(Blogathon ’16) Kayla Thompson: “Wild And Outside” Review

This guest-post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer are not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

Book Review – Wild and Outside: How a Renegade Minor League Revived the Spirit of Baseball in America’s Heartland, by Stefan Fatsis

As a writer about independent baseball (Indy Ball Island), I am always curious to read more about the history surrounding the indy leagues. I was given a recommendation to check out Wild and Outside, a book that covers the independent Northern League during their second season. While major league baseball came to a halt in the summer of 1994, the Northern League was flourishing and bringing hope back to baseball.

This book, much like independent baseball itself, is a little all over the place. It bounces back and forth from teams to players frequently, but always in a way that keeps you following along all season long. Their second season of existence didn’t happen without some bumps in the road, but the league stayed strong and survived. Through all the ups and downs, readers are given an inside look at everything that went on behind the scenes with the league, in every city, and in each locker room.

The book’s introduction says it best:

“This is the story of how a game of rebels – from the purist Miles Wolff to the chip-off-the-block son of showman Bill Veeck to a happy-go-lucky career minor leaguer named Ed Nottle – battled the big leagues, and some times each other. It is about players who, despite being told they aren’t good enough, refuse to loosen their grip on a dream born in childhood. It is about communities that rally around something as innocent and traditional as a baseball team. And it is about a place where baseball can still be fun.”

Wild and Outside follows league owner Miles Wolff as he explains just why he wanted to bring baseball to cities in the northern mid-west. Readers get a chance to see how the six towns (Duluth, Minnesota; St. Paul, Minnesota; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Sioux City, Iowa; Thunder Bay, Ontario and Winnipeg, Manitoba) bonded with a group of misfits and brought the spirit of baseball back when it was going through its roughest patch. Meet the owners and managers who have to deal with the trials and tribulations that come with independent baseball. And finally, read about the players who are just trying to keep their dreams alive anyway they can.

While the book does cover all six teams to some extent, some teams and players are covered in much more detail than others. The Duluth-Superior Dukes with their owner Ted Cushmore is one story that really gets to the essence of independent baseball. Readers will find themselves growing sympathetic to their issues and begin rooting for the real underdogs in a league that is filled with them. Cushmore is thrust into owning the struggling Dukes, and with little help from others around him, including a manager who rarely communicated with him, faces many challenges that are a part of independent baseball teams everywhere.

In addition, hard working players such as Stephen Bishop, Vince Castaldo, Pedro Guerrero and many others have their stories weaved into the book effortlessly. The reader can follow their journeys throughout the season as they try to rekindle their love for baseball through indy ball all while still trying to reach their ultimate goal of making it (back) to affiliated ball.

Although the book is over two decades old, and the Northern League is no longer in existence (the league folded after the 2010 season), it is still a great read for baseball fans especially those that are a fan of minor league baseball and the true love of the game. This book could really be a number of stories around the country right now… the heart, the passion, the drive and determination are still in small towns all across America every summer. Get away from the big MLB contracts and fall in love with baseball again.

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of Wild and Outside will be a giveaway to a lucky person who donates through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. A special thanks to Kayla for contributing a copy!

This guest-post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page. Also, please note that the opinions and statements of the writer were not necessarily those of the Baseball Continuum or it’s webmaster.

 

 

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(Blogathon ’16) CONTINUUM CLASSIC: The “Backyard Baseball” Kids: Where Are They Now?

This piece from the blog’s archives is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

Originally published August 15, 2014.

As you may know, I am a big fan of the old Backyard Baseball video games. In fact, I have a low-burn campaign to get the original games on Steam. So, with the Little League World Series here, I got to thinking: Whatever happened to those kids? Where are they now? I mean, I presume they lived in California, since that’s where Humongous Entertainment was, and I’m going to guess they’d be in their 20s nowadays (the oldest of them would have been, like, 13 in 1997 and the release of the first game, and the youngest would have probably been 6 or 7. Most of them seemed to be be around 10, 11 or 12), but… what would they be doing now? How did their lives turn out?

