Dracula or Legos

January 23, 2013

Legos are amazing – and going a little too far. I don’t know who created them but that person has probably worth a couple of billion dollars. And, the same person could be both a hero or scourge in your household.

Andrew received a Legos set (is an individual Legos a Lego?) for Christmas.  It is a 1962 Volkswagen T1 Camper Van. The Legos folks can be – if nothing else –  good with the details.

It hasn’t always been that way. I recall the original “sets” challenged your creativity because it was difficult to distinguish pieces. A foot was a head was a leg unless they were painted. Now Legos has engineers and architects to create life-like models. The Camper is so realistic you would think it was designed in Stuttgart. There are 1332 individual pieces and when completed it will be a foot long.

The VW Van used in Tom Wolf’s “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” had fewer 125 parts.

More than two scores ago friends and I made plastic models. You got a box with all the pieces to assemble a figurine. Cars were big of course. But there was a wave of World War II airplanes. And I recall tanks were big. Mine was an British military vehicle used in beating back the Germans.

Monsters came in a series and everyone made their favorite. Mine was Count Dracula. But there was Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Creature, and the Mummy. They are yawners in a decade featuring Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

My biggest modelling accomplishments were the USS Constitution and Yankee Stadium. Actually I never finished “Old Ironsides.” The rigging was too much for my lack of patience (a life-long short coming). Yankee Stadium was a lot easier. The field, seats and stands were a walk in the park, so to speak. It was all about the prominent facade that distinguished “the House that Ruth Built” – home of my Bronx Bombers.

Unlike Legos, model pieces were glued. Many a model was destroyed by glue smeared or left too weak. Decals were critical. They had to be centered and not ripped.  And a great model required painting. You had to be careful to paint just enough copper on the ship’s hull or get the right green to make sure the Creature didn’t look like Kermit the Frog.

Legos eliminate some of those risks. The pieces fit together as if locked. I haven’t seen any painting. And the VW doesn’t have any decals. It costs $200.

But maybe I’m an old curmudgeon.

Andrew completed an airport and a police station before knocking out the Seattle Space Needle and the Guggenheim Art Museum. Legos Mega stores are in almost every major city. Are they for kids? My 6-year old grandson wanted one for Christmas. A friend’s 25-year old son – with a science degree from Cornell – wanted one for Christmas. Legos may be a vacuum cleaner’s worst enemy but I guess they are also the models of Andrew’s generation.

I wonder if they have a Yankee Stadium set.

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The Mid Summer Classic is upon us. It’s time for MLB to truck out the best of the game – the All Stars. It’s a time to recognize and enjoy player performance. And it’s changed a lot.

I was lucky to go to the 1964 All Star Game. Dad had gotten tickets and drove us off from New Jersey to Flushing Meadows. In my 10-year old existence family road trips had included the Hamptons and the Jersey Shore. Now there was Flushing. It could be land of  the ’64 Worlds Fair and the All-Star Game, but it was Flushing.    

Maybe Robert Moses liked Shea Stadium. I never did. Of course it couldn’t compare to the “House that Ruth Built.” But having also been to the Polo Grounds, Shea just didn’t feel like a ball park. Maybe it was just because I was 10 and didn’t truly appreciate what architecture, concrete and steel could create.

There wasn’t an All-Star “Festival.” There was the game. The game was in the afternoon.

There was no free agency, no interleague play. Players could be ID’d by team and league. And while they competed to get to the Series, they played together against the other side. Bragging rights.  

There was no ESPN-produced “Home Run Derby.”

There was batting practice. That was batting practice with the Mick, Harmon Killebrew,  and Al Kaline. Not bad. But consider the NL: Mays, Aaron, Clemente and Stargell. And the Nationals had Cepeda, Groat, Flood, Mazeroski, Williams and White. Is that six Hall of Fame members?

A youthful Joe Torre played for Milwaukee (the Brewers have 3: Braun, Fielder and Weeks). Ever the clever youngster I quipped, “Hey, if Joe Torre was afraid they could call him ‘Chicken Catcher Torre’.” Rimshot. Two hours in the car was tough on Dad and Bill.

Players wore their own uniforms in 1964. If you lived in the NYC metro that was no big deal. Having both the Yanks and Mets meant all of the visiting uni’s were coming through town. But for some fans it was part of the experience.

In fact, during BP I asked which team had the bright red caps. They weren’t the Reds. Dad explained the Cardinals wore red hats at home and blue on the road. The NL was the home team so the Cards would wear red ones. 

