Lesson #274: Winters Blizzards and Rogers Hornsby

22/7 edit: A note from my friend in the Texas capital… “It’s the Blizzards, plural. A student is a Blizzard, the team is the Blizzards. West Texas doesn’t go for those communist singular names!” My mistake. I have corrected it.

A quick second post for today (though technically, as it is after midnight, this will post to Friday, not Thursday). This comes from my friend in the Texas capital because I was somehow subconsciously triggered into having the song Sleigh Ride in my head. I couldn’t think of the name of the song and gave him Winter Wonderland at first, whereupon he informed me that that’s the school song for the Winters school district, whose mascot is the Blizzard.*

“Also,” he informs me, “Rogers Hornsby is from Winters. I don’t know why I know that.”

Good pub quiz information!

*Grammatically, I think this is still right. Unless the school there are more than one costumed mascot? Whatever, they’re the Winters Blizzards.

Lesson #269: Hot Springs’ Spring Training

My mother is currently deployed in Arkansas and passed this bit of information along.

Her email*: “Did you know Hot Springs, Arkansas, was the premier baseball spring training site from the 1880s-1940s? The Chicago White Stockings, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox and others came to soothe their aching muscles at the many bathhouses using Hot Springs National Park water.”

I did not know this, but let’s get down to the important stuff…

In alphabetical order, the teams whose Spring Training was held in Hot Springs:

Boston Red Sox – 1909-10, 1912-18, 1920-23

Brooklyn Superbas/Dodgers/Robins** – 1910-12, 1917-18

Chicago White Stockings/Cubs*** – 1909-10

Cincinnati Reds – 1910-11

Detroit Tigers – 1908

Philadelphia Phillies – 1912

Pittsburgh Pirates – 1901-13, 1920-23

St. Louis Browns**** – 1911

The earliest team to use Hot Springs as a spring training facility was the White Stockings, (NPR reports that in 1885 Cap Anson took his team — and a reporter — to Hot Springs for training, but I can’t find any research to back this up. It’s NPR though, so I tend to believe them…they likely had access to the newspaper archives.) the last were the Red Sox and the Tigers in 1923.  I don’t know where the 1940s number comes from because after 1900, Baseball Almanac (where the teams/dates are pulled from) is very thorough.

*Clearly a trivia piece she pulled from somewhere (probably the NPS site) because she doesn’t actually talk like this.

**They changed their name to the Dodgers after the 1910 season, then were the Robins from 1914-1931 before going back to the Dodgers — which, incidentally is short for Trolley Dodgers.

***The White Stockings changed their name to the Colts after the 1889 season, the Orphans after the 1897 season and then to the Cubs after the 1901 season.

***Now the Baltimore Orioles.

Lesson #254: The Last Three World Series

I was talking to my friend in the Texas capital today and, as so often does with us, sports came up. Since the baseball postseason started yesterday, that was (for the most part) our sports topic today.

He was watching the Braves/Giants game while I was watching Hockey Night in Canada and flipping back to the baseball during the commercials (it’s opening day for hockey today and not a deciding game day for baseball; hockey wins). At some point in the conversation he says, “Did you know Eric Hinske has been in each of the last three World Series?”

Of course I didn’t know that. Hinske is a journeyman with a career .254 average and 101 OPS.

But it is, in fact, true. Eric Hinske has played in each of the last three World Series (and won twice). He was with the Red Sox in 2007, the Rays in 2008 and the Yankees in 2009. I think it bears mentioning, though, that in those three series, he played four games and had three at bats — he was 0-1 with the Red Sox, 1-2 (a solo home run) with the Rays and was walked and scored a run with the Yankees.*

An interesting aside: In 2002, he was the AL Rookie of the Year with the Blue Jays. In 2003, he committed the second-most number of errors (22, which was also the league high for errors by a third baseman) in the AL. He followed this by being first in the AL in fielding percentage as a third baseman in 2004 (.978).

*If you want to see his lifetime stats, see here.

Lesson #125: The First Catcher’s Mask

Autobiographical note: I accidentally discovered the Cubs’ TV broadcast guys the other day and I loved them. Bob Brenly (who was the Diamondbacks  manager when they won the Series in 2001*) does their colour commentary and he’s *very* good. He talks about baseball like a manager. He doesn’t try to talk to his viewers like they have never seen a baseball game and/or they’re complete idiots; he talks to his viewers like they’re people who have had baseball in their lives all their lives. And I love that.** I love that he talks to me like I understand the fundamentals of the game and I know what he means when he talks about the fielders shifting or how a certain rookie’s scouting report is going note that he is impatient with the curveball (and no, that is not a reference to Pedro Cerrano). At no point during that game was I given any useless and/or meaningless stats, any inane chatter about nothing to fill time or told something that was so ridiculously obvious a nine-year-old girl could have pointed it out. I kind of have a baseball crush on them. Do you see what FOX Baseball has done to me? I get all girly over a commentary team that isn’t led by morons.

