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Little League Stadium Williamsport PA

Little League Stadium, Williamsport PA

It’s been an emotionally draining period these last few weeks as we brought my father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s back to this area from Florida.  It’s been hard watching him in his diminished physical and mental state and placing him in a local nursing facility where he could get the care he truly needs didn’t bring a lot of relief.  There’s a constant mild anxiety, a sense of worry mixed with sorrow and just a little guilt.

I know that it will get better by degrees but that is small comfort in the moment.

Yesterday, I finally picked up a brush for the first time in a few weeks.  I knew I had to get back into it because of obligations I have but more so because painting has been my escape route through the years, that place of retreat for me from the problems of the world.  I have found that I can translate my problems, my concerns into paint and off my shoulders.  It felt good yesterday but I still wasn’t able to fully get a foothold in that world.  I was still straddling that calmer place and the new world and environment of my father.

I am sure it was partly because his situation represents a change in my normal routine.  I am an extreme creature of habit and have worked for years to build a healthy and productive routine.  So this change was an upheaval that will take some time to work around and rebuild a new routine that works for me.

I am hoping that today finds me closer to that other world in the paint.  I feel that it will. But if it doesn’t do it today at least I have another constant, another part of my routine to which I can turn with the assurance that it will almost always have something to offer.

Baseball.

The baseball gods can be merciless.  Ask a Chicago Cubs fan.  But sometimes they show a little tenderness and mercy, giving you a wonderful gift (or an escape route) when you really need it.

Over the past few weeks it has been a real boost and diversion to watch the emergence of rookie catcher Gary Sanchez for the Yankees who has been putting on a historic power display as the heir apparent to the legacy of Ruth, Gehrig Dimaggio, Mantle and Jeter.  There’s a buzz every time he steps to the plate that is a thrill to behold.  I know that it can’t last at this pace but when the baseball gods smile you have to just enjoy the moment.

Plus these same baseball gods even decided to give a local Little League team from just down the road in Maine-Endwell a bit of magic as they made their way to the final game of the Little League World Series where they play the kids from South Korea today for the championship down in Williamsport.

So today I will visit Dad, try to find a world in the paint and root for those kids from Maine-Endwell.  For this Sunday’s music, here’s a great song from Mabel Scott that pays homage to those baseball gods.  It’s Baseball Boogie  and the video features some great footage of Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, Willie Mays and Ted Williams.  Take a look, let your toes tap and have a great day.  Go, Maine-Endwell!

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Ralph Fasanella - Night Game/ 'Tis a Bunt 1981

Ralph Fasanella – Night Game/ ‘Tis a Bunt 1981

GC Myers -Foundation smAh, the dark days of winter are receding.  The trees are budding out and the green of the grass (under the newly fallen four inches of snow!) is pushing aside the dead growth of a long gone last year.  The robins have returned and once again the world makes sense–  the daily metronome that is major league baseball returns today.

It’s opening day.

I am not going to wax poetic today about the game, its history or the place that it holds in the hearts of so many.  It just feels like the real New Year’s Day for me and many other fans, that day on which the year truly begins.

The painting at the top, Night Game/ ‘Tis a Bunt,  is one of my favorite baseball paintings from the great folk painter Ralph Fasanella.  I love this particular piece and the way the baseball diamond feels more like a real diamond in an ornate and wondrous setting.  Great piece.  And this piece on the right is from my own baseball series from a few years back.  I loved doing that series and these pieces remain among my personal favorites.  I haven’t painted one in a while but sometimes think about revisiting that old ballfield.

For this Sunday Morning Music, in honor of the game, I’m going to make it a double-header.  First, there’s Take Me out to Ballpark, as played by Harpo Marx on I Love Lucy in 1955 , which is Cheri’s all-time favorite.  I’ve shown it several times but it’s so darn good, it never gets old.  And after that there’s  bluesy 1976 homage to late great pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter which is called, of course, Catfish.

Have a great Sunday and hopefully you’ll get to hear the umpire call out “Play ball!

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Vintage Baseball Photos 1800'sFor me,  Punxsutawney Phil is not the ultimate predictor that winter is coming to an end.  No, it is those first reports from Florida and Arizona that baseball’s Spring Training is beginning that does it for me.  The baseball is in the air  once more and I feel so much better when I am immersed in the rhythms of baseball.

And there is such a rhythm.  With its 162 games played over its six month season, it is present in some form on a daily basis for those who follow the game.  Each day brings something new that adds to the game’s long history, to its poetry and legend, to its voluminous statistics, to its never-ending debates over the superiority of teams, players and eras.  For someone like me who is a huge fan of the game’s folklore and history, nothing could be better.

