Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be counting down our favorite baseball movies for the next three weeks. Today’s choice of silver screen Baseball goodness looks at what happens when one gets a second chance to follow a dream.
Today we return to the world of real events captured on film as part of our journey to what we feel are the best baseball movie of all time.
While there is certainly no shortage of baseball movies about real people, the quest for a second chance often rings throughout the narrative of many of these movies which is certainly the case with The Rookie starring Dennis Quaid.
While I never really bought into the fantasy elements of Angels in the Outfield, there was one Disney baseball movie deemed worthy to join my collection and that movie was The Rookie.
The Rookie ells the true life tale of a high school baseball coach from Texas getting to live out his dream of pitching in the big leagues for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after he thought that his dream had been shattered following an injury.
As a fan of the Devil Rays turned just plain Rays, I try to soak up as much of the team’s history as possible.
Granted there are only about 15 years of history so far but I have lived each one of those years with the team and can remember covering the announcement of their birth into the league so I guess you could say they hold an extra special place in my heart.
After being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, Jim Morris (played by Dennis Quaid), blows out his shoulder ending his hopes of achieving his lifelong dream of pitching in the Major Leagues.
Fast forward a few years to 1999 and Morris is now married with three children, is a high school science teacher, and is the head baseball coach in Big Lake, TX.
After discovering that Morris can still bring the heat, his players offer him a deal that if they make the state playoffs, Morris will try out again for the Major Leagues.
After the Owls make the playoffs, Morris tries out for the Devil Rays and after being signed to a Minor League contract is assigned to the Class AA Orlando Rays (now the Montgomery Biscuits). After a quick stop in Orlando Morris moves up to the AAA Durham Bulls.
In September Jim is told that the Major League club has called him up, and that they will be playing in Texas against the Rangers. In true Hollywood fashion Morris makes his Major League debut against the Rangers in front of many of his friends and family who traveled to see his debut.
Morris pitched for the Devil Rays for a couple of years before finally hanging up his glove for the final time.
The movie and real life story of Jim Morris show that it is never too late for one to chase their dreams, which is an important lesson for everyone to keep in mind and is what makes The Rookie worthy to be on our countdown.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Rays baseball to get ready for.
Today is President’s Day, or Washington’s birthday as it is also known, which was set aside as a way to honor the first person who held that job .
The holiday was first thought of as a way to recognize the two presidents with birthdays in February, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, but it has grown to include a time to honor all of the people, who have served in the nation’s highest office.
Through the years President’s Day has also become a time to buy furniture, appliances and cars at unheard of savings as many companies have sought to capitalize on the fact that many people have the day off of work.
While the founding fathers wanted us to enjoy various freedoms, I doubt they had no interest financing on washers and dryers in mind when they spoke of “self-evident truths.” Then again maybe they did.
So for our purposes let us not focus on the retail aspects of the holiday. Instead let us try to focus on the office of the President and what that entails.
To date, 44 men have served as President of the United States.
Later this year the United States will elect the 45th person to hold the office of President.
I was fortunate enough to come face to face with two of the men who would go on to become president although I was only old enough to remember one of them
I have been told by my mother that my first encounter with a future President was during a rally for Jimmy Carter.
Of course at the time of that rally I would have been perhaps just turning 1 so needless to say I do not recall meeting him but I am sure it was a lovely time for all.
As for the encounter with a Commander in Chief that I do recall, in 1992 I met Bill Clinton at a campaign event in Orlando, FL. While the election was still months away, and Governor Clinton had not yet become President Clinton, there was still something cool about meeting someone on the campaign trail.
Years later, meeting candidate Clinton is still one of the more memorable moments of my journalistic career. I am sure that reporters that cover the Presidents on a daily basis lose some of the wow factor at some point but there always needs to be a respect for the office at some level.
The other day I also came face to face with a Presidential motorcade as the 41’st President, George Herbert Walker Bush, had stopped for lunch at a local Italian restaurant near me.
Beyond getting to close down a restaurant so you can eat pasta in private, there are many other perks that come with residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington D.C.
One of those perks is throwing the ceremonial first pitch each year on Opening Day.
President William Howard Taft started the ceremonial first pitch tradition in 1910 linking the Commander in Chief with the National Pastime ever since.
While the first pitch did not occur until 1910 the link between Presidents and baseball actually goes back to post Civil War America when Andrew Johnson invited the first team of professional ballplayers to the White House.
