Rockies Souvenir

September 28, 2010

When baseball’s Colorado Rockies were new, I saved every scrap of paper associated with their exploits. Mostly there were articles on how badly they’d lost the day before, team photos, scorecards, giveaway baseball cards and pennants, ticket stubs, napkins, coasters, etc. It was all so new and exciting, and we were living in Denver, the center of it all.

So they were losing almost every game by 10 runs … so what? I’d grown up a Red Sox fan, something that in those World Championship-free days didn’t turn you into a cocky, obnoxious, gloating Red Sox Nation visitor to enemy ballparks. Nope, you were quiet and respectful if lucky enough to catch your boys at, say, Camden Yards, lest someone bring up the Curse of the Bambino.

Here’s my take on that in a comment I wrote at Patrick Smith’s Orioles blog on the subject for the very worthwhile Bugs & Cranks:

Right on, Smitty.

I grew up a Red Sox fan, but hate this garbage and skipped this weekend’s series in Baltimore because of that. I feel worst for the young O’s fans. If only more hometown fans showed up, these “Red Sox Nation” (ewwwww!) knuckleheads could maybe be taught the lesson on the etiquette of visiting an opponent’s stadium that I very nearly learned the hard way.

Got invited to Orchard Park in Buffalo for a Dolphins-Bills game (different sport, same moral, trust me). Can’t explain my Dolphins passion, but there you go. Anyway, it was late December, and somehow it was 75 degrees and sunny — honest to god — so I bought a Bills hat (only thing available) to shield my eyes and quietly and politely watched the Bills go up 24-0.

Then Marino got smoking hot, it was 24-21 in a flash, and I was yelling for the Fish.

And a gentleman behind me asked, very nicely under the circumstances, if he could please have my hat. As the entire section booed me and played frisbee with my “camouflage,” another nice fella poked me — you know, in a friendly way — and mentioned that if I didn’t stop being a butthole, I’d be asked — once — to find another part of the stadium, preferably the parking lot, from which to observe the remainder of the game.

Sniff! I still get choked up. They were so sweet to correct the error of my ways.

Now, when I’m at a visiting ballpark, I cheer the great plays of the home team. I cheer the great plays of the visitors (my team), and I don’t make a beautiful cathedral like Camden Yards a spittoon for my venom at not being cool, rich or connected enough to get into Fenway.

Maybe the O’s fans just need to form a few packs of wandering goons, um, I mean greeters, to help visitors better understand that they are guests, welcome … to keep their goddamn chants to themselves.

Just an idea.

Anyway, the anticipation for that first year of the Rockies was so great that I decided to join a season ticket group at the Rocky Mountain News, my employer then. Ten of us would share the tickets, with a draw of playing cards to determine who got Opening Day, and then who would pick games  in what order.

I drew an ace: Home opener. And, as the others scrambled to get into a game during the team’s first homestand, I grabbed the July 3 Fireworks Game vs. the Cubs — the second-most-sought-after ticket. And on we went. (Did I mention that there was a limited-edition print of Ryan Turner, the first player the Rockies ever signed, that went along with each set of season tickets? Separate drawing: I got a king. The print is on my wall at home.)

Well, between a losing team, flagging interest among our group of ticketholders who weren’t really diehard fans and work schedules for some of the nighttime workers at the newspaper, I went to something like 35 home games that inaugural year, 1993. To put that into perspective, I’d never been to more than three MLB games in one year before then. And Mary? God, she was such a good sport, probably making 20 games herself.

We moved to Baltimore right around Opening Day of the next year. My fellow season-ticket holders held a party, I’m sure. The Rockies paraphernalia came with us, and so did the affection for the team. There have been ups and downs, but all in all it’s been a great ride watching the Rox slowly and painfully put together a competitive team.

Charlie Hayes, Larry Walker, Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga (my favorite: thanks to a friend who attended his Man of the Year celebration, he signed a photo to me (in Spanish), “Steve, come back to Colorado. We miss you”), Walt Weiss, Eric Young … Todd Helton.

Look, even I gasped when the Colorado Rockies signed Todd Helton for way too many years and way too much money way too long ago.

And when I caught my breath, the Softball Coach simply smiled.

The only jersey he'll ever wear ... please.

OK, so Todd and the Softball Coach may worship at different churches, if you know what I’m saying. But there’s no denying what a great and stabilizing presence Helton’s been in the lineup.

