Year in Review: 2018

My 2018 was filled with baseball. I umpired more than 200 games plus attended more for the enjoyment of the game. I have no clue how many games I watched on television or listened to on radio. Whatever the number, it was a lot. 

This year I watched games in six different ballparks. I attended four Cincinnati Reds games at Great American Ball Park. I always attend at least one game when the Braves visit the Reds. I also attended a game against the Giants in August with a fellow listener to the Effectively Wild podcast; he was in the home stretch of a road trip to visit all 30 MLB teams. The other games were more random, yet just as exciting.

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First game of the year, Braves at Reds. My wife and sister-in-law supporting their hometown team, while I do the same. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
I finally watched a Florence Freedom game from the stands. I have umpired several games on the field for the local youth leagues. The Frontier League is underrated, like most Independent Baseball Leagues. The play on the field is fun and exciting, even though the team lacks a Major League an affiliation. The fun of attending a game remains. As an added bonus, my wife and I accidentally attended a double header, it was awesome.img_20180829_201148The Florence Freedom split a double header with the Normal CornBelters. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

 

 

My wife and I took another three week summer road trip. While it did not involve as much baseball as our honeymoon did last year, we still visited several important places in the baseball world. The first stop on our trip was in Kansas City. Visiting the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum was my top destination while planning the trip. Saying it exceeded my wildest expectations is an understatement. As wonderful and well done as the Hall of Fame is, Jesse and I both agree the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is better. We understand Cooperstown deals with everything baseball, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum focuses on a much smaller portion of baseball. However, something about the museum eclipses the magic of Cooperstown.

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Welcome to the Negro League Baseball Museum. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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The greatest players in Negro Leagues history are still playing in Kansas City. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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The jerseys of the Negro League Museum. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

The next day we drove to Omaha. Among our stops there were the current, TD Ameritrade Park, and the historic, Rosenblatt Stadium, homes of the College World Series. Standing where so much baseball history has taken place gave me goosebumps. The drive between the ballparks felt like traveling from new Yankee Stadium to old Yankee Stadium. The new park is fine, but nothing like what it replaced.

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The entrance to TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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What is left of Rosenblatt Stadium. (The Winning Run/ DJ)

Our last baseball stop on our road trip was in Fargo, North Dakota. Inside the West Acres Mall is the Roger Maris Museum. While Maris is best remembered for his 1961 season, the Museum, which consists of a video room and long window display, walks you through Maris’ life and career. The simple museum is perfect for the two time MVP who often seemed happier when avoiding the spotlight.

The highlight of my baseball year was the road trip I took with Bernie. Four games, in four days, in four cities. We watched the Lansing Lugnuts, Detroit Tigers, Fort Wayne TinCaps, and South Bend Cubs play. While the Major Leagues are the pinnacle of the sport, Minor League Baseball gives you more for your money. You can sit closer, attend more games, and see future Major Leaguers play today. Beyond the great baseball, such a road trip allows you to explore new cities. Bernie and I ate our way through each city, especially Detroit. We both needed a salad and a workout at the end of the trip.

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A beautiful sunset as we watched the Lansing Lugnuts play. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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Bernie caught a plush baseball at our first game on the road trip in Lansing. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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Welcome to Comerica Park, home to the Detroit Tigers (The Winning Run/ DJ
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Much closer and we could have suited up for the Fort Wayne TinCaps. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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Our seats for the final game of our road trip as we watched the South Bend Cubs play on Mr. Rogers Day. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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Batting practice home run ball hit by one of the Minnesota Twins. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
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View from our seats over the Tigers bullpen in left field. (The Winning RUN/ DJ)

2018 was a wonderful year of baseball for me. I spent far too many hours umpiring, watching, and traveling for baseball. It was an excellent year of exploring the game. I am excited to see what 2019 brings.

DJ

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The Joys of Umpiring

Why do I spend so much time on baseball? Simple, I love the game. The same goes for umpiring. I am passionate about umpiring, it is something I truly love. My playing abilities were never going to have me sign a professional contract, or even a college scholarship. Working behind the plate keeps me connected to the game. Good umpires only care about getting the call right. Who wins or loses is not my concern, I am competing against myself to get every call right. While I am not always successful, the competition is part of the joy of umpiring.

Stepping on the field to call a game is thrilling. Getting paid to do it is beyond my wildest dreams. The pay for umpires will never make you rich, but it is a wonderful side job. The money I have earned umpiring has paid for a three week road trip each of the last two years.