The first presidential first pitch occurred on April 14, 1910, at National Park in Washington, DC. during a game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics with Taft connecting on the pitch to Walter Johnson.
The Senators moved to Minnesota to become the Twins and the Athletics packed up and headed west to Oakland but the one constant for over a century has been presidents and baseball.
From 1910 to 1971 the President traveled to the home ballpark of the Washington Senators to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day.
To put that streak into perspective it stretched from Taft to Richard Nixon.
While Presidents had thrown out first pitches at the World Series as well President Nixon became the first president to throw out an Opening Day pitch outside of Washington D.C. in 1972 when he threw out the pitch in Anaheim, California since there was no longer a team in Washington.
Various other ballparks were used for Opening Day after 1972 but Baltimore and Washington D.C. were the most widely used due to proximity to the White House.
For around 70 years the first pitch was thrown from the stands. Bill Clinton became the first president to throw from the mound and each president since has also toed the rubber on their pitch.
The Presidential links to baseball are not limited to first pitches alone however. Both President Bush 41 and President Bush 43 also have deep baseball roots.
George H.W. Bush was a baseball player in college at Yale and can often be seen behind home plate at Houston Astros games, when he is not having lunch at local Italian restaurants that is.
It is also a given that if both President Bush and his wife, Barbara, are seated together they will end up on the Ballpark’s kiss cam.
George W. Bush also has a baseball pedigree. Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, the younger President Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who, as one may or not know were once the expansion team that replaced the first version of the Washington Senators who left town to become the Minnesota Twins. It is sort of a neat bow to tie it all together.
So during this time that we honor our Presidents, let us not forget that soon it will once again be Opening Day and when the President steps onto the mound to throw that first pitch he will be continuing a long standing tradition that honors both the past, present and future of both the Oval Office and the game of baseball itself.
Now if you’ll excuse me I think I need to practice my pitching just in case I am ever called on to throw out a first pitch. After all, no one wants to be the person who inadvertently hits the mascot during the opening pitch a la Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh of Bull Durham fame.
For some people this means nothing more than the fact that yesterday was the 12th and tomorrow is the 14th.
For the superstitious among us today means all of the things above in addition to it being an unlucky day all the way around.
As we do every Friday the 13th it is time to state the facts about the origins of the day and uncover why some people just really do not like it.
While many may think that the Friday the 13th craze started with a certain movie character named Freddy, the roots of Friday the 13th actually run much deeper than late 20th Century cinema.
Since the 19th Century Friday the 13th has been considered an unlucky day in Western and Eastern superstition.
Friday and the number 13 were considered unlucky by some on their own so it was only logical that both occurring at the same time would be even unluckier.
In fact fear of Friday the 13th even has a name; friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigga being the name of the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named in English and triskaidekaphobia meaning fear of the number thirteen).
Personally I have never feared Friday the 13th and am among the people who consider it just another day.
But the arrival of Friday the 13th is another opportunity to think about sports and the superstitious rituals that many athletes seem to follow.
There are players who will eat the same pregame meal because they feel that to eat anything else would risk certain disaster on the field.
Hitters on a hot streak in baseball are notorious for continuing whatever “routine” it is that they feel is behind their streak since they feel any deviation will likely mean the end to the streak.
The movie Bull Durham did a very good job showing the superstitious side of baseball through chants over bats, breathing through one’s eyelids, chicken, and of course a garter belt where the rose goes in the front.
Baseball is not the only sport with superstitions. Across all levels of sports there are athletes who have a lucky shirt, or other article of clothing that they can’t go onto the field of battle without.
The link between superstitions and sports can start at a very early age.
Back in high school I did a feature article on the goalie of my school’s woman’s soccer team, who attributed her on-field success to a lucky argyle sock that she wore during every game.
Granted it was not a pair of socks but one single sock that took over when her “magic shoes” fell ill.
Throughout my career I have been around many other superstitious athletes, and I am sure I will meet many more.
To date though a single “lucky” Argyle sock has been the most memorable athlete superstition I have encountered.
So on this Friday the 13th beware of those around you who are extra cautious of their surroundings.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to see if I can find a black cat while walking under a ladder and holding a broken mirror while stepping on all of the sidewalk cracks I can find.
Today, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, also known as November 11th, is set aside as Veteran’s Day in America.
The holiday got its start on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War.
Commemorated as Armistice Day beginning in 1919, November 11th became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938.