Remember Todd and the Toddlers? Ouch. Bad times. One of those little ones was Troy Tulowitzki, the vocal leader the Rox have long wanted Helton to be. But even if Tulo had to find his voice on his own, he couldn’t have had a better lesson on how to play the game right than watching the old man.

Make no mistake: 2010 was a brutal season for Helton. Mediocrity at the plate, a little rust on the Gold Glove, very few moments when you figured, “We’re OK. Todd’s got this.”

Are his astonishing career numbers all a steroids mirage? I don’t know. Steroids don’t make you care as much as Helton cared, right? I’d like to think he was clean. That’s between him and his god — and endocrinologist and orthopedist — down the road.

As for us who adore him as a baseball player, we’ve got only so much more time to cheer his few remaining magic moments. I know every time the Softball Coach is at Coors Field — too rarely now — I root for his name to be in the lineup. And I know he still has about a zillion years on his contract (the Softball Coach exaggerates sometimes), but I hope to be there when they retire his number.

In purple.

The Lingonberry Taco

January 22, 2010

Well, that’s that: Yorvit Torrealba, ex-Colorado Rockies catcher.

Too bad. Great teammate, the pitchers apparently loved him, he could communicate with Latin American players in their first language, and the dude had a knack for big hits in big moments. Not to mention the great nickname Mary gave him — the above headline — upon hearing his oddly Scandinavian/Hispanic name over the loudspeaker at Coors Field.

But eventually, you need to do more than get hits only in big moments. And homer every once in a while, willya? Miguel Olivo, the guy who’ll replace him as the backup catcher — assuming Chris Iannetta wins the starting job — has a bunch of power and a much better arm for throwing out base stealers.

So the Lingonberry Taco takes his act elsewhere.

No hard feelings. He jilted the Rockies and their fans a couple of years ago, only to come crawling back when the Mets got weirded out and backed away from a contract. Cool. We were glad to have him around again.

He’ll be fine. And wealthy.

He’s a successful — not to mention unique — fast-food franchise waiting to happen.

Mary’s already named it, after all.

The Hidden Ball Trick

January 7, 2010

Let’s be right up front about this: The Softball Coach has cheated on a golf course before. And I’ll do it again. See, for me, it doesn’t matter whether I win or lose. My thing is just being psychotic about not slowing down play or inconveniencing others.

It’s born of dribbling tee shots to the groans of the six foursomes waiting to tee off behind me as a youth just learning the game. Search for my ball in the woods? OK … a little. But if you’ve ever played a round with me, you know there’s always an extra ball in my back left pocket for just such occurrences. I subtly pull it out, drop it behind me, “find” it on the ground and play on.

If that sleight of hand means I’m ahead after 18 holes, then I suddenly remember a miscount on a different hole and add two strokes to my score. If I’m winning or losing by a lot, whatever.

Likewise, if my errant shots are slowing down play on a hole, I pick up, mark a 10 — or double whatever the par is — on the scorecard, and walk the rest of that hole, rooting the other guys on. It helps me take a deep breath and clear the self-hatred from my thoughts …

So we don’t have episodes like the day I stopped my driver mid-swing, turned my back on the ball, put my hands on my knees and just checked out for a moment. My partners looked on quizzically.

“I guess if you’re already silently calling yourself an [idiot] on the warm-up swing,” I said, “then it’s probably time to step away from the ball and take a chill pill.”

Anyway, knowing that I cheated to win would make me feel like even more of an [idiot].

But check out this guy.

OK, he’s made millions in his career, made $300,000-plus this year, it won’t hurt him in the long run. But wow.

That’s honesty.

Billion-Dollar House of Cards

December 8, 2009

This morning, I woke up feeling chunky and stiff all over, worried about bills and deadlines, resenting the two-hour commute ahead and sensing a head cold coming on.

To make myself feel better, I kept repeating: “At least I’m not Tiger Woods.”

As a semi-horrible golfer with a huge handicap in financial planning, I never thought such a day would come.

Drugs? Lovers? “Sexting?” He has money, fame, a bikini-model wife, cars, a mansion, a ripped physique and an unprecedented golf game … and that’s not good enough?