You are getting paid to umpire baseball. Your appreciation for what is a good fastball or curveball grows as call increasingly higher level games. As the play on the field rises, you realize just how good Major League players are. Multiple times after calling a pitch I knew I had zero chance as a batter to hit the pitch, even if I knew it was coming. Umpiring has kept me involved with baseball beyond, just reading news articles and watching games on television.

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There are good days and bad days of umpiring. I would go to the Emergency Room after taking a foul ball to the throat during this game. (The Winning Run/ SCL)

Umpiring has shown me how little I know about baseball. Studying the rule book to make calls at a moments notice gives me more questions than answers. Baseball fans know the basics, but the seldom used rules can be the most interesting. As you begin to truly understand the rules of baseball you begin to see the game as a whole. The puzzle pieces slowly come together.

The best part of umpiring is having a front row seat to the game. You see the crazy and amazing plays, including a triple play. Over the course of a year you will watch good and bad baseball at every level. There are days you do not want to umpire. You are tired and beat up. The days when it is more of an effort to get to the field on time ready to hustle, even then umpiring is a wonderful thing. Some of the best games occur on those days. Umpiring, like everything in life, is not always perfect. However, if you stay with it, work hard, show up on time, and put in the work, you will reap the rewards. Nailing the tough calls, the great plays, the beautiful sunsets, a perfect curveball are an umpires rewards when they are true to themselves and baseball.

DJ

Worth The Wait

Cooperstown is the desired destination for players. Most will not openly discuss their desire to be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame, however human nature all but dictates that highly driven people strive to become the best at their chosen profession. The process to reach Cooperstown for a player is typically through the BBWAA (Baseball Writers’ Association of America) election process, which announces its results each January. However, there is another way into the Hall of Fame.

Previously known as the Veterans Committee, the Era Committees were formed to reexamine players who are no longer eligible for the BBWAA voting. The committees also examine the contributions of managers, umpires, and executives to determine if they warrant enshrinement. Currently, there are four committees: Early Baseball (pre 1950), Golden Days (1950-1969), Modern Baseball (1970-1987), and Today’s Game (1988-2016). Each committee considers 10 candidates, with each committee member allowed to vote for a maximum of four candidates. A candidate needs at least 75% of the votes to be elected.

The Today’s Game Committee has 16 voting members. The members include members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, executives, and veteran media members. This year the committee considered the candidacy of Lee Smith, Harold Baines, Lou Piniella, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, and George Steinbrenner.

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Harold Baines and Lee Smith, the newest members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. (John Locker/ AP)

After much examination by the Today’s Game Committee, Cooperstown will welcome two new members to the Hall of Fame this summer. Lee Smith and Harold Baines will forever be enshrined along side the greatest players, managers, umpires, and executives in baseball history. Smith appeared on all 16 ballots, while Baines appeared on 12 ballots. Lou Piniella missed his place in Cooperstown by a single vote, appearing on 11 ballots. The remaining seven candidates each received fewer than five votes.

The journey to Cooperstown was longer than Smith or Baines preferred. However, receiving the highest honor in baseball was worth the wait. The Today’s Game Committee, as well as the other committees, are vital to the thorough examination of baseball. The committees give those deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame the recognition they deserve, no matter how long the wait.

DJ

Ballplayer

Chipper Jones was the face of the Atlanta Braves during their run of consecutive Division titles in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The pitching trio of Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Tom Glavine were equally important, but Chipper was on the field everyday. If the Braves needed a big hit, Chipper was the guy they wanted, especially against the Mets.

Chipper Jones’ memoir Ballplayer written with Carroll Rogers Walton rewinds the Hall of Fame career of one of the greatest switch hitters to ever step on a baseball field. Hard work meant never settling for good, it meant understanding the results would come after listening to his coaches, putting in the work, and preparing for success. The highs and the lows of his career are laid out for everyone to inspect. Chipper does not sugar coat anything. This refreshing take, even in addressing his much publicized infidelity, only adds to the respect he earned during his career. He could have avoided discussing the financial woes he faced as a young player. He explains the physical toll of playing for so long. Readers come to understand injuries robbed Chipper  of long stretches of time and some of his abilities on the field, even after he recovered. There are no excuses in the book, just the facts and an understanding that life is not always perfect.

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Ballplayer gives an honest look inside Chipper Jones’ Hall of Fame career. (Penguin Books)

While his play on the diamond may have looked natural, Ballplayer shows you the hours, days, and years of practice it takes for even the most gifted athlete to make it in the Major Leagues. Players are too often viewed as robotic until they make a mistake. Baseball and the life playing in the Major Leagues requires is stressful. The constant travel, few days off, missed family time, and the physical and emotional strain of the game is too much for most people. Baseball players have the same issues we do, except they live under a microscope. Baseball is a hard game played by hard people, this should never be forgotten.

