As the first games of spring training were played on Friday and Saturday on lush green fields, spring poked its early head out a little on a short exploratory mission, and the full reawakening from winter cannot be far behind. Those green fields were so impressive to me as a child when I attended my first few Major League games. Growing up In a black and white world of two-dimensional, binary TVs and newspaper articles, the vast uninterrupted expanses of green outfields always beckoned to me and stirred in me an excitement of great possibilities. Even though ace pitchers like the great competitor, Max Scherzer, are being held to a 30 or so pitch limit in these early spring games, you could sense how much he wants to break out and move ahead to full competition, and all the promise that might hold. Out of icy, winter mix days of February, hope and promise lie ahead.
Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Don Newcombe passed away at 92. He was a civil rights pioneer, a 27 game winner, and a durable and often overpowering pitcher, who was one of baseball’s greatest hitting pitchers. He had back-to-back years with 20-5 and 27-7 records, and in one of those legendary years, hit seven homers and batted 359. He had a lifetime won-loss percentage of .623, and a lifetime batting average of 271. Don Newcombe, was the first of only two players in baseball history to win Rookie of the Year (in 1949), and the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award honors (in 1956); the other player is Justin Verlander.
After spending two years in military service, Newcombe returned to baseball in 1954, disappointed to find that various aspects of baseball, including team road trips were still subject to segregation. He and Jackie Robinson spoke out successfully to help lift a number of racial barriers. Late in his career, when faced with a drinking problem, he successfully turned his life around to give up drinking, and, in retirement, became baseball's foremost counselor for players in their battles against alcohol and substance abuse.
He was truly a great competitor (in so many respects), and a craftsman, and I was lucky enough to witness several of his pitching and hitting masterpieces.
Saturday, February 9, 2019
Yes, it was a clear, crisp, and cold Saturday night, and I knew, after a while, that it was a night to hear some Bruce-like sounds. Maybe it felt this way because it was a cold night like a “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out,” or maybe it was a night to be “Dancing in the Dark.” Whatever it was, it was somehow in the air scattered about my hometown.
A few nights ago, I heard that songwriters Cynthia Weill and Barry Mann wrote “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” recorded by Eric Burden and the Animals, an emotional anthem of the late 60s that was a great influence on Bruce Springsteen and his Born to Run spirit. Many years ago, I interviewed Barry Mann for the Good Times magazine—still going strong in Long Island at 50 years. Barry and I really hit it off that day, and it felt like a special interview. We spent several hours exchanging ideas about what was great rock music, and we explored, in some small way, the mysteries of how it was created. That day, I felt like I tapped into the source of some great rock and this special connection to Barry Mann, thereby connected me to Bruce as if I introduced Bruce to the Mann/Weill song.
Tonight, a few blocks from my home, on a nearby hometown-main street, Bruce in the USA, a Bruce cover band was playing at the local State Theatre. I have to admit that I always feel a little ambivalent about cover bands, because true rock seems unbounded, and a cover band tends to imitate and stay within its boundaries. So I was ambivalent, and did not buy tickets in advance. When I got to the State Theatre and waited in line, I ran into an old friend who I had not seen for a while, so it was already a good night. But the cover band was sold out, and I would not be hearing live Bruce-like sounds tonight.
Thursday, February 7, 2019
Frank Robinson passed away today at the age of 83. He had a 51-year long and storied career as a baseball player, manager, and executive. He was the rookie of the year at 20, and the first to win the Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in both leagues. In 1966, one of his MVP years, he won the Triple Crown, and helped bring Baltimore its first World Series championship. Wherever he played, from Cincy, to Baltimore, to LA, to Cleveland he brought his powerful bat, his graceful fielding, and his warm-hearted yet hard-working attitude. He became the first African-American manager in baseball as a player-manager in Cleveland, and became the first Nats manager in DC. In the DC/Baltimore area, we were privileged to witness many of his accomplishments and his continual drive for excellence. He made his mark with greatness and we will miss him.