The Softball Coach showered, yanked a wrinkled shirt from the closet, pulled mismatched socks from the underwear drawer (laundry day!), dressed, kissed my lovely, cooing wife goodbye and limped off to the train station.

Lucky and happy to be me.

Objects May Be Closer Than They Appear

October 28, 2008

The basketball flew in a majestic arc, a tan-orange sphere against the darkness of the Keaney Gymnasium rafters. In the lights of the old place, it took on the half-bright, half-dark look of a partial moon on a clear Rhode Island night.

The night I met Maureen Hogan …

POW! Right in the kisser.

Hogan was a stocky point guard for the University of Rhode Island women’s basketball team, called the WRams (or Women Rams) to separate them from the real team sports — the male Rams. Ewes would have been less icky and at least could have been excused by something … if only how often Rhode Islanders say “yous.” But don’t get me started on men’s sports vs. women’s sports. Especially considering how much better the URI women’s teams did back then.

Anyway, Hogan decked me beneath the basket, both of us going down in a heap.

And I was mortified. Was she hurt? (I’d never forgive myself.) No, but she was angry that with all of the space along the end line of the basketball court I had managed to plant myself directly in her path. I’d been fiddling with the aperture and adjusting the lens, which of course distorts your sense of physical reality. Besides, a nice shot was coming right at me. Alas, it would be a close-up of the gymnasium’s parquet floor. She untangled herself, shoved me aside as I tried to apologize, then trotted back into the game as the loose ball was put back in play by URI’s opponents.

Hmmph. Like it’s my fault. Maybe if she’d caught the ball she wouldn’t have clobbered me. Yeah, that’s it.


The Coach with company under the basket for a men's game.

OK, so there stood the Softball Coach, face red, as the crowd, players and coaches waited expectantly for the fool — me — to run away and hide. At least it felt like that. In those moments, life seems over.

If you run away, it is. Or might as well be.

Besides, as sports editor of the Good 5 Cent Cigar, the URI campus newspaper, I needed a women’s hoops shot to finish the next day’s edition. So for three more quarters I stayed, still the only photographer, but well out of the way of the action.

Just one more sordid tale from the Softball Coach’s love/hate relationship with the camera. See, I’m hoping to use much more art with this new blog, but over the years have lost confidence with my abilities behind the lens even as the act of picture taking gets easier. Go figure. And I’m a little iffy on the jpeg technology, to be honest. Not today, but this will be my first art-bearing blog entry. (See what I mean?)

I won’t run away from the challenge. Even if I get flattened in the process from time to time.

How ‘Bout Them Cubbies?

October 6, 2008

As the lone Red Sox fan in the newsroom, the Softball Coach was asked in 2004 by the Baltimore Sun to write a playoff-preview story about how it felt to get so close — or not so close — year after year without shedding the Curse of the Bambino.

Well, I wrote that it felt like garbage. That it never got easier or better. That I feared and dreaded to my soul that my dad would die without the Red Sox having won a championship in his lifetime.

I also wrote that I feared winning the championship almost as much as I feared losing again.

Anybody can be a Yankees fan, I reasoned, while it takes a special breed to stay faithful to the teasing, bumbling, luckless BoSox. Would being a Red Sox fan become nothing more than loving a front-runner?


So here we are. Feeling sorry for Cubs fans … again. More hopes dashed. Swept out of the playoffs by the Dodgers, of all teams. Now, a century without a ring. The Red Sox hadn’t won one since 1918.

Now, they’ve got two World Championship rings, and everywhere you go, at least one guy’s wearing a Red Sox cap, weathered by rubbing it against cement or whatever so that it looks 50 years old. “Hey, I’ve been a fan since the beginning. Yup. Born and bred.”

And the Softball Coach looks at Johnny Come Lately and thinks: “Why, I oughtta slap that hat off your head.”

But it’s too late. The Red Sox are winners. Everybody likes a winner. And nobody wants to look like they just joined the party (even if they did).

So, cheer up, Cubs fans. So you lost again. You got to see some great baseball at a great ballpark this season. And there are so many great things to do in Chicago to pass the time until 2009. Rejoice that you live in a great place.

And the next time somebody asks how it feels to have gone a whole century without winning a World Series, tell them it’s fine. The beer’s cold, the sun’s warm and the hot dogs are awesome. The blues clubs stay open until 4 a.m.

And a Cubs logo would look horrible on a pink hat anyway.