Fans didn’t vote to select the rosters. And there were plenty of Cardinals in the NL roster. They had 4 of the 24 players for 12 NL teams. The Cardinals had position players White, Groat, Boyer, and Flood.

Johnny Callison was the only everyday player from Philly despite a huge lead in the National.

The leagues’ managers were selected by their team’s records at the break. Gene Mauch was leading his Phils. The White Sox’ Lopez would managed the American League.

I loved every moment, every play. My guy, Brooks Robinson, got extra bases despite Clemente’s rifle. The crowd roared when the Mets’ young Ron Hunt singled to be met at first by coach Casey Stengel.

And at the end, my American League was set to finish off the National, 4-3. Then with runners on base Yankees first baseman Joe Pepitone (that’s right, Joe Pepitone) threw the ball away tying the game 4-4. With two on, the Americans called on Boston’s Dick “the Monster” Radatz. Callison was at the plate. The Monster fired and Callison hit a bomb into Flushing Meadows.

NL 7, AL 4. And the National League players ran to the plate and await Callison.

I had seen the best. That’s what an All Star Game is intended to be. That’s what an All Star Game should be.

I could have been Brett Carow, a 31-year old from River Falls, WI. Carow was recent recognized as the “Ultimate Fanatic” by the creators of Strat-O-Matic. Friends and I were Strat-O-Matic fanatics 40 years ago.

Strat-O-Matic, originally a baseball board game, was created in 1961.  There were 600 members at the convention celebrating the game’s 50th anaversay. The game gives baseball fans a chance to be the manager of MLB players. The game combines players’ actual statistics, baseball strategy, and probability.

I first encountered Strat-O-Matic at age 12 during a Connie Mack game (Connie Mack was the league for 16-18 year olds in my town).  A few of the older guys were talking about Philadelphia shortstop Bobby Wine.  Sure, Wine was a “1” at short but you had to carry his bat. I asked what the “1” meant and the older guys laughed it off. I didn’t get it.

Years later – 1968 – I was going through the Sporting News when I saw an ad for Strat-O-Matic. I quickly claimed it for my birthday gift, receiving the complete “Deluxe Set” before Spring Training started. And what a great set to have.

The 1967 season had been one of the greatest ever. The Red Sox, long-shots in the Spring, finished as the AL champs after a month-long race against a pack of competitors – Twins, Tigers, White Sox, and Angels. The Bosox’ dreams would be dashed by the St. Louis Cardinals in a 7 game Series. And I could replicate the entire thing. I had all the cards for all players. There was Yaz, the Triple Crown win. I had Bob Gibson. And Al Kaline and Harmon Killebrew. All of them.

Even better, I could trade big Frank Howard from the lowly Senators to the White Sox. How would Eddie Stanky’s great-pitch-no-hit Sox do with Hondo batting 4th or 5th? It might have been the White, not the Red, with the AL Pennant.

And the game offered Old Timers and Hall of Famers. You could buy the 1961 Yanks. Or Philly’s 1950 Wiz Kids. There was the Cardinals’  1934 Gas HouseGang.

The Old Timer team I liked the most was the ’31 Athletics with Lefty Grove, Jimmie Fox, and Al Simmons. I recall a friend inviting me over so my A’s could play 1927 Yankees. Yes, those Yankees. The Ruth and Gehrig Yankees. I believe my A’s were swept…. no, pounded.

But that was part of the fun. Six or seven buddies had Strat-O-Matic. We traded. We had a draft – even though there was no such thing. We had leagues and tournies. We kept score and had stats.

It became more than a hobby. It deepened our love for the game. And it probably created a few accountants or a Pentagon analyst. Andrew’s buddy Eathen’s Dad was in a 4-person league 3 years ago. I know Brewers owner Mark Attanasio played as a kid (I hope he was good at it). The age range of folks who have played must be 10-80.

It is a way to teach and a way to bond. I used Strat-O-Matic as a way to bond with my son Bill. And Andrew and I have played over the past 3 years.

But things change. People don’t play board games. Why play Risk or Monopoly? They’re too slow. Andrew can play baseball on PlayStation. He can swing and throw using buttons. He can even create himself (he’s on a pace to hit 180 homers this year).

Heck. there’s Strat-O-Matic for your PC. Strat-O-Matic is played on the Internet.

Not for me. Strat-O-Matic should be played as a board game. I want to hold and touch the player cards comparing shortstops Bobby Wine and the Tigers’ Ray Oyler. I want to roll the dice.

