous week. The leaves in the mountains of western Maryland and northern West Virginia were near their peak. Those in both Ohio and Virginia were turning, but still had a ways to go.

I was amazed at what a difference those few days had made. Patches of red, gold, and burgundy dotted the forested mountain slopes. On the ridges above, giant white windmills twirled in the autumn breezes.

giant wind turbines, fall leaves
Beauty and the beasts.
I thought about Don Quixote jousting with those Dutch windmills. I was satisfied to simply photograph this real live contrast of beauty and the beast and continued on my way.

When I got to Maryland’s mountains highest altitude where I thought the colors would be the brightest, I was disappointed. Many of the leaves had already dropped. Some trees were completely bare.

When I stopped for lunch, I commented to the waiter about my disappointment in missing the peak coloration. I was three days too late, he said.

That happens in life. Our timing just isn’t what it might have been.

It was dark and pelting rain when I arrived at home. But just the illumination from my car’s headlights told me the sturdy sugar maple in my backyard was glowing showy orange.

The combination of rain and wind brought down lots of leaves. But plenty remained for all to enjoy.

Baseball. World Series. Friends. Fall’s coloring contest. I know these precious moments will all wither away like the last leaves of autumn, which passes by us in a vapor.

Life can be like that, too, a hard but applicable metaphorical reality.

orange sugar maple
Our backyard treasure.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

October surprises

giant pumpkins
Even giant pumpkins aren’t a surprise in October.

By Bruce Stambaugh

In case you’ve been too busy to notice, surprise! It’s October!

October is famous for its surprises, especially political ones like in the current presidential campaigns. Both natural and human-generated events are said to sway the election’s outcome. Given the tone of this election, nothing will shock me.

That aside, this year has seemed to have just melted away for me. That’s certainly been no surprise at all given the record-breaking heat and the significant changes that cropped up in my life.

Globally, we’ve had 11 straight months of record warmth. When it comes to climate change, misery loves company. No one was exempt.

The transition process of going from living in Ohio to moving to Virginia has been both exciting and fatiguing, especially mentally. After residing in the same house for nearly four decades, a lot of decisions have had to be made, sometimes rather quickly.

We can opine about those situations all we want. That still won’t change the fact that October is here. For me, that’s a good thing. October has always been one of my favorite months.

Our granddaughter would likely agree. Maren turns seven soon.

mums, Ohio's Amish country
Mums the word.
As we begin the year’s 10th month, we know in general what to anticipate. We won’t know the particular details, of course, until they unfold.

In the Northern Hemisphere, harvest season is peaking. Field corn is drying on the stalks or in shocks on some Amish farms. Apples, pears, pumpkins, squash, gourds, fall flowers and the last of the vegetable garden crops brighten kitchens and spirits alike.

In the Southern Hemisphere, the anticipation of spring is over. Our October is their April. That seems only fair. As life ends in one locale, it begins anew in another.

As their leaves unfurl, ours start to drop. The central question reoccurs from New England to the southern Appalachian Mountains and far to the west. What will the persistent dryness do to the leafy colors?

colorful gourds
Fall colors and textures.
Produce farmers earnestly watch the weather forecasts for any hint of first frosts. October is often the scene of that crime. Most folks relish the finer, more favorable weather. It should come as no surprise that I’d be leading that pack.

Start to finish October often is a handsome month. Golden leaves against cerulean skies dotted with patches of cottony clouds create a natural beauty that even the most sullen person can’t ignore. If they do, it’s surely their loss.

Sports enthusiasts are in their glory, too. Football is in full swing. Basketball is about to begin. Golfers revel in the perfect days but curse the cold in the next breath.

For me, October baseball still rules. The Cleveland Indians are playing once again in the playoffs. It’s the first time in three years, and even then that joy only lasted until the mighty Casey struck out in a one-and-done event.

That won’t happen this year. The Indians are Major League Baseball’s American League Central Division champions. I know for many, many folks, that was indeed an October surprise. Not to me, faithful, perpetual, loyal fan that I am. I’m ready for some post-season baseball.

Remember back in June when I sort of tongue in cheek suggested the Chicago Cubs would play the Cleveland Indians in the World Series? Well, wouldn’t that be a magnificent October surprise, the kind that any red-blooded American baseball fanatic could only dream of, except me?

I won’t be surprised at all. But if that does happen, it definitely will be an October for many to remember.

Cleveland Indians scoreboard
Celebration time?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

The unforeseen rewards of sleeping in

Amish homes
Pleasant morning.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I slept in. It was Saturday after all. It’s the way lots of folks begin their weekend.

For me, though, arising after 7 a.m. was abnormal even on weekends. I like to beat the sun to its dawn.

I needed the sleep after two consecutive late night outings. Now, the terms “late night” take on significant and liberal interpretation when you are a grandparent and not a teenager.

Thursday I attended another fun night in Cleveland with a good friend. I arrived extra early to avoid the guaranteed congestion since the Indians weren’t the only act in town. Sir Paul McCartney was playing next door to the Tribe, and the Browns lost another football game in front of their faithful mass of masochists.

In other words, the town was full of excited folks. Having lived and worked in the city many moons ago, I walked around the downtown area a bit to kill time and to view the remade public square. I was impressed with the space and the all-around cleanliness of the place.