I did some research, and here’s what I found. It was a high-achieving group, with three individuals playing professional baseball, several others playing sports in college or professionally, and others going on to stardom or at least happy lives. Sadly, as with any large group of people, there were some who never achieved their dreams, others who lost their way, and even one who who is no longer with us. And then, there is one final person who is a story all of his own…

  • Kenny Kawaguchi, the wheelchair-bound player who appeared in early games of the series but later disappeared, currently runs a music-and-sports podcast in Los Angeles, where he works as a consultant to various tech companies.
  • Tony Delvecchio had a brief career in the Mets organization and Indy-ball. A proud Italian-American, he represented Italy in some minor international tournaments. He now is a bartender in Las Vegas and is married with two kids.
  • Although Tony would refuse to ever admit it, his sister, Angela Delvecchio, fared far better at baseball, playing on the boys team at a small NAIA school before causing a brief media stir when she was signed by a team in the Golden Baseball League in the 2000s. She continues to pitch in the Girls Professional Baseball League in Japan and is a member of the United States Womens National Baseball Team.
  • Pete Wheeler joined the Army and won a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions overseas, and is currently being considered for a Congressional Medal of Honor for his role in rescuing his commander from enemy fire. He also has taken up ping-pong.
  • Brothers Achmed and Amir Khan, as well as Amir’s wife Maria (née Luna), now tour the nation as America’s number one Pakistani/Mexican Fusion Metal-Rock Trio, the Wrath of Khans.
  • Ashley and Sidney Webber‘s tennis careers floundered shortly after they turned pro, with neither of them getting past the second round of any major tournament and only reaching the third round of a major tournament as a pair. The two, who often appear on lists of “greatest sports phenom busts”, recently wrote a controversial book in which they blamed their domineering father for their issues, saying that he took away a normal childhood from them. Both now retired, Ashley is an assistant coach at Notre Dame (ironically, her father’s alma mater) while Sidney has started a program meant to bring tennis to children of low-income families.
  • Dante Robinson is now a competitive eater, holding the record for most hamburgers eaten and is second in the world in several categories, including pickles, bananas, and peanut butter. When not competing, he sells insurance and is in a steady relationship with another competitive eater, Kimmy Eckman (female champion in candy bars).
  • Vicki Kawaguchi, Kenny’s little sister, has had a tough life. While rumors that she for a time turned to a seedier form of dancing after her ballet career never took off have neither been confirmed nor denied, it is known that she was, in Kenny’s words, “disowned” from the family at one point and had problems with substance abuse. Thankfully, things have seemingly turned around for Vicki, who wrote and drew a best-selling manga-inspired graphic novel on her experiences, entitled “The Pointe in Life”, which she mysteriously dedicates to a “P.S.”
  • Dmitri Petrovich, contrary to popular belief, does not work at the NSA. Nor does he work at DARPA. The report that he was arrested for being a Russian spy is also completely false. No, the truth is much more mundane: Dmitri Petrovich actually works at Virgin Galactic. Well… I guess that’s not that mundane. Oh well.
  • Stephanie Morgan‘s baseball career came to a tragic end when she suffered a catastrophic leg injury during a game at Tin Can Alley. Thankfully, the experiences that came from that injury led her to pursue a life in medicine. One of the oldest of the backyard gang, she now works as a orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles.
  • Annie Frazier later turned full-time to soccer, playing in High School and College. She now runs a co-op food market in San Francisco after funding from an unknown source saved it from financial ruin.
  • Vinnie the Gooch is currently serving time for fraud and money-laundering, but swears he was framed because “The Gooch wouldn’t do that stuff”.
  • Ernie Steele was heavily recruited by Division I basketball teams and eventually signed a letter of intent at Syracuse. Jim Boeheim kicked him off the team after one practice after a joke that centered on a particularly bad pun about the zone defense. After some time playing in Europe and several dozen standup classes, “Funnybones” is now a member of the Harlem Globetrotters.
  • Sally Dobbs is an attorney, while her little brother Ronny is a firefighter, having grown up both in size but also in courage.
  • Mikey Thomas kept playing baseball and bloomed into quite the slugger as he defeated his childhood sicknesses. He was given a scholarship to Humungous University. However, he then found himself unable to keep up with D1 pitching, and his slow speed and so-so fielding caused him to be benched. Seeking an edge, Mike turned to steroids. It was then, according to him, that he received an anonymous letter that told him that cheating was the easy way out, and then went on to give him a few good tips. Thomas then broke out, hitting home runs in five consecutive games and winning back a starting position. Thomas reached as high as AA in the Red Sox organization before a knee injury took him out of affiliated ball (ironically, Stephanie Morgan, then in her residency, helped with the surgery). He now coaches baseball not far from where he and the others played in their childhood.
  • Jocinda Smith’s played for the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team and now plays in the WNBA, where she is a perennial All-Star.
  • Kiesha Phillips later turned to softball and was an All-American in college. She now works as a school counselor in her hometown.
  • Gretchen Hasselhoff is now a voice actress, best known for doing those disclaimers at the end of commercials that are spoken so fast you can barely understand them.
  • Ricky Johnson played for a mid-major Division I football team but has since fallen on hard times due to heavy medical bills and post-concussion problems. A recent mysterious donation has helped ease the financial problems, but sadly nobody is sure if Ricky will ever be the same again.
  • Marky Dubois was for a time missing, and presumed dead, somewhere in the Louisiana Bayou, where he went saying he would find the legendary “Skunk Ape” and bring it back to civilization. Nobody, apparently, told him that the Skunk Ape is said to live in Florida. Late last year, however, he traipsed out, a frog in one hand and some hairs he claimed to be from the “Skunk Ape” in another. He has yet to discuss his ordeal.
  • Billy Jean Blackwood’s modeling career never panned out, so she instead went into the hospitality industry. She currently is an assistant manager at a hotel in New Orleans.
  • Luanne Lui, the youngest of all the backyard kids, recently graduated from Humongous State University, where she played softball. She is pursuing a graduate degree but has not yet decided in what yet.
  • Reese Worthington played soccer in college and has begun a career in finance and was recently featured in a news story about his large stamp collection.
  • Every “Where Are They Now” article has a sob story. And in this case, it’s the fate of Jorge Garcia, the bespectacled kid with a weird swing. Garcia passed away at the age of 16 when he was killed in a hit-and-run not far from Parks Department Field #2, where his family had recently sponsored the building of a new concession stand. Despite a hefty reward offered by his family, no perpetrator was found until several years later, when an anonymous tip led police to a man who quickly confessed to the crime. Due to the tip being anonymous, the reward money was donated to the local Backyard Sports organization and also used to create a scholarship in Jorge’s name.
  • Although she was probably the last one anyone expected to do so, Lisa Crocket eventually blossomed into a beautiful and outgoing woman and became a actress who is best known for her role as Cynthia Coat in “Pajama” Sam Peterson’s gritty reboot of Pajama Man.
  • Sunny Day currently works behind the scenes at BNN, which you may be familiar with if you play Out of the Park Baseball.
  • And finally…