Special Balls

June 28, 2011

Millions of baseball fans treasure a baseball – maybe more – that reminds them of a  place, a day or a person. Maybe it’s in your den or office. You may have given it to a son or daughter. Perhaps you gave it away or simply lost it.

But it’s really with you.

(Wait, you didn’t think this post was about something other than baseball did you?)

Last year I purchased a ball for Andrew in a chuch  auction. They had one ball signed by the members of the World Champion San Francisco Giants. I figured that ball – complete with Tim Lincecum – would have value. The other was signed by all members of the 2010 NL All Star team. I had no chance, right?

I told my friend Mike to go up to $200 for the Giants ball. Frankly, I thought I was going to be an auction rabbit, increasing the bidding. No surprise when the Giants/Lincecum ball went for $400+.

But I had won the NL All Star ball. Now Andrew would have Lincecum – and Pujos – and Braun – and, well, all NL studs. Only $250. Who really knows what the value. 

Somewhere in our house is a ball signed by Brooks Robinson, a hero of mine, and given to me. There’s a ball signed by, well, we really don’t know. We think it’s Ken Griffir Sr. They are probably in the same place – lost.

But then there are the really memorable balls, like one at Yankees Stadium 40 years ago.

At 10 I was at the Stadium for a game between the Yanks and a sacrificial opponent (A’s?). Early in the game there was a line drive into the seats between first and the foul pole. It was smoking. A big man jumped up and snared it clean. Next day at school I’m talking about the game and Billy Prudin pipes up. It was his Dad that caught the liner. Great. Any kids nightmare, a dentist fast enough to spot a line drive.           

I got my own foul ball at a Yankees-Tigers game in the late ’60s.

Our neighbor Jay and his fiance Gail, invited brother Bill and I to the ball game. Bill begged off. I, of course, jumped at it “third wheel” or not. Hey, he offered. The seats were primo – four rows back and right next from the Pinstripe’s dugout. The boxes between us and the field were empty when Detroit’s Jim Northrup barely made contact. The scribbler came right back. I was slow but the bat boy was slower. I had my ball. Sure, it wasn’t a rocket but who cared – and who needed to know, right?

I lost the Northrup ball long ago. It was ripped up and worn from playing hardball and then lost. I blame Bill.           

I “caught” a ball for Andrew during batting practice before a Brewers game two years ago. I was looking at the game program. Andrew was among 10 kids – gloves in the ready – focused on getting a foul ball. Suddenly, “Look Out!” I looked up just as a ball caromed off my shin. The ball spun in place and a youngster scurried to get it before buddies raced in.

“Hey,” I bellowed,” that’s mine, pal. I took the shot. I get the ball.”

Great. I was getting tough with a kid over a used batting practice ball hit foul by a guy named Dickerson. Two months later Dickerson would be traded and sent to the minors never to be heard from. The kid, stunned, apologized. “Sorry mister.” Now neither the A-train nor I can find it.

If Andrew ever learns his dad moved seats at a game late last year, I’d have a problem. A ball fell right into the seat I had left. Then again I would have muffed it. 

Besides, there will be thousands of balls to come. Maybe one or two will be memorable.

Realign This

June 23, 2011

I needed a serious diversion. It had been raining for days – a soaking, chilly Wisconsin weekend. Andrew’s little league games were washed out. Brewers telecasts were no help as the Crew were finishing a terrible road trip by getting pounded by the Sox in Boston. 

And then Major League Baseball gave me one of the great parlor games: Realignment!

ESPN was reporting a proposal in which the Houston Astros would go to the American League, giving baseball two 15-team leagues. There would be no divisions. Interleague play retained. Each league would have a 4-5 team playoff system culminating in a World Series.

I mulled it over. I had my own initial ideas. Why not? It couldn’t be any more rediculous than all the others. Besides, it’s a parlor game.

So,

Disband the Toronto Blue Jays. Baseball is the “National Past Time.” Well, it used to be – 50 years ago. But the Jays’ attendance is among the worst. And now the Rays are closest to catching the Red Sox and Yanks in the AL East. Here’s a trade? MLB disbands the Jays. The Canadians take back the Coyotes.

Disband the Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays. Who would be inconvenienced? It appears “fans” in neither market would really miss the clubs (29th and 30th in home attendance). People might say, “You can’t go to South Beach all the time.”  Yes. Yes, you can. And Tampa, a winner, can’t attract more than 18,000 per game. Lets face it. The best attended baseball in the Sunshine State is Ft Lauderdale for Yankees spring training.