In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day, and became a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars.
So while this has long been a day set aside to honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women who have served in the armed forces to protect the freedoms that we all enjoy, the way to honor those troops has changed in many ways through the years.
Americans still put out their flags on this holiday. Some towns still hold parades and the banks and post office are still closed.
The honoring of veterans has moved into the nation’s sporting events as well allowing thousands of people to celebrate and remember in mass.
Watch almost any sporting event over the past weekend and there were displays of patriotism and honoring of the troops as far as the eye could see.
As troops have not always received warm welcomes on the home front it was especially nice to see how the men and women of the armed services are respected and appreciated for their sacrifice.
Had the honoring of the troops stopped at the pregame ceremonies it would have been the perfect way to say thanks. Unfortunately many teams and in some cases leagues took things a tad too far for my taste.
Many teams added camouflage flourishes to their uniforms as an homage to the troops. These flourishes in many cases included camouflage wristbands and towels as well as camo windbreakers and caps for the coaches.
The camouflagication of the sidelines even went so far as putting a camo pattern on the headphones the coaches used to communicate.
While I agree that honoring the troops on Veteran’s Day is a good thing I often cringe when I see people wearing camouflage without “earning it.”
Now, I know this is hunting season in most of the country, or at least down in Texas. So to be clear I am not trying to take away anyone’s right to wear camouflage and a bright orange vest while channeling their inner Elmer Fudd by going hunting for wabbits, deer, or ducks for that matter.
What I am saying is that over the past few years I have become more and more sensitive to people wearing the current style of military camouflage when they are out and about in their daily lives.
I have no issues with people wearing old school green camo since that can usually be determined not to be current issue and looks nothing like what the troops are currently wearing.
I even have a pair of camouflage cargo pants that are extremely comfortable but I made sure that I did not buy the “official” pattern when I got them.
So this weekend when I saw the various players with camouflage towels, and coaches with camouflage hats and headphones, I questioned once again if that was really the best way to honor the veterans.
By comparison when sports teams honor police and fire fighters they do not don S.W.A.T. patterns or simulate a firefighter’s bunker gear proving that one can honor our vets and first responders without dressing like them.
For years baseball players have worn camouflage uniforms a couple times a year to honor the troops so the trend is certainly not limited to football.
I certainly can be in the minority opinion here but to me the camouflage the troops wear is earned through the sacrifice of making it through basic training and then further tested through battle.
Using a camouflage towel to wipe up sweat between plays on the field just seems wrong to me.
In one of the games I was watching one of the camouflage towels fell to the turf and was stomped on as the players moved to that area of the field.
I know that the towel was not dropped intentionally, but seeing the image of that fallen towel had the same reaction for me as if I was seeing an American flag on the ground.
I guess I look at the camouflage that the troops wear as an extension of the flag that they are sworn to protect.
It would be deemed highly inappropriate for a football player to have a sweat towel that looked like the American flag on the field so in the same way the camouflage towels just seem equally inappropriate to the point of being offensive.
Again, I know that the intent of the teams and league is completely honorable and meant to pay tribute to the troops but the execution just strikes me as wrong.
Honor the troops with the 100-yard flags that are rolled out for the National Anthem and held by real soldiers in uniform.
Honor the troops by having people stand and cheer when a vet is on Jumbotron screen.
Honor the troops by thanking a veteran for their service.
These are perfectly fine ways to honor the troops without trivializing the uniform.
Again, I may be completely out on a limb here and perhaps the masses see no issues with the camouflage being used by athletes and coaches.
But to me it screams out like a cheap gesture and also a way to make money as the camouflage caps are often available for purchase by fans.
I have never served in the military and do not pretend to be able to speak for the troops.
To do that a few years back I asked an Army reservist their thoughts on the uniform pattern being worn by non-soldiers and they said, “Camo is a uniform worn by the military and should be given the proper respect. Too many have died with the uniform on for it to be the latest fashion trend.”
And again before I get angry replies from hunters neither I, nor the soldier quoted above, are referring to the camouflage cap you can get at Walmart with your hunting camouflage pattern and favorite team’s logo on it.
I am talking about the use of the current military camouflage pattern and nothing else.
So, on this Veteran’s Day if you see a soldier, make sure you thank them for their service which makes your freedom possible. For that matter thank a veteran any time you happen to cross paths with them since thanks should not be limited to a single day of the year.