Pablo Sanchez. The Secret Weapon. The undisputed greatest of all the backyard kids, who was great no matter the sport but was greatest of all in baseball. Nobody ever truly knew much about him, as he only seemed to know Spanish and usually just let his skills do the talking. At least, that’s what everybody thought. In reality, Pablo spoke perfect English, he had learned Spanish- and become instantly fluent in it- in school. And, as he continued to rule anything and everything he tried his hand at, certain eyes were drawn to him. Rumors began to spread of a child who would break all existing sports paradigms, the sports equivalent of a nuclear weapon. Whatever team that would get him would instantly become the greatest on earth, whatever league that had him would become the most popular in the nation, and whatever he endorsed would instantly become the best-selling.

He would upset the balance of all sports and all the economies connected to them, bringing about chaos. Quite simply, the lords of sports decided, Pablo Sanchez could never be allowed to play sports above the youth level.

They came to him a few days before he started High School. All four commissioners of the Big 4, the heads of the IOC, FIFA, NASCAR, and ESPN’s X-Games divisions. Several major CEOs and a few big-name agents. Some say that even a few senators showed up.  Never before or since had such a conglomeration come together.

They made Pablo and his family a simple offer: In exchange for not disrupting the natural order of competition and business in the sports world, they would give him a half-billion dollars. A year. Until the age of 50, at which point it would merely become a million dollars a year.

You’d like to think that Pablo would have been incorruptible. But, alas, even he had a price. And so, the greatest athlete of all time never stepped on the field.