Downtown Cleveland
Fun in Cleveland.
People sat at street side tables in front of restaurants enjoying the cuisine, drinks, and one another. I found the corner where three decades ago I had crossed the street with 30 first and second graders and their teacher. A religious street barker with hand-printed signs and tracts stopped his doomsday bellowing and moseyed up to me. He quietly asked me if the children were Pilgrims. I stoically replied that they were Amish, and followed the class across the intersection.

I spent a marvelous evening at the ballpark with my friend Rob. Happily, it was another last at-bat win for the Indians.

Elvis, Mark Lonsinger, Millersburg OH
Elvis.
Friday evening was just as much fun. My buddy Tim and I went to hear our friend Elvis perform his last gig for the summer in Millersburg. We weren’t disappointed and met lots of other friendly fans.

Both nights I was up way past my bedtime. So I wasn’t surprised that I had slept through sunrise on Saturday. I needed the rest.

Well behind my usual start time, I wanted to get my walk in before the late summer Saturday warmed too much. I discovered that being tardy had its enjoyable rewards.

I usually walk uninterrupted. Not this day.

morning walk
Where I walk.
Good neighbor Mary was already weeding her roadside flowerbeds. We chatted a while as Baltimore Orioles chased one another in the grove of trees at the south edge of my property. Their brilliant orange blazed neon in the sharp-slanting morning light.

An Eastern Phoebe called from a cluster of hardwoods just as I ran into Brian, another neighbor. We talked about his work, the warm weather, and the exhilaration of yet another fantastic Indians comeback victory.

I turned the corner and met my next-door neighbor, Trish, who was in the home stretch of her morning walk. I didn’t delay her long.

Girls in cerulean dresses pedaling bicycles and families in jet-black buggies silently greeted me with head nods and quick waves of hands. It felt good to be alive.

On the return trip to home, another young neighbor caught up with me on his four-wheeler. He was out scouting hunting spots with the season about to begin. A mourning dove sat atop a snag of a dying ash tree, perhaps eavesdropping on Tyler’s hunting secrets.

Annie Yoder
Annie.
I floated with elation the short distance remaining to my house. I was that invigorated by the gorgeous morning, the multitude of spontaneous interpersonal connections I had had, all after two enjoyable evenings with friends.

In the afternoon, I drove to Wooster to celebrate with my friend Annie on the release of her new album “Thousand.” True to form, she belted it out to the delight of all who attended.

Maybe I need to sleep in more often.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

Sights, sounds say August is waning

field corn
Rows and rows.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t need a calendar to know we’ve past August’s midpoint. The sights and sounds, signs and symptoms abound.

Day by day, the sun rises brilliant and bold closer to the center of the horizon. Ghostly layers of morning fog drift above row after row of tan tasseled field corn, the stalks stunted by the parching summer heat and subpar precipitation.

Teachers’ cars already sit early and stay late in school parking lots while their masters slave away in the sweltering classrooms on their own time, already preparing for the year ahead. Mothers, brothers, cousins, nieces, and nephews accompany the fortunate ones, cutting out letters for holiday bulletin boards or hanging artwork to brighten the sterile schoolroom.

Workdays and evenings repeat the same preparations at Amish parochial schools. Schoolyards get mowed, windows washed, desks and books readied, backstops repaired, all to ensure everything is a go for the teachers and scholars on day one.

The busy buzz of back to school sales replaced the monotonous cicada chorus. Youngsters were glad for both.

The Holmes County Fair is over, this year celebrating not just another successful week, but its new digs. Farmers secretly wish the county commissioners would move up the start of the fair by a month just to get the rain when it’s needed the most. It poured right on schedule.

Multi-shades of brown paint the landscape. Flowers, well watered in the morning, wilt by afternoon.

Applesauce, sweet corn, and tomatoes are canned and frozen within days of one another. There is no rest for the gardeners, chefs, and lovers of all things natural, homegrown, and home-cooked. Succotash in January is the plan.

Orange barrels multiply overnight. Everyone’s pace quickens, except in construction zones. Time is fleeting, but we can neither increase nor decrease its speed.

At night, windows are thrown open even in homes with air conditioning. The concerts of the katydids and crickets are the reward.

The Perseid meteor showers, even more spectacular this year than most, are waning, along with the lightning bugs. Nature’s fireworks announce autumn’s awakening like an opened wedding invitation.

The boys of summer are sorting themselves out in some divisions, and bunching up in others. It’s marvelous to see the Cleveland Indians giving it ago, and those annoying Yankees not so much.

Footballers, pro, college, and high school, practice in the heat. Come playoffs, you can see the quarterback’s breath bark out the plays, we’re that close to the cold.

This year the Olympics caught the tail of summer’s dog days if one cared to watch. I chose to view the evening sky’s gold, silver, and bronze as the insects sang.

American Goldfinches, some of the last birds to incubate, escort their young to the feeders. Their thistledown nests will soon weather away in the forsythias.

August sunsets try hard to outdo the sunrises. Often the orange ball simply slinks out of sight, leaving only contrails glowing in the west.

From month’s beginning to end, nighttime quickens, too, and we wonder where both August and the summer went. They’re still here, just in shorter increments.

Despite the mini-drought, a rainbow of fruits and vegetables color local produce stands. Yellow, gold, crimson, and purple early blooming mums clash with the ubiquitous Bubblegum petunias. No one complains.

Wildfires burn out west, the result of global weirding and human intrusion on wildlife habitat. Like the drought, the fires will end though the intrusive expansions will not.

As August fades, life’s steady heartbeat thumbs its way into September. Are you ready?

Olympic sunset
Gold, silver, and bronze.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016