Sunday, March 30, 2014

Baseball’s holy ground

Set aside the cares of the world for a few minutes, and imagine yourself in the “friendly confines” of a major league baseball stadium.

The smell of freshly cut grass, the crack of a bat, the roar of the crowd, and the taste of a ball park hot dog can chase away a lot of tension, and make you believe (at least for a while) the words intoned by James Earl Jones in the movie “Field of Dreams”:

“it reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again”.

the master speaks

The very next scene in this movie, incidentally, may well bring a tear to your eye, because that is exactly what happened to me when I watched it again:

Doc Graham comes to the rescue

I’ve watched major league baseball games at Met Stadium in Minneapolis (before it got torn down to become the Mall of America), Milwaukee County Stadium in Milwaukee (before it got replaced by Miller Park) , and at the “old” and the “new” Comiskey Park (now called U.S. Cellular Field) in Chicago. I’ve even been to the actual field of dreams, in Dyersville, Iowa. However, my favorite professional stadium is Wrigley Field in Chicago, the second oldest major league stadium in professional baseball.

Although the oldest ball park in the country (Fenway Park) has been called “a shrine” by former Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee, it literally is true that Wrigley Field is “sacred ground”. Obviously, that statement requires more explanation, as well as a little baseball history.

For starters, the original location of Wrigley Field wasn’t even in Chicago - it was in south Los Angeles. The stadium opened in 1925, and was named for William Wrigley, Jr., who owned the first tenants of the stadium, the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. After the Pacific Coast league folded, the field was used for a variety of other purposes, and it became the home stadium for the American League Los Angeles Angels in their 1961 inaugural season.

After their first season, the Angles moved to Dodger Stadium, and Wrigley Field, once again, was put to other uses (including a 1963 civil rights rally featuring Martin Luther King Jr.). Demolition on the ball field started in March of 1969 to make way for a new recreation facility, which is now host to Wrigley little league baseball and softball.

The professional baseball park that opened in Chicago in 1914 was named Weegham Field, and was the home field of the Chicago Whales of the Federal League.

A year later, the Federal League folded, which led the Whales owner to form a syndicate with William Wrigley Jr. to buy the Chicago Cubs from Charles P. Taft. Mr. Weegham immediately moved the Cubs from their existing location to his new stadium, William Wrigley bought controlling interest in the club in 1918, and the team’s home field was called Cubs Park from 1920 through 1926, when it was renamed Wrigley Field.

Before Weegham Field was built, however, the property that is bounded by Clark, Waveland, Sheffield, and Addison was owned by a land developer named Joseph Sheffield. It eventually was purchased by Lutheran minister William Passavant, who build St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on the site. Passavant’s dream, though, was to build a seminary, and the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary opened its doors in 1891. By 1910, the seminary outgrew the property, and the property was sold to Charles Havenor, who owned a minor league baseball team in Milwaukee. Havenor’s dream of a major league baeball club in Chicago never bore fruit, and the location was leased to Charles Weegham in 1913, and now you know “the rest of the story”.

The start of the 2014 professional base ball season actually started on March 22, when the Arizona Diamondbacks played the Los Angeles Dodgers in Sydney, Australia. The North American part of the season will start today, March 30.

Since baseball is a sport that is long on tradition, the 2014 season won’t bring any major changes to the sport. Due to political correctness, though, you’ll no longer see either one of the symbols shown below:

Chief Wahoo, long the logo for the Cleveland Indians, will be replaced by a logo that looks something like this:

The pirate logo for the Pittsburgh Pirates will be replaced by the gold “P” that is already on their caps.

The Cubs, though, are true believers of tradition ( Wrigley Field was the last major league stadium to get lights), and will wear commemorative patches to mark the 100th anniversary of their home field.

What are you waiting for? Buy your tickets NOW !!

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor Day is celebrated each year on March 25th, a fact I likely would not have known if I hadn’t stopped to buy stamps recently at the Post Office. I liked the look of the Medal of Honor stamp that the Post Office recently issued, and bought the very last sheet that they had.

There are actually three different designs for the Medal of Honor, which is the highest award for valor in the Armed Services of the United States. The Army, Navy, and Air Force have their own distinct medals, and the Marines receive the Navy version of the medal.

The Navy version is shown below:

The official website for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society can be found at the link below:

Congressional Medal of Honor Society

The Medal of Honor was created in 1861, early in the American Civil War, to give recognition to men who distinguished themselves "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity" in combat with an enemy of the United States. Up until very recently, there were 3468 recipients of the medal, and more than half were presented to participants in the Civil War. Due to its prestige and status, the Medal of Honor is afforded special protection under U.S. law against any unauthorized adornment, sale, or manufacture, which includes any associated ribbon or badge.