Speaking of folklore, the photo at the top is perhaps the oldest image of the game, taken sometime before 1870.  It sold a few years ago on eBay for  $3800.  It shows a group of schoolboys at the Bluff School in Claremont, New Hampshire.  It was used in  Ken BurnsBaseball documentary and was taken by the early photographic studio of French & Sawyer which operated in Keene, NH.   Their partnership dissolved in 1870 so the photo was taken before that time.  It could be as early as the late 1850’s,  pre-Civil War.  The interesting thing is that there is action in the photo, a rarity for any photos of the era.  It also shows the players in positions that closely resemble today’s game which adds to that feeling of connection through time that is a part of the game.

The painting below is an early painting of the game.  I don’t know who painted it or when and can’t find anything about it.  It was listed on a folk art site and is no longer there so details on it are sketchy.  I think it’s a fun piece and reminds me that baseball is coming soon and winter is coming to an end.

The Pigs Baseball Club Ca 1890 21 x 30

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Rajah Hornsby QuoteWell, the Kansas City Royals won the World Series last night.  I’ve never been a huge NY Mets fan  even when we used to go to a lot of their games when I was a kid but I really like this team’s spunkiness, especially among their young players and starting pitchers.

The Mets had the lead late in three of the games they lost but just couldn’t withstand  KC’s determined late-inning charges.  KC had lost in the World Series last year and they brought the lessons learned to these games.  They deserved to win and should get all the accolades and parades that will be coming their way especially from their fans in Kansas City where it has been 30 years since they last won the Series.

But for fans of the Mets and all the other teams, today is a big letdown, the beginning of four or five months of waiting for spring without baseball.  Like me, they all can readily agree with the words above from the Rajah, Rogers Hornsby.  He was one of my favorites baseball names when I was a kid, along with Napoleon LaJoie and Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown and probably the best hitter that modern fans have never heard of.  As they say today, the guy could rake.

I know I’ll miss that part of my day when I scan the scores and the standing or check the stats.  So, like the Rajah, I’ll sit and stare out the window, waiting for spring.

 

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I  was scanning the archives for the blog and came across this entry from four years ago, written in the immediate aftermath of that year’s West End Gallery opening.  It had the story of a young boy with a rare disease and a message that really touched me then and now.  Thought it deserved another run today:

josiah-vieraWell, the opening is over and the show continues to hang at the West End Gallery.  Good opening.  Talked to a lot of really nice people, many new to me.  Many thanks to everyone who came out.   You made the evening complete and  I could not be more grateful.

That said, I was sure glad when the night was over.  There comes a point near the end of an opening, especially in the aftermath of constantly promoting it by writing about it here,  where I am really tired of talking about me and can’t wait for that moment until I don’t have to say anything to anyone.

So later that night, we came home and decided to quietly watch that night’s Jeopardy,  a show I have watched intently since I was a child when Art Fleming was the host in the 60’s. Before it came on, I caught the end of the ABC Evening News and there was a story about their Person of the Week.  It was a young boy, Josiah Viera, from central Pennyslvania who suffers from Progeria, an exremely rare (something like only 54 cases in the world) disorder where the child begins prematurely aging, most having a life expectancy of between 8 and 13 years.  Josiah, now 7 years old, has the tiny body of a 90 year old, taking cholesterol and arthritis medications. He is 27 inches tall and weighs 15 pounds.

But Josiah doesn’t dwell on the hardships of his condition.  Instead he concentrates on his passion, that thing that brings him sheer joy: baseball.  He lives for the game, wanting to play it from the minute he wakes until the end of each day.  He approached a coach at the local t-ball league in Hegins, PA and told him that he wanted to play in the games.  They feared he might not survive more than a single game and indeed, after his first game, Josiah suffered a series of mini strokes and was hospitalized.

But he recovered quickly and his desire for the game was so strong that he was back after three weeks.  The news of this little boy and the joy with which he played the game captured the hearts of the local folks and by the last game there were several hundred fans ( not your usual t-ball crowd!) all cheering him on and chanting his name.  And as he stands on the bag at first base, which seems like a table under his small body, Josiah smile glows with the sheer and absolute joy of being safe.

Absolute joy.  How many of us allow ourselves to feel that?  Josiah’s time here is limited, as it is for all of us.  Yet his life is not sadder for that knowledge.  Instead he has somehow chosen to find joy in those few days, rejoicing in the moment instead of fearing the future or focusing on the  life that might have been under different circumstances, things which too many of us allow to take over our lives.

Life is now.  His pure joy is a lesson for us all.  Life’s too short to not revel in those things that make us happy.

What is your joy and if it’s not the biggest part of your life, why is that so?

Below is the longer version of the story from ESPN on which the ABC story is based.  It’s a beautifully done report.  Have a great Sunday and again, thank you for everyone who came out Friday night– you brought me a little of that joy that I speak of.