Instead, he became something so much greater. You see, while others would have just taken that money, gotten a nice mansion, and lived a life of leisure, Pablo would have no such things. After college (where he was Summa Cum Laude, of course), he began to travel. And he began to help people. You see, over the years, Pablo looked out for his friends. It was he who saved Marky Dubois from the deepest part of the Bayou, it was he who wrote that letter to Mikey Thomas, it was he who helped fund Annie Frazier’s business, it was he who paid Ricky Johnson’s bills, and it was he who gave the tip that led the police to the man who had killed Jorge Garcia. And, yes, it was he who was the one who helped Vicki Kawaguchi turn her life around, something for which she dedicated her book to him for.

Yes, the Secret Weapon still has been amazing, and still can do no wrong. And to this day, if you see a man driving a purple car going “putt-putt-putt” down the road, know that he probably is on his way to do something amazing again, perhaps finding out what really happened with Vinnie the Gooch or looking for what happened to Earl Grey, the soccer announcer who hasn’t been seen in nearly a decade. And you can know that he has made a difference, even if it wasn’t on a sports field…

…well… maybe.

You see, once, during his travels, he came to a town in New Jersey. While there, he went to a youth baseball practice. He saw something in one of the players, something like he once was. He went up to that player. And, in the next few hours, he taught nearly everything he knew to that kid.

You may know that “kid” as Mike Trout.

The Secret Weapon lives on.

This piece from the blog’s archives has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

(BLOGATHON ’16!) International Baseball Culture: Mitsuru Adachi’s “Touch”, Part 1, which ironically doesn’t have much baseball in it

This post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

In International Baseball Culture, I look at baseball-related entertainment from outside the USA that isn’t bizarre, but is interesting, perhaps learning some new things along the way!

In 2005, the Japanese television station TV Asahi held a special on the 100 most popular anime (animation) in history, as voted on by Japanese viewers. While many of the most popular programs were fantasy, adventure or science fiction, such as the Gundam series of giant robot programs (at number two) or Dragon Ball (at number three), the top ten also had a baseball anime: Touch, which was seventh.

What is Touch? Well, to put it in simple terms, it’s a tale of two stories: the baseball one and the off-the-field one. It’s about three teenagers (twin boys and their girl-next-door neighbor) who navigate high-school, relationships and their pitfalls while trying to bring their school glory on the diamond as they try to reach Koshien, Japan’s national high school baseball tournament, which is like March Madness and a Friday night in Texas combined.

Needless to say, it struck a nerve with Japanese audiences, and the 2005 program’s polling was not that out of the ordinary: A follow-up list that included votes from after the TV Asahi special was aired also had Touch in the top ten, at number nine. Nor was this a recent phenomena, either: during it’s original run in the 1980s, it was, according to some sources, the most watched anime in the history of Japan. Ever.

The series was, in itself, adapted from a manga (comic) of the same name, written and illustrated by Mitsuru Adachi, that saw it’s volumes sell over an estimated 100 million copies. Just to put that in perspective, in 2010 the population of Japan was around 128 million. Of course, that doesn’t mean over three out of four Japanese people owned at least one copy of a volume of Touch… but it does mean that those who did liked it very much, buying every volume.

From what I’ve read about the series, it’s not hard to see why it would have such broad appeal, as it apparently has something for everyone. It has baseball action (and also some detours into boxing and other sports) for the boys, romance for the girls, and drama and comedy for everyone. And apparently all of those things are done well enough where even people who normally can’t stand stuff like that seem to like it- I’ve come across several reviews that include lines like “I don’t even like baseball but I was enthralled by the game episodes” or “the romance plot is actually realistic and well-handled.”

And yet, despite the fact that Touch is one of the most successful anime and manga in the history of Japan, it has never seen official release in the United States, and it’s unlikely that it will anytime soon, either (the anime and manga import market is mainly focused on recent releases, and what old ones that do happen are usually Sci-Fi or Fantasy). However, there is apparently a unspoken agreement between the Japanese entertainment industry and it’s English-speaking fans that they won’t sue anybody who translates and distributes translated versions of the show/book, so long as they stop doing it if an actual agreement to distribute them in the USA is made, so I was able to find copies of both the anime and manga online.

