Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again”
The line from the 1980 Willie Nelson classic On the Road Again, originally recorded in 1965 by Bob Dylan, especially resonates with me this time of year. Bernie, Kevin, and myself are just a week away from our third annual baseball road trip. Few, if any, days go by throughout the year without us talking baseball. Our love of the game led to the creation of our annual baseball road trip, which is now a fixture on the calendar.
The first year we met in Pittsburgh, as it was a good meeting place between Cincinnati and Washington D.C. We watched the Pittsburgh Pirates play the Mets on a Sunday night and then the Diamondbacks on a Monday day game. We played catch in a parking lot across the Allegheny River from the Park and had a full baseball weekend. What could be better than watching baseball at PNC Park and playing catch with friends.
Our first baseball road trip was to Pittsburgh, this year we head to Colorado. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Last year, Kevin bailed on the road trip for an extended scouting trip in New Zealand. Bernie and I solidified the tradition without him with a true road trip. We met up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he was for work and drove to Lansing. We played catch in Adado Riverfront Park before watching the Lansing Lugnuts take on the Dayton Dragons. The next day we drove to Detroit to see the Tigers play the Minnesota Twins. We tried both American Coney Island and Lafayette Coney Island in Detroit’s ongoing Coney battle. The Fort Wayne TinCaps followed the next day, as they took on the West Michigan Whitecaps. Our final stop on our four games, four teams, in four days trip was to see the South Bend Cubs play the Lake County Captains on Mr. Rogers Day. Bernie has the jersey to prove it.
Bernie had the winning bid for the Mr. Rogers jersey worn by South Bends winning pitcher, Enrique De Los Rios. (The Winning Run/ BL)
Each trip means exploring a new city or two. Sampling the local culture and food scene. Indulging in baseball for a few days. Simply it is hanging out with friends. This year is no different. Kevin is back and the three of us are meeting to explore Denver and watch the Colorado Rockies host the Toronto Blue Jays in a three game series. This is the furthest our road trip has taken us from home, and for me it comes just a month before becoming a first time Dad. One last trip before Fatherhood truly begins. What better way to send it than with friends, at a baseball game, inside a Major League park I have never seen a game at before. I just can’t wait to get on the road again.
Soccer, or football as most people call it, is the global game. People of all ages play the beautiful game from the busy streets of New York City to rural villages all over the world, like this one in Rwanda. Soccer, as Americans call it, is globally popular for a variety of reasons, but I believe the two most important are the requirements to play in terms of people and equipment. Only have one friend to play with? Simple! It’s one on one. I hope you can dribble. Live on less than a dollar a day and not positive where your next meal will come from? Here’s some rolled up cloth that will work as a ball. The simplicity of the game opens it up to almost every person on the planet.
Baseball has long sought to expand its global reach, and the advent of the World Baseball Classic was part of that vision. The more countries watching and playing baseball would mean a larger talent pool for professional baseball, but also the more money organizations like Major League Baseball can make. FIFA and leagues like the Premier League are about growing the sport, but ultimately they are businesses interested in making more money. The best way to increase income is to reach into every available market, even creating new markets, to sell your product.
Gift Ngoepe is not only the firt South African to make it to the Majors, he is the first person from the entire African continent. (Ronald C. Modra/ Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)
If baseball ever rivals soccer in global appeal it will not happen any time soon. At the most grassroots level baseball requires more than soccer. Finding a stick and a makeshift ball may not sound like much but it can be too much for a game for those living in areas without trees or on the edge of survival. A makeshift baseball has to be harder than a makeshift soccer ball for the ball to travel any distance when struck with the makeshift bat. Baseball can work with just two people. Playing catch or one person hitting and the other pitching means baseball at the most basic level, like soccer can involve a minimum number of people. Baseball is heading in the right direction, but growth will take time and Major League Baseball must remain patient to see the fruits of its labor.
Baseball is the American Pastime All 50 states plus the District of Columbia have sent at least 12 players to the Major Leagues. Alaska ranks last with only 12 Major League players and California is first with 2,191 players. Every state could field a team and have a tournament to determine which state reigns supreme. While this tournament rages on, ignoring time to allow all 16,553 American born players to be eligible for the tournament, the rest of the world could watch and learn. There have been 45 countries other than the United States to have at least one player reach the Major Leagues. The Dominican Republic has the most players with 674 while Afghanistan Belgium, Belize, China, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Honduras, Indonesia, Latvia, Lithuania, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, and Vietnam have all sent one player to the Majors. In addition to countries, there are seven territories which have sent at least one player to the Majors, with Puerto Rico having sent 258 players and American Samoa and Hong Kong sending one player each. The globalizing of baseball would not be complete without Ed Porray, who was born on a ship sailing the Atlantic Ocean.
The globalizing of baseball was noticeable last week with the Major League debuts of Gift Ngoepe (South Africa) and Dovydas Neverauskas (Lithuania). Both players are the first Major League players from their home countries. Ngoepe is the first African born player to reach the Majors. The African continent is home to over one billion people, the talent pool is there, waiting to be found. The careers of Ngoepe and Neverauskas will hopefully be long, but it is doubtful they will be the best player from their home nation. They are the frontrunners who have shown that it is possible. One player makes it to the Majors, teams and scouts may file it away as a place to remember when they have nowhere else to go scout. Two, three, four players, start rising through the minors, suddenly they will begin paying attention and even investing time and resources to developing the talent. What starts as a drip could potentially turn into a river or it could be an aberration.
