Sunday, April 7, 2013

Of Sandlots and Sandlock

The first Sunday of the baseball season - the first one on which a full slate of games is to be played - is upon us.   This first week re-introduced those of us who are fans of the team from Steinbrenner Tech to a sampling of baseball not seen in the Bronx since the Oscar Azocar/Kevin Maas/Stump Merrill era.  For those of you who may be not be familiar with the era of which I speak, know simply that when the Poet Laureate of Freehold sang wistfully about "Glory Days", it was not the era of which he sang.    Whether what we have witnessed to date is an aberration or merely the iceberg's tip I do not pretend to know.  I reckon that secret shall be revealed over the course of the next one hundred and fifty-plus games. 

It was during this past week that Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano announced he had severed his relationship with uber-agent Scott Boras and hitched his representation star to Jay-Z.  While normally there is little that Jay-Z does that does not make want to vomit inside of my own mouth - has there ever been a more sycophantic, headline-seeking publicity whore in the annals of New York sports - his new role as Cano's agent/advisor as Robbie plays in the final year of his contract cannot be interpreted as anything but good news by this Yankees fan.  I presume that Mr. Beyonce is savvy enough to know that if he is the mouthpiece who leads Cano out of town at season's end, then he will imperil his own personal well-being each time he shows up at the Stadium next season wearing his NY cap and playing his self-created role as the King of New York.   Tough to look hip running from the bleacher creatures one would think.  

Of course the money being banded about for Cano's next contract borders on the ludicrous.  We are in an era in professional sports where it too often seems as if player's paychecks are cut at the First National Bank of Monopoly (located on the corner between Boardwalk and Baltic Avenue and open every weeknight until 6:00 p.m. and Saturdays until 3:00 p.m. for your convenience).  The New York Post's Joel Sherman wrote the other day that he sensed the Yankees and Cano might end up agreeing to an 8 year, $200 Million deal.   I went to law school to avoid hard math.  That said, even I can appreciate that we have flipped the switch to ludicrous speed when an athlete's annual contract has six zeroes to the left of the decimal point.  At $25 Million a year, Cano would earn a cool $154,320.99 a game.  Figuring that in the typical game he would come to bat four times, his per at-bat paycheck would be a tidy $38,580.25.  And that does not even take into account the performance bonus money he could receive for doing extraordinary things - such as running hard all the way to first base.  He would after all be earning $428.67 per foot to cover that cross that distance.

You might be forgiven if in all the Cano-related news this past week and all of the news of a decidedly uglier tone emanating from State U here in the State of Concrete Gardens, you missed an item or two about baseball players living far from the limelight.  Do yourself the great favor of getting acquainted with them now.

Scott Rice is a 31 year-old left-handed pitcher who begins this season as a member of the New York Mets bullpen.  On Opening Day, Rice helped the Metropolitans drop the final can of whoop ass on the San Diego Padres when he pitched a scoreless ninth inning in their 11-2 victory.  Rice retired the only three batters he faced.  They were in fact the first three batters to whom Rice had ever thrown a pitch in a Major League game.  

Rice has played professional baseball for eighteen years.  During that eighteen-year career he has worn the uniform of fourteen different teams at too many different levels and classifications to count.  On Monday afternoon, he enjoyed a moment of which he had likely long dreamed but perhaps never believed would arrive for him.  And with whom did he share the moment?  His father.  Rice's dad, Dennis, has two display cases in his home in Simi Valley, California filled with mementos and keepsakes from each of his son's stops.  

And Dennis Rice has always had his son's back.  That fact was not lost on Scott Rice on Monday afternoon.  When the game was over he stood on the mound scanning the crowd until he spotted his dad.  Father and son then spent a few minutes together talking about what both had just achieved.  After the game, Rice gave credit where he believes credit is due, "My dad's been the reason why I played baseball growing up, played college baseball.  He's basically taught me the fundamentals and everything I know basically.  He is the guy I call when I have a bad outing.  The first call after every outing  goes to him.  It's just nice that he was able to be here.  It's just as rewarding for him as it is for me."  

The unsinkable Joanie K. was - and is still - a passionate Brooklyn Dodgers fan.  If you want to provoke a fight with my mother, discuss all the success the Dodgers have had since they relocated to Los Angeles.  In Mom's world, once her Beloved Bums abandoned Ebbetts Field they ventured out into parts unknown.  Whoever those people are playing their home games in Chavez Ravine, they are most assuredly NOT her Dodgers.  

Due solely to Mom's love of the Brooklyn Dodgers, when I come across a piece that talks about them I always give it at least a quick read-through.  Thursday, the New York Times web site included a piece written by Louie Lazar on one-time Brooklyn Dodger Mike Sandlock that is - in my estimation - required reading.  In 1945, though a catcher by trade (and a switch-hitter no less), Sandlock was Brooklyn's Opening Day shortstop.  At age ninety-seven, he is the oldest living Brooklyn Dodger.  Due in part that he was not an All-Star caliber player Sandlock tended to bounce around a bit, which malleability has earned him the distinction of also being the oldest living Boston Brave AND the oldest living Pittsburgh Pirate.  

His first appearance in the big leagues was in 1942 as a Brave.  His final appearance was in 1953 as a Pirate.  He played a total of 195 Major League games.  His lifetime batting average was .240.  He hit but two home runs in his career but he hit both of them in the same season, 1945, and he hit both of them off of the same pitcher, Harry Feldman of the Giants.  I can picture Mom cheering anew for Mike Sandlock simply upon reading that last piece of information.   

If for no other reason than to bring a smile you have undoubtedly earned over the course of the past seven days to your own face, read the piece on Mike Sandlock.  And then read it again.  You shall be glad you did.  And maybe just maybe it would not hurt any one of us to apply the Sandlock philosophy to our own life - even if just for one day.  "Win some. Walk off.  Go in.  Have a beer.  That's it."  

A Sunday sermon even I can believe in.  Can I get an "Amen"? 


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