Holiday gift ideas for the baseball fan in your life

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

Before the Twins’ annual holiday party Wednesday, the team’s employees received another surprise from Santa Morneau. 

Last year, Justin Morneau and his wife, Krista, gave scarves to each Twins employee. Teammates teased Morneau for making the rest of them look bad for not giving their own gifts, but the Morneaus were undeterred. This year, they gave winter hats and autographed cards.

I’ve been meaning to write a post with my own gift ideas — books, always books — so here goes:

The Machine, by Joe Posnanski
A Hot Team, a Legendary Season, and a Heart-stopping World Series — The Story of the 1975 Cincinnati Reds

Posnanski delivers with this highly anticipated book profiling the Big Red Machine, then and now. It has the reporting and writing we’ve come to expect from Posnanski, and he does a masterful job weaving cultural events from 1975 into the narrative. He captures the personalities of Manager Sparky Anderson, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez — especially the enigmatic Rose. The beginning and ending anecdotes about baseball’s all-time hits leader stick with me, several weeks after reading it.

The First Fall Classic, by Mike Vaccaro
The Red Sox, The Giants and the Cast of Players, Pugs, and Politicos Who Reinvented the World Series in 1912

This book snuck up on me because, unlike “The Machine,” I had no idea it was coming. I started reading a few pages and couldn’t put it down. (This happened with Posnanski’s book, too, but I’d been looking forward to that one for so long, there wasn’t the element of surprise.)

If you love history, Vaccaro takes you back to the year Fenway Park opened and back to a time when gambling hovered over the game. You ride the train between Boston and Manhattan between games with Christy Mathewson, Tris Speaker, Smoky Joe Wood and Boston’s Royal Rooters. After scouring newspaper accounts, Vaccaro uses his writing touch to bring these characters back to life. An excerpt from before Game 3, as the writers interview Giants manager John McGraw (from page 112):

“Will sharing the Polo Grounds [with the New York Highlanders in 1913] be awkward?” Grantland Rice of the Mail wanted to know.

“Those animosities are long gone,” McGraw insisted, his generosity no doubt fortified by the 50-102 record the Highlanders posted in 1912. “Besides, when our park burned last year, they showed great hospitality to us. They took us in, and treated us neighborly, and we plan on treating them the same exact way. Though they’ll likely need a new name now that they won’t be playing in the highlands of Manhattan any longer.”

“Our headline writers already call them by a different name,” said Damon Runyon of the American. “They call them the Yankees.”

“Yankees, eh?” McGraw said. “Hmmm. I wonder if that name will catch on?”

Baseball tours and detours, 2009

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Twins_Cards_June_26_2009.jpgAs the Great Midwestern Road Trip nears an end for the Twins, I thought it’d be fun to open a thread for fans to share their impressions from the road, from the parking lots, or from the ballparks themselves.

Earlier this month, we put together a package previewing Twins trips to Wrigley Field, Miller Park, Busch Stadium and Kauffman Stadium. The idea was to give fans a user’s guide for each stop.

We received a lot of feedback and encouraged people to e-mail us with pictures. (Photo insert is Dave Wenthold, of Bloomington, who made each stop with his wife, including this one at Busch Stadium.)

La Velle and I get to split these trips for the Star Tribune. And what’s a ballwriter to do when he’s not covering a game? Go to other ballparks, of course. I expanded my own Midwestern Road Trip with a stop at the College World Series in Omaha, and took in a Madison Mallards (Northwoods League) game on Saturday. Some quick thoughts:

Rosenblatt Stadium
On Father’s Day Weekend, my dad and I made the easy drive to Omaha — six hours from my house, 4 1/2 from his place in Mankato — for the Friday night showdown between Arizona State and Texas. I’ve been a huge fan of the CWS since my Little League days and have been back many times. It really bums me out that next year will be the final year in Rosenblatt Stadium, with the 2011 event scheduled for a new facility in downtown Omaha.

Sitting in the grandstand on the third-base side this time, we were treated to a very memorable game. A tight pitcher’s duel, it was tied 2-2 heading into ninth, when ASU scored the go-ahead run. But Texas hit two home runs in the bottom of the ninth to win it, advancing to the championship series.

If you love baseball and can get past the ping of the aluminum bats, you owe it to yourself to make a Rosenblatt pilgrimage next year. I get tired of the sensory overload in most big league ballparks these days (screaming announcers, blaring music, meaningless mascots, bush-league promotions), but the Omaha folks get it. They know this is a big stage, and they let the game sell itself. Between innings at a big league game, someone is usually screaming at you to BUY THIS! Or WATCH THAT! Between innings in Omaha, they play organ music — sweet organ music — as the players go through their warm-ups. On nights like that, I find joy in the subtleties. Following the players’ mannerisms, for example, as the ball is thrown around the horn. (Does the shortstop give a nonchalant flip to the second baseman? Or is he all-business, with a snappy throw and a “We’ll-show-you” point of his glove?)

