Talkin’ (re: Reading) Baseball

Ever since I heard of its release, I have wanted to read Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty.  In fact, there are tons of baseball books I want to read but I never make the time to do so.

The 2017 season will be different.

Since I was laid up for a week after knee surgery on May 23, I have torn through four books and am two-thirds of the way through a fifth.  I began with Molina, visited the animals at The Bronx Zoo, cringed at the Yips of a Phenom and rode the busses for a year with Baseball Gospels.  Currently I am avoiding bar fights with David Wells.

First I need to talk about Molina.

molinaTremendous.  Absolutely, positively tremendous.  A book where the heart of baseball, and how baseball was the heart of a lovely family, are beautifully intertwined.

Well written and difficult to put down, Molina’s book is a delightful, and at times emotional, story.  And although our pastime seemed like it was the center of it all, it wasn’t.  A love story, in fact, was.  It was one I felt I could relate to but on a significantly smaller scale.

Bengie, his Dad, his Mom, his brothers, his girls.  It’s a love story of a family in Puerto Rico.  It’s a love story on a workhorse of a baseball diamond, across the street from house he grew up in.  This is not a breakdown of game after game in his career.  In fact, one thing that impressed the heck out of me was the part about winning his first World Series.  Sure it was there, but it didn’t seem much more than a footnote.  Probably because as amazing an experience that was for him, his family was always #1 with him.  I loved that.  I loved that winning the WS was no more than three pages.  But dealing with significant lessons in life regarding his father?  So very many.  I will be forever happy Molina allowed us into his heart, the dugout and his life and equally as happy I finally took the time to read it.  I  hope every baseball fan I know, who appreciates the game and family, follows suit.

Lyle_editedI followed up with The Bronx Zoo and reminisced about my childhood Yankee teams that won the ’77 and ’78 World Series’.  So much fun.  I can see how this was a groundbreaking book in its time.  Plus, when you consider its author and Cy Young Award winner Sparky Lyle was a childhood favorite of mine and a bit of a local hero (Somerset Patriots), how could I not?

Next up, The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life by pitcher-turn-centerfielder Rick Ankeil.  I listened to this audiobook.  That may not have been the best approach but let me begin with the positives.  I was a fan of Ankeil when he came up and followed his first year closely (he was on my fantasy team).

ankeilWhen Game 1 of the playoffs against the Braves saw him throw five wild pitches in one inning, the baseball world witnessed something it does not normally see … especially from such a young kid with an expectedly amazing career on the mound.  The guy got the yips and in short, ended his pitching career.

But the reason I bought the book was not because of that day against the Braves.  It is because I have always been fascinated and in awe of Ankeil’s resilience to make it back to the Bigs.  It is an amazing story, one worth having a book written about it.  I am glad he is letting baseball fans like me know the depth of his difficulties with the yips, the monster, the thing and make it back to a successful baseball career.  But if I am being honest, the writing lacked some and although Rick has a cannon for an arm and a nice swing of the bat, that doesn’t translate to an enjoyable and/or engaging audio narration.  But damn, what a story.

haystackThen, I took a friend’s recommendation of Dirk Hayhurst’s books of life in the minors.  I picked up The Bullpen Gospels: Major League Dreams of a Minor League Veteran and laughed from start to finish.  I tore through it.  It was, by far, the single funniest baseball book I have ever read.  Even funnier than Jay Johnstone’s Temporary Insanity … and that was damn funny!  Hayhurst has written three more books since then and I am sure I will read them too; I just have a few other books in front of it.

One of which is Perfect I’m Not: Boomer on Beer, Brawls, Backaches, and Baseball by David Wells.

WellsTwo thirds of the way through it and I will tell you this.  Imagine yourself in a bar, throwing back mugs of beer and shots and sitting at a table with Wells.  He tells you one baseball story after another not giving a damn who is listening.  That is this book.  It has its fair share of mundane descriptions of some games, et al.  That said, it is hard to read a baseball book without it (although Molina did an exceptional job of that).

Next on the nightstand after Boomer?

Where Nobody Knows Your Name: Life in the Minor Leagues of Baseball by John Feinstein and The 33-Year-Old Rookie: How I Finally Made it to the Big Leagues After Eleven Years in the Minors by Chris Coste

I do love this game. Can ya tell?




As today marks the third anniversary of Dave Ricciardi’s death, I am reposting a blog I wrote a couple of years ago. 