And if you see an athlete wearing camouflage know that their heart is likely in the right place. But try not to go out and buy the same camouflage cap they are wearing since there was a price paid and a sacrifice made every day by thousands of Americans in that pattern and wearing that comes with a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for your country.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a flag to place on the patio
Editor’s Note: In honor of Yogi Berra, who passed away at the age of 90, it is deja vu all other again as we take a look back at a column from June 14, 2014 pertaining to the D Day invasion that Yogi Berra and so many other members of the Greatest Generation took part in. Despite long odds and adversity Yogi Berra, and the other men who stormed those beaches, proved that it is not over, until it is over. Thanks for all of the quotable memories Yogi and for your great service to America through both the Military and as an ambassador for generations of baseball fans. You truly were one of a kind.
Today marks the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, which is the name given to the World War II battle involving over 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landing on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified coast of France’s Normandy region in one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history.
Led by Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Allied forces stormed beaches at Normandy code named Sword, Juno, Gold, Utah and Omaha.
The storming of the beaches was met by German machine gunners and artillery who tried to hold back the invasion force, almost succeeding at Omaha costing the Allies more than two thousand casualties in the opening hours.
For an idea of just how gruesome this type of frontal beach assault is one need only watch the opening of Saving Private Ryan. It is easy to forget in this era of drone attacks and smart bombs that war was once much more hand to hand leading to much higher casualty rates among its participants.
In total, the Battle of Normandy lasted from June 1944 to August 1944 resulting in the Allied liberation of Western Europe from Nazi Germany’s control and has been called the beginning of the end of war in Europe.
During the D-Day invasion all scheduled baseball games were canceled on June 6, 1944 which marked only the second time in history that games were cancelled league wide.
The first cancellation of baseball games happened on the day U.S. president Warren Harding died in 1923, and the third time was when Commissioner Bud Selig stopped play for six days from Sept. 11-16, 2001, following the terrorist attacks.
While baseball games were cancelled stateside on D-Day, two future Hall of Famers, Yogi Berra and Leon Day, were participating in the battle.
According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, 35 Hall of Fame members and more than 500 Major League players served in World War II.
Many celebrations are planned today to mark the anniversary. In France various heads of state are visiting Normandy and closer to home the people of Houston, and the surrounding areas, will have their own chance to see a piece of D-Day history starting today.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science will give the public an opportunity to see the 17-by-9 foot battle flag that was waving on the USS Texas during D-Day.
Although the USS Texas itself has been on static display for many years, the exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science marks the first time since World War II that the flag has been on public display.
Whether one travels to see the beaches of Normandy, or the Stars and Stripes, it is important to remember the sacrifice of all of those veterans who stormed those beaches to help ensure the freedom that is enjoyed to this day.
Unfortunately the time to thank a World War II veteran in person is vanishing rapidly.
The United States Veteran’s Administration estimates that a World War II veteran dies around every two minutes. That translates to a rate of approximately 555 veterans dying each day.
By the year 2036, the VA estimates, there will no longer be any living World War II veterans.
For comparison purposes the last World War I veteran, Frank Buckles, died in February 2011.
A reminder of the rapid passing of World War II veterans occurred Wednesday when, Chester Nez, died at age 93.
Nez was the last living member of the original 29 citizens of the Navajo Nation who were recruited by the Marine Corps to develop the legendary “unbreakable” code based on the Navajo language that was used for vital communications during battle.
Just as the sacrifice made on the beaches of Normandy saved countless lives by hastening the end of the war in Europe, the Code Talkers helped end the war on the Pacific front with their sacrifice.
There are countless other stories of bravery and sacrifice from the men and women of the “Greatest Generation” who served during World War II and each story goes towards the patchwork on which the nation is built.
It is likely, and hopeful, that the world will not see another war of the scale of World War II. While there will always be a need for a certain amount of boots on the ground advancements in technology have greatly reduced the number of boots required to conduct modern warfare.
But while the number of soldiers needed to protect freedom will continue to decline in the coming years that does not minimize the level of sacrifice made by each of the soldiers who wear the uniform.
So take some time before the start of the hustle and bustle of the weekend to remember the sacrifice and reflect on the high cost of freedom paid by each generation that has gone before.
And by all means if you happen to see a World War II veteran, or any other veteran for that matter, be sure to thank them for their service and their sacrifice.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a flag to visit.
Copyright 2015 R. Anderson
Covering the world of baseball one pitch at a time.