Vlad the Impaled

October 2, 2008

Many of us have been in Vladimir Guerrero’s cleats, so it should be hard to ride the guy for the baserunning brainlock he suffered in Game 1 of the Angels-Red Sox playoff series. But …

OK, his was a potentially multimillion-dollar mistake and mine cost me probably a beer. Stay with me here.

Vlad’s on first. Bloop over first baseman’s head. Guerrero, channeling the freakishly fast Vlad of his youth, turns second and heads screaming (in his mind, anyway) for third base. The throw beats him there by a stinking mile, killing a potential rally. Ouch. Angles lose, 4-1.

Oh, and did we mention that the third base coach was hollering and waving to get Vlad to stop at second base?

“Vladdy being Vladdy,” teammate Torii Hunter was quoted as saying, which, to those of us who’ve followed the career of one Manny Ramirez, quickly translates to: “Geez, what a dope!”

True story: We’d made the playoffs after several seasons in the cellar. Single elimination. Your Softball Coach was the leadoff hitter — and an aggressive baserunner who hadn’t been thrown out at second, third or home all season. Heck, I’d stolen home on an appeal play when the pitcher lollypopped the throw to first base. I’d seen him do that in an earlier game against another team. Just like I’d seen our current opponent’s centerfielder lob throws back to the infield. So, fly ball to deep center, the Softball Coach tagging at first, knowing he can make it to second and determined that, if the CF makes a lazy throw, he’s taking third, too.

Softy being Softy. Out by a mile and three quarters.

The shortstop had a cannon for an arm — yeah, I’d seen that before, too (my bad) — that more than made up for the outfielder’s gaffe. Rally dead. On the bench, my teammates’ shoulders slumped. The game was far from over, but we were toast.

“Good try,” a teammate called to me, which translates to: “Geez, you’re an idiot.”

My recklessness on the basepaths had of course helped get us to the playoffs, but …

Tell it to Vlad. Or Bill Buckner, whose MVP-caliber year in 1986 went right through his legs. Or Mitch Williams, who served up a World Series-losing gopher ball to Joe Carter in 1983 after saving 43 games for Philly that year. Or Ryan Dempster, who lost his rhythm — or his mind — last night and walked the bases loaded with a 2-0 lead, then gave up a grand slam as Cubs fans collapsed. Dempster had been about unbeatable at Wrigley Field during the regular season.

What can you do but buy your own beer … and suck it up.

Seeing a Shrink

September 29, 2008

The other day I was browsing a favorite baseball blog, Bugs & Cranks, when I stumbled upon an interesting piece on the decline in home runs hit this year in Major League Baseball.

Hmm. I commented there, but thought I’d expand on the thought a bit here.

Now, old SC is no doctor, but he does have a theory based on watching a few notable (obvious) steroid abusers and their performance as they (obviously) stopped using. Those observations suggest to these eyes that it’s about a season and a half before a juicer returns to a level of body comfort that allows his more natural talent to re-establish itself.

Like, say a guy was a good infielder with a little pop but not the kind that earns you $15 million per season. Very talented, or he wouldn’t be in the big leagues, right? He takes HGH, starts mashing, earns the big paycheck and everybody’s happy. Then he has a cancer scare, or just gets spooked by the idea of drug testing. He stops using, and his performance tanks as his body tries to adjust.

This includes his eyes, as some allege that HGH has performance-enhancing abilities there, too. Gone is the Ted Williams eyesight — he said he could see the seams as the baseball approached home plate — that, paired with above-average major league abilities, turned your guy into a dangerous hitter.

The season after your infielder hit 40 home runs and batted .290, he’s become an all-field, no-hit guy. For a season and a half he just plain stinks, at least in comparison to what he was. Soon, an MLB owner might be so eager to unload this “bad” contract that he’ll make Mr. Ex-Slugger a throw-in on a bigger deal. In the new place, he keeps scuffling for a while, then slowly regains his natural abilities. A couple of seasons after the trade, he’s a very valuable player.

Call me crazy, but does this look like anyone you know?

A lot of guys you know?


Symbolic Gesture

September 25, 2008

Editor’s note: A version of this entry appeared a while back in my blog on letterpress printing. I thought I’d share it again here with a different audience just for grins.

Go ahead, put an asterisk next to the Softball Coach’s name in the record books.