I am on the other side of the paddock, under the shed, looking at the odds. The smell of pizza from inside the grandstand found me outside. The announcer lets us know the horses are on the track. Under my feet are thousands of tiny gray pebbles. I am 10-years-old and the sound of someone whipping themselves with a program is getting louder.

I hear him talking. He’s calling the race. Naturally, his horse is on top. I look to my left and there he is, coming toward me with that huge smile on his face. This is life as a child at Saratoga Race Course. No pressures. No stress. No responsibilities. Life is good, and it is easy.

“Who ya got?” I ask.
“Cordero. He’s on the class of the race,” he says. He motions his arms like he is riding to the wire. “How ‘bout you, lovey?”
“Maple’s horse. Strong closer.” I cluck twice and whip my leg with a rolled up program.

That’s my pal, Dave.

We met as small boys – maybe around eight or nine – and were inseparable during the racing season at the Spa. We were huge racing fans, loved to bet, loved to footrace against each other in the backyard.

When we raced I hardly ever beat him. The little-you-know-what was as fast as a leopard.

Simply put, each day at the races with Dave was a great day, period. They were the very best of an already blessed childhood.

But we had different heroes, different handicapping strategies. He thought Angel Cordero, Jr. was bigger than the Beatles and I worshiped the ground Eddie Maple rode on. When we played the horses he loved sprinters and favorites. I loved the grass horses at a price.

When I think back on my childhood, he was one of the most important figures in it. The shorts and t-shirt wearing son of the hardest working Mom and Dad you’d ever want to meet, he was from a predominantly blue collar town in upstate New York.

I thought he was funny as hell, smart as a whip, and a pretty good handicapper. I was from a different place. A typical northern New Jersey suburban town dressed in my private school uniform. I was neither as funny, nor as quick as he. I tried, but he was faster.

I had it great as a kid. I felt privileged because my father’s work would rent us the house we stayed in for the whole race meet.  On top of that, we lived well.

But as different as Dave and I may have been at times, we both loved reading the Daily Racing Form and playing the horses.  It was the foundation on which our relationship was built, and to us both, it was solid ground.

One of my favorite things about him was my nickname: “Lovey.” He took it from my parents who called all their kids that. Before either of us knew it, it was all he called me and all I answered to.

When I was a teen I was afraid to make bets at the window before I turned 18. If I had gotten caught and my father found out, that was the end of me. I never took the chance.

But Dave? He was at the windows by the time he was 15 years old. Hell, he had a mustache by the time he was 12 and I didn’t shave until after college. I never would have gotten away with it.

He played a big role in key moments of my adolescence. It was with him I smoked for the first time – the bad stuff and the good stuff (I’ll let you decide which was which). He would occasionally sneak a beer or two for us, also.

As time moved forward and the years passed by, my Dad no longer covered racing. I stopped spending the entire month of August in Saratoga and we lost touch. These two kids, once inseparable, smoking, drinking and gambling as teenagers, built different lives over the years.

Fast forward to this year’s Kentucky Derby.

Two days after American Pharaoh won I went online to look Dave up. I always do that after the Derby. Every year I hope to find him. Hope to connect and see how he is; see if he is still that crazy kid I knew as a boy. It baffled me that I could never find him on social media. Ever. All my searches came up empty.

Except this year. This year my search yielded a result.

His obituary.

I swear I went cold. I immediately thought of us racing each other under the trees. I gulped, and clicked the link hoping beyond hope it wasn’t going to be him.

But, it was, and I saw that it was dated June 2014.

He was 45 years old.

I found his sister online and she confirmed it. She gave me their Mom’s number and we spoke that night.

Dave died the night before the 2014 Belmont Stakes. He was on his bed with the Form on his lap, looking at the next day’s races. It was his Mom who found him. His heart stopped working, she said. About 16 years prior, she found her husband on their couch the same way; from the same thing. It’s a sin for her to have gone through that twice, let alone once.

Granted, it may have happened 14 months ago, but because I only heard in May, it’s fresh. It feels like I just lost him. And with the horses running at Saratoga again, I think about him all the time.

Writing this was the only way I know how to honor him. I suppose it is a eulogy of sorts.

Throughout my adult life when I’d visit the Spa I hoped to run into him. I made sure to hit all the places we used to hang out. The shed. The Clubhouse. The paddock. The backyard. Get together and talk, bet a few races, and maybe revisit a simpler time.