Dovydas Neverauskas is the first Lithuanian to make it to the Majors, could he be the beginning of an eastern European baseball pipeline? Only time will tell. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAT Sports)
Only 19 of the 52 countries and territories that have sent a player to the Majors could field a team and join the fictional tournament involving each American state. Another 19 countries and territories have only had one player reach the Major Leagues. There are roughly 233 countries and territories in the world, and only 53 of them have had a player reach the Major Leagues. Major League Baseball is only batting .227. Not every country will become a hotbed for baseball, but expanding the reach of the game is critical for the continued growth and development of the sport. The 2017 World Baseball Classic saw Israel make a surprising run by getting out of pool play. Yes the Israeli team was heavily Jewish-Americans, however the exposure of the team to the Israeli people should help facilitate growth of the game within Israel itself.
Time will tell if the World Baseball Classic is an avenue for growing the game of baseball or if is simply a tournament held every four years. The arrival of Gift Ngoepe and Dovydas Neverauskas in Pittsburgh happen to occur during the same week. Only one person can be the first player from their home country, but the hope is there will be more to follow them to the Majors. Baseball has a long ways to go before it can become a truly global sport like soccer, but Major League Baseball and other professional leagues are on the right track with the World Baseball Classic. Players from the far corners of the globe will not arrive overnight, but the hope is in the coming years the game will have a more global flare. The more people involved in baseball around the world, the better.
Memorial Day is when we, collectively as a nation, pause to remember and honor the men and women who have given their lives to protect our freedoms. The impact of war goes beyond the soldiers who fought; it impacts their families and friends. When soldiers are deployed overseas, they not only miss anniversaries and birthdays, but they also miss the daily life events. If you have ever had the opportunity to walk the length of the Vietnam Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. you begin to understand the toll which war has taken on our nation. Every name on the wall is a brother, husband, father, son, grandson, uncle, cousin, and friend who never came home. The void their deaths have left behind cannot be filled. So this Memorial Day weekend, and every other day throughout the year, we should slow down from our busy lives and honor the brave men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our nation.
Among the many individuals who we honor this Memorial Day for their sacrifice,we allow six individuals to stand out here. These men are the only six men who have played in Major League Baseball and died during combat.
Eddie Grant- WWI
“Harvard Eddie” Grant played 10 seasons in the Majors for the Cleveland Naps, Philadelphia Phillies, Cincinnati Reds, and New York Giants. He compiled a career .249 batting average, stole 153 bases, hit 30 triples, all while playing all four infield positions. After his retirement in 1915, Grant opened a law firm in Boston before enlisting in the military in April 1917. Grant fought at the battle of Meuse-Argonne and assumed command after all his superior officers were killed during the four day search for the Lost Battalion. Grant was killed during the search by an exploding shell on October 5, 1918. He was the first Major League player to die in combat during World War I.
Robert “Bun” Troy- WWI
Troy was a German born pitcher who started his only career game on September 15, 1912 for the Detroit Tigers. In his only Major League appearance Troy went 6 2/3 innings, allowed nine hits, four runs, three walks, struck one batter out, and hit one batter. The Tigers lost to the Washington Senators 6 to 3. After several more years in the Minors Troy joined the United States military. He was shot during the battle of Meuse-Argonne. He would later die of his wounds at an evacuation hospital on October 7, 1918.
Tom Burr- WWI
Burr played in his only Major League game on April 21, 1914 for the New York Yankees. He was a late inning replacement in the Yankees 10 inning 3 to 2 victory over the Washington Senators. He did not have any fielding chances or plate appearances. He returned to Williams College but left for the Army Air Force before graduating. Burr was killed when the plane he was in collided with another plane on October 12, 1918 over Cazaux, France.
Elmer Gedeon- WWII
Gedeon played in five games for the Washington Senators in September 1939. He collected all three of his career hits as the starting Centerfielder in the September 19th victory over the Cleveland Indians. He was recalled from the minors again in 1940, but did not appear in any games. Gedeon was drafted by the Army in January 1941. He was later reassigned to the Army Air Force after being accepted into pilot school. He flew bombing missions over France until April 20, 1944, when his B-26 was assigned to take out a V-1 Buzz Bomb site which was under construction. Gedeon and five other crew men were killed after their plane was shot down by Germany anti-aircraft guns.
Harry O’Neill- WWII
O’Neill appeared in only one game for the 1939 Philadelphia Athletics. He caught two innings (8th and 9th inning) after replacing Frankie Hayes during the A’s 16 to 3 lose against the Detroit Tigers. O’Neill enlisted in the Marines in 1942 and saw action in Saipon were he was injured when he was hit in the shoulder with shrapnel. After recovering, he was sent back to the Pacific. He fought on Iwo Jima where he shot and killed by a sniper on March 6, 1945. He was the last player from Major League Baseball to be Killed in Action during World War II.
Robert Neighbors- Korea
Neighbors appeared in seven games in late September for the 1939 St. Louis Browns. He hit .182, with one home run and one RBI. He entered the Army Air Force in 1942 and remained in the service after World War II ended. Neighbors flew combat missions in Korea, including a night mission on August 8, 1952, during which his plane was shot down inside North Korea. No further contact was made with Neighbors or his crew. His status remained as Missing in Action until July 27, 1953 with the Korean Armistice Agreement and prisoner exchange. Neighbors status was changed to Killed in Action. He remains the last Major League Baseball player to die in combat.
These six men are among the thousands who have sacrificed their lives to protect the freedoms we all enjoy. They are the only former Major League players to die in combat. However they are not the only ones associated with the game of baseball to have died serving our country. Former baseball players from every level have given their lives during their service in the military during in Pre-World War I, World War I, World War II, Korea, Peace time, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
This Memorial Day take some time to remember these men and the other men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice for the nation. To those who have served or are serving, thank you for everything you have done. To those who have served and given the ultimate sacrifice, as well as the families they have left behind, we are forever in your debt. On this Memorial Day we thank you and honor the sacrifices you have made.