So it’s the bottom of the 17th in the Mets/Cards game.*** We’re on the verge of putting the fielders in to pitch. It’s not close to the longest game in history though. That game was a 33-inning minor league game that (mostly) took place on 18 April, 1981 between the Orioles’ and Red Sox’s AAA clubs…and involved none other than Cal Ripken, Jr. and Wade Boggs. You can look it up. I promise it’s true.

Anyway, I was just informed that the first catcher’s mask was used on 12 April, 1877 by a catcher at Harvard University. They didn’t say who (because it’s FOX and the FOX commentary is godawful),***** so I looked it up.

The mask was an adapted fencing mask adapted by Fred Thayer that catcher Alexander Tyng used in Harvard’s first game of the season; a game in which he committed only two errors. Two errors was apparently very low at the time.******

As I post this, we’re headed to the bottom of the 20th with the Mets up 2-1. We headed into the bottom of the 19th with the Mets up 1-0, so it may mean nothing. Go Cards.

*You know the one…the one where Luis Gonzalez hit that bloop single into short left-centre with one out in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded in game 7 to win it all over the Yankees. 

**One of the best things about my first baseball job was that I lived (more or less) with the hitting and pitching coaches. The pitching coach was a former major leaguer who had about 15 seasons and was given the very first million dollar contract (overall…it was not a million dollars a year). The manager, who would come and drink with us sometimes, had a Crash Davis type career in the majors and was very self-deprecating as regards his skills (all hitting, no fielding if I recall correctly). My roommates and I used to skip going to the bar with the players and other interns sometimes just so we could go sit out on the patio with them and have a few beers and just listen to them talk about baseball. The most I have ever learned about baseball came from those nights.

***The longest game I’ve ever worked was 15 innings as far as innings, but as far as a time, it was probably the Fog Game, wherein the game was put on hold at about midnight and finally suspended at about 1 am, and then resumed the next afternoon. Yes, this actually happened. I have pictures of it. By happenstance, one of the guys in that game is currently on the mound for the Cardinals.

****Seriously, Ken Rosenthal just told me, “I’ve located the happiest people in the ballpark…it’s the grounds crew, who are paid by the hour. They must have had some savvy asians negotiating their contracts!”

*****That information can be found here at the Encyclopedia of Baseball page.

Lesson #109: Durham Athletic Park

Today was the day. Bull Durham Day 2010.* Every single one of my sporting friends watches this movie as a sort of spring tradition. Every year around the time that the baseball season gets underway, we break out Bull Durham.

And in honour of the film, it’s time to take a look at Durham Athletic Park.

Durham Athletic Park was opened in 1939, though there had been a park in existence on the location from 1926. It burned down in early 1939, which is really not all that uncommon for a ballpark at that time period.** Anyway…the park was decommissioned in 1995 when the Bulls moved to Durham Bulls Athletic Park (which incidentally was designed by the same guys who designed the home stadium of my team, the Baltimore Orioles). Its measurements were 330 to left, 410 to centre and 305 to right field and the park had a capacity of 5000.*** From 1938 – 1943, the park was home to the Durham Bulls of the Piedmont League and then from 1945 – 1967 and from 1980 – 1994 of the Carolina League. From 1945-1967, the Bulls were affiliates of the Tigers, Astros and Mets, but from 1980 until 1997 (three years after the Bulls moved to their new park), they were affiliated with the Atlanta Braves. The ballpark currently still stands, but is no longer in regular use.****

Autobiographical note: I love Bull Durham more than any other sports movie in existence. Not just because of the impending start of the baseball season, but because I truly love baseball. The movie is 20+ years old, but baseball is still the same. I spent some of the best summers of my life working in the minor leagues and even though this movie was released when I was 8, it illustrates perfectly what that life is. I have known those guys and I have been in those dive bars and I have slid on the tarp during rain storms. I enjoy major league baseball in the same way that I enjoy any professional sport of which I’m a fan, but I love minor league baseball because it’s not about ridiculous ticket prices and $8 beers; it’s about families having a great time at the park and guys who would be Joe Hardy.

*I love my friends. I posted on my Facebook update that in the craziness of my mid-week (my best friend’s birthday and Desmond’s long-awaited return on LOST on Tuesday, my friend’s return to the city and Rocky Horror with my housemates on Wednesday and last night’s catching up and return trip to Rocky Horror — the stage manager in me refuses to see a good show just once…there’s a fascination in finding the details) I had forgotten that today was the day that Bull Durham got pulled out and a bunch of my sport guys went “wait, there’s an official day for this?!?” and seemed horrified that they didn’t know about this event. I had to reassure them that it was not, in fact, an official day, just the day that a friend and I had decided we’d watch it.

**Parks in those days, unless they were new, were made mostly of wood. I mean, the famed Orioles player-manager John McGraw (and a Boston Beaneaters player) essentially burned Boston’s South End Grounds to the ground when they started a riot in 1894. Incidentally, this is a fact I knew offhand. Yes, I know *way* too much about baseball history.

***The first minor league baseball park I ever worked in measured 330 down both lines and 392 to centre with about a 4500 (ish) capacity.

****For more information, see here and here.