2015 Update:  Josiah is now 11 years old and still as much in love with baseball as ever.  He is the an honorary bench coach for the State College Spikes, the St. Louis Cardinal’s Class A minor league team located in central Pennsylvania.  He plays cards with the players before the game, gives the manager bits of advice on game moves and provides the team with much more than they could ever give him in return. He also went to spring training with the  major league St. Louis Cardinal, getting to hobnob and even play a pickup game with their star players.  Throughout it all, that joy sparkles and inspires.  As one player said after going through a particularly tough game, “When I see that little guy across the clubhouse, I know I’ll be fine.”

There’s a great article from MLB.com that gives all the updates on Josiah.  Click here to see it.

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Baseball The First 100 Years Album CoverBaseball season has snuck upon us again and it remains one of my favorite times of the year.  I had my first taste yesterday, watching the Mets squander a lead then lose in extra innings to the Washington Nationals as I worked in the studio.  It felt pretty good. I have written many times over the years here about my affection for the game and how its history and its folklore is woven into the mesh of our country.

One of my favorite things to listen to when I was a kid was an album called Baseball: The First 100 Years .  It was from 1969, the year that marked professional baseball’s first century, and I can’t remember if I got it in Cooperstown or at Shea Stadium.  But I would play it over and over, listening to the calls of the great plays and great games of the past.  Willie Mays’ over the shoulder catch.  Bobby Thompson’s epic 1951 home run that ended with perhaps the most famous sound clip in baseball history– The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! 

Mighty Casey Has Struck OutIt had Abbott & Costello with their classic bit Who’s On First?, which still makes me laugh even though I’ve heard it a thousand times.  There were songs about Joltin’ Joe and Say Hey Willie and  the classic Take Me out to the Ballpark. And, of course, there was a recitation of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s poem Casey At The Bat.

I’ve heard many versions of Casey At The Bat over the years.  Some are goofy, some are dead serious and some are emotionally overwrought, especially some of the earliest ones that featured stage actors who exaggerated every feeling and syllable in the poem.  They are all good fun but I prefer a more straight approach.  Today I am featuring a version with the wondrous voice of James Earl Jones followed by a version from another wonderful voice, Garrison Keillor, giving the other side of the story, speaking in a strong Bostonian accent.  Casey was obviously a Yankee in this version.  It’s pretty funny and sends me into the season with a smile.  Hope it does the same for you.


 

 

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GC Myers- "Greener Pastures: 42"It’s kind of a sad Sunday.  For one thing, our favorite ice cream place, Mindy Moo’s,  is closing for the season.  Actually, that’s probably a good thing as we have been indulging way too often but I still hate to see it close.

Secondly, tonight is the finale to what may be the finest show to ever come across a television screen, Breaking Bad.  I have been addicted since it first  exposed us to the moral gymnastics of high school chemistry teacher Walter White as he found his way into the world of meth, hoping to make enough cash to support his family after his imminent death from the cancer that had recently emerged.   His moral dilemma and the subsequent downward spiral has been a wild ride, supported by incredible writing, storylines and performances, often leaving me gasping at the end of an episode.  I will sorely miss it and have a feeling that almost everything else on TV will pale in comparison for some time to come.

Mariano Rivera Entering the FieldAnd finally, today is the end of era in baseball as Mariano Rivera rides off into the sunset, retiring from the New York Yankees as unquestionably the greatest closer ever and perhaps the most respected and beloved player to come around in a long, long time. Even Red Sox fans give Mariano, he of the hated Yanks, a standing ovation.  He has been nothing but class since day one, never pounding his chest or belittling his opponents and always showing the utmost respect for the game that has given a poor, skinny boy from Panama so much over the years .  His stoic demeanor on the mound is almost Zen in its nature and has long comforted Yankee fans when games are in a tight spot, even on those rare occasions when he has failed.

The painting at the top of the post,  a 12″ by 12″ canvas,  is titled Greener Pastures: 42.  The number 42 on the outfield wall is meant to honor both Mariano and the man who wore it most famously before him,  the barrier breaking Jackie Robinson.  Mariano is the last player to wear this hallowed number after it was retired by Major League Baseball to honor Robinson and has done so with  a fitting grace and character.  On the day honoring Mariano at Yankee Stadium last Sunday, one of my favorite moments was when  Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow now aged 91, was on the field and she cupped Mariano’s face in both hands, staring hard into his face with such a wonderful look on her face.  I don’t know what she was thinking or conveying but it looked like she was letting Mo know that Jackie would have approved of the way Mariano has honored his number and his memory.

Hard to believe that after today, there is no more ice cream (well, for a while) or Breaking Bad or Mariano.  Like I said, it’s a sad Sunday with a few glorious endings…

 

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