Warner Park (a.k.a. “The Duck Pond”)
OK, I’m not always a purist. Baseball makes for a good social event, too. We threw my cousin, Brian, a bachelor party on Saturday in Madison, Wis., and took in a Mallards game from one of the Duck Blinds. We had two picnic tables directly behind the right-field wall, almost touching the foul pole. It’s all-you-can-eat — brats, burgers, pulled-pork. And all-you-can-drink — beer, beer, beer, beer and (rumor had it) soda.

I must confess I had little interest in the baseball subtleties on this night. Instead of watching warm-ups, I watched the Mallards mascot prepare to zip-line from right field with the game ball. I missed an inning to buy a goofy yellow, 10-gallon hat that we forced onto the groom’s head for pictures. As for the actual game, I wasn’t even sure who won until checking the box score later on the computer. (Madison 19, Brainerd 8.)

But the Northwoods League is no joke. Alumni include Pat Neshek (Wisconsin 2000), Curtis Granderson (Mankato 2001), Juan Pierre (Manitowoc 1996), George Sherrill (Kenosha 1997-98), Ryan Spilborghs (Madison 2001) and Andre Ethier (Rochester 2002). The league is growing to rival the Cape Cod League, as another stop for collegiate players to swing wood bats in the summer, tuning up for pro careers. Madison announced an average attendance of more than 6,000 per game last season, with St. Cloud at 1,794, Duluth 1,378, Rochester 1,358, Mankato 1,205 and Alexandria 1,119.

Indeed, you don’t have to wait for Target Field to see baseball thrive outside the Metrodome. Whether it’s another big league park, the Midwest League, the Northern League, the Northwoods League or local amateur ball (I could go on and on about the delightful little park in Osceola, Wis., where my wife and I used to watch our nephew play) the Great Midwestern Road Trip continues.

Got a favorite story from the road? Share it below.

Tuesday update: Three quick thoughts

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

An interesting new book was waiting for me in the office this week, “Minnesotans in Baseball,” edited by Stew Thornley. There are chapters on well-known Minnesota baseball figures such as Paul Molitor, Kent Hrbek, Jack Morris, Dave Winfield and Joe Mauer and numerous others with lesser-known stories such as Charles Albert (Chief) Bender, Johnny Blanchard, Blix Donnelly and Dick Siebert.

The book is a collaborative effort by the Halsey Hall Chapter of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). The Star Tribune’s Joel Rippel contributed chapters on Hrbek, Mauer, Greg Olson and Robb Quinlan.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Jean Ann Havlish, who grew up in St. Paul, practicing alongside Jerry Kindall and Jim Rantz, before finding her own niche with the Fort Wayne Daisies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was later depicted in the film, “A League of the Their Own.”

(*) I caught the end of Zack Greinke’s latest masterpiece last night, and wondered what impact he had on what looked like a robust attendance. The attendance was 21,843, and in today’s KC Star, Joe Posnanski estimates that there were about 10,000 more people in the renovated ballpark because of Greinke. Zack Mania is now officially in swing, Posnanski writes.

(*) Tonight, the Twins will face Tigers righthander Rick Porcello, the youngest player in the American League at 20 years and four months. He is 1-3 with a 6.23 ERA, but his seven-inning, one-run effort against Seattle on April 19 speaks to his potential. According to Fan Graphs, 74 percent of Porcello’s pitches this year have been fastballs, averaging 92.2 mph, with 14 percent curve balls (76.3 mph) and 11 percent change-ups (82 mph).

Twins 7, Concordia 5

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

FORT MYERS, FLA. — Randy Ruiz and Tommy Watkins each hit home runs, as the Twins defeated Concordia University 7-5 on Tuesday in a six-inning tussle at the Lee County Sports Complex.

Kevin Mulvey pitched two scoreless innings for the Twins, and Twins pitcher Nick Blackburn tossed two scoreless innings for Concordia.

The Golden Bears struck for four runs in the third inning against Twins reliever Philip Humber, who gave up a two-run homer to junior catcher Chris Herbert and a two-run double to senior third baseman Jake Waldman.

The Twins trailed 5-2 before making their comeback.

New day, new computer

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

My computer crashed Thursday night, and a story I’d been working on for Sunday went with it.

I called our IT support desk at 9:14 (Eastern). By 10, our newsroom’s computer guru, Dan Barnes, had put my mind at ease. He got a replacement laptop ready and put it on the first flight to Fort Myers yesterday.

I picked it up at the Northwest baggage claim at noon and finished the story in time for our early Sunday editions, which hit the newstand today.

Anyway, just writing this to explain the blogging hiatus. La Velle had us covered on news, and today, Souhan is in the house. This is the first full-squad workout. In a few minutes, we’ll be watching the new infield perform the team’s Good Morning America drill. Can’t wait to watch.