Just a few days ago, President Obama presented 24 Medals of Honor to 24 vets, but 21 of those medals were awarded posthumously. The three surviving veterans were Jose Rodela, Mevlin Morris, and Santiago Erevia, all of whom were Vietnam vets. All 24 of the vets who qualified for the medal were ethnic or minority troops (Hispanics, Jews, and African-Americans) and may have been overlooked previously due to their minority status.

I served my time in the military during the Vietnam War, but six years in the National Guard was pretty easy duty compared to what the 24 vets who were recently honored endured.

When you run into a vet today, the least you can do is to tell him “thanks”, even if all he did was serve in the motor pool. He’s still helping to defend our freedom, and ALL of our vets deserve better treatment than the returning G.I.’s got in 1975, as the war in Vietnam finally came to a close.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Bob and I graduated from high school together in 1965. At the time of our graduation, the school was known as Mary T. Hill High School, and it was an all boys Catholic High School. In 1971, it merged with the all-girls Catholic school (called Archbishop Murray) about a mile to the east, and the name of the school was changed to Hill-Murray.

A short time after the merger with Archbishop Murray, the building was sold to a local school district. In 1982, it was sold, once again, to Bob and Sandy Kreischer, who founded a college prep school called Mounds Park Academy. The former Mary T. High School, located at 2051 Larpenteur Avenue East in Maplewood, can still be viewed on Google maps, both in satellite view, as well as in street view.

I still get the quarterly newsletter (Hill-Murray Today) from my old high school. When the Winter 2014 edition came in the mail a few days ago, I thought of Bob, because he was listed on the “In Memoriam” page at the back of the publication.

Bob was a very active guy in high school. When I dug out my 1965 yearbook from a tote in our backyard shed, I discovered that he had managed to get his picture in that particular yearbook no less than 8 times. In addition to playing on the football team all 4 years, he was on the honor roll in his freshman year, a class officer his first three years at the school, a member of the Lettermen’s Club his last 2 years, a member of the Rogues Club his senior year, and a member of the Student Council his senior year.

After high school, Bob and I worked together for a period of time at the Montgomery Ward store on University Avenue in St. Paul. The snack bar at the catalog dock where we both worked was operated by 2 cute young girls, a gorgeous blonde named Cheryl, and an attractive and fun loving brunette named Marge. Bob’s friendship with Marge continued long after they both left Wards, and they got married in 1978.

Like me, Bob is also a graduate of the University of Minnesota, and he ultimately earned Masters Degrees in both Journalism and Agricultural and Applied Economics. After college, he served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. Upon his return to the United States, he went to work for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which he retired from in 2012.

Like most of us, he had gotten a bit grayer over the years, and he also had considerably less hair than he had in high school. His most recent picture can be seen in the obituary posted below:

Bob‘s obituary

Bob was far from the first Hill classmate of mine to pass on, since a few of our fellow classmates were sent to Vietnam shortly after high school. Bob would have been 67 years old on March 21, an age that (to me) still seems to be pretty young. His passing is a reminder, once again, that life is short, so it’s important to live life to its fullest while we have the chance.

Rest in peace, Bob.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fun Oscar facts

Ellen DeGeneres was her usual spontaneous self on Sunday night, and made the 2014 Oscar ceremony a lot more fun to watch than the 2013 ceremony, which was hosted by Seth McFarlane. McFarlane was so bad that he would likely wind up near the bottom of “the best and worst Oscar hosts” if the list were published again this year.

This year’s ceremony included a few singular achievements:

1) The “selfie” photo taken during the ceremony became the most retweeted tweet ever, and caused Twitter to briefly crash.

2) Steve McQueen became the first black director to win the Best Picture Award. He is not an America citizen, but he is not the first foreign director to win the Best Picture award, since there have been a few over the years. Mr. McQueen is his very own “melting pot”, since he comes from Grenadian and Trinidadian descent, and has homes in London and the Netherlands. In view of the fact that he has only directed three feature films, his Best Picture award is very remarkable.

3) Lupita Nyong’o is one of the few actors or actresses that have won an Oscar for their debut performance in a feature film. She also is not an America citizen, since she has dual membership in Kenya and Mexico. She was cast in her role in 12 Years a Slave even before she graduated from Yale School of Drama. She also happens to be fluent in 4 languages (Luo, English, Swahili, and Spanish).

4) The pizza delivery guy (an Armenian named Edgar Martirosyan) ultimately got a $1000 tip.

5) Sidney Poitier (the first black man to win an Oscar) is definitely showing his age (he’s 87). Like Lupita, he also holds dual citizenship (United States and the Bahamas) and he is STILL the Bahamian ambassador to Japan, a post that he has held since 1997. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2009.

Fire up the popcorn. Let’s go see some movies !