The loyalty Chipper gave to the Braves was reciprocal. He never chased more money through free agency, instead staying with the team that believed in him as a high schooler in Jacksonville. Loyalty to the game, respecting his teammates and opponents, striving to make himself and others better is what separates those who play the game and those who have an impact. Baseball gives you back what you put in, and Chipper Jones gave a lot of himself to the game.

Ballplayer is an excellent read for anyone who loves baseball. Chipper lets you inside his Hall of Fame career, on and off the field. He tells it like it is, never trying to make himself look better. The honesty is obvious as you read. Those who watched the Braves’ dominance will be flooded with memories of Chipper charging a ground ball and flipping it to first, his toe tap as a fastball screams towards the plate, the beginning of Crazy Train as he walks to the plate. Chipper Jones is among the greatest players to ever play baseball, and yet his memoir shows the humility necessary to successfully play a game filled with so much failure.

DJ

Can He Get On Base?

Lost in the discussions about the Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year Awards was the inaugural MLB Executive of the Year Award. The player awards are based on a player’s performs on the field. The Executive of the Year Award is based on a front office putting a contender on the field. Drafting well and player development are critical if an organization is to build a winning team. Executives are judged on long-term work not short-term performance.

There is no doubt Billy Beane, and the Athletics’ front office, has done more with less. Beane, the Athletics’ Vice President of Baseball Operations since 2015, is the inaugural MLB Executive of the Year. Each team has one vote, and baseball has spoken about Beane’s success in Oakland. Success has not come from large payrolls or big free agent signings, rather the opposite. This season Oakland became the first team to ever have the lowest Opening Day Payroll and make the Postseason. The Athletics must scratch and claw with every dollar to compete. One bad signing or trade can set the team back several seasons. Beane has made few mistakes. Oakland has 12 winning seasons and nine Postseason appearances since he became General Manager after the 1997 season.

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Billy Beane has made the impossible seem routine in Oakland. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Beane’s tenure as Oakland’s General Manager changed baseball. The application of Sabermetrics has helped level the playing field for teams unable to afford large payrolls. The Athletics created a path for teams, like the Rays and Royals, to find success. Moneyball changed baseball. Teams are now spending time and money on analytics to maximize the production of their players and to scout their opponents. Oakland enjoyed several successful seasons before other teams followed their lead.

Winning the MLB Executive of the Year Award only adds to Beane’s trophy case. He won the Sporting News Executive of the Year Award in 1999 and 2012. He won Baseball America’s Executive of the Year Award in 2002 and 2013. Beane has built success from hard work, not flashy spending.

It is doubtful a traditional rebuilding in Oakland would have resulted in similar success. Despite their challenges, the Athletics are competitive almost every season and Billy Beane is one of the main reasons why. Beane is the biggest owner or front office executive since George Steinbrenner. When you think of Beane you think of the Athletics just as you thought of the Yankees when you thought of Steinbrenner. Most importantly, when you think of Billy Beane you think of winning.

DJ

Thankful

Thanksgiving is when we show our gratitude for the wonderful things in our lives. We ought to give thanks more than once a year, as there is always good in our lives. Life is not perfect but there is always a reason to be thankful. I have many things to be thankful for, and one of them is baseball. Baseball is so much more than just a game. It touches every area of my life.

I am thankful for the close friends I have because of baseball. John, Bernie, and Kevin are a few of my friends who share in my obsession with the game. Discussions of a game, a player, a stat, or something funny are daily occurrences. Whether we are together or a thousand miles apart, friends make life and baseball better.

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Bernie, Kevin, and I at our second Pirates games over Memorial Day Weekend 2017. We saw Pittsburgh play the Mets and Diamondbacks that weekend. (The Winning Run)

I am thankful for my family and the memories we have because of baseball. Attending baseball games with my Parents and Jesse. Watching the Braves play on television with my Grandfather and Great Aunt. Sharing my love of the game with my Wife. Plotting the baseball indoctrination of my Nephew and Niece. Who better to share what you love than with who you love.

I am thankful for the travel my love of baseball has spurred. Driving to Boston with my now Wife to watch a game at Fenway on Memorial Day. Going to Giants and Athletics games on our honeymoon. Last minute trips to Pittsburgh to see the Pirates play. Planned trips to Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates play the Mets and Diamondbacks. Flying to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to see historic ballparks. Minor League road trips. Exploring Cooperstown and the Negro Leagues Museum. I love traveling and baseball, they are better when they are together.