But anyway: a baseball-centric story that is one of the most popular and well-regarded anime/manga in Japanese history, and it’s almost completely unknown to American audiences? What better way to start International Baseball Culture? (after the jump)

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(Blogathon ’16!) Related To Somebody Famous For Something Else: Tony Lupien, WWE Star John Cena’s Grandpa

This post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

I’m not much of a wrestling fan, but I know a great meme when I see one, and the meme related to WWE Superstar John Cena is a good one:

For those of you who don’t want to watch that, in essence, it is what happens when a completely unrelated scene is suddenly interrupted by the cry of “JOHN CENA!” or “HIS NAME IS JOHN CENA!” and his theme music begins to play. It’s very stupid, but also hilarious.

But, did you know that the “public face” of the WWE is the grandson of a baseball player? And not just any baseball player, but an honest-to-goodness MLB player: Tony Lupien of the 1940s Red Sox, Phillies and White Sox. In fact, the first-baseman even received MVP votes during the depleted years of WWII:

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 11.00.11 AMHere are his Minor League stats:

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 11.01.46 AMAfter his career, Lupien went on to be manager and coach, including bringing Dartmouth University to the 1970 College World Series. He was also involved- both during and after his career- with the labor movement, including help co-author The Imperfect Diamond, a history of baseball’s labor relations up through the 1970s.

At 8 AM: The start of “International Morning”, several hours of international baseball content

This post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

(Blogathon ’16) A Random Musing on the Fairport Little League Money-Grabbing Promotion

This post is part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

Tons of people play Little League Baseball or have played Little League Baseball when they were of the age where you can.

This is not a story about my actual time on the Little League field, where my greatest moment was the time I drew a walk with the bases loaded to force in the walk-off run. No, this is about something else: the Fairport Little League money-grabbing promotion, a crazy promotion in which a pre-teen ballplayer was put into a box full of money, a blower was turned on to send that money flying around, and the kid had to try and grab as much money as possible, which he (or she) would be able to keep.

There were many thoughts on strategy for this. Some kids thought you should try to trap it against the sides of the box and then pull it on. Others thought you should just grab wildly and hope for the best. A few suggested using a loose jersey as a net to catch the dollars and then try to grab from the “net” since you were only allowed to keep the money you had in your hands. Still others thought that it was stupid and that you should just keep the entrance fee and use it to buy a candy bar from the concession stand.

That last group, while probably wise beyond their years, were absolutely no fun.

And then there was the question of what you’d do with the money. Maybe you’d use it to buy candy at the concession stand (always a great choice), maybe you’d rent a video game (this was back when there were actual stores that rented video games), or maybe you’d just put it into your piggy bank.

When I walked in to the box, all those years ago, I wasn’t sure what my strategy was. I think it was a mixture of the various strategies. And I can’t remember what I used the money I got for. Heck, I can’t even remember how much money I grabbed, period.

And yet, despite the fact that I’ve forgotten the end result, I still can remember that big box that sent money flying around you…. a piece of childhood and Little League.

At 5 AM: A “Songs of October” Update

This post has been part of the 2016 Baseball Continuum Blogathon For Charity, benefiting the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. The Roswell Park Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of Roswell Park Cancer Institute and funds raised will be “put to immediate use to increase the pace from research trials into improved clinical care, to ensure state-of-the-art facilities, and to help improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” Please donate through the Blogathon’s GoFundMe page.

 

 

Famous for Something Else: Danny Kanell

A College Football analyst and radio co-host on ESPN who had started at QB for Florida State and who played in the NFL and Arena Football League (usually as a back-up), Danny Kanell was drafted in the 24th round of the 1995 Draft by the Yankees. While he would go on to choose football, he later would have a brief stint in independent ball in 2001 for Newark of the Atlantic League:

Year Age AgeDif Tm Lg Lev G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
2001 27 -1.5 Newark ATLL Ind 25 79 76 11 18 2 2 1 6 2 1 3 24 .237 .266 .355 .621 27 2 0 0 0 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/3/2015.

Kanell remains somewhat involved with baseball at ESPN, occasionally commenting on games during his appearances and sometimes even serving as a color commentator for college baseball games on the networks of ESPN.