Either way, it doesn’t look like I am making it up there this season. Time, money and work haven’t been kind of late.

So, instead of hopping on the NY State thruway, I’ll close my eyes and take a walk down memory lane. To Union Avenue in Saratoga Springs, NY. Our life at the track had no pressures. No stress. No responsibilities. Life was good, and it was easy.

“Who ya got?” I ask.
“Cordero. He’s on the class of the race,” he says. He motions his arms like he is riding to the wire. “How ‘bout you, lovey?”
“Maple’s horse. Strong closer.” I cluck twice and whip my leg with a rolled up program.
There’s 10 minutes to post, our bets have been made. We have time to kill.
“You wanna go race?”
He laughs. “Lovey, haven’t you been beaten enough today?”

There’s that smile again. I chuckle and we head to the backyard, by the Big Red Spring. We tighten our laces; roll up our programs, and talk a little trash.

I’m in the one hole, he is on the outside. We break. Three turns around the trees and it’s anyone’s race. One lap to go and we turn for home. Out of the corner of my eye I see him whipping and driving. He puts a neck in front. Just as we near the wire I make one final surge up the rail …

It was a tight finish. The judges called for a photo.  Turns out he did it again. Dave held sway, and won.

Damn it!

I missed him by a nose…

…and today, I miss him with all my heart.

#                      #                      #

June 6, 2017: I miss him even more today then when I wrote this.  May you rest, my old friend, in an easeful peace.

Thunder Rumble

With the exception of every dog that ever lived, and a relatively select group of fine human beings, I can’t say I have loved anything more than the game of baseball.  A feeling proven once again last night.

View From My SeatI took in another game.  Trenton Thunder (Yankees AA affiliate) and the Binghamton Rumble Ponies (Mets AA affiliate).  Sitting on the third base line, just to the left of the dugout (when facing), three rows up on the aisle.  Oh, this was a nice seat.  I figured since my May 13 game got rained out, I could exchange that ticket for this one.  I was joined by 6,029 others and more than a handful were Met fans.

Despite a total of nine runs scored, I saw some good pitching.  Yefry Ramirez was solid through the first three until he was pulled (broken nail on his pitching hand).  Nestor Cortes came in, letting up three runs over the next six innings to get the win.

On the Binghamton side this kid Blake Beavan took the loss (1-1) after throwing for 6IP, 8H, 4R, 4ER, 6K and 0BB.

To be fair, I have 20 years on the guy but truth is Beavan is far from a kid at 28.  A 2007 first round draft pick out of Texas, he spent a couple of years in the big leagues compiling a 16-20 overall record with the Mariners. (4.61 ERA; 293 IP 326 hits, 150 of his 151 runs were earned, 46HR, 137K and 47BB).

So, why would I focus on the losing pitcher?  Because he is what I remember most when I think about last night’s game.

Listen to me when I tell you, the guy looked fierce on the mound.  Sure, Miguel Andujar took him deep in the bottom of the third, and maybe the Thunder scored four runs off the guy in total.  But there is no doubting the intimidating force on the mound.  Look at him.


Dude is 6’7” and 245 lbs.   Now, put that on a hill and have him throw a ball at you.  I mean, toward you.  Better pray to the good Lord it ain’t at you.

Don’t believe in God?  Bet you’ll start second guessing that notion once you set foot in the box against this guy.  Seriously, would you wanna be sixty-feet and six inches from a blazing fastball coming from a dude looking at you like this?

Well, have at it pal.  I sure as heck ain’t ready for it.  That’s why Section 116 Row A Seat 1 was best for me.

For a guy who looked like he could eat batters for lunch, one thing I noticed was his patience coming off the mound. There were more than a couple of instances when mental errors by teammates cost his arm more pitches than I thought necessary.

But unfortunately for Beavan, but not for us Thunder fans, the Ponies didn’t impress at the plate to give him enough run support.

I hope this kid makes it back up to the majors. I really do.  I’d love to see it happen. My favorite baseball stories are always about the guys who grind it out in the bus leagues, have a healthy stint of time in the bigs, get sent down, then fight like hell to get back.  Once they get back they’re better in so many ways.

I’m rootin’ for this big dog from Texas to be one of them.

The game put the Thunder (34-18)  an additional game ahead of the Rumble Ponies (29-19) in the Eastern League standings with a three game lead.

Here are a bunch of pictures from the game.  Enjoy.