I am thankful I became an umpire. Having a front row seat to a baseball game is the best way to watch. Baseball makes the weather perfect, regardless if it means calling games on the surface of the sun in July or in the Polar arctic in March. The bumps, bruises, and trips to the Emergency Room are the cost of admission. Umpiring was not in my life’s plan, but I am glad life does not always follow the plan. There is no better way to spend a day than calling balls and strikes in the sunshine. I umpire for the love of baseball, not the paycheck.

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Jesse, John, and myself at a Pirates game in 2013. We decided to drive to Pittsburgh for the game at 2 a.m. that morning. It was a long drive but worth it. (The Winning Run)

I am thankful for endless baseball trivia. Learning random tidbits and then quizzing friends and family on said information is always entertaining. You will never know everything about baseball, but this does not stop me from trying. Baseball trivia is mostly useless in real life, but each tidbit broadens my understanding of the game.

I am thankful for the feeling baseball gives you. Playing catch or hitting a baseball on the sweet spot. The sounds, smells, and feel of the game are timeless. The joy of the game never ends. We do not remember the score of the games, but we remember how we felt. Baseball is fun. It makes you smile and warms your soul.

I am thankful for baseball, it is so much more than a game.

Happy Thanksgiving!

DJ

The End of War

Today we paused to observe Veterans Day in the United States. Yesterday, November 11th marked 100 years since the end of World War I, the war to end all wars. More than 15 million people, military and civilian, lost their lives during the four years the war raged in Europe.

The conflict broke out on July 24, 1914 following the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the July Crisis. The web of secret alliances and miscalculations by leaders on both sides led to all out war. The United States did not enter the conflict until the interception of the  Zimmermann Telegram. Germany was encouraging Mexico to attack the United States if America entered the war in Europe. Germany promised Mexico support in regaining lost territories including Texas. The admission by German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmermann of the authenticity of the telegram hastened American entry into the war on April 6, 1917.

The United States mobilized more than 4 million military personnel during the war. Among them were 788 former, current, or future Major League players. Players did not receive special treatment as Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, George Sisler, and Branch Rickey were assigned to the Chemical Warfare Service. Mathewson contracted tuberculous and died from the disease in 1925 at 45 years old. Cobb, Mathewson, Sisler, and Rickey were among 28 future Hall of Famers who served during World War I.

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Christy Mathewson (L) and Ty Cobb (R) while serving in the Chemical Warfare Service. Mathewson died from contracting tuberculous while serving. (Frank Ceresi Collection)

The brutality of the war led to more than 8.5 million military deaths among the belligerents. The United States alone suffered 116,708 military dead in the 20 months it was involved in the conflict. Eight Major League players lost their lives: Eddie Grant (Killed in Action), Tom Burr (Died in Training Accident Plane Crash), Bun Troy (Killed in Action), Ralph Sharman (Drowned in Training), Larry Chappell (Spanish Flu), Harry Glenn (Spanish Flu), Newt Halliday (Tuberculosis), and Harry Chapman (Died from Wounds). Three Negro League players lost their lives: Ted Kimbro (Spanish Flu), Norman Triplett (Pneumonia), and Pearl Webster (Spanish Flu). 26 minor league players also lost their lives during the conflict.

When World War I came to a halt on November 11, 1918, the concussive noise of shells stopped and soldiers could hear the birds chirping. One year later, President Woodrow Wilson spoke in remembrance of the sacrifice and lose, and of those returning home. On June 4, 1926 the United States Congress adopted a resolution that President Calvin Coolidge issue an annual proclamation calling for observances on November 11th in remembrance of the end of World War I. More than a decade later, on May 13, 1938, November 11th becomes an American holiday to promote world peace. Following two more devastating wars, World War II and the Korean War, on May 26, 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law that henceforth November 11th would be known as Armistice Day. Later that summer on June 1, Congress amended the law, changing the name to Veterans Day.

On Veterans Day we honor the sacrifices made by the men and women who served or are serving in the military. Their sacrifices are up to and including laying down their lives. Deployments overseas and the separation from family and friends. The physical, mental, and emotional tolls of their jobs. The military protects the nation from enemies, both foreign and domestic. The military is not a nameless, faceless entity. It is ordinary people giving their time, skills, and sometimes lives so their fellow citizens can live in peace. On this Veterans Day, 100 years after the war to end all wars, take a moment to reflect on those who have sacrificed for us all. We should not waste their sacrifice on petty squabbles, but work together to create a more peaceful nation and world so that war becomes a thing of the past.

DJ