Combine the Kansas City Royals and Oakland A’s.Kansas City has been declining since the creation of refrigerated rail cars, right? OK, I’ve never been there. But you can only get there by rail road or Greyhound, right. OK. Still after 40 years the Royals can boast of  George Brett, and a blown call at first base. And,yeah, the Green and Gold uni’s and the donkeys were fun. Bando, Catfish, Blue Moon and Rudy were great. And LaRussa’s chemically induced Bash Brothers. But, it’s been more than a  decade since Money Ball and the Magical Been. The two can relocate to Omaha.

Combine the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals. Yes, the Nationals are the hottest thing going. Some one should tell the Capital’s residents. The Nat’s are drawing 23,000, 21th in the MLB. The Orioles are getting the same gate. I know. The Orioles have a real history, stretches of success and Washington deserves a chance. True. But not in this exercise.        

The Yankees and Red Sox won’t destrow the game for ever.  The Yanks’ roster is as old as I am (very old). And the Boss has passed. Will the kids be regular winners? The Red Sox? Well, if they were realigned to Finland that would be fine with me. But they’re entitled to a run every 95 years . I don’t think Phillies, Giants, and Rangers fans shouldn’t give up yet.

Fans will lose interest if 75% of all teams has no chance to go to the Series.  Right. Like all clubs in any year since 1900. Alignments won’t produce winners. Today’s divisions system doesn’t insure the Nationals’ success any more than 2 leagues insured the Senators success. It’s all about management and commitment.

How should Interleague play be treated? Easy. Eliminate it. 

In the end, here’s an outcome:

American League – East: Boston, NY Yankees, Cleveland, Detroit, NY Mets, DC-Baltimore.

American League – West: Texas, Houston, Omaha, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Chicago White Sox.

National League – East: Philadelphia, Atlanta, St Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Chicago Cubs.

National League – West: San Francisco, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Colorado, Arizona, Seattle.  

And, after all of that, the Red Sox and Phillies go to the Series.

Big League Gimmick?

May 23, 2011

Major League Baseball’s interleague has become a gimmick. Worse, it could be harmful to the game. 

I reached this conclusion after the Brewers had finished sweeping the visiting Colorado Rockies. The Crew has won 10 of 12. The Cards and Reds are in sight.  

That was little interest to my brother. He had taken my young nephew, Cam, to NYC for the Yankees-Mets Interleague series. It was a great idea. I told Kathleen we should take the kids on a similar trip. My I idea is Philly to DC – a little national history, a lot of baseball. This was a good opportunity for Bill to take Cam because he had changed jobs. The next vacation might be 12 months away. 

And, sure, the Subway Series is cool for those of us who grew up in Jersey. But I consider it more an exhibition.  

What interleague does do is disrupt and alter an MLB season. Interleague produces imbalanced competition. Consider the following.

Commissioner Selig had sought realignment since there had been 30 teams but 15 in each League. Adopting a plan for 16 (NL) and 14 (Al), clubs could be moved based upon regions, rivalries and other reasons business or competition.

After months of analysis, comment and debate only the Brewers moved. That was “realignment” baseball style. Instead we get unbalanced schedules and competition. Consider the following.

Yes, fans have seen the glamor series – Yanks-Mets, Sox-Cubs, Giants-A’s, Cards-Royals and Reds-Indians. But for every one of those match-ups MLB gave us White Sox-Dodgers, D-backs-Twins, Houston-Toronto, and Pirates-Tigers.

Yes, interleague play has teams like the Yanks, Red Sox and Giants coming to “foreign” markets, but this isn’t the NBA schedule when each city gets to see Kobi and LaBron. It’s more like seeing the Dead or the Stones.

And what about those glamor tours? Well, the Red Sox play interleague series against the Cubs, Brewer, Padres, Astros and Pirates. The Yankees play Mets, Cubs, Reds, Rockies and Brewers. The Rays get the Marlins and the NL Central clubs – Brewers, Astros, Reds and Cardinals. What?!

Its exhibition baseball or worse.

Too bad my brother went to the exhibition. He could have flown in from Denver and spent the weekend with us. I would have bought all the ticks to watch his Rockies get swept in a meaningful series.

Bobbling Along

March 23, 2011

When did bobble heads become coveted momentos? Once folks went to a game and perhaps buy one as a souvenir. Today they go on Bobble Head Day – and there’s a game too.

When my Dad would take us to a game – Yanks or Mets – bobble heads were at the concession stands with all the other team paraphernalia – pennants, caps, little bats, player cards and photos (what ever happened to my photo of  Mantle and Maris). Seemed like there were 100 items to peruse. Including bobble heads.