I’ll do it for you: Softball Coach.*

Feel better? Me too. In fact, I’ve rarely felt as strongly** about an issue.

Really, people. Leave the asterisk alone. How did such a magnificent old typesetter’s symbol come to represent everything negative?

How soon we forget. The asterisk has always stood for added value. Think about it: An asterisk whispers of even more great stuff to come later. Present but never pushy. Always helpful. “Don’t stop reading on my account, for I’d hate to interrupt the author’s brilliant prose. But when next we meet, I’ll provide a little more detail or context.”

Now we’ve got a presidential candidate (John McCain***) and a fashion designer (Marc Ecko****) insisting that a baseball player (Barry Bonds*****) has done something so anti-American, so egregious and evil that only an asterisk can capture its rottenness.******

Barry Bonds may have made a Faustian deal in exchange for baseball greatness. It looks bad. And people are starting to go to prison over this whole steroids thing. The asterisk, meanwhile, has done nothing but serve mankind. Why, then, should these two be forever linked?

Just had to get that off my chest.*******

*Note: The Softball Coach is not currently listed in any record book.

** The Softball Coach does not use steroids.

*** Some day just a footnote in human history, as we all shall be.

**** Ditto.

***** Squared.

****** The Softball Coach does not condone cheating in any fashion.

******* Again, unenhanced by human growth hormone (but I guess you knew that — didn’t mean to intrude).

Fuhgeddabout Yankee Stadium? Never

September 17, 2008

Dan Pasqua got me invited onto the field at Yankee Stadium.

Oh, the reserve Yankees outfielder/failed phenom of the Eighties had no idea who I was, a low-rent journalist in New Jersey whose buddy at our tiny newspaper had a big idea. We’d talk our way into press passes to the stadium on the notion that we’d be covering Pasqua, the local boy made good. Naturally, I was skeptical about the freaking Yankees letting two nobodies like us on the field for a game.

Never mind getting a press pass for the entire season.

Swear to god. The one hitch was that we could come only when Western Division opponents were visiting — White Sox, Twins, Brewers, Angels … you know, lousy teams (in those dark days) that no New Yorker in his right mind wanted to see live or read about in the papers.

You have to remember that this was not the Derek Jeter dynasty we’re talking about. Don Mattingly’s back was already sore. Omar Moreno was the center fielder, for heaven’s sake.

Still, there we were, a couple of phony-baloneys. Me with my camera, Dave Dorfman — starstruck literally beyond words — with his notebook and pen, beside the batting cage as Kent Hrbek stood next to us and Gary Gaetti called his home run shots during Minnesota Twins batting practice. Now, I grew up in Cranston, R.I., Red Sox country. But standing on that storied turf, watching Gaetti mash baseballs up, up, up toward that white facade … only to see them sink, sink, sink and just barely clear the centerfield fences. Wow. What an enormous, magical place Yankee Stadium was.

If Dan Pasqua had made it as a pro, I might even be a Yankees fan today. (Thanks … and sorry, bud.) Mary IS a Yankees fan, baptized by fireworks and Yankee Franks when I took her to her first ever Major League game at The House That Ruth Built. My bad.

Anyway, soon we’ll put a fork in the old place. The 2008 Yanks have stunk out the joint for the last time. And the facade will soon fall. They all do. Ask the Romans.

Can’t find one? Hmmm.

But the memories of Yankee Stadium will stay with pretty much anyone who’s been in the place. The guy who climbed the foul pole to the upper deck, where about a thousand security officers — the dreaded “yellow jackets” — were waiting. Streakers. Assaults (mostly verbal, thank goodness). Chambliss. F-ing Lou Piniella. Mr. May, Mr. October and Mr. Torre. Rags, Pags and Ricky. The Bronx Cheer. Donnie Baseball. “Who’s Your Daddy?” Pine tar. Yes, fireworks and franks, including Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” Ah You Kiddin’ Me?

Red Sox fans will no doubt cheer as the wrecking ball throws high-and-hard ones at the site of so much heartbreak and — 2004 notwithstanding — precious little onfield joy. But you have to hand it to the old ballyard. Like its hated, or loved, pinstriped occupants, it certainly knew how to get under your skin.

A bit like Fenway Park, whose days, like ours, fellow Romans, are also incontrovertably numbered.