At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Baseball Week in the Life: We Live for This!

notes from the week ending Labor Day 2005

Monday

Took my three oldest sons to Brockton to see the independent Rox play the visiting Grays, the former Bangor Lumberjacks who had lost their home and spent the summer as a latter-day barnstorming team. The night was cold and damp, but it was better than the evening before, when the game had been suspended. So we were treated to a game and a half, as the previous contest was completed before the scheduled one began.

Between games, we were treated to the sight and sounds of former BoSox and current Rox hurler Oil Can Boyd kitkaddooing in the dugout and on the field with his friends and teammates. We also overindulged on hot dogs, which were on sale for the bargain price of two for 86 cents. I hate to tell you how many we consumed!

As it happens, my pals and fellow pundits at WATD radio were broadcasting the games that night, so I took Joshua (age 10) – and two hot dogs – up to the booth for a visit. Later on, one of the guys came down into the stands to do a “fan in the seats” interview with me, and the delight on my son’s face was a real joy to see.

Thursday

One of Josh’s buddies was celebrating his birthday in a field-level luxury box in Pawtucket’s McCoy Stadium, which is home to the Boston Red Sox triple-A affiliate of the same name. Since nothing separated us from the left-field foul line except for a three-foot wall and 15 feet of grass, the kids (and some of the grown-ups) obtained quite a few autographs, the most prized of which may have been from infield prospect Dustin Pedroia and pitcher Cla Meredith, who had had a cup of coffee in Boston earlier in the season. More hot dogs were eaten, and a good time was had by all.

Friday

Very next day, we piled our two youngest boys into the car and headed for Cooperstown NY – home, of course, to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. We arrived around suppertime, I was able to take Josh to the Hall for the last two hours it was open that night. I knew he’d love being there, but he did me proud when he said, “I know we only have limited time here tonight, but can we please be sure to see the plaques before we go?” I don’t know of any other 10-year-old – or too many adults, for that matter – who would be so excited to see a roomful of bronze wall-hangings. But he was, and so was I.

Sunday

Following a full day exploring every inch of the Hall of Fame, we went to the Farmer’s Museum, which happens to be very good and definitely worth a visit. Among the attractions listed in the program was a scheduled demonstration of town ball, which is a precursor game to modern baseball. Played in the middle 1800s, town ball was governed by two sets of rules known as the New York Game and the Massachusetts Game, respectively, the former of which eventually came to predominate and evolved into the game we know today.

The version we saw used tall stakes instead of bases, required pitchers to throw the ball in locations called for by the batters, allowed runners to be erased by being hit with thrown balls (a practice known as “soaking”), and the bases to be run in what seemed to us to be the wrong order. But the best part was when the official – a woman dressed in period garb – asked Josh if he’d like to play! It seems that some of the museum staffers who regularly participated had returned to college, and the teams were somewhat short-handed. So just like that, Josh moved from third base with the North Waltham Minor Tigers to the outfield for the Cooperstown Athletics, and for the next 90 minutes, he was a nineteenth-century athlete.

Sunday Evening

We had to leave the Museum fairly soon after the game because we were going to a New York-Penn League game 30 minutes away in Oneonta. One of the players I profiled in my book about the Cape Cod Baseball League (Beach Chairs and Baseball Bats) was playing and starring for the O-Tigers, and we were eager to reconnect with him now that he had turned pro.

The player’s name is Will Rhymes, and we met last summer when he was playing second base for the Brewster Whitecaps. A pre-med student at William and Mary, he had first made the Cape League as a temporary player. But he performed so well that the club asked him to stay all summer, and he performed so well from that point on that he earned a spot on the All Star team and the attention of the major league scouts. He’s a great kid, and his is a great story, and it was, well, great when Detroit took him in the 27th round of this year’s draft.

Will was hanging off the dugout roof when we arrived and was quite taken aback to see me standing in the first row. But he was gracious as always, and despite the fact that his team clinched a playoff spot by defeating visiting Lowell that night, he made good on his promise to visit with us after the game. Josh was agog, of course, and even the baby stopped fussing (momentarily) while we chatted about what Will’s year had been like. Perhaps his most intriguing comments had to do with the time he spent in Florida immediately following the draft. It turns out that players coming out of college are very concerned about whether they will spend their season in Florida or in Short Season A ball, as Will did. They feel they have significantly more experience than players arriving directly from high school or from Latin America or other locales. So for Will, being sent to the hinterlands of New York State was very important indeed, and he made so much of his opportunity that I’m guessing he’ll be a Whitecap again next year – this time with the West Michigan club in the Class A Midwest League.

The Line on Rhymes: Games 61 / Avg .328 / OBP .391 / Hits 82 / Doubles 11 / Triples 3 / HR 2 / RBI 27 / BB 25 / K 15

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