(Note: One of the greatest give-a-way days was the Yanks’ Bat Day. Thousands of young fans received an actual bat as they entered the Stadium. In the 5th inning all the kids were asked to hold their up. What a site. Today, of course, the carnage would be unimaginable.)     

The little bobble guy was posed with either a glove or bat. And he had a great big smile that said “it’s great to be a Yank or Yankees fan.” OK, he was goofy looking, kind of like a Bob’s Big Boy hamburger stand statue. But he wasn’t as goofy looking as Mr Met.

I quickly learned the Mets had their own bobble head. And their guy had the same face. He was just as happy as the Yanks’ bobble head. How could that be? He was with the Mets for God’s sakes.

Then Dad took us to the Polo Grounds for an AFL football game between the (LA?) Chargers and New York Titans. And there were bobble heads at the Titans concession stands. I know because I bought one. And it was the same guy’s face. He got around. Only this time he was a Charger – white helmet with yellow lightning bolts and the powder blue jerseys. Classic.

Good luck finding and buying original bobble heads issued before 1980. I thought I would buy one for the couple who clean our house. She collects angels. He’s a big baseball fan. I thought I would try to buy a ’61 LA Angels head. Right to Ebay. Suddenly I was bidding with others. When it got to $50 I pondered just how clean the place had been. I checked one last month. The asking price was $250.

No wonder there is trafficking in the little cherubs.  Two years ago Andrew and I took his buddy Matthew to Miller Park. I forgot it was a Bobble head day. With an extra seat we had an extra head. I told Matthew he could give the extra to his brother. On the way from Miller to the parking lots Matthew had numerous opportunities to sell his brother’s bobble head. And, he did. It was a 3-way transaction. Matthew got a cool $10. The fence got his. And I learned something about Andrew’s friends.

Of course, there are bobble heads and there are bobble heads. In just one season we got Hank Aaron, Robin Yount, Jeff Suppan, and Bernie the Brewer. The Suppan, of course, is worthless.

And there are hockey players bobbles, indoor soccer players bobbles, all sports bobbles. There’s Betty Boop. I’m sure there are bobble heads for every President from JFK to today.

But the value of a bobble head comes from the memories, not the figurine.

(I’m cheating. This post was first published four weeks ago. But I’m on a 4-day trip with family. So you have to wait a little longer for new stuff

I turned 57 on February 25. I am old. And so many things remind me of it.

Andrew had baseball practice Wednesday night. That’s right, baseball practice in March in Wisconsin. His favorite Brewers player, Ryan Braun, had talked about his own enthusiasm for the upcoming season. Andrew sometimes wonders if he’ll be with the Brewers in time to play with Braun. Or sometimes he will be pitching with Giants ace Tim Lincecum. Boy, to be an 11-year old baseball fan.

For me it had been Clete Boyer, the Yankees’ great-glove/no-bat third baseman. Boyer had played with “the Mick”, Maris and Whitey Ford. They had the Rings – and so did Clete Boyer. I wanted to take Boyer’s place.  That’s almost 50 years ago.

A couple of nights ago Andrew read “Winnie the Pooh” to me.  It’s difficult  for me to read it to Andrew and Emily because of surgery years ago. My Dad read it to me and my brother Bill. I hope the A-Train and this old Dad will be reading it every night to completion. You probably have a similar book or moment.

And on the day before my birthday Emily and I shared the Wizard of Oz. It is one of my Top 10 movies. I remember watching it on Sunday night 50 years ago. There were no video tapes or movie channels. It was on once a year. And everyone talked about it at school the next day. My Diva cuddles up close when the Witch first appears. The old Dad still laughs with the great one-liners (Dorothy:”the oil can”; Scarecrow: “Oil can what?”).

Decades can fly by.

The current, of course, reminds you of your age. There’s Facebook. All day friends and relatives e-mail about how happy they are for you and to know you. It’s great – and a reminder. Ouch.

Brother Bill, 12 months younger, called from Denver. Son Bill, 30-years old, called from Indy.  Grandson Ian is doing well. I love them.  (Note: Nicol is Scottish. So the males are Robert, William, Andrew, Ian, William and Cameron.).

Kate, my bride and partner, has made me and saved me. Her remark on my “special” day: “You need to get to the gym.” Sweet.    

There is the reminder the MRI brain scan at the medical center is only days away. 

I’m really old. I’m a really old guy who has a really good life.  This really old guy is looking forward to a really great year.

Then again, if the Yanks don’t get more pitching the damn Red Sox are going to the Series and it will be a brutal 12 months……